"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 12 December 2015



Today, the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, Father Alex presided at the consecration of our own icon of the Mother of God.   As the monastery is dedicated to the Incarnation, this icon expresses what our monastic life is all about.

After the Gospel, the icon was uncovered, and Father Alex read a Byzantine prayer of blessing and sprinkled holy water. 

  Then a prayer that asked God to integrate this icon into the liturgical life of the Church by the anointing with chrism.   

We all then venerated the icon, one by one. After that, Father Alex preached a short sermon and then proceeded with the Mass.

Of course, there were the inevitable photographs.   Here is one of the community (minus Br Wilmer who is away) with the icon.


my source: EWTN
In the sixteenth century, the Blessed Virgin, moved with pity for the Aztec people who, living in the darkness of idolatry, offered to their idols multitudes of human victims, deigned to take into her own hands the evangelization of these Indians of Central America who were also her children. One of the Aztec gods, originally considered the god of fertility, had transformed himself over time into a ferocious god. A symbol of the sun, this god was in continuous battle with the moon and the stars and was believed to need human blood to restore his strength; if he died, life would be extinguished. Ever new victims, to be offered to him in perpetual sacrifice, therefore seemed essential.
An eagle on a cactus
Aztec priests had prophesied that their nomadic people would settle in the place where an eagle would be seen perched on a cactus, devouring a serpent. This eagle appears on the Mexican flag today. Having arrived on a swampy island, in the middle of Lake Texcoco, the Aztecs saw the foretold sign: an eagle, perched on a cactus, was devouring a serpent. This was in 1369. There they founded their town Tenochtitlan, which would become Mexico City. The town expanded to become a city on pilings, with many gardens abounding in flowers, fruit, and vegetables. The organization of the Aztec kingdom was very structured and hierarchical. The knowledge of their mathematicians, astronomers, philosophers, architects, doctors, artists, and artisans was excellent for that time. But the laws of the physical world remained scarcely known. Tenochtitlan drew its power and wealth primarily from war. The conquered cities had to pay a tribute of various foodstuffs and men for war and sacrifices. The Aztecs' human sacrifices and cannibalism are almost unequaled throughout the course of history.
In 1474, a child was born who was given the name Cuauhtlatoazin ("speaking eagle"). After his father's death, the child was taken in by his uncle. From the age of three, he was taught, as were all young Aztecs, to join in domestic tasks and to behave in a dignified manner. At school, he learned singing, dancing, and especially the worship of many gods. The priests had a very strong influence over the population, whom they kept in a submission bordering on terror. Cuauhtlatoazin was thirteen years old when the great temple at Tenochtitlan was consecrated. Over the course of four days, the priests sacrificed 80,000 human victims to their god. After his military service, Cuauhtlatoazin married a young woman of his social status. Together they led a modest life as farmers.
In 1519, the Spaniard Cortez disembarked in Mexico, leading 500 soldiers. He conquered the country for Spain, yet was not lacking in zeal for the evangelization of the Aztecs. In 1524 he obtained the arrival of twelve Franciscans to Mexico. These missionaries quickly integrated into the population. Their goodness contrasted with the harshness of the Aztec priests, as well as that of some conquistadors. They began to build churches. However, the Indians were reluctant to accept Baptism, primarily because it would require them to abandon polygamy.
Cuauhtlatoazin and his wife were among the first to receive Baptism, under the respective names of Juan Diego and Maria Lucia. After his wife's death in 1529, Juan Diego withdrew to Tolpetlac, 14 km from Mexico City, to the home of his uncle, Juan Bernardino, who had become a Christian as well. On December 9, 1531, as was his custom every Saturday, he left very early in the morning to attend the Mass celebrated in honor of the Blessed Virgin, at the Franciscan fathers' church, close to Mexico City. He walked past Tepeyac Hill. Suddenly, he heard a gentle and resounding song that seemed to come from a great multitude of birds. Raising his eyes to the top of the hill, he saw a white and radiant cloud. He looked around him and wondered if he was dreaming. All of a sudden, the song stopped and a woman's voice, gentle and graceful, called him: "Juanito, Juan Dieguito!" He quickly climbed the hill and found himself in the presence of a very beautiful young woman whose garments shone like the sun.

my source: Queen of the Americas Guild
The well authenticated story of the five apparitions of the Blessed Virgin Mary is briefly related here:

1st Apparition: At dawn on December 9, 1531, Juan Diego, an Indian convert, was going to Tlatelolco to attend catechism class and hear the Mass. As he was passing Tepeyac Hill, he saw a brilliant light on the summit and heard the strains of celestial music. Filled with wonder, he stopped. Then he heard a feminine voice asking him to ascend. When he reached the top he saw the Blessed Virgin Mary standing in the midst of a glorious light, in heavenly splendor. The beauty of her youthful countenance and her look of loving kindness filled Juan Diego with unspeakable happiness as he listened to the words which she spoke to him in his native language. She told him she was the perfect and eternal Virgin Mary, Mother of the true God, and made known to him her desire that a shrine be built there where she could demonstrate her love, her compassion and her protection. "For I am your merciful Mother", she said, "to you and to all mankind who love me and trust in me and invoke my help. Therefore, go to the dwelling of the Bishop in Mexico City and say that the Virgin Mary sent you to make known to him her great desire."

2nd Apparition: The Bishop was reluctant to believe Juan Diego's story. Juan returned to Tepeyac Hill where he found the Blessed Virgin waiting for him, and told her of his failure. She bade him return to the Bishop the next day and repeat her wishes.

3rd Apparition: The Bishop then requested that the Lady give him a sign. Juan reported that evening and she promised to grant his petition on the following morning. But Juan was prevented from coming because of a sudden and severe illness of his uncle, Juan Bernardino.

4th Apparition: Two days later, on December 12, as he was going to the Church at Tlatelolco in order to bring a priest to his dying uncle, Juan Diego was stopped by the Lady, who had come down from Tepeyac Hill to meet him in the road. She listened quietly to Juan's excuse for not having kept his appointment with her the day before. When he had finished speaking she said, "It is well, littlest and dearest of my sons, but now listen to me. Do not let anything afflict you and be not afraid of illness or pain. Am I not here who am your Mother? Are you not under my shadow and protection? Are you not in the crossing of my arms? Is there anything else you need? Do not fear for your uncle for he is not going to die. Be assured... he is already well."

Having heard these words, Juan Diego rejoiced and asked for the sign he was to take to the Bishop. He was told to climb to the top of the hill where she had spoken to him on three previous occasions. She said he would find many flowers blooming there which he was to cut and bring to her. Juan Diego did as he was told though he knew no flowers had ever bloomed before on the stony summit. He discovered a marvelous garden of dew-fresh blossoms which he cut as she had asked. Placing them in his rough cloak, or tilma, he brought the flowers to the Lady who rearranged them and told him to take them to the Bishop; that this was the sign to persuade him to carry out her wishes.

When Juan Diego, radiantly happy, stood before Bishop Fray Juan de Zumarraga and told him of the fourth encounter with the Lady, he opened his tilma to show the Bishop the sign; the flowers cascaded to the floor - but to the astonishment of the Bishop and Juan Diego, there appeared upon the coarse fabric of the Indian's mantle a marvelously wrought, exquisitely colored portrait of the Blessed Virgin, just as Juan Diego had previously described her.

5th Apparition: Earlier that same day, December 12, she had also appeared to Juan's uncle, Juan Bernardino, and restored him to health as she had told Juan Diego. Juan Diego was at that time fifty-seven years old; his uncle was sixty-eight. Both had been among the first of the natives to be baptized into the true faith several years before.

The Name of Guadalupe
Juan Bernardino told his nephew the Blessed Virgin had ordered him to relate to the Bishop in what miraculous manne she had cured him. She also told Juan Bernardino her image was to be known as "Santa Maria de Guadalupe" and thus she has been venerated by this title for nearly five centuries.

The Mantle of Juan Diego
The mantle or tilma on which the Sacred Image of the Blessed Virgin is imprinted is handwoven from the fibers of the Maguey cactus, a fabric which has a life span of little more than thirty years. It is six-and-a-half feet long by forty-two inches wide and has a seam running down the middle.

The Sacred Image
Directly on this rough, burlap-like material is the exquisitely delicate figure of Our Lady, four feet, eight inches in height. This authentic portrait of the Virgin Mary has remained fresh and lovely for nearly five centuries and may be viewed today at the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City where it occupies the place of honor above and behind the main altar.

The Pictograph
The Sacred Image is a pictograph or picture writing; every detail symbolic. She is brighter than the sun; her foot rests upon the moon; the stars on her mantle are in the same relative configurations as the stars in the heavens on the morning of December 12, 1531; the northern constellations on her right - the southern constellations on her left. Further, the golden filigree over her rose colored gown matches the topography of the Mexican lands once ruled by the Aztecs.

