Monthly Archives: October 2020

How Will the Church in the Diaspora Survive Covid?

Introduction: The Orthodox Diaspora

Although the Orthodox Diaspora in Western Europe, the Americas and Australia has existed for well over a century, it represented little more than embassy churches until 1917. Then, after the overthrow of the Russian Empire by Westernised aristocratic atheists and then Westernised middle-class atheists, it grew enormously. Without the Russian Empire to protect them, there followed the political and economic collapse of Greece, Cyprus, Orthodox communities under the Patriarchates of Antioch and Jerusalem and more immigration, especially after 1945.

More recently the Diaspora greatly expanded after the fall of  the post-1945 Stalinist Empire all over Eastern Europe and, in 1991, the Soviet Union. This collapse has especially affected now EU countries, with Orthodox populations, like Romania, Bulgaria and the Baltics. But what spiritual, and therefore real, identity and significance does the Diaspora have? Does it have any long-term future or will it inevitably disappear into the Western atheist melting-pot of assimilation? What identity can the Orthodox Diaspora have in a spiritually alien and hostile environment?

Two Negative Identities

On the one hand, some look on the Diaspora as merely nationalistic entities. They see it as a mere conduit for cultural nostalgia for a distant and long-abandoned ‘old country’, for flag-waving. But those who hold processions headed by flags, and not by the Cross, are doomed to die out. It comes as no surprise that, generally, the more nationalistic the community, the more its churches closed during covid. After all, one can wave flags at home; why take risks by going to church? Only those who live by faith do not fear death and take communion. The rest, who live by nationalism, disappeared ‘for fear of the Jews’. Moreover, many of them may never return.

On the other hand, some look on the Diaspora as a set of groups which will be assimilated – inevitably. Diaspora-born children and succeeding generations lose their parents’ language and culture; what possible interest can they have in the cultures of countries which they do not know and whose languages they can barely speak? Either the children and grandchildren have adopted another language and another flag, or else they are indifferent to any language except the one they use at school and to all flags. Covid will hardly bring them back to church. If they have been given no spiritual identity, they assimilate.

Conclusion: A Positive Identity

The Church in the Diaspora can only survive, especially after covid, if it is a Local Church. This means a Church which brings together all the Orthodox of whatever nationality and language in the local area and gives them the Orthodox Christian spiritual  and therefore cultural – not nationalistic – identity. Moreover, such ‘local’ Orthodox can only be brought together on the basis of real Faith, on the basis of uncompromised Orthodoxy, and not on the basis of the lowest common denominators of a hotchpotch of folklore. That only produces the escapism of fakery, the irrelevant fairy-tale pretence of being something you are not.

If any jurisdiction is to survive in the post-covid Diaspora (and many are already dying out or have died out), it will be the one which by origin is multinational and also uses the local language – though not exclusively. Such a jurisdiction will give a spiritual identity to its people as the exclusive bearers of local and universal real Christianity, not of folklore or a foreign language – though many may speak one – but of the unique Christian Civilisation, of the unique Christian values which only Orthodox who go to Church hold and live by. Our Orthodox Christianity is a way of life, not an exotic hobby.

 

 

 

Sad News from Mount Athos

I have to say that, very sadly, the below confirms my impressions of my October pilgrimage to Mt Athos.

Fr Andrew

Elder Gabriel, disciple of St. Paisos: Mount Athos needs to wake up, Stop Obeying Anti-Orthodox Agendas

Mt. Athos, October 13, 2020

Holy Mount Athos, the cradle of Orthodoxy that has produced countless ascetic saints, is changing in many ways today, leading away from holy Orthodoxy as it more and more obeys anti-Orthodox orders from outside, believes Elder Gabriel of the Kelli of St. Christodoulos of Koutloumousiou Monastery.

Fr. Gabriel was a disciple of the great St. Paisios the Athonite and is himself one of the most revered elders on the Holy Mountain today. As is characteristic of holy elders, he does not shy away from speaking hard truths when he believes the occasion demands it.

