Voices from Russia

Thursday, 10 December 2009


I fear that certain quarters of Orthodoxy in this country have been taken over, hijacked by Johnny-come-lately hacks, who are trying to fill a spiritual void in themselves and in their lives that is the result of 200+ years of destroying other people’s lives and beliefs. I feel that they are reaping what they have sown, their arrogance, and sense of entitlement aside… it’s a mask for how insecure they really are. Their words are empty and meaningless; don’t let them get you down…

“Chick Sales”

Please read this first… keep in mind that it is pure spin. http://www.oca.org/news/2027

Read it? I checked with friends in Moscow, and they tell me that this is not the whole story. First, reflect on the fact that JP was incommunicado for five days. There was more than just a festal liturgy and “vestment buying”. The next Holy Synod session concerns the diaspora. It needs information… so, the “fifteenth anniversary” was a fig-leaf, nothing more. There was nothing regarding this visit in the Russian secular press that I could see and I can assure you that even minor figures get a press release on RIA-Novosti or Interfax, at least. I also have my e-mail set to give me alerts on “Russian Orthodox Church” or “Patriarch Kirill”. There has been NOTHING about this trip in the secular press. THAT raises alarm bells (JP’s last trip to Moscow did get a few minor mentions, by the way). I know that what I have said already is controversial. It is nothing compared to what I am about to say.

That is, if Herman Swaiko had done the same thing, that is, go incommunicado for five days, and give no indication of his whereabouts on oca.org, there would have been an uproar and voices screaming in protest. Mark Stokoe and his whole crew would have bleated “transparency”, they would have demanded an accounting. However, when their hero JP is even more secretive than Herman ever was, they not only applaud him… they expect the rest of us to do likewise. In short, if Herman Swaiko was secretive about finances, that was culpable. When JP is secretive about finances and refuses to live within his budget, that is praiseworthy. I find this repulsive in the extreme.

When JP lies outright, he is praised. When Herman lied to protect his cronies, he was vilified. I do not know what I am going to do personally. It is going to require some prayer, thought, and reflection. However, I do know this. The OCA central apparat is evil beyond repair. Indeed, even to spend time on it appears to be a lost cause. Why? The lies of JP are so brazen that they are easily refuted… but, the Mark Stokoes of this world give him a pass. I realise now that they are impervious.

I shall now say something that shall truly get me disliked in konvertsy circles. We did WRONG in the way that we replaced Herman Swaiko. He was arrogant, he was a hayseed, but, he was Orthodox, as Matushka Nina Stroyen pointed up. If what he did was wrong, we should have appealed it to the Mother Church in Moscow and accepted whatever decision that came down. Instead, we revolted (there is no other term for it) and JP is our punishment for having done so.

Since the beginning of this year, two major salaried positions in Syosset (each with a salary of $134G per year) have been axed. The periodical of the OCA is no longer going to be issued in print format (what about the folks who don’t have internet access… don’t they count?) due to lack of funds. Matushka Nina tells me that JP is putting the screws to St Tikhon’s… it’s so bad that Michael Dahulich is staying there, not moving to NY (that makes his promotion to bishop rather empty, doesn’t it?). The 9/11 funds have not been totally disbursed and some items in the budget are overspent, and that’s not mentioning the legal bills incurred in the defence of Raymond Velencia. When you add in the present economic malaise that’s hit all non-profits, this is a situation bleaker than last year.

As a priest friend of mine put it so well… “If Jonas wants to cut his throat, Moscow will let him do it”. Don’t be fooled by the present commotion in Moscow… HA arranged this so that so his friend would have a “face-saving” gesture. If you wish to see how badly-run the OCA has become, go to “monasteries” under “Diocese of NY and Washington” and look at “Holy Cross Monastery”. A partial listing is still given for this establishment… although it left for HOCNA some time ago. Who wants to bet that it’ll be removed within 48 hours at the most? I seem to recall that one of JP’s HOOMie buddies got upset when I mentioned that Herman’s name was still up on the St Tikhon’s signage. Friends in PA tell me that it “disappeared” soon afterwards. So… get on the net now, go to oca.org, look for Holy Cross Monastery, Niagara Falls NY… it’s still there as of 2200 10 December 2009. I’ve saved a copy of the page. Just watch… JP will have it go down the “memory hole”.

