Unity in the Diaspora and the Judgement of the Saints
Do ye not know that the saints shall judge the world?
INTRODUCTION: GROWING UP
Over the last two years Orthodox Church life in this country has been marked by two small schisms which have brought further Orthodox disunity here. These rebellions against the spiritual authority of Mother-Churches and their canonical bishops have been caused by disobedience. As ever, they have resulted in the isolation of those who took part in them. Whether those who took part in them will return is unknown, but they will be welcomed back with open arms.
They highlight once more the situation of the Orthodox Diaspora in the Western world and the lack of any resolution to the problem of its disunity. Is any solution to the lack of unity even vaguely in sight? To find any sign of hope, we shall have to look at recent history in Eastern Europe. Strange though it may seem, the two mini-schisms in Great Britain were in fact the direct result of an event that took place as long ago as 1989 – the fall of the Berlin Wall.
1989-2007: THE RENEWAL OF UNITY IN THE RUSSIAN CHURCH
After the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, Communism fell in Russia and the rest of Eastern Europe. As a result, some 90% of the Orthodox Church became free. First of all, the Local Churches concerned set about rebuilding themselves after the damage done to them in their homelands. Only after some years of internal rebuilding, did they feel able even to begin tackling the thorny issue of the Diaspora. This was after all their responsibility, for the waves of emigration that had formed the Diaspora had largely been caused by militant Communism and the ensuing paralysis of the emigres’ Mother-Churches.
The first real sign of success in this search for unity was the reconciliation that took place in May 2007 between the Russian Patriarchal Church and the vast majority if the Russian refugee emigration in the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia (ROCOR). This should have occurred earlier, but, unfortunately, human-beings in both parts of the Russian Church had got in the way.
Thus, on the one hand, as long as ROCOR ran parallel to mainstream Russian Orthodoxy, its existence had not been a problem, for it shared the same Faith as the Russian Church inside Russia. Therefore, reconciliation was in principle simply a matter of waiting for the freedom of the Church inside Russia. Unfortunately, from the 1960s on, ROCOR began to be infiltrated by small, unchurchly and sectarian right-wing groups. Although these were composed mainly of Non-Russian, they were actively encouraged by certain Russian individuals. From the early 1990s on, with the illness and ensuing uncanonical decisions of its Primate, ROCOR found itself in danger of drifting towards schism and sectarianism, much to the horror of the vast majority of its clergy and laity.
On the other hand, those who in ROCOR had hoped for unity had not been helped by the actions of the Patriarchal Church, especially during the Soviet period. During that period, the flow of emigrants seeking freedom in the West had been reduced to a trickle by Communist tyranny. The Russian Church had become like a mighty river that had been dammed. The remaining trickle consisted of some fresh water together with flotsam, that came over the top of the dam and arrived in the West. The flotsam, in the form of uncanonical politically-appointed clergy and/or immoral bishops and priests.
The latter created within ROCOR a very negative, but ultimately false, impression of utter KGB corruption inside the Patriarchal Church. Thus, much damage had been done to the reputation of the Patriarchal Church. And it was paralysed and powerless to deal with the individuals who had so compromised it in the West. Therefore, many Russian Orthodox of all nationalities, who otherwise would have been with the Patriarchate, took refuge within ROCOR, despite certain individuals within it. They were only reinforced in their decision by the anti-ROCOR actions of the post-Soviet Yeltsin government in Palestine in the 1990s.
Nevertheless, from the Year 2000 on, both parts of the Russian Church were able to overcome both human failings and political pressures and in 2007, under Orthodox leadership, unite. Given the unity of the two parts of the Russian Church today, what hope is there now for a broader unity within the Orthodox Diaspora?
IMMIGRANT ORTHODOXY: THE THREE GENERATIONS
First of all, we need to understand some psychology and sociology, not theology. We need to understand something of the nature of immigration, regardless of nationality, regardless even of faith.
Immigrants can be divided into generations, each generation having its own sociological and psychological characteristics. (I speak from personal observation and experience with many nationalities, not from text-books). I must emphasise that what follows is a generalisation and is not always true for every individual.
The first generation of immigrants to any country naturally looks back to its native country, its language, customs etc. Sometimes, representatives of this generation are spiritually very poor, but, on the other hand, very rich in terms of cultural nostalgia and their emphasis on their ethnic identity. Sometimes, however, in spiritual terms, they are very rich and can provide examples of faithfulnesss to their children and grandchildren, ‘unto the third generation’.
