Author Archives: Father Andrew

Faith or Hysteria? The Spiritual Meaning of Covid-19

The human world can be divided into those who strongly believe in God, those who only weakly believe and those who do not believe.

Those who do not believe are very few in number and generally they are those who in childhood had some form of an absurd manmade religion rammed down their throats. Without any spiritual experience, they therefore, quite naturally after such an experience, insist that they do not believe in the God they were forced to believe in. Their only sad belief is in fallible and mortal man. Their only (tragic) hope is this life, this world, and the possibility that they may have long lives.

Those who strongly believe in God are also a minority, though a far larger minority than those who do not believe. This is because they believe because of a positive spiritual experience. Indeed, it is not so much that they believe in God, but that they know God. They are those who are conscious that God is and that without Him, we cannot exist. They do not believe in man (especially after the mass inhumanity towards man shown by the militant atheist ideologies of the twentieth century), they believe in infallible and immortal God. They know that they will die and they know that death will come when God wills (which is why we do not seek death of our own will).

The middle group are the majority. They are those who believe only weakly. We see them at church every Sunday. They are the ones who reappear after a year or two or more of absence because they have had some problem and need help. These are people who may live quite sinfully but when a difficulty appears, they turn back to God, Who, as they know, underpins reality and is always here, despite their sinful ways. Such people are often superstitious, they may believe in God as in a sort of magic, a kind of primitive animism. ‘Make the sign of the cross for good luck’. ‘Drink some holy water and the cancer will go away’.

On the negative side, such people often use God to justify any sort of evil and personal sin. (Obviously you would not use a base cause to justify base acts – use something noble, the noblest cause of all – God). For example in the First World War German soldiers wore a belt with the inscription ‘Gott mit uns’, ‘God is with us’, though they at the same time sang ‘Deutschland ueber alles’, ‘Germany above everything’, i. e, Germany is above God. And the English boasted that ‘God is an Englishman’. (Lately a Georgian priest told me that God only speaks Georgian, though I have heard similar nonsense from weak-faithed, flag-waving Greeks and Russians). This is just like contemporary Ukrainian fanatics, for whom ‘Ukraine is above all’. Such people can also use the concept of God to justify their personal fanatical beliefs or psychological perversions. Such was George Bush whom ‘God told’ to invade Iraq, leading to the deaths and mutilations of hundreds of thousands. Such also are Muslim terrorists. The concept of God is always used by sinners to justify their sins. This is, of course, not the work of God, but the work of man. Never believe those who claim that, ‘God told me’.

On the positive side, those who only weakly believe are also those whose lives may be changed by the present crisis. Bullied and intimidated by the atheist media, they have fallen into hysteria and panic as a result of a weak faith. This is the opportunity for them to pray and repent, as it is for all. This is the spiritual meaning of the present crisis.

Sadly, it now seems that there will be no public services at Easter. At best services will be livestreamed. This will be like Easter in the Soviet Union. With nearly all churches closed, people prayed at home.

At present this tragic epidemic has killed nearly 50,000 people worldwide (95% of them aged over 70). This is about 10% of the death toll caused by swine flu eleven years ago. However, this time it is Western countries which have been the most affected for the time being. Nobody knows what the coming weeks and months will bring. All we know is that this will end and that all is in God’s hands. Have faith.

 

 

St John of the Ladder and the Virus

Some are talking about the virus to the exclusion of everything else – and of far more important things. There is an obsession of depression and anxiety. If this is the case, turn off the so-called ‘news’. Let this not become a drug! The internet abounds with theories, no doubt because States have often lied to people throughout history with their ‘fake news’. Distrust is the normal attitude among many. Hence, social media are awash with conspiracy theories: that the origin of the virus was with the USA, China, Russia, the Rothschilds, Rockefeller, Gates, Soros, is a move to world government of oligarchs, or is some government conspiracy to kill off all elderly people because governments want to save money. Each theory grows more absurd and more paranoid than the next. In fact it is a waste of time speculating on its origin. That a Chinese man ate bat soup and the bat was infected, may be the best one. However, let us turn to facts.

