Parish Meeting This Sunday

Dear brothers and sisters,

This Sunday will be the last of the Church year, with the new ecclesiastical year beginning next Tuesday on 1/14 September.

To mark this transition, we will be holding a General Parish Meeting after Sunday’s Liturgy, looking back over the last year and a half as the rector (Hieromonk Mark), parish administrator (Deacon Mark), and treasurer report on various aspects of parish life.

Much has happened since our last parish meeting, with the geographical area in which our parishioners live expanding across the Severn, from where loyal new parishioners now make weekly journeys. Given the distances involved, not everyone will be able to be in church on Sunday, but we nevertheless encourage those unable to attend to raise any subjects they wish to be discussed on the agenda.

We encourage you all to attend the meeting and to give your views and opinions on the matters we need to discuss. It is your parish, and your voice, ideas and opinions count.

We hope that you will be with us on Sunday, when we will have a bring-and-share lunch after Liturgy, and then hold our meeting. So, bring-and-share will obviously mean bringing something to share!

We especially look forward to welcoming more parishioners back from their travels, new friends who have been in touch with us over the past month or two, and hopefully some of our faithful who have not been with us for a while.

May God bless you all!

In Christ – Fr Mark

The Feast of Saints Adrian and Natalia.

On this feast of the Holy Marytrs Adrian and Natalia, we send our warmest greetings to our dear sisters in Cardiff, Newquay, Cheltenham and Bristol, congratulating them on their name day and praying that they mar be granted many, blessed years! Многая и благая лтѣа!

In the fourth century, the pagan Roman Emperor Maximian cruelly persecuted those who believed in Christ. He came together with his soldiers to the city of Nicomedia in Asia Minor. There it was reported that in a certain cave Christians were hiding, and that they sang and prayed the whole night to their God. Immediately Maximian sent his soldiers to seize these Christians. The soldiers did as they were commanded and the Christians were beaten and brought in iron chains to the place of judgment. One of the chiefs of the judgment place, a young man by the name of Adrian, seeing how patiently and how willingly the Christians suffered for their faith, asked what reward they expected to receive from their God for such tortures. The holy martyrs replied: “It is written in Scripture that eye hath not seen, nor hath ear heard, nor hath it entered the heart of man those things which God hath prepared for those who love Him” (I Cor. 2:9). Hearing these words, Adrian declared that he too wished to be a Christian and was willing to die together with them for Christ. For this he was also thrown into prison.

When Adrian’ s young wife Natalie was told of her husband’s conversion to Christ and of his imprisonment, instead of being sad, she greatly rejoiced for she was secretly a Christian herself and she knew the joy which now filled her husband’s heart. She ran to the prison and, falling down at the feet of her husband, she kissed his chains and said, “Blessed are you, my Adrian; you have found such a treasure.” When Adrian was brought before the Emperor and threatened with torture if he did not worship the pagan gods, his godly-minded wife Natalie and the other martyrs encouraged him saying: “Having been found worthy to carry your own cross and to follow Christ, take care that you do not turn back and lose your eternal reward.”

Adrian had always faithfully served his earthly king, but now he was to serve the King of Heaven. He courageously endured the tortures and was returned to the prison. There Natalie, together with other pious women, would come and help the prisoners, cleaning and bandaging their wounded bodies. When the cruel Emperor found out about this, he forbade them to visit the prison. But the blessed Natalie had such love for the sufferers that she cut her hair and put on men’s clothing. In this disguise she was able to enter the prison.

Day after day the holy martyrs endured such cruel and severe tortures that they were barely alive. The Emperor became angry that even under such tortures they would not deny their God. Finally he ordered for them a violent death. Their arms and legs were cut off and their bodies were thrown into a fire to be burned so that none of the Christians might gather their precious remains. But just at that moment, there burst forth thunder and lightning and a powerful rain which put out the fire. Natalie, together with other Christians took the bodies of the holy martyrs from the fire and rejoiced to see that God had preserved them from harm. A faithful Christian man and his wife then took the holy relics to Constantinople where they could be safely kept until the death of the impious Emperor.

