"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

Wednesday 28 February 2018


The problems that exist between Catholics and Orthodox correspond directly to internal problems within our own churches.  Their solution not only helps to mend the schism, they can also help us to re-balance the life of our Catholic and Orthodox churches.  
For example, Catholic-Orthodox dialogue is showing us that, according to Tradition, primacy and synodality belong to one another and neither can be exercised in a balanced way without the other.  Also, as Zizioulas suggests, if synodality belongs to the essence of the Church as a reflection of the Blessed Trinity, then primacy does too.  This conviction is directly influencing recent popes and especially Pope Francis in the way they set up their relations with local and regional churches.   Pope Francis, like Pope Benedict before him, is very keen that Catholicism should be embedded in local culture and he clearly disagrees with the Vatican deciding all important matters from the centre.

Perhaps the greatest contribution of Catholic-Orthodox dialogue has been the acceptance by Catholic theologians of 'eucharistic ecclesiology' of Father Nicolai Afanassiev which became a key concept of Vatican II and in the theology of Pope Benedict XVI.

 I am sure that the Catholic Church will be watching Orthodox attempts to solve its problems of disunity because the solutions can have a direct bearing on Catholicism.  Perhaps, one day, Orthodoxy may wake up to the fact that the attempts of the Catholic Church to tackle its own problems may help them tackle theirs and that ecumenical dialogue can help us all become more truly ourselves.

Metropolitan Hilarion once said that, around a thousand years ago, the churches in East and West decided they could do without each other.  I am sure that this terrible mistake, born out of a lack of ecclesial love on both sides, has distorted Catholic attempts to be more Catholic and Orthodox attempts to be more Orthodox.  The more we know each other, the more we will know we need each other.

Jerusalem was an appropriate location for an international group of scholars to meet after the feast of Christ’s Nativity to present their vision of how Orthodox scholarship could engage more effectively with the issues of our contemporary world. A fifteen-minute walk from our hotel through the chic, modern shopping arcades of downtown Jerusalem brought us to the Old City where before breakfast one morning we found ourselves standing at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher alongside a Coptic bishop, priests and nuns. They gladly gave us their blessing and holy bread as crowds pressed in to take selfies of the exotically-clad clergy. In the courtyard before the nearby Western Wall we stood with Jewish women as they swayed and prayed with words of holy texts pressed to their faces.  An elevator ride into the tower above our hotel opened up vistas of the sprawl of modern buildings that today fill the steep hills and cliffs of the city. The Wall separating Palestinian and Jewish sectors was clearly visible in the distant haze. During the short bus ride that took us to join the throngs of pilgrims in Bethlehem we drove past the Walled-Off Hotel, Banksy’s evocative graffiti, and his wry words of comfort ‘Nothing lasts forever’.

This is a land and city where every stone speaks of the ancient tangled roots of three Abrahamic faiths, yet every step you take comes with a reminder of the tensions and divisions of modernity.  It was this, rather than simply the proximity of the holy places, that made Jerusalem an appropriate location for the first meeting of Chairs of the twenty-five Groups of the recently-formed International Orthodox Theological Association. They met in Jerusalem for planning, prayer and pilgrimage at the start of a year which will culminate in IOTA’s inaugural conference in Iasi, Romania from 9-12 January 2019. The Groups, each devoted to a different aspect of Orthodox theology and life, promise to provide a rich time of reflection as theologians, historians, political and natural scientists seek to give informed Orthodox perspectives on today’s burning issues. (For the Call for Papers, visit IOTA website).

What does it mean to be human? How can the wealth of Orthodox asceticism and spirituality found in the Philokalia speak today? What can we learn from Arabic-speaking Christians about an approach to Islam that goes beyond polemic? How can a balanced approach to the science-religion interface be found rather than making a false dichotomy between the two?  What contribution can analytic philosophers of religion make to the intellectual defense of Christianity? What is the role of women in the Church?  What is the theological basis for Christian environmental concern? How can Orthodoxy be authentically enculturated in Africa, Asia and the Americas? How should the Orthodox churches respond to migration and refugee crises?  These are but a few of the issues that IOTA scholars propose to engage with.

Catalin Jeckel, the link between IOTA leadership and His Eminence Teofan Archbishop of Iasi who leads the Committee organizing the conference in Iasi, spoke of theology needing to become the ‘Art of living’ the Revelation. Peter Bouteneff of St. Vladimir’s Seminary in New York spoke of the challenge of engaging with theology emanating from vastly different contexts than our own, familiarizing ourselves with the diversity of Orthodox theological approaches, priorities and languages. The meeting as a whole discussed the dual need to be both a think-tank providing resources for the church hierarchy in their deliberations, yet also to make the fruits of its work available in accessible language to local Orthodox parish and diocesan communities. It is to these many challenges that IOTA seeks to constructively respond as it journeys towards the Iasi conference in 2019.

In this journey, the Orthodox churches’ greatest wealth is perhaps also their greatest potential obstacle. At best, the deep identification of faith and culture in historically Orthodox countries is the legacy of an incarnational understanding that the Gospel can never be a disembodied, deculturated message. It can and must be enfleshed in cultural particularity, with profound implications for the corporate life of any community or society. At worst, the imprisonment of Orthodoxy in any one particular cultural or national form can lead to a nightmare of cultural bias, blindness and misunderstanding, an introverted concern for one nation’s faith and internal affairs. The vision of a Church which exists not for itself but, following Christ’s example, for the life of the world, is easily forgotten.

This picture becomes even more complicated in the myriad new contexts in which the Orthodox Church finds itself in the contemporary world, whether in Africa, Asia or the Americas, where Orthodox Christians usually find themselves in the position of a counter-culture. Émigré communities seeking to continue the traditions of distant homelands or convert communities seeking alternatives to other religious traditions are united at least in a common desire to avoid living according to the expectations of the surrounding cultural status quo.  Yet to reflect critically on Orthodoxy’s role in new contexts and realities is to challenge deeply-held convictions about cherishing and perpetuating the national faith, culture and language both of those from Orthodoxy’s historical homelands, and those for whom the new contexts are home. Is there a way to get beyond these obstacles to the unity and conciliarity of the Orthodox Church?

