Every second Saturday of the month, 4 pm - Divine Liturgy in English of Sunday - Ukrainian Catholic Cathedral of the Holy Family, Duke Street, London W1K 5BQ. Followed by refreshments.
Next Liturgy: Zacchaeus Sunday - Saturday 13th February, 4pm.

To purchase The Divine Liturgy: an Anthology for Worship (in English), order from the Sheptytsky Institute here.
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Saturday, 13 February 2016

Fr Peter Galadza on joint Francis-Kirill statement: Ukrainians worldwide will be very disappointed

Fr  Peter Galadza, Acting Director and Kule Family Professor of Liturgy Metropolitan Andrey Sheptytsky Institute of Eastern Christian Studies (Ottawa) commented on joint statement signed in Havana:

"The inability to get any kind of reference in the joint statement to foreign aggression in Ukraine is a major flaw in an otherwise decent statement - Ukrainians worldwide will be very disappointed. And Antonii Pakanych's (metropolitan of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of Moscow Patriarchate) prominence in the Moscow Patriarchate delegation without anyone even remotely representative of Eastern Catholicism (not to mention Ukrainian Greek Catholicism) is also very unfortunate."

On February 5 Rev Galadza signed a statement of the Metropolitan Andrey Sheptytsky Institute of Eastern Christian Studies Regarding the Meeting of Pope Francis and Patriarch Kirill of Moscow in Cuba


Report from RISU here:

Rev Peter Galadza on joint Francis-Kirill statement: Ukrainians worldwide will be very disappointed

Friday, 12 February 2016

Joint Declaration of His Holiness Pope Francis and the Patriarch of Moscow - Vatican Radio

“The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God the Father and the fellowship of the holy Spirit be with all of you” (2 Cor 13:13).

1. By God the Father’s will, from which all gifts come, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, and with the help of the Holy Spirit Consolator, we, Pope Francis and Kirill, Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia, have met today in Havana. We give thanks to God, glorified in the Trinity, for this meeting, the first in history.

It is with joy that we have met like brothers in the Christian faith who encounter one another “to speak face to face” (2 Jn 12), from heart to heart, to discuss the mutual relations between the  Churches, the crucial problems of our faithful, and the outlook for the progress of human civilization.

2. Our fraternal meeting has taken place in Cuba, at the crossroads of North and South, East and West. It is from this island, the symbol of the hopes of the “New World” and the dramatic events of the history of the twentieth century, that we address our words to all the peoples of Latin America and of the other continents.

It is a source of joy that the Christian faith is growing here in a dynamic way.  The powerful religious potential of Latin America, its centuries–old Christian tradition, grounded in the personal experience of millions of people, are the pledge of a great future for this region.

3. By meeting far from the longstanding disputes of the “Old World”, we experience with a particular sense of urgency the need for the shared labour of Catholics and Orthodox, who are called, with gentleness and respect, to give an explanation to the world of the hope in us (cf. 1 Pet 3:15).

4. We thank God for the gifts received from the coming into the world of His only Son. We share the same spiritual Tradition of the first millennium of Christianity. The witnesses of this Tradition are the Most Holy Mother of God, the Virgin Mary, and the saints we venerate.  Among them are innumerable martyrs who have given witness to their faithfulness to Christ and have become the “seed of Christians”.

5. Notwithstanding this shared Tradition of the first ten centuries, for nearly one thousand years Catholics and Orthodox have been deprived of communion in the Eucharist. We have been divided by wounds caused by old and recent conflicts, by differences inherited from our ancestors, in the understanding and expression of our faith in God, one in three Persons – Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We are pained by the loss of unity, the outcome of human weakness and of sin, which has occurred despite the priestly prayer of Christ the Saviour: “So that they may all be one, as you, Father, are in me and I in you … so that they may be one, as we are one” (Jn 17:21).

6. Mindful of the permanence of many obstacles, it is our hope that our meeting may contribute to the re–establishment of this unity willed by God, for which Christ prayed. May our meeting inspire Christians throughout the world to pray to the Lord with renewed fervour for the full unity of all His disciples. In a world which yearns not only for our words but also for tangible gestures, may this meeting be a sign of hope for all people of goodwill!

7. In our determination to undertake all that is necessary to overcome the historical divergences we have inherited, we wish to combine our efforts to give witness to the Gospel of Christ and to the shared heritage of the Church of the first millennium, responding together to the challenges of the contemporary world. Orthodox and Catholics must learn to give unanimously witness in those spheres in which this is possible and necessary. Human civilization has entered into a period of epochal change. Our Christian conscience and our pastoral responsibility compel us not to remain passive in the face of challenges requiring a shared response.

8. Our gaze must firstly turn to those regions of the world where Christians are victims of persecution. In many countries of the Middle East and North Africa whole families, villages and cities of our brothers and sisters in Christ are being completely exterminated. Their churches are being barbarously ravaged and looted, their sacred objects profaned, their monuments destroyed. It is with pain that we call to mind the situation in Syria, Iraq and other countries of the Middle East, and the massive exodus of Christians from the land in which our faith was first disseminated and in which they have lived since the time of the Apostles, together with other religious communities.

9. We call upon the international community to act urgently in order to prevent the further expulsion of Christians from the Middle East. In raising our voice in defence of persecuted Christians, we wish to express our compassion for the suffering experienced by the faithful of other religious traditions who have also become victims of civil war, chaos and terrorist violence.

10. Thousands of victims have already been claimed in the violence in Syria and Iraq, which has left many other millions without a home or means of sustenance. We urge the international community to seek an end to the violence and terrorism and, at the same time, to contribute through dialogue to a swift return to civil peace. Large–scale humanitarian aid must be assured to the afflicted populations and to the many refugees seeking safety in neighbouring lands.

We call upon all those whose influence can be brought to bear upon the destiny of those kidnapped, including the Metropolitans of Aleppo, Paul and John Ibrahim, who were taken in April 2013, to make every effort to ensure their prompt liberation.

11. We lift our prayers to Christ, the Saviour of the world, asking for the return of peace in the Middle East, “the fruit of justice” (Is 32:17), so that fraternal co–existence among the various populations, Churches and religions may be strengthened, enabling refugees to return to their homes, wounds to be healed, and the souls of the slain innocent to rest in peace.

We address, in a fervent appeal, all the parts that may be involved in the conflicts to demonstrate good will and to take part in the negotiating table. At the same time, the international community must undertake every possible effort to end terrorism through common, joint and coordinated action. We call on all the countries involved in the struggle against terrorism to responsible and prudent action. We exhort all Christians and all believers of God to pray fervently to the providential Creator of the world to protect His creation from destruction and not permit a new world war. In order to ensure a solid and enduring peace, specific efforts must be undertaken to rediscover the common values uniting us, based on the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.

