Voices from Russia

Friday, 2 October 2009

“Boom go the Canons”, or, “They’re the Canons, Child… Not Canon Law”

Filed under: Christian,moral issues,Orthodox faith,Orthodox life,religious,USA — 01varvara @ 00.00

artillery fire

The following is not an official statement of the Church. It is only my own judgement… although I did pass it past several clergy to detect errors in fact or doctrine. Do NOT quote me unless you, in your turn, have it vetted by a reliable person who was trained in a recognised Orthodox institution (as I did). Otherwise, we are as bad as the Amerikantsy konvertsy I decry.


Konvertsy tend to use three things in defence of their specious bloviating. That is, we usually find quotations from the Fathers in heterodox translation, Scripture citations torn out of context, and the canons referred to in unofficial English translations. We shall confine ourselves to the last.

Firstly, there is NO official English translation of the canons. NONE. Let us reiterate that. There is no official translation into English of the accepted ecumenical or local canons of the Orthodox Church explicitly or implicitly approved by any Orthodox bishop in any recognised Orthodox diocese anywhere in the world. A priest-friend of mine in Russia made it clear that there are acceptable and approved translations of the canons into Modern Russian, but, in all cases of disagreement between the Russian and the original Greek, the Greek is normative and is considered the standard for the case cited. Therefore, we can come to our first conclusion. “Only those with a thorough training in Ecclesiastical Greek under Orthodox auspices can comment intelligently, authoritatively, and with official sanction on the canons”.

Note well that I stay away from that particular minefield! How many of the loudmouthed Amerikantsy konvertsy meet that standard? After all, they are continually quoting the canons on this or that situation. This is waggishly known by all grounded Orthodox as, “Boom go the canons” (I wish that I had thought that one up! I didn’t… whoever thought that one up was a genius! God bless you!). Need I tell you the answer? Hey… that’s not fair! You’re supposed to wait for me to tell you!


Zounds! Does this mean that they must, in all good conscience, stay away from using the canons? Hmm… let’s wait on coming to a definite conclusion until we see some more evidence (although I agree that this argument does tend to seal the conclusion that this lot is mud-ignorant).

Secondly, the canons are not canon law. The canons are not the dogmas of the Church. They often explain, clarify, defend, regulate, and order these dogmas, but, they are not the dogmas themselves, which are binding. As a rule (I could not resist the pun… sorry!), canons only came into being when a dogma of the Church was under attack or questioned. That is to say, they are “snapshots” of the Church’s reaction to particular challenges to its dogma at given times in specific cases. One always hears konvertsy bloviating about how Canon X or Y or Z lays down a particular penalty or that it forbids a particular action that the konvert objects to. All konvertsy forget a very real canonical concept, that of oikonomia. That is to say, a bishop may dispense with the given penalty or prohibition. Many canons explicitly state, “Or as the bishop may direct”, or, words to that effect. In other words, the living judgement of the bishop takes precedence over the sterile word on the printed page.

Let’s look at a real-world example. One of the cases that the konvertsy have beaten to death is the one surrounding Fr Joseph Allen, who was a priest under the authority of Metropolitan Philip Saliba. Fr Joseph’s wife died. In the usual run of events, the priest involved does not remarry… it is a matter of longstanding Orthodox custom (I do not believe that this is stated explicitly as an ecumenical canon… I stand under correction in this). Like it or no, it is not a dogma of the Church; it is a long-standing and long-established point of clerical discipline. If canons can be dispensed by a bishop “for the salvation of a particular individual” (as it was put to me by a respected and worthy priest of my acquaintance), then, custom can be dispensed as well. The remarriage of a priest touches on no basic dogma of the Church. It is not a question regarding the Personhood of Christ, the Holy Eucharist, the canon of Holy Scripture, or the Nature of the Godhead. It is a far more humble affair. In any case, I do not believe that this was the first instance of such a clerical remarriage… no doubt, there is a precedent that can be cited.

