Archive for December 24th, 2018


Christmas Defies the Darkness

It’s awfully dark in the abbey church when we gather for prayer at this time of year.  In fact, it’s dark when we file into the choir stalls for morning prayer, and it’s still dark when we file back out.  It’s dark when we assemble for Mass at 5 pm on weekdays, and by evening prayer there can be an inky black outside.  In fact, at this time of year only during noon prayer does the light of day pierce the windows of the church.

For some the extended darkness can be a cause for depression.  It can sap the energy and initiative from us.  And certainly last but not least, it can be symbolic of the chaos of the times.  When viewed in their entirety, the forces of darkness can seem to be arrayed against us.  That’s why our gathering for the liturgy of the hours and Mass on Christmas Eve has the character of a rebellion.  Just showing up as individuals and as a community defies the darkness.  By our very presence we profess our belief that Christ will conquer all.  Christ will conquer our personal adversity, the darkness and even death.

In a few months’ time, at the Easter vigil, we will come full circle when we light the Easter candle and proclaim that “Christ is our light.”  He is indeed our light, and our celebration of the birth of Christ on Christmas Eve is the first step of the march to that day.

The message that we profess at Christmas Eve is figuratively a poke in the eye of the darkness.   It’s the proclamation that Christ the light does not abandon us to the darkness, no matter how awful things may seem to us at the moment.  It is a statement of our belief that the light of Christ will prevail through the worst of times and lift us out of the most trying of our difficulties.  But most importantly, it is a confession of our belief that Christ will sweep us up into his light, and with him we will share in life eternal.


+In terms of travel this week was a rather quiet one for me.  I spent most of the time chipping away at work in the office, until by Friday noon I had had more than enough with desk work.  So I adjourned and after lunch climbed into bed for a long afternoon’s nap.  It was a great administrative decision.

+In the run-up to Christmas the monks living on the various floors of the monastery gather to decorate Christmas trees scattered throughout the monastery.  On Sunday the 23rd, following vespers, the monks on our floor shared snacks and goodies sent by friends and family, and we then decorated our tree and sang a few carols.  It was a delightful evening.

+Earlier in the week our confrere Fr. Ian caught a news report that one of our former students had been named the equivalent of the ambassador of the Armenian Apostolic Church to the Holy See.  As a young priest Archbishop Khajag Barsamian studied and lived with us in the monastery at Saint John’s for over two years, during which time we learned an awful lot about the traditions of the Armenian Church.  Subsequent to that he was named Primate of the Armenian Apostolic Church for the diocese of the United States, a position he held from 1990 until 2018.  His new title is “Pontifical Legate of Western Europe and Representative of the Armenian Church to the Holy See.”  I have no idea how he will fit that title onto a business card, but it’s his problem,   We wish him well in his new appointment, and quite naturally we are delighted that we played some small part in his preparation for this new work.

+The photo at top in today’s post shows the center section of the huge glass window in the Abbey and University Church at Saint John’s.  The next shows Christ Pantocrator in the Great Hall.  At bottom is a group of poinsettias poised for their move into the church on Christmas Eve afternoon.

+As we prepare to celebrate the feast of the birth of Christ, I wish you all the best for a wonderful Christmas!


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