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Monday, May 07, 2007

All the King's Horses and all the King's Men

Humpty Dumpty ... who done it?

“Well, he sure weren’t pushed! Guess the old ellipsoid got a bit careless!”

Notes from the police file ...

PRIDE ... he was a top-of-the-wall kind of guy. He needed to be there and he needed others to see how improbably he had achieved the great feat of his ascent.
PERILOUS DISEQUILIBRIUM ... but then, it only took a wobble, no great thing to start with, but then a helpless fall to a scrambled fate.
IRREVERSIBLE ENTROPY ... Humpty learned all too soon the lesson of increasing entropy, the tendency to disorder. No earthly power could mend that logic.

Humpty has things to teach us about maintaining the integrity of the Church and her faith. If pride gets “in the works” as it were, people start thinking that they know better than their forebears; that they need to remake Christianity after their own image (desires, inclinations, opinions) or to appeal to the Zeitgeist, the spirit of the age. Sometimes this involves removing key elements or adding new ones. The result is that the whole enterprise is destabilised. Instead of more people being drawn into the Kingdom of God through repentance and transformation, the “Church” (for this is no church) shrinks both in extent and depth. Instead of God being at the centre, man once again takes centre stage and all is shattered.

A little later in this process of decline some people wake up to the real and dire situation in which they find themselves. However, although they see Humpty broken at their feet they wrongly surmise that he is not broken beyond repair. They make the serious error of not understanding entropy, of supposing that the shattering is reversible. Re-forming Humpty is a noble but hopeless task. Vainly do they attempt to mend the poor fellow by, for example:-

(1) Putting a belief back that had been formerly abandoned. However, by now the interconnections and morphology of belief have changed. The former faith has been reconfigured. There are no spaces for the “missing piece.” You can see this classically with the Orthodox understanding of the resurrection. If the west was to return to that, its understanding of the cross would have to change. Its understanding of the cross would have to change because its belief concerning God and Man remained unreformed. Its understanding of God and Man would then have to change because the divine nature and the human predicament would otherwise remain seriously distorted ... and so on, and so on. Beliefs cannot be “re-tweaked” by human intervention and manipulation once compromised. This also applies to just about every other aspect of Christian life and worship. Once the Orthodox Christian ethos has been lost it cannot be conjured back from this starting point of fracture. The king’s horses and men have tried ... and failed, miserably.

(2) Copying what they remember of Humpty before his fall, in effect starting all over again with a “new egg.” For how many years, centuries even, have disillusioned Christians left their churches to form their own new churches wherever, supposedly, all would be made well again? And when this fails, (as fail it must), what then? Where then? Sadly, too often this meant the end of the line for these Christians, a damaged faith and no church or simply atheism as a new fundamentalism replacing former certainties. But must such an enterprise be doomed to fail? Well, to be fair, not necessarily. Consider though what needs to happen for it to succeed. EVERY aspect of Orthodox Christianity would need to be re-constituted from scratch. This would require extreme humility from the church leadership. If, for example, a prevailing idea had been that Mary should have no prominent place in Christian piety and worship and if the New Church research revealed that indeed she had always had an honoured place in the Christian assembly then that would have to change, without compromise, prevarication or qualification. Who would have the grace to respond to that challenge? Historically it has happened as in the recent case of the Campus Crusade for Christ groups in America that embarked on a long period of exploration and discovery that led them eventually into the Orthodox Church through the reception of their own transformed communities. You can read an account of such a journey by Fr. Gregory Rogers in his article “From Evangelical to Orthodox”. Nonetheless such bloc conversions from churches outside Orthodox en masse are exceptional and rare. It can be a hard lesson to learn that Humpty cannot humanly be put back together again.

