Author Archives: Father Andrew

Reflections on the Pastoral Crisis: Seven Days and One Thousand Miles in the Life of a Diaspora Priest

Introduction

Last week was particularly busy. Why? Because we are so desperately short of churches and priests in England. The situation in London is one of pastoral abandonment for many. There is now no Russian bishop in the Patriarchal Church. One of the rumours has it that the Russian bishop cannot return from Moscow because of threats to his life in the present Russophobic UK. Is that true? There are other rumours which say quite the opposite. Now there are threats to send any Russian priests who do not have British nationality back to Russia. Who will listen to confessions in Russian? Already the Russian Patriarchal Church has more or less done like the Greek Church, which does no confessions at all because of the shortage of priests (or worse because of an anti-Orthodox ideology), whereas the Russian Patriarchal Church uses the (uncanonical) ‘general confession’. In any case both generally refuse to listen to confessions.

All I know is that in 1985 some had to agree to become freemasons before they could be ordained to the priesthood. (I was one of them and refused, so remained a deacon for seven years). Now in 2022, it seems that you have to agree to do even worse and compromise yourself with the powers that be.

Monday: 100 miles

I travel locally to see several parishioners.

The main topic is the new Ukrainians. Thirty years ago there were 50 million Ukrainians in the Ukraine. Today there are 30 million. Who wants to have and bring up children in a wretchedly poor country without a future? I have been to the Ukraine many times and noticed the absence of children – one-child families are very common. On top of the low birth-rate and the high death-rate (high because who wants to live in a wretchedly poor country without a future?), there are the refugees.

According to UN statistics 10,000,000 Ukrainians fled the Ukraine between February and July 2022, but 4,000,000 returned, making 6,000,000 refugees. 2,000,000 have taken refuge from Ukrainian bombardments in Russia since the war began in 2014. That still leaves 4,000,000, who are now in EU Europe and the UK, half of them in Poland. Quite a few appear to be from the far west of the Ukraine (where, ironically there is no war), so they are Catholics, that is, Uniats, or belong to one of the other schismatic nationalist groups, which worship not God, but the Ukraine. Nobody knows what proportion are canonical Orthodox and what proportion of those are churchgoers, but it must be at least 1% of 4,000,000, or 40,000. Thus, of the 104,000 new Ukrainians in the UK, there may be over 1,000 who are churchgoing, canonical Orthodox.

If these refugees are concentrated in a particular city, for example, in London, they will inevitably set up their own church, as has already been done in Brussels and elsewhere, under Metr Onufry. The Russian Church will not help them, but we in the Romanian Church can help, as we are politically neutral, outside both Russian and Greek political scandals. (This includes the latest scandal in the Russian Church, the highly divisive meeting between the Pope and Patriarch Kyrill, planned to take place in Kazakhstan next month during what is an existential war). Just in our part of the Romanian Church, we have four Russian-speaking priests. (Russian is the main language of the Ukraine. Just as Welsh is the second language of Wales, Ukrainian is the second language in the Ukraine).

From Amsterdam I hear of the pastoral disaster there. The clergy and many laypeople of the large Russian church, which I know very well, has joined the Greek Church, thus splitting the people into two groups Those who did not want to change now celebrate with their (Belarussian) priest in the Armenian church building. I feel sorry for the traitors and narcissists, victims and perpetrators alike. (Yes, even most victims have their responsibility, as it is often cowardice that brought them there, not truth). However, to be overwhelmed by sadness or disgust is not an option for an Orthodox Christian. Some there are already regretting the move, in view of the scandal in the Greek Orthodox Church in North America. Our own Greek parishioners in Colchester know all about this: we live in the internet age, you cannot hide.

Next I receive a phone call from York. I have been going there for years. The community needs its own church. And for that we need money. One couple I knew well actually returned to the Crimea in despair at the situation. I will have to return to York soon to continue missionary work there.

Tuesday: 150 miles

Today is a prison day. I have been a prison chaplain for 10 years now in four different prisons. I do not really have time to do it, but there is nobody to replace me. Of Orthodox prisoners a majority are Romanian. This is normal, given that some two-thirds of the 670,000 Orthodox in the UK are Romanian. Indeed, our Autonomous Romanian Metropolia in Western Europe has six bishops and nearly 700 parishes, which makes it bigger than some Local Churches.