12. We bow before the martyrdom of those who, at the cost of their own lives, have given witness to the truth of the Gospel, preferring death to the denial of Christ. We believe that these martyrs of our times, who belong to various Churches but who are united by their shared suffering, are a pledge of the unity of Christians. It is to you who suffer for Christ’s sake that the word of the Apostle is directed: “Beloved … rejoice to the extent that you share in the sufferings of Christ, so that when his glory is revealed you may also rejoice exultantly” (1 Pet 4:12–13).

13. Interreligious dialogue is indispensable in our disturbing times. Differences in the understanding of religious truths must not impede people of different faiths to live in peace and harmony. In our current context, religious leaders have the particular responsibility to educate their faithful in a spirit which is respectful of the convictions of those belonging to other religious traditions. Attempts to justify criminal acts with religious slogans are altogether unacceptable. No crime may be committed in God’s name, “since God is not the God of disorder but of peace” (1 Cor 14:33).

14. In affirming the foremost value of religious freedom, we give thanks to God for the current unprecedented renewal of the Christian faith in Russia, as well as in many other countries of Eastern Europe, formerly dominated for decades by atheist regimes. Today, the chains of militant atheism have been broken and in many places Christians can now freely confess their faith. Thousands of new churches have been built over the last quarter of a century, as well as hundreds of monasteries and theological institutions. Christian communities undertake notable works in the fields of charitable aid and social development, providing diversified forms of assistance to the needy. Orthodox and Catholics often work side by side. Giving witness to the values of the Gospel they attest to the existence of the shared spiritual foundations of human co–existence.

15. At the same time, we are concerned about the situation in many countries in which Christians are increasingly confronted by restrictions to religious freedom, to the right to witness to one’s convictions and to live in conformity with them. In particular, we observe that the transformation of some countries into secularized societies, estranged from all reference to God and to His truth, constitutes a grave threat to religious freedom.  It is a source of concern for us that there is a current curtailment of the rights of Christians, if not their outright discrimination, when certain political forces, guided by an often very aggressive secularist ideology, seek to relegate them to the margins of public life.

16. The process of European integration, which began after centuries of blood–soaked conflicts, was welcomed by many with hope, as a guarantee of peace and security. Nonetheless, we invite vigilance against an integration that is devoid of respect for religious identities. While remaining open to the contribution of other religions to our civilization, it is our conviction that Europe must remain faithful to its Christian roots. We call upon Christians of Eastern and Western Europe to unite in their shared witness to Christ and the Gospel, so that Europe may preserve its soul, shaped by two thousand years of Christian tradition.

17. Our gaze is also directed to those facing serious difficulties, who live in extreme need and poverty while the material wealth of humanity increases. We cannot remain indifferent to the destinies of millions of migrants and refugees knocking on the doors of wealthy nations. The unrelenting consumerism of some more developed countries is gradually depleting the resources of our planet. The growing inequality in the distribution of material goods increases the feeling of the injustice of the international order that has emerged.

18. The Christian churches are called to defend the demands of justice, the respect for peoples’ traditions, and an authentic solidarity towards all those who suffer. We Christians cannot forget that “God chose the foolish of the world to shame the wise, and God chose the lowly and despised of the world, those who count for nothing, to reduce to nothing those who are something, that no human being might boast before God” (1 Cor 1:27–29).

19. The family is the natural centre of human life and society. We are concerned about the crisis in the family in many countries. Orthodox and Catholics share the same conception of the family, and are called to witness that it is a path of holiness, testifying to the faithfulness of the spouses in their mutual interaction, to their openness to the procreation and rearing of their children, to solidarity between the generations and to respect for the weakest.

20. The family is based on marriage, an act of freely given and faithful love between a man and a woman. It is love that seals their union and teaches them to accept one another as a gift. Marriage is a school of love and faithfulness. We regret that other forms of cohabitation have been placed on the same level as this union, while the concept, consecrated in the biblical tradition, of paternity and maternity as the distinct vocation of man and woman in marriage is being banished from the public conscience.

21. We call on all to respect the inalienable right to life. Millions are denied the very right to be born into the world. The blood of the unborn cries out to God (cf. Gen 4:10).

The emergence of so-called euthanasia leads elderly people and the disabled begin to feel that they are a burden on their families and on society in general.

We are also concerned about the development of biomedical reproduction technology, as the manipulation of human life represents an attack on the foundations of human existence, created in the image of God. We believe that it is our duty to recall the immutability of Christian moral principles, based on respect for the dignity of the individual called into being according to the Creator’s plan.

22. Today, in a particular way, we address young Christians. You, young people, have the task of not hiding your talent in the ground (cf. Mt 25:25), but of using all the abilities God has given you to confirm Christ’s truth in the world, incarnating in your own lives the evangelical commandments of the love of God and of one’s neighbour. Do not be afraid of going against the current, defending God’s truth, to which contemporary secular norms are often far from conforming.

23. God loves each of you and expects you to be His disciples and apostles. Be the light of the world so that those around you may see your good deeds and glorify your heavenly Father (cf. Mt 5:14, 16). Raise your children in the Christian faith, transmitting to them the pearl of great price that is the faith (cf. Mt 13:46) you have received from your parents and forbears. Remember that “you have been purchased at a great price” (1 Cor 6:20), at the cost of the death on the cross of the Man–God Jesus Christ.

24. Orthodox and Catholics are united not only by the shared Tradition of the Church of the first millennium, but also by the mission to preach the Gospel of Christ in the world today. This mission entails mutual respect for members of the Christian communities and excludes any form of proselytism.

We are not competitors but brothers, and this concept must guide all our mutual actions as well as those directed to the outside world. We urge Catholics and Orthodox in all countries to learn to live together in peace and love, and to be “in harmony with one another” (Rm 15:5). Consequently, it cannot be accepted that disloyal means be used to incite believers to pass from one Church to another, denying them their religious freedom and their traditions. We are called upon to put into practice the precept of the apostle Paul: “Thus I aspire to proclaim the gospel not where Christ has already been named, so that I do not build on another's foundation” (Rm 15:20).

25. It is our hope that our meeting may also contribute to reconciliation wherever tensions exist between Greek Catholics and Orthodox. It is today clear that the past method of “uniatism”, understood as the union of one community to the other, separating it from its Church, is not the way to re–establish unity. Nonetheless, the ecclesial communities which emerged in these historical circumstances have the right to exist and to undertake all that is necessary to meet the spiritual needs of their faithful, while seeking to live in peace with their neighbours. Orthodox and Greek Catholics are in need of reconciliation and of mutually acceptable forms of co–existence.

26. We deplore the hostility in Ukraine that has already caused many victims, inflicted innumerable wounds on peaceful inhabitants and thrown society into a deep economic and humanitarian crisis. We invite all the parts involved in the conflict to prudence, to social solidarity and to action aimed at constructing peace. We invite our Churches in Ukraine to work towards social harmony, to refrain from taking part in the confrontation, and to not support any further development of the conflict.

27. It is our hope that the schism between the Orthodox faithful in Ukraine may be overcome through existing canonical norms, that all the Orthodox Christians of Ukraine may live in peace and harmony, and that the Catholic communities in the country may contribute to this, in such a way that our Christian brotherhood may become increasingly evident.

