A RUSSIAN CONVERSATION IN ENGLISH
L.S. Was the May pilgrimage of our ROCOR delegation to Russia successful?
Fr A. Really I only know what has been published on the official websites of the two parts of the Russian Church, that is, ROCOR and the Patriarchate. As far as I can see from them, this pilgrimage was definitely successful.
L.S. What do most people in our Church think about this?
Fr A. It is difficult for me to say. I'm only one priest. Only our bishops really have an overall view. That is the meaning of the word 'bishop', which literally means in Greek 'nadziratel', an 'overseer', one who has an overview. However, my impression, and I stress the word impression, is that most people in the Church Outside Russia are happy with the outcome, but there is also a small minority who are upset by it.
L.S. What do you think the future holds?
Fr A. I'm afraid that's an impossible question for me to answer! The Church is a living organism, you cannot say how life will turn out. My own attitude is that we must follow our bishops. Whether we agree or not, we must follow our bishops. In the past, there were occasions when some members of our Church disagreed with our bishops on certain points, but they still followed them. There is humility in obedience and that is far more important than being right, because at the Last Judgement we will have to answer for our acts, not for the acts of others. Humility will be rewarded, pride will be punished. Humility rode on an ass and rose from the dead. Pride hanged itself and died.
L.S. You say that there is a small minority in our Church who are upset. Most of us, especially those of us born in Russia, are pleased. Why are they so upset?
Fr A. I think there are three different groups within that minority.
Firstly, there are some converts who are in the Church Outside Russia almost by chance, they have no links to Russia and no particular love for Russia, Russian people, the Russian language and Russian culture. They have different criteria from the rest of us. They may for example be more attached to the Old Calendarist Greeks than to the Russian Church. They may have a neophyte, convert mentality and may still be traumatized by their past in, say, Protestantism or Catholicism.
Then there are some people in the little communities under the jurisdiction of our Church inside Russia who are upset, because they remember the compromises and corruption of the past in the old Soviet Union. They think that this corruption is endemic in the Patriarchate and that emigre members of our Church are naive to trust the Patriarchate. However, these people themselves often have a very naive, idealistic, illusory view of our Church outside Russia, never having been here, they do not have an idea of the realities of our life here. They tend to think very idealistically that our Church is perfect. It is not.
This mirrors the views of what I think is by far the biggest group of those who do not like what our bishops are considering. These people tend to have a distorted view of what the situation is in Russia today, again because they have never been there. Some of these people may be very elderly, others may be of the younger generations and were born in the West and hardly even speak Russian. All they know is what their parents, grandparents and great-grandparents told them. They also tend to have a very idealized view of the realities of Russia before the Revolution. I know many such people and I respect them, but I think that they should go to Russia today, go to the holy places, and see reality. Many of these people were brought up on the stories about Lenin and Stalin, perhaps members of their families suffered terribly, and they will often quote the atrocities of Lenin and Stalin and think that really nothing has changed in Russia since then. For them nothing there has changed since their forebears were forced to leave Russia after 1917. This is above all a problem of ignorance, only rarely a problem of ill-will.
L.S. Yes, but it is also true, and you know it very well, that our delegation only saw the best of what is in Russia today.
Fr A. Of course, we all know that only a minority in Russia today is Orthodox. Of course we have no illusions, we know the terrible problems of poverty, of the mafia, especially in the Ukraine and Belorussia, of crime, corruption, prostitution, drug addiction. But when Russian visitors come here, we do not show them the centres of vice in Western countries, we show them our churches, our families. Archbishop Mark shows people our church in London, not our tiny and poor little church here in Felixstowe. We always show people the best. This is only natural. In Russia our delegation saw the best, but all the places they saw and the faithful they met are in the Patriarchate, not under our Church.
L.S. Even though the Patriarchate has canonized the New Martyrs and condemned Sergianism, there is still the problem of ecumenism.
Fr A. The problem of ecumenism inside Russia seems to me to be a problem of just a few individuals. The vast masses of clergy and laity in Russia are hostile to ecumenism. As Metropolitan Laurus rightly said, it will be by pooling the real experience of heterodoxy of ROCOR, of being a tiny minority of Orthodox in Western countries, that we can best help the Russian Church in this way. For example, why do they speak to Lutherans? A person like Archbishop Mark, who is German, could tell them all they need to know about Lutheranism, only from an Orthodox viewpoint.
Perhaps the real problem in this respect is the situation in several parishes of the Moscow Patriarchate outside Russia, with which people from our Church are more familiar and by which we are scandalized. Some of these parishes are completely modernist, new calendarist, ecumenist, renovationist. Basically, these parishes have never been desovietized, never been reformed, they are still living in the time-warp of the recent Cold War. Just as you find the last Stalinists, more Soviet than the Soviets ever were, in the West, for instance in the French Communist Party, so you find the last Soviet-style ecumenists in Patriarchal parishes in the West. This is a very painful problem for us in the West.
