St Augustine of Canterbury, by Aidan Hart
Below is an amended form of an something that I wrote very passionately in the course of correspondence with my godfather. Uponn re-reading what I wrote, I felt that it is something that I would like to convey more widely, and so I proffer this, the ranting of merely one person. If you're from my locale and you're moved by this in any way, then please do get in touch.
Here is the excerpt from our exchange:
I must admit that my primary purposes in supporting the restoration of the Western Rite are twofold:
a) to bring people to the Truth of Orthodoxy who would otherwise have found the transition difficult.
b) to enable the Liturgy and traditions of the Holy Orthodox Tradition of this place, which nourished the Saints before us, to be restored to its proper place in these western lands.
What Father Michael, all those involved with the Western Rite, and I decidedly do not do is to try to persuade our Orthodox brethren of the Eastern tradition to take part in the Western Rite. The reason for this is that there is simply no need. The Eastern Rite is a beautiful, noble and worthy tradition which I love dearly and which has nourished the faith of millions of Orthodox faithful throughout the centuries, through many tasking times, producing many Saints in the process, who are venerated throughout the Church today. Long may it continue! For people who are settled in the Eastern Rite and who have been brought up in it, they have a wonderful channel through which they can work out their salvation in Christ and there is no need at all for that to be disturbed.
The people who need to be made aware of the Western Rite are those who have a love for Orthodoxy, who have explored the Orthodox Faith and its Holy Tradition and would love to be Orthodox but find the ethnic image that Orthodoxy has to be a serious barrier: non-English or only partially-English services; styles of vestments, hymns and services that have been imported from Greece or Russia at the expense of Orthodox vestments, hymns and service that are indigenous to Britain and Western Europe; after-service meals that are exclusively made up of foods from "the old country" (the old country varying from parish to parish, of course), and where nobody speaks English. I have read of American converts to Orthodoxy, with white faces, blond hair and blue eyes, being denied communion in Orthodox churches because the priest refused to believe that they were Orthodox, because of course as everybody knows, Orthodoxy is for Russians, Eastern Europeans and Greeks.
To many people, (and it has been said to me on Ship of Fools and elsewhere), this seems to fly in the face of the Orthodox claim to be the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church, for they rightly ask how it can be catholic (universal) if being part of it means denying the liturgical and spiritual Christian heritage of the West which has given us many Saints as well. Many see Orthodox churches as little tastes of Russia, Serbia or Greece in Britain, and while they may find it all very exotic and fascinating, they do not even consider it as a church that they would want to make their own.
I have put an open invitation on Ship of Fools for people to come to church with me at Nativity if they wish, assuring them that they would be taken care of. One person replied thus:
I don't have next year's diary with me, but I'm free that weekend, I think. I would be quite interested in attending an Orthodox service - it's something I've always wanted to do, but it always seems a little off-putting - having a friendly guide would be wonderful.
Why should an Orthodox service be off-putting? Why should somebody who has wanted to come to an Orthodox service for years find the idea daunting?
Now before I give you the wrong impression, let me make clear what I am not saying. I am not saying that there should be no Eastern Rite in Britain. Britain has a wonderfully rich and diverse cultural composition. Many people from Orthodox lands in the East have migrated here, and it is right and proper that they should bring their spiritual and liturgical customs with them. I thank God that such people, many of whom fled to Britain under the most appalling of circumstances in their homelands, have been given the opportunity to worship God in the way that has fed their spiritual tradition for centuries. I am also grateful that we, in Britain, have benefited from this by once again being exposed to the Orthodox Faith as a result of such migration. I was reading Metropolitan Anthony Bloom's biography, and learning how many Russians lived in atrocious conditions in ghettos in places like Paris and London, and where the church was their refuge. Their homes, livelihoods, families and dignity had been robbed of them and the church was the one place where they could gather as Russians and worship God as Russians. What a loving mother the Church is!
However, the Church does not stop there. Orthodoxy in Britain cannot be content to see itself as a ministry to Russian exiles in Manchester, or as a cultural focal point for Greeks in Salford. For that would be to ignore Christ's command to go into the world, making disciples of all the nations.
As Orthodox Christians, we have a missionary role for, as we sing in the Creed, we believe in the Apostolic Church - called to be apostles (messengers) of the Truth of Christ. We have the ability, dare I say the obligation, to continue the fullness of the riches of our Holy Orthodox Tradition in its entirety - both East and West - which we have inherited from the Saints before us, for we believe in the Catholic Church. As Orthodox Christians, we should harbour no "East good: West bad" mentality, for we believe in the One Church, recognising the diversity of Orthodox worship while holding to the unity of the Orthodox Faith, while shunning such strange ideas as ecumenism based on the branch theory. And finally, as Orthodox Christians, we must use our Oneness, Catholicity and Apostolicity for the purpose of holiness, for we believe in the Holy Church, called to bring all to Christ in his One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church, for the sanctification and salvation of their souls and bodies, as well as our own.
That may sound very inspiring in theory, but what does it mean at its basic level? What does it mean "on the ground"?
For me, it means that the fullness of the Orthodox Tradition has to be celebrated as a good and holy thing in both its Eastern and Western expressions to bring the Truth of our Lord and Christ to as many people as possible. It means that an English person who wants to explore Orthodoxy must not feel frightened to enter an Orthodox church because it seems too exotic and foreign to him. It means that western people who do feel comfortable embracing Orthodoxy as their own faith must no longer be the exception, but rather the norm. It means the free use of a truly Orthodox (for nothing less will do) Liturgy, spirituality and ethos that will be accessible to the people of Britain, being part of their culture and heritage.
Gone are the days when Saints in their droves walked these lands and lived the Orthodox Faith. Apart from some pockets left in certain parts of other churches, by and large, gone is the once widespread spirituality which was worked for by such Saints as Aidan and Colman of Lindisfarne, Bertelin of Staffordshire, Werburgh of Chester and the whole host of the Saints of the British Isles. And it will not do for us to simply bemoan this loss and do nothing to remedy it, hoping that people will jump over ethnic, cultural, and liturgical hurdles in order to become Orthodox. We in Britain are in a missionary situation and we need to pray for the guidance of the Holy Spirit, and for strength to do our part in bringing the Faith to others.
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