28. In the contemporary world, which is both multiform yet united by a shared destiny, Catholics and Orthodox are called to work together fraternally in proclaiming the Good News of salvation, to testify together to the moral dignity and authentic freedom of the person, “so that the world may believe” (Jn 17:21). This world, in which the spiritual pillars of human existence are progressively disappearing, awaits from us a compelling Christian witness in all spheres of personal and social life. Much of the future of humanity will depend on our capacity to give shared witness to the Spirit of truth in these difficult times.

29. May our bold witness to God’s truth and to the Good News of salvation be sustained by the Man–God Jesus Christ, our Lord and Saviour, who strengthens us with the unfailing promise: “Do not be afraid any longer, little flock, for your Father is pleased to give you the kingdom” (Lk 12:32)!

Christ is the well–spring of joy and hope. Faith in Him transfigures human life, fills it with meaning. This is the conviction borne of the experience of all those to whom Peter refers in his words: “Once you were ‘no people’ but now you are God’s people; you ‘had not received mercy’ but now you have received mercy” (1 Pet 2:10).

30. With grace–filled gratitude for the gift of mutual understanding manifested during our meeting, let us with hope turn to the Most Holy Mother of God, invoking her with the words of this ancient prayer: “We seek refuge under the protection of your mercy, Holy Mother of God”. May the Blessed Virgin Mary, through her intercession, inspire fraternity in all those who venerate her, so that they may be reunited, in God’s own time, in the peace and harmony of the one people of God, for the glory of the Most Holy and indivisible Trinity!

Francis                                         Kirill
Bishop of Rome, Pope of the Catholic Church         Patriarch of Moscow and all Russia

 


Joint Declaration of Pope Francis and Patriarch Kirill - Vatican Radio

His Holiness Pope Francis and the Patriarch of Moscow meet in Cuba


"Francis is walking into a Russian minefield" - Fr Mark Drew in the Catholic Herald

Fr Mark Drew, our 2014 Christopher Morris Lecturer and Advisory Panel expert, writes, 12 February 2016 in the Catholic Herald:

The Orthodox Church is not usually associated with rapid change and fast-moving news stories. Its image is more usually one of immobile customs, ancient rituals and an unshakeable attachment to tradition. Of no Orthodox body is this more true than of the Russian Orthodox Church, sometimes styled as the “Third Rome” and seen by many as the solid repository of the ecclesiastical polity and political culture of the Byzantine Empire.

The past week, however, has seen news stories developing with unaccustomed speed. First, news came out that plans to hold the “Great and Holy Council” of the world’s Orthodox churches in Istanbul had been abandoned in favour of a venue in Crete. This was to accommodate the Moscow Patriarchate’s reluctance to hold it in Turkey, now locked in geopolitical conflict with Putin’s Russia.

Then came another bombshell. The Moscow Patriarchate confirmed that a meeting between Patriarch Kirill and Pope Francis, which veteran Italian Vaticanologist Sandro Magister had announced the previous week – only to provoke a denial from sources linked to the Patriarchate – was actually to take place after all.

With hindsight, the denials should have been treated as suspect from the start. When politicians say “there are currently no plans”, we all know that the planning process must be well advanced, and the Moscow Patriarchate is a very politically savvy entity. It has to be; it has been a hostage to political fortunes since its origin.

Headlines spoke of a “historic first meeting between Catholic and Orthodox since 1054”. There has indeed been no meeting of a pope with a Moscow patriarch since that date, when relations between Rome and Constantinople were severed, but there was no such encounter before it either. This is not only because popes and patriarchs of the first millennium were not in the habit of making long and arduous journeys to meet each other, but also because the Moscow patriarchate was yet to exist.

The Slavs were first evangelised in the 9th century by Saints Cyril and Methodius. It took another century for the new faith to become established in what is now Ukraine and Russia, symbolised by the baptism of Kievan Rus in 988. The spiritual heritage of that event is hotly disputed today between Russia and Ukraine. Political fragmentation, as well as Mongol and Tartar invasions, pushed the political centre eastward to Moscow, and gradually Kievan Rus was overtaken and eventually absorbed by what became the Russian Empire.

Moscow became pre-eminent as an ecclesiastical centre, too. The Muscovite rulers were keen to establish the independence of their church from Constantinople. That keenness was bolstered by their rejection of the policy of reunion with Rome then being pursued in Byzantium, and so in 1448 a metropolitan see was created in Moscow.

It took more than a century for the Russian Church’s autocephaly to win acceptance from Constantinople. But in 1558 the metropolitan of Moscow took the title of Patriarch of Moscow and all Rus. The Fall of Constantinople to the Turks had meant that many Orthodox would henceforth look to Moscow as the “Third Rome”, the new seat of Christian empire whose resistance to union with Rome had given it added prestige as a bastion of Orthodoxy.

Russia had become an empire in 1547 when Ivan the Terrible took the title “Caesar”, or Tsar in Russian, and over the centuries the importance of the patriarchate waxed and waned with the fortunes of the state, assuming a vital authority when the rule of the tsars was weak. This was what motivated Peter the Great to suppress the institution of the patriarchate altogether in 1721, replacing it with a standing synod over which successive tsars would keep tight control through a lay procurator.

In effect, the Church was run by a civil servant as a department of state for almost two centuries. Only in 1918 did a brief window of freedom allow the restoration of the patriarchate, before a whirlwind of expropriation and persecution beat down upon the Russian Church, now seen as the enemy of the state which had so long simultaneously nurtured and contained it.

That persecution was a defining experience for the Russian Orthodox Church, which faced near extinction. The brutal repression was mitigated under Stalin – at the price of total subservience – but it definitively ended only with the fall of communism in 1990. The outgoing generation of hierarchs were men who had been obliged to combine the cultivation of the fragile flame of faith with the necessity of a more or less willing collaboration with the state security apparatus.

Kirill, who became Patriarch in 2009, has promoted a younger generation of clerics to the episcopate, probably aiming to consign this period to history. But he remembers it well, having had to negotiate its necessary compromises as a young monk and theologian before becoming an archbishop in 1984.

Kirill inherited a Church which in many ways seems flourishing, and well on the way to recovering its privileged position in pre-revolutionary Russian society. Still, the fragilities inherited from the past are never far below the surface. Although church membership has boomed since the end of communism, mass baptisms have not generally been accompanied by solid catechesis and regular religious practice. With at least 50 million members in Russia and many more in affiliated Churches worldwide, Kirill’s Church is by far the largest Orthodox body, counting perhaps 40 per cent of Orthodox believers. Yet although most Russian citizens now define themselves as Orthodox, the Church’s grip on Russian society is probably neither as deep nor as secure as statistics suggest.

