St. Alban and the Early British Church

Fr. Michael, Saint Petroc Magazine, Vol. III, No. 2, July 2000.

Popularly, the martyrdom of Saint Alban is placed within the persecution of Diocletian (AD 286-303 and at the latter end.) It seems unlikely however that Diocletian's persecution extended to Roman Britain.

Many historians are of the opinion that Alban's martyrdom belongs to the earlier persecutions of AD209 or more probably that of Decius (AD 254). Assuming AD 254 this means that the earliest possible date for Alban's birth would have been around AD 225-230 and for an AD 303 martyrdom, the latest possible date around AD 270.

Tradition holds that he was born in Glastonbury, or West Wales (Gorn-Wales ...Cornwall), served in the Roman Army and returned to Britain. It is assumed that he was aged between 25 and 30 when he returned around AD 250. Even during the Saxon invasions from after AD 400 onwards Glastonbury was not part of the "Saxon Shore" only coming under Saxon rule early in the sixth century.

It follows that Alban was born either a Dumnonian Celt or possibly a Romano-Briton (part Celt, part Roman). In either case he would have been bi-lingual, probably speaking Cornish-Gaelic and Latin. Since there were no Saxon residents in Britain during his lifetime, he would have been extremely unlikely to have spoken Anglo-Saxon.

Alban is usually called the "Proto-martyr" of Britain. However he might best be described as geographically the first martyr in what became known (later) as England, for no other reason than that his martyrdom took place at the town now known as "St. Alban's", just north of London. Alban however, was not Anglo-Saxon and the place of his martyrdom was not populated by Anglo-Saxons, but by the Trinovanti Celts at the time of his martyrdom whether AD 256 or AD 303.

The true Proto-martyr of Britain is Saint Dyfan, martyred circa AD 195 at what is now known at Merthyr Dyfan (Martyr Dyfan) on the southern coast of Wales near what later became a home of famous Hermits. Saint Dyfan served in south-western Wales and West Wales, together with Saint Fagan, as a re-organiser-missioner of the indigenous Church at the behest of Saint Lucan. Also at work in the Church in that area at that time were Saint (Bishop) Elvan and Saint Mydwyn. All four saints are dated as reposing in the AD 185-195 period.

So perhaps the Cornish Gaelic Lord's Prayer,

Agan Tas-ny, us yn nef
Benygys re bo dha Hanow
Re dheffodha wlascor
Dha voth re bo gwres
y'n nor kep hag y'n nef
Ro dhyn-ny hedhyu agan bara pup deth-oll
Ha gaf dhyn agan camwyth Kepar del aven-nyny dhe'n
re-na us ow camwul er aga pyn-ny
Ha na wra agan gorra yn temtasyon
Mes delyrf ny dyworth drok
Rag dhyso-jy yu an wlascor,
ha'n gallos, ha'n gordhyans, Bys vyken ha bynary.

may have sounded better in Saint Alban's ears, assuming that anyone had translated it. The Dear knows he was no Saeson - but probably born at the time when the Church was just on two hundred years established in the British Isles.


It is a point worth remembering, when we discuss Christianity in Britain that the Orthodox Church was established here about AD 37-45. Orthodox Tradition is that Saint Aristibule (Aristobulus, one of the Seventy) came to Britain as a Bishop and seems to have had responsibility for Great Britain, Brittany, and Britony. These were Celtic areas which begs the question as to whether Aristibule might have been a Galatian. It seems that Aristibule arrived virtually simultaneously with the Church, thus he is termed "The Apostle of Britain". The Church may have begun at least partly within the Roman town areas. We don't know exactly when or how it "leaked out" into the surrounding indigenous community - just that by AD 170-180, there was an organised, operational indigenous Church, possibly centered in the Bristol-Gloucester-Cardiff area. It lasted as Orthodox for a thousand years.


Liturgical Practices: the Architectural Setting

Fr. Michael, Saint Petroc Magazine, Vol. III, No. 4, December 2000. First in the series 'Western Rite Orthodoxy'.

The purpose of this series of articles is not to be a detailed, scholarly exposition of the Church in the British Isles, century by century for the first thousand years of Christianity. It is rather to move fairly quickly via a sketch of the historical base the point of looking at where we should be today, as we pick up our Orthodox heritage, and carry it into the third millenium.


The Western Rite in the British Isles evolved from first century Ephesian importations, probably with later input from Marseilles. There are no church buildings remaining in the British Isles from that period. The best indication that we have is that the Church in those days was probably largely a domestic situation and indeed we have some supporting domestic Christian architectural remains from the Roman period. The Romans introduced the classical Roman villa into the somewhat warmer Britain of those early days and the form was adopted by Romano-Britons of standing in the administration. IT was a design very easily adapted for small to medium scale worship.

Very early on, the Christian Faith appeared in the indigenous community. This is not the place to go into the order or manner of the indigenous Church, but there is some reason to believe that the indigenous Church came into distinct existence within the first fifty or so years. There is some good archaeological reason to believe that the Church in the British Isles (CiBI) adopted a fairly aggressive policy of placing its churches directly on top of pagan places of worship. It seems possible, given some scant evidence in Wales, that they may have initially incorporated occasional existing druidic structures.

