And there appeared a great wonder in heaven; a woman clothed with the sun…
Rev. 12, 1
We will not dispute the miraculous character of the original appearance of the Mother of God (in Fatima), as we will not cast suspicion on the authenticity of some similar if less striking appearances…
Archimandrite Konstantin Zaytsev (1)
Visions of the Mother of God granted to individuals are characteristic of recent, especially eighteenth-, nineteenth- and twentieth-century, Roman Catholic piety. Some of these visions can be doubted as spiritual delusion, hallucinations, and others as money-making frauds. Thus, the controversial ‘apparition’ in Knock in 1879 in Ireland seems strange, and the more recent and highly profitable ‘apparitions’ in Medjugorje since 1981 in ex-Yugoslavia are dismissed by the local Roman Catholic authorities as fraudulent. However, to dismiss all such visions seems not only uncharitable in relation to genuinely-felt piety, but also simply wrong.
The fact is that genuine heavenly visions do commonly take place outside the Church to Non-Orthodox. We know this, for example, from the vision of the Jewish rabbi Saul (later the Apostle Paul) on the road to Damascus (Acts 9). Some 900 years later, the pagan envoys of Vladimir of Kiev had a vision of heaven on earth in New Rome. Some 900 years after this we read how the future preaching of St Innocent of Alaska had been foretold to local pagan Alaskans through a vision of the Archangel Michael. How was all this possible? Because though outside the Church, all these people were touched by grace, for ‘the Spirit bloweth where it listeth’ (Jn 3, 8). The Church has all the generosity of the Sun, giving out rays of light and warmth to the outside world.
As regards appearances of the Mother of God inside the Church, the Russian Church calendar commemorates over 600 of her wonderworking icons, many of which first appeared to individuals in visions. As for the Roman Catholic world, there are the famous visions of the Mother of God to a peasant girl in Lourdes in south-western France in 1858. As we have written elsewhere over the decades, there are four reasons why these visions may have been real. Firstly, they happened to an innocent and pious peasant girl, Bernadette Soubirous (1844-1879), who had no clerical axe to grind. Secondly, when Bernadette was asked about the exact outward appearance of the Mother of God and was shown a catalogue of images, she innocently but truthfully at once chose not the resemblance of a Roman Catholic statue, but that of an Orthodox icon.
Thirdly, there are the well-documented and numerous miraculous healings in Lourdes, which cannot be explained by modern medicine. Finally, and most importantly of all, as the French-based Patriarchal Russian Orthodox religious writer, A. Merzlyukin described in 1960 (2), at a time when the Vatican machine was intent on finding support for its unOrthodox dogma of the Immaculate Conception of 1854, the message received by Bernadette was fully Orthodox. The words she allegedly heard from the mouth of the Mother of God were, ‘I am the Immaculate Conception’, not, ‘I was born by an immaculate conception’. This plainly contradicted the novel and recent Vatican dogma. It is precisely the Conception of Christ by the Mother of God which is ‘Immaculate’, that is, Most Pure, which is why we call her ‘Most Pure’. This is the age-old belief of the Church – not a nineteenth-century invention.
Orthodoxy has nothing to do with the unfortunate exploitation of this statement by the Vatican to support its novel dogma. By this, I refer to the authorities’ deliberate deformation of the message of Lourdes to make out that it was the conception of the Virgin Herself that was ‘Immaculate’. This myth-making has taken place to such an extent that many simple Roman Catholics today actually believe that the Virgin was conceived not by Sts Joachim and Anna, as Orthodox are reminded at every great dismissal, but in the same way as Christ – through the Holy Spirit and a virgin-mother.
This popular belief is not the official belief of Roman Catholicism. This is that the Virgin was conceived by human agency but with a special dispensation, relieving her of what it calls ‘original sin’. All of this is connected with ‘Augustinian’ doctrines, developed by medieval Scholasticism out of philosophical speculations in the writings of Blessed Augustine. These doctrines, ‘Augustinianism’, suggest predestination, a God Who does not love mankind, and are thus alien to the Orthodox Church and Her theology that loves mankind.
