Greetings For the Exultation of the Cross – the Tree of Life

The Cross is the guardian of the whole world! The Cross is the beauty of the Church! The Cross is the strength of kings! The Cross is the support of the faithful! The Cross is the glory of the angels and the wounder of the demons!”


In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

Dear brothers and sisters,

Greetings for the feast of the Exultation of the Precious and Life-Giving Cross of the Lord.

Contrary to the logic of the world and the mockery of the modern day equivalent of the Jews (for whom the Cross was a stumbling block) and the Greeks (for whom the Cross was foolishness), today, we joyfully celebrate the feast.

In our temples, we surround the Cross with herbs and flowers, venerating it as a precious treasure and source of sanctification, blessing and healing.

Prostrating ourselves and venerating it, we chant, “Before Thy Cross we bow down, O Master, and Thy holy Resurrection we glorify.”

In our cathedrals and monasteries, hierarchs and abbots bless the four corners of the earth, with the Cross as the sign of victory by which the demons are conquered, the powers of evil put to flight, and the world consecrated through God’s grace. We know that the powers of hell fear this very sign and painful reminder of their own defeat and impotence.

But, how can it be that a the Church came to recognise a Roman gibbet, a shameful tool of torture and death to be the sign of victory and the Tree of Life?

The early Christians and Fathers of the Church saw many types of the Cross in the Jewish scriptures: in the wood with which Noah built the salvific ark; in the the wood carried for Isaac’s intended sacrifice; in the rod of Moses, which divided the Red Sea, opening a path from slavery to freedom; in the cruciform raising of Moses arms, by which Israel defeated Amalek; in the bronze serpent set cross-wise on a pole for the healing of the Israelites bitten by the fiery snakes.

In all of these, the meaning and vision was of healing, deliverance, freedom, salvation, victory and restoration.

As inheritors of the early Christian understanding of the prophetic and prefigurative voice of the scriptures in image and symbol, and as heirs of their spiritual approach to the Cross, we celebrate and honour it in its glorious, life-giving fulness.

Like the early Christians, seeing beyond the Saviour’s pain and suffering in His accepting, embracing, carrying and enduring the Cross, we see life, liberation, the restoration of humanity and the redemption of Adam and Eve, and of all humanity with them.

Thus, over twenty centuries after an instrument of torturous death was transformed and consecrated by the Saviour’s sacrificial love, obedience, humility, and His total outpouring of self, we Orthodox Christians hymn and venerate the Life-Giving Cross as the Tree of Life, the destruction of hell and the death of death.

Whilst some heretics are loathe to even acknowledge the reality of the crucifixion and the form of the Cross, we embrace it with enthusiastic devotion and deep love – having been sealed with its precious image in Holy Baptism and Chrismation; wearing it around our necks; being signed with it upon our heads in confession as we are assured of Christ’s forgiveness for the penitent; anointed with its form in Holy Unction; tracing its image upon ourselves in prayer and divine worship, and being blessed with that same figure.

In the hymns of Paschal matins, we boldly declare that “through the Cross, joy hath come to all the world…”, and exulting in this joy, we are mindful that at the heart of the meaning of the Cross is the reckless and limitless love of God, of which the sacrificial-love of the Cross was sign of the absolute nature of that love in which God held His Creation from its very beginning.

Desirous for the redemption and restoration of His children from the very moment of their fall, in that love, in the economy of salvation, He sought to heal like by means of like, entering into creation itself to effect the healing and salvation of the fallen.

Just as sin, disobedience and death entered the world through wood – by the Tree of Knowledge – so righteousness, obedience, and restored life would be effected through the Wood: the Tree of the Cross, which has become for us the Tree of Life.

He Who was raised up on this Tree, of His own will, was the very Immortal Word of God and Creator of Whom St John tells us, “All things were created through Him, and apart from Him not one thing was created that has been created…”

As the first Adam fell through approaching a tree in disobedience, and the fruit of that tree was death, so the second Adam approached His Tree in obedience, and the fruit of that Tree is life!

This is proclaimed by the Church’s hymns for the feast, in which we reflect that the tree was healed by a Tree, chanting in matins,

“Of old, in paradise, a tree stripped me naked, the enemy bringing about mortality through eating; but the Tree of the Cross, bearing for men the vesture of life, hath been planted in the ground, and the whole world hath been filled with all manner of joy.”

From the height of that Tree, Christ, the Wisdom, Word and Power of God created anew: making of humanity and the world a new creation, whose conception is signalled by the words of the sacrificed Lamb of God, “It is done.”

As the earth quaked, the sun was eclipsed, the Veil of the Temple was rent from top to bottom, and the bodies of the saints rose from their graves, the awesome, life-giving and world-changing power of the Cross was first manifested in the labour pains of a new world born and created from the height of the Cross.

Year by year, we celebrate this wonderful mystery in this feast of the Exultation, knowing that those who love the Cross of Christ, embracing its message of sacrificial love, selflessness and obedience in their lives are themselves exalted by the Cross just as much as we exalt the Cross on this joyful feast.

St Ephrem the Syrian poetically speaks of the Cross as a bridge spanning the jaws of death, and leading to ‘the land of the living’:

“He who was also the carpenter’s glorious son set up his Cross above death’s all-consuming jaws, and led the human race into the dwelling place of life. Since a tree had brought about the downfall of mankind, it was upon a tree that mankind crossed over to the realm of life. Bitter was the branch that had once been grafted upon that ancient tree, but sweet the young shoot that has now been grafted in, the shoot in which we are meant to recognise the Lord whom no creature can resist.

We give glory to Thee, O Lord, who raised up Thy Cross to span the jaws of death like a bridge by which souls might pass from the region of the dead to the land of the living. We give glory to Thee who put on the body of a single mortal man and made it the source of life for every other mortal man.”

On this feast, we glorify the Lord and His Life-Giving Cross, by which hell was defeated and stripped bare as the Risen Lord led our first-father and first mother with the saints of the Old Israel across this wondrous bridge from death to life. 

In labouring to follow Him, Who wishes to exalt and raise us up by His Cross, let us rejoice and celebrate in the radiant joy of the feast.

“Come then, my brothers and sisters, let us offer our Lord the great and all-embracing sacrifice of our love, pouring out our treasury of hymns and prayers before him who offered his Cross in sacrifice to God for the enrichment of all.”

(St. Ephrem the Syrian, 306-373 AD)

As the Tree of Life, and the sign of selfless cruciform-love, let us live with the Mystery and meaning of the Cross, as the centre of our lives: our axis mundi stretching from earth to heaven.



The Nativity of the Mother of God

Greetings on this glorious feast, so joyfully lauded by the Church Fathers as the beginning of the renewal of creation through the birth of the Virgin, from whom the Creator would be born and come in the flesh to restore fallen Adam and make creation new.

The hymns of the feast boldly declare that today is the great day of the beginning of our deliverance, liberation and salvation, triumphantly declaring in the first stikhiron of the vespers litia that –

“Today is the beginning of our salvation, O ye people! For, lo! the Virgin Mother, who was foretold from generations of old as the receptacle of God, cometh forth to be born of a barren woman…”

St John Damascene, calls all of humanity to celebrate this wonderful event, saying, “Come, all nations, every race of men, every language, every age and every rank! Let us joyfully celebrate the nativity of joy for the whole world!”

But, as we celebrate this long-past Nativity through which the economy of salvation was put into motion upon the face of the earth, he also calls renewed creation itself to join in the joy and wonder of the momentous birth of the Mother of God: “Let the whole of creation make festival and sing of the most holy birth-giving of the holy Anna. For she bore for the world an inviolable treasury of blessings. Through her the Creator transformed all nature into a better state by means of humanity.”

And, today is the joyful prelude to the Creator’s transformation of our humanity by means of the very humanity that He received from His Virgin-Mother. In her Nativity, the Mother of God rises like the day-star which announces the bright dawn of the Sun of Righteousness, after the long and deepening spiritual darkness of the centuries before the coming of Christ.

