Holy Europe and Anti-Europe
If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand be forgotten
Psalm 136, 6
Last November I was invited to come and speak to you about Europe. My viewpoint is perhaps an original one for most of you, since it has an Orthodox Christian perspective. In the Orthodox Church we have a very different understanding of the Trinitarian God, and therefore of life, from that found in the Catholic/Protestant religion. I hope that this will become apparent to you in the course of this talk.
I have lived all over Europe and have travelled in many other parts of Europe and worked with dozens of European nationalities. I have been deeply drawn to many places in Europe, some well-known, others very obscure. I have very good friends in many European countries. So I have learned to have compassion for others, and try and look at the world from different standpoints. The following is a viewpoint which expresses the underlying unity of Europe, but which is also respectful of the diversity of the national traditions of European peoples. I hope that it will be of interest to you.
Introduction: Cynicism and Belief
Great nations are born in real belief and enthusiasm. They die in unbelief and cynicism.
Alfred Noyes, 1937
So wrote the English Catholic poet Alfred Noyes nearly seventy years ago. Perhaps we may also say, paraphrasing his words: ‘Great civilizations are born in real belief and enthusiasm. They die in unbelief and cynicism’.
These words, sadly, may seem strangely apt in relation to modern Europe, which does appear to be drowning in unbelief and cynicism.
In today’s decadent European context it may therefore seem peculiar to use the words ‘Holy’ and ‘Europe’ together. However, if we can speak of ‘Political Europe’, ‘Economic Europe’ or ‘Social Europe’, then we should also be able to speak of ‘Holy Europe’. Moreover, it is our duty to speak of this, for it is the belief of the Church that if the European house does not first have a holy foundation, if it is built not on rock, but on sand, then it will possess no lasting moral or cultural values, it will be flooded and blown away, and great will be the fall of it.
It is our belief that the cause of moral and cultural decadence is always in spiritual decadence. It is our belief that a humanity deprived of spiritual values is a humanity doomed to falter and fail in a cultural and moral quagmire. Not believing in God, we no longer believe in ourselves. The result is the purposeless but uniform futility that we see around us in today’s throwaway culture, with its throwaway remarks, disposable goods, junk food, junk music, junk TV, junk culture, junk existence. This is the situation today, not so much of Europe, but of Anti-Europe. How has this Anti-Europe come into being and how can we return to a Europe of spiritual culture and moral dignity, a Europe of nobility and indeed holiness?
Europe and Jerusalem
We have forgotten Jerusalem and the land where He was born
Christmas 1912, J.E. Flecker
In any consideration of Europe and the Christian understanding of the word holiness, we must first point out that Christianity came down from heaven and became incarnate not in Europe, but in Asia. In the fourth century this was the whole sense of planting the capital of the Roman Christian Empire on the Bosphorus. At the gates of Europe and Asia, New Rome, or Constantinople as it came to be called, looked to unite both East and West, as symbolized by the emblem of the double-headed eagle.
Although Christians in Asia, including in the Middle East, were eventually to become a minority in a sea of Islam, the source of what some might call ‘the European Faith’ is not in Europe, but in Asia, or more precisely in Jerusalem. It does not matter whether it was the Russian Patriarch, Nikon (1605-1681), who in the seventeenth century built to the south of Moscow, a complex of buildings imitating the sacred geography of Jerusalem, which he called ‘New Jerusalem’. It does not matter whether it was the English visionary, William Blake (1757-1827), who wrote that he would not cease from mental fight, till we had ‘built Jerusalem in England’s green and pleasant land’. It has always been to Jerusalem that Europeans, East and West, have looked for inspiration as the source of holiness. And every step that Europe has taken away from its roots in Jerusalem has always been a step away from Christ. Jerusalem is at the roots of Europe’s Faith and Europe’s Holiness.
