Thursday, 2 August 2018

The Camino de Santiago: My Reflections

“The goal is a perfect peacefulness even in the middle of the raging storm.” – St John Climacus.

In the busy modern world, the concept of escaping the world to spend time alone with God is utterly alien. We will often spend twelve hours a day working and barely achieve twenty minutes in prayer to thank God for the things which he has provided for us.  Because of this struggle, this year myself and a close friend decided to take some time this year to restore our ‘spiritual compasses’ and dedicate some time to God through walking the Camino Ingles, one of the less walked northern routes of the Camino De Santiago. 

The Camino De Santiago is the name given to a medieval pilgrimage, originating in the 9th Century, to the Tomb of St James in Santiago de Compostela. In my case, the route which I walked was the Camino Ingles, which travels 119km between the northern Spanish cities of Ferrol and Santiago de Compostela. This route was originally used by Northern European pilgrims who travelled by sea to Ferrol from England.

After discussing this with His Eminence, Archbishop Angaelos I received his blessing to go on this pilgrimage and following further thought I decided to add an additional motivation to this walk and seek sponsorships for the St Kyrel Trust, a Coptic charity which works to provide for vulnerable youths who lack the means to go to work towards improving their situation. As someone who works in the education system, this charity and its work mean a lot for me, and as someone who has spent a significant part of his life working within the Church I felt the need to work to combine these two and work to promote a charity which cares for both those within the Coptic community and the importance of education and social mobility amongst the youth. To donate to their cause you can use the link provided HERE

With these in mind, I prepared both physically and spiritually for the journey, knowing I would be walking over 20km per day through areas of solitude, meeting very few people apart from in the hotels and hostels we stayed in. This was a difficult thing to prepare for, especially living in a city and a society which values social interaction above all else. One extremely beneficial source of this guidance was HH Pope Kyrillos, whose guidance through his monastic life has guided many young Orthodox Christians to work closer in their relationship with God through both choosing to enter the monasteries or working on their prayer life within their daily life outside of the monastery. Armed with this guidance and an 8kg backpack we started our journey to Ferrol.

Day one: Ferrol to Pontedeume

“And if one were to ask, what road is this? I say that it is the soul of each one of us, and the intelligence which resides there. For by it alone can God be contemplated and perceived." – St John Chrysostom

After a two day drive through France and Spain, stopping off in Loudes overnight, we reached Ferrol. The City itself is a small naval city and is currently struggling with economic issues following the departure of most industries to other parts of the country. After finding the first mile marker, we began our journey to the town on Pontedueme where we would complete the first stage of the walk. The road was a difficult one, especially because of it being the first day of travel. Around half way through the day we reached the town of Fene where we met two more pilgrims at a pilgrim café. This was a great reminder that we were on a journey with others.

Following this meeting, we continued to Pontedeume and travelled through some of the beautiful country lanes of Galicia, across a number of hills and through villages before walking across the Eume and into the town itself. Reaching this first town was a strange experience, since we both celebrated the achievement and realised the immensity of what was to come. After a short break in the town we visited St James (Santiago) Church in the town and headed to our Hotel (Pension). The owners were wonderfully accommodating to our lack of Spanish. The running of this small family run Pension was an interesting reflection of family values, with the whole family helping run the establishment and other family members visiting in the evening to relax together. This is a change from the family life I have experienced in other places where interactions are often short and the presence of the other person is enjoyed less than the motive for the discussion. After rest and a quick breakfast the next day we moved on to our next destination.

Day Two: Pontedeume to Betanzos

"When you see your brother, you see the Lord your God." - Abba Apollo

The journey to Betanzos the next day was a pleasant one, stopping half way in the seaside town of Miño. The journey consisted of mostly forest and countryside which left us with some wonderful views and reminders of the glory of God. One of the most enjoyable moments was during our stop in Miño where we met a man from the USA who was visiting family in Spain and was overjoyed to see English pilgrims on the route.

