Before the Fifth Anniversary of the Entry into Canonical Communion of the Two Parts of the Russian Orthodox Church
On 17 May 2012 we will celebrate the fifth anniversary of the entry into canonical communion of the Russian Orthodox Church inside Russia (‘the Patriarchate’) and the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia (ROCOR). Below we publish a number of questions and answers from recent correspondence regarding this forthcoming event and the current situation.
Q: Were you always in favour of the reconciliation between the Russian Orthodox Church inside Russia (’the Patriarchate’) and the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia (ROCOR)?
A: No, not until the Patriarchate was freed of its old compromises caused by its political oppression. As you can see from what I wrote at that time in the early years of this century and which is posted on this site, I was very cautious.
My caution was precisely because I knew the situation from the inside. Nearly forty years ago now I was received into the local Sourozh Diocese of the Patriarchate in England, since ROCOR members had told me that they were a racially exclusive club for Russians only and therefore I could not be admitted. I was tonsured reader in the Sourozh Diocese in January 1981. Soon after this I stopped being naive and came to know the situation in the Patriarchate in Europe very well and the level of corruption in it, especially in Vienna, Berlin, Paris and London, which is why we left it for the free Church, ROCOR.
I considered that no reconciliation was possible at least until the Patriarchate at last accept our threefold condition, that it accept the ROCOR Canonisation of the New Martyrs and Confessors, reject dependency on the State (‘Sergianism’) and reject Syncretism (‘Ecumenism’). Although this all happened in 2000, even after this, in England, reconciliation was still not possible. For example, the leaders of the Sourozh Diocese at the time condemned their own canonisation and refused to put up any icons of the New Martyrs on the walls of their London Cathedral! They said there was no room for them! That was true – there was no room for the New Martyrs - in their hearts and minds.
That was a time of their internal feuding in Sourozh between the people, who of course were on the side of ROCOR, and many of the (mainly ex-Anglican) clerical elite. It was only after 2006 that in England the local Sourozh Diocese was at last freed, after more than fifty years of captivity, from its renovationist leaders. |the people, and therefore ROCOR, had won. Those who left were the very ones who had persecuted us in the 70s and early 80s for following the Tradition, which is why we left it in 1982, 25 years before. We had been the forerunners. It had been a long battle – 25 years. So I would say that 2007 was exactly the right time for the reconciliation to take place. We were all ready for it.
Q: What do you say to the former members of ROCOR who rejected the reconciliation of 2007 and have since formed tiny schismatic groups?
A: I remember well one who came to us from London in about 2005. He stated that ROCOR was a glass of clean water and the Patriarchate a glass of dirty water and so we could not possibly be mixed together.
This was phariseeism based on ignorance. I answered him with some facts: If we were the glass of clean water, why in 1995 in North America were three of our priests defrocked and why one in England a few years before? Such phariseeism shows huge ignorance of Church history. In every century, every generation, every country, there have always been scandals of such a type and defrockings. Nobody is ‘clean’. We are all sinners. Fortunately, the dissidents are very few in number, all divided among each other in sects, and certainly in number fewer than 5% of ROCOR overall. So we should not get these personal tragedies out of proportion.
In general, I think it is a great pity that more members of ROCOR do not read the works of our first Metropolitan, Antony of Kiev. The architect of the restoration of the Patriarchate, he wrote many works, collected in several volumes, about the state of affairs in the Church before the Revolution. The problem is that some of our parishioners, born in the West and unable to read Russian, think that the Church before the Revolution was perfect. This is illusion. We do not want to restore the Church to what it was before the Revolution. If that is done, there will simply be another Revolution. We want better than that, so that there will not be another Revolution.
Q: These dissidents say that not much has changed in Russia, that ROCOR linked up with the Patriarchate too soon. What is your answer?
A: I can remember in the early 80s in Paris how KGB operatives followed Russian Orthodox émigrés in the street and wrote reports on them. Today, indeed since about 15 years ago, the same operatives came to me, as to others, asking for baptism and confession. Do not underestimate the power of the grace of God to change people and situations. Do not underestimate the power of forgiveness. Do not remain in a time warp. I can remember only ten years ago when I asked a Patriarchal bishop whether he thought we should link up with the Patriarchate and he told me categorically no. However, he had changed his opinion by 2006, when he said that the Patriarchate was now ready. People change for the better because of the Holy Spirit. I am sorry that some, through isolation and being stuck in the past, have not seen these changes. Let us therefore be generous and give them more time.
Q: Some have likened the relationship between the two parts of the Church as that between an elder brother (ROCOR) and a younger brother (the Patriarchate). What would you say?
A: This is a great and proud mistake, quite false condescension. ROCOR was founded in 1920, the Patriarchate, ultimately, goes back to 988, even though it only came into being per se at the end of the 16th century. In any case, there is a huge difference! In fact, you could easily argue just the opposite and say that ROCOR is the younger brother.
However, I can see where such a thought comes from, from the wounds of the past. For example, I can remember the shock of Bishop Elisei, the new Patriarchal bishop of the Sourozh Diocese, who was appointed after their 2006 schism. He discovered only four or five years ago that he had in his diocese at least one priest, an ex-Anglican, who used to have breakfast before celebrating the liturgy! Of course, that behaviour was typical of the old Sourozh Diocese and did not scandalise us in ROCOR at all. We had known about it and all that had gone on there for decades. That is why we belonged to ROCOR. But Bishop Elisei, being a new, naive, young bishop and coming from Russia and Russian Orthodox practice, was scandalised. I think it was at that point that he realised the value of the witness of ROCOR, how we tried to keep the fasts, and how we had been faithful to Russian Orthodoxy in this country for so many decades despite all the persecution and slander we underwent because of our faithfulness. So it is that naivety is lost.
Q: Some ROCOR members have been upset by the behaviour of certain new priests in the Patriarchate.
A: The Patriarchate suffers from a huge shortage of priests. In the 1990s, some young men were ordained there within only a few months of baptism. These former ‘pioneers’ (the Communist youth groups were called pioneers) had renovationist tendencies. Some have since been defrocked. However, I can only think of three of them in Western Europe and three in Moscow who are still active. And they are not bad people, just extremely naive. Inexperience is a big problem in the Patriarchate. Sometimes you meet mitred archpriests there who have only been priests for fifteen years! The norm in ROCOR is fifty years!
However, instead of criticising them, we should help such people on their way by inviting them to ROCOR parishes to concelebrate with us. (Of course, there are plenty of Patriarchal parishes where they could also get a sense of normality). Then they can see what normal parish life is like, we can show them how we suffered from persecution, for witnessing to the Tradition, how they should not scandalise the faithful but love them. So we can convert them to reality. They may have been priests for more than a decade, but we can still teach them some basics that they have never learned. I know Patriarchal parishes where such neophyte priests have in fact been converted to Russian Orthodox norms by their own parishioners, who have a much better idea of the Tradition than they do. Among the tens of thousands of priests in the Patriarchate, we must remember that these are only a few individuals, there is no reason to be unduly concerned by such marginal phenomena. Unfortunately, they attract attention and people can get an unbalanced view of reality.
Q: Some ROCOR members also criticise the Patriarchate, pointing to some strange cases of clerical conduct and statements in Russia. What would you answer?
A: This reminds me of a Patriarchal priest here only a few years ago. He criticised ROCOR for doing the services too quickly, for reading and singing quickly. I asked him where he had got this impression from. It turned out that his only contact with ROCOR had been with two Russian-Australians. Now I know that in several parishes in the Australian Diocese of ROCOR they do read and sing very quickly – unlike some other parishes in Australia and unlike ROCOR parishes in every other ROCOR diocese I know. So this priest, quite young and inexperienced, was basing his opinion of the whole Church on a sweeping generalisation! The same is true when I hear some members of ROCOR criticising the Patriarchate. No Church is monolithic and that includes ROCOR.
It is generally only among small convert groups in ROCOR, who have little concept of ordinary ROCOR parishes themselves, that you hear such criticisms of the Patriarchate. They may have heard of some eccentric case and then generalise from there. In its turn, the Patriarchate is very big, each diocese differs in many respects in its customs Just like ROCOR, the Patriarchate is not monolithic.
