Eastertide Meditation

Christ is risen!

Earlier this year I met a friend I had not seen for some time. He reminded me of our first meeting around Easter time. It was in America and I had seen a sign outside a Church building which proclaimed: “Christ has died, Christ has risen…”. So this became the subject of our first discussion. The resurrection we proclaim is far more than an historical event from the past; it is an opening of a way out of the culture of death. We proclaim that Christ is risen and his triumph continues in the lives of those who follow him. This proclamation of the resurrection is at the heart of the Christian faith without which St. Paul readily admits, there is no faith and it is all in vain.

In the middle of the present pandemic some people may come to realise that Western cultures have been turning away from dealing with death and mortality. Christians have lived for some considerable time in the shadow of humanist philosophers such as Marx, Nietzsche, Sartre and Camus who speak about the death of God, with the result that cultures that have had little time for God, little time for thoughts about our own death, simply carry on by putting humanity in God’s place. The results have been appalling! The horrors of the cultures of death abound in our recent histories when the cruelty inflicted on people has been unimaginable.

As a trainee priest, in post World War II, I was aware of and deeply affected by the horrors of Humanist totalitarian cultures that had turned Eastern and Western Europe upside down sacrificing millions of innocent people in the name of progress. Particularly behind the “Iron Curtain” Christians were living in micro cultures of kindness, humanity and love.

Icon showing the Resurrection of Jesus, at the inner side of the Resurrection Gate to the Red Square, Moscow (Alvesgaspar / Public domain)

As a student I was deeply influenced by the many testimonies that came to us from the work of Keston College concerning the lives of so many who had survived or whose lives were changed by seeing the power of the risen Christ. In the labour camps they were living the Easter Faith that Christ is Risen. Of course the story of Alexander Solzhenitsyn is possibly the most known but there are countless others too. Bishops, priests, nuns, laymen and women are who all endured and survived singing their Easter faith. I will never forget the account of a violent man serving a 15 year sentence for terrible crimes, whom one might easily have judged as a hopeless case. But the sheer purity and love and witness of some Christian inmates deeply influenced and turned this criminal life around. Not philosophy or logic but by witnessing the Easter faith – Christ is risen! – gave this criminal a chance. Vasily Ivanovitch Koslov’s transformation is not a fairy story for his conversion to Christian faith resulted in a further 25 years extension to his trials in the labour camp!

The Gulags of the Soviet Union were instances of the culture of death which many survived and this witness still continues today in other camps and prisons around the world. These martyrs proclaim that God has raised Jesus Christ from death. From St. Stephen onwards, the Easter faith has been a real presence in countless lives of faithful people who saw hope beyond the culture of death. Allelujah, Allelujah, Allelujah.

Fr. Geoffrey Neal

A Meditation for Mid Lent

Over the west entrance of London’s Westminster Abbey is England’s tribute to the 20th century saint of the Russian Orthodox Church. St Elizabeth Federovna, the one time grand princess who married the Uncle of Tsar Nicholas II and whose younger sister Alexandra was the wife of the Tsar. Both Elizabeth and Alexandra were elegant and beautiful women, both witnessed the murder of their husbands, and both were canonised by the Russian Church.

The widow Elizabeth sold all her possessions and modelled her life as a nun and began the Mary and Martha community of active sisters very much like those that existed in England. In 1913 Elizabeth although a grand duchess came to England to visit her cousin King George V wearing the grey habit of a nun. She returned to her community in Moscow and worked throughout the Revolution and first world war among the poorest and most brutalised Christians in Russia. In May 1918 Mother Elizabeth and five sisters were arrested and flung into a mineshaft to be drowned. Like many other courageous Christians facing death, they sung Psalms from the liturgy, “Kyrie eleison Lord save thy people”. Grenades were flung into the mine but the singing continued for a long period. The bodies of Mother Elizabeth and Sister Barbara were recovered and after some time taken to the Orthodox Church of St Mary Magdalene on the Mount of Olives.

These and many other lives of holy courage and dedication have been an inspiration beyond their own countries and Elizabeth Federovna is remembered not only at Westminster Abbey but in the small church of St Silas Pentonville in London because they show us all the meaning of deepest faith in God and that his Church cannot live or survive with lukewarm or mediocre disciples.

Fr. Geoffrey Neal

Catholic Affinity

On Saturday 22th February 2020 the third ecumenical meeting between The Nordic Catholic Church (NCC UK) and The Anglican Catholic Church (ACC UK) was hosted by the latter in the proCathedral, St. Augustine, near Canterbury. Since last March these meetings have mirrored the Union of Scranton convocation program for a renewed Catholicity in the United States between the ACC and other Anglican jurisdictions and the PNCC.

