What are we trying to reclaim?

Looking through certain blogs that try to maintain pressure against continuing Anglicans and rekindle the embers of the polemics of 2010 and 2011, I feel a certain melancholy and muse about a future world where there would be no churches, no beauty, no love. We feel it more and more, the choice between fighting against the encroaching bestiality of humanity at its worst or looking forward to our deliverance at the end of our earthly life.

Some try to keep optimism, even those of us who have found our places in “micro” Churches. I notice how the triumphalism of the converts of 2011 and 2012 has become silent, as those clergy people try to take stock of their existence in a post-Benedictine Church. Are we going to sneer at their isolation and marginality when we ourselves have no triumphal reassurance of our own glorious future?

The Russian Orthodox priest Father Seraphim Rose said in 1981 – “In the end, all the Churches will serve Antichrist“. The language is apocalyptic, and the ideas haunt us however much we push them away saying that these are the things of God and not for our human knowledge. Do we not all collaborate in this nightmare through our own spiritual selfishness and lust for power? Russian Orthodox thought is forceful and powerful, and has always fascinated me. They are every bit as pessimistic as the French (!) – but yet there is faith that God will triumph however far the forces of Hell get with us and our world.

I have been reading Douglas Bess’ Divided we Stand, graciously sent to me by Dr William Tighe (I can’t remember whether I wrote to thank him – if not, I thank him now). We are reminded of the harrowing bishops’ brawl in the ACC in the late 1990’s. That particular dust calmed down in time and there has been quiet and sober rebuilding ever since. The TAC was driven onto the rocks in the hope it would become the Ordinariate – and some have found their happiness and the places where they wanted to go. In time, the dust from that too will settle, and rebuilding can go ahead – if it is real and humble. I understand the cynicism of those who have been hurt in all these upheavals, but we have not to be cynical. We can recover innocence and freshness through prayer and forgiveness – and asking God for forgiveness on account of our own sins.

Most of the time, there seems to be little to do other than pray and offer our sufferings that poverty and illness bring us. The forces arrayed against Christianity, goodness and light seem so mighty that we easily lose hope. And then, we have people within the Churches and in our own midst who are serving the enemy, thinking they are working for God and their moral integrity. We have only to look within ourselves to find the enemy, and then we have both to fight, and to integrate our own personalities.

Is it too late for us in Europe, like in Russia or the Americas? Countries and continents were brought to the Gospel in the past by missionaries, albeit helped by the old colonial powers. Atheism has been with us for a very long time. It persecuted the Church of France in the 1790’s, and it continued in the nineteenth century and in the twentieth through the tyrannies of Nazism, Fascism and Communism. Out of the oppression rose great souls like Dietrich Bonhöffer and Edith Stein.

Will this rebirth come through groups of enthusiasts like the Charismatics and the new communities? Much hope has been pinned on such groups, which have mostly been around since the 1960’s and 70’s. Certainly, an amazing amount of good has been done, but as drops in the ocean.

Most of us, whether Roman Catholic, Anglican or Orthodox are so marginal that we have no guarantee of our own future. We bewail the wastage and loss of our churches and heritage, as churches are demolished or turned to secular use. There seems to be no end to it, and our little chapels are limited to the length of our own lives – after which what is precious to us will end up on the rubbish heap or on E-bay.

We love to claim that Christianity can bring good to this world, in particular toleration, civility, democracy, and human rights – but we find precious little of any of these qualities in the Churches. Will other religions or secularism bring us these things that make human life worth living? We have our doubts.

My intuition is that we have been claiming the wrong things, especially when we have sought to “feed on the prestige” of the mainstream and respectable. It is something we all do as individuals and groups, including those who denounce such things as wrong. My feeling is that the way of the future will be κένωσις, our self-emptying so that God may take the place of our egos. We have to go inwards.

Then it doesn’t matter whether we are members of a big Roman Catholic or Orthodox parish or serving our “micro” Churches. The Church of Christ subsides in them all without distinction, and none of us can judge to which degree. We can only aspire to serve and give without counting the cost. It’s easier said than done?

We should keep focused. Times have changed, and will change again. I will not allow myself to be discouraged by the rantings of curmudgeons and those who think only their way is right. I thank God for bringing me home to a good community where all the characteristics of the Church are present and live in our midst as elsewhere. I am filled with joy and gratitude, even if the rest of the world ignores us. We are called to be humble, silent and invisible, effaced so that we might receive God’s grace.

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4 Responses to What are we trying to reclaim?

