The Appearance of the Kazan Icon of the Mother of God

Dear brothers and sisters,  

Greetings, as we celebrate the Appearance of the Kazan Icon of the Most Holy Theotokos in 1579, when, after the devastating fire which destroyed much of the city, the Most Holy Mother of God revealed the location of her wondrous icon in the ashes of a ruined house. 

We should rejoice in the fact that the All-Merciful Lord chose a child to be the herald of the good-tidings of the Wonder-Working Icon; that the Mother of God revealed the treasure of her icon not to a cleric, a monastic, a state officer, or an educated or respected dignitary, but rather to a nine-year-old, whose mind was not filled with worldly ‘learning’, facts, knowledge and theories; but, a girl blessed with a child’s simplicity and trust, and a heart and soul overflowing with faith and the fear of God. 

This reminds us that spiritual encounter and true gnosis is not simply dependent on learning and education – important though they may be – but that knowledge and faith begin with God in Divine Revelation, and that faith is the gift of God, not the achievement of man.

For the young Matrona, Faith was learned from Church services; from the readings and hymns of the seasons of the year, with its feasts and fasts; from the sacred icons, and the stories narrated and saints memorialised in them; from hearing the lives of the saints which even the illiterate knew by heart; by experiencing, listening and seeing; in short by PARTICIPATION and EXPERIENCE.  

But, in addition to this, this feast reminds us of the importance of REVELATION and Matrona’s part in the events of this feast is solely because God and the Mother of God freely chose her, to be the recipient. 

“God is the Lord, and has revealed Himself to us.”  We believe this, but we so often take such an anthropocentric approach to faith that we forget that God is the source of both faith and knowledge. We begin to see the process starting with us, with our bookshelves, reading, study and catechism classes, and the revelatory aspect of faith fades. Put simply, we begin to understand faith back-to-front. Faith begins with revelation, so faith  and knowledge necessarily begin with God. 

In our daily services we pray: “Blessed are Thou, O Lord, teach me Thy statutes. Blessed are Thou, O Master, grant me understanding of Thy statutes.  Blessed are Thou, O Holy One, grant me understanding of Thy statutes.”

This is nothing less than a prayer for Divine Revelation, and for God to grant us the gift of understanding what He has revealed to us.

This revelation is part of our personal relationship with the Living God, and though we may read and study dogmatics and theological treatises, spiritual-understanding is ultimately a gift from God – Who, if He so wishes can totally bypass all of the usual channels and mechanics of learning. 

We read and hear the stories of God-Bearing ascetics whom others presumed to be highly educated, as they ably expounded the teachings of the dogmatic and ascetical Fathers, and great swathes of the Philokalia. Those who knew the ascetics explained the truth – that these men had not been schooled, were sometimes illiterate, and had never possessed, let alone read a book.  Rather, through asceticism and pure prayer, they acquired the Mind of Christ, and in that Mind and through the Divine Encounter, Truth was opened and revealed to them. 

What do we sing in the Beatitudes, the third antiphon of the Liturgy? “Blessed are the pure in heart; for they shall see God”… the pure in heart, not the learned, educated and knowledgeable.

God does not need university degrees and accolades of higher education, but purity and openness to faith. This is how the fishermen were made most-wise, and became theologians who knew (rather than knew about) the Incarnate-God, who revealed Himself to them in the purity of their hearts and minds.

The Lord reveals Himself to the pure in heart, and no matter how educated we are, without striving for that purity we can have no experiential knowledge of God: no personal encounter, but can only know about Him, rather than knowing Him. For those of great sanctity, their purity is enough, and within it, God may reveal all things.

As we celebrate Divine Revelation in this feast, how ironic it was that the authorities scoffed at the child chosen by the Mother of God, so that Matrona and her mother had to dig themselves to find the sacred treasure; how those in authority looked down on a mere child, refusing to believe her and dismissing her claim; and how they insulted God in not considering the possibility that He might chose a mere child as the herald of revelation.

But through all of this, God and the Theotokos teach us a salutary lesson by choosing a child. 

What does Christ tell us? “Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.”  

This is the upside-down-ness of the Gospel at work, yet so many people are still far from grasping this. 

The example of the child, Matrona should encourage us to struggle to preserve child-like innocence and trust in God in our Christian lives; recognising that God is the source of knowledge and Faith, no matter how much or how hard we read and study, and that although it is important for us to deepen our knowledge of Faith, true knowledge and understanding are ultimately a gift of God, and not the fruit of learning.

Revelation does not depend upon our intellectual abilities, depth of learning or theological knowledge. We remain powerless and reliant on God, the Source of all wisdom, knowledge and understanding.

For our catechumens, still learning and perhaps with gaps in knowledge; for our newly baptised, at the beginning of the journey of Faith; for those who feel that others are for more knowledgeable or educated than them – this feast is a challenge and an encouragement.

Trust in God as the source of knowledge and Truth, and work with Him to acquire true knowledge. Be active in seeking to learn His statutes, but by trusting in Him and not in your own ability.

And as we strive for the understanding of the Law of God, let us heed the Paschal Canon’s words, “Let us purify our senses and we shall behold Christ, radiant with inaccessible light of the Resurrection, and shall hear Him saying clearly, “Rejoice!” As we sing the triumphant hymns!” 

Let us – with our busy, complicated, worrisome and temptation-clouded lives – strive for child-like purity, simplicity and trust, so that we may not only seek Him, but have Him reveal His truth unto us, and by becoming like little children, enter into the Kingdom of heaven.

On the Feast of the Royal Martyrs

Dear brothers and sisters, Happy Feast!  

Mosaic in the crypt of the Church on the Blood, above the spot on which the Imperial Family were martyred.

It was great blessing to celebrate the Holy Royal Martyrs today, and in so doing, we looked beyond the bloody-horror and violence of their martyrdom to appreciate the priceless treasure that God has granted to the Orthodox people by calling the Imperial Family to enter the mystery of Golgotha, and  to drink from the cup of suffering and martyrdom, as they were conformed to the image of the Saviour, as we heard in the Apostle reading from St Paul’s letter to the Romans: 

“We know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to His purpose. For whom He did foreknow, He also did predestine to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren.”  (Romans 8: 29-30)

As God lovers, He called the Royal-Martyrs “according to His purpose”, and in their suffering for that Divine purpose – contrary to the wisdom of the world – they were conformed to the image of Christ, the Suffering Servant, pouring out Himself for His people, until He was without beauty or comeliness. 

In the Gospel for the feast, we heard, 

“If the world hates you, ye know that it hated me before it hated you. If ye were of the world, the world would love his own: but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you.” (John 15:18-20) 

The world vision promoted by Lenin (returned to Russia at the expense of the Western powers) and his fellow Bolsheviks, was at odds of the world represented by the Royal Martyrs: of Christian Monarchy defending and promoting the Church and Faith; of society built upon the precepts of the Gospel; of national life in which the Church, Divine Services, and Christian Tradition was shaped by the rhythms and routines of the fasts and feasts, and the seasons of the Christian year. 

As a visible embodiment of Orthodox authority, Christian governance and sacral-kingship, the Royal Martyrs were an impossible threat to the Marxist-Leninist vision, the Royal Martyrs and had to be destroyed – by lies, deception and hate, and ultimately by the violence to which these gave license. 

For Orthodox Christians the resultant false ‘histories’ and mythologies necessary to dehumanise the Royal Martyrs, to justify unspeakable violence, and to desensitise the Russian people and the wider world to the horrors of the Ipatiev House and the Four Brothers Mine are an irrelevance and distraction from the glorious works of grace wrought by God through His saints. 

