Because of the loud and un-Orthodox (need, I say, unchristian as well) statements and behaviour emanating from six self-centred and ungrounded “monastics” who fled from Manton to Platina recently, I wanted to find something that illustrated the REAL Church teaching on the matter. A friend in the Cabinet sent me this. It fills the bill perfectly (I apologise for the length). Needless to say, it illustrates, once again, that this isn’t an “individual” enterprise… only prideful Evangelicals (and those contaminated by such Sectarians and their heresy) engage in such folderol. It’s another instance where we see that salvation and the Christian life is communal and communitarian, not individualistic and self-serving (that’s why “me n’ Jayzuss”, the “Prosperity Gospel”, and “rugged individualism” are all blasphemous impostures).
Many thanks to my friend for sending this on (I apologise for the lack of a URL… they didn’t give me one).
In December 1998, Patriarch Aleksei Ridiger of Moscow and all the Russias and the MP Holy Synod accepted a very important resolution concerning spiritual relationships, errors existing in this sphere of church life, and the necessity of overcoming them. This resolution is important not only in and of itself, but also because it testifies that our Church is a living organism and, as it always has throughout its history, reacts in a reasoned and sensible manner to each distortion in the life of the Church.
Six years have now gone by and it’s time to assess whether positive changes have taken place because of the resolution. Regrettably, the answer’s, “No”. The Synodal resolution, despite the fact that it clearly expressed the will of the Patriarch and the Hierarchy, hasn’t been implemented. It should’ve been widely published in every diocese and its contents explained to the faithful from every ambon. It should’ve been made known to every faithful Orthodox Christian. This hasn’t happened. To the contrary, the grinding wheel of “pseudo-mystical guruism” gathers ever more force. People are lured into thinking that only what is spoken by or done by “elders” is actually Orthodox. Thus, the spiritual life is reduced to the searching for these “elders” and to giving attention only to that which proceeds from their mouths. Often, however, what comes from them has no relationship at all to Christianity. What’s the matter here? Why has this most sound and timely resolution of the church authority not been received and implemented? Why have so few shared the concern of the hierarchy? Let us investigate all this in the light of the aforementioned document.
What is the norm of pastorship in the Church? Let’s turn to Holy Scripture. The Lord gave His Apostles and their successors, the bishops, the authority to build and preserve the Church. This authority isn’t secular, not implemented with compulsive power. It’s a grace-filled gift of service, to celebrate the Holy Mysteries, to maintain the faith, and to indicate the true path of piety. This grace-filled gift is preserved in the Church and is transmitted in the Mystery of the Consecration of Bishops. Salvation is impossible without the Church, consequently, as St Feofan the Recluse said, it’s necessary to be in union with it, and this means that it’s necessary to have communion with its ministers, the bishops of the Church.
He who hears you hears me, and he who rejects you rejects me (Gospel according to St Luke 10.16) says the Lord. He who receives any one whom I send receives me (Gospel according to St John 13.20). As Thou (the Father) sent me into the world, so I have sent them (the Apostles) into the world (Gospel according to St John 17.18). Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as men who well have to give account. Let them do this joyfully, and not sadly, for that would be of no advantage to you (St Paul’s Epistle to the Hebrews 13.17), the Apostle writes. Therefore, through obedience to the pastors, we are in communion with the God-established order of Church life.
This doesn’t in any way mean, however, that the Church is divided into supervisors and subordinates (in the worldly sense). Before God, we’re all equal and we differ only in the degree of Church ministry, as St Silouan of Athos says, “There isn’t a church divided into teachers and pupils”, that is, a caste of teachers and a mass of silent listeners. All of us are the one Body of Christ, each one of us has a place in the Church, and all of us are co-workers with each other, together helping one another. When we thus come to Christ, in Him we discover salvation and the Heavenly Kingdom. Well does Apostle Peter speak of this:
So I exhort the presbyters among you, as a fellow presbyter and a witness of the sufferings of Christ as well as a partaker in the glory that is to be revealed: Tend to the flock of God that is your charge, not by constraint but willingly, not for shameful gain but eagerly, not as domineering over those in your charge but being examples to the flock. And where the chief shepherd is manifested, you will obtain the unfading crown of glory. Likewise, you that are younger be subject to those who are older. Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble… Above all, hold unfailing your love for one another, since love covers a multitude of sins. Practice hospitality ungrudgingly to one another. As each has received a gift, employ it for one another, as good stewards of God’s varied degree grace… that in everything God may be glorified through Christ Jesus. To Him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.
