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Distractions for those who come to the Church from Roman Catholic, Anglican and other Protestant backgrounds

A sower went out to sow his seed: and as he sowed, some fell by the wayside; and it was trodden down, and the fowls of the air devoured it. And some fell upon a rock; and as soon as it was sprung up, it withered away, because it lacked moisture. And some fell among thorns; and the thorns sprang up with it, and choked it. And other fell on good ground, and sprang up, and bare fruit an hundredfold. (Lk. 8, 5-8)


In the United Kingdom there are, unfortunately, very few Orthodox of island ancestry. Although in a recent article the imaginary figure of 25,000 was mentioned, the real figure is certainly no higher than 3,000 and may well be as low as 1,000. However, being few in number does not have to mean that we have to be few in fruit. To be fruitful as Orthodox Christians, even to bear fruit ‘an hundredfold’, we have to struggle against three temptations which distract us from ‘the one thing needful’ (Lk. 10, 42). What are these distractions?

Distraction One: The Cult or ‘fallen by the wayside, trodden down and devoured’.

The first distraction is that of the cult, guru worship. Often this is called ‘spiritual fatherhood’ by the naïve and therefore vulnerable. This is when inexperienced priests or others set themselves up as spiritual authorities, and, flattered by the attentions of the naïve, play at being a ‘starets’ or elder. (These frauds love to sprinkle their conversation with a few, usually mispronounced, esoteric, foreign or exotic-sounding words, like ‘starets’, which they tell you are untranslatable!).

In reality, outside monasteries, we all have confessors, but not ‘spiritual fathers’ in the real sense of the word. Today spiritual fathers probably do not exist anywhere in the Orthodox world outside the traditional homelands of Orthodoxy and even then they are very rare. Even in nineteenth century Russia it was commonly said that there were hardly any spiritual fathers left. Let us not be pretentious. Priests can confess, but this does not make us into ‘spiritual fathers’ and certainly does not give us the authority to control people’s lives. The sacrament of the priesthood gives priests the possibility to advise and guide, according to the spiritual readiness of the souls of the penitent and of the priest, but no more than this.

The control freakery of clericalism, indeed clericalism itself, is not and never has been part of the Orthodox ethos. It can however be found commonly in Evangelical and, increasingly, ‘Charismatic’ groups, and occasionally among Anglo-Catholic and even Roman Catholic ‘spiritual directors’. However, this is not part of Orthodoxy and can only exist on a temporary and artificial basis inside Orthodoxy, where it may have been brought from the outside, secular world. Such was the case in Russia in recent years, where some recent convert priests, Communists yesterday, Orthodox today, set themselves up in delusion as twenty-five year-old ‘young elders’.

There is a danger that such control freakery develops among small and isolated groups of converts, at one extreme or another, whether in old calendarism or in the tyranny of liberalism. It can be identified by bullying, intimidation, humiliation, making people feel guilty (a fantastic Roman Catholic and Protestant technique used to manipulate the weak, sincere, naive and ignorant). Cults refuse to allow people to visit other parishes and churches, where the situation is normal. They require isolation in order to prosper and the labelling and condemnation of all others as ‘schismatics’, ‘heretics’ etc.

The guru, or cult leader, does not want people to see anything else, especially the normal. He wants to keep absolute control in a dictatorship and may even impose on his ‘spiritual children’ not only total obedience, but also a weird uniform of clothing (black is a favoured colour), weird ideas (especially concerning food), the wearing of long beards and long hair etc. In this way the ‘spiritual children’, may all end up looking the same, like clones of their ‘spiritual father’. The guru may sometimes be ably assisted in the formation of such a clone army by an ‘eldress’ or ‘spiritual mother’.

We have seen in 35 years so many charlatans and fakes, interfering in and even ruining the lives of the naïve in this respect, setting themselves up as ‘spiritual fathers’, that we have learned to be suspicious of the phrase. We have seen three major catastrophes in England, three in France, three in the USA, one in Norway and several in Romania, Greece and Russia.

Cults often only fail when the cult leader dies. Only then does freedom come for the deceived members. The cult and its cultishness is when the seed of God falls by the wayside and is trodden down. This is because people do not know how to cultivate it and because spiritual thieves, charlatans and fakes, ‘the fowl of the air’, set themselves up as authorities and devour their victims (and their savings or, even worse, sexual purity). Thus, they take ‘away the word out of their hearts, lest they should believe and be saved’ (Lk. 8, 12).

Let us be clear. We do not belong to Paul, to Apollo or to Cephas: we belong to Christ.

