It was not merely the burial of a holy man that we witnessed yesterday… we saw the end of a discrete era in Church history. With the burial of Vladyki Laurus Škurla, the shape of Church life as we have known it since 1965 also ended. Firstly, the ROCOR as it has been since 1920 has ceased to be, exactly as its founders had intended in the first instance. There is no doubt that the reconciliation that took place on 17 May 2007 between the ROCOR and the MP at Christ the Saviour Cathedral in Moscow was in exact accordance with the wishes of Metropolitans Antony Khrapovitsky, Anastassy Gribanovsky, and Philaret Voznesensky of Blessed Memory. This reconciliation did not only re-establish communion between the ROCOR and the MP, it also reintegrated the ROCOR as a constituent (albeit, autonomous) part of the MP. That is to say, the independent body headquartered in Jordanville NY in the US, under the provisions of Ukase 362 of Patriarch St Tikhon Bellavin, ended its existence voluntarily, in full compliance with the desires of its architects.
The ROCOR is now again in the bosom of the Mother Church, and there is no doubt that it shall act as the agent for unity of Russian Orthodox Christians in the lands outside of the canonical territory of the MP. That is to say, the MP shall use the existing legal structures and the accumulated pastoral experience in the diaspora of the ROCOR to unite all Russian Orthodox outside of Russia under its omophor. This is a very important role, and a bright new page in the history of the ROCOR is yet to be written as a result of it. The ROCOR is NOT going to cease to exist, by any means! Rather, it has only given up an “independence” that had become a negative factor in its way of life.
The theological left-wingers can no longer hurl the epithet “uncanonical” at the ROCOR. Indeed, the reconciliation of 17 May 2007 occurred without the concurrence of one of the major Renovationist bodies (one whose canonical legitimacy is totally dependent on the MP, by the way) that claims to be an agent for church unity in one of the parts of the diaspora. This means that the ROCOR, not this group, is now considered by Moscow to be the legitimate focus for canonical Orthodoxy in the region concerned. What am I talking of?
The “jurisdictional war” that existed between the OCA and the ROCOR is now over, and history shall record that the latter was victorious through its faithfulness to the fullness of Church tradition and that the former died of its own inner contradictions and incoherence. This is one of the major factors in the realignment in Orthodoxy that is occurring as I write this. The Church world that was shaped by Metropolitan Philaret Voznesensky and Fr Alexander Schmemann after 1965 is drawing to a rapid close.
Metropolitan Laurus was very much a man formed in that milieu; he was one of the major players in that era. He did not write books; he did not make speeches. Indeed, Vladyki was well known as a soft-spoken man who did not raise his voice. Schmemann wrote many books, he delivered many speeches, and he was going to “drag the Church into the modern world” whether it wished to come or not. Vladyki was a champion of prayer, a podvizhnik, as we say in Russian. I do not think that he has left us a single writing of book length. Nevertheless, God blessed Vladyki, not the noisy exertions of Schmemann… it’s best not to speak aloud the judgement on the latter.
Vladyki was a champion of true Church unity, a unity that is founded in a common profession of the traditional Faith “once delivered unto the saints”. Schmemann replaced the traditional Faith with notional ideas culled from his unsupervised readings of the Fathers and questionable modern figures such as Pavel Florensky, Sergei Bulgakov, and Aleksandr Vvedensky (the leader of the Living Church heresy in Russia).
We should note that the Fathers are often contradictory; this is because they wrote in response to specific situations in the Church. One situation may have demanded rigour in discipline; another may have required compassion and healing. Each was a unique case, handled upon its own merits. The Church continues that Tradition. That is why it is so dangerous for new converts to dabble in the Fathers. Without a sense of the lived Church Tradition and the lived Church experience, they go off onto tangents that can be delusions and dangerous. It has led to a current problem with Calvinist and Jansenist pietism amongst Orthodox in the US, in particular. The Church is not a condemnatory conventicle; it is a place of healing, of reconciliation. Many have forgotten that, unfortunately.
From 1965 onwards, there arose a dispute about the very nature of the Church, especially in the diaspora setting. Vladyki Laurus was a paladin of Tradition, but, he taught by his example, not his words. He SHOWED us what to do. He was an exemplar, not a lecturer. Schmemann was the opposite; he was nothing but an empty, dry, and windy scholastic, with nothing to show for his efforts except for paper and ink. Vladyki said nothing, but did much. Schmemann said much, but, at our vantage point, we can see that he accomplished little, if anything.
I do not think that many of us recall the 1970s and 1980s without a shudder of disgust at what went on. A wise old baba said at the time, “The priests are having a fight, and the people are suffering”. Extremists claimed the right to speak in both camps, and unrepresentative voices shaped the tenor of Church life. In particular, I am thinking of the antics of SVS in Crestwood and Holy Transfiguration Monastery in Brookline. Both extremes are wrong, and we Orthodox Christians should stick to the “golden mean” taught by such wise modern fathers as Metropolitan Antony Khrapovitsky. Vladyki Laurus taught the “golden mean”, and he did his best to combat the extremists. This does not in any way imply that the entire brotherhood at Jordanville followed his salutary example. I wish that such were true! The sickness of the time pervaded the entire Church, and all that Vladyki could do was to mitigate it (nevertheless, no small service!).
It was a time of Count Grabbe, Hieromonk Panteleimon of Brookline, Gleb Podmoshensky, Alexander Schmemann, Laurence Mancuso, and other such jumped-up frauds. It appeared as though the entire Church had lost its reason. If one ventured a good-sense opinion on Church matters, the extremists of either stripe descended, and a very nasty ad hominem attack was launched on the poor person involved. In the midst of all of this was Vladyki with his still small voice. He stood for the actual Tradition; he taught the authentic Faith without diminution. In short, Vladyki did not live in normal times, yet, he stood for the normal and ordinary Orthodoxy of the ages. This is his main contribution, that he brought forward for us the standards of the timeless Faith without the admixture of the dross of that era. We owe Laurus Škurla a debt of gratitude for that alone.
There are those who would desire to speculate on the future shape of the Orthodox polity. I am not privy to any important discussions, so, anything that I could offer would not be useful. Nevertheless, we are on the brink of changes in Church life both in the diaspora and in the Orthodox heartland that shall upset the current order of Church organisation. The ROCOR shall continue to be, but, as an integral component of the MP, probably with the MP bishops and parishes abroad added to its ranks. The OCA is so sickly that it may die within the year. Its healthy parishes and clergy shall pass into the ROCOR, and what shall happen to the faithless “liberal” remainder is anyone’s guess. The EP is poised for conflict with the MP, and communion may be broken between them. The current conflicts in the Ukraine, the Baltic states, and the diaspora are only a foretaste of the discord to come. The EP is claiming to be the Orthodox “papacy” and the chance of a new Unia between it and the Vatican are high. All that stands between Bartholomew and his ambitions is the united force of the MP and ROCOR.
That is another salient legacy of Vladyki. We can face this coming crisis united… we are not fighting with one another. We are being given a short breathing space, a “honeymoon”, if you will. Shortly, we shall have to “gird up our loins” and fight for the Orthodoxy that Vladyki Laurus preserved for us. WE MUST STAND TOGETHER.
Saturday 22 March 2008