It is thought that a common Christian presence in some parts of the country in the second and third centuries might have been lone semi-eremitic Priests living close to a Chapel to which local Christians resorted. Such western eremitic Priests are recorded by AD 80 (e.g.: St. Aime). Certainly there are remains of quite small early Chapels in various parts of the country.

More substantial structures seem to have followed the regularisation of eremitic activity into coenobitic monasteries or settlements of hermits. The cathedrals at Glendalough and Iona although later than this, are replacements of earlier permanent church buildings. Saint Bede in his life of Saint Benedict Biscop gives us a detailed picture of the work carried out at Jarrow on the Monastery church there. Certainly by the fifth - seventh centuries, the Church is building all over the British Isles, much as one would expect any long established Church to do.

The lasting changes from the seventh century to the eleventh century, in the vast majority of villages and towns are not really readily evident to other than the expert. The "two box" or "three box" or "five box" church is the norm, according to the need. The earlier Celtic churches - one box chapels - often gained a second box in the form of an added Sanctuary, enabling the original box to be used for an enlarged congregation. The east wall was pierced by a round arch, often little more than a large doorway, as is the case at Saint Laurence, Bradford on Avon. Bede, in the description of Saint Benedict Biscop's church at Jarrow, gives us the first description of the Rood Screen, filling an enlarged version of this arch, and details the icons used. The church described was probably at that stage a two or three box church, built of stone, with glass windows, some of them stained glass, which as Saint Bede explains, was coming into use at the time.


A year after Saint Benedict Biscop began the Monastery of Saint Peter at Jarrow, in AD 683, he set about building a stone church for the monastery. It was built in the Romanesque style. A year after the laying of the foundations, the church was complete enough for the stained glass windows to be fitted. (The remains of the stained glass workshop are at Jarrow, and stained glass windows from the end of the seventh century are displayed). Both lower windows and the clerestory were glazed. Saint Benedict then decorated the interior: An icon of the Mother of God, icons of the Twelve Apostles, fixed to the wooden "entablature" reaching from wall to wall in the narrow central arch. The south wall had icons of incidents from the Gospels and the north wall had icons of scenes from the Book of Revelation.

The translation of Bede's description using the word "entablature" is important since the sense from Bede is of a deep panel containing the icons, reaching between the capitals of the half pillars on each side of the arch. in other words the embryonic Rood Beam/Screen.

With the civilising of the Anglo-Saxon invaders and their inclusion into the CiBI, there was an increase in the Romanesque decoration of churches which otherwise maintained more or less the same basic floor plan. While the newcomers did build wooden churches, of which only a very few examples have survived, those majority of survivals of the period are stone.


This is one of those cruciform Saxon churches in Winchester Diocese, others being at Breamore, Colemore, and Ropley, where the north and south porticos are narrower than the nave, whereas at Nether Wallop, the porticos are the same width and the plan is almost Romanesque.

At St. Andrew's, the space over the chancel arch is painted with a "Christ in Majesty" in the style of the "Winchester School". The traditional theme of a "Majesty" is a seated figure of Christ giving a Benediction, enclosed in a framed oval, with a mandorla being supported by flying angels, as can be seen at Bradford-on-Avon. The painting has been dated before the Great Schism, as being executed between AD 1000 and 1030.

The Normans, in widening and heightening the chancel arch, destroyed the central motif of the painting, leaving only fragments of the angels and the very tip of the mandorla, sufficient however to enable a reasonable impression to be made. It has been suggested that a painting of such high quality, of about the year 1030, may imply Royal patronage. It follows that the wall on which it is painted must be of at least the same date. The present church is therefore of an Saxon foundation. It is similar to an example of the expanded church, although by this time, churches were routinely built as five box churches from the start.


This is another of the cruciform Anglo-Saxon churches, this time with only one portico (north) intact. The structure of the church is otherwise complete and although it has been replaced by a much later building nearby, it is still in regular use. The Chancel Arch here, was never altered by the Normans, so we see it as a low, round-arched door about three feet by six inches wide. Because the Saxons, while maintaining the Celtic floor plan, greatly increased the height, frequently to twice the width of the building, the acoustics are surprisingly good, even for a congregation separated from the Sanctuary by a full-height wall, pierced only by a small arch. Such is Saint Laurence church.

These, then are examples of first millennium churches still in use today. What can we draw from this for our own use?


In order to convince the majority of Orthodox that our Orthodoxy is legitimate, we must be seen to be picking up from the last point of our unquestioned Orthodoxy.

No sensible person will argue that nothing valid has happened in Western Christianity in the second millennium. Nevertheless, we need to think through just what it is we collect from that period to bring with us into this re-awakening of our western Orthodoxy.

The point therefore, is that we be clearly seen to be picking up from where our Orthodox forefathers left off, and working carefully from that point. Here, in this series of articles, we are concerned with the Divine Liturgy, its setting and ceremonial. That is the limit of our interest, so let us address just those points.

In a sense, with the externals of worship as with the theology that we are expressing in our worship, it is necessary firstly, to see what we have at the last point of our Orthodox history before we can look at how that might be used today.

