Monday, 20 April 2015

Homily, Third Sunday of Easter, St Mary's Catholic Church, Chelsea, London, 19 April 2015

When Saint Peter is speaking to the people in the Temple (Acts 3), he is with Saint John and they have just healed a beggar, who has been disabled from birth. It is all quite a spectacle. The man is carried every day on a stretcher by kind friends and family unknown, and set down just outside the Temple entrance known as The Gate Beautiful. He cannot go in because of his physical impairments to ritual cleanliness; even if he did, you will remember from when Jesus turned the tables on the money merchants that the Temple used its own currency to pay for sacrifices and dues to God, but it was useless money outside in the ordinary world. So there he lies, offering worshippers the chance of a last act of human charity before they go inside to encounter the presence of God. He seeks alms from the apostles.
 
It is not long since the Day of Pentecost and they have been meeting in each other’s houses, seeing the Lord in the Breaking of Bread every day. One of those homes will be the house of St John, where the Mother of God now lives with him. There is an old tradition that she was in attendance when the apostles were gathered and the Holy Spirit descended on them. So this may all have taken place in St John’s house; and that may be the home from which Peter and John have just come on their way to the Temple prayers, as they came daily, giving what was needed from what they had to those who were without. The disabled man had no home of his own; he could not get into the Temple to approach the Holy of Holies; St Peter perceives his need and meets it not with money but with the power of the Name of Jesus. He takes his hand to raise him and then, we are told, the man stands up. Then – and this is the point – he enters the Temple for the first time in his life with the apostles. The people recognise him, praise God for his healing, and they crowd round Peter and John, who tell them that the Holy of Holies is not merely a place where God dwells, but a PERSON in WHOM God dwells.
 
We have seen this story before, or one very like it. Here we are in the third chapter of St Luke’s Acts of the Apostles. Let us rewind the record of events and go back to chapter 5 of his Gospel. There we find a paralysed man being brought to a house in a town in Galilee where Jesus was teaching. Because of what He was saying and the healings that He attributed to the power of God, people were flocking from all over the region and from the rest of the country to the south and west. Those who had come from Jerusalem must have been notable people, because their presence is expressly mentioned by St Luke. Some of them may well have been priests from the Temple, because we know that Jesus had just healed a leper and told him to go and show himself to a priest. Perhaps another visitor from the Temple was Joseph of Arimathea, who believed in the Kingdom of God which was the main subject of Jesus’ preaching, the member of the Temple Sanhedrin who would one day speak up for Jesus at His time of trial, and the one who would provide for the burial of the dead and crucified Lord. With so many influential and devoutly religious people there, hoping to get from Jesus an intimate connection to the coming Reign of God, it meant that there was little chance for the crowd of ordinary people to get in to see Him, let alone ask for His blessing and healing. It is just as it would turn out to be for the disabled man outside the Temple a few years later.
 
What happens next is that the paralysed man’s friends, so great is their belief in Jesus, take him up on to the roof, make an opening in it, and lower him down into the midst of the house and the people, there to meet Jesus. Jesus surprises everyone not by performing a spectacular miracle but simply pronouncing the words of forgiveness that is the greatest of God’s power to transform: His mercy, his love that is His very life. By the inner transformation that comes from faith in God - and God’s faith in us that we know as forgiveness - Jesus tells the paralysed man to rise up. The man goes on his way glorifying God to the amazement of the crowd and proceeds – where? – home.
 
This is a story of nothing but a burial. The paralysed man with hardly a life worth living nonetheless believes in God to the end. He is lowered, as it were, into a grave newly opened and in the moment of coming to rest sees the Lord face to face. As it says in that tenderest act of hope and faith in the Book of Job, “I know that my Redeemer lives, and at last he will stand upon the earth; and after my skin has been thus destroyed, then from my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see on my side, and my eyes shall behold Him, and not a stranger.” (Job 19. 25-27). Often we think that to be good Catholic Christians it is a matter of being on the Lord’s side, the Church’s side, the Pope’s side. But really the whole of faith is about seeing that the Lord is one who looks on things as a matter of His being on OUR side; and it is from this that the love, the healing, the conversion of heart, and the forgiveness all come. So in the paralysed man’s all but final resting place, he sees God standing upon the earth, he goes in with Him and through beyond death, and with Him stands and rises. So the story of a burial, is also a story of a resurrection. Encountering Jesus , the man goes into the Holy of Holies, the presence of God in our midst that he could never have hope to enter in Jerusalem. Then he returns to his own home like St John and St Mary and St Peter and St Thomas would later do after the Crucifixion, not going away from a PLACE where God was once found with a memory, but taking with him for always the Holy of Holies that is a PERSON who embodies in Himself the very Kingdom of God on earth as it is in heaven.
 
