The following question was recently posed to me on my personal Facebook page, by a Ukrainian friend of mine, who is a college professor.
Dear Anastasios… Just what do you think about the current status of, and what do you think about, this “Russian Orthodox Church?” You see, I’ve known you “virtually,” in “cyber space,” and what not, for are a number of years… But now, what do you think, really?
Dear Dr. X______,
Thank you for your question!
I have long avoided answering such questions on my Facebook page, because I have a mixed group of friends and hate engaging in polemics and controversy. That’s not to say that I would change my actual beliefs based on whom I am speaking with—that would be duplicitous—but rather, that I tend to avoid such discussions altogether, because the work that has to put in to crafting an honest but dispassionate and sufficiently polite response borders on onerous. I don’t like offending people, or upsetting them—to a fault, perhaps. I prefer to write about what the GOC (Church of the Genuine Orthodox Christians/”Old Calendarist Church”) stands for, versus what it is against, especially since there are so many people already doing the latter; but since you pose the question, I feel obligated to answer openly and forthrightly, despite my aversion to polemic and debate.
With that loquacious disclaimer out of the way, let me try to answer your question. I have to make a distinction between the “Russian Orthodox Church” on the one hand, and the “Moscow Patriarchate” on the other. The Russian Orthodox Church is a mostly venerable institution; after the conversion of St. Vladimir in 988, it was a regional organization of bishops in Kiev and later, after the Mongol destruction of such, Moscow, subject to the Patriarchate of Constantinople. By the 16th century, it was independent and self-governing, taking its place alongside the four ancient patriarchates (using as a precedent the independent ecclesiastical administrations in Serbia and Bulgaria). It grew and expanded across the East, to Siberia and then beyond, and established itself even in the far East and Central Asia, through the endeavors of such saints as Macarius of Altai, Innocent and Herman of Alaska, and Nikolai of Japan.
With these positive achievements, however, came certain downsides. The suppression of the Georgian Patriarchate (1811) is illustrative; where the Russian Empire expanded, the Moscow-controlled church administration expanded (as opposed to the Orthodox faith per se). After the fall of the empire, brief attempts at creating autocephalous churches in the newly-freed areas such as Ukraine were crushed when the Red Army retook these areas.
I have to say that I am against ethnic-based churches on principle, so the idea that there has to be a national church in each country is something I dislike; I would prefer to see exarchates, dioceses, or metropolitanates based on territory and tied to one of the original patriarchates. The Georgian Church is a good example of the way it could have been: the Georgian patriarch was originally called a Catholicos, and he was sort of a junior patriarch to the patriarch of Antioch, and his election had to be confirmed by him and his synod. I would have preferred to have seen the national churches that developed in Europe have been catholicosates under the Patriarchate of Constantinople instead of full-fledged patriarchates; unfortunately, nationalism being what it was, this was impossible to deal with from an ideological standpoint, and political and practical considerations ruled. Now, we even have the abhorrent, uncanonical, and disastrous practice of each national church even setting up exarchates for its members in other countries, such that there is now a Serbian administration in Romania and a Romanian institution in Serbia. The attempted Romanian incursion into Jerusalem was stopped, however, when the Jerusalem Patriarchate broke communion with the Romanian Patriarchate until they backed down. This sort of behavior leaves me with a bad taste in my mouth.
Given that each national church was made autocephalous as it became independent, however, means that a precedent has been set (even though the Canonical Tradition does not technically take precedent into account as it is not based on Common Law, people are still human and cite prior examples). As such, I don’t see how it’s really fair for Ukraine to not be autocephalous by this point, and I think it will eventually happen, no matter what Moscow says.
Now that I’ve addressed the question of the Russian Orthodox Church from the perspective of history and the development of national churches, I will turn to the point of how I see the Moscow Patriarchate as an institution and its relationship to the Russian Orthodox Church. We Old Calendarist Greeks view the Moscow Patriarchate as an invention of Joseph Stalin in 1942, the product of his decision to change tactics: to stop trying to stamp out the Church completely, which only resulted in the growth of an underground, unregistered church, and to instead attempt to create a state-sponsored church which he could use to rally the people against the Nazis in World War II, and then use as an effective spy agency going forward.
