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)
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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

Source

Finding the Faith of Joseph of Arimathea

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An Interview with Fr. Jonathan Hemmings

The tradition of faith in Great Britain goes back to the Apostolic era!

by Tudor Petcu

A Romanian writer, Tudor is a graduate of the Faculty of Philosophy, University of Bucharest, Romania. He has published a number of articles related to philosophy and theology in different cultural and academic journals. His work focuses on the evolution of Orthodox spirituality in Western societies as well and he is going to publish a book of interviews with Westerners converted to Orthodoxy. In this article, he interviews Fr. Jonathan Hemmings, Orthodox theologian, who is the priest of the Holy Life-Giving Cross Orthodox Church in Lancaster, UK, talks about faith and love in Christ.

1.) Before discussing your conversion to Orthodoxy, I would appreciate it a lot if you could talk about your main spiritual experiences and journies untill you have discovered the Orthodox Church.

First of all, we need to be sure of what we mean when we use the term convert or “conversion.” We all need to be converted – both those who come from different traditions and confessions and those from traditionally Orthodox countries who are referred to as “cradle Orthodox”. Christianity is not a Philosophy, it is a relationship with the All Holy Trinity. We are converted to Christ and we are received into the (Orthodox) Church through Baptism and/or Chrismation. Sometimes this happens in the other order of events. Those who are Baptised Orthodox as babies need to employ the gift of the Holy Spirit given to them; those who are called to the Orthodox Christian faith are prompted by the same All Holy Spirit. As Metropolitan Kallistos said

“We Orthodox know where the Holy Spirit is but we cannot say where He is not.”

As scripture says

“the Holy Spirit moves where He wills.”

One has to experience the Orthodox Church either through her Liturgy or through the “living signposts of the faith” whom God sets before us if we are open to the Truth. By “ living signposts” I mean men and women who possess grace and in whom we see the light of Christ. Christianity in the west tends to be analytical and logical, Eastern Christianity is synthetic and mystical and engages the whole of our being.

You shall love the Lord your God with all your mind with all your strength, with all your heart and with all your soul.

The fact that we do metanoias (reverences or bows) shows that even prayer is a physical as well as a mental process. I have always believed in God, from a little child. I cannot remember a time when I did not believe in God. I had the right Christ, I just needed the right Church. Of course all this was a preparation for me to discover or rather recover the Orthodox faith.

2.) How would you characterise your own spiritual road to Orthodoxy? According to this question, would it be correct to say that Orthodoxy is able to heal the wounded souls?

I am like the Prodigal son in the parable who returns to his father. The Orthodox faith according to tradition was brought to Britain by St Joseph of Arimathea. An early Archbishop of Canterbury was Greek- St Theodore of Tarsus.  St Constantine the Great was made Augustus Emperor here in York when he was in charge of the sixth Legion. So I did not choose to find something “foreign”; I returned to the Church which was established here in Britain.

The Orthodox Church is Universal as we proclaim on the Sunday of Orthodoxy. The Church is the hospital for souls. As Blessed Augustine said

“Our hearts are restless until they find their rest in God”

Restlessness of the spirit is a characteristic of this age. So I have not discovered something new, I have recovered something authentic and original.

3.) Considering all what you have experienced over the years from the spiritual point of view, why is Orthodoxy so precious and meaningful to you?

Well, I believe Orthodoxy is not only original, unchanged and authentic but it is the teaching and preaching of Christ’s Apostles (Kerygma and Paradosi). Tradition is not simply historical, it is vital and dynamic. The Orthodox way fulfils the needs of the whole person and makes the broken person whole. It is precious because it is the

“pearl of great price.”

Once you find it, then you must share this treasure with others and not keep it to yourself.

4.) Do you think that Orthodoxy could be considered a burning bush?

4. I have a stone from Mount Sinai which contains the image of the bush which Moses saw burning and yet which was not consumed. If you want to forge metal, you must first heat it and out it into the fire and then you can shape it to the tool you require. When we are put into the fire of God, the same happens. It is so God can shape us into the person that He has called us to be. When we are alive in God then we become all flame. We are standing on holy ground, so when we approach God we must do so with awe before the majestic power of God.

