Render unto Caeser...

No, I don't particularly like the King James Bible either but it's the only translation that has the desired effect in a blog post title, so there it is.

My attention has recently been drawn to this article by a Konstantin Matsan.
My initial reaction was that de Nile is not just a river in Egypt, it seems. However, after further consideration, I think that Mr Matsan is right in that too often all manner of assertions are made about the supposedly deepening relationship between church and state in Russia without any effort being made to show the premise to be true, (I believe that "begging the question" is the expression that he is struggling to find), but he falls into the trap of another logical fallacy in that this itself does not render the premise untrue.

Are the Russian state and the Church in Russia getting closer? Finding an answer to this would require a detailed historical comparison, which I am not qualified to make, and indeed we are presented in the article with evidence that seems to suggest that there is no real deepening relationship here. Perhaps a more manageable question, then, would be whether they are already too close. This only requires an examination of present circumstances.

Enough has been written on the subject of the infamous protest in Christ the Saviour Cathedral (referred to recently on BBC News "a church in Moscow", demonstrating the firm grasp that the Beeb has on the matter) from various perspectives to render much further comment redundant.  To those voices, I shall only add that when Karol Wojtyla was shot and criticially wounded in 1981, his response was to forgive his attacker and to call for his pardon. I'll let you draw your own comparisons, not to mention your own conclusions about the relationship between church and state in Russia and its impact on the Church's ability to respond to events in a manner that is in keeping with the Gospel.

Then there are the ongoing church seizures from Orthodox groups not in communion with Moscow.  ROCOR may be on the comfortable side of the fence these days but we know full well from our own past experience that Moscow's use of political allies to "acquire" property from smaller churches is nothing new.  These groups are out of communion with Moscow due to problems that arose during the captivity of the Russian Church in Soviet times and which many believe not to have been resolved.  They were granted these buildings in various states of dilapidation and disrepair after the fall of the Soviet state, and lovingly brought them back into good repair and regular use over the course of years, roofing them, painting them, decorating them, furnishing them with holy tables, icons, and all of the accoutrements of Orthodox worship - all at their own cost - making them their own through their daily and weekly prayers and worship of God.

Now these people are being evicted, and the churches being seized by the state and handed over to the patriarchal church. Understandably, these stories are of no particular interest to the western media but one only need look at the appeals on the websites of these groups to find some of what has been going on.  Reports of many of the events have been consolidated on the "Notes from the Underground" news blog, which has the benefit of being in English.  Reading some of these stories, I cannot help but be reminded of this:

I do read NFTU carefully.  While I hold the authors in respect, their firm convictions do sometimes seem to give a subjective flavour to their reading of events, but overall it is a useful source.

You see - the thing that concerns me most is that, six years ago, we were assured that the problems in the Moscow Patriarchate had been largely resolved, and that what difficulties remained were not of the sort that warranted remaining outside of full, normal canonical relations with that church.  We were told that Sergianism was no longer a valid charge and was mainly the subject of overzealous convert ravings.  It is partly on this basis that many took part in the union.  Now, priests are no longer being made to disappear, nuns are not being thrown down mineshafts, churches are being rebuilt and monasteries are being filled, for all of which may God be glorified.  Yet, I have to wonder whether Sergianism is truly dead.  Is the Moscow Patriarchate co-operating with the secular state to such a degree that this co-operation has led it to sacrifice elements of the way of life that is in keeping with the life of the Saviour?  I don't know the answer to that question but I do not like some of the things that I see.

I delight in many of the fruits of reunion.  We have made good friends, are able to share the altar and chalice with those who share our faith and whom we love, give and receive help when needed at various services, and much else.  These things are great blessings for which I am grateful.  Yet there are times when I look at some of the things mentioned in this post as well as other goings-on which seem to be in the same realm as simony, and cannot help but think: 'What have we done?'

I remain obedient to my priest and bishop while praying that my fears may yet be shown to be unfounded.

5 responses:

Jon Marc said...

