A TALE OF FOUR CITIES:
Schema-Archimandrite Julian (Knezhevich) (+ 2001)
After her conversion to Orthodoxy at the end of the nineteenth century, the Empress Alexandra suffered much from the decadence of much of St Petersburg society. With its decadent superficiality, futile frivolity, immodest dress, adulterous love affairs and fascination with the occult, that society was foreign and hostile to the zeal and sincerity for the Orthodox Faith of the Empress. It was that society of the aristocratic elite, which, living off the backs of the toiling peasants and workers, spread malicious gossip about the Imperial Couple. It rejected the prophecies and calls to repentance of St John of Kronstadt (+ 1908), through whose prayers Russia was preserved (1). It rejected the very Tsar who reigned over a Russia which was at its most prosperous and most powerful. And it slandered the Tsar as ‘weak-willed’, when to resist the pressures of that secular elite as he did, he had, on the contrary, to be very strong-willed.
And yet it was this rejected Royal Couple who, at one with Orthodox peasant Russia, rejoiced in the glorification of St Seraphim of Sarov, who was so despised by the aristocracy as an ‘obscurantist little monk’. Little wonder that the sister of the Empress, the future holy martyr Elizabeth, founded the Convent of Sts Martha and Mary in the people’s Moscow, not in the elite’s St Petersburg. Little wonder that much of St Petersburg society was to rejoice in the forced abdication of Tsar Nicholas (2) and the humiliation of the pious Empress Alexandra.
Given the attitude of the elite, the reason why Tsar Nicholas spoke of ‘treachery, cowardice and deceit all around’ is clear. It was the rejection of the Lord’s Anointed by the elite which also explains the failure of the White Russian cause, as was explained by many holy men, among them Archbishop Averky at Jordanville (+ 1976). The fact is that many of the supposedly White Russians, with the exception of those in the Far East and a few others, did not want the restoration of the Monarchy. This compromised their struggle from the outset. Like the Red Russians, all others who rejected the rule of the Lord’s Anointed, shouting ‘Crucify him, crucify him’, were ultimately accepting the rule of satan’s appointed, which was the only alternative.
It was for this fateful rejection that so many members of the emigration were destined to repent in exile. Sadly, however, some of the St Petersburg society in the emigration not only did not repent, but continued their rejection of the Tsar and the Church abroad. Nowhere was this more so than in Paris, the spiritual home of so many of the aristocrats and intellectuals. Leaving the Russian Orthodox Church altogether, part of the emigration here in practice abandoned the motto ‘Za Veru, za Rus’ (‘For the Faith, for Rus’), and deliberately cutting itself off from its roots, went its own philosophical way. Its typically St Petersburg lack of seriousness and decadent frivolity imagined the heresy of humanist Sophianism, so ably overturned by Orthodox theologians such as Blessed Seraphim (Sobolev) (+ 1950) and St John of Shanghai (+ 1966). Nonetheless, a practical if fantasist Sophianism was spread abroad by others of the Paris School. With its pre-Revolutionary occultist undertones of Buddhism and Hinduism and charlatanism of its exotic ‘mysticosity’, it infected many who came into contact with it.
As a result of this Paris School, those who should have fulfilled the historic and messianic destiny of the Russian Orthodox Church, failed in their vocation. Thus, those who wished for a more serious Orthodox witness and monastic life in France were obliged to leave France altogether, like Fr Savva Struve, Fr Sergiy Chetverikov and Fr Kyprian Pyzhov. Alternatively, in more recent times, French Orthodox turned to Greek Athonite monasticism, to the Serbian and Romanian Churches or left France altogether. Unfortunately, ‘St Petersburg’ Russians took the Paris spirit was taken to other parts of the Russian emigration and other parts of Europe, notably to London. Then it was taken across the Atlantic to New York, where it infected the largely ex-Uniat Metropolia. This had also split off from the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia, although it is now beginning to return to the Tradition, as it recovers its roots. In recent years the spirit of the Paris School was even taken back to Russia, but here it had hardly any success, apart from among a narrow circle of Jewish intellectuals.
During those long, dark years of domination of the Paris School, it became clear that the regeneration of Russian Orthodoxy in those parts of Western Europe where the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia was either absent or else, so sadly, disengaged, would first require the freedom of the Church inside Russia. Until then, there was, respectively, as was experienced, deceit, followed by treachery and then cowardice. This regeneration began in August 2000, when the Russian Church was at last proclaimed free at the Jubilee Council. This freedom was proclaimed when the episcopate of the Russian Church inside Russia began the task of canonizing the New Martyrs and Confessors of Russia, including the Royal Martyrs Nicholas and Alexandra and their Children. Inevitably, the spiritual consequences of this act were sooner or later to spill over into Western Europe and North America. Those who in the freedom of the Western world since 1981 had refused to kiss the icons of the New Martyrs and Confessors now did so in acts of repentance.
