The Coronavirus Diary of a Joyous Pustinik — 45

castles in the air

Building Castles in the Air

One of my parishioners was kind enough to bring me some strawberries and raspberries yesterday from her allotment. Setting apart her own hard work, which is considerable, she had been reflecting on the Wisdom of Creation, especially God’s economy and His timing for the ripening of the fruits.  The vegetables, nuts and fruits ripen at various times of the year, giving us an excellent sufficiency and supply, dispersed over many months.

I have many pots of flourishing Basil on my window sill; all at different stages of growth. I am able to give these little gifts to others as a small offering back to God. His economy, from Greek oikonomia,- “management of a household,”is indeed a mysterious outpouring of grace.

Throughout this pandemic, the beauty of Creation has been a constant source of comfort and encouragement. Sadly, human economics is often motivated by greed, power and self interest, but despite this, we see how God replenishes the earth.

Worldly economy is driven by pride, but simpler values and needs are seen in times of crisis. The Great Wall of China could not contain the coronavirus, but Christ builds human bridges of love to care for others who are sick.

As King David observed in writing the Psalm:

 “The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof.”

 God is humble, loving and plenteous in mercy. What a wonderful world we would have, if we followed His example and obeyed His commands.

 

Building Castles in the air

Reflections on a walk in the City of London

 

Luke 3:5:”Every valley shall be filled 

every mountain and hill brought low;

The crooked places shall be made straight

And the rough ways smooth;”

 

 Soaring glass houses in the London skies

Shrink the deserted souls of EC 1.

There grow commercial plants that fertilize

 The f.t. index by a deal well done.

 

Pretty palaces where the cool, jet set

Drive in darkened windows on alloy wheels;

Which rotate around the secret text and debt

In guarded boardrooms and brunch- type meals.

 

Life is wealth for such giants of the air

 Served by tube and Liverpool Street station;

The stocks and bonds without guilts and care

For the needs of the poor and their own salvation.

 

 God sees the hearts of these important men

Who dispense numbers from their golden towers.

He writes history’s balance sheet with His pen

 New Babel falls by mans’ own fallen powers.

 

Yet in the shadow of Goliath’s feet

Lies a sacred stone of royal David’s line;

St. Botolph’s within the good Bishopsgate

Where wounded souls are healed through bread and wine.

 

High life soon stumbles and submits to grief

 Let white flags of surrender be unfurled,

Your treasure be beyond the hand of thief

Walk humbly in the graveyard of the world.

 

As abba Macarius was returning to his cell from the marsh carrying palm-leaves, the devil met him with a sharp sickle and would have struck him but he could not. He cried out, “Great is the violence I suffer from you, Macarius, for when I want to hurt you, I cannot. But whatever you do, I do and more also. You fast now and then, but I am never refreshed by any food; you often keep vigil, but I never fall asleep. Only in one thing are you better than I am and I acknowledge that.” Macarius said to him, “What is that?” and he replied, “It is because of your humility alone that I cannot overcome you.”

 

The poem was written shortly before the Bank Crisis and great economic recession of 2007-8.

Following Christ

FOLLOW CHRIST ICON

MATTHEW 4:18-23

At that time, as Jesus walked by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon who is called Peter and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea; for they were fishermen. And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” Immediately they left their nets and followed him. And going on from there he saw two other brothers, James the son of Zebedee and John his brother, in the boat with Zebedee their father, mending their nets, and he called them. Immediately they left their boat and their father, and followed him. And he went about all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and preaching the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every infirmity among the people.

*

 In the days before Satnav and Google, on the way to a Church wedding, I was driving my car. The friend in the car in front said: “Follow me, I know the way!”

Well it transpired that he did not know the way and did not know even the correct church where the wedding was taking place. Trying to keep up with him was so difficult, he was overtaking, driving fast, the traffic lights changed and he didn’t wait, and if that was not enough, there were road diversions complicating the journey further. In the end, knowing the priest who was taking the wedding I called him and he gave clear and concise directions to the correct Church. Knowing the way is important, following the right person is critical! 

In the Gospel for the second Sunday of St Matthew we read how Christ calls the first disciples. We see how these simple fishermen responded immediately to the call. Such a call was irresistable, courageous on their part and ultimately life changing for them. Christ does not choose the learned scholars and philosophers of His day who are wise in their own eyes but countrymen who knew what hard work involved. They possessed an appetite for common sense, a shrewd judgment, a forthright spirit and sound application to the task. These fishermen, “am ha-aretz”( people of the land) become all wise not because of their intellect but because of their will to follow and accompany Christ in His mission.  

