- Press Release on the union of Coptic and British Orthodox Churches
- On the Trail of Seven Coptic Monks in Ireland
- With Lynch to Holy Etchmiadzin
- The Coptic Orthodox Church under Islam
- Journey Into Artsakh
- Biographies of former BOC members
- The British Orthodox Church – Mission & Ministry
- The Liturgy of St James – Abba Seraphim
- The Liturgy of St James – Fr John Ross
- The Fraction in The Coptic Orthodox Liturgy
- The Ministry of the Deacon in the Liturgy of Saint James
- The Divine Liturgy of Saint James
- That They May be One – 3:2 St. Timothy Aelurus of Alexandria
- That They May be One – 3:1 St. Timothy Aelurus of Alexandria
- That They May be One – 2. The Humanity of Christ
- That They May Be One – 1. Reflections on Christian Unity
- New Age or Old Faith
- One Lord, One Faith: Why Orthodox don’t practice Open Communion
- Pope Shenoudas El Kosheh Declaration
- Christian Spirituality in a Changing World
- The Saints – Pattern of Christian Virtue
- Reconstructing Celtic Spirituality: Searching for a Western Early Church
Oriental Orthodox Library
The Oriental Orthodox Library is pleased to announce the publication of a new volume in the Oriental Orthodox Library series.
Visit our online bookstore at our printer’s website and purchase one of these volumes, or any others in the Library.
These volumes continue to be of value to many Oriental Orthodox Christians, and those who are interested in the Oriental Orthodox Tradition. The first of these new volumes, Patristic Study, is especially useful for those seeking an overview of the Fathers of the first century.
Three Encomiums on the Archangel Michael:These three Encomiums were written about the beginning of the VIIth century, and in them we see some of the earliest specimens of this class of Coptic literature in existence.
They were written by Abba Theodosius, Archbishop of Alexandria, Severus of Antioch, and Eustathius, Bishop of Trake, These Encomiums now made available in Oriental Orthodox Library are interesting because they contain narratives which are full of importance, not only for the philologist and antiquary, but also for the student of comparative folk-lore and demonology.
They were translated by E.A Wallis Budge in 1894.
A.T. John Salter, Sisters in Christ: Practical ecumenism from contemporary documents 1935-1951, Urosevic Foundation, 7 Bonchurch Road, London, W10 5SD: 2007), Paperback, 25 pp + illus.
History is a patchwork of events in which the human players interconnect like a giant spider’s web. Here we have preserved a delightful exchange of letters between two Christian sisterhoods: the Mother St. Saviour’s Anglican Convent in Haggerston and the Russian Orthodox émigré Convent of Our Lady of Vladimir in Harbin, Manchuria and Shanghai. Set against the background of China’s fragmentation and the Japanese occupation of Manchuria (1931-32) the Russian Abbess Roofina approaches Mother Superior Cicely to share her concerns about the critical state of her community and the orphanage they run. The correspondence includes letters from Patriarch Varnava of Serbia, Father Serge Bolshakoff of the Orthodox Confraternity of St. Benedict, Father Nicholas Gibbes and many other notable bishops and priests from that era. Before her death in 1937, Abbess Roofina expresses the desire of the community to relocate to North America. Under her determined successor, Abbess Ariadna, we catch fragmentary glimpses of their trials and aspirations and we see a deep and lasting commitment among these Anglicans whose love of the Orthodox Church found practical expression.
The preservation of this touching correspondence is a delightful and valuable insight and Father John’s sympathetic editing and specialist knowledge is invaluable.
A.T. John Salter, The Eastern Catholic Churches – A Help or a Hindrance to Christian Unity ? Paperback, 22 pp.
Originally delivered as The Christopher Morris Lecture in November 1997, Father John Salter has now privately published the text of his discourse. As he himself admits, it makes no attempt to be deeply scholarly but rather tends to be anecdotal, based on a lifetime of contacts with Eastern Christian prelates, clergy sand faithful. Adapting Pope John Paul II’s maxim that the Church must breathe again with two lungs, both Western and Eastern, Fr. John sees the Eastern Catholic (or Uniate) churches as the breast bone, which acts as a bridge between the lungs, which is essential to their functioning but which may seem to keep the lungs apart. Mingled with his personal asides are many fascinating historical nuggets scattered throughout the text, all composed with an eirenic breadth of vision.
