Here we are on the eve of our next Cardiff Liturgy, after a busy week for the clergy serving our mission in Wales and Gloucestershire.
Monday saw Deacon Mark and I journey to London to celebrate the altar-feast of our cathedral – the Nativity of the Mother of God – and we were pleased to have Cardiff parishioners join in our cathedral celebrations on Monday evening and on Tuesday. It was a joy to share the celebration with our bishops and cathedral-clergy and to have time with our many friends in Chiswick.
From the cathedral, we returned to a busy week of secular work, looking forward to visiting Cheltenham today, where Deacon Mark and I were pleased to be able to serve the Liturgy for the Leave-Taking of the Nativity of the Mother of God. Though it was only at a few days’ notice, we were able to arrange the use of the United Reformed Church in Prestbury. Thanks to Deacon Mark and Cheltenham parishioners for their efforts in searching for an alternative Liturgy venue to All Saints, Pittville.
The simplicity and bareness of the old chapel was in marked contrast to the Gothic Revival splendour of All Saints, but though we very much missed our usual surroundings, we were grateful to have somewhere to temporarily celebrate the Liturgy, and enjoy time together over lunch before returning to Cardiff.
We will be organising our next Cheltenham Liturgy over the next few days and will give ample notice, as some of our Cardiff and Wiltshire faithful wish to support the Cheltenham mission, with the hope to expand its life to embrace our parishioners in Swindon, Wiltshire and Bath.
Back in Cardiff, having unloaded the car, confessions were heard during compline in St John’s in Canton this evening, with added entertainment by the church-mouse’s active perambulations during the evening office.
We look forward to returning to Cardiff for Liturgy in the morning, when we will celebrate the Forefeast of the Exultation of the Life-Giving Cross.
“On the right excellent day of our feast let us strike the spiritual harp; for the Mother of Life is born today of the seed of David, dispelling the darkness: the renewal of Adam, the restoration of Eve, the Well-spring of incorruption, our release from corruption. Because of her we have been deified and delivered from death. And we, the faithful, cry out to her with Gabriel: Rejoice, thou who art full of grace, the Lord is with thee, granting us great mercy for thy sake!”
Theotokion of the litia of the feast
Dear brothers and sisters,
After a short visit to our London cathedral to celebrate its altar-feast, this is my first chance to greet you all and congratulate you with the feast of the Nativity of the Mother of God.
On one level, this feast centres on something so mundane and ordinary – the birth of a baby – and how many others were born on that same day that Anna was delivered of the daughter who was the fulfilment of so much prayer on her part and that of her husband, Joachim?
But, whilst those who shared the day of their birth with the Mother of God lived, died and are now forgotten, her name is remembered from generation to generation, as prophesied by the Virgin Mother, herself, in the words of the Magnificat, “Behold, from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed.”
There was nothing random in this birth, and – though the product of a human union – the conception of the Mother of God did not follow the usual course of nature, given the advanced age of her childless parents. The gift of a child as an answer to their years of fervent supplication was itself a sign that this conceiving and birth of this child was not accidental, nor ordinary.
On this day, we also celebrate the discovery of the Kursk-Root Icon of the Mother of God, with the inner-icon of the Holy Mother later surrounded by the prophets who look to her, with Immanuel – not yet born – superimposed upon her. She was the Sign, of which the prophets spoke, and Isaiah preached,
“Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.”
We also see this on the ancient icon-screens of our Russian temples, where at the highest level, the prophets turn in contemplation and waiting to the Mother of the Divine Incarnation, the Virgin of the Sign at the centre of their vision.
Thus, the birth of the Mother of God was that of the long-awaited Virgin, for whom the prophets longed, as they awaited the Messiah’s birth.
Though the place of the Mother of God in His Incarnation began at her conception, it is in this feast that this mystery was made manifest, when we chant of the joy that this Nativity brings, as salvation draws near through the birth of the Theotokos.
“Today the gateway of the barren woman is opened, and the divine Virgin portal cometh forth! Today grace beginneth to bear fruit, revealing to the world the Mother of God, through whom those on earth are united to those in heaven, for the salvation of our souls.”
“Today is the pronouncement of universal joy! Today the winds have blown which herald salvation, and our nature is released from barrenness! For the barren woman is shown to be the mother of her who remaineth virgin even after giving birth to the Creator, from whom God taketh to Himself that which is alien to Him by nature, and Christ, the Deliverer of our souls, Who loveth mankind, dot accomplish salvation for the lost by means of flesh.”
“Today barren Anna giveth birth to the divine Maiden who was chosen beforehand out of all generations to be the dwelling-place of Christ our God, the King and Creator of all, in fulfilment of the divine dispensation. Thereby, O ye mortals, have we been fashioned anew and restored from corruption to life without end.”
“Today God, Who resteth on the noetic thrones, hath prepared for Himself a holy throne on earth. He Who hath established the heavens by His wisdom hath in His loving-kindness created an animate heaven. For the God of wonders, the Hope of the hopeless, hath caused His Mother to spring forth as a Life-bearing plant from a barren root. Glory to Thee, O Lord!”
Stikhira of “Lord, I have cried…”
In this Nativity, the human race offers the Mother of God, as the “heavenly Ladder, by which God came down” and the “Bridge leading from earth to haven.”
This feast is, in many ways, the forefeast of all of the other Great Feasts of both the Saviour and the Mother of God. It is a cosmic turning point, which changes the course of human history and the spiritual path of the human race.
Let us contemplate the feast of the Nativity of the Mother of God with St Andrew of Crete –
“Today the Virgin is born, tended and formed and prepared for her role as Mother of God, who is the universal King of the ages… Therefore, let all creation sing and dance and unite to make worthy contribution to the celebration of this day… Let everything, mundane things and those above, join in festive celebration. Today this created world is raised to the dignity of a holy place for Him who made all things. The creature is newly prepared to be a divine dwelling place for the Creator.”
… And, let us join in festive celebration, celebrating how the world was raised up and given light and hope in this sacred feast, and the Incarnation drew nigh through the birth of the Mother of our Saviour, the Deliverer of our souls.
May God bless you all, and may these festive days be full of joy, light and hope for each and every one of us!