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The reading from the Holy Gospel today is Luke 13: 31-35
At that time, the same day there came certain of the Pharisees, saying unto him, Get thee out, and depart hence: for Herod will kill thee. And he said unto them, Go ye, and tell that fox, Behold, I cast out devils, and I do cures to day and to morrow, and the third day I shall be perfected. Nevertheless I must walk to day, and to morrow, and the day following: for it cannot be that a prophet perish out of Jerusalem. O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, which killest the prophets, and stonest them that are sent unto thee; how often would I have gathered thy children together, as a hen doth gather her brood under her wings, and ye would not! Behold, your house is left unto you desolate: and verily I say unto you, Ye shall not see me, until the time come when ye shall say, Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord.
The Pharisees imagined they could frighten the God-Man with the threat of Herod’s evil intentions, but they were mistaken. He announces calmly that He knows that He will be killed, and that it will happen in Jerusalem, the city that always murdered the prophets. He also announces that, until this happens, He will continue to “walk,” that is, to carry out His mission of teaching, preaching, healing, casting out devils, and raising the dead – His mission to inaugurate the Kingdom of God. He is in complete control of the situation, and He is going to His voluntary Passion to fulfill the will of the Father, to fulfill God’s providential plan for our salvation from before the ages.
Today we may feel that matters are out of our control, involving both the Church’s situation and society in general, in many ways that affect our lives directly. This chaos, however, is limited and temporary – a trial we must pass through, our Golgotha. We must “set our face towards Jerusalem” as the Lord did (And it came to pass, when the time was come that He should be received up, He steadfastly set his face to go to Jerusalem – Luke 9:51) – we must voluntarily join ourselves to Him in His Passion. And, as we resolve to endure whatever the Lord allows for our salvation, we must resolve with equal determination to go about our mission as well, to do the Lord’s work, the Church’s mission.
How does one acquire courage to carry on when the outlook is grim? Here are three considerations:
Perspective – From God’s point of view – sub specie aeternitatis (from the perspective of eternity) – the entire history of this whole world, much less one’s lifetime, is the blink of an eye. He is the King of the Ages, the Sovereign of History. All is unfolding according to His plan for our salvation, which He desires infinitely more than we do. We have only to do our part in history; we have no responsibility for controlling history. He will arrange everything for our true good.
Consolation in Prayer – When external circumstances are at their worst is precisely the time when consolation in prayer is greatest, if we are faithful to prayer and wholeheartedly resolve to grow closer to God in our trials. Many Orthodox Christians who suffered in the communist hell of the 20th century testified that ultimately their time in prison, living in the utmost humiliation and deprivation, became the happiest time of their lives, precisely because it was at this time that they experienced what prayer really is and what a human being is really made for – most intimate union with the Lord, Who becomes everything to us when we have lost everything else. We cannot conceive of the unspeakable consolation such people experienced…but we may have the opportunity to do so in future. Let us begin now to deepen our life of prayer! The next time we are anxious over the future course of events, let us turn to a favorite book on prayer and spiritual life that has motivated us in the past, rather than to this or that website to read the latest spin on the absurd epiphenomena of man’s vain strivings.
Love for Others – Typically fear for the future is mixed with self-pity. Let us forget ourselves and act determinedly each day for the true good of those for whom we are in varying degrees responsible. A man becomes a good soldier only when he counts his own life as nothing, when he thinks himself already a dead man. Let us be good soldiers in the Church Militant, counting our lives as nothing, determined to lay down our lives for our friends, in order to practice that love than which there is no greater. With this option clearly open to us, how can we say that our lives are out of control?
The duty is ours; the consequences are God’s. Let us set our faces serenely to go to Jerusalem, and on the way, each day, seek simply to know and to do His will.
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The reading from the Holy Gospel today is Luke 10: 1-15.
At that time, the Lord appointed other seventy also, and sent them two and two before his face into every city and place, whither he himself would come. Therefore said he unto them, The harvest truly is great, but the labourers are few: pray ye therefore the Lord of the harvest, that he would send forth labourers into his harvest. Go your ways: behold, I send you forth as lambs among wolves. Carry neither purse, nor scrip, nor shoes: and salute no man by the way. And into whatsoever house ye enter, first say, Peace be to this house. And if the son of peace be there, your peace shall rest upon it: if not, it shall turn to you again. And in the same house remain, eating and drinking such things as they give: for the labourer is worthy of his hire. Go not from house to house. And into whatsoever city ye enter, and they receive you, eat such things as are set before you: And heal the sick that are therein, and say unto them, The kingdom of God is come nigh unto you. But into whatsoever city ye enter, and they receive you not, go your ways out into the streets of the same, and say, Even the very dust of your city, which cleaveth on us, we do wipe off against you: notwithstanding be ye sure of this, that the kingdom of God is come nigh unto you. But I say unto you, that it shall be more tolerable in that day for Sodom, than for that city. Woe unto thee, Chorazin! woe unto thee, Bethsaida! for if the mighty works had been done in Tyre and Sidon, which have been done in you, they had a great while ago repented, sitting in sackcloth and ashes. But it shall be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon at the judgment, than for you. And thou, Capernaum, which art exalted to heaven, shalt be thrust down to hell.
