Saturday, 26 March 2016

Cut flowers...

Fr Andrew has put up an interesting Q&A over on his blog about the revival of local Western saints in the Orthodox Church. I agree with most of it, particularly his observations (which I have made myself, to my accustomed derision) about the dedication of churches to modern "saints," or even funny concepts such as the "sacred heart." This is evident in Ireland, especially, where dedications to saints like Kevin, Brigid or Colmcille are very rare, and even where there are such churches there is no actual cultus. A small exception tends to be made for St Patrick but his memory is defiled by the tawdry, drunken festival which makes of Ireland a universal embarrassment. As a child I was back and forth to Ireland all the time, mostly to the North where I have family. The first time I visited the South was when I went to an Irish dancing competition in Co. Clare with my mother, circa 1998. I went to the local cathedral for a Mass, which was not very memorable, but what was memorable was going into the cathedral shop afterwards. There I discovered a little green book, on the front of which was a stained glass window depicting my patron, St Patrick, called "Irish Saints." Up to that point the only image I had ever seen of St Patrick was this one (below), which presumably dates to the 19th or early 20th century (does anyone know?).


Even at the age of 10 years I found his green chasuble and benevolent expression rather saccharine and not at all like the author of the beautiful Breastplate. And I knew nothing at all about any other Irish saint. Not till I opened the little green book (which I still have), and read the words: "Ireland, as all her schoolchildren used to learn, was known in the golden age of monasticism as Isola sanctorum doctorumque - the isle of saints and scholars." I begged my mother to buy me this little book, which she kindly did. It was £4.99 (in those days Ireland was still not fully independent of England!). It was from this time that I started to discover the wealth of local saints, and not just Irish ones. My paternal grandparents moved to Cornwall at about this time, and lived in a village called St Teath on Bodmin Moor, named for the 5th century St Tetha the Virgin. There are lots of places in Cornwall named for old, forgotten saints; St Ives, St Austell, St Mawes, and many others that I don't remember. It reminds me of the Christian symbolism of The Lord of the Rings, not sledgehammer subtle like the Narnia stories, but absorbed into the fabric. Just like the memory and former cultus of a local saint is absorbed into the village. Even Barry, the publican of the White Hart Inn in St Teath, could tell me a thing or two about the patron of the village, and went to services in the village church.

This is exactly what I mean by the title of of this post. Orthodoxy in England (and later Ireland) was severed at the Battle of Hastings when the soldiery of the Bastard Duke marched under a papal banner and, after a series of church "reforms," the new prelates cast opprobrium on the old church, her saints and customs and replaced them with the new. But, like cut flowers, the semblance of true religion remained where people were in good faith and confessed the Holy Name of Jesus. Religion may have died, but it was still fragrant. There was still dignity in worship down to the Reformation, there was still faith, there were still lively saints, albeit blended with superstition and excess. The extent to which the people of England and Ireland were Papists was just an accident of history, and place of birth. Remember what Frodo said when he returned to the Shire about the hobbits and the ruffians: "But remember: there is to be no slaying of hobbits, not even if they have gone over to the other side. Really gone over, I mean; not just obeying ruffians' orders because they are frightened." It is precisely because these islands were fortified by the Orthodox faith that Christianity cannot ever, fully die out, and and ever and anon somebody like me, or Fr Andrew, is born and takes an interest in the faith of the fathers. Some of the Anglican divines were undoubtedly crypto-Orthodox. Matthew Parker and Richard Hooker spring to mind. On the Papist side one could well argue (as my own Church history tutor at Heythrop did) that John Henry Newman was also a crypto-Orthodox, somebody born out of time and place and yet hungered and thirsted after righteousness, as the scripture says. These islands were either accursed of God because of the sins of certain high ecclesiastics in faraway Rome, in which case nothing worthwhile can be said of aught between 1066 and the arrival of Greek and Russian immigrants, many of whom, like the Normans, disdained our old saints. Or, and this is my belief, God sent down the Holy Ghost in sundry churches to keep some faith alive, despite the schism and the general waning of knowledge in the westering sun of Orthodoxy. Who can see to the depths of Her Majesty's heart? Pious and reared in princely lore, is she cut off from the Church? No, her patron is St Edward the Confessor, whose relics are enshrined in the heart and foundation of this realm. Westminster Abbey may be England's Valhalla yet it is still a church. So I am wont to disagree with Fr Andrew on this point and tend to think that there was more to St Edward the Confessor than feudalism and his Norman mother.

Possibly the holiest place I have ever visited, this is one of the Celtic crosses in Glendalough, a serene and beautiful place in the Wicklow Mountains. St Kevin's Tower is in the background.

