Category Archives: Pastoral Matters

Ashford, Kent: A New Community is Born

With the two parishes in Colchester and Norwich, both with weekly services and served by three priests, communities in Bury St Edmunds and Wisbech and hopes for new communities elsewhere, the presence of the Church Outside Russia in the eastern half of England has much increased since the episcopal changes and long-awaited ordinations after January 2017. With the blessing of His Grace Bishop Irenei, now a new community has been launched for the many Orthodox in Kent, whom we have been visiting for years, giving communion and baptising in people’s houses for lack of a church.

The new community is using a former farmhouse, now St Christopher’s Church, opposite the village green in Boughton Lees on the edge of Ashford (TN25 4HP – parking is in Lees Road, opposite the church, which has all facilities). Ashford is in a central position, with excellent national and international transport links, near Canterbury, Faversham, Maidstone, Rochester, Gillingham, Dover, Folkestone and Hastings. The community is dedicated to the Royal Martyrs, significant because the church is on the edge of Eastwell Manor, with its connections with the Grand Duchess Maria Alexandrovna Romanova and her daughter, the future Queen Maria of Romania, who was born there in 1875.

This is even more significant because the community is being founded on the 100th anniversary of the martyrdom of the Russian Orthodox Royal Family. The church was first visited on 15th March, the feast of the Sovereign Icon of the Mother of God, which miraculously appeared after Tsar Nicholas was overthrown by treasonous aristocrats and apostate generals in 1917. The first liturgy took place on Saturday 21 April, the next will be on Saturday 19 May, the 150th anniversary of the birth of the Tsar-Martyr Nicholas.

On Saturday 21 April, the five visits of the martyred Tsar to England were mentioned, including his visit to Gravesend in Kent. As the liturgy ended, a cricket match began on the green outside the church and the sounds of Orthodox singing were replaced by the sound of cricket ball against willow. We await the Orthodox of Kent at our next service.

Q and A since Easter 2018

Q: What would have happened if ROCOR and the Russian Patriarchate had not signed the Act of Canonical Communion in 2007?

A: First of all, if the two parts had not been reconciled by depoliticizing themselves (i. e. repenting), the Russian Orthodox Church would quite simply not have been reconstituted. Everything else flows from this one vital fact. The 2007 agreement was the necessary return to Church roots by all those who had strayed from Church Truth beneath the weight of Cold War politics.

For example, without even the preparation for this reconstitution, the Patriarchate would have continued to suffer from its fringes. Thus, the cleansing Sourozh schism of 2006 would not have happened, and instead of the Church being freed, She would have continued to have been oppressed by the fringes and their spiritual impurities. Then also, without ROCOR, the increase in the understanding of the universal meaning of the sacrifice of the Royal Martyrs and the desire to oppose old-fashioned ecumenism would have been far weaker within the Patriarchate.

On the other hand, ROCOR would have disintegrated, being deserted massively by its core clergy and people who would have gone to the Patriarchate, once it had repented. Myself among them, at least after the Sourozh schism after 2006. Our patience had already been wearing thin in the 1990s with the uncanonical and ‘un-catholic’ (= anti-soborny) actions of Metr Vitaly in accepting into the Church sectarian individuals and even criminals (though he did not know that) inside Russia (whereas we are precisely the Church Outside Russia). Equally, there was the nonsense promoted by the theologically ignorant or else CIA-paid (like Bp Gregory Grabbe) about the Patriarchal sacraments being graceless (sic!), which had begun after 1945 with the West’s declaration of the Cold War. Thus, ROCOR would have disappeared, leaving just a few tiny, irrelevant, politically-based, CIA-funded, pharisaical old-people’s sects, whose theology is non-existent and which spend their time cursing and warring with each other and against the Church of God.

Q: At the moment both parts of the Russian Church are present in Western Europe in separate but parallel dioceses and jurisdictions. Which part will emerge the victor?