For the history of such, I agree mostly with the analysis of polemical older works such as The Truth About the Russian Church Abroad by M. Rodzianko (http://rocorhistory.blogspot.com/2008/07/truth-about-russian-church-abroad-by-m.html) and the witness of the saints who refused to submit to the Moscow Patriarchate as it was formed, chronicled in the work, Russia’s Catacomb Saints which is now out-of-print and will never be reprinted, as it contains quite damning information that the present publisher would like to forget (digital copies are available from time to time; let me know if you are interested). I won’t go through all the arguments from a historical standpoint, but suffice it to say, I believe that the submission of Met. Sergius to Stalin and the creation of the Moscow Patriarchate in 1942 were wrong, schismatic, and associated with heresies (such as modernist movements in the diaspora, liberation-theology-inspired theological treatments glorifying the Soviet state, and later Ecumenism, which the Moscow Patriarchate used as a means to further the Soviet diplomatic effort and its intelligence services. A succinct summary of the problem of Sergianism can be found in the document The True Orthodox Church in Opposition to the Heresy of Ecumenism (http://www.hsir.org/pdfs/2014/03/22/E20140322aCommonEcclesiology15/E20140322aCommonEcclesiology15.pdf):
1. Another phenomenon and movement akin to ecumenism, likewise possessing an ecclesiological dimension, is so-called Sergianism, which, in the unprecedented circumstances of the persecution of the Church in the former Soviet Union, through the agency of the fallen and compromised Sergius Stragorodsky (†1944), originally Metropolitan, and later Patriarch, of Moscow, surrendered to the atheistic Bolsheviks and their struggle against God an outwardly proper Church organization, so that, in the hands of the revolutionaries, it could become an unwitting tool in their unrelenting warfare against the very Church Herself, as the Bearer of the fullness of Truth in Christ.
2. Sergianism is not simply a Soviet phenomenon, for it caused severe damage to the local Orthodox Churches in the countries of Eastern Europe, where, after the Second World War, atheistic and anti-Christian Communist régimes were established.
3. The quintessence of Sergianism is the adoption of the delusion that deception could be used as a means to preserve the Тruth and, likewise, that collaboration with the enemies and persecutors of the Church was the way to ensure Her survival; in practice, however, the exact opposite occurred: the Sergianist Bishops became tools of the atheistic Communists for the purpose of exercising control over the Church, to the end of Her moral and spiritual enfeeblement and with a view to Her ultimate dismantlement and annihilation.
4. At the level of ecclesiology, Sergianism completely distorted the concept of Orthodox ecclesiastical canonicity, since in the realm of Sergianism, canonicity was essentially torn away from the spirit and the Truth of the authentic canonical tradition of the Church, assuming thereby a formal adherence to legitimacy, which could be used to justify any act of lawlessness committed by the ruling Hierarchy; in fact, ultimately, such a veneer of canonicity degenerated into an administrative technique for the subordination of the people of the Church to the Sergianist Hierarchy, regardless of the direction in which it led the faithful.
Such a corrupt institution was not the Church of Christ. Some argue that the Greek Church under the Ottoman Empire was in a similar situation, but that’s not really true. It is true that the Ottoman authorities interfered with the selection of patriarchs and bishops, but they left the faith itself alone; they even helped the Orthodox bishops expel Roman Catholic infiltrators among the clergy from the Greek islands after they were conquered in the 16th and 17th centuries, whereas the Soviet State pushed the Moscow Patriarchate to reach out to non-Orthodox, which even culminated in the Moscow Patriarchate communing Roman Catholics officially for some years in the 1960s.
The question then becomes, given that communism has fallen, does this stuff still matter? There are those who claim the Moscow Patriarchate has repented of its past, but this is hardly true. I’ve read the “apologies” issued in the Journal of the Moscow Patriarchate in the 1990s, and they are quite general, non-specific apologies for past mistakes and but nothing more. There is no repentance for collaboration, for reporting on confessions, or for Ecumenical obsesses. All of the top people in power in the Moscow Patriarchate are still people who grew up under communism. Those who did not were trained by those who were, propagating a culture of corruption. Quoting again from The True Orthodox Church in Opposition to the Heresy of Ecumenism:
5. After the collapse of the anti-Christian régimes around the end of the preceding twentieth century, the very grave ecclesiological deviation of Sergianism, under the new conditions of political freedom, was preserved as a legacy of the past and, at the same time,changed its form.
