The Young Tractarians
A New Directions interview with Andrew Sabisky and Endre Kormos
Who are you?
AS: My name is Andrew Sabisky, a trainee teacher and layman in the Church of England. I grew up in London at Chelsea Old Church, the church of my childhood, and Holy Cross, Cromer Street, the church of my early adulthood, but have since moved to Oxford with my wife, Anna. Here I split my worship time between Pusey House and my wonderful parish church, St John’s, New Hinksey.
EK: I currently serve the parish of Wallsend St Peter and St Luke in the Diocese of Newcastle. I am in my third year of curacy. To my knowledge I am the first ever native Hungarian priest ‘produced’ by the Anglican Chaplaincy in Budapest, St Margaret’s. The Director of Ordinands for the Diocese in Europe suggested that I consider training full-time and residentially in the UK, so my wife Katalin and I moved over to the UK about six years or so ago to start my training at Mirfield. Newcastle kindly took us on right after I was recommended for training, and eventually they offered me a post to serve my title.
AS: Together, we are the hosts of The Young Tractarians!
What is The Young Tractarians?
AS: It is a podcast! A podcast is a bit like a pre-recorded radio show, but one that you stream or download from the internet. You can listen at any time, with the option to pause it at your convenience. They have become extremely popular over the last few years with young people and also older professionals, especially people with lengthy commutes.
EK: Podcasts come in many forms—some are more like an audiobook split into multiple parts, while others are more akin to your morning news programme on the radio, and then of course there are the more musical ones, which are more like mixtapes. The ones I find most enjoyable are usually the ones that have a simple, recurring structure, with a touch of light banter, while being informative and giving me something to think about. Which is the recipe we chose, too.
And how do you record it?
AS: Fr Kormos lives near Newcastle and I live in Oxford, but we have bought some decent quality recorders that we both use to record our conversations. The conversations themselves take place over the phone or on Skype. I then send my sound file to Fr Kormos and he mixes them together with editing software to produce the final product.
EK: It’s not always an entirely foolproof method. There have been times when technology has provided more challenges than answers (such as losing an entire recording session by accidentally sending Andrew’s recorder into overdrive), but as we technically do not have any sponsors or a budget, this is something we have to compensate for by sleeping fewer hours before a release.
Why did you start doing it?
AS: Fr Kormos noticed that there was significant gap in the podcast market for a traditionalist Anglo-Catholic show. There are numerous excellent Roman Catholic podcasts, especially from America, and also a few good Anglican podcasts from the US, including Word and Table, an excellent show from two priests in the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA), albeit that they have a more Reformed perspective. But there are very few Anglican podcasts from the UK, and virtually none from anywhere that have our traditionalist Anglo-Catholic perspective.
EK: I first started to think about doing some form of apologetics and evangelism over the internet a few years ago. I was pondering what shape the Tractarian movement would take today, and how they would reach people. Back then affordable printing at home and in parishes had just became a thing, so leaflets were produced and cheap books were printed. Today, with a phone with voice-recording capabilities in everybody’s pocket and the many platforms where one can freely upload audio and video, a podcast seemed like an easy way to achieve similar aims.
I used to listen to a fantastic podcast produced by two priests from the catholic wing of the ACNA, entitled Quad Cities Anglican Radio. It was greatly refreshing to hear others discuss spiritual topics that were close to my heart, and from a perspective that I found edifying. Sadly Quad Cities Anglican Radio stopped producing the show, and so eventually I decided that we ought to pick up where they left off, in a way.
AS: We want to present a vibrant, attractive, and positive impression of traditionalist life in the Church of England. We do not shy away from talking about ongoing controversies, but we endeavour to be as charitable as we reasonably can be, and the majority of our shows are always dedicated to the great riches of the Catholic tradition: its way of understanding scripture, its traditional spiritual disciplines, its great saints.
So what exactly do you talk about?
AS: The podcast has three sections: ‘scripture,’ ‘reason’ and ‘tradition.’ For ‘scripture,’ we talk about the gospel of the week from the old one-year lectionary of the Book of Common Prayer, with a strong focus on patristic exegesis: the starting point for our discussions is almost always one or other of the Fathers. For ‘reason,’ we discuss some facet of modern church life: we have discussed controversies, such as the Bishop of Liverpool’s advocacy of Communion without Baptism, but also more positive news items, such as the canonization of John Henry Newman and the heroic virtues acknowledged for József Mindszenty. In ‘tradition,’ we talk about some aspect of the traditions of the apostolic churches: we have discussed everything from the spiritual canonicity of icons, to Marian spirituality in the liturgy, to Charles King and Martyr and his importance today.
