Archive for the ‘Liturgy’ Category

Harrowing of Hell

“He descended to the dead . . .”

In the midst of life we are in death;
from whom can we seek help?
From you alone, O Lord,
who by our sins are justly angered.

Holy God, Holy and Mighty,
Holy and merciful Savior,
deliver us not into the bitterness of eternal death.

Lord, you know the secrets of our hearts;
shut not your ears to our prayers,
but spare us, O Lord.

Holy God, Holy and Mighty,
Holy and merciful Savior,
deliver us not into the bitterness of eternal death.

O worthy and eternal Judge,
do not let the pains of death
turn us away from you at our last hour.

Holy God, Holy and Mighty,
Holy and merciful Savior,
deliver us not into the bitterness of eternal death.

Holy Thursday, 15th c. Russian

Holy Thursday, 15th c. Russian


Maundy Thursday

There is something about the Maundy Thursday liturgy that always connects with my deepest feelings . . . In fact, I think it is probably my most favorite liturgy of the entire Church Year! Maundy Thursday is so very different in tone and mood. It is something quite “other” than the deep solemnity of Good Friday, or the dark brilliance of Midnight Mass at Christmas, or even the glorious joy of the Easter Vigil.aPerhaps what I most like about it is that it is so very ordinary, so very simple.

When I was a sister of the Order of St. Helena, the Convent celebrated Holy Week according to the ancient traditions of the Church, following the Monastic schedule: We all kept complete silence for the entire week (except for the Offices—Morning and Evening Prayer, Noonday Prayer and Compline). Even guests who came to spend the week with us entered into the silence, which seemed to deepen as the week went along and we read all the scriptures telling of Jesus’ last week: His grand entrance into the City on Palm Sunday, his teaching in the Temple, and his driving out the money-changers. . . . It was all like being a participant in a grand drama.

Yet when we came to the afternoon of Maundy Thursday, the mood shifted: our silence was ended as we bustled around in the kitchen, preparing an Agape Feast of roast lamb and all the trimmings. Even the chapel and sacristy became places of heightened activity: polishing the best silver chalice and preparing for the vigil through the night.

But even in the bustling around, there was an awareness that what we were doing was so ordinary, so simple

Ordinary, simple activities that all of us, as single people and families, have been doing this night also: We’ve had our evening meal, perhaps leisurely, perhaps rushed, yet all of us doing what we do every night of our lives . . . Gathering around our kitchen tables at the close of the day, perhaps with family, or friends; gathering to eat our meals, to talk, to be with one another.

Now, in the liturgy, we are about to do another simple thing: to give rest to the weary by reaching out and touching each other—by bending some tired, aching backs to lean over and touch gently some tired, aching and dirty feet. Simply to do for another what we might wish to have done for our own weariness.

Then we will gather again around this second table to share in another very simple meal: a morsel of bread, a sip of wine.

And then the night will close down, and we will each go off our separate ways—some to sleep, some to work, some to watch and pray.

Simple things: eating, touching, praying.

Simple things which have been done down through the ages from the time the world began—in different ways, in different times, even to different Gods—but still such simple things.

Pre-historic cave dwellers sharing a successful hunt around a fire—eating quickly, speaking but rarely, drawing close to one another as the night draws in with its unknown terrors.

A wandering Aramean herdsman—Abraham—offering curds and milk and a young calf to three strangers by the oaks of Mamre, and receiving their commiserations about a barren wife named Sarah.

City dwellers, aliens in a foreign land, preparing to flee their oppressors, eating in haste of roasted lamb, and bitter herbs, and unleavened bread.

Within my own memory, the family gathering at the end of a long day, eating our dinner, sharing the news of the day, simply being in the presence of one another in quiet communion and joy. And then we’d adjourn to the living room to sit by the fire, read the paper, do homework. And so often, Daddy would ask my sister or me to rub his feet, tired from standing in long hours of surgery or from walking miles of irrigation ditches on the farm.