Following this, we continued to walk through the countryside and found such a welcome as pilgrims that it put other areas of charity to shame, and made us really reflect on our mindset to wards visitors. As we passed through hamlets and small villages we were greeted often with “Buen Camino,” meaning “Good Camino” and found cold boxes containing drinks, attached to donation boxes, for pilgrims to take as they pass in exchange for a small amount of money. Looking back at this, I could never see such a thing working in London as there is not a degree of trust or trustworthiness. In warm days, such a gracious act was extremely appreciated, and I wonder how many other cities or businesses act in this way to the benefit of humanity and impact of such a thing becoming widespread.

On arrival in Betanzos we visited the main Church in the city and had the blessing to attend the pilgrims mass in which prayers were said for all those pilgrims who were heading to Santiago de Compostela and the Tomb of St James. In was here that we had the blessing to meet more pilgrims, including a protestant minister and some Spanish students. Following a nice talk with some of these were reminded of the diversity of this pilgrimage and diversity of motivations. Of all the pilgrims met, there were very few who were travelling for religious reasons, with most travelling for a sense of challenge or for personal reasons. Regardless of this there was a sense of unity in that all were on the same path, experiencing the same challenges and having to overcome theme together. This sense of unity on the pilgrimage was a strong bond which brought everyone together. This would be important the next day as we were to travel 27km uphill to Hospital de Bruma.

Day three: Betanzos to Hospital de Bruma

"Do not attempt to explain something difficult with contentiousness, but with patience, prayer and unwavering hope." – St Mark the Ascetic

The next morning we awoke early at 6am, to begin what was expected to be a 10-12 hour day uphill to the hamlet of Hospital de Bruma. Most of the guide books had warned that this would be the most difficult of days, and so we had decided to have an early start to miss the midday heat. The journey started with some difficult uphill sections, leading to the small down of Presedo. In the town of Presedo we discovered a small pilgrim café which, being the last pilgrim café before Bruma, had everyone we had previous met there. In this café we were able to relax and hear more of the stories of our fellow travellers and their motivation with a few people asking about our religious motivation for taking the pilgrimage (my travelling partner being a Catholic lay-chaplain.) Here we again felt the kinship from before, meeting many of these people for the second time and sharing our journeys before separating for the next stage.

The second half of the trip to Bruma was more difficult, with more slopes and more road walking than before, which had a major impact on my feet after hours of walking on dirt paths and country roads. The long stretches gave us a chance to reflect on the journey so far, and chances to stop for water and often prayer which should be the first call in such times. Fortunately the weather was more generous and so we were treated to clouds and mild warmth as opposed to the boiling heat from the first two days. We arrived in Bruma at around 3pm, with painful feet, and were treated to lunch at a small village café before heading to our hotel to freshen up and rest for the evening, spending another evening with some fellow pilgrims.

Hospital de Bruma - Sigüeiro

"Think nothing and do nothing without a purpose directed to God. For to journey without direction is wasted effort." - St Mark the Ascetic

Following the challenge of getting to Hospital de Bruma we had another long day, with 25km to Sigüeiro. The day began as the others, with long stretches down country roads and more steep slopes leading through towns and villages. This penultimate day of our pilgrimage led us through various farms however it was different in that we walked a large amount of the journey with people we had met on the way. Our walking partners were a couple from the Netherlands and Belgium who worked as hiking guides and were preparing to write about the Ingles route after travelling most of the other Camino de Santiago paths. We spent a large amount of the journey speaking to them about our experience of the way so far, and discussing the religious aspect. From their perspective, it had very little meaning to those walking it today however they felt positive seeking myself and James representing this link to the faith on the journey.

The evening of this long and extremely tiring day was spent in the pilgrim hostel. Whilst there we met other pilgrims including a Belgian man who had walked 30 day pilgrim walks every year and was a fountain of knowledge on the topic. After this, we had the blessing to attend a Catholic Mass in the city, and to take a talk with the priest about the pilgrimage and its importance, he seemed again happy to see pilgrims taking this religious journey. Having later shared dinner with other pilgrims, we were able to gain further insight into the mindset behind many people they had met on the way and listened as others reminisced in their journeys through some of the longer pilgrim ways. In was great to see the impact which walking the Camino has on others even when their motives are not outwardly religious in nature, since all seemed to have a call to the journey.

