Tuesday, June 29, 2021

Bullies, Saints, and the truth about the history of Christianity - John Dickson's latest book

 

I don’t agree with absolutely everything Aussie Anglican priest and respected historian John Dickson writes, but the fact that the very conservative Catholic World Report has published a review giving an enthusiastic ‘thumbs up’ to Dickson’s latest book is high praise. I hope that ‘Bullies and Saints . . .’ is widely read. 


Gregory J. Sullivan writes: John Dickson, an Australian scholar and self-described ‘mild-mannered Anglican,’ has penned an engaging and accessible book that provides an antidote to the polemical abuse of history. 



‘Burning of a Heretic’ (c.1423-26) by Stefano di Giovanni. (WikiArt.org) 


Wounded by original sin, people predictably make a mess of things, often in quite spectacular fashion. Of course, men and women, here and there, follow the better angels of their natures and bring order, beauty, and goodness to the world. Christians are no exception to this arrangement. Nevertheless, its army of critics are quick to point to the multitudinous Christian failings throughout history as evidence of Christian personal hypocrisy, irrationality, and even wickedness. Patent bias—with an admixture of gross oversimplification—is omnipresent.


In his engagingly written Bullies and Saints: An Honest Look at the Good and Evil of Christian History, John Dickson, an Australian scholar and self-described ‘mild-mannered Anglican,’ provides an antidote to this polemical abuse of history with ‘a century-by-century retelling of the bullies and saints of Christian history.’ He moves, with deeply informed intelligence and accessible prose, over the revolutionary impact of the early Church (the common practice of infanticide was legally banned in 374 A.D., a vindication of the Christian view of all people bearing the image of God), the Crusades, the Galileo affair, the Inquisition, and so on—all the way to the present-day clerical sexual-abuse crisis. Dickson sorts through these complex areas with moral clarity and supplies valuable context where appropriate.


In light of current, tedious racial obsessions, Dickson’s analysis of Christianity and slavery is especially welcome. This historically universal practice of course survived the advent of Christianity, but its ultimate destruction was occasioned by the tireless work of Christians. Dickson is rightly emphatic on this point: ‘Abolitionism was not a secular movement.’ To be sure, he concedes that ‘Christians were painfully slow in eradicating slavery,’ but it is an incontestable fact that ‘every anti-slavery movement we know of – whether in the second, fifth, seventh, or eighteenth centuries – was heavily populated by Christians. And the main arguments against slavery were not economic, political, or scientific. They were theological.’


Dickson quotes Rowan Williams, the erudite former Archbishop of Canterbury, who succinctly observed: ‘If the abolition of slavery had been left to enlightened secularists in the eighteenth century, we would still be waiting.’


Not surprisingly, Dickson adverts to Christopher Hitchens at various points, and he ably rebuts the distortions spread by the latter’s militant atheism. Hitchens glibly pointed to Northern Ireland’s “Troubles” as one of many examples of ‘religiously inspired cruelty.” Dickson says that this contention is “out of all proportion to the facts.’ He evaluates this conflict and discerns that “[r]eligious identity had morphed into political identity.”


‘It is fascinating,’ he continues, ‘to wander around Belfast, as you can do freely today, and look at the many surviving murals from the Troubles. Hardly any of them contain religious imagery or language. It is tribal and political, not at all theological.’ For all his vaunted on-the-ground knowledge of the world, Hitchens completely missed this truth.


As he closes this book, Dickson reflects on the mindless, indiscriminate assault on Western monuments in 2020. ‘Personally,’ he notes, ‘I have no problem with removing statues of people whose main contribution was evil’—the examples he adduces here are Stalin and Saddam Hussein. But he rejects the attacks on monuments of genuinely great but flawed men: Washington and Jefferson fall into this category. Dickson dismisses the dense, immature assumption that a great figure must be perfect, and he provocatively says that our own blindness to moral evils in our own time will undoubtedly one day be condemned. For instance: ‘When the link between ‘normal pornography’ and human trafficking is fully exposed, will future generations castigate us for making light of porn for the last three decades?’


Regrettably, Dickson’s chapter on the sexual-abuse crisis that has enveloped our age, titled ‘Moral Reckoning: Child Abuse in the Modern Church,’ is disappointing. He is right that it is ‘a disaster the church has brought upon itself,’ and his discussion is thoughtful (as far as it goes) but superficial. He does not consider the problem of homosexuality in the priesthood. Moreover, his keen historical sense is absent here: what makes the scandal so scandalous is the fact that it was the Christian revolution that placed pedophilia and homosexual conduct, broadly accepted (outside of Judaism) and commonplace in pagan antiquity, beyond the sexual pale. That is why the late Fr. Richard Neuhaus argued that fidelity to the Church’s sexual ethics is the only way out of the crisis.


