Teaching: St Theodora

After writing about St Theodore, I was sent a copy of an icon of St Theodora, whose feast is on 11th September, a very different saint, though, to the Empress found in mosaics around the Church of Agia Sophia in Istanbul. There are very few images of this Theodora. This is my version here-

St Theodora of alexandria

 

A few years ago I was in Northern Albania searching for the women who dressed as men in local villages. Maybe they no longer exist, but that tradition goes back some way and seems, from this story, to have Christian precedence. (in contradiction of Deut 22.5 and maybe of 1 Tim 2.9) I think St Theodora is a model for the Twenty-first Century!

St Theodora was an early ascetic from the Fifth Century, during the reign of the Emperor Zeno. She was among 10 women who lived and dressed as men in Oktodeka, one of the many monasteries surrounding Alexandria. The abbot simply assumed she was a eunuch.

At some point, she was accused and presented with a child that she was supposed to have fathered with some serving wench. Together they were expelled from the Monastery. Now, the hagiography makes a great point of telling us that the child was not hers and that the tales were fabricated; it is also not at all clear at thispoint that any of the other monks actually realised she was a woman. However, there is also a story of an adulterous affair that she had while she was still married to her god-fearing husband, Paphnutios. She seemed to have been told by a fortune-teller that if a sin was committed during the dark and that if no one else could see, then God would not see it either. She was distraught and sought the advice of an abbess who heard her confession, and reminded her that Mary had washed Christ’s feet with her tears. It was repentance for this affair that drove her into the monastery in the first place.

A period of repentence passed while she and the child wandered around the desert and they were then readmitted to the monastery. She had brought the child up as her own and while he seems unnamed, he is recorded to have been a godly and good boy in all respects. When she died, the abbot was astonished to find that Theodora was a woman and not a man after all.

What happened to Paphnutios? After his wife’s death, he seems to have been inspired to become a monk as well. Oh! And her “son” ultimately became abbot.

While the story is riddled with holes, it nevertheless makes very good reading and St Theodora emerges rather well as an early Christian version of Victor/Victoria or Mulan. Whether she had illicit sex once or twice does not seem to matter much- she took responsibility for the child who had been given to her (think of the teacher in “the Corn is Green” by Emlyn Williams- do you remember Toyah Wilcox as the naughty girl who leads Morgan Evans astray?) and seems to have kept herself to herself so much that even her supposed gender remained unknown.

st sergius and bacchus rome.jpg

It is tempting to see in St Theodora some sort Patron of the modern age, perhaps more clearly than the highly colourful and embellished story of the soldiers St Sergius and St Bacchus (or of Juventinus and Maximus martyred about 50 years’ later). Their story is  improbable and the actual text (the passion) is full of anachronisms. Their humiliation when they refused to sacrifice to Jupiter was to be paraded in women’s clothing and beaten to death – that happened to others too. A “John Boswell” from Yale fairly recently suggested that Sergius and Bacchus were in fact lovers, described in a martyrology as erastai. He argues that before their execution, they were married in a rite called adelphopoieis and had received some form of Church blessing. All this is a bit spurious. John Boswell’s claims, nevertheless, make fantastic reading, but that, I am afraid is where it ends. He describes a civil ceremony for the emperor Basil I and a mass gay wedding taking place in the Lateran. Even if his claims were about a Wagnerian-style “BlutBrüderschaft“, I find it odd that it should ever have taken place in the Lateran. But as the present incumbent of the Lateran might now say, “Who are we to judge?” Indeed!

 

 

 

 

 

St Finnian

While he is celebrated as one of the founders of Irish Catholicism, and while he was born in Ulster, St Finian actually owes more to Wales, where he was educated by St David. He does not seem to have been a very placid man, getting into a quarrel with St Columna over a copy of St Jerome’s Psalter which Columba eventually had to surrender.

st finian

The problem is that there are two St Finnians of which Cluain Erairdat /Clonard is the primary! The second one, whose feast is on 10th September and who comes from county Donegal,  seems to have been educated partly in Rome and brought back a copy of the Vulgate with him to Ireland. He set up a school, Druim Fionn, on a sacred pagan site in Movilla at Maigh Bhile.

Where there two St Finnia? Really? Well, maybe not! There are simply many legends. Two many for one individual. Unless he be a shape-shifter and of great age, which was exactly the type of man St Finnian Two met on his travels around Ireland.

