"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

Saturday, 10 January 2015


 my source: Fisheaters

With this Feast, Christmas ends liturgically, though it continues on in spirit and as a liturgical cycle until Candlemas when we recall Mary's post-birth Purification and Our Lord's Presentation in the Temple. 

On this, the Octave of the Epiphany, we continue to focus on the Mysteries that entered our hearts on Twelfthnight and the Epiphany, but today more specifically with regard to the Baptism of Jesus by St. John the Baptist in the River Jordan. He Whose birth we just celebrated now shows us how to be born again or "born from above." 

The marvelling at the Theophany continues in pondering the meaning of His Baptism, a meaning made more apparent by the Gradual, Alleluia, Offertory, Preface, and Communion prayers of today's Mass, all of which allude to the Magi and their recognition of Jesus as King and God. The Gospel reading comes from the first chapter of John, verses 29-34:
The next day, John saw Jesus coming to him, and he saith: Behold the Lamb of God, behold Him Who taketh away the sin of the world. This is  Scallop, a symbol of BaptismHe, of whom I said: After me there cometh a man, who is preferred before me: because He was before me. And I knew Him not, but that He may be made manifest in Israel, therefore am I come baptizing with water. 

And John gave testimony, saying: I saw the Spirit coming down, as a dove from heaven, and He remained upon him. And I knew Him not; but He Who sent me to baptize with water, said to me: He upon Whom thou shalt see the Spirit descending, and remaining upon Him, He it is that baptizeth with the Holy Ghost. And I saw, and I gave testimony, that this is the Son of God.
St. John the Baptist, the prophet whom prophets foretold, heralded the Christ during Advent, and now, at the end of the liturgical Christmas season, gives testimony once again. He gives this witness not only by being in the spirit of Elias (IV Kings 1:3-8), but by the place he chose as the site of his baptisms: the River Jordan, where Elias (Elijah) was last seen before he was taken up to Heaven, and the waters of which were healed by Elias's son, Eliseus (Elisha):

IV Kings 2:11-19-22 
And as they [Elias and Eliseus] went on, walking and talking together, behold a fiery chariot, and fiery horses parted them both asunder: and Elias went up by a whirlwind into heaven. And Eliseus saw him, and cried: My father, my father, the chariot of Israel, and the driver thereof. And he saw him no more: and he took hold of his own garments, and rent them in two pieces. And he took up the mantle of Elias, that fell from him: and going back, he stood upon the bank of the Jordan, And he struck the waters with the mantle of Elias, that had fallen from him, and they were not divided. And he said: Where is now the God of Elias? And he struck the waters, and they were divided, hither and thither, and Eliseus passed over... 

...And the men of the city said to Eliseus: Behold the situation of this city is very good, as thou, my lord, seest: but the waters are very bad, and the ground barren. And he said: Bring me a new vessel, and put salt into it. And when they had brought it, He went out to the spring of the waters, and cast the salt into it, and said: Thus saith the Lord: I have healed these waters, and there shall be no more in them death or barrenness. And the waters were healed unto this day, according to the word of Eliseus, which he spoke.
But more importantly than this witness, the Father Himself and the Holy Ghost give testimony. St. Matthew's account of this Divine testimony is more explicit. From the third chapter of his Gospel:

And Jesus being baptized, forthwith came out of the water: and lo, the heavens were opened to him: and he saw the Spirit of God descending as a dove, and coming upon him. And behold a voice from heaven, saying: This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.
This revelation of His glory was predicted in Isaias 40:3-5: 3

The voice of one crying in the desert: Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make straight in the wilderness the paths of our God. Every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall become straight, and the rough ways plain. And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh together shall see, that the mouth of the Lord hath spoken.
This Feast is like that of the Pentecost in its revelation of the Trinity, and even more is it like the Feast of the Transfiguration which commemorates the events that took place on Mt. Tabor, when Christ's Divinity was evident in His glorious Light, when the bright cloud overshadowed Him, and when the words of the Father echoed what was heard at the River Jordan:

Matthew 17:1-5 
And after six days Jesus taketh unto him Peter and James, and John his brother, and bringeth them up into a high mountain apart: And He was transfigured before them. And His Face did shine as the sun: and His garments became white as snow. And behold there appeared to them Moses and Elias talking with Him. And Peter answering, said to Jesus: Lord, it is good for us to be here: if thou wilt, let us make here three tabernacles, one for Thee, and one for Moses, and one for Elias. And as he was yet speaking, behold a bright cloud overshadowed them. And lo, a voice out of the cloud, saying: This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased: hear ye Him.
This Divine manifestation helps explain why Jesus -- the Sinless One, the Pure and Unspotted Lamb -- would be baptized at all: so that He would be known for Who He is, so that He would be made manifest. 

