An Interview: The Future of Orthodoxy in Western Europe
This is a second interview, again compiled from recent e-mails, with Nikolai, who is from the Ukraine and has been living in England for nearly fifteen years.
N: How do you feel more generally about the future of the Church in Europe? I am thinking about the possible Russian Metropolia of Western Europe.
FA: I put forward the idea of such a Metropolia in 1986. But nobody then was interested, neither in the Patriarchate of Constantinople, nor in Moscow. ROCOR could do nothing, because it is only part of the Russian Church and therefore could not set up such structures. It was too early and, frankly, the leadership and the vision were lacking. People were still concentrating on the Cold War and the paralysis of the Russian Church. We had to wait for the Church in Moscow to be freed, so that ROCOR and the Patriarchate could link up again. In that way we could fulfil Patriarch Tikhon’s desire, when he established ROCOR in 1920.
We have to learn patience. I am sure there will be a Metroplia. The Metropolia was the present Patriarch’s proposition. I still think that we are moving towards the situation of other independent countries whose Orthodox Churches are under the authority of the Moscow Patriarchate, like the Ukraine, Belarus or Moldova. Remember that when the Russian Church received autocephaly from Constantinople over 400 years ago, the title given to the new Patriarch was, ‘of Moscow, all Rus and all the northern lands’. That is, in principle, the lands north of Constantinople.
N: Why should such a Metropolia be under ROCOR?
FA: Well, first of all, ROCOR has a historic monopoly of the name. You cannot have two Russian Churches outside Russia! What else could it be called? Secondly, there is the reality that the bishops, clergy and faithful of ROCOR know the reality on the ground, the local mentalities. People fresh from Russia, recent immigrants, even if they do have a knowledge of the language, simply do not understand local mentalities, they do not have the cultural references. And most people in the Patriarchate know this. This is why they send local people to study at seminary in Russia, ordain them and then send them back to their countries, bilingual, and with a real knowledge of the Russian Orthodox Tradition, without fantasies. Of course, sadly, this has only become possible in recent years, since the fall of Communism.
N: Why is such a Metropolia or Church necessary in general?
FA: We need a United Metropolia structure to witness to the heterodox world, which is collapsing around us. Today, the Catholic-Protestant is so desacralised that there are Western people who are becoming Muslims, who already outnumber practising Christians in most of Western Europe. It is said that over 20% of the population of Western Europe will be Muslim by 2050. People are so desperate for a little spiritual food after the infantile pap offered them by modern heterodoxy that they turn to the illusions of Islam. This is how decadent the situation is.
N: But six years have passed since His Holiness Patriarch Alexis II proposed a Metropolia in April 2003 and nothing has happened since then. Why not?
FA: It is not true that nothing has happened. The reconciliation between the two parts of the Russian Church took place – that was an essential first step. It is true that the Paris group and a few dissidents who joined them refused to accept this unity, even before it happened. Several on the extreme left-wing of the Paris Jurisdiction have shown a great hatred for Russia and the Russian Church. This has been matched only by the hatred for Russia and the Russian Church of some of the extreme right-wing émigré dissidents who refused Russian Church Unity in 2007 (and, some, even before that). Then there has been a new Patriarch, a new Metropolitan of ROCOR and a new Metropolitan of the OCA. Everything has happened. But we must still wait longer for the global situation, especially in North America, to evolve.
N: Why especially in North America?
FA: The situation there is very complex and it will take a long time to undo the polarising errors of the past, which stretch back over sixty years. I now do not think that just one new Metropolitan of the OCA will be enough. Even in the more naïve or uninformed parts of the Moscow Patriarchate, they are now realising that parts of the OCA, like parts of the Paris Jurisdiction, are so infected with modernism, that there is no hope of them ever coming back and participating in a United Church. There will be a division in both the OCA and the Paris Jurisdiction between those who want Church Unity and those who want to continue their torturous, modernist and divisive path towards apostasy. Those divisions are already forming, especially in Paris.
N: Why is a Metropolia in Western Europe so important?
FA: As I said, we must think about our witness to the heterodox world. The Europe that a thousand years ago left the Orthodox fold for the errors of the Papalist Deformation and then the Protestant Reformation lost its unity not only with the Church, but with itself. Each local European country took with it a part of the Truth, each carried with it some fragment or quality of Orthodoxy, losing the wholeness of the Faith. For example, very generally speaking, the French took the concept of Beauty, the English took Tradition, the German Lands took the concept of Truth. Other countries took other fragments. The Irish took Dream, the Portuguese Nostalgia, the Spanish Nobility, the Italians Art, the Poles Piety, the Welsh Song, the Scots Sobriety, the Dutch Practicality etc.
The spiritual image of Western Europe was like a shattered mirror. As each shard of glass reflected only part of the whole, the overall image was lost. Moreover, as secularist degeneration crept in, even these partial truths became deformed. Beauty became superficial hedonism and vanity, Tradition became hypocritical custom and a stupid superiority, Truth became deceitful lie and arrogance etc. And because unity with the Church was lost, so tribalism and rivalries began in Western Europe.
