2002: A PROPHETIC YEAR
The following is a summary of recent conversations between Fr Andrew (FA) and a parishioner (HM) regarding the past year as seen from the standpoint of a parish priest of the Russian Orthodox Church in England.
HM: From the viewpoint of a parish priest, what sort of year has this been?
FA: As ever, a mixture of joys and sorrows. In March, for example, we had the joy of the visit of the Kursk Root Icon of the Mother of God, but in the middle of the year the sorrow of funerals of elderly parishioners.
During the year, we also received the very large icons of two more local saints, St Audrey and St Botolph. We also had the church windows installed and we were able to place the icons in the church more correctly. We also received many much larger icons, so that we no longer have any of the small icons which were not really appropriate in a public place of worship.
HM: How many icons are there in the church now?
FA: I don't know, but I suppose between 300 and 400. We try to have an icon of the main saint of each day, icons of patron-saints so that parishioners can honour their patron-saints and light a candle in front of them, and also properly-painted icons of the main local, that is, East Anglian and English, saints.
HM: What projects are there for next year?
FA: We should be receiving a fresco of Christ for the back of the altar in the summer and I hope that in 2003 we will also finally be able to paint the ceiling a dark blue with gold stars, like the upper part of the icon-screen. Once all that is done I hope we can start on the outside of the church, but I think that that will be for 2004 at earliest.
HM: What projects do you have for the outside of the church?
FA: Initially, we want to build a bell-tower and then render the front of the church white. This would give it an Orthodox appearance.
HM: What will the bell-tower look like?
FA: We want to build something which would reflect both the fact that we are in England and also the international mix of our parishioners. For example any tower we build would have on top of it a globe or sphere and the cross on top of that, symbolising the triumph of the cross over the whole planet. We have seven nationalities here at present and visitors from all over the world.
As regards the architecture of a bell-tower, not so long ago one of our parishioners showed me a booklet called 'Crucified Kosovo' showing the pictures of the dozens and dozens of Orthodox churches in Kosovo which have recently been destroyed by Muslim fanatics while KFOR troops look on. One of them, dedicated to the Prophet Elijah in Pomazatin, has just the sort of tower we would like to build. After British KFOR troops arrived there, the roof and inside of that church were burnt and part of it was destroyed by mines. The tower of the church and its windows were also typically those you find in early English churches of the first millennium. It would seem only justice if we could erect something like that tower here in England. It would be a little piece of consolation for both crucified Kosovo and crucified Orthodox England, the restoration of something that used to exist here in any case.
HM: You mentioned funerals last year. Does this mean that the church is not growing?
FA: The church here is growing, but very modestly, very slowly. We have gained several new parishioners this year, they are all Orthodox immigrants from Eastern European countries who have found us here and feel at home in this church.
HM: What about converts?
FA: We have had no conversions here for a couple of years now. The last reception was my mother, God rest her. Conversions of Non-Orthodox to Orthodoxy are not particularly common in Orthodox parishes.
HM: Do you use the service to make catechumens?
FA: No, that is a Greek Old Calendarist practice, we belong to the Russian Church and would not follow the practice of another local Orthodox Church.
HM: Why not?
FA: I was amazed for example, when people asked me a similar question when I first came here - if I wore Greek or Russian vestments! I just don't understand the mentality behind such a question. I am in the Russian Church and have been for nearly thirty years, I therefore wear Russian vestments. To do otherwise is unthinkable. It is not that I am against Greek vestments, it is just that they are for Greeks. You have to be faithful, loyal, to the Church of which you are a member, and accept its discipline, without introducing personal fantasies or opportunistic mixtures of your own. If you wish to have Greek customs, wear Greek vestments, have Greek singing, then you should be in the Greek Church. In the same way, Greeks would not use Russian singing. I have never known any other Church than the Russian Orthodox Church and I cannot be anything other than what I am in my soul.
HM: You surprise me when you say that conversions are not particularly common in Orthodox parishes. I know Orthodox missions which have many converts.
FA: Well, we are not a mission! The Orthodox Church is not a proselytising Church, like Billy Graham Evangelicals or the Catholic Church in Russia. Our first task is to look after Orthodox souls and then the others who come to us who are called by God to belong to us.
HM: But wouldn't you welcome more conversions?
