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Orthodoxy through another perspective - John Charmley - 31-03-2010

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

I came across this the other say:
<!-- m --><a class="postlink" href=""> ... dox-church</a><!-- m -->

It offers an interesting perspective on the EO Churches, but also, by externsion (and implication) on our own. I thought it might be worth our discussing.

Quote:As we?ve seen, despite this bewildering variety of views, Orthodox scholars agree that certain teachings and practices are not apostolic. Ware asserts, "Not everything received from the past is of equal value, nor is everything received from the past necessarily true. As one of the bishops remarked at the Council of Carthage in 257 ?The Lord said, I am the truth. He did not say, I am the custom.?"32

Rather than sorting through its heritage, the Orthodox church has preferred to hide behind the claim that the Holy Spirit guards it from errors. Hence, they fail to argue their claims effectively, whether historically or theologically. Moreover, Orthodox theologians avoid systematic formulation of their teachings, choosing instead a different approach to theology than that of Western Christianity.
seems a useful place to start, but I would encourage everyone to read the whole report.

Something of its tone can be divied from its conclusion:
Quote:Although it is clear from Peter Gillquist?s writings that he and his colleagues do not have a clear understanding of the Orthodox faith in its complexity, their claims to have discovered the true apostolic faith can mislead others, whose search for religious experience is influenced by limited knowledge and the current American hunger for mystical realities. A close look at Orthodoxy can help both the sincere searchers and the Orthodox churches themselves to avoid adding members to a romanticized, idealized church of the Western imagination rather than the real Orthodox churches.
But in an Forum where we have many enquirers, it may be a good thing for us to see how we answer some of these points. There is, I suspect, a deal in what it says about a 'romanticised, idealised' Church.

That said, I would hope the reality of the BOC will more than stand up to examination; it needs to be experienced, and one of the BOC's strengths is that it is not offering an idealised or romaticised and slightly exotic experience, it is offering Orthodoxy within a British ethos.

Yes, we do not offer the same theological paradigm which developed in the West, although anyone familiar with Catholic theology will recognised that it is taking on board insights from the Fathers; welcome as this is, Orthodoxy never lost sight of them.

Well, enough from me for now, and I'd invite our members to look at the pieace and continue with the discussion.

In Christ,


The Church of the Imagination - Rick Henry - 01-04-2010

Dear John,

I know I'm probably missing the mark here with my post, but I gave the article a quick read and nothing jumped out at me more than the conclusion, namely the writing on "the church of the imagination."

And, now, I'm using a certain tone, when I suggest a possible lack of awareness of the author of the article as he writes of the nature, limits, and boundaries of a church of the imagination in terms of a Western mindset. I don't know who the author is or what his affiliations are; but, it doesn't take long for one to find out that there is a church of the imagination in both the West and the East.

Maybe that is why I am attracted to the BOC, because the BOC folks that I have met here on this forum seem to be grounded in reality, tell it like it *is,* and best of all NO PRETENSE.

I think some, like myself were ignorant of certain aspects of Orthodoxy . . . we read books coming in and we would have to allow some room for the charge of "romanticized, idealized, etc." We thought we were reading about the way Orthodoxy *is* but after we got in we found out that that was incorrect. What we read about was the way it *oughtta be.* So how could some of us not come in with a high degree of idealism and unreal expectations? The travel brochure did not match the destination.

From what I know, from a distance, I would think that if there was an examination of this point, as it relates to the reality of the BOC, then we would find that the BOC would stand up very well in terms of not adding members to the church of the imagination or the church of pretense.

In Christ,

- John Charmley - 01-04-2010

Dear Rick,

Very perceptive and you get right to the heart of the matter.

I suspect it is inevitable, given the rarity of Orthodox Churches in this country (and most of the USA) that most of us come to Orthodoxy with an 'idea' of what it is rather than experience of what the reality is; this is one reason Fr. Peter advises those browsing the site to come and see.

The author of the piece catches something of this when he writes that one 'cannot be Orthodox in general'. He may also have something when he says that Protestant evangelicals have an 'inadequate understanding' of their new Faith; but I'd be more convinced if he did not insist by implication that our faith is something which can be adequately grasped with the intellect alone.

This is where it is so useful to know you find the BOC grounded 'in reality' because that is the only place we can encounter our faith; in the reality of our encounter with the Risen Lord. And, for me, that is at the Eucharistic feast. One of the hardest parts of the past year for me is that various factors have kept me away from it; I am all in favour of fasting, but this particular fast is too hard for me. In the reality of that encounter at the Eucharistic feast I find the reality which feeds me most.

In another area too, the BOC keeps it real. There is no romanticised or exoticised ideal. Some converts to EO I have read about are clearly drawn to the challenge of that other culture, finding in it the change of mindset they need. The BOC lies at the other end of this because it meets those of us who are British where we are. It is what it says on the tin - Orthodoxy with a British ethos. So, there's no acquiring a new foreign accent, there's God 's Church meeting us where we are.