Regardless of the fact that at the beginning these countries had been united, there were constant wars. In fact there was a millennium of wars, the Hundred Years War, ‘religious’ wars, Wars of Succession etc. These were backed by false Christianisms that have so poisoned European souls that today most Europeans will have nothing to do with the authentic Christian Gospel and Church. The reaction to these tribal rivalries which became intolerable in the last century with its World Wars is today’s building of an Anti-Christian Federal Superstate in Europe.
N: What about the possibility of a Church of Western Europe?
FA: We are a very long way from that. A Metropolia dependent on Moscow is the only realistic solution on offer today. Maybe in two or three hundred years…You cannot run before you can walk, as we can see from the examples of the OCA and the Paris Jurisdiction under Constantinople. Taking on any aspect of the local Non-Orthodox, and often anti-Orthodox, culture does not make you into a Local Church. This we can see from the Ukraine where the pressure for autocephaly comes from nationalist politicians, not from a desire for spiritual edification. Autocephaly for the sake of autocephaly, or ‘Autocephalism’, is a divisive disease which we do not need. If you have autocepaly but you are no longer Orthodox, just an ethnic, nationalist, political or pseudo-intellectual club, there is no point.
N: Last June in Chambesy, and not as was originally announced, in Cyprus, talks were held between representatives of the various Local Churches about ironing out some of the difficulties in the Diaspora. Did anything positive come out of that?
FA: Mainly, the meeting there sanctioned what has already existed for years in most countries of the Diaspora, that is, holding regular meetings of standing committees of local bishops. The only important thing that came out of the meeting is that now one Church can no longer, as before, impose its will on others. Decisions must be unanimous. This is the end of the monopoly of power and, frankly, tyranny, exercised by one Western-backed grouping in particular over the decades since the Russian Revolution. That is very welcome, as it leaves the Russian Church free to press ahead.
N: Do you think that an Eighth Council will take place?
FA: No. I think that there will be further meetings and maybe even an Inter-Orthodox Conference. That is hardly a Council. We do not need a Council. No dogmatic teachings of the Church are threatened or have been threatened since the fourteenth century. And in the fourteenth century no Universal Council was held to condemn the Barlaamite heresy of rationalist, secular humanism. The Palamite Councils were enough even for that heresy. Today, the dangers come not from some new heresy, but from continued lack of leadership, lack of vision and poor administration. These are the results not of heresy, but of the twentieth-century captivity, in one way or another, of all the Local Churches.
N: In general, do you see any particular dangers for Orthodoxy in the UK?
FA: When we came back to England in 1997, I remember how surprised we were at seeing that many people did not know how to take a priest’s blessing, let alone a bishop’s, they did not know when to make the sign of the cross in church, they did not light candles in church, very basic things. We are in a much healthier state than a few years ago.
N: Why is this, do you think?
FA: Then, as a result of certain mentalities in parts of the Paris emigration, there was awful decadence in the Church, a total confusion of the spiritual and the psychic and also personality cults. The ethos was also very anti-clerical, anti-monastic and above all anti-episcopal. It was Protestantism hiding under the mask of pseudo-mysticism, ‘mysticosity’, as one person put it. Ascetically, it was pure prelest, spiritual delusion. Some remnants of that period remain in Western European countries. But this is now dying out, it belongs to the past, to the decadence of Russian high society just before the Revolution, which in so many ways directly caused that Revolution. I remember in the 70s and 80s you could still meet people in Paris who openly boasted how their fathers and grandfathers were actually proud to have taken part in the fall of the Orthodox monarchy in Russia. Astonishing – and there was no sign of repentance at all.
Their jurisdictional division was, and is, all linked with that pseudo-spiritual pride, the refusal that Orthodoxy be incarnate in national life. This refusal of the Incarnation is the heresy of gnosticism. It can be seen clearly in Bulgakov’s Origenistic fantasies. The Paris modernists love Origen. This can also be seen in the philosopher Berdiaiev, who absolutely hated seeing pregnant women, that is, he rejected the Incarnation. He would have hated to see the Virgin pregnant with the Christ-Child. These gnostics would say that they are being ‘apolitical’, but being ‘apolitical’ is itself a political statement. Paris gnosticism was and is the New Age before the New Age.
N: But to get back to the question, what about dangers now and for the future in the UK and in Western Europe in general?
FA: There are still many temptations in the UK today. First of all, in the UK there is the problem of insularity and the amazing ignorance that results from that insularity. People on islands tend to think that they are at the centre of everything. But I have seen this not only in England, but also in Paris. You don’t have to live on an island to have an insular mentality. Basically, this mentality comes from self-importance, from nationalist pride, the spiritual delusion of feeling superior to others. I think it is especially strong in countries which have a history of imperial domination of others, like France, Britain and also the United States. In reality, in the West we are Orthodox backwaters.
It is vital that local Orthodox here understand this. Otherwise, Orthodoxy can degenerate into a sort of nationalism. Fortunately, we now have large numbers of immigrants, from Romania, from the Ukraine, from Russia and elsewhere and you have to be fairly blind not to understand this. Unfortunately, there is a sort of nationalism which means that people cut themselves off from the roots of Orthodoxy, they run away form parishes where there are mixtures of nationalities. In other words, they flee spiritual and cultural enrichment. They lose their ways in local Western mentalities. Thus, you can see the Protestant mentality within parts of the OCA group in the USA (not really in Canada though). You can see a French Uniat mentality within parts of the Rue Daru group in France. And in England you can see it in a sort of Anglicanism or anti-Anglicanism in various convert groups.
