Monthly Archives: April 2016

A Secular Meeting Rejected: A Council Proposed

‘God so loved the world that He did not send a committee’.

The Georgian Orthodox Church, the Bulgarian Orthodox Church, the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia, many respected hierarchs and theologians everywhere and now Mt Athos have all decisively rejected several of the draft documents for the meeting of selected Orthodox bishops in Crete in June. Not only this, but they have also rejected the secretive methodology, the terms and the presumptious name of this so far Small, Unholy and Part-Orthodox Meeting. Compromising the Truth of Christ with stale, humanist, political Committeespeak, those documents have now been comprehensively rejected by the people of God.

The secularist organizers of the meeting in the State Department in Washington will have to think again. They may have conquered the Protestant and Roman Catholic institutions with ease decades ago, but the Christian Church tells not of heterodoxy, but another story, quite unknown to them. True, they have appointed two, and probably three, of the Patriarchs of the fourteen Local Churches, cunningly splitting the Serbian Church, and infiltrated other Local Churches, including the Russian, with their liberal, meat-eating agents of treason, with whom they attempt to influence the still free Patriarchs. However, their proposals for a robber Council have already been met with decisive non-reception by the Church.

It is not clear how these thwarted masonic organizers will act now. Their secularist agenda, the laughing-stock of the Orthodox world, has been dismissed. Of course, as usual, their agents have begun insulting the faithful, calling them pharisees, obscurantists and fanatics, trying to ban the word ‘heretic’. That there are a few pharisees, obscurantists and fanatics we will not deny. But they are a tiny minority outside the Church who have run away, refusing to fight inside the Church. They are not the faithful clergy and people who from inside the Church have for decades been calling for a rethink of the whole top-down project, its methodology (behind closed doors by the politically unfree), its lack of canonicity (banning most Orthodox bishops from attending and inviting heretics instead) and its Secularspeak documents, drafted by compromised diplomats, mantra-repeating philosophers and intellectuals, but not by Orthodox Christians.

Perhaps, instead of a mere but very expensive meeting in sunny Crete, we should now hold a Council, at which the Gospel Truth will be proclaimed to the whole world, since most of it has still never heard it. All Orthodox bishops should be invited and none silenced for fear of contradicting politically-bound heads of Local Churches. Documents plainly cobbled together by spiritually dead compromise and still tainted by Diplomatspeak, with their secularist ‘human dignity’ and ‘human personality’, should be thrown away into the dustbin of history. Let us speak the honest language of the Church Fathers and invite no heretics. Instead of wasting time and money, telling us that fasting is important and suggesting in self-contradictory terms that Non-Orthodox may be outside the Church (when we have also always known that they are), the bishops could, in these last days, talk about the things that really matter.

Representing 216 million Orthodox Christians in a world where over seven billion are outside the Church, all our bishops could call the rest of the world to salvation inside the Church, in the fresh and lucid language of the Church. In the clearest of terms they could proclaim and teach the Gospel Truth without compromising themselves by reference to the Western heresies of Christianity, which have poisoned much of the world against their false Christianity (but not against Orthodox Christianity), and translate the service books into the world’s main languages. The world faces its end, its multiple means of self-destruction are plain for all to see. It is now vitally urgent to call it to repentance before that end.

If there is to be a Church Council, let it take as its patrons St John the Baptist, St Mark of Ephesus and St Justin of Chelje. Let it speak clearly of repentance, the teaching on the Church and Her truth as opposed to Western heresies, let us speak of the revelations of the Holy Spirit. Let the Council speak to the nearly seven billion Muslim, Hindus, Buddhists and Secularists (those more or less lapsed from Western and other heresies, however they may still call themselves) and call them all to repentance, to the only-saving and only-resurrecting Truth of Christ. Their gods, prophets and princes are all dead: Christ Alone is not dead, but lives Risen from the Tomb, trampling down death by death. Let the Council say in uncompromised words: ‘I am the Way, the Truth and the Life’. Then it will indeed be a Council, and so our Council, and so will go down in history.

Mt Athos Also Rejects a Robber Council

The Holy Mountain Reacts Vigorously and Robustly to the Drafts for the So-Called Pan-Orthodox Council

The Holy Monasteries of Mt. Athos have responded to the draft documents and methodology of the Pan Orthodox Council strongly and powerfully. The Letters of the Athonite Monasteries, sent to the Holy Community of Mt. Athos, have been released to the public. The letters were written in reaction to the Pan-Orthodox draft documents sent to the Holy Monasteries by the Patriarchate of Constantinople. On account of the seriousness of the matter, it was unanimously decided that the texts prepared for approval by the Council should be examined in a specially-called Meeting of the Representatives and Abbots of the Holy Monasteries, scheduled to take place after Bright Week.

The Athonite Fathers call attention to the danger presented by the Pan-Orthodox Council, as it is being carried out. Namely, among other things, they see:

* the concilarity of the Church being undermined and a theology supportive of primacy being promoted (due to the limited participation of bishops and an excessive authority given to the primates of each Local Church).

*an unacceptable ambiguity in the pre-synodical texts, allowing for interpretations which diverge from Orthodox dogma.

*a placing, as the basis of the dialogues, of “the faith and tradition of the ancient Church and the Seven Ecumenical Councils,” such that the subsequent history of the Orthodox Church appears to be somehow lacking or impaired.

*an attempt by some to gain Pan-Orthodox confirmation of the scandalous and totally unacceptable texts approved by the World Council of Churches.

*and the unacceptable application of the term “church” to schisms and heresies.

Excerpts and full translations of the letters will be forthcoming.

Below you can read (in Greek) several of the letters sent to the Holy Community.

The Emperor Obama

The fool doth think he is wise, but the wise man knows himself to be a fool.

As You Like It, Shakespeare

Like any pagan Roman Emperor of old, the Emperor Obama has visited his oldest colony (75 years, ever since the ’alliance’ of 1941, ‘the special relationship’). Like any Emperor, he received homage from his local vassal ruler, meddled, told his subjects how to vote, insulted and threatened them if they did not obey him, and received tribute from the local royalty, being presented with Prince George, the two-year old future tributary King. All were too frightened to tell him about his new clothes: for he is living on borrowed time, in a fool’s paradise.

However, today, the day after, is the national day, St George’s Day according to the Catholic calendar, and 400 years since the death of Shakespeare. England and indeed all four nations of these Isles have still a question to answer: To be or not to be? In the frenzy to destroy by suicide their national identities, is this the end of England, the end of these Isles and indeed the end of Europe? However, today, for the Church, is Lazarus Saturday and so the eve of Palm Sunday. This is the day on which the four-day dead, already corrupt, was raised from his tomb. Lazarus chose ‘to be’. So all is still possible. To England we say: Lazarus, come forth!

The Battle for the Soul of Europe

I am sometimes asked why the Church has not so far proved very attractive to native Western Europeans. Yes, it is true that since the 1960s in particular, small numbers of native Western Europeans have joined the Orthodox Church. However, the total number throughout Western Europe amounts to only a few thousand, certainly no more than 10,000. And of those many swiftly lapsed and quite a few others could not in the end accept authentic Orthodox Christianity and devised instead a sort of adapted Uniatism (in Catholic-culture countries) and Protestantism with icons (in Protestant-culture countries). With their Roman Catholic and Protestant cultural background, such unintegrated newcomers inevitably formed their own inward-looking groups, separated from the Orthodox mainstream.

The answer to the question why the Church has not proved attractive is precisely because so many native Western Europeans have generally been unable to free themselves from the cultural conditioning and ethnocentric prejudices of their Non-Orthodox background. It is interesting to see that some Americans at least have relatively fewer problems in this domain; they are sometimes more flexible and less attached to a Non-Orthodox cultural identity. Nevertheless, this difficulty in accepting pure Christianity comes about because the greatest failing of Western culture is to think itself superior to all else; how, in these circumstances, can people of Western cultural background acquire the humility to admit that their culture is mistaken and that it must be purified by repentance?