After a certain time, a pagan nobleman desired to marry Natalie who was still young and beautiful. She cried and begged God to save her from this union with an unbeliever. Having prayed fervently, St. Natalie fell from exhaustion and sorrow into a light sleep during which the holy martyrs appeared to her in a vision and said, “Peace be unto you. God has not forgotten your labors. We shall pray that you will come to us soon. Get on a ship and go to the place where our bodies are and the Lord will make Himself known to you.”

Following their directions, the blessed Natalie reached Constantinople and going to the church where the bodies of the holy martyrs lay, she fell down before them and prayed. She was so tired from the journey that she fell asleep and saw in a dream her husband St. Adrian, who said to her, “Come my beloved, and enjoy the reward of your labors.” Very soon after this St. Natalie died peacefully in her sleep. Although she did not shed her own blood, she is numbered among the martyrs for having co-suffered with them, serving and encouraging them in their heroic struggles for the sake of Christ.

Originally published in Orthodox America no. 12, August, 1981

The Petrovskaya Icon of the Mother of God

On this day, on which we remember St Peter, Metropolitan of Moscow and All Rus, we also celebrate the Petrovskaya Icon of the Mother of God, which was the work of his own hands.

From the cell of Hieromonk Mark

This is one of the most intimate of the umilenie (tenderness) icons, in which the left hand of the Mother of God holds the Christ-child, whilst her right hand not only points to the infant Saviour, but caresses Him, holding Him against her chest, whilst the face of the Holy Mother and her Divine Son touch.

The Mother of God is still the Hodegetria (She Who Shows the Way) in this icon, but she does not do so with a gesture of regal formality, but in a movement that is characterised by love, warmth and familiarity as she diverts us from herself to the Son was the meaning of every second of her life. She does not even look at us, but averts our eyes, deep in contemplation.

This icon profoundly captures the motherhood of the Virgin, and is far from the icons which represent her as the Queen of Heaven, majestic and imperial. Rather, in this icon we see the grace-filled, humble humanity of the Mother of God.

Superfluous detail is ignored by the iconographer, and we – looking at the mutual love of mother and child – are left with only the simple incarnational and salvific Truth, that “the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth.”

This is the selfless and dutiful mother, who at the wedding in Cana will say, “Do whatever He tells you.” and from this icon, pointing to the Way, the Truth and the Life, she continues to say this to each of us.

Most glorious, Ever-Virgin, blessed Mother of Christ our God, present our prayer to thy Son and our God, and pray that through thee He may save our souls.

The Leave-Taking of the Dormition

Dear brothers, sisters and friends of our Cardiff and Cheltenham parishes,

The Liturgy in Cardiff today was greatly blessed by the addition of Father Luke to the celebrating clergy, much to the joy of those who have not seen him for a considerable time, with parishioners from deepest Wiltshire thinking they might drive all the way to West Wales to see him.

Father Luke was a very great help today, given parishioners had travelled from Gloucestershire, Wiltshire and Swansea, and all required confession.

We congratulate all who partook of the Holy Mysteries on this Leave-Taking of the feast of the Dormition, when at the end of Liturgy, after the chanting of the encomia and velichanie for the Dormition, the plashchanitsa of the Mother of God was returned to the sanctuary.

Sunday was also the feast of St Irenaeus of Lyons and Bishop Irenei was greeted for his nameday by telephone yesterday evening, as he was leaving church after the vigil in our parish in Lyons. After the dismissal today’s Liturgy, we chanted Mnogaya Leta for our bishop, with an icon of St Irenaeus, written within the parish, being blessed before presentation to His Grace when the clergy visit the cathedral for its altar-feast: the Nativity of the Mother of God.

I was also very pleased to bless an icon of St Andrei Ufimsky by the hand of the same iconographer, and will be cherishing this in my cell.

