‘Plain Vanilla’ Orthodoxy

The last couple of years have been very interesting for our unusual community: unusual not for the characters we have (though we have to admit to having some very colourful, interesting and individual parishioners), but for the massive geographical dispersion of our parishioners, and the determination of those living so far away to be part of a parish that is faithful to Orthodox Tradition

Last Sunday saw ‘commuters’ from the Forest, Bath, Chippenham, Swindon, Oxford, Mells and Warminster in addition to our locals.

Devoted and loyal regular parishioners not only living in South Wales, but in Gloucestershire, Herefordshire, Somerset, Wiltshire and Dorset are part of our parish family – and I intentionally use the word family, despite its banal misuse by so many organisations.

Why do people come such distances?

For the beauties of an exquisite Orthodox temple crammed with icons, shrines and sacred antiquities?  Definitely not. For architectural grandeur and monuments of the sacred arts?  Definitely not, as imposing as Nazareth House is! For a Slavic club with the opportunity to immerse oneself in East Slavic culture and language? Despite our Russians, Ukrainians, Poles and Serbs, given the numbers of British parishioners, probably not. For a gigantic choir whose voice echoes in the lofty cupolas?  Despite our talented but tiny choir, definitely not. For a thronged meal in trapeza after Liturgy?  With no facilities apart from toilets and a sink, definitely not.

So, why make such a journey?

Whilst some parishioners have come to us after happy times in more distant communities because we are their nearest parish with weekly services, others have come as ‘refugees’  from parishes where Sacred Tradition is neither cherished nor kept, but rather rejected and destroyed in favour of self-determined renovationsist attempts at user-friendly man-centred imitations of Orthodox life.

Some have come from communities where clergy make their own personal decisions about what is correct and what is incorrect, what is changed, what is re-invented and what is omitted – sometimes based on modernist, liberal, heterodox ideas learned and absorbed from mentors, from the baggage of former lives as non-Orthodox clergy, or in conscious conformity to political agendas that have been dressed up as Church teaching.

Some parishioners have belonged to parishes where clergy project their personal ideologies, views and preferences onto their communities and those in their spiritual care, so that the faithful sometimes automatically accept what they are taught is the norm, and presume that the whole Orthodox world believes and does the same as them!

Some parishioners have come from parishes where ethnic identity, culture and language are at the forefront, but the most basic Orthodox Christian teaching has been lacking.

Sadly, detractors and mischief-makers have sometimes labelled those who have joined our parish as malcontents chasing ultra-Orthodoxy/hyperdoxy or tilting at windmills; as ultras who think they know better than their former clergy; as searchers for the spiritually exotic and obscure, those who are searching for some unattainable Orthodox Shangrila… but this is where we have to be forthright and direct in saying NO!

Our parishioners, old or new, are not obscurantist academics, intellectuals, deluded false-zealots or fantasists, but everyday, normal people living normal Orthodox lives of Faith.

They are people who want to live in the totality and purity of Orthodox Christianity, to struggle to acquire the Holy Spirit in the fulness of Sacred Tradition, not adulterated or diluted versions of Faith.

They are people who love God, who love the saints, who love their Orthodox Faith and love the Church of Christ.

They are people who study the Sacred Scriptures, who read the lives of the saints, who seek spiritual knowledge and enlightenment – and as a result begin to sense when something is wrong, and subsequently wish to discuss in places where discussions are forbidden, to ask questions of those who are not willing to be questioned or to give answers!

As bogolubtsy – God lovers – they simply want 100% Orthodoxy and the fullness of Faith… nothing fancy, nothing different, nothing extra-special – just straight-forward Orthodoxy: with dignified worship, spirtual-teaching, pilgrimages, and the company and fellowship of other straight-forward, informed and conscientious people living their Faith fully, and finding their life’s meaning in the Lord.

Though maximalist, the Orthodoxy confessed in our community is far from ultra, exotic, hyper-correct or obscure. It’s simply traditional Orthodoxy conforming to the Gospels, the Law of God, the Ecumenical Councils, the holy fathers and Sacred Tradition: plain vanilla Orthodoxy!

This is reflected in what we believe, what we preach, what we do, what we don’t do, and the way we do things. Others may do things differently, but we are clear in our ways.

For example…

Whilst recognising that some jurisdictions receive converts by economia, with chrismation, our standard reception by baptism is nothing strange, but simply Patristic practice: plain vanilla Orthodoxy!

Our insistence on the baptismal norm being triple-immersion, not pouring, is not ultra-stictness, but simple obedience to canonical Orthodox tradition and the praxis of our Church from its beginning: plain vanilla Orthodoxy!

