Tag Archives: The Holy Spirit

The Battle Against Intellectualism

I can still remember the 1970s when I bought icons (without haloes) from Jordanville, portraying St Elizabeth the New Martyr and St John of Shanghai. They hang in the altar of the Church where I serve to this day. Equally I can remember the abuse hurled at the Church Outside Russia at the long-awaited canonization of the New Martyrs and Confessors in November 1981. Those who hurled the abuse went strangely quiet when what had had to be begun in New York, given the politically enforced paralysis of the Church in Moscow, was confirmed in Moscow in 2000. This merely confirmed the hypocrisy and political prejudice of those who had attacked us.

Thus, I can recall the ever-memorable Archbishop Antony of Geneva who faced down the proud doubters in the holiness of the Royal Martyrs, including a Roman Catholic baptised in his own blood, among his own ROCOR flock in Brussels and Paris, telling them that they need not venerate the icons of the Royal Martyrs, confident that they would come round in time, as spiritual experience persuaded them that they had been wrong. The same patience was shown in London by Bishop Constantine, a man of holiness himself, towards doubting members of the ROCOR Cathedral there. And in the USA, even the well-known iconographer, Fr Kiprian (Pyzhov) had been opposed to the canonization of the Royal Martyrs, but through prayer, he too came round to the Orthodox view.

Indeed, I can remember one man, now, ironically, a hieromonk ordained by a ROCOR bishop, who on the day of the canonization of the New Martyrs in 1981, vehemently informed me that the Grand Duchess Anastasia had not been martyred because she was identical to a woman known as Anna Anderson, who claimed to be the Grand Duchess. Despite witnesses like the ever-memorable Fr Nicholas Gibbes (The Grand Duchess’ tutor), who had immediately seen that she was a fraud, that man insisted on his opinion. Of course, he came to eat humble pie when DNA tests later proved what the faithful had known all along, that Anna Anderson had indeed been a fraud.

Far more disturbing than the fact that such people attacked us, motivated by secular politics, is the fact that they were attacking the saints. Here great caution is needed. When righteous men and women are venerated among the faithful, when their lives are examined closely and found to contain miracles of healing and prophecies, all of which came true, we should pay attention. Sometimes, their relics are not available because they have been destroyed by infidel liberals like Kerensky or else by Bolsheviks. Such righteous, despite slanders, eventually come to be venerated by many because of the spiritual experience that people have of them in their prayers. Then the hierarchy of the Church investigates and canonizes, always cautiously, always slowly, but the right decision is reached, even though, as in the case of the Royal Martyrs, certain bishops were originally strongly opposed.

The fact that intellectuals do not like the saints is because they do not like holiness, which is what the saints are made of. Why this reaction to the saints? Quite simply because holiness is outside their control, outside the sphere of their purely rationalistic, non-spiritual experience and so they despise it. Such intellectuals study what is called in Russian ‘teologija’ (scientific theology’), not ‘Bogoslovie’ (‘the Word of God’) and come from secular universities and secular-minded institutes, not from monasteries, which are Orthodox universities. It was ever thus. Such was the fate of the Gnostic heretic Origen, so beloved of the Paris-Crestwood School, of the intellectuals Arius, Nestorius and Barlaam, the latter of whom opposed his Western scholasticism to the spiritual experience of St Gregory Palamas, Archbishop of Thessalonica.

This is not to say at all that the use of the intellect (the reason) is bad in itself. Of course not, it is necessary. In the Church we have three great saints who bear the title ‘the Theologian’ – St John, St Gregory and St Symeon. Three – and no more. St Gregory, in particular, was very well educated in the intellect achievements of the day, like indeed, many, many other Church Fathers. Their triumph, however, was not in their use of their intellect, but in the fact of their spiritual experience (holiness), which they expressed with the use of their secularly trained intellect. Intellect is one thing, intellectualism, such as denying the miracle in the life of St John of Damascus and the Three-handed Icon of the Mother of God, is another.

In other words, the Church Fathers did not confuse the means (the intellect, the reason) with the end (holiness), which confusion is called not the use of the intellect, but ‘intellectualism’. Intellectualism is the spiritual disease which makes the reason (rationalism) the be all and the end all. It is not. The Church is not rationalist, which ism is tainted by fallen human pride and arrogance, but neither is She irrationalist. Irrationalism is obscurantist and narrow, the domain of phariseeism and spiritual impurity, just as much as rationalism. The Church is ‘meta-rational’, beyond reason, i.e, She follows the path of Holy Wisdom, ‘Sofia’ in Greek, ‘Premudrost’ in Slavonic.