There are at least 30,000 abortions throughout the world every day. This means every a million every month, twelve million every year, 120 million every decade….. The media do not even mention this. The virus is nothing like as bad as this.

Eight days ago we were one of only seven churches open in the whole of the UK. Now, with the ban on assemblies of people, the clergy and a singer celebrate the Divine Liturgy once a week behind closed doors and prepare the Holy Gifts, so that we can give communion and prepare communion for all those who wish to partake individually, whether in the church or at home.

Let us think of St John of the Ladder. In the Gospel we read for his feast yesterday, we read the story of how ‘this kind (of demon) can only be cast out by fasting and prayer’. Now no-one has forbidden us to fast and to pray. Why do some complain?!

St John wrote his book ‘The Ladder’ and explained that we can climb up to God step by step. And so it is. We do not enter Heaven suddenly within a few weeks or months, as some neophytes assert. All takes time and patience is the mother of virtues. And this virus will disappear, just as it appeared, step by step.

All Orthodox Christians can take communion by contacting our priests for confession and communion. And so individually we can proclaim Christ’s Resurrection, as St Basil the Great says in his canon at the Liturgy.

If Christ returns tomorrow, will we be ready for Him? Here is the real question, what we should be talking about. Let us battle to free ourselves from the virus of sin. Here is the one thing needful.

 

An Important Message from Athos

Святые отцы горы Афон призывают сегодня всех православных христиан сделать Крест на обратной стороне дверей домов. Если у Вас нет Креста, то можете его сделать пальцем, окнув его в оливковое масло. Это серьёзно, так как вчера был отслужен Параклис Божией Матери и эти указание были даны (открыты) самой Богородицей монахам на Святой Горе. 

The Fathers of Mt Athos call on all Orthodox Christians to make the Cross on the inside of the doors of their homes today. If you do not have a Cross, then you can make it with your finger dipped into (olive) oil. This is serious. Yesterday a service to the Mother of God was celebrated and this instruction was given/revealed by the Mother of God herself to monks on Mt Athos.

This message turned out to be not true, even though I had cross-checked it because I did think at the time that it seemed strange. But that is irrelevant. The message could do no harm (otherwise I would not have passed it on), but the message gave consolation and all who made the sign of the cross showed faith and hope. These are virtues. And God rewards those and He makes good out of fake messages from strange individuals.

Faith and Responsibility

The present coronavirus crisis has divided opinion. There is a minority who say that they do not fear anything and we should continue as usual. They look on those who follow government instructions to the letter as blind zombies, victims of government and media propaganda, who lack faith and believe too much in their own reason. For the majority, however, such people are just crazy and irresponsible conspiracy theorists who should be locked away, as dangerous to the public.

It seems to me that, as Christians, we should not fear. Faith does not fear. We do not fear death. We are not cowards. We have courage. However, on the other hand, all wise and reasonable precautions must be taken. To disobey the law is wrong. Irresponsibility must be condemned. And there is no contradiction between faith and responsibility. Over 90% of the victims of the virus are aged over 70. We may not feel that we are going to suffer. But this is pure selfishness. We can spread it! Think of others.

We should be praying especially for the elderly and the sick. Thus, for the moment there are hardly any victims in Africa, where there are few old people, but in Italy at present over 90% of victims are over 70 and there are hardly any victims under the age of 50. But also we should pray for those who are depressed and anxious, for those in big cities like London, where the situation is disturbing, unlike in the countryside and in small towns, where all is quiet. And also we should pray for the self-employed and disabled, who lack money, and those with children who live in flats. And also for the USA, where there is no health system for tens of millions and much homelessness and other diseases, and there may, God forbid, yet be large numbers of victims.

There is now a Facebook fashion of applauding heath workers at 8.00 pm. It would be better to pray. And on Mt Athos this evening (Friday 27 March) (beginning at 5.00 English time) begins an All-Night Vigil to the Mother of God and St Haralampius, whose relics have often delivered from epidemics. This is the evening is when at any time we should all pray, perhaps reading an akathist to the Mother of God. The world has forgotten that miracles can, depending in our faith, happen. We have not.

