Return to Home Page

On Conversion and the Message of St Silvanus to the Western World: ‘Keep your Mind in Hell and Despair not’.

At the present time it is said that as many as 400,000 members of the Anglican Communion may be contemplating conversion to Roman Catholicism. Among them are no fewer than three bishops in England and many clergy worldwide. On the other hand, there are large numbers of Roman Catholics in all the English-speaking countries who have over the decades converted to one or other of the Protestant denominations, often since they are considered to be more ‘liberal’. Why is it that so many members of Protestant confessions find the possibility of conversion to Roman Catholicism, and vice versa, so easy, as opposed to conversion to the Orthodox Church?

To use the words of the Russian religious thinker Alexis Khomyakov, it can only be because ultimately Roman Catholicism and Protestantism are merely two sides of the same coin. Roman Catholicism is a + (conservative), Protestantism is a – (liberal), but the coin is the same and, as the thinker said, ‘the first Protestant is the Pope of Rome’. To that coin we can give the name of ‘Christianism’. In this we are only following the theology of the new hieromartyr St Hilarion (Troitsky). At the beginning of the last century he travelled all over Western Europe, entered into conversation or correspondence with many Non-Orthodox and so realised, as in the title of his book, that ‘without the (Orthodox) Church there is no Christianity’.

Conversion to the Orthodox Church from a Roman Catholic or Protestant background is a radical change. It is to go from what has been for 1,000 years a semi-Christian civilisation and culture to a Christian civilisation and culture. Unfortunately the very word ‘Christian’ has been so debased in this process that today we are usually obliged to use the words ‘Orthodox Christian’ or, for short, ‘Orthodox’, to replace it. In the West Non-Orthodox even admit this, saying, ‘I cannot become Orthodox because of my culture’. These words are profoundly true. Not only are such people unable to join the (Orthodox) Church because of their attachment to worldly, that is to Non-Orthodox, culture, but indeed they are also unable to become Orthodox. In admitting this much, their lack of faith, they are defining the gulf between themselves, the apostles and all who follow them, who had and have little difficulty in deciding that the Church was and is more important than their ‘culture’.

Ten centuries ago Western Europe fell away from the Church of God and began inventing its own semi-Christian religious and cultural institutions. Collectively we call them ‘Christianism’, for they have reduced the salvation of Christ to a mere philosophy, a series of human ‘isms’. Gradually distancing themselves ever more from the Church, ten centuries on, as though seeking their own death, some of those institutions appear to be hardly Christian at all. And this, even though, in diplomatic conversation we still use of them the word ‘Churches’. This is in deference to the fact that they once preserved important vestiges of the consciousness and teachings of the Orthodox Church. These included, for example, the teaching that God is a Trinity of Persons, that Christ is the Son of God, Who physically rose from the dead after crucifixion and that the Mother of God is a Virgin.

All this is why all those who confess ‘Christianism’, that is, those who are outside the Church, can find it so difficult to become Orthodox, even decades after formally and nominally ‘joining the Church’. The problem is that they still think in their old categories and mentalities, not yet having put off the old man. Only recently we heard of one ex-Anglican priest, ordained a few months after ‘joining the Church’, who said of another ex-Anglican priest: ‘He will make a good Orthodox priest because he used to be an Anglican priest’. Oh, dear! Where do we start with the distressing truth? He does not even realise that an Anglican, all the more so a clergyman, has to unlearn all his brainwashing before he can himself begin learning – let alone teaching others. When the blind lead the blind, they do indeed both ‘fall into the ditch’.

The word ‘radical’ means (returning to) the roots. Let any from a conscious Roman Catholic or Protestant background, especially from among their clergy, know that in order to join the (Orthodox) Church, they must first thoroughly and radically revise their spiritual and so moral values, revise their attitudes, mentality and views of history. The nationalistic ‘I’m superior because I’m a Westerner’ and rationalistic ‘I know it all because I read it’ mentality has to go.

In order to become Orthodox, they must first strip themselves layer by layer of all their spiritual impurities, of all their cultural prejudices and histories, of all their pretensions, and return to the saints. They must remember that it is not the Western-educated ‘theologians’ who shall see God, for only ‘the pure in heart shall see God’. Otherwise they will simply be Eastern-rite Anglicans, Eastern-rite Protestants and Eastern-rite Catholics (Uniats). The Christian (Orthodox) Faith must get into our hearts and bones and blood. Otherwise, only in our heads, it will only be another mere set of lifeless thoughts, a mere abstract, human philosophy from the ivory towers of Paris, Oxford, New York or wherever. And that does not feed the soul and so raise us from the spiritually dead but keeps us down there in their tombs with them.

After all, this is what St Silvanus (Silouan in the French transcription), the great Athonite penitent and ascetic who followed the Tradition ‘in spirit and in truth’, meant when he said to Western-educated philosophers and so transmitted through them to the whole Western and Westernised world: ‘Keep your mind in hell and despair not’. In other words: ‘Give up your cares for your compromised, Westernised, pseudo-Christian world and mind and values, and put your hope in the Saviour Alone, in Whose Church and mind and values you should alone be walking’.

21 May/3 June 2010
Sts Constantine and Helen, Equal to the Apostles

  to top of page