6. Anti-Ecclesiastical Sergianism, having long ago incorporated within itself a worldly spirit, unscrupulousness, deception, and a pathological servility towards the powerful of this world, continues to betray the Church, now no longer for fear of reprisals from atheistic rulers, but for the sake of self-serving and secularist motives and under the cloak of supposed canonicity, still peddling the freedom of the Church in exchange for gaining the friendship of the powerful of this world, with all of the concomitant material benefits and, to be sure, prestigious social status.
7. Today, the virus of Sergianism, in this modified form, as neo-Sergianism or post-Sergianism, and also in other forms of state control over the Churches, affects to some degree a large part of the Episcopate of the official local Orthodox Churches around the world, thereby contributing to the promotion of an equally secularist and syncretistic ecumenism, under the cover of a false canonicity.
Duplicity is rampant; on the one hand, the Moscow Patriarchate issues soft “condemnations” of Ecumenism, but on the other sends Metropolitan Hilarion (Alfayev) around the world trying to better position the Moscow Patrairchate’s role in the Ecumenical Movement. Respect for other religions is preached, but then more strict restrictions are placed on Eastern Rite Catholics, Latin Catholics, Baptists, and groups deemed “schismatic” by the Moscow Patriarchate (i.e. those who consider themselves Russian Orthodox, but refuse to commune with the Moscow Patriarchate due to its corruption and compromise of the faith).
Especially under Putin, the alliance between the Moscow Patriarchate and the State has grown; the Moscow Patriarchate now functions as a virtual arm of the Russian State Department. The reunification of the Moscow Patriarchate with the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia (ROCOR) under Metropolitan Laurus in 2007 occurred with the active participation of Vladimir Putin, and the ROCOR’s role in maintaining Russian culture abroad has superseded its previous role as a beacon of Orthodoxy in places where Orthodoxy was being compromised (c.f. the “Sorrowful Epistles” of Metropolitan Philaret http://orthodoxinfo.com/ecumenism/sorrow.aspx). In fact, when a Moscow Patriarchate bishop, Diomid, attempted to do something about Ecumenism, he was censured by the Moscow Patriarchate, and Metropolitan Hilarion of ROCOR went along with it.
We hear stories of the so-called resurgence of Orthodoxy in Russia. I don’t deny that in some local instances, there are some nice things happening in the sense of parishes being constructed, charities operating, people rejecting atheism and embracing Christianity, etc. However, quantitatively, it is a tiny dent on an otherwise unaffected culture. Russia is not a beacon of Orthodoxy; many of the churches outside of the capital are empty even on major feast days, and even with all the construction of churches and religious education being put into schools, statistics I have seen point to only about 1% of Russians attending church regularly. This contrasts greatly with Roman Catholic Poland, where 80-90% of people attend church regularly, Slovakia, where 60% do, and even the Czech Republic, where 30% of people attend church regularly. Abortion is rampant in Russia, as are drug abuse, prostitution, and many other vices (c.f. Russia, Putin, and Christian Values by Vladimir Moss http://www.orthodoxchristianbooks.com/articles/535/russia,-putin-christian-values/). Russia is against gays, though, so that somehow makes everything ok, and Putin a modern-day beacon of morality…
In essence, an institution which is the creation of communists, which compromised the faith of its adherents and the witness of the Church, which never repented once it became “free” and then went right back in to bed with its former master, and which serves as a tool of the Russian State and intelligence services, all the while participating in Ecumenical joint prayers and other excesses, is not the Russian Orthodox Church.
Rather than the Moscow Patriarchate, I recommend that those who are Russian Orthodox attend a parish under the Russian Church Abroad under Metropolitan Agafangel, who lives in Odessa, Ukraine, and has bishops and clergy there, in Europe, North and South America, Australia, and in Russia itself. This Synod, deemed “uncanonical” and “schismatic” by the Moscow Patriarchate, is free from the corruption of that institution, and many of its members suffer greatly for being opposed to Putin and his State Church. The confession of faith of these bishops is Orthodox. It must be noted that they have had some internal disputes over the question of Russia versus Ukraine as of late, but seem to have come to an understanding recently at a council.
