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An edited translation of a recent conversation with Mikhail Semionov, a friend who now lives in Russia.

MS: Fr Andrew, into what jurisdiction of the Church were you received and when?

Fr A: I was received into the Sourozh Diocese of the Moscow Patriarchate in 1975. At that time there was no other choice, since ROCOR parishioners in London had told me in 1974 that their Church was only for Russians and that they would not receive me. But at that time I was quite happy to be received into the Sourozh Diocese, because I thought it would be just like the Church inside Russia.

MS: What was it that made you transfer to ROCOR later?

Fr A: That is a long story. By 1977 I had begun to understand that there were serious problems in the Patriarchate. At that time a priest in Russia, whom I had met in Krasnodar in 1976, suggested that I study at the Theological Academy in Moscow. I soon discovered that as a British citizen this was impossible - for political reasons. So I could clearly see that the Patriarchal Church at that time was not free, even in purely theological matters. That is why I went to Greece and Mt Athos in 1978 and then went to study at the St Sergius Orthodox Institute in Paris. There I was free, though I would rather have been inside Russia.

MS: Did other members of ROCOR have similar experiences?

Fr A: I know of two cases before me in the early 1960s. That of Archbishop Hilarion of Australia and Archbishop Mark of Germany. They had both tried to study in Russia and both had been refused as Non-Russian citizens. That was the period of the Cold War.

MS: What happened to you in Paris?

Fr A: In Paris I met matushka, who had grown up with the old Paris Russian emigration in the 1960s and 1970s. But I was very unhappy with studies at the Institute, which I had to pay for out of my own pocket (I used to work in the afternoons and evenings to pay for these studies) and the Non-Orthodox teachings being dispensed. After a year there, I decided that the most effective and cheapest thing to do would be to order all the theological books from Jordanville and study by myself. That is exactly what I did.

MS: So where did you go after Paris?

Fr A: On returning to England in 1980, I and matushka both noticed how the Sourozh Diocese had by that time changed and fallen under the influence of modernist, ecumenist and renovationist doctrines. There were also many internal pastoral problems and scandals. At that time, the modernists rejected the veneration of the local saints, those who lived in these Islands before the Schism of 1054. I already venerated these, had written them into my own calendar and knew their lives, since they form the spiritual roots of England and all the Isles of the West, when they had been an integral part of Orthodox Christendom.

For example, when the Sourozh Diocese had been offered the relics of St Edward the Martyr, it rejected them, which is why they were then offered to ROCOR, which, surprisingly, accepted them. The culmination for me was in 1981, when ROCOR canonized the New Martyrs and Confessors of Russia, yet this canonization, though demanded by members of the Patriarchate inside Russia, was rejected by the modernists of the Patriarchate outside Russia. Thus, at that time they rejected both the New Martyrs of Russia and also the ancient saints of the West. Both of these groups of saints I had written into my own calendar in 1975 and venerated, long before the New Martyrs had been canonized by ROCOR.

MS: So did you think of joining ROCOR after 1981?

Fr A: Yes, though it was difficult because we did not have enough money to live in London, where the ROCOR parish was. The problem was that, having seen through what was going on in England, I was again told by members of the London ROCOR parish in 1982 that they could not accept us, because we did not have ‘Russian blood’. Furthermore, at that time, strange new influences were creeping into ROCOR in England from Greek Old Calendarists in the USA. These sectarian tendencies and internal difficulties made life in the London ROCOR parish very uneasy. The largest and oldest English ROCOR parish, in the provinces outside London, actually left ROCOR and joined the Patriarchate as a result of this new fanaticism.

There seemed to be no-one in England who represented the old and balanced Russian Orthodoxy. I could say that by that time the simple and unadulterated Russian Orthodox Church did not exist in England any more. That was a tragedy and the tragic consequences have become public knowledge outside England over the last eighteen months. All that has happened here in the past eighteen months was predictable from twenty-five years ago and indeed it was predicted.

MS: So what did you do after 1982?

