Category Archives: Pastoral Matters

St Alban Now Venerated in Russia

The Holy Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church has today inserted another 15 Western saints into the universal Russian Orthodox calendar, who had not previously been included there. They include St Alban of Britain, St Patrick of Ireland and St Genevieve of Paris. In its decision the Holy Synod referred to the list of such saints drawn up by St John of Shanghai 65 years ago in 1952.

This is a victory for St John of Shanghai and all of us who, faithfully following in his footsteps, have for several decades venerated these saints and named our children after them. This is particularly so in the case of St Alban, whose inclusion we have worked so hard for in the last ten years.

Akrivia and Ikonomia

The above two words are Greek. The first means the strict or exact teaching of the Church, the second means its practice, what is done as pastoral dispensation. For example, akrivia states that no-one should be ordained deacon until the age of 25, priest until 30 and bishop until 35. However, in reality the canons giving these ages are broken by the vast majority of the world’s 750 or so Orthodox bishops, sometimes exceptionally, sometimes regularly. Why? Because the bishop in question considers that in certain cases, it is for the benefit of the majority not to practise or take literally that particular canon. Indeed, if we were to take every canon literally, the Church would long ago have ceased to exist on earth because all clergy, bishops included, would have been defrocked and all laypeople excommunicated because the canons are strict. Not taking or practising literally a canon is called ‘ikonomia’, the opposite is ‘akrivia’.

This may seem like a defence of ‘ikonomia’. It is not. Sadly, especially in Western countries, ‘ikonomia’ seems to be the norm. It should not be. When Orthodox of all nationalities in Western countries hear about akrivia, they can be shocked. In other words, they have never heard, for example, that we should always read morning and evening prayers; that we should always read the full rule before taking communion (three canons and prayers); they have never heard that we should not take communion without first attending the vigil service; they have never heard that confession before communion is the norm; that confession and communion should be taken several times a year; that he who does not take communion at least once every three weeks is excommunicated (according to the canons); that the place where we live should be blessed; that there is a pious custom for widows and widowers to take up monastic life (and not remarry); that the Orthodox ideal is not to use contraception; that the fasts are not just fasting from meat, but from meat, fish, eggs and all dairy produce; that we do not sit down at church but stand through all services, except during the kathismas etc etc.

Yes, all the above is true. However, none of it is absolute. One of the problems in contemporary Church life is that on the fringes of the Church there are those who wish to absolutize ‘akrivia’ and those who wish to absolutize ‘ikonomia’. Both are in error. Does this mean that there is no absolute truth in Church life, that ‘all is relative’?

Of course not. All the absolute truths of the Church are enshrined as dogmas, they are in the Creed: the Holy Trinity, the Creator God, the two natures of Christ, the Incarnation, the Virgin Birth, the Crucifixion and Resurrection of Christ become man, the Second Coming, the Last Judgement, the Procession of the Holy Spirit, the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church, One Baptism, the Life of the World to Come. If you do not believe in these things, you are not a member of the Church, you are not Orthodox, you are not a Christian, but something less. The Creed of the Church is not a consumerist supermarket, where you can pick and choose. However, whatever is not in the Creed, is subject to pastoral dispensation, to ‘ikonomia’.

‘Too much of anything is bad for you’. So goes the saying of popular wisdom. In other words, too much akrivia will lead people to the depression and despair of the sect and phariseeism. On the other hand, too much ikonomia will lead people to laxist leniency, to relativism and to anything goes. Too much akrivia and too much ikonomia both lead people out of the Church. It is for us to flee the extremes, not to seek the opinions of individuals, like Protestants (1), but to find the consensus of the Church. Only thus can we avoid the fringes and margins and keep in the mainstream. This means a balance between strictness, which is good where it is necessary for the salvation of the soul, and pastoral dispensation, which is good where it is necessary for the salvation of the soul. It is never a question of akrivia or ikonomia, but always akrivia and ikonomia.

Note:

1. Many Protestants and sectarians appear to seek not after Christ, but after ‘Apollos and Cephas’, after isms such as those named after Luther, Calvin, Wesley, Joseph Smith (Mormonism), Charles Russell (Jehovah’s Witnesses) or Rev. Moon. Similarly, there are some Orthodox who seek after the views of individual, non-canonized elders, whose sayings, made to one person in one particular context, they may then take out of that context and generalize. This is dangerous, as it can create movements that go against the catholicity of the Church. It is notable that many Protestants and sectarians (as well, ironically, as many Roman Catholics) have no concept of the catholicity of the Church; in the case of Orthodox, this tendency tends to concern those, and of all nationalities, who are new to the Church and have not yet had experience of wider Church life. We seek the consensus of the Fathers, the consensus of the Church, not individualistic concepts.

