Sunday, January 31, 2010

The Bible's so hard to understand . . .

"Most people are bothered
by those passages in Scripture
that they cannot understand;
but as for me,
I always noticed that the passages in Scripture
that trouble me most
are those that I do understand."

- Mark Twain

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Charles Stuart, King & Martyr

Painting by Ernest Crofts of King Charles
being led to his execution (London, UK, 1901)

6.30 p.m. Solemn Evensong & Benediction
in the Patmos House Chapel tomorrow night
- Sunday 31st January -
will be in honour of King Charles.

(Cnr Heidelberg St & Heath St, East Brisbane)

"Charles did not want to die; he had much to live for. He was very much in love with his wife, Henrietta Maria, and she with him. He was devoted to her and to his six children-three sons and three daughters. It was a happy family which lived high moral lives in an era when the royal families in Europe lived dissolute lives. The importance of Charles I is the fact that he had a choice. The Puritans had offered to save his life if he would renounce the throne, the Book of Common Prayer, and the Church of England. Charles refused! Instead he lay down his life for the principles in which he believed. By his death he saved the Episcopate-and thus the Church of England. Charles I was the only English king who gave up his life for the Church."
(From a paper given to the American branch of the Society of King Charles the Martyr in 2002 by Professor William K. Tinkham in 2002)

Go HERE for more on Charles, King & Martyr.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Alexander Penrose Forbes on the boundaries of the Eucharist

Picture: St Magnus the Martyr, London Bridge, U.K.

Alexander Penrose Forbes (1817-1875) was Bishop of Brechin in the Scottish Episcopalian (i.e. Anglican) Church. He was influenced by the Oxford Movement - and in particular Dr Pusey - while a student at Oxford, and graduated in 1846, becoming Bishop of Brechin in 1847. Forbes spent the rest of his life teaching, preaching, praying, pastoring, and significantly growing the Church in his diocese. Not only was he a leader in the Catholic Revival; he was a much loved champion of the poor and working class. The following passages are from his book,
An Explanation of the Thirty-Nine Articles (1898 edition).

"The sacrifice in the Eucharist is substantially the same as the sacrifice of the cross, because the Priest is the same in both, and the Victim is the same in both, just as the sacrifice which Christ the eternal Priest is now presenting to His Father in heaven is the same which He offered upon the cross, because He Himself is the same Victim and Priest both in one. But there is a difference. There is a difference in the manner of offering. In heaven Christ is not offering Himself in the same manner as He did upon the cross." (page 609)

"That one sacrifice and its all-sufficient merits live on, as in our Lord's perpetual presentation of Himself in heaven, so in our Eucharistical oblation of His body and blood sacramentally present on our altars. We have nothing apart from that one sacrifice; our Eucharistic oblation is not something in and for itself, something independent of that one sacrifice, even while it pleaded it. Such is its union with that sacrifice that it is a perpetual application of its virtue, yet not as something distinct, but as united with it through the oneness of that which is offered, that same body of Christ offered on the cross to make atonement for the sins of the whole world and for each one of us, offered and presented to the Father in heaven and in the Church below, on the 'altar above' and on the Holy Table, in pleading and for application of the atonement once wrought upon the holy cross. On the cross that offering was made once for all with shedding of blood; on earth the offering is made in an unbloody manner, as the ancient Church attests. On the cross that offering merited the salvation of the world; on the altar Christ being risen from the dead dieth no more, but the fruit of that death is made over to the faithful. On the cross the satisfaction was paid; on the altar the memorial of that satisfaction is made to the Father in correspondence with the memorial made upon the celestial altar." (pages 615-616)

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Dom Gregory Dix on the boundaries of the Eucharist

Picture: Easter Vigil High Mass, All Saints' Wickham Terrace, Brisbane, 2003

Dom Gregory Dix (1901-1952) was a monk of Nashdom Abbey, an Anglican Benedictine community, priest and liturgical scholar. His work had particular influence on the liturgical movement of the mid-20th century. His best known book is "
The Shape of the Liturgy". The following excerpt (pages 744-745) has been described as the most perfect passage of English prose written in the 20th century.

"Was ever another command so obeyed? For century after century, spreading slowly to every continent and country and among every race on earth, this action has been done, in every conceivable human circumstance, for every conceivable human need from infancy and before it to extreme old age and after it, from the pinnacle of earthly greatness to the refuge of fugitives in the caves and dens of the earth. Men have found no better thing than this to do for kings at their crowning and for criminals going to the scaffold; for armies in triumph or for a bride and bridegroom in a little country church; for the proclamation of a dogma or for a good crop of wheat; for the wisdom of the Parliament of a mighty nation or for a sick old woman afraid to die; for a schoolboy sitting an examination or for Columbus setting out to discover America; for the famine of whole provinces or for the soul of a dead lover; in thankfulness because my father did not die of pneumonia; for a village headman much tempted to return to fetich because the yams had failed; because the Turk was at the gates of Vienna; for the repentance of Margaret; for the settlement of a strike; for a son for a barren woman; for Captain so-and-so wounded and prisoner of war; while the lions roared in the nearby amphitheatre; on the beach at Dunkirk; while the hiss of scythes in the thick June grass came faintly through the windows of the church; tremulously, by an old monk on the fiftieth anniversary of his vows; furtively, by an exiled bishop who had hewn timber all day in a prison camp near Murmansk; gorgeously, for the canonisation of S. Joan of Arc-one could fill many pages with the reasons why men have done this, and not tell a hundredth part of them. And best of all, week by week and month by month, on a hundred thousand successive Sundays, faithfully, unfailingly, across all the parishes of Christendom, the pastors have done this just to make the plebs sancta Dei-the holy common people of God.

"To those who know a little of Christian history probably the most moving of all the reflections it brings is not the thought of the great events and the well-remembered saints, but of those innumerable millions of entirely obscure faithful men and women, every one with his or her own individual hopes and fears and joys and sorrows and loves-and sins and temptations and prayers-once every whit as vivid and alive as mine are now. They have left no slightest trace in this world, not even a name, but have passed to God utterly forgotten by men. Yet each of them once believed and prayed as I believe and pray, and found it hard and grew slack and sinned and repented and fell again. Each of them worshipped at the Eucharist, and found their thoughts wandering and tried again, and felt heavy and unresponsive and yet knew-just as really and pathetically as I do these things. There is a little ill-spelled ill-carved rustic epitaph of the fourth century from Asia Minor:-'Here sleeps the blessed Chione, who has found Jerusalem for she prayed much'. Not another word is known of Chione, some peasant woman who lived in that vanished world of Christian Anatolia. But how lovely if all that should survive after sixteen centuries were that one had prayed much, so that the neighbours who saw all one's life were sure one must have found Jerusalem! What did the Sunday Eucharist in her village church every week for a life-time mean to the blessed Chione-and to the millions like her then, and every year since? The sheer stupendous quantity of the love of God which this ever repeated action has drawn from the obscure Christian multitudes through the centuries is in itself an overwhelming thought. (All that going with one to the altar every morning!)

