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Personal History -  a Journey into Orthodoxy.

By the Altar in the Ashley Church

 My Christian nurture was among the Anglicans. As a choirboy and Sunday-School.teacher at S. Barnabas, Fendalton, and as a pupil at Christ's College, I learned the language of the Bible (Authorized Version) and the Book of Common Prayer, and these laid a foundation which I have never thought or wished to leave behind.

 I call this "a journey into  Orthodoxy, because it was both a journey towards  and a journey in the Faith. I am reading every day, in discussions among Orthodox "converts", wrangles about the deficiencies of heterodox confessions and how much the opponent is infected by them. For me, my Christian pilgrimage could be best described as the rebuilding of an inheritance upon what was already a pretty sound foundation.

 When I went up to University in my home town of Christchurch, I began to be aware of "High Church". Religious differences had not meant much up to then; I remember that in a group of friends I ventured to visit the various denominations round about: the whole range of protestantism from the Methodists through to the classic Pentecostals, (who were already present, but not enjoying the sensational attention that they came to receive in the 60s). I found all this interesting, but nothing was really striking until I found S. Michael's, Oxford Terrace, Christchurch. under Fr Cecil Gault. The first reaction, I think, was a certain amusement that anyone could get away with that sort of thing in an Anglican Church. Rome was generally considered forbidden and dangerous in the 50's, and I had met it, I think, only  in books.

 But the amusement soon gave way to a sense that here was an altogether new level of majesty, of grandeur, of holiness. I was involved with the SCM, and the Anglo-catholics there impressed me, although for a while their "intolerance" repelled me. I remember a single visit to the Liberal Catholics, and toying with the idea that solemn ceremonies might be combined with an SCM theology. But as I began to get into theological study (I had offered in 1956 for ordination and was in College House) the historical weight of support for the high church doctrines became clearer, and I gradually admitted that the holiness could not be separated from the boundaries that dogma had set around the Faith. The Anglican Church did not offer much guidance in study, especially as I was doing the ecumenical BD from the presbyterian faculty at Otago; but there was a fair enough library and I followed my nose. Feeling threatened by Rome (especially as I had become engaged) I discovered the history of the Old Catholics and fortified myself against the Papal Infallibility. A chance arose to travel to Germany and advance both my knowledge gained in an MA in German, and my knowledge of the non-English strains of Christianity. By luck, we found ourselves in Bonn and a job was available for both of us, and so an acquaintance with the Old Catholics grew. We attended their parish in Bonn for the months we were there, we hitch-hiked to Holland over the Easter holiday and "did" Holy Week in Amsterdam, Rotterdam, and the Easter Vigil in the Cathedral in Utrecht. Later I travelled for the SCM through Switzerland and Austria to Greece to a conference.

 The contact with the Old Catholics brought about a shift in my assessment of  Anglicanism. Here were people for whom the Roman tradition was normal, natural, inherited; not an add-on to the Prayer Book foundation which Anglo-Catholics ingeniously strove to reconcile with the additions in varying mixtures, amidst arguments (sometimes bitter) about principles, and (always futile) about taste. The Old Catholics, and the Roman Catholic Church in Germany, which matched the protestants in Bonn for adherents but left them completely behind in devotion,  were the heirs of so solid a tradition that my slight intellectual interest in the school of Tillich, Bultmann etc began to fade, having an expression in Church  that I found simply boring, not even as interesting as the Methodists back home.

 We returned to Christchurch after a year, and were immersed in curacy  life in a low parish, and then in a moderately high one that matched the "low" parish we had attended in London. Such was the let-down of the first parish that I went to Fr Gault and asked him to train me in saying mass in preparation for  my priestly ordination. Thus began a formation that was simply irreversible. The remaining years in the Anglican  Church saw me immersing myself  increasingly in the Roman tradition which I had come to see as the authentic source of all that was good in the English tradition and its natural completion; at the same time as proposals for unity with protestants led the Anglican Church in NZ (as elsewhere) to surrender one after another the decisive boundaries that had marked it off from the mainstream of protestantism.