Disturbed by the legacy of two world wars and what he perceived as the idolatry of churches on both sides making an almost total identification of the cause of Christ with the cause of their own nation, the leading 20th-century Christian thinker, Lesslie Newbigin, offered the following remedy: ‘It is only by being faithful participants in a supranational, multicultural family of churches that we can find the resources to be at the same time faithful sustainers and cherishers of our respective cultures, and also faithful critics of them.’ He emphasized the need to listen to those with minds and hearts shaped by other cultures in a spirit of mutual responsibility toward one another, and with a willingness to receive mutual correction. Newbigin was not Orthodox and did not find ready-made around him that family of churches that he felt Christ’s Body should be.  He devoted much of his life to building such a family. Orthodox Christians can be grateful that they have an advantage, in theory, and in many ways in practice, over Newbigin’s situation. It is this ready-made foundation, this supranational, multicultural family of local churches that IOTA’s scholars hope to build on. In their deliberations together it is the unity and conciliarity of this family that they seek to serve.

Alison Kolosova is co-chair of the Missiology Group of the International Orthodox Theological Association.

Sunday 25 February 2018


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As I am now back in England to stay, I shall, from time to time, tell you a little about Herefordshire, the very beautiful county in which Belmont Abbey is situated.  Besides being known for its Hereford beef cattle, it is simply drenched in history, being a place where Celt and Saxon meet and has a fine cathedral with a wonderful music tradition and a choir school that has its origins in the Middle Ages.  

At the Reformation, the new religion was met by the population with less than enthusiasm, which probably explains why so many carvings and stained glass have remained untouched to the present day.  The Catholic gentry and their employees provided ample work for Jesuit priests who had a "college" ( a community of priests) in Hereford, and the Catholic presence remained strong until the failure of the 1745 rebellion of Bonny Prince Charlie, after which the Catholic landowners gave up hope of any Catholic restoration and went with their servants to Maryland in the American colonies.   Even among the Anglican clergy, there were those in the early days who celebrated the Book of Common Prayer service in their parish churches and then went home, away from the spying eyes of the authorities, and celebrated the pre-Reformation Mass for those who were interested.  Nowadays, however, Herefordshire is a very Anglican county, and Hereford has one of the highest numbers of Anglican churches in proportion to the population in the country.

It is also said that one of the oldest witches covens in the country actually still meets in this area, which is why, they say, so many churches are dedicated to St Michael and his angels, including Belmont Abbey, and there is a chapel of St Michael built over the entrance of the cathedral to keep out unwelcome visitors!   Perhaps, just a rumour!


The name Kilpeck is derived from Kil or Cell and the name of the saint Pedic or Pedoric. The church is dedicated to St Mary and St David. This St David is not the patron saint of Wales but another local St David. 

The name "Kilpeck" clearly pre-dates the chapel and castle and is typical in Celtic Christianity.  It was the place where a local monk, St Pedic or Pedoric, had his cell or monastery.   These local saints, often monastic hermits, had immense influence, with even bishops seeking advice on spiritual matters and guidance on how to run the church.  Their memory lived on in the local Church and where they lived was often marked by a chapel bearing their name.  There are references to "Cilpedec" in the 7th century, dedicated to St David, probably a local saint rather than the patron of Wales.

The church at Kilpeck is quite fascinating.  The ornately carved door contains elements of Celtic, Saxon and even Scandinavian (Viking) art and is seen as the epitome of the Herefordshire school of sculpture. It is built on a seven-sided or egg-shaped mound which may indicate the site was used in antiquity but this is open to debate. The church is ornately carved with no less than 89 corbels.

Before we go any further, please watch the following video, after which I am going to suggest an overall interpretation of the many carvings in the church which is based, not on what each carving means as an isolated artefact, but on an integrated pattern of symbols that tell us what a Catholic church is for.   We must remember that this is a church built by Catholics for Catholics, not Catholics during the Reformation which was caused by a clash of doctrinal definitions, but Catholics of a time when East and West were at least partially joined together and when the "age of the fathers" was still very much alive.  They read Scripture differently in those days, using the images and stories from the New Testament, especially the death and resurrection of Christ, as a key to understanding the images and stories of the Old Testament, the reality showing us the real meaning of its shadow.  This is also the way the Liturgy understands Scripture.  Please watch the video.

Some time ago, I visited the small church of Kilpeck and the first thing that struck me was what a wonderful setting it would be for the celebration of the Divine Liturgy of St John Chrysostom or, for that matter, the celebration of any
truly Catholic Eucharist.  Thus I came to look at the carvings both within and without in a liturgical frame of mind.

  Then it struck me that the Eucharist is the key to understanding the meaning of the carvings, not of each one taken individually, but the theme that binds them all together in a  coherent whole. The liturgy is "heaven on earth" and, therefore, the interior of the church represents heaven because it is where the liturgy is celebrated.  The chaotic juxtaposition of pagan and Christian symbols on the exterior represents the world in which the Christian lives, but the Spirit that descends on the Church in the Eucharist forms an undercurrent, uniting the created world with Christ in heaven.

If the Eucharist is the central theme, then we must begin with the sanctuary and the altar, the most sacred part of the church called the apse.   It is on the altar of any church that heaven and earth meet..

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 Over this altar, there is a carving of water cascading down along the stone seams, onto and around the altar table, and from there, it flows down the centre of the chancel and nave. 

