CHURCH Church churches

I notice that the President of Russia’s wife was the first in the queue to receive Holy Communion at the recent enthronement of the new Patriarch … and that both their President and Prime Minister are on good report, practicing Christians – even with their own spiritual directors (Putin’s is apparently a very senior monk). I wonder how many … no correct that … I wonder in any western leaders have serious Christian spiritual directors. Angela Merkel? That new fellow in America? Gordon Brown? Sarkosy? …oh, let’s get real.

It annoys me the way the Americans can’t let go of the Cold War attitudes towards Russia. I think that Putin is precisely the kind of leader that Russia needs. The Americans have a pretty poor grasp of democracy – but they run around the world trying to force their faulty concepts on everyone else. The Westminster system (before Blair/Brown started messing with it) worked rather better.

In my view, we in Britain, Canada, Australia etc., would do better in the aftermath of the current world political-economic revolution, to seek closer alliance and common interests with Russia.

While I don’t hate the Americans, I think that in this current age of instant information, where processes which would earlier have taken decades or centuries, today can take merely a few years or even months, they are now irreversibly in decline. Whereas just ten years ago, the neocons (Bush’s close advisers) were setting up websites telling the world (and themselves) that this was to be the NEW AMERICAN CENTURY, today what’s-his-name, their new President is going to be lucky if he finishes his term with a country that is more influential than Brazil.

Personally, I’d rather bet on Russia. I’ve been watching, and I have contacts recently arrived from and still living in Russia, and what I see is extremely different from the Murdoch press cling-to-the-cold-war view.

I see a country that is still coming to grips with its new situation, but that is trying very hard to resist the secular pseudo-humanist depravity that the Americans and western Europeans are so in love with. We have sunk into this mire of … well I can only call it depravity .. I don’t know of another word – and now we are eager to sell it to everyone else.

I gave this the title of churches … churches … THE CHURCH. That was because I have been meditating on the source of our problems in modern western society. As a serious Christian (at least I think that I am serious) I have to distance myself from the antics of the Church of England over the past three decades. Indeed from the antics of all of western Christianity over the past four decades. It’s just got worse and worse as time has gone on. Of course, I didn’t realise at first just what was happening. It all went hand-in-hand with the other social revolutions that were happening in western society in the late fifties, sixties and seventies. The western churches led us only insofar as they rushed to embrace each new fad or “movement” immediately it appeared, thinking to make themselves “relevant”.

In other words, they have “progressively” abandoned the entire concept of the Way that Christ and His Apostles taught the Early Christian Church.

Rome lead the way with their council and the Church of England stumbled cravenly after them. But the Church of England quickly fell into the hands of some very hard “liberal” operators, bishop after bishop was appointed – liberal politicians all of them. Hard men and women of no conscience and no Christianity – only an ideological agenda – they captured the institution, leaving only the facade visible to the credulous public. There was no longer a moral leadership to be had from the Church of England, just silly men selling their Christian heritage for a mess of popularity.

The Lutherans and the Presbyterians have fared no better in their countries. They have no shadow of their former selves.

And that’s where I like Russia. Her Church, after eighty years of concentrated persecution, countless martyrdoms and deliberate destruction has miraculuously sprung back to life upon the demise of the communists. The militant atheists failed after having given it their best shot. The practitioners of the ultimate secret state have found that amongst their most trusted members, there were secret Christians. Vladimir Vladimirovitch Putin was born and brought up entirely within the atheist-communist era – and yet he was baptised as a child and today is an openly practising Orthodox Christian. Dimitry Nicholaevich Medvedev was born and brought up within the communist-atheist system, yet as a young man, just as he was setting out on a career within that system, chose to believe in Christ and got himself baptised (hardly a good career-enhancer in those days) and is today a practising Orthodox Christian.

So what about their Orthodox Church? Well, as far as I can tell, it has never embraced any of the stupidities of the western pseudo-Christians. It fits all the tests as to still being the Church that Christ started in the beginning. In other words, it is genuine Christianity. Don’t be fooled by the great cathedrals in Moscow and Saint Petersburg, or the splendid ceremonies. Look at the work on the ground, the thousands of young men and women joining their monasteries and convents and the young men going for training as Priests.

These people have got something to offer us. The big question for us is how can we persuade them to come to western Europe and Britain and give it to us?

