Q: What dangers should those new to the Church especially try to avoid?
A: There are many dangers, just as many as for those of us who are not new to the Church, but the dangers are different ones. Those new to the Church are neophytes and that psychology, common to neophytes of all nationalities and in all religions, is particular.
For instance, I remember about 30 years ago meeting a young Irish woman who had converted to Judaism on marrying a Jew. She had taken up her new religion with all the zeal that you used to associate with Irish Catholicism. She was completely over the top, did not use birth control, wore rather strange clothes, had to eat kosher food, was incredibly pro-Israeli, read a lot etc. Her husband, who was a real Jew, could not have cared a less about any of this and had probably never read a book about Judaism in his life. She was the one who imposed Shabbat on him. In other words, there was no theology there, just the obsessive psychology of insecurity – she felt she had to prove herself by being more Jewish than the Jews. I suspect it all had to do with competition with her mother-in-law, rather than her husband.
Q: What can this type of neophyte insecurity lead to?
A: To extremes – and I think, essentially, the neophyte, like all of us, should avoid extremes. I would take as an example the late French convert, Olivier Clement. In his youth, he tried to be more Russian than the Russians, busying himself with wearing ‘Russian’ clothes and other externals and reading a lot, which he thought would make him Orthodox. Realising that this was absurd, he then went to the other extreme and began writing against the Russian Church, adopting semi-Catholic views and even taking communion in the Catholic Church. These same convert extremes can be seen in other personalities who in their youth were over-zealous, then became over-lax. In this country, for instance, I can think of cases of going from being more Greek than the Greeks to being more Anglican than the Anglicans
Q: How can you fight against such temptations?
A: Keeping a sense of reality. For example, this tendency to a lack of balance is greatly reinforced among intellectuals who do not have their feet on the ground in parish life, so that they have no living examples before them. The Church is not about reading, but about experience of real life. This is why mixed parishes with mixed languages are so vital. Little convert middle-class hothouses, passing themselves off as ‘Orthodox’, or even ‘more Orthodox than the Orthodox’, often trying to impose their own strange or eccentric agendas on the Church and always collapse.
In such groups ‘foreigners’ and ‘foreign languages’ are usually despised or made to feel not at home. Such inward-looking communities are just as much ethnic, ‘phyletist’ ghettos as immigrant or exile groups in big cities – but with a difference. Those groups are at least authentic, but the neophyte groups are pretending or playing, starting ‘beard competitions’, so beloved of ex-Anglicans, for example. This is because they have no roots in Orthodox reality, often, sadly, fleeing that reality. You really either have to get on the Orthodox train or else get off the tracks. If you do not, you will be run over – and it will be your own fault.
Q: Are there other consequences of such insecurity?
A: Yes, judgementalism. Censorious convert conversations like ‘this bishop does that’, or ‘that priest smokes’, or ‘there is a scandal there, so I cannot belong to that Local Church’ always display the same negativity. For example, I know a priest of the Antiochian jurisdiction who gives communion to anyone, Orthodox or not. Does that mean that I am not in communion with his Patriarch or all the many serious bishops and priests of his Church? Of course, I am.
Such conversations are very depressing, because they do not focus on reality, but only on the negative. Did the Apostles focus on Judas? No. So we too should focus on the 100 parishes where life is normal or even thriving and forget the one where there is some sort of scandal. This is not even a case of seeing a half-full glass as half-empty, this is a case of seeing a 99% full glass as 99% empty. The demon plays with our sense of reality and, sowing illusions in our minds, creates depressions, schisms and lapses. We do not lapse because of some scandal; a scandal should bring us zeal. ‘There but for the grace of God go I’, is what we should be saying. That is what the Apostles did after Judas. They had no illusions, but they also rejoiced in the Faith.
Q: What can we do to counter such thoughts?
A: Depression comes from pride. Be humble. Life is beautiful – God made it, not death. We should not expect others to be saints, when we ourselves are not saints. We should condemn only ourselves, others we should always find excuses for. We are responsible only for saving our own soul. Stop interfering, looking at your neighbour. Until we have learned this, we are not Christians, we are only sources of pride, for whom nothing is ever good enough. This is where neophyte idealism is dangerous. As they say: ‘If the grass is greener on the other side, start watering your own side’. We must stay with the mainstream and flee the fringes and margins around the Church. Of course, if we ourselves are asked to compromise, that is a different matter. But that is rare.