On Fasting

1. The Present Time

Nowadays food is very important. There is a crisis of obesity in this country, but in other countries that is not so. We could even say that half the world east too much and half the world does not eat enough. There are problems of anorexia (eating too little) and bulimia (eating too much). Many, many people try and slim, going on diets. People try and lose weight, joining gyms and fitness clubs, spending a lot of money. Many are worried about additives in food, too much sugar or salt or fat. Others are worried about genetically modified food. What was simple is now complicated. Look at the lists of ingredients on any packet of food. What is our solution? It is to avoid extremes, to eat natural and fresh food, lots of fruit and vegetables. That is why we have fasting in the Church.

2. Why do we fast?

Adam and Eve were expelled from Paradise because of food. We abstain from certain foods at certain times of the year, so that we can re-enter Paradise. In history, no-one ate meat until the time of Noah because by his time people had become weak and needed strength. Basically, we are what we eat. If we eat lots of animal foods, we may become like animals.

3. When do we fast?

We fast on most Wednesdays and Fridays (Wednesday was the day that Judas betrayed Christ and Friday the day that they crucified Him) and during four fasts per year. These are: the forty days and Holy Week before Easter; the weeks before the Feast of Sts Peter and Paul on 12 July; the two weeks at the end of August for the Feast of the Dormition of the Mother of God on 28 August; the forty days before Christmas. So we fast for 6 months of the year and for 6 months we do not. This is balance. We fast so that we can pray more easily, so that we can feel lighter. If you don’t pray when you fast, you will feel irritable. Fasting and prayer always go together. We can use the money that we save from buying less food, especially expensive meat, to help poor people or charities. This is called almsgiving.

How do we fast?

5. Fasting means not eating foods that come from animals and eating the rest in moderation. Fasting is purely voluntary and there are different levels of fasting, according to our age, ability and experience. In simple terms, the first level is not to eat meat, the second not to eat fish, the third not to eat eggs, the forth not to eat dairy produce (cheese, milk, yoghurt etc). Of course, no-one expects small children, pregnant and breastfeeding women and ill people to fast. But still everyone can make an effort!

First published on 1 March 2017 in ‘Searchlight’, the quarterly magazine of St Alban’s Orthodox Youth Club.

Contemporary Pastoral Challenges for the Russian Orthodox Church

Introduction

After a generation of very hard work and great sacrifices, today, with over 350 bishops and over 35,000 churches, 900 of them outside the territory of the former Soviet Union, all may seem to be going well in our great, collective task of restoring the Russian Orthodox Church. But the number of churches is still only half as many in the Russian Empire in 1917 and today there is a higher population than then. Although Russian alcoholism has fallen rapidly and rates are now not much higher than in much of Western Europe and abortion is falling rapidly, halving over the last four years, that figure is still much higher than in Western European countries.

So there remains much to do. Corruption, divorce and environmental degradation remain huge problems. Only when there are 100,000 churches and 1,000 bishops and the old atheist-caused ABCDE – alcoholism, abortion, corruption, divorce and environmental degradation – hardly exist, will we begin to think that the situation has really improved. At present, we would say that there are four great pastoral tasks in Church life, the results of three generations of State-imposed atheism, which we think need to be urgently tackled.

Red or White

In this centenary year of the so-called Russian Revolution (in fact a Western coup d’etat), there are those who have created the false problem of whether Church people should be ‘Red’ or ‘White’ and where our sympathies should lie. Obviously, in reality we are neither Red nor White, but Christ’s. True, in Russian history, the Reds were atheists and mercilessly persecuted the Church and the Whites appeared to support the Church. However, in reality, at least some of the Reds, perhaps the naïve ones, had a sense of social justice, and most of the so-called Whites betrayed the Tsar and the cause of the Church.

Thus, such so-called Whites lost the loyalty of the masses by fighting for material goods, behaving much as the Reds, even using bandits as troops against their own people. During the Second World War, when the former Russian Empire was being bled dry by the Nazis, a few so-called ‘Whites’ actually consciously and voluntarily sided with the Slavophobe racist Hitler. Those of the Whites who were truly White were a minority and were always loyal to Russia and her universal mission, but today we have triumphed, as the icons of the Royal Martyrs are venerated all over Russia, for the faithful everywhere were always truly White. Let us waste no more time on this question: All we Russian Orthodox are Christ’s.

