Voices from Russia

Saturday, 1 March 2008

Through the Looking Glass… or, the Adventures of Orthodox Christians attempting to glean truth in this current church mess

What’s in that pipe he’s smoking? Why, it’s the same stuff they’re smoking at SVS and Syosset. It’s good shit, folks. After all, they tell us that are a million faithful in the OCA and that SVS is beloved thorughout the Orhtodox world… I’ll retire to Bedlam with Mr Scrooge!

A note from the editor:

I apologise for the length of the following submission. I fear that anything shorter would have distorted my intent and meaning. Thank you for your patience.

BMD

******

There is still official silence from the OCA Synod of Bishops regarding Bishop Nikolai, he who ordained a registered sexual offender to the clergy. Yes, it has been over a month, and there has been NO statement of ANY sort from that body on the question of this miscreant bishop’s removal.

The native clergy in Alaska have had enough. They have demanded action, and very smartly, at that. Here is a letter from Fr Thomas Andrew of Kenai:

Dear Brothers,

Christ is in our midst! He is and shall be!

I just risked being evicted and possibly even to be suspended or defrocked (like you) because I believe and know that what you all are saying is true. My family and I have no place to go if we are evicted. I ask that all of you keep us in your prayers.

I at least know that I have the support of my parish in Kenai. I love my Lord Jesus Christ, His beautiful church and my parishioners, my entrusted flock.

With love in Christ,

thomas
the lowly and unworthy priest

Source:

Orthodox Christians for Accountability

www.ocanews.com

This does not seem much, but, one must understand the culture of the various native peoples of Alaska (there is more than one ethno-cultural group represented). From what I have been told, these peoples seek consensus and agreement before acting. That is, no one goes off on their own to work their individual notional whims. The group decides as a body and acts together. Great weight is given to the words of the elders and once a matter is decided, that is final. That is to say, the native Orthodox Christians of Alaska have made up their mind. They have rejected Nikolai Soraich as bishop, and if the OCA Holy Synod does not act expeditiously to remove him, they shall take matters into their own hands. I have a VERY good idea of what they shall do, but, I shall not write down my speculations, for I do not wish to inadvertently hurt these good people.

Taking the native cultures into account, what has occurred is an open act of rebellion against Syosset and all of its doings. This is significant. The Russian Orthodox Diocese of Alaska (to use its “official” title) is the oldest diocese in the OCA, and its culture is a unique mixture of native and Russian customs. This diocese refuses to use the Syosset-mandated Roman calendar for fixed feasts, and many of its priests were not trained at SVS, so, many of them are free of the Renovationist ideas that Schmemann insinuated into that institution.

If the native Orthodox do not see the action that they DEMAND (it may be spoken softly, but, it IS a demand), they shall move on to Plan B. You see, native cultures never embark on anything unless they have a plan in reserve to deal with the foreseen pitfalls. This is one of the strengths of small ethno-cultural groups. The joint decision of the group is preceded by vigorous discussion that brings out all the aspects of the proposal, so, the problems are apparent before consensus is found, and they are taken into account and planned for. Outsiders are NEVER parties to these parleys, so, they are often fooled by the outward placidity of such people. I repeat, the elders have spoken, and Syosset had best listen, or the entire rotten structure shall collapse, and there shall be precious few mourners, save for the Syosset apparatchiki and the bombastic intellectual lot at SVS. Things shall happen automatically if they do not.

On the same website where I found the letter of good Fr Thomas from Kenai, I found a “reflection” of a Syosset insider that spoke more than the author intended. I shall give you the pertinent part of his “reflection” in italics below, and my comments shall follow.

With regard to the OCA, it would be tragic if it were to collapse, but Orthodoxy would go on. It is important, though, to see the particular and really wonderful thing that would be lost.

The Orthodox Church in America brought the ragged Metropolia, the result of a shattered Orthodoxy that followed the communist revolution, back into canonical, world-wide Orthodoxy. That, and not autocephaly, was its major ecclesiastical achievement. It also brought to America the fruits of a remarkable synthesis of Christian thought that happened in France following World War I. The fact that this burst of creativity happened outside of traditionally Orthodox countries is very important, and has not been sufficiently celebrated. Fr Alexander Schmemann, Fr George Florovsky, Fr Sergius Bulgakov, and Fr John Meyendorff (among others) were all part of a historical convergence that involved Orthodox, Catholic, and Protestant scholars in a profound re-examination of patristic sources.