The second generation, like some second children in families, can be a rebellious generation that revolts against the traditions of its fathers and mothers. Nevertheless, it is often a generation of conformists with regard to the surrounding society. It often wants to adapt and merge, denying its roots and hiding itself ‘in the woodwork’ of the surrounding society. It may desperately seek to ‘integrate’ and be accepted, abandoning everything distinctive about itself - such as the Orthodox calendar. This generation may want to disappear and abandon all Orthodox religious practice. Sometimes it may apostasise to the main local religion, more often however, it simply drops out of any religious life altogether and goes nowhere.
It is often only the third generation that returns to the original Tradition, learning of it through the best representatives of the first generation who are still alive and from those in the homeland which it revisits in search of its roots. It often lays aside the heritage of the second generation as spiritually empty and irrelevant – which it generally is. The problem is that the third generation usually loses its original language on the way, and worse still, it is often small, for there is much wastage between generations and a loss of faith, as its representatives absorb modern, faithless Western values.
CONVERT ORTHODOXY: THE PROBLEM OF KNOWLEDGE
The second and third generations of Orthodox immigrants especially (the first generation is often too ethnically exclusive) may be joined by converts to Orthodoxy. Here there are opportunities, but also dangers, which can be described in the following stages.
The first stage of problems for some who convert to Orthodoxy is that they become involved in external imitations, an interest in ethnic customs, dress and food, taking on exotic names like Auxentios and Vladimir, when their actual names are Emmanuel and Antony, and littering their speech with quite unnecessary Greek or Russian words. Thus they miss the main point, the Spirit-bearing nature and savingness of the new Faith. This stage with its fascination with what is exotic, but which is actually purely secondary and merely of curiosity, should be overcome as soon as possible.
The second stage of problems is that some converts then look to salvation through gaining mere intellectual, that is, outward understanding, through books for example, rather than in the life of prayer and faith. However, a good Orthodox book is not one that supplies mere outward understanding. It is one that gives inward understanding, making its readers want to go to church and pray. This is exactly like a good icon, which can be defined as one that makes us want to pray, and not to study its history or style or origin. It is a sad truth that not all books incite to faith, in fact some ‘Orthodox’ books appear unedifyingly to do exactly the opposite.
In such a case, occupying themselves with mere external understanding of ideas, converts do not live an Orthodox way of life, they have not ‘become Orthodox’, instead they have merely ‘joined the Church’, as they might a club. That is not the same thing, ‘joining the Church’ is outward, not inward ‘becoming’. They are still ‘converts’. This convert wish ‘to understand everything’ comes from pride. It is at this stage that people fall, either into being lax or else into being overstrict. It is at this stage that schisms can happen, as immature Orthodox accuse their Mother-Churches of being too strict or else too lax. It is clear that there has been no inward integration, that the people involved are still only ‘converts’.
Nonetheless, opportunities comes from conversion when we come to the third stage. This is when we evolve from first-stage physical understanding and second-stage intellectual understanding. Now we can advance to the spiritual understanding that Orthodox Christianity (and it is only Christianity, but without any additions or reductions) is an incarnate way of life. In this we ascetically and slowly work on eliminating our pride and ‘selfness’ (samost in Russian), when we stop substituting our own inevitably partial opinions (otsebiatiny in Russian) for the Tradition in all its integrity.
This is when we understand why, during the Divine Liturgy, the curtain behind the holy doors is opened just before we sing the Nicene Creed. This is because the truth is revealed only through the Confession of the Faith in the Creed. In other words, the truth is known only though spiritual revelation to the cleansed and so enlightened heart, not through book knowledge in the mind. The veil is opened through the Confession of the Faith. This is why the Non-Orthodox West since the Middle Ages has had no liturgical curtain. There, all is open, all is lit with huge Gothic windows, because it has no revelation to make, there is no inner enlightenment, there is no mystery to understand. In the Non-Christian East, on the other hand, as in Old Testament Judaism, as imitated by Islam, nothing is revealed, because there the all-revealing Mystery of the Incarnation is denied. Therefore, there is only the curtain, only the veil. The mystery has not yet been revealed, or rather the mystery has not yet been accepted.
ECUMENISM: RELATIONS WITH OTHER CHRISTIANS IN THE DIASPORA
One of the unresolved problems of the Diaspora is its relations with the Non-Orthodox Christian world. It is unresolved in the Diaspora, because the Mother-Churches have not yet resolved the issue. This is a pity, because it is the Diaspora which is at the sharp end of the issue.