In nova fert animus mutatas dicere formas corpora

tuan MacCairill

Ovid introduced the idea of metamorphosis and, of course, Disney does it best in the alcoholic dream of Dumbo, with all those pink elephants, but metamorphosis was also alive and well in Celtic Ireland! Túan Mac Cairill is one of the first men ever to come to Ireland. He is one of the early heroes ranking with Cu Chulainn and Fionn Mac Cumhaill.

irish heroes

Túan Mac Cairill’s family and tribe die from various plagues and yet he survives. At various times over the next two thousand years, consumed with loneliness, he changes into a deer called Nemed, a wild boar and later a hawk and a salmon until he is eventually caught and eaten by the wife of Cairell, the king of Ulster; over time, he sees new groups invade and settle in Ireland. Finally, he is reborn as a baby again, the son of Cairell (a result of her eating the fish!) as a human and meets Finnian to tell him his story from start to finish.

He says: “Then I was fleeing from refuge to refuge and from cliff to cliff, protecting myself from wolves. Ireland was empty for thirty-two years. Age came upon me at last, and I could no longer travel. I was in cliffs and in wildernesses, and I had caves of my own.

“The son of Agnoman landed, my father’s brother. I used to see them from the cliffs, and hid from them: I was shaggy, clawed, wrinkled, naked, wretched, sorrowful. I was asleep one night. I saw that I went into the shape of a wild stag. I was there thereafter: I was young, and in good spirits, and the lord of a herd, and I made a circuit of Ireland with a great herd of stags around me.”

In the end, he meets St Patrick and converts to Christianity. Arthur Rackham illustrated the moment below that Túan Mac Cairill turns into a hawk: Echoes of the great Ursula Le Guin!

Tuan-mac-Cairill

 

 

Teaching Religion part 2

Makarios of Alexandria

makarios of alexandria

SEPTEMBER 6th

There are two great saints called Macarios or Makarios and they were friends in Egypt. It is after these saints that the Archbishop, the First President of Cyprus, the Ethnarth (or father of the nation), was named in the Kykkos Monastery on the Troödos mountains. Later, he was elected Bishop of Kition in absentia while he was still studying on a World Council of Churches’ scholarship in Boston. Two years’ later at the age of only 37, he was the archbishop and de facto “ethnarch”, the leader of the Greek Cypriot community. He is a divisive figure but in fact much of his activity is fairly straightforward and he attracted rather a heavy dose of aggression from the British secret services who peddled fairly unconvincing stories of clerical naughtiness in an attempt to undermine the process of Enosis which by that time he had fairly robustly defied.

It was a difficult time dominated by the rise of the Junta in Modern Greece.

makarios of cyprus

While he remained respected in Grteece, Makarios lost the support of the Cypriot community he governed. The British Prime minister disliked him intensely calling him a “stinker of the first order” and an American official apparently called him “a wold in Priest’s clothing,” branding him the “Castro of the mediterranean”. Part of this was his appeal to Soviet Russia for help during teh Cypriot crisis and also his failure to condemn the large Cypriot communits party, Akel.

When the insurrection began in 1955 against British rule, Makarios had only just been elected Archbishop. He was young and charismatic, and he was certainly photographed with General Grivas who led the EOKA movement towards enosis(union) with the mainland. Makarios was arrested by the British in 1956 and exiled to the Seychelles. This is what the BBC reported then:

“The archbishop was arrested when he arrived at Nicosia airport to board an airliner for Athens after refusing to denounce the use of violence. Britain has accused him of ‘actively fostering terrorism’.”

His arrest led to a fairly blanket resignation by the Greek policeforce which the British replaced with Turkish-led recruits who were happier to remain under collonial control.

This did not play well, because it led to suspicion that the British favoured the Turkish minority and that they tacitly encouraged the Turkish Resistance movement (TMT) which in turn wanted “taksim” partition and union with Turkey.

Makarios, however, was released from the Seychelles in 1959 and brokered a compromise agreement between Greece, Turkey and Britain, giving up ENOSIS and accepting independence. He was elected Prisident. The BBC recorded: “One of the first people to hail the archbishop’s success was the leader of the Turkish community, Dr Fazil Kucuk, once one of his bitterest rivals but now a staunch ally and soon-to-be vice-president.”

Makarios managed three years before attempting to modify the constitution and provoking a Turkish backlash. A greenline was drawn in Nicosia and UN peacekeepers, Unificyp were introduced in March 1964. By 1967, Turkey and Greece were poised to fight over Cyprus. Dampening down the crisis with an election, Makarios ran on an anti-ENOSIS ticket securing a landslide particularly because AKEL-leaning Cypriots looked warily at the new right-wing Greek junta. With a fresh mandate, Makarios ordered peace-talks between his man Glafcos Clerides and the Turksih leader Rauf Denktash in June 1968.

The junta had other ideas and plotted his assassination in 1970. Miraculously he walked away from his gunned-down helicopter. But the Junta then sent Grivas back to Cyprus to stir up discontent, and clamour against the “betrayal of enosis”, founding Eoka B, committed to the overthrow of the Archbishop.

