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Orthodoxy and orthodoxies: 1917-2009

In an interview with the foremost Russian Orthodox website,, in Moscow on 4 May, Metropolitan Jonah, the head of the Orthodox Church in America (OCA), spoke of how he came to join the Orthodox Church.

He described how, as an American teenager, he visited in succession a Russian Orthodox church, a Greek Orthodox church and a Serbian Orthodox church. At the Russian Church, he understood nothing since the service was in Church Slavonic. At the Greek and Serbian Churches, he was asked what he was doing there, since he was not Greek or Serb. For that reason he ended up joining none of these churches, but instead another Orthodox church, where English was spoken and Americans were accepted.

His experiences, both positive and negative, have been shared by a great many. However, the Metropolitan could also have described the other experiences of many. This is when they visit Orthodox churches, but are met with flawed and compromised orthodoxies. These are the ‘orthodoxies’ of either anti-Tradition, anti-monastic, masonic, renovationist, modernist, reformist, ecumenist, new calendarist, nationalist (for example Anglican or American nationalist) and pseudo-intellectual groups. Or else they are the ‘orthodoxies’ of tiny splinter groups – nationalist, phyletist, inward-looking, full of cultural nostalgia, old calendarist, fanatical, pharisaical, sectarian and cultish.

In all the above cases, those who seek spiritual food, bread for the soul, are given stones - or worse still - spiritual stones are thrown at us and we are hounded out of those churches. Despite these unhappy experiences, sincere seekers always find spiritual bread and so belong to authentic, uncompromised Orthodox churches, even ones which do not always speak the same outer language as themselves, but at least speak the same inner language as themselves, the language of the soul, prayer. There we find salvation possible.

The unhappy experiences are always of fake, false, charlatan, minority orthodoxies, which care not for Christ, but rather for nationalist empire-building, politicking and guru-worship. Thus, the experience of people seeking the Orthodox Church in the Diaspora has at times been tragic, fraught with unnecessary difficulties. This has been the case ever since 1917. For petty empire-building largely began then, with the fall of the only real Orthodox Empire, in Russia, and the ensuing captivity and paralysis of the Russian Church beneath the yoke of militant atheism.

Sadly, the enemies of the Church took advantage of that captivity and paralysis to introduce their decadence and charlatanism. Thus, for example, already in the 1920s, there were those enemies of the Church, freemasons and careerist opportunists, who not only ignored the captive Patriarch St Tikhon of Moscow, but even sided with the Communist-supported renovationist enemies of the Russian Church in Moscow and Paris.

Then, while the Russian Church was being crucified, crying out for prayers, these ambitious opportunists interfered in the Russian Diaspora, setting up divisive jurisdictions and playing politics in the USA, Poland, Finland, France, Czechoslovakia, and more recently still, in the Ukraine. Instead of witnessing freely to the Faith and evangelising the world around them, they compromised the Orthodox Faith, introducing the heterodox calendar and liturgical ‘reforms’, abolishing monasticism and fasting, making ecumenist compromises, co-operating with the political powers of this world which are hostile to the Church Tradition, selling out the Church and the faithful for a nationalist, pseudo-imperialist mess of worldly, conformist pottage.

Action is long overdue. The Russian Church which long lay crucified in the tomb is risen. The myrrhbearers have announced the good tidings – even though some still refuse to hear it, preferring, like the Jews of old, for their personal convenience to believe in death and not life. It is high time in 2009 to abandon the small, compromised orthodoxies, of one extreme or of the other, and return to Orthodoxy. It is high time to lay to rest the compromises which should never have taken place.

The current flurry of diplomatic activity and hierarchical visits to Bucharest, Moscow, New York and many other cities, is a sign of the profound concern for what may happen next month. Then, in Cyprus, the planned Conference of representatives of all the Local Orthodox Churches raises hopes that at last the uncanonical situation of the Diaspora will end, that the tiny but powerful extremist pseudo-orthodoxies, which appeared after the fall of the Orthodox Empire in 1917, will fall away and the Church will triumph.

The compromisers of left and right are at their last gasp – hence their frenetic, activist search for allies and the discreet preparations of the Orthodox in response. Whether Orthodoxy will triumph over them this year or not, we do not know. Whether the reborn Russian Church will be strong enough to leave compromises and compromisers aside, leading by example, meeting the challenges of the divided Diaspora, setting up Regional Metropolias for all Orthodox in the Diaspora, witnessing before the heterodox and pagan world to the uncompromised Orthodox Tradition, and so fulfilling Her global calling and messianic destiny, is not certain. But, just as we have constantly done over the last thirty-five years, we shall not cease to live for the day of victory, hoping and praying that it may come soon.

Archpriest Andrew Phillips,
Colchester, Essex

23 April/6 May 2009
St George the Great-Martyr, the Victorious

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