CONVERTS are often enthusiastic members of the Church to which they believe God has called them. Before becoming Orthodox in the Russian Orthodox Church in Belgium in 1995, Michael Lomax was involved with Methodists, Anglicans, Roman Catholics, Quakers, and Protestant Charismatics, and found them unsatisfactory in one way or another. He is now less enthusiastic about the Church that he decided to join. This book brings together a selection of his blogs over the past decade, together with three longer texts, which reflect on his experience of Russian Orthodoxy and on ecumenical relations in Belgium.
His reflections, though those of an Orthodox deacon, become more critical as the years go by. Orthodox readers might be unpleasantly surprised by the vehemence of his criticisms of clerical authority, the strong ethnic character of Orthodox church life in a non-Orthodox country, the prevalence of worship in a language foreign to the general population, and the failure of Russian Orthodoxy in Belgium to relate to the surrounding culture. Non-Orthodox readers who find Orthodoxy attractive largely through books and occasional experiences of Orthodox worship might find their enthusiasm somewhat dampened.
That should not put potential readers off Lomax’s book. Although his reflections come out of a specific context, they contain much that is relevant to other churches. He insists that what matters above all is not being Orthodox or Roman Catholic or Anglican or any other denomination, but simply being Christian. He believes that the situation of all the Churches “raises serious questions of praxis and governance”. In one blog he even expresses a quiet respect for the willingness of parts of the Anglican Communion, and Anglican leaders such as Justin Welby and Michael Curry, to face the challenge of changing situations. He is convinced, too, that the purpose of the Christian life, and so of the life of any given Church, is to enable people to progress “to fullness in Christ”, and that any “approaches and practices which . . . impede that progress” must be changed.
AlamyFresco of the Nativity and Baptism of Christ in St Constantine and St Helena, Bruges, a church built in 1995 and under the Greek Orthodox Metropolitan of Belgium. It is described on openchurches.eu as welcoming all Orthodox of the region, “Greeks, Syrians, Russians, Serbs, Rumanians, Georgians, Poles, and Belgians”
Of the three short essays at the end of the book, the first, on “Comparative Theology: The Need for a Paradigm Shift”, is a critique of traditional attitudes to ecumenism of Orthodoxy, Catholicism, and Protestantism, and argues that alliances between Churches in presenting the gospel should depend less on doctrinal agreement and more on “the depth and strength of the spiritual life and witness…of their confessing members”.
The second, “Orthodoxy in Belgium: Towards what Future?” is specific, though of relevance to other Orthodox Churches outside historic Orthodox homelands. The third, “Christianity: Joy, Freedom and Absence of Guilt vs Suffering, Penitence, Humility and Patience”, is relevant to all expressions of Christianity.
Lomax’s book makes stimulating reading. Its immediate appeal is, perhaps, to those who, like your reviewer, are well-acquainted with Orthodoxy and aware of its weaknesses as well as its strengths. But it contains much that is relevant to all who are trying to be Christians but find aspects of the practice and teaching of their Church unhelpful, and sometimes a hindrance, to success in making Christian progress towards mature humanity.
Canon Hugh Wybrew was formerly Vicar of St Mary Magdalen’s, Oxford.
Trying to be Orthodox . . . And Not Quite Succeeding
Church Times Bookshop £11.70