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Wednesday, 27 May 2020

Explanation of the Ascension Icon

© Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Christ ascended into heaven on the fortieth day after His Resurrection. By His ascension in the Body, Christ raised our corrupted human nature and glorified it. The Feast of the Ascension always falls on the Thursday after the Sunday of the Blind Man which is exactly forty days after Pascha. 

The Acts of the Apostles, written by the Apostle Luke, starts with an account of Christ’s Ascension:
The former account I made, O Theophilus, of all that Jesus began both to do and teach, until the day in which He was taken up, after He through the Holy Spirit had given commandments to the apostles whom He had chosen: to whom He also presented Himself alive after His suffering by many infallible proofs, being seen by them during forty days and speaking of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God (Acts 1: 1-3).
We know from the account in the Acts of the Apostles that Christ ascended from the Mount of Olives. In this icon, the mountain is represented by the rocks and the stylized olive trees which appear to sway and point towards Christ. 

Christ is shown blessing with His right hand. We hear in the Gospel: 'He blessed them, He was parted from them, and carried up into heaven' (Luke: 24:51). In His left hand He holds a scroll which is a symbol of His teaching.

The concentric circles that surround Christ are called a mandorla in iconography. A mandorla portrays Christ’s glory, and in this icon also signifies the highest heavens to which Christ is ascending. Two  angels are shown supporting the mandorla. In some icons (see below) the angels are shown blowing trumpets recalling the verse in the Psalms: ‘God is gone up in jubilation, the Lord with the voice of the trumpet’ (Ps. 46:5). We greet each other with this psalm verse during the feast of the Ascension. The greeting is 'God is gone up in jubilation.' The reply is 'The Lord with the voice of the trumpet.'
  • The Ascension of Our Lord, Russian icon from the Malo-Kirillov Monastery, Novgorod School, 1543 downloaded from PBS LearningMedia, http://www.pbslearningmedia.org.
  • This work is out of copyright, with photographic rights held by the Bridgeman Art Library.
Christ is shown seated upon a rainbow or sometimes on a throne. He is seated because He was received up into heaven to sit at the right hand of God the Father. Christ the Son of God is one in essence with the Father and the Holy Spirit - and has never been separated from them. The throne and the rainbow refer to this verse in the Revelation of Saint John: 

Immediately I was in the Spirit; and behold, a throne set in heaven, and One sat on the throne. And He who sat there was like a jasper and a sardius stone in appearance; and there was a rainbow around the throne, in appearance like an emerald (Rev. 4:2-3).
The Theotokos stands directly underneath Christ, in the centre of the foreground. She does not look up, but looks peacefully toward us. She holds her left hand closer to her chest, with palm outward - as do the the martyrs in their icons. This signifies the faith of the Church. In contrast to the apostles, the Theotokos appears still and peaceful. She, unlike the apostles, has a halo around her head signifying that while the apostles waited for the coming of the Holy Spirit, she had been chosen by God and was already overshadowed by the Holy Spirit (see Luke 1:35). In some icons she stretches out her arms in prayer signifying the prayers of the Church.

Two angels stand either side of the Theotokos. They point to Christ  illustrating the account of the Ascension in the Acts of the Apostles: ‘Ye men of Galilee why stand ye gazing up into heaven? This same Jesus, Who is taken up from you into heaven shall come again in like manner as ye have seen him go into heaven’ (Acts 1:11). In some icons, the angels hold scrolls with this verse on them. The Ascension icon therefore foretells the Second Coming of Christ. The Mother of God and the Apostles are an image of the Church waiting for the Second Coming.

The apostles are arranged either side of the Theotokos - six on the right and six on the left. St. Paul is on her right, and St. Peter on her left. In contrast to the Theotokos, the heads of the apostles are lifted up, and some hold their hands out in amazement or gesture towards Christ ascending. St. Paul shields his eyes with his right hand recalling his being blinded by the light of Christ on the road to Damascus. 