Dickson candidly says that he writes as a ‘proud Protestant,’ and he writes as an honest one, too. That is, he acknowledges the culpability of Protestants as bullies as well. His condemnation of Martin Luther’s astounding anti-Semitism, for instance, is unequivocal and does not rationalize in any way. Surprisingly, he neglects to touch on the truly righteous figures on the Protestant side: Dietrich Bonhoeffer, to select one of many possible examples.


Dickson’s concluding affirmation of the integrity of the Christian Gospel is warranted:


Jesus Christ wrote a beautiful composition. Christians have not performed it consistently well. Sometimes they were badly out of tune. But the problem with a hateful Christian is not their Christianity but their departure from it.


In a world where sinners always far outnumber saints, the wonder is not the seeming ubiquity of evil but the palpable presence of the good. This is the narrative of Christian history, as Dickson explains so effectively in this excellent, and admirably balanced, book.


Bullies and Saints: An Honest Look at the Good and Evil of Christian History

By John Dickson

Zondervan Academic, 2021

Hardcover, 328 pages

Available from Amazon HERE


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Saturday, June 5, 2021

Inspiration for Christians in troubled times



Detail of the fresco depicting the martyrdom of S. Boniface 
(in the Basilica of S. Boniface's Abbey, Munich)


Today the Church remembers S. Boniface. Go HERE for the story of this remarkable Englishman’s life and an evaluation of his impact on the spiritual and cultural development of Europe. (The link is to a fascinating lecture on S. Boniface given in 1980 by an Australian scholar, the late Dr Ken McKay). 


I think that the following letter of S. Boniface (from todays Office of Readings) is just what we need to read at this time in our own history. Boniface is writing in 747 to his friend Archbishop Cuthbert of Canterbury about the obstacles he is experiencing in his mission (Go HERE for more of his letters): 


THE CAREFUL SHEPHERD WATCHES OVER CHRIST’S FLOCK 

In her voyage across the ocean of this world, the Church is like a great ship being pounded by the waves of life’s different stresses. Our duty is not to abandon ship but to keep her on her course.


The ancient fathers showed us how we should carry out this duty: Clement, Cornelius and many others in the city of Rome, Cyprian at Carthage, Athanasius at Alexandria. They all lived under emperors who were pagans; they all steered Christ’s ship – or rather his most dear spouse, the Church. This they did by teaching and defending her, by their labours and sufferings, even to the shedding of blood.


I am terrified when I think of all this. Fear and trembling came upon me and the darkness of my sins almost covered me. I would gladly give up the task of guiding the Church which I have accepted if I could find such an action warranted by the example of the fathers or by holy Scripture.


Since this is the case, and since the truth can be assaulted but never defeated or falsified, with our tired mind let us turn to the words of Solomon: Trust in the Lord with all your heart and do not rely on your own prudence. Think on him in all your ways, and he will guide your steps. In another place he says: The name of the Lord is an impregnable tower. The just man seeks refuge in it and he will be saved.


Let us stand fast in what is right and prepare our souls for trial. Let us wait upon God’s strengthening aid and say to him: O Lord, you have been our refuge in all generations.


Let us trust in him who has placed this burden upon us. What we ourselves cannot bear let us bear with the help of Christ. For he is all-powerful and he tells us: My yoke is easy and my burden is light.


Let us continue the fight on the day of the Lord. The days of anguish and of tribulation have overtaken us; if God so wills, let us die for the holy laws of our fathers, so that we may deserve to obtain an eternal inheritance with them.


Let us be neither dogs that do not bark nor silent onlookers nor paid servants who run away before the wolf. Instead let us be careful shepherds watching over Christ’s flock. Let us preach the whole of God’s plan to the powerful and to the humble, to rich and to poor, to men of every rank and age, as far as God gives us the strength, in season and out of season, as Saint Gregory writes in his book of Pastoral Instruction.




Monday, May 31, 2021

S. Bede the Venerable commenting on the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary to Elizabeth



Today is the Feast of the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary, when Mary, pregnant with Jesus, journeyed up into the hill country to visit her kinswoman Elizabeth, who herself was pregnant with John the Baptist. It is a beautiful narrative. I don’t know if it was easy or difficult for Mary to climb up those hills, but the fact is that she made the effort, and when she greeted Elizabeth, little John the Baptist leaped for joy in his mother’s womb. Imagine that! And then S. Luke says that Elizabeth was ‘filled with the Holy Spirit’ and honoured Mary as the ‘Mother of my Lord.’


There are so many ways in which Mary represents and symbolises the Church. On this occasion what she did reminds us of what we are supposed to do. She made the effort to take Jesus within her up to the hill country and in so doing brought joy and blessing into the lives of others.   


