Voices from Russia

Sunday, 19 December 2010

How DO We Tell the True from the False?

Warriors of Christ

Unknown Artist



Editor’s Foreword:

A priest friend asked me to write something about true vs false elders. Firstly, I don’t feel competent to that task… I’m not a “spiritual” person (as the “world” puts it), I’m rather “secular” (again, in the “worldly” sense of the word). Instead, I’ll offer you a selection of REAL elders (I asked my staritsa and several clergy if my list was “righteous”, and I got positive replies), and, in contrast, I’ll relate two incidents which I witnessed personally (one cannot rely on second-hand sources for such, I’m afraid).



  • Do you want to be saved? Then, love children. In life, not everything seems fair. This is because everyone has got used to looking at things from the point of view of this life and people forget that this is only a small minute, no, just a fraction of a second, an instant in comparison with eternal life.
  • Do not think that God is cruel or wishes to torture us. God is a loving father; He does everything for our salvation. Do not forget that this passing life is so small in comparison with eternal life.
  • In Dostoevsky, it’s written that if one in his childhood has received just one pious and good impression, then, no matter how dark and filthy his life might be in the future, this impression will not allow him to perish utterly.
  • Priests who change their places for the sake of money are money-changers.

Elder Taviron Batozsky of Riga



Elder Ephraim of Philotheou (1927- ) with brother monks…


  • This deep experience is acquired with the blood of the heart and remains indelible; it becomes a foundation for the remainder of one’s life. The grace of God leaves and comes again, but its experience never leaves one, because it has been branded within the heart. No matter how much Satan praises the heart, it points to what is indelibly written within its depths, that, without God, it’s impossible to do anything.
  • If there were no temptations, pride and other passions would have turned us into other Lucifers. But our good Father, God, allows afflictions to come upon us so that we may be guarded by humility, which will lighten the burden of our sins.



  • Is there any morality? There’s immorality in education and in every healthy part of our society. The old society we knew doesn’t exist anymore. Nowadays, there’s only individualism. Why? It’s because some people eradicated all the good and helpful characteristics of the Greek people. Individualism is the supreme “good” of modernity, whilst love is a “gift”. Many generations grew up thinking that they can “grasp” without being punished. But God watches. In our days, He let us be “slapped”, hoping that we’d come around, like a drunk.
  • I pray to the merciful God that He will show you the path of salvation and guide you as a hart to the springs of the living water of refreshment. Man is full of passions, shortcomings, etc., and in order to be freed of them, he must engage in a bloody battle. Once he wins, with God’s help, he will receive, here in this life, the promise of the future marriage with the Lamb, Who was ruthlessly slaughtered by cruel hands accursed by God.

Elder Ephraim of Philotheou

(1927- )


Elder Zosima Sokur of the Ukraine (1944-2002)


  • History means spiritual roots. Can there be a tree without roots? So, without history, there can be no spirituality.
  • Where it’s simple, there are a hundred angels, where it’s complicated, there’s not a single one.
  • We’re accused of co-operating with the KGB; well, here’s the sign of my co-operation with them (pointing to the scars left by KGB interrogations in the 80s).
  • Mysticism is harmful to the soul. Our main miracles are the liturgy, repentance, and prayer.
  • Avoid extremes… extremes aren’t from God. Take the middle path. Don’t despair… there’s no sin that can’t be healed by repentance. God is merciful.
  • Love is greater than all else.
  • Be in a hurry to do good deeds… life is so short. May your guardian angel watch over you…

Elder Zosima Sokur of the Ukraine



Elder Sampson Sievers of Moscow (1900-79)


  • Knowledge and the knowledge of God are two different things.
  • Humility is the source of wisdom.
  • All madness is from pride.
  • We all want to be Christians, but we do not want to carry out the law of love.
  • Understand that to live for your job is to dry yourself out… to dry up spiritually, to die slowly.
  • The drunkard, the fornicator, the proud… they’ll receive God’s mercy. But he who does not want to forgive, to excuse, to justify consciously, intentionally… …that person closes himself to eternal life before God, and even more so in the present life. He’s turned away and he’s not heard.

