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Φωνη βοωντος εν τη ερημω: ετοιμασατε την οδον κυριου
intellibear
ursusanglicanus

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.



New reads - Gustav Frenssen
intellibear
ursusanglicanus


Just occasionally an author grabs me and I read one novel after another. After German author Ernst Wiechert, almost the only writer I have ever read twice, there is his countryman Gustav Frenssen, whose Otto Biebendeck and Der Pastor von Poggenpohl I have both devoured during the past couple of months.

Gustav Frenssen (1863 to 1945), the son of a cabinetmaker, was a Protestant pastor who, when an early book,
Jörn Uhl, became a best-seller in 1901, quit to devote himself full-time to writing.

Frenssen lacks the depth of his near-contemporary Ernst Wiechert (1887-1950), but spins a better yarn, and also has stronger female characters (Wiechert is weak here). Both share a common Protestant background, but one senses a greater sense of spiritual struggle with Wiechert. Wiechert went against the Nazis, and it was a near-miracle that his most famous work ‘Das einsame Leben’ was published at all, while Frenssen’s religious-nationalism took him towards the Nazis and he has been sharply criticised for his nationalism and anti-semitism.

Otto Biebendeck is the life of an orphan boy in northern Germany from around 1880 through to just after WWI. A dozen characters weave in and out of each other’s lives, in the countryside and small towns, some better drawn than others (his wife Gesa vom Gang, a passionate sailor who eventually drowns, or the drunken artist Eilart, are particularly well drawn) and with a few jumps which test the limits of probability, like Otto’s journey to the USA in 1917 or his meeting up with nearly every male character at different places during the war. But the plot moves at the right pace and, simply, Frenssen is a good raconteur: his characters continue to play through my mind a week after finishing the book. Underlying it all is a deep sense of humanity – curiously similar to Dickens – which leaves one feeling better for having read the book.

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As I said to my son .....
intellibear
ursusanglicanus


If Christianity is not about freedom and joy, I'm on the wrong train .....

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Priesthood under threat
intellibear
ursusanglicanus
As I read things, priesthood is under threat in two major parts of the Christian church: in the RC church from the increasing shortage of vocations; in the Orthodox church, from growing resistance to the manners of a priestly caste and the monopoly it assumes of Christian teaching and sacraments.

I ask myself: are we moving inexorably towards a much more radical – and frightening - re-think? How should Christian community operate in today’s social-educational structures: how can the traditional priest-based structure, and its monopoly of the Eucharist, be changed without ensuing chaos? What is the position of the non-priest holy (wo)man, elder/eldress, prophet(ess) in all this? Is the traditional patriarchal/nuclear-family-as-little-church model that underlies much of the existing model sustainable in a post-contraception, gender-equality, world? It is not a debate I particularly relish – religion is a subtle thing and babies quickly get thrown out with the bathwater in reform movements. In particular people have a need for rite and mystery and if the church walks away from it, God knows which other force will fill the gap. But I fear we cannot avoid it either.

Perhaps horror horrorum, for all the bad press it gets in the Orthodox world, am starting to quietly respect parts of the Anglican communion for their readiness to face the challenge of changing situations, in the persons of Archbishops Justin Welby, Michael Curry and their like.

Not quite accidental
intellibear
ursusanglicanus
I can’t quite believe it was accidental. For our traditional mid-term holiday we had planned to visit Berlin, Dresden, and Prague and a row of late Gothic hall churches on the German-Czech border.

For various reasons, our itinerary ended up as Magdeburg – Brandenburg – Wittenberg ­– Naunburg – Merseburg – Weissenfels – Halle. As Wittenberg suggests (a snap decision: we saw the sign on the motorway and said ‘We can’t not go there’) this is Protestant Reformation heartland.

