THE TRUTH WILL OUT! (2)
Fr A: I don’t think so. True, a small percentage disagreed with the ‘catholic’ (soborny) decision of the Church, made at the Council in San Francisco, to re-establish communion between the two parts of the Russian Church. Thus, small groups, all arguing with each other and all out of communion with each other, left ROCOR in disobedience to the bishops. They refuse to admit that the Patriarchate is now free of State persecution. All they need to do is to go to Russia and see for themselves!
However, we know that the real reasons for leaving were different and in fact sectarian in nature. Some are always inventing new reasons to justify their mini-schisms. It seems that they will only envisage unity when everyone in the Patriarchate is a saint. (It seems that they must consider that they are themselves already saints). But it must be said that among those who left there were a lot of good and simple, but naïve and misled souls. But the leaders who left all had ulterior motives, I must say, very poorly concealed ulterior motives, to do with power and position.
Moreover, of the 5% or so of the ROCOR flock who left last May, many have since returned. A false impression of the situation can be gained through the Internet, since many of the dissenters seem to make a lot of noise and propaganda, giving the impression that they are more numerous than in reality. Of course, it is true that a number of clergy did leave the Church, as well as some nuns. But what is often overlooked here is that there were people who left the Patriarchate also. I am thinking about the group who left the Sourozh Diocese here and the Korsun Diocese in France, and went to the Paris Jurisdiction, causing scandal. Then there are the others in the Paris Jurisdiction, who still refuse to return to either part of the Russian Church. They boycotted the Patriarchal visit to France three weeks ago and spread slander about the Patriarch in the French secular, anticlerical media.
The departure of the group from the Sourozh Diocese was very much timed for the date of the ROCOR Council in 2006. One of the Patriarchal bishops in England actually pointed this out to me, in case I had had any doubt about it. It was just an attack on the unity of the Church. There are forces out there who simply do not want the recovery of the Russian Church and the restoration of Orthodox Russia. They will wreck anything positive. They are manipulated by powerful and well-financed elements, which are attached to various States and powerful organizations based in the West. I don’t want to sound paranoid, but this is a fact and I think we must be realistic, not naïve.
MS: Who were those who disagreed and left?
Fr A: It varied from one country to another. In England only a small group of people left. They were nearly all converts with a limited understanding of the situation. There were hardly any Russians among them and indeed they left for a Non-Russian grouping. This is rather representative of the Protestant mentality. When Protestants disagree, they protest as individuals, not accepting the episcopal and catholic nature of the Church. They seem not to understand that the Church is episcopal and that we owe obedience, even when we may disagree with our bishops about details.
Only the bishops have an overview. Indeed, that is what the word ‘bishop’ means, an overseer, one who has oversight. To rejecting the view of a Council of Bishops who are freely assembled is the tragedy of not seeing the wood, because you are looking at individual trees. There is a danger of partial views. Partial views, viewing individual trees and not the whole forest, contain truth, but not the whole truth. If people get attached to partial views, they can end up living a partial life. But Christ gave us a whole life, an integral life. So partial life can end up with the condemnation of others, with exclusiveness. This is the path of the sect. There are many trees in the forest and we should not attach ourselves to one particular tree.
MS: Who left ROCOR in other countries?
Fr A: In the USA, there was a similar phenomenon to England with badly informed converts and politicized second and third generation emigres who had lost their understanding of Russian Orthodoxy. But there were quite a few retired CIA operatives of Russian origin, who also left ROCOR All their adult lives such people had worked for the CIA during the Cold War. In other words, they had always been anti-Soviet. Of course, that is not bad in itself. We were, and are, all anti-Soviet, because the Soviets persecuted the Church, they were anti-Orthodox and therefore anti-Russian. But I think that these people confused being anti-Soviet with being anti-Russian. Tragically, they ended up being so pro-American that in fact they have acted in an anti-Russian manner, without perhaps always realizing it. This is what happens when politics comes before Church.
