The British Orthodox Church

within the Coptic Orthodox Patriarchate

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Orthodoxy through another perspective
06-04-2010, 04:31 PM,
Or, dear Rick, as Fr. Gregory pointed out, we just 'resign' full stop, and go out of the back door in a speedier manner than we entered the front door.

It is fairly clear from my renewed participation in this fellowship that for the last year there has been much frustration as circumstances prevented me from being present at St. Felix or the Eucharistic feast. Abba Seraphim has been (as ever) a saint, and managed to get to me and keep me going; but it allowed me time for thought!

Unable to get to Church, I prayed every morning in my icon corner, I read the Bible, and, for some fellowship, walked locally with friends to their Churches. I saw there that what we are talking about here is not confined to Orthodoxy.

In the UK (unlike the US) we have a very secular society where it was long ago accepted that Christianity was a private matter which should be kept that way. It has, and should have, no relevance to public life except where it supports a contemporary 'caring' consensus. So we are put into the margins and left there.

So yes, if we end up concentrating on our salvation that is, in part, because that is the way Christianity in the UK constructs itself vis a vis the national debate on just about everything.

Atomised Churches in an atomised and secular society, we can seem like ships on a vast sea, all actually going to the same place, but only occasionally flashing the odd signal to that effect. And, we, the laity, can be like passangers on that sip expecting the captain to do all the work, whilst he, poor fellow, is exhausted also looking after our every need as well as steering the ship.

Once I start on metaphors it is better for me to stop before they fall over themselves, but I hope you see the point.

In Christ,

In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. (1 John 4:10)
06-04-2010, 05:09 PM,
Dear Father Peter,

As you can see I have three posts above that are the same except for format.

I have been meaning to write to you to tell you about this. This started about one week ago. I was getting a duplicate post in that funny format and would delete the extra copy . . . but now as you can see they are posting in triplicate.

So, instead of me deleting these and trying to describe to you what has happened in a PM, I'll leave these here so you can see first hand (and then delete the extras as the Administrator please).

Thank you,

PS This problem seems to occur when I use the edit feature. When I make a correction, this is when I see that there has been duplication.
07-04-2010, 12:38 PM,
Through Our Own Perspective II
John, I wonder if you remember Herman the Pooh over in that other woods. When a conversation takes the turn that this one has, he is fond of restating the fact that he "has no where else to go." What he is saying is that he has both exhausted all of his options and that even though there may be shortcomings where he is at, he is simply saying, for him, there is no where else to go other than Orthodoxy, for him this is IT. With him there is something akin to a sweet spirit of resignation at play. Or, possibly more accurately there is a somber joy involved.

Part of that situation speaks to my comment above about when the dreaded smile of resignation starts to grow on a man's face. And, I'm not sure that what I am stumbling towards here has ever really been addressed. I know when folks go through that back door of a local visible church for the last time, there is never any kind of exit interview. If anything there is only a covering of one's eyes or a wagging of the head on the part of those left on the 'inside.' So, why would this be addressed? The front door "conversion" numbers are still intact. Evangelistically speaking it was still a good year . . .

But, there comes a time when a person has gone through the back door so many times that there really is no other place to go after a while. And, coupled with this, when one suspects Orthodoxy just might be IT on this side of Heaven, regardless of the shape of Orthodoxy Today, the feeling that there is no where else to go is reinforced.

So as some may look at the shape and dimension of Orthodox Missiology and the condition of the local visible church this comes into play at times. As some may look at the others who make up the numbers of Orthodox converts, specifically the one's whe "converted" the same year that he did, and as he realizes that they have all simply faded away . . . why would he want to bring any of his friends or associates into this realm so that they can fade to black with this smile on their faces.

That would make a good book title, "Atomized Churches." Or, maybe as well "An Atomized Orthodoxy?"
Although it is a bleak thought, like the smile itself, what happens to something when it is atomized? That's right it disappears, at least to the naked eye. What if it is true that many of the churches have been atomized and this is why even though they are still there going through the motions, the substance one hopes to find does not abide in a real way in these groups anymore than it does in other associations or societies. And, lest we become happy-clappy or participate in some sort of giddy superficiality, this is why there seems to be only two other options. One, enter into a kind of sweet resignation and fade to black within the local visible church. . . in this sense play your part along with the others who smile every Sunday. Or, two, become atomized yourself and just fade away.

Or, maybe for those of us in the US who find ourselves in this place, there is another option John. But, how could this other option be much different from what the Reformers have done? Regardless of the degree of error or deadness of a Church, does there ever come a time when there can be a kind of insurrection that does not have disastrous results or one that is not evil? What does any kind of rebellion, limited or other, have to do with Orthodoxy and obedience?

But, as I allow some room for Orthodoxy through our own perspective, and specifically from my perspective, maybe this does not apply to what is going on in the BOC. I suspect it doesn't really apply, based on what I have read here and elsewhere. There seems to be a lived experience in the BOC and I have read Father Peter's words in another thread today where he wrote that the British Orthodox Fellowship is committed to missions. I have known some groups that say they are committed to missions, this is what they tell people . . .but, when you look at where their resources go it is obviously a lie. But, I get the feeling that the BOC is committed to missions just because of the way Fr. Peter wrote in that post. Hopefully, they are committed to the "converts" as well once they come in the front door and are recorded as a number.

