Tag Archives: Theology

The Church Outside Russia Proposes Corrected Documents for the Crete Meeting

Expressions of serious disagreement regarding the proposed documents for the Crete meeting of selected Orthodox bishops from most Local Churches in June (for some reason called ‘a Great and Holy, Pan-Orthodox Council’) have been widely heard. Fundamental dissent has been voiced in several Local Churches, notably in the Churches of Antioch, Georgia, Bulgaria, Greece and Cyprus, as well as in the Russian Church in Russia, the Ukraine and Moldova. Outside the Russian Lands, ROCOR has now added its voice to the popular chorus. Now New York adds its voice to Kiev and Kishinev; clearly action must now be taken.

In a comprehensive and theologically-founded, but constructive and moderately expressed manner, the Church Outside Russia has now also voiced its dissent from the draft documents for the Crete meeting, which for obvious reasons it does not recognize as a Council at present. It thus reflects the concerns of an ever increasing number of Orthodox hierarchs, clergy and people everywhere about a process seen as secretive (secrecy also gives rose to conspiracy theories which then give rise to schisms), secular, bureaucratic, contradictory and above all, by some, as anti-Orthodox. Below we reproduce the statement from Metropolitan Hilarion and the Synod of Bishops.

To the Very Reverend and Reverend Clergy, Venerable Monastics and Pious Faithful
of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia:

In the Name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit!

In light of the welcome publication of the documents to be considered by the forthcoming Pan-Orthodox Council, scheduled to take place on Crete from 16-27 June 2016, the Holy Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia has undertaken to examine these texts, together with a multitude of other Hierarchs, clergy and laity who are doing the same as preparations for the Council continue, and to communicate with our God-preserved flock and others the manner of suggestions we are proposing, since the documents of the Council are the cause of interest and questioning to very many. We are reminded, in this as in all things, of the words of the Lord to the Holy Apostle St. Peter, when He pronounced that the future shepherd’s work would be to feed My sheep (John 21.17); and likewise that the food for those who love Him is to diligently preserve what Christ has taught them: If ye love me, keep my commandments (John 14.15), and If a man love me, he will keep my words (John 14.23).

It is with zeal for such divine commandments that the whole plenitude of the Hierarchy of the Russian Orthodox Church seeks to apply the counsel of the Righteous Solomon: incline thine ear unto wisdom, and apply thine heart to understanding (Proverbs 2.2), scrutinizing the documents that have been made available to us with humility, diligence and obedience. This task is undertaken in a spirit free from fear or worldly worry, since we fervently trust that God Himself is ever the helmsman of the Church, and as He has guided her through the many centuries to our day, so He will continue to guide and preserve us now and until He comes again. Rather, we offer reflections on a few of the texts as a means of conjoining our thoughts to those of many others who are working for the good of all our inter-Orthodox endeavours, including His Holiness the Patriarch and those members of our Russian Orthodox Church who labour with him in these preparations.

While certain of the documents — which have been prepared by the Pre-Conciliar Conferences for the Council’s consideration, but which are of course not final texts and are necessarily preliminary — do not give rise for concern in our reading, and indeed contain elements of useful clarification (for example, the document “Autonomy and the Means of Proclaiming It”), the employment in others of ambiguous terminology, a lack of theological precision, and ecclesiological language foreign to the sacred tradition of the Church, demand commentary that may lead to their correction. This is most notably the case in two documents: “Relations of the Orthodox Church with the Rest of the Christian World”, and “The Mission of the Orthodox Church in Today’s World”; and a few issues arise also with the procedural text entitled “Organisation and Working Procedure of the Holy and Great Council of the Orthodox Church.”

The Document “Relations of the Orthodox Church with the Rest of the Christian World”

We cannot read the document “Relations of the Orthodox Church with the Rest of the Christian World” without noting the pronounced measure of inconsistency — both in terms of language as well as conceptuality — that marks it out; but also, more painfully, the failure of the document to espouse proper Orthodox ecclesiology in the manner necessary for the full proclamation of Christ’s Truth in a divided world. In our estimation this is the most problematic of the Pre-Conciliar documents, and one which will require substantial revision and amendment during the sessions of the Council itself, if it is to attain a form suitable for adoption.

The inconsistencies in ecclesiological terminology are readily apparent, and have already been noted by many (the Most Reverend Metropolitan of Nafpaktos and St. Vlasios, the Most Reverend Metropolitan of Limassol, as well as various learned Orthodox clergy and scholars). While the document opens by identifying the Orthodox Church as “the One, Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church” (art. 1), which “grounds her unity on the fact that she was founded by Our Lord Jesus Christ, as well as on the communion in the Holy Trinity and in the Sacraments” (art. 2), the terminology used throughout the remainder of the text renders ambiguous these otherwise clear and true phrases. Not only is proclamation of the Orthodox Church as “the One” Church befuddled by the statement that “the Orthodox Church acknowledges the existence in history of other Christian Churches and confessions which are not in communion with her” (art. 6) and the repeated references to “various Christian Churches and confessions” (art 6, art. 20); the document also lacks any reference to the fact that the Church is not only “founded by” our Lord and God and Saviour Jesus Christ (cf. art. 2), but is ever His mystical Body, always one and indivisible (cf. Ephesians 5.30; Colossians 1.24). Though of course all acknowledge the existence in history of groups who seek to follow the Saviour apart from the Orthodox Church, and which may by self-definition refer to themselves as ‘churches’, Orthodox ecclesiology permits of no pluralization of what is, and must always be, One: Christ’s Body itself. In casual usage such terminology (i.e. of ‘other churches’) may at times be employed out of convenience, but it can have no place in a formal document of the Church, which must be scrupulously precise and give clear, unequivocal voice to the traditions we have received from our Fathers, which they received from the Lord.