5.) Now, I would like you to tell me what does the Orthodox monasticism mean for you and what impressed you most in your monastic pilgrimage, if I can call it like that?

5. Orthodox Monasteries are “LightHouses” for souls. They are often remote and inaccessible because the quietness for the soul requires asceticism . They are full of angels because the angelic life is lived there. When we say in the Lord’s Prayer

“Thy kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven”

then this is what monks are doing. The very walls of the Churches are filled with prayer and so one can feel tangibly the peace of God. It is this peace which passes all understanding that one experiences. Again I say that Orthodoxy is Life in the sense that we experience it, we live it. I have been to many Orthodox Monasteries in Romania. The most memorable moments are when I met Pr Ioanichie Balan in Sihastria Monastery and when I served the Holy Liturgy with Pr. Teofil Paraian( the blind Staretz) at Sambata de Sus. These were moments when the veil between heaven and earth was very thin.

6.) What would be the difference between you as a heterodox and you as an Orthodox?

I am complete. When Our Lord died on the Cross he said in St John’s Gospel

“It is finished”

but this also means

“It is completed”

that is, the work of salvation. In this sense “conversion” is an extension of what I once was. As C. S. Lewis (much respected by Orthodox) once put it

“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

As I have said before, I have always loved God but the depths of Orthodoxy provide me with the resources that nourish my soul.

7.) I remember some words which impressed me much while I was discussing with a Swiss writer converted to Orthodoxy. He was saying that he was born to hate but through Orthodoxy reborn to love. How would you characterise these words as a convert to Orthodoxy?

We were all born to love. Christ summarised the Commandments as Loving God and Loving your neighbour. Orthodox Christianity can be summarised in these words. But love is a verb… we must put into action those things which we believe. I am sure the prisons in Romania are full of criminals who would call themselves Orthodox and who have been baptised as such, but sin found a place in their hearts. Glory to God he is merciful and loves mankind! And so we must live out our life in peace and repentance. Being Romanian does not make you Orthodox anymore than being Greek, Russian, Serb or British. There was no ethnic identity in the Garden of Eden before Adam and Eve’s transgressions. May the love of God embrace us all.

This interview is one of many that will be published in the book “The rediscovery of Orthodox heritage of the West” by Tudor Petcu, containing interviews with different Westerners converted to Orthodoxy. It will be published in two volumes and the first one will appear by the end of this year.

Journey to Orthodoxy

Fountains in the Desert

Book launch by En Plo Publications in Athens

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This event has been a most humbling experience! The ethos of the two panel speakers, Hieromonk Chrysostomos of Koutloumousiou Monastery, Mount Athos, and Fr. Bogdan-Konstantin Georgeskou, and that of the author himself, Fr. Jonathan Hemmings, permeated all the events. Such love and humility, especially in the face of various trials and tribulations, the least being an airline strike (!) impacting with its last-minute flight cancellations our speakers’ trips, felt like a rare blessing in “the apostasy of our times”. Fr. Seraphim’s Rose warning “Do not be deceived !” “It is later that you think, hasten therefore to do the work of God” is a favourite motto of  Father Jonathan, his spiritual grandchild.

The book presentation proved to be a Panorthodox Synaxis, truly ecumenical! So many Greek, Romanian and English Orthodox friends turned up. En Plo Bookstore was packed out! The occasion provided everybody with the grace of fellowship.

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Hieromonk Chrysostomos, the first panelistsummed it all aptly in the opening sentence of his presentation: “I have not come here to introduce or recommend the book, which needs no such thing, as this is evident to anyone who begins to read it, but I have come here, all the way from Mount Athos, to meet its author!” 