As I read panel after panel in exhibition after exhibition about the Reformation (I have fluent German), a question that has been needling me for two or three years came into sharp perspective: at what stage of disenchantment with what one’s existing church offers is one justified, before God, in challenging the status quo, including disobedience to church practice and calling publicly for reform? And how to do so without jeopardizing one’s deeper spiritual life. Is a life of deep prayer compatible with public action for reform? As one Catholic monastic novice master said tellingly: “once a man starts planning to reform the order, it tells me he has lost the primary thrust of his vocation”. For myself: I have made myself a reasonably comfortable nest in the Orthodox Church, largely by flying below the radar, and with considerable input from non-Orthodox sources which are out of reach for most of my fellow-Orthodox and which Orthodox purists would frown on. Do I start writing and talking much more publicly about the reform which I believe we have to undergo, or do I concentrate on helping produce that mass of prayer (a ‘head of spiritual steam’) that historically has preceded any real revival/reformation?

On Catholicism's northern border
intellibear
ursusanglicanus
I was in Mechelen yesterday for Elia's ordination. Of the eight RC seminarians I have taken to Athos over the past five years, and whose ordinations I am later invited to, he is the one Fleming, and the ordination therefore took place in Mechelen, in Flanders, not in Brussels.


Not the best photos, but all I could lay hands on this morning.

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The service was moving, well choreographed (at least for the priests) and well vested.Read more...Collapse )

This was the only priestly ordination in Flanders this year. Read more...Collapse )
I spoke briefly with the Cardinal afterwardsRead more...Collapse )

The fly on the hermit's wall
intellibear
ursusanglicanus
If I were in the cell of a hermit, witness to him or her speaking directly with God, and God speaking to him or her about the current rupture between two significant parts of the Orthodox Church, what would I see and hear? Tears, I suspect foremost, hours of them, prostrate on the ground, with a searing sense of something gone very deeply wrong. Neither the man or woman of God or God Himself will be pointing fingers at particular people, dates or events - they will be taking the long view -, though floating in the background will be the question of how a church should be led and the adequacy of the current key players:  Bartholomew, Kirill, Hilarion, Onufri, Filaret and those supporting them. An awareness, I suspect, of a need for deep prayer, lots and lots of it, without which a church is built on sand and not on rock, and the need for silent waiting on God, including the readiness to hear Him say that structures and forms deemed immutable are inappropriate today and will have to be discarded.

This secret prayer builds up spiritual capital and good things happen – almost certainly such an accumulation of prayer and the sufferings of the Russian church permitted the breaking free in 1988, but is a capital that does not last, and I sense that is right now nearly exhausted, and will need to be rebuilt in a long and silent process.

Much of this prayer is going, I suspect, to be very hidden, often by people with no official labels (‘hermit’) or uniforms or vows. It is they as much as Bartholemew, Kirill, Hilarion, Onufri, Philaret and their successors, who will carry our church for the next several years.

Startsi (Elders)
intellibear
ursusanglicanus
The fact of reading and quoting startsi does not make you a staretz, it just makes you someone who reads and quotes startsi.

A taste of heaven
intellibear
ursusanglicanus
As a spiritual exercise, try thinking hard on what heaven really means for you. Chase all the angels with harps on a cloud into a corner, and try and work out what is really the hope that one longs for, and believes will be realized in the ‘second life’, however one conceives it.  In your own words and your own images. Because if we are unable to express that hope, to sense this promise awaiting us, our spiritual and church world becomes constricted and suffocating, and we die spiritually

A Cry is Heard
intellibear
ursusanglicanus



I have just finished with much pleasure the newly-published book ‘A Cry is heard’[i], the ‘memoir, spiritual autobiography and a call to unity’ of Jean Vanier. JV is Canadian and the founder of L’Arche, which since the 1960s has set up across the world a string of houses where mentally handicapped people live in community along with ‘normal’ assistants. An early book of his, ‘La Communauté, lieu de pardon et lieu de fête’ published in 1979, was partly responsible for my 2-year stint in a monastery in the early 1980s.

It is the story of a deeply Christian man, now aged 89 and counting his days,

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It is a story of

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I very much like his insistence

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[i] Darton, Longman and Todd 2018, original French version: Un cri se fait entendre: Bayard, 2017

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