Seek ye first the kingdom of God and His righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.
So far only one new Local Church has resulted from Orthodox immigration to Western countries. It was largely the result of the first immigration to the USA from the then Austro-Hungarian Empire from 1880 on. This Church is called the OCA – the Orthodox Church in America. Unfortunately, even after over fifty years, despite intermarriage with Non-Orthodox and local people who have joined the OCA, 80%-90% of local Orthodox have not accepted it, nor many bishops, let alone the hundreds of millions of Non-Orthodox. Although Orthodox immigration to North America began nearly 150 years ago, more general, large-scale Orthodox immigration to the Western world only began after 1917.
The absence of new Local Churches amid the current presence of millions of Orthodox immigrants, their descendants and native Orthodox from the last hundred years, thousands of Orthodox priests and nearly one hundred Orthodox bishops in North and South America, Western Europe and Australia, is the elephant in the room. If you take away the four largest of the sixteen Local Orthodox Churches, the Russian, Romanian, Greek and Serbian, the number of Orthodox in Western Europe alone is greater than in any of the other twelve Local Churches! Why this absence of new Local Churches for millions of Orthodox? What has gone wrong?
The answer could be summed up in one word – ideology. For Orthodox Christianity is not and cannot be an ideology. It is the Church, the Gospel. And anyone who believes that the Church and the Gospel form an ideology is not a Christian. For an ideology, that is, an ‘ism’, is always negative, it is always opposed to something or someone, always exclusive, always divisive, always based on dislike and even hatred. In the Gospels Christ never excluded, making it clear that the only exclusion comes from men, not from God. Indeed, He was Himself persecuted and excluded in the most radical way – He was murdered and precisely for purely ideological reasons – He did not ‘fit in’ with an ideology. What forms have these ideologies taken in the Western world, into which Orthodox Christians immigrated?
1) Nationalist Ideology
The first ideology impeding the development of a Local Church is nationalism or racism. Nationalism is a particular form of parochialism, the idea that ‘only what we do is right’, ‘our way is the best’, in other words, racial exclusivism. Whether Greek, Russian, American or other, all nationalist ideologies are by definition exclusive. Here there has been a major problem even with the OCA. Although it did not put one single nationality first, it put several nationalities first. And in order to bind these nationalities together, it did not put Christ first, but Americanism.
Thus, it purposely and at great expense moved its centre to the national capital, Washington, and began imposing English on all, together also with the American calendar. However, the Church must operate in the languages of the grassroots faithful and on the calendar that they want, not those imposed on them from above. These are pastoral and not ideological matters. Thus, nationalism in Orthodoxy can also be that of the English language or other Western languages, ‘We will not accept anyone who does not conform to our nationality’. This is nationalism.
For example, I remember here some twenty years ago one Englishwoman who told me that she wanted to join our Church, but said that she did not want to mix with ‘foreigners’. I told her that we could not accept her condition: Christ mixed with ‘foreigners’ – indeed He was Himself a ‘foreigner, an ‘Asian’ and ‘olive-skinned’! She was horrified. Later I heard how she had joined a right-wing group which was part of a rather extreme nationalist party. She had deprived herself of the Church, as she had been unable to overcome her prejudices. She had excluded herself from the Church of God.
2) Political Ideology
Next come political ideologies, that is to say, isms which define inclinations to left or to right. People are all different and have different experiences of life and form their political views according to their experiences. Thus, for instance, a very poor Greek factory worker who immigrates to the USA may profess a left-wing ideology, whereas a Russian aristocrat, who has been deprived of his wealth by Communists, will choose a right-wing ideology. There is nothing wrong with either of these choices – they are both sincere. What is wrong is when these ideologies are placed above Christ and imposed on all exclusively, imposed instead of Christ, Who is the only central and unifying factor in Church life. This has been especially visible in the Russian Church. This has three different groups, supposedly united, and yet in Europe one of them (ROCOR) has excommunicated another (the Archdiocese of Western Europe)! So are sects born.
In Church terms we have seen, especially in the USA over the last sixty years, a polarisation between left and right in Church life. For example, one senior bishop there openly supports the Democrat Party and another openly supports Trump. The question is do they both also support Christ? It is not very clear. This opposition between left and right divides into modernism, liberalism, ecumenism and new calendarism on the one hand and, on the other hand, traditionalism, conservatism, sectarianism and old calendarism. Where is Christ in all these arguments? Such are the arguments between parties that many refuse even to concelebrate and socialise with those of the other view. I thought they were all Orthodox Christians.
All this is due to a total lack of respect. And where does respect come from? It comes from love. A husband and wife who love one another respect one another. So we can say that all such polemics come from a lack of love, that is to say, a lack of Christ, Who is Love. And this we can see from the moralism in right-wing ideologies and the amoralism and immoralism in left-wing ideologies. Both moralism and a-im-moralism are sure signs of a lack of spirituality. Just as the pharisees replaced spirituality with censorious and judgemental moralism, so do right-wing politicos. As for the left-wing – anything goes, as we can see in such secularised Protestant groupings as Anglicanism. Do anything you want, as there is nothing spiritual in the secular.
3) The Ideology of Mammon
The Western world is controlled by money and finance. That is why its ideology is called Capitalism, the ideology of oligarchs who rule the Western world. Finance controls politics (you cannot get elected without the backing of rich oligarchs), the media (which produces oligarchs (‘media tycoons’) and have huge sums of money) and increasingly also the Church. Very sadly, for more and more bishops especially, the Church is now a Business, a way of making money. Beware, it was much less so in the past and where it was so in the past, it all went wrong and collapsed, like the Russian Church in 1917. Beware of gold and jewels.
All this goes against the Gospel: ‘Lay not up for yourselves treasures on earth’. ‘You cannot serve God and Mammon’. What could be clearer? ‘It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God’. The Apostle Paul: ‘The love of money is the root of all evil’. And yet we had one bishop from the Russian Church here whose obsession was money and who continually shouted at his self-sacrificing priests that they had too much money, that he did not have enough and that they must give him more and then slandered them, accusing them of stealing money! He was obsessed. Of course, he finished badly. Very badly. And very lonely.
Whom do we venerate above all? St John the Baptist? The Mother of God? St John the Theologian? St Antony the Great? St Nicholas of Myra? St Mary of Egypt? St Cuthbert of Lindisfarne? St Paraskeva of the Balkans? St Andrew the Fool for Christ? St Xenia of Saint Petersburg? St Seraphim of Sarov? St Nectarios of Aegina? St Matrona of Moscow? St Nicholas of Zhicha? St John of Shanghai? St Paisios the Athonite? Name one of them who was rich. Name one of them who was not humble.
Above we have listed the three ideologies, or isms, which destroy and are destroying the Church. For as long as many clergy and people are devoted to Nationalism, Political ‘isms’ and Mammonism, there will be no Local Churches in Western countries, which are the destinations of Orthodox immigration. How can these isms be countered? Only by their opposites:
The opposite of nationalism is not some cosmopolitan anti-nationalism, but being all-national, for Christ is above all nations, but also accepts them all. He is both transcendent and immanent.
The opposite of political isms, party politics and so partial politics is not some empty, pretend apoliticism, but being tolerantly all-political, accepting all, whatever their views.
The opposite of Mammonism is not some disincarnate dreaminess and intellectual disengagement from reality, but the practical foundation of churches without self-interest, the incarnation of the Church of God, as the tentmaker Apostle Paul and all the other apostles showed us.