More serious are the deficiencies in this text regarding the essential distinction it seeks to address: namely, the Church and her relations to those outside her. While our hearts echo the sentiment of the holy Hieromartyr Hilarion (Troitsky) who observed of the fracture in the Christian world: “What conscious Christian does not sorrow in soul when he sees the enmity and division among people who should be uniting their faith, among whom should be reigning the peace left and given by Christ to His disciples, and love poured into the hearts of Christians by the Holy Spirit!” — we acknowledge at the same time that the advent of such peace to those who are divided can come only through the proclamation of the one true path towards unity: the life of salvation offered in the Church; and that understanding how to return to the indivisible Church begins with a right understanding of separation. Here the document is at its most unclear. At no point does the text heed the example of the Holy Fathers, Councils and Canons of the Church in identifying the division between Christian peoples as arising from schism and heresy (terms which, most surprisingly, do not appear in the text at all); that is, in terms of increasing degrees of severance and departure from Christ’s Body and Truth.[1] Instead, the document takes the para-ecclesiological approach of locating division within a broadly-defined concept of “Christian unity” (cf. art. 4), which itself becomes an ambiguous phrase used to imply a paramount “unity of believers in Christ” (ibid.) that extends beyond the “One, Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church” and incorporates many other confessions.[2]

It is in this context of a heterodox para-ecclesiology that the document goes on to speak of Christian unity as something that has been “lost” (art. 5), and “the restoration of Christian unity” as one of the Church’s persistent aims (art. 4, 5, 12, 24). Such statements contradict the otherwise valid proclamation that “the unity by which the Church is distinguished in her ontological nature is impossible to shatter” (art. 6). Moreover, intermingling the right proclamation that the Church bears witness “to those who are external to her” (ibid.), with the suggestion that she engages with such bodies in order to seek “lost Christian unity on the basis of the faith and tradition of the ancient Church of the Seven Ecumenical Councils” (art. 5), makes clear that the “unity” being spoken of is one in which the Holy Orthodox Church of those Councils is but a part or component, rather than the undivided whole which Christ has ever preserved as His own Bride (cf. Ephesians 5.25-26, 32). In all this, not only is a heterodox ecclesiology implicated in the draft of a potentially pan-Orthodox statement, but a powerful pastoral opportunity is neglected. The true disunity present among Christian peoples today is the loss of unity of heterodox Christians with the Orthodox Church; and the path of healing that can render divided humanity truly united is the repentant departure from schism and heresy, and the return to the One Church whose unity has never been broken.[3] It is for the divine preservation of this interior unity that we pray when we petition for “the union of all” in the Divine Services, while at the same time bearing in our hearts the hope that those who are parted from it may return. A pan-Orthodox statement that fails to proclaim this Gospel hope into the world misses an opportunity rightly to bear the message of salvation.

The same document contains other errors which cannot be passed over. Its twenty-third article comments on the necessity of inter-Christian theological dialogue (itself a good and potentially fruitful endeavour) “excluding any practice of proselytism or any outrageous manifestations of inter-confessional antagonism” (art. 23). The loose association of the term “proselytism” with “inter-confessional antagonism” is problematic, for the Lord commands both the active preaching (leading to baptism) of “all nations” (cf. Matthew 28.19, 20) and assures the Church of His special preservation of those being proselytised — a reality we hymn in the Typical Psalms of the Divine Liturgy (κύριος φυλάσσει τοὺς προσηλύτους, Psalm 145.9). To categorically forbid “proselytism”, properly understood, by Orthodox towards the heterodox is a tacit acceptance of an “equality of confessions” (something the document itself rightly says cannot be accepted; cf. art. 18), since it amounts to an avowal of the idea that the heterodox are already united to the Body of Christ (the Church) and therefore need not be drawn towards repentant conversion into it.

We presume this clearly anti-Evangelical prohibition is not what is intended by the text, which pairs “proselytism” with “outrageous manifestations of inter-confessional antagonism”; and instead that it is using the term in a commonly-acknowledged vernacular to refer to devious and often underhanded tactics employed in preaching the Gospel, rather than the preaching of the Gospel itself (which is how we likewise interpret the employment of the term in the recent joint declaration of His Holiness the Patriarch of Moscow and the Roman Catholic Pope of Rome[4]). However, while informal usage of the term to refer to perversions of behaviour may be permissible in unbinding documents, it cannot be permitted of a formal ecclesiological statement.

The Document “The Mission of the Orthodox Church in Today’s World”

The problems contained in the document “The Mission of the Orthodox Church in Today’s World” are more subtle and theological in character than those in the text on the relations of the Orthodox Church with the rest of the Christian world, but for precisely this reason deserve special attention. His Eminence the Metropolitan of Nafpaktos and St. Vlasios has already carefully laid out the basics of the anthropological flaws that undergird the whole of this text, which render its otherwise noble focus on the work of Orthodoxy to foster peace, the aversion of war, the fight against discrimination, etc., deeply problematic until they are corrected.

The heart of the problem lies in the document’s persistent use of the term “human person” where it ought to use “man”, and grounding its humanitarian discussion in elaborations on this phrase.[5] Usage of the term “person” for man emerges within Orthodox discussion in a notable way only from the time of V. Lossky, who himself acknowledged the novelty of his employment of it; and while it has become almost normative in contemporary discussions, the Holy Fathers are consistent in employing the Scriptural and liturgical language of “man”. The term “person” (Rus. лицо, Gr. πρόσωπον)[6] is chiefly used in Orthodox language in reference to the Divine Persons of the Holy Trinity, in confessing the unique hypostatic being of Father, Son and Holy Spirit, as well as the singular hypostatic reality of the One Son in Whom both the divine and human natures co-exist “unconfusedly, unchangeably, indivisibly, inseparably” (Definition of the Fourth Ecumenical Council). Almost never is the term applied to the human creature (in whom such distinctions do not exist), precisely as a way of noting the absolute distinction between that which is created and that which is Uncreated — for while man is “in the image and likeness of God”, he is in no wise comparable, in his createdness, to Him Who has no beginning.