Adam Stout, The Thorn and the Waters, Miraculous Glastonbury in the Eighteenth Century, (The Library of Avalon, ‘Glastonbury Experience,’ 2-4 High Street, Glastonbury, 2008), 64 pp., illus. Price: £3.50.
Each year seems to bring the appearance of ever more small books and pamphlets on aspects of the Glastonbury mythos, so that the collector of Avalonian ephemera can scarcely keep up. Although most have some interest as exempla of psychology, modern folklore or popular culture, they are, from the strictly historical viewpoint, generally worthless. This modest, unassuming, and simply produced little study is a complete exception.
It has been published to raise funds for the Library of Avalon. Established in 1988, this is a private charitable body which maintains a specialist collection of books on historical and esoteric subjects, now housed in the former ‘St. Bridget’s chapel,’ where for some years BOC services of morning and evening prayer were regularly held. At a time when local libraries in Somerset, as elsewhere, have been downgraded to make more room for the hire of DVDs, pop music etc., its quiet reading room offers a useful resource.
Adam Stout addresses the much-neglected subject of Glastonbury as perceived between the end of the Reformation era and the ‘Avalonian’ dawn of the 1890’s. To understand its significance at this time it is necessary to go beyond the minutiae of strictly local history, such as may now be very conveniently referenced in volume IX of the Victoria County History (ed. R. Dunning, Boydell & Brewer, 2006), and look to the writings of contemporary historians, topographers, polemicists and divines. This Dr. Stout does, combining comparatively well-know writers, such as Defoe and the late-seventeenth-century lady traveller Celia Feinnes, with some very obscure source-material in chapbooks and press accounts, some produced very far from Somerset. His research has been most thorough. He focuses on Glastonbury’s short-lived notoriety as a would-be spa town in the mid-eighteenth century, and the simultaneous debate surrounding calendar reform, in which Glastonbury’s Christmas-flowering Holy Thorn was invoked as an arbiter. He is very aware, as many modern commentators are not, of the rivalry of Catholic and Protestant in laying claim to Glastonbury, which continued far beyond this period. He relates ideas about Glastonbury to contemporary concerns surrounding Jacobitism and a perceived ongoing Catholic threat, and to the emergence of nostalgia for a constructed ‘Merrie England’ which accompanied increasing rural enclosure and the beginnings of the Industrial Revolution and growing urbanisation. He shows convincingly how modern difficulties in reconciling commercial exploitation of ‘respectable’ tourism, in order to boost a run-down local economy, with the more indecorous and anarchic manifestations of a thirst for wonders and miracle cures among (for some) less desirable elements, exactly mirrors that already experienced in eighteenth-century Glastonbury. All this is fully documented, with detailed notes and references to both printed and ‘online’ material. A great deal more work needs to be done on the Glastonbury of this period, and Dr. Stout is to be congratulated on offering an invaluable tool to fellow researchers, as well as on opening up a vista which, for many general readers and enthusiasts for Glastonbury, will be wholly new.
Subdeacon Paul Ashdown
Tim Hopkinson-Ball, The Rediscovery of Glastonbury: Frederick Bligh Bond, Architect of the New Age (Sutton Publishing, Stroud, 2007) 236 pp., 23 plates, Hardback. ISBN 978-0-7509-4564-6. Price £20.
The tale of Frederick Bligh Bond, who a century ago began excavations at Glastonbury Abbey with supposedly paranormal assistance, remains quite well known and is a staple of part-works and coffee-table books on mysteries and the supernatural. That his memory has remained green is due in part to a previous biographical study by an American, the late William Kenawell, which he prefaced to a collected edition of Bond’s excavation reports in 1965 as ‘The Quest at Glastonbury.’ Patrick Benham set Bond in a wider context in his illuminating study of ‘The Avalonians’ – those contemporaries who had fallen under Glastonbury’s spell – in 1993 (2nd. ed., Gothic Image, 2007), and included a chapter on Bond’s daughter, Mary.