Among the specific issues the Elder mentions in a new letter to the Sacred Community, the administrative body of Mt. Athos comprised of one representative of each of the 20 ruling monasteries, is the fact that several Athonite monasteries have willingly accepted and concelebrated with the Ukrainian schismatics, who are not being saved, he writes.

Elder Gabriel’s letter was published by the Greek outlet Pentapostgamma.

“It is both sad and heartbreaking to realize that the modern Mt. Athos is changing in many ways, from a cradle of Orthodoxy and civilization, from a workshop that produced great ascetics and sacred monastics, martyrs, and confessors of our Orthodox faith, heading towards secularization, the syncretism of ecumenism, and ruthless persecution of the traditional monasteries that resist those who push them off the rails on a slippery slope,” the Elder writes.

 

In his view, the Holy Mountain has become “almost alien and unrecognizable” today, “consenting and obedient to other people’s worldly, always anti-Orthodox, orders,” that seeks to sow discord on the Mountain, and to encourage cruel attitudes towards the monks who “resist the appearance of new and very worldly ideas and models of behavior that are now clearly striving to change the Orthodox faith and the Holy Tradition of our Church.”

And Mt. Athos does not simply remain silent in the face of such ideas, but “favors and promotes” them, “and if we do not recover from this spiritual lethargy, the cost will be the final loss of our salvation,” the disciple of St. Paisios warns.

The Elder stresses that his warnings and admonitions apply mainly to the administrative bodies—the Sacred Community and the Holy Epistasia (consisting of the representatives of a rotating group of 4 of the 20 monasteries), while the monasteries and monks who oppose the secularization of the Mountain are pressured, threatened, and persecuted. This is due mainly to the fact that over the past few decades, the monasteries have accepted a new generation of monks who have no connection to the old fathers and do not know their teachings.

Elder Gabriel connects the present situation to the Council of Crete in 2016, when “Truth was overthrown by man” and heretics were no longer called heretics, “because it was in the interests of all the international, non-Church circles of the New World Order” that Orthodoxy profess only that it holds part of the truth.

We therefore cannot “prevent the reasoning that we may finally discover this divided and relevant ‘truth’ at some point completed in the person of the Antichrist!” the Elder warns.

In 2016, he headed a group of fathers who called on the Sacred Community to reject the Crete Council.

It is especially grievous that Archimandrite Tikhon of the Athonite Stavronikita Monastery was present at the Council, giving the impression that its decisions were acceptable to Athonites, he continues. The Sacred Community also adopted a statement pre-prepared by Archimandrite Vasileios, the former abbot of both Stavronikita and Iveron Monasteries, that proclaimed that there is no need to be concerned about the Council of Crete.

Thus, the Holy Mountain, once seen as the guardian of the Orthodox faith, “is now being dragged along the slippery path of globalization,” the Athonite elder believes.

The Council of Crete was evil, Elder Gabriel believes, and had grave consequences, in particular, the granting of “autocephaly” to self-consecrated schismatics and heretics in Ukraine, and the prayerful communion and concelebration with them by individual Athonite hieromonks and abbots. In particular, he names the abbots of the Xenophontos, Pantocrator, New Esphigmenou, Simenopetra, and Vatopedi Monasteries.

“I mention the abbots in question because … their personal choices have consequences for the salvation of those under their authority!” Elder Gabriel clarifies.

Last year, Elder Gabriel was among the 12 Athonite elders who addressed the Sacred Community in defense of the canonical Ukrainian Church, decrying Patriarch Bartholomew’s lack of respect for the canons. He spoke about the situation with the schismatics again in an interview earlier this year. The respected Elder said he believes that natural disasters that struck the Holy Mountain earlier in the year were Divine punishment for the monasteries that have served and prayed with the schismatics.