Superstition

The Russian Orthodox Church is today the Church of 140 million converts. Most of our 164 million Orthodox, of all ages, have been baptized within the last 30 years. Many of these masses have often still to be Churched, that is, to be converted inside; they are ‘uncoverted converts’. Thus, some have brought into the Church with themselves certain worldly reflexes, external ritualism, even superstitious attitudes and sometimes a ‘magic’ attitude to Church life. There are some who, for example, will do their utmost to obtain holy water, but are still not married in Church. There are some women who will wear a very modest headscarf, and yet wear the shortest of miniskirts and think nothing of abortion. There are some who attend church, but do not understand the services and make no effort to do so. Sometimes, it is true, this is because the reading and singing are garbled or else done by ‘professionals’, whose Italianate opera repertoire gives no chance to the people to understand and sing.

There are some who appear to believe in the New Testament and yet continually speak of the anthropomorphic, Old Testament, Jewish god, Who continually punishes all and sundry, demanding ‘an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth’. There are some who seek miracles at shrines and know by heart the dubious prophecies of dubious ‘elders’, but refuse ever to take communion, the greatest miracle of all. There are some who make huge signs of the cross and boast of their fasting and yet reckon that they are not Pharisees. There are some who will not go to church unless a certain priest is present and yet they are supposed to believe in the efficacy of sacraments of all priests. (Sadly some priests fall victim to such personality cults and then introduce their own ‘special’ practices into the services). This reliance on ‘magic’, that is, the concept that we can receive something without making any effort, is ultimately a consumerist attitude towards the sacred. It must be said that although external rites may appeal to some women, they have little appeal to men. This must surely be in part why 80%-90% of those in church are women. This is spiritually unhealthy and abnormal. Where are the men?

Luxury

In certain capitals, nor least in Moscow and Saint Petersburg, some very rich people, oligarchs, have donated huge sums of money to certain churches. They generally stipulate – and so think that they can obtain power – that this money must be spent on a very baroque style of ornamentation. In a word, there is far too much gold, marble and precious stones in such churches. Why not use gold paint and coloured glass? What is wrong with that? Luxurious vestments and mitres, equally priests and monks driving luxurious, black 4 x 4s, like millionaires, do not impress me at all. Some may drive them out of obedience, but the poison of luxury and then greed for money can get into the soul all too easily.

Beauty, yes, but excess and luxury, no. I think real gold should be banned from church. Let it be sold and money be given to the poor, to orphanages and hospices, to help mothers to give birth to children who can then be adopted, rather than aborted. Perhaps the worse scandal is that 50 kilometres away from Moscow and Saint Petersburg (and in most other places away from the capitals), there are priests who are barely surviving, dependent on parishioners giving them vegetables and eggs so that they can eat and receiving clothes so that they and their families can dress. A Church for the rich and a Church for the poor? This cannot be right.

Lack of Missionary Work

Some among the Church authorities appear to place very little emphasis on missionary work, both internal and external. In a town of 30,000, there may be only one church, attended on average by 200. Why is nothing done to attract the other 28,800? Why is there so little pastoral activity? Surely in a town of 30,000, there should be 30 churches? Why this complacency? Why are these other churches not being built? Where are the youth clubs, the Sunday schools, the brotherhoods and sisterhoods, the temperance societies, the organized visiting of hospitals and clinics? Where is active Orthodox life? Sometimes it is admirable, but more often it is invisible.

The situation is even worse outside the Russian Lands. According to the greatest Russian thinkers and doers, from Patriarch Nikon to Patriarch Tikhon, from Dostoyevsky to Solzhenitsyn Russia has a universal mission and message. So where are the missionaries? One Russian priest visits Taiwan or the Philippines and baptizes a few hundred. Then they are abandoned. There is no continuing pastoral care for them. And why do 200 priests not visit Taiwan and the Philippines and build churches there? Although the Church Outside Russia, with the help of others, has translated all the service books into English (spoken by 1-1.5 billion people worldwide) and most of the service books have been translated into French and German, why are all the service books not translated into the most common languages: Mandarin, Spanish, Hindi-Urdu, Portuguese, Bengali, Punjabi, Javanese, Wu, Malay, Telugu, Vietnamese, Korean, Marathi, Tamil, Urdu, Turkish, Italian and Cantonese? These eighteen languages are spoken by half of the world’s population. Together with the first three languages, and with languages where translations have existed for a long time (Arabic, Slavonic, Japanese, Romanian etc), translations into these 25 languages would make Orthodox services comprehensible to over 6 billion people worldwide – over 80% of the world’s population. Is that not what we should be doing?

Conclusion

Others would no doubt add other considerations to the above list of four pastoral tasks. True, this is a subjective list, but its considerations would surely figure in any list of the greatest challenges in the ongoing restoration of Church life after the atheist holocaust of the tragic past century. There remains so much to do; we have only just begun.

