A new year, psychologically at least a “new beginning”, so lets look at what it is that should concern us as Orthodox Christians in the British Isles. Some of the things that I mention are political but they are political things that should concern us very much when we look at them from the point of view of the Church and salvation of souls in our country. A lot of church people use the term “salvation of souls” as a catch-cry or accusation but we must be clear that from an Orthodox Christian point of view this is precisely what we mean: giving people the opportunity to do just that.

The first thing for all of us is the concentration on ourselves, our own souls and our increasing awareness of God, and alignment with His requirements of us. We have Christ’s clear teaching as to how we should live. It is there for all of us to read and follow and if we do not there are no excuses, only reasons, and the primary one is our own weakness. If we live following Christ’s teaching, we are a beacon for those around us and if we follow Christ, then others will be inspired to follow likewise and we will have done our primary duty.

We are, however living in complicated and dangerous times. It doesn’t require a huge amount of discernment to see the most obvious dangers.

The United Kingdom faces huge decisions in this coming year. We have in the past been led to believe that being involved in the European experiment was good for us. However we forget that the great men who originally advocated a European community never envisaged us as being members. Winston Churchill for instance saw it as a French-German thing, we were in his view, never to be involved. His object was purely to obviate any further German initiated wars.

What we see now is what has been recognised widely as a Fourth Reich, that is, a German dominated Europe. The organisation in Brussels has absorbed some 2 to 3 trillion pounds from its members taxpayers, including over £500 billion from UK taxpayers alone. The suspicion now is that the greater beneficiary of all this has been Germany, take a look at her cities and compare them with ours or the French cities and I think you’ll see what I mean.

Islam is obviously seeking to wrest control of our country, even the most “friendly”, “moderate” moslem seeks our conversion one way or another to this satanic religion. I say satanic because a simple reading of Mahommed’s original meeting with “Gabriel” was obviously a meeting with a satanic entity impersonating Gabriel. We must be aware of that. We should therefore be aware that there is a large body of political opinion in this country that is atheist and sees Islam as nothing more than “another church” and nothing to be frightened of, because so far that is the way they have wanted us to see them. We however, need to use our discernment to realise that the wholesale immigration of the followers of this satanic religion in no way helps this country, rather it is the destruction of this country. We need therefore to do all that we can to stop the inflow. Doing that will probably be most easily accomplished by exiting the European Union and electing politicians who recognise the danger.

Discerning the men that we elect to parliament is a Christian duty. We should elect only those who meet our moral standards, and that means not worrying too much about party, but about the individual and the standards that he has actually met in his life (not those he just talks about).

The History Of It All

We are launching out into a new year and all sorts of pundits are talking and writing about what we can or should be doing.

I am going to make some statements here that might offend some people, so be it, pre-political-correctness, people were always making statements that offended others and the others took it in their stride.

I am not talking here just about the United Kingdom, but far more generally.

The world order that predominated after Yalta was that of a bi-polar world. Whether one liked the Cold War or not, it eventually devolved into a position where war was practically impossible on a major scale due to the Mutually Assured Destruction thesis of nuclear balance.

The west, after America had grabbed for itself a “leadership” role, concentrated on preventing communism from spreading further and therefore involved itself in wars in Korea, Vietnam, Malaysia etc., only one of which (Malaysia fought by Britain and Australia) was successful.

Things changed radically after the fall of the Berlin Wall with the collapse of the Soviet Union and the emergence of a radically different Russia. Over the following twenty-five years, a multipolar world has emerged, with the growth of India, China and Brazil to add to Russia Britain Germany and the USA. This is vastly complicating when it comes to thinking about world events on any scale.

One of the important factors – perhaps the most important factor now influencing world events is the overwhelming power of global corporations.

In 2009, of the top 100 largest economic entities of the world, 44 were corporations – not countries. To put it into rough context, less than half of those, just the top twenty out of the top five hundred global corporations have assets worth 23 trillion dollars. Here are the top twenty companies as of mid 2015:








China Construction Bank



Agricultural Bank of China



Bank of China



Berkshire Hathaway

United States


JPMorgan Chase

United States


Exxon Mobil

United States





General Electric

United States


Wells Fargo

United States


Toyota Motor




United States


Royal Dutch Shell



Volkswagen Group



HSBC Holdings

United Kingdom



United States


Wal-Mart Stores

United States


Samsung Electronics

South Korea



United States


China Mobile


The three countries who host the majority of the top five hundred companies are China, the USA and Great Britain. The next nearest country has only half of Britain’s total.

What Are We To Make Of It?