I quote from an Orthodox essay on water, but in this regard, the author is giving the Tradition common both to East and West:
For thousands of years water has been among the main religious symbols. This is indeed the case for the Orthodox Christian tradition where it is involved in liturgical mysteries from baptism and the Eucharist to the rites of the Blessing of the waters. Why is water so central to Christian religious life? Let us attempt to answer this question by turning to Biblical history and Christian tradition with particular reference to the office of Epiphany.
Water as a symbol of life as well as a means of cleansing, or purification, is of particular importance in Old Testament. It was created on the first day (Genesis 1:2, 6-8). The Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters (Genesis 1:2). The earth was founded upon the waters (Genesis 1:6-7, 9-10). God commanded the water to bring out an abundance of living souls (Genesis 1:20-21). In some sense the element is close to God (Psalms 17; 28:3; 76:17, 20; 103:3; 148:4). God is compared with the rain (Hosea 6:3). Water brings life (cf. Exodus 15:23-35; 17:2-7; Psalms 1:3; 22:2; 41:2; 64:10; 77:20; Isaiah 35:6-7; 58:11) and joy (Psalm 45:5). It is a powerful purifying element and can destroy evil and enemies as in the stories of the Flood and the flight of Israel from Egypt (Genesis 3:1-15; Exodus 14:1-15:21). According to Old Testament Law, it cleanses defilement (Leviticus 11:32; 13:58; 14:8, 9; 15-17; 22:6; cf. Isaiah 1:16) and is used in sacrifices (Leviticus 1:9, 13; 6:28; 1 Kings 18:30-39), in which context the Bible mentions the living water (Leviticus 14; Numbers 5; 19). Water heals, as can be seen from the stories of Naaman the Syrian cured from his leprosy in the waters of Jordan (2 Kings 5:1-14) and the annual miracles at Bethesda in Jerusalem (John 5:1-4). John the Baptist used the waters of the Jordan to cleanse people's sins which reminded typical Jewish custom (Matthew 3:1-6; Mark 1:4-5; Luke 3:2-16; John 1:26-33) - even Christ came to be baptized (Matthew 3:16; Mark 1:10). On the other hand, water is also the habitat of serpents whose heads God crushed (Psalm 73:13-14) and of the dragon (Job 41:25; Psalm 103:26).
We can see from this the belief common in the Old Testament that water is a mystically powerful element which, being connected with God in some way, can cleanse sins, inner and outer defilement, and regenerate the human body. It is even possible to assert that water has taken on the religious symbol of life.

In the sanctuary of Kilpeck church the reference, I think, is to the water that gave life to the Garden of Eden, but more especially to the water that flows from the heavenly temple in Jerusalem in Ezekiel 47, 1 - 12:
The man brought me back to the entrance of the temple, and I saw water coming out from under the threshold of the temple toward the east (for the temple faced east). The water was coming down from under the south side of the temple, south of the altar.... [3] As the man went eastward with a measuring line in his hand, he measured off a thousand cubits and then led me through water that was ankle-deep. [4] He measured off another thousand cubits and led me through water that was knee-deep. He measured off another thousand and led me through water that was up to the waist. [5] He measured off another thousand, but now it was a river that I could not cross because the water had risen and was deep enough to swim in — a river that no one could cross. [6] He asked me, “Son of man, do you see this?” Then he led me back to the bank of the river. [7] When I arrived there, I saw a great number of trees on each side of the river. [8] He said to me, “This water flows toward the eastern region and goes down into the Arabah, where it enters the Sea. When it empties into the Sea, the water there becomes fresh. [9] Swarms of living creatures will live wherever the river flows. There will be large numbers of fish because this water flows there and makes the salt water fresh; so where the river flows everything will live. [10] Fishermen will stand along the shore; from En Gedi to En Eglaim there will be places for spreading nets. The fish will be of many kinds — like the fish of the Great Sea. [11] But the swamps and marshes will not become fresh; they will be left for salt. [12] Fruit trees of all kinds will grow on both banks of the river. Their leaves will not wither, nor will their fruit fail. Every month they will bear because the water from the sanctuary flows to them. Their fruit will serve for food and their leaves for healing.”
In Catholic understanding, this river is the Holy Spirit, the source of life for the Church and the source of life for the Liturgy.  As it says in the passage. "Where the river flows, everything will live."

The water  descends on the bread and wine and on the community when the priest, in the name of Christ, presents a petition asking the Father to send his Spirit on the bread and wine to make them the body and blood of Christ and on the community so that it may become capable of sharing in the heavenly Liturgy (Hebrews 12, and the Book of Revelation as a whole). 

The Holy Spirit is seen as the force that unites the eucharistic community with the ascended Christ to become one body with him as it prays "Holy, holy, holy" with the angels and saints.  It joins them as Christ enters into the heavenly sanctuary, united with those from the whole of humanity, past, present, and future, who are saved by this intimate union with him as they become his captives of love.
The liturgy is “this unprecedented power that the river of life exercises in the humanity of the risen Christ”.
The liturgy is “eternal (inasmuch as the body of Christ remains incorruptible) and will not pass away; on the contrary, it is this liturgy that “causes” the present world “to pass” into the glory of the Father in an ever more efficacious great Pasch” (63).The liturgy essentially involves action and energy; the heavenly liturgy tells us of all the actors in the drama: Christ and the Father, the Holy Spirit, the angels and all living things, the people of God (whether already enjoying incorruptible life or still living through the great tribulation), the prince of this world, and the powers that worship him. The heavenly liturgy is “apocalyptic” in the original sense of the word: it “reveals” everything in the very moment in which it brings it to pass.
 When the event is present, prophecy becomes “apocalyptic”.

The liturgy is this vast reflux of love in which everything turns into life.

Jean Corbon "The Wellspring of Worship"

We have this theme of water, coming down from heaven, going through the middle of the church, rising up in the doorway and producing the tree of life in the timpanum.

The liturgy is "heaven on earth", and this is the theme of the Church's interior. Therefore, the local congregation is never alone when it has been brought into the presence of the Triune God in the Mass: as Hebrews and the Apocalypse indicate, they form one community with the "whole Adam" as the early Fathers would say, and they stand, shoulder to shoulder, with the saints and angels.  Thus no Catholic church is without statues or icons of the saints, and Kilpeck Church is no exception.  They are on the columns that separate the chancel from the nave.  Who the saints are I don't know, but the churchgoers would have known by what the saints are carrying.  Anyway, they indicate the close connection between heaven and earth which have become united by the Incarnation.             Image result for kilpeck church

 The outside carvings collectively stand for the world in which we live.  It is a mixed world in which there is both good and evil, love and lust, monsters and dangerous wild animals that eat human beings, but also rabbits and pigs, humour and human affection.  Perhaps the horse and cross represent the anonymous Templars who pass through this world bearing Christ's Cross and are buried in the church without names.   