Sigüeiro – Santiago De Compostela

"If we are not willing to sacrifice this temporal life, or perhaps even the life to come, for the sake of our neighbour, as were Moses and St. Paul, how can we say that we love him?” – St Peter of Damascus

The final day started strangely, with the strange feeling that the Pilgrimage was coming to an end, since despite its brevity, its impact was significant. On a personal note, I can only wonder as to the feelings of whose walking larger routes which can take a month or longer. Though the walk was shorter, it again contained numerous slopes and challenging parts through forest paths. However, by the middle of the day we were within a few kilometres of the Cathedral. As we entered the city we visited a small Church and were able to pray and thank God for bringing us this far, preparing ourselves emotionally and spiritually to enter the old city and reach the cathedral.

Reaching the main square was a daunting thing to experience. Though the journey had been a short one, the realisation that it was over and that we had achieved our goal left me speechless. There, standing next to the Cathedral and only a few hundred meters from the tomb of St James, it seemed like a dream. Before entering the Cathedral we visited a small café and rested, meeting some other pilgrims there, and reflected on how we felt. We had shared a similar journey and a similar emotional state upon completion of the pilgrimage, one of “not feeling like I have arrived” and unpreparedness for it to finish. It was with this state of mind that we entered the Cathedral.

The Cathedral was beautiful and fascinating, keeping most of its medieval architecture alongside some modern features. The centrepiece of the Cathedral was its golden altar, along with the world’s largest censer. This censer was only used in services where a donation had been made, and so wasn’t used each service. After viewing this, we queued up to venerate the Saint at the end of the Pilgrimage and pray at his tomb. This was emotionally charged for all of the Pilgrims, since they had travelled here to venerate the Saint, and so myself and James spent a few minutes in prayer there before moving on and attending the Pilgrims mass at which we were happy to see many people we had travelled with.

The next day we began our drive home. As with the way there, we took the time to visit Lourdes as it was the half way mark. It was good to spend the start and end of our journey at this wonderful town. The domain there, with the grotto and basilica, was a perfect place to pray and reflect due to its silence and prayerful atmosphere. Whilst there we took the time to say our prayers and light candles for friends and family before resting up for the drive home.   

Tips for Travellers

Though my reflections do not quite emphasise it, the Camino de Santiago is physically, spiritually and emotionally demanding. Even the short routes such as the Camino Ingles (which I walked) involve hours of walking on hillsides a day and a willingness to accept that there is little room for stopping or giving up once the day has begun. A key piece of advice I would give to travellers is to pack lightly and ensure that you are committed to its completion.

By packing lightly, I mean not to pack for a holiday. The Camino is a pilgrimage and by its nature a path. Because of this you carry your pack with you between towns. This means that the more you bring, the more you carry. When I walked, I only took a small amount of clothes (My cassock and 3 sets to be precise) and little else, I had planned to bring a book to read however this became impossible due to weight, time and tiredness. Because of this, a small pamphlet text alongside your prayer book and Bible suffices, or even just having them on your phone could be preferable.

Overall the journey is a great blessing and I would advise everyone to undergo it or a similar one at least once in their life, embracing the spirit of the pilgrim. It is a chance to become one with others and forget the secular life which drags us from others and from God. You will meet many people of different motivations and they will become a lifeline and you will often lose track of the real world outside of this pilgrims life, thus truly becoming the Christians which the Apostle called “Pilgrims and sojourners” as we were called to be.  

Saturday, 7 April 2018

Contemplation the Pascha Hymn “Thine is the Power” by HH Pope Shenouda III

In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, One God. Amen.

Today, I would like to talk to you about the important subject of the Passion Week. Passion Week is the holiest week of the year. And it’s good that we talk about it right now (before the start of Passion Week), so we can have an opportunity to enjoy this week spiritually. In this week, the church focuses completely on the suffering of Christ.

It does not become concerned with any other subject, but the suffering of Christ. It does not desire to think about any other matter.

Even the Psalms, it does not pray. Because some of the Psalms are about the Lord’s birth, Resurrection, Ascension and His Second Coming, and the church wants to focus solemnly on His sufferings. All the readings of the church are about the sufferings of Christ. This subject circulates in the church’s mind the entire week. In its hymns and appearance which is clothed in darkness. The front chorus is empty and the people remember that they are out of the camp.
All this, gives the idea that our minds shouldn’t wander away from the sufferings of Christ. You might have read or heard a lot about Passion Week, but I would like to talk to you about only one point: the prayer that the church has chosen to pray during the entire Passion Week. She has stopped the Psalms.