FA: You cannot force conversions. Our task is to do God's Will, not to fulfil human fantasies. Over the years I have seen many converts to various faiths. Many of them join on a burst of emotion. Once the fire has died down, they leave. For example I know an Orthodox 'mission' near London. The priest there told me that the number of lapsed 'converts' is far greater than those who have remained faithful.
Again, in London, there is a church where they receive Non-Orthodox into their church after only a week. The vast majority of such converts lapse within a few months. If we had such a policy here of receiving all and sundry into the church without any waiting and preparation, I am sure we would have a dozen or so converts every year. But what would the point be? They would lapse. Here we are very careful about who we receive into the Church. We do not cast pearl. People should generally show interest by regular churchgoing for twelve months before they can be received.
HM: Does that mean that you are anti-convert?
FA: Well, in a way, I suppose I am! I don't think we should aim to make converts, but to do God's Will. Making converts is what the scribes and Pharisees did in the Gospel, compassing sea and land to make a proselyte and then making him a child of hell more than themselves. Unfortunately, you do meet some 'converts', and I mean 'converts', who have never absorbed the spirit of Orthodoxy, even after decades, who like those Pharisees, talk about 'missions' and 'converts' all the time, quoting or rather misquoting the church canons. They quote them as they used to quote chapter and verse in their previous denomination. Worse than this, they then apply them rigidly, in a purely negative, destructive spirit, with no interior understanding, no discernment, no idea of actual church practice, no appreciation of the economy of the Church, of pastoral care.
Let me be clear, our aim is not to make converts, but to make Orthodox.
HM: So you would not call the church here a mission?
FA: No, because all churches are automatically missionary. Therefore the specific use of the word 'mission' worries me. It sounds Protestant to me. The Church Fathers never used the word. Over the years I have seen too many people join the Orthodox Church for negative reasons. For example, people who left High Anglicanism or Catholicism and were allowed for purely negative reasons to join the Orthodox Church and then tried to make it into a little sect resembling the High Anglicanism or Catholicism which they had left! There are 'eternal converts', always studying never learning. That is very unhealthy.
HM: But aren't you a convert?
FA: Historically, yes. But I feel as though I have always been Orthodox. Any person received into the Orthodox Church more than two or three years ago and who still thinks of himself as a convert, is to my mind, someone who is not yet Orthodox, or who joined the Orthodox Church for the wrong reasons. You should integrate the Church before you join the Church. That is what becoming Orthodox means. In that way, conversion is left behind you in an instant, and you genuinely 'become Orthodox'. Orthodoxy is not just our second nature, but our first nature. I cannot imagine anything outside Orthodoxy and I feel as though I have never been anything but Orthodox.
HM: So, do you get visitors to the church?
FA: Yes, we get quite a few, but most only come once: the curious, spiritual tourists, inquirers, people who want to complain about their present denomination or vicar, but also a few who are more seriously interested. We also have a still larger number who phone, say they are coming, obtain detailed information, sound very interested, and then never come!
HM: But don't you get serious visitors?
FA: I only start taking people really seriously once they have come to church three times. Yes, I can sympathise with someone who has a problem in their present parish or denomination, but there is really nothing I can do about it. If they do not attend Orthodox Church services, then clearly they are not interested. All the teaching of our Church is in the services. Reading books about Orthodox theology but not attending the services is useless. As for being negative about their present denomination and doing nothing about it except moan, I would like people to take a positive, constructive approach. There is a proverb which goes something like: 'It is better to light even one candle than curse the darkness'. That has always been my attitude too.
HM: How do you see next year going in the parish?
FA: I hope I am not so foolish as to make such predictions. I really don't know. But God willing, there will be another wedding in mid-January after the Advent Fast and Christmas. So that's always a nice start to the year. As for the rest, I have no idea. For example, I have been asked yet again to return to France and also to Portugal to look after former parishes. I do not intend to go there, but who knows what God's Will might be for us. Recently I have even been asked to go and serve in Russia.
HM: What liturgical language do you use here?
FA: We use liturgical English. But we live at a time of great change. There are now many immigrants coming here. Supposing a large number of believing Russians came here? I would have to look after them and return to celebrating at last half in Slavonic with dual language sermons, as I used to do in Paris. A priest has to adapt to the pastoral needs of his flock.
