Excerpt from: Orthodox Christianity and the English Tradition

52. Church, State and the Position of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia

One of the most difficult dilemmas that has always faced the Church is its relations with the State, the paradox of being in the world, but not of it. The Church, the Body of Christ, has a human nature through the Incarnation but She also has a divine nature, a spiritual ethos, for 'My kingdom is not of this world' (John 18, 36). The delicate and fine balance between being in the world but not of it, of rendering unto Caesar the things of Caesar and unto God the things of God (Matt. 22, 21) has rarely been achieved. Indeed, outside the Orthodox Church, systems of thought and practice have actually been invented to avoid achieving this balance. For example the foundation of Roman Catholicism in the 11th century came about through the desire to rule the world, to dominate through a Church-State, a Papocæsarist system, whereby the Roman Church would become a State and so rule the vassal nations around it. Hence papally-blessed invasions, crusades and inquisitions, the drama of Latin America and the Reformation. In its secularized form this system gave birth to totalitarian States, such as the Fascist Catholic dictatorships of the inter-war and wartime periods in all the European Catholic countries - Poland, Slovakia, Croatia, Portugal, Spain, Italy, France, Ireland. On the other hand Protestant sectarianism also avoids trying to achieve this balance by letting the State control everyday life through secularization, desacralization reserving for itself a 'God-slot' on Sundays. Although this may give Protestants a good conscience ('I've done my duty'), this attitude is disincarnated and allows the State to take over whole sectors of life which once belonged to the Church. In its ultimate, secularized form, it has given rise to the individualism of modern, post-Protestant societies, a secularized sectarianism.

In Orthodox theology these two extremes are unknown. And indeed there have been periods of harmony or symphony between Church and State They occurred when the State limited itself to the material well-being and safety of its citizens and the Church was free to look to their spiritual Well-being and safety. Thus the period of St Constantine the Great or Sts Justinian and Theodora, or in Kievan Russia, or Muscovite Russia before the deposition of the holy Patriarch Nikon in the 17th century, or in 8th century England or in the 10th century before the martyrdom of St Edward, or in Ireland after its conversion and for several centuries afterwards. And there are many other examples from Church history.

Unfortunately, although Roman Catholic and Protestant practices are unknown to Orthodox theology, they are known to the history of the Orthodox Church. We have only to think of the heretical Patriarchs of Constantinople who signed anything the Emperor or the powers that be asked of them. We have only to think of Russian rulers and nobles who interfered in the spiritual realm - Ivan the Terrible, Peter I ('the Great'), the German Princess Sophia von Anhalt-Zerbst, known to Russian history as Catherine II ('the Great'), who made monastic life virtually impossible in Russia. Or we may think of the Romanian Church in the inter-war and post-war periods with its State-appointed bishops and vicious persecutions of those who had a spiritual vision of the Church. In all these cases, as in many others from Church history, practice was guided not by Orthodox theology, the Gospel belief that the Church is in the world but not of it, the theology of the Fathers concerning the Two Natures of Christ. It was shaped either by the Roman Catholic practice of turning the Church into a Department of State and its clergy into the functionaries of the Ministry of Cults, or else by a Protestant-style sectarian mentality. This latter we can see at work in North Africa in the 4th and 5th centuries with the Donatists, or m Russia in the 17th century with the extreme Old Ritualists. These sectarians, 'holy huddlers', like the New England Puritans, believed in a 'light-switch' theology, that as soon as someone had left their sect, they would be deprived of grace and would end up consumed by hellfire, the light of God's grace switched off. This presupposes that God is not the God of Love but a god of hate, who takes pleasure in depriving Christians of grace, in other words he is not the God of Orthodox Christianity and the Church. State-Church, Church-State, Cæsaropapism, Papocæsarism the results are the same.