In the 1990’s, after aCcross had been set up on the site of the Ipatiev House, it was illumined by a heavenly light, as the clouds opened and rotated above the Cross, and no snow fell within the large circle of light which fell upon the ground around the site of the martyrdom. In the same decade, a former guard of the “Museum of the Workers’ Revenge” in the Ipatiev House signed an affidavit describing how she would hear beautiful church-singing from the basement room of execution, and that light shone from beneath the door during the night.

In on November 7 1997, the anniversary of the Revolution, an icon of the Tsar-Martyr began to weep myrrh, and the following May, during a procession to mark the Tsar’s birtday, another icon began to weep myrrh during a procession. At this time. of course, the Moscow Patriarchate had yet to canonise the Royal Martyrs. Our Russian Orthodox Church Church Outside of Russia had already done so in 1981.

Through the prayers of the Royal Martyrs, the godless have been brought to Faith; hardened hearts have been softened; the young have been delivered from depression, despair and destructive lives; addicts have been delivered from alcohol and drugs; childless women have been granted children; students have received help in studies; soldiers and refugees have been delivered fom capture and great dangers; families have been reconciled and healed; the sick and infirm have received healing – such as a blind child who received sight after his face was covered with a towel that had absorbed the myrrh from a myrrh-weeping icon of the Tsar.

We encounter the sanctity, rightness, and righteousness of the Royal Martyrs in these miracles, and to those of Faith, the lies and salacious stories bandied in the newspapers in America, Britain, and the Russia ‘proletarian-press’ on the eve of the revolution, seem two-dimensional, flimsy and ridiculous compared to the miracles through which Almighty God has glorified the Royal-Martyrs ever since their martyrdom. 

To return to the Apostle, “…whom He called, them He also justified: and whom He justified, them He also glorified” – and despite the lies the world invented and wrote about them, God has glorified the Royal Martyrs through countless miracles and outpourings of grace. 

Through earthly suffering, they were translated to heavenly glory and, as the Russian Empire and the wider world was gripped by the satanic plague of Bolshevism and Revolution, the All-Merciful Lord raised up the Royal Martyrs as intercessors and as spiritual warriors whose intercessions and merciful care for their land would resurrect the Russian Orthodox Church and people. 

For the faithful, the countless miracles and wonders of the Royal Martyrs should dissolve the propaganda, myths and lies invented, not only by communists, but also by the western powers who sought the destruction of the dynasty as part of the destruction of Russia as a world- power at the beginning of the 20th century – the same powers who wished to see a defeated and humiliated Russia carved up into ‘zones of influence’ distributed between themselves.

And, as we read of the events surrounding the end of the House of Romanov, and the passion and sufferings of the Royal Martyrs, we should not worry ourselves with imagined alternative outcomes; ‘what-ifs’ – imagining how things could have been different though a White Army Victory or escape form the Urals; or rueing over the lack of rescue by royal relatives. 

The lives of various holy men and women make it clear that the death of the Imperial Family was their calling – their sacrificial-vocation – to ultimately play their own metaphysical and spiritual part in the deliverance and salvation of Russia from the darkness and evil which it was entering. “As it is written, For thy sake we are killed all the day long; we are accounted as sheep for the slaughter.” (Romans 8:36-37) For the Royal Martyrs, there suffering was not only for the sake of Christ, but for the sake of Russia.

It is widely believed that their fate had been revealed to St Seraphim of Sarov, who recorded this in a letter shortly before his death in 1833, sealing it with five wax seals and addressing it “to the fourth sovereign who will arrive in Sarov, and as yet is not known”. At the canonisation of St Seraphim in 1903, the letter was given to the Tsar, who wept bitterly on reading it, but kept the contents a secret. 

In Diveyevo, on their return from the canonisation, the Tsar and Tsarina visited Blessed Pasha of Sarov, who told the Tsar, “Your Highness, come down from the throne yourself.” 

Before her death she had her cell-attendants physically support her to make prostrations before the Tsar’s portrait, and when they asked her “Why, Mamashenka, do you pray so to the Tsar?” she replied “Silly ones. He will be higher than all the Tsars.” Shortly before her death in 1915, having already called him a martyr, Blessed Pasha kissed the feet of his portrait, saying, “My dear one is already near the end.”  

The following year, in 1916, the Eldress Maria Mikhailovna of the Novgorod-Desyarina monastery greeted the visiting Empress with the words, “Here comes the martyr, Tsaritsa Alexandra!” And, in May the same year, a startets in the Sarov Hermitage, related a vision to the celebrated writer, Sergei Nilus: 

“At a time of his profound sorrow over the sufferings of the Royal Family, when he was praying for them with tears, he fell asleep during his prayers. He saw himself in Tsarskoe Selo, and over the Alexander Palace there stood a bright, radiant pillar that reached up to heaven. Then the elder went up to the palace, where he saw a wondrous vision. The Emperor was sitting at a desk, occupied with writing. Tsarevich Alexei Nikolaevich was sitting at another small table reading books. Close by, the Empress and her daughters were sitting and doing handiwork, and among them was the radiant Elder, St. Seraphim, the Wonderworker of Sarov, giving them spiritual instruction and consolation. When Elder Seraphim saw the archimandrite he went up to him and said, ‘Don’t be too grieved. Father, don’t be despondent; God will not abandon His chosen and beloved children. He has the power to snatch them away from evildoers, but He desires for them, not earthly happiness, but heavenly. It is easier for the Lord to send legions of angels to destroy all their enemies than it is for us to speak a word, but He only takes away their enemies’ reason, so that they destroy themselves. The Lord has sent me for a while to console, strengthen and protect the Royal sufferers, for the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak, and they have need of our heavenly assistance in difficult moments of sorrow. Look at the resplendent light that emanates from the faces of the Royal sufferers — this is a sign that they are under God’s special care, as righteous ones. Just as, from the beginning of the world, the righteous have been vilified, wronged and slandered by iniquitous people — followers of the first liar and deceiver, the devil; so also have these righteous Royal sufferers been vilified, humiliated, slandered and wronged by evil people, instigated by the same universal evildoer who rose up against the righteous ones and against our Creator and God Himself, Christ, the Giver of life. Look at the face of the Empress and you will see that the light emanating from her face is brighter than the others — this is a sign that she has borne more slanders and false accusations than anyone, from followers of the universal slanderer.’ This vision made such a powerful impression on the archimandrite that when he related it he could not restrain his tears.” 

Placing their hope in God, the Royal Martyrs accepted the portion He allotted them, and accepting their cup of suffering, they lived in a spiritual and prayerful captivity, reassured of the love of God through their Faith and relationship with Him, reflecting the sentiments of the Apostle: “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written, For thy sake we are killed all the day long; we are accounted as sheep for the slaughter.” (Romans 8:35-37) 

Peace and trust in God shine through this realisation, and can be seen in royal correspondence, such as in the letter that the Empress wrote to Colonel A.V. Syroboyarsky from detention in Tsarskoe Selo, in 1917,: 

“Everything can be endured if you feel His (God’s) presence and love and if you believe in Him steadfastly in everything. Severe trials are helpful – they prepare us for the other life, for the distant journey.  

It is easier to bear one’s own sufferings than to see the woe of others without it being possible to help them… 

One must ever thank God for all that He gives, and even if He took it away, then perhaps, when one endures without a murmur, all will be even brighter. One must always hope… 

You see, we have not lost our faith, and I hope we never will. It alone provides strength, the streadfastness of spirit, to endure all. And one must be grateful for everything, for it could be much worse…Isn’t that so?” 