A: By ‘victor’, I presume you mean the majority? The answer is very simple: the ‘victor’ will be the more pastorally and spiritually competent (or the less pastorally and spiritually incompetent, according to your viewpoint). The same is true of all Orthodox jurisdictions, not just Russian, and is also true everywhere in the Diaspora, not just in Western Europe.

Thus, there are those ‘jurisdictions’ that are destined to disappear (‘let the dead bury the dead’), because they are shackled to some modernist political ideology (large parts of the OCA, the Finnish Jurisdiction and the Paris Jurisdiction), or else to some ethnic/nationalist ideology or simoniac ghetto (the ‘ethnic’ or rather mononational jurisdictions), and those that will survive and become the dynamic foundations of new Local Churches.

Q: Why do you not take part in any internet fora?

A: Apart from the fact that I am too busy doing Orthodoxy, I believe that most such time-wasting fringe fora tend to encourage people with psychological problems. We should not encourage self-righteousness, priggishness, pompousness and the clericalism that comes from the Protestant world and has nothing to do with real Orthodoxy. The vast majority of Orthodox have nothing to do with internet fora. If you did not know that, you will have had a very warped view of Orthodox.

Q: The old generation of Anglican converts, now dead or else in their late 70s, 80s or 90s, is dying out and is not being replaced. Does this not suggest that the idea of English Orthodoxy has been a failure?

A: Not in the slightest. All this proves is that the theologically absurd idea of ‘Anglican Orthodoxy’, that of old-fashioned ecumenists like Nikolai Zernov, who died over 35 years ago, has been a failure. But those of us who were never took part in such a fantasy have always known this to be a failure and that it would die out. Either you are Anglican or else you are Orthodox, you cannot be both.

With rare exceptions, Anglicans do not become Orthodox, but, even after formally joining the Church, remain in a sort of Anglican world bubble. This is regardless of whether it is an arch-conservative Anglo-Catholic, clericalist, puritanical, misogynistic and old calendarist bubble, or an arch-liberal, Liberal Democrat, anti-clericalist, modernistic, feminist and new calendarist bubble. (The two are simply the opposite sides of exactly the same Non-Orthodox coin).

In my experience, the few Anglicans who still exist in this country are generally either aged over 60 or else Afro-Carribeans. Our interest has never been in converting Anglicans. Our interest has always been in firstly looking after our own Orthodox and secondly witnessing to the rest of the world – the 99% of the population who are not Anglican or have no idea what Anglicanism is.

The future in these islands is in English (English-language) Orthodoxy and it always has been. It has never been in a fake and fantasy ‘Anglican-Orthodoxy’. This is why we should pass by jurisdictions and parishes where you never become Orthodox and which keep converts in a state of delusion, that they are Orthodox when in fact they are in a fool’s paradise of thinking that they are Orthodox when they are not, but just in a state of foolish intellectual pride.

You recognize such people because they are well-read (all the wrong books) and rage on about having ‘the true faith’. But what is the true faith? It is the Christian way of life. In the Gospels it is described as clothing the naked, feeding the hungry, visiting the sick and those in prison etc. It is not reading books by self-appointed experts on ‘Orthodoxy’.

An elderly Anglican lady wrote to me some years ago about her son who had ‘become Orthodox’ and refused to attend the funeral of her husband (a retired Anglican vicar) as the son ‘could not pray with heretics’. She was outraged, though not as much as me. I told her that her son had not become Orthodox, but belonged to a sect of Pharisees that was not in communion with the Orthodox Church (all of which was true). To some extent she was relieved, to some extent she was worried because he had been taken over by a sectarian guru. I told her that all she could do was pray for him, for ‘a mother’s prayer avails much’.

Q: Someone said that most converts in English-speaking countries are Celts, with for example Irish names. Is this true?