In South America, some who left ROCOR had had family and political links with the tragic errors of the Russian National Army who had fought with Hitler. In Australia, the very limited dissent seems to have been based on the very isolationist views of a few individuals, who seem to have lost contact with reality at the height of the Cold War in the 1970s. However, by far the majority of people who left were in the Ukraine and Russia. Since they had very little contact with the ROCOR here, it is difficult to say much about them. Certainly, they had very different reasons for being in ROCOR from us who are outside Russia. In fact, few members of ROCOR outside Russia understand why people inside Russia joined ROCOR. The majority of ROCOR members disagreed with those of our bishops, who in the 1990s accepted people into our Church in a country which is not our canonical territory.
I have the impression that these were people who had seen the dirt in the Patriarchate in the 1990s, joined ROCOR then, and could not reconcile themselves to returning to communion with their old Church ten or fifteen years later. I think that they had been hurt in their souls and spiritual recovery will take a long time. Again, this is the problem of not seeing the wood for the trees. They had a bad experience with one person and that was that. But the Church is bigger than one person, even though their bad experience may have been with a bishop. And I can think of plenty of people who left ROCOR in the 1960s or 1970s because they had a bad experience with one person, sometimes with a bishop. Bad experiences do not stop at jurisdictional boundaries. If we are going to demand perfection from all others, then no Church on earth is good enough for us. The Gospel tells us, ‘Be ye perfect as is your Father in heaven’, not, ‘Demand that others be perfect’.
MS: Did the dissent in ROCOR begin with the talks with the Patriarchate?
Fr A: No, not at all, it has a history, the whole problem goes back to the 1960s. It was at that time that a certain individual took over the administration of ROCOR in New York. He attempted to introduce a sectarian, political mentality into the Church. Most of us fought against this mentality and were persecuted by it. Notably, the Jordanville Monastery and the present Metropolitan Laurus resisted this secular mentality. Nevertheless, these sectarian, fanatical forces tried to take over the Church. Thus, that individual in question had several extremists ordained and indeed, once he had himself become a bishop, ordained others.
He also encouraged Old Calendar Greeks to join us. That was how we lost our parish in Rome, for example and why there were scandals in Jerusalem, London and in fact virtually everywhere. Quit a few people left ROCOR at that time because they could not bear to see this happening. One of the most notable opponents to this trend was the ever-memorable Archbishop Antony of Geneva, who almost became Metropolitan in 1985. One day historians will look back at this period and write that such people who resisted this sectarian trend, the majority of the Church, had heroes amongst them and Vladyka Antony was among them.
In any case, in the 1990s the individual in question ended up leaving our Church, of his own will, even though he was by then a bishop. He died outside the Church, having caused many scandals. He also interfered in Church life inside Russia itself, receiving all sorts of unstable and politically extreme people, careerists, adventurists, and defrocked clergy into our ranks, even ordering the consecration of a notorious pedophile, Patriarchal priest to the episcopate. I think it can be said that all the individuals who have left our Church in the past few months were all influenced, directly or indirectly, by that individual, and that the clergy who have left were either ordained by him or else through him.
Thus, when some of those people left, there were mixed feelings. They were sorry for them that they had gone, but in many ways there was a feeling of relief. The pernicious influence that had begun in the 1960s was over. Now we could get on with building up the Church without politics.
MS: Where did those elements who left ROCOR go?
Fr A: Many seem to have gone nowhere. The devil rejoices at this. People who used to go to church now go nowhere. Others have joined various tiny sects like that of the suspended Bishop Agafangel in the Ukraine, who they say is funded by the CIA. I have no idea whether that is actually true. Then there is the man who calls himself ‘Archbishop’ Tikhon in Siberia, or there are various Greek Old Calendarist sects. I believe there are about fourteen of those altogether. And then there are all kinds of previously unheard of groupings, each with only a few dozen or few hundred members worldwide. And of course they are all out of communion with each other and condemn each other as ‘heretical’. It is very sad for them.
