Holy Cross Priory is a monastery of the Order of the Holy Cross, a community founded in 1884 by the Rev. James Otis Sargent Huntington to provide a specifically North American expression of monasticism for Anglicans.

The Priory houses a small community in a Victorian-style home near Toronto’s scenic High Park. Members of the community participate in a daily cycle of prayer, study, and work. We have a number of guest rooms and provide hospitality as well.

Members of the community are available to lead retreats and quiet days at Parishes and other locations. We also offer quiet days, days of prayer, and other programs at the Priory.

The Order has had a ministry in Canada since the 1890′s. Holy Cross Priory was founded in 1973.


CandlemasFebruary 2nd is not just Groundhog Day, it is something much more important: the Feast of Christ’s Presentation in the Temple, also called Candlemas. This feast is celebrated on the 40th day after Christmas, and is a kind of backward glance at the season of Christ’s birth before moving on to the more adult experiences of Lent, Holy Week, and Easter.

It is called Candlemas because when Jesus was brought to the Temple to be “presented” as the Torah commanded, a very old man named Simeon took the child in his arms and called him “a light to enlighten the nations, and the glory of God’s people Israel”. As a result, it became customary to carry blessed candles on this day and hold a procession. The carrying of candles (but not the feast) was suppressed at the Reformation but some parishes continued to do it anyway.

When I was a boy (in the early 1950’s), the people of my home parish would have thought Candlemas itself much too “High Church”; but that didn’t mean they didn’t like candles. As a result, on the Sunday after the Epiphany we all came together for a special Evensong which the Rector dubbed “A Feast of Lights”. There was no procession but there were plenty of candles. And, as at Candlemas itself, people were told that, if they could get their hand-candle across their thresholds still lit, their house would be blessed for the year. This had some unintended consequences: first, the church had to be left open for several hours to allow for extra tries; second, it made for the possibility of multiple small children jammed into a backseat, each holding a hand candle! Still, as there were never any accidents, we can be sure that the cars if not the houses were blessed.

Our family never needed a car. Our house was located four houses to the south of the church and my grandmother’s house was four houses to the north. One year I finally managed to get a candle across our threshold; but I wanted to take one to my grandmother as well. My grandmother was blind, but I still wanted her to have the blessing. Then I had an idea. I took a lamp chimney from home and held it over another lit candle from the church. As a result the neighbours were treated to the sight of a seven-year-old boy marching up the street carrying a lighted candle under a lamb chimney, singing the song of Simeon, the Nunc Dimittis. My grandmother couldn’t see the light but I’m pretty sure she got the blessing.

But what is so fascinating about candles, anyway? Organizers of church services know generally that any service involving candles is almost bound to be popular—even among the uncommitted. Now, while the Bible assures us that Jesus is the Light of the World, it also tells us that when the Light came, even his own did not receive him. In other words, light is endlessly fascinating, but not always easily recognized. The Temple was full when Mary and Joseph came in with the baby Jesus, but only Simeon (and later Anna) recognized him for who he was.

Candles are lit for a variety of reasons: sometimes just to provide light; sometimes to remember something or someone in the past; sometimes to look toward the future. But the one thing they seems always to do is to point toward hope—candles point toward hope even when everything else seems hopeless. That is why the “True Light” that was coming into the world was both attractive and hard to see. Candlemas is a feast of hope, a reminder that we need to keep our minds and our lives fixed on the elusive light that came into the world at Christmas. At Candlemas we are called not just to carry candles, but to carry hope—a hope that other people can see.

My grandmother was a case in point. For the last ten years of her life she saw nothing at all: she saw me, but not my brother. And she certainly didn’t see the candle I brought her. Instead, she shed light wherever she went. At her funeral we sang the hymn, “The strife is o’er, the battle done; the victory of life is won…” Years later, I was deacon at the Easter vigil, and naturally very busy. But during the offertory they happened to play that very hymn. I nearly broke into tears; because all of a sudden it hit me with crushing force that now she can see! She never saw anything again in her earthly life, but she helped everyone around her see hope.

Candlemas is traditionally the last day of Christmastide. It is a day to pick up your candle, (with or without lamp chimney), show hope, and become “a light to enlighten the nations”. Jesus did it. I think my grandmother did it. Millions of others have done it. You can do it. That’s what Candlemas is all about!