I can see that some of the churches in the BOC are very small. So some of these churches do not need a large staff in order to function at their current level. But, even here as we might consider such things as Church Growth and Church Planting, regardless of the age or size of a local visible church or mission church, which is more important: a.) the size of the body? or b.) the health of the body?

Regardless of whether there are 3 or 300 members in a given parish, the health of the body is what's most important in terms of both salvation and evangelism. An unhealthy church is not going to be an evangelistic church and even if there is some effort on this front what will happen to the new "convert" if he is to come in the front door of an unhealthy local body of believers?

You wrote once before John, about the unique place of the United States as it relates to An American Orthodoxy? But, the more I think about it, the more I can see that in Orthodoxy Today, the tiny BOC is the one positioned most uniquely.

But, again, it's not the size of the local body, but the health of the body that always takes precedence, right?

In Christ,
07-04-2010, 01:14 PM,
Yes, dear Rick, it is the health of the body which is most important, and there the BOC is indeed blessed. I walked away from the Great Pascha service feeling the real joy of the Risen Lord, and the blessing of the fellowship of which I had just been fortunate to have been a part. The hour and a half journey home passed more speedily than ever, and that was not because of my speed Big Grin

America is different, because Christianity there plays a more important role in public, and perhaps private, life. I remember when I lived in Fulton Mo. 18 years ago being amazed to drive down the high street on a Sunday morning and see that all sixteen Churches on it had full car parks; this in a town of 10,000 souls - and some of them had a second service and were just as full. Our Mr. Blair did not dare mention religion in case people thought he was a 'nutter'; your politicians would be 'nutters' if they failed to mention it.

In a way it is the very pluralism of American religious life which provides Orthodoxy with its recruits. Americans are used to changing their religious affliliations as their spiritual lives develop; the British, when they are religious, tend to be rather as they are with their banks - unwilling to change unless almsot forced to.

Fr. Peter's evangelical background makes him more comfortable (in the best sense) with the idea of evangelising than those of us from the C of E are. We are here, of course, for enquirers, and we do what we can - and perhaps that's all any of us can?

In Christ,

In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. (1 John 4:10)
07-04-2010, 01:27 PM,
Two thoughts on the size of BOC congregations, firstly that it's all a matter of perspective, of how we look at these things and secondly a sermon I preached in the BOC Church in Babbingley in the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity.

Firstly, then those comments, from a visiting Copt, concerning our numbers as we gathered together a month back for our Portsmouth Mission monthly Saturday Liturgy: "Attending the Liturgy in Portsmouth last Saturday and seeing about 7 people, who are 100% British who were not born into the faith, but discovered and live the Orthodox faith is just amazing to me, I believe you are at the forefront of orthodox mission in evangelizing in the western world." What a change not to be denigrated because of our numbers, for only having seven - but for someone to be amazed that we had that many... made quite an encouraging change I can tell you!

And now that sermon...

Five Loaves, Two Fishes & One Mosquito:
God can do a lot with a little?

You are all, I dare say, familiar with the five loaves and the two fish ? but the mosquito? No, this is not some new ultra modern version of the Bible (those of you who know me will know that I am far too much of a traditionalist for any of that ? I am Orthodox after all!) nor is it some secret Coptic text hitherto hidden for centuries under the sands of Egypt?

It was during the flight to Egypt for my second pilgrimage there (back in1998) that I sat reading Graham Green?s Monsignor Quixote, including the following reply from a bishop to Father Quixote?s question as to how a mosquito could have been created for man?s use. ?Surely, father, the use is obvious. A mosquito may be likened to a scourge in the hands of God. It teaches us to endure pain for love of him. That painful buzz in the ear ? perhaps it is God buzzing.?

We landed at midnight and by two a.m. had reached the Church centre (we shared the Cairo traffic with the celebratory fans of one of the main football teams making progress even slower than usual) and I found on our arrival that the English rain had managed to penetrate my suitcase back at Heathrow and I spent some time arranging wet clothes to dry over the next day and finally got to bed around 3 a.m. We were up at 5 a.m. sharp and on the road for a five hour drive to Muharraq monastery! It was a wonderful day ? the severe beauty of the desert, the ancient beauty of the monastery, meeting the monks, looking at manuscripts and so much more? Late in the evening one monk said to me, ?You will join us for the night prayers? to which I said ?I?ll try? whilst thinking inwardly how unlikely that was! I really think when I went to bed that after all the travelling of the previous day, the late night and scanty sleep, then the five hours on the road earlier and all the wonder of the day in the monastery that I had little if any intention of joining the monks for the night prayers. But that was before I encountered the mosquito?

I was laying there trying to go to sleep when the mosquito started buzzing in my ear. So I pulled the blanket over my head and shut it out. Then after ten or fifteen minutes I got too hot and threw off the blanket ? and it was back in a flash, buzzing away. So after a few minutes I pulled the blanket back over my head ? only a few minutes later, being too hot, to throw it off again. And so I alternated between the heat under the blanket and the mosquito at my ear for however long it went on? until, finally, I said to myself, ?I?ve had enough of this, I?m going to Church!?

