"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

Thursday 29 September 2016


preached by Dom David Bird
at Belmont Abbey (UK)

Angels are out of fashion, but people are fascinated by devils.   Films about possession and exorcism attract huge crowds: few wich to see a film about angelic activity.  Only a few days ago, the death of a Vatican exorcist was on the national and international news,  His death would not have been news if he had been involved with good angels'  Many reject a belief in angels but hesitate to say that   they disbelieve in devils. 

 The reason for this is instructive for anyone setting out to live the Christian life.  While diabolic activity can easily be spotted, angelic activity cannot be distinguished from from the activity of God.  "Look at me!" says the devil, as possessed people convulse, cry out in languages they do not naturally know, or vomit out weird and horrible things.  He does this because he wishes to display his power,  his diabolical force that is based on  pride. In contrast, an angel says, "Look at God!" and only about himself when it is necessary.   This is because his weapon is humble obedience and his power is the kenotic love of God.  ("Kenotic love" is a love that pours itself out on the loved one without wasting any of its energy on the lover himself.)  If this be true of all angels, it is specially true of St Michael who, as archangel, commands the heavenly host, though, in his case, "commands" means, "looking after their angelic welfare.  For this reason, both in Old and New Testament times, St Michael is believed to be both a military commander of the whole angel host and as a healer, and there are shrines to St Michael the Healer that are attended by both Catholic, Orthodox and Muslims
This may well be true; but why are angels so important for us? Why are so many monasteries dedicated to St Michael? Why are we celebrating the feast of St Michael and All Angels as a solemnity? And why, sixty years ago today, like so many monks of Belmont, this very same Mass was chosen by the abbot of the time to be the context in which I made my vows. Many of the older monks took their vows today, and we  include them in our prayers. I remember especially the late Fr Dyfrig who, forty two years today took his vows at this very Mass. What connection does St Michael and all the Angels have with the Christian life in general and the life of the monk in particular? 

 To answer this we must go back to the Gospels and to a Gospel theme that is paid little attention nowadays.   The theme is Christ's combat with the devil. It is not immediately obvious, but whenever Christ casts out the devils, he is involved in the battle with Satan that has cosmic significance, a battle that begins with Herod's attempt to kill him, is dramatised in the Temptations in the Desert, and reaches its climax on the Cross and its final and definitive victory in the Resurrection. Christ is, above all, the victorious one, Christus Victor.  The war did not begin with him.   It has its roots in the creation to which Satan objected.  It is a battle between Satan whose weapon is force based on Pride, and Christ with his kenotic love acting through humble obedience.

 Now, during the time of the Church, there is the mopping up operation, so that his victory can be accepted freely in every situation by everybody. . This combat is at all levels of our existence, and even takes place within ourselves, whenever we have the choice between   acting in humble obedience and allowing Christ's love to flow through us, or to act with self-assertion and pride. When we act with humble obedience, we are accompanied by angels and saints; when we act with pride, we join the army of devils. There is a meditation in the Spiritual Exercises of St Ignatius Loyola on this theme.  He says we have to make the choice.

Thus, as the 2nd lesson from the Apocalypse says, the martyrs triumph over the devil by the Blood of the Lamb. The rest of us can triumph too,  by fulfilling our vocations, by practising humble obedience, whether we are lay people, monks or clergy.   For all of us, God's will is made known to us at every moment by our present circumstances.  Through his divine Providence, every moment becomes, as it were, a sacrament of his presence and of his will. Our humble obedience to his will, as revealed moment by moment in our lives allows God to work in us and through us.  The humbler and more obedient to his will we are, the more transparent we become, the better conductors of his love and the better instruments of his grace we become. Like St Michael and the angels, our activity will gradually become inseparable from his and the our Christian activity with grow in fruitfulness and will have consequences we could not possibly even imagine. . The Church recognised this when it made St Therese of Lisieux patron saint of foreign missions, even though she died at 24 without having ever left her convent. It was implied by Our Lady when she told the children in Fatima that the prayers and penances of ordinary Christian could be used by God to bring about the fall of Atheistic Communism in Russia.   It seems that Christ can multiply the fruits of our Christian actions as he did the bread in the feeding of the five thousand.