Kenawell had been denied the Bond family’s co-operation and wrote a curious dedication: ‘To those who might have helped the most and would not, I give all the factual errors that they could have prevented; all misunderstandings or misreadings of available data they could have set aright.’ This is worth quoting, as Kenawell is derided in the forward to this new biography, and in the author’s prologue, which disparages those ‘who have framed their work in Kenawell’s terms’ while failing fully to acknowledge the author’s (and our) own debt. For example, in running together excerpts from Bond’s account of his own childhood, Dr. Ball fails to mention that the text is given in full by Kenawell, who had access to other material since lost or destroyed. A rather farcical secretiveness, indeed, still seems sometimes to encircle Bond. There is no customary discussion of sources. The reader will not discover that the (cited) ‘Craigfoot Family Papers’ are identical with the Bond ‘family magazine’ which Kenawell regretted not being allowed to examine. As most of the new documentation remains in private hands, including the author’s, we are dependent on interpretation and it is difficult to be sure to what extent silences reflect actual gaps in the record, or deference and selectivity. The author has ‘refrained from an abundance of footnotes’ as ‘such apparatus will appeal only to a minority.’ This rather patronising attitude may also be detected in the airy dismissal of other views and some trite finger-wagging at aspects of contemporary Glastonbury. He has ‘kept lengthy quotes to a minimum’ and so, far from being an ‘unobtrusive biographer,’ his voice is, for the most part, the only one that we hear. For these reasons, although this eagerly awaited book has been some ten years in the making, and Dr. Ball is a painstaking and most meticulous historian, it falls frustratingly short of that definitiveness which its publishers claim. Too many questions remain unanswered and some, indeed, unasked.
These defects may be due in part to those publishers. Although the author tries valiantly to make its brevity a virtue, as Tolkien wrote of ‘The Lord of the Rings,’ it is too short. It has also been saddled with an unfortunate title. Was Glastonbury lost (or at least mislaid) like Atlantis, sunk in a peat-bog perhaps, to be raised by a wave of Mr. Bond’s necromantic wand? Hardly. The great antiquaries all gave it due attention. Its spiritual mantle was sought both by a resurgent English Roman Catholicism and a then dominant, but increasingly insecure, High Anglicanism from the 1890’s when both held prominent Pilgrimages there. This was the background to the Abbey’s (then unprecedented) acquisition in 1907 in the interest of the Church of England, and the beginnings of excavation and quite extensive restoration. Despite an isolated reference (omitted from the book) to the Age of Aquarius, Bond had little of the ‘New Age’ about him, either in Blake’s or in our own terms. Both socially and as an architect he was a true Victorian. Nor, as Benham has shown, was he the first student of the esoteric to be drawn to Glastonbury. The author’s contention that it was Bond who put Glastonbury back in the ‘nation’s psyche’ for the first time since the Reformation is not sustainable.
If the book’s self-proclaimed virtues are suspect, however, it does not lack others. Its author’s voice is, mostly, congenial. It is well written and enlivened with flashes of humour. What might have been a dull tale of professional rivalries and antiquarian bickering unfolds with drama, even tragedy. We find here aspects of Bond very different from the obsessed, pathetic, figure of his later years already familiar from Kenawell’s pages. We meet Bond the pioneer of colour photography; Bond the illustrator; Bond the dashing suitor, who might have married a daughter of his cousin, the great Baring-Gould; Bond the funster who made spoof ghost photographs and introduced a free-range feral lemur to his aunts’ suburban home. The detailing of Bond’s architectural work will be welcome to many who may find pleasure in seeking out his surviving buildings. His skills (for his day) as an archaeological excavator and recorder are justly reassessed, although a curious omission concerns the Loretto chapel, whose correct identification by Bond the author has elsewhere refuted. Much other new information now appears in the public domain. We hear of Bond’s suspicions of Popish plotting by Dom Ethelbert Horne, his monkish successor in Glastonbury archaeology, and of Horne’s kindness. That money pledged to Bond’s search for the Grail eventually funded Radford’s mainstream excavations in the Abbey. We hear of St. Dunstan’s (wholly credible) invention of a velocipede – the ‘iron demon’ – and of Black Bear the wonder-horse. That Bond read Crowley and had links to offshoots of the Golden Dawn, and (topically) of his theory on the finding of Tutankhamun’s tomb. We learn more of Bond’s well-connected family, that his uxorial nemesis was known as ‘May,’ and of their bizarre ‘second’ church wedding. The partisan account of the marriage, however, is a major flaw. Superficial detail apart, it is perhaps of Bond the man that we learn least that is new.