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Perhaps the foreign warriors in trousers carved on the doorpost stand for those who killed them, and at death's door, the Templars discovered the tree of life growing out of the very waters that flow into God's Church through the Eucharist, the Spirit that has aligned their death with that of Christ.  The gateway to death became the door to heaven, symbolised by the door through which the faithful enter for Mass.


Ordinary Folk

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Human love and procreation

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and work:
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Domestic animals:
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dangerous animals and monsters

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the famous Sheela Na Gig:

The Kilpeck Sheela Na Gig
A pagan fertility goddess?   A depiction of lust?  This motif is found in other countries of western Europe, though this is the most famous and most photographed, and its origin is most probably Christian.  The sculptor seems to be telling us that the world is a chaotic mixture of good and bad.  If that is so, this may depict lust.

Finally, perhaps a symbol for the Templars or for all Crusaders who passed through this world serving the Cross:
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Here are video to help you appreciate the church:

Thursday 22 February 2018

2nd SUNDAY OF LENT, year B. 2018

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My sisters and brothers in Christ,

Let us give all to the Lord and receive from the Lord whatever He sends us.  That is the invitation of the readings today.  Give all and receive whatever is given back.

Although we want to give all the Lord, we often find that what the Lord wants of us seems more than we can give.  Most of us don’t have the faith that we see in Abraham in the first reading today from the Book of Genesis.  We should recognize that even the early Christian commentators on this passage found it difficult.  Would God actually ask a father to kill his own son?  This is God asking something immoral from a human.  The only answer to this difficulty is that God does not actually, in the end, ask Abraham to kill his own son.

The point of the account in Genesis is not about God asking Abraham to do something immoral, but about Abraham being willing always to do the will of God.  Abraham is called “our father in faith” because of his complete dedication to doing whatever God asks of him.

We may doubt at times what God might ask of us.  We find it difficult to accept the evil that is in our world, the bad things that happen to good people, the atrocities against people that go unpunished, the school shootings.  Always people ask how a good God can allow such evils to happen.  Yet such questions are truly not about God but about us humans with our sinfulness.  We are broken beings who don’t always choose what is right and good.  God gave us this freedom.  And we misuse our freedom.

The real question is this:  why don’t we humans always choose what is good and what is right?  The only answer is that something is broken in us.  What do we do about the brokenness?  All the laws in the world are unable to redeem us and to force us to choose good.  Only salvation from God brings about a true conversion.

And how difficult that is!  The Letter to the Romans, from which is taken the second reading today, speaks to this problem:  “Christ Jesus it is who died–or, rather, was raised—who also is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us.”  The only way of redemption is to embrace the path of God, who gave His own Son for us.

The Gospel today, from Saint Mark, is the account of the Transfiguration of Jesus.  Jesus is changed in front of his own followers, at least some of them, so that they can believe that He is truly God even when they see Him undergo crucifixion.  At the heart of our Christian believing is this deep awareness that Jesus is born for us, that Jesus dies for us and that Jesus has indeed been raised to life for us.  This is not a philosophical argument but an experienced reality of the early Christians that we later Christians have come to see as true because of their testimony.

So our readings today are clear:  seek to do the will of God in all things, believe that Christ died and was raised from the dead for us and see in the Transfiguration of Christ that we also can be transfigured by our complete belief in Him.  Let us give all to the Lord and receive from the Lord whatever He sends us.

Your brother in the Lord,

Abbot Philip


Just as the date of the feast of the Transfiguration is aligned with that of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross on September 14th so that they form a pair of feasts that explain each other, so the scene of the Transfiguration and that of the Garden of Gethsemane also form a pair.   Both take place apart from the crowd that usually accompanied Jesus.   Jesus takes Peter, James and John with him on both occasions.  On both occasions, they witness his intimate relationship with his Father, and on both occasions, they lose consciousness, the first out of sheer awe, the second out of sadness and fatigue.   Both scenes are resplendent with Christ's glory that is nothing less than his utterly self-giving love that reflects and manifests what God is, the Love of the undivided Trinity.  Christ's self-giving love is both the light of the Transfiguration and the exaltation of the Holy Cross.   This is depicted in the wonderful mosaic in Ravenna of the Transfiguration.
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In Lent, we prepare ourselves to share in the Passion and Resurrection of Christ in the Pascha.   In the words of one of the holy founders of the Cistercian order, we must learn to live in order to love and to die in order to rise again with Christ.   Each moment of our lives manifests for us the will of God.  If in each moment, we respond with a whole-hearted "Yes" to his will, we will find our cross and we and the world around us will become resplendent with the light of Tabor. 

I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word;  (John17:20-21)
my source: excerpt from a wonderful blog Glory to God for All Things

The Elder Sophrony, together with St. Silouan, wrote about the “whole Adam.” By this, they meant all the human beings who have ever existed and those yet to come. For Silouan and Sophrony, this was something known in the present tense, a “hypostatic” knowledge of the fundamental unity of the human race. Sophrony described it as a necessary component in the Christian life of prayer. We have not been taught to pray, “My Father,” but “Our.”

This primal unity is completely present in Christ. His death on the Cross is not His alone – He dies the death of every single human being – bearing the sins of all. The insight of the saints tells us that this same reality must be ours as well. Christ has not done something for us in our absence. The Cross He endured is the same Cross He invites us to take up. And that Cross is also a universal Cross (the Cross of the whole Adam). We do not go there only for our own death, but for the death of everyone (and thus the resurrection of all).