MS: Would you say that those few people who left ROCOR lacked love for Russia?
Fr A: Above all, it was a lack of love for Orthodoxy, for the Church, for Christ. That is what defines a sect, the placing of a personality or personal view above Christ Sometimes, there was a lot of tragic misunderstanding, naivete, illusions, a terrible lack of information, pastoral care and explanation, sometimes there were personality conflicts. But in some cases, yes, there was a lack of love for Russia. But your question is curious. About thirty years ago, I heard those very same words from one of the disciples of St Silvanus of Mt Athos. Having, ironically, himself left the Patriarchate of Moscow for the Patriarchate of Constantinople, that priest told me that ROCOR ‘lacked love for Russia!’ That of course was nonsense in general. It was just political prejudice on his part. But, it was true of a few members of ROCOR, whose intentions were not spiritual, but political. Perhaps when that priest said that, he was thinking precisely of that individual in New York who did so much damage. In that case, but only in that case, he was right.
But I think we can see very clearly from the events of the last few years that 95% of ROCOR members love Russia and always have done. Our hearts bled when the Church in Russia was being persecuted. What is obvious is that that there are those who do not love Russia, but then they are not in ROCOR and never have been. For example, there are those who last year quit the Patriarchate of Moscow in Great Britain and in France. And then there are those, mainly in France, of Russian origin, who refuse to return to the Russian Church, even though She is now free. They have done the opposite of us. We are like two trains passing in opposite directions. We returned as soon as we were sure that freedom had come in Russia, in obedience to the words of St Tikhon, who told us in 1920 to organize ourselves, until such time as freedom came. How can you disobey a saint, the Patriarch of the Church? So who lacks love for Russia? It is certainly not the 95% of members of ROCOR who entered into communion with the Patriarchate last May!
MS: Would you personally like to live in Russia?
Fr A: If I were alone, definitely. I would like to participate in what is happening in Russia today. Though since I don’t have Russian nationality, that would be a problem. But the main practical problem is that I am married and I have six children. None of them speaks Russian. So moving to Russia is not possible. But I think that spiritually, in any case, we all live in Russia already and always have done. This is not a question of blood or language or of national origin. It is a question of where your heart is. And the spiritual home of ROCOR always has been and always will be in Russia, whatever our blood, nationality and language.
MS: As perhaps you know, some people in Russia are dissatisfied with the Patriarchate. For example, some say that the Patriarchate is liberal and compromised with ecumenism. I am thinking of Bishop Diomid in particular. What do you, as a member of ROCOR, think? After all the words of Bishop Diomid have been taken by dissidents as justification for their actions in leaving ROCOR.
Fr A: Since the Church is for everyone, inevitably there is a variety of views within Her. This always has been the case. The Apostles disagreed with one another. Read the Scriptures! Read about St Epiphanius of Salamis and St John Chrysostom. They disagreed too. St Joseph of Volokalamsk and St Nil of Sora disagreed. So what! The Church is broad, a lot broader than the narrowness of our minds. We know that within the Patriarchate, you can find a few people who ally themselves with renovationists. Sadly, there are three or four such parishes in Western Europe and at least one in Moscow. I wish the Patriarchal bishops would do something about them, because they cause scandal here. But then in the Patriarchate there are also a few people, even bishops, who are active in ecumenism, the ‘diplomatic class’, we might call them. Sadly, I sometimes wonder if some of these do not actually believe in ecumenism, but I think that such stupidity is not possible.
One of these bishops was in England for a time and five years ago he told one of our Russian parishioners from Moscow, Natasha, to stop coming here. She ignored him completely and quite rightly. How can you order people to stop getting spiritual food, when you are in a spiritual desert and the alternative is charlatanism? But such naïve and inexperienced people generally mature with time. It is an error of youth and naivete. They will learn. Often such people can only see subtleties (tonkosti). Why not admit that some things are black and some things are white. There are right and wrong, true and false. Not everything is in subtlety.