"It is because it became embedded deep down in the life of the Christian peoples, colouring all the via vitae of the ordinary man and woman, marking its personal turning-points, marriage, sickness, death and the rest, running through it year by year with the feasts and fasts and the rhythm of the Sundays, that the eucharistic action became inextricably woven into the public history of the Western world. The thought of it is inseparable from its great turning-points also. Pope Leo doing this in the morning before he went out to daunt Attila, on the day that saw the continuity of Europe saved; and another Leo doing this three and a half centuries later when he crowned Charlemagne Roman Emperor, on the day that saw that continuity fulfilled. Or again Alfred wandering defeated by the Danes staying his soul on this, while mediaeval England struggled to be born; and Charles I also, on that morning of his execution when mediaeval England came to its final end. Such things strike the mind with their suggestions of a certain timelessness about the eucharistic action and an independence of its setting, in keeping with the stability in an ever-changing world of the forms of the liturgy themselves. At Constantinople they 'do this' yet with the identical words and gestures that they used while the silver trumpets of the Basileus still called across the Bosphorus, in what seems to us now the strange fairy-tale land of the Byzantine empire. In this twentieth century Charles de Foucauld in his hermitage in the Sahara 'did this' with the same rite as Cuthbert twelve centuries before in his hermitage on Lindisfarne in the Northern seas. This very morning I did this with a set of texts which has not changed by more than a few syllables since Augustine used those very words at Canterbury on the third Sunday of Easter in the summer after he landed. Yet 'this' can still take hold of a man's life and work with it."

Monday, January 25, 2010

Kallistos Ware on the boundaries of the Eucharist

The Most Reverend Metropolitan Kallistos Ware of Diokleia is a titular metropolitan of the Ecumenical Patriarchate in Great Britain. From 1966-2001, he was Spalding Lecturer of Eastern Orthodox Studies at Oxford University. Retiring in 2001, Bishop Kallistos has continued to publish and travel widely, lecturing on Orthodox Christianity. The following is one of the best known passages from his book The Orthodox Church, first published when he was a layman in 1963 and subsequently revised several times. A large portion of the book is available online HERE.

"There is a story in the Russian Primary Chronicle of how Vladimir, Prince of Kiev, while still a pagan, desired to know which was the true religion, and therefore sent his followers to visit the various countries of the world in turn. They went first to the Moslem Bulgars of the Volga, but observing that these when they prayed gazed around them like men possessed, the Russians continued on their way dissatisfied. 'There is no joy among them,' they reported to Vladimir, 'but mournfulness and a great smell; and there is nothing good about their system.' Traveling next to Germany and Rome, they found the worship more satisfactory, but complained that here too it was without beauty. Finally they journeyed to Constantinople, and here at last, as they attended the Divine Liturgy in the great Church of the Holy Wisdom, they discovered what they desired. 'We knew not whether we were in heaven or on earth, for surely there is no such splendour or beauty anywhere upon earth. We cannot describe it to you: only this we know, that God dwells there among men, and that their service surpasses the worship of all other places. For we cannot forget that beauty.'

"In this story can be seen several features characteristic of Orthodox Christianity. There is first the emphasis upon divine beauty: we cannot forget that beauty. It has seemed to many that the peculiar gift of Orthodox peoples - and especially of Byzantium and Russia - is this power of perceiving the beauty of the spiritual world, and expressing this celestial beauty in their worship.

"In the second place it is characteristic that the Russians should have said, we knew not whether we were in heaven or on earth. Worship, for the Orthodox Church, is nothing else than 'heaven on earth.' The Holy Liturgy is something that embraces two worlds at once, for both in heaven and on earth the Liturgy is one and the same - one altar, one sacrifice, one presence. In every place of worship, however humble its outward appearance, as the faithful gather to perform the Eucharist, they are taken up into the 'heavenly places;' in every place of worship when the Holy Sacrifice is offered, not merely the local congregation are present, but the Church universal - the saints, the angels, the Mother of God, and Christ himself. 'Now the celestial powers are present with us, and worship invisibly' (Words sung at the Great Entrance in the Liturgy of the Pre-sanctified). This we know, that God dwells there among men.

"Orthodox, inspired by this vision of 'heaven on earth,' have striven to make their worship in outward splendour and beauty an icon of the great Liturgy in heaven. In the year 612, on the staff of the Church of the Holy Wisdom, there were 80 priests, 150 deacons, 40 deaconesses, 70 subdeacons, 160 readers, 25 cantors, and 100 doorkeepers: this gives some faint idea of the magnificence of the service which Vladimir's envoys attended. But many who have experienced Orthodox worship under very different outward surroundings have felt, no less than those Russians from Kiev, a sense of God's presence among men. Turn, for example, from the Russian Primary Chronicle to the letter of an Englishwoman, written in 1935:'This morning was so queer. A very grimy and sordid Presbyterian mission hall in a mews over a garage, where the Russians are allowed once a fortnight to have the Liturgy. A very stage property iconostasis and a few modern icons. A dirty floor to kneel on and a form along the wall ... And in this two superb old priests and a deacon, clouds of incense and, at the Anaphora, overwhelming supernatural impression' (The Letters of Evelyn Underhill, p. 2.18).

"There is yet a third characteristic of Orthodoxy which the story of Vladimir's envoys illustrates. When they wanted to discover the true faith, the Russians did not ask about moral rules nor demand a reasoned statement of doctrine, but watched the different nations at prayer. The Orthodox approach to religion is fundamentally a liturgical approach, which understands doctrine in the context of divine worship: it is no coincidence that the word 'Orthodoxy' should signify alike right belief and right worship, for the two things are inseparable. It has been truly said of the Byzantines: 'Dogma with them is not only an intellectual system apprehended by the clergy and expounded to the laity, but a field of vision wherein all things on earth are seen in their relation to things in heaven, first and foremost through liturgical celebration' (G. Every, The Byzantine Patriarchate, first edition, p. 9). In the words of Georges Florovsky: 'Christianity is a liturgical religion. The Church is first of all a worshipping community. Worship comes first, doctrine and discipline second' ('The Elements of Liturgy in the Orthodox Catholic Church,' in the periodical One Church, vol. 13 (New York, 1959), nos. 1-2, p. 24). Those who wish to know about Orthodoxy should not so much read books as follow the sample of Vladimir's retinue and attend the Liturgy. As Philip said to Nathanael: "Come and see" (John 1:46).