 I had had a few contacts with the Eastern Orthodox Church. Our chaplain at College had taught us to approve of it, and I had managed to see a few Greek and Russian services, and to read some of Brightman's Liturgies. I began to say that refuge in the Orthodox Church seemed to me the only way forward, although it seemed to me that for most of the High Church it presented a formidable task of cultural re-learning. I am amused now to think of the optimism with which I told the Greek Metropolitan that I thought my Greek (I did know the modern pronunciation) was good enough to do services in.

 The watershed seemed to me to come in 1969 when the Anglican General Synod gave formal permission to its members to accept the Holy Communion from other Churches in such a way that it was difficult to pretend that it had not abandoned its position concerning the Apostolic Successsion of ordination.

 I remember coming out of the Synod in the Hall at S. Mary's Merivale, sick at heart amidst rejoicing by "ecumenists", and kneeling before the great East Window of Our Lady, and asking what I should  now do. It seemed I was to hold on to see how the matter clarified itself
  The year 1970 saw a number of  encouraging things in my parish of Lyttelton, arising from a High Mass we held in honour of the 200th birthday of L.v.Beethoven, accompanied by recordings from  his 2 masses, and in aid of the preservation of the wall-paintings in the Church. Not only did it lead to a quite successful restoration; it also marked the high tide of my life in Anglicanism.

 I still have photos, not of that occasion, but of a High Mass that the Guild of the Servants of the Sanctuary held at Lyttelton in 1969, when Fr Bernard Richards stood in the pulpit with my stereo camera and covered the main stages of the service. I have scanned two of these, and you can view them in 3-D if you have strong eye muscles without the use of lenses: cross your eyes (by looking at your nose, until one image emerges, your right eye seeing the right image which in placed as marked on the left, and vice-versa. The two pictures, the best preserved, are of the Gospel and the Offertory.


[right]                               [left]


   Although my first approach was to the Greek Church when it became clear that I must move, I  found they were unable to help me, and I was  encouraged by Fr Nicholas Mansour of Sydney to apply to Bishop Gibran of the Antiochian Church. This is how it happened:

Solemn Benediction after our farewell party at Lyttelton:  September, 1971
Mitchell Elder - Ricky Cave - Fr Jack - Fr Edward Startup - Nigel Thomas?/?Gregory Kane

 At the beginning of 1971 I felt a sign must soon come, and the arrival of the 1962 The Word number dedicated to the western Rite coincided with pressure from the Anglican Bishop concerning the Tabernacle. I went across from the Anglican Church House to the Greek Church. Through a friend Fr Nicholas heard that I had written to the Ecumenical Patriarch, and he wrote, sending a copy of the Orthodox Missal. As soon as the negative answer of  the Patriarch arrived, I wrote to Bishop Gibran, who offered me:

        "1- There is an orthodox Chapel in N.Z. (Dunedin) and few families who had never had  an   orthodox priest. You may be interested in serving them.
        2- If there are enough people willing to form a western rite Parish under the Antiochian  Jurisdiction, I shall be ready to come and meet with you all and finalize the project."

 I accepted the first as I did not think I had "enough people" and did not think I should divide the parish.of Lyttelton. But although he steered me firmly away from my Anglican past and towards the services of the Eastern Rite (the 7-fold Office, as I had used from western sources up to my trip to Sydney), he remained, in theory at least, very supportive of the Western Rite. One conversation in Melbourne I remember went like this:

 "Bp: If you can find 20 families who want to worship in the Western Rite, you can serve them.

  I: But what if the *****   attack it?

  Bp: They  -     can  -   not!   The canon law of the  Orthodox Church is the canon law of   the  undivided catholic Church,  and in that law there are [thirteen?*]  Eastern Typica and [five?*]
  Western Typica "
  (* I cannot remember the exact numbers now).

