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Introduction: The Gathering

Given the present worldwide processes of globalization/secularization, we know that if we as Orthodox Christians are to resist the ways of the contemporary world, then it is time for us to unite. Thus, the clergy and faithful of several Local Orthodox Churches are increasingly working together towards a loose Confederation with the largest Local Church, the Russian Church. Thus, bishops representing some 80% of Orthodox are, it seems, poised to take the first steps towards the restoration of unity in the Diaspora, as it existed for example in North America before 1917.

The Russian Church is Herself making every effort to gather together Her own faithful and His Holiness Patriarch Alexis has been called ‘the Gatherer of the Russian Church’. Together with the episcopate, clergy and people of the Russian Church, he has since the fall of Communism done all he can to gather all Russian Orthodox of all nationalities and origins together, As Patriarch of ‘All Rus’, in other words, not just of ‘Russia’, he is Patriarch of all Russian Orthodox, whether of East Slavdom, ‘the near abroad’ and ‘the far abroad’. These unitive efforts have already been crowned with success in the visible unity between the Church inside Russia and the Church outside Russia.

Those who resist this call to unity are unable to see the wood for the trees, mistaking the importance of particularist details for the general essence. Refusal to unite means that they not only isolate themselves, but also ultimately risk spiritual death as withered branches. ‘United we stand, divide we fall’, as the old proverb says. Many of those who resist this process of unity are not of Russian nationality or even origin. Therefore, in this context of gathering the scattered, what are the perspectives for those of Western cultural background who have over the last fifty years or so belonged to one or other of the Local Churches?

The Scattered

Over the decades those who have come to Orthodoxy have had to make their way as they could in the ‘jurisdictions’ of Local Churches, wherever they were accepted. Often they were altogether rejected, especially by the smaller Local Churches, for they did not belong to the only acceptable nationality. Sometimes they were neglected or despised, finding that the local representatives of Churches behaved towards them more as stepmothers than mothers. This was certainly true for many of those few Western people who became Orthodox in the Patriarchate of Constantinople. Either there Non-Greeks were not welcomed or else in order to be welcomed were required to take Greek names. The result was that by and large only a few Greek-speaking Hellenophiles became Orthodox in that jurisdiction. Conversely, others who joined the small Patriarchate of Antioch found an initial welcome, but often pastoral abandonment in the medium and longer term, meaning that they had no opportunity to discover and integrate the Orthodox Tradition.

However, this neglect was also true for the vast majority who came to one or other of the various fragments of the Russian Church present in the Western world. Although these fragments were sometimes (not always) more open to those of other nationalities than other jurisdictions, the path was by no means easy. For example, thirty-seven years ago I understood that my future was with the Russian Church. However, during the Cold War era, this meant that together with others in the same situation I had to walk a tightrope of confession. The constant reproach among some was that we did not have ‘the right blood’. What was the destiny of us who were called to confess Christ in the Russian Church during those dark years?

At that time few joined the Moscow Patriarchate. Sadly, until the fall of Communism, this jurisdiction outside Russia was often dominated by morally dubious individuals and outright charlatans, the most innocent of whose uncanonical and scandalous activities was spying for the KGB. Moreover, study in a seminary inside Russia was impossible. For these reasons few in the Western world joined the Moscow Patriarchate. Of those who did, most usually left it quickly, illusions and naivety lost, and went to other jurisdictions in the search for canonical practices. It is sad that although there has been repentance inside Russia for the compromises made there, there has still not been repentance for the harm that was done outside Russia at that time.

As a result of the above, those in France and Belgium often looked towards the small Paris Jurisdiction (now Exarchate) under the Patriarchate of Constantinople. (At that time the Paris Jurisdiction, virtually inexistent in most of Western Europe, was not allowed by that Patriarchate to have parishes in Great Britain, Portugal, Spain and Italy). Unfortunately, by the end of the 1980s its ever weaker leadership was gradually losing the Tradition and tipping, or rather being tipped, towards a frivolous modernism. Tired of the uncanonical practices of this Jurisdiction, the persecution of the Tradition and the increasing enslavement of those in control to unOrthodox currents, the faithful but disillusioned understood that the future was not there and departed. Those who thus foresaw the rejection of the Orthodox Tradition in the Paris Jurisdiction usually took refuge with ROCOR or later, since its recent freedom, with the Moscow Patriarchate.