And what a blessing that Church service was ? so many things I learned in worship with those monks in the early hours of that day! Some years later I remember remarking to someone that my mosquito was an angel sent to me from God to get me to Church that night to which he replied it was more likely just an ordinary mosquito. I do not for one moment insist that I encountered one of the heavenly ones sent down disguised as a mosquito but in the general meaning of the word ?angel? as ?messenger? ? well, I got the message all right, so in that sense my mosquito was definitely an angel!

I was reminded of my mosquito encounter some months ago when I came across a greeting card I had once bought and put by for future use and forgotten about. It was one of those greetings cards that have a quote on the front ? and this one read. ?If you think you?re too small to be effective, you have never been in bed with a mosquito.?

God can do a lot with a little. That tiny mosquito got me to Church. And with five small, even tiny, loaves and a couple of small fish God fed thousands.

I don?t know what size congregations you worship with Sunday by Sunday. I don?t know whether they are as tiny and few as the Sunday congregation here in Babingley or how many they may be. I don?t know if you ever feel down or dispirited when you read and hear in the media year on year of ever decreasing Church attendance, numbers down at Christmas and Easter again. Well don?t ? don?t feel down, don?t be dispirited, don?t be discouraged. Remember the loaves and fishes. Remember that mosquito. God can do a lot with a little.

Hear these Old Testament verses, from the First Book of Chronicles, chapter 12. These are the numbers of those who came to help David, to make him King over Israel, to fight with him against Saul.

?And these are the numbers of the bands that were ready armed to the war, and came to David? to turn the kingdom of Saul to him, according to the word of the LORD. : The children of Judah that bare shield and spear were six thousand and eight hundred, ready armed to the war. Of the children of Simeon, mighty men of valour for the war, seven thousand and one hundred. Of the children of Levi four thousand and six hundred? of the Aaronites?three thousand and seven hundred; ?of the children of Benjamin? three thousand? And of the children of Ephraim twenty thousand and eight hundred, mighty men of valour? of the half tribe of Manasseh eighteen thousand... And of the children of Issachar?? (We?ll come back to Issachur in a minute)

?Of Zebulun, such as went forth to battle, expert in war, with all instruments of war, fifty thousand, which could keep rank: they were not of double heart. And of Naphtali a thousand captains, and with them with shield and spear thirty and seven thousand. And of the Danites expert in war twenty and eight thousand and six hundred. And of Asher, such as went forth to battle, expert in war, forty thousand. And on the other side of Jordan, of the Reubenites, and the Gadites, and of the half tribe of Manasseh, with all manner of instruments of war for the battle, an hundred and twenty thousand.?

That?s over three hundred thousand? but what about the tribe of Issachur? For I skipped their verse ? let me read it to you now: ?And of the children of Issachar, which were men that had understanding of the times, to know what Israel ought to do; the heads of them were two hundred; and all their brethren were at their commandment? Two hundred ? not two hundred thousand nor twenty thousand, nor even two thousand? just two hundred. ?And of the children of Issachar, which were men that had understanding of the times, to know what Israel ought to do; the heads of them were two hundred; and all their brethren were at their commandment?

Yes, God can do a lot with a little. Indeed sometimes God whittles a larger number down to a smaller number ? consider another Old Testament account, that of Gideon.

?And the LORD said unto Gideon, The people that are with thee are too many for me to give the Midianites into their hands, lest Israel vaunt themselves against me, saying, Mine own hand hath saved me. Now therefore go to, proclaim in the ears of the people, saying, Whosoever is fearful and afraid, let him return and depart early from mount Gilead. And there returned of the people twenty and two thousand; and there remained ten thousand. And the LORD said unto Gideon, The people are yet too many; bring them down unto the water, and I will try them for thee there: and it shall be, that of whom I say unto thee, This shall go with thee, the same shall go with thee; and of whomsoever I say unto thee, This shall not go with thee, the same shall not go. So he brought down the people unto the water: and the LORD said unto Gideon, Every one that lappeth of the water with his tongue, as a dog lappeth, him shalt thou set by himself; likewise every one that boweth down upon his knees to drink. And the number of them that lapped, putting their hand to their mouth, were three hundred men: but all the rest of the people bowed down upon their knees to drink water. And the LORD said unto Gideon, By the three hundred men that lapped will I save you, and deliver the Midianites into thine hand: and let all the other people go every man unto his place.

I am reminded of the conversation I once read about between two ministers in Scotland and one asked the other how many had been added to his congregation in the recent revival to which the answer came, ?Not one ? but God has greatly blessed us inasmuch as some have left we?ve been trying to get rid of for years!?

There is a very important lesson in the words of God to Gideon: ?And the LORD said unto Gideon, The people that are with thee are too many for me to give the Midianites into their hands, lest Israel vaunt themselves against me, saying, Mine own hand hath saved me.? If we are many and skilled and well-resourced and capable we can too easily trust in ourselves apart from God. Like Israel of old we too may be tempted to think our own hands have done this, it is all our work, our achievement. I know of a Church that for years had a prayer meeting before the Sunday worship and prospered and did well ? so they felt they didn?t need that prayer meeting any more and now things aren?t so good, they aren?t doing so well?

