‘From the ends of the earth I call to you when my heart faints’
(Psalm 61, verse 2)
That cry may seem strange from the Institute for Orthodox Christian Studies, Cambridge. We are allied to the internationally renowned University of Cambridge, England, our degrees are validated by that University and by Anglia Ruskin University, we are at a nexus of intellectual thought, and on the trade-routes of academic and religious exchange. Through our membership of the Cambridge Theological Federation we are in a unique position to propagate the Orthodox Christian faith world-wide.
It is indeed true that we are in the forefront. Only last week, we had our Twelfth International Summer School, its theme ‘The Challenge of a Secular Age’. A Russian émigré scholar introduced us to the prophetic warnings of the novelist Dostoievsky, a young Romanian who heads an Institute to investigate the crimes of Communist Romania and a former inmate of a Soviet gulag imprisoned for his Orthodox beliefs both showed us the horrors of societies that attempt to abolish faith in God. In response, teachers from Cambridge, Oxford, Durham, Winchester and Thessaloniki examined the impact of secularism on the state, on political and social thought, on the image of humankind, on psychology and the arts, and they debated the dangers for Western society of a newly aggressive challenge to belief. They also pointed to the opportunities offered us by the challenge for purification and reform.
Our audience was drawn from the world over, from Iceland, Nigeria, Greece, Germany, Egypt, Romania, Australia, the United States and the United Kingdom – some of them attracted by our outreach programme THE WAY, others by our distance learning programmes and wanting to meet us face to face. They carried home the most profound analysis yet of the problems we face and of possible strategies for preserving and propagating the faith.
However, such an apparently confident public face masks the reality that we are a missionary endeavour, surviving on the charity of friends, sustained by individual acts of extraordinary generosity and by many a ‘widow’s mite’. We are the one body in the British Isles that teaches Orthodox studies at all levels from pre-university up to doctoral work, and we are the only institute teaching Orthodoxy in English in the whole of Western Europe. Since there is no functioning seminary in the United Kingdom and Ireland, priests and deacons must be imported from overseas or train with us. Except for the Antiochian Deanery, Orthodox churches here are primarily ethnic, too weak financially to offer us support, though we are by our constitution pan-Orthodox and committed to serving them all. Yet we are at the edge of opportunity, for amidst the declining Churches of the British Isles, only the Pentecostals and the Orthodox are growing in numbers and influence.
For the eleven years since our foundation – which was with the blessing of those hierarchs with responsibilities in the United Kingdom – we have flown high, but (as the air-force would put it) ‘on a wing and a prayer’. Now we face our greatest challenge: on the one hand, the British government is cutting funds to higher education and (especially) to religious education; on the other, we have notice to quit our rented premises and will shortly be without a home.
Six years ago, I found myself speaking of the future to students at a festal dinner to celebrate the end of our Seventh International Summer School, and knowing privately that we faced bankruptcy within a fortnight. I said then, as I say now: ‘The Lord will provide – because He’ll have to.’
The Lord did provide: late, as is His custom but abundantly, through a single benefactor of miraculous generosity and understanding. Now, we need further miracles: to raise funds to establish us in a permanent home at this centre of world influence, and for an influx of students to use what we can offer and carry the Orthodox faith to their communities at home and abroad.
If you relish the idea of inviting Metropolitan Kallistos Ware to discourse in your sitting-room on some central aspect of the faith, if you want a personal Tutor to guide you on skype or by e-mail, then sign up for one of our distance learning programmes on the internet. If you want a B.A. in Theology with a clearly Orthodox slant, or an M.A. in Pastoral Theology, come and join our Cambridge community for a spell. If your parish needs to grow, consider asking your bishop for permission to run THE WAY, our introduction to the Orthodox faith, available on CD and DVD.
If you are able only to spread the word, do find out about us on our website – www.iocs.cam.ac.uk  -- and don’t hesitate to lift anything from there that will propagate the Orthodox faith. Tell your friends what we are doing. Surely, ‘the Lord will provide’ – but He does like a little help from his friends.
(Professor) David Frost
Institute for Orthodox Christian Studies, Cambridge
Director of THE WAY