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!

Greetings For the Lord’s Nativity

Dear brothers and sisters, Christ is Born! Glorify Him!

Greetings to you as on this Christmas night in which we have celebrated the vigil of the Nativity and look forward to crowning our services with the Divine Liturgy of Christmas morning.

During the litia of Great Compline, we chanted:

“Heaven and earth have now joined together today, since Christ hath been born. Today God hath come to earth and man hath ascended to the heavens. Today, He Who is invisible by nature is seen in the flesh for mankind’s sake…”

“…man hath ascended to the heavens.”

For those of us who were raised outside the Orthodox Church, where did we ever hear such a profound and shocking truth? Were we ever taught that Christmas is the synaxis, the joining of the heavenly and earthly as God becomes a child and lies in a manger?

Yes, we were taught that the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and that God became man, but where, in western Christmas carols did we encounter the Nativity being celebrated as the ascension of mankind into heaven?

The western earthbound view of Christmas often sees the heavens opening as the angels appear to the shepherds, but such is the ‘downward’ focus that perspective and vision hardly look up, failing to appreciate that heaven has opened not simply to allow the descent of the herald angels, but for the ascent of humanity.

In my homily for the Sunday of the Forefathers, I spoke of the Gospels of the genealogy of the Saviour being Gospels of ascent (despite their seeming stasis and inertia), as humanity ascended towards the birth of the Redeemer.

Through the generations of the righteous, God prepared Israel and the whole world for the birth of the God-Man, in whom heaven and earth meet and through whose salvific life, death and resurrection mankind is truly called to ascent into the heavens.

This historical unfolding of the generations was the true ascent of man, not through scientific, economic and social progress and advance. To where has that brought us? To a world torn apart by war, plagued by poverty, disease, starvation and ecological crisis; a world in which governments erode rights and liberties and brainwash millions of people to not only believe, but to actively embrace the loss of their own liberties.

The great ascent was that of humanity to the cave of the Nativity, where pilgrims have venerated the place of Christ’s birth since the earliest Christian centuries, and in the babe laid in the manger in that cave, we see not only the restoration of Adam and Eve, but their ascent together with the other righteous ones we have commemorated so recently – among them, the Righteous Abel, Seth, Enos, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the Twelve Patriarchs, Jesse, David and Solomon. The babe laid in the manger was their child, their flesh and their blood, and through each succeeding generation the forefathers and foremothers had journeyed and ascended to this unlikely birth-place and wondrous birth.

Though Christ raised them to the eights of heaven in the Harrowing of Hell, the fulfilment of this ascent (for all but Enoch and Elijah), will be in His Second Coming at the end of time.

Yet, by His first advent and coming in the flesh, this very ascent was made possible as heaven was opened, expectantly awaiting the return of the New Adam born of the New Eve, whose Incarnation was to raise up the children of both the Old Israel of the Circumcision and the New Israel of the Church to the glory of the Kingdom.

Each year, as we celebrate Christ’s Advent and Nativity, we are challenged to ask ourselves how we and our spiritual lives fit into this calling to the ascent of humanity into God’s Kingdom.

As the years pass and we return to the rich and deeply theological hymns of the feast, have we become any closer to the Lord and made any ‘upward’ progress towards the Kingdom that the Nativity has opened to us?

Indeed, just in the forty days of Advent, have we made any progress towards the heavenly calling of the baptismal mystery at the nativity of our lives in Christ?

Have we made any progress laying aside the worldly things which weigh us down, allowing us to mount upwards towards Christ?

Have we made any progress in casting off the spiritual shackles that hold us down?

Have we made any progress in cultivating the virtues by labour in prayer and fasting, in asceticism, renunciation and non-acquisitiveness?

Have we become any more like the fleshless angels who proclaimed the glory of Christ’s birth, or does the flesh weigh us down to the earth?

Have we – in the terminology of St Seraphim – spiritually-traded and invested wisely and well to obtain Divine Grace – the gift of the Holy Spirit?

