Orthodox History has a fascinating article on Raphael Morgan, who was probably “The First Black Orthodox Priest in America.” I wish that I had known of Father Raphael when I wrote a lengthy research paper on the African Orthodox Church for an undergraduate seminar on African Christianity. The Orthodox History article mentions George Alexander McGuire and Marcus Garvey, about whom I learnt much, but it does not tell the rest of the story. Notable missing characters include Daniel William Alexander, who helped shepherd the African Orthodox Church movement toward traditional Orthodox Christianity, and Reuben Spartas Mukasa and Arthur Gatung’u Gathuna, who led their fellow wayfarers to the Patriarchate of Alexandria. These black radicals sought a connection to an ancient religion free of white oppression and colonialism. They are similar, in that respect, to Elijah Robert Poole and the Nation of Islam crew, who dismissed the Christianity that they knew as “the white man’s religion.” Some of those black Mohammedans eventually converted to “real Islam” while others kept their innovative racially focused religion. Likewise, many African members of the episcopi vagantes African Orthodox Church movement joined the historic Orthodox Church while others maintained their eclectic religious culture of Old Catholicism, Anglicanism, and black liberationism. It truly is an interesting and muddled tale. History is a hot mess, but it tastes rather delicious.
Anglican Bruce Charlton asks “Is it possible to be fully Eastern Orthodox in the modern world?”:
Orthodoxy is Christianity in a Christian society - that is, in a Christian monarchy, where the ideal is that all of life be harmoniously integrated into a framework for the highest possible development of theosis (sanctification, spiritual progress toward communion with God while on earth) - where the matter of developing Saints is, in a sense, the primary and structuring goal of society.
This situation is gone from the earth, since the Russian Revolution of 1917; and the conditions for it do not exist anywhere.
Is it gone forever? Various prophecies concerning the End Times (which I have seen collected in the works of Fr Seraphim Rose) suggest that Orthodox Monarchy could be restored in Russia - and perhaps spread from there to some extent; but that is the only possibility, and may not happen if other choices are made.
Absent an Orthodox society, Eastern Orthodoxy is broadly similar in the outlines of its practice to Roman Catholicism and Liturgical Protestant denominations - indeed I suspect it is less well adapted to modern life, and the adherents of (for example) some evangelical Protestant churches are in practice able to reach a higher level of devoutness, of Christian life, of sanctification and/or theosis - than are Orthodox believers.
What Orthodoxy preserves is the memory of an ideal; and this then serves as a context or structure for modern Christian life; which necessarily proceeds at a much lower level (or not at all, in the large majority of modern people).
What Orthodoxy gives us the fullness of Christianity, and the proper balance and focus of Christianity - nowadays in ideal and in memory rather than in lived practice; because the Orthodox Church amputated from the Orthodox state is a partial and broken thing.
So, I believe that all Christian should (!) read, understand, assent to the ideal of Orthodoxy as instantiated in the Byzantine tradition - not as a perfection of Christian life (perfection is not attainable on earth), not indeed anything near perfection - but as the highest form of Christian development yet seen: a society saturated in Christianity which bred and sustained devoutness and the religious life - including many Saints.
But Orthodox monarchy will not arise in the West, and the high Christian life will not again be possible.
In general, I agree with Charlton here. Orthodox Christianity is communal by nature, and such a communal life does not fit well in a post-Christian society. I have commented before that fundamentalist Protestants have better success in catechizing their children because their religion is itself a development of and response to the modern West. In Darwinian terms, such Protestants are fit for our contemporary environment. Such folks take it for granted that religious instruction is up to them and that their families walk as sheep in a hostile world full of wolves. By contrast, the “village” model of Roman Catholicism and Orthodoxy assumes that children will learn the faith from the Christian life lived among Christians. They neglect focused catechesis and rely on a sort of cultural osmosis. However, Christians largely do not live among Christians; the noetic “air” that we breathe is opposite Orthodox Christianity. Unless Orthodox parents inculcate a separate identity for their families, their children will become as the world. As I have written before, when Roman Catholics left their ethno-religious ghettoes to assimilate into mainstream America, they thereby started down the path of secular Calvinism. The implementation of the Second Vatican Council provided the occasion for vast Protestantization, iconoclasm, and apostasy among American papists, but I do not think that it was the reason for it. If Roman Catholics and Orthodox Christians wish their families to maintain the faith from generation to generation, they need to learn from the fundamentalist Protestants—and from the rabbinical Jews of yore, who have a remarkable record. Their fortress under siege mentality combined with their self identity as an exiled people set apart preserve them as a distinct group. When Christians live beyond the borders of Christendom, they must learn to do the same.
I disagree with Charlton’s pessimism regarding the possibility of Christendom’s return. We are currently witnessing the slow and admittedly painful rebirth of Christian civilization in Orthodox lands, but the Eastern phoenix rises nonetheless. I actually expect to see the restoration of Russian Orthodox autocracy or a modified form of it in this century, and I do not say that from mere wishful thinking. Our age is an anomaly; we ought not to take it as the measure of the future. For it is silly that critics of the Enlightenment (sic) adopt the Enlightenment’s own chauvinism about its necessary historical victory.
