ENGLISH VERSION: Bishop Gregory (Lourie) of Petrograd and Gdov. True Orthodoxy As a Way of Life
Translator’s introduction: The following essay, written by His Grace, Bishop Gregory of Petrograd and Gdov, in the summer of 2013, is addressed first and foremost to True Orthodox Christians living in today’s Russia. Some of the problems he raises apply to True Orthodox Christians living in other countries, others do not. But with some “translation,” readers living in any country can easily find ways to apply Vladyka’s words to their own particular circumstances. The essay consists of a brief introduction, six thematic sections, and a substantial conclusion.
It’s so happened historically that any version of Orthodox that’s condemned Sergianism and ecumenism has been called “True Orthodoxy.” All the while it’s clear to everyone that this alone isn’t enough to be called “true.” And it’s no less clear to everyone that Orthodoxy is only secondarily a rejection of evil and is primarily an affirmation of the good.
Only an ecclesial organization that learns to preach this good through an internally-generated way of life will be True Orthodox in the proper sense of these words, because “you can oppose every word with another word, but what word will you oppose to life?” (St. Gregory Palamas).
The sought-for way of church life in True Orthodox communities can be described, so it seems to me, in six points. I’ll list them in a sequence that has significance: each point is unfeasible and incomprehensible without the previous ones:
Eucharistic and liturgical life;
Dogmatic confession of faith;
Ecclesial organization of communities “from below”;
Blocking of the rebirth of clericalism.
Now on to each point individually.
In this point we’ll talk only about the kind of asceticism without which there can be no Christianity and which is therefore obligatory for all Christians.
Everyone who comes to a Christian community has motivations (whether they are conscious or unconscious is unimportant) that belong to one of two types. I emphasize that, for all the diversity of specific motivations, there are only two types of motivation. Sometimes in the process of intra-communal life they switch places with each another, but not often. The usual change in motivation – if it does change – is a simple weakening and dissolution, with the person subsequently falling away from the religious community or functioning within it on an obviously false (hypocritical) basis (for example, as a professional earning money) – that is, as a parasite.
The two possible types of motivation are: either you change yourself or you remain in a psychologically comfortable place (a collective). One doesn’t necessarily contradict the other, but it’s important which motivation is the most prevalent; that is, the one for which someone is ready to endure inconvenience and suffering. Two completely different types of person are defined thereby.
To one and the same type belong both a serious monk and some office dimwit who came to the Church as his last hope for saving his family or to avoid becoming a victim of alcoholization, if he faithfully and to the best of his abilities – no matter how meagerly – fulfills all the rules of the Church. That is, not so much “fulfills” as constantly repents for his constant infractions, all the while not losing his work ethic and constantly moving forward, if even if at the rate of one millimeter per day (or year). This is the type of person who has come to the Church to work on himself. And the Church itself can only work with such types of people. It can work with everyone else in one sense only: by calling them to begin work on themselves. And to one and the same (although different) type belong bored women nearing retirement age who want to spend their extra free time in a pleasant environment and young people, who are fervent and perhaps even truly self-sacrificing, who have come to the Church “for the company,” since they’ve nowhere else met such an interesting crowd. The parasitic character of the former, as a rule, is obvious; as for the latter, it is hidden even from themselves (and they themselves are the first and primary victims of their own “parasitism”). Self-sacrifice “for the company” might be outwardly indistinguishable from sacrifice for the Church, but there is nothing in common between the two.
We saw a great deal of this improper motivation among the young people who came to Orthodoxy in the nineties and even in the beginning of the “noughts,” when church activism was still perceived within society as a noble cause and various remarkable brotherhoods and sisterhoods appeared, as well as new monasteries. In order to get drawn into this, it was enough to share a certain sense of altruism (which isn’t uncommon among young people) and to be on good terms with one’s colleagues in the community – while the absence of actual religious motivations was easy to overlook. After five (or at most eight) years, the degree of “churchliness” of the members of such communities was reduced almost to zero, and even to negative values. And one shouldn’t think that this illness was specific to the Moscow Patriarchate: the True Orthodox Church has had plenty of the same.