Here is where our Metropolitan, Abba Seraphim is the epitome of what I mean (I do wish you could meet hm, Rick). He is just quintessentially British. You could meet him in any part of the world and know at once he was an English gentleman. He is also a senior member of the Coptic Holy Synod. I know that in the early days of our time under the jurisdiction of Alexandria there were those who would not come because they feared 'copticisation' (whatever that might be). Well, Abba Seraphim remains who he has always been, effortlessly bridging whatever gap may be thought to exist between Alexandria and London. But is there any such gap in reality?

In the Catholic Church they are familiar with the idea that the Pope is the head of the Church on earth, but that a hierarchy has a national flavour; indeed, were the latter more pronounced it might, some would say, be better. The BOC achieves this. Of course it is small enough to do so, but there is no sign that it is anything but the way in which British people can approach orthodoxy.

Long before I had heard the word theosis, that was what I thought happened. I never found the language in which the theologians I knew discussed things like 'justification' convincing; I took to the language of orthodoxy like a man finally being talked to in his own tongue.

We can come back, in further posts, to other points around the differences (as the author supposes them) between 'salvation' in the east and west, but I just wanted to say thank you for your insightful comments, Rick.

Good to be back here with you.

In Christ,


- Fr Gregory - 02-04-2010

John has raised an important question regarding Orthodoxy in the contemporary world. Is the Church a museum for the preservation of relics from other times and places, or a living organism proclaiming the Gospel to every person in his or her own tongue (following the description of Pentecost)? And, if the latter, how is this to be done in practice?

I was invited to give the first Research Seminar for the year in the School of Law in which I teach and decided to talk on a subject that my colleagues would probably think very unusual: Orthodox Canon Law! I considered the question of how Orthodox Canon Law (specifically on marriage and divorce), formulated for the most part more than a thousand years ago, could be applied in 2010. This is one of my current research interests. Is Canon Law a ?dead letter?, unchanging and unchangeable? Can it be adapted to the modern world and cultures far removed from that in which it was developed? And, if so, how?

Much to my surprise, the seminar drew a good number of my academic colleagues and some of our PhD students, all of whom showed a very lively interest in the topic ? particularly since none of them knew that such a thing as Orthodox Canon Law existed. They ? like most Orthodox ? were challenged by the idea of taking ancient laws from distant places and trying to find their relevance in contemporary circumstances.

There are those Orthodox who argue that ?the law is the law is the law? and not a word or comma can ever be varied. In fact, this would create an impossible situation since some Canon Law is impossible to apply now, and has not been applied for hundreds of year.

There are equally Orthodox who argue that Orthodox theology and liturgy and tradition (by which they actually mean custom) cannot be varied or adapted to even the slightest degree. This is equally an unrealistic position ? since theology and liturgy and tradition have developed and adapted throughout history. For example, the Liturgy of St Serapion of Thmuis (ca 350AD), used in Egypt in the 4th century and beyond, is amazingly simple ? perhaps a fifth or less of the length and content of the modern Coptic liturgies. Is there any reason why a simpler and shorter liturgy cannot now be used (other than custom, not Tradition)?

Paul Negrut?s response to Peter Gillquist is generally worthy of consideration. Many (especially Protestant) converts to Orthodoxy lapse into some sort of idealistic (not to say romantic) stupor and see Orthodoxy through a perspective that is far removed from reality. Many of them ? and this is not reported in Gillquist?s statistics ? also depart from Orthodoxy in the not very long term.

If Orthodoxy is to effectively evangelise in the West it must look ? as Orthodoxy did from the beginning ? at adaption, at the elimination of that which is irrelevant (for example, the use of languages unintelligible to most of the congregation and to many of the clergy), and at recognizing that the needs of America, Britain and Australia (for example) in 2010AD are not the needs of the Middle East in 200AD.

In reality, two thousand conversions in a year is hardly an impressive number ? how many people in the USA become Mormons each year? How many of that two thousand will be Orthodox in a year? And how many who were not converts (especially young people) will have abandoned Orthodoxy in that same period?

The challenge to Orthodoxy is not ?getting people to join?. It is about proclaiming the Gospel in the ?language? of those whom we seek to evangelize. The reality is that Orthodoxy is perceive as strange, alien, exotic (a factor that attracts some converts)....We can speak English (for example) but dress in the exotic costumes of an era long past. We can complain that people do not come to church, but hold services that run for three or more hours. We can talk of a universal faith, and practice ethnocentricity.

We have yet to see an image of what Orthodoxy 2010 ought to look like. Sadly, I do not know of any serious consideration of this question. Attempts at a so-called ?Western Rite? Orthodoxy have had no great success, and are often really only efforts to ?update? Orthodoxy for the West to about the 19th century.

So: let me throw out a challenge. How can Orthodoxy be adapted (without any essential change to the Faith) for modern people, especially young people, in the modern world? What would Orthodox 2010 look like? And if no such adaption can be made, what is the future of Orthodoxy?

