FOR THE SUNDAY OF ORTHODOXY
Sing, O my soul, and glorify Life and Lives, the God of all.
The Great Canon of St Andrew of Crete
The following consists of translated extracts from recent conversations with Fr I., a graduate of the Moscow Theological Academy and mitred archpriest. He is an old friend, whom I have known for over twenty years and who was present at my ordination to the priesthood in 1991.
Fr A: The Patriarch of Constantinople has been in Rome, staying in a Cardinal’s residence and visiting the Uniat ‘Oriental’ Institute. He has been praying together with the Pope.
Fr I: A temptation just before Lent! Once more people will be saying that Patriarch Bartholomew is another secret Catholic Cardinal, like the late Metropolitan Nikodim of Leningrad. There will be protests on the Holy Mountain again. Added to this, there are the problems in Jerusalem, since Condoleezza Rice interfered in the Patriarchate of Jerusalem. The American Department of State seems to be able to treat the Greek Orthodox world like a subdivision of itself and the Vatican does no better.
Fr A: But it is not only the US. Look at the EU. There are rumours that it has meddled in the Patriarchate of Bucharest and also in the Church of Greece. And German troops are entering Kosovo again, as in 1942. It is ominous. You know that very few countries have recognised Kosovo, even under political pressure. Canada has now refused to recognise it, since they fear their own separatist movement in Quebec. Really, Kosovo is letting the evil genie out of the bottle. But you know, we must be careful not to blame others for all the problems of the Orthodox world.
Fr I: Yes, this is the point of Fr Tikhon (Shevkunov) in his brilliant film ‘The Fall of an Empire’ about the fall of Constantinople, which is in fact a warning to Russians today. It is true that evil forces helped to bring about the fall of the City, but ultimately apostate Orthodox were responsible themselves. Fr Tikhon told the truth in his film and those who criticise it simply show that they are not Orthodox. If it had not been criticised by such people, that would have proved that it is a bad film. Look at those who criticised it, they all belong to anti-Orthodox and anti-Russian groups. Fr Tikhon tells the Orthodox truth and warns Russia that it will go the same way if it does not continue on the path of repentance, which has only just begun there.
Fr A: Yes, we have many enemies, but we must blame ourselves for the troubles in the Orthodox world. Fr Tikhon’s film was very timely. I thought that his remark that when the Patriarch of Constantinople became Roman Catholic, the people lost their morale, was very true. It shows that compromises from inside the Church create the real problems. The rich and powerful, oligarchs and politicians, they will always be there to tempt from the outside, but they can be ignored. We can make external compromises with the West and the forces that stand behind its Mammonist Capitalist system, but compromises with the Faith are suicidal. That is why Constantinople fell and that is why Russia fell in 1917 and will fall again, if it is not careful. The renewal of the Church in Russia, which is only just beginning, is still very fragile. Nevertheless, it is the last chance, as they say, the last throw of the dice, the only thing that stands between us and the Apocalypse.
Look how the Greeks gave way in Florence in 1439. The ecumenism of the Greeks in Florence is simply being repeated today. When I was parish priest in Portugal in the early nineties, I know that the Constantinople priest there gave communion to any Roman Catholics who asked. And it seems that this is the policy of Constantinople all over the world. It was certainly the same in Italy. The Rue Daru Archdiocese in Paris at that time even used to allow a Uniat deacon to concelebrate at its parish in Florence. I remember in the 1980s, the then Archbishop of Canterbury visited the Constantinople Cathedral in Paris and the Metropolitan sat him on the throne in the altar. At a Greek monastery in England the Archimandrite would let Anglican priests bless the food at meal times. Not far from here in England there is a University where there are hundreds of Greek students. The Roman Catholic chaplain there told me that about ten of them regularly take communion from him. This is all the result of the Phanariot Uniatist policy, which has confused Greek people.
Fr I: It is this sort of compromise which creates schisms, ‘alternative churches’, ‘parallel churches’. Wherever you go in the new calendar world, you automatically find old calendarists, in Greece, Romania, Bulgaria, in the Greek missions in Africa. One extreme breeds another. And the old calendarists are often very zealous people, many become monks and nuns and the new calendarist monasteries and convents are emptying. This has started in Russia too, even though we have the old calendar. Because of the compromises of certain Russian bishops, the faithful are scandalised and we too have little Orthodox sects growing up. Of course, they are all tiny, but they exist.