It is poignant to think of the paralysed man being lowered through that new opening in what looked to all intents and purposes like a burial; for one day, thanks to Joseph of Arimathea, it would be Jesus’ own turn to be placed into a tomb in which no one else had ever yet been laid (Luke 23.53). So the man was not only encountering Jesus in the high moment of His power to heal and bring us by His words and stories in exaltation to the very threshold of the Kingdom of heaven. He was also encountering Jesus in the moment of His death, and finding there not desolation and futility, but holiness, God as He is in Himself, God as He is truly to be seen in this world’s distorted view of the sacred, God as One Who is broken and put an end to, so that the holiness and divinity may inevitably prevail in Resurrection and new life.
 
St Paul knew this only too well from his own experience of opposing the crucified Lord in whose death he was complicit, only to be confronted by Him in the vision on the road to Damascus of His Resurrection. To the fledgling Roman church he would later write, “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? We were buried … with Him by baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with Him in a death like His, we shall certainly be united with Him in a resurrection like His. We know that our old self was crucified with Him so that the sinful body might be destroyed, and we might no longer be enslaved to sin.” (Romans 6.3-6)
 
So this is what was going on in the Temple when St Peter and St John arrived, straight from seeing the Lord at the Breaking of Bread with the Mother of God in St John’s house. Here another disabled man, outside the Temple, lies in a living death, but looks up to the apostles and hear the words of Resurrection: “Stand up”. And he rises not so much on his newly healed legs as to newness of life in Christ; and he enters the house of the Lord, which is no mere building (however sacred), but the household of faith, the place of the Kingdom of God which is a Person, himself now a rebuilt Temple of the Holy Spirit. It is as Christ’s accusers said at His trial: “"We heard him say, 'I will destroy this Temple made with human hands and in three days will build another, not made with hands.'" (Mark 14.58). The Resurrection is no mere event at a place in history: it is the Person of Christ in his People who now rise up, stand up, in the power of His Name to live within the Holy of Holies, on earth as it is in heaven, in utter newness of life.
 
The point at which we have come in on this story is where the once paralysed man, whom Peter and John found on the floor, now clings to them risen from his old decay. The three of them stand locked together in joyful embrace, as Peter raises his voice to explain to the astonished crown what on earth is going on. Do not think for a second that this is a formal speech or address – this is sheer excitement, spilling out in a few riveting sentences that say everything:
  • You denied your own Holy One.
  • You killed the Author of Life.
  • God raised Him from the dead and we saw it with our own eyes.
  • So we know this man was not raised to walk by our efforts, but only by God’s glory.
  • Therefore we have faith in Christ, because we saw all He suffered and went through and then how He came back not blame and accuse us, but to change everything about us by forgiving us.
  • On His cross He pleaded with His Father what we are saying to you now: “Father, forgive them – they do not know what they are doing.”
  • It was all in God’s plan to bring us back to Him, if only we could trust Him as much as He trusts with His forgiveness because He loves us.
 
A few years ago, I had been to a Mass at Westminster Cathedral and, leaving the great sacristy, I walked past the confessional in the Lady Chapel. In a rare moment, there was no one in the queue. The door was slightly open, the light was on within, and I could see the empty chamber inside. Then it struck me – here is a place of resurrection, where the Lord does not lie dead but lives in His power to make us whole and to live with Him in His Holy of Holies, under the Reign of God in this world which is forgiveness as much as it is justice, mercy even more than repentance, hope even more than life. Here was The Gate Beautiful outside which I languished; here was the new opening into the life of Christ that I struggled to get myself lowered deep inside of. So I went to be buried once more with Christ, to be asked why I seek the living among the dead for He is risen, to behold God ON MY SIDE, raising me up to stand in His presence, and to find Him “a friend and not a stranger.”