Despite more than twenty-two languages and almost fifty dialects spoken at that time, all were able to read and understand all that is contained in this Sacred Image. So it was in this manner eight million natives were converted to Christianity in the incredibly short span of seven years.

The Chapels
On December 26, 1531, two weeks after its marvelous appearance, the Sacred Image of the Blessed Virgin was moved from the Bishop's oratory to the new Hermitage at the foot of Tepeyac Hill. Thousands of church and civil dignitaries, Indians and Spaniards made up the colorful procession. This little chapel was enlarged and renovated several times before 1622 when a second larger church was completed.

In 1667, a chapel was built on the hill to commemorate the first three apparitions. El Cerrito was rebuilt in 1957 and shares the hilltop with a Carmelite convent and a cemetery.

In 1695, the Church of the Indians was completed It was next to the Hermitage, which served as its sacristy, and housed the Sacred Image while the church of 1622 was razed to make room for the first Basilica.

In 1787, the Convent of the Capuchin Sisters was built adjoining the Basilica of 1709 in order to have a place for Perpetual Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. For the seven years, seven months and seven days prior to completion of the renovation of the Basilica on September 30, 1985, the Sacred Image was housed there.

The First Basilica
The first Basilica was completed in 1709 and the Sacred Image was installed above the high altar for the veneration of all. This Basilica is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful churches in the Western Hemisphere. Constructed of red volcanic rock and sandstone, it is 184 feet long by 122 wide. The bell towers rises 108 feet and the dome 124 feet.

Six enormous oil paintings and many smaller works of art decorate the walls and depict Guadalupan history. Life-sized sculptures of Bishop Zumarraga and Juan Diego kneel reverently at the sides of the white Carrara marble altar, above which the Sacred Image was enthroned until its transfer to the new Basilica on October 12, 1976. The structure has since been converted to a museum.

The New Basilica
A large cross and the symbolic Marian "M" gracefully top the majestic upsweep of the new Basilica, rising almost 150 feet into the sky from its huge semicircular base. Nine small chapels are arranged around a balcony at the rear of the Basilica, which holds ten thousand people. Easily seen from anywhere inside, ensconced above and behind the red seats for visiting Prelates, behind the main altar, is the Sacred Image of Our Lady of Guadalupe. The Image is behind bullet-proof glass, with three frames: of gold, five inches wide; of silver, five inches wide; and of bronze, fourteen-and-one-half inches wide. Below the Image, three "moving sidewalks" carry pilgrims and devotees past the Image, only thirty-five feet above.

On the left of the main altar is the Chapel of the Blessed Sacrament. To the right is the Saint Joseph Chapel, where the Canons of the Basilica recite the daily office of Our Lady of Guadalupe.

The Crown
On the 12th of October, 1895, by decree of Pope Leo XIII, the Image of the Blessed Virgin of Guadalupe was crowned with great solemnity. On October 12, 1945, the fiftieth anniversary of the crowning, Pope Pius XII proclaimed her Patroness of all the Americas. Above the frame there is always a replica of the 1895 Crown. Made in Paris, the crown contains jewels and precious stones donated by the ladies of Mexico City. It is valued at more than two million pesos.

A second crown was donated to Our Lady of Guadalupe in 1945 by the people of Mexico. It was made by a team of eigthteen artists who were directed by a famous lapidary. It weighs thirty-two pounds. Other valuable crowns have been donated over the years by many groups, including the goldsmiths and silversmiths of Mexico.

The Mass and Office
Our Lady of Guadalupe has a special Mass in the Roman Breviary for the 12th of December. It is a Holy Day of Obligation in Mexico, with Octave and double rites of the first class. The Sanctuary of Guadalupe is equal in rank to the Lateran Basilica (second only to St. Peter's) and the Abbot and Canons have been assigned vestments different from all others.

Words of Our Lady of Guadalupe to Juan Diego
"Know for certain, least of my sons, that I am the perfect and perpetual Virgin Mary, Mother of the True God through whom everything lives, the Lord of all things near and far, the Master of heaven and earth. It is my earnest wish that a temple be built here to my honor. Here I will demonstrate, I will exhibit, I will give all my love, my compassion, my help and my protection to the people. I am your merciful mother, the merciful mother of all of you who live united in this land, and of all mankind, of all those who love me, of those who cry to me, of those who seek me, of those who have condfidence in me. Here I will hear their weeping, their sorrow, and will remedy and alleviate all their multiple sufferings, necessities and misfortunes."


