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With the ROCOR Delegation in Russia (Part Two)

Monday 21 May

Today we go to the Elokhovsky Cathedral in Moscow. There is a memorial service for the ever-memorable Patriarch Alexis II, who is buried inside the Cathedral, and for Metropolitan Laurus. The Patriarch presides over the service, with several bishops and many priests.

Afterwards, we are invited to eat with members of the parish. Present is the rector, the well-known Fr Matthew Stadniuk. Aged 86, he is the only protopresbyter in the Russian Church inside Russia, as this is an award usually given only after 55 years of priesthood.

We are taken to the airport where an aeroplane marked ‘Imperial’, has been chartered for the Patriarchal flight to St Petersburg. We are given VIP treatment. There are some forty of us on the plane, which is very elaborate. We are met at the airport in St Petersburg by Metr Vladimir and some 30 priests as well as laypeople, and a cortege of cars. This is an event. We should not forget that the Patriarch grew up in St Petersburg.

We are taken to the Novodevichy Convent of the Resurrection. This is very smart – clearly some millionaires have donated for its renovation. The Abbess is very pleasant, intelligent and gifted, but also very young. She has some 15 nuns and has been responsible for the re-establishment and transformation of the Convent.

Tuesday 22 May

We go to St Nicholas Church, once the Cathedral of the City. It is its 250th anniversary. Both huge churches, downstairs and upstairs, are packed. Today the Patriarch and others, including our own Metropolitan Hilarion, will consecrate the 261st bishop of the Russian Orthodox Church. There are twelve bishops here, including four metropolitans, soon there will be thirteen bishops. There are some forty priests, eighteen of them mitred, an award usually given after 35 years of service. I am one of the priests to give communion from the ten chalices. In his sermon, the Patriarch says how the triumph of the Church here is to have adapted Western culture, specifically baroque, to Orthodoxy. Faith is stronger than culture and moulds it, not the other way around. He also speaks of how it is important to have young bishops, who can counter the consumer culture invading Russia and set an example to the young.

We have dinner in the opulent Yusupov Palace which has been restored. By an irony of ‘fate’, I attended the same Oxford College as Prince Yusupov. In Paris I knew the great grand-daughter of Rasputin, whose assassination by British agents the anglophile Yusupov organised.

All the local dignitaries are present, including the governors of the City and of the Region, sitting alongside the Patriarch and the Metropolitans. Church and State are together. A choir sings and a grand piano is played, while we eat. St Petersburg is a city of culture, European, clean, organised. The only parallels I know of in Europe are Vienna and Paris.

I reflect on how this Patriarch especially has done so much for the dignity of the Church and the Patriarchate. The State respects the Church. It has to. Pre-Revolutionary traditions have been restored. The Church has the high ground, but she must also occupy the middle and low ground. The heart of Resurrected Russia works. The head also works, but now the body needs to work – fully. There is much to do.

In the evening a visit is made to Kronstadt. The huge cathedral, resembling in all ways St Sophia’s in New Rome, and which can hold 5,000 people, is nearly complete after its long and elaborate restoration. A visit is also made to the apartment-museum of St John of Kronstadt and St Vladimir’s church. The hospitality is, as ever, extraordinarily generous.

Wednesday 23 May

We are taken to see several churches, first to the huge Kazan Cathedral, then to the Church of the Saviour on the Blood, which is opulent in a Muscovite way, similar to the Cathedral of the Intercession on Red Square. Then we visit a cemetery. Here lie the father and mother of the Patriarch, his father a priest, like his father before him. The strange thing is that Fr Michael Gundyayev lies almost next to Archbishop Dimitri (Voznesensky), the father of our Metr Philaret. He reposed as an archbishop of the Patriarchate. It is often forgotten that Metr Philaret was a priest of the Patriarchate for some 15 years. We sing a memorial service on the grave of Archbishop Dimitri.

After this we head for the Monastery of St Alexander Nevsky. First we visit the cemetery where lie the Metropolitans of St Petersburg, and the churches of the Monastery, including the new chapel dedicated to the new prophet St Seraphim of Vyritsa. Then we walk across to the Metropolia, where Metr Vladimir awaits us for dinner. 81 years old and born in Kazakhstan, he asks Archbishop Theodosius, the only Arab bishop of the Patriarchate of Jerusalem, who is accompanying us, about the situation in Syria. (They speak in English, though the Metropolitan needs a little translation help). Years ago Metr Vladimir spent nearly two years in Damascus as a priest. Archbishop Theodosius confirms that if President Assad falls, Christians will be forced to leave completely, for many have already been massacred there by the American-armed Muslim fanatics. It will be the end of the Patriarchate of Antioch in Syria. Already forced out of Antioch (which is in Turkey), instead of being the Patriarchate of Damascus, as it actually has been for decades, it will be the Patriarchate of somewhere else – although still retaining the historic title ‘of Antioch’.