"Because they approach religion in this liturgical way, Orthodox often attribute to minute points of ritual an importance which astonishes western Christians. But once we have understood the central place of worship in the life of Orthodoxy, an incident such as the schism of the Old Believers will no longer appear entirely unintelligible: if worship is the faith in action, then liturgical changes cannot be lightly regarded. It is typical that a Russian writer of the fifteenth century, when attacking he Council of Florence, should find fault with the Latins, not for any errors in doctrine, but for their behaviour in worship: 'What have you seen of worth among the Latins? They do not even know how to venerate the church of God. They raise their voices as the fools, and their singing is a discordant wail. They have no idea of beauty and reverence in worship, for they strike trombones, blow horns, use organs, wave their hands, trample with their feet, and do many other irreverent and disorderly things which bring joy to the devil' (Quoted in N. Zernov, Moscow the Third Rome, p. 37; I cite this passage simply as an example of the liturgical approach of Orthodoxy, without necessarily endorsing the strictures on western worship which it contains!).

"Orthodoxy sees man above all else as a liturgical creature who is most truly himself when he glorifies God, and who finds his perfection and self-fulfilment in worship. Into the Holy Liturgy which expresses their faith, the Orthodox peoples have poured their whole religious experience. It is the Liturgy which has inspired their best poetry, art, and music. Among Orthodox, the Liturgy has never become the preserve of the learned and the clergy, as it tended to be in the medieval west, but it has remained popular - the common possession of the whole Christian people: 'The normal Orthodox lay worshipper, through familiarity from earliest childhood, is entirely at home in church, thoroughly conversant with the audible parts of the Holy Liturgy, and takes part with unconscious and unstudied ease in the action of the rite, to an extent only shared in by the hyper-devout and ecclesiastically minded in the west' (Austin Oakley, The Orthodox Liturgy, London, 1958, p. 12).

"In the dark days of their history - under the Mongols, the Turks, or the communists - it is to the Holy Liturgy that the Orthodox peoples have always turned for inspiration and new hope; nor have they turned in vain."

Friday, January 22, 2010

Stratford Caldecott on the boundaries of the Eucharist

Stratford Caldecott is the G.K. Chesterton Research Fellow at Benet's Hall, Oxford, and editor of Second Spring and Sophia Institute Press. In 1996 he co-ordinated an international conference of the Centre for Faith and Culture held at Westminster College, Oxford, on the subject of renewing the Church's liturgical prayer. The papers were subsequently published. The paragraphs below are part of Stratford Caldecott's summing up.

" . . . when the purpose of the sacraments comes to be seen in 'moralistic' terms - as a way of inculcating good behaviour and loyalty to the Church of Rules - people vote with their feet, and flock to the New Age movement, where they will gladly fast, or spend days on their knees reciting mantras, or even learn Sanskrit, for a chance of experiencing a numinous reality beyond the ordinary. In such circumstances, the use of Latin or the reintroduction of traditional devotions to the Blessed Sacrament can help to revive the feeling that what is going on in the Mass is not a banal celebration of the community's solidarity with itself, but the sacred enactment of a ritual with truly cosmic significance - even if the inner meaning of the words and actions does not reveal itself without the accompaniment of silent prayer:

'What you have come to is nothing known to the senses: not a blazing fire, or a gloom turning to total darkness, or a storm; or trumpeting thunder or the great voice speaking which made everyone that heard it beg that no more should be said to them. . . . But what you have come to is Mount Zion and the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem where the millions of angels have gathered for the festival, with the whole Church in which everyone is a "first-born son" and a citizen of heaven'. (Hebrews 12:18-19, 22-23)

"The auguries are therefore good for a widespread revival of Catholic spirituality in the next century [i.e. this century] - perhaps reinvigorated by the expansion of the Church in the Third World, and the development of innumerable new movements and communities from Taizé to Focolare, from Neocatechumenate to the charismatics. Religious consciousness in general is mystical poetic, sensitive to the many-layered meanings of symbolism, aware of the correspondences and analogies which bind the universe together. Catholicism and Orthodoxy provide a home for such a consciousness by being essentially sacramental. Even their ecclesial structures exist for the sake of the sacraments and the spiritual life these are designed to nourish. For this reason, any recovery of religious sensibility must in the long run work in favour of traditional sacramental and liturgical forms, even as it enriches and transforms them.

"For a 'sacramental Christian', the life of Christ is distributed through the Church and throughout the liturgical year. We relive the entire cycle of his self-giving life, death, resurrection and sending of the Spirit. Time and space, drained of meaning by sin and secularism, can he resanctified by Christ's presence, flowing through the sacramental organism of his 'Mystical Body'. By participating in the Mass and the Church's daily prayer, baptised believers are caught up in Christ's sacrifice, so that all we are and do in our daily lives is given to the Father for him to raise from the dead. That fact is what energises, heals and transforms us in the common life of the Christian community."

Stratford Caldecott, ed. Beyond the Prosaic: Renewing the Liturgical Movement (1998), T&T Clark Ltd, Edinburgh, pages 153-154

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Eric Mascall on the boundaries of the Eucharist

"The Eucharistic rite, which is the source and centre of the Church's life, is both a symbol and a foretaste of the gathering of the human race into Christ and the transformation of the material world in him. The conversion of the bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ is the symbol and foretaste of the transformation of the material world; the feeding of Christ's Body the Church with the Eucharistic gifts is the symbol and the foretaste of the gathering of the human race into Christ, for in communion, as St. Augustine says, we are what we receive. But here we must recall a truth . . . namely that, although from one aspect the Church is the ark of salvation in which the saved are protected from the flood outside, from another aspect the Church is not sealed off from the world at all, but is the source from which grace flows into the world to heal and transfigure it. Every time the Eucharist is celebrated, the full, perfect and sufficient sacrifice, oblation and satisfaction which Christ offered throughout his life and on Calvary, and which is now a perpetually efficacious reality in the heavenly realm, is made a present and active power of redemption and sanctification in our world of time and space, and by their sharing in it the members of Christ's Body the Church are sent out to their life in the world renewed and strengthened for their share in the work of the world's transformation."

This quote is from The Christian Universe (1966) by Eric Lionel Mascall OGS (1905 - 1993), a priest of the Church of England, a theologian, Thomist philosopher and prolific writer. His wide-ranging ecumenical involvements gave him influence in both Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox theological circles.