As we celebrate the Nativity, each of us should be asking ourselves such challenging questions.

Also, will we be any different after this yearly celebration, with the Holy Days joining the celebrations of the Lord’s Nativity and Baptism, or will we remain unchanged after the spiritual focus of these festal days has faded?

The magi travelled from afar, and having fallen down and worshipped the Child laid in the manger, they went home ‘a different way’, not simply by an alternative route, but as changed people, celebrated by the Church as some of the first to be touched by the Light of Christ.

What of the shepherds who received the witness of heaven itself in the wonderful words of the angelic host – “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth, peace, goodwill to men…”?

How can they have not been changed after witnessing such a wonder and being led to the unlikely Messiah lying in an animals’ feeding trough? They must have been profoundly affected and changed, not just for a few weeks, but for the rest of their earthly lives through the wondrous mystery that came to pass.

Let this feast challenge us to change our lives, to wake up and act – calling us to the heights of heaven, to progress from glory to glory, so that we may ultimately glorify God in His Kingdom.

May God bless you, and may your celebration of the Lord’s Nativity be filled with joy and the fervent desire to struggle for the heights of heaven.

In Christ – Hieromonk Mark

St Spyridon – the Exemplar of the True Shepherd

I think today’s Liturgy saw the smallest Sunday congregation we’ve ever had for a eucharistic celebration in Cardiff, with ten adults and three children. However, in no way did this detract from the joy of celebrating the feast of St Spyridon quietly and simply, with our faithful patiently waiting to use the church after mass, setting up with few to help. However, we got there and managed, despite the lack of choir and servers.

It was important to celebrate St Spyridon’s memory, as in him and in St Nicholas, whose feast was celebrated last week, we see the very epitome and ideal of true bishops, as archpastors of the Church and shepherds of souls, and at the end of Liturgy, I reflected of the qualities of St Spyridon that should be reflected in all of our bishops.

In St Spyridon, we see a spiritual-shepherd of simplicity of life, non-acquisitiveness, unstinting faithfulness to Orthodoxy and canonicity, compassion and concern for the lowly and powerless, of holiness and humility – qualities which today sometimes seem sadly less important than managerial talent, fundraising ability, influence in social and political circles, being an effective ethnic or cultural figurehead, or the ‘ability’ to connect with radicals and activists whilst desperately racing to prove the relevance of the Church to an ever darkening and ever perverse ‘society’ – a sure path to compromise and the erosion of Truth.

What would St Spyridon make of such ‘shepherds’ sparkling in their well-practised photo-poses, walking the streets to score social and media credits before news cameras with godless idealogues who deride Tradition and attack Faith and Christian values; fawning over political powers who persecute the faithful in much-suffering Ukraine; false-shepherds whose fork-tongued opportunism somehow recognises both the sanctity of human life but also the ‘right’ for children to be murdered in their mothers’ wombs.

How can we even compare such fakery to St Spyridon, a shepherd of souls not interested in worldly power or influence, and with no sense of entitlement or proud dignity, clad in his woven shepherd’s hat and seeking nothing other than serving God and tending the flock entrusted to him by the Heavenly Good Shepherd?

Let those of us who are wonderfully blessed with shepherds (who live in holiness, non-acquisitiveness and simplicity, tirelessly teaching the Faith, and continually serving their flocks in constant labours, travels and exhausting schedules) give thanks to God – praying for our shepherds, and entrusting them to the prayers of St Spyridon, and to St Nicholas.

The Gospel warns us of false-shepherds, who are nothing but hirelings, and across the Orthodox world we see such figures – sparkling, media-savvy and photogenic, or chameleons whose outlooks and principles change with the blowing of political winds coupled with pressure form Istanbul.

We would do better to look for the likes of St John of San Francisco – shunning comfort and luxury; seeking poverty and plainness; hungry for prayer, not power; ready to endure persecution for Christ’s sake; rich in grace rather than in sartorial luxury and glittering ornaments… bling to use the language of the 21st century.

