Month: May 2021

The Message of an Icon

Andrei Rublev. (1360-1427 or 30) Icon of the Trinity.

The message of an Icon

Trinity Sunday is sometimes regarded by preachers as the most difficult Sunday in the year. They might agree with the late Revd. Professor Leonard Hodgson who said: ‘How many clergy, as Trinity Sunday draws near, groan within themselves at the thought that it will be their duty to try to expound this dry and abstract doctrine to congregations for whom they anticipate that it will have but little interest?’

Anyone familiar with the rather impossible ‘Athanasian Creed’ (see the Book of Common Prayer, especially on a sleepless night!) might be forgiven for being somewhat confused .What are we to make of: ‘the Father uncreate, the Son uncreate, the Holy Ghost uncreate” and all three ‘incomprehensible’ !!

God as Three in One is not an easy concept—when are three one and one three? Perhaps a simple mathematical formula could help. 1+1+1= 3 but 1x1x1=1. However, describing the very essence and nature of God by a trite mathematical formula isn’t really very prayerful or theological. It certainly doesn’t feel very loving!

The problem arises because too often it is seen as a doctrine rather than a way through which our life is enriched and given its true meaning.The Trinity is about ‘relationship’ – specifically the relationship of total love enjoyed by the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Another way of seeing this is through three complementary roles which biblically the 3 persons of the Trinity have. The Father is Creator; The Son is Redeemer; the Spirit is Sustainer.

Applied to ourselves—our Father God creates us out of love; Jesus redeems us because of that love (He died and rose again so that we are caught up into eternal love) and the Holy Spirit enlivens us and awakens Godly love within us—thus sustaining us for our Christian journey through life which takes us beyond earthly death into eternal life.

If we begin to see the action of the Holy Trinity in our lives in this sort of way, then the ‘doctrine’ becomes more ‘personal’ and describes God’s relationship with us.

A famous Icon by the Russian icon-painter, Andrei Rublev, has long been seen as an Icon of the Holy Trinity. Painted around 1410 it shows the three Angels who visited Abraham at the Oak of Mamre (Genesis 18). The angels have come to represent the Trinity and they are seated around a table on which appears to be a chalice. The three angels are in a very strong relationship with each other and Rublev has managed to portray them in such a way that the viewer is drawn into the unity which exists between them. They are bound together with and in love. It is possible to draw a circle encompassing them in a loving relationship. That is why they have come to represent the Holy Trinity. But of significance is the fact that the icon not only draws you to this relationship of love, it actually invites you to share it. Rublev has painted them so that there is a space in front of them and it is done in such a way that you simply want to be there with them at the table.

So the relationship of love we see in The Father,Son and Holy Spirit isn’t exclusively between the three of them but rather an inclusive love which invites us to participate in it. We are invited by Love to join a loving relationship which if we accept it changes not only our perspective of who God is but also changes our thinking about ourselves. We are drawn by God’s love to become love.

The most exciting thing about Trinity Sunday is that it is the Festival of God in a way that no other festival is. We celebrate God in all His totality and we are invited to be part of the great mystery of Love which charges the world with a new grandeur—the grandeur of God which is glorified in human lives filled with love.

[Mr G]

God’s love lies open before us

Joyce Smith has sent us a new photo reflection.
Our resident pair of mute swans have been leading their 8 newly hatched cygnets on a daily journey of discovery in Waltham Abbey. These two are enjoying the ride and are feeling protected by their mother’s wings.
With my love and prayers.
God bless, Joyce

It has been the custom of Christians to pray together in various ways but with one intent – to nurture the World and bring people, including each other, and nature to a closeness with God.  Joyce has given us an illustration of this in the photograph of the tiny mute swans gathering under the safety and protection of their mother’s wing.

There is something rather gently protective in this scene. We can sense a warmth and security and a restfulness. The caption under the photo could easily have been ‘Safe in our Mother’s arms’.

Joyce has chosen a sentence which is part of the first part of Morning Prayer or Matins as it is sometimes known.

How does this connect up with the protection and safety of the little swans ?

The problem sometimes with ‘Liturgy’ (the format and composition of worship ) is that it can be said unthinkingly. Or perhaps as part of a repetitive rhythm which encloses the Word of God it seeks to proclaim. Whereas, the Word of God should free and enclose us. That itself can be seen as placing ourselves under the protecting and nurturing of God. Maybe we aren’t too different as those baby swans after all. As we pray and recite the words of the services provided for our nourishment, we snuggle up to our protective and loving God.

There is always a sense that Morning Prayer is a beginning. We begin the day in prayer – whatever form we use.
And we have therefore come through the night safely.
So as a preparation to say : The night has passed, and the day lies open before us; let us pray with one heart and mind, begins a daily re-turning of our lives to God.
If we add to it, the second part of the sentence, that becomes abundantly clear: 
As we rejoice in the gift of this new day, so may the light of your presence, O God, set our hearts on fire with love for you; now and for ever. Amen.