By 1974, he was convinced that the Junta had infiltrated the National guard. He issued an ultimatum but instead on 15th July at 8. 15 am, the suspect officers launched their coup. Makarios escaped to Paphos and then to London. On 19th July, at the UN Security council, he denonced the coup as “an invasion” which “violated the internal peace of Cyprus” asking the UN for “all possible aid”. In a meeting with the British Prime Minister Harold Wilson, he conceded that the Junta’s actions would force Turkey’s hand: “What practical measures can be taken. It is against the Turkish interests for Cyprus to become part of Greece.”

The junta imposed Nikos Sampson as President and 5 days later, on 20th July, Turkey invaded the North invoking its rights as military guarantor of peace. In Turkish Cyprus this action is called “the Peace Operation”. Sampson lasted 8 days as the Junta in Greece collapsed and Clerides replaced him until Makarios could return.

In February 1977, Makarios signed an accord with Rauf Denktash that effectively sealed the federal solution still in place today. He died unexpectedly in August that year.

St Makarios was really not much less controversial if truth be told! Makarios of Egypt, Makarios the GREAT was one of the founding fathers of Monasticism. Makarios of Alexandria was also a monk, giving up a life in trade and living as a hermit in a cave from about the age of 40. Initiallly he lived in silence among a community of monks but later went off after Makarios the Great to the Wadi el Natrun and el-Rayyan in the Beheira desert towards the north-west of the Nile delta to live alone. There were three main centres of Nitric monks- in Natrun, Nitria proper and Kellia. This particular area is also called “sketis” (Σκήτη) which gives us the name often used on the Holy mountain to refer to the dwelling of a hermit or ascetic, a “skete”.. From the word “Kellia”, though., the Latin church derives the term “cell”.The caves were abandoned in the 6th or 7th centuries.

The area was, incidentally, where the author of the “petit prince” crashed in 1935.

Makarios attracted attention for his extreme asceticism. At one point during Lent, his fellow monks called on the abbot St Pachomius to get rid of him because he seemed neither to eat, drink nor to sit down. He spent his days standing up and weaving baskets from palm leaves.

At the end of his life, he was exiled with Makarios the Great by the Emperor Valens. They were sent to a small island in the Nile delta because of their support of the teachings of St Athanasius the Great against the Arians. A pagan Priest’s daughter suffered terribl;e seizures there and the two Makarii were able to heal her. In gratitude the pagans tore down their shrine and built a church. As a result the authorities recognised that they were punishing holy men and sent them both back to their own caves.

The monastery of St Makarios lies about 92 km to the west of Cairo. It has been undergoing restoration since the late 1960s on the orders of Patriarch Cyril V. Relics of St John the Baptist and the Prophet Elisha have been found there. Regarding the life of the monastery, the abbot is on record saying “we never divide the material and spiritual. Our whole life, even in its most material details, must contribute towards the spiritual progress of each monk and the whole community towards the worship of God, ‘to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ’ (Eph. 4:12). It is our deep conviction that we attain our heavenly vocation through the carrying out of these commonplace tasks on earth.

“This unity between the material and the spiritual in our lives is an important principle in our spirituality, and is the reason why the spiritual father’s direction is not restricted to the inner life, but extends to every detail of material, psychological and physical life. It is also the reason why we have no strict timetable separating times for prayer from times for work. However diverse our occupations during the day, we believe that we all have before us one essential task to which we must constantly address ourselves, whether we be at work, in our cells or in church, and that is to offer ourselves up as a sacrifice of love to the Lord Jesus, lifting up our hearts in unceasing prayer, and remaining continuously at peace, even in the midst of hard work, with the peace of Christ that passes all understanding (Phil. 4:7).”

There is a third Makarios, “the younger” who spent 23 years atoning for a murder. During this time, he never spoke. This places him alonside Myra Hindley and Ian Brady rather than the saints but there we are!

 

Teaching Religion

Here are a few posts about saints.

The more obscure the better, but there is always something of interest!

SEPTEMBER

St Theodore- a gift from God

St Theodore is celebrated in The Catholic Church on September 5th but in Orthodoxy shares iconography and a small church in Serres (below) in Northern Greece with another Theodore, Tryron (the recruit), also a soldier, whose feast is on February 17th or the First Saturday of Lent. I cannot find eveidence for why one was kept and the other lost. In Orthodox Churches, the two saints are generally found together, called “the Great Martyrs” and celebrated as “agioi Theodoroi”. There are, of course, the more august Theodores of Nyssa and Mopsuestia, about whom no doubt more later!

