Tag Archives: Survival

The Main Problem of the Contemporary Orthodox World

Introduction

From time to time over the decades I have heard conversations among Orthodox about ‘What the problem with the Orthodox world is’. Some I have heard say: ‘The episcopate’. Others say: ‘Lack of leadership’. Others: ‘Lack of pastors’. Others: ‘Uneducated clergy’. Others: ‘Infrequent communion’. Others: ‘There are not enough churches’. Others: ‘Politics’. Others: ‘There’s not enough money’. Others: ‘Too much money’. Others: ‘Ecumenism’ (how old-fashioned that word sounds now). Listening to such conversations among those older than myself, many years ago I came to my own much more radical, but perhaps also much more obvious, conclusion which I present below. Let me give some examples.

The Problem of the Episcopate

Here one of the great problems is that, with very weak monastic life, Orthodox bishops are drawn from a very small pool of candidates. Here we must also recall that, even if there were strong monastic life, most monks are in any case not at all suitable to become bishops: the very ‘monastic’ monk makes a disastrous bishop, as he has no concept of family life and the general realities of life in the world. If they do become bishops they make the most crass decisions out of naivety, ordaining bandits and perverts and not ordaining the suitable.

Indeed, real monks flee even the possibility of the episcopate and have to be taken kicking and screaming for consecration. In some Local Churches, the situation is so dire that just any celibate can become a bishop, especially if he belongs to the right local wealthy family (one of four?). His faith is not very important, but being celibate and being from the right local wealthy family are. As a result, there are a lot of bishops who are bureaucrats, diplomats or just academics. Faith in Christ really does not count very much with them at all.

The main aim of the bishop-bureaucrat, ‘administrator’ or ‘effective manager’ (the Russian jargon) is to collect money and property, so gathering power into his hands. After all, marble, gold and flashy vestments, flats and cars need hard cash. How else can you show off how prestigious and powerful you are? A few years ago we saw one who had been appointed to another diocese. His first act was to buy himself a very fancy car.

That was him finished. Half the flock turned away at once and never returned. And frankly, why should they have? The previous bishop had travelled by public transport and had been respected for that, though admittedly he had travelled very little. The new bishop still could not understand how he had alienated half his flock in his first week (he only realised this about a year afterwards). Some years later he was removed after a large amount of money had disappeared……Another failure in a long line in that particular diocese, which appears to have a suicide wish, ordaining the incompetent and banishing the competent.

But why does a bishop need a chauffeur or a cook or a chancellery and to issue decrees (which are usually ignored anyway)? Ordinary people do not have a chauffeur or a cook or a chancellery and does not issue decrees. If they did, they too would soon find themselves as despised and ignored as their bishops.

Bishops are given power, which some of them think means suspending, depriving of living and home or defrocking righteous priests (and others) and ordaining their corrupt yes-men favourites in their place. Some cultivate this power into a kind of feudal arbitrary rule, the ability to strike terror and intimidate. It is impossible to pray with such bishops because they are bullies who simply traumatise. Little wonder that in one Local Church there is actually a trade-union for priests to defend themselves against such bullies.

The fear of some Synods of bishops to stand up to such bullies whom they themselves appointed discredits the episcopate because there are whole Synods which fall into cowardice and let the corrupt go on for years. There has to be another way, the way of justice. Let us make clear that we are not talking about those who deserve suspension and defrocking according to the canons. The very real fear of priests of being utterly unjustly suspended and defrocked is not their fault. It is the fault of tyrannical and unChristian bishops, who do not know the word Love. Trauma reigns. As for trust, that went out of the window decades ago.

Then there are the bishops who are mere diplomats or book-lovers, who hide in their cathedrals, never visiting their crumbling dioceses, and remain unknown to their flocks. They prefer speaking at conferences for intellectuals.