However, Charlton’s pessimism mostly concerns the West. Even so, I do not think that the West can long continue its nihilistic devolution. The madness will stop; it is unsustainable. Moreover, strong Christian polities in the East will have an effect on Western nations, especially in the encouragement that they will provide to traditional Westerners. Consider how Saudi oil money and Mohammedan immigration have transformed the West—largely against the will of Western peoples. Let us suppose that Western man’s primal tribal urges to survive will reassert themselves—something that we should expect once the money runs out that keeps the masses well fed, entertained, and complacent. The rebellion against the former regime’s puppet masters and against their various tools and pets will be severe. The Left will rue the absence of Christianity and of its restraints upon the population when the bestial character of the populace manifests itself against them. The old order will crumble, and those left standing will pick up the pieces and rebuild. The traditional Christian remnant, if they survive being massacred in the chaos, will have default authority among a people hungry for a return to a known stability that is not the regime from which they just revolted. Once again, a Christian empire in the East will send agents of order to the West to assist their brethren.
An alternative history fantasy? Perhaps—though it seems far more likely than the ridiculous futurism of the last century that betrayed its utter ignorance of the human condition in countless ways. In two or three hundred years, I expect throngs of people to be marching in procession around Chartres singing to the Lord. Our descendents may even see a king crowned again in Reims. The future is unknown to us.
Have a blessed feast of the Conception of the Theotokos tomorrow!
I wish you a merry feast of Saint Nicholas!
In the spirit of the saint is a lovely account about charity in The Detroit News: “Most Holy Trinity Christmas Party crosses religious lines to help kids in need.” Read about the Ecclesiatical Shakedown Society and smile at a very American Christmas story.
And may your holidays be bright!
Puxa! The new liturgical movement has their work cut out for them in Brazil. Below shows the scriptural entrance on the third day of this year’s novena at the National Basilica of Aparecida:
The hot blooded Brazilians celebrate the feast of Our Lady of Aparecida com o espírito muito, but should clowns, albethey angelic, accompany holy writ? You may view dozens of videos of the novena’s peculiar liturgical practices online.
Ah, those Brazilians . . . their masses sacriliciously remind me of the Brazilian children’s program featured on The Simpsons episode, “Blame It on Lisa.”
By the way, feliz festa de São Nicolau for those of you on the new calendar!
Happy feast of the Entrance of the Theotokos into the Temple! Today’s readings include the Magnificat from Luke’s gospel:
And Mary said, My soul doth magnify the Lord,
And my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour.
For he hath regarded the low estate of his handmaiden: for, behold, from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed.
For he that is mighty hath done to me great things; and holy is his name.
The feast involves the child Mary’s dedication to the Temple—where the Holy of Holies made of stone is greeted by the Holy of Holies made of flesh. In this way, the feast complements well the entrance into monastic life by women who seek to follow the greatest icon of human obedience to God, the Theotokos herself. Let us, then, celebrate that religious vocation by looking at some simple joys and beauties in monastic life. Here are two such photographic meditations, beginning, appropriately enough, with pictures of the Convent of the Entrance of the Theotokos in Ivanovo by Alexander Brown and Anna Olshanskaya.
You may also read Mr. Brown’s page in rough English.
When my brother Aaron and I visited Russia, we used several guidebooks to get around. We soon discovered that Lonely Planet’s guide was geared toward us as young, budget-challenged adventurers, while Fodor’s book assumed that its readers were wealthy, respectable types on holiday—who moreover fit every W.A.S.P. stereotype. When we were visiting a monastery near Saint Petersburg, the Fodor’s guide siggested that we find the monastic bakery to enjoy some freshly baked “tasty bread.” We love bread—especially fresh “tasty bread.” Hence, we tracked down the monastic bakery. What we found, however, was the prosphora bakery that supplied the monastery with bread for the Eucharist. The bakery also sold small prosphora to visitors who wished to submit commemorative loaves for the liturgy. This was the “tasty bread”! Aaron and I were both horrified and humored. We had already developed an image of the Fodor folks as smug and cluelessly distant, and their “tasty bread” recommendation recapitulated everything we felt about Fodor’s at once.
So, when I sent the pictures of the women’s monasteries to my brother, he responded:
I like the one of the nun with a cellphone. I think she is reviewing the tasty bread on Yelp.
We shall laugh forever at Fodor’s expense.
There are many beautiful pictures on the linked pages, but I really enjoy the scenes with dogs and cats as well as the perched parakeet. There was a great multitude of cats at the monasteries. In particular, I remember well how the cats seemed to live in blessed harmony with the nuns at the Novodevichy Convent in Moscow.
And there are folks who opine that there are no beasts in heaven! Accordingly, you may wish to read Robert Flanagan’s short article, “Humans and Animals in the Kingdom.” The Lord is Pantokrator, not merely the transcendent chief psychologist.