Metropolitan Philip allowed the remarriage of Fr Joseph. Well, you should have heard the chorus of denunciation. “How dare he do so! The canons forbid such a thing! This is beyond the pale! All sorts of evil creep into the Church under the guise of oikonomia!” Of course, there was more, but, you get the general drift of it, I am sure. Those affiliated with SVS (especially the konvertsy element) were particularly loud and strident in their criticism.

Metropolitan Philip was completely within his rights in allowing the remarriage of Fr Joseph. Whether you like it or not, a bishop can dispense from a given rule. The canons are not a strait-jacket that confines our bishops. They are a guide that shows them what their predecessors did in the past. Orthodoxy is incarnational; it is based on the Word made Flesh. It is why Mother Vassa Larin can say that the use of oikonomia in the interpretation of the canons is “Divine House-building”.

One gets the impression that the konvertsy think that they are commenting on a definite code of law. Yet, Orthodoxy is not like that at all. Orthodoxy is the raucous and colourful agora… it is a lovely adhocracy. We have canons, not canon law, and the distinction is not fine. Papism is a sterile law court populated by pettifogging lawyers and armed bailiffs (there is a “Code of Oriental Canon Law”, believe it or not!); Protestantism is a cold university lecture hall thronging with absent-minded professors and bored students; whilst Pentecostalism is a backstreet gin-mill full of drunken and posturing revellers. Only Orthodoxy is the Abode of the Living God. It is a terrible thing to fall into the hands of the Living God… have they forgotten that?

Reflect on this… those who attack the use by the bishops of oikonomia accept (through their silence) the state of affairs that led to the suicide of Eric Iliff, the airing of confidences spoken in confession and counselling by Raymond Velencia, and the destruction of financial records in the OCA with no repercussions or consequence to those responsible.

THAT is what I find reprehensible. I believe that I have a good deal of company in this…

img_0001Barbara-Marie Drezhlo

Friday 2 October 2009

Albany NY

Editor’s Postscript:

A priest-friend of  pointed up an actual canonical citation concerning clerical remarriage. Good-oh! I did say that I stood under correction, didn’t I?  Yet, this does NOT invalidate my thesis, that is, the bishop, through the use of oikonomia, can mitigate or lay aside the “letter of the law” in all but dogmatic cases (a bishop can authorise an ecclesiastical divorce or forego a disciplinary penalty, but, he cannot “marry” two homosexuals nor can he use grape juice for Holy Communion). I had to counter the arid rigourism that one sees in all too many konvertsy discourses (doesn’t it set your teeth on edge to see Orthodoxy so distorted and mangled?).

Nevertheless, I am grateful for the correction in fact. Fr A made his point… clearly conceded, sir… but, my thesis still stands on all fours! Shall I order a round for all concerned?


Ave, Caesar! Morituri Te Salutant!

Filed under: Christian,moral issues,Orthodox life,religious,USA — 01varvara @ 00.00

Pollice Verso (Thumbs Down!) (Jean-Léon Gérôme, 1872)

To those unfamiliar with Latin, the above title was supposedly the salutation of the gladiators in the arena to the emperor seated in the imperial box. It means, “Hail, Caesar! We, who are about to die, salute you!” Although it is thought a tad melodramatic (some think it overblown, in fact) in some quarters, it has come to be used as a declaration of the beginning of any risky and uncertain enterprise.

The recent official statement of the OCA, “an audit was not possible, as there are no diocesan financial records for those years. They simply do not exist”, was breathtaking in its crudeness, obliviousness to the truth, and impudence. What AUDACITY! What CHEEKISHNESS! This demands a response, no matter what the consequence may be for me, personally. Indeed, we all have to take such an attitude, or, this shall merely be the first of many whoppers issuing forth from the lair of the SVS/Syosset gang.