For a Christian, the subsequent moral is simple, but unusually hard to fulfill: one should not attract anyone to membership in ecclesial communities by means of non-ecclesial enticements. It’s fine if there are many different beneficial activities that might attract people sympathetic to these communities next to ecclesial communities – but not inside them. But none of these people should be granted membership to the Church – that is, Communion – until there is the chance to validate a reasonable hypothesis about their readiness to work on themselves (and not just on something external).
What is the procedure that would allow one to validate this hypothesis (and not actually prove it, for God alone can make an authoritative judgment about such matters)?
First of all, of course, one needs to discourage people from approaching the Church, pointing out the various inconveniences of church life in general and of our True Orthodoxy in particular. Our entreaties won’t make any difference anyway on those who are seriously interested. But they also won’t work on the majority of those whose motivation is of the second type. As such, conversations won’t solve this problem, so a quarantine is necessary: one needs to provide someone who insists on his desire to join the Church with a certain period of time as a catechumen. If you plan to receive him through the rite Baptism, then it’s desirable to perform the rite of becoming a catechumen first. If Baptism isn’t planned, then the rite of becoming a catechumen isn’t performed – but that doesn’t essentially change anything. The catechumenate is essential. Let him come to services; let him learn to pray and fast; let him read books; let him speak with Christians (and not just with the priest)… Normally this leads to the majority of such people disappearing quickly. But, then again, the people who are left are the sorts that are worth trying to live with further in a community. It goes without saying that even the proper motivation on the part of the latter by such means doesn’t guarantee anything, for which reason I called this whole process of formation only a “reasonable hypothesis.”
I think it’s unnecessary to explain that this practice with catechumens, and even with people who have been Baptized but have fallen away from the Church (or have received Baptism from heretics), is a requirement of canon law and that its absence is a violation thereof.
It’s fine if our communities have many “fellow travelers” and “sympathizers,” but substantially fewer (that is, ten times fewer) actual parishioners – that is, members of the community. That’s a perfectly normal proportion.
If we don’t keep to this rule, then we won’t have believers for whom certain important dogmatic distinctions are important and who can meaningfully participate in parish and church-wide administration: in particular, the ability to elect clergy. In communities in which absolutely everyone is accepted (even if they verbally insist that this isn’t the case), the faithful become interested in entirely different things and can’t be allowed near church administration.
If we don’t begin with this simple rule – mandatory Christian asceticism for all – then everything else becomes both useless and impossible. The recent examples of ROCOR and its “fragments” are there for all to see.
Christians should live in a regime of constant battle and training, like professional solders or athletes – although battling and training don’t count when in the social or even ecclesial realms. They only count when they’re not focused on anyone around you, but on you yourself. Only in such cases can the proper requirements for liturgical life, as well as the capacity for understanding dogmatics, be met in someone. Anyone not interested should – in one way or another, but the sooner the better – be politely asked to withdraw.
Eucharistic and Liturgical Life
Participation in liturgical life should be meaningful. Meaningless participation is worse than none at all. First of all, then, True Orthodoxy shouldn’t allow that grievous sin of pre-revolutionary church life: so-called “attending [literally: hearing] the Liturgy” rather than really participating and communing in it.
Inasmuch as this represents a simulation of Christianity and a mockery of the Church’s central Mystery, such defilement shouldn’t be permitted at all. Everyone present at the Liturgy, unless they’ve been excluded from Communion for their sins, is obliged to receive Communion.
Those not planning to receive Communion shouldn’t participate in the Eucharistic prayers, for they’re saying one thing with their mouths while their hearts are far from the meaning of what they’re saying. Such prayers are a mockery of God, and it’s clear who’s responsible for such mockery (above all the clergy, and especially the episcopacy, who stage this farce of the Divine Liturgy).