There’s more to come… but, I have to decide whether being involved in this is worth it. You can’t talk to the incorrigible and the latest spin makes it clear that JP and Co are in it until the end.

J’accuse! That’s all one can say for the Mark Stokoes of this world. You wanted Herman gone at any cost. That IS what you got. Oh, yes… and Bobby K is STILL on the OCA payroll. I’d rather confab with Herman than with any of his detractors. Poor fellow… he went down for the sins of others because he was loyal to his friends.

One year on… I don’t even want to know what the next year is going to bring. I close in sadness…



How Many Divisions does the Pope of Rome Have?

President Dmitri Medvedev (1965- ) (left) with Benedict Ratzinger (1927- ), the Pope of Rome (right). It’s obvious that the two are “mugging” for the camera, there’s no real friendship or trust between these men. In any case, this has nothing to do with religion, it concerns state relations, only. That is, AsiaNews and Zenit are wrong, yet again. Sorry, Charlie…


If President Medvedev’s visit to Italy was, in fact, rather routine, albeit very fruitful, then, his visit to the Vatican and his meeting with, according to Catholics, the 265th Representative of God on Earth, Benedict XVI, opened a new page in our relations with the Holy See. In May 1935, French Foreign Minister Pierre Laval allegedly asked Stalin to improve the situation of Catholics in the USSR so as not to provoke a quarrel with the Pope. At that, Stalin, with his brutal sense of humour, asked, “The Pope? How many divisions does he have?” According to another version, he addressed this remark to Churchill. Here’s how Stalin’s interpreter, Valentin Berezhkov, described this scene in his memoirs:

In 1944, at a time when the Soviet Union bore the brunt of the struggle against Nazi Germany, it was important to convince Stalin that the Western democracies accepted him as an equal. “‘In the world of the future, for which our soldiers have shed their blood on countless fronts”, the British Prime Minister said in his bombastic style, “our three great democracies will demonstrate to all mankind that they, both in wartime and in peacetime, will remain true to the high principles of freedom, dignity, and happiness of the people. That’s why I attach such paramount importance to good neighbourly relations between a restored Poland and the Soviet Union. It was for the freedom and independence of Poland that Britain went into this war. The British feel a sense of moral responsibility to the Polish people, to their spiritual values. It’s also important that Poland is a Catholic country. We can’t allow internal developments there to complicate our relations with the Vatican…”

“How many divisions does the Pope of Rome have?” Stalin asked, suddenly interrupting Churchill’s line of reasoning.

Churchill stopped short. He hadn’t expected such a question. After all, he was speaking about the moral influence of the Pope, not only in Poland, but, also, throughout the world. Once again, Stalin reaffirmed that he only respected force, and brought Churchill back down to earth from the nebulous heavens.

Stalin liked to repeat his jokes. However, it’s doubtful whether he dared to send a reply to the severe statement of Pius XII, “You can tell my son Joseph that he will meet my divisions in heaven”. In spite of this, Stalin, and, especially, the Pope knew that the Vatican was influential throughout the world. It’s no wonder that the popes began their messages with the salutation, “Urbi et Orbi”, “to the city and to the world”. Even if we assume that we are talking only about the Catholic world (although, of course, the Holy See’s ambitions aren’t limited to such), it’s the largest of the Christian churches, with over a billion people. On the other hand, according to various estimates, Orthodox number some 250-300 million. If Grand Prince Vladimir in 986, during the famous “test of faith” didn’t reject the western form of Christianity because of the papal claims to temporal power and the need to worship in an incomprehensible Latin, Catholics might be more numerous today. At the same time, if you believe the chronicles, Vladimir the Red Sun said in rebuking Muslims extolling the benefits of the Islamic faith, “Drink is the joy of the Rus, one that we can’t be without”.

Grand Prince Vladimir the Baptiser opted for the Greek faith of Constantinople, but, he found that contacts with Rome were useful and important. The patron of Russia was the fourth half-mythical Pope of Rome, Clement, who died a martyr in the Crimea. St Kirill discovered his relics in Kherson; they were the primary Christian shrine of the state. The relations of Russia and Rome were unusually active during the extraordinary 40s and 50s of the 13th century because of the Tartar invasion. The initiator of an alliance in the face of a common threat under the auspices of the Holy See was Prince Daniil of Galicia. He received a royal title from Pope Innocent IV and received a crown sent from Rome. Grand Prince Aleksandr Nevsky had diplomatic relations with the papal curia through Daniil; he wanted Daniil to get the Pope to ban the territorial expansion of the Crusaders in the north-western lands.

