Greetings on the Feast of the Kazan Icon

Dear brothers and sisters,

Greetings to you all, as we celebrate our altar-feast.

On this Autumn feast of the Kazan Icon, we remember how the intercessions of the Mother of God and the protection of her grace-filled wonderworking icon delivered Orthodox Muscovy from the invasion of the Poles.

In the Time of the Troubles, following the end of the rule of the House of Rurik, Russia was tormented by pretenders to the throne, by struggles between the boyars and different layers of society, and by division and civil strife.

In the words of Avraamy Palitsyn, the cellarer at the Trinity St Sergius Lavra:“In the general whirling of heads, everyone wanted to be above his station: servants wanted to be masters, the rabble wanted to be gentry, the gentry wanted to be nobles… The Fatherland and Church perished: the temples of the True God were ruined… cattle and hounds lived in the altars; … dice was played on the icons; … harlots danced in clerical robes. Monks and priests were burned by fire…”

… and into this chaos came the invader and aggressor, seeking to exploit the weaknesses, divisions and fracture-lines of society and state, to occupy, seize and despoil.

Indeed, the Poles occupied Moscow, imprisoning the Holy Hieromartyr, Patriarch Germogen, who perished from the privations and misery in which he lived. Yet from his cell, the Holy Hierarch was able to call the Orthodox people to prayer and repentance, to fasting and supplication, to beg the help of the Queen of Heaven.

From prison, he called for a three-day fast and ordered the wonderworking Kazan icon to be brought to Kuzma Minin and Prince Pozharsky, who led the resistance to the Polish occupation, and the sacred-treasure was borne before the regiments who fought to regain the capital from the Poles, who were driven from Moscow on October 22, 1612 (November 4 on the Civil Calendar) – since kept as the autumn feast of the Kazan Icon of the Mother of God.

Turning aside from armies and regiments, warfare and battles, let us focus on the spiritual call of the Holy Hieromartyr – to fast, to pray, to labour spiritually for the overcoming of violence, division and strife, by turning to the Mother of God as our fervent intercessor.

In our 21stcentury world, there are so many temptations to distract us from this spiritual-labour and spiritual-resistance to the violence and evils of the world, forgetting that our first reactions need to be spiritual and rooted in prayer.

Today, so many Orthodox people rush to the internet, to social media and forums, commenting, critiquing and fanning the flames of discord and division, absorbing news, facts and figures, rather than doing precisely what St Germogen ordered: to fast, to pray, to weep, to asceticism/podvig, making prostrations and turning to the Mother of God as the Champion Leader, and pleading for our suffering world!

How many more hours do so many self-proclaimed Orthodox prophets and activists spend before computer screens than in fervent prayer in their icon-corners?

How many more times are hands raised to tweet, type and comment, rather than to make the sign of the Cross whilst praying for the peace from above, for the unity of all and for the salvation of our souls?

How many more hours are spent being gripped by the heat of the passions, as hours of news soaks into the psyche, rather than in burning prayer for the softening of evil hearts, the breakthrough of God’s love and the repentance of fallen humanity and the world?

None of this is to deny the tragedies of the present time, or indeed injustices, acts of violence and atrocity, but we must instinctively turn to God and His saints for answers and solutions.

This feast should prompt us not to run to Twitter, Facebook, internet chat groups, on-line forums and 24 hour news as a first, knee-jerk reaction to the ills and tragedies of the world, but rather to prayerfully flee to the Mother of God, spoken of in the kontakion of the feast as “ that calm and good haven, the speedy helper and ready and fervent salvation.”

We place our hope in her as the mother given to all of humanity as she stood at the foot of the Cross, knowing that it is only by prayer, repentance and turning to God that the divisions of humanity can truly be healed, as we pray “help us all who, amid temptations, sorrows and sickness, are heavy laden with many sins, who stand before thee and with tears pray to thee with compunctionate soul and contrite heart… and who have unfailing hope in thee…”

Let us turn to the Mother of God with such heart-felt compunction, hope and contrition, knowing that the first stirrings of a changed and transfigured world begin within the deepest recesses of our own hearts.

It is from hearts filled with the love of God, striving to love neighbour and stranger, friend and even enemy, that peace will transform the world, and on this feast, we turn to the Mother of God not only as the ‘Champion Leader’, but also as the ‘Queen of Peace.’

Most Holy Lady, Mother of God, save us!

