Sunday, 27 May 2018

Lucernarium at Rivendell...

We have seen the true Light ; we have received the heavenly Spirit ; we have found the true Faith, in worshipping the indivisible Trinity ; for He hath saved us. Alleluia.

Happy Pentecost! It is one (liturgical) year since I was received into the Church Outside Russia and I am elated. I had planned on returning to Colchester, to the church of St John of Shanghai, but I am always short of money these days so I had to shelve that pious idea. Nonetheless, I'd like to share this reflection with you on the theme of this new blog.

When I was trying to find a suitable URL for this blog, one that wasn't already taken, I wanted something both succinct and memorable. Having completed roughly half of a series on the old Spanish Rite, I had in mind the ancient lucernarium ceremony at Evensong and then I remembered Frodo's first night in Rivendell. After the feast in the House of Elrond the guests went into the Hall of Fire for songs and tales. It's a chapter ("Many Meetings") in The Lord of the Rings full of symbolism and resonance, of light and memory, of merrymaking and solemnity. I have always thought of Rivendell as a monastery, keeping in memory the high traditions and true faith elsewhere forgotten. Not for naught, I think, did Tolkien call Elrond's House the "last homely house east of the Sea," that is outside Eden, in the world of finite things.

I'm not the only Orthodox to make this connexion. Deacon Aaron Taylor of the Church Outside Russia wrote in 2012 a very interesting article comparing Rivendell to the Holy Mountain, according to Elder Porphyrios' account of his first vigil in the Kyriakon. I encourage you to read it.

Of course, there is no ceremonial kindling of lamps (that I know of) in Rivendell. There is no discernible liturgical tradition anywhere in Middle-earth, except, perhaps, Faramir's custom before dinner of turning West towards Númenor. Devotion and piety seem to be indistinguishable from merrymaking and the tradition of sagas and poems. Even so, we do read that the company went into the Hall of Fire in the House of Elrond "in due order," and that the Elves would go on singing songs of the Blessed Realm far into the night. I'll conclude this poor reflection with Tolkien's own words:

"They got up and withdrew quietly into the shadows, and made for the doors. Sam they left behind, fast asleep still with a smile on his face. In spite of his delight in Bilbo's company Frodo felt a tug of regret as they passed out of the Hall of Fire. Even as they stepped over the threshold a single clear voice rose in song.

"A Elbereth Gilthoniel,
silivren penna míriel
o menel aglar elenath!
Na-chaered palan-díriel
o galadhremmin ennorath,
Fanuilos, le linnathon
nef aear, sí nef aearon!"
The Lord of the Rings, Book II, Chapter I.

With its theme of light and exile, it's obviously a vesperal hymn in the O Gladsome Light tradition.

Thursday, 24 May 2018

A new Tolkien book...

I can't believe that Christopher Tolkien is still at it! He has been editing his father's posthumously published books for over 40 years and at the age of 93 he is still going strong. The Fall of Gondolin, one of the most poignant and resonant of all the tales of the Elder Days, will be published by Harper Collins on 30th August 2018. As with the other great tales of the First Age, the book synthesizes often conflicting accounts of the events (sometimes written almost fifty years apart!) into a coherent narrative, with commentary and annotation by Christopher. I've already placed my order with Amazon.

It's been a good while since I last wrote a Tolkien post. If you have any ideas or requests for such a post, comment below. I still need to get all that Spanish stuff out of the way, though!

Tuesday, 22 May 2018


It's nice to be plain old Patrick again. When I was baptised into the Church Outside Russia I had a beard. I did not consciously grow a beard. It started in the bleak midwinter, when work forced me to get up at the ungodly hour of 3am. I tend to feel more disinclined and lethargic during the Winter months. My mother once said it was because I am cold-blooded but I tend to give that scant credence; I just prefer Spring and Summer. Anyway, I have always found shaving a chore so I just stopped doing it. I think I can be forgiven for not wanting to shave in the middle of the night! After several months of this I thought, in the spirit of a zealous neophyte, that I would give growing a real beard (which hitherto I had never done) a chance. To be honest, I found maintaining a beard just as much (if not more) a chore as shaving every two days. I kept pulling clumps of it out habitually, from the moustache and neck, and my mother hated it, so in the end I just shaved it off.

This is me about a year ago.

When I saw my confessor afterwards he told me that he was glad I had shaved my beard off. Having a beard is not, after all, compulsory for Orthodox laymen, nor is it a sign of interior piety. So I am once again clean-shaven, plain old Patrick, as of old.

