18 September 2021

To You, O Lord: the Direction of the Liturgy in Christ - Homily at the Divine Liturgy of St John Chrysostom, London Eucharistic Octave, Corpus Christi Roman Catholic Church, Covent Garden, 16 September 2021

It is claimed that the word Liturgy means the work (ergon) of the laos, the people of God. But its true sense is that of a public service. And the name of the Divine Liturgy makes it clear that here is our public service to God.  Whereas in the thinking of the West, liturgy can refer to the faithful execution and study of all the rites in general, par excellence in the Eastern Churches using the Byzantine rite, the Liturgy is immediately recognised as the term for the Holy Eucharist. Perhaps it is ironic that a word for the Liturgy of Greek origin, Eucharist, referring to the sacrifice of thanksgiving, is relatively less usual in the East, while the term Liturgy in the West does not have such a potent connotation with the Mass. Yet Mass also has a meaning of a loving duty discharged. We can see what we both mean in what St Paul says:  

I beseech you therefore, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable worship. Romans 12.1


By reasonable worship, St Paul means an entire self-offering within the Reason of God: in other words, the Logos, the Word of God, Who was breathed into the world by the Holy Spirit overshadowing the Mother of God at Nazareth. There is a related expression in the Roman Mass, when the priest holds his hands over the holy gifts and prays that the offering will be blessed, acknowledged, and approved: he says, “make it spiritual and acceptable”. Here the word spiritual translates rationabilis, reasonable, as in St Paul’s word logike about our worship of complete self-oblation within the life of Christ the Word, and by the grace and power of the Holy Spirit.

In the Divine Liturgy which you are about to see unfold, therefore, you will not so much see our action, as that of the Trinity taking its effect on us. The structure of the rite is about moving and journey, not only through this world but in and out of the world that is to come, and that is the Kingdom that is already upon us and within us (Luke 17.21). Did not St Paul also conclude, “It is not I who live, but Christ Who lives within me”? (Galatians 2.20) So we are drawn into His life within the Trinity. You have already heard the first of the many blessings on us of the Trinity; and every prayer ends with a doxology to the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. You will have heard the commands to stand aright and be attentive – standing because that is the attitude of our resurrection, which to us is not something of the future for it is the life that already inhabits us now. Christ is risen, we all are risen. And in a few moments, our resurrection will lead to our ascension, as we recognise and genuinely see ourselves as those who in the world mystically represent the Cherubim, laying aside the cares of this life, so that we may receive the King of all coming to us on the Altar, escorted by the Angels.


And then, when we have reached the threshold where we are about to tread into the courts of heaven itself, even though we are here in this world, the priest will tell us not just to stand, but to stand well, and offer what St Paul said: our reasonable, spiritual worship, of our entire self-offering. But not on our own in isolation, since we are in Christ the Word, Christ our God, Who is the oblation of oblations, filling the universe; that, being all in all, we are assumed into His offering of Himself and everything He fills in this forthcoming Holy Oblation.


In a sense we must never leave the heaven to which we have ascended in the Divine Liturgy. Our faith must hold this in its eyes, to overcome and overrule whatever sin or shortcoming comes next, because nothing can ever take away the reality that in this moment we were in the Kingdom of Heaven - no less than we believe, just as we pray according to the Lord’s instruction, that the same Kingdom of Heaven comes on earth in this Daily Bread.


One of the beautiful prayers that a priest or deacon sometimes says as he is about to receive the Holy Communion begins, “Behold I approach our immortal King and God”. It always moves me to think of the shepherds at Bethlehem, or the arrival of the Magi to present their gifts. Yet here I have nothing to offer, since, even though the priest has asked to be allowed to offer the Oblation, it is Christ our God who offers and is offered; Christ who receives and is given. So we remain caught up in the two directions of Christ’s own movement: always offering and offered, giving and received between earth and heaven, devoted to being in both. Here we have no abiding City, it is said (Hebrews 13.14), but we do not feel restless as we journey on in this world, as if we were aimless and uncertain of our Promised Land. For it has already come to us, and admitted us as its citizens. Our way of living is not to reject the world for which Christ came and died to give it life, but for each member of the Church to place it in its true setting – the Kingdom of Heaven. Thus “the kingdoms of this world have become the Kingdom of the Lord and of His Christ.” (Revelation 11.15)


When you receive Holy Communion, you will receive it standing -standing, because we are in the resurrection and this is our ascension in union with the Lord into the Trinity. You will receive in both kinds from a mixed chalice, by means of a spoon. Everyone will have their own spoon, so there is no reason to fear. The bread is leavened bread, just the same as when the Lord spoke of himself as the living Bread, His flesh given for the life of the world.