In addition to this reason, St. Thomas Aquinas (d. 1274), in his Summa Theologica, gives us three other reasons for the fittingness of St. John baptizing Christ. One is so that Christ might sanctify Baptism, a sentiment expressed by St. John Chrysostom (d. 407) when he wrote "In truth, Christ needed not baptism, neither his nor any other; but rather baptism needed the power of Christ." Another is so that John, by baptizing, "might accustom men to the Baptism of Christ." And the last is so that "by persuading men to do penance, he might prepare men to receive worthily the baptism of Christ." Here he quotes the Venerable Bede:

...the baptism of John was as profitable before the baptism of Christ, as instruction in the faith profits the catechumens not yet baptized. For just as he preached penance, and foretold the baptism of Christ, and drew men to the knowledge of the Truth that hath appeared to the world, so do the ministers of the Church, after instructing men, chide them for their sins, and lastly promise them forgiveness in the baptism of Christ.
To give you things to think about this day, I present two hymns by St. Ephraem. The first concerns Jesus and John, and the second is here to help you appreciate your own Baptism.


Hymn XIV
Hymn Concerning Our Lord and St. John
By St. Ephraem (d. 373)

Response: Glory to Thee, my Lord, for Thee with joy Heaven and earth worship!
1. My thought bore me to Jordan, and I saw a marvel when there was revealed the glorious Bridegroom Who to the Bride shall bring freedom and holiness. 
2. I saw John filled with wonder, and the multitudes standing about him, and the glorious Bridegroom bowed down to the son of the barren that he might baptize Him. 
3. At the Word and the Voice my thought marvelled: for lo! John was the Voice; our Lord was manifested as the Word, that what was hidden should become revealed. 
4. The Bride was espoused but knew not who was the Bridegroom on whom she gazed: the guests were assembled, the desert was filled, and our Lord was hidden among them. 
5. Then the Bridegroom revealed Himself; and to John at the voice He drew near: and the Forerunner was moved and said of Him "This is the Bridegroom Whom I proclaimed." 
6. He came to baptism Who baptizes all, and He showed Himself at Jordan. John saw Him and drew back, deprecating, and thus he spake: 
7. "How, my Lord, willest Thou to be baptized, Thou Who in Thy baptism atonest all? Baptism looks unto Thee; shed Thou on it holiness and perfection?" 
8. Our Lord said "I will it so; draw near, baptize Me that My Will may be done. Resist My Will thou canst not: I shall be baptized of thee, for thus I will it." 
9. "I entreat, my Lord, that I be not compelled,-for this is hard that Thou hast said to me, 'I have need that thou shouldst baptize Me;' for it is Thou that with Thy hyssop purifiest all." 
10. "I have asked it, and it pleases Me that thus it should be; and thou, John, why gainsayest thou? Suffer righteousness to be fulfilled, and come, baptize Me; why standest Thou?" 
11. "How can one openly grasp in his hands the fire that burns? O Thou that art fire have mercy on me, and bid me not come near Thee, for it is hard for me!" 
12. "I have revealed to Thee My Will; what questionest thou? Draw near, baptize Me, and thou shalt not be burned. The bridechamber is ready; keep Me not back from the wedding feast that has been made ready." 
13. "The Watchers fear and dare not gaze on Thee lest they be blinded; and I, how, O my Lord, shall I baptize Thee? I am too weak to draw near; blame me not!" 
14. "Thou fearest; therefore gainsay not-against My Will in what I desire:  and Baptism has respect unto Me. Accomplish the work to which thou hast been called!" 
15. "Lo! I proclaimed Thee at Jordan in the ears of the people that believed not and if they shall see Thee baptized of me, they will doubt that Thou art the Lord." 
16. "Lo! I am to be baptized in their sight, and the Father Who sent Me bears witness of Me that I am His Son and in Me He is well pleased, to reconcile Adam who was under His wrath." 
17. "It becomes, me. O my Lord, to know my nature that I am moulded out of the ground, and Thou the moulder Who formest all things: I, then, why should I baptize Thee in water?" 
18. "It becomes thee to know wherefore I am come, and for what cause I have desired that thou shouldst baptize Me. It is the middle of the way wherein I have walked; withhold thou not Baptism." 
19. "Small is the river whereto Thou art come, that Thou shouldst lodge therein and it should cleanse Thee. The heavens suffice not for Thy mightiness; how much less shall Baptism contain Thee!" 
20. "The womb is smaller than Jordan; yet was I willing to lodge in the Virgin: and as I was born from woman, so too am I to be baptized in Jordan." 
21. "Lo! the hosts are standing! the ranks of Watchers, lo! they worship And if I draw near, my Lord, to baptize Thee, I tremble for myself with quaking." 