Those are my thoughts on the Russian Orthodox Church.
Part of my ongoing Correspondence series, featuring replies to people who contacted me and asked questions.
Based on your research, Is it true that one of the ordaining bishops of Metropolitan Petros was with the “New Calendar but under the ROCOR” like I have read?
You’re getting things mixed up a bit—Metropolitan Petros was ordained by ROCOR Bishop Seraphim of Caracas and Archbishop Leonty of Chile. read more…
I don’t celebrate Halloween, out of obedience to my bishop and because my conscience does not permit me to engage in anything that makes light of the dark powers (which, when I was involved with occultic things as a teenager, I witnessed with my own eyes).
That being said, a few points:
1) A lot of the anti-Halloween stuff is derived from Protestant Fundamentalist nonsense, and should not be taken seriously or used in Orthodox arguments against Halloween. We really don’t know what Druids did, what their religion was like, or what the pagans of the British Isles really did on Samhein, apart from a few unreliable testimonies of the Romans, who deliberately fabricated and hyped them up to justify their annexation of Britain and destruction of the British people’s traditional social structure. Recall that the Romans were just as pagan as the British were, but had an “enlightened” form of paganism, so the more inchoate and natural paganism of the Druids and Celts was seen as backward and uncivilized. But the real fact is that the Druids were powerful in that society, and their power needed to be broken. read more…
At the onset, I want to say that I have an extreme dislike for engaging in polemics. Nowadays, I normally do not engage in public refutations of false accusations; I spent too many hours of my life doing so in the 2000s, and it caused me a lot of consternation. Perhaps some good came out of it, but I found it impossible to answer every critic, and every argument. Nowadays, I don’t mind writing broadly in article or book format to address trends and events, but the point-by-point refutation style of responding so common online is something I do not have the stomach for anymore.
That being said, yet another person has contacted me and asked me about the accusations found on the website of the soi-disant Archbishop Gregory of Colorado pertaining to the GOC (referred to there as “GOC Kallinikos”). I was preparing to respond in private, when I decided that if this individual has these questions, and others like him have had these questions in the past, then there are probably yet still more who wonder, but have not expressed their doubts. For this reason, I am going to write a public response, in point-by-point fashion. read more…
Those active in Orthodox Christian “corners” of Facebook have likely heard of or interacted with His Grace Bishop Christodoulos of Theoupolis, who joined the site as soon as it became open to the public in 2006 (in fact, I joined Facebook when he invited me). Bishop Christodoulos, a vicar bishop in the GOC, quickly reached the Facebook limit of 5000 friends, and while he primarily used it to interact with his spiritual children and promote videos on the YouTube Channel Greek Orthodox Christian Television, he also used it to become one of the most accessible Orthodox Christian bishops online, fielding questions about the Orthodox faith, and directing people to the nearest Orthodox Christian parish. read more…
I’ve always hated Fall. Autumn. The changing of leaf colors. The cold breeze. The way the sunlight seems to cast down upon us differently. Longer hours of darkness. Wet rain. Back to school. Hardly anything interesting on the church calendar. The stupid “holiday” of Halloween. The death of my best friend Roberto (+11/19/2008). Sweaters, long pants. Unpredictable weather: mornings cold, afternoons hot. Animals going away. Heating bills increasing. Seemingly more tired.
Fall in 2012 was when I had to come to terms with the destruction of my first marriage. Fall of 2013 was when I had to deal with the stresses of a new relationship and a new baby, and the reactions of everyone who knew me. Seasonal affective disorder, maybe? Who knows. But I hate the Fall. read more…
The following is an excerpt from my upcoming book, Finding the True Orthodox Church. The book consists of a series of chapters which address various objections to True Orthodoxy. This is the introduction to a chapter which addresses the question, “Are True Orthodox Vagantes?” This charge is sometimes leveled against the True Orthodox, by comparing them to various pseudo-churches with no legitimate heritage, in an effort to paint the True Orthodox as pretend clergy and poseurs. The chapter will explore the differences between True Orthodox and Independent Orthodox (i.e. vagante) groups, to demonstrate that the two movements have nothing in common, despite the fact that some Independent Orthodox groups call themselves True Orthodox.