Fr A: After much thought and prayer, in 1983 we decided to move back to Paris with matushka and the two children we had then. In Paris, however, we were to find that we had fallen out of the frying pan into the fire. In matushka’s Church in Paris they then had a new Archbishop. He had promised to reorient the Church there towards the Tradition. Sadly, these were only words. He proved to be very weak and fell under the control of the Paris modernists. It was only in 1985 that we understood this. We also saw how the real source of all the errors in the Sourozh Diocese had come from Paris. In Paris we discovered, to our shock, that freemasonry was rife among the émigré Russian Orthodox. Seven out of twelve members of the Council of the Archdiocese were open freemasons. They were quite proud of it and would give each other masonic handshakes even inside the church building. Two of the churches in Paris were actually used for masonic inductions throughout the 1980s.

MS: Were you asked to become a freemason?

Fr A: It was ‘suggested’ to me that I could become a priest ‘very quickly’ if I became a freemason.

MS: So what happened?

Fr A: I did not become a priest!

In any case, it was in this way that we lost all our naivete. It had taken me ten years to understand the situation of the Russian Church in Western Europe (and also in North America, which ran parallel to all this). Given the paralysis of the Patriarchal Church, it was clear that there was only one path that was canonical and acceptable to our consciences and that was ROCOR. This was the only path of integrity that conscious Russian Orthodox could take. Fortunately in Paris, unlike in London, ROCOR had a different attitude to Non-Russians and accepted us. This was due to the influence of the ever-memorable Archbishop Antony of Geneva. From that time on, we patiently prayed for the freedom of the Church in Russia, together with the rest of ROCOR, awaiting the great day of freedom for the Church in Russia and so the inevitable unity between the two parts of the Russian Church. This of course came at last in May this year. Glory to God!

MS: In hindsight, do you have any regrets about your original choice of joining the Sourozh Diocese in 1975?

Fr A: Regrets? The problem is that I had no choice. It was Sourozh or nothing. My great regret is that the ROCOR parish in London refused to accept me in 1974 and again in 1982, because they said that their Church was only for Russians. If they had accepted me, then after finishing my degree in Russian language and literature at Oxford in 1977, I would surely have gone on to study at Jordanville.

MS: Following the unity between ROCOR and the Patriarchate this year, are you optimistic about the possible return of the Paris Exarchate to the Russian Church?

Fr A: No, on the contrary. During the Patriarch’s visit to France last week, representatives of the Paris Exarchate showed arrogance to His Holiness. Some there really think that they are at the centre of the Orthodox world, instead of on the periphery, which is where they really are. Some seem to think that they have something to teach the rest of the Orthodox world! One of their senior spokesmen said that he wanted the Patriarch to ‘respect their identity’. This is absurd. Their ‘identity’ is in fact an ‘anti-identity’, because it is based on the rejection of the Orthodox Tradition, on modernism, and that is not an identity. These are the exclusivist people who say that they are for Non-Russians, but in fact chase away native Western European Orthodox, unless they accept the liberal-modernist Paris ideology, which is opposed to the Tradition. I am very sad because there are some quite senior Non-Russians there, who are very good people, but still extremely naïve. They still cannot see that they are being manipulated and made use of by some very cunning people from the liberal and modernist Paris emigration.

They have yet to understand that you cannot belong to the Russian Orthodox Tradition, when you vigorously reject the Russian Church. The situation there resembles that of Uniatism. There is an outward resemblance to the Russian Church, but inwardly, with the Roman Catholic calendar and their customs, they are not Russian Orthodox. And this is not a question of language. The Russian Orthodox Church uses and has always used many languages in Her worship, but we still remain Russian Orthodox. It is a question of Faith. There is, I believe, a kind of schizophrenia here. Either you confess the Russian Orthodox Faith or else you do not. You cannot have a pretence or imitation of the reality. We should not pretend. If you are under a Greek-controlled Church, you are Greek Orthodox and you should follow all their customs. It is important to be honest and not to mix things up. Otherwise you just create spiritual confusion.

MS: What is the result of modernism in Paris?

