Tuesday, 26 August 2014

Love = Responsibility

To love someone is to take responsibility for them.  Love can only be seen in actions.  Expressions of love are just wishful thinking.  The lesson of the Good Samaritan shows this rightly: to love is to take responsibility, it's a physical, real action that the lover takes and performs for the loved.

Holy Mary made this commitment to God, to be Responsible for bringing Him into the world, to be Responsible for His nurture to adulthood.  These are actions, not words.  It is for Her actions that we call Her Blessed, not for the promise.

When we speak of God's love, remember that He holds all things in existence.  This is The Supreme Act, to be Responsible for everything.

The Devil still exists, what are we to make of this?  That God is Responsible for him!  God doesn't stop being Responsible for you when you fail to live up to your responsibilities either.  Does this mean that God creates and maintains evil, No, it means that he takes Responsibility for giving Lucifer free-will, and the consequences of that.

The issue of Free-will is vital here, without free-will we cannot Take Responsibility.  If you are given responsibility as a slave, you perform your duty out of fear.  If you take responsibility freely, then you perform your duty as a free gift.

Jesus shows us by His voluntary acceptance of the Cross that God still takes responsibility for His creation.  Death appears to us to be the termination of existence, but Christ shows this is not so.  As long as we are the Responsibility of God we cannot be terminated.  God shows us that He will not forget His responsibility to maintain us in existence.

Everything we know about God, about Jesus, about the Father, about the Holy Spirit, shows us how He takes responsibility for His creation, all of it.  He has never, to our knowledge, snuffed out any part of it, forgotten it, and allowed it to un-exist.  Thus we can say, with confidence, that God is Love.

Monday, 14 October 2013

Where did the sermons go?

If you have been here before, you might have seen some sermons that I wrote on the readings and saints of a few Sundays.  I did three, but then I stopped.  The reasons are complicated, but in the end I decided, after much prayer, that I should not be doing this.  It's neither my place, nor something for which I have particular talent.  I've deleted the posts.

Monday, 12 December 2011


Boy this humility stuff is hard! I keep getting into semi-circular arguments with myself. Like:
  1. I want to be humble.
  2. I try to be humble.
  3. I find that trying to be humble makes me proud of myself.
  4. I ask God to help me be humble, because of (3).
  5. I discover that I'm proud of asking God to help me to be humble.
  6. At least I admit I can't fix it, oh no, I'm even proud of that!
and so it goes on and on. I can substitute almost any virtue for humility in similar sequences - obedience, repentance, even loving God. It makes me want to roll on the floor, crying my head off.

In a similar vein, I have been worrying about the English translation of the Jesus prayer, which usually goes like this:
Lord Jesus Christ, son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.
The Greek has the sinner, and the Russian, of course, just has sinner (Slavonic languages don't have definite and indefinite articles).

So should I substitute the sinner for a sinner? I tried it for a while, but in fact it seems to me to be an example of false pride, pride even in being uniquely sinful! This nuance of the English definite article probably doesn't exist in Greek. And in any case there is nothing unique about my sinfulness, I'm just the common variety of sinner.

Another concern: visible symbols. I wear a Celtic Cross round my neck at almost all times. Usually, when it's not physically dangerous, I have this outside my shirt. I do this deliberately to proclaim my Christian faith. But is this too a symbol of pride? Would I do it in a country where it would get me shot? On the whole I tend to the view that it is better for others to know who they are talking to, rather than for them to be embarrassed later.  It has helped with introductions in the past.

It's one thing to bear witness to Jesus and pride in His Salvation, but quite another to attempt to draw attention to myself as:
  • better (or worse) than others
  • some kind of teacher
  • a role model
  • in some way official
It's the same thing with the Orthodox Crucifix that I have on the dash of my car.

All this, of course, comes from the western thought patterns drilled into me by 62 years of living here. The dichotomy between thought and being. I am not the person I think I am. I am not the kind of person I want to be. This is a strange paradox, because although I can identify the behaviours that I want to to exhibit, I can't appear to be able to change my instinctive or habitual reactions to events so as to exhibit them.

