Dear brothers and sisters,
This weekend was blessed with the Divine Liturgy in Cheltenham and Cardiff, bringing our communities together to celebrate the Holy Mysteries and share the communion of the Lord’s Body and Blood.
Each of these services was not celebrated in the consecrated Byzantine ‘otherness’ of an Orthodox sanctuary, surrounded by icons and lamps, and walls and domes painted with angels and saints, flickering the light of hundreds of candle and lamp-flames.
Rather, the Liturgies were celebrated in the plainness of a little Victorian Congregational Chapel and a Victorian parish church surrounded by horse-chestnuts and red-brick terraces. Yet, they began with the same priestly proclamation, as the sign of the Cross was made over the antimins with the Gospel: “Blessed is the Kingdom of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit…”
When we pray and worship together in peace and unity; when our spiritual gifts and capabilities are woven together in eucharistic offering; when we assemble as a community to offer not only the Holy Gifts, but our whole selves and lives to God; when we gather in love and fellowship to share the Lamb of God who is “broken but never divided, ever eaten but never consumed” – we reflect the life of the Triune-God as a community of love. We anticipate the mystery of the eternal Eighth Day and receiving a foretaste of the Kingdom of Heaven, towards which we journey in the pilgrimage of the Christian-life.
Independent of our environment and the lack of an ‘Orthodox setting’, in the otherness of the Liturgy – so different from the hours of work and labour, employment or unemployment, cooking, cleaning and family life – Christ calls us to put aside the cares of the world, “that we may receive the King of All, who comes invisibly upborne by the angelic hosts”.
Our weekly eucharistic journey into the Kingdom is reflected by His journey into the borrowed buildings in which we are able to celebrate, and the little chapel in Prestbury and the Victorian interior of St John’s are transfigured and joined to Heaven.
They may be far from the ideals of the sanctuary in which we wish to celebrate the Divine Liturgy and worship as Orthodox Christians, yet we must be grateful for God’s mercy and grace, and mindful of the ongoing miracle of His revealed-love in these humble places.
Beneath their roofs, the Saviour is welcomed week by week, as we chant “Blessed is He that cometh in the Name of the Lord”, and they become the sacred ground at the foot of the Heavenly Ladder on which the Lord descends, so that we may join the Patriarch Jacob and say,
“How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.”