Tuesday, September 30, 2014

poem: the poet laughs (at himself!)

What with all this business about google having to take people's info offline, I thought I'd google myself and see what's out there. Not much, as it turns out! But I did come across this poem I wrote in 1999 (apparently - I don't remember it, but it is there with my name and all the right details with it to support the claim). I was writing a lot of haiku at the time (nothing changes!) and clearly I decided to poke a bit of fun at myself with this wee bit of doggerel. 


The moon is up,
the leaves are spinning,
I feel another
ku beginning.

A dog's chained up,
the cat 's in a tree;
that's worth a decent
ku or three!

A distant cloud,
a half-heard song;
why, I could write
these all day long.

But when it's really worth the words
it doesn't seem quite so absurd.

Prayer diary Tuesday 30 September 2014

The Samaritans ... did not receive him ... James and John ... said, ‘Lord, do you want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?’But he turned and rebuked them. 
Luke 9. 53-55

Reflection
Force is not Christ's way. Our time in this world is given us to work out our salvation; and the decisions we make to accept or reject God in this life will be respected in the next.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Prayer diary Monday 29 September 2014 (St Michael and All Angels)

Nathanael replied, ‘Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!' 
John 1.49

Reflection Before the miracles, before the signs, before the Resurrection, Nathanael believed. Such are the gifts of God to those who have faith in him and love him.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

EGYPT: CALLS FOR INVESTIGATION INTO VIOLENT POLICE RAID ON COPTIC CHRISTIANS

a Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) press release

CSW is calling on the Egyptian Ministry of the Interior to launch an urgent and transparent investigation into raids conducted by police in Al-Minya on 23 September, in which members of the Coptic community were harassed and assaulted, their homes and property destroyed, and 12 people were detained.

The raids occurred after members of the Coptic community protested outside the police station in Samalout Town in Minya Province on 16 September, demanding police action over the abduction of a Christian woman. According to the police, some of the protesters threw Molotov cocktails at the police station, leading to the arrest of over 30 protesters.

In the early hours of the following morning, police stormed the homes and properties of local Copts, destroyed property and physically abused residents, including an elderly woman and children, referring to them as infidels. They also tied up a number of men and detained 12 people, allegedly on spurious grounds. Samalout Misdemeanour Court has since released those detained.

Egypt's Christian community has recently experienced an increase in kidnappings, intimidation, abuse and killings, particularly in Al-Minya, Assiut, Sohag and other governorates in Upper Egypt. Perpetrators, including Islamist militants, often kidnap Coptic men, women and children for ransom or in revenge for the removal of Islamist President Mohammed Morsi in July 2013, which some erroneously blame on the Coptic community. There are longstanding allegations that the authorities have failed to provide sufficient protection for the community, and the inadequate police response has engendered a climate of impunity.

CSW's Chief Executive Mervyn Thomas said, 'It is troubling to learn the Christian community was targeted by the police, even though 30 people had already been arrested in connection with violence at the protest. The new Egyptian constitution states in Article 64 that freedom of belief is absolute, and in article 9 the State undertakes to ensure equal opportunity for all citizens without discrimination. Such acts by the security forces constitute a serious breach of the constitution, as does the alleged failure of local authorities to protect Coptic communities from kidnap and extortion. An urgent and transparent investigation into the incident in Samalout is needed in order to ensure that the full facts are established and those guilty of acting inappropriately are brought to justice. We also urge the Egyptian authorities to be more proactive in ensuring that the Coptic communities which currently suffer extortion and abductions are assisted and protected.'

For further information or to arrange interviews please contact Kiri Kankhwende, Press Officer at Christian Solidarity Worldwide on +44 (0)20 8329 0045 / +44 (0) 78 2332 9663, email kiri@csw.org.uk or visit www.csw.org.uk.

Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) is a Christian organisation working for religious freedom through advocacy and human rights, in the pursuit of justice.

which of the two brothers are you?

 May my words be in the Name of the Holy & Undivided Trinity: + Father, Son, & Holy Spirit. Amen.

We enter the picture mid-scene in our Gospel reading today, as it were. The day before, Jesus had entered Jerusalem in triumph, the crowds casting down their cloaks on the road before him to carpet his way, tearing branches from the trees to wave as flags and banners, chanting Hosanna, calling him the Son of David, and crying out that he came in the name of the Lord. Then he went into the temple and turned over the tables of the money-changers, and drove the dealers in animals out with a whip made from cords.

The religious authorities were indignant, but could do nothing in the face of the adulation of the crowd. Jesus left; but the next day he was back, teaching. The chief priests and the elders were waiting. They were no lovers of Jesus. Not only was he a threat to their authority, but he stirred up the people. They feared he might lead a revolt that would bring the wrath of the Romans upon them, as false Messiahs had done before. And they thought Jesus was false, of that we may be sure – why else would they, in the face of all the signs and wonders he performed, have declared that he cast out devils by the power of Beelzebub, as St Jerome points out?

But they have not been idle in the night; they have been plotting; and when he returns to the temple they have ready a trap for him, as they have so many times before. They have prepared a question which, no matter how he answers, they believe, is bound to condemn or undermine him. And so they ask him: By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?' If he claims divine authority, they will declare him a blasphemer; if he does not, they will ridicule him before the crowds.

They expect to trap God incarnate in their snare of words. But Jesus turns the tables on them, as he has done before. He says to them I will also ask you one question; if you tell me the answer, then I will also tell you by what authority I do these things. Did the baptism of John come from heaven, or was it of human origin?’

His accusers are thrown into confusion. They dare not admit that St John's baptism was of heaven; for they had refused it for themselves. And yet they know the people accounted the Baptist as a great prophet and they are afraid to deny him publicly. And having discussed the matter among themselves they say 'We do not know.' Their refusal to give an honest answer shows that their care is not for truth, to pursue it fearlessly wherever it may take them; but rather their concern is for the things of this world, for power and the approval of men.

But our Lord wants these men who think that they are righteous to know that they in fact are risking their own salvation. And so he tells them the parable of the two brothers. The Church Fathers – those great leaders and writers of the early Church – bishops, teachers, theologians, saints, and mystics – assure us that the first brother stands for the gentiles, those the Jews thought of us as sinners, people who had not before obeyed God's Holy Laws, but who now, with the coming of Christ, will become the New Israel; and the second stands for those who think they are righteous, but in fact are worse by far than those they reject as sinners. Because those sinners – gentiles, harlots, the tax-collectors who collaborate with the Roman invaders, and more – they will come to salvation. Because they will see and believe the evidence that these men reject – the righteousness of St John, that Jesus is the Son of God – and they will be saved; while they, in their hard-heartedness will fail to enter the kingdom of heaven.