There is an important word in Orthodox doctrine and spirituality: ?synergy?. Synergy is God and man working together; in the words of the Apostle Saint Paul ?work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. For it is God which worketh in you?? The great example of someone co-operating with God is the Virgin Mary at the Annunciation when in response to the angelic announcement she says ?Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word.? God cannot be born without the power of God but God will not be born without the co-operation of Saint Mary. God can do a lot with a little - this young woman, this slip of a girl really, co-operates with God, says yes to God, she hears the word of God and keeps it ? and becomes the Mother of God, the one who gives birth to God. But it cost her. Initially it cost her the trust of Joseph her betrothed (who was minded to divorce her quietly ), it cost her exile, she became a refugee, and it would cost her untold anguish at a later date with the crucifixion of her son, ?Yea, a sword shall pierce through thy own soul also? Co-operation with God carries a cost, it comes with a cost ? indeed our Lord warned us to count the cost. Think back to the loaves and fishes?

They were brought to Jesus, then He blessed them and broke them and distributed them to the multitude. If we would be used of God for the feeding of the multitudes in our day then we must come to Jesus, we must make ourselves available to Him to be used in His service, for His work. And we must seek His blessing upon the work we do for Him and with Him ? we must start every work for Him with prayer, always seeking His blessing and never launching out without first being blessed for the work. And we must be prepared to be broken. ?The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise? That spirit of independence may need to be broken, that thinking we can do it of ourselves, that we have sufficient numbers, sufficient skills or whatever it may be, so that we neglect to seek, and to really and earnestly seek, God?s blessing. And then there?s a broken and a contrite heart; that?s not just some quick and cheap vaguely sort of sorry that we sinned but being heartbroken and contrite for our sins?

This may be a good moment to mention that in a little over two weeks? time it will be Great Lent, the greatest fast of the entire Christian year. We never, ever have to wait until Lent to sort out our sins, to sort out ourselves spiritually (any more than we would think of waiting until Lent to see our doctor for our physical well being!) and we should never, ever delay or put off such things until Lent, nonetheless Lent is a penitential season and provides (like all the fasts throughout the Church year) in the otherwise busyness of our lives an opportunity to get serious about our sins, to get heartbroken and contrite over our sins.

Think what God can do with us if we but bring ourselves to Him for blessing and in brokenness... The loaves and fishes were brought to our Lord God and Saviour Jesus Christ and He blessed them and broke them and fed thousands. Then let us not hold back ourselves but rather make ourselves likewise available to God. But what can such a handful as us do? Never mind a handful ? I give you one, yes one person, St Seraphim of Sarov. He taught, ?Acquire inner peace and thousands around you will be saved.? And so they were, thousands around St Seraphim in Russia were saved, just like St Antony all those centuries earlier in the deserts of Egypt, another example of one man through whom God blessed multitudes. These men spent years with God, coming to Him continuously for His blessing and how he did bless them ? and others by them.

Whether you worship in a congregation as small as seven people, yes seven - like the five loaves and the two fishes; or whether you are a solitary hermit like Saint Seraphim or like Saint Antony the Great, just one - like my mosquito? always remember, always, always, always remember: God can do a lot with a little.

Yes, ?with God all things are possible?, ?with God nothing shall be impossible? ?Ah Lord GOD! behold, thou hast made the heaven and the earth by thy great power and stretched out arm, and there is nothing too hard for thee? and unto Thee we ascribe as is most justly due all majesty, dominion, glory and adoration, both now and ever and unto ages of ages. Amen.
07-04-2010, 01:41 PM,
Dear John,

I wonder if you are using the 'quote' link, as this would create a new post with the previous post formatted as the ones you had left for me to see.

This is an interesting thread to have spent some time catching up with. In regard to a shorter liturgy. I suppose I have a few observations. On the one hand, for a Sunday liturgy, it is possible for folk to attend in Chatham at about 11am, just in time for the Gospel, and stay for the remaining 50-60 minutes. So not too long I don't think. (And we have folk who do this, especially with young children).

On the other hand, in my latter years in Evangelicalism the length of services was growing all the time. Some evening services might be nearly two hours long, with a period of praise beforehand, a lengthy sermon, and lots more singing throughout. I am not entirely comfortable with reducing the length of a service if it is only to satisfy the lack of concentration span among many modern people.

But, a little bit of research shows me that the Presanctified Liturgy was used in the Syrian tradition until the 13th century at least - and one text has the name of St Severus. And it was used, among other reasons, for those occasions when a full liturgy was inappropriate or inconvenient, and could even be celebrated with modifications by a deacon or a lone monk. Certainly we know that even in the Coptic tradition - which is strongly resistant of the reservation of the eucharistic elements - there was a normal reservation throughout the early period, which perhaps ceased due to the threat of Islamic desecration of the elements.

A Presanctified liturgy would indeed be useful, but we don't have access to such a practice. I am doing a liturgy tonight, and will be welcoming two British folk into the catechumenate, but the 3 or 4 of us will be at Church for 2 hours, which does not always and in all circumstances mean that we will be twice as reverent and worshipful as if we were there for 1 hour.

In regard to how I perceive the disconnect between what I expected of Orthodoxy and what I have found. I would say that I have reached a happy place where I embrace the humility and poverty of the British Orthodox Church, such that there is nothing there for us other than Christ in the eucharist and in each other. We have nothing else to offer people. There is no cathedral choir. There are a no gold plated roccoco decorations. When you visit us you find a handful of friendly people worshipping God. We offer ourselves to God and to each other.

