The living beliefs of St John of Shanghai swim against the tide of the world and are remarkable examples to all of us for the three following reasons. First of all, although he lived outside Russia he expressed faithfulness to Holy Rus, which for him, as shown in his sermon on the 950th anniversary of the Baptism of Rus, is a living reality, not a dream or myth, as it is for unbelieving modernists a la Schmemann. This faithfulness to Holy Rus, even though it was enslaved beneath the Soviet atheist yoke, entailed his constant prayers for the Patriarch of the Russian Church (shown by his words to the then Fr Vladimir Rodzianko) despite the Patriarch’s political enslavement and so separation from free Russians. It also entailed St John’s opposition to those who fought against Russia, under the tragic and misguided illusion that that they were fighting against the Soviet Union.
Secondly, St John was faithful to the Tsar, already in the 1930s enjoining his canonization against those of both left and right who opposed it. Thirdly, he believed in the Russian Church not as a national ghetto, but as an organism with the worldwide calling to convert to Orthodoxy, as he clearly expressed at the Second All-Diaspora Council in 1938. These three virtues, faithfulness to Holy Rus, faithfulness to the Orthodox Monarchy and faithfulness to the Russian Church’s calling to preach to the heterodox and unbaptized world, are matched by three opposing temptations. These can be found among the still unChurched (and this includes clergy and laity), among those on the fringes of the Church and those outside the Church. These three temptations of spiritual impurity are liberalism instead of faithfulness, conservatism instead of faithfulness and heterodoxy instead of faithfulness.
Liberalism instead of Faithfulness to Holy Rus
This is the temptation from the left, with its renovationism, modernism, new calendarism, liberalism, ecumenism and freemasonry. We have met its spirit in ‘Orthodox’ freemasons in Paris, in cultish, Hindu-style gurus with a name-worship mantra or psychic hypnosis and even occultism, inspired by Blavatsky and Steiner, in those who cannot stop speaking of ‘hypostasis’ and ‘theosis’, rather than living the commandments of the Gospel, in ‘cowboy’ copies of liberal Protestantism and liberal Catholicism camouflaged by long Greek ‘theological’ words, in the elderly or now dead renovationism of the old KGB-selected Moscow Patriarchal representatives from before the fall of atheism, in well-read converts who reject new immigrants from Eastern Europe because they are not liberal intellectuals like themselves, and in ideologies driven by personalities, not by spiritual realities.
Conservatism instead of Faithfulness to the Orthodox Monarchy
This is the temptation from the right, with its phyletism, nationalism, naïve idealization, old calendarism, right-wing emigres and converts who support and accept money from the CIA or MI5, the cultivation of the museum ethos. We have met its spirit in Greeks who tell Non-Greeks to go away, in those who ban the use of languages other than their own, in nationalist Ukrainians who have nothing to do with the Church because they are driven by politics, not by Christ, in those who fall into schism on account of minor errors rather than the general correctness in the Church, in those who schismatically divide the Church, falling into the temptation of the Church’s enemies who want to divide and so rule Her, in converts from conservative heterodox who bring prejudices into the Church, in those who self-justifyingly confuse psychology with theology, serving self and not the general good of the Church.
Heterodoxy instead of Faithfulness to Missionary Work
Authentic missionary work is about conforming the world to the Church, and not as some compromised people have suggested, supporting the errors of those outside the Church through their own syncretism (‘all religions are the same’), founded on indifference. Also, if heterodox are prematurely received into the Church, they may bring spiritual impurities, either in the form of agendas for ‘reform’ or else of reactions to their heterodox past. Thus, there may be ex-Anglicans still with their Protestant mentality who want a ‘refomed’ Orthodoxy in their own image, since they, received prematurely and not yet ready for the Orthodox Church, are unable to cast off their own personal, cultural and spiritual prejudices. Either such will mature, or else they will lapse. Unable to cast off their Establishment class views, whether of left or right, they will never become Orthodox, however well-read.
The title of this essay is formed by the words of the ever-memorable Metropolitan Laurus (+ 2008), said to me in May 2006, on the need to conserve the integrity of the Holy Orthodox Faith. However, his words were in the same line as those of three generations of Russian bishops of the Diaspora before him, of Archbishop Antony of Geneva (+ 1994), of St John of Shanghai (+ 1966) and of Metropolitan Antony of Kiev (+ 1936), the first First Hierarch of the Church Outside Russia. They all agree, in words as in deeds, that any immixture of spiritual impurity in the Faith is a dead end precisely because it is unspiritual and what is unspiritual by definition brings death. It is for us to follow with care their words, deeds and lives, so that we do nor err from the Tradition of the Church through impure influences from outside Her. And this we can do through faithfulness.