In 1438-39, first in Ferrara, and, then, in Florence, was an Ecumenical Council (sic), which culminated in an agreement signed by Pope Eugene IV and the eastern hierarchs on Church Union. An impressive delegation of the Russian Orthodox Church attended the council. Returning from Italy, Isidore, his clergy, and the laymen who attended the council, announced that the Latin and Greek churches reunited. However, in Moscow, he met with a frigid reception. On the third day after his arrival, Grand Prince Vasili II had him arrested, accused of heresy, and banished to a monastery, where, later, he fled to Lithuania.

In 1472, in St Peter’s in Rome, the wedding of the Greek Princess Sophia Paleologos with Prince Ivan III of Moscow took place in the Latin rite. Ivan was absent and an emissary stood in for him at the ceremony (this practise isn’t in the Orthodox canons). When the entourage of Grand Duchess Sophia approached Moscow, Metropolitan Filipp I said that he would leave the city if the papal legate accompanying Sophia appeared in the procession with a Latin cross. In 1523, Elder Filofei of the Pskov Monastery wrote a letter to Vasili III, which introduced the concept of the Third Rome, Moscow being such after the conquest of Constantinople by crusaders. The Orthodox Anti-Catholic Catechism (1916) outlined the main differences between the two churches. “Catholics teach that the pope is the head of the whole Church and the Vicar of God on earth, that the Pope can’t err on matters of faith, and, therefore, they call him infallible. They believe that the Holy Spirit proceeds not only from the Father, but, from the Son as well, and they acknowledge the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin”.

Russia established diplomatic relations with the Vatican in 1816. After the Polish rebellion of 1863, they were in abeyance for nearly 30 years. They were broken off again at the time of the October Revolution. Restoration of diplomatic relations was the result of a personal agreement of Pope John Paul II and Mikhail Gorbachyov on 1 December 1989. However, it was at the level of a mission, and not a full embassy. The current visit of President Dmitri Medvedev opened a qualitatively new chapter in a long history of contacts between the world’s largest country with the smallest in territory, but, perhaps, one of the most influential, states on Earth.

This event, of course, increased interest in the possibility of a meeting between the heads of the two Churches. “However, this meeting must be prepared with care so that we can remove existing frictions”, according to a statement made by the “foreign minister” of the MP, the head of the Department for External Church Relations, Archbishop Ilarion Alfeyev of Volokolamsk. “There are problems that we need to resolve in a completely different way using other means. We won’t resolve them simply by establishing diplomatic relations. First and foremost, is the problem of the Western Ukraine, where there’s enmity in the relations between Orthodox and Greek Catholics (sic). We expect the Vatican, through the Roman Catholic Church, to take specific actions that would indicate that they have a desire to work together with us and to heal the wounds that they dealt to us during the difficult period of the early nineties, when Uniates seized more than 500 Orthodox churches [in the Ukraine] and they threw the Orthodox congregations out into the street. Furthermore, we’re tendering specific answers to resolve the problems that exist”, said Archbishop Ilarion in expressing the official viewpoint of the MP.

If a canonical resolution of the disputes in the Ukraine has proven elusive so far, in Russia itself, the Vatican suspended its “expansion”. Recall that in the late 90s to early 2000s, the Catholics established dioceses in Russia without prior coordination with the MP. In such circumstances, the Russian government “was wise in refraining from diplomatic relations with the Vatican”, said Hieromonk Filipp Ryabykh, the deputy head of the MP DECR. The situation, “which was characterised by the presence of Catholic proselytism at a time of crisis, now, Catholic institutions in Russia are open to interaction with the MP, the church of the majority”, stated Fr Filipp. He encouraged us not to forget the fact that the positions of the two churches on humanitarian questions, whether social problems or a “common understanding of the concept of education in the modern world”, often coincide. We shouldn’t forget that the current heads of the Catholic and Orthodox churches, unlike their predecessors, have already met, as “simple” Cardinal and Metropolitan.