This clarification, which may at first strike as overly nuanced or even pedantic, is of fundamental importance to Orthodox theology and anthropology, and demonstrates the need for the most exacting attention when considering documents for widespread circulation (even in a case such as this, where the text does not purport to be about Trinitarian doctrine at all, yet inadvertently puts forward doctrinally problematic themes). The rise in misapplication of the term “person” to man over the past 75 years has resulted in numerous perversions of theological language in the realm of doctrinal reflection, one of the most notable of which, the concept that there is a “communion of Divine Persons in the Holy Trinity”, is directly stated in the document (art. 2.i).[7] The precise theological discussions of the fourth and fifth centuries clarified that the Father, Son and Spirit are united in an eternal communion of essence (in the begottenness of the Son, the procession of the Spirit and the monarchia of the Father), but not a communion of Persons. Misapplication of the term “person” to man has led, however, to considerations of the community of the human race being applied to the nature of the Holy Trinity in a manner that contradicts the clear teaching of the Fathers and Ecumenical Councils. Furthermore, such improper language of Trinity creates new anthropological problems that arise from seeing “the human person” as “a community of persons in the unity of the human race reflecting the life and communion of the Divine Persons in the Holy Trinity” (art. 2.i — one of the most problematic phrases in the document).[8] While it is true that man’s freedom (the subject of Article 2) is a gift arising from his being created “in the image” of God, neither his life in the broad community of the race of men, nor the freedom he exercises within it, are comparable to the freedom of the Divine Persons expressed in their eternal, mutual indwelling.

In numerous places throughout the document signs of this flawed anthropology are present, summed up in its desire to advance “the general recognition of the lofty value of the human person” (art. 1.iii)[9] as the source for its language of mission. Yet when man is identified improperly as a human person reflecting an improper conception of a “communion of Divine Persons” in the Trinity, his “lofty value” is elaborated in necessarily inaccurate terms. Man’s value is indeed lofty, but the right foundation of his value lies precisely in his created distinction from the Persons of the Trinity, into Whose life he is nonetheless called and Whose image he yet mystically bears, rendering him unique among all creation in that he can attain the likeness of God through the deification of his nature.

In summary, we wish to stress that this document on the mission of the Church says much that is good: its emphasis on the proper exercise of human freedom, the pursuit of peace and justice, the struggles against discrimination, the identification of multitudinous problems with the secular and consumerist ideologies of our present culture, and so forth — these are all laudable and God-pleasing aims. But they must not be met through the application of flawed anthropological and theological concepts. The phrase “human person” should be replaced throughout with the more satisfactory “man”, especially in key phrases like “the value of the human person” (art. 1.iii). Similarly, other ambiguous or improperly-applied anthropological terms should be carefully scrutinized and corrected (such as the use of “gender”, when in fact “sex” is meant; cf. Preface, art. 5[ii, iii]).

A Word on the Procedures and Authority of the Council

Finally, a word must be said on the operational procedures established for the Council, with reference to the authority any documents it may approve will have within the Orthodox world.
We are not the first to note the flawed ecclesiological statement present in Article 22 of the document “Relations of the Orthodox Church with the Rest of the Christian World”, which claims that “the preservation of the true Orthodox faith is only possible thanks to the conciliar structure which since ancient times has been for the Church the strong and final criterion in matters of faith”. The Holy Councils of the Church, even those deemed Ecumenical in the consciousness of the Church, have never been “the strong and final criterion in matters of faith,” but rather the Spirit-led confirmation of the one criterion of faith which is the express Will of Christ. The true Orthodox faith is not preserved “only … thanks to the conciliar structure” of the Church, but through the unwavering, active headship of Christ over His Body, which properly constituted and prayerfully unified Councils manifest rather than determine.

This is accomplished through the charismatic, Apostolic grace bestowed upon the Hierarchs of the Church, which in conciliar prayer and reflection mystically discloses the Will of God Who speaks in and through His ministers. For this reason, those councils which have been assessed by the Church as having binding authority on her work and life are those in which the full freedom of this episcopal grace is preserved. Each bishop equally manifests the Apostolic charism, and in council each bishop is freely able to raise his voice in the plenitude of that assembly. Only in such a manner have councils been able to say It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us (Acts 15.28) and proclaim authoritatively the Will of the Lord.

The determinations made through the Pre-Conciliar process and the decision of the Primates of the Autocephalous Churches, spelled out in Articles 3, 12 and 13 of the “Organisation and Working Procedure of the Holy and Great Council of the Orthodox Church” document, make clear that the Pan-Orthodox gathering to take place this year will not be a council of this nature. We hasten to add, in a spirit of full faith and love, that this in no wise means it cannot be of value and importance, and indeed we pray for a fruitful meeting that permits a new degree of inter-Orthodox dialogue and common work. However, a council that includes only a fixed number of representative bishops (art. 3.i), in which voting on the adoption of texts is done on a novel “one Church, one vote” model in which voting “shall be effected by autocephalous Orthodox Churches, not each particular member of the delegations represented at the Council” (art. 12.i), in which it is explicitly asserted that “the voting of a Church at the Council, not a member of a delegation, does not exclude the possibility for one or a few hierarchs in the delegation of a particular autocephalous Church to take a negative position towards introduced amendments or a text in general” (art. 12.ii) and which relegates any such dissenting voice to “an internal affair of that Church to which the hierarchs belong” (art. 12.iii) — all these things mean that any documents which are approved at this council may indeed have “a pan-Orthodox authority” (art. 13.ii), but this authority can be neither dogmatic nor doctrinal, but will represent only the authority of the voices of those hierarchs permitted by such regulations to be present, speak, and have a vote. While we are satisfied that the insistence upon unanimous consensus for any amendments (art. 11.ii), as well as the adoption of texts themselves (art. 13.i), adequately safeguards against the possibility of the imposition of any text by “majority vote”, the fact remains that even in such cases where decisions are taken at this council by the unanimous consensus of those present, such decisions can never be considered to bear witness to the consensus of the plenitude of the Church, and therefore the authority they bear shall be adjudged accordingly.