On Contraception: A Pastor’s Viewpoint

The Orthodox Christian ideal as regards contraception is clear: We do not use contraception.

This ideal is opposed by liberals, modernists, who, like liberal Protestants and nowadays liberal Roman Catholics (who are virtually indistinguishable from liberal Protestants), appear to think that anything goes. The usual suspects on the fringes of the Orthodox Church include the Parisians and their allies, clerics like the heretic Fr Sergey Bulgakov, as well as Fr Alexander Schmemann and Fr John Meyendorff, and philosophers, also verging on heresy, like Evdokimov, Clement, Yannaras and Berdyayev, not to mention their allies in Constantinople and Finland. It is significant that their works are more often read by heterodox and unconverted converts than those inside the Church, who long ago entered the arena. The liberals’ temptation is that they attempt to dogmatize or absolutize ikonomia, pastoral dispensation. The path that they are on leads directly to sectarian liberalism outside the Church.

At the opposite extreme we have the literalists and idealists, almost always ill-integrated converts of conservative Protestant or conservative Evangelical background. They are horrified by any concept of pastoral dispensation and quote out of context the holy fathers and canons just as they used to quote chapter and verse from the Bible – threatening others with hell. Such individuals lack experience of real Orthodox parishes and real Orthodox life, preferring the convert hothouse to what they condescendingly call ‘ethnic parishes’. Their temptation is in fact the same as that of the liberals, that they attempt to dogmatize or absolutize, only in their case they dogmatize akrivia, the strict teaching, never allowing for pastoral dispensation, not understanding that the essential dogmas concern the Holy Trinity and the Person of Christ. The path that they are on leads directly to pharisaical old calendarism outside the Church.

Having considered the two extremes on the fringes of the Church and not of the Church, as they are founded on liberal Protestantism and conservative Protestantism, what then is the Tradition of the Church? It is that the Church has an ideal which we are to strive for, but that for the sake of the salvation of the flock pastors are allowed to make exceptions to specific individuals and in specific contexts, applying pastoral dispensation (ikonomia), wherever it is of spiritual benefit. We do not set the flock a cross that is too heavy and which will break their backs. Those who do so, imposing a spiritual level on those who are not ready for it, will empty the churches, creating pharisaical sects. We have over the last forty years seen too much hypocrisy and too many broken marriages caused by such unwise and ill-discerning converts who dogmatize the ideals of the Church and act without love to weaker brethren and sisters. There is a higher law than the law of the Pharisees; it is called the law of love. That is the law of the Church, of Truth and Mercy, for it alone leads to salvation.

Spirit River Flows

He who was a Ukrainian farm boy from Spirit River in Alberta, Canada, has visited the few remaining parishes of what was once the largest Orthodox diocese in the British Isles and Ireland. However, that was a long time ago – the last Orthodox Bishop of London reposed in 1932.

Within days of his visit, people had been listened to, hopes for restoration had been rekindled, several readers tonsured, several subdeacons ordained, a new priest at last made and other long-awaited ordinations agreed on for a few weeks’ time, doubling the number of active clergy. For the first time, after decades of difficulties, all noticed that the few remaining parishes had now at last begun to become a real diocese, which could at last rapidly develop into many dozens of parishes and monasteries, and so fulfil its enormous potential, meeting the pastoral needs of a huge but until now neglected and so paralyzed flock.

Thank you, dear Vladyka Metropolitan Hilarion of New York, Eastern America, Sydney, Australia, New Zealand, Chiswick, the British Isles and Ireland, deliverer of peace and hope of the English-Speaking Orthodox World! The River of the Spirit does indeed flow through you.

Repose of Monk Joseph (Lambertson)

It is with great sadness that we report the repose of Isaac Lambertson, tonsured only a few weeks ago by His Eminence Metropolitan Hilarion as Monk Joseph. Monk Joseph was the liturgical translator into English of a host of Orthodox service books, not least the twelve Menaia, as well as the composer of some 75 services to Western and Eastern saints, who had had no service previously. The whole Orthodox world in the Diaspora owes a huge debt of gratitude to him, and not just the English-speaking world, for his books are used to translate into other languages from French and Spanish to Swedish and Portuguese, as well as a host of Non-European languages.

To Monk Joseph – Eternal Memory!

