Flags and statues…

I have been greatly disturbed by the recent removal of divers monuments to the old Confederacy across the United States of America and the fashion for treating the Confederate flag with contempt. These iconoclastic developments are one of the many symptoms of a decaying civilisation, and it’s certainly what happens when you enfranchise the ignorant. The swine that rejoiced with hideous delight at the removal of Robert E. Lee’s head in New Orleans reminded me of a young man I met in a pub near Westminster Abbey some months ago. I had gone in to refresh myself and to await the arrival of a friend of mine (curiously from America himself) and this disheveled-looking young man looked me up and down, and then asked if I was Irish. So I said: “a little bit, why?” And he said: “you look like a leprechaun,” and laughed. I did not react, but after a few pleasantries I asked what he was doing there. This was shortly after the General Election, you see, and his reply was that he and his friends had been protesting in Parliament Square against the Conservative-Democratic Unionist coalition, and he accused the DUP of being “racist” and “homophobic,” and then proceeded to give me his version of Irish history, which was untested by basic knowledge let alone scrupulous research. No doubt you see the hypocrisy in his protest. He called me a leprechaun because I had a beard and wore tweed, and yet he is riled by a political party he probably hadn’t heard of before the election, ostensibly because they’re “racist.” Were he an American I have no doubt he would have been calling for the erasure of Confederate history, just as the partisans of paedophilia called for the erasure of any memorial to Bishop George Bell. It’s dystopian and hysterical, like the witch hunts of the 17th century or the climate of fear and accusation of which O’Brian spoke in Nineteen Eighty-Four.

Where does it end? Do we erase from the history books and public places the memory of other great men just because they owned slaves, or held dear doctrines and opinions that are no longer in fashion? Winston Churchill might once have uttered something racist or homophobic, and he is the face of the new £5 note! Do we cast opprobrium on his memory? For consistency’s sake, why not pull down the monuments to American Indians because of their grisly brutality, or those of Malcolm X for fomenting civil strife? But I’m not a hysteric; I’m not even American. What about statues that I find odious in Britain, then? The one that comes readily to my mind is that of Oliver Cromwell outside the Palace of Westminster. Some years ago I remember shaking my fist at it with my old Knight of Malta sodomite friend. I still revile Cromwell and curse his name but I wouldn’t dream of petitioning to have his statue removed because his part in British history was a great one, as Robert E. Lee’s was in America (although they were by no means alike). The point is, we learn from history and whatever evils and tragedies that occur are taken up into the narrative of the nation and enhance and enrich the poignancy and the goodness of the present time, the knowing of good and evil in the time of their being.

This controversy put me in mind of Ken Burns’ brilliant documentary The Civil War, particularly the Southern, somewhat patrician, tone of Shelby Foote’s narration (emphasis my own):

“And after the battle, then the slain and wounded will arise, and all will meet together under the two flags, all sound and well, and there will be talking and laughter and cheers, and all will say, Did it not seem real? Was it not as in the old days?”

The pope in Russia? Heaven forbid!

Pope Antichrist1

Fr Andrew Phillips has written a very welcome post here dashing the unfounded rumour that pope Francis is planning a trip to Russia. Praise God it is unfounded! I have no doubt that Francis wants to visit Russia, as did his predecessor John Paul II who rather arrogantly believed he had the right to go anywhere he pleased and be welcomed as a good man. Remember his trip to Greece in 2001? That didn’t go down too well with the locals, did it? For me, there were too many reminiscences of the treason and perfidy of John Bekkos and the Emperors who lost their faith that God would deliver them. But Francis in Russia? Why? There are, of course, Roman Catholics in Russia* (like Jews, they seem to get everywhere!), so one would hope that the rumour of a visit was for their benefit and not, as schismatics would, to deceive the Orthodox into leaving the communion of Christ’s Church, exchanging the truth for a lie. Not that Francis, who recently congratulated a pair of sodomites on the adoption of their ill-fated child, is too bothered about people joining his communion. He seems more concerned about pushing the textbook neo-liberal agenda of his contemporaries in secular power like Angela Merkel and Peter Sutherland, and generally being the answer to a question nobody asked. I can only say again, God be praised the rumour is unfounded but rest assured I shall oppose any planned visit of the Arch-heretic to Russia to the utmost of my power.

As for the other bit of news, about the disruption of a gay orgy within sight of St Peter’s basilica, that news is stale now but I just rolled my eyes and turned to the next story. It’s years now since I was in the least bit scandalised by the corruption and hypocrisy of the Roman clergy.

*Incidentally, I hope that Mr Putin deals with them as he has with the Jehovah’s Witnesses.