Such bishops are true shepherds in the footsteps of St Spyridon – and we thank God for such men: our First Hierarchs of Blessed Memory; Archbishop Nikodem, Bishop Nikolai and Bishop Constantine who shepherded the flock in these lands; the departed spiritual giants of our Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia, as well as the shining beacon of Orthodoxy, the saintly Patriarch Pavle of Serbia of Thrice-Blessed Memory.

We also thank God  for our Metropolitan Nicholas, our ruling hierarch Bishop Irenei, for Bishop Alexandre, for the inspirational podvig of  Metropolitan Onuphry and the suffering episcopate of the Ukrainian Church – all who RIGHTLY divide the word of Truth. Axios!

We must also pray for the poor endangered flocks, who have no real shepherds to guard and tend them, only hirelings, with the wolves eagerly circling the fold. Lord, have mercy.

Holy Fathers Spyridon and Nicholas, pray to God for them, and preserve them by your prayers!

Sessional Hymn, Tone VIII: Thou didst shine forth as a divinely appointed pastor, O Spyridon, raised from the tending of sheep by God, Who entrusted thee to preside over the Church of Christ. Thou didst drive away the wolves of false teaching by thy words, grazing thy flock on the pasture of piety. Wherefore, thou didst affirm the Faith by the wisdom of the Spirit in the midst of the God-bearing fathers, O blessed hierarch. Entreat Christ God, that He grant remission of sins unto those who celebrate thy holy memory with love.

Homily: The 22nd Sunday After Pentecost

Luke 8:26-39: At that time, Jesus and His disciples arrived at the country of the Gadarenes, which is over against Galilee. And when he went forth to land, there met him out of the city a certain man, which had devils long time, and ware no clothes, neither abode in any house, but in the tombs. When he saw Jesus, he cried out, and fell down before him, and with a loud voice said, What have I to do with thee, Jesus, thou Son of God most high? I beseech thee, torment me not. (For he had commanded the unclean spirit to come out of the man. For oftentimes it had caught him: and he was kept bound with chains and in fetters; and he brake the bands, and was driven of the devil into the wilderness.) And Jesus asked him, saying, What is thy name? And he said, Legion: because many devils were entered into him. And they besought him that he would not command them to go out into the deep. And there was there an herd of many swine feeding on the mountain: and they besought him that he would suffer them to enter into them. And he suffered them. Then went the devils out of the man, and entered into the swine: and the herd ran violently down a steep place into the lake, and were choked. When they that fed them saw what was done, they fled, and went and told it in the city and in the country. Then they went out to see what was done; and came to Jesus, and found the man, out of whom the devils were departed, sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed, and in his right mind: and they were afraid. They also which saw it told them by what means he that was possessed of the devils was healed. Then the whole multitude of the country of the Gadarenes round about besought him to depart from them; for they were taken with great fear: and he went up into the ship, and returned back again. Now the man out of whom the devils were departed besought him that he might be with him: but Jesus sent him away, saying, Return to thine own house, and shew how great things God hath done unto thee. And he went his way, and published throughout the whole city how great things Jesus had done unto him.  


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

In the Gospel for the twenty-second Sunday after Pentecost, we encounter the demoniac dwelling in the tombs, benighted and chained by the powers of darkness that controlled him, spiritually-dead and spiritually-decaying whilst still in the world – hardly alive in the miserable, possessed existence that he led, robbed of freedom, dignity, and personhood in his nakedness and enslavement.  

The tenth century monk, Blessed Notker the Stammerer, famously wrote “Media vita in morte sumus… In the midst of life, we are in death…,” and although this refers to us all in our common human mortality, in the case of the possessed man of the Gospel we see this truth in a very graphic and specific way, as he dwelt among the tombs as a possessed and living corpse.  

In many ways, his situation, through the demonic hold upon him, was only a concentration and magnification of the existence of all of the Gadarenes who rushed to the scene when they heard of the miracle of his deliverance and healing – not to rejoice, nor to celebrate and fall down at the feet of the Saviour and glorify Him, but rather to ensure His departure, as His mere presence threatened and challenged the way of life that they did not want changed, as they failed to even appreciate their own spiritual captivity.  