In his new letter, the Elder also points to cases of anti-canonical prayer, when the abbot of Dionysiou served a memorial in a Muslim cemetery in Trebizon in October 2018, and when the abbot of Xenophontos served with Catholics in November of last year.
The Holy Mountain “has been under intense pressure in recent years from local, but mostly foreign statesmen and international ecumenical centers to change its Orthodox identity.”

In conclusion, he emphasizes that those who strive for the purity of Orthodoxy out of love for the Lord bear persecutions and accusations as a cross, while the schismatics will go to hell. An Athonite monk “must first of all be a confessor of the faith and its custodian, when alterations and conscious deconstruction is taking place.”

“The schismatics of Ukraine will not be saved; they will go to hell. The monasteries (Athonite or not) that accept them, cooperate with them, pray with them, and commune with them, will also not be saved and will also go to hell,” the beloved Elder sums up.

From Recent Correspondence (September 2020)

Q: Very recently you returned to Mt Athos for the first time in many years. What changes have you noticed since you last went?

A: I went to Athos twice in 1979 and spent time there. Now again I have been there. There have been enormous changes.

I think it was better before because it was poor then and there were virtually no roads, no vehicles, no electricity, no telephones and of course no internet. Today there is all this. There are roads everywhere, new road-building is very noisy and disturbs both the holy silence and unspoilt nature, and there must be some 1,000 vehicles on the mountain now. All of this has been done with EU money. Each monastery, much refurnished and repainted, now has a shop and, ominously, a museum (always a sign of the end, because it shows that it is dead, not living). It is clear that the Greek government, whose flag flies everywhere on the mountain, even on monasteries (you will not find a single Russian flag at St Panteleimon’s) is preparing to open the mountain up to mass tourism some time in the future. Greek nationalism and money are killing the mountain. Instead of being a multinational Orthodox centre, it is slowly becoming a department of the atheistic Greek State.

Q: Is it likely that one day there will be new monasteries on Mt Athos for, say, English, French, German, Italian etc monks?

A: As long as Greek nationalism rules on Mt Athos, that is unthinkable. Out of some 2,000 monks today, 1800 are Greek. It is forbidden by the nationalists to have more than 20 monasteries, which is why the Romanians, say, only have a skete, though with more monks than a couple of the smaller Greek monasteries, why the Georgians lost Iviron to the Greeks and the Russians lost the huge so-called sketes of the Prophet Elijah and St Andrew to the Greeks. Then, there is also the fact that anyone who becomes a monk on Mt Athos must become a Greek citizen! For the moment Mt Athos is a fragment, albeit with some holy people, of the Second Rome, it still has to enter post-1453 reality.

Although I have met, seen or heard of two English monks, two French monks, two Finnish monks and two black African monks on Mt Athos, two is hardly enough to open a monastery. In any case, what we first need to do is to have authentic monasteries in Western countries, using the native language. So far this exists only in France and the USA. The number of vocations is tiny at present.

Q: Should people not leave the Patriarchate of Constantinople because their Patriarch acts heretically?

A: I think it is far more likely that the very elderly Patriarch Bartholomew will soon die. So he will be leaving, not his three million-strong flock.

Q: Recently the Greek Archbishop of America, Elpidiforos, stated to Roman Catholics that the unity of Orthodox and Roman Catholics is not a question of if, but when. What do you answer?

A: He was talking only about himself. His Uniatism is already well-known. In his personal case it is indeed just a matter of when and not if.

Q: Is the Russian Church the centre of the Orthodox world?

A: Like it or not, Russia is the centre of Orthodox Civilisation, even secular historians like Toynbee and Huntington recognised it. How blindly nationalistic do you have to be not to see this? On the other hand, the Russian Church must behave responsibly. It has often failed to do, treating Non-Russians as second-class citizens. Leadership simply because you are nearly ten times bigger than any other Local Church is not automatic, you have to earn leadership and deserve it. As I said – like it or not. The Russian Church still has to overcome suicidal Soviet tendencies and become the Third Rome again. The dead hand of the Soviet Union with its bureaucracy and centralisation is still too close.