Light and Shadow


Is it right to use new things in divine service? Is it fitting to use printed books, electric light, and mass-produced vestments? I have the electric bulb in mind especially here. Printed books have their value, especially as a safeguard against scribal error and the kind of uniformity that comes with them, even if by becoming accustomed to uniformity we have actually lost something; a sense of parochial individuality and charming illumination. But electricity in church came to my mind to-day as I was stood in a checkout queue in my local supermarket. I looked up and was sorely oppressed by the artificial light glaring at me from the ceiling. I thought then of the candle-bearer at Latin episcopal liturgies, a remnant of the time past when he served a practical purpose, just as the boy in the choir of Notre Dame de Paris who processed down the stalls with the Antiphoner at Mattins pointing to the antiphon once served a practical purpose (even if he no longer exists, and Mattins is extinct). Some churches in Russia eschew electricity, particularly the churches of the Old Ritualists and the Edinoverie, not just because electricity is new and oppressive but because real light and shadow serve as the most natural ways to direct our minds Godwards in prayer, as opposed to electric light, throwing out its dull beams, mortifying flesh and which is everywhere artificial and distracting. (I remember Roman Catholic traditionalists appealing to the significance of the Tenebrae service, even if few of them were too concerned about the psalms at Lauds or the time of day).

I would that we all did away with the light bulb in churches and followed the example of the Old Ritualists.

About a book

Wikipedia references are notoriously unreliable. I have encountered authors’ names misspelled, and once a book that didn’t even exist (although that has since been removed). Anyway, I have been trying to authenticate a book referenced in the Wikipedia article on the Second Council of Lyons (1274). I made an exhaustive search for it on Abebooks but came up with nothing, and there is no copy in Google Books either. The book is entitled: “The Byzantine Reaction to the Second Council of Lyons, 1274,” by eminent Byzantinist Donald MacGillivray Nicol, published in 1971. It might not even be a book; perhaps just a chapter in another book on the subject of the Crusades, or the union of the churches. I just can’t know. If anybody more skilled at this sort of thing can offer their assistance, I would be very much obliged.


Call me an old whinger but I’ve become increasingly annoyed every weekend with finding some kind of sports competition on my television. Wimbledon, the London marathon (which once disrupted a Palm Sunday procession I went to in London), the World Cup, the so-called “paralympics” (by far the worst, in my view), and now yet another world championship. I don’t care for sport or for contests of strength and speed; I think there should be less of it. Man will never be as strong as an ox, nor as swift as a gazelle and our most Christian Emperor Theodosius was moved by divine will to ban the Olympic games as pagan, and unworthy of Christian culture, in A.D 394. What irritates me, vis-a-vis what I’ve said about human limitation, is this exaltation of the body at the expense of the mind and the soul, and I think this tendency runs parallel with the decline in Christianity. Once a civilisation has abandoned belief in the life eternal, what is left but this life and this body? Is it any coincidence that the modern Olympic games were revived in 1896, between the publication of Darwin’s work and that War which forever compromised the churches in Europe and brought about an end to Christian Monarchy in Russia? Is it a coincidence that the Olympic games appealed to the Nazi elite, with their pagan and pseudo-scientific race doctrine? I do not think so.

Many of us marvel that athletes can run miles at record speed, and throw objects further than their predecessors, and we feign outrage when many of them turn out to have used drugs to enhance their ability. Not me. I’m not in the least bit impressed, and the scarcely-regulated use of drugs just lessens the prestige and attraction that these contests might otherwise have for people like me.

Olympic woman

Look at this woman. I have no idea who she is; I just typed in “olympic athlete” into Google Images. Angry, thrilled, half-naked; not exactly the qualities we’d expect in a Christian woman! As Mrs Doubtfire said, “not a single body that exists in nature.” My own body is pallid and flabby, but I have the decency to cover it up, and I suppose that nothing for which the life beautiful has a name can be read into a pot belly!

I would that more of us sought to furnish our minds with beauty rather than put so much effort into our perishable bodies.

Homosexuality and Bourgeois decadence

I don’t really have a coherent political philosophy. I suppose what politics I have is informed by the Church, but I also have my own views which I know to be true by instinct, and a sense of justice and truth, and from which many modern-day ecclesiastics might turn in flight as from an “extremist.” I happen to think that I embrace a larger view. The article is stale now, having been written in the aftermath of the Orlando night club massacre, but the views expressed by journalist and political analyst Gearóid Ó Colmáin here are very interesting. Many of his conclusions are wrong, being logical only within the theory of dialectical materialism, but the arguments are sound, particularly the stuff in part three of the series in which he explores the etymology of the word “sex” in relation to idealism, and part five in which he discusses the rôle of the Roman Catholic Church.  I encourage you to read all parts.