Thus, I have seen case after case over the last forty years or so of Western academics in particular, suffering from towering pride in their own culture, who refuse to accept a ‘foreign culture’, which they despise as in some way ‘oriental’. They prefer to stay in their semi-Christian, semi-pagan world of pale-faced ‘Jesuses’. But Christ was an oriental, He was not a European. The tragedy of such a West is that through its ethnic pride and institutional racism it puts itself above God and His Church, above the Truth. Such is the situation of Old Europe. But Old Europe is dying or is even already dead. Only a few old people go to church, the young have abandoned it; Catholicism, discredited by papist persecutions and now pedophilia, has had its thousand-year day, and Protestantism, discredited by past intolerance and narrow Puritanism, has had its five-hundred-year day. The world has moved on. A New Europe emerged long ago, within a generation of its Second World War.

This New Europe is by and large a continent of faithlessness to Christ. Yes, it still has its museums and medieval buildings, but this is not for living, this is for tourists. The New Europe has been shaped and is still being shaped by two forces, two sets of belief. The first force is the mass Secularism of the USA, the Coca Cola culture which began appearing in Europe as soon as its first bout of suicide, the First World War, had taken place, for instance in 1920s jazz; there followed a second wave during the Second World War with chewing gum and the rest; a third wave of ‘pop’ and jeans came in the 1960s; a fourth wave of ‘globalism’ (= Americanization) has come since 1989; and in the last few years a fifth wave of the chaos of mass immigration has appeared in Western Europe and is now submerging several countries and their traditional identities.

Modern culture is the soulless culture of concrete, glass and plastic. Its hideous and inhuman post-War architecture is all about this, as is its music, art, furniture, its whole culture. I can recall sitting in a café in Cambridge with an ‘antediluvian’ White Russian émigré in 1975. In the middle of the conversation, he suddenly said: ‘This place is not evil, it is just spiritually empty’. His definition was precise. However, as we said at that time, nature abhors a vacuum; wherever there is no prayer, spiritual emptiness is formed and that is always filled by the demons. And that is exactly what has happened over the last forty years. At first they began abolishing marriage and legalizing pornography. Very quickly they invented a huge and very profitable abortion industry, legalizing child murder, and after that there appeared perversions and pedophilia. And now the countries that resist these sinister and evil trends, mainly in Eastern Europe, Africa and Asia, are being forced, like the Ukraine, through economic sanctions (warfare) to accept them.

However, there is a second force that is at work in shaping the New Europe. This is Islamism. Greedy local industrialists began inviting masses of poor Muslims to settle in Europe in the 1950s. Their cheap, hard-working labour could be exploited to make vast profits. However, what was once a stream of Turks in Germany, Algerians in France, Pakistanis in Britain and Moroccans in Belgium has become a flood. Through mass immigration the one per cent Muslim minority has become five per cent, ten per cent, twenty per cent and in some European cities fifty per cent and more, forming there a townscape of minarets and also of terrorism. There is no greater example of this dual invasion than the recent atrocity at the airport in Brussels: a concrete, glass and plastic monstrosity, indistinguishable from any other modern airport, was ripped apart by Islamist suicide bombers. New Europe.

The problem is of course not in the relatively innocent ‘cultural Islam’ of elderly Muslims, but in the form of militant Islam, Islamism, which is practised today by a good many of the young, exasperated by the recent Western aggressions and war crimes in the Muslim world. Rather like Judaism and all too often like medieval Catholicism and post-medieval Protestantism, Islam never knew that God is Love and that it is our task to love our enemies and forgive. It is a militant and aggressive religion, especially in its fundamentalist Sunni Islamist form, as spread and financed by the great ally of the West, Wahhabite Saudi Arabia. Western Europe is thus sandwiched between aggressive US Secularism, as anti-Christian as you can get, and Islamism, with its fundamentalist god of hatred and revenge, sandwiched between MacWorld and Jihad.

Only by referring back to its native roots, its soul, can the New Europe find its way between these two extremes and so survive. However, as Old Europe is dying and dead, where can it retrieve its roots? The answer is in the Church, in the uncompromised ascetic, canonical and liturgical Tradition of Orthodox Christianity, that which patterned the distant past of Western Europe and today can be expressed in Orthodoxy in the native languages of Western Europe. Like the distant past of the first millennium, the future also is Orthodox. True, some may say that Orthodoxy has not worked so far, only a few thousand native Europeans have approached the Church. However, most of those Europeans, though by no means all, came from the Old Europe and brought baggage with them, making them unable to convert in full and even leading many to lapse. Today we are dealing nearly wholly with people from the New Europe.

The New Europeans are blank sheets. You do not need to spend time explaining to them the sometimes subtle differences between the Church and heterodoxy. They have no idea what heterodoxy is. All is much easier and, as far as I can tell, though the New Europeans are fewer, they are more serious. Devoid of cultural baggage, that is, devoid of pride and prejudice, they adapt much more quickly to the Church and Her Orthodox Christian Faith than the Old Europeans ever did. True, some predict that the time will come when direct persecution will start in Western Europe and we will not, for reasons of ‘health and safety’ (= hatred of the Church) be allowed to baptize (unlike Jews and Muslims, who will still be allowed to circumcise – that presents no problem, it seems). Well, then we shall charter ships and go to Russia and to freedom and baptize persecuted Europeans there.

Some may think that we are talking about a distant future. Sadly, I think not. The present extraordinary acceleration towards Antichrist suggests that we may well see such a situation even in our lifetimes. We only have to think of the social and moral transformations that have happened in Western Europe in the last twenty-five years, let alone the last fifty. Even older films of our ancestors make them look as though they came from another planet. They would probably not even recognize present-day society as their own. What will the future bring? We cannot be certain. Of course, mass repentance, however unlikely, is still possible. We do not despair, but live in hope, for miracles do happen. Old Europe has gone, but the New Europe can still choose, between MacWorld, Jihad and the Church of God.

Report for St John’s Orthodox Church for the 16 April 2016 Assembly of the Diocese of the British Isles and Ireland of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia

Although our church opened in the area in 1997 in very small, rented premises, in 2008 we at last managed to buy our own church in Colchester in eastern England through the generosity of donors. May God bless them! This is the fastest-growing town in the country, with large numbers of immigrants from Eastern Europe. The church has two altars. The main church, which was built for 900, is dedicated to St John of Shanghai, our former Archbishop, and the small church, which is for about 25, is dedicated to All the Saints of the Isles. The parish numbers about 1,000 Orthodox, however many of these only come for baptisms, weddings etc. and although about 2,000 pass through the doors per year, the actual parish list is 572.

On an average Sunday we have between 100 and 200 present and between 50 and 100 communions. We sell half a ton of candles a year. There are 24 different nationalities of which the main ones in order of numbers are: Moldovan, Baltic, Ukrainian, Romanian, Russian and Bulgarian. The Ukrainians came first in the 90s, then the Baltic Russians, then hundreds of thousands of Romanians and now tens of thousands of Moldovans and Bulgarians. We are very grateful for the help of our Romanian Deacon Ion. With so few from Russia itself, everybody speaks with an accent, not least a Russian-Australian who reads at the church.

Our catchment area is huge, covering Russian-speaking and other Orthodox in three counties, Essex, Suffolk and Norfolk. Every Sunday people come from as far as Norwich in the north and East London in the south, so we cover about 60 miles (100km) in every direction. However, I also occasionally visit parishioners outside these three counties, as far as Kent, Cambridgeshire and Lincolnshire, covering 18,000 miles a year. These people come to our church much less often because of the distance.

Recent figures for baptisms and weddings are:

2014: 50 baptisms and 4 weddings.

2015: 35 baptisms and 5 weddings.

2016 (so far): 12 baptisms and 0 weddings.

Our last funeral was in 2009. The average age of parishioners, excluding children is about 30. There are very few parishioners over the age of 40.