Conclusion

We write the above both to offer a few critical corrections to the documents set forward for consideration by the forthcoming Council, in the spirit of fraternal co-operation, agreement and support of our brother Hierarchs and clergy of the other Local Orthodox Churches, such as those previously mentioned in this letter, who are contributing in like manner; and also in order to reassure the faithful flock entrusted to us by Christ of the careful attention being laid upon the task of examining these documents by their pastors. The process of addressing the pastoral needs of any given age is one which requires both tremendous prayer and ascetical devotion from all Christians, but also the dedicated, deliberate work to ensure, in any document the Church may put forward, the faithfulness to the Gospel we have inherited. All such texts, now as throughout history, go through many stages of preparation and revision; and the fact that we, together with others, have identified serious problems with some of the documents pending consideration by the forthcoming Council should be a cause for neither fear nor anxiety. The Holy Spirit Who always guides the Church in love, is not far from us today; and the Church is not in our times, nor has she ever been, without the active headship of her True Head, Christ our God, Whom we trust with full faith will guide His Body in all truth.

We fervently implore the prayers of all our faithful flock, that standing fast upon the rock of the Church, their prayers may uphold all those Hierarchs who will work for the good of this dialogue and assembly.

Signed,

+ HILARION,
Metropolitan of Eastern America and New York,
President of the Synod of Bishops.

+ MARK,,
Archbishop of Berlin and Germany.

+ KYRILL,
Archbishop of San Francisco and Western America,
Secretary of the Synod of Bishops.

+ GABRIEL,
Archbishop of Montreal and Canada.

+ PETER,
Bishop of Cleveland.

+ NICHOLAS,
Bishop of Manhattan.

[1] As, for example, in the clear language of St. Basil the Great in his First Canonical Epistle (Epistle 188), as well as the First Canon of the same Father and the commentary of St. Nicodemus of the Holy Mountain on the same; and in many other elements of the Church’s tradition.

[2] In this regard we are particularly grateful for the elucidation of His Eminence Metropolitan Hierotheos of Nafpaktos and St. Vlasios, in his Letter to the Holy Synod of the Church of Greece (18th January 2016), in which he draws attention to the implicit presence of so-called “Baptismal Theology” raised through the document’s reference to the 7th Canon of the Second Ecumenical Council, and the 95th Canon of the Quinisext Council; and which His Eminence also notes appears to call into question the decision of the Patriarchs of 1756, by which the one baptism of the Orthodox Church is understood to have no parallel in other confessions.

[3] We are grateful for the clarity on these points offered in the recent letter of His Eminence Athanasius, Metropolitan of Limassol (dated 11th February 2016), with whose considered opinions we are in agreement.

[4] See the Joint Declaration of Patriarch Kyrill and Pope Francis, 12th February 2016, section 24.

[5] We note the careful precision that must be applied in this matter, as the document employs both correct references to “man” (человек, ὁ ἄνθρωπος), as well as incorrect references to the “human person” (человеческая личность, τόν ἀνθρώπινον πρόσωπον). The latter, which are the core of the theological problems with this document, are located at: Art.1 Title; 1.i, iii; 2.i, iii; 3.i; and 6.v). For the sake of those reading the texts in other translations, the problem is at times compounded (for example, the English translation in wide circulation, which is not itself an official translation of the Pre-Conciliar Conferences, regularly confuses the matter further by failing to distinguish between the different terms in the official text, rendering almost all instances even of человек, ὁ ἄνθρωπος as “human person”. Cf. Pref. paras. 2, 4; art. 1.i; multiple instances in 2.i; 6.iii, x; multiple instances in 6.xii, 6.xv).

[6] We note here an important distinction between theological usage in the Russian and Greek languages: Russian makes a distinction between Лицо (used in reference to the Divine Persons, Лицы, of the Holy Trinity) and личность, which is sometimes used of man, given that it retains a distinction between the type of Persons identified in the Trinity, and the being of the human creature. Thus in the official Russian edition of the present document, the phrase in question is always rendered человеческая личность and not человеческое лицо; while in Greek such a linguistic distinction does not exist and therefore the phrase is always rendered as the entirely unacceptable ἀνθρώπινον πρόσωπον.

In addition to matters of theological accuracy, this also introduces a procedural problem to the Council’s documents, since the official version of the Russian text employs a differentiation of vocabulary that is not employed in the Greek. Further inconsistency exists in the official French version of the document, which employs “la personne humaine” (or a variation) some 12 times, as opposed to 7 in the Russian and Greek versions, often using it where the Greek text reads ὁ ἄνθρωπος and the Russian reads человек (e.g. in the Preface; art. 1.ii.). Thus we have three different documents, using different distinctions and nuances of vocabulary, rather than a threefold presentation of a single text in translation.

While the Russian distinction of лицо/личность may be less problematic than attributing the direct title of “person” (лицо) to man, it is nevertheless a theological innovation that this document need not foster. It seems to us that theological precision is best maintained by avoiding it, and using the proper человек, ὁ ἄνθρωπος, l’homme for man in all instances.

[7] Both the official Russian and Greek versions include this improper theological statement, describing the Holy Trinity as: « общение Божественных Лиц », « κοινωνίαν τῶν θείων προσώπων ».

[8] Rus. « и как члену сообщества личностей, в единстве человеческого рода по благодати отражающих жизнь и общение Божественных Лиц в Святой Троице ». Gr. « καί ὡς κοινωνίαν προσώπων ἀντανακλώντων κατά χάριν διά τῆς ἑνότητος τοῦ ἀνθρωπίνου γένους τήν ἐν τῇ Ἁγίᾳ Τριάδι ζωήν καί κοινωνίαν τῶν θείων προσώπων ». Once again we see here the difference in Russian usage, which distinguishes in this sentence between лиц and личность, and the Greek which uses πρόσωπον in each instance.

[9] « Всеобщее признание высокой ценности человеческой личности »; « ἡ κοινή ἀποδοχή τῆς ὑψίστης ἀξίας τοῦ ἀνθρωπίνου προσώπου ». Cf. art. 6.v, where a similar sentiment is expressed, again using the improper terms.

