HOLY RUS AND ENGLAND
St Anatolius of Optina
I will begin with a story. It takes place thirty-three years ago, in a book-lined room in Oxford before a huge painting of pre-revolutionary Moscow. A Russian emigre Professor (1) is speaking to me about Fr Nicholas Gibbes, the former English tutor of the Tsarevich Alexei. After witnessing the Revolution and the courage of the Royal Martyrs, the tutor had escaped to China, where he not only became Orthodox, but was also ordained to the priesthood. Later, he returned to England and served the Russian parish in Oxford (2). The elderly Professor spoke to me also of the atheist regime in Soviet Russia, saying: 'When the present obscenity in Russia is over, you will see what Russia is capable of'. These words have stuck in my memory until this very day. For although he did not live to see 'the obscenity' over, I have.
Another story: Twenty-three years ago, this time in Paris, I was told of the atmosphere there in the emigration in the 1930s. It was when Vertinsky was singing in cabarets in Paris about 'Other People's Towns' ('Chuzhie Goroda'), with heartbreaking nostalgia for his so beloved Russia. I heard how one of the Russian priests would celebrate Easter Night. A strict monk and faster, on Easter Night Hieromonk Mefody would burst forth with the joy of the Resurrection. It was not enough for him to shout 'Christ is Risen' at the throngs of émigrés, holding lighted candles in the April darkness of the lilac-scented garden of that tiny Russian church. There, at midnight in the Paris suburbs by the railway lines (3), he would turn to the east and shout: 'Holy Rus, Christ is Risen!' And then in that church and garden all sorrow would cease. He spoke to the saints of Rus and, as it seemed, they answered him and many others in their hearts.
Like the Professor, the Hieromonk did not live to see the obscenity over (4). However, had he lived to this day, he would have walked back to Russia, for the prophecies regarding the Resurrection of Orthodox Rus for which he lived, are now, in our own day, coming true. And so I am thinking: Now that 'the obscenity' is over, now that the saints of Rus once more walk the streets and speak to our hearts also, what is Russia capable of?
National Destinies and Holy Rus
Each people has its strengths and its weaknesses. These strengths and weaknesses often represent the different sides of the same coin (5).
Thus, in France they can have a fine culture, wonderful good taste, a sense of beauty, as is symbolized by the name given to France: La Belle France; Fair France. On the other hand, they can be lovers of pleasure, vain and superficial, placing form and theory over content and practicality.
In Germany they can have a wonderful love of order, a sense of technical organization and a fine musical and cultural spirit. On the other hand, they can be inhumanly systematic and lacking in sensitivity, spontaneity and feeling.
In England they can have a sense of tradition, self-discipline and gentlemanly honour, ‘my word is my bond’, as symbolized by the name 'Old England'. On the other hand, they can be insufferably arrogant and hypocritical, coldly strutting about the world, exploiting imperialists locked in unfeeling insularity.
What can we Orthodox say then of the people of 'Rus', a land which has a no lesser sense of identity?
By 'Rus' I mean the four Russias, composed of three contemporary States and a regional territory. These are multinational Great Russia - extending across Siberia to the Pacific Ocean, Little Russia - recently renamed the Ukraine, Belarus, and tiny Carpatho-Russia (6). Although, having lost her Tsar, Rus lost her political unity, the Church retains her spiritual unity, for His Holiness the Patriarch of Moscow is the Patriarch of all these lands, the Patriarch of All Rus.
In the Year 988 Rus was baptized by monks. Of course, not all the inhabitants were baptized straightaway and it took generations, and indeed centuries, for Rus to be Churched. Nevertheless, the national ideal of Rus came not to be Beautiful or Fair, like France, Orderly, like Germany, or Old, like England, but to be Holy. A unique title. And it is much more than a mere title, for the people of Rus have produced more saints than any other people.
On the other hand, just as the French, the Germans and the English have their national weaknesses, so too the people of Rus. We saw how in the twentieth century they fell away from their national calling and destiny, accepting the suicide of a foreign, anti-Rus ideology and the enslavement of the Church, entering a barbaric nightmare of atheist savagery and unprecedented genocide.
At that time Rus began to produce even more saints than during all the many previous centuries, when Western countries produced not a single saint. Moreover, Rus is still producing saints, unlike Western countries. This, in itself, is a good reason for Western people to renounce their centuries of pride of mind, to learn a little humility, and at last let Christ reign from the vacant throne in the Western soul.
in this respect, we can even draw a comparison between the history of
Rus and the life of our Lord Jesus Christ. Our Lord was baptized at the
age of thirty and crucified at the age of thirty-three. In other words,
His life between His Baptism and His Crucifixion spread over more than
a thousand days. Since Rus was baptized in 988 and crucified in 1917,
a period of nearly a thousand years, the ratio is almost a day to a year.
