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

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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; butGod meant it for good, in order to bring it about as it isthis day, to save many people alive.

1 Samuel 16:7

7For the Lord doesnot seeas 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

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