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"Today the concept of truth is viewed with suspicion, because truth is identified with violence. Over history there have, unfortunately, been episodes when people sought to defend the truth with violence. But they are two contrasting realities. Truth cannot be imposed with means other than itself! Truth can only come with its own light. Yet, we need truth. ... Without truth we are blind in the world, we have no path to follow. The great gift of Christ was that He enabled us to see the face of God".Pope Benedict xvi, February 24th, 2012

The Church is ecumenical, catholic, God-human, ageless, and it is therefore a blasphemy—an unpardonable blasphemy against Christ and against the Holy Ghost—to turn the Church into a national institution, to narrow her down to petty, transient, time-bound aspirations and ways of doing things. Her purpose is beyond nationality, ecumenical, all-embracing: to unite all men in Christ, all without exception to nation or race or social strata. - St Justin Popovitch

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Monday, 13 November 2017

AN OPEN LETTER TO ORTHODOX CHRISTIANS ABOUT THE CHARISMATIC RENEWAL

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Maronite icon of Pentecost

In any popular movement, however much it is blessed by the Lord, you are going to find plenty to criticise.   Left to develop freely, all kinds of eccentrics, nutcases and other unsuitable people rush to join.   Besides the saints and the not so saintly who filled the deserts in the early days of monasticism, there were cranks and show-offs, the unbalanced and the merely imprudent.  Yet no movement has been so blessed by God, so full of saints, or has so left its mark on the Church, as the monastic movement.   The same can be said for the charismatic movement, although it is early days and saints are not so obviously present.   Yet, if you look closely, you will find charismatics who show signs of being very close to God.

No movement attracted more criticism in the early days than the monastic movement, and much of the criticism was well deserved.   The same can be said for the charismatic renewal.  All the more, because it began among Afro-American descendants of slaves: Protestant heretics, say some; human beings in great need, say others.

Interview of witnesses of the Azusa street revival
The Pentecostal/Charismatic movement shows its origins in African culture.  Here is an Orthodox (obviously non-Pentecostal) celebration of Easter in Africa:


Orthodox Christians celebrating 
Christ's resurrection in Ghana, Africa

Pentecostal or charismatic style of worship has its origin in the tradition of the African slaves and their descendants in the United States.   The slaves continued in their own style of worship according to the "do-it-yourself", Protestant tradition of those who evangelised them.   This was easy to do because there were no rules.   Without knowing it, they adopted the liturgical attitudes of early African Christian liturgical tradition while putting their emphasis on Christian themes beloved in evangelical Protestantism.   Here is the ancient Ethiopian Church at work: a song and dance after communion:


Here is another song.  I am sure the Athonite fathers would hate it, but they are not Africans.  Nevertheless, they would have to enter into the spirit of the action in order to understand either Ethiopian or charismatic worship:

The following video is Orthodox propaganda rather than a serious argument. It is evidently composed by a non-informed outsider because everyone is lumped together.  It combines scenes from a rather extreme Protestant Pentecostalism together with scenes from the Catholic Charismatic Renewal; and although they admit that the Protestant scenes are not normal in the Catholic Charismatic Renewal, they condemn the Catholic movement by association.   Nevertheless, the film contains a serious theological argument beneath the false implications which we will need to answer.

I have never seen priests dancing in a line like chorus girls before, especially in front of the altar.    It seems to me that they are new to the charismatic renewal and are indulging in behaviour that they will, one day, regret.  I did things after Vatican II that I later regretted.   We must be patient.  After all, God is patient with us!!

Uniates and Roman Catholics bring
liturgical abuse to Ukraine


The Catholic Charismatic Renewal

The "charismatic renewal" entered the Catholic Church through a book by David Wilkerson a Protestant, Assembly of God minister, a book that has the freshness of the Acts of the Apostles and which I have read many times, called "The Cross and the Switchblade". That he was ferociously anti-Catholic and could never accept that there can be such a person as a Catholic charismatic shows that God has a sense of humour.


The Cross and the Switchblade
He couldn't stand Catholicism, but he certainly knew how to preach the Gospel.   

Here are some videos that are very valuable for understanding the Charismatic Renewal.





I came in contact with the Charismatic Renewal in the early seventies when two Belmont monks who were studying in Rome returned for the summer holidays and told us about it.  They had become members of a Pentecostal prayer group in the Gregorianum.  We formed a prayer group in the monastery and also joined an ecumenical prayer group in Hereford.  We were prayed over by Fr Simon Tugwell O.P. who had written a book about it.  We also attended national congresses and met Kevin Ranaghan and other American leaders. 

I was a theologian and, like many others, filtered the charismatic claims through Catholic teaching.  In the very recently published New Mass, we had three new eucharistic prayers with the epiclesis typical of the Eastern rites.  It seemed to me that charismatic spirituality and practice which involved calling down the Holy Spirit on people was only an extension of that: charismatics were people of the epiclesis.  Obviously, "baptism in the Holy Spirit" is not another sacrament, but simply the subjective experience of receiving the Holy Spirit which begins at our baptism, which is repeated at every Mass and becomes a permanent dimension of out Christian life.

