Φωνη βοωντος εν τη ερημω: ετοιμασατε την οδον κυριου

This is meant as an informal blog.

When it comes to religious items, I would stress that these are my personal opinions, and not those of the Russian Orthodox Church which I belong to.

Most of what I write is 'friends only' (pod zankom). This is because the informal rules governing public questioning of Church positions are considerably tighter in Russia than they are in Western Europe. There is no tradition of 'loyal dissent' as there is in the Anglo-Saxon world. Which is why I am fairly careful before opening the door.

Russian friends: feel free to comment in your own language... I read Russian, but writing is just too difficult...

Для русских гостей -
Вы можете оставлять комментарии на русском языке, избегая слишком сложных и слэнговых оборотов.
Также в ответ на мои комментарии на английском можно отвечать по-русски.

Racism and nationalism
‘Are you a racist?’ my Greek friend asked me, when I insisted on the UK’s right to decide who may or may not enter the country. The words stung. I needed to go away and think ....

‘Race’ and ‘nation’, and particularly the adjectives ‘racist’ and ‘nationalist’ have become very negatively connoted here in Europe, especially since the defeat of Nazism, where racist theories ended in mass murder, and the attempt to build a multinational Europe. A Europe which, I would add, after just about embracing multi-nationalism, is finding itself, with the recent migrant ‘invasions’ (uninvited and almost impossible to remove) forced into a multi-racialism not of its choosing.

Are ‘race’ and ‘nation’ outdated concepts?

I hesitate. There is a spiritual rule that the devil never pays his own taxi: he takes something inherently good and with a strong dynamic and redirects it away from its original destination, to the Old Kent Road instead of Mayfair (using a Monopoly image), to the red-light district instead of to church. And our immediate reaction is to over-react, we stop using taxis at all. Or, to use another image, we throw out the baby with the bathwater. Could it be that this is happening with the concepts of ‘race’ and ‘nation’?

In other words, is there a good sense of ‘race’ or ‘nation’ or ‘people’?

Certainly the concept of ‘race’ or ‘people’ seems deeply ingrained, instinctive, like the sexual drive. And just as the sexual drive can be channelled (marriage) or sublimated to another level (celibacy), but if clumsily blocked, will cause havoc and return to haunt one, so too, I suspect, race and nation.

I have no immediate and easy answer. This one is en chantier as the French say. For the time being I just state a question and a doubt.

Have one year visa - can now travel to Russia
Finally …. Three months and four days after starting the process, I now have a one-year Russian multivisa in my passport. A pile-up of delays: ‘big’ visas take a month at least in Moscow, my friend who kindly arranged it was on holiday when it arrived, the post from Moscow to Brussels took over two weeks, the friend who arranges things with the Embassy here was also away when it arrived Anyhow, I have it, and can come and go fairly freely between now and 4 May 2018.
Plans: immediate: as soon as I can after July 6 to Ioshkar Ola to do a carpentry job, possibly staying the weekend before that in Moscow.

Possibly again later in the year if wanted to help on the iconostasis project our woodworker friend from southern Russia has won with my wife’s help (she is doing the icons). Again almost certainly via Moscow.

Also to give a lecture on ‘Truth and fable on Christianity and Europe’ in Moscow sometime in the early autumn: basically an intelligent Christian’s guide to Europe, especially for those with little or no experience of Europe, i.e. the way Christians here view the political, moral and spiritual situation in Europe and their involvement in it, and to confront Christian approaches here to justice and morality with those which are current in Russia. One session is planned in Moscow, but I would be happy to repeat it in St Petersburg, Voronezh or elsewhere.

I am also keen to make contacts with the Old Believers: I sense they are an important part of the Russian ‘jigsaw puzzle’. I reckon I have 60% of the Russian jigsaw puzzle in place, but that the Old Believers could give me some important additional pieces ….

A messy week ......
It’s been a messy sort of week, going a bit in all directions:

- I have finished the 14th century English religious classic ‘The Cloud of Unknowing’.
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- Inevitably I get asked about the British political scene, post-Brexit and after the surprise of a snap election going the wrong way. Read more...Collapse )

- My older son has just announced that he is staying on in Australia with his female partner. Read more...Collapse )

Pentecost has left me a little foxed .....

(to be foxed: (slighly colloquial) = to be confused)

Having just gone through the (nearly) full cycle of the Pentecost liturgy (in Orthodoxy we run Pentecost Sunday and Trinity Sunday together on the Sunday and Monday) I remain a little foxed.  Basically, taking the main liturgical texts (the Bible readings and the special ‘kneeling prayers’ of the Vesper service tacked onto the Sunday liturgy) the reference to the Holy Spirit, which is what Pentecost is all about, appears seems, prima facie, distinctly understated and one-sided.

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Two very English religious books
Two books have accompanied me in spare hours during the past two weeks.