Indeed, when the region around Jerusalem where Christ lived was given the name ‘the Holy Land’, Europeans imitated it. Thus, like the Holy Land, the largest country in Europe, Russia, was also given the title ‘Holy’ and called Holy Russia. Elsewhere there is the Holy Mountain (Mt Athos), and in England, Scotland and Wales there are Holy Islands. As for Ireland, it was once known as ‘The Island of the Saints’. And all European countries, from Armenia to Iceland, Lapland to Portugal via Liechtenstein and all points inbetween, have adopted Patron Saints, be it St Gregory or St Columba, St Tryphon or St George and St Theodul, St Andrew or St Patrick, St Modest or St Olaf, St Denis or St Sava, St James or St David.
Furthermore, two European countries and thousands upon thousands of settlements in Europe, have taken their names from those who have won holiness and so become local Patrons. There are Georgia and San Marino, named after St George and St Marinus, and then countless cities, towns, villages, islands, mountains and lakes. To name but a few: St Petersburg in Russia and the same dedication of St Peter Port in Guernsey, St Andrew’s in Scotland and the same dedication of Szentendre in Hungary, the island of São Miguel in the Azores and the same dedications of Archangelsk in the far north of Russia, Monte San Angelo in Italy and Mont St Michel in Normandy, Santiago de Compostela (St James) in Galicia and San Sebastián (St Sebastian) in the Basque Country, Sankt Gallen in Switzerland and Sankt Johann in Austria, Saint Nazaire in France and the island of Aghia Marina in the Dodecanese, Sviatogorsk in the Ukraine and St Alban’s in England, St Agnes in the Isles of Scilly and Santa Cruz, the Holy Cross, in the Canaries.
Another tiny European country, Monaco, is named after the monks who once dwelt there, and there are hundreds of towns named after the same monks and nuns who sought and brought holiness, from München, Mönchengladbach and Münster in Germany, to Monastir in Macedonia. There are countless French towns including the word Moutiers and some thirty-two English minster-towns from Axminster to Westminster. As regards the word ‘church’ and all its equivalents, we could start with Christchurch in the south of England, go to innumerable Llan names in Wales, to Kirkwall in the Orkneys, from there to Dunkirk, the church on the dunes, in northern France, pass on to Belaya Tserkov to the south of Kiev and then back to Trinité sur Mer in Brittany, to cite just a few examples.
Other sites and towns are famous simply as holy places, be it Rome, Echmiadzin in Armenia, Trondheim in Norway, Tinos in Greece, Iasi in Romania, Roskilde in Denmark, Czestochowa in Poland, St Paul’s Bay in Malta, Zhirovitsy in Belarus, Braga in Portugal, Mtskheta in Georgia, Echternach in Luxembourg, Diveyevo in Russia, Montserrat in Catalonia, Rila in Bulgaria, Skellig Michael in Ireland, Pochaiev in the Ukraine, Iona in Scotland, Piukhtitsa in Estonia, Utrecht in Holland, Ochrid in Macedonia, the shrine of the Virgin of Meritxell in Andorra, Pec in Serbia, Birka in Sweden, Marianka in Slovakia, Valaamo in Finland, Fulda in Germany, Velehrad in Moravia, Einsiedeln in Switzerland, or Canterbury in England.
Despite these historic facts, there are those who, to the amazement of men and angels alike, would deny the Christian basis of Europe. Indeed they have just drawn up a Constitution for the atheist Europe of their dreams, and our nightmares. Such people would cut Europe off from its spiritual roots, they would confirm the Anti-Europe.
Europe and Anti-Europe
The lamps are going out all over Europe; we shall not see them lit again in our lifetime.
Lord Grey, 3 August 1914
In speaking of an Anti-European spirit we may first think of the insular nationalism of the Irish and the Icelanders, of the Maltese and the Corsicans, of the Cypriots and the Sicilians, of the Sardinians and the English, of the Faeroese and the Shetlanders. Their insularity comes from living on islands. However, continental Europeans can also be insular. Those who live in the mountains have also fought their tribal battles, whether in the Swiss valleys, the mountains of Armenia and Georgia, the Carpathians of Slovakia, the glens of the Scottish clans or in the Balkans, from Bosnia to Croatia, Albania to Macedonia, Serbia to Montenegro, Romania to Bulgaria.