Mary's visit to her cousin Elizabeth is a reminder that the Church in our time is called to ‘bring Jesus to a waiting world’.


Last week we celebrated the Feast day of S. Bede the Venerable. Here, from this morning’s Office of Readings, is a passage from one of his sermons in which he reflects on the Visitation: 


My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my saviour. With these words Mary first acknowledges the special gifts she has been given. Then she recalls God’s universal favours, bestowed unceasingly on the human race.


When a man devotes all his thoughts to the praise and service of the Lord, he proclaims God’s greatness. His observance of God’s commands, moreover, shows that he has God’s power and greatness always at heart. His spirit rejoices in God his saviour and delights in the mere recollection of his creator who gives him hope for eternal salvation.


These words are often for all God’s creations, but especially for the Mother of God. She alone was chosen, and she burned with spiritual love for the son she so joyously conceived. Above all other saints, she alone could truly rejoice in Jesus, her saviour, for she knew that he who was the source of eternal salvation would be born in time in her body, in one person both her own son and her Lord.


For the Almighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name. Mary attributes nothing to her own merits. She refers all her greatness to the gift of the one whose essence is power and whose nature is greatness, for he fills with greatness and strength the small and the weak who believe in him.


She did well to add: and holy is his name, to warn those who heard, and indeed all who would receive his words, that they must believe and call upon his name. For they too could share in everlasting holiness and true salvation according to the words of the prophet: and it will come to pass, that everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. This is the name she spoke of earlier: and my spirit rejoices in God my saviour.


Therefore it is an excellent and fruitful custom of holy Church that we should sing Mary’s hymn at the time of evening prayer. By meditating upon the incarnation, our devotion is kindled, and by remembering the example of God’s Mother, we are encouraged to lead a life of virtue. Such virtues are best achieved in the evening. We are weary after the day’s work and worn out by our distractions. The time for rest is near, and our minds are ready for contemplation.




Friday, May 7, 2021

ALL SAINTS' BENHILTON : THY KINGDOM COME


ASCENSION DAY is this Thursday 13th May, and there are TWO Masses at All Saints Benhilton:
        10.00 a.m. Low Mass

          7.30 p.m. Low Mass with Choral Anthems


PENTECOST SUNDAY is the 23rd May.


AND IN BETWEEN . . .

is a special time of prayer for evangelisation, reflecting the experience of the first disciples who were told by Jesus at his Ascension that they were to proclaim the Good News to ‘all nations’.


But he  also told them that they should first go back into Jerusalem and wait in prayer for the ‘promise of the Father’ - the outpouring of the Holy Spirit.  Only then would they be able to fulfil what God asked of them, not relying on their own strength, but on the power, the strength and the courage given to them by the Holy Spirit. 


That’s why in the Catholic tradition we pray for a fresh outpouring of the Holy Spirit (the ‘Pentecost Novena’) between Ascension Day and Pentecost.


Under the name THY KINGDOM COME, this has evolved into a global prayer movement inviting Christians of all traditions to do the same, and to pray for more people to come to know Jesus. There are many different ways this might be done . . . using prayers from a prayer book, old or new; praying with our families each day; going to Mass daily during the week as well as on Sundays.


There are these helpful resources online:


1. THE PENTECOST NOVENA

The booklet can be downloaded and printed from HERE

The podcasts are HERE


2. A CHILDREN’S PRESENTATION WITH THE CHEEKY PANDAS

Suitable for family catechesis or in a larger group. Download from HERE


During these days, let us all pray for a fresh outpouring of the Holy Spirit in our lives and in our communities, and let us pray for those we know and love to find new life in Jesus.





Friday, April 9, 2021

Prayer for the Duke of Edinburgh (1921-2021)


We pray for the repose of the soul of HRH Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh (1921-2021). 

May he rest in peace.

The Queen has entered into eight days of mourning.
 
At noon tomorrow (Saturday 10th April) our Tower Captain, Jeremy Cheesman, will be tolling the tenor bell half muffled 99 times, as is happening throughout the Church of England. All Saints’ will be open until 12.30 p.m. for any who wish to come in and pray and/or light a candle.
 
In addition, our 7.30 p.m. Mass on Wednesday 14th April will be a REQUIEM offered for the repose of the soul of Prince Philip, as we continue to pray for the Queen and the Royal Family in their bereavement. (Social distancing applies, and face coverings are to be worn as on Sundays.)

The Church of England has opened an online condolence book for those who wish to record a message:

Wednesday, April 7, 2021

David Suchet reads the entire Gospel According to St John

Best-known for playing Agatha Christie’s fictional detective Hercule Poirot, Sir David became a Christian in 1986 after reading a hotel room Bible. Here he reads the entire Gospel According to St John (NIV translation) in the Jerusalem Chamber in the Abbey’s Deanery, the residence of the Dean of Westminster.


