Q: Why is the Church so opposed to sects and sectarianism?
A: By definition, sects consist of those who have cut themselves off from the Church in schisms, because they consider that they are better than, superior to, the Church. In other words, they lack love for others, therefore, expressing hatred. How can you not be against hatred? We can see this very clearly with Protestant sects like Calvinism and Lutheranism. Always negative and doom-laden, they condemn and punish others and enjoy doing this and priggishly justify it. For example, they launched witch-hunts, murdering innocent women.
And we can see the same tendencies with the old ritualists, Greek old calendarists and Russian right-wing émigré groups, whose hatred is palpable. They love to denounce, threaten, intimidate and condemn, telling their victims that they ‘will go to hell’. Such sects always split up into new sects, instead of remaining together, and then they condemn each other to hell! What charming people! However, we should beware that sectarianism as a spirit can spread inside parts of the Church, which are not yet sects. Cutting off from others out of pride, which they call ‘walling off’, causes a lack of communion and that is one of the first and most dangerous warning signs of future sects.
Q: What in your view caused the downfall of ROCOR and does it have any future?
A: Without any doubt this was due to its growing exclusivist political ideology, which, ironically, evolved after signing the Act of Canonical Communion in Moscow in 2007. In desperate search for a self-differentiating identity to stop itself merging with the rest of the Russian Church and its missions, which was its real and inevitable destiny, the elite of ROCOR began to make out that they were the only ‘pure’ and ‘canonical’ part of the Russian Church, rebaptising all, yet all the while pretending to be in communion with it and using this mythical claim to justify themselves. And yet its Americans have openly asked Russia to withdraw its forces from the Ukraine and condemned Russia for re-creating the Russian Union of Russia, the Ukraine and Belarus. They are imposters, Russophobes, only secretly, behind a screen of pseudo-Russian pretence, Russian with an American accent, actually only American and in love with money. They do not think as Orthodox, but have put their American nationality above real Orthodoxy, of which they are embarrassingly ignorant.
This ideology, derived in part from extremist and poorly-educated converts from Calvinist/Lutheran/ Evangelical backgrounds, expressed ethnic hatred for non-converts and non-ultra-conservative Russians, instead of pastoral care for all. It can be said that wolves in shepherd’s clothing destroyed ROCOR. Interestingly, we refugees from the implacable neocon bullies of ROCOR and their cultish sectarian schism and love of money, received and today receive plenty of support behind the scenes from the Russian Church in Moscow, which is waiting for the conflict in the Ukraine to end in order to sort out the ROCOR schism once and for all. Only the very isolated ROCOR remains hostile and in denial. In a word, greedy and cultish sectarianism took hold of ROCOR. Catastrophe was the result.
ROCOR will eventually split into two, the authentic and pro-Russian part in Western Europe going directly under the Moscow Patriarchate, perhaps into separate deaneries, as Moscow has suggested, in North America and Australia going into a Metropolia under the now Archbishop Gabriel, who is Russian-Australian. The Anglo-American Protestant crazies will go off into some ‘True Russian Orthodox Church’ fantasy old calendarist cult and sect.
Q: In Oxford a mixed Greek-Russian-Serb parish failed, splitting into three different groups. Why does a mixed Russian-Ukrainian-Moldovan-Romanian-English parish in Colchester seem to work?
A: Splits always happen because of politics. All three groups in Oxford, and I knew them all, confessed ideologies. The Serbs were post-1945 royalist emigres who believed in restoring Serbia. When the church there was consecrated in 1973, the Serbian people never even took part, despite the presence of their bishop. As for the Greek bishops, they confessed the ideology that the whole Diaspora must submit to them. And the right-wing Russian academic parishioners, who came from wealthy or aristocratic backgrounds looked down on Greeks or Serbs who ran restaurants or worked in garages. In other words, all three groups confessed political ideologies, which prevented them from loving one another.
I have always said to our parishioners that we leave our passports at the Church door. Inside the Church we only have spiritual passports, on which are written just two words: Orthodox Christian. The rest we keep outside.
Q: Why is there a problem with converts in the Church?
A: Converts generally represent zeal without knowledge. This is unlike cradle Orthodox, who often represent knowledge without zeal. Only when zeal and knowledge come together, is there wisdom, that is, discernment. The Church needs both and above all wisdom. In other words, the problem with converts is only if they remain converts, failing to channel their zeal and so integrating the Church.
Q: Is Orthodoxy the same as conservatism?
