Voices from Russia

Friday, 9 April 2010

The Experience of the Holy Fathers is Extremely Important in Combating Sectarianism

Professor Roman Kon, Associate Professor of the Moscow Theological Academy (MDA)

A Conversation with associate professor of the MDA Roman Kon, a specialist focusing on sectarian affairs

Vyacheslav Goltsov

Roman Mikhailovich, please, tell us about your first steps toward God and faith.

Roman Kon

Actually, I can’t say that I ever was an unbeliever, thanks to my family, who were all believers.

Vyacheslav Goltsov

What was is your educational background? What influenced you to specialise in sectarian studies?

Roman Kon

I had a higher technical and theological education. After graduating from the Moscow Theological Academy (MDA), I enrolled in higher theological courses at the Department of External Church Relations of the Moscow Patriarchate. The head of the courses, Professor Aleksei Ilyich Osipov, advised me to take up the study of sectarianism, and, then, Metropolitan Kirill Gundyaev, the current patriarch, who was the head DECR at the time, gave his approval for me to specialise in this field. Therefore, my work in studying sectarianism was in obedience to the wishes of the church leadership. Consequently, I received an assignment to work in the DECR, where I continued to study sectarianism, and, in 1996, Archbishop Yevgeni Reshetnikov of Vereisk, the rector of the MDA, invited me to teach a course in sectarian studies at the seminary and at the Academy.

Vyacheslav Goltsov

When did sectarian studies begin in the Church?

Roman Kon

The study of sectarianism and the fight against it goes back to the apostolic period in the history of the Church, for, even then, we saw the first sects, the so-called Latin heresy.

Vyacheslav Goltsov

When did this discipline appear in the curricula of Russian theological schools?

Roman Kon

In 1912, the Synod established a Department of Sectarian Studies within the framework of the academic theological educational system of the Church. Before the establishment of this Department, sectarianism was studied as part of the history and refutation of the Russian raskolniki and briefly in the course of covering the history and errors of the Western confessions. The emergence of a discrete sectarian studies department was due to several factors. One of the more important motivations was an increase in the number of sects and their followers in the late 19th and early 20th century, as well as a lack of trained graduates from the seminaries who could confront sectarianism, especially on such a scale. In addition, in 1905, there were changes in the laws regulating the activities of sects in Russia. According to the Manifesto on the Freedom of Conscience, the State no longer combated sectarianism, and the Church was forced to undertake this task relying only upon its own resources.

Vyacheslav Goltsov

Does sectarian studies include both theoretical and applied components?

Roman Kon

In sectarian studies as a theological discipline, there is not really anything theoretical, unrelated to pragmatic activities. Take, for example, the very word “Sect”. Its meaning depends on what context ones finds it in, on the actual individuals involved. If the group observed appears to be actually non-religious, of a mafia type, a “scam”, one doesn’t need theological knowledge to combat such an organisation. Conversely, if the facts indicate that the group is religious in nature, we must carry out any opposition to them mainly in the theological sphere. Therefore, any division of this field into theoretical and applied components fail. In this case, the first part of the introduction to sectarian studies talks about the perspective one must take towards sects and this introduction would go on to define specific forms of work with sectarians. In addition, an introductory course involves identifying the various influences on Russian sectarianism and the correlation of these borrowings with an objective criterion of truth… the experience of the Holy Fathers in combating heresies, which directly relates to the methodology and research into the fight against sectarianism. Since sectarianism is a subject of study in secular academe, a student in a theological institution should be familiar with that approach as well. A good overview of the different approaches to the nature of sectarianism requires a good deal of time, but without this foundation, it is impossible to prepare a good specialist in the field. I would warn that the study of the specific practises of sectarians on its own is also wrong. The existence of a science such as sectarian studies implies that there is a theological approach to the various fallacies, their rebuttal, and the disclosure of the truths of Orthodoxy in relation to them.

Vyacheslav Goltsov

How do you divide the material in sectarian studies?