There was a lot of cross-fertilisation here: Catholics moved beyond scholasticism into a renewed appreciation of the Fathers. Orthodox understood that modernity was not something to be feared, and came to understand that a serious contemporary approach to Orthodoxy could engage modernity as the Fathers dealt with their own philosophical climate. The best of this thinking informed the sort of teaching many of us encountered under fathers Schmemann and Meyendorff at St Vladimir’s, and it has met similarly interesting streams of theology, for example, the appreciation of contemporary philosophical thought in the work of Zizioulas and Staniloae. There is a vitality here that we should cherish.

There are some Orthodox who fear and hate all of this, and I’m sorry for them. The OCA has been in the forefront of Orthodox renewal, and in this difficult time we should realise that we have much to celebrate. I think not only of St. Vladimir’s Seminary but also of SVS Press. No other publisher has done so much to offer the English-speaking world so many important Orthodox works.

A final thought: While this website continues to perform an absolutely necessary service, there is in some of the recent responding posts a kind of delight in outrage, the enjoyment of being in the right, over against all those terrible bishops and cowards, and this is, frankly, a kind of spiritual sickness. The people who are now at work in Syosset are not the problem. The inability of the Synod to do anything at all is. This will have to be addressed at the next All American Council, perhaps through the mechanism recommended by Paul Meyendorff, although that is unlikely to happen. In the meantime, there is still much to support and celebrate in the OCA, and an ineffective hierarchy should not distract us from our vocation, which is and always has been to try to live out what we were given in baptism.

Reflection [28 February 2008]

Fr John Garvey

http://www.ocanews.org/reflections.html

There is much here that illuminates the arrogance and hubris of the Renovationist mind, but, let us start with “there is in some of the recent responding posts a kind of delight in outrage, the enjoyment of being in the right, over against all those terrible bishops and cowards, and this is, frankly, a kind of spiritual sickness”.

I, for one, am NOT glad that we live in “interesting times”, as the old Chinese curse has it. Of course, there are such, but, most of us avoid such sorts at the best of times (which is not true of the present, I am afraid). Mr Garvey seems to take a broad brush and say, “if you oppose Syosset’s notions (which I am in complete agreement with), you are spiritually sick”. Tut, tut, Mr Garvey… I am in emphatic disagreement with you, but, that does not mean that you are sick. It means that we disagree on a matter that matters much to both of us, but, I shall not stoop to the level of slinging mud at your reputation or at your person. Only the crudest and basest peasants do so. I am certain that you are a personable fellow who pays his debts and is good to his family, yet, I notice that you sincerely believe in the nonsense that Syosset is the Great White Hope of Orthodoxy in this country. You are completely sane, you are no monster, and I am sure that you kiss babies and pet dogs (this is not ironic, I am not being sarcastic). In short, you do not have a “spiritual sickness” for disagreeing with me. Thus, your statement is beyond the pale, and should be retracted publicly with the appropriate apology. Civility begins with the realisation that an enemy is not a fiend. You should learn this, sir.

St Nicholas Russian Orthodox Cathedral on East 97th Street in New York, the subject of a law suit referenced below.

You state, “The Orthodox Church in America brought the ragged Metropolia, the result of a shattered Orthodoxy that followed the communist revolution, back into canonical, world-wide Orthodoxy. That, and not autocephaly, was its major ecclesiastical achievement”. That, sir, is factually incorrect. The only reason for the autocephaly of the OCA is that it fit the plans of Metropolitan Nikodim Rotov, the true father of the OCA. Prior to his rise to power in the Soviet-era church, the MP did not recognise the Metropolia, and in fact, won a case against it in the New York courts in regards to the ownership of St Nicholas Cathedral in New York City. The MP regarded the Metropolia as a schismatical organisation, and did not accept the infamous Cleveland sobor of 1946 as a canonical meeting.

As a dodge to preserve what he could of the Church from Soviet ravages, Metropolitan Nikodim persuaded the Holy Synod of the MP to join the WCC. The Synod did not much care for this, but, it was the era of the vicious Khrushchev persecution of religion, so, the Church was willing to grasp at any straw. The quotation below is a Western historian’s view of the mind of the Holy Synod of the MP at the time.