The comparison is made worse, for just as Christ was betrayed by Judas,
so Rus was betrayed by other Judases. Indeed, Lenin wanted to erect a
statue to Judas on Red Square, but died in agony before he could commit
such a blasphemy.
We know that Christ lived on earth for another forty days after His Resurrection. Whether, using the ratio of about one day to one year, this means that the Resurrection of Rus will last for about forty years, we cannot know. This would be mere speculation, when the destinies of nations are in the hands of God. In any case, the Resurrection of Rus is not yet complete, any possible period of forty years is only just beginning. However, one fact we do know.
This is that the Resurrection of Rus is now beginning. Some people talk of the beginning of the rebirth of Orthodox Rus. Of course, this is all very premature. As we have said, the Resurrection of Rus is only just beginning, concerning only a small minority of the population so far. There is still very far to go to the Resurrection of Holy Rus. And yet the fact is that what seemed impossible twenty-five years ago is now happening before our very eyes.
But what has all this to do with distant Western lands, which long ago lost the Orthodox Faith and, ever since, have wandered in pride of mind?
The Resurrection of Rus and England
The Resurrection of Rus has great significance for Orthodox in Western (and many other) lands. Since the fall of Constantinople, Rus has been at the centre of the Orthodox world, at the centre of the Church. In one way or another, all we Orthodox therefore look to Rus.
Pride has always prevented Western countries from co-operating with Rus. Pride has always blinded Western countries to the values of Orthodox Rus and induced them, like a fratricide, to attempt to invade her, destroy her and ‘reform’ her, instead of submitting to the law of the Church of Christ that she confesses. Thus it was in 1917, a catastrophe planned and financed in New York and Berlin and not unwelcome in London and Paris. Today, Western countries refuse to believe in the Resurrection, either of Christ, or of Rus, believing only in crucifixion. But if Western countries could overcome their arrogance and illusion of false superiority, if they could find some humility, each could find something to offer the Risen Rus in repentance for their past and still present apostasy from the Faith. In the case of England, I have a suggestion as to what this may be.
I speak here of England, 'Anglia', not Britain. 'Britain' is a word that has connotations that have nothing to do with England, somewhat like the word ‘Soviet’ with regard to the word ‘Russian’. Britain is a proud and imperial word, used by invading Romans in the first century, French Normans in the eleventh century and German Hanoverians in the eighteenth century. And pride should not be to the taste of Orthodox.
So I shall speak of England. This is the land which, as soon as she had received the Word of God at her Baptism at the end of the sixth century, also received its Divine calling from her Guardian Angel. This calling was to spread the Word of God. And within four generations of their Baptism, the English had gone out across the sea to Holland, then to other Germanic lands and on to Scandinavia and further still, to spread the Word of God, until, in the eleventh century, English saints were venerated in Kiev (7).
Long after this, when England had fallen far away from Orthodox Christianity and communion with the Universal Orthodox Church, through the long night of Roman Catholicism and then Protestantism, she still spread the word, not now the Word of God in its Orthodox context, but the English word, the English language. As a result, today, the world language, whether we like it or not, is English. Although we tremble at the thought, English is the language of globalization and therefore a language which Antichrist will use, when he finally comes. What then are we to do?
Our answer to this threat of globalization - and it is a threat - is Orthodox globalization. This means to spread Orthodoxy across the face of the earth, wherever there are those who are open to us. This is the Divine and Messianic calling of Russian Orthodoxy, the calling that Rus received from her Guardian Angel at her Baptism. This is the Orthodoxy that is able to do this, this is the Orthodoxy that remains uncompromised. Russian Orthodoxy has remained free from the influences of the twentieth-century, Euro-Atlantic world, keeping intact its ideal of Wholeness and Holiness.
Orthodox globalization is not secular globalization. The latter is the unitary, unipolar globalization of this world, recreating the world according to a single mould. Conversely, Orthodox globalization is Trinitarian, preaching unity in diversity, respectful of the unity of the Faith, but also respectful of the personalities of each people, protected by their Guardian Angels. This is the great mission of Russian Orthodoxy in these latter times, when Orthodox everywhere must prepare and gather together before the end, strengthening one another's spiritual forces.