There are many seemingly powerful think tanks and other organisations dedicated to the maintenance of democratic government around the world. However, cynically or realistically, the fact is that control of money means effective control of the activities of governments. Most governments only control the production of money but they do not control what happens to money once it enters the outside world

Imagining that our future is in the hands of our elected governments is foolish, for it arguably is not. Governments (most especially those of the United States and the United Kingdom) have demonstrably held a huge amount of information regarding the way decisions are made, secret. We have reason to suspect that corruption in less than obvious forms is concerned where those involved are not principally in agreement.

Academic Alex Carey explained the three most important 20th century developments, “The growth of democracy, the growth of corporate power, and the growth of corporate propaganda as a means of protecting corporate power against democracy.”

So is there a driving force? And if so what is it? Conspiracy theories apart, is there any compelling reason to believe that there is some agenda to the manipulation of governments and events?

Let us consider some of the less obvious players.

Of course there are the major banks, the major funds, the major oil companies and the major arms manufacturers. In most of these cases, it isn’t the corporations so much as the effective owner-controllers and what they want that should be of concern, if there is anything to be concerned about.

So are there any organisations through which these owner-controllers might act?

The Bilderberg Group, the Council on Foreign Relations, the Trilateral Commission and the mother of all these, The Royal Institute of International Affairs, are bodies where decisions about the future of mankind may well be arrived at.

The Royal Institute of International Affairs (Chatham House). A seemingly open, well known institution. It was founded in 1920 and operates in London with a strong American Foundation in America. It has websites and you can easily see who its presidents and councillors are. However, it holds annual international meetings at which the Chatham House Rule operates: “When a meeting, or part thereof, is held under the Chatham House Rule, participants are free to use the information received, but neither the identity nor the affiliation of the speaker(s), nor that of any other participant, may be revealed”. The participants are all members of other interesting organisations.

The Bilderberg Group

Bilderberg Group. Founded in 1947 at the Bilderberg Hostel by Prince Bernhard of the Netherlands and meeting every year since in conditions of considerable secrecy enforced by the host governments with no guest lists. Its 2015 meeting had 120 attendees, including many connected to or controlling the above list of companies and other companies in the next twenty rankings.

The Trilateral Commission

The Trilateral Commission today is now global with members from countries such as Argentina, Ukraine, Israel, Jordan, Brazil, Turkey, China. In his book “Trilaterals Over America”, Antony Sutton believes that the Trilateral Commission’s aim is to collaborate with the Bilderberger Group and the Council for Foreign Relations in “establishing public policy objectives to be implemented by governments worldwide.” He added that “Trilateralists have rejected the US Constitution and the democratic political process.” In fact he says, the Trilateral Commission was established to counter a “crisis in democracy” – too much of it – that had to be contained.

An official Trilateral Commission report was fearful about “the increased popular participation in and control over established social, political, and economic institutions and especially a reaction against the concentration of power of Congress and of state and local government.”

Zbigniew Brzezinski (Trilateral Commission’s co-founder)(Security Adviser to two Presidents of the USA) wrote in his “Between Two Ages – America’s Role in the Technotronic Era”:

“people, governments and economies of all nations must serve the needs of multinational banks and corporations. The US Constitution is inadequate….the old framework of international politics, with their sphere of influence….the fiction of sovereignty….is clearly no longer compatible with reality….”

Council for Foreign Relations

Founded in 1921 and headquartered in New York City, with an additional office in Washington, D.C.. Its membership has included senior politicians, more than a dozen secretaries of state, CIA directors, bankers, lawyers, professors, and senior media figures. The Council promotes globalisation, free trade, reducing financial regulations on transnational corporations, and economic consolidation into regional blocs such as NAFTA or the European Union, and develops policy recommendations that reflect these goals.

Its meetings bring together government officials, global business leaders and prominent members of the intelligence/foreign-policy community to discuss international issues. The Council runs the David Rockefeller Studies Program, which influences foreign policy by making recommendations to the presidential administration and diplomatic community.

Security and and Prosperity Partnership

At a March 23rd meeting, 2005 in Waco, Texas, attended by George Bush, Mexico’s Vincente Fox, and Canada’s Paul Martin, the Security and and Prosperity Partnership was founded, aka the North American Union. It was a secretive North America agreement – a group organized by the Canadian Council of Chief Executive, the Mexican Council on Foreign Relations, and the Council of Foreign Relations with the following aims:

Circumventing the legislatures of the three countries and their constitutions; Suppressing public knowledge or consideration; Proposing greater US, Canadian and Mexican economic, political, social, and security integration with secretive working groups formed to devise non-debatable, non-voted-on agreements to be binding and unchangeable.

In short, a corporate coup d’etat against the sovereignty of three nations enforced by hard line militarisation to suppress opposition.

