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October 6th Sermon. (Luke 7, 11-17)

Preached by the Revd. Canon Leonard Doolan for the Swedish congregation

 

Jesus is in his home territory. He is in the region of Galilee, an area where many signs and wonders occurred in the ministry of Jesus. Largely speaking it is an area of great faith.

St. Luke tells us that Jesus has just been in Capernaum, right on the Sea of Galilee, and there he had healed the slave of a centurion. Capernaum is the home of some of the disciples, not least St. Peter. If you visit Capernaum now there is a very good excavation of this fishing village, showing just how ‘miniature’ life must have been in those far off days. The streets are narrow, the buildings close to each other and the rooms of houses small. In one such room Jesus healed the mother in law of St. Peter. Public spaces are not like the lovely open piazzas and plateias that we might be accustomed to nowadays.

As I say, the excavation work here is excellent, and if any of you are interested in travelling with me to the Holy Land next year, it is one of the places we will visit. Sadly the Catholic Franciscans, who own the site, have built a rather monstrous ‘spider like’ church over the top of the village.

 

From Capernaum Jesus has travelled, not a long distance away, to another Galilean town, called Nain. Everyday life surrounds the journeys of Jesus, and as he enters Nain a funeral is taking place. A mother had lost her only son. This untimely death of her son, for no mother ever expects to bury one of her children, is a double blow. She is also a widow. This means that she has lost the only two people that ensured her place in society; her ‘man’, that is her husband, and her eldest, in this case only, son. These 2 males in her life were her guarantee of stability, social status, and her future livelihood. Such is this culture, and in some cultures today this procedure will still persist. It seems archaic to us, but still a reality for millions of women world- wide.

Inevitably a crowd is following the funeral bier. A funeral, like a wedding, was not a family matter, but a community event. We could assume that the whole village had stopped its normal activity and were on their way to the cemetery, which for public health reasons would have been set apart from where people lived and worked. Besides we are not told the illness for which the man had died.

Not far from Nain was another town. It was called Shunem. This had some historic and religious significance – and maybe this is why St. Luke is relating to us this story set in Nain. Hundreds of years before the time of Our Lord, there had lived the prophet Elisha, a highly significant character in the history of the Hebrew speaking people, and in 2 Kings 4, 8-37, we are told of the death of the son of a Shunemmite woman. The prophet Elisha raises the boy from the dead.

This region, therefore is no stranger to the phenomenon of resurrection from the dead, and St. Luke is no stranger as a gospel writer to what we call parallelism – namely taking events from the the past history of the Jewish people and representing them in the life and ministry of Our Lord. It is part of the authentification process, that Jesus is the Messiah who fulfils all the historic law and the prophets.

 

So Jesus performs a miracle – of the sort that few, if any of us will ever witness. Someone who is dead rises again at the command of Jesus. Perhaps the best known example of this in the miraculous ministry of Jesus is the raising of Lazarus.

There is nothing rational about the raising of the son of the widow of Nain. To some extent there is no point in trying to rationalize it. It is part of the account of the life of Jesus, told in 4 gospels, including St. Luke’s, that such phenomena happened. We are told in the 2nd  book that St. Luke wrote, namely the Acts of the Apostles, that both St. Peter and St. Paul raised dead people back to life.  One example from the life of St. Paul is worth mentioning. (Acts 20, 7ff) Paul is preaching in Troas in an upstairs room and a young man called Tychicus is listening while he sits perched on a window ledge.

We are told that Paul preaches until gone midnight, and the young man falls asleep, falls from the window ledge to the ground below and dies. St. Paul brings him back to life again, thanks be to God, but it is a good warning to all preachers not to go on for too long!

Returning to life from death is an experience that can be described by a number of people who have what is referred to as ‘near death experiences’. Pathologically such people have indeed died, in that all organs have completely ceased. It is their experience then of some divine encounter – often described in the language of peace or light, welcome or reassurance. For no known reason they return to life. I suppose it is for the reasons of rationality that this is called ‘near death’ experience, rather than being described as a dead person coming back to life with no explanation for how that works! Science does not like to talk so easily about mystery, or any spiritual phenomena. I was speaking to a Greek chap just the other week for whom this experience was as real as him sitting there telling me about it.