22. "The hosts and multitudes call thee happy, all of them, for that thou baptizest Me. For this I have chosen thee from the womb: fear thou not, for I have willed it 
23. "I have prepared the way as I was sent:-I have betrothed the Bride as I was commanded. May Thy Epiphany be spread over the world now that Thou art come, and let me not baptize Thee!" 
24. "This is My preparation, for so have I willed; I will go down and be baptized in Jordan, and make bright the armour for them that are baptized, that they may be white in Me and I not be conquered." 
25. "Son of the Father, why should I baptize Thee? for lo! Thou art in Thy Father and Thy Father in Thee. Holiness unto the priests Thou givest; water that is common wherefore askest Thou?" 
26. "The children of Adam look unto Me, that I should work for them the new birth. A way in the waters I will search out for them, and if I be not baptized this cannot be." 
27. "Pontiffs of Thee are consecrated, priests by Thy hyssop are purified; the anointed and the kings Thou makest. Baptism, how shall it profit Thee?" 
28. "The Bride thou betrothedst to Me awaits Me, that I should go down, be baptized, and sanctify her. Friend of the Bridegroom withhold Me not from the washing that awaits Me." 
29. "I am not able, for I am weak, Thy blaze in my hands to grasp. Lo! Thy legions are as flame; bid one of the Watchers baptize Thee!" 
30. "Not from the Watchers was My Body assumed, that I should summon a Watcher to baptize Me. The body of Adam, lo! I have put on, and thou, son of Adam, art to baptize Me." 
31. "The waters saw Thee, and greatly feared ; the waters saw Thee, and lo! they tremble! The river foams in its terror; and I that am weak, how shall I baptize Thee?" 
32. "The waters in My Baptism are sanctified, and fire and the Spirit from Me shall they receive; and if I be not baptized they are not made perfect to be fruitful of children that shall not die." 
33. "Fire, if to Thy fire it draw near, shall be burnt up of it as stubble. The mountains of Sinai endured Thee not, and I that am weak, wherein shall I baptize Thee?" 
34. "I am the flaming fire; yet for man's sake I became a babe in the virgin womb of the maiden. And now I am to be baptized in Jordan." 
35. "It is very meet that Thou shouldst baptize me, for Thou hast holiness to purify all. In Thee it is that the defiled are made holy; but Thou that art holy, why art Thou to be baptized?" 
36. "It is very right that thou shouldst baptize Me, as I bid, and shouldst not gainsay. Lo! I baptized thee within the womb; baptize thou me in Jordan!" 
37. "I am a bondman and I am weak. Thou that freest all have mercy on me! Thy latchets to unloose I am not able; Thy exalted head who will make me worthy to touch?" 
38. "Bondmen in My Baptism are set free; handwritings in My washing are blotted out; manumissions in the water are sealed; and if I be not baptized all these come to nought." 
39. "A mantle of fire the air wears, and waits for Thee, above Jordan; and if Thou consentest to it and willest to be baptized, Thou shall baptize Thyself and fulfil all." 
40. "This is meet, that thou shouldst baptize Me, that none may err and say concerning Me, 'Had He not been alien from the Father's house, why feared the Levite to baptize Him?' "
41. "The prayer, then, when Thou art baptized, how shall I complete over Jordan? When the Father and the Spirit are seen over Thee, Whom shall I call on, as priest?" 
42. "The prayer in silence is to be completed: come, thy hand alone lay thou on Me. and the Father shall utter in the priest's stead that which is meet concerning His Son." 
43. "They that are bidden, lo! all of them stand; the Bridegroom's guests, lo! they bear witness that day by day I said among them, 'I am the Voice and not the Word.' " 
44. "Voice of him that cries in the wilderness, fulfil thou the work for which thou camest, that the desert whereunto thou wentest out may resound with the mighty peace thou preachedst therein." 
45. "The shout of the Watchers has come to my ears; lo! I hear from the Father's house the hosts that sound forth the cry, 'In Thy Epiphany, O Bridegroom, the worlds have life.' " 
46. "The time hastes on, and the marriage guests-look to Me to see what is doing. Come, baptize Me, that they may give praise to the Voice of the Father when it is heard!" 
47. "I hearken, my Lord, according to Thy Word: come to Baptism as Thy love constrains Thee! The dust worships that whereunto he has attained, that on Him Who fashioned him he should lay his hand." 
48. The heavenly ranks were silent as they stood, and the Bridegroom went down into Jordan; the Holy One was baptized and straightway went up, and His Light shone forth on the world. 
49. The doors of the highest were opened above, and the voice of the Father was heard," This is my Beloved in Whom I am well pleased." All ye peoples, come and worship Him. 
50. They that saw were amazed as they stood, at the Spirit Who came down and bare witness to Him. Praise to Thy Epiphany that gladdens all, Thou in Whose revelation the worlds are lightened!

