An Old New Year’s Q and A 2023

Q: Both Russians and Ukrainians are supposed to be Orthodox Christians and belong to exactly the same Church, so why is there this scandal of a war between them, with over 150,000 Ukrainian and over 15,000 Russian dead so far? All Orthodox, but killing each other? What is all this about?

A: First of all, if the dead and the living were actually Orthodox, I would agree with you, but that is not the case. First of all, many of the casualties on both sides are not even baptised. Secondly, on the Russian side, quite a few are Muslims and on the Ukrainian side thousands of the dead are Polish mercenaries and hundreds Canadian, American, British (well over 100 dead) and Croat mercenaries. Thirdly, about half of the Ukrainians are not Orthodox, but Catholics, Protestants or schismatics. And finally, most of the remaining ones, the Orthodox, are Orthodox in name only, that is, they are only baptised, not practising, just nominally Orthodox. This war reminds us of just how few real Orthodox there are. Yes, there are Orthodox, but how many are Christians? That is the key question.

Let us remember that in the First and Second World Wars, many Germans were Protestants, as were most of the British. They still slaughtered each other, just as Catholic Germans and Catholic Poles slaughtered one another in the Second War, or, long before, Catholic Englishmen and Catholic Frenchmen in the Hundred Years War.

And in 1912-1913 Serbs and Bulgarians were killing each other. Both were supposedly Orthodox. And in the Second World War, the Romanian government became Fascist and sided with Hitler, and so Romanian soldiers had to fight against Russians. However, the Russians were Communists. It was not so much a war between Romanian Orthodox and Russian Orthodox, as between a Fascist government and a Communist government. You have to remember that. So today, there is no war between the Ukraine and Russia. The war is between Washington and Moscow. The Ukrainians, like most Western Europeans, are just naïve pawns or proxies in the Great American Game to continue its world domination.

We live in the age of nominal Orthodoxy. The results are to be seen not just in the Ukraine and Russia, but all over Western Europe. There are large numbers of nominal Russian Orthodox of various nationalities, but very few churches for them. Thus, of the 140,000 Ukrainian refugees in the UK, there is only one community – of fewer than 40. Even supposing that half the Ukrainian refugees are not Orthodox anyway, fewer than 40 out of 70,000 is about 1 in 2,000 who go to church! The priest himself told me that he despairs. True, we have about 15 Ukrainians in Colchester, but we find ourselves obliged to teach them fundamentals like how to take a blessing. Some are not even baptised.

Many Orthodox in the Ukraine and Russia are only there for a career and money. There have been so many scandals – I have seen it in the many visits I have made to both countries over the last fifteen years. It is clear that several clergy are probably atheists.

Q: What is the main pastoral problem in the Orthodox Church in general?

A: I think it is the fact that there are hardly any parishes, in the sense of Christian communities. This is a problem all over the world, except in villages, but we can take two examples locally. Russians who attend the two Russian churches in London say one resembles a busy railway station, the other a gloomy and exclusive ghetto. As a result, there is a huge turnover of parishioners, with an almost entirely different group of parishioners every few years. Huge numbers have been through both churches over the last 30 years, but only once or twice in that time. They do not stay. The constant core is tiny.

As a result of this absence of community life, there are huge losses. Many Russians from the Baltics, as well as from the Ukraine, have left both those churches. One of the problems here is mixed marriages. English husbands do not want to attend churches where they cannot understand a word. Some Russians now even attend Anglican churches and tell me that at least they are treated like human-beings there and do not have to endure nasty comments from Russian nationalists and (sometimes) Non-Russian sectarian converts. It seems as though these churches can only keep and only want Russians from Russia or those who want to pretend to be Russian. They live in a ghetto, where the persecution of Russians from outside Russia, by Russians from inside Russia, seems to be allowed.

Q: In that case, the case of ghettos and nationalism, missionary work has become impossible. Who will take up the mission?