On the Fringes of the Contemporary Russian Orthodox Church

Introduction

After the Fall in the Garden of Eden, divisions appeared among mankind. These were described ascetically by the Church Fathers as falls to the left and right sides and are also today described politically as left and right. These divisions can be seen in the Gospels, where we encounter Saducees and Pharisees. The former were the ‘positive’ liberals of their age, who thought that everything was ‘relative’ (to use a modern term) and rejected the Resurrection. On the other hand, there were the negative conservatives of their age, the Pharisees and their sidekicks, the scribes. The Pharisees were highly ritualistic and considered to be model Jews in their devotion. However, our Lord called them ‘hypocrites’ and said to them ‘woe unto you’, when they censoriously condemned others, stoning to death and rejecting merciful healings on the Sabbath day.

We can find parallels to this in every religion in the world and throughout history. Thus in contemporary Islam, we can find fanatical young suicide bombers and, conversely, polite, conformist, Western-educated imams, who dress in suits and ties and whose values seem to be almost identical to liberal Guardian readers. Similarly, in contemporary Judaism, we can find fanatical rabbis who literally spit at Christians with furious hatred, but also ‘reformed’ female rabbis who look and sound like middle-class women from any polite suburb in the Western world. Since these two tendencies have always existed, both inside and outside any religion, and always will exist (because human psychology with all its deformations and deviations does not change), what exact forms do they take in the contemporary Russian Orthodox Church?

The Contemporary Saducees

The contemporary Saducees are secularist, syncretist, Russophobic, cosmopolitan, ultra-liberal, rationalist, anti-ascetic, reformist, new calendarist, ecumenist, modernist, masonic, intellectual, pro-homosexual, anti-mystical, philosophical and renovationist Westernizers. Some of them are converts from Judaism. Great advocates of revolutionary 1917 Duma politics and Church Renovationism and haters of the Tsar, they are admirers of the historic Paris School of Philosophy, which later worked its ills in the USA, and of semi-Orthodox, iconostasis-less, Lutheran-style churches in Finland. Many are in spirit Uniats, like the late French philosopher Olivier Clement, notorious for taking Roman Catholic communion, or like those who celebrate Orthodox services in Uniat churches. Eucharistically-minded, they are strongly opposed to confession and make communion obligatory for all at every single service.

In Moscow their leader is Fr George Kochetkov, invited to take over the Paris-style Sourozh Cathedral in London by the schismatic former Bishop Basil Osborne and once suspended by Patriarch Alexey II as a ‘neo-renovationist’. Politically, the Saducees are strongly anti-Putin and anti-Patriarch (both of whom they love to accuse of corruption with the Western propaganda chorus), pro-Constantinople and therefore pro-US and therefore pro-EU. It is suspected that they receive finance from there, just as the left-wing Paris YMCA émigré organization or the right-wing German émigré NTS were US-financed, little more than puppets. Inside today’s Russia, the Saducees look to the Prime Minister Medvedev and technocrats and liberals more extreme than him. A favourite website of theirs is the anti-Church and anti-Russian www.portal-credo.ru, which many suspect is CIA or Soros-financed, as it continually attacks the Russian Orthodox Church.

Pro-Catholic and so pro-Protestant and so pro-Secularist, the Saducees want to ‘reform’ (i.e. desecrate, that is, desacralize) Orthodox services, by shortening them and rewriting the Typicon and the Menaia. They believe that they understand everything, but in reality understand nothing because they only use their heads and not their hearts. They detest clerical dress, beards, long hair, and above all the Psalter, long services, fasting, asceticism and monasticism. They are strongly feminist (in the secular sense, not in the Orthodox sense, of the word (1)), detest modest dress and head coverings for women and have girls serving in their altars and want woman deaconesses and priests, like the late Elisabeth Behr-Sigel and other Parisian intellectuals and modernists in various countries. Being disincarnate, they prefer dreamy, abstract, ‘spiritual’ (= pseudo-spiritual) philosophy to concrete theology, which is based on practical spiritual experience.

Thus they detest any signs of the Incarnation of the Church in national life. Therefore they refuse to venerate saints like the Royal Martyrs, and in general the New Martyrs of the Communist Yoke, St John of Kronstadt, St John of Shanghai and St Seraphim of Sofia. They are admirers of Judas, whom some of them want to rehabilitate, not to mention Origen and Arius. They substitute for the saints their own ‘saints’, for example, those who helped Jews and so became victims of Hitler. In this way, they want to create a ‘new spirituality’, new simplified forms of liturgical life, new layouts of the church building with ‘open’ and low iconostases. Many of them consider smiling and laughter to be ‘a sign of the Holy Spirit’ and seem to believe, like Protestants, that they have already been saved in some magic descent of the Holy Spirit on them.

