On the Importance of Sobriety

Questions and answers compiled from recent conversations and correspondence

Q: In an article in ‘Orthodox Christianity and the English Tradition’ entitled ‘The Present Situation of the Orthodox Church’ and written nearly 25 years ago in July 1989, you wrote about the two extremes to be found on the fringes of the Orthodox world, new calendarism and old calendarism, and the pressures they exerted on the free voice of the Church, the voice of the New Martyrs. You said that these New Martyrs would be canonised inside Russia, providing that the Church could free itself from the Communist government. This happened. So my question is if these two isms or extremes, which were then a considerable problem, are still a problem despite that canonisation?

A: Yes, they are definitely still present, though they are not as influential as they were. This is because the Centre of the Church, that which is outside the extremes, has been much strengthened through the prayers of the now universally canonised New Martyrs.

Q: But why do these isms still exist?

A: Both extremist isms still exist for historical reasons, appearing after the Centre fell, that is, after the Russian Revolution in 1917. The Centre ‘did not hold’, ‘things fell apart’, that is, there was a polarisation. This became clearly and immediately visible in Russia in the 1920s with the renovationist new calendarism – although the renovationist temptation had existed for several years before the Revolution, certainly since Gapon in 1905. (Incidentally, Patriarch Kyrill’s grandfather, Fr Vasily Gundyaev, suffered much from that renovationism). And of course there were individuals who then went to the opposite extreme of renovationism, falling into a sort of old calendarist sectarianism.

At the same time Renovationism also became visible outside Russia in Constantinople, which had long been under British masonic influence. Thus, the renovationist Constantinople hierarchy actually recognised the renovationists in Russia, rejecting the saintly Patriarch Tikhon and the legitimate Church. Then, together with the Church of Greece, it introduced the secular (so-called ‘new’) calendar for the fixed feasts. Here a lot of Anglican money, £100,000 of that time, changed hands. Immediately, there was a reaction to all this and old calendarism began.

Q: What has your position been towards these two extremes?

A: It has always been to stand in the middle and support the Centre, even though it fell in 1917. My position has been a consistent straight line, from which I have never wavered, and this as early as 1973 in a booklet which I wrote then and which was published a few years ago in ‘Orthodox England’. My support has always been for a free Russian Orthodoxy, uncompromised by either extreme.

Q: Are you not criticised for this unwavering line?

A: Of course. But, in fact, pressure from the extremist margins only strengthens us. As an example of this, I would like to mention a fellow priest in Bulgaria who wrote to me a little while ago. He has one of the Church calendar parishes in Bulgaria which is under the new calendar Church. Thus he remains faithful to the Tradition, but does not participate in schism. And he receives as much criticism from new calendarism as from old calendarism. This is exactly our situation here, where both fringes criticise us. Interestingly, the fringes often work together and are friends. As they say, ‘extremes meet’. And when we are criticised by both extremes, it is a sure sign that we are doing something right, standing in the middle. Remember that the middle is where Christ was crucified, between the two thieves.

Q: You mentioned how it all began in 1917 with the fall of the Centre in Moscow. But did the extremist pressures get worse?

A: Yes, they did. The Cold War after 1945 definitely made it all worse. For example, in 1948 the USA installed a new Patriarch of Constantinople called Athenagoras. He was flown in by the CIA on Truman’s personal plane from America. When the legitimate Patriarch, Maximos, was deposed and exiled by the CIA, he was heard to say, ‘The City is lost’. This is a close parallel to the situation in the first millennium when a number of heretical patriarchs of Constantinople were installed by heretical emperors. Interestingly, the legitimate Patriarch Maximos V, supposedly ‘ill’, died three decades later in 1972, the same year as the illegitimate Patriarch. Since 1948 Constantinople, co-opted into the anti-Soviet and then anti-Russian war of the USA, has been the plaything of the ‘iconoclastic’ US State Department. The City is lost indeed – but the Church lives on outside the City. Fortunately, the Church does not depend on a geographical location – otherwise there would still be nothing outside Jerusalem.

