"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

Friday 31 December 2010

[IrenikoHAPPY NEW YEAR: Fw: "My mum forced me to clean my teeth" and "Screwtape and the Pope"

My mum forced me to clean my teeth

I am heartily sick of the protest "I don't go to (Liturgy) (Mass) because my parents forced me to go when I was young." OK Son, what else did your parents force you to do?

Your parents forced you to wash before you went out in the morning. Those cruel tyrants made sure that you cleaned your teeth before you went to bed. They dragged you kicking and screaming to school so that you could learn to read - and the teachers collaborated by forcing you to learn the alphabet and put the words together.

To top it all, after looking after your physical needs, they had the temerity to exercise their authority by looking after your spiritual needs and taking you to Mass on Sunday.

If they had neglected to see that you were clean, had suitable clothes, eat some sort of nourishing food, get some education and cross the road safely, they would have been visited by social services and given a care plan so that you could be healthy and safe.

And you are complaining because they took responsibility for your eternal life?

In this context, it is relevant to quote again the classic:
Ten reasons why I never wash
  1. I was forced to as a child.
  2. People who wash are hypocrites - they think they are cleaner than everybody else.
  3. There are so many different kinds of soap, I can't decide which one is best.
  4. I used to wash, but I got bored and stopped.
  5. I wash only on special occasions, like Christmas and Easter.
  6. None of my friends wash.
  7. I'll start washing when I get older and dirtier.
  8. I can't spare the time.
  9. The bathroom is never warm enough in winter or cool enough in summer.
  10. People who make soap are only after your money

From Fr. Hunwicke's blog: Liturgical Notes

Sorry if I offend, but this is priceless!

Rdr. James


23 December 2010

My dear Wormwood

I must confess to being a little puzzled by your suggestion that the Unholy Office is in any way open to criticism. It is, after all, inappropriate for somebody as high up in the Lowerarchy as yourself to venture upon criticism of any of Our Father's Dikasteries; but least of all should you fail to cringe in terror before this particular organ for bad. Indeed, in future, I must ask you to refer to it by its proper title as the Congregation for the Perversion of Prelates and Priests. Moreover, you describe it as "over-staffed". I think, nay rather, I long for you to come to regret such a good term. True, the CPPP is by far the largest of all our departments, but it is undoubtedly the most spectacularly successful of all the groups who assist the Ministry of the Sovereign Tempter. The humans, on the walls of some of their older churches, have painted the Doom, the Final Judgement, with an amusing detail (how deplorable their capacity to derive the pleasure of laughter even from Damnation!): they show some of those who are rising from the grave to everlasting condemnation as marked with insignia of office. Several of these doomed figures are commonly depicted wearing a mitre or a cardinal's hat or a tiara. Believe me, if humans understood the half of it, they would have painted vast phalanxes of such mitred prelates waiting to be hauled, poked, or prodded by our worthy footsoldiers into the open mouth which leads down to the Infernal Playgrounds. For all that - and for so very much more - we have the CPPP to thank. You forget this at your peril ... a delicious word, peril ... redolent of the most exquisite culinary expectations ... but I must curb my digression ...

In particular, your suggestion that they "should have shut Ratzinger up" demonstrates not only a degree of disrespect for workers who, believe me, are very much worse than you, but also a quite woeful, not to say admirably punishable, misunderstanding of the broad lines of current strategy. Protocol 7/12/666, which was very adequately expounded at your seminary, explains clearly that Ratzinger appears to have a strong degree of protection. Accordingly, policy is - do you remember all this now? - to concentrate on the ready malevolence of those we have trained to report and comment on what he says or writes. The departmental bottoms at CPPP have successfully put in place a number of highly productive antinomies of the sort that the humans would describe as "Heads I win, tails you lose". Thus, if Ratzinger is silent on some topic, he is "failing to speak clearly". But if he utters ... even just one sentence ... it is rich material for misrepresentation. Such misrepresentations will be what stick in the mind of most hearers. Not for nothing have we slaved for centuries to ensure that as few humans as possible are capable of even the simplest logical processes. But little is lost if a few humans remain who do perceive an inkling of the truth: we have multiple fall-backs in place. One of these is to suggest that Ratzinger, even if admittedly correct, is "accident-prone" and "should have realised how his words would be misinterpreted". This, of course, neatly diverts into renewed condemnation of the man a perception which, if left unmanipulated, might have opened some human minds to the accuracy of what he had said.

You are particularly concerned that Ratzinger recently "blew the gaffe" on our strategy (8/5/999) of promoting 'relativism' in the 1960s/1970s. It is true that there are thousands of clergy trained in those decades, tens of thousands of 'moral philosophers' who taught at that time in very low-down universities, who will remember systems such as 'Situation ethics' which were propounded and widely accepted. (This in itself was a spectacular success on the part of the CPPP.) But those humans whom we control in what they call their 'media' had no trouble providing a very satisfactory gloss upon Ratzinger's words. With our help, they picked on a couple of truths: that such systems were widely held; and that the implication of these systems is that paedophile actions were not ex sese "wrong". And they ensured that two responses would be inevitable: firstly; when victims of paedophile priests were told Ratzinger believed "Everybody thought that sort of thing was All Right", they very naturally responded that, in their own communities, paedophilia was certainly not considered "All Right" by everyone. And, for them, this is perfectly true. At that time, common folk lagged sadly behind the sophisticated moral innovations of our friends in universities and seminaries and the Intelligensia. Many of those dreary peasants would not even have understood the meaning of the phrase 'trahison des clercs'. So, for them, the claim, attributed to Ratzinger, that "Everybody believed paedophilia was All Right" simply sounds like a lie.

The second response calls in aid the policy embodied in 4/3/969. This -I presume you will again need to be reminded - concerned the inculcation of the idea that "What everybody does/thinks" is automatically "Right". You and I, of course, know that such a principle would, for example, have made the Jewish Holocaust and the practice of Slavery and the Burning of Widows into acceptable systems. Indeed, we successfully used this very idea to erode the consciences of those we wished to become involved in the Jewish Holocaust. But only a few off-message academics realise the logical absurdity of treating "Everybody thinks it is Right" as equivalent to "It is Right". Most of the common people cheerfully accept this equivalence. So, when our workers were able to simplify Ratzinger's words into a suggestion that "Everybody thought paedophilia was All Right", the minds of many humans automatically glossed this as meaning "Ratzinger thinks paedophilia is All Right".