Having received, as we say, “the divine, holy, immortal,  heavenly and lifegiving, awesome Mysteries of Christ”, you will see why it is that we have no hesitation in speaking confidently in the terms of religion and faith about Christ as our God, because the priest will ask you at this exalted moment of Communion once more to commend yourself, in union with that sacrifice acceptable to God, your endless, reasonable, spiritual worship of your whole being, saying, “Let us commend ourselves and one another and our whole life to Christ our God.” And a final time, this time in complete union with Him, you will reply, “To You, O Lord.” For this is what the Divine Liturgy comes to: Him.  You will sing with us, “We have seen the true light. We have received the heavenly Spirit. We have found the true faith. And we worship the undivided Trinity for having saved us.”


On this footing, at one with Christ, standing in His resurrection and ascension,  representing the cherubim, and treading the court of God’s presence with the Mother of God and all the saints, we shall receive the blessing of God from His Cross and see that truly “He is good, and He loves mankind”.

14 September 2021

Reflection on St John Chrysostom on the Anniversary of his Death, for the Eastern Christians Prayer Group, Fellowship & Aid to the Christians of the East

READING - Ephesians 4.1-7, 11-13

I, Paul, the prisoner in the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, Who is above all and through all and in all.

But each of us was given grace according to the measure of Christ’s gift. The gifts He gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ.

REFLECTION - by Father Mark Woodruff, Chairman of the Society of St John Chrysostom

At first sight, St Paul’s address to the new Christians of Ephesus on the western coast of what is now Turkey is about our faith in the Persons of the Holy Trinity and the gifts with which our baptism has equipped us to serve the building up of all humanity into the body of Christ. So indeed it is. But look again, and St Paul is saying that this first comes out of a lived experience of adversity (his imprisonment), sacrifice of self (humility), endurance (patience, and bearing with others) and redemption that take what is amiss and converts it permanently into good (love marked by forgiveness, and God’s calling that makes good on hope), because the body into which we are baptised is that of the Father’s Son nailed to the Cross, which He endured to bring our salvation into effect.

St John is a second St Paul. His eloquence and spiritual imagination flow through abundant writings. 1687 letters and sermons reveal a lively mind, beautifully communicating from his direct encounter with Christ, and faith distilled through adversity for His sake. His preaching gained him the title ‘Chrysostomos’, the Golden Mouth, not only because what he said warmed people’s hearts and convinced their belief and discipleship, but because it rang true coming from John. What Paul said of himself, is true of Chrysostom too: “In my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the Church.” How did this life take shape?

He was born in the third city of the eastern Roman empire, Antioch, in around 345. An outstanding literary, philosophy and rhetoric scholar with a successful public career ahead of him, in 374 he chose instead to live for God in the severely ascetical life of monk. It was not until 386 that he was ordained priest, when his exceptional oratorical skills were revealed in the straightforward practicality, vivid imagery and convincing moral appeal of his sermons, as well as the rich insight of his commentaries on the Scriptures. Having brought about the reconciliation of the sees of Antioch and Alexandria with old Rome after a loss of communion for seven decades, in 397 he was the outstanding candidate to be the new Archbishop of new Rome, the capital of the Christian Roman Empire, Constantinople. The people of Antioch did not wish to lose him, so to evade opposition to his election, he left in secret to be consecrated away from the public eye.

Immediately, the consequence of faithful preaching “in season and out of season” in Constantinople began. While his inspiring illustrations of the Scriptures and his clear preaching, applying Christ and faith to real life, endeared him to the people, he inevitably showed up the lax lifestyles and the moral injustices of the rich and powerful. The empress Eudoxia flattered herself that these barbs were aimed above all at her. A synod was trumped up to depose him for supposed unorthodox teaching. Her husband the emperor Arcadius then exiled him in 403 to Pontus on the Black Sea coast. The people of Constantinople were in uproar. An earthquake frightened Eudoxia to thinking it too was all about her. Promising amendment, she begged the emperor for St John’s recall to appease God. Yet within months she would erect a silver statue of herself outside the Great Church of Hagia Sophia. The Golden-Mouthed John, whose triumphant return made his words more potent than ever, kept speaking vividly about the contrast between the life in Christ shown in the Scriptures and the moral shortcomings of those in power in a supposedly Christian empire, this time singling out Eudoxia. The following June he was banished inland, to the remote edge of the province of Cilicia. There were riots in Constantinople, and the first Hagia Sophia was burned down. St John continued to teach his people by letters. He was also able to correspond with Pope Innocent I in old Rome, who sent a delegation to the emperor to convene a Council to reinstate the patriarch of new Rome. Chrysostom’s powerful enemies, however, convinced Arcadius that the archbishop had insulted the emperor by contacting the pope, and now posed a threat. So in 407 St John was banished to even more remote exile in Pityus, a port on the eastern edge of the Black Sea. 310 guards ensured no one prevented his removal once and for all. The journey was harsh because of the terrain and the elements, some of the soldiers were cruel, and Chrysostom, now about 60, was weak, not having enjoyed strong health since the extreme ascesticism of his time as a hermit. He did not make it beyond Cumana in Pontus, not far from where he had been exiled four years earlier, and he died on the feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross on 14 September, saying, “Glory be to God in all things”.

