At the end of their clergy retreat at Belmont, Bishop Hlib Lonchyna, the Administrator at the Apostolic Exarchate for Ukrainian Catholics in Great Britain, presided a solemn celebration of the Divine Liturgy in the Abbey Church. The sanctuary was transformed with candles and icons, and the rich gold vestments of the clergy added to the splendour of the celebration. Some of the Belmont brethren assisted in the liturgy, and a good congregation and excellent Ukranian choir added to its prayerfulness. Such a rare opportunity to experience worship in the Eastern Tradition was appreciated by all present.
Bishop Hlib Lonchyna
Today's Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom in the Byzantine Ukrainian Rite is a participation in the 150th Jubilee Year of Belmont Abbey. We wish to praise the Lord, thank him for the witness to his love and faithfulness given by the Benedictine monks of this Abbey, and to offer our prayers for God's blessings for the next 150, 250, as many years as the Lord wishes to grant. Our sincere greetings go to Abbot Paul and all the Fathers and Brothers of this Community. A special thanks is due for the pastoral services rendered by your own Fr Dyfrig to our Ukrainian community in Gloucester, as well as for your kindness in hosting a number of Ukrainian religious and laymen.
The witness of monks in today's world is of paramount importance, even as it is counter-culture. It is neither easy nor popular to give away the right to possessions, to family life, to one's independence. But if there are people who do so, this should make us think, ponder upon life's meaning and challenges, search for the reason of such audacity. And the reason is only one - it is the love of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Belmont Abbey has a rich history, full of cultural, educational and social achievements. But it is their witness to Christ's love that makes this Jubilee so special. Not that the monks are perfect, any more than you or I. But there is the desire to serve the Lord with gladness and generosity, and this helps people in the world to do so likewise - each in his own calling.
It is significant that today's Byzantine celebration occurs on the feast day of another monk - St. Theodore the Studite (759-826) - according to the Julian calendar used in the Ukrainian Catholic Church in Great Britain. St. Theodore was an abbot and organiser of monasticism in Constantinople, as well as a confessor of the faith, having suffered long years of exile for defending the veneration of holy icons during the period of iconoclasm. Today Studite monasticism is flourishing throughout the Christian East - both in the Orthodox and the Eastern Catholic Churches. I am pleased that in the past few years there have developed fruitful contacts between Belmont Abbey and the Studite, as well as Basilian monasteries in Ukraine.
St. Paul in today's reading of the Letter to the Galatians (5,22-6,2) mentions the "fruit of the Spirit" and names different aspects of it: "love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, trustfulness, gentleness and self-control". Quite a tall order for weak human beings - even if they are monks! But the key to this passage lies in the words: of the Spirit. The love, joy, patience and all other virtues which we are called to realise in our lives are not the result of human effort alone, but are gifts of the Holy Spirit who does not make us loving, joyful, and patient, but makes us similar to Christ who is loving, joyful, patient, and so on.
Yet there is something that we can do. Saint Paul continues: "Let our behaviour be guided by the Spirit". Let us give the Holy Spirit time in our day, submit to his inspirations, follow his lead, ask for his guidance in all humility. This is where the monks of Belmont Abbey can be a help to all of us. Not that they have reached perfection in the fruit of the Spirit, but by their sacrificial lives they are striving for it - and inspiring us to do so, too.
May the fruit of the Spirit be bountiful in the lives of the monks of Belmont Abbey and all whose lives they touch.
Belmont Abbey, 24th November