The message for us today, I think, is not to allow ourselves to become hard-hearted like those men of long ago, not to say 'yes' with our lips to God's teaching, even as we say 'no' to it in our hearts and in the way we live our lives. There are times when we struggle with our calling to live lives in as Christ-like a way as possible; but God helps us in that struggle. As we read in our Epistle today: 'Therefore, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed me, not only in my presence, but much more now in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure.' God is at work within each and every one of us, helping us to obey his Holy Laws, enabling us to hear and obey his call to be like his Son in every thought and word and deed; to work out our salvation in fear and trembling, in awe, reverence, and love; and at the last to enter his kingdom. I pray you will let his work within you bear fruit. Amen

Examin Sunday 28 September 2014

why love of neighbour impels us to live virtuously ourselves

'If you keep God's commandments you will not become a stumbling-block to others, for there will be nothing offensive or provocative in you. 'Great peace have they who love Thy law, and for them there is no stumbling-block' (Ps. 119:165). Rather they are light, salt and life, in conformity with the Lord's words, 'You are the light of the world, and the salt of the earth' ( Matt. 5:13-14). Light, because they are virtuous in life, lucid in speech, and wise in thought; salt, because they are rich in divine knowledge and strong in the wisdom of God; life, because through their words they bring to life those slain by the passions, raising them up from the pit of despair.


St Niketas Stethatos
mystic, monk, & theologian 
(c. AD 1005 - 1090)

from the Philokalia
Volume 4 
On the Practice of the Virtues: 100 texts
number 79

Saturday, September 27, 2014

prayer diary Saturday 27 September 2014

‘Let these words sink into your ears: The Son of Man is going to be betrayed into human hands.' 
Luke 9.22

Reflection
Christ spoke these words in prophesy of his passion. But the cause of his suffering and death was human sin. Therefore each sin we commit betrays him still. Strive with all your might to be less and less a betrayer of the one who came to save you.

Friday, September 26, 2014

INDIA: US GOVERNMENT URGED NOT TO SIDELINE CONCERNS OF RELIGIOUS MINORITIES DURING MODI VISIT

a Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) press release

Christian Solidarity Worldwide is urging the US government to ensure that the concerns of India's religious minorities are not sidelined in discussions with the Indian Prime Minister Nahendra Modi during his official visit to the US.

Prime Minister Modi arrives in the US today. During his four-day visit he will reportedly meet with President Obama and various members of the House of Representatives and the Senate, in addition to addressing the United Nations General Assembly.

Since May 2014, there have been over 600 incidences of communal violence against religious minorities, and victim-survivors of these and past incidences of communal violence have yet to receive justice, or adequate compensation for their loss. CSW is calling on the Indian Government to develop a comprehensive framework to deal with outbreaks of communal and targeted violence, to actively pursue reform of the Indian Police Service, and to address the delivery of justice and compensation to the victims of communal violence through an examination of the legal and judicial process.

CSW's recent briefing on India notes how the scars of a massacre in 2008 continue to plague the Christians in Odisha State, who live in a climate of insecurity, and in fear of further attacks. The lack of will by state institutions to deter future communal violence means that the plight of religious minorities, not only in Odisha, but the rest of India, is deeply worrying.

CSW's Chief Executive Mervyn Thomas said, 'CSW is urging the US government to raise the issue of widespread hate campaigns by state and non-state actors against religious minorities in talks with Prime Minister Modi, and to insist that justice is done for the victim-survivors of violence against religious minorities. We are encouraging our US-based supporters to email their representative in Congress in order to encourage them to discuss the concerns of India's religious minorities with the Prime Minister. With the India-US relationship identified by President Obama and the Secretary of State as one of the US' top four foreign policy priorities; we need to seize this opportunity to ensure that the rights of India's religious minorities are on the agenda of this maiden visit of Prime Minister Narendra Modi to the country.'

For further information or to arrange interviews please contact Kiri Kankhwende, Press Officer at Christian Solidarity Worldwide on +44 (0)20 8329 0045 / +44 (0) 78 2332 9663, email kiri@csw.org.uk or visit www.csw.org.uk.

Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) is a Christian organisation working for religious freedom through advocacy and human rights, in the pursuit of justice.

prayer diary Friday 26 September 2014 (day of discipline and self-denial)

'But who do you say that I am?’ Peter answered, ‘The Messiah of God.’ 
Luke 9.20

Reflection
Who do you say that Christ is? Do you believe all you have been taught by Sacred Scripture, the Creeds, and the doctrines of the Church as to who he is? Study them again. And then ask yourself once more who it is that you say Christ is.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

SUDAN: UN INDEPENDENT EXPERT ON SUDAN CALLS FOR INQUIRY INTO SEPTEMBER PROTESTS AND REVIEW OF APOSTASY LAW

a Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) press release

The UN Independent Expert on the situation of human rights in the Sudan, Mashood Baderin, has called for an independent judicial inquiry into the government crackdown of September 2013, which left at least 200 protesters dead, and a review of Sudan's apostasy laws.

In his address to the Human Rights Council (HRC) on 24 September, Mr Baderin called for an independent judicial inquiry into the government crackdown on the September 2013 protests that left at least 200 dead. The protests began on 23 September in Wad Medani, Gezira State, after the government decided to lift fuel subsidies, leading to a sharp rise in commodities. The protests soon spread across Sudan's northern states, including to the capital city Khartoum, and turned violent when the government instructed the security services to quash them, resulting in the deaths of protesters.

Government officials claim 85 people died; however, civil society organisations estimate that over 200 protesters were killed. Speaking to Sudanese Media during the protests, Dr Ahmed Al Sheikh, the head of the Sudanese Doctors' Syndicate, said at least 210 people had died, mostly from gunshot wounds to the head and chest, with families forced to accept death certificates stating their relatives had died of natural causes.

Political activists have been harassed in the run up to the first anniversary of the protests and the Sudan Tribune newspaper reports that several key activists have also been arrested in what appears to be an attempt to prevent new demonstrations. The general coordinator of the Sudanese Human Rights Network (SHRN), Azhari al-Hag, was reportedly detained by National Intelligence and Security Services (NISS) agents on 21 September and released later on the same day, while Khaled Saad, a member of the opposition Sudanese Congress Party (SCP) executive committee, was arrested on 20 September and detained overnight. The ruling National Congress Party's (NCP) deputy parliamentary speaker Samia Ahmed Mohamed issued a statement on 23 September, warning against any attempt to call for demonstrations on the anniversary of last year's protests. Families of those who died in last year's protests had planned to hold remembrance services on the anniversary of the protests, but have been warned by the NISS not to hold them.

In his report to the HRC Mr Baderin's highlighted the fact that the victims' families had 'expressed hopelessness in their quest for justice'. So far only one case has been taken to court and was dismissed due to an alleged lack of evidence. The Sudanese authorities claim that the low prosecution rate is due to difficulties in identifying those who shot and killed protesters; however, Mr Baderin dismissed this claim as both morally and legally unacceptable.