I guess I have also come to embrace the notion of 'total uselessness' rather than 'total depravity'. There was and will be no golden age of the Church when everything was wonderful. On the contrary it has always been as human and provisional and corruptible as it is now. Therefore there is no need to fear the future or despair of the present. It has always been like this and yet the Church survives.

In 516AD it seemed that the anti-Chalcedonian position had finally prevailed. There were anti-Chalcedonian patriarchs in Constantinople, Antioch and Alexandria. The emperor was sympathetic. Then in 518AD it had all changed. Patriarchs, bishops and monks were expelled. St Severus finds exile in Egypt. Yet the Church survives. In the time of St Cyril there was constant ecclesial stress. In the time of St Athanasius he spent much of his episcopate in exile. St Dioscorus dies in prison. St Timothy of Alexandria spends much of his episcopate far from home. Yet the Church survives.

It will survive these present times. It will survive our humble circumstances. Because we, in the BOC, are not the whole Church. We are one small community of a wider community of millions of faithful Christians in a variety of places and cultures who are all facing the ever present challenge of being fully Orthodox while being fully <add your ethnicity>. Our ethnicities are always a moving target, and so we must always be seeking to be genuinely Orthodox to our present and not to our past.

In my own experience I would suggest that what would be useful would be a good-quality proper Western musical setting of the Raising of Incense and the Liturgy. It is not unpleasant at all, but I would like it to have the sense of something which was a little more musical. I would also like (and this is something within my power) a greater sense of the calendar through the year. Perhaps also a better use of a few Western hymns, especially those of genuine antiquity, and also the setting to Western tunes of some others of the Eastern hymns. Also a proper and comprehensive program to develop a liturgical synaxarium (not just a book of saints) which rooted us in our own Western ecclesial heritage as well as the Alexandrian and universal heritage.

I have no great interest in the Western Rite project - since I do not come from a liturgical background at all. But I am interested in Western Orthodoxy - if that means an Orthodoxy which is naturally at home in the West of the 21st century, and not that of Anglicanism in the 19th century. It seems to me that generally Orthodoxy becomes properly inculturated by modifying what is received rather than starting from scratch. So I am not so interested at all in thinking of an Orthodoxy from scratch. But I do think that language and music are key to culture.

As ever

Father Peter
07-04-2010, 02:12 PM,
Dear Fr. Peter,

As ever, you offer us much food for thought - and very nourishing food too.

Perspective is required on numbers, as Fr. Simon's post shows. Indeed, once upon a time most of the Church could fit into an upper room in Jerusalem, and some members of that were quick to pretend they knew nothing of it when circumstances changed. It is here, perhaps, were we recall that comment on the essays you review in the GR about Chalcedon - that St. Dioscorus was the Athanasius of his day. And he's a reminder that the earthly fate is not always that of St. Athanasius. All we can do is the Lord's work; He it is who brings the increase.

You make some extremely interesting observations which go far to address some of Fr. Gregory's comments.

I would share the view you express about the lectionary. Whilst I was to attend Church my Catholic friend very 'kindly' lent me three volumes of the Catholic lectionary. Of course, he was rather hoping this would help me to see why he thinks everyone should be a Catholic, but its real use to me was to give me a structure for my Bible reading which I found very helpful as part of my spiritual life. I'd like to be offer him something of ours!

I have offered Fr. Simon my services to provide a catena from the Fathers for each week's Gospel reading, and he kindly sent me copies of the forthcoming Gospel readings - and not being familiar enough with the Coptic Calendar, I had to ask him to explain which ones came when! certainly the readings from the Synaxarium are interesting to those of us with an interest in Coptic history, but they are sometimes a bit gruesome, and the sort of thing you mention sounds most useful Your own Daily Life has been, and remains, a great help.

On the music, that's an interesting thought; it would be good to hear more about this.

On length I didn't read it as a concession to modern business, but more as an attempt to remind us that Orthodox tradition has in it, as you remind us, other liturgical forms. You raise some really interesting questions for further contemplation.

In Christ,

In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. (1 John 4:10)
07-04-2010, 08:15 PM,
My dear Brothers,

I hesitate to enter this absorbing thread, being only recently Baptised and Chrismated after over sixty years of Roman Catholicism. But perhaps one or two observations from that perspective are relevant.

I, too, am unhappy with the numbers game. I recall mentioning to my non-Orthodox wife that at Pascha we had a full house - Bournemouth church had about seventeen people in it, and it was packed! It must have been a bit like the Upper Room. Just a handful of dedicated people.

What impressed me was the degree of devout prayerfulness, coupled with both sadness at the Crucifixion and joy at the Resurrection. This small number of Jesus' followers was absolutely a reflection of the Church as it should be. I come from a background where large numbers attend Mass just because they have been told to (or even under pain of sin if they don't) rather than because they want to. Here, people had travelled for hours to worship God because it was important to them. Just going to the local church was not enough, they needed the specific community of the OC. And the OC needs their qualities not vast numbers of converts. Much better to have a few willing volunteers than a regiment of pressed men.

I suspect that Rome fell into the numbers game trap with VaticanII. There was a worry that numbers had been falling for decades and something had to be done to reverse this trend. Several radical changed took place. Large numbers left. Large numbers joined. Then the decline continued...... One presumes that numbers is not the name of the game after all.

