Q: What in your view is the greatest problem for the Orthodox Church in the UK today?
A: Without doubt it is the pastoral crisis, the chronic shortage of priests and lack of our own churches. Why? Well, who wants to be a priest when you are not paid and you have to find your own churches? Among Catholics, Anglicans and Protestants all the infrastructure, churches, houses and salaries, is already provided. What an easy life they have!
My ‘parish’ covers five counties and 7,500 square miles (20,000 square kilometres). I only have two permanent churches here, which I have had to obtain and fit out, and two assistant priests, neither of whom is available on weekdays. Here there is the failure of bishops to provide priests (lack of a seminary, as opposed to a centre for ivory tower intellectuals who do not understand real Church life) and to provide for their priests. And, frankly, this is the case over most of the world. How can we have a Church that gives no pastoral care? This is why children are not being baptized, couples are not being married and people are not being buried by priests. There are no local priests. This is indeed a DIY church. We shall perhaps look back on this period as the most decadent in Church history.
Q: When did the contemporary Church begin to venerate the local saints of the West?
A: The turning-point came in 1952 when St John of Shanghai submitted a list of local saints for veneration to the Synod of Russian Bishops Outside Russia. All his ROCOR disciples followed him, from Archbishop Nathanael of Vienna to Archbishop Antony of Geneva, from Fr Seraphim Rose to my sinful self. This movement was followed and imitated by other jurisdictions a generation or two later, without repentance for their earlier rejections. I can remember in 1975 when I submitted a list of these saints, how mocked I was at the time by the Sourozh Jurisdiction, the Thyateira Jurisdiction and the Paris Jurisdiction. The attitude was racist. How times change!
Q: Why does the West reject ascetic life? The Catholics made their Church into a State and none of them has any concept of fasting or even standing for services.
A: The great problem for the Church has always been how to deal with the world. The Orthodox view is to do our best to sanctify the world, suffering persecution and even martyrdom if necessary, submitting to martyrdom. The Western view has been to conquer and control the world: the result of this is the secularization of the Western ‘Church’ – their ‘Church’ has become the world.
This rejection of ascetic effort goes back to the filioque. This says that the Holy Spirit (all truth and authority in Church life) proceeds from the Son and therefore from all those who represent the Son on earth. In 800 this was interpreted to mean Charlemagne, who called himself the Vicar of Christ and began massacring the Saxons in the Name of God (= Caesaropapism). In the later 11th century, however, it was the Bishop of Rome who changed his official title from Vicar of St Peter (in reality the title of the Patriarchs of Antioch) to Vicar of Christ and his ‘Church’ became more powerful than any State (Papocaearism). So began Papal-sponsored massacres in 1066 in England and then in ‘crusades’. So began clericalism. In the 16th century everyone became vicars of Christ, and so was born Protestantism. Anyone had the right to go off and start their own ‘church’, regardless of repentance and ascetic practice. So was born anti-ascetic humanism. So was born sitting down, sing-song hymns and clapping your hands – in effect an early form of karaoke, ‘fun-religion’.
Q: Why are liberals so hostile and aggressive to the Russian Church when only about 5% of the Russian population actually practises the Orthodox Faith?
A: The trouble for the liberals, who also represent only about 5% of the Russian population, is that the culture of the Russian Federation and of countries like the Ukraine, Belarus and Moldova is still largely Orthodox in practical domains, that is outside attendance at Church services, regardless of the narrow Protestant understanding of ‘practice’ as ‘going to church’. (The Orthodox understanding of ‘practice’ is how we live our life, which is totally different from ‘God-slot’ Protestantism, based on guilt, or obligatory attendance Catholicism). Liberals are angry at their failure to root out Christian cultural values from everyday life of the 90% in these Orthodox countries, which is what they have achieved in the West over the last fifty years. Our way of life which persists disturbs them, delaying and thwarting their plans for totalitarian domination of every aspect of life.
Q: According to the West, Russia is Asiatic. Is this so in your view?
A: First of all, this is racist and ethnocentric: the word ‘Asiatic’ is used to mean ‘barbaric’, ‘savage’ and cruel’. So everyone in Asia, with its fine and delicate culture, is so? Secondly, it is incredibly hypocritical: it was the West that invented the Crusades and the Inquisition, the Maxim gun and modern artillery, chemical weapons and the bomber, Communism and Fascism, the concentration camp and the Atomic bomb, the cluster bomb and the drone. Are these not cruel and barbaric? Thirdly, it is geographically incorrect, since 90% of Russians live in Europe and all the Slav peoples originate north of the Carpathians – in Europe. Fourthly, it can be argued that in any case there is no such thing as ‘Europe’. There is only one Continent – Eurasia, Europe is an artificial invention at the western tip of a single Continent. All the other continents, Africa, Australia and the Americas are clearly different continents because they are separated from one another by the sea. Not so little Europe, which has been artificially separated from the mass of Asia by the relatively low hills called the Urals. In the south of Asia, India and China are both considered Asian, and yet they are separated by the giant mountains of the Himalayas, not the hills of the Urals!