Sunday, 19 April 2015

Homily, Low Sunday, Second Sunday of Easter, St Mary's Catholic Church, Cadogan Street, Chelsea

One of the great joys of being in the Catholic Church is that the Church is, well, Catholic: there is so much variety united in one. Today in many of our Eastern fellow Catholic Churches it is Easter, which we in the Roman Catholic Church celebrated a week ago. That means that all last week has been their Holy Week, and I have been accompanying them in this week’s journey to the Cross at the Ukrainian Catholic Cathedral near Bond Street here in London.

They not only follow a different calendar from the Latin Catholic Church; the pattern of the services is quite different. Whereas on Maundy Thursday, the Roman Catholics enact the events around the Last Supper in the evening, followed by a watch until midnight, the Greek Catholics have a great liturgy commemorating the washing of feet and the institution of the Eucharist earlier in the day, and in the evening begins the preparation for the events of Good Friday. This is followed by a procession of a large Cross which is then put up before the altar. The following evening another procession marks the taking down of Jesus from the Cross, and a cloth bearing the image of the dead Christ is carried round, before it is laid to rest at the foot of Calvary, just like it was in Jerusalem. People in great lines wait their turn to kneel down and kiss it, much as we in the Western Church kiss the Cross on Good Friday. At a third procession on Saturday night, the priests and people arrive to find the Church doors thrown open like the Empty Tomb itself. Within, the doors in the icon screen across the sanctuary remain open through the days of Easter to show that “Christ is risen from the dead, trampling death by death and to those in the tombs giving life.” Those words are a hymn constantly repeated throughout Eastertide.

But let us retrace the steps we have made in our minds on those three processions and go back to the night of Holy Thursday. The service is very long – at least two and a quarter hours. To look at the words of the service you see readings, psalms, prayers and those many imaginative short hymns and verses that characterise the Byzantine rite of the Church. You would think, to look on it on paper, that this would be a very drawn out liturgy. But it is packed, as the excitement mounts with more and more movement. During the hymns and prayers there is incensing of the altar, the icons, the clergy and the people; meanwhile people make their Easter confessions and come and venerate the images and the Cross. But all holds still while the clergy come out of the sanctuary to stand among the people and read the Scriptures. There are twelve readings from the Gospel. For each one in the Ukrainian Church, a different coloured vestment is worn, getting darker, as in each passage, the events unfold and Christ moves closer and close to his condemnation; and in the end we hear of His Passion for our sake.

The reason I am describing all this is because of the first Gospel reading of twelve, which sets the scene. At the Eucharist earlier in the day, we had heard the Gospel of the foot-washing and the desertion of Judas from chapter 13 of St John’s Gospel. Now, as night falls, the bishop comes out and reads all of chapters 14, 15, 16 and 17. In other words, we hear all in one go the vast talk Jesus gave to His disciples on the night of His betrayal. Everything He says is to help the disciples understand what is about to happen. It ends with Christ’s High Priestly prayer, in which He asks the Father to keep His flock safe and together, and also that in the Cross’s Work of Sacrifice that He is about to offer the Glory of God as He truly is may be radiant.

So much of Jesus’ talk to the Apostles, so that they may see this imminent glory, is familiar to us; we hear it at other times of the year. In these chapters we find Jesus describing Himself as the Way, the Truth and the Life; here is St Thomas asking how we could know the way that Jesus is going. Here is the Lord saying that in His Father’s house are many rooms. We hear, too, His promise of divine love, if we would but keep His commandments; His pledge to send the Holy Spirit to us to lead us into all truth; His saying, “I leave you peace, my peace I give you”; and another saying that He is the True Vine and we are His branches. Then there is the enigmatic saying that in a little while we will not see Jesus and then in a little while we will, as sorrow turns to joy, that we are accustomed to reflect on when Ascension Day comes. There is the prayer that we will be one as the Father and the Son are one, in the midst of dangers and hatred of the flock; and then again He speaks more on the Spirit of truth, peace and love that usually we concentrate on at Pentecost. Yet all the passages come from one continuous talk on the night before the Lord went to His death. In our Roman Catholic Church, we spread it out over the whole of Eastertide, as we seek to make sense of what is said following the Resurrection. In our Byzantine Catholic Church, we do it the other way round, as we make sense of what Christ is telling us in the clear knowledge of what is about to happen on the Cross and the Tomb. It is truly remarkable to hear those four whole chapters of St John’s Gospel read addressed to us who are His disciples following in their footsteps.