The privatization of our religious faith has obscured this fundamental reality. We hear the command of Christ as directed solely to ourselves as a private matter. But the nature of that Cross includes its universal aspect. The Cross cannot bear my sins if it does not bear the sins of all. It is one of the primary meanings of Christ’s title, the “Second Adam.” For He is not a mere repeat of the First, but the recapitulation of all, just as the First Adam was the head of all. (Romans 5:18-19)

I am often aware of the burden of sin that we inherit (ancestral sin). Most of the problems that infect the world are not of this generations’ making (as is always true). We do not enter the world as a blank slate. Our DNA, our cultural inheritance, the vast sum of what will be our existence is given to us in a deck that has already been stacked. As Fr. Alexander Schmemann once said, the spiritual life consists in “how we deal with what we’ve been dealt.” And it is even more complex than that. We are sitting at a table in which every hand in play has this same givenness. We are all playing in a game that we might not have chosen for ourselves.

I am also growing ever more aware of those who will come after me. As a grandfather, I observe the inevitable inheritance within my own family, to say nothing of the world they will inherit. When I think of the generations to come my mind is also drawn to the vast multitude of those whose lives have been destroyed in the silent violence of our modern world. This is a bitter planet and one that gives too little thought to such things.

But when we pray as the whole Adam, then we must give thought to all of these things. Is it any wonder that the Church teaches us to cry out, “Lord, have mercy!” over and over again?

Sunday 18 February 2018



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First Sunday of Lent, Year B, Belmont, 2018 
According to the book of Genesis, we are all the children of Adam and Eve, the first man and woman. And also, according to Genesis, we are all the children of Noah and his wife (who although nameless in Scripture, was given the name ‘Naamah’ in Jewish tradition). The famous flood had, of course, destroyed the rest of humanity, except for Noah and his three sons, together with their respective wives. Our second reading from the first letter of St Peter, therefore, got its maths right when it reliably informed us about “that ark which saved only a small group of eight people ‘by water’” (1 P 3:20). 

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St Peter, in his first letter, is also quick to point out the evident parallel between the “water” of the flood and our Baptism: “that water is a type of the baptism which saves you now” (1 P 3:21). In the ‘Blessing of Baptismal Water’ at the Easter Vigil (when there are in fact people to be baptised), the priest prays: “O God who by the outpouring of the flood foreshadowed regeneration, so that from the mystery of one and the same element of water would come an end to vice and a beginning of virtue”. Water drowns and destroys, as well as “saves” and restores. 

Christ too was baptised; the story of which you will, of course, find in the Gospels. If you have a look at St Luke’s Gospel, you discover that the account is immediately followed by (no, not the Temptation in the Wilderness, as in St Mark’s Gospel, which we read today, but by) the genealogy of Jesus (his family tree, in other words). Christ, like us, was a descendant of both Adam and Noah and, in his case, via Noah’s son, Shem. The genealogy in the Gospel of Luke is as such sandwiched between the story of the Baptism and that of the Temptation.
Christ shared in our humanity, as well as the divinity; and just as the genealogy concludes by stating that he is the “son of Adam, son of God” (Lk 3:38), so in the Baptism (which all sinful sons of Adam are surely in need of, though Christ himself was without sin) we hear the divine voice proclaiming: “You are my Son” (Lk 3:22). There is indeed a universal call to salvation; and therefore a universal call to Baptism, for us to be saved from sin and share in Christ’s divine sonship. If we return to St Mark’s Gospel and turn to the very end instead of the beginning, we read of Christ’s parting commission to his disciples: “Go out to the whole world; proclaim the Good News to all creation. He who believes and is baptised will be saved” (Mk 16:15-16a). We have already mentioned that “only a small group of eight people” (1 P 3:20) were saved by the great flood. And yet in that “small group” was in effect prefigured “the whole world”, since the three sons of Noah represented the three known continents: Shem Asia; Ham Africa; and Japheth Europe.

The parallel between the story of the flood in Genesis and of Jesus in the Gospel continues in regard to another reference to a number: “The Spirit [at his Baptism, who descended as it happened “like a dove” (Mk 1:10), thus recalling the dove sent by Noah over the flood (cf. Gn 8:8)] drove him out into the wilderness and he remained there for forty days, and was tempted by Satan” (Mk 1:12-13a); “The flood lasted forty days on earth” (Gn 7:17a). Although it seems that neither Noah nor any of the others in the ark were similarly tempted, they were, like our Lord in the wilderness, “with the wild beasts” (Mk 1:13b): that ark crammed full with every kind of bird and animal.       
Just as we can draw a soteriological conclusion from this comparison between the flood and Christ’s Baptism and subsequent Temptation (‘soteriological’ by the way signifying matters related to salvation); so we, perhaps rather unsurprisingly, can do the same as regards ecological matters. In the minds of many, however, the saving of the planet has more resonance than the saving of souls, yet both are symbolised by Noah’s ark, “which saved only a small group of eight people ‘by water’” (1 P 3:20), as well as saving, or rather conserving, every species of animal from extinction. Similarly, our Lord offers us salvation through the waters of his Baptism, while also seeming to show his concern, and clearly not disdain, for wildlife by his being “with the wild beasts” (Mk 1:13b).
see "The Cross and the Cosmos" below.
As we now prepare for Easter and the renewing of our own Baptismal promises, let us resolve, like God himself (through the waters of the flood, which prefigure those of our Baptism), to put “an end to vice” (Blessing of Baptismal Water), to the wickedness on earth (cf. Gn 6:5). And also like him, to make that promise (which we heard right at the end of today’s first reading): “never again […] to destroy all things of flesh” (Gn 9:15). We have reached a stage in our history when our destruction of the planet has become, to some degree, critical (Pope Francis specifically drawing our attention and conscience to this in recent years). It stands to reason that this destruction is in no sense constructive; as it is our faith that planet earth is part of God’s creation (a small, though obviously very important, part in the scale of things).        
Like our Lord, we have to wrestle with temptation, with Satan and the wickedness of sin in the wilderness which is life on earth; yet, at the same time, we want to live harmoniously “with the wild beasts” (Mk 1:13b) who also inhabit this wilderness. This time of Lent is marked by that call to repentance: “Repent, and believe the Good News” (Mk 1:15b), the concluding words of today’s Gospel, which we might also have heard being pronounced while we were being daubed with ashes last Wednesday. Let us “repent” then of what we have done or indeed failed to do, firstly, to our neighbours and, secondly, to our planet; yet let us “believe the Good News” of our salvation and of our being not simply the children of either Adam or Noah but rather of our being adopted children of “Our Father, who art in heaven” (Mt 6:9). 

