Friday 28 February 2014

Seven Secrets for a Successful Lent 6

The first few days of our Lenten observance have now passed. Hopefully you are spending time concentrating on deepening your relationship with God rather than obsessing about the actual practice of fasting. But it is important to fast. When we say that the essential substance of such a season as this is to turn from sin, and to avoid all those opportunities to fall away from God in what we say, and do, and think, it does not mean that actually changing our diet and learning to exercise self-discipline is of no consequence, it only means that it is not the goal or the objective of our effort.

However much we have found grace to put into practice whatever rule we have been given, it is a matter of universal experience that we will face the temptation to give up. And so the sixth secret is this - Hang on in there!

Tuesday 25 February 2014

Seven Secrets for a Successful Lent 5

I hope that the first day of fasting was filled with that blessing which comes from seeking first the Kingdom of God and his righteousness. When we are able to give ourselves wholeheartedly to God then we can be sure that we have already received the gift of grace needed for such an act and state of self-forgetfulness.

The fifth secret for a successful Lent is this - do something different!

Monday 24 February 2014

Seven Secrets of a Successful Lent 4

Today is the first day of Great Lent. May the Lord bless and strengthen each soul who is embarking on this spiritual journey today. Immerse yourself in prayer before all else, and especially before you begin to think about what you will eat today.

The fourth secret of a successful Lent is that we must not allow ourselves to play games. I mean that it is very easy indeed for us to start inventing loopholes in our observance which enable us to pretend that we are keeping the fast while actually we are making every allowance to satisfy our appetites.

Sunday 23 February 2014

Seven Secrets of a Successful Lent -3

We have seen that Lent is not all about us, it is meant to be a time in which we concentrate on God in prayer and service. We have also seen that we are not as strong as we think we are and must begin and end our observance of this season by seeking the grace of God even to be able to find the desire to fast and pray in accordance with God's will.

The third secret I would like to suggest is that we must take things slower than we would like. I mean that the experience of fasting is as much a matter of continuing practice and learning as anything else in our human condition. Someone might have an ambition to be an Olympic athlete, but they will not be instructed to begin their training with the same intensity that they might achieve after many years of hard work and effort.

Friday 21 February 2014

Orthodox Mission in the UK - 21st February

Many positive and fruitful developments have taken place over the last year. There have been doors opening for service in many places without that frantic effort that sometimes we use to force God’s hand. On the contrary, those new activities which have begun and those future ones now being planned seem to be entirely the fruit of God’s providential action, giving confidence that they are in accordance with his will.

It would be fair to say that as the fifth anniversary of my ordination to the priesthood of the Orthodox Church approaches I am more convinced than ever that the British Orthodox Church within the Coptic Orthodox Patriarchate of Alexandria, under the leadership and wise guidance of our Metropolitan Seraphim of Glastonbury, is being used by God, and will be used by God, to share the treasures of our Orthodox Faith with the ordinary people of Britain. Those who simply desire to know and be known by God.

Wednesday 19 February 2014

Seven Secrets of a Successful Lent 2

As I posted yesterday, the first secret is that it is not all about you, but is all about God. Stop thinking about yourself and ask for the grace to be occupied heart and mind with God. If we are occupied with ourselves during the season of Lent then we have entirely missed the point. 

Let's get straight into the second secret! It is this. You are not as strong as you think you are.

In fact there is no strength in you at all, and the more you think you can rely on your own strength of will to manifest the Christian life the further away from Christ you really are. The spiritual life in Christ must begin and end with grace and can only be experienced as the continuing gift of grace.

Tuesday 18 February 2014

Seven Secrets of a Successful Lent 1

Great Lent will soon be upon us. It begins for those of us in the British and Coptic Orthodox Churches on Monday, 24th February. Over the next weeks I hope to produce a daily reflection based on the Scripture readings set for each day. But I also want to consider the meaning and practice of our fasting. If we do not know why we are fasting then we will be just like an athlete who has no idea why his coach is urging him to make efforts in training in the wind and rain and so is not easily able to persevere. Or we will become proud at our success in going round and round the track and forget that all of our training is for a different race altogether.

I don't usually use alliteration but on this occasion I will begin to consider Seven Secrets of a Successful Lent.

