Kenneth Joseph Mortimer
Zouk Mikayel P.O. Box 516
Tel: 0961 09 214647 Mobile 70.941647
When I started school in 1931 they did not teach us about computers, so despite promptings from Peter Collyer in Australia it was by sheer good luck that I came across your website and email address. I am NOT, repeat NOT, a computer wizard.
If I am not boring you (delete if I am and don’t bother to answer!), allow me to introduce myself. After two months with the White Fathers near Doncaster in 1945, I was called up to the RAF. After square-bashing, I served at HQ Med/ME in Cairo. I wanted to go to Jerusalem, which had a double interest for me in view of the White Fathers’ seminary for the Greek Melkite clergy. Thanks to the kindness of the Zionists who with a car-bomb killed seventy British soldiers in Jerusalem, when in August I applied for a transfer to Jerusalem I obtained it in no time.
For six months I went every evening to St. Anne’s and even spent the week-ends there. The august Superior, Fr. Portier and Econom Fr. Van der Vleit gave me a room overlooking the magical mosque of Omar, an Arabian Nights vision, with the call to prayer floating over the Old City – beautiful in those days before electronic hype. One day there was a monk from Amay Chevetogne Greek/Russian monastery, high hat, beard, long hair and all. He beckoned me and I thought he was going to talk about Hesychast mysticism and Saint Gregory Palamas, but it turned out that he wanted to know if I could get him duty-free Players cigarettes from the RAF Naafi.
I then spent May 1947-May 1948 at the RAF base near Baghdad. I took leave to spend Easter 1948 at the main Chaldean Catholic monastery. In the church there was not a single seat, not even a chair if the Patriarch came. Abbot, monks, laity all sat on carpets. The two liturgical books were hand written and illuminated, around which the monks sat cross-legged. Lighting came from two balls of waxed string. No organ but cymbals. On Easter Eve we spent two hours and then six-and-a-half hours attending Office and Mass. Real liturgical luxury! In the villages, incidentally there were always seven subdeacons to provide for the singing of vespers. They left their rifles at the church door. Yezidi Satanists came to the Abbot to express Easter good wishes. I wonder how he reciprocated.
Then I was at Broome Hall, Dorking, for two years. From my Middle East experience, I suggested to others that it would be a good idea to have one Low Mass on Sundays in English or other vernacular, but this was considered horrible heresy in those days. I was told one could always use the missal. I should have replied Yes, if one belonged to the tiny minority of educated middle class, accustomed to reading books; for Catholics in the favelas of Brazil or in Africa a missal would cost at least a month’s wages. In the Melkite liturgy, the cantors insert some Greek into the Arabic whenever they want more solemnity.
My room-mate for a year was Adrian Hastings. Charlie McCarthy sent me a photocopy of his In Respectful Disobedience. Much of what he wrote was shocking at the time but now taken for granted. The Latin Church is certain sooner or later to adopt the Eastern rule of allowing the ordination of married men. It is absurd for bishops to fail in their duty of providing the liturgy, sacraments and parish life simply because of the present restrictions. Absurd also to leave priests to live alone and suffer loss of zeal and nervous breakdown when there are so many married men with deep spiritual life and missionary fervour. Priests with a true vocation to celibacy through intimacy with Christ should follow the White Fathers’ rule, Semper tres. Because of the disdainful attitude of Latin missionaries, married priests in the Middle East were often uneducated and looked down on, but now they include engineers and doctors and university professors.
The monks who were most supportive of married priests. It has not meant any loss of monastic or religious vocations; with churches packed to the doors several times on Sundays, there is a fervour which fosters both religious and secular priestly vocations. One sees the religious houses full of young priests.
One trouble at Broome Hall was that our Philosophy instructors had not done any natural sciences in the minor seminary, a fact which they came to regret. This is the result of the bad Anglo-Saxon educational system which allows too much freedom of choice. In Europe, even if you are preparing a Literary or Classical end-of-school Bacc., you must do some science, although to a lower standard than if doing a Science bacc.. I regret too that we were not prepared for a degree in Philosophy. Those who through no fault of their own could not continue to the priesthood had nothing to show for several years of their youth.
