More from Oxford

Despite the fact that I spend most of my time here in libraries, my life still has some excitement in it. For one, of course, is the Vesper and Vigil service at Holy Trinity Church, and then the Divine Liturgy on Sunday. The parish priest, Fr. Ian, when he says the Liturgy, sounds for all the world like Metropolitan Kallistos (who has been absent, having slipped some discs in his back). He is not Met Kallistos as a homilist (I think I have only ever heard one other Orthodox priest/bishop who approached Met. Kallistos), but he is very good all the same. Last week he spoke on the diabolic and symbolic world views (the only alternatives, he pointed out, following the Fathers in this). The one seeks to show the unity of creation with the Creator, the other seeks to tear this unity apart, and at root, this is what the words entail.  I am working, and have been working on something along these lines, which I have entitled “Myth ain’t what it used to be.” I hope I get it done some time in the next few days. Today was a two-part sermon, one on the seeming deficiencies of the Orthodox lectionary, which built around the monastic life of the Divine Liturgy every day, and thus one that is heavy on Gospels and Epistles, does so little with the Old Testament. Indeed, it spends really very little time on the substantial teaching sections of the Gospels, and is heavy on the miraculous. Nonetheless, he did bring out one excellent point about today’s Gospel, the miracle of the fish at the beginning of St. Luke’s gospel, how after the great catch, St. Peter says “Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man.” Our Lord does not depart, however, for he wants to show Peter something, namely that he intends for him to catch men, that he has something greater for him than even this sign.

On Friday, and a real highlight so far, was getting to meet Fr. John Hunwicke. Formerly a priest of the Church of England, a Fellow of Pusey House, he has now joined the Ordinariate and preaches where he is needed. We sat for about 90 minutes over coffee in Blackwell’s. What a treat. We spoke about Mascall, about Fr. John’s love of the Orthodox, and in particular St. Gregory Palamas. He spoke of his readings of Lossky, and his relationship with Zernov, how Mascall, once critical of Palamas, and while never renouncing his Thomism, came to appreciate, came to appreciate Palamas. He said he knows that the Eastern Catholics venerate St. Gregory, but he wants to see him in the Latin calendar as well. We spoke about de Lubac. We spoke for some time on the matter of Theosis. We also spoke about particular authors who having earned their bona fides with a really good book, then show their absolute ignorance by publishing twaddle, piffle, dribble, and swill. Fr. John made a very good point, which I have come to find as well so true, that often people write things, and start out from the strength of their own bailiwick, only to wander off and make assertions about stuff they know oh so little about. He says that when he sees such scholars, he knows that he is not on good ground in certain areas, so he will look at what they say about the things he knows (and in Fr. John’s case it is the Classics, Theology, and the History of the Roman Liturgy). So often he finds that they are completely bonkers about things. This leads to the inevitable conclusion, if they are so off about this place where they are pontificating, why should they be trusted about others?

And lastly, the surreal. Thursday evening I retired about 11 PM, only to be awakened at 1 AM by someone knocking on my door. I looked out to see a young women, maybe 25, knocking. I asked her what she wanted, and she kept saying “I need help.” I really did not get out of her what she needed help about, and she seemed, at least she smelled, as if she had been drinking (though she said she hadn’t been). At last I gave her 10 quid, as I thought she needed a taxi or something and pointed her in the direction she should go. I did some computer searching about the Oxford police, when she started knocking again. This time I got a bit more out of her, that she was stuck on the street as she couldn’t get into her hostel, that she had been in the hospital and that she was cold. She didn’t know where she was as she hadn’t lived in Oxford for years on end. I told her I would walk her to the police station, and as she agreed to that, that’s what happened. I was more or less convinced of her sincerity when I asked her to wait out on the sidewalk. She started to cry and said she didn’t want to, for she was afraid if I shut the door that I wouldn’t come back. It appears she lives with her mother in Spain, but had to come back to Oxford for some surgery, and had to be on hand for when they were ready. I think she lived with her Dad, whose address is Oxford, but who kicked her out, or she left, one of the other (she likened him to Mr. Bumble from Oliver Twist – – her degree was in literature) and now she was in the hostel. When we got to the police station she said “Oh, I know where I am, its (meaning the hostel) is around to the right.” She was afraid she couldn’t get in, as they closed the doors at midnight. But she got in, and so I walked back to my house. I did stop an officer and he said it was very peculiar for “the homeless” to knock on people’s doors. But I don’t think she was homeless in the way most of the homeless in Oxford are (whom I have been assured are professional hustlers, and who will all go back to London now that tourist season has ended in Oxford). As she was walking away I asked for her name, but she didn’t hear me. I just think of her as Alice: someone down the rabbit hole who doesn’t understand what’s happening. She did keep thanking me, though as we walked. I got to bed about 2, but then had a hard time sleeping. But, Friday was Fr. John and then some evening drinks with the staff of the Oxford Study Abroad Program, who are so graciously putting me up (and not letting me pay for anything).

This coming week a bunch of my students from Eastern will be arriving for the study abroad program. I will see them on a couple of occasions, but generally shall keep them at arms length. I will probably see them most at Liturgy, as I know a number of them will be coming to the Orthodox Church. To bed, so that I can return to the books. Tomorrow I move into new digs as well, the Richmond Hotel, up above the Taylorian, near Wellington Park.

About Cyril Jenkins

Professor of History
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