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Friday, June 15, 2007

Orthodoxy Lost and Found

Helen and I have just come back from a short vacation break in mid-Wales. We dodged the showers and savoured the delights of the Welsh countryside and renowned hospitality of an artistic Celtic culture. Where, however, was God in this fair land of green clad hills and ancient springs? I suppose I mean, where was God in the culture, for He was everywhere to be seen in the landscape. In human terms though there was a curious vacancy, of a time long forgotten, of as Peter Berger once said “a rumour of angels” but now barely heard. There were of course churches and chapels to be seen.

The churches in rural mid-Wales are pretty, compact, well maintained on the whole. They seem nonetheless to suffer from a certain cultural disconnection except when hosting concerts for the tourists in tourist areas. Does God matter though to the Welsh? The chapels have fared even worse. Village after village after village embarrasses itself with the crumbling facades of the long gone 19th century Welsh revival. It’s as if the dragon roared but the fiery embers were always destined to grow cold and forgotten. But why? Why could not the fire of Christ ignite Welsh culture beyond the immediate generation of those original (largely) Methodist apostles? Why is Wales now seemingly so neglectful of the faith of David, Non, Seiriol, Illtyd, Dyfrig, Gildas, Dwynwen, Melangell, Gwenfrewy, Winefride, Beuno, Asaph and countless others?

The same questions could and should be raised for England, Scotland and perhaps to a lesser extent Ireland, north and south. Why have the landmarks of sanctity in the lives of the Christian heroes of these lands been erased from the public mind, confined to the private realm of the dwindling faithful and the secular archives of the historian? Why has Christianity become disconnected from the culture and replaced by a secular mind more entertained by New Age fripperies and the gods of multiculturalism? As Anglo-Catholic priest Fr. Eric Mascall once wrote as a title to a book:- “Whatever happened to the Christian mind?”

The trouble is that the Orthodox know the answer but few seem to understand the question. We say, of course, that Britain has both forgotten the treasure (our Orthodox faith) and where she has buried it (in the distortions of Rome and Geneva). The incomprehension of the post-Orthodox Christian in the face of this answer is understandable for too many years have passed since the burying and the earthworks have now all but gone. The preachers of the Welsh Revival and all the other revivals of British Non-Conformity faced the problem of Christianity’s decline during the Industrial Revolution but they didn’t do their homework; they didn’t look for the buried treasure but rather they mistook fool’s gold for the real thing. They can’t be blamed for this. They were children of their time drawing by godly revolt from a contaminated source, mistaking its corruption for purity, its artifice for authenticity. The writing was on the wall no sooner had the wall been built.

There are some Orthodox who say that British (or if you like, English, Welsh, Scottish and Irish) Orthodox Christianity is dead and incapable of being revived. These claim that only through a fresh infusion of Orthodoxy with a very clear “country of origin” sticker attached will the real thing be recognised once more. I beg to disagree ... most profoundly! It is no solution at all to point a lost soul to a foreign country just because he has got lost in his own. We need to need to repaint the signs; not have them repositioned in a new direction. St. Arsenios of Paros, a Greek saint of the 19th century knew this full well. He said presciently ...

“When the Church in the British Isles begins to venerate her own Saints then the Church will grow.” St. Arsenios of Paros (+1877)

This is the remedy for the amnesia of the British. Let them see their own saints again ... not just in the churches (that they may never frequent) but in the countryside, in the cities, in the towns. We need to reconnect Christ and Culture the Orthodox way. We need to roll back of the desert of secularism by touching the heart, by restoring the memory, by energising the will. We need to get out there and make Christ visible again.

19 comments:

Paula Maillet said...

Abouna, this is just SO sad. But it shouldn't be a surprise.

"But know this, that in the last days perilous times will come: For men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy,
unloving, unforgiving, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, despisers of good, traitors, headstrong, haughty, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having a form of godliness but denying its power."
2nd Timothy 3:1-5

Kind of defines this generation, doesn't it.

Orthodox Christian West said...

Dear Father,

I agree wholeheartedly with your observations, what puzzles me though, is why you attempt to "return" to the Faith of our (distant) Fathers in these islands, by introducing that faith via a totally culturally alien practice and worship. The forms of worsahip that you use were never used in these islands during the thousand years of our Orthodoxy.
We know the forms that were used, we have them intact - at least in a couple of representative forms. More than that, several Orhodox Patriarchates (your own included) have authorised culturally accessible forms of worship, yet you (please don't misinterpret this as a personal attack) use a form imported from the Middle East which not only was never used in this country, but was very different a thousand years ago.
We desperately need to recover our Orthodoxy in this country, but we need a culturally accessible form of worship. (and yes, I have visited your church).

orthodoxwest

Father Gregory said...

These are the reasons we don't use the western rite(s) ...