This, however, by no means explains the miracles of Jesus, or for that matter Peter or Paul raising dead people to life ‘at their command’. I have no explanation either, nor do I wish as a man of faith and as a priest, to try and explain it way. It is a challenge of faith.

These stories of resurrection from the dead must not be confused with the only resurrection that truly matters to all of us. Those other resurrection stories may be important to varying degrees as a witness, as evidence, of the power of Jesus, but they are not of the same’ type’ as the resurrection that God brought about in his crucified Messiah. It is faith in this resurrection that is the touchstone of our faith, and the foundation for our hope. It is through cross and empty tomb that we find redemption, meaning and purpose, and which forms our view of life together with the saints this side and the other side of the grave. It is into this living and endless mystery that we are baptised. It is in the sharing of the death and resurrection meal that we can proclaim, ‘Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again.’

This mystery is not a miracle in the sense of the specific raising of the son of the widow of Nain, for he would have had a natural death again in his later life. The mystery of our resurrection to new life is firmly to be found in the authentic experience of entering into the way of the cross.

One thing we can share with that crowd in Nain, which St. Luke tells us, “Fear seized all of them; and they glorified God…”

 

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Trinity 16 2019 (Habakkuk 1, 1-4; 2, 1-4; 2 Tim 1, 1-14; Luke 17, 5-10)

Revd. Canon Leonard Doolan – St Paul’s Athens

 

Communication has never been easier than it is now, yet we live in a world of frustration about the lack of communication. We can send information about events and people within seconds of something being said, or an event happening, yet we have so much mis-information, or as one rather significant person has called it ‘fake news’.

Back in July we had an earthquake in Athens, registering 5.1 on the Richter scale – it was my first experience of an earthquake. At the time it happened I was sitting with a young couple discussing their wedding blessing ceremony. The woman is a journalist. The second we realized that an earthquake was happening she jumped up out of her chair and her mobile phone was recording the earthquake as it was happening, along with local people’s reaction. The quake lasted roughly 12 seconds, but her recording was sent to the news agency she works for in less time than that.

This is the world we live in. Photographs and quick messages that make no grammatical sense are send instantly  – our experience of communication is by messages rather than letters.

This option was not available to those who lived in the time of St. Paul and the Apostles as they shared the good news of Jesus Christ among the small and fragile Christian communities of the Mediterranean.

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St. Michael and All Angels (Sept 29th) 2020. Preached for the Anglican congregation in Thessaloniki.

Revd. Canon Leonard Doolan

 

Today the church in the West, Anglican and Catholic, celebrates the feast of St. Michael and All Angels. The book of Revelation narrates the action of Michael in Heaven, as he slays the demon dragon. From this story the hagiography of St. Michael emerges, though  we must always give to Christ the priority of the overthrow of evil and death.

The depiction of holy men and women slaying the dragon is commonplace in Christian story telling and iconography. Mediaeval cartographers were willing to conceal their ignorance of some areas of local geography, not by saying beyond this point we don’t know, but rather, beyond this point ‘here be dragons’.

 

Michael is the biblical warrior saint that we celebrate today, but our tradition records many. There is a rich tradition of saints on horseback slaying the evil dragon, illustrating the subjugation of the embodiment of evil, or the devil, to the power and victory of the Christian victor. There is St. George; and of course, here in Thessaloniki, St. Demetrios. I said earlier there were Christian holy men and women depicted in this way. When the English Crusaders returned from the Holy Land, they took with them the cult of St. Margaret of Antioch, after whom a goodly number of English churches are named. My own church when I was a priest in Crawley was St. Margaret of Antioch.

