Voices from Russia

Saturday, 17 May 2008

Three Victory Days

Holy Rus

Mikhail Nesterov



This year, within three weeks, we had three great celebrations of victory. There were three days marking a great victory.

Firstly, on Sunday 27 April, there was the Feast of Feasts; the Church feted the Great Victory of Easter. This year, it was special. It was the first Easter that we celebrated in unity; it was an earnest of all the Easters to come when all we Russian Orthodox shall be as one and we heal all the divisions amongst us. Some of us have wandered along roads to the right, seeking a “tradition” that never was, seeking a “purity” that is unattainable. Perhaps, some NEED to make such a quest, and I believe that Batiushka Andrew Phillips is right, we can only keep patience and persist in prayer for such sorts. I’d say to them, your place is waiting, we do wish you back home. Our family circle is incomplete without you.

Others wandered unto roads to the left. Those on the right-hand roads are only indulging in a temporary (one hopes) detour, they haven’t changed any of the ancient rites and practises (albeit, usually with a neo-Calvinist intensity not found in the Church). Some of those on the left-hand roads dared to change aspects of the Church’s practices and teaching that they found “onerous”. Thus, it’s harder for them to find the way home to unity. Unfortunately, many follow new strange gods. Many give a dead theologian a position that only belongs to Our Lord Christ. In addition, most of these sorts have a touching faith in Therapeutic Positivism that’s greater than their Faith in the Church. To top it all, these groups crawl with Western phyletism of the most virulent and corrosive sort.

Therefore, the Church can afford to be patient as regards the right-hand wanderers, but it must actively intervene to save those whose leaders took the left-hand road. For instance, one group gives more power to an elected council of laity and married clergy than it does to the bishops. Oddly enough, when there’s a crisis, you hear complaints that the Holy Synod doesn’t act. Well, if you make the bishops eunuchs, pray tell, how CAN they act? You see things such as the arbitrary barring of laity from the chalice, priests openly communicating what they hear in confession and counselling, and the Holy Synod refusing to act in pastoral cases. Can you believe that some belong to bodies that hate monasticism and the group centres about a set of neo-Renovationist pseudo-intellectuals in a third-rate seminary? Many monastic elders are found on the list of saints. I don’t think that there is ANY seminary professor listed there!


Joyous Resurrection!

Ilya Kaverznev



To fully grasp the joy of Easter, we must get both elements back. True, we’ll never win back the leaders (barring a miracle, of course), but most of the rank-and-file are good Orthodox believers who belong in the full unity of the United Russian Orthodox Church. I believe that we must actively intervene in a current situation, in concert with our brothers in Moscow. There’s a group that must be told that it must conform to the practises of ordinary Orthodoxy, or lose its standing in canonical Orthodoxy. It won’t move the leadership and the clerisy, but most of the clergy and faithful are solid, and they’d answer the call, I believe. I heard one of the apparatchiki of this group boast that “Moscow was going to force the ROCOR to name our metropolitan at services”. There’s only one response to such rubbish, which is, “Metropolitan Hilarion shall never do such, and Moscow shall never force him to”.


Pyotr Krivonogov. Victory! 1948


Pyotr Krivonogov



Friday, 9 May, was Victory Day. This marks the defeat of Nazi Germany by Russia in 1945. True, other countries were in the Anti-Hitler Coalition, but, Russia engaged 75 percent of the Wehrmacht and inflicted more casualties on the Germans than anyone else. Indeed, the Red Army bled the Wehrmacht white on the steppes of Russia. The Russian army advanced from the suburbs of Moscow, Leningrad, and Stalingrad to the very centre of Berlin. However, that isn’t why we celebrate this day with such intensity. You see, 88 percent of all Russian families lost a relative in the war. THIRTY MILLION died.

Let that sink in.


Reflect on that.

