In the midst of madness

Facebook and other avenues of information are producing some quite horrifying tendencies. One was a video of some people tearing down Confederate statues in America as a kind of belated revenge for the Civil War. I have never really sympathised with American history and what made the background to today’s hysteria. The ingredients seem to be there for what happened in Europe in the 1930’s with the dictatorships (I’m not talking about Trump) and the so-called “antifias”, but a profound and terrifying mystery: that of evil.

Nazi Germany was a kind of death cult that involved more than politics and violence: it demanded the total and all-compassing obedience of all the people of Germany and then the occupied countries. There are many studies of this phenomenon from philosophical and psychological points of view. Some of Berdyaev’s most profound work was written from about 1933, the point when Hitler took over Germany and democracy was finished. The Führer‘s power increased as more and more blame was put on the Jewish people and the so-called “sub-humans”. Your death is my life, unlike the sacrifice of Christ: his death being our life. In this, we see the true Antichrist in all its horror.

The influence of Nietzsche and Darwin are uppermost: the denial of God and humanity (except the Ubermensch) and the survival of the fittest, no compassion for the weak. The Nazis took the Ubermensch as the archetype of their so-called “master race” of Aryans with blond hair and blue eyes, though Nietzsche’s notion was much more subtle. Darwin observed the bleakness of nature, the food chain and the absence of compassion for the weak and deformed. They have to be abandoned to their fate or killed so that the strong may survive. A turtle lays hundreds of eggs, and only two or three of them will become adult turtles. Wastage seems to be built into nature and genetics. If we see humanity from this point of view, then abortion, euthanasia and eugenics are normal and right, as are programmes of genocide and industrial murder by means of gas chambers and other “economic” and “efficient” methods. In materialistic terms, it is right and proper to purify races and get rid of the dross.

As soon as anything spiritual enters the picture, everything changes, and we do all we can to help and defend the weak and crippled, other human races and cultures. Compassion and empathy enter the picture, and we have no more rights to life and health than any other, be he rich or poor. Do unto others as thou would have done to thyself. It is the essence of the Christian Gospel, the message of Christ that is far above mere morality and convention, an essential spiritual understanding.

The other most important thing is being independent from “group-think”, from the memes of the masses. We have to find our calling in life, a way that will bring us spiritual, intellectual and emotional growth. We have to fill the void of our own ignorance with knowledge, and it is our own journey to make.

We begin to observe a separation of people into unthinking cults, increasingly polarised and suggestive of the brawling fascists and communists in the streets of Munich and Rome in the 1920’s. The media is of no help, quite the opposite. We need to think for ourselves and declare our independence. I don’t think there is a formula that goes for everyone, but the fundamental point would seem to be our spiritual and not material nature. If we are material, we are ants in an anthill to be willingly destroyed or empowered by the strong and powerful, by those with the most will. Knowledge is not secret or reserved to a few. It is accessible to us all. We have simply to desire it.

We live in society and in relationships with others, and our consciousness can regress in conditions of duress and fear. When manipulated by people of certain types of personality, we begin to lose interest in the things for which we have been most passionate for a lifetime. When we become conscious of this, we see the need to do something about it. If we allow ourselves to fall, the abyss will never be deep enough. We can find ourselves regressing under the influence of spouses, places of employment, political powers and just about everything. It is vital for us to study the history of twentieth-century Europe, how an entire population was brought to follow Hitler! We need to understand the perverse personality, the ways of the evil powers of which St Paul warns us.

For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.

The darkness is within each of us when we have regressed from our spiritual level of life. It is essential to have time alone to “take stock” of our consciousness, and then to relate to people without perverse personalities. If we find our ability to be creative being eroded away, something is very badly wrong in our lives.How we set about finding our self-awareness and consciousness will change with each of us: prayer, meditation, solitude, exposure to nature – whether it be the sea, the mountains or forests, reading the Scriptures and other writings of wisdom.

I am far from the goal, as we all are. But knowing that this is the essential in life is half the battle – at a time when I face changes in my own life.