It turns out to be that the only thing the church prays is the praise that says, “Thok te ti-gowm nem pi o-ou nem pi esmo nem pi amahi sha eneh, amen… etc…” It means, “Thine is the power, the glory, the blessings and the majesty forever, amen…” We say these words to Christ the entire time. What does this mean?

We walk, step by step, following Christ and in every step we say in His ears, “Thine is the power, the glory, the blessings and the majesty forever, amen…” Christ goes to Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, the people welcome Him as a king, and we rejoice in the kingdom of Christ, saying to Him, “Thine is the power, the glory, the blessings and the majesty forever, amen…” And the chief priests and elders were displeased at the horde surrounding Christ, so they start to think of His death. And while they are thinking of His death, we are behind Him saying, “Thine is the power, the glory, the blessings and the majesty forever, amen…” After that, Christ stays a while at Bethany and we are behind Him with these same words.

Judas deals with the chief priests about His deliverance and we say to Him, the entire week, “Thine is the power, the glory, the blessings and the majesty forever, amen…” Christ is arrested and taken to be tried and we stand with Him in court and say to Him, while He is being tried in front of Pontius Pilate, Herod, Annas and Caiaphas the high priest, “Thine is the power, the glory, the blessings and the majesty forever, amen…” Christ is insulted, mocked, jeered and crucified and we stand under the cross and repeat the same hymn, “Thine is the power, the glory, the blessings and the majesty forever, amen…” Throughout all the sufferings that Christ bears, the nails hammered in His hands and feet, we say, “Thine is the power, the glory, the blessings and the majesty forever, amen…” During the entire time, we are not occupied with anything else. So what is the meaning of this prayer and how can we benefit from it? This is what we are going to discuss.

What are behind “Thine is the power and the glory”? We want to fully understand it. In this week, my brothers and sisters, the last development occurred in the strange struggle between Christ and the Jews. In respect to suffering, Passion Week is not the only painful week in the life of Christ. His entire life on earth was full of suffering. It was written about Him that He is a man of suffering and will experience sorrow.

A life full of pain, not just a week. But, this week, it has reached its limit. It is a struggle between light and darkness. In the beginning, the darkness hated and rejected the light. People liked the darkness more than the light because their deeds were evil. Then it developed that the darkness tried to destroy the light. It evolved to the point that the darkness accused the light of the being the darkness and that it was the light. It is a struggle between the light and darkness. This struggled was evident during the service of Christ. And it is strange that, during this struggle, Christ was not in resistance. “Like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its sheerer is dumb; He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth” (Isaiah 53:7).

This is Passion Week! Christ said to them that this is your hour and the authority of darkness. Christ was given complete authority in heaven and on the earth, but He did not use His authority against the reign of darkness. He left the darkness to take its toll and violently work what it wants. Without defense. Without resistance. Without standing against it, while He was able to. He strangely let it go. As an obedient lamb even to the slaughter. And we look at Christ while He is being led to the slaughter. And we sing in His ears this hymn, “Thine is the power, the glory, the blessings and the majesty forever, amen…” Your submission to the works of evil causes you harm, anguish, insult, crucifixion and death.

This does not prevent you from being strong, praised, blessed and beloved forever and ever, amen. We know who You are – the Holy God. Christ submitted to the works of the darkness. Just like He gave Satan the freedom to tempt Him as he wishes, He gave the freedom to sinful mankind to torture Him as they wish. Even for Judas, “Jesus said to him, ‘What you are going to do, do quickly’” (John 13:27). Do whatever you want. It might appear before the people that He was weak. But if He was, it was not ordered of Him.

In His hands was all the power, and we know that. And we sing to Him and say “Thine is the power, the glory, the blessings and the majesty forever, amen…”

Thine is the Power

When Christ was insulted in Passion Week, we say to Him, “God, we know You, You’re not a stranger to us. These people think You were weak, and that You fell in their hands. Never! We remember all Your incredible power. We remember that You have power in miracles. You have power over the diseases that You healed. Power over the devils that You cast out. And power over nature. You are He who walked on the water and calmed the storm and waves of the sea. You broke most of the natural laws. We know that You have the power and are capable.”

