Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Orthodoxy, a Vicar in Sunderland, and Pentecost

One of the interesting ecumenical developments of our time is a new kind of study of Church history that looks for similarities in traditions that might at first seem to have little in common. A very fruitful example of this is the scholarship emerging from Orthodox - Methodist dialogue. Another, especially leading up to the "official" centenary of the pentecostal movement a couple of years ago, is the cluster of studies demonstrating that the origins of the pentecostal/ charismatic movement were much more multifaceted than most of its participants have imagined.

On 6th January this year, Father Michael Harper died. He was one of the early leaders in the charismatic renewal. You can read my tribute to him HERE. In 2008, as an Archpriest of the Antiochan Orthodox Church he delivered a lecture for the Institute for Orthodox Christian Studies at Cambridge in which he looked at the relationship of Orthodoxy to successive movements of Christian renewal. The title of the lecture is:"THE WAVES KEEP COMING IN : THE EVANGELICAL, CHARISMATIC, ORTHODOX AXIS". It can be downloaded as a pdf document. Histories of British pentecostalism refer to Sunderland and the Reverend Alexander Boddy. Here is the section of Michael Harper's lecture dealing with that connection:

Alexander Boddy, the Vicar in Sunderland . . . had very unusual links with both Wesley and the Orthodox Church. He was actually distantly related to Wesley. His mother was Jane Vazeille Stocks, who was descended from Mary Vazeille, whose second husband was John Wesley. Her first husband was Antony Vazeille, a French Huguenot, and they had three sons and a daughter. The Boddys gave the name Vazeille to their son James and their two daughters, Mary and Jane.

But more important were the roots that he had in the Holiness Movement, particularly in the Keswick Convention, which he attended for the first time in 1876, the year after it was founded.

His contact with the Orthodox Church was also unusual, for at that time there were very few Orthodox Churches in western Europe. But Alexander Boddy was a keen traveller and twice visited Russia. According to Peter Lavin in his study of Alexander Boddy “he was attracted by aspects of Orthodoxy such as the devoted humility of its believers, its intense spirituality and the glowing beauty of its icons”.

He then describes his second visit in 1886, “he was to return to Holy Mother Russia escaping from the incredibly soulless western secularism to witness how in Orthodoxy, God came down to earth”.

This time he was to visit the great Solovetsk Monastery in the far north of Russia on the shores of the Arctic. One thing in particular impressed him – a depiction, painted in the dome of the great Cathedral, of the descent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost on the whole church. He wrote about it “our traditional idea of the power from on high only falling on the Twelve Apostles does not seem to agree with Acts 1:14-15 and 2:6”. So did this experience in Russia set his mind thinking about a personal Pentecost for all?

In passing it is interesting that one of the strongest concentrations of Gulags in Stalinist Russia was around this Monastery, and Stalin established his programme to produce the atomic and nuclear bombs in Sarov, which still to this day is a forbidden city. One of the greatest saints of the Russian Orthodox Church is St Seraphim of Sarov, of all places.

Alexander Boddy witnessed the life and practices of the Orthodox Church in a variety of areas – one of which was Baptism. It is an Orthodox tradition to give a cross to a newly baptised child and hang it around their neck. Alexander Boddy was given one of these crosses when he was in Russia and hung it around the neck of his eldest daughter Mary when he baptised her in 1892. There is also an interesting reference to a towel used in the baptism, which makes one wonder if he had baptised her unclothed as is the Orthodox practice. He certainly baptised her by immersion – not triple in the Orthodox way, but seven-fold!

Alexander Boddy's second daughter Jane recalls that her father brought many icons back from Russia and displayed them prominently in their hall for all to see; he did the same when they moved later into their next parish. Also, if you look at the family photo reproduced in Peter Lavin‟s book, you will notice that Mrs. Boddy is wearing a Russian Orthodox cross around her neck.

In PERSONAL EXPERIENCE OF THE HOLY SPIRIT ACCORDING TO THE GREEK FATHERS, a paper presented at the European Pentecostal/Charismatic Research Conference held in Prague on 10-14 September 1997, Bishop Kallistos Ware also looks at the Orthodox influence on this early British pentecostal who remained an Anglican, but whose ministry launched a number of significant pentecostal leaders:

The Holy Spirit supplies all things:

He causes prophecies to spring up,

He sanctifies priests,

To the uninitiated He taught wisdom,The fishermen He turned into theologians.

He holds in unity the whole structure of the Church.

- From an Orthodox hymn on the Feast of Pentecost

Around the year 1890 an Anglican traveller from Sunderland, the Revd Alexander Boddy, Vicar of All Saints, Monkwearmouth, came as a pilgrim to the great Solovetsky Monastery on the White Sea in the far north of Russia. One thing in particular impressed him. It was a depiction of the descent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost:

When, nearly two decades later, on the occasion of a famous visit from T.B. Barratt, there was an outpouring of the Holy Spirit in Boddy’s Sunderland parish on 31 August 1907, is it not likely that this ’striking representation’ of Pentecost that he had seen in Russia was still vividly present in his memory? A formative event in the history of British Pentecostalism turns out in this way to have, as one of its sources, the iconography of an Orthodox monastic church.

This unexpected connection between Orthodox Christianity and the origins of the twentieth-century Pentecostal movement in Britain naturally leads us to ask: can we discover other links, on a more specifically theological level, between Orthodoxy and Pentecostalism? How far is the Christian East sympathetic to a ‘charismatic’ understanding of the spiritual life? At first sight it might appear that there is but little affinity. Orthodoxy, it might be said, is liturgical and hierarchic, whereas Pentecostalism is grounded upon the free and spontaneous action of the Spirit; Orthodoxy appeals to Holy Tradition, whereas Pentecostalism assigns primacy to personal experience.

Anyone, however, who searches more deeply will soon realize that stark contrasts of this kind are one-sided and misleading. In actual fact, many of the Greek Fathers insist with great emphasis upon the need for all baptized Christians to attain in their own personal experience a direct and conscious awareness of the Holy Spirit. No one can be a Christian at second-hand: such is the frequently repeated teaching of the Fathers. Holy Tradition does not signify merely the mechanical and exterior acceptance of truths formulated in the distant past, but it is in the words of the Russian theologian Vladimir Lossky – nothing else than ‘the life of the Holy Spirit in the Church' here and now, at this present moment.

Click on the LINK to read the whole of Bishop Kallistos Ware's paper.


Steve Hayes said...

Thanks very much - looks fascinating. I don't have time to read it all now, but have bookmarked it for a later return.

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