Christ ascended before St. Paul converted to Christianity, but he is depicted for an important theological reason. The Theotokos and the apostles in the foreground represent the Church awaiting the coming of the Holy Spirit. At Pentecost the Holy Spirit descended not only on the apostles present, but also established the whole Church from among the nations of the world. St. Paul's presence signifies the completeness of the Church. He is also included for another important reason. Just before the Ascension, Christ commanded His apostles to ‘go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature' (Mark 16:15). St. Paul, by His preaching of the Gospel brought countless people to the Faith which is why He is called  God’s chosen vessel and  the Chief of the Apostles.

Christ foretold both His Ascension and the coming of the Comforter, the Holy Spirit, at Pentecost when He told His disciples: ‘It is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Comforter will not come to you; but if I depart, I will send Him to you’(John 16:7).  At this time, it is not possible for most Orthodox Christians to celebrate these important feasts by partaking of the Holy Mysteries and by venerating the icons in church. However, when we look on this icon, we should call to mind the conclusion of the oikos of Ascension matins: ‘The bountiful Giver of gifts distributed gifts unto His Apostles, calling to them as a Father, and strengthening them; He guided them like sons and said unto them: I am not separated from you; I am with you, and no one can be against you.'

Tuesday, 12 May 2020

Explanation of the Mid-Pentecost Icon

On the Wednesday of the Fourth Week after Pascha we celebrate the feast of Mid-Pentecost. This feast always falls on a Wednesday because it is exactly halfway between Pascha and Pentecost. The icon of the Feast shows Christ addressing the Jewish elders in the Temple. We hear about this in the Gospel reading for Mid-Pentecost which begins:

Now when Mid-feast was come, Jesus went up into the temple, and taught. And the Jews marvelled, saying, How knoweth this Man letters, having never learned?’ Jesus answered them, and said, My doctrine is not Mine, but His that sent Me.

The Jewish feast that is mentioned in the Gospel is the Feast of Tabernacles. The Fathers teach that Christ's teaching in the Temple on this feast prefigured the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. The Gospel for the Feast of Pentecost is a continuation of the account of Christ teaching in the Temple of the Feast of Tabernacles:

In the last day, that great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried, saying, If any man thirst, let him come unto me, and drink. He that believeth on Me, as the scripture hath said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water. But this spake He of the Spirit, which they that believe on Him should receive: for the Holy Spirit was not yet given; because that Jesus was not yet glorified.

Christ foretells the coming of the Holy Spirit as ‘rivers of living water’. This is why we bless Holy Water on the Feast of  Mid-Pentecost. Water is also mentioned in the Dismissal Hymn of the Feast: 

In the midst of the feast give Thou my thirsty soul to drink of the waters of piety; for Thou, O Saviour, didst cry out to all: Whosoever is thirsty, let him come to Me and drink. Wherefore, O Well-spring of life, Christ our God, glory be to Thee. 

The icon of Mid-Pentecost shows Christ sitting on a semi-circular seat and teaching the Pharisees, Sadducees and Scribes seated either side of him.
The roll of parchment in Christ’s left hand signifies His teaching. He holds out His right hand to illustrate His words. The men are shown in a state of amazement and conferring with one another. This illustrates their words recorded in the Gospels: ‘How knoweth this man letters, having never learned?'  The semi-circular seating arrangement is also found in the Icon of Pentecost - illustrating that this feast is a prefiguring of the coming of the Holy Spirit.

Christ is portrayed without a beard as the Gospel records that He was twelve years old at the time. Icons that portray Christ as a youth are called icons of Emmanuel which means ‘God with us’. These icons teach us that Christ is the Wisdom and Word of God incarnate. He was born in Bethlehem and grew into a man in every way like us - except without sin.

Saturday, 18 April 2020

Midnight Office and Paschal Matins

Midnight Office


We start this service at around 11.30 p.m. at Brookwood. All the candles and lamps in the church are extinguished except for one above the Holy Table. The complete service you need for Sunday morning is in the Blue Boston Prayer Book with the exception of the Gospel Reading which we have included below. A parishioner has mentioned that the page numbers in the Second Edition of the Prayer Book are different. We’ve included both.