We run a Sunday school, a Russian School, a Ukrainian School, as well as an art club, a sewing club for girls and a boys’ activities club, and have a parish library. A Bulgarian School wants to open in September. In May we intend to start a children’s choir and they will sing during the Liturgy. I give talks for adults and teenagers after the Liturgy and we issue a 16-page monthly electronic journal in Russian and English. I am also responsible for Fr Sergiy, who lives 12 miles away. He is elderly and ill and at present unable to celebrate. He comes to our church about once a year. He lives in his little house, where he has a chapel dedicated to St Panteleimon.

I have Dcn Ion to help me with Romanians, one day I hope he will become a priest. However, I desperately need a Russian-speaking second priest. In this way we could have two liturgies on Sundays for example and help with new missions. If you know a candidate, please send him to me. Occasionally the Moldovan priest, Fr Gregory Mereacre, comes from London and helps. However, on his last two visits he has had to confess during the whole Liturgy until communion. The need is all the greater in that we will soon be opening a parish in premises that we finally bought on 15 April in Norwich and want to dedicate to St Alexander Nevsky. Here there are 200 Baltic Russians, hardly any of whom has a car.

In general we need another 10 Russian-speaking priests just in the eastern quarter of England. These would be for: York, Lincoln, Boston, Norwich, Bury St Edmunds, Bedford, St Albans, Romford, Canterbury and Hastings. In Cambridge there are 172 children at the Russian School – and no Russian-speaking church. In Bury St Edmunds there are now 30 children at the Russian School and three Orthodox families who come to us from there. We would like to set up the next new parish there.

Stories of the great miracles narrated by the rector of St. Elijah’s Church in Chernobyl, Archpriest Nikolay Yakushin

(Received from the Ukraine)

A chapter from the book “Teraturgima, or Miracles of the New Century”

The first great omen of the Chernobyl disaster, which shook the entire planet in 1986, was revealed at a time of the rapid development of nuclear energy, long before the explosion of the 4th reactor at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant. Witnesses recall it happened exactly ten years before the accident, on April 26, 1976. It is interpreted as a sign sent by the Lord and Our Lady 40 years ago. A local newspaper “Prapor Peremohy” (“The Banner of Victory) published an article at the time, titled “Fairytales of Clergymen.” An author referred to a cloud of an unusual shape appearing in the sky that day, which the clergymen interpreted as an apparition of the Virgin Mary. However, it was not merely an atmospheric oddity.

That evening many locals witnessed an unusually shaped cloud floating above the ground. The figure of the Virgin Mary could be discerned in it, with her face and brightly coloured raiment clearly visible. She was holding a tuft of dried wormwood, which the locals also call “chernobylnik.” Holy Mary dropped the wormwood over the town. Then the bright radiant cloud moved towards the forest and stopped over the church of the Holy Prophet Elijah. Blessed Virgin Mary faced the church and blessed it twice with both hands. As she appeared in the sky, it stopped raining and the weather became warm and mild. This phenomenon was interpreted by the local priest, Father Alexander Prokopenko. He explained that only Mother of God may give her blessing with two hands. Bishops also have the privilege of blessing with two hands; however the vision in the sky was not that of a male.

The locals interpreted this phenomenon as a forecast of a dry summer and a poor harvest. Some people have found and picked up pieces of wormwood that fell from the sky. Many years later it became clear that this was a prediction: exactly ten years later the Chernobyl nuclear reactor exploded. But when the disaster struck, nobody made a connection between the events ten years apart. People recalled the story much later and came to recognize it as a sign from God.

In 2002 His Beatitude Metropolitan Vladimir of Kiev and All Ukraine blessed the creation of an icon which captured the apparition of Blessed Virgin Mary over Chernobyl. It was painted by a servant of God, an artist from Kiev named Ioan, who also created the rest of the artwork in our church. Ioan, who is an orphan, is very religious, pious and earnest. He had been fasting and took communion before starting the work. The icon portrays the church of St. Elijah with the Queen of Heaven and Archangels Michael and Gabriel on both sides, rising in the sky above it. She holds chernobylnik (wormwood) in her hands. Two capsules with wormwood picked in the Chernobyl area are affixed on both sides of the icon. His Beatitude Vladimir blessed the image as one of Chernobyl’s locally revered icons.

A vision of the Chernobyl Saviour icon is revealed to the leader of the Chernobyl Power Plant Communist party section on his deathbed

Another famous icon of St. Elijah’s church is the Chernobyl Saviour, which has a special history. This icon is said to have originated directly from the local people. They have survived one of the greatest tragedies of modern history. After the initial panic subsided, people were looking for support and sympathy. Many of them became very ill.

Yuri Andreev, who is now deceased, was the leader of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant Communist party section at the time. A Communist with a strong attachment to his party’s ideas, he became very ill after receiving huge doses of radiation. He was suffering greatly; the doctors did not expect him to live much longer. Yuri kept seeing a recurring dream: an image of an icon. He described it to the artist and gave instructions on how it had to be painted. He also told of his dream to me, and I passed his message to His Beatitude Metropolitan Volodymyr. Being seriously ill, the Communist leader kept asking for the icon to be painted. He saw the image with his inner spiritual vision and felt a strong need for it to be created. His Beatitude gave his blessing.

The icon was painted at the Trinity-Sergiev Lavra in 2003 and sanctified at Kiev-Pechersk Lavra on the feast day of the Dormition of the Mother of God. When His Beatitude Metropolitan Vladimir blessed the image of the Chernobyl Saviour, three signs appeared in the sky. A dove flew above the icon before hundreds of witnesses, then a rainbow appeared in the sky, and finally the sign of the cross became visible, with the sun shining at its centre. Curiously, Yuri Andreev, the terminally ill leader of the Communist party section of the Chernobyl nuclear plant, greatly recovered after this event. The Lord healed him. It is surprising that a staunch Communist, later the president of the “Chernobyl – Ukraine” Union, was chosen for this mission. Thanks to him the icon of the Chernobyl Saviour came into the world, and the Lord has continued to heal the sick and afflicted people who come to venerate this image.

Vladislav Goretsky, a well-known iconographer, was chosen to create this icon. The image is truly sublime, expressive and spiritual. It is also exceptional in that it depicts ordinary people alongside the image of God for the first time in the history of iconography. The souls of the survivors of the Chernobyl tragedy are portrayed on the right, while the souls of the deceased victims are on the left. His Beatitude Vladimir requested the permission of Patriarch Alexiy II to paint the images of the people in the icon. Permission was granted.

The subject of the icon is deeply symbolic. It is a visual rendition of a theme from the Book of Revelation. At the centre of the image is a “star of wormwood” falling from the sky against the backdrop of the ominous glow of the explosion. Another focal point is a crucifix-shaped pine tree. This extraordinary sign of the upcoming tragedy grew on Polissya’s land decades before the accident. This large, old tree was fully grown before the Second World War. Chernobyl’s nuclear power plant was built just two kilometres away from this huge living cross, growing at the forest edge.

After the tragedy, when the so-called “red forest” poisoned by radiation was cut down, an opening revealed a stunning spiritual vision: two symbols of the universal disaster – the exploded fourth nuclear reactor and the giant tree-cross – became connected in one.

This vision is reminiscent of the Old Testament cruciform tree watered by Lot, which was to become Christ’s cross two thousand years later. The tree is believed to have grown from the three staffs given to Abraham by the Holy Trinity, Who was revealed to the forefather in the form of three angels. Four thousand years later the Chernobyl Cross arose as a symbol of the nuclear crucifixion that would come in 1986. To the left and right of the cross are the living and the deceased liquidators of the nuclear catastrophe. Above them is the Lord Jesus Christ with a scroll of the Apocalypse, open on the page that holds the prophecy, as well as the Holy Virgin and the Archangel Michael. This is the exact vision that came in a dream to the Communist leader of the Chernobyl nuclear plant.

The Chernobyl Saviour icon mystically communicates that the One holding the scroll holds the keys to the grand design and to every detail in the lives of those born into the world, as well as the events and defining moments of history, including the tragedy of Chernobyl.

The Saviour looked at the priest every night, leading him to where His image was hidden

There is another extraordinary icon, which I have never mentioned before. It is the image of the Saviour from St Michael the Archangel’s church in the village of Krasno, located in the exclusion zone.