To take part in this combat is so important for us as individuals as well as for the human race, that it is not astonishing that monks and nuns dedicated their lives to it   Their devotion to St Michael and the angels reminded them that their personal battle with all that was bad in them was part of a wider war against evil and that, because they were fighting in union with the angels and in Christ, victory was assured.

Why are monks so fond of angels? Why are so many monasteries dedicated to St Michael?

Firstly, because angels remind us that we are our companions whenever we praise God or humbly do his will. The Fathers called our life "angelic life" because we are basically dedicated to the same thing.

Secondly, we learn from them that our goal is not just to say prayers but to become prayer, to dedicate every moment of our existence to giving glory to God so that our action becomes as much a prayer as when we say prayers.   This is a gift from God.   St John Vianney suffered from activity pushing out prayer; and he tried to escape from parish life several times in order to give himself more to prayer.  It was only when he embraced God's will so perfectly that the contrast between prayer and activity simply disappeared.

Thirdly, because they point out to us what is truly important in our lives.  We can be forgiven for not believing in angels because their activity cannot be distinguished from God's.   What makes them what they are is  not standing out but fidelity to his will.  I remember Woolly. I don't suppose he will have a large place in the history of Belmont.  He held no important post and is remembered for no original work; yet, whenever I have been tempted to doubt the value of the monastic life, either that of my companions or of my own, I have remembered Father Wulstan and people like him I have known.  He did nothing of historical importance, but he was what Belmont is all about.  So with St Michael and the Angels.  Devils show their power in people they possess or places they infest: they leave their mark.  But angels care for us in a self-effacing way, so self-effacing that we forget their presence and only give glory to God, which makes them very content. Yet their power is the power of God himself; and the power of the devil and his angels are mere circus tricks in comparison with  the power wielded by the angels.

Sixty years ago, at this very Mass, I took my vows after a year's noviciate.  I was nineteen years old.  During the years that followed, I have not always live up to the exigencies of my calling to live a life of praise and humble obedience in company with the angels.  On the other hand, I have never, even for a moment, regretted my decision.  Please pray that I may be more faithful to my vocation in the years I have left than I have up till now.

On behalf of the abbot and community, I wish you a happy feast day.  Please pray for monastic vocations, especially at Belmont and at Pachacamac.

(I return to Peru tomorrow - Fr David)

Monday 26 September 2016


FRANCIS: Speech to participants at the Congress of Benedictine Abbots
8th September 2016

Dear Fathers Abbot, Dear Sisters:

With joy I greet you all. I greet the Abbot Primate, Dom Notker Wolf, whom I thank for his courteous words and above all for his precious service carried out in these years. After sixteen years of office, I think: who can stop this man?

Your international Congress, which sees you gathered regularly in Rome in order to reflect on the monastic charism received by St Benedict, and on how to remain faithful to it in a world that is changing, in this situation takes on a particular significance in the context of the Jubilee of Mercy. It is the same Christ who invites us to be ‘merciful even as the Father is merciful’ (Lk 6.36); and you are privileged witnesses to this ‘even as’, to this merciful ‘way’ of God’s working. Indeed, if it is only in the contemplation of Jesus Christ that we catch sight of the face of the Father’s mercy (cf. Bull, Misericordiae vultus, 1), monastic life constitutes an authoritative way to find this contemplative experience and to translate it into a personal and communal testimony.

The world today shows ever more clearly its need for mercy; but this is not a slogan or a formula: it is the heart of Christian life and at the same time its concrete form, the breath that animates interpersonal relations and makes us attentive to the most needy and in solidarity with them. This is what really manifests the authenticity and credibility of the message whose custodian is the Church, and for whose proclamation she is responsible. Indeed, at this time and in this Church, called to focus increasingly on the essential thing, monks and nuns are guardians, by your vocation, of a particular gift and of a special responsibility: that of keeping alive the oases of the Spirit, where pastors and faithful are able to draw from the wells of divine mercy.

This is why, in the recent Apostolic Constitution, Vultum Dei quaerere, I address myself to nuns, and by extension to all monks, like this: ‘May the words of the traditional Benedictine motto, “ora et labora”, still, and always, retain their validity for you; they train us to find a balanced rapport between the tension towards the Absolute and commitment to daily responsibilities, between the quiet of contemplation and eagerness for service’ (§32).

