On the evening of Saturday, 16th January we had a message to say that our Bishop Gibran had been found dead in his flat after being missed for some time. Later it became clear that he may well have died on the Thursday evening as that was the last time he was heard from, and he was found still holding the telephone. A post-mortem examination pointed to a massive heart attack. In the first messages he was said to have been 62 years old but later conversations revealed that he was probably about 70.
I really didn't think I could go to Australia, because I had no money and no passport. But a friend insisted I should try for a passport and for a flight which would cost "only" $499 (plus insurance, etc.) I was amazed when I rang the passport 0800 number and they said if I went into the office in Christchurch they would do one while I waited (2 hours). So it was decided that Maurice Ayoub and I should go. We flew out on Thursday afternoon (21st). I had prepared placards with our names on and after a few minutes we were collected and driven straight to the new S. Nicholas' Church in Punchbowl.
I don't think I had ever seen so many people before, lining the sides of the road and the drive down beside the Church to the crypt, where we were quickly lined up among the Bishop's "family" of 2 Bishops, his younger brother from the Lebanon, 18 priests and one Deacon.
So we sat there, shaking hands as (it seemed like) thousands of people filed past and shook our hands in condolence. (We did this again after the funeral the next day, and then, after a few hours sleep, got up at 5pm and sat there for the Lebanese Consul to come at 7 pm to pay his condolences, and then more people until about 8.30 pm, after which we were taken to a restaurant).
The funeral itself on Friday morning was the ordinary service from the service book, in Arabic and English, half the 18 clergy lining up on the left of the casket and reading in Arabic, and the other half (including me) on the right reading in English. But the Church began to fill up about an hour beforehand, so we were set to read the Gospels of Easter, Arabic and English in turn, until it was time to begin. After the funeral we went to a huge cemetery. The Greeks have a large chapel there and their clergy are buried in it, but our Bishop was buried in a simple grave nearby.
On Saturday Moira (who had sent the e-mail to NZ) drove me to meet the Russian Bishop and a Greek priest whom she knows, and we visited some Copts and Greeks in their Churches. I was amazed to see so many Orthodox Churches. They say there are now over 1,000,000 Orthodox in Australia. I don't know how many are ours, but in 1972 the Bishop told me we had about 10,000. The Churches we went into on Saturday had people going in and out, waiting about for weddings or baptisms, or just praying. They were all open. At Saturday 5.30 pm Liturgy and on Sunday I was with Fr Mansour at the Cathedral, where we also had the funeral. One of the Bishops was with us on the Sunday and the other at S. Nicholas'. Once again the Church was packed (but only a few dozen on Saturday evening).
I flew back on Sunday evening and arrived just before 1 am.- Fr Jack.Several things were noticed by those who attended the funeral: the large number of visitors from other Churches; the long eulogy that was given at the local mosque on the Friday evening; and the strong impression made on the Arabic speaking community by the poem which the Bishop wrote in his last days. After my return I was sent this translation:
A spiritual memoir, by Archbishop Gibran (d. 14 January 1999), which he wrote on the eve of his repose. May his memory be eternal.
I sleep, a silent sleep, but not in stillness.
For stillness is death, while silence is the movement of the spirit,
In it there is union of man with God.
My closed eyelids are heavy, but my heart is not asleep.
It takes with it my invisible body, with all its senses,
and visits far away places beyond time, passing through walls.
My heart has no need for a key, it is not afraid: for neither does the unknown sway it, nor does tranquility shun it.
The night in my heart is overcome by light.
You are in my heart, ever since I have known You and given myself to You.
You have given Yourself to me. I will not forsake You.
My dreams are my discourse with Your Spirit.
You tell me what I do not find in books and what I do not grasp in the tumult of my waking hours.
Sleep is rest for my body and the renewal of my energy.
My spirit does not sleep.
Confiding in You revives my spirit and liberates it.
My spirit confides in You in my silent sleep.
Will You accept my confidences?
Will You take me into Your heart?
Translated from the Arabic by a group of parishioners at St Nicholas' Church, Melbourne.
