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.