The parish received a wonderful blessing this week, as our Chancellor, Archpriest Paul, commended the old candlestands from ROCOR‘s former Bradford parish the care of our community, and we were able to put them into use, knowing that these humble stands had been used in the worship of the Russian Church Outside of Russia since 1946. We sincerely hope they will still be in use in another seventy-five years.

In addition to visiting Wallasey and the Parish of St Elizabeth this week, Father Deacon Mark and I have also had the pleasure of visiting Vladika Irenei in London and the Cheltenham parish yesterday, so it has been a very busy week with significant mileage. To add to this, Deacon Mark is driving to Heathrow to meet matushka Alla and Yuriy who are on their return journey from Crimea at this very moment.

Though matushka and Yuriy are still in transit, other parishioners have arrived home, and it was lovely to have faithful back from Ukraine and Russia and to celebrate the Liturgy and the end of our ‘Summer Pascha’ with them.

As I explained at Liturgy, a very difficult work rota for me will make confessions a challenge this week, but I hope that it will be possible to hear confessions on Thursday. Given the challenges of the week, may I ask all requiring confession, and who are able to do so on Thursday to contact me by Wednesday lunchtime (indicating any time that you would NOT be available that day), so that I may endeavour to make arrangements: otetzmark@hotmail.com 

Given that next Sunday’s Liturgy is followed by a General Parish Meeting, it will only be possible to hear a few confessions before Liturgy, and there will be no possibility to hear either long confessions, or confessions after Liturgy. I am sorry, but on top of my work rota, the meeting makes this unavoidable. Also, there will be no Saturday evening service.

As always, our thanks go to everyone who made our celebrations in Cardiff and Cheltenham possible this weekend, particularly our servers and singers, and our sisters who prepared the food enjoyed by our hungry and appreciative faithful.

May God bless you all.

In Christ – Hieromonk Mark

A Joyous Day in Cheltenham

After the turmoil and confusion of the last week, this morning was full of light not simply due to the glorious late summer weather, but also the joy of meeting our core Cheltenham parishioners as we come to the end of the Dormition period.

Rather bleary eyed after a week of visiting, we headed from west to east, across the Severn to celebrate the penultimate day of the feast with our brothers and sisters in Gloucestershire.

After a meeting to discuss continuing parish life, we shared a festive lunch and then prayed the akathist to the Mother of God, in honour of her icon the Giver of Reason (Pribavlenie Uma – Прибавление ума), whose feast fell last Sunday.

The parishioners who attended, and those who were unable and sent their apologies, confirmed the very evident truth that the ROCOR parish of the Holy Great Prince Vladimir is alive and well – Praise God!

As well as discussing continuing liturgical and spiritual life, we look to building links between the Cheltenham and Cardiff parishes, something which has hitherto been little encouraged from Gloucestershire. Our Cardiff community will do everything possible to support its brothers and sisters across the Severn, and our Cheltenham parishioners are already encouraging car-shares to Cardiff, whilst we make arrangements for the next service in Cheltenham.

Father Deacon Mark and I are extremely grateful for the warm hospitality we received today, and are greatly heartened by the strength and resilience we encountered.

We earnestly pray for God’s blessing upon the Cheltenham faithful, and praise Him for their steadfastness in the Faith.

Most Holy Mother of God, save us!

Holy Great Prince Vladimir, pray to God for us!

O Most Pure Theotokos, the House that God’s Wisdom has created for Himself, Giver of spiritual gifts, who dost elevate our minds from the world to the spiritual spheres and teach us reason! Accept the prayerful singing of thine unworthy servants, who venerate thee with faith and compunction before thy Most Pure image. Entreat thy Son and our God that He may grant our authorities wisdom and power; our judges truth and justice; our pastors spiritual wisdom, zeal and vigilant guarding of our souls; our mentors humble wisdom; our children obedience, and to all of us the spirit of reason and piety, the spirit of humility and meekness, the spirit of purity and truth. And now, our all-praised and all-loved Mother, increase our intelligence, pacify and unite those in hostility and separation, and give them an unbreakable bond of love; direct all those who have strayed through lack of reason, to the light of Christ’s truth and edify them in fear of God, abstention and love of work; give words of wisdom and knowledge, useful for the souls of those pleading with thee, who art more radiant than the cherubim and more honourable than the seraphim; that we, seeing God’s glorious works and His unfathomable wisdom, in the world and in our lives, shall abandon all earthly vanity and needless earthly concerns, raising our minds and our hearts to the heavens, and with thy protection and help shall glorify, thank and praise God, One in three and Creator of all, now and ever and unto the ages of ages. Amen  

God Preserve Our Cheltenham Faithful!

Dear brothers and sisters, 

How sad it is to learn of such subterfuge and deception in the Church, as faithful parishioners of the Cheltenham parish (opposed to the plans of the suspended reader, Philip Hicks) inform us that they were excluded from the on-line meeting held yesterday evening, to ‘discuss’ the future of the parish. 

Other parishioners refused to take part in this meeting, as it was irregular, contrary to the byelaws of ROCOR and part of the attempted coup.

However, loyal parishioners whose views were not known and were therefore not blocked from the meeting, have reported that there was no real discussion, and that there will be no vote, as the schismatic party has declared that this is a ‘lateral move’. At least the Ukrainian schismatics have a ‘vote’ – even if it is rigged with busloads of people from elsewhere.

Therefore, having decided that he would move to the Paris-based Archdiocese, suspended Reader Philip Hicks (who has no canonical release form ROCOR) is ignoring the parishioners who are rejecting this schism, and at his behest the parish is transferring to the Archdiocese of Metropolitan Jean of Dubna. 

No it is not, whatever the suspended Reader, his wife and handful of supporters may do! 

The ROCOR parish in Cheltenham will continue and Cheltenham parishioners have contacted Father Deacon Mark and myself, making clear their opposition to this rebellion, pledging their loyalty to the ROCOR and to Vladyka Irenei as their bishop. They are clear that the Parish of the Holy Great Prince Vladimir is THEIR parish, not the possession of a suspended reader and the starosta. 

What does this mean? 

  • The Cheltenham Parish of ROCOR will continue to exist, no matter what the other party says, does or insists – and the individuals involved will probably be stamping their feet and insisting on a lot of things. 
  • It means that the Cheltenham parish will continue to be cared for by Cardiff clergy, despite the demands on us in Wales.  
  • There are already discussions regarding organising car-shares and transport to make it possible for as many of the faithful (some of whom do not drive) to attend worship in Cardiff and we will seek to do the same for movement in the other direction for Cheltenham services.
  • We do not know whether it will be possible to worship in All Saints Pittville, so we are examining other options. His Grace, the Bishop of Ebbsfleet, under whose spiritual jurisdiction All Saints falls, has been advised of this schismatic activity and the clerical suspensions in place. We await his response. 
  • Father Deacon Mark and I will meet the faithful as much as possible, to pray and give reassurance as some have been deeply hurt, confused and distressed by these awful events and the secretive machinations behind their backs. They need our prayers, and support – spiritually and possibly materially. 
  • Our parishes will be spiritually reconnected after what appears an obvious and conscious effort to de-ROCORise the Cheltenham Parish and separate our flocks.

I call upon the Cardiff faithful to support this Cheltenham flock as much as possible: to travel to services; to assure them of our love and support when they are with us; to consider accommodating anyone who is forced to use public transport (and this applies to others of our flock from beyond the Severn).  

When Liturgy resumes, I hope that Cardiff parishioners, whether from South Wales or the West of England will make the pilgrimage to Cheltenham, so that we can all join together as one flock of our diocese, from which others have left to further their own schemes. 

Above all, we must pray with fervour and hope, for the peace of the Church, for the healing of schism, and for those who have fallen away. May Christ purify and enlighten their minds, driving away the fog and darkness which obscures their vision, so that they may repent and be re-united to His Church. 