The situation was no better in the Local Churches that survived under Communism during the Cold War. As regards the Russian Church, the situation worsened greatly under Khrushchev, a virulent and primitive atheist, not just because he persecuted the Church physically, but also because he and the Soviet Communist Party imposed ecumenism on the Church as a political tool in the early 1960s. The other Communist Parties in Eastern Europe did the same to their Local Churches. The idea was to make ecumenism and ecumenical organisations into tools for Soviet propaganda.

Q: What happened when the Cold War ended?

A: Just because the Cold War officially ended, that does not mean that persecution is over. Today the militant atheism of the Soviet Union is gone, but now we have the militant atheism of the European Union. The EU ideology is trying to destroy not only the Local Churches of EU member countries in Romania, Greece, Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia and Cyprus, but also the Churches of countries which the EU one day hopes to colonise: Serbia, Moldova, Georgia, even the Ukraine. The victims of such political pressures, some senior bishops, are hostages to this, so we do not listen to the things that their political masters force them to say, especially in Serbia.

Q: Do others listen to these bishop-hostages?

A: You should not listen to hostages. Unfortunately, old calendarists do listen to these bishop-hostages and, in search of self-justification for their schisms, quote them. Thus, they deliberately ignore the 99.999% of the Local Church which is solidly Orthodox and with whom they put themselves out of communion. They want black and white situations, everyone else must be black and therefore only they can be white. This is pride and it is also to fall into the divide and rule game of the powers of this world, which want to divide the Church in order to rule it. It is like refusing to be baptized by the disciples because Judas had been a disciple. And so you remain unbaptized, outside the Church, all because of someone else who put himself outside the Church. This is to cut off your nose to spite your face, to deprive yourself because another has deprived himself.

I would add that old calendarism itself is no better in terms of political dependence. I will always remember one of their bishops writing to me six year ago and complaining that I did not support the CIA. He actually said with great pride that some of his best parishioners in the USA work for the CIA! We also recall how the US ambassador in Kiev actually plotted a schism in the Ukraine. This we know because we stood in front of him as he plotted it with a bishop at the Russian Church’s San Francisco Council of 2006. And that is exactly what that bishop then did and he is now in communion with the CIA-supporting old calendarist bishop. It is a small world!

Q: Obviously, the liberal and modernist threat to the Church, with ecumenism, liturgical modernism, intercommunion and so on, is well-known. But is it still a reality?

A: It is a reality, but mainly for old people. Today, for instance, ecumenism is largely dead. This is why old calendarists are always quoting events from the 60s, 70s and 80s. They look to the past when ecumenism was active. Thus, a favourite hate figure of theirs is Patriarch Sergius – but he died in 1944! The dead present no threat. And most of the modernists I can think of are either dead or else in their 70s and 80s. They are very old-fashioned. All we can do is pray for them that they might repent before their end. But even if we see them as our enemies, the Gospel tells us to love our enemies. Here we see that old calendarism lacks love.

Q: Do the old calendarist fractions have points in common with the new calendarist fractions?

A: Yes, they do, and several things. For example, both are old-fashioned, many of their people are elderly. Both are extremely Russophobic. And both the new calendarist and old calendarist movements are utterly split. This is because they are concerned not with the unity of the Church, which comes from following Christ, but with following personal opinions, which are always divisive, precisely because they are personal. They do not understand the importance of the conciliar mind of the Church, which is above opinions, because it follows the Holy Spirit.

Old calendarism in particular wants dogmatic precision in every detail from every individual. This is not how the Church works, the Church is not a totalitarian monolith. For instance, I have been told that there are now 14 old calendarist synods in Greece, all, it seems, hating each other. Often when one of their metropolitans dies, they split again. Many of these synods only have a few dozen communities under them and often the communities themselves are tiny, at most a few dozen. The synods are often dominated by clericalism. And here we should remember the ordinary people who are hoodwinked into following them. These synods have a large turnover of sincere, but naïve neophytes. I am sometimes contacted by such people from this country. They want to leave the sects where they are and come to the Orthodox Church, which they have just discovered. Such ordinary people are not guilty. This is why they are received into the Church by confession and communion.

Q: Why are both new calendarism and old calendarism Russophobic?