Because “cradle Orthodox” have so much to learn from “Orthodox converts“! (One of the ‘ironies’ of this event was that in the many conversations which followed with priests, academic theologians and lay people, Father Jonathan, himself a ‘convert‘, had to repeatedly ‘defend’ Orthodoxy from ‘cradle Orthodox‘ faithful, from their disillusionment, doubts, and confusion about ‘their’ faith).

For Hieromonk Chrysostomos presentation, “Monasticism as Unity and Overcoming Divisions” go to http://www.pemptousia.gr/video/ierom-chrisostomos-koutloumousianos-monachismos-ine-i-enotita-ke-i-ipervasi-ton-diereseon/

A vignette of the occasion which was indelibly marked in my heart was the author himself, in front of the audience in the packed room, all quiet during Hieromonk Chrysostomos’ presentation, deeply immersed in prayer, bending in humility his head, radiant, otherworldly, silent, and yet so eloquent, so full of the Holy Spirit amidst all this noise and praise in the crowded building. And I write ‘building’, because both floors were packed, and people were also waiting outside the book store too!

The long queue of the author’s spiritual children at the end of the book launch, their love and gratitude was such a heartwarming experience on its own! “And they shall come from the east, and from the west, and from the north, and from the south, and shall sit down in the kingdom of God.” (Luke 13:29) So many memories, of his life and ministry, of his works and his deeds, of love, which will continue in them and in their families. Father Jonathan was himself visibly moved to be with his spiritual children and dearest supporters of the ‘crucified’ Community of the Holy and Life Giving Cross in Lancaster, England and meet new friends in Christ and make further ‘connections’ in the Holy Spirit with those who are part of Christ’s extended family.

 

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The two panel speakers’ presentations were outstanding, and the author impressed the audience with his profound humility, his love for everybody, his wise words, the purity of ‘his’ Orthodoxy, his poetry and his knowledge of the Greek language:

“It is with a profound sense of thanksgiving that in humility I thank you for publishing “Fountains in the Desert.” It is the product of a long lived admiration for those who found the desert to be a treasury of blessings. I have simply woven my own experiences into this mystical landscape. Any worth in it springs from the overflowing love of God for me, a prodigal, and to those whose zeal, patience, kindness and loving example have been spiritual signposts of the faith for my own journey through the desert.

Such salvation is experienced when one is thirsty for the Truth and the saints who Christ sends, provide the living water from which one drinks deeply of the sparkling fresh fountains of our Orthodox Christian faith. I wish to recognise in particular the heaven endowed, grace-filled influences of His Eminence Metropolitan Antony of Sourozh, Archimandrite Barnabas of New Mills, Archimandrite David of Walsingham, Archpriest Michael Harper and Hieroschemamonk Ambrose ( formerly Fr.Alexey Young) the spiritual son of Blessed Seraphim Rose, who chrismated me .

The Apostle Paul writes to the Christians at Ephesus:

Ephesians 5:2

“Walk in the way of love just as Christ loved us and gave Himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.”

When we drink deeply from these sparkling springs and living waters of Orthodoxy, there is an inevitable outpouring of love to sustain us in our journey and an inexpressible joy to share this life giving water with others who thirst after truth. This is the life of the Church, to share the Gospel.

Luke 13:29

 

29 And they shall come from the east, and from the west, and from the north, and from the south, and shall sit down in the kingdom of God.

So we have much to do- because for to those who have been given much, much is expected. We rejoice with those returning to the Orthodox Church. We weep with those who find themselves exiled from their lands. We are warmed by the fact that so many of our parishes are microcosms of Pentecost with faithful being welcomed from all over the world regardless of nationality. We thank God that we witness strength of faith and growth in His Church and we ask empowerment for the apostolic mission set before us to bring God’s love to a hungry and thirsty world.

The glory of God is revealed in joy. The mercy of God is experienced in suffering. The grace of God is discovered in fellowship. The power of God is realised in miracles. The love of God is manifested in mission. Our dialogue is with heaven, even in the deserts of our cities where we encounter ourselves, the evil one and God. Christ only speaks one language and that is the language of love for His creation. May His love give voice to our faith.” (excerpts from the author’s presentation)

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Fr. Jonathan‘s interview following the booklaunch has been videotaped by pemptousia.com and will appear shortly.

