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Fr Daniel in the Lion’s Den: ‘Paris’ Theology and Neo-Renovationism

Priest Daniel Sysoiev (1974-2009)

Translated from:

The following article was written over ten years ago by the recently martyred missionary, Priest Daniel Sysoiev. It deals with the Neo-Renovationism (new modernism) which crept into Russia in the 1990s from the West, where, as Renovationism (old modernism) but which had been developed to its ultimate form, it has been practised for decades in France, England, Finland and the USA.

Is there anything whereof it may be said, See, this is new? It has been already of old time, which was before us (Ecclesiastes 1, 10).

These sad words from Solomon’s wisdom involuntarily come to mind when we chance to observe the polemics on the activities of the Neo-Renovationists. I have repeatedly had to deal with people suffering from the Renovationist heresy. We should note that most of the criticisms made about Fr George Kochetkov (1) and his faction, criticising his ‘renewed Orthodoxy with a human face’, do not hit their target, since they are not aimed at the essence of this heresy.

The indignation of Orthodox public opinion is expressed either at the use of modern Russian in services, or else at non-communicants who are chased out of Church (2), or else at the exaggerated elitism and ecumenism in such communities. However, the ‘Parisian’ background of this phenomenon, in other words, the influence of the ‘Paris School of Theology’, goes virtually unnoticed. For example, at the well-known 1994 conference, ‘The Unity of the Church’, representatives of St Tikhon’s Theological Institute tried hard to dissociate the teachings of the ideology of Kochetkov from the teachings of Schmemann and Afanasiev, who were the pillars of ‘Orthodox’ modernism. Fr George Kochetkov was granted the ‘honour’ of creating his own doctrine, thus fuelling his claims to the role of self-styled prophet. All this recalls recent history, when at the dawn of perestroika, Stalin was condemned as an apostate from the heritage of Lenin and the ideals of Communism.

Indeed, in some small details Russian Neo-Renovationist ideas and practices do differ from the nostrums prescribed by the ‘Paris School of Theology’. However, this is only the consequence of human imperfection, which has not (to our good fortune!) led to the implementation of these ideas in all their glory. However, at the heart of modernism, both in Russia and in the West, is one and the same thing - the rejection of Patristic tradition in its entirety. As a result, we see the rejection of the contemporary structure of the Church, either because it is ‘obsolete’, or else because it has ‘departed from its apostolic origins’. By their fruits, ye shall know them. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles? So every good tree bringeth forth good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit; neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit (Matt. 7, 16-18). If we use this criterion of the Saviour, we must reject all attempts to justify the ‘Parisians’, because the fruits of ecclesiastical modernism are here for all to see.

My experience with Kochetkov’s followers (both former and current) shows that there is little room for the Christianity of the Fathers in their minds. Frs A. Schmemann, N. Afanasiev and Alexander Men (3), and, of course, ‘the great catechist, prophet, and teacher’ Fr G. Kochetkov, have taken the place of the divine wisdom of the Fathers of the Church. This movement has its own dogmas, from which they derive their own liturgical practices and peculiar moral concepts, notions that are very far from Orthodoxy.

Here are some examples. Their custom of driving non-communicants out of the Church goes back to the idea of the Eucharist articulated by Fr A. Schmemann (see his book, The Eucharist: Sacrament of the Kingdom), which has its dogmatic basis in the Protestant doctrine of the universal priesthood of the laity. Consequently, he teaches that the laity concelebrates with the priest, who only presides and does not celebrate the sacrament. Of course, with this understanding of the Eucharist, there is no place for non-communicants at the liturgy, lust like the celebrant priest who must always take communion at the Liturgy in the Orthodox Church. However, if you follow this view, it is not clear why the Apostle Paul calls only the apostles stewards of the mysteries of God (1 Corinthians 4, 1) and not the whole Church. When Christ instituted the Sacrament of His Body and Blood, He said the words, Do this in remembrance of me (Lk. 22, 19), only to the twelve, not to everyone. It is neither the priest, nor the people who have priestly authority in themselves (4), it is the Lord Jesus Christ Who performs all the sacraments through His apostles and their successors, the bishops and their priests, who are not creators of grace but distributors of grace.

Therefore, every priest reads the following at the Liturgy, ‘Vouchsafe that I, by the power of Thy Holy Spirit and vested with the grace of the priesthood, may stand before Thy holy Table and celebrate the mystery of Thy holy and most pure Body and Thy precious Blood, for Thou art He Who Offers and He Who is Offered, He Who receives and He Who is given out, O Christ our God’. (Prayer at the Cherubic Hymn). Laypeople do not have the grace of the priesthood and therefore cannot concelebrate with the priest. ‘The royal priesthood’ (1 Peter 2, 9) of the laity means that they must, present (their) bodies as a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is (their) reasonable service (Romans 12, 1), not that they must concelebrate with the bishop or the priest. Therefore, the rank of penitent existed in the Church, they were those who stood together with the faithful and were not dismissed along with the catechumens, but did not take communion. St Gregory the Wonderworker (3rd century) speaks of this practice in his 12th canon.