Q: How do we avoid compromising ourselves in such cases?
A: I remember a priest at a Diocesan Pastoral Conference in Frankfurt some years ago, asking what would happen when ROCOR and the Patriarchate of Moscow were in communion again, because he knew a particular Patriarchal priest who did totally uncanonical things and the priest who asked the question did not want to concelebrate with him. Archbishop Mark answered very simply and I think with great surprise at the strange question: ‘Then do not invite him to your parish. Then you will not have to concelebrate with him’. It is the same with those who use the Catholic calendar. We have no obligation to go to their parishes and concelebrate with them. But they are welcome to concelebrate with us and we invite them to. In that way they return to the calendar that the Church uses, for a day at least.
An example is from the contemporary OCA, where some ordinary Orthodox are at last revolting against certain converts who have tried to impose Evangelical-style right-wing censoriousness on them. Rooted Orthodox do not want hothouse politics and pseudo-Orthodoxy, they want real-world tolerance. But they do not want lax practice either, which is the other side of the extremist coin. They have suffered from this for over forty years and that has led to the present crisis in the OCA, which means that it has been isolated from World Orthodoxy and few concelebrate with it, as we saw at the recent enthronement of Patriarch John of Antioch.
With all its financial and moral scandals the OCA is suffering from the sort of problems that the Roman Catholics are suffering from – and for the same reason – loss of faith. But that does not mean that everyone there is involved. That is why we must pray for it especially now. It is always a noisy minority that compromises the outward life of the Church. But the angels are still here, in spite of us. Never forget that. We serve God, not man. The Church is God’s, not ours. As for us, today we are here, tomorrow we are gone, but the gates of hell will not prevail. The Church does not need us, we need the Church.
Q: Where can Russian Orthodox in the West go for training at seminary? Would you recommend the new seminary in Paris?
A: Definitely not Paris. It has failed to meet our hopes on all counts and is notoriously ecumenist, as everyone knows and as we have told the authorities in Moscow face to face. It is amazing to us that in Moscow they still naively think in pre-Revolutionary categories, that the Catholic Church is utterly serious and is not subject to the Protestant-style freemasonry, homosexuality and pedophilia that entered it massively after the Americanisation of the Second Vatican Council.
In Russia they never went through the 1960s, so in that sense they still largely retain the freshness and also naivety of the 1950s. However, by compromising themselves by fraternising with Catholics, as they do in Paris, they are also compromising themselves with pedophiles. They do not consider this. It is a great shame that in Moscow they still do not listen to us in ROCOR about such matters. We are the Church Outside Russia, we were born here, we live here, we are aware, we talk to Catholics every day as neighbours and we know what goes on there. There are plenty of ordinary, decent Catholics who look to the Orthodox Church to free them from such tyranny and deformations. But be patient, give them time in Moscow and they will learn.
To answer your question about seminary training today: Seek a blessing to go either to Jordanville or else, in certain cases, to the seminary at Sretensky Monastery in Moscow. One day Paris will be cured. It has only just started.
Q: What is our view today of Metropolitan/Patriarch Sergius (Stragorodsky)? In 1930 over 30 bishops rejected administrative submission to Metropolitan Sergius, disputing his compromise with the atheist authorities. Metropolitan Sergius found himself in isolation, face to face with an atheist orgy, that took on a larger and larger scale. Do we still agree with what Fr Seraphim Rose wrote in his book ‘The Catacomb Saints’?
A: I think our view of Metr Sergius today is very much what it always has been. We do not agree with him, but also we do not condemn him – we never went through what he had to go through and were never faced with the choice between martyrdom and compromise. Having said that, it is true, for example, that Fr Seraphim Rose’s book, ‘The Catacomb Saints’, reflects some of the unnecessarily negative polemics of the Cold War 1970s, but that book is still fundamentally right, despite the sharp language used in it sometimes and its strange title.
