Restoring English Orthodoxy: An Interview with Fr. Gregory Hallam

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by Tudor Petcu

A Romanian writer, Tudor is a graduate of the Faculty of Philosophy, University of Bucharest, Romania. He has published a number of articles related to philosophy and theology in different cultural and academic journals. His work focuses on the evolution of Orthodox spirituality in Western societies as well and he is going to publish a book of interviews with Westerners converted to Orthodoxy. In this article, he interviews Fr. Gregory Hallam, of the Antiochian Orthodox Deanery of the United Kingdom and Ireland .

1.) First of all I would like to find out more information about the orthodox heritage of England, and of the British Isles, generally speaking. Why can we say that the true origins of England are orthodox, and not catholic, as we know from history?

This question assumes a false choice that is between “Orthodox” and “Catholic”. In the first millennium both the Christian East and the Christian West used both terms interchangeably. The West preferred the term “Catholic”, the East “Orthodox”. During the first millennium the local churches of the East and the West formed one single communion and Church. Canonically, therefore, Britain as part of the Western Patriarchate (Rome) was just as Orthodox as any territory further east. Likewise, the East was just at Catholic as anything further west. One important consequence of all this is that the Saints commemorated locally in Britain during the first millennium are all Orthodox. Some of them have even found their way into the calendars of the eastern churches.

However, unlike Rome subsequently the Christian East has retained the primitive practice of calendars being essentially local productions and not global. However, in the modern era there has been renewed interest in the Orthodox Churches of the East in the Saints of the first millennium Orthodox West. In 2014 for example, 10 of these Saints were formally included in the calendar of the Moscow Patriarchate.

The unity of the Catholic Orthodox Church in the first millennium is a very precious gift to the contemporary churches ecumenically speaking. An examination of the Saints and teachings of the Western Orthodox patrimony reveals a faith and a life, and even an iconography indistinguishable in essentials from that of the Orthodox Christian East. The Great Schism of 1054 AD did not affect us here in Britain at all. Arguably this did not affect the Christian East much either at least until the disaster of the Fourth Crusade. Far more significant for us here in Britain was the Norman Invasion in 1066 AD.

The legacy of this occupation of England by Norman forces enforced new and heterodox traditions into the English Christian mind. Nonetheless Britain’s Orthodox past was never entirely forgotten and from time to time over the following centuries there have always been British people, such as myself, who have rediscovered the authentic English and British Orthodox Tradition.

2.) I think it’s very important to discuss about what an English theologian has called the fall of Orthodox England. Why has England lost during the history its orthodox origins?

See above concerning the Norman Conquest. The Normans followed their cousins, the Franks, in pursuing and enforcing the Hildebrandine reforms of Pope Gregory VII. British Christianity gradually lost touch with its Orthodox roots and by the 13th Century became fully absorbed into the matrix of Medieval European Catholicism.

3.) As far as I know, one of the most important personalities for the English Orthodoxy was King Edward the Confessor. I would appreciate a lot if you would like to explain why is he so meaningful for the Orthodox civilisation in England and how should we understand his personality. I also know that we had some prophecies. Which of them are the most important?

To be honest he is not that important. There are some people (Orthodox and others) who obsess about him because together with St Edmund, both these saintly men were effectively the Patron Saints of England before the returning Crusader knights introduced the cult of St George which gradually took over here in England. Edward the Confessor was undoubtedly a very holy, if somewhat ineffectual, King.

His memory is perpetuated by those who in, frankly a romantic fantasy wish that the Norman Conquest never happened. If you have ever read the writings of the English Orthodox priest, Father Andrew Phillips, you will know what I mean! The reality is the Norman Conquest did happen and Orthodox fantasising about undoing that legacy is absurd. Britain will only become Orthodox again when she builds something beautiful out of the whole of her history and into the present. We cannot live as if the second millennium never took place!

4.) I know that the English orthodox are related to some other local Orthodox Churches, as for example the Antiochian one where you are coming from, but I think the English Orthodoxy has on the other hand its own tradition, which as far as I know, is a very ancient one. So, do tell me please more about the English Orthodox tradition. How can be Orthodoxy adapted to the English culture?

This follows on from the previous question. I may belong to the Orthodox Church of Antioch but that is not because I have any Arab ethnic background. I am in the Church of Antioch because it is one of the few Orthodox Churches that really understands the importance of mission in the West and the need to bring into Orthodoxy those ancient and modern English Christian Traditions which have been obscured by late developments in both Catholicism (post Schism) and beyond the Reformation in Protestantism.

5.) What should we know about the English Orthodox Calendar? Who are the most important celebrated saints in the English Orthodox tradition?

This is an impossible question to answer, there are literally thousands of English, Scottish, Welsh and Irish Saints, all of them Orthodox. Selecting a few does a great disservice to all the others.

However, you might find these websites helpful:-

http://aidanharticons.com/category/western-saints/

http://orthodoxwiki.org/Category:Pre-Schism_Western_Saints

6.) Is there in England any orthodox parish only for the English communities? Accorded to this question I wish to point another very important issue: how many liturgical texts were translated in English?

To have Orthodox communities for only one ethnic background would be racist. Britain is a multi-cultural society and we rejoice that our churches are full of people from many different backgrounds, not just the English, the Scots, the Welsh and the Irish.

All see themselves as British and this is always how it has been. Many different peoples have come to Britain over the millennia. This issue has to be distinguished from that of the language which is used in the services. There are many Orthodox Churches in Britain who see themselves as only serving one particular ethnic background. Consequently these Churches rarely use English – which is a tragedy. However, all those Orthodox Churches of whatever jurisdiction or background that use English in the services maintain a great diversity of cultures and traditions which is how it should be.

Of course, the British Orthodox of whatever background do not see themselves as an outpost of Athens, Moscow, Belgrade, Bucharest, Beirut or any other place here. We British Orthodox are not a “diaspora”. Most of us are British citizens. The Orthodox Churches which are succeeding to keep their young people and grow Orthodoxy as a LOCAL Church are for the greater part all using English. ALL the services, ALL the prayers and the Orthodox Bible itself have all been in good English translations for many decades. If the British Orthodox have any frustrations, these lie with the lack of imagination and understanding that some have concerning our Churches here.

Eventually there will be by God’s will and grace a single autocephalous Orthodox Church in the British Isles. When that happens, we shall be eternally grateful to those Orthodox from other lands who REPLANTED Orthodoxy here and RECONNECTED the British to their ancient faith, albeit in modern dress.

7.) Should consider that the Russian emigration has contributed mostly to the rebirth of English Orthodoxy in the UK?

Father Andrew Phillips thinks so, but he is wrong. He is deeply in love with Moscow and cannot apparently find any good anywhere else! The Orthodox Church is ONE and we can do without this ethnic fetish, which sadly even some Englishmen practice.

8.) I think one of the main tasks of Orthodoxy in England is to help English people to get back to their origins. In that case, do you think that in the future will be a strong English Orthodox Church with a strong voice in the British society?

Yes!

 

Restoring English Orthodoxy: An Interview with Fr. Gregory Hallam

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