MODERNISM

 

“There is a species of person called a “modern Churchman” who draws the full salary of a beneficed clergyman and need not commit himself to any religious belief” Evelyn Waugh.

Modernism is the name given to a movement which originated in the Roman Catholic church, but which quickly spread to the other churches including the Church of England – perhaps first coming to real notice in England in 1860 in a set of essays “Essays and Reviews” one of them by Frederick Temple, later Archbishop of Canterbury. These essays were vigorously condemned by the Convocation of Canterbury and two of the essayists were sentenced to a year’s suspension by the Court of Arches. These were followed by leaders such as Inge and Gore.

william-ralph-inge-300x300              Bishop+Charles+Gore

                Dean William Inge                                            Bishop Charles Gore

Pierre Batiffol-Toulouse                      Alfred_Loisy

                     Fr Pierre Batiffol                                                 Fr Alfred Loisy

Modernism, in a sense, resulting from the Enlightenment, believed that religion needed to be interpreted afresh to modern man and it welcomed without reserve the results of historical criticism and scientific discovery with their new outlook on the world, and recognised that the time has come when formulae and doctrinal statements require revision. Modernists could believe or not the Virgin Birth, the empty tomb, the Divinity of Christ. They often distinguished between the historical Christ and the supernatural Christ, and prefer a resurrection of the personality rather than of the body.

The term modernism is used, but today it is just liberalism. Every Archbishop of Canterbury since Randall Davidson in 1901 has to greater or lesser degree been effectively a modernist, with the degree becoming greater as the twentieth century wore on. They had their own magazine from early in the twentieth century the “Modern Churchman”.

It can quite safely be said that today there is not a single bishop in the Church of England who is not a modernist-liberal, for it would not be possible to be recommended for consecration if one were not such. In any case no ordinand is taught anything else.

Modernists maintain that ideas are conditioned by the times, thus they generally believe that most dogma or teachings of the Church came about because of specific circumstances in history. At the same time rationalism reduced the role of miracles, so that the teaching was that the existence of God could never be known and it was argued that religion was caused by, and centred upon the feelings of the believers. This argument weakens any favouring of one religion over another on the principle that if no reasonable assumption of truth can be made, then there should be no privilege given to any particular religion.

The final overall teaching of Modernism is that teachings of the Church, which are required belief can evolve over time not only in expression but in substance rather than remaining immutable. This was what made Modernism unique in the history of heresies. Using the teaching that doctrines could evolve, made it possible for the modernist to believe that both old teachings and new, though contradictory, could be correct. This permits any new belief to be introduced, and hence Modernism has been called “the synthesis of all heresies”.

Modernism has also crept into corners of the Orthodox Church, such as in Paris, and the Phanar, but hopes that it isn’t there widespread beneath the surface, making progress, are just not be realistic.

What this means is that the western churches (Anglican, Lutheran, Presbyterian, Methodist and Roman) have already to a very large extent fallen to a form of religion that is ever-changing, ever moving further away from the norms of the first 1,000 years. Those norms persisted even in the west more or less until the 1400s beginning to change with the preceding Renaissance, but they began their really radical path with the Enlightenment in the early eighteenth century.

While the Enlightenment reached its peak perhaps in the 1790s, it persisted particularly moving into the churches by the 1860s. That is where the real downfall began.

Modernism can – and always has – flourished very well beneath the external trappings of traditional worship. So seeing a seemingly traditionalist minister/priest doing a traditional service is absolutely no guarantee of his orthodoxy. Of course after the great break-out in the aftermath of the Vatican II council, the modernists felt quite free to express their views in new forms of worship, and, in keeping with their ideas of doctrinal development, liturgical development has continued apace.

From time to time, one sees resistance but it is of no avail. There is simply no place to shelter in the western churches for it is simply everywhere.

We need to thoroughly understand that in our time, we are living in a great era of heresy. One may, as Orthodox, comfort oneself with the thought that it is mostly a western thing. That however is foolish. As I said earlier modernism has been in Orthodoxy for around a century and it is even now in the Phanar. Names such as Lampert, Florensky, Bulgakov, Evdokimov straight away spring to mind together with Clement, Bobrinskoi, Schmemann, Men and Meyenforff as well as others.