* * *

And so it continues: Professor: Reason Itself Is A White Male Construct. Of course, our response needs to be nuanced. Romanticism reacted against the extreme rationalism of the eighteenth century. I don’t see in Postmodernism a form of Romanticism, but rather the collapse of what little remains of classical, medieval and renaissance culture. A Wahhabi caliphate would perfectly serve the anti-humanist and nihilist agenda of postmodernism, post-humanism or whatever. The mind boggles…

Just let me know when such a monster is coming my way, and I’ll sail away from it…

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I saw an article from Tony Equale’s Blog about the film Catholics (aka The Conflict) that was made in 1973 from a novel.

My attention was first brought to this film when I went on a trip to the USA in 2002 and someone gave me a copy of the VHS cassette. It seemed to me to be a story of the Recusants in the 16th century transposed to the issues surrounding Roman Catholic traditionalists like Archbishop Lefebvre in that era. Then came the surprise, this staunch Irish abbot turned out to have lost his faith – the major twist in the story.

I have already had some acquaintance with articles by Tony Equale, a laicised Roman Catholic priest with a frustrating philosophy of life, a sort of materialism that claims in some way to be spiritual. I feel discouraged from going into his thought in any great depth. In terms of metaphysics, only the particular has any existence, not the universal as in Plato. The usual precedent of this notion is Nominalism, said by some to be largely at the origin of Protestantism in the sixteenth century. I have some sympathies for Nominalism, because one can love a person but not humanity or “people”. You can see and touch a chair, not the universal idea of “chairness”. I feel some repulsion in terms of strangers and people I don’t know, with whom I have never related in any way. Plato’s universal idea can give us an explanation of the notion of spirit and symbol, but seems awfully cerebral and un-Romantic. At the same time, my love for Eastern Orthodox (especially Russian) theology and philosophy brings me close to the Platonic notion of metaphysics and the essential unity of everything.

The story of Catholics is quite harrowing, on the surface a tale of hypocrisy or a complete lack of coherence. Why defend the Mass of the Ages (la “Messe de toujours”) if you have come to “grow out” of faith, belief in symbol and miracle, all that is contemplative and wondrous in Christianity, all that sets it apart from a simple moral teaching or a system for “controlling the masses”? It is almost disappointing not to see a victory of the recusants, but rather the capitulation of the leader and the scattering of the flock.

There might be an under-flowing thought that the 1970’s are back with a vengeance in the Roman Catholic Church with the election of Jorge Bergoglio to replace both John-Paul II and Benedict XVI, closing the loop with the aspects of Paul VI most influenced by the aggiornamento ideology following Vatican II. Our story may seem to one of bog-Irish folk surrounded by the harsh environment of the sea, one of stubborn Irishmen – though there was less of a traditionalist reaction in Ireland than in France. The Irish were more obedient to the Pope, as were the Italians and some of the English RC’s to an extent.

Equale suggests that the reality was much less binary than liberals and traditionalists, but that Roman conservatism simply assumed other appearances and forms: Paul VI was no less “reactionary” than Pius XII, and Francis is something of a paradox. For a “liberal”, Vatican II was never implemented, and authoritarianism continued in a re-looked version. Perhaps a less authoritarian and contemplative viewpoint would be more sympathetic to a liturgical life – where most of the RC traditionalists are more in favour of totalitarian politics to make their ideas compulsory for all, an essentially Enlightenment and moralist view. Perhaps not Hitler and Mussolini in style, but at least Pinochet and Franco!

As we get through the film, we find the tortured state of the Abbot’s spiritual life and belief. To quote Equale:

Can a monk be an atheist? … can there be Christianity without God? We learn from the private conversation between O’Malley and Kinsella, that the abbot’s support for the regressive practices of his monks is ironically driven by a guilty compassion: he does not want to deny the people the consolations of the Catholicism that his atheism rejects. The irony is profound. An abbot who does not believe in God feels compelled to promote an archaic, superstitious ritual that educated Christians and the Vatican no longer accept as valid, simply to protect the uneducated from disillusionment.

