Orthodox England

Excerpt from: Volume 7 Issue 1 Date 1st September 2003

Our Orthodox England

This royal throne of kings, this scepter'd isle,
This earth of majesty, this seat of Mars,
This other Eden, demi-paradise,
This fortress built by Nature for herself
Against infection and the hand of war,
This happy breed of men, this little world,
This precious stone set in the silver sea,
Which serves it in the office of a wall,
Or as a moat defensive to a house,
Against the envy of less happier lands,
This blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this England,
This nurse, this teeming womb of royal kings,
Fear'd by their breed and famous by their birth, -
For Christian service and true chivalry, -
As is the sepulchre in stubborn Jewry
Of the world's ransom, blessed Mary's son:
This land of such dear souls, this dear, dear land …
England, bound in with the triumphant sea.

Shakespeare, Richard II Act II, Scene i

The first number of Volume 7 of Orthodox England marks our twenty-fifth issue, a silver jubilee. In this day and age, the mere survival to this point of a journal dealing with the Orthodox Christian Tradition expressed in the English language and culture is a minor victory. All the more so, since we are clearly aligned neither with the 'right wing' of traditionalist conservatism, nor with the 'left wing' of modernist gnosticism. And for that matter neither are we aligned with any other '-ism', which by definition all contain some degree of secularism. We are aligned simply with the Tradition - the eternal truths of the Orthodox Church, expressed 'at all times and in all places' through the voices of the Saints, who bear the Holy Spirit. This is to put ourselves on the Cross, between the extremes and excesses of undiscerning ignorance on the one hand and secular intellectualism on the other hand. We are without the financial help of the powers that be in the Orthodox Establishments. Our struggle for God's Truth is part of that greater and general struggle for Orthodoxy against the Prince of this world. The survival of Orthodoxy in today's world is a miracle in itself. But then the Cross where we are is the only place where the Resurrection can occur.

Orthodox England was launched in 1997 with a backlog of over three years worth of material. By the year 2000 this had reached ten years. The solution was a website and there is now the equivalent of nine years of material published on Orthodox England on the web. This means that we only have one year's worth of material as a backlog and all the issues of Orthodox England up until June 2004 inclusive are prepared. However, many of the articles to be published in the forthcoming issues were written three or four years ago and some of the Questions from 'Questions and Answers' were originally posed up to twenty years ago. On the other hand, we are really not concerned about materials for 2005, as we also have two very bulky files of articles waiting to be written up. They concern all manner of themes: Orthodox Brittany, St Patrick, St Boniface, St Plegmund, John Mason Neale, English Proverbs, the pastoral issues arising from the transformations in the jurisdictional situation as a result of the collapse of Communism, or simple, practical issues on which people in this country seem to be deprived of information. There is much to be done and many insular misconceptions are to be combated.

In any case, this is certainly the moment to pay long overdue credit to helpers, especially Eadmund Dunstall, responsible for formatting and artwork, and to David Davies, our untiring webmaster. Without their unfailing help we would not be here. Thank you!

Orthodox England is a visionary realization. For this we need a vision of the Orthodox Church, which is both traditional and open. We believe that we acquired this over the last thirty years through the inheritance of the Russian Church. Of all the Local Orthodox Churches, the Russian Orthodox Church seems to have retained a particularly international and intercultural perspective. She has a profound understanding of both the truth and the falsity of Western culture. This dates back to the nineteenth century and well before. Of course in the twentieth century, she underwent an unprecedented attack from imported Western materialism both in its Communist and its Nazi form. Nevertheless, the vision survived and some believe that it is now being recovered.

We make no apologies here for that part of the Russian Church which remained spiritually free and refused to become the mouthpiece of a soulless State or Masonic intellectualism. We make no apologies here for remaining faithful to the Russian Orthodox Tradition and typikon, refusing to take the easy way out with worldly honours and financial advantage. Instead we have maintained our spiritual integrity against both modernism and the tortured psychology of convert fanaticism. We have stood away from the spiritual pigmyism of contemporary Western and Westernised thought and told the Truth. Of course men have reviled us and persecuted us and said all manner of evil against us falsely for Christ's sake; but then we have been promised blessings for undergoing this. We believe that the time is coming when the sacrifices made will mean something. At the beginning of this year it was a great pleasure to be published in the Russian newspaper Pravda, which means 'The Truth', although once upon a time that same newspaper was an organ of 'The Lie'. In any case, as Chaucer put it: 'The Truth will out'.