After a Votive Mass for Christian Unity celebrated by Bishop Damien Mead and with homily by Bishop Roald Nikolai Flemestad, lunch was served in the Parish Hall. The lively conversation at table was followed by a more formal – but not less cordial – discussion in the church where the two bishops in dialogue introduced the talks giving their evaluation on how we are to counter the challenge from the overwhelming pressure from the secular culture around us.

In the current situation we must learn to relate to the world as it is today. Therefore, time has come to clarify the issues, to formulate the problems and to discuss this in the light of the priorities given in our Catholic identity. These challenges will be on the agenda at our coming meetings.

A reportage with more pictures is available on the ACC UK website here.

and to dust thou shalt return…

Shrove Tuesday is the last day of “Shrovetide,” the week preceding the beginning of Lent. The word itself, Shrovetide, is derived from the Latin words carnem levare, meaning “to take away the flesh” and was the time to cast off things of the flesh and to prepare spiritually for Lent.

From “Parish Life in Medieval England”

The English term provides the best meaning for this period. “To shrive” meant to hear confessions. In the Anglo-Saxon “Ecclesiastical Institutes,” recorded by Theodulphus and translated by Abbot Aelfric about AD 1000, Shrovetide was described as follows: “In the week immediately before Lent everyone shall go to his confessor and confess his deeds and the confessor shall so shrive him as he then may hear by his deeds what he is to do in the way of penance.”

Lent then would become a time for penance and renewal of faith and reordering out lives with God as the focus. The ancient word for this discipline was ascesis so let us use this time for spiritual ascesis or exercise, shedding some unnecessary mental fat, toning the muscles of attention and patience.

New Bishop for the Polish National Catholic Church (PNCC)

Congratulations to Fr Jerry Rafalko who was elected Bishop for the Polish National Catholic Church (PNCC). He will be consecrated on April 30th 2020 – together with Bishop-Elect Ottar M. Myrseth of the Nordic Catholic Church – at St. Stanislaus Cathedral in Scranton by the whole college of bishops.

New Bishop for Scandinavia

It was with great joy that the news reached us from Oslo, that Fr Ottar Mikael Myrseth has been elected as the new bishop of NCC Scandinavia. In this office he will succeed Bishop Roald who will continue as bishop for the NCC communities in continental Europe and the UK.

Fr Ottar Mikael Myrseth

Fr Ottar is well known to most of us as one of the founding members of the Nordic Catholic Church. Since 2013 he has served as Bishop Roald’s Vicar General.

The consecration of Fr Ottar will take place on April 30th in Scranton, Pennsylvania, and his installation as bishop is scheduled for the 16th of May in Oslo.

The clergy of the NCC meets in Hastings to discuss ecumenical relations

The main point on the agenda during the clergy conference on March 22-24 was the upcoming convocation between The Union of Scranton and different Anglo-Catholic Churches in the USA during the last week of April.

Bishops with Very Rev. Fathers Geoffrey Neal and Raymond Thompson.

On the second day of our meeting Bishop Damian Mead of the Anglican Catholic Church UK (ACC-UK) invited us to meet with his senior clergy at his home in Lydd, East Sussex, for informal talks about relevant issues. The discussions took place in a joyful atmosphere of consensus and will be followed up by a new meeting in September. More information is available at the ACC-UK website here.

Our Celtic Roots

Our clergy in Europe can be identified by their Celtic lapels or pectoral crosses. This is because the Nordic Church acknowledges that the Gospel first came to their shores by way of Irish slaves and monks, possibly from Lindisfarne, this being the first coming together of British and Viking Christians. Still more than 60 Celtic stone crosses remain from the Midddle Ages standing in Western Norway, one of them [see attached picture] in the Loen village at Stryn in Nordfjord where the NCC Norway has a small community.

Realising that we in Britain share this common Celtic history, the clergy now have their own Celtic cross made from a traditional Irish design and produced by craftsmen in the Shetlands islands. The unique Celtic cross is especially thought of as pointing to Christ’s victory as the simple cross breaks through and transforms the circle of the world. Many of these stone crosses still stand in the ruins of Celtic monasteries in Ireland and other parts of the British Isles as they once were clearly signs of the unity of different churches and people kept together by a shared Christian culture and spiritual tradition and not by administration. [See photo of the NCC UK pectoral cross with inter linking circles symbol of the Blessed Trinity.]

The roots we share in our Celtic past have such a distinctive character in piety and discipline which came from the austere traditions of the desert fathers of Coptic and Orthodox monastic migrants and found a place in the lives of people who had to flee their homelands in France and Eastern England. This was a faith not based upon success and comfort but coped with hardship that relied upon the deep orthodox faith they had received. These things may be helpful to us as we seek an authentic yet relevant understanding of the demands in our present century.

