A talk on the 135th anniversary of St Andrew's consecration
A talk on the 135th anniversary of the consecration of St Andrew's on 13 January 1885 by the Rt Rev Dr JH Titcomb, English Bishop for Northern and Central Europe
We are, this month, officially 135 years old.
And you’re not looking too bad!
It has been an interesting few years.
St Andrew’s was built to be a place for life: where God meets with people and we discover new life.
The consecration prayer speaks of a building set aside so that people could hear the Word of God, receive the sacraments and offer prayer and praise to God. It was to be a place, the prayer continues, ‘for blessing thy people in thy name’: for baptism, confirmation, communion, marriage, for confession and healing and worship, where people can draw near to God, and receive mercy from God, and his life transforming Holy Spirit.
And then in 1917, after the revolution, everything changed. Russia went on its religious roller coaster. God was rejected. And the heart of a nation was ripped out.
And suddenly there was no place for any church, let alone an Anglican church.
The heart of this building, just like the heart of many buildings across this nation, was torn out. God was exorcised. St Andrew’s ceased to be a place of life and became a place of death. It became a machine gun post – reports speak of blood flowing in the courtyard.
Fortunately, it was soon used in more positive ways: it served for a few years as the Finnish embassy, as a hostel, and then gained international significance as the principle recording studio for Melodia.
But then, about 30 years ago, Russia changed. After the crucifixion came resurrection.
People began to openly do God again.
Churches – long closed, derelict or turned into stores or museums - were restored and re-consecrated. The heart was put back in them. Once again they became places of life.
St Andrew’s was returned to the Anglican community. But it was St Andrew’s plus. Quite literally. Melodia had built an extension and the building was now known not for being a church, but for its magnificent acoustics. And so today, a building that was originally consecrated and ‘set apart’ exclusively for prayer and worship, is now a place of prayer and worship, but also a venue for concerts and a centre for service: a home to several charities, including Vverh, with the amazing work that they do with some of the most vulnerable young people in society.
Last week I was reading about Fr Dumitru Staniloae, a Romanian Orthodox theologian. He speaks that while we correctly wish to stress the otherness of God from creation, we can too quickly separate heaven and earth.
So my prayer is that this building might be a place where heaven breaks into earth, a place of life. Where people hear the Word of God and a new world is opened to them; where the ordinary stuff of life – bread and wine and water and oil – are transformed and become channels for the eternal to bless the mortal; where you can come and be still and in the stillness call on God; where you and I can be set free from sin, condemnation and guilt and where our lives are transformed.
But there are other moments when heaven breaks into earth. When the snowdrop breaks through the soil; when someone forgives and someone says sorry; when enemies meet and become friends; when the echoes of the final notes of an aria fade into a stunned silence; when a student gets it. They are glimpses of what is beautiful and true and right and noble and lovely. They are moments of life, and they point us to heaven.
Last year when Stas Namin, who used to record here with the Flowers, put on Jesus Christ Superstar for our restoration challenge, I sat next to the director of Melodia. Obviously St Andrew’s relationship with them was not easy in the past. But he very graciously said to me, ‘It is right that this is now once again a church’.
My prayer is that this will be a place where heaven breaks into earth, that at the heart of it and of all that goes on in it – whether it is an AA group, an MIC rehearsal, a Vverh classroom, a concert or a service of worship - there will be God, and that in this building people will find God and find life.