- June 26th, 18:38
Remember Faust in his cell on Easter morning, wishing ‘Dass ich erkenne, was die Welt, im Innersten zusammenhält’ (to know what in its depths, holds the world together’)?
As a Christian cleric I cannot take Faust’s route of magic and Mephistopheles, but more than once this week I have had the sense of ‘seeing through a glass darkly’, as friends ask me for explanations, on the Russian Orthodox Church’s absence from the Orthodox Council being held in Crete, and on Brexit (and yes, in that order).
On the Russian absence, yes, I can spin the party line (“it’s all or none”), but I owe a little more that that to my close Catholic friends, many of whom are following it with considerably more interest than most Orthodox I know, including myself. Some commentators tell a story of internal jealousies, the eternal rivalry between the Ecumenical Patriarchate, whose real importance is almost entirely historical (its only real base is Greek-speaking Orthodoxy outside Greece, and in particular in America - bringing accusations of being in American – and CIA – pay). This rivalry makes for easy journalism, but is only half the truth. I am beginning to suspect something else: a deep incompatibility of mindsets: put at its simplest Orthodoxy’s fundamental mindset remains that of Emperor + Patriarch. The Ecumenical Patriarchate is very much a patriarch without emperor, while Russia has almost the only effective Emperor (= Putin) + Patriarch combination. Patriarch + parliamentary democracy is a poor substitute, thin beer, especially in the absence of a monarch (Greece, Romania and Bulgaria and Serbia having all lost theirs since 1945).
Brexit has revealed some ugly cracks in English society, which Europe had papered over. Very roughly, the poor voted massively against, the rich for, especially the younger rich. Scotland and Northern Ireland were almost entirely for staying, and could well leave the union. London probably would if it could but it can’t. The question I ask is whether the UK (or perhaps just England + Wales) can tell itself a meaningful enough story to give itself identity and momentum, and yes, whether the ‘establishment’, the 2-3% who basically call the shots in the country, will be committed to this going forward story. I am far from certain: certainly I believe what one commentator says that one of the biggest problems in negotiating the out will be a lack of senior civil servants (‘mandarins’ in Whitehall slang) committed to leaving. What I fear most is a return to the tensions of pre-Thatcherite England, A working class angry, but with no viable script for the future, and a moneyed class defending its privileges, especially via the health and education systems. This was the England I was glad to turn my back on in the 1970s.
Truth is complex. Nor is it always very rational.