It is not always “plain sailing” for a priest or a monk when circumstances of life change the essential premisses of a religious conversion. We seem to have something that suggests the struggle of Bonhöffer as he saw the Lutheran church of which he was a pastor collaborate with Hitler. He conceived of an idea of Christianity without God. One cannot feign belief without shattering his own integrity. Equale seems to present his own motivations for leaving the priesthood and pursuing another way of life. Is it possible to remain a Christian without believing in God? What or who is God? Will we seek a scientific or a mythological explanation, or simply deny everything that is not material? Equale mentions that this agonising choice lies at the basis of the Grand Inquisitor. I do find it preferable to go to thinkers like Berdyaev who have harmonised Slavophile thought with the influence of Romanticism, German Idealism and ancient Gnosticism in its more orthodox or moderate expressions. A finer notion of God begins to emerge, one with which we can relate.

The Abbot is characterised by his altruism, his care for simple Catholic folk who sought faith and hope in symbol and miracle. He and other real and fictitious characters have fought this combat between their loss of faith and sense of pastoral duty, and it is interesting to dwell on this state of things. Sometimes we find ourselves in a way of life that is absolutely not ours. It can be the priesthood or marriage – or both. We all have to return to roots to perform essential “reality checks” on ourselves – and only the bravest will act according to their convictions. Then there is our notion of God: has it developed beyond the “Demiurge” of the Old Testament who rewards and punishes towards a notion of a universal consciousness in which everything participates with our own consciousness? We can know nothing of the essence of God if not by Revelation, but we can make the effort to get some idea. That is the point of studying theology.

I have only ever heard of miracles at second or third hand. A miracle is not simply something wonderful like a sunset or a scintillating sea, a towering cliff or a mountain or the birth of baby humans and animals. It is something like the unexplained cure of a disease or disability, exorcisms, blind recovering their sight, someone with almost no brain tissue having a normal life and rational faculties. I have lived a very ordinary kind of life, but I do remember an exorcism at Triors Abbey, and I overheard some of the guttural cries from one of the rooms of the guest house. Whatever it was, it was not mental illness and it frightened the wits out of me! Some people do relate sincere accounts of miracles and wonders. Why should we assume they are not telling the truth even without scientific proof? Some people are charlatans, and others are honest and sincere.

There are the miracles of the New Testament and in the history of the Church. Why should they be all assumed to be false or lies? Miracles also happen in worlds outside our experience of “matter”. Unlike Equale, I don’t believe in matter, but rather in energy and consciousness which produce an illusion of matter. In such a perspective, anything is possible.

Certainly the Church has made too much of a “machine” of God, grace, miracles, forgiveness of sin and everything we hope for from God and the Church. Country parish religion can sometimes be a little much to swallow for someone with a humanist education, but it beats materialism hands down!

It is perhaps salutary to see how priests have lost the faith and kicked everything in. What do they end up with? I can only begin to imagine what many priests went through in the 1960’s as they eschewed an authoritarian Church in the pursuit of something closer to the plain reading of the Gospels and a fairly anarchical Christ. Many priests met women and married. Others sought solace in science and sociology to get away from the Deux ex machina of neo-Scholasticism. Others become Protestant pastors or converted to other religions. Dom Bede Griffiths sought to harmonise the Christian message with Hinduism and its tradition of the wise elder. The quest for the spiritual can take us in all kinds of directions as happened with Thomas Merton. When I was a working guest at Triors Abbey, I quickly saw that I was entirely foreign to a monastic vocation in the reality of that community – even though I respected and esteemed the Abbot and the monks. The spiritual idea in our Romanticism is so elusive and unattainable. Either it is false and illusory – or simply we are unworthy due to our sins and blindness.

Another message comes through from Catholics. As we read in Pascal’s Pensées: L’homme n’est ni ange ni bête, et le malheur veut que qui veut faire l’ange fait la bête. Man is neither an angel nor a beast, and the problem is that whoever wants to act like an angel, acts like a beast. The translation isn’t perfect but it will have to do… When we try to excel in spiritual life beyond reasonable limits, it is often the “dark side” or simply our weakness that takes over. The worst enemies of the Church have often been the most bigoted and devout, as many of the worst revolutionaries in the 1790’s were former Jansenists. We need to seek reasonableness and moderation, which are not to be confused with mediocrity or lukewarmness. This has always been a strength in Anglicanism.

I would not tar all traditionalists with the same brush as the Abbot who was faithless yet tried to be a father to his community and the lay people who attended his Mass. Many are excessive, and others are worthy of respect in their constance and Christian witness. We need to make vital distinctions.

We all have lessons to learn.

