Thank you so very much, everybody for your prayers and well wishes. Be assured of mine as well.
The weekend was amazing. On Saturday morning, my housemate and I made a pilgrimage to the Shrine of St Bertolin (Bertram)
in the Church
of the Holy Cross
in Ilam, Staffordshire. The sun was shining and the weather was ideal. We sang these prayers in honour of the Saint:
When, in search of food in the forest, O righteous Bertram, thou didst leave thy wife and child behind, they were set upon by savage wolves and cruelly ravaged and slain; wherefore, overcome with grief at thy great loss, thou didst dedicate thy life to Christ, Who as the Chief Shepherd driveth away from us the spiritual wolf.
Giving thyself wholly over to ascetic feats, thou didst dwell as a hermit by Ilam's river, O Bertram, and like the tree planted by the streams of water thou didst bring forth spiritual fruit; wherefore, all thy struggles truly prospered, and Christ, Who loveth mankind, hath transplanted thee to His garden in paradise.
Forty days before His crucifixion Christ our Redeemer was transfigured in glory on Mount Tabor; and Bertram, His chosen servant, was laid to rest, as is meet, in the Church of the Holy Cross of Christ, where his sacred shrine shineth with the uncreated light of the divine grace of Jesus, the Saviour of our souls.
O village of Ilam, not least among the habitations of England art thou, for thy bosom long sheltered the sacred relics of the holy Bertram, who with boldness offereth entreaties for us before the throne of God Most High. And amid the darkness of our age his shrine shineth forth spiritually, like a lamp full of the oil of loving-kindness, guiding the faithful along the path of righteousness, that they may reach the kingdom on high, avoiding the snares of the enemy.
Rejoice with humble Ilam, O city of Stafford, for the sacred relics of the wondrous Bertram were transferred unto thee and placed in thy midst, like as a precious stone is set in a jewel shining with beauty and lustre, to delight the eyes of those who behold it. And let all England likewise exult, for the prayers of the Saint are ever made in its behalf, to deliver it from all tribulation and affliction, and from the malice of its every foe. Wherefore, let all Christians be glad, for by the grace of the Lord we truly find safe shelter beneath the wings of his holy supplications.
The shrine, which is in one of the most beautiful parts of Britain, has been a place of pilgrimage since Saxon times, and the Church still has many Saxon features, such as the font (which I foolishly didn't take a photograph of), and this
sealed doorway. Also, in the churchyard are the bases of two
St Bertolin's well is nearby but is within the grounds of Ilam Hall, (next-door to the church), which sadly, due to its historic significance, is under the control of the National Trust. Consequently, there is a wall around it and the gateway is all barred up. I'm guessing it's to do with Health and Safety and to avoid lawsuits. However, my mission was to bring back some water to add to the baptismal font, so I wasn't about to let the National Trust stop me, so I climbed over the wall and filled a bottle with some of the water, which was duly added to the font next day along with some water from the River Jordan which our convent in the Holy Land sends to us each year.
I then went straight from there to Fr Paul's house, where my fellow catechumen and I had something to eat and then said Vespers and made our confessions.
In the morning, the back garden was covered in frost, and so we decided to add some warm water to the font. We were baptised in the usual Orthodox manner - by triple-immersion in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. I breathed in the wrong place and then ended up with oil in my eyes, but I got there in the end. We then moved indoors to the threefold singing of Psalm 31 (Blessed are those whose sins are forgiven...&c), and then got dried off and donned our white robes. Fr Paul blessed our Crosses and placed them on us and then we were chrismated.
We made our first communions during the Liturgy, which was fabulous! Everybody sang at the tops of their voices in four-part harmony, and the sound and overflowing joy was inescapable. We were tonsured at the end of the Liturgy, in the form of a Cross, and then food was had by all.
Sadly, my camera's memory became full quite soon and so I dont have many photographs of the day, but many other people took photos which they will send me and my best friend, who had his camera phone, attempted to photograph the baptism itself, only to discover that he had it on video mode. The accidental result is a wonderful video clip (with audio) of my baptism, which I hope to add to my webspace in due course.
All in all, it was a truly wonderful day and I'm still on a high. Many presents have come from all over, for which I am very, very grateful.