The following talk was read at the symposium of SOPHIE (The Society of Orthodox Philosophers in Europe) in Frankfurt in Germany just before today’s All Saints’ Day Feast
25 years after the disappearance of the Soviet Union and 25 years after the appearance of the European Union, we are facing great generational changes. The lands of the ex-Soviet Union continue to suffer from chauvinist strife, instability and extreme unemployment and poverty, not least the Ukraine and the rapidly emptying EU Baltic States. As one Russian put it to me some years ago: ‘Under Communism we had no political freedom, but we did have security. Today, under Capitalism, we have political freedom, but we have no security’. And also: ‘We knew that the Communists were lieing to us about Communism, but we did not know that they were telling us the truth about Capitalism’.
Further events are unfolding in Russia today, on the centenary of the catastrophic, so-called ‘Russian Revolution’, which gave rise to the alien, Marxist Soviet Union, with its Red terror, artificial famines, Gulag, alcoholism, abortion, corruption, divorce and environmental degradation. Equally, some wonder if the European Union will ever recover from Brexit, as other countries also eye freedom from the straitjacket of EU centralization. However, all this comes against the background of the new US President, who is half-Scottish, whose wife is a Slav from ex-Communist Slovenia, and who is apparently anti-EU and pro-Brexit. The world for some people has been turned upside down. Or perhaps rather the world was upside down and is now gradually being turned the right side up?
Against such a contemporary political background, my talk today is based on the only recorded words of a saint who lived nearly 1800 years ago, at some point between 209 and 305, historians, as usual, cannot agree exactly when. Perhaps we can simply say that he lived in the third century. His words, only eighteen of them in their modern English translation, seem to me to prophesy a possible future for this Europe that now seems to be lost and drifting. For although the European Union is largely discredited and rejected, few wish even to think about the Modern, Alternative Europe to replace the outdated, post-Hitlerian, failed, centralized EU Europe. However, there are the words of this saint, from what might be called ‘Brexitland’, who may provide an answer.
This saint in question is the Protomartyr of the British Isles, a Romano-British citizen called Alban, who lived in the Roman city of Verulamium, just north of London. Having given shelter to a Christian priest fleeing persecution, Alban was so moved by the priest’s faith and courage that he asked to be taught more about Christianity, then a forbidden religion, and was baptized by the priest. Before long the authorities came to arrest the fugitive. But Alban, inspired by his new-found faith, exchanged clothes with the priest, allowing him to escape.
Thus, instead of the priest, it was Alban who was arrested and brought before the magistrate. Alban refused to sacrifice to the emperor and the Roman gods and was flogged. When asked to identify himself, he declared these eighteen words: ‘I am called Alban and I worship and adore the true and living God, Who created all things’. The magistrate ordered that Alban receive the punishment due to the priest. He was taken out of the town and up the hillside to the site of his martyrdom and beheaded. His town is today called St Albans and is a mere 20 miles, 30 kilometres, to the north of London. St Alban’s Day is celebrated on 22 June.
I Am Called Alban
I am interested in these eighteen words, the first four of which are: ‘I am called Alban’. The Romano-British name ‘Alban’ means ‘White’. The Latin word ‘alba’ is at the root of many words and names, not least Albion, a name for Britain that stems from the white chalk cliffs of south-eastern Britain, the first view of the country for Roman and other invaders. However, the word ‘White’ has in the Russian Orthodox context another meaning, referring to the White Movement after 1917. True, the White Movement was betrayed by those who claimed to be White, but were not White at all, and were mainly killed or went into exile. However, the best White representatives, although only a minority, sought the restoration of the Orthodox Christian Empire in Russia. These true Whites sought the restoration of ‘the White Tsar’.
The word ‘White’ in this context thus stands for faithfulness to our roots and Christian inheritance, to the Faith that is to be made incarnate in the countries in which we live. ‘White’ means faithfulness to the incarnate integrity of the Faith. This means not just vaguely Christian, but Orthodox Christian, and not just Orthodox Christian, but Orthodox Christian to the point of working to incarnate the Faith, socially, economically and politically. Thus, ‘I am White’ can be taken to mean the confession of the post-Constantinian Civilizational values of the Church, as expressed in the spiritual ideal of Romaiosini in the New Rome that St Constantine founded to unite Europe and Asia and which were continued in Holy Rus, the spiritual ideal of the Eurasian Christian Empire.
And I Worship and Adore the True and Living God
These ten words of St Alban express his Faith, a Faith that he was prepared to die for and did die for, in the worship and adoration of the Christian God, the True God, the Holy Trinity. Today all sorts of things are worshipped: money is worshipped, technology is worshipped, convenience is worshipped, sex is worshipped, food is worshipped, social networking is worshipped, television is worshipped, sport is worshipped, celebrities are worshipped, the self is worshipped, as in the selfie. ‘Because I am worth it’ is indeed the slogan of today’s narcissistic society.
