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.

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

 

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?” 

The Coronavirus Diary of a Joyous Pustinik — 39

heaven doors

Homecoming

When I was a little boy my mother used to take me shopping, or, to be more accurate, I used to accompany her on shopping trips. On Saturdays, we used to go to a rather fine department store where there were all kinds of beautiful items for sale. In the basement was the toy department! Each week I hoped that my mother would buy a little car for my collection – I was never disappointed.
I was fascinated with the lift which took us to the different floors in the store. It was operated by a man in a brown uniform with yellow piping. His smart livery was completed by a peaked cap and white gloves. He would ask what department we required and would press the appropriate amber button on the brass plate to his left. It would light up in a bright tortoiseshell pattern. Clothing, food, perfume, hardware, electrics, shoes, carpets and furniture- you name it- the store had it to sell. The lift transported us to such different “rooms” each with their own distinct character.
On the top floor, our last calling place, was the restaurant for refreshments. I would be treated to a cake or ice cream and fizzy drink before, loaded down with bags, we caught the bus to go home.
It was so good to arrive home and to see my father who had returned from work and of course to play with my new toy car with my friends!

After “shopping” in the world for our salvation, Our Lord ascended to His Father in the heavens to prepare a place for us.

The Homecoming

John 14:2
In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you.

Hear the prayers of your servants
Who from our tested faith,
Hearts grief and pity, brave
These sweet words of hope
Which cry for mercy o’er the earth filled grave.
We pray and say:
Go home, my dearest one, go home.

It’s not the place but the way we live
Δεν είναι ο τόπος αλλά ο τρόπος που ζούμε
That is our home.
το σπίτι μας
 
It’s not what we own but what we give
Δεν είναι το τι έχουμε, αλλά αυτό που δίνουμε,
That shares His home
που μοιράζεται τον οίκο Του

May Christ’s balm our memories heal
His new life promise seal
As following in the way
We rest awaiting change.
Until clothed on that sudden judgement day
We hear Christ say:
Come home, my dearest one, come home.”

Faith is to believe what you do not see; the reward of this faith is to see what you believe. 
Blessed Augustine

The Coronavirus Diary of a Joyous Pustinik — 38

cave

AGIA SOFIA’S CAVE, CRETE

Christ is Risen!

The man who lived in a cave

Some years ago, one hot summer day whilst on holiday in Crete, I visited with friends a small Church, high up on the top of a mountain. Near to the Church was a man who lived in a cave. On visiting him he showed us around his “house.” His bed was a smoothed rock shelf and another flat rock for a table. Above the “table” was an oil lamp and Holy Icons of the Saviour and the Mother of God.

Outside, he had two or three goats, a few chickens, a small plot of land with a clear stream of water running through it. I recall that the bees at the time were drinking from the stream.

“Don’t you miss out on things? one of our company enquired of the man.

“No, I have everything I need, I have milk and honey, I have eggs and freshwater to wash and drink and I can always exchange a few eggs for bread in the village.”

“What about the scorpions, aren’t you afraid of the scorpions?” one of our party asked.

“ There are scorpions,” he said as he shrugged his shoulders, “but I don’t bother them and they don’t bother me!”

Example 2

A shabbily dressed man walked into a publisher’s office in Moscow. He took from his greatcoat a rather tattered manuscript and enquired whether it could be published? The publisher glanced dismissively at the manuscript and seeing the man’s dishevelled appearance said that he had no time to read it.

“Really? “said the man “I must have been misinformed, I am told that people like to read what I write.”

“ Indeed” said the publisher, his curiosity being aroused by this response “….and so who are you? What is your name?”

“My name?” as he collected his papers and stuffed them back into his overcoat, “my name is Leo Tolstoy.”

The publisher felt rather foolish and started begging for the privilege to publish. The eccentric genius quietly withdrew making his exit from the publishing office.

 

The wisdom of God

1 Corinthians 1:23

But we preach Christ crucified, to the Jews a stumbling block and to the Greeks foolishness,”

1 Corinthians 4:10-11

10 We are fools for Christ’s sake, but you are wise in Christ! We are weak, but you are strong! You are distinguished, but we are dishonoured! 11 To the present hour we both hunger and thirst, and we are poorly clothed, and beaten, and homeless.