First Epistle General of St Peter 5.1-5; 4.8-11
This is the norm for the relationship of pastors and flocks. Everything has been said. I consider that every father-confessor must copy out these words in large print and read them daily. There is yet another place in the New Testament that all should harken to:
But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all brethren. And call no man your father on earth, for you have one Father, who is in heaven. Neither be called masters, for you have one master, the Christ. He who is greatest among you shall be your servant; whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.
Gospel according to St Matthew 23:8-12
These words of the Lord in no way contradict the church pastorship established by Him, but rather indicate that spirit in which we must realise it. Here are its characteristic indications, as the Holy Scripture speaks about it:
- A pastor isn’t a supervisor to a person, not a ruler, but a servant.
- Relationships of the pastor and flock are built exclusively on the basis of love and mutual respect.
- Finally, and this is the main point, the pastor can’t manifest pastorship from himself.
It is not his, it is Christ’s (in this, we find the meaning of the Saviour’s words cited above). Consequently, the pastor is obliged… and here we find the virtue of the pastor revealed… to help every soul, to teach about Christ and His Church, to help a Christian to come to the full measure of growth in Christ. These necessary virtues or skills recognise that individuals are different, and that the Lord opens a way for each soul. The relationship of man and God is a great mystery, and a pastor, with God’s help, must fit a key to the heart of each person in order that he may minister precisely to the persons concrete external and internal situation… giving what the Lord Himself wishes to give to that soul. One must not attempt to place any person into a common mould, and thrust upon him what is, perhaps, theoretically good and correct, but in the given situation moment, not appropriate.
Such is the pastoral norm. The distortions of it are instantly visible in the light. Let’s note the most characteristic of these distortions. On the part of the pastor, there can be two main distortions:
- Incomprehension, insensitivity, ignorance, and the circumstance indicated above… the pastor isn’t someone who’s self-sufficient and self-dependent. He’s a servant of Christ, a flexible and tactful instrument to His grace. Consequently, he must only, and solely, guide people to the teaching of Christ and the Church. Unfortunately, pastors frequently teach people not Christianity, but what they understand as Christianity, that is, they substitute the servant (themselves) in place of God and the Church.
- The second error is the notion that the grace of the priesthood acts automatically, merely on the strength of ordination. Yesterday, he was a plain person, but today, after ordination, the attitude that everything coming from the lips of the newly-minted pastor is from the Holy Spirit. This is a most widely spread delusion (and not simply a delusion, but a distorted behaviour emanating from it).
We must elucidate this. In the Church, there’s nothing automatic. Any mystery surmises a co-working of God and man, and is manifested according to its moral strengths. The Mystery of the priesthood is no exception. We had stated that the task of the pastor is to teach people the teachings of the Church, and never his own notions about it, and a bringing together of the people with Christ. This is only possible if the pastor exerts himself to master the Church’s teaching, not merely in knowledge, but also in life, when he himself has an experienced notion of the Orthodox Christian spiritual life. If he accomplished this, the grace of the priesthood is revealed in him and brings forth an abundant result. Without such struggle, grace by itself will do nothing. It will not “automatically” make an ignoramus into a wise man, a vainglorious man into a humble one, one who’s greedy into a generous man. Yes, the Mystery of ordination will take place according to the authority of the Church, but in order to give leadership to people, one must work very hard on the organisation of one’s own life, in order to teach the Church’s teaching one must master it in the proper manner. Unfortunately, the conditions of our times have been the reason for the ordination of many people not fully ready for this, not mature enough to understand what the service is that has been entrusted to them, and what it demands of them.
On the part of the flock, the following are the errors:
- In response to the notion of an “automatically acting” grace of the priesthood, there’s born the notion of an “automatic” and “blind” obedience to the priest. It’s reasoned in this manner… “It’s of no importance that the priest says one thing and does another. What’s important is that my faith in the strength of the grace of the priest’s priesthood ushers God’s will to me”.
