The Entrance of the Theotokos and Our Return to Nazareth House

Dear brothers and sisters,

Greetings on this feast of the Entry of the Mother of God into the Temple, on which the joy and deep spiritual significance of this feast was reflected in our parish’s return and “entry” into Nazareth House after two over two years away.

It felt like the Mother of God was leading us in our own entrance into the sanctuary as we celebrated her ascent into the haikal – the Holy of Holies in the Temple at Jerusalem.

There was a profound sense of the direction and care of the Mother of God when we first arrived in Colum Rd for the feast of the Protecting Veil five years ago, and when we moved to Newman Hall after the lockdown, the presence of the Mother of God could be felt profoundly in the life of the parish.

When the parish no longer had use of Newman Hall, it was during the days of this feast in 2020 that Mother Frances so warmly and kindly offered the use of St John’s Church in Canton, and two years on the feast has seen our return to Nazareth House. The Mother of God, the Hodegitria – “she who shows the way” – continues to show us the way in our rather itinerant parish-life in the city.

Today’s Liturgy was a great blessing, with those who worshipped in Nazareth House in the past happy to be back, but for many in the congregation worship in the convent church was a new experience. Many members of our community arrived when we were worshipping in the refectory of Newman Hall or after our arrival at St John’s, so it was a joy and pleasure to welcome them to Nazareth House.

Not only were we able set up for Liturgy last night, but the Sisters requested that the shrines containing the principal icons were moved to the chancel arch so that the residents would have the icons of the Saviour and the Mother of God before them.

As the residents’ service is now in the morning, I performed the proskomedia tucked away in the nuns’ choir whilst the daily mass was celebrated in the body of the church, and then heard confessions during the chanting of the Hours.

It must be said that we were not simply invited to come back to Nazareth House, but proactively encouraged to do so, and we appreciate the openness and warmth of the new senior sister, Sister Anna Maria, and the wonderful friendship between the parish and Sisters Aquinas and Marie, not forgetting the ongoing support of the Fathers of the Oratory who remain chaplains in Nazareth House and benefactors of our parish.

The next few weeks will no doubt see our arrangements evolve as we re-accustom ourselves to life in the convent church, and our timings and arrangements settle down. There are, of course, parishioners who need to catch up with our move, though the Liturgy was well attended, with lots of communicants whom we congratulate on their reception of the Holy Mysteries!

As we will be celebrating our Cheltenham Liturgy on Saturday, the feast of the Kursk-Root Icon of the Mother of God of the Sign, I will hear confessions on Thursday this week (travel on Friday evening being a gamble before such an early start the following morning). May I have confession requests by noon on Wednesday please. I will not be making last minute arrangements for late requests, as there will simply be no time, so please observe the cut-off point.

Sunday confessions will be for those travelling from afar and for those without transport locally. All worked very well this morning, and I must thank all who confessed for being so mindful of the limitations of time. 

I am very happy that we will also celebrate a moleben to the Mother of God in honour of her Kursk-Root Icon at the end of Sunday Liturgy, grateful for the blessing of the Mother of God in the visit of her wonderworking icon earlier in the year.

This wonderful icon sums up the wonder of the Nativity Fast, as we contemplate the Incarnate Saviour within the womb of His mother, beheld long before by the Holy Prophets who surround the Virgin and Child in the holy icon.

We contemplate the silent days of waiting, when divine-humanity was hidden within the womb of the Theotokos who had been prepared for the wonder of the Incarnation and the Cave of Bethlehem from her childhood years, when she was led into the Holy of Holies and nurtured and taught in the sanctuary of the Temple by the angels of God.

Looking upon her icon, with the Saviour-Emmanuel dwelling within her, we behold her as the Ark of the Covenant, whose presence in the Holy of Holies restored what was lost and missing in the second Temple but restored in her Entrance; we behold her as the Golden Ark who contained Christ the Heavenly Manna, who gives Himself as the Bread of Heaven; we behold her a the Ark containing Christ who is not only the living Law, but the Giver of the Law; we behold her as the Mercy Seat, who bore Yahweh, Christ the Lord; we behold her as the Golden-Lampstand who would bear the Light of the World; as the Table of Shewbread, who would give birth the Lord who is the Bread of the Presence in every Eucharist; we behold her as the great Altar who bears Christ, the supreme sacrifice, the Lamb of God Who takes away the sins of the world; we behold her as the laver who contains Christ the Living Water through Whom we are cleansed, and through whom we shall never thirst.

Whilst the old Israel, blind to the fulfillment of the prophecies and the coming of the Messiah still longs for the building of a third Temple, as the new Israel of God, we know that the third Temple has already been spiritually built in the person of the Theotokos, and that with the completion of this Temple “built”, formed and adorned whilst the Most Holy Mother of God dwelt in the Holy of Holies, the Messiah has already visited and redeemed His people – and we look forward to our yearly celebration of His entrance into the world in the glorious feast of the Nativity.

In the meantime, let us purify ourselves by prayer and fasting, as we make our spiritual journey to Nativity, making our way to the altar of Nazareth House to meet the Lord Emmanuel, God with us, in His perpetual giving of Himself to us as we experience the sacramental foretaste of the Kingdom of Heaven.

May God bless you and give you good strength in this Nativity Fast, the Advent of His Coming in the flesh. Let us prepare and make ready!

“The time of our salvation draws near. Make ready, O cave! The Virgin draws near to bear the Christ. Be glad and rejoice, O Bethlehem, land of Judah, for our Lord has come from thee! Hearken, O mountains and hills, ye lands around Judea, or Christ, the Lover of man, is coming to save those whom He created!”  

In Christ – Hieromonk Mark

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