Theodora of Alexandria – 9th April

Sister Vassa celebrates another of St Theodora’s feast days, which brings particularly rich associations. A thought-provoking story.

INTERCEDING

On this day lift before God:

  • all who live with shame for things they have done.
  • all who live lives of repentance.
  • all who are falsely accused.
  • all who care for the children of others.
  • all who are forced to take on new identities.

 

Saint Shenoute the Archimandrite – 8th April

This is the famous portrait of Saint Shenoute of Atripe, Archimandrite of the White Monastery Confederation, which has recently been revealed.

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“Tears to him were sweet as honey, so that his eyes were deeply sunken, like holes in walls, and because of the great flow of tears continually streaming from his eyes like water, they had become very black.” There was no question about Shenoute’s extraordinary charisma and power of personality.

He is one of the early desert fathers to have considered the lives of those living outside the monastery walls. He was keenly aware of the poverty of Egyptian peasants and is remembered as the founder of Coptic  culture.

Many miracles are also credited to him. We are told that when Shenoute was once in Constantinople, he “was walking into the king’s palace when he found a grain of wheat which had been thrown away. He picked it up and put it in the pouch in his goat-skin habit until he returned to his monastery.” Back in the monastery in Atripe, when “it was a summertime there, and as the brothers were grinding grain for bread, he took the grain of wheat he had brought with him on his return from the king’s palace, and threw it under the mill-stone; and the Lord sent so great an abundance from the mill-stone that they were quite unable to gather it all up.”

On another occasion, we read of an apparition in which Saint Paul appears to Shenoute, and told him: “Because you love charity and give alms to anyone that asks you and keep all the commandments in all ways because of the love of God, behold! The Lord has sent me to you to comfort you because of what you do for the poor and the destitute.” Paul then presented Shenoute with a loaf of bread and gave it to him; and Shenoute took it and tied it in his scrip. Paul told him to put the loaf in the bread-store from which the brothers distribute the bread. When Shenoute arose from the vision, he found the loaf tied in his scrip; and he took it and secretly put the loaf in the store-room and closed the door. The blessed loaf was the reason for miraculous heaps of bread pouring forth; and “the multitudes and the brothers were supplied for six months by the abundance of bread which came forth from the door of the bread-store, and to this very day that bread-store is called ‘the Store-Room of the Blessing.”

The stick Shenoute is carrying, is a palm branch with its leaves removed. Once, when a well being dug collapsed on the labourers, Shenoute arose and took his palm branch, and went down to the well: “He reached out with his palm-branch and drove it into the wall of the well. It immediately took root and sent up palm-branches and palm-leaves, and the men who were working ate its fruit. From that day to this, the well has never moved again.”

INTERCEDING

On this day lift before God:

  • Coptic Christians
  • All those moved  to action by the plight of the poor around them.
  • All working to feed the hungry.
  • All whose prayers take the form of tears.

 

World Downs Syndrome Day 2018

INTERCEDING

 

On this day lift before God:

  • Every person gifted with an extra chromosome.
  • Every person whose life is enriched through contact with the Downs community.
  • All who work to improve the lives and opportunities of people with Downs Syndrome.
  • All who will find their lives changed by Downs Syndrome in this coming year.

St Columba – 20th March

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This reflection and icon come from  Mull Monastery.

For a few centuries during the first millennium, St Columba’s Monastery on Iona was not only the heart of the Christian Church in Scotland, but also a major centre of art and culture. Iona’s cultural influence extended far beyond the Celtic Isles through the beauty of the illuminated manuscripts written by the monks on Iona. The Book of Kells itself, one of the greatest treasures from that time which is still in existence today, was painted in St Columba’s Monastery.

The Saint himself copied texts and created many manuscripts throughout his entire life. In fact, the very reason for his presence on Iona had something to do with such a manuscript. In his youth, St Columba was involved in a dispute over the rights to keep a manuscript he had copied from an original that belonged to St Finnian. This dispute escalated into a real battle, which led to the death of several people. As punishment, St Columba was exiled from Ireland, which is why he sailed North, to the Scottish Isles. Tradition tells us that his remorse was so great that he purposely kept sailing until he reached an island from where, looking back, he could no longer see his home country. This island was Iona.

This is how we arrived to the idea behind this commission: St Columba working on an illuminated manuscript. However, the really interesting aspect to me was the personal one. As he grew older, as he sat in his cell on the tiny hill close to the monastery church, copying some text or another, was that remorse still with him? Did that terrible fall in his youth still cloud his soul?

These are the thoughts that we hoped to show in the gaze of this humble, old monk. Because these are questions that affect all of us, and we all must – sooner or later – face this anguish. How does one relate to past sins? How does one face old age still carrying the weight of a fallen nature? How does one look forward to the Resurrection while also looking back to one’s past sinfulness?