A: Missionary work in churches which behave like this is at an end. They are anti-pastoral. It is very sad. It is the total rejection of the work of St Tikhon, Patriarch of Moscow, who gathered all Orthodox together in the USA at the start of the twentieth century. It is the total rejection of the great and holy legacy of St John of Shanghai and of the authentic old ROCOR outside Russia after the time of St Tikhon. It is the total rejection of the spirit of the New Martyrs and Confessors inside Russia.

Who will take up the mission, since both Russians and Greeks appear to have have cancelled and eliminated themselves for the moment? The Ukrainians? The Romanians? The Moldovans? All have nominal faithful in the millions in Western Europe. That makes them easily the majority of nominal Orthodox, both in the UK and in Western Europe. But do they have faith? And do they have the necessary leadership? All I know is that we shall continue to do missionary work in our own parishes. The rest will have to solve their own problems.

Q: How does the Orthodox Church cope with the assimilation of children born to immigrants in the Diaspora?

A: Sadly, it does not. I remember 30 years ago meeting a youngish man, whose grandparents had been White Russians and come to England in 1919. The youngish man, then in his thirties, had just been circumcised, i.e. become a Jew. He said he had been attracted by Jewish spirituality. Nothing new here, remember Fr/St Sophrony Sakharov, who already before the Revolution had left his upper middle-class family background and become a Hindu for the same reason. He had found no spiritual food in the nominal Russian Orthodoxy around him. He had to be converted by a semi-literate peasant, the future St Silvanus.

Virtually all the descendants of White Russians from after 1917 (and remember that only 10% of them were practising Orthodox) have been assimilated and lost to the Church everywhere. The only older ones you sometimes meet are descendants of the post-1945 immigration. All the rest are from the Soviet emigration, post-1991. This is the case in both the MP and the ROCOR churches in London. Both would have died out completely had the USSR not collapsed and new Russians moved here from all over the old USSR. But already many of their children, who speak to me in English, have lapsed. They have been assimilated and are lost to the Church.

Today in the UK exactly the same has happened to the descendants of Greek Cypriots who settled here in the 50s and 60s. Their parishes are dying out and the clergy are nearly all very old. There are now over twenty Greek Cypriot Anglican vicars. I met one about twenty years ago and asked why he had done this. His first answer was that he did not understand a word of Greek and then on top of that the Anglicans gave their vicars a free house and a good salary. He said: ‘Why not?’

Q: Why are Orthodox so different? Why don’t you have pews and organs like we do?

A: Your question reminds me of someone who came to visit us eighteen months ago and asked us why we don’t have any VIPs or rich people in our church! I answered him that we don’t have VIPs or rich people, but we do have Christ. Similarly, we don’t have pews and organs, we have the Tradition. Nor do we have converts, we have Orthodox.

Q: Why did Communism spread mainly in Orthodox countries?

A: As one Romanian said to me some 20 years ago: ‘Communism is Orthodox Christianity without Christ’. In the same way we can say that: Fascism is Catholicism without the Pope and Capitalism is Protestantism without morality.

Q: What is the difference between the sacramental theologies of Orthodox, Catholics and Protestants?

A: To be very brief and very general:

Protestantism has no sacramental theology because it has no sacraments. (Exceptionally, the sacrament of baptism, by water in the Name of the Holy Spirit, is the only one which can be conferred by a layman).

Catholicism believes that sacraments are conferred only by clergy who have the authority to do so from the Pope, as he alone holds the Holy Spirit. (Some ‘Papist’ Orthodox like to imitate this!). For them there is no Christ and therefore no Church and therefore Holy Spirit and therefore no sacraments without the Papacy.

Orthodoxy believes that any priest who confesses the Creed, established in the fourth century, and has been ordained by an Orthodox bishop who has canonical apostolic succession, that is, who is in communion with all the other bishops of His Local Orthodox Church, can transfer the grace of the Holy Spirit and so confer the sacraments. Hence the grave spiritual danger of being out of communion with other bishops of the same Local Church and even more the danger if he denies the sacraments of the other bishops of his own Local Church., let alone other Local Churches. That is called schism because it denies the catholicity of the Church and isolates from the Holy Spirit.

Q: What practical differences did leaving ROCOR make to your churches?