Whether one likes it or not, modern western taste tends to avoid the over-decorated, fussiness common to Anglican Victorian Gothic Revival, Roman Catholic Baroque and Eastern Orthodox Byzantine churches. We are well aware that the late British and Anglo-Saxon churches were far from the bare stone walls that remain to us today. For evidence of this we can look at the slightly later post-Schism churches which have survived with their decoration, churches such as Saint Thomas in Salisbury with its marvelous "Doom" filling the wall above the chancel arch, and Saint Michael and All Angels, Copford with its frescoed interior dating from just a hundred years after the Great Schism, including fresco icons in the apsidal sanctuary which would gladden the heart of any Byzantine. Our forefather's Orthodox churches were extensively decorated, the best early pointer to this is the famous description by Saint Bede of the church at Jarrow.

Nevertheless, the relatively austere architectural form of the seventh and eighth century churches is something that we should bear in mind. Then there is the fairly obvious fact that Western Rite Orthodoxy is likely to be building for small congregations. Given that the Liturgy that we use is a pre-Schism form, the separated Sanctuary, small size and clean lines of architecture seem to be an excellent architectural setting and a credible starting point for a restored Western Rite Orthodoxy. Once the classical form of the church has been determined, one really need go little further than to adapt Bede's description of Jarrow, to proceed with a phased completion of the interior of the church as funds allow.

A sanctuary separated from the nave by a wall pierced by an arch. That wall may be the remnant wall seen in many later post-Schism churches, represented by little more than a chancel arch stretching the entire width of the building. Such an Arch is filled with the light western Rood Screen, having a lower rank of icons depicting the Twelve Apostles. Above the Screen is the Holy Rood, on the beam supporting the Rood, are smaller icons of saints peculiar to the district or favoured by the Parish. Above the Quire Doors and immediately below the Rood is the Last Supper. The lower rank of the Quire Doors has the Archangels. The main icons of Christ and Our Lady are to either side of the Arch. Such a screen preserves our western heritage and allows a virtually uninterrupted view of the Sanctuary.

Inside this Screen is the Sanctuary. If there is a mixed choir (as most Parishes will have) it is located outside this screen. Holy Communion would be distributed in front of the Quire Doors, as there would be no communion rails inside the Sanctuary. A sort of "three person wide" prayer desk can be placed there for the purpose with a houseling cloth over it, or people can receive standing, with servers holding a houseling cloth.

Strategic Thinking

Fr. Michael, Saint Petroc Magazine, Vol. III, No. 2, July, 2000

Looking around the world, it occurs to me that in Western Rite Orthodoxy generally, we need a period of solid consolidation, while still building new parishes wherever possible. We need strength. We need to put ourselves in a position where we are visibly here to stay. We need to put ourselves into a position where we have the infrastructure to survive without assistance. We know that we cannot necessarily count on continuing goodwill - there have been sufficient examples in the past to convince us that we must have the ability to survive the attacks that come our way from all quarters. Christianity is under sustained attack and we are no exception to this.

I hope this doesn't sound like "bunker mentality" or paranoia. I do think that we have a duty to plan as best we can. "Pray and plan" is the watchword. With inspiration (the true meaning of that word - to breath into a soul - to breath life into) we can plan: "God willing, tomorrow we will do ......"

What then, does Western Rite Orthodoxy need to do?

Firstly, it needs strong, viable Parishes - and plenty of them.

Secondly it needs a strong ongoing education programme for all of its people - not just the newcomers. We need to be recognised as knowledgeable holders and guardians of the Right Belief. It must be apparent to everyone that we universally hold the fulness of Orthodoxy - not just some veneer of Orthodoxy. We are not using Orthodoxy as a place of refuge - we are Orthodox because we cannot in conscience be anything else.

Thirdly our clergy must be well educated - by which I mean well educated in Orthodoxy. They must know their Orthodox theology very, very well.

Beyond that, we need to develop monasteries.

The Church to which most of us look for our historical Orthodox heritage is our own first millenium Orthodox Church in the British Isles. That Church was, almost more than any other part of the Church, monastically based. The monasteries were its powerhouses, they were its administrative centres, they were its education centres. This is our tradition, it is the way our forefathers did their Orthodoxy.

Reinventing the wheel is never a very useful way of spending the little time that we have in which to work out our salvation. If our forefathers had a good working model, then perhaps we should pay attention to it.

Our monasteries however, must be very obviously guardians of Orthodoxy. They must be prayer centres. They must be places of contemplation of God. Thy can also be the places around which our Parishes are gathered.

As far as Saint Petroc Monastery is concerned for instance: Christ the Head of our Archbishop, our Archbishop is the Head of our Monastery, and our Monastery has gathered around it the Parishes, Priests and people. This is a traditional pattern that we have from our past and which may be suitable in some countries and for some jurisdictions.

As Western Rite Orthodox, we simply cannot afford mistakes or scandals or manifest failures. We cannot afford to be sloppy in our approach to our Orthodoxy. It behoves us therefore to look to our own methods of ensuring that we really do measure up to exceedingly high standards.


The Eternal Mission of Orthodoxy

Fr. Michael, Saint Petroc Journal, Vol. III, No. 3, September, 2000.

C.S. Lewis once observed that the primary task of the church a century ago, was to edify and enhance the faith of those born to the faith; whereas now the task is primarily one of instructing and converting infidels and unbelievers. To the extent that this is true, it is true of Orthodoxy which, especially in the west, often settles for mere self-preservation. The task given the Church from the beginning was to preach the Gospel to all nations. Our Lord assured His Church that she need not be anxious for self-preservation "I am with you always, even to the end of the world" and "on this rock I will build my Church and the gates of hell will not prevail against it." These promises should have the effect of liberating the Church to go out boldly to unbelievers preaching the good new of salvation without fear or hesitation. Standing firmly on the unchanging Rock of the Orthodox faith, one is able, like a spiritual Archimedes with his lever, to move the world.