The Contemporary Pharisees

The contemporary Pharisees are also secularist, but in the opposite way from the Saducees. They are sectarian, ritualistic, ultra-conservative, ultra-nationalist, isolationist, provincial, loving folklore, racist, chauvinist, imperialist (not Imperial – which is very different), anti-Semitic, obscurantist, apocalyptic, rigid fundamentalists (like fundamentalist Protestants). Politically they are anti-Putin and anti-Patriarch, whom they see as moderates if not traitors, and in history they support both the monster Stalin (whom they want to canonize!) and yet they also admire many of Hitler’s policies! At the same time as this Stalinism, some of them call the Tsar-Martyr a redeemer. Although all suffering can be redemptive, there is only One Redeemer, Jesus Christ.

Another historical figure they love is Ivan IV, called by his Western detractors ‘the Terrible’. (True, he was far less evil than his Western contemporaries like Charles V or Henry VIII, the latter of whom murdered 72,000, but he still murdered some 4,000 enemies of the State). A recent figure whom they admire is the pop singer Igor Talkov, assassinated in 1991, and they have even written an akathist to him. This admiration positions them as victims of the catastrophic perestroika period, when suddenly all values and identities were called into question, creating huge instability. Many at that time were baptized and made it safely from the rocks of the failed and dissolved Soviet Union to the shores of the Church, but the Pharisees never got there, being bogged down in the illusions of nationalism, just as the Saducees got bogged down in the illusions of anti-national Westernism.

The Pharisees tend to create their own sects, which claim to be ‘of the catacombs’. They are not afraid of falling out of communion with the Patriarch and the rest of the Russian Church and in any case, they do not recognize the rest of the Orthodox Church, the Romanians, the Georgians, the Bulgarians, the Greeks etc (though some have links with Greek old calendarists). In this they have much in common with the isolationist 17th century Old Ritualists. Just like the Saducees, they do not much practise the Faith – standing in church and praying demands faith, love and patience – but some may tell you that placing a booklet with the akathist to Igor Talkov or an icon of Stalin (!) on any part of the body that hurts will cure it. In this sense the Pharisees are anti-ascetic, highly superstitious or rather pseudo-mystical (like the Old Ritualists).

They seem to believe more in magic than God, Who will conjure up for them salvation out of thin air. They also seem to prefer dressing up in pseudo-military and pseudo-monastic uniforms (black being the favourite colour) and taking part in processions with banners to standing in church in prayer. They are also anti-intellectual and burn books by modernist thinkers like Fr Alexander Schmemann and Fr Alexander Men, rather than constructively criticizing them. Their strange slogan is ‘Orthodoxy or Death’; the Orthodox version of which would be ‘Faithfulness to the Church to Martyrdom’. These people are generally singularly humourless, gloomy and fearful, believing, it would seem, more in Antichrist than Christ and are obsessed with apocalyptic prophecies. A favourite website of theirs is http://3rm.info, which is anti-Patriarchal.

Conclusion

In surveying these two extremes, we can see how they meet and are parallel, both groups being incredibly intolerant of everyone else. Let us be frank, there is little theology in either extreme, it is psychology and even psychopathology. Some of these people have actually gone from one group to another, usually from the Saducees to the Pharisees. Thus, the Saducees tend to be of the younger generation, whereas the Pharisees tend to be a generation older. Clearly, the psychological need to be in opposition, to be rebellious, to be outsiders, is very strong. Both groups fail to accept the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church. For example, the Saducees include in the Church all, including the heterodox who reject Orthodoxy, but not the ‘super-Orthodox’ Pharisees.

The Pharisees reject all the saints and holiness in general (see their rejection of the Menaia) and the Tradition (the inspirations of the Holy Spirit since Pentecost). They reject the Church and form their own sects, rejecting all the saints (like the Saducees, they venerate only selected saints), thus rejecting the Catholicity of the Church. Both groups similarly seem to reject the Apostolicity of the Church, established in the first century. The reference point for the Saducees is the Protestant Reformation (which is why they do not join Roman Catholicism) and the reference point for the Pharisees is medieval Russian history, especially the 17thcentury Old Ritualists (Russian Protestants), and do not go as far back as the first millennium.

The Saducees love the ‘magic’ of intellectual talk and philosophy, preferring it to actually doing. The Phariseees love the ‘magic’ of showy external parades, but not do not like ‘doing Church’, i. e. praying at church services. If anyone should read the above and feel concerned, let us put all this into proportion. Of some 164 million in the mainstream of the Russian Orthodox Church, these two sidestreams are tiny, perhaps 5,000 on each side, perhaps 10,000 in all. Should we therefore be wary of both equally? In one sense yes, because both are dangerous spiritual deviations, however there is a difference. The Pharisees, being inherently sectarian and so mainly having consciously cut themselves off from the Church, are largely discredited, their ideology much mocked, since its stands up to no logic, let alone theological analysis.

