Monday, 15 November 2010

Daily Office

I am a member of the 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
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.

Tuesday, 12 October 2010

Psalm 100

I will sing to thee of mercy and judgement, O Lord: I will sing and find understanding on a blameless path; when wilt thou come to me?
I have walked in the innocence of my heart: in the midst of my house.
I have set no lawless thing before mine eyes: I have hated those who work wickedness.
A crooked heart has not cleaved to me: the wicked man who turned from me I have not acknowledged.
Whosoever secretly slanders his neighbour, him have I driven away: I have not eaten with him who has a proud look and a greedy heart.
Mine eyes are upon the faithful of the land, that they may sit down with me: he who walks in a blameless path has ministered to me.
The arrogant has not dwelt within my house: the teller of lies has not prospered in my sight.
Each morning I would slay all sinners in the land: that I might root out all evil doers from the city of the Lord.  (Psalm 100/101) 
I read this psalm once again this morning, and got quite a lot out of it, so it seems appropriate to write something.  It's a long time since I wrote a blog entry here, mainly because I have become much more sensitive about expressing my own opinions, but also because I just have not had much to say.

When we look at a piece of Old Testament Scripture like this psalm, it's easy to look at it as a historical comment, and forget that the Fathers have told us that it is written specifically for us.  Given the number of people that it was written for then, it is a mystery how it is written for me, this morning, and yet it seems to be.

  • I do sing, almost all the time, of God's mercy and judgement, I am waiting for a sign that my prayers are answered.
  • I am trying to defeat sin and become again innocent.
  • One of my major sin areas is mainly triggered by sights, and I am actively trying to prevent myself from 'seeing' them.
  • I am the wicked man, but I am trying to get him to go away.
  • I am looking to the Fathers, to the Scriptures, and to Christian friends as examples.
  • Another area of sin is Vainglory, constant thinking of how I will appear to the world.  This is arrogance and pride.  It must not prosper.
  • And I love the last line.  Every morning is a new start, and a new opportunity to try to get it right, a new opportunity to to root out the evil in my heart, and ask God to get rid of it.
Little Psalm, lots of good messages.  It was written for me, for me to read today.

Love in Christ.

Wednesday, 2 June 2010


It's Greek (ἐπέκτασις), and it means Constant Progress. I once had a web log called Disconnected Jottings, but I discovered after a while that everything was connected, and so this didn't seem like such a good idea. I also wanted to move my active web log to my new email address, so that I didn't need to keep logging into Google as I switched back and forth.
Disconnected Jottings documented the story of my gradual movement from atheism, through discontented Anglicanism, to Orthodoxy. Along the way I wrote some articles for the local Anglican parish newspaper, and they show a little of the process that seems to have started in me following my meeting with orthodoxy in the person of Fr John. What I want to do in this blog is to talk a little about where I go from here, I can only pray that it will be progress, and that it will be constant.
The term epektasis is used by Saint Gregory of Nyssa (+~394), one of the three great fathers of the church from Cappadocia, now in Turkey, but at the time a province of the Eastern Roman Empire.
Saint Gregory believes that it is possible for every human to continually get closer and closer to God, never actually becoming God, of course. The orthodox call this Deification or Theosis (Θέωσις), and it is the goal of an orthodox life. Theosis is why monks shut themselves in cells, and Stylites sit atop their pillars. Theosis is impossible for us, but with God nothing is impossible. When someone makes it to a certain stage of theosis, we start to see God in them, and we call this Saintliness. Saints are people who have achieved a certain degree of theosis.

Wednesday, 19 May 2010

Holy Orthodoxy

This will be just a short post to bring things up to date.

As you will know, if you have followed this blog from it's beginnings in October 2009, I have been moving gradually to Holy Orthodoxy.  Well, in January during Theophany, I asked Fr John to prepare me for formal acceptance into the Orthodox communion.  Since then I have been attending Divine Liturgy every Sunday and, during Great Lent, one or two services of Matins or Vespers during the week.

I was formally accepted as a catechumen on Sunday 7th February, incidentally the feast of my patron saint Richard of Wessex (+722), and my 60th birthday.

The plan was to be chrismated at the Paschal Liturgy, but in the end I had last minute concerns during the intensity of Holy Week, and I was actually chrismated on The Sunday of the Samaritan Woman, May 2nd 2010.

So now I can truly say that I have arrived at the beginning....

Love in Christ,


Saturday, 20 March 2010

Wisdom, Faith, and Repentance

I was lying in bed, half in prayer and half asleep, when it came to me that there are a number of linked ideas that have worried me for ages.  So I wrote this to get them off my chest a couple of days ago.