Power of Creation

Before this also, You had the power. The power of creation. You created a new substance in the miracle of the five loaves and two fishes. And created a new substance when You changed the water to wine. Water consists of oxygen and hydrogen, while wine contains alcohol and grape juice. Where did all this come from? A new substance was created. In the miracle of the five loaves and the two fishes a new substance was created.

In healing the eyes of the born blind, a new substance was created. You have the power of creation. Not just in these days, but from the beginning, You created all things. “All things were made by Him; and without Him was not anything made that was made” (John 1:3). We know who You are. You were from the beginning and You created everything. You created the people that crucified You, the hand that slapped You, and the tongue that insulted You. All things were made through You. In Your hand is the key to life and death. You are able to do anything, but You don’t wish to. Thy will be done. We know that You have the power.

Power in Holiness

We also know that You have the power in holiness. You are the only one who defeated Satan. “For she (sin) hath cast down many wounded: yea, many strong men have been slain by her” (Proverbs 7:26). You were the only one left standing, because You have the power. You are stronger than everybody, for “all have turned aside: together they have become corrupted. There is none who does good, not even one,” (Psalm 14:3) and need the glory of God. Satan was able to trick them all, but You are the only strong one who bruised the head of the serpent.

Power of Endurance

We know more than this, that You have the power of endurance. Notice that Christ was strong in His crucifixion. Strong because He bore the accusations of the wicked even though He had the power in His hands to wipe them out. Who is able to endure like the Christ? Truly, power is in endurance. There are people who are quickly shaken, angered and weakened, but Christ was strong. There are people who can’t stand one word. Their blood boils, their nerves are tense, their personality is shaken and they want to get revenge. But, Christ was strong in endurance.

He endured His servants to slap Him on the face, spit on Him and insult Him. Who of us is able to endure this? The person who’s able to is truly strong. The Bible says, I ask of you “that are strong ought to bear the infirmities of the weak” (Romans 15:1). But, who of us is able to bear? Not only this, but to bear all of this from his servants, slaves and his own creation. Can a manager or a president of a company bear that one of his employees or janitors swear at him or say something rude in front of him? To bear that one slaps him? Or to spit in his face? Who is able to bear all this?

There is no doubt that Christ was strong in endurance. His endurance was based on the power of His love. Because the person who loves is able to bear and endure. He who doesn’t love isn’t able to endure. Christ was strong in endurance. He didn’t just bear the wicked and the accusations, He also forgave them. He didn’t just forgive them, but interceded, prayed and defended them in front of the Father. He said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34).

A New Measure of Power

Christ gave us, in His crucifixion, a new measure of power. Before, a strong man was able to insult, conquer and destroy another. But, Christ gave us a new example: a strong person is he who is able to tolerate others. Strength is not in shaking and stumbling others. The true power is in being able to love, gain and save others. Peter, the disciple, didn’t understand the power in Christ. He thought that crucifixion is a sign of weakness just like many people today.

And they ask, “how can Christ be crucified?” They think that crucifixion is weakness, but Christ was strong. We observe that Christ reached the pinnacle of His power when He was hanging on the cross! The highest level of love. The highest level of giving. The highest level of endurance. No one has greater love than this: to lay down His life for His friends (John 15:13). Peter didn’t understand this. That is why, when Christ said He was going to be crucified, he said “you can’t do that, O Lord!” Why did he say that? Because he didn’t understand the meaning of power. He thought that power was that Christ be a king and people worship, bow and kneel to Him.

Peter didn’t think that power was that Christ shed his blood for us. Peter didn’t understand power in another situation; when Christ was being arrested, Peter drew his sword and cut off the ear of the servant. He thought that this was power and bravery. Christ told him no, concerning killing the servant, that’s easy, it’s easy to kill all these people, but power isn’t that we kill them, but bear them. That is the true power. Just like John and James the sons of Zebedee, they thought that power was that fire come down and burn the city of the Samaritans that shut it’s doors in the face of Christ.

