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"Today the concept of truth is viewed with suspicion, because truth is identified with violence. Over history there have, unfortunately, been episodes when people sought to defend the truth with violence. But they are two contrasting realities. Truth cannot be imposed with means other than itself! Truth can only come with its own light. Yet, we need truth. ... Without truth we are blind in the world, we have no path to follow. The great gift of Christ was that He enabled us to see the face of God".Pope Benedict xvi, February 24th, 2012

The Church is ecumenical, catholic, God-human, ageless, and it is therefore a blasphemy—an unpardonable blasphemy against Christ and against the Holy Ghost—to turn the Church into a national institution, to narrow her down to petty, transient, time-bound aspirations and ways of doing things. Her purpose is beyond nationality, ecumenical, all-embracing: to unite all men in Christ, all without exception to nation or race or social strata. - St Justin Popovitch

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Friday, 29 May 2009

The Desert Tradition: St Antony and St Simeon Stylitis



video video

video
The Hermits of Bethlehem
These videos tell something of the vocation of the solitary from different angles. I especially recommend the EWTN film "In Praise of the Desert", after which any article by me would be superfluous. Instead, I shall remind you of the treatise of St Peter Damian on "The Dominus Vobiscum" which gives the reason why a hermit in his cell should read the responses in the Divine Office, even when he is totally alone. He tells us that the unity of the Church is not something we create ourselves, the result of ur own efforts, merely an expression of our own limited feelings, but is a gift of the Holy Spirit. We are united by the Spirit to Christ in the Eucharist, and hence we are united to all who are "in" Christ, because he cannot be separated from his body. A hermit, who is dedicating his life to loving God with al he has and is, also comes to love the whole Church as Christ loves the Church; and, like Christ, he includes in himself all Christ's members. A hermit is never more united to the whole Church than when he is alone wth God who is the true Source of Christian unity. It is a gift brought about by the Eucharist



Wednesday, 13 May 2009

The Pope in the Upper Room


Papal Address to Holy Land Ordinaries in Upper Room
"The Different Christian Churches Found Here Represent a Rich and Varied Spiritual Patrimony"



JERUSALEM, MAY 12, 2009 (Zenit.org).- Here is the text of the address Benedict XVI gave today in the Upper Room in Jerusalem to the Holy Land ordinaries, including the Latin patriarch, the bishops of the Churches of different rites in communion with Rome, and the custodian of the Holy Land



Dear Brother Bishops,

Dear Father Custos,

It is with great joy that I greet you, the Ordinaries of the Holy Land, in this Upper Room where according to tradition the Lord opened his heart to his chosen disciples and celebrated the Paschal Mystery, and where the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost inspired the early disciples to go forth and preach the good news. I thank Father Pizzaballa for the warm words of welcome which he has expressed to me on your behalf. You represent the Catholic communities of the Holy Land who, in their faith and devotion, are like lighted candles illuminating the holy places that were graced by the presence of Jesus our living Lord. This unique privilege gives you and your people a special place of affection in my heart as the Successor of Peter.
When Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart from this world to the Father, having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end" (Jn13:1). The Upper Room recalls the last supper of our Lord with Peter and the other apostles and invites the Church to prayerful contemplation. In this vein we gather together, the Successor of Peter with successors of the apostles, in this same place where Jesus revealed in the offering of his own body and blood, the new depths of the covenant of love established between God and his people. In the Upper Room the mystery of grace and salvation, of which we are recipients and also heralds and ministers, can be expressed only in terms of love. Because he has loved us first and continues to do so, we can respond with love (cf. Deus Caritas Est, 2). Our life as Christians is not simply a human effort to live the demands of the Gospel imposed upon us as duties. In the Eucharist we are drawn into the mystery of divine love. Our lives become a grateful, docile and active acceptance of the power of a love which is given to us. This transforming love, which is grace and truth (cf. Jn 1:17), prompts us, as individuals and communities, to overcome the temptation to turn in upon ourselves in selfishness or indolence, isolation, prejudice or fear, and to give ourselves generously to the Lord and to others. It moves us as Christian communities to be faithful to our mission with frankness and courage (cf. Acts 4:13). In the Good Shepherd who lays down his life for his flock, in the Teacher who washes the feet of his disciples, you find, my dear brothers, the model of your own ministry in the service of our God who promotes love and communion.
The call to communion of mind and heart, so closely related to the commandment of love and to the central unifying role of the Eucharist in our lives, is of special relevance in the Holy Land. The different Christian Churches found here represent a rich and varied spiritual patrimony and are a sign of the multiple forms of interaction between the Gospel and different cultures. They also remind us that the mission of the Church is to preach the universal love of God and to gather, from far and near, all who are called by him, in such a way that, with their traditions and their talents, they form the one family of God. A new spiritual impulse towards communion in diversity within the Catholic Church and a new ecumenical awareness have marked our times, especially since the Second Vatican Council. The Spirit moves our hearts gently towards humility and peace, towards mutual acceptance, comprehension and cooperation. This inner disposition to unity under the prompting of the Holy Spirit is decisive if Christians are to fulfill their mission in the world (cf. Jn:17:21)