HM: Would not the use of Slavonic upset the other parishioners?
FA: At present we use English because it is the one common language of a multi-national parish. No one nationality dominates, unless it be English! If there were a majority of Russians here who wanted Slavonic, we would certainly have to use more Slavonic. The choir is bilingual, so that is not a problem. But there is something apt about a multinational parish using the international language, English, in services, and uniting around the two great local saints, St Felix and St Edmund. We have parishioners born in Hong Kong, the USA, Africa and Europe. That's four Continents. A few weeks ago we had someone from New Zealand. That was five Continents!
HM: Would you ever think of using the Western rite?
FA: Strangely, I am often asked this question, but I don't even know what the Western rite is! I, my wife and our children have never known any Church other than the Russian Orthodox Church. Everything else is foreign to us. For instance, in September we were very kindly invited to an Anglican church ceremony in Ipswich, an invitation which we accepted. It was very interesting, it was the first time in my life I had been to such a ceremony, but frankly it felt alien, foreign to me. I felt like a visitor from another planet. Whatever would I want to start introducing some foreign rite about which I know nothing into the Orthodox Church here?
In any case, the Orthodox Church is an episcopal church and I could never do such a thing, even if I wanted to, without my bishop's blessing. The Church is not a group interested in dead rites from dusty manuscripts. The Church is living, we have to follow the Church, to follow Christ, not try and lead it, and lead it up the garden path at that! Whatever would my parishioners say, if I started altering things that have not changed in over a thousand years! I think people who want a so-called 'Western rite' should remain Catholic or Anglican. But I still don't understand their mentality. We are Western, here we are in the West, surely what we have here is already a 'Western rite'?! East and West have no importance, what is important is Orthodox Christianity, the Universal Faith of Christ. I think a lot of people who say they cannot become Orthodox because it is 'Eastern' are simply making an excuse for their lack of faith.
HM: You mentioned earlier that we live at a time of great change. Why did you say that?
FA: 2002 has been an extraordinary year for both parts of the Russian Orthodox Church and that means the majority of Orthodox, some 100 million Orthodox Christians worldwide.
HM: By both parts, you mean the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia and the Patriarchal Church?
HM: What has changed in the part you belong to, the Church Outside Russia?
FA: As perhaps you know, at the end of 2001, our very elderly Metropolitan retired. He had been ill for at least six years, suffering from loss of memory and the effects of old age. He was 91.
two small extremist groups broke away from our Church. Firstly, a very
small number of clergy and laity outside Russia, including a defrocked
bishop, about 100 people in all, left us. These were people who wanted
to turn the Church Outside Russia into a kind of extreme right-wing White
Russian nostalgia club of a sectarian and fanatical kind who seem to believe
that Russia is still controlled by Stalin. They refuse to recognise the
sweeping changes of the last few years and want to live in the permanent
émigré atmosphere of the worship of the past. These individuals
have since anathematised the rest of the Orthodox Church, especially ourselves,
and they now maintain that they are the only true Church in the world!
It would be laughable if it were not tragic, especially as I know most
of them personally.
HM: How do you feel about these events?
FA: It is an interesting though sad situation, these very small groups breaking away, just like the Greek Old Calendarists, who are for ever dividing up and anathematising one another. I believe there are some fourteen Synods of Greek Old Calendarists now! In reality no single group among them seems to number more than a few thousand, just like the tiny Romanian Old Calendarist group. All these groups have to do is to return to canonicity to the Mother-Church. I know that in Greece for example, the Greek Church has asked them to return, allowing them to keep the Orthodox calendar. But they refuse to and are even proud of refusing to. This is the essence of the spirit of schism, stubborn pride.
Russian Old Calendarism, as I would call it, appears to be going the same way, with a host of numerically insignificant groups, all claiming to be the only 'canonical' Church. None is in communion with one another and they seem to spend their time in the most unChristian activities and attitudes, always condemning, accusing, being very censorious and judgemental. That is simply not Orthodox Christianity, it is Phariseeism. Another one of those sects in Russia, based in Suzdal, has just seen its head, the defrocked Bishop Valentin, finally been sent to prison in Russia for four years. That was for pedophilia, for which he had been notorious, for well over ten years.
HM: What effects have these departures of sectarian individuals had on the Church Outside Russia?