This year, 2015, we are celebrating the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe in a very special way.   It is the day we have chosen to consecrate the icon oF "Our Lady of the Sign".  It has been painted by our own Father Alex who was a pupil of the Orthodox iconographer, Aidan Hart.   The monastery is dedicated to the Incarnation, and the icon will be specially venerated on the Feast of the Annunciation which is our patronal feast.


my source: Pravmir.com
The Kursk-Root Icon and the Future of Russia
The following sermon was delivered by the late Metropolitan Vitaly of Eastern America and New York (1910-2006) at the Synodal Cathedral of the Icon of Our Lady of the Sign in New York City on December 10, 1995, on the occasion of the 700-year anniversary of the appearance of the Kursk-Root Icon of the Sign, just as Russia was beginning to rise from under the rubble.  

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit!
Dearly beloved brothers and sisters!
I congratulate you on the Russian Church Abroad’s great feast: the 700-year anniversary of the appearance of the Kursk-Root Icon of the Mother of God and the 70-year anniversary of her path in the diaspora alongside the Russian Church Abroad. In order to show the beauty and profundity of this icon, with which the Mother of God herself is always present, we need to return for a bit to the history of the Church and show what manner of gift the Russian Church has received from God.
We say that there are three Romes. There is ancient Rome, which through its martyrs broke the iron pillar of the Roman Empire. Pagan Rome gave quite a lot to Christianity, inasmuch as it established the law and defined the human person as a legal entity; it paved countless roads; and it pacified all of Europe, uniting it into the magnificent Roman Empire, into which our Savior was born. The martyrs of the early Christian Church, who had heard the preaching of the Apostles themselves and of their disciples, accepted this preaching with such astonishing clarity that they went to their cruel martyrdoms as if joining a procession. They transformed the Roman Empire by their blood. We remember these great martyrs to this day, and will remember them until the end of the ages.
Later there was the second Rome, Byzantium, which allowed the teaching of the Orthodox Church to pass through the crucible of thought, reason, and human understanding; to this end it made use of the legacy of Greece, which from ancient times had become practiced in human syllogisms and illogisms. Its philosophical heritage was employed in systematizing the Orthodox Church’s teaching. This was the greatest achievement of the second Rome: Byzantium, Constantinople.
Later, when this empire had been destroyed – for there is nothing eternal upon this earth – Moscow became the Third Rome. We have no reason to be ashamed of saying that Moscow was the Third Rome. What gift of God did Moscow, Holy Russia, receive? We know of the countless sufferings through which the Holy Fathers of previous epochs had defended the faith and purity of Orthodoxy from countless heretics. When Orthodoxy spread throughout the Russian plains, the Russian soul in its collectiveness [sobornost] sought its own gift of God, which it found by turning to the Mother of God. The Russian people particularly venerate the Mother of God, which distinguishes our country and our traditions of the Orthodox faith. Of course, other peoples also venerate the Mother of God, but the Russian people chose the Mother of God for special veneration and reverence, as the door to the Heavenly Kingdom. The Mother of God was our special Protectress: there was not a single corner of the whole expanse of the former Russian Empire into which some miraculous icon of the Mother of God had not appeared that was venerated either locally or throughout the nation. The entire Russian land was sanctified by these holy icons; the Russian people believed that the Mother of God herself was invisibly present, as it were, at each icon.
This is our particularity. We will enter the Heavenly Kingdom through the Mother of God. The Mother of God is always depicted with the infant Christ the Savior. This particularity of icon-painting hearkens back to an ancient tradition that tells of some freethinking and insolent people who, looking at the Mother of God during his lifetime, said: “How can she be the Mother of God? How could she have given birth to God? How is this possible?” Then the Mother of God raised her most pure hands to heaven, seeking the protection of God, just as she is depicted on the Kursk-Root Icon. Then the Lord showed Himself to these disputers of this world in her most pure womb, just as He is depicted on her icon. These cowards, seeing such an incredible miracle, were cast into the fear of God; and the insolent people, who were infected with incurable pride, fled in terror, having seen the Savior’s face as Judge in anticipation of His Second Coming.
This is our icon. With the raised hands of the Mother of God it addresses all non-believers and believers alike, that they might learn to fear disbelief. This best witnesses to our entire people that the Mother of God is truly the Theotokos, that she truly bore our God and Savior.The particular Russian piety for venerating the Mother of God is a response to the Russian soul’s age-old yearning to perceive God’s grace, which cannot be reduced to an abstract concept, distinctly and actually. The Mother of God also showed her protection to such great saints as our St. Sergius of Radonezh, to whom she appeared more than once, and in more recent times to St. Seraphim of Sarov. Recall how St. Seraphim, sitting on a log in the dense forest, revealed God’s grace to Motovilov distinctly and actually. St. Seraphim embraced him and suddenly the grace of the Holy Spirit moved from the saint to Motovilov who, perceiving God’s grace in fear and trembling, felt as though he were not on earth but in heaven.