Fr A: The Orthodox world must pull together, not pull apart.
Fr I: Yes, but there also exists a false and hypocritical co-operation. In the West, where you have many jurisdictions, in many countries there are standing committees of bishops and inter-Orthodox concelebrations on the Sunday of Orthodoxy. And what good do they do? After forty years and more, they have produced no unity at all.
Fr A: That is true. It all seems to be a waste of time and effort. It is because these structures and events are political, just fronts for the domination of one jurisdiction over the others. We must not be naïve. It is also true that some structures must dissolve. Look for example at the USA, where the Cold War structure of the OCA seems to be falling apart. They have now had to withdraw their bishop from Alaska, but he is refusing to obey his own Synod.
Fr I: Why is there this proliferation of jurisdictions in the West?
Fr A: In this country, the reason is quite clear. It was because of the paralysis of the Russian Church. There was a point as late as the 1970s, when virtually all Russians and English at least were within one part or other of the Russian Church. But because of the disastrous problems in both parts of the Russian Church here, English people and even Russians are now scattered through the Greek, Antiochian and even other jurisdictions. That is why so many of us who could actually left England at the time emigrated. The Russian Church was no mother to us then, but a step-mother. We were ready to sacrifice ourselves for her, but they just turned round and spat in our faces – ‘We don’t want you’, they said. So today, both parts of the Russian Church in England have enormous problems – but they are all 100% self-inflicted. For instance, today in Cambridge they have parishioners, but no church. That was a direct result of their refusal to buy an excellent and very cheap building there in 1982, when they had the opportunity. Now they need a million pounds to do anything. It is all self-inflicted. A tragedy.
And in North America, as you know, all Orthodox were under the Russian Church until 1918. For me, this fragmentation and splintering is the result of the Russian Church not being able to face up to its international responsibilities and turning into little sectarian groups clustered around personalities, losing the sense of the catholicity of the Church. As a result, new jurisdiction after new jurisdiction has appeared. The Russian Church long ago lost its monopoly, because it lost its moral authority, it became decadent. As a result, centripetal, rather than centrifugal, forces have taken over all through the Diaspora. It will take enormous changes, if the Russian Church is ever to recover its lost authority. I would say that it will take the blood of martyrs here in the diaspora.
Fr I: On the subject of divisions in the Church, what is the real situation in ROCOR now? I know that some members of ROCOR have not followed their Church into eucharistic communion with the Church inside Russia, for example in England. It seems to me that ROCOR was too hasty in entering into eucharistic communion. The ROCOR bishops should have given the older generation more time to accept this idea.
Fr A: Well, it was sixteen years since Communism fell, before the two parts of the Church entered into communion. That was a long time.
Fr I: Yes, but Fr Andrew, you know that in the 1990s, all such unity was impossible, so you cannot count those years. At that time the bishops of the Patriarchate had still not accepted the New Martyrs and would not give up branch-theory ecumenism or Sergianism. Frankly, they did not want unity with ROCOR, they feared it. That is why they accepted or even arranged the anti-ROCOR provocation in Hebron in 1997, basically stealing ROCOR Church property.
Fr A: Of course, I agree with you about this. I was myself totally against any sort of unity with the Patriarchal part of the Russian Church until the Council of 2000, when the Patriarchate finally went back on everything they had done and said before. That was a Council of Repentance, it was under pressure from the people that they canonised the New Martyrs. I myself know one Patriarchal bishop who told us in the late 90s that we should have nothing to do with his own Church until they had canonised the New Martyrs. It was my opinion also. But after 2000 it was vital at least to begin talking with the Patriarchate and make sure that they implemented their repentance of the Jubilee Council of 2000, that it was all not just words but actions.
Fr I: I know many senior clergy in Moscow who were totally against any unity until that Council. As you know, I was one of them. We all wanted ROCOR to pressure the Patriarchal bishops into canonising the New Martyrs and renouncing ecumenism and their other compromises.