“Attending [listening to] the Liturgy” isn’t just bad, it’s an ecclesiastical crime for which there should be an ecclesiastical punishment – if, that is, the perpetrator repents; if he doesn’t, he can only be cast out from the Church. Apostolic Canons 8 and 9 equally require participation in the Eucharist not only by the clergy, but also by the laity. “Attending [listening to] the Liturgy” is forbidden for both clergy and laity under the same sanctions. Canon 2 of the Council of Antioch defines the sanctions for those not of the clergy:
“As for all those persons who enter the church and listen to the sacred Scriptures, but who fail to commune in prayer together and at the same time with the laity, or who shun the participation of the Eucharist, in accordance with some irregularity, we decree that these persons be outcasts from the Church until, after going to confession and exhibiting fruits of repentance and begging forgiveness, they succeed in obtaining a pardon,” which Zonaras in the XII century explains as follows: “Thus, these Fathers determined that those who enter the church but do not abide in prayer or receive Communion for some disorderly reason – that is, not for a pious reason, but in disorderly and groundless fashion – are cast out from the Church, that is, cut off and left outside the assembly of the faithful. Here the Fathers call ‘irregular’ not one who hates Divine Communion and therefore does not approach it, but rather one who avoids it possibly out of reverence and, as it were, humility. For if one avoided Holy Communion out of hatred and aversion, then such a one would be subject not to being cast out, but to ultimate exclusion from the Church and to anathema.”
The only ones who may not receive Communion at the Liturgy are those to whom it’s altogether forbidden; that is, people’s whose actual status is akin to that of the ancient category of “co-standers” [Greek: synestotes; Latin: consistentes]. It wasn’t they themselves who decided not to receive Communion; rather, the Church temporarily forbad them to approach Communion due to certain sins.
The turning of the violation of this rule into the norm for the entire Christian East had already taken place by the end of the Middle Ages, which led to the millions-strong flock of ostensibly Orthodox turning out in fact to be a gathering of the godless.
The Church exists as a gathering of the faithful only when it’s a Eucharistic gathering. Those who don’t understand this, or who aren’t interested, shouldn’t be allowed into the ecclesial assembly at all (as stated by the above-cited canon of the Council of Antioch).
One shouldn’t think that losing such people from one’s community is actually a loss, since inwardly they already didn’t belong to the Church.
But in the conditions of the True Orthodox Church, there often tend to be communities or very small groups (families, simply a couple of people, or individual believers) that live without their own priest or the possibility of belonging to a parish with a well-ordered liturgical life. It’s essential that such groups have the ability to perform the service of the Typica and receive Communion from the reserve Holy Gifts, which the nearest priest should provide them. Some people’s inability regularly to get to a church with a full liturgical life shouldn’t mean that they’re deprived of the Eucharist. As concerns Confession, it’s not mandatory before every reception of Communion; one can have Confession by email, or by some other means of modern communication, once every one-to-three weeks.
Such conditions allow one to decline the “ministrations” of bad priests, who normally lose their parishes simply out of desperation. But the desperation here is illusory: no priest is better than a bad priest, since too much harm comes from a bad priest.
True Orthodoxy doesn’t even need any harmless “Liturgy-serving machines,” since a spirited layman with reserve Gifts is better than a priestling-machine.
The daily liturgical cycle should also be served regularly, and here the absence of a priest presents no problem at all. All laypeople should, to whatever extent possible, understand the divine services and learn to serve all of them themselves according to the “monastic rite,” even if they’re in a parish with a priest where everything’s in order. Among parishioners, their relationship to the Church’s Typikon should, as a rule, be: “I taught myself, I’ll teach others.”
With regards to the divine services themselves, it’s of the utmost importance to understand what’s of more importance and what’s of less importance, and to take into account the inevitable abbreviations of the repertoire suggested by the liturgical books. The pre-revolutionary Russian practice we’ve inherited – and the same goes for parish services among the Old Calendarists – was developed in the nineteenth century under the influence of different priorities, with a focus less on the meaning of the services than on the technical convenience of priests and on theatrical effects. Here it isn’t possible to discuss this topic in detail, but many already understand what I’m talking about.
Of course, one shouldn’t begin by not allowing the jingling of censors during the reading of the Epistle. Yes, it is prescribed to cense before the Gospel during the chanting of the Alleluia, when the Epistle has already been read: this meaning of this censing is to precede the Gospel, to which it’s related. One ought to have quiet during the reading of the Epistle, and not be distracted by the deacon’s smoke attack. But still, one should begin with something of more universal significance: the clergy shouldn’t talk in the altar. A fish rots from the head, and a service from the altar. When a priestling gets bored serving and wants to “socialize,” the community should throw him out.
All the foregoing has one intention: to ensure that the divine services, centered on the Eucharist, might become the permanent environment of Christians, regardless of whether there’s a priest nearby.