Follow me! I recall at University having to learn the Greek verbs for the New Testament. The Greek verb akoloutheo ( to follow) occurs over 80 times in the New Testament. It is one thing to believe in Our Lord Jesus Christ, it is another to follow Him. Someone on interview, was asked what leadership skills they had? The person answered “Well I’m not sure about leading people, but I am a quick learner and a good observer.” Christ invited and called many others to follow Him, some obeyed the call, others like the rich young man could not. He has called us. It is relatively safe to believe in Christ but following Him intrudes on our time, our lifestyle and our will. 

 The problem today is that not many people know where they are going, so they follow their own inclinations, whims, passions and amusements. Our Lord knew where He was going, to the bosom of the Father and He wanted to take others with Him. He came to lead us to heaven. The world has many would be leaders but their way is confused and compromised by their ideology by materialistic values and by a wong destination. “The road to hell” is is said, “is paved with good intentions”. Hell is full of good meanings, but heaven is full of good works.”Only Christ knows the Way to the Father because He is the Way the Truth and the Life.

 Before Peter and Andrew, James and John could become leaders and apostles they first had to be followers and disciples.  Christ says to them “I no longer call you servants but friends.” God has called us to follow Him but like the lost sheep we offer wander off and go our own way. Without the will to follow we can become self satisfied, calling ourselves Christians in name only, doing our own thing. We become nouns rather than verbs.

“Not he who says Lord, Lord (noun) will enter the Kingdom of Heaven, but he who does ( verb) the will of my Father in heaven.”

We may not consider ourselves worthy of this calling and we may fall into despair when we fall into sin, both of which are tricks of the evil one. Was Saul the persecutor of the Christians worthy when he was called? Was Simon Peter worthy when he denied knowing Christ? It is through God’s mercy, forgiveness and grace and our repentance, that we are made worthy. God’s love is so all-searching that He chooses the weak, the misfits, the eccentrics, the poor, the outcast to do His will. At an ordination of a priest, the Bishop will cry out “axios” (worthy) and the people are invited to reply “axios”! The priest is not worthy in and of himself, no one is worthy before a Holy God but Christ releases the potential in us and equips us for the ministry He has chosen for us:

  1. Ephesians 4:11-13

11And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, 12 for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, 13 till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ;

We do not follow Christ by our own power but with the power of the Holy Spirit. The young man I was following in my car to the wedding did not know the way but thanks be to the Father, Christ the Bridegroom is in the driving seat to bring us to the great Wedding Feast.

We are called to be members of the Body of Christ. Whether we are “casting our nets in other directions” or “mending our broken ones”, Christ wants us to follow Him. He will not abandon us because He is the good shepherd Who looks after the lost.

 

The Invitation

 

Luke 14:15-18; The Parable of the Great Supper: Now when one of those who sat at the table with Him heard these things, he said to Him, “Blessed is he who shall eat bread in the kingdom of God!” Then He said to him, “A certain man gave a great supper and invited many, and sent his servant at supper time to say to those who were invited, ‘Come, for all things are now ready.’ But they all with one accord began to make excuses.

 

I rang your door bell but there was no answer.

I rang the Church bell but you decided to stay in bed.

I e-mailed you but there was no response.

I texted you but you were busy.

I put it on Facebook(!) but it just provoked an argument.

I put posters up but you did not like the design.

I advertised in the local press but you only looked at the headlines.

I called you but it went to recorded message.

 

When you were a baby your God parents brought you to Church to be baptised.

When you were in love your partner brings you to Church to be married

When you die your friends and family will bring you to Church for your funeral.

When are you going to accept the invitation for yourself?

So what is missing from CH_ _CH?

 

“Christianity, if false, is of no importance and, if true, is of infinite importance. The one thing it cannot be is moderately important.” — C.S. Lewis “God In The Dock” 

 

The Coronavirus Diary of a Joyous Pustinik — 44

greece-olive-grove-olive-trees-old_u-l-q11z0zt0

There is nothing quite like receiving a hand written letter. They have substance and form, they have shape and content. People who write letters take the trouble and the time to choose a card, to buy a stamp, to write in their own hand and post the letter. Sometimes it is interesting to decipher their own idiosyncratic style! I recall a teacher at school who taught all his pupils to write in calligraphic “copper plate” English Roundhand. One always could detect who had been taught by this teacher in their first year at Secondary (High )School!  Letters, like teachers leave a lasting legacy for the recipient too. 