Every Church has many different tendencies. For example, in Russia you can meet the neophyte mentality, like here in the West in the 1970s. The newly-baptised there may read books by Metr Antony Bloom, Fr Alexander Men, or even Fr Sophrony Sakharov and Fr Alexander Schmemann. All this is quite natural for beginners. However, with time and integration, these people give up reading such authors and turn to more meaty fare, to the Lives of the Saints and the Fathers. The Tradition always triumphs over these passing tendencies. These are just fads and fashions that come and go.
In Russia today, where Orthodoxy is a mass religion, you also for instance have one or two monks who sing sentimental religious ballads to the guitar, you have a few ‘missionaries’, personalities who are really rather Protestant-inspired, and make exaggerated statements. There are two parishes of such people in Moscow. All of this is not a bad thing for beginners, it helps people on their way, but of course the more serious, integrated people go to normal parishes. These fashions will also pass, just as the fashion for some rather extreme, right-wing nationalist ideologies also exists in a few other parishes. The mainstream always conquers. I would not be bothered by such fringe phenomena. Far too much attention is paid to them.
Q: It has been reported that only 2% of Orthodox in Russia keep the fasts strictly. Some ROCOR members are shocked by this. What would you say to them?
A: We should beware of judgemental phariseeism. Fasts are according to our abilities. We fast as strictly as we can, according to our ability. There are different levels of fasting. Only small convert groups in ROCOR all keep the fast strictly. In average ROCOR parishes I would say that only 10-30% fast strictly. And that was the case in Russia before the Revolution. Read about the future St Silouan and how he failed to fast as a young man. Read about the bars and butchers shops that were open all through the fasts before the Revolution. They did not close – though of course the devout did not enter them.
In Russia, as we have said, Orthodoxy is a mass religion, not the religion of the selected ghetto. 20 years ago, the figure for those in Russia who kept the fast strictly was probably less than 0.2%. This means a tenfold increase in 20 years. Let us suppose that in 20 years time, there is another tenfold increase, taking it to 20%, where will it be in 40 years time?
It takes time to Church a people. I have never ceased repeating that it took three generations to destroy pre-Revolutionary Russia, so it will take three generations to restore something like it. We are only now coming to the end of the first generation of restoration of Orthodox Russia. We still only have half the number of churches and priests we had before the Revolution, though there are now about double the number of bishops.
Time is the key and therefore patience is the mother of our virtues. It is a privilege for us to take part in the restoration of Orthodox Russia and I feel very sorry for those who have not wanted to take part in this process because of their impatience. We should impatiently demand perfection only of ourselves, not of others. With others we should be patient.
Q: At the present time, the Church inside Russia is under attack in parts of the media there. There have been two blasphemous demonstrations in churches in Moscow and various scandals and cases of corruption have been disclosed. What would you say?
A: As a child I lived between two farms. We used to get eggs from the farmer’s wife, a lovely, rosy-cheeked lady. She had a shed where she kept new-laid eggs. There were perhaps 500 of them lying in trays. One day I went in there with her. As she went in, she picked up an egg and threw it out, explaining it was rotten.
My point is that by the law of averages there has to be a rotten egg sometimes. Just because there is a rotten egg, do we give up eating eggs? Just because of Judas, did the apostles say that they no longer believed in the Resurrection and would not preach Christ Crucified and Risen? Of course not.
The fact is that those who are taking part in the anti-Church campaign in Russia today are mainly atheists, supported or even financed by the West. These people are the spiritual descendants of those secularists who created the Russian Revolution of February 1917, which had been carefully rehearsed by the West. The Western elite has always hated and envied Russia and all other parts of the Orthodox world. It has always done and is doing its best to destroy them. Those naive, westernised semi-Orthodox who go along with these attacks are participating in attacks on the Body of Christ. They know not what they do. Father, forgive them.
