Questions from Correspondence 2011
1. On ‘Isms’
Q: I have read somewhere that you wrote that all isms are secular. But surely you adhere to old calendarism and traditionalism? Also in French, and I know that you know French, the word for Christianity is christianisme. How do you explain this?
A: I am opposed to all isms because any ‘ism’ is a form of idolatry. So ‘Roman Catholicism’ is the cult of universalism according to the Roman model, ‘i.e. a form of monolithic imperialism centred in Rome. This ideology is clearly untouched by the Orthodox teaching on the Holy Trinity, that is, unity in diversity, diversity in unity, because the Roman ideology distorts our teaching through the centralising heresy of the filioque. As for Protestantism, it is the cult of protest, even when there is no need for protest. As for Lutheranism, Calvinism, Wesleyanism etc etc, it is clear that these are essentially forms of idolatry of a person.
In politics, we have socialism, communism. conservatism, fascism. Again, these are clearly forms of idolatry, ways of trying to absolutise certain political values, based on the experiences of life of various social classes or sociological groups. Another example is modernism, which is the idolatry of all that is modern. On the other hand, traditionalism is the idolatry of any ‘tradition’, however secondary it may be. This means blind adherence to human customs, however unloving that may be, whatever the context may be. I am not a traditionalist, I simply follow the ‘Tradition’ (not ‘traditions’ with a small t, which are recently invented local customs). And someone who follows the Tradition is simply a Christian.
As regards ‘traditionalism’ and ‘old calendarism’, it is true that some parishes, especially convert ones in North American dioceses of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia, did in the 70s and 80s undergo pressure to become ‘traditionalist’. But this was precisely under pressure from Greek old calendarists and their neophyte adepts. It was only when they began to leave ROCOR that I decided to join ROCOR. And in the end this pressure was rejected and the old calendarists responsible for it left the Church and went off to form various tiny sects, which then divided and warred with each other.
Those of us who referred back to the Tradition of the Church, brought out of Russia by Metropolitan Antony of Kiev and Metropolitan Anastasy and their disciples, had no truck with any of this movement of parochialism. Now, the Tradition was and is the original Tradition, much older than all those recent customs and traditions of old calendarists and traditionalists. ‘Traditionalism’ is the ideology of those who follow conservative fashions, just as modernism is that of those who follow liberal fashions, but the Tradition is for Orthodox Christians.
As for French, the original French word for Christianity is ‘Chrétienté’. The word ‘christianisme’ was invented in the eighteenth century by the freemasons of the Encyclopedia who wanted to demote Christianity and precisely make it into a mere ’ism’. Do not fall into their trap!
2. On the Financial Crisis in the Churches
Q: How do you explain the present financial difficulties in various Orthodox dioceses in the Diaspora? Is it simply a matter of the world financial crisis or is there another problem behind this?
A: Certainly, dioceses are being affected by the general crisis. However, beyond this, there are other problems. Thus, in the Americas the Greek Archdiocese is being forced to pay out huge sums for certain (thankfully rare) cases of pedophilia. The OCA also has problems in this field. Several Slav sects, for example, the Siberian group which the Lesna Convent in France joined and the Ukrainian group based in Odessa, are so small that they have real financial problems. Of course, this is the result of being a sect – you cannot, by definition, be a sect and be big! True, it seems that the Ukrainian group receives support, directly or indirectly, from the CIA. However, the Siberian group has real problems, and the Lesna Convent now has serious difficulties with the French tax authorities.
However, these are specific issues. I think, more generally, there is a loss of confidence in many bishops in many dioceses. For decades, if not generations, bishops of many Diaspora dioceses have ignored their priests and parishioners, with bishops never (and when I say never, I mean never) visiting their parishes and never consulting them. Priests and people simply do not know what is going on. Many bishops do not communicate; they sit behind closed doors, talk with their favourites, and nobody in the parishes knows what is happening. Unsurprisingly, this clericalism creates paranoia and scandal, such as that created among many by the apparently secretive preparations for the possible future Inter-Orthodox Council.
This cannot go on. What has been happening in recent years is that more and more parishes are revolting against bad, or rather a total lack of, pastoral care. They are simply refusing to pay their bishops any money until they get a visit out of them or at least until the bishops listen to their views, instead of ignoring them. A few years ago I learned of a case of this and there was a real revolt on the part of parishioners against their perceived mistreatment by their bishop and his clique of favourites (many of whom, let it be said, should never have been ordained or should at once have been defrocked). It was quite shocking. But the fact is that if bishops do not behave as pastors, they must expect more and more this attitude. They have brought it on themselves. They have only themselves to blame. They must listen to the grassroots and not ignore their people.
3. On Schisms from the Russian Church
Q: Why do the OCA and Rue Daru, which cut themselves off from the Russian Church, persist in their separatism?
A: Well, of course, it would be better to ask them. However, since I have had contact with both groups and know Rue Daru (the Paris Jurisdiction) from inside, since it was the jurisdiction in which matushka grew up (let it be said, because of the racism of other jurisdictions), I can give some sort of answer.