The rising of this day-star was foreordained by God from the very moment of the fall of the first-father and the first-mother, and the children of the old Israel advanced towards it through the long night of the Old Covenant, with the continuum of the successive generations of the forebears of the Mother of God as the ascent and rising of her as the morning star, growing closer – century by century – to her rising and shining in the darkness before the dawn of the Light of the World in His Nativity in the cave of Bethlehem.

In the Old Testament scriptures the Church Fathers and early Christians saw many prefigurings of the Mother of God: in Jacob’s Ladder, in the Burning Bush, in the Tabernacle, in the Ark of the Covenant within the Holy of Holies, in the stem from the root of Jesse, in the sealed gate of Ezekiel.

In such a manner, St Andrew of Crete wrote that the Theotokos is “the vision which was mystically foreshadowed of old in Moses’ burning bush – the fleece of Gideon – David’s divinely embroidered purple robe – the  cherubic throne, supremely great, fiery and lofty, holding in its womb the Lord King Sabaoth… The gate of heaven, through which the Master of the Heavens alone passed, having granted the entrance to no one before Him.”

In this rich typology, the Church Fathers saw prophetic images leading Israel towards the momentous day on which types and figures would be fulfilled in the birth of the Virgin, when symbols and shadows would pass away in the arrival of the foreordained Mother of the God-Man, Messiah and Saviour of the world.

Thus, according to the Faith of the Church, there was nothing random or accidental, no element of chance or coincidence in the birth of the Mother of God, but the foreordained council of God and His redemptive love working through the generations of the ancestors of the Theotokos, right down to the Forebears of God, Joachim and Anna, and – through prophecies and foreshadowings – God spiritually prepared Israel for the coming of the Mother of God.

To show God’s sovereign will and the workings of grace, nature was stalled in the conception of the Mother of God, as observed by St John Damascene in his festal oration:

“Nature has been defeated by grace and stands trembling, no longer ready to take the lead… But why has the Virgin Mother been born from a sterile woman?… Nature has been defeated by grace and stands trembling, no longer ready to take the lead. Therefore when the God-bearing Virgin was about to be born from Anna, nature did not dare to anticipate the offshoot of grace; instead it remained without fruit until grace sprouted its fruit.”

Her Nativity, though a natural one of human seed, was nevertheless only made possible through grace, after the parents of the Theotokos had been prepared for this unique birth by years of waiting, though it seemed mad and fruitless to the eyes of the world.

In those years of waiting in patient hope, they were transformed by God’s grace, and their long-awaited child was the fruit not only of their humanity, but also of their humility and patience, born after years spent in contrition, fasting and prayer, in which Joachim and Anna never abandoned hope in the All-Merciful God – as observed by St Gregory Palamas:

“See, all of you, how chastity, fasting and prayer, linked with contrition, made Joachim and Anna the parents of a divine vessel, a vessel chosen not just to bear the name of God, like Paul who was to be born later, but to bear Him “Whose name is Wonderful..”

The Church is clear in seeing the birth of the Mother of God, this divine vessel, as a moment of return, yet to be brought to fruition in the Saviour’s works of salvation through the cross, passion and resurrection, but still a cosmic turning point in which humanity turns back to its ancient dignity, inasmuch as the Mother of God represents all of humanity.

The great hymnographer, St Andrew of Crete, observed that,

“Today the pure nobility of humankind takes back the gift of the dignity of the first divine creation and restores it to itself… And in a word, today the reshaping of our nature begins, and the world, which had grown old, takes up a most God-like composition, receiving the beginnings of a second divine modelling.”

Each of us is called to participate in this very reshaping and remodelling, not simply by joyfully celebrating this event as passive onlookers, happy but untouched by its message, but by constantly labouring for the realisation of its inner-meaning in our lives, conforming our will to God’s will for each of us, exemplified by the parents of the Theotokos, and that of the Virgin, herself.

Living blameless lives like Joachim and Anna, we are called to constant vigil in watchfulness, prayer and spiritual labour, so that our spiritual barrenness and sterility may be overcome by God’s grace, which we must actively struggle to attain, day by day.

As their God-pleasing humility, contrition and patience was rewarded with the blessed answer to their prayers, so our perseverance and persistence will be rewarded by God. The cultivation of these virtues in our lives will transform us, and make us receptive to the grace of God. Through the struggle to acquire them, our hearts will be softened, our souls cleansed, and through this purification we will become vessels ready to receive spiritual treasures through the work and operation of the Holy Spirit.

However, we are not simply called to emulate Joachim and Anna, but above all to emulate the Mother of God, who is the apex and crown of creation, seeing in her the perfect example of of holiness, selflessness, obedience, total dedication to Christ and creation transfigured, exalted and glorified: the greatest living temple of the Holy Spirit, whose life shows what is possible when our will is perfectly conformed to the will of God, leading us from earth to the heights of heaven. 

In using Old Testament typology and symbolism, St John Damascene wrote,

“Today the “Son of the carpenter” has prepared for himself a living ladder whose base has been set on earth and whose top reaches to heaven itself. God has come to rest in her; the type that Jacob saw was of her; God descended without change through her, or in other words, having accommodated himself, he was seen on earth and lived along with humankind… The spiritual ladder, the Virgin, has been established on earth, for she had her origin from earth.”

As the Hodegetria – the one who shows the way – the Mother of God is indeed a spiritual ladder, and by emulating her wonderful example, we may climb towards the Kingdom of Heaven, but no-one will make us climb: the choice is ours, and this calling may be heeded or rejected, accepted or refused.

May this feast inspire us, to embrace its meaning with our hearts and souls, translating its joys and promises into action – spiritually, physically and mentally – loving God with our whole heart and with all our soul, with all our mind and with all our strength, as did the Mother of God, whose Nativity calls us to embrace the Gospel and respond actively and positively to the wonder of God’s love, manifested in the birth of the child who would become the Virgin-Mother through whom the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.

Let us who love God love the Mother of God, who is a sign of His love for mankind, and the chosen instrument of the Incarnation and salvation, and in loving let us struggle for holiness, even as she shows us the way to holiness.

Let us mirror our festal joy with action, offering our lives as a spiritual offering to the Virgin who offered herself for us, bearing the Saviour for each and every one of us, who in our humanity “makes it bloom again, grants it to flourish for ever, brings it up to heaven, and leads it into paradise.” (St Gregory Palamas: Oration on the Natvity of the Mother of God)

Most Holy Theotokos, save us!

Greetings for the Dormition

“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,

Festal greetings on our joyous and radiant Summer Pascha, the feast of the Dormition of the Most Holy Mother of God.

This feast is the consummation of the life of the Mother of God, whose events are renewed and transfigured in her Dormition and Assumption into heaven.

Having received the good-tidings of the Incarnation through the message of the Archangel, the Mother of God received the new good-tidings of her own imminent birth into the eternal life of the Heavenly Kingdom.

Her distant earthly nativity was crowned by her nativity into eternal life, and in the icon of the feast, we see her all-pure soul borne into the heavens in the hands of her own Divine Child in the symbolic likeness of a new-born babe wrapped in swaddling clothes.

In her Dormition, the presentation and entrance of the three year-old Mother of God into the temple and her entrance into the holy of holies in Jerusalem was superseded and crowned as she entered beyond the veil, not into the earthly ‘haikal’, but into the heavenly sanctuary of her Son, our Great High Priest.

Whilst her parents Joachim and Anna rejoiced at her childhood entrance into the temple, the whole heavenly host, and the ranks prophets and other Old Testament saints, raised in the Saviour’s harrowing of hell – and including her own parents – rejoice, as her pure soul is borne into the heavenly courts by her Son, to be followed by the translation of her incorrupt body.