Seeking, with the grace of God, to live as people of mercy in your communities, you proclaim evangelical fraternity from all your monasteries, scattered in every corner of the planet; and you do so by means of that attentive and eloquent silence, which lets God speak in the deafening and distracted life of the world. May the silence that you observe, and of which you are the custodians, be the necessary ‘precondition for a gaze of faith that notices the presence of God in people’s personal stories, in the story of the brothers and sisters that the Lord has given you and in the events of the contemporary world’ (§33). Even though you live separated from the world, your enclosure is not sterile; on the contrary, it is ‘a richness and not a hindrance to communion’ (§31). Your work, in harmony with prayer, lets you participate in the creative work of God and ‘be united with the poor who cannot live without work’(§32). With your characteristic hospitality, you are able to meet the hearts of those who have most lost their way and are far off, of those who find themselves in  conditions of grave human and spiritual poverty. Also your commitment to formation and to the education of the young is greatly appreciated and of a high distinction.

Students of your schools, thanks to their study and to your testimony of life, can become themselves experts in that humanism that emanates from the Rule of St Benedict. And your contemplative life is also a privileged channel to nourish
communion with the brethren of the Oriental churches.
May the occasion of your international Congress strengthen your [Con]federation, so that it may continually increase and improve its service of communion and co-operation between your monasteries. Do not let yourselves be discouraged if
members of monastic communities are declining in number or are getting old; on the contrary, maintain the zeal of your testimony, even in countries that today are in greater difficulties, with the fidelity to the charism and the courage to found new communities. Your service to the Church is very precious. And in our time there is a   need for men and women who put nothing before the love of Christ (RB 4.21; 72.11), who feed daily on the Word of God, who celebrate worthily the sacred liturgy and who work joyfully and attentively in harmony with creation.

Dear brothers and sisters, I thank you for your visit. I bless you and I accompany you with my prayers; and you too, please, pray for me. I need it.

 Thank you

Friday 23 September 2016


Sandro Magister, like much of the press, has a "cowboys and Indians" approach to disagreement in the Church.  A division borrowed from secular politics is used to interpret the facts.   The Church authorities and theologians are divided between "conservatives" and "liberals"; and it is assumed that there is antagonism between them.   In spite of all that Popes Francis and Benedict have actually said on the subject, the two popes are pushed, willy nilly, into opposing camps and, by choosing some quotations and ignoring others, are made to appear to dance to the media's tune.  Nowadays, with Pope Benedict in retirement, the contest is between those who agree with Pope Francis and the disciples of Pope Benedict.   While there is a superficial truth in all this, I believe that, at a deeper level, something else is happening.   Beneath the politics, a new theological scenario is being formed, one which, give or take a detail, has the support of both Pope Francis and emeritus Pope Benedict.

Let us imagine that the next synod will follow the same pattern as the previous two.   Early on it will become apparent that there are real differences of opinion, not only among the laity, but among theologians, cardinals, bishops and priests.   There will be different interpretations about what is essential to Catholic teaching and about the pastoral implications and policies that derive from this teaching.   It will be noticed that one set of conclusions are favoured in one part of the world, let us say Germany, and another set in another location, Africa for example, even though not everybody in Africa or Germany will agree.

Sandro Magister and company will interpret this as a clash between traditional Catholic values and modern liberal values.  They will compare these synods with those held before Pope Francis, the sharp disagreements in current synods with the smooth, coherent expressions of Catholic uniformity in which all agreed with the Vatican centre; and they will wring their hands and mourn, and long for the restoration of Catholic order.

However, there is another interpretation of the facts which is more in harmony with Vatican II which itself would never have been possible if the stranglehold of the Vatican curia on discussion and decision making had not been broken by Cardinal Frings with the help of his secretary, Father Joseph Ratzinger.

This interpretation is more realistic in that, left to themselves, human beings differ from each other.  Also, different people and different parts of the Church have different priorities due to the variety of circumstances, conditions and cultures. The impression of  universal agreement on all  matters of Catholic teaching can only be maintained by a censorship in which everything genuinely controversial is ruled out. This is what happened in previous synods and would have happened in Vatican II if the likes of Joseph Ratzinger had not intervened.  If people wanted a return to the inspiration and energy of Vatican II, then this censorship had to go and the differences had to be acknowledged and faced.