Fr A: Modernism is why some in Paris make a great thing out of the Moscow Council of 1917-1918, which they think justifies their intolerant liberal mindset (there is nothing so intolerant as liberalism). They do not understand that times have changed; the disastrous Provisional Government and the bourgeois democracy of their idol Kerensky, encouraged by their ancestors, have fallen. They must stop living in the past. The Moscow Council took place ninety years ago amid a state of anarchy inside Russia. Its limited lessons have been overtaken by events, by the experience of the martyrs and confessors of Russia, the experience of the saints. They must learn to put holiness above politics. The experience of martyrdom has altered Russian Orthodox perceptions.

Because they are modernists, anything normal is for them ‘conservative’ or ‘reactionary’ or even ‘Fascist’ etc. Therefore, some in Paris accuse the Russian Church of ‘conservatism’, when in reality the Russian Church merely follows Apostolic Tradition! The Church has nothing to learn from apostasy - except how to avoid apostasy. The ideologues in Paris and their naïve adepts there and elsewhere need to recentre their view of the world, which has been knocked off centre by bourgeois, political, intellectual and above all simply secular considerations.

What I am saying is that the Russian Church will have to leave these ideologues in Paris and elsewhere and build up the Russian Church again. Thus, His Holiness spoke to President Sarkozy about building a Russian Cathedral in Paris. The President promised to help, perhaps by donating a piece of land. We in ROCOR tried again and again in the past to get the Paris Russians back into the Russian Church, but they did not want to then. If they do not want to now, then they must be left to their own devices.

The Church goes on. The Russian Church will have to go it alone in Paris. If the Paris Jurisdiction does not want to take part in the building of an authentic and free Local Church in Western Europe, which is the great project of the whole Russian Church together with Her friends, such as those in the Serbian Church, then it will have to remain in its self-imposed isolation. Our hand is still extended to them, but so far they have refused to accept it, whether because of their brainwashing by an anti-Orthodox secular ideology or else because of naivete, a lack of spiritual depth and experience.

MS: Fr Andrew, when were you ordained?

Fr A: I was ordained to the diaconate nearly twenty five years ago, but ordained priest in 1991 by Archbishop Antony of Geneva.

M: Can you tell us how many English Orthodox there are today?

Fr A: There are very few of us. As the older generation dies out, I would say there are fewer than ten or twenty years ago, perhaps today only 2,000. Recently, for example, I was told that 100 English people are becoming Orthodox each year. That of course is a tiny number. Every parish should be receiving 100 people a year, but that is simply not happening. But when I am asked how many of us there are, I always answer that together with you in Russia there are many of us, 150 million!

M: Why are there so few English Orthodox?

Fr A: Everything in the West is difficult. We have neither any support from the civil authorities in Great Britain, nor of course from the Russian government. Here, ten years ago, I was given an antimension by my bishop and that was that. I had to get a church, a chalice set, vestments, liturgical books, everything, by myself, from our own money. We had to do everything alone, with the help of any local Orthodox, whom I could find in this province of England. My bishop cannot help me. He has no money either. We have to do everything for ourselves.

You also have to understand that we in the West we priests also have to work in secular jobs. If we not work in secular jobs, we do not eat and we have nowhere to live. If I have no secular job, the church closes. It is as simple as that. This is the situation of all missionary priests, who have no support or infrastructure from the Church authorities. For this reason, of course, much of my time and energy over the last twenty-five years has been wasted in secular work, instead of spending it on building up the Church. This has always been very frustrating. For instance, I often receive invitations to go and speak at conferences. I have had four this year so far. Generally, I simply cannot go, I am not some sort of rich, retired person who does not have to work for a living. I think you can understand from this that in many ways, life for clergy in Russia is actually easier than here!

Secondly, we live in times when very few in the West are Christian, in any sense of the word. As regards Orthodoxy specifically, we live in a West where the memory of Orthodoxy is very distant. Nearly one thousand years have passed since England was in communion with the rest of the Orthodox Church. For instance, a typical question I get here is: ‘Are you Orthodox actually Christian?’ For them the word ‘Orthodox’ is meaningless, we could be Hindus, for all they know. They only understand words like Methodist, Baptist, Church of England, Protestant, Roman Catholic and so on. Se we struggle against a barrier of nearly a thousand years of ignorance and prejudice.