Fr A: But I think that to say that ROCOR was too ‘hasty’ in entering into eucharistic communion in 2007 is inaccurate. I think the problem was more that our people and some of the older clergy were not adequately prepared. Everyone agreed that the two parts of the Russian Church had to come together. The only problem was the timing. For example, when I gave my address at the Council in San Francisco in 2006, I wanted to bring everyone together, to try and bring in everyone, expressing the Tradition, but also showing openness. Several people who have for the moment left ROCOR, nuns at Lesna, elderly laity from Los Angeles, clergy from Russia, thanked me for that address, they liked it. But they have left ROCOR - for the moment.
My own policy was to follow the bishops. If our bishops had decided to enter into communion three years earlier, I would have followed, if three years later, then I would have followed too. I feel very sorry for Metropolitan Laurus, because he has seen some people leave and families split. He did not want that. He wanted, and wants, to keep people together. He must suffer immensely.
Fr I: About how many people have left ROCOR?
Fr A: I would say between 5% and 10%, not more.
Fr I: But what about South America, where the vast majority left?
Fr A: That is true, but South America is a tiny diocese. It only has ten or eleven clergy. And that had much to do with the specific nature of the emigration there, some of whom had fought on Hitler’s side in the Second War. But you know, I think this talk of people ‘leaving’ is incorrect. Rather, these people have not followed their bishops – not yet. I think that those who did not accept eucharistic communion, the commemoration of the Patriarch, fall into two groups.
Firstly, there were those who could not adapt, they were often elderly, they had seen too many problems in the past, they had suffered too much. My heart goes out to them and in many ways I would defend them. Certainly, I feel that I understand them. Certainly, I would like our bishops to do their utmost to bring them back. I think we should show them the maximum of patience and understanding. They deserve that.
But there were also other dissidents. They were people with an ideology, which was very political and in fact, though they do not always admit it, anti-Russian. They claimed their ideology was Orthodox, but in fact it was full of proud Western moralism. Often those people had infiltrated our Church during the seventies and eighties and were the creation of one person, who had great power in New York at that time. Metropolitan Philaret, who was a holy man, suffered greatly from his actions. Those individuals always had their own political axe to grind or a career to make. They will never come back to ROCOR, because they always wanted to create their own little empires, like Protestants who create new ‘churches’, as soon as they have a little argument with someone else. In some ways, those people never were part of ROCOR in the first place.
Fr I: You mean like that former KGB agent in America, who joined the CIA and now has a website where he rants against Metropolitan Laurus?
Fr A: Exactly. That is just political provocation. People like that would have left ROCOR anyway, even if we had waited for eucharistic communion for another 25 years. They will always put politics and sectarian ideology above the Church
Fr I: But in England, you had a double schism. As the San Francisco Council began and it was apparent that the two parts of the Church would probably enter into communion, the modernist Sourozh Diocese of the Moscow Patriarchate here underwent a schism. How many people were lost to the Russian Church in this double schism?
Fr A: That was a very interesting phenomenon. In England, there were very special problems preventing Russian Church unity. It was very serious because there could be no unity here, until the modernist elements of the Patriarchate had either repented or left. Of course, since they justified their renovationism, they left and went to their spiritual home in the Paris Jurisdiction. The extraordinary thing is that that modernist jurisdiction is now repeating exactly the same virulent anti-Russian and political pronouncements as the most extreme people, who did not follow ROCOR into eucharistic communion with the Patriarchate. It is clear that basically they are all just anti-Russian. As for the numbers involved in the Sourozh schism, I have been told officially from the London Cathedral of the Sourozh Diocese that they lost 37 people in London. And the Patriarchate here is now basically normal, like in Russia, like ROCOR.
Fr I: 37! Is that all? A drop in the ocean! But what about the ROCOR Diocese here? You also lost people. How many?
Fr A: Well, strangely enough, I suspect that it was also about 37 people. It was a very interesting parallel. It was almost a reflection in a mirror. You see, the extremes could not bear to be with the mainstream. The extremes meet. It is important to be in the mainstream of Church Truth. Partial truths, views from the extremes, lead to distortions. On the Sourozh side there were those who had their modernist ideological axe to grind, on the ROCOR side there were those who had zeal, but not according to knowledge.
Fr I: As you know, I knew Metropolitan Vitaly very well and I am disturbed that some blame him for these events.
Fr A: Yes, I think that is very regrettable. I think that it was the people around him who were responsible for the errors. He was a strict monk, but really Orthodox. He had a heart. The last years of his life, when he was basically kidnapped, first mentally and then physically, by those who had their own political agendas, were tragic indeed. But look what has happened to those people who abducted him to Mansonville and abused him after his retirement in his extreme old age. They all argued among themselves and now there are four of five different groups of them, all casting anathemas at each other. Live badly and you will end badly. That is the spiritual law. That is not the Church.