Roman Kon

There are two major parts. They are unequal in size, but equal in value. One is an introduction to sectarian studies and research, and the other is the refutation of the particular misconceptions of specific sects.

Vyacheslav Goltsov

In your opinion, what part of your discipline is the most difficult for a seminarian or graduate student?

Roman Kon

Seminarians take courses in sectarian studies after studying of Church history and basic theological disciplines. During those classes, students see the systematic and comprehensive consistency in the structure of Orthodox theological knowledge and its historicity. When they study sectarianism, they notice an absence of historicity and a defiant anti-intellectualism; they observe fragmented and selective sectarian theological constructs with an inconsistent and subjective religious experience that is purported to be the full truth. Therefore, one of the problems in studying sectarianism is the need to overcome one’s intellectual and psychological unease with the study of such doctrines.

Vyacheslav Goltsov

Please, can you give us some more detail on your scientific and methodological work in sectarian studies?

Roman Kon

One of my principles is to follow a patristic approach to the study and refutation of false doctrine. Although I am critical in my attitude to the various sectarian theories, I openly declare that contempt for them is outmoded and untimely. You can learn more about this in my book Введение в сектоведение (Introduction to Sectarian Studies). If it is not available to you in printed form, there is an electronic version located on the site of Nizhny Novgorod Theological Seminary. You can freely download it and put it on websites and digital libraries.

Vyacheslav Goltsov

What existing material on your subject do you recommend to students?

Roman Kon

At present, contemporary materials approved by the Educational Committee of the MP are scanty… this applies not only to my field, but also to other disciplines. In such a situation, you use relevant academic literature, as long as it meets the criteria of objectivity in its factual presentation of the history of sects, their doctrines, and, if it is given, an Orthodox analysis of sectarian delusions. In other cases, the literature on this topic needs commentary and supplemental information. I teach the introductory course in sectarian studies from my book Introduction to Sectarian Studies. For the rest, I must use material from various sources. In practise, students find much of the necessary literature difficult to understand, or they do not have enough time to digest it properly. Therefore, they have to depend on the lectures and the notes that they take at them. Partially, my new book will fill this gap, which, I hope, will appear at the end of this year or early next year.

Vyacheslav Goltsov

Can you tell me when the term “sect” arose in Russian theology?

Roman Kon

In Russian theology, the term “sect” first appeared in the second half of 18th century, but only became an active usage in the second half of the 19th century. Some consider it a direct borrowing from the Catholic theology, others, from Protestants, but in both cases we used it in the sense of “heresy” in relation to the errors that arose in the Christian world. Today, we apply this term to groups that arose outside of mainstream Christianity. Therefore, we must distinguish the origins of a sect, if it has Christian roots, then, it is nothing but heresy, but if it came out of a non-Christian environment, then, it is more an example of paganism.

Vyacheslav Goltsov

How do modern scholars explain the phenomenon of “totalitarian sects?”

Roman Kon

In Russia, along with a more churchly approach to sectarianism, there appeared a theory of totalitarian sects that came out of the secular Western anti-cult movement. It claims to be theological and ecclesiastical, but it completely ignores the patristical approach to sectarianism as out-of-date and obsolete. It posits that totalitarian sects are not religious in nature, but use religious rhetoric to conceal their criminal purposes; they represent mafia-like structures, which use psychological pressure on their members to act against their will and without their consent, stripping away their money and draining them of independent volition. This theory of totalitarian sectarianism appeared in the second half of the 20th century, and it classifies all sectarian groups in this category except for Baptists. The main idea of this theory, so-called “Brainwashing”, has not found empirical confirmation, and, consequently, it does not adequately describe the nature of sectarianism. Moreover, as it considers most sects non-religious groups, it translates its polemic with sectarianism from the theological to the psychological, medical, and the legal spheres, whereas the Church relies upon the testimony of Christ, along with a theological refutation of misconceptions about Him, for the salvation of mankind is the only object of the Church.

Vyacheslav Goltsov

How would you describe the general and basic methods of sectarians? What psychological techniques do they use? Why do people abandon families and careers, and give up their property, all to follow false teachers?

