Sunday, 5 April 2015

Homily for a Chrismation, Ukrainian Greek Catholic Cathedral, London, 4th April 2015

Reception and Chrismation of Thomas Daniel, Ukrainian Greek Catholic Cathedral of the Holy Family, London, 4th April 2015

What has just happened to you, Thomas? This must be a question in the minds of your friends and family here with you today to see these ancient ceremonies at this decisive moment in the spiritual journey on which the Lord has led you so far.

But it is what has happened within you – not the journey and not the rites along the way – that this celebration is about: the change of heart within you and the grace of God that has given you a new purpose.

You will notice that the readings from the Scriptures concern Baptism, and yet your Baptism took place six years ago. This is because today is the fulfilment of what was begun at that point, and also because as people who live in Christ, we all of us live in that moment of Baptism like His: we are constantly washed in the water of new life; we are always being shown as the Father’s own beloved children; we are always dwelt upon by the Holy Spirit.

At this time in the Church’s year, we understand that the Baptism of Jesus marks less the inauguration of His public ministry than the forthcoming events that will show the world what a Son of God truly looks like. What looked like the glory of Heaven at the Jordan river looked like disgrace on the hill of Calvary; but it was the same. The One shown to be the Son of God in His Baptism is shown again on the Cross, where he crucifies not Himself but the death and sin that destroy us. So at our Baptism, something about us must die, if we are to be son and daughter to God. St Paul speaks of Baptism as the burial of our sinful bodies (Romans 6.4) so that new bodies, new people, can rise up in their place. Our old life dies, not to make us less than we are, but to make more of us. This is the way that death and sin can have no more dominion over us. We are united with Christ; and so it is not just He Who is risen but we too, who have “a resurrection like His” (Romans 6.5). So it is that there is grace upon grace, glory upon glory, Heaven on earth, “on earth as it is in Heaven” (Matthew 6.10). That is to say that the point marking the beginning of your journey into God at your Baptism, was the point marking God’s journey into you. From the point you were baptised into the Name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, you began to take up the Lord’s Cross as your own, and the same Cross that freed your from sin and saved you for everlasting life; you became a son of God, in whom the Holy Spirit came to dwell and to infuse you with the very presence of God.

Because of all this, today we give thanks for your Holy Baptism on 12th July six years ago at your Baptist Church in Buckinghamshire. At the beginning of our service, we made the sign of the Cross three times over you, in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, partly to recall that life-changing moment, but partly, too, to mark you as a Christian with a name and a reputation that shows you are a son of God not only in moments of glory and exaltation like today, but also in times of difficulty and even suffering.

The next thing we did was to ask God for the light of His presence, so that you could relive the promises you made six years ago. You physically turned your back on evil and you turned towards Christ, again resolving to serve Him above all things.

We thank God, too, for your parents, who shared their own Christian faith with you as you grew up. Today you put your faith into words and declared the whole Church’s belief in God, confirming that it was your own faith. You kissed the Holy Gospels, mindful that Judas kissed the Lord to betray Him, while you kiss Him out of love and confidence in His promises.

Then you were led fully into the Church, as we sang the psalm that asks for the light of God’s face to shine upon us. Your white shirt evoked the memory of when the newly baptised, as new people, having left their old clothes behind, donned white robes, since they had been washed clean and pure. We sang, “Grant me a robe of light, O most merciful Christ our God, Who clothe Yourself with light as with a garment.” So to this person in white – you, Thomas Daniel – we added illumination with the symbol of candle for the Light of Christ Himself, shining not only upon you and within your heart, but also shining out of you.

Then we welcomed you into the fullness of the Church’s fellowship, giving you the peace of Christ, just as He Himself gave it to His disciples - on the storm-tossed boat and the upper room after He had risen from the dead.

This made you ready for the most solemn part of the service, your Chrismation. Just as the Lord’s Anointed is known as the Christ – Christ means “anointed” – so the Church anointed you, to show you to be a Christian, completing what was begun six years ago. For your anointing with Chrism - the sacred perfumed oil that is also used to ordain priests and consecrate monarchs - is the second part that follows your Baptism in water. Recall how first John baptised the Lord, then the Lord’s voice penetrated Him Who is His own Word, and the Holy Spirit came not only to rest upon Jesus but to be in every corner of His life and being. This was what happened to you, Thomas Daniel, whose heart and life has been penetrated by the call of the Father: in the Sacrament of the Church which in the West is called Confirmation, the Holy Spirit came upon you, while we anointed every corner of your life and body, increasing in you His gift of faith, with the Divine Wisdom that we are all to be holy people dedicated to the Lord and His Kingdom, and with the abiding presence of God in all His glory, whatever we may do, whatever may happen – for “who shall separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus?” (Romans 8.35) This is why at the moment of your Chrismation, the Church spoke to you, saying that it was finally, unrepeatably “the seal of the gift of the Holy Spirit”. A wonderful old English hymn reflects this too:

Thine for ever! God of love,
Hear us from Thy throne above:
Thine for ever may we be
Here and in eternity.
(Mary Fawler Hooper Maude, 1847)

The person who is “Thine for ever” is called Thomas. In the culture of western Christianity, St Thomas is known as Doubting Thomas, because he needed proof and so was the last of the apostles to declare his faith in the Risen Lord. To the East however, far from being one who ran away, or like St Peter who denied Christ in His Passion, or St John who alone of the apostleswas asked to see Christ through to his end, St Thomas was one who did what the Lord had commanded. With the others he scattered to his own place (John 16.32), there to wait for the power of God to come. Thus St Thomas is the apostle of faithful waiting and expectation, who “cries out in the sincerity of his love, ‘My Lord and my God’ “ (Kontakion of the Feast of Holy and Glorious Apostle Thomas, 6th October). He is the one whose faith is firm because it has been put to the test. He is the one whose zealous faith shows the Risen Lord to be no mere spiritual opinion but a concrete reality: “O Christ God, Thomas explored Your vivifying side with an eager hand” (Kontakion of the Sunday of St Thomas). Therefore, on St Thomas’ word and touch hangs the faith of every successive generation, every individual Christian since. As the Lord said to him, “Blessed are those who have not seen, yet believe” (John 20.29). Thomas, this is the best of patrons for you. He was the great evangelist of Asia, taking the gospel to found the Church as far away as China and in Syria, Iraq, Iran and India where, even in adversity and suffering, it has flowered to this day. May his prayers always guard your faith and make it firm, eager and clear like his.

The person who is “Thine for ever” is also called Daniel. In this the Lord’s providence and wisdom shows itself once more, because He has led you to find Him and grow more deeply into His life through our Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church. For Daniel, or Danylo as we know him, was one of the great Christian kings of Galicia and Ruthenia, in what is now Ukraine. He was crowned by a representative of the Pope and worked tirelessly when other parts of Eastern Europe - including Russia - were ruled over by the Mongols, in order to keep the light of Christ and His Kingdom alive in the hearts and imaginations of His people. You fell more deeply in love with Christ and His life in the Church when you went as a Baptist missionary to Romania and witnessed for the first time the worship of the Christians who had been evangelised by the emissaries of the Church of Byzantium. This Byzantine tradition is shared between the Orthodox and the Catholic Christians of Eastern Europe, from Greece to Russia, from Georgia to Finland, from Romania to Ukraine. May God who has called you more closely to His side in our Church, now that it is across the world in the west, inspire you with the fidelity of another of His Son’s disciple in whatever it is that you will do in your life ahead and however you come to serve in His Kingdom.

Finally, in our Eastern Church, Chrismation is often seen as the ordination rite of the lay follower of Jesus Christ. We have already heard that Chrism is used to consecrate kings. It is unlikely that you will be a second King Daniel; but it is certain that the Lord has called you to His service for some “definite purpose that he has not committed to another” (Cardinal Newman). For this lifelong task you will need a supply of constant grace and sustenance. So it is that at the Divine Liturgy that now follows, you will for the first time receive the Body and Blood of our Lord and God and Saviour Jesus Christ. It is not just a memorial, not just a symbol, but “God’s presence and His very self,” (from Praise to the Holiest, in The Dream of Gerontius, by Cardinal Newman), our God Who took Bread and wine and told His disciples, “This is My Body, this is My Blood.” In other words, by the Holy Spirit, Who more than dwelling on you now fills your life, Christ does not only feed and nourish you spiritually, but enters in so that with St Paul you can say, “It is not I who live but Christ Who lives within me” (Galatians 2.20). Very soon, He brings to you your destination, even before you begin your journey. May you always abide in that Kingdom of His; and may this same Christ, Who lives for ever, for ever be alive in you.

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