By the way, the fact that England has not been in communion with the rest of the Orthodox Church for nearly a thousand years is a fact of mystical significance. Just as the West lost its Orthodoxy and fell away from the Church, so the Lord raised up Russia and brought it to the Faith. This is why we see ourselves as a forward outpost of Orthodox Russia.

MS: Is there any part of Russia with which you can identify?

Fr A: Not so much with Russia, but with ‘Rus’. Specifically, we resemble Carpatho-Russia, the major part of which today forms the Transcarpathian Region of the Ukraine, though part of it is in Slovakia and another part is in south-eastern Poland. It is the furthest point West of the Patriarchal Church, though it was in fact the first part of Rus to accept the Faith, as long ago as 863. And of course here in England our ancestors accepted the Faith even before that, in 597.

We are even further West than the Carpatho-Russians, but, like it, we have also always been outside any territory where the Russian government has any political control. Today, for example, Carpatho-Russia is under Ukrainian control and they suffer much there from the nationalism of the present Ukrainian government and their refusal to recognize the Carpatho-Russians as a separate people, just as they suffered before from the Soviet government and its atheism.

As you know, we live in the east of England, in Felixstowe, a port which faces south-east. Every morning when we go out, we are actually facing Carpatho-Russia, and in some deeper, mystical sense the faithfulness of people there gives us hope also.

MS: Are all the English Orthodox in the two parts of the Russian Church?

Fr A: No, not at all, only a minority of English Orthodox is in the Russian Church. In the 1970s, ROCOR rejected most English people. As a result, very few English people joined it. There was also the fact that many could not accept the persecution that ROCOR suffered at that time from the political propaganda of other jurisdictions. As regards the Sourozh Diocese of the Patriarchate, the main figure there then was very controversial and divisive. He refused to open other parishes in London, with the disastrous results that we see in London today.

The result was that most English Orthodox, like Metropolitan Kallistos (Ware) joined either the Patriarchate of Constantinople or else the Patriarchate of Antioch. Both of these at one time or another were very accommodating to Anglicans and their practices. Those who wanted to be in the Russian Church quite often ended up as refugees abroad, like myself. This is a sad story of lost opportunities. The Russian Church here could have achieved some sort of unity among English Orthodox. But perhaps in the future, under new management and with the support of the now freed Church in Russia, something can still be achieved.

MS: How do you think that the Russian Church can attract English people?

Fr A: First of all, by showing a maximum of openness and understanding of their needs, such as quite simply by celebrating services in English and venerating the local saints. That is why the decision of the Synod in Moscow last July to include these saints in the Russian Church calendar was so important, after decades of our struggle for the acceptance of them.

On the other hand, it has to be said that there are some English people who want to join the Orthodox Church, but not really become Orthodox. In other words, they do not want to give up mentalities that are alien to Orthodoxy. They want the easy way out, to have the semblance of Orthodoxy, but not to suffer. That is impossible. There are some English Orthodox in some jurisdictions who do not want Church unity and treat us in the Russian Church as second-class citizens. They have brought a certain academic snobbishness into the Church with them, not realizing that this secular mentality has no place inside the Church. They are quite happy with a Balkanized mentality, each in their own ghetto. The fact is that sometimes we in the Russian Church will simply have to act alone, showing leadership for the future, despite the attacks on us today.

MS: What is the role of Orthodox in the deChristianized West today?

Fr A: Our role is to hold back the Apocalypse, because we still have to gather in the last Orthodox here before the end.

MS: This sounds very pessimistic. Are you pessimistic about the situation?

Fr A: A Christian cannot be a pessimist. He must be an optimist, because we know that Christ will triumph and the last word in history will be His. Nevertheless, in the short term, we must be realistic. Thirty years ago, speaking of the Soviet persecution of the Russian Church inside Russia, Fr Seraphim Rose expressed our feelings very well, saying, ‘Today in Russia, tomorrow in America’. He knew, like many of us at that time, that the deChristianization of the West was speeding up.