Fr Schmemann on the boundaries of the Eucharist

"The only real fall of man is his non-eucharistic life in a non-eucharistic world . . . Man was to be the priest of a eucharist, offering the world to God, and in this offering he was to receive the gift of life . . . When we see the world as an end in itself, everything becomes itself a value and consequently loses all value, because only in God is found the meaning (value) of everything, and the world is meaningful only when it is the ‘sacrament’ of God’s presence."

- Taken from For the Life of the World, by Fr Alexander Schmemann (1921 - 1983), long-time Dean of Saint Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Mother Maria of Paris on the boundaries of the Eucharist

On January 18, 2004, the Holy Synod of the Ecumenical Patriarchate in Istanbul recognized Mother Maria Skobtsova (1891 - 1945) as a saint along with her son Yuri, the priest who worked closely with her, Fr. Dimitri Klépinin, and her close friend and collaborator Ilya Fondaminsky. All four died in German concentration camps.

For a short but excellent biography of Mother Maria, click

In his article Maria Skobtsova: Woman of Many Faces, Mother in Many Ways, Fr. Michael Plekon says:

"It is not just in the pages of the New Testament that Mother Maria perceives this image of God's self-emptying love, becoming what we pray for the other. For her, it is present and constantly revealed in the Eucharist. Raising the Bread and Cup after the consecration, the celebrant or deacon sings: 'Your own of your own, we offer You, on behalf of all, and for all.'"

He then quotes Mother Maria:
"If ... this sacrificial and self-giving love stands at the centre of the Church's life, what then are its boundaries, its limits? In this sense one can speak of the whole of Christianity as of an eternal offering of a Divine Liturgy beyond church walls ... It means that we must offer the bloodless sacrifice, the sacrifice of self-offering love not only in a specific place, on the one altar of only one temple but that the whole world, in this sense, becomes the one altar of the one Temple - and that we must offer our hearts under the species of bread and wine, so that they may be transformed into Christ's love, that he may abide in them, that they may become hearts of Godmanhood, and that he would give these hearts of ours as food for the world, that he would commune the whole world with these sacrificed hearts of ours, in order that we would be one with him, that we not live but Christ would live in us, incarnate in our flesh ... " ("Types")

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

"Then I too, with time, came to realize..." - Pope Benedict

Priests are often caught between rigorism and laxity in the administration of the sacraments, especially in this post-christian age when many nominal church members appear to have merely a "cultural" attachment to the faith community and the sacraments. Here are some moving words on this subject from Pope Benedict's talk to the clergy of Bressanone diocese on 6th August, 2008:

When I was younger I was rather severe. I said: the sacraments are sacraments of faith, and where faith does not exist, where the practice of faith does not exist, the Sacrament cannot be conferred either. And then I always used to talk to my parish priests when I was Archbishop of Munich: here too there were two factions, one severe and one broad-minded. Then I too, with time, came to realize that we must follow, rather, the example of the Lord, who was very open even with people on the margins of Israel of that time. He was a Lord of mercy, too open - according to many official authorities - with sinners, welcoming them or letting them invite him to their dinners, drawing them to him in his communion.

Therefore I would say substantially that the sacraments are naturally sacraments of faith: when there is no element of faith, when First Communion is no more than a great lunch with beautiful clothes and beautiful gifts, it can no longer be a sacrament of faith. Yet, on the other hand, if we can still see a little flame of desire for communion in the faith, a desire even in these children who want to enter into communion with Jesus, it seems to me that it is right to be rather broad-minded. Naturally, of course, one purpose of our catechesis must be to make children understand that Communion, First Communion is not a "fixed" event, but requires a continuity of friendship with Jesus, a journey with Jesus.

I know that children often have the intention and desire to go to Sunday Mass but their parents do not make this desire possible. If we see that children want it, that they have the desire to go, this seems to me almost a sacrament of desire, the "will" to participate in Sunday Mass. In this sense, we naturally must do our best in the context of preparation for the sacraments to reach the parents as well, and thus to - let us say - awaken in them too a sensitivity to the journey in which their child is involved. They should help their children to follow their own desire to enter into friendship with Jesus, which is a form of life, of the future. If parents want their children to be able to make their First Communion, this somewhat social desire must be extended into a religious one, to make a journey with Jesus possible.

I would say, therefore, in the context of the catechesis of children, that work with parents is very important. And this is precisely one of the opportunities to meet with parents, making the life of faith also present to the adults, because, it seems to me, they themselves can relearn the faith from the children and understand that this great solemnity is only meaningful, true and authentic if it is celebrated in the context of a journey with Jesus, in the context of a life of faith. Thus, one should endeavour to convince parents, through their children, of the need for a preparatory journey that is expressed in participation in the mysteries and that begins to make these mysteries loved.

I would say that this is definitely an inadequate answer, but the pedagogy of faith is always a journey and we must accept today's situations. Yet, we must also open them to something more, so that the result is not only an external memory of things that endures but that their hearts have truly been touched. The moment when we are convinced the heart is touched - it has felt a little of Jesus' love, it has felt a little the desire to move along these lines and in this direction. That is the moment when, it seems to me, we can say that we have made a true catechesis. The proper meaning of catechesis, in fact, should be this: to bring the flame of Jesus' love, even if it is a small one, to the hearts of children, and through the children to their parents, thus reopening the places of faith of our time.

Thursday, January 14, 2010


Following yesterday's post, it seems appropriate to share with you this article written nine years ago by Father Michael Harper on the Christian attitude towards death. It is from the website of the Orthodox Research Institute (go HERE).

Late last month [i.e. January, 2001] the Antiochian Deanery in Britain lost its first Priest, when Father John Nield passed away after a long illness. Within a few days we were remembering the centenary of the death of Queen Victoria, and much was written and said about the Victorian age. One commentator said that the Victorians learnt to "celebrate death". If that is true, then it is a lesson we could well re-discover in the new millennium.

In October a train travelling from London to Leeds was de-railed near Hatfield. Sadly four people were killed. Politicians joined others in throwing their brickbats, and the word "unacceptable" was used ad nauseam by all and sundry. For several months the railways suffered almost rigor mortis. Fear of another accident spread through the system, and trains were reduced to crawling from station to station. It was an extraordinary response.

Of course, there was some substance in the fact that the rail track had deteriorated and needed a great deal of repairing. But at the back of the whole experience was the unacceptability of accidents or the taking of risks, in case of death.

In the same period we have read a lot about the newly discovered dangers of flying. I don't mean the weather, human error or metal fatigue. I mean so called DVT, or deep vein thrombosis. We learnt of all the people being taken off planes at Heathrow and dying quickly of a blood clot to the brain. Having myself travelled a great deal over the years, with some flights lasting over 24 hours, I wonder what I have been spared from! A cartoon appeared in the Evening Standard at the time of a rear gunner in a Lancaster bomber flying over Germany during World War 2. Lines of German fighters are queuing up to shoot at it, and tracer bullets streak across the night sky. He speaks to a colleague gunner, "of course what really scares me is DVT".

