Spiritual Gifts, Humility, and Suffering

We all have gifts. We all have talents. When we use these words, we don’t necessarily mean in the celebrity sense of an awe-inspiring ability to do something others cannot; indeed I would argue that the cult of celebrity is both damaging to society and dangerously idolatrous, but that is another post for another time.

A gift in this sense may well mean a miraculous ability to do something in a particular context, but it can also mean to simply be a particular way personality-wise, whether this be one who is hospitable, or extremely kind-hearted, or generous, or patient. This is in no wise lesser than a more outwardly-projecting gift. It is arguably greater, for it touches the very core of who we are as human beings made in the image of God.

Our gift may also be the proverbial hand that God has dealt us: Our foundations, influences, experiences we have had, people who have accompanied us through life, educational institutions we have been blessed to attend. The Parable of the Talents does not only have to be interpreted as literal talents in the sense that we often use the word. A person born into a family of CEOs who inherits the family business may quite legitimately be expected to continue to generates millions in profits for the enterprise. A person born into a family working on the production line of that same company would not have that same automatic expectation. We are given responsibilities by God relative to where we have been placed. This is why our Lord says,

‘For whoever has, to him more will be given, and he will have abundance; but whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken away from him‘ (Matthew 13:12 NKJV).

We are to steward what we have been given and use it effectively, whether it be money, education, possibilities in life, friends, family, to name but a few.

There are a multitude of gifts from God (Spiritual gifts) – we are equipped, by the grace of the Holy Spirit, to do whatever God wills for us ultimately for our salvation and that of all around us. What a humbling honour, but also what an awesome and terrifying responsibility! We must not only ensure that we are actively trying to walk with God in our lives and use what he has given us. but we must keep in check that is only with God and because of God that we are really able to do anything at all; it would be very easy for the CEO’s son, inheriting a family business worth millions, to revel in his new-found wealth and shall we say sordid pleasures. The Great Litany of the main Orthodox Church services includes pleas to God for, ‘helpful seasons and abundance of the fruits of the Earth’. It is very easy for us in our largely comfortable existences in the Western world to forget that even those basics of food to eat, water to drink and calm weather are sustained by the grace of our Heavenly Father. This is not to say that God is holding us to ransom over this, much as the Sun does not hold us to ransom in exchange for continuing to shine on us. It is only a realisation of our place in the cosmos.

Why is this humility important? Because it leads to repentance! Pride leads to arrogance and hard-heartedness.

The world does not understand this use of humility, nor of suffering. From an atheistic perspective, suffering is absolutely something to be utterly stopped and minimized; if a person is terminally close to death and suffering immensely, it is more ‘humane’ to give them no life than to force them to persist with a low quality of life.

For the Christian, we too are called to bring healing and comfort to the sick as Christ and the Apostles themselves did as recorded in many biblical events. During the Orthodox Funeral service, we sing a hymn commending the deceased to God in the hope that they be brought to Paradise, where there is no pain or suffering. Ultimately, into eternity living the blessedness of the new Heaven and the new Earth with God, there is no pain of suffering. However, in THIS life suffering verily has a use in many circumstances.

We suffer (typically) as Christians for one of four reasons:

1) As a consequence of our sin and for our own salvation
2) ‘Unjustly’ for the salvation of others (a form of martyrdom)
3) To keep us humble and aware of our need for reliance on God for all things
4) A type of spiritual warfare (which could relate to all 3 of the above points)

Care is taken here to avoid the use of the word ‘punishment’ – not because the word is incorrect, but because it now potentially carries incorrect connotations. There is no fated ‘need’ for our sin to be punished. A father does not ‘punish’ his child for every wrongdoing arbritrarily because he must be shown to be just in all things. A child is punished that they may learn the gravity of their act and to not do it again. A more accurate word for this might be ‘chastisement’:

 

My son, do not despise the chastening of the Lord,
Nor be discouraged when you are rebuked by Him;
For whom the Lord loves He chastens,
And scourges every son whom He receives.”

If you endure chastening, God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom a father does not chasten? But if you are without chastening, of which all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate and not sons. Furthermore, we have had human fathers who corrected us, and we paid them respect. Shall we not much more readily be in subjection to the Father of spirits and live? For they indeed for a few days chastened us as seemed best to them, but He for our profit, that we may be partakers of His holiness. Now no chastening seems to be joyful for the present, but painful; nevertheless, afterward it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.’

