This is a wonderful record of Vespers and the Blessing of the Icons.
Saturday, 22 September 2018
Wednesday, 12 September 2018
|Please click on this picture to see more|
You can see an account on the LMS Clifton website here.
It is wonderful to know that the Rite, feast and language of Holy Mass, which would have been celebrated by the Saints, Martyrs and monks in the Abbey opposite (before its cruel and evil destruction) is once again heard in all its splendour.
The Holy Virgin has been celebrated in Glastonbury from the earliest days of Christianity in our country. She has seen empires and kindgoms rise and fall. She has seen the joy and folly of generations. Our Lady of Glastonbury, our country's first and most ancient shrine, will endure until her Son comes again.
A full set of pictures can be seen following this link.
Tuesday, 11 September 2018
After the last four week, we now know that we human beings do not simply understand things on a surface level, because certain objects like flags or wedding rings have an importance which is beyond their physical appearance. We also know that God has made us this way because He set up His Church for our salvation and the Church has at its centre the same kind of thing (physical things pointing beyond themselves), namely the Sacraments. These Sacraments are parts of our everyday world but they are transformed by the power of God to give us His grace. Bread and wine are no longer bread and wine, but become His Sacred Body and Blood - really, truly and substantially. We know as well that the Saints are there not only as our examples, but as our helping friends. They can pray for us, and they can present our prayers to God in a way which is different to us on earth. They are now in heaven, singing the praises of the One who made them.
Icons are part of this system in the theology and devotion of the East. They are not just pictures, but they participate in the thing that they represent. In the same way that the things we have been talking about for the past few weeks go beyond what they symbolise, so icons are greater than simply pictures of the saints they show. It is as if the saint themselves were there. An iconstasis (a screen where there are lots of icons) it is not just some picture gallery, but rather it is a portal to heaven itself. The icons, then, are venerated as if the saint were present. An icon is a ‘thin space’ between heaven and earth, a place where the two see each other. Like a window, you can see through, but you are not there on the other side. We will have three such windows in the Shrine in Glastonbury - Christ the Life Giver, Our Blessed Lady and St John the Theologian.
The icons were offered by the Karoussos Foundation (which takes its name form the icons’ maker, Ianis Karoussos) as a result of the twinning of Glastonbury with the Holy Isle of Patmos. Both places are touched by the presence and the hand of God. We know that many people search for God in Glastonbury, and although He is here in the tabernacle, they do not find Him, but spend their time in illusions and fantasies. Let us pray that these icons will draw new generations to worship Our Lord and Saviour, and to venerate His Holy Mother.
We now know that we human beings do not simply understand things on a surface level, because certain objects like flags or wedding rings have an importance which is beyond their physical appearance. We also know that God has made us this way because He set up His Church for our salvation and the Church has at its centre the same kind of thing, namely the Sacraments. These are parts of our everyday world but they are transformed by the power of God to give us His grace. Bread and wine is no longer bread and wine, but is His Sacred Body and Blood - really, truly and substantially. We know as well that the Saints are there not only as our examples, but as our helping friends. They can pray for us, and they can present our prayers to God in a way which is different to us on earth. They are now in heaven, singing the praises of the One who made them.
To help us focus on God, and on the saints, we in the Western Church use statues. It is sometimes thrown at us that we Catholics worship them. But we know that that is not true. Not only is it not true, it is nonsense. Why would we worship something that God has made and not God Himself? In the same way that we do not worship the saint who is depicted, so we do not worship the image of that saint. But what we do know is that we human beings need help to remember and to focus. I have a number of pictures of my mother in the presbytery. Now, I know exactly what she is like, I can speak to her on the telephone, and she can come and visit me. But there is no harm in my remembering her at other times, or even being caught off guard and seeing her by surprise! Even if she is not there I can speak to her picture.
This is what statues do for us. They remind us of the person they show, and they help us to talk to them, and through their prayers and support, they lead us to God.
But we know that they are only artefacts, and by that I mean things which are made with human hands. They may be aesthetically beautiful, or they may be ugly. They may be bright and shiny, or they may be dull and subdued. That really is just a matter of taste. Beware of criticising someone else’s taste. You may think a particular statue is terrible, but it may be a true help to someone else’s devotion. It would be like me going into your home and saying “What horrible wallpaper, how can you stand it! I guess you’re going to change that as soon as possible.” Only to find out that you had just spent lots of money on it, and lots of time choosing it.
So for us in the west, in our history, statues have helped us to pray and to ask the prayers of the saints. But that is not the case for the Church in the East. There, a different tradition, an ancient tradition arose to do the same thing, but with a much deeper theology… icons.
Monday, 10 September 2018
We have seen that we human beings take and use the things of God’s creation and fill them with meaning. And we have seen that God Himself has created us with both the ability and the yearning to do this. We know that this is true because God designed the whole of the sacramental life of the Church (the world’s sure means to salvation) around everyday things. They are portals, gateways into the supernatural world and life of grace.
So we now turn to the word of the saints. We are used to invoking the saints (asking for their prayers and their help) in our everyday lives. If you do not, then you are missing a trick. In the same way that I will ask you to pray for me, so we should be asking the saints as well. The saints are those Christian brothers and sisters of ours, who have died and been found worthy of the courts of Heaven. Their souls, we can be sure, are praising God in the heavenly choir. They have been perfected and have attained the purpose for which all life has been created, namely the worship of Almighty God. It is only in doing this that our souls find true rest and true peace.