FA: I think that some in our part of the Russian Church are beginning to return to their roots, having forgotten them. And that is a very healthy sign. Ever since the 1960's unhealthy elements were allowed to enter our Church, some people have fallen under extra-ecclesial influences, especially an Americanized, puritanical Old Calendarism. Although that did not affect our Russian parishes particularly, strange things have gone on among certain badly integrated convert groups who are not rooted in Russian Orthodoxy. Several such tiny groups have left us in recent years, but some still militate on the fringes of our Church, giving us a bad name.
For us who have never had any pretention other than simply being faithful to the Russian Orthodox Church, the departure of many of these extremists has been a kind of purification. It is those who had a distorted or unbalanced view of the Orthodox Church as a whole who have mainly left us. You can always tell who such people are, because they have no love of anything or anyone Russian. They will wear Greek vestments, follow practices which are not ours, and also they love condemning the rest of us who are faithful to the Church! They have no faithfulness to the Mother-Church.
The fact that most of them have left is much to our relief, because they persecuted us, the actual, faithful Orthodox, accusing us of 'aping Russians!' As though our Mother-Church has ever been anything other than the Russian Orthodox Church! Although there are now only a few such individuals left in our Church, they are now, thank God, rapidly losing their influence.
HM: How did such a strange situation develop in the first place?
FA: That whole terrible period was all the result of our political isolation in the Orthodox world, brought about by the Cold War politics of Soviet Communism.
HM: What about the larger part of the Russian church, the Patriarchal Church? Has anything changed then with the Russian Church inside Russia?
FA: Yes, there has been a seismic shift. First of all, the Russian Orthodox Church inside Russia has been virtually free for ten years now. In that time they have renewed the Church there, both physically and spiritually. There are now over eighteen thousand parishes there and, above all, there are hundreds of flourishing monasteries. There are more and more younger bishops and clergy, who have not been tainted by the KGB past of the older hierarchy. Thousands of churches have been rebuilt and restored. It is a remarkable story, totally ignored by the contemporary atheist West.
And something even more important has happened there. The Church there is finally freeing itself from the Sovietized mentality inside itself. The greatest symbol of this is their recognition of the canonization of the New Martyrs and Confessors by our part of the Russian Church twenty years ago, and then their disassociation, at least in words, from erastian Sergianism and the extremer forms of ecumenism. Although it actually took them a decade to do this, it is now done. Their ability to recognise their own Martyrs, their own Saints, is a huge step forwards. It means that they are not only politically free, but above all the New Martyrs and Confessors are now praying for them. The spiritual renewal in Russia is incredible, a miracle of God. We have been praying for this since 1917. You cannot imagine what joy it gives me.
HM: Yes, but isn't it all rather abstract? I mean, you are here in Felixstowe, in England, with a largely non-Russian parish?
FA: I see what you mean, but you see, once the confusion in the Church in Russia was sorted out, they started to sort out the mess abroad. And that is a mess, I mean, administratively. And that directly affects us. In the last few years, the Patriarchal Russian Orthodox Church has sorted out the longstanding scandals with its former Bishops in Paris and Vienna. In Paris it has installed the excellent Bishop Innokenty and the healthy elements in the Paris jurisdiction have now started returning to the Russian Church, leaving the Constantinople Russian jurisdiction which had a masonic origin.
Moreover, in the last twelve months the Patriarchal Church has opened parishes or started serving, in Rome, Madrid, Barcelona, Lisbon, Rejkjavik, Dublin, the Philippines, China, Vietnam and Korea. The list is growing by the month. The Russian Orthodox Church is, as before the Revolution, becoming once more a multinational Church, with parishes all over the world in all languages and the infrastructure required to support a worldwide network. The pre-Revolutionary interrupted missions of the whole Russian Church in China, Korea and the West can now begin to take off again, using as a base the work of translation and so on done under the Church Outside Russia.
HM: That's good, but how does it affect you, a church of the Church Outside Russia, here in England.
FA: It affects us enormously. For forty years we have been frustrated here in the British Isles by the terrible mess and scandal they have here. This year, at last, the Patriarchal Church tried to sort out that mess in its jurisdiction in this country. For forty years we have suffered from this horrible situation. It has been like a persecution, with most healthy elements barred. So many Russian Orthodox clergy and faithful have simply gone abroad to escape the scandalous situation, as I did in 1983. Unfortunately, this year, in its first attempt to normalize the situation within its own jurisdiction, the Patriarchal Church went about resolving its problems in the wrong way, sending a very young, hot-headed and inexperienced bishop who thought he was in Russia.
