Q: What has been happening since the meeting of Orthodox Primates at Chambesy five weeks ago?
A: Exactly as Metr Onufry of Kiev predicted, the Crete meeting (‘Pan-Orthodox Council’) is proving divisive, and even before it has begun. As we said at the time, documents issued, above all the document concerning relations with the Non-Orthodox has proved to be unacceptable. The Georgian Church has rejected it and now a petition in the Bulgarian Church is objecting to it, not to mention individual hierarchs in Greece and Cyprus who are also opposed – or that matter people in the parishes like ourselves. Apart from that there is the principle itself of holding a ‘Council’ to which only a few selected bishops are invited!
Q: Would you sign a petition against it?
A: Why should I? I find that idea almost amusing when I know that my bishop thinks the same as me – or rather I think the same as my bishop and, for that matter, all the other bishops in ROCOR. In any case, if you are concerned by a problem in the Church, you do not start a petition – that is a Protestant concept. What you do is talk about it with your bishop. Indeed, that is what I did last January and that is how I know that I think the same as my bishop.
Q: How do you see this problem developing?
A: I think the most interesting thing about this whole debate is how the two extremes have met. On the one hand, the sectarian-minded – there are very few of them, but they make a lot of noise – are refusing to commemorate their bishops. On the other hand, they are being egged on and provoked by the enemies of the Church, the ecumenist liberals – also few in number but noisy – who are doing all they can to create a schism, which would be their greatest joy. Unfortunately, the sectarian-minded are a little simple and do not see the trap that they are being led into. This is so sad.
Q: Has the crisis not been deepened by Patriarch Kyrill meeting the Pope in Cuba?
A: Yes, that meeting has reinforced the crisis.
Q: So are you saying that that meeting was a mistake?
A: No, because, apart from its positive aspects, that meeting has brought everything to a head, the abscess has burst, all is now in the open.
Q: What do you mean?
A: We now see exactly who are sectarian and who are ecumenist liberals. Those on the fringes have revealed themselves. The mainstream now has the task of reassuring the masses, but also challenging the fringes, saying to them, ‘This is the Church, do you agree with Her or not’?
Q: So do you think some will fall into schism?
A: I hope not, but if so, then very few. Moreover, I think that it will be the ecumenist liberals who will leave. Those on the other side are mostly good-hearted, just misguided.
Q: What about the charge that Patriarch Kyrill’s spiritual father was a known heretic, Metr Nikodim (Rotov)?
A: This is absolutely typical of the sectarian-minded. Patriarch Kyrill was 32 years old when Metr Nikodim died. Do these people really think that a young man, now a Patriarch, has not moved on since 1978? Do they really think that people are so stupid that they do not learn from the mistakes of their youth and inexperience? The only people who can think such things must themselves be very young! Unless of course, and that is far worse, the people who think such things have no concept that people change, that they can repent.
Do they not think that the Patriarch has changed in the last 38 years – in half a lifetime? Moreover, he has in that time received grace. I am myself a witness to that – how he has changed since he has become Patriarch. When you are ordained or consecrated, you receive grace, just as you receive grace from any sacrament. Some of these sectarians seem to be deniers of grace, deniers of the action of the Holy Spirit.
Q: Surely you are being idealistic. Yes, there is grace, but there is also temptation and sin. In history there are patriarchs who have behaved as judases, usually from political pressure.
A: Of course there have been those. But they are by far not the majority. The judases were the exceptions which prove the rule. Again there is a defect in the psychology of the sectarian-minded – they are always shocked by the exceptions and make them into the rule. For example, they will say that someone, for the sake of argument, say in the Bulgarian Church, is a heretic and then they conclude that they cannot concelebrate with anyone in the Bulgarian Church, and then, even more ridiculously, they refuse to concelebrate with anyone who concelebrates with the Bulgarian Church. And that is how they end up in a sect, outside the Church.
Q: Why do their minds work like that?
A: Because they are proud puritans. The slightest ‘impurity’, and in their case that means others disagreeing with them, and they are out. They are guilty of premature judgement, they want a pure Church now, which is called Donatism. That is simply not going to happen. The wheat and the tares grow together in this world because the wheat grows stronger on account of the tares and the tares can turn into wheat through the example of the wheat. God is patient with us sinners – so we must be patient with other sinners. We must all wait until the Last Judgement – unless of course people judge themselves by leaving the Church and entering a sect.
Q; You speak of a psychological defect in the minds of the sectarian-minded, but what about the minds of the modernists, the ecumenist liberals?
A: Regardless of which of the two extremes we are talking about, we are not talking about theology, but about psychology and a spiritually unhealthy psychology. For example, the ecumenist liberals will tell you that we must do like the heterodox, introduce organs, shorten our services, reduce fasting etc etc. Why? Because these people have either lost the Tradition or else have never been in the Tradition and therefore they want to do what those outside the Tradition, the heterodox, do. They are so secular-minded that they conform themselves to secularism, to the world, rather than to the Church. Basically, their problem is that they lack the Orthodox Faith.
Q: Is this a serious crisis?
A: For the moment, no, because only a very few people are directly concerned, though all of us know about it and so are indirectly concerned.
Q: So what is the solution?
A: To communicate our concerns to our bishops and to follow the mainstream, avoiding the errors of both the sectarian-minded and the secular-minded.