OlivierClment.jpg.jpg     BORIS BOBRINSKOI

Olivier Clement                                           Fr Boris Bobrinskoi

SCHMEMANN                         fr-john-meyendorff

          Fr Alexander Schmemann                                           Fr John Meyendorff

It is time to worry and to chase it into the open every chance we get. If we do not, then an heresy every bit as widespread as Arianism could gain control of the whole Church. It is probably as omnipresent today within Orthodoxy as it was in the Western churches eighty years ago.

A few years ago the Diocese of Yekatrinaberg in Russia held a public burning of every modernist “Orthodox” book they could get hold of. That got a lot of people’s attention. Perhaps it should happen more often and in more places.

There is no real difference between the modernists, whether they are Anglican, Roman Catholic or Orthodox, their beliefs and aims are much the same. The new interpretations of the Scriptures, the careless attitude to the Tradition, saying that ‘the fathers were rooted in their times, which are not relevant to our times’, talking about ‘the historical context’ of the canons and Scriptures, and a perceived “need” to adapt to the teaching and praxis of the Church to the passing times that we live in are in most cases just developing Christianity steadily away from Christ’s original Way, towards a unity with the secular fads of the present day.

Some modernist writers wrote some very valuable things and are not themselves wholly bad. Here one can only warn people that there is a serious problem and point in very general terms to where it may be found. The intricasies of the whole history of the various modernists-liberals is too complicated for a short introduction such as this. Those with access to the university system can no doubt find further papers. Modernism was not necessarily what they taught as the way they taught it. Modernism opened the entire path for the liberalism that followed, and indeed became commensurate with it. Without the modernism of Inge et al, the liberalism of Holloway probably won’t follow. Once you establish that doctrine is not fixed once for all, and open the idea that it can be developed, then you open the path that we all witnessed as it gathered pace during the last fifty years.

While Schmemann, and Meyendorff certainly said some things very well, they nonetheless had fatal flaws in places and their thinking has ultimately led to liberalism such as has now overtaken St Vladimir’s. Hopko too did some very good work, but nonetheless he too has taught some things at odds with the Orthodox truth. This is the problem – as it always is with Liberals wherever they are, their work can seem attractive, but in the long run it leads us away from the right path. It is seductive and it leads both ordinary clergy and laity alike onto a divergent path. It is not for nothing that Elders have warned us to guard our souls and take great care from whom it is we learn the Faith. Listen to the Fathers, they were not merely writers for their times, they were inspired men who opened the Scriptures for us as well.

LENT IS COMING

 

LENT IS COMING (from the 14th of March to Easter 1st of May 2016)

The Church has been talking about Lent for nigh on two thousand years. In the lead-up to Lent – the four Sundays preceding the beginning of Lent, we begin to prepare ourselves for what should be a genuinely serious undertaking. I want here, to try to impress on people just how vitally important this might be for each and every one of us. Things that we may not previously have thought about.

There is, however, a problem with Lent. It is seen by many as something that “the Church does” that is a “custom” that is somehow what one does because one ought to. That I’m afraid is the attitude of the vast majority of people who populate churches the world over.

The proper view of Lent – of really fasting during Lent is quite, quite different. It is a difficult concept to “sell” and very difficult to explain.

Lent is the time for reflection – serious reflection on our SINS – the real ones that we individually and corporately commit that were the reason for the passion of Christ.

This is the time for us all to get serious and to look at what we are doing in our lives and to repent and confess our sins.

Most of us have virtually no real concept of sin. It is something that each of us has to talk through for ourselves in order that it might dawn on us that while we imagine that we are nice, normal, harmless people, in fact we daily fall very short of what God expects.

We were created by God with the potential to be “like” Him – we have truly remarkable brains that are still largely unused – we have the capacity for vastly more than we use our brains for at present. We truly are “gods” on this earth.

We have the capacity, if we work at it, to thoroughly align ourselves with God’s will, His teaching, His Way. We have all the information that we need – its right there, He gave it to us. Its there for us to read and understand. He even gave us a whole panel of Fathers of the Church and Councils to explain in depth what His teaching meant.