And that is what I also fear with all these tiny splinters from ROCOR, who did not accept eucharistic communion in 2007. There are three or four different groups of them already. All of them are very small, all are arguing with each other. As you know Metropolitan Cyprian of the Cyprianites, one of the groups involved, is now in a coma. Here there is yet another Synod of Old Calendarists which could easily implode and probably create several more ‘synods’. I believe one of their bishops has already left. There will be disputes about personalities and more divisions. This is sectarian. This always happens.
In sects they do not understand that we belong to the Church, the Church does not belong to us. The Church belongs to Christ. Strangely enough, one of the heads of the Mansonville schism told me already in 1996 all his plans, saying that he had to ‘save the Church’. Now that is exactly what Metropolitan Sergius, the founder of Sergianism, said! It is sheer pride to think that we can save the Church. We do not save the Church; the Church saves us. The good people of ROCOR who have not yet followed the vast majority of ROCOR and the episcopate and are temporarily in sectarian groups do not deserve this treatment. I hope that they will eventually return to ROCOR.
Fr I: Yes, but there are bishops in the Patriarchate who, now that ROCOR is in communion, are preaching heresy, saying that native Orthodox in Western Europe should all become Roman Catholic. That is insulting to people like you, who have sacrificed your life for Orthodoxy and the Russian Church. They are just like Metropolitan Nikodim of Leningrad in the 1970s. Those people, our bishops among them, are causing the splintering of the Church. That is how they provoke these tiny parallel jurisdictions and sectarian groups into life.
Fr A: I agree with you. The peculiar personal opinions of supposedly Orthodox bishops saying that all Non-Russians must become Roman Catholic is insulting, openly offensive. I hope our bishops will speak out about this. Certainly, those individuals have no support inside Russia and most of the episcopate there must be horrified by their irrelevant opinions. But Orthodox in the West, unlike in Russia, must be careful before such provocations. In the West people often do not understand that we are the Church. We have to fight for the Church from inside, not by splitting off. The Church is not clergy and bishops, the Church is above all the people. To say anything else is clericalism. The Church has survived for nearly 2,000 years through the people. These few individuals in the Patriarchate who say such things scandalise the faithful. But they are throwbacks to the Soviet period. They are not the future, they are the past, they are dinosaurs.
I have always said that since it took 75 years to partially destroy the Church in Russia, it will take 75 years to rebuild Her. And it is only seventeen years since the fall of Communism in 1991. There they still have to go through many phases of rebuilding and restoration, shedding old Soviet mentalities. Much of Russian society today is still not Russian, it is still post-Soviet. There is a very long way to go. 95% of Russia still has to be Churched. We are only at the beginning of the restoration of the Church there. The situation in the provinces is often horrendous. That is why we must work together.
Fr I: So what for you is the purpose of ROCOR today? How is it different from the Patriarchal part of the Church? What is its separate identity?
Fr A: The purpose and future of ROCOR is to continue to witness to the uncompromised Russian Orthodox Tradition and Faith, in freedom, to all the peoples of the world, not as ‘embassy churches’, catering only for recent arrivals from the ex-Soviet Union, but catering for all. In this free and uncompromised missionary witness, we express and support the faith of the mass of faithful clergy and people inside Russia, from whom we now openly receive support, as we are in communion with each other. This is a new strength that ROCOR has and which we did not have before. It is not to be underestimated. In this way, through the strength of the united Russian Church, we can witness, for example to Western Europeans that the underlying faith of Europe is Orthodoxy, the faith of the first millennium.
Fr I: That is very difficult.
Fr A: Yes, it is, but to become Orthodox is not difficult, what is difficult is to remain Orthodox, to remain in the struggle, against all the powers that be, whether they are inside or outside the Church, to continue to fight against all the extremes. But that is how we witness, that is how we shall earn our crowns. That is our victory, and we shall have that victory, even if it costs us our blood. Orthodoxy is a fight unto death and the faint-hearted need not apply. That, after all, is the meaning of this Triumph of Orthodoxy; Triumph is Martyrdom.
Sunday of Orthodoxy