Midnight Office begins with: ‘Through the prayers of our holy fathers, Lord Jesus Christ our God, have mercy on us.' We then read from Glory to Thee O God...’ and end with Psalm 50 (see p.15-17 Prayer Book 1st Edition; p. 31-33 2nd Edition)

We now read the canon for Great Saturday in the Lenten Triodion (see p. 646). We sing the irmos and read four troparia in each ode.

Before the first two we say: ‘Glory to Thee O God, Glory to Thee’
Before the third: ‘Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit.'
Before the fourth: ‘Both now an ever and unto the ages of ages. Amen.'

We leave out the sessional hymns, the kontakion and ikos.

At the end of the canon we say ‘Holy God to Our Father’ and read the troparion ‘When Thou didst descend unto death…’ (p.158 Prayer Book 1st Edition; p. 174 2nd Edition)

We end Midnight Office with 'Glory…. Both now… Lord have mercy (thrice). Through the prayers of our holy fathers, Lord Jesus Christ our God, have mercy on us’.

Paschal Matins

This service is complete in the Boston Prayer Book ’ (p.161 1st Edition; p. 177 2nd Edition). We light our candles from the single light in the icon corner. As we light our candles we sing the hymn ‘Come receive ye light…’

This is the point where we process around the church three times. You can do this around your house too. While we process we sing the hymn: ‘Angels in the heavens…’

At the end of the procession we read the Gospel from St. Mark:

When the sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome, had bought sweet spices, that they might come and anoint him. And very early in the morning the first day of the week, they came unto the sepulchre at the rising of the sun. And they said among themselves, Who shall roll us away the stone from the door of the sepulchre? And when they looked, they saw that the stone was rolled away: for it was very great. And entering into the sepulchre, they saw a young man sitting on the right side, clothed in a long white garment; and they were affrighted. And he saith unto them, Be not affrighted: Ye seek Jesus of Nazareth, which was crucified: he is risen; he is not here: behold the place where they laid him. But go your way, tell his disciples and Peter that he goeth before you into Galilee: there shall ye see him, as he said unto you. And they went out quickly, and fled from the sepulchre; for they trembled and were amazed: neither said they any thing to any man; for they were afraid.
 
Now we say: Through the prayers of our holy fathers, Lord Jesus Christ our God, have mercy on us’.

Then we sing the Paschal Troparion three times: 'Christ is risen from the dead, by death hath He trampled down death, and one those in the graves hath He bestowed life.'

We then say the verse: ‘Let God arise….’ All this is in the Boston Prayer Book. We continue following the Prayer Book  until p.182 in the 1st Edition (p.198 2nd Edition). At the end of the verse: 'It is the day of Resurrection; let us be radiant O ye peoples…’ we exchange the Paschal kiss as we do in church.

Then we read the Catechetical Homily and then sing the Dismissal Hymn of Saint John Chrysostom.

We now read or sing the Paschal Hour (p.186 1st Edition; p.202 2nd Edition) and this completes the service.

Paschal Vespers


On Sunday afternoon, we celebrate Paschal Vespers with the reading of the Gospel in many languages. The text for the service for Vespers is here. The translation is slightly different to the one we use, but it will do. Replace all the long litanies with ‘Lord have mercy (twelve times) Glory… Both now…'

At Brookwood we read the Gospel at Vespers in different languages. To do this we split up the reading into three sections.

1) John 20: 19-20
2) John 20: 21-23
3) John 20: 24-25
 
On the same day at evening, being the first day of the week, when the doors were shut where the disciples were assembled for fear of the Jews, came Jesus and stood in the midst, and saith unto them, Peace be unto you. And when he had so said, he shewed unto them his hands and his side. Then were the disciples glad, when they saw the Lord.

Then said Jesus to them again, Peace be unto you: as my Father hath sent me, even so send I you. And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and saith unto them, Receive ye the Holy Spirit: Whose soever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them; and whose soever sins ye retain, they are retained.