The whole idea of a dialogue between Churches on essentially secular matters such as disarmament, development, or Third World politics, reflected a very Western idea of what religious organisations were about; while it was an Eastern form of subtlety and deceit which made it thinkable to use this half-baked dialogue as a front behind which the mysteries of religion could be sheltered from the full force of the atheist state.

…Orthodox prelates were, by instinct, loyal to all their earthly governors, and looked for ways to make themselves useful to the state in keeping with their tradition that almost any political compromise is worthwhile in order to preserve theological integrity.

To the Western mind, this uncritical loyalty to the State sounds like an advanced form of cynicism, but Eastern Christendom profoundly believes that coexistence with earthly powers, so long as they don’t interfere in theological matters, is less spiritually damaging than actually becoming an earthly power, complete with an army, treasury, and diplomatic service, which was the path followed by Rome.

In Byzantium (sic), Orthodox philosophers had seen an image, however tarnished in practice, of a Christian emperor in which the power of the state was used to ward off heresy and defend pure doctrine, while Christian ideals suffused and sanctified the workings of the state. In its Russian manifestation, Orthodoxy took on a slightly different role: it acted as a kind of balm to heal the wounds of a nation as one Tsar after another whipped it onwards towards modernity. The Eastern Church (sic) owns up to charge laid by Marx that religion is the “opium of the people”, but, with the defiant rider that this “opium” is vastly more precious than anything any earthly project can offer: it is not an escape from reality but entry into a higher form of reality. The Western Churches, by contrast, have gone a long way towards accepting the Marxist critique of “otherworldly” religion: the view which insists that the overwhelming, if not the sole, purpose of all human enterprise is the improvement of life in this world, as opposed to preparation for the afterlife.

As the price of survival under the Soviet régime, the Russian Orthodox Church (sic) had been prepared to parrot modernist platitudes about peace, disarmament, and the Third World at meetings of the World Council of Churches, but, in its heart of hearts, when it was being true to its own traditions, Eastern Christendom (sic) looked down on both socialism and liberal democracy as worldly projects which are bound by the shortcomings of all worldly projects.

Far more than the West, the Eastern Church (sic) was conscious of the limits of human reason, and it regarded the claim of the Renaissance that “man is the measure of all things” as a step backwards, not forward, in the history of ideas. It would never idealise the “people’s will” as expressed through the ballot-box as an infallible source of wisdom; the people’s will was as likely to be misguided, or led astray by some scurrilous orator, as it was to be inspired. All this helps to explain the paradox that the Russian Patriarchate had in some ways coexisted more comfortably with the atheist régime than it did with the caricature of bourgeois democracy that took hold in post-Soviet Russia.

Source:

CLARK, Bruce. An Empire’s New Clothes: The End Of Russia’s Liberal Dream (London: Vintage, 1995) (ISBN: 0-09-958891-9) p. 91, 93-94

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Bishop Nikodim Rotov (1929-78), the REAL father of the OCA

There one has it. The Church was willing to do just about anything to preserve its theological integrity. It was willing to overcome its previous firm opposition to all ecumenical contacts on the grounds that if Westerners knew of the situation in the USSR, it would mitigate the government’s persecution. Nikodim Rotov was correct in this surmise, by and large.

The so-called OCA was part of this effort. The MP reached out to the Metropolia, seeing in it an ally against communist persecution. Unfortunately, things did not turn out as Mr Rotov intended. In the case of the WCC, the delegations were completely under the control of the MP Holy Synod, and although they agreed to toe the Soviet line in political matters, they did not compromise the faith. In the case of the OCA, it existed outside the borders of the USSR, which meant that the communists could impede movement of faithful clerics to the West. They did so.

Political hacks were sent abroad, and the damage done by such clerics was greater than that caused in the rodina, where the MP Holy Synod had more control. The KRA (the KGB office in charge of religious affairs) was expert in such things as dezinformatsiya and kompromat. Morally dubious clergymen were sent abroad to serve two purposes. One purpose was to serve the ends of atheistic propaganda. “See how those priests act, they are all scoundrels!” Another aim was to discredit the ROCOR at all costs, for the Synod Abroad was a staunch foe of communism.