Another example of modernist theology is the doctrine of Fr. N. Afanasiev that the power and grace of the priesthood and the episcopate are identical (see his book, The Church of the Holy Spirit). Orthodox often wondered: ‘Why did Fr George Kochetkov not obey his Patriarch? (1) Why did he and members of his community subtly judge His Holiness, deciding in what he was right and in what he was wrong? How can Kochetkov’s followers set up parallel Orthodox parishes across the country?’ The answer is simple. Renovationists consider themselves to be bishops. For them, the Patriarch is only a colleague, and even then ‘uncatechised’.

This is the very opinion of Fr N. Afanasiev’s (borrowed from Protestant pseudo-intellectuals) which was rejected by the famous 19th century Church historian, Professor V. Bolotov: ‘Dogmatically speaking, the episcopal rank precedes the rank of priest and therefore cannot historically be derived from it. Any historical understanding of the priesthood of the early Church, stating that bishops were only priests in the strict sense of the word, must be seen as disagreeing with the basic dogmatic understanding of the Universal Church’ (Lectures on the History of the Early Church, Moscow, 1994, Vol. 2. p. 486). The most fundamental concept for Renovationists is the ‘community’, by the way, this notion is very reminiscent of the totalitarian sect (5) and developed out of the opinion of Fr N. Afanasiev that such concepts and phenomena as the Universal Church did not exist in the first millennium of the Church. He taught that the Church was just a self-sufficient Eucharistic assembly which therefore needed no contact with other Churches (6).

It is amazing how someone who teaches this heresy can be regarded as an Orthodox priest, if at each Liturgy he testifies, ‘I believe … in the Catholic Church’. This false doctrine is untrue even historically (7). The Apostle Paul called the Church the Body of Christ, the fullness of all in all (Ephesians 1, 23). To the Christians at Corinth, he writes about eucharistic communion, there is One Bread, and we many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread (1 Corinthians 10, 17). At that time the Apostle Paul was himself in Ephesus. If we fail to recognise the existence of the Universal Church at that time, both in theory and in practice, this text is inexplicable.

Many Renovationist customs become explicable only in their ‘Parisian’ context. The denial by the latter of sacramentality in the Church before St Constantine leads them to attempt to expunge sacramentality from the services as ‘Non-Apostolic’ accretions (8). The result is the use of the Russian (or rather, secular) language in worship, the abolition of the Hours (Fr A. Schmemann believed that the theology of time has been lost and that therefore it made no sense to read the Hours) and the stress on the uselessness of the iconostasis (9). We could cite many more examples.

For all these reasons, we are convinced that Orthodox theology must not only judge contemporary Renovationism, but also, more importantly, expose its origins. Otherwise, if we condemn only Fr G. Kochetkov and crude Renovationists, we run the risk of succumbing to the same thing, but only in a different and more attractive package (10). One example has now shone forth on our horizon, a new ‘theological luminary’ from the Department of External Relations, Igumen Hilarion Alfeyev (11), who (referring to Western authorities) preaches heresies condemned by the Universal Councils, such as the doctrine of general salvation (apokatastasis) (12), rejected by the Fifth Universal Council and resurrected by Archpriest S. Bulgakov and other ‘Parisians’, and dares to attribute Nestorian texts to a great saint (13).

In conclusion, we note that any attempt to justify the activities of the ‘Paris School’ must first explain why their ideas generate such monstrous fantasies (incidentally, these notions do not arise in the doctrine of V. N. Lossky (he also lived in Paris)). In addition, they must also disprove the already quoted words of Christ, A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit (Matt. 7, 18).

However, it would be better if the followers of the ‘Parisians’ ceased to use their strange doctrines to trouble the souls of neophytes.

Translator’s Notes:

1.In the 1990s, when this article was written, Fr George Kochetkov, founder of ‘St Philaret's Orthodox Christian Institute’, was the leader of the Neo-Renovationists in Moscow and was hitting the headlines to the scandal of Orthodox. Havinga ttracted some unChurched and still secular-minded neophytes, he was at one point suspended by Patriarch Alexis II and only afterwards toned down his excesses. Of all the priests in the Russian Church he was the only one invited by the former Bishop Basil (Osborne) to serve in the old Sourozh Diocese in London.