N: Can you explain this?
FA: If you look at the sectarian mentality of some groups in this country, it is based on Anglicanism or else reactions to Anglicanism. I have seen converts in one group making out that it is not necessary to kiss icons, only to stand reverently in front of them. This is Anglican iconoclasm. On the other hand, there is another tiny group, all ex-Anglicans, who tell you that all Anglicans will go to hell. This is a terrible situation and also a lack of Christian charity. Totally unOrthodox.. They do not understand that all this is a giant distraction, totally irrelevant to us. Our task is to save our own souls. Stop interfering in the lives of others or letting others interfere in your own Orthodox lives. This is Protestant proselytism hiding behind the Orthodox Church.
This immature, Western self-importance, ethnocentricity, is not only geographical, but also historical. For example, I was reading recently how in the Year 1000 Rome had a population of 20,000, not dissimilar to that of London then. York had a population of 30,000. The largest and most advanced towns in Europe by far were Kiev, followed by Prague. No wonder Western people who visited Constantinople, with a population of a million, were dazzled. Spiritually, this is still the case. The West is still an insignificant backwater in the Orthodox world.
If you want to see real Orthodoxy, go to Romania, Greece, Russia, go and see the real thing. We in the West are spiritual pigmies, provincials. And Western people, obsessed with their intellectual knowledge, must realise this, that they are not worth the little finger of the least village Orthodox granny, the last Greek yaya or Russian babushka. In other words, they will not make spiritual progress until they become humble. Salvation comes from Galilee, not from Rome – nor from Paris or New York. Tell that to the intellectuals!
N: One final question. How do you see the ecumenical situation developing?
FA: I can see little hope with official Protestantism in any form, including Anglicanism. Their adoption of sodomy means that it is now very difficult even to apply the word ‘Christian’ to them. Recently in Los Angeles they chose a new Episcopalian bishop: one candidate was homosexual, the other lesbian. What can you say? Most of them live on a different planet to traditional Christians of any sort. With the old Protestants it was possible to talk, at least they had knowledge, though not always understanding, of the Bible. Frankly, I would say that there is almost more hope for the success of an Orthodox-Muslim dialogue than an Orthodox-Protestant dialogue. We just have so little in common with modern Protestantism, especially the charismatic variety. Frankly, most of the deeply secularised Protestant world seems to be heading for paganisation.
NA: What about with Catholicism? Are you just as pessimistic?
FA: There is some hope with Roman Catholicism, but this is very local. I recently read an interview with Archbishop Augustine of Lvov. He commented that, ‘our greatest friends are the Roman Catholics, but our greatest enemies are Uniats’. Of course, he was talking about the situation in the Western Ukraine, but I think something similar can be said here. With real Roman Catholics I think there is mutual respect. Occasionally, I meet one and I am very impressed. But they are a tiny oppressed minority within their own Church and they know it. The trouble is that there seem to be so few real Roman Catholics today. This is because most Roman Catholics today are like Protestant Uniats, Roman Catholic on the outside, but Protestants inside.
In the last forty years or so Catholicism has become extremely protestantised and tends to speak the same infantile, mindless, politically correct language as Protestants, with guitars and dancing during their masses. The patronising infantilism demonstrated by Catholic clergy towards Catholic laity in modern masses simply continues the clericalism of the past. There is a total lack of spiritual understanding. Just try talking to the average Catholic about fasting, standing during services, preparation before taking the Body and Blood of Christ, or asceticism in general. Many will stare at you as if you were an alien or a savage. Their concept of the Holy Spirit and therefore of holiness has been deformed. This can be seen in their modern liturgical deformations, anti-ascetic practices and charismaticism
N: Surely, Pope Benedict is a positive, even pro-Orthodox influence?
FA: In some ways, yes, but in general, I think we will have to wait for a new Pope for there to be any possible progress. This Pope is doing far too little, far too late. Catholicism contains the seeds of its own self-destruction. It was Catholicism that sowed the seeds of the present Western apostasy of secularism. Its downfall is contained within it, is inherent to it
Although the present Pope is far more understanding of the Orthodox Church than the last one and at least has a sense of the sacred and therefore some liturgical sense, he is still a prisoner of the ideology of the Second Vatican Council. He is also conditioned by the papist ethos of his youth. As a result he is not going to give up the filioque, the Papal claims or Uniatism, which is like a dagger permanently stuck in the back of the Orthodox Churches. Nor is he going to allow married men to become priests. If those things changed and there was generally a move of repentance on the part of Roman Catholicism to return to the genuine traditions of the first millennium, there might be hope. At present, all we can hope for is to have good-neighbourly relations and co-operate on social issues like abortion and bioethics. It seems to me that much of Catholicism, as it is today, must die before it can live.
N: Thank you.
Compiled during July and August 2009