We are directed instead to Bond’s esoteric thought, which is dealt with at some length. The book’s publicity has made much of the parallelism of Bond’s ‘Great Memory’ with Jung’s ‘collective unconscious.’ A committed Theosophist, he is surely likely to have owed much of his thought here to Madame Blavatsky’s discovery, barely mentioned in the text, of the ‘akashic record’ – that cosmic chronicle which, if only more reliable, would prove such a boon to more conventional historians. The author is perhaps least persuasive in distancing his hero (as Victorian Theosophists and ‘psychical researchers’ customarily distinguished themselves) from a narrowly defined spiritualism. A former theology student, he is rather excitable about the precise mode in which Bond is understood to have believed his various communicants to be actual personalities. He states that John Michell accused Bond of necromancy, whereas Michell, a sympathiser, was characterising the views of Bond’s opponents. Others may find themselves in tune with Herbert Thurston the Jesuit historian, who found his ideas ‘nebulous and obscure.’ We should also remember, none the less, that his times were not ours. Contemporary battle-lines between ‘Christianity’ and ‘the occult’ were then scarcely drawn and for many middle-class men Freemasonry, so prominent among Anglican churchmen, could respectably embrace both. It is still fervently believed in some Glastonian and other circles that Bond was a free-thinking martyr, a Galileo of psychical research, driven from the Abbey because of opposition by ‘the Church.’ Dr. Ball shows that Bond was in fact disgraced mainly by adverse publicity regarding his questionable dealings with his wife and daughter. For proof that he has done so in vain it is necessary to look no further than the review of his book by Jack Romano in Fortean Times (December 2007) in which the old tale is repeated. Mr. Bond has himself now entered the Glastonbury mythos and his biographer is likely to find that his legend is immune to reasoned critique.
Bond wrote of ghostly incense, but the effect of his books was to lend Glastonbury an air of the charnel-house which clung for a generation until – now an incredible fifty years ago! – Geoffrey Ashe threw open the windows once more with ‘King Arthur’s Avalon’ (1957, now re-issued by Gothic Image) and a fresh breeze began to blow. It could not then be foretold that a decade later it would waft in the stronger fragrances of patchouli oil and Indian hemp.
Much more remains to be said of Mr. Bond. In a minor key, he rather resembles John Dee, also a part of Glastonbury lore. Besides a concern with the symbolism of number, they share the curious phenomenon of dual mediumship, and its attempted use to offer a direct spiritual authority to a world in flux. Both were clever men, led to scandal, exile, and obscurity by will-o’the-wisps. This is not to be the last word, however. The author has acquired Mr. Bond’s copyrights, and we are promised re-issues of his works with critical apparatus, and hitherto unpublished material, in which we may hope to learn more of the mysteries of Greek gematria and the jolly misadventures of Brother Johannes. Dr. Ball compels us to take Mr. Bond seriously. Perhaps our efforts may yet prove worth our while. In the meantime, let us welcome this important study in Glastonbury’s twentieth-century history, and an affectionate portrait of a great English eccentric.
Subdeacon Paul Ashdown
Solrun Ness, The Mystical Language of Icons (Canterbury Press, 2005)
112 pp illustrated + bibliography ISBN 1-85311-657-2.
Alfredo Tradigo, Icons and Saints of the Eastern Orthodox Church (Getty Publications, 2006) 383 pp illustrated + bibliography ISBN 978-0-89236-845-7
These two small books are a welcome addition to the ever-growing library of books on icons, reflecting perhaps the interest of the general public in Orthodox devotional art. Both books would be equally at home on the library shelves of the general reader as well as the specialist, although Tradigo’s is perhaps of more use to the latter.