Christ told them that that isn’t power. The power is that I bear them, have patience on them and wait until I save them. That is the true power. He said, “you do not know what manner of spirit you are of. For the Son of Man did not come to destroy men’s lives but to save them” (Luke 9:55,56).

 Christ gave is a live, practical example of power. He didn’t explain in detail the meaning of power, but presented an example of it from a Christian point of view. Power that ascended accepted and bore the cross for the sake of others. But the person that’s shaken from one, small word is a weak person. That person can’t bear the injustice of the wicked and therefore becomes shaken quickly. When we stand in the presence of the cross, my brothers and sister, we don’t stand to weep over Christ like Mary Magdalene and the daughters of Jerusalem did or to mourn and greet Him.

We stand near the cross to glorify the cross and He who is crucified upon it and to sing to Him the lovely hymn, “Thine is the power, the glory, the blessings and the majesty forever, amen…”
We Boast in the Cross

Therefore, we boast in the cross. “But God forbid that I should boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Galatians 6:14). If the cross was a sign of weakness, we wouldn’t boast in it! If the cross was a sign of weakness, we wouldn’t hang it in our churches, on top of our towers, around our necks, engraved it in our hands or took it as a theme in all our occasions.

To us, the cross is a sign of power. In it appears the power of love, self-sacrifice and endurance. Indeed, this is the true power. Many people said to Christ if you were the Son of God, or if you were powerful come down from the cross. If Christ had come down from the cross, humanity’s salvation would have been lost. He was never overcome by this false glory or the wrong meaning of power because He was strong. Expressions of glorification did not matter to Him.

Christ never thought of Himself, but of us. He didn’t care about saving Himself, but about our salvation.
Contemplation the Pascha Hymn “Thine is the Power” by HH Pope Shenouda III

Tuesday, 21 November 2017

Female Ordination and Orthodox (re-posted from 2011)

In Orthodoxy, following the traditions of the Early Church fathers is just as important as following Scriptural teachings, after all, if you want to get to the spirit of an idea, the earliest understanding of it is most likely to be the least corrupted. So in knowing that the Early Church was willing to ordain people of all races (Christs apostles were not all israelites, yet he Ordained them to lead the Church after his ascendence, and they, through the holy spirit's guidence, did the same after this.) we also know to accept all ethic backgrounds into the clergy as Christ himself, and his apostles did. This was not the case with women, as there are no records of women in the early Church being ordained. therefore following the traditions of the Early church means not ordaining women.

Where does the idea of a male only clergy come from? The idea originated from the bible, and to be precise; Christ himself. The concept of female ordination is an extremely modern one, and is not down to “the male dominated society of the time,” not a sexist idea, and not designed to keep women down.  It is simple down to common sense.
One commonly mentioned factor in this is what the clergy are. The clergy are, in the Orthodox tradition, the image of Christ to the congregation.  This is why the ordination of Clergy is such an important sacrament in tradition. Going by this we need to look at what the image of Christ entails: By accounts of all Old Testament prophecy and the very revelation as recorded in the Gospels, the Christ was male. This means that the image of Christ is also a male image. To many this may also bring up the Question of race, since in the west Christ is a white male. What does this say about the Ethnicity of the "Icon of Christ"?

To answer the question, fortunately the Orthodox Church has not had to deal with this issue due to the large spread of the Church at its founding (Turkey, Egypt, Ethiopia, India, Syria, Rome and Greece all being preached to at the time) and there have for the last 1700 years at least been known and universally venerated icons depicting Christ as being from all these places. An Icon of the Theotokos (St. Mary) I have in my house depicts her as Egyptian and is placed next to a Greek Christ Icon. As well as this, an Icon in our Bournemouth Church has Christ as an Ethiopian, as it was written by an Ethiopian Icon writer.

The race of Christ, at least in the Orthodox Church, has never been an issue. This is quite simple as the bible states this, as well as his gender and many details about him in the Gospels and writings of Early Christians (and Greek historians). We know was an israelite (a semite in scientific terms. His apostles themselves were of, and made priests of many from places such as Egypt, Ethiopia and Antioch (Syria), and even St paul is described as being of Egyptian Heritage( Acts 21:38 "Art not thou that Egyptian?") So race is not something to be made a big deal of, as the tradition has not come down through a specific race as a medium.