Fr Gregory

- John Charmley - 02-04-2010

That's a powerful post, Fr. Gregory.

You point us to something which may well be uncomfortable to many Orthodox or would-be Orthodox. When my Catholic best friend and I talked about Orthodoxy, he said to me that he could understand why I didn't want to join him crossing the Tiber: 'because you think the Church has changed too much; you'd be a Tridentine Rite man if you'd been a cradle Catholic.' The implication was that it was the unchanging, and to that extent 'exotic' element which attracted me to Orthodoxy.

As it happens he was right about what would have been the case had I been born a Catholic, but wrong about my motives. I had been profoundly repelled by the contacts I had had with Eastern Orthodoxy precisely because the people who had talked to me had been of the 'orthodoxy as a museum' school. I was neither Greek nor did I live in the fifth century AD. I was steeped enough in Patristics to know that our understanding of the Faith has developed, and even if they dismissed the idea as 'Catholic' and an 'innovation', I knew otherwise as an historian.

And perhaps that is the beginning of some sort of answer to your question, Fr. Gregory.

The Church is the body of Christ; it is what assures us that we do not read the Gospel wrongly; it is the canon of what is orthodox. There never was an heretic who could not quote scripture to 'prove' his point; there never was one who could base himself on the fullness of the Scriptures read within the tradition of which they are part. But that does mean the Church is a means towards an end; not an end in itself. It is Christ' Church, not an ethnic social club in which we can practise rites which comfort us.

I love the Liturgy of St. James. Whilst I have been unable to drive (which is most of the last nine months) I have occasionally gone with my friend to the Catholic chapel he attends. He warned me I'd 'hate' the New Order Mass; he was wrong. Whilst I know enough about liturgy to be able to join him in picking holes in it, I actually found it quite effective spiritually. Talking to other Catholics afterwards and on other occasions, I came across the comment that it was a good thing because it allowed them access to the Eucharist without having to spend the whole morning at Church.

Perhaps that ancient Coptic liturgy is something to look at? Smile

You ask:
Quote:So: let me throw out a challenge. How can Orthodoxy be adapted (without any essential change to the Faith) for modern people, especially young people, in the modern world? What would Orthodox 2010 look like? And if no such adaption can be made, what is the future of Orthodoxy?
I hope others will help us here - even though we are treading into the idea of 'change' which is what some come to Orthodoxy to avoid.

But you remind us that things do change, always have. You identify the crux of this: the essentials remain, but the externals change. Indeed, one might argue the BOC itself is a vehicle of that change since it brings Orthodoxy to us in a form we can receive.

In Christ,


- John Charmley - 02-04-2010

Dear Fr. Gregory,

When you write:
Quote:Paul Negrut?s response to Peter Gillquist is generally worthy of consideration. Many (especially Protestant) converts to Orthodoxy lapse into some sort of idealistic (not to say romantic) stupor and see Orthodoxy through a perspective that is far removed from reality. Many of them ? and this is not reported in Gillquist?s statistics ? also depart from Orthodoxy in the not very long term.

If Orthodoxy is to effectively evangelise in the West it must look ? as Orthodoxy did from the beginning ? at adaption, at the elimination of that which is irrelevant (for example, the use of languages unintelligible to most of the congregation and to many of the clergy), and at recognizing that the needs of America, Britain and Australia (for example) in 2010AD are not the needs of the Middle East in 200AD.

You penetrate to the heart of an important part of Negrut's article. I remember when I was in the process of coming to the Church Abba Seraphim emphasising that one must be in favour of orthodoxy, not 'against' Anglicanism. If one does come as a counter-motion to something else then it is easy to retain the romanticised image - and then to drift away when that, too, turns out to be unsatisfactory.

Whether we like it, or even agree with the idea, it seems to me that we live in a society where we do effectively make a choice. Even if we are cradle Orthodox we make a decision to stay as such. In this sense we are closer to the society in which the first Christians preached the word. There were then a great number of possible religions, all of them generally 'approved' as long as one did not insist that one's faith was the only one. Belonging to the Christian Church involved social problems, and invited one's friends and neighbours to wonder a little about one's sanity.

And yet, those first Christians were very successful evangelists, and rather than trying to invent the round wheel for a second time, might we not learn something from them?

I do wonder sometimes whether that very success attracts us to the surviving externals of itself? So, we have a liturgy and vestments from long ago times, almost as relics of that great success which, if we adhere to us will, in some way, rub off on us. But the Apostles did what came naturally through the Spirit - they spoke to people in their own language and in their own cultures - all things to all men. What is it we can learn from St. Paul? Everything?

In Christ,


- Rick Henry - 03-04-2010

Thanks very much Fr. Gregory and John!

I do not have time to read through this article, below, at the present (or make a real post), but I thought I would post this link in case anyone has trouble sleeping sometime.