Thus, like St Paul, a “prisoner in the Lord,” by the public humiliation and the physical afflictions he endured, he was indeed in his flesh “filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the Church”. Eudoxia and Arcadius failed to silence him or put the Church in its place. Instead, his faithful confession of Christ despite persecution, was “Christ’s gift” of an apostle and a teacher, who “built … up the body of Christ” towards our even deeper “knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ.”

In the Orthodox Church St John Chrysostom is revered as one of the Three Holy Hierarchs, along with St Basil the Great of Caesarea and St Gregory the Theologian of Nazianzus. In the Latin Church they are venerated as three of the Greek Doctors of the Universal Church, on account of their decisive and compelling teaching on Christ and the Trinity, that remains formative of the faith and worship of the Church in East and West to this day. Indeed the form of the Eucharist most often celebrated in the Eastern Orthodox and the Greek Catholic Churches is the Divine Liturgy of St John Chrysostom, believed to have been abbreviated under his influence for the practical purpose of the greater engagement and spiritual enrichment of the people.

His feast in the West is kept on the day before his death on the 13th September, and in the East it is transferred two months later to 13th November. He is the patron of the city of Constantinople where its Christians are today reduced to several thousands, pressed on all sides by an almost entirely Turkish Muslim population and government, yet determined, “with patience” like St Paul’s, to preserve the living roots of Byzantine Christianity for 260 million Orthodox worldwide. (Byzantium is the older name for the city of Constantinople). He is also the patron of Christian educators, lecturers and preachers that “lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called.”


Troparion for November 13 in the Byzantine Rite

Grace shone forth from your mouth like a fiery beacon and enlightened the universe, bestowing on the world not the treasures of greed, but rather showing us the heights of humility. As you teach us by your words, O John the Golden-Mouthed, our father, intercede with the Word, Christ our God, for the salvation of our souls.

Kontakion for November 13 in the Byzantine Rite

From heaven you received divine grace; your lips have taught us all to worship the Triune God, O blessed John Chrysostom. It is fitting that we praise you, for you are a teacher, clarifying all things Divine.

Collect for September 13 from the Roman Missal

O God, strength of those who hope in You, Who willed that the Bishop Saint John Chrysostom should be illustrious by his wonderful eloquence and his experience of suffering: grant us, we pray, that, instructed by his teachings, we may be strengthened by his invincible patience. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, Your Son, Who lives and reigns with You in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God, for ever and ever.

12 September 2021

Homily for the Beheading of St John the Baptist, at the Divine Liturgy of St John Chrysostom, Cathedral of the Holy Family, London, 11th September 2021

The feast of the Beheading of St John Baptist is very significant to us here at the Cathedral of the Holy Family here in Mayfair in London. Just a few hundred yards across Oxford Street where it is met by the Marylebone Lane is the site of the original medieval church of this district which was dedicated to him. Here he is on our iconostasis; and here on the tetrapod is the icon of his Beheading.


Now why does St John, unlike most of the other saints apart from the Mother of God, have both a feast of his Nativity, and a second of his martyrdom? Is it because in our Christian perspective the head is particularly significant?


A medieval hymn possibly by St Bernard of Clairvaux, and now deeply loved in the Lutheran and Anglican traditions, with its tune set by Bach, goes:

O Sacred Head sore wounded, defiled and put to scorn

O kingly Head, surrounded with mocking crown of thorn… 

See me, for whom Thou diest; hide not so far Thy grace.

Show me, O Love most highest, the brightness of Thy face.


In this hymn the glory of Christ’s face shines from the head of one whose leadership is not of control but of sacrifice and service.  Herodias wanted to see John’s head as the guarantee of the death of a dejected enemy, because his truthful words threatened her. Instead, she saw not defeat but beauty, the beauty of living and dying to God. (Romans 14.8)

There is a famous picture of Salome visiting St John the Baptist by Guercino – a copy hangs in the National Gallery of Ireland. It shows Salome seizing the bars of the cell, while St John looks away. His head turned from her shows that he is free in his spirit. She is contained by the bars. She cannot touch or told what he has, and she is really the one in prison. With his head he looks to Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith (Hebrews 12.2), for whom once again he will be the Forerunner.