In Christ – Fr Mark

A Priestless Sunday in Cardiff

Dear brothers and sisters,

It has been wonderful to receive calls and messages from our faithful, during the course, of Sunday afternoon, confirming how well the parish coped without a priest, due to my isolation, which sadly precluded the celebration of the Divine Liturgy.

This was the first time that the congregation had assembled for public worship without a priest, and a valuable (if unplanned) lesson in prayer and worship

However, the parish proved itself capable of coping in such circumstances, with the chanting of the Hours, the sung Typika and moleben to the Mother of God in honour of her Kazan Icon, demonstrating that when the unexpected happens, worship can continue with beauty and solemnity.

As I have already said in communication with parishioners, reader-services or services according to the lay-order (Богослужение мирянским чином), are very much part of the liturgical history of the Orthodox Church, latterly in the vastness of Russia, where some outlying settlements and hermitages, only had priestly services very rarely.

Between the visits of priests, the services were led by non-ordained monastics and lay elders. As in the desert of Africa, where the early monasteries and hermitages usually lacked clergy, lay liturgical practice was firmly established and was well known in each religious community.

I previously wrote on Facebook

“With the acquisition of some familiarity and knowledge of the order of the services and the sources for their parts, liturgical prayer without a priest is possible. This, perhaps, is the cue for us to start studying the liturgical cycle and to learn how to pray liturgically in the absence of clergy.

Many of us, have at some time in our lives, discovered this Tradition, largely through our physical distance from Orthodox parishes and services…”

I hope that we will be able to share the knowledge of reader-services in our Cardiff and Cheltenham communities, giving parishioners the confidence to come together for common worship without clergy.

I would like to thank our Deacon for taking the reins on this occasion. 

We are, as always, indebted to our kliros and readers for their devoted service, and owe great thanks to matushka Alla for the flowers that adorned the icons bringing so much joyful colour to the celebration.

I look forward to returning from my enforced retreat, adding that I am in good spirits, despite fatigue, tinitus and headaches. I look forward to serving our Cheltenham and Cardiff faithful next weekend.

Asking your prayers.

May God bless you.

In Christ – Hieromonk Mark

Greetings for the Feast of the Kazan Icon

Dear brothers and sisters, festal greetings to you all, as we celebrate the autumn feast of the Kazan Icon of the Most Holy Mother of God.

The Russian Orthodox Church celebrates some three-hundred ‘revealed’ icons of the Mother of God, among which we find the Kazan Icon of the Most Holy Theotokos, in whose name our parish is dedicated.

Throughout the centuries of Muscovite and Imperial Russia, just as so many icons of the Theotokos have been revealed in miraculous circumstances, so the Mother of God has revealed and manifested her maternal care and protection for the Orthodox faithful and the lands of Rus – through her icons, through her miraculous intercession, and through her countless miracles worked in the lives of ordinary people.

On the very day of the Tsar’s abdication, the Mother of God renewed her “Reigning/Derzhavnaya” icon, showing that for the faithful, she would now take upon her shoulders the role of Tsaritsa of the Russian realm, leading the faithful through the torment and torture of the Soviet period, and throughout those dark years her maternal-care continued to be felt. And, during those torturous years, the faithful were never left without the consolation of the Mother of God.

Together with the Icon of the Sign, and the Vladimirskaya, the Wonderworking Kazan Icon is one of the ‘Palladium’ icons, carried by the faithful into battle and defence of the realm, and today’s feast commemorates the defeat of the Poles, in the Time of Troubles (after the death of Ivan the Terrible) and the first significant defeat of the Napoleonic army, after snow and ice lashed the invading French forces. Such was the faith of believing people even in Soviet times, that we have the well-known description of a copy of our beloved Kazan Icon being carried around besieged Leningrad during the Second World War.

Yet, despite the miraculous victories and the martial hymns to the Mother of God as “Triumphal leader in battle”, for Russian Orthodox believers the Theotokos is not so much impressed upon our spiritual consciousness as Heavenly Empress, but as the merciful Mother of Christians, who cares for the faithful, nurturing them, providing for them in their hour of need, bringing joy in sorrow, becoming a hope for the hopeless and help for the helpless.

This always strikes me whenever we sing the beautiful hymn, Царице моя преблагая (Tsaristsa moya preblagaya), to the beautiful yet very simple melody from the Krasnogorsk Monastery,

O my most blessed Queen, O Theotokos my hope, guardian of orphans and intercessor for strangers, Joy of the sorrowful, Protectress of the oppressed; Thou beholdest my misfortune, Thou seest my sorrow. Help me, for I am infirm; feed me, for I am a stranger. Thou knowest mine offense: do Thou loose it, as Thou dost will, for I have none other help but Thee, nor any other intercessor save Thee, O Mother of God. Do Thou preserve and protect me unto the ages of ages. Amen.