We were told that a Holy Synod in May will elect a Bishop to succeed Bishop Gibran.
CANTERBURY MISSION BAPTISM REGISTER
26 10 97 Naydene Mary Duffield, Millerton
22 1 98 Rhys Denzil Mark Guthrie, Christchurch (at Millerton)
4 4 99 (chr) Ian James Nield, Joanne Ruth Bartlett, Timothy Andrew James Nield, Daniel Thomas James Nield, Lower Hutt (at Christ Church, Taita)
28 3 98 Matthew Thomas William Brokenshire and Angela Nyree Hoani, Christchurch.
28 11 98 Kevin John Shanley and Milena Gueorguieva Tchaneva, Blenheim. (At St Mark's Chapel, RNZAF Base Woodbourne)
We are constantly hearing statements that someone is going to get tough with somebody. It is almost taken for granted that getting tough is the way to deal with everything from child molestation to ingrowing toenails. The only thing is: this prescription has been acted upon in this panacaea fashion for ten years now, more or less, and we might expect to be seeing results by now.
TIME TO GET
This was borne in upon me as I watched Country Calendar describing how a North Island farm had suffered badly from flooding, and how everybody, including the bank manager, had first joined in to sandbag the dykes, and when that failed, rallied round to help the young couple to bring their farm back from disaster. As the tale unfolded the TV presenter remarked that this was the sort of spirit that one might have thought was now a thing of the past in our country.....
God forbid. The doctrine of devil - take - the - hindmost, I'm - all - right, that's - your - problem, even though we are hearing more of it nowadays, remains a moral aberration. We were treated recently to a graphic illustration of how much of an aberration it is by a missionary who had been working for 20 years among tree-dwellers in New Guinea. The concepts of trust and love and forgiveness were absent from the language and from the minds of these people; the neighbouring tree was friendly, but about three trees away the people (and some dozens lived in each tree) were deadly enemies. The missionaries had been able to break down this truly appalling culture only by being observed to act with trust and kindness and forgiveness; gradually the meaning of these bizarre new ways of behaviour dawned on the tree-dwellers and only then were they able to begin to understand and accept the Christian Faith, or at least gradually move towards a sympathy with it.
The late Mr C. S. Lewis said quite often that those who wish to teach us a different moral code have an impossible task before them, because each of us possesses the moral sense (he called it the Tao) within himself. No one can sell us a forgery, he said, because each of us possesses a copy of the original. The proof of this (for which there is not enough space here) is in his writings. To repossess ourselves of our confidence in this code is an important survival skill in our age.
How did the New Guinean tree-dwellers get into the state in which the missionaries found them? I do not know, but they must surely have been driven into it by a series of events that somehow destroyed their natural moral sense, making them almost unique among aboriginal peoples. One may be forgiven for suspecting that some in our midst having been working on us to produce a similar result; and at times they may seem to have succeeded. They have an ally in all of us, in the form of the self-love that looks for excuses for its dishonourable desires and acts; but our better nature also has an ally, called conscience, and, thank God, that better nature keeps rearing its head. l'd like to finish with the word with which I began: gentle. In my youth it became fashionable to deride the phrase "Gentle Jesus, meek and mild". It seemed sentimental and Victorian; but actually it was by Charles Wesley, and quite scriptural too; look at Matthew 11, 25- 30.
"Tough love" may be needed at times; but it is certainly not the whole story (and I do not know of anywhere in the Gospels where those words can be found). Here then, is the first verse (E.H. 591):
Gentle Jesus, meek and mild,
Look upon a little child;
Pity my simplicity,
Suffer me to come to thee.
It would not be a bad idea to renew the habit of teaching it as a bedtime prayer to our children.
1066, 2001 AND ALL THAT
We are hearing a lot just now about a thing called the millenium. In addition, we are hearing about a thing called the millenium, or Y2K bug. The latter refers to the glitches that people fear may happen when computer clocks turn over from (19)99 to (20)00 and perhaps don't know whether (20)00 or (19)00 is intended.