In Russia today there is still a hangover from the Soviet period and deSovietisation has not run its course completely. It will take another generation for deSovietisation to be completed. For this reason there are still those there who praise Metr Sergius. However, we should not feel superior, in the West we also underwent the censorious and condemnatory, judgemental pharisee attitudes of ‘ColdWarisation’. But I think most have been able to rid themselves of that alien influence quicker than they have in Russia. Those who did not rid themselves of such attitudes have left us.
Q: What do we make of Metr Sergius’ role in rallying Russians during WWII?
A: As for rallying Russians in World War II, it could easily be argued that the Church survived DESPITE Metr Sergius. Stalin realised he could not win the war without the Church. The Nazi attack on the Russian Lands, on the feast day of All the Saints of the Russian Lands, 22 June 1941, was, paradoxically, what freed the Church, not the compromises of Metr Sergius. And from then on, until Stalin’s death and after that, the Church was not decimated as before 1941. True, Stalin and Khrushchev after him did of course close many, many churches which Stalin had allowed to reopen and still sent many to camps and prisons, but there were no longer the mass shootings etc.
We, who never had to go through Sovietisation, should concentrate on the New Martyrs themselves, on the canonised, for example, on the holy Metr Kyrill of Kazan, and not on such divisive and controversial figures as Metr Sergius. I know that in Russia they are already heading the same way and Metr Sergius is being forgotten by the faithful as, if anything, an embarrassing compromiser. Leave him to the dusty tomes of historians. Let us keep our eyes on the saints, not on the non-saints.
Q: Why does the Church of Constantinople use lots of clerical titles? I know of several bishops and even a metropolitan who are only glorified hieromonks. And the titles of protopresbyter and archimandrite are becoming meaningless as they have become so common there.
A; I think it is quite unfair to say that it is only the Patriarchate of Constantinople that gives out such titles so freely. True, the title protopresbyter seems now to be given there to any priest who has a doctorate and archimandrite is rather used as ‘hieromonk’ is used in the Russian Church. On the other hand, in the Russian Church ‘Metropolitan’ is sometimes used in a titular way as ‘Cardinal’ in the Catholic Church and there is a system of awards in the Russian Church that is often abused. So I cannot see that this is any better than in the Patriarchate of Constantinople. Some people are a little vain and like titles and can be bought with them. Sadly, people have their price and in a world where many priests are not paid in money, they can get paid in titles.
Q: As Orthodox what should we think of Eurasianism?
A: There is something called the International Eurasian Movement, which is Russian-based and developed after the fall of Communism in 1991, though on the basis of a pre-Revolutionary movement. On the surface, Eurasianism has links with Orthodoxy, whose emblem is the double-headed eagle, looking east and west. The Church of God, Orthodox Christianity, has the task and mission of uniting the world, east and west, Europe and Asia, in unity in diversity. (This is quite unlike the Vatican sense of unity – inherited also by the Protestants – which allows little diversity and imposes a totalitarian unitary model on all. This we can see in the EU model, which is a secular form of the Vatican model, and in the US model, which is a secular form of the Protestant model. Such people look at the diversity of Orthodoxy and call it disunity! This is only because they are used to such monolithic, totalitarian heterodox styles).
Generally speaking, Eurasianism sees the modern West (not the historic Old West) as having taken a destructive path, especially since the Reformation and especially since the so-called ‘Enlightenment’. Western culture today has been spiritually emptied, it has lost its soul, abandoning its roots in the Christian Orthodox first millennium, decadently reverting to barbarianism. In other words, behind incredible Western economic and technological sophistication, there is spiritual barbarianism, as can be seen in the Western promotion of sodomy and other politically correct but spiritually pernicious views.
Eurasianism sees the future in Russia, not in the West, which in its decadence ever more resembles the Western Roman Empire just before it fell over fifteen centuries ago. Insofar as this is self-evident, we as Orthodox agree with Eurasianism. However, the problem is that Eurasianism is essentially politics, another ism or ideology, not the Church.
Q: Who founded this Eurasian movement?