The Mystical Language of Icons provides a useful introduction not only to icons as devotional images but to the methods and materials by which they are created, and seems to be primarily a book for someone exploring Orthodoxy. The introductory section contains a clear, illustrated, step by step, guide to how icons are painted, a technique rooted in pre-Renaissance practice and a long way from most contemporary methods of painting. Preparing the wooden panel with size and gesso, applying the gilded background, then the colour, working from darker to lighter shades, and finally applying the varnish that protects the finished work, all is set out clearly in captioned photographs and in a supporting essay. The remainder of the introductory section covers such things as the history of the icon, the range of motifs employed, the difference between Greek and Russian methods of painting, and most importantly the difference between the icon and art in general. It seems the author is herself a Roman Catholic and she notes in an aside that the development of the icon in the Roman church was different from that in the ‘Orthodox and Oriental churches’, a somewhat unhelpful tautology. As tautologies go ‘Eastern and Oriental’ would have been much better and more up to date. But this is a small point. More importantly she notes that those who are interested in and knowledgeable about modern art may easily appreciate the icon from an aesthetic standpoint owing to certain similarities between abstract painting and the formal schematic and non-naturalistic character of the icon, but the icon is holy. Icons are ‘a glimpse of the divine’ and have a liturgical function.
The final part of the introductory section ‘Characteristics of Form’ contains a brief but good explanation of the use of inverse and inconsistent perspective, the typical schematic depiction of form and space in the icon. Other introductory books often deal with this subject in a way that either claims too much or ends up by baffling even the specialist reader. Nes puts it very clearly, although she might have chosen a better example than the icon of ‘Christ Emmanuel’ on page twenty-nine to demonstrate her argument.
The remainder of the book is occupied with a range of examples of icon motifs, from various Feasts of the Lord and scenes from His Life, to the Mother of God and selected saints of the church. All are illustrated by the author’s own paintings. Where appropriate the model is cited, for example in the icon of ‘The Entry into Jerusalem’ where the model is a mosaic from the Monastery of Dafni, Athens. The scope includes the occasional Roman example as in ‘Our Lady of Perpetual Help’, itself based on a Cretan model, or the ‘Triumph Crucifix’, an Italian-Byzantine model more reminiscent of Giotto or Cimabue, but these icons may be seen as adding a further personal and somewhat ecumenical feel to an already attractive book.
The importance of copying is another characteristic of the icon perhaps unfamiliar to those conversant with secular and modern art where ‘originality’ seems to be the perennial guiding principle, although ‘appropriation’, or copying in other words, is also current. In a brief introductory essay to Icons and Saints of the Eastern Orthodox Church Tradigo picks up on this very point. The icon as a copy, or even as a copy of a copy, he maintains, demonstrates the truth of the incarnation ‘as derived from the written testimony of the Gospels (and) from the tradition of the icons themselves, which faithfully reproduce the physical features of Jesus Christ’. This tradition is preserved in the icon painting manuals which the painter is supposed to copy faithfully. This is an important point for it marks the icon out as being more than a product of mere artistic activity.
Again, the remainder of the book is given over to illustrating and discussing a wide range of icons. Here the examples are taken not from the author’s own paintings but from icons in museums, churches and monasteries throughout the Byzantine Orthodox world, and from at least the sixth century to the modern period, including an icon of St Ephraim the Syrian painted in 1965. The subject range is correspondingly greater than that given by Nes and the information more comprehensive. The layout is reminiscent of that adopted by Dorling Kindersley travel guides with many supplementary illustrations and margin notes on the page. It can be off-putting at first but it is well worth the extra effort. Nevertheless, the presentation is clear and the illustrations, for a book of this size, superb.
Both books have short but good bibliographies, and Tradigo’s has in addition a glossary, more Greek than Russian, but useful in helping those with limited knowledge of Orthodoxy to understand what is being represented or discussed. Both serve a purpose. If you know little or nothing about the technical aspects of icon painting and want to know more, then Nes would be a good place to start, while Tradigo provides for the specialist as well as the general reader an excellent and compact guide to a huge subject.
