Sunday, 23 September 2018

The Lady in the Van...


For many years now I have been fascinated by the lives and habits of eccentrics and vagrants. I am not entirely sure why but it may be that as an eccentric myself (or at least a borderline recluse) I feel a sense of commonality with them. I am familiar with George Orwell's Down and Out in Paris and London, as well as the extraordinary, ascetic life of Quentin Crisp. I recall the monastic tragedy of Sebastian Flyte and the disheveled women of Grey Gardens. The sadistic brutality of "Shack" from Emperor of the North contrasts with the shuffling figure of Crayford, "Old Smoky," resigned to his lot. Collectively, the stories here provide a sobering view of how difficult life can be for people who are different, whether by daring to be so or because life itself has dealt unfairly with them.

"Old Smoky," whose real name is Les, pictured on 8th September (false style).

********Spoiler Warning********

The latest for me in this series is Nicholas Hytner's adaptation of Alan Bennett's play The Lady in the Van, starring Maggie Smith as the eponymous Mary Shepherd, whose true name, Margaret Fairchild, was "buried to sin;" and Alex Jennings as Alan Bennett. "Miss Shepherd," as she is known throughout the film, is a crotchety old tramp who lives in the back of a van in Camden Town. The locals, well-to-do people of a somewhat liberal worldview, put up with her, due, in Bennett's view, to their guilt at the disparity between their lot and hers. Accepting her as a mild nuisance, albeit a presence to plummet the value of their Victorian houses in the eyes of the Joneses, they live their middle-class, middling lives around Miss Shepherd, a woman whose talents are as multi-flavoured as her aroma. An accomplished pianist, she studied music in Paris under Alfred Cortot and drove an ambulance during the War. She spent some time in a convent in Camden, but was expelled; she also spent some time in a lunatic asylum, but seemingly gave them the slip. It seems that she was driving from the asylum when a motorcyclist crashed into her and died. She managed to avoid arrest by bribing a corrupt policeman but spent the rest of her days in fear of him. Now (or rather then) she spends her time selling pencils at the roadside and, like Blanche DuBois, living off the kindness of strangers, and seemingly also her long-suffering brother in Broadstairs. She died in 1989 having spent fifteen years living in Bennett's driveway.

The interesting thing about the garbled stories of her life is that they are all true. Unlike "Old Smoky," who I once overheard telling a passerby that he'd tamed elephants on Brighton beach, Miss Shepherd really did fall from grace. This is interesting given her repudiation of her Christian name, ostensibly because of the perceived sin of murder, for which she spends her life atoning. She never quite got over her expulsion from the convent either, and lived in the vicinity thereof, living a quasi-religious life in her van. We'll never know exactly why or how she ended up this way. Was it "bloody bad luck," as the Tramp Major said of George Orwell in The Spike upon discerning that he was a gentleman; or were there other motivations? Pride, resignation and incorrigibility seem to be a common element.

Do watch the film if you haven't seen it already.

Saturday, 22 September 2018

Tal-Elmar; a draft...