Having given birth to the Saviour in the cave, where He was wrapped in swaddling bands and laid in the manger, and having seen Him once more laid in a cave wrapped in the linen swaddling bands of burial, she herself was laid within a cave, shrouded in the linen wrappings of the dead. But, like the cave of Bethlehem and the Arimathean’s rock-hewn tomb, so also, her sepulchral cave in Gethsemane became a place of new life, as she was translated from death to life.

And, in this passage from earthly life through death to eternal, heavenly life, the Mother of God enters into the promise of the resurrection, to be glorified and transfigured as she is set at the right hand of her Son, as our intercessor and mediator, the Queen of Heaven – who not only shows us the way, but desires that all of her children should partake in the blessings of eternal life, and be co-sharers in the eternal glory of her Son.

In the glorification and transfiguration of the risen and ascended Mother of God, raised to the right hand of her Son, all of creation reaches its zenith and apotheosis, with the daughter not only of Joachim and Anna, but also of Adam and Eve, foretokening God’s desire for the whole human-race to be raised up and transfigured, to share in the Eighth Day – the Age to Come, when there will be a new heaven and a new earth, and Christ will reign in peace and glory.

The Mother of God, in her obedience and sinlessness, was born into this heavenly glory without death-pangs, with neither suffering, distress nor pain, just as her own bearing Christ in Bethlehem was without birth-pangs and pain.

Despite its harshness, pains and trials, the life she led between her own earthly nativity and nativity into heaven, was one in which she remained sinless and stainless through her freewill, striving for holiness and rejecting evil, even whilst suffering and seeing so much that tested her.

In her, the seeds of the passions found no ground, as she preserved her holiness; in her life of prayer from her tenderest childhood years, temptation was rebutted and rejected; but, despite the grace of God that overshadowed her, we need to remind ourselves that the Mother of God was not exempted from the tests and trials of humanity.

She was not set in some sort of protective spiritual-bubble that magically preserved her from temptation and sin. How could she be one of us and gift Christ our humanity if that was the case? No. The life of the Mother of God was one of prayer, podvig/askesis: the struggle for holiness, and he conscious rejection of temptation and sin, with the core of this remarkable life at the side of her Son – her own personal Way, Truth and Life.

At the marriage in Cana, before the turning of water into wine, the Mother of God instructed the attendants at the feast to listen to the Lord, and to do whatever He told them. This was clearly the guiding principal in her own life, stamped with the openness of the obedience of her response to Archangel at that first Annunciation: “Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word.”

If we can but emulate her in these respects, by listening to the Lord and doing what He has told us to do, and how we should live in the Holy Gospels, and if we can say “Here I am, your servant, may your will be done and accomplished in me”, then we have at least started on our journey to our spiritual Gethsemane, where the Mother of God made herself ready for her death and her passing from the world.

She, no doubt, looked forward to the future and passing from this world, to be reunited with her Child, positively focussing her life and orienting it to that moment of reunion and meeting.

This degree of anticipation and preparation possessed the apostles, who saw not only the Lord’s Ascension, but how he received His mother’s all-pure soul and witnessed that she had physically risen from her tomb, and we encounter it in the lives and sufferings of the holy martyrs, ever ready to meet their Lord.

But what of us, living as though tomorrow will always come, as though there will always be time for what we need to do in the future? How deluded and foolish we are.

As we hear in Great Lent, “Arise my soul. Why art thou sleeping?” Like the foolish virgins, we are lazy, lax and inattentive, neither ready nor prepared, but in a spiritual coma.

The reality is that our passing from this world into life beyond the grave could be at any moment, yet we fail to make ready.

Each of us will have our own dormition, but unlike the Mother of God and some chosen among the saints, we will not have an angel to forewarn us and tell us to prepare, and even if we did, how would we possibly make ready for our leaving the world and facing the journey ahead?

What could we do in a few days, or even hours?

We will, God willing leave the world fortified by the Holy Mysteries – having confessed, received Holy Unction, and communion of the Holy and Life-Giving Mysteries of the Saviour’s Body and Blood – but, we will leave the world with the burden of the wrong actions, inactions and omissions, wrong decisions and rebelliousness of our lives weighing us down. There were no toll-houses where the angels examined the spotless soul of the Mother of God, but there will be for us.

So, whatever we have done so far in life, however ill-advised, however foolish, sinful and rebellious, let us wake up, turn life around and heed the hopeful, beautiful and joyful calling of this feast, to purposely, positively and actively look to the future and what the All-Merciful and All-Loving God wills for us, wishes for us and desires for us: to be translated from earthly life to heavenly life in the wake of the Mother of God

For us, as children of the resurrection, baptised into the Saviour’s Life-Giving third-day Resurrection from the dead (already enjoyed by the Mother of God, three days bodily in her sepulchre) the festal words of st John of Damascus should ring true:

“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.”

… but though death in Christ should be a reason for praise and blessing, and a cause of joy and rejoicing, this can only be true if we LIVE in Christ, each hour, each day, each week, month and year.

In this challenge, the Saviour has given us His Mother, as our intercessor, mediatrix, refuge, comforter and protector – and we gratefully turn to her as the Joy of All Who Sorrow, the Consolation in Afflictions, the Seeker of the Lost, the Rescuer of the Perishing, and the Surety of Sinners.

Being the Hodegetria, she shows us the way, so let us follow her life, her example, her obedience, her submission to the Lord, her struggle for holiness, and the way in which Christ was the whole meaning, purpose and focus of a God-centred, heavenward earthly sojourn, before her pilgrimage took her from Gethsemane to the right hand of the Lord of Glory.

Imitating the Mother of God, following in her footsteps is our sure way to at least be touched by her shadow, to receive the smallest crumbs of grace, and to know that we are heading in the right direction.

Just as Gethsemane was the place of her making ready to meet the Saviour, strengthened by her prayers, inspired by her holiness, given direction by her example, and following in her footsteps, let each of us make our own place of sojourn – whether South or West Wales, Wiltshire, Gloucestershire or Somerset… wherever – a spiritual Gethsemane, where we prepare for the end of our earthly days, in the hope of the future heavenly life, to which the Mother of God has already passed and arrived in great glory and majesty.

Happy feast!

In Christ – Hieromonk Mark

On the Feast of the Transfiguration

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

Greetings on this glorious feast of the Transfiguration of the Lord – a feast of not just symbolic or metaphorical glory, but of both the physical and spiritual manifestation, in time and place, of the uncreated glory of the Creator Himself.

Mount Tabor became the place where the glory the Only-Begotten and Pre-Eternal Son of God was revealed to the disciples, as far as they were able to bear it.

The Saviour revealed that which had not been seen by the men and women of the Gospels: not by the magi, even though they fell down and worshipped Him as they laid their gifts before Him; not by the shepherds, even though an angel revealed the new-born Lord to them; not by Symeon the God-Receiver, even though he took the Infant-Saviour into his arms and recognised Him as the Light to enlighten the gentiles; not by the many sick, disabled and possessed people whom He healed and set free, even though He, as their Creator made them into new creations through the miracles He wrought.

Peter, James and John beheld the Saviour in a way that none had so-far beheld Him, as Christ the Eternal Logos revealed His divinity on Mount Tabor, and yet the Transfiguration represented a restoration of the glory in which Adam and Eve were clothed before the Fall, as we chant in the aposticha of vespers

“Thou wast transfigured, and didst cause the darkened nature of Adam to shine again, imparting to it the glory and splendour of Thy divinity.”

The glory that radiated from the Saviour and enveloped Him in the Transfiguration was not something in which He was clothed on the occasion. Rather, as the Church Fathers made clear, when Jesus was transfigured He did not take upon Himself something new that He did not formerly possess, or change into something or someone else. Rather, in the radiant splendour of the godhead, He showed Himself to His disciples as He already was, and as He always had been, though His divinity was temporarily hidden when He was incarnate, as the Saviour of the World.