Which leads me on to the Kosovo conflict. One was amazed to read of the fear the Americans had of casualties. It was reliably reported that the American public would only accept five or six body bags. Their Air Force would have to be withdrawn if there were more. Last year we remembered the 60th anniversary of the Battle of Britain. No fighter pilot went into action in the summer of 1940 without being very clear that death was a likely possibility.

So in travelling by train or by air, and fighting in a war, death is "unacceptable".

What a contrast with the message of Christ, the apostles and the example of the martyrs! In the Divine Liturgy there is a moment when the Priest draws the curtain, opens the royal doors and sings the initial blessing. It is this moment that the philosopher Prince Evgeny Trubetskoy remembered as he lay dying. Just as he died he cried out, "the royal doors are opening! The Great Liturgy is about to begin." That is a true celebration of death! Bishop Kallistos in his article about death ("Go Joyfully") quotes from the British composer of the last century Ralph Vaughan Williams. When asked "what does the future life mean to you?" he replied: "Music. But in the next world I shan't be doing music. . . I shall be being it". The Bishop adds the words of T S Eliot, "you are the music while the music lasts" and concludes, "in heaven the music lasts for ever."

Another well known 20th Century artist, who, like the composer, had his roots in Victorian Britain, the writer Rudyard Kipling, wrote a poem about death which includes these lines - "And only the Master shall praise us; and only the Master shall blame; And no one will work for money, and no one shall work for fame."

There he hits on our modern problem - money and fame. Maybe one of the major reasons why death is not mentioned, let alone celebrated in our modern western world, is that so many seem to live for money and fame - and you can't take any of that with you.

St Maximos the Confessor put it well when he wrote, "for every humble person is gentle, and every gentle person is invariably humble. A person is humble when he knows that his very being is on loan to him". There it is in a nutshell. It is true that life is the gift of God, but it is also His loan to us. We should never think of it as a permanent state.

Certainly St Paul didn't. He describes vividly in his Epistles the risks he took in proclaiming the Gospel. He knew that the loan of his life might be claimed by God at any moment. He does write of death as an enemy (1 Corinthians 15:55-57). It was not God's original plan for mankind. He quotes the questions of the prophet Hosea about death - "where is your victory. . . where is your sting?" Hosea has no answers, but St Paul did - "the sting of death is sin" he explains, "and the power of sin is the law." Then comes the words which have reverberated at thousands of funerals, "Thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ!"

Tuesday, January 12, 2010


I heard from a friend that Father Michael Harper died on the Feast of the Theophany (Jan. 6 i.e. Western "Epiphany"). He began his ecclesial life as an evangelical. It was while he was a curate at All Souls' Langham Place that he underwent his pentecostal experience of the Holy Spirit. Subsequently he became an early pioneer of charismatic renewal in the U.K., and, indeed, around the world.

I first met Father Michael during his initial visit to Australia when I was a student. He came as a speaker to our ecumenical prayer group at the University of Sydney. Subsequently, when I was Dean of Vision College (part of The Temple Trust which organised the large charismatic renewal conferences around Australia through the 1970s), I observed "close up" in Fr Michael a truly humble man of the utmost integrity with a deep reality in his walk with God. His friendships traversed the breadth of Christian traditions, and he triggered off many vocations to ministry in all of them!

His advice to us back then was to try to integrate ALL of what the Father has revealed in Christ through the Holy Spirit. This included Church and sacraments, local and real expressions of Christian community, and a concern for the sanctified life . . . that is, not just the "charismatic gifts." So, given the disintegration of the Anglican Way, I was not surprised by Father Michael's eventual journey to Orthodoxy. His crisis of faith in the Church of England over the ordination of women and related issues is told in his book, Equal and Different. His embracing of the East in the context of his previous life and ministry is movingly recounted in The True Light. (All told, he wrote eighteen books.)

At the time of my consecration in 2005 I received an encouraging note from him.

Until recently, Father Michael was the Dean of the Antiochian Deanery of the United Kingdom and Ireland, and pastor of St. Botolph Antiochian Orthodox Church in London. He was also one of the founding directors of the The Institute for Orthodox Christian Studies Cambridge. His passion to proclaim the good news of God made manifest in Christ propelled him throughout his life. Indeed, one of the last things he did in public in late November - against rising ill-health - was to put down on video the last of three talks he has contributed to the outreach program, The Way, on central aspects of the Orthodox Christian Faith.

I will remember this man with thanksgiving at the altar of God, and pray for Jeanne whose ministry blended so beautifully with his.

Thank you, Lord Jesus, for Father Michael, and for your love which radiated through him.

Go HERE to read Professor David Frost's announcement of Father Michael's death.

Go HERE to read an article on Father Michael's ministry as Dean of the Antiochian Deanery in Great Britain (written last year to mark his retirement).

Sunday, January 10, 2010


It is wrong to see the Baptism of Jesus as a mere "gesture of humility" . . . you know, "'he was like us in all things except sin,' but he would nonetheless take on the mantle of a sinner, in order to identify with us."

Baptism at the hands of St John the Baptist is the opening scene of Jesus' public ministry. The Father calls out from heaven, "This is my beloved Son."

We have here a THEOPHANY, a Manifestation, a revelation of Jesus as God. Sealing this as a Trinitarian moment, the Holy Spirit descends on Jesus. The sacred humanity of Jesus is "anointed" by the Holy Spirit (see today's second reading), and in in the power of that anointing Jesus went about healing all who were "oppressed by the devil."

The same anointing flows from Jesus, the Head, over the members of his Body, the Church, so that his loving, caring, healing ministry may continue to reach those around us in deepest need. Are you open to being filled afresh with the Holy Spirit? Now, that's something to think about at the start of 2010!

Look at how Luke recounts the Lord's baptism: "And when all the people were baptised, and when Jesus also had been baptised and was praying . . ."

That reference to Jesus praying is quite typical of Luke, who shows us how Jesus prayed at every key moment of his life and mninistry. But look also at this: suddenly, "the heaven was opened, and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form, as a dove."

Then God the Father speaks to Jesus (and we are allowed to overhear), "You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased."

This amazing Trinitarian picture is something of a lens through which Luke intends us to read the rest of his Gospel on most Sundays of this liturgical year).

St Hippolytus (c.170 - 236)

That Jesus should come and be baptized by John is surely cause for amazement. To think of the infinite river that gladdens the city of God being bathed in a poor little stream of the eternal, the unfathomable fountainhead that gives life to all men being immersed in the shallow waters of this transient world!