Subdeacon Michael Kennedy
Gillian Crow, Orthodoxy for Today, (Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, London); ISBN 978-0-281-05855-6 160pp. £9.99
There is much to enjoy in this introduction to Orthodoxy. It is generally written in an engaging, readable style. Among several insightful observations into Lent we find: “The mood of the Great Fast is often described as ‘bright sadness’ in that the joyful expectation of preparing ourselves for Easter runs hand in hand with the sorrow we feel as we uncover layer upon layer of sinfulness we had left conveniently buried during the rest of the year.”
The author’s observations concerning Advent are similarly insightful and relevant for today, including: “The beauty of this Winter fast, with its mounting expectation of the birth of the Saviour, its sense of peace and tranquillity amid the bustle of the secular razzmatazz going on around, is something precious which we struggle to preserve. Furthermore, it is extremely practical. Christmas dinner is all the more appreciated after a fast, and the festive food carries us through the real Christmas season, for we save our celebrations for the Twelve Days of Christmas, that is the feast of the Nativity itself and the following days…”
Her appreciation of the twelve days certainly struck a chord with this reviewer – one of my pet hates is being asked the day after Boxing Day and occasionally even on Boxing Day, “Did you have a good Christmas?” To which I always feel like retorting, “Yes and I jolly well still am, thank you – I’m only on the second day!”
Many observations and delightful turns of phrase illustrate a variety of topics through the Church year, worship, the holy mysteries, personal prayer, God in His creation, including ecology…
But for all that is positive about this volume, certain reservations remain. There is the author’s wording in apparent support of “the eventual acceptance of women priests in Orthodoxy”. There “is a point that some enlightened and brave Orthodox have begun to suggest in recent years”: in her response at the Annunciation “Mary was performing exactly the same function as a priest” in the epiclesis and in “this sense she could be called the first priest of the Christian Church.” That use of the word ‘enlightened’ troubles me. If these brave Orthodox are enlightened there seems to me, by definition, an implication against those who being true to the Tradition, the received source of the Faith, reject the ordination of women as Orthodox Christian priests. Now this could just be careless wording on the author’s part but given the occasional comments in this area of her spiritual father, the late Metropolitan Anthony, it could indicate a certain trend of thought.
Then there is her unfortunate wording concerning the “Monophysites, those who declared that Christ had only one nature” who rejected the Council of Chalcedon’s declaration of “belief in the two natures of Christ, human and divine, united in one Person.” Wow ! – now doesn’t that need a good deal of unpacking, rewording and clarification to say the very least. And who were these Monophysites who rejected Chalcedon? “Local Churches such as the Coptic Church of Egypt and the Syrian Church were thus separated from the Universal Church”!!! She then fleetingly mentions “recent…discussion” between, as they are sometimes now known, “the Byzantine Orthodox and the Oriental or Non-Chalcedonian Orthodox” and that their “differences…appear less distinct than…in the fifth century.”
I did spot an admittedly very brief mention (practically in passing) of the ex-Anglicans of the Antiochian mission but did not find any mention at all of the British Orthodox Church.
This I suppose is my main criticism of this book. It’s not that it’s a bad book; indeed, it has much to recommend it. I suppose, I would have been happier if the title were Russian Orthodoxy for Today or maybe Russian Orthodoxy in England Today. Though even here I do wonder about this paragraph: “The Russian community in Britain, as elsewhere outside Russia, had been split as a result of the 1917 Revolution. As well as the Moscow Patriarchate…the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia… was also present. They were not in communion with one another. However, in May 2007 these two jurisdictions worldwide restored communion, although not administrative union. The previous year the majority of the Diocese of Sourozh, the Patriarchal diocese in Britain, had in any case left the jurisdiction of Moscow and was accepted into the Exarchate of Churches of Russian Tradition in Western Europe under the Ecumenical Patriarch. It is now established as a vicariate.” I am not convinced that this bald account (again, almost in passing) does justice to the recent painful experiences of Russian Orthodox Christians in this country.