We started from the intellectual idea of an icon depicting St Columba working on a manuscript. Prayer took us to the end of this journey, where we discovered that what was given to us was, in fact, something much deeper: as icon of repentance. This holy old monk contemplating the sinfulness of his youth is endlessly more relevant to our life than the historical reality of the depicted scene. The spiritual struggle of one’s inner life remains relevant regardless of age. Through this commission, St Columba revealed himself as a teacher of repentance, one who can lead us into old age and help us bring our repentance before Christ in a way that leads to our salvation, not to despair or abandonment.

INTERCEDING

On this day lift before God:

  • all who are haunted by sins or faults from years ago.
  • all whose work is careful and painstaking.
  • all who find Iona a thin place.
  • all who are wary of resurrection this Passiontide.

St Benedict of Sept Fonts aka St Benedict Joseph Labre.

St Benedict appears a puzzle to the catholic community in which he is venerated. The orthodox would, I believe, recognise his charisma as a Fool for Christ.

Follow the link to a well written and thought provoking reflection on his life and ours.

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https://livingchurch.org/covenant/2015/03/11/no-thought-for-the-morrow-the-extravagance-of-christian-perfection/

INTERCEDING

On this day lift before God:

  • All who are homeless.
  • All who do not know where their next meal will come from.
  • All pilgrims.
  • All whose health prevents them following their first calling.
  • All whom the world perceives as failures.
  • All who see themselves as failures.
  • All who are thought to waste their lives on God.

Baldred, Apostle of the Lothians – 6th March

Saint Baldred is sometimes known as “the Apostle of the Lothians”.

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He was a monk at the monastery at Lindisfarne. At some point in the first half of the 700s he established a monastery at Tyninghame which owned large estates covering much of the coastal plain of East Lothian.

St Baldred himself undertook frequent retreats to a hermitage and chapel he had built for himself on Bass Rock.

Echoes of St Baldred occur throughout the area of East Lothian in which he lived and worked. St Baldred’s monastery at Tyninghame was destroyed by the Danes in 941 and the following century the remains of St Baldred were moved to Durham. However, in the 1100s St Baldred’s Church was built on the location of the monastery and this still stands today in the grounds of Tyninghame House.

From the 1300s miracles began to be reported by people drinking at St Baldred’s Well, at Whitekirk. This quickly became a major centre for pilgrimage. In 1413 someone took the trouble to count 15,563 pilgrims visiting St Baldred’s Well, to the considerable benefit of the church established there.

A Papal Bull of 1493 records the Pope’s consent to build a chapel on the site of St Baldred’s own chapel on Bass Rock. This is overlooked by the beautiful beach at Seacliff. St Baldred’s Cave, where he is said to have lived from time to time.

INTERCEDING

On this day lift before God:

  • All whose stories have grown after their deaths.
  • All who live quiet lives devoted to prayer.
  • All who find caves and wells thin places.
  • The people of the Lothians.
  • The Community at Lindisfarne.

The Alert Autiste – 20th February.

Today, I am going slightly off piste, inspired by Nick King’s approach to Samaritans when seeking an answer to the question, ‘Who is my neighbour?’. I heard him speak last night and have been writing a series of Bible Story re-tellings. I hope this one might speak into and out of the Astonishing Community. I live and work in the Lothians of Scotland, so I have set my stories in places familiar to me, yet appropriate to the story.

The Alert Autiste, after John 4.

Jesus had to travel home through Gorebridge. He came to Vogrie park and was tired out by his journey, so he sat by the adventure playground to rest. It was about noon.

A teenage boy came to climb, wearing a nappy and hooting loudly. Jesus said to him, ‘Give me a drink’. The boy glanced at Jesus, laughed and continued to climb. Once sat on top of the climbing frame, the boy looked at Jesus for longer. Jesus repeated, ‘Give me a drink’, this time miming bringing a cup to his lips. The boy copied the gesture and looked all around him, but he didn’t have a drink with him. So the boy made the gesture again, then he put his fingers on his chin, bringing them in arc to his knees.

‘Good signing!’, the voice came from behind Jesus, it was the boy’s carer. He said, our boy here doesn’t speak, he’s canny though. Now he’s asking you for a drink.’

Jesus smiled, ‘Exactly as he should,’ he signalled to the boy to come, ‘I’ll give him living water.’ The carer said to him, ‘Sir, you have no water bottle, and the shop is shut. Where are you going to get that living water? It’s not nice to tease him.’

The boy was now by Jesus’ side, enthusiastically signing, ‘please’. Jesus lay his hand in blessing on the boy’s head and said, you will never be thirsty again.

The boy stood staring deeply into Jesus, then he started to search in Jesus’ pockets. He found a crumb of bread and a small bottle with a drop of wine remaining in it. He smiled handed them to Jesus and put out his hands.