“Western Rite Orthodoxy”


“Alas, we sought a cure for Babylon, but curing her there was none; time it is we left her, and went back each to his own land,” Jeremiah 51:9.

A valued reader contacted me the other night asking me to support Western Rite Orthodoxy. Without wishing to cause offence to him or to his work I’m afraid I must say unequivocally: non possum! Please allow me to explain.

Years ago, I flirted sentimentally with the Orthodox Church, ostensibly beguiled by John Paul II’s pseudo-profound “two lungs” theory. I discovered to my bewilderment and indignation that my attraction thereto was not reciprocated. I remember very vividly walking around Ennismore Gardens, circa 2007, clutching a 1962 missal and being stared at. One woman looked me up and down and then said something to her friend in Russian. In those days I was profoundly attached to “the Latin Mass,” and to the Papacy, and I thought upon walking out of the cathedral that they were all obstinate schismatics. How could anybody spurn the Tridentine Mass of St Gregory, which of the pope’s bounty was now restored to the pristine norm of the fathers, and the communion of the “apostolic” see?

Of course, those pious ladies knew nothing of 1962, or Pius XII, or any of those things. It’s quite possible that they didn’t even know the name of the reigning pope! For them, I was just a conspicuous nuisance, a troglodyte who got in by mistake, unsolicitedly peddling impious rites and strange customs to them. It’s the sort of aversion with which we might treat Jehovah’s Witnesses. I sometimes wonder whether their reaction was based on doctrine or liturgy, but it probably wasn’t as considered as that. I was not Orthodox, and that was enough. And that went for the liturgical book I carried too.

Assuming that the liturgical book I carried was a Sarum legendary, or a post-Clementine, pre-Urban Roman breviary, do you think the reaction of the ladies would have been any different? I doubt it very much. For them, the Orthodox liturgy is Byzantine (although they might not use, or know, that term); so it was for their mothers, so it is for their daughters. Some Westerners, profoundly attached to their rites and anxious to point out their authenticity, might see the reaction of the ladies as chauvinistic prejudice. It might be so for some of them but for most of them, as it is for me now, “the ware of Rome,” as Bunyan would say, is simply not good enough. The repudiation of Roman worship is therefore a repudiation of Rome herself.

I agree very much with the ladies on this. Of course, for me these things are far more considered. I admit that “Western Rite Orthodoxy” has intelligible motives; some pastoral, some cultural, others liturgical and stylistic. Some time ago (my crest has long since fallen!) I had a mind to recreate the Roman Rite, as it ought to be, and even made a list of liturgical books for it. I abandoned this project when I realised that if I were to actually go ahead with it, and stood outside a church asking ordinary parishioners for money, nobody would give any. Why? Because it would be an esoteric, exclusive cult, attractive to no one. The rite would be inauthentic, for all the travail, agony and expense in its creation; it would have no continuity with the past or solidarity with the present; the whole thing would be fraught with problems, and would dry up like a trickle of water in the wilderness. And that’s only my own ritual phantasm. Existing forms of “Western Rite Orthodoxy” leave me cold.

Why then would somebody want to “recreate” the Roman Rite? By implication there must be something wrong with it! The Roman Rite is, of course, liturgical. So too is the Book of Common Prayer, understood anthropologically as historical forms of worship. But from an Orthodox perspective the question remains: are these historical (or ahistorical, in some cases) forms of worship everything that the Church requires of divine worship? Do they fully express the mystery of Christ’s Incarnation? Or have centuries of bad theology, schism, clericalism, legal positivism, general decadence and neglect compromised their fundamental continuity and authenticity, to the extent that – even in a fully mediaeval or “Tridentine” manifestation – they are no longer actually “Orthodox,” that is to say “right worship?” This question crucially takes no account of the feasibility of restoring dead rites like Sarum, or the Epiklesis, or of extracting dogmatic errors from the texts, or the propriety of pews, of low Mass, or the kind of bureaucratic centralism inherent to the Roman Rite since the Council of Trent. “A corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit,” saith the LORD.