Thus in our company, there is Peter asking his questions and betraying Christ, like we do; there is Philip with his thoughts too. Today in the Latin Church, we think particularly of Thomas’ bearing witness to Christ’s real Resurrection in the flesh. But when we read the great sweep of the Gospel from chapter 13 on the eve of Good Friday through to chapter 20 today, we can see how brilliantly the story has been set out by St John, and with what purpose every word was uttered and every succeeding moment in the plan was arranged by the Lord Himself. For right at the beginning, and right at the end, is St Thomas.

In the west, we think of him as Doubting Thomas; but to the east he is also the faithful witness to the truth of the Resurrection. The Lord had told the apostles that they would be scattered to their homes, but that they were to wait on the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, to rest in the Lord’s own gift of peace, and to stay firmly attached to the Vine as branches integral to it, even in the midst of unbearable hardship and sorrow. “In a little while you will not see me, and again a little while you will see me,” he had said; and then the sorrow will turn to joy. This is exactly what faithful St Thomas did. It was not his to accompany Jesus to the very end like the Mother of God and the Disciple whom Jesus loved, St John; it was not for St Thomas to go to the Praetorium in the shadows and then to betray his master like St Peter. No; St Thomas’ part was to be scattered and to wait, until the Holy Spirit came to lead him into all the truth about Jesus.

Think of it. The story begins in the Upper Room and Jesus tells the disciples, “Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in Me: in My Father’s house are many rooms. I am going to prepare you a place so that where I am going you can be too. You know the way to the place where I am going.” It is Thomas that asks, “How can we know the way?” Jesus is speaking of the Way of the Cross that is the only path to eternal life; but Thomas is unable to foresee this at this point. Later on, Jesus tells the apostles that soon they will be convinced; soon He will be able to speak to them in a way that they instantly understand and the need for questions will have passed. And so it turns out: the Lord Who told His apostles that, after treading His path to the Cross, He would take them to the many rooms in His Father’s house, on the eighth day enters the locked and barred Upper Room, coming this time not towards the Cross, but from the life of Resurrection. This time, Thomas, who has been waiting until led by the Holy Spirit to come and witness to the truth, asks no questions. Instead, seeing the Risen Lord, he declares Him, “My Lord and My God”.

In St Thomas Aquinas’ great hymn to the Lord in His Eucharistic Presence, if we use Gerard Manley Hopkin’s translation, he says, “I am not like Thomas, wounds I cannot see”. But it is St Thomas we are like more than any other apostle.

We are accustomed to think of our life, even our life in Christ, as a series of experiences, relationships, incidents, changes, growth, adversity, achievement, decline - all leading from birth to their end in death. We imagine our life - as we should - as taking up our Cross daily to follow Him, until we unite with Him in His Passion at the end of our own lives. We hope for eternal life beyond; but we are missing the point of walking the way of the Cross with Christ, if we think our ultimate destination in life is our death like His. For unlike Thomas and Peter and John and Philip, we know what is coming. The Lord Who has walked beside us as we take up our Cross, the Lord Who has led us as we trace His footsteps and hope to “follow duly in them plant our own” we suddenly find is not where we expect Him to be. Suddenly, He is no longer beside us, nor we behind Him as we persevere in hope towards the end in death, for He is now coming towards us with from His Resurrection.