However, it is not only island and mountain peoples who can be insular and nationalistic. The French, for instance, have fought wars to preserve the geometric integrity of ‘L’Hexagone’, ensuring ‘insular’ borders, the Pyrenees, the Alps, the Rhine, the Vosges, the Ardennes. Where there was no natural border, nations constructed the buffer-state of Belgium between France and emerging Germany. Other European countries have been constantly overrun, because they had no natural borders, through lack of insularity, as one might say. The flat plains of Hungary, the Ukraine, Belarus, Poland, provide no protection.
In the modern context, we can also see the same insularity, the same nationalist reluctance to accept others. Western European politicians are prone to say the word ‘Europe’, and in fact mean their own country. ‘La France forte dans une Europe forte’, ‘A strong France in a strong Europe’, was the war cry of French President Jacques Chirac only a few years ago. Many another European politician has made it clear down the years that when they spoke of Europe, in fact they often meant their own selfish interests. Another example: wherever you travel in the European Union, you will see signs with the yellow ring of EU stars, in the centre of which you will find a GB or D or I or SU, or whatever it may be. This is not a European identity, this is a national identity under siege.
Thus, although nationalist insularity can embody the spirit of Anti-Europe, there is also another sort of Anti-European insularity. In order to exercise close control and create the illusion of a centrally united Europe, many politicians speak of ‘Europe’, when in fact they mean the European Union. In fact, this so-called ‘Union’ is not Europe, but merely an insular Europe. It is merely the Western corner of Europe, with some significant gaps – Norway and Switzerland, for example, which, for many, are the most European countries of all. And in this so-called European Union there are the gaps of the two largest countries in Europe: Russia and the Ukraine, and some fifteen other countries and peoples.
There is nothing new in this, for such a European Union was attempted even towards the end of the First Millennium. As the great French medieval historian, Jacques Le Goff, has written of the first attempted European Union, that of the Carolingian Empire: ‘Of all previous attempts to unite Europe, this was the first example of a perverted Europe…it was the first failure of all the attempts to build a Europe dominated by one people or one empire. The Europe of Charles V, that of Napoleon and that of Hitler, were in fact anti-Europes’. (In ‘Was Europe born in the Middle Ages’, p.47 in the French edition of the collection ‘Faire l’Europe’, Seuil, 2003). It is our belief that the present version of the European Union is just such another Anti-Europe. The very word ‘Union’ symbolises this fact, for any centrally-imposed Union, not freely-chosen, inevitably crushes the diversity of its peoples.
True, strides have recently been made to incorporate several ‘missing’ parts of Europe into the European Union. Here I am thinking of the addition of ten more countries to the EU on 1 May 2004. However, these new members have not yet been absorbed into the Brussels machine and perhaps, thank God, never will be. The accession of these ten new members has revealed an obscure but highly symbolic problem; it has proved impossible to find a single person out of 450 million who can interpret or translate from Finnish to Maltese and vice versa. Other permutations, such as Slovak to Danish, Estonian to Greek, Lithuanian to Hungarian, Dutch to Latvian, Slovene to Spanish and vice versa, have also proved very problematic. This problem symbolises the diversity within even the present European Union and the impossibility of actually imposing the Brussels centralist nightmare on such a diverse and obstinately real Europe.
Thus, in our context, when we speak of Anti-Europe, we mean both the nationalist refusal to accept the underlying unity of Europe, and also the internationalist refusal to accept its diversity. By Anti-Europe we mean that spirit which cuts Europeans off from the only thing that Europe really has in common, Jerusalem, Europe’s Christian roots, Europe’s Holiness, and that also cuts Europeans off from other Europeans. For in cutting themselves off from God, Europeans cut themselves off from their neighbours and so become tribal:
In failing to love God, Europe fails to observe the first commandment of the Gospel.