Monday 17 February 2014

Orthodox Mission in the UK - 17th February 2014

Today I am working on the next two events in our missionary ministry here in the UK. On Saturday 22nd February I am celebrating the Liturgy at the Orthodox Mission of St Andrew, Clewer, Windsor. This mission has been operating for about a year now and we have been able to celebrate a monthly Saturday liturgy every month for the last six months. There is a stable committed core of members, with many regular visitors. At our last Liturgy, for the Eve of Theophany, we had twenty-six people worshipping with us, which was our best attendance so far.

The Blessed Virgin Mary and the Orthodox Faith 3

It must be insisted at the outset that Orthodox Christians do not believe that the divinity has its origin in Blessed Mary, or in any human. God the Father is the source and origin of the Godhead, without beginning and entirely outside of time and space. In eternity the Father begets the Son and Word of God, and in eternity the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father. We use these words because it is beyond human understanding and language to express the relations between the three Divine Persons in the Holy Trinity. But Orthodox are sure of this, the Holy Trinity, our God, has no beginning at all, and cannot be said to have any beginning in the womb of Blessed Mary.

Sunday 16 February 2014

Orthodox Mission in the UK - 16th February 2014

I was blessed today at the liturgy in our little community of St Alban and St Athanasius in Chatham, Kent. Three little infants were present to receive communion and it was a joy to see them sitting on the carpet of our small church, and joining in as best they could with the congregational responses. I was also able to have another conversation with two Orthodox I will be joining in the sacrament of matrimony in May. In a small missionary congregation it is good to be able to spend time with people and to concentrate on engaging with all of those who have come to worship with us. Indeed I enjoy having children in the congregation throughout the liturgy, it is where they belong, and I could never imagine asking them to leave.

Wednesday 12 February 2014

The Blessed Virgin Mary and the Orthodox Faith 2

In the first post in the series we considered that the Scriptures teach us that Mary is to be called Blessed, and that she had found favour with God, and so was manifestly pleasing to God by her manner of life, and that she was described as full of grace. We also saw that she consented to bear the Son of God.

The Scriptures also record for us the visit of Blessed Mary (surely we should obey the Scriptures and call her this) to her cousin Elisabeth. When Blessed Mary approached the home of Elisabeth her cousin it is said…

Luke 1:42-45 She spake out with a loud voice, and said, Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb. And whence is this to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For, lo, as soon as the voice of thy salutation sounded in mine ears, the babe leaped in my womb for joy. And blessed is she that believed: for there shall be a performance of those things which were told her from the Lord.

Monday 10 February 2014

The Blessed Virgin Mary and the Orthodox Faith 1

It is undoubtedly the case that the Virgin Mary remains a great obstacle to people from an evangelical background considering the claims of the Orthodox Faith to be the one Church which is the Body of Christ, established by the ministry of the Apostles in the power of the Holy Spirit. This would hardly have been the case until the 16th century, as even Martin Luther insisted on the preservation of all those traditional and ancient teachings about her, which modern evangelicals certainly misunderstand and often misrepresent.

But when we are considering the Orthodox Faith we can never start from anywhere other than where we are. Therefore this series of short posts is intended to sympathetically address the concerns of those from just such an evangelical background when they wonder about the Virgin Mary and her place within Orthodoxy.

Liturgical Worship and Orthodoxy 8

We've seen that the early Church was structured around the ministries of Bishops, Priests and Deacons and that the life and worship of the Church was to be conducted according to order and not with the chaos of each person acting as they saw fit. Each ministry, including that of the laity, is to serve within its own bounds, and there is to be no celebration of the Eucharist apart from the Bishop.

We have also seen that the worship of the early Church was liturgical and that some of these earliest liturgical fragments are still used by the Orthodox Church and those other traditions which still maintain the use of the ancient liturgies.

Friday 7 February 2014

Liturgical Worship and Orthodoxy 7

In this short post I am going to look at another early Christian writing- there are a lot of them!
In this case it is a letter sent by St Clement, the bishop of Rome, to the Church in Corinth, which was seeing a renewal of the disruption which St Paul had to address. St Clement was made a bishop in Rome by St Peter himself – will we dare to say that he didn’t understand the Christian Faith, or had corrupted it? He died in about 99 AD, and so he must have been born between 35 and 45 AD, and would certainly have known the Apostles Peter and Paul.

Wednesday 5 February 2014

Liturgical Worship and Orthodoxy 6

In my last post I considered the Bishop in the writings of Hippolytus from 217 AD and from St Ignatius of Antioch, the second bishop there, from 107 AD. And we also saw that the term Bishop is used in the New Testament and in the King James translation. It is the Greek word episcopus from which we derive the word episcopal, which means a Church under the care and authority of Bishops.