Of course many of the points made in the book apply to any Orthodox jurisdiction but I came away feeling that this book concentrates on one Byzantine Orthodox Church in a way that, to this reader, somehow excluded the others, never mind the Oriental Orthodox Churches. Now this is not to say that there is anything wrong with writing a book on one particular Orthodox Church (and a number of worthwhile such books exist) but this book appears to be an attempt to introduce Orthodox Christianity generally… Perhaps an additional chapter setting the Russian Orthodox Church in this country more clearly in the context of wider Orthodoxy together with further examples drawn more widely from other expressions of Orthodoxy might have helped.
On balance, I am not convinced that this would be a good book to offer to enquirers. It would be a shame though to lose the valuable and worthwhile perceptions offered – so perhaps it is a book for the shelves of more established Orthodox, those with a teaching role either official or unofficial.
Father Simon Smyth
Joseph Seferta, The Chaldean Church of Iraq: A Story of Survival, Blackfriars Publications.
The recent kidnapping of Archbishop Paulos Faraj Rahho of the Chaldean Catholic Church of Mosul; the murder of his driver and guards and the subsequent discovery of his body in a shallow grave, vividly demonstrate the suffering of the Christians of Iraq. These are not some foolhardy Catholic clergy who ventured into the chaos that is modern Iraq but the dwindling remnant of an ancient Church which once flourished and then survived for two thousand years.
Christians today make up barely 3% of the population of Iraq, of which the Chaldean Catholic Church represents at least 75% of the Christian population. Tracing its origins to the ancient Church of Edessa it preserves the Aramaic language of our Lord and His Apostles and derives from the East Syrian tradition of Christianity. Under the Persian Sassanid Empire it witnessed to the faith against Zoroastrian persecution; its bishops and theologians played their part in the councils of the undivided church and at Ephesus in 431 the Catholicos-Patriarch of Seleucia-Ctesiphon was recognised as the spiritual head of a church, which by the 7th and 8th centuries had bishops and metropolitans in sees stretching as far as Central China.
Successive conquests by Muslims and Mongols and the adoption of the Nestorian heresy led to a diminution and isolation, which left the Church confined to its ancient Mesopotamian heartlands, controlled by powerful clans and weakened by division. In the 14th century the Patriarchate became hereditary, generally descending from uncle to nephew, enabling Catholic missionaries to intervene actively to end this abuse, purge the Church of heresy and restore communion with the See of Rome. From the 16th century a Chaldean Patriarch of Babylon in communion with Rome existed alongside an independent Nestorian Catholicos of the Assyrians. Such was the confusion that in time the Catholic Patriarchs lapsed into schism and became Nestorian, whilst the Nestorian Patriarchs submitted to Rome and became Chaldeans !
This narrative reveals how the nineteenth century Patriarchs clung on tenaciously to their own traditions whilst being bullied into submission by Rome. In more modern times they have been forced into an increasingly high-profile role where they have become the respected spokesmen for all Iraqi Christians but have suffered the consequences for that. Unfairly accused by Islamist factions of being in league with the western ‘Christian’ invaders they suffer kidnapping, murder, rape destruction of churches from the former, whilst receiving indifference or proselytising from fundamentalist Protestants.
“The Coalition has failed the Christians” is an accurate judgement on their desperate situation and it is to be hoped that Joseph Seferta’s admirable booklet will remind Western Christians of the plight of their brethren in Iraq. Brave men, like Archbishop Sako of Kirkuk and Bishop Audo of Aleppo try hard to improve relations between the Muslim and Christian communities and the Vatican’s support for Patriarch Emmanuel III Delly, symbolised by his creation as a ‘Cardinal of the Holy Church’ show a determination not to sink without trace, but minorities under threat need more than our sympathy if they are to survive.
At the dedication of the Chalice Well cover, 1.11.1919: Central Somerset Gazette, 14.11.1919.
See now, for, example, Adam Stout, The Thorn and the Waters, Miraculous Glastonbury in the Eighteenth Century, 2008, also reviewed here.