St Theodore seems to be very good at finding things. There is a story from the Desert fathers about a silversmith whose home was robbed. Terribly depressed and distressed, he spent 5 days praying to St Theodore the Commander who appeared in a dream, saying “sorry I was out. I was helping the soul of Father Sabbas who died the other day, but now you have my full attendtion.” St Theodore told the silversmith to go to a specific site, taking friends with him and there he would find both the stolen silver and the thieves.St Cyril of Scythopolis records in the lives of the monks of Palestine, ” I went to the place announced by the saint, and we found it just as had been announced in the vision.”

St theodore commander.jpg

There is another story from the 6th Century life of St Nicholas of Sion:

A blind man turned for help to Nicholas who took oil from the lamp that stood before the icon of St Theodore and made the sign of the cross with the oil over the blind man’s eyes. “The following day the eyes of the blind man were opened , and he walked around seeing, and glorified God that he had recovered his sight through the prayer of the servant of God.”

Theodore came from Euchaita, currently modern day Beyözü in Çorum, a small town in Turkey which was being excavated until recently by teams from the University of Birmingham. It is from Theodore that we get much of the mythology of the fellow soldier-saint George, because it was Theodore who killed the irritating and village-threatening giant serpent. For his brave actions, Theodore was appointed commander of the city of Heraclea during the reign of the Emperor Licinius.  Heraclea is either in Konya or it is the island of Irakleia in the Cyclades (next to Naxos)- particularly good for cave-hunting…where there are fairly good rock paintings.

In response to the Emperor’s demand for pagan rituals, however, Theodore smashed the gold and silver statues and distributed all the money in the temples to the poor.He was subsequently arrested and tortured. After being repeatedly stabbed, beaten with iron rods, and burnt, his eyes were plucked out and he was crucified. In the morning, however, an angel had taken him off the cross and bandaged his wounds. His followers were baptised in their hundreds before Theodore surrendered to the local prison, releasing the other prisoners in the process. He was then beheaded, asking his servant St Varrus, that he should be remembered every year on the anniversary of his death, 8th February 319. That does not seem to have happened! He is commemorated however, but he merits a second feastday in June as a patron saint of soldiers.

 

The Koran in Church

I have been meaning to write something about the reading of Surah 19 in a Scottish Cathedral on 17th January. This led to the resignation of one of the Queen’s 33 Honorary chaplains, Gavin Ashenden, who wanted to conduct his own campaign against the Cathedral and against the priest who had arranged the event. For Gavin Ashenden, what happened was blasphemous.

A number of issues have been raised- that the priest who made the arrangements, the Cathedral Provost, Kelvin Holdsworth, is gay, that the Koran was read by a woman and a Shi’ite and so on. All largely irrelevant, and actually when all is considered, things to be grateful about rather than to condemn. So the real focus is the text of Surah 19, which the sensationalist press and the rev Ashenden, claimed “denies the divinity of Christ”. It does not. Here is a photograph of Madinah Javed reciting the Surah. At the bottiomof the blog is a video recorded in the Cathedral of her recitation. It is, in itself, rather beautiful.

screen-shot-2017-01-26-at-09-36-00

This is what Rev Ashenden wrote to “The Times”:

“Quite apart from the wide distress (some would say blasphemy) caused by denigrating Jesus in Christian worship, apologies may be due to the Christians suffering dreadful persecution at the hands of Muslims in the Middle East and elsewhere.

“To have the core of a faith for which they have suffered deeply treated so casually by senior Western clergy such as the Provost of Glasgow is unlikely to have a positive outcome.

“There are other and considerably better ways to build “bridges of understanding”.”

There is nothing new in reading the Koran in a Scottish Cathedral. It has been done before, in front of the Moderator of the Church of scotland, in front of Archbishop Winning. And the passage chosen had been read before in Churches in Scotland on a number of occasions. It celebrates the belief in Islam in the Virgin birth, and is also just one instance when Mary is celebrated in the Koran. Mary, after all, is mentioned far more in the Koran than in the Christian Bible and Mary is the only woman to be mentioned by name in the Koran.

In his blog, the Chaplain writes about “Kelvin Holdsworth’s lack of awareness, and his carelessness” which may well be cause for alarm and he also highlights the issue that caused him distress. Towards the end of the Surah are three verses which question the idea that God should have a son, the Christian claim, specifically 19.91 and 19.92:screen-shot-2017-01-26-at-09-50-36

In the reports circulating on Twitter, the chaplain insists that the Surah specifically denies the Divinity of Christ, which frankly is not the case. It is a passage that may be taken to defend such a denial, but the text itself does not do that. It deals with the lives of Zakariyya. Maryam, Jesus, Yahya (John), Abraham, Ishmael, and Enoch (Idris). It reproduces the Christian message of “glad tidings”, so it is a good companion piece to the New Testament, though it also adds “warnings”. There are warnings about who might intercede to God and as this passage traditionally was to have been recited to a neighbouring Christian King, Negus, it is likely that the passage implicitly challenges the orthodox belief in the intercession of the Theotokos, but it is implicit, not explicit and many anglicans absolutely reject this belief anyway. The only explicit statement that might worry a Christian congregation is the statement above that God should not be thought to have a son.

