Apostasy in Romania
‘Ever learning, and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth’
(2 Timothy, 3,7).
The news that the formerly Orthodox Archbishop Nicolae (Corneanu) of the Banat took communion in a new Uniat Church in Timisoara in Romania on 25 May has shocked some. Indeed, the story was even denied at first – until photographs of the incident appeared on the internet, leaving no doubt. This story should not shock Orthodox. There is nothing new in it.
This sort of behaviour has been going on in Eastern Europe ever since the introduction of Uniatism at the end of the sixteenth century. Indeed, it goes back beyond that, to the sort of compromises made at Lyons in France and at Florence in Italy in the thirteenth and fifteenth centuries. These were made by the worldly-minded (‘Latinophrones’) of Constantinople, but rejected by Orthodox like St Gregory Palamas and St Mark of Ephesus. By ‘this sort of behaviour’ we mean worldly-minded, nominal Orthodox becoming Uniats, that is Roman Catholics. What is at the root of this problem?
The essence of Uniatism is that it keeps an outward ritual at the expense of inward truth, an outward administrative hierarchy at the expense of the inward spiritual hierarchy. In other words, Uniatism is a spiritual fraud, which merely preserves an empty shell of the Church. Thus, for those who are in fact only nominally Orthodox (and it does not matter if they are laypeople or archbishops), the attraction of Uniatism is that they can still preserve the myth of their Orthodoxy, while reaping all the worldly advantages (salaries and conditions etc) of being Roman Catholic.
And this, after all, is the essence of Roman Catholicism itself, which was introduced in the eleventh century to an ill-educated and primitive Western population, whose hoodwinked descendants still think that their ancestors of a millennium before were Roman Catholic! The fact is that all Roman Catholics are ancestrally-lapsed Orthodox. The addition of another one makes little spiritual difference - except to him.
In the twentieth century we saw exactly the same behaviour fostered not only by Uniatism, but also by the Communist Secret Services of Eastern Europe, who merely imitated as faithful pupils the Roman Catholic technique. Let us not forget that both Roman Catholicism and Communism have the same origins in the great Western apostasy from the Church, simply they were devised at opposite ends of the same second millennium, one in the eleventh century, the other in the nineteenth century.
Thus, in Soviet Russia there was the notorious case of the Russian Metropolitan Sergius (1867–1944), who decided under extreme pressure to co-operate with the Soviet Secret Service of his time. His excuse was that he was ‘saving the Church’ (sic), despite the fact that it is the Church that saves us, for Her Head is the Saviour of mankind. Legalistically Orthodox and ‘canonical’ on the outside, indeed a very fine academic theologian of the theory of salvation, Metropolitan Sergius’ erastian compromises, that is, caesaropapism, were denounced by the vast majority of his fellow-bishops – who paid with their lives for their opposition to atheist persecution of the Church.
There was no heresy here as such, just a keeping of the letter of the law, but at the expense of the Orthodox Faith, morality and truth. As Metropolitan Cyril of Kazan wrote in his Epistle No 4 in January 1934: ‘The disorder in the Russian Orthodox Church I view not as concerning the teaching which She holds, but as concerning administration’…‘His (Metropolitan Sergius’) sin is in exceeding his authority’ (1). Thus, the outward was preserved at the cost of the inward, the myth kept at the cost of the spirit and the truth.
Little wonder that Russian faithful at the time would kiss the cross proffered to them by such ‘Sergianist’ bishops, but spit on the hand that held it. Little wonder that in the Year 2000, the newly-liberated Russian Church renounced his words and deeds as compromised, as those of one who was not politically free and instead canonised Metropolitan Cyril and all those who suffered and/or died for Church Truth. As for Metropolitan Sergius, his words and deeds are left to the coming Local Council of the Russian Church (2) and the eternal judgement of God.
In this context, it comes therefore as no surprise to learn then that the former Archbishop Nicolae was an agent of the Securitate, the Communist Secret Police, under the old Communist regime. In other words, he is an adept at keeping the outward at the expense of the inward. However, unlike the vast majority of his fellow-bishops in Romania and those elsewhere in Eastern Europe, he has not in reality repented of his collaboration. Indeed, he has gone one stage further than collaborators like Metropolitan Sergius, he has now collaborated to such an extent that he has fallen into heresy, denying that the Church is the Church.
