Q: Is covid mentioned in the Gospels?
A: Our whole present situation is clearly prophesied: ‘For nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom: and there shall be famines, and pestilences, and earthquakes, in divers places. All these are the beginning of sorrows. Then shall they deliver you up to be afflicted’ (Matt. 24, 7-9). However, Christ tells us a little later: ‘But he that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved’ (verse 13). This is exactly what we are doing and shall continue to do. Only the last one standing wins. Others can come and do, falling into one extreme or another, as they have done over the last 50 years. We shall not, but keep to the middle ground, whatever the persecutions from either extreme.
Q: What is the ‘Orthodox filioque’?
A: This refers to the temporal procession of the Holy Spirit through the Son of God. This is quite unlike the Roman Catholic/Protestant filioque, which asserts that the Holy Spirit proceeds in eternity from the Father ‘and from the Son’ (‘Filioque’). This heretical filioque was only first clearly expressed, defended and developed in all its ramifications in the work ‘Contra Graecos’ / ‘Against the Greeks’ in 1093 by the Norman-imposed, Lombard Archbishop of Canterbury Anselm. This was just as St Photius of Constantinople had prophetically warned was possible well over 200 years before.
This ‘Orthodox filioque’ is explained by St Maximus the Confessor (c. 580-662). One of his friends, St Theodore of Tarsus, Archbishop of Canterbury (602-690), is recorded by St Bede the Venerable at the Council of Hatfield in 680 as expressing the Orthodox filioque, that is, the procession of the Spirit ‘from the Father and ineffably from the Son’ (‘et Filio inerranibiliter’). The near-contemporary academic theologian, Vladimir Lossky, also clearly explained ‘the Orthodox filioque’ in his essay ‘On the Procession of the Holy Spirit’.
Q: Is it possible for those who have already joined the Orthodox Church by chrismation and taken communion to be baptised?
A: No. The Creed states specifically ‘I acknowledge one baptism for the remission of sins’. The Guildford Schism, as long ago as 1976, was an example of this. I still remember it! This was when an uncanonically ordained, though trained in Jordanville, ROCOR priest in London (later defrocked) rebaptised a group of Orthodox ‘converts’, baptised as Anglicans. They had previously been received by chrismation into the Moscow Patriarchate and for months or even years had been taking communion there. This rebaptism created, understandably, a huge scandal: naïve or sometimes proud idealists (idealism is sometimes proud) had been manipulated into believing that this rebaptism was necessary for them to become ‘spiritually pure’ and ‘true Orthodox’ by a guru-like figure, who was in a state of delusion. Once more, it all finished in schism and tears. There is nothing new under the sun. Some people never learn from the experiences of the past.
Such rebaptised generally do not want rebaptism for spiritual reasons, but for psychological reasons of insecurity, which is actually a subtle form of pride, now, they say, ‘we are more Orthodox than the Orthodox’. After rebaptism, they virtually all lapse from the Faith because they do not repent, but rather justify their error.
Q: Why are so many Orthodox bishops so distant from their flocks? Why don’t Orthodox usually respect and like their bishops as pastors, but mistrust them and just shrug their shoulders and put up with them?
A: Orthodox love real bishops. Two of the most popular and universal Orthodox saints of all time, St Nicholas and St Spyridon, are both bishops. The persecuted Sts Nectarius of Egina and John of Shanghai were also bishops, though much persecuted by their brother-bishops.
I must have met well over 100 Orthodox bishops, 10% of the present total, in my time. The problem is that virtually all men marry, but bishops must be unmarried. So the pool of talent that bishops come from is very small and actually nowadays sometimes tainted. This corruption comes from the fact that not all bishops are real monks and who also have the skill set to be bishops. Many are simply celibates, which of course is no criterion at all and may sometimes even be a criterion of abnormality. The late Fr Alexander Schmemann pointed this out in his Diaries and he knew exactly what he was talking about from his experience in the USA.
