Whatever He says to you, do it…

14079488_956128121181775_2199654917015969656_nToday is the Feast of the Dormition of God. Christian groups who do not worship liturgically, may not recognise the name, even Christians who worship liturgically may not know it either, as this feast is known as the Assumption of Mary in the West.

The story behind is that the Angel Gabriel visited Mary the Mother of Jesus, who was living in Jerusalem, being cared for by the Apostle John since the death and resurrection of her Son. The Angel told her that in three days she would die and go to Heaven. Mary asked for one thing before that time: that the Apostles, her Son’s closest friends should visit her. Miraculously this happened, with the exception of Thomas, who was apparently held up.

With all the Apostles there, Mary prepared herself and died. She was buried. Three days later Thomas finally arrived. Thomas wanted to pay his last respects, so it was decided to exhume her body. The grave was opened and to the shock of all the Apostles ( and no doubt anyone else there at the time) the grave was empty. There was no sign that the grave had been interfered with and the Apostles began to understand that not only had Jesus taken His Mother’s Spirit when she died but a short time after, He had taken her body to heaven to be with Him.

Interestingly the Dormition Feast (Dormition by the way means “falling asleep”, Assumption means “being taken into Heaven”) is at the end of the Church Year.

Why is that interesting, you ask?

Well, the Church Year begins with the Nativity of the Mother of God

To put it another way, the Church Year begins with the birth of Mary and ends with her death.

So what?

Well I will explain why, shortly.

Firstly let me point out something else that the Dormition Feast points to. Apparently, so I am told, people in Wales who have a strong Christian Faith are sometimes referred to as “Second Comers” because they have a strong belief that Jesus will return again. The fact is that anyone who attends a Liturgically minded Church bears witness to the belief of the Second Coming of Christ. The Nicene Creed, sometimes called the Symbol of Faith, or even just The Creed states very clearly about Christ, that “He will come again to judge the living and the dead and of His Kingdom there will be no end”. The Nicene Creed is said, in either of its two forms, on Sundays by about 95% of all Christians.

The reality is that it is not just fundamentalist Christians who are “Second Comers” but also those who worship in more main stream churches.

What has this to do with the Dormition of the Mother of God? Well, when Mary died, Jesus took her spirit to be with Him-take a look at the icon, that small person in swaddling clothes is Mary’s spirit being taken to Heaven. A few days later, Jesus came back and took her body to be with Him. The only event is prophetic, reminding us that not only will we die but that Christ will return and take our bodies to be with Him in Heaven (1 Cor…….). The Dormition Feast occurs at the end of the Church Year and Christ will return at the End of the Age.. The Feast of the Dormition is a Feast of Hope for all Christians.

Apart from this blessed hope what else is the significance of Mary’s Dormition being at the end of the Church Year and her nativity at the beginning?

Well, have you noticed how May is there all through the Gospels? Quietly, not saying much she is there is the background.

Let me show you…..

  1. The Annunciation; Luke 1 v26ff. The Orthodox Church believes that it was at this point that the Holy Spirit came on Mary and she conceived Jesus. Icons of Annunciation sometimes have a small icon of Jesus where Mary’s womb is to indicate this.

  2. The Birth of Jesus-Mary had carried Jesus in her womb for nine months and who is Jesus? Colossians 1 v 16,17 gives a vivid description, and this person restricted Himself to Mary’s womb for Nine Months! Those of you who have been pregnant, what was it like to carry your children? Awesome, yes? Imagine that Child in your womb is God?

  3. His Dedication to God: Luke 2 v22ff nb vv33-35, Mary and Joseph were both there.

  4. Bar Mitzvah-Luke 2 v 43 ff Mary brought Him up to worship God, she was with Him through out His Childhood v53, but look carefully v 50…..

  5. The Start of His Ministry: Luke 4 v 16ff-Mary had brought Him up to worship God so it is reasonable assumption that Mary was there that day

  1. His first miracle-John 2=notice Mary’s involvement, and what she says to the people and to her Son

  1. At the foot of the Cross: Jn 19 v25ff-how do you think Mary felt? Those of you who have had children, how would you have felt if that had been you, seeing your only Son put to death like that? And then think of the promises that Mary had had from God? In the Orthodox Church we have a type of hymn called Stavrotheotikon. They are only sung at Vespers on Tuesday and Thursday evening. Why then? Because they are a meditation on Mary at the Foot of the Cross. Wednesdays and Fridays are Fast Days which commemorate, on Wednesday Judas’ Betrayal of Jesus and on Friday, Our Lord’s Crucifixion. The Liturgical day begins at Dusk on the evening before, so at the first services of the Wednesday and Friday (which is Vespers of Tuesday and Thursday respectfully), days of fasting we remember and think about how Mary felt at Lord’s Betrayal and Death

  2. Day of Pentecost Acts 1 vv12-14

    Thus we see that Mary walks with us through the Gospels, she does not say a lot-but she thinks deeply and when she does speak it is to intercede with her Son.