A: Out of self-justification. Both denigrate the Russian Church especially because She is old calendar and therefore from their viewpoint a competitor. They need to justify their isolation from Her and desperately want to see scandals and corruption. Thus, they will repeat anti-Church Cold War propaganda against the Russian Church, whatever the origin, atheist or other. Thus, they seize on the most minor scandal, blow it up out of all proportion and generalise it, rather like the anti-clerical media. One priest is bad, therefore all are bad, therefore they cannot be in communion with a whole Local Church. This is self-justification and also Donatism, as the righteous Metr Philaret of New York described old calendarism.

However, the main impression is not so much of Russophobia, nor even of the rejection of episcopal authority, but of the rejection of the people of the Church, the unChurched but recently baptised masses both of the Russian Church and other Local Churches, who are not good enough for them. This is the contempt of the elder brother who rejected the Prodigal Son. It is the refusal to recognise repentance that is characteristic of old calendarism and also new calendarism. That is another thing they have in common – their elitist, esoteric disdain for the masses. It is just another sign of the pride that infects all schism.

Q: To what extent was the Church inside Russia affected by new calendarism, what Russians call renovationism?

A: There was a serious battle against renovationism inside Russia, but it was over by the 1930s. Renovationism simply died out there for lack of support. People knew that it was a Communist trick. However, it did survive far longer in the foreign parishes of the Church inside Russia and in the Paris Jurisdiction, where many of the renovationists went, so intense was their hatred of the Russian Church. Many of the old emigres brought this renovationism, in fact a sort of ‘art nouveau’ pre-Revolutionary decadence, into the emigration with them and preserved it abroad, long after it was dead inside the Soviet Union. So it survived as a curiosity. However, most of its last elderly supporters have died in the last twenty years.

Q: Wasn’t ROCOR, on the other hand, affected by the opposite extreme, old calendarism or traditionalism?

A: Yes. Communism inside Russia created renovationism which the Church there had to defeat. However, during the Cold War Capitalism created anti-Communism. In ROCOR in the USA this took the form of a nationalist right-wing movement. The supporters of this movement were the very ones who put St John on trial in San Francisco fifty years ago. In the 1960s they accepted a Greek old calendarist monastery into the Church. To their horror the old calendarists turned against the hand that had fed them and tried to take over ROCOR.

Realising that they had failed in their takeover bid, in 1986 many of the old calendarists left ROCOR, but their influence lingered on and the 1990s were a battle ground between that influence and the original ROCOR Tradition. The battle was between the Tradition, such as we knew it in the Western European Diocese of ROCOR, the Tradition which had come out of pre-Revolutionary Russia, and that new and alien old calendarist influence. As you know, in the end, the old ROCOR was triumphant. The alien influence reality affected very few, about 5% of the whole, but led them to leaving the Church in the early 2000s, which was tragic for them, but at the same time allowed the restoration of ROCOR’s old spiritual independence and integrity.

Q: How do you try and remain faithful in the middle?

A: Sobriety is the key to this. The left, or new calendarism, and the right, old calendarism, are equally self-exalted. The Centre is not self-exalted at all and remains sober. Both new calendarism (renovationism) and old calendarism (traditionalism) must be avoided because both equally lead to schism. Schism is always caused by a lack of sobriety. We steer our course by the star of Christ, the star of Bethlehem, in other words, by grace.

I remember in 2007, just after the concelebration between Patriarch Alexis and Metropolitan Laurus in Christ the Saviour Cathedral in Moscow, in which we had all participated with great joy at our unity, two senior ROCOR priests were speaking. One said: ‘Well, we’ve done it’. The other answered, ‘No, father, the grace of God has done it’. And this is exactly the case. The grace of God brings unity in truth (and that is the only real unity, the only unity that exists); the devil brings disunity and untruth.

Q: How do such new calendarist and old calendarist schisms arise from inside the Church?

A: The leaders of the small groups that leave the Church for either extreme are people who have been in difficulty in Church life for decades. But they are tolerated because God tolerates them. Eventually, such people are either healed by the patience shown to them, or else they leave the Church of their own accord.

Q: What lies behind schisms? Why are theological and historical arguments not successful with those who leave? Why can’t the leaders of schism see their error?