In the measure in which the gift of love is accepted and grows in the Church, the Christian presence in the Holy Land and in the neighboring regions will be vibrant. This presence is of vital importance for the good of society as a whole. The clear words of Jesus on the intimate bond between love of God and love of neighbor, on mercy and compassion, on meekness, peace and forgiveness, are a leaven capable of transforming hearts and shaping actions. Christians in the Middle East, together with other people of good will, are contributing, as loyal and responsible citizens, in spite of difficulties and restrictions, to the promotion and consolidation of a climate of peace in diversity. I wish to repeat to them what I stated in my 2006 Christmas message to Catholics in the Middle East: "I express with affection my personal closeness in this situation of human insecurity, daily suffering, fear and hope which you are living. I repeat to your communities the words of the Redeemer: 'Fear not little flock, for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the Kingdom' (Lk 12:32)" (Christmas Message to Catholics living in the Middle East Region, 21 December 2006).

Dear Brother Bishops, count on my support and encouragement as you do all that is in your power to assist our Christian brothers and sisters to remain and prosper here in the land of their ancestors and to be messengers and promoters of peace. I appreciate your efforts to offer them, as mature and responsible citizens, spiritual sustenance, values and principles that assist them in playing their role in society. Through education, professional preparation and other social and economic initiatives their condition will be sustained and improved. For my part, I renew my appeal to our brothers and sisters worldwide to support and to remember in their prayers the Christian communities of the Holy Land and the Middle East. In this context I wish to express my appreciation for the service offered to the many pilgrims and visitors who come to the Holy Land seeking inspiration and renewal in the footsteps of Jesus. The Gospel story, contemplated in its historical and geographical setting, becomes vivid and colorful, and a clearer grasp of the significance of the Lord's words and deeds is obtained. Many memorable experiences of pilgrims to the Holy Land have been possible thanks also to the hospitality and fraternal guidance offered by you, especially by the Franciscan Friars of the Custody. For this service, I wish to assure you of the appreciation and gratitude of the Universal Church and I express the wish that many more pilgrims will visit in the future.

Dear brothers, as we address together our joyful prayer to Mary, Queen of Heaven, let us place confidently in her hands the well-being and spiritual renewal of all Christians in the Holy Land, so that, under the guidance of their Pastors, they may grow in faith, hope and love, and persevere in their mission as promoters of communion and peace

Tuesday, 12 May 2009

Christ's Triumph in Russia


Starting on May 13th, 1917, Our Lady appeared to three Portugese peasant children for six consecutive months. She told them that people must do penance and pray much, using the rosary every day, that prayer and penance can stop wars and bring peace, both to those who use these means and to the world. The war would be over soon; but, if they did not really pray and practise penance a worse war would come about. Also, there would be a terrible persecution of the Church in Russia and this would spread to other countries. There would be many martyrs and much suffering. To counteract this evil, the Pope must be asked to consecrate Russia to her Immaculate Heart,people should offer "communions of reparation" on first Saturdays. In time, Our Lady would conquer,Russia would return to the Faith, and there would be a period of peace.
Rome listened, and it became a common practice to pray for Russia, after each Mass, for example. Many people were in the habit of offering small sacrifices and saying the rosary "for the conversion of Russia". Pope Pius XII, in his Apostolic Letter of July 7, 1952 "Sacro Vergente" consecrated Russia to the Most Blessed Virgin Mary. Pius XII wrote,
"Just as a few years ago We consecrated the entire human race to the Immaculate Heart of the Virgin Mary, Mother of God, so today We consecrate and in a most special manner We entrust all the peoples of Russia to this Immaculate Heart"…[13] The Pope reminded the Russian people, that the Virgin Mary was always victorious. "The gates of hell will never prevail, where she offers her protection. She is the good mother, the mother of all, and it has never been heard, that those who seek her protection, will not receive it. With this certainty, the Pope dedicates all people of Russia to the immaculate heart of the Virgin. She will help! Error and atheism will be overcome with her assistance and divine grace".[14]
Between the Feast of the Transfiguration of Our Lord and the Feast of the Assumption of Our Lady,1991 (Julian Calendar), the Soviet atheist union of republics collapsed... Imagine the scene on August 19th (our calendar)in the main square in Moscow. The Soviet hardliners, with the help of the top KGB and military generals, had kidnapped Gorbachev and had ordered him to resign the presidency, which he refused to do. Yeltsin, the newly elected president of the Soviet Union was holed up in the parliament building, nicknamed the "White House". It was surrounded by unarmed civilians, many very young or very old, who were defending it, while tanks, with their guns trained on the "White House" were waiting to for orders to attack. At one point, Yeltsin came out of the building and danced on one of the tanks, daring them to do something. He was able to broadcast to the nation from the building, and he made full use of the facility. Things were not going the hardliners' way. Ten tanks with their commander changed sides. The elite Alpha Unit refused to storm the parliament in spite of orders to do so. However, all the military might remained under the orders of the junta that had taken power. It looked set for a blood bath. Then Yeltsin appealed by radio to the Patriarch, Alexy II.
Aleksey Ridiger, although a churchman, had been a KGB agent for many years, codename "Thrush", and he had been elected Patriarch the year before by a group of bishops, probably with a certain amount of pressure from the KGB: he was "their" man. They probably expected him to toe the KGB line. However, like St Thomas a Becket in England who had been Henry II's man until made Archbishop of Canterbury, Alexy II changed on becoming Patriarch. He was celebrating the Feast of the Transfiguration in the cathedral when Yeltsin made his appeal. The next day Patriarch Alexy by radio and fax demanded that the nation should hear the voice of Gorbachev, the outgoing president. He then appealed to parliament, not the party organization, to find a solution. He ended up by saying:
"We call upon all parts of the Russian Orthodox Church, the whole of our people, and particularly our army at this critical moment for our nation to show support and not to permit the shedding of fraternal blood. We raise the heartfelt prayer to our Lord and summon all true believers in our Church to join this prayer begging Him to dispense peace to the peoples of our land so that they can in future build their homeland in accordance with freedom of choice and the accepted norms of morality and law."