He who fills all creation, leaving no place devoid of his presence, he who is incomprehensible to the angels and hidden from the sight of man, came to be baptized because it was his will. And behold, the heavens opened and a voice said: "This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased."

The beloved Father begets love, and spiritual light generates light inaccessible. In his divine nature he is my only Son, though he was known as the son of Joseph. This is my beloved Son. Though hungry himself, he feeds thousands; though weary, he refreshes those who labor. He has no place to lay his head yet holds all creation in his hand. By his passion [inflicted on him by others], he frees us from the passions [unleashed by our disobedience]; by receiving a blow on the cheek he gives the world its liberty; by being pierced in the side he heals the wound of Adam.

I ask you now to pay close attention, for I want to return to that fountain of life and contemplate its healing waters at their source.

The Father of immortality sent his immortal Son and Word into the world; he came to us men to cleanse us with water and the Spirit. To give us a new birth that would make our bodies and souls immortal, he breathed into us the spirit of life and armed us with incorruptibility. Now if we become immortal, we shall also be divine; and if we become divine after rebirth in baptism through water and the Holy Spirit, we shall also be coheirs with Christ after the resurrection of the dead.

Therefore, in a herald's voice I cry: Let peoples of every nation come and receive the immortality that flows from baptism. This is the water that is linked to the Spirit, the water that irrigates Paradise, makes the earth fertile, gives growth to plants, and brings forth living creatures. In short, this is the water by which a man receives new birth and life, the water in which even Christ was baptized, the water into which the Holy Spirit descended in the form of a dove.

Whoever goes down into these waters of rebirth with faith renounces the devil and pledges himself to Christ. He repudiates the enemy and confesses that Christ is God, throws off his servitude, and is raided to filial status. He comes up from baptism resplendent as the sun, radiant in his purity, but above all, he comes as a son of God and a coheir with Christ. To him and to his most holy and life-giving Spirit be glory and power now and for ever. Amen.

This is part of a sermon on the Epiphany by St Hippolytus
(nn. 2.6-8 10: PG 10, 854. 858-859. 862)

Friday, January 8, 2010

Monsignor Graham Leonard R.I.P.

"A new Athanasius" is how we referred to Graham Leonard in the 1980s during the heat of the battle over the purported ordination of women to the priesthood and episcopate. He visited Australia (including the Diocese of Ballarat), and inspired many of us in our attempt to maintain Christian orthodoxy in the face of the so-called "liberal" movements besetting the Anglican world.

The best obituary so far is in The Times (see below).

Fr Hunwicke speaks for so many when he says on his blog:
"I doubt whether very many bishops, of whatever Church, will, upon their deaths, elicit such an avalanche of heart-felt tributes as will Graham Leonard, Bishop in the Church of God . . . There will be very many priests, both present and former Anglicans, all over England who will be saying his Requiem with the prayers pro defuncto episcopo."

Go HERE to download a pdf of Let God be God, the booklet on feminism and inclusive language Graham Leonard authored with Peter Toon and Iain MacKenzie back in 1989.

The Right Rev Mgr Graham Leonard:
Bishop of London, 1981-91
Graham Leonard wanted above all to be a teacher and a pastor, and so he was.
Circumstances also made him a bishop at the battlefront during the 40 bitter years when the Oxford Movement seemed finally to be unravelling.

Graham Douglas Leonard was born in 1921, son of a liberal evangelical vicar, but educated in strict evangelical fashion at Monkton Combe, where he learnt the loyalty, honesty and straight thinking that made him the man he later became. In 1940 he went to Oxford and read botany at Balliol. He took a shortened wartime degree course before being commissioned in the Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry. At new year 1943 he married Priscilla Swann, a brilliant fellow-student from the Oxford botany school. It was a marriage of great and enduring happiness.

During duty at courts martial he began to understand the workings of law. Unlike many bishops he was never cowed by lawyers and regarded them with a detached smile. After the war he went to Westcott House, Cambridge, where he applied his scientific training to theology. By now he had a fully developed Catholic faith, but in 1947 he was ordained as curate to a middle-of-the-road Cambridge parish, where many of the parishioners worked in the Pye Radio factory. Moving quickly through two rural curacies, he became vicar of Ardleigh in 1952.

Three years later Bishop Gresford Jones made him director of education for St Albans Diocese.

From 1958 he was also secretary of the Church of England Board of Education Schools Council, establishing a concern for education that would later lead him to serve the Church with distinction in the General Synod and in the House of Lords. In 1962 he became Archdeacon of Hampstead and two years later, at the age of 43, Bishop of Willesden.

For the next nine years he was effectively Bishop of North London. Bishops were then still experimenting with ways of getting closer to their people, and Leonard worked out a pattern of pastoral visiting that he maintained throughout his career. All of Wednesday from lunchtime onwards was spent in one parish, and all of Sunday until lunch was over was spent in another. The Eucharist was the central point of each visit, and most confirmations took place at these eucharists. The bishop was no longer a visitor for special occasions but maintained constant personal connections throughout the diocese. Ordinary lay people felt they knew him well.

He actively promoted the division of the unwieldy London diocese into three area bishoprics. Personable and capable, he was also in demand for chairmanships, not least of the Mothers’ Union’s discussions about its response to the emerging revolution in family life. This particular work he found exacting and finally disappointing, because the discussions concluded with decisions that gave impetus to the Church of England’s relaxation of its marriage disciplines.

Anglo-Catholics quickly took him as their spokesman in the debate on Anglican-Methodist union that dominated the Church of England in the late 1960s. The most serious flaw in the scheme was its ambiguity about the unification of the Anglican and Methodist ministries. The formula proposed for this action was deliberately unclear as to whether or not the Methodist ministers were being ordained anew as Anglican priests. Leonard pointed out that this called into question wider theological issues — a point that eventually proved to be the rock on which the scheme foundered in May 1972.

Feelings ran very high and some angrily gave him more blame than he was due. Growing into Unity, the book he wrote with his old friend Eric Mascall and the two leading evangelicals, J. D. Packer and Colin Buchanan (later Bishop of Woolwich), was given less attention than it deserved, though it sowed some of the seeds that contributed to the Churches Together movement that is now bearing fruit.

Cornwall was famous for its Methodist majority so there were some critics of Leonard’s appointment as Bishop of Truro in 1973. They need not have worried. He quickly built warm relations with Cornwall’s Methodists, who responded to his vigorous scriptural and spiritual teaching, and enjoyed the respect he gave them. Few diocesan bishops can have met local Methodist leaders so often.