The tares and the wheat Michael :-/. And honestly, you were already in communion with both the Greek Foreign Ministry office in, the Jerusalem Patriarchate...and the Serbian Orthodox Church.

Michael Astley said...

Well, quite, Jon Marc.

I remember very well after some of our diocese left in 2007, when Archbishop Kyrill came to visit us. I recall the tears streaming down his face as he told of the faith of the people in Russia and how this contrasted with everything he had always been told about much of the hierarchy. We cannot judge, we do not know people's hearts, and we must have the wisdom to acknowledge that there will, of course, be good and holy people, doing their best to live in Christ in their circumstances amidst those who seem to be perhaps more open to other paths. It is just a difficult thing to see now that we are one with it. (Not that ROCOR has ever been perfect, but we have our problems and we know how to handle them. The problems in Moscow are new to us, and we don't. As the saying goes, "Better the devil you know than the devil you don't".)

As for the question of communion, there is an argument to be made that we were never truly out of communion. It isn't for nothing that the act restoring normal relations was called the Act of Canonical Communion. It is qualified, as though in ackowledgement that it would be very difficult to show that communion was ever entirely truly severed. In light of our fully expressed communion with Jerusalem, Serbia, and Sinai, I know that my position is an ecclesiologically questionable one. I am not speaking here doctrinally but merely expressing personal musings. It is easy to pretend something away when it isn't on your doorstep and you never see it. "Out of sight, out of mind", the saying goes. However, since 2007, every Sunday we comemmorate "Our Great Lord and Father Kyrill, the Most Holy Patriarch of Moscow and all the Russias". This drives home the reality that when we see church and state in Russia being a little bit too cosy as bedfellows, or when we learn of Moscow's receiving other people's churches seized by the state on their behalf, churches charging for Theophany water, poor Ukrainian families having their children baptised by Uniates because they cannot afford the fees that the Moscow clergy insist must be paid, and people from Moscow patriarchal churches holding up their pomyanniks and asking 'How much?' because they are accustomed to having to pay a set amount of money for each name, we can no longer think of this as being done by "them", because "they" are, in fact, "us". This is a difficult pill to swallow.

Michael Astley said...

All of that said, there is a question over the relationships that ROCOR had with Serbia and Jerusalem. I was taught, when I was new to Orthodoxy, that we were in communion with the Patriarchates of Jerusalem and Serbia, and the Church of Sinai. However, I recall that, either in 2006 when the decision was taken to restore normal relations with Moscow, or in 2007 when the Act was actually signed, Jerusalem sent us a greeting saying how wonderful it was that we would once again be in communion, suggesting that such communion had previously not existed between the two churches.

Similarly, there is a current discussion on the NFTU forum of a communication from Patriarch Pavle of Serbia to Moscow, in which he apologised to Pariarch Alexis II for an incident in 1998, in which a priest of the Serbian church was seen to be celebrating in a ROCOR chapel in Italy, stating that this was an oversight and that the previously warm relations between Serbia and ROCOR had ceased when the latter started consecrating bishops to serve inside Russia. Yet I know for a fact that concelebrations continued between ROCOR and Serbian clergy until and including 2006 because, at the time, my parish still only had a fortnightly Liturgy and my own parish priest was regularly invited to serve in the Serbian parish in Birmingham. Also, during the Notting Hill festival, when it was impossible to move in that part of London, the Serbian cathedral there used to hire coaches and transport the whole congregation to the Brookwood monastery for the Liturgy there, where their priests would concelebrate and their people would confess and receive communion - something that never would have happened had they considered us uncanonical.

The whole business is a muddle.

Miklagard said...

Great post!

Ordo Antiquus said...

"Now these people are being evicted, and the churches being seized by the state and handed over to the patriarchal church..."

You mean, the state is handing over to the Patriarchal Churches, ancient Russian churches that prior to the Bolshevik take-over were part of the canonical Church in Russia under the Holy Synod and then Patriarch Tikhon? Sounds like proper restitution to me.

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