Personalism or Eschatology: Unreal Theology or Real Theology? A Parish Priest’s Point of View

There is a story from the life of the much-revered Elder John (Krestiankin) (+ 2006) of how a young student came to see him from the Theological Academy and introduced himself as a ‘theologian’. Elder John replied: ‘So you are the fourth?’ In his immaturity the young student naturally did not understand, so he asked the Elder what he meant. Elder John answered: ‘There are three theologians in the Church: St John, St Gregory and St Simeon the New. Are you claiming to be the fourth?’ The humbled student was shamefaced.

It is a curious fact that ‘Orthodox’ academic theology (we would rather call it academic philosophy) differs enormously from Orthodox theology. Academics like the late Fr Nicholas Afanasyev, Fr Alexander Schmemann or Metr John Zizioulas and their huddle of followers in New York, Istanbul, Paris and Oxford all concentrate on personalism, in other words the strange mixture of unrepentant fallen human nature (humanism) inside an outward shell of Orthodoxy, or, as we might call it, ‘humanism with icons’. With its resurrection of Origen’s heretical ‘salvation for all’ and intellectualistic Gnostic mystification, personalism is an abstraction that has no life of its own outside academia.

However, real Orthodox theologians, like St Justin of Chelije, concentrate not on humanism (or personalism to give it its disguised name), but on Godmanhood. In other words, this is how fallen human nature must be transfigured by repentance before it can obtain dignity, that is, before the human heart can become worthy of any knowledge of God and so revelation, which it can then pass on to the mind. It is strange indeed that ‘Orthodox’ academic ‘theologians’ should have been inspired by Non-Orthodox humanists like the Lutheran Jakob Boehme via the semi-Marxist philosophy of disincarnation of Berdyayev for their ideas about personalism.

Rather than try to speak to post-Christian and indeed atheistic Western academics in the humanistic terms that they might just be able to understand, though would have very little interest in and would regard as irrelevant, would it not be better to speak to the whole Western world about the fullness of Orthodox theology without compromise? Not only would the spiritually living minority of Western people be interested to hear about undiluted Christianity (which is what Orthodoxy simply is), but also we Orthodox ourselves would be interested. Faith is not deepened by intellectualism; Faith is deepened by the revelations of God to the human heart. That is precisely what the Gospels are about.

The fact is that the average devout Orthodox has never heard of, let alone read, the obscure and poorly-selling books of any of the contemporary academic ‘theologians’ like Metr John Zizioulas who claim to be Orthodox; they would appear only to be for Non-Orthodox intellectual consumption, not for the fishermen of Galilee. But the average devout Orthodox has most certainly heard of and reads and knows and venerates the best-selling St Paisius the Athonite, Fr Seraphim (Rose), Fr Arsenie (Boca) and Elder John (Krestyankin), real Orthodox theologians, who feed our hearts, not our brains, in the spirit of the fishermen of Galilee.

Perhaps the academic ‘theologians’ should address themselves to the real, and not unreal or virtual Orthodox world, by speaking to real Orthodox in the parishes and the monasteries. In the real Orthodox context they would forget the philosophical fantasy of ‘personalism’ (the word is unknown to the Fathers and to all Orthodox) and speak about Repentance, Messianism and the Third Rome. We live, after all, in an age of apostasy, in the last times and in a globalized world, when Repentance, Messianism and the Universality of the Third Rome are as relevant as it is possible to be. In other words, eschatology, the theology of the last times, is what they need to speak and write of.

Orthodox Christianity is Alpha and Omega, speaking not only of the beginning of the world, but of the end too. We speak not of some fashionable ecological crisis or of any other ism, however fashionable they may be in incestuous academic circles, but of the mystery of iniquity and how we can counter the appearance of Antichrist, while awaiting the Second Coming. Today, as we speak of the Universal Civilization of Holy Rus as opposed to anti-Christian Western liberal ideology, we need to speak of the ultimate things, of eschatology, not of humanism, with or without icons.

The Russian Orthodox Church is the last barrier to Globalization and Westernization. This is why Zbigniew Brzezinski publicly admits that he wants to destroy her. She is the last bulwark defending her flock from the demonic game of post-modernism, to which virtually the whole Western world is subjugated and with which sickness it decomposes everything it touches. The Russian Church is the last fortress of Faith, which continues to restrain (2 Thess 2, 6), ever since the ‘Council’ of Florence and the internal and external fall of New Rome in the fifteenth century.

Before our very eyes, within the last ten years, Russia has visibly become the Third and Last Rome and the Russian Church has become the Church of the last times. Eschatology, the revelation and knowledge of the last things, is the great contribution of the Russian Church to the contemporary world. This has been arrived at not through the speculations of academics in Non-Orthodox and indeed anti-Orthodox cities, but through the sufferings of millions of New Martyrs and Confessors. This is the ministry and offering of the Russian Church to the contemporary world.

Speaking of Dostoyevsky, the great Serbian theologian and saint, St Justin of Chelije, wrote prophetically: ‘Orthodoxy is the bearer and keeper of the most radiant image of Christ and all Divino-human forces and this is the ‘New Word’ that Russia…must tell the world’. This ‘New Word’ is drawn not from some modernist mishmash of ‘personalism’, but from Eternity and, as such, must be heeded, for ‘when you see all these things, know that it is near, even at the doors’ (Matt 24, 33).

The Road from Damascus: From Recent Correspondence

Below we present points from correspondence of the last two months, anonymously and arranged thematically as questions and answers.

Q: What are your thoughts as we enter 2013?

A: My thoughts turn both ahead and also back to 2014, the centenary of the great European suicide. This was the disaster of 1914, from which Europe has not only not recovered, but from which it has fallen and falls ever further. The consequences of that War and its disastrous Treaty of Versailles were numerous, not least the guarantee of a Second War, but also:

If in the First World War Russia had defeated Germany and Austro-Hungary, as it was about to in 1917, the whole of world history would have been different. The Jews, who had already suffered terrible pogroms in Vienna and Berlin before that War (much worse than those in Poland, the western Ukraine and Bessarabia), would have been protected. In turn, there would have been no holocaust and no reason to establish Israel. The whole Middle East quagmire that exists today and the results of the manipulative Western divisions of the Ottoman Empire would not have come into existence.