In the meantime, the Patriarch’s office, reassures Vladyka Irenei of the personal support of His Holiness, and His Grace, Bishop Matvey of Sourozh has stated his opposition to this schism, despite the statements made claiming His support for the awful events of the last week. His Holiness is clear that statements regarding the transferral of the suspended Archpriest Andrew Phillips and his coterie are false. The Patriarch has not blessed this move and has himself declared it uncanonical. 

Lastly, I remind the faithful in Cheltenham that the Reader Philip is suspended and forbidden to exercise his ministry as a Reader. The Church is clear that praying and worshipping with a suspended cleric is canonically forbidden and a sin. Expect to told that he is not suspended, that you are being deceived by your ROCOR clergy, and that all is canonically well. Do not listen; do not discuss; simply refuse and stay away.  

Some of you may be contacted by the schismatic party in the next few days. State that you are a parishioner of the ROCOR parish of the Holy Great Prince Vladimir, that you are loyal to your Church and bishop and put the telephone down. Do not be bullied, do not be pressurised, and remember you have nothing to discuss. End the telephone call and go and light a candle and pray for those trying to lead you into schism and further their own ambitions with you as a tool. Be humble, be merciful and compassionate – but also be wise! 

“Brethren, be sober, be vigilant, because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour: Whom resist steadfast in the faith.” 

With much love in Christ – Hieromonk Mark

Services this weekend.

Dear brothers and sisters,

Greetings as we continue to celebrate the feast of the Dormition of the Mother of God, which we marked last Saturday and Sunday with services in St John’s, with the plashchanitsa of the Mother of God adorned with flowers.

The beautiful encomia of the Dormition were chanted during our Saturday service, and our Sunday Liturgy began before dawn, at 6:00 am, with the rising sun illuminating the east window of St John’s as the Liturgy progressed.

At the end of a prayerful and beautiful Liturgy, we emerged into the late summer sunshine and made our way to Victoria Park for a parish breakfast of pirozhky, cakes, tea, coffee, and even sweet wine!

It was wonderful to have the faithful travel from as far apart as Llanelli and Stroud, and to have time together chatting in the sunshine, joined by Father Sorin, matushka and his sons and daughters after the Romanian Liturgy, in St Luke’s.

The feast continues till Sunday, when we will again hear the encomia for the Dormition, before the plashchanitsa is venerated and returned to the altar, before its return journey to my kellia, in Llanelli.

We will meet for compline and confessions on Saturday, at 16:30, though we will be there around 16:00, with the possibility of some confessions being heard before the service.

Then on Sunday, the church will be open for us around 10:15, for set up and the proskomedia and Hours at 11:00, followed by the Liturgy.

Again, I encourage parishioners to bring savoury and sweet ‘finger food’ for easy sharing after the service, when tea and coffee will be available.

Your prayers are asked for our Cheltenham parishioners who have stated their opposition to their suspended reader’s aim of persuading them to leave the ROCOR.

May God bless them and defend them from schism, and may the Most Holy Mother of God preserve them beneath her most pure veil.

Despite our demands here in Wales, Father Deacon Mark, I and our Cardiff parishioners (some of whom live in Wiltshire) will support our ROCOR faithful in Gloucestershire. Supporting our Cheltenham faithful, and finding ways to enable the clergy to do this will be discussed at our General Parish Meeting, after the Divine Liturgy on Sunday, 12 September.

The variables for this Sunday’s service may be found at –

https://drive.google.com/file/d/19P-r-hkH6k6tMsTS3FUjmO_p0iQMZ84A/view

Most Holy Mother of God, save us!

In Christ – Hieromonk Mark

The Cheltenham Mission

Dear brothers and sisters,

Many of you will be painfully aware of the unfolding events surrounding the schism within our diocese, in which one archpriest, has led two deacons, a group of readers (and two non-ROCOR Moldovan priests) to the former Paris ‘Exarchate’, which has received them without canonical release by our ruling hierarch, Bishop Irenei. The ROCOR clerics have all been suspended.