If these are the problems associated with the Humpty strategy for Church reform what may we characterise as the tried and tested way? The answer will not satisfy some because it involves sacrificing a key part of the western heterodox Christian mentality, independence. This can be very difficult for some people to do. Consider the so-called Continuum or continuing Anglican churches. These bodies, on both sides of the Atlantic comprise Christians who have grown weary and disillusioned with contemporary Anglicanism and who have often shown a long interest in either Orthodox or Roman Catholic Christianity. However, so often when the crunch comes, (doubting the resurrection or some key aspect of Christian dogma, the priesting of women etc.), these Christians do not follow up their interest in Catholicism or Orthodoxy and especially if they are not promised some form of “special treatment” that allows them to keep cherished aspects of Anglican spirituality and life. Independence is a spirit far stronger in such cases than humility. The irony of course is that it is precisely this spirit of independence that led their former ecclesiastical allegiance into rejected unwelcome paths in the first place. Be that as it may, the Continuum remains a dead end ... being neither accountable to anyone else nor being in communion with anyone else.

So to return to the key question, what is the tried and tested way? Simply, to return home as quickly as possible; not temporising or shrinking behind a wall of cowardice, rationalising that godless anxiety in all the countless ways that make delay seem to the responsible thing to do. If saving truth lies in such and such a direction, saving faith means that you delay not but rather trust God, pick up as far as you can all those for whom you are responsible and who wish to travel with you AND MOVE, now, today.

There is a wall that Humpty has neither scaled nor will ever scale.
There is a Humpty that is full of new life.
Let neither the king’s horses nor the king’s men distract you from finding that “egg” entire, whole and complete.
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Michael Astley said...

I would never have considered this comparison, Father, but Humpty Dumpty, though he may well originally have been a canon at the Battle of Colchester (and not an egg, as many seem to think despite the words to the verses of the song), is indeed analogour to much of what is happening in Cristian circles these days.

A false ecumenism will get us nowhere, and I was in complete agreement with what you said when NOC visited your parish, that for us Orthodox, any "ecumenism" must be in the Faith as we have received it.

While one must have some degree of admiration for the contortionist efforts of some to make things fit where they clearly don't belong, and those who fall too easily into the temptation of dilution, the reality is that both are exercises in futility. With time, they may well be some sort of unity, but unity in what? Certainly not a God-centred Christianity, based on the love and Truth of Christ, but on a new set of man-centred ideas, passing for truth. We see it all around us.

One of the NOC students, while a delight to speak with, said as much to me, and commented on the joy of being able to take a little from each of the churches they were visiting. What saddens me is that many don't realise the inherent wrongness and fallacy of this position, and I must say that in one sense, we Orthodox have ourselves to blame. Many a time we are just too apologetic for our position. I'm not saying that we must go out, armed with our pride to belittle others who are separated from us, but if we do not boldly proclaim what is True, how are people to know that we aren't one with their thinking, based on the "ecumenical" precept that we are all separated parts of Christ's church which must be reunited to each other? They will not, and the responsibility will, at least in part, be our own.

No, the king's horses and the king's men could not put Humpty together again. Would that more would realise this.

May God help us!

Paula Maillet said...

This is very good. An excellent observation.

You call it entropy, I call it devolution - the principle that everything that starts out good goes bad. Lest you deem that a statement from a master-pessimist, it is simply the truth.

The falling-apart-of-everything- good originated in the fall of man. In that garden a cancer started, and it has now pervaded the whole body. I wrote on this very subject recently - check it out here:

I first began realizing this with the observation that MOST of the ivy-league colleges actually started out as seminaries, and from that, they've devolved into the world's greatest centers of New Age anti-God corruption. From there, I came to the realization that this observable principle has infected EVERYTHING good.

The only remedy has to go back to the fall of man. If that truly is the source, then the only remedy has to be the second Adam, the Christ, whose coming I believe to be near. He will restore all things, for ONLY HE can.

Father Gregory said...

Dear Paula

As moderator I only reject posts if they are abusive (of course!) However, I disagree with your linked article so strongly on evolution that I must refer you to what I have already written about this on my Blog. See the label index.