Cards and letters today are often reserved for Birthdays, Anniversaries, Christmas and Pascha (Easter); but how nice it is to receive a note of thanks or a note of encouragement-it lifts the spirit. I received two such cards last week. Writing thank you is so important because first and foremost we are called to be Eucharistic creatures.Whilst e mails and texts are convenient and efficient, they lack a certain permanency.

Some years ago I knew a dear lady who lived in the Parish where I served as priest. She was born in Holland, her father was French and her mother Polish. She had lived in England for many years. Eccentric in a most delightful way, she was kind and considerate of others always writing copious thank you notes to them. She was a voracious reader of poetry and philosophy; speaking fluently in four languages she would regale visitors with amazing stories from her remarkable life. Bedridden now in old age, she loved the trees and the birds outside her cottage. On one pastoral visit, she said to me,  “Father, I would like you to have these letters, you may find them of interest.” She thrust three yellow envelopes into my hand. 

On reading them, I discovered they were thank you letters, one such read… thank you O….. (name),for the beautiful flowers which you placed in our room and the delicious cake which you baked for us, signed………….Winston and Clementine Churchill.

 

I have spoken about my love of trees before, but today apart from their intrinsic beauty in creation, let us thank God for that which they provide us: protection, physical and spiritual formation, recreation, habitation and education.

 

Without trees

 

Without trees, there is no shade.

Without trees, no icons are made.

Without trees, no barbecue for heat.

Without trees, there is no fruit to eat.

Without trees, there is no home for birds.

Without trees, no paper for these words.

 

My children, I don’t want Paradise without you. Whoever plants a tree, plants hope, peace, and love and has the blessings of God. Consider all people to be greater than yourself, though they may have many weaknesses. Don’t act with hardness, but always think that each person has the same destination as we do. Through the grace of God I consider all people to be saintly and greater than myself.

St Amphilochios of Patmos

 

Let my prayers be set forth before Thee as incense

censing

Acknowledging Christ

MATTHEW 10:32-33

 

The Lord said to his disciples, “Every one who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven; but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny him before my Father who is in heaven.

The Sunday after Pentecost in the Orthodox Church is dedicated to All Saints.  The purpose of the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost is to make saints of us all. The first and most important element in this process of sanctification is acknowledging Christ before others. In the early Church, and at subsequent times of persecution and still to this day to acknowledge Christ may require a costly sacrifice, even martyrdom.

 In such a context,”talk is not cheap” and the Holy Apostles knew this when they wanted to share the life giving salvation that they had found and experienced in the Lord Jesus Christ. In the Epistle for the feat Hebrews 11:33-12:2 we read about the price of that confession of faith- “they were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword.”

We must understand that, as Christians, we are engaged in a spiritual battle in the world. Christ Himself said that the world will hate us but that He had overcome the world. We too have to overcome our timidity and fears, our reluctance to speak out for Christ in the world. We are in the world but not of it.

At every service of worship in the Orthodox Church we offer incense to God as a sign of our worship of the One true God Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  The action is a powerful symbol of our prayers rising to heaven as the smoke ascends. We read in the Old Testament, the prophet Malachi gives the instruction from God:

Malachi 1:11

From the rising of the sun, even to its going down,
My name shall be great among the Gentiles;
In every place incense shall be offered to My name,
And a pure offering;
For My name shall be great among the nations,”
Says the Lord of hosts.

 The priest blesses the incense which he puts on to the burning charcoal to cense the holy gifts at the Proskomedia with this prayer:

“ Blessed is our God, always now and ever, and unto the ages of ages . Incense we offer unto thee, O Christ our God, as a savour of spiritual sweetness which do Thou receive upon Thy most heavenly altar and send down upon us in return, the grace of thine all-Holy Sprit. Amen”

Incense has a long history in the Bible and in the tradition of the Church. God commanded Moses to use it in the Tabernacle and it was used in the Temple at Jerusalem where there was an altar of incense. Frankincense and sweet smelling myrrh was offered to Christ at His nativity. In our churches, the sacred censer has twelve bells symbolising the twelve apostles sounding forth their teaching with the proclamation of the gospel. The lower bowl represents the earth and the upper bowl heaven. The charcoal is lit and gives off fire and heat and fragrant incense is placed on the burning coal. Our offering in worship likewise should be sweet and full of zeal with the warmth of the Holy Spirit. We see at various points in the Holy Liturgy and at other services the priest censing the holy Icons of Christ, His All Holy Mother and the saints as well as the faithful who are made in the image of God. When we come home, we find that our clothes are permeated with the aroma of incense. One of our Parishioners remarked that her husband always knows when she has been to Church!