Another but related goal of Vatican II that had not yet been realised was de-centralisation.   Different parts of the Church have different priorities because cultures and circumstances are not the same; nor are the problems.   Those parts of Africa and Asia that are expanding require different attitudes, problems and solutions from parts of western Europe that are in danger of being swamped by secularism. 
Large numbers of Catholics in my own Peru only have Mass once or twice a year, and the danger is an anti-Catholic swarm of evangelical sects which have the advantage of home grown ministries and very adaptable structures. The one thing about the Catholic Church is not adaptable enough to regional or local situations. The present Catholic structure is completely inadequate in so many different areas of the Church.
 "Where the Eucharist is, there is the Church," and where Catholics have to live without the Eucharist, this leads to distortion.   The centrality of the Eucharist has to be recognised, and it is the  central issue in so many pastoral problems throughout the world.   Keeping the Eucharist at the centre means so many different things in different parts of the world and at different levels of Christian living..   The Eucharist is, by its very nature, an activity of the local church, even as it shows the local church's universal significance.   As solving the problems and removing the obstacles to its fruitful celebration take place in a variety of cultural and historical contexts, so there is a need for de-centralisation.  Catholic unity must become a "unity in diversity", and this is what the synods of Pope Francis are about.

  • This has nothing to do with "conservatives" against "liberals".  The problems are more profoundly theological than political; and the way to solve them is not by political wrangling, nor by the use of censorship to artificially sweep them under the cadrpet, but by continually transcending them in love through the celebration of the Eucharist.  The task is:
  • a. Firstly, real differences must be brought out into the open.
  • b.  Then the basic principles by which Catholic teaching can be recognised must be acknowledged by all, even if one group may not agree that its opponents' views adequately do justice to these principles.
  • c.   Then, through living "with Peter and under Peter"  within the context of "ecclesial love", this being the fruit of our celebration of and communion in the one Eucharist, wherever we are, we may live fully Catholic lives while always praying that Catholic unity will become ever stronger..
  • d.  All this argues for the ability of the local  and regional Church to make decisions based on their situation.   To adequately cope with the complexity of the modern world the Church needs to de-centralise.

Of course there is a difference between the synods of Pope Francis and those that took place before.   They are designed to help bring about changes in the Church that are implicit in the documents of Vatican II. Basically, they are designed to change the outward appearance of the Church that tried to be as uniform as possible to making the Church a "unity in diversity", a Church in which the diverse many become one in Christ, in which diversity enriches the unity without losing its own particular gifts, in which the unity complements and transfigures all that is particular because it's source is nothing less than Christ himself.

An Orthodox priest, Father Georges Massouh, has written on authority:
The great Peter and Paul differed, but neither hurled anathemas or excommunicated the other. Rather, they both listened to each other’s criticisms with great humility and they compromised where compromise was necessary in order to preserve the unity of the growing Church. Their concern was to preach  Jesus Christ, not their own ideas.
Peter and Paul are together the model of the unity of the Church, based on the principle of diversity and respect for individuality. The condition for unity is diversity and the condition for diversity is unity. Christian dogma is based in principle on faith in the Most Holy Trinity: Father, Son and Holy Spirit: one God. Thus, there can be no correct theology without affirming “diversity in unity” and “unity in diversity”. Divine unity does not eliminate the particularity that distinguishes the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Likewise, diversity does not mean individualism, exclusivity, or the absence of creative relationships.
If you understand that, you understand Pope Francis' synods; if you agree with Father Georges, you agree, at least in principal with Pope Francis' synods.

Not Enough Celibate Priests? Make Way For Married Priests
my source: Chiesa ExpressoThis is the remedy being considered by Cardinal Hummes and Pope Francis for regions with a scarcity of clergy, starting with the Amazon. But there were also few missionaries in 17th-century China, and yet the Church flourished. It’s all in “La Civiltà Cattolica” 

by Sandro Magister

ROME, September 21, 2016 – Pope Francis received in audience a few days ago the Brazilian cardinal Cláudio Hummes, accompanied by the archbishop of Natal, Jaime Vieira Rocha.

Hummes, 82, former archbishop of São Paulo and prefect of the Vatican congregation for the clergy, is today the president both of the commission for the Amazon of the episcopal conference of Brazil and of the Pan-Amazonian Network that joins together 25 cardinals and bishops of the surrounding countryside, in addition to indigenous representatives of different local ethnicities.

And in this capacity he supports, among others, the proposal to make up for the scarcity of celibate priests in immense areas like the Amazon by also conferring sacred ordination upon “viri probati,” meaning men of proven virtue, married.

