Answers to Four Recent Questions
As you have no Pope, where is the infallible authority of the Orthodox Church?
The Church’s authority is the Holy Spirit. Infallibility, restricted in Catholicism to the Popes of Rome when they speak ex cathedra, that is, from their position as Pope, can be expressed by anyone if they speak and are inspired by the Holy Spirit. This is much more democratic than in the Roman Catholic religion that you confess – however, this is no Protestant/’Charismatic’ free for all.
First of all, the gift of speaking through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit requires great spiritual sobriety and is a rare occurrence, demanding spiritual purity in the soul, based on the repentance, humility and ascetic life (fasting and prayer), which is at the heart of Church life. There is no authority without humility, repentance and ascetic self-sacrifice. The Holy Spirit cannot inspire where there is spiritual impurity and worldliness, as we recently saw in Crete.
Nevertheless, all the saints have spoken through the Holy Spirit at some point in their lives, even if only at their martyrdom. This authority is often recognized only after the event, which is why people are not canonized immediately and the saints are often rejected during their lifetimes. We can think of the cases of St Leo the Great, whose message, written some time before, was at once recognized at Chalcedon as the voice of the Church, of St Mark of Ephesus, who defended Orthodoxy through his integrity or, more recently, St Justin (Popovich), who gave us the definitive Orthodox teaching on ecumenism. Christ spoke through them all by the Holy Spirit.
Everything else is personal opinion and has no validity or infallibility, like the opinions expressed at the Crete meeting of a number of Orthodox bishops in June 2016. These were at once rejected, including by many present, since they did not correspond to the catholic tradition and theological conscience of the Church, but came from philosophies like those of eccentric outliers who have infiltrated the Church with the support of secular politics and are inspired by the secular, humanist world.
If you are a member of the clergy, what do you do in cases of episcopal corruption, financial, moral or other?
If you are really sure that this is the case from personal experience, and it is not merely some slanderous gossip of ill-wishers and Cold War politicians (like the absurd slanders against the late Russian Patriarch Alexei II that he was a KGB agent!!!!, when he was in fact a KGB victim), in such cases you do what clergy have always done throughout the ages, in Greece, Russia, Romania or wherever – you ask to move sideways canonically. In other words, you move physically and spiritually to another canonical diocese of the Church, without of course creating some division or schism.
This you do in order to avoid compromising your morals and so spiritual life. In such cases of episcopal corruption, you should also discreetly supply proof of the corruption, if you have any, so that the bishop in question can be judged by his fellow-bishops, but this is only possible if they are politically free to do so.
Such cases of personal corruption are quite different from cases of heresy, where a bishop is openly, clearly and publicly preaching heresy, (and not just expressing some unusual personal opinion, with which you may happen to disagree), for example, if he is denying the Holy Trinity, that Christ is the Son of God, the Resurrection or the Virgin Birth.
What do you consider to have been the main two enemies of Orthodoxy in the Russian emigration?
Without doubt the enemies of authentic and often saintly Russian Orthodox in the emigration were, firstly, Russian Westernism, such as I experienced infiltrating ROCOR in London and elsewhere and the Rue Daru group in Paris and elsewhere, and secondly Russian Nationalism in the same cities and elsewhere. The two went hand in hand and fed off each other. Both were acutely thisworldly in their ethos.
By Russian Westernism, I mean the sort of ‘anything goes’ liberalism preached by the Westernized Saint Petersburg aristocrats who were so influential in Russian émigré Church life in all jurisdictions, though in some much more than others, and had no idea of the Tradition. They after all had brought about the Revolution through their anti-Church and anti-monarchist spirit and their exile was in fact self-punishment.
By Russian Nationalism I mean the spirit of Russia first, Orthodoxy (at best) second. This was the spirit that I heard in parishes of all jurisdictions, saying, ‘We would rather close the parish than use a single word in the local language’ (which their children and grandchildren alone could understand). Naturally, dozens of parishes simply died out and closed down because the Faith was not passed on, because the confessed only a sort of exclusive racism. They had no idea of the high missionary calling of the Russian Diaspora.
As the two went hand in hand together, one to the left extreme, the other to the right extreme, the antidote to them both is exactly the same. It is to be an Imperial, that is, a Russian Orthodox, who is faithful to multinational and multilingual Holy Rus, which is the title of the Russian Orthodox Patriarchs of all nationalities. (For example, the last Patriarch ‘of All Rus’ was a Balt, whose surname was von Ridiger, and the present Patriarch is Mordovan).
What held you back the most as a Russian Orthodox clergyman in the old Russian emigration?
P. T., London
There were two basic ‘sins’ in the eyes of secular-thinking old Russian emigres whom I encountered in the 1970s and 1980s before they died out. The first was to be young (unlike them), the second was to be educated (unlike most of them).
Of course, the two criticisms could be valid. For example, the young may lack valuable experience and the educated may lack all-important wisdom. However, in the context of the time, that was not what their criticism was about. What was it about? Firstly, they were so used to having 80-year old bishops and priests, sometimes with Alzheimer’s, that they got used to stagnation and paralysis before their bishops and priests died out. And, secondly, they were so used to having ill-educated clergy, that they had no arguments against the modern, Non-Orthodox world, in which their descendants lived.
In a healthy Church we need young and old, energetic bishops and priests in their thirties (30 is the canonical minimum age for priests, 35 for bishops) as well as older, more experienced ones, as well as well-educated and not so educated bishops and priests – as long as they both have the wisdom of the heart, which is inspired by the Holy Spirit.