Our refusal to commune miaphysite Christians, who are outside the communion of the Eastern Orthodox Church, is not zealotry or sectarianism, but obedience to patristic teaching, the Ecumenical Councils and holy canons: plain vanilla Orthodoxy!

Recognising that other jurisdictions have different practices, our ROCOR insistence on regular confession, especially before Holy Communion, is not some new-fangled thing invented by East Slavs, or ‘hyperdoxy’, but simple Orthopraxis: plain vanilla Orthodoxy!OOOMmm

Our belief that we go to confession to confess all of our sins, and not just when we need to tackle ‘the big ones’ (as taught in some places), is not obscurantism, but the teaching of the holy fathers of the Church: plain vanilla Orthodoxy!

When we ask for modest dress and the covering of heads by our ladies in church during services, it’s not cultural baggage, Old Believerism or Old Calendarist zeal, but humble obedience to the authority of Holy Scripture and the expression of basic Sacred Tradition: plain vanilla Orthodoxy!OOO

When we refused multiple or disposable spoons during the covid pandemic, this was not extremist blind-zealotry, but simple, straight-forward Faith in the the inviolability of the Lord’s Body and Blood, and the confession of the most basic Orthodox belief: plain vanilla Orthodoxy!

Our refusal to abandon the Divine Liturgy,  confessions and communion of the Holy Mysteries during the same period was nothing above or beyond, but just regular Orthodox spiritual sacramental life administered by ordinary Orthodox clergy: plain vanilla Orthodoxy.

Our insistence on a strict eucharistic fast – with compassion and economia for those who not being able to do so – is not over-strictness (and we know that this in not obeyed in some places!), but simple Sacred Tradition: plain vanilla Orthodoxy!

Our insistence on liturgical strictness and preserving our inheritance, to pass on to future generations is not externalist formalism, but the treasuring and preservation of Sacred Tradition in the life of the Church: plain vanilla Orthodoxy!

Our faithfulness to fasting PROPERLY throughout Great Lent and Holy Week, not just in the first and last weeks, is simply submission to Orthodox tradition, rather than self-willed, self-appointed pick-and-mix rebellion: plain vanilla Orthodoxy!OOO

Our refusal to recognise or accept graceless schismatics as Orthodox, whatever heterodox views Orthodox leaders in ancient patriarchal sees may opine, is not wilful insult, jealousy or jurisdictional in-fighting, but faithfulness to Orthodox ecclesiology and the Faith of the Church: plain vanilla Orthodoxy!

When our faithful turn to their spiritual-fathers for guidance and for a blessing for new undertakings, journeys, the praxis of their spiritual-lives, and big life decisions and events, this is not guruism or some sort of out-of-date spiritual archeology, but living spiritual tradition handed down and preserved in every generation: plain vanilla Orthodoxy!

Our loyalty to the Patristic Calendar does not mean we believe those using the Gregorian Calendar to be unOrthodox or deficient, but rather testifies to our recognition of the calendar as a sign and source of the spiritual and liturgical unity of the vast majority of Orthodox Christians in the world, who have preserved this tradition: plain vanilla Orthodoxy!

We are a very ordinary little parish with no wealth or property, no temple of our own, with few resources other than our people – but in them, we have all the wealth we need.

We have people fervent in Faith, some of whom willingly travel long distances, who face discomfort, who incur not inconsiderable costs for travelling and invest hours on journeys.

We have people whose spiritual-lives are fervent and demonstrate the love they have for all whom they hold in their prayers, who honour the saints day by day and whose whole being is centred on the Lord.

We have people who labour day by day to make the Beatitudes reality in their lives, labouring for the Kingdom of Heaven.

We have people who are not daunted by constantly setting up and putting away all that is needed for worship, but struggle on in the hope that, one day, we will have our own temple.

We have people who generously support the needs of the parish, those in need, and the mission, charitable work and labours our Church Abroad in so many parts of the world.

We have people who grab every opportunity for pilgrimage, and who  travel to support the clergy in our other missions. These people come together week by week, month by month, in one building yesterday, a different one today, and who knows where tomorrow?

We have people who have been courageous enough to oppose sacrilege and the rejection of the canons and Orthodox Tradition; sadly leaving brothers and sisters they love.

And for what?

For straight-forward, plain-speaking, non-modified, unrenovated, unabbreviated, non-woke, unadulterated, 100% original… PLAIN VANILLA ORTHODOXY!

There’s a lot to be said for plain vanilla!!!

Posted in Pastoral.