If this information is taken into account, the actions of the OCA in the 1980s come into clearer focus. There are figures in the OCA today that made ridiculous statements at that time. I remember Fr Vladimir Berzonsky attacking the canonisation of the New Martyrs vigorously. I heard the ROCOR attacked from the ambo and called “uncanonical”. The OCA denied that during 1934 to 1946 it was a constituent part of the ROCOR, despite the existence of much documentation proving otherwise. Who dares to say that the allegations in regards to Feodosy Lazor weren’t a classic case of KRA kompromat?

The most important theme in the ‘80s was the bitter “jurisdictional war” between the OCA and the ROCOR. Unrepresentative minorities seized power in both bodies, that is, SVS and the group around Schmemann in the OCA and Count Grabbe and his Greek Old Calendarist hangers-on in the ROCOR. As a wise old baba said at the time, “The priests are having a fight, and the people are suffering”. This bitterness did not enter into OCA-ROCOR relations until Moscow granted “autocephaly” to the Metropolia. Schmemann and his cronies gladly did the bidding of the KRA, for, you see, if they did not, their “autocephaly” would have been lifted. To be fair, some of the antics of Holy Transfiguration Monastery in Brookline did not help matters (in fact, they played into the hands of both the KRA and the SVS fanatics).

Nevertheless, a pattern emerged. “Autocephaly” was the greatest good, and it was to be defended at all costs, even if the means used were morally questionable. This attitude can be seen in the current church crisis. It has now reached a point where any given spark can destabilise and destroy the entire structure. Unfortunately, this is in conjunction with a paralysis infecting the entire OCA. The Holy Synod refuses to act, the people are starting to vote with their feet, and no one wishes to say the obvious:

THE PATIENT IS DEAD.

I shall give an example from parish life. It is humble, but, I believe it is telling. Before the crisis hit in October 2005, people were glad to help in all the projects of the parish, both small and great. When the crisis came, the priest (a Syosset apparatchik, by the way) forbade all talk of it. It was something that everyone “understood”. One of the ways in which people showed their dispiritedness was that the “coffee hour” became leaner and leaner. One could see that honest discussion was being stifled by the priest, and THAT is what Mr Garvey desires. He wishes us to be silent and “trust Syosset”. In his words, The people who are now at work in Syosset are not the problem.

Mr Garvey, I would say that is precisely the problem. Syosset and SVS are both “useless eaters” and the sooner both institutions are abolished, the better off Orthodoxy shall be in this country. There is no money to support such fripperies, and historical evidence supports my assertion.

In 1970, there were 440 parishes in the OCA, and there were perhaps some 150,000 faithful. Today, there are 660 parishes with an estimated faithful of 115,000 per the estimates of Professor Aleksei Krindatch of Moscow. I cannot give hard-and-fast figures for church membership, as dubious figures such as Fr Jonathan Ivanoff have never released the true numbers, even though they knew them full well. Parenthetically, Mr Ivanoff is attempting to paint himself as one who “always knew the numbers were lies”. If that is so, Mr Ivanoff, why have you been so laggard in your speaking out? It smells like CYA to me.

Unfortunately, Mr Ivanoff is a typical lounge-suited and dog-collared Syosset functionary, and illustrates why the whole infested pack must go. They have not told the faithful the straight truth in the past, they are not doing so at present, and so, why should anyone have faith that they shall do so in future? Are we to believe you, Mr Garvey, because you say so?

To return to the figures, one sees that there is a 50 percent increase in parishes, and there has been no commensurate rise in membership (indeed, there has been a decline). Therefore, a body that was able to properly pay its clergy in the past is no longer able to do so. This means that standards for clergy have fallen, and it has led to many ill-prepared converts being ordained before they were ready to fill the gap (this situation is even worse in AOCANA, where the clergy has become Protestantised in large measure). Add to this the Syosset structure which only arose after “autocephaly”, one can see that the OCA shall remain in a permanent financial crisis unless unnecessary institutions and staff are eliminated permanently.

