Thank you for your clarification of some of your points. I appreciate you taking the time.
What does being one mean for the Orthodox? A loose federation? This isn't how I look at it or think of it at all. What being one means to me as an Orthodox Christian is oneness of belief and sacramental oneness.
To quote Bishop karekin Sarkissian, the Oriental Orthodox "family of Churches represent a unity in diversity of the most varied nature...which for so many centuries have maintained their unity in spite of isolation, hardships of life, persecutions of an almost ceaseless frequency. The geographical, ethnic, cultural, national, and liturgical differences have not been a hindrance to the preservation of the unity of faith... In ethnic, cultural, and historical terms there is a sharp distinction between an Armenian, a Copt, an Ethiopian, and Indian and a Syrian. Their liturgical traditions have developed in different directions. Yet, the unity of faith has been firmly maintained... the communion of faith has been soundly preserved..."
What does being one mean for this Orthodox? It means more than I can hope to say. I rejoice every day in my union with the members of this wonderful family of Chruches. I cannot begin to express what this oneness means to me. Some years ago I tried to put into words what this oneness, this being one, meant to me and however hopelessly inadequate and even nonsensical my words read, I'm not sure I can improve on them and so whether nonsensical or not I quote them below. What does being one mean to an Orthodox Christian? To this Orthodox Christian I think it means everything!
Concerning "my visit to the Eritrean Orthodox... I will begin in good Orthodox apophatic tradition by saying what it was not. Though an ex-public house, converted into a Church and lacking the glories of Western, Eastern or Ethiopian Church architecture and in places clearly displaying evidence of its former history and situated in less than beautiful surroundings... to be there is, to me, as though I was away in the holy places of Ethiopia ? to celebrate that ancient Liturgy in that place is, as I once remarked to someone there, to be in my favourite place on earth. This latest visit was no exception.
It is the Orthodox Christian Faith that every time we take part in the Liturgy, every time we join in the Liturgy, we are in heaven. There are some famous words of (the Russian) Saint Vladimir?s envoys of their experience of the liturgy in Hagia Sophia that they knew not whether they were in heaven or earth - sometimes, like those envoys, we are aware of it, conscious of it... I remember one particular Paschal Vigil Liturgy at our Orthodox Church of Christ the Saviour in Bournemouth that was simply wonderful - I was more in heaven than on earth that night! I was ?floating?! One visual highlight that stands out in my memory is when we had processed outside and our bishop Abba Seraphim turned to face us with triple candlestick aflame while we sang paschal hymns amidst the coloured lights in the trees. But that was just one moment of glory in a night of glory.
And then the following weekend I visited for the first time our Eritrean Orthodox brothers and sisters in Camberwell. However little I understood the words of the service, I could not fail to understand the spirit - and I have to say that I spent well nigh the whole of that liturgy aware that I was in heaven. To be in that Church, in that Liturgy was truly to be in heaven. And to be given the deacon?s cross to carry - what an honour. I felt truly blessed to be allowed to carry their cross throughout the liturgy. I really can?t improve on the words of Vladimir?s envoys: ?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.?
Last year I visited a Latvian Orthodox Liturgy and was conscious of light and glory and beauty? I was conscious of heaven. For I was with people for whom heaven had meant so much more than the things of this world, people who valued Orthodoxy enough to have suffered cruel persecutions at the hands of the atheist soviets. These were people who had found the pearl of great price and were prepared to pay anything, even to pay everything for it. To be with them in their liturgy was to be in heaven.
I dare say I?ve failed to articulate at all clearly what these liturgies meant to me - perhaps such things ultimately defy mere words...
Some weeks back I wrote this to someone (I stand by every word):
?I may never visit Ethiopia (though it is my desire to go on pilgriamge to Lalibela, to Addis Ababa, to Gondar, to Aksum...) but, no matter - it is enough for me to know that these things are so, it is enough for me to know that I, the least of all the Oriental Orthodox Christians, do inhabit these same spiritual galaxies. Perhaps I have something in common with those monks who had no need to walk to the next monastery to see the miraculous swinging chandalier - it was enough for them that they had heard of it.
"The holy men of the Syrian tradition... were strange creatures. They were not even thought to be men. They had passed beyond the limits of human existence and now stood between earth and heaven. They were alive and yet they had already died. They lived in the body and yet they had discarded it. They were themselves, and yet something else at the same time. They could pass through the gates of existence into a world that was simply beyond existence, where the distinctions we normally employ became meaningless."
?Such men are as far beyond me as are they are beyond most Christians and yet, and yet... I am in communion with those same altars where they did once communicate - I am of their universe.
"Several years ago, His Holiness Abuna Paulos remarked...that when he returned to Ethiopia after serving as a parish priest in New York, he began to realize that the affluent lives we led in North America and Europe had been purchased at a heavy price. We were comfortable, perhaps, but our eyes were closing and our ears were growing dull. Ethiopia might be poor, at least as the West would see it, but its people had laid up treasures of a spiritual kind that the West would need." Oh yes, oh yes - such treasures, such true and utter glory. And not in Ethiopia alone - but also in Egypt and in Armenia and Syria and away in India (to say nothing of our Eastern brethren with their spiritual riches and glory on Mount Athos and in Russia or in Kosovo...) Yes, this is my universe to which I belong. This is the air I breathe, even the air of another world?
?This is my world and I am glad of it - yea, I am glad that it is so. Perhaps what I have written makes no sense to you - nor to anyone else. Perhaps it makes not absolute sense to me who wrote it though I think it does. It matters not. What matters is that I am one with those men, that I am one with that Faith - that I KNOW that these things are real... they are more real than this computer at which I type or this chair on which I sit or even than me who sits here and writes. This is my beloved universe of Oriental Orthodoxy - and this Faith I shall keep even unto the last breath.
?Glory be to God for ever. Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia!?