The Saducees, on the other hand, for the moment have the upper hand in terms of influence because they are still officially inside the Church. Being well-instructed, they know how to infiltrate and can even get the ear of some who are in power and in many respects cause the extreme reactions of the Pharisees through their humiliating contempt for the little people and sincere piety. And in that sense they are for the moment the more dangerous of the two deviations. As for us in the mainstream, we will continue in prayer and love, avoiding extremes, venerating all the saints, keeping the fasts and admiring genuine monastic life, the barometer of the Church, following the Tradition and obeying the Patriarchal episcopate of the Church – One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic.

Note:

1. Secular feminism is part of the attempt to re-engineer human nature, common to both classic Communism with its attempted creation of ‘homo sovieticus’ and to modern Western Secularism with its transgender/ transhuman agenda.

More on the Present Pastoral Crisis

Introduction

Apparently, according to one reader, a naïve convert recently accused me of romanticism!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!. This much amused me. Of all my many faults, that is not one, as you can tell from the number of exclamation marks. I think one of my main faults is rather being the opposite of romantic, a wet blanket, pouring cold war on such fantasies as an imminent English Orthodox Church (a perennial favourite of the ex-vicar in question over the last 20 years). Let us be constructive and look at three traits required in dealing with the real pastoral crisis in this country, which must be resolved before we can even start dreaming about building a new Local Church here, which can only be built on the firm rock of faith – and not on the shifting sands of fantasy.

1. Patience with Outrageous and Monstrous Injustices

No Local Church can exist without bishops. But they must be the right bishops. Over the last forty odd years I have met scores of bishops. Among them I have met a pedophile (an Anglican convert), several homosexuals, one of whom used to ordain his boyfriends with disastrous consequences, two womanizers, two narcissists with strong personality cults, many corrupt and simoniac bureaucrats and empire-builders, but above all several righteous men and at least two saints. These latter do not pose any problems, as they work towards the formation of authentic Local Churches, However, the former do pose problems. So how do we deal with them?

First of all, you only leave a bishop if he publicly preaches heresy or asks you to do something immoral, to give concrete examples, if he asks to sleep with your wife in exchange for ordination or asks you to become a freemason. What of opinions? Now, among the saintly bishops that I have met there was one who believed in Atlantis. This was a private opinion and in no way contradicted the teachings of the Church. Similarly, some people, usually over-strict converts, get all het up when their bishops expresses a liberal opinion about Non-Orthodox. Again, this is a private opinion and no more. You do not leave a bishop for that. With all bishops, apart from those who publicly preach heresy or ask you to do what is immoral, we are called on to be patient and pray for them. Any other attitude and impatience smacks of pride.

2. Inclusive Churches

Any Church life must be inclusive of all Orthodox. No Local Church can be built on exclusivity – which, sadly, has been the pattern here for generations. The Church is not built on exclusive clubs, cliques and sects. This is a particular problem in England, where middle-class clubbiness and cliqueiness are very strong. This is why there are already two exclusive groups of Orthodox, which resemble ex-Anglican clubs (though, inward-looking and so unconscious, they would claim otherwise). Similarly, there are three small groups which seem to be clubs for intellectuals, which automatically repel ordinary Orthodox and their children. The discussion of doctorates and cultish esoteric interests do not attract ordinary Orthodox, who naturally feel excluded, as indeed they are. There is definitely a lack of a missionary outlook among such groups.

Other exclusive groups that repel rather than attract are sectarian groups. Fortunately, these are usually by definition tiny, based either around personality cults or else around new or old calendarism. Tiny old calendarist sects are strange since the members seem to be at each others’ throats. One can clearly see that the problem here is psychological (when not psychopathological), as most old calendarist groups are composed of ex-Protestants (Anglicans again). Similarly, there is little attraction to new calendarist sects, which are often highly intellectual, as with many churches in Finland and Paris. Someone also once said that old calendarist/traditionalist sects are replete with repressed homosexuals, whereas new calendarist/modernist (false style) sects are replete with practising homosexuals. Sadly, 43 years of seeing the world tells me that there is truth in this.

3. Wood not Gold

The enormous pastoral crisis in this country is characterized by the immigration of large numbers of often unChurched Eastern European refugees fleeing the economic ruination of their homelands by the EU, for whom there are neither enough priests who understand them, nor churches nor church choirs. If this had happened last year, we could make excuses. However, it has been happening for the last fifteen years and hardly anything has been done about the situation. Indeed, the clergy of fifteen years ago have aged and have less energy now than then. In general, the average age of the clergy is very advanced. Huge efforts now have to be made to make up for the errors of the last fifteen years. Extremely common attitudes such as, ‘We will not busy ourselves with X or Y, because they are a different nationality to us’, are simply unacceptable. A Local Church is for all local Orthodox.