(1) They are nothing more than the old American Prayer Book and a pre-Trent rescension of the Roman rite. Both are archaic, theologically deficient and poorly supported by seasonal mnaterial.
(2) The unchurched in the UK are neither put off by nor attracted to ANY particular rite ... provided it's Orthodox in ethos. Those yearning for Sarum Redressed are a very limited constituency of existing Christians ... not those who have not yet heard the gospel.
(3) There is nothing alien about the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom in the vernacular. If it's good enough for South Africans, the Innuit and the Japanese it arguably travels well and is good enough for us as well.
(4) Redressing old western rites is an archeological exercise ... it does not connect with a living rite right now.

Sorry, but I can't agree.

Orthodox Christian West said...

Hmmmm..... I fear that we must agree to differ on this. I know a number of people who have tried the Eastern rite and simply cannot worship in it. While they unconditionally accept all that Orthodoxy teaches, and accept that the ethnic Orthodox need to worship in their own accustomed manner, they see no reason why, since the Patriarchate of Antioch (to which you belong) has authorised the Western Rite, and has Western Rite parishes in New Zealand, Australia, Canada and America, we cannot have them in England.

Poorly supported by seasonal material? Really? As a liturgist, I have to say "I think not". There is an absolute wealth of seasonal material which can be used. I know that one Russian Orthodox monastery provides western rite parishes with the whole Sarum range of seasonal material.

To label the authorised services of the Orthodox Church as an "archeological exercise" doesn't seem very approppriate to me. Perhaps the same could be said of the Russian Orthodox recent unearthing of the Liturgy of Saint Mark?

What continues to puzzle me is why those who prefer the Chrysostoma liturgy, attempt to deny the properly done western rite to those who need it.

orthodoxwest

Father Gregory said...

Who are "those who need it" beyond a certain shrinking class of former Anglicans who mourn the passing of the Prayer Book? That seems to me to be both an impoverished idea of evangelism (which means reaching those who have no acquaintance with the Christian Eucharist whatsoever) and a very uncertain strategy for helping former Anglicans to become Orthodox. The jolt to the system I think on the whole is rather good. This is definitely not "ole time relijun" in Orthodox dress.

And yes, I am familiar with western rite material and it doesn't come anywhere matching in breadth or scope what we already have.

So yes, we shall have to agree to disagree on this one.

Aristibule said...

Can I get a witness?

Well, I'm one of those who needed it - my wife as well. We've worshipped in both rites, lived in both - and found the Western rite just as deep and wide as the Byzantine, but far less foreign. This is especially true for my wife. Deracinated Byzantine is even worse - I should say, far worse. The attempt to remove the 'foreign' parts isn't inculturation, but just becomes dumbing-down, generic eclecticism, liberalisation - it loses its beauty and profundity. In the Western rite, we have an Orthodox rite that was already inculturated in our civilization by missionary saints, confessor saints, etc.

Of course, we were never Anglicans.

My wife was raised in Charismatic and Assemblies of God churches, from families of Baptist, Lutheran and Congregationalist origin. Her parents are Charismatic ministers, alumni of Oral Roberts University and Lee University.

My own experience was that of being a youth pastor in the Assemblies of God and Full Gospel churches, son of AoG pastors, grandson of AoG missionaries, grandson and great-grandson of United Methodist and Disciples of Christ ministers, also like my wife and in-laws, an ORU alum (as both my parents, aunts and uncles had been - as well as all of the above at AoG colleges - Evangel, CBC, Waxahachie.) Not an Anglican in sight til we get back to those Wesley preached to.

However, the British saints (*our* saints - as we Americans are the seed of Albion) are the ones who prayed us into Orthodoxy. We honor them not just by invoking their names, but by praying the prayers by which they found theosis. Its one thing to love grandma and grandpa, and another thing to keep doing the right things they taught.

Interestingly enough - we aren't alone. I know WRO from Calvinist, Evangelical, and many other backgrounds. It is most definitely not just for Anglicans.

Father Gregory said...

I am happy for you but you need to know that NONE of the small number of Antiochian communities that started with the western rite in 1995 in the UK continued with it. All had abandoned it within the first 18 months. We certainly do not practice a deracinated Byzantine rite either. Mileage obviously varies.

Aristibule said...

Thanks Father, and I am aware of the history: I know Fr. Michael Keiser personally (as well as many others involved.) I also know that not everyone (clergy or laity) was happy to give up Western Rite. I also know it was a suppression, largely related to politics and other matters - nothing to do with the faith or liturgy itself. That it was suppressed is a fact, but that event suggests nothing about Western rite itself. Rather, it only reflects on the British Antiochian Deanery.

Father Gregory said...