This wonderful icon has an unusual history. After the accident all the villagers from Krasno were evacuated due to very high levels of radiation brought on by the radioactive cloud moving towards Belarus. One of Krasno’s inhabitants ended up in St. Petersburg, where he became a priest at one of the local churches.

Eleven years ago he found my phone number and called. “Father Nikolay, I’d like to ask you for a favour,” he told me. “I have a recurring dream, in which I see the eyes of the Saviour from an icon left in the exclusion zone in Krasno. I would like you to find it – it is a large icon of Christ painted on wooden board.” “How will I find it?” I asked. “I’ll tell you where to go,” he responded.

He described the location with great precision. He named the house and the place in the house where the icon was hidden. One had to be a local to give such exact instructions for navigating the village that by now had become contaminated and abandoned.

The priest’s grandfather used to serve in St Michael the Archangel’s church for many years. The extraordinary old icon of the Saviour had been stolen from the church once, but was later miraculously restored by the Lord. The remarkable wooden church itself, built in 1800, was plundered after the Chernobyl disaster. But the grandfather, now deceased, had an opportunity to hide the antique icon, although the location remained unknown. The Lord Himself gave a sign and taught how to find the sacred icon that was dear to Him.

Thousands of kilometres away, in St. Petersburg, a priest and a native of the Chernobyl zone began to dream of this icon, the Saviour looking at him every night. I drove to the village and found the abandoned house as it had been described over the phone. Everything turned out to be true. I pulled the icon from the attic and brought it to our local church. When the icon was restored, the priest from St. Petersburg came to our church to worship and to witness his dream, which became reality.

The image of Jesus Christ in this icon is truly alive and unforgettable, his gaze forever vivid in your memory.

Angels lead a church service in the exclusion zone

The old church in the village of Krasno has long been abandoned. However, we have had multiple witness accounts of church services being held there by the angels and the heavenly host. Staff members of the Chernobyl police force have come to me on multiple occasions between 2005 and 2009, asking to explain the meaning of what they had witnessed.

Police officers have recounted the following events. On one occasion a police unit that patrols the exclusion zone approached the village church and heard voices. They thought it was an illusion, since settlers had long left the village. There is also an abandoned checkpoint at the entrance to the village. The surrounding forest has grown thick and dangerous, making it impossible to get into the village by any other route.

The patrol vehicle moved forward towards the church. Officers could hear beautiful singing coming from the church and saw a mild glow of the lights inside the building. The men came out of the car and froze, overcome with religious fear. The Chernobyl police unit is a well-trained professional force, prepared to respond to a variety of emergency situations. Yet, these hardened men felt so overwhelmed with fear that they left the scene immediately. They went back to the same location again, but this time the church looked quiet. They did not dare enter the church and sent a report to their chief.

The police officers later came to my church and asked me to explain the nature of the event they had witnessed. I told them that the history of the church has multiple accounts of such events. Angels do not leave the holy altar until the end of time. When people have to abandon a church for any reason, angels come to worship there instead. The church in Krasno has special significance to them, since it is dedicated to the Archangel Michael, the head of the heavenly host. The place, although burned by lethal doses of radiation, still remains a sacred site, where God’s grace abides. The Lord’s will was to bring responsible witnesses to recount this miracle to the wider world. All subsequent witness accounts of the liturgy in the empty church were identical to the first description.

I have been going to the church in Krasno to lead services on feast days ever since. During one of my visits I found an icon of the Archangel Michael. I went into the loft between the church’s cupolas. It is a difficult spot to reach and quite dangerous to walk through, because of the rotting old floor boards. I prayed and walked as far as I could go, when I suddenly felt as though someone was looking at me closely. I raised my head and saw the icon of the Archangel Michael with a fiery sword in his hand, placed on a decrepit old shelf. The church had been previously plundered by looters, but this icon had remained mysteriously concealed from their sight. The icon was placed there to protect the church. It is unknown who hid the image; perhaps, the angels themselves.

The Apparition of St Seraphim of Sarov and the blessing of the annual liturgy in Chernobyl on April 26th

This event happened in 2001 and shook me deeply. I have seen many things in my lifetime; however, this story was important unlike anything else. It helped me understand the place of the Chernobyl nuclear accident in the history of the Church and the life of the universe as a whole. There is a deep spiritual interconnectedness between this explosion, the history of the Church and the history of the world at large.

The fishermen who were in their boats on the Pripyat River at night on April 26th saw a bright explosion of light above the church of St. Elijah the Prophet, followed by another explosion above the nuclear power plant. This was a sign described in the book of Revelation as “a great star, blazing like a torch” (Rev. 8:10-11).

When I came to serve in this church after the tragedy, the building and grounds required a lot of restoration. We worked hard to rebuild the church, and I conducted regular liturgies, even though there were very few parishioners. On April 26th, my first anniversary of the tragedy at this church, I prayed and went to bed. There were people keeping vigil in town and remembering the victims through secular rituals, concerts and feasts. I fell asleep.

My window overlooks a cliff above the Pripyat River. I remember suddenly waking up at night and looking out of the window. I saw an old man in white robes with a white beard and a staff walking towards my house. I recognized St Seraphim of Sarov, his face, gait and bearing looking exactly as depicted in the icons. St Seraphim approached my house, stopped in front of my window and looked at me closely. He hit the ground three times with his staff, then turned towards the river and walked off through the church gates towards the power plant. Then I remember finding myself in bed again. I turned on the lights and saw it was 1.30 a.m. – the precise time the nuclear disaster struck. The Lord has sent St. Seraphim to wake me up and call me to prayer and vigil that night.

I immediately had an insight: the nuclear catastrophe was one of the watershed events in human history, described in the Book of Revelation: “The third angel sounded his trumpet, and a great star, blazing like a torch, fell from the sky on a third of the rivers and on the springs of water – the name of the star is Wormwood. A third of the waters turned bitter, and many people died from the waters that had become bitter” (Rev. 8:10-11). Wormwood is a wide-spread plant in this area, also known as “chernobylnik,” hence the name of the town.

There is also a direct link between the apparition of the Holy Virgin above Chernobyl ten years before the tragedy. This land was meant to be a place where the Holy Scriptures culminated, and the Lord’s word split human history into “before” and “after” the Chernobyl nuclear disaster. I kept trying to understand why the Lord has chosen St Seraphim to reveal the spiritual meaning of the tragedy and wrote a letter to Patriarch Alexiy II. We corresponded for two years. As a result, our church officially received part of St. Seraphim’s holy relics, which I personally brought from Diveyevo. St Seraphim was a devout monk, but also an active participant in all the important events of his time. He began his spiritual journey in Kiev, where he worshipped at the holy places and the saints of the Kiev Caves monastery. He wanted to join the brothers at the monastery and received a blessing to go to Sarov. He always remained involved in the affairs of his homeland.

Ever since St Serpahim’s apparition on the anniversary of the tragedy we have conducted all-night vigils and the Holy Liturgy on the night of April 26th in Chernobyl. Numerous archbishops, bishops and members of the clergy have joined us over the years to remember the victims. Among them is Pavel, the Metropolitan of Chernobyl and the bishop of the Kiev Caves Lavra, who ordained me to the priesthood. I believe the Lord has purposefully made him the first church leader in Chernobyl.

Numerous pilgrims are also drawn to Chernobyl on this day. We usually go to the cemetery to have a funeral service for the firefighters who were the first to face the blazing nuclear reactor. Thus, through St Seraphim, the Lord has blessed us to stay awake and pray during the hour our planet suffered a nuclear explosion. In 2016 this tradition will be 30 years old.

It is unlikely we will ever be able to grasp the fullness and the importance of signs and events surrounding the history of the nuclear tragedy in Chernobyl. Yet, there is clearly a direct spiritual link between all of them. The Lord reveals all that is necessary in His own time. We must remain patient and steadfast in our prayer, as we wait to receive His knowledge.

On the Past Divisions in the Russian Orthodox Emigration

Why did divisions take place in the Russian emigration: I mean, there were some everywhere who chose the Non-Patriarchal ROCOR, a few stayed under Moscow, others locally in North America set up the OCA and yet some others locally set up the Paris group. Four groups! And a second question: what do you think will happen to them in the future?

