Wait for the Lord! His day is near!

advent-candleIn Advent we await the coming of our Saviour Jesus Christ: not only his first coming in the stable at Bethlehem but also his Second Coming at the end of time.

The readings at Mass try to instil in us a sense of expectancy and hope. The Old Testament readings will provide us with ancient prophecies of a Messiah who would come to deliver his people and usher in a new age of justice and peace.

The Gospel each week will entreat us to stay awake, repent and prepare the way of the Lord, look out for God’s grace blossoming in our lives here and now, and come to a deeper conviction that God truly is with us (Emmanuel).

Advent is a busy season, both liturgically and practically, as we prepare for Christmas. However, let’s try and stay with the ancient traditions of the Church and keep Advent as Advent: don’t be too rushed into celebrating Christmas – it will come soon enough.

For now, we await with hearts full of hope, praying: ‘Maranatha! Come Lord Jesus! Come to us; free us; heal us; help us; fill us; complete us.’

Introducing Our Lady of Good Counsel

220px-OurLadyGenazzano02According to tradition, in the year 1467, in the midst of the festivities for the Feast of Saint Mark, the people of Genazzano, a town about 30 miles south of Rome, suddenly heard “exquisite music.”

A mysterious cloud descended and obliterated an unfinished wall of the parish church.

The townsfolk watched while the cloud dissipated and a beautiful fresco, no thicker than an egg shell and no more than eighteen inches square, of the Virgin Mary and the Christ Child was revealed.


 It was widely believed that it had been miraculously transported from a church in Scutari, Albania.

Such was the holy image’s reputation that Pope Urban VIII made a “glittering” pilgrimage there in 1630, invoking the protection of the Queen of Heaven, as did Pope Pius IX in 1864. In 1682, Pope Innocent XI had the picture solemnly crowned.

There was a particular devotion to Our Lady of Good Counsel in the nineteenth and early twentieth century at the time when many Catholic churches in Great Britain were being built. Her feast day is April 26th.

Whatever we think about the story of the miraculous image, the painting draws us into the life of Mary. Her stillness leads our attention to Christ. Mary does not look at Jesus or out at us. Maybe she is contemplating the future events in Christ’s life. She is the wise mother Luke describes in the Gospel story of the shepherds’ visit to the manger:

As for Mary, she treasured all these things and pondered them in her heart. (Luke 2:19)

We do not know why March Catholic church has Our Lady of Good Counsel as our patron but we can be sure that she prays for us.

Our Lady of Good CounselFadi Mikhail has created this beautiful icon of Our Lady of Good Counsel for our church, which respects the tradition of the miraculous fresco while sharing in his own Coptic heritage of iconography.

Our Lady of Good Counsel pray for us.

Introducing Fadi Mikhail

fadiFadi Mikhail is the artist March parish have commissioned to create a new icon of Our Lady of Good Counsel for their church.

Fadi, born in 1984, is an Egyptian-English painter and graduate from the world-renowned Slade School of Fine Art, University College London. Fadi was apprenticed to the father of Neo-Coptic Iconography – the late Professor Isaac Fanous.

Fadi explains why the Coptic style of icon painting tends to abstract rather than realistic: “No two people can perfectly agree on the exact personality or much less the exact physical attributes of Christ. Therefore in their abstract style, icons seek to provide the church with the simplest common denominators of the person Jesus.

“That He was a Jewish man, we know. That He had a beard and long hair because of His Jewish tradition, we know. Greater than this, we do not know.

“Therefore to reduce, or ‘abstract’ the human face into the geometrical forms that we use in icons, seeks to be ‘true but not exact’ to the great variety of imagined forms that Jesus’ face can take in each of our imaginations. And because all things begin and stem from the Creator, all icons are painted in this manner and style.

“In the case of Coptic Icons, we also refer heavily to the artistic style of our Ancient Egyptian ancestors, in order to keep alive the remembrance of our heritage.. Both styles are also devoid of perspective and try always to push all figures in the image against the picture plane, in a 2-dimensional way.”

The paint used for icons is known as ‘egg tempera’ – the base is egg yolk mixed and thinned with water and vinegar, for preservation. Icons are painted or ‘written’ (as they are considered to be ‘a visual gospel’) on wooden boards that are covered with a thin material canvas. Onto this is painted a chalk (or ‘gesso’) surface. This chalk gesso imitates the limestone (chalk) walls on which Ancient Egyptians painted – a surface ideal for preserving this kind of paint.