If we, as Christian people can reflect this spiritual fortitude, constant hope in God and immense Faith, refusing to lose our trust in His love, then that love will flow into the world with a joy that shocks and challenges evil, violence and cruelty with the mind of Christ, so that we can join with the Apostle Paul, with the Royal Martyrs and all the saints in confessing “that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:39) 

Emulating the Royal Martyrs in Faith, let us put aside earthly cares, knowing that all things are in the hands of God, and that whatever may happen to us in life, His love remains immeasurable and immovable; His inscrutable will always seeks what is needful for us in the eternal scheme of His providence and wisdom, rather than according to the fickle standards and measures of success in  the world; and that in all things He seeks our transformation to reflect His image and likeness and to be with Him in the endless blessedness of the Kingdom – not a temporary and passing Kingdom of this world, but the endless glory of the age to come. 

Let us abandon ourselves into His hands, with the faith, hope, humility and spiritual-courage of the Royal Martyrs.

Holy Royal Martyrs, pray to God for us! 

The Challenge of the Forerunner

In St John the Forerunner, today’s feast celebrated a unique figure.

As the seal of the prophets of the Old Covenant and the herald of the Messiah and His New Covenant, he looks back to the Judaic world of the Old Testament and forward to the new age of Faith, manifest in the life of Christ, the preaching of the Gospel and the foundation of the Church as the New Israel.

St John stood on a boundary between the old and the new, as a wild and challenging figure, living in a manner similar to some of his Jewish contemporaries living an ascetical lifestyle, but is unique in the mission and meaning of that unconventional life: “The voice of one crying out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.’ ”

He was not an easy figure, but challenging, unabashed in his preaching, saying things that some did not want to hear. To recall this today is striking at a time of crisis in eastern Europe, when voices ‘in the wilderness’ are silent, and Church leaders fail to speak in the spirit of the Forerunner and call Herod to account.

As we celebrate his Nativity, we might well ask, where is the spirit of the Forerunner, not only in the Church, but also in our own lives and communities?

When Christianity becomes respectable and institutionalised, the flame is dying, and the lukewarmness of user-friendly, easy faith is an ersatz imitation of the challenging edginess that Christianity should always have for us.

When the zeal of Faith becomes dissolved in middle-class ‘niceness’ and suburban respectability, when Christianity should have ‘bite’ and challenge us all to be ‘spiritual activists’ struggling to storm the Kingdom of Heaven, we are far from the spiritual zeal of the Forerunner.

This does not mean that we should be catapulted into political-activism and placard-carrying protest, but rather that we should personally embody the radical message of the Gospel, which is counter-cultural in the materialistic and anthropocentric darkness of the current age, gripped by the idols of self, wealth, health, ‘efficiency’ (reflected in the normalisation of abortion, euthanasia, surveillance, government erosion of freedom of expression etc.), let alone the moral and spiritual bankruptcy of those who rule and make such major decisions in the world.

Faith must have a voice in this darkness as traditional Christians are labelled bigots, reactionaries and medievalists by both secularists and self-proclaimed ‘Christians’ who have willingly and gladly embraced the agendas, causes and -isms of the fallen world, as authentic Christianity is forced into the shadows, and the warm, but deadly glow of a  vague and ambiguous ‘religious’ universalism replaces Christ-the Cornerstone.

As the Forerunner’s life and death teach us, this voice has a cost – possibly a very great cost.

This was the cost paid by the martyrs, among whom we hold both St John and his righteous father Zacharias, who was “murdered between the Temple and the altar.” St Gabriel Ugrebadze paid this cost by being incarcerated by the Soviets and injected with chemicals. St Maria of Paris paid this cost by being arrested by the Nazis and incarcerated in Ravensbruck, where she met her death in the gas-chamber; the martyred Father Daniel Sysoev paid this price when he was slain in his own temple by Islamists.

Even as Christians claiming the fullness of the Faith in a Church which rejects compromise, and the dangers of modernism, today’s feast is a challenge to each of us, but as we celebrate the Forerunners memory, are we ready and would we be prepared to pay the price for being a voice in the current wilderness preaching the Truth of Faith – Truth which may be dangerous and costly ?

This is a challenge for each of us – perhaps an uncomfortable one for most of us – but a challenge we must embrace.

Greetings for Pentecost

O Heavenly King, the Comforter, Spirit of Truth, Who art in all places, and fillest all things, Treasury of good things, and Giver of life, come, and dwell in us, and cleanse us from every impurity; and save our souls, O good One.

Dear brothers and sisters, с праздником! Happy Feast!

Greetings to you all on this feast of Pentecost when we celebrate the sending-down of the Holy Spirit upon the apostles with the physical manifestation of God’s power.

The Acts of the Apostles described this descent of the Holy Spirit as being as or like a rushing wind, and flames of fire.  

This is as close as the Holy Apostle and Evangelist Luke could come to describing the descent of the Holy Spirit in human language, as ultimately, this outpouring was beyond the descriptive capability of human language.

Just as Ezekiel had to resort to using as and like to describe an attempted approximation of his vision of God on the heavenly chariot-throne; as Daniel had to do likewise in describing the Ancient of Days; as St John the Theologian did in describing his vision of the Son of Man – so St Luke can only look for the nearest earthly things to describe the experience of the apostles on the day of Pentecost.

Nearly two thousand years later, in celebrating the feast, in our services we return to the wonderful prayer “O Heavenly King…” calling upon the same Holy Spirit that descended upon the apostles “as of a rushing mighty wind” and in “cloven tongues like as of fire” to come and abide in us, and if it were not for our baptismal union with Christ, this request would be daring to the point of audacity.

How can we humans – mere creatures – address the Holy Spirit thus: the same Holy Spirit that we encounter in the dramatic events of today’s Gospel?

Of course, in prayer, we ask God for many things – for mercy, for protection, for the healing of the sick, the relief of the suffering, and for the repsose of the departed, for jobs, material necessities, and many other things… but we now go much further than these prayerfull requests.

We have called the Holy Spirit Heavenly King, yet we His servants and creatures ask the “Comforter, the Spirit of Truth” to come and dwell in us – for the Paraclete to actually stay and abide within us fallen and weak human beings – hardly palatial dwellings for the Heavenly King – and to “cleanse us of all impurity and save our souls.”

We can only understand the boldness and even the possibility of this audacious request through the grace, calling and promise of our baptism and chrismation, by which we have already been cleansed, enlightened and sealed by the operation of the Holy Spirit (no matter what we have done since that spiritual rebirth), having been set aside for God as we were anointed with holy chrism in “The seal of the gift of the Holy Spirit”.

When the Saviour ascended, He promised to send another Comforter, and this came to pass on the day of Pentecost – but this outpouring of the Spirit is not one that only anointed the apostles and the newly founded apostolic Church, but one which is continually  poured forth upon the individual members of the Body of Christ: especially in the Holy Mysteries of the Church, which the Saviour has given us. 

The Holy Spirit not only recreates us in the Holy Mysteries, but initiates us into the Christian mystery and leads us to Christ, through Whom we are brought to the Father

In our Christian lives, we may not see dramatic signs as on the day of Pentecost, but Christ’s promise of the presence of the Holy Spirit neither ceases nor fails, and it is through the quiet working of the Holy Spirit in our community and individual lives that the gift of Pentecost continues.

The same Holy Spirit which descended upon the upper room on the day of Pentecost has descended upon the baptismal waters in which the new members of our community have been immersed over the last half-year, and was equally the sanctifier of the waters of our own baptism: the Holy Spirit who makes each of us a new creation, in Christ.

The same Comforter sanctified the holy chrism with which each of us received in “The seal of the gift of the Holy Spirit” after baptism. Though we may nor experience supernatural signs, this sealing is our own personal Pentecost, in which we receive the same gift and outpouring that the apostles received in the upper room.

During the consecration at the Divine Liturgy, we pray, “O Lord, Who at the third hour didst send down Thy Most Holy Spirit upon Thine apostles: take Him not away from us, O Good One, but renew Him in us who pray to Thee…” that through the same Holy Spirit, the Holy Gifts may become the very Body and Blood of the Saviour, who promised the Holy Spirit to His disciples.