Turning to the Liturgy, I had a chat recently with Father Simon about this. Personally, I love our Liturgy, and have no problem with its length. However, I tried to take a charitable approach by suggesting that some folk may not be able to cope with the length, and was there an alternative that might help them. He replied, firmly, that it was appropriate for them to accept the Liturgy as it is, or not at all. We should not water down our principles for the sake of quick popularity. (Perhaps he should intervene with this bit, rather than have me paraphrase his words.) Nevertheless, the historic existence of shorter forms and even presanctified species does seem to me to be worth further prayer in the circumstances of BOC as distinct from Coptic needs.

Locally we have begun regular prayer meetings one evening a week using the Agbia, followed by a suitable discussion or exposition. This is in addition to the Liturgy, and often happens without Father Simon if he is busy. This is yet another development which mirrors the early church, when there were few (and differently regarded) ministers available. It is proving a valuable exercise, especially for enquirers and catechumens.

The OC tradition of people coming and going during the Liturgy seems to offer another way to ease the difficulty for newcomers to our long services. It does seem a little odd when you come from the "be there at the beginning and stay to the end" brigade, but it obviously works, having survived all these centuries.

I am dubious about the musical idea. Unless you have persons with some musical talent I fancy it could degenerate into something less than was intended. A large congregation can cope with one or two who cannot carry a tune, but in our small groups it is rather difficult. I feel that the retention of simple chants is probably more helpful, certainly for the forseeable future. Personally, I also find it has a more monastic feel which is conducive to a prayerful attitude, but that is just my feeling for what it is worth.

I look forward to more on this thread. Perhaps I will add more myself once I have thought some more. In the meantime,
With love and prayers,
07-04-2010, 10:06 PM,
Dear Antony-Paul,

An interesting set of comments which move us along nicely; many thanks for your engagement.

You bring an interesting perspective as a convert from Roman Catholicism.

Yes, it is tempting to agree that numbers don't matter; and yet they do in the sense that so many need bringing to Christ. Even the early Apostles were dealing with a society saturated with religion, and, in their own cases, one where a highly liturgical form of worship was practiced and to which people were used. In the US, as Rick knows, many entrants into the OC are converts from other denominations; here, oddly enough, we have a real opportunity to reach the unchurched. And was it not St. Paul who made himself all things to all men so that he could appeal to the widest audience.

We must never forget that the Church is not ours; the faith must be preached to all. There is a danger in taking the: 'this has worked for centuries in Egypt/Greece/Russia approach'. In the first place it is by no means clear it continues to work in Greece and Russia; in the second we know that there are other and shorter forms of liturgy, and they existed, and exist, for a reason.

Not everyone is fortunate enough to be able to spend two hours each way driving to Church and then spend three hours at the service; if we assume we live in a society where this is the case then we are wrong; and if we say that people can take it or leave it, then they'll leave it, not necessarily because they are not committed, but because they have other commitments. If we are saying that our members have to be up to doing what we do now the way we do it, we shall attract only those with the leisure to do it; the blessed Apostles did not make the yoke too much for the Gentiles, despite the wishes of the 'men from James'; as ever, we can learn from the best evangelists the world has ever known. Smile

It isn't about quick popularity; it is about the need to meet people where they are, I suspect.

Being profoundly unmusical in practice, I am sympathetic to what you say about music; the noise I make could only be described as singing by someone as tone-deaf as myself. As my old music master used to say: 'he joins in with great gusto' :oops:

Unlike our American friends, we are dealing with a society where, especially amongst the younger generation, there is a profound ignorance about the faith. Most schools hardly teach Christianity save as part of a multi-faith experience; RC schools are among the few honourable exceptions I know.

Most of my students simply do not know the first thing about Christianity; most of them are 'searching' for what they call 'spirituality' and many think they will find it in 'the East'. When I tell them that our Faith is the ultimate Eastern religion they look startled; most of them think it started in Rome or Canterbury.

In Egypt, Pope Shenouda long ago said that a Church without a youth has no future, and that a youth without a Church also had no future; what he said is profoundly true, and, of course, the Sunday school movement in the COC is the result. How we convince our youth that their spiritual longings can be met within the Church will, at least in part, determine what sort of future the BOC has.

In Christ,
In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. (1 John 4:10)
08-04-2010, 09:01 AM,
From my own perspective I am not really looking for a cathedral quality setting of the liturgy, but I would like a variant tune to the Our Father, and I would like a musical setting for the Creed. Just so that the liturgy was a little more musical.

In terms of length, I suppose my thought is that there are occasions when folk would benefit from the eucharist (who could not) but when there just is not 2 1/2 hours to do it in. It seems to me that even in the Coptic rite there is a shortening of what must have been an even more lengthy service - I mean that in the Hours the psalms are distributed to be read simultaneously, and there are prayers in the liturgy which are now said silently (and therefore quickly). Indeed since the Coptic rite seems to me to be especially monastic in origin - because of the history of the Church during centuries of persecution - I wonder if that is not another reason for the very long services when the whole cycle is prayed?

I have some younger Coptic priest friends who are well educated theologically but I see that their entire week is now spent celebrating very long services in Church and they do not have time even to respond to emails, let alone spend time thinking, studying and writing. This is not a criticism at all of the Coptic practice, which is often inspiring.