First of all, it must be said that there are many reasons for their separatism. However, fundamentally, I think that both suffer from a different attitude to the State than the Russian Church. In the Russian Church, regardless of whether it is inside or outside Russia, we believe that is the duty, yes, duty, of the Church to influence the State. In other words, we believe in the all the ramifications of the Incarnation.
The Incarnation is not a mere idea, a concept, as it is for intellectuals, for us it is a reality. However, both in the OCA and Rue Daru, they see ‘Orthodoxy’ more as an idea, a mere rite to be adapted. This is particularly the case in France, where Rue Daru still suffers from the older generation of Franco-Russian and French intellectuals like Nikita Struve, Olivier Clement and others who are still alive. In the OCA, the problem is not that of intellectualism, but that of American individualism, which has its roots in the Protestant concept of Christianity as ‘personal salvation’, rather than in the Orthodox Christian concept of collective salvation, of being saved together, as a community.
In the case of the OCA, the situation is aggravated by American nationalism and Russophobia, once disguised as Sovietophobia, which was especially strong during the Cold War. Many in the OCA say: ‘The OCA is of Russian origin, but so what, we are all Americans now’. This separatism is therefore linked with American isolationism, insularity and nationalism, so-called American ‘exceptionalism’, the term that used to be used by French nationalists to justify their xenophobia. They do not understand that our roots are important, that the Orthodox Church is an international Church and that the USA and its tiny Orthodox minority is hardly the centre of the Orthodox world. Moreover, they do not understand that with the restoration and reconstitution of the Centre of the Orthodox world in Moscow, their own destiny depends on the Centre, not on their self-made peripheries and petty, peripheral affairs. Put simply, the USA is ‘not where it is at’. In other words, be humble; in other words, be realistic!
There is a similar ethnocentricity in the Paris Jurisdiction. For many, Paris still seems to be the centre of the world, not only for older French intellectuals – and intellectuals are always disincarnate because their feet are not on the ground - but also for the second, third and fourth generations of descendants of Russian aristocrats. Rue Daru is much influenced, as we have said, by the descendants of those fallen aristocrats who were utterly opposed to the Royal Martyrs – which is why they still do not have icons of them and refuse to venerate them. Their tragedy was that they blamed the Tsar for their exile and loss. In reality their ancestors were themselves to blame for the fall of the Tsar and so for their own exile and loss. This is why, to this day in 2011, they are still cut off from the Russian Church, whereas neither part of the Russian Church Herself, both now repentant, has this problem.
These Paris Russians and their nationalistic converts in Western Europe will not be able to return to the Russian Church until they show repentance, instead of self-justification. In the meantime, they imagine that their isolation (‘freedom’, or ‘independence’, in their words) from the Russian Church is good. However, this is only the sort of freedom that rebellious and immature adolescents value. Adults do not value it, but cultivate good relations with their parents. This is called maturity. Fortunately, even though it is very late in the day, more and more laypeople, clergy and even bishops in both the OCA and Rue Daru are now coming to understand this. It is never too late for repentance. I can think of five young men who, born and bred in the Paris Jurisdiction, have transferred to the Russian Orthodox Church. Three are married priests, two are monks. So all the vital forces of Rue Daru are leaving it and have been leaving it since the 1980s. They have no-one left to ordain.
4. On Lack of Missionary Work
Q: I am concerned that we are not doing enough missionary work among Non-Orthodox. I have heard for example that there are literally millions of Spanish and Portuguese speakers in Latin America who would become Orthodox, but the representatives of various Local Churches have turned them down for purely ethnic reasons. They say: ‘They are not Russian, they are not Greek, so they do not interest us’. I know this sounds strong, but I have the impression that we Orthodox are simply incompetent.
A: The Church belongs to God. If representatives of the Church are incompetent, then other representatives of Orthodoxy will come and replace them. And they will do the work that needs doing. Trust in God, not in people.
5. On the Future of the Church Outside Russia
Q: ROCOR is so small, our episcopate is small and getting smaller. All we have is one seminary in Jordanville and there are very few candidates there. Do we actually have a future as a Church?
A: The future is large. If ROCOR works together with the rest of the Russian Church in the Diaspora, the part that is at present directly under Moscow, we are very big. Together, there are, I think, 24 bishops in the Russian Orthodox Church outside Russia. Inside Russia they are now consecrating more or less one bishop every week of the year. They have thousands of candidates for the episcopate. Some of the young ones are now competent in foreign languages. Cathedrals are being built in places where there was never before a strong Russian Orthodox presence, for example in Rome and Madrid. New parishes are appearing in Iceland, in Ireland, in Norway, in Germany, in Italy, in Portugal, all over Western Europe. A seminary is beginning to establish itself in Paris, though it has not yet obtained Orthodox norms. South America is being revitalised. There are hopes in China, in Thailand and in Muslim countries like Iran and North Africa, where ROCOR has given its churches to the Church inside Russia, because of its vital diplomatic links.