Distraction Two: The Sect or ‘fallen upon a rock and withered away, lacking moisture’.

Every sect is always hard and rocky, lacking the moisture of mercy. Sects grow up from self-isolation (and so are closely linked with cults, which thrive only in self-isolation). Sects always have private ‘teachings’, particular practices, which ignore the wider Orthodox world, from which sects by definition are cut off. Sects of Protestant cultural background like to quote ‘the canons’. It is a Protestant cultural reflex, made instead of quoting chapter and verse, but still out of context. Sects generally contain very small numbers. Sometimes sects cultivate pietism, though that is more a weakness of those of Roman Catholic and Anglo-Catholic than Protestant background. The latter are more inclined to suffer from puritanism.

Sects can be a special problem on islands – like England – which is cut off physically from the wider Orthodox world. Again an English weakness is the Anglican nationalism among some converts which means that people set up ‘private’, ethnic jurisdictions and refuse to mix with other nationalities. However, this weakness also exists in the United States and France, which are not islands - anyone can suffer from insularity, it is more a state of mind than a state of geography.

Even when such people do travel to Orthodox countries (some of them refuse to have a passport – they do not want to be exposed to reality), they will ignore, say, the 10,000 churches in Greece. Instead, they will make for the only one which belongs to their own private jurisdiction, in order to commune with their own sect. Sects have a huge turnover rate, for they ‘have no root, which for a while believe, and in time of temptation fall away’ (Lk. 8, 13).

Let us be clear: Moisture means not the hard rock of ideology, but the dew of spiritual food and drink, a merciful heart. Without this we die.

Distraction Three: The Compromise or ‘fallen among thorns and choked with cares and riches’.

A characteristic of Anglicanism and its North American cousin Episcopalianism is compromise or ‘tolerance’. This is the foundation stone of Anglicanism – a Catholic cloak for Protestantism, Protestant Uniatism, – to be all things to all men and then to run the risk of being nothing to no man. This is the reason why Anglicanism does not export. It is related to a particular historical period of a particular culture, in which compromise was the only way to avoid a Continental style genocide or ‘religious war’. In other words, it is in many respects an ethnic Establishment club. On the other hand, Orthodoxy does export – but only in the right conditions.

The danger of the compromise and, in Orthodox terms, the contemporary invention of a sort of ‘EU Orthodoxy’, a ‘Diet Orthodoxy’, politically and spiritually acceptable to the lukewarm governing elite, is real. Indeed, it first appeared early in the 1920s. As we have said, those of an Anglo-Saxon cultural background are particularly susceptible to compromise, as we can see from the fashion of political correctness, the new secular puritanism. It is within this context that we understand that ‘tolerance’ is in fact simply a mask for indifference, swimming with the tide. Swimming with the tide means being choked with thorns. But if we swim with the tide, then we refuse Orthodoxy, confessordom or martyrdom, at our spiritual risk.

Intercommunion and obligatory communion (yes, it exists among some converts to Orthodoxy!), syncretistic ecumenism, spiritual tourism, ‘hobby Orthodoxy’, no fasting, no confessions, shortening the services, long sermons - with people sitting, never kneeling! (kneeling is too uncomfortable and requires humility) - all of this is the result of compromise. We have seen whole small communities of converts, even whole divisive ‘jurisdictions’ or groups of small communities swallowed up by Compromise.

The longer-term result of Compromise, after ten to thirty years, is spiritual disaster and spiritual death, as we have seen. These groups, however many books they may have read and Holy Fathers quoted, literally disappear, (and the more they have read, generally the quicker they disappear). For they are those who, ‘when they have heard, go forth, and are choked with cares and riches and pleasures of this life, and bring no fruit to perfection’ (Lk. 8, 14).

Let us be clear: we build our house on rock, not on sand.


The Cult, the Sect, the Compromise. They were all present in the time of Christ’s stay on earth. They are the Samaritans, the Pharisees and the Saducees/Romans. They were all present in the Acts of the Apostles and the Epistles. Indeed, it could be maintained that the whole New Testament and all Church history is about our opposition to the Cult, the Sect and the Compromise. For they are all designed by our common enemy to separate us from Christ our Saviour. Therefore, in order to avoid them, we should recall, and live by, His words:

‘That on the good ground are they, which in an honest and good heart, having heard the word, keep it, and bring forth fruit with patience’ (Lk. 8, 15).

In other words: Be honest, good-hearted and patient. Like everything important, it is simple.

Fr Andrew

2/15 June 2009
St Nicephorus, Patriarch of Constantinople

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