Mr Baderin also highlighted the case of Meriam Ibrahim, whose convictions for apostasy and adultery were overturned by the Appeal Court in June 2014, and called for a review of article 126 in the 1991 criminal code, which criminalises apostasy. Lawyers for Meriam Ibrahim are taking her case to the constitutional court for a final ruling on the legality of apostasy in view of Sudan's constitutional and international obligations to guarantee freedom of religion or belief.

Christian Solidarity Worldwide's Chief Executive Mervyn Thomas said, 'We echo the calls of the Independent Expert and members of the HRC for the creation of an independent judicial inquiry into the September 2013 protests; an end to impunity and a review of Sudan's apostasy laws. We stand in solidarity with the grieving families who have yet to see justice and call for Sudan to respect their rights to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly. We also urge the international community, especially the African Union and Arab League, to stand in solidarity with victims of human rights violations by holding Sudan to its international and regional obligations, and in particular to articles 18, 19, 21 and 22 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and articles 8, 9, 10 and 11 of the African Charter on Human and People's Rights (ACPHR), which guarantee the freedoms of religion or belief, expression, association and assembly.'

For further information or to arrange interviews please contact Kiri Kankhwende, Press Officer at Christian Solidarity Worldwide on +44 (0)20 8329 0045 / +44 (0) 78 2332 9663, email kiri@csw.org.uk or visit www.csw.org.uk.

Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) is a Christian organisation working for religious freedom through advocacy and human rights, in the pursuit of justice.

prayer diary Thursday 25 September 2014

Herod said, ‘John I beheaded; but who is this about whom I hear such things?’ And he tried to see him. 
Luke 9.9

ReflectionHardened in his wickedness as he was, even Herod felt the draw of Jesus' power. Never abandon your brother or sister, no matter how far gone they may seem to be in their life of sin. Their hardness of heart may yet be broken by Christ.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

poem: Adam awakes

My wife was going through old diaries the other night and found this in the pages of one. It's dated 15 March '07, Rome. If I recall correctly I wrote it after a visit to the Sistine Chapel. 

Adam awakes

God said to Adam
'Get up, there,
off the ground!'

Adam said back
'How can I do that?
Sure, I'm only dust!'

'That's true,' God said.
He reached out his finger
and gave him a poke.

'Try it now,' He said.
Adam jumped up.
'Great!' he said,'
'this is much better.'

'You're still dust,'
God told him,
'but now you've got
a bit of a spark in you.'

'Will it last?' asked Adam.
'No,' said God,'but
you get to pass it on.'

prayer diary Wednesday 24 September 2014

Jesus called the twelve together and gave them power and authority over all demons and to cure diseases, and he sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal. 
Luke 9.1,2

Reflection
What great and wondrous authority Jesus gave to his Apostles. And that authority now resides in the Church our Lord and Saviour established, his One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church. 

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

haiku: after the rain

after the rain
blackbirds on the lawn
   ~worm-feast

prayer diary Tuesday 23 September 2014

He said to them, ‘My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and do it.’ 
Luke 8. 21

Reflection
An intimate relationship with God is possible for all. But it requires that first we hear the word of God and then live out his Holy Law in humble obedience.

Monday, September 22, 2014

haiku: on the crow guard

on the crow guard*
   two jackdaws
     ~beak to beak

*a crow guard is a wire cage or cowl that fits over a chimney pot to stop birds getting in and nesting

prayer diary Monday 22 September 2014

'No one after lighting a lamp hides it under a jar or puts it under a bed.' 
Luke 8.16

Reflection
Your faith is not a private thing to be hidden away only to be taken out on special occasions. It is something you must openly live every moment so that by your life you share it with others and help bring the light of Christ to the world.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

the labourers in the vineyard

May my words be in the Name of the Holy & Undivided Trinity: + Father, Son, & Holy Spirit. Amen.

The parable we hear today in our Gospel reading, that of the labourers in the vineyard, can be read on two levels of meaning … probably many more, but today I will deal with only two. In the first, the workers who come at the different hours are to be seen as the people of Israel, the chosen people, at the various points in salvation history. Finally, at the 11th hour, comes the gentiles. The parable was, on this reading, we are told by Church Fathers such as Origen and St Gregory Jesus' way of helping the Jewish members of the early Church understand that they should not resent that the gentile Christians, who were coming late to the party as it were, were to receive the same reward as them.

Another reading, more common today I think, is to see it as being in line with the reaction of the older brother in the parable of the prodigal son when he hears that his father has killed the fatted calf to celebrate the return of his wastrel brother. I have served you always, he says, and you have never given me so much as a kid goat to have a party with my friends.

The point being made is that sometimes those who have been 'good' all their lives resent the idea that those who have been 'bad' can turn things around late in life and still be entitled to the same reward as they. Our heavenly Father has but one payment for the soul that dies in a state of Grace and that is eternal life – and those who have spent a lifetime earning that reward – not that earning is the right word, but we will use it as it fits in with the parable – may resent it that someone may parachute in at the 11th hour and be given the same as they after only a few years, or perhaps months weeks or days … or even moments in the case of a literal death-bed conversion.

Now first, let us bear in mind that it is wrong to think that the person who is being 'good' all their life is somehow making a sacrifice by being good; that they are somehow giving up all the fun and pleasure that life offers, and grimly going through life in the hope of the reward to come. The temptations of the world, the flesh, and the devil are not pleasures – they are snares intended to destroy us. The Christian must understand that the so-called pleasures of the world are not pleasures but destructive forces; and resisting them is not a denial of pleasure but self-defence of the most important kind – to fight them off is to preserve one's soul unto eternal life.

Also, it is important not to see this passage in isolation from the rest of scripture. I have met those who, seeing all these empty promises as pleasures, think 'well if God will give me the same reward for being 'good' just at the end of my life as for being 'good' all my life, why not live as I please and then repent at the end and gain eternal life?' Christ calls such a person a fool in the parable of the Rich Fool. Not all deaths come with a warning; we are as likely to be struck down in an instant as we are to spend years lingering on a bed of pain. No one knows the day or the hour of their death. But even if we are given time to repent, how likely is it that we will? No one who leads a life of sin spends all the day thinking 'I am a sinner.' Rather they rationalise to themselves that what God, Scripture, Christ, and his Church calls wickedness is good. And a person is not very likely to repent all of a sudden of all that they have spent years training themselves into believing is a perfectly fine way to live.