(Hebrews 12: 6-12 NKJV)

St. Paul himself carried an unnamed affliction – when he asked God to remove this, as probably all of us would too, God’s response was simply, ‘my grace is sufficient’. The affliction was not something to be attacked and taken away; from a certain perspective, it was a GOOD thing for St. Paul, and kept him walking faithfully with God and seeing that spiritual gifts truly are spiritual, done working with God and his grace and not by one’s own strength alone.

Saint Peter applies the metaphor of gold being purified in the raging fire of a furnace. I am sure that if gold were sentient it would not much enjoy being thrust into and left in a furnace, but ultimately it comes out at the end pure and precious and valuable. So too, by God’s grace, will our souls and bodies at the Resurrection to lead us into eternal life. For this to happen, we must walk faithfully with God and discern his purpose for us, and the gifts he has given us to acheive this, each and every day as we desire to grow closer to him. It will be difficult, for some the most difficult and painful thing contemplatible in this existence, but boy is it worthwhile.

The Law with Justin Martyr

I’ve recently been reading Justin Martyr, a Christian philosopher living and writing around the mid-2nd-century A.D. His recorded writings are fascinating – letters to emperors stating that Christians are, in fact, not cannibalistic atheists, but worshippers of the true God falsely accused. He eloquently reasons in his letters with the intended recipient, and explains the truth of the Good News of Jesus Christ and salvation coming down from God.

A work of his that I have (slowly, but surely) been working through is the Dialogue with Trypho. Trypho is a Jewish rabbi, who refutes the Christian interpretation of the Old Testament as pointing to Jesus Christ who lived and taught on earth around the period 0-33 A.D. ish. For those interested in how the Old Testament is interpreted in light of the New Testament, this dialogue is a quite incredible resource, for Justin goes into amazing depth all the way across the narrative of the nation of Israel and before – from Abraham, Noah, David, Solomon, Hezekiah to Isaiah and the latter prophets. The text works as a kind of ‘Q & A’ session, with Trypho asserting a point from the Jewish perspective, and Justin countering on why he believes the Christian interpretation to be corrected with biblical proofs to back it up. He talks about the miraculous Virgin Birth and the horror of the Crucifixion prophesied by Isaiah, the worship of all the nations of the world, offering their acceptable sacrifice of thanks and praise to the true God, as described by the Prophet Malachi and much more.

One area that intrigued me was when the ‘Q & A’ turned to the discussion of the Jewish Law, or the Torah, and its many stipulations for how to build the temple or tabernacle, vestments, acceptable rites and sacrifices, punishments for crimes etc. etc. In my younger years, I attended an Evangelical ministry training course which contained a number of sessions on the book of Leviticus, where the majority of these very strict and orderly directions are laid out. The level of depth over the sessions was quite something, and the teacher’s interpretive framework was based on seeing the system of Jewish sacrifices as placating a God who is angry with us for our sins.

When we read Justin Martyr on this, we are hit with some mind-bending truths. You will remember, for example, that in the Book of Exodus Moses was given tablets of stone by God at the top of Mount Sinai and brought them down to the people to declare God’s ways to them. However, upon returning, Moses found the Israelites had gotten somewhat bored of waiting, and had erected a golden calf to worship instead. The tablets are smashed onto the ground, and Moses returns to Mount Sinai to retrieve new tablets containing the Ten Commandments & the precepts of what we now know as the Law. Justin Martyr states that those original tablets contained the revelation of what we now call the New Testament, of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, coming to save us from sin and death, to heal us and to open our hearts that God may dwell within us and we in his Kingdom. No need for the laws of Israel of the Old Testament at all. We know though, from the many Old Testament books that we do have, that the story turned out differently.

Moses smashed those revelatory tablets, and was given a new set of tablets by God – Justin again states that this new system was given as a condescension to the Jews, to enable them to at least begin to walk in God’s way and to more firmly see his plan revealed in front of them. The Israelites were not ready for the revelation of Christ. The problem is with us, and our hardened hearts, our inability to see God and in fact often our desire to simply do things our way – the problem is not with God and his perspective toward us! There are absolutely consequences for our sins, and the unending torment for unrepentant sinners in Hell is a terrifying and deeply saddening reality, but if we are cast into Hell, it is not because God has turned his back on us at any time.