When (not if) the persecution comes to the West, as it did in Russia ninety years ago, we may have to flee, as the Gospel tells us. But it would be wrong to think that that persecution will definitely come soon. It may be there will be a revival before the end, even here in the West. On the other hand, at the height of the Soviet persecution in Russia, St Seraphim of Vyritsa prophesied remarkably that the time would come when Western people would sail to St Petersburg to be baptized. That time has not yet come, but I can see it coming. Western governments will make some decree that baptism is illegal, not ‘politically correct’, or dangerous on ‘health and safety’ grounds. Then we shall flee to Russia, just as after 1917 Russians fled here. Then the last bastions of Orthodoxy in the West will fall. But this time is not yet and even our children may not live to see it.

MS: What do you think of the situation of Orthodoxy in the world in general?

Fr A: We must not be naïve. There is here a political dimension. The powers that be have since 1917 tried very hard to divide the Orthodox Church, creating in it a secularized wing, which is pro-Western. Today, this is an integral part of US-EU policy, the creation of a ‘secular Orthodoxy’, one which is ‘tamed’ and will do whatever the secularists want, whether it is by changing calendars, ‘modernizing’ the services or preaching ecumenism. This is in fact just another sort of Uniatism, which is why the Vatican also backs this policy of the secularization of Orthodoxy. This temptation, like all temptations, is illusory, an error. For example, the US has always supported Turkey and it is illusory to hope for support from the US against Turkish persecution of Greek Orthodoxy in Turkey.

Today, the EU, also under instructions, is trying to accept Turkey as a member. And this is despite the persecution of Orthodox there! These secularist forces also encourage Greek nationalism, which they know is divisive in the Orthodox world. The EU has already softened up the Balkans, first it accepted Greece, then Cyprus, now Romania and Bulgaria. All these countries are on the new calendar that the secularists so love. The indirect aim is to destroy the Orthodox Church. That is why many faithful, especially in Romania, tremble today. The US is operating in a similar way in the Ukraine and Georgia through its political manipulations. Huge amounts of dollars and euros are going to those countries to soften them up for secularist takeovers.

The same thing is happening in Kosovo. There, 150 Orthodox churches have been destroyed or damaged by Albanian terrorists and the Western forces present have done nothing to stop it. And yet today they are building a Roman Catholic Cathedral in Kosovo! This mirrors the double standards of the West. Destroy Orthodoxy and prepare the ground for secularism. This is their slogan. Do not forget that Western secularism was born out of Protestantism and that Protestantism was born out of Roman Catholicism. The West thinks long term in its geostrategic operations and aims. As long as the integrity of the Orthodox Church can be destroyed little by little, the rest does not matter. The West will always support any anti-Orthodox movement, including Islam, because its long-term aim is always secularization. That is why we must fight for Orthodox unity against secularization.

MS: So do you see some special role for Russian Orthodoxy then in protecting World Orthodoxy from a secularist takeover?

Fr A: We must be realistic. At present, only a small percentage in Russia actually practises Orthodoxy and lives what we can call an Orthodox way of life. Alcoholism, abortion, divorce, theft, corruption, this is the reality of much of life in Russia today. When there are ten times as many churches in Russia as there are today, then we will be able to talk about a real role for Russian Orthodoxy outside Russia. So, it is not realistic yet to talk about Russian Orthodoxy protecting and fostering World Orthodoxy. But, true, it could happen, and relatively quickly, in the very fluid contemporary situation inside Russia. If you can influence the Russian elite, and the Russian Church is trying to do that at this very moment, then the mass of the people will surely follow. If not, then the end will come any way. This moment in time, the first years of the twenty-first century, is very much a last chance, for Russia, therefore for World Orthodoxy, and therefore for the world at large.

MS: Who influenced you in your Orthodoxy?

Fr A: I don’t think anyone has influenced me in particular, but then all the thousands of Orthodox I have met in my life have influenced me in general. We have a choice in life, to be like a bee and go from one flower to another, collecting nectar, or else to be like a fly. As you know, flies don’t go round flowers, but other places. I think we should be like bees, learning from everyone.