After the meal, I just have time to buy an outer cassock and a Slavonic Altar Gospel for the second altar in our Church. Then we head for the airport, back to Moscow, on an ordinary flight this time.

As we drive back from Domodedovo Airport in Moscow through the interminable traffic jams of the suburbs, I reflect on the urgent need for churches in Moscow. Huge dormitory suburbs dominate Moscow. 100,000 people and a little wooden chapel for 100 is not atypical of such suburbs. Moscow needs 10,000 churches, but this can only happen if Moscow becomes an Orthodox city again.

Everything that is bad here is the result of the collectivisation of Communism and now the collectivisation of Consumerism. Both are equally materialistic ideologies. The monotonous grey tower blocks of flats of the suburbs are an invention of Communism. Surely it is time to build humanely? Communist centralisation of Russia has resulted in Moscow becoming the largest city in Europe, a megapolis. With so much space, why can Russia not spread out? Moscow needs decentralising. On the other hand, the antiquated and contemptuous attitude to the handicapped comes from Consumerism, which measures people’s value not by who they are, but by how much they earn. Similarly, the advertising hoardings along the main roads advertise the futile, empty and vulgar values of the West.

When we arrive back at our hotel, we notice Greeks everywhere, bishops and priests, and young politicians and businessmen with their laptops. This is linked to the historic visit of the Archbishop of Athens to Moscow and the pleading with President Putin for money for the bankrupt State and Church of Greece. Just as before the Revolution, the Orthodox world looks to Moscow for support. Humbled, it realises the foolishness of not having offered support to the Russian Church during its persecution. Greece needs Russia, for bankruptcy is staring it in the face and US-funded Constantinople is unable to help it.

I reflect on how the Russian Church is attracting all the most talented in the country, using their gifts, which would otherwise be wasted. All the vital forces are flowing into the Church now. There is no alternative for any thinking person. The Church is the key.

Thursday 24 May

Today is Ascension Day, the liturgical anniversary of our unity. It is also the feast of Sts Cyril and Methodius, the namesday of the Patriarch. Our delegation and that of the Church of Greece head for the Kremlin. We change in the Patriarch’s rooms before going to the Dormition Cathedral in the Kremlin. Apart from the Archbishop of Athens, there are 12 Greek bishops. Apart from the Patriarch, there are 36 Russian bishops. The Russian bishops are mainly young, about 40-50 years old. The Greek bishops, with one exception, are very elderly, very tired. They look sad, beaten and are humiliated by the state of their country. The singing at the Liturgy is superb, as everywhere else we have been. The Patriarch mentions the troubles of Greece in his sermon and how we must show compassion for this suffering.

After the Liturgy we head in procession to the slope in front of the Cathedral of the Intercession. (Western tourists like to call it St Basil’s Cathedral). The Kremlin bells ring. Banners go in front. There are about 250 priests. Here we perform a service of intercession in front of the crowds, who are protected by the police. This service is to the Iviron Icon, which President Putin has just returned to the Church. In many ways this Icon is the Patroness of Moscow. It is a historic day. I stand by Fr Iliy Nozdrin, one of the great elders of the Russian Church. He has come to Moscow from Optina for this day.

At dinner, in the main rooms beneath the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour, a choir sings for the Patriarch’s namesday. He enjoys especially a children’s choir dressed in folk costume. There are the usual speeches and toasts. In the evening we are taken back to the Kremlin, to the Palace of Congresses, a huge hall which can seat 5,000. A concert is given in honour of Sts Cyril and Methodius and the resulting Orthodox Slav culture. Our delegation is given the very best seats, in the centre of the front row of this huge building. All stand as the Patriarch enters. Organised by Fr Tikhon Shevkunov, the well-known film-maker and writer, it is an example of how the Church has taken over the culture of modern Russia. The quality of this concert of music and dance, which is televised, is world-class. Our visit to Russia has officially ended.

Friday 25 May

For me this is day of reflection. What have I seen and learned?

I have seen how Soviet insignia and logos are disappearing. The double-headed eagle is everywhere. True, there are still many old Soviet place-names and I have seen two statues of the mass-murderer Lenin. But they are ignored, they are present only by inertia. People actually say: ‘If there had been no Revolution, today I would be much better off’. The ReChristianisation of Russia is on course. Of course, there are huge amounts still to do. We need huge numbers of churches. Rather than the elaborate restorations of the State, using gold and marble, let us use simpler materials and then build far more new churches. 100,000 more churches and priests and 1,000 more monasteries and bishops is not at all unreasonable and I said as much five years ago. This miracle of the Resurrection of Orthodox Russia is only just beginning.

Moscow with its blocks of flats and traffic jams is not nice. There is much to do to redistribute wealth. There are too many very rich and too many very poor. It is like the USA. There is political discontent. It is being backed by the anti-Russian West, which is trying to repeat its Revolution of 1917. But the people do not want the West. As in 1917, any Western-organised revolt would only bring the anarchy of anti-Western Communism back. But that is unthinkable. Much of Pre-Revolutionary Russia has been restored. But we have to be better than that, because Pre-Revolutionary Russia had so many failings that it led to a Revolution.