In these few words I want to consider the second office which is mentioned by Hippolytus, and by St Ignatius, and found in the New Testament. It is that of presbyter, a Greek word which became the word priest in English.

Tuesday 4 February 2014

Orthodoxy and Protestantism

There are those who consider that Protestantism is simply a less complete form of Orthodoxy, while others take the view that Protestantism as a system of doctrine and spiritual practice is certainly not Orthodox, and can even be considered as not being properly Christian. Who is correct? It is not a question that can be ignored since the influence and attraction of some elements of Protestantism is clearly touching the lives of many Coptic Orthodox individuals and even congregations in these days. What is surely required to be able to answer this question is a comprehensive comparison between the aims, teachings and practices of Orthodoxy, and the aims, teachings and practices of the variety of Protestant groups.

Born Protestant, Became Orthodox


I was born into a Protestant family. My parents were committed and devout evangelical Christians, and they brought me up to be active in my faith, and in the Christian community to which we belonged. I cannot remember a time when I did not have faith in God, and certainly when I was about six years old I disagreed with my teacher at school because she had suggested that Noah and his Ark were only a story. A little later, while on a Christian boys camp, and about ten years old, I decided to myself that when all of the boys were invited to speak to the leaders about becoming a Christian I did not need to because I was already a Christian and already had faith in God.

St Timothy Aelurus of Alexandria

There are few of the Fathers of the Oriental Orthodox communion who escape uncritical censure on the part of the Eastern Orthodox. Uncritical because based on a few polemical comments deriving from the period of the Christological controversies and failing entirely to take into account any of the writings and historical records deriving from the Oriental Orthodox communities in which they were active.

Timothy falls into this category of unreasonably maligned figures. Condemned as both a murderer and Eutychian, he has passed into the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox histories as a figure entirely without any redeeming features.

Hypostasis in St Severus of Antioch

Severus of Antioch reveals the Non-Chalcedonian communion as being wholeheartedly Cyrilline in Christology. His teachings make clear that there is no substantial difference between the Christology of the present day Eastern Orthodox and that of the Oriental Orthodox, even while the nature of his objections to Chalcedon are given some justification.

An understanding of the Christology of any theologian of any period requires an appreciation of the manner in which theological terms are used, and the meaning being attached to them in a variety of contexts. Nowhere is this more important than when considering the writings of the church fathers of the Eastern and Oriental Orthodox communions. In the case of the Christological controversies of the 5th and 6th centuries it is especially important that the terms and phraseology be carefully described and explained. This paper considers especially the use of the term ‘hypostasis’ in St Severus.

The Humanity of Christ

The Oriental Orthodox Churches have often been criticised for professing a faulty doctrine of the humanity of Christ. This criticism is heard as much in the 21st century as it was the 5th. We may respond with frustration that our actual doctrinal position is misunderstood, and misrepresented, but it is perhaps wiser to seek to explain and inform. Our Churches no longer face the pressure of Imperial opposition, and many of the Eastern Orthodox Churches, and indeed the Roman Catholic Church, have shown a willingness to listen and learn, rather than simply depend on age-old polemics in dealing with us.

Monday 3 February 2014

The Orthodox Christology of St Severus of Antioch

St Severus of Antioch is one of the great Fathers of the Oriental Orthodox Churches. In the decades after the Council of Chalcedon in 451 AD it was he, more than any other theologian, who expressed most forcefully and clearly the Orthodox Christology of the Oriental Orthodox Churches. He grew up in the confused environment of the Church produced by Chalcedon and intermittently exacerbated by imperial persecution of those who rejected the decisions of that council. Yet despite his opposition to Chalcedon he always remained as tolerant and irenic as possible, being willing even to accept the phrase 'in two natures' as long as the union of Divinity and humanity in Christ was confessed. Yet the Eastern Orthodox have accused St Severus of being both a Nestorian and a Eutychian and the latter Eastern Orthodox councils have anathematised him together with St Dioscorus.

Orthodox view of Ibas of Edessa

Most modern Byzantine descriptions of the Council of Chalcedon, and its relationship to the Oriental Orthodox, or non-Chalcedonian communion, tend to be based almost universally on the point of view that the Council is beyond criticism, and that the end of any ecumenical activity must result in the Oriental Orthodox accepting the council as Ecumenical. Even those Byzantine and Roman Catholic historians and theologians who are willing to consider Chalcedon with a welcome degree of reflection still tend to describe the Oriental Orthodox objections as being substantially without merit.