The charge of ‘Asiatic’ is always made to justify Western barbarianism. The next time that the West commits some war-crime, we should say: ‘What do you expect of Europe? It is so European’.
Q: What makes a good candidate for the priesthood?
A: A kind-hearted man, who knows the services and is understanding with others, patient and a good listener, who is not stupid and not intolerant, not money-minded and not a careerist.
Q: Why is the West so fond of the Grand Duchess Elizabeth, yet ignores or even condemns her sister, the Tsarina Alexandra?
A: Both were ex-Protestants who joined the Orthodox Church and both were martyrs, and so whatever their sins and mistakes, they were washed away by their blood. However I think the West is fond of the errors of the Grand Duchess Elizabeth, for example her naïve dabbling in politics, condemnation of Gregory Rasputin, whom she had never even seen, let alone met, and her purely Protestant desire for deaconesses, which was naturally rejected by the Church. In some respects she did not fully become Orthodox until the last year of her life, unlike her younger sister Alexandra who joined the Orthodox Church out of love and never tried to change anything, integrating the Faith very quickly, as it says in the Akathist to the Royal Martyrs, she was ‘an example’ of one who turned from Protestantism to Orthodoxy. That irritates the demon of the West, which can only understand Orthodoxy through the deforming prism of its errors. This is why it absurdly accuses St Alexandra of being fanatical, neurotic and hysterical. St Alexandra is a convert who became fully Orthodox and she should be the patron-saint of all who convert to the Orthodox Faith.
Q: Since you like the old calendar, why don’t you join the old calendarists?
A: There is a great difference between being faithful to the old (= Church) calendar and being an old calendarist. Isms are always fatal. The question that I ask old calendarists is: Why do you claim to be Orthodox (and indeed ‘super-Orthodox’), when you are not even in communion with the 215 million members and 900 bishops of the Orthodox Church?
Q: What are the chances that Gregory Rasputin will be canonized, do you think?
A: At the present moment they are near zero. Only two or three bishops are in favour, although there are many priests and people in favour in a few dioceses, like Ekaterinburg, in which diocese Gregory was born and grew up. So a local canonization could happen there in a few years time. The situation is very similar to that of the chances of the canonization of St Seraphim of Sarov in the 1880s (when it had been considered, but was opposed by most of the Synod of bishops), the Royal Martyrs in the Church Outside Russia in the 1960s and 1970s (when, as I remember, it was opposed by many, despite the long-held view of the future St John of Shanghai) or inside Russia in the 1980s (when it was opposed by large numbers of bishops, clergy and people).
In other words, for canonization to take place you need a certain spiritual maturity, you have to be spiritually ready, spiritually awake, and that leads to unity. In a Church of converts, which is what the Russian Church today is, we do not find that. There is still not sufficient consensus on the understanding of the past, neither of the Soviet period, nor of the pre-Revolutionary period. Many supposedly Orthodox academics and also bishops are opposed to the canonization of Gregory, just as their forebears were opposed to the canonization of St Seraphim of Sarov and the Royal Martyrs in the past.
We must wait until such people come round to reality and wake up to the new research done in the Russian State archives, which has completely overturned the old prejudices and ignorance of the anti-Orthodox past, both of the Soviet and similar pre-Revolutionary periods. Similarly, such intellectuals, even ‘theologians’, detest the veneration for Gregory among the devout masses who in turn detest the Church bureaucracy. At present, this canonization is supported only by the most committed and well-educated Orthodox. We must be patient and wait for the ignorance of others to dissipate. We do not divide the Church.
Q: What forms do the ‘the right side’ and ‘the left side’ take, in the spiritual sense of these terms?
A: The enemy wields a double-edged sword. The right side is Establishment Religion: Phariseeism / Talmudism / Monophysitism / Nationalism / Ritualism / Fascism / Old Calendarism. The left side is Sectarian Religion: Saduceeism / Hellenism / Arianism / Scholasticism / Rationalism / Liberalism / New Calendarism.
Q: How can we protect the English language against its bastardization today?
A: We should use and revive the terms of disappearing English. We should use expressions like: my sainted aunt / until the cows come home / till Kingdom come / how far afield? / by George , and use such words as, mild, meek, noble, which the younger generation hardly knows. I am sure that you can expand on such a list.