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Trinity 14 – 22 September 2019 – Luke 16:1-13

Reader Sherry Angelis – St Paul’s Athens

 

We have spoken about quite a few parables and have learned so much.  As you may recall, this truly happened when we peeled back the multiple layers of our Lord’s stories.

I have often read through the Bible and was always very relieved when I did not have to preach on the parable concerning the dishonest manager!  What were the odds of it showing up at all since it is only found in Luke?

Nevertheless, my turn has finally come and the only way we can make sense of this one is to start peeling!     But before we do, let’s get a bit of background and take a quick look at the passage itself to see what it seems to tell us.

There is a rich man who has a manager – such a situation would have been a common one in Palestine, where there were many large estates owned by absentee landlords and administered by their managers.    Some of the manager’s duties would include the right to rent out land to tenant-farmers and make loans.

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Trinity 13 – 15 September 2019 – Gospel reading: Luke 15, 1-10.

St. Paul’s Athens  (Canon Leonard Doolan)

 

There is an idiom in English that goes like this: ‘Finders keepers, losers weepers. ‘

You find a €20,00 note on the pavement. Maybe you look around to see if anyone has a prior claim to it, then you bend down, pick up the note and pop it into your pocket. The feeling is good, but then you think, if only it was a €50,00…..

‘Finders keepers, losers weepers’.

Today’s gospel is all about being found. ‘There will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents, than over ninety nine righteous persons who need no repentance.’ (Lk 15, 7)

‘There is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents’. (Lk 15, 10)

Each one of us has lost something important or precious. We know what that sinking feeling is like. It is not the same as having something stolen – that is a harrowing feeling; we feel helpless because someone else has committed an unsolicited act against us, so we feel personally violated. However, when we lose something the reaction is different, because we also feel angry with ourselves for not being careful enough. ‘How on earth could I have been stupid enough to have done that?’ We all know that feeling.

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Trinity 11 – 1 September 2019 – Proverbs 25, 6-7; Hebrews 13, 1-8, 15-16; Luke 14, 1, 7-14.

Revd. Canon Leonard Doolan  – St Paul’s Athens

 

We don’t often have such a brief reading from the Old Testament. It may be brief, but the words set the tone for our gospel reading this morning, which I am reducing, in a sense to two main themes: personal humility and a gracious church. Since coming to Greece I have had a good number of encounters with the Orthodox Church. It is easy to make generalizations about the church that dominates in any country. Indeed, generalizations are easy about the Church of England and her clergy, back in England, where even the smallest village has a parish church. It is easy to knock any established church, in any country.

 

There are good priests and there are poor priests in every church in every land. There are open and encouraging congregations and there are closed and discouraging congregations. There are congregations open to change, and there are congregations bitterly opposed to the slightest change. There are congregations that are growing in number, and there are congregations that are declining rapidly. The reason for this is usually because being open and encouraging, being open to change, is more likely to be a community of faith that has the intention of being welcoming, loving, responsive to individuals and the needs of the local community, and therefore growing.

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Trinity 10 – 25th August 2019 – Luke 13, 10 – 17

Revd. Canon Leonard Doolan,  St Paul’s Athens

 

‘Walk carefully as you come here for God is here before you

Walk humbly as you come here for two or three are gathered

Walk softly as you come here for the spirit may speak in the silence of this place’

(A Celtic prayer)

 

The Scottish poet Robert Burns was a great observer of everyday life and many of his poems concentrate of a fine detail or small item.

 

While sitting in his church in Alloway, Ayrshire, one Sunday morning, no doubt bored from listening to some great long-winded  sermon, his roving eye suddenly spots Jenny.

 

I wonder how many of us have allowed our minds to wander during a sermon and looked around to see who else is present. ‘She was wearing that dress last week’, ‘what has she done to her hair’ he’s showing his age’ did his wife not tell him that colours don’t go together’ ‘who does she think she is, coming to church when last week she was so unchristian to me’ ‘his words don’t match his actions’ and so the list will go on and on.