It’s aim would be to create a borderless North America, corporate controlled, without barriers to trade or capital flows for business, America’s access to vital resources, especially oil, and Canada’s fresh water. Mexico’s increasingly “normal” drug cartels, now operating as ordinary corporations, with large holdings in many normal global corporations are apparently eligible for inclusion here.

Apparently secretively, over three hundred Security and and Prosperity Partnership ideas were written to harmonise the North America’s policies on energy, food, drugs, security, immigration, manufacturing, the environment, and public health along with militarising three nations for enforcement.

Does Security and and Prosperity Partnership represent another step toward the Bilderberg/Trilateralist/Council of Foreign Relations goal for World Government, taking it one step at a time?

One step was the European Union the result of many treaties and economic agreements: the December 1951 European Coal and Steel Community; the March 1957 Treaty of Rome establishing the European Economic Community; the European Atomic Energy Commission; the 1957 European Court of Justice; the 1960 European Free Trade Association; the 1967 European Economic Community merging the ECSC, EAEC and EEC together in one organization; the 1968 European Customs Union to abolish duties and establish uniform imports taxing among EEC nations; the 1978 European Currency Unit (Ecu); the February 1986 Single European Act revision of the 1957 Treaty of Rome; with the objective of forming a Common Market by December 31, 1992; the February 1992 Maastricht Treaty creating the European Union; and the Euro currency in 1999 replacing Ecu.

Over half a century, the above steps have cost European Union members their sovereignty “as some 70 to 80 per cent of the laws passed in Europe involve just rubber stamping of regulations already written by nameless bureaucrats in ‘working groups’ in Brussels or Luxembourg.”

The European Union embodies everything that is wrong with the corporate-globalised world that the above groups are trying to foist upon us: an unelected, powerful elite taking unilateral decisions in a foreign capital, a decidedly left-wing, multi-culturalist agenda combined with the worst excesses of nepotism and corruption, a contemptuous lack of financial transparency, together with an incompetence that is simply breathtaking.

The EU and NAU share common features: advocacy from a influential spokesperson; an economic and later political union; hard line security, and for Europe, ending wars on the continent between European Union member states; establishment of a collective consciousness in place of nationalism; the blurring of borders and creation of a “supra-government,” a superstate; secretive arrangements to mask real objectives; and the creation of a common currency.

Steps Toward a North American Union

At the 1991 Bilderberg meeting, David Rockefeller got governor Bill Clinton’s support for NAFTA if he became president; on January 1, 1994, with no debate under “fast-track” rules, Congress approved World Trade Organisation legislation; in December 1994 at the first Summit of the Americas, 34 Hemispheric leaders committed their nations to a Free Trade of the Americas agreement (FTAA) by 2005 – so far unachieved; on July 4, 2000, Mexican president Vincente Fox called for a North American common market in 20 years; on February 2001, the White House published a joint statement from George Bush and Vincente Fox called the “Guanajuato Proposal;” it was for a US-Canada-Mexico prosperity partnership (aka North American Union); in September 2001, Bush and Fox agreed to a “Partnership for Prosperity Initiative;” the September 11, 2001 attack gave cover to including “security” as part of a future partnership;

In April 2007, the Transatlantic Economic Council was established between America and the European Union to: create an “official international governmental body – by executive fiat; harmonise economic and regulatory objectives; move toward a Transatlantic Common Market

The End Game

Is all this a step closer to One World Government run by the world’s most powerful corporate interests?

The 2009 Bilderberg Group Meeting

From May 14th to the 17th, 2009, Bilderbergers held their annual meeting in Vouliagmeni, Greece, and according to Daniel Estulin have dire plans for global economies.

According to his pre-meeting sources, they’re divided on two alternatives:

“Either a prolonged, agonizing depression that dooms the world to decades of stagnation, decline and poverty (or) an intense but shorter depression that paves the way for a new sustainable world order, with less sovereignty but more efficiency.”

Well a depression certainly started in 2008 and we are still living with many of its consequences.

Other agenda items included: “the future of the US dollar and US economy;” with continued deception about green shoots signalling an end to recession and improving economy: suppressing the fact that bank stress tests were merely designed for deception; a final push to get the Lisbon Treaty passed for European Union adoption of neoliberal rules, including greater privatisations, fewer worker rights, capped social benefits, open border trade favouring developed over emerging states, and greater militarisation in the form of a European Union army.

After the meeting, there was a private a 73-page report on what was discussed. Noting that “One of Bilderberg’s primary concerns….is the danger that their zeal to reshape the world by engineering chaos (toward) their long term agenda could cause the situation to spiral out of control and eventually lead to a scenario where Bilderberg and the global elite in general are overwhelmed by events and end up losing their control over the planet.”