Go HERE for the video of David Suchet reading the entire Gospel Acording to St Mark in St Paul’s Cathedral, London.





Saturday, April 3, 2021

From the Office of Readings for Holy Saturday


All over the Internet this morning is the following homily from the Office of Readings the Church sets for today. It is sometimes attributed to S. Melito, Bishop of Sardis (d.180 AD), but more often it is described as the work of 'an unknown author'. It is a powerful and imaginative account of Jesus’s triumphal descent to the place of the dead where he meets Adam and Eve and all who are awaiting deliverance.


What is happening? Today there is a great silence over the earth, a great silence, and stillness, a great silence because the King sleeps; the earth was in terror and was still, because God slept in the flesh and raised up those who were sleeping from the ages. God has died in the flesh, and the underworld has trembled.


Truly he goes to seek out our first parent like a lost sheep; he wishes to visit those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death. He goes to free the prisoner Adam and his fellow-prisoner Eve from their pains, he who is God, and Adam’s son.


The Lord goes in to them holding his victorious weapon, his cross. When Adam, the first created man, sees him, he strikes his breast in terror and calls out to all: ‘My Lord be with you all.’ And Christ in reply says to Adam: ‘And with your spirit.’ And grasping his hand he raises him up, saying: ‘Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give you light.


‘I am your God, who for your sake became your son, who for you and your descendants now speak and command with authority those in prison: Come forth, and those in darkness: Have light, and those who sleep: Rise.


‘I command you: Awake, sleeper, I have not made you to be held a prisoner in the underworld. Arise from the dead; I am the life of the dead. Arise, O man, work of my hands, arise, you who were fashioned in my image. Rise, let us go hence; for you in me and I in you, together we are one undivided person.


‘For you, I your God became your son; for you, I the Master took on your form; that of slave; for you, I who am above the heavens came on earth and under the earth; for you, man, I became as a man without help, free among the dead; for you, who left a garden, I was handed over to Jews from a garden and crucified in a garden.


‘Look at the spittle on my face, which I received because of you, in order to restore you to that first divine inbreathing at creation. See the blows on my cheeks, which I accepted in order to refashion your distorted form to my own image.


‘See the scourging of my back, which I accepted in order to disperse the load of your sins which was laid upon your back. See my hands nailed to the tree for a good purpose, for you, who stretched out your hand to the tree for an evil one.


'I slept on the cross and a sword pierced my side, for you, who slept in paradise and brought forth Eve from your side. My side healed the pain of your side; my sleep will release you from your sleep in Hades; my sword has checked the sword which was turned against you.


‘But arise, let us go hence. The enemy brought you out of the land of paradise; I will reinstate you, no longer in paradise, but on the throne of heaven. I denied you the tree of life, which was a figure, but now I myself am united to you, I who am life. I posted the cherubim to guard you as they would slaves; now I make the cherubim worship you as they would God.


'The cherubim throne has been prepared, the bearers are ready and waiting, the bridal chamber is in order, the food is provided, the everlasting houses and rooms are in readiness; the treasures of good things have been opened; the kingdom of heaven has been prepared before the ages.'


PRAYER

Almighty, ever-living God, 

whose Only-begotten Son descended 

to the realm of the dead,

and rose from there to glory, 

grant that your faithful people, 

who were buried with him in baptism, 

may, by his resurrection, obtain eternal life.


(See also The Harrowing of Hell and the Healing of the Memories

and The Harrowing of Hell - Anastasis)


Friday, April 2, 2021

Sweet Sacrament Divine - The Fulham Holy Week Festival 2021


The Fulham clergy were asked to send in a few photos each showing the Church's ministry during Covid for possible inclusion in a video. Well . . . near the beginning of the Video are three photos of wonderful occasions in our own parish.



Sunday, March 28, 2021

Palm Sunday 2021



A letter to our parish family marking the start of Holy Week 2021


I must admit to having been a bit worried right up until this morning about the effect on our Palm Sunday Mass of having to scale it down. All parishes have had to do it as part of adapting the Church’s traditional Holy Week ceremonies to the present Covid rules and precautions. (I also thought that changing to daylight saving time today would have a negative impact on our attendance. But that was NOT the case at All Saints' Benhilton. Neither did anyone arrive an hour late!)


In the end, what a great Mass we had. I was glad to see so many in church together, especially the small children. Thanks to Linda and the singers who recommenced their vital role in our worship today, and also to Harry and Aiden who were crucifer and thurifer. 


HIS JOURNEY AND OURS 

So, today we began the holiest week of the Church’s year.  And although we couldn’t have the Procession of Palms, we did hear the Passion Reading from S. Mark’s Gospel - the account of the hours leading up to the death of Jesus.  