He's clever, the little Bavarian, but we have him by the short and curlies. What we are best at is turning his cleverness against him. And this is not just CPPP policy; it was explicitly approved by Our Father Below in his weekly audience with the Prefect of the Congregation, and ordered to be published. You will find texts in Acta Infernorum Locorum. Indeed, rumours down here suggest that it may soon be incorporated into a Diabolic Constitution. You had better watch your words, and keep just a teensy weensy bit more up-to-date in your reading ... if you know what is bad for you ... as (given my own very great desire for you) I profoundly hope you do not.

As loving, as hungry, as ravenous, as ever

Your Uncle


Thursday 30 December 2010

HAPPY NEW YEAR; Looking back on the Pope's Activity in 2010 and Much More

I apologize for covering up the lists of previous posts with large videos. Someone more skiled would be able to avoid this. If you want to explore any of the lists, simply click on one you can see, and the page you end up with will have lists uninterrupted by videos. I hope you like this selection of videos for the New Year. The first looks on the Pope's activity in 2010; and the last looks at his engagements in 2011. In between, there is a variety, all of them very good. All videos are from GLORIA TV.

Earnestly recommended this post on the Pope's new book: THE POPE OF ROME AND THE CHRISTIAN EAST

Wednesday 29 December 2010

[Irenikon] Holy Hieromartyr Hilarion Solemnly Celebrated in Sretensky Monastery


Holy Hieromartyr Hilarion Solemnly Celebrated in Sretensky Monastery

On December 28, 2010, in the Moscow Sretensky Monastery was celebrated the feast day of its heavenly patron, Holy Hieromartyr Hilarion (Troitsky). With the blessing of His Holiness Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia, Divine Liturgy was presided over by Archbishop Theognost of Sergiev Posad, Father Superior of the Holy Trinity-St. Sergius Lavra. Archimandrite Tikhon and members of the Monastery clergy concelebrated, along with graduates of the Sretensky Theological Seminary, and other guests of the Monastery. After the Liturgy, Archbishop Theognost lead the prayer to Holy Hieromartyr Hilarion.
St. Hilarion's treatise on the Incarnation of God the Word was read at the meal in the refectory. After the meal, Archimandrite Tikhon thanked His Grace Theognost for serving the festal Liturgy in the monastery, and then presented the results of the students' photography contest. 186 photos were chosen out of the 746 submitted, from which five winners were chosen. The winners were awarded monetary prizes.
His Grace Theognost thanked Archimandrite Tikhon for his labors in building the Sretensky Monastery and its Theological Seminary. The Superior of the St. Sergius Lavra noted the brotherly relations amongst the seminarians, and wished them conscientious learning with special attention to the Holy Fathers, whose writings need to be studied now more than ever.
Загрузить увеличенное изображение. 532 x 800 px. Размер файла 132803 b.
Загрузить увеличенное изображение. 533 x 800 px. Размер файла 209240 b.
Загрузить увеличенное изображение. 800 x 536 px. Размер файла 178868 b.
Загрузить увеличенное изображение. 800 x 533 px. Размер файла 127691 b.
Загрузить увеличенное изображение. 533 x 800 px. Размер файла 162957 b.
Загрузить увеличенное изображение. 533 x 800 px. Размер файла 139129 b.
Загрузить увеличенное изображение. 800 x 533 px. Размер файла 188383 b.
Загрузить увеличенное изображение. 800 x 536 px. Размер файла 276683 b.
The winners of the STS photo contest:

Evgeny Teplov (third year student at STS).
Evgeny Teplov (third year student at STS).

Anton Pospeliv (fourth year student at STS).
Anton Pospeliv (fourth year student at STS).

Ivan Pravdoliubov (first year student at STS).
Ivan Pravdoliubov (first year student at STS).

Anton Smirnov (fourth year student at STS).
Anton Smirnov (fourth year student at STS).

Theodore Golichenko (third year student at STS).
Theodore Golichenko (third year student at STS).
  Tuesday, December 15/28, 2010. The Sretensky Monastery Choir. 

Tuesday 28 December 2010


December 22nd   Celebration of Mass in honour of St Charbel by the Maronite Bishop Charbel Merhi who lives in Buenos Aires.   As you see, he celebrates in a cope rather than a chasuble, as is the custom among Oriental Orthodox and Catholics who celebrate according to the "semitic" rites.   The Maronite Church of the Lebanon boasts that it has always been in communion with Rome, and it has no Orthodox equivalent.   The text of the Maronite Liturgy is completely Oriental, but the Church itself is a blend of East and West.   Vestments tend to be Western in style rather  than Byzantine because they have always had more contact with th the Latin West.   They have "Mass facing the people", though I have heard there is a move among some to be more faithful to their roots.   The Mass was in Spanish, but the "words of consecration" were in Aramaic, the language of Our Lord and their classical liturgical language.   They are a monastic church which combines a monastic spirituality in the tradition of St Anthony of Egypt with devotion to the Blessed Sacrament..  Their spirituality, liturgy and style reflect their history.   For them, what they and the Orthodox believe about icons, they also believe about statues, as do the Peruvian peasants - points of contact with eternity.   They are rich in monastic saints, but they also have devotion to St John Vianney and St Therese of the Child Jesus.  Their own saint, the hermit St Charbel, is becoming popular outside Lebanon.  His tomb produces a kind of oil which is collected and used to anoint the sick, and there are many miracles attributed to its use.

Bishop Charbel is on the left.   In the centre is a statue of St Charbel the hermit.   On the right are Father Luis, who is chaplain to the Confraternity of St Charbel, and myself with a stick.