The demons who possessed the tomb-dwelling man recognised Christ, asking, “What have I to do with thee, Jesus, thou Son of God most high? I beseech thee, torment me not”, yet the Gadarenes were insensate to the Saviour, despite the obvious wonder that He had wrought.   

They were in fearful awe seeing the former demoniac “sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed, and in his right mind”, but as soon as they learned the details and the loss of their pigs they wanted the Miracle-Worker gone and far away from them, and like the demons their attitude was “what have we to do with you?” Awe changed to fear for themselves and their way of life as they beheld the challenging power of Jesus. 

Their profane attachments to the world, summed up in their reaction to the loss of their pigs (an unclean, impure, and forbidden animal in Jewish society) were more important to them than Christ’s power and message.

They wanted no participation in the miracle; no share in true freedom; no part in Christ’s promise; preferring their worldly attachments, uncleanness and impurity symbolised by the herd of swine – and all because they did not want to change, fearing all that Christ represented as He stood before them.  

How little the world has changed, as we look around and find ourselves surrounded by Gadarenes who do not wish to hear the voice of the Saviour in His Gospel and in His Church, and the challenges that His message brings to lifestyles, choices, attachments, ideologies, -isms and worldly passions that have become a way of life.  

Modern day Gadarenes believe themselves free, though they are as shackled and as much in bonds as the man dwelling in the tombs. They do not want change; they do not want challenge; they fear both. They are too attached to life as it is, even though it is like the pigswill that failed to fill the Prodigal Son, no matter how much he ate. 

Society lives out the maxim we read in the sayings of St Anthony the Great, “A time is coming when men will go mad, and when they see someone who is not mad, they will attack him, saying, ‘You are mad; you are not like us’.”   

There are those who see our Faith as a madness and tyranny that enslaves us, unlike them in the ‘sanity’ and ‘freedom’ of their living-death, passionate attachments and spiritual-slavery.  

But our challenge is to be a contrast to this, and to ALWAYS be like the healed and exorcised man, as “he went his way, and proclaimed throughout the whole city what great things Jesus had done unto him.”  

The dangerous truth is that we so often vacillate between behaving as the healed man and the Gadarenes, with their attachment to the swine. We cannot have it both ways, 

He could so easily have slipped back into being no different to them despite his new found freedom. The release from the demonic power that possessed him was only a beginning and the starting point of his new-life in which he begged the Lord to receive him as a disciple, to live alongside Him and follow Him from place to place. But, such was the Lord’s will that the man’s discipleship was to be in his own country, proclaiming the great things that God had done for him.

The liberation of this man who had dwelt in the tombs can be seen as a token and foreshadowing of the resurrection, just as our exorcism, baptism and clothing in our baptismal robe are the beginning of our life in the Risen Saviour and the resurrection in the age to come. But, like the new beginning after the driving out of the man’s demons, the new birth of our baptism is no guarantee of continued and sustained new life in Christ unless we are willing to follow, obey and embrace the freedom we have been granted and the salvific promise made to us. 

We cannot vacillate between freedom and slavery, neither can we embrace and accept change that we like and which suits us, whilst rejecting the need for change, involving the rejection of things and behaviours to which we are attached and with which we are comfortable, despite their harmfulness and destructive power in our lives. 

No… we cannot swing between being like the healed man and the Gadarenes. We have a choice, between freedom and the swine-attachments, between liberated personhood in Christ or the dissolution of self, and loss of personhood in spiritual slavery.

When Jesus encountered the paralysed man at the Pool of Bethesda, He asked “Do you want to be made well?” 

It is not enough for each of us to simply answer “Yes”. We must be willing to do everything to preserve our freedom and growing wholeness in Christ, by following Him and rejecting all that can make us sick again, and possibly even worse than we were at the starting point of our first encounter with the Saviour. 