Next time you read the Gospels, remember that Mary is there by your side, interceding with Her son for you and says to you: “Whatever He says to you, do it.”

Mary in the Church

The Church picked up on this, that Mary walks through the Gospels with us, and brought it into the Church’s Day-to-day life. The Church Year beginning soon begins with the Nativity of Mary, the Mother of God. It ends with her Falling Asleep and being taken to Heaven. The Beginning and the End

Remember that as Mary walks with us through the Gospels and through the Church Year, she says to us: “Whatever He says to you, do it.”

Children and Servants

A Muslim judge once invited a monk to his home, treated him to dinner and asked:
– Please tell me, kind man. I’m a Muslim and try to live according to the law. I judge fairly, I don’t take bribes, I feed the poor, I pray, I fast. I try to live righteously and do everything according to the will of God. Will I really not inherit the Heavenly Kingdom?
And the monk answered:
– Tell me dear, do you have children?
– I do, – answered the judge.
– How about servants?
– And servants too of course!
– Then tell me, who obeys you more, the servants or your children?
– The servants, the servants of course. They catch my every word; they try to please me in every way. But my children can be stubborn; sometimes they don’t listen and go off on their own will.
– But tell me, when you die, who will you give all of your inheritance to, your children or the servants?
– To my children of course! – exclaimed the judge.
– The same it is with the Kingdom of Heaven. You can be an ideal servant, but only the sons receive the inheritance. And the only way to become a son is through Jesus Christ.

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Wherefore thou art no more a servant, but a son; and if a son, then an heir of God through Christ (Galatians 4:7).
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O Lord, teach us to pray…..

O Lord, teach us to pray…..

I grew up in what is a large village in Essex. The name doesn’t matter, but unlike many other villages, the Parish Church was not in the middle of the community. The reason for that was very simple: when the railway had reached the village in the late nineteenth century, the plan had been to build the station near the Church, unfortunately the geography of the village did not allow this and instead the station was built about a mile away down the railway line, at the other end of the village, with the result that the development that the railway’s arrival stimulated happened away from where historically the village epicentre had been. History had provided the village with three non-conformist chapels and I was sent to Sunday School by my parents in one of these.

The particular chapel was not the nearest to where we lived-that particular chapel was to play a part in my life later on-but the middle one, in those days it was called the Congregational Church (later on the United Reformed Church). The only reason I can surmise that we were sent there was because my mother had been brought up in the Church of Scotland-her parents were both from Aberdeen-and the Congregational Church was the nearest we had in the village to Presbyterianism.

A Congregational Church derives its name fro the fact that it is governed by the congregation or members of the local church. This principle also affects the worship and there are parts of the service which are said by everyone present. One of those parts is saying The Lord’s Prayer together.

For some reason, people do not seem to be as familiar with The Lord’s Prayer these days as they used to be. I even had a Ladybird book at home entitled “The Lord’s Prayer”, and in my childhood, everyone, or so it seemed, knew The Lord’s Prayer.

In the Sermon on the Mount in The Gospel according to Saint Matthew, Jesus teaches His Disciples this prayer as a model prayer. In The Gospel according to St Luke, Jesus repeats the teaching, not as part of the Sermon on the Plain, which is Luke 6 v 20-49, where Luke records Jesus almost repeating a sermon in a different place, but in Luke 11, v 1-4, where Jesus responds to a request from His Disciples to give them specific teaching on how to pray. The fact that this model prayer is mentioned twice in the Gospels, I would suggest, makes it doubly important that we take notice of it.