Apart from a vision of the Orthodox Church, Orthodox England must also have a vision of England behind and beyond the sordid ugliness of everyday life in contemporary Britain. It is our radical task also then to reveal something of the spiritual integrity and freedom of England and Englishness, to disclose something of the Essential England, the England that is in Heaven, borne by her Saints, the spiritual heritage of the Saints of God who dwelt in this land. On our way we are helped by the insights and intuitions, however fragmentary, of Non-Orthodox who reveal something of the Orthodox heritage of the past, of authentic English Christianity. They may be Chaucer, Shakespeare, Blake, Wordsworth, Clare, Barnes, the Pre-Raphaelites, or else twentieth-century writers and poets like Brooke, Webb, Chesterton, Kaye-Smith or Masefield. They all understood at least something of the errings of Western culture since England 'lost the great faith', as another poet, Alfred Noyes, put it (see Orthodox England, Vol 6, No. 4).

This 'silver' issue of Orthodox England, like any other issue, speaks of this quest to express 'Orthodox England'. We begin with the sermon to Bishop Nicholas, the first Orthodox Bishop of London for 900 years, then we pass on to Old English hymns to the English Saints, to the upright Austin our Apostle, to the meek Oswald our Patriarch, and to the kingly Edmund our Patron. We go on then to the struggle towards Orthodoxy in the seventeenth century under Archbishop Sancroft, then the battles in the World Wars and how this land was preserved by the grace of God through His angelic hosts. Next, we look at the character of English Orthodoxy as it is being formed today, and to a large number of questions about Orthodoxy, with special regard to English concerns. Finally we turn to an article by a special old friend, entitled 'The Good Old Days', and to a Book Review and poetry.

Our concern has always been to give voice to the England that is English but also accepting of Orthodox Christianity. Where better to have started than with the quotation from the national bard at the beginning of this Editorial? But we all know that there has been and is another England - Imperial, exploiting, proud and superior. The national poet, John Masefield, wrote of both these Englands in his work Wonderings in 1943:

Even in blackest England, some there were
Whose quiet rightness strove to make her fair …
Small wonder, though, if nations set apart
Seeing the darkness, doubted of the heart.

A century earlier the Russian poet and churchman, Alexei Khomyakov (1804-1860) had spoken of the England of pride in the 1830s in his well-known poem The Island. But at the end of that poem he foresaw the day when Imperial and humility-less power would vanish and a small England would be humbled as before. It is our thought that his poem has been prophetic:

There shall come, O Queen of the Ocean, there shall come, and soon, a day,
That thy glory, gold and purple, as a dream shall pass away.
From thy hands shall fall the thunder; Heaven shall speed thy arms no more;
Nor shall mind, or art or science, mark thy children as before.
Thy Imperial flag forgotten, - once more terrible and free,
Shall the waves at will disporting, lift the wide and stormy sea.
God then to a land more humble, marked with faith and signs of fear,
Shall the Empire and earth's thunder, and the Word of Heaven transfer.

As if in confirmation of one insight, below we quote another poem, written almost exactly one hundred years later. It was in the late autumn of 1939 that Ernest Raymond (1888-1974), a First World War army chaplain and author, was travelling by train through England during that Indian summer. As he looked out of the window of the speeding train, he wondered what England's destiny was to be at this fateful hour of her history. He took a piece of paper out of his pocket and wrote down the following:

The Secret of England

I sing no song of England,
My wits are slow and dry;
I only rise to help her
And, rising, wonder why.
Why beats my heart for England?
You wiser men may know.
I know this only, brothers:
She calls me and I go!

The secret that is England
Her long green pastures keep;
Her quiet hamlets store it;
Her hills that seem asleep
Enfold it in the valleys
With ploughland, park and wood.
Her milk-white mists enshroud it,
And know that it is good.

These sing the song of England,
Whose words I cannot hear;
I only know they build for me
A meaning that is dear.
They sing perhaps her sage old soul
That slowly toils to find
The way to freedom, faithfulness
And laughter that is kind.

Oh, she has sins a-plenty,
And her broad green breast is scarred,
But the hills that girdle England
Keep a truth that I shall guard.

Yes, England does have 'sins a-plenty and her broad green breast is scarred', but it is our belief that England does have a secret kept by the hills that girdle her. It is the truth brought here to the English by Augustine of Canterbury so long ago. It is the Truth of Christ made incarnate in this land and still to be inherited even today, despite a thousand years of erring. Moreover it is only because of the presence of this Truth, Christ's Eternal Truth, that England may have any significance in the Eternal Mind. But that is what the poet senses:


The Saxon church, the cream of flints,
The red-roofed hall, the shaded tints,
The blossom on the chestnut tree,
The new-mown grass, the chairs for tea,
The timbered inn, the village green,
The woods and fields - these England mean.

Like the Prodigal, England is now being called back to the spiritual and cultural roots of her First Millennium of Orthodox Christianity. By losing her earthly glory, 'the land of Hope and Glory' now has time to recover her heavenly Glory: blessed be God for leaving us this Hope.

Fr Andrew

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(c) Orthodox England - Published within the English Deanery of the Church Outside Russia: with the blessing of the Very Reverend Mark, Archbishop of Great Britain and Ireland.