In failing to love its neighbour as itself, Europe fails to observe the second commandment of the Gospel. And he who fails to love his neighbour as himself, automatically begins to hate himself.
And so Europe takes the path of suicide. Hatred of God leads to hatred of man; hatred of man leads to hatred of self.
This is the path that Anti-Europe has taken again and again, from the Deicidal Crusades and Inquisitions of the Middle Ages, to the Fratricidal ‘Wars of Religion’ of the Reformation, to the Suicidal Wars of 1914 and 1939.
After committing tribal genocide against its own European peoples in the first half of the twentieth century, Anti-Europe came directly to its post-1945 reaction. This was the temptation of centralising, creating the cosmopolitan uniformity of the European Union. As a result, since 1945 a cultural suicide has been taking place in Europe. Mafia-like Eurocrats, encouraged by the United States, have tried to impose uniformity on all, crushing European national identities by imposing secularism. This is not the underlying unity of Europe’s roots in Jerusalem, but a false unity, the pseudo-unity of secular Brussels, of Anti-Europe. From the Christian standpoint, such ‘unity’, top-down centralisation, is no more a solution to Europe’s problems than the warring nationalisms which marred so much of Europe’s history in the Second Millennium.
In contrast, the original Christian model of international relations has never been aggressively nationalistic. Neither has it ever been soullessly cosmopolitan and internationalistic. The original Christian model has always been that of Trinitarian unity in diversity, Community, Commonwealth, Confederation. What hope is there for the victory of such a model today?
Europe and Interpatriotism
You are seeking and you shall find,
Not in the way you hope, not in the way foreseen.
A King’s Daughter, John Masefield
It is the recent accession of ten new members to the EU, with very diverse, but very European, histories, cultures and languages, which gives us hope. Their EU membership, together with the future potential membership of other European countries, may at last begin to break down the secular Anti-Europe. New members could destroy Anti-Europe’s ignorant and bigoted cosmopolitanism and its anti-religious ‘political correctness’, imported from post-Christian Puritan America, by creating a new awareness of real European identity. Their membership may at last put paid to the absurd ‘one size fits all’ standardisation and soul-destroying egalitarianism of the present European Union.
Above all, their membership could lead to a new awareness of the underlying stratum of what all European countries really have in common: Europe’s roots in the Faith from Jerusalem. It is those roots which reveal to us neither belligerent nationalism, nor soulless internationalism or Americanisation and Zionisation, which is now camouflaged under the name of ‘Globalisation’. Those roots reveal to the ignorant and bigoted a balance between the national and the international, a replacement for both nationalism and globalisation. I would call this replacement – Interpatriotism; the love not only of one’s own homeland, patriotism, but the love of the homelands of others too.
Bez Boga, ne do poroga. The Russian proverb can be translated freely as ‘No God, no entry’. It neatly illustrates opposition to the present-day EU among all who belong to the European Spiritual Tradition. It neatly illustrates what all European Christians have in common, in spite of and because of, their diversity. There are certain orthodox principles on which all who belong to the European Spiritual Tradition can agree. This is in our opposition to Godless secularism, the spirit of ‘this world’, to which we say ‘No entry’.
We saw this in October 2004 with the affair of Rocco Buttiglione, who was not allowed to express Christian sense, the sort of common sense that fifty years ago every five-year-old European child could express. At the end of 2004, personalities as diverse as Pope John Paul II and Archbishop Christodoulos of Athens, were at one in declaring that Buttiglione had been persecuted for his Faith, the once common Faith of Europe. On 19 November 2004 Cardinal Josef Ratzinger spoke of how the forces of secularism in Europe, the so-called ‘liberal consensus’, have now become aggressive persecutors of European Christendom. Like many others, we had been saying it for years before him.
