On March 22nd 2005, The Rev Walter William Melnyk was forced out of the priesthood of the US Episcopal Church after facing charges of “holding private opinions inconsistent with the teachings of the Church.”  This allegation, effectively a heresy charge, ended his 23 year-strong vocation as a priest, even though his only transgression was to look into Celtic Christianity and its connection with pre-Christian Druidry. 

Now, Walter William Melnyk has delved further into those links in a new novel written with Druid priestess Emma Restall Orr, who, as head of the international Druid Network, has written extensively on Druidry and Paganism and lectures and teaches worldwide. 

The Apple and The Thorn is a love story set on the mythical Isle of Avalon at the time of the Roman invasion of Britain. The novel draws on the persistent myths of the Lady of the Lake; legends of Jesus’ visit to Glastonbury with Joseph of Arimathea; the Holy Grail and the Chalice Well. Although set in ancient times, it is a heart-rending tale of power and belief, a contemporary reminder of the emotional and physical conflicts that surface when the missionary zeal of one faith threatens to destroy the beauty and spirituality of indigenous culture and suppress freedom of belief and worship. 

The central mythical figures of the Lady of the Lake and Joseph of Arimathea are brought to life in the form of Vivian, Priestess of Ynys y Niwl and Eosaidh of Cornualle, a mine owner and tin merchant born in the Jewish Diaspora. Their characters are rooted in the personal experiences of the authors, each alternately presenting their visions of Pagan Druidry and mystical Christianity, the story mirroring personal struggles within their own traditions and the inspiration they find in each others’ faiths.  

“There is much autobiography from both me and Emma Restall Orr in the characters in The Apple and The Thorn,” says Melnyk. “Eosaidh’s conflict with the new ‘Christians’ exposes the conflict between church doctrines and dogma, and simple spirituality.  His eventual separation from his friends parallels my separation from the Episcopal priesthood.  In other words, Eosaidh’s journey and my journey at the time were the same.”

In The Apple and The Thorn, Vivien and Eosaidh meet when Eosaidh brings to the shores of Affalon (Avalon) his great-nephew, Iesu, whom both recognise as possessing an extraordinary destiny.  Twenty-five years later, they meet again. Iesu is dead, crucified at the hands of the Romans, who now bring devastation to ancient Britain, laying to waste the plains of Wiltshire and moving steadily west, their eyes set on the twin prizes of Mendip lead and Cornish tin. Then comes perhaps even more devastating news; Eosaidh and Vivian discover an equally brutal opponent has landed on British shores; a new Jesus cult neither of them can accept or comprehend. 

As the tale unfolds, Vivian and Eosaidh debate the story of the young boy who was to become the Christ, exploring questions of God and the Gods, humanity, gender, honour, and the underlying presence and meaning of the land.  

Melnyk’s problems within the Episcopal Church began when he was ‘exposed’ by a conservative Christian website seeking more ammunition for attacking the Episcopal Church’s consecration of a gay priest as Bishop.  They accused Melnyk of taking part in rituals celebrating the Divine Feminine. Although he never practised anything but orthodox rites in his church, steadfastly maintained that he was not “in conflict with the Baptismal Covenant and the historical Creeds of the Church,” and had the support of the majority of his parishioners, he felt he had no option but to resign his ministry.  “I was told I could stay if I agreed to sever ties with my friends and never again write about Druidry,” Melnyk said.  “But I knew The Apple and the Thorn was on the way, and I would not agree to being silenced.” 

“Like Eosaidh, I found myself suddenly at odds with the faith I had grown up in,” he explains. “Like the new group of ‘Christians’ who found their way to the Isle of Mist, many Church leaders were quick to demonise Druidry and my connection with this ancient ancestor of Anglicanism. It is not only the gay rights issue that currently threatens conservatives in the Church; they are even more fearful of the threat they perceive in the free marketplace of inter-faith dialogue.  Today I continue to be a walker between both worlds, celebrating the two faiths that have formed me but, when the Church told me I had to choose between my priesthood and my friends in the Druid community, I chose the path that honored relationship.”  

“In the final analysis,” Melnyk continues, “this is not a novel about Druidry or the Church.  It is a tale of human relationships and the choices they entail.  Eosaidh and Vivian are able to convert one another because they care about one another.  Characters in the tale who do not care about human relationship remain captive to their own dogmas.  In matters of theology it is always the underlying human equation that matters.  Christians and Pagans alike will find challenges in this tale.  I hope they will also find joy”


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