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Homage à Jacques Sternberg

My thoughts are brought back to Jacques Sternberg who must have been quite a character. He was a journalist and novelist, and sailed a small boat in almost all weathers on the English Channel.


Jacques Sternberg was born in Belgium in 1923 into a Jewish family. He had a particularly hard time during World War II, taking refuge in the south of France. He began to write short stories, poetry and a diary – and learned to sail a dinghy. His family had to leave the Côte d’Azur and tried their fortune in Spain. They were caught by the Germans in 1943, but Jacques managed to escape during a transfer operation. After the war, Sternberg went to Paris and lived a very poor life, at the limit of being a down-and-out. The American Army took him back to Belgium in October 1944. From 1945 until the mid 50’s, he wrote several novels, but they were refused by publishers. It was during that time that he married Francine, aged 22 years and a Jewish and Communist resistant. Jacques worked in a factory to earn his living. He continued to write novels and found round-about ways of publishing them. From 1956, he ventured into science fiction. In that year, he acquired a Solex, a heavy bicycle with a small petrol engine mounted on the front wheel, which he rode until 2002.

He bought his first boat, a Zef, in 1970 and sailed it on the English Channel at Trouville where he lived for six months every year. He went on long cruises along the coasts whatever the weather. He considered crossing the Channel or even the Atlantic or the Pacific in his tiny dinghy, a temptation he wisely resisted. An anarchist at heart, he eschewed the world of yachting clubs and racing, and covered hundreds of nautical miles on the sea. He died of cancer in 2006.

* * *

My own experience of the Zef is one of a highly seaworthy and stable boat, especially when fully loaded with stuff. I have just been out for two days over the Seine Estuary and back, about eight nautical miles each way. The tidal currents are strong and there are three shipping lanes to cross. The local authorities hate seeing tiny dinghies on such a wide stretch of water with its dangers – and the Gendarmerie de Mer did come and see me, but they didn’t even check the safety equipment I have for up to 6 nautical miles from the coast. I did wonder if what I did was illegal, but I was reassured that it was not. These diligent officers did wonder if a child had wandered astray in an Optimist from a sailing school, since they were observing me from at least ten miles away!

The weather was fair and sunny and the wind was at times fresh and at others a bit slow coming. I enjoyed every moment of the crossing which took about four hours each way. I stayed at Deauville overnight before returning to Le Havre. It is a pleasant little port in a rather snooty Parisian resort. The casino is very imposing, and one could imagine James Bond in there winning every game of Baccarat to the despair of the proprietor of the establishment. I also took a photo of an early twentieth century block of shops and flats in medieval style. All elegance and tourism…

As I arrived at Le Havre, I entered port by the port side of the entrance to avoid an oncoming giant cargo ship accompanied by the Harbour Master’s boat. The last three photos were taken by the skipper of a yacht who moored just two places away from me. This situation in Le Havre port looks dangerous, but everything was watched very carefully by the Harbour Master’s boat. I was well to the ship’s starboard beam. I had to row a few strokes as I passed the port wall that took away all my wind. My engine had already broken its propeller spring… So I had to sail into port.

The ship is Tamerlane, operated by Wallenius Wilhelmsen Logistics. She is a vehicle carrier weighing 39,401 metric tonnes, and can carry nearly five and a half thousand vehicles. Tamerlane is one amazing piece of modern marine engineering.

* * *

Leaving Le Havre

Looking towards DeauvilleGetting nearer to Deauville

The starboard entrance buoy at Deauville The port entrance lighthouse and the CasinoSarum beached whilst waiting for high tide and entry into the portThe Casino, another life from mine!Returning to Le HavreDavid and Goliah?

The mighty ship passes by under the watchful eye of the Harbour Master’s launch.

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Analogies: the Bank, the Law Court and the Hospital

I found this on Facebook from Fr Guy Winfrey.

What is Orthodox Christianity?

Finding a starting place is difficult, but I think the best place is to say that Orthodoxy focuses on healing the soul of man. It is not about appeasing God–because God already loves us. In our prayers we say that God is the only lover of mankind. So the problem is that man is sick and needs healing. We need healing from all our passions; we need to heal from the wounds caused by our past sins; we need healing in our minds, because we don’t even know how to think correctly—our intellects are fallen. This means that the Orthodox life is a life of struggling with the proper medicine to become truly human. It’s very much like being in physical therapy. We have a therapist (a priest) to help us struggle to recover our strength. Sometimes we do better than other times.