There are such turning-points in European history, moments of truth, when questions of principle arise. Then we have to say where we stand, in black and white. And the united spiritual forces of Europe, united as they were for most of the First Millennium, the living Faith of Europe, can bring strength. Here I would like to give a few examples from that Europe of the First Millennium, a Europe united in diversity, before the Apostasy, betrayals and tragedies, before the Deicide, Fratricide and Suicide, which rapidly took form in the Second Millennium. For most of the First Millennium, called by many ‘The Age of Faith’, although divided and diverse, there was also unity, a spiritual unity which gave Europe the strength to absorb and baptize barbarian hordes and produce a new Europe. Here are a few names from that epoch, who illustrate true internationalism, or as I have called it – Interpatriotism:
St Irenaeus of Lyon was a Greek from Asia Minor. He was a disciple of St Polycarp, who had been a disciple of St John the Evangelist, ‘the disciple whom Christ loved’. A Church Father, he was Bishop of Lyon in Gaul, where he was martyred for the Faith at the beginning of the third century.
St Chrysolius was an Armenian who lived in the fourth century. Under persecution from the Persians, he left his homeland, went to what is now Belgium, and evangelised the area. He was martyred in Flanders and is still venerated in Bruges.
St Martin of Tours was born in the fourth century in what is now Szombathely in Hungary. He was educated in Pavia in Italy and enrolled in the Imperial cavalry. Posted to Gaul, he left the army after the famous incident in Amiens. He was to become the Bishop of Tours and one of the greatest saints of Christendom, a patron of the Loire Valley, of hundreds of French villages and towns and his name became one of the most common French, and indeed European, Christian names and surnames.
St John Cassian was born in the Dobrudja in what is now Romania. He became a monk in Egypt and in the fifth century established a monastery near Marseille in the south of France, becoming one of the great monastic Fathers of Christendom.
St Martin of Braga lived in the sixth century. Born in what is now Hungary, he became a monk in Palestine, then went to Galicia, in what is now Portugal. He is one of the greatest figures of the Iberian Peninsula and played an important role in converting pagans, like his namesake in Gaul. He made his see of Braga into the first spiritual centre for all north-west Iberia. Indeed, in Portuguese, Braga, ‘the Rome of Portugal’, has become proverbial: ‘tao velho como o sede de Braga’, ‘as old as the see of Braga’, means in English, ‘as old as the hills’.
St Theodore of Tarsus lived in the seventh century in Asia Minor, a hundred miles from the coast of Cyprus. In middle age he left for Rome and there played an important role in uniting East and West at a time of controversy. Then he was appointed the first Greek Archbishop of Canterbury. Here he played a fundamental part in uniting the strands of Irish and Roman Christianity in England, approving both as complementary to one another.
St Boniface was born in Devon in the south-west of England. In the eighth century he went to the German Lands and became a great missionary Archbishop, reforming much of the Christianity of north-western Europe. Supported by three Popes, including the Greek Pope St Zacharias, this Englishman, known as the Apostle of Germany, was martyred in Frisia in Holland in 754.
St George of Córdoba was born in Bethlehem in the ninth century and became a monk at St Sabbas Monastery outside Jerusalem. Fluent in Greek, Arabic and Latin, he then travelled via North Africa to Córdoba in Spain where he preached the Faith, finally being martyred with Spanish brothers and sisters by the Muslims.
St Wenceslas, or Václav, was Duke of the Czech Lands in the tenth century. He was martyred there in intrigues and is venerated in St Vitus Cathedral in Prague to this day, as the Patron-Saint of the Czech Lands.
St Olav was King of Sweden in the mid-tenth century. He and his family were baptized by the English missionary St Sigfrid. His daughter married into the Russian royal house, lived mainly in Novgorod, had twelve children, one of whom is venerated as a saint. In her widowhood, she became a nun, taking the name Anna and is herself honoured as a saint.
St Gregory of Burtscheid was a Greek monk from Calabria who, fleeing from the Muslims, met Emperor Otto III in Rome. At the latter’s invitation, Gregory went north and founded a monastery just outside Aachen where he was a holy Abbot, reposing in 996.