The people are nice. I have not seen a single tattoo or nose-ring or piercing while I have been here. There is not that same decadence as in the West – so far.

Yesterday I asked our Metr Hilarion what message our delegation should give the people when we returned from Russia. He asked me what I thought. Here it is:

The Message

First of all, in Russia we have been treated with great honour and respect – not with flattery. Our views are valued. Honesty is respected. We are treated royally - as no other Local Church, and we are not even a Local Church, but only a self-governing part of the Russian Church. We are understood. About 200 communities worldwide depend directly on Moscow. Many are small and do not have their own churches. About 500 communities depend on ROCOR. We are generally much better established. Moscow needs us and our missionary impulse. But we also need Moscow. We both benefit. As the Patriarch said on Thursday, if it had not been for Sts Cyril and Methodius, the Russian Church would not exist and Orthodox Russia could not go out into the world, teaching and baptising, as the Gospel commands us to do. We have a word to tell the word, it is the Russian Orthodox word. The tired, apostate, almost senile West has little to say. Therefore, we have it to say.

Thursday was a historic day. Never before has such a delegation from Greece come to Russia. We have witnessed a turning point, when the Local Churches, even the proud Church of Greece, now looks to Russia for the leadership of World Orthodoxy. It is reflected in ‘the Great Praise’, which is sung before Holy God at Patriarchal Divine Liturgies, when all the leaders of Local Churches are commemorated.

Now the vision of Patriarch Nikon, a compatriot of Patriarch Kyrill (from near Nizhny Novgorod) and whose New Jerusalem Monastery is being restored, is being realised 350 years late. This is the vision of the Russian Orthodox Church leading the Orthodox world, spreading her missions worldwide, as in Japan once before, tomorrow in China once more. The day will come when all the Patriarchs, Metropolitans and Archbishops of the Orthodox world will meet there.

The day will also come when a great Russian Orthodox cathedral will stand in the centre of Paris, at the centre of a ROCOR Western European Metropolia, the foundation-stone of a new Local Church. And that day is only three or four years away. And similar situations will exist around the world. There will be a Metropolia of South-East Asia, a Metropolitan of Sydney, as now, but also bishops in Thailand, Indonesia, Laos, Korea, India, Pakistan. There will be a Russian Orthodox Metropolia of North America and another one of South America. Patriarch Nikon will be glorified. The relics of Metropolitan Antony will be returned to Russia from Belgrade. The last historic injustices will be righted, as so many others already have been. And when she is ready, Russia will be Sovereign again. The heart of Russian Orthodoxy, in Trinity-St Sergius, in Diveyevo, in Optina and many other places, is ready. The 500,000 New Martyrs of Russia proclaim it. The head, in Moscow, is ready. Blood is flowing through the arteries. Now it is beginning to reach the capillaries. A little leaven is raising the lump. The body will be ready. All of this, I feel, is coming and sooner than many know.

Thus, the future of ROCOR is assured. However, in order to achieve all this, we need to work together with the Centre. This is vital for the development of our Church around the world. Our mission is to tell the world ‘the Russian Word’, as foreseen by Dostoyevsky, the New Word (which is also the old one of the Gospels), the undiluted Orthodox Word that knows no compromise. Working together is so much better, so much more efficient. Our aim, after all, is identical. We cannot tell the world the Russian Word in isolation, in the ghetto. The Russian Church inside Russia is set to Church the masses there. We have to do that outside Russia. But to do that, we need help. So now we go forth with the Patriarchal blessing, with support. This is positive for all.

Not to be in the Reunited Russian Orthodox Church is to refuse the Resurrection, to deny that the Russian Orthodox Church is risen from the dead, to deny the Faith. To attach ourselves to Her Resurrection and to preach it affects us all, the whole Orthodox World. The old Soviet leftist ideology of egalitarianism is all but dead. Only vestiges, like the rotted corpse of Lenin, remain, ready to crumble into dust. However, the new Western rightist ideology of inegalitarianism is tempting. The Church, however, resists both temptations of left and right and rises above them, calling us to conquer both materialist Communism and materialist Consumerism, for both have the same poisoned root of anti-Resurrection.

It is an honour and a privilege to be a witness of the Resurrection. I waited for 40 years; others for much longer. God has granted us to see the freedom of the Risen Church. Let us with one voice and one mind sing of Her Co-Resurrection together with Christ:

Having seen the Resurrection of Christ, let us worship the Holy Lord Jesus, the Only Sinless One. We venerate Thy Cross, O Christ, and we praise and glorify Thy Holy Resurrection. For Thou art our God, and we know no other than Thee, we call on Thy Name. Come all you faithful, let us venerate Christ’s Holy Resurrection. For behold through the Cross joy has come into all the world. Let us ever bless the Lord, praising his Resurrection, for by enduring the Cross, He has destroyed death by death.

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