Cut flowers are dead, and soon wither. I wonder what stage we're in now? If only the Orthodox churches of England put away ethnic isolationism and political prejudice they might attract more converts. I have no interest in Slavic culture! But like the crypto-Orthodox of the deep English past I yearn for the sacraments and the communion of the Church. Am I, a sinner with the little green book, to be thrown out to compost with the rest of my countrymen?

26 comments:

  1. "If only the Orthodox churches of England put away ethnic isolationism and political prejudice they might attract more converts. I have no interest in Slavic culture!"

    I'm sorry that you have had that experience. I worry that on the day of judgment, many of my co-religionists (I am an Orthodox Christian) will have to answer for the souls they have turned back due to their idolatrous obsession with tribe in place of - or as a necessary prerequisite to - the Gospel of Our Lord Jesus Christ.

    I only beg that you be patient with us and try to retain the good in spite of the bad like the bee in Saint Paisios' story.

    Forgive us, brother.

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    1. Thank you, Anaxagoras, for your comment. You're not personally at fault! What Orthodoxy needs in England is English clergy. There is nothing more off-putting, for somebody like me, than a Russian priest who can barely speak English.

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    2. Or an English priest doing his best to pretend to be either Russian or Greek.

      This whole western saints thing in Byzantium is rather superficial at best, and will lead no where.

      My favourite is a Byzantine style ikon of St David of Wales gussied up in Russian New Rite vestments looking like a 19th century Metropolitan of Moscow. It is all play-acting, nothing more.

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  2. Out of interest, why draw the line at the Norman reforms exactly as the point at which organic unity of people, place and faith was lost? One could argue on the one hand that the death of the usage of Sarum & its local variants represented a profound discontinuity; or one could go even earlier and say that the Saxon church formed by the Gregorian mission displayed an aggressive Roman arrogance at the Synod of Whitby, for example, against the native Columban monastic traditions of the northern part of England as well as Scotland and Ireland.

    Just interested in your rationale, and the degree to which you are consciously selecting this particular episode of top-down reform for disapproval because it occurred at roughly the same period at which the schism between East & West began to manifest itself.

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    1. Dr Graham, forgive the late reply but last night I was too drunk to reply.

      My position isn't as arbitrary as that. Orthodoxy probably continued in English families for another hundred years, say to the time of the Angevins. And lots of Englishmen fled the country after the Norman Conquest. Some even went to join the ranks of the Varangian Guard. That they should feel more at home among a Byzantine host than a Norman one says something about culture, language, liturgy, custom, &c.

      Of course 1054 is a meaningless date. Schism is a process of degradation, decadence, waning of knowledge with the passing years, and so on. That didn't suddenly happen in the 11th century. In terms of the Norman Conquest, England was, for many years, safe against continental encroachments on liturgy and doctrine for the simple reason that we are an island. That all changed when the pope enthusiastically encouraged William in his bloody conquest, ostensibly a personal feud with Harold for him but for the pope to "reform the English Church." I am always suspicious of that word "reform," particularly where the Papacy is concerned. Gregory VII "reformed" the liturgy of the Papal court at about this time. What did that mean but hack, slash and burn? When the Norman bishops came, deposed Stigand and in their synods set about "reforming" the English church, out went the old, in came the new. Frank Barlow discusses these reforms in his book "The English Church 1066-1154." It is in this, sudden, sense; that is bloody conquest rather than the "process" we've talked about, that the organic unity of the people in faith was lost. England caught up with the continent and became very much like northern France over night, or rather over the next twenty years.

      As for the Synod of Whitby, like St Bede I am very much on the Roman side, which, at the time, was the "side" of the universal Church. It wasn't arrogance as much as uncompromising in the face of error.

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    2. I should have said "St Harold the Ethno-Martyr," of course, not simply "Harold."

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    3. "[A]ggressive Roman arrogance at the Synod of Whitby"; the Byzantines have proven themselves also rather adapt at being both aggressive as well as arrogant. A short study of their treatment of the Oriental Orthodox and their suppression of the Latin rite in Southern Italy (long before the Schism between the Greeks and Latins) will prove this. Let's not try and forget the Massacre of the Latins in 1182 either, shall we?

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  3. Orthodoxy in the west has devolved into an ethnic social club, I've grown fatigued with its phyletism and xenophobia of all things occidental. I see Orthodoxy as dogma not communion with an ethno-centric bearded Byzantine bishop. If a priest or bishop has indisputable apostolic orders, holds Orthodox dogma and celebrates one of the ancient liturgies it matters not what he calls himself, Orthodox, Catholic or Apostolic. I consider him Orthodox, whether or not he is actually in communion with one of the "official" churches.

