Wednesday, 21 September 2011

Looking over the fence - part 2

RTE: Scotland also has many adherents of Calvinism, doesn’t it?

Fr. Deiniol: It does, and Calvinism was also strong in parts of South Africa, but the form of Calvinism there is not as extreme as the form that dominated in Wales, where the belief in ‘Double Predestination’ was adhered to.

RTE: What is ‘Double Predestination’?

Fr. Deiniol: The Calvinist doctrine is that God has predestined people from before the creation of the world for redemption. ‘Double Predestination’ is the belief that God has predetermined and preordained not only who shall go to heaven, but who shall go to hell. In other words, He has brought some human beings into existence, having already determined that they shall go to hell for eternity. They maintain that He has done this in His infinite Wisdom and that the logical contradiction between that and God’s infinite love is not for us to question and understand. So, the God of love becomes, in their theology, a tyrannical and arbitrary monster, whose excesses are far worse than the worst tyrants of human history, who only tormented people for a limited period of time. The God of Calvinism creates some people in order that they should suffer for eternity.

RTE: And this not only severs any notion of free will, but I imagine that you would have to take care to appear “good” to prove that you are one of the saved, or is that too simplistic?

Fr. Deiniol: No, that’s very accurate. “How do we know who is saved?” “Oh, by their fruits you shall know them.” Accordingly, observable behaviour becomes very important, and at a certain stage in the evolution of things, when conviction and faith are no longer so strongly present, this preoccupation with appearances becomes a very distinctive characteristic of these societies. That is certainly what I think happened in Wales. Also it means that people don’t look at the darker side of themselves, and don’t encounter their shadow. Darkness is then projected onto other people, so you have groups that are the scapegoats, the lowest of the low.

Communities are very hierarchical and there are people right at the bottom of the pile. In Wales, this emphasis on behavior also got linked up with the Temperance Movement, which, much as it may have been needed, divided the society into two—those who went to the chapel and those who went to the pub, those who drank and those who didn’t (or at least said they didn’t drink.)

To this very day, many Welsh people who go to the pub will not visit a church or chapel. The two locations are thought to be mutually exclusive locations, and those who frequent one of these places will usually hold the other place and its frequenters in contempt and think they will not be welcomed there! By now almost everybody does visit the pub, but the dichotomy persists and it is almost impossible to persuade people to visit a church. Furthermore, because every family was a ‘member’ of a Non-conformist chapel or of the Anglican parish Church, it means that people are still aware of their family ‘Church allegiance’.

They may still pay an annual fee for their family seat in a particular chapel, but never attend that chapel or any other place of worship, other than for baptisms, weddings, and funerals. However, they will use their ancestral allegiance to a particular denomination as a reason not to attend any other Church. An invitation to attend the Orthodox Church will therefore usually be met with a negative response. Typically, they might say ‘‘my ‘ticket’ (i.e. membership card which they maintain by payment of the rent for their seat in the chapel!) is in such and such a chapel.” Yet they may not have been there for 25 years.

Of course, as you’ve mentioned, Calvinism undermines any doctrine of free will. In fact they don’t believe in free will. Free will and predestination are opposing doctrines. This is perhaps what happens when you eliminate the role of the Mother of God from your theology, because it was of her own free will that she said,

“Be it unto me according to Thy will.”

At that point she was free to say, “No.” The redemption of the human race was in the balance at that moment. She could have said,

“This is too much, I can’t take this on,”

but instead she said,

“Be it unto me…”

So when you remove the Mother of God, and the very pivotal nature of her response, then the door is open to do away with the idea of free will in Christian theology, and the way is open for Calvinism. The Mother of God is our protection against Calvinistic doctrine. The Calvinistic doctrine that some are chosen for heaven, and others for hell, not only makes God seem very arbitrary, but it undermines any idea that God is the God of love and that our response to Him is a free and voluntary response.

RTE: In that case, you couldn’t possibly love Him yourself.

Fr. Deiniol: Yes—love is voluntary, not compulsory. We can only love God if we have free will. We might be frightened of Him, perhaps, or feel duty towards Him, but without free will we cannot love Him. Without free will our relationship with Him is not reciprocal. This attitude has created antipathy, and although people now don’t go to church, they know something—not theology, but the feel of Calvinism that permeates their culture. They keep their distance because they think they know what Christianity is, but it’s often a negative impression. For this reason, it would be easier to undertake a mission in Tibet than in a Calvinistic culture.

I imagine it will take a generation or two for people not only to consciously reject specific Calvinistic perspectives and teachings, but to rid themselves of its influence on their mentality. It has left behind a certain fatalism. These chapels have died very quickly. They are closing at the rate of one a week in Wales, which is a small country, and it’s as if people are glad to shake off the whole thing.

RTE: Do you think that after these generations pass, people will be ready to reconsider Christianity?

Fr. Deiniol: Because people free themselves doesn’t actually mean they will come to church, but that particular obstacle won’t be there. There will be other obstacles then. When people begin asking questions about the meaning of life, about the significance of things, they begin to touch on religious questions, but in general, people are not asking these questions, and I say this as one who has taught religious education for fifteen years here in Wales, and who has lived in this society most of his life.

RTE: Perhaps it’s a recovery period.

Fr. Deiniol: If it acts as a recovery period that would be very good. Of course, this is an attempt to provide some sort of diagnosis or analysis, and I’m not saying that I have answers as to what the strategy of the Orthodox Church in Wales should be. God does things in His way and His time, and it would be foolish of me to say,

“This is what we must do.”