<!-- m --><a class="postlink" href=""> ... egrut.html</a><!-- m -->

Here's a tone for you:

Quote:His bold statement at the end is that his paper makes it clear Peter Gillquist and his colleagues "do not have a clear understanding of the Orthodox faith in its complexity." Yet Negrut has not only shown us his own ignorance in regards to Orthodoxy, but he has failed to prove this point. Instead of quoting Gillquist and presenting his viewpoint side-by-side with his own arguments, he briefly quotes Gillquist at the beginning and then proceeds to launch into distortions, theological misinterpretation, and blanket statements verified with no sources. The latter is especially amazing, given the 72 endnotes - only two of which quote Gillquist.

- John Charmley - 04-04-2010

Dear Rick,

Christ is Risen! A blessed and holy Pascha to you and your family.

Thanks for the reference to an interesting blog.

I was depressed by its opening, straight into the 'Rome broke away from us' polemic; really, does anyone save the Orthodox actually worry about this one? I've never met a Catholic who cared one way or the other, of course, they have said to me, that is what you are taught!

Of course, to the Oriental Orthodox there is an irony in the Chalcedonians treating each other as our forefathers were treated; but as Christians we cannot but be saddened by further divisions. What I can't quite do is to sympathise with the strident and somewhat self-righteous tone. There are two versions (at least) of this story, and one-sided polemic is a form of preaching to the choir. There is here, as elsewhere, that indefinable but definite whine of 'poor Orthodox' no one understands us, and yet we are right about everything so they ought to.' It is a kind of aggressive mendicancy, and one is tempted to treat it the way one does aggressive mendicants :roll:

The attempt to claim that the OCs in the USA are 'united' falls foul of his own critique, it ignores Gilquist's book, which shows how the EP refused to let the Evangelicals in, which is why they went to Antioch. If that is the blogger's idea of 'unity' then it would explain much about the progress, or lack of it, in evangelising non-Orthodox Smile

In splendidly solipsistic style he missed Negrut's point. Whilst he goes on about there being no theolgical differences between the OCs, he ignores the Oriental Orthodox, who, by implication Negrut means when he mentioned Alexandria; unless the blogger really imagines that the Greek Orthodox patriach of Alexandria is at the head of the largest group of Christians in Egypt! The poor stuff he spouts about our being Monophysites prompted me to wonder how much the blogger actually knew about the history of Christianity; he knows the EO version; that is not the same as history.

The whole thing was so redolent of the tone of Orthodoxinfo that in the end I gave up and went back to reading some St. Cyril - much more edifying for this season.

But, to be serious, I think the piece illustrates many of the points Fr. Gregory makes.

Those with a taste for polemic will find much in it; those of us looking for the authentic voice of a God who is love might want to re-read St. John Chrysostom's Pascha Homily which I have posted in the education section Big Grin

Thanks for posting this link, Rick, it reminded me of good ol Fr. Raphael and co, at Monochos - happy days!

In Christ,


- Rick Henry - 05-04-2010

Dear John,

I should have given you more of a warning about that link, but you have it pegged very well. I actually, had a somewhat menacing beggar come up to me and my wife a few weeks ago as we were walking in a downtown area. I normally give folks the "spare change" that they ask for, but this one was almost demanding that I give him some money . . . and especially with my wife's safety in mind, I was more inclined to give him a good punch on the nose than to listen to him and be persuaded by him (which I think makes your original point somewhat).

But, as the author of that article says Negrut was silly to say: "one cannot become Orthodox in general."

I'm not sure what Negrut means when he wrote this. Actually, I looked for this quote in Negrut's article and couldn't find it, although I know it's there because you mentioned it above. But, what was Negrut's point in saying this. This interested me and this is why I looked for it. But, as the aggressive beggar wrote about this:

Quote:The fact is, there are many cultures that practice Orthodoxy, but no one is forced to "become" that culture - our role is not with a nation or tribe, but with the Kingdom of God.

I do have to agree with him there. But, again I cannot cross reference with this with Negrut's comment about one not being able to be Orthodox in general. I guess chances are the point was missed as it was referred to as being a silly comment.

But, as well I did appreciate the insight offered on that link as the author shared:

Quote:One of the unusual things about Americans becoming Orthodox is the fear people have - and I believe it's there on both sides - that the one culture will force the other culture into its mold...

I wonder if any of this is at play in your neck of the wood?

I too appreciate Father Gregory's writing here very much. As he wrote:

Quote:Is the Church a museum for the preservation of relics from other times and places, or a living organism proclaiming the Gospel to every person in his or her own tongue (following the description of Pentecost)? And, if the latter, how is this to be done in practice?

