Q: Why do some people talk so much about what is canonical and uncanonical?
A: That is often the talk of converts from Protestantism who have replaced citing chapter and verse in order to try and catch out others and now cite the canons in order to try and catch out others. They love to call the canons ‘holy’, indeed they will put the word ‘holy’ anywhere: ‘Holy Church’, holy council’, holy bishop’, holy father’. This is all part of the self-justifying religion of the pharisees, they make themselves holy. ‘Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you compass sea and land to make one convert and when he is made, you make him twice more the child of hell than yourselves’ (Matt. 23, 15).
Canons are guidelines to Church administration. If they are interpreted and said without love, then they are just empty laws, ‘sounding brass’ (I Cor 13, 1), the lack of love, worthy only of the Synod-Sanhedrin, and have no spiritual meaning. We exist on earth in order to learn how to love. That is the meaning and purpose of all human life. Everything else, like the religion of the pharisees, is spiritually meaningless and even spiritually harmful. For it does not teach us how to love, but only how to condemn.
Nobody is canonical, if you actually read the canons. For example, Canon XXX of the Holy Apostles deposes all bishops who have been appointed by the secular authorities, Canon LXIV forbids fasting on Saturdays, Canon LXXXI says that bishops may not hold political office, Canon XX of the First Council forbids kneeling on Sundays, Canon XXI of Antioch forbids bishops to change dioceses etc. etc. And we have not even mentioned the widespread problem of simony…
Q: Do we absolute obedience to anyone except Christ?
A: No, only to Christ.
Q: Can we pray for Non-Orthodox?
A: First of all, we have to distinguish between private and public prayer. We can and do pray for anyone in private prayer, including for the unbaptised.
As regards public prayer, which I think is what you are referring to, we should only pray for Orthodox by name. This is why the mention of the late Queen Elizabeth II in the litanies in this country was controversial. We did it because that was what our bishops imposed on us, out of obedience. That time is now over.
However, in general, we always pray in general for the civil authorities and the armed forces (nobody by name). The Apostle Peter told us to do so (I Peter 2, 17). There are some people who object to this because they do not like the authorities and the armed forces. This is unChristian. As Christians we are told precisely to pray for our enemies, for people we do not like, though we do not do this by name in public prayer. Thus, prayer for the armed forces does not mean that we pray that they will kill lots of people, it means that we pray that they will not kill lots of people. Sadly, there are some so-called Christians who refuse to pray for their enemies in private prayer. They are not Christians. I pray for my enemies every day.
Q: Is ecumenism a problem in the Orthodox Church today?
A: Frankly, nobody ever talks about it. It appears to be a dead duck. To me it seems like something from the last century. Most Orthodox do not even know what it is. We live alongside Non-Orthodox as we always have done. The main problem today is to keep the Faith despite the oppression of militant secularism/atheism all around us. It is not some mysterious and non-existent ‘ecumenism’.
Q: Your life’s work was to promote Russian Orthodoxy. As you were forced into leaving the Russian Church for the Romanian Patriarchate because of the schismatic activities of the Russian Orthodox bishop, do you feel that your work has been wasted?
A: First of all, let me correct your statement. My life’s work has NOT been to promote Russian Orthodoxy. That is a fundamental misunderstanding. My life’s work has always been to promote a Local Church in the British Isles and Ireland and in Western Europe. True, the Russian Church for decades said that this was its objective and therefore I supported it. I have always opposed those of any nationality who opposed that aim for either racist (Greek, Russian etc) or else ideological reasons, that is, sectarianism of both left (new calendarism) and right (old calendarism).
Many bishops of both parts of the Russian Church, and indeed Patriarch Alexis II at one time, very actively promoted in words and deeds our vision of multinational Russian Orthodoxy and, in particular, wanted a Local Church of Western Europe. My loyalty to the Russian Church was based uniquely on that shared vision. As long as that was the policy of the Russian Church, I supported or, as you say, ‘promoted’, the Russian Church. When, alas! the Russian Church renounced that shared multination vision of spreading the ideal of ‘Holy Rus’ and become Russian nationalist (or American nationalist), at least for the time being (repentance is always possible) and so renounced all of us, we could no longer support that.
In this way the Russian Church is becoming like the Patriarchate of Constantinople, which was and in most places still is – mononational or nationalist. We consider that the Russian Church is committing a kind of spiritual suicide, renouncing the views of its own best Diaspora bishops of its recent past and of Patriarch Alexis II, going into reverse by falling prey to nationalism. That is too bad for the salvation of their souls. It is their loss.
As a result, they have lost most of the Non-Russian Church, in the Ukraine, in Latvia and now this movement is spreading to Lithuania and may spread to Estonia and Moldova and all though the Diaspora. (Not to mention the opposition to the conflict in the Ukraine shown by the Russian-founded OCA in North America). As for us, we shall continue in the footsteps of all the saints of the Ancient West and in the footsteps of St John of Shanghai, continuing to work towards the multinational Local Church, for the time being without the Russian Church, which has excluded itself from this process for its own perdition. But it may all come back.
Remember, Russian Church, that those who live by the ghetto will die by the ghetto. In other words, you will lose all your children, all over again, and die out, if it really is your choice to be a mononational Church for Russians outside Russia. But that is your choice.
Q: Has the parish in Colchester grown in recent years?
A: With immigration over the last 15 years as a result of Eastern European countries joining the EU (the Baltics in 2004, Romanian and Bulgaria in 2007), all parishes in this country have grown or should have grown. In our own case, we witnessed a slow and gradual tripling of numbers between 2008 and 2019, as word got round that we exist. Then came covid, which brought an extra 50% of people, as we remained open, when others closed. A simple witness to the fact that we consider faith greater than fear of some virus was enough. Then when persecution began in 2021, we saw another 50% increase. People identify with a church that is persecuted. True, a few left, but they were the ones who were weak in faith, swam with the tide and had to be carried. Those who were more solid joined us.
Now we are facing the challenge of new Ukrainian parishioners. As we are outside the Russian Church, we have a great opportunity here. Every Sunday we see new Ukrainians in church and soon we shall have a Ukrainian priest for them. There are 400,000 Romanians in the UK, who nearly all came here between 2007 and 2020 and now 100,000 Ukrainians, who have arrived here since April. There is an immense amount of pastoral work to be done here and new churches to set up.
Q: I couldn’t help noticing that Queen Elizabeth II died on the Feast of the Birth of the Mother of God and that her funeral was on the Feast Day of St Theodore of Canterbury, new style. Do you think there is any message for English people in that?
A: As neither of those feasts would have entered her consciousness or had any significance for her, I rather doubt it. What I find more instructive is the rainbow that appeared over Windsor on the news of her passing.
Q: What is the strangest thing you have heard from a Protestant?
A: There are two things. The first is something that was said to me almost fifty years ago, which was: ‘We don’t have saints’. I took this and take this as meaning: ‘We don’t have the Holy Spirit’. For me that means that Protestantism is not part of the Church, as the Church is founded on the saints who follow Christ. The second thing was four years ago, when a Protestant visitor asked me: ‘Are you an inclusive Church?’ I was thrown by such a strange question at first, but then answered: ‘All our churches are inclusive, on one condition, which is that people who come here are repentant. This is the condition set by St John the Baptist. Those who do not repent exclude themselves from the Church.