Akathists in Slavonic:

https://akafistnik.ru/god/akafist-pokrovu-presvyatoj-bogoroditsy/

http://akafistnik.ru/akafisty-svyatym/akafist-svyaschennomucheniku-kharlampiyu/

 

Akathists in English (We have substituted the akathist to St Panteleimon since, as far as we know, there is no translation as yet into English of the akathist to St Haralampy)

Akathist to the Protection of the Theotokos

https://www.akathists.com/saint-panteleimon/akathist/

Article Number 1200 on this Blog: Thanksgiving for April 2019 to April 2020

The Truth will set you free (John 8, 32)

A year ago, in 2019, there came to us revelation upon revelation amid the visit of the Kursk Root Icon of the Mother of God. The rest of that year followed the same course, with great events, both in Church life and in personal life. The schism created by the Patriarchate of Constantinople in the Ukraine had become worldwide and that Patriarchate, with its adoption of many secular values, fell out of communion with the Russian Church. The positive result was the miraculous and long-awaited return of the Orthodox half (58% to be precise) of the Rue Daru Archdiocese from Constantinople to the Russian Church. This followed less than a year after the establishment of the Exarchate for the new Russian-speaking emigration to Western Europe, centred in Paris.

Another miracle took place when in July 2019, after more or less fifty years without a resident bishop in good health, our Diocese of the Church Outside Russia was at last received a resident Bishop Irenei, moreover with the title ‘of London’, which I had much encouraged, and ‘of Western Europe’, for which I had also been pleading for very many years. On the 35th anniversary of my ordination to serve at the altar, I gave thanks for this to the parish in front of Bishop Irenei when he visited us.

At this point, in early 2020, I had seen my many hopes of nearly half a century realised: The Saints of the Isles and other Western European Saints had been recognised by the Church and some included in the official calendar (despite the hostility of some); the Russian Church was One, as the Moscow Patriarchate was slowly becoming deMoscowised, that is de-Sovietised, which had allowed ROCOR to be in communion with the Patriarchate and the Rue Daru Archdiocese to return from schism to the Patriarchate; the Church had effectively been cleansed by the Phanariot schism; there was a Moscow-run Exarchate for the new generation in Western Europe and for the native Orthodox in the Isles and those who wished to integrate Western Europe but remain truly Orthodox; there was our own Bishop, whom I had had petitioned to be sent to us from the USA.; in Moscow an Orthodox missionary society dedicated to our very own St Felix of Felixstowe, Apostle of East Anglia, had been founded. On top of this, on 1 February 2020 the UK had refound its freedom, by leaving the insular EU straitjacket after 47 years.

Then my eldest son found a little church in Little Abington, between Cambridge and Haverhill, for sale. That was on Thursday 13 February 2020. I managed to view it inside the following Sunday afternoon and the day after that, 17 February, I received a loan to buy it. Two days before the Triumph of Orthodoxy, on 6 March, we heard that we had obtained it after an auction process. This was a miracle. Little Abington is seven miles to the south-east of Cambridge, where we had first searched for a church forty years before, in 1980, but had been let down by the powers that then were. This place was where three counties, Essex, Suffolk and Cambridgeshire, joined. It was the third church I had founded. (As someone said Colchester, Norwich and Cambridge made a triangle). The three churches were to represent unity in diversity. It was also near Cambridge, that centre of anti-Trinitarian theology, which we thus challenged.

On a personal level, I had known Little Abington almost all my life – it was on the very edge of all those villages, where for centuries my ancestors had been born, lived, worked and died. And all those villages, the Abingtons, Ridgwell, Hadstock, Bartlow, West Wratting, Shudy Camps, Castle Camps, Great Chesterford, Steeple Bumpstead, Helions Bumsptead, Sturmer, Kedington, Withersfield, Stambourne, Baythorn End, Hundon, their names poetry and music to me, were all haunted not by the cold conceits of atheist Cambridge, but by the humble martyr St Edmund. Clearly, there would have to be an icon of him on the iconostasis as THE local saint. Moreover, the church here was a church that had belonged for 100 years, since it had been built, to waht is now called the Non-Conformist ‘United Reformed Church’. This was a Protestant group to which many of my local forbears had belonged.