 I never heard directly what pressure may have been brought to bear on him in the following  years, so I will not speculate. Plenty of people have done that already. But although there was apparently some difficulty in practice in giving public acknowledgment, he several times repeated his support in letters and told me he had never withdrawn his promises to me. One difficulty he did speak of (in 1986) was the condition in Metropolitan Anthony' s instructions that priests should not be bi-ritual.
It was not until February 1997, 2 years before his death, that he told me before witnesses that the permissions given in Britain (which were not, as it turned out, acted on) had removed this difficulty for him.

 The mission in Auckland began with the request from some New Zealanders to Alastair Price to get them  access to the Orthodox Western Rite. He and I had discussed the possible mission in 1994 and when the Bp and I agreed that you could not mix or rewrite services but just choose between the authorized Eastern and Western forms, Alastair firmly chose the Western, and so did those who collected for our services, although I continued to insist on showing them both.

I still hold documentation to show that every detail of what we did 1976-1978 was described by me in letters and approved by the Bishop, who was abroad much of the time. So the decision to be Eastern Rite puzzled and dismayed me, and I never knew exactly what was behind it, although some people thought they knew.

 What I did understand was that advertizing the Western Rite was inviting trouble. I concluded that if it had a future it was to be rather individual and very discreet. Accordingly I looked for somewhere remote where a small congregation might worship without upsetting anyone.
 Ashley is what we found in 1982.

 So I began to edit a breviary to use there, translated from the Latin of 1828 which I had been using since 1976 in my own prayers.

 Unlike the above, it was hand-typed and  photocopied and only 3 copies were made. Much of the material was able to be taken from the Monastic Matins and the Monastic Diurnal which were out of print. These had been recommended to me by Fr Schneirla in 1971 as used by clergy in the Vicariate at the time. I did use the Diurnal and a Latin Monastic Breviary up to my ordination.

 According to Canon Douglas in his Preface to the Diurnal, the monastic breviary was preferable to the Roman because the order of the Psalter in the latter had been drastically revised in 1913. When I discovered the 1828 and 1868 books in Selwyn College library, I found that this form of the Roman office avoided the problems of the later ones, and by leaving out heterodox saints one had considerable simplification, and the interruption of the Psalter was far less severe. I also found that the design was simpler than the monastic office; and besides, I was not a monk.

 According to a post to a western orthodox group that I saw today, the Benedictine Office was actually an adaptation of the Old Roman office. If this is correct, it seems confirmed by  my experience of using both.

 While I was in Lyttelton, I had the use of Fr Edward Startup's Altar copy of the English Missal, which he later gave me in exchange for a later edition. As far as the requirements of popular tolerance and the Prayer Book allowed, I conformed to the Roman rite as set out there. It was therefore an enormous encouragement to receive in 1971 copies of the Antiochian Western rite missal which made it clear that I could actually be required  to do what, against considerable resistance, I had been striving to do for years. After using the Byzantine services exclusively for my first few years in Dunedin, I resumed saying Mass in the western rite first for the Auckland mission in 1976, and then daily in Dunedin in my house chapel from about 1980. It carried me through a time in which the psychological warfare and "shell-shock" of some of my school classes meant that I needed all the strength I could find.

 At this point it may be as well to explain that the numbers of Orthodox in New Zealand interested in supporting the Antiochian Church's services were so small that from the beginning I had offered to work to support myself, which I did briefly in a bookshop, and then for 12 years in a RC High School. It was partly the strain of this work that motivated me to seek a self-supporting lifestyle at Ashley, even though in the event this had to be supported for most of the last 15 years by the unemployment benefit. This has been the situation of the priests who have followed me: none of us has been able to be paid a salary by the congregation, and we have supported ourselves by our own efforts. Priests of other jurisdictions have been in that position too. Of course, the aim has always been to raise the congregations to the level at which they can support their clergy as normal; but to be realistic, that goal is still some way off.

