Q: How can you speak of a ROCOR Diocese in this country? It is so small it does not exist. So what can it contribute?
A: You would have been quite right at any time between the mid-eighties and until recently. I remember coming here on loan from Paris in 1994 because the London convent did not have a priest or any services, such was the catastrophic situation! However, before that period you are quite wrong and you are wrong again today, ever since the start of the restoration of our Diocese under Metr Hilarion and Bishop Irenei. It is now bigger than it was in the fifties and sixties and may grow a great deal more yet, as we are freed to expand, using all our energy and enterprise that had been bottled up for so many decades. The Patriarchal Diocese here, laboured with a ‘foreign’ name with a compromising history, called a ‘potemkin diocese’ by one its own priests, also has its difficulties.
Therefore, it is clear that ROCOR, with about 600 parishes outside the Russian Lands and the Patriarchate, with about 300 parishes outside the Russian Lands, mainly in Western Europe, need one another. They are like two pieces of a puzzle, each with its limitations, each with its strengths. For example, ROCOR has little money and few bishops, the Patriarchate has money, political help from embassies and an almost limitless supply of potential bishops (2,000 at the last count). However, generally ROCOR has local knowledge, not just languages, but knowledge of local mentalities and culture and pastoral ability. The average ROCOR priest in Europe speaks three or four languages: the average Patriarchate priest just one.
Unlike ROCOR, the Patriarchate is politically well-connected; however, ROCOR is free, as we saw in the recent Skripal case, and unburdened by the bureaucracy and centralization in the Patriarchate. It was from such formalist pre-Revolutionary bureaucracy that ROCOR has had such difficulty escaping right up until the present day and which, sadly, is reviving in Russia. Bureaucracy is not part of Church Tradition, but is alien to the Holy Spirit, being of the things of men. It belongs to religion, not to faith, to institutions, not to God.
Our Diocese of Great Britain and Ireland can be a useful, perhaps even an essential, part of the future Local Metropolia and then Local Church.
Q: How can we define our Orthodox identity as compared to Non-Orthodox?
A: I expect there are a thousand good ways of expressing answers to this question, but I think I can give you an example of an answer.
Recently, I was in conversation with a fairly senior Anglican priest and I asked him what he thought was the priority to save the Church of England, given that the Archbishop of Canterbury said in 2014 that it could virtually die out by 2050.
He answered that there are currently two trends inside his Church, one was to ‘make disciples’ and the other was ‘to create the kingdom of God’. In his view the first is wrong and the second is right. I (politely) asked him to translate this (for me incomprehensible jargon) into English and he explained that ‘making disciples’ means what we would call ‘proselytism’ or ‘making converts’ (which is alien to the Church), and that ‘creating the kingdom of God’ means trying to act socially or even politically, setting up clubs and groups, taking part in social life, standing for election, appearing in the media, lobbying politicians, holding concerts inside church-buildings etc. (This too is alien to the Church).
I thought that both these options are purely humanistic, turned towards people, not towards God. Our God is Holy and our aim is holiness, ‘acquiring the Holy Spirit’. In his two options there was nothing about holiness. Holiness attracts people long-term because our God works miracles. Everything that he mentioned is purely secondary to us, we transform individuals and society around us through repentance that brings personal holiness; everything else takes second place. We seek the kingdom of God first, then ‘thousands around us will be saved’. And that is the difference between us and Non-Orthodox.
Q: Was Fr George Gapon who led the demonstration against the Tsar in 1905 really Orthodox?
A: He was ordained canonically, but he was very much an extreme left-winger. He belonged to the Social Revolutionary Party and lived with a woman, which was allowed by the Protestant-minded Metr Antony (Vadkovsky) of Saint Petersburg, who was and is very controversial. (Some have suspected that Metr Antony was a freemason, like Protopresbyter George Shavelsky). Fr George Gapon finished very badly, being hanged in 1906 by the violent revolutionary Ruthenberg who had led the 1905 demonstration and terrorist attack on the forces of law and order. I think we can say that Gapon was not only uncanonical but not Orthodox at all. In this he is like Ilya Fundaminsky, who came from one of the richest Jewish families in Russia, became a terrorist, emigrated to France, where he was baptised under Rue Daru, and a few years ago was canonized by the Patriarchate of Constantinople for having been murdered by the Nazis in Auschwitz.
