Dear brothers and sisters,
It seems a rather odd time at the moment, with family commitments, colds and viruses, and travels keeping parishioners away, and some of our brothers on pilgrimage, but parish life carries on regardless – whether services, study group, book-club, confessions, pastoral visits or social time.
Thanks to our choir and readers who sang so beautifully and prayerfully yesterday, with the use of both Church-Slavonic and English in the cherubic hymn being greatly appreciated. Thank you also to two of our youngest gentlemen, who despite being only teenagers were extremely industrious and instrumental in setting up the church in the absence of our usual helpers – moving and arranging furniture, lighting candles and lamps, and being a great help to Father Deacon Mark.
It was lovely to have so many children in church yesterday, and for them to commune of the Most Pure Mysteries, and we were able to welcome George back after his pilgrimage to the Bulgarian Athonite monastery of Zographou, to celebrate the dedication-feast of this house. Two of our brothers remain on the Holy Mountain and will be blessed to be part of the Feast of the Synaxis of the Holy Archangel Michael in the monastery of Docheiariou, tomorrow. We were also pleased to have Mike back with us, after some weeks of ill-health.
Over the last few days, I have been especially pleased to visit the Cardiff Oratory, whose Fathers very much miss being alongside our Orthodox presence, and who were updated with news of parish life, reminding us that we are always welcome to visit the shrine containing a portion of St Alban’s relics and the icon of Saints Alban and Amphibalus, painted by Misha.
Until our return to Nazareth House, weekday confessions were heard in St Alban’s Church, and some our parishioners made a weekly visits to the shrine. I hope that this might return, with a book of Orthodox prayers and intercessions being left in the church for our parishioners to pray and use.
Advent draws near, with various pre-Christmas activities beginning to fill the gaps in our diaries, whether school, community or church events, and it is always too easy for our Orthodox Nativity Fast to be overshadowed or even dominated by these events and shopping for western Christmas celebrations with non-Orthodox family and friends.
The lack of an equivalent of the Lenten Triodion shaping prayer and services can make the Nativity Fast a little haphazard and lacking the direction and momentum of Great Lent. This is precisely why we need to plan and prepare.
Last year, I encouraged parishioners to intensify their Advent prayer-life by praying the canon for the saint of each day, and I will repost the canons again, this coming Nativity Fast, together with fasting rules each week.
We should all seek to make extra offerings in our spiritual life – not only in terms of prayer, but also in actions: charitable giving, finding time to help others, supporting those who need it – which is the cue to report that after an extremely successful collection and dispatch of fleece blankets to Ukraine, Marina is organising another blanket collection. So… the donation of new fleece blankets for the winter will be greatly appreciated. Please bring any offerings to church.
Advent spiritual reading needs to be planned, with plenty of online resources available in addition to books – whether in printed or electronic form, but no matter how much or how little we be able to read in what may be busy and active lives, spiritual reading is important as an enriching and nourishing part of our Nativity Fast.
I hope that we may recommend books to one another on our WhatsApp pages or in the comments here, but I will start by recommending a few resources and classics known and already appreciated by some our parishioners.
As a prayer-resource, as plugged at our discussion on Friday evening, I wholeheartedly recommend the two volume Book of Akathists from Jordanville:
The Spiritual Psalter, is an anthology of the writings St Ephraim the Syrian, and was compiled in the 19thcentury by St Theophan the Recluse:
The Sayings of the Desert Fathers, is an ancient collection of short maxims, to be read, digested and contemplated in prayer and quiet time.
Valentine Zander’s Saint Seraphim of Sarov is an Orthodox classic…
… and I would recommend it, together with the volume of the Little Russian Philokalia containing teachings of St Seraphim.
Looking forward to the week ahead… I am greatly looking forward to our parish-pilgrimage to the Church of St Lazar, in Birmingham on Saturday (92 Griffins Brook Ln, Birmingham B30 1QG), where the Divine Liturgy will commence at 09:00. We are a little unclear about possible lifts for our students, though things will hopefully become clearer as the week progresses. After the Liturgy, we will pray before the Trojeručica (Three Handed) icon of the Mother of God – a copy of the original, in the Athonite monastery of Hilandar, visited by our brother, Alexander, yesterday!
This week, I will be free to hear confessions on Wednesday and Friday. The church will be in use from 18:00 on Wednesday, so any confessions after this time will be in the sacristy, requiring anyone confessing to wait outside for me to collect them. I am happy to hear confessions at times earlier than we generally start, knowing the duties that some of our parishioners have. Please, just ask. Obviously confessions for Wednesday need flagging asap, and Friday requests by noon on Wednesday, please. Please be mindful that long confessions are not practical on Sundays, though all if working well at the moment.
Though I will be in Cardiff this Wednesday, there will be the usual mid-week service each Wednesday evening in Llanelli, and will chant compline at 19:00 on Wednesday night in the chapel of St David and St Nicholas in Llanelli.
In our prayers, we continue to remember the newly-departed handmaids of God Nadezhda and Photina; Margarita, Ludmilla and Brigid, among those unwell; Olga and Andrew, Alexander and Aldhelm on their travels; and for Patrick’s impasse in moving house.
Asking your prayers.
May God bless you all.
In Christ – Fr Mark