It is as though all our lives we have been searching, going on perpetual processions of questioning. We end up in a locked upper room, bemused by the undeniable belief we have and the words of Jesus as they all come back to us, yet trying to make sense of it only as it relates to the world’s dimension . Has He come back to life from the dead? Is He a ghost? Is it just my belief and wishful thinking? Or does a crucified and dead human being now turn the meaning of material and spiritual life on its head, because His resurrection in the flesh remakes the rules of the entire created order? Our locked upper room, is like being inside the sealed tomb, expecting Christ to be long dead among us, while we fumble in the dark. Then into it comes the Lord in His Resurrection – it is not that He shines His light in, but that we peer out and adjust to the dawn in another realm and then find ourselves transported into living in it. As the Angel said, “Why seek the living among the dead?” Thus we do not come to the Resurrection at the end; it comes to us from the beginning. Here is where St Thomas finds himself. He has heard the Spirit within him and with his touch he sees the meaning of the wounds and recognises the Resurrection, “the Light of every one, coming into the world”.

As for me and you: I am like Thomas; I see the wounds. I ask the Way. I am shown the Light. I behold what is coming towards me. I recognise the Resurrection. I behold the Lord in the breaking of the Bread. My breath amazes me as I hear it say, “My Lord and my God.”

Sunday, 5 April 2015

Homily, Palm Sunday, 4th April 2015, Ukrainian Greek Catholic Cathedral of the Holy Family, London

Today in England it is Easter Eve, and perhaps the world around us has spared a passing thought for Christ on His Cross yesterday. The shops will mostly be closed tomorrow and today there is the activity and gentle happiness of a holiday weekend, shopping for spring fashions and chocolate Easter eggs, scarcely reflecting that the chick cracking through the shell symbolises the new life of Christ bursting forth from the Tomb.

Meanwhile, our Eastern Church follows the old calculation of the date of Easter and we find ourselves this year a week behind. So today for us is Palm Sunday, on the verge of events that our fellow Christians are immersed in all around us.

But it is all the same story. In the Eastern Church we tend to refer to the coming feast not by the English name “Easter”, but by the word “Pascha”. This is the name common to both Greek and Latin, recognisable in French, Italian, Russian and Ukrainian too, that was borrowed from Hebrew to describe not just the Day of Resurrection itself, but the whole event over three days that witnessed Jesus our Lord passing from life to death to new life again, and the way that the passage of time and of the Person of Christ has drawn everything in after it and left nothing the same as before. The Hebrew word is “pesach”, which means Passover, recalling how the Avenging Angel of the Lord passed over the homes of the Hebrews so that they would be saved from the tyranny of Pharaoh and the punishment that justly befell him, and even more so that they could pass over the path of the Red Sea on their way to the Jordan and entry at length into the Promised Land. They never went back; they never looked back, always “pressing on to what lies ahead”. (Philippians 3.13)

So, in our Church’s liturgy today and at the end of the forthcoming week, there is this constant experience of Passover, of one thing leading to another, of lives and old ways being left behind as a new future seizes hold of us and a new purpose is embraced. Toward the end of the week on Thursday night, we will take up the Cross with Christ and walk with Him round the Church on His way to the Passion, to die on the Cross for our sake. On Friday evening we will reverently take Him down from His Cross and again go round the Church, carrying a cloth on which is depicted His lifeless human form, which we will down as a shroud once covered Him in His Tomb. Then we will wait in hope for the last stage of the Passover, the Paschal passing over from death to new life that we shall celebrate with joy next Saturday and Sunday. But today it is a different kind of passing over, passing round. We greet the coming King with palms and branches, as He turns His back on Galilee and His years in His home territory, pressing on through the miraculous acts in Bethany and around beyond the outskirts of Jerusalem, to begin a new level of action and proclamation of God’s Kingdom that He knows with bring about the most terrible consequences - but consequences that must happen if the old life is to be broken apart and overturned, like the trading tables in the Temple, if a new and everlasting life is to be opened.

Thus at our Liturgy we have held our branches as the Lord in His Holy Gospels entered His Temple. In a few moments we shall stand when the Lord, as if beneath the veils of covered bread and wine, goes on his way to Calvary to offer His life on Calvary in sacrifice, so that He may for ever after give His life to us at the altar from His own everlasting life. You will have seen the priest, too, constantly coming in and out of the Holy Place, bringing Christ’s blessing and peace from Heaven to earth. Around it all you see the incense marking the presence of God in Heaven among us on earth. You see the saints looking out of us, not static images on a wooden screen, but figures represented as they constantly praise God and pray for us, gazing upon us in the world through the windows onto God’s creation that are icons, insistently transmitting prayer, peace and divine blessing to us, as we return their gaze and thus look out of the world into Paradise.