One could hope for repentance. Sadly, Archbishop Nicolae has now justified his action, saying that he fully believes in Roman Catholicism, except for papal primacy. Here he reminds us of the French philosopher and literary celebrity, Olivier Clement, who over twenty years ago openly took communion in a Roman Catholic church to the scandal of the faithful. He too justified his action and, though no longer credible as an Orthodox, continues to be billed as an ‘Orthodox theologian’ on the ecumenical conference circuit, so unknown to Orthodox who try to live the Faith.
Before him, in the 1970s, there was the case of the Russian Metropolitan Nikodim (Rotov), who openly gave communion to Roman Catholic clergy to the scandal of the faithful. Later he died he died in the arms of the Pope and was revealed by Roman Catholic sources to be a cardinal. The mentality of collaboration with the KGB, while keeping the outward pretence of being an Orthodox bishop, is no different from the mentality of being a secret (or open) Roman Catholic/Uniat, while outwardly pretending to be Orthodox.
In fairness to such people, perhaps it can be said that though they are apostates, at least they are honest. How many other Orthodox bishops are secret Roman Catholic cardinals and secretly take Roman Catholic communion? We could put forward some names, though we have no proof. But do we need proof? They speak, write, look and behave like Roman Catholics. At this very moment hundreds of armed Greek riot police are due to be sent onto Mt Athos by supposed Orthodox to evict the monks of Esphigmenou Monastery on the Holy Mountain, simply because the monks there believe in the savingness of the Orthodox Church and Faith.
Although we may find the past deeds and words of the monks of Esphigmenou somewhat exaggerated, this police action may end in the martyrdom of some of the monks. And, whatever we may think, it is not the police and those who sent them whom we shall commemorate as martyrs, but the monks. Indeed, it is possible that the names of those who send in the police will go down in history with names like Herod, Judas, Lenin and Ceausescu. To those who send these police to disrupt monastic life, we repeat the words of Christ: ‘Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye shut up the kingdom of heaven against men: for ye neither go in yourselves, neither suffer ye them that are entering to go in…for ye are like unto whited sepulchres, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men’s bones, and of all uncleanness’ (Matt. 23, 13/27).
Though many of these bureaucratic minds have all manner of degrees and doctorates from various universities and academies, and not only in Rome, this does not make them Orthodox, any more than the studies of the scribes and Pharisees made them into lovers of Christ. ‘Which of you by taking thought can add one cubit unto his stature’ (Matt 6, 27). I prefer the living and faithful practices of the last granny in the furthest-flung villages of Georgia and the Jordan, Cyprus and Syria, Moldavia and Macedonia, Serbia and Siberia, the Ukraine and the Yukon, to all the dying and faithless theories of apostates.
To the mighty of this world we repeat the words of a Georgian envoy at the Council of Lyons to a Latin spokesman who invoked Aristotle as justification for his heresy: ‘What about Aristotle, Aristotle? A fig for your fine Aristotle’. As the Russian Elder Porphyrius of Glinsk (+ 1868) wrote prophetically: ‘With time faith will decline in Russia. The glitter of earthly glory will blind the reason: the word of truth will be in disgrace. But in defence of faith there will arise from among the people those who are unknown to the world and they will restore what has been trampled on’. That prophecy is now coming true. However, it was also prophesied ninety years after this that: ‘What began in Russia will end in America’ (Elder Ignatius of Harbin, + 1958). In other words, the full persecution of the Church in Russia will move westwards. We are fighting against time.
A Romanian Archbishop has committed apostasy. But 200 million other Orthodox go on in faithfulness and have no thought of apostasy. Let us not be scandalised by the apostasy of one man. Let us sorrow for him and pray for his repentance, hoping for ourselves that, ‘there are last which shall be first’, but not forgetting with fear and trembling that, ‘there are first which shall be last’ (Luke 13, 30). As the Patriarchate of Bucharest has said, the actions of the once Orthodox Archbishop Nicolae have only complicated relations with Roman Catholicism.
Priest Andrew Phillips
The Ascension of the Lord
1.Echoed by Archbishop Pachomius of Chernigov and his brother Archbishop Aberius of Zhitomir in their Epistle of 1927 in response to the Metropolitan’s disastrous Declaration: ‘His sin is not of a dogmatic or canonical nature, but one of weakness in practice and of practical mistakes, of the incorrect direction of Church policy and administrative activities. But since his policy has turned out to be harmful and degrading for the Church of God, it must be changed, corrected, or else the unsuccessful administrator must be removed’. As we know Metropolitan Sergius was removed - in 1944.
2. This Local Church Council is now inevitable, since the two parts of the Russian Church were reunited exactly one liturgical year ago.