If this isn’t done, then his environment will become television, the Internet, or something even worse. Then speaking to him about Christianity would be like opening the window and trying to heat the street with one’s stove. There’s no choice: either a Christian lives in a liturgical environment, or he’s no Christian at all.
A conscientious attitude towards the Christian life among laypeople naturally leads to a certain number of them inclining towards monasticism. But this is their own personal concern. The Church-wide concern is the fact that monasticism plays the most important part in the governance of all ecclesial concerns; its authority is unofficial, but of the highest order, to the extent that such authority can belong to any one caste of Christian. St. Gregory Palamas writes that the place of monasticism in the New Testament Church is the same as that of the prophets in Old Testament Israel.
A church organization will equal that of its monasticism. The Catacomb Church survived, regardless of its almost complete loss of the episcopate, because its monasticism was very good. ROCOR collapsed in the 1990s, especially on the territory of the former USSR, because instead of monasticism it had Jordanville, while in Russia it had practically nothing (if one doesn’t count the old catacomb monastic communities, which were of a different spirit; but they’ve since died out).
If there’ll be monasticism, then lay communities will gradually grow up around it. But the reverse isn’t the case. More precisely, it is the case, but only with the added condition that these lay communities be ascetic in the sense outlined in part one: that is, people who’ll be busy working on themselves. However, the chances for such communities aren’t very high without monks around.
In what specific forms monasticism can develop today is of extreme importance, but is a separate conversation, out of place here. Here it’s important to speak about how monasticism affects all members of the Church without exception, and not about matters that are of importance only to monks themselves.
The True Orthodox Church is possible only as a “monastic project,” because the Church isn’t possible otherwise, and wasn’t even possible when monasticism as a special institution did not yet exist. Monks and monastically-minded people should set the initiative and tone for everything – such as happened, for instance, in the 1920s and 1930s at the beginning of the Russian Catacomb Church and the Greek and Romanian Old Calendar movements – among which, independently of one another, the term “True Orthodoxy” first arose. Unfortunately, ROCOR didn’t have any monastic foundation, although it did have monks, sometimes even of holy life. There, from the very beginning in 1921, the determining factor for church governance was the influence of politics and money (the Holy Metropolitan Philaret only sometimes broke out of this rut, but could never get anything finished, since the system was broken).
ROCOR’s parishes in Russia in the beginning of the 1990s blossomed exuberantly on this same smelly soil of nationalism and politicking. ROCOR’s finale couldn’t have been different, even theoretically.
Yes, the people of the Church as a whole are the guardians of Orthodoxy; but among the people there are significant distinctions – and this isn’t the distinction that separates clergy from laity. Of course, of all distinctions the most significant is that of holiness, and all the faithful – beginning with the episcopate – should consult with people of holy life and, at the very least, not do anything against such people. But second in importance is the distinction between the laity (and here there isn’t any significant distinction between simply laity and laity of clerical rank) and monks (and here again there isn’t any significant distinction between monks who are and are not of clerical rank. The inner monk should always live apart from his clerical rank; for a monk it’s easier to understand than for a worldly priest that his rank – as with everything else he has in this world – doesn’t belong to him, but has only been granted him in order to accomplish a specific work, for the quality of which he will be answerable). Monasticism offers a significantly smaller degree of compromise with the world. This is a qualitative difference. In any matter, we prefer to trust a specialist – and this is especially the case when it concerns medicine, when our life depends on it. A specialist is someone who thinks about his work 24/7, not 8/5.
Therefore the Church should support all possible forms of monasticism, both familiar and unfamiliar, so long as the monastics themselves think, first and foremost, about the salvation of their own souls, maintain their psychological health, and do not go running after the laity with their edifying teachings.
Dogmatic Confession of Faith
There’s no point talking seriously about dogmatics when asceticism and liturgical life are lacking. And there can’t be any serious dogmatics in an ecclesial structure that doesn’t have monasticism at its center. ROCOR’s conjectural dogmatic statements over the course of its entire history are a sad example of this.
To people from “off the street” who come to us with serious problems – but ones that consist of, for example, the desire to overcome alcoholism or to find a normal job – it’s enough to say that we have a Church in which we take the content of our faith seriously: we believe what the Holy Fathers taught. It’ll be easy for them to understand this intuitively; and, in general, it’ll be easy for them to see intuitively whether or not we’re lying. It’ll be the same with young people who want church activism: one ought not explain dogmatics to them if they won’t be diligent with regard to the divine services and to inner work on themselves. Otherwise all dogmatic theology will turn into a weapon for them with which to attack their neighbors in Internet discussions. With such friends we’ll have no need of enemies.