Eutyches and the Oriental Orthodox tradition

The Oriental Orthodox communion has been regularly and routinely accused of following the teaching of Eutyches, the controversial archimandrite of Constantinople. Historical sources, such as the Catholic Encyclopaedia, conflate the teaching of Eutyches with monophysitism, and then insist that all those who speak of one nature may be indifferently called Eutychians or Monophysites . Of course, this understanding would mean that St Cyril of Alexandria must also be called a Eutychian since he speaks of the ‘one nature of God the Word incarnate’. Nor is this a new tendency, since the early opponents of St Cyril also accused him of confusing the Divinity and humanity in Christ , and from the beginning of the post-Chalcedonian period those who refused to say that Christ was ‘in two natures’ were accused of being the followers of Eutyches.

Introduction to Christology

Why worry about doctrine?

Growing up in an Evangelical Protestant home, and playing an active role in my local Evangelical Church, I often heard people complaining that we needed a lot more love and a lot less doctrine! I knew what they meant. They were rejecting narrow and intellectual faith in words and concepts rather than in Christ Himself. But even as an Evangelical I disagreed, because I understood that if we don’t know what we believe, and why, then we may well end up believing all manner of things about God, about the Christian life, about our very salvation, many of which may not be true at all.

Liturgical Worship and Orthodoxy 5

The Apostolic Tradition of Hippolytus is a very interesting little work. Let me remind you that it dates from about 217 AD and records the practices which could be traced back at least to the end of the Apostolic Age. There are prayers in this manual for the consecration and ordination of three categories of ministry that I want to focus on in this short post. They are Bishops, Priests and Deacons. There are also instructions about other categories, but for now we will consider just these three and in this post especially turn to the first.

Liturgical Worship and Orthodoxy 4

I was celebrating the Liturgy this morning and came to a passage which reminded me of something I had been reading in the Apostolic Tradition of Hippolytus from about 217 AD. It was the words…

Priest : Lift up your hearts!
People : We lift them up unto the Lord.
Priest : Let us give thanks unto the Lord!
People : It is meet and right so to do.

When I had some time later today I found my copy of the Apostolic Tradition, written almost 1800 years before the liturgy being offered today and found that Hippolytus instructs the bishop celebrating the liturgy in his own times to pray…

Liturgical Worship and Orthodoxy 3

Before turning to some of the other Christian references to the nature of the worship of the early Church it might be useful to place the documents that will be considered into a time frame. There are so many materials produced in a very short time scale and these reasonably allow us to conclude that what is being described is indicative of the practice of the Apostolic Church and the communities immediately following this period.

I have in front of me a work called the Apostolic Tradition. It is another of the early manuals, like the Didache of the first century, written to describe the organisation of the Church, and to allow leaders of local Churches to maintain a consistent way of life. It was written by Hippolytus, a leader of the Church in Rome during a time when there was some controversy. His aim was to ensure that the congregations under his pastoral care preserved the most conservative and ancient of practices. He was determined to reject anything that was a novelty and to conserve all those things which originated in the Apostolic Age and Tradition.

Liturgical Worship and Orthodoxy 2

We noted in Post 1 that until the most recent times all mainstream Christian worship was liturgical to a great extent. It followed a predetermined order and structure, often with well-established content that congregations would have been used to participating in. Of course the majority Anglican tradition remained manifestly liturgical. So too did the Catholic tradition. But the Methodists also had a liturgical culture, based on the Anglican Book of Common Prayer which Wesley, as an Anglican, had always used. Even Baptists and Presbyterians had and have a liturgy, a structure, to their services and publish service books today to be used in their congregations.

Liturgical Worship and Orthodoxy 1

I was at a liturgical service some years ago. It began with the president or leader of the service offering a prayer, and after his prayer was completed the congregation responded with their agreement in the word, Amen. A hymn was sung by the congregation and then another man with some responsibility in the congregation came to the front and read some notices from a text. Further short prayers for the needs of the congregation and of the world were offered in a litany of short prayers with the congregation responding each time with the word, Amen. A second hymn was sung by the congregation and then the leader read from the scriptures. There was another hymn which the congregation joined in with and then another man with responsibility in the congregation spoke about the scriptures for some time. When he had concluded the congregation sang another hymn and the leader of the service closed the liturgical meeting with a prayer of blessing.