Simple, ordinary things of eating…touching…loving.

And yet so very profound.

These very simple things are so full of meaning and power and love that they have undergirded the whole of Western civilization as we know it. Ordinary actions meeting ordinary human needs, becoming the most powerful sacraments of God’s love.

Simple things we do, but O! such a wealth of riches held for us in their very simplicity.

We think of Maundy Thursday as the beginning of the Triduum—the “Three Days” of Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday: In the monastic tradition there is an intensification of silence, a paring down of the Office to its bare bones of psalms and collect; and then the heady joy of a talking dinner, a joy is muffled by the knowledge of the hours that lie before us . . . the hours when each of us would “watch one hour” before the reserved Sacrament, in memory of the dark hours Jesus spent in the Garden of Gethsemane, the hours during which his disciples fell asleep.

Maundy Thursday is also the time in which we celebrate the centrality of the Eucharist—of its institution on this night—of the words of Jesus: “This is my Body. This is my Blood.”

We move from dinner that feeds our bodies to the Eucharist that nourishes our souls. We move from the light-hearted banter of late afternoon to the solemn joy of touching one another, hands to feet.

We move from the communal sharing of the dinner table to the communion of the altar—and then we move from that union with one another to the solitude of our own homes, some of us perhaps spending an hour in prayer this night, as we too, remember Jesus in the Garden as he prayed, “Father, let this cup be taken from me . . .

Through all these activities—family meals and the washing of feet, and the sharing of Holy Communion, there runs a single thread, a single meaning: That is the command of this night: To love one another.

Just as the most simple actions become such profoundly grace-filled sacraments, so too does that single thread of love lead us to many levels, in many directions.

It leads us to the immense love brought to us through the faithfulness of the church over the ages; to the love that reaches out to embrace the penitent and the sorrowful; to the love that restores both the individual and the community.

There is a wonderful moment in the old Roman rite of reconciliation on Maundy Thursday, in which the penitents (barefooted and carrying unlit candles) are presented by the archdeacon to the Bishop at the door of the church. The archdeacon says,

“The acceptable time is at hand, the day of God’s mercy and man’s salvation, when death is destroyed and eternal life begins—For, although there is no moment when God’s goodness and love are absent, now in his mercy his forgiveness of sins is more abundant . . . Now our community is increased by the reborn, our numbers augmented by those returning. The waters cleanse and so do tears; therefore we rejoice at those who are first called, and our joy is great when sinners are forgiven.”

“Waters cleanse, and so do tears.” . . . This is the sign of that great love which calls us here tonight. If we are to be fully human, fully who we are called to be by God, we often need to weep with one another, to forgive one another, to be cleansed and healed together.

We also need to nourish one another. How well do we truly know and care for one another? We may live, work, eat, and pray together but so often we may walk in loneliness in the midst of community. This, too, is where we are led by that great thread of love: to the love that truly nourishes the other—”This is my Body, given for you.” To the love that draws us all into the one great bond of love in Christ Jesus. And above all we are drawn to the immense love of the Father that sustained Jesus in the loneliness of the Garden, and that sustains us in our loneliness.

It is not easy to discover this kind of loving nourishment. Perhaps it is particularly difficult to find in a one-sex, celibate community such as a monastery or convent; perhaps it is also difficult to find in ordinary families, in ordinary communities. Yet that great difficulty is also our greatest opportunity for truly finding and sharing the nourishment of love.

I don’t know exactly how it is done, but perhaps an experience I had years ago may help reveal it. One morning, while celebrating Eucharist at the convent, I looked at the wine in the chalice and saw something I had never before seen. In the center of the wine was a light, through which it seemed I was able to gaze into the whole heart of the universe. Then I realized that the light was formed by a perfectly symmetrical reflection from the four sanctuary lamps.