Race has sometimes been an issue in Western Churches, I have seen too many Americans with "God Loves America" "God Hates Arabs" etc... on their shirts, cars and everywhere else they can fit them to ever disagree with that. But as a white, British Born member of the Orthodox Church of Egypt (The Coptic Church) I cannot see how this could ever touch Orthodoxy, being that I have "Brothers" and "sisters" in Ethiopia, Russia, Egypt, India and most of the Mediterranean since the first centuries of the Church's existance.

This, compared to the female ordination debate is again a simple matter of Tradition. As God chose in Christ a male body to preach to mankind in, then chose male apostles from amongst his male and female followers and then they, the founders of the Church, (the apostles) ordained priests from all over. According to Tradition and Scripture this was all led by the Holy Spirit, (which they were blessed by) yet they were never led to Ordain women as priests, even when preaching in nations where other faiths did (such as the greek islands), so this is what is traditionally the way.

A second reason why in Orthodoxy a female clergy is seen as an impossibility is the very nature of the Orthodox Church. The Orthodox Church is by all accounts a Church which prides itself on the (As Bishop Kallistos Ware calls it) “unvarying practice of the Church over the past two millennia.” With this in mind, why would a Church which practices the Christianity of the Earliest Christians decide to adopt a modernist, somewhat secular outlook? We have seen the Catholics start this with Vatican II, and the protestant Churches have done this since their creation (The very name “protestant” gives off an image of someone pushing away). The fact remains that in Christianity, modernisation and secularisation are everywhere, but Orthodoxy refuses to be drawn in.

According to Fr Seraphim Rose, a Heiromonk and writer of the Serbian Orthodox Church in America, “Even Heresy has its own ‘spirituality,’ its own characteristic approach to the practical religious life.” In other words, even someone wrong may have answers; this does not mean they are right. In his book Orthodoxy and the Religion of the Future” he quotes the philosopher Ivan Kireyevsky, saying “An Orthodoxy Mind stands at the point where all roads cross. He carefully looks down each road and, from his unique vantage point, observes the conditions, dangers, uses, and ultimate destination of each road from a patristic viewpoint.” So in order to obtain a truly Orthodox mind one must take a road which will lead to God, and not to a peace with anything else. Not even comfort within the modern secular world is worth losing that peace with God for. We have seen monastics give up the comforts of the secular world for God, and as Christians are asked to do the same.

This concept has a great influence on the Orthodox mindset, as we are not called to change for the world around us, but to stay strong in God alone.  This is why tradition is so important to the Orthodox Church, for as so many have swayed into heresy and changed to “go with the flow” the Orthodox Church has, without apology, stuck to its guns and refused to fall into the world and all its passions. This also goes for the concept of female Ordination. We see in the Gospels how Christ picked his disciples, the 12 Apostles. Christ, actively chose men as his closest followers, though he did have female followers. These 12 were given the power to trample underfoot the power of the enemy, and understood Christ’s message, spreading it across the world, no other was given the strength to do this. From this tradition we see that Christ could have chosen women to lead his church, but instead chose men, though we do see women the deaconate in the early church.  To the non Orthodox mind this may come as placing women in an inferior, servant position, yet to  Orthodox Church it I simply the way in which God chose to organise his church.

Again to the non-orthodox mind this idea of women as the servants of the Church and men as its head would seen a bit out of touch with “modern feminist thought” but many forget the great female saints and Martyrs such as St Faith, Saint Maria and St Bebaia or even the great desert mothers and famous nuns of the Orthodox tradition whose writings and love of God have been recorded throughout time as great wisdom. Even above these is Gods greatest Human Creation, the Mother of our lord, Saint Mary, the Theotokos, the Mother of God. Many Orthodox prayers are said in her name, she is prayed for in the hours, and revered above all.

In conclusion, the place of women in the Orthodox Church is not a matter of sexism; it is a simple matter of God over man, or tradition over change. There is no “anti women” agenda in the Church as so many seem to think, as Stanley Harakas stated in his The Orthodox Church: 455 Questions and Answers book “it is not accurate to label this tradition as “anti-woman” and to charge the Church’s teaching with anti-feminist. To say this is an unfortunate misunderstanding of the purpose of the church and its primary interests.”  He goes on to explain how though many in the church have spoken out about such things as temptation and targeted women, other women have been praised for their chastity and wisdom, so to say the church is anti women because it is against certain types of behaviour from women is to call it anti-food because of fasting. These concepts are both preposterous and again miss the point. The same goes for  the idea of Sexism due to an all male clergy. If you associate following a tradition without female clergy with being ”anti female” you miss the point of that tradition.

Friday, 25 August 2017

Book Review: Theology of a Classless Society By Dr. Geevarghese Mar Osthathios

Theology of a Classless Society
By Dr. Geevarghese Mar Osthathios
ISBN: 0718824156
Price:  £89.95 (Amazon UK Marketplace)

I had been planning to buy and read this text for a number of years to have a further understanding of Mar Osthanasios’ political philosophy and his theological justification of it. Since in the summer I was visiting Kerala, I thought to take the opportunity to read this text since it is seen as one of his most famous works. As well as this, the text is often cited as an important English language work from the Indian Orthodox, especially with regards to concepts of social justice. With these in mind, I felt it important to read and understand.

The book is presented as an explanation of Mar Osthasios’ theory of the possibility of a classless society, demonstrated as Christian through use of theological examination with plenty of reference to the coequality of the trinity and Christ’s teachings on community. It is divided up based upon themes, from the outline of the theory, its application, to its theological justifications, with most of the book dedicated to the theological justification. Following on from this, Mar Osthasios gives a short question and answer section of the theory as well as a justification for his trinitarian terminology use which he states in the text as controversial.

Though I struggle with the premise of the book, a good strength of it is its resourcing. Mar Osthasios, having been educated under some of the most prominent Orthodox thinkers and secular philosophers of our time, puts a great deal of research into the sourcing and referencing of his work to support his theory. As well as this, the importance placed on the justification of his theory gives the book a sense of respect since regardless of your view on the theory you can sense the passion of the writer and it often draws you in. Though both of these are important points, I feel the greatest strength of this book is the writer’s awareness of the issues which people could raise with his theory. There is no sense of arrogance in the text, which is a rarity in political theology and many theological text. Mar Osthasios knows some people will scoff at the idea or at his theory’s application but wants you to know why he believes it. 

The major difficulty for me with this text lies in the theory itself and the way it is displayed. Though I admire the rigor and passion of Mar Osthasios in presenting his theory, I still feel that it is simply presented as a Christian Communism and is drawn too much on his admiration of communism as opposed to the theological and ecclesiological foundations it is claimed. An example of this comes in his ideas of application. He often compares his view to Liberation Theology and throughout the text he states his admiration for key thinkers of the movement without addressing its issues Theologically. He also states that he does not see communism as an answer since it is secular, however he then speaks in praise of Mao for being used by God as a tool to develop ideas of a classless society, comparing him to God’s use of Cyrus for the return of the Jews from exile without justifying the false equivalence here. 

The problem with this is that the Theological aspect seems to be simply a coating for the theory rather than its foundation, as demonstrated in his tracts on Jesus’ life and its links to a classless society, which would have given a perfect opportunity to evaluate the communist links in a more theological level but instead leaves them uncontrasted apart from the general “but that is secular” comment. As well as this, the Theological examples used are often vague and even risking heresy, which Mar Osthasios even admits when addressing his almost tritheistic view of trinity. To me this makes the book suffer greatly, since it slowly seems to reveal itself as less of a ‘Theology of a Classless Society’ and more of a ‘View of a Classless Society with a dash of Theology.’
Overall I would say that the text is a good one for looking at how Christian thinkers have attempted to address the issue of clearly unfair social practices and problems they have faced, however I cannot recommend it as a viable foundation to a theory of political theology since it fails to address a number of issues both theologically and politically which I feel undermine the theory and make it appear a simple communist text with a light coating of theology, one which has been seen in the past and has not seen itself aligned with the Ecclesiological or Theological standings of the Orthodox Church.