Last night I was discussing this with my two new catechumens. We will hopefully expand our services each month to a weeknight liturgy, a evening of the Vesper's Hour, Prayer and Study, and perhaps a cleaning night. We would also like to start praying at least one Saturday Raising of Evening Incense. What we seemed agreed upon was that we should not try to do everything possible, not only because we would burn ourselves out, but also because we are indeed called to be Christian fathers and husbands and neighbours and witnesses outside the building of the Church as well as within.

This is not to propose a reduced Sunday liturgy. People can always come in a little later and could even be in Church for just an hour from the Gospel. It is not even to suggest a restoration of some ancient rite. (As if we had any authority to do so). But it is to wonder how and whether there is a space between doing everything and doing nothing. Because many people are unable to do everything.

I notice that quite a few Coptic churches are now celebrating a Liturgy of the Word, which is essentially the first part of the Liturgy up to the dismissal of the catechumens I guess. They are using this to reach out to non-Orthodox in the English language and with a shorter non-eucharistic service. At Chatham we have used the hour of Prime successfully as a lay-led service when Father Michael was not available, and now if I am ever not there. Part of the problem may well be that we are not exposed to the full cycle of Coptic services very often and so we are less aware of other opportunities for spiritual benefit - I say this to myself.

I know that Father Simon has been supporting more and more of the Paschal cycle with great benefit. And I hope that next year we will have a fuller Pascha at Chatham. It seems reasonable that we should be aware of everything in the tradition before we wonder what else we could do! More and more seems available in the English language. And as we have discussed Orthodoxy does begin somewhere, even when it is being inculturated in another setting. We don't start from scratch.

Father Peter
08-04-2010, 11:06 AM,
Again, some very good points for us to discuss and ponder, Fr. Peter.

You cut to the heart of this in your comments about also being called to be Christians in the world outside of the physical Church building. The fullness of the vocation of a life called to prayer and service within the monastic tradition does, indeed, allow for the full cycle of the services at their most developed; there is also a comfort to the rest of us in knowing that this is happening.

But if one has worldly responsibilities, then they, too, have to be met. Personally, now I can drive again, I love the early morning journey through the Norfolk countryside when few others are about, and the services allow me the space I need to begin to focus on what is to come; so, if I had only myself to think of, everything would be perfect, and I'd be happy to stay as long as possible; but as I don't, I have to think of others and their needs.

It is interesting to hear about your plans at Chatham, and a useful reminder that as we get more established and begin to grow, new possibilities open up. It sounds as though your work is bearing fruit, and as it does across our patches, we clearly have the spirit to grow as we are called to grow.

In Christ,

In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. (1 John 4:10)
08-04-2010, 01:20 PM,
Your last post just really hit home with me John. Before I read your post, I knew that you and I, and most if not all of us on this website, are not a bunch of monks. But, somehow after reading your last post, it just is somehow really crystal clear that some of us are husbands and fathers and businessmen and homeowners . . . and in this we really are not a bunch of monks.

As we consider where our services come from, and as we might consider cycles of daily and weekly worship, I think this matters. Just as we have considered an emphasis on the size of the local body of believers and an emphasis on the health of the local body of believers (viz. appearances and actuality), I wonder if there is some room to consider the fact that we are not a bunch of monks living in a monastery with our main responsibility in life being to go to services on the same property in which we live.

I really think this needs to be addressed in a plain and simple way. Otherwise, it is easy to begin to feel "less than." And, while humility is always a good thing, I'm not sure that this type of "less than" feeling has anything to do with humility (if that makes any sense).

There is a very fine line here between what is helpful and what is not, in this train of thought, about our 'approaches' and 'pursuits' . . . and while knowing I was attracted to Orthodoxy because of both the emphasis on Community and the mystical aspects, at the same time when the line between unreal expectations and the teaching of the Church becomes blurred . . . and when "doing everything," as Fr. Peter has said, is what is expected or striven for, then I think whether we know it or not we have gone down a rabbit hole and it is hard to distinguish what is real from what is pretend (or pretense).

I'm not sure that I have a conclusion here in this, but knowing we are not a bunch of monks going to services everyday in the church building; but, that we are husbands, fathers, etc., maybe there is no clearly defined answer to be given in a one-size-fits-all fashion, and in plain in simple language. Maybe no matter how much we rack our brains on this subject, or even talk to numerous pastors who seem to think they know what's best for you, possibly there is a wisdom to be found in a letting go of this somewhat and just being honest and real and saying I don't know. Why would we not do this really, in our direct and responsible relationships with the Triune God? . . . why would we not just make our starting point about this question one of an avoidance of all forms of pretense in ourselves and say to God, I don't know. And, now I'm thinking of a prayer by Thomas Merton that I'll post as a possible conclusion to the whole matter (look at the honesty in this please):

My Lord God,

I have no idea where I am going.

I do not see the road ahead of me.

I cannot know for certain where it will end.

Nor do I really understand myself,

and the fact that I think I am following

your will does not mean that I am actually doing so.

But I believe that the desire to please you

does in fact please you.

And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing.

I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire.

And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the

right road, though I may know nothing about it.

Therefore will I trust you always though I may

seem to be lost and in the shadow of death.

I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and

you will never leave me to face my troubles alone.

--Thomas Merton
08-04-2010, 01:38 PM,
Quote:Maybe no matter how much we rack our brains on this subject, or even talk to numerous pastors who seem to think they know what's best for you, possibly there is a wisdom to be found in a letting go of this somewhat and just being honest and real and saying I don't know.