St Simeon of Padolirone was an Armenian pilgrim. Having visited Jerusalem, then Rome, Compostela in Spain and Tours in France, he settled at a monastery outside Padua in Italy, where he was renowned as a wonder-worker, reposing in 1016.
St Simeon of Trier was a Greek, born in Syracuse, educated in Constantinople, and who then lived as a hermit by the River Jordan, in Bethlehem and on Mt Sinai. Sent by his Abbot to Normandy to collect alms, he eventually settled in Trier in Germany and lived there as a much-venerated hermit. He was canonized seven years after his repose, which came in 1035.
Another Anna of the eleventh century, this time of Kiev, married Henri I of France. She played a vital role in spreading Christian values, like many other women of the First Millennium before her. As examples, there are St Clotilde in Gaul, the Greek Theodosia and also Ingonde in Spain, the Bavarian Theodelinda in Lombardy, the French Bertha in England, the English St Bathilde in France, the Czechs, St Ludmila in Czechia and Dubrava in Poland, the Swedish St Helga, or Olga, in Kiev, the Greek Empress Theophano in Germany. In Anna’s eleventh century Kiev, they were to welcome Christians such as Thorwald of Iceland and Gytha of Winchester. Both Kiev and Winchester were famed for their standards of civilization, running water, drains, pavements, education.
Here are but a few examples of the concourse or coming together, of Interpatriotic Europe in the First Millennium, before the advent of both warring nationalism and soulless internationalism in the Second Millennium.
In the First Millennium, we find the roots of Europe, we find Holy Europe.
Conclusion: Roots and Routes
Die Weltgechichte is das Weltgericht
The history of the world is the judgement of the world
Friedrich von Schiller
Europe – you forgot holiness, and so you began a hundred wars of crusade and conquest over a thousand years.
Europe – you silenced your conscience, and so you invented the machine-gun and saturation bombing.
Europe – you stifled the voice of God, and so you invented the concentration camp and the Atom Bomb.
Europe – you forsook your roots in Jerusalem, and so you invented Anti-Europe.
I would paraphrase the most terrible, above-quoted words of Friedrich von Schiller, as he spoke in Jena in 1789: Die Europageschichte ist das Europagericht: The history of Europe is the judgement of Europe.
The blood-soaked deeds of Anti-Europe are Europe’s judgement, but they are only part of Europe’s judgement. There is another Europe too.
As I said at the beginning of this talk, the conjunction of the words ‘Holy’ and ‘Europe’ may seem strange, as though words from two different planets had collided, but I tell you, and have been telling you all this afternoon, that it was not always so. A voice from the past should be jarring on the memory of today’s Anti-Europe.
It is my belief that in seeking common European roots, or origins, we shall find routes, or paths, out of the present European crisis towards what I have called an ‘Interpatriotic Europe’, summed up so harmoniously in the French phrase ‘l’Europe des Patries’. It is in our common spiritual origins that we shall find our common spiritual opportunities. It is in our common spiritual identity that we shall find our common spiritual freedom. But if Europe denies her common roots, her common spiritual origins in Jerusalem, then, as even the warlike Churchill said of earlier twentieth-century Europe: ‘…the whole world…will sink into the abyss of a new Dark Age, made more sinister and perhaps more protracted by the lights of perverted science’.
In recent years, I have heard certain naive people declaring that ‘the barbarians are at the gates’. They are not at the gates and have not been for a very long time. The barbarians entered long ago and began their long task of expelling Wisdom from the City. Ever since the barbarians have been parading in the City, destroying the walls and opening the gates wide, whenever new forms of barbarianism appeared.
Nevertheless, I would end this talk with words of optimism, inherent to all Christians, who know that the last words in history will be Christ’s. As the Emperor Julian the Apostate is reputed to have said on his death-bed, some sixteen hundred years ago: Thou hast conquered, O Galilean…—Batiushka