St. Theophan the Recluse comments on the ultimate fate of those who reject the apostolic preaching:
In the next world, will there be such condescension toward those who do not accept the Lord as He showed toward those living on the earth? No, there will not be. Sending the Seventy to preach, the Lord commanded them that when they were not received, they should say in the streets: “Even the very dust of your city, which cleaveth on us, we do wipe off against you: notwithstanding, be ye sure of this, that the Kingdom of God is come nigh unto you.” That is, we do not need anything of yours. It is not with self-interest that we walk and preach, but to proclaim peace and the Kingdom of God unto you. If you do not want to receive this blessing, then let it be as you wish – we will go on. Thus it was commanded for the present time; but how will it be in the future? “It will be more tolerable in that day for Sodom, than for that city.” Therefore, unbelievers have nothing to give them hope of the Lord’s lenience. While on the earth they take their liberties, but as soon as death comes, the entire storm of God’s wrath will come down upon them. It would be a great misfortune to be as the unbelievers! They do not even have joy on the earth, because without God and the Lord Jesus Christ, the Savior and Redeemer, even here everything is dismal and dreary. As to what will happen there, it is impossible to describe it in words or to imagine it. It would be more tolerable to be destroyed, but even that will not be given to them. – Thoughts for Each Day of the Year, p. 234
Thoughts like these are very difficult for us. It is terrible, unthinkable, that people we love – relatives, friends, even spouses and children – would be condemned for their lack of faith in Christ. On the other hand, the alternative is even more unthinkable – that the words of Christ are not true. For if these hard words of His about the necessity of Faith and the reality of His Judgment are not true, why should any of His words be true? And if He is not the Truth, nothing and no one is, and there is no truth. And if there is no truth, life is not worth living.
The only way out of the painful state of mind caused by juxtaposing these two alternatives is complete humility and surrender to the will of God. We have to “commit ourselves, one another, and all our life to Christ our God.” The knowledge of Who He is, the conviction that we have a Creator and a Redeemer, is by itself the source of limitless joy, a never-failing fountain of happiness for every moment of the day, if only we thought about it. Clinging to Him, walking the narrow path with Him and to Him – for He is our constant companion on the very road to Himself – should occupy all of our mental energy for spiritual matters. Why waste energy and risk getting lost by wandering off the path to indulge in theological speculation about the fate of the faithless? They have a Creator and Redeemer, Who knows them better than we do and Who loves them better, as well. Let Him take care of it.
We certainly can pray for God’s mercy for those who have died outside the Church: make a list, read their names every day, and say, “O Lord have mercy on them!” You can also say the Trisagion Prayers and the psalms for their souls – especially Pss. 90, 50, and 118. Say the Prayer of Jesus on the prayer rope, and offer a certain number of prayer ropes for their salvation. Make prostrations for them. Give alms in their memory.
In regards to those among the living whom we deeply desire to convert to the Orthodox Faith, again: pray for them every day – make a list, read their names, and say, “O Lord have mercy on them!” You can also say the Trisagion Prayers and the psalms for them. Say the Prayer of Jesus on the prayer rope, and offer x number of prayer ropes for their salvation. Make prostrations for them. Give alms for their sake.
When you are actively engaged in helping the departed by prayer and in helping the living to find their salvation, all of these speculations about the justice of God in condemning those outside the Church, etc, fall away – we are too busy for that. We have to do our job, and that is helping others not be condemned. This, and – which is more essential – paying attention to the state of our own souls, should occupy our minds sufficiently until we draw our own last breath. And we should never give up: as the great American philosopher Yogi Berra reminds us, “It ain’t over till it’s over.”
Let us cast away all of our logismoi – our dark, troubled, and confused thoughts – and let us cast ourselves into the abyss of God’s inscrutable wisdom and absolute love for mankind. His peace, which the world cannot give, shall envelope us, calm our troubled minds, and give us the courage to confess our Faith, share it with others if they want it, and persevere to the end.
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Is the Grace of God Present in the Soviet Church? – Session 3
Excursus: Two corroborations of the importance of our study.
A. An impressive confirmation of the importance of this study from the publisher of “Is the Grace of God Present in the Soviet Church?”:
The publisher of “Is the Grace of God Present in the Soviet Church,” Fr. Andrew Kencis, wrote us recently, to thank us for our efforts to discuss this landmark monograph publicly, and to give us further insight into how the English translation came to be made.
Here is what he wrote (published with his permission):
“I heard about the podcast this past Sunday from a few parishioners who listen to your offerings…. We where quite intrigued so we listened to part one on the way home from church (it’s a long drive every weekend!).
“THANK YOU. You completely understood the point of the book!!! I almost broke down and cried while driving…. “SOMEBODY GOT THE POINT! Finally!!!”