I really don't know enough to know what results may occur in some systems, although I have already spent some time making up a Table of Moveable Feasts for the years 2001-2040 on a (fairly old) spreadsheet. Nothing dreadful happened at all and it is all printed ready to copy when required. Likewise all the computers I have and their battery clocks have been reset to the 21st Century and back again and no harm has resulted. It is hard to see that it will be otherwise when the date 01-01-2000 actually arrives.
The reason for making the table was that the one in our Breviary is running out; and I saw on some Internet mail that the Vatican is making a proposal to the Church of Russia that we should all agree to a common Calendar, that is, to do as the Greeks, Antioch and some other Orthodox Churches do, following the Gregorian Calendar for fixed feasts, but the current Orthodox calculation for the date of Easter. This seems to me a rather generous offer by Rome, and is intended to take effect from 2001 onwards because the Easters coincide in 2001 anyway. Whether this will happen no one can say yet; and there has been another report in which some Orthodox representatives stated that the Latin calculation of Easter was the accurate one. (Aleppo Declaration).
Be that as it may, there is a growing industry striving to remind the public at every moment to celebrate the "millenium" at midnight and dawn of the 1st January, 2,000. The brainwashing began with fierce reactions of editors to any suggestion that the date was incorrect. "Pedantry" was the nicest of the words used to put down all dissent; and now only learned scientific publications dare to continue to point out that the end of the second millenium of the Christian era (by the conventional dating of Dionysius Exiguus) occurs at the end of the year 2000, not at its beginning.
Of course it has been known for some time that the A.D. convention presents difficulties. Our Lord is said to have been born in the reign of Herod the Great. Scholars seem agreed that Herod died in 4 B.C., and the Orthodox Study Bible accordingly places our Lord's birth in 5 B.C. at the latest.
In addition, the day can be questioned. Reasons can be given in support of December 25, but one reason against it is the fact that no shepherds have ever kept sheep on the hills at night in December. May has been suggested as a likelier date.
One might also perhaps wish to date the Christian era from our Lord's Conception by S. Mary (March 25), or 9 months before a May date.
Added to this is the claim that at various times since our era began the year has begun in March, April, and January.
So, we have two broad choices for the end of the 2nd millenium of Christianity:
1) He was born in December (or May) of 5 B.C. and by adding 2000 we get 1996 and we have all missed it. This actually seems quite likely.
2) We can take the conventional date of December 2and A.D. are not quite like 11.45 pm and 12.15 am; 1 BC was followed by 1 AD and both run away in opposite directions from the zero point.
The Middle Eastern Council of Churches has decided to observe the millenium in a manner that sidesteps some of the doubts. If I recall correctly, it is to begin later this year (1999) and continue until Easter 2001. A series of functions are planned.
"Millenium" has also given some impetus to the people who are always informing us about the end of the world, and applying the Book of Revelation and other scriptural prophecies to the events of our day. One should perhaps mention the binding of Satan for 1,000 years in Rev. 20, v.2; see also vv. 4, 5, and 7. One cannot interpret every detail clearly, but the consensus of tradition is that this 1,000 years is the present era of the Church. Thus we had around the year 1,000 AD the idea that Christ would return then; and the same is occurring to some people again now. We have our Lord's word that we are not meant to know the precise time beforehand; we also have His words referring to this time as "a little while"(Jn.16, 16) S. Augustine says: "it is but a little while, the whole space through which the age of this world fleeteth by: as also the same Evangelist saith in his Epistle, It is the last hour.....This little while seems long to us, because it is yet going on: when it shall be ended, then shall we feel how little it has been." (On the Gospel for Easter III).
One thing that did occur around 1000 AD was the tragic separation of the Christian West from Orthodox unity. The Roman Church, under secular pressure, admitted the adulterated Nicene Creed to the Mass for the first time in 1004 AD and the events of 1054 and the following years confirmed the division. It would indeed be an event worthy of a millenium if unity in faith could be re-established. It is not an easy task, but gestures of goodwill are a beginning at least.
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