Two More Questions and Answers from Recent Correspondence on the Orthodox Church

Why in your view has the January preparatory meeting for the so-called Council not talked in depth about and resolved the really important issues, like the Diaspora, Autocephaly, the Calendar and even the Diptychs or heresies like Ecumenism, Sophianism and Darwinism?

V. M., Paris

Since the draft documents from the preparatory meeting were published in Russian on Thursday (all thanks to the Russian Church for such openness), more and more people have contacted me. Discussions are now going to enter into parish life as people (and bishops as well!) discover what has been going on behind the scenes for over fifty years. As translations come out in other languages, we can expect stormy debate. That is good, perfectly natural, because the faithful love the Church and care about Her.

On this subject one Romanian monk in Romania wrote to me with an amusing question: ‘Is this a private Council or can any Orthodox take part?’ I thought that very apt in summing up the secrecy of the agenda, let alone the negotiations. As Fr Theodoe Zisis put it at the anti-Council meeting in Moldova: ‘Is this a Church Council or a Masonic lodge?’ It is very strange that not all bishops can take part, so that of the 354 bishops of the Russian Church, only 24 can take part and, overall, of the 750 or so Orthodox bishops worldwide, scarcely 200 will take part. (If my figures are wrong, will a reader please let me know and I will correct them).

A pious Ukrainian lady from the Ukraine wrote to me with the very relevant question: ‘What do we need a Council for? Everything of importance was long ago decided at the Seven Councils.’ You cannot help agreeing with her. The draft documents published by the preparatory meeting are largely pastoral and could have been written by any parish priest or any educated layperson. They did not need scores of bishops to meet on five different occasions. We do not need a Council to tell us that fasting is important! Where are the theological, moral and dogmatic issues? I cannot see them.

Christological heresies like Sophianism were analyzed and condemned by saints like St John of Shanghai and the future St Seraphim of Sofia, as well as Local Councils of both parts of the Russian Church in the 1930s. St Justin (Popovich) and the ROCOR Council of Bishops of 1983 have expressed the Orthodox thinking on the heresy of Ecumenism. And as for Darwinism, nobody accepts it, all reject it. It contradicts the whole of Scripture and the Fathers. All three are heresies and were (indirectly) dealt with by the Seven Councils under the name of Arianism.

I think that the question of the Diptychs will be resolved in time quite naturally. The present order of the Local Churches dates back to the fourth century. It is absurd that tiny ancient groups in the Middle East should take precedence over the Russian and Romanian churches, which are far bigger. A lot of this goes back to the fall of the Russian Church in 1917; before that it took de facto precedence, as it is coming to do now again and all the Local Churches, except for politicized Constantinople, now tend to look to the Russian Church as their natural leader. It is all a question of size – and that has changed since the fourth century. Of course if one of the ancient Patriarchates like Alexandria, numbering one million today, on a canonical territory numbering one billion (!), were to start consequent missionary work as the future St Nectarios had wanted to do over a century ago, it could become the largest Patriarchate and so take de facto precedence. (The present de jure precedence makes a laughing stock of its claimants).

Again the question of the calendar will also be resolved only by time. The few Orthodox who have fallen away from the Orthodox calendar under political pressure will eventually return. Everyone admits that it was a mistake. We must be patient and wait for the repentance of their leaders. That is why the issue has had to be removed at the insistence of Patriarch Kyrill, who clearly saw that the new calendarist leaders are not only not ready to repent, but are still actually justifying their error! (This is also why the document on relations with heterodox is written in such a bureaucratic language of compromise and not dogmatic clarity – we have had to be patient with the ecumenists, awaiting their repentance).

The problem of the Diaspora (and the questions of autocephaly and to some extent autonomy are connected with this) is also one that can only be resolved with time. The Local Church that, if God wills, sets up autonomous and then autocephalous new Local Churches in the Diaspora, and so gives it canonical order, will be the Church that does the most missionary work in the Diaspora. All the other Diaspora groups are destined to die out. That is a fact.