Metropolitan Vitaly approached me in 1998 asking me to get it translated as he wanted this book out in English. I gave it to my mother, who had translated “Royal Way of the Cross.” After that I sent the translation to Jordanville for review…. I received back the text which I was told was gone over by Fr.. George Shaffer (now Bishop George). As I went through both versions ( the original text from my mom and Fr. George’s changes ) There was a section where Fr. George completely changed the meaning and thrust of the message. Changing it to a more positive towards the MP tone. It didn’t make sense what I read, so reviewing the phrase and comparing both versions, checking with a Russian dictionary. It was clear Fr. George changed the text to something that was NOT in the original.
“After that I had to go through the entire translation AGAIN carefully. One has to recall what was happening in ROCOR at that time…
“When it finally came out in print. I recall Father Victor Potatov denouncing it on the ROCORClergy list. Saying in part “brothers, do we really need such a book at the point in time???” That was all it took and the book hardly received any orders.
“The book I still consider to be our masterpiece, and as you rightly realized “goes far beyond the title.” Simply put, the book is about discernment and pointing out to us “that we live for the life of the age to come.” Even this explanation cheapens its profundity.
“The introduction was the result of numerous phone discussions I had with Father Christopher [Birchall, author of the Introduction.] concerning the point of publishing this book, the “why make the effort?” [question]. …its point is “discernment of falsehood.” I even agonized over changing the title as most would only see it as a anti-MP polemic and not even give it a chance. In the end I decided to leave it titled as the author. But in the introduction Father Christopher masterfully incorporated all the themes and points Metropolitan Vitaly wanted a thoughtful reader to grasp.
“The footnotes (which are not in the original) are mostly my work but with input from others in ROCOR at that time who also comprehended the importance of this work. We tried to show the “mind of the Church” It is imperative… to read the footnotes as they appear in the text.
“Thank you again for going through this work. Interestingly, Matushka and I discussed reprinting this book this winter to keep it in print because of its importance in our times of “counterfeits” and, frankly, lack of sobriety among the faithful.
— Email received from Fr. Andrew Kencis of Monastery Press on October 27th 2023 ns.
(Before going on, I’d like to correct something I said earlier, that this essay was available in English prior to this 2000 edition. It was not. This was the first time it had been translated into English.).
Fr. Andrew makes several important points here:
1. Metropolitan Vitaly, the last right-confessing First Hierarch of the Russian Church Abroad as she existed before the 2007 “union” with the MP, commissioned this translation, because he considered the work so important at that time (the late 90s, early 2000s), when the forces to liquidate the Church Abroad were working overtime to bring about the captivity to the MP.
2. Hieromonk George (Shaffer), then a monk at Jordanville, now a ROCOR-MP bishop, deliberately distorted the text in order to make it seem that Andreyev had a favorable opinion towards the Sergianist church organization. You don’t deliberately alter texts unless you have something to hide and you have no argument to defend your position.
3. Fr. Victor Potapov, one of the leading agitators for the “union,” attacked the publication of the book simply through derision, without an argument. Because of his status in the ROCOR at the time, this was enough to keep the clergy from reading it and distributing it. You don’t simply dismiss an opponent’s arguments without a reasoned response unless you have something to hide and you have no argument to defend your position.
4. The purpose of the original essay in 1948 and its republication in 2000 was not simply to attack the Moscow Patriarchate out of a spirit of partisanship, but, most importantly, to express the mind of the Church of all ages regarding the discernment of falsehood, of the spirit of Antichrist. Thus this work, as Fr. Christopher Birchall beautifully expresses in his Introduction, is not an angry, one-sided polemic rendered obsolete by its being concerned solely with a long-dead controversy, but rather constitutes a permanently useful, profoundly wise and genuinely spiritual instruction, coming from the erudite, balanced, and deeply pious mind of a great man, a true man of the Church, who has suffered for the Faith. Its timeliness relating to our need for discernment in our circumstances should be obvious to anyone paying attention to the contemporary Church situation, which has not improved, but rather has grown immeasurably worse, since Andreyev’s time.
B. Confirmation that the present day MP has not rejected, but rather has canonized Sergianism. Thus our study of the question of the MP’s Sergianism is still needed; it’s not a dead issue.
The Sergianism of the Moscow Patriarchate is not a thing of the past. They are doubling down on their exaltation of Metropolitan/“Patriarch” Sergius and the correctness of his position. Subdeacon Nektarios, in two well-researched articles on his “Orthodox Traditionalist” website, makes this clear. Please see
Subdeacon Nektarios demonstrates the accuracy of his understanding of what Sergianism is in the first above-mentioned article, in a point by point description of this spiritual phenomenon. I’d like to reproduce this description in full:
“Sergianism is then a bowing of the hierarchs to the forerunners of the Anti-Christ [the Soviet Regime] and declaring obedience to them and to their agendas, which history has shown us includes the persecution of the Orthodox Church and the murder of its saints. The primary characteristics of Sergianism are:
“1. Viewing the Church administration first and foremost as an organization which must be blindly obeyed (despite its hierarchs teaching bareheaded heresy) as if the voice of the organization was always and without exception the voice of Christ (think of when the Church was ruled by the Arian faction, Patriarch Nestorius and the Iconoclasts).