Since the Slavic women are not remotely interested in “Western Rite Orthodoxy,” who is? It seems to me to be half-hearted converts, lukewarm Laodiceans who just can’t let go of the baggage of their former struggles, whether in continuing Anglicanism or Roman Catholic traditionalism. All the intelligible motives of “Western Rite Orthodoxy,” therefore, boil down to a liturgical manifestation of the broad way to destruction, and not the narrow way of the Gospel. Liturgy is as much an expression of the communion of the Church as a form of divine worship in a particular church, and it seems to me that “Western Rite Orthodoxy” is a kind of liturgical Uniatism, a spiritually harmful and potentially schismatic obstacle to full communion of the Church. I don’t deny that I was hurt by the delusions I once entertained or that I enjoy Latin antiphons and Prayer Book psalms but my Baptism literally washed away all the cares and griefs that went with them, so much so that nowadays I would say that if Western Rite Orthodoxy were on offer in my local parish I would not go to it; the forms and orders thereof being reminders of past error and frustration. I’m pushing 30 and life is short enough without dabbling in a potentially centuries-long experiment with no guarantee of success.

Ruth and Naomi

And so to present practitioners of “Western Rite Orthodoxy,” I urge in all sincerity to abandon their rite, and to say with Ruth, “I mean to go where thou goest, and dwell where thou dwellest; thy people shall be my people, thy God my God.”

Art: Ivan Eggink’s fictionalised rendering of the conversion of Rus. Notice the grimace on the face of the papal envoy.


A procession


“Thousands of believers marched in Yekaterinburg on Sunday night to mark the anniversary of the assassination of Nicholas II and the Russian imperial family.

“According to the Yekaterinburg Diocese’s website, more than 60,000 people participated in the march.

“The church-led procession started at the former location of Ipatiev House, demolished in 1977 and now the site of a church, where the last Russian tsar and his family were shot by the Bolsheviks on the night of July 16, 1918.

“The procession started around 3 a.m. and finished around four hours later with a prayer at the location where the bodies of the seven Romanovs and their four servants were originally deposited, now the site of a monastery.”

See the rest here.

In Britain we have our own Royal Martyr but I’ve never seen such an impressive gathering at the Banqueting House. Having been officially suppressed by Queen Victoria (who also authorised the erection of a statue of Oliver Cromwell, one of the fiercest enemies of monarchy, outside the Palace of Westminster), the cult of King Charles ye Martyr is now the reserve of Jacobites and Uranian Anglo-Catholics, but I wonder how popular it was before then? The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church and, where the Church of England has gone the way of the Devil, the Orthodox Church has grown apace in Russia. I felt a tremendous swell of pride in Russia, and devotion to the Imperial Family, upon seeing this procession. Who knows, next year might see the restoration of the Tsardom!

Persian Miniature

Persian Miniature

I started writing a political post last night, beginning with an anecdote set in a public house, but like so many of my old posts it has grown in the telling and is unfinished. In the meantime, I thought I’d share this. It’s a Persian miniature depicting the Mother of God and the Saviour. Of course, for the artist it was simply the woman Maryam and the Prophet Isa. I must say I am quite taken with it, particularly the Christ Child with his fiery halo (“I am come to send fire on the earth,” &c), and the grown up shape of his body, reminiscent of Byzantine iconographical injunctions against depicting the Saviour as an infant. The Islamic prayer rug has resonances in later Renaissance artwork, particularly Bellini’s rather oriental Madonna with its own Turkish embellishments.

What do you see? Do those urns or lamps have a significance? Or the tree? We sometimes lose sight of the fact that Islam is closer to us than other religions.

Ad meliora advocatus…

My name is Patrick and I am an Orthodox Christian. Welcome to my new blog! Readers of my old blog will no doubt have noticed that I have defected from Blogger to WordPress. This change is by no means profound, unless it’s a subtle admission to myself that this is a new start. Indeed, that theme is the significance of the title of this post, “called to better things;” an admission to God that I am no longer wasting my time clinging to old prejudices and obsessions, and to others that those better things are that which is most natural for Man: Prayer; to worship Almighty God within the unity of the Church. (Incidentally, for new readers, I wouldn’t necessarily recommend my old blog. That place is a nightmare. But I suppose there’s no harm in having a quick look for completeness’ sake).

At this point it is incumbent on me to say that I do not write with the authority of the Orthodox Church. Everything expressed here is my own opinion.

I spent about two hours to-day trying to think of a witty or insightful title for my new blog but came up with nothing. The domain name, ahenobarbus.org, is just a convenience and is in token of the beard I have been growing since December. Perhaps when the overall theme of this endeavor is worked out and I am more mature in the Orthodox faith (which will take years) I can come up with a title. Until then, I suppose this is just “Patrick’s blog.”

I am open to suggestions from readers about possible articles. And if anybody used to WordPress has any suggestions about how to tidy things up, I’d be grateful. So far I am finding it difficult to navigate.