This is a very important foundation to have because it changes the understanding of what justification and salvation is. In Orthodoxy these are not juridical positions. The Church is not a divine travel agent created to give you a ticket to heaven. The Church is a hospital to cure sin and its effects on our souls. Remember, God loves us. The problem is that we don’t love him as we should. None of our actions are done to appease an angry God—God doesn’t need therapy to get over being mad at us. We need healing which comes from Jesus Christ through his Church.

That’s a pretty good place to start understanding why Orthodox Christianity is so very different from the forms of Christianity that may be more familiar in the US.

That may be true, but I hardly see it as the preserve of Orthodoxy. It comes down to three analogies of man’s relationship with God, someone at the end of his financial tether owing a lot of money to the bank (Christ himself uses this analogy in a parable), someone being judged in a court of law for something he has done wrong and facing justice, and finally a sick person requiring the attention of doctors and nurses for a cure or palliative treatment for an incurable illness.

The “medical” analogy can be found in all churches and Christian writings. The emphasis has differed from period to period in history. Roman Catholicism and Protestantism tended to favour the banking and juridical analogies of salvation, especially from St Augustine to St Anselm to Calvin and exponents of the “work ethic”. I suppose that any system that preaches man as being at a disadvantage in relation to God has a means of political control over populations.

As I have discovered when reading “Orthodox Blow-Out Department” and other comments on similar themes, there seems to be Orthodoxy and Orthodoxy, just as there is a gentle version of Catholicism and Anglicanism alongside Jansenist and Puritan harshness. There will always be a difference between the political and contemplative / religious aspects of Christianity as between Sufism and Wahhabism in Islam. The more mystical tendencies will move beyond the notion of salvation and saving to deification and θέōσις.

Divinisation and participation in God figure in the non-Calvinist currents of Anglican theology and spirituality, particularly in the works of Lancelot Andrewes and John Wesley among others. I recommend you the book Participation in God: A Forgotten Strand in Anglican Tradition by A. M. Allchin. Allchin found the heart of this tradition in the Caroline Divines and the beginnings of the Oxford Movement as well as Methodism.

These are important aspects to rediscover in our own traditions, be they Roman Catholic, Anglican, Non-conformist or Orthodox. Above all in ourselves…

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Our Archbishop’s Blog

Archbishop Mark Haverland has set up a blog. According to his Facebook entry:

I have begun posting some miscellaneous liturgical and theological writing in a blog. I may or may not continue. Some of you might find it of some interest –

Archbishop Haverland says he is new to blogging, so it may take a little while to sort out his title and the various bits and pieces that make blogs attractive. Do have a look and encourage him both on his blog and in Facebook.

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Archdiocesan Seminarian Processing Plant Quality Control

Two weeks ago, John Bruce was appointed as CEO of the seminary formation plant in Los Angeles and chief intelligence officer against the proliferation of original ideas, especially those of Anglican influence. He and his team are ensuring products of excellent quality for the diocesan clergy, suitably purified from latent Anglicanism. Marketing and profits are at an all-time high. This is his new article – But Is It A Consistent Product? for examination by the corporate steering committee with its new Project Manager Mr Mickey Drivel.

The trainees for the priesthood are now subjected to Failure Mode Effects Analysis (FMEA). The method is applied in some religious orders and other diocesan seminaries as potential failure modes and effects analysis; failure modes, effects and criticality analysis (FMECA).

Failure modes and effects analysis (FMEA) is a step-by-step approach for identifying all possible failures in theology, liturgical preferences or dress. Failure modes are any errors or deviances from the norm, especially ones that affect the paying, praying and obeying client in parishes, and can be potential or actual.

Effects analysis refers to studying the consequences of those failures, especially persisting Anglicanism manifested through liturgical preferences or deviant personalities in the event of exposure to Continuing Anglican Churches. These errors are usually remedied through re-education camps, but usually the seminarian has to be rejected.