The procession, of course, is one of the ways that the Church helps us to insert ourselves into the story of Jesus. As Holy Week unfolds, there are other special ceremonies that do the same thing. They nurture our union with Jesus and help us respond to his love. Some of these, such as the Maundy Thursday foot washing, the Good Friday kissing of the Crucifix, and the Easter Vigil passing of candlelight one to another are not able to happen this year. 


But we still trudge the Calvary road with Jesus, supported by our meditation on Holy Scripture and our companionship with one another as brothers and sisters in him. We are with him as he is stripped of his garments, beaten, flogged, and nailed to the cross. We gather as a little community of faith and love with Mother Mary, the other women and the apostle John at the foot of the cross, allowing its reconciling and healing love to flow upon us and make us whole. At Easter we emerge with the original disciples in the power and newness of our Lord’s victory over sin and death.


This happened in real history. Father Marcus Donovan, Vicar of All Saints’ Benhilton from 1945 to 1961, wrote a book while he was here called Faith and Practice. I quote his summary of what Jesus embraced for you and for me:


There are only two names beside that of our Lord mentioned in the Creed. One is ‘the Virgin Mary’, the other is ‘Pontius Pilate.’


This marks the Crucifixion as an event in history, at a particular date when a man named Pilate was governor of Judaea. The events which took place are known as ‘the Passion’’. They began with the Agony in the garden. The garden was called Gethsemane. After the Last Supper on Maundy Thursday night, our Lord went out with the Apostles (all but Judas, who had left the Upper Room and gone to guide the people who came to make the arrest). In the garden Jesus knelt down some way from the Apostles and endured his agony. “Agony” means a struggle: it was the conflict between his natural shrinking and his determination to do his Father’s will. He was perfectly obedient and went on to the fate awaiting him.


Other features in the Passion were the scourging and the crowning with thorns. The scourging was at the High Priest’s house (Mt. 26. 67), the crowning with thorns was at the Praetorium, i.e. the fortified residence of Pilate: perhaps the soldiers found some thorn-bushes in the courtyard and from them made a garland such as the winners in public games used to wear. The carrying of the Cross and the Crucifixion are the remaining features of the Passion. There were many other insults, e.g. spitting and bowing down before him in mockery.


Our Lord hung for three hours on the Cross and then ‘gave up the ghost’. His body was taken down and laid in the tomb and his soul went down to Hades.


We must remind ourselves about the Passion, by which we mean the sufferings of our Lord which ended in his death. There is one special time when we do this . . .  Holy Week. There are several services which help us to see the events. Every Friday is a reminder of Good Friday. 


It is specially important to remember that our Lord is still offering the sacrifice of himself to the Father in heaven and we are still gaining its benefit. What is that benefit? It is that we are ‘reconciled to God’. We were separated from God by sin, but the Cross has taken away the barrier and we are made friends of God. (pp. 51-52)

  

AMAZING LOVE 

Last week I wrote about the amazing love God has for us, and the transformation that begins within us as we surrender to that love. Of course, such a surrender has its difficult moments and involves real struggle, especially if we have stubborn wills, or have lacked any real experience of unconditional love in our upbringing and relationships. 


Indeed, it is surprisingly  common for us to push God away, when we ought to be following the best of our primordial instincts and open our hearts to his goodness and love. If we manage to do that, we prove in our own experience the reality of  Jesus’ saying, ‘... if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed’ (John 8:36).


God’s commitment to us has no limit. That’s the real message of Holy Week. 


Our redemption cost Jesus - God in human flesh - everything. You and I know that, because whenever we come into All Saints’ Church we find ourselves confronted by the large medieval-style carved crucifix on the rood screen.


A stunningly beautiful work of art, dating back to 1911, it is also terrifying in its realism: Jesus himself, towering over us, with Mary and John by the cross, the arms of Jesus painfully fixed to the wood with chunky nails, but also outstretched in a kind of cosmic embrace, drawing you and me more deeply into his love. The first time I saw that crucifix the beginning of the familiar hymn by John Bowring (1792-1872) came to mind:

‘In the Cross of Christ I glory,

Towering o’er the wrecks of time . . .’


PEACE THAT THE WORLD CANNOT GIVE 

We walk with Jesus, step by step to the Cross this Holy Week. He merges his story with ours, and ours with his. This merging of our stories is how he gives our lives meaning and purpose. In the process of doing so he promises us his gifts of grace for when we suffer and for our pain. Sometimes we miss this aspect of Holy Week because we don’t spend enough time musing on chapters thirteen to seventeen of S. John’s Gospel. These chapters deal not just with the Last Supper, but also with the teaching and encouragement Jesus gives about the resources he provides for his people seeking to live for him in this world.


