If

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Not the famous one by Kipling, but the Bible’s 

but if you can do anything, have pity on us and help us.” And Jesus said to him, “If you can believe, all things are possible to him who believes.” [THE GOSPEL The Reading from the Holy Gospel according to St. Mark. (9:17-31)–4th Sunday of Lent]

If, αν, если, dacă is a very small word but it has a large range of interpretations from the negative desperation of hopeless regret “If only”- to positive intention, intervention and the releasing potential. “If” – “If we do this her life will be saved.” If “ is a word upon which faith can be strengthened or weakened.

The Athenians send a message to the Spartans: “If we come to your city, we will burn it to the ground” to which the stoic Spartans replied just one word “If”! Such can be the tenacious force of the word. If is one of the saddest words too- “If only I had acted sooner“: “ if only I had not said those unkind words.”

Martha and Mary on the falling asleep of their brother Lazarus said to Jesus “If only you had been here, our brother would not have died!”

“If” is one of satan’s favourite words. When the devil tempted Our Lord in the wilderness he prefixed each temptation with the word” if”:

If you are the Son of God prove it!!

If you are the Son of God turn these stones into bread

If you are the Son of God throw yourself down …. “and the angels will bear you up lest you hit your foot against the stone.” Yes even Satan can quote scripture Psalm 90

If you fall down and worship me I will give you all these kingdoms.

“If only” are words which are full of regret but it is not necessarily full of repentance. Repentance means moving and trying again and moving forward not looking back.

We have within us deeply rooted weaknesses, passions, and defects. This can not all be cut out with one sharp motion, but patience, persistence, care and attention. The path leading to perfection is long. Pray to God so that he will strengthen you. Patiently accept your falls and, having stood up, immediately run to God, not remaining in that place where you have fallen. Do not despair if you keep falling into your old sins. Many of them are strong because they have received the force of habit. Only with the passage of time and with fervour will they be conquered. Don’t let anything deprive you of hope. 
(St. Nectarios of Aegina, Path to Happiness, 3)

This is the If that we find in the Bible, in the Psalms and the Prophets and in the Gospels.  “If God is for us, who is against us?” Rom 8:30

“If a man loves me, he will keep my word, and my father will love him…” John 14:23

The man in today’s Gospel brought his child and said to Jesus “If you can do anything….” This cry was an “if” born from despair and voiced against the power of the One who works miracles. Our Lord turns this round and God addresses the man’s lack of faith; not if I can, but if you can believe. If only we can believe all things are possible. The positive if lies not with God, of course, He can do anything but it lies with us. God’s everlasting love and power are boundless. Like the man whose tears showed his repentance, we may find ourselves saying likewise:” Lord I believe, help my unbelief.”

Do we see a mother with her child in her arms and bending to give the child a kiss, her heart overflowing with emotion? Do we notice how her face lights up as she holds her little angel? These things do not escape a person with the love of God. He sees them and is impressed by them and he says, ‘If only I had those emotions towards my God, towards my Holy Lady and our saints!’ Look, that’s how we must love Christ our God. You desire it, you want it, and with the grace of God you acquire it.”

― Elder Porphyrios, Wounded by Love

In these difficult and testing times we must and again become people of prayer, people of perseverance, people of hope, people of zeal, people of faith, people of God; we must again become Christians.

4th Sunday of Lent Homily — Fr. Jonathan Hemmings

Holy and Life ­Giving Cross at Lancaster (United Kingdom)

 

Tending the Garden …

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… Of our Hearts

Reflections by two spiritual sisters who started gardening this summer and dedicated their allotments to Sts. Hilda and Melangell

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In every fruitful garden, there is a collab­oration between the Creator, Maker of all seeds, plants, soils and the gardener who has a specific role.  Genesis  2:15; “Then the Lord God took the man He formed and put him in the garden to tend and keep it”. Whether the gardener has the wisdom and awareness to understand or not, every little happening in his garden is the fruit of this blessed cooperation, in which all aspects are mystically interconnected giving life and purpose to each other.

Together, we have embarked on vari­ous gardening projects, and as we have learnt about the life of plants, through re­flection on many wonders and failures in nature, a clear parallel emerged between the life of a garden and spiritual life. Be­low, are just a few fruits born from these conversations.