So what is stopping us? We know (if we read) that there has been a river of men and women down the last two millennia who actually have succeeded in aligning themselves closely with God’s Will.

These saints have lived in all sorts and conditions of life, some seemingly very unpropitious, but they have managed to become close to God and to reflect Him in their lives. Some few like Saint Columcille of Iona and Saint Seraphim of Sarov have in the sight of others, been surrounded by the uncreated light of God, and many, many others have glimpsed it.

For the first time, God opened the gates of His Kingdom on Pentecost when the Apostles and all the Disciples received the Holy Spirit. The point of Hesychasm in Orthodoxy is seeing the uncreated light which is a witness that we are already communicating with God even from this present life. We have it described in the levels of prayer how one can pass through stages towards having a vision of God.

Seeing/glimpsing fleetingly the uncreated light simply means that we are getting to know God on a spiritual and personal level, that we are beginning to interact with Him. It is for God alone to determine if we see the uncreated light in this life, or the next. It may be more likely that a serious Orthodox Christian may begin to experience God in this life in small degrees. We may experience God’s uncreated light, but not really understand it as such, or perhaps don’t even notice it.

All are called to theosis and many of the Fathers have indicated what theosis is and how it may be experienced in this life. It is possible, in this present life, for a man to experience theosis as already starting.

Archimandrite Saint Sophrony (Elder Sophrony of Tolleshunt Knights, England +1993) writes, “This wondrous light … eclipsed all else”, “everything within and without is illumined: only the Light is seen.” “The manifestation of Light affords man existential knowledge of God …” telling us that such a vision of the light is proof indeed that we have had an encounter with God Himself – “participation in the Divine Life, contact with the Unoriginate Being”.

“Divine Light”, says Archimandrite Sophrony, “is eternal life, the Kingdom of God, the uncreated energy of the Divinity”.  1 John 3:2: “Now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be; but we know that, when He shall appear, we shall be like Him; for we shall see Him as He is.” “The complete vision of God is ‘the mystery of the eighth day’; it belongs to the age to come ‘the prelude to Christ’s second coming’, the common reward and garment of Christian theosis”.

Through our genuine, total repentance we begin our recovery from our fallen state which always involves an illumination, as Saint Gregory Palamas says, “to the re-assumption of his vestment of light”.

Grace is not some sort of a reward for our works or virtuousness – it is a gift from God given where there is a a true beginning of alignment with God’s will. Saint Sophrony said “contemplation of divine realities is possible only if one’s spirit is to some extent in harmony with the object of contemplation … Every true vision of God is a gift from the High God making us participants in His life, granting us humility and peace, wisdom and knowledge, love and goodness.”

This is what we should be thinking about as we begin Lent. This is where our Lenten repentance should begin to lead us. We may not think of ourselves as “saints” but nevertheless, that is what Saint Paul called us for we are they who are beginning the road of sanctification, thus are we “saints” indeed. It is for us to start down this road in all earnestness, this road to sanctification, this road to thorough alignment with the will of God.

We need however some idea at the outset of the total awesomeness of God, the Master of the entire Cosmos, the one who conceived the Cosmos with its billions of galaxies, its trillions of stars and planets, the One who holds it in being by His steady, ongoing input to this universe.

When we understand that it is He whose will we seek, it is with Him that we seek to align ourselves, that we are made by Him in His image and likeness in the expectation that we would unite ourselves with Him. Then we know what we are setting out to do.

It can all start during Lent with serious fasting and personal repentance for all our falling short of The Way that Christ taught. It must continue with our forgoing many of the comforts of this world, the petty “entertainments” on television and worthless books. We have so very little time – a mere seventy or eighty years in which to align ourselves with the High God. There is so much reading to do – so much learning and discovering – the Fathers will however guide us through the Scriptures, showing us their real inner meaning.

Do not waste time dear brethren, but set out here and now to change your life totally for there is so little time left.

 

CANONICITY – ITS USE AND ABUSE

 

There is much misunderstanding about the use of the word “canonical” in Orthodoxy. The word has acquired a quite wrong meaning in popular usage, which ought to be corrected. Canonical is now used to mean “connected to a Patriarchate”. This is of course a nonsense inasmuch as the very word obviously means adherence to the canons. There are lawful reasons for not being connected to a Patriarchate. There are also examples today of groups which started out in a “canonical” jurisdiction which through no fault of their own have been wrongly and quite unjustifiably abandoned by their original jurisdiction – and left that way through obstinacy on the part of that original jurisdiction.