It has been claimed that the communities involved are moving, with their clerics, after a meeting and vote.

This affects us in the west, as the Cheltenham parish (served by the Cardiff clergy until recently) has been drawn into this. Its reader, Philip Hicks (now suspended) is one of those who has followed the suspended Archpriest, Andrew Phillips.

This is very sad as the Cheltenham parish has been a wonderful example of community-life during and after lockdown, in which Reader Philip has selflessly ensured not only the maintenance, but also the growth of parish prayer life.

There have been openly discussed and acknowledged frustrations regarding provision of a priest, and uncertainty about the future, which may have led to the exploration of alternative ways forward.

However, this was not done openly, but without any discussion with Father Deacon Mark or I, and without discussion with our Chancellor or Bishop, as far as I am aware. Clearly, there were discussions with other parties, who involved Cheltenham (without the knowledge of the parishioners) in their own plans and schemes.

Contrary to claims, the few Cheltenham parishioners with whom Deacon Mark and I have spoken have said they know nothing of this move, and that there has been no meeting or parish discussion regarding a change of jurisdiction. Parishioners have referred to vague allusions to alternatives, but no group discussion.

Last night, together with his new Dean, the suspended Reader Philip made an on-line announcement that a meeting will be held this Wednesday to discuss and vote on this matter, despite the fact that he now claims to belong to another jurisdiction and under the omophorion of another bishop. This is obviously an anomaly, and for a ROCOR parish this meeting is unconstitutional.

The clergy who have served the parish cannot even get replies to emails, and I am sadly unable to communicate with most Cheltenham parishioners, as only Reader Philip has their contact details, and has sole administrator rights of all social media. For a considerable time, my greetings and homilies have not been published on the Cheltenham Facebook page, and this seems to suggest a gradual de-ROCORisation of the parish, as Deacon Mark and I have been airbrushed out of parish identity.

From the perspective of the Russian Church Outside of Russia, what has been reported and what is being planned is irregular, uncanonical and an abuse. All of these machinations are a painful betrayal of the trust of the parish, the clergy and diocese, trampling on the obedience which is the very foundation of any ministry in the Church.

I wish to stress that despite the burdens of combining full-time work and parish responsibilities, the Cardiff clergy will continue to minister to the Cheltenham faithful who reject this schism and remain faithful to their Church.

I urgently ask Cheltenham parishioners to contact the clergy to seek clarification, accurate information, and assurance.

Email: otetzmark@hotmail.com and rmfisher@ntlworld.com .

Telephone: Hieromonk Mark 07593 239947 (though unavailable until this evening) and Deacon Mark 07790 031375.

Please pray fervently for the peace of the Church and all involved in this tragedy, and share this information with Cheltenham parishioners.

In Christ – Hieromonk Mark

Greetings on the Dormition of the Most Holy Mother of God

“Today the living ladder, through whom the Most High descended and was seen on earth, and conversed with men, was assumed into heaven by death. Today the heavenly table, she, who contained the bread of life, the fire of the Godhead, without knowing man, was assumed from earth to heaven, and the gates of heaven opened wide to receive the gate of God from the East. Today the living city of God is transferred from the earthly to the heavenly Jerusalem, and she, who, conceived her first-born and only Son, the first-born of all creation, the only begotten of the Father, rests in the Church of the first-born: the true and living Ark of the Lord is taken to the peace of her Son.”  

St John of Damascus: Third homily on the Dormition of the Mother of God 

Dear brothers and sisters,

Greetings as we celebrate the Dormition of the Most Holy Theotokos, and her translation from earth to heaven.

I am only able to write a brief greeting for the feast, having worked yesterday afternoon/evening, and having returned to work to work until 14:30, today.

