Dear brothers and sisters, greetings for the new civil year, and best wishes for 2024.
The last day of the past year saw a well-attended Liturgy with around forty adults and the return of some old faces from the Baltic and closer to home, as well as faces new to our community.
Having expected a dip between western Christmas and Orthodox Nativity, we have been surprised this year, with more or less sustained numbers, though singers and servers have been sparse at times. Welcome all who have made acquaintance with us over the last few weeks and welcome back all who have been away.
I was able to confess a dozen regular parishioners, and – as made clear during announcements – they are blessed to commune on the coming feast of the Nativity, allowing confession time for others who are preparing for Christmas Communion.
This week, confessions will be on Friday afternoon and before and after the Nativity Vigil (from 18:00 and for as long as needed after. On Christmas morning – next Sunday – I would like to be free to confess those coming for the day from destinations beyond the Severn and our Welsh parishioners who live some distance from Cardiff.
As 2024 begins, we pass from one year to the next with the world overshadowed by conflict, with the violence and misery of war, though the past year did see some of our temporary parishioners return to Ukraine, and some of our current parishioners have gone home for Nativity. May God bless and protect them! We are also ever-mindful of the suffering of those in the Holy Land, and have been glad to do what little we have been able to for the relief of those in Gaza and the West Bank.
Not only did 2023 see the continued armed conflict in Ukraine, and the terrible conflict in Gaza, but also the unending state-sponsored crusade against the Church in Ukraine, with continued violent seizures of temples, physical assault on believers, the arrest and imprisonment of clergy, desecration of shrines, temples in flames, the exile of seminarians and pilgrims from the Kiev Caves Lavra and other places – a neo-Soviet attempt to destroy the Church of Christ. Yet – praise God – whilst the seized temples of Patriarch Bartholomew’s schismatics are deserted, nearly empty or even locked for lack of worshippers, the confessing Church is purified, strengthened and radiant in the poverty and humility of the Saviour. A stable was good enough for His birth, and private houses, converted commercial premises, pavements, gardens and open-air places are good enough for the Church. This is the quiet and comforting meaning of the words of the Nativity Vigil: God is with us!
I hope that the same quiet confidence in the Lord’s abiding presence will continue to guide our own community in its wanderings, and constantly changing conditions.
2023 was a year back in Nazareth House, where we have worshipped week by week, have welcomed new faces, admitted new catechumens, performed baptisms, and (yesterday) churched and communed our latest neophyte – Steven – whom we congratulate on the joyful occasion of his baptism in St Nicholas in the Vale. We congratulate him on his first Liturgy as a baptised Orthodox Christian, especially upon his reception of the Holy Mysteries. Many, blessed years!
2023 was a year of pilgrimages, with one each month from February to November, and I hope that we will ensure that every month of 2024 will be blessed in the same way. Thanks to Tracy who has acted as our pilgrimage coordinator and to all who have contributed to these spiritual journeys that have been a source of grace and blessing. Our pilgrimages to Capel y ffin and Llanthony, Pennant Melangell and Glastonbury particularly stand out, and I hope that all three destinations may become a pilgrimage fixture on our calendar.
The year also saw parishioners go farther afield on pilgrimage, with half a dozen intrepid souls facing the summer heat of the Holy Land to join the diocesan pilgrimage, packed with visits to so many sacred destinations. They were greatly blessed to be able to celebrate the Holy Mysteries in places at the heart of the Faith, not only with our own bishop, but also with the hierarchs of the Mother Church of Jerusalem (and yes, Jerusalem is the Mother Church, not somewhere in Turkey, where Pentecost definitely did not happen!).
As a result of conversations and an invitation in the Holy Land, later in the year, a group of our young brothers travelled to Mount Athos with Reader Wilfred from our cathedral, and they very much hope that an annual visit to the Bulgarian monastery of Zographou will become a feature of parish life.
Some changes in Nazareth House have posed obstacles to Sunday worship, limiting our ability to hear confessions, set up the church, and generally celebrate as we need to. Weekday Liturgies on feasts have become difficult, hence celebrating in Llanelli. The lack of trapeza has rather dented the life of the parish (though boosting business at our local café), especially as the massive geographical spread of our parishioners across South Wales and Wessex means that Sunday is the only opportunity for parishioners to spend time together, and some have a long journey home. This has a been a growing topic of conversation, with some parishioners expressing the need for much-missed facilities, and a less limiting physical environment.
As a result of such conversations and discussions, Deacon Mark and I recently visited Llys Esgob, in Llandaff, and spoke with Mother Frances’s appointed successor at St John’s, Canton, the Reverend Andrew Sully. He and Andrew, the starosta, are enthusiastic about the parish returning to Canton and building a community partnership, so that our parish is very much an active part of the life of St John’s. So, we have agreed that we will return to St John’s Canton for Liturgy from Sunday 28th January. Until then, our worship continues in Nazareth House. Parishioners who visited St John’s were delighted to discover that the central heating system now works splendidly. I hope that having the leafy, tree-lined grounds will allow fuller parish life, with adult baptisms in the church garden, processions on each feast, picnics and outside eating in the summer – with occasions to get together with the Anglican faithful.
We extend our thanks to the Sisters of Nazareth for their hospitality over the last thirteen months, and Fathers Alexander and David for their kindness during the previous chaplaincy, when they did everything to help, with great respect for our presence. May God bless them.
We will have the task of moving our furnishings and possessions from Nazareth House to St John’s towards the end of the month, and will appreciate assistance at that time.
Next weekend, our Nativity Vigil will be at 19:00 on Saturday evening and on Sunday 7th January, our Nativity Liturgy will start as close to 11:00 as possible.
Looking beyond Nativity, Theophany falls on Thursday 19th January (New Style) and given that neither Nazareth House chapel or St John’s are available on Thursday mornings, a group of us will attend the celebration of the feast in the cathedral in Chiswick. However, we will perform the Great Blessing of the Waters in Nazareth House after Liturgy on Sunday 22nd January.
The following day, I look forward to an outdoor water blessing in Wiltshire when our Wessex parishioners have the first meeting of their local prayer-group. With the blessing of Bishop Irenei, we will be supporting our loyal Wessex ‘pilgrim-parishioners’ with a local mission, and we are presently looking for a place to celebrate the Divine Liturgy. Please keep this intention in your prayers.
So… we begin 2024 with some major changes and developments in the life of our scattered community, but ones which I look forward to, seeing great opportunities for positive development after a period in which parish life has become limited and faced obstacles. We pray for God’s blessing and guidance.
May God bless you and your families in the year ahead.
In Christ – Hieromonk Mark