What has the reception been like so far?
EK: At the time of writing we have uploaded nine regular episodes and a special meditation for Ash Wednesday, kindly written for us by Bishop Robert Ladds. We presently aim to upload a new episode each week. At the time of writing we are at six thousand overall listens. Our first episode has now gone well above the one thousand listener threshold, which to me seems to be a good indicator of how many unique listeners we have had thus far. I think we have really made it onto every continent as well: our statistics tell us we have had listeners from New Zealand, Russia, Japan, Kenya, Hong Kong, the Emirates, various European countries, and almost every part of the American continent.
The most surprising thing to me remains how great a hunger there actually is for teaching that is orthodox, honest, and intelligent, while also trying to remain positive, even if a bit spiky at times. It gives me hope about the future.
AS: The response has been beyond my wildest dreams. We were honoured to have the Bishop of Beverley make a brief guest appearance on Episode Two to bless the audience and our endeavours, and our endeavours certainly have been blessed thus far. We’ve had people write to us from all over the world to say how much the show has encouraged and strengthened them in their faith. I particularly treasured a message we received from one student in the United States, saying that the show had greatly helped him make sense of ‘catholic convictions in less than ideal Anglican contexts.’ Everyone at Pusey has been extremely supportive, and the Principal, Fr George Westhaver, appeared as a special guest on Episode 8.
I have been particularly intrigued by how well our discussions of the various traditions of the churches has been received. Both Fr Kormos and I are great devotees of both the Book of Common Prayer and the traditional Roman Rite: we both pray the Divine Office using the Anglican Breviary, a book that combines the Roman Breviary as it was in the time of Pius X with elements of the BCP (such as Cranmer’s collects, the BCP Sunday lectionary, and the Coverdale Psalter). In many respects the ‘Prayer Book catholic’ tradition has been marginalized in today’s Church of England, and Anglo-Catholics have rather uncritically adopted too many elements of (the less attractive parts of) modern Roman liturgical practice, neglecting both the Prayer Book tradition and the riches of Tridentine Anglo-Catholicism. We think both are due for a revival, and judging from the response to the show thus far, we might just be right.
EK: It seems to me that young people’s strong desire for reverent, traditional liturgy is also paralleled by a desire for the catholic doctrine and practice that has formed saints throughout centuries. In the Roman Catholic Church’s more traditional circles it is often observed that the Latin Mass, for example, often brings about a desire for getting to know the church’s treasures in different fields as well. So, alongside the usus antiquior, Aquinas is becoming hugely popular again, and it seems that we are also in for a revival of patristics. These spiritual tendencies are also present in the Church of England. Great proportions of young, traditional Anglo-Catholics are dusting off copies of the English Missal, and the Prayer Book (Evensong in particular) is making a huge comeback across the church. But these spiritual frameworks only really start to make sense if they are embedded in a doctrinal framework, too. I suppose we are trying to be good stewards of the Lord’s treasures, and hand on what we have grown to understand of these spiritual and doctrinal frameworks, while also shamelessly campaigning for the reclaiming of our heritage as catholic Anglicans.
Unfortunately we also seem to live in a time when the very foundations of the Christian faith (and indeed the basic socially agreed frameworks, too) are under constant pressure. It is no longer obvious whether many in the Church of England believe in the Trinity as defined by the Councils, and in this post-truth age some positively boast that they do not actually believe in what the Nicene Creed or the scriptures teach. Everything is free to be ‘reinterpreted,’ and thus eventually the life-saving truth of doctrine erodes into meaninglessness. We, like so many in our generation have grown tired of this. With The Young Tractarians podcast we wish to offer a counterpoint. Sometimes this means simply reiterating the very basic things that have always constituted the core of Christian teaching (‘what has been believed, everywhere, and by all’), other times we might have to examine specific contemporary problems from up close. But in all these we wish to remain anchored in what the Church Fathers have taught, and what the catholic movement in the Church of England has practiced and commended.
What is your plan for the show going forward?
AS: We plan to do a ‘series one’ of about 12 episodes, though this may be slowed up by the imminent birth of my firstborn. We’re likely to then take a break for a while, give our listeners time to catch up on all the episodes we’ve released to date, then come back for season two later this year. We are planning a series on the cardinal virtues, and perhaps also the seven deadly sins.
EK: Please do pray for us—and tune in!
All episodes can be found at https://soundcloud.com/theyoungtractarians, and we put most of the sources for the things we discuss on our blog: http://theyoungtractarians.wordpress.com. Find us on Twitter @tractarians.