If you said one name a second, 24 hours a day, it would take some 347 days, nearly a year, to read the roll. This toll included 7 million killed on the battlefield, 2 million POWs dead in German captivity (50 percent of those captured), and 21 million civilian deaths. Some of the civilian toll was from air raids or being caught in warzones, but, the most were due to Nazi brutalities. They executed people out-of-hand, deliberately starved them, worked them to death, or sent them to Germany to slave labour under the most degrading conditions. In this total were two million Jews murdered by Nazi Einsatzkommando units simply for being Jewish… they didn’t do anything; they killed them for simply being what they were. The mind staggers… the Germans considered us Untermenschtum, “sub-humanity”. In short, Germany committed one of the grossest enormities in history in Russia.

Of course, Germany and Russia hate each other today, no? If you thought that…



Russian veterans handing out St George ribbons


Russians have a great capacity for understanding and forgiveness, quite unlike suburban Positivist Americans. Of course, one reason is that Orthodoxy permeates Russian culture and godless Positivism permeates American culture (it taints most konvertsy, in one form or another). Today, Germans and Russians are friendly, both on the official and personal levels. The dead didn’t die in vain. They did bring a more peaceful world today, a world free of the barbarities of Nazi racism. The Church should place 9 May on its calendar as a day of remembrance of all fallen Orthodox warriors. This is already done in Russia; we should do it here as well. It reminds us of what the word “horror” truly means. When I think of the sacrifice, courage, and resolve of the Russian people, it makes me proud that I spring from them. However, it means that I have a high standard to live up to. I feel sometimes that I don’t quite make it… yet, I never cease to grasp for the prize. To stop, means that one gives up… one may as well lie down in the grave and die.


Bishop Merkury Ivanov of the MP and Bishop Gavriil Chemodakov of the ROCOR in front of St Nick’s on East 97th


Today, Saturday 17 May, is the first anniversary of the signing of the Act of Canonical Communion at Christ the Saviour Cathedral in Moscow. Two weeks ago, we celebrated that unity in New York at St Nick’s on East 97th between Fifth and Mad. Can you believe that the city closed down portions of Fifth and Mad, both VERY busy thoroughfares, so that a religious procession could proceed? I was there; I saw it with my own eyes. We were so packed in the church that we jostled one another as we crossed ourselves. It was JOYFUL. However, this was only a partial unity; the reconciliation isn’t yet complete. Metropolitan Laurus Škurla and Patriarch Aleksei Ridiger put an end to eight decades of strife. No one had to abase themselves publicly in humiliation; no one brought up the wounds of the past. Rather, there was a sense of a healing of a breach that should never have been. I should state that I was always in favour of unity, even in the dark days of the Ustinovshchyna. I saw laity run out of parishes; I saw a priest attacked for simply being glad that the Reds were gone.

This is a sign of hope. If the ROCOR could overcome the malign influence of the Ustinovshchyna, a time when the ROCOR uncanonically founded parishes in Russia, people from the OCA can overcome the nasty influence of the Shmemannshchyna, a time when egotistical pseudo-intellectuals dared to substitute their own notions for the ordinary teaching of the Church. Yes, rebirth is possible, but the OCA must make the effort to rejoin the Mother Church. I, for one, believe that majority of the OCA faithful are open to such, but can’t speak openly for fear of censure (or worse) by the Syosset/SVS apparat. These are people living in an “Egyptian captivity”, and one must allow for that. However, a separate existence isn’t only harmful now, it always was. Shall the OCA overcome its American phyletism? God alone knows. I pray that such happens; for the sake of all the good people I know who deserve better than the thin gruel they receive now.


The Soul of the Russian People

Mikhail Nesterov



It is time for all of us who share the heritage of Holy Rus, both those of us born to it, and those who came to us as “strangers”, to stand as one, as God intended us to. Russians, Ukrainians, Byelorussians, Latvians, Estonians, Japanese, Chinese, English, Germans, and many others stand under the spreading branches of the good tree of Moscow. So, why shouldn’t Americans and Canadians do so as well? There’s room… plenty of it! In any case, we desire your presence. Your place at table is waiting; a place-card with your name on it marks your seat. Why wait? As the Easter Sermon of St John Chrysostom said, “feast ye bounteously”. We won’t be able to celebrate the Feast of Unity on 17 May fully until such happens. Shall you come? I, for one, would be overjoyed. Do you truly wish to disappoint Christ and His Saints? I’d hope not.



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