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The Orthodox Christian Parish of the Holy and Life ­Giving Cross at Lancaster (United Kingdom) belongs to the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of the British Isles and Ireland, is a relatively small parish led by Fr. Jonathan, but with faithful from more than half a dozen nationalities, a ‘crucified’ parish, literally ‘on the move’ for over 20 years. After 20 years of using borrowed premises (a quite typical situation for ‘convert’ Orthodox parishes at the UK), they are renting a former Anglican church St Martin’s of Tours Church from Friday to Sunday evening, in order to serve the needs of the Orthodox Christians in the Lancaster area.  To this end, they are making an appeal to raise funds to cover the rent and other needs of the Church on a permanent basis. Apart from your much needed prayers, you can find information on how to contribute to their fund raiser here. The proceedings from this Greek translation of the book or the English original will be likewise used to cover basic needs of the Church. The Holy and Life ­Giving Cross at Lancaster is a lively parish which enjoys Christian fellowship, having meals together and taking part in pilgrimages to Orthodox monasteries, churches, ancient Christian sites and other worship places (photos), produce a newsletter each month with their news and spiritual food for thought, and is engaged in a number of holy tasks.

Living Waters

 

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Isaiah 43:19

19 Behold, I will do a new thing,

Now it shall spring forth;

Shall you not know it?

I will even make a road in the wilderness

And rivers in the desert.

 

John 4:10

10 Jesus answered and said to her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is who says to you, ‘Give Me a drink,’ you would have asked Him, and He would have given you living water.”

 

John 7:38

38 He who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.”

 

John 19:34

34 But one of the soldiers with a spear pierced his side, and forthwith came there out blood and water.

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Listen!

 

A person’s response to God’s offer of salvation is a matter of engaging the will, faith and action.

Without the will there is no movement,

Without faith there is no direction,

Without action there is no reward.

 

To discover Living Water requires us knowing:

Whose open Hand provides this blessing and treasure

What is it’s measure

and

Where to find it flowing?

 

We must start by digging for water in the caverns of the heart.

If the ground is rocky, we must dig in silence with the sharp adze of patience.

 

 

Listen carefully!

Do your hear something?

 

If our ground is hard, we must soften it with mercy and repentance:

For the soil of pride can only be removed through meek dependence

On God.

 

Listen!

Do you hear the drip of water on stone?

 

We must not simply remove the weeds which are the fruits of the passions,

we must excavate each day with persistence

since familiar habits possess a stubborn resistance;

whereas the humus of humility is the place to locate compassion.

 

In this way, we may even lead in order to serve.

Leading the way to build a viaduct for the King of Glory

Order our service to others by constructing a conduit for Christ.

 

Dig therefore with wisdom,

Dig with discernment,

Dig with love,

Whilst guarding the heart at all times with diligence.

 

Listen!

Do you hear water flowing?

 

Because at the time appointed,

At the opportune moment,

We who are disjointed

are healed and

Sealed with the Holy Spirit.

 

God opens the flood gates of our hearts

With His own master key of humility,

To become a channel of His grace.

 

Just listen to that sound!

 

The sound of Living waters;

an ocean wave, a mighty river in flood, a cascading waterfall

a fountain of benediction;

heard by earth’s sons and daughters

To become for all a Life- Giving spring, welling up to Eternity.

 

Work hard then each day and dig!

Listen, work, dig deep

head bowed with sweat and tears,

extinguishing fears of death, awakening life from sleep,

exchanging salt waters for sweet

to greet Living waters.

 

Many rich and powerful men would pay dearly to see the Lord or His Most Pure Mother, but God does not appear in riches, but in the humble heart… Every one of the poorest men can be humbled and come to know God. It needs neither money nor reputation to come to know God, but only humility.

(St. Silouan the Athonite, Writings, I.11,21)

 

By Fr. Jonathan Hemmings

 

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