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    1. One these "Orthodox dogmas" you speak of is the unity and visibility if the Church... including its boundaries and wherever begins and ends. The Old Catholic sounding ecclesiology you propose is charming and seems like the only option sometimes, but it is not the faith of the Church.

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    2. Are you Greek-Russian-Arab-Etc. or merely a wannabee?

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    3. I am an Orthodox Christian. What are you?

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    4. Prior Martin, judging by his reply, one that no real Byzantine Orthodox would make, one can only conclude that he is "merely a wannabee."

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    5. That's why I didn't respond to his question. His name is Vladimir Evgeny Ivanovich McGillacuddy, a true Russian through and through.

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  4. Anaxagoras, one could also venture to say that limiting the Church to a single cultural expression is also "not the faith of the Church."

    Which does tend to lead one to question Byzantinism's catholicity.

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  5. Back when I was a catechumen, I think I missed the class where they told people they needed to be Greek or Russian to convert.

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    1. But, they do need to be Byzantine.

      Actually, I do know people who have been told that the be Orthodox means that they must become Greek. I suspect that indeed you did miss that class. Or a previous Greek bishop of London, I do not know the present situation, who actually stated that they do not receive English people into their church, because it is only for Greeks.

      Unlike either Rome or the Oriental Orthodox who have many different liturgical traditions, Byzantine Orthodoxy is indeed limited to a single cultural expression. Or do you do you perhaps have a secret list of non-Byzantine rite diocese hidden someplace?

      Good Lord, even Anglicanism has different rites, including a Metropolitan of the Syriac rite.

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    2. Sorry, Greek bishop IN London. Their hatred for the west is so intense that they give themselves titles of long since dead sees in their former Byzantine Empire. It is indeed hard to escape from simply being the department of a long-dead Empire. One suspects that is also not "the faith of the Church." Yet, they presume to teach others.

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  6. Case in point.

    http://www.pappaspost.com/we-dont-do-bunnies-we-dont-do-chocolate-we-dont-do-pastels-rita-wilsons-ode-to-greek-easter/

    You'll notice it doesn't say "Orthodox Easter" no it say Greek Easter.

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    1. This is what I find so trying about the Byzantines, this article is not happy with simply saying this is our Greek traditions during "Greek" Easter; no they have to belittle and attack any tradition that is not Byzantine.

      Personally, I love chocolate bunnies...

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    2. Oh missed the point where her non-Greek husband, by converting to the Greek religion, has now become a full-blooded Greek. Yes, dear Anaxagoras, you did indeed miss that class.

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  7. Perhaps we should establish our own Orthodox Blowout Department blog. Chadwick's blog hasn't been the same since all the brouhaha subsided.

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    1. Prior Martin, I have published this comment but I must issue this caveat: Fr Anthony is a friend of mine. If you're going to mention him in future comments, please do so with the words "Fr Anthony" from now on. You may or may not recognise his orders but courtesy is the least we can offer.

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    2. Prior Martin may correct me if I am wrong, but I do not see where he meant any disrespect at all. If he had said "Anthony's blog" that would have been disrespectful indeed. Using someone's surname name as an adjective for a blog page seems natural to not use titles that are normally associated with the Christian name.

      Since Prior Martin has already posited his concept of orders, which are very Augustinian, and since Fr Anthony was ordained in valid succession, I do not see where he is questioning Fr Anthony's validity.

      Now the Byzantine readers of your own blog, they most certainly do not recognise Fr Anthony's orders, or Prior Martin's either.

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    3. Wait, Dale and Prior Martin are Anglicans?

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    4. Anaxagoras, Fr Anthony's order are not from the Anglican Catholic Church, but from the Roman Catholics. As are Prior Martin's.

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  8. Dale,
    Thanks for the support. You're correct, I acknowledge his orders as I acknowledge my own. He and I, unfortunately, are no longer on "speaking" terms which, as you know, was brought about by a misunderstanding of our very different personalities, however, I have never doubted his orders. If the church catholic had followed the absurd Cyprianic concept of orders it would have died out in the second or third century. Is the entire Bulgarian church invalid during those periods when it was officially not in communion with the "Pope" of Constantinople.
    Furthermore, for me the title "Father" is more a term of endearment than one of respect. No disrespect was intended.

    Anaxagoras,
    You are incorrect, I am not now nor have I ever been an Anglican. However, unlike you, Anglican is not a "dirty" word for me. Some of the greatest theologians have been Anglicans, they think without the stumbling block of the papacy and the gloom of a Byzantine fog.
    I would rather be an Anglican than the osculator of the buttocks of a bearded, xenophobic, ethno-centric, Byzantine bishop. Blood is thicker than water, I will never deny my Anglo-Irish German heritage which grew in the fertile hills and valleys of Southern Appalachia.

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