Hymn of the Baptized
By St. Ephraem (d. 373)

Response: Brethren, sing praises, to the Son of the Lord of all; Who has bound for you crowns, such as kings long for! 
1. Your garments glisten, my brethren, as snow; and fair is your shining in the likeness of Angels! 
2. In the likeness of Angels, ye have come up, beloved, from Jordan's river, in the armour of the Holy Ghost. 
3. The bridal chamber that fails not, my brethren, ye have received: and the glory of Adam's house today ye have put on. 
4. The judgment that came of the fruit, was Adam's condemnation: but for you victory, has arisen this day. 
5. Your vesture is shining, and goodly your crowns: which the Firstborn has bound for you, by the priest's hand this day. Woe in Paradise, did Adam receive: but you have received, glory this day. 
7. The armour of victory, ye put on, my beloved: in the hour when the priest, invoked the Holy Ghost. 
8. The Angels rejoice, men here below exult: in your feast, my brethren, wherein is no foulness. 
9. The good things of Heaven, my brethren, ye have received: beware of the Evil One, lest he despoil you. 
10. The day when He dawned, the Heavenly King: opens for you His door, and bids you enter Eden. 
11. Crowns that fade not away, are set on your heads: hymns of praise hourly, let your mouths sing. 
12. Adam by means of the fruit, God cast forth in sorrow: but you He makes glad, in the bridechamber of joy. 
13. Who would not rejoice, in your bridechamber, my brethren? for the Father with His Son, and the Spirit rejoice in you. 
14. Unto you shall the Father, be a wall of strength: and the Son a Redeemer, and the Spirit a guard. 
15. Martyrs by their blood, glorify their crowns: but you our Redeemer, by His Blood glorifies. 
16. Watchers and Angels, joy over the repentant: they shall joy over you my brethren, that unto them ye are made like. 
17. The fruit which Adam, tasted not in Paradise: this day in your mouths, has been placed with joy. 
18. Our Redeemer figured, His Body by the tree: whereof Adam tasted not, because he had sinned. 
19. The Evil One made war, and subdued Adam's house: through your baptism, my brethren, lo! he is subdued this day. 
20. Great is the victory, but today you have won: if so be ye neglect not, you shall not perish, my brethren. 
21. Glory to them that are robed, glory to Adam's house! in the birth that is from the water, let them rejoice and be blessed! 

22. Praise to Him Who has robed, His Churches in glory! glory to Him Who has magnified, the race of Adam's house.

The Mystery of Christ’s Baptism
Fr. Stephen Freeman

This week, the Church moves from the feast of Christmas to the feast of Theophany - the celebration of the Baptism of Christ. The intent of this feast is not to celebrate a succession of historical events (the Baptism of Christ is at least 30 years later than His birth). Rather this feast takes us into the depths of the mystery of Christ and His salvation of the world.

Many Christians, reading the gospel accounts of Christ’s Baptism, are not sure what to make of the event. They accept Christ’s own explanation to St. John, “It is necessary to fulfill all righteousness,” though they are not entirely sure what He means by this. They have no particular understanding of why Christ submitted Himself to this action of John (it was not required by the Law – but is rather a prophetic action on the part of St. John).

St. John himself does not seem to understand the purpose of Christ’s Baptism. He is told that “whomever you see the Holy Spirit rest upon and remain” is the Messiah – but he is given little information beyond that. Witnessing Christ’s Baptism and the Spirit resting upon Him, he hears the voice, “This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased” (Matthew, Mark and Luke all bear witness to the voice).  The Church later celebrates this manifestation of the Trinity (Christ in the water, the Spirit descending, the Voice of the Father – hence the title “Theophany”).