Each of the Gospel writers wants to show us that, his inner struggle notwithstanding, Jesus is calm in the midst of the storm gathering around him, unlike the disciples. He is laying his life down, he knows that!  He understands he will be betrayed and will suffer. He’s praying in the Garden so as to draw strength from his Father’s love. At the same time, he’s trying to help the disciples cope with it all. And he says to them:


‘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. You heard me say to you, “I go away, and I will come to you” . . .  I have told you before it takes place, so that when it does take place, you may believe.’ (John 14:27-29)  


This peace - the same peace that S. Paul says ‘passes all understanding’ (Philippians 4:7) is a gift from the Lord on which  you and I can draw in our own lives if we stay close to him. It is a Holy Week gift. It is not the result of circumstances being favourable to us; nor is it the result of any courage or ‘positive thinking’ on our part. It is - to use another of S. Paul’s phrases - a ‘fruit of the Holy Spirit’ (Galatians 5:22). And it is certainly something on which we should be actively drawing right now as we begin the rebuilding of our lives, families, workplaces and church community in the wake of Covid-19.  


A REAL GIFT 

The secret police are on their way to get Jesus. There he stands on the hill, most likely silhouetted against the Passover full moon. A lone figure . . . perhaps even a pathetic one. Certainly no match for his persecutors. Yet while his disciples are fearful and worried he is able to say to them: 


‘The hour is coming, indeed it has come, when you will be scattered, every man to his home, and will leave me alone; yet I am not alone, for the Father is with me. I have said this to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.‘ (John 16:32-33)


Following on from this, I think it is significant that when he rises from the dead and appears to his disciples, Jesus’ first greeting to them is ‘Peace be with you’ (John 20:19). That’s how serious he is about our being able to draw on his gift of supernatural peace for our own times of turmoil and fear. 


May we have the good sense to do just that, and to trust him more in our everyday lives.


Tuesday, March 23, 2021

Praying for the Dead - Bishop Jonathan Baker explains . . .



The Covid-19 pandemic has, tragically and often cruelly, thrown the issue of grieving for the dead into sharp focus for too many in our society. While in no way detracting from that grief, the Christian faith has always offered a message of hope; a hope which finds its source in Our Lord’s Resurrection. Our belief as Christians is that death is not the end and that, by praying for the dead, we not only aid the souls of the deceased in their journey to the next world, but we also gain spiritual benefits for ourselves. For we too shall make that journey one day.


In this short film on praying for the dead, The Rt Rev'd Jonathan Baker, Bishop of Fulham, gives a powerful reflection on this challenging topic, accompanied by music and a scriptural reading on the same theme. The Bishop rightly reminds us that Christians have always prayed for the dead and that it is at the heart of our Christian faith that we should continue to do so. It was wonderful to witness the country coming together to clap its carers last year. We now urge people to unite spiritually in praying for the dead at this time of crisis.


For more information, and for more resources on praying for the dead, then please visit www.guildofallsouls.org.uk


The film is a joint initiative between The Society and The Church Union and was made in accordance with the Government guidelines in place during the pandemic.




Wednesday, March 17, 2021

S.Patrick - The Deer's Cry



You worship the sun that rises and sets;
I preach to you, Christ, the sun that never sets.
(S. Patrick)

Many legends surround the life and ministry of the great missionary, S. Patrick, who is honoured by the Church today.  One of them tells of Patrick lighting a fire on the hill of Slane one Holy Saturday, which was a challenge to the High-King Laeghaire who was about to light a ritual fire on the hill of Tara to proclaim his authority over all. Outraged at the Christian challenge to his claim, the High-King summoned Patrick. Apprehensively, Patrick began his journey, chanting this prayer, this affirmation of faith, calling on the power of God to protect him against his enemies. In the legend, Laeghaire tried to ambush Patrick, but all he saw when he looked Patrick’s way was a group of deer and a fawn following them. For this reason, the prayer is also known as The Deer’s Cry. The hymn based on it is generally known as 'S. Patrick’s Breatplate.' 

I arise today through a mighty strength,
the invocation of the Trinity,
through belief in the Threeness,
through confession of the Oneness
towards the Creator of Creation.

I arise today through the strength of Christ with his Baptism,
through the strength of his Crucifixion with his Burial
through the strength of his Resurrection with his Ascension,
through the strength of his descent for the Judgment of Doom.

I arise today through the strength of the love of Cherubim
in obedience of Angels,
in the service of the Archangels,
in hope of resurrection to meet with reward,
in prayers of Patriarchs,
in predictions of Prophets,
in preachings of Apostles,
in faiths of Confessors,
in innocence of Holy Virgins,
in deeds of righteous men.