We have witnessed the disgraceful conduct of certain bishops in the last year in relation to covid. Terrorised by the vague possibility of death with covid, they have closed themselves down and closed down their dioceses, threatening their priests with suspension and defrocking, if they so much as serve the liturgy or visit the sick, as in one group in one Diaspora country.  These conformists are those who, wishing to swim with the atheist State tide, go over and above even the demands of the atheist State in closing down their churches. The concept of churches in the catacombs is totally alien to such bishops, as they are totally integrated into the local Establishment (and local masonic lodge). I have had people asking if such bishops have any faith at all. In answer, I shrug my shoulders and look to the heavens. The fact is, I just don’t know.

On ordination 36 years ago I was told by an elderly Russian priest that ‘whatever you do, don’t contact the bishop unless it’s an emergency, you will annoy him’. Indeed, there are bishops I have heard of who actually forbid their clergy to contact them or make contact impossible because they refuse to answer any form of communication. They don’t want problems, and yet they are happy to interfere in the details of pastoral life and upset clergy and people alike, thus creating problems. Their heavy-handedness defies definition. One new and power-crazy bishop we know managed to alienate his whole diocese in just nine months. A quite remarkable feat. Surely a record? Unless you know better….

The Problem of the Priesthood

There are priest-careerists. You can tell them a mile off. Even the most unchurched person knows them. It is as though they carry an odour about them. And the odour is not that of eau-de-cologne, but the foul stench of money.

On the other hand, if you allow a married priesthood, as Christ did, it is only natural that the priest should earn enough money to look after his family. There are Orthodox bishops who condemn the cash-saving Roman Catholic solution, that is, imposing celibates only (sometimes homosexuals, sometimes worse). And that is exactly what some bishops do: ordain a 22-year-old, make him archimandrite and there you have it: a cheap parish priest.

Only, as happens quite often (I have known many examples), by the time they are 30 they want to get married. And they do. Not so far from here, we know a married archimandrite with two children, though his bishop left him priest. And actually I don’t blame him for doing so, but the bishop who ordained the married archimandrite at an uncanonical age. Another bishop we met, in the then Rue Daru group, would only ordain priests with two children or fewer. Those who did not use contraception could not be ordained: they were too expensive. The hypocrisy.

The problem is that such events do nothing to create respect for the clergy and parish life. The simple solution: in a small parish with 100 wage-earners, ask them to contribute 1% of their salary to the priest’s salary. This would mean that the priest would earn exactly the average salary of all his parishioners. If it is a medium-sized parish with 200 wage-earners, they will contribute 0.5% of their salary. Etc.

This brings us to the next and massive problem.

That is the lack of parishes. There are quite a few (though probably only a fifth of the number required) church buildings, but a parish is a different matter. A church is a building you ‘go to’ as often or as rarely as you want, for five minutes once a year (like the thousands who, I am told, ‘go to…’ (a church where there are never more than 200 present at any one time). There are others who attend a church at least three times a week and come before the start and leave after the end. Only they are parishioners. A parish is a community to which you belong, of which you are a member. And parishioners are people who socialise and help each other outside Sundays.

In Russia and most of ex-Communist Eastern Europe, parish life was almost completely destroyed by the Communists. Though, in truth, often parish life was very often very weak even before the Communists came. Which is precisely why the Communists came…..

To create a Church family, which is what a parish is, is not easy. It takes years. There are different nationalities, different ages, people live in different places, often far apart. And this brings us to our next section.

The Problem of the People

Most Orthodox Christians the world over are only nominal. This nominalism is the ‘hatch, match, dispatch’ variety. In other words, they go (at best) to church three times in a lifetime, for baptism, wedding and funeral. They are not Churched Orthodox, who belonged to the Church, whose priority is the Church. Some people ask why a Revolution in ‘Orthodox Russia’ took place. It was because of nominalism. When there is an attack on the Faith, the first people to lapse and even overnight become enemies of the Church are the nominal. Thus, in Soviet Russia, most of the militant Communists, from Stalin downwards, were baptised Orthodox. They were obviously not Churched Orthodox. Thus, we can see the fragility of ‘Orthodox countries’, where the majority are only nominal Orthodox. We can see the same fragility today in Greece and Romania, where the clergy are State-paid. A fragility which worries. Those countries hang by a thread.