I did noviciate and started theology at ‘sHeerenberg in Holland before being ill. The theological staff were highly qualified but nearly had a collective stroke when they found I possessed Marxist-Leninist pamphlets. These had been unquestioned at Broome Hall, it being natural that one should know the enemy’s mentality in order to answer it.
I was ill and had to leave. Then I spent some months on the farm of the family of Father Michel Graëff in Isère, a very happy time, interrupted however by polio, a stay with relatives in Malta, and a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. I would be very much obliged if I could have some information about Father Graëff.
Through the Greek Catholic parish in Malta I was put in contact with a priest in London from St. Saviour’s Greek-Melkite monastery in Lebanon. In 1954 I came to Lebanon and spent three years in the monastery school up in the mountains. In 1957 Cardinal Tisserant at Rome gave me incardination in the Greek Melkite Church of Antioch. The Byzantine spirituality based on contemplation of the divine mysteries expressed in the superb rich liturgy suited me. (See footnote.)
In the same year I was married in the Melkite frontier village of Ras Baalbek. There were six White Fathers present from the Melkite minor seminary at Rayak. The congregation were nearly all in Arab dress.
Kenneth and Laurice at the wedding held in Ras Baalbek village (1957)
With my absorption into Lebanese society and my employment by Lebanese and Syrian priests, I heard very frank speaking about Rome and certain western missionaries. But the White Fathers were always spoken of with respect, because they did not interfere. They respected the East. They did not try to get their own pupils elected bishops by the Melkite Synod and they did not latinise the liturgy at St. Anne’s. They were true to the principles of Cardinal Lavigerie and Pope Leo XIII. And of course they had influenced my humble self. Patriarch Maximos IV Sayegh, who changed the whole Catholic ecclesiology at Vatican II, said of an article of mine published in Catholic World, USA, that it was the only article he had ever seen written by a Westerner that showed a true understanding of the Eastern position.
In due course, I went and lived and taught in Beirut. One of my pupils was the future murdered President-elect Sheikh Bashir Gemayel. He was very fond of me because of my lack of condescension towards the Lebanese and I later worked for him in his Resistance radio. He procured for me Lebanese nationality.
I then worked for twenty years editing and translating in a university run by Maronite Catholic monks, Notre Dame University. I retired a couple of years ago. There is excellent education available in the French-style schools in Lebanon, where they learn English much better than in schools run on an English-Arabic programme. My children and adult grand-children know the three languages well. Two grand-children, twins, a boy and a girl five years old, chat with each other in French and with others in English or Arabic without effort.
Despite the polio, I managed to get 3rd dan Judo and 2nd dan Japan Karate Association. Our two sons are instructors, one is 5th dan international and international referee. I might send you an article about the application of Zen to Christian spirituality.
Foreign interests exaggerate differences between Christians and Muslims. In the Levant ordinary Christians and Muslims get on well together and form strong friendships. The political divides have changed. The Christians are disgusted with the Western Powers that are ready to throw them to the extremist dogs for some commercial contract and/or indirect financial advantage at election time. In Syria there was religious equality, sexual equality of opportunity at the highest level, obligatory primary schooling for boys and girls, and free medical and hospital service (home visits), as I saw when staying with village people. But the West preferred countries with no recognition of human rights.
Yours most sincerely, Kenneth Mortimer, Lebanon
You gave birth without a father on earth to him who was born without a mother in heaven, a birth beyond understanding and hearing, So intercede, O Mother of God, for our souls. Tuesday morning Theotokion, 1st mode.
The mystery hidden from all eternity that the angels could not know was revealed to those on earth through you, O Mother of God, when God became incarnate without mixing (of the two natures) and accepted the Cross out of obedience for our sakes and Adam was raised and our souls saved from death. Theotokion for Saturday, 4th mode.