In the calendar of the church we today commemorate Adrei Rublev, the 15th century Russian monk, generally acknowledged as Russia’s greatest iconographer. He was born around 1365 near Moscow, and while very young he entered monastic life and later studied iconography. The icon you see before you here in this chapel is a reproduction of Adrei Rublev’s most famous icon called “The Hospitality of Abraham.” This reproduction was written by our own SSJE brother Eldridge Pendleton. I say, “written” by Br. Eldridge, not “painted” by him, but written because icons tell a story.
If you are anything like me, and I have been around long enough to know that none of you are like me; but I have also been around long enough to know that you are all like me. You all have your own interior cycles of feasts and fasts. Sometimes this interior cycle is connected to the calendar. Sometimes it is even connected to the liturgical cycle of the church. But sometimes it is connected to your gut. You find yourself thinking or feeling or pondering something and you don’t know why or where it has come from and then, days or weeks later you understand. Right, you think. That’s where it is coming from.
We close out the “Week of Prayer for Christian Unity” today with the feast of “The Conversion of Saint Paul the Apostle”. Last Friday we began by celebrating “The Confession of Saint Peter the Apostle”.
A few days ago I held a baby. That might not seem like such a remarkable thing, but I can’t remember the last time I’ve had a chance to do it. I suspect it’s been a couple of years. Babies don’t frequent monasteries much.
Holding a baby is wonderful. That is, it’s an experience full of wonder. I marveled at his tiny fingernails, perfectly shaped on the end of delicate little fingers. And his full brown eyes, captivated by the lights in the ceiling of the chapel. The incredible softness of his head against my cheek, and the sweet smell of his hair. At first he was squirming, but then he settled in, dropped his head on my shoulder and relaxed. I could feel his breathing. I thought, what a miracle! To be alive! To be breathing, and seeing, and hearing, and touching. Wonderful!
People often ask me: “What has surprised you living in the Monastery?” One surprise is how much we acknowledge, encourage and remember death. We acknowledge our own corporate and personal brokenness and fragility more than I experienced in other communities. We say in our Rule of Life that the Christian life is a path of death and detachment, daily letting go and dying to our old selves, letting go of abilities, personal preferences, and expectations for how God will call or use us.[i]
There’s a rich, very dense, chewy cake called pan forte that is an Italian specialty, especially in Tuscany. The version from Siena requires 17 different ingredients, one for each of the 17 contrade, or sections of the city. Honey, sugar, spices, fruits, nuts, flour. The pleasure is in the sheer complexity of this very dense confection, usually served with coffee for dessert, or even for breakfast. Pan forte.
Today we have the pan forte, the “strong bread”, of Gospel stories: the wedding feast at Cana. We have Jesus, the mother of Jesus, the disciples, the wedding guests, the servants, the steward of the feast, the happy couple, the parents and family of the newlyweds. It’s the beginning of a life together; and, indeed, new life could be conceived in the womb of a young mother this very night. And we have water, wine, water turned into wine, plenty of food, music and dancing, surely. It’s the “third day”. There’s the hint of some difficult mother/son dynamics. His hour has not yet come. “It most certainly has,” she might have said. “Do what he tells you.” The glory of Jesus is revealed; the disciples believe. It’s his first “sign”, as John puts it. Do have a look at the wonderful Coptic icon here with Jesus in the claret-red garment and his very pleased mother beside him. Continue reading
Today we remember Antony of Egypt, a founder of monasticism. As a young man gave away a large inheritance and moved out to the desert for disciplined prayer. He lived alone for twenty years. When Antony emerged from that intense solitude, he learned of a great persecution of the church, and he “returned to the city and ministered to those under the sentence of death.”
Today we are celebrating the feast day of our Founder, Father Richard Meux Benson, a priest of the Church of England who, with two companions (one of them an American), established the Society of Saint John the Evangelist in a section of Oxford called “Cowley” on December 27, the feast of St. John the Evangelist, in the year 1866.
Father Benson was a man of God, a theologian and a mystic, a man of deep prayer and an ascetic. His writings can be dense and difficult to comprehend, but they can also be very inspirational. Many things can be said about him, but no one can dispute the fact that he was a man who was in love with God, and that he lived in a state of union with God that so transformed him that countless others were transformed by him – by his words, by his writings, by his example, and by the order he founded and which has tried to carry on his vision. Continue reading
At the beginning of today’s first reading you heard these words: “We love because God first loved us.” (1 Jn 4:19). This tells us that all godly love comes from God, not only this, but all love that is true comes from God. Our love for God is not an automatic response. It is the free gift of God to us and to everyone who believes and accepts God’s love. Continue reading
One of my earliest experiences of exciting worship came when I was about fourteen years old, and found myself among a huge gathering of worshippers in London. Even before things began, the singing started, and got louder and louder. You couldn’t help but pick up the atmosphere, and get swept along. I started singing as well. I remember one of the songs was printed on the booklet we all had: and some people started swaying and waving their arms in the air. But the best moment came at three o’clock, when the Chelsea football team came running onto the pitch, and the crowd exploded with shouts and cheers.
We celebrate today the great feast, the “solemnity” of the Epiphany, otherwise known as “The Manifestation of Christ to the Gentiles.” “Gentiles”, meaning all the peoples of the world other than the twelve tribes of ancient Israel. The Three Wise Men, the Magi, these emissaries from somewhere, represent the peoples of the world not of the twelve tribes. These Wise Men led by a star discover the Creator of the stars of night. And not in one of Herod’s sumptuous palaces, but in an unexpected place. Continue reading
I couldn’t have been more than 4 or 5 at the time. It was a gorgeous summer day and I was out making my rounds of the neighbourhood. I stopped in to see Mr. Ratcliffe who lived three doors down from us. He was a friend and a contemporary of my grandparents and I must have been a frequent visitor to his garden as he wasn’t surprised to see me that day. I headed in through the back gate and found him down on his hands and knees weeding. He greeted me with a smile and called out to me: “Hello Jim!” At that I pulled myself up to my full 3 foot something height, looked him in the face and said sternly, “My name’s not Jim, its Jamie!” And with that I turned around and walked out. Clearly the story got back to my family as it and my reply have become one of the family stories told and remembered frequently over the years. It particularly delighted my father who would push the irony of the story to its limits, because, after all, Mr. Ratcliffe’s name was of course, Jim! And my grandmother’s nickname was, of course, Jim