Shortly after midnight on August 21st a column of tanks approached the parliament building. Two young men were shot and one was squashed by a tank. As soon as he heard of this, AlexyII broadcast again. He said:

"The delicate civil peace of our society has been rent asunder. According to the latest information, open armed conflict and loss of life have begun [i.e., the death of three young men trying to block the tanks]. In these circumstances, my duty as Patriarch is to warn everybody for whom the word of the Church is dear and carries weight: Every person who raises arms against his neighbor, against unarmed civilians, will be taking upon his soul a very profound sin which will separate him from the Church and from God. It is appropriate to shed more tears and say more prayers for such people than for their victims.
May God protect you from the terrible sin of fratricide. I solemnly warn all my fellow-citizens:
The Church does not condone and cannot condone unlawful and violent acts and the shedding of blood.
I ask all of you, my dear ones, to do everything possible to prevent the flame of civil war from bursting forth.
Cease at once!
I ask soldiers and their officers to remember that no one can set a price on human life and pay it [i.e., that price].
I ask the Most Holy Mother of God, the Protector of our city, at this time of the Feast of the Transfiguration, not to withdraw Her protection from us, but to preserve all of us.
O Mother of God (Mater Bozhia), help us to reconcile ourselves to one another, to the truth, and to God! Aleksy II, Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia. "
At the mention of "the Most Holy Mother of God", many civilians and soldiers bowed their heads and crossed themselves. Russians in general and Muscovites in particular regard the Blessed Virgin as their Protectress, and she has been invoked at many times of crisis. There are several icons through which the people of Moscow believe that Our Lady protects them. One is Our Lady of Vladimir which always adorns the front page of this blog. Then there is Our Lady of Kazan (We have a video in the post on Our Lady). Then there is Our Lady of the Gate that guards one of the main entrances into Moscow. This invocation by the Patriarch stressed the gravity of the situation and a belief that the Blessed Virgin would see them through. Patriarch Alexy had asked Our Lady to defeat the "coup" by the Communist hardliners.
Even stronger was the way he threatened the soldiers," Every person who raises arms against his neighbour, against unarmed civilians, will be taking upon his soul a very profound sin which will separate him from the Church and from God. It is appropriate to shed more tears and say more prayers for such people than for their victims." How many armies or soldiers in the "Christian West" would pay much attention to such a threat. Yet, ever since 1917, all education in Russia was atheist in school and university. Children or students who were known to have attended Mass were penalized in their grades in subjects other than religion. Known Christians were blocked from promotion. After such a long time in which Christians were depicted as stupid and even evil in the media, the Patriarch could threaten so-called atheist soldiers that they would be separated from the Church and God; and they listened. From the depths of the Russian psyche, Holy Russia was claiming its own. The troops in the tanks were attacked with New Testaments which were given by the Russian Bible Society and thrust into their hands. Priests began to baptise people in the streets. At 3.00am Kryuchkov phoned Yeltsin to tell him that the parliament would not be attacked. Patriarch Alexy attributed the defeat of the junta to the Blessed Virgin Mary; and that is what devout Orthodox believe. Later, the crowd went to the KGB building and pulled down the statue of Feliks Dzerzhinsky,founder of the "Cheka", ancestor of the Russian Secret Police. In its place they put a Russian cross with its extra sloping bar. On the base they painted in Old Slavonic, "By this sign you will conquer". the words that Constantine claimed to see before the Battle of Milvian Bridge in 312AD.
It is a long way from Fatima in Portugal to Moscow in Russia, and it is a long time between May 13th, 1917 and the process that began on the Feast of the Transfiguration and finally ended on the Feast of the Assumption, and the three little peasant children lived in a different world from Patriarch Alexy II of Moscow and All Russia; but I hope that one day the Russian Orthodox will realize how Our Lady's care and power as Mother of God crosses frontiers both national and ecclesiastical, and that Patriarch Alexy was, in effect, joining his intercession to "the Most Holy Mother of God" to the prayers of millions of Catholics in the West, the rosaries of women, the small sacrifices of children, and the "communions of reparation" on first Saturdays which people did because Our Lady had asked for them.