Do I have any criticisms?   Only one where Maronites and Latins are in the same boat.   The bishop studied theology in the University of Salamanca.   The language and thought of Salamanca is very different from the language and thought of the Maronite Liturgy, even if both are expressions of the same faith.   I went to the University of Fribourg and studied St Thomas Aquinas with the Dominicans; and the language and thought of St Thomas and the concerns of those who follow him are very different from that of the Latin liturgy.   Somehow or other, dogmatic theology became separated from the liturgy in mediaeval universities.   St Thomas, in order to understand better the sacraments, abstracted them from the liturgy; and, in doing so, did a dis-service both to our understanding of the sacraments and to our understanding of the liturgy.   All was not lost because of his deep Catholic instinct, his excellent mind, and his profound holiness (and holiness is in accordance with liturgy by definition).   Nevertheless, the was an inbalance  in our understanding, and this becomes important in a time of liturgical reform.   We must allow the liturgy to speak to us if we wish to truly understand the sacraments.   Liturgy is Tradition, the product of the synergy of the Holy Spirit and the Church.   Dogmas are designed to protect our true belief which is the condition necessary for true worship, but they must inevitably lead us back to the liturgy which is the primary expression of Catholic belief..   In my post "The Meaning of Confirmation" I try to use the liturgy itself to explore the meaning of Confirmation; and I hope to do the same for all the sacraments.   A theology of the Eucharist based on the Maronite Liturgy would be a true contribution of the Maronite Church for the universal Church; but this won't happen while Maronites learn their theology in Salamanca.

December 24th and 25th:   The week leading up to Christmas will be remembered in our minds becaue, more than at any other time, we were broke.   The abbot had visited us and had given us money, but this was immediately used in paying debts.  We had no problem about the Christmas festivities because we had been showered with Christmas goodies, but we were completely without money.  There were two days without milk at breakfast and no way we could buy it.   Of course, we did not starve.   Some of the food we were given for Christmas was used on the week before; but that still left us with plenty for Christmas night.

As  superior of the monastery, I celebrated the Christmas Mass at 9.00 in the night of Christmas Eve.  There is no experience more wonderful than that.  We had finished all three nocturnes of Matins before the Mass.   Afterwards, according to Peruvian custom, we had our Christmas dinner.   Our postulant had been a chef before he joined, and he did us proud.   I have never eaten a more tender turkey!!   We took no photos at the Mass nor at the dinner; but there are some that were taken at the Mass at 10.00 on Christmas morning.   It was celebrated by Fr Luis who is chaplain of the Confraternity of St Charbel.   Both Masses were in Spanish but all the singing was in Gregorian Chant, directly from the Graduale.

The sisters in brown are a new community, founded in France, called "Servants of God's Presence".   It is a community that has sprung out of a youth movement called "Point Coeur".   When they presented themselves to the founder of that movement, he arranged for them to do their noviciate in a Trappist convent.   Their "charisma" is "adoration and compassion".  They have  Divine Office (minus Matins), rosary in common,  lectio divina, and one hour a day of adoration before the Blessed Sacrament in a life dedicated to friendship with the poorest and most neglected.  They also take an active part in the youth movement in which boys and girls dedicate up to three years of their life between university and work to "adoration and compassion" among the poor of the world.   These sisters live only a short distance from us.

VATICAN CITY, 24 DEC 2010 (VIS) - Given below is the transcript of a Christmas message delivered this morning by Benedict XVI on the BBC Radio 4 programme "Thought for the Day":
  "Recalling with great fondness my four-day visit to the United Kingdom last September, I am glad to have the opportunity to greet you once again, and indeed to greet listeners everywhere as we prepare to celebrate the birth of Christ. Our thoughts turn back to a moment in history when God's chosen people, the children of Israel , were living in intense expectation. They were waiting for the Messiah that God had promised to send, and they pictured him as a great leader who would rescue them from foreign domination and restore their freedom.
  "God is always faithful to His promises, but He often surprises us in the way He fulfils them. The Child that was born in Bethlehem did indeed bring liberation, but not only for the people of that time and place - He was to be the Saviour of all people throughout the world and throughout history. And it was not a political liberation that He brought, achieved through military means: rather, Christ destroyed death for ever and restored life by means of His shameful death on the Cross. And while He was born in poverty and obscurity, far from the centres of earthly power, He was none other than the Son of God. Out of love for us He took upon himself our human condition, our fragility, our vulnerability, and He opened up for us the path that leads to the fullness of life, to a share in the life of God himself. As we ponder this great mystery in our hearts this Christmas, let us give thanks to God for His goodness to us, and let us joyfully proclaim to those around us the good news that God offers us freedom from whatever weighs us down: He gives us hope, He brings us life.
  "Dear Friends from Scotland , England , Wales , and indeed every part of the English-speaking world, I want you to know that I keep all of you very much in my prayers during this Holy Season. I pray for your families, for your children, for those who are sick, and for those who are going through any form of hardship at this time. I pray especially for the elderly and for those who are approaching the end of their days. I ask Christ, the light of the nations, to dispel whatever darkness there may be in your lives and to grant to every one of you the grace of a peaceful and joyful Christmas. May God bless all of you!"
MESS/                                                                                  VIS 20101228 (460)
VATICAN CITY, 24 DEC 2010 ( VIS ) - The Pope tonight celebrated Midnight Mass in the Vatican Basilica for the Solemnity of the Nativity of the Lord.
  In the course of the Eucharistic celebration, following the reading of the Gospel, the Holy Father delivered his homily.
  "'You are my son, this day I have begotten you'. With this passage from Psalm 2 the Church begins the liturgy of this holy night. She knows that this passage originally formed part of the coronation rite of the kings of Israel . The king, who in himself is a man like others, becomes the 'Son of God' through being called and installed in his office. It is a kind of adoption by God, a decisive act by which He grants a new existence to this man, drawing him into His own being".
  "Installation in the office of king is like a second birth. As one newly born through God's personal choice, as a child born of God, the king embodies hope. On his shoulders the future rests. He is the bearer of the promise of peace. On that night in Bethlehem this prophetic saying came true. ... Yes indeed, now it really is a child on whose shoulders government is laid. In Him the new kingship appears that God establishes in the world. ... In the weakness of infancy, He is the mighty God and He shows us God's own might in contrast to the self-asserting powers of this world.
  "Truly, the words of Israel 's coronation rite were only ever rites of hope which looked ahead to a distant future that God would bestow. None of the kings who were greeted in this way lived up to the sublime content of these words. ... Thus the fulfilment of the prophecy, which began that night in Bethlehem , is both infinitely greater and in worldly terms smaller than the prophecy itself might lead one to imagine. ... The infinite distance between God and man is overcome. ... He has truly 'come down', He has come into the world, He has become one of us, in order to draw all of us to Himself. ... He has truly built islands of peace in the world-encompassing breadth of the holy Eucharist. Wherever it is celebrated, an island of peace arises, of God's own peace. This Child has ignited the light of goodness in men and has given them strength to overcome the tyranny of might. This child builds His kingdom in every generation from within, from the heart.
  "But at the same time it is true that the 'rod of his oppressor' is not yet broken, the boots of warriors continue to tramp and the 'garment rolled in blood' still remains. So part of this night is simply joy at God's closeness. We are grateful that God gives Himself into our hands as a Child, begging as it were for our love, implanting His peace in our hearts. But this joy is also a prayer: Lord, make your promise come fully true. Break the rods of the oppressors. Burn the tramping boots. Let the time of the garments rolled in blood come to an end. Fulfil the prophecy that 'of peace there will be no end'. We thank you for your goodness, but we also ask you to show forth your power. Establish the dominion of your truth and your love in the world, the 'kingdom of righteousness, love and peace'.
  "'Mary gave birth to her first-born son'. ... In the language which developed within the sacred Scripture of the Old Covenant, 'first-born' does not mean the first of a series of children. The word 'first-born' is a title of honour, quite independently of whether other brothers and sisters follow. ... The first-born belongs to God in a special way, and is as it were destined for sacrifice. In Jesus' sacrifice on the Cross this destiny of the first-born is fulfilled in a unique way. In His person He brings humanity before God and unites man with God in such a way that God becomes all in all. ... Man can be the image of God because Jesus is both God and man, the true image of God and of man". Furthermore, "He is the first-born from the dead. In the resurrection He has broken down the wall of death for all of us. He has opened up to man the dimension of eternal life in fellowship with God. ... Now He really is the first of a series of brothers and sisters: the first, that is, who opens up for us the possibility of communing with God. He creates true brotherhood - not the kind defiled by sin as in the case of Cain and Abel, or Romulus and Remus - but the new brotherhood in which we are God's own family".
  "At the end of the Christmas Gospel, we are told that a great heavenly host of angels praised God and said: 'Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace among men with whom he is pleased!'. The Church has extended this song of praise, which the angels sang in response to the event of the holy night, into a hymn of joy at God's glory. ... The appearing of beauty, of the beautiful, makes us happy without our having to ask what use it can serve. ... But the angels' message on that holy night also spoke of men: 'Peace among men with whom he is pleased'. The Latin translation of the angels' song that we use in the liturgy, taken from St. Jerome , is slightly different: 'peace to men of good will'. ... It would be a false interpretation to see this exclusively as the action of God, as if He had not called man to a free response of love. But it would be equally mistaken to adopt a moralising interpretation as if man were so to speak able to redeem himself by his good will. Both elements belong together: grace and freedom, God's prior love for us, without which we could not love Him, and the response that He awaits from us. We cannot divide up into independent entities the interplay of grace and freedom, or the interplay of call and response. The two are inseparably woven together".
  "St. Luke does not say that the angels sang. He states quite soberly: the heavenly host praised God and said: 'Glory to God in the highest'. But men have always known that the speech of angels is different from human speech, and that above all on this night of joyful proclamation it was in song that they extolled God's heavenly glory. ... At this hour, full of thankfulness, we join in the singing of all the centuries, singing that unites heaven and earth, angels and men".