But with the text alone, on its literal level, we are left with a mystery, without context or meaning. The Tradition of the Church, however, sees the Baptism of Christ in the context of Pascha (Easter) as it sees everything in the context of Christ’s Pascha. Christ’s Baptism is a foreshadowing (and on more than a literary level) of His crucifixion and descent into Hades (just as our own Baptism is seen by St. Paul as a Baptism into Christ’s “death and resurrection”).

Such possibilities of multiple meanings and revelations of greater meanings within the literal telling of the story suggests that the world itself is not to be comprehended entirely in its literal manifestation. Something more is at work, particularly in the workings of God.

Fr. Andrew Louth, writing in his book, Discerning the Mystery, says:

If we look back to the Fathers, and the tradition, for inspiration as to the nature of theology, there is one thing we meet which must be paused over and discussed in some detail: and that is their use of allegory in interpreting the Scriptures. We can see already that for them it was not a superfluous, stylistic habit, something we can fairly easily lop off from the trunk of Patristic theology. Rather it is bound up with their whole understanding of tradition as the tacit dimension of the Christian life: allegory is a way of entering the ‘margin of silence’ that surrounds the articulate message of the Scriptures, it is a way of glimpsing the living depths of tradition from the perspective of the letter of the Scriptures. Of course the question of allegory in the Fathers is complex (and often rendered unduly complicated by our own embarrassment about allegory): but whatever language the Fathers use to describe their exegetical practice (and there is no great consistency here), they all interpret Scripture in a way we would call allegorical, and allegoria is the usual word the Latin Fathers use from the fourth century onwards to characterize the deeper meaning they are seeking in the Scriptures.

I have quoted Louth at some length to make a point. His characterization of a search for a “deeper meaning” is a hallmark of Patristic thought about Scripture. They do not all call it “allegory,” indeed, it was and is called by many names (theoria, etc.). But all shared a common sense that there was something behind or beyond the text that confronted them. The level of the letter itself (the meaning of literal) was but a mere surface. Something greater was to be found within and beneath.

I have written about this topic from time to time under the heading of iconicity – a word used to connote the referential character of not just the text we read, but the world we inhabit. The world as pure object, as a collection of self-contained and self-explaining things (of which people are but examples) is a world that is foreign to the perception of traditional Christianity. In our secularized world, it is this flat, non-referential world that has become the common world of believer and unbeliever alike. Non-believers may afford us the luxury of believing that something has reference beyond itself, but only do so as a courtesy, a social bargain. We allow others to infer meaning (where secularly none exists) simply out of respect for their will. If you want the world to be referential, I will respect that, remembering, however, that this is only “true for you.”

The classical Christian claim is not the same thing as relativist courtesy. The text has a deeper meaning not because I infer it but because I discern it. The meaning is real and true. Indeed the classical Christian claim is that the truth of things (and not just texts) is to be found precisely in their referential character and in that to which they refer.

To know the personal God is to know God in the manner in which persons are known. The content of a person always has an infinite quality (and this is especially so of God). And that content always has a referential quality as well. Thus, to know Christ is also to know Him as Son, and hence the Son of the Father. “No one knows the Father but by me,” Christ says. For the person of the Father (as is indicated by the name revealed to us) is always referential to the Son (as the Son is to the Father).

And this must be said even of human persons. We never know each other exhaustively nor in the crass manner of modern objectivism. For each of us, fearfully and wonderfully made, is also infinitely referential. Thus knowledge of another is perhaps better described as relation or participation. It cannot mean comprehension.

The same is true of the text of Scripture. To read the text of Scripture without the constant and abiding sense that there is more here than I can see or understand is not to have read Scripture at all, or at least to have read it badly.

St. Antony the Great was once asked by a philosopher where were his books. He replied, “My book, O philosopher, is the world.” St. Paul also sees this aspect of creation: “For since the creation of the world [God’s] invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead” (Romans 1:20).

This capacity of creation, for much of the modern world, has become the opacity of creation. We can see no further than the thing itself. Modern man is in danger of losing his ability to read the references of everything about him. And with that loss comes the diminution of everything, including himself.

The world and all that is in it is given to us as icon – not because it has no value in itself – but because the value it has in itself is the gift of God – and this is seen in its iconicity.