Knowledge, as an example, is only of any benefit if it is used for good.  Knowledge about God, is pure hell if it is not accompanied by knowledge of God - this is exactly where Lucifer is right now.  And confession of one's sins is only of benefit, only works it's healing grace, if accompanied by true repentance and  a firm resolve not to repeat the offence.

And in the case of addictive, possibly just habitual, sins there is a great problem.  We confess, and indeed repent, after each offence, but we know that there is no chance of avoiding recidivism without external help.  We can resolve away, but we are incapable of breaking the cycle of sin.  It's all very well for the Fathers, like Abba Sisoes, to say when you fall again, stand up and start again "Until you have been seized either by virtue or by sin.", but from here it looks like a pattern that will be repeated forever, and that offers no hope - indeed we are already seized by sin.  And hope is essential - without hope there is no faith.

So now, how do we approach confession of such sins?  Can we truly stand before Christ the Judge and say that we repent, knowing that we will probably repeat the offence later that very day?  And here it seems to me that we should find the greatest benefit of Sacramental Confession: even though Christ, to whom we confess, never sinned, the priest who stands beside us did, and does, and inspired by the Holy Spirit, his advice and guidance are, perhaps, just that is needed to break the cycle.

No, we probably can't say with honesty that we have confessed every sin of which we are aware, we certainly can't say with honesty that we will not sin again, but we can confess what we can, and receive forgiveness, and maybe more important: inspired advice from our spiritual father.  This will be the external help that we need to break the cycle.  Perhaps not this time round, but one day soon.  And there is the Hope, and Faith.

OK, that's the theory.  But if one (just one of many)  of your big sins is all about how you perceive other people see you, then there is a great hurdle to cross even to get to Sacramental Confession.  Here is this man, your father, who you respect more than anyone living, and you are going to tell him about these dirty filthy things you do habitually. For sure his opinion of you is going to be changed forever, isn't it?  How can you do this to yourself?  Because, and here's the rub: the self will not let you do this to it.  The sin of pride. You can even write about it (sinfully, in the hope that the reader will think you humble) - but actually do it?  No?  Well we'll see, because that is the next step for me.

O Lord, break my spirit, so that I can be saved.

I begin to perceive, dimly, what God meant when he told Saint Silouan the Athonite to "keep his mind in hell, and not despair."

Well, I wrote that earlier this week.  Yesterday I finally plucked up the courage (or rather my guardian saints and angel finally cajoled me) to make my first Orthodox Confession.  As expected, it was not a pleasant experience. But, everything I hoped for, everything promised, has been delivered.

I feel as if my great sins are now behind a sort of veil, I can still see them, but they are just facts, not of any great import any more.  Behind that veil my past life still exists, the high points still shine, the low points still sit in their dark corners, but they are no longer a festering dead weight. Nothing I have ever done has achieved anything like this.

I am still wondering how it happened.  Father said very little, he prayed the prescribed prayers, we stood by the Cross, we looked at Christ hanging there naked, dying, but triumphant.  I said my piece, as I had prepared it, holding nothing back.  I knelt under his stole, Father gave the absolution, while I cried a little.

As a friend wrote to me yesterday, all this comes about through the 'Master of Ceremonies' - the Holy Spirit.  Another friend sent me this prayer from St Simeon the New Theologian:

Forgive me my sins and grant me pardon.

Thou knowest the multitude of my evil-doings,

Thou knowest also my wounds,

And Thou seest my bruises.

But Thou knowest also my faith,

And Thou beholdest my willingness,

And Thou hearest my sighs.

Nothing escapeth Thee, my God,

My Maker, my Redeemer,

Not even a tear-drop,

Nor a fraction of a tear-drop.

I know, O Saviour, that no one

Hath sinned against Thee as I,

Nor hath done the deeds

That I have committed.

But this again I know:

That neither the greatness of transgressions

Nor the multitude of my sins

Can surpass the great patience

Of my God, and His extreme love for men.

But with the oil of compassion

Thou dost purify and enlighten them that fervently repent

And Thou makest them children of light,

And sharers of Thy Divine Nature.


Tuesday, 16 February 2010

The Great Fast

Well here we are again, back in the Great Fast of Lent.  I wanted to share three things with you:

Firstly, for my Lenten studies this year I decided to revisit some of the writings of the early Fathers.  I have told you before how moving I find them.  I was pointed by a friend to a Lent reading list on the Internet  which gives a reading for each day, and I'm trying to follow this pattern.