By all means contact the clergy and people concerned. You will find that your characterisation of the western rite issue is way, way wide of the mark. Your comments also I am afraid insults us who have loved the so-called Byzantine rite from the beginning ... and most certainly not merely for political reasons. My objections to the western rite (AS THEY STAND) are theological and liturgical. I am not against the principle of the western rite per se ... just not THESE western rites and not without a major expansion and development of associated liturgical materials.

Father Gregory said...

Sorry for all the typos and grammatiocal errors in that last comment. I wrote when I was annoyed ... never a very good idea. I wish I could edit comments in the Blogger!

Steve Hayes said...

Referring to your original post rather than the digressions on the Westeern rites, I met Fr Deiniol of Blaenau Ffestiniog in Albania (where we had Vespers one day in Welsh, English and Albanian!), and he spoke of the secularisation of Wales. I asked him about the Welsh revival, and he said that it was largely among the Calvinistic Methodists, and eventually people were repelled by such a punitive image of God.

Father Gregory said...

Indeed Steve .... Many years ago I was a lodger in the house of a lady who was brought up WCM. She had effectively become a deist for these reasons. The Revival was initially so suucessful I suspect because it was a LOCAL phenomenon ... only later did the penny drop about the religion itself.

JLB said...

Hello - I am new to this. After reading Father Gregory's article it really struck home with me. i live in Pittsburgh, PA (can you tell from my username?). I am somewhat new to Orthodoxy, so please forgive me for even attempting to understand everything that is being said here in the responses. After a small bit of research, I think i may have some idea of how the article and the actual responses relate. Please let me know if I am wrong...

My take on the article was that Father Gregory was suggesting that the faithful Orthodox saints (in the here and now) need to get out show Christ to this pagan, brave new world. However, in the responses, I am getting the message amongst the orthodox that it is about eastern vs western rite?

How can I read this article and claim that Father Greagory is talking about the orthodox british showing their countrymen Christ through Orthodoxy - through their actual everyday lifestyle, and then in the responses, have the people feel it is an article about eastern vs western rite? It seems to me the article was more about showing the English the saints of tody's time - which would be all of you!! Repaint the signs with your Holy lifestyle - BE the roadsign - no matter if it is east or west Orthodoxy!! Be in modest, stark contrast to this world in a humble, prayerful way, with concise words and behavior - people will notice! They will ask you what church you attend. I have frequented St. George's in new Kensington, and what I can tell you from a protestant perspective is this - eastern or western rite - there is no doubt when I walk into that chruch that I stand on Holy Gorund!! It is really amazing!! i want my protestant friends just to go and see what worship is REALLY all about - and what Holy and acceptable unto God really means!! When Orthodox West says that the British need to reclaim worship more culturally aligned I almost fell off of my chair! Why? That is exactly what the protestant american realm has been trying to do - change worship to attract more people. NOT A GOOD IDEA!! you might as well just open the door to the Church and invite the evil one himself to just take over. And then, once changes start to take place, slip in a really high powered sound system, and then instead of liturgical chant - maybe a praise and worship team, and heck - why look modest when attending church, just roll out of bed, throw on you dirty blue jeans and belly-waist shirts, low cut pants, and become the youth leader!! That would attract so many more people, not wouldn't it?

An Orthodox priest who was kind and patient enough to share his time with me once said (and this has stuck in my mind ever since) - that Orthodoxy does not go for quantitiy - but instead quality. WOW what a statment! Why? Because those seeking Christ in His fullness will find Him - in the Orthodox Church. It is not a loud, boisterous religion. It does not go around shoving Bibles down peoples throats. It does not promise some quick atempt to a non-believer to 'save them from hell'. It is here. It will be here. It remains through the faithful. BE the roadsign.

What am I missing?

Biby Cletus said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Father Gregory said...

Nothing missing at all JLB. I wholeheartedly agree with you.

Father Gregory said...

Dear Bibby

Thank you for your comments. Judaism was very complex in the 1st century and arguable a lot more diverse than it is today with many traditions and cross referencing influences. Many scholars have seen an influence on St. John the Baptist from the Essene community but Jesus stands much more in the tradition of the Pharisees ... notwithstanding some challenging things he said about that tradition. Influence maybe but membership of the Essene community for either of them? ... no, that can't be justified from the evidence to hand.

Dave said...

Father bless!

Just FYI, the comment from "biby cletus" is spam.

All of the discussion of rites aside, how do you suggest bringing the memory of the Age of Saints to the forefront of the culture? As someone whose own patrons David and Dyfrig are from these isles (and the latter from less than 10 miles from where I sit), I am very keen on this. I can do my little bit as an RE teacher and we always commemorate them in our services here, but what do you suggest beyond that?

Father Gregory said...

I think that it is important that we take every opportunity to make the saints more visible in the public domain. Pilgrimages, letters to the press, well publicised events .... they all help.

Anonymous said...

Great ideas for the mission of the Antiochian Orthodox Church in Puerto Rico. We need to connect culture with Church.

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