The news of the audience therefore gave the idea that Pope Francis had discussed this very question with Hummes, and in particular an “ad hoc” synod of the 38 dioceses of the Amazon, which is effectively in an advanced phase of preparation.

Not only that. There is renewed vigor behind the rumor that Jorge Mario Bergoglio wants to assign to the next worldwide synod of bishops, scheduled for 2018, precisely the question of ordained ministers, bishops, priests, deacons, including the ordination of married men.

The hypothesis had already been addressed following the twofold synod on the family:

> The Next Synod Is Already in the Works. On Married Priests (9.12.2015)

It had made rapid strides forward:

> Married Priests. The Germany-Brazil Axis (12.1.2016)

And now it seems to be gaining ground. Curiously, shortly before the pope received Hummes, Andrea Grillo - an ultra-Bergoglian theologian, professor at the pontifical atheneum of St. Anselm, whose contributions have been systematically relaunched and emphasized by the para-Vatican website “Il Sismografo” - had even forecast in detail the theme of the next synod on “the ordained ministry in the Church,” divided into these three sub-themes:

- the collegial exercise of the episcopacy and the restitution to the bishop of full authority over the diocesan liturgy;
- the formation of presbyters, with the rethinking of the Tridentine form of the seminary and the possibility of ordaining married men;
- the theology of the diaconate and the possibility of a female diaconate.

The authority to whom Grillo and all the clerical and lay reformers invariably refer in formulating this and other proposals is the deceased cardinal Carlo Maria Martini, with his bombshell talk at the 1999 synod.

The archbishop of Milan at the time, a Jesuit and the undisputed leader of the “liberal” wing of the hierarchy, he said that he “had a dream”: that of “an experience of universal encounter among the bishops that would serve to untie some of those disciplinary and doctrinal knots which periodically reappear as hot topics in the journey of the European Churches, and not only European.”

And here are the “knots” he listed:

“I think in general of the explorations and developments of the ecclesiology of communion of Vatican II. I think of some already dramatic situations of a lack of ordained ministers and of the growing difficulty for a bishop of providing for the care of souls in his territory with a sufficient number of ministers of the Gospel and of the Eucharist. I think of some issues concerning the position of woman in society and in the Church, the participation of the laity in some ministerial responsibilities, sexuality, the discipline of marriage, penitential practice, relations with the sister Churches of Orthodoxy and more in general the need to revive ecumenical hope, I think of the relationship between democracies and values and between civil laws and the moral law.”

Of the Martinian agenda, the two synods convened so far by Pope Francis have discussed “the discipline of marriage” and “the Catholic vision of sexuality.”

And the new synod could indeed resolve “the shortage of ordained ministers” by opening the way for the ordination of married men and of women as deacons, this last point having been already been put into the works by Pope Francis with the appointment last August 2 of a study commission:

> Francis and the Women. Homilies No, Diaconate More No Than Yes


The main argument brought forth in support of the ordination of married men is the same as the one enunciated by Cardinal Martini: “the growing difficulty for a bishop of providing for the care of souls in his territory with a sufficient number of ministers of the Gospel and of the Eucharist”

The Amazon would be one of these immense “territories” in which the few celibate priests present are capable of reaching remote groups of faithful no more than two or three times a year. Therefore with grave harm - it is maintained - to the “care of souls.”

It must be said, however, that such a situation is by no means exclusive to the present day. It has characterized the life of the Church in various centuries and in the most diverse areas.

Not only that. The scarcity of priests has not always led to harm for the “care of souls.” On the contrary, in some cases it has even coincided with a blossoming of Christian life. Without anyone getting the idea to ordain married men.

This is what happened, for example, in the China of the 17th century. An account of this is presented in the September 10 issue of “La Civiltà Cattolica,” with an erudite article by the Jesuit sinologist Nicolas Standaert, a professor at the Catholic University of Louvain, and therefore an irreproachable source, seeing the very close, statutory relationship that the magazine has with the popes and with the current one in particular, who personally follows its composition in agreement with the director of the magazine, the Jesuit Antonio Spadaro:

> Grandi personaggi della Chiesa primitiva in Cina. Il ruolo delle comunità cristiane

In the 17th century in China, the Christians were few and dispersed. Standaert writes:

“When Matteo Ricci died in Peking in 1610, after thirty years of mission, there were about 2,500 Chinese Christians. In 1665, there were probably about 80,000 Chinese Christians, and around 1700 there were about 200,000, which was still a small number compared with the whole population, between 150 and 200 million inhabitants.”