Estulin also noted some considerable disagreement between “hardliners” wanting a “dramatic decline and a severe, short-term depression (versus others) who think that things have gone too far” so that “the fallout from the global economic cataclysm” can’t be known, may be greater than anticipated, and may harm Bilderberger interests. Also, “some European bankers (expressed great alarm over their own fate and called the current) high wire act ‘unsustainable.’ ”

There was a combination of agreement and fear that the situation remains dire and the worst of the crisis lies ahead, mainly because of America’s extreme debt level that must be resolved to produce a healthy, sustainable recovery.

Topics also included: establishing a Global Treasury Department and Global Central Bank, possibly partnered with or as part of the IMF; a global currency.

One may wonder if the islamic invasion is part of their planned chaotic re-construction of Europe to suit their ends. Or is it something that has resulted from their planned chaos spinning out of control as they feared? Unintended consequences are very well known and creating chaos has considerable danger of creating unintended consequences.

And What Of All This?

Of course, we are dealing with human events and agendas and, as we well know the best laid plans of mice and men gang aft awry.

So have we cause for concern here? Are we starting at shadows? Is there real danger?

More to the point – as Christians – Orthodox Christians, should we be alarmed or are we just dealing with yet another embryonic empire with which we guardedly deal?

In theory there wouldn’t be a huge difference between living in the world apparently being devised by these people and living in say the Roman Empire. The government quite indifferent to our Christian agenda. We do not seek our kingdom of this world, we seek the kingdom of God. If God enacts the Second Coming then we know that these people cannot prevail.

So yes, the antichrist could well be something entirely different from previous imaginings. It might be this corporatising of the world, and we may indeed be seeing the numerous heads of a monster in these organisations. Certainly the kings of the earth seem to be flocking towards what they are devising, and certainly a one world government could well be the satanic agenda.

Whatever the truth of it is, we as Christians are primarily concerned with saving our own souls and enabling as many others as possible to follow with us in saving their souls. More than living The Way as Christ taught is not asked of us.


I want to very briefly talk about a vision of the Cosmos, about the Master of that Cosmos – the Triune God – about the earth, about the destiny of man – about being at the pinnacle of mankind looking towards God and the future.

Having lived a long time, travelled widely, met a lot of people of all persuasions and done a lot of things in my life, I imagine that I now know a lot. That is ridiculous of course, for I know nothing, all I have is a few minor pointers. However I do have vision. Flawed perhaps, imperfect certainly and unrealised of course. A vision however that haunts me and which I feel impelled to impart. Human words however are so inadequate.

I have read and re-read the revelation of Jesus who was the Christ of God. I have had no such revelation as Saint John had, but I have read and re-read his revelation. I have read and re-read Julian of Norwich’s revelation. I have read the Old Testament revelations.

All of it points in one direction: To the absolutely Almighty Master-Creator, the Triune God that we rightly worship.

What is our worship however? “God is a Spirit and they that worship Him must worship Him in spirit and in truth.” Worship….λατρείαcaerimonium Both these words imply action – doing something – often in concert with others.

God is a spirit. Well we know nothing at all of the essence of God. We cannot picture Him, we have no idea if indeed He can be seen with our vision, we think that if we could “see” Him, it would be overwhelming and its as best that we cannot see Him. The point is however that He is “there”, He exists.

So what is it that we think that we know now?

Mankind has made enormous strides in understanding the basic structure of the physical world in the past hundred years or so. Strangely, the more we know about the physical universe, the more difficult it becomes to understand it. Most people for instance learned about atoms in school. They were pictured for us rather like little solar systems with a nucleus (sun) at the centre and lots of particles whizzing around it in orbits rather like planets. The picture satisfied most of what people wanted to know and they left it at that. That is not however what it is at all, and those who study and theorise about such things know perfectly well that that picture is wrong. It now appears that the “particles” that surround the nucleus are not really particles. They can be tested and react as “particles” but they also react as waves. In fact they are now held to be pieces of information. That’s right information. They “exist” at different levels in relation to the nucleus and their number and level determines the physical substance which they comprise.

In String Theory the physical world has ten dimensions, six of them hidden from view inside the Cosmos. M-theory gives our universe several extra dimensions that we cannot see – but it places these extra dimensions outside the created universe.

So was the “big bang” actually an explosion of information? The input that was needed to create the world?

We have precise knowledge, we can prove some things and and we can apply our knowledge – but not always with understanding. We know the mathematics exactly, but we cannot connect it to our experience of this world.

Quantum Theory rules the microcosmic world, from which the world that we see emerges, and Einstein’s General Relativity rules the cosmic world that we live in, these two cover everything that we see and know of the physical universe.

