Sunday, 15 July 2012

Exploring the origins of British Christianity Conference. 14/07/2012 (Part 1)

I had been looking forward to attending this conference for a long time, as it tackled that rare topic of British Christianity, something which a British convert to Orthodoxy will always sense a lack of in Orthodoxy, with its culturally foreign nature and constant struggles with Ethnophyletism. The conference had been Organised by Angelos Scott Stanway, a member of the British Navy and convert to the Greek Church. He had work exceedingly hard to prepare this event and dedicated much of his off-ship time to it.

After the introduction, Fr Chrysostom from Poole started the conference with a powerful talk on how 1066 destroyed a Cohesive and adventured nation. He looked at the structure of the politics and faith of the pre-Norman British Isles, explaining how the faith was orthodox with some indigenous elements.

He then looked at the links between the British isles and the East, including the Roman Empire, Egypt and the Holy Land. This finished by looking at the death of the indigenous Church after the Council of Synod of Whitby and final end of this Church in Scotland when its Liturgical and hierarchy fell under Norman Reforms.

Following this, we had a discussion session with Fr John Nankivell as to the definition and influence of the Indigenous Church of pre-Norman Britain and the influence of Eastern Christian thought on the Church there.

The next Lecture which caught my interest was that of Professor Paul Cavill of the University of Nottingham. He looked at Veneration of the Cross in Early British Christianity. This used archaeological sources such as the Coppergate helmet and Benty Grange Helmet to see how Christian Crosses replaced Pagan imagery on Military arms in order to invoke God's help on Christian armies of this time. This was fascinated as it showed the importance of the faith to the Saxon Kings of this time and vitality of a prayer based life, trusting in God for victory and prosperity in their kingdoms.

It compared this and collaborated the evidence to Constantine's Dream, where the cross was invoked to bring him victory at Milvern bridge, looking at the similarities of this story to Oswald's veneration of the cross in his victory in the battle of Hatfield-Chase. The talk as summarised by explaining the historical evidence for this veneration and the use of lines, showing a distinct tradition of the use of cross and its direct replacing of Pagan venerations in the Pre-Norman mindset.

After Lunch Fr Andrew Phillips led a fascinating talk which started with the line “The Centre of the Church is in Asia, Not Europe...” and caught the attention of everyone there. It focussed on the Eastern and especially Egyptian influence on the austere Monastic practices of Southern Ireland as well as the existence of an organised hierarchical and Liturgical traditions in the indigenous Church, unlike what is commonly suggested by those claiming some kind of new age 'Celtic Christianity'.  This is a common problem with Pseudo-historians, who claim some kind of almost post-modern Pagan form of Christianity existed in the Romano-Celtic British isles, when the evidence of a structured Christianity, as with any part of the Church.

He also looked at the links to the immense Ecumenical and International scope of the Church with Bishops and Monks known to have been in the isles from Armenia, Egypt, Syria, Greece and across the Eastern world including King Alfred's famous Alms giving to Christians in India. This came with the message that “there was no place for nationalism in the Early Church,” granting a stark difference to the Christianity we see in many nations today. My favourite point made was at the end when Fr Andrew pointed out what the British Church had given to the rest of the world, he did this by showing how Yury Dolgoruky, founder of Moscow, was in fact the Grantson of Harold Godwinson, the Last pre-Norman King of Britain. This gave a light hearted end to what was a deep and highly detailed talk.

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