Elder Sampson Sievers of Moscow



Elder Michael Pomazansky of Jordanville (1888-1988)


  • In the Church of Christ Truth is one, as indeed it should be. Historically it is one, common to all the Church’s faithful, and unchanging; it has been such from the great day of the Apostolic Pentecost, when the New Testament Church received its beginning, and after that for the course of two thousand years until our time, and it will remain such until the end of time.
  • Thus, the great mystery of Christian piety, that is, life in Christ, is built on an unchanging unity of faith in the one Truth. Arbitrary attempts to introduce into our faith anything new… even though they do occur, sometimes from the naïve desire of private individuals to attract attention to the faith by this means, or to put freshness into church life… are decisively rejected by the Orthodox Church.
  • The general character of our worship of God is dictated by the words of the Psalm “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me bless His holy name” (Psalm 102). “All that is within me” means all the capacities of the soul. Therefore, it’s perfectly natural for them to be manifested to our holy feelings in various forms of noble human activity, the talents given us by God. We call on nature itself to join us in the Church’s glorification.
  • If we speak of worship, as members of the Orthodox Church, there should be present to us that principle in the understanding of the history of our worship and its present status by which the Church Herself lives. …if we maintain the Orthodox Symbol of Faith, if we confess that we stand on the right dogmatic path, we shouldn’t doubt that both the direction of church life and the structure of worship, which was erected on the foundation of our Orthodox confession of faith, are faultless and true. We cannot acknowledge that our “liturgical piety”, after a series of reformations, has gone far, far away from the spirit of Apostolic times.
  • In theology, attention is also given to certain private opinions (Greek: theologoumena) of the Holy Fathers or teachers of the Church on questions which haven’t been precisely defined and accepted by the whole Church. However, these opinions aren’t to be confused with dogmas, in the precise meaning of the word. There are some private opinions of certain Fathers and teachers, which aren’t recognised as being in agreement with the general catholic faith of the Church, so, they aren’t accepted as a guide to faith.
  • The assembly of saints in the heavenly Church of all times is great and beyond enumeration. The names of certain saints are known on earth; others remain unknown. The saints are like the stars… those closest to us are more clearly seen; yet, countless other points of light exist through space, beyond the eye’s reach. Thus, in the Church’s commemoration, saints are glorified in large groups and whole assemblies, as well as individually. Such are the commemorations of martyrs that were slain by the hundreds and thousands, the Fathers of the Ecumenical Councils, and, finally, the general celebrations of “all saints”, both annual (the first Sunday after Pentecost; the second Sunday after Pentecost for all the saints of Russia), and weekly (every Saturday).

Elder Michael Pomazansky of Jordanville



Elder Vladimir Sukhobok of Jordanville (+1988)


I could find no quotations from Elder Vladimir Sukhobok of Jordanville, indeed, I only have his death date, 1988, for his birth date isn’t generally available. Yet, I know that Elder Vladimir was one of the greats, for I met him and talked with him. I can’t describe this to you… “Hello, dear one!” I don’t have any words for real sanctity… it has to be experienced directly. Fr Vladimir was the most genuine human being I have ever met in my life… I doubt that I shall meet the like ever again on this side of the veil.

As for the two instances of false sanctity… the first is New Skete, in Cambridge NY, which has to be the most evil place purporting to be an Orthodox establishment on the face of the planet. They’ve never given up their Uniate ways… they celebrate an “Orthodox Feast of St Francis”… need I say more? However, their very obviousness means that they’re not as dangerous as the second instance that I’m going to cite. Jordanville has been in decline since the fall of the USSR in ’91. “They lost their reason for being in ’91 when the commies fell, and they haven’t found a new one yet”… a local in Richfield Springs (the town nearest the monastery) told me that. I have the sad duty to relate that such is so. Under Archbishop Averky Taushev and Metropolitan Lavr Škurla, the monastery always had a sober and grounded air. I saw something in the Paschal season of 2008 that caused me to almost toss my cookies on the spot. Fr Roman Krassovsky was circulating in the rear of the church holding out his hand to be kissed by his fawning admirers. Such a prideful display would have been forbidden in the past… that’s prelest coming in the front door, with no pretence or subtlety! I may not be the holiest of people, but I know that monks aren’t supposed to gather a private coterie, and that such is dangerous, not only for the monk and for his collective of admirers, but also for the monastery itself.

Remember, in Dostoyevsky’s Brothers, there are two “elders”… Zosima the true elder, and Ferapont the false elder. I can tell you from personal experience that it’s impossible to tell from outer impressions whether a given person is “holy” or not… indeed, the Church warns us against such “judgement”. In fact, that’s why people such as Sam Greene, Gleb Podmoshensky, Pierre l’Huillier, and Seraphim Storheim got away with what they did… you cannot gauge true spirituality through external appearances. That’s why the ignorant konvertsy should stop their caterwauling on the internet… it not only takes years to form proper impressions of living people, it takes LONG years to build the internal rhythm of prayer necessary to understand the Fathers (or anything else) with any lucidity, for one has to internalise the liturgy and life of the Church. Can you believe that a baby of two years standing was issuing forth their “opinion” of the Fathers? I don’t blame him, though… probably, such idiocy is due to the influence of an overly zealous former Episkie konvertsy priest, one who thinks that you can find Orthodoxy in books.

