After the Fall in the Garden of Eden, divisions appeared among mankind. These were described ascetically by the Church Fathers as falls to the left and right sides and are also today described politically as left and right. These divisions can be seen in the Gospels, where we encounter Saducees and Pharisees. The former were the ‘positive’ liberals of their age, who thought that everything was ‘relative’ (to use a modern term) and rejected the Resurrection. On the other hand, there were the negative conservatives of their age, the Pharisees and their sidekicks, the scribes. The Pharisees were highly ritualistic and considered to be model Jews in their devotion. However, our Lord called them ‘hypocrites’ and said to them ‘woe unto you’, when they censoriously condemned others, stoning to death and rejecting merciful healings on the Sabbath day.
We can find parallels to this in every religion in the world and throughout history. Thus in contemporary Islam, we can find fanatical young suicide bombers and, conversely, polite, conformist, Western-educated imams, who dress in suits and ties and whose values seem to be almost identical to liberal Guardian readers. Similarly, in contemporary Judaism, we can find fanatical rabbis who literally spit at Christians with furious hatred, but also ‘reformed’ female rabbis who look and sound like middle-class women from any polite suburb in the Western world. Since these two tendencies have always existed, both inside and outside any religion, and always will exist (because human psychology with all its deformations and deviations does not change), what exact forms do they take in the contemporary Russian Orthodox Church?
The Contemporary Saducees
The contemporary Saducees are secularist, syncretist, Russophobic, cosmopolitan, ultra-liberal, rationalist, anti-ascetic, reformist, new calendarist, ecumenist, modernist, masonic, intellectual, pro-homosexual, anti-mystical, philosophical and renovationist Westernizers. Some of them are converts from Judaism. Great advocates of revolutionary 1917 Duma politics and Church Renovationism and haters of the Tsar, they are admirers of the historic Paris School of Philosophy, which later worked its ills in the USA, and of semi-Orthodox, iconostasis-less, Lutheran-style churches in Finland. Many are in spirit Uniats, like the late French philosopher Olivier Clement, notorious for taking Roman Catholic communion, or like those who celebrate Orthodox services in Uniat churches. Eucharistically-minded, they are strongly opposed to confession and make communion obligatory for all at every single service.
In Moscow their leader is Fr George Kochetkov, invited to take over the Paris-style Sourozh Cathedral in London by the schismatic former Bishop Basil Osborne and once suspended by Patriarch Alexey II as a ‘neo-renovationist’. Politically, the Saducees are strongly anti-Putin and anti-Patriarch (both of whom they love to accuse of corruption with the Western propaganda chorus), pro-Constantinople and therefore pro-US and therefore pro-EU. It is suspected that they receive finance from there, just as the left-wing Paris YMCA émigré organization or the right-wing German émigré NTS were US-financed, little more than puppets. Inside today’s Russia, the Saducees look to the Prime Minister Medvedev and technocrats and liberals more extreme than him. A favourite website of theirs is the anti-Church and anti-Russian www.portal-credo.ru, which many suspect is CIA or Soros-financed, as it continually attacks the Russian Orthodox Church.
Pro-Catholic and so pro-Protestant and so pro-Secularist, the Saducees want to ‘reform’ (i.e. desecrate, that is, desacralize) Orthodox services, by shortening them and rewriting the Typicon and the Menaia. They believe that they understand everything, but in reality understand nothing because they only use their heads and not their hearts. They detest clerical dress, beards, long hair, and above all the Psalter, long services, fasting, asceticism and monasticism. They are strongly feminist (in the secular sense, not in the Orthodox sense, of the word (1)), detest modest dress and head coverings for women and have girls serving in their altars and want woman deaconesses and priests, like the late Elisabeth Behr-Sigel and other Parisian intellectuals and modernists in various countries. Being disincarnate, they prefer dreamy, abstract, ‘spiritual’ (= pseudo-spiritual) philosophy to concrete theology, which is based on practical spiritual experience.
Thus they detest any signs of the Incarnation of the Church in national life. Therefore they refuse to venerate saints like the Royal Martyrs, and in general the New Martyrs of the Communist Yoke, St John of Kronstadt, St John of Shanghai and St Seraphim of Sofia. They are admirers of Judas, whom some of them want to rehabilitate, not to mention Origen and Arius. They substitute for the saints their own ‘saints’, for example, those who helped Jews and so became victims of Hitler. In this way, they want to create a ‘new spirituality’, new simplified forms of liturgical life, new layouts of the church building with ‘open’ and low iconostases. Many of them consider smiling and laughter to be ‘a sign of the Holy Spirit’ and seem to believe, like Protestants, that they have already been saved in some magic descent of the Holy Spirit on them.
The Contemporary Pharisees
The contemporary Pharisees are also secularist, but in the opposite way from the Saducees. They are sectarian, ritualistic, ultra-conservative, ultra-nationalist, isolationist, provincial, loving folklore, racist, chauvinist, imperialist (not Imperial – which is very different), anti-Semitic, obscurantist, apocalyptic, rigid fundamentalists (like fundamentalist Protestants). Politically they are anti-Putin and anti-Patriarch, whom they see as moderates if not traitors, and in history they support both the monster Stalin (whom they want to canonize!) and yet they also admire many of Hitler’s policies! At the same time as this Stalinism, some of them call the Tsar-Martyr a redeemer. Although all suffering can be redemptive, there is only One Redeemer, Jesus Christ.