We need to maintain the verities of the true faith, unswerving allegiance to Christ, flaming love for all human beings without exception, devotion to prayer and spiritual growth. These are the verities of the true faith, unwavering hope, and limitless charity for all those without the gift of faith and hope. These are the gifts that converted paganism to Christ in the first millennium. They retain their power to win the world to Christ.

Western Rite Orthodoxy, must play a vigorous role in recalling the Church to the catholicity - the universality - of her mission. The Church is called to be far more than a mere chaplaincy to the Orthodox exiles. The Anglican scholar H. A. Hodges pointed out this aspect of the Church's mission to the west, believing that the only healing for the west lies in a return to "a sound and healthy life, and that means to Orthodoxy." He observes in a passage worth pondering: "We suffer from the fact that, in present day experience, 'Orthodoxy' and 'Eastern' go together ... This state of affairs is of course accidental and should be transitory. The Orthodox Faith must be capable of expression in terms of the life and thought of Western peoples; and the elicitation of this western Orthodoxy, at present latent among us, is our great problem for the future. [Note: Hodges wrote this in 1955] True western Orthodoxy is to be found by bodies of Western people, members of the western nations, coming with their western background, their western habits and traditions, into the circle of the Orthodox Faith. Then we should have an Orthodoxy which was truly western because its memory was western - a memory of the Christian history of the West, not as the West now remembers it, but purged and set in perspective by the Orthodox Faith. If this were to come about, it would be an enhancement and liberation for the eastern Orthodox themselves, for it would set Orthodoxy free from its merely local associations and exhibit its universal and catholic character."



Aspects of Early Orthodoxy in the British Isles

Fr. Michael, Saint Petroc Magazine, Vol. II, No. 3, October 1999.

The test of doctrinal continuity and Succession can be applied to the Church in the British Isles of the first millennium - one which it met, and with it applied in its time. It was part and parcel of The Church, having the full doctrinal and tactile Succession of the Apostles at its core, and it was jealously guarded. Anyone who pretends otherwise is simply romanticising.

Yet there is a widespread cottage industry of Celtic romanticism in this country and other English-speaking countries which invents all sorts of things and attributes them to the Church in the British Isles of the first part of the first millennium. In this country and America, it is popular to try to assert that the Churchmen of that era held most of the New Age beliefs, practised magic, and were generally only vaguely allied to Christianity. Others try to make modern innovations into western Christianity respectable by finding some word or phrase and extrapolating it to make their modern aberration historically respectable, and they like to choose the early British Church to do that. They try to tell us that the Church in the British Isles before AD 600 was Presbyterian, or Charismatic, or some form of Protestant or that it ordained women, and so on.

If we are to understand the Christianity of the Celtic and Anglo-Saxon peoples in our cultural past, it is necessary for us to understand realistically what they really were. They were not some interesting early form of Pentecostal or Primitive Protestant or Early Anarchic. They were an integral part of The Church that we have with us today. That explains perhaps why I (and other canonical Orthodox who know their history) tend to be insistent upon a really clear understanding both of the past and the present.

Retrospective attribution is a lovely game to play in order to make respectable some modern innovation, but it does not pass the test of history. Attempting to ally oneself with respectability either historical or contemporary leaves one open to challenge. If one is studying Celtic Christianity, like it or not, one is studying an integral part of the early Orthodox Church. That is precisely why Orthodox bishops have shown an interest in the restoration of the Church in the British Isles and France. That is why the Russian Orthodox St. John of Shanghai and San Francisco, in 1964 consecrated Bishop Jean-Nectaire as Bishop of the Orthodox Church of France, to use the restored Gallican Rite.


Truth, Unity, and Concord

Fr. Michael, Saint Petroc Magazine, Vol. III, No. 1, February 2000.

Let God Arise and Let His enemies be scattered! The Truth will prevail, and perhaps sooner than later, but has it happened yet? Progress yes, but has the Truth prevailed among us?

It never seems to happen, people have a hard time admitting, at least in their lifetimes, to having made mistakes. But the issue which is crucial is that the Truth has prevailed.

The Church in the world may be full of major sinners, occasional saints, and lots of ordinary people. It is not pure Orthodoxy on one side and compromised Orthodoxy on the other. all of us are deeply sick and compromised - at all levels. This does not mean that the Truth is compromised: He has promised never to leave us in spite of our fallenness. In fact it would probably not be unOrthodox to say that given the necessary Church organisations in which we live, that they are as ill as we are individually. There is however, a pure confession of faith - but it is beyond formulae, beyond mere words; it is the confession of the martyrs.

How then do we respond to their confession of the Faith? Well, we are trying, but thank the Lord that the sum is greater than the parts. The Church militant and triumphant is more than we see. The Church is not only us fallen members. The dynamic unity of the Church is the energy of Christ - the saints of the far and recent past are members of the one Church, as are our present day Judases as yet not deprived of the opportunity for repentance, as too are those standing at our right and left on Sundays: One Church, One Faith, One Lord, One Body.

