ON EASTER NIGHT: AN ORTHODOX ROUND TABLE
Angel: It is a pity that the church is not in Ipswich. All of us live there. There are about thirty-five of us Bulgarians there, although it is true about half of them are not baptized.
Fr Andrew: I agree with you. We have been here for eight years, we have never found any premises we could use in Ipswich, that we could use and make into an Orthodox church. It is here in Felixstowe that we have premises. Why this is so, it is not clear, but it is so.
Corina: But why not simply build a church, rather than convert other premises? Then, it would be like an Orthodox church, even from the outside.
Fr Andrew: Give me two million pounds, Corina, and I will build one! You know that we are all poor. In England there are now altogether only about 150 Orthodox priests. Most of us have to have secular jobs to survive with our families. There are at least 150,000 Orthodox, but there are only four purpose-built Orthodox churches, the Serbian one built in Birmingham thirty years ago, the Greek cathedral in London, built with money from the Tsar in the nineteenth century, the church at the Greek convent in Essex, and our small Russian Cathedral in London. The last one is new and is still not finished. The Russians in London took seventy-five years to get enough money to build it, and now it is being finished off through the generosity and piety of a millionaire from Russia. What does this mean? It means all the other Orthodox priests, some 150, hold services in premises like ours, converted premises.
Corina: But why is this?
Fr Andrew: Corina, if you took 1,000 Romanians, how many would be Orthodox?
Corina: I would say about 900.
Fr Andrew: And if you took 1,000 people who live here, how many would be Orthodox?
Corina: Two or three?
You are optimistic. I would say one! We would need a parish of 500 Orthodox,
and some of them rich and established, and above all pious and generous,
and you know that many are not. Then we could build an Orthodox church
Alexander: Maybe we will never build our own church here, because the end of the world will come. Maybe in thirty years’ time, I think there will be a big war because of oil. It is already happening in Iraq.
Dimitri: There is hope.
Fr Andrew: How old were you fifteen years ago, Alexander?
Fr Andrew: Tell me, did you think fifteen years ago that you would be in England for Pascha 2005?
Alexander: (laughing) No!
Fr Andrew: Well, you see, it is the same. You did not know fifteen years ago, none of you, or me, that your destiny was to be here tonight. So it is in life. Where will we be in fifteen years from now? Where will the world be? What is our destiny? Perhaps one of you will be very rich and you will give your money to build a church. Perhaps the end of the world will come in 2006. But perhaps in 3006. Only God knows. We cannot know.
Angel: In London there are some very rich Bulgarians, financiers. For them a million pounds is nothing. But you know, they are not Orthodox, they do not care.
Fr Andrew: Yes, that is the trouble. You know on Great Friday, in the afternoon, we had a very educated Orthodox come here, a Romanian. She clearly had money. She came in, in a very open dress, her hair everywhere, sat down, crossed her legs and sat like that all through the Gospel about the Crucifixion. We were very shocked, but we must not judge. Who knows what was in her? But what I am saying is that a Western education and money can be poison. We have to keep our faith. If we do not keep our faith, then we become like the Western masses. We lose our souls. Maybe we have comfort, but we have no soul. Even in your present life in the factories, you are much better than this, because you have kept your souls, your faith.
Dimitri: Why do you think English people do not care about Christ? Is it because they have money?
Fr Andrew: Yes, I think so. It is the whole of modern culture, which is anti-Christ. Money has poisoned their souls. You know, I am not that old, but I can remember thirty, forty years ago, English people had more respect for the Church. But, not only English people, it is everywhere the same in Western Europe. Look at tonight, you are all, I think, in your twenties. Where would you find an English church, fill it with young people in their twenties, factory-workers, to come to an Easter service and stand for three hours at midnight? Most young English people only think about getting drunk and fornicating on a Saturday night. This is because their souls are empty. So they behave like animals. They don’t know any better. I know that in your countries, most people do not go to church, I know that your politicians are corrupt. But compared to the situation in the West, you still have the faith. As for politicians, they are corrupt everywhere. Do not underestimate the Western ones.
Alexander: You could see that in Iraq. Our Ukrainians sent some soldiers to Iraq. It was only to get dollars.
Angel: The same in Bulgaria.
