St. Botolph's Orthodox Church

St. Botolph's Newsletter May 2024 (PASCHA)

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ:

He who endures to the end shall be saved

(Matthew 24. 13).

al-Masih qam! Christos anesti! Christos voskrese! Hristos a înviat! Christ is risen!


Tourists come and go. No one expects them to settle. Besides parts of the USA and France, not one country catering for tourists expects them to speak the language. The tourist is easy to spot from afar. If he is not a paunchy, balding businessman sporting his baseball cap and a Hawaiian shirt in midwinter, he dons a bowler and rolled umbrella in London or else a beret, baguette, and blue-and-white striped shirt in Paris. At best, he is curious. He elbows past the communicants at a Solemn High Mass in St. Peter's Basilica to get a better view. He chatters loudly, guffaws, and belches during the Communion of the Clergy at the Midnight Liturgy of Pascha in Bucharest and St. Petersburg. After all, he is on 'his' time, not local. His nifty Galaxy S23 Ultra 512 GB phone, retailing at £575 plus tax, takes the snapshots that he wants, nothing else. If he sights a hungry, ragged street urchin on a corner in Puerto Vallarta or Bangkok, he snaps a souvenir of the sight. Why waste his final Snickers bar? 'Aw, how cute!' he figures. 'These foreigners have such huge, soulful eyes!' Even if he stands respectfully still in this temple, even if his heart breaks a wee bit, he will not be there long enough to identify with a community. On 'off time' which he can easily afford, he forgets that he is the foreigner in someone else's home.

Church tourists abound on the night of Pascha. Call it 'Easter' after the Saxon goddess of the spring, Ēostre, and a sheaf of wheat will supplant no suburban land rover. Pascha night seems tailor-made for consumers newly arrived from the drab suburbs: a carnival of candles, clouds of incense, parades down midnight boulevards, then a bearded wizard exiting a screen of icons to mutter 'Christ is risen', preferably in an exotic tongue. 'What theatre!' ponders the church tourist, who never bothers to remove his ball cap upon reentering the church. After all, he is curious. He has been to Santorini or skimmed Crime and Punishment. He wonders what an Eastern form of Anglicanism called 'Orthodoxy' looks like. Elbowing his way past gaggling grannies and puking, bawling babes in arms to get a better view, he notices the once-a-year churchgoers around him. Offspring of Greek Cypriots, Romanians, and a smorgasbord of Slavs, they arrive on Pascha for the priest to bless a basket of eggs. Then they go home to real, work-a-day life. No one expects them to settle. At 55, Uncle Stavros has better ways of wasting time than standing at the foot of the Cross. He will pack his paunch with fresh kleftiko and lamb's-gut soup. Nowhere to be seen, from the anointing on Holy Wednesday through the burial on Holy Friday, he dwells in 'his' time, not God's eternity. He takes what 'he' wants from that tribal treasure-trove called 'Orthodoxy'. Is the tourist entitled to less? 'A bit like us Catholics before Vatican Two', titters an agnostic of Irish stock on his first Pascha. 'A bit overblown if you ask me', an Anglican ambles homeward. 'Much fuss over nothing', concludes a sensible, secular Londoner, 'but at least the "locals" don't take it, well, too seriously'.

For tourists who cannot see Christ in the ragged, hungry Body bleeding on the Cross, the Christ who rises from the dead will never appear. They content themselves with Cadbury bunnies (the sacred hare of Ēostre, slightly suburbanised) and that bells-'n-smells escape from the drudgery that they deem real. No bolt of lightning strikes down this church tourist. Being a church tourist: this is penalty enough. He who takes the easy way out, he who will not endure to the end — how can a church tourist who never dares to fall, rise again with Christ?