This means that if the OCA wishes to remain a discrete organisation, it must abolish SVS and the Syosset central administration, and concentrate all central functions and the seminary at St Tikhon’s in Pennsylvania. Note well that Mr Garvey is from Long Island close to Syosset, and if the administration were to move to a more affordable location, he would no longer have easy access to it. Hmm… I think that a cynic would say that Mr Garvey would have a sudden “call from God” to serve in eastern Pennsylvania if such a move occurred…

I shall be frank. The Syosset/SVS fanatics shall not do such, even though it would give their shaky “autocephaly” a ten-year breathing space. You see, some of them would lose a pay packet, and others would be upset to move out of the NYC metro area. By the way, shed no tears for Paul Meyendorff or Bradley Nassif or “KAren Jermyn” (an obvious “username”)… the liberal Protestants shall see to it that their ideological confrères receive jobs in liberal seminaries. As for the Syosset functionaries… there are parishes that need priests… you are priests, are you not?

However, there is an overriding reason why Syosset/SVS shall refuse to do what is necessary for their own survival. In Mr Garvey’s own words, their case is presented below.

Fr Alexander Schmemann (1921-83) in 1963, one of the greatest heretics of the 20th century. “The tree is known by the fruits thereof”… hmm… an award to the pederast-enabler Rowan Williams and an invite to the Uniate Bob Taft to sneer at the Mountain… it looks like SCURVY fruit to me! He is the author of the current Church mess… God save us from his acolytes!

It also brought to America the fruits of a remarkable synthesis of Christian thought that happened in France following World War I. The fact that this burst of creativity happened outside of traditionally Orthodox countries is very important, and has not been sufficiently celebrated. Fr Alexander Schmemann, Fr George Florovsky, Fr Sergius Bulgakov, and Fr John Meyendorff (among others) were all part of a historical convergence that involved Orthodox, Catholic, and Protestant scholars in a profound re-examination of patristic sources.

There was a lot of cross-fertilisation here: Catholics moved beyond scholasticism into a renewed appreciation of the Fathers. Orthodox understood that modernity was not something to be feared, and came to understand that a serious contemporary approach to Orthodoxy could engage modernity as the Fathers dealt with their own philosophical climate. The best of this thinking informed the sort of teaching many of us encountered under fathers Schmemann and Meyendorff at St Vladimir’s, and it has met similarly interesting streams of theology, for example, the appreciation of contemporary philosophical thought in the work of Zizioulas and Staniloae. There is a vitality here that we should cherish.

Note well that Mr Garvey notes out for praise four theologians who worked at two unrepresentative institutions (SVS in Crestwood and St Sergius in Paris). He also shows his allegiance to syncretistic and indifferentist ecumenism in his statements. Sergei Bulgakov is considered a heretic in all mainstream Orthodox circles, and his Sophiology is condemned by all responsible Orthodox circles. Schmemann is a figure that has been rejected in the contemporary Russian Orthodox milieu to the point where bishops have held bonfires where his books have been (rightfully) tossed into the flames. In short, Mr Garvey is pleading for Obnovlenstvo (Renovationism), a heresy taught by Schmemann at SVS.

This is why the SVS/Syosset lot shall never do what is needful to preserve the OCA. The idea is more important than the reality for them, and if reality does not correspond to the idea, then, reality must be ignored. This idea welds the cynical apparatchiki of Syosset and the dodgy intellectuals of SVS together in an embrace tighter than that of Br’er Bear with the Tarbaby (where is Uncle Remus when we need him?). If the present structure were to go, both groups would lose jobs, influence, and, most of all, their places in a positively Ruritanian organisation. They would become… ordinary Orthodox Christians! Gasp! Horrors! Oh, the humanity! (Yes, the quote from the crash of the Hindenburg was chosen with malice aforethought…)

Mr Garvey doesn’t tell you that he believes that to “engage modernity” means that we must abandon our God-given Orthodox traditions and replace them with Protestant notions and practises. No thank you, please, Mr Garvey, it’s not for me! I stand for what our Russian ancestors brought to these shores. If do you not care for that, I suggest that you join the Anglicans… you won’t have to wear a riassa or deal with smelly unpleasant “ethnic” peasants there.

Truly, sir, you would be MUCH happier… that is, if your words reflect your actual beliefs. If not, there is plenty of room for you (and any other good soul!) on the good ship SS Pravoslavnaya Rus’, and we shall welcome anyone who wishes to join the crew! Bear in mind that our customs and traditions are not up for argument, accept them or reject them, it is that simple.

We shall love you whatever decision you make. Only, sir, make a REAL decision… is that so much to ask?

Barbara-Marie Drezhlo

Saturday 1 March 2008

Albany NY

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