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The composer John Tavener - who gained a new dose of international fame when his Song for Athene was performed at the funeral of Diana, Princess of Wales, last year - is one of the best-known Orthodox followers in this country.He sees the Western tradition as deeply flawed: "I'm not very at home with humanism." He emphasises the idea of "not-knowing" instead of rationalism, and argues: "We don't know. Only God can really judge what's going on inside a person's soul." Until recently, the Russian congregation at the cathedral in Ennismore Gardens consisted only of a few emigres.He has recently published an account of his voyage from agnosticism through hesitant belief to the certainties of the Orthodox church.He talks admiringly of the "combination of matter-of-factness about the ceremonies and a high seriousness of purpose".Except for the very old or infirm, worshippers stand throughout the service, as the music and the incense swirl around them.
Even in a church as ancient as the Catholic Church, something very precious has been lost.The Serb Orthodox Church has often been remarkably close to the nationalism of the Serb leader, Slobodan Milosevic.In Russia, the identity of church and state has been equally strong: during the Second World War, Stalin lifted a ban on the Church to mobilise it on behalf of the Soviet motherland.Freke de Graaf, an acupuncturist, was attracted by the "joy" of the church. While the Catholic and Anglican churches constantly seek to reinvent themselves, reforming the content and language of services, the Orthodox church - in effect, a group of churches - finds its strength in standing still.It would seem to be the very antithesis of modernity, priding itself on its refusal to follow the fashions of the rest of the world.