Tourism guarantees no settlers. In 2023, France received 188. 26 million tourists. Even in 2020, the lockdown year, France topped the world records at 117 million versus 11. 1 million in the UK. A projected number of tourists to visit France, above all Paris, in 2024 is 197. 07 million. Around 20 million a year pass under the Gothic arches of the Cathedral of Notre Dame. How many care that only 5% of the 47-88% nominal Roman Catholics in France attend mass every Sunday? (In the UK, only 1. 7% attend the Church of England services weekly). Any tourist wandering into an Orthodox cathedral on the eve of Pascha would imagine that such cities as London or Paris had 'become Orthodox'. By the afternoon service called Agape Vespers — Vespers of selfless love — how many are left? Bells already rung, incense blown away, candles burnt out, lamb eaten, who stands by a God betrayed and crucified, whose rising no one actually sees? Only he who dares to identify with Him with all his heart, soul, and mind (Matthew 5. 43).

Easter is for one brief night, or until the last eggshell or chocolate wrapper drops into the bin. In the night it came, by the morning it has vanished. Pascha is… for life.


1 May is Great and Holy Wednesday, the middle of Holy Week (or Passion Week, as some of us call it). Regrettably, our premises are not available that night. Our bishop, Metropolitan Silouan, invites you all to the Service of Holy Anointing at:

St. Mary-the-Virgin Church

3 St. Leonard's Ave.

Kenton, Harrow HA3 8EJ

This is where the congregation of St. George Cathedral meets. The Service of Anointing begins at 7:00 pm. Only members of the Orthodox Church and those whom I have admitted to the rank of catechumens should approach for the anointing. (By the way, Orthodox do not call Our Most Holy Lady, the Theotokos, by the name 'St. Mary the Virgin'!)

Holy Thursday (Orthros of the 12 Passion Gospels) and Holy Friday (Orthros of the Burial and Lamentations at the Shroud) take place in our temple, NOT in the usual hall but the dining room nearby. (The hall is occupied). Both services begin at 7:00 pm.

Pascha Night begins at 8:00 pm in our usual space. Likewise, the Agape Vespers of Pascha starts at 12 noon on Sunday in the same place.

We do NOT say 'Christ is risen' until he is: on Pascha Night, when the senior priest proclaims it from the entry door of the church. Until the end of the Holy Friday burial and lamentations, we say: 'Good Pascha' (or 'Happy Pascha'). From Holy Friday until the priest proclaims the Risen Christ on Saturday night, we say: 'Happy Resurrection'. Here is the order of greetings:

Holy WEDNESDAY to Holy FRIDAY: 'Good Pascha'. (Reply: same).

End of Holy FRIDAY to Holy SATURDAY: 'Happy Resurrection' (Reply: same).

SATURDAY night at doors until eve of ASCENSION THURSDAY (12 June): 'Christ is risen!' Reply: 'Truly, he is risen!'

This is the literal meaning and the word order of 'al-Masih qam', 'Christos anesti', and variants in traditional Orthodox languages. During the forty days of Pascha, Orthodox Christians use no other greeting or farewell when addressing each other.


'Do have a spot of tea, Mr. Death', says the oh-so-pleasant 'Mass Priest' on Easter, that scrubbed, sanitised party in honour of the bunny goddess. 'Try a scone. Have a soul or two!' The Latins call a priest who only 'says mass' a Mass Priest. He fails to preach, hear confessions, or anoint the sick. He is 'nice' to the enemy himself. This enemy has neither flesh nor blood (Ephesians 6. 12) and sports no angel's wings, like his master whom they once called the bringer of light. He is, in fact, 'the last enemy': death (I Corinthians 15. 26). Standing outside the door of the Tomb on the night of Pascha, we do not sing: 'Christ is risen from the dead, inviting Death for a drink'. We see the face of the enemy. We are at war.

On trial before the Sanhedrin and Pilate, in the garden of his agony, scourged and crowned, then hanging on the Cross, Our Lord Jesus Christ prays: 'Forgive them, Father, for they know not what they do' (Luke 23. 34). He does not reconcile with his tormentors, least of all his enemy: death. It is for the express purpose of killing death himself that Our Lord was born. Pour boiling water in an ice-cold glass. The glass will break. When Life himself enters death, death must break. All his prisoners go free. From the moment of Christ's death on the Cross, he invades death's kingdom. From the instant that Christ rises bodily from the Tomb — too incredible for any angel, any man to see — death dies. From now on, the faithful never die. They 'fall asleep' and awake.