The Virtual Reality theory says that our world is a virtual reality that only exists by information processing beyond and outside itself, upon which it depends entirely. It further says that there is nothing inside the physical universe that exists of or by itself.

Try putting the extra dimensions of the universe and the Virtual Reality Hypothesis together and it becomes rather interesting. Information input… a word …. In the beginning …… God said Let there be light and there was light – the first creative action recorded in Genesis. God imparted information and it had a result. And Christians have known from the psalmist “For God spoke and it was; He commanded and it stood” In other words God is the source of each and every piece of information input into the processing which constantly creates the entire cosmos as the virtual reality hypothesis demands.

It follows that the universe must have at least one dimension outside it. In the Virtual Reality Hypothesis, the extra dimensions can be very large – infinitely so – and are outside this universe. It follows that the information input upon which our world depends, comes from outside our physical world, and there is a dimension beyond our physical universe from which it can come.

Christians have known since the new Testament that there were extra “dimensions” to the universe – Saint Paul mentioned them (I was caught up into the third heaven). And as Virtual Reality Hypothesis describes. So science seems to now be saying there is in fact a “place” for God and all that surrounds Him to “be” in physical reality.

Christians have known that heaven isn’t some sort of “supernatural” ethereal, imaginary “place” but that it is as real as what we see around us now. We are told that we have bodies in the afterlife.

Interesting thoughts. All, then that such an afterlife as Christians have, needs is information input – just as this world we have now requires. So perhaps we Christians ought to be at least looking at these scientific theories because they are getting perilously close to convergence with what we know already. Perhaps scientists all unknowingly are edging towards God?

The evidence presented for this view is from science not religion, it is scientific hypothesising based on what can be observed. We as people not involved in such esoteric work need to look at it with care, but there are certain things that we can understand, such for instance as the physical matter we generally take as “reality” is only 4% of the universe, with dark matter (23%) and dark energy (73%) making up the rest. If most of the universe isn’t the world we see, why would we assume that what we see is all there is?

A vision of the Cosmos, the Master of that Cosmos – the Triune God – the earth, the destiny of man – about being at the pinnacle of mankind looking towards God and the future. We as a species may have a long way to go – or a very short way to go, whatever the truth of that, the vision of who and what and where we are is of consuming interest. We in our time won’t know. What we will know is that there is a Master of the Universe and our future lies with Him. It behoves us therefore to align ourselves wholly with Him as far as we can right now.

The revelation of Jesus the Son of God is there for us to see. It outlines what we need to do to align ourselves with God. The Revelation of Saint John the Divine is there to underline the matter for us. For the moment, that total alignment with God is the most important thing for us as individuals to do. It ensures our future.



It’s been tempting ever since Christianity started out, to think that we moving to the end of time and Christians have been reading the signs of their various times and thinking that the terrible events of the day, the wars and Christian lethargy point to an imminent end.

The Early Christians – including Apostles thought the end would be very soon.

In 1026 Richard II of Normandy lead a group of several hundred men on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land in the belief that the Day of Judgment had arrived – and so it has gone in pretty well every century since.

Think, for instance about the moslem onslaught on Europe beginning in AD 711 and continuing until Georgia was reconquered in 1878. Much of southern Europe was held by moslems until the 1500s.

Reason perhaps to imagine that all of northern Europe would be conquered and islam would prevail entirely over Christianity.

So, today, we face a resurgent islam again wanting to conquer Europe and this time being aided and abetted by Europeans who have no idea of the danger they face.

We look around us and we see the almost universal abandonment of any pretence at Christianity throughout the western world. There may be theoretically around 2.2 billion Christians in the world – but does anyone seriously imagine that more than 30 million are active, or that more than that would stand up for their faith?

And where will we find that 30 million? Mostly in Russia, Georgia, Serbia I suspect – plus Africa with only small pockets in Europe, the British Isles and the Americas.

The moslems – all of them – read and understand the requirement on them to kill those who oppose islam and refuse to convert. So as they slowly gain control of parts of Europe, expect that to start and internal refugees to mass and move within Europe. The “Displaced Persons” camps of post WW II will start all over again.

Not everyone will be martyred or put to death or suffer unbearable torture. Some will escape, for the Lord told us that He will keep us from that hour of testing, otherwise no one will be here to greet Him. He will keep us, some of us miraculously. He will move us through the spirit of God to safe havens. Some will be moved to true sanctuary cities or towns. Others will be kept safe and provided for because they will be living in the outskirts and hidden away from those that would seek to do them harm. Whatever our fate might be, we need to remain faithful until the end. Our kingdom is not of this world.