It seems to me that this is what the psalmist means when he says (psalm 50):
my sin is ever before me

Your prayers, brothers and sisters, would be most welcome.


Wednesday, 19 October 2011

Rage and Economics.

How should a Christian view the economic crisis?  What should our reaction be?  I suspect we are all troubled by these thoughts today.

There is the knee-jerk feeling of rage at politicians, bankers, rioters, and even just plain-old rich folk that we all know we have to confess and ask to be freed from.

And just in terms of practical things there are decisions to be made, for instance: do I buy ethical and fair-trade goods, or do I cut my bills by buying goods whose price makes me suspect that have an element of unfair trading, or even sweatshop labour in them?  Easy to answer this when you are sitting reading my blog, but much more difficult when the kids need food on the table and the budget is running out.

The right approach, it seems to me, is to start with repentance, and to make the difficulties an opportunity to make a new start.  I don't know if God has sent this crisis as a test for me, but I can at least act as if it is a test and ask that "what would Jesus do?" question as often as I can.

The only person whose reaction to these events that I can affect is me.  It's only me that I can change, and even then I can only do that by asking for the Holy Spirit to do the actual job.  I will never stop my knee-jerk feelings of anger at the seeming injustice of things myself - oh I might stop it going further than a feeling, but to stop having the feeling itself - no chance.

I am sorry that I hold people to blame for the crisis, truly I'm sorry, but I still do hold them to blame. I know also that I have a lot of guilt myself - my western, centrally-heated, adequate-pensioned, well fed and clothed lifestyle has come about by plundering the world, both the animate and the inanimate over centuries, but especially over the last 60 years (I'm 62 next February).  I could make a change today: I could just eat a Monk's rations, turn the heating down to 10 degrees Celsius and put on some more old clothes, but I shouldn't.

In fact if we all did this, instead of the world quickly becoming a better place, it would descend very very quickly into chaos.  Billions of people would starve, most livelihoods would disappear overnight.  Supermarket businesses would crash, hauliers would be out of work, ships would be empty of cargoes, the FTSE would go below 500 (it's 5400 today, down from about 7000 at it's peak in 2000), and millions of businesses worldwide would be bankrupt.  The people who would starve first would be those in the 3rd world, and the starvation and death would be worse than WW2.  A world war would also be inevitable as nations would try to steal from others, it might even go nuclear.

It seems to me that we have a terrifying future, and unless the world economic cycle turns upwards again soon, there will be much misery famine and death.

So what do I do?

After a lot of prayer, I think (and God please correct me if I am wrong about this) that I have to continue to be a modern economic entity.  I have to take my income and spend it on ethically produced goods and services, saving enough for me to provide for a moderate but not profligate old age which is not a burden on anyone else.  I have to keep up my charitable giving, not make that the first place to cut, but increase it if possible.  Above all I have to continue to pray.

The very last thing to do is to hoard, that really is the worst thing to do.  To some extent the liquidity crisis in the world economy is down to the retirement savings of billions taking economic resources out of the market.  Money in a bank is just a waste unless it is used to enable economic growth.  A risk-averse banking system is just a reflection of our old-age-centred western economies.  When I was young I had nothing, and could happily risk it all. Now I am old I want security, I want guarantees, but in truth there is no security, and all human promises, except one, are worthless.

Only one human has ever made a promise that was worthwhile believing.  It's that Chap on the icon to the right of the Holy Doors.

So within that understanding, it only makes sense to pray that I will do what Jesus would do in my place.