This is the context within which Kirill seeks to gain for his Church both security and stability at home, and influence and prestige abroad. His decision finally to meet the Pope, a meeting fervently desired by recent pontiffs but consistently refused by previous patriarchs, is to be interpreted against this background. We may consider his objectives under these two aspects: relations with the Russian state and external relations and influence.

Kirill may seem to have a cosy relationship with the Putin regime, but this involves maintaining an equilibrium which is not always comfortable. Western, conservative Christians are sometimes superficially impressed by Putin’s desire to be seen as a protector both of Christian moral values and of persecuted Christians, in the Middle East especially. They should, however, be under no illusion that this is any more than political posturing designed to bolster the president’s popularity at home and advance his policy objectives abroad.

Kirill will want to take advantage of this policy to serve his Church’s own interests and priorities. There is little doubt that he favours good ecumenical relations personally, having promoted them since the early stages of his career in the hierarchy. In Soviet days the Russian Church was among the most ecumenically inclined of Orthodox jurisdictions, in part because this made for a better image abroad and favoured its objective of détente with the West.

When the fortunes and liberty of the Church increased after 1990, this pro-ecumenical stance experienced a marked decline. Putin, now suffering from international isolation as a result of his aggressive foreign policy and economically weakened with sanctions biting and energy dollars in short supply, is probably encouraging Kirill to seize the initiative.

At the same time, the forthcoming pan-Orthodox synod this summer is an opportunity for Kirill to present his patriarchate as the de facto leader of world Orthodoxy. To polish up the reputation of the “Third Rome” he will be trying to push Constantinople further into the shade. Hence the transfer of the synod to Crete is certainly at least as much about this as about avoiding Turkish harassment. If Kirill can be seen to take upon himself the mantle of chief Orthodox interlocutor with the papacy, he will certainly derive some satisfaction in depriving arch-rival Patriarch Bartholomew of that role.

And yet he will be simultaneously looking over his shoulder towards powerful elements within Orthodoxy, not least in Russia, who resist ecumenism on principle. Hence his repeated assurances that, while promoting warmer relations, he does not envisage actual reunion. He presents his dialogue with Catholicism as being a matter above all of seeking cooperation in defending Christian morality against secular encroachment, and defending persecuted Christians, in the Middle East especially.

Both of these, incidentally, are issues on which Pope Francis seems to prefer the softly spoken approach to war-like posturing, so it will be interesting to see what sort of common statement emerges.

One issue which is delicate for both Francis and Kirill is Ukraine. Kirill’s patriarchate has been haemorrhaging adherents, in western Ukraine especially, over its closeness to Putin’s Kremlin and to the cause of pro-Russian separatists in the eastern provinces. Overt support of pro-Russian separatists by clerics loyal to Moscow, despite Kirill’s attempts to soften the line, have led to entire parishes defecting to the rival Kiev Patriarchate. Constantinople has been forced to reject outright this new jurisdiction, and Kirill will ensure that it remains out in the cold at the Crete meeting. He will be on the lookout for anything Francis might say which he can use to bolster his interpretation that what is happening in Ukraine is a “fratricidal civil war”, rather than a Russian incursion against Kiev’s sovereignty.

Francis is no ingénue when it comes to recognising and outflanking political manipulation, but here he is navigating a minefield. Vatican officials will have briefed him intensely on the pitfalls to avoid, but his tendency to make spontaneous and not always clearly defined gestures of goodwill will mean that it will be a nerve-racking meeting for those seeking to keep Vatican diplomacy running along well-planned lines.

Others who will be watching the meeting with a degree of apprehension will be the clergy and faithful of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, the largest Eastern Catholic Church. In recent years they have felt almost abandoned by the Vatican, as time after time it has cultivated the Russians by rejecting “Uniatism” (the derogatory term used by Orthodox of Eastern Catholics) as a way forward for ecumenism while affirming at the same time that the Eastern Catholics have a right to exist. Any careless words which Kirill might exploit in this way will only serve to confirm the impression of Ukrainian Greek Catholics that they are being thrown under a bus.

The meeting of the Pope and Patriarch, while certainly historic and of real symbolic importance, should not be seen as a harbinger of unity round the corner. Those who expect this to come about from high-level gatherings of hierarchs of the respective Churches probably are missing the point about what Orthodoxy is.

The Orthodox Church is hierarchical, but its hierarchs are not the Church and it does not belong to them. Catholics, used to well-defined structures where authority is seen to come from the top, are often over-optimistic not only about what Orthodox hierarchs want from ecumenism but also about what they can deliver.

Orthodoxy lives above all in its worship, in its parishes and monasteries and in the hearts of its faithful. Its saints and mystics exert an authority at least as real as its official hierarchs. Much the same, in reality, can be said of Catholicism, as Benedict XVI tried to remind us. Ecumenism between us will prosper, and with God’s help succeed, when our communities get to know each other, when prejudices are dispelled and we begin to learn deeply from each other and imitate each other’s strengths, putting the quest for holiness at the heart of our concerns.

This process has scarcely begun. Realism about the limited possibilities of the present moment, and the determination to seize them without yielding to the disappointment generated by excessive expectations, are a necessary part of it.



To read this article on line, and to hear the podcast, visit The Catholic Herald here:

CatholicHerald.co.uk » Francis is walking into a Russian minefield

As Pope and Russian patriarch meet, Ukraine fears a ‘shaky’ Vatican – Andriy Chirovsky in CRUX

In much of the world, Friday’s historic meeting between Pope Francis and Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia in Havana, Cuba, will be hailed as a breakthrough. Attitudes are more mixed, however, in Ukraine, long the front line of tensions between Catholics and the Russian Orthodox.


Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk, head of the Ukrainian
Greek Catholic Church, met with Pope Francis in 2014. (AP)
There, the 5-million-strong Greek Catholic Church has suffered terribly for its loyalty to Rome, constituting the world’s largest underground religious body during the Soviet era, and it’s also a leader in civil resistance to the current Russian invasion of eastern Ukraine.

In this essay commissioned by Crux, the Rev. Andriy Chirovsky, a Greek Catholic archpriest at Saint Paul University in Ottawa, Canada, who also serves as editor-in-chief of LOGOS, a journal of Eastern Christian studies, discusses the summit. Among his key arguments:

  • Catholic/Orthodox unity is not some modern notion, since the leader of the Orthodox territory that included Russia came into union with Rome 600 years ago.
  • Since all Orthodox churches are staging a grand council in June for the first time in 1,000 years, Moscow has a clear political incentive for using a platform with the pope to boost its internal standing.
  • Many Russian Orthodox still have negative attitudes toward Catholics.
  • The Russian Orthodox have a tight relationship with the Kremlin, and Putin’s global ambitions may help explain why the meeting is happening.
  • While Pope Francis may know what he’s doing, Ukrainians have less confidence in the Vatican’s resolve.
The full text of Chirovsky’s essay follows:

As pope and Russian patriarch meet, Ukraine fears a ‘shaky’ Vatican – CRUX

Wednesday, 10 February 2016

The Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales welcomes the forthcoming meeting between Pope Francis and the Patriarch of Moscow

The Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales welcomes the long hoped-for meeting of the Holy Father Pope Francis and the Patriarch of Moscow, to take place in Cuba on 12th February.