In the words of St Gregory Palamas,

“We believe that at the Transfiguration He manifested…  only that which was concealed beneath His fleshly exterior. This Light was the Light of the Divine Nature, and as such, it was Uncreated and Divine.”

The Saviour revealed what His humility, His love and compassion had hidden when He was obedient to the Father’s will in the incarnation, clothing Himself in Adam and hiding what the Prophet Ezekiel had seen and struggled to describe when the Lord-Yahweh, the pre-incarnate Saviour, appeared on the heavenly chariot-throne in

“… a likeness with the appearance of a man high above it. Also, from the appearance of His waist and upward I saw, as it were, the colour of amber with the appearance of fire all around within it; and from the appearance of His waist and downward I saw, as it were, the appearance of fire with brightness all around. Like the appearance of a rainbow in a cloud on a rainy day, so was the appearance of the brightness all around it. This was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord.”

The uncreated-light of Christ’s divinity on Mount Tabor echoed the glory that Ezekiel could only approximate in words and images, and also the glory that Moses encountered when he ascended Mount Sinai: glory that was such that Moses himself was transfigured by his encounter with Christ-Yahweh, as St Gregory Palamas reminded his listeners:

“Even the face of Moses was illumined by his association with God. Do you not know that Moses was transfigured when he went up the mountain, and there beheld the Glory of God? But he (Moses) did not affect this, but rather he underwent a Transfiguration.”

On Mount Tabor, Moses, present in spirit, again reflected the divine-glory, whilst Elias who had bodily ascended into heaven reflected the light of the Transfiguration both physically and spiritually.

And, the Saviour appeared in glory, not simply to show the glory of His divinity to the disciples, but to give them a glimpse of the radiant promise of the resurrection, preparing them for the necessary suffering which would lead Him from Gethsemane and the Praetorium to Golgotha and the Arimathean’s tomb, as He went to His voluntary passion like a lamb to the slaughter, in the brokeness of the suffering-servant foreseen by the Prophet Isaiah, and Who…

“hath no form nor comeliness; and when we shall see him, there is no beauty that we should desire him… He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief… brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so he openeth not his mouth.”

The Transfiguration pre-empted His suffering, so that the necessity of the Cross and the sacrifice of Christ, as the Lamb of God and New-Passover, could be understood by those closest to Him, so that they would not be scandalised by the Cross of Christ, and His crucifixion.

Behind this voluntary and sacrificial-suffering, self-emptying and selfless giving was the same Christ who was transfigured to show the certainty of the glory which lay beyond the Cross and tomb: the glory of the Pre-Eternal Word made flesh for us men and for our salvation.

As St Ephrem the Syrian preached,

“He led them up the mountain and showed them his kingship before his passion, and his power before his death, and his glory before his disgrace, and his honour before his dishonour, so that, when he was arrested and crucified by the Jews, they might know that he was not crucified through weakness, but willingly by his good pleasure for the salvation of the world.”

Paths of suffering would also be the lot of the disciples, given courage by a glimpse of the glory of the Kingdom and the Master’s divinity, to shortly be reinforced by their experience of His resurrection, His glorious ascension, and the gift of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.

The Saviour sought to share His glory with them, so that they – and every generation of faithful – might be partakers and inheritors of His glory, called to be transfigured like Moses and Elias, radiant in His light.

Similar paths have been trodden by the Saviour’s followers throughout the history of the Church, from the Roman persecutions to the trials of the new-martyrs and confessors of the Communist Yoke in the 20th century, and the suffering of the persecuted Ukrainian Church, today.

Through this suffering countless believers have been spiritually transfigured, finding great strength and joy even in their sufferings – encountering God, with their endurance and courage buoyed by the promise touched upon by St Leo the Great in his homily for the feast,

“About which the Lord had Himself said, when He spoke of the majesty of His coming, Then shall the righteous shine as the sun in their Father’s Kingdom (Mat. 13:43), while the blessed Apostle Paul bears witness to the self-same thing, and says: for I reckon that the sufferings of this time are not worthy to be compared with the future glory which shall be revealed in us (Rom. 8:18): and again, for you are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God. For when Christ our life shall appear, then shall you also appear with Him in glory (Col. 3:3).”

… and in this he reminds us that most will have to wait for the life of the age to come to behold God’s glory, when the righteous shall shine like the sun, when the elect will be sharers in the light which shone upon the mountain of the Transfiguration.

Few will have the worldly foretaste of this glory, like St Symeon, St Seraphim or St John the Wonderworker, but we live in hope of the promise of the glory of God manifest on the mountain.

To attain to this promise, glimpsed on Tabor by the disciples, we must take up our Cross and follow the Saviour in selfless love and obedience: thoroughly, faithfully, and maximally.

This is the only way each of us can even begin to climb the mountain, even its lowest and gentlest slopes: embracing spiritual life as askesis/ascetic labour – praying, fasting, struggling for purity, through repentance and by making the Gospel and the Law of God the entire rule of our lives, day by day.

Above all, let us be fervent in prayer, as our communion with the Living God joins time and eternity, and our finite and transient human lives with the changeless eternity of the life of God who always IS.

In prayer there is a certain transcendence of time and place, as there was when the Lord was transfigured on the mountain, and pure prayer is at the centre of our metamorphosis and transfiguration.

St Gregory Palamas, (taking the Transfiguration Gospel from St Luke) observes that

“That same Inscrutable Light shone and was mysteriously manifest to the Apostles and the foremost of the Prophets at that moment, when (the Lord) was praying. This shows that what brought forth this blessed sight was prayer, and that the radiance occurred and was manifest by uniting the mind with God, and that it is granted to all who, with constant exercise in efforts of virtue and prayer, strive with their mind towards God. True beauty, essentially, can be contemplated only with a purified mind.

Let us raise up our hearts and minds to God, as even in wordlessness, this is prayer.  And, through prayer – sometimes easy, often a struggle – let us labour to purify our intellect, thoughts and senses, so that we may contemplate things divine and eternal, and join ourselves to things heavenly and changeless: racing to the mountain in this prayer, eager to behold and experience the glory of the Lord.

“Arise, ye slothful thoughts of my soul, which have ever been dragged down to the earth! Be ye upborne and rise aloft to the summit of divine ascent! Let us make haste to Peter and the sons of Zebedee, and with them let us go to Mount Tabor, that we may see the glory of our God with them, and may hear the voice which they heard from on high; and they preached that Thou, in truth, art the Effulgence of the Father.”

(Ikos of the Matins Canon)

… and let us not simply rise up to go, to seek, to hear, but to spiritually labour and struggle to be clothed as partakers in that very glory that shone forth upon the mountain, so that Adam’s darkened nature in us may shine once more.

S prazdnikom! Happy Feast!



The Nativity of St John the Forerunner

It was a joy to celebrate the feast of the Holy, Prophet, Forerunner and Baptist, John in Nazareth House today, and even though there were only a dozen of us for Liturgy, in no way did it detract from the beauty of solemnity of this feast of the birth of the first among the saints.

Many thanks to George for reading at vespers of the eve of the feast and to Margarita and Alexander for chanting on the kliros for this morning’s Liturgy, and “Many Years” to our starosta, Norman John, whom we congratulated on his name day.

Recalling the Saviour’s own words, “among those born of women there has been none greater than John the Baptist”, in the spiritual hierarchy of God-pleasers, St John the Forerunner is always called upon first after the Mother of God and before all other saints, even though he was a figure from the Old Covenant of the House of Israel, though antithetical to its spiritually, morally and politically corrupt establishment; the last of the prophets and the messenger proclaiming the coming dawn of Christ, the Light of the world; a wild, difficult and disturbing character, prophesying, accusing and challenging the world and society around him; a link between the Old Covenant and the New Covenant, the Old Israel and the New Israel.