Reciting the Surah traditionally confers great blessings.

scribble

The variety of belief accepted in the Anglican communion today is remarkable. Indeed, it is only recently in 1984, that the Archbishop of York, Dr David Jenkins, denied the Virgin birth. This is a passage from the Koran that, in contrast, celebrates both parthenogenesis and the role of Mary in the Christian narrative!

I applaud the Provost, therefore, in promoting interfaith, and particularly during the service of Epiphany. This is the time when the magi visited Jesus- when people of different faiths and backgrounds came to the home of the infant child and brought him gifts. In the Orthodox tradition, it is also a celebration of the Baptism of Christ.

Following the Chaplain’s intervention (he was not at the service, and maybe the term “bullying” would be more appropriate), the Archbishop of Glasgow has apologised for any distress caused. I really cannot see that there was any reason at all to apologise. We need to promote ties with Islam, welcome strangers, rejoice in mutual kindness and celebrate what we hold in common if we are to challenge extremism.

The Provost is no stranger to controversy. Here he is discussing gay marriage on “Songs of Praise”:

Iconography in Palestine

There was an article in The Telegraph a few days’ ago about Ian Knowles who runs the two-year old icon-teaching centre in the West Bank. His work is on the israeli wall that divides the land and also in cathedrals and churches around the globe. The West bank centre began in a Coptic Church, is now housed in the Bethlehem university near the Church of the Nativity and is funded almost completely by private donations.

As I understand it, the Bethlehem school was an outreach programme from the British Association of Iconographers, for the most part a Catholic-inspired organisation centred around the benedictine Abbey of Our Lady of Peace in Bedfordshire.

Some years ago, I was taught how to gild and my gilder’s cushion is to hand even as I am typing in my office this evening! Gold is an essential part of the iconographer’s trade, but I am afraid that I have taken the Icon form cautiously into the digital realm: I explained many years ago to Metropolitan Kallistos that I had a plan to animate icons in some way and he was rightly suspicious. He did not completely dismiss my plans but -“I do not think I could pray to a cartoon”, he memorably said. I have not given up this idea, however, though I am aware of the time it takes to realise the detail of an Icon in a new medium, quite apart from the technical issues of trying to move in an inverted perspective. For now, I see my work as an academic exercise and I am currently writing a short course which I believe I will deliver at the Moscow State University sometime later this year. I will use animation simply to define the differences in posture and the significance of the arrangement of characters in traditional iconography. I will also, I hope be able to demonstrate on screen exactly what inverse perspective means and what it does to objects like tables and chairs. While Icons are religious artifacts, they are also an art form telling very specific stories with layered meanings. I see the Icon as the perfect combination of art and religion, so perfect indeed that even with the advances of the Renaissance, and the influence of Western art on both Greek and Russian culture in the 19th Century, the revival of the traditional icon by Photios Kontoglou in the 1950s continues to be a powerful force across the Orthodox world and beyond. It is now not uncommon today, for example, to see Icons in both Catholic and Anglican churches.

On 22nd January according to the Greek Calendar, and on 26th January (transferred from 24th) in the Catholic Church, is the feast of St Timothy, my patron saint.

timothy

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2017/01/07/british-painter-revives-christian-ancient-art-form-iconography/

comments on the council

 

A few days’ ago, I wrote about the Council on Crete that has been boycotted by the Russian Church. Of course it is possible to become mystical and misty-eyed about all this or to see it as a political scheme to grab power from the Ecumenical Patriarchate. My instinct is that this is a power grab, but it is worth checking what has happened since the boycott.

On the one hand, the Patriach of Moscow has sent the council a very encouraging letter, albeit adopting a slightly Papal tone, but on the other, there have been radio and tv discussions that have left little doubt that Moscow regards the council as misjudged and feels that only it has a monopoly of truth. Disturbing indeed.