The Orthodox Church does not believe that the Good News of the Christian faith is that God is angry with us and must punish us. It begins with the fact that we are broken, and the reality around us also is so. We have a leaning, a predilection, a propensity, towards doing those things which are contrary to how our Creator created us. Think of a flower which chooses to turn itself away from the sun, as it believes it knows a better way to be nourished. Such a flower, deprived of a primary source of its life and being, will wither and die as a natural consequence of its chosen direction. So we in this world wither and die when estranged from God, most noticeably physically but also very much spiritually, in the very core of who we are as human beings. God made a way for us to see his wonder and truth and goodness and glory, and choose to return to it guided by him.

The sacrifices of the Jewish Law are symbolically expiatory in nature – they cleanse any wrongdoing committed. The Law was intended to show that we could not, in our broken state estranged from God, any more do what is good for us and in God’s good and holy will for us to do. We may be able to keep to things or a while, but eventually we will stumble and fall. Just as in the Orthodox Church, when we stumble, we go to Confession and hear again in our hearts God’s promise to forgive us; we know it already mentally, but there is something in our hearts whenever we sin that weighs on us, and this sacrament is a beautiful way to lift that to God and allow him to take it from us forever. Many times in the entire body of the Scriptures, God says that has has no need or want or requirement for sacrifice, but instead desires mercy and the true and deep human offering of the sacrifice of thanks and praise – sacrifice is for us and to save and heal us, not for God! The goats of Leviticus symbolically carried away the sins of the people, that they may no longer be weighed down or affected by them in any way. This was a preparation for the cleansing sacrifice of Christ, on whom the sins of all humanity for all of time were and are placed and taken away into the place of death, which was then destroyed as he rose again.

The Cross creates a way for us to be cleansed, but we must choose to apply the blood, as did the Israelites in Egypt. The point of His Sacrifice was, as we sing in the Great Doxology, to ‘take away the sins of the world‘. We are the problem, not God! When we repent and/or go to Confession, we never repeat the sacrifice of Christ, but we do enter into it mysteriously and know again its cleansing nature. This is why the Eucharist truly is the Body and Blood of Christ: We partake of them, and the life of God himself, eternal life, enters into us and becomes a part of being. Then we truly know forgiveness and are truly cleansed of our sins within, not only on a superficial or intellectual level.

We must not overreact and see the notion of sacrifice as a strange, historical, unnecessary, immoral thing. Sin absolutely has consequences for us and eats away at our very being and existence. But the Jewish Law was never intended as a system needed by God to assuage his anger toward us when we sin. God and an arbitrary need to punish is not the problem. The Jewish Law was never intended even as a perfect moral code which, if we follow, we will be fine. Everything prescribed in the Law is a foundation, a pointer, a preview and a preparation towards something greater which has now come in the God-Man himself, Jesus Christ. The Book of Hebrews says that the blood of bulls and goats does not forgive sins; such sacrifices were there to prepare God’s people to witness the ultimate once for all sacrifice of God himself made man, to rescue us all from slavery to sin and its natural consequence, death – His Blood is poured out for us that we may partake of it, that our sins be truly taken away and destroyed, not simply covered over to pretend they’re not really there, and find eternal life and union with God, for, ‘the life is in the blood‘ as is said by God right back in Genesis – and then to proclaim that saving truth to the entire world. Choose life!

Lifelong Learning

Many of our careers involve what is, in modernspeak, called ‘lifelong learning’ or ‘professional development’. It is (quite rightly) recognized that one’s credentials cannot simply stem from a degree vaguely related to their working area completed 20 or 30 years ago. Many workplaces encourage one to continue learning until the day they retire, with workshops, seminars and residential training sessions often held in spectacular locations and all paid for by the employer.

I have a question on this – why is this approach now critical in our working careers in the world, but is often less important, or ignored altogether, in the journey of our spiritual walk with God?

What happens when we are baptised? When we are received into the church? When we become a Christian? Is that it? Do I simply tick along and turn up on Sundays now and say ‘hello’ to a few acquaintances over coffee? Is all well and hakuna-matata now that I’ve ticked the ‘Saved’ box?

