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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.

Friday, June 08, 2007

"Physician, heal Thyself" (Luke 4:23)

Plenty of folk have remedies for reforming their religion. If a spirituality doesn't suit, get a new one. If your pastor isn't to your taste, find one that is. If you disagree with your denomination, maybe strike out and form a new one. How far this is from New Testament teaching concerning the Church! The Church is simply the believers in one place, one body, partaking of the breaking of the bread, the apostles' teaching and fellowship and prayers, (Acts 2:42). She isn't our 'plaything' ... our pet project, our 'bete noir', our favourite punch bag. Self appointed 'popes' abound, self righteous architects of a better, more modern and relevant Christianity ministering only to their own egos and desires.

Hear what the Athonite elder Paisius said about this:-

"If one hopes to help the Church, one would be better to correct oneself, and not others. If you correct yourself, then a small part of the Church will be corrected. And it is obvious that if everyone did that, then the Church would be brought into perfect order. But people today are occupied with everything possible except themselves, because it is easy to fix others, but it requires effort to fix oneself."

Let us endeavour by grace first to "fix oneself."

Sunday, June 03, 2007

A Modest Little Proposal

Should the Roman Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church ever reunite a new conciliar structure would be required to serve the unity of the Church. The details are difficult to foresee but the general shape might just be discernible.

Each autocephalous church would be represented by its patriarch or pope. The Bishop of Rome would facilitate this body by convening and presiding in love. Any participating hierarch could petition Rome for a meeting and should this be supported by the other churches, the Pope would call his brothers together.

There would be one rule. Any decision would only be effective if it had the unanimous assent of all. “Never the Twelve without Peter; never Peter without the Twelve.”

Clearly there are huge questions left unresolved by this proposal ... the balance of primacy and authority amongst the brethren and with Peter, the relationship to the faithful and Tradition, the linkages between the Pope’s own apostolic role and that of an Ecumenical Council, the day by day administration of the Church to name but a few. Nonetheless, these can be worked out if the questions of primacy and conciliarity have first been satisfactorily resolved in a spirit of love and truth.

There remain also significant challenges to be faced in the mentality and wounded history of both churches. How can we seek that honesty and generosity of spirit that might recover through forgiveness and reconciliation that primordial Christocentric unity that Christians once had across the Oikumene? Only the Holy Spirit can forge such a new mindset. For this to happen, contrary forces are going to have to “move out of the way” ... on both “sides.”

Many will probably not be very popular for supporting such explorations and the temptations to further schism will be great (especially, sadly I feel amongst the Orthodox). Remaining as we are though is simply not an option. Christian unity in truth is never a luxury but a vital component of preaching and living out the gospel. It’s about time we took this challenge more seriously; in the Orthodox constituency at least.

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