From Correspondence – July-August 2020

Modernism

Q: There are those who assert that we can catch covid from communion? Is this your view?

A: Most certainly not. I would say that such a view is actually a modernist heresy, a form of Arianism, because it asserts that Christ is not Divine, but only a human being. We can be contaminated by other human-beings or things that they have touched, but not by holiness. Indeed, we never hear in the Gospels that at any point Christ was ill or made anyone ill. Our God is an all-consuming fire, as the Apostle Paul wrote. He burns away all sins, including illnesses and viruses. We have not had a single case of covid in our church, but have about 200 communions every single Sunday. If this were true, then all priests and deacons, who consume the remaining gifts at the end of the Liturgy, would long ago have died. St John of Shanghai gave communion to someone with rabies – he caught nothing.

Q: Why is there still a fascination among some inside Russia with the ideas of Fr Alexander Schmemann and others of his school?

A: Russia never went through the 60s and 70s of the last century and some there are still going through it now, rather late in the day. Hence the fascination with what for us here is old hat Paris School philosophy and the fascination with such old-fashioned modernism among semi-intellectuals, who have little or no experience of monastic or ascetic or family life. Here we have the attitude towards it of ‘been there, done that’. We quickly got over it, we are not stuck in the 1960s and 1970s, we are in a post-modernist age here. Those in Russia who have any spiritual sensitivity will also get over this crazy fashion and quickly. Many already have. The Kochetkov school of modernism is now dying out as the old-fashioned aberration it is.

Pastoral Matters

Q: I have read that there are some in the Church of Greece who consider that everyone in the Russian Church is in a state of phyletism, as they have refused to obey Constantinople. Do you think this is true?

A: This attitude comes from the nationalistic phyletists in the Greek Church. Jealous of the greater numbers in the Russian Church, which has given the Greek Church an inferiority complex, they are trying to justify their own racism. When they accuse others of phyletism, they are in fact talking about themselves. If they believed in their own words, they should start by themselves joining the Patriarchate of Constantinople, instead of maintaining their nationalist independence. We must obey Christ, not the US State Department. Tell that to the Phanar.

Q: Is the Church a source of sorrow or of joy?

A: It is both, but never a source of depression and mournfulness. Thus, repentance for the Crucifixion – the reason why monastics dress in black, is a source of sorrow, but the Resurrection is a source of joy.

Q: Why do many bishops fall ill and why do many die relatively young?

A: There are those who are frightened to die, who are cowardly, not brave, and who persecute the Church, but God is not mocked.

Q: How can you be a Christian but not support pacifism, I mean, support armies etc instead of pacifism? Russia has a strong military history – how can you justify that?

A: The key to this is whether your armed forces are used to defend or to offend. For example, if you saw children being attacked and murdered, surely you would defend them? On the other hand to go and invade someone else’s country, perhaps overseas, to occupy it and exploit it, stealing its oil, gas, diamonds and gold ‘in your national interest’, for example, is not defence, but offence. It is our duty to defend others, not to offend others.

As for Russian military history, it was spent defending, unlike the far stronger and much more aggressive military history of Western countries which was spent offending. Remember that Russia saved Western Europe from itself twice, defending itself and others against the atheist Western dictator Napoleon and, 130 years later, defending itself and others against the atheist Western dictator Hitler. Both of them had aggressively invaded Russia, having already invaded and occupied most of Western and Eastern Europe. And on both occasions Russian forces saved Britain, which was too weak to defend itself alone.

Western History

Q: Is it true that Gothic Architecture is Muslim in origin, as has recently been stated?

A: Yes, but this fact has been well established for at least a century, notably the arched Gothic window and the flying buttress come from Islamic architecture. They were stolen by the crusaders from Muslim architecture in Spain and the Holy Land. There is nothing new here, this has been known for a very long time.

Q: Did the first organ to be used in a Western church come from Constantinople?

A: Yes. In 757 the Emperor Constantine V sent an organ as a gift to the Germanic kinglet Pepin the Short to use for his amusement and for State ceremonies, as they already did at the Imperial court. Foolishly, in 812 Pepin’s son Karl, called Charlemagne, began using a second such organ inside a church! In the tenth century there were at least two organs in England, one in Winchester Cathedral. This too was used for State ceremonies. It was only in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries that organs became the norm in Catholic and Protestant churches.

Q: Why do the German Protestant and Roman Catholic historians claim that the Greek Fathers were Platonists?

A: Because they are talking about themselves. Writers like Harnack were rationalists, Aristotelians. Therefore, for them anyone with any sort of spiritual sense was automatically a Platonist.

Q: Why are Protestants usually fundamentalist Creationists and Roman Catholics usually scientific Evolutionists? And what is the Orthodox viewpoint?

A: A lot of Protestants are literalists and have little spiritual understanding, for example, the fact that the Bible was inspired by the Holy Spirit and that the revelation of the Holy Spirit did not stop after inspiring the Scriptures and its outpouring is continuous, is alien to most of them. On the other hand, modern science was born from the Roman Catholic rationalism of the Middle Ages (e.g. Roger Bacon) and the scientism of, say, the Jesuits, comes directly from this.

The Orthodox view is one of spiritual interpretation and understanding, neither unspiritual literalism, nor secular scientism, knowing that the Bible is merely a part of the revelation of the Holy Spirit. We worship the Holy Spirit, not the Bible, the Creator, not creation. We are neither Bible-worshippers, nor are we Pope-worshippers, we are worshippers of the Holy Trinity. That is mystical.

Q: You assert that we are faced with only two choices, Christianity (for you = Orthodoxy) and Secularism (for you = the Modern West). But surely it is not so black and white?

A: I never said it was so black and white, even if that simple choice is what it boils down to. It is true that the Modern West still has cultural fragments (sometimes important) of its Orthodox heritage and that most of the Orthodox world suffered 75 years of enforced Western atheism. Here there is of course an overlap, but nevertheless, the choice is clear.

Russian Church Matters

Q: The recent August Synod in Moscow made some very important administrative changes. Were these, especially the removal of Metropolitan Paul in Minsk, political?

A: Well, who knows? As I understand it, several bishops were removed because of their moral deficiencies (there are always one or two rotten apples in every basket of apples). As for Metr Paul, who is Russian, he was removed because it was felt that a local Belarussian, Metr Benjamin, was needed at this time of crisis in Belarus. Overall, we Orthodox are satisfied, especially by the changes in Moscow itself.

Q: Quite a lot of Russians inside Russia today consider that religion is just a business, a matter of making as much money as possible, and therefore has no importance or role. Do you have an answer to this?

A: Religion is always a business. My interest is not in religion, but in faith, the living experience of spiritual reality which comes only with repentance and the desire for purity.