On top of this, you will find fragments of the Russian Church, like the OCA, or the Paris Jurisdiction, or the Sourozh Diocese of the Patriarchate, some parts of which have very peculiar customs. The OCA has been called 'Eastern-rite Uniatism', the Paris Jurisdiction 'Russian Catholics', and the Sourozh Diocese 'Anglicans with icons'. True, such sweeping generalizations are uncharitable and unfair, because there are also very many good and Orthodox people in those jurisdictions who are fighting for spiritual integrity. In fact all of those jurisdictions are in some way split between Orthodox and renovationists. We should support the Orthodox. We should try to be positive, not negative. Blessed Augustine of Hippo said: 'If you feed a shoot, it will become a tree, but if you root it out, it will be nothing'. We should feed the healthy shoots in those groups, not pull up the good with the bad.
And as regards our relations with the Patriarchate, I don't see why the existence of these fragments should affect our relations with it. Two of those groups are not even under Patriarchal jurisdiction and you cannot hold the Patriarchate responsible for them. In any case, as more and more people come from Russia, I think these groups will gradually return to Orthodoxy. This is already happening in the OCA. As for the Paris Jurisdiction, it is split between those who want autonomy under Moscow, and those who have no love for Russia and Russian Orthodoxy and want to stay in the Greek Church. And in the British Isles there are now basically two jurisdictions of the Moscow Patriarchate. One is directly under the control of Moscow, where things are done in an Orthodox way, the other as yet is not. Time will overcome these divisions.
L.S. Even so, don't you fear a split in our Church, with those who are against the restoration of eucharistic communion with the Patriarchate breaking away from us in ROCOR?
Fr A. A small schism is always possible, and as you know, this already happened two years ago. But the numbers involved were minute. But you know this is a problem for our bishops. All we can do is support and pray for our bishops and not hurt anyone. The Orthodox Church is an episcopal, conciliar Church, a Church of bishops who sit in Councils. My opinion and your opinion are actually irrelevant. For example in this conversation we are just thinking about our experience of reality and possible future outcomes. We are not proposing anything and have no power to do so.
Now we must follow our bishops. If, for example, they decide to restore eucharistic communion very soon, while keeping our autonomy, then we must obey them. If they decide that this is premature, then we must also obey them. The Church is not about opinions, it is about obedience. No bishop in our Church is preaching public heresy, or asking us to commit acts of immorality, or asking us to become freemasons, so we obey them. If people refuse that obedience, the they cut themselves off from the Church. That is very sad.
L.S. What is your personal devotion to the Russian Church?
Fr A. The older I get, the more that devotion grows. It is the only Church I have ever known, so life outside some part of the Russian Church is unthinkable for me. For thirty-five years now, I have believed in Tyuchev's poem that Russia was crossed by Christ, that she is different from the other countries and cannot be understood in the same way. I read Turgenev and Dostoyevsky, Pushkin and Tolstoy before I ever read any of the English classics, I listened to Rakhmaninov before I ever listened to Elgar, I admired the paintings of Repin and Levitan before those of Constable and Gainsborough. However far some of those Russian writers and artists were personally from Orthodoxy, they still could not help reflecting an Orthodox society and Orthodox values in their works. You simply cannot find those Orthodox values in mainstream English culture, there you can only find fragments of Orthodox Christianity. In fact I have two homelands, England and Russia, and I cannot help seeing England and the West through Russian Orthodox eyes. And as they say, the eyes are the windows of the soul.
L.S. If the two parts of the Russian Church do one day come together, do you think you will have something special to do?
Fr A. Hardly, I am not important! I was born too early and I was unable to move to Russia in the 1970s because of the Cold War. If I were a young man today, I would most certainly move to Russia and serve the Church there.
Others will do things. I cannot do what the Lord God does not ask of me and He has asked me to stay here. God willing, I will still be here, alive, in England or in Europe, wherever God puts me. Perhaps the only thing I can do here is show that you can be English and Orthodox, that English people can be Orthodox, that the English language and culture can become Orthodox. Those of us who are English but love Russia, that is Orthodox Russia - there is no other Russia - are perhaps showing new Russians here how to avoid some of the temptations of the West, showing them how to take the good sides of the West, and not the bad sides.
As Orthodox, we have always tried to avoid those bad sides ourselves. There are whole sections of Western life in which we do not participate, indeed cannot participate, because we are Orthodox and Orthodoxy is a way of life. We are baptized into Orthodoxy and live in a culture. We can only take on the aspects of the culture into which we were born and which can be 'baptized' as Orthodox. When the new Russians have faith, they do the same. Perhaps we are also helping their children, Russian but born here, in the same way.
Thank you for sharing your thoughts, Fr Andrew