Because of the angles at which the light was reflected, it could only be seen when one stood in the place of the celebrant. I could not gather the sisters around the altar and show them this light all at the same time. It could only be seen by someone standing in one particular spot. It felt very lonely when I realized no one else could see what I saw—at least not in that moment. I could only tell others of the Light . . . the Love which I saw in the chalice at that moment.

Perhaps this is a metaphor for the loneliness which so many of us experience in our culture: the loneliness of parent and child; the loneliness of the elderly; the loneliness of the homeless; the loneliness of the ethnic or sexual minority. . . The love that we each see can only be seen by our own eyes; and yet we are drawn by that same love to carry it to each and every one of us. If we do not share the love that sustains our loneliness, if we do not nourish one another with that love, we too will die, we too will be abandoned and hungry.

Simple things we do this night:




Simple things which are so profound, and which are rooted in Love. Simple things which each of us sees from our own eyes, in particular and individual ways. Simple things which speak of the Love of God . . . but only if we speak, only if we eat together, touch one another, pray together.

Jesus says to his disciples on this night, as he washes their feet: “Do you know what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord; and you are right, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you.”

Simple things.


O Lord, in your great mercy,

Open the ears of your people,
that they may hear your Truth.

O Lord, in your great mercy,

Open the eyes of your people,
that they may see your Justice.

O Lord, in your great mercy,

Open the hearts of your people,
that they may serve your Love.

In the Name of the Father,
and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.


Nativity of Christ


I do not need to begin this Christmas meditation with a listing of the raucous and hurtful noises filling our world—you know it as well as I do.

And so this year my prayer for us all, near and far, friend and foe, beloved and stranger, is simply that this season of celebrating the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ might open each of our hearts to the Holy Silence of an innocent Babe born into His Father’s World, a world of beauty and abundance, a world of joy and peace, yet a world so often torn asunder by our inability, our unwillingness to recognize the eternal gifts given to all humankind, to all creation.

The Gospel of John says, “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” Perhaps another way of saying that could be, “The Silence swallows the noise, and the noise has not overcome it.”


Come, Lord Jesus, Come:
Fill the earth with
Holy Silence

Holy Silence-
gift of gentleness and peace
to terror and cruelty;

Holy Silence-
gift of humility and love
to arrogance and pride;

Holy Silence-
gift of compassion and joy
to hate and revenge;

Holy Silence-
gift of calm and hope
to fear and despair;

Holy Silence-
gift of strength and faith
to doubt and distrust.

Come, Lord Jesus, Come:
Fill our hearts with
Holy Silence

SC+ © 2015

He is risen, indeed! Alleluia!

Holiest of Holy

Holiest of Holy


It is Easter morning, and our hope is ever born anew.

And inexplicably–only God knows why–this poem, prophetic, apocalyptic, and eschatological as it is, springs to mind.

The Second Coming

W.B. Yeats in 1919

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: somewhere in sands of the desert
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.
The darkness drops again; but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

May you know the hope of the risen Christ this day.

Susan Creighton+



 Wise men from the East opened their Treasure,
offering Him gifts . . .


 If I could give Christ Jesus a gift, would it be GOLD,
remembering others who freeze for lack of shelter?

If I could give Christ Jesus a gift, would it be INCENSE,
remembering others who choke for lack of clean air?

If I could give Christ Jesus a gift would it be MYRRH,
remembering others who die for lack of fragrant oil?


If I could give Christ Jesus a gift, it would be GOLD,
the GOLD of SILENCE in daily prayer.

If I could give Christ Jesus a gift, it would be INCENSE,
the INCENSE of JOY offered at the altar.

If I could give Christ Jesus a gift, it would be MYRRH,
the MYRRH of TEARS for easing of wounds.

Susan Creighton, 2014



Alleluia! The Angel returns...

Alleluia! The Angel returns…

On Christmas Day, 1995, as I planted two small Yew trees (traditionally seen as sacred trees, and known for their healing properties) near my meditation spiral, I realized that these “Angel and Cradle” driftwood pieces, and a large, heart-shaped rock I had recently found on the beach at Camano Island, were the perfect memorial for my recovery from a double mastectomy for breast cancer.