In the Mystery of Holy Unction, the same Holy Spirit, sanctifies the ‘oil of gladness’, with which we are anointed for the “healing of soul and body”, becoming not only a sign or a symbol, but the spiritual means by which we receive Grace and healing.

The same Holy Spirit works in Holy Matrimony to join husband and wife as one flesh, uniting them in prayer and Faith, transforming them in a new relationship with one another, with God, and with the Church. Through the Grace of the Holy Spirit, they are called to grow together in love, leading one another to the Kingdom of Heaven.

Through confession and the mystery of repentance, the same Holy Spirit transforms, cleanses and purifies the human heart, as the gift of God’s forgiveness and Grace restores and renews His image in each of us, who were clothed in Christ in the Mystery of Baptism.

Through the operation of the Holy Spirit, this repentance is not simply a remedial act of spiritual reorientation or correction after we have sinned and fallen, but the entire way of Christian-living, leading to our transformation and transfiguration, in which the human heart and mind are illuminated and raised up to God.

Through the laying-on of hands by the bishops, as successors of the apostles, and by the operation of the same Holy Spirit, the life of the Church is preserved by the ordination of its ministers to Holy Orders – as bishops, priests and deacons.

Thus, through each of these Holy Mysteries, the Holy Spirit that descended on the apostles on the day of Pentecost, continues to work in the Church and in each of us, quietly, in what is for most of us is a hidden but nevertheless real way.

This presence requires neither signs nor wonders as a mark of validity or authenticity, and whilst the gifts of the Spirit spoken of in the New Testament include supernatural and miraculous charisms that we continue to see in the lives of the saints, the fruits of the Holy Spirit of which St Paul the Apostle speaks are the simple characteristics of a Christian life: “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.”

But, for the fruits of the Holy Spirit to grow and strengthen within us, we need to be active in the podvig of Christian living – labouring to make ourselves worthy receptacles of God’s grace, and worthy temples of the Holy Spirit.

When addressing the Church in Ephesus, St Paul wrote, “I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” It is by walking in the manner worthy of our calling that the fruits of the Holy Spirit will multiply in us, with such an overflowing abundance that they benefit all around us, united with one another in the bond of peace of which the apostle speaks.

Let each of us labour as individuals, and together as Christ’s Church, to cultivate spiritual lives in which the quiet indwelling of the Holy Spirit transforms us by Divine Grace.

Embracing the holiness and goodness to which God calls us, we must each be oriented to Him, in lives in accordance with the precepts of the Gospel, saturated with prayer, in simplicity, moderation and sobriety, lived in the Church and as the Church – as the community of faith sanctified and confirmed on the feast of Pentecost. And, in all of this, let us support, sustain and help one another, as fellow strugglers and co-workers for the Holy Spirit.

With love in Christ – Hieromonk Mark

“All of us, my friends, participate in this effect of the life-giving goodness of the Holy Spirit in various experiences of our spiritual rebirth, renewal and sanctification. The means by which the Holy Spirit is communicated to us are fervent prayer and the Church sacraments. Our whole life, my friends, from beginning to end is accompanied by the great gifts of the Holy Spirit; and yet, in all its actions it must consist and be lived under the influence of the blessing, sanctifying and life-giving grace of the Holy Spirit.

Call on the Holy Spirit – always keep your hearts pure so as not to drive away the Holy Spirit from them but to attract Him.”

St. Alexei Mechev

Paschal Greetings

Dear Fathers and Mothers; dear brothers and sisters; dear friends – Christ is Risen! Христос воскресе! Hristos a înviat! Χριστός ἀνέστη!  

Celebrating the radiant and bright Resurrection of our Lord and God and Saviour, Jesus Christ, in the early hours of the morning, we proclaimed Him as the Light shining in the darkness in the prologue of St John’s Gospel, and this afternoon, the vesperal Gospel reading saw the Risen Lord coming to His disciples. 

Then, the same day at evening, being the first day of the week, when the doors were shut where the disciples were assembled, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in the midst, and said to them, “Peace be with you.” When He had said this, He showed them His hands and His side. 

The Risen Lord does not wait for any doors to be opened, but rather passes through the very barrier standing between Him and his disciples. The things of the world – barriers, obstacles, physical limits – are no obstacle to the Risen Saviour who comes into the midst of His followers and offers them the greeting of peace.  

He wishes them shalom in the fear, confusion, and uncertainty of their lives, shaken and shattered by the torture and horror of the Cross and Passion; seeing the Saviour suffer and die an ignominious death and placed lifeless in a new tomb.  

In an instant, He dispels darkness, changing their very existence in the moment that He passes through the wood of the door that had been locked and barred out of fear. 

And, for us in these dark and painful times, full of fears, worries, suffering and darkness, He comes to us to say to us, “Peace be with you.”  

This peace – this shalom – is not just an absence of war, conflict, pain, fear and uncertainty – but is real, positive and qualitative: a gift of the Holy Spirit manifested in love, harmony, reconciliation and unity – reflecting God Himself. 

A heavy, locked and barred door may not stand between us and the Risen Lord, but for us, the fears, pain, anguish, suspicion, intolerance and emotions that may hold and control us may be far more impregnable if we are unwilling to let His peace penetrate everything that forms a barrier between us and God. 

He will not force His way in, or force His peace upon us, but rather offers it to each of us as a gift that may cleanse, heal, and unite – but only if we will let it enter our lives.  

Only then, when we put aside fear, division and suspicion can this peace penetrate our hearts, so that the Risen Lord may become for each of us the Light that shone in the darkness; only then can He banish darkness from our hearts and lives; only then can He take us by our wrists and pluck us from the shadows and darkness and lead us into the radiance of the Resurrection. 

The choice is ours. 

Do we shut out the Risen Lord by the movements of our hearts and minds; by militating against His peace by our conversations, agendas, obsessions, and ideologies; and if we bar Him from entering our lives, then how will experience the continuation of the vesperal Gospel? 

Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord. So Jesus said to them again, “Peace to you! As the Father has sent Me, I also send you.” And when He had said this, He breathed on them, and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 

If we are unwilling to let Him through the barriers, how can we expect to experience the joy of the Resurrection? How can we then expect to receive the Holy Spirit if our closed and barricaded lives cannot even let in the Risen Saviour and the peace which He wishes to give us? 

Sometimes, when the unknown-outside is fraught with risk and danger, it takes courage to pull down the defences and barricades, or to open the door, but that is what we need to do so that the Lord may enter and bring us peace, light and renewal in the glory of the resurrection. 

We can’t have it both ways. To know that He is truly risen, then we need to let Him in and to live as Christian people, proclaiming and realising the Gospel. He has shattered the bars and gates of death and hell, but for the Resurrection to transform our lives, we need to open ourselves to its power.

Having encountered the power of the Risen Lord, we can then “Go quickly and proclaim to the world that the Lord is risen, and hath put death to death; for He is the Son of God, who saveth the race of man.”

With love in the Risen Lord – Hieromonk Mark  

Greetings for the Annunciation

With the Archangel’s voice we cry to thee, O most-pure one: Rejoice, thou who art full of grace, the Lord is with thee.

Dear brothers and sisters,

Поздравление с Благовещением!

Greetings to you all, as we celebrate the feast of the Annunciation, joining with the Archangel Gabriel in saluting the Mother of God, as we say, “Rejoice, thou who art full of grace” .

On Saturday, we shall add to this greeting with the many salutations of the Akathist Hymn, and the hymns of the feast and laudations in the Akathist remind us that the Incarnation of the God-Man, on the day of the Annunciation was not a sudden or random event, but one ordained since the fall of the first father and first mother. The Virgin’s fiat, in which she bowed to the will of God was a moment of cosmic change, which would find its fruition in the victorious death and resurrection of the Saviour conceived at that moment. 