The need for a far greater number of churches is obvious. Due to the refusal and lack of vision of several hierarchs of the time to provide adequate infrastructure in the last quarter of the 20th century, when it was both cheap and available, we are now in crisis. We at the grassroots are having to appeal for funds, scraping together money to buy premises to set up chapels and churches in buildings that are not ideal. The greatest scandal here is when money is available and it is spent on unnecessary luxuries. We have no time for ignoble gold, we need noble wood. After all, that was what the cross, on which the victory over death took place, was made of.

Confession and Communion: A False Problem

Is it that confession is obligatory before every communion or is that you take communion whenever you want and have confession whenever you want?

Such is the false question which I first heard over forty years ago, to which any answer must also be false, for false questions can only have false answers. What is the reality?

Confession and communion are two different sacraments. Thus, you can have confession and not take communion and you can, in some circumstances, take communion without confession. In other words, you can have confession very often and take communion less often. This is the opposite of the modernism’s apparent hatred of confession and love of obligatory communion – which is not part of the Church. The impression given is that modernism does not believe that its adherents any sins and that therefore they have nothing to repent of. If this is so, then it is spiritual pride. Of course, this impression may be quite wrong, but it is the one made. After all, a doctor does not prescribe medicine, if he cannot first make a diagnosis, and confession is precisely diagnosis.

If we are talking about nominal Orthodox who take communion only occasionally, perhaps once or twice a year or once or twice every ten or twenty years, then confession before every communion is the rule.

What about communion whenever you want and confession whenever you want? This statement is a piece of consumerism that treats the Church as a supermarket and has its roots in the anti-sacramental and therefore anti-priestly Protestant mentality that lies behind consumerism: ‘Do whatever you want whenever you want’. Little wonder that this mentality is that of certain unChurched converts, precisely of Protestant origin, who always take communion without confession and even scorn cradle Orthodox who do not take communion at every Liturgy. The result is that cradle Orthodox no longer attend convert services, feeling hostility. And that is a pity because it means that unChurched converts can no longer meet anyone they can learn from, with the result that convert ghettos are only reinforced.

What then is the ideal? It is to take communion, voluntarily, according to personal spiritual needs, when you spiritually need it (not when you want it – ‘want’ is the word of consumerists) and to have confession beforehand because we should need confession before communion. If we do not feel the need for confession, it suggests that we do not need communion. Put simply, if a full dustbin does not know that it needs emptying (confession), then it does not need filling (communion).

There are exceptions to this. Firstly, in parish life, for example during Passion Week or Bright Week or at other times as before the Nativity or Theophany, when there may be liturgies on several consecutive days and simply we may feel no need for confession two or more days running because the faithful are striving to live a quiet and devout life ‘in all godliness and honesty’. The second exception is in monastic life or among those who are living a monastic-style life in the world and may take communion more regularly but only have confession every few days or even every few weeks, according to their spiritual father’s directions.

Preparation before communion assumes not only confession, but also that the fast days in the week before communion and due abstinence are observed, together with the fast from midnight, that the faithful attend the vigil service (or vespers and matins) before the Liturgy and that they also read the rule before communion.

Modernism which has more or less abandoned the sacrament of confession (if it ever knew it) will say that it does not need confession frequently because the ‘early Christians’ took communion every day. This is dangerous spiritual pride. Are modernists seriously claiming that they live on the spiritual level of Orthodox in the first centuries who faced possible martyrdom every single day? Let us face reality. Those in modernist groups who want weekly or even daily communion (impossible for menstruating girls and women) are simply copying heterodox, for whom, in any case, there is no Body and Blood of Christ, but just biscuit wafers with or without some wine. And what is unconsumed among them, they throw away. Such modernism is not Orthodox and should learn what the Apostle Paul says and tremble:

Wherefore whoever shall eat this bread and drink this cup of the Lord unworthily, shall be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord. But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of that bread and drink of that cup. For he that eats and drinks unworthily, eats and drinks damnation to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body. For this cause many are weak and sickly among you and many sleep. (I Cor 11, 27-30).

Confession and communion form a virtuous circle, for the benefits of communion depend directly on our preparation for it. Modernism which superstitiously misbelieves that communion is a sort of magic, which confers its benefits (listed in the prayers before and after communion) automatically, without any effort on our part, is sadly and dangerously mistaken. I have often seen the sorrowful consequences of this mistake in the past decades and they always lead to lapsing from the Faith, which is the only thing that Satan wants us to do.