A: I think this is largely racist and sentimental nonsense. It is in the same style as ‘Only Greeks/Russians/Romanians/Georgians/Serbs etc can be Orthodox’ because ‘God only speaks Greek/Russian/Romanian/ Georgian/ Serb’ etc. I have only known eight Irish people in Ireland who have joined the Orthodox Church in the last 45 years. Generally, Roman Catholics from any European country do not join the Orthodox Church because of their brainwashing and conditioning that the only Christians in the world are Catholics – either you are Catholic or else you are nothing. Similarly I only know a handful of Scottish and Welsh people who have become Orthodox in that period. This is because although Protestants do join the Church, generally they do not become Orthodox because they remain with their baggage of the Protestant moralistic mindset and so stay on the fringes of the Church. This is especially true of Calvinism which still dominates the religious (and anti-religious) mindset of the Scots and the Welsh.

However, there is a more serious point here. In order to become Orthodox (sadly, that should be the same as joining the Orthodox Church, but it is not), you have to give up the mythical superiority of your cultural prejudices, cleansing yourself of them and putting Christ above them. For many, less educated people, that is easy because they have never had the mythical superiority of cultural prejudices anyway. But for those who belong to the Establishment, this is virtually impossible. This is because the Establishment is wholly based on cultural prejudices, i. e. on not putting Christ first.

An example of this is the tragic case of the late David Balfour (1903-1989), who as a British spy and friend of the late Fr Sophrony Sakharov, obtained a Western passport for him in Paris after the latter’s expulsion from Mt Athos after World War II. Balfour was an Establishment figure and intellectual who had become a Jesuit, then got himself ordained as a Greek Orthodox priest and became the confessor of King George II of Greece. At the same time as this, he was working in Athens as a British spy, betraying all the secrets of confession of the King during World War II. He was of course eventually defrocked. (As for the King who was known for election-rigging, he was thrown out of Greece and went to live with his mistress in an expensive part of London, but that is another story).

Balfour’s story is a very typical story of someone who put the Western Establishment first. There have been many other converts like him, most of them who got ordained (often through simony), then get defrocked or sidelined. I have seen so many of them, washed-up intellectuals with their doctorates, and/or private school aristocrats who have never made it, never having been accepted by the Orthodox people. What a pity that the Greek Church was so naïve that it received this predatory individual Balfour. I only met him in the 70s, when he still came over as an incredibly arrogant and unrepentant person. I hope he did repent before the end.

Q: Whom do you hope to see canonized in your lifetime?

A: There are many figures, but I hope that the first will be the visionary Elder Nikolai (Guryanov), who bore the prophetic message that is already coming true. He carried a revelation from heaven who may help change the destiny of the world by helping to bring about mass repentance in Russia that we are still waiting for. Only after mass repentance can Russia begins its universal mission of preaching repentance to the rest of the world, which another prophet, St Seraphim of Sarov, canonized on the insistence of the martyred Tsar, spoke of. This is all necessary in order to prepare the world before the end.

Q: Do you consider that as Russian Orthodox in the West we should be, as it were, ‘ambassadors’ of the Russian Federation?

A: Not at all! What a terrible idea! The Russian Federation is a temporary and secular political settlement to a problem caused by 1917 and is not long for this world. However, what we are is ambassadors of the once and future Christian Empire and Emperor, which will be restored. Restored, but only after we have overcome the Soviet subculture of today’s Russian Federation and the petty Balkan racism and disintegration in the rest of the once Orthodox world, as we so clearly saw at the pathetic forum in Crete in 2016.

 

Questions and Answers from Lent 2018: A Compendium

Q: Is it true that after the fall of the Soviet Union, Communism was replaced by Orthodoxy?

A: If only it were so! The rotten fruit of Communism (in which probably no-one any longer believed, except for old people and some in a few remote provinces), was 95% replaced by Mammonism, what is called Western consumerism, and 5% by living (and not nominal) Orthodoxy. This is no surprise, since it took Communism three generations to destroy 95% of Orthodoxy. As I have said many times over the last 27 years since the fall of Communism, it will take three generations to restore Orthodoxy there even to the very low pre-Revolutionary level (unless there is a sudden miracle, which we are all praying for). And we do not want the level of before the Revolution, because that is precisely what caused the Revolution.