“2. Failing to distinguish between the God-given authority of Caesar and the God-allowed ‘authority’ of the Antichrist which is rooted in Satan (Apocalypse 13:2).
“3. Lying, doing evil, persecuting the Saints and overturning tradition to supposedly save the Church from evil.
“4. An idolization of ‘canonicity’ and using this to quench the Spirit. Along with this, Sergianism replaces genuine spiritual life with dead canonical forms; while failing to distinguish how the Church must act during normal times versus times of persecution.
“5. Gazing upon the ‘Mystery of Iniquity’ and proclaiming Soviet ‘joys and successes are our joys and successes and whose failures, [our] failures’ . Thus the mission of the Church is perverted and replaced by something else (whether openly evil or seemingly good) and effectively a new master is proclaimed as the acting head of the Church (instead of Christ).
“6. Sinning against the dogma of the Church by perverting her nature; this is done by identifying the Church with Caesar or with the Anti-Christ, instead of with Christ himself. This attempts to turn the Church from being the house of salvation into a political or social organization.
“7. Betraying Christ and trampling upon the truth for the sake of obtaining or maintaining a legally functioning Church organization. Sergianism attempts to kill and suppress the organism for the sake of the organization.
“8. Denying the spirit of Martyrdom and Confession of the Faith and making, before the world, a spectacle of the Church by presenting the Church (the Body of Christ) as if it were a pathetic slave without freedom and dignity.
“9. And finally, the Chiliastic (belief advanced by some religious denominations that a Paradise will occur on Earth prior to the final judgment) spirit which aims to transform the existing social and political order through the establishment of Christian ideals in order to form a moral or religious governmental New World Order or a Kingdom of God on Earth.
“Sergianism, in short is an idolatry, heresy, ecclesiastical renovation, schismatic design and apostasy from true Orthodox ecclesiology and ultimately Orthodox Christian doctrine. It is a system of cowardice, non-resistance to evil, a criminalization of confessing the Orthodox faith and a denial of God’s providence and a scorning of the Neptic tradition of the Saints.”
Having received these clear confirmations of the importance of our study, we shall return next week to reading and commenting on
“Is the Grace of God Present in the Soviet Church?”
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The reading today from the Holy Gospel is Luke 9:44-50.
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The Lord said, Let these sayings sink down into your ears: for the Son of man shall be delivered into the hands of men. But they understood not this saying, and it was hid from them, that they perceived it not: and they feared to ask him of that saying. Then there arose a reasoning among them, which of them should be greatest. And Jesus, perceiving the thought of their heart, took a child, and set him by him, And said unto them, Whosoever shall receive this child in my name receiveth me: and whosoever shall receive me receiveth him that sent me: for he that is least among you all, the same shall be great. And John answered and said, Master, we saw one casting out devils in thy name; and we forbad him, because he followeth not with us. And Jesus said unto him, Forbid him not: for he that is not against us is for us.
In commenting on this passage, St. Theophan the Recluse chooses to write about the words, “…whosoever shall receive me receiveth him that sent me…”
…whosoever does not confess the Lord does not honor God, because he does not confess the God Who is the true God. The true God does not exist without the Son, Who is co-eternal and co-unoriginate. Therefore, once you cease to confess the Son, you no longer confess the true God. Only God will discern what your confession is worth; but since God is revealed to us as the true God, apart from this revelation one cannot have the true God. – Thoughts for Each Day of the Year, p. 233
The God Whom Abraham worshipped is the same Holy Trinity Whom Christ revealed and Whom the Church confesses. There is no other God. The Trinity is not one of many ideas about God, or even simply the best idea about God. The Holy Trinity is God. There is no other.
Yet today many supposed experts, including nominally Orthodox bishops and theologians, tell us that Jews and Moslems also worship the same God as do the Christians, the God of Abraham. This, however, is not true, and for an educated Christian knowingly to make this assertion in public is a formal act of apostasy, for by saying this he denies the only true God, Who is not only the God of the Christians but also the only God of all men and all the universe – God the Holy Trinity.
How do people who consider themselves Christians delude themselves into accepting such a fundamental error? When one examines this question, one usually discovers two reasons, an intellectual error and a spiritual problem.
Many, if not most, Christians today, including nominally Orthodox Christians, have false assumptions they are not aware of, assumptions that they have breathed in with the pestilential air of the times, to borrow an apt expression from the late Fr. Seraphim Rose. These assumptions include the idea that God is just out there somewhere, that no one really knows much more about Him than anyone else, and most human beings are basically good people who sort of grope their way to some understanding of God based on their cultural background and do their best to worship Him in whatever way they can. Everyone needs to do what works for him, i.e., what provides psychological comfort and social belonging. Theology is a hobby for priests and professors, and dogmas are really just opinions of one faction or another; all that matters is to be a good person who has some kind of religion.
The spiritual problem coupled with this intellectual error is the lack of heartfelt love for Christ and the lack of desire for the salvation of one’s neighbor. If someone understands Who Christ is and what He suffered for us, the blasphemy that “all religions lead to God” horrifies him; he cannot remain indifferent. Intellectual indifferentism, then, is the twin of spiritual indifference: the lack of faith coupled with the lack of zeal, and, ultimately, the lack of the most essential virtue, which is charity. True charity must involve charity towards God, first of all, and how can one love God if one stubbornly denies that which He has so plainly revealed about Himself? True charity towards one’s neighbor, means, above all, desiring his salvation. But there is no salvation apart from Christ.