Orthodox Christians living in the West have benefited from certain relative freedoms available to them which were not available in the Old World. However, with these new opportunities came new challenges. Especially after the confusion of the October Revolution in 1917, the Orthodox Church in the West became jurisdictionally fragmented, and in the midst of this disorder arose competing bishops and jurisdictions—a canonical irregularity and a serious scandal to all conscientious Christians. With no governmental authority to intervene, and given the chaos that was prevalent in many of the Old World patriarchates due to war and upheaval, the reality of an unhealthy situation was accepted as unavoidable. Out of this confusion arose bishops who were no longer affiliated with any established Orthodox synod or local church, and dozens of independent parishes. read more…
+November 15/28 1927
Originally published by the Ta Patria Periodical
THE HOLY NEW MARTYR Catherine Routis was born in 1900 in a small Greek village called Mandra in Attica Greece to poor but pious parents.
Like her parents — John and Maria Peppas — Catherine was a pious child, offering to help family and neighbors in any way possible.
At the age of 22, Catherine Peppas married Constantine Routis from the same village. Christ gave them two children, Christos and Irene.
The devout Routis family joined the resistance of the True Orthodox Christians, participating in all the services and public demonstrations for their Faith, even when this was perilous — all for the sake of the traditions of the Holy Fathers.
On the eve of the feast of the Heavenly Powers, on November 7, 1927, some pious women from Mandra, together with the brave Catherine, had cleaned the church and prepared it, so that nothing was lacking for the awaited festival. read more…
Today I was talking to a historian friend on Facebook. He mentioned how he loves pouring over reams of historical data, something which bores other people to tears. I told him I share his passion. That sparked a memory of a most curious and interesting event that occurred during the writing of my thesis on Metropolitan Petros of Astoria: my journey into the heart of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia (ROCOR).
While a seminarian at St. Vladimir’s Seminary in nearby Yonkers, New York, I became interested in the Greek Old Calendarists, much to the chagrin of some of my professors and fellow students (one fellow student, seeing an issue of Orthodox Tradition with my name on it in the mail room, dramatically exclaimed to me, “tell me this is not where your heart is!” while a professor walking by me in the library and seeing me reading the same remarked, “you don’t really believe that s*t, do you?!”) . After investing hundreds—if not thousands—of hours researching the Old Calendarists, I decided to do my thesis on Metropolitan Petros of Astoria, the first legitimate Greek Old Calendarist bishop in America, ordained by ROCOR bishops in 1962.
As part of my research for the thesis, I realized I would need access to the ROCOR Synodal Archives, where many documents pertaining to the ROCOR and its relations with the Greek Old Calendarists were kept. One of my fellow seminarians was a ROCOR monk who had recently returned from a monastery in Europe to continue his studies, and was given a blessing to attend St. Vladimir’s Seminary to do so. When not at the seminary, he resided at Holy Trinity Monastery in Jordanville, New York, where Metropolitan Laurus (+2008) lived as well. He spoke with the Metropolitan, who granted me permission to do research in the archives, located at the ROCOR Synodal headquarters.
ROCOR’s international headquarters, often colloquially referred to as simply “Synod,” is located at 75 E 93rd Street in New York City. This building is part of The George F. Baker Houses, an iconic family compound of houses right off of Park Avenue in Manhattan, and was acquired by the ROCOR Synod of Bishops in 1958. It houses the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Sign (which was formerly the mansion’s grand ballroom), administrative offices, a kitchen, an apartment for the resident bishop (at that time, Bishop Gabriel lived there), and many individual rooms, some of which are inhabited by people who work at Synod, such as the tireless musician, translator, and composer Isaac Lambertsen.
On the appointed day, I arrived at Synod to meet my monastic friend. An older gentleman manned the door, dressed in a suit and tie, reading a Russian newspaper, and occasionally answering the phone. The lobby was immaculately clean, although the lighting was dim—what would become a recurring theme. I announced who I was, and he phoned my friend, who promptly came downstairs and greeted me. He then proceeded to give me the tour.