Coming towards the end of the Nicene Creed, the definition of the Church as ‘One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic’, was the definition issue of the twentieth century. Different understandings have divided the Church on the question. Thus, in the Diaspora we have seen personalities in the Greek New Calendarist Paris School take up the laxist, liberal ‘anything goes’ extreme. Again, largely in the Diaspora, we have also seen Greek Old Calendarist groups take up the other extreme of condemnation and pharisaical censoriousness. Even within the Russian Church inside Russia, there are positions like that of Bishop Hilarion of Vienna, which though liberal, are still acceptable, and, at the other end of the spectrum (and at the other end of Russia) the position of Bishop Diomid of Chukotka, who, unless he backs down, actually risks placing himself outside the Church.
Here there is perhaps only one thing that can be said. There can be no progress on the issue of ecumenism until Roman Catholicism gives up the filioque. This, after all, in the ninth century, long before 1054, was the original threat to unity and the later cause of division. And already then the filioque was definitively analysed and rejected by the Church Father, St Photius the Great of Constantinople. If Roman Catholicism does reject the filioque, we can be sure that the orthodox part of the Protestant world (admittedly, an increasingly small part, as Protestantism degenerates into mere sectarianism) will follow Rome in its renunciation. For just as the Protestant world unquestioningly accepted the filioque from Rome (together with a host of other errors), it will surely renounce it with Rome. The problem here is that some Roman Catholics (with some Anglicans and other Protestants) actually defend the filioque heresy. They claim it to be part of ‘the Western cultural heritage’ and ‘cultural progress’ – as though a mere relativistic human culture can be superior to the Absolute Revelation of the Trinitarian God!
Some Orthodox would go further then myself, claiming that Roman Catholicism has many other things to give up too. However, I would reply that the key to the collapse of the whole thousand-year old heterodox edifice and the many other things to be given up is still in the filioque. For if Roman Catholicism gives up the filioque and reads or sings the only authentic Nicene Creed at all its masses (the original cause of the Western Schism was the West’s recital of a heretical Creed at all its masses), then it will as a logical consequence renounce everything else it has introduced since it left the Church. For, clearly if it renounces the filioque, it then has to renounce the alleged infallibility of the Bishop of Rome and his superiority to Сhurch Councils. All the other errors introduced by the Papacy over nearly a thousand years, for example the veneration of pseudo-saints who confessed the filioque heresy, will also then gradually fall away.
Of course, this will not all happen all at once. To eliminate the erroneous consequences of a thousand years of filioque will take time, not another thousand years, but perhaps a hundred. Orthodox have experience of this with Uniats who renounce their apostasy and returned to Orthodoxy. They are only gradually weaned away from errors and customs, foisted on them 200, 300 and 400 years ago by Polish Jesuits and other fanatics. However, Roman Catholicism will only be able to do this when first it understands that its way of life is distorted and that it is a distorted spiritual understanding that has led to its distorted way of life. Curiously, the whole Western world understand this with regard to the errors of the Muslim world, but is utterly blind with regard to its own distorted way of life and the filioque system of values that lies behind it.
LEADERSHIP: SPIRITUAL AUTHORITY IN THE DIASPORA
Much has been written over the decades by those in the Diaspora who are impatient with their episcopates. Some of them say that all that has to be done for Local Churches to be founded in the Diaspora is for their episcopates to form a Local Church together, ignoring the canons, breaking away from Mother-Churches, whether the latter like it or not. In other words, the bishops must show ‘leadership’. The use of the secular term ‘leadership’ shows ignorance of the fact that Churches are formed by the Holy Spirit, not by men, but in spite of men. Again this is another example of an immature, teenage mentality that revolts against parental authority. But it does raise the fundamental problem of spiritual authority in the Diaspora.
Part of the problem here lies in the virtual disappearance of authentic monastic life in large parts of the Diaspora, where there is no monastic episcopate any longer. This is a vicious circle, for even where there is monastic life, it becomes the custom not to recruit suitable bishops from monasteries. Thus, bishops are either increasingly recruited from a dwindling pool of widowed priests (some of whom may make excellent bishops, others who do not). Or else they may come from a pool of ambitious and ambiguous individuals, some of whom make payments of money for consecration and whose orientations have caused scandals over the years, resulting sometimes in unpleasant rumours, sometimes in police arrests.