The issues between us are so often not about Truth. Oh yes, these dialogues are always in the name of Truth, but have we not seen over the many years that they are usually about "I am right and you are wrong?"

We want to be in the True Church - and we are. We want to be in the Truth of Christ, and if we retain Communion with Him in faith and life then we are. We want Salvation but we stand between ourselves and Christ. We want to end sin and death, and there is such an end. So many of us spend our lives trying to achieve that which God has already accomplished.


The Need for Mission

Fr. Michael, Saint Petroc Magazine, Vol. III, No. 4, December, 2000.

We are nothing if we are not about spreading the Truth of Christ, the whole Truth of Christ.

This includes being unwilling to pass over the problem of what The Church is, and what is not The Church.

That said however, our purpose is to bring people to The Church, for there, and there alone (as far as we can know) they are in a position to be healed. Just as with seriously ill people, we bring them to the hospital, for there and there alone is the full range of expertise, equipment and medicine to heal the body, so too, we bring the spiritually ill to The Church, for there and there alone is the full range of means to heal the soul.

True, The Church often fails to use her equipment properly. True, some of her physicians are not able to attend as we wish. True, some are sick themselves, but The Church is still the best hope of healing that people have, so there, to The Church, we bring them.

If we criticise The Church for the failings of her bishops, priests, and people, what can we do about it? We can each look to himself, to his own failings. We can ensure to the best of our ability that we struggle against our own failings. Of course, left to our own devices, we will fail even more.

We need a will - Christ's will, we need to align ourselves with His will, we need His strength, for we can only fulfill our task, we can only heal, in His Name. We must be quite certain in our own minds that we are constantly seeking to align our will with His will and to do His bidding. This much we know: That it is His will that we should go out and seek the spiritually ill and bring them home to Christ our Master.

We do not say to them "I can heal you", we say "come to my Master, He can heal you". When they ask "Where is your Master?" we say "He is with His people, the people He has called out from the crowd to come and be healed by Him, just as He is now calling you." Spreading the whole, healing Truth of Christ, bringing people home to our Master and His people - The Church.

Some Advice to Enquirers

by Fr. John Chagnon, Saint Petroc Magazine, Vol. III, No. 2, July 2000.
A point that I think enquirers need to keep in mind is that Western Rite people often get challenged regarding their Orthodoxy, simply because they are Western Rite. We often answer such criticism with an appeal to the authority of our bishops because within Orthodoxy the level of respect for the opinions of hierarchs is significant.


Outside of Orthodoxy that kind of appeal may seem peculiar (especially in Protestant circles where in some cases every person acs as "bishop" to themselves). So when we say that any practice is approved by our hierarchs we presume, outside of heresy, that the issue is settled because we live in obedience to those who are our "fathers" in Christ even as they will be called to give an account for the souls placed under their care. This is the order of the life of faith given by Christ to the Apostles - that it is strange and challenging to many of us (even lifelong Christians) shows how far we have travelled away from our "home".


Orthodoxy is a different way of perceiving the world. Western concepts of logic and order, shaped as they are by the overarching "enlightenment" rationality don't always work in dealing with the various phenomena of Orthodox Christianity. Linear progression (point A always goes to point B) and isolation of individual events from the greater whole, the description of history separately from the Faith, makes little sense in Orthodoxy which has no understanding at all of history, science, nature, culture, time, or the universe apart from the presence of God. In fact I would posit that part of what marks Orthodoxy out as the original form of Christian faith is that it has continued living within this world view.

Orthodoxy is a faith that is not as preoccupied with precision in details as most Roman and Protestant Christians have been. We have academics but we don't worship academia. We have theologians but they should be before all, persons of prayer - to Orthodoxy, a theologian is someone with long personal experience of God and not necessarily an academic at all.

We are content with Mystery and prefer to live in it rather than spend long hours attempting to explain it all (because that doesn't work.)

Many enquirers find this frustrating especially if they come from communities of faith where fervent and passionate debate about individual texts in Scripture is practiced. Orthodoxy may appear to be "lax" to them or unconcerned about the "truth". It is not. Orthodoxy simply feels no compulsion (for example) to reinvent the Faith in each era, because all the major issues of the Faith were settled in the creeds of the Fathers. We tend to trust as our guides not people who simply "think" about or "study" the faith, but rather those who have lived it as well (this is why we place such a high value on saints, martyrs, confessors and monastics). A person could memorize the entire body of the Church's Canon Law (and believe me, it is not a single, monolithic entity) and still be less Orthodox than the faithful grandmothers who came to church in the face of Soviet oppression.

This is what makes Orthodoxy unique and challenges our assumptions about our prior lives of faith. Orthodoxy is at its heart, not an institution or a system of theology but a way of existing. To become Orthodox is by no means simply to switch denominations - but rather to be Orthodox is to see all of life in the perspective of the Kingdom of God. Our secular way of life is profoundly challenged by this and to the extent that our communities of faith have consciously or unconsciously adopted this western/secular mindset Orthodoxy will seem peculiar in its methods even "un-Christian".

I think that part of the exasperation that is sometimes expressed by outsiders and enquirers comes from a clash of visions. Point by point specificity on all things is simply not a priority in Orthodoxy and when someone requests this, the Orthodox response is not in point by point debate but rather in the language of community, history, and relationship with the Church and our hierarchs. In some ways I think we talk over each other, and this presents a challenge for us Orthodox to develop methods of presenting who and what we are in ways that those without our frame of reference can understand.