A: It is not theology or history that lies behind most schisms, but psychology, that is, personality conflicts. And that is always irrational. Irrational psychology cuts off its nose to spite its face, it resists grace and grace is always rational. For example, seven years ago I predicted that few would return from the Sourozh schism in England, though we would remain open to their return. And, just as predicted, few did come back. Why? Why do tiny minorities, which will clearly die out, prefer occasional services in ‘voluntary catacombs’, in back rooms and sheds, temporary rented premises, to regular services in normal churches? It is because they do not want the Church, they want the inward-looking, sectarian atmosphere of cliques and clubs, of small ponds, where they can be ‘big fish’.

Q: What is the psychology of traditionalist and modernist schisms?

A: I will take one example which I know well – the Sourozh new calendarist schism. This came about from the convert desire to merge Orthodoxy with Anglicanism (the Establishment). This is why the schism was supported at the time by the Establishment Church of England, albeit discreetly, but quite openly by newspapers like The Times and The Daily Telegraph, which support the British Establishment and whose journalists are fed by MI5 and the CIA, just like BBC journalists. However, to wish to merge Orthodoxy with Anglicanism is in fact to state that you remain unconverted to Orthodoxy, under the cloak of culture, hiding behind cultural excuses.

To take a minor detail as an example, they said: ‘Orthodoxy will have to adapt to us because we are English and so, for example, we have milk in our tea even on fast days’. Although this is a very minor detail, it is symptomatic of a far more serious spiritual illness – cultural arrogance, worldliness and nationalism. Thus, I remember that I was contacted at the time by one who complained that I had written that her group practised intercommunion and that was quite untrue. However, I pointed out to her that I had only been quoting from her group’s website which openly boasted that it allowed intercommunion!

As regards traditionalist or old calendarist schisms, they come from convert insecurity, the neophyte’s need to be against other Christians (especially against other Orthodox), rather than for Christ. It is interesting that such groups pride themselves on being ‘converts’. It is strange because we stop being converts once we are integrated, which should happen, at most, within a few years of reception into the Church. For example, the apostles do not speak of themselves as converts. That is unthinkable because they are part of the Church. And this was the same throughout history. Those who are part of the Church are not converts.

Q: Why are so many Anglican converts involved in schisms and hardly any Russians, at least in England?

A: Interestingly, a few Russians are involved, but they are always highly anglicised and want to become part of the Establishment despite their origins. Anglicans are Protestants and they have a very weak sense of the Incarnation. Therefore, for them the Church is just an individual choice, a personal matter, a private opinion, without any collective or social repercussions and so the Church is just a club. In Protestantism individualism is so highly developed that if you do not like the Church where you are, you simply go off and start another one. There is an inability to get on with others, to adapt, to accept and tolerate other opinions in community. That is why there are thousands of Protestant denominations, which to us Orthodox all look the same and indeed are essentially the same.

So the collective, the community, the Church, suffers at the hands of individualism, sectarianism. That is why in England, for example, there are five different small groups of ex-Anglicans who have joined the local dioceses of Orthodox Churches, but they are all split up. They cannot get on with each other or with other Orthodox. The only ex-Anglicans who do get on with each other are those who get on with other Orthodox of other nationalities, who are already integrated into Local Churches and multinational parishes and have forgotten that they were once Anglicans. They are Orthodox.

Q: When will old calendarist and new calendarist schisms end?

A: Only when the Centre has been fully re-established, when we reverse all the decadence of the past 96 years, when we go back to the pre-1917 situation. Thus, old calendarist schisms will exist for as long as the Greek, Romanian and Bulgarian Churches remain officially on the secular calendar for the fixed feasts. Once those Churches have returned to the Church calendar, and they would never have dared leave it before 1917 because the Russian Church would not have allowed it, those schisms will fall apart, only clerical careerists or the ill will be left. As regards new calendarist schisms, they will last for as long as the Centre is not strong enough to quell them, as long as there are conformists whose faith is weak, who swim with the Western tide, who are too weak to stand up to the passing fashions of this world.

Q: If we can slightly move away from this theme, what can we say about the future of diaspora unity between the parishes of the Church Outside Russia (ROCOR) and the foreign parishes of the Church inside Russian, outside Russia but still not under ROCOR, as they logically and canonically should be?