You see how the West always operates on the divide and rule principle. It purposely introduced, by force, the heterodox calendar to divide the Orthodox Churches. Now it uses local nationalisms to further separate those Local Orthodox Churches from the Russian Church. This is the same principle as Hitler. When he invaded the Ukraine, the Nazi religious policy was not to repress Orthodoxy, it was to create separatist churches under Berlin’s control, divided from Moscow. In some cases they even tried to enforce the heterodox calendar. They wanted a separate church in every village. Our enemies feared: ‘United we stand, divided we fall’. Therefore we should fear division and praise unity. Conversely, the West promotes nationalism, because it wants the Orthodox Churches divided and warring and not under the strong and united leadership of the Russian Church.
The Western elite fears the Russian Church because it is 75% of the Orthodox world, 164 million baptised, and supports Orthodox everywhere else, from Montenegro to Syria, from Czechoslovakia to Georgia. Today, you can test people’s Orthodoxy by their attitude to the Russian Church. It is actually a litmus test. Those who criticise her are the westernised semi-Orthodox, those who respect her are fully Orthodox and hold faith with their Orthodox traditions. This is regardless of nationality. Thus you can meet Russians who are anti-Russian Church, just as you can meet Greeks who are pro-Russian Church, who are at one and the same time very faithful to their Greek traditions – and rightly so.
A: What would you say about the current personal attacks on His Holiness, I mean regarding money affairs and the case of the wristwatch?
Q: Last year Patriarch Kyrill was given an expensive watch by some oligarch. He felt obliged to wear it. Presumably since then it has been sold and the money has gone to build up the Church. As regards the property affairs, allegedly connected with the Patriarchate, a dacha by the Black Sea, a dacha outside Moscow and a flat in Moscow, it is difficult to say anything, because we simply do not have any facts. It is all hearsay. But I am sure that we shall find out that all this is part of a concerted campaign to blacken the Church on the part of atheists and dissidents, often Western-funded. It is not the first time and certainly will not be the last time. Such campaigns and rumours ignore the realities of Church life, the fact that people come to church, confess, shed tears of repentance and take communion and change their way of life. These are the only important facts; the rest is media froth, here today, gone tomorrow.
Q: But there are rich parishes in the Patriarchate, aren’t there?
A: People who say such things have only been to Moscow and Petersburg. They do not know the reality. In Moscow and St Petersburg you have many billionaires. I believe that in Moscow, one of the most expensive cities in the world and by far the largest in Europe, you have more billionaires than anywhere else in the world. Now some of these rich people donate to the Church, just as rich merchants donated to the Church before the Revolution. That makes those specific parishes which they donate to rich.
However, both in Moscow and only a few miles from Moscow, let alone in the provinces, you can see desperately poor parishes and priests – quite as poor as in much of ROCOR. Why do people judge a whole Church by a few individuals? There are many parishes in Russia where in order to survive the priests are forced to work in secular jobs, just as in ROCOR, where it has so often been the case that it is the priests who pay for the Church and not who are paid by the Church.
Q: Some dissidents who left ROCOR in 2007 criticise the Church in Russia and predict its downfall through corruption. What do you say?
A: You cannot criticise the Church. The Church is Christ. You can of course criticise Church people, just as we criticise ourselves, because we are human beings. Naturally, you will always find one or two corrupt individuals who have been infected by the corruption that is generalised in post-Soviet society – corruption which came in under the capitalism of the pro-Western Yeltsin. However, real Christians criticise themselves first and try to praise others. We are the ones who are corrupt; leave others to the judgement of God.
Those who predict catastrophe for the Church are always secular-minded. They do not understand that the Church is the Body of Christ, Crucified and Risen. They do not understand that the Church survives by the grace of God. Because they are secular-minded they have no concept, no experience of the grace of God. This is why they are always wrong!
I can remember old, non Church-going émigrés (and there were lots of them) saying: ‘The Church in Russia is finished’. Well, the Church in Russia has only just begun! Only some 220 million of the world’s population is Orthodox. We have another 6.8 billion to convert. Missions have begun in Ghana, in Tonga, in Pakistan, in Costa Rica, in Nepal, among Zulus and Australian Aborigenes, in the most unusual places. And they say: ‘The Church is finished!’ Such people make me laugh. The present situation provides us with our aims. The Churching of the masses is our task. This takes generations. When I say masses, I mean not only in the Russian Lands, but worldwide. The tasks before us are immense.