A: The founder of modern Eurasianism is the Russian Orthodox philosopher Alexander Dugin, who was born in 1962. Typical of the post-Communist generation, at first, in the 1990s, he tried to reconcile Bolshevism or Stalinism with Orthodoxy. In so doing he also got caught up with post-Soviet right-wing nationalist movements like ‘Pamyat’. His Eurasianism developed out of this spiritual impurity. He has since moved on somewhat and begun to free himself, expressing more traditional Orthodox views, though still remaining a nationalist. However, what is written about him on Wikipedia is probably the work of a CIA hack. There is little truth in that.
I met Alexander Dugin at a Conference in London about eight years ago and had a clear impression of him. He is intellectually clever, but still suffers from spiritual confusion. This is why he mixes Orthodoxy with politics of all sorts, though particularly with right-wing views. His closest disciple is a young intellectual called Natella Speranskaya, who heads the Eurasian Youth Movement, but she also suffers in the same way as Dugin. Dugin is linked with the Greek Orthodox intellectual Dimitrios Kitsikis, an elderly geopolitician of the previous generation. Although also a friend of the Orthodox Tradition – Kitsikis wants the Greek Church to return to the Orthodox calendar – he too suffers from spiritual and nationalist confusion and has been closely linked with Maoism!
What is interesting with both these Orthodox thinkers is that they have both been inspired by the father of geopolitics, the Non-Orthodox English geographer Sir Halford John Mackinder. Mackinder called Eurasia (basically Russia and the Orthosphere, or the Orthodox civilisational world), what we call ‘the Centre’, ‘The Heartland’. This is what Kitsikis calls the Intermediate Region and, I suppose, if we use Tolkien’s terminology, we could also call it ‘Middle Earth’.
In other words, there is no doubt that all three geopoliticians, Englishman, Greek and Russian, completely agree that he who controls Russia / Eurasia controls the world. This is why the territory of the Russian Empire, or Soviet Union, or Russian Federation, whatever the name, has been so much attacked down the centuries – because of its geostrategic significance.
Q: What is happening in Syria?
A: I am only an observer. It is difficult for me to say anything. However, I cannot help observing certain public tendencies in US policies since Mr Obama was re-elected last year. Until then his policies seem to have been Republican and Bushite.
First of all, the US right-wing hawk General Petraeus who wanted to invade Syria and perhaps bomb Iran was sacked, having been compromised, and perhaps framed, in an affair. There followed a root and branch change in US foreign personnel. Most notably the hawkish Russophobe Hillary Clinton was replaced as Secretary of State by John Kerry, formerly a personal friend of President Assad of Syria. Clinton had been blamed for the death of the US ambassador in Benghazi in Libya, killed by Islamic terrorists, armed to the teeth with weapons allowed to them by the US. I think that the US administration realised that it had been arming its enemies. This was seen in Mali too, which Islamists had been conquering with weapons stolen as a result of NATO bombing in Libya. I remember the old saying: ‘Do not spit in the sky, it will fall back on your face’.
Then there was the appointment of the new US Defence Secretary, Chuck Hagel, a Vietnam veteran and hero, who called the bankrupting invasion of Iraq one of the greatest blunders in US history. It had completely destabilised the whole region, creating a whole chain of liabilities for the US. This involved Iraq, Iran, Syria, Turkey (where anti-US attacks have taken place), the Kurds, the Jordan, the Lebanon and the money-pit of Israel – the US had lit a fuse on a powder keg and is now trying to extinguish it before it is too late.
Thus, the realisation that many of the foreign mercenaries fighting President Assad’s government in Syria are terrorists seems at last to have come to the US. From what I understand, I have the impression, and it is only an impression, that the US may have realised that the real danger from its point of view is China and that perhaps it had better leave the Middle East to Russia. It cannot fight both at the same time. Even tiny but incredibly wealthy Saudi Arabian and Qatari dictatorships, which financed and armed the tens of thousands of Sunni Islamist mercenaries in Syria, are worried now. The genie was let out of the bottle. It has to be put back. I think only Russia, which has over one million Russian speakers in Israel and influence in Syria, can do this. Someone has to clean up the mess the West has made.
Q: What are we to think of Columbus?
A: I think he was an Italian sailor who got lost at sea, thought he had found India, but in fact had found some Caribbean islands. So he landed in someone else’s country and decided to steal it by massacring and enslaving the inhabitants.