All this is very beautiful. The aroma and action engages with our senses to elevate our heart towards God, but we should not forget the context of what this meant for early Christians. They were required once a year to appear before a statue of Caesar and put a pinch of incense on burning charcoal and say “Caesar is Lord!”It was seen as an act of political loyalty. But of course many Emperors imagined that they were divine (gods) and the conscience of thousands of Christians would not allow them to do this simple act and say these words, because for them there was only one Lord, Jesus Christ. They were prepared to be killed rather than confess a false god.

Just a pinch of incense but to whom do we offer this?

Last century, St.Gabriel Urgebadze from Georgia was such a confessor. After compulsory service in the army, he became a monk in 1955. He made himself famous by setting fire to a banner of Lenin during a parade in Tbilisi in 1965. He spoke openly to the people: “Glory is not needed to this dead, but glory to Christ, who subdued death and blessed us with an eternal life.”He was arrested, tried, ruled to be psychotic and confined to a mental hospital for seven months. He was treated mercilessly by the authorities who demanded from him confession of an alleged conspiracy in the Church in return for him to escape the death sentence. Despite torture and severe interrogation he would not accede to their political machinations. He put Christ first! He acknowledged Christ.

St Polycarp of Smyrna when he was eighty six years of age was asked to renounce Christ he replied, “Eighty six years have I served Christ and He has done me no wrong. How can I blaspheme my King who served me?” He was burned at the stake. He put Christ first. He acknowledged Christ.

We are strengthened when we acknowledge Christ, when we make a public confession of our faith. The Holy Apostle Paul tells us that if we confess with our lips that Jesus Christ is Lord and believe in our hearts that God raised Him from the dead then we will be saved. Romans 10:9-10. We should tell others how much Christ means to us. At Pentecost we were equipped with all the resources we need to bring others to Christ, we have no excuse. If we acknowledge Him before others then He will acknowledge us before the Father in Heaven.

 Let us pray, that through the strengthening and by the power of the Holy Spirit, we may be found worthy to acknowledge and confess Christ.

Let my prayers be set forth before Thee as incense, and the lifting up of my hands as the evening sacrifice; hear Thou me, O Lord.

 

Joyous Father Pustinnyk

The Coronavirus Diary of a Joyous Pustinik — 43

mount athos ascetics

Huts of the hermits at Karoulia (Athos)

A poem, the Desert Fathers, C.S. Lewis reflection and The Invisible Naked Ascetics of Mount Athos

I live in an old stone faced terraced property, built in the 1850’s. Yesterday morning as I was cleaning the bay windows at the front of my house, I thought to myself: “the Victorians knew how to build things to last.” Some would argue that the Victorian period was the golden age of engineering and architecture in Britain. Even though my house is small and the consequence of a vast building programme because of the industrial revolution, it is built on firm foundations.

 

The Builder

 

Matthew 21:42

  Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the scriptures:

 The stone which the builders rejected

Has become the chief cornerstone,

This was the Lord’s doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes.”

 

The Builder laid the living stones carefully and correctly;

Having mixed the cement of love, every stone had its special place.

Each was uniquely chosen and equipped

To support its neighbours of the human race.

 

There were apostolic and prophetic stones in the foundation.

They formed the base and shape of the temple.

Unseen, these sustained the saintly stones;

Rough hewn, finely crafted and simple.

 

Some builders today construct boxes

For the purpose of separation.

There are others who build Churches

To enable reconciliation.

 

The Father is building a Palace

No mortgage required and no loan,

 for us to live free in His mansions

With Christ as the Chief Cornerstone.

 


“Imagine yourself as a living house. God comes in to rebuild that house. At first, perhaps, you can understand what He is doing. He is getting the drains right and stopping the leaks in the roof and so on; you knew that those jobs needed doing and so you are not surprised. But presently He starts knocking the house about in a way that hurts abominably and does not seem to make any sense. What on earth is He up to? The explanation is that He is building quite a different house from the one you thought of – throwing out a new wing here, putting on an extra floor there, running up towers, making courtyards. You thought you were being made into a decent little cottage: but He is building a palace. He intends to come and live in it Himself.” 

C.S. Lewis Mere Christianity

 

*

Two old men lived together for many years and they had never fought with one another The first said to the other, “Let us have a fight like other men.” The other replied, ”I do not know how to fight.” The first said to him ”Look ,I will put my brick between us and I will say: it is mine; and you will reply: no, it is mine; and so the fight will begin.” So they put a brick between them and the first said,” This brick is mine,”and the other said,” No it is mine.”And the first replied, ”If it is yours ,take it and go.” So they gave it up without being able to find a cause for an argument.