What I was trying to get across in this article was the necessity of having Orthodox rather than Heterodox Christianity. I nearly rejected the comment, but not out of censorship (God forbid!) but because I don't want my contribution to be derailed by a debate on evolution which is not relevant to this topic.

P Maillet said...

Reverend, this is wild! There are two "Abouna's" and I thought you were both the same person because you both left a comment on my blog as "Abouna." I couldn't figure out why you responded to my comment as you did, because the other "Abouna" wouldn't have. So I emailed him about it, thinking he was you, and he emailed me back telling me you aren't HE.

Scratching my head on this one :-)

Father Gregory said...

Dear Paula

No, it aint me! As you probably know, Abouna is the Arabic word for "Father" ... my Orthodox jurisdiction (Antioch) has its HQ in Damascus .... not far from Straight Street as it happens! You have got me intrigued though. I'll go to your Blog and investigate.

P Maillet said...

No, I didn't know that Abouna is a title, I thought it was your name (both of you!!!) What does "Archimandrite" mean? Is that a title too?

Why not leave an email address on your profile so one can contact you. If you don't want your regular email address there, create one free at Hotmail (for example) and put it on your profile.

Father Gregory said...

Good idea Paula. I will attend to that now. This is the definition of "Archimandrite" on Orthodox Wiki ...

"An archimandrite (literally, "chief of a sheepfold") is a celibate priest who has been elevated to an honorific rank, one level lower than bishop. Archimandrites are usually styled Very Reverend or Right Reverend and are the equivalent of archpriests among the married clergy, though of higher rank.

In Greek usage, archimandrite was originally equivalent to igumen, the traditional title for an abbot of a monastery, but after the 6th century came to refer to the abbots of particularly large or important monasteries, often having multiple monasteries under his care.

In Slavic usage, the rank of igumen is given to celibate priests as a lower rank than archimandrite. "

James the Thickheaded said...


As a former Anglican, there are indeed many sweet things about Anglican worship. I endeavored honestly and truly to remain Anglican... but ultimately came through praying the offices of MP and EP to wonder precisely why it was - even in the anglocatholic Continuum - that there were no modern Anglican saints and why the BVM was left as "optionable". I found there were no answers.. or at least no really good answers that satisfied the restlessness within to find the true deposit of faith. And while I read Bishop Ware's books and tended to agree with much... it was the Magnificat that sank in and ultimately led me to wonder more and more. Although I was not a "Marian", I came to see myself led by her prayer to the Church where the saints still live, where the richness of the monastic life is shared, and where the faith is not a part of a frozen museum or dry text but a living and breathing prayer. The Orthodox Church is not an idea, not the result of an argument, and not a set of rules or orderly scheduled times, but a life lived in worship as it is given back to us when we offer ourselves, when we sacrifice the broken elements we seem so oddly to cherish and hang on to.

The Orthodox Church puts the pieces back together... but it is less a forensic exercise than the work and gift of the resurrected Christ, and the healing breath of the Holy Spirit. No we are not the richest or most important Church. Fact is, living within is to lose one's self, one's status, one's "richness" and be sent empty away of that which we have known. It is to surrender not just one's cherished Anglican prayer books, worship, and customs... but one's very being and accept rebirth in the very family of God - in the Church. And truth be told, often when we are prepared to pay the price... many near and dear... those closest to us would rather we not. It is hard. It is a high price. And it is worth every drop of blood, time and/or treasure to live in fear of the Lord... and not in the fear of death.

So my two cents is simply to say Amen!
Edit or eliminate this as you see fit.

Father Gregory said...

Thank you James, that was very moving. There is indeed sacrifice ... but also glory. Stepping out and forward does require a great deal of courage. It is an act of faith of course, matched by God's unparalleled generosity and faithfulness.

Michael Astley said...

james, thank you. That made the hairs on ym back stand on end. I'm not sure whether it's helpful or unhelpful to me where I am now but it was certainly moving. Again, thank you.

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