There could be more to say but what is probably needed is a process of building bridges between those seeking out Orthodoxy and those who are in the lifelong process of apprehending it. Those who ask questions should as best they can, ask for clarification so that those who answer can focus on making what may be alien concepts as understandable as possible.

Questioners may not get a simple answer but they should listen even if the answer is not always in the form that they wished for, because they can learn about Orthodoxy not just from the answers but the "form" the answers take as well. Those who answer questions should not assume that the person asking is familiar with an Orthodox worldview and seek as best they can to step into the frame of reference of the questioner to help them obtain the information they seek in terms they can understand.


Apostolic Succession - Challenging the Claimants

Fr. Michael, Saint Petroc Magazine, Vol. II, No. 3, October 1999.

Our attitude to Apostolic Succession is very important to understanding the position of over three hundred million Orthodox Christians today, (and by the way, well over a billion Christians have clergy who claim Apostolic Succession). Someone once asked me: "who cares about Apostolic Succession?" - that's who cares.

Apostolic Succession in the Orthodox understanding (and early Church in the British Isles) is not just the later Western "pipeline" theory at all. It is the whole unbroken succession of doctrine and of office. The test was applied by the Early Church and we still apply the test today. Those who meet the test, and only those who fully meet it, are adjudged to be members of The Church - "canonical Orthodox". Those last four words are not idle words, they have a very specific meaning and those who try to usurp them are doing something very serious indeed. We cannot regard anyone who does not meet the test of genuine Apostolic Succession, as being in The Church and part of the Body of Christ. We may love them, and cooperate with them as far as possible, we may be very friendly with them and listen carefully to their wisdom, and we will certainly pray for them. However, we regard their churches as being somewhat other than The Church which Christ instituted here in earth, and which continues unchanged in its teaching today.

The Church of England (in which I was brought up and spent much of my adult life) and its derivative the Continuing Anglicans, the Swedish Lutheran Church (where I have some dear monastic friends), together with the Roman Church and several of its direct derivatives such as the Old Roman Catholic Union of Utrecht, the La Febvrists and the Brazilian Apostolic Catholic Church, all use the simple "hands-on-heads" (tactile) or "pipeline" theory of Succession, seemingly almost regardless of the doctrines held in the course of that "succession". There were however, very fundamental changes in doctrine associated with the Great Schism, the period of the Schoolmen, the Reformation, the Renaissance, and the Vatican Councils, which nullify any claim of a genuine doctrinal Succession.

The Church uses the term "The Faith Once Delivered" - which means that the canon of Christian teaching was delivered to us by Christ in the Gospels, the Councils, etc., (the totality of what is technically called "Tradition") and cannot be changed. Therefore, one can examine the teachings of some group which calls itself Christian, compare them with the authoritative teachings of The undivided Church of Christ, His Apostles and the great Councils and determine whether the group is teaching the doctrines of the Church in full (partial won't do). One can then examine the succession of their Orders and the doctrinal history of the group and determine if they are members of The Church as far as true continuity of their Orders is concerned.

We need to find both a continuity of tactile succession and a continuity of Orthodox doctrine by those imparting the tactile succession. If some bishop in the line has placed himself outside The Church by adopting heresy, how can he pass on the genuine Orders of The Church? That (in part) is why The Church insists on more than one Consecrator and that is why even where the number of Consecrators and the form of consecration are correct, if the whole group has adopted doctrines which place them outside the Church, then no matter how good the integrity of the tactile succession, it is not the Orders of the Church that are passed on.

It is not unChristian to challenge the authenticity of the claims of those who seek to be counted among canonical Orthodoxy - Saint Paul spent a lot of time doing just that. The Early Church was exceedingly jealous of its true canonicity and didn't let any diversion from Apostolic Succession to go past unchallenged. And very robust challenges they were.

We have become altogether too tolerant of diversion from the truth. Look again at Saint Paul and the saints and see if they were tolerant of any diversion from the true Church. From Simon Magus onwards, there have been those who sought a piece of the authentic ministry of The Church without authority, and right from that point, they have been challenged.

A Prayer From the First Millenium

Almighty Father, Son and Sacred Spirit, Eternal,
Ever-blessed, gracious God,
to me, the least of all the sanctified, to me,
Allow that I may keep a door in Paradise;
That I may keep ere the smallest door,
The further door,
The darkest door,
The coldest door,
The least-used door,
The stiffest door,
Is so it be but in Thy house, O God
If so it be that I can see Thy Glory
Even afar and hear Thy voice, O God
and know that I am with Thee,
Even Thee, O God!

- an ancient Celtic poem-prayer, Saint Petroc Magazine, Vol. II, No. 3, October 1999

The Family of God

Father Michael, Saint Petroc Magazine, Vol. III No. 2, July 2000.

Recently I have had occasion to speak to many people who want to know how to build Orthodoxy. What must we do, how do we attract people, they ask.

My answer to them is usually the same: In the first place don't worry about it. Pray about it, but don't worry. Worry is a sign of a lack of faith in God. He will provide - it's just that His priorities and methods often differ markedly from our own expectations. Secondly I tell them that they must look carefully at what they already have.