 "Now Buldar, father of Hazad, had been in the army of the North King that went to the muster of Ishmalog, and he brought back from the war as booty a wound, and a sword, and a woman. And she was fortunate; for the fate of the captives was short and cruel, but Buldar took her as his wife. For she was beautiful, and having looked on her he desired no woman of his own folk. He was a man of wealth and power in those days, and did as he would, scorning the scorn of his neighbours. But when his wife, Elmar, had learned at length enough of the speech of her new kin, she said to Buldar on a day: 'I have much to thank thee for, lord; but think not ever to get my love so. For thou hast torn me from my own people, and from him that I loved and from the child that I bore him. For them ever shall I yearn and grieve, and give love to none else. Never again shall I be glad, while I am held captive among a strange folk that I deem base and unlovely.' 
"'So be it,' said Buldar. 'But it is not to be thought that I should let thee go free. For thou art precious in my sight. And consider well: vain is it to seek to escape from me. Long is the way to the remnant of thy folk, if any still live; and thou wouldst not go far from the Hills of Agar ere thou met death, or a life far worse than shall be thine in my house. Base and unlovely thou namest us. Truly, maybe. Yet true is it also that thy folk are cruel, and lawless, and the friends of demons. Thieves are they. For our lands are ours from of old, which they would wrest from us with their bitter blades. White skins and bright eyes are no warrant for such deeds.' 
"'Are they not?' said she. 'Then neither are thick legs and wide shoulders. Or by what means did ye gain these lands that ye boast of? Are there not, as I hear men say, wild folk in the caves of the mountains, who once roamed here free, ere ye swart folk came hither and hunted them like wolves? But I spoke not of rights, but of sorrow and love. If here I must dwell, then dwell I must, as one whose body is in this place at thy will, but my thought far elsewhere. And this vengeance I will have, that while my body is kept here in exile, the lot of all this folk shall worsen, and thine most; but when my body goes to the alien earth, and my thought is free of it, then in thy kin one shall arise who is mine alone. And with his arising shall come the end of thy people and the downfall of your king.'" Tolkien, The History of Middle-earth, Volume 12, chapter xvii.
I was reminded of this passage having read Fr Anthony Chadwick's next-to-latest reflections here and here, in which he muses on the meaning of culture, and "Brexit" (a neologism I dislike), amongst other things. Tolkien wrote this unfinished story as late as 1968, and it tells the story of the Númenóreans from the perspective of the wild men of Middle-earth. I expect you all know the Akallabêth; first the Númenóreans came to Middle-earth as benefactors, then as gatherers of tribute, and finally as fierce men of war, taking captives for their sacrifices in the temple of Morgoth. This story takes place approximately between the second and third eras. Elmar, a Númenórean, comes of a high people, and yet her people had fallen by their contemptuous disregard for the traditions they received from the Elder Days, by their greed and their lust for power. It's a story apt for Britain! Except our own fate is far worse than the merciful divine cataclysm visited upon the Númenóreans. We have also cheaply discarded the traditions we have received from the Christian past, but there will be no green, great wave or fire from heaven for us. Our fate is much worse. For those of us who still remember the Old Faith and the kindlier manners from time past, we haven't the mercy of sweet oblivion; no, we must watch as our patrimony and inheritance is taken from us and given to an alien people, who devour it and supplant us. These people are declared to be British and woe betide anyone who objects!

It's always seemed to me that the most chilling aspect of our break with the Christian past has been the continual remaking of Man into an image unlike God. This can be as seemingly innocuous as the metric system, which I despise, or the more insidious idols of equality and identity. If these things were, as we're constantly led to believe, axiomatically good then you might imagine that people would be happier and more good-natured one to another. Instead, wherever you look people are not singing, they are shouting; they are not dancing, they are marching; they are not rejoicing, they are complaining. And this bitter ideological battle between the forces of progress and regress (I won't say "liberal" and "conservative" because people in both camps are, for the most part, neither truly liberal nor truly conservative)...

And here the draft ends. This is just one of ten would-be blog posts I have drafted within the past month. Writer's block has set in again. With the change in temperature from blisteringly hot to blandly cold, and yet another series of job rejections, I have found neither the time nor the inclination to sit down and write; and nobody wants to read posts like this anyway. I confess also to a certain weariness with the world at present. Whether it's "Brexit," the Orange-utan's dysfunctional government or the Ukrainian autocephaly stuff, I'm finding things both temporal and spiritual increasingly depressing. At least Tolkien's Elmar had the kind of true conviction, if expressed scornfully, I feel I ought to have. Unfortunately I feel beset on all sides by shadows and deceit, and know not what to think about things. Perhaps naïvely I feel as though Christ alone is to be trusted these days. What do you think?

Do please read the whole Tal-Elmar anyway.

Art: Ted Nasmith. This painting has absolutely no relation to this post but it's not often that the artist Ted Nasmith updates his portfolio. It depicts the dwarf Gimli shewing the hobbits Frodo and Sam the Mirrormere in the Dimrill Dale.

Friday, 31 August 2018

Imran Hosein...


The Islamic scholar Imran Hosein gave a lecture at the Greek Orthodox Cathedral of the Three Holy Hierarchs on 26th August (false style) on the subject of Antichrist and the future quranic alliance between the Muslim world and the Orthodox Church against the Judaeo-Christian Zionist world; apparently at the invitation of the Cypriot Greek consul. The subject is of tremendous interest to me, not because I believe in Islamic eschatology, garbled as it is in the heresy of Muhammad, but because all the Muslims of my acquaintance have always been cordial and expressed a keen interest in my faith, and have always been anxious to point out where we agree more than where we disagree. I'm not sure how widespread Hosein's views are concerning Hagia Sophia and such things but if the Muslims were to return the great church to us then perhaps the Papists might in their turn give up the beautiful mosque of Cordoba to the Muslims to seal this alliance; a gesture of goodwill and atonement for the sins of the past.