Nominalism is precisely why confession and communion are infrequent. Confession and communion, though two separate sacraments, together form a statement that we are Christians, that we repent and that we partake of Christ, the Head of the Church. Both are equally important, which is why they are so frequent and so closely linked. Some common questions of the baptised but unChurched are: What is confession? What is communion? I have never had them. Why can’t you give communion to my (unbaptised) baby? We now have the extraordinary Roman Catholic practice in the Greek Churches of communion always, but confession never. And they actually justify that as normal! What is this world that we live in?

Many people like to blame ‘the Church’ for everything. This sounds like a blasphemy, as the Church is Christ’s, His Mother’s (Who is the Mother of the Church), His saints’ and His angels’. However, by ‘the Church’, they do not actually mean Christ (which is what ‘Church’ means), but the clergy.

Yes, we are aware of the faults of the clergy (see the extensive lists above), but what about the faults of the people? The people statistically make up 2,444 out of every 2,445 Orthodox (90,000 bishops, priests and deacons out of 220 million), 99.945% of the Church. Where is the responsibility for the Faith of the people, their consciousness of belonging to ‘the royal priesthood’? Why this passive, consumerist attitude? This is not the attitude of Church people.

Some people blame the clergy for the obvious lack of missionary work. But it is much more their responsibility, as they are the vast majority. If nothing is done inside parishes, in internal missionary work, nothing can be done outside parishes, in external missionary work. Why is that we have to wait for bishops and priests to set up parishes, buy church buildings, do missionary work? All should start at the grassroots. And where do the clergy come from? They come from the people. Clergy are not born clergy! Is there truth in the old and harsh saying that: ‘The people get the clergy they deserve?’ The lack of zeal among the people for upright bishops surely results in what we have. We should not complain about our situation when it is our own fault.

Conclusion

What is the main problem of the Orthodox world? In my view, it is undoubtedly its sheer lack of Orthodoxy. At all three levels, as described above. This means the lack of dogmatic understanding and the lack of works of love, in other words, the lack of love, which in fact are the result of each other. For if you do not love God, you will not love your neighbour or yourself. Put simply: No respect for God = no respect for others = no self-respect.

Whenever in Church history the faithful people, most parish priests and monastics and the freely-appointed bishops have combined to defend the Faith against tyrants and monsters, they have created an unstoppable force, a force which radically changes the course of history. Why? Because they realise that they, only together, are the Church.

 

Questions From Correspondence and Conversations – August 2018

Love and Forgiveness

Q: The Church says that Love can change the world, so why do things seem to be getting worse?

A: Love can change the world but on condition that the world accepts to be changed. This is the whole point: Love is conditional on freedom – you cannot force people to love, you cannot force people to change. All depends on whether we can influence their will to change.

Things seem to be getting worse, but nobody would say that this process of loss of faith is inevitable. At any moment the present process can be halted and even turn back towards Christ. This has happened in history several times. It is called repentance.

Q: In the Gospels it says that we should love God and love our neighbour as ourselves. What is the difference between this sort of love for ourselves and mere selfishness and vanity? How can they be opposites?

A: They can be opposite very simply: Selfishness and vanity come from love for our fallen selves, for our false selves, for our sins, but God’s command to us to love ourselves means to love ourselves as God intended us to be, to become as we were before we fell into sin, to love our true selves. For this we have to know our true selves and to understand what God’s will is for us.