Orthodoxy then was marked by the betrayal of the aristocratic elite, whether liberal or conservative, who exploited the poor masses, and by mass nominalism, by Theological Academies which the ever-memorable Metr Antony of Kiev (himself slandered as a heretic by some of today’s ‘Orthodox’ academics!) called ‘the graves of Orthodoxy’, by seminaries with thieves like Stalin in them, by simony, ambition, careerism and by priests who were not priests but ‘popy’. (418 such ‘priests’ actually defrocked themselves immediately after the Revolution, proving that they had no faith, but were just State civil servants, ritualists making money from the naïve). Mass Orthodoxy has not been restored in Russia because there has not yet been mass repentance. The Tsar and his followers are still slandered in the mass media and not least by notorious, pseudo-Orthodox academics in today’s Academies of Theology and seminaries. Careerism (often taking the form of ecumenism) and love of money have revived. Even the monastic revival only concerns only some 10,000.

There is very far to go. The spiritual disease of nominalism is rampant in today’s Russian Church. Only when another 100,000 churches have been built, superstition and ritualism are overcome, shopping malls are no longer built, people dress decently in the streets, abortion is outlawed, the education and health systems and the media reflect Orthodoxy, the State has returned to the Orthodox calendar and such righteous people as St Maria (Vyrubova) of Helsinki and Elder Nikolai (Guryanov) have been canonized, will we be able to say that ‘Communism was replaced by Orthodoxy’.

Q: Why are so many Eastern Europeans so passive as regards Church activities?

A: This is the fruit of Communism, State control, among many people. Many do not think that they are the Church – which they are. They expect everything to be done for them, by ‘professionals’, from clergy to paid choirs. Such nominal Orthodox think of the Church as a ‘show’, a piece of ‘theatre’, just like the aristocrats from before the Revolution.

Q: Do you agree that the main problem of Orthodox life in the Diaspora is the jurisdictions?

A: No, definitely not. Jurisdictions are just an effect, not the cause. The cause is the mentality of what I would call ‘clubbism’, which is the bane of the Church in the Diaspora. Yes, it is nice to be with the like-minded, but that is not what the Church is about. It is about the salvation of the soul from evil. Yes, I agree, in so-called Orthodox countries (they do not exist any more), you will find different sorts of parish in the same town and those parishes are sociologically defined, but in the Diaspora it is much worse. Thus in this country you can find parishes which are in fact Greek clubs (usually subdivided into Cypriot clubs, Cretan clubs and mainland Greek clubs), Romanian clubs, Russian clubs, Serbian clubs, ex-Anglican clubs, ex-Anglo-Catholic clubs, ex-sectarian clubs, liberal Anglican clubs, upper-middle class intellectual clubs etc. This bane of the Diaspora comes from the fact that people do not seek the Kingdom of God first, but put their own interests above it.

Q: Why did Christ say the words: ‘My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me’?

A: Until the time of Christ all human souls went down to Hades in death. Here they were held captive in torment. Thus, at death Christ in His human nature felt forsaken by God, for Hades is the place where God is not because He is rejected there. Thanks to Christ, Who, as sinless, the devil could not hold captive, all in Hades who accepted Christ’s message were freed. This is what we can see on icons of the Resurrection, Christ freeing humanity through Adam and Eve. This is what we mean by the harrowing of hell.

Q: What is the origin of the word Lent?

A: It is the Old English word for spring (‘lenctan’) and it means the period when the days lengthen – Lent and lengthen are the same word. However, already in ancient time it came to mean the spring fast. Lent therefore is the English for ‘the Great Fast’. This is why it is absurd to talk about ‘the Great Fast’, like Fr Alexander Schmemann did (English was his third language).

Q: Why is sitting with crossed legs or standing with your arms behind your back not acceptable in Orthodox churches?

A: Quite simply because such an attitude does not denote a prayerful attitude. We should stand with our arms by our sides.