The Icon of the Mother of God of Fatima

The great union that Fátima's message has with Russia has already led many people to contributing in different ways to the expansion of this Marian devotion in this country. The icon of the Mother of God of Fátima that now I show you is a symbol that reinforces the predilection that Our Lady has for Russia. Certainly this love was shown very specially in the appearances of July 13th, 1917 in Fátima (Portugal), and of June, 1929 in Tuy (Spain), in which the Virgin spoke about the future of Russia as drill of mistakes and pursuit to the Church in the XXth century and about its conversion when the Pope consecrated this country to her Immaculate Heart. It serves to remember that because from these appearances million of persons have prayed for Russia during decades, and there has born in the whole world a current of love and prayer towards this country. In this respect the icon can help also to that Russia pays the great debt of gratitude that has with the Virgin of Fátima.

The idea of realizing this icon began in a trip to Moscow in the year 2000, but only at the end of 2002, when I started working as priest in Russia, the project began to be seriously prepared. First I asked about the project to priests, religious and lay people of Saint Petersburg, who encouraged me to put it into practice.

Then, for several months I devoted myself to study Marian iconography and also the diverse representations that until now have been done of the Virgin of Fátima. There are two principal types, which, in fact, were both images that sister Lucia had in the shelf of her room: that of our Lady of Fátima of the "Capelinha" and that of the Manifestation of Maria's Immaculate Heart in Coimbra. The latter is the one that has more influenced the icon for being, in my opinion, closer to the Marian iconography and because Russia has been devoted to the Immaculate Heart.
Both images have in common the elongated figure of the face and of the image, the white cloths - garment and mantle- Of the Virgin, the Rosary and the ball that hangs from the chest of Saint Mary, symbols that have remained in the icon. Of Coimbra's image there has been taken the trimming that crosses the mantle, as well as the centrality of the heart surrounded with thorns. Finally, when I already had the well-considered project I wrote to Coimbra's monastery, to know if sister Lucia liked it. The Prioress of the Monastery answered me sending information and saying to me that I could carry on.

In this moment Father Igor Chabanov introduced me to the orthodox Russian iconographer Ivan who was ready to realize it and both of us started working on it, with the idea that if the icon liked the catholic priest and the Russian iconographer, we would have obtained our aim.

Since then Ivan has studied thoroughly the whole literature on Fátima, has prayed, has had several diseases (they say that a good icon must be purified also by the pain), numerous concrete difficulties of accomplishment have raised and, after two years of work, he has "written" this beautiful icon of the Mother of God of Fátima.

During this long period of writing of the icon Sister Lucia has received in several occasions photography’s of the evolution of the process. Though the prioress always showed the photography’s to Sister Lucia, then she usually answered me in plural, " we like it " and I interpreted with it that in the response Sister Lucia was included and continued forward. Anyhow, to make myself sure that my interpretation was correct after the death of Sister Lucia I wrote to Sister Maria Celina, the prioress of Coimbra, asking: can I say that Sister Lucia liked the icon? The response to this question was yes. Sister Lucia saw and estimated and liked what she saw realized of Fátima's icon. Pity that she was expiring before being able to see it finished.

