Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Christos Yannaras talking about Orthodoxy in Britain - With special reference to the Fellowship of St. Alban and St. Sergius

Orthodoxy has been present in the United Kingdom for centuries. The interest of the Anglicans has started since the 17th centuries, where unofficial contact began between the two ecclesiastical groups. However, this is an interesting evolution. How and why are the Anglicans interested in the Orthodox Church is a massive topic. The relations of the two churches, another. These relations, nevertheless, have formed a number of groups within Britain including the Anglican and Eastern Churches Association (A.E.C.A.) and the Fellowship of St. Alban and St. Sergius.
The Fellowship of St Alban and St. Sergius is a well-known organisation in Britain and the West in general, promoting Orthodox-Anglican Relations since its birth in the 1920s. However, the faithful within the Orthodox countries are not aware of its existence or do not support its works. Christos Yannaras, upon visiting the Fellowship and its 1973 conference that took place in Winchester, he returned to Greece, and wrote about his experiences in respect to the Fellowship and the Anglican-Orthodox relations and interests within Britain. The following passage, translated by the author (Dimitris Salapatas), is taken from his book Το Προνόμιο της Απελπισίας[1]. However, this was also published in the VIMA newspaper (2-9-1973).

“A Gathering of Anglicans and Orthodox in Winchester
From the 4th until the 15th August the annual conference of the Fellowship of St. Alban and St. Sergius took place at Winchester, England, at King’s Alfred’s College.
This Fellowship, which is widely known in England and less so or even not at all in Greece,  was founded during the interwar period (1928) with the objective the meeting, the mutual understanding and the theological dialogue between the Anglicans and the Orthodox. Its foundation was the result of the interest that was created within England for a ‘rediscovery’ of the Orthodox Spiritual Tradition and Theology, on the occasion -then- of the presence of the Russian diaspora in Western Europe. During the pre-war years, the annual conferences of the Fellowship brought together the biggest names of the Russian theologians of the diaspora (Lossky, Boulgakov, Zander, Zenkovsky, Berdiaeff), but also distinguished Anglican theologians, such as Reverend Derwas Chitty and professor H.A. Hodges, Bishops Gore and Frere, professor Mascal and the current Archbishop Ramsey (1973), who have formed with their presence the spiritual life of the Anglican Church.
Today the Fellowship is widely known within the theological and ecclesiastical circles of England, not only with its annual conferences that it organises but also with the quarterly magazine which it publishes, entitled SOBORNOST. Secretary of the Fellowship and editor of the magazine is Canon of Canterbury Cathedral, A.M. Allchin, member of the University of Oxford and author of a number of theological books. Allchin has around him a team of young researchers, who research topics concerning orthodox theology, channelling on a regular basis the fruits of their work to the pages of the journal. The majority of these Anglican theologians know Modern Greek and that is why the journal presents a special interest for the Greek reader, since in its pages one can find regularly valuable book reviews of Greek theological books – valuable, because in Greece such a level of academic criticism is scarce.
Since we are speaking about the journal SOBORNOST, it should be added that in England a second journal circulates, exclusively dedicated in the study of the Orthodox Church and Traditions, the ‘EASTERN CHURCHES REVIEW’, which is edited by Anglican George Every, Roman Catholic Robert Murray and Orthodox Archimandrite from the monastery of Patmos and professor of the University of Oxford Kallistos-Timothy Ware. Two specifically important journals, a good number of important publications specialising in Orthodox Theology and spirituality, two houses-centres of the Fellowship (one in London and one in Oxford) and one professorship in Oxford for the study and the research of the Orthodox Church, are the somewhat subjective evidence of interest that exists in England in regards to the Orthodox Church.
This year’s ten day conference in Winchester was attended by nearly 100 people, mainly from England, but also from America, France, Belgium, Italy and Scandinavia. Not everyone were theologians; nevertheless, an important percentage of the people who came from different disciplines, gathered together at the Fellowship due to a living interest for a more systematic encounter and engagement with the Orthodox Church.   With sadness, I have to point out that at the conference there was no Greek priest from the Archdiocese of Thyateira, despite having nearly fifty all around the country, and of course no representative from the Greek theological schools or from the Church of Greece.  Therefore, mainly the liturgical representation of Orthodoxy was  exclusively restricted to the Russians – and I point this out not to point out any racial antagonism, but as an but as a substantial lack highly significant towards the Anglicans; of course, the Europeanization of the Russian church music, the sentimentalism in worship and the westernised style of the Russian icons promotes to the eyes of the Europeans only one aspect of Orthodox spirituality and tradition and it deprives them from more authentic elements of the Byzantine wealth of Orthodoxy, which have been maintained within the Greek Church….
…I think that during the last years, during the meetings where different Christian denomination are represented, a new distinction appears, on a different level from that of denominational divisions. I would claim that the divisions in Roman Catholics, Protestants and Orthodox subsidies, not for the sake of a naïve ecumenical syncretism, but in order for another distinction to be revealed – two distinct groups of theologians: On the one hand are those who understand theology as a professional employment (scientific, social or and a political employment) and the dogma as an abstract ideology, and discuss the denominational differences on the dead level of following the letter of theoretical and scholastic formalities. And on the other hand, there are those who understand theology and dogma as an existential problem with life consequences and specific historic and cultural implications, they understand the theological basis of the stalemate that is apparent in the western or consumer society and they search for the size of the authentic ecclesiastical and existential life within the tradition of a unified and undivided Christendom. The first can be conservative or liberal, ecumenical or anti-ecumenical, but definitely irrelevant with the life of the Churchand the problem of the salvation of the modern person. The second, I believe consist a promising lively yeast within the dead paste of the fossilised objective “truths” of “scientific” theology. And I would like to point out that the second group of quality of theologians gave the major tone in the bright gathering in Winchester”.

[1] Γιανναράς, Χρήστος, Το Προνόμιο της Απελπισίας, (Αθήνα, Εκδόσεις Γρηγόρη, 1983), p. 240-244 

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