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Friday, December 29, 2006

Have another date dear?

I'm sorry but I can't wish you a Happy New Year for another 84 days! Why? Well somebody decided in 1752 in England that we would overturn the tradition of five centuries (before 13th century, New Year started at Christmas), and switch New Year from Lady Day (the Feast of the Annunciation, 25th March) to 1st January which, although it had and has religious significance (St. Basil, Circumcision), was certainly not the reason for the change - at least in England ... the reasons were commercial; Mammon rather than God.

Of course in 1752 the UK also moved on to the Gregorian Calendar, 170 years later than on mainland Europe. There were riots that year as labourers lost 11 days pay in a shortened working month. In 1900 an extra leap day was dropped to adjust the calendar. This explains why the fiscal year ends on 5th April (25th March, Julian Calendar) as it was on this day that the tax men collected taxes as they toured the Medieval Annunciation Spring Fairs - and so began our long love affair with the Inland Revenue!

Oh, and don't get me started on Christmas! "Oh, you Orthodox ... you have a different Christmas don't you?" 'Groan,' you think, 'short or long explanation'? Do I even bother? Oh well, long explanation it is. Well, the Greek Church and tradition has the same calendar as the west. So for us it's the same date for Christmas .... which, by the way we call "Nativity." The Slav tradition and Jerusalem keep to the 'old' Julian Calendar which is now 13 days behind the Gregorian Civil Calendar, (still awake? ... good!). So, when it's 25th December in Moscow on the local Church Calendar it's actually 7th January on the civil (Gregorian) Calendar. (At this point either or both of you are wishing that the topic had never been raised). So even in Russia it's not REALLY 7th January. OK? Maybe not ...

What about Easter? Why does it keep floating about? The UK government has been trying to "tidy things up" and cajole the churches into having a fixed date for decades. So far, (thank God), the churches have not blinked first. It's all to do with the phases of the moon dear and the vernal equinox ... oh, and for the Orthodox, "after Passover." Hands off! We need something left that will infuriate the bean counters at the Treasury. For how long though? The State has been eroding Christian holy-days in England since Henry "The Butcher" VIII decided that the peasants weren't productive enough and had too much time off. The UK now has the lowest number of public holidays in Europe. It's something to do with the Protestant Work Ethic ... but that rant will have to wait for another time.

Happy New Year!

Fr. Gregory

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

St. Gregory the Theologian on The Incarnation

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The very Son of God, older than the ages, the invisible, the incomprehensible, the incorporeal, the beginning of beginning, the light of light, the fountain of life and immortality, the image of the archetype, the immovable seal, the perfect likeness, the definition and word of the Father: he it is who comes to his own image and takes our nature for the good of our nature, and unites himself to an intelligent soul for the good of my soul, to purify like by like. He takes to himself all that is human, except for sin. He was conceived by the Virgin Mary, who had been first prepared in soul and body by the Spirit; his coming to birth had to be treated with honour, virginity had to receive new honour. He comes forth as God, in the human nature he has taken, one being, made of two contrary elements, flesh and spirit. Spirit gave divinity, flesh received it.

He who makes rich is made poor; he takes on the poverty of my flesh, that I may gain the riches of his divinity. He who is full is made empty; he is emptied for a brief space of his glory, that I may share in his fullness. What is this wealth of goodness? What is this mystery that surrounds me? I received the likeness of God, but failed to keep it. He takes on my flesh, to bring salvation to the image, immortality to the flesh. He enters into a second union with us, a union far more wonderful than the first.

Holiness had to be brought to man by the humanity assumed by one who was God, so that God might overcome the tyrant by force and so deliver us and lead us back to himself through the mediation of his Son. The Son arranged this for the honour of the Father, to whom the Son is clearly obedient in all things.

The Good Shepherd, who lays down his life for the sheep, came in search of the straying sheep to the mountains and hills on which you used to offer sacrifice. When he found it, he took it on the shoulders that bore the wood of the cross, and led it back to the life of heaven.

Christ, the light of all lights, follows John, the lamp that goes before him. The Word of God follows the voice in the wilderness; the bridegroom follows the bridegroom’s friend, who prepares a worthy people for the Lord by cleansing them by water in preparation for the Spirit.

We need God to take our flesh and die, that we might live. We have died with him, that we may be purified. We have risen again with him, because we have died with him. We have been glorified with him, because we have risen again with him.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Superheroes Revisited

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(I apologise for my absence from this blog. There have been many commitments this Autumn that have cut back my online work but I can now return to share a few ideas and invite your comments).

Who would have thought that the comic book heroes of the 1940’s, starting with Superman in 1938 would have travelled so well in the popular imagination? These figures seem to have an enduring popularity and they have of course, now migrated to the Big Screen. Much of the exhilaration of these stories concerns the superhuman abilities of the hero matched against the tyranny and unmitigated evil of the adversary. However, much of pathos of the hero or heroine consists in the loss of such powers for we would have no interest in a victory that was uncomplicated or effortless.

Christmas is a time when we commemorate the coming of God to earth as a Man in the Person of our Lord Jesus Christ. Even some Christians though have a peculiar understanding of Christ that relates more to Superman that it does to the Saviour of the Church’s confession. Jesus, however, does not conquer evil by some superhuman ability nor does his power wax and wane to make him more attractive to his followers. He conquers death “by death” as the Orthodox Easter hymn has it. In the Incarnation he “empties himself, taking the form of a servant” (Philippians 2:7). The victory of God is manifest precisely in this apparent defeat … that the promised Messiah dies. The resurrection of Christ is activated by his sacrifice, the laying down of His life for all as both God and Man, healing the breach between the two occasioned by human sin.

This is not good “box office” yet Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ” shows the converting power of this Good News of God’s love in that so many people paid good money to hear this old, old story … yet ever new in each generation.

So, this Christmas time we celebrate not the “all conquering hero” but the Man of sorrows, acquainted with grief; the one in whom there is total victory … but at a price and that price calls us to lay down our lives for both the sake of others and through that for our own salvation.

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