His arena was neither Temple nor synagogue, not even the physical environs of Jewish society, but the wilds and wastes of the Judaean desert, to which people flocked to hear his spiritual message as he “made straight the way of the Lord.”

Among the rocks and wadis, he had neither attachment or constraint, hardly belonging to the world, and labouring only for the coming of the Messiah: his authority coming only from God, and not from the establishment, for which he was a thorn in the side, and a challenge whom it could not control.

Such was the will of God, that the Forerunner was an essential part in the unfolding economy of salvation, proclaiming the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world, baptising Him in the waters of the Jordan, and calling pious Jews to the repentance that would make them ready-soil for the seed of the Gospel.

In the third chapter of the Gospel of St John, we read the Forerunner’s words:

“He that hath the bride is the bridegroom, but the friend of the bridegroom, which standeth and heareth him, rejoiceth greatly because of the bridegroom’s voice; this my joy therefore is fulfilled.”

Such was his centrality in the unfolding of salvation, his intimate link to the Saviour, and his planning and arranging for the coming union of Christ and His yet to revealed bride, the Church, that she calls him the ‘Friend of the Bridegroom’ – who, in Judaism, would have been called the shoshbin: the trusted intermediary, wedding arranger and attester to the consummation of a marriage.

Making straight the way of the Lord, preaching repentance to Israel and performing the symbolic baptism of repentance, John prepared the future bride for her marriage to the Saviour, the Bridegroom of the Church.

His work done, he was glad to diminish in the world once his kinsman in the flesh, the God-Man, Jesus Christ had appeared, suffering martyrdom once his preparatory work was done.

Even though his very life was a miracle and he was set apart, in St John, there was no ego, no self-interest, no personal agenda – only selfless labour for Christ the Bridegroom, according to God’s will and purpose, not his own.

Let us emulate his selflessness and humility, seeking neither power, position, reputation, recognition or credit, but rather labour for Christ, fearlessly and with boldness, uncompromisingly witnessing to Christ the Light of the World, and seeking not to sycophantically please the modern Herods among politicians, political-paymasters, ideologues and pedagogues advocating spiritual relativism, woke-ism and moral degradation.

Inspired by St John, our challenge is not to allow politeness, niceness and political expediency, to stifle the voice of truth and righteousness, or to tempt us to embrace the growing spiritual and moral relativism of ‘tolerant’ society, but rather to maintain and defend the absolute Truths which have been revealed to us as Christians shaped by the Gospel and the Faith of the Church.

As some Church leaders and archpastors make peace and concord with the spirit of Herod, the Church and the world needs us all to be emulators of the Holy Prophet, Forerunner and Baptist, John, and it is the uncomfortable and challenging voices of those crying in the wilderness that will show the way to Christ’s Kingdom and the great wedding feast of the Bridegroom.

The Ascension of the Lord

Dear brothers and sisters, S prazdnikom!

Greetings on this joyful feast of the Lord’s Ascension, in which the economy of salvation finds wondrous consummation, as the humanity in which the Lord was clothed in His Divine Incarnation is exalted to the heavens, in which flesh had never dwelt before.

In the Ascension of the humanity of the God-Man, assumed in the womb of the Most Pure Mother of God, the Saviour calls us to physically be with Him in our own fleshly humanity in the glorified resurrectional-life of the age to come.

His Ascension was infinitely more than the completion of the return-journey of human nature to restored communion with God, as the Word did not become flesh to simply restore the sons and daughters of Adam and Eve to Paradise – to the earthly Eden from which our first-father and first mother had been exiled – but to exalt humanity to the very height of the heavens.

The Son of God, obedient to the Father clothed Himself in humility, in the humanity which He Himself had created, so that the created physicality of human-nature itself might be exulted and enthroned in heaven, at the right-hand of the Father.

In the litia we chanted,

“Thou hast renewed in Thyself Adam’s nature, which had gone down into the lower parts of the earth, and Thou didst raise it up above every principality and authority today…”

… and in the ninth ode of the canon of the feast, we chant –

“The majesty of Him Who became poor in the flesh hath been manifestly taken up above the heavens; and our fallen nature hath been honoured by sitting with the Father.”

The Church Fathers described this human nature to be the deadly bait by which Hades was defeated and decimated as it eagerly sought to swallow the Saviour, the God-Man, when He breathed His last breath upon the Cross. The Lord of Life was deadly-poison in the nethermost regions of darkness, which were unable to contain Him, and were made to spew forth not only Christ the Giver of Life, but also the souls of the righteous-dead held captive there.

But, having defeated death and hell, the Saviour did not elect to lay aside the humanity and flesh that proved so deadly to death. The ‘robe of Adam’ had not just been a temporary or disposable property or costume, but was destined to be the eternal, glorified sign of man’s whole redemption and total restoration in Christ.

Exalted beyond the heavens, in Christ’s flesh, humanity would be worshipped and adored in His Divine-Humanity by the bodiless powers of heaven and by the saints.

“Do you see then to what height of glory human nature has been raised? Is it not from earth to heaven? Is it not from corruption to incorruption? How hard would not someone toil in order to become the intimate friend of a corruptible king here below? But we, although we were alienated and hostile in our intent by evil deeds, have not only been reconciled to God the Father, through our Lord Jesus Christ, but we have also soared aloft to sonship, and now our nature is worshipped in the heavens by every creature seen and unseen.”

St Ephrem the Syrian

The last phrase from these words of St Ephrem seem almost impossible to us, as our nature is not only restored, made incorruptible and reconciled with God, but is worshipped in the heavens because Christ has made it His own nature!

That which was not only unknown, but hitherto seemed impossible came to pass, and as the bodiless powers of heaven beheld Christ ascending in glory, they witnessed something new: human-flesh ascending as the Son of God was exalted not only as God, but also as man.

The troparia of the  third ode of the canon speak of the wonder and astonishment of the bodiless angelic powers on beholding this sight:

“The ranks of angels, O Saviour, on beholding man’s nature going up together with Thee, were amazed and ceaselessly praised Thee.

The choirs of angels were amazed, O Christ, as they beheld Thee taken up with Thy body, and they praised Thy holy Ascension.

As the Saviour ascended in the flesh unto the Father, the arrays of the angels were astonished at Him and cried: Glory to Thine Ascension, O Christ.”

And in the Praises of matins, the angels poetically ask,

“What sight is this? He that is seen is endowed with the likeness of mankind’s form, yet as the incarnate God doth He now ascend far above the bounds of heaven’s heights.”

And, as we celebrate this feast, we perceive it as the signpost and token of the promise and inheritance to which the Saviour calls us as physical as well as spiritual beings.

Yet, for now, as the saints worship the ascended Saviour in His humanity as well as His divinity, they only dwell in heaven as bodiless, spiritual beings, and like all humans other than the Most Holy Mother of God – bodily translated into heaven at her assumption – they must await the end of time before they can dwell physically with the ascended Lord in their glorified and renewed bodies, but this yet unrealised life is the Lord’s calling to all of us through His glorious Ascension.

He does not jealously guard and preserve the reality of His Ascension for Himself alone, but in the eternity of the age to come desires each of us to follow Him and His Most-Pure Mother to heavenly life in the totality of restored, transfigured and ascended, created-being, saying to us,

“And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.”

John 14:3

The Saviour, seeks the whole and complete restoration of humanity made in His image and likeness, in which the first-father and first mother were intended to grow in perfection and glory, reflecting the glory and holiness of God, as do the angelic ranks.

In our baptism, we have been initiated into the Cross and Resurrection, but we are also called to the ascension also – labouring in prayer, fasting and spiritual toil; through the struggle for purity of soul, mind and body; through spiritual and holy living; aspiring to become vessels of Grace and living temples of the Holy Spirit.