At Theophany, the waters of the world are revealed to be both Hades and the gate of Paradise. In Christ’s journey within and through the Church, everything is revealed to be such a place. You are my entry into Paradise as clearly as you may also be my entry into Hades. Love alone reveals things for what they are, and transforms them into what they were always intended to be. It is the gift of God.

An Illegal Christmas
Fr. Stephen Freeman 

The great advantage to thinking about God in legal terms, is that nothing has to change. If what happens between us and God is entirely external, a matter of arranging things such as the avoidance of eternal punishment or the enjoyment of eternal reward, then the world can go on as it is. In the legal model that dominates contemporary Christian thought, the secular world of things becomes nothing more than an arena, the stage on which we act out our moral and psychological dilemmas, waiting only for our final grades to be issued when we die.

In the contemporary world-view, Christ’s death and resurrection change nothing within the day-to-day world. Their effect is entirely and completely removed from this world and reserved for the next. This is a great advantage for Christian thought, for everything of significance becomes theoretical, removed from the realm of practical discussion. Not only does Christ’s work change nothing in this world, it changes nothing within us other than by moral or psychological suasion. And we therefore need argue or labor for nothing other than abstractions. The inert world of secularism is left intact.

This is to say that if “accepting Jesus as my Lord and Savior” only brings about a change in my eternal disposition, then it is largely meaningless in this world. Everything Christians do in this world would be but tokens of eternity.

But this is not the teaching of the New Testament or classical Christianity. When St. Paul says that in Baptism we are “baptized into the death of Christ,” he does not mean to suggest that this only brings a change in our eternal disposition. The historical death of Christ is also a transcendent event and is made truly present in the waters of Baptism and in the life of the believer. Christianity, in its true and original form, is decidedly realistic in its teachings. Bread and wine truly and really become the Body and Blood of Christ, etc. The miracles of Christ are more than moral lessons – they are genuine invasions of this world by the Kingdom of God, the in-breaking of heaven to earth.

This spiritual realism is the foundation for the sacramental life of the Church as well as all ascetical and mystical practice. Orthodox Christians pray in order to unite themselves to Christ, not to advise Him or persuade Him. Every feast, like the sacraments themselves, is present tense, an indwelling of this world by the spiritual reality that it represents.

And so our salvation in this world represents a transformation, the union of earth and heaven. The feast of Christmas, seen in this light, is a feast of transformation. There is nothing “legal” about the event. Our status in the eyes of God does not and has not changed – for we have always been beloved of God. It is because He loved us that He sent His Son into the world – that we might be transformed. We prepare ourselves for the feast of Christmas through prayer, fasting and acts of generosity because we expect to be changed. We expect ourselves to be the birthplace of God. It is there that the angels will sing and the wise men kneel. It is there that His most dear Mother will cradle Him in her arms and give Him the milk of our humanity. And it is there, in turn, that we ourselves will drink the gift of eternal life.

But there is no moral to be drawn from the story, no psychological improvement expected. And for secularists (or secularized Christians) who might witness the Feast, their conclusion would be, “Nothing happened.” For the transformation wrought by Christ remains largely indiscernible to the outside viewer. It will ever seem “useless” to the world.

Christ went about His life as fully God and fully man. And He was as much fully God before the working of His first miracle as He was the day after. None of His miracles were of any particular use (except for the few who were healed). But most of the blind people in Israel at the time remained sightless. Thousands of paralytics were never able to walk. And with but a very few exceptions, everyone who entered a grave during His ministry remained there and passed into dust.

What good did Christmas do?

The temptation is to defer the “good” of Christmas to an abstract theoretical reality. The greatest example of this abstraction has come through the evolution of the forensic (legal) model of the Christian faith – by far the dominant form of popular, contemporary Christianity. Believers are told that their religious actions have been met with approval by God and that their eternal life is secured. What remains to the Church in such an understanding is to concentrate on moral and psychological well-being and improvement. And yet, it is quickly noted that moral and psychological actions have no effect on eternity (for we are saved by grace and not by works), so that the moral and psychological benefits are simply temporary and of value only to the believers. These sentiments (feeling good about morality and psychology) are the currency in which the contemporary Church trades.

But the transformation that Christ works in the world, sometimes known in the heart, is a treasure hidden. There is no argument that can prove it. Just as the disciples could not prove the resurrection, so we can only witness and say what we have seen. What we see and witness however will remain hidden to others. The mystery of Christ in this world is sometimes made manifest, a saint is allowed to show forth, an icon weeps. But the mystery remains hidden for a purpose.