This is so significant to both those who would be Orthodox, and for those of us who have taken the leap (for the lack of a better expression at the present). As he implies above about those coming in the front door only to leave out the back door of the local church, if a museum is what is found why would any stay for any length of time. And, as I read his concluding question above, 'how is this to be done in practice?' . . . my mind moves to a similar, but distinct question which (at the risk of me becoming an aggressive beggar) is 'what is it that keeps this from being done?' Do you catch my drift here? What would some of our writing above look like if we switched out the phrases "The Church" and "Orthodoxy" and replaced them with the words "We" or "I" or John or Rick or Fr. Gregory? What happens to our thinking, and our point, when we do not remove ourselves from the reality of the conversation . . . when we do not afford ourselves the luxury of only being observers and commentators? Or, is this too much of a Protestant way of considering real remedies for perceived error. You know? I am guilty of this as much as the next guy, but there are different degrees of whining and sometimes there is subtle polemic that cannot not promote only a smile of resignation in the end. And, who wants that? So, seriously, as it relates to a proclamation of the Gospel to every person in his or her own tongue "what is it that keeps us from doing this now?" I think this is a fair question as we consider how we are viewed through both other perspectives and our own.

For that matter what was it that kept me from proclaiming the good news of the Kerygma of Christ to that beggar whom I was ready to punch in the nose?

In Christ,

- John Charmley - 05-04-2010

Dear Rick,

I think that, as so often, Fr. Gregory challenges us to do that difficult thing - reall think. He, as ever, shakes us out of our comfort zone when he asks:
Quote:Is the Church a museum for the preservation of relics from other times and places, or a living organism proclaiming the Gospel to every person in his or her own tongue (following the description of Pentecost)? And, if the latter, how is this to be done in practice?
He reminds us that we are all the Church. It isn't something over there we attend, or that authority to whom we meekly surrender our intellects and let it decide for us. After all, we make the choice to be Orthodox - and we can equally make the decision not to, or, if we find we are in a museum, not to stay.

Earlier today I typed out the whole of Theophilus' homily on the Crucifixion and the Good Thief - given in the late 300s, it is as unlike a museum piece as you could imagine. When I read it I say 'amen' a lot (alarming my wife a good deal). As Fr, Peter has said elsewhere, what matters is how we reach and understand the spirituality that is Orthodoxy. It isn't a theory, a set of propositions, a 'code' or even a 'confession', it is a way of life - the way we live with the risen Lord and where we encounter Him at the Eucharistic feast.

I note I keep coming back to that. It is not just that Orthodox ideas like theosis make more sense to me, it is who I encounter at the Eucharist.

In Christ,


- Fr Gregory - 06-04-2010

Of course, as Rick rightly says: the Church is the whole people of God, fellow citizens with the Saints and of the Household of God, the Royal Priesthood of all believers ? the vast majority of whom are lay women and men.

I recently read an article by an eminent Jesuit scholar who declared that the major lesson from the child abuse scandals in the Roman Catholic Church was that the traditional rigid clericalism, and the pride and arrogance associated with it, must be abolished. To which I would say: so let it be in the Orthodox Church. And, sadly, I must note that the Orthodox Church has not been exempt from sexual abuse scandals; it?s just that they have attracted virtually no media attention. At least one website is devoted to exposing such scandals in the Orthodox Church and its accounts of abuse, physical and spiritual, make depressing reading. The responses of the Church authorities tend to make even more depressing reading.

Orthodoxy once had a strong tradition of involvement by all the People of God in the life of the Church. It had a strong tradition of lay theologians: look now at the average Orthodox theological college and try to find lay men and women in teaching positions. It had a strong tradition of lay spiritual guides (the staretz of the Russian tradition), both men and women.

Now the Orthodox Church is, essentially, ?men in black?. They may occasionally consult (usually in the most patronizing way) with the young (usually men). They rarely consult the women. Priests fill positions that have no vague relationship with priesthood (for example, the roles of administrators).

Yet ordination to the Priesthood conveys only one thing: the power and authority to administer the Sacraments. It does not convey wisdom, theological learning, administrative or financial competence, skills in counselling, good sense or pastoral competence. If, for example, there is some strange belief that ordination brings with it theological competence, and that no other education is required, the Church will be stuck with generations of theologically illiterate Priests.

The greatest and richest resources of the Church are found not in the ?men in black? but the men and women, young and old, who are its members and whose servants the ?men in black? are supposed to be.

A museum has curators and visitors. A living community only has participants, each fully sharing to the best of her or his abilities; participating differently perhaps but ultimately equally in the life of all the community?s members.

A museum preserves, conserves and protects the past. A living community builds on the inheritance of the past but necessarily invigorates it with the life of the present.

One of the participants in my recent Law School seminar on Orthodox Canon Law (a Marxist ?true believer?) declared that he could not see how Orthodox Canon Law, having been written more than a thousand years ago in an entirely different cultural context, could have any relevant in the contemporary world. He was, in part, correct. The dead letter of the Law has no relevance. The living principles underlying the Law, when properly discerned, are relevant because they convey guides for life that are beyond history or culture. Thus, the Blessed Apostle reminds us: ?for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.? [2 Cor 3:6] Or, as the New English Bible translates it: ?for the written law condemns to death, but the Spirit gives life.?

