Wednesday, 13 April 2016

An Introduction to the Celtic Orthodox Church, by Father Leonard Hollands

When I was at college in York, doing my theology degree, my housemate bumped into an ex-heroin user who was on a methadone prescription. Being a passionate Evangelical, my housemate became determined to help this chap. As it happened somebody had beaten him to it. The recovering drug user had been chrismated into the Celtic Orthodox Church, which had a tiny chapel in York. My friend met the priest and visited the church. He was surprised to be asked to remove his shoes when entering it. I never had any contact with the Celtic Orthodox Church, but I listened with interest when my housemate told me about them, as well as doing a bit of internet research about this body. I had a little interest in Orthodoxy at the time, but the idea of a "Celtic Orthodox Church" just sounded phony. Despite his conversion to Celtic Orthodoxy, the recovering drug user was happy to accept my housemate's invitation to attend the Calvary Chapel that we both attended. He used the opportunity to beg for money from the people going there. He even demanded the right to receive communion there, despite this being against the rules of his church. He was a pretty scary chap, having done time in the clink for harassment. I didn't like him at all and never imagined that one day I would be working professionally with people like him. It's funny how things work out.

The Celtic Orthodox Church was formed in 1866, when a Syrian Orthodox bishop consecrated Jules Ferrette as a bishop. It was a rare attempt by Oriental Orthodoxy to create its own Western Rite. In 1994, a large segment of the Celtic Orthodox Church entered the jurisdiction of the Coptic Orthodox Church, under the name of the British Orthodox Church. However, in 2015, the British Orthodox Church broke away from the Coptic Orthodox Church and has ceased to be part of canonical Oriental Orthodoxy.

This book offers a short summary of their basic beliefs. It states that Christ has two natures without going into the details of the Chalcedonian controversy. It also provides some brief reflections on Celtic spirituality and saints. This is a dreadfully short book and I would have liked it to go into more much detail. A bit more information about the liturgy in use in the Celtic Orthodox Church would have been interesting.

The assumption behind the Celtic Orthodox Church that the ancient Celtic Church was opposed to Rome and more closely aligned with the eastern non-Chalcedonian churches is historically dubious. I see little reason to doubt that the Celtic Church was truly part of the undivided Catholic Church. The idea of trying to reconstruct a modern Celtic Church seems a little over-optimistic given the scarce liturgical resources from that era and it smacks of 19th century Romanticism. Still, I do like the fact that the Celtic and British Orthodox churches follow the Coptic and Ethiopian tradition of removing shoes in their churches. It's a very reverent custom and practical too, as it keeps the churches cleaner.

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