But I think we won’t go far wrong if, for example, as Orthodox people in Wales, we try to demonstrate some care for people in their situations in life. for example, in our town there are high rates of unemployment. If our church can be instrumental in improving people’s lives so that they aren’t plagued by constant problems, this may be a way to show that God loves them and cares about them, and cares about their situations.

RTE: Do you have ideas as to how your parish can participate in that?

Fr. Deiniol: To be honest, although we are not numerous, many of us have been very actively involved in work in the community and for the regeneration of Blaenau Ffestiniog from the inception of our church. Orthodoxy believes not only in life after death, but in life before death. The quality of people’s lives is important. We are incarnate beings, not just souls, and we can’t be happy if we see people hungry or in anguish. We have to be concerned about people’s situations as a whole, in their totality.

RTE: Yes, and this approach has other 20th-century precedents. After World War II and the Greek civil war, there was massive unemployment and many Greeks were depressed and disillusioned with the Church. Fr. Amphilochius Makris, the well-known spiritual father of Patmos, said that the words of preachers and politicians were like throwing turpentine on the fire, and that only love and works of charity would bring them back to Christ.

Fr. Deiniol: Well, the Gospel actually says that, doesn’t it? Why should I consider preaching at people to be the main strategy? Why should they listen to me? For two centuries, they’ve listened to other preachers who didn’t make them feel good. I have no mandate from them. They didn’t ask me to come here and preach to them. On what basis would I assume that these people want to hear what I’ve got to say? That’s the first thing.

The second thing is that people do not go to church in Wales. I remember asking a young person,

 “What would it take to get you to go to church?” He said, “A great deal of courage to actually be seen coming into the building by my friends.”

This is very different from many countries, even from the States, as I know from my visits there. But we have to be aware of what things are like in the United Kingdom and what things are like in Wales. And as I’ve tried to explain in giving this Calvinistic background, I’m not surprised that people don’t want to come to church.

This not to say we don’t get any people coming into church. In fact, we get many visitors and my parishioners are a mixture of nationalities. For Christmas we were ten nationalities, and there are also foreign Orthodox students at the universities and colleges where I am chaplain. We conduct our services in a number of languages, according to the need on any particular Sunday. We’ve been very fortunate in the support we receive from our hierarch, Bishop Andriy of Western Europe, who is a member of the Synod of Bishops of the Ukrainian Church of the Diaspora, within the Ecumenical Patriarchate.

We are officially called The Wales Orthodox Mission, of which I am the administrator. In fact, the term “mission” is not used very much in the U.K. by the Orthodox Church, but I think it is very important to state what we are. We are not a chaplaincy looking after a separate ethnic minority, nor are we a well-established church full of people who have become Orthodox (although there are increasing numbers). We are a mission. And I think that any church in Wales, whether Orthodox, Catholic, Anglican or anything else, should at this point call themselves a mission, because that is the nature of the situation.

The Wales Orthodox Mission is the contact point between the Orthodox Church and Welsh institutions. If Welsh organizations wish to be in touch with the Orthodox Church, they contact us, and we get many groups visiting us from churches and societies. I’m often asked to give talks and if subjects such as Eastern Europe or certain theological or social issues are being discussed on the radio or TV, they sometimes ask me for an interview on these topics as well. So our church is present and active, but I hope in a way that corresponds to the needs, realities, and possibilities that exist at this stage in Welsh cultural history.

RTE: We were told that you were invited to lead a prayer at the opening of your national parliament, the Welsh Assembly.

Fr. Deiniol: This is quite an interesting history. Wales lost its independence in government 700 years ago, and approximately six years ago, we received our own government again, not completely independent, but with certain powers. There was an ecumenical service to celebrate the opening of the Welsh Assembly Government, which took place at the Anglican cathedral in Llandaff, Cardiff. The Orthodox Church, amongst other churches, was invited to make a contribution to the format of the service. I prepared two prayers. Each prayer had a response, and as the response I included,

 “All you saints of Wales, pray to God for us.”

The ecumenical organizers came back and said that they didn’t think this was acceptable. (Invocation of the saints, of course, had been outlawed during the Protestant period.) My response was,

“If you invite an Orthodox priest, you get an Orthodox response and an Orthodox contribution. If this is not acceptable, why do you ask us in the first place?”

At that point I felt that the ghost of Thomas Cromwell was striding rampantly through Wales. Thomas Cromwell was Henry VIII’s henchman and operator who closed all the monasteries throughout Britain, wrecked the shrines and relics, and destroyed the altars. I thought, “Well, they are still unwilling to invoke the saints,” and was about to write a fax that evening to say words to this effect, but at the moment I was about to send this letter, another fax arrived saying that the prayer was alright. So this prayer was used and the response was used.

Now the interesting part is this. on that occasion, the Queen of England, her husband the Duke of Edinburgh, and her son, Charles, Prince of Wales, were all present at the service. Normally, for security reasons, the three do not travel or appear together. So when that prayer was said, and the whole congregation responded,

 “O, all you saints of Wales, pray to God for us!”,

this was the first time such a phrase had been used in that cathedral since the Reformation—with the successor of Henry VIII, the king who had originally made such an invocation illegal, present and taking part in the service. That was not an insignificant event, I think.

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