Another example of deformation of visions comes in the case of Fatima. Here, unlike some, we believe that these original visions may also have been genuine (3). We first heard of Fatima in 1976, strangely enough from a Russian samizdat source, received by us from the late Archpriest Lev Lebedev from Kursk (4). The Catacomb belief expressed in this source was clearly that Fatima was authentic. We also tend to believe in the Fatima visions, for the seven following reasons:
1. They were granted to innocent and pious peasant children. The eldest of these, Lucia, whose name means ‘light’, is said to have spoken to the Mother of God and received messages from her. These small, illiterate children had no axe to grind, unlike the institutionalised Vatican machine. Indeed, most Portuguese clergy of the period of the visions did not believe in their authenticity and were even hostile to Lucia.
2. The visions concerned future events in Russia – a Non-Catholic country of which the Portuguese children had never heard. Again there was no axe to grind here, all the more so as it was precisely the Western world which had organised, financed and greeted the pro-Western Russian Revolution of early 1917. We must remember that all the events at the other end of Europe in distant Fatima took place months before the atheist Bolsheviks usurped power in their turn. This was long before Russophobic right-wing groups were able to take over Fatima for militant Roman Catholic and anti-Communist Cold War purposes, creating, for example, ‘the Blue Army’.
3. The events of Fatima all happened after the Russian Revolution, during the months of anarchic misrule of the pro-Western Provisional Government, in other words, neither in 1916, nor in 1918, nor in some other year, but in mid-1917. This was at the most fateful turning point in Russian history. This was just before Russian forces would most probably have been victorious in the War, freeing Vienna and Berlin and the peoples oppressed by them, and before atheist Communist persecution began.
We recall that the Mother of God had already intervened in Russian history at this time through her Reigning Icon, the appearance of which took place immediately after the so-called abdication of the future Tsar-Martyr on 15 March 1917 according to the secular calendar. (We write ‘so-called abdication’ since the documents involved have now all been shown by the Russian historian Piotr Multatuli to have been forged; the Tsar never abdicated).
4. The visions all took place on dates significant in the Orthodox calendar – then universally adhered to. This is quite overlooked by Roman Catholic authors. Thus:
The first vision was on 13 May. In the Orthodox calendar in 1917 this was the Sunday of the Samaritan Woman. This was surely a clear call to the West to repent of the Revolution that it had carried out in Russia, which would lead to the bloodiest persecution of the Church ever seen in human history. In simple terms, this vision was a call to the spiritual Samaritans to repent for their crime against the Second Jerusalem of Moscow.
The second vision was on 13 June, the eve of the feast of St Justin the Philosopher of Rome, who came from Palestine to preach the Orthodox Christian way of life, the only true Philosophy, to the Rome.
The third vision was on 13 July, the Feast of the Twelve Apostles, who had converted the then known world to Orthodoxy. This is symbolic of the universal significance of Fatima.
The fourth vision was on Sunday 19 August (not on 13 August, since the three children were then being held prisoner and threatened by a prominent local freemason who had political power). 19 August is of course the Feast of the Transfiguration, the Transfiguration to which the Mother of God was calling the Western world, which was then embroiled in the slaughter of its own youth and the youth of countries of Eastern Europe, of Russia and of distant colonies.
The fifth vision was on 13 September, the eve of the Orthodox New Year. Surely the Mother of God was calling the Western Powers to a new beginning, a new year of peace.
The sixth and so far final vision was on 13 October, the eve of the Feast of the Protecting Veil of the Mother of God. In this vision, Lucia was told that ‘the war is going to end and the troops will come home soon’. This was indeed the case since, as a result of elections held the very next day, on 14 October, the Feast of the Protecting Veil, the 40,000 Portuguese troops who had first entered into action in France on precisely 13 May 1917, the date of the first vision, were brought home to Portugal early, in April 1918.