When, however, will that “end” come? The moslems invasion could well be no more than God permitting them to run loose as punishment for our abandoning Him. It need not signify the Second Coming.

The Book of the Revelation of Saint John the Divine is not a timetable for the end. Part of it deals with the Roman Empire as can be easily seen by those who know history. Part of it is a non-linear accounting of the end times. We have, however no clue in it for when that is. Probably quite deliberately so. We are told to live as if we die tomorrow. We must live as if we will answer for all our actions immediately. That is sufficient. We live therefore as if the Second Coming were in fact next Tuesday.

Packaged Faith

A friend of mine wrote this and I like it.  So I thought it would be a good start since I identify with it thoroughly.


I was thinking about the old Church of Scotland bookshop at 121 George Street. It was a real bookshop. A real bookshop is one that only sells books and, apart from some Sunday school materials and the church magazine, this one only did sell books. It was not what you’d call decorated. Painted yes, and clean (apart from some dust around the secondhand seventeeth century divines) but lacking in nice veneers and soothing magnolia tints. But it sold books and plenty of them.

It had a tea-room too which was very unusual for bookshops in these days with tapioca pudding on the menu on Monday and Wednesday and crowded with old ladies in serviceable hats and sensible shoes lured by cheapness and churchiness. Espressos and cappuchinos were still as unknown as they had been in the days of Miss Jean Brodie (whom I am sure never crossed the threshhold). The old ladies never actually bought books, perhaps a copy of ‘Life and Work’ on their way out to pore over on the bus back to Cramond or Morningside, but the shelves of William Barclay (the man who never had an unpublished thought), John Owen, Robert Lewis Dabney, J C Ryle, John Bunyan and collections of cloth-bound sermons by A W Pink were reverentially undisturbed except by the odd theology student strayed down from New College. It was therefore the place to be for young ladies hoping to become ministers’ wives but I wasn’t one of them. Perhaps they thought I was a wannabe lady minister.

Then it changed. It became brighter, breezier and pastel-hued. The number of books went down and the number of non-Presbyterian books went up, videos and cassettes appeared in quantity as did magazines, and a good proportion of the books that were left were soft theology, comfy reads, self-help and Christianity-lite. Or as my friend Jean used to say, “lo-alcohol religion with nothing to gladden the heart” just more world-weary tripe about how to be a successful Christian. The craggy, dour, dog-collared old chaps who had once graced journal covers (frightening you off sin for a month) and whose lectures and sermons were advertised disappeared to be replaced by cheerful young men and women with carefully coiffed casualness back in the day when an unbuttoned shirt collar was heart-flutteringly trendy and occasionally in those oh-so daring blue jeans. It’s almost impossible to remember now but thirty years ago people still wore suits and hats to church here.

I got tired of those faces very quickly with their perfect skin and de rigueur cheerfulness, that certain sort of girl-next-door, wholesome Christian cheerfulness that makes me feel jaded and avoidant. Or as Jane Austen put it, “pictures of perfection make me sick and wicked.”

I started going to the Catholic bookshop. It was run by an elderly gentleman and his two spinster sisters, all very devout, and was crammed into two tiny 18th century shops thrown together and full of all manner of thing. Secondhand books with old dust from their original attics and new cobwebs. Encyclicals with impressive Latin names. Lives of saints, real and imagined, each one lovingly photographed in plaster of paris on the cover (try telling those old ladies that St Philomena wasn’t real and their soft, kindly wrinkles would transform into something that would stop a gorgon and beads would be clicked on your behalf at Sunday Mass for weeks to come). A pensive Bernadette Soubirous peered down from dim old photographs over crucifixes, waxen effigies of holy corpses, daguerrotypes of 19th century cardinals and sweetly tinted images of the Little Flower, Jesus Himself blonde and simpering, heavy blood-red glass votive holders, and Virgin Marys so pious that you wanted to smack them resulting in meditative journeys home on the subject of what the penance might be for that thought.

I pored over plastic rosaries, holy water bottles in the shape of Our Lady of La Salette, miraculous medals, pamphlets of novenas, the odd relocating monstrance and no end of sentimental, melodramatic and perhaps even true stories of cures at Lourdes as well as the lives of the visionaries of Fatima. I also discovered Monsignor Ronald Knox and Sister Edith Stein as well as new (to me) works by Cardinal Newman and Fr Gerard Manley Hopkins, SJ.

And then the brother and sisters retired and new people took over and it became glossy and bright. Today you would call it “pinnable”. And then unsurprisingly, to me at least, it closed.

The premises now hawk hideous tourist tat and I never pass it without a momentary prayer for the nice old people and a little sniff of regret because there is within me that which likes portraits of long dead religious and that indefinable smell of tallow-and-something that Catholic churches have and this shop had too.