by Father Stephen Freeman (Orthodox)
see: The Cross and the Cosmos

It seems worthwhile to continue with thoughts on the instrument of our salvation. In a short work, The Beginning of the Day, (I believe it was a special printing and is not generally available), Met. Kallistos Ware notes this about the Cross and its connection with the whole of creation:

…[The] created order in its entirety participated in the Savior’s Passion: the earth shook, the rocks were split, the whole cosmos shuddered (Matt. 27:51). In the words of St. Ephrem the Syrian, ‘humans were silent, so the stones cried out’. As the old English poem The Dream of the Rood expresses it, ‘All creation wept.’ This all embracing participation in the death of God incarnate is memorably expressed in the Praises or Enkomia sung in the evening of Good Friday or early in the morning on Holy Saturday:

‘Come, and with the whole creation let us offer a funeral hymn to the Creator.’

‘The whole earth quaked with fear, O lord, and the Daystar hid its rays, when Thy great light was hidden in the earth.’

‘The sun and moon grew dark together, O Savior, like faithful servants clothed in black robes of mourning.’

‘O hills and valleys’, exclaims the Holy Virgin, ‘the multitude of mankind and all creation, weep and lament with me, the Mother of God.’

Most remarkably of all in what is truly an amazing statement, it is affirmed: ‘the whole creation was altered by Thy Passion: for all things suffered with Thee, knowing, O Lord, that Thou holdest all in unity.’

Do we reflect sufficiently, I wonder, upon the environmental impliations of our Lord’s Incarnation, upon the way in which Jesus is ecologically inclusive, embedded in the soil like us, containing within His humanity what has been termed ‘the whole evolving earth story’?

Do we allow properly for the fact that our Savior came to redeem, not only the human race, but the fullness of creation? Do we keep constantly in mind that we are not saved from but with the world?

In such a fashion St. Paul can say that the “world is crucified to me, and I to the world.” Frequently our own thoughts about the things of God are too restricted, too limited. The Cross is diminished to an execution role in a very narrow atonement theory, the Incarnation reduced to a stage entrance. These great mysteries of God, manifest among us, are the gate and ladder, the entrance into the Kingdom of God and Kingdom of God’s entrance into our world. This is true not only of the Cross of Golgotha, but ultimately in every Cross that participates in its reality. A believer’s making of the sign of the cross, with faith, participates in this reality (and so the demons flee).

Christ has promised that we would have life “more abundant.” By this is not meant that we will be rich or have more material things (for these are not the true life). But the Kingdom is an endless abundance that enters our heart and world, shattering the narrowness of opaque minds and opening to us the fullness of life in Christ.

The Reality presented to us in the Cross (as with all things of God) is never comprehended in rational theory. It pushes us beyond the limits of our own poorly defined rationality and towards the greater rationality of the Truth of things. As noted by St. Gregory of Nyssa, “only wonder grasps anything.” To approach the Cross with wonder is to begin the journey that it makes possible. The life that we refer to as salvation belongs to this world of wonder – despite the banalities of much Christian conversation on the topic.

It is not surprising that silence is among the most important tools in our spiritual life. O, sweet wonder!
by St Francis of Assisi
Image result for the canticle of the sun
Verses from St. Francis of Assisi’s Canticle of the Sun were translated as a children’s hymn by the English hymn writer William H. Draper (1855—1933).Canticle of the Sun - St. Francis' poem immortalized in song
Usually sung to the melody composed by Peter von Brachel of Cologne, Germany, in 1623 with the harmony provided by the English composer Ralph Vaughan Williams in 1906:

All creatures of our God and King
Lift up your voice and with us sing,
Alleluia! Alleluia!
Thou burning sun with golden beam,
Thou silver moon with softer gleam!

Refrain: O praise Him! O praise Him!
Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!

Thou rushing wind that art so strong
Ye clouds that sail in Heaven along,
O praise Him! Alleluia!
Thou rising moon, in praise rejoice,
Ye lights of evening, find a voice!

Thou flowing water, pure and clear,
Make music for thy Lord to hear,
O praise Him! Alleluia!
Thou fire so masterful and bright,
That givest man both warmth and light.

Dear mother earth, who day by day
Unfoldest blessings on our way,
O praise Him! Alleluia!
The flowers and fruits that in thee grow,
Let them His glory also show.

And all ye men of tender heart,
Forgiving others, take your part,
O sing ye! Alleluia!
Ye who long pain and sorrow bear,
Praise God and on Him cast your care!

And thou most kind and gentle Death,
Waiting to hush our latest breath,
O praise Him! Alleluia!
Thou leadest home the child of God,
And Christ our Lord the way hath trod.

Let all things their Creator bless,
And worship Him in humbleness,
O praise Him! Alleluia!
Praise, praise the Father, praise the Son,
And praise the Spirit, Three in One!

Canticle of the Sun

St Francis of Assisi, the Reluctant Saint

Friday 16 February 2018


 icon of Christ on the periphery of life
to gain all others on the periphery
There were “bad times” under the Romans too. But Jesus came. He did not spend the years of His life complaining or denouncing the “bad times.” He cut it short. In a very simple way. By building Christianity. He did not end up indicting or accusing anybody. He saved. He did not indict the world. He saved the world.   (Charles Peguy, Veronique)

Pope Francis is misinterpreted especially by two lots of people, the "world" with its secular media that interprets his words according to its own presuppositions and his "conservative" opponents who identify Christ's moral teaching with the code of Canon Law and who are only too willing to accept the secular interpretation of his words as this makes it easier to refute him.   Of course, there are also Catholics and other Christians who have discarded Catholic Tradition and accept modern, liberal, secular morality hook, line and sinker: they are delighted to believe that Pope Francis is one of them.

  Instead, we find a traditional Catholic who wants to reorientate the Church's focus of attention from itself to the peripheries, from the orderly and smooth running of its institutions to the disorderly or badly ordered world of sin and to those who are in various degrees entrapped in it, either as victims or as participants.  