Come see Life TRAMPLE death on Saturday 4 May at 8:00 pm

Come hear the Gospel (John 20. 19-25) in 15 languages on Sunday 5 May at 12 noon

Please bring festive food (meat, esp. lamb; cheeses, hard boiled eggs; creamy desserts, esp. sírnaya páskha; and a little green salad to wash it all down!) to the Paschal feast following Agape Vespers on Sunday 5 May at 12 noon.

FAITH-GIVING DOUBT: Sunday of Saint Thomas

To doubt never means to reject one rigidly held idea in favour of another. A Darwinist, Marxist, or Freudian who takes for granted that there is no God never doubts his own fundamentalist faith. He simply rejects Christ. A scientist who takes a 'closed' cosmos for granted never doubts. The limits of his thought are fixed. Anyone who opts for a simple, one-size-fits-all answer to almost every question does not doubt. He cannot handle the anxiety that goes with a living relationship with a living Person.

Faith goes hand in hand with doubt. 'Show me,' says doubt, 'so that I can believe'. On the evening of the day when Our Lord rises from the dead, he appears to eleven disciples on the inside of doors that they have locked. 'Shalom!' he wishes them in Hebrew. He explains no miracle. Instead, he shows them the nail marks in his hands and the gash that the spear has left below his heart. No words will suffice to explain what angels themselves dare not look upon. In his Risen Body that walks through walls, death leaves his indelible mark. When these eleven tell Thomas, he demands nothing more than what Our Lord showed them: 'Unless I feel his wounds, why should I believe you?' (John 20. 25). A week and a day pass. When Christ appears again to all Twelve, he invites Thomas to touch him. 'Do not be unbelieving' (John 20. 27) is no rebuke. It reassures his friend. 'Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed' (John 20. 29) points two verses ahead: 'these are written that you may believe' (John 20. 31). It is not Saint Thomas but we who are unlikely to believe.

Of the Twelve, Thomas alone identifies precisely who Our Lord is — 'My Lord and my God!' (John 20. 28). This is not a teacher of ethics. This is not the son of a god by a mortal woman, rather like Perseus or Herakles. This is GOD himself. How can anyone believe it? In Syriac, Tʾōmā means twin (Greek: Dídymos). Doubt and faith, hand in hand.

Come wrestle with doubt and believe on Sunday 12 May

COURAGE-GIVING FEAR: Sunday of the Holy Myrrh-bearers

Those who never dare to doubt like Thomas habitually simplify the Gospel. For them, 'church' is an exercise in being nice. Keep it simple, nothing as overblown as Pascha. To such as these, the Bible is a single book that never contradicts itself. Why, then, are there four Gospels? How many women come to the Tomb of Christ bringing spices and a bittersweet oil of myrrh? Holy Apostle Matthew mentions two: Mary of Magdala and 'the other Mary' (Matthew 28. 1), as though it were obvious who this Mary is. The Evangelist Mark lists three: Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome (Mark 16. 1). The Apostle Luke names three — Mary Magdalene, Joanna, the mother of James called Mary, and 'the other women'whom he never identifies (Luke 24. 10). The elusive John the Theologian mentions no myrrhbearers at all.

If the Holy Scriptures were intended to be simple, why these gaps? If they were tailor-made for church tourists, why not list all eight women bearing myrrh — at least once? Mary and Martha, the sisters of Lazarus, and Susanna round off the number. In fact, 325 years pass between the events in question and the first official canon of Scripture. A further 72 years pass before the West accepts the Christian Bible. Tradition is complex. Memories and focus vary. What really matters is the burial. Once old Joseph of Arimathea has offered his Tomb and the women, as few as two or as many as eight, have brought the oil and spices to anoint the Precious Body, an angel asks them: 'Why do you seek the living among the dead?' (Luke 24. 5). Dumbfounded and ecstatic, the women leave the Tomb afraid (Matthew 28. 8, Mark 16. 8). Who would not be? The bearers of myrrh have seen the laws of nature turned inside out. No one remains in the Tomb. From now on, myrrh mixed with olive oil (i. e., chrism) shall anoint the members of the Orthodox Church. Christ is risen. So are we.