Roman Kon

Christ calls the devil the main culprit in sectarianism, for the Evil One invents false doctrines to ruin people, we find specifics in the Apostolic Epistles detailing the conditions that encourage the spread of these errors. They include jealousy that is heedless of salvation, pride, arrogance, spiritual beauty, passion, the pseudoscience of pagan philosophy, enslavement to carnal lusts and passions, and moral turpitude. Blessed Feodorit Kirrsky (Феодорит Киррский) vividly developed these themes on the subject of heresies. He said that the devil selects people who are energetic and worthy of his effort. Satan disguises them as Christians, so that through them, like honey anointing the brim of a cup, he can poison people with his lies. According to Russian missionaries, we do not find the causes of sectarianism in external factors, be they historical, cultural, social, or domestic, that is, in the social milieu, but in the man himself.

Vyacheslav Goltsov

Which sects threaten Russia today?

Roman Kon

In Russia, the most common sectarians are Jehovah’s Witnesses, Pentecostals/Charismatics, Baptists, and Adventists. This is a group of about 600,000 people. Along with them are Scientologists, Hare Krishnas, Mormons, bogorodichniki, Vissarionists, and pagan groups. Although they are numerically small, they are very active and aggressive. Occultism is very widespread.

Vyacheslav Goltsov

How could someone who does not have a sufficient knowledge of the sects resist them?

Roman Kon

It depends on many factors, and each case is idiosyncratic. In one case, a person, although they are an unbeliever, listens to the voice of the Church in forming their estimation of the sects, in another, one finds a person relying only on their individual feelings and preferences.

Vyacheslav Goltsov

Does Russian law restrict the activities of sectarians?

Roman Kon

In 1997, [the RF Gosduma] passed a law regulating sectarian activity in Russia, but it is imperfect, and sectarians try to circumvent some of the restrictions on the activities of sects. On the other hand, all religious groups, whether they are registered or unregistered, must comply with Russian law.

Vyacheslav Goltsov

What can you say about those that are currently involved in anti-sectarian activities? How effective are they?

Roman Kon

In Russia, there are two types of anti-sectarian organisations, some work using the approach and methodology of the Church Fathers in their perspective on sectarianism, the other employs the secular methodology of the Western anti-cult movement. A good example of the first approach is Fr Oleg Stenyaev of Moscow, who runs a centre for the rehabilitation of victims of non-traditional religions. You can judge its effectiveness by the fact that hundreds of people joined the legitimate Church and became faithful Orthodox Christians. However, it is difficult to say anything about effectiveness of the second set; this is because there are no reliable statistics from them.

Vyacheslav Goltsov

Personally, what practical activities do you engage in against the sectarian movement? What are they, in particular?

Roman Kon

I teach courses in sectarian studies and, sometimes, I organise debates with sectarians as a part of the learning process.

Vyacheslav Goltsov

It is common knowledge that active and current sectarians avoid contact with priests of the Orthodox Church. In this regard, I would like to ask a question, “Why should a future shepherd study the subject of ‘sectarian studies’?”

Roman Kon

I cannot speak for all priests, but as far as I know, Fr Oleg complains about the challenges that we are not facing. In my entire time studying sectarianism, in recent years, only Sergei Ryakhovsky, the leader of the ROSKhVE (the main Pentecostalist body in Russia) avoided meeting with me. With other Pentecostalists/Charismatics, even with the Jehovah’s Witnesses and Scientologists, such problems do not arise.

31 March 2010

Pravoslavie.ru

http://www.pravoslavie.ru/guest/34709.htm

Jonas Paffhauasen at Nashotah House… he spat on Christ by giving legitimacy to unrepentant heretics and sectarians. What is a former Anglican doing sucking up to his former confession, in any case? That’s disgusting… he does NOT believe in the Church, that is clear. He still believes in the Anglican branch theory… this photo proves it.