There would have been the promised independence for Poland, Finland and the Baltic States, but with protection for their Orthodox minorities, autonomy for the Ukraine, Belarus, Georgia, Armenia and other peoples. There would never have been the disastrous centralism of the Soviet period. There would have been freedom at last for Carpatho-Russia, protection for the Orthodox Balkans, freedom for Constantinople and liturgies in the Church of the Holy Wisdom, and protection for Orthodox Asia Minor. Both the Armenians and Greeks in what later became Turkey would have been protected from genocide. No masonic Greeks and Romanians would have catholicised the Church calendar and split the Diaspora. There would have been no Turkish invasion and occupation of Cyprus and the Orthodox of the former Ottoman Empire, as in Syria, would have been protected.

Q: That brings us to today’s situation in the Middle East?

A: Precisely. After the recent wars lost in Iraq and Afghanistan and staring bankruptcy in the face, the West now faces the disastrous consequences of its meddling in Yugoslavia, Tunisia, Libya, Egypt and perhaps in Bahrain. The ‘blowback’ is enormous, as we see in Mali. Now come the consequences of meddling in the rest of the Ottoman Empire – in Turkey and Syria, not forgetting the Kurds, so mistreated by European colonialism in the carve-up of the Ottoman Empire after the First World War.

It is said that members of the French and British special services have already been killed in Syria, though this has been hushed up by the governments involved. There are 1500 members of US Sp3ecial Forces in the Jordan alone. Who knows? The 65,000 terrorist mercenaries in Syria belong to 29 different nationalities, according to the UN. Recently many Tunisians, another 5,000, have been flown into Syria and armed by the CIA, financed by the oil monarchies, especially by anti-Iranian Qatar and Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia has made space in some of its prisons and sent criminals to fight in Syria. It is curious that the only well-known European politician who has spoken out against the allying of the West with Muslim terrorists in Syria is the French Marine Le Pen. She has had the courage to say that the Western-encouraged ‘Arab spring has been followed by the Islamist winter’. Interestingly also, no-one in the West has dared to speak against support for the Syrian people by China, only for the support offered by Russia.

Q: Why has the West spoken against Russian support and not against Chinese support?

A: China is due to become the world’s greatest economic power within the next ten years. It may also by then have become the world’s largest Christian country. The anti-Christian West is frightened of this. It is less frightened of Russia, which it still associates with the decadence of the 1990s. This is a mistake. Today’s Russia has been rising since 2000. In 2000 Russia had its revelation, since when it has been on the road from Damascus; the West is still on the road to Damascus, it has still not had its revelation, which it is purposely avoiding. Russia and the West have already passed each other by on that road, heading in opposite directions, Russia heading towards Jerusalem, the West heading towards Babylon.

Q: From a spiritual viewpoint, why are the events in Syria so important?

A: Because Syria is very close to Jerusalem and, spiritually, Jerusalem is the centre of the world, the beginning – and the end.

Q: If we can come back to what you said originally about Russia’s potential victory in the First World War, why did it not win?

A: The Western aims in that War were twofold – the defeat of Germany and then of Russia. The Western elites knew perfectly well that Russia, unimpeded, would become the World’s greatest power by 1950 and its Orthodox Christian culture would then stand at the centre of Europe and of the world. The Russian Empire was already in advance of much of the West by 1914, and not only in terms of agricultural and industrial production. For example, 85% of its inhabitants were literate by 1917, thanks largely to the stupendous achievements of the last Tsar.

But Russia had to be destroyed before it destroyed Germany and then freed the Slav peoples from Austro-Hungarian oppression and the Orthodox peoples of the Near and Middle East from Ottoman oppression. So Rasputin, the symbol of the Russian Orthodox people, was murdered by the British (as we now know from Andrew Cook’s book, ‘To Kill Rasputin’) and the Revolution was organised by the British ambassador to St Petersburg, Sir George Buchanan, with the open support of Lord Milner, Balfour and Lloyd George. Russia could be brought down, because it was no longer necessary to the Allies – they knew that the USA would enter the War on their side, as soon as Russia was destroyed.

Q: Is there any chance that today’s Russian Federation could re-establish a sort of Orthodox Empire, as it could have done, had it been victorious in 1917?

A: Every Empire has problems. European models of Empire were too centralised, which provoked rejection on their fringes. In turn, the Soviet Union was a far more extreme and oppressive form of European Empire. In the territories of the pre-1917 Russian Empire, we should be hoping to see the emergence of a looser and voluntary Eurasian Confederation, not a Union or an Empire. However, at present only Belarus and Kazakhstan are taking part in this organisation. There is far to go.

Q: Eastern Europeans – though not necessarily their governments – have become disenchanted with the EU and have been rejecting the European Union since the Euro disaster. There is even talk of the UK leaving the European Union. Do you think any of these countries would want to join a Eurasian Confederation?

A: EU Eastern Europe is more or less bankrupt. Estonia will soon have no money to pay for any services, because so many of its tax-paying younger people have had to emigrate, mainly to Finland and Sweden. Half of Latvia and Lithuania seem to be in the UK or Germany. Whole villages and towns in the Baltic States are now populated almost entirely by pensioners and almost worthless blocks of flats are locked up, their owners abroad. There is no work.

Even ethnic Estonians and Latvians are cursing Gorbachov and would like the Soviet Union back. Then they had an excellent education system and free, quality health care – far better than the rationed, emergency only health system in the UK today. Eastern European politicians, as in Poland, say that their unemployment is relatively low, but that is only because millions of their young people have emigrated. The situation is similar in Hungary, Bulgaria and Romania, where real youth unemployment is over 50%. However, at present there is no real alternative to the EU for EU Eastern Europe. That is the challenge facing the Russian Federation, to set up a viable alternative to the EU.