A: The first and immediate difference was that we could put out for public veneration the icon of St Sophrony, whom I knew very well. Before that we had been banned from putting it out for those who wished to venerate him. But, far more importantly, the difference is the fact that we can now concelebrate with other priests and other priests can concelebrate with us, notably Romanians, Antiochians and Greeks. Previously, that too had been banned by the sectarian and schismatic mentality in charge. As I have worked all my life for the catholicity of the Church and against the spirit of sects, cults and schism, that has been vitally rewarding to me.

Q: Why does homosexuality penetrate Church life?

A: This always happens in periods of decadence, whether in the first century or in the twenty-first century. There is nothing new in it. The Apostle Paul warns of it. Homosexuality and, perhaps even more often, bisexuality, become the norm among the clergy in periods of decadence. The problem always begins among the episcopate, as with the Patriarchate of Constantinople in the twentieth century (Archbishop Athenagoras, for example), as such bishops ordain their friends, homosexuals and bisexuals, to the clergy, and so form a self-protective mafia. In the USA this problem is enormous.

It is curious how these people call themselves ‘gay’, when in fact they are sad. It is rather like those who call themselves ‘woke’, which means (spiritually) asleep (if not actually dead), not ‘awake’ at all. What is also curious is that the open homosexuals are generally associated with syncretism, left-wing liberalism and modernism (Archbishop Athenagoras), and the repressed and angry homosexuals are generally associated with ultra-conservative right-wingery, phariseeism, misogyny, conspiracy theories and even Fascism. Both witness to a total lack of Love, jealousy and hatred.

Q: Do you feel bitter against the Russian Church for the way they treated you after your nearly 50 years of unpaid missionary service on its behalf?

A: Not in the slightest! What concerns me is what is popularly called ‘karma’, or ‘what goes round, comes round’. As Newton said in his third law: ‘To every action there is always an equal reaction’. All those individuals who persecuted us have died, fallen ill, lost their careers or otherwise been punished. And there is more to come for them. As the Apostle wrote nearly 2,000 years ago, ‘God is not mocked’ and ‘Our God is a consuming fire’. You just cannot get away with it. I have seen it so very often down the decades. Sadly, they will all be punished, or rather, punish themselves, and well before the Last Judgement. This is why we pray for them all. I tremble in their place. If you act without integrity, without a conscience, without principles, against the spiritual and moral law, only out of self-interest, you will suffer. It is inevitable. People like that always end up outside the Church.

Our mistreatment is a loss for the Russian Church, but not for Orthodox Christianity. However, the damage the Russian Church has done to itself is incalculable. Everybody now says: Look at Fr Andrew, he sacrificed his life and career and learned to speak almost perfect Russian and they, who spoke Russian very badly, if at all, mistreated him and all his in that way. Such people will say: ‘There’s no way I will ever have anything to do with the Russian Church, especially not with ROCOR, given the way they treated him’. It was all a spiritual death-wish. The point is that if people really want to commit suicide in the Russian Church, you cannot stop them. I know, I tried to stop them – and failed!

If others who call themselves Russian Orthodox, but who are not, lapse from Orthodoxy, we, on the other hand, do not and will not lapse. When the Russian Church is free again after this terrible political war in the Ukraine is over, we shall see. How is it ever going to rebuild itself? Only on the foundations of St Seraphim of Sarov, St John of Kronstadt, St John of Shanghai and the New Martyrs and Confessors, including the Imperial Martyrs, who are why I am part of the real Russian Church, the Universal Church. It will mean rejecting politics, careerism, love of money and luxury, big black cars and bling, that the Church is not a business. It will mean understanding that money is for doing good, not for filling churches with gold and marble and sewing vestments with gold thread. The tragedy is that some have repeated exactly the same mistakes as before the Revolution. You can join the prophets or join those who stone the prophets. It is your choice. I know where I stand.

In any case, we have always served and will always serve Christ and His Orthodox Church first and foremost, not some manmade branch of it and all its corruption. We believe in the ‘Orthodox Catholic Church’, not some political and nationalist outlier, however big it may be on paper. Quality, not quantity!