As in our Church today you re-enact the events that surrounded Christ on His coming as King to Jerusalem, see not barriers, or customs in the way of God, or activities that complicate the simple worship of the honest and good heart, but the way in which the Lord opens up the access, flinging wide the gates, so that the Christ Who passes we may follow, so that the Lord Who dwells in heaven and Who constantly comes in and out of it to bring salvation and all heaven’s glory close to us, here where we are, may take us with Him on the next step. See that this constant movement, round and in the Church, from one state to the next, from ceremony to ceremony, from glory to glory, from death to life, is not something that you merely witness. It is to draw you in, as it shows the path that you too must now follow. For if the King most pass through His life to the journey that leads in the end to His death, if He is to pass over to new life and thus return to us with a “Resurrection like His” for us too (Romans 6.5 – today’s reading from the Apostle), then we, who follow likewise, follow all the way. Every step by which the Church, the priest and the Liturgy mark the coming of Christ out of Heaven into our world with peace and salvation mirrors the steps by which we must come out of our world to follow Him into Heaven. If we long all to be united with Him in the Kingdom of love, we cannot be less than utterly united with Him at every point of His sacrifice, faithfulness and sheer love and devotion that leaves the old ways and reasons behind, that draws everything in its wake, and by the complete potency of the Cross leaves behind nothing in us to be ever the same again.

Homily for a Chrismation, Ukrainian Greek Catholic Cathedral, London, 4th April 2015

Reception and Chrismation of Thomas Daniel, Ukrainian Greek Catholic Cathedral of the Holy Family, London, 4th April 2015


What has just happened to you, Thomas? This must be a question in the minds of your friends and family here with you today to see these ancient ceremonies at this decisive moment in the spiritual journey on which the Lord has led you so far.

But it is what has happened within you – not the journey and not the rites along the way – that this celebration is about: the change of heart within you and the grace of God that has given you a new purpose.

You will notice that the readings from the Scriptures concern Baptism, and yet your Baptism took place six years ago. This is because today is the fulfilment of what was begun at that point, and also because as people who live in Christ, we all of us live in that moment of Baptism like His: we are constantly washed in the water of new life; we are always being shown as the Father’s own beloved children; we are always dwelt upon by the Holy Spirit.

At this time in the Church’s year, we understand that the Baptism of Jesus marks less the inauguration of His public ministry than the forthcoming events that will show the world what a Son of God truly looks like. What looked like the glory of Heaven at the Jordan river looked like disgrace on the hill of Calvary; but it was the same. The One shown to be the Son of God in His Baptism is shown again on the Cross, where he crucifies not Himself but the death and sin that destroy us. So at our Baptism, something about us must die, if we are to be son and daughter to God. St Paul speaks of Baptism as the burial of our sinful bodies (Romans 6.4) so that new bodies, new people, can rise up in their place. Our old life dies, not to make us less than we are, but to make more of us. This is the way that death and sin can have no more dominion over us. We are united with Christ; and so it is not just He Who is risen but we too, who have “a resurrection like His” (Romans 6.5). So it is that there is grace upon grace, glory upon glory, Heaven on earth, “on earth as it is in Heaven” (Matthew 6.10). That is to say that the point marking the beginning of your journey into God at your Baptism, was the point marking God’s journey into you. From the point you were baptised into the Name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, you began to take up the Lord’s Cross as your own, and the same Cross that freed your from sin and saved you for everlasting life; you became a son of God, in whom the Holy Spirit came to dwell and to infuse you with the very presence of God.

Because of all this, today we give thanks for your Holy Baptism on 12th July six years ago at your Baptist Church in Buckinghamshire. At the beginning of our service, we made the sign of the Cross three times over you, in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, partly to recall that life-changing moment, but partly, too, to mark you as a Christian with a name and a reputation that shows you are a son of God not only in moments of glory and exaltation like today, but also in times of difficulty and even suffering.