In every generation Orthodox are called upon to seek the guidance of the Life-Giving and All-Holy Spirit to re-interpret and express anew the Living Faith - not by changing or diminishing it, but by ?translating? it for the language of the time.

Fr Gregory

- John Charmley - 06-04-2010

As ever, Fr. Gregory, you offer us that rare thing - an opportunity to think; indeed you are offering a challenge to action too.

After all, the process you describe is a two-way one. We don't end up with 'men in black' and the situation you describe by accident. I wonder how often priests end up doing all the other things you describe because the laity can't be bothered to do them?

I've had a prolonged period of being unable to drive (and do much typing - some may be grateful for the latter!), and during that time I have been going to the two CHalcedonian Churches in town as a guest. In the one, the Anglican, as it happens, there is a rector who is very much in charge of everything, one of the effects of which is that everything tends to fall on his shoulders; if he doesn't do it, it does not get done. I know one of the Church Wardens well, and she'd be quite happy to do more but, as she puts it: 'he doesn't want help, he wants his own way.'

The Catholic chapel is, perhaps oddly enough given popular perception, the other way around. The priest, a Benedictine monk who has spent 40 years in a monastery and is spending some time in his first parish in his 60s, is a delightful man of great spirituality, and can scarcely boil an egg, let alone run a parish. Does this matter, not at all. The laity are extremely active and do all that is needful on the administrsative and financial side. The priest does what only he can do. But, talking to him recently, he uttered the first complaint I've heard him make, which was that in his other Church, everyone seemed to expect him to do everything!

So, the laity, which has played its part in allowing the situation you dscribe so accurately, must also be willing to play its part in creating a more balanced situation. If it doesn't, then the priest finds himself having to do it all, even if that is not his natural instinct.

Many, perhaps most of us, have backgrounds in other Churches and thus experience of how they have tried to adapt to the times; one hopes that we might learn from what has not worked, as well as examine what has.

Knowing some of the people at both Churches in town well, but not having interacted with them both, I was much struck by the fact that in both there were strong groups of people (usually my age or a bit older) who were vehement against either 'the Alternative Service books' or the 'wretched reforms of vatican II'; there were also, in both Churches, groups of people who got on with service in the community and trying their best to live a Christian life; sometimes there was even an overlap between the two.

There is no easy answer to your challenging remarks; there is an easy option though - ignore them and pretend the Holy Spirit can do it without our being His tools.

In Christ,


- Simon - 06-04-2010

For what it's worth, a paper I gave at the 2008 British Orthodox Church Conference that seems possibly to have some relevance here...


Fr Simon Smyth

One of the classic accounts of the experience of Orthodox worship is that of Prince Valdimir's envoys attempting to describe the Liturgy in Hagia Sophia, Constantinople: "We knew not whether we were in heaven or on earth, for surely there is no such splendour or beauty anywhere upon earth. We cannot describe it to you: only this we know, that God dwells there among men, and that their service surpasses the worship of all other places. For we cannot forget that beauty." Orthodox theological belief is that in the celebration of the Liturgy our worship is united with the worship of heaven - the Liturgy is quite literally heaven on earth. So worship should reflect the worship of heaven. This is expressed in many facets but the one I want to stress here is the diaconate. The bishop is the icon of Christ and the priest the icon of the bishop (making the priest, in turn, derivatively the icon of Christ) and the deacons are icons of angels. At one time the heavenly worship in Hagia Sophia included some five hundred deacons: one hundred and fifty deacons, seventy subdeacons, one hundred and sixty readers, one hundred doorkeepers, twenty five cantors and also forty deaconesses. How Biblical: "The chariots of God are twenty thousand, even thousands of angels: the Lord is among the holy place", "a thousand thousands served him, and ten thousand times ten thousand stood before him". Around the one God, in the holy place, are millions of angels - even angels beyond numbering? God is the Lord of hosts - hosts of angels, not a solitary one here or there! Then round the one bishop or his one presbyter in the holy place, in the Church this should be reflected in a multiplicity of deacons. Though not expecting the average BOC congregation to have the five hundred deacons of Hagia Sophia(!) it must nonetheless be the case that worship with only one deacon (let alone with no deacon!) can hardly be said in this respect to reflect the worship of heaven.

And this is something that extends beyond the diaconate into all the congregation for around the One God are multitudes of saints as well as angels. ?But ye are come unto mount Sion, and unto the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to an innumerable company of angels. To the general assembly and church of the firstborn, which are written in heaven, and to God the Judge of all, and to the spirits of just men made perfect. And to Jesus??