Come seek the Living among the living on Sunday 19 May

'DO YOU WANT TO BE HEALED?': Sunday of the Paralytic

Academics can be as naive as church tourists and 'ghetto-dox', those once-a-year churchgoers in the shadows on Pascha night. Play Chinese whispers with any of them. By the time the story encircles the table, it shall have changed. 'Historians can be helpful to preachers, Father', said my late academic mentor, Archimandrite Efrem (Lash, 1930-2016). 'Can they, Father?' I replied. 'Who says that history was ever straightforward?' Memory eternal, beloved Father. Now that you have passed into the Resurrection, maybe you understand.

The Sundays of the Paralysed Man, the Samaritan Woman (2 June), and the Blind Man (9 June) have nothing to do directly with the Resurrection of Christ. All three encounters happen before Our Lord ever stands trial. Each of them involves a 'resurrection'ours. A man lying paralysed for 38 years, a despised Samaritan married five times, and a beggar born blind: each of them is able to see and perceive what was inconceivable before. Lying in his filth by the miraculous and healing pool of Beth hesda (literally, house of mercy), the cripple has no one to lower him down into the water. Christ commands the impossible: 'Rise, take up your bed, and walk!' (John 5. 8). It is the Sabbath. Nice, clean, law-abiding Temple-tourists do not carry pallets on the Sabbath. His Benefactor withdraws from the crowd, later warning the man once paralysed that it is not God but sin itself that paralyses a soul. Christ's words merely echo what he asked when he noticed the paralytic for the first time: 'Do you want to be healed?' (John 5. 6).

Synergy means working with. As everyone who has wrestled with illness knows well, no patient recovers unless he wants to. If church tourists truly wanted to see the Risen Christ, nothing on earth could prevent them.

Come take up YOUR pallet and walk on Sunday 26 May


During my Lenten leave of absence, I have kept the fast according to my strength. I have neither disregarded it nor imperilled my health. I expect you to have done likewise. 'You who have fasted', says Saint John the Golden Mouth on the night of Pascha, 'and you who have disregarded the fast, rejoice today!' Woe to the clergyman or ascetic who judges where John Chrysostom refuses to judge. His is the fast of the demons.

In certain ancient quarters of the Church, no one fasts from animal foods or wine from the night of Pascha until the eve of Ascension (12 June). In the newer quarters, no one fasts during Bright Week (the week following Pascha Sunday) but resumes the Wednesday and Friday fast after St. Thomas Sunday. 'Can the friends of the bridegroom fast while the bridegroom is with them?' asks One whom no man dares to contradict (Mark 2. 18). If you choose to eat fasting foods during the Paschal season, you have every right. Has Christ not set us free?

'HE WHO ENDURES' (Matthew 24. 13)

Our freedom, however, comes at a price (I Corinthians 6. 20). Do you dare to reach out and insert your finger in the mark of the nails, your hand in the life-giving side of the Risen Christ? Dare you bring the chrism on your brow, the spices of a fervent faith to the Tomb where Life lies? Do you dare to desire to be healed? Or will you take the easy way out, the path of least effort, and stand stupefied at the Empty Tomb — unwilling, therefore unable, to enter? Christ gives. Do you dare to receive? Are you a tourist or a settler among us?

Before the Day of the Lord comes, the Temple shall fall. False prophets, and falser Christs, shall arise to deceive the gullible. War, famine, earthquake, and epidemic shall ravage the world — and those whom we thought faithful shall betray us. Only then shall Christ crucified and risen come in his glory. He alone who endures to the end shall be saved. If my long fast from your embrace has taught me anything, it is this: count no one faithful until he (or she) has run the course. The girl is not yet a woman until she has brought myrrh and spices to the sealed-off Tomb. The boy is not yet a man until he has ascended the Cross and risen from the Holy Sepulchre.

Pascha is not for passers-by. Pascha is for life.

Christ is risen! Truly, he is risen!

Yours faithfully in Christ,

Fr. Alexander.

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