This is what the Russian people seek: it desires to perceive God’s grace actually and completely. This is the ideal of the Russian soul.
Now, beloved brothers and sisters, we are all full of sorrow and grief for our Motherland, which had been called the home of the Mother of God, which had been Holy Russia, and which had been traversed from length to breadth by holy God-pleasers shedding tears of repentance. They shed so many tears that one could likely have been baptized in them, as in the baptismal waters. This had truly been Holy Russia, and it was trampled upon when the holy things of the Russian land were rejected. For to whom much is given, much is required.
We are in constant mourning for our Motherland, for Holy Russia. We should all pray for it, for every one of us shares responsibility for what takes place there. We are the descendents of those who lived in Russia when it became spiritually lukewarm; it is very difficult for us to overcome this sinful predisposition. This is what we who are in the diaspora have in common with those who live in Russia; this is what ties us together.
We need to repent, to recover this spiritual ideal of Holy Russia within ourselves, for this is the only way we can change the fate of the Russian people. The Russian nation is not small, and when it will again believe in God and find Him, then the entire world will experience the consequences.
Thus, my beloved brothers and sisters, each of us should pray that the Lord might help raise our Motherland anew. We should ask the Lord in prayer: “Lord, save Russia!” – but not in any geographical sense, but rather in the sense that Russia is each one of us. Each one of us, therefore, bears responsibility before God for the death or rebirth of Russia. Each one of us should take it upon himself to take refuge in repentance, to get on our knees – even if we do not have prayer books or service books – and simply raise our hands like the Mother of God and say with our whole hearts: “Lord, forgive me! Lord, have mercy on me and help me.” Rebirth will begin from that very moment. This is something that everyone should do, without fail and personally – for everyone is a living particle of Holy Russia. For we are people, not objects. Each one of us is responsible for this, and each one of us is capable of turning the history of Russia to God if he takes this upon himself.
There is no point thinking about anything else, or of putting one’s hope on someone else, for everyone should take responsibility for his own self, recalling the words of St. Seraphim of Sarov: “save your soul, and thousands will be saved around you.” These words of the great God-pleaser and man of prayer should help us to think about our salvation and to embark on the path of repentance.
This is the only way out for Russia and for the entire world, for if Russia perishes, then the whole world will perish; and if Russia rises, it will certainly cause the whole world to rise with it. We are all connected: the fate of humanity is connected with that of Russia, where the great mystery of the battle between good and evil, between Satan and God, is taking place. Each one of us is a participant in this battle, even if he has left his Motherland, so long as bears a Russian heart.
Let us pray to the Mother of God, since her greatest prayer is that she might teach us to love Christ the Savior. This is what the Mother of God expects of us: she expects us to love our Savior and God, and then she will hear our prayer and come to our aid. When we will come to love the Savior, we will see how much we differ from Him – even though we strive to unite ourselves with Him in the Heavenly Kingdom – and this will add sincerity to our repentance.
Repentance is an all-amending force capable of transforming the entire world. All the best that has been done and written in the Orthodox Church has been derived from repentance, beginning with King David: he sinned grievously in murder and adultery, but gave us the Psalter, that model of lofty, prayerful lamentation, that fruit of his repentance.
Thus, beloved brothers and sisters, let us ask the Mother of God that she might help us to love our Savior, her God and ours, and that she might help us to find repentance anew, that gift of God. It does not befit us to search in mind for various parties or programs, but rather to remember our responsibility before God, for each of is a small particle of the Russian people. It is for this reason that it was said [by F. I. Tyutchev]: “In Russia, one can only believe.” Amen.
The icon shows the Mother of God from the waist up, facing us, with her hands lifted up to the level of her head, elbows bent. From time immemorial this gesture has signified a prayerful appeal to God. The Christ-child, Emmanuel, is depicted in a circle of light at her bosom. Icons of this type were, and still are sometimes, called Oranta (Latin for praying). Her prayerful stance also gives the impression of presenting us with Christ, and our attention is drawn – as always with icons of the Theotokos – to her Son, our Saviour.