And I think that this also concerns the UK. The internal realignment necessary for the UK elite to follow the people and quit the EU is unlikely at present, but perhaps largely because there is no realistic alternative. To go from being a US / German colony, as is clear from recently-expressed negative US and German attitudes to UK desires for freedom from the EU straitjacket, to being an independent country in association with a loose Eurasian Confederation is a very big step. But who knows?

Q: What are your thoughts regarding President Putin?

A: He is a phenomenon of the post-Soviet period, so inevitably there is light and also some dark with him. However, he does have one great leading idea, that of rebuilding national unity, retaining the best of the old Soviet Union and restoring the best from the old Imperial Russia. This is why he had the remains of the great Russian Orthodox philosopher Ivan Ilyin and also White émigré leaders brought back to Russia. Now he is restoring pre-Revolutionary regiments and honouring the Russian victims of the First World War. This is the future, not the Communist past.

Currently, for example, the Russian Communist Party asserts that it made only one mistake during its tyranny – the persecution of the Church under Stalin. This is an outrageous lie. Its evils began in 1917 under the mass murderer, Lenin. There was civil war and artificial famine, causing cannibalism. Communist persecution continued right up until the 1980s. Stalinism continued long after Stalin; the Khrushchov period was especially awful. It is a lie to call the genocide of tens of millions a ‘mistake’. That genocide also includes Stalin’s crass mismanagement of the Soviet armed forces before and after the German invasion. Millions of Russians and others died then because of his incompetence. The Soviet period was quite possibly the worst crime in world history – not a mere ‘mistake’.

Q: What will happen after Putin?

A: Who knows? He could be succeeded by another politician, with or without Soviet tendencies, more or less positive. That is not what we want. What we want is the restoration of the Orthodox Monarchy. However, it is unclear whether Russia will be ready, spiritually mature, for that by the time that Putin has disappeared from the scene.

Q: Patriarch Kyrill has been criticised by some in the Diaspora as a liberal. What would you answer?

A: I can remember that the then Metropolitan Kyrill was criticised publicly at the 2006 All-Diaspora Council in San Francisco for his ecumenistic and liberal reputation. At that time no-one challenged that thought – we all felt much the same. However, people change – that is the nature of the Church, at the centre of which stands repentance, though the modernists will not admit that, because in their pride they do not have the repentant spirit, thinking like Protestants that they are ‘already saved’.

Today we are looking at Patriarch Kyrill. Given the overview of the international Russian Orthodox Church that only a Patriarch can have and the responsibilities that he bears, he has changed. I think the concerted series of attacks on the Russian Church of 2012, orchestrated by the pro-Western media inside and outside Russia, and not without foreign finance, have changed him even more. He now knows exactly where his friends are and where his enemies are.

The ecumenists and renovationists, left-overs from the Soviet period inside and outside Russia, have lost the remaining support they had. It is now clearly understood that these are only the frontmen of Western Protestantism, ultimately Eastern-rite Protestants, Neo-Uniats, financed or at least encouraged by the Western Secret Services and the Western media which those Secret Services control. In April 2012 Patriarch Kyrill publicly condemned this ‘fifth column’ of ‘traitors in cassocks’.

Their only purpose is to divide the Church, as they have done especially in the Ukraine, where they have been financed by dollars. All divisions of the Church merely play into the hands of anti-Orthodox and weaken the Church. Hitler knew this and so do the CIA and its embassies in Kiev and Moscow. Some of those who have taken part in these divisions are ambitious and unscrupulous careerists. Tragically, some of those who have followed them in their divisions are truly pious but very naïve, not seeing that the cause that the support is gravely spiritually tarnished.

Q: Many of us have been disturbed by some events inside Russia, for example the continued activities of Fr George Kochetkov’s neo-renovationist group, or the strange opinions of Deacon Andrei Kuryayev. What do you say?

A: These are all adolescent distractions inside Russia, examples of spiritual immaturity. For instance, Fr George Kochetkov’s group is tiny. All these problems concern a small minority who were baptised and ordained in the 1990s and never fully integrated the Church. For example, the concept of merging Christmas and the New Year is fantasy and betrays the still Soviet mentality of its author. This shows ignorance of the age-old liturgical cycles of the Church. But nobody takes such fantasies seriously and they will die out. They are convert froth. Our interest is in the vast and immortal ocean of Orthodoxy, not in the passing froth on the seashore, which is here today, gone tomorrow.

Q: There has been controversy recently as to whether Tsar Nicholas is not a martyr, but a passion-bearer. Do you have any views?

A: Technically speaking, a martyr is one who had been killed for the Faith by Non-Orthodox; a passion-bearer is one who has been killed for the Faith by lapsed Orthodox in a state of apostasy. However, in reality, the word ‘martyr’ is used for all those killed for the Faith, which is why we talk about the ‘New Martyrs and Confessors’, not the ‘New Passion-Bearers and Confessors’.

In the Soviet context, we know that many of the Red murderers, Stalin for instance, were baptised Orthodox. Most of these were Slavs, but among the murderers there were also Latvians, Hungarians, Jews and others who were not Orthodox. So technically speaking, many of the ‘New Martyrs’ were at the same time ‘New Passion-Bearers’. And, in this sense, the Tsar was both a martyr and a passion-bearer. In general, none of the Soviet obscenities could have occurred without the co-operation of lapsed Orthodox, without apostasy. On the other hand, the whole Soviet ideology came, like the Revolution itself, from the West, which organised and financed it.

But what a pedantic question this is! All the more so when we know that only the Russian Church makes such a distinction. The Greek Church calls them all martyrs, that is, ‘witnesses’ for the Faith. In England St Edward the Martyr will always be called so and not a ‘passion-bearer’, which technically he was. In everyday life the Tsar Martyr will always be called universally, both inside and outside Russia, the ‘Tsar-Martyr’. This is an argument about words.

Q: Do you think that the little dissident groups, all split among themselves, who did not accept the reuniting of the Russian Orthodox Church six years ago, will ever return to unity?