We well recall an incident from the 1970s, when one well-known Constantinople hierarch, an excellent administrator and organizer, a financial genius indeed, known for his hostility to monasticism and extreme ecumenical liberalism (you know the sort) visited the Kiev Caves Monastery. (This was all part of the Orthodox-Anglican Dialogue, which existed at that time). There he met a heavily-bearded and long-haired ascetic, who had done over twenty years in Siberian camps. The old monk asked the virtually clean-shaven, dog-collared, jet-set bureaucrat in broken Greek: ‘But how many prayers do you know?’ The bishop pushed the old monk aside, much irritated by what he saw as his irrelevance to ‘the modern Church’.
This story, which is true, well illustrates the problem of spiritual authority, that is to say in secular language, ‘leadership’. Of course, I would not wish to say that this story is true of all bishops. Some of our bishops are spiritual personalities, men of prayer and even saints, the latest examples being St Nicholas of Zhicha (+ 1956) and St John of Shanghai (+ 1966). Nevertheless, even in Orthodox countries in the past, for example in Russia in the nineteenth century, many Church people did not look to most of the State-appointed bishops, ‘administrators’, for spiritual authority, but to Elders – startsy, whether monastic or even married, (Though there were occasional cases of bishop-elders, such as St Theophan of the Caucasus). And here there is another problem in the Diaspora – the absence of Elders and even worse than that, their absence being made up for by charlatans.
Unfortunately for us, many authentic Elders, in Greece, Romania and Russia in particular, have reposed in recent years. It is enough to think of Fr Cleopa and Fr Arsenie in Romania, Fr Paisios and Fr Porphyrios in Greece, Fr Nicholas (Gurianov) and Fr John (Krestyankin) in Russia. As for the Western world, once the last Elders in Jordanville reposed in the 1980s, it has long had only one Elder, the Athonite Fr Ephraim in the United States. In the Diaspora, in the Russian Church especially, there have come, since 1917, Parisian gnostic intellectuals and philosophers, even one who made of holiness a philosophy. Although in Eastern Europe, informed Orthodox (that is those who know that Elders cannot be found among the young and inexperienced) generally have enough spiritual sense to see through such fakery, this is often not the case in the Diaspora. The worst cases have been charlatans with sexual demands, power-seeking gurus and freemasons.
The spiritual development of Orthodox seeking out genuine spiritual fathers has been blocked by the over-large egos of these ‘personalities’. Just as the spiritual development of Roman Catholics is blocked by the personalities of Popes, and the spiritual development of Protestants is blocked by their personal interpretations of the Scriptures, so the spiritual development of such Orthodox is blocked by these false spiritual fathers, with their personality cults and guru-style self-idolatry.
Many sincere Orthodox in the Diaspora, who, perhaps naively (but how else could they have acted, given their lack of experience?), have sought out spiritual fathers, have been cruelly disappointed. As a result, the weak have sometimes completely lapsed from the faith. The sin is not necessarily theirs, it is the sin of spiritual fraud committed by pseudo-Elders. Other Orthodox, more persevering or with a stronger faith, have picked themselves and gone on, seeking out real spiritual authority in the spiritual wilderness of the Diaspora, whether in Western Europe or North America in particular. And where is authentic spiritual authority to be found in a spiritual wilderness, if there are no living witnesses?
AUTHENTIC SPIRITUAL AUTHORITY IN THE CHURCH
The fact is that barometer of the spiritual health, and so the spiritual authority, of the Church on Earth is in our attitude to the Church in Heaven – to the saints. Only the saints, who have been proved by millennia of revelation to have found the way to Christ, Who is the only Head of the Church, can guide us through the tangle of the Diaspora.
Outside the Church, philosophies like Confucianism and Buddhism, Platonism and Aristotelianism, and religions like Hinduism and Jainism, Islam and Judaism, have no saints, for none among these faiths has striven to become Christ-like. Not having known Christ, at best they have only righteous souls who hopelessly strive for the Truth, unable ever to know Him.
In the Christian world, Protestantism resembles Islam and Judaism, for it has no saints either and refuses to honour the saints and their images. It has only righteous souls, but not holiness. As for Roman Catholicism, it does not honour the saints by kissing their relics and their icons. It does not know what to do with the holy icons, using them as decorations. And the images of the saints that they do honour are distorted and enstatued, become like idols. Already by the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, even in Italy, where the heritage of the Church was strongest through the relics and earlier presence of the saints, the Roman Catholic fashion of portraying the saints was distorted. In recent generations it has become more and more so. Moreover, from the eleventh century on, Roman Catholicism with its false dogmatic understanding of the Holy Spirit, began to honour those who for the Orthodox Church are clearly not saints, but who dwelt in spiritual illusion (illusio, plani, prelest). These were the self-deluded, those in states of spiritual illusion. False holiness, the ‘spirituality’ of the fallen human psyche or even, in extreme cases, of the demons, began to be adored. The fact is that Holiness, with Unity, Catholicity and Apostolicity, is one of the four attributes of the Church – outside the Church it does not exist.