After the fall of Adam and Eve, in the protoevangelium of the third chapter of Genesis, God says to the serpent-tempter, “Because you have done this… I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.”

The Church Fathers saw this as the prophecy of the Incarnation, in which the Second Eve would give birth to Christ, the New Adam who would crush Satan, hell and death beneath His feet, though He Himself would suffer torture and death on the Cross, as the devil struck at His heel, but to no avail.

In the events of the Annunciation and obedience of the Mother of God, the promise of salvation became an unfolding reality in time and space, as God clothed Himself in Adam, united to His fallen children as He joined humanity to His divinity in a perfect union.

In the compline hymns of the feast, we celebrate the remedy of the fall and the reversal of the tragedy of Adam and Eve’s disobedience, as we chant,

“Behold, our restoration hath now been revealed to us! God uniteth Himself to men in manner past recounting! Falsehood is dispelled by the voice of the archangel! For the Virgin receiveth joy, an earthly woman hath become heaven! The world is released from the primal curse! Let creation rejoice and chant aloud: O Lord, our Creator and Deliverer, glory be to Thee!”

In the first ode of the Akathist Canon we call the Mother of God “the vessel of joy, through which the curse of the first mother is annulled” and “the restoration of Adam and death of hell”, and in the first ikos of the Akathist we shall offer laudations to the Mother of God singing,

“Rejoice, thou through whom joy shall shine forth;                                     

Rejoice, thou through whom the curse shall cease.                                     

Rejoice, raising of fallen Adam;                                                                       

Rejoice, redemption of the tears of Eve.”

We shall soon see the visual realisation of these words in the icon of Pascha, as the Saviour descends into Hades, and frees Adam and Eve, and all of their righteous seed from the captivity of death, opening the gates of eternal life through His life-giving death and resurrection. The place of the Mother of God in this is celebrated in the Akathist, as we sing,

Rejoice, for through thee, paradise was opened;                                         

Rejoice, key of Christ’s Kingdom.

But this is not the earthly paradise, from whose gates the flaming seraph is turned aside by the obedience of the Mother of God, as she says, “Behold the handmaid of the Lord, be it unto me according to Thy word”, but rather the heavenly paradise of the Heavenly Kingdom, itself.

This is why we celebrate this feast as “The beginning of our salvation and the manifestation of the eternal mystery.”

Why?

The next line of the troparion makes it clear – because “The Son of God becometh the Son of the Virgin…” and in so doing has united divinity and humanity, heaven and earth, creator and creation, or in the words of the aposticha,

“Those below are united to those above! Adam is restored, and Eve is freed from her primal grief! The tabernacle of our nature, mingled with divinity, hath become the temple of God! O the mystery! Incomprehensible is the image of His abasement, and ineffable the richness of His goodness!”

Celebrating this almost unthinkable and unimaginable wonder, let us heed the continuing words of the hymn, in awe and wonder for the Mother of God, who became an instrument of our salvation, as the Womb of the Divine Incarnation; the heavenly ladder by which God came down; the bridge leading from earth to heaven; and the opening of the doors of paradise:

“…let us cry out together with Gabriel to the Virgin: Rejoice, O joyous one, from whom Christ God, our salvation, is come, assuming our nature and elevating it in Himself! Him do thou entreat, that our souls be saved.”

May God bless you all!

In Christ – Hieromonk Mark

On the Sunday of Zacchaeus

At that time, Jesus entered and passed through Jericho. And, behold, there was a man named Zacchaeus, which was the chief among the publicans, and he was rich. And he sought to see Jesus who he was; and could not for the press, because he was little of stature. And he ran before, and climbed up into a sycamore tree to see him: for he was to pass that way. And when Jesus came to the place, he looked up, and saw him, and said unto him, Zacchaeus, make haste, and come down; for today I must abide at thy house. And he made haste, and came down, and received him joyfully. And when they saw it, they all murmured, saying, That he was gone to be guest with a man that is a sinner. And Zacchaeus stood, and said unto the Lord: Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor; and if I have taken any thing from any man by false accusation, I restore him fourfold. And Jesus said unto him, This day is salvation come to this house, forsomuch as he also is a son of Abraham. For the Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost.

(Luke 19:1-10)

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

Dear brothers and sisters,

On the Sunday of Zacchaeus, we yearly encounter the spectacle of Zacchaeus the publican and Roman-collaborator – despised and shunned by Jewish society – clambering into the branches of a tree, from whose height the whole perspective of his life was transformed.

A man who knew that he had power and control over the lives of the people whom he squeezed and plundered for the sake of his own purse, as well as that of the Roman occupiers, threw image and propriety to the wind, simply to see over the heads of those – and indeed everything – that stood between him and his encounter with Christ.

St Ephrem saw the tree that Zacchaeus climbed as the opposite of the Tree of Knowledge, for whereas Adam was guilty through his actions at that tree, the tree for Zacchaeus became a sign abd token of his innocence.

“The first fig tree of Adam will be forgotten, because of the last fig tree of the chief tax collector, and “the name of the guilty Adam will be forgotten because of the innocent Zacchaeus.”

St Ephrem the Syrian: Commentary on Tatian’s Diatessaron

Like the children of Palm Sunday, the tax-collector climbed amongst the leaves and branches to see the approach of the Saviour, in a childlike spectacle, but whereas the Feast of Palms marks the Saviour’s entrance into the Holy City, the events of the Sunday Gospel mark the entrance of the Saviour into the life and house of Zacchaeus, where he is welcomed by a heart and home that were changed by the salvific encounter.

Furthermore, the tree becomes a reference for the tree of Cross, and Blessed Augustine of Hippo calls upon us in our humility to climb the Cross, as Zacchaeus in simple humility, climbed into the boughs of the ‘sycamore’.

This Gospel calls us to stop worrying about what the world, society, colleagues, neighbours… even family think of us, so that in seemingly divine-folly and abandon we may try to gain a viewpoint and perspective of the Lord – doing whatever it takes to draw near to the Saviour, leaving the crowd behind, and not worrying about what anyone else thinks in order to  encounter the Saviour, even to simply glimpse him for a moment.

As Zacchaeus forgets his own dignity and sacrifices his image to behave like a child rather than a wealthy Roman civil servant, willingly to make a laughable spectacle of himself, he puts aside the cares of the world, and by doing so receives the King of all, as we are called to do every time we chant the cherubic hymn.

To return to Blessed Augustine’s words on this Gospel:

“Zacchaeus climbed away from the crowd and saw Jesus without the crowd getting in his way. The crowd laughs at the lowly, to people walking the way of humility, who leave the wrongs they suffer in God’s hands and do not insist on getting back at their enemies.

The crowd laughs at the lowly and says, ‘You helpless, miserable clod, you cannot even stick up for yourself and get back what is your own.’ The crowd gets in the way and prevents Jesus from being seen. The crowd boasts and crows when it is able to get back what it owns. It blocks the sight of the one who said as he hung on the cross, ‘Father, forgive them, because they do not know what they are doing…’

He ignored the crowd that was getting in his way. He instead climbed a sycamore tree, a tree of ‘silly fruit.’ As the apostle says, ‘We preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block indeed to the Jews, [now notice the sycamore] but folly to the Gentiles.’

Finally, the wise people of this world laugh at us about the cross of Christ and say, ‘What sort of minds do you people have, who worship a crucified God?’ What sort of minds do we have? They are certainly not your kind of mind. ‘The wisdom of this world is folly with God.’

No, we do not have your kind of mind. You call our minds foolish. Say what you like, but for our part, let us climb the sycamore tree and see Jesus. The reason you cannot see Jesus is that you are ashamed to climb the sycamore tree.