It is a big icon capable to preside a Church, in which it is represented Our Lady in the shape of bust, as they are the Marian icons with popular worship in Russia, for example the ones of Vladimir and Kazán.

Together with it, the principal characteristic is that it is an image full of light. The Virgin in Fátima was full of light, of a light, which, as Francisco said, " is God ". The full of grace is the full of God, and in Fátima it is the full of light: a Lady more brilliant than the Sun. It brings Fátima closer to the theology of the icon. The first icon that every iconographer must paint is that of the Transfiguration, in order that he learns that the Icon must bring the divine world over to men, the God's light to the earth, the God's radiance in the white garments of the orthodox transfigured Christ. It is the same thing that happens with the Virgin of Fátima.

The icon takes incorporated its central part a medallion with the word sertse (heart) in characters paleoeslaves. This is the way Ivan proposed to save the difficulty that the orthodox sensibility has to place a heart in an icon, since they consider it to be too sensual. The letters, nevertheless, communicate the same reality of Maria's Heart, but by means of a symbolic expression according to the iconographic tradition. The Heart surrounded with thorns indicates the love that Maria has to the men and the pain that produces the small correspondence that these offer to the God's love. The remedy to this pain Maria is offered to us by her with a rosary in her hands, to which the iconographer wanted to give a violet colour in order that this way the icon reflected the idea of the cross that every Christian must accept to follow the Lord. This way this rosary dyeing violet is like a summary of Fátima's message: " Prayer and penance ".

In the icon, besides the traditional MR ZY that indicates Maria's Divine Maternity two inscriptions have been written. The superior indicates the title of the icon: image of the Holiest Virgin of Fátima. The lower left one, in bigger characters, says “Toboiu Edinstbo” that means in you the Unity.

The latter expression reminds us the ecumenical vocation of the Icon, which has been written uniting the efforts of a catholic priest and an orthodox iconographer, trying to create an image before which catholic and orthodox faithful could pray together. In her two types of important ecumenisms are expressed. The ecumenism of the Heart of Maria and the ecumenism of the martyrdom, both very related to Fátima's message.

Really, for all those who live in Russia it turns out undeniable that the love for Mary joins us very specially, as well as it is also a fact, that in her Mother's Heart we all fit and there we are already united. Besides the call that the icon makes to the unity is related to the ecumenism of the martyrdom to which the third Fátima's mystery on the martyrdom refers, having reported ourselves on the martyrdom of the Church in the XXth century. If the history of Russia is known and how we have suffered together the martyrdom in the Soviet orthodox and catholic Gulags and for the first time coexisted in friendship, nobody will be able to doubt that the martyrs of the vision of the little shepherds in Fátima include faithful of one and another confession. The Icon of the Mother of God of Fátima wants to be, in this sense, a service to the unity of the Church, in the person of Maria under Fátima's devotion.
Finally it suits to indicate that the icon will be shortly placed in the catholic parish of Saint John the Baptist in Tsarskoe Selo (Pushkin - Saint Petersburg), but the project, if the Virgin wants that the icon reaches the sufficient worship, would consist of building her a small wooden chapel that at the same time it were the beginning of a Sanctuary to the Virgin of Fátima in Russia.

O. Aleksandr Burgos
Tsarskoe Selo, October, 2005
Friends' Association of Russia

Monday 27 December 2010


Preliminary Remarks

There is a lot of confusion about the sacrament of Confirmation, due to the fact that, in the early Christian centuries, both baptism and confirmation were part of a single sequence which culminated in Communion.  All three sacraments, when celebrated together, were called ‘baptism’.   Hence, the Fathers of the Church had no need to differentiate clearly and consistently between baptism and confirmation and were content to say that the Holy Spirit is given with the laying on of hands or by the unction with chrism and felt no need to ask why this is needed when the Spirit has already been given in baptism.     Only when the bishops of the Latin West reserved this part of the rite to themselves did the differences between Baptism and Confirmation become important; but the picture was too confused to give us a clear idea about the nature of confirmation by itself, and as theologians had come to prefer what authoritative sources have said about the sacraments to evidence from the liturgy itself, they failed to notice much that would have helped them to arrive at a more satisfactory theology.   While popes and councils have their place, the liturgy is the primary source of our understanding the sacraments.

 Trying to cope with the confusion, and being faced with the necessity to prepare young people for the sacrament here and now, some people find answers based on the concrete situation in western Christianity.   They say something like, “You were baptised as infants when you could not be consciously involved and were not able to make a decision to be a Christian.  In Confirmation, you confirm your faith as an adult in front of the bishop.  It is an entry into Christian adulthood.  This sacrament completes your baptism and you receive the Holy Spirit who strengthens your faith and gives you the capacity to live as an adult Christian.”   This seems to be the theology expressed in the Anglican rite of Confirmation.   The bishop asks the candidates:   “Do you here, in the presence of God and of this congregation, renew the solemn promise and vow that was made in your name at your baptism; ratifying and confirming the same in your own persons, and acknowledging yourselves bound to believe and to do all those things which your sponsors then undertook for you?”    He lays hands on each candidate with these words, “Defend, O Lord, this thy child with thy heavenly grace, that he may continue thine forever, and daily increase in thy Holy Spirit more and more, until he come unto thine everlasting kingdom.”   John Macquarrie, in his Guide to the Sacraments, SCM Press, 1997, says that “Confirmation (as the word implies) is simply a strengthening or ratification of the gifts received in baptism….These words (of the bishop over each candidate) seem to justify my choice of the term “perseverance” to designate the special grace associated with confirmation.”

But this explanation is too dependent on the western tradition and the pastoral situation it has produced.  It is also too focused on the individual alone, rather than on the liturgical process by which an individual enters into ecclesial communion as a Christian person, which is the main theme of the whole initiation celebration.     Also, the Anglican rite speaks of the young person ‘confirming’ his faith; but it is the bishop or his substitute who confirms, not the candidate.   Also, this view of confirmation hardly fits the facts on the ground.  I have heard of Anglican confirmation described as a passing out parade, because so many do not go to church again once the ceremony is over; and it is not much better in the Catholic Church in many places!   Also, if the chief function of confirmation is to give the candidate a spiritual maturity, why cannot confirmation be repeated when, for some reason or other, the sacrament clearly failed to work the first time?   What is unrepeatable about confirming our faith, and why is becoming a mature Christian a single, unrepeatable act rather than a process?   Also, if spiritual maturity is so different from ordinary maturity that it can be given to an eight week old Greek or Russian child, should it be called ‘maturity’ at all?

