Sometimes on entering the ruin of a venerable old church it is possible to imagine ancient voices in prayer shimmering around the worn old stones. Listen very hard and you may catch something recognisable but long forgotten, a snippet of prayer perhaps, the invocation of a saint barely understood by the passing tourist. Such is Christianity and the Church now in this country. The echoes of this great Faith are adorned with baubles of consumerism and sentiment but they have lost their power to convert, to transform, to topple even Empires. There is nothing lacking in the words of course, their power; nothing lacking in God himself; but there is a great lack in our culture and it seems that I particularly feel it even more keenly as Christmas succeeds Christmas.
The Church I think, (and I mean the Orthodox Church and all those outside her who nonetheless share her faith), the Church needs to rediscover and enhance her presence and voice, not by compromise with the world in order to put a few more half-hearted Christians in the pews, (here today, gone tomorrow), but by living authentically and fully the Christian life. If that means that the Church numerically is smaller that matters not for the most needful thing is that her presence and voice is sure.
In respect of Christmas this means that Christians should simply observe and celebrate the festival on their own terms. We should neither sneer at the commercialism nor begrudge people their Winter Solstice festivities but we should certainly not confuse all of this with the birth of Christ. In many ways, perhaps, it becomes easier and easier to celebrate Christmas as it should … our society resembles, religiously and culturally, more and more like pagan Rome as year follows year. A bitter sweet message for Christmas then, but one doubtless that we all recognise in the echoing ruins of a former glory, an age long gone.