Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Church of the Isles

From chapter 6 of Church of the Isles – a prophetic strategy for renewal, by Ray Simpson, published by Kevin Mayhew, 2003.

The Orthodox throughout the world venerate the saints of the first millenium in every land and regard the church in Celtic lands in that period as the Orthodox Church. The glory of the Orthodox Church is its continuity, which its liturgies enshrine. It claims to be the only true church. However, it has little chance of becoming the ‘People’s Church’ in Western lands unless it faces up to at least two challenges.

The first challenge is that many Eastern Orthodox Churches have become so culture-friendly that they are little more than the religious arm of nationalism, failing to combat dreadful atrocities in some lands and deep animosities towards fellow Orthodox and non-Orthodox in other lands. On the day in 1917 that ushered in 70 years of Communist tyranny in Russia, the Holy Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church was in conclave. Its agenda? The colour of vestments. It missed the revolution.

The second challenge is to Orthodox Churches in the West: by placing themselves under the jurisdiction of a patriarch from the Eastern Church, how can they claim to be the indigenous Church in the West?

The Celtic Orthodox Church has tried to address this. It sees itself as the Orthodox Church in Celtic lands (mainly Britain and France) and believes that its style and liturgy should therefore be indigenous. For this reason, although its bishop is in the apostolic succession and has been consecrated by a Syrian Orthodox patriarch, it will not place itself under the jurisdiction of a patriarch from the East. In their liturgy, unlike Eastern Orthodoxy, they allow people to see through the screen to the inner sanctuary in order to emphasise that the church is open to all and is not just for a select few priests.

The heartbeat of the Celtic Orthodox Church is the monastery at St Dol, Brittany. Here six monks have lived holy lives for 20 years. In that time they have never purchased food; they rely for their food on what the people place in large baskets at each Sunday liturgy. These monks seek to build loving relationships with Catholics and others; and they reach out to young people, teaching them and accompanying their convoys of aid to stricken areas of Europe. Other aspects of this church, however, breathe the atmosphere of political machination.

A third challenge is that the Orthodox liturgy and church culture, which adherents claim to be original and essentially unalterable, does not, in fact, derive from the New Testament so much as from the time when the Roman Emperor Constantine made the Church the official religion of the Empire. God and the saints are cast in the imperial image. So when Orthodox Churches are founded in countries far removed form that empire in time and mentality, they are in fact alienating rather than saving institutions.

Did Orthodoxy stop doing theology creatively after the first seven Councils of the Church? Can it extricate itself from the imperial stream in which it was then swimming?
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