A: As you say, logic and the canons say they should be, but there is such a thing as economy – a temporary dispensation for pastoral reasons, for the greater benefit. Much patience is needed to implement the 2007 agreement between the two parts of the Russian Church. We knew this at the time. As you know that agreement involved the Church Outside Russia giving up its representations inside Russia and the Church inside Russia giving up its representations outside Russia. However, as the Church Outside Russia had very few and only very recent representations inside Russia, it was easy to give them up. On the other hand, the Church inside Russia had a lot of longstanding representations and property outside Russia – as a result of the Cold War.

Wisely, no timetable was agreed on the issue of transfer of parishes to ROCOR because this is a pastoral issue. This should all happen calmly, as has happened in Australia, without anyone’s feelings being hurt. So what has been happening since the 2007 agreement is that the foreign parishes of the Church inside Russia are being readied for their transfer to the Church Outside Russia – but I would say that this process will take a generation. We are only at the beginning.

Q: How can such a transfer work in terms of practices? For example, ROCOR practises reception of heterodox by baptism, foreign parishes of the Church inside Russia practise reception of heterodox by chrismation?

A: That is untrue. Practices vary in both ROCOR and in the Church inside Russia. For example, in the Western European Diocese of ROCOR, we generally received by chrismation, as was the universal tradition of ROCOR until the 1970s. The priest would offer reception by baptism or chrismation, explaining why the choice was available. We always found that most chose to be received by chrismation. Practices in the Church inside Russia also vary. I think that once all the 825 or so parishes outside Russia are united under ROCOR, this mixed practice will continue according to the pastoral conscience of each priest. This is not a dogmatic issue, but a pastoral one. We all agree that there are no sacraments outside the Church, but approaches vary as regards the sacramental forms that have survived outside the Church and how we deal with them.

Q: You described how foreign parishes of the Church inside Russia were much affected by the renovationism or new calendarism that was brought out of Russia by certain emigres. Is this still a problem?

A: Much less of a problem every year. For instance, I remember someone telling me how when Bishop Elisey, the new Sourozh bishop appointed after the schism there in 2006, first came to England, he visited one of his communities in the provinces. The priest was an ex-Anglican and when Bishop Elisey got up on Sunday morning to serve the liturgy, he was asked by the priest’s wife whether he wanted a cooked breakfast, like her husband, or not. This came as a shock to him, but not to us, who knew exactly what had been going on in Sourozh for decades.

This was typical of the old Sourozh under Metr Antony Bloom and Bp Basil Osborne, where ‘English culture’ was more important than Church culture, where in fact phyletism reigned. They received Anglicans into the Church very quickly, never taught them much about Orthodoxy, ordained them and then never visited them or checked up on them. Cooked breakfasts before communion, just as in the Church of England, were the result. However, now that the Sourozh Diocese has been brought back to the normal practices of the Russian Church, such peculiar situations belong to the past.

Q: What is the main problem of doing missionary work in the West?

A: Most of our work is with immigrant Orthodox from Eastern Europe and it is a matter of Churching people who were baptised in the last few years. So our problems here are exactly the same as elsewhere in the post-Communist Orthodox world.

However, there is a second layer of work, which is with the mass of Western people who have no concept of what the Orthodox Church is. I would say that here our work is in overcoming a barrier of prejudices, what I call the ‘Dawkins Delusion’, which is the modern Western delusion. This is the problem of very primitive Neo-Darwinianism. This is actually irrelevant to those who have never held Protestant fundamentalist beliefs, like the Orthodox. So first of all you have to explain to these people that the Church has never held weird Protestant beliefs, which they are in revolt against, and then you have to explain that this is why we have no need to revolt against beliefs which we have never had anyway. This makes their Neo-Darwinianism irrelevant. In Catholic countries it is much the same story, but there they are in revolt against Papism. So the problem comes in explaining that we are not anti-Papist like them because we have never been Papist. It is irrelevant to us

Q: Do you not work to convert Anglicans, Protestants and Catholics?

A: First of all, in today’s West there are very few of those and they are mainly very elderly. We do not proselytise among them. We tend to find that those who have actually believed in Protestantism or Catholicism all their lives never become Orthodox. They are unable to learn to think and act as Orthodox. Of course, if they come to us, having understood the errors of what they have been taught, that is a different matter. But we do not proselytise. We wait for the grace of God to touch them. We do not work by human artifice. They must become natural, integrated Orthodox.