Below are some answers to questions in recent correspondence.
Q: In your recent article ‘Truth and Mercy’, were you expressing prophecy or just wishful thinking?
A: As usual, I wanted to make people think outside the restrictive box that the secular media offer and also to comfort the weaker from the despair that is offered by those media. In both these respects from feedback it is clear that the article was successful. That article describes a possible and spiritual outcome of present world events.
Obviously, I am not a prophet, but it is clear that what is being played out in the world today, in Gaza, with massacres by US-armed Zionists, in Iraq and Syria, with massacres of Christians by Qatari-financed terrorists, and in the Ukraine, with massacres of Ukrainians by CIA-organized terrorists and mercenaries (all these events are very closely interconnected) is of vital importance. This year we are reaching another huge turning point in history, as great as that of the fall of the Berlin Wall in November 1989.
However, there is a prophetic element. That article, ‘Truth and Mercy’, was based on prophecies of several holy people, of St John of Shanghai, Schemamonk Aristocleus, Blessed Pelagia of Ryazan, Fr Paisios the Athonite, Elder Jonah of Odessa and others. However, we must remember that all prophecies, theirs too, are conditional on repentance – and repentance is not certain. What I am saying is that if we do not go in the direction of ‘Truth and Mercy’, then we will go in the direction of the end of the world. There is no middle way, no compromise, as people of fantastical Anglican culture always imagine that there is. Today, we are going either towards repentance, or else, to Sodom and Gomorrah and unspeakable catastrophes before Antichrist. I want to give people hope. Catastrophe is not inevitable.
Those who think with worldly criteria do not understand that article, they find it fantasy. This is because they think in secularist, political terms only, which by definition exclude Providence, the Divine and the miraculous, from their thought processes. This is because their thought processes are not Orthodox, not Christian, they are deceived, for processes in the real world are not directed by secular forces. In reality, human affairs are directed by spiritual forces, either Divine or else, as we can see around us and throughout the history of the last 100 years, Satanic. The Divine is possible, but the Satanic, what in the Old Testament is called ‘the wrath of God’, is also possible. It is our choice. Such is human freewill.
Q: You mentioned St John of Shanghai. Why does he stand out as THE saint of the emigration?
A: Firstly, because he was a saint. That in itself is exceptional, especially with all the pseudo-saints and pseudo-elders of the Russian emigration, with false claims and personality cults, developed by themselves and then, much worse, by their disciples after their deaths. Secondly, because he was universal. He affected all Continents and spoke to all nationalities, Eastern (Chinese, Japanese and Filippino) and Western (European and American). And thirdly, because he was a monarchist, a ‘Tsarist’ to the core.
Q: Why is that significant?
A: Because that is the litmus test for the understanding of Orthodoxy today. The restoration of the monarchy in Russia for the benefit of the whole Orthodox world and indeed for the benefit of the whole world is the only direction in which we can go. Those who have not understood this have not really become Orthodox. They are disincarnate, semi-Protestant, they do not understand that Orthodoxy is the religion of the Incarnation, of the last two fingers when we make the sign of the cross. They think that Orthodoxy, and religion in general, is just a private matter, a personal theory, without any practical and public ramifications. That is a heresy. I wonder if they know how to make the sign of the cross properly. They may be full of doctorates, but I am sure they do not hold the last two fingers, representing the Divine and human natures of Christ, together. They would do well to learn from the last illiterate village greybeard in Moldova, or for that matter in Galilee.
St John is the guide to this as he possessed the purity of Holy Orthodoxy. So many converts treat Orthodoxy as ‘comfort Orthodoxy’, a kind of part-time hobby or ego-trip. Christ, that is, Orthodoxy, is not that. A hobby or ego-trip is starters, comfort eating; what we have to do is to get to the main course, the meat dish, which is in the arena. Only when we have been in the arena with the wild beasts that attack us, as they do because they are our main course – can we get to the sweet, dessert, which is paradise. As they say, you cannot get to paradise in a Rolls-Royce.
Q: What is the situation among new Orthodox (those who have been baptized in the last 20 years or so) in the Church inside Russia? Have they come to what you have called ‘the arena’, ‘the main course’?