I, for one, realise that if this is allowed to pass, not only shall lies be issued concerning such secular matters as finance and administration; it opens the door wide for heresy and heterodoxy. Or… does the heterodoxy exist already, and the lies concerning mundane affairs only followed in their train? This is fascinating, and a look at Aleksandr Dmitrievich Schmemann and his teaching may prove instructive.

ADS had an overblown affection for Renovationism, the so-called Living Church heresy. He was wise enough to confine his enthusiasm to oral teaching only. There is only one written reference to this, in a book by (that is, I think I know the author, I stand under correction in this) Dmitri Pospielovsky. I remember reading it back on the 80s; I seem to recall it was a two-volume work. The work itself was uninteresting; it was the usual tired and dreary OCA screed of the time on the history of the Russian church in the US. There was a piece in it on the Living Church, and how its leader (one Aleksandr Vvedensky) was such a great sermoniser, and how it addressed “problems” in the Church.

This leads to an obvious question. Did ADS promote Living Church ideas in the OCA? The reception of New Skete in Cambridge NY gives us a clue. New Skete was allowed to keep a non-standard translation of the liturgy and a non-standard method of celebrating the liturgy. As this occurred in 1978, it was prior to ADS’s illness, so, one can say that such action met with his approval. If one remembers when the chapel at SVS was first built in the early 80s, it lacked an iconostas. It was not because of lack of funds or any other such practical reason, it was because ADS was opposed to the use of an iconostas, on general principle (one of his disciples, one Paul Harrilchak, issued a nasty little book on the liturgy in the 80s, with supposed “ancient” sources on this… quoting New Skete ad nauseum, I must say). Later, SVS erected a “peek-a-boo” iconostas after receiving tons of complaints from the ordinary faithful (“Hey! What are we? A bunch of Catholics?”).

Look at the chapel in SVS, or, the catholicon at New Skete, or most new parishes in the OCA… then, look at any Russian parish church, monastery, or seminary chapel. There is a difference, isn’t there? In 1950… there was NO difference! The change was due to the teaching of one heretical individual. One person CAN make a difference… that is why Tolstoy, with his focus on larger-than-life impersonal movements, is wrong and Dostoyevsky, with his emphasis on the influence of the individual and their choices, is correct. If ADS had stayed in France, if he had not come to the USA in 1951 to escape his past (he was not sent for because of his “academic reputation”, for he had none at the time), things would be quite different today. For one, we would have had a united Russian Orthodox Church in the USA and Canada by now!

Why did we not get that? It is a good thing, surely… why, God wishes the best for us, doesn’t He? Yes… God does wish the best for us. However (as Chukcha would say)… God allows us to make our own choices. WE ARE NOT AUTOMATA. We are autonomous moral actors according to Orthodox theology. Ergo, if we wish to go off on a tangent… God does not prevent us. He loves us so much that He gives us total freedom. Yes… even the freedom to go off and do wrong. I’ll say this much… we are much wiser, now, after experiencing the lunacy that has been known as the OCA. After living through this, we know what the Scripture means when it advises us to build upon the solid rock, not upon the shifting sand. The full import of if the Lord builds not the house, the workmen labour in vain lies before us because we took such a wrong turn.

Of course, this means that we must return to the path that our fathers and grandfathers trod… but, there are those who shall not give up so easily. There is a coalition of deluded pseudo-intellectuals, crass opportunists, and immature brats who have seized the wheel. They shall not give up without a fight. They are willing to go to any length to defend this monstrosity. Ergo… we are in the arena. It seems hopeless, for they have seized the centres of power. To this point, all those who have opposed them have either been beaten down or driven out. Truly, it is a time to “draw a line in the sand”.

“This far… and no more!”

To use a humble example, Popeye said, “It’s all I can stands, and I can’t stands no more!” Indeed…

It does seem such an uncertain enterprise… however, shall you stand with me? Our children’s future depends on it.

img_0001Barbara-Marie Drezhlo

Friday 2 October 2009

Albany NY

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