His Life-Giving Cross and Passion, His victory over death and hell, His third-day Resurrection, are steps on the journey to the Mount of Olives and His Ascension in glory, but like every aspect of salvation, the Lord – has given us liberty, freedom and choice – and does not force salvation upon us, even though He desires every human being who has and will have existed since Adam and Eve, to be saved and be coheirs of the Resurrection, Ascension and translation to the glory of His Kingdom.

But – this very much depends on our will reflecting and being conformed to the Lord’s will; our lives being shaped by the Gospel; our spiritual and intellectual faculties, physical existence, and very being demonstrating the indwelling of God in us – in short, the struggle for holiness as Christ is allowed to act in us and through us.

Though the resurrection and Ascension are our calling and vocation, day by day, we must decide if we wish to inherit the Kingdom to which the Lord has called us, and whether we desire to receive the great gifts that the Lord has bequeathed for our eternal inheritance.

On this feast, it is not enough for us to simply outwardly rejoice and celebrate,

“Let us all make feast, and with one accord let us cry out with jubilation and clap our hands rejoicing.”

Unless their spiritual meaning is reflected and made real in our lives, feasts will neither save us nor bring us a share in the life of the Resurrection and Ascension, rather only constant, abiding, and dedicated selfless life in Christ – the Way, the Truth and the Life, what St Paul spoke of, when he said,

“…it is no longer I that live, but Christ who lives in me” (Gal. 2:20)

If we wish to follow the Lord, and mount the very heights of heaven, we must be united to the risen and ascended Christ.

The choice is ours. 

May God bless you all.

In Christ – Hieromonk Mark

Pax Christi – the Peace of Christ

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

Dear brothers and sisters, at the end of Bright Week, yesterday saw our celebration of Thomas Sunday, and during the Liturgy we heard the account of Christ’s appearance to the Apostle Thomas, who had not been present at the Lord’s first appearance to His disciples.

During the homily, before talking about witnesses of the resurrection, I reflected on the Risen Saviour’s blessing as He entered the house in which the disciples hid “for fear of the Jews.”

We can only appreciate the force and meaning of the His greeting, “Peace be unto you” by reflecting upon the turmoil, darkness, anxiety and loss that gripped His disciples after His death and burial.

The disciples had no peace – mentally, emotionally or spiritually – as they dwelt, dazed and confused, behind locked doors – their world fallen apart and gripped by fear and uncertainty.

Whilst those who had already seen the Master had rejoiced and found peace in the resurrection, Thomas lacked that until His encounter with the Risen Lord.

It was in their trauma, agony, pain, bereavement and loss that the Saviour came to the disciples and gave them peace: peace which is something and not simply the absence of noise, conflict, or violence.

When we speak of peace in worldly terms, what we mean is very often not peace at all, but simply an absence of the contrary things that shatter it or destroy it.

The peace that Christ brought to His disciples, and for which we pray in the Great Litany, is not simply a quiet truce or hiatus in the conflicts of relationships, life and the world, but a qualitative manifestation of the presence of the God of love, compassion and mercy, Whom we worship and adore in the Life-Giving and Undivided Trinity.

In the Imperial Capital, Constantinople, the church of Agia Ireine, was dedicated not to the Holy Great-Martyr, but to the Peace of Christ: the peace from above, for which we pray in each Liturgy, and the peace which the Saviour desires to rule the hearts, and characterise the lives of all who have been baptised into His Life-Giving death and resurrection.

This peace is the qualitative indwelling and manifestation of Christ and His Gospel, as we seek the joining of our will, our actions, our mind and thoughts to Him: to put on Christ and reflect Him in all things, as living icons of His presence in the world.

But for this to be a reality, we cannot simply see the Peace of Christ as something coming from outside, regardless of our lives and the things we do, say or think.

We must actively seek peace in the restoration of wholeness and holiness in lives united to Him, and aspiring to conform to His life and Gospel.

In the Sermon on the Mount the Saviour teaches us, “Blessed are the peacemakers…”, but for this to be an abiding reality we must remember that we must also be proactive peace-seekers, recognising that this means perpetually striving to make the Peace of Christ not simply a possibility, but a constant reality.

For the Peace of Christ to be real and indwelling, we must always strive for reconciliation, as it is only possible for us to receive it because through having been reconciled with God through the Saviour’s Life-Giving cross and passion.

Recognising this salvific reconciliation with God, we must also seek reconciliation with one another.

It is in seeking and making peace that we become children of God, and just as children resemble their parents, this spiritual labour and aspiration is the means by which the image and likeness of God can be seen and recognised in us.

We cannot be Christians, and recognised as such, unless we continually seek peace; strive for peace; struggle for peace: opposing strife, conflict and division with love, forgiveness and humility, as the qualitative evidence of the Peace of Christ in our lives and hearts.

In his letter to the Colossians (3:12–15), the Apostle Paul instructs us in the ways by which we should seek to do this:

“Clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace.”

The devil always seeks to steal this peace from us; to destroy the first thing for which we pray in our Liturgy; fearing the Peace of Christ, which is the foundation of unity and the sign of His rule.

St Seraphim of Sarov said, “Make peace in your own heart and thousands around you will be saved…” and this is a truth that the devil fears, desiring neither peace in our hearts nor the salvation of a single person, let alone thousands – doing everything in his power to destroy peace and destroy human souls.

So, let us always be watchful and vigilant, knowing that he will use everything fallen and base in us to seek the destruction of peace, and to destroy our labour and striving for it in our lives: our personal weak points and passions, ego, jealousy, prejudices, power, authority, jealousy, ambition, our past sins, interpersonal dynamics and the fault-lines in relationships, anxieties and fears  – whatever can be exploited to bring conflict and division and destroy PEACE.

Opposing this, we must always remember that when we choose to live and act in love and be at peace with one another, we are allowing Christ’s peace to rule in our hearts, making the Peace of Christ a reality in the Church and in the world, no matter how dark, destructive or violent the age and times in which we live.

Let us remain vigilant and struggle in the name of the Risen Lord, the Prince of Peace, who assures us,

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.”

(John 14:27)

May the peace of God which passes all understanding guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus!

Christ is Risen!


The Restoration of the Holy Icons and the Restoration of the Image of God In Us

What joy this first week of the Fast brings, especially when we are blessed with spring weather that outwardly reminds us that this is the springtime of the soul, and should be a season of growth and new green shoots, through fasting, prayer and repentance; through turning back to God; through heeding the words of the kontakion of the Great Canon and simply waking up, being watchful and mindful of the inescapable and abiding presence of Christ: at all times; in all places; in every circumstance; seeing all actions; hearing every word; knowing every thought.

“My soul, my soul arise; Why art thou sleeping? The end is drawing near and thou wilt be confounded. Awake then and be watchful, that thou mayest be spared by Christ God, Who is everywhere present and fillest all things.”

In these first four days of the Great Fast, we are blessed to hear the words of St Andrew of Crete’s Great Canon of Repentance, making this hymnographic dialogue between St Andrew and his soul our personal inner-conversation, as we contemplate sin and repentance, fall and restoration, exile and return.

Despite some of the Old Testament examples, the purpose of this great hymn-cycle is not to plunge us into gloom, but rather to show us the ‘way back’ the means of restoration to a life in God.

Together with the life of St Mary of Egypt (whose intercessions are invoked during the odes of the canon), the Great Canon is held up as a great penitential lesson and example of ‘putting things right’ in this season of repentance. It is a call to action – to turn around and return to the loving embrace of God, in humility and repentance, but nevertheless with hope and joy.

As such, it should kindle determination in us, so that the myriad Biblical examples within its odes and troparia encourage us to press forward, so that cleansed from stain and the tarnishing blackness of sin and disobedience, the image of God may be restored in us, who are each icons of Christ, into whom we have been baptised, Who created us in the divine-image and likeness, and Who seeks the return of the prodigal again and again in His inexhaustible mercy and love.

