Sunday, 28 January 2018

Rowan Williams’ Foreword…

…to Dr. Demetri Salapatas’ published PhD thesis

This is a book that has been long needed.  The creation of the Fellowship of Saint Alban and Saint Sergius ninety years ago was a landmark in ecumenical affairs because it represented a fresh and wholly distinctive way of approaching the relations between Christians of divided confession – a way that has still, sadly, found surprisingly few imitators.  From the beginning, the word ‘Fellowship’ was the key: the members of the Church of England and the Russian Orthodox Church who first gathered under the patronage of the two great national saints believed passionately that it was only in meeting and sharing worship that they would grow together as members of the Body of Christ.  But in the climate of the early twentieth century, this was a vision that faced formidable challenges. Participants had to work out a pattern of practice that conformed to the disciplines of the churches they belonged to, yet would also open up mutual discovery at a deeper level than discussion alone.  And the stress, especially in the first few decades, on life together and the sharing of practical tasks and activities (from ecumenical potato-peeling to ecumenical cricket matches) gave to the Fellowship conferences a quite unique flavour. How many colloquia on high-level theological affairs have had families and children running around? How many have nurtured two or three generations of participants from families committed to each other as well as to the ecumenical vision?

The Fellowship has, of course, changed greatly, though never beyond recognition.  Less potato-peeling, perhaps, but the emphasis on informal and familial connection is still there, and the sharing of the experience of one another’s disciplines and traditions of worship.  Over the years, the Fellowship came to embrace people from a far wider constituency than the original Anglo-Russian groups – Roman Catholics from the UK and elsewhere, members of the Free Churches in Britain, and of course Orthodox from the entire Orthodox world. The extraordinary first generation of Russian émigrés has passed away, and a new wave of Eastern European emigration has arrived, with new challenges to ecumenical relations.  The Church of England has become even more diverse, and its official positions on various matters have sometimes taken it further away from its Orthodox friends.  The assumptions that might have been made in the 1920’s about steady convergence between Eastern and Western Christendom, even the assumptions of the great theologians of the years between, say 1935 and 1965 about at least the growing possibility of theological debate within a common framework, have not lasted well.  The looming presence of a publicly secular discourse has sometimes drawn churches closer, but it has also sometimes prompted churches to withdraw into what is seen as secure ecclesiastical territory and the reaffirmation of ‘integral’ tradition. 

Yet the Fellowship has survived and flourished and renewed itself again and again.  It has nurtured and provided platforms for some of the most considerable names of the ecumenical world in the last couple of generations, especially among British Orthodox: not only Metropolitan Antony Bloom and Metropolitan Kallistos Ware, but that exceptional genius, Fr Lev Gillet, and of course the benign and fatherly presence of Nicolas Zernov, who, perhaps more than any other individual, was the guardian, decade after decade, of the original vision. In turn, Anglican scholars as diverse as Eric Mascall, Donald Allchin and Gerald Bonner have been standard bearers for this vision.   The spread of the Fellowship to continental Europe and North America has been a major factor in the history of the network, and conferences have welcomed many of the foremost theological minds in the European and North American Orthodox world – from Georges Florovsky and Vladimir Lossky to Elizabeth Behr-Sigel and Dumitru Staniloae. The Fellowship’s journal, Sobornost, has published their work and the work of many more thinkers of note, and has in this way done exceptional service not only to ecumenical theology but to theology and theological scholarship at large in the English-speaking world.        
My first visit to a Fellowship conference in 1972 is an experience I can still remember with excitement and gratitude. It put before me a model of how theology might be done and how ecumenical friendship might be sustained that has never left me, and I cannot easily say how much I owe to this exposure to the Fellowship’s distinctive charism. A study of its development and inspiration, the personalities, controversies and discoveries, has long been overdue: Demetri Salapatas has now given us just the survey we need to take stock more adequately of what this remarkable communion of hope and prayer has contributed to the life of the churches in Britain and throughout the world.

Cambridge, Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, 2017

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