In today’s world, people are taught to hate their true selves. As a result we see suicide, self-mutilation, self-harming, plastic surgery, people who put pieces of metal into their bodies, cover themselves with tattoos or wear heavy make-up, like primitive peoples who deform parts of their bodies (especially necks, lips, ears in Africa and Asia), tattoo themselves (Celts, Polynesians) or wear war-paint, masking their true selves. The cultivation of selfishness and vanity has hit new depths of narcissism, with the abuse of Facebook, the ‘Me World’, ‘Me Time’ ‘likes’ and ‘I love me’.

Q: Aren’t Christians weak because all they do is forgive?

A: No. Forgiveness is dependent on repentance, which does not mean simply saying sorry, like politicians do, but actually means making amends, actually doing something about what you have done wrong. If there is no repentance, there is no forgiveness. Thus, the Christian path begins with repentance (St John the Baptist’s call to actions, not words), passes to forgiveness (like the Prodigal Son who received forgiveness after he had first repented) and only then does salvation begin. Salvation itself is not simply the acceptance in words that we believe in Christ (as in the lazy Protestant myth of salvation), but the confession of the faith in a Christian way of life until our dying day.

Angels, Demons and God’s Will

Q: Do you believe in extraterrestrials?

A: If by that you mean life on other planets similar to the earth, all that I, or anyone else, can answer is no. This is because nobody has discovered such life so far, its existence is mere speculation. On the other hand, we cannot answer an absolute no, because we know so little about our universe. Here we can speculate without proof that somewhere in some of the billions of galaxies there could be a planet capable of supporting life similar to that on ours. On the other hand, there is no reason to think that such life may have developed further than oxygen or water, plant life or insects. All depends on what God’s Will is for the universe that He created.

On the other hand, that there are places inhabited by extraterrestrial life – the angelic realm of heaven and the demonic realm of hell. That there is angelic life, fallen and not fallen, is the experience of the Church, expressed in the Scriptures and Tradition. We know that there is life outside our planet Earth because we confess it every time we say that we believe in God, Who made heaven and earth, that is Who made angelkind and mankind.

The sightings of extraterrestrials and flying saucers seem to have started just after the Second World War, when, in the absence of repentance for the crimes of two World Wars, the earth became receptive to the permanent presence of demons, who had come up from hell to inhabit places and people, impervious to repentance, where they were welcome.

Q: Why can demons not repent?

A: Demons are bodiless, spiritual beings. They were given a choice of good or evil only once, at their creation. Thus, either these spiritual beings remained angels or else they became demons. This is unlike human-beings, who have bodies. Being incarnate, with bodies, gives us the chance to choose good or evil constantly, until our death-beds. However, after our deaths, once we have separated from our bodies, we cannot make such choices, which is why we are dependent on the prayers of others to rise towards God after death.

Q: Three questions: Are there people who have a destiny? And if so, doesn’t that mean that we believe in fatalism? And if everything is according to God’s Will, why does evil exist?

A:  Everybody has a destiny, as understood in the Christian sense of God’s Will. But that is not the same as fatalism, because we have the freedom to choose to follow God’s Will or not, whereas fatalism implies that we do not have such freedom. Everything is according to God’s Will, only if we pray for God’s Will to be done (for example, in the prayer ‘Our Father’). If we do not pray for this, then everything will be according to the will of the demons. This is because nature abhors a vacuum and if God is absent because of our rejection of Him, the demons rush in, in order to take His place. Demons are parasites and in order to live on earth, they must have willing bodies to live in. From the Scriptures we recall that even pigs could not bear their presence and preferred suicide. Only the wills of those who resist demons ally themselves with God.

Orthodox Christianity and Deviations from it

Q: Why are Christians of all denominations not united in One Church?

A: Firstly, there are those intellectuals who place their proud minds, sullied by their impure hearts, above the all-pure mind of Christ. Such, like Arius, Nestorius, Pope Hildebrand, Luther etc, can never accept the Church of Christ because through pride they think that they are above Her. They say, I am of Apollos, Cephas etc, and not of Christ. They will never unite with the Church because they lack the humility to do so.