Fr Andrew: And it was the same here. I have not yet met a single English person who says that the war in Iraq was not about oil. 25% of the world’s reserves! You know, I used to be a priest in France, and like most of the priests in the West, I also had a secular job, I still have, so that I can live. I have served the Church for twenty years, but never had a penny for it. In France I worked in a private Business School. The head of this school, and he had a chain of them, was a well-known political figure on the right wing. He had been head of the French State Television, Channels One and Two. He used his schools to launder money for the right-wing party, the one that the present French President Chirac founded. He went into hospital for a minor operation and they killed him. This was under the former French President Mitterrand. It is because of this political murder that the School went bankrupt, I lost my job, and I came back to England to get another job. That is why I am here today, because of Western political corruption. At that time in France, there were many murders. For example, take the French Prime Minister in the nineties, Beregovoi, who was actually Russian, but born in France. He was a good man, not corrupt, but he was drowned in a river. They said it was suicide. But everybody knew that it was a political murder.
Tudor: This is like the English scientist, Kelly, who died because he was against the war in Iraq. They said that he committed suicide.
Alexander: This is like in the Ukraine.
Fr Andrew: The situation there I know well, because my brother-in-law, who is a Russian financier, was one of Yushchenko’s advisors. He was so disgusted with the Mafia corruption, that he left Yuschchenko. All the EU and American money was going into Swiss bank accounts.
Angel: But don’t you think that it will be better for us when we are in the European Union? Only last week Romanian and Bulgaria signed an agreement to join in 2007.
Corina: But a lot of people in our country fear this.
Alexander: Everything from the West is bad.
Fr Andrew: I don’t agree with you, Alexander. Not everything is bad. Otherwise why are you here? (Laughter). Of course, the European Union could be a disaster. Most English people have found it so. But it depends on what you take from the West. If you take the bad things, then it will be bad. If you take the good things, then it will be good.
Tudor: The trouble is that we usually take the bad things.
Fr Andrew: Yes, but it is no good blaming the West for that. Look at Russia. It took Communism from the West, and everything was destroyed for nearly eighty years. Yes it is true that Communism was invented in the West, by a German Jew. But the West never forced Russia to take it. You can only blame yourselves. Today, you all know that it was a mistake. The West itself never became Communist. They rejected it, even though it is a Western ideology.
Alexander: Yes, that is true, but it is also true that when Russia fell into Communism, very few of the Bolsheviks were actually Russian. It was all financed from New York and the West was happy at the fall of Russia. We were going to free Constantinople from the Turks.
Tudor: But my grandfather told me that when the Soviets invaded Romania at the end of the Second War, he remembered how they came in American tanks. They still had the American star on. It was like the Soviet star, only white.
Fr Andrew: Everybody knows that Communism only survived so long because the West gave them technology, but that is still not an excuse.
Tudor: But some things were not so bad under Communism.
Fr Andrew: Yes, of course that is true. We have an English parishioner here, Nicholas. He is married to Vicky from Kiev. For medical treatment he goes there, because of the difficulties in the English system. He says it is still much better there. I have a Russian colleague, in my secular job. She is horrified by the English educational system. Or so-called system. I understand her, because it is terrible. Of course, these things were much better under Communism.
The only real trouble with the Communists is that they hated God. And those who hate God always end up hating and then destroying themselves. This is what happened in Russia, The old Communists all destroyed themselves in alcohol and hatred. This was suicide, like Judas and Pilate. This is a spiritual law. You cannot escape it. Hate God and you will hate mankind and yourself. This is what is happening in the West today. You can see this among young Western people in the cult of death. They dress very badly in black, make themselves look ugly, put metal in their bodies, and wear T-shirts with heads of demons and death on them. Some of them even make themselves look like demons.
Alexander: To change the subject, what do you think of the Pope?
Dimitri: The old one or the new one?
Fr Andrew: Of course the old one was bad for Orthodoxy. He could have stopped the Greek Catholics stealing our churches, especially in the Ukraine and Slovakia, but he did nothing, he encouraged it. As for the new one, we shall see. Maybe, he will continue like the old one, maybe he will be more of a friend of the Orthodox Church. In any case he is very old, maybe he will not live for long.
Tudor: You know, he was in the Hitler Youth when he was young. Someone said to me, when he was elected: So, you see, Hitler has won, after all!
Fr Andrew: Yes, but as you know, that is unfair. All German boys at that time were forced to join the Hitler Youth.
Alexander: What do you think of the Greeks from Constantinople who sang at his funeral? In Russia, we were very shocked by that.
Fr Andrew: That is a problem for the Greek Church. It is an internal question for them. It is all political. We are not in the Greek Church, so it is nothing to do with us. But I hope that this new Pope will learn something from Orthodoxy. Western Europe today is pagan. You can see this in the new European Union Constitution. It is an atheist document. It was very strange you know, how exactly when the Soviet Union fell, so the European Union arose. It was as if all the demons fled the Kremlin and emigrated to the West. I know how difficult and corrupt the situation is in your countries, but I tell you if you want to find faith, you must go to the Orthodox countries, the old Communist ones. The West is in a state of spiritual decadence. It is a spiritual disease. So, the people who rule us are like people possessed with demons. The only good thing is that they have given us Orthodox our Bright Monday as a holiday this year!
Corina: So you think there will never be unity between Orthodoxy and Catholicism?
Fr Andrew: We don’t know that. Everything is possible. The Catholics could change. For example at present they have a terrible crisis, they have hardly any priests in Western Europe and America. And quite a few of them are perverts. Christ spoke of such perverts. He said it was better if they had not been born. I know a Romanian priest who came to spend a year at a Catholic seminary in the West on one of these ecumenical projects. He was horrified. In the evenings, the seminarians just watched pornographic cassettes. He went home, disgusted.
Catholicism is all in a state of change. The problem is with the people at the top. A lot of ordinary Catholics, who still believe, in many ways they are like us Orthodox. They are much closer to us than they know. I think that some Catholics will end up joining the Orthodox Church, because they will see that Catholicism, or rather the Catholic leaders, have taken the wrong way.
Angel: I have another question. How do you manage to be a priest and have a secular job?
Fr Andrew: With great difficulty! It is a daily martyrdom. How can I do my priest’s job properly, when I have to waste most of my time in a secular job? But what can I do? Every day I have prayed to be freed from this cross, so I can do daily services, visit you, do all the things that a priest should do. God has not granted this yet, because of my sins.
Dimitri: Don’t you get any subsidies from the State?
Fr Andrew: Nothing! We are quite alone. The only Western country that really gives any money to the Church is Germany.
Corina: How do you manage with the languages? Tonight I suppose the service was half in Slavonic, the rest in Romanian, English, Greek. And there was another language too.
Fr Andrew: That was French. Well, we manage, with God’s help. We have been doing this for many years.
Tudor: Is there any Orthodox nationality that you have not had here?
Fr Andrew: I think probably we have had no Georgians. But we have had, and have, many other nationalities, for instance, French, there were six French people in church tonight. We have had Italian, German, Portuguese, Japanese, Lithuanian, Latvian, American, many, many others, I can’t remember.
Angel: Here we are speaking English. But I am a Slav and Alexander is a Slav, and we communicate in English, because otherwise we will not understand each other!
Fr Andrew: You know, that is why English is important. It is the common language. For example, if ever there is an Eighth Council of all the Orthodox Church, they will use English as the common language, just as before they used Latin and Greek. So English is useful in today’s Orthodox world.
Alexander: Do you think there will ever be an Eighth Council?
Fr Andrew: I think we are having it now! Look, we are all different nationalities, sitting at a round table!
Alexander: (laughing). Yes, but seriously?
Fr Andrew: I think probably not. About thirty years ago, there was a lot of talk about an Eighth Council, because at that time ecumenism was very controversial. Of course, it was all denounced by serious Orthodox, like the great Serbian theologian, Fr Justin Popovich, who is now a saint. You know he was a friend of the Romanian starets, Fr Cleopas. And, by the way, he was also the spiritual father of our Diocesan Archbishop Mark, who studied in Belgrade. But since the fall of Communism, ecumenism is mainly dead. Only in Constantinople is there any interest in ecumenism, among the older bishops there. And that only represents a few million Orthodox. What is there to talk about? All Orthodox agree on the big questions. Everything was decided at the Seven Councils. Now there is only administrative detail to discuss.
Alexander: What about the calendar?