It just occurred to me that possibly there is more heat than light in what I have said above . . . but, as it relates to "perspectives" I think it is fair to say that not everyone has an Abba Seraphim in their life. And, for those who do not, in light of our discussion, how can there not be a degree of a Protestant mindset/perspective (whether we admit it or not)?

As we might consider the words of Scripture about letting go, or laying it all aside, I wonder how much of this applies to even our efforts in our 'religion'?
08-04-2010, 04:24 PM,
When I was talking with folk last night we considered how we will not be judged by how much we know - Christianity is not a matter of accepting or understanding propositions. Nor will we be judged according to whether or not we have completed a checklist of activities.

Our Christian faith is a matter of being and becoming. Therefore all of these other necessary things are a means of being and becoming more Christ-like, and more completely filled with the Holy Spirit. Sometimes even attendance at Church services and the study of theology can prevent us being and becoming as God would wish.

We thought together last night how our prayer lives at home, and our lives with others, were also necessary means of being and becoming, and that we should not neglect those aspects of our lives, any more than we should neglect the proper and necessary and sustaining participation in the services of the Church, the Body of Christ - of which we are of course mystically and organically members.

Balance in all things I suppose.

Father Peter
09-04-2010, 11:35 AM,
admin Wrote:Our Christian faith is a matter of being and becoming. Therefore all of these other necessary things are a means of being and becoming more Christ-like, and more completely filled with the Holy Spirit.

From where I stand, I think it would be hard to make a more spot on point in this "perspectives" thread than what you have here Fr. Peter, thanks.

And, at the risk of taking this conversation where some would rather it not go, I have to wonder, at this point, if I really agree with this. As I read it I think I agree 100% with what Fr. Peter has said, but what are we really saying when we say this and believe this? I know Fr. Jack Sparks has said the same thing in terms of making it clear that some people, whom desire to achieve "being and becoming" [or what some others may call experience/encounter], will do this by attending long services in church. Others will carry out fasts, vigils, and prostrations, or sleeping on bare earth. Others will say many prayers at home. Others will focus on mental prayer, solitude, isolation, and silence. And, of these "means" or "methods" and their help in terms of being a vehicle for "being and becoming," as Fr. Sparks says, they may or may not help us.

What is a vehicle of grace for one may not be for another. And, I think this speaks to what was written earlier that Orthodoxy is not just a set of doctrines and teachings . . . because if it is, then anyone could be Orthodox regardless of where they attend church for a couple of hours on Sunday morning, right? If it was a certain way of knowing and being, and if it is a process of being and becoming [or experience/encounter], then any whose theory of knowing and theory of being was Orthodox would be Orthodox (as much as any) right? In some ways this speaks to an old question for a few of us here, which has been, it seems that in some ways one must already "be" Orthodox before one can "become" Orthodox and have an Orthodox mindset . . . otherwise there is no conversion, nothing is different. And, in this how does this come into play in terms of the vehicle of grace that is offered each Sunday? This seems to be the one determining factor really in much of our discussion.

Because, one could almost conclude that one can be Orthodox whether one is Eastern Orthodox, or Oriental Orthodox, or whatever Orthodox . . . or even Roman Catholic, or possibly even Baptist or other labels, if one is "being and becoming" and if one participates in the lived experience of Orthodoxy in terms of its teachings.

So, this is what I like about teachings and doctrines and propositions (and even systematic theology) . . .it takes much of the subjective element out of personal experiences and religious practices. When we put down on paper what we believe, this can be helpful . . . when we say what we believe and why we believe what we believe this can also be very helpful. But, sometimes when we put everything together that we are saying, it causes pause for reflection.

If for example, the main reason why I am Orthodox is not because of any unique teachings or doctrines found within Orthodoxy, or because this is the only place I can attend church on Sunday and hold my beliefs in good conscience, but the main reason why I am Orthodox is because this is where I encounter Christ in the Lord's Supper, then this is a good reason to be Orthodox. But, if this is our criteriology that we are using for our association with a particular group of Christians . . . then how could we suggest that where another experiences what we experience within say the RCC or the Baptist Church that they are any "less than" or how could we suggest that "they" need to become one of "us?" When I was a Baptist about 15 years ago, when we would have Communion it was a very special and serious thing to me. I know many Orthodox who like to ridicule what I experienced then and point out that as I was holding my "cracker" and my little cup of "Welch's Grape Juice" I was not participating in anything other than a mockery of the Holy Eucharist. I have not shared this with them, because I will not cast my pearls before swine . . . but, I feel comfortable sharing here that when I would hold my cracker and my juice and wait for direction to consume these and listen to a few words about what we were doing before consuming these . . . I have experienced the Living Christ and his resurrection power through His Holy Spirit as much or more than I ever have through the Orthodox "spoon." So, in my case, if this is our criteria, what in the world am I doing being Orthodox? I can live Orthodoxy, the life of prayer, and I can teach and preach Orthodox doctrines to others, who might never here these elsewhere.

So what are we really saying above, and do we really believe this? I do not see any evidence/symptoms of Groupthink here, but one remedy/cure for Groupthink is to play the devils advocate within such a particular group. Possibly, some of this is going on here (me being advocate), but everything that I have offered for our little discussion is true.

In Christ,

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