As I reached my teenage years, I joined the Church Youth Club and my circle of friends grew wider. One of the people I became acquainted with, was someone called Nick. Nick was two or three years older than I, and I, being an impressionable teenager, was somewhat in awe of. Nick, who was clever, erudite, spoke English well-and had an amazing way of praying the Lord’s Prayer. When we as a congregation said The Lord’s Prayer, and I was sitting near to Nick in the church, I could hear him say it differently to anyone else. Now when the congregation say something together, be it The Lord’s Prayer, The Creed, even the pre-communion Prayer of St John Chrysosotom, it can be difficult to add emphasis in the right places. But Nick did this, to my immature ear, it sounded as if he meant it! Now I do not wish to imply that other people in that Chapel did not mean or believe The Lord’s Prayer when they said it, I am sure that they did, but Nick had a way of emphasising certain words that made an impression on me. He made it his own.

In my later teenage years, I met up with some young evangelical Christians who invited me to their church and introduced me to what seemed a more vibrant form of Christianity, more geared up young people going through the Uncertainties we call the Teen Age Years. Those Uncertainties were not helped by the fact that this period was the Late 60s and Early 70s.

But their method of worship was less formal, it indeed included what might now be described as “open-mike” sessions when various people would get up and pray spontaneously and extemporaneously. One thing they did not do, however was pray The Lord’s Prayer. I did mention this once to an older member and he suggested that I got up during one of these sessions and pray The Lord’s Prayer and he would join me. However, for whatever reason, youthful shyness or cowardice, it was something I never did.

Fast forward several years and the late 1990s. During a difficult and challenging time in my life I discovered the Orthodox Church, but before that happened, the events which had led up to it included my losing confidence in prayer. I however managed to hold on by the skin of my teeth by using pre-written prayer-I had been taught that prayer always should be “spontaneous and from the heart” and that written prayers, it was implied, were almost second class. But by using such prayer gems as “The Breastplate of St Patrick”, my tenuous hold on faith, as I saw it (more spiritual people might see it as God holding on to me) was maintained.

By the time I joined the Orthodox Church, I was using pre-written prayers as a means of devotion. The Orthodox Church had written Morning and Evening Prayers, which were useful for those devotions as they could be used as a framework around which to build a personal prayer life . Eventually I came across a remarkable American teacher, Fr Tom Hopko, who greatly influenced my spiritual life. One of the things he taught was the importance of using The Lord’s Prayer, alongside The Nicene Creed and Psalm 50/51 (depending on which translation of the Bible you use)-David’s Great Prayer of Repentance as part of a personal devotions.

I also found it easier to use The Lord’s Prayer when praying for others. Sometimes we do not know how best to pray for others. If we are honest perhaps the reality is that we never know how best to pray for others, we might think that we do, but we only know part of the story. It thus becomes easier to pray The Lord’s Prayer into a situation-”Your Kingdom, Your Will be done”. That way we give the responsibility back to God, and after all God knows best-He does know the beginning from the end and He can deal with the fall-out.

In many ways for me I had come full circle-in my childhood I had learnt the importance of pre-written prayers, in my teen years the importance of how we say them and in my adult years how vital they are to sustain us on our walk with God.

In The Lord’s Prayer, Christ gave us a model on how to pray, but one cannot do better than the Master Model Maker Himself, so it has become easier to use His Model than try and invent one myself, which is bound to fail. Why indeed try and re-invent the wheel?

Why should I go on a Pilgrimage?

Why Do We Go On Pilgrimage?

I have just returned from the Annual Pan Orthodox Pilgrimage to Ilam in Staffordshire. An amazing event which has been happening for the past twenty years or so. Every year the numbers have increased, every year there are more and more priests attending, an dnow this year for the first time, we were blessed to have a bishop with us.

I suppose it was appropriate that the bishop was HE Metropolitan Silouan of the British Isles and Ireland, the newly appointed bishop of the Antiochian Archdiocese which covers the whole of Great Britain and Ireland. Appropriate because the ilgrimage has been organised since its inception by the Antiochian parish of St Michael and All Angels, based in Audley, not far from Stoke on Trent.

But why go to Ilam? Well, it is a beautiful place, a small village set in the Peak District in the valley of the River Manifold, full of olde world charm and ambience, but most importantly, in the church there are the relics of St Bertram.

So who was St Bertram (or Bartram)? He was a younger son of a king of Mercia-the Anglo-Saxon kingdom which covered the English Midlands. The story is that he felt the call to the monastic life and went to Ireland to take his vows. Whilst there he slipped from his vocation and married an Irish princess. She soon fell pregnant and they decided to return to Mercia. On the way back they were caught in a storm and hid in the forest. Bertram went out to hunt for some food. When he returned he found to his horror that his wife and child had been attacked by a wolf and killed. Bertram took this as a sign of God’s anger at him for failing to hear God’s call to be a monk. After the funeral, Bertram took his vows and became a monk in the forest-a hermit in fact. He settled into a cave by the River Manifold and began a life of prayer and repentance.