  1. Stephen K says:

    Father, I think this is a very useful reflection. I think though that part of the problem facing ‘homo religiosus’ (and ‘religiosa’!) is the focus on ‘church’, and the challenge seems to be begin to see it as as fruit as well as or instead of source. It is a source in some respects, but we are prone to fall in love with glittering facsimiles or fools’ gold. The interiority of which you speak is not a removal of self from the world, from interaction with mercy and justice, but first, an attitude that is aware of the existential solitariness of each of us, our nakedness before the inexorability of suffering and death, of our notion of God. We crave community to assuage our loneliness and insecurity; family becomes important because they may often be the only ones who understand us or tolerate us or accept us, or love us. But even they do from the same psychological solipsistic place we each have to some degree. We are conceived in a womb, we die hoping for the womb (of God) and spend our whole life trying to find a protective womb when things get too tough or unbearable. Relief only comes when we forget ourselves and our very existence, when we get so absorbed in a ‘work’ of love that is outward, that we forget this worry and cease to be self-conscious. So ‘church’ is a problem if we are thinking about it as something ‘we’ have to have; no wonder church can so quickly turn like sour milk, and fail to satisfy us. Quickly it will take on that same existential inadequacy and isolation, a thing limited and cut off from the rest of the great Life mystery, a thing that separates us or reinforces our sense of separation, from others.

    Paradoxically it seems that to find or create the church of which Jesus spoke, we simply(!) have to act as if we alone were the church, loving, forgiving, showing courage and integrity, purifying self through generosity etc. The church is visible as well as invisible but it has to be embodied in each of us as a centre of passion and action. The church of community will happen or simply ‘be’ as the fruit of this. Of course we do not cease congregating and praying in the ways and places that appeal to our senses for our psyches need gentle treatment too; but we might see that the essence of church is not in an external or conceptual collective but in the real collective of individuals in their acts of Christian love.

    I see I have made lots of assertions here! I hasten to add that they are simply a response of my own thoughts evoked by your own comments. They are not therefore statements of fact but simply represent my own analysis, which serves only to highlight the shortfalls in my own praxis.

  2. Fr. David Marriott SSC says:

    You wrote: ‘Are we going to sneer at their isolation and marginality when we ourselves have no triumphal reassurance of our own glorious future?’ Surely the answer is a very clear ‘no’! I find that when I think of the former primate of the TAC, it is with the thought that he is need of our prayers. Those who have gone to Rome, and as the ‘honeymoon’ ends, face the reality of a governance model very different from that in the Anglican world: they need our prayer: and the list goes on.

    Today in our study group, we read chapter 20 of book 1, the Imitation of Christ: ‘No man appears in safety before the public eye unless he first relishes obscurity. No man is safe in speaking unless he loves to be silent. No man rules safely unless he is willing to be ruled. No man commands safely unless he has learned well how to obey. No man rejoices safely unless he has within him the testimony of a good conscience.

    More than this, the security of the saints was always enveloped in the fear of God, nor were they less cautious and humble because they were conspicuous for great virtues and graces. The security of the wicked, on the contrary, springs from pride and presumption, and will end in their own deception.’ (http://www.leaderu.com/cyber/books/imitation/imitation.html#toc)

    If we are in the end times, then we might expect that there will be more ranting of curmudgeons, not less, the incidence of persecution of the faithful will increase, and the way are shown and that we should follow will be hard, lonely, and challenging: it may be that many of us in the church have already started on the path. But as Fr. Anthony writes, ‘We are called to be humble, silent and invisible, effaced so that we might receive God’s grace.’

    • I find that when I think of the former primate of the TAC, it is with the thought that he is need of our prayers. Those who have gone to Rome, and as the ‘honeymoon’ ends, face the reality of a governance model very different from that in the Anglican world: they need our prayer: and the list goes on.

      How things have changed since 2010-2011 or even since February this year when Benedict XVI abdicated. Two to three years ago, we were hearing cries of triumph from the Ordinariate folk, trolls screaming for blood, especially that of Archbishop Hepworth – and of course the surrealistic talk of Archbishop Hepworth himself.

      Now, all is silent, and none of us is “safe”. We are all pilgrims on shaky ground. No one can be triumphalistic. The change is largely marked by the election of Pope Francis, who seems to be calling us all to repentance and conversion – without asking anyone to change from one Church to another. The more I read about him, the more I see something different from the Popes of the past fifty years. History is taking a new turn.

      End times? I have read the hysterical stuff about 21st December 2012 and how it didn’t happen. We get hype about “extreme weather” but the world has always had variable weather and catastrophes. We’re told about global warming whilst temperatures go down. We were supposed to have World War III and to have been vaporised by atomic bombs in the 1960’s and 70’s, but we are still here. Every prophecy of doom has failed. Why?

      Maybe the clouds will lift in our lifetime. That would be a wonderful grace to see clearly and know where we are all going. Until then, we just have to keep going as we are – and keep our heads below “chop-off” level.

  3. Rdr. James Morgan says:

    In the Orthodox Church, today was the Thursday of the Great Canon of St. Andrew of Crete. I was unable to attend the service in my parish church, but read parts of it at home. it consists of many verses declaring our sins, and God’s mercy on us with the refrain between each: Have mercy on me, O God! Have mercy on me! accompanied by prostrations. Here is one example of the text: http://www.orthodoxchristian.info/pages/canon.htm

    I think the Church has to enter into a period of deep repentance in order to survive the evils of this present time.

    Rdr. James Morgan

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