Saturday, 23 April 2011

The Oak Tree

I drove home today, Great and Holy Saturday, from Matins, and as I went, I saw beside the road an Oak Tree.  Clearly it has had the temerity to grow too close to the road, for someone has lopped off most of the branches that, until recently, overhung the road.
The tree is old, much older than the road, older probably than the old railway that the road is built on.  It is one of those great old oaks that abound in English fields.
It occurred to me that this Oak is an icon of Christ.
The oak stands in the ground obeying the Father's law for trees: stand in the ground and grow: take in the air and make wood and leaves and acorns.  The oak obeys His law perfectly, it stands there, the winds blow, the seasons pass, it grows; men come and lop bits off and burn them, but it never complains, it stands there and turns air into wood and leaves, and sometimes acorns.
Christ stands at the centre of all things, He too obeys the Father's law perfectly: stand at the centre of all things and love and make Saints.
Men come and lop off His Saints and burn them, Men come and nail Him to a tree,  but He does not complain, He still stands there at the centre of all things, and loves, and sometimes He makes Saints.

Saturday, 12 February 2011

Caring for the Elderly

My mother (84) is cared for by my father (90), she has Alzheimer's dementia, and he has all sorts of physical problems.  Recently mother has had a UTI (Urinary Tract Infection) which, as you will know if you have ever been involved with the elderly, causes all sorts of problems such as weakness of the legs leading to a propensity to fall, and even disorientation.  After a number of falls, she was hospitalised, and remained in hospital for four weeks.  This gave father a rest of sorts, but at the same time he has been suffering from a blocked artery in his right leg and can't stand or walk for very long without great pain as the fatigue products build up in the muscles.

We started to think that mother's time at home was coming to an end, and she would go from hospital into a long-term dementia care home.  However, this takes a long time to organise, and in the end she got over the UTI and the hospital was planning to discharge her.  I decided to go and support my father for a while, and to evaluate how urgent the need was for her to move to long-term care.

When I collected her from hospital she was excited about going home, but by the time we arrived there she could not even remember being in hospital, and worse, she did not recognise her own home. On that first night, I stayed awake in case she woke in the night disoriented.  She did.  I didn't know that I had nursing skills, certainly a son would not expect to have to help his mother with her toilet, but these things sometimes must happen.

Curiously, I found that I was able to do these things without problems, and I put this down entirely to the strength that God has given me in recent weeks.  It is not me that helps her, but God, using my hands.  In a very strange way I am grateful for the opportunity He has given me to do this for her.

The next morning I started to telephone about for help,  Soon I found the County's Social Worker, and she began to arrange for Carers to attend four times a day.  I also got her Doctor to visit, and he told me that disorientation was common with dementia patients who were moved, but that it might well settle.

And sure enough, she started to improve immediately, especially once the specialist dementia carers came to visit regularly.  Within a couple of days she was sleeping all night without problems, and being quite animated during the day.

For me that allowed concentration on helping father with the shopping and cooking, not something that I usually enjoy.  However, once again, my newly developing patience has been a boon.  Glory to God for changing me, just in time.

Yesterday, we all decided that I could leave, everything was stable, and manageable for father.  Mother is happy, and loves her new caring friends who wash her and help her, and talk to her with enthusiasm and encouragement.  I also took her for a short walk outside, for the first time in two years, and have a promise from the Carers that they will repeat this when the weather is suitable.

As I drove home in the night, it's 300 miles, I listened to a podcast from Fr. Stephen Freeman about what he calls the One-Story Universe, you know, the one where God, the Angels and the Saints are here with us all the time, and not just on Sunday.  I became aware as the idea crept into my mind that I was driving with the Saints in the car with me, and that those other cars were filled with Angels too, and that I had not left my parents alone either.  It was dark and raining, but the night seemed very bright to me. I kept singing the invocation prayer:
"O Heavenly King, Comforter, Spirit of truth, who art everywhere present and fillest all things,
Treasury of blessings and Giver of Life:  Come, and abide in us; cleanse us from all impurity, and of thy Goodness, save our souls."
The six hours passed easily, and I arrived home about midnight, filled, as if after receiving communion, with a great joy.

It's still with me this morning, it was with me at Matins, I pray it will stay with me always.

God's ways are not our ways, He waits for the right time, for the right place, and then He acts.  Without my mother's dementia, and my father's thrombosis, would I have known this joy?  Only God knows that, but today I am thankful for a whole lot.