5. The essence of the words of the Mother of God was each time a call to prayer and repentance. These were the very words which Western Europe needed at a time when it was engaged in a suicidal war, which because of modern technology was by far the bloodiest in the history of mankind. The fact that the visions occurred in Portugal, rather than in a country that had originally or directly been involved in the War, showed neutrality. Indeed, the socialistic Portuguese government did not exploit the visions for propaganda purposes, as governments with large Roman Catholic populations, like France, Germany, Austro-Hungary and Italy, would certainly have done.
6. The events at Fatima, always coming down from the sky from east to west, always included several inexplicable atmospheric phenomena which were witnessed by many. These phenomena were witnessed by dozens, then thousands, and on 13 October, by tens of thousands of people, among them atheists and freemasons. This last vision, already foretold by the Mother of God on 19 August and 13 September, included the famous ‘dance of the sun’, witnessed by some 70,000 people. It is very difficult to reject the fact of this event, explaining it away in a facile manner as a ‘mass hallucination’, as atheists (and two Orthodox converts) have unconvincingly tried to do. Here is a key difference with other visions – at Fatima they were accompanied by inexplicable phenomena witnessed by crowds.
7. The message of the Mother of God was couched in a way that small Roman Catholic children could understand, but which is not necessarily in contradiction with Orthodox teaching. This especially concerns the details of the vision of 13 July.
For instance, the Mother of God did not mention souls in Purgatory on 13 July – that version of the message was based on a clear mistranslation, which was later corrected. As regards the mention of Purgatory in the part of the vision on 13 May regarding the soul of a peasant girl called Amelia, we would suggest that this is only a reflection of Lucia’s Roman Catholic conditioning. The Mother of God may well have said that the girl needed prayers, but this would have been interpreted by the child Lucia as meaning that her soul was in Purgatory.
On 13 July, the Mother of God foretold chastisement, ‘by means of war, famine and persecutions against the Church and the Holy Father’. There is no reason why this should be taken to refer to a pope of Rome; it surely refers to St Tikhon of Moscow, the Holy Father installed as Patriarch in November 1917. He reposed in 1925 after the terrible civil war, probably martyred by poisoning, after which there was artificial famine in the Soviet Union and the terrible persecutions of the 1930s. Roman Catholicism was not persecuted at this time – the Spanish Civil War came later. Rather it was Roman Catholicism that from the 1920s on persecuted, whether in Ireland and especially on territory occupied by Poland, or later in Nazi Slovakia and Vichy France.
Similarly, the prophecy on 13 July that a worse war would break out under Pope Pius XI (1922 – February 1939) after the appearance of ‘an unknown light’ in the sky, surely cannot refer to the Second World War, which began in September 1939 for most European countries. Nor need it refer to the aurora borealis of January 1938. The aurora (northern lights) occurs every eleven years and it was after the appearance in 1927 that the atheist war against Orthodoxy in Russia that worsened considerably.
In the vision of June 1917, the Mother of God referred to ‘My Most Pure Heart’ which, seen ‘surrounded by thorns’, ‘will be your refuge’. In the vision of July 1917, the Mother of God spoke of ‘sins against the Most Pure Heart of Mary’, she said that ‘to save sinners’ God wanted ‘to establish devotion to my Most Pure Heart’, she demanded ‘the consecration of Russia to my Most Pure Heart’ and she said that ‘in the end’ her Most Pure Heart would ‘triumph’.
These references to the heart, typical of rather sentimental ‘Sacred Heart’ Roman Catholic pietism, are alien to Orthodox teaching. Some Orthodox therefore dismiss the vision out of hand. However, the Mother of God was speaking to Roman Catholic children, to whom such language was familiar. From an Orthodox viewpoint, could such phrases mean something? Is there an Orthodox interpretation of such references to her heart?