D.O., Kent

The Past

A correction: Three groups: the OCA, as it is now called, was built on Non-Russians, ex-Uniats from the Austro-Hungarian Empire, who had emigrated to the USA and Canada well before the Russian Revolution, and, to a lesser degree, on native Alaskans. True, precedents of the OCA were under the Russian Church (either Moscow or else ROCOR) for periods, but it was never part of the Russian emigration. The only émigrés who joined it, and that after the Second World War, were elitist aristocrats with the Paris superiority complex, for instance, Fr Alexander Schmemann, Fr John Meyendorff and Sophia Kulomzina.

As regards the three Russian groups, they represented earlier social divisions – notice ‘represented’ in the past tense, since there are now essentially only two groups or, arguably, only one. One is minute and, as it is outside the Russian Church, in effect schismatic (Patriarch Alexei II’s words), the other is the Russian Church. These divisions existed well before the Revolution, even in the nineteenth century. Thus, those few who remained loyal to Moscow inherited to some extent the old Statist mentality of the pre-Revolutionary period. Their leaders remained loyal to the State, whatever, though there were also many very sincere Orthodox patriots among clergy and people. This mentality was inherent in the infamous decree of 1927, signed under duress by Metr Sergius, commanding all Orthodox outside Russia, including Non-Russians, to swear loyalty to the Church-persecuting, atheist State! A situation, which the Patriarchate in Moscow is still paying for, trying to retrieve the trust that it lost then, and again later, by appointing morally corrupt or renovationist individuals to its episcopate.

ROCOR, on the other hand, inherited the mentality of the pre-Revolutionary monastic revival. This was led by the neo-Patristic (and therefore slandered) figure of Metr Antony of Kiev, but had both positive and negative aspects. The positive aspects included faithfulness to the Tradition (and not to corrupt customs), with its ascetic, canonical and liturgical disciplines, and the love of the saints. The negative aspects, mainly on the fringes, included conservatism (instead of the Tradition), narrow Russian nationalism (instead of the multinational, Imperial Tradition), dry and formalist, at times pharisaic, ritualism, narrow negativism stifling any initiative, an elitist lack of pastoral understanding of and compassion for married clergy, children, parish life and the people in general, eccentric right-wingery and a sectarian mentality. It was these aspects that led some extremist individuals in ROCOR to support Hitler, to persecute and put on trial the spiritually vibrant St John of Shanghai and, more recently, to break away from the Church altogether, forming strange and tiny right-wing sects with all the usual sectarian infighting.

The Paris group, always very small, represented the pro-Western aristocrats and elitist intellectuals. They were already disloyal and even treacherous to Christ, both Church and State, long before the Revolution, going back to the Decembrist traitors of 1825. Many of them actually plotted and prepared the February 1917 Revolution with British and other anti-Christian foreign encouragement. That overthrew the legitimate rule of the Anointed Tsar and Orthodox Christian Empire, which ironically resulted in the self-punishment of their exile, once the ruthless Bolsheviks soon took over from their incompetent misrule in October 1917. (A similar situation to that of the corrupt English-speaking oligarchs who misrule the Ukraine today). Most of these emigres, mostly from Saint Petersburg, speaking fluent French, sometimes better than Russian, naturally headed for Paris. They were the oligarchs of their day.

The Present

Naturally, after the dissolution of the Soviet State in 1991, the first two groups, Moscow and ROCOR, joined together, but only once they had overcome their mutual political prejudices, which took them sixteen years to do. It is difficult and probably unfair to apportion blame for this lack of haste – history will do that. Clearly, there could be no unity until Moscow had at least on paper condemned co-operation with the atheist State and ecumenism (defined as intercommunion, prayer with heretics etc, and not simply talking to heterodox and witnessing to them) and canonized the New Martyrs and Confessors. All that happened in 2000. Nine years lost, but that is how long it took to overcome on paper the Statist Soviet mentality that refused to criticize even Stalin. On the other hand, many in ROCOR must bear a share of responsibility for their lack of haste too.

A few elderly, KGB-appointed individuals in the old Soviet Union never overcame the Statist mentality. Such is the tragic case of the 87-year old dinosaur, Michael Denysenko, who now calls himself ‘Metr Philaret of Kiev’. A provincial Party hack from the Ukraine of the old days, and reputedly an atheist, he is certainly married with two children. Obsessively jealous that he was not chosen Patriarch after the death of Patriarch Pimen in 1990 and seeing the way the tide was turning, he overnight converted himself to Ukrainian nationalism. This he had previously strongly and mockingly condemned, but he changed his ways in order to further his career, thus, like any vulgar vagans, giving himself the right to dress up in a patriarch’s costume! He depends entirely on political support from US-backed, neo-Nazi nationalists. What happens to him when the provincialist regime in Kiev, put in place by the US colonial administration, inevitably collapses, is unknown, but he may be dead by then anyway.

For its part, ROCOR had to lose its fringe sectarians and pharisees who had been troubling Church life since the 1960s. In the 1990s they even dared to forge alliances with old calendarists and received various mainly sectarian individuals on ex-Soviet territory into the Church, though these were never accepted by the unconsulted clergy and people in ROCOR. These sectarian elements actually claimed that the martyric Church in Russia was without grace and made political co-operation with the atheist State, i.e. the simple human sins of weakness and cowardice, into a new heresy! But if sin is heresy, then we are all heretics, the apostles and saints included. Their longer-term knowledge of Church history was extraordinarily weak and their practice of Orthodoxy seemed mainly to be limited to formalities and ritual.

The worst example was perhaps the politicking of the defrocked bishop, Barnabas (Prokofiev), in the south of France, who was later rightly put on trial and sentenced by the French government for embezzlement. In this country I know three laypeople, then in ROCOR, who, though too young to remember much about him, shocked me in the 1990s by telling me that they thought that Hitler had been a good thing. All three were extremely ignorant and all three unsurprisingly left the Church in 2007, joining various extremist sects. The strange thing is that two of them are married to Anglicans, i. e. in their own abrasive language, married to heretics!

The Future

As regards the future of the fourth, in fact, Non-Russian, group, the OCA, who knows? It is certainly suffering from a severe identity crisis and undergoing great tensions, constantly changing metropolitans. Two questions can be asked about it: Will it be able to survive as one intact group or will it split into its artificially combined constituent fragments, with a large part returning to the Russian Church? And would that be a negative or a positive thing? These questions are not for us to answer; those who constitute the OCA will answer those questions themselves, voting with their feet. As they are outside the Russian Church, we are merely onlookers and can only observe events.

With the exception of some non-Saint Petersburgers, and despite repeated invitations, the tiny third group, centred in Paris, has no intention of returning to the Russian Church and Her ascetic, canonical and liturgical disciplines. It can therefore be termed ‘ex-Russian’. Such a state of politicized, adolescent rebellion does not bode well. Indeed, we can already see the ‘withered branch syndrome’, as this self-isolated group gets ever smaller, though with several dozen quite untrained clergy with tiny ‘parishes’ (often between five and ten!) who sometimes do the strangest things. It will inevitably die out, as it runs out of bishops and Church-educated people and veers towards full secularization by the local Western Establishments which for obvious reasons encourage it, losing the reason for its existence. But that is not a problem for the Russian Church, which it ignores.

This leaves us with the first two groups, now more or less united into one. Here also it is difficult to know what will happen. At present there is no case for an administrative merger of the two, despite them sometimes sharing the same territory. The Moscow group, which gets ever larger in Western Europe, is in drastic need of many more missionary-minded bishops and clergy and a less ‘Soviet’ mentality, adapted to local needs and languages. It also suffers from a lack of premises, the result of the chronic lack of vision and maladministration of the past. Often, but not always, it still appears to lack leadership, vision and dynamism, still dealing with the short-term situation on a day to day basis – a recipe for long-term disaster.