MS: But there must be some people who have influenced you in particular?

Fr A: Many years ago, having seen so many fraudulent Orthodox representatives and charlatans, I came to the conclusion, in the words of the Psalmist, that we should not ‘put our trust in princes or in sons of men, in whom there is no hope’. The only people we can absolutely trust are firstly those named by the Church as saints, and secondly, those who are widely and uncontroversially believed to be saints, like holy elders and eldresses.

MS: Are there any particular contemporary saints whom you venerate or feel close to?

Fr A: Without doubt, St John of Shanghai, St Nicholas of Zhicha and St Alexis of Carpatho-Russia. They were all connected or knew each other and were spiritually close. The first two are well-known, but not the third. That is a pity. He revived Orthodoxy in Carpatho-Russia. All three were close in some way to Metropolitan Antony Khrapovitsky, who called the last two saints.

MS: And is there an Elder you especially revere?

Fr A: Among Russian Elders without doubt Fr Nikolai Guryanov, but also Fr John Krestiankin. Then there is Fr Seraphim Tapochkin (of Belgorod or Rakitin), whose blessing I received in 1978.

MS: Do you feel close to any other contemporary churchmen in Russia?

Fr A: The ever-memorable Metropolitan John of St Petersburg and today Fr Alexander Shargunov in Moscow.

MS: You first heard of Orthodoxy as a child, in 1968, nearly forty years ago. Looking back, how would you describe your experience through all these years?

Fr A: Our experience has been one of persecution, exile and even hatred. Hatred for telling the truth. The truth is the one thing that people never want to hear. It is too unsettling for them. But the Truth will out and all this is part of the experience of Orthodoxy. If we do not experience these things, I am not sure that we can consider ourselves to be Christians. Christ says that in the Gospel that He was hated, and so we too shall be hated. These words are of course true.

However, it is through these negative experiences that we learn to love our enemies and we must not let any barrier to this love, such as bitterness or cynicism, grow up in our souls. We will always say ‘Glory to God for all things’, for without such difficult experiences in particular, we cannot understand, we cannot grow. Suffering makes us grow. You see, our God is ‘the God Who works miracles’. We must never exclude the miraculous, which comes about through suffering. Miracles happen all the time when you live in an Orthodox way. These miracles are all around us and we are witnesses of these miracles almost on a daily basis.

MS: Can you give an example of the miraculous?

Fr A: Yes, the latest miracle to date is the visit of His Holiness Patriarch Alexis to Western Europe last week. This would have been impossible even fifteen years ago. Like Solzhenitsyn in the 1970s, the Patriarch prophetically warned the West that it is embarking on the same perilous path as Russia embarked on in 1917.

The West could learn from the Russian experience, as explained by the Patriarch. But I do not think that it will. I remember when Communism fell. Some Western experts said it had fallen because the Communist system had no market economy. Others said that it had fallen because of Reagan’s Star Wars policy. Yet others, also justifying themselves, said that it had fallen because of John-Paul II! I will tell you why Communism fell. It was because it did not base itself on the Ten Commandments. In other words, it was utterly corrupt, spiritually and morally valueless, utterly spiritually feeble. This is the fate of all worldly empires, they all fall because they grow corrupt. Power and riches corrupt. It is a fact of life and of history. Without spirituality, you have no morality, and as a result, you die out, quite literally. It happened with Communism. It will surely happen to the Western world also, unless it repents.

And so it is today. If in contemporary Russia, alcoholism, divorce, abortion and theft stop, then Russian life will attain a measure of morality and even spiritual purity. Then Russia, and through it, the whole world will survive a little longer. The Apocalypse will have been held back. Now is the last chance for the world. I cannot tell you if people will listen or not. But even Creation is crying out to mankind that enough is enough. You cannot exploit and destroy God’s Creation without consequences. And that is what we are seeing today with this so-called ‘climate change’. The ecological catastrophe is a call to repentance, a change in our way of life. It is not yet too late, but this really is the last chance.

MS: Thank you for answering these questions, Fr Andrew.


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