This was perhaps the happiest time in his life as a bishop. He responded enthusiastically to all that was “Celtic” (the word was still acceptable among historians at that time) in the Duchy. He created an ecumenical advisory group to encourage use of the Cornish language in public worship.

Yet he never completely accepted the cult of “Celtic spirituality” and, though he saw its benefits for the tourist industry, he was well aware that there was no evidence for it in Cornish sources. The Cornish responded warmly to his habit of pointing himself and others straight to God: Leonard’s Cornwall was a prayerful diocese. His personal religion had a distinct charismatic element, most evident in his care for charismatics and those with charismatic gifts, especially healers.

Truro had much in common with other rural dioceses at the edges of England. It had never expected to be a trailblazer, and clergy stipends were depressingly low. One of Leonard’s first objectives was to bring them up to the national average. Some regarded this as an unrealistic challenge, but he quickly succeeded and so cemented his unity with his clergy families.

In the days of “Sheffield figures” — the first attempt to ration clergy numbers according to local need — he strove to get recognition of the vastly different needs of summer and winter populations in Cornwall, but the point scarcely registered in Westminster.

Leonard was surprisingly well read in poetry, and delighted in cats and children. Yet he and Priscilla were no more than moderately happy in Lis Escop, the see house. It had been built during the 1960s in a beautiful setting above the Fal at Trelissick, but was glumly designed, more like an institution than a home and hard to reach, seven miles outside the city and a long walk from a country bus stop. Priscilla nevertheless produced a worthy Cornish garden, and they both enjoyed finding rare fungi and orchids in the woods, which rang with happiness when the grandchildren arrived. He revelled in music, especially Elgar and impromptu recorder consorts.

He overworked shamefully. As chairman successively of the General Synod Boards of Education and (from 1976) of Social Responsibility he had to travel to London on England’s slowest main line.

His stance on ethical questions was always to seek a firm scriptural and theological basis, then produce a moderate expression of traditional principles. His pastoral care in cases of difficulty was deeply compassionate; though he might be exasperated by the ideas of more radical bishops, he often acted very much as they did in specific cases.

His ecumenical involvement also demanded travel. He was a member of the Commission for Anglican/Orthodox Joint Doctrinal Discussions, which he enjoyed, though they were not very productive. In 1975 he attended the fifth Assembly of the World Council of Churches in Nairobi as an elected delegate of the Church of England. From 1977 he was closely involved in the ill-fated Covenanting for Unity debates of 1982, when he again became the standard-bearer of Anglo-Catholic reluctance.

He happily ordained women deacons and constantly encouraged women to use their gifts of spiritual direction and theology, but he earned enmity once again for his negative approach to the ordination of women as priests. Only those who were very close to him knew how often and with what agony he reappraised his position. It would have been a relief to him if he could have taken the majority view, and he understood his opponents far better than they thought.

Emotional considerations powerfully fuelled the debate, but both sides had strong rational arguments. For Leonard the most important intellectual argument was fundamentally ecumenical.

As an Anglo-Catholic he could not justify the comparatively small Anglican Communion abandoning its own claim to be regarded as a Catholic Church by ignoring pleas from the great Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Churches, which opposed the innovation of women priests. The question dominated every part of church life for two unhappy decades and was not settled until 1992, after Leonard had retired.

Appointment as Bishop of London in 1981 reduced his travelling, but was itself controversial. Though much of the diocese wanted him eagerly, liberals, especially more radical leaders, feared him. There were stories of irregularity about his appointment, but all were denied by Lambeth and Downing Street, and they simmered down before his memorably happy enthronement in St Paul’s.

Now directly responsible for pastoral care of the cities of London and Westminster only, Leonard kept up his regular visits to parishes, never losing touch with the laity. He believed he had also helped the growth of affectionate relationships between the cathedral and the rest of the diocese.

Though he was poles apart in theology from Alan Webster, the Dean of St Paul’s, they developed a personal relationship that led the bishop to boast he was the first Bishop of London to be given the key of the cathedral back door. His appointments, as at Truro, continued to surprise. They were often impulsive, sometime brilliant, sometimes disappointing, rarely dull.

His house was very close to the House of Lords. He enjoyed his duties there, though he began to tire of the flummery. He had sympathy for the Conservative Government, but surprised many by opposing it on housing and on the fate of the Greater London Council. His theological view would always override any purely political allegiance. In discussions on the Education Act he played a leading part in solving questions about religious education, for which he was much praised in Church and Parliament, although he was attacked for giving too much respect to non-Christian religions.

Some of his closest friends were perplexed by the Tulsa Affair in 1988. A priest in Tulsa, Oklahoma, who claimed that the American Episcopal Church had ejected him because of his traditional theology, asked Leonard for episcopal care. Leonard’s response was negative at first, but within a year he was convinced that there had been an injustice.

Since the congregation had been dismissed from the Episcopal Church, Leonard thought he was free to act. He met the Bishop of Oklahoma, who thought otherwise. Leonard proposed to go to Tulsa and confirm some candidates who had been prepared for that sacrament. The Archbishop of Canterbury showed distress, but gave no decision. Leonard conducted the confirmation. Nothing further happened; but the essential fragility of Anglican unity had shown itself.

At 70 Leonard retired from London to his house in Witney, Oxfordshire.

Meanwhile, the liberalisation of the Church of England showed every sign of going farther. Once off the battlefield, he could view the situation more dispassionately. He had been reading revisionist historians of the Reformation and, though convinced of the validity of his own ordinations, he began to reassess the fundamental theory of Anglo-Catholicism. He concluded that Anglicanism was not an ecclesial organism, and could never be other than a Tudor political device. In 1993 he became the first diocesen bishop of the Church of England to “cross the Tiber”.

Several hundred Church of England priests were for similar reasons poised to take the same route, or had already taken it. Few were directly influenced by him; his part in the acceptance of many of them for Catholic ordination was probably more important. As Bishop of London he had long been a friend of Cardinal Hume, who now stimulated Rome to positive action.

These priests were ordained unconditionally, but Leonard himself was ordained conditionally, with due regard to the Old Catholic element in the ordination pedigree of modern Church of England bishops. The ordination took place in the chapel of Archbishop’s House, Westminster, early in 1994.

Despite his residence in Oxfordshire, he had the status of a retired priest of the Westminster archdiocese. Cardinal Ratzinger became something of a friend. Leonard was quickly immersed in a hefty programme of talks and retreat addresses in various countries.

His teaching was if anything more appreciated than it had been in the happiest of his Anglican years. Like most others who entered the Catholic priesthood from the Church of England at that time, he was soon talking of his new sense of liberation.