I think there are four different categories of bishops, of whom only the first category is episcopally and ecclesially valid:
- The Real Thing: He who loves God and loves his neighbour
Many bishops are righteous and even saintly. They could have married, but God has called them to do even higher things. St John of Shanghai, Archbp George (Tarasov), Archbp Antony of Geneva, Metr Laurus and many others I have known, and know, figure in this category. There are some wonderful bishops in the Churches of Serbia, Greece and Cyprus like this at present.
I would like to think that the vast majority of bishops fit into this above category. The three categories below are therefore exceptions, but, however few in number, they still exist. They represent the three main passions, love of money (‘the root of all evil’), love of power and love of the flesh, in Church Russian, srebroljubie, vlastoljubie and slastoljubie. These are all passions which should be knocked out of men if they become novices and then live as monks in a monastery for, say, ten years.
- The Careerist – Love of Money
Some bishops are simply too selfish to marry – no woman would have them. These are generally secular failures, political appointees, cowardly diplomats, State worshippers, nationalists, over-ambitious and spineless careerists, and pompous bureaucrats. They can be good at obtaining and organising infrastructure, but not at much else and they are easily corrupted by prestige, greed, ambition, power and money. In times of persecution, they betray the Church, as they swim with the tide, for they have no principles at all. This we can see very clearly today, as also throughout history, as recently in the Soviet period and today.
- The Pathological – Love of Power
Some bishops are incapable of marrying (and often of forming any normal human relationship). These are men with psychological problems, pathological cases, mummy’s boys from dysfunctional families, gaslighting narcissists, the jealous, the autistic, dry monks who hate people (which is why they became monks, so that they do not have to have any relations with others), fraudulent charlatans, fakes and manipulators who turn the charm off (for those who see through them) and on (for the naïve neophytes), as it suits them. They are characterised by the total absence of empathy, mercy, love and compassion. Incapable of dialogue, they can only monologue in their grasp for money and power to feed their naked ambition. All is justified by them by the word obedience, that is, to themselves!
As they are incapable of normal relationships, they are often ‘zealots’, that is, pharisaic sectarians and extremists, and in extreme cases they are pathological, sociopaths or even psychopaths. This is why this type of people-hater can be found among certain very strict and conservative bishops, with a punishing and tyrannical streak, indeed, some are old calendarist bishops. Though they disguise their hatred beneath zeal, they are soon found out. (There is an excellent and accurate portrait of such a misanthropic Russian emigre bishop in the Paul Chavchavadze novel, ‘Father Vikenty’).
- The Sexually Problematic – Love of the Flesh
Some have sexual problems. Some are homosexuals (though some of the non-practising ones in this group are rather nice people and sometimes even quite good bishops), but also there are those who form ‘gay mafias’ which persecute the married clergy. Several Local Churches suffer and have always suffered from these mafias. Or else there are bishops who should have married and then get a mistress (or a few mistresses, as in several cases I have known). Some of these (the ones with one mistress/wife) are not too bad, but others are atrocious (see below). These bishops are generally liberals, sometimes extreme liberals, clearly for self-justifying, psychological reasons.
Of course, there are, quite commonly, those who combine Type 2 with 3 or 4. They are the ultimate nightmares. However, they are never combined with Type 1.
I can see only three ways out of this crisis, two are idealistic, one is realistic.
The first and most idealistic solution is to have a monastic revival. This would eliminate the last three categories of bishops, who are just celibates (and you can elect to be a celibate for all sorts of bad reasons – see above) and not real monks. Those individuals in the last three categories would then be sifted out by monastic life, which destroys the love of power and the love of money. Then we would have bishops who are all real monks. But this is idealism, not realism. You cannot order a monastic revival. It is organic and takes at least a generation to develop. Then there is no guarantee that the bishops in power will select suitable candidates.
The second solution is that a Council agrees to reinstate married bishops. The trouble here is that married bishops were abolished during the first millennium, sometimes for very good reasons. We only have to think of the married bishops of the Soviet period, like ‘Metr Filaret’ Denisenko of Kiev. He is still alive, one of the most corrupt individuals in the Ukraine. His wife would decide whom he ordained, mainly depending on the size of the bribe the candidates gave her. Do we want that? In any case, realistically, I cannot see any such change being approved by any Council for generations to come.