A: That is an interesting question and the answer varies. I can remember how in the 1990s, many newly-baptized in Russia (and they numbered tens of millions) read books by Metr Anthony of Sourozh and other Russian purely intellectual and theoretical writers who wrote for Non-Orthodox in the West. In other words, they read what was appropriate for outsiders and beginners, introductions. Fortunately, a great many in Russia now, especially because of the influence of authentic monasticism (that is so sorely and disastrously lacking in the West) have got past that stage. They are no longer outsiders, converts, but insiders, Orthodox. Now they read the lives of the saints and of elders like Fr Paisios, Fr John Krestiankin and Fr Nikolai Guryanov. In other words, they have indeed got to the main course. This is encouraging.
Q: A historical question regarding the Tsarism of St John: Why did the White Counter-movement fail after the Revolution?
A: It failed precisely because it was not White. It had no single and unitive leader (that could only have been a Romanov) and it was not even firmly monarchist behind Tsar Nicholas. Even individual Whites like Wrangel and Kolchak were compromised by people around them, who were not white. Few had a pure motivation and so the White movement failed. Archbishop Averky writes very clearly about this, as several other Church writers too.
Q: Some say that St John would have been against the Church inside Russia. What would you reply?
A: The Slavonic service book that I have always used is that published under Metr Anastasy, the second First Hierarch of ROCOR. According to it, in the great litany we pray for ‘all the Orthodox Patriarchs’ before we pray for our own ROCOR bishops. This was the real Church’s position before sectarianism started creeping in through US old calendarism in the 1960s (I strongly suspect that that old calendarism was financed by the CIA), which tried to surround, abduct and divert spiritually the noble and venerable Metr Philaret, before being partly rejected by Metr Vitaly (who was then surrounded, abducted and diverted literally by it), and then rejected completely by Metr Laurus.
This traditional ecclesiological position was also the position of St John. One whom I knew, Fr Vladimir Rodzianko (later Bishop Basil), recorded St John’s words: ‘Every day I pray for Patriarch Alexis at the proskomidia. He is the Patriarch. And our prayer is still the same. By force of circumstance we have been cut off from one another, but we are still one liturgically. The Russian Church, like the whole Orthodox Church, is united in the eucharist, we are with Her and in Her. Administratively, for the sake of our flock and well-known principles, we have to take the way that we have taken, but this in no way breaks the sacramental unity of the whole Church’.
You see pre-2007 ROCOR had two parts – the main patriotic part (those who loved Russia because she is called to be Orthodox and to save the world) and a smaller, but powerful political/ideological part (nationalists who always put their personal advantage and interests, financial or political) above the Church. Remember how it was that political wing that actually put St John of Shanghai on trial in San Francisco in the early 60s.
As a result of the actions of this political, ideological wing, many left ROCOR in England, for example, in the 70s, 80s and 90s. The sectarians tried to take over in London and elsewhere. We lost at least four priests at that time as a result of them – and that was just in one small diocese. The older generation were squeezed out; the situation by the mid-1980s was dire.
Q: Were you affected by that situation in England personally?
A: Very much so. We emigrated as a result of it. I came to ROCOR not through the situation in England, but through Archbishop Antony of Geneva, who had nothing to do with the old calendarist nonsense that had come over from America. He had remained faithful to the Tradition, to the ecclesiology of St John, who had preceded him in Western Europe. Like St John, he received by chrismation. Vladyka Anthony said that we must belong to a ROCOR that did not concelebrate with Moscow, but only as long as the Church inside Russia was not free. But he and his clergy concelebrated with everyone else, with all other Local Churches. Before he died 20 years ago, I know that one priest from inside Russia had already concelebrated with him, while remaining in the Patriarchate. Vladyka Antony, like St John, was a disciple of Metr Antony of Kiev, whom both had known in Belgrade. They are my spiritual lineage, my spiritual ancestry, that of Universal, and not sectarian, Orthodoxy. Metr Laurus belonged to the same spiritual family.
Such were the views too of hierarchs like Bp Alexander (Mileant) and Bishop Mitrofan (Znosko-Borovsky) of the generation before, whom I met. They were ardent patriots, not of Russia, but of Orthodox Russia. And that was the reason why we could not be under what was then called the Moscow Patriarchate, which outside Russia was dominated by individuals who displayed Soviet patriotism, which came from fear, and so was alien to us. All of us thought like Dostoyevsky – that a Russian who is not Orthodox is not a Russian. So there was no indiscriminate nationalism for us.
Q: What happened to the political wing?
A: It left the Church over a period of 20 years, from 1986 on, mainly leaving for various sects, including various old calendarist sects. I would remind all that both St John and Archbishop Antony had parishes under them on the new calendar (for the fixed feasts). In St John’s case, they were Western rite parishes.