The subject actually reminded me of something I read years ago in Tolkien. In volume 10 of The History of Middle-earth there is an interesting story of a meeting between Finrod the Beloved and Andreth the Wise. Probably the most explicitly Christian story in Tolkien, Gnome and Man (or woman) discuss many things both historic and yet to be. To redress the evil of Morgoth, Andreth speaks of those of the "Old Hope," who believe that God would himself enter into creation to heal the marring thereof from beginning to end. Finrod says:
"No such hope was ever spoken to the Quendi. To you only it was sent. And yet through you we may hear it and lift up our hearts. Yea, Wise-woman, maybe it was ordained that we Quendi and ye Atani, ere the world grows old, should meet and bring news one to another, and so we should learn of the Hope from you: ordained, indeed, that thou and I, Andreth, should sit here and speak together, across the gulf that divides our kindreds, so that while the Shadow still broods in the North we should not be wholly afraid."
Perhaps in Hosein's turn it was ordained that he would reveal to us a hope delivered to the Arabs, and that we should meet across the gulf that separates us, so that while the Shadow grows in blood-stained Jerusalem we should not be wholly afraid. Unto that day, may the friendship and cordiality between Christians and Muslims grow and may God bless Imran Hosein for his openness to the true Church of Christ!

Sunday, 26 August 2018

The clergy...

There's a conversation going on over at Fr Anthony Chadwick's blog about the (Roman) clerical sex abuse scandal. Of most interest to me was Stephen K's belated comment, which I post here:
The clerical system obviously doesn’t cause sexual perversions and paraphilias. It will protect perverts if they are "discreet" and show talent in some other way. 
This statement appears correct to me. The important thing to keep in mind, however, is that the clerical system rests on the foundation of an unhealthy subservience of people to a self-referential caste which has through the centuries actively promoted such subservience. The result was that priests and bishops got away with all sorts of things because of the promotion of a spurious mystique and theology of orders, wherein people could not readily equate the priesthood with evil – Father would always be believed: 'how dare you say such things of the priest!'. 
Sex abuse is not confined to clerical perpetrators, but that it was trivialised, mischaracterised, concealed, and denied within the Roman catholic church was due to the grossly damaging misconception by higher clerics that nothing could be admitted for fear of losing the moral authority the Church asserted. 
Well, they failed. The Church’s moral authority is well and truly dashed. The doctrine at the heart of the denial is that they speak for God and that their Church was founded and guaranteed by God, and this is the doctrine that has to be abandoned, otherwise nothing will change for the better. 
There will always be a tension so long as the mission of the Church is bound up with the concept of a priesthood which is set apart exclusively to administer grace through most of the "sacraments". I think this is a corruption of the original vision of Jesus. 
More than ever I believe that the challenge for a Christian is to seek the kingdom of heaven in his or her love and respect for neighbour and the contemplation of the mystery and fragility of life and mortal things, so that theosis may come about.
I don't agree with his conclusion but there are some cogent points here that encapsulate the problem, as I see it. Interestingly, I remember being scolded by a traditionalist with a speech impediment after having publicly insulted a prominent clerical blogger. I had said of the crass sybarite, "that man knows as much about liturgy as a pig," or something like that, and I was told: "you can't say such things about a prietht!" Well, typically weak and vacillating, I took down the offending post, which I have since regretted. But I do remember feeling annoyed at the implication that priests were above abuse or criticism. Why should this be? After all, what is a priest? The heretic John Vianney had this to say:
"O how great is the priest! If he realised what he is he would die…God obeys him: he utters a few words and the Lord descends from Heaven at his voice, to be contained within a small host. Without the Sacrament of Holy Orders, we would not have the Lord. Who put him there in the tabernacle? The priest. Who welcomed your soul at the beginning of life? The priest. Who feeds your soul and gives it strength for the journey? The priest. Who will prepare it to appear before God, bathing it one last time in the blood of Jesus Christ? The priest—always the priest. And if the soul should happen to die (as a result of sin) who will raise it up, who will restore its calm and peace? Again the priest. After God, the priest is everything. Only in heaven will he fully realize what he is." (Source).
With a position this sacrosanct, one could well ask what need there was for Christ! But if this frank and self-referential admission of lofty status by one of the most famous oracles of Romanism is to be believed then no wonder a theocracy filled the void of British rule in 20th century Ireland. If the priest holds the key and guards the door (almost in a satanic inversion of Christ's words in John 14:6), then let him verbally, physically and sexually abuse all he wants. Without him, you're nothing -- and so, it would also seem, is God.