When we can recall this awesome fact, then we can appreciate why we celebrate the restoration of the holy icons with the Feast of the Triumph of Orthodoxy on the first Sunday of the fast.

As we celebrate this triumph, let us never lose sight of the fact that our personal triumph is the restoration of the icon of God in each of us, as we labour to put off the old man and put on Christ, though the spiritual labour of our life in Him.

Last Sunday, at the end of Forgiveness Vespers and the beginning of the Fast, we bowed before one another as we sought forgiveness and reassured with the words “God forgives”, and on this coming Sunday it will be the icons before which we shall bow during the Service of the Triumph of Orthodoxy, thanking God for the restoration of the holy icons as the sign of the Incarnation and manifestation of our Holy Orthodox Faith. However, we must each face the fact that this veneration will be meaningless unless we are actively seeking the restoration of the image of God in ourselves.

The iconoclasts defiled and desecrated the sacred images in shocking ways, just as the iconoclast Soviets did in the 20th century, and we react with horror and revulsion at what was done to the icons of Christ, of the Mother of God and the saints. Yet, do we react with equal horror and revulsion to the things by which WE defile and desecrate the image of God in each of us?

In the canon, we chant, “I have stained the garment of my flesh and have defiled that which was made in Thine image and likeness, O Saviour.” However, this observation is meaningless unless we are willing to do anything about it and seek the restoration of this image and likeness.

Let us heed the penitential lessons of the Great Canon, of the life of St Mary of Egypt, of the various Sunday feasts of the Great Fast with their hymns of compunction and repentance, and let us reflect the outward Restoration of the Holy Icons in the inner struggle for the image of God to be restored in us, to shine and become radiant, so that Christ may shine upon the world through us as His abiding presence in the world and icons of His goodness and love.

Homily on the Meeting of the Lord

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

Dear brothers and sisters, as we stand before the icon of the Meeting of the Lord in our celebration of this feast, we do not see the memorialisation of the Temple rituals of the Saviour’s Presentation and the Virgin’s Purification, with the priestly-offering of the doves that St Joseph bought, but rather the long-awaited encounter of St Symeon the God-Receiver with the infant Lord.

This is our abiding vision of the feast, not priests or figures of the Jewish religious establishment, but rather the elder and the aged prophetess Anna – two figures that had kept vigil in the temple, anticipating the long-awaited Saviour – their gaze, as also that of the Mother of God and St Joseph the Betrothed, centred on the Infant Saviour.

In the first stikhera of vespers, at ‘Lord, I have cried…’ we address the Righteous Elder as we chant:

“Receive, O Symeon, Him Whom Moses beheld in the gloom on Sinai giving the law, and Who hath become a babe, submitting to the law. He is the One Who speaketh through the law; He is the One spoken of by the prophets, Who for our sake hath become incarnate and saveth man. Let us worship Him!”

By the grace and enlightenment of the Holy Spirit, Symeon recognised the Messiah, whom he held in his aged arms, declaring Him whom Moses beheld in the gloom of Sinai to be “the Light to enlighten the Gentiles, and the glory of His people, Israel.”

Gloom, darkness, and shadowy symbols and figures had passed: the Light of the world had come!

How and when St Symeon first realised that the ‘erchomenos’ (the expected One) was drawing near we shall never know, but the joy that filled that righteous old man and drove him forward to take hold of the Child and absorb the meaning of Him in that moment must have been beyond human expression.

The first ode of the canon poetically prompts and pushes him forward, as though we were there as witnesses, encouraging him and hurrying him on his elderly legs.

“Be strong, ye hands of Symeon feeble with age; and ye weary legs of the elder, move quickly and straight to meet Christ…”

…and in the fourth ode, we poetically encourage him not to be shy, but to press forward and take hold of his Light and Saviour:

“O Symeon, rejoicing take up Christ, the little Child, on Whom thou hast set thy hope, the Consolation of the Israel of God, the Creator and Master of the law, Who fulfilleth the order of the law; and cry aloud unto Him: All things are filled with Thy praise!”

As his eyes beheld the Messiah; as his elderly arms held him; as he touched and caressed the Child, can we even begin to understand what he felt in his heart; what joy and relief filled his soul; what awe and wonder possessed his mind; how his ancient frame trembled with what was finally happening?

Symeon’s immense joy and all-possessing sense of fulfilment, contentment and peace remain beyond our understanding, and may be easily overlooked as we chant his memorialised words at vespers, each day:

“Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace according to thy word. For mine eyes have seen thy salvation, Which thou hast prepared before the face of all people; To be a light to enlighten the Gentiles and to be the glory of thy people Israel.”

What spiritual light filled the soul of the Elder, and what mysteries did he perceive in the depths of his heart as he withdrew from the precincts of the Temple and from the world with the greatest sense of peace and contentment?

Perhaps he even felt relief that his elderly and frail body could find rest in the peace for which he prayed: the peace from above, for which we ask in the Great Litany.

We pray for that peace and for the salvation of our souls, and though Symeon received that peace, he would not live to see the unfolding of the Saviour’s works of salvation. Nevertheless, he was still able to say, “For mine eyes have seen thy salvation…” and in Christ’s victory of the Cross and the Harrowing of Hell, Symeon would once more see the “Light to enlighten the Gentiles, and the glory of His people, Israel” in the Lord as the Conqueror of death and hell and as his salvation.

And what of us?

The annual feast calls us to greet the Lord and to recognise Him, to see Him, as though through Symeon’s eyes, as our Light and salvation – for, as St Sophronios of Jerusalem wrote,

“Through Symeon’s eyes we too have seen the salvation of God which he prepared for all the nations and revealed as the glory of the new Israel, which is ourselves.”

 All of the feasts call us to spiritual renewal and participation in the Christian Mystery, and as we celebrate the Meeting of the Lord, the same vesperal verses that usher Symeon forward to receive the Saviour also call us to go press forward:

“Let us come and greet Christ with divine hymns, and let us receive Him Whom Symeon  perceived as our salvation.”

“Let us receive Him” not come as bystanders or onlookers, but rather as spiritual participators in the meaning of the feast: the Saviour’s manifest presence in the world as our God and Lord who has revealed Himself to us – not passively observing His presence, but receiving Him and become the very means of this indwelling presence in the world: not in our arms, as those of Symeon, but within our hearts.

As St Theophan the Recluse reminds us, “… all are called to have and carry the Lord in themselves, and to disappear in Him with all the powers of their spirit.”

Each of us must have and carry Him as God-Receivers, as was the Righteous Symeon and as Christ-Bearers like St Ignatius of Antioch, whose feast was celebrated only a few days ago.

We receive and bear Christ through living the Gospel in active lives of prayer, ascetism, fasting and participation in the Holy Mysteries, as members of His Body – the Church – in which we have been joined to Him in Holy Baptism, healed and renewed by Him through repentance and confession, nourished and consecrated by partaking of Him in the Eucharistic Mystery.

Through Christ-centred lives, each of us can say to the Lord, “mine eyes have seen Thy salvation…” and with confidence, we will be able to consciously say the words of St Sophronios:

“By faith we too embraced Christ, the salvation of God the Father, as He came to us from Bethlehem. Gentiles before, we have now become the people of God. Our eyes have seen God incarnate, and because we have seen Him present among us and have noetically received him into our arms, we are called the new Israel. Never shall we forget this presence…”

S prazdnikom! Greetings for the feast!


Real Orthodoxy – Not Just Smoke and Mirrors!

Why does fakery posing as Orthodoxy thrive so much in the world?

Why are there so many bogus groups being unquestionably accepted as Orthodox by so many people?

Why is the internet such a perilous place for those trying to navigate the obstacle course of what is presented as Orthodoxy?

Sadly, we see so much pseudo-Orthodoxy in the modern world, based on images, sound-bites, catchphrases and carrot-and-stick exciting ‘possibilities’ – the sort of ‘Orthodoxy’ that often seeks to boldly go where no bishop, priest or congregation has gone before!