Wednesday, 19 January 2011

Mother's Union

At short notice, I've been asked to give a short talk to the village Mother's Union.  The MU is a Christian organisation for women.  This particular bunch know me well, and it is from their church that I converted to Orthodoxy, so this is an interesting challenge.

In a perfect scenario, I would wow them with the splendour of our ancient faith, and they would go away, like Prince Vladimir's emissaries to Constantinople in the 980's saying that they had seen heaven on earth.  I suspect it will not be so, but can I hope to get across the message that Orthodoxy is not just another Christian Sect, or, to quote a hated word 'denomination'?

I will have to take five minutes to give the abbreviated history, to explain jurisdictions of bishops and patriarchs, and to show how the faith blossomed under persecution, became the Roman state religion, developed further in the Byzantine period, moved to Russia when Islam spread west, and finally blossomed as the diaspora forced it out into the west.  I need to let them know that the difference between a Greek and Russian Orthodox is the language, and the culture - things like the tunes the prayers are sung to, but not the theology, nor the words of the Liturgy, Office and Hours.

But will this get over to them the Fullness of the Faith that they are missing in their Protestant, Church for one hour on Sunday, I want to be buried near my Dad in the village churchyard, I've always sat in the this pew like my Mum did for 97 years, I like praying because God likes a good chat, kind of Christianity?

I doubt it.  If I do, it will be Him and not me speaking.  I think the best I might do is to remove a little of the misunderstanding.

Life is full of challenges.
Love, Richard.

Thursday, 6 January 2011


As mentioned in a previous blog article, I started to say a new Daily Office almost exactly two months ago, the office is to say Matins and Vespers every day.  Usually this is just a reader service at home, but occasionally I make it down the road to pray with the community in Keswick, and usually make it to Saturday Great Vespers at our borrowed chapel in Braithwaite.
The reader services said at home started off as very simple versions without Stikos, Troparia, and certainly without the Kathisma of psalms.  Matins, for instance, even the simple version that I use includes six openings psalms: 3*, 37, 62, 87, 102, 142), then after the Gospel there is psalm 50, and then the three psalms of Lauds: 148, 149, 150.  And in Vespers there are fewer, but still 103, 140, 141, 129, and 116.
But something very strange happened to me.  As I said these psalms every day, I found that my concentration on the beauty of the words started to still my mind.  Without realising it I was falling in love with the psalms, and as anyone who has fallen in love will tell you, you cannot get enough of your love.
So I stated to experiment with adding a kathisma to Vespers.  I can say Vespers without a kathisma in about 20 minutes, and a kathisma takes about 15 minutes.
Now because the kathisma psalms change every day, even at Vespers in this season, I can't do other than really concentrate on the words, there is no space left in my mind to worry about life and it's concerns.  One needs to concentrate very hard to do the two tasks: chant the words beautifully and meaningfully; and: understand the theological values expressed.
With, say, psalm 50, which I have said at least once a day for over 18 months now, I can chant it without error and be thinking of something completely unrelated, but with these kathisma psalms I just can't do that.  Which is wonderful, because the ego-self just shuts up for a while.
Fr John says that this is when the Holy Spirit can get to work on the soul, but I have to admit that I have only noticed this in hindsight.  I am calmer, I am easier to get along with, I am more sympathetic, and I am a lot more patient.
So now I have added the kathismata to matins too, which means a prayer time of over an hour before dawn.  Strangely this is not at all a struggle, I leap out of bed when the alarm goes, rush into my study and start off as soon as I can.
So I decided to write this as a sort of progress report, it will be interesting to see if I can keep it up, especially when Great Lent arrives and Matins has three kathismata.


* I use the Septuagint numbering for psalms, as is usual in the Orthodox church.

Saturday, 1 January 2011

Attacks on Christians in the Middle East and elsewhere

Like most everyone I read about the bomb blast in Egypt with a sense of horror.  After all these centuries of toleration of Christians in Islamic countries, as required by the Holy Qur'an, now we find militant pseudo-islam, as promulgated by Al Qa’ida and others, actively encouraging their youth to strap on explosives and go and kill themselves in crowds of local Christians.

