Happy (Orthodox) Christmas
Icon of Nativity, 18th century
6th January - Anglican 'Epiphany' and Russian Orthodox 'Christmas Eve'
A dozen of us went from sacred:space to celebrate the Orthodox Christmas Night Vigil Service at Brookwood monastery. This is the home of St Edward the Martyr Orthodox Brotherhood for 25 years a Russian Orthodox (in Exile) monastic community now under the Greek Orthodox Synod in Resistance.
The Church is the old Anglican Chapel of Rest at the Brookwood Cemetery, where 'the sacred relics of St Edward the martyr are enshrined'
It was a bitingly cold, Siberian Winter's night as we entered the Chapel, the candle-light giving a sense of warmth, without necessarily the reality. We stood, surrounded by Icons of Saints on all walls, with that feeling that you are participating in historic worship that goes back centuries. The monks led the liturgy with Father Alexis presiding. A congregation of around 40 people seemed to follow the orthodox maxim of 'come when you can , go when you must'
It was richly, deeply colourful and atmospheric. Periodically the clergy process around the church, liberally incensing the worship space, creating the sense of the holy. Participation is through chanting along with the liturgy, and moving to the porch for the intercessory prayer. Newcomers venerating the icons of saints and lighting candles and everyone periodically genuflecting. I enjoy worshipping in this context because of the 'otherness', that the magical sense of the transcendent. Being drawn somehow higher into an experience of Light and Goodness. Normally when I attend an orthodox church as an outsider, I don't understand the language, so am drawn into the spiritual experience. On this occasion the liturgy was in rapid fire English, and occasional Russian, so I could follow the structure more easily with my mind. Somehow that got in the way. I prefer the ecstatic to the rational.
We were not able to stay to the end, but drifted out into the cold night in smaller groups and made our way home. Pausing outside and looking back at the cold solid stone church from the snowy exterior, I felt 'strangely warmed'.
Let me finish with a prayer from 'The Shepherd: an orthodox Christian Pastoral Magazine', which was handed to me by one of the Brothers (Vol XXIX No 4 Dec 2008)
FROM THE FATHERSThis is the night of the Most Gentle OneLet no one be cruelThis is the night of the Humble OneLet no one be proudNow is the Day of JoyLet us not revengeNow if the Day of Good WillLet us not be meanIn this Day of PeaceLet us not be conquered by angerToday the Bountiful One impoverished Himself for our sakeSo , rich one, invite the poor to your tableToday we receive a Gift for which we did not askSo let us give alms to those who implore and beg usThis present day cast open the heavenly doors to our prayersLet us open our door to those who ask our forgivenessToday the Divine Being took upon Himself the seal of our humanityIn order for humanity to be decorated by the Seal of Divinity
Ven. Isaac the Syrian 7th century