On the other hand, there are individuals within the Patriarchate, who do not even know the word subtlety. For them everything is black or white. Although black is black and white is white, they do not understand that grey is also grey. And there are many shades of grey! Some of these people do not understand that the Gospel is about love. Why this hatred? Why call everyone else a heretic? Honey goes a lot further than vinegar. For example, how will we convert others to Orthodoxy, if we do not speak to them? The Apostles spoke to Jews and pagans to convert them. Sts Cyril and Methodius spoke to the pagan Slavs to convert them. We too must speak to the contemporary world, Roman Catholics, Protestants, Muslims, Jews, to convert them, without of course compromising the Faith with ‘diplomacy’. Of course, if you live in Siberia or parts of the Ukraine, things may seem to be all black and white. But we have to have an overview. Sometimes, diplomacy is necessary and subtleties do exist.
For example I have read what Bishop Diomid of Anadyr and Chukotka and Bishop Ippolit of Khust say and I do not basically disagree with them. How could I? But when you are in Paris or Vienna and you are trying to obtain a Roman Catholic church to use for services for Orthodox services for poor immigrants from the Ukraine and you have no money, you have to be diplomatic. In reality, I think we are all saying the same things in Russian Orthodoxy, we are just saying them in different ways. And that of course is why we are all together in the same Church. The danger comes when people go too far, when they go to extremes. That is the path to the door outside, to the sect. And that is why we must always listen to the catholic (‘soborny’) voice of the Church, the words of all the bishops, as received by the whole people of God.
There is here another problem. Some people seem to think that they have a monopoly of Church Truth. That is not possible. The Church is not a monolith and there always have been and always will be differences of opinion about details of Church Life. The Church belongs to God, not to us. Trust in Providence. Everything will work out in this world or in the next. Sometimes we have to take the long view. There are representatives of the Church who are in the forefront of the struggle for Church Truth, and others are behind. All of us are maturing in our understanding of Church Truth. There are those in Russia who still have not woken up from old, Soviet and modernist realities, others have. We must have an overview of the whole Church.
MS: A lot of us in Russia are worried about corruption in the Church, including, some say, among members of the episcopate. What would you say?
Fr A: These stories are well-known to us here and we know the names of the people involved. We are not naïve! In the West we’ve seen all this before. But look, our primary task is the salvation of our own souls. When a member of the clergy sins, we should increase our prayers for them. Instead, people are scandalized and get upset. Christ came to call sinners to salvation. That includes us. Personal sin is not the same as heresy, which is personal sin spread and preached to others. Then you have to cut yourselves off, for fear of being contaminated. But here we are talking about personal sin.
The Church is not individuals, bishops or otherwise. The Church is everyone. Do I say that I refuse to worship Christ, because one of the twelve disciples was Judas? Human weaknesses will always be with us. I can remember the 1990s, when Moscow Patriarchal bishops in three European Capitals were all involved in sexual and other scandals, one including the use of hypnotism. In the 1980s and 1990s three bishops of the Patriarchate of Constantinope in Western Europe were also involved in sexual and simony scandals. So what? It was always like this. The Church is Christ’s, not ours. Sometimes ‘representatives’ of the Church do not represent the Church. Human beings stain the Church’s outward image, but the Church Herself remains all pure. The Church is Christ’s.
And this is not a jurisdictional question. Human weaknesses do not stop at manmade jurisdictional boundaries! ROCOR has also had its share of scandals over the years. Human nature will always be human nature. And some of the worst scandals are in the Greek Old Calendarist sects and the so-called catacomb ‘churches’ in Russia. Let us not be naïve. I can remember a very naïve person from ROCOR saying three or four years ago that ROCOR could not enter into communion with the Moscow Patriarchate, because ROCOR resembles ‘a glass of clean water’ and the Patriarchate ‘a glass of dirty water’. Apart from the sheer phariseeism, or ‘the heresy of neo-phariseeism’, as Metropolitan Laurus rightly called it in 2004, this statement showed incredible ignorance. After all, the New Martyrs were all members of the Patriarchate. So the saints are dirty water! Then there is the ignorance about ROCOR. Each of us is the first glass of dirty water in whatever Church we belong to.