As for ROCOR, it urgently needs dynamic young bishops and priests. Some seem to forget that the canonical age for consecrating a bishop is 35: to have nearly all your bishops (and too many clergy) in their sixties and seventies is profoundly abnormal and makes it likely that any group will die out. Now is the time of the wake-up call for ROCOR, if it wishes to survive in some form or other in the longer term. The result of any lack of leadership and direction is always that you live in the past and do not look to the future. Any loss of dynamism has to be remedied now. However, it is not too late and everything is still possible. ROCOR still has huge potential: whether that will be squandered or not, we cannot say.

The Church Outside Russia Proposes Corrected Documents for the Crete Meeting

Expressions of serious disagreement regarding the proposed documents for the Crete meeting of selected Orthodox bishops from most Local Churches in June (for some reason called ‘a Great and Holy, Pan-Orthodox Council’) have been widely heard. Fundamental dissent has been voiced in several Local Churches, notably in the Churches of Antioch, Georgia, Bulgaria, Greece and Cyprus, as well as in the Russian Church in Russia, the Ukraine and Moldova. Outside the Russian Lands, ROCOR has now added its voice to the popular chorus. Now New York adds its voice to Kiev and Kishinev; clearly action must now be taken.

In a comprehensive and theologically-founded, but constructive and moderately expressed manner, the Church Outside Russia has now also voiced its dissent from the draft documents for the Crete meeting, which for obvious reasons it does not recognize as a Council at present. It thus reflects the concerns of an ever increasing number of Orthodox hierarchs, clergy and people everywhere about a process seen as secretive (secrecy also gives rose to conspiracy theories which then give rise to schisms), secular, bureaucratic, contradictory and above all, by some, as anti-Orthodox. Below we reproduce the statement from Metropolitan Hilarion and the Synod of Bishops.

To the Very Reverend and Reverend Clergy, Venerable Monastics and Pious Faithful
of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia:

In the Name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit!

In light of the welcome publication of the documents to be considered by the forthcoming Pan-Orthodox Council, scheduled to take place on Crete from 16-27 June 2016, the Holy Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia has undertaken to examine these texts, together with a multitude of other Hierarchs, clergy and laity who are doing the same as preparations for the Council continue, and to communicate with our God-preserved flock and others the manner of suggestions we are proposing, since the documents of the Council are the cause of interest and questioning to very many. We are reminded, in this as in all things, of the words of the Lord to the Holy Apostle St. Peter, when He pronounced that the future shepherd’s work would be to feed My sheep (John 21.17); and likewise that the food for those who love Him is to diligently preserve what Christ has taught them: If ye love me, keep my commandments (John 14.15), and If a man love me, he will keep my words (John 14.23).

It is with zeal for such divine commandments that the whole plenitude of the Hierarchy of the Russian Orthodox Church seeks to apply the counsel of the Righteous Solomon: incline thine ear unto wisdom, and apply thine heart to understanding (Proverbs 2.2), scrutinizing the documents that have been made available to us with humility, diligence and obedience. This task is undertaken in a spirit free from fear or worldly worry, since we fervently trust that God Himself is ever the helmsman of the Church, and as He has guided her through the many centuries to our day, so He will continue to guide and preserve us now and until He comes again. Rather, we offer reflections on a few of the texts as a means of conjoining our thoughts to those of many others who are working for the good of all our inter-Orthodox endeavours, including His Holiness the Patriarch and those members of our Russian Orthodox Church who labour with him in these preparations.

While certain of the documents — which have been prepared by the Pre-Conciliar Conferences for the Council’s consideration, but which are of course not final texts and are necessarily preliminary — do not give rise for concern in our reading, and indeed contain elements of useful clarification (for example, the document “Autonomy and the Means of Proclaiming It”), the employment in others of ambiguous terminology, a lack of theological precision, and ecclesiological language foreign to the sacred tradition of the Church, demand commentary that may lead to their correction. This is most notably the case in two documents: “Relations of the Orthodox Church with the Rest of the Christian World”, and “The Mission of the Orthodox Church in Today’s World”; and a few issues arise also with the procedural text entitled “Organisation and Working Procedure of the Holy and Great Council of the Orthodox Church.”

The Document “Relations of the Orthodox Church with the Rest of the Christian World”

We cannot read the document “Relations of the Orthodox Church with the Rest of the Christian World” without noting the pronounced measure of inconsistency — both in terms of language as well as conceptuality — that marks it out; but also, more painfully, the failure of the document to espouse proper Orthodox ecclesiology in the manner necessary for the full proclamation of Christ’s Truth in a divided world. In our estimation this is the most problematic of the Pre-Conciliar documents, and one which will require substantial revision and amendment during the sessions of the Council itself, if it is to attain a form suitable for adoption.

The inconsistencies in ecclesiological terminology are readily apparent, and have already been noted by many (the Most Reverend Metropolitan of Nafpaktos and St. Vlasios, the Most Reverend Metropolitan of Limassol, as well as various learned Orthodox clergy and scholars). While the document opens by identifying the Orthodox Church as “the One, Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church” (art. 1), which “grounds her unity on the fact that she was founded by Our Lord Jesus Christ, as well as on the communion in the Holy Trinity and in the Sacraments” (art. 2), the terminology used throughout the remainder of the text renders ambiguous these otherwise clear and true phrases. Not only is proclamation of the Orthodox Church as “the One” Church befuddled by the statement that “the Orthodox Church acknowledges the existence in history of other Christian Churches and confessions which are not in communion with her” (art. 6) and the repeated references to “various Christian Churches and confessions” (art 6, art. 20); the document also lacks any reference to the fact that the Church is not only “founded by” our Lord and God and Saviour Jesus Christ (cf. art. 2), but is ever His mystical Body, always one and indivisible (cf. Ephesians 5.30; Colossians 1.24). Though of course all acknowledge the existence in history of groups who seek to follow the Saviour apart from the Orthodox Church, and which may by self-definition refer to themselves as ‘churches’, Orthodox ecclesiology permits of no pluralization of what is, and must always be, One: Christ’s Body itself. In casual usage such terminology (i.e. of ‘other churches’) may at times be employed out of convenience, but it can have no place in a formal document of the Church, which must be scrupulously precise and give clear, unequivocal voice to the traditions we have received from our Fathers, which they received from the Lord.

More serious are the deficiencies in this text regarding the essential distinction it seeks to address: namely, the Church and her relations to those outside her. While our hearts echo the sentiment of the holy Hieromartyr Hilarion (Troitsky) who observed of the fracture in the Christian world: “What conscious Christian does not sorrow in soul when he sees the enmity and division among people who should be uniting their faith, among whom should be reigning the peace left and given by Christ to His disciples, and love poured into the hearts of Christians by the Holy Spirit!” — we acknowledge at the same time that the advent of such peace to those who are divided can come only through the proclamation of the one true path towards unity: the life of salvation offered in the Church; and that understanding how to return to the indivisible Church begins with a right understanding of separation. Here the document is at its most unclear. At no point does the text heed the example of the Holy Fathers, Councils and Canons of the Church in identifying the division between Christian peoples as arising from schism and heresy (terms which, most surprisingly, do not appear in the text at all); that is, in terms of increasing degrees of severance and departure from Christ’s Body and Truth.[1] Instead, the document takes the para-ecclesiological approach of locating division within a broadly-defined concept of “Christian unity” (cf. art. 4), which itself becomes an ambiguous phrase used to imply a paramount “unity of believers in Christ” (ibid.) that extends beyond the “One, Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church” and incorporates many other confessions.[2]

It is in this context of a heterodox para-ecclesiology that the document goes on to speak of Christian unity as something that has been “lost” (art. 5), and “the restoration of Christian unity” as one of the Church’s persistent aims (art. 4, 5, 12, 24). Such statements contradict the otherwise valid proclamation that “the unity by which the Church is distinguished in her ontological nature is impossible to shatter” (art. 6). Moreover, intermingling the right proclamation that the Church bears witness “to those who are external to her” (ibid.), with the suggestion that she engages with such bodies in order to seek “lost Christian unity on the basis of the faith and tradition of the ancient Church of the Seven Ecumenical Councils” (art. 5), makes clear that the “unity” being spoken of is one in which the Holy Orthodox Church of those Councils is but a part or component, rather than the undivided whole which Christ has ever preserved as His own Bride (cf. Ephesians 5.25-26, 32). In all this, not only is a heterodox ecclesiology implicated in the draft of a potentially pan-Orthodox statement, but a powerful pastoral opportunity is neglected. The true disunity present among Christian peoples today is the loss of unity of heterodox Christians with the Orthodox Church; and the path of healing that can render divided humanity truly united is the repentant departure from schism and heresy, and the return to the One Church whose unity has never been broken.[3] It is for the divine preservation of this interior unity that we pray when we petition for “the union of all” in the Divine Services, while at the same time bearing in our hearts the hope that those who are parted from it may return. A pan-Orthodox statement that fails to proclaim this Gospel hope into the world misses an opportunity rightly to bear the message of salvation.