The painting itself is made by the darkest colours being laid first, and successive layers becoming lighter and brighter each time. This process gives an extremely rich gradation of colours and a beautiful shine to the faces in the icon.

It takes around 20 hours to complete an icon as small as an A4 sheet of paper.

Lord, Pour out your Spirit on artists, craftsmen and musicians: may their work bring variety, joy and inspiration to our lives.


Introducing the Coptic Church

The Flight into Egypt

The Flight into Egypt

The Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria is the official name for the largest Christian church in Egypt and the Middle East.

The Church belongs to the Oriental Orthodox family of churches, which has been a distinct church body since the Council of Chalcedon in AD 451, when it took a different position over Christological theology from that of the Eastern Orthodox Church.

The precise differences in theology that caused the split with the Coptic Christians are still disputed, highly technical, and mainly concerned with the nature of Christ. The foundational roots of the Church are based in Egypt, but it has a worldwide following.


Coptic icon of St Mark the Evangelist

According to tradition, the church was established by St Mark, the evangelist, in approximately 42 AD.

Copts remember that Egypt is identified in the Bible as the place of refuge that the Holy Family sought in its flight from Judea:

When he [Joseph] arose, he took the young Child and His mother by night and departed for Egypt, and was there until the death of Herod the Great, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet, saying, Out of Egypt I called My Son (Matthew 2:12–23)

The Desert Fathers (there were also Desert Mothers) were Christian hermits, ascetics, and monks who lived mainly in the Scetes desert of Egypt beginning around the third century AD. The Apophthegmata Patrum is a collection of their wisdom, still in print as Sayings of the Desert Fathers.

Christian monasticism was born in Egypt. By the end of the 5th century, there were hundreds of monasteries, and thousands of cells and caves scattered throughout the Egyptian desert. A great number of these monasteries are still flourishing and have new vocations to this day.

The Egyptian Coptic Church has a distinctive, living icon painting traditions. Beginning in the 4th century, churches painted their walls and made icons to reflect an authentic expression of their faith.

In 2012, about 10% of Egyptians belonged to the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria. The community has been caught up in the recent political tensions in Egypt with many churches being burnt and communities affected by violence. We can easily forget how fortunate we are in the freedom we have to worship.

Let’s remember to pray for our fellow Christians who need courage to live our shared faith.

God, Our Father, have mercy on the Middle East.
Your faithful servants – young and old alike –
are called to witness to Christ.
May they be strengthened during this time of turmoil
as they seek to follow your beloved Son,
who Himself walked their ancient homelands.
In union with Francis, our Pope, we pray that Christians in the Middle East
may be enabled to live their Faith in full freedom.
Embolden them to act as instruments
of peace and reconciliation,
united with all the citizens of their countries.
Through Jesus Christ, Our Lord, Amen.


Introducing Icons


The Theotokos of Vladmir painted around 1130 in Constantinople

An icon (from Greek εἰκών eikōn “image”) is a religious work of art, most commonly a painting.

In Eastern Christianity and other icon-painting Christian traditions, the icon is generally a flat panel painting depicting a holy being or object such as Jesus, Mary, saints, angels, or the cross.

Creating free-standing, three-dimensional sculptures of holy figures was resisted by Christians for many centuries, out of the belief that demons inhabited pagan sculptures, and also to make a clear distinction between Christian and pagan art.

To this day, in obedience to the commandment not to make “graven images”, Orthodox icons may never be more than three-quarter bas relief. The Roman Catholic Church began to use religious statues in the 9th century.

In the icons of Eastern Christianity very little room is made for an artist’s individual interpretation. The icon is “written” through prayer. Almost everything within the image has a symbolic aspect.

Christ, the saints, and the angels all have halos. Angels (and often John the Baptist) have wings because they are messengers. Figures have consistent facial appearances, hold attributes personal to them, and use a few conventional poses.

Colour has symbolic importance. Gold represents the radiance of Heaven; red, divine life. Blue is the colour of human life, white is the Uncreated Light of God, only used for resurrection and transfiguration of Christ. Letters are symbols too. Most icons incorporate some calligraphic text naming the person or event depicted.

Which pictures are important to you and help you focus on prayer?