And there were also very few priests:

“At the death of Matteo Ricci, there were only 16 Jesuits in all of China: eight Chinese brothers and eight European fathers. With the arrival of the Franciscans and Dominicans, around 1630, and with a slight increase in the Jesuits during the same period, the number of foreign missionaries came to more than 30, and remained constant between 30 and 40 over the span of the next thirty years. Afterward there was an increase, reaching a peak of about 140 between 1701 and 1705. But then because of the controversy over rites, the number of missionaries fell by about half.”

As a result, the ordinary Christian met with the priest no more than “once or twice a year.” And during the few days over which the visit lasted, the priest “conversed with the leaders and with the faithful, received information from the community, cared for sick persons and catechumens. He heard confessions, celebrated the Eucharist, preached, baptized.”

Then the priest disappeared for many months. And yet the communities held together. On top of  that, Standaert concludes, “they turned into small but solid centers of transmission of Christian faith and practice.”

The following are the details of that fascinating adventure for the Church, as reported in “La Civiltà Cattolica.”

Without any reflection on the need to ordain married men.


“The missionary came once or twice a year”

by Nicolas Standaert, S.J.

from "La Civiltà Cattolica" no. 3989 of September 10, 2016

In the 17th century, Chinese Christians were not organized in parishes, meaning geographical areas around a church building, but rather in “associations,” headed by laymen. Some of them were a combination of Chinese-stye associations and of Marian congregations of European inspiration.

It appears that such Christian associations were very widespread. For example, around 1665 there were about 140 congregations in Shanghai, while there were more than 400 congregations of Christians in all of China, in both the big cities and the villages.

The settling in of Christianity at this local level took place under the form of what can be called “communities of efficacious rituals,” groups of Christians whose lives were organized around particular rituals (Mass, feasts, confessions etc.). These were “efficacious” both in the sense that they built up a group and in the sense that they were considered by the members of the group as capable of bringing meaning and salvation.

The efficacious rituals were structured on the basis of the Christian liturgical calendar, which included not only the main liturgical feasts (Christmas, Easter, Pentecost, etc.), but also celebrations of the saints. The introduction of Sunday and of the Christian feasts made it so that the people lived according to a rhythm different from the liturgical calendar used in the Buddhist or Taoist communities. The most evident rituals were the sacraments, especially the celebration of the Eucharist and confession. But communal prayer - above all the recitation of the rosary and the litanies - and fasting on certain days constituted the most important ritual moments.

These Christian communities also reveal some essential characteristics of Chinese religious devotion: communities that are very oriented toward the laity and have lay leaders; the important role of women as transmitters of rituals and traditions within the family; a conception of the priesthood oriented to service (itinerant priests, present only on the occasion of important feasts and celebrations); a doctrine expressed in a simple way (recited prayers, clear and simple moral principles); a faith in the transforming power of rituals.

Little by little, the communities came to function in an autonomous manner. An itinerant priest (initially a foreigner, but in the 18th century mainly Chinese priests) was accustomed to visit them once or twice a year. Normally the leaders of the communities gathered the various members once a week and presided over prayers, which most of the members of the community knew by heart. They also read sacred texts and organized religious instruction. They often held separate gatherings for the women. Moreover, there were itinerant catechists who instructed the children, the catechumens, and the neophytes. In the absence of a priest, local leaders administered baptism.

During his annual visit of a few days, the missionary conversed with the leaders and with the faithful, received information from the community, cared for sick persons and catechumens, etc. He heard confessions, celebrated the Eucharist, preached, baptized, and prayed with the community. After his departure, the community continued its usual practice of reciting the rosary and the litanies.

The ordinary Christian therefore saw a missionary once or twice a year. The true center of Christian life was not the missionary, but the community itself, with its leaders and catechists as the main connecting link.

Above all in the 18th and at the beginning of the 19th century these communities turned into small but solid centers of transmission of Christian faith and practice. Because of the absence of missionaries and priests, the members of the community - for example, the catechists, the virgins and other lay guides - took control of everything, from financial administration to ritual practices, including the leading of sung prayers and the administration of baptisms.