The obvious alternative to both the Moscow Patriarchate and, in France and Belgium, the Paris Jurisdiction, was the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia (ROCOR). However, often distinctly nationalistic, ROCOR was not always an easy choice either. From the 1960s on, ROCOR was increasingly infiltrated by political extremists and Greek Old Calendarist ‘super-correct’ elements, especially in the English-speaking world. These elements managed to help isolate much of ROCOR from every Local Church except the Serbian. Thus, those who joined it faced extremist persecution from inside and hounding and slander from outside.

The persecution faced by Orthodox like St John of Shanghai and Fr Seraphim (Rose) and those who followed in their footsteps typifies the period. However, between the mid-eighties and 2007, the pharisaical extremists gradually left ROCOR, accusing it of ‘liberalism and ecumenism’ (!). They at last realized that their attempts to take over ROCOR had completely failed. Many of these extremist elements, not least those last few who left it in 2007 after the Moscow Patriarchate had entered into canonical communion with ROCOR, joined one or another of the Greek Old Calendarist jurisdictions. In this way, they proved that their true allegiance had always been with those uncanonical and schismatic groups.

For those in North America who could not find a home in ROCOR, there remained the OCA (formerly the Metropolia). However, after the abolition of the increasingly Americanized and largely originally Uniat Metropolia, most in the OCA leaned ever more towards an American cultural conformism. This was symbolized by the forced introduction of the Roman Catholic (‘revised Julian!’) calendar and the other consequences of Protestantization. Unlike the Paris Jurisdiction, the OCA has now been through its adolescent growing pains of rejecting all Slavonic and accepting everything American, however unOrthodox, and seems more mature than before.

Thus, in the case of the OCA, we can perhaps permit ourselves a certain optimism for the future. There is the possibility that, unlike most of the Paris Jurisdiction, the still unrecognized OCA will yet develop into a new formation with much closer relations with the Russian Church Tradition. Under a different name, for instance ROMA (The Russian Orthodox Metropolia in the Americas), it may yet return to its spiritual roots after its long and lonely period of zigzag erring during the Cold War. It may now be on the thorny, but positive, path of repentance to a more realistic status similar to that of the Japanese Orthodox Church. This would mean spiritual dependency on, but administrative autonomy from, the Russian Church.

Western Orthodoxy or Westernized Orthodoxy

One of the greatest problems for those who came to the Orthodox Church at this time was the attitude to what is not Orthodox in Western culture. This absence of Orthodoxy was by definition an essential part of the Roman-Catholic/Protestant world which gave birth to Western secular culture. Here there were two extremes, those who saw nothing but darkness in Western culture and those who saw nothing but light. Both lacked what St Antony the Great called the greatest of virtues, discernment.

The former rejected everything in Western culture, creating ethnic ghettos and seeing English as ‘the language of satan’, as I heard both Russian and Greek priests calling it. Those who saw nothing but light, on the other hand virtually merged their Faith with Western secularism, gradually renouncing everything of value within the Church because it was ‘foreign’, creating a desacralized Orthodoxy of mere ethnic custom. How did this affect the psychologies of those who came from Western society to the Orthodox Faith?

Firstly, there were those who, too attached to this world and Western culture, agreed with those immigrants who, with their inferiority complex, saw nothing but light in Western culture. Therefore, never renouncing secular Western culture and never truly integrating the Church, they fell into a ‘pick and mix’ culture, mirroring Western consumerism, apparently the ultimate form of Western civilization. Thus, they were tempted to take whatever suited them from the Russian Tradition, for example accepting forms of Russian singing or superficial exotic trappings, but at the same time rejecting all Orthodox Tradition which they found constraining, because it demands repentance.