The same document contains other errors which cannot be passed over. Its twenty-third article comments on the necessity of inter-Christian theological dialogue (itself a good and potentially fruitful endeavour) “excluding any practice of proselytism or any outrageous manifestations of inter-confessional antagonism” (art. 23). The loose association of the term “proselytism” with “inter-confessional antagonism” is problematic, for the Lord commands both the active preaching (leading to baptism) of “all nations” (cf. Matthew 28.19, 20) and assures the Church of His special preservation of those being proselytised — a reality we hymn in the Typical Psalms of the Divine Liturgy (κύριος φυλάσσει τοὺς προσηλύτους, Psalm 145.9). To categorically forbid “proselytism”, properly understood, by Orthodox towards the heterodox is a tacit acceptance of an “equality of confessions” (something the document itself rightly says cannot be accepted; cf. art. 18), since it amounts to an avowal of the idea that the heterodox are already united to the Body of Christ (the Church) and therefore need not be drawn towards repentant conversion into it.

We presume this clearly anti-Evangelical prohibition is not what is intended by the text, which pairs “proselytism” with “outrageous manifestations of inter-confessional antagonism”; and instead that it is using the term in a commonly-acknowledged vernacular to refer to devious and often underhanded tactics employed in preaching the Gospel, rather than the preaching of the Gospel itself (which is how we likewise interpret the employment of the term in the recent joint declaration of His Holiness the Patriarch of Moscow and the Roman Catholic Pope of Rome[4]). However, while informal usage of the term to refer to perversions of behaviour may be permissible in unbinding documents, it cannot be permitted of a formal ecclesiological statement.

The Document “The Mission of the Orthodox Church in Today’s World”

The problems contained in the document “The Mission of the Orthodox Church in Today’s World” are more subtle and theological in character than those in the text on the relations of the Orthodox Church with the rest of the Christian world, but for precisely this reason deserve special attention. His Eminence the Metropolitan of Nafpaktos and St. Vlasios has already carefully laid out the basics of the anthropological flaws that undergird the whole of this text, which render its otherwise noble focus on the work of Orthodoxy to foster peace, the aversion of war, the fight against discrimination, etc., deeply problematic until they are corrected.

The heart of the problem lies in the document’s persistent use of the term “human person” where it ought to use “man”, and grounding its humanitarian discussion in elaborations on this phrase.[5] Usage of the term “person” for man emerges within Orthodox discussion in a notable way only from the time of V. Lossky, who himself acknowledged the novelty of his employment of it; and while it has become almost normative in contemporary discussions, the Holy Fathers are consistent in employing the Scriptural and liturgical language of “man”. The term “person” (Rus. лицо, Gr. πρόσωπον)[6] is chiefly used in Orthodox language in reference to the Divine Persons of the Holy Trinity, in confessing the unique hypostatic being of Father, Son and Holy Spirit, as well as the singular hypostatic reality of the One Son in Whom both the divine and human natures co-exist “unconfusedly, unchangeably, indivisibly, inseparably” (Definition of the Fourth Ecumenical Council). Almost never is the term applied to the human creature (in whom such distinctions do not exist), precisely as a way of noting the absolute distinction between that which is created and that which is Uncreated — for while man is “in the image and likeness of God”, he is in no wise comparable, in his createdness, to Him Who has no beginning.

This clarification, which may at first strike as overly nuanced or even pedantic, is of fundamental importance to Orthodox theology and anthropology, and demonstrates the need for the most exacting attention when considering documents for widespread circulation (even in a case such as this, where the text does not purport to be about Trinitarian doctrine at all, yet inadvertently puts forward doctrinally problematic themes). The rise in misapplication of the term “person” to man over the past 75 years has resulted in numerous perversions of theological language in the realm of doctrinal reflection, one of the most notable of which, the concept that there is a “communion of Divine Persons in the Holy Trinity”, is directly stated in the document (art. 2.i).[7] The precise theological discussions of the fourth and fifth centuries clarified that the Father, Son and Spirit are united in an eternal communion of essence (in the begottenness of the Son, the procession of the Spirit and the monarchia of the Father), but not a communion of Persons. Misapplication of the term “person” to man has led, however, to considerations of the community of the human race being applied to the nature of the Holy Trinity in a manner that contradicts the clear teaching of the Fathers and Ecumenical Councils. Furthermore, such improper language of Trinity creates new anthropological problems that arise from seeing “the human person” as “a community of persons in the unity of the human race reflecting the life and communion of the Divine Persons in the Holy Trinity” (art. 2.i — one of the most problematic phrases in the document).[8] While it is true that man’s freedom (the subject of Article 2) is a gift arising from his being created “in the image” of God, neither his life in the broad community of the race of men, nor the freedom he exercises within it, are comparable to the freedom of the Divine Persons expressed in their eternal, mutual indwelling.

In numerous places throughout the document signs of this flawed anthropology are present, summed up in its desire to advance “the general recognition of the lofty value of the human person” (art. 1.iii)[9] as the source for its language of mission. Yet when man is identified improperly as a human person reflecting an improper conception of a “communion of Divine Persons” in the Trinity, his “lofty value” is elaborated in necessarily inaccurate terms. Man’s value is indeed lofty, but the right foundation of his value lies precisely in his created distinction from the Persons of the Trinity, into Whose life he is nonetheless called and Whose image he yet mystically bears, rendering him unique among all creation in that he can attain the likeness of God through the deification of his nature.

In summary, we wish to stress that this document on the mission of the Church says much that is good: its emphasis on the proper exercise of human freedom, the pursuit of peace and justice, the struggles against discrimination, the identification of multitudinous problems with the secular and consumerist ideologies of our present culture, and so forth — these are all laudable and God-pleasing aims. But they must not be met through the application of flawed anthropological and theological concepts. The phrase “human person” should be replaced throughout with the more satisfactory “man”, especially in key phrases like “the value of the human person” (art. 1.iii). Similarly, other ambiguous or improperly-applied anthropological terms should be carefully scrutinized and corrected (such as the use of “gender”, when in fact “sex” is meant; cf. Preface, art. 5[ii, iii]).

A Word on the Procedures and Authority of the Council

Finally, a word must be said on the operational procedures established for the Council, with reference to the authority any documents it may approve will have within the Orthodox world.
We are not the first to note the flawed ecclesiological statement present in Article 22 of the document “Relations of the Orthodox Church with the Rest of the Christian World”, which claims that “the preservation of the true Orthodox faith is only possible thanks to the conciliar structure which since ancient times has been for the Church the strong and final criterion in matters of faith”. The Holy Councils of the Church, even those deemed Ecumenical in the consciousness of the Church, have never been “the strong and final criterion in matters of faith,” but rather the Spirit-led confirmation of the one criterion of faith which is the express Will of Christ. The true Orthodox faith is not preserved “only … thanks to the conciliar structure” of the Church, but through the unwavering, active headship of Christ over His Body, which properly constituted and prayerfully unified Councils manifest rather than determine.