A primary objective in the pontificate of St John Paul II was the restoration of Christian unity, especially between the Catholic and Orthodox Churches. His Encyclical Ut Unum Sint and his Apostolic Letter Orientale Lumen both stress the vital importance to the Catholic Church of the need for unity between the Churches, and the desire for bonds that already connect the Orthodox and Catholic Churches in life and faith to be even closer, so that once again our mutual communion may be re-established in its fullness.

The 2014 visit of Pope Francis to the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew in Constantinople, six months after their encounter in Jerusalem to mark the 50th Anniversary of the lifting of the anathemas of 1054 under Pope Paul VI and Patriarch Athenagoras I, has continued the friendship that has grown between Orthodox and Catholic leaders, especially in the last fifty years of cordial fraternal visits, theological dialogue to resolve our differences, and the strengthened witness to Christ side by side of Orthodox and Catholic Christians around the world, in the face of common challenges in contemporary society, from secularism, and religious persecution on account of the Name of Christ.

Integral to this new “Dialogue of Love” is the Russian Orthodox Church. As the largest of the Orthodox Churches, not only locally in the Russian Federation but also serving its faithful across the world, it is a Church alongside which the Catholic Church lives day by day, facing the same challenges and concerns, bearing witness to the same Lord. Represented in the United Kingdom by the Diocese of Sourozh led by Archbishop Elisey, the Russian Church is honoured for the sake of the sufferings it endured during more than 70 years of constraint, persecution and martyrdom under atheist Communist rule, and yet also, in the midst of exile and oppression, for instilling a deep love in the West for its unique cultural and spiritual patrimony, as well as the courage, fortitude and faith of its clergy and people.

As one who himself had also laboured under the yoke of Communist rule in Poland, Pope St John Paul II longed for closer relations with the Russian Orthodox Church, for the sake of building Christian Europe anew. The hope for a meeting between the Pope and the Patriarch of Moscow was shared by Pope Benedict XVI but an encounter proved likewise inopportune.

Now, Pope Francis and Patriarch Kirill are to meet in Cuba in the course of their respective pastoral visits. While this momentous meeting is not to address and decide on disagreements, it is a move that has the potential to strengthen the numerous previous and existing efforts on the part of the Catholic and Orthodox Churches towards dialogue and unity, including those of Catholics and Orthodox in Russia and Ukraine, in the spirit of seeking after truth and reconciliation.

We recognise the vision and imagination of Patriarch Kirill in resolving to meet with the Holy Father as an answer to the prayers of many. We hope that it will be the first of many meetings in which trust and fraternity can grow, so that the reconciliation that Christ expected of us and the unity that He prayed for – both of which we long for - may be reached to His glory – “so that the world may believe it was You that sent Me.” (John 17.23)

+Bernard
Most Revd Bernard Longley, Archbishop of Birmingham
President of the Department of Dialogue and Unity
Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England & Wales



Read on the CBCEW site here:

Papal Meeting with Patriarch of Moscow / News / Home / Catholic News - The Catholic Church for England and Wales

Friday, 5 February 2016

Ukrainian Patriarch Remains Hopeful about Havana Meeting between the Pope and the Moscow Patriarch



The UGCC Media Department has released the following reaction of Patriarch Sviatoslav Shevchuk to the announcement of the upcoming meeting of Pope Francis with Patriarch Kiril of Moscow, in Havana, Cuba:

I do not expect Pope Francis' meeting with Patriarch Kirill, scheduled for February 12, will bring about specific changes. But it is good that the meeting is happening, and I am glad that, finally, the Russian Orthodox Church has come to understand that it is necessary to have the meeting. 

Patriarch Sviatoslav said that, over the years, the Russian Orthodox Church has refused this meeting and called the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church an obstacle to dialogue. "The meeting is not an end in itself but rather a tool, a necessary means for honest and open dialogue. We are very glad that we [UGCC] were no longer considered an obstacle and we are no longer cited as the reason for their reluctance to engage in such dialogue,"  said the patriarch.


He stressed that the meeting of two primates, which is actually being held on the eve of the 70th anniversary of the Lviv pseudo-synod, which forcibly suppressed the UGCC [in Ukraine]. "The Russian Orthodox Church, unfortunately, has yet to condemn the conduct of that violent act that the Soviets carried out. We hope that the meeting of the Pope and Patriarch create a new context for the movement towards historical justice"- said the patriarch.


The Head of the UGCC is hopeful that the very fact of the meeting will change some of the radical rhetoric coming from the Russian Orthodox, who do not recognize the Catholic Church as valid, re-baptize Catholics and entice them to become Orthodox, do not participate in common prayers, and even called the whole process of seeking church unity "the heresy of ecumenism." We saw an example of such intolerance last week in Donetsk when, during a rally staged outside the Greek Catholic parish, we were referred to as "a sect."


"It is likely that, during the meeting, the Pope and the Patriarch will discuss the current situation in Ukraine. I hope that the Pope Francis, who always raises his voice in defense of the weak, becomes the voice of Ukrainians leading their struggle for cohesion and unity of their country. God grant that Patriarch Kirill will, as a result of the meeting, give the necessary instructions to the Russian Orthodox Church and the Russian authorities, to quickly end the war against Ukraine and arrive at a just peace"- the patriarch concluded.

Scholarly Institute Hopes Pope will Raise Issues


Statement of the Metropolitan Andrey Sheptytsky Institute of Eastern Christian Studies Regarding the Meeting of Pope Francis and Patriarch Kirill of Moscow in Cuba


The Metropolitan Andrey Sheptytsky Institute of Eastern Christian Studies at Saint Paul University in Ottawa, Canada, welcomes the announcement of the Holy Father’s meeting with Patriarch Kirill in Cuba this Friday, February 12. We consider this an opportunity for Pope Francis to raise important issues that have been of grave concern to Eastern Catholics and many others for more than two decades. Among these issues, beginning with the most recent, are the following:

1      The support by representatives of the Moscow Patriarchate for the Kremlin’s aggression in Eastern Ukraine and the annexation of Crimea.

The violation of the territorial integrity of Ukraine is contrary to all international law, in particular, the Budapest Memorandum of 1994 to which the Russian government was a signatory. We believe that as a Christian institution the Moscow Patriarchate is obliged to challenge the Russian government’s violent activity in Ukraine, activity that has led to the death of thousands of innocent civilians.

2      The Moscow Patriarchate’s promotion of the notion of a “Russian World” (Russkii Mir).

This notion has provided an ideological foundation for the Russian government’s aggression in Ukraine. The idea of a “protectorate” to be exercised by Russia within Ukraine and other sovereign countries has hampered inter-ethnic harmony and understanding. It evokes the Russification policies of the USSR.