Even stronger was the way he threatened the soldiers," Every person who raises arms against his neighbour, against unarmed civilians, will be taking upon his soul a very profound sin which will separate him from the Church and from God. It is appropriate to shed more tears and say more prayers for such people than for their victims." How many armies or soldiers in the "Christian West" would pay much attention to such a threat. Yet, ever since 1917, all education in Russia was atheist in school and university. Children or students who were known to have attended Mass were penalized in their grades in subjects other than religion. Known Christians were blocked from promotion. After such a long time in which Christians were depicted as stupid and even evil in the media, the Patriarch could threaten so-called atheist soldiers that they would be separated from the Church and God; and they listened. From the depths of the Russian psyche, Holy Russia was claiming its own. The troops in the tanks were attacked with New Testaments which were given by the Russian Bible Society and thrust into their hands. Priests began to baptise people in the streets. At 3.00am Kryuchkov phoned Yeltsin to tell him that the parliament would not be attacked. Patriarch Alexy attributed the defeat of the junta to the Blessed Virgin Mary; and that is what devout Orthodox believe. Later, the crowd went to the KGB building and pulled down the statue of Feliks Dzerzhinsky,founder of the "Cheka", ancestor of the Russian Secret Police. In its place they put a Russian cross with its extra sloping bar. On the base they painted in Old Slavonic, "By this sign you will conquer". the words that Constantine claimed to see before the Battle of Milvian Bridge in 312AD.
It is a long way from Fatima in Portugal to Moscow in Russia, and it is a long time between May 13th, 1917 and the process that began on the Feast of the Transfiguration and finally ended on the Feast of the Assumption, and the three little peasant children lived in a different world from Patriarch Alexy II of Moscow and All Russia; but I hope that one day the Russian Orthodox will realize how Our Lady's care and power as Mother of God crosses frontiers both national and ecclesiastical, and that Patriarch Alexy was, in effect, joining his intercession to "the Most Holy Mother of God" to the prayers of millions of Catholics in the West, the rosaries of women, the small sacrifices of children, and the "communions of reparation" on first Saturdays which people did because Our Lady had asked for them. One thing that the secular press will not mention with any emphasis is that the fall of Atheistic Communism in Eastern Europe was, more than anything, brought about by means of the Christian faith of ordinary people. Starting with the election of a Polish Pope and the activity of Solidarity and ending with a speech by the Patriarch of Moscow, the felling of the statue of the founder of Russia's secret police and replacing it with a cross. "By this sign you will conquer."

In this article I have tried to give you some pictures and videos which show ordinary people and altar boys. The style is different but the reality is the same. In spite of all the sacrifice that it entailed,ordinary people in Russia had a faith that would move mountains and was certainly stronger than all that an all-powerful atheist regime could muster. This srticle has told us of an ecumenical prayer to the Mother of God before ecumenism was invented. Just as the same Mother of God and the same apostles visited both St Seraphim of Sarov and St John Mary Vianney, with complete disregard for ecclesiastical restrictions, so Mary in Fatima recruited Roman Catholicism in a campaign of prayer across the ecclesiastical divide for the conversion of Russia. A couple of years ago, my abbot and another monk of my monastery went to Minsk as guests of an Orthodox convent. They were guided round the churches of the city by a friendly Orthodox priest. On one day, he told them he would show them two churches, and he wanted them to guess which one was Orthodox and which was Catholic. One was a model of Byzantine liturgical correctness, and the other had a statue of Our Lady of Fatima. Of course, the one with the statue was Orthodox; so some, at least, perhaps knew the truth, and acknowledged that the Holy Spirit is ecumenical, even when we are not.
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