Editor’s Note:

One of the most serious problems facing contemporary Orthodox Christianity in North American (especially “Russian” bodies) is that sectarian modes of thought have replaced Tserkovnost and Sobornost. As all know, “collegiality” and “churchliness” only convey an inkling of the Russian overtones of these words. One reason is that inadequately catechised converts are ordained far too early, which brings sectarian attitudes into the very centre of the Church.

My argument is that sectarianism is a very strong brew, particularly in North America, which is its main stronghold. To keep it short, the sectarian believes in the “invisible church”, which is a collection of all believers in Jesus Christ, regardless of their external divisions. Tserkovnost tells us that there is an objective Church that has an ontological basis in actual reality, for it was founded at Pentecost by the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the apostles. Sobornost tells us that the members of this objective Church are bound together with discernable ties of actual communion. All others are heterodox… to one degree or another. The so-called Oriental Orthodox are the closest to us… they are Churches not in communion with the Church (that sounds illogical in English… it makes better sense in Russian). That is, they are schismatics… I cannot judge about the theological angle. The papists, despite all their innovations, are heretics, not sectarians… for they were part of the Church founded at Pentecost at one time. All others are sectarians of one sort or another. One can trace them back to a human founder at a particular time.

This is particularly true of Anglicans, who are probably sectarians of the worst variety.  The so-called “Branch Theory” (which has been condemned explicitly by the MP) permeates their entire ecclesiology and contaminates all their teaching and thinking on the nature of the Church. That is why it is particularly difficult for Anglicans to convert to True Christianity. It is easier for a Baptist or Pentecostalist; for they know that their structures were not of apostolic provenance. It is easier for a Lutheran, Reformed, or Methodist, for they know that Luther, Calvin, and Wesley were their founders.  Perhaps, it is easiest for a Radical Protestant, for such sorts do have a devotion to the truth, and they generally convert fully if they do so. However, the Anglican is the most prideful and self-centred of the sectarians; they believe that there is a three-fold division of the Church into Roman, Eastern, and Anglican divisions. It is why the Anglican interlocutors of St Hilarion Troitsky did not convert… they felt that they were in the Church already.

We are suffering from ordaining ill-digested Episkie converts. When one saw their chorus of jubilation at the signing of the concordat with Nashotah House, that was proof, even for the slow learners, that these people had never converted to Orthodoxy in their heart-of-hearts. Why should we link ourselves with a run-of-the-mill and dreary Calvinist seminary of the TEC? Tserkovnost tells us that they are outside the objective Church. Sobornost tells us that they are not in discernable communion with any legitimate Church. Ergo, they are sectarians. Why should we unite ourselves with such? As Professor Kon points up, Christ calls the devil the main culprit in sectarianism, for the Evil One invents false doctrines to ruin people, we find specifics in the Apostolic Epistles detailing the conditions that encourage the spread of these errors. Why should we ally ourselves with those who follow the fancies of the Evil One (albeit unwittingly and without guile)?

I shall go further… Jonas Paffhausen repeatedly, and with malice aforethought, disregards objective Church boundaries. He addressed OCL without seeking permission of the bishop who has authority over these people. He signed a pact with the TEC (a group that the MP has suspended dialogue with). He named a priest of the Antiochians head of an OCA seminary. This last one is important. St Tikhon’s is not a “pan-Orthodox” institution… such a creature does not exist. An institution has to be under one bishop or another. Oh… don’t talk to me of any other “pan-Orthodox” bodies… they’re all under the OCA or the EP… and have to be, for, otherwise, they wouldn’t be Orthodox. It is dangerous to hand over an institution to an individual who is under the authority of another bishop… and taking Philip Saliba’s known proclivities into account, this move was irresponsible in the extreme. Even if he outwardly becomes a member of the OCA, Saliba has his hands in the situation… never a good thing.

In short, JP and Hatfield (at the least) do NOT have an Orthodox conception of the Church. They are both still Anglican sectarians in their innermost beings and their actions shout that to the world. God do help us. Sectarianism comes in many guises… and the worst come wearing the riassa of Orthodoxy. Think on that…

BMD

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