Secondly, there are those who sully themselves with nationalist politics and put their nationality, Coptic, Armenian, Western European, Greek or whatever, above Christ. They will actually tell you that you cannot join the Church because you are not the right nationality or ‘blood’ and so not the right mentality.

As a result, there are always those who put themselves outside the Church, even though they still maintain that they are Christians. Thus, they create disunity.

Q: Why is the existence of religious values even in personal life under threat today?

A: This is the last stage of the series of attacks on faith which began 1,000 years ago, with the attempt to remove religion from political life (called papism), and so desacralize it. Some 500 years ago, with the Protestant Reformation, there began the attempt to desacralize economic life, enslaving it to bankers, then some 250 years ago the attempt to desacralize social life (the American and then French Revolutions), making religion a purely private affair. Now has come the attempt to desacralize even personal life, from the 1960s on, for example, making abortion legal, confusing sexual identity and sexualizing children, ultimately enslaving each person digitally. How long before each one of us is given a 12-digit personal number, which will identify each individual, subjugating everyone to the World State?

Q: Why don’t Orthodox ally themselves with Traditionalist Catholics?

A: Perhaps you mean: Why don’t Traditionalist Catholics ally themselves with the Church of God?

I understand that there are some things in common but there are reasons why such an alliance has never happened. Firstly, because Traditionalists tend to believe that Orthodox are schismatics, so, with this illusion, they remain outside the Church. Secondly, because many of them seem to believe that liturgical life can be expressed only through Latin, a view which is not ours. Thirdly, because Traditionalists sometimes have very right-wing, almost racist, White Supremacist inclinations which look down on, among others, Eastern Slavs, Greeks, Arabs and Georgians, as inferior races. Fourthly, because they are generally subject to their love of suffering in their mournful and constipated, ‘crucifixionist’ pietism, which is a result of their filioquism, that is, of their secularism, and so lack of faith in the Resurrection. Finally, because they are papists without a Pope and Orthodox do not have Popes.

Tsar Nicholas II

Q: On pilgrimage in Russia we saw a very large icon of the Tsar-Redeemer. Surely this is a heresy? Only Christ is the Redeemer?

A: You are quite right, though I think the word ‘heresy’ is too strong, I think it is just theological illiteracy, the ignorance of the simple. The error comes from the fact that all suffering is redemptive and also from the Tsar’s own words who, seeing the apostasy of Russia’s intellectually educated, but spiritually uneducated (‘the intelligentsia’), said that ‘perhaps a redemptive sacrifice is necessary and perhaps that is me’. Both Metr Anastasy (Gribanovsky) and St John of Shanghai referred to his redemptive qualities. So an icon with the inscription saying, ‘Tsar Nicholas, the Redemptive Sacrifice’, would be quite correct. However, as you say, there is only one Redeemer, far above all saints, but all saints live in Christ, in an inward way imitating His Redemption on their modest level.

Q: Why was Tsar Nicholas II not canonized as a Great-martyr?

A: I had this conversation with the late Archbishop Antony of Los Angeles in 1992. In answer to this question, he told me that he had been in favour at the Synod meeting leading up to 1981, as had Metr Anastasy before him, but he had been a minority voice in the Synod.

I think in general that ‘Great-martyrs’ only earn that title through the veneration of the people. This is what is happening among sections of the Orthodox people in Russia today, who sing of the Tsar as a Great-martyr. His title will officially change only once popular veneration demands it.

Modern Music

Q: What is spiritually wrong with modern music?

A: There are many sorts of modern music, but I suppose you mean the worst sort? In that case you probably find that it has no soul, it is like a TV soap, in that it is artificially manufactured for the tastes of the lowest, it is ‘fake music’, just noise to fill the vacuum in people’s lives. In this way it is quite unlike classical music, which is a poem about the composer’s soul, whereas, at worst, such modern music is a yell about debauchery.