What can be said of the contemporary, post-Constantinian situation? Unfortunately, in this century, the Orthodox Church seems to find itself dominated not by systems stemming from Her own theology of Church-State relations, but by the two extremes of either totalitarian State interference or else sectarianism. In one sense, the outcome has been glorious - never have there been so many martyrs and confessors for the Orthodox Faith, the Church calendar is full of their names, the heavens are full of their spirits. But in another sense the outcome has been shameful; Churches refusing their own martyrs. In the 20th century we have seen the century of Apostasy. In Eastern Europe, we see State-Churches in atheist States (Russia Romania, Bulgaria) and a State-Church in an agnostic State (Greece). 'Church leaders' play the nationalist card, turning the Orthodox Faith into a nationalist cult in order to keep in with a hostile or indifferent State ('I'll scratch your back, you scratch mine'), thus catering to the unchurched masses ('safety in numbers') who, though indifferent or even hostile to religion, will still come along for an ethnic fiesta. On the other hand we also modern Donatists (the words of the Ever-Memorable Metropolitan Philaret), the extreme (not the moderate) Old Calendarists in Greece, who now number no fewer than twelve synods, most of whom deny the sacraments of all Orthodox except themselves as 'without grace'. According to a recent study by a Russian hierodeacon in The Herald of the Russian Student Christian Movement, the situation in Russia among the eight or nine different 'Catacomb' churches is not much better. Thus, on the one hand, contemporary Orthodoxy seems to be dominated by Churches that are 'official' i.e. involved in all manner of quite uncanonical compromises with the State or other obscure forces. On the other hand, the Faith is championed by groupings that sincerely claim to be Orthodox, seem admirably pious and have been persecuted, but seem never to have heard the words of St Simeon the Theologian: 'Theology without love is the theology of the demons'.

It is our view, however, that this description of the Orthodox Church today and Her polarization is much too extreme. There are, for instance, a great many in the 'official churches', laity and clergy, who are sincere and pious and wish to adhere to the canons, whatever their bishops and 'theologians' may declare at ecumenical meetings and the masonic lodges. Similarly there are moderate Old Calendarists in Greece, Romania and Bulgaria and those in the Russian catacombs who simply want to be Orthodox as their forebears, who obey the canons not condemning others with censorious pride, allowing only a Council the right to judge. And more than this, there are Churches which know that strait is the gate and strive to keep to the Orthodox way: the Patriarchate of Jerusalem, the Church of Serbia and our own Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia (ROCOR).

In such a situation what can the role of the ROCOR be? These are the observations of a parish priest of the ROCOR, they may be right, they may be wrong - we express them here with hesitation, sure and reassured that our bishops see more clearly and more deeply than ourselves:

1. Conserve the Orthodox Faith among the Russian Emigration.

This difficult task is complicated by the secular nature of modern life, with Orthodox of Russian origin being assimilated into the countries where they live. The result is that in Protestant countries there is a tendency for the Orthodoxy of parts of the emigration to resemble an 'Eastern-rite' Protestantism or Anglicanism, and in Catholic countries, Uniatism. At the other extreme there is the temptation to form ethnic ghettos which simply die out after a generation or two with the memory of 'the old country'. We must conserve the Faith, not preserve it, and be sure that first and foremost we conserve the Faith, and not something else, and this in whatever language is necessary.

2. Continue the Missionary Work of the Russian Church.

This work started before the Revolution and such holy men as St Tichon the Patriarch of Moscow were involved in it. Here, too, there are temptations, for example, to refuse to use the local language to attract converts, unlike Sts Cyril and Methodius, or to refuse to ordain non-Russians, for fear of derussification. Such a refusal cannot be justified on racial grounds, only on dogmatic ones, for fear of losing Orthodoxy. Indeed the Faith has to be guarded zealously, whatever the attractions of 'the easy way out' i.e. the new calendar, cremation, weddings during the fasts or other conveniences and opportunist compromises sadly favoured by many other jurisdictions. Above all we must realise that our Church exists here and now, whatever nostalgia we may feel for pre-Revolutionary Russia, pre-1925 Greece, Anglo-Saxon England or Christian Gaul. The Church as the Body of Christ is Incarnate, here and now.

3 Help to Restore Orthodoxy in Russia

In Russia we must witness that, although in the world, the Church is not of it. This knowledge and this mentality has been largely lost in Russia today. If we are to help bring the Patriarchal Church in Russia back, or rather forward, to this knowledge and spirit, we must in no wise compromise ourselves through possible political temptations, the seductions of power, glory, pride or money. Our witness there must be spiritual, only thus is our help positive and therefore canonical.

These threefold tasks, carried out in humility, avoiding extremes, are Trinitarian in their inner meaning. To conserve the Faith is to be faithful to the Father. To continue our missionary tasks is to be faithful to the Incarnation of the Son. And a spiritual witness in Russia that the Kingdom of Christ is not of this world is to be faithful to the Holy Spirit. Our threefold task is indeed Trinitarian.

And should we seek a living icon of one who did his utmost to carry out these three tasks, I can think of none so clear as a contemporary saint, soon to be canonised by the Synod of our Church, Blessed John of Shanghai/Western Europe/San Francisco. He, I would suggest, embodies the very vocation of our Church, to bring all who wish to follow Her to life and salvation in Christ, the Crucified and Risen Lord of All Creation.

'Tell the people: although I have died, I live.'

Blessed John

September 1993

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