When, by the grace of God, we obtained the church, someone said that ‘at last Fr Andrew has been unleashed’. I had been frustrated for over thirty years before Colchester had come in 2008, Norwich in 2015 and now Little Abington in 2020. The three churches were all very different, but united in our One Faith. There is justice; we had overcome our anti-missionary enemies, and there were so many of them who had not wanted a church here, through forty years of patience.

Glory to God for all things!

 

The Churched, The unChurched, Consumerism and Holy Communion

The Church has always been composed of the Churched and the unChurched, those who fear nothing and those who are fair-weather Christians only. However, these two groups, the former always being smaller than the latter, are not two separate groups, with no passages from one to the other. We are saved together. For all those who are Churched were once unChurched, as there is no such thing as ‘a cradle Orthodox’, though some persist in saying such falsity. And all who are unChurched may one day become Churched. Thus, I can say as a parish priest that most of my Churched parishioners were relatively recently unChurched and have been Churched only over the last twelve years.

This is why we reject any form of censorious and condemning phariseeism on the part of the Churched, a kind of Protestant ‘I have already been saved and you have not’ attitude. Similarly, we also reject both the excesses of over the top ‘neophytism’ and lax, anything-goes liberalism on the part of the unChurched. The Churched and the unChurched together combination is spiritually beneficial. On the one hand, the unChurched help prevent temptations of phariseeism and ‘ghettoism’ among the Churched. On the other hand, the Churched protect the unChurched from the twofold temptations of ‘convertitis’, zeal not according to knowledge, or a falling back into the worldly baggage with which the unChurched first came.

Much has been written for the unChurched, especially by authors of the Russian Diaspora. Surrounded by Non-Orthodox and Orthodox who knew very little, as intellectuals, philosophers and artists, they wrote for the educated in order to explain themselves. Such, for example, were the interesting books by Metr Antony (Bloom), Metr Kallistos (Ware), Fr Alexander Schmemann, Fr John Meyendorff and Fr Sophrony Sakharov, among many others. They were good at doing this because most of them came themselves from unChurched, though highly intellectual, rationalistic and wealthy, even aristocratic, backgrounds, with hardly any real experience of the inner Church.

Thus Metr Antony had been an atheist, Metr Kallistos an Anglican, Fr Sophrony had lapsed as a young man into Hinduism with its ashrams and mantras, and, by their bourgeois pianos, Fr Alexander and Fr John had little concept of ascetic and monastic life. Such writers give a very introduction to the Church for the University-educated. Once the contents of their books have been understood, however, we can move on from the ‘starters’ which they provide to the main course, the serious food, the food for the soul, not for the brain, the food of the saints and  the martyrs.

Today the secular baggage which the unChurched of all nationalities (we live in a globalised world) bring often contains a magical attitude towards the Church, that of consumerism. For them what the Church provides can be selected, just as people selects products from supermarket shelves. Of course, this is wrong: the Church comes as a whole package; you cannot choose one thing against another. When we go into the forest, we do not look just at one tree in isolation, we look at the whole forest. This consumerist attitude also implies a magical attitude towards holy communion. Holy communion is not a panacea, which automatically cleanses. It is effective only if we prepare for it, confess for it, dress properly and modestly in church, and live in the Church, live in Christ. The Church is a whole, it is Life, not a hobby or an ‘add-on’, it is everything.

 

 

The Breath of Satan

The current flu virus is going around the world – like most seasonal flu viruses in the past, SARS, MERS, bird flu, swine flu etc. However, the difference this time is in the State reactions to it, which seem to be suicidal for many economies and businesses. They are unique. Conspiracy theories therefore abound. Such that this was all an attempt by a certain jealous State to sabotage the Chinese economy through bacteriological warfare. But the scheme went wrong, catastrophically backfiring and spreading worldwide. Though there is no proof at all of this, it would at least explain the extreme measures.