The Church is, by its nature, a missionary Church, as the last four popes have taught, and all its members are called to be missionaries.   This is especially so now that the secular, liberal elite is taking over.  In the past, the Church was the moral legislator for western society, and Canon Law reflects that role.  Now the rules must be adapted to its main missionary role.

Pope Francis has said:

There is a tension between the center and the periphery…. We must get out of ourselves and go toward the periphery. We must avoid the spiritual disease of the Church that can become self-referential: when this happens, the Church itself becomes sick.

“A Church which “goes forth” is a Church whose doors are open. Going out to others in order to reach the fringes of humanity does not mean rushing out aimlessly into the world. Often it is better simply to slow down, to put aside our eagerness in order to see and listen to others, to stop rushing from one thing to another and to remain with someone who has faltered along the way. At times we have to be like the father of the prodigal son, who always keeps his door open so that when the son returns, he can readily pass through it.
Let us go forth, then, let us go forth to offer everyone the life of Jesus Christ. Here I repeat for the entire Church what I have often said to the priests and laity of Buenos Aires: I prefer a Church which is bruised, hurting and dirty because it has been out on the streets, rather than a Church which is unhealthy from being confined and from clinging to its own security. I do not want a Church concerned with being at the centre and which then ends by being caught up in a web of obsessions and procedures. If something should rightly disturb us and trouble our consciences, it is the fact that so many of our brothers and sisters are living without the strength, light and consolation born of friendship with Jesus Christ, without a community of faith to support them, without meaning and a goal in life. More than by fear of going astray, my hope is that we will be moved by the fear of remaining shut up within structures which give us a false sense of security, within rules which make us harsh judges, within habits which make us feel safe, while at our door people are starving and Jesus does not tire of saying to us: “Give them something to eat” (Mk 6:37)”
(Pope Francis, Evangelii Gaudium 46, 49)
When Frs Luke, Paul and I arrived at the small town of Tambogrande in northern Peru to take over the parish and to found a Benedictine monastery in August 1981, the people met us with grateful delight.   Communion time at Mass was highly spectacular as people crowded in front of the altar to receive the host.   They jostled and pushed "like hungry dogs", as Graham Greene put it in "The Power and the Glory", and many whispered urgently,"A mi, Padre, a mi!" as though we were about to pass them by.

It came as a bit of a shock that very many of them were not married in church, that some were in more than one relationship and that one of the most pious, a daily Mass-goer, was mistress of a married doctor.  We learnt that the Spanish colonized Peru before the Council of Trent made it mandatory that all couples should marry in church, whether they were rich or poor and that the Council of Trent was too far away for it to make much difference to the illiterate peasants, however pious they may have been.  We also learnt that, while civil marriage and simple co-habiting did not require the families to put on a large fiesta, religious marriage does, and people simply can't afford it.  It was also a sad fact that the average parish priest in the old days had simply been content to give the sacraments and made no real attempt to teach them.

Father Luke, Paul and myself had no special theory about the sacraments and marriage other than the ordinary teaching of the Church.   For us, the question was simply this: should their obvious need and desire for Christ be met first by what we had come there to give them, leaving it to Christ himself to sort things out, or should we first meet them with Canon Law?  There was no time to theorise: they were there in front of us, whispering, "A mi, Padre, a mi!"   The question was:  Do we now, at this moment, give them Jesus or the Law?

Father Paul, as the parish priest, went to consult the Archbishop who, like us, was no liberal.  He asked him about second relationships, especially when this has taken place after a previous marriage in church.   The archbishop told him that it was his opinion that most first marriages in Peru do not fulfil the conditions necessary for a valid marriage and that the processes for annulment are both too complicated and too expensive for the majority of people.  Very often, the second marriage is the one that has the natural ingredients essential for validity.  Under the circumstances, we should give second marriages the benefit of the doubt.  Church discipline does not fit the real situation.

As the years went on, with the introduction of catechesis in which ordinary Catholic doctrine was taught and as we organised marriages in the village fiestas when the whole village was celebrating anyway, which made them very much cheaper for the families and with the training of catechists who instructed people in preparation for the sacraments, Tambogrande became, little by little, an ordinary Catholic parish in which the ordinary rules made sense.

The truth is that Pope Francis' controversial views are neither right wing nor left wing: they are the product of a normal Hispanic American pastoral experience.

According to the last four popes, the Church must be missionary, must reach out and not be content until all have the chance to enjoy a living experience of and relationship with God in Christ.   In the vocabulary of Pope Francis, we must reach out to the peripheries.  Our theology, our language and our rules must be adapted to this end.

Firstly, we must identify those on the periphery.  From the point of view of our centre who is Jesus Christ, that includes everybody, including ourselves, but some are more on the periphery than others.  Here it is worth quoting Archimandrite Aemilianos of Simonpetra, a monastery on Mount Athos:

"Think of it: Jesus Christ, the Life of all, the Creator of the universe, the only One ever to have been born without sin, was all alone, left in a common grave, outside of Jerusalem. He was alone even among his closest friends, since they never really understood Him, and thus He asked them: Do you not perceive or understand? (Mk. 8.17) Have I been with you so long, and yet you do not know Me? (Jn. 14.9). At the time of His passion, His isolation became acute. In the garden of agony, when His sweat became like great drops of blood, His disciples drifted off into sleep (Lk. 22.44). One by one His friends deserted Him. He stood alone before the judgement seat of Pilate, alone on the cross, alone in the grave: everywhere alone. He went alone into Hell. Alone, always alone. Why? So that you might learn that you have to be alone with God in order to become His dwelling place.