The soil

The journey of growth begins in winter, with the preparation of the soil, which needs to be “made ready” to receive the seed, just as our souls need to be made ready to receive the Lord by weeding out, digging and enriching. It is a most sober­ing reflection that if you weed a patch of land with the greatest care and dig it over making it thus perfect for planting, but delay planting, the land will become overgrown with weeds in the blink of an eye. Similarly, if you ready yourself for the Lord by uprooting all your passions and destroying all evil propensities (if such a thing were possible), but delay in placing Christ therein, in planting the seed of the Holy Spirit, your soil will only become fertile ground for new, over­ grown passions. Secondly, as soon as you stop tending and watering your heavenly garden, it will begin to wither, giving space to weeds. Therefore, it is necessary to watch over the garden of our hearts carefully and to cultivate the good seed of virtue, letting it multiply on the prepared soil.

It is also a matter of wonder that the soil is enriched by adding into it decayed matter, like rotten leaves, discarded cut­ tings, manure. All things dead and rejec­ ted transform into nourishment for the soil. May we find the wisdom and know­ ledge to transform all of our rejected, failed plans and endeavours into a matter which will enrich the soil of our hearts. This reminds me of the first lesson in Physics and its heading: Matter does not appear nor disappear, it only transforms –as Christians we are called to transform by the Holy Spirit. Romans 12:3; “Be transformed by the renewing of your mind”.

 

The wonder of the seed

 

Germination is without a doubt the most wondrous stage (and my favourite) in gardening. It is similar to the birth of a child. From an infinitesimal seed, life bursts forth. The miracle of Creation is encompassed in the Parable of the mus­tard seed “which indeed is the least of all seeds: but when it is grown, it is the greatest among herbs” (Matthew 13:31­32). We can only marvel at the fact that every tree was once a tiny seed, which you can hold between two fingers. Every germination is a small miracle because life itself is encased in a tiny, inconspicuous looking ball or speck, in this sense the Lord has made us par­takers and co­-creators of Creation.

If we look at our own lives, we can sometimes pinpoint the moment of germination. The seed of faith was planted in us at different times and in ways spe­cific to each of us: by a friend, a parent, a book or an experience. But often, it lies dormant in the soil of our being, until all elements are right for germination: tem­perature, light, humidity. And then, sud­denly, the tree of faith bursts forth out of the tiny seed. It is sadly too true that some seeds never germinate, but there is always hope. Take the case of the Mathu­ selah palm tree. During an archaeological excavation of a fortress in Masada, some seeds were found. After spending some years in a researcher’s drawer, one of the 2000-year-old seeds of a palm tree was germinated in 2005. This species of palm tree had been extinct in the area for hun­ dreds of years. Life had slept inside the tiny seed for 2000 years! The tree is now over 3 metres tall and produces dates.

Like all new life, germination holds the promise of beauty and perfection. Every time a new plant emerges from the soil, you can picture in your mind’s eye the beauty of its maturity.

 

The battle for growth

 

The stage of growth or the journey from newborn to maturity is the hardest part of gardening. It requires immense energy of the gardener to combat all threats to the plant (pests, disease,  competition  from weeds), to water, feed and protect

It is a matter of relentless watchful­ ness. It demands patience (in short sup­ ply in our garden) to watch the plant grow and also wisdom and faith in equal measure. The wisdom to accept the loss of plants to disease and pests, but the faith to carry on tending to the few little plants left. We see thus that gardening is a spiritual school. How many seeds of the Spirit have germinated in our souls only to die, prey to our bad habits, laziness or forgetfulness? Accepting the loss, rather than mourning over it, going to confes­sion and starting germination afresh in faith is an essential lesson for spiritual growth.

Some gardening techniques, which strengthen the plants and give them a better chance to survive are startlingly useful in our spiritual life. It all starts with grading, which involves discarding the seedlings which appear weak or dis­ eased and only leaving the strong,  healthy ones. We sometimes need to choose the best seedlings in our lives, and when they are old enough, we sometimes need to pinch the ends out. This pain in­ inflicted on young plants makes them grow stronger, with healthier roots, so that when the time comes to bring them out­ side into the cold and the wind, they can survive and reach maturity.

