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British Orthodox clergy speak at Moorland’s Bible College

At the invitation of Alistair McKitterick, Tutor and Lecturer in Biblical and Theological Studies, two British Orthodox priests delivered lectures this month to students at Moorlands Bible College, Sopley, Christchurch, Hampshire.  On 5 November Father Peter Farrington lectured on prayer and one week later, 12 November, Father Simon Smyth gave a richly illustrated presentation on icons.

Introducing himself as both a former Moorlands student (from the late ‘eighties) and a former evangelical Christian enabled his evangelical audience to more easily relate to Father Peter and more easily identify with his lecture.  Referring to the teaching of Evagrius that if “you are a theologian you truly pray” and if “you truly pray you are a theologian” Father Peter emphasised the importance of knowing God through the encounter in prayer rather than academically knowing things about God.  The lecture ranged through Saints Cyril of Jerusalem, John Cassian, John Chrysostom, Moses the Black and others, referring also to the contemporary Orthodox writings of Metropolitan Kallistos Ware.  Father Peter was careful to emphasise the apophatic approach and how closer encounters with God in prayer contrast with the modern tendency to almost analyse or understand God.  In a wide ranging talk Father Peter also spoke on the importance of fasting and, of course, the Jesus Prayer.

Father Simon gave his presentation on icons at Moorlands for the fifth time (first visiting the college in 2009).  The classic text of Saint John of Damascus was discussed and the Incarnation emphasised again and again as the requirement for icons:  the “very heart of Christianity is Christ, God incarnate, God made flesh….   To see Jesus is to see the (otherwise) invisible God.”  The union of God with man in accordance with the teaching of Saint Cyril the Great of Alexandria was emphasised.  “To speak His Name is to speak the Name of God.  To see His Face is to see the Face of God.  To depict Him is to depict God.”  Several icons were analysed in more detail including a modern icon of our Lord God and Saviour Jesus Christ:

iconmorrbib1

And an icon of the Apocalypse:

 iconmorrbib2

Several different icons of the Good Shepherd were contrasted, then of Saint Moses the Black and also of Saint Simon the Tanner; 12 November being the first of the three days added to the Advent Fast in perpetual memory of the three days of fasting and Saint Simon’s part in God’s miraculous deliverance of the Coptic Orthodox Church in the tenth century.

Some students however acceptable they found the theology of the presentation clearly struggled with an emotional response to the idea of kissing an icon.  Father Simon’s honesty in frankly acknowledging (though now the most natural thing in the world for him) how difficult he had once found it, with his then evangelical protestant background, to force himself to first kiss an icon seemed to help facilitate discussion around this.  The session finished with all present each sitting in prayerful silence for a few minutes before an icon of our Lord God and Saviour Jesus Christ.

Ikon Lecture at Moorlands Bible College

On 8 November, Father Simon Smyth, accompanied by his wife Sheila returned once again to Moorlands Bible College to lecture on iconography.  A double session had been booked by Alistair McKitterick, Tutor and Lecturer in Biblical and Theological Studies, thus allowing plenty of time following the lecture for questions and discussion.  Why we kiss icons and what it means to kiss them; the distinction between worship of God and veneration of icons manifesting Christ our God; Christology; the goodness of creation and matter; prayer and spirituality were among a host of related topics considered. A number of these were helpfully and insightfully fielded by Sheila Smyth, displaying a female touch, and providing a useful contrast to Father Simon’s sometimes academic responses.  Further questions and discussions continued over an excellent dinner.

Father Simon lectures at Moorlands Bible College

At the request of Alistair McKitterick, Tutor and Lecturer in Biblical and Theological Studies, Father Simon Smyth returned once again to Moorlands Bible College, on Wednesday 21st March, to give an illustrated lecture on iconography.  This was the fourth time he had lectured on this subject.  He was gratified to meet in reception a student who had now graduated with a First Class Honours degree present at last year’s lecture and had clearly enjoyed it, explaining that his highest mark was for the Spirituality module which included iconography.

The lecture considered many aspects of iconography including the apparent prohibition on images in the Ten Commandments.  Father Simon explained that these verses in Exodus must be understood in the light and context of other Old Testament verses which showed that there were images of cherubim on the very Ark of the Covenant itself, on the veil or curtain of the Holy of Holies, on the doors, the walls, the furnishings and there were two huge cherubim in the sanctuary, then added that Orthodox Christians also love to see images or icons of angels when we worship and there was an audible intake of breath and a soft “Wow!” from one of the students at the next illustration, from the ceiling of an Ethiopian Church:

The lecture continued that Orthodox go further than the Old Testament worshippers, “we dare to depict not only the angels who worship God but even God Whom they worship…” and so began a consideration of Christology, that as God had become physical and material so physical or material icons declared and proclaimed the truth of the Incarnation.

 

There was a detailed analysis of a modern Coptic icon of our Lord God and Saviour Jesus Christ, explaining the significance of the halo (sign of divinity), the cross within the halo (it is the Crucified One Who is God), the Alpha and Omega, the seven-branched candlestick, the sun, moon and stars, the four incorporeal creatures, His throne heaven, the earth His footstool – and the one finger raised in blessing, one finger with three joints symbolic of the Holy Trinity, One God yet Three Persons and also symbolic of the true Christology of our Oriental Orthodox Christian Faith in the One Nature of God the Word Incarnate.

Several students commented how helpful they had found the lecture, especially the emphasis on Christology being at the heart of our Orthodox Faith, how what we believe about Christ informs what we then believe about everything else.

Father Simon returns to Moorlands Bible College

On Monday 14 March, in response to an invitation by Alistair McKitterick, Tutor and Lecturer in Biblical and Theological Studies, Father Simon gave an illustrated lecture on Ikons to students at Moorlands Bible College near Sopley in the New Forest. This was the third year he had been invited to lecture on this subject. The lecture included the theological justification and requirement for ikons as well as analyses of specific teaching points in various ikons. A good discussion with several students followed which widened beyond the specifics of ikonography to how we learn through participation in worship and being present in holy places.


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