This is accomplished through the charismatic, Apostolic grace bestowed upon the Hierarchs of the Church, which in conciliar prayer and reflection mystically discloses the Will of God Who speaks in and through His ministers. For this reason, those councils which have been assessed by the Church as having binding authority on her work and life are those in which the full freedom of this episcopal grace is preserved. Each bishop equally manifests the Apostolic charism, and in council each bishop is freely able to raise his voice in the plenitude of that assembly. Only in such a manner have councils been able to say It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us (Acts 15.28) and proclaim authoritatively the Will of the Lord.

The determinations made through the Pre-Conciliar process and the decision of the Primates of the Autocephalous Churches, spelled out in Articles 3, 12 and 13 of the “Organisation and Working Procedure of the Holy and Great Council of the Orthodox Church” document, make clear that the Pan-Orthodox gathering to take place this year will not be a council of this nature. We hasten to add, in a spirit of full faith and love, that this in no wise means it cannot be of value and importance, and indeed we pray for a fruitful meeting that permits a new degree of inter-Orthodox dialogue and common work. However, a council that includes only a fixed number of representative bishops (art. 3.i), in which voting on the adoption of texts is done on a novel “one Church, one vote” model in which voting “shall be effected by autocephalous Orthodox Churches, not each particular member of the delegations represented at the Council” (art. 12.i), in which it is explicitly asserted that “the voting of a Church at the Council, not a member of a delegation, does not exclude the possibility for one or a few hierarchs in the delegation of a particular autocephalous Church to take a negative position towards introduced amendments or a text in general” (art. 12.ii) and which relegates any such dissenting voice to “an internal affair of that Church to which the hierarchs belong” (art. 12.iii) — all these things mean that any documents which are approved at this council may indeed have “a pan-Orthodox authority” (art. 13.ii), but this authority can be neither dogmatic nor doctrinal, but will represent only the authority of the voices of those hierarchs permitted by such regulations to be present, speak, and have a vote. While we are satisfied that the insistence upon unanimous consensus for any amendments (art. 11.ii), as well as the adoption of texts themselves (art. 13.i), adequately safeguards against the possibility of the imposition of any text by “majority vote”, the fact remains that even in such cases where decisions are taken at this council by the unanimous consensus of those present, such decisions can never be considered to bear witness to the consensus of the plenitude of the Church, and therefore the authority they bear shall be adjudged accordingly.


We write the above both to offer a few critical corrections to the documents set forward for consideration by the forthcoming Council, in the spirit of fraternal co-operation, agreement and support of our brother Hierarchs and clergy of the other Local Orthodox Churches, such as those previously mentioned in this letter, who are contributing in like manner; and also in order to reassure the faithful flock entrusted to us by Christ of the careful attention being laid upon the task of examining these documents by their pastors. The process of addressing the pastoral needs of any given age is one which requires both tremendous prayer and ascetical devotion from all Christians, but also the dedicated, deliberate work to ensure, in any document the Church may put forward, the faithfulness to the Gospel we have inherited. All such texts, now as throughout history, go through many stages of preparation and revision; and the fact that we, together with others, have identified serious problems with some of the documents pending consideration by the forthcoming Council should be a cause for neither fear nor anxiety. The Holy Spirit Who always guides the Church in love, is not far from us today; and the Church is not in our times, nor has she ever been, without the active headship of her True Head, Christ our God, Whom we trust with full faith will guide His Body in all truth.

We fervently implore the prayers of all our faithful flock, that standing fast upon the rock of the Church, their prayers may uphold all those Hierarchs who will work for the good of this dialogue and assembly.


Metropolitan of Eastern America and New York,
President of the Synod of Bishops.

+ MARK,,
Archbishop of Berlin and Germany.

Archbishop of San Francisco and Western America,
Secretary of the Synod of Bishops.

Archbishop of Montreal and Canada.

Bishop of Cleveland.

Bishop of Manhattan.

[1] As, for example, in the clear language of St. Basil the Great in his First Canonical Epistle (Epistle 188), as well as the First Canon of the same Father and the commentary of St. Nicodemus of the Holy Mountain on the same; and in many other elements of the Church’s tradition.

[2] In this regard we are particularly grateful for the elucidation of His Eminence Metropolitan Hierotheos of Nafpaktos and St. Vlasios, in his Letter to the Holy Synod of the Church of Greece (18th January 2016), in which he draws attention to the implicit presence of so-called “Baptismal Theology” raised through the document’s reference to the 7th Canon of the Second Ecumenical Council, and the 95th Canon of the Quinisext Council; and which His Eminence also notes appears to call into question the decision of the Patriarchs of 1756, by which the one baptism of the Orthodox Church is understood to have no parallel in other confessions.

[3] We are grateful for the clarity on these points offered in the recent letter of His Eminence Athanasius, Metropolitan of Limassol (dated 11th February 2016), with whose considered opinions we are in agreement.

[4] See the Joint Declaration of Patriarch Kyrill and Pope Francis, 12th February 2016, section 24.

[5] We note the careful precision that must be applied in this matter, as the document employs both correct references to “man” (человек, ὁ ἄνθρωπος), as well as incorrect references to the “human person” (человеческая личность, τόν ἀνθρώπινον πρόσωπον). The latter, which are the core of the theological problems with this document, are located at: Art.1 Title; 1.i, iii; 2.i, iii; 3.i; and 6.v). For the sake of those reading the texts in other translations, the problem is at times compounded (for example, the English translation in wide circulation, which is not itself an official translation of the Pre-Conciliar Conferences, regularly confuses the matter further by failing to distinguish between the different terms in the official text, rendering almost all instances even of человек, ὁ ἄνθρωπος as “human person”. Cf. Pref. paras. 2, 4; art. 1.i; multiple instances in 2.i; 6.iii, x; multiple instances in 6.xii, 6.xv).

[6] We note here an important distinction between theological usage in the Russian and Greek languages: Russian makes a distinction between Лицо (used in reference to the Divine Persons, Лицы, of the Holy Trinity) and личность, which is sometimes used of man, given that it retains a distinction between the type of Persons identified in the Trinity, and the being of the human creature. Thus in the official Russian edition of the present document, the phrase in question is always rendered человеческая личность and not человеческое лицо; while in Greek such a linguistic distinction does not exist and therefore the phrase is always rendered as the entirely unacceptable ἀνθρώπινον πρόσωπον.

In addition to matters of theological accuracy, this also introduces a procedural problem to the Council’s documents, since the official version of the Russian text employs a differentiation of vocabulary that is not employed in the Greek. Further inconsistency exists in the official French version of the document, which employs “la personne humaine” (or a variation) some 12 times, as opposed to 7 in the Russian and Greek versions, often using it where the Greek text reads ὁ ἄνθρωπος and the Russian reads человек (e.g. in the Preface; art. 1.ii.). Thus we have three different documents, using different distinctions and nuances of vocabulary, rather than a threefold presentation of a single text in translation.

While the Russian distinction of лицо/личность may be less problematic than attributing the direct title of “person” (лицо) to man, it is nevertheless a theological innovation that this document need not foster. It seems to us that theological precision is best maintained by avoiding it, and using the proper человек, ὁ ἄνθρωπος, l’homme for man in all instances.

[7] Both the official Russian and Greek versions include this improper theological statement, describing the Holy Trinity as: « общение Божественных Лиц », « κοινωνίαν τῶν θείων προσώπων ».

[8] Rus. « и как члену сообщества личностей, в единстве человеческого рода по благодати отражающих жизнь и общение Божественных Лиц в Святой Троице ». Gr. « καί ὡς κοινωνίαν προσώπων ἀντανακλώντων κατά χάριν διά τῆς ἑνότητος τοῦ ἀνθρωπίνου γένους τήν ἐν τῇ Ἁγίᾳ Τριάδι ζωήν καί κοινωνίαν τῶν θείων προσώπων ». Once again we see here the difference in Russian usage, which distinguishes in this sentence between лиц and личность, and the Greek which uses πρόσωπον in each instance.

[9] « Всеобщее признание высокой ценности человеческой личности »; « ἡ κοινή ἀποδοχή τῆς ὑψίστης ἀξίας τοῦ ἀνθρωπίνου προσώπου ». Cf. art. 6.v, where a similar sentiment is expressed, again using the improper terms.