On Shrove Tuesday, which for the Orthodox is actually the second day of Great Lent, it having started with the Vespers of Forgiveness Sunday, I came immediately on this little phrase from the letter to Diognetus (Chapter 6):

"To sum up all in one word: what the soul is to the body, that are Christians to the world."
Isn't that a wonderful thought?

It reminds me of Jill Edward's excellent article in the February 2010 Binsey Beacon, where she calls on us to pray for our nation, to make intercession, to meet with God on behalf  of the world.

Now the letter is generally dated about 130AD, so it is not completely impossible that the author was  taught by one of the Apostles, most probably St Paul, as the language is generally Pauline.

So during Lent of all times, let us prepare ourselves to celebrate the Passion, and most particularly the Resurrection, of our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ, by doing what we were made to do.  In this then we will be in His image.

Secondly, one of the customs of Forgiveness Sunday is to ask forgiveness of everyone, just in case something you have done as caused offence.  So I ask your forgiveness, and say in all sincerity to you, that should you have cause me offence, I forgive you too.  At Vespers we do this by each kneeling before the other, and saying 'Forgive me', then rising to kiss the other on the cheeks.  Consider yourself prostrated to, and kissed.

And finally, during Lent the Orthodox add the Prayer of St Ephrem the Syrian to our daily office, it's worth sharing:

Lord and Master of my life, give me not a spirit of sloth, faint-heartedness, lust for power and idle talk, but give me rather a spirit of chastity, humility, patience and love. O Lord and King, grant me to see my own faults and not to judge my brother or sister: for blessed art thou to the ages of ages. Amen.

Love in Christ, Richard.

Sunday, 17 January 2010

Public Prayer

Previously I've posted  concerning private prayer and a person's life of unceasing prayer in and around their normal life of work and family. In this post I want to look at the prayer of The Church, the public prayer of The Christians together.

The central pivot of the Church's prayer is called the Divine Liturgy, or Holy Mass, or Holy Communion. The word Liturgy, which is the word used by the Orthodox, comes from an ancient (pre-Christian) Greek concept leitourgia, which meant that the rich would take on some extra duties which the poor could not afford to do. This is exactly what we are doing in the Holy Communion, we are making an offering on behalf of the whole world, and receiving from God, both ourselves personally, but also our community and the rest of creation, the Holy Gift, Jesus.

The other word we hear is the Greek noun eucharistía which literally means “Good Favour”. The Greek word Eucharistéō is the usual verb "to thank". The word “Mass”, by the way, comes from the final prayer of the Latin rite: Missa est, it was just a dismissal, but has been given an implication of “mission”, an icon of the missionary nature of the Church.

We appear to offer bread and wine, together with ourselves and our service, in return God comes to us himself and makes us anew. We are empowered, indeed commanded, to make this offering as we are the Royal Priesthood; commanded by none other than Christ Jesus himself. How Jesus comes to us as the Gift of God is a mystery, and this is why we call this a 'sacrament' - a Latin translation of the Greek Mysterion.

I call Holy Communion, the pivot because all other public prayer surrounds it and depends on it. In the early days of the church, the people of God lived in close communities and met for a common meal every day where the Holy Offering could be made (bread and wine offered), and the Gift received in fellowship. As Christianity spread wider into the community the custom of meeting for the Offering became a weekly event on the Lord's Day. This pattern is still maintained in the Orthodox and Roman Catholic communions, and this is also mostly true in the protestant churches of the classical reformation (for instance, the Lutherans, and Church of England), sadly it has died out in many modern reformed groups.

Our other public prayers are derived from the monastic tradition of praying every hour. Clearly nothing much would get done in the world if like monks and nuns, everyone stopped to pray for 15 minutes every hour, and even in monasteries the Hours are run together. But in truth these formal prayers are part and parcel of the Holy Liturgy – they are the Holy Liturgy in the daily and hourly life of The Church. Not everyone can be at every service, but by joining the public prayer in some way, we are joining ourselves to the offering of the Church.

There are then certainly two parts, equally important, to prayer: our own personal dialogue with God; and the great work of the Church as we make the Holy Offering together. Because we have Christ, we are the rich ones, and so we can afford to offer the leitourgia: in truth then we offer Him, the one and only worthy offering. And in return the whole world, the whole of creation, receives the Holy Gifts - not received because we are worthy, but because God loves us. Remember He loves everyone: those who know Him and love Him; those who once knew Him, but seem now to have forgotten Him; those who never knew Him; even those who know of Him but hate Him.

Love to you all,