HM: Surely that was negative?
FA: In some ways, it is true, he made their situation worse than it was before. But in another way it is much better, because as a result the Patriarchal Church now has a double jurisdiction here with stavropegic parishes in Dublin and Manchester. The clergy there are loyal to Russia and know and love Russian Orthodoxy. They don't wish to try and change it, by adopting the Catholic calendar or introducing weird customs, like cremations, weddings on Saturdays, dog-collared clergy, women in church with uncovered heads and dressed in trousers, communion given to those living in sin, communion without confession, intercommunion and so on.
This means that the Russian Orthodox Church in this country is now being recomposed. There are now at least four parishes which are faithful to Russian Orthodoxy here, the parishes in Dublin and Manchester, the Dormition parish on Harvard Road in London and ourselves. Of these four we are the only one which uses English. We have a great responsibility here.
HM: But you are talking about two jurisdictions. These four parishes are still divided.
FA: Jurisdictionally, yes, but spiritually no. Over the years we have had visits from various clergy from the Patriarchal Church. They all encourage us who are faithful to Russian Orthodoxy, whatever our jurisdiction. The latest was Fr Artemy Vladimirov, the well-known Moscow priest who also speaks English. He was profoundly shocked by the modernism of the non-stavropegic Patriarchal parishes. When he saw what goes on there, he said: 'You just cannot do that in church'. And of course he is right. We have known it for decades. Now he has discovered it too. Like us, he did not recognise Orthodoxy in them. So he came to our Church, where he felt quite at home with the undistorted image. I think this is why we have so many people coming to us from Eastern Europe, they know the real thing. It's in our Orthodox blood.
HM: What direct links do you have with Russia?
FA: We are one with renewed Russian Orthodoxy in Russia. For example, we have close personal links with several monasteries in Russia, St John's Convent in St Petersburg, the Presentation Monastery (Sretensky Monastyr) in Moscow, the Monastery of the Kiev Caves, the Monastery in Ivanovo. This is the living tradition of Orthodox Elders, like Fr Tavrion of Riga or Blessed Sampson, of confession and martyrdom. They encourage us in our pastoral work here, spreading the light of Orthodoxy among local people, of whatever background, in the English language.
We also have parishioners constantly travelling between here and Russia, taking confession and communion in both churches. For example, we have a parishioner who may have confession in Moscow, then take communion here. Once she did it the other way round. When she told the priest in Moscow that she had already had confession here, he said that she could certainly have communion there because she had had confession in the 'true Church', the Church Outside Russia, not in the Patriarchal part outside Russia! There is complete harmony between us.
This is a totally different situation from my youth, which was very frustrating. I went to Russia in 1972 and 1976. Contacts were limited. I would like to have lived in Russia in the 1970's and studied at seminary there, but it was impossible then. So instead, I went to live in Greece for a year and then went on to study at the Russian Orthodox St Sergius Theological Institute in Paris, where you constantly had to battle against modernism. It's not the same thing now. For any young Orthodox man now, the way ahead is clear, it is in Russia, the real thing is there and it is available.
HM: If this is the case, why then hasn't the Church Outside Russia merged with the Patriarchal Church?
FA: A good question. I think it's a question of man proposing, but God disposing.
HM: Can you explain that?
FA: Yes. For example, the old Soviet-style hacks in Moscow used to imagine that when the time came, the Patriarchal Church would take over the emigre parishes, rather like Stalin took over Eastern Europe after 1945. That of course was never on, the Church is not Imperialism. Moreover, that Soviet attitude produced an understandable paranoia among the emigres. They said: 'Better dead than red'. Man proposed, but God disposed, for what is the reality today?
Over the last few years, there has been a massive economic emigration of Russians to Western Europe. Eleven years ago I started the first Russian Orthodox parish in Lisbon. The first liturgy was in a flat with eight people. We struggled, then obtained a church. After five years we got to congregations of nearly 100, that was in 1997. There are now hundreds at every liturgy. A whole network of churches is about to develop in Portugal, because there are now 400,000 citizens of the former USSR there.