Equally, it is important not to think that all we have to do to save our souls is accept the invitation into his vineyard, whether it be at the first hour, the 11th, or somewhere in between. Christ himself tells us that not everyone who calls him 'Lord, Lord,' will enter into eternal life; it is not enough to hear his word, we must also obey; we are all sinners trying to be holy, trying to be saints … and it is a struggle that will last us all our lives … we must, as St Augustine tells us, expect the temptations of this world; but remember, as he also says, God will deliver you from them all if your heart has not abandoned him. He does not abandon you and he does not allow you to be tempted beyond your strength.


Why does he allow us to be tempted? Well, as I have said before, if there is no evil to reject, how can you be said to chose good? It is free will that allows us to chose God and his holy law over the devil and all his empty promises. And God will help us to chose him, as long as that is what we want. He wants us to spend all eternity with him in heaven. That is why he made us. And that is why he continues to invite us into his vineyard, from the first breath we take until the last; that is why all our lives he gives us his grace so that we may in the end have eternal life. Amen

Examin Sunday 21 September 2014

'Do we forgive our neighbours their trespasses? God also forgives us in His mercy. Do we refuse to forgive? God, too, will refuse to forgive us. As we treat our neighbours, so also does God treat us. The forgiveness or non-forgiveness, then, of your sins—and hence also your salvation or destruction—depend on you yourself, man. For without forgiveness of sins there is no salvation. You can see for yourself how terrible it is.'

St Philotheos of Sinai, martyr

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Woody Allen forever

In a recent interview filmmaker Woody Allen is quoted as saying: 'There is no God. There is no purpose to the universe. One day the sun will burn out. Earth will be gone and further down the line the entire universe will be gone .. everything we've created will have gone: Beethoven, Shakespeare. It’s a meaningless thing.'

No wonder he also said, many years ago 'I don't want to achieve immortality through my work; I want to achieve immortality through not dying. 
I don't want to live on in the hearts of my countrymen; I want to live on in my apartment.'

Funny and sad at the same time.

haiku: streetlight on the weir

streetlight on the weir
    ~ the heron 
         hunts by night

prayer diary Saturday 20 September 2014

'The ones on the rock are those who, when they hear the word, receive it with joy. But these have no root; they believe only for a while and in a time of testing fall away.' 
Luke 8.13

Reflection
We face many things that test our faith. When trials occur do you stand fast? Do you fall away and think you will ask for forgiveness later? Or do you fall away without even realising that you have done so?

Friday, September 19, 2014

MERIAM IBRAHIM'S LAWYERS STILL UNDER PRESSURE IN SUDAN

a Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) press release

Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) has learned that the lawyers who represented Meriam Ibrahim, whose conviction for apostasy and adultery was overturned by the Appeal Court on 23 June, were hit earlier this week with travel bans by Sudan's legal regulatory board, the Lawyers Admissions Committee. The lawyers, who have faced threats and pressure since taking on Mrs Ibrahim's case, are currently defending the case at the Supreme Court and plan to take it to Sudan's Constitutional Court for a final ruling on the constitutionality of apostasy in the criminal code. 


Although Mrs Ibrahim was freed by the Appeal Court, her case is currently before the Supreme Court following her alleged family's appeal against the decision to overturn her convictions. Mrs Ibrahim's legal team, led by the director of the Justice Centre for Advocacy and Legal Consultancy (Justice Centre) Mr Mohaned Mustafa, intends to take the case to the Constitutional Court after the Supreme Court makes its ruling. The Constitutional Court can make a binding ruling on the conflict between the crime of apostasy, as detailed in article 126 of the Criminal Code, and article 38 of Sudan's constitution, which guarantees freedom of religion or belief, including the right to choose a religion.

On 16 September, the Lawyers Admissions Committee issued Mr Mustafa and four other lawyers working at the Justice Centre with travel bans following a complaint by Mrs Ibrahim's former lawyer, Mr Iman Hassan Abd alrahim, that they had poached his client. Speaking to CSW, Mr Mustafa said: 'The committee can disbar any lawyer that it considers to be working out of line with the code of practice; you do not have to be in Sudan for them to come to their decision. It seems very odd that they would apply a travel ban when their highest power is to strike lawyers from the bar.' The travel ban is the first issued by the regulatory body in its history.

Since representing Meriam Ibrahim, Mr Mustafa and his colleagues at the Justice Centre have experienced harassment and death threats from extremist groups, as well as intimidation from the National Intelligence and Security Services (NISS). Mr Mustafa has received threatening phone calls from extremists accusing him and his colleagues of being 'unIslamic' for representing Mrs Ibrahim and for challenging Sudan's apostasy laws.

CSW Chief Executive Mervyn Thomas said, 'By defending Mrs Ibrahim's case at the Supreme Court and questioning the constitutionality of Sudan's apostasy provisions, Mr Mustafa and his colleagues are upholding a right that is guaranteed under Sudan's interim Constitution and in international covenants to which the nation is party. The unwarranted issuing of travel bans against Mr Mustafa and his colleagues by Sudan's regulatory legal body highlights the lack of independence of the legal system. The freedom of lawyers to defend their clients without facing harassment and intimidation is of paramount importance in ensuring the protection and promotion of human rights. We call upon the international community to hold the Sudanese authorities to account for the safety of these human rights defenders. We also urge support at the Human Rights Council for the renewal and strengthening of the mandate of the UN Independent Expert on Sudan responsible for monitoring human rights violations in the country.'

For further information or to arrange interviews please contact Kiri Kankhwende, Press Officer at Christian Solidarity Worldwide on +44 (0)20 8329 0045 / +44 (0) 78 2332 9663, email kiri@csw.org.uk or visit www.csw.org.uk.

Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) is a Christian organisation working for religious freedom through advocacy and human rights, in the pursuit of justice.

poem: the moth

leaves sieve
pools of light
onto night street 

each
breathing
with the breeze

a moth drifts 
low flying
from pool to pool

drawn
from light
to light


prayer diary Friday 19 September 2014 (day of discipline and self-denial)

Soon afterwards Jesus went on through cities and villages, proclaiming and bringing the good news of the kingdom of God. 
Luke 8.1

Reflection
Our Lord did not just proclaim the good news, he brought it with him wherever he went. We too must live our lives in such a way as to bring his good news into the lives of those we meet.


Thursday, September 18, 2014

NIGERIA: TERROR ATTACKS IN THREE STATES

a Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) press release

Fifteen people were killed and 34 injured were yesterday when suspected members of the Islamist terror group Boko Haram launched a gun and bomb attack on the Federal College of Education (FCE) in the capital of Kano State in northern Nigeria.

According to reports armed men fired shots as they approached a hall at the FCE's new site at Gadon Kaya on Zaria Road at around 2pm as a lecture was underway. One detonated a suicide device while the other launched improvised explosive devices (IED), before opening fire on students who were attempting to escape. Police at a nearby checkpoint are reported to have responded promptly to the incident, shooting two assailants dead. Two AK-47s were recovered from the scene.