If the historic mission of the Russian past was to gather the lands of Rus together; then the future mission of Russia, we believe, is to gather all Orthodox peoples together. This is not a geographical mission, as in the past, but a spiritual mission, for the future. It has already begun, with the coming together of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia and the Patriarchal Church. Some fifty years ago St John of Shanghai wrote prophetically of this: When at last comes freedom from atheist government, then there will be rejoicing and triumph at the restoration of the Russian Church...We pray to the Lord, that He will hasten the coming of that long-desired and awaited hour, when the First Hierarch of All Russia, going up to his Patriarchal place in the Cathedral of the Dormition in Moscow, will gather around him all the Russian Archpastors, come from all the Russian and foreign lands (8). Next October, His Holiness Patriarch Alexis of All Rus will go to Paris. There, we hope that the gathering together of Russian Orthodox of all nationalities will continue.
Thus, we understand the word 'Rus' in a renewed sense. 'Rus' consists not only of the four Russias, of which I spoke above, but consists of all faithful Russian Orthodox of all nationalities worldwide. In unity in diversity, 'Rus' is also global. And here is the connection between this global Rus and England. For the English language, the 'English word', is an important tool in the work of spreading Orthodox Rus worldwide.
Providentially the English language has a liturgical form, which dates back to the time of the literary genius Shakespeare, to the turn of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. This is not the vulgar 'World English' of contemporary international business, this is the highest and fairest form of the English language, one in which the Trinitarian God, the Most Holy Mother of God and the saints may be worshipped by English-speaking lands. Therefore, we mock the evil one, making the language of Antichrist into the language of Christ, the instrument of globalization into the instrument of Orthodoxy and the Universal Church. The English liturgical language, I believe, is one of the two offerings that England can make to Orthodoxy and its spread worldwide.
The second offering is the saints of England. Like other Western countries, before the errors into which they fell nearly a thousand years ago, just as Rus was being baptized by the Providence of God, England was still attached to the Universal Orthodox Church. And it had saints who walked in holiness, the same holiness as the saints of Rus, and in heaven they walk together. Though little known outside England, these ancient, locally-venerated saints, Alban and Augustine, Laurence and Mellitus, Oswald and Paulinus, Felix and Aidan, Chad and Cuthbert, Audrey and Hilda, Mildred and Werburgh, Theodore and Erkenwald, Benedict and Wilfrid, Aldhelm and Guthlac, Bede and Clement, Boniface and Swithin, Edmund and Edward, Edith and Dunstan, Oswald and Alphege, are those whose ascetic feats enter into the life of Universal Orthodoxy.
These English offerings are perhaps little offerings to the cause of Holy Orthodoxy and Rus. However, we, in 'English Rus', are a little country and, spiritually speaking, like the rest of the West, we are also only a former, outlying province of Holy Rus. We have no contemporary saints, we have a history of sin and apostasy, but these are the gifts that we can still offer, as offerings of repentance. These two offerings, of our ancient saints and our liturgical language, represent the English word that is our true bond, the England that glimmers in uplifted hearts, the England that is alive with all that never dies, Eternal England.
In some way, through the English word, our language, we may still be able to prepare the way for others to contemplate entering the Church of Christ. In some way, through the witness of the ancient saints of England, as other Western countries through their ancient saints also, we may still be able to point the way towards Holy Orthodoxy and Holy Rus, the only way out of contemporary chaos and spiritual death.
The English word, the English liturgical language, together with the witness of the saints of our distant past, are only two flowers in the huge and fragrant bouquet that Holy Rus offers the world in its ideal of holiness. Nevertheless, they contribute to the whole, and surely any offering to God is sweet-scented. And, hopefully, an offering may bring its givers Divine mercy, without which none of us has any hope of salvation at all, in the all too short time that now remains to us on this earth.
1. Nikolai Mikhailovich Zernov (1898-1980).
2. See Anglichanin pri Tsarskom Dvore, K. Benag, Tsarskoye Delo, Sankt Peterburg 2006 (Russian translation from the original English).
3. Asnieres-sur-Seine. The Russian chapel, which still exists, was dedicated to Christ the Saviour, in memory of the Church of Christ the Saviour in Moscow, which at that time had just been dynamited by the Bolshevik regime.
4. Hieromonk, later Bishop, Mefody (Kulman) reposed on Holy Saturday 1974.
5. See The Infidelity of the Nations in Orthodox Christianity and the English Tradition, The English Orthodox Trust, Norfolk 1995.
6. See www.karpatorusyns.org/weblog.php, or in English: Orthodox Carpatho-Russia on our site www.orthodoxengland.org.uk.
7. See The Making of Central and Eastern Europe, F. Dvornik, London 1949.
8. The Message of Archbishop John of Shanghai to his flock on 2 August 1946. In Russian: