An American Orthodox friend of mine has recently returned from a parish in Moscow. She was quite disappointed. She described the parish as filled with young, narrow-minded literalists and fundamentalists, worried about ritual, the letter of the word, narrow interpretations and food regulations. Is this the case?
A.J., San Francisco
A church of 164 million contains many different sorts of people. I would not judge it by a few recent English-speaking converts in a parish in Moscow. You will find everything in the Russian Church, from literalists to liberals. We are not a monolithic Church and people are at different stages of integration or ‘Churching’. You do not judge a Church by the unChurched. I think that it is a pity that your friend did not meet in Moscow Churched people who are far deeper, who long ago got over both literalism and liberalism and are reaching towards and living for the Source of the Tradition, the Holy Spirit. I do feel that your friend was judging from her own American criteria and that her criticisms have more to do with her own psychology and understanding than objective reality.
I live in the US and Orthodoxy here is a mess of infighting, jurisdictional competitions and loveless converts who are focused on the outward dress of Orthodoxy, apparently immune to any concept of fraternal charity….Your Orthodox Patriarchs have embraced the Vatican II spirit with its false ecumenism, synagogue-visiting photo-ops, Muslim-hugging and WCC hypocrisy. (Your own Patriarch in Moscow was at the Canberra WCC convocations in the early 90’s… have you seen the video-taped documentation of those blasphemous events?)
T., New York
I have extracted this from your letter, which explains that you are a recent convert from a very varied but traditionalist and rather sectarian background, including over two decades as a Protestant and then some thirty years as a traditionalist Catholic, and that you are not yet settled in the Church. I noted also that your letter was anonymous. Usually, I do not reply to anonymous letters and delete them automatically, but I think yours raises some very good points of interest to others, which I would like to answer.
First of all, I think you look outside in. Viewed from the outside, the Orthodox Church is indeed an untidy mess (just like that described in the epistles of the Apostle Paul), but that is not very important. We are concerned with saving our souls. Yes, you can find loveless converts, but you can also find the opposite. You can find St John of Shanghai and St Nicholas of Zhicha, you can find Jordanville, Wayne and the monasteries of Fr Ephraim. It does seem to me that you have been mixing with the wrong crowd! Orthodoxy is what you make it – a series of empty and pointless arguments about details, infighting and immature convert triumphalism, or else the source of your salvation. The main problem of converts is precisely that they focus on externals, outside in, whereas grounded Orthodox look from the inside. Do not be superficial. Integrate into the Church. Seek the salvation of your soul, not its destruction. Love God and love your neighbour.
Your second point again raises the problem of superficiality. Who cares about the individual opinions of Patriarchs? We are not papists. Patriarchs are here today and gone tomorrow. Yes, several of them have been forced into political correctness by currents from the US and the EU over the last seventy years (just like the Popes of Rome). However, to say that all the Patriarchs have embraced the Vatican II spirit is untrue. Life in the parishes and monasteries goes on in the same way as before. We ignore such human foibles, being too busy living to worry about them.
As regards the events in Canberra 25 years ago, which the now Patriarch Kyrill took some part in and were raised at the Fourth All-Diaspora Council in 2006, we knew all about them at the time, when you were still a traditionalist Catholic. Of course, we shook our heads in disbelief when we saw it, prayed for him and got on with our lives. And we are still here. And look at Patriarch Kyrill now. The defender of Tradition! Why not admit the power of repentance? We all made mistakes in our youth, but we have moved on. Learn about repentance and forgiveness and you will find peace, instead of the continual rage which consumes you. Your job is to save your soul, not the Church, Christ does that because the Church belongs to Him, not to us.