Whatever the day will bring; however we feel about ourselves; whatever fears we face; however lacking in confidence we are; and how lonely or sad or bored we feel, combined of course with whatever joy, hopefulness and friendship we shall share, we can remind ourselves  very soon after wakening – God holds us; God protects us; God cares for us with a love beyond words. We are beginning our day in God’s presence. We know that we are secure in his protective, motherly love.

Our response to this is surely Thank You.

As the 12th century Dominican friar and mystic said:
If the only prayer you ever say in your entire life is ‘Thank You’ (God) – It will be enough.

I’m quite sure that those cute baby mute swans will agree!

Thank you, Joyce ( and thank you, God.)

[Mr G]

Venerated by Angels

Durham Cathedral is one of my very special places for very personal reasons.
This great Northern building is especially precious to many because, without doubt, a visit can enfold you with a feeling that this is a very holy place. That may very well be because it houses the shrine of the great Northern Saint, Cuthbert and also the bones of another Northern Saint, the Venerable Bede.

Bede is most renowned for his Ecclesiastical History of the English People, a chronicle of our early history as a nation and as a church and for which he is rightly recognized as the ‘father of English History’

It is all the more remarkable because Bede never left the North East of England. When he was 7, in what is described as a free-will offering  to the church, his parents placed him in the care of the Anglo-Saxon monastery at Wearmouth near what is now Sunderland. This was in  about the year 680AD and a year later he moved to the new sister monastery at Jarrow where he stayed until his death. Here he learned and taught the scriptures and shared faith and prayer with others.

At the age of about fifty nine he said: “I have spent all my life in this monastery [of Jarrow], applying myself entirely to the study of the Scriptures; and amid the observance of the discipline of the Rule and the daily task of singing the Divine Office in the church, it has been my delight to learn or to teach or to write.”

Apart from the Ecclesiastical History, Bede also wrote the lives of various Northern Saints including Cuthbert but he was also a renowned Biblical Scholar. He wrote commentaries on many biblical books including the first Latin commentary on the Acts of the Apostles, which is still available today and which has a contemporary feel to it.

He led a quiet, devoted and happy life in which he simply obeyed God and followed what God asked of him. In that life he left a mighty legacy of learning but also the foundation of all our knowledge about the British lands, its people, its church and its faith. It was a life deeply rooted in prayer.

St.  Alcuin related that Bede used to say: “I well know that angels visit the congregations of brethren at the canonical hours. What if they should not find me there among my brethren? Will they not say, ‘Where is Bede? Why comes he not with his brethren to the prescribed hours?”

Hehas become known as Bede the Venerable  and there is a little story as to how he got this title. Late in life he is said to have become almost blind. One day some jesters came to him and said that there were some people in the church waiting to hear the word of God. In fact there was no-one there except the jesters. So, ever anxious for the salvation of others, the saint went to the church and preached, not knowing that it was empty. When he had ended his sermon, he prayed, and, instead of a human response, he received one from the angels: “Amen, very Venerable Bede”.

I do not know how much truth is in this story but it has a certain holy authenticity about it!

When Bede was dying he was working on a translation of the Gospel of John.
Bishop Joseph Barber of Durham in his famous Leaders of the Northern Church describes the scene:

A man past the middle of life lay on his deathbed, surrounded by his disciples. They were sorrowing, says a bystander who relates the incident, at the thought that they should see his face no more in this life. A youth was taking down some words from the master’s lips. ‘One chapter still remains,’ said the lad, ‘of the book which thou hast dictated; and yet it seems troublesome to thee to ask more of thee.’ ‘It is not troublesome,’ said the dying man, ‘get out thy pen and prepare, and write quickly.’ So the hours went on. At intervals he conversed with his scholars; then again he dictated. At length his amanuensis turned to him; ‘Beloved master, one sentence only remains to be written.’ ‘Good,’ he replied,’ write it.’ After a short pause the boy told him that it was written. ‘Good,’ said he, ‘it is finished; thou hast said truly.’ And in a few moments more he gave up his soul to God, with his last breath chanting the doxology, familiar to him, as to us.

Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Ghost.

I like to think that his friends the angels awaited to take him into the joy of eternal life.

The prayer below says so much about him. It is based on one Bede wrote.

Lord God almighty,
open wide the door of my heart
and enlighten me with the grace of the Holy Spirit,
that I may seek what is pleasing to your will.
Guide my thoughts and my heart,
and lead my life in the way of your commandments,
that I may always seek to fulfil them,
and that I might be found worthy of  the eternal joys of the heavenly life;
through  Jesus Christ our Lord.

[Mr. G]

And Sparks flew


We are each of us a different-sized ring,
slipped over the ring of the Spirit.
We can slide round it and, on occasion,
simultaneously touch any number of other rings.

On the first Pentecost many people
of different races and languages
touched one another in the Spirit
at this level of their being.

They understood one another;
they seemed one;

Spiritual sparks flew.

Bishop Richard Harris