Who can contain the wisdom of the Wise?

Count loss as gain in faith-filled eyes.

Where is the key to unlock uncreated Light?

In constant prayer of day and night!

What target Heaven’s arrows and guided darts?

The simple minds, the humble hearts!

 

Who brought life to the Virgin womb?

He who emptied a stone-cold tomb!

Wisdom dwells in fools for Christ.

Power of God the Great High Priest

Who came in flesh to save the least.

Brightness of the Father, Pre-existent Word

The natal earth her ears first heard.

Who conceived creation? Wisdom from above!

Holy fools reflect His image… Love.

Who can contain the wisdom of the Wise?

In repentant sighs the one who dies… to self.

When Abba Macarius was into Egypt, he found a man who had brought a beast to his cell and he was stealing his possessions. He went up to the thief as though he were a traveller who did not live there and helped him to load the beast and led him on his way in peace, saying to himself, “We brought nothing into this world; but the Lord gave; as he willed, so is it done; blessed be the Lord in all things.”

My love and prayers

 

Eν Χριστώ

 

The Coronavirus Diary of a Joyous Pustinik — 37

mount athos

Touching Heaven! 

Christ is Risen!

I’m back!

I have all my data and files retrieved and installed on my new laptop. So once more I am able to inflict my poems on you. My “tech savvy” trusted helper patiently guided me through the installation, asking nothing in return. Such love and kindness inculcates a bond of respect.

However, I am going to miss my old keyboard, my new laptop is so sensitive to the touch! Things are different and yet the same- the same files but a new approach, a new style, a new image.

Quite recently, I met a former pupil in the city centre whom I had taught at school. He said:

“Hello sir!”  I haven’t been referred to as sir for some time! I searched my memory for a name, I hardly recognised him, not simply because of his physical maturity but because he had grown in confidence from the rather shy student I began to remember. He had changed and yet he was the same- his voice deeper but with the same inflection, accent and tone. When he began to speak, I knew who he was. What a joy it was to see him and to hear his news.

In the appearances of our Lord after his resurrection, his disciples do not always recognise him. The nature of His glorious resurrected body was so different and yet the same. His resurrected body contain the wounds of the crucifixion and yet it was transformed. His voice, His words, His actions reveal his identity.

2 Corinthians 3:18

But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord.

 

Touching Heaven

John 21:4 “Jesus stood on the shore; yet the disciples did not know that it was Jesus.”

 

The young monk stood upright head bowed in prayer.

Barefoot, he perched on rocks breathing the fresh spring air

The blue, tranquil lake lapped at his feet.

His eyes closed in mystery towards the setting sun,

Hands held aloft in reverence for the Holy One

Harmony of God and nature’s seat.

His leather holy belt hung at his waist

A sign of his ascetic labour and a taste

Of blessed Communion, Oh so sweet.

The stillness mirrored in his soul

Deep thoughts of Christ to make him whole

His heart in tandem with creation’s beat.

Here where sea and sky converge

This figure and Christ’s image merge

Earth touches heaven and for an instant meet!

To the Glory of God

 

“That is what the torment of hell is in my opinion: remorse. But love inebriates the souls of the sons and daughters of heaven by its delectability.”

St. Isaac the Syrian

The Coronavirus Diary of a Joyous Pustinik — 32

the way we were

Identification 

Christ is Risen!

Our identity is significant, knowing who we are and to whom we belong is important. A royal visitor came to the school where I taught some years ago. One of the retinue seeing a decorative Pectoral Cross I was wearing asked:

 “Are these jewels real?” 

“No” I replied “I believe they are paste, but the faith is real!”

When I passed through an airport security check more recently wearing my cross I was just about to remove it when the security officer said “you can leave it on, that is your identity!”

The Cross worn around the neck is not an ornament or jewelry for Christians but is the Sign of their identity and signifies to Whom they belong.

Identification

John 17:22-24 

22 And the glory which You gave Me I have given them, that they may be one just as We are one: 23 I in them, and You in Me; that they may be made perfect in one, and that the world may know that You have sent Me, and have loved them as You have loved Me.
24 “Father, I desire that they also whom You gave Me may be with Me where I am, that they may behold My glory which You have given Me; for You loved Me before the foundation of the world.