Having being led through the waters of baptism from slavery and the tyranny of the spiritual-pharaoh to the promised land and freedom of life in Christ, let us not look back and long for the fleshpots of Egypt. 

Serving the Lord with gladness, we must reject all that comes between us and life in Christ, even if we initially miss what is harmful, despite the fact that it may have brought gratification and pleasure in our past lives. What is harmful is so often like this. 

We cannot have freedom and slavery; we cannot cling to the swine, whilst being called to obedience and sacrifice. 

Our life has to be simple and spiritually focussed, not divided and contradicting itself. This can often seem like a challenge, but there is no other way for us to live in Christ as we long for the resurrection and the life of the age to come.

Let us rejoice in the spiritual freedom of our present life, even if it a struggle and challenge, going our way proclaiming the great things that God had done for us.


The Protecting Veil of the Mother of God

We magnify thee, O all-immaculate Mother of Christ our God, and we honour thy labours and thy precious omophorion, for the holy Andrew beheld thee in the air, entreating Christ for us.

Dear brothers and sisters, 

Warmest greetings to you all, as we celebrate the feast of the Protecting Veil of the Most-Holy Mother of God.

Slightly belatedly, tomorrow evening, in the church of St Mary, Butetown, we will pray before the icon of the Pokrov – Our Lady’s Protection and Intercession – as the contemplative focus of our service. 

As we look at the icon, we see the Mother of God at the centre of the heavenly Church, flanked by St John the Forerunner and St John the Theologian, surrounded by the throngs of the heavenly powers and saints, interceding for us with the Mother of God, as Queen of Heaven. 

Her omophorion, spread over the church below, is the physical sign of her spiritual protection, and her arms raised in prayer show that her intercession is the constant protection of the Church.

In ancient Israel, the queen -the geburah – was not the king’s wife, but his mother, who, enthroned at his right hand, interceded for those who sought the favour and mercy of the king.

On this feast, as the Queen of Heaven, we celebrate the Mother of God as our protection and intercessor with Christ, our King and our God.

The 10th century vision of the Blessed Andrew of Constantinople in the royal church of Blachernae, was a glimpse of the constant reality of the Mother of God and the heavenly Church interceding with the for the earthly Church and its faithful here below.

Such is the Christ-like love of the Mother of God and the saints, that those who have been translated into glory and have been vouchsafed to enter the courts of the Kingdom of God ever intercede for us before the Lord of Glory. 

The heavenly throng continually grows with the repose of the new generations of saints whom God rewards in His Heavenly Kingdom, year by year, century by century. And, year after year we celebrate this feast as a reaffirmation of the protection and intercession of the Theotokos and the saints, caring for us and raising us to the Lord by their prayers.

Turning to our children and to those young and new in Faith, we should echo the words of the Blessed Andrew, who said to his disciple, the Blessed Epiphanios, “Do you see, brother, the Holy Theotokos, praying for all the world?” 

Amidst the trials and difficulties of our lives, with our pressures and sorrows, when things may me seem hopeless and we may feel lost, we also need to repeat this constant spiritual reality to ourselves: the Holy Theotokos, is always praying for all the world!

In this reality, we need to discover hope, consolation and encouragement, and our Faithneeds to be bolstered and strengthened by the knowledge that Christ has given us His mother as our mother, whose icons day-by-day and feast by feast proclaim everything that she is to us; our Directress; our Unexpected Joy; our Unshakeable Wall; the Joy of all Who Sorrow; the Nurturer of Children; the Consolation of the Afflicted; the Seeker of the Lost; the Surety of Sinners; the Deliverance of Those Who Suffer from Misfortunes; the Giver of Reason.

May every feast of the Mother of God (whether of the events of her life or her wonderworking icons), every hymn and prayer addressed to her, each canon or akathist hymn written and chanted in her honour, bring us closer to her and help us to trust and find comfort in her constant intercession and protection, reminding us that she is always watching over us, wishing to protect us, and intercede for us whether we are aware or not.