For example, in the 1930s the Rue Daru jurisdiction had some seventy parishes and communities (admittedly, many very small) in the Paris Region. Today it has about six small parishes in that Region. Why? Simply because most of their parishes have died out. They were for Russians only. The children and the grandchildren of those Russians became French and decided that ‘the Church is only for old people’. Logically. The same thing is now happening to the Greek Cypriot parishes in England. Issued largely from immigration from Cyprus in the 1950s, they too are now dying out, their descendants, some of whom I meet every month, understand nothing, are often unable even to make the sign of the cross.

I do not think that there will be any solution to the Diaspora problem until the vast majority in the Diaspora – therefore tens and hundreds of thousands – are local faithful or think of themselves as local faithful, whatever their origin – and need their own Autocephalous Local Church. (And by faithful, I mean faithful to the Tradition, not to some half-hearted, semi-Protestant, secularist compromise). Then remaining foreign-language parishes can be absorbed into it in separate deaneries or even dioceses, but underneath a central Local Church structure.

You may think that I am advocating the OCA solution. That is not the case, since the OCA solution was a failure. Why? Firstly, because it contained only a very small number of the total Diaspora in North America and secondly because it based itself on a modernist ideology, not on the Tradition. Its autocephaly was a political operation of the Cold War. You cannot build a new Local Church when the majority are not with you and when you base yourself on an incredibly old-fashioned 1960s type modernist fad, instead of on the eternal Tradition of the Holy Spirit.

In other words, I can see no hope for settling the issue of the Diaspora until such a time comes, a time when the majority follow the Tradition and need (not want) their own Local Church. Anything imposed from above will simply be divisive.

Why are modernists who are opposed to the Church so full specifically of fantasy and spite?

J.L, London

I think you are being a bit uncharitable! Most of them are simply naïve and still have to make their way in the Church from the fringes inwards. Eventually all the sincere people will integrate. The repentant Fr Theodore Zisis is a very good example. Be patient. The Church is a journey, a pilgrimage, people make their way at their own speed. You cannot rush spiritual development and depth.

However, you do have a point, that the most few aggressive modernists do suffer from both fantasy and spite. Why specifically these ills?

Fantasy comes from the fact that modernists are always intellectuals and not rooted in life. Were they parish priests, prison chaplains or responsible for running monasteries or, for that matter, families, they would not suffer from fantasy. (This is a very good reason for opposing the alien institution of non-diocesan or titular bishops: their grasp of reality is often very limited).

Spite comes from the fact that until the 1980s/1990s the modernists thought that their victory over the Church was imminent. We who followed the Tradition appeared to be an oppressed minority, the little flock, crushed by them into a dying ghetto. They were wrong, as I wrote at the time. And they were wrong because they failed to recognize that the Church belongs to Christ, not to them or to us who strive, however weakly, to follow the Tradition. It was a classic case of ‘man proposes, but God disposes’.

What makes them bitter, and therefore spiteful, is the fact that the Russian Church has not only survived atheist oppression, but is beginning to revive (which is why they attack the Russian Church with an immense and self-justifying hatred). And this is true of the smaller Local Churches, some of which are also beginning to revive in the wake of the Russian Church’s beginning revival. Their great project, a modernizing ‘Pan-Orthodox Council’ in imitation of the Second Vatican Council, which they have actively been plugging for over fifty years, is coming to naught.

They are bitter at that and lash out at anyone who attempts to follow the Tradition. They thought, ‘We have won’, dismissing popular piety (what the aristocratic Fr Alexander Schmemann patronizingly called ‘liturgical piety’) in their haughty way, as dying out. ‘So near and yet so far’, is their frustrated cry. In humility they should instead admit that they were wrong and simply repent. They are welcome to return to the fold, as Fr Theodore Zisis. We all make mistakes when we are young. We should make their repentance easy for them.