English translation by Matthew Sherry, Ballwin, Missouri, U.S.A.

Sunday 18 September 2016


I finish my two weeks in Ukraine on Tuesday, September 20th. Once back at Belmont Abbey, Hereford, I must learn to download my photos so that I can illustrate an account of my stay with the Basilian and Studite monks in this wonderful country.

Wednesday 14 September 2016


"Monks and Mermaids" has over two thousand posts. Here is a multi-media, multi-source website with the posts referring to Orthodoxy, Synods, particularly the "Holy and Great Council" that was held in Crete.  We aim to give as complete a picture as possible of this complex subject.  We are still in process of building up this site; and, we will be adding to it as the situation develops and as new material becomes available.  Please click on any subjects you wish.





Related Post:

Monday 12 September 2016

THE MONASTIC VOWS by Archpriest Demetrius Basalygo of Minsk (Russian Orthodox) plus LITTLE VICTORIES by Abbess Euphrosinia (Laptik) of St Elizabeth,s Convent Minsk

St Isaac the Syrian once said, «Monasticism is the paradise».

We often think of the paradise as a place somewhere in the sky, but this is not exactly right. The Paradise, the Kingdom of God is first of all a relationship between God and people and the world in the end of history. Essentially, the three monastic vows — chastity, voluntary poverty, and obedience — are a way to describe this relationship.

The Vow of Chastity

The vow of chastity is a way of dealing with people, which implies that I can no longer belong to anyone specific, I have to outgrow my natural affections. I must wrap up the entire world and everyone in it with my love; I have to learn how to love people like Jesus loved them.

The Saviour said that people will not marry in the Kingdom of God. The Kingdom of God is a state of love and unity; it is a place where everyone is fully open to others. The afterlife won't be like a today's good family where there are, for example, a husband and a wife, and they have children, and they have a very special and unique relationship based on love, while they relate to all other people in a different way.

The Kingdom of God is the state of love and unity with everyone. Possibly, this is an answer to the question why we venerate holy families who became monastics in the end of their earthly lives. They had been growing spiritually so well together that they managed to overgrow their personal relationship in the end. Essentially, this is how they fulfilled the Gospel commandment, «If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple» (Luke 14: 26). Those who don't overgrow their natural relationships, those who don't go further than that in their relationships of love and unity, cannot be disciples of Jesus. Every person must become our brother and sister, our mother and father — this is our calling. This is what the Heavenly Kingdom is like.

It seems to me that this is what the vow of chastity is about. If someone says, «It is for Your sake, O Lord, that I have renounced the joys of family life, so it's on You to grant me the entry into the Heavenly Kingdom», this is naïve. On the one hand, we regard this vow as a given, and on the other hand, it is our task to grow in love, in openness, in self-sacrifice for every other person. As long as an individual grows up and overgrows their natural relationships, she becomes a citizen of Heaven right here on earth.

Metropolitan Anthony of Sourozh (Bloom) recounted the story of a novice on Valaam who had had a very difficult obedience of a lumberjack. However, he would refuse to make vows for a long time. When they asked him, «Why? You have been doing your job for so many years!» — he would reply, «I can't be a monk because my heart cannot contain the whole world and everyone in it yet. My heart is too tight». This example may be an answer to the question what exactly the vow of chastity means.

The Vow of Voluntary Poverty

The second monastic vow is that of voluntary poverty. Again, this is something that fits into a description of the Heavenly Kingdom, where there isn't anything we could call ours. You can't but recall a story told by Metropolitan Anthony of Sourozh about a pencil stub he owned, which no one ever wanted to claim, and the feeling of property he discovered in his heart with regard to this apparently normal fact and the struggle he had to endure because of that. Voluntary poverty is a state of mind. Nothing can be separated from the Kingdom of God, from this total self-sacrifice, even this pencil stub. You won't be able to claim anything exclusively for yourself in the Kingdom of God.

The Vow of Obedience

The vow of obedience consists of full openness, absolute trust and loyalty to God. This is how we imitate Christ and his obedience towards God the Father. There is no egoism, egocentrism, selfishness, and therefore no separation and death in God's Kingdom.

Monasticism is a testimony that the Kingdom of God is near and it is already in our midst. However, everyone who walks this path still has to grow in order to implement the Gospel commandments and monastic vows in their own lives so that they become the law they wholeheartedly follow. Perhaps, this is when a person can realise from their own experience that «monasticism is the paradise».

