Wearing black at funerals

The tradition of wearing black for mourning is well established in England. Queen Victoria, for example, wore nothing but black for the rest of her life after the death of Prince Albert. Until recently, mourners at Church of England funerals were expected to wear black; as a result most middle-aged Englishmen own a plain black tie to wear at funerals.
Although most people wear black to Orthodox funerals there is no rule that says we have to. Dressing modestly is more important than wearing something black. Actually, in most Orthodox parishes the clergy wear white vestments at funerals like they do on Pascha night reminding us that that Christ destroyed death by His Resurrection.
The clergy wear white because, in the words of St. Paul, we look for ‘that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ Who gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from all iniquity’ (Titus. 2:13). When we die, we do so ‘in the hope of eternal life’ (Titus 1:2…

Why do we worship facing east?

The tradition of Christians facing east to worship is ancient and was universally accepted in the time of Saint Basil the Great (fourth century). There are many reasons why we worship eastwards.
The Old Testament Tabernacle
In worshipping east we recall the orientation of the Tabernacle in the Old Testament. This portable tent-like structure that contained the Ark of the Covenant accompanied the Hebrews on their forty-year journey through the wilderness. Every time it was pitched, the tabernacle was aligned on the east-west axis with the gate at the east end.
It is not compulsory, however, for Orthodox churches to be aligned this way. For example, it might not be possible to have the iconostasis and Holy Table at the east end of a house chapel due to the design of the building. Even in nineteenth century Russia this situation actually occurred relatively frequently. The vital thing is that we all face the same direction in church – whether we are facing geographical east is less impor…

Social Media Survival

In Sunday School a few weeks ago we discussed the Facebook data harvesting scandal. We came to the conclusion that it really isn’t a big deal for Orthodox Christians. We should be asking bigger questions about our Internet, social media and mobile phone use.

It is very important that before posting anything on social media we ask ourselves the question: ‘Is this Orthodox?’ At the very least we should ask ourselves: ‘Is this anti-Orthodox?’ Christ says that ‘by your words you shall be justified, and by your words you shall be condemned’ (Matt. 12:37). This applies just as much to our social media posts as it does to what we say with our mouths.
Some of us think that social media makes us popular and wins us new friends. It actually does the opposite! Although social media makes us feel connected with people, it actually isolates us from the real world. We can see this clearly by opening our eyes to what is happening around us. People go out with friends but ignore them and use their …

What is anti-Semitism?

The general idea of political demonstrations is to challenge governments. Recently, Parliament Square in Westminster was filled with people protesting against the opposition Labour Party – a unique event in modern politics. Labour Members of Parliament were joined by ordinary voters to protest against their own party’s support for anti-Semitism.
Normally we don’t discuss politics on this blog because, although Genuine Orthodox Christians are traditional we are not necessarily politically conservative; we vote according to our Orthodox conscience. However, the growing acceptance of anti-Semitism, particularly among young Labour Party voters, should concern us – the issue is far more important than politics. Today, in our universities, masked black-clad agitators invade meetings  and even confront Members of Parliament (right). The historical parallels with the fascists in 1930’s Germany are chilling.
The evil of anti-Semitism is foreign to Orthodoxy. As we are now preparing to commemora…

Holy Apostle Aristobulus, First Bishop of Britain

Most English school children know that Saint George is England's patron saint, but few (except for those living near St. Albans) would know that Saint Alban was Britain's first martyr. How many of us Orthodox Christians would be able to name Britain’s first bishop? 
On 15 March (which is 28 March on the New Calendar) we commemorate Saint Aristobulus the first bishop of Britain who was numbered among the Seventy Apostles sent out by Christ to preach the Gospel: 'After these things the Lord appointed other seventy also, and sent them two and two before his face into every city and place, whither he himself would come' (Luke 10:1).

Saint Aristobulus was the brother of the Holy Apostle Barnabas and a companion of the Apostle Paul who sent him to Britain to spread the Gospel of Christ. Like his teacher Saint Paul, Saint Aristobulus endured much suffering for the faith of Christ, being beaten, dragged through the streets and tortured by the pagans. Nevertheless, he endured…

If You Love Me, Keep My Commandments

A non-Orthodox friend recently commented that it seemed to him that being Orthodox is more about avoiding sins than doing good deeds. Non-Orthodox people probably do find Orthodox Christianity very different to what they are used to – this is particularly true when we are fasting. Having said that, fasting involves a lot more than just reading food packets. During fasts we struggle to keep not only the food fasting regulations but also increase our church attendance, spiritual reading and almsgiving. 

The Orthodox Church particularly emphasizes almsgiving because through it we show love for our neighbour. Likewise, we avoid sins because we are striving for perfect love. St. Paul teaches: ‘Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not love, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal’ (1. Cor. 13:1). Christ calls us to love our enemies and those who persecute us (cf. Matt. 5:44), and not to confine our love only to those from whom we expect love in return: ‘…

How to make a prostration

The approach of Great Lent is a good time to make sure that we know how to make a full prostration properly. On most Sundays we make the Sign of the Cross and touch the ground – this is known as a 'small prostration'. A full prostration involves lowering our whole body to the ground so that our head almost touches the floor as demonstrated in the video below:

We make full prostrations (both in church and in our private prayers) when the Prayer of Saint Ephraim is read during Great Lent; we also make them on the Sunday of the Cross (the Third Sunday of Great Lent).
Making a full prostration is not physically that hard, but often people make it more difficult than it needs to be. There is no need to 'take a knee' when making a prostration. Going down in two stages by kneeling on one knee followed by the other actually makes a prostration more difficult.
Those of us who wear long garments in church need to push our bottom up quickly when rising from the prostration to av…