The Birth of Jesus

  • Where, exactly was Jesus born?  In a dirty stable behind an inn?
    Well, no actually, a careful reading of the prophet Micah and the Gospels says otherwise. The shepherds to whom the announcement was made by the angels were not ordinary shepherds. These were employees of the Temple and their sheep were for Temple sacrifice.
    The sheep pens at Bethlehem were known to be Temple sheepyards. They were walled and had watchtowers because the sheep were prime stock – unblemished – and attractive to steal.
    The prophet Micah 4:8 states, “And thou, O tower of the flock ( Migdal Edar), the strong hold of the daughter of Zion, unto thee shall it come, even the first dominion; the kingdom shall come to the daughter of Jerusalem.” The “Tower of the Flock” Migdal Edar, was the designation of an actual tower.  The Old Testament clearly states that the Messiah was to be born at the “watch tower of the flock” this was both the place to guard the sheep and the place where ewes brought forth their lambs, it is the most likely place of Jesus’ birth – not a stable but as the Septuagint says a “stall” an different thing altogether – a place where the sacrificial lambs were born – and precisely the place where the prophet said He would be born.
    These facts change somewhat the symbolism of His birth.  The symbolism is greatly strengthened:  He was born in the watchtower “because there was no room at the inn” in the cave-like place (possibly built at the edge of a cliff or hill)  within the watchtower where Temple ewes gave birth to sacrificial lambs. Christ was the sacrifice to end all sacrifices, so the place of His birth is especially significant.  Secondly, His birth is announced to the very keepers of the sacrifices, and they in turn became His guardians.
    Also the “swaddling clothes” (bands) that the Bible relates Jesus as being wrapped in – they are precisely what was used to wrap newborn lambs of the Temple fields in – they were precious.
    We have long been victims of people who surmise about the Bible, but don’t actually study it.  This is a prime example.  The facts were there within the Bible – if it is read properly, and of course if it is translated accurately. The scribes of the Septuagint did actually know what they were doing and their Greek can be easily translated today for we know well the meaning of their words. Actually studying the words of the Bible is immensely helpful, not imagining or surmising, but reading what it actually tells us, not as fundamentalists, but as intelligent readers.
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Christianity

cslewis.jpgC.S. Lewis has always spoken for and to me. He speaks my language in my culture, in terms I understand. So far, so good. Lewis himself was undoubtedly a remarkable man, who found solutions – not necessarily conventional ones for his own life. His articulation of Christianity has transcended confessional differences and spoken clearly to all men, he was indeed a divinely gifted teacher …….. if only we would listen.
I cannot better him on almost any Christian subject, nor can I even complement his writing. All I can really do is read, mark, learn and point others towards.
He did, however lead a charmed life at Oxford, the centre of civilised learning in his day – alas no more. Oxford today undoubtedly has its luminaries, but they seem different. Christians there are there indeed, one looks at Metropolitan Kallistos (Timothy Ware) et al, indeed a good enough successor in his way and in his day, but since then have we a forty year drought.
Of course there are other places and people, but in the light of Lewis, Tolkien et al, they pale as do other quite capable men. Have all the previously Christian colleges now turned against Christianity, peopled by non-believing chaplains and deans?
Are we indeed entering a new dark age of Christianity – at least in its public and official being. Is this the age of the underground Christians again, with the thinkers known mostly to the other Christians, but not to the general public?
The large official churches – Rome and Canterbury – all of them – are dead losses for the serious Christian today. Throughout the major churches there are major problems with governance, teaching, indeed belief in the main tenets of the Faith. It is no more to be found there except in small private pockets – in any of them. Surveying the whole gamut of Christianity in the world today – if one has access to the behind the scenes goings on – is totally devastating, the corruption in all its forms has taken over.
The teacher with his few students gathered around, tutoring in private, the worthy thinker gathering his followers – Socratic schools. Perhaps this is the way that Christianity will regenerate.

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The Cosmic Christ – the Christ of the Cosmos.  These days we see the unbelievable photos taken by satellites of the great cosmos, until a few years ago, something totally beyond our best imagining.  We see this great, stupendous cosmos stretched out far beyond any travelling that mankind might do. We can let our educated imagination wander amongst those billions of galaxies.  We can go back in time to the nano-seconds after the Big Bang and trace the cosmos forward.  We can look at it in satellite images recording what was actually happening millions of years ago.  Beyond our own galaxy, we cannot know what is actually happening now because the record hasn’t reached us yet.

All this is our cosmos.  Yet we know that it is not infinite, we know that it does stop somewhere out there, one could come to a point where there were no more galaxies.  We have no idea what lies beyond that – if anything.

We know that God is infinitely powerful.  We know that He created this whole enormous cosmos.  We have no idea whether He created other cosmoses. Enough for us at the moment to “merely” contemplate this one that we can know about.

Major cosmologists-physicists tell us that this cosmos could not exist unless there were at least four more dimensions other than the ones of which we are presently aware.

So God doesn’t have to rely on “supernaturalism” magic or anything like that for His heavenly “dimension” – He can do it all within the cosmos that He has created if He wants.