Some of our parishes are large and successful, most are, shall we say ... more modest. No matter what we have, the question is: Is our Parish or Mission likely to attract people to Christ?

This of course has been the downfall of much of western Christendom: The fact that clergy have only asked will our church attract people? They have then answered by attempting to make their church more superficially "relevant" to the surrounding society.

We must look at it far more carefully. The answer is not to make our ministry more "relevant" to the surrounding society since Christianity is already as "relevant" as it is ever going to be: It is all-important, you can't get more "relevant" than that. The problem is the ability of the surrounding society to recognise its desperate need for what we already have.

Too many of us have our little congregation of people (many of them aging) who have been through a tumultuous twenty or so years of shipwreck, finally struggling up onto a beach, we have dried ourselves, built our place of abode (bought or built a church) and we think that we have achieved all that is required of us. Wrong! We have only just begun. We haven't saved ourselves - we have just put ourselves in a position where we might just achieve that - with massive help.

We have our little congregation - but what is it? Who would be attracted to Christ by a little group of survivors huddled together, feeling self-congratulatory about the fact that they think that they are safe? We have to be far, far more than that.

I believe that any Parish must first and foremost, think of itself as a family. A real family: The family of the People of God in that place.

We are the people by whom God will be judged in the eyes of the surrounding society! That is something of a responsibility. What then, ought we to look like? We should look like a family, a loving, caring, family. Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart and with all thy mind and with all thy soul and with all thy strength, and thy neighbour as thyself.

This 'being a loving family' is easy to say, far harder to actually do. It is something which has to be consciously discussed and decided by the congregation. We have to become enthused with the idea that we are a family, that a family of God cares for each member of the family. We are not some polite club that meets for a game of bridge on Sunday morning then as quickly as possible, shuffles off home. How could we invite anyone to join in one of those cold, polite Sunday morning sessions where no one even knows anyone else?

We are a family, we have been chosen by our Father to be part of that family. A family does things together. It has projects together. It wants to spend time together. It enjoys its members - their doings are discussed, their triumphs are enjoyed and their disasters are shared. We cannot of course, like every member of our Parish family equally, we have human failings. Our Father though, loves each of us equally, regardless of our failings. None of us will be perfect. We will all say the wrong thing from time to time, offend someone, upset someone - that is what happens in families. And we will forgive each other and resume our family relationship - that too, is what families do.

As we love and forgive each other. As we enjoy each other, we will begin to see what we can and must do for those outside the family. So we become attractive ("see those Christians, how they love one another").

Of course, we don't have to gush all over people, 'family-ness' doesn't mean that. We do need to have an ability to unselfconsciously express our faith, to discuss the things of God amongst ourselves, and, when appropriate, with others. People (both within the family and outside it) should instinctively know that we care without our forcing it upon them. They should feel that they are included without worrying that anyone will interfere. More than that however, it should be apparent to outsiders that here, they will quietly but surely get the spiritual assistance that they need.

Building ourselves into genuine families can take time and it isn't by any means easy, and more than building a normal mother-and-father-and-children type family is easy. It takes love, care, judgment and work. The point is that a true Christian Parish family is the only thing that attracts outsiders to Christ. It is therefore just about the only sure way that we can do our part in leading others to salvation - and oh, by the way, do something towards working out our own salvation.

I have seen such Parishes. True, they are few and very far between, but they do exist. I know that they work: They are doing the work that God expects of His people gathered together. They do it by being - being what He has commanded that they be: Loving Him, loving each other, and therefore, loving all their neighbours. That sort of loving family just naturally expresses its love in the way that God expects - they can't help it really......


Valid Orders

Orthodox America, Issue 88, Vol IX, No.8, March, 1989
Within the first five minutes of any casual social conversation with many non-Orthodox clergymen, the question is sure to crop up: “Do you think my orders are valid?” To avoid offense and controversy, since the matter is a touchy one among most of the sects claiming any kind of historic continuity, the only possible reply is: “If your church says they’re valid, then they’re valid for your church. If you are a loyal member of it, where else could you possibly want to use them?” It is almost impossible, while holding a coffee cup in a social gathering, to lay adequate doctrinal and historical ground work for such a discussion; though for Orthodox Christians there is a definite and uncompromising answer and position which must be held. The following thoughts may help one to formulate a charitable reply for the next occasion.

The Orthodox Church, continuing the principles which the Apostles and early Fathers taught and which the Ecumenical Councils of the Undivided Church defined in precise terms, holds that the Church of Christ is One and cannot be divided. All divisions and separations from it therefore are from that One Church, not within it. One who breaks away from the Faith or from the continuing organic structure of this Church ceases to be a member of it, no matter what position he may once have held wihin it; he leaves with nothing. A U.S. citizen who leaves the country and becomes a citizen of some other country can no longer claim to be still a U.S. citizen or to vote in American elections – this is true even if he once held some high office like a judge, senator or governor. Orthodoxy teaches that Orders and Sacraments belong to – that is, they are the Property of – the Church, not to the individual person, and can be bestowed, held and exercised solely within its organic structure.