Let Zacchaeus grasp the sycamore tree, and let the humble person climb the cross. That is little enough, merely to climb it. We must not be ashamed of the cross of Christ, but we must fix it on our foreheads, where the seat of shame is. Above where all our blushes show is the place we must firmly fix that for which we should never blush.

As for you, I rather think you make fun of the sycamore, and yet that is what has enabled me to see Jesus. You make fun of the sycamore, because you are just a person, but ‘the foolishness of God is wiser than men.”

Like Zacchaeus, let us become fools in the eyes of the world, to gaze upon the face of the All-Merciful Saviour, and to embrace His way and Holy Wisdom which is folly to the proud and worldly.

Like Zacchaeus, let us find the humility and abandon to become a spectacle, whatever the world may think and say.

Like Zacchaeus, let us open the doors of our home and heart to the Saviour, so that He may say to each of us, “Today, salvation has come into this house.”

Amen.

St Ephrem the Syrian: Hymn 14 of the Epiphany, concerning our Lord and John.

1. My thought bore me to Jordan,
and I saw a marvel when there was revealed
the glorious Bridegroom who to the Bride
shall bring freedom and holiness.

Response:  Glory to Thee, my Lord, for Heaven and earth worship Thee with joy!

2. I saw John filled with wonder
and the multitudes standing about him
and the glorious Bridegroom bowed down
to the Son of the barren that he might baptise Him.

Response:  Glory to Thee, my Lord, for Heaven and earth worship Thee with joy!

3. At the Word and the Voice my thought marvelled:
for lo! John was the Voice;
our Lord was manifested as the Word,
that what was hidden should become revealed.

Response:  Glory to Thee, my Lord, for Heaven and earth worship Thee with joy!

4. The Bride was espoused but knew not
who was the Bridegroom on whom she gazed:
the guests were assembled, the desert was filled
and our Lord was hidden among them.
                                                              

Response:  Glory to Thee, my Lord, for Heaven and earth worship Thee with joy

5. Then the Bridegroom revealed Himself
and to John at the voice He drew near:
and the Forerunner was moved and said of Him
This is the Bridegroom Whom I proclaimed.

Response:  Glory to Thee, my Lord, for Heaven and earth worship Thee with joy!

6. He came to baptism Who baptises all
and He showed Himself at Jordan.
John saw Him and drew back
deprecating, and thus he spoke:

Response:  Glory to Thee, my Lord, for Heaven and earth worship Thee with joy!

7. How, my Lord, dost Thou will to be baptised
Thou Who in Thy baptism atonest all?
Baptism looks unto Thee
do Thou shed on it holiness and perfection?

Response:  Glory to Thee, my Lord, for Heaven and earth worship Thee with joy!

8. Our Lord said I will it so
draw near, baptise Me that My Will may be done.
Resist My Will thou cannot:
I shall be baptised of thee, for thus I will it.

Response:  Glory to Thee, my Lord, for Heaven and earth worship Thee with joy!

9. I entreat, my Lord, that I be not compelled
for this is hard that Thou hast said to me
‘I need thee to baptise Me;’
for it is Thou that with Thy hyssop purifiest all.

Response:  Glory to Thee, my Lord, for Heaven and earth worship Thee with joy!

10. I have asked it, and it pleases Me that thus it should be
and thou, John, why dost thou gainsay?
Allow righteousness to be fulfilled
and come, baptise Me; why art thou standing there?

Response:  Glory to Thee, my Lord, for Heaven and earth worship Thee with joy!

11. How can one openly grasp
in his hands the fire that burns?
O Thou that art fire have mercy on me
and bid me not come near Thee, for it is hard for me!

Response:  Glory to Thee, my Lord, for Heaven and earth worship Thee with joy!

12. I have revealed to thee My Will;
what dost thou question?
Draw near, baptise Me, and thou shalt not be burned.
The bridechamber is ready; keep Me not back
from the wedding-feast that has been made ready.

Response:  Glory to Thee, my Lord, for Heaven and earth worship Thee with joy!

13. The Watchers fear and dare not
gaze on Thee lest they be blinded
and I, how, O my Lord, shall I baptise Thee?
I am too weak to draw near; blame me not!

Response:  Glory to Thee, my Lord, for Heaven and earth worship Thee with joy!

14. Thou fearest; therefore gainsay not
against My Will in what I desire:
and Baptism hath respect unto Me.
Accomplish the work to which thou hast been called!

Response:  Glory to Thee, my Lord, for Heaven and earth worship Thee with joy!

15. Lo! I proclaimed Thee at Jordan
in the ears of the people that believed not
and if they shall see Thee baptised of me
they will doubt that Thou art the Lord.

Response:  Glory to Thee, my Lord, for Heaven and earth worship Thee with joy!

16. Lo! I am to be baptised in their sight
and the Father Who sent Me bears witness of Me
that I am His Son and in Me He is well pleased
to reconcile Adam who was under His wrath.

Response:  Glory to Thee, my Lord, for Heaven and earth worship Thee with joy!

17. It becomest, me, O my Lord, to know my nature
that I am moulded out of the ground
and Thee the moulder Who formest all things:
I, then, why should I baptise Thee in water?

Response:  Glory to Thee, my Lord, for Heaven and earth worship Thee with joy!

18. It becomes thee to know why I have come
and for what cause I have desired that thou shouldst baptise Me.
It is the middle of the way wherein I have walked
withhold not Baptism.

Response:  Glory to Thee, my Lord, for Heaven and earth worship Thee with joy!

19. Small is the river whereto Thou hast come
that Thou shouldst lodge therein and it should cleanse Thee.
The heavens suffice not for Thy mightiness;
how much less shall Baptism contain Thee!

Response:  Glory to Thee, my Lord, for Heaven and earth worship Thee with joy!

20. The womb is smaller than Jordan;
yet was I willing to lodge in the Virgin:
and as I was born from woman
so too am I to be baptised in Jordan.

Response:  Glory to Thee, my Lord, for Heaven and earth worship Thee with joy!

21. Lo! The hosts are standing!
the ranks of Watchers, lo! They worship!
And if I draw near, my Lord, to baptise Thee
I tremble for myself with quaking.

Response:  Glory to Thee, my Lord, for Heaven and earth worship Thee with joy!

22. The hosts and multitudes call thee happy
all of them, for that thou baptisest Me.
For this I have chosen thee from the womb:
fear not, for I have willed it.

Response:  Glory to Thee, my Lord, for Heaven and earth worship Thee with joy!

23. I have prepared the way as I was sent:
I have betrothed the Bride as I was commanded.
May Thine Epiphany be spread over the world
now that Thou hast come, and let me not baptise Thee!

Response:  Glory to Thee, my Lord, for Heaven and earth worship Thee with joy!

24. This is My preparation, for so have I willed;
I will go down and be baptised in Jordan,
and make bright the armour for them that are baptised
that they may be white in Me and I not be conquered.

Response:  Glory to Thee, my Lord, for Heaven and earth worship Thee with joy!

25. Son of the Father, why should I baptise Thee?
for lo! Thou art in Thy Father and Thy Father in Thee.
Holiness unto the priests Thou givest –
why dost Thou ask for water that is common?

Response:  Glory to Thee, my Lord, for Heaven and earth worship Thee with joy!

  1. The children of Adam look unto Me
    that I should work for them the new birth.
    A way in the waters I will search out for them
    and if I be not baptised this cannot be.

Response:  Glory to Thee, my Lord, for Heaven and earth worship Thee with joy!

27. High-priests of Thee are consecrated
priests by Thy hyssop are purified –
the anointed and the kings Thou makest.
Baptism, how shall it profit Thee?

Response:  Glory to Thee, my Lord, for Heaven and earth worship Thee with joy!

28. The Bride thou didst betroth to Me awaits Me
that I should go down, be baptised, and sanctify her.
Friend of the Bridegroom withhold Me not
from the washing that awaits Me.