Newspapers have made a great point of charting the history of the planning from 1961 and that current relations between the participating and non-participating Churches remain intact. But there are criticisms that the full range of 120  different topics initially to be discussed at the council had recently been truncated by Constantinople, that decisions about financing and organisation were imposed on “lesser churches” by Bartholemew’s team in January 2016. Meanwhile, there are apparently draft documents in Moscow on all the 120 topics, drawn up since a conference on Rhodes in 2009 and Fr Nikolai Balashov, deputy chairman of the Moscow Patriarchate’s Department for External Church Relations, is on record complaining that

“The truth is that only the Russian Church did her “homework”and the process stalled. That same year a delegation of the Church of Constantinople led by the remarkable hierarch, Metropolitan Meliton of Chalcedon, came to Moscow and suggested to His Holiness Patriarch Pimen to change the order of preparation. The Russian Church was distressed and disappointed, but agreed to hold the Council on a thin agenda and presented a shortened list of topics. The answer was “too many”, and there were ten topics left on the agenda. Yet, some topics, which the Moscow Patriarchate considered important, were later removed, and only six remained on the agenda. The rules of preparation were changed several times, but we, though reluctantly, always gave our consent for the sake of the Council. No one can accuse the Russian Church in the lack of good will.”

I think that, at a time when there are so many other problems between Russia and the rest of the world, this is precisely what the Moscow Patriachate can be accused of – a lack of goodwill. The time to raise these issues, if they were genuine and if Moscow intended any positive outcome, was in January, or February. I think it is impossible not to draw the conclusion that Kirill has played this for power and maximum publicity. And the interviews and press briefings suggest he is playing to a home audience.

But we can expect little more from a man who floats around the city in a motorcade to rival that of the President. I have found myself waiting his passing on a few occasions, adding to the traffic chaos. I suppose we can only thank God that he is not posting photos of himself bare-chested on horseback.

Meanwhile, Hilarion has given an interview suggesting that a “proper council” can be convened fairly soon. “I believe we all should learn a lesson from what has happened so that in the future it would be possible to convene such a Holy and Great Council in which all the Local Churches without exception will participate and which will become what it should be – a witness to our unity.”

Here is the letter:

kirill2Your Holiness Patriarch Bartholomew,

Your Holinesses and Beatitudes,

The Most Reverend Fellow-Archpastors,

The Honorable Representatives of Local Orthodox Churches:

 

I cordially greet you on behalf of the Russian Orthodox Church and on behalf of the Orthodox faithful in Russia, Ukraine, Belorussia, Moldova and other countries, who comprise the vast flock of the Moscow Patriarchate.

Brothers, we all are the one Body of Christ (cf. 1 Cor. 12:27). We have received the priceless gift of unity from the Lord and our Saviour Jesus Christ Himself. To preserve this gift is one of our principal tasks; it is a direct commandment of our Saviour’ (Jn. 17:21).

Let us not be confused by the fact that the opinions of Sister-Churches about the convocation of the Holy and Great Council have been divided. According to St. Paul, there must be factions among you in order that those who are genuine among you may be recognized (1 Cor. 11:19). In the days of preparations for the Council, such differences have become fully revealed, but we must not allow them to weaken the God-commanded unity, to grow into an inter-church conflict, to bring division and trouble into our ranks. We remain one Orthodox family and together we all bear responsibility for the fate of Holy Orthodoxy.

It is my profound conviction that the Churches, both those who have decided to go to Crete and those who have refrained from it, made their decisions in good conscience, and for this reason we must respect the position of each of them.

The Russian Orthodox Church has always proceeded from the conviction that the voice of any Local Church, be it large or small, old or new, should not be neglected. The absence of the Church of Antioch’s consent to convene the Council means that we have not reached pan-Orthodox consensus. We cannot ignore the voices of the Georgian, Serbian and Bulgarian Churches either, who have spoken for a postponement of the Council to a later date.

I trust that if there is a good will, the meeting in Crete can become an important step towards overcoming the present differences. It can make its own contribution to the preparation of that Holy and Great Council which will unite all the Local Autocephalous Churches without exception and become a visible reflection of the unity of the Holy Orthodox Church of Christ, for which our predecessors, who blissfully passed away, prayed and which they expected.

We assure you that our prayers will be with you in the days of the work ahead of you.

 

With great love in Christ,

+ KIRILL

 PATRIARCH OF MOSCOW AND ALL RUSSIA

Theology of the Icon

The Icon is a major feature in the Orthodox Church. Unlike religious images and statues in Catholicism, however, the Greek Icon has a position in liturgy and doctrine that is cemented by the 7th Ecumenical Council in 787 and which goes beyond the purely decorative and helpful. In this way, however, any Icon, has a position in the liturgy that is paralleled by the Catholic crucifix (with the depiction of the body of Christ) – a Liturgy without Icons is no liturgy just as a Mass  (as stated in the Roman Missal, no 308) celebrated without a Crucifix is regarded as illicit. Of course, both Catholics and Orthodox would wax lyrical about the efficacy of the sacrament with or without the attendant iconography, and both, I hope, would warn against applying the canons too strictly.