Yes, we’re against ecumenism; yes, the ecumenists are wrong. But you’ve already left them for the True Church. It’s time to get to business. What, you don’t have time? Well, then we’ll consider that you don’t have time to be a member of our Church. It happens.
Remember that nobody should lure outsiders into the Church to make them into its playthings. If you don’t need the Church for working on yourself, but rather for “working” on others – then good-bye! Take your impeccably correct dogmatic statements with you!
Substantive conversations about dogma, however, are both possible and necessary in the real Church, one which meets the above three criteria. It can be carried out at various intellectual and educational levels (and it even should be carried out at different levels so that, one way or another, it’ll be accessible to everyone), but it’ll always be substantive.
Today’s public dogmatic discussions also allow for sermons that couldn’t have been possible even ten years ago. This relates to developments in society, and not to developments within the True Orthodox Church. The generation that began studying Orthodox theology from Sts. Gregory Palamas and Maximus the Confessor – and not from the rotten textbooks of the nineteenth century – has finally grown up. This has automatically defused the controversy around many of the “accursed questions” of twentieth-century conservative Orthodox theology.
This concerns, first of all, name-glorifying [imiaslavie]. The teaching of Fr. Anthony (Bulatovich) (which should not be confused with that of such “Silver Age” philosophers as Florensky, Bulgakov, and Losev, which also calls itself “name-glorifying”) represents the absolutely elementary truths of Palamism – that is, the teaching that was accepted by the Ecumenical Council of 1351 as an expression of true Orthodoxy. (This Council of Constantinople had the status of a continuation of the Sixth Ecumenical Council of 680-681, analogical to the Council of Trullo in 692, which adopted the canons of the “Sixth Ecumenical Council”). Any literate person today who wants to oppose Bulatovich is simultaneously opposing both Sts. Gregory Palamas and Dionysius the Areopagite.
But, basically, today’s opponents of name-glorifying are being recruited from old-timers and the illiterate. No historical evidence is of any use against them. But they themselves have the firm belief that before some moment X, when official Orthodoxy was spoiled (say, the Declaration of Sergius Stagorodsky in 1927 or the introduction of the New Calendar in 1924), everything that the official church authorities did was correct. I call this position “Old Calendar Old Believerism.” Of course, it’s strong and consistent; logical arguments against it don’t exist.
For the True Church, it’s important not to get bogged down in discussions with the name-fighters [imiabortsy]. We won’t convert them, but we might lose our potential flock. Our potential flock consists of those who watch us critically and verify our actions. If it seems to them that the name-fighters represent an important problem for us – or, God forbid, that we’re looking for some kind of compromise with them – they’ll partially transfer their flippant attitude towards the name-fighters to us. This “partially” will be enough to undermine their hope in our theological competence. They’ll suspect (rightly so, incidentally) that we’re people who can chat about dogmas but (probably due to cowardice and passivity) can’t take the simplest actions regarding keeping the Church from heresy. Moving from the Moscow Patriarchate to people like this would be like going from the frying pan into the fire.
Palamism – that is, name-glorifying – relates to those dogmas that separate us from Catholicism and, thereby, from the other western forms of Christianity. This is precisely the basis of our anti-ecumenism. And, of course, we shouldn’t compromise ourselves with the anti-ecumenical bill of goods, marketed by the Church Abroad, which says that Catholicism is bad because Catholics and Poles are enemies of the Russian people. Our anti-ecumenism shouldn’t smack of the heresy of phyletism.
The problem with Catholicism isn’t that Catholics don’t love Russians, or even that they love the Pope too much. Rather, it’s that they (like the Russian name-fighters in the 1913 Synod) don’t believe in uncreated grace and Divine energy – which means that they understand differently the dogma of the Christ’s Incarnation, the dogma of the Trinity, and the dogma of the Church; their very understanding of salvation is different from that to which the Orthodox Church leads.