Synod was sort of like something similar to Walt Disney World’s Haunted Mansion. It’s a huge building, half empty, with numerous winding hallways and staircases. But as one transects the numerous floors, instead of encountering ghosts doing various tasks as in Disney World, one instead would find various individuals quietly going about their business. Some were working, while others were sitting around conversing in low voices. If this were a Greek Orthodox operation, the noise level would be five times higher, and the various hangers-around would be more welcoming and animated, but as Synod is a fully Russian institution, the result was a rather low key experience where one had the distinct impression that people were at best indifferent and perhaps even mildly hostile to the presence of strangers.
In the kitchen, older women cooked, which is something that happens in all Orthodox institutions where there are kitchens. I recall being offered soup or something likewise hearty. My friend and handler then took me to a small door with a small pane of glass. Opening it, there was a bricked in wall. Visions of someone being bricked in as a medieval punishment came to mind, but a far more tame explanation was offered: the original owners were so rich, that they had their own subway stop for the workers to use daily, but as New York modernized and reorganized its subway system, such perks for the rich were gradually phased out, and the stop was bricked in. Adventurers would love to go into those abandoned tunnels, I’m sure.
Going to one of the upper levels, we sought out Isaac Lambertsen’s room to greet him. Isaac and I had communicated a few times by email, and have a mutual friend in common. As I recall, the hallways were not straight, but rather formed something akin to an L-curve or perhaps a V-curve. The hallways were again dimly lit, and I admit that were I living there, I would be afraid to walk those halls at night, for fear of whatever person might have made it past the old man guarding the door and then laying in wait in one of the many empty rooms! Well, now I am being dramatic—I am sure they have a security system Nevertheless, there is something romantic about walking around narrow, dark, dimly-lit hallways in a mansion in Manhattan off Park Avenue, and it’s a memory that will stay with me forever.
Finally, we arrived at the archives. At the time, Fr. Seraphim Gan was the archivist, and after the appropriate introductions, I was allowed access to the eight boxes on Old Calendarists. Boxes 1-7 were chronologically-organized, while box 8 was solely focused on one individual who has been in the center of some controversies in the history of the Old Calendarists. About half the material in that box was supportive, and the other half not-so-much.
Beyond the Old Calendarist materials, there was a filing cabinet labelled in Russian, “Their Graces in Schism,” which was locked. I was told it pertained to those bishops whom ROCOR considered to be schismatic at the time, such as Metropolitan Valentine of ROAC. Also, there were filing cabinets with archives from Synodal meetings. All of the earlier material was solely in Russian. My friend pulled out one document from the 1950s, where Bishop John (Maximovitch)—now St. John—voiced support for the Old Calendarists and ordaining bishops for them, but when I asked if I could copy said document, I recall being told it was, “outside the purview of my blessing” or something to that effect. Indeed.
We Americans do not have old castles or palaces. What we do have are old estates. Mt. Vernon, Monticello, and the like are all famous places where one can go and see a glimpse of life from a different age. ROCOR’s headquarters is also an estate; an urban estate and an oasis in the midst of the great hustle and bustle that is New York City. It clearly was in decline at the time I visited in 2005, but the people there had dignity nonetheless, and carried on their duties faithfully. I had mixed emotions about my visit: respect seeing a venerable religious institution; admiration of a work of American architecture; dismay at seeing the decline of what was probably once a vibrant community of co-laborers for the Gospel living in community; and a profound sadness that ROCOR would soon be reuniting with the Moscow Patriarchate, despite the serious reservations of many (for those who did not follow this course, see here). I was also grateful that I was able to see something that most people would never be able to see. Being a historian—even an amateur one—is something that opens up doors and contextualizes life.
I was able to copy several hundred pages of documents from the ROCOR archives, which formed the nucleus for my work on Metropolitan Petros. In the process, I had a lot of fun exploring this intriguing and mysterious place, as well.
Are you a convert to the GOC under Archbishop Kallinikos, our sister Russian Church (the ROCOR under Met. Agafangel), or our sister Romanian Church? Would you be willing to share you conversion story? If so, please contact me at anastasios At anastasios.hudson DOT com.
I will be editing a collection of conversion stories and would love to have your contribution. You can help others sort through the issues and make the decision to join our Church!