In the Russian land, this image acquired the name Our Lady “of the Sign” (Znamenie – Знамение). It is sometimes thought – quite understandably, given the Icon’s composition – that this name refers to the prophecy of Isaiah:

Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign:Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a Son,And shall call His name Immanuel(Isaiah 7:14)

However, the origin of the name in Russia can also be traced to a specific historical event, when through the Oranta icon, God wrought a miracle. On November 27, 1165 in the midst of the assault on the city of Novgorod by the forces of Prince Andrew of Bogolubovo, the citizens of the besieged town brought the Icon to the city wall. One of the arrows pierced the icon and the Most Holy Mother of God turned her face to the city and shed tears. The tears dropped on the phelonion of Bishop John of Novgorod, who exclaimed: “O wonder of wonders! How can tears be streaming from dry wood! O Queen! You are giving us a sign that you are entreating your Son that the city be spared.”

Inspired by the wonderful sign, the people of Novgorod repelled the attacks of the Suzdal forces. To this day, the whole of the Russian Church celebrates the Feast of the Icon “Znamenie” on this day, December 10, which is November 27 in the Old Julian Calendar.

Our Lady of the Sign in the apse of a church in Constantinople


As for the use of this image, or variants of it, above altars in church, this is related to the New Covenant, Christian, church being a renewed version of the Old Covenant, Jewish, Temple. In the Jewish Temple, as described in the Bible, there was the Mercy Seat. Flanked by cherubim, above the altar, and inside the sanctuary, it is within the Mercy Seat that the presence of God was manifest every year to the priests. Now, of course, God is manifest to us all in the person of Jesus Christ, and so Mary – within whom the glory of God was manifest – becomes the “new” Mercy Seat. Indeed, in the first Icon at the top of this post, she is even flanked by Cherubim, as the Mercy Seat was. But unlike the Mercy Seat of the “Old” religion, the Mother of God, and her Son, are clearly visible and manifest to everyone who enters an Orthodox church.
The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them a light has shined.For unto us a Child is born; to us a Son is given.And the government shall be upon His shoulder, and of His peace there will be no end.And His name shall be called the Messenger of Great Counsel, Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace, the Father of the World to Come.

God is with us! Understand this, O nations, and submit yourselves! For God is with us!
(from the Song of the Holy Prophet Isaiah.)

 Feast of the Immaculate Conception:
Pope Francis opens the doors.  Dec. 8th


Pope Francis is opening the Holy Door in St Peter's Basilica
 to mark the start of the Jubilee year

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

In a few moments I will have the joy of opening the Holy Door of Mercy. We carry out this act, so simple yet so highly symbolic, in the light of the word of God which we have just heard. That word highlights the primacy of grace. Again and again these readings make us think of the words by which the angel Gabriel told an astonished young girl of the mystery which was about to enfold her: “Hail, full of grace” (Lk 1:28).

The Virgin Mary was called to rejoice above all because of what the Lord accomplished in her. God’s grace enfolded her and made her worthy of becoming the Mother of Christ. When Gabriel entered her home, even the most profound and impenetrable of mysteries became for her a cause for joy, faith and abandonment to the message revealed to her. The fullness of grace can transform the human heart and enable it to do something so great as to change the course of human history.

The feast of the Immaculate Conception expresses the grandeur of God’s love. Not only does he forgive sin, but in Mary he even averts the original sin present in every man and woman who comes into this world. This is the love of God which precedes, anticipates and saves. The beginning of the history of sin in the Garden of Eden yields to a plan of saving love. The words of Genesis reflect our own daily experience: we are constantly tempted to disobedience, a disobedience expressed in wanting to go about our lives without regard for God’s will. This is the enmity which keeps striking at people’s lives, setting them in opposition to God’s plan. Yet the history of sin can only be understood in the light of God’s love and forgiveness. Were sin the only thing that mattered, we would be the most desperate of creatures. But the promised triumph of Christ’s love enfolds everything in the Father’s mercy. The word of God which we have just heard leaves no doubt about this. The Immaculate Virgin stands before us as a privileged witness of this promise and its fulfilment.