Now on to Sergianism: our anti-Sergianism shouldn’t smack of politicking. Any political conviction is permissible to members of the True Church, with one exception: the opinion that one can’t be in the same Church with those of another given political conviction. Until you make your political convictions the basis for inner-ecclesial division, you have your right to them. This politicized understanding of Sergianism often manifests itself in counting its history from 1927, that is, from the specific action of the heretic after whom it’s named. But every crime has different, and differently punishable, stages of development. The events of 1927 can be compared to a murder – but this murder was premeditated much earlier. The desire to kill isn’t, in and of itself, a criminal offense; in precisely the same way, canon law doesn’t allow one to take sanctions against potential Sergianist-criminals until they’ve undertaken specific actions. Someone with the psychology of a murderer rarely begins with murder, but rather commits many smaller crimes first: administrative offenses or just being rude at home. A forensic psychologist is usually able to understand from such behavior alone that, given the chance, this person could kill. As such, Sergianism as a criminal psychology appeared long before 1927; Sergius Stragorodsky and his future accomplices were hardly the only ones to display it before 1917. It was the mainstream of the pre-revolutionary episcopate: hierarchs of the Russian Empire were brought up in just such a psychology. There were exceptions, as always, but the commonplace type of hierarch was that of the church bureaucrat that can only live within a system of governmental power. Only after the revolution, and especially in 1920, did a different type of hierarch begin to be ordained; if, by 1927, several years hadn’t passed since Patriarch Tikhon began work on changing the quality of the episcopal corpus, the Catacomb Church would’ve found itself deprived of hierarchs from the very beginning and wouldn’t have been able to develop as much as it in fact did.
The Church Abroad fostered the same pre-revolutionary type of hierarch, for which reason its accusations of “Sergianism” sounded somewhat tragicomic. ROCOR embedded itself within the structures of the USSR’s enemies in exactly the same way that the Sergianists embedded themselves in the Soviet structure. Its fortune – but not its merit – was that the USSR’s enemies didn’t require anything blatantly anti-Church of it. The actual preparedness of the ROCOR’s episcopal corpus to confess the faith was tested in China in the 1940s, when only its very junior bishop, St. John of Shanghai, with a small part of the Chinese flock, escaped the jaws of Communism with heroic effort, while the false emigre pastors surrendered to the Red Patriarch and handed over their faithful to Soviet camps and exile. In the 1990s, with the end of the Cold War, the same thing repeated itself – although the “confession” that would’ve been required of ROCOR’s episcopate would’ve consisted only in a reduction of its comfort level. But a Sergianist-spirited episcopate feels the greatest discomfort when it doesn’t have a keeper. Therefore, having received a kick from the American boot, it’ll run to rub itself against the Russian boot. The Russian True Orthodox had to learn this well in the 1990s and adjust to the fact that ROCOR’s episcopate was suitable only for “genetic material”: that is, for episcopal consecrations, and that it needed to be discarded as soon as possible after use. The succession of consecrations belonged to these cowardly hierarchs not by right, but had been taken by them from the Church, and ought to have been returned quickly.
Therefore any meaningful condemnation of Sergianism extends both to ROCOR and to the pre-revolutionary Russian Church. As such, it’s incompatible with “Old Calendar Old Believers” who want us to believe that there wasn’t any Sergianist heresy in the Church before 1927 or 1917. The heresy existed and prospered, but it was just the flowering of tares, without the poisonous fruits having yet ripened.
Ecclesial Organization of Communities “From Below”
The ascetical and liturgical principles of organizing ecclesial communities, about which we’ve spoken above, lead not only to a considered view of dogma, but to a no less considered view of the clergy and of the very need of communities for clergy. Only such clergy as are “native” to their communities are needed.
If all members of a community would live in a regime like that of a sports team in training camp – or, better, like a military squad – then their relations with the clergy would be like that of brothers in arms. They should admit into the clergy only those with whom they’d share a foxhole.
Here’s it’s natural that candidates for the clergy only be nominated by the communities themselves. Then the principle of the election of clergy turns into an inevitable law of life, and by no means remains an abstract ideal. The election of clergy and the ascetic awareness of parishioners are two sides of the same coin; one couldn’t exist without the other. Parishioners who attend church the way that the intelligentsia goes to the Philharmonic shouldn’t be allowed to hold administrative positions in the Church (and one should even try to avoid adm