A: Most definitely not. The last Tsar developed a system of free education, healthcare and labour protection. These were the achievements of Imperial Russia, despite the fact that the Communists tried to take credit for them, just as they tried to take credit for industrialisation and electrification. Today President Putin also stands for social justice in the same way. And all Orthodox peoples desire this. The Orthodox way is very different from conservative right-wingery, which is represented by oligarchs who are the Western elitist way. Read how the first Orthodox lived in the Acts of the Apostles. No capitalism there!
Conservatism in itself is not necessarily Christian at all. For example, it very quickly develops into moralism and then phariseeism. That is not Christian. Christians condemn the sin, but love the sinner. Thus, it is fine to be against abortion, but do you treat pregnant mothers who have been deserted by the father of their baby with compassion and understanding or not? Pure conservatives condemn them because they want to justify themselves and feel their hearts swell with pride.
A couple of decades ago I met some traditionalist Catholics. They liked our liturgy (‘a real mass, much better than the rubbish we have’), liked our values, pro-family, anti-abortion etc. But then they came to know that our clergy are married and that we allow birth control. And they saw in us liberals. In reality, we are above both conservatism and liberalism. We follow the Tradition.
Q: Why are women not clergy in the Orthodox Church?
A: Women are far too important to be clergy. Who will sing?! The whole idea that women should be clergy comes from clericalism (the crazy and deformed idea that the clergy are more important than laypeople) and from lack of veneration for the Mother of God. This at once leads to the Protestant lack of respect for women. This lack of respect is now the norm in Western societies and this is why Western women are obliged to behave like men and work like men to the detriment of their health, well-being and the next generation.
Q: How do you deal with narcissists?
A: You flee them. Fr Sophrony taught me to beware of them in the early 1980s, for narcissists always act by psychological transfer. In other words, as Fr Sophrony said about Chadwick, the Cambridge academic ‘theologian’, who condemned the Church Fathers, when they accuse others of grave errors, they are talking about themselves.
Q: Do you believe in conspiracy theories?
A: Nearly all conspiracy theories exist because people don’t believe either in the human capacity for stupidity or in the correcting Providence of God. I believe in both.
Q: Are all Orthodox services fixed, always the same?
A: They are largely the same, fixed, with the exception of memorial services (panikhidas/parastases) and funeral services. These two latter always seem to be done differently, unlike, for example, baptisms, weddings, or the eucharist, vespers, matins etc.
Q: Is the eucharistic fast from midnight absolute?
A: For those who can keep it, yes. Thus, pregnant mothers, children up until the age of seven and (usually elderly) people who must take medication are excused and are allowed to drink something and even eat a small amount of bread, if necessary – as it sometimes is with certain medicines. In the Middle East clergy usually drink coffee before the Liturgy. This is to do with the climate and it is their custom (I have seen an Antiochian bishop doing it) and they consider that this is fasting, because it is not eating.
In Western countries there is a problem with fasting because liturgies here start late, sometimes as late as 10.00 am or 11.00 and it is difficult to fast. In Orthodox countries liturgies start at 7.00 am, 8.00 and 9.00 and it is easier. However, in the Romanian church in east London, they start at 5.00 am because Anglicans need to use their church at 9.00.
Q: Will Ukraine join NATO and the EU?
A: The question is irrelevant. Soon there will be no Ukraine to join NATO, no NATO to be joined, and no EU to be joined.
Q: Who was St Cedd?
A: Cedd (+ 664) is the Apostle of Essex, the kingdom of the Saxons who lived in the East. He is then the first bishop and patron-saint of Essex, the brother by blood or by monasticism, of St Chad, whose name means ‘protector’. Indeed, St Cedd’s name is pronounced Ched (not Ked or Sed, which are errors) and in other words this ‘Ched’ is probably just another form of Chad. They may even have been twin brothers, which would explain this. Most of St Cedd’s seventh-century cathedral still stands intact, on the marshes where the old Roman fort of Othona stood, at Bradwell-on-Sea on the Essex coast.
Q: Is the existence of different approaches of Western peoples to Orthodoxy acceptable?
A: Of course. We have Greek, Serbian Romanian, Georgian, Arab, Russian. They are all different, but all in themselves have valid approaches to Orthodoxy. As for Western countries, shaped especially by the last 500 years of history of culture, there are different emphases. For example, French Orthodox have an intellectual approach, the Germans emphasise rules (the Typicon was the first book they translated!), the Scandinavians and the Swiss love order, the Italians stress the aesthetic and the artistic, the English the moral, the Spanish the contemplative, the Australians the pragmatic. These approaches can all work, providing that they are not exaggerated and are integral parts of the common Orthodox Tradition.