This is a widely spread ideology and it’s completely at odds with the Gospel. The Lord didn’t say of the two blind men, “If the second one believes that the first one isn’t blind, then, the first one will fall into the pit, but the second one, through his faith, won’t fall”. No, the Lord said that both would fall into the pit. This doesn’t mean that one must judge priests or go into an examination of their lives. One has only to respond to life with sobriety, and to remember that there is nothing “blind” in the Church. This is particularly true of obedience, which must arise naturally from normal relationships between pastor and flock, when the relationships is one of mutual love and respect, when the pastor doesn’t teach or speak about himself and his opinions, but strives to bring people to Christ. When the relationship isn’t of the Gospel, then, obedience becomes an object of speculation, it loses its spiritual meaning, and instead of a means to salvation, it becomes a slavish submission, which only drives a person away from the Lord.
- It’s most important to examine what it is that gives birth to abnormal spiritual relationships. It’s the fear of freedom and responsibility. Where there is the Lord’s Spirit, there is freedom, says Apostle St Paul. Christianity granted people a great gift… freedom.
However, since freedom’s impossible without a personal responsibility for one’s own life, then, it becomes heavy for many people. It is easier to yield one’s freedom of responsibility from oneself so that someone else makes one’s decisions, it is easier to hide behind traditions, corporatism, rules, plans, etc, than to responsibly and consciously build one’s own Christian life. Thus, all the life of the flock is foisted upon the confessors.
In place of freedom, people want to receive a “guarantee of salvation”. Such a refusal of freedom is, however, a refusal of Christianity, since this can be accomplished only personally, “under one’s own responsibility”. The notion of blind obedience and yielding personal responsibility creates a situation in which confessors cease to be co-sojourners, co-workers, advisors of Christians, but become their rulers. Thereby, spiritual relationships go beyond the borders of Church order. Priests build upon this, and in the spiritual side of life, they illegally rest it entirely upon this. Then, not only does the entire Christian order become skewed, but life in general becomes disordered. This can be observed, for example, in “Orthodox” families when, far too frequently, the pastor, not the husband, becomes the head of his household, or when, one feels that in order to fulfil service obligations, it is necessary “to receive the confessor’s blessing”. In such situations, the husband becomes dependant on completely extraneous and outrageous factors, whilst asking himself, “What sort of ‘Orthodoxy’ is this?” Conflicts arise on this soil and families can even fall apart, as spiritual relationships become sheer manipulation. How is one to refuse to allow any of this? How are these relationships to be normally built? What is the place of a confessor in a Christian’s life?
Firstly, something general must be said. The task of a confessor is not to remake a person, not to make of him his own image, a “clone”. He (the priest) should, rather, with great love and respect to the individuality of each person, help give Christ a place in his life so that a person, having himself, with the help of the Holy Spirit, defeated the sin that is in him, becomes such as Christ wants to see him… unique, free, responsible, conscientious, a developed individual. The confessor must teach him to discern where the grace of the Holy Spirit is, where the natural course of things is, where passion and sin are, so that all this might not become jumbled in a person’s head, mangling his life. This is an entirely educative process.
In particular, a confessor is needed, most of all, at the beginning, when a person just enters the Church and perceives the rudiments of spiritual life. Here, the confessor is a thoughtful guardian and teacher. The aim of this teaching is singularly to give the beginning Christian the correct direction of growth so that he becomes “of the Church”, not deviating to church substitutions, not falling into false ascetic rigourism, nor descending into relativism, etc. Then, after the beginning, the relationship changes somewhat… they become as if more “equal”, not in the sense of any diminishing of the priestly office, but internally, spiritually equal. The person will thus be mature; he’ll have more freedom, more trust, and less tutelage, a smaller quantity of rules, advice, exhortations, etc.