The story is well known of the Great Pope Gregory’s vision after seeing the young British slaves in the Roman markets; and how he set about rebuilding the Church in the outer fringes of the Roman Empire through the missionary efforts of monks led by Augustine to Canterbury in 597 AD. Less well known is that in the same year St. Columba died in Lindisfarne. Columba, Ninian, Aidan and others were the leaders of the Church that had existed in the British Isles from the post Apostolic age and which Augustine found still alive in Kent.

Lindisfarne Priory from above

Lindisfarne Priory from above

Although the early history is shrouded in legend partly because the monastic written material was destroyed in the library monasteries by Henry VIII at the dissolution, Celtic bishops were known to have participated in the early Councils of the universal Church for many years. It is also known that the Celtic monks, priests and bishops traveled between Cornwall, Ireland, Wales, Scotland and Northern England and as far as Norway where the martyred Irish princess Sunniva died. The Scandinavian King St Olav too had connections with various people and places in Britain including Glastonbury. So there is much in a shared history that already binds us together.

But it is not only the history that is important, it is also the unique and distinctive character of Celtic Christian piety, discipline and life which could support our present efforts to cope with the world. The Christian Celtic missions were spontaneous and flexible without the over bearing institutional structures that developed later. The Celtic Church was not hierarchical, their itinerant bishops wore green rather than the imperial purple of Rome and the saints were driven by a sense that they belonged to God, the wooden church buildings and monasteries were small and basic. From these came the missionary monks of Iona, Lindisfarne, Inch Abbey Downpatrick and Bardsey Island, men like Aidan, Cuthbert, David, Patrick and many more.

But we should search for the truly Christian Celtic culture and avoid an over romantic attitudes to Celtic life derived from the pre-Christian world of the Druids that have nothing to do with the gospel of Christ and his holiness to which we are called.

Fr. Geoffrey Neal

New Deacons and Subdeacons in the Nordic Catholic Church

Over the past few months, the Nordic Catholic Church has progressed further in building our Catholic orders. We are enriched and thankful for the addition of four new deacons and two subdeacons. In particular we pray for God’s blessing on these vital ministries, so close to the heart of our Saviour and the building of his body on earth.

New deacon and subdeacon at Our Saviour’s Parish, Stockholm

On august 27th in the Chapel of Our Lady Subdiakon Ansgar Mattias was ordained to the deaconate by Bishop Roald Nikolai who at the same occasion installed Lector Björn Holmqvist as subdeacon.

More information is available on the Stockholm website.


International ordinations to the deaconate near Lake Constance

With participation of family, friends and members of the communities in Germany, Switzerland and Italy Bishop Roald Nikolai ordained three deacons on October 28th: Pastoral assistant Ralf Blasberg (Düsseldorf), Subdeacon Volker Schulte (Windisch, Switzerland) and Subdeacon Davide Mossenta (Udine, Italy). The ordinations took place in Oberhomberg, the Liturgies of the Hour and social gatherings in Ebenweiler. Warm thanks for excellent organisation of the church event to the hosts, our Brethren of the Priory of St. Andrew OPR.

Installation of a subdeacon at St. Nicholas mission, Karlskrona

During the Bishop’s traditional visit to St. Nicholas mission for the celebration of its Patron Saint, Mikael Salminen was installed as subdiakon on the Second Sunday of Advent. Mikael who has been member of the Church since start of the mission in Karlskrona in 2013, has served the last years as acolyte.

England welcomes an experienced priest into the team

The Reverend Canon Edward Bryant was conditionally ordained by Bishop Roald Nikolai on November 4th and will serve in Hastings East Sussex. He will begin to build an ecumenical oratory in the area in which teaching and prayer will be given for the building and strengthening of Christian life.

After the ordination mass which took place in the Priory of St. Thomas Church at Rugeley with attendance of NCC UK clergy, guests and family, Fr. Edward was given an antimension symbolising the eucharistic bonds between the Bishop and the newly ordained.

The Nordic Catholic Church is grateful for all the support Fr. Edward Bryant has received by friends from Churches in the locality.

Fr. Edward comes to us with a great deal of experience as a priest of the Anglican Church. As a young man he went to the University of Manchester and Goldsmiths college in the University of London. In secular life he has been a teacher and a manager in the telecom industry before his ordination in 1978. He has much pastoral experience in his former diocese of Chichester. Edward Bryant has been a widower for several years with a family of two adult sons and a grandson.

Geoffrey Neal, Vicar General

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