It was, of course, an even more perfect symbol for the Incarnation, as the Angel hovered over the Holy Child resting in the simple Cradle shaped only by the hand of God.

When moving from Camano to Bellingham, the Angel, cradle and heart-rock came with me, standing guard for years near the entrance to my Anchorhold. The Yew trees, however, stayed behind. This spring something deep within my soul stirred, and I knew it was time to bring the Angel closer. She now resides on my back deck, still hovering over the Cradle and Heart-rock. And on either side are dwarf Yew shrubs. And beside the Cradle is a stone basin in which the birds delight as they baptize themselves in rainwater.

Today is Easter, and now, on this great Feast of the Resurrection, the symbols of the Incarnation are utterly transformed: The Angel has become the Cross of the Crucifixion, the Cradle has become the Tomb; and the Heart-rock Holy Child has become the Resurrected Christ, “the spiritual rock that is Christ” (1 Corinthians 10:4).

Alleluia! Christ is Risen!
He is Risen Indeed! Alleluia!

NativityChristmas Eve, 2013

As the Holy Babe lies hidden amongst the tiny birds and pinecones of my Advent Wreath, preparing for His arrival at the crèche on Christmas Eve, I find myself turning to a review of those ancient days.

Bethlehem, Jerusalem, and the Galilee, and nearly all of the Mediterranean, as well as much of Western Europe and Britain lay under the yoke of Roman armies—called Pax Romana by modern historians. Yet even in this period of relative political peace, many were enslaved; disease and famine often drew near; and the various passions of temper and desire continued to rage within the hearts of humankind.

And in the next few centuries, more trouble brewed: the poor became worse off, while a tiny percentage amassed wealth and power; those who were deemed ‘other’ endured scorn, persecution, and sometimes martyrdom; ‘barbarians’ began to challenge the power and influence of the empire, leading to foreign wars and increased taxation; drought, famine, and crop failures, along with soaring unemployment, led to a faltering economy and mass migrations across political boundaries. Even in the fledgling Christian Church, contemporary cultural mores and theological controversies threatened not only the unity of the Church, but even the heart of the Gospel of Christ.

Well, a Christmas letter is not really the place for a history lesson, is it? Yet only a few viewings of the evening news make it all seem so very familiar. And perhaps that is as it should be, for time after time, century after century, it is into this very context of tragedy, sin, and evil that we need to hear anew the great Good News of Jesus the Christ.

Born in humility
becoming our flesh:
Sing, O Angels of Heaven!
Proclaim the birth of Christ!

For only in that great mystery of the Incarnation have the shepherds of Bethlehem, the apostles and disciples of Galilee, the monks, nuns, and hermits of deserts, mountains, and forests, and countless souls—men, women, children—found hope, joy, peace and eternal life.

May this season bring the same to each of our hearts, and thence out into the world.


A Christmas Litany

Born in humility,
Becoming our flesh:
Sing, O Angels of Heaven!
Proclaim the birth of Christ!
Mothers will come,
To nourish a babe:
Sing, O Angels of Heaven!
Proclaim the birth of Christ!
Fathers will come,
To shelter the weak:
Sing, O Angels of Heaven!
Proclaim the birth of Christ!

Children will come,
Trusting, unafraid:
Sing, O Angels of Heaven!
Proclaim the birth of Christ!

Shepherds will come,
Knowing his Voice:
Sing, O Angels of Heaven!
Proclaim the birth of Christ!

Royalty will come,
To adore the true King:
Sing, O Angels of Heaven!
Proclaim the birth of Christ!

Servants will come,
To serve at His Throne:
Sing, O Angels of Heaven!
Proclaim the birth of Christ!

Sinners will come,
To weep at His Feet:
Sing, O Angels of Heaven!
Proclaim the birth of Christ!