Julian of Norwich. The statue is, if my memory serves me well,
next to the great west door of Norwich cathedral

The first is ‘Revelations of Divine Love’, written in the opening years of the 15th century by English anchorite and mystic Julian of Norwich. Read more...Collapse )

The second book, which I finished in a single sitting, is the biography of medieval historian and exclaustrated Benedictine monk Dom David Knowles (1896-1974) by his near-contemporary Dom Adrian Moray. Read more...Collapse )

Cistercian musings
I have just finished with much pleasure Louis Bouyer’s ‘The Cistercian Heritage’. Written in the mid-1950s by this eminent French theologian, it presents briefly the lives and writings of five 5 leading twelfth century Cistercians, starting with St Bernard himself.

Rievaulx Abbey - a haunting reminder of the heyday of
Cistercian monasticism in northern England

Bouyer describes succinctly how the Cistercian order, in first decades of the twelfth century, offers a new form of monasticism which moves forward from that Cluny, the great spiritual and humanizing force of the previous century and a half. Read more...Collapse )
The Cistercians’ founders, Robert, Alberic and above all Bernard, want something more than this. Read more...Collapse )
Bouyer concentrates on five main figures: Read more...Collapse )
For conservative Orthodox, this period and these writers are off-limits. Read more...Collapse )

Humility and glory
This is very much an ‘essay’: an attempt to put my ideas together. If anyone thinks I’m going off-course, please tell me.

‘Glory’ is a word we are a little reticent about.  Yet it is clearly fundamental to our Christian vocation. The writer of the Hebrews speaks of God ‘bringing many sons to glory’ (Heb. 2.10). St Paul to the Corinthians talks of God’s hidden purpose of our coming to glory (1. Cor. 2.7). And indeed, Christ speaks in the High Priestly prayer in John 17 of having already given the glory to his disciples: ‘The glory that thou gavest me I have given to them’ (δέδωκα αὐτοῖς – perfect tense)’.

This why I feel uneasy with a constant breast-beating ‘I’m a sinner, I’m a pig’ attitude, which I find for example in ‘andrej­_2006’’s part of the dialogue in http://marygrove.livejournal.com/448229.html#comments.

Yes, we may certainly have behaved sinfully, ‘swinefully’, in our lives. And further on in our spiritual development we may be acutely aware both the sinfulness around us and of the structures of sin which remain deep inside us. But we must not define ourselves by sin, but rather by glory. Sin is by essence a stranger to the human race, an intrusion from outside. It is something we are not made for, whereas for glory we are made.

St Paul tells his Roman readers in Romans 12:3 ‘not to be conceited or think too highly of themselves, but to come to a sober estimate of themselves’. I wonder whether ‘to think too lowly of oneself’ is not an equal sin, and indeed may be rooted rather perversely in the same pride: both can be ways of setting oneself aside from humanity, making oneself someone ‘special’. Not to mention, in the latter case, as an excuse for not pulling one’s weight in the Christian and wider community. It can also be an excuse for not opening ourselves up to the painfulness of conversion and inner cleansing. Sin can be mediocre, but it can be perversely comfortable.

Someone will bring up here the argument of the importance of humility, often closely connected in the Russian mind with sense of sin and need for repentance. Dare I suggest humility is ultimately not about sin at all, but about our absolute dependency on God, a dependency not predicated on our sinfulness (‘we need God because we are sinners’), but simply because God made us to be ‘partakers of the divine nature’ (2 Peter 1.4).

And when repentance is necessary, it is not grovelling pokayanie, ‘I’m a swine, I’m a swine’, that God wants, but truth, and the courage to look honestly at what we are, to accept the fullness, the ‘glory’ that God wants for us, to say ‘no, in fact, with Your help, I am not a swine’, and saying this to take up our beds and walk.

Why I am not 'Western Orthodox'
An Orthodox convert friend of mine, Belgian, wrote elsewhere in reply to my ‘Welsh interlude’ posting: ‘Here are my roots - Western Orthodoxy, from Alps to Scotland... Not Romanian Orthodox, Greek, Russian, certainly not the lately arrived Roman Catholicism of course.’ (English slightly corrected)

My question to him – and without wanting to impugn in any way his sincerity or godliness –: ‘can one have “roots” in ‘Western Orthodoxy’?

I admit I have my doubts on at least five counts:
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Welsh interlude

My first holiday in Wales, on a sheep farm at age 6, I spent sick in bed, recovering in time for the sheep-shearing and dipping. The second it rained thirteen days out of fourteen. My first Scout camp at age 12 was spent scrounging for rare firewood and half the tents (not ours mercifully) came down in a heavy rainstorm. Four years later, at a Bible class camp, during another rainy night, the boundary of the local bog extended to under our tent, soaking me and my bible, though the walk off the mountain the next morning, with the stream rain-swollen running beside the track is a rare exulting memory of my pubescent years.

Why then be interested in Wales, apart perhaps for the scenery?Read more...Collapse )


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