Tag Archives: Faithfulness

The Orthodox: The Ultimate Recusants

In British history recusants were Roman Catholics who in Elizabethan England and afterwards remained loyal to ‘the Old Faith’, refusing to attend the ‘modernist’ Anglican Church (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Recusancy). For them the head of the Church could never be the King or Queen of England, but only the Pope of Rome, whatever illusory external trappings of Catholicism the Church of England may have retained.

From an Orthodox viewpoint we may have some sympathy for recusants in their battle against anti-sacral, boring, reductionist Protestantism, but the fact is that they remained loyal not to Orthodoxy, but to an already corrupted form of Orthodoxy, to medieval Catholicism. Although faithfulness is a virtue, we always have to ask ‘faithfulness to what? This is also true of ‘contemporary Catholic recusants’.

By these I mean those traditionalist Catholics who reject the Second Vatican Council of the 1960s and its protestantizing tenets. We may have some sympathy for them, but to what do they remain faithful? To the anti-Orthodox tenets of pre-Vatican II Roman Catholicism? And all too often, let it be said, to a very right-wing form of politics that can have sinister echoes in 20th century Western European history.

The fact is that Orthodox in the West are the ultimate recusants. We are faithful to the genuine ‘Old Faith’, that which predates eleventh-century invented Roman Catholicism, we are faithful to the Church of God. We are faithful to God and not to man and his essentially filioquist and so secularist desire to replace the Divine, paradisiac and sinless Holy Spirit with the human, fallen and sinful unholy spirit.

On the Non-Inevitability of Modernism

Once upon a time the pseudo-science of Marxism used to proclaim that its claims, like death and taxes, were inevitable. In a similar way the supporters of the theory of evolution used to proclaim that it too was the only ‘truth’ that counted, until real scientists pointed out that it was only a theory among many. Similarly, the EU used to proclaim that its aim of a United States of Europe was also inevitable, ‘like a man riding a bicycle you have to carry on towards it, otherwise you will fall off’. Actually if you are cycling (especially towards a cliff edge), you can easily stop without falling off and turn back, which is exactly what the pragmatists of Brexit have done. Modernists also use the same pseudo-scientific argument of inevitability to justify themselves. In a post-modernist world, their argument is particularly absurd and old-fashioned.

Thus, forty years ago I remember a priest of a modernist Western diocese of the old Patriarchate of Moscow (who later defrocked himself, ran away from his wife and then committed suicide) using exactly the same argument. ‘The Catholics had Vatican II, and we will follow them. It is inevitable. We will get rid of the iconostasis, have women around the altar table, have deaconesses, do away with clerical clothing and be modern like the Protestants and then the Catholics. It is just that we Orthodox are behind the others’. I have been reminded of his words recently, as a member of the Paris Archdiocese has said that since one of their priests in Belgium already accepts homosexual ‘marriage’ and that a priest under Constantinople in Finland actually does such ‘weddings’, ‘the rest of the Church will follow’. Inevitability? As in Crete?

A member of the Constantinople Archdiocese in North America has also recently questioned why New York Governor Andrew M. Cuomo was recently given the ‘Patriarch Athenagoras Human Rights Award’. After all, Cuomo is well known for his outspoken advocate of the pro-death (erroneously called pro-choice) movement. On 17 July 2014, Governor Cuomo referred to the defenders of the pre-born child as: “these extreme conservatives who are right-to-life … they have no place in the state of New York.” It seems a strange criticism when two years ago Vice-President Biden, who so lavishly praises the present Patriarch of Constantinople and has also tried hard to further the Church schism in the Ukraine and is another politician who is openly supportive of abortion, also received the same dubious masonic award.

To some it seems that an Orthodox Church accepting everything that liberal Protestantism and liberal Catholicism accept, including homosexual clergy, teenage girls ‘dancing’ around the altar and guitar ‘masses’, is inevitable. After all, they say, ‘we are all subject to the same sociological processes’. Such people, inherently secularist and faithless, have no understanding that this is a typically Catholic/Protestant/Secularist/Western attitude. The Church is precisely the only organism (not organization) that is not subject to ‘sociological processes’ (four Local Churches resisted Crete), but to the processes of the grace of God, processes of the Holy Spirit. If the apostles and martyrs had been subject to ‘sociological processes’, they would have censed the demons (‘gods’) as they were asked to. Instead, they refused – and became saints, the fruits of the Holy Spirit.

The point is that none of the incredible secularization undergone by Protestantism and Catholicism in the last fifty years (or in the previous centuries either) is inevitable. However, this is true only as long as long as we have the Holy Spirit and not empty-hearted rationalism, that is the ‘fleshly wisdom’ of the spirit of the world – and we know who the prince of the world is. As the apostate scholastic Abelard wrote 900 years ago in the Prologue to his work ‘Sic et Non’: ‘The Fathers had the Holy Spirit, but we do not’. For the interest of the apostate descendants of Abelard, the word ‘Fathers’ means ‘the (Orthodox) Church’, in other words: ‘The (Orthodox) Church has the Holy Spirit, but the others do not’. There is nothing inevitable about modernism, just as there is nothing inevitable about any other form of apostasy.