 

He spots on Jenny’s rather flamboyant hat, no doubt her Sunday best, an insect, a louse, crawling over the netting of her bonnet.

 

‘Oh Jenny, dinnae toss your heid,

An’ set your beauties a’ a breed

Ye little ken what dreadfu’ speed the blastie’s makin,

They winks and finger ends I dread,

Are notice takin’.

 

I suspect that any Greeks here this morning will struggle a bit with the poet’s regional dialect. In fact even English speakers struggle with it.

 

The point is that it is not just the poet who has spotted the insect. Others in the church have seen it too and are beginning to wink at each other and point, no doubt in a judgemental fashion. ‘You see, she comes in that big fancy hat to show off in church, but look at that thing crawling all over it’.

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Trinity 8 – 11th August 2019 – Treasure Trail

Deacon Christine Saccali – St Paul’s Athens

 

I speak in the name of the Triune God Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

It is often remarked that living in Greece is learning to live with the unpredictable and certainly over my 40, yes four zero years, here I have found that to be true and am still finding it. Take the earthquake, or heartquake as an Italian fellow deacon called it endearingly by mistake, which we lived through in Athens last month and which to some of us brought back memories of 1999 or 1981 here in Athens. It suddenly jolts the heart just as the heart stopping fires last year did.

Earthquakes are notoriously difficult to predict even though we know we live in a seismic country, there is an app to record the latest global shocks but nothing to foretell them. We put it to the back of our minds until another tremor shocks us. It is good to be aware and take precautions in case of fire, winds or quakes but we cannot live in constant expectation of them not carrying out our normal lives. This can be applied to living with political upheaval. War,  knife or gun crime or terrorism as well.

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Trinity 6 – 28th July 2019 (Luke 11, 1-13)

Canon Leonard Doolan, St. Paul’s Athens.

 

On the top of the Mount of Olives Empress St. Helena built one of her basilica churches when she visited Jerusalem in the 320’s AD. With her son being the Emperor Constantine she had some real cash and clout behind her. She was a faithful woman, and wished to see the places where the most important and holy things happened in the life of our Lord. Jerusalem at the time was a bit of a slum, so with the arrival of the Dowager Empress, Jerusalem went through one of the largest real estate developments it had seen in centuries.

This basilica, one of several built by St. Helena, was visited by a pilgrim called Egeria in the AD380’s. The journal of her pilgrimage is still in existence, and she records the liturgical events in the holy city. The great doctor of the church, St. Cyril of Jerusalem, was the bishop at the time.

Her journal describes what is done on Holy Thursday, during the Great Week, or Holy Week as we call it. On a busy liturgical day she gives us this information:

‘… after they have all eaten, all go to the Eleona to the church wherein is the cave where the Lord was with his Apostles on this very day. There, then until about the fifth hour of the night, hymns and antiphons suitable to the day and the place are said, lessons too, are read in like manner, with prayers interspersed, and the passages from the gospel are read where the Lord addressed his disciples on that same day as he sat in the same cave which is in that church’.

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4th Sunday of Trinity – 14th July 2019.

Revd. Canon Leonard Doolan – St. Paul’s  Athens

 

Over quite a long ministry – on July 2nd I have been ordained 36 years – there have been some memorable experiences. One that is worthy of note was when we had invited a Messianic Jew to preach in Cirencester Parish Church. At the end of his sermon he sang the words of the ‘shema’ in Hebrew. Jesus says these same words in our gospel this morning.

‘ Hear, O Israel, the Lord your God is one Lord. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbour as yourself’. I will never forget that moment as we heard the words sung plaintively in ancient musical modulations.

Also throughout the time I have been ordained, some of the most exciting and moving times have been when the Christian faith has grown visibly in the life of a person – often with life changing consequences. Such change illustrates the words of the ‘shema’ in real life and with real people,  making a real difference. Loving God and loving neighbour is not a slogan, nor a theory; it is the glory of God active in a human life. As St. Ireneaus famously said, ‘the glory of God is man fully alive’. Love God and love neighbour.

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