By “The Church” Orthodoxy has always meant that single worldwide body of mutually believing, mutually recognising, sacramentally united Christians founded by Our Lord Jesus Christ and descending directly without break from the Apostles: who are openly and visibly “in communion with” one another and with their united hierarchy. All the early Church Fathers and Councils made it abundantly clear that this Unity of believers is absolutely essential, and that any one who leaves that Unity, for whatever reason is an apostate, a schismatic, and outsider; no longer participating in the sacramental Life of the Church or entitled to the privileges of its membership, unless he returns to the Unity and renounces his errors. This was the unity prayed for by Christ in the Gospel; it was and still is far more essential in determining whether one is or is not a Church member than any “lines of episcopal succession” or high-sounding titles.

Therefore any person who has ever broken from this Unity, beginning with the early Christological heretics and culminating with Rome in 1054, LEFT the actual, continuing Unity of the One Church founded by Christ, and became an apostate. Bishops who leave the Church cease being bishops, whatever they may continue calling themselves. They may (many do) invent new, unscriptural ecclesiologies which seek to justify their separation while continuing to claim that they somehow “keep their Orders” and “perform valid Sacraments,” which of course, like a lamp unplugged from the source of electricity, they cannot do. Thus the Orthodox Church maintains that when Cardinal Humbert walked out of Saint Sophia in 1054, having put the Pope’s bull of excommunication on the altar, he left as an ordinary layman; since he (and his superior in Rome, and all who remained in communion with him) ceased being in open, formal communion with the rest of the Christian Church which continued holding Apostolic doctrine and polity. All who joined themselves with that group of men who left voluntarily the Unity of the continuing Church have remained apostates and schismatics ever since, no matter how vast, wealthy, and vociferous they may be in claiming otherwise.

Whoever either voluntarily sets himself apart from the continuing Unity of the undivided Church founded by Christ, or who alters the teachings defined by that Church, ceases to be a member of it. Orthodoxy alone has remained unchanged throughout the centuries, both in her doctrine and in her organization; all other groups, however huge or widespread, and however they may choose to style themselves, are NOT Orthodox, NOT in membership in that One Church founded by Christ.

In consequence of this, Orthodoxy can recognize no “orders” or “sacraments” administered by religious groups or persons that are not factually and integrally part of Orthodoxy. Even if these had once been Orthodox clerics, even bishops in good standing, once they leave the Unity of the Orthodox Church they cease having any “orders” or “sacraments” to exercise; they forfeit their former grace of ordination altogether. (Once again, pull and electric light plug from the socket and it can no longer give light.) Here we must be careful to distinguish between those who willfully leave the Unity of the Orthodox Church, and those who are, for some external cause -- temporary or permanent – cut off from the mere geographical unity of a diocese. War or other such circumstances do not deprive men of membership in the Church. It is only when men separate themselves voluntarily and deliberately, or when they add or subtract beliefs from the Deposit of Faith which has been universally defined by the whole Church, that they cease being members of the Church.

Orthodoxy allows a person who left the Church to be received back, after proper penance and absolution from his heresy or schism – normally in his former rank if he had been a cleric. But this cannot apply to clergymen who were ordained or consecrated by once-Orthodox bishops during the time they were outside the Unity of the Church. For while they were outside, their sacramental acts, like their orders, were inoperative, cut off from the grace that can come only from membership in the Unity of the Orthodox Church which commissions, authorises and validates their actions. All such purported ordinations, consecrations and other sacramental acts performed outside the Unity of Orthodoxy are, in Orthodox eyes, worthless; so that clergy coming into Orthodoxy from some non-Orthodox religious body must do so as laymen. Exceptions to this rule are extremely rare, and each is judged upon its own individual circumstances.

Thus, the entire concept of Orders and Sacraments as held and taught by the Orthodox Church is completely different from that commonly held by most of the non-Orthodox, Western religious world. Most religious bodies claiming any kind of traditional-based ministry hold a view (usually called “Augustinian” after a rather vague remark in one of St. Augustine of Hippo’s writings) that Orders and Sacraments are a totally separate entity, and that, once obtained by any one, can be “used” and “transmitted” and a “succession” established, without regard to the ecclesiastical allegiance of the person, even if he travels from one church or jurisdiction to another, or even invents his own. Contrariwise, Orthodoxy holds that the whole Sacramental System including Orders is the sacred Property of the Church, and may be bestowed, held and transmitted solely within its Unity by its own accredited hierarchy acting in accordance with the united will of the Church. There are therefore, in Orthodox eyes, no such separate “commodities” as “Roman Catholic” or “Anglican” or “Lutheran” or “Old Catholic” Orders, whatever these religious bodies may hold. It is true that any organization, religious or secular, is free to make up its own regulations for its membership, and to use whatever terminology for its officers and ceremonial procedures, ancient or modern; it may call its officers “bishops” or “priests” and suchlike. But these are NOT the same as those held and administered by Orthodox clergy within the Unity of the Orthodox Church, but are completely different.

Undoubtedly God will have mercy and compassion on all His creation, including those devout and sincere souls who grew up in religious beliefs apart from Orthodoxy; He will surely take into account their fidelity to the principles they were taught and consider to be “church teaching” even though they are not what the One continuing Church of Christ has always held and taught. This is not the issue. The point IS that Christ founded only ONE Church, not many; and of all the competing religious bodies calling themselves “Christian” and “Catholic” and other such terms, only ONE is in actual fact the continuing Church which He founded. And this is the Orthodox Church

Abbot Augustine Whitfield
Chapel of the Holy Virgin,
Jacksonville, Florida