Pastoral Questions


Q: How can you belong to ROCOR, a Church that in the 1990s uncanonically opened parishes inside Russia and entered into communion with schismatic Greek Old Calendarists?

A: I could not and did not. I am afraid you have your facts wrong. Two (but possibly more) ROCOR bishops did what you describe. And in the Western European Diocese of ROCOR, to which I then belonged, we categorically refused to engage in either of the above because both these actions were and are uncanonical.

Q: Why do Catholics make the sign of the cross backwards?

A: Christ sits on the right hand of the Father. The Tradition has always been to start with the right – right foot first. Thus, just like Orthodox, even Catholics make the sign of the cross with the right hand and not the left. Priests turn to their right to say to the people ‘Peace be unto all’, we cross our hands left over right before communion, priests (as did laity once) receive communion with their right hand cupped in the left, which is how laypeople cup their hands to take a priest’s blessing.

The fact is that in the West people used to make the sign of the cross as Orthodox still do, from right to left. Thus, in the 1713 French ‘Simple, Literal and Historical Explanations of the Ceremonies of the Church’ by Dom Claude de Vert, Page 6, Rubric 1, we read: ‘The priest makes the sign of the cross with his five fingers (and not with the first three only according to the old practice – as some bishops, the Chartreuses and the Jacobins still do, being careful to extend only the thumb and the next two fingers, as in times past).

And if the priest touches the left shoulder before the right, it is not a matter of indifference, as we can see from a letter of Pope Leo IV (790-855) that formerly the right shoulder was indeed touched before the left’.

The question as to why Catholics changed from the Orthodox practice (after all, they keep Orthodox practices in many other domains) is unanswerable. However, the most likely suggestion is that Catholic laity wanted to do what they saw the Catholic priests doing when they face the people and bless them, that is, when they cross the people from left to right (which appears to laity as right to left, as they face the clergy). In other words, the change was caused by clericalism, by wanting to imitate the clergy.

Q: Why in the British Isles do you say ‘He is risen indeed’ in answer to ‘Christ is risen’? Elsewhere the response is ‘Truly He is risen’, which, after all, is the literal translation.

A: This relates to the King James translation of the words of Luke and Cleopas to the other disciples in Luke 24, 34, after they had come back from Emmaus and talked to Christ: ‘Saying, the Lord is risen indeed’. (In the Greek, ‘ondos’ – really, in the Russian ‘istinno’ – truly). This translation simply relates to the emphatic British English usage of the word ‘indeed’ (for example, the phrase, ‘Did he indeed?’), whereas other English-speaking peoples would use ‘truly’ or ‘really’. The merit of the translation ‘indeed’ is that it implies ‘in action’, not just ‘in theory’.

Q: Why are some converts eccentric?

A: I recently visited a ‘convert church’ which had a notice by the entrance with the words: ‘Warning: This Church May Contain Nuts’.

We are talking now about a small minority, an eccentric fringe, so we should not get things out of proportion. I think that those who consider that they are ‘converts’ are not Orthodox; those for whom Orthodoxy is a way of life and have forgotten a time when they were not in the Church are simply Orthodox. Orthodoxy is second nature to us. But ‘converts’ (that is, a minority of converts) seem to cultivate exotic eccentricity, especially strange dress and hairstyles. And yet the Mother of God was a ‘convert’, as were all the apostles. But they never spoke of themselves as ‘converts’ and we never think of them as ‘converts’. Of course not – because they were converted – i.e. finished products.

Here we come to the essence of the matter: there are ‘converts’ and there are the converted. The difference is that ‘converts’ are people who want to remain in a stew for beginners, for ever and ever, and there are people who have been converted and are trying to improve themselves. In other words, quite simply, there are neophytes and there are Christians.

Those who are neophytes want to remain at the Church doors, for ever ranting against their former beliefs (there is nothing so anti-Anglican as an ex-Anglican) and there are those who have entered the Church and really cannot be bothered by what goes on at the Church doors. Those who remain at the doors for ever read books for converts (Bloom, Ware, Schmemann, The Way of a Pilgrim, Kalomiros etc) and cultivate eccentricity and exoticism in dress, hairstyle or speech, sometimes for some pathological reason (to look different from others); they are ‘converts’. It is time for them to move on and become normal Christians, which is what the word Orthodox actually means.

The word ‘eccentric’ is another word for vanity, the desire to be different, to be attention-seeking. Such ‘converts’ need to move on from the first course to the main course, with its meat, which has the promise of the sweet dessert to come. Those who remain converts need to be converted. But they must first want to be converted and not remain ‘converts’.

Q: What do you think of the opinion ‘Religion is the opium of the people’?

A: Personally, I am against religion, that is, the artificial invention by States of religious establishments in order to repress people. However, I am for faith, that is, for spiritual experience, the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, which is the foundation of the Orthodox Church. To Marx, whose birth was 200 years ago and who wrote this opinion 175 years ago, I would say: ‘And atheism is the opium of the intellectuals’.

Q: Are some people chosen by God to carry out some special task, to fulfil some special destiny in this world? Are you such a person?

A: All of us without exception have been chosen by God for some special task, it is just that only some are aware of it. As for myself, I have been aware for over four decades that I have to preach Orthodoxy in Western Europe. This is in order to gather the lost sheep together, that is, to reintegrate at least a small number of Western Europeans and our saints back into the Church. This is to make ready for the restoration of the Christian Empire in Russia to resist Antichrist, whose coming the globalists are preparing.