Since the Church is the Body of Christ, why can we not take the Roman Catholic expression ‘the Sacred Heart of Jesus’ and translate it into Orthodox terminology as meaning ‘the essence of the Orthodox Church’? Similarly, since the Mother of God is the Mother of the Church, why can we not take the Fatima expression ‘the Most Pure Heart of Mary’ to mean ‘the essential teachings of the Church’, i.e. the purity of Holy Orthodoxy? What else would be in the heart of the Mother of God, if not the purity of Holy Orthodoxy? Surely, after all, Holy Orthodoxy is our ‘refuge’, the establishment of devotion to Holy Orthodoxy will ‘save sinners’, Russia must be ‘consecrated to’ Holy Orthodoxy and ‘in the end’ Holy Orthodoxy will ‘triumph’? Is this not what we all believe?
It was precisely sins against the Orthodox Church and Holy Orthodoxy that had been caused by anti-Orthodox Western attitudes towards them, most clearly at the Russian Revolution. This event was greeted with enthusiasm by the Papacy. It would then co-operate with atheist Bolshevism throughout the 1920s under the Roman Catholic ‘missionary’ D’Herbigny in a futile and treacherous attempt to convert Russia to Roman Catholicism. And all this during the vicious persecution of the indigenous Church, whose lot the Vatican did nothing to ease.
These anti-Orthodox attitudes had been present in Western Europe ever since the time of the judaising iconoclasm and anti-Trinitarian heresy of the mass murderer Charlemagne (768-814 – called ‘Blessed Charlemagne’ by the Vatican). This was the very set of attitudes which dissented from and then took over the Church in Western Europe. By a process of despiritualisation, they evolved into Roman Catholicism in the eleventh century, into Protestantism in the sixteenth century and finally into modern secularism.
This latter is based on essentially atheistic nineteenth and twentieth century ideologies, of Marx, Darwin, Nietzsche, Freud etc. These thinkers did not in fact write about mankind, but only about their own spiritual emptiness, that is, their loss of faith and non-belief in the existence of the human soul, thus reducing human beings to animals. In this way, their ideologies dehumanised human beings through ‘class warfare’, ‘the survival of the fittest’ and ‘eugenics’ into ‘intelligent animals’, ‘naked apes’, in fact, pieces of meat. In turn, these resulted in World Wars – surplus men reduced to cannon fodder, in the abortion holocaust –surplus babies reduced to incinerator fodder, and in modern global consumerism – surplus human-beings worldwide reduced to debt fodder.
On 13 July and other occasions, the Mother of God referred to the rosary, as well as peace and the end of the war through prayer. The rosary is a vestige of Orthodox prayer-knots or beads, inherited by Roman Catholicism from the Orthodox West of the first millennium. Although the details of the contemporary Roman Catholic practice of the rosary are at variance with Orthodox practice, there is nothing unOrthodox about the use of prayer-beads in itself. Sincere prayer is always answered.
On 13 July the Mother of God said that the errors of Russia would spread worldwide, if the Western world did not listen to her. The errors of Russia were to adopt Western materialism (at the time of Fatima not in its Communist form, but in its bourgeois Capitalist form). It is indeed precisely this materialism, exported to Russia in 1917, that was since spread worldwide throughout the twentieth century, not so much in its inefficient and failed Communist form, but in its highly efficient Capitalist form.
On 13 July the Mother of God said that ‘the Holy Father will consecrate Russia to me and it will be converted’ and then will follow ‘a time of peace’. Is this not exactly what happened in 2000 when the Russian Patriarch at last confirmed the glorification of the New Martyrs and Confessors of the Russian Lands and since when conversion has been hastened?
Thus, we can see from the above interpretations of the visions of Fatima that there is nothing in contradiction with Orthodox teaching in them. In this light, these visions can be seen in an Orthodox spirit. The simple people of Western Europe are not to be blamed for the heresy of Roman Catholicism. A fish rots from the head, not from the tail. A heretic is by definition one who is consciously opposed to the Church. Portuguese peasant children one hundred years ago who knew nothing of Orthodoxy cannot be accused of being heretics. Only those who consciously reject Orthodoxy and teach heresy can be accused of heresy. This is clearly visible in pastoral practice today, where Non-Orthodox come to the Church for the first time, discover Orthodoxy, and say, ‘This is what I have always believed’, never having accepted the teachings their formal denomination.