Response:  Glory to Thee, my Lord, for Heaven and earth worship Thee with joy!

29. I am not able, for I am weak
Thou blazest in my hands to grasp.
Lo! Thy legions are as flame
bid one of the Watchers baptise Thee!

Response:  Glory to Thee, my Lord, for Heaven and earth worship Thee with joy!

30. Not from the Watchers was My Body assumed,
that I should summon a Watcher to baptise Me.
The body of Adam, lo! I have put on
and thou, son of Adam, art to baptise Me.

Response:  Glory to Thee, my Lord, for Heaven and earth worship Thee with joy!

31. The waters saw Thee, and greatly feared;
the waters saw Thee, and lo! They tremble!
The river foams in its terror
and I that am weak, how shall I baptise Thee?

Response:  Glory to Thee, my Lord, for Heaven and earth worship Thee with joy!

32. The waters in My Baptism are sanctified,
and fire and the Spirit from Me shall they receive
and if I be not baptised they are not made perfect
to be fruitful of children that shall not die.

Response:  Glory to Thee, my Lord, for Heaven and earth worship Thee with joy!

33. Fire, if to Thy fire it draw near
shall be burnt up of it as stubble.
The mountains of Sinai endured Thee not
and I that am weak, wherein shall I baptise Thee?

Response:  Glory to Thee, my Lord, for Heaven and earth worship Thee with joy!

34. I am the flaming fire
yet for man’s sake I became a babe
in the virgin womb of the maiden.
And now I am to be baptised in Jordan.

Response:  Glory to Thee, my Lord, for Heaven and earth worship Thee with joy!

35. It is very meet that Thou shouldst baptise me
for Thou hast holiness to purify all.
In Thee it is that the defiled are made holy;
but Thou that art holy, why art Thou to be baptised?

Response:  Glory to Thee, my Lord, for Heaven and earth worship Thee with joy!

36. It is very right that thou shouldst baptise Me
as I bid, and should not gainsay.
Lo! I baptised thee within the womb –
baptise me in Jordan!

Response:  Glory to Thee, my Lord, for Heaven and earth worship Thee with joy!

37. I am a bondman and I am weak.
Thou that freest all have mercy on me!
Thy latchets to unloose I am not able
Thine exalted head who will make me worthy to touch?

Response:  Glory to Thee, my Lord, for Heaven and earth worship Thee with joy!

38. Bondmen in My Baptism are set free
handwritings in My washing are blotted out
manumissions in the water are sealed;
and if I be not baptised all these come to nought.

Response:  Glory to Thee, my Lord, for Heaven and earth worship Thee with joy!

39. A mantle of fire the air wears
and waits for Thee, above Jordan;
and if Thou consent to it and will to be baptised
Thou shall baptise Thyself and fulfil all.

Response:  Glory to Thee, my Lord, for Heaven and earth worship Thee with joy!

40. This is meet, that thou should baptise Me
that none may err and say concerning Me –
‘Had He not been alien from the Father’s house –
why feared the Levite to baptise Him?’

Response:  Glory to Thee, my Lord, for Heaven and earth worship Thee with joy!

41. The prayer, then, when Thou art baptised-
how shall I complete over Jordan?
When the Father and the Spirit are seen over Thee –
Whom shall I call on, as priest?

Response:  Glory to Thee, my Lord, for Heaven and earth worship Thee with joy!

42. The prayer in silence is to be completed:
come, thy hand alone lay on Me,
and the Father shall utter in the priest’s stead –
that which is meet concerning His Son.

Response:  Glory to Thee, my Lord, for Heaven and earth worship Thee with joy!

43. They that are bidden, lo! All of them stand –
the Bridegroom’s guests, lo! They bear witness
that day by day I said among them,
‘I am the Voice and not the Word.’

Response:  Glory to Thee, my Lord, for Heaven and earth worship Thee with joy!

44. Voice of him that criest in the wilderness
fulfil the work for which thou didst come –
that the desert whereunto thou didst go out may resound
with the mighty peace thou didst preach therein.

Response:  Glory to Thee, my Lord, for Heaven and earth worship Thee with joy!

45. The shout of the Watchers has come to my ears –
lo! I hear from the Father’s house –
the hosts that sound forth the cry,
‘In Thine Epiphany, O Bridegroom, the worlds have life.’

Response:  Glory to Thee, my Lord, for Heaven and earth worship Thee with joy!

46. The time hastes on, and the marriage guests
look to Me to see what is doing.
Come, baptise Me, that they may give praise
to the Voice of the Father when it is heard!

Response:  Glory to Thee, my Lord, for Heaven and earth worship Thee with joy!

47. I hearken, my Lord, according to Thy Word:
come to Baptism as Thy love constrainest Thee!
The dust worships that whereunto he has attained
that on Him Who fashioned him he should lay his hand.

Response:  Glory to Thee, my Lord, for Heaven and earth worship Thee with joy!

48. The heavenly ranks were silent as they stood
and the Bridegroom went down into Jordan;
the Holy One was baptised and straightway went up
and His Light shone forth on the world.

Response:  Glory to Thee, my Lord, for Heaven and earth worship Thee with joy!

49. The doors of the highest were opened above
and the voice of the Father was heard –
This is my Beloved in Whom I am well pleased.
All ye peoples, come and worship Him.

Response:  Glory to Thee, my Lord, for Heaven and earth worship Thee with joy!

50. They that saw were amazed as they stood,
at the Spirit Who came down and bore witness to Him.
Praise to Thine Epiphany that gladdens all –
Thou in Whose revelation the worlds are lightened!

Response:  Glory to Thee, my Lord, for Heaven and earth worship Thee with joy!

Greetings on the feast of Theophany

Dear brothers and sisters, greetings for the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord!

It is only a matter of days since we celebrated the Circumcision of the Saviour, according to the Law, even though He is the Giver of the Law, and today we celebrate His Baptism in the Jordan, despite His sinlessness, and the reality that He is the very Creator of the waters into which He descended.

The old seal of circumcision, limited to the chosen people of the Old Israel, is replaced by the universal cleansing of baptism, to which all people are called by the Lord leading by image and example, consecrating the waters of creation as He – the Creator – enters the Jordan, not simply as man, but as God.

St Proclus, Patriarch of Constantinople, wrote:

“Today’s feast of the Epiphany manifests even more wonders than the feast of Christmas… On the feast of the Saviour’s birth, the earth rejoiced because it bore the Lord in a manger; but on today’s feast of the Epiphany, it is the sea that is glad and leaps for joy; the sea is glad because it receives the blessing of holiness in the river Jordan.”

What was lacking in the ritual bathing of the Jews and the baptism of repentance of the Forerunner is made complete, as the Trinity is manifested at the River Jordan, so that the waters of baptism are not only a source of holiness for us, but through the operation of the Holy Spirit, they are the effectual means of our cleansing from sin and clothing in Christ, as we are baptised in the Name of the Father, and of Son, and of the Holy Spirit, who acted in Divine Unity in this glorious feast.

Creation rejoiced as it was sanctified by Christ our God in His immeasurable holiness, descending into the river, as ‘the worship of the Trinity was made manifest’ – the Father speaking as Heaven opened, the Saviour’s Sonship confirmed by His words, and the Holy Spirit’s descent and visible anointing of the Messiah.

In his 6th Hymn for the feast, St Ephrem connects our baptism with that of the Lord, and with his characteristic uses of paradox, he explores the blessings of both our descent and ascent in imitating the Saviour’s journey into the very heart of the Jordan, to which we are called and in which we are immersed in our own baptism:

“The baptised when they come up are sanctified;
the sealed when they go down are pardoned.
They who come up have put on glory
they who go down have cast off sin.
Adam put off his glory in a moment
you have been clothed with glory in a moment.”

