Apparently, according to one reader, a naïve convert recently accused me of romanticism!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!. This much amused me. Of all my many faults, that is not one, as you can tell from the number of exclamation marks. I think one of my main faults is rather being the opposite of romantic, a wet blanket, pouring cold war on such fantasies as an imminent English Orthodox Church (a perennial favourite of the ex-vicar in question over the last 20 years). Let us be constructive and look at three traits required in dealing with the real pastoral crisis in this country, which must be resolved before we can even start dreaming about building a new Local Church here, which can only be built on the firm rock of faith – and not on the shifting sands of fantasy.
1. Patience with Outrageous and Monstrous Injustices
No Local Church can exist without bishops. But they must be the right bishops. Over the last forty odd years I have met scores of bishops. Among them I have met a pedophile (an Anglican convert), several homosexuals, one of whom used to ordain his boyfriends with disastrous consequences, two womanizers, two narcissists with strong personality cults, many corrupt and simoniac bureaucrats and empire-builders, but above all several righteous men and at least two saints. These latter do not pose any problems, as they work towards the formation of authentic Local Churches, However, the former do pose problems. So how do we deal with them?
First of all, you only leave a bishop if he publicly preaches heresy or asks you to do something immoral, to give concrete examples, if he asks to sleep with your wife in exchange for ordination or asks you to become a freemason. What of opinions? Now, among the saintly bishops that I have met there was one who believed in Atlantis. This was a private opinion and in no way contradicted the teachings of the Church. Similarly, some people, usually over-strict converts, get all het up when their bishops expresses a liberal opinion about Non-Orthodox. Again, this is a private opinion and no more. You do not leave a bishop for that. With all bishops, apart from those who publicly preach heresy or ask you to do what is immoral, we are called on to be patient and pray for them. Any other attitude and impatience smacks of pride.
2. Inclusive Churches
Any Church life must be inclusive of all Orthodox. No Local Church can be built on exclusivity – which, sadly, has been the pattern here for generations. The Church is not built on exclusive clubs, cliques and sects. This is a particular problem in England, where middle-class clubbiness and cliqueiness are very strong. This is why there are already two exclusive groups of Orthodox, which resemble ex-Anglican clubs (though, inward-looking and so unconscious, they would claim otherwise). Similarly, there are three small groups which seem to be clubs for intellectuals, which automatically repel ordinary Orthodox and their children. The discussion of doctorates and cultish esoteric interests do not attract ordinary Orthodox, who naturally feel excluded, as indeed they are. There is definitely a lack of a missionary outlook among such groups.
Other exclusive groups that repel rather than attract are sectarian groups. Fortunately, these are usually by definition tiny, based either around personality cults or else around new or old calendarism. Tiny old calendarist sects are strange since the members seem to be at each others’ throats. One can clearly see that the problem here is psychological (when not psychopathological), as most old calendarist groups are composed of ex-Protestants (Anglicans again). Similarly, there is little attraction to new calendarist sects, which are often highly intellectual, as with many churches in Finland and Paris. Someone also once said that old calendarist/traditionalist sects are replete with repressed homosexuals, whereas new calendarist/modernist (false style) sects are replete with practising homosexuals. Sadly, 43 years of seeing the world tells me that there is truth in this.
3. Wood not Gold
The enormous pastoral crisis in this country is characterized by the immigration of large numbers of often unChurched Eastern European refugees fleeing the economic ruination of their homelands by the EU, for whom there are neither enough priests who understand them, nor churches nor church choirs. If this had happened last year, we could make excuses. However, it has been happening for the last fifteen years and hardly anything has been done about the situation. Indeed, the clergy of fifteen years ago have aged and have less energy now than then. In general, the average age of the clergy is very advanced. Huge efforts now have to be made to make up for the errors of the last fifteen years. Extremely common attitudes such as, ‘We will not busy ourselves with X or Y, because they are a different nationality to us’, are simply unacceptable. A Local Church is for all local Orthodox.
The need for a far greater number of churches is obvious. Due to the refusal and lack of vision of several hierarchs of the time to provide adequate infrastructure in the last quarter of the 20th century, when it was both cheap and available, we are now in crisis. We at the grassroots are having to appeal for funds, scraping together money to buy premises to set up chapels and churches in buildings that are not ideal. The greatest scandal here is when money is available and it is spent on unnecessary luxuries. We have no time for ignoble gold, we need noble wood. After all, that was what the cross, on which the victory over death took place, was made of.