In a statement delivered by a spokesperson, President Goodluck Jonathan commiserated with the people and residents of Kano and commended the Nigeria Police for their prompt action.

Later that evening, the Nigerian Army's 7th Division scored a significant victory when it repelled a major attack by Boko Haram on Konduga Town in Borno State, reportedly killing 100s of sect members. On 12 September, the army had fought off an earlier attempt by a large Boko Haram contingent to seize Konduga Town for use as a forward base from which to launch a major attack on the Borno State capital, Maiduguri, causing the sect to suffer heavy losses in equipment and manpower, including the loss of an infamous emir.

Nevertheless, according to a recent statement by the Catholic Church of Nigeria, Boko Haram is currently in control of 25 north eastern towns, and an intensification in terrorist activities within the last month has caused massive displacement, creating 'a huge humanitarian crisis'. Moreover, the sect continues to abduct women and forcibly conscript young men. On 13 September, over 50 women, including married ones, were abducted from Gulak Town. Sect members also conducted indoctrination sessions, forcibly conscripting every able bodied youth when their audiences failed to volunteer to join them.

Elsewhere, armed Fulani gunmen launched renewed attacks on three communities in Sanga Local Government Area (LGA), in the southern part of Kaduna State during the early hours of 17 September. Around 40 people are reported to have been killed and dozens more injured in the attacks on Fadan Karshi, Fadan Karshi Daji and Unguwan Ganye villages. Among the victims were retired clergyman Reverend Jacob Aku and his wife. According to local reports, prior to attacking the villages the gunmen had ambushed a military patrol van, killing one soldier and injuring four others. The attacks were the first in the area since June, when at least 123 villagers were murdered by Fulani gunmen

CSW's Chief Executive Mervyn Thomas said, 'Our thoughts and prayers are with those who lost loved ones in the attacks in Kano and Kaduna States, and with the women abducted from Gulak Town, who we pray will soon be rescued or released. We warmly welcome news of military successes, but are deeply concerned by reports of mass displacement, and by the number of towns said to be under Boko Haram's control. Clearly, as Nigeria continues its efforts to end the group's campaign of terror, the nation will need international assistance in order to provide for its burgeoning number of internally displaced people adequately. In addition, the fact gunmen were able to overrun current security arrangements in the southern part Kaduna State and take more innocent lives serves as an indication that the military presence in that area must be reviewed and increased. '

For further information or to arrange interviews please contact Kiri Kankhwende, Press Officer at Christian Solidarity Worldwide on +44 (0)20 8329 0045 / +44 (0) 78 2332 9663, email kiri@csw.org.uk or visit www.csw.org.uk.

Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) is a Christian organisation working for religious freedom through advocacy and human rights, in the pursuit of justice.

haiku: shallow stream

shallow stream
  ~a leaning pine
       the heron's perch

prayer diary Thursday 18 September 2014

'Therefore, I tell you, her sins, which were many, have been forgiven; hence she has shown great love. But the one to whom little is forgiven, loves little.’ 
Luke 7.47

Reflection
We are all sinners, in need of God's forgiveness. Sadly, some in their great pride think they have little need of this. It is the humble of heart who know how much they need God's mercy, and great is their love for him in return.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

haiku: autumn leaves

autumn leaves
   on the weir
      ~silver streams through gold

prayer diary Wednesday 17 September 2014

'They are like children sitting in the market-place and calling to one another, “We played the flute for you, and you did not dance;we wailed, and you did not weep.”' 
Luke 7.32

Reflection
There are some who will criticise you no matter what you do; truly it is a case of damned if you do and damned if you don't. Ignore them. There is only one whom you must hear and obey for he has the words of eternal life.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

CHINA: TWO MORE NANLE CHURCH DETAINEES SENTENCED IN HENAN

a Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) press release

Two more detainees from Nanle County Christian Church, Henan Province, detained in November 2013 after a group of church members attempted to petition a higher authority about a land dispute involving the church, have been found guilty of 'gathering a crowd to disrupt public order'.

On 9 September Zhang Cuijuan was sentenced to one and a half years in prison, while Zhao Junling was sentenced to one year in prison with a reprieve of two years, during which he will be under surveillance.

According to a report from China Aid, the hearing took place a day earlier than planned, meaning that Zhang Cuijuan's lawyers Li Baiguang and Liu Peifu were unable to attend. Zhao Junling reportedly dismissed his lawyers before the hearing in exchange for 'leniency'. Zhang Cuijuan plans to appeal.

The sentencing comes less than a month after Puyang Intermediate Court rejected an appeal by Zhang Shaojie, pastor of Nanle Church and Zhang Cuijuan's brother, who was sentenced to 12 years in prison and fined 100,000 RMB (approximately £9,400) for fraud and 'gathering a crowd to disturb public order'. In November and December 2013 Pastor Zhang and over 20 other members of Nanle County Christian Church were detained without formal documentation after a group of church members attempted to petition a higher authority about a land dispute involving the church.

One other Nanle Church detainee, Li Cairen, remains in detention: her whereabouts are unknown. Li was taken into custody in December 2013. A testimony against Pastor Zhang allegedly written by Li was used in his trial; however, Lawyer Li Fangping has noted that Li's testimony was written while she was in detention herself, and that a request by the defence counsel for Li to appear in court as a witness was rejected.

Mervyn Thomas, Chief Executive of Christian Solidarity Worldwide, said, 'The sentences given to Zhang Cuijuan and Zhao Junling highlight the many irregularities in the cases concerning the Nanle Church detainees. Lawyers who should have been present were given inaccurate information to prevent them from attending. Meanwhile, the church itself is still under heavy surveillance. We urge the authorities to cease all restrictions on the church, to immediately review the sentences given to Pastor Zhang, Zhang Cuijuan and Zhao Junling, and to ensure Li Cairen's unconditional release'.

For further information or to arrange interviews please contact Kiri Kankhwende, Press Officer at Christian Solidarity Worldwide on +44 (0)20 8329 0045 / +44 (0) 78 2332 9663, email kiri@csw.org.uk or visit www.csw.org.uk.

Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) is a Christian organisation working for religious freedom through advocacy and human rights, in the pursuit of justice.

a charge and a warning to pastors

Accepting God's call to preach His Word and teach His Holy Laws to his children is not one to be undertaken lightly, as the following words from the prophet Ezekiel make very clear:

At the end of seven days, the word of the Lord came to me: Mortal, I have made you a sentinel for the house of Israel; whenever you hear a word from my mouth, you shall give them warning from me. 

If I say to the wicked, ‘You shall surely die’, and you give them no warning, and do not speak to warn the wicked from their wicked way, in order to save their life, those wicked persons shall die for their iniquity; but their blood I will require at your hand. But if you warn the wicked, and they do not turn from their wickedness, or from their wicked way, they shall die for their iniquity; but you will have saved your life. 