Then in Germany, some 80% of the parishioners in our churches and many of the clergy are from Russia. At Harvard Road in London, the priest and some 90% of parishioners are from Russia. Russians go there because it is just like the churches in Russia. When they return to Russia, they of course go to Patriarchal churches.
In other words, bishops have not united the two parts of the Russian Orthodox Church by force, by use of State means, as the old Soviet agents used to imagine. All attempts at that, as in the Holy Land only two or three years ago, have been abysmal failures. The unity of the two parts of the Russian Church is coming, as it should come, through the people, from the grassroots. It is not a top-down process, but a 'down-top' process. This is a merging in a way unforeseen by the political hacks of the past. Man proposed, but God is disposing.
HM: But I repeat my question. In this case, why are the two parts of Russian Church still not united administratively?
FA: Administrative unity cannot come until the ageing, senior hierarchy of the Patriarchal Church sort themselves out. For example, in this country, to all intents and purposes, there are now two jurisdictions of the same Patriarchal Church: the stavropegic one with which we are spiritually united, and the other one, with all its heterodox values.
At the moment there is a power struggle going on in Moscow between the Old Guard of senior 'Nikodimovtsy' bishops from the late-Soviet Brezhnev era of stagnation or 'zastoi', and the others. Patriarch Alexis himself is caught up in the middle of it and he is, perhaps as a result of that, a very ill man. Only when a new Patriarch, who has no KGB associations, is elected, can there be administrative unity between the two parts of the Russian Church.
HM: So the ball is in their court?
FA: Definitely. We have done what we had to do. Now we must await them.
HM: You sound very optimistic.
FA: I think it is difficult not to be optimistic. Whatever the difficulties that lie ahead, and there will be many ambushes by the Evil One, what is happening now is the fulfilment of all our inmost prayers over decades. In my own case, I have felt this coming since 1974. I even wrote about it, it is the very first article in my third book 'Orthodox Christianity and the English Tradition'. And then there are holy people who believed in this. In Chapter 61 of the same book, 'Orthodoxy and the Destiny of Russia' written in 1994, I translated the age-old prophecies concerning this period. They are all coming to pass. You can find them on this website. We are living at a time when all the prophecies are coming true. In that sense this has been a prophetic year.
I believe that we shall look back on the period since 1917 as a period of incredible decadence, an aberration in the life of the Orthodox Church. By 2017, the hundredth anniversary of that dreadful event, we shall be celebrating together a victory of the Church over Satan. I want to be in Moscow then. But, you now, in our hearts we are already celebrating this victory now! Moreover, the Resurrection of Orthodoxy in Russia will lead to the Resurrection of the local churches in the Balkans. For example, I believe that in a few years time we will see those local Churches going back to the Orthodox calendar.
The fact is that the Truth always triumphs. Over the last thirty years we here have escaped martyrdom, but we have suffered persecution for our faithfulness to Orthodoxy, from slanderers, modernists, humanists, nationalists, hypnotists, freemasons, New Calendarists and Old Calendarists alike. Many of them have died suddenly, been deposed or defrocked: God protects those who are faithful to Him.
We will not cease from the fight, we will confess the Church even to death. We are not afraid of persecution, we have faith in God. That is why I have always told the truth, in my sermons, in my books or on this website. St Alexander Nevsky said: 'God is not in strength, but in truth'. The extraordinary thing is that very often in history, the faithful have not lived to see a victory on earth. It looks as though we in our generation are being blessed with the sight of a victory, even in this world. In the twentieth century the Russian Orthodox Church was crucified on its Golgotha, taken down from the Cross, buried in the tomb and went down to Hell. In the twenty-first century, we are now witnessing the beginning of Her Resurrection.
HM: What is the reason for this?
FA: Without doubt the prayers of the New Martyrs and Confessors.
HM: But surely their prayers affect only the situation in Russia or Russian-language churches outside Russia?
FA: As Orthodox Christians, faithful to the Russian Church and Her Saints and Her practices, we are affected by their prayers. But also, their prayers are united in faith with the prayers of the ancient saints of these Isles, whom we also venerate and have written a service to. It is only through the united prayers of the New Saints of Russia and the Old Saints of these Isles that we here have any hope of salvation.
Thank you, Father.