At this point, we ‘ve revealed before us the main problem. We observe spiritual relationships of people in our Church and are amazed at how immature they are! No one wishes to mature. Neither the flock which seems to be essentially “stuck” in spiritual infancy, looking at the world through the eyes of its priest-confessor, at the very time when the Lord wants us to become fully ourselves, and to grow in the measure of Christ. The priest-confessors find it uncomfortable to see around them people who’ve matured. Somehow, they don’t know how to treat them. Clearly, many pastors have a need to see their flock exclusively as unreasonable children with whom they can speak condescendingly, in a language of commands, admonitions, and lectures. In all of this, we see a mutual disrespect and a forgetting of what is the primary reality… that the Church isn’t a kindergarten where there are authoritarian educators and foolish children, but rather it’s the Body of Christ, that is, the spiritual organic union in Christ of mature people who have come into their own measure, each one having from God his own gift of serving. It’s indispensable to begin to realise this.
Also, let us touch upon another question about “elders”. Inexperienced “eldership” remains one of the most painful problems in the life of the Church today. There’s an ideological basis for this. Many with full seriousness affirm, “Orthodoxy is true only because it has elders”. To find an “elder” is the main “spiritual” task of many Orthodox people. For them, the opinion of the “elders” is the highest authority, much greater than the authority of Holy Scripture, not to mention the views of the hierarchy. One might as well sound a serious alarm concerning this epidemic of “gerontocracy”. What is the reason for this phenomenon?
We saw that in the Church there is a God-established hierarchy, in whom the grace of the Holy Spirit is entrusted to illumine people with the Mysteries, to teach them the truths of the faith and morality. This teaching comes from the bishops by the authorisation of the Church; it doesn’t bind or crush freedom, and is accomplished in a spirit of love. Pastorship is advice, example, a mutual movement of the elderly and the youth together in the Church, towards Christ. Whilst this is a great thing, some consider it insufficient. The pastors of the Church and pastoral guidance aren’t enough for them. They want something greater and higher… elders. Some Orthodox people feel some sort of actual loss and incompleteness in their spiritual life without elders. Some strive to get a second opinion from an elder to verify the advice of their confessor. A sizeable amount of “Orthodox” literature nourishes all this.
Who are these elders, in fact? An elder, simply speaking, is a person who’s attained holiness and is has from God the gifts of discernment and penetration. There always were few real elders (and now, assessing everything, there aren’t any), but many books about them have remained. In reading these books and seeing the useful and abundant results of eldership, people naturally strive to acquire something similar in their lives. Searching begins by looking for external signs… a large white beard, or a claimed ascetic model of life, or a great crowd of women or apocalyptic predictions, and a certain opposition to the Hierarchy, etc. The law of supply and demand begets a notion and “elders” of such a type are found without difficulty.
Why are they necessary? Firstly, as I have already said, people use them to shirk one’s responsibility for oneself. They want to find an elder, to believe wholeheartedly in him and to think about or care about nothing. Entry into paradise is guaranteed, they think. Secondly, simply put, some people want to know the future. As a rule, no one goes to an elder with the question of how to be saved, because this is completely clear in the Gospel, and any parish priest can in one way or another answer this question satisfactorily. They ask elders:
- Shall I get married or to go to a monastery?
- Shall I change one’s living quarters or to sell them?
- Shall I undergo an operation?
- Shall I start a business or, to the contrary, to get rid of it quickly, etc, etc.?
Of course, they ask elders if the end of the world is coming soon, and want to know what the signs of Antichrist are. Here, by the way, there’s a complete manifestation of the most real Ecumenism. In other religions, for the deciding of these very questions, there exist gurus, sheikhs, shamans, lamas, tsadikim, druids, etc. Unbelieving persons go to fortune-tellers and telepathists. We don’t wish to deprive these vital questions their significance, but when they appear as the main thing in life, then the Church becomes magic for people, and the vector of spiritual life is directed so that “at the expense of God” it would be good “here and now”.
Moreover, it’s necessary to note one essential difference of an elder from a simple priest of the Church. The latter ideally does nothing other than only bringing the Church’s teaching to a person in his concrete situation. Elder are seen as acting on the basis of some sort of personal charisma, and caution’s necessary here. St Seraphim of Sarov said that when he spoke from himself and not from the Holy Spirit, there were errors. St Silouan of Athos, in citing this phrase of St Seraphim, wrote that the errors could be small, but there can also be large ones. Thus, the Church commands us to have great sobriety in any contact with such personal things. However, in our times there is no sobriety. As if that weren’t enough, there’s quite evident a reverse process of mythologising everything that’s connected with “elders”.