I've found Orthodox priests to be more normal and down-to-earth. My own priest is married and has children. When I speak to him, I have a modicum of respect for his position, his age, his learning and experience, and so on, but I'm under no threats or blackmail. And I am certainly under no illusion that without him, I am damned to hell! That's idolatry (c.f. Matthew 23:9). But then, unlike Rome, the Orthodox Church has maintained the evangelical balance between the three orders of bishop, priest and deacon (I suspect this has some connexion to the Filioque). If a priest has a kind of special charism or mystique, it is in that order and in that context.

Thursday, 23 August 2018

Marching to Zion...


Produced by American Baptists, I thought this video was worth sharing. It's encouraging to know that not all American Protestants are emphatic supporters of Jewish terrorism in the Holy Land.

Monday, 13 August 2018

Demons...


On Saturday a sweet girl called Hannah left Sainsburys for good. I was touched that she invited me to her leaving drinks since it's seldom that I am invited anywhere, but on the day she asked if I was coming and I declined, saying (I thought unconvincingly) that it was my father's birthday. She probably knew I was lying. You may care to know that it was not for want of affection for her but for the rather mean and pitiful reasons that I didn't want to dress up and spend money on the weekend with people I mostly didn't like or have anything in common with; which was exactly the reason I declined to go to the Halloween party with Claire (I am not concealing names either), whose kindly efforts to include little old me have been not-too-politely rebuffed. For someone who in the past three years has more or less retired from social life and become resigned to slave labour, it's a curse. I haven't the energy to carry on. I used to do things like go to prominent city churches for special services, go to galleries, to the Royal Opera House, eat in nice restaurants, drink in...I won't say "nice," but certainly memorable clubs, &c. Now I spend Sundays with mum and dad where our routine is to drive to Eltham to drink coffee, buy dinner from Marks & Spencers, and then drive home. At 30 years old, my life has come to resemble the routine tedium of a pensioner! Most of my old friends have either moved away or want nothing more to do with me (for whatever reason). Now only one remains and he too will move away soon. I've put on so much weight, you wouldn't believe it! At 18 years old, I had a 24" waist; now it's easily 36", with a complimentary double chin and gynecomastia. None of my nice old clothes fit anymore, and I haven't the money to replace them. Most books in my library are about liturgy. I don't (or can't) read them anymore because I find them depressing, and I haven't the heart to give them away or sell them because I'd have almost nothing to shew for my life to date if I did. I don't think I'm depressed; I'm not sad, but I do think that my life could be improved in lots of ways. And I think the loneliness and isolation I feel in myself, particularly where work colleagues are concerned, is because I have a sense of significant underachievement and would rather not spend so much time with people who couldn't care less about Tolkien or liturgy or Orthodoxy, even if they've heard of them. In other words, I have all the airs and graces of a genius, but no talent.
Can any of you see a way out?

Friday, 3 August 2018

Capital Punishment...


Sorry for the radio silence recently. I had two weeks annual leave, and we've had a devastating heatwave in the south of England (which, naturally, decreases one's willingness to do anything so strenuous as write), and I haven't had that much to say anyway. Nonetheless I read this in "The Independent" yesterday, "What Pope Francis' death penalty reversal means for Trump and capital punishment globally." I've discussed capital punishment or the death penalty at length before. I am in favour of it in principle; it's a just means of dealing with particularly evil and hardened criminals. There's too much worldly utopianism (a denial of belief in the life eternal by stealth) and "human rights" involved in the movement to abolish capital punishment for my liking and I am always reminded when presented with arguments for the alternative, namely imprisonment for life, that it was Mr Cruelty the Juryman who, at Vanity Fair, demurred that hanging was too good for Faithful.

As for pope Francis's reversal of the Wojtyla position on capital punishment, didn't you all see it coming? For centuries the Papal Communion supported the sword of state in burning heretics but the malleability of Roman doctrine is an established fact; quite rich for a church that harps on about the dangers of relativism! About ten years ago pope Benedict consigned Limbo to some lumber room in the Vatican (to join the superstitious "Raccolta," and the discredited Index of Forbidden Books); what next? Francis' position is that capital punishment is "an attack on the inviolability and dignity of the person," a concept you certainly won't find in the Scriptures, and therefore "inadmissible." Seems a lot of silly rhetoric and sophistry to me, but I wonder what the motives for this change are. Francis is very keen on migrants, whether they're violent usurpers and rapacious young men or the desperate women and children with perhaps a distant Jihadist cousin but with a strong sense of entitlement, and many of them fleeing conflicts stirred up by Western powers, and it seems convenient that in this age of eurocommunism and globalism that such a position should go hand-in-hand with moral revulsion at capital punishment. Why did pope Benedict really resign? Was this putatively conservative pope too right-wing for Mr Obama? Nowadays, anybody with moral and political positions to the right of Theresa May is seen as a crypto-Nazi who longs to massacre large numbers of people in death camps. Was this why Francis, who appears to be the unimaginative, boarish oracle of the universal left, was set up? Who cares!