I have written before that Christianity is not minimalist – it is not a box-ticking exercise and God does not have a checklist waiting at the Final Judgement in order to cast us to weeping and gnashing of teeth if one point is missing. The Christian faith is maximalist – God wishes for us to know and love him and be saved and grow in the salvation in as many incredible ways as is possible to cement our relationship with Him.

I write as the utmost hypocrite that we, with the wonders of our technology, will have zero excuses in this regard. Societal standards of education are skyrocketing, with almost everybody in our western democratic societies able to read and write to a basic standard by the time they leave school at 16/18, if not sooner. We have libraries and bookstores available which host thousands of easily accessible resources. The Internet allows us, sitting at our comfortable desks in our comfortable homes with a steaming mug of coffee alongside, to view documents and insights dating back millennia. We can hear teachers from thousands of miles away and read their writings. We can share what we know with others with nothing but a click via social media. We don’t even have to be sat at our desk any more, with laptops, tablets, smartphones and smart watches! VR technologies, such as Google Glass and Occulus Rift, will even remove the need for a tactile approach, as we will only have to walk around and speak to make things happen. Incredible.

However…do we make the use of these resources that we should?

In the past, I have heard Orthodox sources say that ideas such as Bible study are dangerous Protestant innovations, and the centuries of Christians before us never had access to such things, as they couldn’t read or write and there was no printing press; they went to Liturgy on Sundays, heard the priest preach his sermon, and prayed at home and they were perfectly fine.

This may be true, but as I wrote above our goal is not to be ‘perfectly fine’ on some mediocre scale of acceptability. Our goal is to become holy and righteous and perfect like God.

There is a balance here to be tempered – the danger is of course apparent that private study of the Scriptures alone may lead to faulty interpretation and mislead the person and others. The Scriptures must be read and employed in their proper context: The context of the Church. We don’t go to Church instead of reading the Bible, we go to Church alongside reading the Bible to know what it is really saying and to see it played out right in front of us. We also must guard against services simply being an obligation and becoming numb to their true meaning.

It is also true that growth in the faith does not only consist of studying and gaining knowledge – St. Evagrius famously is quoted as saying, ‘A theologian is one who prays. One who prays is a theologian’. Scores upon scores of academic biblical scholars exist who are thoroughly versed in Greek, Hebrew and the cultural contexts of Ancient Israel, and yet still are not Christians having read the entire Old and New Testaments through more than most of us ever will in our lifetimes.

God wants us to know him in our full beings, body, mind and soul all-encompassing.

How many of us carry around on our tablets or smartphones a copy of the Holy Scriptures? They can be found for free.  Writings of the Church Fathers? A complete compendium is barely 3 US dollars from Amazon. The wonderful ministry of Ancient Faith Radio provides daily encouragement in the life of the faith, Scriptural insights, guidance in the spiritual life and thought-provoking discussion.

These, and so many more resources, serve not only to feed the faithful, but as evangelistic tools. Orthodox Christianity is not a new and novel thing taking time to develop. Orthodox Christianity is not a closed, private cultural enclave. Orthodox Christianity is the Church, the Gospel, the authentic faith of Christ and the Apostles. It truly is the Good News of life as we were created to live it, of forgiveness, resurrection from the dead, freedom and fullness of existence, of eternal life in blessedness. Why do we not use any and every possible resource we have available to show those around us this incredible message and way of life?

We live in an amazing time – the wealth of resources available to us is wonderful, but can easily overwhelm. We must learn to use them for God’s glory as priests of His creation, to see and take the good in everything and offer it God. It is my hope that we all be greatly encouraged by the many ways our modern resources are bridging gaps and bringing people together, but also have the awareness that with so much going on, there are many in need of guidance through the storms of life. Let us, as the Church, as God’s people, be their anchor on this sea.

 

 

The Missing Prayer Returns (and is dissected)

Something interesting happens liturgically between Pascha and Pentecost – every service (and our set prayers for home/personal use) always begin, after ‘Blessed is our God…’ if led by a priest or, ‘In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit’ if not, with the following prayer:

‘O Heavenly King, Comforter,
Spirit of Truth,
present everywhere, filling all things,
treasury of good gifts and giver of life,
come and abide in us and purify us,
and save our souls, O Good One.’