Though all of these “non-canonical” jurisdictions may have Apostolic Succession as has been admitted by many “canonical” Bishops, and while they say that they take lawful stances as allowed by the canons, they nevertheless are not permitted to participate in joint deliberations should they wish to.

The “canonical” joint episcopal committees in various locations around the world are essentially political organisations comprised of jurisdictions which have common attitudes towards ecumenism and modernism in the Church and being to greater or lesser extent sympathetic to both tendencies.

They however, determine who is “canonically” Orthodox on a political, not actual canonical and ecclesiastical basis.

In both the “canonical” and “non-canonical” jurisdictions, it is not possible to find other than political criteria for applying the notion of “canonicity”. Mere possession of Apostolic Succession, or adherence to the canons of the Church, or even commemorating a Patriarch satisfies the political judgement. The only thing that satisfies it is being mutually connected to a Patriarchate. It is political or personal judgement, not spiritual that prevails.

Apostolic Succession is not understood in the Orthodox Church in a legalistic way. One may have tactile Apostolic Succession, yet violate the canons, ignore the conscience of the Church, and preach heresy. This, then, estranges such a bishop from the grace of the Church, though we can’t point to a moment when that grace ceases. Hence real heretics were received back into the Church in various ways in the Early Church: some by confession, some by Chrismation, some by Baptism.

What constitutes the criteria by which Orthodox validity is established is that firstly, the Bishops who head any Church must have the fullness of Apostolic Succession. They must trace their Consecrations to valid Orthodox Hierarchs. This is the most basic definition of validity in Orthodoxy. Secondly they must demonstrably adhere to the canons of the Church, and teach the same doctrine as the Church.

When Bishops separate from their jurisdiction over matters of Faith, they are often suspended, excommunicated, or deposed by the very hierarchy to which they are in resistance. Some of the greatest Fathers of the Church, including Saint John Chrysostom himself incurred this treatment. So we must discern very carefully the reasons for their separation, their sincerity, and their purposes.

Essentially, we judge the validity of any Orthodox group by its possession of the fullness of Apostolic Succession, including adherence to basic canons, teaching the fullness of Orthodoxy without any innovations and, in the cases of Churches which are separated from their original jurisdictions, by the patristic foundation, canonical justification, and sincerity of their separation. Especially looking at whether they consider themselves out of communion or merely considering themselves in communion when their original jurisdiction does not. There are very few clear-cut cases, and there is no infallible authority to adjudicate matters.

Surely then, it is better not to apply blanket condemnation to all who may not be in “communion” with a patriarchate. Surely it is incumbent on all authorities to attempt to rectify matters. And surely it is not right to condemn those whose consciences have deep misgivings about some major problem which they see in their original jurisdiction.

THE CHURCH, GROWTH, NUMBERS AND TRUE CHRISTIAN WITNESS

 

Today, we are seeing the remnants of (even heretical) Christian belief evaporate all over the western world. We see the great western churches – Roman Catholic, Anglican, Protestant all in steep decline everywhere, with no end in sight.

More to the point, we see Orthodox churches going nowhere. Yes new churches are opened occasionally, but what are they? Are they some sort of national remembrance-club in a foreign land? Or are they filled with genuine Christian Believers?

In any case, what should we be doing? Do numbers count? Should we be going after numbers? The coffers will be better filled if we get numbers, and thereby the institution that we call The Church will be better served won’t it?

If the Orthodox Church is a great and powerful institution, that will secure our place in the world won’t it? Souls will be saved won’t they? Or will we, like the independent mega-churches simply descend into materialism, so that no matter the beauty of our church services, we are just a materialistic institution, like business corporations, intent on organisational survival?

I fear the latter may be precisely what we are in danger of becoming. Perhaps all unknowingly, as bishops are pressured, to mind the business and property, with little real time for reflection and praying.

What then can we do about it?

Lets try looking back, initially to the first two hundred years of The Church. How did it act – and what was it?