We do not cut ourselves off from others, because they are sinful. We are ourselves the first sinners, as we say in the prayer before communion. What is this nonsense of always blaming others? We ourselves are to blame for anything that is wrong in our Church. We get what we deserve. What worries me at the moment is this mentality of always blaming others for the disasters that have befallen the country. It is no good blaming this group or that group for our misfortunes. We must take responsibility for ourselves.
For example, it is true that the Bolsheviks were nearly all Non-Russian, that the Soviet Union had foreign, Non-Russian and anti-Russian leaders. But those leaders could never have done what they did without the active participation in their schemes of Russian people. For instance, it is only in recent years with freedom in Russia that it has become clear that the Soviet Union lost the war against Hitler. It was Stalin’s and the Communists’ incompetence that nearly lost Russia. It was only the revival of Orthodox Russia that won it.
Today they say that Stalin’s surname, Djugashvili, means ‘son of a Jew’. Maybe, may be not. I don’t know. It is irrelevant. The fact is that he stayed in power because Russians adopted him, even worshipped him. Let us take responsibility for ourselves! Stop blaming others! This is just chauvinism and bigotry. Why this racism? Was this, taking the blame on ourselves, not the message of Dostoyevsky? It is certainly the message of the Fathers and the saints. Repentance starts with ourselves.
MS: Are you optimistic or pessimistic about the general situation of the Church in Russia?
Fr A: I would say both. The situation in Russia today is on a knife-edge. Yes, churches are opening, but there are terrible problems of political corruption, much of the countryside lives in poverty and incredible alcoholism. The situation could go one way or the other. Either the Church will come out of the present situation strengthened, or else weakened.
I believe that the fundamental problem is that Russia is living in a post-Soviet world, not a Russian world. The reflexes it had in its Orthodox past have still not been restored. There is a tendency to have Soviet reactions. For example, in Russia today there is a fashion to put up statues to saints. This is not an Orthodox reflex. These statues are simply replacements for the Soviet ones they put up before, those old Soviet statues to various monsters and torturers, which still stand all over Russia, especially in the provinces. Of course, it is not bad to put up statues to saints, much better to saints than to murdering tyrants, but in the Church we paint icons of the saints or build and dedicate chapels to them. Not statues.
Our faith is an interior faith, not one which is primarily concerned with the exterior, with rites and statues. In Russian you call that ‘obriadoverie’, ‘rite-belief’. The Church is not buildings and golden domes, it is about the church in our hearts, it is our Christian way of life. All of this obsession with externals is typical of a country that is coming to the Faith, not one that is in the Faith. It is the same with fasting. It is better to eat meat than ‘eat’ our neighbour. I was told about a woman in Russia who has had several abortions. But she would boast that she ‘never had abortions on Wednesdays or Fridays’. What sort of planet is this? This phase of history in Russia today will not be overcome until all of Russia is Churched (votserkovlena). Of course, I must say that we have seen the same sinful tendencies of attachment to externals within ROCOR. We too have churches with domes that seem to be just places for social meetings. Where is the prayer? Where is the repentance? Where is ‘the one thing needful?’
This problem can also be seen in the controversy in Russia about tax numbers and biometric passports. Nobody likes these, but our salvation does not depend on having them or not having them. Such questions are not the real ones. The real question is about cleansing our souls from sin, about repentance.
I believe that Russia has only ever known two cultures. The first is that of national Slav paganism, the ‘beat your wife every day’ obscurantism that also in part lay behind the bigotry of the Old Ritualists. This paganism was renewed under the Soviets. Soviet ideology was only the renewal of the old paganism and the liquid that made the Soviet pagan machine work was alcohol. After the Soviet collapse, there remained vestiges of that national paganism, for instance, the Fascist movement in the 1990s and the proliferation then of those charlatans and magicians (extresensy) who used the power of the demons to ‘heal’. More recently there have been the calls of the theologically ignorant to canonize Ivan the Terrible and the ‘extrasens’ Rasputin. All of that belongs to the Soviet pagan past. We must put it behind us. The Soviets used to talk about ‘the bright future’ (‘svetloe budushchee’). Well, let’s go there now and leave all those dark Soviet reflexes behind.