This freedom in the life of God is because Christ’s headship of the Church is all bound up in the love of God. His head was physically attacked, with the thorns thrust down upon it and His face struck, because it is the visible exposition of God's love for the world (John 3.16; John 15.13; Romans 5.8). As the sole “head of the church,” Christ “loved the Church and gave Himself up for her” (Ephesians 5.23, 25).

So the integrity of word and action pay into service of an entire life, and ultimately the sacrifice that shows what a Head truly is. Did not Christ say, “The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many”? (Matthew 20.28). St John the Baptist’s words and call to repentance were powerful on his lips and did not become futile as death approached. His head became far more eloquent in silence. St John in his beheading becomes an icon of Christ going to sacrifice, “opening not his mouth” (Isaiah 53.7).

The wonderful hymn by Charles Wesley (And can it be) expresses it perfectly:

No condemnation now I dread,

Jesus, and all in Him, is mine!

Alive in Him, my living Head,

And clothed in righteousness divine,

Bold I approach the eternal throne,

And claim the crown, through Christ my own.


So why the costly and central Head? Because it is the head that is crowned, first with thorns but only after their wounds, with the glory. Thus Charles Wesley has it again (Love divine, all loves excelling):

Finish, then, thy new creation; pure and spotless let us be.

Let us see Thy great salvation perfectly restored in Thee.

Changed from glory into glory, till in heav’n we take our place,

till we cast our crowns before Thee, lost in wonder, love and praise.


The ultimate beheading is our own: Christ, who is the head of the body the Church, is to become the head of our lives. So with Him dwelling in us who are already made in His image, His head on us “that once was crowned with thorns is crowned with glory now.” (The head that once was crowned with thorns, Thomas Kelly.)

20 June 2021

The Waters of Galilee: Homily for the Twelfth Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year B), Corpus Christi, Maiden Lane, Covent Garden

At various times our Catholic faith holds our attention to some focal place. With Mary we often retrace our steps to the Holy House at Nazareth. We spend two months preparing first to go to Bethlehem, and then to make the journeys onward to Egypt and up to Jerusalem with the Holy Family. We go to the desert with The Lord in our prayer; we accompany him to every corner of the Holy Land to hear him teach, and witness Him in our world working the miracles of the Kingdom of heaven. Above all, we end up in Jerusalem - not just for Holy Week and Easter - at the foot of the Cross of the Lord’s passion, and peering into the Empty Tomb, whenever we perceive the sacrifice of the Living God Himself made present and known to us in the breaking of the bread at the Upper Room and, risen from the dead, on the road to Emmaus, when all these places assemble to visit us at our own churches’ altars day by day.

But have you noticed that it is frequently to the waters of Galilee that the action returns? Here beside its shore is Capernaum, where the Lord first spoke of the Holy Spirit upon Him (Luke 4.18). Here at Cana he turned Galilee’s fresh drawn waters into wine (John 2.9). Here Andrew and Peter and James and John forsook their nets, their boats and their livelihoods to follow Him (John 1.40; Luke 5.10-11). Here some people tried to seize Him and make him falsely King (John 6.15); while others wanted to stone Him for saying of Himself, “I am,” being God the Son to the Father who is Most High God (cf. John 8.59). Here He takes fish from Galilee and bread to feed the Five Thousand (Mark 6.41). Here He will meet Peter and the other disciples before His Ascension and reveal His resurrection to them (Mark 14.28), as He replays the dramatic Feeding of the Five Thousand, but this time intimately for them at night by the fireside (John 21.13), eating fish and breaking bread so that they might know and see Him vanish from before their eyes in the moment that in the Bread He enters to dwell in them, and they in Him (John 6.56). Not for nothing would St Paul one day remark – “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives within me.” (Galatians 2.20) Peter and the others discovered that for themselves on that night. And here on the lake this day (Gospel: Mark 4.35-41), we find Jesus with His disciples, recently raw recruits to the Kingdom of God, terrified in the boat, until He calms the storm, saying to the sea, “Quiet, be still.”