Saying from The Desert Fathers

 

The Invisible Naked Ascetics of Mount Athos

 

 

The Coronavirus Diary of a Joyous Pustinik — 42

Elder Gabriel

Saint Gabriel

“Euge Agioi”

Some years ago on an excursion to London, I visited an exhibition at the British Museum entitled “Treasures of Heaven.” In it’s own way it was impressive. One could only wonder at the beauty of exquisite craftsmanship, but the collection of precious reliquaries drawn from around the world was a display of ornate but empty vessels.

Later, I felt a similar disquiet visiting the Victoria and Albert Museum in South Kensington at the amount of Church artefacts in a particular part of the museum. It seems that people were visiting and viewing holy items as if they were no longer to be found today within a living community but were things belonging to the past.  

 One gallery had scenery built in the form of a Church. It was filled with onlookers but empty of prayer and worshippers; they were interested observers, following a commentary with an audio guide.  

A short walk from the V&A Museum is the Russian Orthodox Cathedral. As soon as I  stepped into the Church-the lingering fragrance of incense charged the air. Entering into this Temple of living tradition one felt immediately the atmosphere of prayer, the peace and presence of Christ, His Mother and the Saints. I was able to venerate the holy Icons. I was no longer in the barren desert of history but was drinking from spiritual and living waters of the eternal present. God is glorified in His saints!

 

Euge Euge Agioi (Well done Saints!)

 

Acts 5:15
so that they brought the sick out into the streets and laid them on beds and couches, that at least the shadow of Peter passing by might fall on some of them.

Ephesians 5:30
For we are members of His body, of His flesh and of His bones.

 

Treasure from Heaven

A key that unlocks,

Bones yet transfigured

In a fragrant box.

 

Fragments of saints

To strengthen a prayer

Their earthly remains

For the faithful to share.

 

A transport of motion

From heaven to save

A grace filled devotion

That blesses the grave.

 

Members of Christ

Invested to be

Holy and precious

“Euge Agioi!”

 

“True faith is found in one’s heart, not mind. People who have faith in their mind will follow the antichrist. But the one’s who have it in their heart will recognise Him.”

Saint Gavriil Urgebadze

The Coronavirus Diary of a Joyous Pustinik — 41

scaling-the-heights-of-hubris

I recall being at the Monastery of Sambata de Sus Monastery in Romania and concelebrating at a Holy Liturgy with seven other priests. Even though I do not speak the language, except for a few words, I understood the whole of the Liturgy and felt a unity in the Holy Spirit; it was as if I was hearing the Holy Eucharist in my own language. I can truly say that experience was not unique, I have felt that same mystical knowledge and full participation of worship in Greece. Our Parish itself is a little Pentecost composed of people from all over the world. The whole experience of worship is permeated with the Holy Spirit’s presence whose gifts and fruits we enjoy.

 

1 John 4:16

….. God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God in him.

 

This is The Holy Spirit’s gift and His language is love.

 Deconstructing the tower of Babel

 

Genesis 11

The Tower of Babel

 1 Now the whole world had one language and a common speech. 2 As people moved eastward, they found a plain in Shinar and settled there. 

 3 They said to each other, “Come, let’s make bricks and bake them thoroughly.” They used brick instead of stone, and tar for mortar. 4 Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves; otherwise we will be scattered over the face of the whole earth.” 

 

“Let’s scale the heights and take the lights 

of the firmament.

We’ll call the tune and pocket the moon.

Come on! let’s grab the Sun and that being done

We will be called great!

Let’s create another state by

 Storming heaven’s gate and gain control.”

 

 From below…the bright “hello”

 Led to a sad “goodbye.”

The smile became a rueful sigh.

And people asking why?

And who are you?

What did you say?

That once friendly question where

is met by a beleaguered stare!

From nostalgic then to…. tell us when?

The change from common sense

 to non-sense came because of man.

What was his plan?

 To build a tower and to steal God’s power!

 

Much later in an upper room, 

Diners seated round a table

Take bread and wine,

  And as they are able

  De-construct the tower of Babel.

 God initiates a conversation

His language: love, for every nation.

And from above that which was lost

Is found, and invested with a Pentecost!

 

 A soldier asked Abba Mios if God accepted repentance. After the old man had taught him many things, he said, “Tell me, my dear, if your cloak is torn, do you throw it away?” He replied, “No, I mend it and use it again.” The old man said to him, “If you are so careful about your cloak, will not God be equally careful about his creature?”