However, while we are waiting for a monastic revival inspired by the Holy Spirit or a Council, let us have the third and only realistic solution, the only one for the time being. This is to have fewer bishops, those only from the first category, who will then have to delegate much to a robust structure of married and experienced older priests as deans, since the few bishops will be too busy to do much more than ordain, give out myrrh and guide.
Q: Are the canons enforceable? They were all written down so long ago.
A: It is true that many of them are no longer practised or indeed no longer relevant. As many churchmen have said, the canons are guidelines. After all, the word ‘canon’ means ‘an example’. They should not be compared to State laws.
What concerns me is that some converts from Protestantism pick and choose in their application of the canons, just as they pick and choose chapter and verse quotations from the Scripture, failing to read the context, taking quotations and canons out of context. Then they apply them literally like laws.
For example, there is the well-known Canon XX of the First Universal Council which bans kneeling on Sundays, which certain converts love to quote. It would mean that the whole Romanian Church is uncanonical, not to mention millions of other pious Orthodox.
Another case is Canon LXX of the Sixth Council (Quinisext), which states that ‘women may not talk during the Liturgy’. This refers of course to chatting during the service (which at the time was done by certain women in some places). Now misogynists like Makrakis (and some other Greeks especially) have taken this up and interpreted it as if women were not allowed to sing in church! It would be funny, if it were not sad. In any case, if followed, it would mean that the whole of the Russian Church is also uncanonical.
On the other hand, there is Canon XXI of Antioch which say that bishops must stay in the diocese originally appointed for them, ‘even though he is forced to do so by coercion on the part of bishops’. Yet virtually every Orthodox bishop in the contemporary Orthodox world has changed dioceses, if not once, then again and again. For example, our own St John of Shanghai/Paris/Brussels/San Francisco. There are many other examples of canons simply not being applied, and for good reasons.
Then there is Canon LXXX of the (Quinisext) Sixth Universal Council which excommunicates anyone ‘living in the City’ who does not attend church for three consecutive Sundays. Does this mean that virtually all urban Orthodox are excommunicated?
Canon CI of the same Council says that laypeople must take communion in their hands. Again, does this mean that all laypeople are now excommunicated, since none does this today?
There are many, many other examples. Literalism is not helpful: context, interpretation and discernment are all-important with the canons.
Q: What is the most difficult thing for you in the priesthood?
A: I think it is to combine softness with hardness. This is a problem of discernment, especially important at confession. You have to know when to follow the strict rule and when to be indulgent. This does not come from me, for Christ already spoke to the disciples about it: ‘Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves: be therefore as wise as serpents and harmless as doves’ (Matt. 10.16-17). The weak and cowardly should not be ordained. St Paisios said that the present generation is incapable of struggling. This is a real problem.
Q: To what extent can there be variations in Church life? I see also sorts of people, anti-vaxxers, pro-vaxxers, traditionalist, modernists. Is that all legitimate?
A: There has always been room for variation inside the Church, for ‘left’ and ‘right’. In Constantinople itself there were always two parties, ‘the Blues’ and the Greens’. Let people be anti-vaxxers or pro-vaxxers, but they should not try and impose their views of whatever side on others as some sort of dogma or as a reason to break off communion with those who disagree with them. Let us have more tolerance!
All Orthodox agree about what is in the Creed (that is why we are not Roman Catholics or Protestants), but there is room for different views about what is not in the Creed, which is left for intelligent and humble debate. Without that, the Church is a dead ghetto, not living at all, but paralysed and dies out. On the other hand, to fall out of communion with one another, just because you do not have identical views about secondary matters, is wrong.
For example, in the emigration, there were highly-westernised Saint Petersburg aristocrats (some of them already had property in France before the Revolution), freemasons and philosophers, who had helped overthrow the Tsar. Their freemason descendants in the emigration stayed under Constantinople even after reunion with the Mother-Church in 2019 (and because there was reunion: we fought for 30 years for that reunion).
