On the Present State of the Russian Church in the Diaspora, Divisive Ecumenism and the End of the World.
Questions and Answers.
The following is a compilation of questions asked in the course of January and early February 2010 by four different correspondents, two from the USA and two from the UK, and answers to them. They are published here, in a slightly edited form, as they may perhaps be of interest to others.
1. What is going to happen with the dual jurisdiction and administration of ROCOR and the MP in the Diaspora? Will there one day be a complete merger between them?
I don’t think anyone knows the answer to this. It is clear that in certain parts of the world ROCOR is much stronger than the MP, in other areas it is the MP that dominates, in yet other areas it is half and half. For example, in western America, Australia and Indonesia, ROCOR virtually has a monopoly. It would be pointless for the MP to set up parishes there. In much of the rest of the USA, ROCOR is far stronger than the MP, but in Canada the situation is very mixed. In South America, ROCOR is weak because there had been no resident bishop there for decades, whereas before there had been several bishops. On the other hand the MP is not strong in South America either.
There is a very different situation in Western Europe, partly because of the Paris schism. In France, Belgium, Holland, Scandinavia, Spain, Portugal, Italy and Austria ROCOR is very weak. All the new parishes there are being founded by the MP. In England too, ROCOR is very weak, with only three parishes, although at least we have our own premises. All the new parishes are MP and, frankly, there is little hope for ROCOR’s survival here, let alone growth, until we have a resident bishop.
2. Why is ROCOR so weak in England?
It is because its last resident bishop left over 25 years ago on account of illness and the bishop before him had also been ill. As a result of the lack of a resident bishop, whom people know and can speak to, we suffered here in 2007, much as they suffered in South America. Frankly, it is a miracle that anything is left of ROCOR in England. Where there is no resident bishop, there is no Church. It is very simple. It is a universal law, true not only for ROCOR, but also for the Antiochian and Amphipolis Deaneries here also.
On the other hand, since 2006 the MP has had a resident bishop in England. He has set up a real diocese with proper finances and he travels around his diocese so that people can actually see him and speak to him. They know what a bishop looks like. Liturgically and canonically, Archbishop Elisei follows the Russian Orthodox Tradition, but uses Slavonic and English, like ROCOR. All the new parishes and clergy belong to the MP Diocese and it now dwarfs the ROCOR Diocese.
Yet fifty years ago ROCOR dwarfed the MP. See how situations change. We used to have St John travelling to London from Paris and Brussels and our own bishop in the north of England, Bishop Nikodim of Preston. All our parishes died out there. In the 1960s one of the old Russian priests in the north of England used to refuse to baptise Russian children. He said: ‘Baptise them Anglican. After me there will be no-one’. Well, actually, he was right in the sense that after him there was no-one. One after the other all those immigrant parishes dating from 1945 closed and have now been forgotten, the children of parishioners were long ago assimilated.
3. Are you saying that the MP will take over ROCOR in England?
That does not depend on us. That depends on what the ROCOR bishops decide to do. But it is clear that something will change here in the coming years and probably all over Western Europe. But I have no real idea what that will be. ROCOR sorely lacks bishops and finance. Although Metr Hilarion has consecrated four bishops in the last two years, we need several more and England comes at the bottom of the list. I repeat: without a bishop, there is no Church. It is a fact.
As regards finance, simply no young men want to be clergy when it is a very time-consuming but unpaid service, entailing enormous sacrifices. Priests cannot live off fresh air, their families even less. The sons of priests know this and that is why they do not want to be priests. This situation is reflected at Jordanville where there is a shortage of candidates for the priesthood. The future of ROCOR is at stake.
4. We hear, or at least used to hear, much of an English Orthodoxy? What is the situation here?
Over the last few years there has been much exaggerated talk of this. It comes from two sources. One was around Metr Antony Bloom. Only recently I read a Russian report which said that he had personally converted 25,000 English people to Orthodoxy! The truth would be nearer 250 and then a lot of those soon lapsed because they were converted not so much to the Orthodox Church as to his magnetic personality (he had that effect on a certain category of person).
The other source was the ex-Anglican Antiochian Deanery. There, some used to imagine that thousands of other disillusioned Anglicans would join it from Anglicanism. That simply has not happened and will not happen. The numbers of often elderly Anglican converts there today is, it seems, about 300, though a large proportion of them appear to be ordained. In Russian terms that is a small parish. Few of these convert groups have their own premises. It is true that a few others have joined that Deanery since the first wave of Anglicans in 1995, but others have lapsed and quite a few have died.
In general, the generation of English people which joined the Orthodox Churches in England from the 1960s on is ageing. I have buried several of them myself. I would say that today there are fewer English Orthodox than before, as a result of the general secularisation of society and general lack of interest among English people in any serious form of Christianity.