One might think that there is nothing negative in such a “childlike” perception (not childlike in a Gospel sense) of the spiritual life. Nevertheless, in fact, there are far more serious things behind this than simply childishness and immaturity. At the basis of “gerontophilia” lies an incorrect notion of God, of God’s Will and the relationship of man and God. We draw your attention to this because it is extremely important.
Gerontophiles [elder worshippers] consider that God’s Will in relationship to the individual is something predestined, pre-programmed, and something completely mysterious, that it’s necessary “to foresee”. Thus, in order to guess this, to get it right, an elder is needed, and an elder that possesses a certain secret knowledge of this most mysterious “will”. We‘ve guessed it and everything’s going perfectly well; the children aren’t ill, and business is prospering. If the elder didn’t guess it, then, everything’s bad. Worse still, to doubt the “mysterious knowledge” of the elder leads to total ruin. This is a completely non-Christian, magical, pagan attitude. It reduces our religion from the Good News about God the loving Father, about Christ the Saviour, into “ill tidings”, to the concept that Christianity is a minefield that can’t be crossed without a combat engineer. The elder is the combat engineer. The Orthodox Church doesn’t teach anything like this. God’s Will isn’t something programmed, automatic, something that has to be “calculated”. Also, it isn’t some kind of esoteric mystery. I have spoken openly to the world… I have said nothing secretly (the Gospel according to St John 18.20) said the Lord. On the contrary, God revealed to us His own will in Christ, in Holy Scripture, in the Church. The earthly life of a person is defined by a personal relationship of the heart, the soul toward God. God’s will is recognised from the sum of the circumstances, from the commands of the conscience, from the disposition of the heart, from choices with regard to sin. Undoubtedly, pastoral advice is appropriate… but it must be advice precisely in the spirit of the Gospel, the Church, not at all in some sort of false mystical guru-like “guessing”. If we don’t consider this, then our inner life ceases to be truly spiritual and Christian, but acquires a certain occult colouration.
Let us sum this up. Spiritual relationships must be an expression of the following church principles:
- We are all the Church, the Body of Christ
- Together we mature in God
The older in the Church help the younger both by the giving of God’s grace, and the examples of life and lesson. However, spiritual relationships, if they’re correct, never obscure the One for Whose sake they exist. Like everything in the Church, these relationships are one of the means of Christian life, and they can’t become a substitute their goal, which is Christ. In conclusion, I return the reader’s attention to the Synodal resolution about pastorship and confessorship, with the wish that it be read and accepted in the way the Church wishes it.
Igumen Pyotr Meshcherinov
THIS is the REAL Church’s voice speaking. Not the voice of JP… not the voice of Rod Dreher… not the voice of Freddie M-G… not the voice of Terrence Mattingly… not the voice of David Brum… not the voice of Gerasim Eliel… all of whom are breathless automaton disciples of the heresiarch/guru Gleb Podmoshensky (GP), the most wicked man who ever marred our Church in the Americas. Not even Panteleimon Metropoulos or Sam Greene comes close to the evil done by GP. The present rot that we see in the OCA and amongst “Angliochian” konvertsy is mostly due to the noisome influence of the clueless followers of this singular hesiarch. Indeed, if you read anything by Rod Dreher, in particular, he’s especially sunk in ignorant prelest and every word from his mouth is suspect… he screams about child abuse on the part of RC clergy, but he was introduced to GP by Freddie M-G, and didn’t give a fig that GP was deposed by the ROCOR Holy Synod for nasty doings.
That’s why all former HOOMie clergy need to get the boot (the sooner, the better), and why we need to muzzle all former HOOMies and Anglicans (unfortunately, they’re a majority of those found on the internet). Not a one of them has a clue to what the Church is and how She operates. This is a cancer. You don’t negotiate with cancer… you kill it. You don’t dialogue with cancer… you cut it out. There’s no other way… these people have contaminated our Church, and it’ll take a generation to undo the damage. God do help us…