Mourners will come,
Seeking the Light:
Sing, O Angels of Heaven!
Proclaim the birth of Christ!

Prisoners will come,
Longing for freedom:
Sing, O Angels of Heaven!
Proclaim the birth of Christ!

Priests will come,
To lift bread and wine:
Sing, O Angels of Heaven!
Proclaim the birth of Christ!

Born in humility,
Becoming our flesh:
Sing, O Angels of Heaven!
Proclaim the birth of Christ!

 © 2010 Susan Creighton





Saint Mary the Virgin August 15

May the prayers of the Most Holy Theotokos sustain the Christians of Egypt, Syria, and other Islamic areas where they are under violent persecution.

Dormition Theotokos


O God, you have taken to yourself the blessed Virgin Mary, mother of your incarnate Son: Grant that we, who have been redeemed by his blood, may share with her the glory of your eternal kingdom; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.



 Song of the Most Holy Theotokos

Hail blessed Virgin, hail and rejoice.
Hail, Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee;
blessed art thou among women,
and blessed is the Fruit of thy womb,
for thou hast borne the Savior of our souls.
Holy Mary, Mother of God,
pray for us now, and at the hour of our death.

 Persecution of Christians

St. Saviour’s Anglican Church in Suez is under heavy attack from those who support former President Mursi. They are throwing stones and Molotov cocktails at the church and have destroyed the car of Rev. Ehab Ayoub, the priest-in-charge of St. Saviour’s Church. I am also aware that there are attacks on other Orthodox churches in Menyia and Suhag in Upper Egypt (photo above), as well as a Catholic church in Suez. Some police stations are also under attack in different parts of Egypt. Please pray and ask others to pray for this inflammable situation in Egypt. —(The Most Rev.) Dr. Mouneer Hanna Anis, Bishop of the Episcopal / Anglican Diocese of Egypt with North Africa and the Horn of Africa

Church of the Virgin Mary and Anba Abram of the Coptic Orthodox. the village of Daljah, the district of Deir Mawas, Minya province. Burning and demolishing the church.

The Church of St. Mina of the Coptic Orthodox. The neighborhood of Abu Hilal Kebly Minya province. Burning the church.

St. George Church. Coptic Orthodox archbishopric land, Sohag province. Burning the church.

Baptist Church. Status of  Bani Mazar, Minya province. Burning the church

Church of the Virgin Lady of the Coptic Orthodox, Nazlah village, Yusuf the righteous district, Fayoum province. Burning the church…

Monastery of the Sisters of the Good Shepherd School. Suez. Burning.

Church of Franciscan fathers. Street 23. Suez. Burning.

Bible society friends, fayoum. Burning.

Church of Saint Maximus. 45th Street. Alexandria. Harassment.

Church of Prince Taodharos Elchatbi. Fayoum. Burning.

Church of the Virgin Lady of the Coptic Orthodox. butchers street. Abu Hilal District. Minia province. Burning.

Church of Saint Mark. Catholic Copts. Abu Hilal District, Minya province. Burning.

Church of the Jesuit Fathers. Abu Hilal District, Minya province. Burning.

Church of the Virgin and Anba Abram. Sohag. Burning.

Church of Saint Mark, and the building of services. electricity Street. Sohag. Burning.

The house of Father Onjelios king. Pastor of the Church of the Virgin and Anba Abram in Daljah. Deir Mawas district. Minya province. Burning the house completely.

Burning the Greek Church in Suez.

See also:

Coptic Defense League:

Persecution of Christians in Syria:

And finally, the words of another Christian of Alexandria, Egypt: Origen of Alexandria, +254

Just as those who endure torOrigen3tures and sufferings demonstrate in martyrdom an excellence more illustrious than those not tested in this way, so also those who byusing their great love for God have broken and torn apart such worldly bonds as these in addition to their love of the body and of life, and who have truly borne the Word of God, living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword (Heb. 4:12)—these have been able to return like an eagle to the house of their master (cf. Prov. 23:5 LXX) by breaking apart such bonds and by fashioning wings for themselves. An Exhortation to Martyrdom, XV.  