Q: What do you think of the decision by a British school that boys must not wear shorts, but skirts, because shorts are gender-specific?
A: Here is the result of what became common here over 50 years ago (in the USA long before) and is now nearly universal – the wearing of trousers by females. The mixing of the sexes causes spiritual confusion. Here is the result. The word ‘sex’ means ‘cut’, in other words men are men and women are women. But we are now in the era of transgenderism and so spiritual catastrophe.
Q: How do we answer critics who say that the Orthodox Church is so old-fashioned that it is antediluvian? I mean we have no women-priests and will never have any, we do not have same-sex marriages, we do not even have pews or organs, which the Non-Orthodox started having already 200-400 years ago. To them we are primitive.
A: What a curious, but also very eloquent viewpoint – antediluvian! I think that people who say such things are themselves ‘diluvian’, that is to say, they have been submerged beneath the Flood of secularism. In that sense we are ‘anti-diluvian’, but not antediluvian! I would answer them that and say that we, on the contrary, are ‘post-diluvian’, that is to say, we are looking forward to what is coming after the present Flood of secularism, to the Kingdom of God, which is coming, one way or the other, and quite soon. They are spiritually primitive – we are not.
Q: Is perfectionism a virtue or a vice?
A: A vice, even, indeed, a spiritual curse. There is an old story of a monk who was a brilliant icon-painter who was praised for his painting. From that moment on he began putting a small mistake into everything he did. Perfectionism is pride, we even say ‘take pride in what you do’. Yes, of course, bodging, Coggeshall jobs and second-rate work is bad, to be avoided, but we should do things as well as we can, but we should know that perfection is beyond us human-beings.
Q: What do you think of the decision by two-thirds of Irish people to legalize child-murder?
A: Once Ireland had agreed to enter the secularist EU, this was inevitable. The same will happen in Poland in a few years time. If you sell your soul to the devil for an EU mess of pottage, here are the consequences.
Q: What do you think are the weaknesses of the European peoples?
A: Any such generalization is bound to have a thousand exceptions and can only be vague. And it would be more pleasant to talk about strengths than weaknesses. But if you insist: Today (I am not talking about Western culture 1,000 years ago or even 500 years ago, which was different) I think all the Western peoples suffer from an almost uncontrollable desire to tell the rest of the world how to live and to meddle in their civilizations. (Why else does the LGBT flag fly over the British Embassy in Minsk?).
More specifically, I think with the Protestant British (and to a large extent the Protestant Dutch and the Swiss Germans), it is a slavish love of money, a real obsession (why else do British media obsessively report Stock Exchange rates and currency values and encourage people to save as soon as they are born?). This enslavement was taken by the British to North America, hence their enslavement to the dollar. With the Germans it is the need to give orders and create order, as we see from their history. With the French it is hedonism, the obsession with the aesthetic, with ‘look’ and ‘image’. With the Italians it is their obsession with all forms of art, as everywhere, for example, in Venice and Florence and as in opera. With the Spanish it is an obsession with blood and cruelty, as we see in the Inquisition, in Goya and in bullfighting. With the Portuguese it is their melancholy regret for what they have lost, as in the fado With the Scandinavians it is obsession with impossible thisworldly justice, which comes from their narrow and worldly Lutheran culture. With the Russians it is the obsessive need to be accepted (which comes from the national inferiority complex, which began with their apostasy from Orthodoxy in the late 17th century and their superficial adoption of Western values). With the Jews it is (not money – which is a nasty anti-Jewish myth), but the obsession with acquiring power, which goes back to the loss of the Temple in Jerusalem after the glory days under David and Solomon.