On the other hand, there were extreme right-wingers (let us not forget that Gregory Rasputin was murdered by one of them, Purishkevich, also said to have been a freemason). After one of them, Fr George Grabbe, helped to put St John of Shanghai on trial in 1963, had married ‘the Tsarevich’ in New York on 30 September 1964, the Grabbe family tried to take over North American ROCOR for nearly three decades, until they left the Church. According to several writers, including the Church historian Sergei Fomin, Fr George (later Bp Gregory) was also a freemason (The Lafayette-Astoria Lodge).
In 1966 the Grabbe faction led to old calendarists taking over, which in turn led to a wave of censorious phariseeism and appalling scandals (including those of his son Antony Grabbe in Jerusalem) and schisms, in 1986, 2001, 2007, as extremists who had been taken into ROCOR inevitably left, once more moderate forces came to the fore. Yet there were people like the ever-memorable Archbishop Antony of Geneva of ROCOR who never broke communion or ceased concelebration with the moderate, non-freemason Parisians, our friends from always. It was the selfsame Parisians who led most (58% – not ‘the brothers’) of the Paris Church back to the Mother-Church in December 2019, to our great joy, and it became the Archdiocese of Western Europe. Our long-held dream had come true. We greeted this at the time in several articles.
Inside contemporary Russia we see the same trends. On the one hand, there is the pro-Protestant wing of Fr George Kochetkov and his neo-renovationism (the words of Patriarch Aleksiy II, not mine), as well as the more moderate Protodeacon Andrei Kuraev, Fr George Mitrofanov, Fr Pavel Velikanov, A. Shishkov, all of the pro-ecumenism and pro-modernism wing.
On the other hand, there you have the Stalinist (yes, Stalinist, incredibly!) right-wing, ultra-nationalist, shamefully anti-Semitic, anti-Protestant, anti-Catholic, pro-canonisation of Ivan IV and even Stalin, with their the stubborn refusal to recognise the authenticity of the relics of the Royal Family found outside Ekaterinburg decades ago, with figures like the now defrocked Sergei Romanov and the late ex-Bishop Diomid. (However, so far only the latter fell out of communion with the Church).
What I am saying is that it is legitimate to be the right of the centre or to the left of the centre, what is not legitimate is to fall into such extremes that you fall out of communion with one another. The important thing is to keep to the unitive mainstream of the Russian Tradition, the heritage of the holy Patriarch Tikhon, missionary, American citizen, Patriarch, Confessor and probably Martyr. Intolerance always leads to schism as we saw with the old Rue Daru jurisdiction before the majority there triumphantly reunited with Moscow in 2019. And as can see today with the old calendarist wing of ROCOR, which considers that others are not ‘pure enough’ for them and that therefore they must ‘wall themselves off’ from the rest of the world, like some Protestant sect, and break communion with other Orthodox.
Q: How can you venerate as a saint Emperor Constantine, who was a pagan till the last few days of his life?
A: We venerate Divine Providence acting through him, rather than all his actions. Thanks to Divine Providence in him the Empire gave the Church huge privileges, resulting in the First Universal Council in 325. This is very important because at the time in the early fourth century only between 10% and 20% of the Imperial population were Christians. This is significant because, unlike what the secularists say, the view of the majority is not important. If the minority is following God’s Will, it will always win. Several other venerated rulers fall into this category of those who fulfilled Divine Providence, which was a triumph.
Q: I find it very difficult to sing in church and pray at the same time. Have you any advice?
A: There used to live in Paris a Russian prince, Alexander Nelidov. As a young man he was a professional dancer. However, later he became a priest. The late Fr Alexander used to say that, ‘to sing in church is to pray twice’. What he meant is that the spiritual reward for singing in church is twice that of the reward for prayer. Only a couple of years ago, I discovered that Fr Alexander, God rest him, was actually quoting Blessed Augustine.
Q: You often write of pre-Norman England, but it was pretty primitive, wasn’t it?
A: The period of history between the departure of the pagan Romans in 409 and 1066 is sometimes called ‘The Dark Ages’. However, that fairly recent name indicates rather the darkness or ignorance of pro-Norman scholars about the period. (On the misuse of the term ‘The Dark Ages’ see the work by Seb. Falk, ‘The Light Years’, 2020).