3      The Moscow Patriarchate’s continued misrepresentation of ecclesiastical events in Ukraine.

Frequently, the free and legitimate desire of Christians in Ukraine to choose which Church they belong to, is portrayed by the Moscow Patriarchate as the run counter to the separation of church and state in Ukraine. In fact, it is the Moscow Patriarchate’s false or exaggerated accusations of violence that engender hostility among Christians who might otherwise resolve these issues of ecclesial allegiance with far less rancor. The Moscow Patriarchate should be apprised of the fact that in Ukraine her desire to maintain the kind of privileged status that it enjoyed under Communism is harmful to its own interests – not to mention the proclamation of the Gospel.

4      The Moscow Patriarchate’s claims against the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church.

Since the emergence of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church (UGCC) from the underground in 1989, the Moscow Patriarchate has consistently made mendacious accusations against the UGCC. These began with claims of “violent take-overs” of parishes in Western Ukraine and continued with false reports of proselytism, which have never been substantiated. Meanwhile, the parishes that chose to break with Moscow in the early 1990s were all parishes that had been part of the UGCC until 1946. In that year the Soviet government, with the complicity of representatives of the Moscow Patriarchate, forcibly liquidated the UGCC throughout the USSR. The unwillingness of the Moscow Patriarchate to honestly discuss these matters is another impediment to the healing of memories, promoted so eloquently by Saint John Paul II. Moreover, every time that the Moscow Patriarchate has been asked to provide a list of the victims of violence – with medical reports etc – it has failed to do so.

5      An unwillingness of institutions associated with the Moscow Patriarchate to publicly study the events of March, 1946 in an objective manner.

Next month marks the 70th anniversary of the Pseudo-Synod of Lviv of 1946. It was at that gathering that the Soviet government declared the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church illegal. This led to the forced deportation of tens of thousands of Catholics and the countless deaths of those who refused to leave the Catholic Church and join the Russian Orthodox Church. In view of the constant misrepresentation of these events by representatives of the Moscow Patriarchate, last year the Metropolitan Andrey Sheptytsky Institute of Eastern Christian Studies invited an academic institution with ties to the Moscow Patriarchate to cosponsor an international conference on the events of 1946. The conference would have provided an excellent opportunity for both sides to objectively and fairly study the facts. The request fell on deaf ears. Consequently, we ask His Holiness, Pope Francis to propose such a conference to Patriarch Kirill, and hereby assert our desire to cooperate in its realization. We believe that such a conference could foster the “Dialogue of Truth” suggested by the Balamand Statement of 1993. It would also provide an opportunity for Eastern Catholics and Eastern Orthodox, more specifically, Ukrainian Greek Catholics and Russian Orthodox, to move in the direction of a broader dialogue. We hope that Patriarch Kirill’s willingness to overcome the reluctance to meet the Pope – a reluctance that has inevitably led to the perception that the Moscow Patriarchate fears the truth and avoids open dialogue – will also lead to a willingness to confront the issues listed above in a fair and truly Christian manner. The cause of the Gospel and the credibility of Christ’s Church can only benefit from such dialogue – if the dialogue is indeed sincere and open.

It is reported that among the chief aims of the meeting of Pope Francis and Patriarch Kirill will be to discuss support for the persecuted Christians of the Middle East. The Metropolitan Andrey Sheptytsky Institute of Eastern Christian Studies is truly gratified to hear this. We believe that the suffering of our Christian brothers and sisters in the Middle East has been virtually ignored in some circles, including certain Western governments. In conclusion, we shall indeed be praying for God’s blessing on this historic meeting between the Pope and Patriarch. We ask that the Spirit of Truth guide all those involved in this meeting and those reporting on it. May that Heavenly King indeed come and dwell within us and purify all our intentions and actions (cf. Byzantine-Rite Prayer to the Holy Spirit).


Contact: Rev. Peter Galadza, PhD

Acting Director, Sheptytsky Institute, Saint Paul University


Tuesday, 2 February 2016

Vatican Warns of Danger to the West of Russian Aggression

The Secretary of the Congregation for Eastern Churches, Archbishop Cyril Vasil, SJ, sharply criticized the "hypocritical and conformist attitude" of the West with regard to Russia's aggression against Ukraine, and warned of the danger to Europe of Russia's aggressive policy.

"After more than twenty-years of idyllic illusion that the American eagle, the Russian bear, and the new Europe were "neither fish nor fowl," but something "part fish and part fowl" that, together, was supposed to lead humanity by building a common home on both sides of the Atlantic to the Urals or even to Kamchatka. Then, one morning, we all awoke from this rose-coloured dream, rubbing our eyes in disbelief, silently and uneasily watching as a hybrid war by a "brother country" tore apart its neighbour (Ukraine - translator's remark), whose independence and sovereignty had been guaranteed by the great Powers. It was one of those very guarantors that bloodily tore away from the body of our eastern neighbour one piece after another, while the remaining guarantors merely shook their heads indignantly, enforcing decorative sanctions that are as effective as stopping aggressor with soda water. At the very same time, as if watching the weather with calculators in hand, hoping that this winter will not be cold, and allowing the aggressor to pursue his actions. This year, as we celebrate the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, a new cold war has begun. If we care only about making our houses warm in the winter, then a new hybrid and the Cold War will not just be cold. It could soon become very hot for all of us."

source: Католицький Оглядач (Catholic Observer)

Archimandrite Nin Appointed Apostolic Exarch in Greece

The Holy Father has accepted the resignation from the pastoral governance of the Apostolic Exarchate for the Byzantine Rite Catholics in Greece submitted by His Excellency Kyr Dimitrios Salachas, in conformity with canon 210 § 1 of the Code of Canons for the Eastern Catholic Churches.
The Pope has names as Apostolic Exarch for the Byzantine Rite Catholics in Greece, Very Reverend Archimandrite Manuel Nin, OSB, hitherto Rector of the Pontifical Greek College in Rome, at the same time elevating him to the titular episcopal See of Carcabia.

Archimandrite Manuel Nin, OSB

Archimandrite Manuel Nin, OSB, was born onil 20 August 1956 at El Vendrell, in the Archdiocese of Tarragona (Spain). After completing primary and secondary school, he entered the noviciate of the Benedictine Monastery of Monserrat in 1975, professing his First Vows on 26 April 1977 and making his Solemn Monastic Profession on 18 October 1980. He was ordained a deacon on 22 November 1997 and a priest on 18 April 1998.

He studied philosophy (1977-1979) and theology (1979-1984) at the Monserrat Monastery. He was transferred to Rome, in 1984, where he lived at the Benedictine Abbey of Sant'Anselmo. In Rome he enrolled in the licentiate program in Patristics at the Pontifical Augustinianum Institute. and also took courses at Sant'Anselmo's Pontifical Liturgical Institute, the Monastic Institute, and the Pontifical Oriental Institute. On 9 June 1987 he received  a Licentiate in Patristic Theology from the Augustinianum. His thesis, entitled: "Four Syriac letters attributed to John the Solitary,"  was prepared under the direction of Msgr. Joseph-M. Sauget and Rev. José M. Guirau, OSA. Returning to Monserrat in 1987, he taught theology, patristics, introduction to Eastern liturgies, and Greek at the monastery. During this period he also began research for his doctoral thesis.