Right at the beginning, the Church comprised the Jewish followers of Christ in and around the Roman province of Syria-Palestine, centred upon Jerusalem. Persecution caused it to disperse to Antioch and other cities. The community at Tyre which had been started by Jesus Christ Himself continued without a break and still exists today.

The Apostles appointed leaders in the various centres of Believers – overseers in the Greek word episkopoi – from which we get the word bishops. Apparently this word was in use exceedingly early because Saint Dorotheus of Tyre records that Aristobulus, one of the seventy Apostles sent out by the Lord (Luke 10:1–24.) was sent from Tyre as bishop of Britain in AD37. In other words he was sent as a sole leader of a new Church. So the concept of a Church Overseer (bishop) was there in the Church at Jerusalem at that very early stage.

We know that the Church spread throughout Greece to Rome, south to north Africa, and had jumped west to Britain in the very early years after the Resurrection.

We know that the Apostles appointed bishops in each city that they had evangelised and we know that those bishops appointed presbyters as they needed assistance and deacons.

But still – there was no Holy Scripture other than the Septuagint that Jesus had used. All they had was various papers and oral accounts of what Jesus had done and taught. They had The Way that Jesus had taught, they could Baptise and they could celebrate the Eucharist. That much we know because we have it recorded in Scripture and other contemporary documents.

The primary duty of Christians was to live The Way and worship God. The Way is set out for us in the New Testament and it is still the Way for Orthodox Christians to live.

So why did Christianity spread so far and so fast?

Obviously for some people the Christian’s attitudes towards one another would have been attractive, especially in a world where a fair amount of sexual and other abuse was routinely carried out. Their peaceableness would stand out in a world where war and brutality was common even as a public spectacle.

That alone (plus of course preaching in Synagogues) got the Church going. For several hundred years The Church was a fairly loose federation of dioceses which all recognised each other and held the same doctrines. Apart from the letters of the Apostles, there were other documents circulating like the Didache and the Shepherd which taught Christianity. After the Apostles, there were the letters of Saint Polycarp and Saint Clement all of which we still have. Christians didn’t need to be a large corporate institution. The amiable federation of dioceses worked rather effectively. Maintaining the Apostolic tradition wasn’t hard for the first hundred years – for most of which Saint John was still alive.

The Early Church was certainly not afraid of evangelising the non-Christians. It was close-knit enough for most of the Christians in any given town to know each other – there was only one church – very often a converted synagogue or a large private house. Christians tried hard to worship God, respect their fellow man and obey the lawful government.

Their Faith however was both strong and communally held. It was a faith not of this world, but in those days it was to them a very rationally held belief because they had Apostles who had lived with and known Jesus and been there at the major events that they were teaching about. And after the last Apostle, there were still the bishops they had appointed who had learned directly from the Apostles. It is also worth remembering that at the end of 250 years there would have been up to five hundred thousand people whose father, mother, grandfather, uncle or aunt had met or heard Jesus.

After this, we come to the acceptance of Christianity by the Empire, a momentous event that had immense consequences.

The Roman Empire now had its real centre moving to Constantinople, and Constantinople was the centre of the Byzantine Roman Empire.

The centre of Byzantium was Constantinople. A great city of over 800,000 people setting the tone of the empire. What exactly was Constantinople?

Christianity was the official religion of the empire. For a millennium the great city was the capital of Christian civilisation. This was the city of the Great Church, of the emperor, and of the brilliant administration. In short it was the City of God, the Christian Jerusalem. Confidence in eternity and the divine protection of Constantinople and its emperor, and in eternal victory of the faithful was the community attitude.

The belief system of the whole people was rational because the Church at the beginning of Byzantium was only two hundred years from the death of the last living Apostle who had personally known Jesus Christ and that Apostle (Saint John) had lived at Ephesus, just a hundred or so miles from Constantinople, well inside their empire. The history of Christianity was short and immediate, the Bible had not yet been put together. There were no questions as to Christianity’s historical reality and the truth of its premises, there had been no pseudo-enlightenment, this Faith was based on facts.

As Christianity faced up to the world and all the problems it caused them, they held great Councils of bishops, priests, laity and they expected as of right that these Councils would be led by the Holy Spirit. The Councils sought God’s way of dealing with the problems. Most of those Councils were held in the Empire not all that far from Constantinople and in Constantinople.