I'm just glad I'm Orthodox. It would appear that we don't take a position on capital punishment at all, unless I am quite mistaken. I see my own position as evangelically defensible, whether anybody cares to agree with me or not. Being repulsed by capital punishment won't save you, but right-worship will.

Image: Those poor Cathars; ruthlessly hunted down and persecuted for holding particular beliefs. Nowadays, I'm sure that Francis would privately share my view that this was despicable. But Rome isn't omnipotent anymore...

Tuesday, 17 July 2018

Remember...

Tsar-Martyr Nicholas and Tsarina Alexandra, Tsarevich Alexei, Olga, Tatiana, Maria, and Anastasia. Pray to God for us!

Sunday, 15 July 2018

Heretics...


"For us, however, we accept no innovations, but choose the ancient, proven way, the way in which true Christians have chosen to serve God for two thousand years. We choose the way of fidelity to the true faith, and not the 'modern way.' We choose faithfulness to the true Church with all her canons and dogmas which have been received and confirmed by the local and universal councils. We choose the holy customs and traditions, the spiritual riches of that faith transmitted complete and entire to us from the holy Apostles, the holy Fathers of the Church, and the Christian heritage of our venerable ancestors. This only is the faith of the true Orthodox, distinct from the counterfeit "orthodoxy" invented by the Adversary. We receive only the Apostolic faith, the faith of the Fathers, the Orthodox faith." Vladyka Averky of Jordanville, +1976.

Saturday, 14 July 2018

Ekaterinburg...


The centenary of the martyrdom of the Russian Imperial Family and Grand Duchess Elizabeth approaches and already thousands of pilgrims are gathering in Ekaterinburg for Tuesday's twelve-mile procession. My own confessor is among them. His Holiness Patriarch Kirill will lead the procession and celebrate the Divine Liturgy at Ganina Yama monastery, and it's my understanding that the head of the House of Romanov, Grand Duchess Maria Vladimirovna, will also be present. I expect the Russian President, Vladimir Putin, will send a representative too.

It's a sobering occasion. Kings, caesars and presidents have been done in before; some shot at from a distance by a madman, others immured in some damp, tenebrous dungeon. But only once before like this. We in England have our royal martyr in the person of Charles I, a sinner like all of us but made pure in the Christ-like sacrifice of his death; but at least the revolutionaries had the decency to spare his family. With the Tsar, however, it was not enough for him alone to expiate for the perceived injustices of pre-revolutionary Russia. Oh no! Being the vicegerent of God on earth, the Tsar represented everything that was most hateful to the Christ-hating revolutionaries, and so to make a permanent end of Tsardom, of Christian Kingship, and to subvert and abase the Orthodox Church, was their design. Nihil sub sole novum, quoth Solomon, and just as the lawless nation cried out to Pilate "crucify him, crucify him," so the godless revolutionaries murdered the most exemplary Christian family in the world.

But it was not the end. The Church in Russia suffered terribly, first from persecution, then from the infiltration of craven careerists and spies. Nonetheless, the blood of the martyrs is the strength of the Church! After an hundred years the Church in Russia is growing apace, and waxes among the Russians where the failed schismatics of the West wane. There is still much to do, and under the sun of this world there will never be a Church entirely free of corruption, but against the coming of Antichrist the Orthodox Church stands alone. And who knows, there may yet be a new Tsar, the last and greatest, to whom all believers will come in time and in whose dominions the Church will be free. Unto that day, may the commemoration of the martyrdom of Tsar Nicholas, Tsarina Alexandra, Olga, Tatiana, Maria, Anastasia and Tsarevich Alexei on Tuesday bring God's blessing on all Russians and all Orthodox Christians throughout the world.

Monday, 9 July 2018

Romanov Victory on the Isle of Wight...


The unveiling and blessing of a monument to the Imperial Martyrs and Grand Duchess Elizabeth in East Cowes. H/T Fr Andrew Phillips.