But why labour this point? Am I not preaching to the converted who faithfully support their bishop and priests by being present in Church? I speak from my own experience? I forget how many times I have turned up at a BOC mission, spent a solid hour, or more, setting up everything ready for Orthodox worship, icons, bread basket, fans, candles, ark, etc., then prayed the entirety (or else very nearly the entirety) of Morning Incense before anyone else arrives. To declare ?the Lord be with you? to a physically empty Church and, of course, to hear no response, or to pray the Absolution to a physically empty Church can be very discouraging. Then to sit there waiting and wondering if any man is going to turn up to deacon or at least to be a congregation (?where two or three are gathered together?) so we can start the Liturgy? Yes, we are low in numbers I concede but to my mind that?s all the more need for us to be there supporting the priest unless we really do believe that he is the only one who should be running himself into the ground. Not that I am saying the priest shouldn?t work hard on behalf of the people ? if I did say that I?d be contradicting our patriarch Pope Shenouda who was once again (as recently as during the consecration of the Stevenage cathedral) reminding us priests of the need to be hard working for the people.

So I?m not complaining about running myself into the ground for the Church ? the point I?m making is that if deacons and people did more I would be so much the more released to devote myself, even to run myself into the ground in what I should be doing. "The Diaconal Order was the first charism put forth by the holy Apostles in the Church" with the intention that these men should release the apostles to devote themselves more "to prayer and to the ministry of the Word" .

Could this Anglican quote be relevant for us Orthodox? ?The reality of our modern situation is not that we have no place for deacons, for manifestly the diaconal tasks still need to be done. This is why priests become over-busy compensating for the absence of deacons by doing tasks which are more appropriate for the diaconate than the priesthood? Priests overburdened? have precious little time to exercise that specifically priestly ministry which is properly theirs? The evidence of the effect of the present position on priests speaks for itself: increasing numbers of breakdowns?and ?burn out?. We are discovering in the Church a lesson learnt by industry some time ago: that team work and support from others is essential to maintain quality of service and to keep the workforce content. If too many tasks are left to an individual to handle the result is a bottleneck, impaired performance and eventual collapse in the system or the individual concerned.

?Laypeople also suffer because of this state of affairs; ministry is seen? as the priest?s ?preserve and they only become involved to help out their hard-pressed priest? as an emergency measure. Frequently too the laity are in the position of being in childlike dependence upon the priest? with ?their own? ministries?at best undervalued and at worst undiscovered, leaving the ministry of the whole Church impoverished.?

As doorkeepers deacons (and others) welcome those who arrive. This is a reflection of the role, outside of the church building, as doorkeeper and evangelist, to "bring in the poor and maimed and blind and lame", to hold open the door, to encourage, even to "compel people to come in, that my house may be filled" . Evangelism is not restricted to priests. It is very much a diaconal ministry, illustrated not only by the ancient role of doorkeeper but also by the ancient role of the full Deacon reading the Gospel in the Liturgy. But this doesn?t mean the liturgical Gospel proclamation alone but also proclaiming the Gospel out there? This is something to which all of us are called ? to be evangelists, ambassadors for Christ, witnesses. If the BOC is to grow and flourish we?ve all got to work at this. It?s simply no good leaving it to bishop and priests.

Something simple we started in Bournemouth is a little range of Pascha cards (a first draft this year) by way of promoting the Church, publicising the Church, evangelism? James-Antony, one of our readers, has done most of the donkey work on this, the hard work, and then run it past me for my comments and approval and I in turn sent copies to the bishop who also, in turn, has consulted other Church members. And with feedback next year?s will, we hope, be that much better. Now that?s good ? priest and bishop are kept in the loop (not excluded) but others are actually getting the job done.

What about when someone?s missing from Church on Sunday- is it the priest?s responsibility to enquire after them, to see what has become of them? For sure it is the priest?s responsibility. But it is also everyone?s responsibility.

As the servant of bishop and priest the deacon's ministry in the eucharist includes ensuring the charcoal is kept lit and holding the censer ready for the celebrant to place the incense therein. It includes pouring the water on the celebrants' hands and having the towel ready? And it should be that the deacon is stood there ready with water and towel and that he is stood there ready with censer - the deacon should be waiting on the bishop, not the bishop waiting for the deacon. There is an aspect of anticipation in the deacon's waiting on his bishop - as illustrated by an extract from the private prayers of the deacon on his arrival at Church: "the eyes of servants are directed to the hands of their masters, and...the eyes of a maidservant to the hands of her mistress"

This applies outside the Liturgy too ? deacons and people don?t have to wait to be told to do things by bishop or priest? they are allowed to use their own initiative and get on with things. By all means keep bishop and priest in the loop (like with those Pascha cards I mentioned) but you don?t have to wait until we send something down from on high? if you want to do something, be it evangelism, publicity or whatever then by all means come and seek a blessing upon your work from priest or bishop but just like the deacon in the Liturgy don?t wait for a blessing ? go and get one!