Some 500,000 died in the 2009-10 swine flu pandemic without any extreme measures. On the other hand, the present death toll of over 16,000 could easily double, double again and double again within a few days or weeks. However, it remains true that so far virtually all, if not all, the victims have been very elderly, already very ill and dying of respiratory illnesses, heart disease, cancer, obesity, high blood pressure, or had extremely low immunity.

We have seen some extraordinary stupidity, official and unofficial: panic buying; racism towards Chinese-looking people; the refusal to ban the visits of relatives to by far the most vulnerable in care homes; the refusal by the government and care homes to give sick pay to care home workers, so that they had to work when not feeling well; the government decision to stop most London Tube trains and then their surprise when the few that were allowed to run were overcrowded. There are always opportunities for stupidity.

More frightening is that the whole planet is being turned into a prison – indeed many have already volunteered to imprison themselves. In many countries nearly all churches voluntarily closed themselves – a situation never achieved by the atheists in the Soviet Union! The silence of Church hierarchies is stunning. Therefore we all have to pray at home, reading the Psalter and the New Testament especially, and the Lives of the Saints. And we all have an opportunity to fast. The word quarantine means 40 days – the same as Lent. Relatively soon, this will be over. It is a great Lenten temptation. Like all temptations it can be defeated. If Satan breathes on us, then we can turn away from him.

Coronavirus Again

Today, like every day, some 350,000 children will be born into the world and 150,000 people will die, among them some hundreds, mainly elderly or already seriously ill, from coronavirus. Whatever happens in the coming months, whether, despite all the media hype, the virus soon peaks as in China, though leaving tragically many thousands with their lives shortened, or if it does indeed become a worldwide tragedy in which several million will die, three things may happen.

Economic

Economically, this could be the beginning of the end of consumerism, that is, the worship or idolatry of things (materialism). This would mean the start of a new way of life of self-limitation, as the Russian writer Solzhenitsyn, horrified by Western consumerism, called for nearly fifty years ago. Certainly, such a new moderation of consumption will be welcomed by all who put the spirit above matter.

Political

Some politicians, seeing how they can control the masses with the help of manipulative media may be tempted to curtail freedoms more permanently. This is already clear in Western European countries of Roman Catholic culture with their dictatorial states. A global concentration camp may be possible – what a temptation for some – control, mass hysteria induced by the thought police media.

Spiritual

Some are already suffering from paranoia and depression as a result of hysteria and panic created in all the Western and Westernised countries of the world. Why should this tragic virus not be a call to repentance? Could it develop into the end of the Western illusion of consumerism in post-Soviet Russia? Even before the Revolution the prophets foretold that salvation would come from China.

What can we say, except that all is possible and that any more speculation is a waste of precious time? Much depends on us being responsible, but all is in God’s hands.

Coronavirus: The Failure of Humanism

In countries where the majority no longer believes in God, there remain only two taboos. They are not any form of self-indulgence, drug-taking, foul language, depravity or even incest, they are sin and its wages, death. Why death? Because death is the only thing that the ideology of secularist humanism, which is indulgence in sin, cannot prevent. Death is the failure of  humanism, indulgence in sin. To stand up and say that we are all going to die and that is the only certain thing in our lives is taboo. And yet it is true, we are all inevitably dying.

Thus, in the UK, about 1,500 people die every day. Out of a population of 67 million this is an average. Although there are very tragic accidents, with children dying, road accidents and the tragedy of suicides, most die of old age. True, the illnesses that come with age, heart disease, cancer, breathing difficulties, are specific, but, quite simply, they come as the body wears out, they come as a result of old age.