As an Orthodox Christian who has read the Qur'an, albeit in an English translation, I can say that despite there being a lot said in it about killing the enemies of the Islam, there is also a lot about tolerating the Christians who are not disturbing Islamic life.  Notably this verse:
Verily! Those who believe and those who are Jews and Christians, and Sabians, whoever believes in God and the Last Day and do righteous good deeds shall have their reward with their Lord, on them shall be no fear, nor shall they grieve
Now it may well be, and I sympathise with the view, that foreign powers from the West have destabilised and persecuted many in the middle east, mainly so that the oil can be plundered cheaply.  And these powers might be perceived as Christian, but like the Catholic Terrorists of the Crusades (which is the best way I can think of describing them succinctly), these powers are most decidedly not Christian.  The God worshipped in Washington and London is a yellow idol with the atomic number 79, any taint of Christianity left there long ago.  I have similar suspicions of the motives of those in power most countries, Eastern or Western.

We should not be so naive as to think that the management of Al Qa'ida doesn't know this.  The suicide bomber is just as much a victim as those he takes with him.  These men are just as evil as the elected dictators of the West, their actions are not for the betterment of the lot of their followers, their God is not Gold, but it is Power.

Think of it, if you worship power over people, what greater thrill could you have than to say to someone: "go and kill yourself for me".

Christ our God, you tolerated the Hebrews when they worshipped idols and offered their children to foreign gods.  Time after time, you forgave them and helped them return to you.  You raised up great prophets to remind your people of their covenant. Help us to suffer these same things in our modern world gladly for your sake.  Receive the martyrs of this age as you receive those from every age.

Holy New Martyrs pray for us to Christ God that our souls, and those of the misguided ones who killed you, may be saved.


Monday, 15 November 2010

Daily Office

I am a member of the Monachos.net community, a frequent contributor to the forums there.  Well, I say 'contributor', but mostly I hang out there to gain a little understanding of orthodoxy through the eyes of those well versed in it.  It sure is an education!
One discussion centred on the use of the Jesus Prayer in personal meditation, contrasting our approach to that of say, Zen meditation or even Christian Meditation as proposed by WCCM.org.
The discussion left me a little dissatisfied with my prayer rule - which was self-prescribed and pre-dates my being joined to Holy Orthodoxy.  I have been in the habit of saying the Rule of St Pachomius, basically the Opening Prayers from the Hours, Psalm 50, the Creed, and then 10 minutes Jesus Prayer, and then some closing prayers - all in all about 20 minutes, twice a day. I used to use a prayer rope and do 100 Jesus Prayers, but found I was spending more time counting than praying, so I switched to using the cellphone countdown timer - which leaves one hand's free to pray! (as recommended by Archimandrite Meletios Webber)
Well, being dissatisfied I went to Father John and asked for a new prayer rule.  Long discussion ensured about standing in the conflict with God, and how the Holy Spirit works to cleanse the heart.  The standing is important, not sitting or kneeling.
So for the last week I have been chanting Matins and Vespers, as reader services.  So far, without the Kathismata of psalms, which more than double the length of the services on most days.  I'll add those gradually if my strength holds, after my throat has got used to chanting.
Far from being a chore, I have to say these last few days have been wonderful, I am looking forward to Matins as I lay down in the evening, and after the sun sets my thoughts turn straight to Vespers.  There also seems to be a calming of my anger, especially my snappiness when interrupted in thought, for which I am truly grateful. We will see if these benefits are sustained, or if the demons have just retired for a while to return refreshed.
What is quite interesting, if I look at myself in a detached sort of way, is that my concentration is on singing the prayers and meaning the words, and not on feeling the presence of God - right now I want to be able to sing the psalms without hesitation, phrasing them properly, hearing each word clearly.  It is very easy when meditating to imagine light and warmth and so end up feeling good - but that doesn't last, it goes at the first stumbling block - on reflection the good feeling is probably not from God at all, it's just the ego-self exercising its pride.
I ask for your prayers that I can maintain this discipline.