And this is the problem with much of the way Christianity is presented today in bright, clean pastels. It’s smooth and glossy, a sort of Instagram gospel, and I don’t trust it. I loathe the way the faith is packaged, it’s not just Christianity, it’s your Christianity, and I want to smack the purveyors of it like the smugly demure madonna. Christianity should never be comfortable. It should be – it is – joyful but it’s not Instagrammable; if it doesn’t hurt, if it provides easy answers, if it dishes out bilge such as “God will never give you more than you can handle” then it’s denying the brokenness of the system we live in and it’s useless. It’s an empty box. Who wants that at Christmas?




The Byzantine Empire – or rather the later Roman Empire as its people thought of it – was undoubtedly great. The greatest empire of its day. To be there in Constantinople in office was to be at the very cutting edge of the world.

In technology, Byzantium, being a great empire had to look to its armies and navy, and consequently it was inventive in weaponry with flame throwers, grenades and trebuchets. Manufacture and innovation of weaponry were highly regarded, particularly in metallurgy, chemistry and mechanics.


Flame thrower


Hand grenades with shrapnel

Mathematics, and science with Greek and Arabic influence, was to the forefront, there were places here for innovators and academics. Byzantine scientists continued the tradition of the great Greek mathematicians, but went further and put their mathematics into practical use. In early Byzantium the mathematicians Anthemius of Tralles and Isidore of Miletus used mathematical formulae to build the great Hagia Sophia cathedral, a technological breakthrough for its time (and for centuries afterwards) due to its geometry, design and height.


Hagia Sophia Cathedral as it was built

More than this however, here in the great city was the centre, for here was also the centre of Christianity, here was the great cathedral – the architecturally innovative greatest church in the world.

The clergy held a special place, in part due to education, but also having more freedom than their Western counterparts, and having a Patriarch in Constantinople who was considered to be the head of the Church. The Church in fact ruled a much larger empire and dealt personally with the Master of the Cosmos.


Hagia Sophia Cathedral today close to 1,500 years later

And it was here in the great palace that the Emperor and his administration ruled a far-flung empire, requiring a civil service of magnitude to rule so ethnically diverse an empire as gradually the people became better educated throughout it.


The Eastern and Western Roman Empire


The Bucoleon palace

Education within the population was considerably more advanced than in the western countries, primarily because there was a school system, meaning that there were high literacy rates.

Men who would study, and who were themselves capable and outstanding, travelled to Constantinople to take their place in this great city whether in the Church or as academics.

Byzantine education was based upon the ancient Greek system that comprised a tripartite structure but was far more widespread throughout the country than in ancient Greece. The structure included the elementary school, secondary school, and higher education.

Schools were spread throughout the countryside and in towns. This ensured that literacy was fairly widespread – quite different from Western Europe where there was no real system except in some particular places. Secondary schools in Byzantium were mostly in the larger towns and tertiary education took place only in Constantinople itself.

Constantinople was a bustling place to be, by AD 400 there were some 300,000 people in it – by AD 560 there were around 800,000. So it was no mean city by any standards. A centre of learning, of the Church, and especially of trade, set on the Golden Horn where ships from the north and ships from the south came to trade.

Here, if one had the intellect, one could soar, here was the one place in the universe where it really happened, where one was at the centre of real influence, where the universe – material and spiritual – came together.

So, by the standards of its day (and a whole lot later) Constantinople was indeed the place to be.

But what of us, in these British islands? Well, despite Victorian ignorance of this period, it was certainly not a dark age and modern scholarship is finally making that clear.

The Church – the same Church that was in Constantinople actually arrived here earlier than it arrived in Greece or Rome. It is historically recorded by a number of contemporary/near contemporary writers that it came here with the first bishop Aristobulus sent from the Church in Jerusalem via Tyre in AD 37 – and it never went away. With the Church usually comes education. However the Church as it established itself in Britain, while believing the same things that the rest of the Church did, organised itself somewhat differently. Unlike other places it did not see itself as an institution. It was more a movement amongst the people. It had bishops, but they had no dioceses, they were with the people, more clan based than anything. By the AD 400s it had many monasteries and these rather than dioceses tended to be the centres of learning, the hubs of the Church.

The Britons generally could be fairly well educated, particularly on topics such as religion, philosophy, geography and astronomy. The Romans often employed Britons as tutors for their sons. There was, however no British education system. The Druids had “colleges” where there was real learning of renown and these colleges converted quite easily to Christianity, continuing their role as teachers and community leaders. Indeed these colleges in many instances turned into Christian monasteries.

Such was the learning associated with the Church in the British Isles, that its fame spread across Europe, especially with the British missionaries who went as far as Germany and even Kiev.