All Christian ascetic practices have the Sacrament of the Eucharist, the Liturgy, as both their beginning and their end, as the revelation, the epiphany and the communion of the life of the age to come. It is through the Liturgy that the Church experiences things that the world has yet to experience when God will be all in all (cf. 1 Cor. 15: 28), when we will be united. The Liturgy is the gift of unity from above. This Sacrament trumps everything that still separates us — time, distance, and death. We become part of the final God's plan about the world; we have unity and communion with God and with all the saints, living and reposed.

This experience of the Church is always the answer to the question of genuine unity, which the world is seeking so desperately and which it cannot find anywhere. The Holy Fathers used to say, «My life is my sister. My salvation is in my neighbour». If we don't understand the experience that brought about these words, we will never understand St Isaac the Syrian who said that monasticism is the paradise. These words will be just another quotation from an outside authority figure, a saint. As long as we don't engage with the experience of life in the Church, expressed in its theology and worship, the words of the saints will remain alien to us.

by Abbess Euphrosinia (Laptik)

How can you say something in such a way that people would understand it properly? You may be saying one thing but people would understand it differently.

There are certain points that we fail to appreciate. When you try to talk about them, people hardly comprehend it. For instance, there is a sermon after an akathist but some sisters sit and talk. I know that there is an audio recording. However, you are not listening, you are talking. Why not stand and listen like everyone else?

I believe that these things — these small efforts — mean a lot, even though they appear to be insignificant. If we indulge ourselves too much, we may lose much more. Such behaviour leads to emptiness and weariness. In contrast, the Lord rewards us with joy even for the tiniest victories, which make up a great joy.

The dreams and intentions I had when I came to the Convent have started to materialise only recently. Elder Sophrony (Sakharov) used to say that if you win a thousand times and lose just once, you feel upset but if you lose a thousand times and win only once, you think you are a hero.

I would like each one of you to hear that because this is how we can become more deeply rooted in the Church tradition, which is what we often talk about. The Church has existed for more than two thousand years. We have the Holy Scripture and the Holy Tradition, which is transmitted by word of mouth and helps to preserve the orderly life of the Church and its worship practices.

Why do we look so pathetic in comparison with old ladies? Because they stand the entire service on crutches, while you, although you are still young, are looking for a seat. We don't have less strength than that old lady. She is persevering, whilst we are negligent. The Lord is capable of healing us if we really want it, and if we put more effort into such things.

For instance, when we go on a procession with the cross and icons, some young sisters are too lazy to go with us. Why? Well, don't justify yourself by saying that the abbess does not go, too: I may need to skim through some books to get ready for tomorrow's Liturgy. You must do your best. You are responsible for what you are doing before God. This is very important.

We have a spiritual father, and the Lord has blessed him with a global all-encompassing vision. However, there are some basic things that we also have to pay attention to. They are essential to make our spiritual lives wholesome and full. They must be self-evident but we ignore them. Father Sophrony used to say that there are no things that are too insignificant to be worth our attention, for greatness lies in small things. This is why it is so hard for us to tolerate one another. This is why we are so impatient and annoyed. When you make someone else do what you are expected to do yourself - it means that you are careless, corrupt, and whimsical. What I say now is not an attempt to condemn anyone. Not at all. We are all guilty of it. We should learn to sympathise with each other and support each other. We simply have to admit our shortcomings, grieve over them and admonish ourselves. When I'm saying this, I don't exclude myself, for I am guilty, too.

I had a very illuminating experience not long ago. I learned the Saviour's words, "I was in prison, and ye came unto me. . . I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat" (Cf. Matthew 25:35-40) from my own experience. I was driving and I saw a man indicating that he needed a ride. He was visibly drunk. Several cars had driven past him. I stopped and thought, "Wow, I've stopped!" (Laughs) Our ride was short. He talked all the time; he almost wept and asked me to pray for him. You know, people often feel inclined to repent after drinking some alcohol, and besides, I was wearing the habit... When he got out of my car, I felt as if it was Jesus who had visited me in such an unfathomable way. The feeling was so vivid! I had never had such an experience, even when I visited the hospital unit. I was so surprised! Even though that person was drunk and talked nonsense… Christ is near, and you spend your life without noticing him.

December 18, 2015


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