Then the Lord will say, at the Last Judgement, to those on His left, whom He will send away into Gehenna, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels: “I was a stranger and you did not welcome me” (cf. Mt 25:33-41). Do you see? He’s a stranger, somebody who’s alone, who’s ignored: I was hungry and you gave me no food; I was alone in prison and you did not visit me (cf. Mt 25.42-43)....For many of us, this can be a rude awakening: after beholding Christ in our dreams, we find it annoying to open our eyes on a world filled with other people. Immediately we say: “I wasn’t looking for you I want Christ,” forgetting that the stranger, the poor man, the prisoner, the sinner, and especially my enemy - especially the person who seeks to harm me - is Christ for me."(Archimandrite Aimilianos of Simonopetra, The Way of the Spirit, pp. 244-245, 254)

If the Church is to have an open door to those on the periphery, it must be clear in itself that it cannot be one of the forces that puts people on the periphery.
Secondly, it is not there to judge people. As the fathers of the desert used to say, the One who condemns adultery also condemns judging others:
“Do not judge, or you too will be judged. 2 For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you." (Matt.7, 1...)
We must be clear that our function is to show others that God loves them unconditionally, right where they are and that this is revealed by Christ on the Cross.   The famous "Who am I to judge?" of Pope Francis about homosexuals must be interpreted in that context.  When Jesus asked the woman taken in adultery if there was anyone condemning her and she replied, "No one" and he said, "Neither do I condemn you," no one suggested he was going soft on adultery: condemnation was not his role and neither is it ours.

Thirdly, by getting to know them, we must discern and discover what God is already doing in their marginalised souls, for you can be sure that the Good Shepherd is already there, working away.  Anyone who has come to know the true devotion, the genuine love, even the heroic self-sacrifice present in many objectively invalidly married families will know what I mean.  And you will come across invalidly married couples who stick together by some miracle of grace and families which, if there were to be a separation as Canon Law obliges them to do, would bring about another human tragedy.  Often these are marriages that should be valid if annulment were a realistic option, but this is not always the case.  Of course, there are also invalid marriages which should end with separation.   We are talking about marriages, but there are many other moral situations which require the same treatment: we must discern what they are, avoid judging the people involved as far as possible, and discern what God is already doing within the situation and collaborate with Him: after all, He is the boss.

The object of the whole exercise is to invite people through the open door into the Church and, where this is not possible, to allow them to experience the love of God through us and through the Church.

By going out to the periphery, the Church and we as members of it grow in our understanding of life in general and of Christian life in particular.  Only by moving around and seeing from different angles, by looking at what the Good Shepherd is doing among the poor and those whose contact with him is weak or non-existent can we put our own understanding of the Christian economy into its proper context. However, when peripheries are given the importance they deserve, this may naturally result in the adoption of different pastoral solutions in different contexts, cultures and areas.  Pope Francis says:

I am convinced of one thing: the great changes in history were realized when reality was seen not from the centre but rather from the periphery. It is a hermeneutical question: reality is understood only if it is looked at from the periphery, and not when our viewpoint is equidistant from everything. Truly to understand reality we need to move away from the central position of calmness and peacefulness and direct ourselves to the peripheral areas. Being at the periphery helps to see and to understand better, to analyze reality more correctly, to shun centralism and ideological approaches….

This is really very important to me: the need to become acquainted with reality by experience, to spend time walking on the periphery in order really to become acquainted with the reality and life-experiences of people. If this does not happen we then run the risk of being abstract ideologists or fundamentalists, which is not healthy.

Patristic theology bears the mark of the pastoral experience of bishops and other ministers in the towns as well as the deep spiritual experience of monks in the deserts.  Scholastic theology became of value when friars following the humble Christ of Scripture crossed over to the margins where people were becoming all the more estranged from the Church while studying Aristotle and other Greek philosophy.   The friars like St Thomas Aquinas studied their theology, often on their knees, within the context of this alienated scholastic movement and drew the two movements into one.  We the Church must grow in understanding of the Church by rooting it in the pastoral contact with people in the peripheries.

When after Vatican II the Church has directed its attention from its centre in Rome to what Christ is doing in the other Churches and Ecclesial Communities, we have made discoveries about our own Church in ways that revolutionise our understanding of it while remaining in continuity with our past.   We find our unity with other Christians in a living contact with Christ.   We will come to realise that the whole of Catholicism is implicit in that personal union with Christ, ready to become visible as we, patiently accepting our differences, we grow in ecclesial love.  Our Catholicism is not static: it grows as we cross frontiers in charity and seek Christ in the other.  Pope Francis writes:
“I invite all Christians, everywhere, at this very moment, to a renewed personal encounter with Jesus Christ, or at least an openness to letting him encounter them; I ask all of you to do this unfailingly each day. No one should think that this invitation is not meant for him or her, since “no one is excluded from the joy brought by the Lord”. The Lord does not disappoint those who take this risk; whenever we take a step towards Jesus, we come to realize that he is already there, waiting for us with open arms. Now is the time to say to Jesus: “Lord, I have let myself be deceived; in a thousand ways I have shunned your love, yet here I am once more, to renew my covenant with you. I need you. Save me once again, Lord, take me once more into your redeeming embrace”.
 Ten Things To Know About Pope Francis (George Weigel - Acton Institute)

A very good video of the inclusive truth of Orthodoxy/Catholicism  is by Father John Behr:
The Shocking Truth About Orthodoxy
Pope Francis could not put this better.  He says that when the Holy Spirit is around, diversity is no longer a threat but a means of growth as we reach out for a God-given Synthesis in and through our personal contact with Christ.   In fact, for Pope Francis Catholicism is a synthesis of opposites, opposites because human beings think in different ways and in different contexts, having different experiences and different cultures and customs, and synthesis because, for all that, we are being formed by the Spirit to have one heart and one mind in Christ.   Whether we speak of the Incarnation or the Trinity, God's omnipotence and human freedom, collegiality and primacy, or anything else, Catholic teaching is a synthesis of opposites in tension with one another.  It is not "either...or" but "both...and".  In this process, there are always "conservatives" who resist the new synthesis in favour of ones already reached, and there are "progressives" who adopt a new position that seems to attack the status quo.  Then there is the Church that, by accepting both, gradually forms the synthesis.  This process can only happen when ecclesial charity, the created sign of the Holy Spirit's active presence, prevails.  Ecumenism is the process of synthesis when ecclesial charity breaks down and schism has resulted.   Authentic ecumenism can only properly take place within the context of repentance and the restoration of ecclesial love.  

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