The incoming Anglo-Saxons were however pagans and destroyed the Church wherever they gained control. The Church and its learning retreated, only to send missionaries back. Eventually by the eighth century most of the country was again Christian with the exception of those parts invaded late in the first millennium.


Escomb church – one of many surviving churches from the Anglo-Saxon period

A large body of literature survives from Anglo-Saxon England in both Latin and Old English. Some of it resulting from King Alfred’s policies of education when because of falling standards of literacy and learning, he focused on the production of manuscripts written in English rather than Latin. The Old English translation of the Ecclesiastical History of the English People written in Latin by Bede (AD673–735) and the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, an historical work in Old English were also instigated by King Alfred. Other writings in Old English include sermons, saints’ lives and wills. Anglo-Saxon laws were written in Old English rather than in Latin. Medical texts (and there were a few) were written in both Latin and Old English.

About 30,000 lines of Old English poetry survive in manuscripts dating from the late tenth and early eleventh centuries.


Part of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle

There is no doubt that by the late second half of the millennium, Christian Britain was functioning in a similar harmony between Church and State that can be seen in Constantinople, we have examples of the Witenagemot passing legislation a number of times in the eighth century concerning the Church, and we know that particularly by King Alfred’s time there was no clear line dividing them.


A Witenagemot session

As far as we know, contact between Byzantium and Britain was due to The Church and trade. The trade that had existed between Britain and the Mediterranean for several thousand years, persisted mainly through the far western ports, the Bristol Channel and Cornwall. The Church, because there was a fair traffic of clergy to and from Britain right from the beginning. Britain – both British and later Anglo-Saxon-British was by no means cut off, a backwater indeed the scholarship of the British Church made it an important centre for European Christianity.

We also know that after the Great Schism of 1054, there were many British soldiers serving in the army of Byzantium, particularly the Varangian Guard.

With the papal-Norman invasion, Britain was forcibly taken into schism with the Church.  King Harald’s widow and children fled to Byzanitine Kiev.  1500 ships full of English refugees arrived in Constantinople and were given a kingdom on the Crimea where they proceeded to build a London and a York

As you can see, the connecting thread through all of this is Orthodox Christianity in both places. That Christianity, while the same, was yet different. In Constantinople it was the Church of the Empire, an institution, very clearly defined and powerful while in Britain it was much more the Church of the people and while influential, it was not yet institutional. It did not become that grand institution until the coming of the papal Normans.

At the beginning of the second millennium the Church in the Byzantine Empire, was at the peak of its world influence and power. Rome, had become a provincial town and its church of little importance, the Carolingians couldn’t compare with Byzantium as a centre of power or Christian civilisation. The empire extended from Mesopotamia to Naples and from the Danube to Palestine. The Church extended its rule far beyond the empire, to Russia,  and north Africa.

Since the early days of Constantine and Justinian I the idea was that there was to be a single, unified Christian society, run by the empire and the Church, and that was still the case in the late Byzantine empire. At the heart of this was the Emperor. The Emperor had a place in the Church’s worship whereby he could not celebrate the Liturgy, but he occasionally preached sermons and on some feasts censed the altar. The life of the empire was a unified whole, and there was no real line of separation between Church and State, they formed a single organisation, within which were two distinct roles, the clergy and the imperial power working in close co-operation, yet each being autonomous there was a ‘symphony’ or ‘harmony’ of the two.


The emperor with his army far left, civil servants and on his right a Bishop, a Priest and a Deacon.

This was evident in Byzantine law drawn up under Justinian. Emperor John Tzimisces: ‘I recognise two authorities, priesthood and empire; the Creator of the world entrusted to the first the care of souls and to the second the control of men’s bodies. Let neither authority be attacked, that the world may enjoy prosperity.”


A Byzantine church interior

Thus it was the Emperor’s duty to summons Church councils and to enforce their decrees, but it was beyond his power to dictate the decrees themselves: it was for the bishops and clergy gathered in council to decide what the true faith was. When for instance a serious question arose, the Church acted alone – the iconoclast controversy although involving emperors was successfully rejected by the Church. Church and State were closely associated in running the empire, but neither was subordinate to the other.

The Byzantines strove to create an empire that was entirely Christian in its principles of government and in its daily life, in fact nothing less than an attempt to apply the fullness of Christ’s Way.

Today we can see a modern version of this in Russia, with the selfsame Orthodox Church that was in Byzantium and the Russian State working very closely together under successive Orthodox Christian presidents, much as the former Tsarist government worked with the Orthodox Church in running its empire. So it continues today. One can hope that over the following decades Russia will sort out a method of making this work ever better.