Sunday, 15 July 2012

Exploring the origins of British Christianity Conference. 14/07/2012 (Part 2)

After this was the lecture which stole the day. The lecture was by the renowned Historian Prof. Michelle Brown. As with Fr Andrew, she started by pointing out that East and West were linked by Ecumenical traditions and through the teachings of the desert fathers, emphasising that the only changes were cultural. From here, she went on to point out how far these people travelled, listing pilgrims from the British Isles who visited or had contact with visitors to the Holy Land and other Christian Centres of worship.

Later, she looked at the Archaeological evidence of this relationship between East and West, such as Byzantine Cocides and Armenian Khachkars found across the Isles. The most fascinating piece demonstrated was the vast amount of Eastern influence on design in books and coins produced in Pre-Norman Britain, from Arabic coinery to Coptic bound Psalters. Prof. Brown then treated us to a detailed look at her most recent work in the Monastery of St Catherine, which unearthed the first known Latin works in the Monastery's library, most likely produced by British scribes in the first Millennium AD. 

One thing which stood out with Prof Brown's talk was her emphasis on the connection between the Coptic tradition and British isles, especially the monastic and archeological connections.The relationship between early psalters and Coptic binding may seem trivial in age age where books are everywhere but to the people of this time an Egyptian Monk with a Psalm book demonstrated the pinnacle of scholarship and we would do well to remember how influenced the Christians of Southern Ireland were when they first encountered the Desert fathers as it is one of the major factors in the Christianisation of our Islands.
Altogether, Prof Brown's talk opened the eyes of many there to the idea that Britain was not a closed and isolated place at this time, but had plenty of contact with the rest of the Christian world, from knowledge of Indian Christians to Scribes in Sinai. 
The final talk of the day was by Metropolitan Seraphim. He spoke on the emphasis of the Christian identity in the Isles before the Norman invasion and even beyond. In order to convey this point, he spoke of the vitality of the term Romanitas in the writings of such great saints as Saint Patrick. The Archbishop emphasises this sense of Christian identity as vital at the time for the Romano-British in the Isles, speaking of how this was culturally engrained into the people, even whilst pagan Saxons looted the shores.

One interesting point brought up in his speech is that of St Gildas. Gildas was mentioned throughout the day due to his anger at the clergy and people of the Christian British Isles for their lapse in faith and austerity. Abba Seraphim pointed out in his speech that despite accusations of laziness, lust and other sins, Gildas did not at any point accuse them of Paganism. This links to the vital sense of Christian identity throughout the people, much like how there is a large nominally Christian sense of Identity in the British isles today. 
The Bishop then spoke of the importance of this Roman and Christian identity in world terms, speaking not just of patriotism as being part of the Romano-British community for those people of the time but being part of the Christian community as a whole. The example given was that of Constantine being proclaimed as Emperor for the first time in York, giving the isles a place in Roman Politics and imperial power. This sense of Christian Roman identity, with clergy and king being power brokers was vital for the people of this time and the sad point we are reminded of in the conclusion is that for many British Christians today, the King leads the Church rather than allowing for this dual identity, claiming that this is how it should be. This was another harsh reminder of how disconnected modern English Christianity is from its glorious past.

The day, on the whole, was a great experience and a rare chance to learn of how Christianity in Britain grew and flourished through external contact and internal development. The context of it from within a Greek Orthodox community also demonstrates the vitality for British Converts to the Orthodox faith to learn about their own heritage rather than giving it up for a Russian, Greek or Coptic one. This opportunity to do this, in itself, made the day a great success.

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