5. What do you think will happen to the OCA?
Another impossible question! Impossible, because the OCA is so diverse. In Alaska and Canada, OCA parishes, which are virtually all on the old calendar, seem to be indistinguishable from ROCOR parishes. Sometimes, in Canada, they set an example to some ROCOR and MP parishes. In the USA the situation is even more varied. Some parishes there are exemplary, many in Pennsylvania for instance, others are so extreme that they make Antiochian and Greek parishes look traditional. Then there are the Romanian and a few Bulgarian and Albanian parishes in the OCA. The Romanian ones are, it is said, negotiating a return to the Romanian Church. The situation is so varied that I cannot even guess the answer to your question. Some believe that the traditional parts of the OCA will return to the Russian Church, perhaps to ROCOR, as before the Cleveland Council of over sixty years ago and ‘Schmemannisation’. The liberal, largely ex-Episcopalian parts will with their American nationalism join the Antiochians. But that is only one scenario. But it is clear that the OCA structure as such, which is not recognised by most Orthodox Churches as canonical, has no long-term future. Metr Jonah has said as much himself.
6. What about the Paris Jurisdiction and Amphipolis?
Unfortunately, the Diocesan Council that governs the Paris Jurisdiction has taken a Russophobic line, even though they say that they are ‘of the Russian Tradition’ – which is absurd given their Russophobia, use of the new calendar, Greek liturgical customs etc. The Tradition being followed by the governing body there is the ‘Tradition’ of anti-clerical liberal Russian philosophy and political correctness, not that of Russian Orthodoxy. And it is all mixed in with Western, especially, French, nationalism. As a result of their anti-monasticism, they only have one active bishop, Archbishop Gabriel.
It seems to me that the Paris Jurisdiction made a tragic strategic mistake a few years ago. If it had joined ROCOR, returning to the authentic Russian Tradition, it could have shared in our self-governing status, yet remained within the Russian Church. Instead, it is now set to die out. The Russian Church has now set up its own seminary in Paris, which will take over from the St Sergius Institute, it has won back its Cathedral in Nice, it is going to build a Cathedral and Church centre in Paris, perhaps near the Eiffel Tower.
The Russian Orthodox Church is gradually returning to the traditions of the nineteenth century, building churches outside Russia. Inevitably, older Russian Church property built before the Revolution will return to the Russian Church. The authorities in France now deal with the Russian Church, not the Paris Jurisdiction, which is increasingly seen as a tiny and irrelevant émigré sect from the past, an anachronism. And this is precisely what ROCOR would have turned into (and was already tending to turn into), if it had not accepted the repentance of the MP in 2000 and the two sides had not agreed on reconciliation in 2007. As for the Amphipolis Deanery, as it now is, it too will die out, partly because there is no bishop. Bishop Basil (Osborne) is, so they say, now to be reduced to lay status.
When you are tiny and fragile, you do not try to survive, cut off from your spiritual roots. You should remain on good terms with your spiritual roots, the Russian Church. The alternative is a manufactured and watered down Orthodoxy, full of cultural excuses, a branch that withers, a half-Orthodox sect without the Tradition. Why bother to be half-Orthodox? You may as well be Anglicans or Catholics, half-Christian and half-secular, which is what heterodoxy essentially is.
7. Why have you always taken a negative view of ecumenism?
First of all, ironically enough, there is nothing so divisive as ecumenism. This is because it is basically fraudulent and dishonest. If people want to be Anglicans, let them be Anglicans. If they want to be Roman Catholic let them be Roman Catholic. If they want to be Orthodox, let them be Orthodox. But don’t mix them up. Then you are nothing at all. Imagine at the Last Judgement, when we are asked what we are. It would be better to say ‘Anglican’ than say ‘nothing at all’. This is the same problem as Uniatism. It is neither one thing nor the other. Spiritual confusion does not bring salvation. I am for authenticity. Ecumenism is not a spiritual movement, it is a political and secularist manipulation, all about self-interest.
8. What about love? Some people say that to be against ecumenism is to lack love. What would you say?
How can you love lies? How can you love heresy? How can you love secularism, the world? How can you love spiritual delusion? We must love the Truth, because we must love Christ, Who is the Truth. It is rather like those people in a state of prelest, spiritual delusion, who never talk about or portray hell and before communion (because they have lost the practice of confession) do not read the last part of the prayer before communion, ‘May the partaking of the holy mysteries not be unto me for judgement and condemnation…’. We do not alter the prayers of the Church. The Church does not conform to the soft ‘Diet Orthodoxy’ of modern times. Realities are realities. Hell exists as well as heaven. Not everyone will be saved and some may indeed take communion ‘for judgement and condemnation’, despite the Tradition of the Church.
9. There has been some concern in ROCOR in the last few months about ecumenism and the MP. What would you say to them?
Let us be frank. The concern has arisen only because of the strange personal opinions of one individual, a hierarch in the MP. Everything he has said in recent months has outraged Orthodox everywhere, inside and outside Russia. In Russia they ignore him. We should do the same.
Let us not get this out of perspective, out of proportion. There are 150 million people in the Russian Orthodox Church. Inevitably, there are extremists – and on both sides. There will always be a few abstract, liberal intellectuals and a few fanatics at the other extreme. That has always been the case and always will be. Let us remain with the 149,999,000, in the middle. People should read the Church press in Russia, talk to people there. For every ecumenist who thinks that the Ronan Catholics form a Church exactly like ours, there is another extremist who thinks that all Roman Catholics will go to hell, but there are a million who have a moderate and balanced view between the two extremes.
