Report on the Conference 2015 by Jan Randall

whole conference 2015

For all the photos from the Conference 2015 taken by James Hyndman, please click here.

- - -

22-25 MAY 2015

Once more members of the Deanery gathered at High Leigh, greeting familiar faces and learning to know new ones.  Our theme was The Beauty of Holiness.  It was appropriate then that at the centre of our programme were Saturday's Vigil and the Liturgy on Sunday.  This year we had the joy of the presence of not only Archbishop Job but also Bishop John, who together concelebrated with 14 priests, a protodeacon and three deacons.  During the Liturgy the Archbishop ordained two candidates, firstly as acolytes then as Readers; one then went on to be ordained Subdeacon.

Our first session was led by Karin Greenhead who raised questions on our theme. Is beauty in itself holy?  Is all that is holy beautiful?  What of virtuous Job on his dung hill with his sores, who was not a pretty sight?  King David and Judith were not virtuous, one an adulterous murderer and the other a liar.  So what is God's attitude to beauty and holiness? 
Comments and questions were collected from the floor and we split into groups to consider those which struck us most.  These discussions continued at a further session the next day.

On Saturday morning we began by singing a Panikhida for Metropolitan Anthony and other departed members of the Deanery.  Our first talk was by Canon Hugh Wybrew, an Anglican with long and close links with Orthodoxy.  He showed how the Last Supper was the last of a series of shared meals, this time an anticipation of Christ's death in an act of prophetic symbolism looking to a new and greater Exodus.  The Eucharist continued as a shared meal at least until the problems at Corinth and continued to be in a domestic setting.  Justin Martyr describes the Eucharist and shows that it was vital that all Christians should communicate; if they could not be present communion was taken to them at home.  After Christianity became the official religion changes began. Church buildings were no longer patterned on domestic buildings but on the basilica and the bishop sat where the magistrate sat and adopted the magistrate's pomp.  Lay communicants became fewer because of what Cyril of Jerusalem called 'spiritual risks'.  Sotto voce celebration spread, despite the emperor Justinian forbidding it.  Symbolic interpretations, based on the life of Christ, began to be taught, which often ignored communion.  What has happened to the Liturgy raises questions which go to the heart of mission and what we want to be.  How can the Christian faith be presented to people?  How can the Liturgy be celebrated to demonstrate its nature as a common meal and an anticipation of the heavenly banquet?

Father Ivan Moody spoke on the Idea of Beauty in Liturgical Music.  Beginning with Dionysus the Areopagite's dictum that 'divine Beauty is transmitted to all that exists' he passed from the Finnish revival in icon painting to new church music.  He pointed out that it is the Church's acceptance that makes an icon an icon, not its artistic merit . The same could be said of church music.  Reform needs spiritual care and we should remember that it is part of the same process which produced what we wish to reform.  He concluded by saying 'Our idea of beauty is often just that – our idea.'
In discussion Bishop John asked 'Where is creativity in Orthodoxy today?'   People are afraid.  Fr Ivan spoke of respecting tradition but letting it work/speak through us.  Rachmaninov is an example and a model.

Archbishop Job spoke on Sunday morning.  He was introduced to us a one of the few bishops who are theologians and he demonstrated that he is indeed a theologian.
According to the Greek of Genesis God saw that all he made was  beautiful.  This is a theophanic beauty not just aesthetic so that nature is an icon of God.  Man is made in the image and likeness of God, i.e. according to the image, which is Christ, the image.  So man is an icon of an icon and likeness is the end point of deification.  Made from dust and God's breath (spirit) man is the link between the natural and the spiritual, visible and invisible and the guardian of God's beautiful creation.  Deification is the aim of man's role. 
In his introduction to the Philokalia – The Love of the Good and Beautiful – Nicodemos shows how out of jealousy the evil one detaches man from the glory of God.  This is the origin of evil and ugliness .  Dostoevsky in his novel The Idiot says that the beautiful will save the world but not just aesthetic beauty.  Christ is the beauty which will save the world. Christ is the Alpha and the Omega, the Creator and the goal of Creation.
Nature, says Chrysostom, speaks of the glory of God.  As if it were an icon we pass through nature to its source, through the visible to the invisible.  We reverence nature, we do not worship it.  God is active in all things, through the logos spermaticos, the seed which He has implanted in it .  As Maximos the Confessor says everything has its logos, which pre-exists in God.  So Creation was not a Fall but the beginning of a rise towards God, an invitation to move to God.  Thus the world has a sacramental character and man is its priest.  The fall is a loss of that sense of priesthood, turning creation into an object of use.  God is in all things and all things must be directed to God.

Sunday evening saw the traditional entertainment.  We were amazed by the talent  and confidence of the young musicians who had followed the children's programme.  We were amazed in a different way by the dramatic and musical talents hidden in two senior clerics who strutted their stuff to the approbation and encouragement of the Archbishop.  As is usual the party only ended when the adult musicians lacked energy to continue.

On our final morning Father Alexander and Patsy Fostiropoulos spoke on Sacred Space and Holy Images respectively.  With the aid of carefully chosen illustrations and drawing on their training and experience, one as architect and the other as icon painter, they showed us how space and image have dimensions that are more than physical.  Their talks deserved a place in the timetable other than one when people were affected by shortage of sleep and thoughts of the journey home.

Ian Randall

- - -