As yet there is no reason to think that the number of deaths per day, anywhere in the world, will increase dramatically or even more than slightly because of this new strain of flu popularly called coronavirus. In this country, on average five people die every day of ordinary flu; fewer even than this of coronavirus. In China coronavirus already appears to have peaked.  Most people will not contract coronavirus and even if we do, tragic though it may be, at present there is only a one in a hundred chance of dying of it

Of course, none of this means that we should not take the precautions that common sense always dictates. We do not seek death. If you feel ill, stay at home! That is what people have always done. (Though the current jargon for staying at home is ‘self-isolation’). On the other hand, the emptying of supermarkets and the stockpiling of foods and other products make no sense. Depression, hysteria and panic are simply unChristian. We are all going to die and we all hope to go to Paradise, where there is no depression, hysteria and panic. (= Sorrow, pain and sighing in the Church language of the kontakion for the departed).

Some are already asserting that coronavirus is the result of some form of bacteriological warfare that went wrong. They blame China or the CIA. After all, whole industries are now threatened with bankruptcy.  And individuals who are not paid when they are ill. (Is the remedy far worse than the illness?). However, we shall leave such conspiracy theories to conspiracy theorists. However, there is one who is definitely rejoicing at all this. That is the devil. Not only has he already prematurely ended the lives of over 4,000 people around the world, mainly elderly and already seriously ill, but he has also managed to close churches in many countries. More may follow. Coronavirus is his attack on Easter, he does not want us to tell the world that Christ is Risen, that Christ has defeated his most evil invention, death. That is what is really sinister.

 

 

 

On Empire Building

Over the past few decades we encountered several groups on the fringes of the Church whose manipulative leaders were engaged in ecclesiastical empire building, recruiting all and sundry. These included more recently ‘the Kiev Patriarchate’, various old calendarist groups, including one in Portugal, and before that the Kovalevsky group (l’ECOF) in France, the latter two both claiming on paper to have some 100 priests and parishes. However, as soon as their leaders died, the groups suddenly dissolved and disappeared. They had had virtually no property. Their technique was to ordain any man who came to them, usually an individual on an ego-trip, sometimes someone quite spiritually ill, within a month or two of his appearance. He and his fictitious community would disappear very quickly after the death of the cult leader.

Thus were created impressive-looking lists of parishes and clergy – on paper. In reality, very few of their clergy had any idea how to celebrate, sing, be pastors or anything else. All the cracks in the façade were papered over – until the inevitable scandals began. Some personalities in canonical groups were allowed to do similar things, but none of it lasted; fragmentation always took place within a decade or two of the death of the personality. Unity cannot exist amid sectarianism and personality cults. One tiny diocese created by such a personality, is now split into three even tinier groups, and another elderly group is now literally dying out.

The current administration of the Patriarchate of Constantinople, based in Turkey and backed to the hilt by the US State Department, is set on building just such an ecclesiastical, or rather political, empire, pins in maps and the whole works. Why? Because it is in reality very small and very weak. Real Churches do not engage in such empires of the imagination. For the trouble with all empire building is that it focuses on quantity, not on quality, on surface, not on depth. The result always means dirtying yourself in politics, which in turn means anti-canonical actions. It is much better to stay small and be authentic. Artificial empires never last very long because they are built on fantasies and fictions, not on spiritual realities; they are houses built on sand, not on the Rock of Christ.

This we have seen over the last fifteen months in the far west of the Ukraine with the violent sect established there by the Patriarchate of Constantinople. Now we are seeing it in the Diaspora, especially in the USA with another group:

https://www.helleniscope.com/2020/03/10/many-new-vicars-no-real-orthodox-leadership/ If some Orthodox in the USA, the Ukraine or elsewhere wish to become second-class citizens in the Patriarchate of Constantinople, never receiving authentic autocephaly, and wish to consort with some whose legality, let alone canonicity, is questionable, they are welcome to do so. Unity is good: but that does not mean that God can be united with Mammon. There is such a thing as morality – right and wrong. Anyone, including bishops, who claims that he is a Christian and yet does not know the difference between right and wrong should return to Sunday School for Lesson One: Secular Empires always crash.