Again, if the righteous turn from their righteousness and commit iniquity, and I lay a stumbling-block before them, they shall die; because you have not warned them, they shall die for their sin, and their righteous deeds that they have done shall not be remembered; but their blood I will require at your hand. If, however, you warn the righteous not to sin, and they do not sin, they shall surely live, because they took warning; and you will have saved your life.
Ezekiel 3. 16-22

haiku:sun on the lake

sun on the lake
~ripples
    strobing

prayer diary Tuesday 16 September 2014

Then he came forward and touched the bier, and the bearers stood still. And he said, ‘Young man, I say to you, rise!’ 
Luke 7.14

Reflection
Each day our Lord commands us to rise up, to hear and obey his word, so that we may enter into eternal life. How do you respond to his command?

Monday, September 15, 2014

haiku: morning crunch

morning crunch
~ the feel of my six-pack
    under the flab

Cardinal Burke and the angels

I had the privilege of meeting Cardinal Burke recently at the Fota conference in Cork. We got on like a house on fire (that's my story and I'm sticking to it!). The coincidence of sharing surnames helped, aided by the fact that I'm from Cork and he has Cork roots and a bit of chat revealed that it wasn't impossible that we might be cousins (very distant cousins ... squinting cousins, 'cause you have to squeeze your eyes very tightly together and engage in quite a bit of wishful thinking to believe that it might be true!).

During one of the breaks at the conference I was chatting with a couple of seminarians about this and that. The topic of the rosary came up and one admitted that he tended to leave it until the end of the day and it wasn't unknown for him to fall asleep before he was done. Now of course this is fair enough when you consider the workload of study, worship, and private prayer in the seminary. But it didn't stop me from teasing him about it - gently - nonetheless!

'Fr Burke!' came a voice from nearby. I turned. The Cardinal was sitting with his coffee not far off. He gestured to me to come closer. I trotted over at once - there's still enough of the soldier in me that when I am summoned by higher authority it is a reflex to obey instantly.

'Yes, Your Eminence?' I said.
'Fr Burke,' he said smiling. 'Do you know what happens when you fall asleep saying your rosary?'
I was tempted to say that perhaps one finished it when one woke up, but I figured he had a better answer than that so I simply said:
'No, Your Eminence.'
'Your Guardian Angel finishes it for you.'

We went on to speak of other things as we finished our coffees, but I won't spoil that beautiful remark by sharing them here. His warm and gentle smile as he said it, and the beautiful thought that one's guardian angel finishes the prayers of the weary soul for them is the place to leave it. 


prayer diary Monday 15 September 2014

‘Lord, do not trouble yourself, for I am not worthy to have you come under my roof.' 
Luke 7.7

Reflection
Several times in the Gospels we read of Jesus' praise for the great faith displayed by some. In what manner do you think would he regard the faith that you have in him?

Sunday, September 14, 2014

the vital importance of forgiveness

May my words be in the Name of the Holy & Undivided Trinity: + Father, Son, & Holy Spirit. Amen.

Today we celebrate the Exaltation of the Holy Cross – a day that commemorates both the finding of the True Cross in Jerusalem in 326 by the Emperor Constantine's mother, St Helena, and also the Cross itself as the instrument of Salvation. Knowing that Christ died so that we might be forgiven of our sins makes the what we hear in our Gospel reading all the more telling - 
I'm sure when we hear the parable of the unforgiving servant the natural reaction of us all is one of astonishment and indignation. How could anyone who has been forgiven so much be capable only minutes later of behaving in so hard-hearted a fashion themselves? And so, no doubt, we think the fate of this selfish man when his master learns of his behaviour to be not only just, but richly deserved. The great debt that he had hoped was forgiven is called in; and he is handed over to the torturers until all he owes is repaid. 

But often when I hear that parable I think also of the parable that the prophet Nathan told King David about the wealthy man who had stolen and killed the pet ewe lamb of a poor man; David was angry and shouted that such a man should be punished severely for such wicked behaviour. And it was then that the prophet pointed his finger at the king and said – you are the man. For, as we know, David a wealthy man with many wives had murdered his good and faithful servant Uriah so that he might take for himself his wife Bathsheeba. And how does Jesus end this parable? Thus shall my heavenly Father do unto you if you do not forgive. In other words, if you do not forgive, you are that wicked servant. Thou art the man.

Let us consider some of the details of the parable for a moment. I have sometimes heard people preaching on this parable speak of the debt that the other servant owed to his wicked brother as being trivial. Now to our ears the sum of 100 hundred denarii might sound quite small, but I can assure you that the crowd listening to our Lord that day, it was far from being a trifling amount of money. For them a single denarii was a day's pay for a man. So one hundred would have been more than three months wages. And imagine what it would have been like for one of them to save that much money – it would have been an impossible task. No, to them, 100 denarii would have been a fortune. It is only in comparison to the other amount that it seems small; for one talent would have been the equivalent of what it would take a man 15 years to earn. So 10,000 talents would would take someone like them 150,000 years to earn – an impossible amount!

So the wickedness of the first servant is not that he refuses to forgive a petty debt and treats the one who owes it to him with unwarranted severity; it is that having been forgiven so enormous a debt himself, he should have found it within himself to forgive an amount that was insignificant in comparison.

Now, just in case anyone is getting lost, let us clarify some points: the kingdom is heaven, the king is God, the unforgiving servant is us, the debts spoken of are our sins and offences against both God and neighbour, and the torturers are hell. Which may prompt you to wonder why it is that sins committed against us are compared with the sum of 100 denarii, while those we commit are comparable with the vast fortune of 10,000 talents? What if the offence against me is great – what if the sin I find hard to forgive is of great seriousness … a spouse who has been unfaithful … a thief who has taken all I own … a killer who has murdered one or more of my family members?

And what if I, while no saint, have never contemplated, much less committed, sins of such great magnitude? Why is my debt so much greater and theirs so small? How can it be right not only to make that comparison, but also to say if I do not forgive that it is I am the one who will be condemned?

But that is to turn the meaning upside down. Consider not what it may 'cost you' in terms of pride, or letting go of what you see as a justifiable anger against the other person in forgiving their sin or 'debt' to you; consider rather what you gain in having your own debt cancelled, in having your own sins forgiven. You gain, as any child will know from Sunday School, eternal life. That is why offences against you are in the parable represented by the smaller, but not insignificant, sum of money; while the sins for which you are forgiven have in their place a fortune that would take thousands of lifetimes to earn. If your sins are not forgiven, if Christ had not died for them, then there would be no place for you in heaven.

