Voices from Russia

Thursday, 25 April 2013

25 April 2013. “The Many Shades of Modern Orthodox”: How Something Written About Jews Applies to Orthodox Christians, Too

00 Malankara Orthodox. 26.11.12


00 Sick Child in Orthodox Church... 09.12


04e Sunday of Orthodoxy Cuba


Barbara-Marie Drezhlo. Orthodox Unity. 2012


00.00 Patr Kirill and Patr Karekin 11.11


This piece about Jewish life at Columbia University (specifically, about the Modern Orthodox Movement on the campus) is a good read, and I recommend that you read it before going on with my post (it’s very good stuff, indeed… read it in the light of living a traditional faith in modern society). Let’s start with the title, The Many Shades of Modern Orthodox… that fits Orthodox Christians to a tee. Firstly, there are Eastern and Oriental Orthodox… sundered for sixteen centuries ecclesiastically, yet, still a coherent socio-cultural whole and not an artificial ideational construct. Yes, Virginia, there IS an “Orthosphere”… an Orthodox “civilisational space”, as Russian-style categorisation has it. Despite Chalcedon, the “feel” and “flavour” of Orthodox Christianity still persists in both “Eastern” and “Oriental” branches… something that doesn’t hold true for papists, Protestants, and sectarians, by the way (that applies equally to Uniates… they’re subservient lickspittles of the Pope of Rome).

For instance, there’s something called the St Andrew Clergy Brotherhood in our area… mostly, it holds all-Orthodox services on the Sunday evenings of the Easter Lent. I’ll tell you what bothers me… we have Oriental Orthodox in our area… Armenian, Coptic, and Indian… and none of them are invited to be even “honoured guests” at these services. Yes… I know that concelebration is out of bounds until the Church kafuffle is squared away, but we can be friendly neighbours, all the same. That is, we can invite the Oriental Orthodox clergy to be our guests… perhaps, one of their clergy could speak a “good word” at the dinner that follows the services. In reciprocity, the Oriental clergy could hold a service at one of their parishes, and we could be the “guests” (I’m talking about “observing”, NOT concelebrating… so, all of you tight-arsed rulesniks can peel yourself off the ceiling). After all, Orthodox Christianity is a coherent whole… we may be sundered for the moment… we may not be in communion at the moment… but we ARE a whole, and only the wilfully-blind refuse to see that (there is none so blind as they who will not to see).

Besides that, both Eastern and Oriental Orthodoxy are a bewildering array of disparate national incarnations of the One True Faith. Russian, Armenian, Greek, Serbian, East Indian, Arab, Copt, Tlingit, Ethiopian… to name only a few… there’s more. It’s best to mention that there’s no such thing as “American Orthodoxy”… it hasn’t existed here long enough for the requisite acculturation to have taken place. The only places where Orthodoxy is “part of the culture” in the USA are amongst Alaska Natives and amongst the po-nashemu Hunkies of the NEPA/Wyoming Valley area (the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton/Binghamton axis)… yes, there are larger ethnic enclaves in the Midwest and in California, but they aren’t as large a proportion of the surrounding milieu. In these two particular locales, Orthodoxy has taken real root… in all other regions, Orthodox are simply a superstructure welded onto the local community… if we were to disappear, it wouldn’t even rouse most of the surrounding locale (that’s how minor we are).

Whew… if that isn’t all, there are many ways to approach Orthodoxy within each of these national incarnations (and you MUST practise Orthodoxy within the given incarnations, for Orthodoxy exists there, and nowhere else). Here’s a quote from the article that I cited at the top of this post:

That said, Orthodox Judaism is most-recognisable for the shared experience it provides. There are activities we’re forbidden from doing, and practises we’re commanded to do. This is what brings Orthodox Jews together.

That’s exactly what’s true with us, too. Do you want to know what Orthodox Christians MUST believe in? … Then, listen to us recite the Creed every Sunday. That’s the basis of our Faith. That’s what the Church says is the Non-Negotiable Truth. By the way, all Orthodox Christians, both Eastern and Oriental, recite the selfsame identical Creed. That’s why I believe that we’re going to reconcile eventually. We believe the same basic credo… we DO have serious and deep disagreements that aren’t minor… yet, we still DO believe in the same set of Non-Negotiables… and that’s no small beer. If you want to know what we believe, look at what we do, and look at how we pray. Orlando Figes wrote:

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.

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


This is true of an Indian parish… of a Greek parish… of a Coptic parish… of an Alaska Native parish… of an Armenian parish… of a parish in a tiny coal-mining town in NEPA… it’s true of all of us. This is why I oppose the konvertsy and their notional and crackbrained mewling so bitterly. Here are some quotes from contemporary Elders to set us straight:

History means spiritual roots. Can there be a tree without roots? So, without history, there can be no spirituality.

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.

Elder Zosima Sokur of Donetsk


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.

Fr Michael Pomazansky of Jordanville


Knowledge and the knowledge of God are two different things.

Elder Sampson Sievers of Moscow



That is, these quotes inform even the slow-learners that all those who build their faith on their unguided and prideful reading of the Fathers, the Canons, and other books are fools (those who are guided by blind convert gurus are Double Fools). Full stop. At present, we have neophytes loudly ranting about Orthodoxy both within the Church and on the internet. One of my Russian contacts put it best:

It’s called “young eldership” and it’s the bane of the Church. If you want to know what “zeal without knowledge” means look at the clique around Diomid Dzhuban… that’s the closest analogue to what you call “konvertsy”. Just as the Diomidovtsy left the Church, as we weren’t “good enough” for them, your converts may leave, too. They’ll not find you “pious enough” or “not sufficiently committed”. That’s how such sorts always end.

As for me, I agree with the sentiments of the writer of the post on Modern Jewish Orthodoxy:

Modern Orthodoxy (with an understanding that no definition would adequately describe it) is an ideological commitment to observing Jewish law and engaging with the world at large… the sciences, the humanities, the worlds of business, medicine, law, and more.

That’s my credo, too. Everything in its proper place… everything according to its own proper internal laws. That is… if I have a medical problem, I see a physician, NOT a priest (indeed, the Apostle commands that, doesn’t he?)… if I need to confess and receive absolution, I see a priest, not a “therapist”… not a “counsellor”… not a doctor (he’s not trained in the cure of souls, is he?). I can believe in Evolution, God, and Orthodoxy all at the same time, as they don’t contradict one another at all. Darwin wasn’t the Great Sceptic… Spencer was. In any case, HH is pro-science and he doesn’t push ignorant and dodgy lunacies like Six-Day Creationism. Trust me… I’m not alone in being a Modern Orthodox Christian… living my Ancient Faith in the context of the Contemporary World. Remember this… loudness doesn’t always indicate truthfulness or the presence of a majority. It may be just the exact opposite.

BMD barbara-drezhloBarbara-Marie Drezhlo

Thursday 25 April 2013

Albany NY


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