The sighs of present, future, past

On holy limbs were laid

What price redeemed the groaning earth

In flowing crimson paid?

We greet our smaller Golgothas

Christ’s scenes become our own

Sprinkled by dry orient dust

From Zion’s fortress blown.

Each insult that Our Lord received

The Suffering He endured

Transfers to us in Union;

By His pure Body cured.

We live His life, we share His death

By Perfection we’re appraised

By mercy saved, by grace forgiven

By Holy power we’re raised.

“I in them, and You in me”

From Jordan to the Tree

We travel, grow in faith and find

Our true Identity.

identity

Suffering is an indication of another Kingdom which we look to. If being Christian meant being “happy” in this life, we wouldn’t need the Kingdom of Heaven.

—Blessed Seraphim Rose
 
My prayers
Eν Χριστώ
*Photographs by Pedro Quintela‎ and Bahram Pourshahbazi

The Coronavirus Diary of a Joyous Pustinik — 31

 

The ruins and rock-hewn graves of St. Patrick’s Chapel, Heysham 2

The ruins and rock-hewn graves of St. Patrick’s Chapel, Heysham

There is an ancient Chapel dedicated to St Patrick which I often visit. I like to take friends and visitors there( when possible) and each time it is a blessing for us. The place is holy, graced by God and visited by His saints. There is a tangible feeling of the eternal energies breaking through time and space. It is a place which attracts people like metal to a magnet. Some are drawn by the sheer beauty of the place, some come for daily exercise or recreation and others come to pray and experience harmony with God.

saint-patrick-s-chapel Heysham

Saint Patrick’s Chapel, Heysham

At Tara today in this fateful hour

I place all Heaven with its power,

And the sun with its brightness,

And the snow with its whiteness,

And fire with all the strength it hath,

And lightning with its rapid wrath,

And the winds with their swiftness along their path,

And the sea with its deepness,

And the rocks with their steepness,

And the earth with its starkness

All these I place,

By God’s almighty help and grace,

Between myself and the powers of darkness.

 

The Rune of St Patrick

 

Inside st Peter's church heysham

Inside st Peter’s church Heysham

 

Here and now.

 

Matthew 28:19: “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations,

baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”

 

Here, St. Patrick’s monks made toil of prayers

And shared the task to foil the demons snares,

Here on this headland of Bannavem Taburniæ,

The work of saints confer a blessing still today.

 

Near is that realm on high where heavenly host

 Disperse the thoughts that charm us most.

 Here, upon this ancient Celtic Christian place

 A light shines upon the weary pilgrim’s face;

 

So that we may too reflect in holiness of life

 Struggling human flesh in ascetic pious strife.

 Here, where holy bread was broken

 Lies a shadow of that most holy token

 

A simple meal in fellowship

 A contract signed in partnership.

 Here, on Britain’s western edge of land and sea

 An eastern promise is fulfilled, made once in Galilee:

 

“Lo, I am with you always even to the end of the age.”

 He is with us now, to bestow upon the simple sage

 A truth perceived, perhaps a joy or word of inspiration,

 To those who gather here from every nation.

 

 Here where sea and human efforts ebb and flow

 The eternal veil is lifted high on those below.

 Here, where gold-red beams of sunset sink beneath the waves

 Christ, the Rising Son of times past, future and of present, saves. 

 

“What is a merciful heart? It is a heart on fire for the whole of creation, for humanity, for the birds, for the animals, for demons, and for all that exists. By the recollection of them the eyes of a merciful person pour forth tears in abundance. By the strong and vehement mercy that grips such a person’s heart, and by such great compassion, the heart is humbled and one cannot bear to hear or to see any injury or slight sorrow in any in creation. For this reason, such a person offers up tearful prayer continually even for irrational beasts, for the enemies of the truth, and for those who harm her or him, that they be protected and receive mercy. And in like manner such a person prays for the family of reptiles because of the great compassion that burns without measure in a heart that is in the likeness of God.”

St. Isaac the Syrian

My prayers
Eν Χριστώ