The saints are not just there to inspire us, though of course they do that. There are many people who inspire me. Those who stood up to the Nazis in the war, or to terrible injustice inspire me. Members of my own family who struggled through a poor working class life, and still managed to get food on the table through honest work inspire me. But apart from their example, they cannot help me become a better person. Mr Mandela might show me stoic resistance in the face of barbarity and racism, but if I find myself in the same situation, I would prefer someone to help me get out of it or help me cope with it, rather than showing me what they did. Example is all well can good, but it does not go as far as I need. Ask any teacher - you can put a thousand examples on the board, but you have to show someone and help them for them to really get it. Saints are much more than just examples. You can read about examples in a book, but how much better if you can speak to them and apply how they lived and what they said to your life and your situation. And how better still, if they could present your case to someone who can really change the situation… someone with real clout.
Welcome to our teaching about the saints. Yes their lives inspire us. But much more than that, they can help us see and put into action the things that we need to do to live lives which are better and more honourable, so that we can be with them for ever in heaven. And more even that that. They can put in a good word for us with Him upstairs. Of course I can do that as well, but they actually live there and they see Him every moment of every day. They’ve got privileged access.
We saw that there are many things in our world and our society which have a greater meaning than what is simply on the surface. I gave the example of a nation’s flag or a wedding ring. These are more than simply a piece of cloth, or a band of gold, rather they point beyond themselves to what they signify.
In the Church, we see this most perfectly in the Sacraments. When Christ instituted the seven Sacraments, He used the normal things of life - for the Eucharist it was bread and wine, for Baptism it was water, the laying on of hands for Ordination and Confirmation, spoken words for Marriage, anointing with oil for the Sacrament of the Sick, and the words of absolution for Confession. But it is through these words or things which we can find around us, that Heaven and Earth are joined, and God acts in them to supernaturally touch our souls. Something happens in the Sacraments, and the agent, the one who does it, is God Himself. He uses the things of the earth to give us access to the things of Heaven. And He does it in a way which is accessible to us. We know what water is, or bread and wine, or oil or the spoken word. We know as well that these things are transformed into something much greater than themselves when they are found in the context of the Holy Rites of the Church, in the action of the Sacraments.
How many times has a child’s head been washed, and water been poured over it, before its baptism? And yet, through this simple sacramental action, it is not their head which is clean, but their very soul - washed clean from original sin, and united to Christ and His Church. And words of love and commitment must have been exchanged by a couple before their wedding day, but when they do it in the sight of God, witnessed by His Priest, something all-together different happens. What we see and feel, what our senses tell us, gives way to something greater, something much more profound. Of course, we can ignore these rites and reduce what is going on to a simple human ritual. In place of Baptism some may think of it as a service of thanksgiving for the safe birth, or a naming ceremony. And Matrimony can be reduced to the level of a commitment of one to another. And in these cases, nothing happens to the souls of those involved. They have been brought down to the human level. But this is not what the Church does, nor is it what the Sacraments do. And as these have been given to us by God Himself, then we have to say that they are part of what God has in mind for us, so that we can live and flourish. He has given us something so much greater, so why would we settle for anything less?
In society, then, we use the things of this world to point beyond themselves, and in our faith, this process is elevated in the most wonderful way in the Sacraments. It is with this in mind that we can see what an icon is, and what place it has in devotion.
As the Shrine in Glastonbury has welcomed the gift of the icons made by Iannis Karoussos, it is good to think about what icons are and how they fit into our devotion.
We are used to the idea in the West that this world and the things within it are not just stuck here with a surface meaning. Indeed the whole of our religious rites are based on the fact that what we see with our eyes and hear with our ears has a deeper meaning and a deeper significance. At every baptism we begin by welcoming the child (or the adult) at the door of the Church. Of course this is practical, as to get to the font (which is usually in the Church building) you have to get through the door first. But that practical reason has a spiritual meaning as well. I explain it to the baptismal group like this - assuming that the child has not decided to let their presence be felt by a loud and sustained cry of ‘delight’ by that point! As we enter a building through a door, so baptism is like a door to the life of grace which God offers us in baptism. Once we have entered a building, then we can look around, perhaps sit down, or shelter from the rain, or the baking sun outside. So with the first of the sacraments, we enter the spiritual life of the Church. We can receive those other six moments when we know that God touches our soul. But we first have to get in. Baptism (like a door) does that - our soul enters the building of God’s grace. A door is not only a door, it is something greater. In the baptismal rite, it is the entry into the opportunities that God opens up for us.
And other objects have a meaning which goes beyond their surface importance. A flag is a piece of cloth with an emblem upon it. It shows which country is being represented. In that way it is like a name badge. If you see a sticky label on someone, then you can assume that that is their name. But for some, a flag is much more - it signifies the nation itself. I don’t think that we in the UK have such a high view of the flag, but in America, where children every morning stand and ‘pledge allegiance to the flag’, you can see that the importance of this piece of cloth,. The way that the flag is understood, is much deeper than here. The flag and the nation are intertwined. So when enemies of the States burn the flag then they are offending America itself.
Or again, a piece of gold twisted into a circle is a nice decorative thing, and may glint pleasantly when it catches the light, but when placed on a finger in a wedding ceremony, then it ‘means’ something more. The bride or groom says “receive this ring as a sign of my love and fidelity”. This material thing points to and symbolises the love and commitment of the two people getting married.
Things of this world are not only of this world, they point beyond it.
Friday, 7 September 2018
ANNUAL PILGRIMAGE TO GLASTONBURY
Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary
Glastonbury, Saturday 8th September 2018
11:30 High Mass
13.00 Lunch in Parish Hall
15.00 Exposition and Confessions
16.30 EndPlease bring a packed lunch – tea and coffee will be available
Thursday, 6 September 2018
|The Karoussos Icons|
|His Excellency, Declan Lang|
His Eminence, Gregorios
|The Bishop, the Archbishop, the Rector of the Shrine|
in the backgroud the daughter of the Icons' maker, Katerina Karoussos.
There will be more photos of the event in the coming days.