This Extraordinary Holy Year is itself a gift of grace. To pass through the Holy Door means to rediscover the infinite mercy of the Father who welcomes everyone and goes out personally to encounter each of them. This will be a year in which we grow ever more convinced of God’s mercy. How much wrong we do to God and his grace when we speak of sins being punished by his judgment before we speak of their being forgiven by his mercy (cf. Saint Augustine, De Praedestinatione Sanctorum, 12, 24)! But that is the truth. We have to put mercy before judgment, and in any event God’s judgement will always be in the light of his mercy. In passing through the Holy Door, then, may we feel that we ourselves are part of this mystery of love. Let us set aside all fear and dread, for these do not befit men and women who are loved. Instead, let us experience the joy of encountering that grace which transforms all things.

Today, as we pass through the Holy Door, we also want to remember another door, which fifty years ago the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council opened to the world. This anniversary cannot be remembered only for the legacy of the Council’s documents, which testify to a great advance in faith. Before all else, the Council was an encounter. A genuine encounter between the Church and the men and women of our time. An encounter marked by the power of the Spirit, who impelled the Church to emerge from the shoals which for years had kept her self-enclosed so as to set out once again, with enthusiasm, on her missionary journey. It was the resumption of a journey of encountering people where they live: in their cities and homes, in their workplaces. Wherever there are people, the Church is called to reach out to them and to bring the joy of the Gospel. After these decades, we again take up this missionary drive with the same power and enthusiasm. The Jubilee challenges us to this openness, and demands that we not neglect the spirit which emerged from Vatican II, the spirit of the Samaritan, as Blessed Paul VI expressed it at the conclusion of the Council. May our passing through the Holy Door today commit us to making our own the mercy of the Good Samaritan.


the tracing used as a basis for the icon
Filling in the final details - the gold is covered with transparent paper as he
concentrates on the figures.  The final act will be to "name" icon.  This will
happen when he paints in the initials in Greek for "Mother of God".
You will see the finished product after the consecration with holy water and chrism during the conventual 11 o'clock Mass on Saturday.   We think you will like it.  Eventually, it will be in the sanctuary of our chapel, with another, the same size, of the archangels, with Christ in the centre, as in this icon, and they will be on either side of a much large fresco of Christ Pantocrator.  

See at the beginnning of this post more about the consecration of the icon with photos.


Gaudete in Domino semper: iterum dico, gaudete. Modestia vestra nota sit omnibus hominibus: Dominus enim prope est. Nihil solliciti sitis: sed in omni oratione petitiones vestrae innotescant apud Deum. 

Rejoice in the Lord always: again I say, rejoice. Let your modesty be known to all men: for the Lord is nigh. Be nothing solicitous: but in every prayer let your petitions be made known to God.

The Introit for today’s Mass reminds us that, while the season of Advent is one of penance and anticipation, we must also pause and rejoice at the nearness of Our Lord. The following excerpt comes from “The Liturgical Year” by Dom Prosper Guéranger. A Benedictine priest, as well as abbot of Solesmes Abbey and founder of the French Benedictine Congregation, Dom Prosper was one of the foremost liturgists of the late 19th century. Guéranger writes:

“Today, again, the Church is full of joy, and the joy is greater than it was. It is true that her Lord has not come; but she feels that He is nearer than before, and therefore she thinks it just to lessen some what the austerity of this penitential season by the innocent cheerfulness of her sacred rites. And first, this Sunday has had the name of Gaudete given to it, from the first word of the Introit; it also is honoured with those impressive exceptions which belong to the fourth Sunday of Lent, called Laetare. The organ is played at the Mass; the vestments are rose-colour; the deacon resumes the dalmatic, and the subdeacon the tunic; and in cathedral churches the bishop assists with the precious mitre. How touching are all these usages, and how admirable this condescension of the Church, wherewith she so beautifully blends together the unalterable strictness of the dogmas of faith and the graceful poetry of the formulae of her liturgy.

“Let us enter into her spirit, and be glad on this third Sunday of her Advent, because our Lord is now so near unto us. Tomorrow we will resume our attitude of servants mourning for the absence of their Lord and waiting for Him; for every delay, however short, is painful and makes love sad.”

 by various Orthodox authors (on Monday)

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