Now this is not only about deacons and people releasing the bishop and priests ? but it works the other way too. Priests should not monopolise things but should release the deacons and people to do them. I, for one, whilst hoping I am not a ?control freak? have developed a bit of a control mentality, having a tendency to do things to ensure (1) that they are done and (2) that they are done properly, done well? The results? Some things don?t get done at all or are delayed over long and no doubt some of those things that are done aren?t done as well as they might otherwise have been. So someone else?s attempt has faults ? so does mine (different faults maybe but faults nonetheless). For example I have become the person who prepares and prints the list of names of the living and departed for prayer each Sunday. This is clearly something diaconal I should relinquish ? given the deacon's ministry among both immediate congregation and out in the wider community it is eminently appropriate that he present the petitions during the Great Entrance. So I have sent this to the deacons and active Church members and I don?t expect to be doing this any more. For sure I can always add another name myself (as can anyone else for that matter) or explain that this or that person?s need is now met and perhaps we might remove that particular name. That?s input ? not control.

Another area is that of finances. I had this dropped in my lap when my predecessor left and I ended up having to do it all ? but thankfully it is now done by other members and with a greater efficiency than I achieved.

(I recall Peter Farrington?s advocacy at our conference the other year of Natural Church Development - Church growth through better distribution of jobs according to Church members? natural talents and abilities).

And as well as the finances banked with greater efficiency so too is the bread baked with better efficiency than I ever achieve (as those of you who have suffered my baking will know: the British Orthodox Church accepts no liability for dental bills!) Baking the bread for the Liturgy is surely a fulfilment of that original diaconal calling to release the apostles from serving at table so they might devote themselves to prayer (both for the Liturgy and people as well as in the Liturgy) and the ministry of the Word (preparing that sermon better).

Whether it be baking or banking, Pascha cards or other publicity or whatever it be take it on and do it and release your bishop and priests to those things that they are especially called to do.

If the people aren?t releasing the priest to do what he should then he must challenge them to do more ? and if the priest is being a control freak and not releasing and letting go of things to deacons and people? then they must challenge him. I tell people to remind me, to nag, me to pester me, even to make a nuisance of themselves but they tell me they can?t because I?m a priest and they must be respectful. So I say to them to remind me respectfully, to nag respectfully, to pester respectfully - but no matter how respectfully, to still make a nuisance of themselves? we have, between us, a Church to get built here.

- John Charmley - 06-04-2010

How well that matches what we have been discussing Fr. Simon. It reinforces the view that we are all in this together/ We are, after all, a priestly people, and it may be that both priests and laity can misunderstand what this means.

As much as the 'man in black' can assume certains rights and prerogatives as part of his position, the laity can lay them on him because of the mistaken belief that he is the full-time professional. I don't know how far this stems from the Anglican background of some of us, but there are enough former evangelicals here for them to have a more presbyterian model in mind.

I am struck, watching my son in his first Church, by how much the laity leave him free to do what he has the time to do, which is to preach the word of God. He spends days on his sermons and days visiting his flock and preaching; the elders manage the finances. There is a real cooperation between them. Talking to them, they clearly like the fact that unlike his predecessor, my son does not think he ought to be in charge of everything.

Your talk, like Fr. G's post, reminds us of our joint responsibility, and speaks to what it is we understand by the word 'Church'.

I was struck, a couple of years ago, when Abba Seraphim had a work day at St. Felix, by how it brought us all together as a family. We all did our 'bit' and it not only got done, it was fun; isn't that a model? After all, if we do not get joy in our relationship with the Risen Lord, what is it we are getting?

In Christ,


On Playing Our Part - Rick Henry - 06-04-2010

John Charmley wrote:

Quote:We all did our 'bit' and it not only got done, it was fun; isn't that a model?

Father Simon wrote:

Quote:(I recall Peter Farrington?s advocacy at our conference the other year of Natural Church Development - Church growth through better distribution of jobs according to Church members? natural talents and abilities).

Father Gregory wrote:

Quote:. . . the Church is the whole people of God, fellow citizens with the Saints and of the Household of God, the Royal Priesthood of all believers ? the vast majority of whom are lay women and men.

The above is what I see in the Scriptures. We all have different parts to play. We do not all have the same talents and gifts . . . in terms of the work of the Church by means of the work of the Holy Spirit we do not all have the same calling. And, I'm not sure this is recognized for two reasons. First, in my experience, pretty close to 100% of the emphasis in Orthodoxy is upon one's own salvation. The thinking here is that both service and evangelism are a by product of one's own salvation (viz. theosis) . . . but, this is always a distant thing and a future thing.

Secondly, the Protestants clash amongst themselves, there are those who would promote a "Church of the People" and those who would promote a "Church for the People" (in other words a 'church from below'/lay vs. a 'church from above' pastors/hierarchy); BUT, in Orthodoxy there seems to be not this either/or debate, but one of neither/nor. I should qualify this by saying that this is my experience of Eastern Orthodoxy in the US, but all of this is just a non-issue . . . and if the EO in the US was a happy, healthy, functional church then it would not matter that it is not a non-issue. But, as we consider the fact that gifts, talents, and *individual* callings are not being recognized much at all (by either lay or clergy), not being employed, I think it does matter lest we all adopt that smile of resignation.

In Christ,