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? 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.
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?
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.
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.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.
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”
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.
Work Pray Be Saved! Back to Mikrokastro monastery, my spiritual basis in Greece! For the Transfiguration Feast. “Lord, it is good for us to be here. If you wish, I will put up three shelters—one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah!” I feel so safe, protected and loved here! It is always like this: the Mother of God always comforts me; the peace, stillness and hesychia of the monastery invades me; the fellowship of the nuns warms me; the motherly affection of its Abbess, Mother Theologia’s love nurtures me; the nuns’ combination of discipline, structure, work and prayer ‘stabilises’ me; their wise ‘equation’: Work and Prayer= Salvation!‘ centers’ me, ‘grounds’ me on peace and the Holy Spirit.
Just today, I felt so happy harvesting, curing and storing potatoes after the Matins service and Holy Liturgy in the monastery chapel! It felt so exhilaratingly Van Goghean!
Certainly one eats his meal afterwards, roast potatoes😃, with gratitude and thanksgiving.
Fr Jonathan Hemmings has written a whole chapter on this ‘equation’: Work and Prayer= Salvation! in his book, Fountains in the Desert, which I have found most useful and often turn to for life balance ‘tips’.
When the holy Abba Antony lived in the desert he was beset by accidie (ἀκηδία) and attacked by many sinful thoughts. He said to God, “Lord, I want to be saved but these thoughts do not leave me alone; what shall I do in my affliction? How can I be saved?” A short while afterwards, when he got up to go out, Anthony saw a man like himself sitting at his work, getting up from his work to pray, then sitting down again and plaiting a rope, then getting up again to pray. It was an angel of the Lord sent to correct and reassure him. He heard the angel saying to him, “Do this and you will be saved.” At these words, Antony was filled with joy and courage. He did this, and he was saved.
Our human condition requires dependency upon God and interdependency on others. Correct spiritual examination requires the help and direction of a spiritual father who helps us grow into the image of Christ. Self examination alone without such an external reference point can put us in jeopardy such that we choose the wrong direction, make false judgements, become disappointed, lack faith, and fall into the trap of hopelessness and despair. Here we find ourselves in that spiritual malaise of accidie whereby because of our sense of sinfulness before a Holy God, we become inactive, paralysed and reach a state of torpor.
We ponder on the contradiction “How can we be Christians and have such sinful thoughts?” St Antony addresses this dilemma in the desert where he meets the devil, himself and God
“Lord, I want to be saved but these thoughts do not leave me alone;”
We notice that St Antony wants to be saved, he is aware of his own condition. Like the Prodigal son and Zacchaeus we must first come to our right mind and possess a desire (a zeal) for change. St Antony’s request is simple and succinct:
“What shall I do in my affliction. How can I be saved?”
We must be direct in our prayer to God; vagueness in repentance or in our requests is a form of obfuscation.
These two questions of St Antony remind us of that question the Lawyer posed to Christ before the Parable of the Good Samaritan. Luke 10:25 “What must I do to inherit eternal life?”
Inactivity is not an option for Christians; Christians are verbs not nouns!
Antony sees a man sitting at his work then getting up to pray, returning to his work and again rising to pray. The angel was sent by God to correct and reassure St Antony. Consumed by ourselves we lose focus and the source of our strength-we lose the will to work or pray! Work and Prayer= Salvation! This is an equation for all and not just for monks. Full of self loathing we need not only correction but reassurance. When called upon, the compassion and conviction of the All Holy Spirit assists us by His comfort and strength.
Just as our Lord was ministered to by angels in the wilderness after the Temptations Matthew 4:11
“Then the devil left Him, and behold, angels came and ministered to Him.”
So with St Antony an angel ministers to him instructing him and restoring courage and joy. “ Do this and you will be saved.”
The Fathers teach us that we should not trust too readily in our own thoughts and opinions but take heed to God’s Word Who provides us with the pattern of salvation.
In our modern western culture, Life balance is a much discussed topic today. When mums have to juggle careers with caring and the ever increasing demand for dads to prioritize we need to drink from the fountains of the desert. Without work we become indolent and listless; too much work makes us tired and stressed. Without prayer we become detached from our source of strength and the deeper reality Who created us. Likewise prayer without action is fruitless, as St James says in his epistle:
“Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.”
Prayer will warm and revive us in the love of God; work will warm and energise us in the love for others thus fulfilling the Divine equation for salvation:
27 So he answered and said, “ ‘You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind,’ and ‘your neighbour as yourself.’”
28 And He said to him, “You have answered rightly; do this and you will live.”