Constantinople possessed the world’s greatest church building – Hagia Sophia – Holy Wisdom cathedral and its associated compound and buildings which was served by six hundred men including eighty priests and was built in AD 537. There was only one Christian Church in the whole world, it was the Orthodox Catholic Church that Christ Himself had founded. The Apostles had all functioned within the boundaries of the empire, some just a few miles from Constantinople. This was the place where the Emperor, the Patriarch and all the people came to worship before God. Hagia Sophia was the Temple at Jerusalem writ into the Christian Church and everything else a mere synagogue.

Here was the high point of mankind communicating with God, the pinnacle of humanity, the Emperor and Patriarch, Bishops and Priests moving in solemn ministration before the Throne of God on earth in Hagia Sophia. Here too were the ‘akimitoi’ or “those who never sleep”, the monks of Studion whose continuous prayer, day and night through the generations, kept the universe in permanent contact with its Creator in an endless cycle of hearing His words and returning glory. Only in Byzantium, nowhere else on earth, not even in Jerusalem, had this been done, and it is still done today on Mount Athos, the only direct remnant of Byzantium with us, where the twenty monasteries still pray ceaselessly for the world. There were other monasteries in Constantinople, and all over the Empire. Some had started earlier, and a few still exist, but Stoudion was different, it was the beating heart of the Empire, praying continuously for the whole world, and keeping the Empire in continuous formal conversation with God. This was necessary to the well-being of the Empire. This was the secret of the Empire’s success.

This Christian Empire lasted for an entire thousand years in one united Church with a continuously praying centre and only ceased at the point of invading swords.

This same Church existed in the British Isles as one united Church (connected to that in Byzantium) with a praying centre of real monasteries – and it too lasted for an entire thousand years (and only ceased at the point of invading swords).

The same Church existed in Russia for a thousand years and is now growing rapidly with what quality only time will tell.

But these were unified societies with only one Church. We in the west have a bewildering variety of groups calling themselves Christian. The Orthodox Church is in a minority with few claims on the population. It must attract in an entirely missionary way amongst the unchurched majority of the population. This means that the Orthodox Church in say the United Kingdom and Europe must look to the methods by which it approaches this task. It must at all costs avoid the American corporate-business models that so-called Christian bodies there are promulgating.

In the United Kingdom and Europe the Church must first of all adopt the local language and divest itself of its alien ethnicity. Until it does that it will achieve nothing.

It must adapt its architecture and worship more to the local culture. This does not mean altering/shortening the services, it does mean using familiar vernacular forms exclusively. It means that the internal appearance may begin to reflect local tastes.

Ultimately can we say only that what will grow the Church is exactly what grew it in the first few centuries: Christians living seriously Christian lives – in all aspects of their lives – with fully functioning, obviously Christian families, with proper Christian or home schooling. Such that they are indeed attractive to those who see them. Yes, parishes should engage in care for the poor, homeless and sick, but it should be at parish level and no higher.

It is at the family and parish level that all missionary activity should be carried out. If the diocese by itself wants to put a missionary church into some disadvantaged area or country then it should do it as a diocese and no higher level – it should be personal. Perhaps every diocese should be encouraged to sponsor a mission in some place where the Orthodox Church has not hitherto existed, in order that Saint John of ShangHai’s prediction will come true: that the end will not come until the Orthodox Church has preached to all the world.

We must make the Church truly local again and de-institutionalise it. We should look to the idea of very small dioceses, where the bishop is not forced to be a politician in order to become a bishop, or a corporate manager in order to manage the diocese. There should be no great cachet to the office of bishop and small dioceses where the bishop can personally know every priest and his family, as well as a lot of the laity, where he has the freedom to be guide and spiritual father to all those in his care.

This is the case in Greece where in a country the size of Scotland, there are eighty dioceses and there it works, the country bishops could in many cases literally walk around their dioceses.

I think that the de-institutionalising, the small dioceses, the outreach at parish and family level is the only way forward that will work. I am sure that may objections will be raised, but these have to be overcome if we seriously want the Church to preach the Gospel to all