Perhaps all Orthodox in Western Europe should be under the Romanian Church, as it is by far the biggest? It is in fact multinational and allows both calendars. Many of our clergy speak Russian and there are many Russian and Romanian-speaking Moldovans here (20% of churches in Moldova itself are under the Patriarchate of Romania). Sadly, most Moldovans in England and France have been forced to leave the Patriarchate of Moscow, for complex and very dark reasons internal to that Patriarchate.

If there were one united, multinational, bicalendar Western European Orthodox Church, there would be a flock of perhaps 5,000,000, at least 2,000 parishes, many monasteries and over 25 bishops. This is bigger than any of the Four Ancient Patriarchates or the Georgian Church. We should have had such a Local Church years ago. Instead, we get political and divisive ideologies from Russians and Greeks, sometimes even sectarian and schismatic tendencies, which split the Orthodox presence and destroy all hope of a Local Church. This is abnormal. I want my children and grandchildren to be part of a Local Church.

In reality, of course, by far the largest jurisdiction of Orthodox is that of Orthodox who do not go to church anywhere. And in part this is because they have been so disgusted by Orthodox bishops and priests who want only money or power that they do not go to church. As one taxi-driver parishioner from Colchester said to me last year in all too fluent English: ‘In my country the priests are all (expletive deleted) thieves’. Why indeed should people go to church in those conditions?

At the end of the day, I have a house blessing for a Ukrainian parishioner. Although she has been here for 15 years, now all her family are refugees in London.

Next, I receive news from the Western Rite parish. Here too is another pastoral catastrophe: they are being abolished. I know little about the ‘Western rite’. I have only ever been Orthodox, I know only one rite, the Orthodox Christian rite, which for me is universal, Eastern and Western, Northern and Southern. But the situation shows there is still a real pastoral need for an all-English parish in London. We have been waiting for one for 50 years. Much has been prevented by the vanity of individual bishops. It is the big fish in the little pond syndrome.  Vanity, already pernicious, develops into egomania and narcissism when it is given power, hence the big fish, so all except cowards and yes-men inevitably leave, hence the little pond.

A married man has problems developing into a narcissist, just as a monastic bishop. Both are restrained. However, a non-monastic bishop has no restraints. And then the usual disasters follow. I have seen it all so often before. There is indeed nothing new under the sun.

Wednesday: 150 miles

Today is a day of house blessings and visits up the east coast to Lowestoft. Although we have our parish we set up in Norwich, Norfolk needs parishes elsewhere. Our community in Yarmouth is very small, but we do have others in west Norfolk, where people feel abandoned. The obvious place to set up a church there is Kings Lynn, where I have been twice recently. Here I feel really concerned. If I had the money, I would definitely start something here. We should dedicate a new parish to the Tsar-Martyr, as he visited the town in summer 1894. This would bring in Orthodox from south Lincolnshire. Could the Romanian priest in Boston help us?

One of our parishioners phones to tell me about how in Belarus, where her very ill grandmother lives, it costs 100 euros to get a priest to cross the road (the church is opposite the grandmother’s  flat) and give her communion. That is a week’s salary in Belarus! If it were 100 euros here, it would be scandalous, but there, it is ten times more scandalous. Sadly, it is similar in some parts of the Russian Church, where some bishops demand money and threaten their faithful clergy if they do not get it. St John gave his shoes away to the barefoot, others buy themselves £400 shoes….what a difference….

Thursday: 150 miles

Today I go to south Essex for the funeral of a baby. It is very sad. The local priest told the mother that God had taken the life of her baby as a punishment for her not being married. It is hard to believe that someone as heartless as that could be ordained. I would like to know the name of the bishop who ordained him.

There follows the wake and the blessings of two houses. Here too, in this large city, we have parishioners and we have long needed to set up a church. I know where we can get a priest, but how can we buy a building?

Later I return to Colchester to tidy the church for the Liturgy on Saturday. In the early evening I meet one of our Ukrainian parishioners who has brought us a large parcel with icons and rosaries we ordered last January. This has been brought by courier from the Ukraine (he travels by van every week and he often brings us things we have ordered).

The main very large icon is wonderful. We ordered it in January and would have had it months ago but for the war. The iconographer, who lives in a house outside Kiev which is used by our church, fled when she saw a missile flying overhead last March. We had hoped to receive this icon of the 1962 prophecy of St John of Shanghai for our patronal feast on 2 July. Then he entrusted our Church to St Alban. The icon illustrates this. It has come now, by Divine Providence. This is our parish icon of St John and St Alban.

Friday: 120 miles

Today is another prison day, though I am giving communion in an old people’s home first. Here there lives an elderly woman who remembers Fr Ambrose Pogodin from the old Emperor’s Gate church in London. Fr Ambrose, a real scholar who knew the Latin Fathers, was of the old generation of ROCOR. Archbishop Seraphim of Brussels reminded me a lot of him. Both were completely unmercenary, lived in poverty, and dressed and celebrated in whatever they had. No bling for them. They were the real thing.

Saturday: 170 miles

Fr Ioan serves the Liturgy in Colchester. But this morning I have a child baptism in the hospital in Cambridge. Our priest in our new Moldovan parish there speaks only Romanian and Russian. Here we need English. Though the boy is a Russian Muslim, he speaks very little Russian. We need bilingual clergy who speak a language like Romanian, Greek or Russian, but also English. This need has been urgent for 50 years. English is essential to communicate with the children. They were born in England and speak English far better than their parents’ native language. They go to English schools.

It is always a shock to me that I have hardly ever seen children in Greek churches, except for Romanian children. It is much the same story in Russian churches here (though not in Russia). This was how the old pre-Revolutionary Russians died out. I can remember how in the 1970s Russian churches typically did 12 funerals a month and 1 baptism every two years. Now we do 12 baptisms a month and one funeral every two years.

In the afternoon I have three Russian baptisms. They have no church where they live, so they have come here. In the evening I have a memorial, the Vigil service and confessions.

Sunday: 60 miles

Confessions. Liturgy.

Conclusion

In the last 30 months I have covered 70,000 miles in my car doing pastoral work.

I feel as though I am the only Russian-speaking Orthodox missionary in the country, or at least in the Eastern quarter of the country. In the last year, apart from Essex and Suffolk which effectively form our parish, I have been to see Russian and English-speaking Orthodox in Norfolk and Cambridgeshire, Hertfordshire and Bedfordshire, Kent and Sussex, Lincolnshire and Yorkshire, Northamptonshire and Warwickshire, over twelve counties – exactly one quarter of the country.

I have spent nearly fifty years, thirty-eight of them as a clergyman, working towards the creation of a Local Church both here and in Western Europe. Neither the Greek and Russian Churches seems to be serious about setting up a Local Church here. Despite their mountains of fine words over the decades, there are no actions, promises are broken and indeed there is only negativity towards others and narrow ideologies. Can the Romanian Church help? Someone has to lead the way, to be a pioneer, especially if others are only interested in futile politics, divisions, arguments and intrigues. A Local Western European Orthodox Church remains our long-needed ideal.

This Sunday evening I had just written these words, almost in despair at the pastoral crisis, when within five minutes, I have received messages from two Ukrainian priests who wish to come here. Since we are in the Romanian Church, they are particularly interested. Godsends, literally. Tomorrow I start the search for paperwork.

7 August 2022

News from the Orthodox World

‘Their psychological profile is narcissistic at best, and fully psychopathic in most cases. That also gives them an advantage, especially when dealing with weak, ignorant and easily influenceable people. But when they meet a determined pushback, they quickly become clueless and helpless’.

A Russian Commentator on Contemporary US Politicians

We report the below, without taking sides, but simply with the intention of alerting readers to otherwise unreported events in the Orthodox world:

On 27 July it was announced in Moscow that legal cases are being instituted against those Ukrainian nationalist individuals and groups who have seized hundreds of churches belonging to the Russian Orthodox Church in the Ukraine, especially in the western third of the present country. The usual technique is to send in violent criminal elements who obtain the keys to the church and then lock it up so that nobody can use it. This generally takes place while the local authorities and police stand by and let it happen despite the opposition of the local faithful. Such churches afterwards simply stand empty.

This statement makes it clear that the Russian intention is to take over the whole of the Ukraine. Moreover, this was confirmed by Dmitry Peskov, Press Secretary to President Putin who on 28 July declared that ‘the whole of the Ukraine needs to be denazified’. Since other Russian representatives have been saying much the same, it seems obvious that the conflict in the Ukraine will go on for quite some time, as it will take time for the Russian military to destroy all the Western weapons being sent there. It may be a very cold winter in Europe.

Meanwhile, the Lithuanian government, following the UK and Canada, have banned (‘sanctioned’) the presence of the Russian Patriarch Kyrill on its territory. This follows the policy of the CIA and other Western secret services. In the UK, for example, nobody who works for certain State organisations, like GCHQ, is allowed to be Russian Orthodox, but must belong to the Greek Orthodox Church. In the case of Lithuania the ban on Patriarch Kyrill is being upheld by the local representatives of the Russian Orthodox Church. This is very strange because they recently defrocked a small number of clergy who wanted the Lithuanian Church to go under the Patriarchate of Constantinople, including one very senior clergyman. It is not clear what is happening there.

And in Africa the Exarch, Metropolitan Leonid of Klin, stated on 28 July that the number of clergyman in the Russian Exarchate there has doubled since the end of December 2021, when it stood at 102, now standing at over 200 and still growing. He declared that the reason for this growth is that so many wish to avoid falling into the schism of Patriarch Theodore of Alexandria who chose to support the schism in the Ukraine. He added that the Patriarchate of Alexandria had persecuted clergy, put them on trial and tried to throw out clergy, their families and parishioners from their own churches, but the clergy had remained faithful to the canons (we might add, just like in England). He added that ‘the Russian Orthodox Church has come to Africa for ever’.

It must be said that Russia has received backing for its operation in the Ukraine from Africa, as well as from China, Iran, India, the vast majority of countries in Asia and also in Latin America. As Russian commentators have put it: ‘The West has never understood and will never understand that Russia is not a geographical, economic or political phenomenon, but above all a spiritual one, which is why it is impossible to destroy it by physically taking over its capital or even its whole territory, as was done in 1917’…. ‘Almost one thousand years of Western Imperialism are coming to a shameful and self-inflicted death, one way or another’.

Like the rest of the Orthodox world, and indeed the world in general, we await further developments.

 

 

Unholy spirits or the Holy Spirit?

‘Russia and its Orthodox Church think they are the holiest and most traditional, but see how they stack up in their corrupt nation! Not only among the world’s highest rates for alcoholism and abortion, they also enter the top fifty countries for rates of homicide, no matter how many bishops or priests they have’.

Opinion seen in social media

 

I suspect that the writer of these words is a neophyte who has just had his first disillusion. If he has faith he will survive, as he will after all the disillusions to come. If you don’t want to be disillusioned, it is very important to get rid of your illusions as soon as possible. If he is still there in fifty years time, then all is well. After all, Orthodoxy is not about ‘becoming Orthodox’ but about remaining Orthodox.

First of all, his ‘Holy Russia’ is a mistranslation of Holy Rus, Rus meaning all who confess the Russian Orthodox Faith, wherever they may live. Do not confuse it with the Russian State, either before the Revolution, or after the Revolution, or with the post-Soviet State. This young man mentions ‘Holy Rus’. Although I prefer the term ‘Orthodox Rus’, it refers to the ideal of holiness, which is nevertheless a real aim among a few, I would say, among about 1 in a 100.

Thus, there are 200 million nominal Orthodox in the world, of whom about 75% are Russian Orthodox. However, only about 1 in 100 actually belong to Holy Rus, that is believe in and strive for the reality of holiness of Russian Orthodoxy. Similarly of some 20 million Romanian Orthodox (thus Russian and Romanian Orthodox together number 85% of the nominal total), only about 1% belong to Holy Romania, and the same proportions go for Holy Greece, Holy Serbia, Holy Bulgaria, Holy Georgia and all the even smaller Local Churches etc. (However, in my wide travels throughout the Orthodox world, I would make one exception, Moldova, where in my view perhaps as many as 4 in 100 are seeking ‘Holy Moldova’).

We can say then that only about two million Orthodox actively confess and therefore seek the Orthodox Christian ideal of Holiness, that is, they have real faith. In countries of the Diaspora, where even nominal Orthodox rarely make up more than 1% of the population, I would therefore put the number of those who belong to Holy Rus, Holy Romania, Holy Bulgaria etc, or for that matter to Holy England, Holy France, Holy Italy etc, at about 1 in 10,000 of the population.

Here we state that the only Faith that has Holiness as its ideal is Orthodox Christianity. This is because of our confession of the Holy Spirit, which is unique to it, which can change it from a mere State-sponsored or institutional religion to real faith. Thus, the religion of Catholicism has substituted for the Holy Spirit a kind of pious, obligatory moral obedience to its Pope. The Protestant religion has substituted for the Holy Spirit the priggish prudery of a moralising puritanical straitjacket, in which sexual sin is virtually the only type of sin. Other religions have their ideals too. Islam has as its ideal that there is only One Great God, pantheistic Hinduism that there are thousands of gods, Buddhism has as its ideal meditation to reach ‘nirvana’ etc

However, in fairness to Non-Orthodox, the majority of Orthodox Christians, as is especially visible among some senior clergy, have also substituted mere ‘religion’, State-sponsored institutionalism, for the Holy Spirit and faith. There is at times little difference between them. A favourite ‘Orthodox’ substitute is Nationalism. The young man quoted above has clearly seen this substitute among some and now seems to be on his way to denying that Holy Rus even exists! Perhaps he is obsessed with someone else’s nationalism, American nationalism, for instance. Another favourite ‘Orthodox’ substitute for the Holy Spirit is Phariseeism, with its ritual observances and cult of blind obedience to anti-spiritual and anti-Christian sectarian gurus, usually of clerical rank.

The combination of these two deviations, Nationalism and Phariseeism, is the worst of all worlds. I visited the Ukraine many times over the last few years, after I had been appointed ROCOR missionary representative for Europe by the late Metropolitan Hilarion (Kapral). (This was in the days of the old, pre-Trump Church). In the Ukraine I saw exactly that Uniat spirit which has long existed there. Basically: As long as the rite is the same, nothing matters. ‘Glory to the Ukraine’ – as for God, he has no importance. Today we pray for Kyrill, tomorrow for Francis, the day after for Filaret, the day after that for Epiphanius and then…for Antichrist. But the rite is the same. Nothing else matters. Here is why there are so many ‘Churches’ in the Ukraine. As for the Holy Spirit, some of them there have clearly not yet heard of Him, which is why those are murdering their own people.

However, in fairness to the 1% of ‘Holy Ukrainians’, who face the enmity of the 99%, is it any better in Russia? After all, it was Russian bishops who persecuted St John of Kronstadt, the Eucharist-Giver, who at last changed the very decadent attitude to communion before the Revolution. Those bishops made him rector of the church he had himself founded only after 40 years of his priesthood! Another St John, St John of Shanghai and Western Europe (as we have always called him here), was deprived of his see and put on trial in San Francisco, not by Arians, Iconoclasts, Papists, Turks, Communists, Nazis or Ecumenists, but by his very own fellow ROCOR bishops, some of whom I knew and were still unrepentant in the early 1990s. Their hounding and harassment led to his early death.

But they were both only following in the footsteps of a third St John, St John the Baptist. And we know what happened to him. But we should not despair. Only in the last six weeks, icons of St John of Kronstadt (in St John’s Church, Colchester) and of St John the Baptist (in the Russian Patriarchal Cathedral in Kensington) have given off myrrh. All Orthodox (if only all had seen it) who have seen the excellent film ‘The Man of God’, or before that read Sotos Chrondopoulos’ excellent Life of St Nectarius, will know what I am talking about.

Quite simply: Who demanded the crucifixion of Christ? It was the chief priests, the intellectuals (‘scribes’) and self-appointed righteous (‘pharisees’). Such is the lot of us all, to be put on trial by the same Caiaphas for being real Orthodox. And we recall this today especially, when we remember how the Imperial Martyrs were betrayed precisely by Grand Dukes, famed aristocrats, generals, businessmen…

I remember in 1980 a conversation I had with the late Fr Alexander Schmemann about the episcopate inside the then Soviet Russia. He simply answered my question about them: ‘Half of them are saints and the other half are rogues’. I remember later a young man coming from Eastern Europe. He was quickly made priest, though only because he spoke Russian and knew how to flatter. He openly molested women-parishioners and stole large sums of money from his church, driving all away with his scandalous conduct. For that he was given award after award by his bishop. He should have been defrocked several times over, as also, frankly, his bishop. But, instead, his bishop was also given awards, despite destroying his diocese by ordaining and encouraging such a figure and defrocking others.

The problem today is that because many senior clergy have no authority –because there is no presence of the Holy Spirit among them – they only know harsh and punitive authoritarianism. The search among careerists is not for the Holy Spirit, but for money (corruption), glory (power), and perversion. All of this is vain money, vainglory and depravity – the same as in most contemporary Western political life, which increasingly is entered only by those who have failed in the real world and seek money and power or else are perverts. None of them has yet heard that: ‘Thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory’.

Here we cannot fail to mention the elephant in the room, the homosexualisation of the Orthodox episcopate over the last fifty years. Although sad exceptions have always existed, for example in sixteenth-century Russia (when they were called ‘sodomites’) or in nineteenth-century Russia, their numbers now have risen everywhere. Of the 1,000 Orthodox bishops in the world (I must have met about 100 of them over the last fifty years), 20% – 30% of them must be homosexuals. Thus, Greeks speak of ‘the lavender mafia’, Russians of ‘the pale blue mafia’ and Americans simply of ‘the gay mafia’. (Thank God there have so far been only three known examples of pedophile bishops, one in France, one in the UK and one in North America). We know of seminarians of a very conservative jurisdiction who openly displayed themselves and yet years later were ordained and are now consecrated. The problem with such is also their appalling jealousy of and therefore persecution of, married clergy who have children, which they cannot have. The latest scandal in the Greek Church in the USA only confirms this. Such is the danger of being ‘first without equals’.

Yes, the end of the world is coming. There will come a point when none of us will be able to go to church any more and there will be no sacraments. Then the end will come, on account of narcissists, who ‘love their own selves’ and are ‘unholy’ spirits. It was all foretold:

‘This know also, that in the last days times of stress shall come. For men shall be lovers of their own selves, lovers of money, boasters, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, without natural affection, implacable, slanderers, incontinent, fierce, despisers of those that are good, traitors, reckless, swollen with deceit, lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God, having the form of godliness, but denying the power thereof: from such turn away’.

(2 Timothy 3, 1-5)

‘We ourselves glory in you in the churches of God for your patience and faith in all your persecutions and tribulations that you endure’.

(2 Thess. 1, 4)

St John’s Church, City of Colchester

The Imperial Martyrs, 2022

A Parable

There was once a priest who was visited by satan. Satan promised the priest fame and glory, great riches and power. The only thing was that in return satan wanted the priest’s eyesight, so that the priest would then be blind. Nevertheless, the priest was tempted, thinking of all that fame, all the awards he would get, those riches and that power.

As he was not sure what to do, he decided to go to his bishop and ask him what to do. Arriving at his bishop’s residence, which he noticed was in a very rich place, he was met by a servant of the bishop. When the priest told the servant that he wanted to see the bishop, the servant answered him: ‘You can talk to the bishop, but he can’t see you, he is blind’.

Disunity and the Ukraine

The news that the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, the local jurisdiction of the Patriarchate of Constantinople, intends to consecrate Alexander Belya as an auxiliary bishop of the Greek Archdiocese for its ‘Slavic Vicariate’, has brought even more disunity there.

In a letter addressed to the Greek Archdiocese’s Archbishop Elpidophoros, the hierarchs of the five other largest Orthodox dioceses in North America, warn that the consecration of Belya poses a great threat to Orthodox unity in America. Indeed, if he is made a bishop and therefore becomes a member of the Assembly of Bishops, the hierarchs warn that they will be forced to leave the Assembly, as they recognise his defrocking in 2020 as canonical. The defrocking was done by ROCOR, which has received many strange clergy from the Ukraine over the last thirty years, who have always caused profound division and distress.

The hierarchs are already concerned about the break in communion between the Moscow and Constantinople Patriarchates, following the latter’s establishment of their Epiphanius Church in the Ukraine in 2019. The Assembly hierarchs should do nothing to further impede the eventual return of Russian hierarchs to the work of the Assembly, write the OCA, Antiochian, Bulgarian, Romanian and Serbian hierarchs. Moreover, we have heard that Archbishop Elpidophoros, a highly controversial political figure, is opposed in this decision by most of his own Greek bishops in the USA.

Yet again, we see how the Ukraine stands at the centre of disunity within the Orthodox world. First, there were the uncanonical ‘Churches’ of Filaret and Epiphanius. Then, according to some critics, declared in a Sergianist manner, there is the virtually autocephalous Church under Metr Onufry, forced into being under State pressure and the theft/closure of his 250 churches in the last four months. Finally, there is the fourth Ukrainian Church, consisting of those who continue to commemorate Patrarch Kyrill. Thus, we actually have four groups on the same territory, all using more or less the same language and same rite. They are divided by nationalism, not by doctrine.

I visited the Ukraine five times between 2016 and 2021, as the Missionary Representative for Europe, appointed by the late Metropolitan Hilarion (Kapral), the last ROCOR First Hierarch. I can confirm that Inter-Orthodox relations throughout the whole Orthodox Church are in a state of paralysis and will remain so until the conflict in the Ukraine is over. How long will this be?

According to Western data revealed at the recent NATO meeting in Brussels, Ukrainian military losses now stand at about 200,000 troops killed (including some 2,000 mercenaries, 102 of whom were British), with nearly three quarters of their military equipment and ammunition destroyed. In just four months. This is catastrophic. As Western secret services MI6, the BRD and that in Poland state this, then there is little future or hope for the present government in Kiev. We can only expect military collapse and the formation of a new government. Then the Church situation will be transformed. But how exactly, nobody knows.

We see yet another confirmation that all divisions in the Church are caused by politics.

 

The Pathology of Sanctions

The word ‘to sanction’ has a curious history. Originally it comes from a Latin word meaning ‘to make sacred’ and was used in Church decrees. However, after the Protestant Reformation, by 1560, it had come to mean simply to decree or ratify. Next it obtained the meaning of ‘to approve’ (‘He sanctioned the use of force’). Only from the 1630s on did it obtain the common modern meaning of ‘to penalise in order to enforce obedience’. The word is then closely associated with Protestant and today post-Protestant moralism, the attempts to enforce conformism in the absence of any sort of spirituality.

For example, today, the post-Protestant Western world imposes ‘sanctions’ on anyone who disobeys its will. The US-controlled West sanctions Russia, Venezuela, Iran, Cuba, anyone it chooses. Indeed, the USA threatens to sanction EU countries or indeed any country in the world which steps out of line. ‘You disagree with me? Therefore I ban/cancel/ suspend you’. ‘You don’t agree with me? You no longer exist’. ‘Cancel Russia’. Cancel anyone who disagrees. It is a mentality which is shared by many Americans in business or in other fields who are given, or give themselves, tyrannical authority.

They seem to think that they have the God-given right to ban anyone. This is pathological. No normal person behaves in this way. Its origin is certainly in the Puritan sectarian mentality. It reminds us that some of the first settlers to arrive in North America were unsociable Puritans who were so intolerant that they could no longer live in England side by side with others who had different views. Later they proved their intolerance by engaging in witch-hunts and burning innocent women to death. Such Puritans also took part in the genocide of the native people whose land they had stolen and used slaves.

It is this intolerance that their descendants are still displaying today on their Facebook and Twitter and Instagram. For after the Cold War ended, the Puritan United States proclaimed itself to be God’s messenger on Earth. In the 1990s the priggish secular moralists of the post-Protestant world justified all sorts of imperialism with the term ‘humanitarian interventionism’, which gave them the God-given right to bomb anyone they wanted. For instance, George Bush proclaimed that God had told him to invade Iraq. How do we resist, when we have been sanctioned or threatened with being sanctioned?

In my experience, we have to separate ourselves from such attitudes, cultivating our independence. Independent means or support from others is often enough. This separation must be spiritual, moral, social and financial. We must be independent. Our freedom-loving culture and history must be defended from the pathological and sectarian. We will remain on the spiritual and moral high ground. Let God deal with such people. For sanctions always backfire and become suicidal. This is exactly what has happened today with the anti-Russian sanctions, from which the West is suffering so terribly.

The Diaspora Again

The new Macedonian Orthodox Church, granted autocephaly by the Serbian Mother-Church, was allowed to keep its Diaspora by the Serbian Church. However on this Sunday of Pentecost it was denied this right by the Patriarchate of Constantinople. Here there could be a problem, though it is true that Constantinople does not admit the right of any Local Church to have a Diaspora.

The new Ukrainian Orthodox Church under Metr Onufry, with perhaps 15 million faithful after the defection of so many dioceses to the Russian Orthodox Church, has also set up a Diaspora, notably opening a church in Denmark, but apparently also in nine other countries in Western Europe, among them in Portugal and Germany. It seems that there will be more to come.

Here there is definitely a problem, for the Mother-Church in Moscow has not even granted autocephaly to Metr Onufry’s Church, let alone allowed it a Diaspora. The Russian Orthodox Diaspora is already split into three jurisdictions, in order of size: churches of the Moscow Patriarchate, churches of ROCOR and churches of the Archdiocese of Western Europe. And this does not include Ukrainian churches under various groups. And now it seems there is yet another jurisdiction.

Whatever sympathy we may have with any exiled group, we feel a certain regret at the fragmentation of the Orthodox Church in the Diaspora. It means that there are now nine canonical Orthodox jurisdictions in the Diasporas in Western Europe, the Americas and Australia: Greek, Romanian, Russian (in several parts), Serbian, Antiochian, Bulgarian, Georgian, Macedonian and Ukrainian.

The problem of such a nationalisation of the Diaspora is that it is in fact a secularisation and politicisation of the Diaspora. It goes against multinationalisation. This we believe to be an error, for the emphasis on ultimately political identities automatically means division, rather than a coming together under the local umbrella of any particular nation, region or language within the Diaspora.

We already have a situation In the USA where the head of one large jurisdiction commands his flock to vote Democrat and another jurisdiction is not just overtly Republican, but Trumpist, and imposes these purely political views on its members internationally and punishes them if they do not agree! (Just as the old Soviet Moscow Patriarchate tried to impose loyalty to the atheist Soviet Union internationally on Russian Orthodox outside Russia – and we know how that ended up). Then we have a jurisdiction in Germany which supports its government’s sending of arms to the Ukraine.

We have always struggled to unite all and our enemy has always been narrowness, whether racial or political, because that is always secular and always divisive. We are concerned.

 

 

 

Against Sectarianism

He made a pit and dug it and is fallen into the ditch which he made. His mischief shall return on his own head and his violent dealing shall come down on his own pate.

Psalm 7, 6-17

 

Blessed are you when men shall revile you and persecute you and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake. Rejoice and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you.

Matt. 5, 11-12

 

Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves: be therefore as wise as serpents and harmless as doves. But beware of men: for they will deliver you up to the councils, and they will scourge you in their synagogues.

Matt. 10, 16-17

 

Yea, and all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution. But evil men and seducers shall grow worse and worse, deceiving and being deceived.

2 Tim. 12-13

 

Christ will judge those who create schisms – for they have no love for God and care more for their own profit than for the unity of the Church. For petty and random reasons they divide and disrupt the great and glorious body of Christ and, insofar as they can, they destroy it, speaking of peace but practising war.

St Irinei of Lyons (c. 130-202)

 

Error never shows itself in its naked reality. This is so that it will not be discovered. On the contrary, it dresses itself elegantly, so the unwary are led to believe that it is more truthful than truth itself.

St Irinei of Lyons

Those who have the means to do good to their neighbour but do not do it, will be considered to be strangers to the love of the Lord’.

St Irinei of Lyons

 

Not even wild beasts are as hostile to men as Christian sects.

Ammianus Marcellinus, historian, (c. 330 – c. 391)

 

At the end of thy life, O holy hierarch, thou wast called to the New World to offer there thy witness to ancient Christianity and to suffer persecution for thy righteousness…Rejoice, thou who didst keep thy faith and courage in the midst of unjust persecution!

Akathist to St John of Shanghai, Kontakion and Ikos 8

 

The Orthodox Church in the Future?

The Martyr-Emperor Nicholas led the renewal of then decadent Church architecture and iconography in the early 1900s. His vision was also that every European Capital would have its own Russian Church. Perhaps he thought of a world where there would be new many Local Churches with Autonomy from the Russian Church – not Autocephaly, because that comes only after long generations of maturity. Premature autocephaly always leads to spiritual catastrophes. Today it seems that the Russian Church, on the verge of victory in late 1916 and discussing the future of the Patriarchate of Constantinople even then, does not wish to repeat the mistakes of the past.

The disloyal are being removed Inside the Russian Church or else they are removing themselves.

Outside the Russian Church, the conflict in the Ukraine is revealing exactly who is who and who will renounce communion with the Russian Church.

An Orthodox friend asked a monk:

When will it all end?

He received this answer:

When the Russian Orthodox Patriarch reconsecrates the Church of the Holy Wisdom in Constantinople.