You see, the alternative culture to paganism in Russia is Orthodoxy. Popular culture is Orthodox. The only alternative to Orthodoxy in Russia is paganism, by whatever name you want to call it, Soviet or other. Forget about imported Western humanism. That is a culture of the pseudo-intellectual elite only. It lasts only a few minutes, like Kerensky in 1917. That is why the restoration of Orthodoxy in contemporary Russia is so vital. It means the restoration of the strength of the people, of popular culture. If the Churching of Russia does not take place, then Russia will fall back again into paganism. And all of this can happen in just a few years from now. There could even be a new persecution, and the recently baptized but still weak and unChurched masses will go into hiding again.
MS: What do you think of Putin? In Russia he is very popular, but we are also very wary of him. Many think that he is corrupt.
Fr A: It is not really for me to have a view of the leader of another country. But I can state the following. First of all, politics is all about the lesser evil. You will never find some sort of perfection in politics, so don’t idolize politicians, don’t expect too much. Secondly, however, President Putin is undeniably the best leader you have had since 1917. I don’t see how anyone can disagree with that. The previous ones were monsters.
Of course, President Putin is only a politician. For example, when he said that the greatest disaster of recent times was the fall of the Soviet Union, I can only interpret that as a desire to get the votes of pensioners, a piece of political opportunism. In reality, the greatest disaster in the twentieth century was the fall of Imperial Russia, that is to say, the foundation of the Soviet Union and all the events that had led to it from August 1914 on. It was the Soviet Union that brought about the genocide of the Russian people. Russia will become great again when the people return en masse to Orthodoxy and the traditions of Imperial Russia, in a refined form, live again. And we are a very long way from that at the moment.
MS: Is there anything in your view that could at the moment shift this delicate ‘knife-edge’ balance in Russia positively?
Fr A: I believe that the recent discovery of the possible relics of the martyred Tsarevich and the Grand Duchess Maria may come to play a mystical role in the spiritual restoration of Russia. That is, if they are proved to be authentic. Let us wait and see. It is early days yet. In any case, it depends on repentance, on a change in the way of life of the masses. Only when there is not a single abortion in Russia will we be able to talk about ‘Orthodox Russia’
MS: To move away from the Russian Church, what do you think of the situation in the Romanian Church and the accusation that their new Patriarch is a freemason?
Fr A: Of course, the new Patriarch there was a noted ecumenist. But he has clearly denied that he has ever been a freemason. I think we should be careful with rumours. In any case, these are the internal affairs of another Local Church. Let us just pray for all concerned and not interfere.
MS: And what of the dispute concerning primacy between the Patriarchates of Constantinople and Moscow, that took place in Ravenna?
Fr A: Everything will work out. God has allowed all this, so that the truth will be revealed. The failure of the recent meeting in Ravenna will prevent personal compromises with Roman Catholicism. Man proposes, but God disposes. God always draws good out of the bad that men do. Have faith. Pray more and gossip less!
MS: I read the Orthodox England website, because I feel that you tell the truth. How is that you can be so outspoken? Has anyone ever tried to censor the site?
Fr A: All I can say is that I try to tell the truth, though despite what some people think, I try to be diplomatic and say much between the lines. A few laypeople of various jurisdictions have tried to censor this site and even slander me. But I live in the middle of nowhere and they cannot take anything away from me, because I have nothing to take away. We can all pray and even though one day this site and thousands of other sites, those which are much, much more important than this little site, may be shut down by someone or other, they can never take away our souls, our ability to repent and pray. And that is all we need for salvation. Fear not, little flock!
Thank you, Fr Andrew.