EXCEPT in this period where it is completely omitted and not said again until Vespers on the Eve of Pentecost.

Why?

In the Biblical narrative, after the Resurrection Jesus walked on Earth with his disciples, preached and taught, and then ascended into Heaven promising to send the Holy Spirit after a period of waiting in Jerusalem. The Church recalls this and lives out that waiting period by omitting this prayer, addressed directly to the Holy Spirit.

Now that we are a day past the day of Pentecost and saying this prayer again, Blessed Feast!

The prayer helps us understand exactly who the Holy Spirit is; I would like to look at it clause-by-clause alongside another often-read part of our Church’s teaching containing similar helpful information for us: The Creed.

The Creed tells us that the Holy Spirit:

– is The LORD
– is The Giver of Life
– Proceeds from the Father
– is worshipped and glorified together with the Father and the Son
– spoke by the Prophets

 

Let’s see that prayer again:

‘O Heavenly King, Comforter,
Spirit of Truth,
present everywhere, filling all things,
treasury of good gifts and giver of life,
come and abide in us and purify us,
and save our souls, O Good One’

 

O Heavenly King (‘the LORD’)

The Creed affirms that the Holy Spirit is God, fully and completely, a member of the Holy Trinity equal to the Father and the Son. Christians often feel strange about praying to the Holy Spirit, perhaps not doing so at all. Should we? We pray to the Father (the our Father or Lord’s Prayer), and we address many of our prayers to Christ, including many in the liturgical tradition which begin, ‘O Lord Jesus Christ our God…‘, so why not? If we affirm the full truth of the Trinity then we absolutely should not denigrate or demote the Holy Spirit to a mere force or servant to the other 2 ‘more prominent’ members of the Trinity. This provokes the question of the Filioque, or why in the Orthodox Creed the Holy Spirit does not proceed, ‘from the Father AND THE SON’, which I will address now.

O Comforter (‘Proceeds from the Father’)

These two form an almost direct quote from the Gospel of John, Chapter 14; Jesus is talking with his disciples at the Last Supper and promises them,

‘...the Comforter, which is the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you‘ (John 14:26 NKJV)

Note that the Scriptural reference speaks only of the Father actually sending the Holy Spirit – the Creed originally drafted at the Councils of Nicea and Constantinople does NOT contain the phrase ‘and the Son’ – this was added some centuries later at a local council, not with churchwide authority or recognition, and has been the subject of much theological uncertainty. Some have attempted to find a middle ground by asserting that the Holy Spirit proceeds, ‘from the Father THROUGH the Son’, but this still adds an additional interpretive layer on top of what has been revealed to us, which is all that we need to express. St. Gregory the Great holds up the importance of keeping the Trinity balanced; He speaks of the Father as the ‘throne of the Godhead’ from which the Son is begotten and the Holy Spirit proceeds. To neglect this creates the potential to overly subordinate the Holy Spirit, even making Him unimportant, forgotten, powerless and unnecessary.

Back to our phrase in the prayer: What is a ‘Comforter’? We have a somewhat antequated English word taken straight from the Greek in this verse, that of ‘Paraclete’ which fits in here. This can mean, depending on context: Helper, Counsellor, Advocate, Comforter, and has a Greek root meaning one who is called to one’s aid, a legal assistant or even an intercessor; Perhaps also ‘companion’ may fit, as its etymological root is more generally that of one called to be at one’s side.

One of the many problems of translating Greek to English (and most other languages) is that there are huge layers of depth to many Greek words; one Greek word can cover 10+ English words (think of the word ‘love’ for example vs. agapo, ero, philo etc.) and so as you look at this verse in any number of English translations you will see any number of equally valid words here.

 

The Spirit of Truth, present everywhere, filling all things (‘who spoke by the Prophets’)

Jesus says, ‘I am truth’. God IS truth. If something is not true, it is not of God. Let God be right and every man proved a liar. God created all things, sees all things and knows all things. Those who genuinely have spoken in God’s name and by his guidance have prophesied things to come to pass centuries into the future, even millennia. The words of God have also brought great and terrible power – think of Moses and his staff yielding power over the physical world, and the words of Jonah to the Ninevites, yielding great spiritual power to bring an entire city to repentance and salvation from destruction for their sins. God is present, active and powerful in and over every atom in our universe.