The redemption of the world does not come with observation (Luke 17:20). Were the Kingdom of God forced on the world its precious freedom, required by love, would be forfeit and all would be for nothing. But love preserves the freedom of the world at the cost of the obvious. And so it is the pure in heart who see God.

Our hearts are not made pure by sentiment, nor can they be pure as a simple matter of legality. Instead, we fast and pray and labor to give, and the Kingdom suffers violence (but not the world), and the Kingdom yields its precious pearl to the eyes of the pure.

This is the Christmas that is alone worth pursuing – illegal and buried deep in a darkened world. What darkness could comprehend it?

One of my favourite websights is called "Glory to God for All Things" which belongs to one of my favourite theologians, Father Stephan Freeman, an Orthodox priest and an American to boot, but a lover of G.K. Chesterton, C.S. Lewis and, of course, J.R.R. Tolkien.  I always read his posts with pleasure and learn much from him. I have borrowed two posts to celebrate the Baptism of the Lord and hope he doesn't mind.  It is his photo at the beginning of this paragraph.


Baptism of Jesus 2015

            “I have baptised you with water, but he will baptise you with the Holy Spirit.” Whereas Matthew and Luke begin their gospels with the well known Infancy Narratives and John with his breath-taking Prologue, Mark, our evangelist for this year, simply plunges us in at the deep end with the preaching of John the Baptist and the Baptism of Jesus. It is Jesus himself who has the vision that, in St John’s Gospel, is attributed to the Baptist. “No sooner had he come up out of the water than he saw the heaven torn apart and the Spirit, like a dove, descending on him. And a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my Son, the Beloved; my favour rests on you.’” Mark’s gospel has a clarity and a directness that the others often lack.

            In fact, St Mark isn’t most people’s favourite evangelist. He is regarded as the poor relation. That’s a pity, because his gospel is rich in content and gives us a wonderful picture of Jesus. When you read Mark, you really have to forget about the other three and stop making comparisons. Just imagine, if we only had Mark’s gospel, what a vast amount we’d know about Jesus, Son of God and Saviour of the world. There’s much more to Mark than meets the eye. Then again, without Mark’s genius, how would Matthew and Luke have constructed their gospels?

            Today, of course, we come to the end of Epiphanytide, but the Christmas Season goes on until 2nd February, the feast of the Presentation in the Temple and Our Lady’s Purification. Just as there are 40 days of Lent that balance the 40 days of Easter, so there are 40 days of Christmas that should balance the 40 days of Advent, only the Church of Rome shortened Advent from 6 to 4 Sundays about the 12th Century. Before then, traditionally, Advent had begun in Rome on 11th November, the Feast of St Martin. Oh well, you win some and you lose some.

            Today, we welcome Br Alex back to Belmont as an ordained priest and this is his First Mass for us. We congratulate him on his ordination to the Sacred Priesthood. What an extraordinary honour and privilege it is to share in the priestly ministry of Christ, celebrating each sacrament as “alter Christus”, in the person of Christ himself. Fr Alex, you are now the hands and feet, the eyes and ears, indeed the very heart of Jesus: healing, teaching, forgiving, consecrating and loving God’s people as the Father loves them in Christ. We pray that you will be faithful to Christ throughout your life, serving him as both monk and priest in the Monastery of the Incarnation. You have also been blessed with a third vocation, that of iconographer. May the writing of icons conform you even more to Christ, the Word made flesh, through whom all things were made and have their being. May your icons bring others to know and love the living God.

            Today, the Belmont Community also gives thanks for the 40th anniversary of priestly ordination of Fr Michael and myself. Abbot Alan always used to say, “30 years in the monastery and nothing to show for it.” But that’s how it should be! St Benedict reminds us that all our good works are God’s doing. We are simply instruments, earthenware vessels. So today, Fr Michael and I give thanks to God for what he has wrought through our priesthood, conscious that we have often stood in his way. May he forgive our many shortcomings and continue to work in us until our pilgrimage comes to an end and we face judgement. May he grant us a holy life that we might enjoy a holy death. We also thank our brethren, families and friends and all who have supported us, indeed put up with us, and we thank Bishop Daniel Mullins, who so graciously ordained us 40 years’ ago. Ad multos annos: health and blessing to us all. In Christ and through the Holy Spirit, we are all “beloved of the Father” and his favour rests on us. Amen.