However, St Alban’s worship is of the True and Living God. St Alban worshipped the Living God. He did not worship pagan gods or goddesses, who intervene in human affairs whenever some passion of pride, greed, lust or other, which as demons they embody, seizes them to meddle for the perdition of mankind. They never sacrifice themselves for mankind, but only take advantage of mankind, as parasites. These demons are dead gods, gods of death, not the God of Life. The Living God is He Who defeated death by death, sacrificing Himself and so proving that He is not only the God of Life, the Life-Giver, but also that He loves mankind, the Love-Giver.
Who Created All Things
Following on from the darkness of the eighteenth-century ‘Enlightenment’, which proposed a distant, theistic God, Who in no way plays a part in human affairs and so offers humanity autonomy to practise all its sins with impunity, virtually the whole of nineteenth-century Western thought was devoted to denying and rejecting the above words. Almighty man creates, not a weak, Nietzschean-imagined God, so weak that He allowed Himself to die famelessly on the Cross. This human assumption of God’s creative power resulted in the twentieth century in destructive manmade World Wars, concentration camps, nuclear bombs and the abortion holocaust. Essentially, modern times have replaced God with man, construction with deconstruction. Man, reverting to idolatry, has replaced the sinless Creator with sinful creation.
This idolatry, the denial of the Living God Who created all things, the last four words of St Alban, has resulted in the heresy of what might be called ‘self-creation’. Far from the innocent, God-inspired inventions of such things as the wheel, the boat, the plough or the windmill, self-creation has led not just to the deafening and blinding inventions of the Industrial Revolution that poisoned human life, the earth and the sea and the sky, as in China today, not just to the Satan-inspired invention of killing and maiming machines like the Maxim gun, poison gas, napalm and the cluster bomb. It has led to the prophesied possibility that humans will so interfere in the chemical elements and genetic codes of life that they will create beings that are monsters and food that is poisoned, apocalyptically killing the Planet and all life.
We have entitled our talk, ‘St Alban and the Salvation of Europe’. Of course, we are not proposing that a saint alone can save Europe. But it is our belief that Europe can be saved by Christ acting through the assembly of Europe’s saints because they all proclaim the same truths as St Alban. Next Sunday is precisely the feast of All Saints, who are the fruit of the Holy Spirit, Who came down at Pentecost. The British Isles has St Alban, but Germany has St Ursula, Ireland St Patrick, France St Denis, Belgium St Gertrude, the Netherlands and Luxembourg St Willibrord, Denmark St Anschar, Sweden and Norway the two St Olafs, the Czech Lands have Sts Ludmila and Viacheslav, Switzerland St Maurice and the Legionnaires from Thebes, Austria St Severinus, Hungary St Martin, Italy the Apostles Peter and Paul, Spain St Eulalia, and Portugal St Martin of Braga. All of these proclaim the same thing: Not, as one American President nearly fifty-five years ago, in June 1963, proclaimed, ‘Ich bin ein Berliner’, but, ‘Ich bin Alban’, in other words, ‘I belong to Christ’.
Some years ago we composed a service to all the Saints of the Western Lands. Here are five stichira from Lord, I have cried from that service, which summarize our thoughts:
For one thousand years the light of the Sun of Righteousness shone forth from the East on the lands of the West, forming a Cross over Europe, before they fell beneath the darkening shades of the Churchless night. Let us now return to the roots of our first confession of the Holy Spirit in the bright Sunrise of Orthodoxy, which is brought again from the East, and so shine forth the light of the Everlasting Christ once more.
O all the saints of the Western Lands, pray to God for our repentance and return, our restoration and resurrection. Tell the people to leave aside the things of men, the fallen fleshly mind and all its vain musings, for they are without the Saviour and the Spirit. And so, through your life in the Holy Trinity, shall we find salvation in the purity of the Orthodox Faith before the end.
Now do we sing to all the saints of the lands of the West and at their head the apostles Peter and Paul, the true glory of Old Rome, and, like stars in the dark night sky, to the constellation of the martyrs and fathers who followed in their apostolic footsteps, leaving behind them the great treasury of holy relics. O First Rome, who art glorious in thy saints alone, do thou return to the eternal faith of Orthodoxy through the Holy Spirit, Who proceeds from the Father, as the Saviour tells us.
Thus from the fountainhead of the East through Old Rome flowed streams of the Holy Spirit to all the lands of the West, through Gaul and Spain, to the uttermost isles in the far ocean and to all the lands of the north, where the darkness saw the light of Christ and all the trees of the forest bowed their heads before the Wisdom and Word of God, forsaking the superstitions and proud errors of the pagan past.
O constellation of all the saints of the Western lands, who shine forth in the night sky, together we gather in your name, in praise to ask you to intercede for us with your prayers. Bring back the Western peoples from the inglorious darkness of their unwisdom to the Wisdom of God, that they may cast aside all the illusions of the fallen reason and know again that the only true glory and enlightenment is in the acquisition of the Holy Spirit.