In rebuttal to all that, let me quote an earlier post that I made on Art and Faith. I think that it says it all, and that this is a good place to end the present posting… take a look…



An elder blessing a child… note that the photographic technique used highlights the schemamonk and the child against the rest of the crowd present…


I would like to quote a paragraph from a work by Orlando Figes, Natasha’s Dance: A Cultural History of Russia (New York: Henry Holt & Co., 2002 ISBN: 0-312-42195-8), from Chapter 5, In Search of the Russian Soul, p. 297:

The Russian Church is contained entirely in its liturgy, and to understand it there’s no point reading books: one has to go and see the Church at prayer. The Russian Orthodox service is an emotional experience. The entire spirit of the Russian people, and much of their best art and music, has been poured into the Church, and at times of national crisis, they’ve always turned to it for support and hope. The liturgy has never become the preserve of scholars or the clergy, as happened in the medieval West. This is a people’s liturgy. There are no pews, no social hierarchies, in a Russian church. Worshippers are free to move around… as they do constantly to prostrate and cross themselves before the various icons… and this makes for an atmosphere not unlike a busy market square.

There one has it. The Church proceeds from the hearts of the faithful, it doesn’t depend on the speculations of professors and theologians. There are some groups in the diaspora that have wandered far from Orthodox verities by following the notional ideas of academic gurus rather than the tradition of the Church. Of course, the most obvious examples are Alexander Schmemann in the OCA and Peter Gillquist in AOCANA, but, one must understand that such people as Gleb Podmoshensky of St Herman’s Monastery and Panteleimon Metropoulos of Holy Transfiguration Monastery were cut of the same cloth.

That is, they substituted their intellectual speculations for the lived wisdom of the Church. I wish you to know that I consider the right-wing version of such to be as dangerous and soul-corrosive as the left-wing sort. BOTH depart from the Royal Path taught by the Church; BOTH tend towards Protestantism. Do NOT be fooled by the externals of the rightists, they are MORE Protestant than the leftists. Yes, the theological innovationism and foolish tinkering with the liturgy of the leftists is obvious and blasphemous. However, it is done openly, and, as such, can be observed, taken measure of, and countered. The right-wing obsession with “correctness” obscures the fact that they are putting themselves up as judges over the Church, just as the leftists do. As they are less obvious, they are MORE dangerous.

The Church in America has been wandering in the wilderness since the formation of the OCA in 1970. It wasn’t a body founded in the hearts of the people; it was an intellectual construct dreamed up by Aleksandr Schmemann, and supported enthusiastically only by a small coterie of intellectuals at SVS and grasping apparatchiki at Syosset. If you were to ask most faithful of traditional Orthodox background, they would wish (the overwhelming majority, that is) a return to the practises of the Mother Church. Only a small group of intellectuals and converts oppose this, and they’re as anti-Russian as they’re anti-Orthodox.

Everything is to be sacrificed to their opium dream of “autocephaly”. The Synod of Bishops of the OCA didn’t discipline a bishop for ordaining a registered sexual offender. I believe that they didn’t do so because the dissonances that would result would shake the OCA to pieces and that the healthy portion would go to Moscow and the pro-autocephaly convert/intellectual fringe to AOCANA. The OCA doesn’t trust its people, yet, the people are the basis of the Church, as Professor Figes correctly pointed out. Therefore, since the OCA doesn’t proceed from the people, as everything in Orthodoxy ought, it can be deduced from the evidence proffered that it has become a Western Protestant (with tinges of Roman triumphalism, nonetheless!) body with an Orthodox ritus because of the intellectual distortions of Schmemann et al. I believe that more and more people are coming to this realisation, and that the days of the OCA are numbered.

I don’t know what’s going to replace the OCA. However, it can’t persist in its current form, and the present structure is unstable and liable to collapse at any moment. Anyone who believes anything coming out of SVS and Syosset is a fool, and I say such openly.

A double fool would be one who listens to the recent blather of Paul Meyendorff concerning the 1917 Moscow Sobor. Get real, Mr Meyendorff! That sobor was superseded by the 2000 Jubilee Sobor of the MP, which was able to complete its work, and it issued forth a complete vision of the Church for the 21st century… one that is totally at odds with the Protestant notions of Mr Meyendorff! The 1917 Sobor is of antiquarian interest only. It has NO relevance to us today. It NEVER completed its work! So, if you hear talk of this sobor from certain circles, ignore it.

What should you do? Go to the liturgy. Receive Holy Communion. Pray. Do good deeds. Follow the example of the saints. As St Ilarion Troitsky the New Martyr said, bez tserkva, nest spaseniya (without the Church, there is no salvation). Of course, he was just quoting the wisdom of the Church. As I’m always saying, look at the good trees, look at the bad trees… you know what to do!

Barbara-Marie Drezhlo

Sunday 19 December 2010

Feastday of St Nicholas

Albany NY


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