Apart from the artistic achievements which began to be appreciated as recently as 1939 with the Sutton Hoo archaeological discoveries (much increased since then), there were the literature, medicine and science (St Bede, St Alfred, St Dunstan, the Winchester School, Abbot Aelfric, Fr Byrthferth, Bishop Wulfstan etc) and the huge engineering works: the five Cambridgeshire Dykes (built c. 600), the 100 miles or so of Offa’s Dyke (c. 780) and the 100-200 miles of canals and drainage ditches in the Fens (between 700 and 1000, including the huge, 100-mile long embankment preventing the sea flooding the land, known as the ‘Roman Bank’.
This includes the work carried out by the five Fenland monasteries between 970 and 1000), excavated by hand, partly in order to facilitate the transport by barge of building stone for new churches. (In some older books you still come across the ignorant myth that pre-Norman or English churches were all small: this is simply because the Normans knocked down nearly all of them, such as the huge Cathedral in the Old English Capital of Winchester, and only the little ones survived). Much of this engineering work was wrongly attributed to the Romans, much of it still exists (‘The Backs’ in Cambridge is the result of Old English hydraulic engineering), much of it was far better and longer-lasting than the 17th century drainage schemes in the Fens, carried out by 10,000 Scottish and Dutch prisoners of war.
In 1066 the Normans took over the best-organised State in Western Europe, as recorded by the Domesday Book. If you google any of these ‘Anglo-Saxon’ themes, you will obtain a wealth of information and also a rich bibliography.
Q: Is the site of St Guthlac’s monastery called Croyland or Crowland?
A: The town of Crowland is in Lincolnshire. The abbey church in Crowland is sometimes still known by its older and now old-fashioned name of Croyland. Crowland is the modern name. There you can venerate the holy relics of St Theodore, Abbot of Peterborough, martyred by the Vikings in 870. The store-room where the skull is kept is to be made available to Orthodox as a chapel, probably in 2022. It is believed that the relics of St Guthlac are buried somewhere in the graveyard. Certainly the remains of the great English hero Hereward (miscalled ‘The Wake’) were buried there. The site of St Guthlac’s hermitage seems to have been identified recently about a mile away on St James’ Road by St James’ Farm. Archaeological excavations are ongoing. Nearby is the site of St Guthlac’s sister’s hermitage. She was St Pega and the site of her hermitage is in Peakirk (‘Pegakirk’). She is still there too.
Q: England is often portrayed as the villain in Russian Orthodox writing. What have we to be proud of, spiritually?
A: I think you have been reading Russian nationalist writing. Just as British nationalists like Boris Johnson, portray Russia as an evil bear, so Russian nationalists portray England (= Britain) as a rapacious lion. Normal Russians do not see it that way, but are more balanced.
We can take joy in our saints, of the sixth and seventh centuries especially, St Alban, St Cuthbert, St Hilda, St Audrey and many others, like our martyrs St Edmund and St Edward, whose names have gone around the world. In general, we rejoice in the great Old English and their resistance to the Normans in and after 1066 – as we still do resist them, for we follow in their footsteps. Then, who defended Constantinople in 1204? It was the English, as described by Villehardouin and Robert de Clari. After all there had been a massive exodus of the English to Constantinople (and later to southern Russia) after 1066. In the twelfth century the Roman Imperial Army was largely composed of Englishmen. In the twentieth century, we have the royal figures of Sts Alexandra and Elizabeth, of Fr Nicholas Gibbes, tutor to the Tsarevich, and many others who loved persecuted Russia.
There is much to love in England, though not, alas!, its Establishment politicians, who become lord and sirs, even though some are considered to be war criminals. They are ‘Normans’ to the core. This is not a racist statement, as few of them have any ‘Norman’ blood. What we are talking about here is the elitist mentality. Anybody opposed to Orthodoxy can in our English context be called a ‘Norman’.