The Christian goal was very well expressed by St Seraphim of Sarov in the century before last. He defined the aim of our lives, not as the collecting of secular knowledge, idle facts, but as the acquisition of the Holy Spirit. We can see this very clearly in the lives of three saints of the last century, St Silvanus the Athonite, a semi-literate Russian peasant, St Nicholas of Ochrid and St Justin of Chelije, the latter two of whom were very well-educated in Western Universities. The latter two used the intellectual formation which they had received in the West in order to express their spiritual experience, that of St Silvanus. No amount of doctorates, imitations and studies of abstract theories will, however, provide such spiritual experience.

In the Russian Church today, no longer persecuted, we are faced by the challenge of secular-minded intellectuals on the fringes of Church life, often with doctorates and degrees, who call themselves ‘theologians’, but who are not, because they do not have the spiritual experience that comes from suffering. Thus, their writings are superficial and do not provide spiritual food for the Orthodox faithful, but simply act as sleeping pills. The antidote to intellectualism is the living experience of the saints, especially, in the Russian Church, the feats of the New Martyrs and Confessors, who preferred the ‘meta-rational’, Risen Kingdom of God to the rationalist and irrationalist fallen republic of man.

Addressing the Seven Billion: On the 2016 Inter-Orthodox Conference

Introduction: The 2016 Conference

Most of humanity’s over 7 billion Non–Orthodox (http://www.worldometers.info/world-population/) have not heard that there is going to be an Inter-Orthodox Conference next year. But then neither have most of the world’s 216 million Orthodox. Information about the proposed 2016 Inter-Orthodox Conference to be attended by a maximum of 24 bishops from each of the 14 Local Churches is, to say the least, sparse. (Will it take place at all? When will it take place? What will be discussed?) Occasional rumours appear on the internet. The vast majority of both Orthodox clergy and people have no idea that such a Conference is even to happen and hardly anyone knows what it going to be discussed. The fact that the conspiracy theorists have been at work regarding it is entirely due to the total lack of transparency and total lack of communications of the highly secretive Conference organizers. It almost seems as though the lack of openness of the obscurantist Conference organizers is deliberately intended to provoke schism. At present, therefore, there appear to be two common scenarios for the outcome of this Conference.

The Apocalyptic Scenario

The first scenario is the apocalyptic one. This is the scenario favoured by the conspiracy theorists, old calendarists, schismatics etc in order to justify themselves. Since all the preparations are going on behind closed doors in Switzerland (of all places!) and hardly anyone even knows what the agenda is and since there has been absolutely no consultation by the bishops with the clergy and people and even many bishops seems to know nothing about this Conference, the internet conspiracy theorists have been having a field day. It seems that we are deliberately being kept in ignorance (shades of the disastrously-organized Nyack Conference in 2003 in ROCOR, of which we were informed after it had happened). Clearly for the conspiracy theorists, the whole agenda of the Conference (for some reason billed as a Council, when a Conference can only be declared a Council if its resolutions are afterwards received by the whole Church) has been dictated by the secularist powers of this world.

According to the conspiracy theorists, the Conference will be a repeat of the 1923 Constantinople meeting, that is a meeting of apostasy which will deny the Seven Universal Councils, close all monasteries, throw out relics, shorten the services, marry the bishops, adopt the secular calendar, abolish fasting, do away with clerical dress etc. In a word, it will simply be a copy of the protestantizing Vatican II and its secularist agenda. Indeed, the apocalyptic scenario even bills this ‘Council’ as ‘The Eighth Universal Council’ – even though in the Greek practice the Eighth Council is that of the ninth century when the Roman Patriarchate repented and for a time returned to the Orthodox fold before its final schism in the eleventh century. I have even been asked what ROCOR will do in such a case. Well, we will simply carry on being a self-governing part of the Russian Orthodox Church, ignoring everything decided by the apostates at such a Conference. As for other Local Churches, including the part of the Russian Church which is inside the Russian Lands, they will be rent by schism. Is this what the secretive Conference organizers want?