Fr Andrew: Where is the problem? Here, at this table, we are on different calendars. You Romanians and Bulgarians are new calendar. Zoe, sitting over there, she is a Cypriot, she is also new calendar. The only problem you ever have is at Christmas. And then I bless you to go to the Greek church in Colchester or Cambridge. At Easter there is no problem.
Alexander: But the new calendar is wrong.
Fr Andrew: I am convinced that the three Local Churches who, under political pressure, went over to the new calendar, the Romanians, the Bulgarians and the Greeks, will one day return to the old calendar, because we all know that that is the Church calendar, the Orthodox calendar. I have had many conversations with devout Greeks and Romanians, including clergy, even two bishops, and they thought the same thing. The mistake is to make the calendar into a reason for schism.
For example, if in Romania you are on the new calendar, then you must obey your bishops there and keep together, even though, as one of your bishops himself told me, it is a mistake. It is better to make a mistake, than make a schism. It is a question of obedience. You can only disobey a bishop, if it is a dogmatic question, if he demands that you deny the faith or that you become a freemason, or something like that. The calendar for the fixed feasts is not a dogmatic question.
Take, for example, the first head of our Church outside Russia, Metropolitan Antony. He had been Metropolitan of Kiev before the Revolution. He was appointed head of all the Russian Orthodox outside Russia by the holy Patriarch Tikhon. Well, Metropolitan Antony after the Revolution lived in Serbia and concelebrated a lot with the Serbian Patriarch Barnabas, a wonderful man. Well, when Patriarch Myron was appointed Patriarch in Romania in the 1930s and introduced the new calendar, Metropolitan Antony went and concelebrated. There was no problem.
Alexander: What is the situation between the Church Outside Russia and the Patriarchate in Moscow?
Fr Andrew: You know, tonight there were six big tables of food to bless, and you saw on one of the tables the photograph of our Metropolitan Laurus and the delegation of our Church in Moscow standing side by side with the Patriarch and the other bishops. What is the problem? In the year 2000, the Moscow Patriarchate repented for the errors it made under the Communists, all the compromises. They condemned in their Council the compromises with Communism, they said the Church must be independent and to prove their good faith, they started canonizing the New Martyrs, the victims of Communism, like we had done here in freedom.
Some people say that the free part of the Church, us, has ‘gone over’ to the Moscow Patriarchate, compromising with Communism. That is nonsense. The fact is that the Patriarchate has reunited with us. When you go to the Ukraine, you take confession and communion in the churches of the Patriarchate, when Corina goes to Romania, she goes to the Romanian church. Angel does the same in Bulgaria. When you come to Felixstowe, you pray for Metropolitan Laurus and Archbishop Mark. Where is the problem? Only narrow-minded people have a problem with this. All the people who are really Orthodox have the same views, the same spirit. Orthodoxy is a spirit. The only problem we have here is with some of the representatives of the Moscow Patriarchate abroad, under their External Relations Department. They are still living in the past, old Communists and ecumenists, modernists. They are old-fashioned. Most of them are in their sixties or even older. The future is with us, the young people With the people in Russia, we in the Russian Church outside Russia are completely united.
Angel: What do you think of the problems now in the Greek Church? You know, there have been scandals with some bishops.
Fr Andrew: These are internal matters for the Church of Greece. I hear that one bishop has now been retired to a monastery. There have always been scandals in the Church. This is nothing new. In the seventies and eighties we had terrible scandals here in London with Greek and Russian bishops. We don’t talk about it. If ever the details become public, it will not be because of us, even though we know them all. We pray for their souls.
It was the same in Paris. I don’t know who was worse, the Russians or the Greeks. Each people has its own weaknesses, with Russians it is usually a lack of self-control, with Greeks it is usually money. Freemasonry was more a problem in Paris. We were persecuted. But the Church doesn’t belong to any of us. The Church is here, not because of us, but in spite of us, human-beings, bishops, priests, lay-people. The fact that the Church still exists at all is a miracle. It is proof of the Holy Spirit. The end of the world will come when there are no more Orthodox churches anywhere on earth. The Church goes on and the gates of hell will not overcome. Christ said it to us. Therefore it is so.
Tudor: You say that each people has its weaknesses. What is the weakness of the Romanians?