 

Treasury of good gifts and giver of life (‘the Giver of Life’)

What good things are spoken of here? Primarily, life itself of course! Adam was brought to life by having a ‘living spirit’ breathed into him. The Spirit of the LORD brooded over Creation in Genesis. Jesus ‘breathed’ the power of the Spirit into his disciples. The very Greek word we translate as spirit, ‘pneuma‘ can be translated as a wind or a breath. The Spirit blows where the Spirit will. It is important for us to never have an ‘elitist’ attiude, and think that because we tick the ‘Christian’ and/or ‘Church’ box we are just automatically saved, and that nobody else has the Holy Spirit. It is easy for us to lapse through apathy and being too comfortable with our life. There are many in the world miles from a church or living in a country where it is simply impossible to formally form a faith community, but who strive in the very best way they can to follow the teachings of Christ.

To paraphrase Met. Kallistos Ware: We can say for sure that we know where the Church IS; we cannot say for sure where the Church IS NOT.

 

Come and abide in us

The Holy Spirit lives within each and every Christian, guiding us and helping us to pray. St. Paul, in his letter to the Church in Rome, talks of the Spirit within crying out in prayer when we do not have the words to express the innermost desires of our hearts.

 

Purify us and save our souls, O Good One

Verily, verily, I say unto you: Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the Kingdom of God’ (John 3:5 NKJV)’

The Holy Spirit, as he hovered over the waters at the Baptism of Christ, enters us as part of our Baptism and cleanses us from sin. The Holy Spirit is confirmed upon us as Christians in the Sacrament of Chrismation as we are annointed with Holy Oil, harking back to the Prophets of the Old Testament being annointed with the Spirit to preach the words of God. But we must be cleansed day-by-day for the many sins we all commit; There is ‘one Baptism’ for the remission of sins, but the reality is that we know we all continue to sin and to strive against that desire. The Spirit helps to re-orient our wills, our minds, our bodies and our spirits.

 

This is but a very cursory summary of the roles of the Holy Spirit for the purposes of an (I hope) enlightening blog post that could easily become a thesis. As we celebrate Pentecost, let us not forget the incredible gift of the Holy Spirit, dwelling in Christians and available to all who wish to follow Christ: That power of forgiveness, healing, guidance, purification, companionship with God himself, and power to fulfill God’s will and purpose, our very reason and purpose of existing.

Ransomware

BONUS POST!

Everybody will have now seen a worldwide ransomware epidemic taking place today – most prominently, a number of NHS trusts have been forced into technological meltdown and had to resort to GPs using pen and paper with no access to patients’ medical history.

Ransomware is essentially a malicious computer program which, if allowed to run on your PC, will encrypt and/or delete your files. The program will then demand a payment from you to restore or decrypt your files. Depending on the sophistication of the program, your files may well have been uploaded to a server in ‘The Cloud’ and be retrievable once ransom is paid. Oftentimes, these criminals will either take your money and run or be simply lying to you, and neither have the files nor the decryption key.

The sobering thought in all of this is that it could have been prevented with a few very simple steps – I shall lay it out below:

A patch from Microsoft to protect against the primary exploit affecting the NHS (and others) today has been out (meaning bundled in with your Automatic Updates if they are switched on) since mid-March. It was an exploit used privately by the NSA for some years which was publicly leaked some four weeks after being patched by Microsoft.

It has been adapted into malware which uses a self-replicating payload, meaning once it is in place on one machine by any number of means (USB stick, email attachment, website download etc. etc.) it will spread over a network without any user action (since it is tied to an exploit in SMB/CIFS, Windows’ network file-sharing protocol).

It is listed as ‘Critical’ for all server and client operating systems from Vista through Server 2016. Microsoft no longer rolls out security updates for Windows XP and below, and yet many NHS computers still use these operating systems, leaving them wide open to attack. A workaround to prevent attack is to disable SMB version 1, but this leaves Windows XP (and below) machines unable to connect.

What is more scary is that some of the screenshots I have seen via Twitter are possibly from negligently unpatched Windows Server 2008 terminal servers…at best negligently unpatched Windows 7 client PCs.