The Icon has a bizarre history and seems to defy the ruling in the 10 commandments, “You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God” (Ex. 20:4-5), but this ruling say the Fathers of the Church is overturned by the fact that The New Testament celebrates God made man and the Invisible Godhead is manifest in the true Icon of his Son, Christ – “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father”.

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The first sunday of Lent in the Orthodox calendar celebrates the Triumph of Orthodoxy. St John Damascene demonstrated that the Icon was the celebration of the Theosis, the divinization of humanity and the Icons in the church act as windows through which the heavenly Church is brought into direct contact with the Church on earth. “The icon” says Archimandrite Zenon, “does not represent anything, it rather reveals something.” St John says the Icon particularly represents what Orthodoxy is about: “If one of the heathens comes to you saying: show me your faith… you will take him to church and put him before all kinds of holy images.” The veneration of Icons is simply a greeting made by the worldly Church with the Church in Heaven and in the words of St Basil the Great, “the honour paid to the image passes on to the prototype”. Outside the Church and the liturgy, the Icon, always an image of great beauty and often valuable in its own right, is in danger of losing its theological meaning and of course it could degenerate, simply, into a form of Ecclesiastical comic strip. (much of what I am writing about the care of religious art could equally apply to the Tibetan Thangka Paintings and frankly could be adapted to the care of the Torah scrolls and the Koran)

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For the Catholic church and many Anglicans, Religious art is a Gospel for the illiterate, as defined by Gregory the Great, “Images are used in churches so that the illiterate could at least look at the walls to read what they are unable to read in books.” and Damascene goes along with this understanding, “The image is a memorial, just what words are to a listening ear. What a book is to the literate, an image is to the illiterate. The image speaks to sight as words to hearing; through the mind we enter into union with it” :he is joined by Theodore the Studite and the canons of the 7th Ecumenical council in identifying the Icon as a form of teaching: “What a word communicates through hearing is what art shows silently through an image”.

St John of Damascus goes a bit further and turns the 2nd commandment round, “It is obvious that at that time [before Christ] you could not make an image of the invisible God, but when you see the Formless One become man for your sake, then you will make images of Him in His human form. When you contemplate God becoming man, then you can depict Him clothed in human form. When the invisible One becomes visible to us, you may then draw His likeness…Paint everything with words and colours both in books and on boards”. In other words, the Icon becomes the way to demonstrate the revelation of the New Testament and the Icon represents a person in a transfigured state.

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There are many conventions- only those not venerated, for instance are depicted in profile, the idea of inverted perspective and the light of Mount Tabor, the fact that the Virgin is always pointing to her son, and so on. I have a bit of an issue with one aspect of icongraphy that seems to be gaining ground- there is a tendency to talk about “writing” rather than “painting” an Icon. I think this is a bit precious and as far as I can see, the two words in Greek and Russian, γράφειν and писать, are both ambiguous and can mean both “write” and “paint”, (the russian word is more likely to mean “paint” as a technical term and tends only to be used in the sense of “write” in modern Russian but, if the stress is misplaced, it can also have a slightly more vulgar meaning  redolent of the astonishingly crass Councillor- now thankfully suspended, Dominic Peacock)

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We should use English in a more direct way. But in a noisy world, the Icon remains a silent testament to a different kind of life. That must be valuable whether we have a belief or not. A celebration of the beautiful.

 

Orthodox Council in Crete

While Britain focuses on the EU referendum, a meeting is taking place (or not) in Kolymbari, Crete that has taken about 1000 years to negotiate and this specific effort dates back to 1901. Far from pursuing Church unity between Rome and Constantinople, it is fairly evident that unity across the Orthodox Church of 14 autocephalous Churches can be fairly fragile itself.

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Yesterday, Theodoros II urged the squabbling Bishops, led by the Bulgarians, to set aside differences and attend the council. The Serbians responded by saying they would attend, but they might not stay. The Russians remain determined to boycott the event.

As I see it the reasons for the boycott are fairly spurious- issues about primacy of honour in the conference itself and in any pronouncements thereafter issued, as well as a general prickliness about orthodox links with other churches, particularly Rome.