Another historical figure they love is Ivan IV, called by his Western detractors ‘the Terrible’. (True, he was far less evil than his Western contemporaries like Charles V or Henry VIII, the latter of whom murdered 72,000, but he still murdered some 4,000 enemies of the State). A recent figure whom they admire is the pop singer Igor Talkov, assassinated in 1991, and they have even written an akathist to him. This admiration positions them as victims of the catastrophic perestroika period, when suddenly all values and identities were called into question, creating huge instability. Many at that time were baptized and made it safely from the rocks of the failed and dissolved Soviet Union to the shores of the Church, but the Pharisees never got there, being bogged down in the illusions of nationalism, just as the Saducees got bogged down in the illusions of anti-national Westernism.
The Pharisees tend to create their own sects, which claim to be ‘of the catacombs’. They are not afraid of falling out of communion with the Patriarch and the rest of the Russian Church and in any case, they do not recognize the rest of the Orthodox Church, the Romanians, the Georgians, the Bulgarians, the Greeks etc (though some have links with Greek old calendarists). In this they have much in common with the isolationist 17th century Old Ritualists. Just like the Saducees, they do not much practise the Faith – standing in church and praying demands faith, love and patience – but some may tell you that placing a booklet with the akathist to Igor Talkov or an icon of Stalin (!) on any part of the body that hurts will cure it. In this sense the Pharisees are anti-ascetic, highly superstitious or rather pseudo-mystical (like the Old Ritualists).
They seem to believe more in magic than God, Who will conjure up for them salvation out of thin air. They also seem to prefer dressing up in pseudo-military and pseudo-monastic uniforms (black being the favourite colour) and taking part in processions with banners to standing in church in prayer. They are also anti-intellectual and burn books by modernist thinkers like Fr Alexander Schmemann and Fr Alexander Men, rather than constructively criticizing them. Their strange slogan is ‘Orthodoxy or Death’; the Orthodox version of which would be ‘Faithfulness to the Church to Martyrdom’. These people are generally singularly humourless, gloomy and fearful, believing, it would seem, more in Antichrist than Christ and are obsessed with apocalyptic prophecies. A favourite website of theirs is http://3rm.info, which is anti-Patriarchal.
In surveying these two extremes, we can see how they meet and are parallel, both groups being incredibly intolerant of everyone else. Let us be frank, there is little theology in either extreme, it is psychology and even psychopathology. Some of these people have actually gone from one group to another, usually from the Saducees to the Pharisees. Thus, the Saducees tend to be of the younger generation, whereas the Pharisees tend to be a generation older. Clearly, the psychological need to be in opposition, to be rebellious, to be outsiders, is very strong. Both groups fail to accept the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church. For example, the Saducees include in the Church all, including the heterodox who reject Orthodoxy, but not the ‘super-Orthodox’ Pharisees.
The Pharisees reject all the saints and holiness in general (see their rejection of the Menaia) and the Tradition (the inspirations of the Holy Spirit since Pentecost). They reject the Church and form their own sects, rejecting all the saints (like the Saducees, they venerate only selected saints), thus rejecting the Catholicity of the Church. Both groups similarly seem to reject the Apostolicity of the Church, established in the first century. The reference point for the Saducees is the Protestant Reformation (which is why they do not join Roman Catholicism) and the reference point for the Pharisees is medieval Russian history, especially the 17thcentury Old Ritualists (Russian Protestants), and do not go as far back as the first millennium.
The Saducees love the ‘magic’ of intellectual talk and philosophy, preferring it to actually doing. The Phariseees love the ‘magic’ of showy external parades, but not do not like ‘doing Church’, i. e. praying at church services. If anyone should read the above and feel concerned, let us put all this into proportion. Of some 164 million in the mainstream of the Russian Orthodox Church, these two sidestreams are tiny, perhaps 5,000 on each side, perhaps 10,000 in all. Should we therefore be wary of both equally? In one sense yes, because both are dangerous spiritual deviations, however there is a difference. The Pharisees, being inherently sectarian and so mainly having consciously cut themselves off from the Church, are largely discredited, their ideology much mocked, since its stands up to no logic, let alone theological analysis.
The Saducees, on the other hand, for the moment have the upper hand in terms of influence because they are still officially inside the Church. Being well-instructed, they know how to infiltrate and can even get the ear of some who are in power and in many respects cause the extreme reactions of the Pharisees through their humiliating contempt for the little people and sincere piety. And in that sense they are for the moment the more dangerous of the two deviations. As for us in the mainstream, we will continue in prayer and love, avoiding extremes, venerating all the saints, keeping the fasts and admiring genuine monastic life, the barometer of the Church, following the Tradition and obeying the Patriarchal episcopate of the Church – One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic.
1. Secular feminism is part of the attempt to re-engineer human nature, common to both classic Communism with its attempted creation of ‘homo sovieticus’ and to modern Western Secularism with its transgender/ transhuman agenda.