As for the secular world, it hates the saints. It rejects their holy images, at best trading their icons at auctions and in galleries. Generation after generation, it names its children after the rich and mighty, imperialists and conquerors, Napoleon, Clive, Lenin, or after futile celebrities, that is, (fallen) stars. Today, in this country, names like ‘Pagan’ are becoming increasingly common. The aim seems to be the veneration of all who are not saints, even of anti-saints.
As for the Orthodox Church, we have little to be proud of. Without the saints’ services from the Menaia, the saints are not venerated. Translations of their Lives are censored. And even if their Lives are read and their hymns from the Menaia are sung, so few are the Orthodox who do this or attend these services, that the saints are still generally overlooked. Then there are some who even fall into the habit of not preaching about the saints, but only about ‘contemporary issues’. Still worse, some near-contemporary martyrs are venerated by some not for their martyrdom, but for their sinful way of life and political views before being cleansed by martyrdom. Increasingly, holiness has been reduced to a philosophy and philosophers of holiness tell us what holiness must be like, rejecting the inward content, accepting only the outward package, the soft, attractive idea, but not the hard, ascetic reality. And this can be seen in certain, ‘soft’, non-canonical forms of pseudo-iconography which have developed over the years.
It was therefore a great consolation in 2007 when a miracle happened. This was when the Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church inside Russia, like the Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia before it, accepted not only more newly-revealed New Martyrs and Confessors into its calendar, but also accepted the veneration of local Western saints. They were those who lived where the Western European Orthodox Diaspora now lives. This event was immensely significant, but few have yet grasped this significance. This is that the body of revered saints, the revealed communion of saints, is growing. They are our one hope, our only proven spiritual authority. The fact is that the question of whether Local Churches in the Diaspora will ever be formed will be resolved by our veneration of those who have spiritual authority among us, that is, of all the saints. And that is now a race against time.
CONCLUSION: THE SAINTS AND THE SALVATION OF THE WORLD
Why, with the above exception, do we see general neglect of the saints and scorn for their spiritual authority at this time? After all, the Apostle has told us that at the end of time the saints will judge the Earth (I Cor 6, 2). Moreover, we know that their judgement begins even before the end of the world, that is, now, before our personal end. And in preparation for their judgement, all over the Earth, we are now being called on to gather the faithful remnants together before the end.
The present Orthodox renewal in Russia, which has barely begun, may, or may not go further. It is built on and depends on the blood and sacrifices of the New Martyrs and Confessors, who created the conditions for renewal and thus also for unity between the two parts of the Russian Church. Those who rejected the New Martyrs and Confessors before 2000 rejected possible renewal and unity. Those who reject real renewal and unity now reject them, substituting for them their own personal and political passions. In any case, theirs is the only renewal and unity that we can expect before the end.
The Orthodox world has become ever smaller and more fragile in its Middle Eastern manifestation because of the geopolitical turmoil there between Islam and Judeo-Christianity. The risk is that after the fall of Communism, the renewal of the Orthodox world in its Russian and Eastern European manifestation may not go much further. Instead, it may fall ever further into the temptation of Western consumerist materialism, which has created the problems both of global climate change and of Western obesity. This has been for a generation the fate of Greece, now also of Cyprus, and still more recently, of Romania and Bulgaria, which now seem to be falling to this temptation.
In its blood-soaked wars, massacres and concentration camps of the twentieth century, Western materialism, guided by its ideology of humanism with its myth-making excuses of ‘freedom and democracy’, showed itself to be anti-human. This was because it based itself on fallen man, man in all his sin. It was anti-man, because in essence it was founded on the Anti-God-Man, the Antichrist. For the seeds of unredeemed man contain his downfall. In opposition to this inheritance of the twentieth century, the civilization of humanism, in the twenty-first century there stands only one alternative. This is the civilization of the God-Man, the virtually unknown civilization of the Church, the Orthodox Christian way of life.
Christ or Antichrist? Man or Anti-Man? This is ultimately the only question facing the Diaspora, the whole Church and indeed the whole world. Quo Vadis?
Priest Andrew Phillips,
The Nativity of Christ