In 2001 he was made a Prelate of Honour with the style of Monsignor, in recognition of many years’ service to the Christian religion in England.

Soon afterward his health began to falter. Although he had ceased travelling, and did less work outside local parishes, he retained his many friends and was serenely content.

He is survived by his wife and two sons.

The Right Rev Monsignor Graham Leonard, Bishop of London, 1981-91, was born on May 8, 1921. He died on January 6, 2010, aged 88.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

THE EPIPHANY OF THE LORD - A meditation from Taizé

The following is a meditation Brother Alois of Taizé wrote last year
for the newspaper "La Croix".

Christmas sets before us a humble event that took place one day in Bethlehem. Epiphany shows us that this event has a universal and even a cosmic dimension. The Wise Men are guided by a star and represent all peoples, all cultures.

Today we would like to understand how the light of Christ can enlighten all people. To achieve this, like the Wise Men we must leave our habits and some of our beliefs behind. We must leave ourselves behind, bending down and entering the stable. Any other attitude would cause us to miss the God who humbled himself to the point of being born in a hidden place.

Let us spend time with them. May our prayer, before being petition, be, like theirs, adoration. When we look towards the light of Christ, it gradually becomes an inward light and the mystery of Christ becomes the mystery of our own lives as well.

The spirit of adoration is not easy in a world where immediate results matter so much, where the mere thought of a long process of maturation arouses impatience. As for the Wise Men, a journey is necessary to allow us simply to remain in the presence of God. In long silences where nothing seems to happen, God is at work in us, without our knowing how.

[Our] stained-glass window of the Epiphany shows the Wise Men adoring the Child. Let us look at that child to understand who God is. Let us consider the extreme humility of God. Let us see that, as a poor child, he comes to beg for our love! And let us see too that he restores human dignity to those who have lost it.

To adore means to discern the presence of God. God is present in his Word (at the recent Synod of Bishops in Rome, the "sacramental" character of the Bible was recalled). God is present in the Eucharist. Christians of the East know that icons also lead us into communion with God. God is present in the humble events of our lives. And the Gospel insists: God lets himself be found among the poorest of the poor.

Adoration means turning away from ourselves to look towards God. If our own concerns take up all the room, how can the obstacles that cover over the source of life set within us by God be removed?

The Wise Men express their adoration by an offering. The prayer of adoration leads us to offer the best of ourselves to God and to others. It leads us to make our life a gift for those who are entrusted to us.

It is true that some suffer too much and no longer have the strength to worship God. We must have respect and compassion without limits for such people. But if the Gospel asks us to look beyond ourselves, it is in order to keep hope alive, even for those who are unable to hope any longer.

Christians of the East may feel an attitude of adoration before the mystery of God more spontaneously than Westerners do. I had that experience recently. In early December, the death of the Orthodox Patriarch of Moscow, Alexy II, touched our hearts. I had met him, and he told me he wanted to deepen cooperation with Taizé. I went to his funeral with two of my brothers.

During the celebrations in Moscow, I said to myself: we have such a need to open ourselves to the treasures bequeathed to Eastern Christianity. One of the secrets of the soul of Eastern Christians lies in a prayer of adoration where God's goodness becomes tangible. This prayer allows access to the mysteries of the faith: the incarnation of Christ, his resurrection, the presence of the Holy Spirit in the Church. And it is from these mysteries that Christians of the East draw a sense of the greatness of the human being. God became man so that humanity might participate in his divinity; every human being is called to be transfigured with Christ already here on earth.

Could our liturgies, without in any way neglecting the communal dimension, lead to more adoration, to inwardness, to a personal communion with God?

In the East, the Epiphany is called Theophany, "appearance of God." The liturgical tradition links the story of the Wise Men, the baptism of Jesus and the water changed into wine at Cana, since they are, at the beginning of the Gospels, three moments when the secret of Christ is revealed: letting the compassion of God shine forth in our humanity.

In coming to earth, Jesus manifested God's love for all people, for all nations. He inscribed God's "yes" in the depths of the human condition. God welcomes all of us just as we are, with what is good, but also with our shadows, and even our defects. We learn to accept that we are poor. And from that moment on, we cannot despair either of the world or of ourselves.

Friday, January 1, 2010

MARY, MOTHER OF GOD - New Year's Day

Commissioned for St Mary's Cathedral, Sydney,
"Our Lady of the Southern Cross, Help of Christians",
was painted by Paul Newton.

Happy New Year, everybody!

I hope and pray all readers of this blog will know the blessing of God throughout 2010. May the Lord Jesus be precious to you, and may his holy Mother ("Mother of all her Son's people") and all the Saints (our prayer partners in glory) intercede for you.
The following is a portion of the most famous homily on Our Lady from ancient times. It was given by St Cyril of Alexandria in the Church of St Mary at Ephesus between 23 and 27 June 431, while the third Ecumenical Council was in session there. This Council, at which St Cyril presided as papal delegate, solemnly recognized Mary's title of Theotokos, "God-bearer" or "Mother of God", which was, of course, not initially concerned with Mary at all, but with making a clear statement about the true humanity and the true divinity of Jesus.

Mary, Mother of God, we salute you. Precious vessel, worthy of the whole world's reverence, you are an ever-shining light, the crown of virginity, the symbol of orthodoxy, an indestructible temple, the place that held him whom no place can contain, mother and virgin. Because of you the holy gospels could say: Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.

We salute you, for in your holy womb he, who is beyond all limitation, was confined. Because of you the holy Trinity is glorified and adored; the cross is called precious and is venerated throughout the world; the heavens exult; the angels and archangels make merry; demons are put to flight; the devil, that tempter, is thrust down from heaven; the fallen race of man is taken up on high; all creatures possessed by the madness of idolatry have attained knowledge of the truth; believers receive holy baptism; the oil of gladness is poured out; the Church is established throughout the world; pagans are brought to repentance.

What more is there to say? Because of you the light of the only-begotten Son of God has shone upon those who sat in darkness and in the shadow of death; prophets pronounced the word of God; the apostles preached salvation to the Gentiles; the dead are raised to life, and kings rule by the power of the holy Trinity.

Who can put Mary's high honour into words? She is both mother and virgin. I am overwhelmed by the wonder of this miracle. Of course no one could be prevented from living in the house he had built for himself, yet who would invite mockery by asking his own servant to become his mother?

Behold then the joy of the whole universe. Let the union of God and man in the Son of the Virgin Mary fill us with awe and adoration. Let us fear and worship the undivided Trinity as we sing the praise of the ever-virgin Mary, the holy temple of God, and of God himself, her Son and spotless Bridegroom. To him be glory for ever and ever. Amen.