Questions and Answers from Recent Correspondence (April 2021)

Pastoral Matters

Q: Is there now any real difference between the ROCOR Churches and the Patriarchal Churches outside Russia? You are under the same Patriarch and all Russian Orthodox? What difference can there be?

A: Although the dividing lines are sometimes rather blurred today, especially in the capitals, generally we in ROCOR are the People’s Church. With other Churches, including Moscow Patriarchal parishes, you always have the impression that the priests are looking over their shoulders at foreign states and embassies, expecting financial or other help. We do not, we cannot, we are local. We have to be self-supporting. The priests survive, the choirs are unpaid. Without the support of the people, we will not exist. This makes us freer, though of course our life can also be incredibly difficult and poor. But who needs marble and gold in their churches? Despite everything they throw at us, all the hatred, jealousy and persecution, we are here and now.

Q: What would you say has been the result of the establishment of a group in the Ukraine under the Patriarchate of Constantinople?

A: The result has been the spread of the tiny, localised and highly nationalistic Ukrainian schism to the small Patriarchates of Constantinople and Alexandria and to the Churches of Greece and Cyprus. All those four Churches are now completely split. Fortunately, the other ten Local Orthodox Churches have remained faithful and not put local nationalism, whether Greek or Ukrainian, above Christ. We are now seeing who is actually Orthodox Christian and who is a mere chauvinist and can be bought to crucify the Body of Christ with thirty pieces of American silver.

Q: Archbishop Job of Telmissos of the Patriarchate of Constantinople has said that Orthodox must accept the Roman Catholic Easter. Could this happen?

A: Archbishop Job is the disgraced bishop of the former Rue Daru Constantinople group. His semi-Uniat, schismatic and tiny Patriarchate is out of communion with the vast majority of the Orthodox Church. I think the less said about any of his strange ideas, the better.

Q: What in the simplest and shortest terms possible is the difference between the Orthodox Church and the Non-Orthodox?

A: My grandson, aged three, recently went inside an Anglican church to see some stained-glass. When he came out, he was asked what he thought. He answered: ‘Huh, well, that’s a pretend church. There were no icons and no candles and they had beds for people to sleep on’ (he meant pews).

I will say no more.

Q: What are the essential qualities to be a priest?

A: There are two: Piety and Intelligence. However, these two qualities need defining:

Piety is not just faith in the heart that God exists, but actual knowledge of God through spiritual experience and therefore love of His Creation. This is very different from pietism, which is emotionalism and sentimentality.

Intelligence does not mean the excellent memory of academic intelligence, intellectualism, which is often very stupid and impious. Intelligence means intuition and experience of human psychology, emotional intelligence, the ability to understand where other people are coming from and how they suffer.

Q: Which is the biggest Orthodox jurisdiction in this country?

A: This is the jurisdiction of lapsed Orthodox, those of all nationalities who are baptised, but who never come to church. It certainly numbers hundreds of thousands.

Q: Why are many Orthodox people passive? Is this a form of clericalism?

A: Sometimes I have the impression that many Orthodox people are like very small children: they will not do anything for themselves or for the Church, unless instructed specifically to do so. This does not only concern big questions, it concerns petty things like blowing out candles, turning  a light on or the heating down, shutting a door etc. I think this comes from the State religion mentality: ‘The clergy will do it’. That mentality is fatally wrong.

Q: Priests should have no right to prevent people taking communion through confession. What do you say to that?

A: I absolutely agree with you. The aim of confession is precisely to help people take communion, not to prevent them. If you were a member of the Orthodox Church and had confession, I think you would know this.

Q: If the Orthodox Church is opposed to contraception, why do virtually all Orthodox couples use it? (As far as I can see they do, since families with two or even only one child appear to be the norm). What exactly is the Orthodox teaching?

A: In answer I will tell you a true story.