Baptism of JesusThe Central Panel of the Baptistry Tapestries in the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels, Los Angeles, created by John NavaThe story of Jesus, according to Mark, begins with his baptism:

“In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son; the beloved; with you I am well pleased.” (Mk. 1.9-11)

Jesus came to himself at his baptism – he knew who he was uniquely. His uniqueness was that relationship of a son to a father. It was through his baptism that he discovered his unique self.

So when we begin to reflect upon who we are we too can begin with our baptism. It is there we are named, “John” or “Mary”, and are identified uniquely. There is no one who is precisely as we are. No one can give to the world what we can. So we begin with our uniqueness. As Jesus came in the fullness of time for his unique self to be revealed, we come in our own particular fullness of time for our unique selves to be revealed.

So Jesus, the Redeemer, accepted his time, the circumstances of his time, the people of his time. He did not wish for another time, not another set of circumstances, not different people, different social structures, a different place. Since his time was the only time for the uniqueness of himself to be, he accepted his time. This present age is our time.

Jesus was immersed in the river Jordan. He went all the way down – down into his history, the history of his people, down into their sin and weakness, down into the depths of their life. He took upon himself the hands of John, and John’s preaching the baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. Jesus identified himself with his people. He did not stand off, he went down with them. He took for himself all their sins as well as their righteousness. He was willing to let his people tell him who he was – or rather, it was only as he accepted them, identified with them that he heard inwardly – nobody else heard it – the declaration that he was a beloved son in whom his father was well pleased. He discovered himself through his people. It meant acceptance, immersion, and going down with them.

Jesus came to his understanding of who he was and we come to our understanding of who we are, by fundamental decisions at certain turning points in our lives to trust somebody else, to trust some other people, deliberately to involve ourselves with them. As we let them carry us we let God tell us who we are.

God usually speaks to us through the pressure points of our lives. God deals with people as God sees fit to deal with them. But it seems fair to say at those decisive turning points, where we are forced to make decisions about life because there is no other option to us, that God comes to help us discover who we are and who God is calling us to be.

How do you become who you are? As you trust yourself, your fellow human beings, and your God, they will tell you who you are as you make your decisions to go toward them in trust, to be immersed, to be involved.

The Christ is in that immersion with you. The Christ is in those people. The Christ is immersed in the waters and the turmoil, in the pain and the difficult decisions, in all the struggles. Jesus is there with you in that kind of immersion.

The Christ is also in the opening of the heavens when you see the vision of who you are and who you are to become. It is the voice of your Redeemer that you hear: You are my beloved. This is really who you are. I like you. I love you.

Excerpts from a series of radio talks in 1997 by the late Bishop John B. Coburn, formerly Episcopal Bishop of Massachusetts, USA.

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“…who by a star led wise men to the worship of your son…” These words from the Collect for the Feast of the Epiphany tell of God’s action in making Godself known to the peoples of the world – to all people not just those within the Old Covenant. They are words of comfort for all who seek God and seek to know his presence, because they tell us that God’s love reaches to all of creation, and that in God’s quest to make Godself known, God uses what God has made. They are words of comfort also because they speak of God’s continuing action, of God’s involvement with and in the world.

Scary, Scary Night
from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN.
Those of us who live in large cities know that it is not easy to see the stars clearly because of “light pollution”. The brightness of lights in the streets, houses and great towers of the cities shade the starlight from our view. This fact is a reminder that we need to persevere in our quest for God. In order to really look at the stars we now have to step out of our usual environment. We may need to do the same in order to hear the Word that God longs to say to us. Blotting out the usual day to day stuff of living is not easy. To do so we may need to find a different setting; a place where we can listen and observe without all that normally intrudes into our thoughts. One of the best places to do this is to visit a Retreat House, such as our Holy Cross Priory here in Toronto, or one of the other Houses of the Order of the Holy Cross. In such places one’s focus changes. Solitude, silence, and participation in the regular daily round of Offices and Liturgy, even for a brief time, enables guests to find their compass point. And so we are better able to hear and see the Word that God desires to reveal.

Such a visit is not a substitution for the daily necessity of prayer and reflection on the scriptures. But it is indeed an opportunity to focus more fully on the things of God, glimpse a little more clearly God’s call to us, experience more deeply the ever present love of God for us. The desire for God is a mystery. We can only assume that the Holy Spirit stirs that longing within us and spurs us onward in our personal quest to find Mary’s child in Bethleham. We take heart from the story of those wise Magi from the East, who, as St. Matthew tells us, “observed his star at its rising,” and set out on a long journey to find the new King of the Jews. They followed the star and found the child and “…they knelt down and paid him homage” (Mt. 2.11).