Jesus offered them to him, as a priest might offer communion at an altar rail. The boy stood up, roared with laughing, kissed Jesus’ cheek and ran off. He returned with visitor after visitor to the park in tow. Dragging each and showing them how to kneel before Jesus. Each one spoke to Jesus, trying to understand what had just happened to them. Had they been attacked? Why did the boy want them here? Those who listened received communion too, offering the bread they had brought for the ducks and wine hidden in brown paper bags.

Many people in Vogrie Park believed in Jesus because of the boy’s actions. So when the carers came to him, they asked Jesus to stay with them at their home; and he stayed there for two days.

FOR REFLECTION

In what ways do you feel challenged by this story?

Does this story ring true to the spirit of the gospel?

What questions does it raise in you?

 

INTERCEDING

On this day lift before God:

  • All who are weary from travelling.
  • All who live in this world without words.
  • All whose lives are given to caring for others.
  • All who notice details others might miss.
  • All who have infectious enthusiasm.
  • All who are willing to be led by the most vulnerable.

Nicetas of the Kiev caves – 31st January

A story of delusion and clarity…

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Sometimes it seems that the desire to be good, the desire to be close to God, is the very thing that leads us into times of trial. Nicetas was tonsured in the Kiev-Caves Lavra. Very early in his monastic life he secluded himself in a cave. The abbot Nikon refused to bless such an undertaking, saying:

“My son, at your age such a life will not benefit you. You would do much better to remain with the brethren. In labouring together with them you will surely gain your reward. You yourself saw how our brother Isaac was seduced by the demons in his seclusion and would have perished had he not been saved by the grace of God through the prayers of our holy fathers Anthony and Theodosius .”

“Never, my father,” replied Nicetas, “will I be deceived. I am resolved firmly to withstand the demonic temptations, and I shall pray to the man-loving God that He grant me the gift of working miracles as He did to the recluse Isaac who, to this day, continues to perform many miracles through his prayers .”

“Your desire exceeds your powers. Take heed, my son, that you do not fall on account of your high-mindedness. I would enjoin you rather to serve the brethren, and God will crown you for your obedience.” The abbot’s wise counsel could not tame Nicetas’s ambitious desire to be a recluse. The monastery’s elders, however, did not forsake the headstrong novice in his foolishness; they continued to keep an eye on him and to pray for him.

It was not long before the recluse’s cave became filled with a sweet fragrance and he heard a voice joining his in prayer. He reasoned to himself: If this were not an angel, he would not be praying with me, nor would I sense the fragrance of the Holy Spirit. The undiscerning recluse began to pray still more fervently: “Lord,” he cried out, “appear to me that I might see Thee face to face!” The voice answered: “I shall send you an angel. Follow his will in everything you do.”

Presently a demon appeared in the guise of an angel. First he told the novice to stop praying, that he himself would pray and that the recluse was to occupy himself with reading the Old Testament, and the Old Testament alone. The unfortunate novice was obedient to the demon: he stopped praying, falsely reassured by the constant presence of the “angel” praying at his side. The Old Testament he learned by heart.

The demon began telling Nicetas all that was going on in the world, and on this basis the recluse began to prophesy. Laymen would come to his cave to listen to him. The monastery elders, however, noticed that the recluse never cited the New Testament, only the Old, and they understood that he had fallen into a state of spiritual deception. They broke into the cave, chased out the demon by their prayers, and dragged the recluse from his place of seclusion.

No sooner was Nicetas parted from the demon than he forgot all he had learned of the Old Testament; he was convinced that he had never read it. Indeed, it appeared that he had even forgotten how to read, and when he came round he had to be taught all over again, like a child.

Nicetas understood his error and wept bitterly in repentance. He began to struggle on the true path of humility and obedience. And the Lord, seeing his fervour, forgave him, in token of which He made Nicetas a shepherd of His flock. Elevated in 1096 to the episcopal throne of Great Novgorod, Nikita was granted grace to work miracles. The Lord thereby assured the faithful that their archpastor had been fully cleansed of his delusion and that his labours of repentance had found favour with God. Once, for example, during a severe drought, God answered his prayer for rain; another time, a fire in the city was extinguished by his prayers. For 13 years St. Nicetas skillfully guided his flock before leaving this world on January 30, 1108 to enter into eternal and blessed repose with the saints.

(Based on a translation from 1000 Years of Russian Sanctity compiled by Nun Taisia; Jordanville, 1983.)

INTERCEDING
On this day lift before God:
  • All blessed with the desire to seek God.
  • All tempted to run before they can walk.
  • All who try so hard they become deluded.
  • Those who hear voices and see visions that do not guide them to the good.
  • All who faithfully pray for and support deluded people.
  • Those gifted with breaking delusions in healthy ways.