The next thing we did was to ask God for the light of His presence, so that you could relive the promises you made six years ago. You physically turned your back on evil and you turned towards Christ, again resolving to serve Him above all things.

We thank God, too, for your parents, who shared their own Christian faith with you as you grew up. Today you put your faith into words and declared the whole Church’s belief in God, confirming that it was your own faith. You kissed the Holy Gospels, mindful that Judas kissed the Lord to betray Him, while you kiss Him out of love and confidence in His promises.

Then you were led fully into the Church, as we sang the psalm that asks for the light of God’s face to shine upon us. Your white shirt evoked the memory of when the newly baptised, as new people, having left their old clothes behind, donned white robes, since they had been washed clean and pure. We sang, “Grant me a robe of light, O most merciful Christ our God, Who clothe Yourself with light as with a garment.” So to this person in white – you, Thomas Daniel – we added illumination with the symbol of candle for the Light of Christ Himself, shining not only upon you and within your heart, but also shining out of you.

Then we welcomed you into the fullness of the Church’s fellowship, giving you the peace of Christ, just as He Himself gave it to His disciples - on the storm-tossed boat and the upper room after He had risen from the dead.

This made you ready for the most solemn part of the service, your Chrismation. Just as the Lord’s Anointed is known as the Christ – Christ means “anointed” – so the Church anointed you, to show you to be a Christian, completing what was begun six years ago. For your anointing with Chrism - the sacred perfumed oil that is also used to ordain priests and consecrate monarchs - is the second part that follows your Baptism in water. Recall how first John baptised the Lord, then the Lord’s voice penetrated Him Who is His own Word, and the Holy Spirit came not only to rest upon Jesus but to be in every corner of His life and being. This was what happened to you, Thomas Daniel, whose heart and life has been penetrated by the call of the Father: in the Sacrament of the Church which in the West is called Confirmation, the Holy Spirit came upon you, while we anointed every corner of your life and body, increasing in you His gift of faith, with the Divine Wisdom that we are all to be holy people dedicated to the Lord and His Kingdom, and with the abiding presence of God in all His glory, whatever we may do, whatever may happen – for “who shall separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus?” (Romans 8.35) This is why at the moment of your Chrismation, the Church spoke to you, saying that it was finally, unrepeatably “the seal of the gift of the Holy Spirit”. A wonderful old English hymn reflects this too:

Thine for ever! God of love,
Hear us from Thy throne above:
Thine for ever may we be
Here and in eternity.
(Mary Fawler Hooper Maude, 1847)

The person who is “Thine for ever” is called Thomas. In the culture of western Christianity, St Thomas is known as Doubting Thomas, because he needed proof and so was the last of the apostles to declare his faith in the Risen Lord. To the East however, far from being one who ran away, or like St Peter who denied Christ in His Passion, or St John who alone of the apostleswas asked to see Christ through to his end, St Thomas was one who did what the Lord had commanded. With the others he scattered to his own place (John 16.32), there to wait for the power of God to come. Thus St Thomas is the apostle of faithful waiting and expectation, who “cries out in the sincerity of his love, ‘My Lord and my God’ “ (Kontakion of the Feast of Holy and Glorious Apostle Thomas, 6th October). He is the one whose faith is firm because it has been put to the test. He is the one whose zealous faith shows the Risen Lord to be no mere spiritual opinion but a concrete reality: “O Christ God, Thomas explored Your vivifying side with an eager hand” (Kontakion of the Sunday of St Thomas). Therefore, on St Thomas’ word and touch hangs the faith of every successive generation, every individual Christian since. As the Lord said to him, “Blessed are those who have not seen, yet believe” (John 20.29). Thomas, this is the best of patrons for you. He was the great evangelist of Asia, taking the gospel to found the Church as far away as China and in Syria, Iraq, Iran and India where, even in adversity and suffering, it has flowered to this day. May his prayers always guard your faith and make it firm, eager and clear like his.