Returning to Rome from 1989–1992, he attended doctoral courses in Patristic Theology at the Augustinianum and prepared his doctoral dissertation. On 20 January 1992 he defended his dissertation entitled: "Juan el Solitario. Los cinco Discursos sobre las Bienaventuranzas," directed by Professors Alberto Camplani, Paul Bettiolo, and Sever Voicu. A translation of the dissertation is currently being prepared for publication by Corpus Scriptorum Christianorum Orientalium, scriptores syri of Leuven. 

During his years of research he participated at Patristic conferences in Oxford and the "Symposium Syriacum". He also collaborated with journals published by Montserrat Monastery.

Since the academic year 1992-1993 has has been teaching at at Sant'Anselmo. From the 1995–1996 academic year he has also been teaching at the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross and the Pontifical Oriental Institute. He been a guest professor at the Pontifical Oriental Institute since 1998. and has taught a course on Eastern Christian Sacraments at the Pontifical Gregorian University since 2000. He is also a member of the Editorial Board of the magazine Ephrem's Theological Journal since 1997.

Since January 1996 he has been living at the Pontifical Greek College in Rome, at which he served as Spiritual Director from 1996 to 1999, and Rector since 29 June 1999. His term as Rector of the Greek College was renewed for five year terms in 2002 and 2007.

On 14 November 1999 received the Archimandrial blessing from of the Melkite Eparch of Akko, Haifa, Nazareth, and all Galilee, Archbishop Boutros Mouallem.
In March 1994 he was named a Consulter to the Congregation for the Eastern Churches. In 1998 he was elected first consulter to the Abbot-president of the Subiaco-Casino Congregation, to which his monastery belongs. Recently he was named Consulter of the Office for Papal Liturgical Celebrations and Member of the Liturgical Commission of the Congregation for the Eastern Churches.

He is a founding member of the group Syriaca, for research in Italy on the Churches and Syriac literature. Since 2007 he participated in meetings of formation for bishops of Eastern Europe. 

Besides Catalan and Spanish, he knows Greek, Latin, Syriac, Italian, French, and English. The bishop-elect is a Greek citizen.

Translated and adapted by Rev. Dr, Athanasius McVay from the following sources: Vatican Information Service, and Pontifical Greek College blog

Watch this April 2012 clip on Archimandrite Nin (requires Silverlight)

Monday, 25 January 2016

Eastern Christianity in the Middle East: January-March Course at Oxford

Centre for Continuing Education, Rewley House, Wellington Square, Oxford
 

Anthony O’Mahony

Director of the Centre for Eastern Christianity, Heythrop College, University of London and Research Fellow, Blackfriars, University of Oxford

 

This series of lectures explores the traditions, histories and contemporary context of Eastern Christianity in the Middle East. The modern Middle East has been a challenging environment for Christians and their churches – a period marked by the ending of the Ottoman Empire, colonialism and the creation of nation states; by genocide and displacement, interreligious conflict.

Christianity in the Middle East is complex and diverse, characterized by deep and rich religious and spiritual resources – Armenian, Coptic, Syriac. Despite challenges the Christian churches in the region have responded beyond survival with a profound and significant contribution to theology, spirituality and dialogue between religions.

 

THURSDAYS 28 JANUARY – 3 MARCH 2016

From 11.00am – 12.30pm

Coffee/tea is provided before each lecture, from 10.30am

10.30am Registration (first week only in Rewley House Reception)

 

·         Thursday 28 January 2016

Eastern Christianity in the Middle East – ancient traditions, modern histories, contemporary challenges

·         Thursday 4 February 2016

Between the Desert and the World: Coptic Christianity in modern Egypt

·         Thursday 11 Feb 2016

After the Genocide: Armenian and the Syriac Christianity in the wider Western Asia

·         Thursday 18 Feb 2016

Tradition at the Heart of Renewal: Monasticism and Spirituality in the Middle East Today

·         Thursday 25 Feb 2016

Conflict, displacement and revival: The Church of the East/Chaldean Church in Iraq

·         Thursday 3 March 2016

Christianity and Jerusalem: identity, religion and the politics of presence in the Holy Land

  £98 for the course. Book on line at www.conted.ox.ac.uk

Monday, 18 January 2016

Monastery of Chevetogne : An ecumenical vocation





Clip from the full documentary which will be shown on KTOTV on Wednesday 20th January for the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. Watch it on YouTube, or KTOTV on Wednesday at 2040 (7.40pm UK), repeated Thursday 21st at 1840 (5.40pm UK), Saturday 23rd at 1700 (4pm UK), Sunday 24th at 0730 (6.30 am) and Tuesday 26th at 1605 (3.05pm). An English subtitled version is planned for the future.

Monday, 11 January 2016

Homily: Sunday after the Nativity, Ukrainian Catholic Cathedral, London

If you are fortunate enough to find yourself, whether in person or on line, in St Stephen’s Cathedral in Vienna for the Feast of the Epiphany of Our Lord - the Manifestation of Christ to the Gentiles, as it is also known in England - you will witness a lovely custom. At the great High Mass, the Canons of St Stephen, the array of deacons and then the Cardinal Archbishop follow into church an acolyte bearing a staff surmounted by a golden star, and three young people dressed as the Magi bearing gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. I think the ceremony of the Leading of the Star is familiar across Catholic German lands, because there it is believed that at Cologne Cathedral the Three Wise Men are enshrined close to the High Altar having spent their lives wandering far and wide and bearing witness to the Light they had seen, once the Star had led them to Bethlehem.

One of the differences between the Latin Roman Catholic tradition and that of the great Byzantine Church, of which our Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church and the Orthodox Churches are part, is that we do not have a separate celebration of Epiphany and the Magi from Christmas.  We commemorate the Nativity of Our Lord and God and Saviour according to the Flesh, with the singing of the angels, the adoration of the shepherds, the ox and the ass, and the discovery, gifts and veneration of the Three Wise Men, all together on the same day. For us, the Epiphany Feast is not about the revealing of the King of the Jews to visitors from outside, but the moment at Christ’s Baptism in the Jordan River - on the boundary that conjoins the Promised Land with the rest of creation and all humanity - when the Father intervenes from heaven to reveal Jesus as Son of God one earth. This is why we call Epiphany not just the revelation of Christ, but “Theophany”, the appearance of God Himself.

When we get to 6th January in our Julian Calendar (which will be on 19th January in the Gregorian calendar), we will commemorate this remarkable moment with a dramatic re-enactment of the moment when the Holy Trinity articulated itself to human sight and hearing, leaving an indelible impression on those who would then follow the Lord and become His own household of faith, the Church. In our own day, therefore, we will see our Bishop Hlib and the priests interact with the waters three times.