But, for this to be a reality, we need to seek her protection; to flee to her in times of need; to go to her as our shelter in danger; to know her as our refuge in affliction. We have to do this of our own volition, as she will not force herself upon us or coerce us. Thus, she ever awaits us with patience, compassion and love. Waiting to hear our cry, her embrace and love for the Church and the world always awaits us. 

Encouraged by this feast, let us strive to deepen our relationship with the Mother of God, proactively, with gratitude and loving devotion, and just as St John quite literally took her into his home, each of us must spiritually take the Theotokos into our homes; under the roof of our dwelling and within our hearts that she may always have a place there with us; and within our community of Faith – for the Mother of God is not only at the centre of the Heavenly Church, but also of the pilgrim Church, leading it by her intercession and protection to the Kingdom of her Son, our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ, to Whom be honour, glory and worship, together with His Unoriginate Father, and His All-Holy, Good and Life-Giving Spirit, now and ever, and unto the ages of ages. Amen.

“Remember us in thy prayers, O Holy Virgin Theotokos,” the Church sings on this day, “let us not perish in our multiplying sins; cover us from all evil and fierce misfortunes; We trust in thee and, celebrating the Feast of thine intercession, we magnify thee”.

With love in Christ – Hieromonk Mark

The Feast of St John the Theologian

O beloved apostle of Christ God, haste thou to deliver a defenceless people. He Who permitted thee to recline against His breast receiveth thee, prostrate in supplication. Him do thou beseech, O theologian, that He dispel the gloom of the nations which doth beset us, asking for us peace and great mercy.

Dear brother and sisters,

It was a special blessing to honour the Holy Glorious Apostle St John the Theologian today, and to celebrate the feast of his repose in St John’s Church – our spiritual-home dedicated to his glorious memory – with the joy of welcoming sisters from our Cheltenham mission and our sister-parish in Bristol.

Having already celebrated his memory during the Liturgy, at the dismissal a litia was offered before St John’s icon, with the blessing of bread and koliva in his honour.

The megalynaria to the saint summed up so much of what I tried to express in the homily: that a true theologian is one who like St John rests on the bosom of Christ, loving and remaining with Him not only in peace and tranquillity, but also through trials and tribulations, abandoning attachment to the things of the world to follow Him wholeheartedly, with constancy and total dedication.

It was in this bond of love and devotion that God’s Grace communicated spiritual truths and the purist and deepest theology to the fisherman-turned-disciple, who with the other apostles was made most-wise – not through religious studying and academic labours, but through the knowledge communicated by the Saviour who taught us, “Blessed are the pure in heart; for they shall see God.

St John was called theologian, not because he knew about God, but because he knew God, saw Him and entered into the deepest of mysteries through the purity of a heart devoted and consecrated to Christ.

The Evangelist not only recorded the life and teachings of the Saviour, but also entered into the mystery of eternity before the creation the world, as God revealed the profoundest dogmas, so that St John could could speak of Christ the Ancient of Days and say with confidence, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”

More than this, divine-revelation opened his spiritual-eyes to the last things, yet to come, as the Lord revealed the end of time in the Cave of the Apocalypse on the island of Patmos, where John saw Christ as the Alpha and Omega, the Beginning and the End, Who is and was, and is to come.

Even for us, despite our weakness and inconstancy, it is through the deepest relationships between the Christian and Christ that the simplest, most unlettered and uneducated people are filled with true theology and surpass the wisest of this world. This realisation and knowledge must spur us on to struggle for the true gnosis/knowledge which Christ communicates to those who follow Him.

Like St John, let us fervently abandon our ‘nets and boats’, and follow Christ, leaning on His breast, that we may receive the illumination of the Divine light, become recipients of true wisdom and heralds of true theology.

Holy apostle and evangelist John the Theologian, pray to God for us!

Святы́й апо́столе и евангели́сте Иоа́нне, моли́ Бо́га о на́с!

May God bless you and have mercy, through the prayers of the Holy, glorious, all-praised apostle and evangelist John the Theologian and all the saints.

In Christ – Fr Mark