Q: Can you see a visible difference between Patriarchal and ROCOR priests?

A: Yes, you often can, quite literally. The Patriarchate (like the Rue Daru jurisdiction also) hands out awards like confetti! It is a standing joke in Moscow about how grey-haired ROCOR priests have almost no awards, while Patriarchal priests, twenty years younger, are covered with them! Such are ROCOR bishops!

Q: What words would you like on your gravestone, apart from your name and date?

A: What an unusual question, though I think I was asked the same thing before. I would like the words: ‘The truth will set you free’.

Q: What is the first thing you have on Easter Night, once Lent is over?

A: A mug of milky tea.

 

In Memoriam: Michael McCall

Christ is Risen!

It has always been the desire of devout Orthodox Christians to die on the Resurrection Day of Easter. Thus, we recall the life of a righteous layman, Michael McCall, who lived without a television, a car or a mobile phone. He fell asleep peacefully at his home on the Isle of Wight on 8 April, Orthodox Easter Day, at the age of 62, having suffered stomach pains since Great Friday.

Nobody would have guessed that Michael had a Cambridge doctorate in mathematics, so modest was he. A bachelor, he joined the Orthodox Church 25 years ago and was known for his almost monastic life and great modesty. A pilgrim to Jerusalem and frequently partaking in pilgrimages to Iona (near where his ancestors had come from), he was a very generous donor to various churches. Among them the Colchester parish, to which he donated £50,000 and the Norwich parish, to which he donated £5,000. It is only now that we reveal his generosity, for he donated strictly on condition that this would not be revealed in his lifetime.

Michael wrote to me only on Great Wednesday, confirming that he would be coming to us for the Ascension. His Ascension is taking place now.

Michael was an example to us all. Funeral details are yet to be announced, but her will be interred in the Orthodox cemetery at Brookwood near Woking.

To the servant of God the Righteous Pilgrim Michael: Eternal Memory!

He is Risen Indeed!

An Easter Present

Christ is Risen!

Many readers have noticed that after over a decade we have removed the Asser translation of the Septuagint (‘the Orthodox King James Old Testament’, including the Asser translation of the Psalter) from this website.

This is because it has just become available on Lulu.com in paperback.  Within days it will be available in hardcover and epub.  CTOS should soon be publishing the Pentateuch.

Converts

There is a Russian-American saying about converts, based on the fact that the Russian word ‘konvert’ means an envelope. The saying is: The trouble with ‘konverty’ (envelopes) is that they are often empty and often come unstuck’.

If this sounds unfair and racist we should remember first of all that today’s Russian Church is a Church of converts, about 150 million (including those now departed this life), who were all baptised there over the last 30 years.

I would also like to recall how a certain person, trying to justify the imbecilities of a certain priest said to me recently: ‘Yes, but he’s ‘a cradle Orthodox’ (an awful expression – there is no such thing). To which I replied: ‘So was Stalin’.

It is noticeable that nowhere do the apostles refer to themselves as converts, nor were they seen as converts. And yet they were. So what is the difference between a convert and an Orthodox?

Converts, in the sense that the word is used here, are neophytes, that is, they are new to the faith. The question is then, how do we stop being new to the faith and make the faith into an instinctive part of our nature, how do we become ‘old to the faith’?

It is sometimes said that ‘converts have zeal, but Orthodox have knowledge’. This is incorrect. If it were true, it would mean that you could simply become Orthodox by reading many, many books. It is just the opposite (1). In fact, converts have zeal, but Orthodox have experience. So, in order to stop being a convert, you have simply to obtain experience. This means mixing with Orthodox, senior to ourselves, who have experience, and following them in practice, not in theory.

A very simple example is how some converts think that they can ‘become Orthodox’ by copying the externals of monastics. I remember 40 years ago how, for some reason I could not understand then, male converts seemed to believe that they had to have a beard and long hair and female converts had to dress in dreary long black skirts and put huge cloths over their heads. Both sexes had to wrap prayer-knots around their wrists and wear some sort of strange boots. This was the uniform of the convert and you could spot them a mile away. It was anything but elegant and seemed to owe more to hippydom than anything else.