I sometimes get the impression that some deliberately read views of such extremists so that they can get upset. There is no point in getting upset. We should pray to save our souls rather than wasting time, thinking about the eccentric and unofficial opinions of individuals. The Church is not monolithic, many different views are expressed by believers. However, if you want to know the official views of the Russian Orthodox Church on ecumenism and the Christian denominations, Roman Catholicism, Protestantism etc, read the official documents of the Church, the Social Concept written in 2000, which accepted the views of ROCOR and clearly condemns the branch theory. Everything is clear. There is nothing to get upset about.
10. Some people are now quoting the prophecies of Fr Paisios the Athonite and of Elder Joseph of Iviron that the end of the world is coming soon. They say that Russia will invade Turkey, a third of the Turks will be killed and a third will convert to Orthodoxy. Thy also say that Germany will invade Russia again and that China will invade as far as Iraq and they quote many other astonishing revelations. What do you think?
I think we should be very careful. Did these elders actually say these things? Where are the sources? Where is the proof of authenticity? The problem is that anyone can write such things and attribute them to those with spiritual authority. There is also a problem of people quoting spiritual authorities out of context. What is said to one person may be meant only for that person. Another soul will be told something else, because their situation and spiritual level are different.
In any case, all prophecies are warnings about things that might happen, if there is no repentance, or if there is repentance. Rather than read such things, especially on the internet, it would be better for us to go away and pray, read the Gospel, an akathist or the life of a canonised saint. Let us change our personal lives now rather than worry about such big problems in the future, perhaps in the near, perhaps in the distant, future. Preoccupation with alleged prophecies of uncanonised elders sounds to me like avoiding personal repentance. Our person lives now can be changed. That is the only thing that counts. Let us make use of this window of opportunity that God has given all of us in the Russian Church since 1988, so that the harvest will be greater than it would otherwise have been. We do not know the future.
11. What about the prophecies of Russian saints that at the end there will be many churches with bright domes, but that we will not be able to pray inside them because of heresy? Is that time now?
These are not prophecies. These are realities. I have already lived them personally. These realities exist today, they existed in the past and they will exist at the end, according to those prophecies universally at the end. Let me quote something to you. It was written by St Basil the Great in the fourth century. It comes in his Letter 90, addressed to the bishops of the West. Frankly, it could have been written in that dreadful period of decadence of the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s:
Our distresses are notorious, even though we leave them untold, for now their sound has gone out into all the world. The teachings of the Fathers are despised; apostolic traditions are set at nought; the devices of innovators are in vogue in the Churches; now men are contrivers of cunning systems rather than theologians; the wisdom of this world wins the highest prizes and has rejected the glory of the cross. Shepherds are banished and in their places are introduced grievous wolves harrying the flock of Christ. Houses of prayer have none to gather inside them; desert places are full of lamenting crowds. The elders lament when they compare the present with the past. The younger are yet more to be given compassion, for they do not know of what they have been deprived.
In his Letter 92, addressed to the Italians and Gauls, St Basil also writes:
The doctrines of true religion are overthrown. The laws of the Church are in confusion. The ambition of men who have no fear of God rushes into high posts, and exalted office is now publicly known as the prize of impiety. The result is that the worse a man blasphemes, the fitter the people think him to be a bishop. Clerical dignity is a thing of the past. There is a complete lack of men shepherding the Lord’s flock with knowledge. Ambitious men are constantly throwing away the provision for the poor for their own pleasure and the distribution of gifts. There is no precise knowledge of canons. There is complete immunity in sinning; for when men have been placed in office by the favour of men, they are obliged to return the favour by continually showing indulgence to offenders. Just judgement is a thing of the past; and everyone walks according to his heart’s desire. Vice knows no bounds; the people know no restraint. Men in authority are afraid to speak, for those who have reached power by human interest are the slaves of those to whom they owe their advancement. And now the very vindication of Orthodoxy is looked upon in some quarters as an opportunity for mutual attack, and men conceal their private ill-will and pretend that their hostility is all for the sake of the truth. Others, afraid of being convicted of disgraceful crimes, madden the people into fratricidal quarrels, that their own doings may be unnoticed in the general distress. Hence the war admits of no truce, for the doers of evil deeds are afraid of peace, as likely to lift the veil from their secret infamy. All the while unbelievers laugh; men of weak faith are shaken; faith is uncertain; souls are drenched in ignorance, because adulterators of the word imitate the truth. The mouths of true believers are dumb, while every blasphemous tongue wags free; holy things are trodden under foot; the better laity shun the churches as schools of impiety and lift their hands in the deserts with sighs and tears to their Lord in heaven.
A little knowledge of Church history and the Fathers helps us to see everything in perspective. Let us recall that the Church is Christ’s Body, not ours, and that He looks after His Church. The Church saves us. We do not save the Church.