And so we come to the Cosmic Christ – the Logos that was known to mankind well before His incarnation, the Word of God, the maker of the Cosmos.  This is the Christ with whom we commune at the Divine Liturgy, the Christ with whom we converse at the most intimate level, our Christ – yet the maker of the whole Cosmos, spoken of in Genesis  “In the beginning was the Word, … All things were made by Him, and without Him  was not anything made that was made.”   And the specific role of the Holy Spirit, the Third Person of the Undivided Trinity, in the creation of the world is seen in Genesis 1:2 “the Spirit of God was hovering….”   (see also Ps 103:30; 32:6).”

This Cosmic Christ – this Creator, this awesome overarching of the whole Cosmos, this intimate confessor and healer.  When intelligent churchmen speak of Christ, this is whom they mean – this and literally everything else.

(picture from National Geographic)

Joel

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“Now, therefore,” says the Lord,
“Turn to Me with all your heart,
With fasting, with weeping, and with mourning.”
So rend your heart, and not your garments;
Return to the Lord your God,
For He is gracious and merciful,
Slow to anger, and of great kindness;
And He relents from doing harm.
Who knows if He will turn and relent,
And leave a blessing behind Him—
A grain offering and a drink offering
For the Lord your God?
Blow the trumpet in Zion,
Consecrate a fast,
Call a sacred assembly;
Gather the people,
Sanctify the congregation,
Assemble the elders,
Gather the children and nursing babes;
Let the bridegroom go out from his chamber,
And the bride from her dressing room.
Let the priests, who minister to the Lord,
Weep between the porch and the altar;
Let them say, “Spare Your people, O Lord,
And do not give Your heritage to reproach,
That the nations should rule over them.
Why should they say among the peoples,
‘Where is their God?’” Joel 2:12-17.

Dying

Death is an odd thing.  Most of us – whoever we are, act as if we were never going to die.  Even those with the deepest faith nevertheless act as if they would never die.  Of course we know intellectually that we will die, but it just doesn’t sink in.

The funny thing is – from being a teenager, I never felt the “bereavement” that I thought I ought to have felt when someone died.  When my grandmothers died I thought that being upset and mourning was actually selfish, we were only being sorry for ourselves, that we ought to be rejoicing because they had gone to a far better place and were probably quite happy about going.

Death is something that in this modern world is hidden away, it rarely happens near us, we rarely if ever see someone dead; it is as if it didn’t happen.  The dead happen in hospitals or hospices, they are whisked away to a morgue, the relatives don’t see them, they have “gone”.  In times past death was far more immediate, it usually happened in or around the home, executions of criminals or political rivals were public, people actually thought that watching a fellow human being being slowly killed in a public execution was entertaining.  And make no mistake, public executions up to 1839 were hanging, drawing (whilst still alive) and quartering in public for entertainment and deterrence.

Now however we are all civilised, aren’t we.  No death penalty and normal civil dyings all quietly behind closed doors and neatly swept away in closed coffins or incinerated behind curtains.  We no longer believe in dying.

Scientists are even hunting the genetic code that disposes us to die, presumably in the hope of giving us eternal life here on earth.  Now that will cause some problems.

But dying is still with us – and likely to be so for some time to come.  So perhaps it is reason for us to do some serious and realistic thinking – not only about our material life, but far more importantly, about our future life.  If we do not approach theosis, then we may not like the hereafter either.

Sitting in a cafe near the university…

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…with noise surrounding, my favourite kind of place to write.  Why isn’t the noise, the conversations distracting?  But it isn’t.  I’ve written some of my best poetry in university coffee shops, had some of my deepest insights in such places.  The noise, the clamour seems to stimulate rather than distract.  Life is stimulating, people doing things, those being educated seem to be the most enlivened as the world and their minds are opened.

This coffee house was opened the year that I was born and generations of students have passed through here – and generations of students have no doubt subsidised their education by serving coffee here.  What thoughts have had their generation here?  What careers have begun here? Coffee shops have a distinguished place for three hundred years or so in literature and philosophy as places where ideas are exchanged and polished.

A waitress places a ramikin of olive oil filled with stuffed olives on my table.

I know distinguished former students who came here to this coffee house in their youth.  They went on to become men of influence in their spheres.  And I – have I fulfilled my youthful dreams as they did?  Perhaps it is only in later years that I have finally done so, finally overcome my early failure to see the right way clearly.  I followed so many blind alleys – am I now able on this last leg to do what I am here to do?

Does God speak more clearly through the clamour?  Or does He speak through my writing?  As I put down my random thoughts does He clear a way through for me to see that there are some things left for me to do – that I can do?  I hope so – I must strive to do those things and not allow even the nicest of friends to distract me now that time is fleeting and precious.

The clock high on the wall says five minutes to twelve, reminding me that time passes (and I have a meeting).  The clock looks as though it has been here for the seventy odd years that the coffee house has been open.  The university surrounding us is far far older than this place – it teaches on and hopefully it dreams on yet to produce literature and philosophy to match past years.