We have heard this exhortation before. In one of the Psalms, in the midst of war, the Lord breaks the warriors’ weapons of attack and shields of defence alike: “Be still and know that I am God” (Psalm 46/45.10). Today we know, then, that even at this early stage of His ministry, the Lord is announcing Himself as the Living God, who, lying down as if in the sleep of death now rises, as no storm, no threat, no death shall prevail. The disciples come to faith that, at His Word, even the most forceful of elements is transformed and yields its power to the peace and authority of Christ. It is this same fresh still water that is turned into wine, of which He says He will drink it new in the Kingdom of God all over again (Mark 14.25). It is water that is called upon, at the instant the Spirit of God proceeds in The Lord’s last breath from His Cross (Luke 23.46), to flow down with His Blood for our cleansing and redemption (John 19.24), to prepare us for the resurrection that is coming to us of all in Him. It is this lake’s water that absorbs the evil spirits that troubled the herd of swine so that they might no longer trouble humanity (Mark 5.13). It is Galilee’s waters that hear the Lord’s parables and amplify His voice with its surface when He preaches from the apostles’ boat (Mark 4.1). It is this water to which Mary Magdalen is sent home, to tell the disciples to come back to Galilee too, where the Good Shepherd had always said He would gather His scattered flock (Mark 14.28; cf. Communion II, John 10.11, 15), before He takes our humanity with Him in Himself as He ascends to the Father.


It is here on these beautiful inland waters that fear and alarm at the elements meet peace and faith in the present coming of the Kingdom, when its King ascends and appears to depart, yet does not depart, but immediately fills the world, transcending all time and place (Ephesians 4.10), saying, “I am with you always, even to the end of the world.” (Matthew 28.20)


We do not know where all the disciples were baptised; but we know that, even to seasoned fishermen, the water was an ordeal. Thus, the water that baptises and changes a person from a creature of this world into a new creation in the next (II Corinthians 5.17) is what the disciples were afraid of, before they went into it and through it. And the water that is turned into wine is not a mere sign of a Divine action, but the very life force of the new Reign of Heaven that we call the Kingdom of God on earth, and that we know as our own life since our own Baptism. The water that rages in a storm is, as it were, the guarantee of a voyage into peace and love, seeing how St Paul has told us today that the love of Christ so overwhelms us, like a flood, that we are compelled no longer live for ourselves but for Him who died and rose again for us (Epistle: II Corinthians 5.14-17).


The odd thing is that these tumultuous waters are not the great Mediterranean or the mighty Indian Ocean to which the ships went down the great rivers of the East (Responsorial Gradual: Psalm 107/106.23). They are but an inland, freshwater lake. Yet truly this lake is the image of the sea within. The sea that is our soul’s turmoil of temper and anger, uncertainty and rebellion, is also reflection and restoration, refreshment and replenishment. We know this to be true from our own life of baptism. And no wonder the disciples kept coming back to the waters, constantly being reconciled to its power. The Lord is with them that night when they cannot catch any fish at all. “Put out into the deep,” He says, “and fish some more,” (Luke 5.4) as He continues to teach the people, intending for the gospel of the Kingdom to penetrate deep within their minds and souls and imaginations and hearts. His boat is overloaded with the catch, as the disciples are inundated with the images, ideas and demanding expectations of the Kingdom of God. Unable to bear it, Peter turns to Jesus and says, “Depart from me, for I am a sinner.” (Luke 5.8) Yet The Lord takes this as a confession of trust in Him, and tells him that from now instead Peter will be a fisher of people. Peter does not question, but with James and John he leaves everything to follow (Luke 5.11), at the sight of the immense force of the King coming into His Kingdom.


This Galilee, close to where the Lord took flesh in the womb of the Virgin Mother of God at Nazareth, and not far from the mountain where He showed Himself in His true glory of God in Man (Mark 9.2), the glory filling the universe, is where we not only recognise His power to change us, to overwhelm us with love, and fill us in His Church (cf. Ephesians 1.23) with His own life and liberty from the power of sin and death. Galilee is the place where constantly with Him we put out into the deep, going deep into His life in our own souls, as we hang on His every word, and find that “we are still and know the He is God” (Psalm 45.10), God with us (Matthew 1.23), with us to the end of time. (Matthew 28.20)


Consider Job (Old Testament Reading: Job 38. 1, 8-11), indignant at his sufferings, daring to question God why, like we often do. He is told to abandon His pride and self-regard. “Come thus far and no further,” he is told. But we who have been baptised and have faith in Christ are told, “Peace, be still (Mark 4.39); come to me (Matthew 11.28); drink of the water (Revelation 22.17); put out into the deep (Luke 5.4); enter into my Kingdom (Matthew 7.21; 18.3), enter My life as King.” And then find out, more than anything, that we have entered the stage when, truly, it is no longer merely we that live but Christ who lives within us. (Galatians 2.20)