18 July 2020

‘Be still, for the presence of
the Lord, the Holy One is here …
he burns with holy fire’

Every experience of the Divine Liturgy should be one of awe, standing at the gate of heaven

Patrick Comerford

As I prepare on a Saturday for the celebration of the Divine Liturgy, to preside at the Eucharist, I am sometimes taken aback or find myself in child-like awe of what is before me the following morning.

Tomorrow’s first reading (Genesis 28: 10-19a) is a reminder that we can encounter God anywhere and everywhere, in the most unexpected places. But wherever it happens, that place is an awesome place, none other than the house of God, and the gate of heaven.

A popular hymn by Dave Evans opens with the lines:

Be still, for the presence of the Lord, the Holy One is here.
Come bow before him now, with reverence and fear.

For every priest, the Divine Liturgy should be an experience that brings about awe, and that brings us to the gate of heaven.

The book Experiences during Divine Liturgy (Εμπειρίες κατά την Θεία Λειτουργία), by the Greek priest Father Stephanos K Anagnostopoulos, is a treasure that combines explanations of the Orthodox Liturgy with memorable stories throughout.

This book is more than a manual as it weaves together liturgy and mysticism, the public prayer of the Church and personal insights into spirituality. At times, these stories mix personal experience of the Liturgy with the priest’s accounts of miracles and encounters with the Divine.

A story from this book was retold on her Facebook page yesterday (17 July 2020) by my friend the icon writer Alexandra Kaouki, who runs her workshop and studio beneath the slopes of the Fortezza in the old town of Rethymnon on the island of Crete:

Once upon a time, a married priest was holding by the hand a five-year-old boy, his own child, as they went to church for Vespers.

The small child, as he was walking with his father, kept saying something, until in the end – and completely unexpectedly – he asked this question:

‘Why, Dad, in Divine Liturgy, when it comes to sanctifying the Holy Communion, you keep crying?

‘And then you go up flying into the sky and come down again holding a lot of fire in your hands?

‘And why do you put it on the bread first and then in Holy Chalice with the wine?

‘Why aren’t you burning? I never saw your hands burnt!!!’

The priest stopped, speechless by the surprise, and then, terrified, he asked his child: ‘When did you see all this, my child?’

‘Here, the other day when it was Sunday!’ the small child replied.

And then the priest tells his child very seriously: ‘Be careful, my child, don’t tell that to anyone until I die. Do you hear? to anyone!!!’

‘Well, dad ... to ... kiss a cross!’

And he shaped the cross with his little fingers and kissed it.

This was told by the very child, who was now a 50-year-old man, about his priest father.

In Greek, the story reads:

Κάποτε ένας έγγαμος ιερεύς κρατώντας από το χεράκι ένα πεντάχρονο αγοράκι, το δικό του παιδί, πήγαινε στην εκκλησία για τον Εσπερινό.

Ο μικρός, καθώς βάδιζε με τον πατέρα του, όλο και κάτι έλεγε, ώσπου στο τέλος και εντελώς απροσδόκητα έκανε την εξής ερώτηση:

Γιατί, μπαμπά, στη Θεία Λειτουργία, όταν πρόκειται να αγιάσης τη Θεία κοινωνία, όλο κλαίς;

Και ύστερα ανεβαίνεις πετώντας στον ουρανό και κατεβαίνεις πάλι κρατώντας πολλή φωτιά στα χέρια σου;

Και γιατί πρώτα τη βάζεις πάνω στο ψωμάκι και ύστερα στο Άγιο Ποτήριο με το κρασάκι;

Γιατί δεν καίγεσαι;

Εγώ τα χεράκια σου δεν τα είδα ποτέ καμμένα!!!

Ο αγιασμένος εκείνος παπούλης σταμάτησε άφωνος από την έκπληξη και ύστερα έντρομος ρώτησε το παιδί του: Ποτέ τα είδες όλα αυτά, παιδάκι μου;

Να, προχθές που ήταν Κυριακή! απάντησε ο μικρός.

Και τότε ο ιερεύς λέγει στο παιδί του πολύ σοβαρά: Πρόσεξε, παιδάκι μου, μην τα πεις αυτά σε κανέναν, μέχρι να πεθάνω. Ακούς; σε κανέναν!!!

Καλά, μπαμπά... Να... φιλάω και σταυρό!

(Και έκανε το σχήμα του σταυρού με τα δαχτυλάκια του και το φίλησε).

Αυτά μου τα διηγήθηκε το ίδιο το παιδάκι, που ήταν πλέον άνδρας πενηντάρης, για τον ιερέα πατέρα του.

The second verse of that popular hymn by Dave Evans opens with the lines:

Be still, for the glory of the Lord is shining all around;
he burns with holy fire, with splendour he is crowned.

For every priest, the Divine Liturgy should be an experience that brings us to the gate of heaven … a celebration of the Divine Liturgy in a church in Crete (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Recording a sermon in
Askeaton for USPG to
share on Nagasaki Day

Recording a sermon for USPG in Saint Mary’s Church, Askeaton, Co Limerick

Patrick Comerford

I spent time on Friday afternoon (17 July 2020) recording a sermon in Saint Mary’s Church, Askeaton, on behalf of the Anglican mission agency, USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel).

The Anglican mission agency USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel) has been offering recorded sermons as a Sunday resource for parishes throughout these islands.

This recorded sermon from USPG will be available for Sunday 9 August (Trinity IX), when the Gospel passage (Matthew 14: 22-33) in the Revised Common Lectionary recounts Christ’s calming of the storm.

On what will be the 75th anniversary of the bombing of Nagasaki – which was home to one of the largest and oldest Christian communities in East Asia – I ask in this sermon, ‘Where do we find calm in the storms of the world today?’

This year marks the 75th anniversary of the end of World War II: the liberation of the concentration camps and the end of the Holocaust. But it also marks the 75th anniversary of the first use of nuclear weapons: at the ‘Trinity’ test site in the New Mexico desert, at Hiroshima and at Nagasaki.

But, as I say in this recorded sermon, many of us may be asking: what have we learned about war and peace, hatred and justice, since then?

USPG, one of the oldest Anglican mission agencies, sends out these sermons on the Thursday prior to the Sunday involved.

You can order this sermon for your church or parish by emailing Gwen Mtambirwa, USPG Mission Engagement Co-ordinator, gwenm@uspg.org.uk. In the email, please include the name of your church (if it is for a church service), the time of the service, and if you have one, attach a high-resolution photograph of your church to your email as a jpeg.

Inside Saint Mary’s Church, Askeaton, on Friday afternoon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)