The crimes of ‘the Normans’ include their genocides in England from 1066 on and for hundreds of years afterwards with their barbaric ‘hanging, drawing and quartering’, their genocides in Wales (the castles), Scotland and Ireland (from the 12th century on to the torture-chambers of the Tudors, to the Hitlerian Cromwell, then the Potato Famine and the ethnic cleansing of Highland Scots in the 19th century (sheep were more valuable than human-beings)), then the genocides of native Americans, of Indians (from the salt-hedge to the 1940s Bengal Famine, for example) and Africa (the slave-trade, which made Bristol and Liverpool wealthy). It is the British who invaded 178 countries of the world, not the English (https://ww2answers.com/qa/which-countries-have-the-british-invaded.html).
I have always distinguished carefully between the British and the English. The British are an imperialist concept, invented by the Romans, taken up by the Normans and then developed in the eighteenth century, which promised that ‘’Britons’ never would be slaves’, but everyone else could be enslaved by ‘Britons’. The British have always oppressed the English, ever since 1066. Russians, and others, need to make this distinction!
The Western World
Q: Why are you not a Catholic?
A: First of all, because whenever I have been to a Roman Catholic church, I do not feel anything. It feels empty to me. In an Orthodox church I feel a presence. Secondly, because Roman Catholicism is not historic, it did not exist until the 11th century. Thirdly, because the Papal claims are purely secular and were taken over from the pagan Roman Empire. Fourthly, because to justify their claims, the Popes altered the Creed with their filioque, placing the bishop of Rome above the Universal Councils. Fifthly, because Roman Catholicism invented the Crusades, the Inquisition etc. Sixthly, because their clergy are forced to be celibate, which means that a section of them are perverts. I could continue, but surely that is enough?
Q: When were organs introduced into Western churches?
A: The first organs in the West since the fall of Old Rome were sent from Constantinople to the Carolingian Franks, Pepin the Short and his son Charles the Tall (Charlemagne), in the later eighth century. In Constantinople they were used only at secular events, however the Franks introduced them into church. By 1054 only a few cathedrals had them. During the Middle Ages they became slightly more common.
However, there was still great resistance and the scholastic Thomas Aquinas opposed the organ as a ‘Judaising force’. Here he was referring to the Old Testament use of musical instruments, which he saw as pagan. Indeed, in some more traditional churches organs have never been introduced, for instance, in the Sistine Chapel. In fact it was only in the 18th and 19th centuries that organs became near universal in Non-Orthodox, especially Protestant, churches. As we know, today they are often replaced there by pianos, guitars, drums, keyboards and anything else you can name.
Q: Why does the West put Christmas above Easter?
A: It is more complex than ‘the West’, which in fact is very varied.
Thus, Protestants have long considered that ‘Jesus’ becoming a man is more important than His Resurrection from the dead and our Co-Resurrection with him. However, Roman Catholics are different. They seem to consider that Christ’s Crucifixion is more important than His Resurrection. However, in both cases it is true that there is an emphasis on the human nature of Christ, which we do not have in the Church.
Q: Why do the Old Catholics not join the Orthodox Church?
A: There exists a curious psychological deformation. Roman Catholics who leave their denomination almost always have to become Protestant, missing the Orthodox boat. This is what happened in the Old Catholic movement, which degenerated into a form of Protestantism, missing the Orthodox boat. As was noted in the century before last, Catholicism and Protestantism are the two sides of the same coin, and that coin is not Orthodox. (Incidentally, in a similar way, some Anglicans have to become Roman Catholics, before they can envisage joining the Orthodox Church).
Q: What do you think of Samuel Huntingdon’s book ‘The Clash of Civilizations’?
A: I first came across it in the 90s in a review in ‘The Economist’, which I had to read for my job at the time and I obtained a copy. Occasionally since then I have used it for reference.
Some criticised it even then as the last gasp of a conservative New England WASP professor. In an age of Black Lives Matter it does seem even more old-fashioned. However, Huntingdon does recognise the limitations of the West, unlike US administrations since the 1990s, which have been gripped by the delusion of global hegemony. Had they listened to his warnings about Western interference in the Ukraine, for example, we would not be where we are now, when Russians are petrified by a NATO invasion of Russia from the Ukraine and international tension has been ramped up by Washington’s aggressive threats. Similarly, there are Huntingdon’s warnings about ex-Yugoslavia, which remains a powder-keg, created by Western interference.