10 December 2009

Aleksandr Bangersky

Россия (Rossiya: Russia)

As quoted in Interfax-Religion


Orthodox Youth Plan “Day of Kindness” in Moscow

On 27 December, in Moscow, Orthodox youth organisations will hold a Day of Kindness. “Our purpose in holding this event is to support volunteer initiatives and involve young people in Moscow in acts of mercy”, Yuri Belanovsky, deputy head of the Patriarchal Centre for the Spiritual Development of Children and Youth at the Danilovsky Monastery, told Interfax-Religion. According to Mr Belanovsky, volunteers shall work with children, play with them, and teach them how to draw. Meetings with celebrities and concerts shall be on tap for adults. The programme of events includes a charity fair, a drive to collect items for the needy, the presentation of charitable projects, seminars, and training sessions on skills necessary in volunteer service. The event will take place on 27 December from 08.00 to 20.00. The square in front of the Danilovsky Monastery and the premises of the Patriarchal Centre for the Spiritual Development of Children and Youth (two-storey mansion in front of the monastery) will be the venue for all the events of the day.

10 December 2009



Letter of Archbishop Hilarion Alfeyev of Volokolamsk to the Head of the of the Council of the Evangelical Church in Germany (EKD), Margot Kässmann (10 December 2009)

Margot Kässmann (1958- ), head of the Council of the EKD


To the Chairman of the Council of the Evangelical Church in Germany (EKD), Dr Margot Kässmann,

To the Head of Ecumenism and Work Abroad of the EKD, Dr Martin Schindehütte:

Dear Frau Dr Kässmann!

Dear Herr Dr Schindehütte!

On behalf of His Holiness Kirill, Patriarch of Moscow and all the Russias, I thank you for your letter dated 13 November 2009. His Holiness deplores the cancellation of the celebration of 50 years of theological dialogue between the Russian Orthodox Church and the EKD. The EKD took the decision to cancel the celebrations unilaterally, without any consultation with our side. One reason for this decision was, as you say, my comments about the recent election of the President of the Council of the EKD. Indeed, I expressed my disappointment with this election. At the same time, one can hardly call my comments on the subject “inappropriate” because there was nothing offensive to the EKD in them. It seems that everyone has the right to express their opinion openly on one thing or another, especially when it comes to matters of such importance.

You rightly point up that, in the past, the presence of ordained women in the EKD wasn’t an obstacle to our meetings and discussions. Our rationale was as follows. More than 30 years ago, the Holy Synod of our Church stated the following concerning the premise of female ordination. “We see no reason for objecting to any decision of this issue in denominations where ordination isn’t recognised as a sacrament, and where, consequently, in Orthodox terms, there’s no sacramental priesthood, as such” (The Message of the Holy Synod on the Fifth Assembly of the World Council of Churches and its Results (Journal of the Moscow Patriarchate. 1976, No 4 p 9)).

Despite the fact that we hadn’t previously acknowledged the existence of the priesthood in Protestant communities, and, therefore, didn’t recognise them as “churches” in this sense, we engaged in dialogue with some of them using the concept of “a church [talking] with The Church”. However, now, the situation has changed, and a woman is the head of the EKD. This raises fundamental questions about the possibility of continuing the dialogue using this specific concept. This election shows that, despite fifty years of dialogue with Orthodoxy, the other party is on a path that dramatically exacerbates the differences between our traditions. Naturally, the incident raises a fundamental question. This means that our dialogue had as its rationale a movement of the parties involved towards one another, but, what if, on the contrary, the movement of at least one of the participants in this dialogue was in the opposite direction? Moreover, we must take into account the opinion of our faithful, who believe that our meeting and dialoguing with a church headed by a woman is quite unacceptable.

In the circumstances, I decided not to go personally to Germany to celebrate the 50th anniversary of our dialogue. However, I was amenable to sending my deputy with a delegation from the MP DECR to the celebrations in Berlin. We held the Moscow part of the celebrations earlier, as planned, and we were genuinely delighted to see our old friend, Bishop Wolfgang Huber, who led the delegation from the EKD. Unfortunately, a decision of the new leadership of the EKD cancelled all the remaining festivities. They didn’t even deem it necessary to contact me beforehand. Contrary to some assertions in the Russian media, I didn’t, nor did anyone from my staff, announce a “break-off of relations with the EKD”. We appreciate our long-standing friendly relations with German Protestants, and the experience of our theological dialogue will certainly be useful in future.