Neither is there anything in the ‘third secret of Fatima’, revealed to Lucia in July 1917 and allegedly made public by the Vatican in June 2000, which contradicts Orthodoxy (5). Although it is possible that full details of the third secret have not been revealed, for lack of proof we must leave this possibility to conspiracy theorists. Nevertheless, it is remarkable that in the first appearance on 13 May, the Mother of God said that she would appear six times and then, ‘after six times, I will come back here a seventh time’. Is it possible that the Mother of God will again appear in Fatima, for a seventh time, and that another revelation will take place concerning the West’s present and future relation to Russia and Russian Orthodoxy?
Between 1992 and 1997 I was parish priest of the first Russian Orthodox parish in Portugal which we founded in February 1992. We dedicated it to the Protecting Veil of the Mother of God, whose feast falls on 14 October in the secular reckoning, the day after the last and sixth appearance at Fatima, the dance of the sun, exactly 75 years before. At that time it was suggested that I celebrate a liturgy in the Uniat church at the Roman Catholic shrine at Fatima. I categorically rejected this suggestion, as I did not wish then, and do not wish now, to lend credence to that later, superimposed interpretation of the Fatima events. However, I do believe that there is an Orthodox interpretation of the events of Fatima.
I believe that those events may well concern a Russia that is at this moment in the process of being converted. This process began when the prayers of the New Martyrs and Confessors began to destroy atheism after their glorification by the free Church Outside Russia in New York in 1981. This was most significant, since, according to the historian Piotr Multatuli, great-grandson of one of the martyrs, it was precisely from New York that the order to martyr the Royal Martyrs went forth in 1918. This 1981 glorification, which reversed the 1918 condemnation, was finally confirmed and upheld in the freed Church inside Russia by Patriarch Alexis II in Moscow in 2000. It is now for the increasingly atheistic Western world to heed the urgent and highly relevant message of post-atheist Russia to it, which is that atheism does not work, but that devotion to Orthodoxy does work.
Archpriest Andrew Phillips
1. Pastoral Theology, Part II, P.41, Jordanville, 1961
2. See Merzlyukin A., On the Catholic Dogma of 1854. (In Russian, 1960, in French, 1961).
3. Naturally, if an official Synodal statement were issued against the authenticity of Lourdes or Fatima, we would obey it and retract any of the above observations and tentative views that contradicted it. Our thoughts are only tentative suggestions which we hope will provoke thought and prayer on the subject. They are certainly not some kind of opinionated, dogmatic statement. The above suggestions seem to the author to be true, but we remain open to new and contradictory ideas on the subject.
However, we cannot help noticing that older Russians like Metr Evlogy (Georgievsky), as well as those whose Orthodoxy was beyond reproach, believed in Lourdes and Fatima (see A. Merzlyukin, also in his Russian book ‘The Star Who Gave Birth to the Sun’ (Paris, 1967), and Fr Konstantin Zaytsev above on Pp. 38-42). The only two sources known to us in recent decades suggesting that the Mother of God cannot appear to Non-Orthodox and categorically denying both Lourdes and Fatima, belonged to converts from heterodoxy. Through the extreme of an excess of zeal, zeal not according to knowledge, a desire to be ‘more Orthodox than the Orthodox’, they are now part of groups which are outside the Orthodox Church. Thus, we see how one extreme, ‘Super-Orthodoxy’, leads to the opposite extreme, being outside the Church.
4. In the mid-1980s we sent the samizdat source in question to Bishop (now Metr) Hilarion (Kapral). Fr Lev was then a priest of the Patriarchal part of the Church. Like many Patriarchal priests inside Russia he was also involved with Catacomb Christians, as I realised on meeting him in 1976. It is a modern myth that the two parts of the Church inside Russia in the Soviet period, the vast Patriarchal part and the minute Catacomb part, were completely separate.
5. See Orthodox England Vol 4 No 2 (December 2000)