Q: Is it true that the Russian Orthodox Church is heretical because it blesses icons and even crosses with holy water?

A: This is an old chestnut that comes up every decade, usually written by a crazy literalist convert or a polemical Greek, together with the accusation that the Russian Church is heretical because we bless icons and crosses!

Of course, it is not heretical. But of course it is not strictly necessary to bless icons and crosses, we do it out of piety. We do all sorts of things that are not strictly necessary – for example drinking a little wine after communion in the Russian Church, blessing kolyva at memorials, especially in the Greek Church, and kneeling on Sundays, especially in the Romanian Church. Such an accusation of heresy because of piety is all on the same level as the ‘no kneeling on Sundays’ convert pride syndrome. We are not supposed to do it, but we do it for piety’s sake. Let the semi-intellectuals, aggressive fault-finders and proud self-justifiers fall silent, also for piety’s sake!

Q: What is needed for unity in the Diaspora?

A: Trust in one bishop by members of every jurisdiction. At present the bishops of most jurisdictions are not even trusted by their own members, let alone by members of other jurisdictions. Trust will bring the leadership and authority essential for unity. A bishop who is subject to some nationalistic group, financial interest or political party earns no trust. Ultimately trust means holiness.

Q: A certain priest recently told me that anyone who chooses to belong to ROCOR is nuts. What would you answer?

A: The priest in question has clearly met such a person who is nuts. However, he has made the mistake of generalising. It is as if I said that you must not join, for example, the Patriarchate of Antioch because all its priests are heretics, when in fact only one is. It would be just as silly.

Q: What are the origins of the Greek priest’s chimney pot hat, the Greek monk’s headware and the Russian skufia?

A: The Balkan chimney pot hat for priests is simply the old Turkish top hat but black, the low cylindrical hat worn by Balkan monks is simply the Turkish fez but black, and the Russian skoufia is simply to keep you warm in the Russian winter.

Q: Where does the Roman Catholic anti-woman spirit come from?

A: It comes right from the beginning, in the second half of the 11th century, when the German Popes forbade married priests. Married men are not anti-woman; bachelors often are. This same innovation introduced institutional clericalism and also, incidentally, led to the disappearance of monks who were not priests and also of deacons; everyone had to be a priest – ‘a mini-pope’.

 

 

 

Covid 19 – The Avoidable Economic Disaster

Covid 19 continues to spread rapidly throughout the world, just as every new virus inevitably does.

The ideal situation would be 100% infection and 0% deaths. Today, unlike in April and May, there are thousands of cases of infection every day (and those are only the officially registered ones) and relatively few (although, tragically, still dozens of) deaths. Some health professionals reckon that between one third and one half of the UK population has already had the infection. This would explain the large number of cases but relatively few deaths.

For most, especially those under 40, there are no symptoms or else they experience it as a mild cold. In general, 90% of students who catch it do not even realise that they have it. However, those who are very frail because of extreme old age (the average of death is 83), or have chronic diseases, or are drug addicts, alcoholics, heavy smokers or are obese, suffer, and, sdaly, many of them die.

Those aged over 90 who are actually infected still have an 85% recovery rate. Most of the highly vulnerable have already tragically passed on – hence perhaps the low death rate today despite the high infection rate. Every day far more people die from other illnesses, including ordinary flu, cancer, heart attacks, road accidents, suicides (from depression brought on by government lockdown – in fact, a lock-up) than from covid.

Panicky governments worldwide have been putting off the inevitable spread of covid by imprisoning the naïve in the population and bankrupting their economies under pressure from the scaremongering and hysterical atheist media. Their reaction is in fact a spiritual problem. It has come about because those in government fear death, instead of fearing God. Through their scare-mongering, non-Christians and, more often, anti-Christians, in the media and in governments have created the real pandemic, the pandemic of depression, unemployment and bankruptcy. For generations this grave error will have to be paid for.