I regret the fact that the anniversary of our dialogue that brought so many good fruits in the past was at the same time and the end of this dialogue in the format in which it existed for half a century. However, the main reason for this isn’t any statement made in recent days, rather, it’s due to processes that took place in the depths of Western Protestantism over several decades. We, in the [MP], are very concerned about the growing influence of worldly approaches to the development of theology and church life in Protestant communities. The liberalisation of moral standards and derogations from the rules of the organisation of apostolic church life leads us in a spirit of Christian love to witness the authentic Christian tradition to our brothers and sisters.

Today, the gulf between traditional Christian churches and the communities of Western Christians who have embarked on the liberalisation of doctrine, ecclesiastical structure, and ethical rules in favour of modern secular standards is becoming increasingly wider. This isn’t due to any fault by the Orthodox parties, who, over the years of dialogue, didn’t shun their Protestant brothers and sisters, but in contrast, remained loyal to their commitments. By deciding to elect a woman as the head of their church, the EKD made its choice. We’re ready to treat this decision as an internal matter of the EKD. However, as to the format of a dialogue between us that involves our Church, we reserve the right to decide whether it’s best to further continue this dialogue and on the ways in which our further interaction is to occur. I think it’d be appropriate to let some time pass so that we could discuss the situation calmly, for which purpose I’m willing to visit you in Germany in the spring of 2010.

With my best regards,

Archbishop Hilarion Alfeyev of Volokolamsk

Head of the Department for External Church Relations of the Moscow Patriarchate

10 December 2009




Martin Schindehütte (1949- ), HA’s opposite number in the EKD.


Editor’s Note:

HA has many contacts in Germany, one being the theologian Barbara Hallersleben (I believe that she’s an RC… I stand under correction). The stance of the MP places him in hot water, personally. By instinct, he’s on the “radical left” of the Orthodox spectrum, being somewhat inclined to accept papal claims, amongst other things. He is SVS’s darling (they just elected him to their board… how he can exercise that effectively is anyone’s guess) and he’s the toast of the pseudo-intellectual party in the Church. This places him “between Scylla and Charybdis”, if he placates his German friends, he runs the risk of offending KMG, and as the Boy Wonder has ambitions of being the next patriarch, this wouldn’t be welcome. If he pleases KMG (to further his ambition, let’s be clear), then, his German friends won’t invite him to their love feasts anymore. As he is, perhaps, the most ambitious and calculating hierarch in the Church (only KMG has fewer scruples… and that’s NOT a criticism, mind you), I’d put my money on him playing up to KMG and leaving his erstwhile friends in the lurch. “Paris is worth a mass”. There are good moments in the above, though. Look at the following.

Naturally, the incident raises a fundamental question. This means that our dialogue had as its rationale a movement of the parties involved towards one another, but, what if, on the contrary, the movement of at least one of the participants in this dialogue was in the opposite direction? Moreover, we must take into account the opinion of our faithful, who believe that our meeting and dialoguing with a church headed by a woman is quite unacceptable.

Now, that’s the ticket! If we’re going on paths that are going in opposite directions, well, how CAN we dialogue? This has relevance for JP and Hatfield in re their recent ecumania at Nashotah House. That institution is part of The Episcopal Church (TEC); it has not left that body. That means that it is in communion with the TEC, a body that Katharine Jefferts-Schori heads. If “dialoguing with a church headed by a woman is quite unacceptable”, JP and Hatfield must abrogate their pact with Nashotah House immediately and apologise, not only to the faithful of the OCA, but, to all the Local Churches, to all the First Hierarchs, and to all the faithful and clergy everywhere for having spat upon Christ and His Church. Remember the words of the Holy Synod of Bishops of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church/MP:

In order to destroy sin, one does not engage in diplomatic efforts or go to meetings. Only repentance heals sin…

That is what God calls the EKD and Nashotah House to… repentance. I’m not holding my breath, though. One can only ask God’s mercy upon such people, for they’re going to do what they will, come what may. The above two simple sentences of the UOC/MP Holy Synod DO say it all. We should all heed them.



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