 So, I had an English Missal, the 1933 edition; I had the various editions of WR in both the Roman ("Gregorian") and Anglican ("Tikhon") versions as used in the NY Vicariate, and I had Bp Gibran's words: find out about what the various western rite use, but don't feel bound to them necessarily. In the event the usage is essentially the "Gregorian" which follows closely the Overbeck 1970 Moscow mass. For the 20 years that the Office and Mass have been said here at Ashley, every day with few exceptions, the Mass has conformed  to the Calendar of the (1828) Breviary; and I have made a few small adjustments in translation; but otherwise I think things are done, as authentically as resources permit, according to the standards of the Vicariate.

 Two small improvements (I hope) in the translation are as follows:

          Vere  dignum  et  justum est, æquum et sa - lu - ta - re,
          It   is  ve- ry  meet and right,  just  and  sa - lu - ta - ry,

           I - te,   Mis - sa   est.
          Go ye,  Mass  is  done.

   Being left largely to my own devices, I thought that what I could achieve at least was to aim at the most authentic observance of the tradition that I could manage. So, being free to do so,  I arranged to read all the offices at the traditional time, and the Mass after the appropriate Hour as set out in the rubrics for a "conventual" Mass. For many decades New Zealand Standard Time was stable at twelve hours ahead of Greenwich, or approximately half an hour ahead of local solar time. Hence the listings above at 6.30, 9.30, etc. (The more recent introduction of Summer Time seemed too complex to compensate for.)

 Services had been held in Christchurch since 1973, mainly in the Byzantine Rite for the local Lebanese and other Orthodox. From 1986 to 1996 this continued to be the use on Sundays at Ashley, and at the beginning congregations were not too bad (around 10). But the ethnic attendance fell away and by late 1995 only 3 persons were coming from Christchurch, all converts. Since there was now a regular Greek service in Christchurch, and since a number of local Food Bank clients had begun to pray with me, accept spiritual help, and ask for baptism / chrismation, it seemed worth while to set up a Sunday western mass at a regular time and see if it grew ( early 1996)  It did not, but the new members came from time to time. Bp Gibran visited the following year and gave his blessing to the arrangement.

   After 4 years, the Sunday Western Mass has not collected a regular congregation, and an 11 am Divine Liturgy was been revived on the first Sunday of the month. It is too soon to say whether it will fare better than the Liturgies from 1986 - 1996; but on December 3, 2000,  at Ashley, 3 people came out from Christchurch, 2 converts and an Anglican visitor. The number present (5) exactly equalled the congregation at the 9.45 am Mass the previous Sunday.

   In the years since then, the congregation at Ashley has grown to 4/5; and the monthly 11 am Liturgies, revived at Cathedral Grammar. had a slightly larger attendance until the arrival of Fr Victor Didenco. He moved to a classroom and the congregation of Romanians and Russians grew; a move to a suburban Church building is awaiting final approval. And Fr Michael Elder was ordained priest and serves a small congregation at Diamond Harbour.

   I personally hope that we can continue to make this offering to God here at Ashley, even if there is not much to show.  Western Rite is, among other things, a tangible sign that the Orthodox Church is serious about wanting reunion with Western Churches on the basis of the unity in the faith and tradition of the ancient "Undivided" Church of the first thousand years, without ethnic or cultural obstacles. It was the Patriarch of Constantinople who, twice in the 19th century, replied to Papal letters about unity by saying that matters such as the chant, the style of the vestments, and the details of the prayers, which had always varied, were not barriers to unity, but only those things in which the Roman Church had fallen away from its own true self: he then enumerated exactly the details which are now corrected in what have become the Orthodox Western Rites.

 Since Fr Ian joined us as a determined supporter of the Western Rite, I have accepted the obligation to digitalize the Office and the Missal. This will probably take the rest of my life. (See completed files on the Deanery website).

 Please pray for us here. And if you will, drop us an e-mail. I should love to hear from you.

Fr Jack

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