I must admit that, although I shared in charismatic activities, was in theological agreement with the Charismatic Renewal, and could actually see people grow in holiness through it, I never felt at home with their way of prayer.  I found that silently praying in tongues was a good way to concentrate on the Lord after communion at Mass, but their communal prayer services were not for me.  As a monk with the monastic tradition of prayer - praying the liturgy, practising the 'Jesus Prayer' and lectio divina, for example - I just couldn't settle down to their way of doing things.

For almost seven years, I was parish priest of a Peruvian parish that was really charismatic.  I always sang the Mass, even when there were only a few people, singing even the consecration, not a liturgy you normally associate with a charismatic parish, but the people loved it once they were used to it; and they asked my successor if he could do the same, but he said he didn't know how.  When I spoke of the Holy Spirit to them, I took my material from the Fathers of the Church, and it fitted in very well.   Some years later, I became "formador" in a seminary for charismatic students.  One of them used an image of St Seraphim of Sarov for his ordination card.

In both parish and seminary, I saw genuine spiritual growth.  That is why I cannot disagree or attack their way of prayer, even though it isn't for me.  I believe that it is necessary to love people in order to understand them in spiritual things, which is why, in the Byzantine Rite, they put the kiss of peace before the Creed.  That is why one of the Fathers said that Orthodoxy without love is the religion of the devil.  It is our love, the love that must be continually purified to reflect more and more the presence and our share in the activity of the Holy Spirit, that unites us to one another.  When we do not love, we offer space for the devil to divide us from one another.


Charismatic Renewal and Orthodoxy

Just an example of a Charismatic who became Orthodox without rejecting his charismatic past.

Father Michael Harper (1931-2010)

An appreciation by Charles Whitehead of the Catholic Charismatic Renewal

Father Michael Harper

One of the greatest pioneers and servants of the Charismatic Renewal died in Cambridge on January 6th 2010 after a short illness.

Michael Harper was ordained a priest of the Church of England in 1956, and experienced the baptism in the Holy Spirit in 1962, speaking in tongues the following year. In 1964 he established The Fountain Trust to further renewal in the power of the Holy Spirit for Christians throughout the body of Christ. He started Renewal Magazine and was a prolific author, as he travelled the world serving renewal within the Anglican Communion and promoting ecumenical relations. 

I first met Michael Harper in 1983. We became friends, and from that time on I worked with him in a number of committees and in the organisation of a variety of international ecumenical events. In 1999 he invited me to succeed him as the chairman of ICCOWE, the International Charismatic Consultation on World Evangelisation, today abbreviated to ICC. We remained in regular contact over succeeding years, and at the time of his death he was still a Trustee of ICC and planning to attend our February Executive meeting, where his wisdom and advice would have been as much appreciated as ever. His experience of the worldwide Charismatic renewal was second to none, and he will be hugely missed by many, many people. He was prophetic, visionary, dynamic, challenging, and entertaining, but he always had time for the individual who wanted to seek his advice or receive ministry from him. Underneath the determined exterior and the incisive mind, beat a loving and caring pastoral heart. He never tired of proclaiming the good news of the Gospel wherever he was, and his books on renewal, healing, and growth have affected the lives of countless readers. It is difficult to realise the impact he had without seeing how many remarkable organisations and events he had the vision and courage to start up.

After leaving The Fountain Trust in 1975, Michael Harper became a key leader in the worldwide Charismatic Renewal. He initiated a charismatic conference for Anglicans alongside the Lambeth Conference of July 1978, and in 1981 formed SOMA (Sharing of Ministries Abroad) to share the grace of renewal with the Anglican Church all over the world. His ecumenical work was no less significant, and in the early 1970s he founded the UK Charismatic Leaders’ Conference which brought together leaders from many church traditions and backgrounds, including the new charismatic independent churches. His ecumenical sympathies found further expression through both the European Charismatic Consultation and ICCOWE (later becoming ICC) which he founded with Fr. Tom Forrest and Rev. Larry Christenson in 1989. He had initiated and chaired ACTS 86, the European charismatic conference held in Birmingham, and similar international ecumenical charismatic gatherings in Berne (1990), Brighton (1991), Malaysia (1994 and 2000), and Prague (1997 and 2000).

In March 1995, deeply upset by the ordination of women in the Church of England, he joined the Orthodox Church, and was soon ordained a priest, becoming Dean of the new Antiochian Orthodox Deanery for the United Kingdom and Ireland, which under his loving and dynamic leadership now numbers more than twenty parishes. In all his work he was wonderfully encouraged and supported by his wife Jeanne, who joined him in his pilgrimage to the Orthodox Church.


In a recent interview, Michael stated “I’m as charismatic as ever”, and as we sat in his funeral service at St. George’s Orthodox Cathedral, London, I felt privileged to have been his friend for 27 years, and to have been blessed by his wisdom, insights, and challenges on so many occasions. Certainly Fr. Michael Harper was a giant of the worldwide Charismatic Renewal, and whilst we rejoice in all that he was and did, we are just beginning to realise how much we are going to miss him.
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