But Thomas, one of the twelve, called Didymus, was not with them when Jesus came. The other disciples therefore said unto him, We have seen the Lord. But he said unto them, Except I shall see in his hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and thrust my hand into his side, I will not believe.

We read the Gospel in the following way. The first section is read in the different languages. When all the readers have finished this first section, we start reading the second section with the same readers in the same order. The third section follows the same order.



Thursday, 16 April 2020

Great Saturday Matins

The Service of Lamentations is part of the Matins of Great Saturday. In this service we celebrate ‘the most blessed Sabbath whereon Christ having slept, shall arise on the third day’. Don’t forget that the Orthodox Christian Sabbath is Saturday and not Sunday. Saturday is special for us because the Jews in the Old Testament kept the Sabbath as a day of rest.  Christ's rest in the tomb on this day fulfilled the Sabbath.

To read Great Saturday Matins at home, we need the following books:
  • Blue HTM Boston Prayer Book
  • Lenten Triodion
  • HTM Lamentations Book 
  •  
If you don't have a copy of the Lamentations book don't worry. The words and music are available here: First Stasis; Second Stasis; Third Stasis.

Reading services at home is an act of prayer. You are praying with the other members of the Orthodox Church – both those at home, and the monastics praying in monasteries and convents all over the world. Don’t worry about getting everything ‘right’ – it’s not possible to learn Matins overnight. Our book The Grace of the Spirit might help you understand things better. Thanks to John from Canada for pointing out that epub download link was broken. It's fixed now!

We have simplified things in this guide. However, when reading the services it's important to remember the following:
  • We start and end a reader service with: ‘Through the prayers of our holy fathers, Lord Jesus Christ, our God, have mercy on us’.
  • We read the Gospel in a normal voice. We leave out the entire introduction too.
  • We leave out all the litanies.

Great Saturday Matins 

Matins starts on p.47 of the Boston Prayer book. Read from page 47 to page 63. This includes the Six Psalms and finishes with ‘God is the Lord’.

At end of ‘God is the Lord…’ we sing the Dismissal Hymns of Great Saturday. These are on page 158 and 159 in the Blue Prayer book.

We sing them in the following order:

The Noble Joseph….
Glory…. ‘When Thou didst descend….’
Both now… ‘Unto the myrrh-bearing women…’

Now we sing the Lamentations which begin ‘In a grave they laid thee….’

At the end of the Third Stasis of the Lamentations (p.31) we immediately sing the Evlogitaria of the Resurrection. This is the hymn we sing on Sunday, but on Great Saturday it's sung to a longer melody. The text is in the Blue Boston Prayer Book on p. 65-66. It ends with Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia, Glory to Thee O God (thrice). 

This is followed by the sessional hymns on p.646 in the Lenten Triodion and then Psalm 50 (p.4 of the Boston Prayer Book).

Now we read the Canon in the Lenten Triodion (p.646) Just read this through (without repeating) until the end (p. 651).

We now sing Holy is the Lord our God (thrice) followed by the Praises (page 78 in the Boston Prayer book). If you don’t know how the Praises work, just read the verses for ‘Lauds’ on page 652 of the Lenten Triodion.

After ‘both now…’ we sing ‘Most Blessed art Thou O Virgin Theotokos…’ This hymn is in the Blue Boston Prayer Book (p.81)


Now we sing the Great Doxology as we do every Sunday. This is in the Boston Prayer Book (p.82).

At the end we don’t sing ‘Today is salvation….’ but the Dismissal Hymns of Great Saturday. These are on page 158 and 159 in the Blue Prayer book.

We sing them in the following order:

The Noble Joseph….
Glory…. ‘When Thou didst descend….’
Both now… ‘Unto the myrrh-bearing women…’

After these Dismissal Hymns we sing the Troparion of the Prophecy in the Second Tone (Lenten Triodion p. 653). We sing this twice with a ‘Glory.. Both now…’ in between.

