It is all Greek to our Synod rep
IKARIA is a sleepy Greek island. It is named after Icarus, the legendary character who was equipped with wax wings but fl ew too close to the sun with disastrous results. In early August when I was there the sun beat down mercilessly by day, much as it was doing in England, and there was little inclination to do anything but sit on a shady balcony, watching the waves of the Aegean lap against the rocks below, and settle down to a Mediterranean siesta lasting most of the afternoon.
We were told not to expect the shops to open very early in the morning and the hotel rep told stories of shopkeepers preferring to give customers the keys to the shop, so they could serve themselves, rather than opening for business in the conventional way.
Too close to the sun
Every day except Mondays the airport came to life about midday. The daily fl ight from Athens arrived at about half past one and returned at two o’clock. Then everything closed for the twenty-two hours or so until the ritual was repeated.
In the cool of the evenings people went out to the restaurants to eat. By half past nine it seemed as though the entire population was enjoying taramasalata, moussaka, aubergines, tzitziki and other Greek delicacies. The local wine was very palatable and somehow the evening faded into peaceful sleep, until the imperative of the rising sun made me re-engage with life.
There was a little church in the village where I stayed. There was a service each evening and the doors were left open, perhaps for ventilation, but perhaps as a userfriendly gesture to those passing by allowing them to linger, to step inside and savour the incense, to see what was going on and then to pass on their way. I do not speak Greek, so it was hard to assess what impact the church might be having on the local population and the tourists, but somehow I got the impression that what links there were must have been somewhat tenuous.
One day I drove across the mountains to the island’s capital, Agios Kirikos. It may have been the capital, but in reality it was little more than a large village with a port. On arrival it was clear something special was going to happen. It was lunchtime, but despite the heat of the day there were ten, maybe twenty orthodox priests walking around dressed in black from head to toe. They must have been sweltering. Further on, there was a detachment of soldiers, the local police and a band. Hundreds of people were milling around. Then there was a fl urry of activity. Arms were outstretched to greet an honoured guest, who turned out to be the Greek Orthodox Archbishop on one of his regular visits to this far-fl ung part of his jurisdiction.
Given that the island has a population that is probably no more than ten thousand residents, and just three large villages and perhaps a dozen smaller ones, it was apparent that the local ecclesiastical organization was decidedly different from the structures in England. Clearly priests were not expected to look after fi ve, six or seven churches as is often the case in Lincolnshire, Norfolk or Devon. There was orthodoxy in both senses of the word, but if revival was about to break out, there were no signs of it that I could detect.
Back in my hotel room there was a TV and among the many Greek and German channels on offer was BBC World. I did not watch that much of it: it tends to repeat every couple of hours anyway; but I watched just enough to be aware that the Diocese of New Hampshire was making waves, and a lot of people were getting very excited about the nominations for the vacant post of diocesan bishop in waiting.
When I got home I was able to fi ll in the background as I caught up with the news, and was saddened, though not surprised, that none of the lessons from Oxford appeared to have been heeded. Those who were voting seemed to be doing so on the basis of theoretical principles. Many appeared to be convinced of the rightness of their cause and were unswerving in their determination to vote according to their principles.
Few appeared to be mindful of the consequences of their decisions for the advancement of the Gospel, the future viability of their denomination, the unity of the Church or the repercussions for the Anglican Communion worldwide. I would have thought it must be obvious to most rational people by now that the doctrine of provincial autonomy has already been stretched pretty much to breaking point.
Some of the larger provinces have already made clear their opposition to the way events have been unfolding in Canada and the USA. Some have even threatened to break communion with provinces which depart radically from a traditional understanding of the faith. It may be that some folk in ECUSA still cling to the belief that they can bankroll support from cash-strapped provinces in the developing world. If that is so, they may well be in for a rude awakening.
Straws in the wind
I phoned up a friend who runs a large Episcopal church in Virginia. He said that already when people asked to which denomination his church belonged, and he replied, ‘Episcopal’, the standard response was, ‘Oh, you mean the gay church!’ He told me that his church council had been surprised at the result of the election for the new Bishop of New Hampshire. The full force of their disapproval had however been directed at their own bishop who had voted in favour of the election of Gene Robinson. As a result the church council had decided to cancel all payments of money to their diocese.
No doubt this is but a straw in the wind, and other Evangelical churches in ECUSA will be responding in like manner. It is sad that money has to be deployed as a weapon within the church, but in the circumstances it is sadly inevitable. ECUSA’s final death throes will probably enrich many attorneys, as they squabble over the assets of orthodox congregations, but in the end truth will out.
I understand that some of the Evangelicals in ECUSA have been circulating a magazine with some hard-hitting critique of some of the establishment’s shenanigans. If you want to see what the Fellowship of Young Reforming Episcopalians (FYRE) have been up to and see their magazine, then visit www.aplacetostand.org/fyre.cfm. The name of the magazine is Balaam’s Donkey.
Gerry O’Brien is a lay member of the General Synod. He represents the Diocese of Rochester.