Some thirty years ago I met a young Russian émigré woman who thought she was ‘very Orthodox’. She got married to an Orthodox with the blessing of her ‘spiritual father’ and started having children. She had five altogether, even though her marriage was more or less collapsing. Finally, she divorced and became so mentally ill that she had to be taken to a mental hospital and the children were taken into care. In the meantime her ‘spiritual father’,a bishop!!, had been arrested by the police for pedophilia and was duly sitting in a police cell.

She had had five children, not because she loved them, but because in her pride she wanted to be ‘more Orthodox than the Orthodox’, a ‘super-Orthodox’, like her ‘spiritual father’. In other words, the motivation for her life had been sheer pride.

Tell me, what would have been the lesser evil? What would have been better than five unloved, unwanted, unhappy and rejected children, who all now have psychological problems.

The Orthodox teaching on this issue, as on all issues, is love.

Q: Why do temptations happen to us even though we pray ‘And lead us not into temptation’?

A: Temptations are allowed to happen to us in order to make us humble. The sad fact is that in general when there are no temptations, there is no humility. The devil does not know it, but when he tempts us, as allowed by God, he is in fact working for God, he is working to make us humble.

Q: What makes art?

A: Suffering. All great art comes from suffering. Suffering is redemptive for all, believers and unbelievers alike.

Q: What is the difference between a ghost and a poltergeist, if any?

A: A ghost is the souls of a departed human-being which cannot for some reason find rest. A poltergeist is a violent demon.

Q: I recently met an Orthodox woman who continually spoke about demons. I presume this is not typical?

A: Of course not. She is ill. There are people who for psychological, or rather psychopathological, reasons appear to believe more in the devil than Christ. They are profoundly depressed and depressing. These pessimists await the coming of Antichrist, whereas we await the coming of Christ, Who overcame the devil and death.

Liturgical Matters

Q: Why are Orthodox services rather chaotic compared to Catholic and Protestant churches? Everyone seems to be doing different things at the same time.

A: What could be more chaotic than the Holy Spirit?

Q: Do parishes ever need three deacons?

A: I would say no, because there is nothing for a third deacon to do. The only solution would be to have a rota, with the third deacon taking turns to celebrate as the first or second deacon. Even when there are two priests or two deacons, they can do the same.

Q: I recently attended an Unction service and the seven anointings were done altogether at the end, not seven times separately? Is that normal?

A: It is normal in small churches with large numbers of people. Rather than have people milling around seven times and bumping into each other, the anointings are all done at the end. However, in large churches where there is plenty of room and people are disciplined and know how to queue up, the seven anointings can be done separately after each Epistle, Gospel, litany and prayer, as is presupposed. This is a purely practical, not liturgical, question.

Q: Why are Liturgies of the Presanctified so poorly attended, when they do take place? And why not have them in the evening?

A: You mean Vespers with Presanctified Communion, as there is no eucharistic liturgy at these services.

First of all, these are monastic offices. In parishes the only people who can attend are paid clergy, a paid choir and retired people. In our context where we have no paid clergy and no paid choirs and we only have young people and they all work and their older children are at school, there is no possibility to attend them. The only people who might come are mothers with small children. But of course why would they come, when small children are unable to take communion at them because there is no Blood of Christ, only the Body. As I said at the beginning, these are services for monasteries or cathedrals, where there are priests, choirs and at least one reader (essential if these services are to be done properly).

Secondly, they are designed for those who are unable to wait until the next Saturday and Sunday to take communion, in other words they presuppose very frequent communion: that also is very rare. At all the Presanctified services I have been to or celebrated, there were never more than three communions (all of old people).

Very sadly, presanctified services can become a badge of pharisaical pietism.

If they were held in the evening (which is actually uncanonical), when would the fast before communion begin? After breakfast? Personally, I cannot take communion after a day at work. Holy communion needs to be the first thing we do in the day, not the last. Can we really be prepared to take communion after the stress of a day at work? Our thoughts are elsewhere. We need to prepare for holy communion.