To arrive at a satisfactory understanding of confirmation we must also ask ourselves what the confirmation rites in East and West have in common, and look for the meaning of the sacrament there, because liturgical celebration is the principle expression of Catholic Tradition at its most authentic, both in the Catholic West and the Orthodox East, and it is the place where every other dimension or aspect of Church life comes together in a unity forged by the Holy Spirit.   A true theological investigation must pay adequate attention to confirmation when it is given to an eight week old child, as is done in the Byzantine Rite.  It must also ask what western Christians wanted to preserve which was so important as to justify breaking up the classical sequence of baptism, confirmation and communion in order to have the bishop as the ordinary minister of confirmation.    If what they wanted to preserve is also important in Eastern liturgical practice, then it is most likely to be a key element in our understanding of confirmation.

 To justify its claim to be a sacrament, Confirmation needs to be a symbolic action by which the Church realises itself in the individual in a distinctive way, without calling into question the sufficiency of baptism.  If we follow the more classic pattern of celebrating Christian initiation, it is related to the baptism that preceded it and the communion that follows it.   It is distinct but not separate from those two sacraments, and membership of the Church is what each sacrament and the whole sequence are about.      We may well ask, using our own vocabulary rather than that of long ago, why did the early Church see the need to put another sacrament between the reception of Baptism and the reception of Communion?  Or again, what did Baptism not symbolise with sufficient clarity, but which the early Church wished to emphasise, something that is a necessary pre-requisite to become a member of the Eucharistic Community?

The answer must not call to question the sufficiency of baptism.   Whatever confirmation gives to the recipient, it must be already implicitly given in baptism.  In spite of this, there must be a strong reason for the universal but spontaneous   practice of giving this dimension of Christian initiation a separate sacramental sign which conveys a sacramental character of its own.

There are precedents for this in other areas of the Christian life because all are particular manifestations of the one Christian Mystery.     It could be said that the doctrine of Christ’s Ascension is already implicit in the Resurrection.  After all, where was the risen Christ during those forty days when he was not appearing to the disciples?   The Ascension receives very little mention in St Mark’s Gospel (16, 19), and is not mentioned in the Gospel of St Matthew at all;  it is charged with immense symbolic and doctrinal importance, so that St Luke had to make it the subject of a separate verbal icon, and this has been followed in the traditional iconography of the Church ever since.     A similar process may have taken place in the early history of baptism, in which a dimension of being a Christian that is only implied in baptism was seen to need its own separate emphasis, its own sacramental sign.

 There may be also a parallel between the relationship of conversion to baptism and the relationship of an invisible but real effect of baptism to confirmation.  A person who is converted and is truly able to say “Jesus is Lord” has already been united to Christ and the Church by the Holy Spirit through his faith; but, because the Church on earth is a visible, sacramental reality, this conversion needs a visible, sacramental expression in baptism.   In this way, Christ continues to form the Church as a visible organism of those who share the baptismal sacramental ‘character’.   However, there is more to the Church than baptism; and, perhaps, there are dimensions of church membership which the person has received in baptism which, nevertheless, require visible, sacramental expression; and the very nature of the Church may require a further sacrament that imprints   a character that helps build up and form the visible Church as a Eucharistic community.

Even though the Catechism does give the ordinary Catholic teaching on Confirmation, it fails to put it all together to show us clearly the distinct nature of Confirmation, largely, I believe, because it does not relate in a coherent way the many things that have been said by theologians, councils and popes, because it is not grounded in the liturgy.   It quotes Pope Paul VIth in saying that Confirmation, “in a certain way perpetuates the grace of Pentecost in the Church” (1288); but doesn’t say in what way.    Confirmation is “the gift of the Holy Spirit that completes the grace of Baptism” (1288); but it does not explain in what way the grace of Baptism needs completion.  “Confirmation brings an increase and deepening of baptismal grace”(1303); but so do all other sacraments, especially the Eucharist which is the climax of the process of initiation and has every claim to be considered the Pentecost that makes the Church the body of Christ.   Moreover, what does “an increase and deepening” really mean, and does the valid transmission of this sacrament depend on this “increase and deepening” taking place?   “It gives a special grace of the Holy Spirit to spread and defend the faith by word and action as true witnesses of Christ, to confess the name of Christ boldly, and never be ashamed of the Cross.” (1303).  (How?  Better than a good sermon?)  Is the direct effect of the sacraments to change our attitudes and emotions, strengthen our willpower or our way of thinking?   Again, “Like Baptism which it completes (how?) Confirmation is given only once.(1304)”   .  Apart from saying somewhat vaguely that Confirmation “completes” Baptism, no good reasons are given why Confirmation is a sacrament in its own right, distinct from other sacraments, and why it is given only once.   I have no doubt that these statements are all true, but there is something missing which, if it were present, would make clear what they all mean; and that ‘something’ is the liturgy.

What The Sign Language Tells Us

When we look at the liturgy, the contrast between Baptism and Confirmation is very clear.  The most impressive differences are a) the strong connection with the bishop in Confirmation, and b) the use of oil with the emphasis on the Holy Spirit.  With this in mind, let us try to formulate the beginnings of a definition.

In the West, the bishop is the ordinary minister of Confirmation, though he can give permission for a priest to confirm for a grave reason; and the priest celebrates the sacrament as the bishop’s deputy.   If chrism is used without the proper blessing by a bishop, or if a priest celebrates Confirmation without permission, then there is no valid Confirmation.   In the East they have kept the original pattern of Baptism – Chrismation or Confirmation- Communion, which means that the priest has to confirm whenever there is a baptism; but he cannot confirm with oil unblessed by the bishop or patriarch.  A priest can baptise with water which has not been blessed by the bishop, but he cannot celebrate a valid confirmation without being delegated; and universally, he must use oil blessed by the bishop. All this leads me to propose that the connection with the bishop contributes something essential to the outward sign of Confirmation and is a key to what is signified by the sacrament.