I think we should welcome this time as the greatest period for the development and expansion of the Church outside Russia. Soon, I believe, there will not be one Metropolitan in the Church Outside Russia, but several. You should be rejoicing! This is exactly what we prayed for during all those long decades and generations when we wept in exile by the waters of Babylon. Thank God!
6. On Russophilia and Russophobia
Q: Sometimes you give the impression of being more Russophile than Orthodox. How do you reconcile that in any case when you are yourself English?
A: Having long been the first victim of Russian racism – from 1974 on! – I think you have the wrong impression. I am Orthodoxophile. Now, any Orthodoxophile has to be Russophile, though only inasmuch as Russians are Orthodox. And 75% of the Orthodox world is with the Russian Orthodox Church and substantial parts of the rest are pro-Russian. How can it be otherwise, if you are really concerned about the Church? All Orthodox have to be not only Russophile, but also Romanophile, Grecophile, Serbophile, Bulgarophile, Georgophile - that is to say, inasmuch as these peoples are Orthodox.
I think those who accuse me of being Russophile (Belgians and now Americans have accused me of that), in the sense of being pro-Russian whatever Russians do, are blinded by their own nationalism. This makes them misunderstand the words ‘Russian Orthodox’ in some narrow ethnic and racist sense. Ukrainians and Belarussians are ‘Russian Orthodox’. So are thousands of Latvians, Estonians and Lithuanians, people from the Altai, Buriats and Yakuts. 5 million Romanian-speaking Moldovans are Russian Orthodox. Tens of thousands of Japanese are ‘Russian Orthodox’, basically so are over a million Czechs, Slovaks and Poles. And there are Chinese who are ‘Russian Orthodox’. There are Germans, French and even English people who are ‘Russian Orthodox’. The present Patriarch is Mordvinian with Tartar origins, the previous one was an émigré from Estonia. But they are Orthodox.
Why this narrow racism, the misunderstanding that the words ‘Russian Orthodox’ have some racist meaning? ‘Russian Orthodox’ used in this way simply means those who follow Traditional Orthodoxy, keeping the Orthodox calendar, and not the modernised sort of Orthodoxy that was concocted and introduced under Western pressure in Constantinople in the 1920s, spread by people of the same ilk to Greece and Romania and the Middle East and then to Bulgaria, and is now sponsored by the EU and the US State. In the sense that I have always used the term ‘Russian Orthodox’, this means that Mt Athos and Jerusalem and Serbia and Georgia are also ‘Russian Orthodox’. I think that such a misunderstanding can only come from a politically-inspired Russophobia and local nationalism.
If you read any of what I have written about the Western and especially English saints in the last 30 years, much of which has now been translated into Russian, you will ask yourself, how can such an accusation stand? I am also Anglophile, Francophile, Portuguesophile, Germanophile, Americanophile – again inasmuch as these peoples are Orthodox, as were and are their saints. If you love the saints, then you must love the peoples whom the saints have sanctified. If God loved His Creation (‘Behold, it is good’), then how can we not love the Creation? Any sort of phobia, whether Russophobia or Americanophobia, is wrong. The only sort of phobia, or fear, that is right, is fear of the devil, the source of all evil. That is why we speak of the fear of God, that is to say, the fear of losing God’s love because of the devil.
7. On the Political Crisis in Russia
Q: I am very worried about the situation in Russia. Do you think the Communists could come back to power?
A: The Communists and their feudalism will not come back. If you look at the pictures of the demonstrators, the Communists are nearly all nostalgic pensioners. Their protest is largely a pensioners’ protest – mixed in with anti-corruption protestors. We have to understand that Russia is in a transitional phase. The Putin government, which essentially has been in power since 2000, is only a passing phase. Russia has to get ready for the next phase. The fact that this Putin government has lasted so long simply proves that Russia has not been ready for the next stage of restoration of real Orthodox government. Putin will last as long as present-day corrupt Russia is not ready for this. It all depends on the degree of repentance. Remember that before Putin it was even worse. Why? Because Russia had not repented enough to deserve even Putin. A country gets what it deserves. Our governments are for our sins. And Western peoples should be thinking about that too. Don’t worry: Pray!
8. On Forgiveness
Q: There seem to be so many scandals in the Orthodox Church. Why?
A: Sadly, it is part of our fallen human nature to fall back continually into the Old Testament. The Old Testament rule was ‘eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth’. This is unChristian. As they say, ‘an eye for an eye’ and everyone is blind. This was, for example, the error of those who left ROCOR because they did not want unity. It comes from hard-heartedness, from ritualism, from desiccation, from a dried-up ideology, from the application only of akrivia, never of economia, from a lack of love.
Living hearts, hearts touched by the grace of God, do not feel such hardness of heart, they feel and experience the grace of the spirit of mercy. One day, above the heaped up ruins or scandals, above what some think is the Church, there will be heard the voice of mercy. Then everything will change. This will be the day, not of scandal, but of blinding grace, of transfiguration by the Light of God and hardness of heart will melt away like winter snow in a sudden spring thaw.