The odd thing is that people claim that their indifferentism is a manifestation of love, when in fact it is the opposite: it is a manifestation of malice, i.e., bad will, manifesting itself as a fundamental indifference to the true good of one’s neighbor.
Let us pray for our hearts to be filled with the burning love of Christ Crucified for us, an essential mark of a true Christian, so that our prayers and our words will act with divine power for the enlightenment and salvation of our neighbor.
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In today’s Gospel, the Lord calls upon us to confess Him before men:
The Lord said to His disciples:If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me. For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: but whosoever will lose his life for my sake, the same shall save it. For what is a man advantaged, if he gain the whole world, and lose himself, or be cast away? For whosoever shall be ashamed of me and of my words, of him shall the Son of man be ashamed, when he shall come in his own glory, and in his Father’s, and of the holy angels. But I tell you of a truth, there be some standing here, which shall not taste of death, till they see the kingdom of God. – Luke 9: 23-27
If we desire to follow Christ, we have to take up our cross – daily, as St. Luke records the Lord saying – and follow Him. Part of this daily cross is not to be ashamed of Jesus Christ and His Gospel before other people, which is actually a tall order, because we are very prone to cringing before the opinion of society – we want others to like us, or at least we want to avoid conflict with them. But if we are to be true Christians, conflict is inevitable, for the world is at war with God.
St. Theophan the Recluse laments over the fact that no one talked about God or salvation in the fashionable Russian society of his day:
Do not be ashamed to confess the Lord Jesus Christ as the Incarnate Son of God, Who redeemed us through His death on the Cross, Who through His Resurrection and Ascension opened for us the entrance into the Kingdom of Heaven. If you are ashamed, then He will be ashamed of you “…when He shall come in His own glory, and in His Father’s, and of the holy angels.” Now it has become fashionable in society not to talk at all about the Lord and about salvation, whereas in the beginning these precious subjects were all that people talked about. One’s talk more readily flows from the place where the heart abides. Can it really be that people’s hearts abide less with the Lord? Judging from the talk, this must be the case. Some do not know Him at all, and others are cold toward Him. Fearing encounters with such people, even those who are warm toward the Lord do not direct conversation toward Him, and the priesthood is silent. These days, discussion about the Lord and Savior and about our main concern – salvation – is excluded from the range of conversation acceptable in society. “What?” you say, “Is that really all we’re supposed to talk about? Why only about that?” It is possible to talk about anything, but it must be done in a way that is underscored by the spirit of Christ. Then it would be possible to guess whether the speaker is a Christian or pagan. Now, however, it is impossible to guess what they are, either by their talk or by their writings. Look through all the periodicals – what don’t they write about? But no one wants to make Christian conversation. Strange times! – Thoughts for Each Day of the Year, pp. 231-232
In our own experience, of course, we do meet people who want to talk religion, but usually their ideas are so inadequate, strange, or even blasphemous that it is painful to talk with them; we feel that we are casting our pearls before swine. What to do? What is left to us is the constant struggle for prayer, so that we are ready to say a good word in season when the occasion arises. If we always are abiding in the Lord, then the people in front of us will, as St. Theophan says, be able to discern that we are Christians, and they will respond to us accordingly. It may be that people with a genuine thirsting spirit, with the fear of God, will cross our path, and that we must be ready to respond to them. May God grant!
If, in our inevitable run-ins with unbelievers and freethinkers, someone states a blatant untruth contrary to the Christian faith, we simply have to say, “That is not true.” We do not have to engage in argument, but simply confess our faith: “I believe in the Holy Trinity, in Christ, in the Orthodox Faith, and in everything the Church teaches.” If they want you to explain, but you don’t think you can, give them your priest’s email address or telephone number. If they are serious, they will contact him. When they see that you are serious, they should respect you for sticking to your guns. If they do not respect you, their good opinion is not worth having.
It is a great thing to become a skilled apologist for Orthodoxy, and we need trained clergy and laity who can skillfully defend our Faith in debate. But all of us – the trained apologists and the simple believers, the young and the old – all of us are expected to be courageous confessors. This takes few words but strong faith, with peace of heart. The world is going its way: let it go! We must go our way. This thought should give us peace in the midst of the turmoil and spiritual barrenness of contemporary life.
Is the Grace of God Present in the Soviet Church? – Session 1
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Recently we began a reading and discussion of the essay by I.M. Andreyev, “Is the Grace of God Present in the Soviet Church.” Below are the outline notes for sessions 1 and 2. These discussions will be listened to with much interest by those who are concerned about finding and remaining in the real Orthodox Church during these times of spiritual confusion and apostasy. It is strongly recommended to obtain the booklet containing this essay, from Monastery Press, at https://monasterypress.com/sovchurc.html.