I arise today, through the strength of Heaven:
light of Sun,
brilliance of Moon,
splendour of Fire,
speed of Lightning,
swiftness of Wind,
depth of Sea,
stability of Earth,
firmness of Rock.

I arise today, through God’’s strength to pilot me:
God’s might to uphold me,
God’s wisdom to guide me,
God’s eye to look before me,
God’s ear to hear me,
God’s word to speak for me,
God’s hand to guard me,
God’s way to lie before me,
God’s shield to protect me,
God’s host to secure me:
against snares of devils, against temptations of vices,
against inclinations of nature, against everyone who shall
wish me ill, afar and anear, alone and in a crowd.

I summon today all these powers between me (and these evils):
against every cruel and merciless power that may oppose my body and my soul,
against incantations of false prophets,
against black laws of heathenry,
against false laws of heretics,
against craft of idolatry,
against spells of women [any witch] and smiths and wizards,
against every knowledge that endangers man’s body and soul.

Christ to protect me today
against poison, against burning,
against drowning, against wounding,
so that there may come abundance of reward.

Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me,
Christ in me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ on my right, Christ on my left,
Christ where I lie, Christ where I sit, Christ where I arise,
Christ in the heart of every man who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of every man who speaks of me,
Christ in every eye that sees me,
Christ in every ear that hears me.

I arise today through a mighty strength,
the invocation of the Trinity,
through belief in the Threeness,
through confession of the Oneness
towards the Creator of creation.
Salvation is of the Lord.
Salvation is of the Lord.
Salvation is of Christ.

May thy Salvation, O Lord, be ever with us.


Saturday, March 13, 2021

Holy Week 2021 at All Saints' Benhilton, Sutton, Surrey SM1 3DA

Although the Holy Week liturgies are simplified this year according to the rules relating to Covid-19 precautions, a full schedule of services is provided to enable our people (and visitors) to share in the Lord's way of the cross, and in his glorious triumph over sin and death. 





Monday, March 1, 2021

S. David of Wales



Saint David (or Dewi, as he is known in the Welsh language) was an evangelist and monk, who became Archbishop of Wales. He was one of many early saints who travelled around preaching the Gospel, teaching the Faith, and establishing church communities among the Celtic tribes of western Britain. 

David lived a frugal life, eating mainly bread and herbs. He was born near Capel Non (Non's chapel) on the South-West Wales coast near the present city of St David's. He founded a monastery at Glyn Rhosyn (Rose Vale) on the banks of the small river Alun. He was buried in the grounds of this monastery, where the Cathedral of St David now stands, and he was was formally recognised as a saint by Pope Callistus II in 1120. 

During his 2010 visit to Great Britain, Pope Benedict XVI spoke about St David in Westminster Cathedral:
'Saint David was one of the greatest saints of the 6th century, that golden age of saints and missionaries in these isles, and he was thus a founder of the Christian culture which lies at the root of modern Europe. David's preaching was simple yet profound: his dying words to his monks were, "Be joyful, keep the faith and do the little things". It is the little things that reveal out love for the one who loved us first (cf. 1 Jn 4:19) and that bind people into a community of faith, love and service. May Saint David's message, in all its simplicity and richness, continue to resound in Wales today, drawing the hearts of its people to renewed love for Christ and his Church.'

And here is the second reading in today's Office of Readings, from a Life of St David by Rhygyferch, an eleventh century Bishop of St David's, whose name in Latin was Ricemarchus: 
'The holy Father David prescribed an austere system of monastic observance, requiring every monk to toil daily at manual labour and to lead a common life. So with unflagging zeal they work with hand and foot, they put the yoke to their own shoulders, and in their own holy hands, they bear the tools for labour in the fields. So by their own strength they procure every necessity for the community, while refusing possessions and detesting riches. They make no use of oxen for ploughing. Everyone is rich to himself and to the brethren, every man is his own ox.

'When the field work is done they return to the enclosure of the monastery, to pass their time till evening at reading, writing, or in prayer. Then when the signal is heard for evening prayer everyone leaves what he is at and in silence, without any idle conversation, they make their way to church. When, with heart and voice attuned, they have completed the psalmody, they remain on their knees until stars appearing in the heaven bring day to its close; yet when all have gone, the father remains there alone making his own private prayer for the well-being of the church.

'Shedding daily abundance of tears, offering daily his sweet-scented sacrifice of praise, aglow with an intensity of love, he consecrated with pure hands the fitting oblation of the Lord’s body, and so, at the conclusion of the morning offices, attaining alone to the converse of angels. Then the whole day was spent undaunted and untired, in teaching, praying, on his knees, caring for the brethren, and for orphans and children, and widows, and everyone in need, for the weak and the sick, for travellers and in feeding many. The rest of this stern way of life would be profitable to imitate, but the shortness of this account forbids our entering upon it, but in every way his life was ordered in imitation of the monks of Egypt.'