Q: What about St John and the Western rite? Surely his support of Western rite means that we too should support Western rite today?
A: People who say such things have completely forgotten the historical context. St John’s Western rite worked with former Catholics (not with Anglicans and other Protestants) and he did this before the revolution of the Second Vatican Council, before, in other words, before the Protestantization or rather Americanization of Catholicism. At that time, in the 1950s, there still was a Western rite. That is the fundamental difference between then and now. St John was striying to save those who were at the end of a culture and bring them to Orthodoxy. Today that culture is all but dead – it only exists among a few upper class people or the very elderly and dying. There is no future to it, which is why the Western rite is also elderly and dying, where it is not actually dead.
For fifty years there has not been a living Western rite and you cannot renew and then modify a rite that is no more. This is why all Western rite experiments, though motivated by pastoral concerns, the best of intentions, have ended in failure. There is only one living rite today and that is the Orthodox rite. I know. I have seen the Western rite failure in France.
Q: How and why does the Russian Orthodox view of Catholics and Protestants inside Russia differ from that in the Church Outside Russia?
A: There is not a great deal of difference, but there is a difference. I would say that the view inside Russia is more pro-Catholic, but more anti-Protestant (indeed Protestants there are called ‘sectarians’). The reasons for this are as follows.
The Russian (not Ukrainian) experience of Catholicism is that of a pre-Vatican II, Eastern European confession which has a hierarchy, monastic life and sacraments, clergy who dress as clergy, believes in the Mother of God and the saints and even venerates icons. It therefore sees in Catholicism an admittedly provincialized and primitivized but still potentially Orthodox Church. It has no experience of the reality of the protestantized and infantilized Catholicism of the post-Vatican II world, as it is in Western Europe. When it discovers that, it is in a state of culture shock.
On the other hand, the Russian experience of Protestantism is that of sects which are rabidly anti-Orthodox and can hardly be recognized as Christian at all. This experience was much reinforced by aggressive American evangelical preachers who came to Russia in the 1990s and tried to bribe Orthodox into joining them. Clearly, the experience was entirely negative and hence in Russia Protestants are called sectarians.
Q: So who is right?
A: The Church inside Russia is right in Eastern Europe. The Church Outside Russia is right in its domain, in Western countries, among Western people. Catholicism and Protestantism are so variable, they are not monolithic; we have to look at the local realities of both before we decide on our attitude and the use of economy or akrivia.
Q: In various Local Churches you can find heterodox customs. How can we tolerate them?
A: We can tolerate them because we are not sectarian, but tolerant! However, that does not mean that we observe such provincial customs ourselves. We do not cultivate the fringes, but the broad mainstream of the Church. For example, I remember an ex-Anglican Antiochian priest (in England they are all ex-Anglicans, virtually without training), wanting to introduce little girls to serve in the altar because he had seen a bishop in Syria doing this! I told him that just because others had adopted Uniat customs out of pan-Arab nationalism, that did not mean that we have to. The same goes for so many customs, from certain Carpatho-Russian chants preserved in their emigration in the US and which are pure old-fashioned Catholic chants (which the Catholics have now lost), or Bulgarian icons, which are not iconography, but folk art, or beardless Ukrainian clergy as in the OCA (another Uniat hangover) etc. In other words, we do not prolong decadence, but let it die out by itself.
The lack of discrimination is typically Anglican. It is the inability to distinguish between the essential Tradition and eccentric local customs which may have nothing at all to do with Orthodoxy. Thus, in one community of the Rue Daru group in England an ex-Charismatic, ex-Anglican priest, also untrained, has his converts calling out names for commemoration during the service! It would be better if he joined the Pentecostals, especially since he maintains that he is better off without a bishop (who is in distant Paris), so that ‘I can do whatever I want’.
In general, Rue Daru claims to be of the ‘Russian Tradition’, but that was thrown out of the window there 26 years ago in 1988. If you are of the Russian Tradition, then you must be part of the Russian Church, observe the Orthodox calendar, have confession before communion, wear Russian vestments, have women wear headscarves, keep the canons and traditions of the Russian Church. As one correspondent in France wrote to me, the Russian Tradition never stayed a single night in the vast majority of the tiny convert Rue Daru communities, which Russians simply boycott because there is no Orthodox Tradition there. Once you have seen and above all experienced the real thing, you know what is false as soon as you see it.