The person who is “Thine for ever” is also called Daniel. In this the Lord’s providence and wisdom shows itself once more, because He has led you to find Him and grow more deeply into His life through our Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church. For Daniel, or Danylo as we know him, was one of the great Christian kings of Galicia and Ruthenia, in what is now Ukraine. He was crowned by a representative of the Pope and worked tirelessly when other parts of Eastern Europe - including Russia - were ruled over by the Mongols, in order to keep the light of Christ and His Kingdom alive in the hearts and imaginations of His people. You fell more deeply in love with Christ and His life in the Church when you went as a Baptist missionary to Romania and witnessed for the first time the worship of the Christians who had been evangelised by the emissaries of the Church of Byzantium. This Byzantine tradition is shared between the Orthodox and the Catholic Christians of Eastern Europe, from Greece to Russia, from Georgia to Finland, from Romania to Ukraine. May God who has called you more closely to His side in our Church, now that it is across the world in the west, inspire you with the fidelity of another of His Son’s disciple in whatever it is that you will do in your life ahead and however you come to serve in His Kingdom.

Finally, in our Eastern Church, Chrismation is often seen as the ordination rite of the lay follower of Jesus Christ. We have already heard that Chrism is used to consecrate kings. It is unlikely that you will be a second King Daniel; but it is certain that the Lord has called you to His service for some “definite purpose that he has not committed to another” (Cardinal Newman). For this lifelong task you will need a supply of constant grace and sustenance. So it is that at the Divine Liturgy that now follows, you will for the first time receive the Body and Blood of our Lord and God and Saviour Jesus Christ. It is not just a memorial, not just a symbol, but “God’s presence and His very self,” (from Praise to the Holiest, in The Dream of Gerontius, by Cardinal Newman), our God Who took Bread and wine and told His disciples, “This is My Body, this is My Blood.” In other words, by the Holy Spirit, Who more than dwelling on you now fills your life, Christ does not only feed and nourish you spiritually, but enters in so that with St Paul you can say, “It is not I who live but Christ Who lives within me” (Galatians 2.20). Very soon, He brings to you your destination, even before you begin your journey. May you always abide in that Kingdom of His; and may this same Christ, Who lives for ever, for ever be alive in you.

Saturday, 4 April 2015

Rabboni

I slept; but with my heart awakening
I rose to catch the Garden’s early scent.
Gone was the trodden Plant, Whose fragrance spent
I’d reconcoct with myrrh and spice for sorrowing.
Has Love withdrawn to sicker suffering ?
I sought my Love, but found nowhere He went.
Then, turning round, I see Him and repent
of tears that weren’t for joy, but worrying.
I want to hold Him tight. As soon, he speaks :
‘My love is strong as death; but stronger still
this Life you cannot hold on earth or kill.’
The Lord my strength my song, his glory breaks !
An Ark I dream of in the heavens climbs,
Its anchor to my soul : I’m here all times.

(c) Mark Woodruff, 30 November 1996

Thursday, 2 April 2015

Good Friday

Take up your cross and walk with Me this mile;
or (now I ask) walk two, not one alone.
And bring your coat that I may have its loan,
not to console My beaten back that’s vile
and raw, but so I’ll have a friend to smile
and cheer My Passion’s progress. Spread it down
like Sunday last: at least you’ll show this crown
is royal (if I’m your King, then death’s worthwhile).
And then, when I am lifted up, behold,
to you that followed, loyal and devout,
I, reigning from the Tree, will tell it out -
Your scarlet sins have turned not white but gold!
There setting down my cross, coat, Friend, I ran
and said of Him, ‘I do not know the man.’

(c) Mark Woodruff, 30 November 1996

Wednesday, 1 April 2015

The Winter is Past

"This is My Son, my Loved One. Hear Him speak.”
But when I strain to gather all He says
there is a pause, a silence, nowadays
you only hear when, sheltered by a peak,
the wind is stilled - and stillness is not bleak
on hills, but rich in things a sound betrays.
I rest in hearing what’s not said amaze,
as in broad light I’d see no sight yet seek.
Somewhere a voice says, ‘Cry!’ What shall I cry?
Before, my heart was quiet, simplified.
Now must I chatter from my hurt and pride,
when Christ reviled would only bless and die?
My Loved One spoke: ‘The Kingdom is so near.
Therefore rise up and tell My love: no fear.’


(c) Mark Woodruff, 30 November 1996