Always install ‘Critical’ Windows updates people. Even without updates, never click on shady email attachments or visit the so-called darker side of the World Wide Web. This had to still start, even with a network full of old, exposed PCs, with one person clicking on a file (most likely inadvertently) to let the program run.

Antivirus firms estimate over 80,000 machines across The Internet are now affected. This is a very conservative figure.

Microsoft’s patch listing is here: https://technet.microsoft.com/en-us/library/security/ms17-010.aspx

More statistics and detailed information on the malware and its effects to-date is available via Ars Technica: https://arstechnica.com/security/2017/05/an-nsa-derived-ransomware-worm-is-shutting-down-computers-worldwide/

Prayerful Presence

‘O Lord, grant that I may meet the coming day in peace…’

This extract, the opening statement of the Morning Prayer of St. Philaret of Moscow, teaches us how we should start each day: Remembering God, trusting in him through everything, and cultivating an inner peace through that faith. It is a powerful and wonderfully written prayer that forms a part of the set Morning Prayers of the Church.

I have found that a mixture of set and my own prayers to God to be most healthy – everything needs both some structure and guidelines around it and some space for personal freedom, just as our relationship to God as Christians is both corporate, where there are set ways and forms of doing things to ensure that we are all quite literally singing from the same hymn sheet, and private: We each must individually choose to follow God and have free will in our journey of salvation.

The Church has cultivated, over many centuries, a set morning and evening prayer routine to aid in the prayer life of her people – consisting of a mixture of psalms, prayers, hymns and set intercessions. Within this structure, some may also read the Epistle and Gospel readings for the day, add in their own private Bible reading, may read some of the writings of the Fathers, and of course also add in their own personal prayers following the traditional ‘ACTS‘ model: Adoration, Contrition, Thanksgiving and Supplication.

The morning prayers, as evidenced above, call us to remember God in all we do throughout the day, to bless our work and dealings with other people, and to give thanks for rising us from sleep to begin a day anew towards salvation: Some present the solemn reminder that we all sin, and it is a blessing of grace from God to rise us out of that state and gift us a chance each and every day to be forgiven, healed and grow closer to God.

The prayers of the evening (or before bed) call us to reflect on our actions, give thanks for all that has happened, and to confess all the times we have gone astray. Finally, as we are about to sleep, we use the very words of Christ on the Cross, quoted from Psalm 31:

‘Into your hands, O Lord, I commend my soul and body…’
‘Bless me, have mercy upon me, and grant unto me life eternal. Amen.’

It’s important for us all, in the (often extreme) busyness of modern life with work, marriages, children, maintenance work, housework, shopping, the latest TV shows, movies, video games, hobbies and all manner of things to keep us occupied with every minute of the day, to learn to spend some time regularly in quiet contemplation; to ‘switch off’ and face the reality of our existence – to listen for the still, small guiding voice of God in the raging storms of life. Otherwise we may very easily be swept away by them.

The Morning Prayer of St. Philaret of Moscow (in full):

O Lord,
Grant that I may meet the coming day in peace.
Help me in all things to rely upon your holy will.
In every hour of the day, reveal your will to me.
Bless my dealings with all who surround me.
Teach me to treat all that comes to me with peace of soul
and with the firm conviction that your will governs all.
In all my deeds and words, guide my thoughts and feelings.
In unforeseen events, let me not forget that all are sent by you.
Teach me act firmly and wisely without embittering and embarrassing others.
Give me the strength to bear the fatigue of the coming day with all that it shall bring.
Direct my will, teach me to pray, and pray you yourself in me.
Amen.

The Saints of Britain – Honouring our heritage

Christ is Risen!

Britain has a rich history linked to the Christian faith, a heritage which is largely forgotten or remembered only in vague cultural references – we’ve all heard of King Edward the Confessor and talk about Candlemas, Michaelmas and ‘Whit Week’ (for Whitsuntide – I will explain at the end), all words with Old English/Anglo-Saxon etymological roots. It may surprise you to also hear that after the Great Schism between the Eastern and Western centres of Christianity, Rome and Constantinople, Britain remained in faithful communion with Constantinople and rejected the doctrinal novelties and practices being introduced by the various popes of Rome and their organisations.