The Miracle of the Moving of the Waters at Midnight in Pochaev Lavra

Рейтинг@Mail.ru  Rambler's Top100 Православие.Ru, 19 января 2012 г. 

There are words in the Holy Scriptures that are a source of inspiration for the many millions of people who read them: Ye that thirst, go to the water (Is. 55:1); Draw ye therefore water with joy out of the wells of salvation! (Is. 12:3), said the Prophet Isaiah. A sunny, light-bearing play of words: desert—well—water—joy—salvation…
Pochaev. The well of St. Job—forty-three meters deep.

When Count Frilei, the unworthy heir of Anna Goiskaya (who bequeathed land to Pochaev monastery) reclaimed land from the Monastery, St. Job and the brothers began digging a well right on the top of the cliff. There were some “doubting Thomases” amongst the brethren, who told the saint that nothing would come of his scheme. But Abbot Job Zhelezo was true to his name—zhelezo means iron—he even now had an iron will, and was unbending. He gave the order over and over again to continue the work. Thus, at a depth of forty-three meters, water began to seep through the rocks.

Four hundred years have passed, and today the thousands of pilgrims to the Lavra are still drawing water from that well for the healing of their ailments.

I can picture it now: the Lavra, 1978, late evening after the meal.

In the scullery the light is burning bright, you can hear the clatter of dishes being washed, the washtub is full of hot water, and we are at work washing dishes. Winter is all around, it’s cold outside, but the bright light and hot water make it warm where we are. Misha Bal from Poltava, Alexander (the future Hierodeacon Savva) and I are washing dishes like experts. Fr. Ignatius (Archdeacon Hilarion), who was in charge of the refectory, is yelling and scolding us for breaking too many dishes when we wash. “What are you doing with those dishes? Washing them or breaking them?! Here, I’ll show you how to do it!” He ran up to the washtub, took a plate, and—crunch!—broke one himself. Put to shame, he ran off grimacing comically.

Then novice Igor Brus walked up and told me conspiratorially, “Don’t sleep tonight, or you’ll sleep through the whole Kingdom of Heaven! Come at midnight to the well. We’ll look at the bottom and see if the Lord will give us a sign—if it will “boil” as it is blessed. Tomorrow is the “Jordan” [that is, the Great Blessing of the Waters that takes place at a water source on the feast of Theophany], don’t you know?”

I was incredibly tired, but just as curious. Overcoming my sleepiness, I came. I thought that it would just be Igor and I, but I was mistaken. Archimandrite Alypy, Abbot Apelly, Monk Nestor the choirmaster, head hierodeacons Cassian and Roman also came, as well as novice Vasily the prosphora baker. They surrounded the well so tightly that I could hardly elbow my way through. Fr. Apelly had a red, powerful floodlight with six batteries. That was a powerful and rare thing in those days. The other priests also had flashlights, but they weren’t as strong. Fr. Apelly illuminated the entire area around the well.

We were talking and waiting for twelve o’clock to come. The conversation flowed at its own unhurried pace. They say that one year they saw it, but last year and the year before, nothing happened…

I don’t know whether it was midnight or not, but as if in a wondrous dream, we began to notice something out of the ordinary.

Tiny sparks began to fly around within the well shaft. “What is that?” I asked. “Keep watching, you’ll see!” said Fr. Apelly. The sparks were like little stars of frost, absolutely white. At first there were only a few, appearing rarely, and there were more and more. A veritable storm arose inside the well. Flying one by one to the surface and then down to the very bottom of the well and touching it, the water there suddenly came alive and boiled with a noise. We could hear the noise, but not of bubbling—it was a light, quiet fizzing, even a buzzing, like a swarm of insects. All of us there were excited, we were talking and interrupting each other, the young interrupting the old, and it was alright. Everyone was in an extraordinarily good mood at the sight of this mystery; any weariness or sleep just disappeared. We sang over and over again, “When thou, O Lord, wast baptized in the Jordan…” [the troparion of the feast of Theophany].

Like everyone else, I was filled to overflowing with my reward for a nearly sleepless night.

“The voice of the Lord upon the waters cries aloud saying: ‘Come ye all, and receive the Spirit…” [from the rite of the Great Blessing of the Waters].

Many years have gone by, but I remember that blessed night! And I will probably remember it to the end of my days…

Archimandrite Avvakum from Kremenchuk
Orthodoxy in the Ukraine
Translation by OrthoChristian.com

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