 

Bearing fruit

 

Finally, most people’s favourite part is when the crop is ready – the fruit of God’s labour through us. We can feast on the fruit of love and patience, gift it to others and give thanks to the Lord for the completion of our endeavours.

 

By Mary and Martha of gardening

A note to a spiritual child in anguish

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You are not alone

Genesis 50:20

20 But as for you, you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, in order to bring it about as it is this day, to save many people alive.

1 Samuel 16:7

7For the Lord does not see as man sees; for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”

 

Note to a spiritual child:

You are not alone!

 You have the Holy Spirit from your Chrismation,

 You have your Holy Guardian angel from your Baptism.

 You have your Patron Saint to pray for you,

 You have the Mother of God to protect you.

You have the prayers of the faithful at the Proskomede,

[…]

You have the mercy of Christ to forgive you at Confession,

You have the grace of Holy Scripture to comfort and assist you.

 You have the teachings of the Holy Fathers to guide you.

 You have your Father in Heaven who cares for you and who will save you.

 Do not say you are alone!

But beware, you do have someone else- the adversary who

will try to convince you that you are alone, isolated, separated;

do not listen to him or entertain his presence.

Fr. Jonathan

 

Saint Cyprian of Carthage: “Everyone falls alone, but we are being saved in the community”

 

Holy Land Pilgrimage: Bethlehem

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Bethlehem! The birthplace of our Lord and Savior and the cradle of biblical history. Bethlehem (Hebrew: בֵּית לֶחֶםBet Lehem, [bet ˈleχem], “House of Bread”) is located five and half miles from Jerusalem. No town in the world has such a glorious history as Bethlehem. Our Elders together with a number of Holy Land Hieromonks offer a Holy Liturgy at the Church of the Nativity. 

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A Greek Orthodox Church, which has been built over the birthplace of Our Lord by the Emperor Justinian and is over 1,500 years old. It is the second oldest Orthodox Church in existence. It was not destroyed by the Persians, as they saw a mosaic of the Magi dressed in Persian wear over the front door. Words cannot communicate what we experienced in venerating and touching the actual ground where Jesus was born. A few feet away is the Holy Manger. 

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Where is Bethlehem?
 
Micah 5:
 
    2 “ But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, 
      Though you are little among the thousands of Judah, 
      Yet out of you shall come forth to Me 
      The One to be Ruler in Israel, 
      Whose goings forth are from of old, 
      From everlasting.”
“I am the Life” Our Saviour said
 
Where is the house of Living bread?
 
Where does this birth of new life start?
 
The chamber of a loving heart
 
Is Bethlehem.
 St.Athanasius of Alexandria (On the Incarnation, 54): “For He was made man that we might be made God (divine)”
Sunday of the Righteous Forefathers 2009 JAH (Fr. Jonathan Hemmings)

At St Lioba’s Church, Beetham

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“Dear friends in Christ
 I forward photos from my little pilgrimage to St Lioba’s Church at Beetham on this her feast day. [+ 28 Sept.]  I prayed for you all in Church and later at her little “shrine.” In the Church porch I saw a little hedgehog enjoying the sun.
Through the prayers of St Lioba Lord Jesus Christ have mercy.
Εν Χριστώ”
 
Fr. J

What is a Reader?

What is a Reader?

The most famous Reader of all, St. John Chrysostomos the Golden-Mouthed, Archbishop of Constantinople, enthroned. He was tonsured a Reader in 370.

Impressions from a mid-October gathering “What is a Reader?”

An Anglican Reader: “Your Vespers took really long [60 min +] but we forgot time or the pain in our feet [bravely standing up throughout] , immersed as we were in the beauty of pure worship”

Abouna Philip: “I think it is almost impossible to go to an Orthodox Church without being fed a lot. “

Another Anglican Reader: “If this is how you fast [the event took place on a Friday], then how do you feast?!”

What is a Reader?

Holy Martyr Danax the Reader, Patron Saint of Readers

What is a Reader? In-mid October a gathering of 20 Readers from the Anglican church from all Lancashire area took place at the parish of Holy and Living Cross at Lancaster, UK. The goal was  to introduce them to the office of the Reader in the Orthodox Church. The evening began with Vespers, was followed by a presentation and a question and answer session, and was concluded with a rich tea buffet.

 

What is a Reader?