A: I do not know. I would answer them with the prophetic words of Metropolitan Philaret on 10/23 September, 1974 in his Reply to Alexander Solzhenitsyn:

‘If the liberation of Russia were to take place and unity with a restored Orthodoxy and canonical hierarchy were to take place, then we would consider ourselves part of the Russian hierarchy’.

I would add that, historically speaking, such dissidence is in any case increasingly irrelevant when we put it into the context of the spiritual meaning of the huge new emigration from Russia and Eastern Europe, which has transformed our situation in the Diaspora over the last six years.

Q: What do you mean by ‘the spiritual meaning of the new emigration’?

A: The first emigration of post-1917 numbered between one and two million. It was very mixed. Some in it were Church-minded, but a large part of it and of the White Movement in general was not Church-minded, only politically-minded. Let us be clear: among the ‘Whites’ were those very people who had brought about the collapse of the Monarchy. They were not ‘White’ at all. This is absolutely clear from documents and Church Councils of the time, from politically-coloured splits of the period in France and the North America and the famous report of St John of Shanghai on the spiritual state of the Russian immigration at the Second All-Diaspora Council. Some of these people I met in their old age. I repeat: They were not White at all.

Today’s post-Soviet economic emigration is far greater than the post-1917 one. It has a huge task of witnessing to Orthodoxy before an atheistic Western world, of saving what is best in dying Western culture. Russians and Eastern European Orthodox have seen atheism, they have lived through it – they already know that the naïve West, with its persecution of Christianity, political correctness, abortion holocaust, single-sex marriage and pedophilia, has set out on a false path. We have advance knowledge of the folly that the West is creating for itself. This means that we could still save the West from itself. That is what our whole task and calling is, and has been, for the last forty and more years. This is our spiritual meaning, the spiritual meaning of ROCOR, as we set out the uncompromised, but also multinational and multilingual, Orthodox Tradition before the Western world and its aberrations.

Q: What were the results last October of the London Conference of all the Russian Orthodox bishops in the Diaspora?

A: Just as there were deviations in the old emigration, so there are also deviations in the new emigration. Some of its elements manifest a certain nationalism, often, strangely enough, a Soviet one, a sympathy with atheism! Such nationalism will only turn into a ghetto and die out. Other elements, like a few individuals at the new seminary in Paris or among some older elements, manifest a pro-ecumenical attitude, again a hangover from the Soviet period.

Clearly, these extremes have to be ironed out before the parishes which are still for the moment under the Patriarchate of Moscow, even though they are outside Russia, can join ROCOR. Their existence is canonical disorder and it is preparatory work towards their merging with ROCOR that was the real purpose of the October Conference. Through it, the vestiges of the Soviet period, when the Centre in Moscow was paralysed by persecution, are being transformed.

Fortunately, most in the new emigration share in neither of the above extremes and certainly such extremes are unknown in the best of ROCOR. We understand that Russian Orthodox means not only those who are by blood Russian and Orthodox, but all those who in spirit, world view, culture and state of soul, confess Russian Orthodoxy. There have been many examples of this in Russian history – Pushkin, who was part Ethiopian, Barclay de Tolly and Lermontov, who were Scottish, General Bagration, who was Georgian, or Levitan the painter. Yet they were all Orthodox in their cultural reflexes.

Q: What is happening with the new Russian Cathedral in Paris?

A: There has been a planning dispute about the appearance of the new Cathedral, aspects of whose design displeased some, including in ROCOR. This problem should be sorted out fairly quickly. Our prayer is that the new Cathedral will be dedicated to Tsar Nicholas and all the New Martyrs and Confessors and that it will become the centre of the future Western European Metropolia. That would be justice and an act of repentance before and by the whole Orthodox Diaspora. May God grant this and may our prayers be heard.

Q: Could a Western European Metropolia be constructed by another of the Local Orthodox Churches, and not the Russian?

A: Let us be realistic. Apart from the Russian Church, the other Local Churches are too small and simply cannot provide the necessary infrastructure, finance and know-how. But size is not the only important thing. Apart from quantity, there is also quality. Such a Metropolia will be constructed on the Tradition, not on decadence of practice, not on communion without confession, not on an abbreviated Liturgy, not on the Catholic calendar, not on intercommunion etc.

In other words, a Metropolia will be built neither on the conservative extreme of ethnic exclusivism, nor on the liberal extreme of compromises with the heterodox world. It will be built on the maximum, not on the minimum. This house will be built on rock, not on sand. Such a Metropolia must have in part a monastic background, not a background of compromises with the Orthodox Tradition – and there is only One Orthodox Tradition above all nationalities. We have seen the failure of the OCA experiment, which was built on an ‘All-American’ phyletism, on an imitation of the heterodox world and renovationist compromise. Such a minimalist ‘sand’ experiment does not work – and it will not work in Western Europe either.

Q: And do you think that this Metropolia will actually come into being in the near future?

A: I think it is highly likely. It is Patriarch Kyrill’s desire.

Q: How do you know that?

A: Apart from others who have told me, he told us that, face to face, in Moscow, last May.

Q: And what about a ‘Western Orthodox Church? Will that ever exist?

A: This seems to me to be less likely – and for lack of time. Western Europe has recently become the scene of persecution of the Faith. The Depardieu incident, when the French actor was given Russian nationality as a result of the persecution of all initiative, may be the start of something much bigger. It may be that many other Western cultural workers of talent may yet flee to Russia because of the persecution of Christian-based Western culture by political correctness. This was after all prophesied by St Seraphim of Vyritsa. The best of European culture may yet be saved by Russia, an Empire of the Spirit.

Sadly, this Western persecution of Christianity is not a matter of if, rather of when. So there simply may not be time to see a Local Church evolve in Western Europe. Let us be honest, the number of native Western Orthodox is tiny; we are far outnumbered by Eastern European Orthodox. Why? Because only very few Western people are interested in Christ and His Church. I am constantly contacted by Russians who want to know about Western saints and Western traditions and who want services for these saints, but, sadly, not by Western people. This is a sobering fact and all should know it. The Church is always built on the sober truth, not on fantasies.

1/14 January 2013