Knowing that there was a hermit in the woods people began to seek him out for spiritual guidance. Eventually Bertram died and his body was buried in the Church near to where he had lived and prayed all those years.

That is the village of Ilam and although the Church there is now dedicated to the Holy Cross, until the sixteenth century it was under the patronage of St Bertram.

In the Book of Exodus chapter 33 and verse 20 we are told that no man look on the Face of God and live. Now that contrasts with the Birth Narratives of Our Lord in the Gospels of St Matthew and St Luke. When the Baby Jesus came out of the womb of His Mother Mary, you would expect Mary, Joseph His Step-father, the animals, maybe even anyone who was helping as a midwife, all to die. But they didn’t, and it was for one of two possible reasons: firstly that Jesus was not God or secondly that something was different. It is clear from Holy Scripture that Jesus is God, so the only reasonable answer is that something must be different. What was different was that the Second Person of the Holy Trinity took on flesh and became Man. We could dwell on the fact that the Second Person of the Trinity restricted Himself for nine months in the womb of Mary, but that is something for a later blog.

The fact is that the Second Person of the Trinity took on flesh and became Man. By doing so, He blessed material things in a way it had never been blessed before, and what was new was that Human Beings could look on the Face of God and live.

Thirty years later, Jesus went to be baptised by His Cousin John in the River Jordan. John, although he would know who Jesus was-that is his cousin, suddenly realised that there was something more to Jesus than he had previously thought. John had a revelation from God the Father, that his cousin was the Saviour of the World-the one whose sandal strap he was not worthy to stoop down and loose-Mark 1 vs 7.

And despite all this Jesus insisted on being baptised. This not the time and place for a discussion on the meaning of baptism, again it is something another blog entry can look at, suffice to say that by God the Son being baptised in water as we are, He blessed the way we initially physical express our faith.

Thus we see how in the early days of His Life and Ministry, Christ blessed the material part of our life as well as the spiritual.. Christ also taught us to bless our food before we eat it . I wonder what we think when we give thanks for a meal? Is it just something we say? Or is it meaningful? In Medieval times, if a monk or a nun was under discipline for doing something wrong, one of the ways they could be punished was by eating “unblessed food”. Are we particular in asking God to bless the food He provides for us, or do we act as if it doesn’t matter?

My whole point is this; when God was Man in Palestine (to misquote John Betjeman) He blessed the material world in a way it had never been blessed before, and it became possible for us to blessed by material world as well as the spiritual world in a way we had never been before the Incarnation. The Psalmist tells us that the Earth is the Lord’s, and its fullness. The World and all who dwell therein (Ps 23/24 vs 1 OSB)

And yesterday we did just that: we worshipped at the tomb of Bertram and took Communion there, later on some of us prayed at the entrance to the Cave he lived in and no doubt prayed in, others went up to the hill where his holy well was, the water was blessed, and because God blessed it, by us drinking from it, God will bless us too as we enjoy His Creation which He has blessed for us.

To be where Bertram had lived, to pray where he had prayed, brings the Saint nearer to us. The Book of Hebrews tells us that since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight and the sin which so easily ensnares us and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us As we draw near to the Saints thye urge us on to holiness and life of walking close to God.

That is why we go on Pilgrimage.

 

 

 

Aristobulus, first bishop of Britain-the one who first brought Christianity and the Church to Britain

St Aristobulus, First Bishop of Britain

Introduction
According to the Martyriologies of the Greek Church, Aristobulus was known as the First
Bishop of Britain, but who was Aristobulus, where did he come from and why did he come
to Britain?

The Origin of Christianity in Britain

The origins of Christianity in Britain are shrouded in mystery. There are several different
theories about how the faith reached here and indeed there are several different traditions; the most famous, of course, being that of Joseph of Arimathea and Glastonbury. However amongst the Orthodox, both Serbian and Greek there is another one. Indeed H V Morton is his popular book “In the Steps of St Paul” also refers to it. It is that of a disciple called Aristobulus.