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The issues causing problems are really an excuse to promote the power of Moscow and the objections put forward by the smaller Churches like Georgia seem to have been orchestrated to make the point. While the Antiochene Church may well have a valid dispute with Jerusalem over control of parishes in Qatar (they should both be focused on Syria frankly), issues like “Church unity”, and intermarriage had already sparked concerns among the conservatives in Moscow. Kirill was also, I gather, worried about the prominence given to Bartholemew in seating arrangements at the council. This analysis tends to suggest that Moscow is absolutely the villain of the piece but there is a long history of Greece exerting control (most of the hierarchy throughout the middle east is bizarrely Greek, and has been so for many years). Squeals of theological protest from Athos and from what is mostly a group of ultra-conservative converts, have kicked up a fuss. Georgia, meanwhile, which worries that documents dealing with inter-marriage are too progressive and might cement in practice what has  so far been a “don’t tell” policy of tolerance, and Bulgaria’s decisive withdrawal gave an excuse for Moscow to withdraw too. How much their withdrawals were orchestrated by Kirill will remain to be seen.

Behind this jockeying for power is a nasty undercurrent. If, following rules laid down by the Turkish government which stipulate the Patriarch must be a turkish citizen, Bartholemew is to be one of the last Ecumenical patriarchs of Constantinople (with a flock of barely 3000 believers), the Moscow Patriarch clearly has its eye on the job.

hilarion(Either Bishop Hilarion fails to do his job or is not allowed to do so. I hope the latter is the case because I like him!)

15th June 2016

C O M M U N I Q U E

In brotherly love, while with responsibility and hopes preparing for the participation in the Holy and Great Council of the Orthodox Church, which, God willing, is to be held at the Orthodox Academy at Crete around Pentecost, from June 17 to 26, 2016, the Holy Synod of Bishops in its broader composition at its session held at the Serbian Patriarchate in Belgrade, on June 15, 2016, regarding the situation created after the ordinary convocation of the Holy Assembly of Bishops of the Serbian Orthodox Church, takes the following decision:

First of all, having in mind the importance and significance of the Council, our Church wants, in a spirit of ecclesial upbuilding, to contribute to this Holy and Great Council fulfilling the criteria and the measure of true Councils in the history of the Orthodox Church, thereby justifying its title.

On the other hand, our Church requests that problems and matters not only of the Serbian Orthodox Church, but also of the other most Holy Churches that cancelled their participation in the Council, be considered at the Council.

With this aim in mind, the Holy and Great Council should last as long as these questions are to be considered, and must not be hostage to previously layed-out and accepted rules. Exclusively with the full consensus can the Council be considered as a Holy and Great Council.

At last, our Church insists that the gathering on the island of Crete be the beginning of the Conciliar process, that the matters in question should be solved during its working process, but in the spirit of the conciliar tradition of the Church of Christ.

In the case that the Churches present at the Council, with the Ecumenical Patriarchate at its head, persist in the position that the absent Churches boycott the work of the Council without any real reason, and in the case that the already present Churches refuse to take into consideration all the matters in question, problems and disagreements, the representatives of the Serbian Orthodox Church at the Council will be, regretfully, forced to leave the sessions of the Council and in that way join the Churches that are already absent.

This is by no means a threat or ransom, but a consequent implementation of the position and decisions of the Holy Assembly of Bishops of the Serbian Orthodox Church held in May 2016.

In the spirit of our ecclesial and pastoral responsibility, we present these positions hoping in the illuminating action of the All-Holy Spirit.

Archbishop of Pec, Metropolitan of Belgrade – Karlovci
and Serbian Patriarch

President of the Holy Assembly of Bishops
sign.   I R I N E J

coptic.jpgThis all seems a bit unfortunate. Bulgaria is simply following the lead of Patriach Kirill in Moscow, whose background is almost as dodgy as the late Christodoulos of Athens. Neveretheless, I hold out some hope that Bishop Hilarion, who was at Oxford, will hold sway over the Muscovites and they will finally come round to sense. At the moment, he is urging postponement but as another member of the council pointed out, there is not really anyone with the authority to call off what was agreed by “all churches” in January. “It would be autocratic and papal for him (the ecumenical Patriarch, Bartholomew) to change that. No one, including the Ecumenical Patriarch, has right to override that decision.

“There have been councils in past attended by very few bishops or churches, because of various circumstances,”Chryssavgis said. “This council will be the largest, most representative council in the history of the Orthodox Church.”

“In that respect,”Chryssavgis said, “it truly is a ‘great’ council, greater than any individual synod of one of the sister churches.”

I note that one of the signatories to a letter urging union and specifically “To postpone the Council once again,” they tell participants, “is to fail to live up to the principle of conciliarity on a global level.” is Dr Smilen Markov, Sofia University (Bulgarian Orthodox Church).“It is a great council, a pan-Orthodox council whose decisions are binding for the Orthodox Church,” said Deacon Chryssavgis, theological adviser to Patriarch Bartholomew.

An analysis in Greek (but with english subtitles). I am indebted to Fr Nikolas Young for pointing to this!

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Metropolitan Kallistos of Diokleia speaks  about the coming Holy and Great Council here,