Now we sing the first Prokeimenon in the Lenten Triodion followed by the following reading:

Ezekiel 37: 1-14

The hand of the Lord was upon me, and carried me out in the spirit of the Lord, and set me down in the midst of the valley which was full of bones, And caused me to pass by them round about: and, behold, there were very many in the open valley; and, lo, they were very dry. And he said unto me, Son of man, can these bones live? And I answered, O Lord God, thou knowest. Again he said unto me, Prophesy upon these bones, and say unto them, O ye dry bones, hear the word of the Lord. Thus saith the Lord God unto these bones; Behold, I will cause breath to enter into you, and ye shall live: And I will lay sinews upon you, and will bring up flesh upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and ye shall live; and ye shall know that I am the Lord. So I prophesied as I was commanded: and as I prophesied, there was a noise, and behold a shaking, and the bones came together, bone to his bone. And when I beheld, lo, the sinews and the flesh came up upon them, and the skin covered them above: but there was no breath in them. Then said he unto me, Prophesy unto the wind, prophesy, son of man, and say to the wind, Thus saith the Lord God; Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe upon these slain, that they may live. So I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived, and stood up upon their feet, an exceeding great army. Then he said unto me, Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel: behold, they say, Our bones are dried, and our hope is lost: we are cut off for our parts. Therefore prophesy and say unto them, Thus saith the Lord God; Behold, O my people, I will open your graves, and cause you to come up out of your graves, and bring you into the land of Israel. And ye shall know that I am the Lord, when I have opened your graves, O my people, and brought you up out of your graves, And shall put my spirit in you, and ye shall live, and I shall place you in your own land: then shall ye know that I the Lord have spoken it, and performed it, saith the Lord.

We now read the second Prokeimenon in the Lenten Triodion followed by this reading from the New Testament:

Brethren, know ye not that a little leaven leaveneth the whole lump? Purge out therefore the old leaven, that ye may be a new lump, as ye are unleavened. For even Christ our passover is sacrificed for us: Therefore let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, neither with the leaven of malice and wickedness; but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth. Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us: for it is written, Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree: That the blessing of Abraham might come on the Gentiles through Jesus Christ; that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith.

We now read the following Gospel reading:

On the next day, that followed the day of the preparation, the chief priests and Pharisees came together unto Pilate, Saying, Sir, we remember that that deceiver said, while he was yet alive, After three days I will rise again. Command therefore that the sepulchre be made sure until the third day, lest his disciples come by night, and steal him away, and say unto the people, He is risen from the dead: so the last error shall be worse than the first. Pilate said unto them, Ye have a watch: go your way, make it as sure as ye can. So they went, and made the sepulchre sure, sealing the stone, and setting a watch.

Glory…. Both now… Lord have mercy (thrice) Through the prayers of our holy fathers, Lord Jesus Christ our God, have mercy on us. Amen.

At the end we sing the hymn from the Lamentations Book (p.53)

Wednesday, 15 April 2020

Great Friday Matins

Matins is the morning service of the Orthodox Church, but the Great Friday matins service is normally celebrated on Thursday evening.  This is the service of the Holy and Saving Passion of Christ during which twelve sections of the Gospels are read.

This year, due to the Coronavirus Pandemic it’s not possible for laypeople to attend our services.  Some churches and monasteries live-stream their services. Others have published advice about reading services at home.

The services of Great Week are found in a book called the Triodion.  Either the Ware’s Lenten Triodion or the new Holy Transfiguration Monastery Holy Week book will do. The HTM book has all the hymns and readings needed in one place.

However, if you’re using the Lenten Triodion, you will notice that many of the hymns and psalms are different to the ones you normally hear in church. This is because we use the HTM translation.  Our simple guide is based on our usage at St. Edward’s and assumes that you only have a blue Boston Prayer Book and a Lenten Triodion.

We have simplified things a little, because reading services at home is an act of prayer. You are praying with the other members of the Orthodox Church – both those at home, and the monastics praying in monasteries all over the world.  Don’t worry about getting everything ‘right’ – it’s not possible to learn Matins overnight. 