The Thousandth Anniversary of the Baptism of St Olaf

One thousand years ago Western Europe was faced with a choice: to remain faithful to the Church of the Christian Roman Empire, whose capital was in New Rome (later known as Constantinople), or to follow that part of its power-loving elite which wanted to revive the pagan Empire of Old Rome, renouncing the Church, the Christian teaching on the Holy Trinity, and the authority of the Christian Roman Empire.

One of the last figures among the ruling elite to follow the former course came from the Western European periphery where faithfulness was stronger. This was St Olaf (Haraldson) of Norway. On 19 October we commemorate the thousandth anniversary of his baptism in Rouen in Normandy in France, where his holy relics are present for veneration and French and Norwegian choirs are performing in concert.

Born in 995, after his baptism he was accompanied to Norway by the Anglo-Viking bishop and later saint, Sigfrid, and proclaimed King. He ruled from 1015 to 1028. During his reign he did much to baptize and enlighten his people, quelling civil strife and was killed in 1030 in a battle with divisive aristocrats. He was canonized in 1031 ‘with the agreement of the whole Norwegian people’.

In his homeland the sainted king, who united Norwegians, is celebrated as ‘the eternal king’. He was one of the last Western Europeans to become an Orthodox saint and churches in Russia were dedicated to St Olaf, notably in Novgorod and in Staraya Ladoga, where he lived for several years. It comes as comfort to know that on the site of his last battle, at Stiklestad, a Russian Orthodox chapel has just been built, where Norwegian and other Orthodox can ask the prayers of St Olaf.

Holy, Right-Believing King Olaf, Pray to God for us!

Finland: Between Sweden and Russia

Some 150 years ago Dostoyevsky compared Western Europe to a cemetery of the dear departed and so to a place of pilgrimage. However, if you dig deep enough, then in any Western country you can find Orthodox roots and it becomes literally a place of pilgrimage. Only in some Western countries you have to search less hard than in others. In Finland you do not have to look very hard; until 1917 it was a province of Russia, large in area, but tiny in population. Moreover, what was the eastern part of Finland, called Karelia, long ago converted to Orthodoxy and is still part of the Russian Federation. On the other hand, only 1% of the population of today’s independent Finland can provide a witness to even a Lutheranized Orthodoxy.

In Helsinki, the capital of modern Finland, which could be called ‘Western Karelia’ when looked at from an Orthodox perspective, there stands on high the Orthodox Cathedral of the Dormition. Also, on the Square in front of the magnificent St Nicholas Church (Lutheran on the inside, but with thoroughly Orthodox architecture on the outside), stands the 1894 statue of Tsar Alexander II. Unfortunately, however, even the Russian buildings which give central parts of Helsinki the look of a suburb of St Petersburg, are buried beneath the layer of Lutheranized Scandinavian rationalism and post-Lutheran modernist utilitarianism that predominates in contemporary Finland.

You can go inside one of the Finnish churches (Patriarchate of Constantinople), see new, clean, perfectly painted (as far as technique goes) icons neatly arranged, but no iconostasis, no women in headscarves, no prayer, no sense of mystery and no Divine presence. The overwhelming impression is that of a ‘Lutheran Uniat’ church: Orthodox on the outside, but Lutheran, empty and devoid of the sense of the sacred, on the inside. As one Orthodox in Finland (of the Russian Orthodox Church) put it to me: ‘When you go inside a Non-Orthodox church, you are visiting a museum, it is of interest, but God is not present’. You have the same feeling in many such ‘Finnish Orthodox’ churches. They appear to be Orthodox without Orthodoxy.

This can be seen in daily life. If we compare Finland with Karelia, ‘Western Karelia’ with ‘Eastern Karelia’, as we might say, even the houses are different. Finnish houses are functional, clean, efficient and modern, but often devoid of atmosphere. The prettily and elegantly carved timber Karelian houses may not be as functional and efficient, but they do have inner life, presence and warmth, like the people inside them whose souls would seem to be alive with that inner presence which we know as Faith.

Some might say that we are confusing the spiritual and the cultural; but wherever, and only then, the cultural conflicts with the spiritual, the cultural must always give way to the spiritual; where there is no conflict, then we can rejoice in local culture in all its facets. Thus, we take joy in the Finnish language and the beautiful Finnish landscapes of lake and forest. However, the fact is that the ultimate source of any culture is in the spiritual. Here there is a lesson for all Orthodox, especially those of us who live in the Western world: Let us not lose the savour of the Faith and so become souls that are empty and suffering from depression, like a Western cemetery – so different from an Orthodox cemetery, which is a bright place of resurrection.

The Church shapes and influences the world; the world does not shape and influence the Church. Jesus Christ, today, tomorrow and for ever; not ‘yesterday’, as in the funeral anthem for the Western world sung by the Beatles fifty years ago. Let us not only not lose the savour of the Faith, but here in Finland, as elsewhere, restore it. We are living souls and we live not in cemeteries, but in life, for we believe not in the Western god of death, in the academic god, but in the Living God, in the Christian God, Who is risen from the dead and is gloriously triumphant over death.

Helsinki, August 2014