And realising that you have been given so precious a gift, the pearl beyond compare, should fill you with joy – such great joy that you can find it within your heart to dismiss the wrongs that have been done to you. 'Rejoice with me brother,' or 'rejoice with me sister,' you cry. 'So much has been given to me that I can give a little to you in return.' It is not impossible; it is not too hard; we know this because God tells us so. Where? Why in today's parable when our Lord tells us we must forgive. He would not command us to do something that we cannot do. So when he tells us to control our emotions and our passions and forgive, this is something that we can do and indeed must do.

I finish with some words from the martyr St Philotheos of Sinai on the dangers of refusing to forgive: Do we forgive our neighbours their trespasses? God also forgives us in His mercy. Do we refuse to forgive? God, too, will refuse to forgive us. As we treat our neighbours, so also does God treat us. The forgiveness or non-forgiveness, then, of your sins—and hence also your salvation or destruction—depend on you yourself, man. For without forgiveness of sins there is no salvation. You can see for yourself how terrible it is.

As we reflect this day on all that Christ did for us by his death on the Cross, I pray that God may grant you, and all his children, the grace to forgive others and that you will yourselves be forgiven by him. Amen

Examin Sunday 14 September 2014

'There is no sin which cannot be pardoned except that one which lacks repentance.' 
St Isaac of Ninevah (7th Century)

Jesus died for our sins. And how did he begin his ministry but by echoing the words of St John the Baptist by calling people to repentance, of turning from their sins completely and utterly. To be saved then, we must repent. But how can we repent unless we acknowledge before both God and ourselves that we are indeed sinners? How many today think of sin as being a notion that belongs to a bygone era; and how many more think that it is others who are sinners not they? They heed not the words of Scripture that tell us that Christ was like us in all things, save in sin. To be a human being, therefore, is to be a sinner; and all sinners must repent, in sorrow that they have offended God and in joy that he offers forgiveness, if they would be saved.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

haiku: through the mist

through the mist
the dawning sun
like last night's moon

prayer diary Saturday 13 September 2014

'Why do you call me “Lord, Lord”, and do not do what I tell you?' 
Luke 6.46

Reflection
There is no salvation without sacrifice. Christ died that we might be saved; and we must forego all that does not conform to his teaching if we hope to partake of the salvation that he offers.

Friday, September 12, 2014

of schools, secularism, and Islam

After my letter in yesterday's Irish Times (which argues that the current 'storm in a tea-cup' about Irish schools being discriminating against Muslims has nothing to do with discrimination and everything to do with yet another attempt by secularists to drive religion from our schools*) I had a very nice phone-call from a teacher in a Muslim school in Ireland, praising my letter and agreeing with my sentiments. I also had an email from an Irish Imam who said:


Secularists are so intolerant that they do not miss any chance to unjustifiably attack religion. It is as if they are the only citizens or taxpayers. This behaviour is strange in a democratic society. 

It is very saddening to see people turning their back towards religion as if it has no role in society and then complaining about crime and loss of meaning and purpose of life that leads to despair. Most of the modern western values of justice, rule of law, appreciation of human soul are derived from its Christian heritage.  

So, we're all singing off the same hymn sheet on this issue. And what a very gracious acknowledgement from the Imam of how much the West owes to Christianity. As I began by saying, after all the negative things in the media lately about Islam, I thought it important to try and balance things out a little, even if it is only in this blog. 

*note: schools in the Republic of Ireland are state funded but not state founded. Most are denominational, run under the patronage of the local Roman Catholic bishop - say 90%. Another 5% perhaps would be under Church of Ireland (Anglican) patronage. The rest would under the patronage of various special interests groups (Irish language, secular/non-denominational, Muslim, etc). Each school is run by a volunteer local board of management, which effectively owns the property & is the legal employer of the teachers. The state pays the salary and covers most of the other costs by way of grants (including, often, grants to actually build the school, with the site being provided by the local community). A fair bit of fund-raising is done to meet the rest of the costs. This is all done under the provision of the Irish Constitution which recognises both the rights of a child to an education & the parent as the primary educator of the child  to have a school ethos which reflects their values and beliefs. Obviously this means that a child will, for logistical reasons, end up in a school that might not be in line with what their parents believe. Schools do their best to accommodate those whose home ethos differs from that of the school, while at the same time not compromising on the school ethos.

prayer diary Friday 12 September 2014 (day of discipline and self-denial)

He also told them a parable: ‘Can a blind person guide a blind person? Will not both fall into a pit?' 
Luke 6. 39

Reflection
Who is it from that you seek to learn how to live – those blind guides who speak with the approval of the world? Seek the counsel rather of He who speaks with the authority of the Divine, God's Son, who speaks to us through Sacred Scripture and through the Church which he founded.

haiku: autumn mist

autumn mist
~the oak in the field
  a pale shadow

Thursday, September 11, 2014

an Orthodox gathering

I read, inter alia, a few Orthodox blogs and websites. It recently occurred to me (like, five minutes before I began writing this post ... although some time longer before I actually posted it) that there doesn't seem to be any compilation blogs dealing with Orthodoxy ... by which I mean, a blog that picks out the best from Orthodox sites and blogs that they have come across that day/week/fortnight/whatever and then presents a post on that with links. So I thought I'd give it a whirl. Today's my birthday so consider this my birthday present to me (52 today, thanks for asking, which as my wife says is the mirror image of 25 which as Marilyn Monroe said makes you think ... ok, she actually said 'makes a girl think' but you know what I mean). 


1. Trouble fighting off the 24/7 distractions of the world that make holy living difficult? Daily Prayers: The Battle with Extraneous Thoughts by then read what Metropolitan Hilarion (Alfeyev) has to say  ...

2. After you realise you've done a bad job off keeping your thoughts away from all that tempts you, these words from Abba Poeman may be of help ... 

3. Ever wondered why people convert to Orthodoxy, a form of Christianity that stubbornly refuses to agree that one must 'move with the times' to be 'relevant' (and has some pretty strict rules on fasting - none of your 'what are you giving up for Lent?' 'Oh, I thought I'd try thinking more happy thoughts this year' here!)?  Fr. Stephen Freeman offers some suggestions over at Journey to OrthodoxyAnd here's the story of how he found Orthodoxy from Death to the World's John Valdez ... 

4. Want to experience Orthodox liturgy, but think there'd be a language barrier? Perhaps you're lucky enough to have a Western Rite Orthodoxy parish nearby, which uses English ... 

5. In an era of disposable marriages (when a relationship even gets that far) some words of wisdom from Coptic Mom & Dad ...

6. Happy New Year! Belated that is ... but perhaps not as belated as you perhaps think I mean, I'm only a few days late ... did you know that September 1st is the beginning of the Orthodox Church's New Year?

