To suffer woes which Hope thinks infinite

I have been looking at an old article from 2013 on Western Rite Orthodoxy, a new proposition. I am staggered by the number of comments that followed my review of some ideas put out by Fr Anthony Bondi of the Russian Orthodox Church outside Russia. I once (in about 1988) had some romantic notions about Orthodoxy, and I still do have a feeling of respect and esteem towards that Church in its various more or less “canonical” incarnations. I was a student at Fribourg at the time, and saw Dr Ray Winch each time I passed through Oxford to visit my family up north. I notice in my stats page how a few are digging up these old postings.

I read Rod Dreher articles as he publishes them and I have his Benedict Option. My four times to the USA for short visits showed me the vast cultural difference over there from the old Europe where I live and where people have largely lost the religious instinct in their cynicism and indifference. America seems to be going the same way as conservative religion (and its “liberal” counterpart) is so little convincing to the critical and curious mind. The development of the Woke ideology seems to be having an effect in the academic world, and we all seem to be dwelling on the idea of a collapse of civilisation and the coming of hell on earth in the form of some Orwellian dystopia. Dreher’s ideas are noble enough, but need to show more understanding of psychology and the cultural aspect of humanity, at least if the ideas were to be applied in Europe.

The world of blogs has changed over the past years and the tone has become very quiet. However, blogs still have their place when common interests unite diverse personalities. Possibly my blogging activity has been one of the most enduring because I am not concerned for popularity. I say what I believe to be right, and the reader has the option of reading it or ignoring it. For the first time in many years, I had two comments from what I surmise would be a Roman Catholic “true church” zealot telling me to be a layman in my local parish. Could he be right? I find myself summoned always in the same direction – Lasciate ogni speranza voi chentrate. I might as well be living in Siberia and told to travel by bus to work! I deleted the comments as coming from someone who has nothing positive to say, a disciple of the Father of Lies. Water of a duck’s back… as they say.

Some very good people have become Orthodox and have adapted very well to their new spiritual world. Their cognitive dissonance was healed. Others tried to transpose medieval and post-Tridentine RC ecclesiology onto Orthodoxy, but it didn’t quite fly. The neat scholastic categories don’t quite fit. After my university days and my time in seminary, the idea of Orthodoxy melted away into the ether and then Roman Catholicism followed it into a world with which I do not relate. After a time in “vagante land” with its absurdities (which I was the first to embody), I approached the Anglican Continuum. That was 2005. I had become aware of my own emotional and affective shortcomings when dealing with human nature and its dog pack mentality of alphas and dominators. The Anglican Continuum was quite different from the Church of England of my teens and early twenties, and I had to accept that something had passed definitively into history.

Throughout the time I spent as a Roman Catholic (1981 to 1995), I had Romantic notions about the Sarum Use or more precisely a local and northern European Catholic world unaffected by the Reformation and the Counter-Reformation. That was the kind of “Orthodoxy” I sought during those long nights talking with Ray Winch in his home in Oxford. His idea was a kind of Romantia, a remote community of canons that would have quietly continued through the vicissitudes of everywhere else. Unfortunately it is an Idealist concept which is inaccessible to materialistic “realism”. I came close in some of the Forward in Faith parishes in France with old priests ordained long before Vatican II. Fr Montgomery left his mark on me, even though I ignored his ideas about putting all the “money” into the SSPX bank!

This article on Orthodoxy has one of the longest threads of comments I have ever seen attached to one of my postings. I respect those who have become Orthodox or Roman Catholic in their pilgrimages of life. Going to a Church to re-find what has been lost usually brings disillusion. I took refuge in the Anglican Continuum in 2005, and when the TAC dissolved before the wall of Roman canon law, I found my way to the ACC. This Church under the leadership of Archbishop Mark Haverland and excellent diocesan ordinaries like Bishop Damien Mead, has a diverse patrimony between Old High Church fidelity to the Prayer Book, a vernacular form of post-Tridentine Roman customs and an emerging Sarum revival at a tiny and very humble scale. All Churches are imperfect, and none are made to serve individual interest. However, there is sufficient in the way of a notion of diversity to gather these strands of Romantics and nostalgics – that our Sehnsucht may bring us to the contemplation of God – which is what a Church is for… Perhaps that is only possible with very small Churches like ours which rely more on human relationships than bureaucracy and rigid rules.

Experience has shown that a Church has to be incarnate in human culture – in all is diversity, not the caricature of modern secularism but the deepest aspirations of us all. As we face threats to our civilisation and humanity unseen since the end of World War II, the Church has to be something to which we can relate at a spiritual and emotional level, and not mere at an intellectual level of apologetics and sales pitch. I return to that author I discovered a short time ago, Alan Watts, who expressed exactly my most intimate intuitions about Christianity and a lot of the bullshit that represents the chapel the Devil built alongside the Church built by God. I re-read that bullshit in a few of the comments, written through mindlessness and ideology. We have all done it and caused so much damage. So many of my friends were zealous converts, and now silently yearn in their homes as they found themselves alienated from anything resembling parish life and the pastoral care of a real priest.

Then on the other side, I am a priest, and have said Mass alone (other than the presence of invisible spiritual entities) for years. I’m not complaining. What gives me the right to sell Anglicanism to French country folk? Nothing. Their own parish church offers a Sunday Mass just twice a year, and it is lay-led funerals for the rest of the time. The ship has sailed and the future of western civilisation is elsewhere – perhaps Islam or Communist China with a zest of globalist capitalism in exchange for a Covid-19 vaccine for which we are desperate. At the same time, there may be something we know nothing about but which could bring us light and a joie de vivre. That is the virtue, not of optimism, but hope.

As we do what we can in our tiny communities and our diaspora, we are not called to “convert” to the noisiest zealot or salesman selling spiritual spam. We are called to seek God, with or without a church building, a liturgy or parish community. That is our vocation.

To suffer woes which Hope thinks infinite;
To forgive wrongs darker than death or night;
To defy power which seems omnipotent;
To love, and bear; to hope till Hope creates
From its own wreck the thing it contemplates

Life may change, but it may fly not;
Hope may vanish, but can die not;
Truth be veiled, but still it burneth;
Love repulsed -but it returneth. Percy Bysshe Shelley

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