This is a landmark essay by a great mind of true Orthodox in the 20th century. Important for several reasons:
1. It summarizes the position of the confessing Russian Church – the Catacomb Church and ROCOR – of the Soviet period.
2. It explores the question of how a church can appear outwardly beautiful but still not be the Church.
3. It links ecclesiology to Orthodox anthropology and soteriology by linking the question of grace to the question of the distinction between the psychic and the spiritual.
4. It offers an example of a painful struggle for discernment of the presence of the spirit of Christ vs. the spirit of Antichrist in situations when the canons do not give clear guidance.
Tonight we shall begin reading the introduction to the 2000 edition from Monastery Press, by Protodeacon Christopher Birchall.
Is the Grace of God Present in the Soviet Church?
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A. The Nature of the Soviet Authority – pp. 23 – 26
1. Legitimate authority established by God (Romans 13:1)
2. “But an authority which does not recognize the higher authority of God over her, is not an authority but a despotism.
3. Sovietism denies the essence of authority itself.
4. Atheism – Pride and indifference.
5. Soviet system a perfected system of extreme evil without precedent.
6. Communist party the mystical body of Antichrist.
7. The choice presented by the Soviet authority anticipates the trial of the faithful in the time of Antichrist.
8. Final goal of Bolshevism: world government.
9. Must see Bolshevism as a spiritual phenomenon. To see it as just another cruel system of government is too miss the essence of what it is. It is a mystical reality.
B. The Response of the Confessing Church to the Declaration of 1927, pp, 26 – 30
1. The confessing true Church of Russia regards the Soviet authority as an Antichrist anti-authority.
2. The delegation of the Petrograd diocese of 1927, of which Andreyev was a member. The response of Sergius: to laugh.
3. Those who rejected the Declaration did so on moral grounds, not simply political allegiance.
4. The followers of Sergius declared that the martyrs were criminals and that Stalin was the “chosen of God.”
5. Many of the best bishops, clergy, and theologians rejected the Declaration. Initially the rejection was widespread. Anti-Sergianism was put down not by any canonical means or theological argument, but by the violent physical elimination of all those who opposed the Declaration. Their imprisonment, torture, and death was accomplished with the full knowledge, cooperation, and approval of Sergius and his “synod.”
C. The “Canonical” Basis of the Sergianist “Synod” – pp. 30 – 31
1. Sergius violated a basic canon, Canon 34 of the Apostolic Canons, which directs that the president of a synod do nothing without the consent of the other bishops. Moreover, Sergius was not even really the canonical head of the Church – that was Metropolitan Peter of Krutitsa. Sergius was on the deputy locum tenens, a position of temporary administrative status, certainly not entitled to make such momentous decisions, and certainly not to do so unilaterally.
2. He silenced the clergy who disagreed with him with (suspension, defrocking, unlawful transfers, etc., , and he declared all those who opposed him were “counter-revolutionaries” and therefore subject to prosecution under Soviet law.
3. Stalin made him “patriarch” with a fraudulent election during WWII, in 1943.
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You can listen to an audio podcast of this post at https://www.spreaker.com/user/youngfaithradio/lk4thurs_1
In today’s Gospel, Herod exhibits the vain curiosity of those who want to talk religion but do not want to live according to the demands of truth:
At that time:Herod the tetrarch heard of all that was done by him: and he was perplexed, because that it was said of some, that John was risen from the dead; And of some, that Elias had appeared; and of others, that one of the old prophets was risen again. And Herod said, John have I beheaded: but who is this, of whom I hear such things? And he desired to see him. And the apostles, when they were returned, told him all that they had done. And he took them, and went aside privately into a desert place belonging to the city called Bethsaida. And the people, when they knew it, followed him: and he received them, and spake unto them of the kingdom of God, and healed them that had need of healing. – Luke 9: 7-11
St. Theophan the Recluse comments on the mindset of Herod:
Hearing about the works of Christ the Savior, Herod said, “John have I beheaded; but Who is this?” And he desired to see Him. He desired to see Him and sought an opportunity for this, but was not made worthy, because he sought not unto faith and salvation, but out of empty curiosity. Inquisitiveness is the tickling of the mind. Truth is not dear to inquisitiveness, but news is, especially sensational news. That is why it is not satisfied with the truth itself, but seeks something extraordinary in it. When it has contrived something extraordinary, it stops there and attracts other people to it. – Thoughts for Each Day of the Year, p. 227
There is a great difference between the desire for truth and empty curiosity. The desire for truth is a profound longing planted in the soul by God, and it is inseparable from the longing for justice, for the good, for doing God’s will: I seek the truth because knowing truth is a moral imperative. I seek the truth because remaining ignorant of truth is a sin, is displeasing to God, is a socio-pathological state which hurts my neighbor, destroys my soul, and imperils my eternal destiny. Knowing truth is what God made my mind for: it is pleasing to Him and enables me to love Him and love my neighbor as well as to attain my earthly purpose and my eternal happiness.
Pilate’s retort to Truth Incarnate when He stood before him – “What is truth?” (i.e., one cannot know the truth, truth is relative) – excuses the speaker from the task of being human. Judas knew Who Christ was and betrayed Him. Pilate does not even get around to betraying Christ, because he does not even bother to find out Who He is. Judas goes out with a bang, Pilate with a whimper – the result is the same.