Our book 'The Grace of the Spirit' has an overview of the structure of Matins which might be helpful. We have also linked to some music too.  The following three points are worth remembering:
  • We start and end a reader service with: ‘Through the prayers of our holy fathers, Lord Jesus Christ, our God, have mercy on us’. 
  • We read the Gospel in a normal voice. We leave out the entire introduction too. 
  • We leave out all the litanies.

      Great Friday Matins 

      The service starts on p.47 of the Boston Prayer book. Read from page 47 to page 63. Finish this section on ‘Our hope, O Lord, Glory be to Thee.’ 

      We then sing Alleluia three times. And then the verse: 'Out of the night my spirit waketh at dawn unto Thee, O God, for Thy commandments are a light upon the earth.'  
      We then sing ‘Alleluia’ three times after each of the following verses: 
       
      • Learn righteousness ye that dwell upon the earth.
      • Zeal shall lay hold upon an uninstructed people and now fire shall consume the adversaries. 
      • Add more evils upon them, O Lord, add more evils upon them that are glorious upon the earth.
       
      We now sing the Troparion ‘When the glorious disciples were enlightened…’ three times. You can find this in the blue Boston Prayer book (p.157). Straightaway we read the First Gospel (p. 565 Lenten Triodion) After the Gospel we sing (or read) the antiphons in the Lenten Triodion. You don’t need to repeat the verses. Now read or sing the sessional hymn.

      Now read the Second Gospel Reading followed by the antiphons and sessional hymn in the Lenten Triodion. This sequence is unchanged after the Third, Fourth and Fifth Gospel Readings. Just carry on reading what is in the Lenten Triodion.

      After the Sixth Gospel Reading we sing or read the Beatitudes and the verses (Lenten Triodion p.589) followed by the Prokeimenon.

      After the Seventh Gospel read Psalm 50 (page 4 in the Boston Prayer Book). After the Eighth Gospel we read the canon. Just read this straight through.  Don’t repeat any of the verses. 

      At the end of the canon we sing or read the exapostilarion followed immediately by the Ninth Gospel.  We now sing the Praises (page 78 in the Boston Prayer book). If you don’t know how the Praises work,  you can just read the verses for ‘Lauds’ on page 596 of the Lenten Triodion.

      Now read the Tenth Gospel Followed by the Small Doxology (see p. 19 in Boston Prayer book). Now Read the Eleventh Gospel followed by the Aposticha Verses  (p. 598 in Lenten Triodion).

      Now read the Twelfth Gospel followed by this prayer: ‘It is good to give praise unto the Lord and to chant unto Thy Name O Most High, to proclaim in the morning Thy mercy and Thy truth by night. 

      Now read ‘Holy God to our Father’ followed by the troparion on page 600 of the Lenten Triodion: ‘Thou hast redeemed us from the curse of the Law…’

      Glory…. Both now… Lord have mercy (thrice). Through the prayers of our holy fathers, Lord Jesus Christ our God, have mercy on us. Amen.



      Thursday, 21 February 2019

      Orthodox Aid Fund

      IN the civil year, 2018, our Brotherhood’s “Orthodox Aid Fund” gave a total of £14,745.87 to various, church, humanitarian and environmental causes. Of this, £11,682.35 was distributed to churches and communities of our own Synod (none of them in our own diocese) and the sister Traditionalist Orthodox Churches, both to support them and for their charitable work, such as that of the Saint Philaret the Merciful Orthodox Women’s Guild in Greece. £3,063.52 was distributed to other charities unrelated to our Church. In addition to this, we collected a further £3,380 for Bishop Ambrose’s Appeal for the Saint Peter’s Clinic in the Kananga Diocese of our Church in the Democratic Republic of Congo. This we will give to His Grace when he comes for his pastoral visitation during our celebration of Christmas, and has not been included in this year’s total above. We are also aware that many of our people have answered the various appeals that we have publicized over the year directly, without having recourse to our fund. We are grateful to our Saviour that we have been able to achieve this and thank all of those of you who have given so generously. May God bless you all in the coming year, and more especially in the life of the Age to Come.