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On Ridding Ourselves of Illusions

It is very important to keep the commandment of St Seraphim which he gave to the nuns of Diveyevo. ‘Guard your conscience. The conscience is the most vital thing of all’. Otherwise a dangerous situation may develop in Russia, a situation foretold by the elders of Russia: an outward imitation of a ‘symphony’ of powers of Holy Russia is fraught with the illusion that a real symphony and harmony and mutual understanding have virtually already been attained. And then there is even the possibility of mutual substitution, so that if, owing to force of some circumstance or other, Church and State authorities suddenly changed places, no-one would even notice the substitution, so that inwardly and outwardly the clergy more and more merged with the civil authorities. Such a path is dangerous and disastrous. The true path is that of the Gospels and it means the narrow path of the conscience, sincerity and honesty.

‘It is not possible to portray holiness, we must strive towards it’.

An interview with Metr Laurus, published in ‘Economic Strategies’, No 4, 2006

In recent times it has become fashionable among a few politically-minded in the post-Soviet Russian Orthodox Church inside Russia to admire Roman Catholicism. This is especially true among intellectuals who have little pastoral experience in the parishes or living experience of monastic life. It is even truer among intellectuals in secular groups who are only vaguely attached to the actual practice of Orthodoxy.

They imagine the following: Given the total secularisation and deChristianisation of the Protestant world, we must unite our forces with Roman Catholicism in order to witness to Christian values before the world. Look at England, they say, where the loss of faith is such that at least one church has closed every single week since 1969. With female Protestant bishops and clergy demonstrating that Protestants have no concept of sacraments and therefore of the sacred (though only the ignorant could be surprised at this) and with the recognition of homosexual ‘marriage’ among many Protestant groups, an attraction to Roman Catholicism seems logical to some in post-Soviet Russia. All the more so under the present Pope, who unlike the previous one, appears to appreciate the Orthodox Church.

Such a ‘philo-Catholic’ view can be found among the small minority of Russian Orthodox inside Russia who appreciate the compromises with the State of Patriarch Sergius (Stragorodsky) (1867-1944) and therefore appreciate the institutional power of Roman Catholicism with its State apparatus. However, they overlook the fact that Protestantism evolved from Roman Catholicism. As Orthodox have reiterated time and time again, the two are simply the opposite sides of the same heterodox coin. Any Orthodox living in the West knows it as a fact from daily life. But let a saintly theologian speak. Here are the succinct words of the widely-travelled Hieromartyr Hilarion (Troitsky) in his work ‘There is no Christianity without the Church’:

‘Truth and salvation are granted to love, that is, to the Church – such is the consciousness of the Church. When the Latin world fell away from the Church, it betrayed this consciousness and proclaimed that truth is granted to the individual person of the Pope – albeit only to the Pope but still to an individual who is without the Church, and it is the Pope who sees to the salvation of everyone else. Protestantism merely objected, Why should truth be given to the Pope alone? – and added that truth and salvation are open to any individual, regardless of the Church. Each individual was promoted to being an infallible pope’ (Works, Vol. 2, p. 193, Moscow 2004).

The above analysis is proved by the fact that the illnesses suffered by Protestantism are in fact the very illnesses which it inherited from its parent, Roman Catholicism – the filioque being the obvious major theological deformation shared by both alike.

Much of the present post-Soviet philo-Catholicism is rooted in an appreciation of the balancing act of the present Pope Benedict XVI. It is he who tries to steer the Vatican between the whirlpools of modernism and conservatism. We should not forget that in his younger days he was himself an ardent modernist and that his conservatism has come with age. He sees therefore both sides, but he is without the Tradition to guide him. Of course, Pope Benedict is a very learned man and a great intellectual thinker, but as a head of state he is nevertheless a politician. This is what explains his ambivalence. However, this philo-Catholicism, which as we have said above has its roots in post-Soviet psychology rather than reality, overlooks yet another important fact.

This is that at the present time Roman Catholicism is in the grip of one its greatest crises, that of sexual abuse, which is the result of nine hundred years of enforced clerical celibacy. The scandal is now even touching Pope Benedict himself, and there are some who, fairly or unfairly, think that he must resign. In this matter, as even the Roman Catholic Bishop of Arundel and Brighton admitted on Friday 26 March, ‘the Pope is not infallible’.

This scandal is only now breaking, as we in the West are aware. In the future it will worsen and we can expect thousands of defrockings and resignations, as is already happening in Ireland and as has already happened in the USA. More than this, we can expect imprisonments of Roman Catholic clergy throughout Western Europe for their revolting crimes. As the Gospel says: ‘But whoso shall offend one of these little ones which believe in me, it were better that a millstone were hanged about his neck and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea’ (Matt. 18, 6). There are many who wonder whether Roman Catholicism in its present form can even survive this crisis.

Philo-Catholic elements within the post-Soviet Russian Orthodox Church inside Russia (those who never went though the Soviet nightmare generally know a lot more about the reality of Roman Catholicism) had better think again. It would be better not to be too close to an institution which, however unfairly, is seen by the popular mass media as suffering from institutionalised pedophilia.

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