The strange thing was that none of the Orthodox did any of this: Orthodox men (apart from clergy) were always clean-shaven and Orthodox women dressed in brightly-coloured, just-below-the-knee-length skirts and dresses and wore small and modest head-coverings. All the converts had to do was look around themselves and copy, rather than shut themselves away into convert ghettoes and hothouses, guru clubs and cliques.

The apostle Paul says that men should cut their hair (1 Cor, 11, 14). He writes this in a context where he rebukes effeminacy. This is right, we agree with him. St Paisios of the Holy Mountain would take a pair of scissors to laymen who came to him with long hair and a long beard.

At this point some Protestants, of the Methodist or Baptist sort especially, may ask the question, why then do Orthodox monks (and also some monastic-minded priests) have long hair and long beards? The simple answer is because they are under obedience. They are not doing it out of some delusion that they are holy, they are doing it out of obedience, to their Abbot. In this sense, male monastics are not ‘men’, for they belong to a different order, outside the world.

Orthodoxy is not some weird sect, where people dress strangely. It is a way of life. It is in fact quite simply the Christian way of life, where people’s actions are the only thing that counts. It is as simple as that.

Note:

  1. On the subject of books, we would advise the following in this order: Read the Gospels, your prayerbook, the Epistles, the Psalter, the Lives and writings of the Saints, the rest of the Old Testament, the Lives of Orthodox elders (still uncanonized – but make sure that they are real elders, popularly venerated, and not self-proclaimed frauds). There is also a host of peripheral introductory books about the Church: Timothy Ware (for Anglican academics), Metr Antony Bloom (for intellectuals from an atheist background) Olivier Clement (for French intellectuals), Fr Sophrony Sakharov (for philosophers), Fr Alexander Schmemann (for educated ex-Protestants), Fr John Meyendorff (for historians) etc etc. But none of these is essential reading.

 

 

On the Christian Understanding of Patriotism

A British man, who was forced into joining the Patriarchate of Constantinople as he was not allowed by his government employer to join the Russian Orthodox Church (so much for freedom in the UK), asked me about patriotism and nationalism and how we can be British but also ‘support Russia’.

Nationalism is an artificial, manmade construct of the State and entails racist dislike and even hatred for everyone who is not of your own ‘nationality’. It is therefore not Christian. Though there are examples everywhere, Nazism and Zionism are prominent examples of racism. The United Nations agrees.

Conversely, patriotism entails a love for the positive sides of the country where, by God’s will, you have been born. It is, in other words, a love for God’s creation and inspiration. It also implies the innate ability to love the positive sides of other countries where others have been born.

As Christian patriots, we ‘seek the kingdom of heaven first’. This means that we obey our governments only inasmuch as they obey the Gospel. In other words, we are first of all patriots of God. We do not put any Establishment/Deep State, those artificial constructs, first. However, in obedience to the Apostle Paul, we do pray for Non-Orthodox secular authorities. Moreover, if they are Orthodox Christian, we pray for them by name.

Some people who claim to be Orthodox, but in fact are still pagans, are shocked that we pray for Non-Christian authorities, for example, for enemies of Russia, Greece, Romania etc. These people have not yet understood that the very definition of Christian is someone who not only loves his friends, but also loves (and so prays for) his enemies – so that they may stop doing evil.

Therefore, the old words of the German national anthem ‘Deutschland ueber alles’ (Germany above all) are a piece of pagan blasphemy. (The French national anthem is even worse – it is full of a barbaric desire for bloodshed). As for the 18th-century invented British imperialist national anthem ‘God save our gracious Queen/King’, it seems a good wish, but when the anthem goes on to proclaim ‘Scatter her/his enemies, And make them fall; Confound their politics, Frustrate their knavish tricks’, we begin to sense nationalism.