This regeneration, which had been prophesied by such holy elders as St Barnabas of Gethsemane (+ 1906), St Aristocleus of Athos (+ 1918), St Anatoly the Younger of Optina (+ 1922) and St Seraphim of Vyritsa (+ 1949), took place for two reasons. As another Elder, Hieroschemamonk Constantine (Shipunov) (+ 1960), prophesied and explained: ‘Now times are difficult. But the flowering of the faith is yet to come. All the churches and monasteries will open, but for a short time. This will happen for two reasons: Firstly, so that the number of angels will be made up to take account of the fallen, and secondly, so that at the Last Judgement no-one will be able to say: ‘Lord, we had not heard of Thee and we did not know of Thine existence, nobody told us’.
Thus, the regeneration of Russian Orthodoxy was to begin in London six years after that Jubilee Council, in December 2006. Then the first Russian Orthodox bishop from Russia and in good health since Bishop Nicholas (Karpov) (+ 1932), was sent from Moscow to be the resident diocesan bishop in London. After seventy-five years of isolation and struggle, healing here has begun. It is to be hoped that this healing will spread to Paris itself. For the spiritual illness that came from St Petersburg can only be treated by spiritual healing from Moscow. It is to be hoped that, eventually, authentic monastic life will be brought from Russia to both France and England in order to reinforce Russian Orthodox life. For without authentic monastic life, parish life all too easily degenerates into the physical (ritualism) or, for the elite, the philosophical (intellectualism) (4).
As regards how far the regeneration of the Church will go inside Russia, it is not for us to know. There are those who hope that a new and holy (3) Tsar will yet reign who will call a new Oecumenical Council, the Eighth. For just as the First Seven Councils dealt with all opposition to the Orthodox understanding of all the first articles of the Creed, so, according to some, there must be an Eighth Council to deal with opposition to the Orthodox understanding of the last articles of the Creed, concerning the nature of the Church, ‘One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic’, and the last things, ‘the resurrection of the dead and the life of the age to come’. For as the Creed unfolds, so too does history, as the only history is the history of salvation.
This Tsar may come to reign or not. However, for us outside Russia, we are convinced that the regeneration of Orthodoxy that began inside Russia is now following outside Russia. The illness that spread from St Petersburg to Paris and from there to London is to be healed from Moscow. This is the Tale of Four Cities and this present phase of history is a far, far better thing for Orthodox England than any other that we have heard of in recent times.
1. According to St Silvanus the Athonite (+ 1938): ‘The Lord preserved Russia during the life of St Seraphim, thanks to his prayers; and after him there was another pillar, who rose up to the heavens from the earth, Fr John of Kronstadt’. It should be recalled, especially by those who wish to make the Orthodox peasant saint, St Silvanus, into some sort of ‘ecumenical’ or ‘modernist’ ‘mystical visionary’, that it was St John who directed the future St Silvanus to the Holy Mountain, for which the robustly Orthodox St Silvanus always remained deeply grateful.
Not only St Silvanus but also many others attribute the defeat of Napoleon in the Patriotic War of 1812 to St Seraphim’s prayers, just as we attribute the victory over the atheist revolutionaries of 1905 to St John of Kronstadt. Later, St Seraphim of Vyritsa, repeating the feat of prayer of St Seraphim of Sarov, also protected Russia. This time, it was from Hitler in the Great Patriotic War, that the Nazis started on the Feast of All the Saints who shone forth in the Russian Land, in 1941. Some consider that the ever-memorable Metropolitan John of St Petersburg and Ladoga (+ 1996), who so venerated St John of Kronstadt and followed in his footsteps, together with the prayers of such holy elders as Fr Nikolai (Guryanov) (+ 2002) and Fr John (Krestyankin) (+ 2006), helped save Russia from the Western decadence of the Yeltsin years in a similar way.
2. In 1998 the ever-memorable Bishop Basil (Rodzianko) (1999), known to me as Fr Vladimir, went to the former Imperial Residence at Tsarskoye Selo, and pronounced a sermon repenting for the grave error of his grandfather, Michel Rodzianko, the last President of the State Duma, who had helped force the abdication. This was on the advice of St John of Shanghai, who still a young hieromonk in Serbia, had told the young Vladimir to pray all his life for his grandfather and the sin of his error.
3. The Seven Oecumenical Councils were called by the following Emperors and Empresses. All of them were canonized by the Church:
Oecumenical Council (325): St Constantine the Great
4. This is clear from the lives of all those Churches where monastic life is weak, whether within the Patriarchates of Antioch and Alexandria, or in the Churches of Bulgaria, America, Czechoslovakia, Finland and Japan.