7. Finally, from this from the Orthodox channel on YouTube ... I just love it when at around the 30 second mark, the interviewer asks the venerable monk how to fight against desire and Elder Cleopa just bellows out the answer DEATH! DEATH! DEATH! (I'm not poking fun, here, by the way - I totally agree that keeping the thought of death before you at all times is a sure way to keep on the path to salvation.)



OK that's it. But I'm reckoning that there's probably all kinds of stuff out there that I'm not familiar with (a 'man's got to know his limitations,' as that wise and ancient father Harry Callahan aka Dirty Harry aka Clint Eastwood once said), so if you have suggestions for any further posts like this I might do, would you let me know? Thanks.



prayer diary Thursday 11 September 2014

'But I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you.'Luke 6.27

Reflection
In the context of this passage, our Lord spoke of those who hate you because of your faith in Him. And what greater love could you show to such as those than to do all that you can to bring them also to the path that leads to Salvation?

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

prayer diary Wednesday 10 September 2014

'Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you on account of the Son of Man.' 
Luke 6. 22

Reflection
Great are the rewards in heaven for those who risk the hatred of the world for the sake of the Lord. Can you say that you have earned the Lord's blessing in this way?

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

prayer diary Tuesday 9 September 2014

He spent the night in prayer to God. And when day came, he called his disciples and chose twelve of them, whom he also named apostles. 
Luke 6. 12, 13

Reflection
Our Lord did nothing without first engaging in prayer. We must also seek God's guidance and strength before we act.

Monday, September 8, 2014

prayer diary Monday 8 September 2014 (Birth of the BVM)

And Mary said, ‘My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour.' 
Luke 1. 46,47

Reflection
Mary, utterly pure, rejoiced at the privlege of being the Mother of our Lord. Should not we also rejoice, we for whom he took flesh, died for our sins, and nourishes with his own body and blood in the Blessed Sacrament?

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Love, sin, forgiveness

Sermon: 7 September 2014 May my words be in the Name of the Holy & Undivided Trinity: + Father, Son, & Holy Spirit. Amen.

We hear today in his letter to the Romans St Paul telling us that if we love one another then we fulfil the law. I am sure that all here can see the wisdom of this: if we love someone, we will not treat them unjustly, we will do nothing against them that have a right to expect that we will not do, we will not wound them in the way we behave. Out of true Christian love flows the kind of behaviour listed in the commandments: if you love your parents, you will honour them; the loving spouse will respect their marriage vows; the loving person will not deal violently with another person; the loving person will not steal or otherwise seek to enrich himself by taking what is not his.

But why do we behave like this? Why do we sin against our brothers and sisters, and indeed God himself, by failing to behave in a loving fashion? It is because of our weak, human nature; the same human nature that led to the Fall, the Sin of our first parents; the same human nature that leaves us prone to the temptations of the world, the flesh, and the devil.

To be tempted in itself is not wrong. We know from Sacred Scripture that our Lord himself was tempted during his 40 days and 40 nights fasting and praying in the wilderness. No, the sin lies in yielding to the temptation, in having the choice between good and evil before us, and choosing the wrong path. Why does God allow us to be tempted, you may wonder? Because if he did not, there would be no free will; if it is not open to us to do evil, then neither can we be said to do good. And in fact great good can come from the times when we are faced with temptations and resist them.

I came across a story on this very theme told by the Elder Arsenios recently. Fr Arsenios was a monk and an abbot of the Romanian Orthodox Church. A man of great holiness, he suffered terrible persecutions under the communists, imprisonment and torture. But the witness of his resolute faith inspired many so that even now, several years after he has reposed in the Lord, he is revered. 

Elder Arsenios related the story of two monks, one old, a mystic and a seer of visions, and one young, with the elder being a mentor and spiritual father to the younger. The old man was having great trouble sleeping, so much so that it was of great concern to all in the monastery, who feared for the holy father's health. One evening the two were walking in the nearby woods. The old man sat down to rest and soon was fast asleep. 

At first the young monk was glad to see his mentor asleep after so long. But then it began to grow dark and he thought of his own bed in the monastery. 'I need my sleep too,' he thought and was tempted to wake the old man. But seeing him so peaceful and knowing how much he needed his rest, he resisted the thought. Again and again the thought came to him in the night to wake the old man and return home. But each time he resisted, nine times in all. 

Finally morning came and the old man awoke. He stared at the young man in astonishment. 'What have you done all this night?' he exclaimed. The young man spoke of prayer, of reading the Psalms. 'No, no,' said the old man. 'What else have you done?' The young man was puzzled; he couldn't think of anything else. 'I thought about salvation … ' he began. 'No, no,' said the elder. 'Something else; something out of the ordinary. I know there is something, for I see nine crowns above your head.'

The story is of course, for us, a parable, about the spiritual benefits that come when we resist temptation and show love for God or neighbour, about how in this way we earn treasure in heaven, treasure that endures. And so temptations can be a blessing, for they allow us the opportunity to show the love that all Christians must aspire to, and to progress in our own spiritual life, and grow in holiness. But only, of course, if we resist.

And for those who do not resist, for those who fall prey to temptation and sin, we may take counsel from today's Gospel reading, when our Lord advises what to do when one Christian sins against another. There is more here than simply seeking justice for oneself when one is wronged; no body likes to be wronged; but on the other hand, the Christian is called to be humble, and humility demands that we do not seek justice in such a case purely for one's own sake, but also for the sake of the one who has sinned. We do not abandon our brother or sister to their sins; we seek to make them aware of how they have sinned, of the consequences of their actions not only for their own souls but for the body of Christ, and we seek to bring them back to the way that Christ taught, the way of love.

And so Christ says that first we speak to the person one on one; next in a small group; and finally the Church. Each level of intervention is intended to bring the sinner to an understanding of the wrong they have done, and give them a chance to repent. And even the final move, of having them be as a tax collector and a gentile to those within the Church, is not intended to be a final and absolute casting out of the person. Did Jesus not welcome tax-collectors in? Was not the mission of the early Church precisely to reach out to the gentiles? No, this final move is intended as being medicinal, as helping to cure the sickness of sin within them, as helping them to love their brothers and sisters again. It is not intended to make them despair; and certainly not despair that they have lost hope of salvation, but rather to bring them back to the path that leads to salvation. 

And of course we do so not self-righteously but aware that we also are sinners ... remember the story of the woman taken in adultery ... Christ said let he who is without sin cast the first sin ... not he who has not committed adultery or some other serious sin by he who is without sin, any sin ... and none could lift a hand against her. And so even when someone has wronged us, we bear in mind our own flaws, our own weakness ... and when we act to correct we do not do so out of anger, or vengefulness, or pride, but out of charity, out of love.

Because to love is also to forgive; and so just as we live in hope of God's forgiveness for our sins, we offer forgiveness to those who have sinned against us; loving others, even as we know ourselves to be loved by the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen