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Alban and Sergius: The story of a journal, by Aidan Nichols OP

29 March 2019

Hugh Wybrew on the Zernovs, a journal, and changing perceptions

THE Fellowship of St Alban and St Sergius was founded in 1928. Its purpose was to enable Russian Orthodox living in the Western world after the Revolution and English Anglicans to meet each other and learn something of each other’s faith. Pre-eminent among its first members were Nicholas and Militza Zernov, a remarkable couple whose inspiration guided the Fellowship until their respective deaths many years later.

From its inception, the Fellowship published a journal, at first called prosaically The Journal of the Fellowship of St Alban and St Sergius. It was both a record of the Fellowship’s expanding activities and a forum in which current theological concerns could be examined from both Orthodox and Anglican standpoints. In 1935, it was renamed Sobornost, a Russian word that eludes precise translation. A sobor is a council; so “conciliarity” might do. In the Slavonic version of the Nicene Creed, the adjective does duty for “Catholic” as a mark of the Church. “Togetherness” might be a rough colloquial rendering, since the Fellowship’s aim was, and is, to bring Christians of East and West together.

Aidan Nichols has made a thorough study of Sobornost from its beginning to 2018. His book, published to coincide with the Fellowship’s 90th anniversary, analyses the many and varied contributions to the journal, and in so doing reflects the development both of the Fellowship and of the ecumenical movement in its East-West aspect. When, after the Second Vatican Council, the Roman Catholic Church decided to take an active part in the work for Christian rapprochement, the Fellowship expanded its scope from Anglican-Orthodox relations to relations between all the Churches of East and West.

Its journal likewise broadened the scope of its contributions. In time, its contents reflected a significant shift in the balance of its concerns. Part I of the book is called “The Encounter of East and West”, and covers Sobornost’s first 40 years. Its early years reflected the interest of Russian Orthodox and Anglicans in each other’s traditions and an enthusiasm for closer relations. Some contributors even cherished the hope of limited intercommunion.

Part II, “The Last Fifty Years”, covers a period that brought the development of official bilateral theological dialogues, and in recent decades a decided shift in the character of Sobornost. From being a forum for ecumenical encounter, it has become much more the voice of Orthodoxy in the Christian West, and an Orthodoxy more Greek than Russian.

Like many books these days, Alban and Sergius is a long one, of just over 500 pages. But it tells in engaging detail the story not only of a journal, but also of the Fellowship. It is a story, too, of developments in the Churches that the Fellowship was founded to bring closer together, whose nearer acquaintance has sometimes led to a certain disillusionment and consequent changing relationships. Your reviewer, himself as a student drawn into the Fellowship by Nicholas Zernov and at one time its Secretary, warmly commends Nichols’s book. Readers will learn much about many people and many things theological, ecclesial, and ecumenical.

Canon Hugh Wybrew was formerly Vicar of St Mary Magdalen’s, Oxford.

Alban and Sergius: The story of a journal
Aidan Nichols OP
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