Having had a beard for the best part of a year, it's interesting to reflect upon the reaction I got. Most men I work with told me they liked it, whereas nearly all women (with the exception of one, I think) told me they hated it. Many told me I looked older. As for my mother, her beard-phobic reaction was just like anything else with me. She told me that she hates beards both because they remind her of "Muslim extremists," and because she thinks bearded men have "something to hide." Think of that what you will (I think it's hysterical). Sometimes I think of her as a Pygmalion. She certainly wanted a creature in her image as a son, and not a man with independent convictions. When she discovered that I had been baptised, she asked why she wasn't invited. "You weren't wanted," I said with glacial frankness.

Sunday, 20 May 2018

The wedding...

I like to think I'm just as patriotic as the next Englishman. I admire Her Majesty; as a Christian Sovereign she is my undoubted Queen. I also value the old British institutions and traditions; things like trial by jury, the Bill of Rights, Oxford and Cambridge, our Parliament, the King James Bible, and many things beside. Of course, with the exception of the Authorised Version (translated from the Masoretic, and therefore not Orthodox), not one of these institutions or traditions is as it was in time past. And I speak as no friend of Britannia, that is the remnant and legacy of Norman policy. Nonetheless these things had some value when we were a sovereign nation with a Christian ethos and a common sense of quiet dignity and sobriety.

Now I delayed in saying this but I do not share the enthusiasm of many (I won't say "most") British people about the marriage of Prince Harry to Meghan Markle. I understand the value of a collective response to nationally significant events but I cannot even try to be remotely interested, and resented having the event virtually omnipresent in my life. I was actually working yesterday, and watched some of it in the canteen on my lunch break (just because it was on). I caught the tail end of the black American bishop's rather appalling sermon, riddled with hackneyed slogans and pseudo-Christian utopianism. Lancelot Andrewes, a rather brilliant man, preached for King James I at Windsor and the contrast is astonishing! No doubt the black man was invited as much to reflect the trans-Atlantic alliance as to further trivialise the Gospel by making it shallow and humorous. And then I saw some of the guests; the usual crowd of celebrities and homosexuals; corrupt nobodies (many of them American); the aristocracy of our democratic world. In the eyes of many people, David Beckham and George Clooney are in the same class as The Queen! Are we just an island off the coast of America?

I'd never heard of Meghan Markle until she started seeing Prince Harry. As with many "mixed race" women I've seen on television she seems to have gotten whiter over the years. A divorcee and former actress from an American soap opera whose name I can't even remember, she's clearly ambitious and in the Wallis Simpson milieu. As for Prince Harry, I've always thought of him as a renegade and interloper. He looks nothing like his alleged father, Prince Charles, and quite apart from his erstwhile riotous lifestyle (which can be forgiven) he has spent years championing causes I heartily detest. Oh, I don't wish the newly-weds ill (who on earth would?) but I don't wish them well either. It's my certain belief that the fact the marriage was possible is an indication of how far our civilisation has decayed.

Am I so out of touch, though? The things that I value about this country have been eviscerated or disappeared altogether and have been replaced by a shallow celebrity culture, epitomised by Meghan Markle. Even so, those things were perishable anyway. My heavenly treasure is the patrimony of the Saints of these old islands, those missionaries and scholars who truly built this country into the empire of true faith, Christ's heavenly kingdom. For as long as these things remain in waking memory, that is in the liturgical tradition of the Orthodox Church and the piety of Orthodox faithful, let the celebrities go on watering down the passing things of Britain. Orthodoxy will triumph!

Tuesday, 15 May 2018

Family Portrait...

I've given up on Wordpress. I was in receipt of an invoice from them the other day, telling me that my personal plan was up for renewal and that they would be charging me another £30 to have an "ad free" blog, with its own unique domain, and that I would not need to make a payment to them; they would kindly and conveniently just take the money from my account. Well, I thought better of that. So I have reverted to Blogger. There were certain aspects of Wordpress that I found difficult to work with anyway, and I had been using Blogger since 2009. The change to Wordpress was just a token one, just like the beard (which I actually shaved off in August). So why not start afresh? I realise that I am in the midst of a series on Spanish Liturgy. Never fear! In the next few days (or weeks) I shall endeavour to transfer that series to this blog, and start blogging in earnest once more.

In the meantime, I found these charming and poignant photographs of the Imperial Family over on Pravoslavie. I encourage you to bookmark that site. I've always found it useful for its articles and kalendar.

Please add my new blog to your blogroll, if you write a blog yourself, send the link to your friends, publicise, &c. I shall be grateful for any publicity at this stage!