First, they will bless the water by making the sign of the Cross in it with a lighted candle and their hand, indicating the Father Who has sent His Son from heaven, the Light of Light, to accomplish His purposes in the world yet never leaves His side, even knowing that it will involve His Son’s death on the Cross. Secondly, they will breathing over the water as the Holy Spirit once swept over the foundations of the Creation, bringing it to birth; this recalls the Holy Spirit Who came to rest on Christ at His Baptism, noticed by the disciples looking like a dove, like the dove who found firm and fertile new ground after Noah’s flood; but also the spirit with which Jesus would breathe His last at the moment when our redemption reached its climactic completion, and the Spirit Who raised Him from the dead and that He would then send to lead us into all truth and be our constant life, advocate, and very Strength. Third, Bishop Hlib and the priests will bless the water with the Cross, which in his hands will descend into its depths only to surge upwards again in a great act of bursting forth, recalling Christ going down into the river and coming up again, He Who descended into the end of life, cleared out the realms of death and rose to stand on the firm and fertile new ground of resurrection, the Kingdom for which we pray to come on earth as it is in heaven. Here we see Father, Son and Holy Spirit, indivisible in action and intent, bringing Christ to appearance before us as God, born as one of us and in our midst, One Who has led the whole world to follow and stand in His light, One Who will reveal the entire meaning of God when the Lord is lifted on the Cross, One in Whom the entire action and sovereignty of God re-works its way through the physical creation, to make it new and abounding in blessing and the living now of God’s own eternity. If you come on the 19th January, or to Compline the evening before, you will see the people themselves crowding forward to be blessed by Bishop Hlib with the new waters of life.

By an accident of history, and also the providence of God in permitting to the Church two calendars, we in our part of the Byzantine Church find ourselves celebrating Christmas on the weekend after the Latin Church has commemorated the Visit of the Magi and during the one on which it celebrates the Baptism of Christ. To add to the richness of the coincidence of so many themes and feasts, in our Gospel today (Matthew 2. 13-23), we pick up the story of Christ’s Nativity when it is not a star in the created universe this time, but a direct messenger from the Father’s side. It has come, first, to warn the Magi to escape imminent danger by taking a different road home and, secondly, to impress upon Saint Joseph the urgent need to flee to Egypt (like Joseph son of Jacob before him), in the hope of one day restoring to God’s people a time of plenty and liberty in the Promised Land. This Sunday each year we hear of the first to shed their blood for the sake of Christ, the Holy Innocents. We not only recall the vocation and service of Saint Joseph, but also the Apostle St James, who would likewise offer the whole of his life in loyalty to his Brother in the Flesh, and David the King, whose psalms foretelling the Lord’s work of salvation we have sung, the ancestor of the Joseph and thus the founder of the House to which Our Lord, belonged, the Holy Family to which this Temple is dedicated.

To think of all these things at the same time may feel at first confusing. But it all comes down to one thing: the single-mindedness of God in bringing about our world’s rescue, signified to us in the unerring, resolute and solid following of a rare but long calculated light in the night skies that took them to behold the Light coming into the world that no darkness could cover and no other light could show up better, or outshine.

Thus King David said, “I waited patiently for the Lord,” (Psalm 39.1) and “God is the Lord and has appeared to us in light.” (Psalm 117.27)

Thus the Magi pursued only the Star; they beheld the Light of Lights and saw its refraction when an Angel told them to go further on their way into life and the future Church’s story, as if to say, now “let your light so shine before people that they may see your good works and give the glory to God in heaven.” (Matthew 5.16)

Thus Joseph was enlightened by the Angel; he at once led his Family to safety and just as faithfully brought them back so that Jesus might prepare for the coming Kingdom.

Thus the Holy Innocents are not only the blameless and passive victims of a politician’s tyranny or paranoid control freakery, but also the loved and unfadingly luminous patrons of all the innocents that have suffered and ever thirsted after righteousness in a world made new. They are those whose unwilled sacrifice has been taken and transformed by God to serve the purposes of salvation in the hands of Christ His Son, the One Who would one day follow them into death, but remaining still the Undimmed Light that no dark can overwhelm.

Thus the Father, the Son and the Spirit, too, are seen pressing their way through into the creation. The Father presses in, to give His own voice to His Son, and to show His hand, as it were – never losing its clasp on the hand of Christ in all the miracles, all the overturning of tables, all the holding onto donkeys, all the breaking of Bread, all the endurance of nails, all the forcing aside of the sealed stone of the Tomb. It is the Father’s own light showing Christ to be none other than Son of God, Light from Light. The Spirit presses through, so that He may be seen resting on Christ, as once He brooded over the imminent creation and filled the Temple with the clouds of fire-and-light-glory that once led the People of the Hebrews through the desert and the dark. From within the Holy Trinity, the Son presses Himself into the water, so that the shape of the Cross - the sign of Who and What God’s Love Is - will indelibly mark the creation, such that immediately St John the Baptist recognises Him in the clear light of heaven’s day coming out of the waters as Lamb of God, come to take away the sin of the world.

And how about ourselves? How is it that we press on and through? What is to be our single-minded, unerring, and solid following of the Star that captured the minds, then the hearts, and then the souls of the Magi when they saw the Light come into the world?

Our baptism is the moment to which we all look back - even if we cannot remember it - as the moment when this single-minded, relentless Light from another Kingdom not only dawned on us, but lit us too. In the Troparion for today we sang:

Your Nativity, O Christ our God, made the Light of knowledge to dawn on the world. Through it those who worshipped the stars were taught by a star to worship You, the Sun of Righteousness, and to know you, the Dawn from on high.

The Dawning of the Light of knowledge on the world was not, however, a single event in the past, for it must rise up on everyone in each new generation. It does so, because the light is no longer one to intrigue people from portents coming through the outer cosmos, but in the purity and determination - the love to the end - of those who follow Christ, who believe his promise, and shine with the glory of heaven that their very souls reflect all round them. The rulers of this world, such as those in Belgium who want a Catholic care home to perform euthanasia or be closed down, or those benighted, crazed false-followers of religion, who think they can stamp out Christ by destroying His faithful followers, will always resent the Dawn from on high, or they will force themselves to be blind to the Sun of Righteousness. But for us, it is simply the Truth about everything that Jesus is Lord of all, that he has “destroyed death …opened Paradise to the thief, [even to me,] changed lamentation … to joy … offering great mercy to the world.”(Troparion of the Resurrection, Tone 7)  In which other direction would we go?

SoI am left with the moving image of the glories of the Epiphany at Vienna, with the Cardinal Archbishop and all the people, excited, happy, lit with God, and full of hope  going out of the great Liturgy into the world, taking all of Christ’s heaven with them, following the Star.
Fr Mark Woodruff, Vice Chairman, SSJC
http://inprioraextendensme.blogspot.co.uk/2016/01/homily-for-sunday-after-nativity.html