Whether it’s the so-called ‘Gallican Orthodox’, ‘Celtic Orthodox’, the ‘Orthodox Church of France’, the ‘British Orthodox Church’ or any other vagante group (often originating from schism, a rogue Syro-Malabarese consecration or Old Catholic cross-pollination with schismatics), the history and ethos will no doubt be convincing and inviting, with a presented uniqueness that nobody else has, and all of the boxes pertaining to packaging and presentation will be ticked.

Of course, even canonical Orthodoxy has mavericks, who do their own thing and create their own mirage (in their own image and as a projection and extension of their own ego) within the protective environment of the Church. This can be even more dangerous.

Cyber-space is awash with slick, well-designed websites of such bogus ‘Orthodox’ communities, clergy or jurisdictions, where the power of the image is well understood; where the value of implied fact (subtle lies that avoid being able to be exactly pinned down or exposed) is deviously exploited; where deliberate vagueness brings misattribution and credit for someone else’s labours; where outright dishonesty leads the unsuspecting into spiritual danger.

The internet and technology makes all of this illusory play-acting increasingly dangerous, especially combined with the ability of any vagante, schismatic or layman-in-vestments with the financial wherewithal (or preferably with someone else’s cheque-book) to equip a convincing Orthodox ‘Temple’, replete with fine icons, splendid vestments, antique church fittings and all of the outward tokens of ‘authenticity’.

Such figures appear resplendent in rich vestments and finery, and may incidentally present a detailed diagram to demonstrate their apostolic succession and validity. When such things aren’t straight forward and simple, but need diagrams, alarm-bells should be ringing!

We especially see this in the various bogus attempts to create ‘Western Orthodoxy’ or autocephalous Western Metropolias, in which case vagante or schismatic idealogues exploit our genuine Orthodox struggle with nationalism and ethnicity to create something ‘new’, non-Slavic, non-Hellenic etc., to make a pseudo-Orthodoxy of their own liking, and one which is totally cut of from the living Sacred tradition of the Church and the spiritual inheritance of past generations. The result is nothing better than the renovationism of the so-called ‘Living Church’ supported by the Soviets.

This is also typical of ‘Genuine Orthodox’ or ‘True Orthodox’ groups (often with a taste for Old Believer primitivism), who have caught on to the power of the image and word in a spiritually naïve or ignorant media-driven world.

How many ‘Metropolitans’ of Moscow (plus a few anti-Patriarchs) are there, complete with their vagante entourage, in white cowls embroidered with seraphim?

Admittedly, sometimes such figures look like they’ve been to a historical costume sale at the local theatre, with their fur-edged mitres incorporating off-cuts of granny’s winter-hat, but increasingly the effect is well considered, convincing and persuasive for the naïve and unsuspecting.

What was farcically transparent ten or fifteen years ago, is becoming harder to spot, simply based on an external glance based on formalism alone.

Depending where we are in the world, when we look around a building, or a beautiful ecclesiastical interior, or when we experience a beautiful service and think “this must be legitimate”, purely based on externals, we may unsuspectingly be in a treacherous situation and are vulnerable to deception.

Yesterday, we celebrated the Sunday of the New Martyrs and Confessors, and the suffering Orthodoxy in which they served and for which they died was so often forcibly stripped and robbed of the outward trappings upon which the pseudo-Orthodox fakes rely so much, and through which they are able to trick the gullible.

In the homily, speaking of the danger of formalism, I did not have time to explore the fact that when our testing of Orthodoxy becomes reduced to formalistic signs and external evidence, and is only shaped by the material manifestations of Orthodoxy, we can be led into great spiritual danger.

In Catacomb services during the Soviet period, poor vestments made from any suitable material took the place of the fine vestments previously worn to celebrate the Liturgy; the absence of holy vessels meant improvising something approximating to the required utensils of the Liturgy; sheets hung from the ceiling, bearing a few little paper icons might be the makeshift iconostasis; any white bread might have taken the place of prosfory, fermented cranberry juice for wine and a bit of conifer resin as the incense in a censer made from a tin can.

As we know from NKVD/KGB files, as well as from the accounts of the faithful, preserved sacred-items from churches and chapels were hidden in houses, where coded knocks on a door or a tune whistled outside a window gained the faithful access to a hidden, quiet service in a makeshift sanctuary, behind carefully masked windows in houses in quiet corners of town.

In prison camps improvisation had to be more imaginative.

The Holy New Martyr, Bishop Maxim of Serpukhov described such a makeshift setting in a box-like fish-drying structure in the Solovetsk Gulag:

“Here was the box, about nine yards long, without windows, the door scarcely noticeable. Light twilight, the sky covered with dark clouds. We knock three times and then twice. Fr. Nicholas opens. Vladika Victor and Vladika Ilarion are already here… In a few minutes Vladika Nektary also comes. The interior of the box has been converted into a church. On the floor, on the wails, spruce branches. Several candles flickering. Small paper icons. The small Plashchanitsa is buried in green branches. Ten people have come to pray. Later another four or five come, of whom two are monks. The service begins, in a whisper. It seemed that we had no bodies, but were only souls. Nothing distracted or interfered with prayer… I don’t remember how we went “home,” i.e., to our Companies. The Lord covered us!”

The same material hardship and poverty characterised Church services in camps in which displaced persons found themselves in Western Europe at the end of the Second World War.

Such observations do not imply that catacomb-like conditions, poverty and improvisation are somehow indicators of Orthodoxy any more or less than the expected normal requisites of liturgical parish life are, but they challenge us to stop and think.

The lack of everything needed for a normal Holy Week and Pascha did not some how nullify or cancel the validity of what the incarcerated New Martyrs and Confessors were celebrating, but neither do the bright and shiny items and vestments from church suppliers confer validity on what we do week by week – whether we are genuine or impostors.

They may tick the formalistic boxes of those who think the outer details enough, but without Faith, without true Holy Mysteries, without clergy who really are clergy, ordained and consecrated by the successors of the apostles – chalice sets, censers, lamps and sacred items become meaningless bric-a-brac and items on a theatre-set.

And, even within legitimate Orthodoxy, the accounts from the suffering Soviet Union remind us that the quality of our Faith is essentially spiritual, not determined by liturgical-materialism, however much we rightly desire the normal essentials of Orthodox liturgical life.

In our Orthodox lives, some of us have worshipped in summer houses and sheds, converted shops, in rooms of houses, in gardens – with very few icons, homemade vestments and furnishings, even with homemade incense when Orthodox incense was difficult to obtain. Though conscious of the poverty of our celebrations, we were comforted by the fact that in no way did it diminish the grace of the services and Holy Mysteries of the Church.

Others visited, and never returned, scandalised by the home-made, the improvised, the lack of a beautiful iconostasis, the ropey singing or the fact that the Liturgy was in a little wooden building at the bottom of a garden.

Of course, at the same time that we struggled in these straightened circumstances, throughout the world, impostors imitating Orthodoxy were able to ‘celebrate’ in beautiful, well-appointed places of ‘worship’, yet devoid of everything true and spiritual and with empty, graceless rituals.

Sadly, the boxes of formalism can easily remain unticked by the connoisseurs and aesthetes, who with their obsession with the outward signs of ‘Orthodoxy’, turn their backs on the Church, on the Holy Mysteries, and on God, Himself, preferring the formalistic trappings of Byzantium to the reality of Orthodox Faith.

We must beware of formalism, and see the bigger picture! We seek to worship God in the beauty of holiness, but beauty without holiness and true Faith is a soul-destroying temptation leading to spiritual death.

It’s better to struggle in Orthodoxy with things home-made, the makeshift and far from perfect, than to have an overflowing sacristy, a gleaming ‘temple’ and everything except Orthodoxy.

Lord, have mercy.

Let us always put FAITH first. Everything is an extra blessing!