2.The custom of hounding non-communicants out of the Church began among Orthodox modernists in the West, where it still exists in a number of modernist parishes. Some inexperienced neophytes are actually scandalised when some do not take communion! 3.Fr Alexander Schmemann was the most protestantised of all the Renovationist thinkers. Fr Daniel’s charge that he rejected the Fathers is also that experienced by Greek theologians like the late Fr John Romanides, who had no time for such Russian émigré thinkers, who were often very ignorant of the Greek Fathers. (Fr A. Schmemann was a Latin teacher by origin). Thirty years ago Fr Nicholas Afanasiev, who taught in Paris, was quoted to me with admiration as the one Orthodox priest who was referred to at the protestantising and modernist Second Vatican Council, as though this were a compliment! As one modernist priest of the old Sourozh Diocese told me in the 1970s: ‘The Catholics had their (modernising) Council and soon we shall have ours’. Fr Alexander Men was a priest of Jewish origin who was murdered in Moscow in the 1990s. His extremely ecumenistic and modernistic books were published by a Catholic Press in Belgium. Most consider that he was a secret Catholic or Uniat, but there is no proof of this.

4.Here, in a nutshell, we have the Catholic view of priestly authority, where the priest replaces the Holy Spirit just as the Pope replaces Christ (which is why, traditionally, they have no concelebration), and the Protestant view, where the people replace Christ, that is, everyone is a pope or priest. Orthodox modernists in the West are simply echoing the sociology they see around them, that is, either the Catholic view (of Fr John Meyendorff etc) or the Protestant view (of Fr Alexander Schmemann etc). Faithful Orthodox profess neither the clericalist Catholic view, nor the Protestant ‘democratic’ view. Orthodox proclaim that we are all merely instruments or servants of the Holy Spirit. We need to be active only in the sense that we actively receive the Holy Spirit through confession, repentance and self-cleansing. (Any rejection of this leads to the Neo-Renovationist rejection of confession – the sacrament of repentance – though the Neo-Renovationists who use it at all call it ‘the sacrament of reconciliation’ in the same way as modernist Catholics, from whom they copy so much). Outward activism, so typical of Renovationism and Neo-Renovationism, is futile. This is the view of the Church Fathers.

5.In several liturgical translations published by the Western Orthodox modernists, the word ‘choir’ was long ago replaced by ‘the people’, in obedience to their Protestant mindset. Fr Daniel is absolutely right in calling such groups ‘totalitarian’. There is nothing so intolerant as liberalism – that intolerance is why, for example, non-communicants - and others - are openly and rudely expelled from their churches.

6.This ‘eucharistic theology’ is not at all original. In reality, it is merely a weak imitation of Protestant congregationalism, the ultimate triumph of the secular and anti-hierarchical view of the modernists. The fact that the ‘eucharistic community’ is seen as self-sufficient is the foundation stone of the autocephalism of the modernists: ‘Everyone for himself’. In fact, there is little theological about ‘Eucharistic communities’, they are a reflection of Western sociology and psychology and the conformism of ‘Orthodox theologians’ who live in such societies. This Protestantisation of the Eucharist and the priesthood in their thought is also why they are in favour of ‘women-priests’.

7.Thus, St Vincent of Lerins, writing in Chapter II of The Commonitorium in 434: ‘For that which is truly and in the strictest sense ‘catholic’ comprehends all universally, as is demonstrated by the word itself and the reason for it.’

8.Renovationism is essentially based on the Protestant idea that the Church became corrupt after St Constantine. Everything after it is ‘accretions’, or ‘layers’, in the language of Fr A. Schmemann. Hence the Renovationists’ unhistorical and vain attempts to try and prove that Orthodox practices do not pre-date the fourth century. This blasphemy implies that the gates of hell overcame the Church then and that the Holy Spirit is no longer in the Church - but it is among the Renovationists. This in turn reveals the basic spiritual delusion of Renovationism. It is mere vulgar flattery by the devil. ‘Only you, the modernists, are right and will ‘save the Church’’.

9.There are many modernist Orthodox churches in the West which for decades have not had an iconostasis and even boast of this deficiency! The long-term practice at the Sourozh Cathedral in London was not to read the Hours before the Liturgy. This changed radically once an Orthodox bishop was sent to the Sourozh Diocese in 2006.

10.In a conversation with the late Metropolitan Vitaly, he called intellectual Parisian ‘theology’ ‘subtle’, but the American ‘theology’ ‘cowboy theology’.

11.This article was written when the present Metr Hilarion of Volokolamsk was much younger and inexperienced and still under the influence of secular-minded Oxford intellectuals.

12.The heretic Origen – the intellectual so beloved of the Parisian modernists that their French translations of liturgical books actually alter the liturgical texts which refer to him as a heretic. The catechism ‘Dieu est Vivant’ (reminiscent of the title of ‘The Living Church’ of the Renovationist Vvedensky), published 25 years ago in Paris and since translated into Russian, openly preaches this delusion of Origen. This is mere conformist secularism.

13.This refers to the error of the young Igumen Hilarion who wrongly attributed Nestorian texts to St Isaac of Nineveh, under the pressure of secular academic prejudice.

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