 Moreover, the chrism is not just any olive oil, and the blessing is not just any kind of blessing: it is oil blessed by the bishop in a context of prayer offered by the whole local Church represented by the concelebrating priests and by the congregation of lay people, on the one day of the year when it can be said that the whole diocese celebrates the Eucharist together, on Maundy Thursday in the Chrism Mass.   That Mass is the supreme expression and celebration of the diocese as a sacramental organism, a manifestation in its own right of the whole Catholic Church in one place.   The use of this oil associates the recipient of the sacrament with the diocese, and the invocation (epiclesis) of the bishop over the oil associates those who will be anointed with the whole Catholic hierarchy.   If it is consecrated by the patriarch, then the emphasis is on the recipient’s relationship with the hierarchy and the visible Church structure.

It must be remembered that, while the Church is body of Christ and we are baptised into this body so that Christ lives in us to the extent that we die to our own egotism and live in union with him, it is the Holy Spirit who moulds the Church, unites its members to each other and to Christ, and gives to each member his or her distinctive role in the body.  The unity between the bishop and his Church and the relationships between its members are brought about by the Holy Spirit who makes the Church a sacramental organism, the body of Christ, centred on the Eucharist; and this is true whether we are talking of the local diocese or the Church throughout the world.     This is the teaching of both St Paul and the Fathers.   St Augustine is particularly insistent on the teaching that the Church is united by the power of the Holy Spirit.  Pope John Paul II wrote about this aspect of St Augustine’s teaching:

Another fundamental theme is that of the Holy Spirit as the soul of the Mystical Body: “what the soul is to the body of a man, the Holy Spirit is for the body of Christ, which is the Church.”[135] The Holy Spirit is also the principle of community, by which the faithful are united to one another and to the Trinity itself. “By means of what is common to the Father and the Son, they willed that we should have communion both among ourselves and with them. They willed to gather us together, through that gift, into that one thing which both have in common; that is, by means of God the Holy Spirit and the gift of God.”[136].   He therefore says in the same text: “the fellowship of unity of the Church of God, outside of which there is no remission of sins, is properly the work of the Holy Spirit, of course with the cooperation of the Father and the Son, because the Holy Spirit himself is in a certain manner the fellowship of the Father and the Son.”[137].

In the early Church as now, integration into the local church and communion with the bishop were not an optional extra but an essential dimension of the Christian life, and it was the means by which a church member was related to the Church throughout the world.   This is a main theme of the letters of St Ignatius of Antioch at the beginning of the second century.   He wrote:

“Take heed, then, to have but one Eucharist. For there is one flesh of our Lord Jesus Christ, and one cup unto unity of His blood, one altar, as there is one bishop, along with the presbytery, and deacons, my fellow-servants, so that whatever you do, you may do it according to God.” (Ign. Phil. 4; also to be interpreted in the light of this passage: Eph. 20; Mag. 7; Tral. 7; Phil. sal.)

For him unity with the bishop and obedience to him as God’s representative is absolutely crucial for preserving this unity in faith and love.  Unity with the bishop and unity with one another because we share the same bread and the same cup are two dimensions of the same reality, the reality called salvation.  In a passage which is important for understanding Confirmation he writes:

I congratulate you who have become one with him (the bishop), as the Church is one with Jesus Christ and as Jesus Christ is one with the Father, so that all things may be in harmony.  Let no man be deceived.   If a person is not inside the sanctuary he is deprived of the Bread.   For if the prayer of one or two men has so much force, how much greater is that of the bishop and the whole Church.   Anyone, therefore, who fails to assemble with the others has already shown his pride and set himself apart. … Let us be careful, therefore, not to oppose the bishop, so that we may be obedient to God. (Eph. 1)

I received your whole community in the person of Onesimos, your bishop, in the flesh, a man whose charity is beyond all power to say.” (Eph).

St Cyprian is in complete agreement with St Ignatius. He wrote,

“The Church is the people in union with their bishop. .. Thus you must know that the bishop is in the Church and the Church in the bishop.”

St Cyprian went further: this harmony should exist, not only within each church, but in the relationship of churches with each other.  The Church is like the seamless tunic of Christ in each local church but also as a “universal brotherhood” (On the Unity of The Church ch 12)    The Episcopate is one as is the universal Church, and unity with one bishop is unity with all others who are in communion with him:

This unity (of the Church) we ought to hold firmly and defend, especially we bishops who watch over the Church, that we may prove that also the episcopate itself is one and undivided. .. The episcopate is one, the parts of which are held together by the individual bishops.   The Church is one which with increasing fecundity extends far and wide into the multitude.(ch 5)

It is still Catholic teaching that the baptised person lives his Christianity within the universal Church only by participating in the local Church.   In the concluding document published by the CELAM Conference of South American Bishops which was held in Aparecida, Brazil, May 13 -31 in 2007, it is stated:

We affirm that faith in Jesus Christ reached us through the ecclesial community and she “gives us a family, the universal family of God in the Catholic Church.   The faith liberates us from the isolation of the ego, because it brings us into communion.   This means that a constitutive dimension of the Christian reality is belonging to a concrete community, in which we can live the permanent experience of discipleship and communion with the successors of the Apostles and with the Pope.  ( 5,56)  

This membership of a concrete community and the unity with its bishop and, through him, with the hierarchical structure of the universal Church, is implied in baptism where we are made members of the Church, but it is in confirmation that this ‘constitutive dimension of the Christian reality’  is given the importance it deserves by being signified in a sacrament.   The bishop forges a link with the newly baptised Christian by sealing him with ‘the Gift of the Holy Spirit’ which, all in one package, unites him to a concrete Church community with the bishop at its head, and gives him or her, those charismata, or gifts of the Spirit, that are necessary for anyone whose task is to bear witness to Christ and thus share in the mission of the Church as a whole.  Furthermore, the sacramental character, being permanent, leaves the door open for the confirmed person to receive any other charismata that he or she may need to fulfil his or her particular vocation. Hence, this is the way in which Confirmation perfects Baptism; and, as the connection with the hierarchical Church is for life, Confirmation does not have to be repeated.