As we celebrate the season of Ephipany this year, let us join with those wise men and offer homage to the Christ. And let us dedicate ourselves to the ongoing journey into a deeper and closer knowledge of the God who calls to us in love.

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“And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those God favours’.”

In George Bernard Shaw’s powerful drama, Saint Joan, the Dauphin questions Joan in petulant anger about the voices which she claims are guiding her: “Oh your voices, your voices. Why don’t the voices come to me? I am King, not you.”

Joan responds: “They do come to you, but you do not hear them. You have not sat in the field listening for them. When the Angelus rings your cross yourself and have done with it, but if you prayed from your heart and listened to the thrillings of the bells in the air after they stopped ringing, you would hear the voices as well as I do.”

Since November we have heard the music of Christmas. For many of us the texts and music are familiar and beloved. Choirs, soloists, and orchestras have produced glorious offerings which both delight and inspire. In St. Luke’s account of the birth of Jesus, shepherds hear the exquisite music of the angelic choir. Their hearts are touched with a beauty perhaps unknown to them, and their lives are greatly enriched.

It is unlikely that the shepherds were aficionados of music, or that they were patrons of fine arts. But they were willing to listen and to respond with their whole being. They went to see and experience that which so claimed their attention. So they went “even unto Bethlehem and found the stable with Mary, Joseph, and the infant Jesus.” The shepherds knelt and worshipped. They saw the Child of God. Then they returned to their work forever changed in an interior, heartfelt way.

As we listen to the music of Christmas can we suspend our cynicism and our over-worked rationality to adore—to worship—to give God glory? We need not fear that we might become religious fanatics or ineffective romantics. We too have our work to do. Yet if we are willing to listen to the Christmas message with our heart, soul, strength and mind we shall hear the angel’s song. And our lives shall be blessed.

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MERI KURISUMASU! That’s how many people say it in Japan. Only a small minority of Japanese people are Christian, and yet Christmas itself is wildly popular. There are, of course, some differences. For instance, instead of Handel’s Messiah there are all sorts of performances of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony. There are even sponsored runs with hundreds of people dressed in Santa Claus suits—and, of course, Godzilla (a national mascot) outlined in Christmas tree lights! And yet, none of this has made the Japanese people any more (or less) Christian than they were before.

Which makes it all stand in peculiar contrast with an attitude we sometimes encounter in North America. In some quarters, it is now considered in poor taste to say Meri Kurisumasu in any form. Indeed, one U.S. college went so far as to suggest that even private parties should not look like Christmas parties lest others feel excluded. The intention is laudable, but in Japan it would be incomprehensible. Who is being excluded when it is so easy to put your own interpretation on the festival? A Muslim (here as well as there) would be more likely to feel excluded by the liquor at the party than by any mention of Jesus’ birth. Indeed, if anything, the Qur’an is more explicit about Jesus’ virginal conception than the Christian Bible! Still less excluded would be the vast majority of Japanese who follow Shinto or one of the forms of Buddhism—an inclusion that is all the more striking as neither one is very clear about the existence of a universal God.

So what is it they’re all celebrating? We know what the Christian minority is celebrating, but what about everyone else? There is a hint. We mentioned earlier that Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony is almost universally popular at Christmas. One of the things that sets that Symphony apart from the others is its final movement—a choral setting of Friedrich Schiller’s Ode to Joy. Many of us are familiar with it in the form of a tune used for the hymn “Joyful, joyful, we adore thee.” The Japanese have taken Schiller’s much more ambiguous composition to their hearts.

What does this mean to us? It is a reminder that Christmas is a multi-textured festival, and that we need not apologize for any of it, for its deepest meaning is Joy. Christians assert that the source of that Joy is what happened at Bethlehem. Beneath all the festive carry on—even the lights on Godzilla—there is a Deep Magic, and the name of that Magic is Christ: the instrumental Maker of all things lying in a manger and needing our care. Christmas is a multi-textured Ode to Joy that can be celebrated wherever Joy and Courtesy are. Only fear is excluded. Share all the textures of Christmas with everyone this year, and wish them a Meri Kurisumasu! Christmas is for everyone.

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