6 October 2008

The S Thomas's Ecumenical Outreach

Although we are in no real sense part of the Church of England, we at S Thomas's are by no means lonely - quite the opposite. Today Oxford's 'Syrian Orthodox' community celebrated its first Liturgy in our church. It was a jolly and a reverent event; apparently only in the Protestant tradition is worship either a lugubrious tedium or else an even more tedious attempt at informality and withitness. I suppose it's a measure of my own alienation from 'Anglicanism' that I felt at home with the 'Syrians' and yet I feel like a tart in a nunnery on those rare occasions when I can't get out of worshipping in the post-Christian folk-Protestant tradition which pervades most of the Cof E.

And that is despite the fact that I couldn't understand a word of what was going on: although the congregation is in communion with one of the Patriarchs of Antioch, most of its members are from Kerala in South India and the Liturgy was in the the Malayalem language with only a few ecphoneses in Syriac (not, anyway, that I can now remember any of the Syriac that I got a smattering of when I was doing N T Textual Criticism with the late George Kilpatrick). But the Shape of the Liturgy was clear enough and the grammar of its ritual conventions would be familiar to anybody nutured in any ancient Tradition; the way the incense was used; the way blessings were given and received; the way the Blessed Sacrament was treated; the respect shown to God's priest (see the bits in Fortescue/ O'Connell on the solita oscula); the chanting; the versus orientem; even details like flashy tat and lacey albs. If one were on a semi-desert island and this were the only liturgy available - not an EF Mass or a Byzantine Liturgy anywhere on the group of atolls - one could be very comfortable with it.

The 'Jacobite' Patriarch they are are in communion with (there are, I fear, quite a lot of hierarchs with the title Patriarch of Antioch) is the one we used to call 'monophysite'; although I share the common suspicion that it was terminology rather than deliberate heresy that separated the more moderate of S Cyril's followers from Chalcedonian Christianity.

The provisional plan is that this community should worship at S Thomas's on the first Sunday of each month at 12.00. You would be very welcome (but remember to sit, men on the left, women on the right, just as people did in medieval England and still do in many traditions East of the Adriatic). It wouldn't matter if you got taken ill because most of the women seemed to be nurses from the JR. Best of all, come to our Solemn Mass at 10, have coffee and refreshment, then settle down for a Syrian. Plenty of Sunday parking in the grounds of the Old Vicarage next door.

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