Today everyone excuses his own and everyone else’s ignorance: no one is going to hell because, well, “He does not know any better.” Everyone has forgotten that there is such a thing as culpable ignorance, the guilty ignorance chosen by the man who does not care to find the truth, or, having an inkling of the truth, does not want to follow it up. The same person may be like Herod in today’s reading – he may actually enjoy talking religion. This usually entails his pontificating about things he knows very little about, concluding that all truth claims have more or less the same value, and that he has the moral and intellectual high ground because he is a relativist. A sorry spectacle: A man who has made himself stupid on purpose in order to avoid the pain of intellectual, spiritual, and moral struggle. He prides himself on having a permanently open mind, but the problem with having an always-open mind is like that of having an always-open mouth: unless you close it on something, you will starve.
How can we flee the vain curiosity we see in Herod and attain the love of truth we see in the saints? Here are three steps we can take:
First: Pray earnestly for the love of the truth, for ourselves and for others. We should weep over the indifference to truth we see everywhere, for the vacuity and idiocy of 99% of contemporary thought, speech, and writing. We need to become interior martyrs for truth, with constant suffering over the darkness of men’s minds. We should hurt over it. We need to pray for this grace.
Second: Stop being information junkies. Remember: information is not truth; it’s just stuff. Today’s information technology has enabled an entire way of life based on distraction, which is fatal to coherent thought, much less accurate rational and intuitive philosophy and theology, and therefore our first step has to lie in radically disciplining our use of the Internet. Look at it this way: “Alright, my work may require x amount of time on the Internet. Beyond that, I will be on it x amount of time at y time of day. I will use it to find things I need or talk to people I need to talk to, but I will not live in it. The real world is the visible world around me and the invisible world of the soul. I will choose to spend my time in the real world as much as possible.” The Internet is not the real world; at best it simulates the real world, and the accuracy of the simulation is questionable. It is a tool we use, not an alternative universe to move into because we do not like the world we live in. It is understandable that Orthodox Christians who are isolated and spiritually lonely will use this powerful tool to communicate with the like-minded (and even to listen to talks like this one!), but it’s all too easy to leave a healthy and refreshing conversation or video and then, click, in less than a second you are looking at images or words that are poison for the soul. We must beware. Always make your Cross before you go on the Internet. Always have an icon nearby that you can look at periodically, to help you guard your mind.
Third: Spend time reading books. I know that this sounds radical, perhaps even subversive, but I highly recommend it. Pick one good book of Orthodox spiritual reading and another good book about something real – serious history or literature or science, etc. – and put in x hours (or minutes…just get started!) reading them.
At one point in their lives, both Herod and Pilate had Truth Incarnate standing before them, and they could not see, because they did not care. Let us care to the point where it hurts and cry out to the Lord to enlighten our darkness.
You can listen to an audio podcast of this post at https://www.spreaker.com/user/youngfaithradio/lk4wed
In today’s Gospel, the disciples have a close brush with death and experience their complete dependence on the Master:
At that time: Jesus went into a ship with his disciples: and he said unto them, Let us go over unto the other side of the lake. And they launched forth. But as they sailed he fell asleep: and there came down a storm of wind on the lake; and they were filled with water, and were in jeopardy. And they came to him, and awoke him, saying, Master, master, we perish. Then he arose, and rebuked the wind and the raging of the water: and they ceased, and there was a calm. And he said unto them, Where is your faith? And they being afraid wondered, saying one to another, What manner of man is this! for he commandeth even the winds and water, and they obey him. – Luke 8: 22-25
St. Theophan the Recluse takes the disciples’ experience as a reminder that we should daily and hourly remember death:
When they boarded the ship to sail to the other side of the lake, did the Apostles think that they would meet with a tempest and expose their lives to danger? Meanwhile, a tempest suddenly arose and they did not expect to remain alive. Such is the path of our life! You do not know how or from where danger will sweep in, capable of destroying us. Air, water, fire, beasts, man, a bird, a house – in a word, everything around us – could suddenly be transformed into a weapon for our death. From this comes a law: live in such a way that every minute you are ready to meet death, and fearlessly enter into its realm. This minute you are alive, but who knows whether you will be alive the next? Keep yourself according to this thought. Do everything you have to, according to the routines of your life, but in no way forget that you could immediately move to a land from which there is no return. Not remembering this will not postpone the appointed hour, and deliberately banishing this crucial change from your thoughts will not lessen the eternal meaning of what will happen after it. Commit your life and everything in it into God’s hands. Spend hour after hour with the thought that each hour is the last. From this the number of empty pleasures will decrease, while at death this deprivation will be immeasurably recompensed with a joy that has no equal among the joys of life. – Thoughts for Each Day of the Year, pp. 226-227
Recall that all of our spiritual problems come from pride, the primordial delusion that we are in charge of everything, that we are the makers of our own existence, and that somehow we can preserve ourselves indefinitely if only we are clever and powerful enough. We forget that we have a Creator, that we are entirely contingent beings, and that without His upholding us in existence we would return immediately to the abyss of non-being from which we came. Were you born 15, 45, 75, or perhaps 105 years ago? That number of years plus nine months is all that separates you from the realm of absolute non-existence. Now put that number of years next to the 7,500+ years since the Creation. Put 7,500 years next to the immeasurably vast aeons of the angelic universe. Put that next to eternity. Think about it.