As for ‘supporting Russia’ (or Romania or Greece or any other ‘Orthodox country’), this is only possible if that country is actually Christian. (Obviously, I use the word ‘Christian’ as a synonym for ‘Orthodox’). Thus, I have no time for today’s corrupt oligarch Russia, created by the consumerist West, just as I had no time for Soviet atheist Russia, nor for the pre-Revolutionary aristocratic traitors who carried out the anti-Christian palace coup (‘Russian Revolution’) of February 1917. Inasmuch as the ‘Reds’ were atheists, Orthodox could not support them. However, according to St John of Shanghai and a host of others in the emigration (and I can confirm this from my own experience), 90% of the ‘Whites’ also had no time for the Church.

In other words, we are patriots of God, patriots of the Church, patriots of Orthodoxy. Our patriotism for countries is strictly limited to their Christian content. Thus, I am a patriot of Christian (= Orthodox) England, but also of Orthodox Scotland, Wales and Ireland, as also of Orthodox Russia, Orthodox Lithuania, Orthodox Greece, Orthodox Argentina or Orthodox anywhere else. But I have no time for anti-Orthodox Britain or for anti-Orthodox Russia.

Who will be saved?

Q: Who will be saved?

A: This question is dangerous as it may contain the pride of the pharisee. Really we should not even be asking it. It may imply that somehow we want to take on God’s role as Judge of the Universe. The only valid question we may ask is: Will I be saved? Salvation is personal. And our own salvation is the only thing that we can do anything about.

The fact is that no external label can save us: Orthodox, Catholic, Evangelical or whatever. God is the only Knower of hearts, for only He knows what truly is in our heart and He judges by that.

Some people will tell you, for example, that cradle Orthodox (an absurd term invented by converts with an inferiority complex) will be saved. This is also absurd. Stalin was a ‘cradle Orthodox’ (and also an expelled seminarian). Arius and Nestorius were ‘cradle Orthodox’ (and also had clerical rank). The fact we are baptised as babies makes no difference. What is important is that we were brought up as Orthodox and then, above all, remain Orthodox. (Quite a few priest’s children were brought up as Orthodox but do not remain in the Church, including many priest’s children who became infamous Bolsheviks and persecuted the Church in Soviet Russia).

Moreover, the Mother of God and the apostles were not ‘cradle’ Orthodox!  They were ‘converts! But they are saints. And here we come to the key point. When you are depressed by various clerical scandals, always remember what is vital: Follow the saints! We know that the saints have been are saved. This has been revealed to us. The rest is speculation. Forget it.

On the Aerial Toll-Houses

Q:  I recently received a link from someone about the controversy in the USA within the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese (now close to bankruptcy), relating to the 21 monasteries close to Elder Ephraim. A discussion about the toll-houses then ensued. Personally I don’t have any clear idea about what the correct teaching is on toll-houses. To me the idea often presented sounds a bit legalistic and more like a Roman Catholic or Calvinist approach to salvation. I mean, if almost everyone goes to hell then what’s the point of even trying? Could you please comment on the whole toll-house “issue”?

A: The Church teaching on the twenty Aerial Toll-Houses concerns life after death, what happens to the soul after it leaves the body. After death the demons attempt to take the soul towards hell, while the angels attempt to take it towards heaven. After an examination of the soul, lasting the equivalent of forty earthly days, comes the Particular Judgement, when the soul is appointed a place of rest. This place of rest can ‘improve’, ‘floating’ upwards, depending on the prayers of the living for the soul, i. e. depending on how much that soul is loved on earth. In this place of rest it awaits the Last Judgement.

This teaching is found in virtually every Church Father and dates back as such to the fourth century, though there are references to it in the Apostle Paul (Ephesians 6, 1-13). The most detailed account of the twenty toll-houses occurs in the Life of St Gregory of Thrace, dating from the 10th century, which describes how at each toll-house the soul is tested for each type of sin. This is the teaching and that is that. It is all so simple really. However, in our sad human reality, this teaching has been distorted, pulled in different directions by impure souls. The first problems arose in the USA among converts to ROCOR 1970s. Today, they have come back, for exactly the same reasons, again in the USA, but now in the highly Americanized Greek Orthodox Archdiocese.