The Bureaucratic Scenario

that the apocalyptic scenario is highly unlikely and has been engendered only by the total lack of transparency of those preparing the Conference, what is far more likely? Given the highly detailed preparations going on, it is that the Conference will take place and produce a document of extraordinary blandness, couched in Chancellery-speak and meaningless pseudo-intellectual waffle about ‘being’ and ‘communion’. The result will be that the whole Conference will continue to be totally ignored by the people, the guardians of Orthodoxy, and will pass immediately into the dustbin of history. Of course, there will be total unity – but such is the effect of blandness. Rumours from Switzerland that the Patriarchate of Constantinople is promoting homosexuality, obeying its paymasters in the US State Department (and sadly, certain of its bishops), and that this is being opposed by the other Local Churches, tend to confirm that the result will indeed be a meaningless document written in diplomat-speak.

The latest rumours that Patriarch Bartholomew wants to use the Conference to promote a hopelessly old-fashioned 1960s liberal-type secularist agenda of ‘human rights and racial equality’ are laughable because of their hypocrisy – or is it simply profound ignorance of the real world? Go to almost any Greek parish in Western Europe and ask to join and you will be told to ‘go away (and often much ruder than that) because you are not Greek’. This is commonplace and I could quote several examples with details. Amidst the forest of Greek flags (and the Patriarchate of Constantinople is not the only guilty party – is flag-waving a special parochial Balkan phenomenon?) of the average Greek parish ethnic club, where is the place for Christ? Surely if there is to be a Conference, we could talk about the real problems of the Church in the world, which are not doctrinal, but administrative, and are all due to the utter failure to implement Orthodoxy, that is, to go beyond empty words to deeds.

The Third Scenario: The Holy Spirit

In 2006 I was honoured to be present at the Fourth All-Diaspora Council in San Francisco. There was only one real question on the agenda: whether the Russian Church inside Russia was free and so ROCOR could at last link up with Her, as we had been waiting for over three generations to do. I had definitely made up my mind only on the aeroplane coming from London, when I had learned the news that the local diocese of the Church inside Russia, the Sourozh Diocese, had at last freed itself from modernism and ecumenism, from its hatred for the Russian Church Tradition and its contempt for the New Martyrs and Confessors, and that therefore the last obstacle to unity had gone. However, I seemed to belong to a small group, sure that the time was ripe for unity; equally, there was a small group that was definitely opposed to any sort of unity, declaring that it was premature. The majority at the Council, including most of the bishops, seemed not to have come to a decision. All appeared to be at an impasse.

Those present will remember the third day of that Council, when a miracle happened and suddenly virtually everyone came together and the path to the future opened up before us. What happened? What is the authority of the Church? Who is the most important person at a Council? What is the difference between a Council and a mere Conference? The answer to all these questions is: The Holy Spirit. Suppose such a miracle happens at the 2016 Conference? Suddenly then all those worldly, weary words will vanish ‘as wax melts before the fire…at the presence of God’. All those tired secular agendas will return to the dust from which they are made. Then we could talk about the really important tasks of proclaiming the authentic Christian Tradition to the world, about updating the real situation of the Church to 2016 and forgetting 1453, when for some history stopped. The possibilities are endless – if the bureaucrats heed the Holy Spirit.

Conclusion: Endless Possibilities

A real and free Inter-Orthodox Council could first consult with monastics, parish clergy and people about what all the diocesan bishops of the whole Church (some 800 of them – who knows?) could discuss. It could reaffirm the Orthodox truths before the end to the apostate West and to all those parts of the world which after 2,000 years have still not heard of the Church and Orthodoxy, only of compromised and deformed colonial versions of Christianity, from which Orthodoxy must be distinguished and distanced. Support could be given to the Patriarchate of Alexandria for missionary work in its huge territory of Africa, a potential flock of over one billion Non-Orthodox. Support could be given to the Russian Church for missionary work in its huge territory of Asia, a potential flock of nearly four and a half billion Non-Orthodox. Support could be given for Orthodox unity and missionary work, instead of ethnic rivalry, in Western Europe, North and South America and Oceania (over one and a half billion Non-Orthodox), where new Local Churches have to be set up, given the millennial apostasy of heterodox structures, which are not going to return to Church Christianity. The possibilities are endless because with God in the Holy Spirit all things are possible.