Belatedly, when we gather in St John’s, later, we will hear the words of the encomia, based on those which we sing before the plashchanitsa / shroud on Good Friday, hearing the joyful nature of the verses, which balances the mourning of the apostles, as we celebrate the translation of the Mother of God from death to life.

“Overcome with wonder, in awe, in beholding thee Pure Maiden laid out as dead, for from Thee has Light beamed forth to all the world.”

From the first stasis of the Greek encomia

The fact that she fell asleep in the slumber of death is essential to the glory and triumph of the feast, as we celebrate not a deathless Assumption, but a Dormition and Assumption that realises true and full participation in the Resurrection, as the Theotokos shares in her Son’s victory over death, as is raised and ascends in the flesh, to sit at His right hand.

It is the reality of her death and the sojourn of her body in her tomb in Gethsemane, together her physical resurrection, that makes this feast a second Pascha, which manifests Christ’s victory on the Cross and the empty tomb.

In his first homily for the feast St John of Damascus says, “O wonder surpassing nature and creating wonder! Death, which of, old was feared and hated, is a matter of praise and blessing. Of old, it was the harbinger of grief, dejection, tears, and sadness, and now it is shown forth as the cause of joy and rejoicing.” 

He stresses the reality of her burial, saying,

“This truly happened, and she was held by the tomb… so now that holy, undefiled, and divine body, filled with heavenly fragrance, the rich source of grace, is laid in the tomb that it may be translated to a higher and better place.”

And, in his second homily, he writes of her burial by the apostles:

“Then they reached the most sacred Gethsemane, and once more there were embracings and prayers and panegyrics, hymns and tears, poured forth by sorrowful and loving hearts. They mingled a flood of weeping and sweating. And thus the immaculate body was laid in the tomb.” 

As her death becomes the gate through which she is raised and translated to heaven, she is recognised as the Gate of Life through which the God-Man and Saviour passed in the Divine Incarnation, and in the words of the Akathist Hymn, “the Heavenly Ladder, by which God came down…”

“We had shut the door of paradise; thou didst find entrance to the tree of life. Through us sorrow came out of good; through thee good from sorrow. How canst thou who art all fair taste of death? Thou art the gate of life and the ladder to heaven.” 

St John of Damascus: Second homily on the Dormition of the Mother of God 

As the Gate and the Ladder, she shows the way, as represented by her most ancient iconographic prototype: the Hodegetria – ‘She who shows the Way”.

Through her Dormition and Assumption, enthroned in the Kingdom of Heaven, she becomes the Hodegetria in an even greater and more profound way. Her earthly mission in showing the way is transformed, as the Way, the Truth and the Life – her Son – translates her into eternity, from whence she continues to guide us, now freed from earthly constraints and the limitations of time and space, in the ultimate and eternal reality of the Kingdom of Heaven, from whence her “countenance appeareth now as paradise, breathing forth to all believers grace and life.”

But, the glory of the Mother of God, is rather the Lord’s Glory, for as the moon reflects the light of the sun, so the Theotokos reflects the glory of her Son. As St John of Damascus peaches in his first homily for the feast, “Neither human tongue nor angelic mind is able worthily to praise her through whom it is given to us to look clearly upon the Lord’s glory.”

St Gregory Palamas contemplates the beauty of the Mother of God, translated from earth to heaven, as he asks her,

“Who can describe in words thy divinely resplendent beauty, O Virgin Mother of God? Thoughts and words are inadequate to define thine attributes, since they surpass mind and speech. Yet it is meet to chant hymns of praise to thee, for thou art a vessel containing every grace, the fulness of all things good and beautiful, the tablet and living icon of every good and all uprightness, since thou alone hast been deemed worthy to receive the fulness of every gift of the Spirit.” 

Thus, we too approach with hymns as we celebrate the Dormition, and the Assumption of the Mother of God, a spiritual translation through which she truly receives this fulness of the gifts of the Holy Spirit in Heaven, “From thence thou ever carest diligently for thine inheritance and by thine unsleeping intercessions with Him, thou showest mercy to all.” 