Behind this present feast’s triumphal language, and images of victory in which we speak of the Mother of God as Lady, Queen and Mistress and her ‘mighty protection’, this celebration leads us to the tenderness and warmth of the motherhood of the Theotokos – summed up by that wonderful word umilinie – which is tenderness, compassion, mercy, loving-kindness, warmth, with so many other subtle shades of meaning when applied to the motherhood of the Mother of God.

As we look at the Kazan Icon, there is nothing complicated, and its scheme is in many ways minimal, simple and straightforward, and it has traditionally been this icon that has been carried before newly-weds, to become the heart of the icon-corner in each new home, at the centre of Orthodox family-life.

In the classic Hodegetria icon, the Mother of God directs us to her Son with her outstretched hand, but in the Kazan Icon she rather does so in the inclination of her head, as she bows contemplatively towards the Christ-Child, avoiding the eyes of the viewer, so that it is the Saviour who engages with the one who stands before the icon, and it is His eyes they meet, not the self-effacing and humble Mother.

As she ever leads us to her Son, ever interceding for us, before the Holy Trinity, let us never be strangers to her maternal care, however broken or dysfunctional our lives may have become. Rather, let us turn to her with all of our problems and sorrows, as well as our joys, bringing our lives, ourselves, our loved ones, our friends, even enemies to her merciful-care. It is beneath that merciful-care, that reconciliation, forgiveness, and healing may happen, through her prayers, through her grace, and with her help.

It is often in the most grievous of sorrows, and the most desperate situations that we learn the value, the wholesomeness and necessity of a Mother’s love, and in the Mother of God we find maternal care that never ceases, that never dies, but always seeks out those in need, to lead us to the Saviour in His Kingdom, into which she has been assumed in glory.

On this feast, let us do as the deacon calls us to do during the litanies:

“Commemorating our most holy, most pure, most blessed and glorious Lady, the Theotokos and ever-virgin Mary with all the saints, let us commit ourselves and one other, and all our life unto Christ our God.”

Most Holy Theotokos, save us!

Asking your prayers, with love in Christ.

Hieromonk Mark

This Sunday in Cardiff

Sunday 7th November.

11:00 – St John’s Church, Canton.

Reader Typica and Moleben in honour of the Kazan Icon of the Most Holy Theotokos. followed by a bring-and-share lunch.

Unfortunately, it will not be possible to celebrate in the Liturgy in Cardiff on this day. Please see below.


Dear brothers and sisters,

Already regretting that we are unable to be together to celebrate the feast of the Kazan Icon tomorrow, I now have the added sorrow of being in isolation due to the unwelcome arrival of covid in the support-setting in which I work.

I am pleased to say that my daily tests have been clear until this morning, when the fateful line appeared next to the t on my lateral-flow test. Having posted a PCR test yesterday, when my daily lateral flow was negative, I have just ordered a second PCR and will remain in isolation awaiting concrete results.

To be clear, my daily-results were negative until today.

I have already spoken to Deacon Mark to indicate that my isolation will not affect the liturgical-gathering of our parish on what, for us, is a particularly celebratory Sunday. However, it will obviously not be possible to celebrate the Liturgy.

With the blessing of His Grace, Bishop Irenei, and the leadership of our deacon and choir, the typica and a festal moleben in honour of the Kazan Icon of the Theotokos will take the place of our usual Liturgy, and our hope is for the faithful to share a buffet-lunch after the service.

With this in mind, would those wishing to provide food/refreshments contact Deacon Mark, so that offerings for the table may be coordinated – ?

Sadly, my isolation will also not allow me to serve in Walsingham, next week, where I was very much looking forward to catching up with our Orthodox brothers and sisters in ‘England’s Nazareth’.  I look forward to journeying to Norfolk as soon as possible.

Though there will be Sunday Liturgy in Swansea, I would very much like the parishioners to celebrate together in Cardiff, so that those without transport and who have other commitments and demands may be part of the service to honour the Mother of God.

In the meantime, I ask your prayers, principally for the people I support, but also for my swift recovery!

I wish you all a joyful celebration.

With love in Christ – Hieromonk Mark