One mark of the spiritual poverty of contemporary Christianity is that the most fundamental spiritual exercises known to our forebears, including the unlettered ones, have become utterly foreign to us. One of these essential practices is the constant remembrance of death. For the Christian, this does not produce gloom and depression but rather the opposite: joy, spiritual freedom, and hope in the life to come; not, however, without sobriety regarding one’s spiritual state and constantly striving in repentance, abiding in humble self-reproach.
The constant remembrance of death, yoked with a pure conscience, opens the inexhaustible wellspring of courage, a virtue noticeably absent from Christian life today. Everyone grows calculating and cold, holding something back; it is rare to see the childlike, self-forgetting zeal of the martyrs and ascetics of old, to see a David dancing before the Ark or a Peter impulsively setting out to walk on the water. Our fathers of old were kings, warriors, monks, scholars, artists, craftsmen, and rugged men of the wilderness and of the soil, while we have become gadget minders, money-counters, clock-punchers, paper-pushers, and screen-watchers. This cosseted artificial life creates an illusion of comfort and even immortality. We forget that only a life lived as an adventure full of risk is worth living; we forget that the final adventure of death awaits every man, whether he be hero or coward. We shall die nonetheless.
We cannot change our circumstances, at least not much. But we can change ourselves. Let us be warriors of the spirit, forgetting our absurd, egotistical demands for guaranteed security, comfort, and entertainment, and setting out on the beautiful adventure of knights errant for Christ. Remembering death at every moment, let us scorn the illusion of happiness promised by the usurious elite to their technocratic hirelings and their slaves, the mindless thumb-suckers and hollow men of the New Normal, and let us freely confess our Faith, practice the virtues, and rejoice in being regarded as fools by the world. We have nothing permanent to lose, except for an eternity in hell with Satan and his angels. We have everything permanent to gain: eternal rejoicing at the victory banquet of our Mighty Warrior and Victorious King.
To Him be the glory with the Father and the Holy Spirit, unto ages of ages. Amen.
You can listen to an audio podcast of this post at https://www.spreaker.com/user/youngfaithradio/lk4tues_2
In today’s Gospel, we see the holy women who accompanied the Lord in His preaching journeys ministering to Him “…of their substance.”
And it came to pass afterward, that he went throughout every city and village, preaching and showing the glad tidings of the kingdom of God: and the twelve were with him, And certain women, which had been healed of evil spirits and infirmities, Mary called Magdalene, out of whom went seven devils, And Joanna the wife of Chuza Herod’s steward, and Susanna, and many others, which ministered unto him of their substance. – Luke 8: 1-3
“…of their substance” means that the material resources they helped Christ with – time and work, food, clothing, money, etc. – were things that they themselves really needed for their families and for themselves, not surplus, not what was left over after their needs were met. They were making real sacrifices. After they had met Christ, their priorities became radically different from before, and they put caring for Him and enabling Him to spread the Gospel over other priorities.
The Lord Jesus was of the tribe of Judah, not of the tribe of Levi, who, being the priests of the Mosaic covenant, were supported by tithes from the other tribes, which freed them to perform the complex and time-consuming duties of the Old Testament worship. Until His Baptism in the Jordan and beginning His preaching at age 30, the Lord had earned His living like everyone else, working in the family trade – recall, the people in Nazareth knew Him as “Joseph the carpenter’s son.” When He began preaching, however, He left all earthly work behind completely and dedicated Himself entirely to announcing the Gospel, the coming of the Kingdom of God. When He called His disciples, both men and women, it compelled them so powerfully that they realized that they either had to drop everything and preach the Gospel, like the Apostles, or support those who were doing so “…of their substance.” By their material sacrifice, they were enabling the spread of the Kingdom of God and would thereby inherit that Kingdom.
Today’s economy is tough on people who are honest and do not buy into the corruption at the top of the “food chain” or the welfare dependency at the bottom. The government and corporate crooks who run the rigged game of contemporary society are making sure that it will be increasingly difficult to get ahead or even tread water without prostituting yourself to something inherently evil, so that honest and God-fearing people will be tempted to despair. In this setting, it is tempting to give up making material sacrifices for the mission of the Church, because we feel that we face an uncertain material future and therefore cannot spend on anything extra.
The reality, however, is that the Church is not the extra thing – it is the most essential thing. It has become obvious that from now on serious Christians will be increasingly marginalized in the rat race. So, who wants to be a rat, anyway? We may as well radicalize our priorities and life choices, and go for the crown of a pure confession and a Gospel life. St. Paul says in Philippians 3:14: ” I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.” Let us press forward with him, through the prayers of the Holy Myrrhbearing Women who served the Lord and of all the saints.
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