St David's Cathedral, Wales


Friday, February 19, 2021

STATIONS OF THE CROSS



Here are links to a traditional way of praying the Stations of the Cross. The Scripture readings given at each station make it suitable for using alone as a private devotion, or in church with a group.


The first pdf HERE is suitable for use on an iPad or similar device.


The second pdf HERE is for printing on A4 paper double-sided, then folding and stapling to make up a booklet




A SIGNIFICANT PILGRIMAGE


Over the last few weeks I’ve had conversations with a range of people who have not grown up in any organised faith community, but are clearly on a spiritual quest. For some it has been one result of the pandemic and the questions it has provoked about meaning, transcendence, connectedness, community and love. Then I came across the story of well-known British writer Paul Kingsnorth on ‘Honey and Hemlock’, the blog of John Sanidopoulos. Kingsnorth says that his ‘increasing determined search for Truth’ led him to embrace Christian Orthodoxy. Last month he was baptised in the Romanian Orthodox Church. Sanidopoulos writes:


A few weeks ago I was sent a link to the OAQ page on author Paul Kingsnorth’s website, where he writes the following:


'I have never been a scientific materialist. My suspicion that there is more to the world than modernity will allow for has informed my sensibility since I was a child, and was the backdrop to all my environmental activism and writing.


'Over the last decade, I have been on an increasing determined search for Truth which – as for so many lost Western people – has taken me to all quarters. For five years I studied and practiced Zen Buddhism; I’m still grateful for the insights that accorded me, but there was something missing. In search of what that something might be, I explored Daoism, mythology, Sufism, traditionalism, Alexandrian Wicca and all sorts of other bits and pieces. They all taught me something, but not enough.


'Then, in 2020, as the world was turned upside down, so was I. Unexpectedly, and initially against my will, I found myself being pulled determinedly towards Christianity. It’s a long story, which I might tell one day. Suffice it to say that I started the year as an eclectic ecopagan with a long-held, unformed ache in my heart, and ended it a practicing Christian, the ache gone and replaced by the thing that, all along, I turned out to have been looking for. In January 2021 I was baptised and received into the Eastern Orthodox Church. I don’t know where the path leads from here, but at last I know how to walk it.'


Here is a little bit more about Kingsnorth’s baptism from the website of the Romanian Orthodox Church:


‘I first discovered Christian Orthodoxy four years ago when I walked into a small church in Bucharest. That powerful experience stayed with me, but I could not have known that it would lead me on a journey that would lead to me becoming a member of the Romanian church,’ Paul Kingsnorth told Basilica.ro.


He was baptized on the feast of Theophany on January 6th by his spiritual advisor, Father Tudor Ghiţă, the parish priest of the Romanian community in Galway.


‘I felt both joyful and peaceful afterwards… and cold! But a stronger sense that I had arrived somewhere I was meant to be. My receipt into the church has been a great privilege, and the [Romanian] community here in Ireland has been so welcoming to me and my family,’ confessed the writer.


Father Tudor Ghiţă said he never tried to convert the writer. They met at the Romanian Orthodox Monastery of Shannonbridge, Ireland, and had some long talks.


‘He was determined to enter Orthodoxy, but I advised him to moderate his enthusiasm and not to expect to see angels flying through the church,’ said the Romanian parish priest of Galway. He wanted to make the writer understand that being a Christian is permanent work and the joy you feel is supposed to be one of a spiritual nature.


‘He is an obedient spiritual son,’ Father Tudor Ghiţă added. ‘He observes the fasting days, reads the recommended prayers and makes full prostrations.’



MORE ABOUT PAUL KINGSNORTH 

He is 49 and has lived for several years in the rural parts of Galway, Ireland. He runs a family farm which he works by using traditional methods, such as cutting hay with a scythe, just like Romanian peasants did formerly.


He wrote visionary fiction books and essays on the environment. Between 2009 and 2017, he established an environmental activism project entitled Dark Mountain. But he says he has never been a Marxist materialist, like many other members of this movement.


'I have never been a scientific materialist. My suspicion that there is more to the world than modernity will allow for has informed my sensibility since I was a child, and was the backdrop to all my environmental activism and writing,' he wrote.


Conservative writer Rod Dreher describes him as ‘one of the most talented and visionary writers of our time.’


Journalist Aris Roussinos calls him a ‘profoundly religious’ author and ‘England’s greatest living writer.’


Go HERE to the website of the Romanian Orthodox Church in Galway


'As a Western newcomer to Orthodoxy, I have a lifetime’s learning journey ahead of me, but I already feel like I have arrived home.'