Q: At present there is a sort of dual jurisdiction in the Diaspora, with ROCOR and Patriarchal parishes almost side by side. True, there are good relations, but surely this situation is abnormal?
A: Of course, it is abnormal. With time there will develop closer co-operation in the Diaspora. This is inevitable, but it will take time. The real confusion is in Europe, where the Russian Church even has two ‘Archbishops of Berlin’. Restructuring will take time but it will come. Eventually all will have to pass into ROCOR.
Q: What about those fragments of the Slav Orthodox emigration who have not joined in the process of building up the united Russian Orthodox Church in the Diaspora, especially in North America and Paris?
A: We must patiently wait for their return, just as we patiently waited for the Patriarchate to extricate itself from the ruins of the Soviet system after its collapse in 1991. Today, parts of the Slav emigration in North America are infected by American nationalism, a spirit of independence, sometimes connected to converts from the Republican Establishment there. They are trying to be more American than the Americans. That comes from immigrant complexes, conformism. Similarly, in Paris there are parishes which are infected by French cultural nationalism, and then there is Galician nationalism among western Ukrainian immigrants in Canada.
For the moment this means that these immigrant groups are all cut off from the Russian Church and the New Martyrs. However, this nationalism, which is always divisive, will die out with time. Nationalism never lasts. But the Church does last. The serious parts of those groups will with time reintegrate the structures of the United Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia which are still taking shape, for we do have a vision for the future. Indeed, some of them are already joining us. Those who do not take part in our vision for the moment are still held captive by the immigrant nationalism of the past, which after all is only a form of worldliness.
Q: What are the chances that other Local Churches in the Diaspora will begin to co-operate with the Russian Orthodox Diaspora in the future?
A: As divisive nationalism dies out and representatives of other Local Churches begin to adopt local languages for worship, so they will see that they have to co-operate.
Q: What about in Britain?
A: In Britain the situation has been complicated by political prejudice and history. We saw this very clearly with the Sourozh schism of 2006. The story got into parts of the national press, which took a propaganda line (especially the Murdoch Press). It supported the schismatics, taking an anti-Russian and pro-Greek line, even referring back to the Crimean War and drumming up Cold War attitudes again. This is all part of British Establishment propaganda, which fears the Russian Church but not the Greek, since it considers that it has tamed it into submission, spiritually castrating it.
Thus, the Greek Church in this country, of whom the senior layman is in fact Prince Philip, has an agreement with the Church of England not to receive any Anglicans by baptism. It is forbidden. However, we in the Russian Church are free to do this. The fact that Cyprus was also effectively a British colony contributed to this mentality. It was in Cyprus that Meliton Metaksakis became a freemason in a British-run lodge and Britain had huge influence in the Hellenic Patriarchates of Alexandria and Jerusalem, as well as in Antioch. However, if we leave British Establishment politics aside, we can see that it is to the Russian Church that local people look.
Q: Is it really possible that the once Christian West will have to be reconverted by Russian Orthodoxy?
A: I can remember a recruitment poster for the British Army in about 1972 – how I wish I had kept it. It stated that it was recruiting and fighting to ensure freedom of worship in Russia. Today, forty years on, one of the aims of Russia is to ensure freedom of worship in Western Europe. However, unlike the militant Crusader West, we shall not do this by military means, but by witnessing to Christ in peace. Forty years on, the world has changed. The militant atheists are based in the West.
Q: What has been the greatest consolation to you over the last five years?
A: I think it has been the open repentance of those who persecuted us and slandered us for decades, ignoring us and refusing to concelebrate with us, all through the 70s, 80s, 90s and until very, very recently. They now come to us and concelebrate, asking to do so and we welcome their repentant spirit, because that is what it is. They now say that the Church outside Russia was right all along.
This just shows the value of perseverance. The only losers are those who give up the fight for the integrity of the Faith and Tradition because in giving up they are doing what the devil wants. If we persevere, we always win, or rather, God always wins through us. This is not our victory. This is the victory of the Church, against which the gates of hell shall never triumph. We have the proof of it in front of us. In our own lifetimes we have seen and we have believed! Glory to God!