This means that Britain has a thousand years of pre-schism Orthodox (as we from a post-schism perspective would call it, for of course at that time it were the simply ‘The Church’) saints, liturgies, histories, stories and practices. The Russian Orthodox Church in particular is beginning to officially, as part of its evangelistic outreach to those shores, recognise and venerate these saints (for example St. Alban, the first recorded Christian martyr of Britain, was recognised by Moscow as of March 9th 2017: http://www.pravoslavie.ru/english/101734.htm).

For me, having experienced a Church of England upbringing and then becoming Orthodox, I always had a somewhat odd relationship with these figures – they were often talked about and their saints days remembered, but compared with what we were doing and practising it always felt like a slightly different kind of church, a slightly different kind of Christianity and Christian life in comparison to what I read and knew about these saints.

The Orthodox Church has a wonderful doctrinal tradition of asking the saints in heaven to pray for us – this is in full accord with the biblical record of St. Paul’s letter to the Hebrews, where he writes, of those gone before us in Christ, that we are ‘surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses‘ (Hebrews 12:1) and St. John’s vision in Revelation 5:8 and 8:4, of the prayers of the saints interceding on behalf of those on Earth, rising like incense. We do not see the Saints as intermediaries or go-betweens, nor as merely dead role-models, but as people alive in Christ to ask to pray for us, just as we ask friends, family and clergy to do the same – only the Saints are closer to God than we ever can be in this life, and St. James writes that, ‘The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much‘ (James 5:16).  In addition, there are hymns composed for the Saints, which we sing on their feast days, and we read their histories (or what we have of them) to be inspired and empowered to follow God more nearly by their example. We may also choose them as a patron or guiding saint for our lives.

St. Arsenios of Paros is quoted as saying, ‘The Church in the British Isles will only begin to grow when she begins to again venerate her own Saints‘. From Apostolic times, and St. Aristobulus of the Seventy as the first Bishop of Britain, through the so-called ‘Celtic’ Church, through the invasion of the barbaric Anglo-Saxon pagans and their subsequent conversion, through the last Orthodox English King, Harold II, defeated at the Battle of Hastings by William the Conqueror, the story of the church of Britain is rich with martyrs, confessors, and stories of God’s grace and power working incredibly in hearts and minds to transform. It would not serve us well to attempt to return to those times and ‘turn back the clock’, but instead to use this heritage as an inspiration to build something to reach out to 21st-century Britain.

A huge resource in this project I have found online is the British Saints Synaxarion, a complete listing, by A-Z of names and commemoration dates, of pre-schism Saints of Britain and Ireland. A Google search will also easily find any missing icons and hymns (the Orthodox England site has a number of services for saints days). I have been using this resource, and others, to build a small collection for my prayer area – there would be more, but I only have a limited space and so prioritisation had to occur!


Saints Hilda, Aidan, Ninian, David, Columba, Cuthbert,
Aristobulus, Bede, Chad, Theodore, Swithun and Ethelbert,
pray to God for us!

Incidentally today, May 1st, is the feast of St. Asaph, Bishop in Wales, who reposed in the late 6th cenury (a place in Wales still bears his name):

St Asaph was a cousin of St Deiniol and may have made his hermitage near Holywell in Flintshire in Wales in the late 6C. He became a disciple of St Kentigern (Mungo). When St Kentigern returned north he made Asaph a Bishop, due, it is said, to a miracle performed by his disciple’. (from synaxarion.org.uk).

All the Saints of Britain, pray to God for us!

P.S. Candlemas = ‘Candle Mass’  – The Feast of the Meeting of the Lord in the Temple (February 2nd). It is customary for candles to brought to church to be blessed on this day, hence the name ‘Candle’ Mass.

Michaelmas = ‘Michael Mass’ – The Feast of St. Michael and all the Archangels. On the Western calendar, this is celebrated on September 29th, but typically on the Orthodox calendar on November 8th.

Whit Week = A holiday for schoolchildren; the week immediately following Pentecost. Also known as Whitsuntide, meaning the time of Whit Sunday. There are a number of interpretations here – some associate it with the colour white, which was liturgically used for Pentecost; baptisms too took place on this day. Others take it to mean the word ‘wit’ i.e. wisdom or understanding, which the Holy Spirit brought collectively.