On this glorious feast, with its Paschal echoes, we join St Gregory, as we entrust ourselves to this diligent care, and say to the Mother of God,

“O divine, and now heavenly, Virgin, how can I express all things which pertain to thee? How can I glorify the treasury of all glory? Merely thy memory sanctifies whoever keeps it, and a mere movement towards thee makes the mind more translucent, and thou dost exalt it straightway to the Divine. The eye of the intellect is through thee made limpid, and through thee the spirit of a man is illumined by the sojourning of the Spirit of God, since thou hast become the steward of the treasury of divine gifts and their vault, and this, not in order to keep them for thyself, but so that thou mightest make created nature replete with grace. Indeed, the steward of those inexhaustible treasuries watches over them so that the riches may be dispensed; and what could confine that wealth which wanes not? Richly, therefore, bestow thy mercy and thy graces upon all thy people, this thine inheritance, O Lady! Dispel the perils which menace us. See how greatly we are expended by our own and by aliens, by those without and by those within. Uplift all by thy might: mollify our fellow citizens one with another and scatter those who assault us from without-like savage beasts. Measure out thy succour and healing in proportion to our passions, apportioning abundant grace to our souls and bodies, sufficient for every necessity. And although we may prove incapable of containing thy bounties, augment our capacity and in this manner bestow them upon us, so that being both saved and fortified by thy grace, we may glorify the pre-eternal Word Who was incarnate of thee for our sakes, together with His unoriginate Father and the life-creating Spirit, now and ever and unto the endless ages. Amen.”

 

Services and confessions this weekend.

Dear brothers and sisters,  

May I remind you that this coming Sunday of the Dormition, God willing, our Liturgy will be at the unusually early time of 06:00, due to Anglican use of St John’s around noon. 

The Liturgy itself, NOT the hours, will start at this time, and we must vacate the church by 08:30, as there is an Anglican service at 09:00. Please arrive promptly. Although this is an extra early start, especially as we usually begin the Liturgy three hours later, all (especially communicants) should be in church for the initial blessing of the Liturgy. We understand that those travelling distances may be unable to be there for 6:00, but those living in Cardiff should be in church for this early start. Remember, this is what our Romanian sister-parish has to do EVERY week! 

The early start will make it impossible to hear confessions before Liturgy, but although it cannot be guaranteed, there may be time for confessions for those travelling from Wiltshire and Gloucestershire, afterwards. In this case, confessions will need to be brief, as there is no leeway regarding our departure time. Anyone hoping to confess on Sunday should email me: otetzmark@hotmail.com 

Parishioners have suggested a post-Liturgy gathering for ‘coffee and cake’ (or something more substantial in the café, perhaps) in Canton’s Victoria Park, which seems an excellent idea. So, those who would like to join this gathering should bring their flasks and supplies, or we could stage an Orthodox takeover of the park café. It should open at 08:30 and provide shelter, should the weather be inclement… which would be traditional for our Welsh summer. 

Should anyone feel so inclined, the remaining day could possibly accommodate a visit to a local holy place. Suggestions please! 

Confessions for local parishioners will be heard on Saturday, when – God willing – we will celebrate compline at 16:30. Sadly, although Saturday is the feast of the Dormition, I was unable to take the day off from my secular employment and will have to work until 14:30.

Sunday, the second day of the Dormition, will be the feast of the Icon of the Saviour ‘Not Made by Human Hands’ (the Mandilion / Holy Face) and the Icon of the Mother of God the Giver of Reason (Pribavlenie Uma). 

The variables may be found, as usual, at the Orthodox Austin website: 

https://drive.google.com/file/d/1zkb0J92JqJjw6fsYni7ln5hx9br-RNw4/view 

I look forward to celebrating with all who are able to gather on Sunday.

Asking your forgiveness for Christ’s sake. 

Spasi Gospodi – Fr Mark