The Reader Timotheos from the Thebaid of Egypt, who underwent martyrdom by Diocletian, together with his wife, Mavra.

 

The Office of Reader is of course a very ancient one. Lectors used to read the epistle at the Eucharist in the early church, but Reader ministry in the Church of England today has developed in a radically different manner than that of the Lector.

What is a Reader?

Ezra, the first Reader. “For Ezra had devoted himself to the study and observance of the Law of the LORD, and to teaching its decrees and laws in Israel.” Ezra 7:10

 

What is a Reader?

We learn a great deal about what it means to be a Reader from the admonition that the bishop gives to a Reader after he is tonsured (i.e. made a Reader):

 

“My son, the first degree in the Priesthood is that of Reader. It behooveth thee therefore to peruse the divine Scriptures daily, to the end that the hearers, regarding thee may receive edification; that thou in nowise shaming thine election, mayest prepare thyself for a higher degree. For by a chaste, holy and upright life thou shalt gain the favor of the God of loving-kindness, and shalt render thyself worthy of a greater ministry, through Jesus Christ our Lord: to whom be glory unto the ages of ages. Amen.”

 

This tells us that the office of the Reader is the first rank of the priesthood, and so can only be a man, with the exception of women’s monasteries. Readers are tonsured, which means that rather than being ordained in the Altar, they are set apart by having some of their hair cut in the form of the Cross (as also happens at baptism, and when someone is made a monastic) and ordained in the Nave of the Church, as are Subdeacons, who are also minor clergy. Their office thus is sacramentally instituted and defined.

What is a Reader?

Newly tonsured Orthodox Readers

Readers in the Anglican church, on the other hand, are lay people, male as well as female, trained and licensed by the Church to preach, teach, lead worship and assist in pastoral, evangelistic and liturgical work.

In church, Anglican Readers can be distinguished from their ordained colleagues by the distinctive blue Readers’ scarf, whereas an Orthodox Reader would ideally wear clerical attire at all times, and it is at minimum necessary that he should wear a cassock on Church grounds, and at any Church functions off Church grounds.

What is a Reader?

This picture shows the four new Readers licensed [sic] at the service at the Diocese of Newcastle

Specifically. The duties of a Reader in the Orthodox Church are primarily focused on the prayerful, liturgical ‘dialogue’ with the priest throughout all church services, representing the dialogue between heaven and earth. The Reader is also often the chanter, especially in the absence of a choir. He is not only essential to the Liturgical life, but in terms of the amount of the liturgy, he chants more than the priest! This became most apparent to the Anglican Readers who attended Vespers, because they themselves noticed how prominent the role of the Reader was throughout, since he was practically reading, intoning and chanting more than the 7/10, even 8/10 of the service.

 

 

Conversely, the duties of the Readers in the Anglican Church are varied, broad and diverse, differing from parish to parish, depending on the local priest, and encompass even

 

  • authorisation to preach;
  • presiding at Services of the Word;
  • taking the traditional role of deacon at the Eucharist;
  • distributing the sacrament of Holy Communion in church and/or to the sick at home or in hospital;
  • reading Banns of Marriage.
 

Anglican Readers ‘work’ even in schools, prisons, hospitals, hospices, factories and shops, among seafarers and in the Armed Forces, with children and young people, the elderly, housebound and bereaved, and with those preparing for baptism, confirmation and marriage. Such ‘duties’ would be unthinkable to an Orthodox Reader, and the delineation of their duties applies throughout all orthodox churches.

 

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 Finally, as the first rank of the clergy in the Orthodox church, a Reader should conduct himself with the humility, sobriety, and care appropriate to his order, in order to prepare himself “for a higher degree.” In other words, a Reader should be preparing himself for the possibility of serving in a higher rank of the clergy.

Also. cf. “The Reader in the Orthodox Church”

My Conversion To Orthodoxy

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Fr. Jonathan Hemmings (Orthodox Christian Parish of the Holy and Life-Giving Cross at Lancaster) talks about his conversion to Orthodoxy, his meeting Metropolitan Anthony of Sourouzh, the Most Reverend Metropolitan Kallistos Ware, and other Living Signposts God of the Faith, and his last book, Fountains in the Desert.

 

For a more detailed testimony of Fr. Jonathan’s Conversion go to Finding the Faith of Joseph of Arimathea

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