These ‘new calendarists’, as in fact they were, rejected all that demanded ascetic sacrifice. They included monasticism, the Orthodox calendar (which they contemptuously called the ‘old’ calendar), standing in church, fasting, head-covering and modest dress for women, and preparation and confession before communion, which was taken at every single service, like the heterodox. They seemed to have forgotten the words: ‘The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ?’ (I Cor. 10, 16). All normal Orthodox practices suddenly became ‘optional’ among those who had not renounced secular Western culture, who refused to understand that living an Orthodox life is about making sacrifices, suffering and subjecting ‘private life’ to the law of Christ. Instead of actually taking on Orthodox life, the tendency among these was to continue to live a secular life, merely adding ‘Orthodox’ ‘conferences’ and ‘meetings’ to the agenda. Here they forgot the Scriptures, that: ‘Knowledge puffeth up, but love edifieth’ (I Cor. 8, 1).

Secondly, there were others new to the Church who fell into the opposite extreme. Forgetting the Scriptures that God judges Non-Orthodox (1 Cor. 5, 13), they fell into a censorious and judgemental attitude to those outside the Church. Instead of praying and improving their own way of life, saving their own souls, they wasted time judging others and debating ecumenism. The temptation was to remember only the strict truth and forget works of mercy, blindly quoting the canons and ‘quenching the Spirit’.

The temptation was to judge others rather than themselves, interfering in the lives of others rather than seeking first their own salvation, according to the busybody temptation of the Protestant ethos. The words of the Theologian that ‘God is Love’ remained an undiscovered world for them. Calling themselves ‘Orthodox’, they forgot that they were supposed to be Orthodox Christians. Their temptation was ‘old calendarism’, in fact not Orthodox Christianity at all, but simply a veil for the moralistic bullying of Puritanism.

These two extremes with their lack of discernment have characterized much of the ‘Western Orthodoxy’ of the last fifty years. This meant that much of that so-called Western Orthodoxy was in reality simply a Westernized Orthodoxy. It was Westernized, and not Western, because it was coloured by both extremes, both isms, new calendarism and old calendarism.

These ideologies have coloured the lives of many of the bridge-figure representatives of the older, now retired generation of ‘Western Orthodox’. With the end of the Cold War and normalization within the Russian Church, the froth of this past and all its isms must now be left behind. The moderate centre and the Tradition are now returning centre stage, overcoming the ideologies and extremes of the poorly integrated of the past. Now it is time to move on to the real values of real Orthodoxy.

Conclusion: A Religion of Conviction

The future, as the present and the past, is in the Tradition of the Church, in the fullness of Orthodoxy, in the saints. Now that the largest and most influential of the Local Orthodox Churches is free and is setting the pace for the other Local Churches, many of the obstacles of the past have been removed for those who seek to save their souls in the Orthodox Church. There is now the common sense realization that the Orthodox Faith is neither a religion of blood (the ethnic heresy), nor a religion of convenience (the modernist heresy), but simply a religion of conviction. The consumer society may be the ultimate achievement of the Western world, but its values do not apply to the Church. We do not ‘pick and mix’ from the Faith of the Church, but accept the Tradition in its wholeness. To become half-Orthodox or to become fully Orthodox? The answer seems obvious.

Let us recall the words addressed to us by the Apostles:

On the Tradition:

‘That good thing which was committed unto thee keep by the Holy Ghost which dwelleth in us’ (2 Timothy 1, 14).

On avoiding personal interpretation:

‘And he said, How can I, except some man should guide me?’ (Acts 8, 31)

‘Knowing this first, that no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation. For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost’ (2 Peter 1, 20-21).

On dress in church:

Judge in yourselves: is it comely that a woman pray unto God uncovered?’ (I Cor. 11, 13).

On the need for confession:

‘If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us’ (1 John 1, 8-10).

On preparation for the eucharist:

‘That ye come not together unto condemnation’ (I Cor 11, 34).

Now that the great gathering of Orthodoxy has begun, it is time for the scattered to affirm their attachment to the fullness of the Faith before the end. ‘Now the end of the commandment is love out of a pure heart, and of a good conscience, and of faith unfeigned. From which some having swerved have turned aside into vain jangling; Desiring to be teachers of the law; understanding neither what they say, nor whereof they affirm’ (1 Timothy 1, 5-7). Let us now cast aside all ‘vain jangling’, entering into the Arena, which is at the heart of the Church, the place of Christ Crucified and Risen, the place of our future.

Fr Andrew

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