Dickens from an Orthodox Perspective

In looking around for an article about women and orthodoxy (more on that in the future) I ran across Russian Pickwickians: Dickens from an Orthodox Vantage (PDF reader needed). Judging from the size of his Dickens collection, I suspect Dr. Bacchus will enjoy it. The article discusses reading Dickens to children, how Dickens presents salvation and Christian happiness, and finding real life people like Dickens characters.

As a father, I’ve been humbled and touched by the church’s prayers for protecting the holy innocence of children, so this quote particularly struck me:

You don’t often see the innocence of young souls, which is still apparent in many Russian girls (and boys). There is a depth of untainted purity here, particularly in the Orthodox.. Young people in the West can be shy and perhaps even modest, but this is completely different. It is so deep and striking when you first see it. You think to yourself, “There really are girls like that, straight out of Dickens.”

There is a lack of innocence “in the air” in the West that affects even young children. Television and an undiscerning adherence to popular standards simply destroy it. There are many sincere Christians who lead moral lives, but you don’t often see the deep unselfish purity of the Lizzie Hexams, the Agnes’s, the Sonia Marmeladovas. Dickens knew girls like that, which is why he wrote so successfully about them. The critics say they don’t exist because we don’t see them anymore.

I see it daily in church in Russia, but not so often in Europe or America. I’ve seen such pure-heartedness among the Amish in America, and, sometimes in young Ethiopian immigrants, rarely in Greece, but otherwise, only here.

The End of the Crusades

Christ is risen! Indeed, he is risen!

It was a long and hard Lent, and I was glad to have time off for Holy Week and Pascha. We were privileged to have not one, not two, but three priests celebrating the Resurrection with us in our little mission. It was a joy to watch a grandfatherly priest playing with our children and blessing them. As a convert to Orthodoxy I sometimes find myself overly serious and so concerned with doing things “correctly” that I miss the joyfulness and beauty. Perhaps someday we will be able to be as comfortable and at home in the prayers as our children and those who have grown up in the church.

Christians have an added reason to rejoice this Pascha—healing has begun between the East and the West. In a visit to Greece in 2001, Pope John Paul II formally apologized for the involvement the Roman Catholic church had in the sacking of Constantinople in 1204. On April 13, 2004 — the 800th anniversary of that terrible event — Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I accepted the apology. “The spirit of reconciliation of the resurrection … incites us toward reconciliation of our churches,” he said. Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew is recognized as “first among equals” among Orthodox patriarchs.

Perhaps surprisingly for many in the West, for which the Crusades are a faint memory, for the Eastern Orthodox they have been painfully recalled. And no wonder—when you read the account of the sack of Constantinople you cannot help but wonder how Christians could do this to other Christians. After the attack, the city and Great Church were subject to days of looting, during which many of its precious treasures were removed or destroyed.

In his apology, the Pope said:

There is a need for a liberating process of purification of memory. For the occasions past and present, when sons and daughters of the Catholic Church have sinned by action or omission against their Orthodox brothers and sisters, may the Lord grant us the forgiveness we beg of him.… Some events of the distant past have left deep wounds in the minds and hearts of people to this day. I am thinking of the disastrous sack of the imperial city of Constantinople, which was for so long the bastion of Christianity in the East. It is tragic that the assailants, who had set out to secure free access for Christians to the Holy Land, turned against their own brothers in the faith. The fact that they were Latin Christians fills Catholics with deep regret… To God alone belongs judgment, and therefore we entrust the heavy burden of the past to his endless mercy, imploring him to heal the wounds that still cause suffering to the spirit of the Greek people.

During a liturgy attended by Philippe Barbarin, the Archbishop of Lyon, France, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew said “The spirit of reconciliation is stronger than hatred. We receive with gratitude and respect your cordial gesture for the tragic events of the Fourth Crusade.”