Failures are prioritized according to how serious their consequences are, how frequently they occur and how easily they can be detected. The purpose of the FMEA is to take actions to eliminate or reduce failures, starting with the highest-priority ones. The very worst problems are liturgical and ecclesiological, along with ideas assimilated to Romanticism. Failure modes and effects analysis also documents current knowledge and actions about the risks of failures, for use in continuous improvement. If people can be arrested by the police for “pre-crime”, it is that no human risk may be taken. This analysis is performed by an evaluation team to decide which seminarians will be ordained on the basis of actual and potential criteria according to the risk evaluation.

This method is used during clergy training or re-education to prevent failures of absolute compliance. Later, it is used for control, before and during ongoing operation of the process. Ideally, FMEA begins during the earliest conceptual stages of evaluation and continues throughout the life of each priest.

Mr Bruce has devised a number of ways to process the waste products from the ordinariates and continuing churches. They are processed by a cross-functional team of people with diverse knowledge about Argentinian Jesuit theology, adaptation to boredom and the needs of deadpan American parish life.

The process can be very detailed, for example using flowcharts for that extra bit of relevance and to identify the scope and to make sure every team member understands it in detail.

More adventures from Mickey Drivel next week…

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Lasciate ogne speranza, voi ch’intrate

It is the famous quote of Dante, most frequently translated as Abandon all hope, ye who enter here. It is a quotation I often remember when walking up some streets in London with the dark glass and steel office buildings that say nothing of humanity, just money, money and money.

This idea came back into my mind as I read Patrick Sheradon’s new article on Western Orthodoxy. Of course he may be right, as would John Bruce who converted to Roman Catholicism. If you convert to Roman Catholicism, you have no right to anything to which you were attached in the past. You submit and accept everything from the current Papacy and the local bishops. Why not? It all seems to make sense.

I was once interested in the idea of Western Orthodoxy, but I saw the reality before going anywhere near an Orthodox priest. For me, it simply didn’t happen. I saw Dr Ray Winch become ever more cynical and gravitate towards traditional Latin masses in the RC Church, and was buried when he died without any religious rites. I knew him well enough not to see him as an apostate, but someone whose faith and hope was pushed to the extreme.

I suppose it could be said that we Anglicans should use the 1662 Prayer Book or the new services and go along with the latest things coming from General Synod. What becomes of someone who has nowhere to go. That person just dries up, and I’m sure that Christ must be guffawing over the whole thing! Were I not a Christian or a priest, perhaps I would end up like Dr Winch – trust in God’s mercy, but alone. If the Church is where the person must abandon hope when he enters there, surely this is not heaven on earth – – – but the hell of Dante, lined with the skulls of bad bishops and priests.

Anglicanism is far from perfect, but it does allow a certain amount of diversity in questions of liturgy and other preferences in secondary matters. I have been allowed to use Sarum, not because I am some kind of “uniate”, but because I was already using it as a priest and it is an Anglican rite. It was used after the Henrican schism from 1534 and was only abolished in 1549. The rest of my Diocese uses the Anglican Missal, essentially the pre-1962 Roman rite using the Sunday Epistles, Gospels and Collects from the Prayer Book. It is another Anglican rite. A limited diversity doesn’t seem to be a problem for us Anglicans.

Many Orthodox and Roman Catholics will dismiss our Church as “dud” or “bogus” on the basis of their belief that our Sacraments are invalid. The moral of this story is simply to “stay put”, don’t let anyone manipulate us or make us believe that we have to convert to their Church. Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye compass sea and land to make one proselyte, and when he is made, ye make him twofold more the child of hell than yourselves (Mt xxiii. 15).

I would be sad to see my old friend from Kent go the same way as John Bruce on opposite sides of the Tiber or the Volga, or whichever river going through a Patriarchal city. I am delighted to see him find his spiritual home – if it will be in the long term. Perhaps they are right, and we have nothing to hope for. I have a feeling that such zeal may well be short-lived and hides a deep dissatisfaction and inner turmoil.

I think Western Orthodoxy could have worked like the pre-Pauline Roman liturgy in the contemporary RC Church. Perhaps it does work in some places in the USA. I gave up on it thirty years ago. I have seen many empty promises, long waits and secrets being kept – and there was nothing there. Stay with Churches that are in the jar what it says on the label. I am sure there are good and sincere Roman Catholic and Orthodox local communities, but there are good Anglican ones too.

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