I think you put your finger on the problem with your words: ‘To me the idea often presented sounds a bit legalistic and more like a Roman Catholic or Calvinist approach to salvation’. And that is exactly it: converts from strict Catholicism (Augustinianism) and strict Protestantism (Calvinism) do present the teaching as legalistic, frighteningly so. There is no surprise at all that the same problem has come up twice within forty years, each time in the USA. The USA was founded on intolerant, witch-hunting Calvinists who refused to live in Protestant England because it was not strict enough for them! Ever since the USA has been the land of extreme and  aggressive intolerance, of Creationism, fundamentalism, phariseeism and racism and also of virulent liberalism and intolerant atheism (political correctness), where you can be sacked for saying that you believe that the practice of homosexuality is a sin.

Of course, the teaching on the toll-houses can be presented by the contemporary scribes and pharisees (literalists and ritualists in modern English – and woe unto them) as a cause for despair. Why bother when we are all doomed anyway? (As the Calvinists say). This is because they see everything literally, without God’s Mercy. Such fundamentalists, always aggressive, create depression and despair because they have no love.

On the other hand, there are also today’s liberals and ecumenists, the modern saducees (like the very Protestant and very aggressive anti-monastic lay activists in the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese in the USA), who will tell you that this teaching does not exist! These are the sort of people who have painted a fresco (as there exists in one Greek ‘Orthodox’ monastery in England), where they show the Last Judgement without showing hell, only heaven. When I asked one of the monks why this was, I was told that it was because we shall probably all be saved! Here again, why bother? Origen triumphs in the Paris School.

The teaching on the toll-houses is clear and balanced. After death our souls will be tested and we shall find out whether we are closer to angels or closer to demons. But even this is not our last chance. If people on earth loved us and so still remember us and pray for us, we can been drawn far away from hell and brought to the gates of heaven by their prayers.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Why Does the Bible Not Mention Dinosaurs?

(A question from Vyacheslav, aged 10).

First of all, dinosaurs were only discovered 200 years ago, long after the Bible was written down. On the other hand, since the Bible, right at the beginning, very, very briefly mentions the period when there were dinosaurs, you may ask why it does not mention them. That is simply because when dinosaurs existed, people had not yet been created, so there was no-one to see dinosaurs and describe them.

However, there is a much more important reason why the Bible does not mention dinosaurs. You see, the Bible does not mention giraffe, zebra or kangaroos and lots of other things. But they all existed at the time when the stories in the Bible were written down. This is because the Bible is not interested in them. The Bible is not a handbook on fossils, animals, insects, astronomy, engineering, geography, medicine, laws, business, history, French, maths and all sorts of other things. For example, if I want to know about dinosaur fossils, I will read a book on dinosaur fossils, but I will not expect that book to tell me about God, or what I can do to become a better person and save myself from bad things (salvation), like the Bible.

So, if I want to know how to fix my car, I get a handbook on my car. But if I want to know how I can fix my life, then I read the Bible.

In fact, we can say that there are two types of book. The first type will tell me about all sorts of things that we might see in the world today or might have seen in the world in the past or even what we might see in the future. These books are called fiction and non-fiction. They can be compared to a microscope, which is used for looking in detail at people and the world around us.

Then there are ‘The Books’, what we call in English the Bible, which means precisely ‘The Books’. Now the Bible only mentions people and the world around us in passing. This is because it is not a microscope, but a telescope. And it is a telescope which we use to see beyond the universe, beyond creation, to God. In this way we can understand how our whole life changes because God is here and so we can make sense of our past, present and future and how we can save ourselves from bad and become better.

So, the Bible is a book that is very different from all other books: it is not a microscope to look at life around us, at Creation, but a telescope to look at the source of life, the Creator, so then we can make sense of our life.