Today’s Liturgy in Cheltenham

Today was the second occasion on which the United Reformed Church in Prestbury was transformed – for a few hours, at least – into our Orthodox temple, for the celebration of the Divine Liturgy, and yet again, our service honoured the Mother of God.

Our last Cheltenham Liturgy was on the leave-taking of the Nativity of the Mother of God, and today saw our belated celebration of the feast of the Protecting Veil, with the icon of the Mother of God, spreading her omofor over the faithful in the Imperial church of the Blachernae, at the centre of our service.

Our worshippers were extremely patient waiting for the beginning of Liturgy, given the numbers of confessions and communicants, with Mikhail reading the Hours and Oswald reading the whole posledovanie (prayers before communion) in the time it took for confessions and proskomedia.

We are extremely grateful for Maria, Mikhail, Elliot and Olga for taking charge of the kliros, and for Oswald and Alexander serving in our temporary sanctuary.

It was wonderful to have worshippers from Gloucestershire, Wiltshire, Devon and Glamorganshire, and to share such a prayerful Liturgy together, before enjoying lunch in the church-hall. We thank the sisters of the parish for preparing such delicious food, and for providing such beautiful flowers.

We commend our parish to the merciful protection and intercession of our Lady, rejoicing that it remains unswayed by the temptation of schism, and continues to experience the blessings of the Mother of God in its life.

We are all indebted to Father Deacon Mark for his work in making the Liturgy possible and being a source of day-to-day strength and support for our Cheltenham parishioners at a challenging time.

We wish him, Alla and Yuriy a restful and relaxing time in their forthcoming break in Corfu, asking them to bring the prayers of the Cheltenham parish to our beloved father, St Spyridon, the Wonderworker.

May God bless you all!

In Christ – Hieromonk Mark

Greetings on the Feast of the Protecting Veil

Dear all,

I know that it is rather late in the day, but nightshifts make my days back to front and upside down. However, despite the hour, I greet you all and wish you a blessed and holy feast of the Protecting Veil of the Mother of God.

We have so many feasts celebrating the events of her life and her wonder-working icons, but this feast is a concrete celebration of that wonderful reality that is her ‘protection’; a mother’s instinct to protect her children; and the wonder is that there is no limit to the children who can find shelter under her omophorion.

We remember the vision of St Andrew the Fool in the Church of Blachernae, and the Mother of God’s protection of the Imperial City from the siege of the Avars and Persians in 626, but more than that – we celebrate the Mother of God as our constant protection, and as the mother who cares for us, as her children.

The earliest Christian hymn to the Mother of God is one that is very precious for us, and one which we – as a parish dedicated to the Theotokos – hear each week during clergy communion – “Beneath thy mercy… Pod tvoyu milost…”

Beneath thy mercy we take refuge, O Virgin Theotokos: disdain not our supplications in our distress, but deliver us from perils, O only pure and blessed one.

The history of this glorious hymn, celebrating the Protection of the Mother of God, shows how the Christians across the breadth of the ancient world came together to place themselves beneath the Protecting Veil of her love and mercy, with the Mother of God being a source of unity for Christians of every race and nation.

The earliest manuscript comes from the Coptic Christmas Liturgy and is written on a third-century papyrus. The hymn is part of the Armenian, Byzantine, Ambrosian, and Roman Rites (with a few variant words), and was so ingrained in the hearts and souls of the children of the Russian Orthodox Church, that when the service-texts were reformed in the mid 17th century, the faithful still clung to the original Slavonic text of their forebears.

Подъ твою милость, прибѣгаемъ богородице дѣво, молитвъ нашихъ не презри в скорбѣхъ. но ѿ бѣдъ избави насъ,едина чистаѧ и благословеннаѧ.
As we celebrate this feast, let us not only think of ourselves, but with fervent prayers of intercession take our loved-ones, friends, neighbours… and even enemies to the Protection of the Mother of God – asking her to mercifully be their refuge; to come to them in their distress; to hear our supplications for them; to deliver them from perils. And – let us commend those who do not even know the motherhood of the Theotokos to her Protection and intercession. This is the glory of the fifteen decades of prayers, we call the Rule of the Mother of God – offered to her for the intention of others, knowing the power of a mother’s intercession before the Lord of Glory.

Our Lady has become a mirror of God’s boundless and immeasurable love, desiring the salvation and restoration of all of God’s people – not just Christians, but all people, created in the image of likeness of God.

At the foot of the Cross, when the Saviour commended her to St John, with the words “Behold thy mother”, He spoke to the whole of humanity – humanity which was the gift of the Mother of God to our Saviour, who then commended her to us, and who – in the course of time – received His Mother into the glory of heaven, from where she watches over us, protects us, visits us, and works countless miracles.

Most Holy Mother of God, save us!

May God bless you on this wonderful feast.

In Christ –  Hieromonk Mark