Dwelling in the Psalms, Part 1

Dwelling in the Psalms, Part 2

Dwelling in the Psalms, Part 3

Part 4

HOLY DWELLING – Saturday and Sunday

As we continue to pray the psalms through the week, and through the architecture of the church, I am reminded of two stories from many years ago, one told me by a friend and another which I witnessed directly. In the first of these, some time in the early 1970’s, my friend’s son, perhaps only four or five years old, said to his mother one day after church, “Mama, what’s happening up there in front behind the fence (the altar rail) is what’s really REAL, isn’t it?” His child’s innocence enabled him to perceive the real presence of Christ in the bread and wine in a way that most of us struggle to ever know. In the second instance only a few years later, I was attending a meeting of Episcopal religious orders held at one of the more traditional convents. We gathered for Eucharist in a small chapel, and the celebrant wanted to remove the free-standing altar rail so that we could all gather around. An elderly nun was serving as thurifer, and she simply could not bring herself to step into the sanctuary proper across the line where the rail had stood. At the time, I was appalled that she was so locked into the ‘old’ way of doing things. Now I realize that her actions (perhaps unconscious, but nevertheless genuine) were rooted in an awareness that our souls must be sufficiently prepared to cross that sacred threshold into the Heart. Would that the rest of us (especially we clergy!) had the humility to recognize the sacred ground of the Altar.

For the Altar within the Sanctuary is the preeminent symbol of the Heart, where God dwells, the site within the human soul wherein the most profound and exalted contemplation of the Holy Trinity may occur, and it is the destination to which everyone is called.  St. John Chrysostom says, “Find the door of your heart, and you will find the door of the Kingdom of Heaven” and The Philokalia calls the Heart:

“the spiritual centre of man’s being, man as made in the image of God, his deepest and truest self, or the inner shrine, to be entered only through sacrifice and death, in which the mystery of the union between the divine and the human is consummated.”

And so, in this arrangement of praying the psalms week by week, over a four week cycle, we will find ourselves on Saturdays focused on the kind of Holy Dwelling best exemplified by the Theotokos, the Blessed Virgin Mary, the original sanctuary of our Lord, as well as on the fullness of virtue and purity to which the soul gradually ascends.

On Sunday, our prayer through the psalms brings us to the praise and worship of God for the ultimate expression of Holy Dwelling in the Resurrection of Christ, as well as giving us hints of theosis, in which as St. Maximus the Confessor says:

“When, urged by love, the mind soars to God, it has no sensation either of itself or of anything existing. Illumined by the limitless Divine light, it is insensible to all the created, just as is the physical eye to stars in the light of the sun.”

Yes, this is the “really, Real” that only an innocent child—or a holy saint—could recognize. Even so, the wonder is that every time we make our way up that long aisle, though the choir, to the altar, and receive in our own hands and mouths the Body and Blood of Christ, we, too, know the “really, Real”; we, too, enter in to Holy Dwelling.



Holy Dwelling finds the Soul increasingly dwelling within her heart, and now, even the mind is quiet and ‘naked’.

Holy Dwelling brings the Soul ever nearer to the goal of her journey in God. Now, she experiences an ever deepening illumination and contemplation of all that is, seen and unseen.

Holy Dwelling brings the Soul to contemplation of the Holy Trinity, moving beyond mere words about God, to the wordless silence of the heart in pure adoration.

Holy Dwelling is found as the Soul enters the sacred altar of the heart, the Kingdom of Heaven, the place where God alone dwells.


HOLY DWELLING Incarnation / Virtue 
Vespers37, Part I1112147
37, Part II1046441


HOLY DWELLING Resurrection / Theosis
Vespers110107, Part I12111
30107, Part II12431



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