Our Church

Q: Can you tell us something edifying about your Church in England?

A: I can only tell you one thing, that we have survived, we are still here. Despite what everything that Satan has thrown against us over fifty years, we are still here. Despite the pharisees, who like parasites have tried to use the Church to spread their political or pathological illnesses and persecuted us, despite the modernists who have tried to use the Church as a vehicle for their rationalistic reformist fantasies and persecuted us, despite the loveless bureaucrats who practised their hard-hearted ritualism and persecuted us, and above all, despite our own sins, we are still here, hell has not destroyed us. And that is not just edifying, but a miracle because, humanly speaking, there is absolutely no reason why we should still be here and still waging our war for survival, we should have been destroyed years ago.

Why the Crisis in the ROCOR Diocese of the British Isles and Ireland Should Matter to ROCOR

It is a sad fact that most members of ROCOR outside the British Isles and Ireland who read this will be bewildered at the mention of the word ‘crisis’. What crisis? Yet, those who follow Church life should know. After all, fifty years ago ROCOR was a global Church and even a few years ago it still had that potential. Today, for various reasons, this is no longer the case. ROCOR lost its outposts in Africa, then in 2007 to all intents and purposes it lost South America and in the last few years most of Western Europe, in particular Italy, Spain, Portugal, Scandinavia, the Netherlands and most of France and Austria. Moscow now dominates Western Europe, its Italian Diocese alone being bigger than all the remaining fragments of ROCOR in Western Europe, which are mainly in parts of western Germany and Switzerland, with a few isolated survivors in the British Isles and Ireland and elsewhere.

ROCOR is now de facto reduced to the English-speaking world (above all the USA, Canada, Australia and New Zealand) and countries politically dependent on the USA, for example, Israel, the Philippines, South Korea, Indonesia, Pakistan, Haiti, Costa Rica. The presence of Moscow in any of those countries seems absurd. Surely, it should simply hand over its parishes there to ROCOR. However, some would say that ROCOR’s presence in Western Europe is equally absurd – it should in turn hand over its presence here. However, an exception could be made for the UK and Ireland. After all, these countries are nowadays also largely dependent on the US. Moreover, just recently, the UK has taken a step away from Western Europe and closer to the USA with Brexit, and the US has taken a step closer to the UK with the election of Donald Trump, the only US politician who welcomed the popular decision in favour of Brexit.

It could also be argued that ROCOR should take care of the survivors in its Diocese in the British Isles and Ireland because these countries are the source of the English-speaking world. And yet, the ROCOR Diocese here has been much neglected, without a resident bishop of English culture for 30 (!) years, with an overworked bishop who was far too busy to give pastoral oversight to it. As a result, it has greatly contracted, with loss after loss. Today, the vultures are gathering, believing that ROCOR here, even with all its property, is only a corpse. The tiny Paris Exarchate, with very few Russian-speaking priests and even less property, is trying to poach. Then there is the vastly under-priested Sourozh Diocese of the Moscow Patriarchate. One or two individuals are interested in obtaining property, which it so sorely lacks through past errors, and one person in ROCOR has offered the Diocese to it.

For 30 years few in ROCOR outside the British Isles and Ireland have been interested in any of this or were aware of any of this. Some did not even know that our Diocese existed, most who knew that we existed did not even know the correct geographical name of our Diocese, even fewer know of the crisis that has been brewing for decades. Equally, internally, we have been deliberately kept in the dark about the most basic events in the wider ROCOR. This neglect has produced a crisis, a word which in Greek means ‘judgement’. Now is the time for judgement. Little time remains: the faithful are pleading with the Church authorities to save us. Who is the father who gives stones to his children who plead for bread? Treason is in the air. Offers are being made. If ROCOR is to keep our Diocese and not retreat even further into North America, it has to take urgent action. May God’s Will be done.