Fr Andrew: As far as I can see, it is that they argue. Two Romanians sit down in the evening and are bored. So they say: ‘What shall we do?’. And the other answers: ‘I know, let’s have an argument’. And the other says: ‘Great idea!’. (Laughter). This is not only Romanians, this is a Balkan illness.
Gabriel: And what about the French? What is their weakness?
Fr Andrew: As you know, I lived in France for fifteen years. Their weakness is theories. The French have the best ideas in the world. They are geniuses for this. But you know Orthodoxy is not about theories and ideas, it is a way of life. What will we say at the Last Judgement? ‘I lived badly, but I had good ideas?’ This is not the path to salvation.
Dimitri: And what about the English, what is their weakness?
Fr Andrew: Sometimes, I think that the English have the worst weakness of all. The English have little faith, they are weak. They become Orthodox, and then after a few months they abandon it, because they are not strong enough. We have very few English parishioners now. A few years ago, here it was mainly Orthodox who were English. The older ones I have buried or else some were ill and moved away. Today there are very few young English people who are interested in any faith, let alone Orthodoxy.
An old priest I knew said to me years ago, speaking about the Anglicans with all their homosexuals and other modernists, disbelieving in Christ: ‘The trouble with the English is that they have tea in their veins’. And he was right, to be Orthodox, you must have blood. Orthodoxy runs in our blood and bones. For example yesterday, an Englishwoman, who is Orthodox phoned me up and asked what the time of the service is. I said: ’11.15 at night’. She answered: ‘Oh, that is much too late for me. I won’t come’. That is typical. So the whole of the Orthodox Church must change after 2,000 years, just because of one silly Englishwoman? What can I say?
That is why at 2.30 this morning a hundred of you were standing in church, praising Christ. That is why Orthodoxy will live. I will make a prediction, that there will come a time when the only churches in Western Europe will be Orthodox. Eventually these too will be closed, and people like me or my children and grandchildren will have to flee to Romania, or Bulgaria or Russia to practise our faith freely.
Alexander: We will welcome you!
Dimitri: In Moldova, you know that there are tensions between the Orthodox. There are the Ukrainians and Russians on the one side, on the old calendar, Romanians, like me, on the new calendar. They don’t do things together. Why can’t it be like at this table tonight?
Fr Andrew: Because people forget the spirit of Christ, the Paschal spirit, the spirit of Easter night. In church tonight we sang : ‘Let us embrace one another’. We forgive all things in the Resurrection. We are one in the Resurrection and that is the spirit of Orthodoxy.
Everybody knows that Stalin was responsible for the situation in Moldova. He stole Bessarabia from Romania at the end of the war. This is all politics, not Orthodoxy. The modern border between Romania and Bessarabia is absurd, artificial. But then also, are all the borders between Orthodox countries. You know there is one thing that I dislike. It is when people say that they are ‘Russian Orthodox’ or ‘Greek Orthodox’ or ‘Romanian Orthodox’ or ‘English Orthodox’. They should say: ‘I am ‘Orthodox Russian’, or ‘Orthodox Romanian’ or ‘Orthodox Greek’ or ‘Orthodox Serb’ or ‘Orthodox French’, and so on. They must put Orthodoxy first. Christ said so in the Gospels: put the Kingdom of God first, not this world. The prince of this world is the devil. The borders between Orthodox countries are foolish.
You know that Felixstowe is one of the most easterly points in England. We are on the same latitude as Chernigov in the Ukraine and Kursk in Russia. Tonight in church I turned east, directly looking at Russia and all your other countries and shouted: ‘Orthodox Russia, Christ is Risen!’ I hope they heard me with all the millions of other voices!
Corina: So what is our conclusion? It is half past four and poor Anca must be at work at the hotel at 6.00!
Fr Andrew: Poor Anca! Our conclusion must be: Christ is Risen! Khristos Voskrese! Hristos a Inviat! Christos Anesti! Christ has destroyed death, so therefore He has destroyed the spirit of death in life, the modern Western culture of death. So if we have faith in Christ, if we are true to Orthodoxy, we must not be afraid of life! We Orthodox have blood in our veins and Christ in our hearts. That is what the West can learn from us. The West may have money and technology, but without faith it is nothing, just ashes and dust. And we have faith! Glory to God for all things!