Having descended into the cleansing waters of baptism – year by year – this feast calls us to a continuing spiritual ascent into the Light of Christ, in purity and holiness, and St Ephrem reminds us to struggle to maintain the whiteness of our baptismal robe, calling those who have stained it to cleanse it by tears of repentance.

“Today, lo! Your offenses are blotted out
and your names are written down.
The priest blots out in the water
and Christ writes down in Heaven.
By the blotting out and the writing down
lo! Doubled is your rejoicing…

The gift that you have received freely
cease not from watching over it:
this pearl if it shall be lost
cannot again be sought out
for it is like to virginity
which if it be lost is not to be found.

May you from all defilement
be kept by the power of your white robes!
and he whose freedom has defiled itself
may it be able to wash itself clean by his weeping!”

May this feast call us to watchfulness and attention to the great gift we have received in baptism, and where we have stained our baptismal robe, may it call us to the restorative laver of repentance, confession and communion of the Holy Mysteries – which like Baptism, are a foretaste of Christ’s resurrection into which we are baptised and the Kingdom of Heaven – Heaven which opened ‘today’,

The Father declared His pleasure in the Incarnate Word, whose obedience brought Him in the flesh: to the Cave of Bethlehem, to His Circumcision on the eight day, to the arms of the righteous Symeon, to  the baptismal waters of the Jordan, and subsequently to the cross and tomb, before His Ascension – and this Ascension in glory, clothed in the flesh of Adam, robed in our humanity, is the wonder to which this feast of the Lord’s Baptism calls us.

Let us be attentive, in humility, obedience, striving in holiness and the life of the Gospel, so that our ascent from the baptismal waters lead us into the Heavens that opened on this glorious feast, so that the Father may say of each of us – “This is my son. This is my daughter – in whom I am well pleased.”

Rising from the Jordan, let each of strive to clamber toward the Kingdom of Heaven.

May God bless you on this glorious feast!

With love in Christ – Fr Mark

 

 

ST EPHREM THE SYRIAN: HYMN 6 ON THE EPIPHANY

1. The Spirit came down from on high
and hallowed the waters by His brooding.
In the baptism of John,
He passed by the rest and abode on One:
but now He has descended and abode
on all that are born of the water.

Response: Blessed be He Who was baptised that He might baptise you, that you should be absolved from your offenses.

2. Out of all that John baptised
on One it was that the Spirit dwelt:
but now He has flown and come down
that He may dwell on the many
and as each after each comes up, He loves him and abides on him.

Response: Blessed be He Who was baptised that He might baptise you, that you should be absolved from your offenses.

3. A marvel it is that surpasses all!
To the water He went down and was baptised.
The seas declared it blessed,
that river wherein Thou wast baptised:
even the waters that were in heaven envied
because they were not worthy to be Thy bath.

Response: Blessed be He Who was baptised that He might baptise you, that you should be absolved from your offenses.

4. A marvel it is, O my Lord, now also
that while the fountains are full of water
it is the water of baptism
that alone is able to atone.
Mighty is the water in the seas
yet is it too weak for atonement.

Response: Blessed be He Who was baptised that He might baptise you, that you should be absolved from your offenses.

5. Thy might, O my Lord, if it abides
within the humble it exalts him
like as royalty if it abide
within the desert gives it peace.
Water by Thy might has triumphed
over sin, for Life has encompassed it.

Response: Blessed be He Who was baptised that He might baptise you, that you should be absolved from your offenses.

6. The sheep exulted when they saw
the hand draw near to baptise them.
Receive, O you sheep, your sealing; enter and be mingled in the flock!
for more than over all the flock
over you rejoice the Watchers today.

Response: Blessed be He Who was baptised that He might baptise you, that you should be absolved from your offenses.

7. The Angels and the Watchers rejoice
over that which is born of the Spirit and of water:
they rejoice that by fire and by the Spirit
the corporeal have become spiritual.
The Seraphim who sing Holy rejoice
that they who are made holy have been increased.

Response: Blessed be He Who was baptised that He might baptise you, that you should be absolved from your offenses.

8. For lo! The Angels rejoice
over one sinner if he repent:
how much more do they now rejoice
that in all churches and congregations
lo! Baptism is bringing forth
the heavenly from the earthly!

Response: Blessed be He Who was baptised that He might baptise you, that you should be absolved from your offenses.

9. The baptised when they come up are sanctified;
the sealed when they go down are pardoned.
They who come up have put on glory
they who go down have cast off sin.
Adam put off his glory in a moment
you have been clothed with glory in a moment.

Response: Blessed be He Who was baptised that He might baptise you, that you should be absolved from your offenses.

10. A house that is of dust when it has fallen
by means of water can be renewed:
the body of Adam that was of dust
which had fallen by water has been renewed.
Lo! The priests as builders
afresh renew your bodies.

Response: Blessed be He Who was baptised that He might baptise you, that you should be absolved from your offenses.

11. A great marvel is this of the wool
that it can take every dye
as the mind takes every discourse.
By the name of its dye it is called
as you who were
baptised when Hearers,
have gained the name of Recipients.

Response: Blessed be He Who was baptised that He might baptise you, that you should be absolved from your offenses.

12. The common waters he sanctified
even Elisha through the Name that is secret.
In them washed the leper openly
and was cleansed by the Power that is secret:
the leprosy was done away in the water, as transgressions in Baptism.

Response: Blessed be He Who was baptised that He might baptise you, that you should be absolved from your offenses.

13. Today, lo! Your offenses are blotted out
and your names are written down.
The priest blots out in the water
and Christ writes down in Heaven.
By the blotting out and the writing down
lo! Doubled is your rejoicing.

Response: Blessed be He Who was baptised that He might baptise you, that you should be absolved from your offenses.

14. Lo! Mercy has dawned today
and from bound to bound it stretches:
the sun has sunk and mercy has dawned.
Justice has drawn in her wrath; Grace has spread forth her love
lo! she pardons and quickens freely.

Response: Blessed be He Who was baptised that He might baptise you, that you should be absolved from your offenses.

15. The sheep that beforetime were in the fold
lo! They hasten forth to greet
the new lambs that have been added to it.
They are white and are clad in white
within and without white are your bodies as your vestments.

Response: Blessed be He Who was baptised that He might baptise you, that you should be absolved from your offenses.

16. From every mouth Blessed are you,
on every side Blessed are you.
Sin from you is driven out
and the Holy Spirit on you is dwelling.
The Evil One has become sad of countenance;
the Good God makes glad your countenance.

Response: Blessed be He Who was baptised that He might baptise you, that you should be absolved from your offenses.

17. The gift that you have received freely
cease not from watching over it:
this pearl if it shall be lost
cannot again be sought out
for it is like to virginity
which if it be lost is not to be found.

Response: Blessed be He Who was baptised that He might baptise you, that you should be absolved from your offenses.

18. May you from all defilement
be kept by the power of your white robes!
and he whose freedom has defiled itself
may it be able to wash itself clean by his weeping!
For me who am servant of the community
may the supplication of the community win pardon!

Response: Blessed be He Who was baptised that He might baptise you, that you should be absolved from your offenses.

19. To the author who has toiled in words
be reconciliation in rest!
to the teacher who has toiled with voice
be forgiveness through grace!
to the priest who has toiled in baptizing
let there come the crown of righteousness!

Response: Blessed be He Who was baptised that He might baptise you, that you should be absolved from your offenses.

20. From every mouth with one consent,
of those beneath and those above
Watchers, Cherubim, and Seraphim
the baptised, the sealed, and the hearers
let each of us cry aloud and say
Glory to the Lord of our feasts!

Response: Blessed be He Who was baptised that He might baptise you, that you should be absolved from your offenses.