It is one thing to be a theoretical member of the Church, but it is another to practise the Faith in life. As we can see from schismatic Uniatism, which keeps many outward observances of the Church, it is possible to observe a ritual but to be spiritually separated from the Church and so degenerate. Of those who remain in the Church but want to reduce the Church to outward observances like Uniatism, it may be said that they are in a ‘pre-Uniat’ state. Indeed, in our own times, we can see from certain ideas and even practices which have entered the Church from the outside world that it is possible to be nominally or intellectually (the same thing) Orthodox, but practically to deny both Christ and the Holy Spirit in one’s heart and so in one’s life. Such temptations are schismatic because ultimately they separate from the Church, as we can see in Estonia, for instance, where a small group of Estonian Orthodox spiritually separated from their canonical Church and Her traditions. Such temptations are present everywhere, although here we are concerned with Western Europe.
The Denial of Christ
Recently a young Moldovan parishioner showed me on his iPhone pictures of an ‘Orthodox’ church (in a large city in the USA). It had no iconostasis and had frescoes which looked as though they had been painted by a child. The child had thoroughly mastered the outward technique of icon-painting but did not understand that icons are intended to make us pray, thinking that their function is purely decorative. In other words, the technique was perfect, but there was no feeling and no content, just as in Uniatism, a ritualistic or intellectual Orthodoxy. Quite naturally the parishioner asked me if the picture was of a Catholic church which was copying the Orthodox Church. I had to tell him, since I recognized the photo, that in fact it belonged to a group whose Greek Catholic (Uniat) ancestors had returned to the Church over 100 years ago, but had not yet left their Uniat mentality behind them and acquired the Orthodox spirit. He told me that although this might be ‘good for Americans’, he personally would not attend such a church if he lived in the USA. I sympathized with him.
The problem with groups which have not acquired Orthodox culture and copy heterodox culture is that pastorally they reject rooted Orthodox in favour of ethnic (in this case, American) cliques and clubs of converts. They may attract a few Non-Orthodox or Orthodox who have lost all their roots, but they do not attract Churched Orthodox. We can think of divisive convert groups in Western Europe which have made the same mistakes. Thus, in one convert chapel in England, Greek is forbidden, since the whole service ‘must be in English’. In another convert chapel of the same group, the Sunday service, the only one, has been described as ‘the Book of Common Prayer with extracts from St John Chrysostom’. In a third convert chapel of a jurisdiction in France, local Romanians are made to feel unwelcome because ‘they don’t behave like us’. And in a fourth case in the same jurisdiction there is in a large town a convert chapel, whose congregation numbers six, but over 100 ‘ethnic’ Orthodox living nearby who do not attend the chapel because ‘it doesn’t feel right’.
Such cliquish and self-serving attitudes, no ‘foreigners’ allowed, ‘go back to your own country’ (to quote the actual words of one convert) is typical of small, inward-looking groups with an ethnic Establishment superiority complex. Their pride is responsible for their jurisdictional separation from the rest of the Church. Such Anglican ethnicism is of course matched by the ethnicism of certain immigrant clergy, who categorically refuse to receive English or other people into the Church, because, I quote literally, ‘you are not dark enough’, or who tell them to ‘go away and become Anglican or Catholic’. In all these cases, the lack of desire to serve others, the lack of any missionary witness to other nationalities or ecumenist compromise, shows that such individuals fundamentally do not believe that the Orthodox Church is the Church of Christ and consider that their mission is only to those who have a certain secular passport. They have put their nationality (their worldly identity) above Christ. In other words, they deny Christ, the heavenly passport, in favour of this world.
The Denial of the Holy Spirit
In the last century there also appeared a subtle form of the denial of the Holy Spirit in a theory of ecclesiology called ‘eucharistic ecclesiology’. In origin this is a sociological reflection of the highly abnormal, uprooted conditions in which Paris Russian émigrés lived in the mid-20th century. It involves deliberate and political disincarnation and separation from their Church and State of origin through the domination of highly politicized and sectarian personalities (who, ironically, claimed to be ‘apolitical’!), without a normal episcopal presence and so without episcopal ecclesiology, without normal monastic life and so without monastic and ascetic ecclesiology. This quite cultish, personalist theory, or rather philosophy, of disincarnate spirituality was elaborated among others by the late Fr Nikolai Afanasiev. At best, such a philosophy was one-sided, but at worst, in the hands of the Protestantizing, like the late Fr Alexander Schmemann, or the politicized in Constantinople, it very rapidly became a form of Protestant congregationalism.
For the latter, extraordinarily, the centre of Church life was not repentance, which is what St John the Baptist and the whole Church Tradition calls us to, but the eucharist. However, the eucharist is not a cause, but a result, in fact a result of repentance; to invert the two in such a way is to put the cart before the horse, for there is no eucharist without first repentance (without preparation, including confession). In other words, this eucharistic ecclesiology had no ascetic sense, it was triumphalist and ‘charismatic’ – in the negative sense of self-exaltation. This Protestant/congregationalist cast of mind of the ‘we are already saved’ variety is why this philosophy was influential at the protestantizing Second Vatican Council. It is also reflected in the protestantizing, French-language liturgical books put out by a politicized lay fraternity in Paris. It is notable that the ever-memorable Fr John Romanidis rejected such a 20th century philosophy, after being influenced by it in his youth, and that most of those who still talk about it are now very elderly.
This also explains why spirituality-less modernism (like its ancestor Protestantism) rapidly descends either into boring and futile secularism and/or boring and futile moralism. The fact that moralism, which has so poisoned generations of Western people and often reduced them to amoralism and immoralism by reaction, is due to a lack of spirituality, explains why many modernists, deeply secular, are also moralists. However, although moralism can be modernistic, this does not mean that it is always left-wing; moralism can very easily descend into deep conservativism (the right-wing). And conservatism of the right is no more traditional than modernism of the left. Standing above both isms, the Tradition of the Church is instead radical, for its stands above all worldliness, whether it is left-wing and liberal or right-wing and conservative. And this we can see very clearly in the lives of such saints as St John of Shanghai, who, as a saint was obviously not a modernist, but was not at all a conservative either. This was because he was radical, that is, he belonged to the Tradition.
It has long been my hope, for I believe that it is long overdue, that one day we shall see a multinational Russian Orthodox Brotherhood in Europe (R.O.B.E.). If it has not been for the enslavement of Orthodoxy in the Soviet Union, it would surely have come about two generations ago. Such a Brotherhood would be under Russian Orthodox episcopal supervision, uniting all Russian Orthodox of both parts of the Russian Church, of all nationalities, in other words, uniting all of us who follow the One Tradition, together with Serbs, Georgians and lovers of the Tradition from other Local Churches. Being united, we would be witnesses to the integral Faith, able to counter ethnicism (convert or other), the anti-episcopal, anti-monastic and anti-ascetic prejudices of the older generation and the schismatic Uniatizing and protestantizing modernism prevalent in certain jurisdictions. This would mean the assertion of the Incarnation and the Ascetic, the assertion of Christ and the Holy Spirit, without which a Local Church in Western Europe can never be founded.