St Paul, writing about his own relationship with the Corinthian Church, argued that, because we have the Spirit, relationships within the Church should take on certain characteristics of Christ’s relationship with the Church, one being his whole-hearted dedication, his sacrificial love.   Thus, because Jesus was never “Yes and No” but always a wholehearted “Yes”, St Paul’s dedication to them is also wholehearted.  He wrote:

As surely as God is faithful, our word to you has not been “Yes and No”.   For the Son of God, Jesus Christ, whom we proclaimed among you, Silvanus, Timothy and I, was not “Yes and No”; but in him it is always “Yes”.  For in him every one of God’s promises is a “Yes”.   For this reason it is through him that we say the “Amen” to the glory of God.   But it is God who establishes (confirms) us with you in Christ and has anointed us by putting his seal on us and giving us his Spirit in our hearts as a first instalment.   (2 Cor. 21, 22).

Hence, when the bishop, as Christ’s representative, confirms us, anointing us and sealing us with the “Gift of the Holy Spirit”, he is telling us that the same Spirit who binds the Father and Son together in love also binds us to him and to the visible Church with its hierarchy; and he implies that, if we are open to the Spirit, then we will be bound to him as the Church is bound to Christ and Christ is bound to the Father; and this is the doctrine of the Fathers.   We shall become wholeheartedly dedicated to the Church authorities that he represents and also to one another in Christ, just as the Church authorities will be bound to us and our spiritual good; and this will show that, together, we have truly received the gift of the Spirit.

   Confirmation is a sacrament for the sanctification of the individual like all sacraments, and it sanctifies by ending the person’s egoistic individuality that can only end in death; and bringing him to share the divine life of the Holy Trinity, so that he or she becomes a Christian person in communion with the persons of the Trinity and with all others who share with Christ eternal life.  Confirmation is also for the building up of the Church, a sacrament, along with baptism, orders and marriage, that gives shape to the Church on earth, in this case by externalizing the spiritual relationship between the episcopate and the faithful and relating to it the gift of the Holy Spirit that each Christian receives as member  of the Church.  There can be no opposition between the charismatic dimension of the Church and its hierarchical structure, because, at the very moment when the connection between the baptised person and the bishop is confirmed, and by the very same sacrament, the baptized person is made an instrument of the Holy Spirit and a recipient of those charismatic gifts the Holy Spirit wishes to give him.   Confirmation shows us that these gifts must be exercised in union with the bishop “for the building up and knitting together of the body”, and never apart from him.    This is the way confirmation completes baptism and why it is only given once.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches this important dimension of the effect of being “sealed with the Gift of the Holy Spirit” very succinctly:

“The practice of the Eastern Churches gives greater emphasis to the unity of Christian initiation. That of the Latin Church more clearly expresses the communion of the new Christian with the bishop as guarantor and servant of the unity, catholicity and apostolicity of his Church, and hence the connection with the apostolic origins of Christ’s Church” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1292).

My only criticism is that what the Latin liturgy “clearly expresses” is not in the very centre of the section on Confirmation, because the author gives more weight to statements about Confirmation, even if they lack clarity, than he does to the ritual that celebrates it.   For the same reason, he underestimates the importance of the blessing of the oil by bishop or patriarch in the Eastern rites which also emphasizes the absolutely necessary communion with the bishop. A person anointed by this oil is included in the invocation (epiclesis) of the Church voiced by the patriarch or bishop and benefits from the divine response to that petition, the consecrated oil being a symbol both of the Church’s petition that the Father send the Spirit on the oil and of the divine positive response.  In ritual, who is involved, what is done, even simple gestures, have their own theological meaning which can be mistakenly passed over by a theologian who only concentrates on written statements from authorities rather than on the liturgy itself.

   The Apostolic Constitutions (latter half of 4th Century) speak of the practical consequences for the Christian of being confirmed by the bishop:

“How dare any man speak against his bishop, by whom the Lord gave the Holy Spirit among you upon the laying on of his hands, by whom you have learned the sacred doctrines, and have known God, and have believed in Christ, by whom you were known of God, by whom you were sealed with the oil of gladness and the ointment of understanding, by whom you were declared to be the children of light, by whom the Lord in your illumination testified by the imposition of the bishop’s hands” (Apostolic Constitutions 2:4:32)

That this connection with the hierarchic Church is a dimension of what is signified by Confirmation is confirmed by the fact that it is the traditional means of reconciling to the Church a person who has been baptized outside its communion.   Hence, St Cyril of Jerusalem wrote:

It has been asked among the brethren what course ought specially to be adopted towards the persons of those who . . . baptized in heresy . . . and subsequently departing from their heresy, and fleeing as supplicants to the Church of God, should repent with their whole hearts, and only now perceiving the condemnation of their error, implore from the Church the help of salvation. . . . According to the most ancient custom and ecclesiastical tradition, it would suffice, after that baptism which they have received outside the Church . . . that only hands should be laid upon them by the bishop for their reception of the Holy Spirit, and this imposition of hands would afford them the renewed and perfected seal of faith” (Treatise on Re-Baptism 1 [A.D. 256]).

This was also the practice in the West.   St Cyprian of Carthage had a controversy with Pope Stephen in the middle of the 3rd Century over the re-baptism of heretics and schismatics, but Pope Stephen’s upholding of Roman tradition won the day, so that an African council in the fifth century could declare that:

“The former council . . . decreed, as your unanimity remembers as well as I do, that those who as children were baptized by the Donatists, and not yet being able to know the pernicious character of their error, and afterward when they had come to the use of reason, had received the knowledge of the truth, abhorred their former error, and were received in accordance with the ancient order by the imposition of the hand, into the Catholic Church of God spread throughout the world” (Canon 57[61] [A.D. 419])

Even now, Confirmation is the way the Orthodox churches receive a layperson into communion who has been baptized outside Orthodoxy.   They are then able to receive communion.   This seems to me to be very sound, because, according to the mind of the Fathers, our relationship with the visible Church is sacramental in nature and only secondarily juridical, and our union with our bishop is a work of the Holy Spirit before it is the result of jurisdiction being exercised and accepted.

Further reading:  "The Celebration of Confirmation"

Search This Blog

La Virgen de Guadalupe

La Virgen de Guadalupe


My Blog List

Fr David Bird

Fr David Bird
Me on a good day

Blog Archive