According to Hippolytus of Rome (170-235ad), who was an early Christian writer,
Aristobulus was one of the Seventy (Luke 10 v 1-17). The Seventy were a group of
disciples (70 in number) who were sent out by Our Lord to prepare the way for one of His
Preaching Tours. The fact that the New Testament seems to refer to different groups in this way (eg the Three, the Twelve and the Seventy) may indicate some sort of official grouping by Our Lord. It most certainly indicates an official blessing on their ministry. No doubt the 120 at Pentecost (Acts 2 v1) included the 70 and they were well prepared for the initial campaign that followed the Descent of the Holy Spirit. Certainly we know that Aristobulus was a disciple of St Paul, he is mentioned in St Paul’s Epistle to the Romans (Romans 16 v 10). He is also, by tradition, the brother of St Barnabas, the companion of St Paul and first bishop of Cyprus, which would also make him an uncle of St Mark, the Gospel writer and Apostle of Egypt. Aristobulus was also one of the Assistants of St Andrew the First Called. Clearly not only well connected but also well trained!

Tradition has it that St Paul ordained him as bishop & sent him to Britain. What is unclear
is if he spearheaded the mission to Britain or St Paul sent him to oversee and organise an
already established community. It may be that the differing traditions indicate that there
was no one mission to Britain, but several and it may be that Aristobulus’ job was to pull
them all together into one coherent Church. At this stage in our knowledge of the Early
Church in Britain, we can only speculate, but it is a likely scenario.

It has been pointed out that in Romans, St Paul refers to the “household of Aristobulus”
and this has been taken to imply that Aristobulus is not there at the time and by implication he is in Britain at the time. This is of course speculation, it may just be a good guess, but nevertheless an interesting theory.

Again according to the Tradition of the Serbian and Greek Churches,Aristobulus died a
natural death, possibly in Wales. In Welsh there is a reference to someone called Arwystli Hen-Aristobulus the Old. There is an area of Mid Wales-an area called a “cantref”-similar to the old English county sub divisions of a “hundred” which has bears the name “Arwystli” and may well be named after him.

Again according to Tradition, on his way to Britain, Aristobulus stopped off in Northern
Spain to preach to the people there. These people were Celto-Iberians. The Traditions of
the Church clearly link Aristobulus with the so called Celtic part of Europe.

So what?

Why is this important?

Why is it important that we remember certain Saints?

1) CS Lewis (Screwtape Letters) “The Church is like a mighty army with banners
through space and time”. The Orthodox Church does not believe in the division of Church
Triumphant and Church Militant that is found in the Latin West. The Orthodox Church is
clear in her understanding of the Church-we and the saints in heaven are one in our
worship of God. There is no separation. When we worship God in the Divine Liturgy they
are worshipping with us.

2) Historical fact-and we, as Christians in Britain today, are the result, thank God, of
those who prayed in centuries gone past. Aristobulus, and the other pioneers of the
Faith in Britain, were the first people to pray in Britain, maybe not FOR Britain, but
certainly IN Britain, and we are part of the answers to Prayers of those Saints.
Thank God for sending people like Aristobulus to Britain to bring the faith here
3) St Arsenios of Paras (d. 1877), a Father of the Greek Church “The Church in the
British Isles will only begin to grow when she begins to venerate her own Saints”.
Hat being so, it is incumbent on us to venerate those whom God has honoured and
by that veneration we will see more people come into the Church in this land and by
extension others will begin to enjoy the blessings of God and His Church

Conclusion

Although we do not know the hows and the whys of the Faith coming to Britain, clearly it
did and at an early date; in the City of Lincoln on the Hill there is the remains of a Church
which goes back to Roman times. Traditionally the Bishop of Lincoln attended a local
synod, the Council of Arles in the early 4th century as one of the representatives of the
British Church, and he would have been based at that Church in Lincoln. The hamlet of
Water Newton near to Peterborough, on the Great North Road (ie the A1) is what is kewft
on a old Roman settlement. In the field nearby, archaeologists have found the earliest
evidence of Christian Services in Britain in the shape of a Paten and Chalice, dating to the
4th century again, and interestingly enough, in the style of the Byzantine Empire, not the
Latin West.

But it was brought here by men and women and we honour that fact, but for we Orthodox,
history is not just a list of events in the past, it is a reality that we are one with, we are the
fruit of the labours and prayers of people like Aristobulus, and there is no reason to
suppose that that God has stopped answering the prayers of this disciple and there is no
doubt that still prays for us in heaven now.

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But we are also commanded by God to venerate our saints, because as we do that so His
Church in this land will grow, something which we have seen over the past 100 years as
more and more parishes of the Orthodox Church has developed in this land of Britain