Thursday, August 04, 2022

An Open Letter to Archdeacon John Chryssavgis from Fr. Benigno Pardo

Reverend Archdeacon John Chryssavgis,

Glory to Jesus Christ!

After reading your letter in defense of the action of the Archbishop Elpidophoros, in opposition to all the critics who have condemned his actions, this unworthy servant was extremely surprised to see all the serious errors you have asserted. You would have the entire Church change the Faith we have always held, and which are expressed clearly in the Holy Scriptures and in the teaching of the Church, concerning which Jesus Christ told us to "Go therefore, and teach all nations… to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you" (Matthew 28:19-20). I am completely astonished to read your arguments that we should change our Faith and to follow yours – and especially that we change our "rituals [which are an expression of our Faith] and flamboyant vestments.” 

You said that all the criticism Archbishop Elpidophoros has received is only another episode in the “culture wars” and you accuse the church of living in a bubble. Archdeacon, that kind of response to the criticisms that the Archbishop actions have justly brought upon himself are extremely simplistic. The Church is not in a bubble. I think it is more likely that you and the ones who think like you are the ones living in bubbles. The criticisms of the Archbishop’s actions have come from everywhere in the Church, throughout the world. Archdeacon, the Church is and always will be down the streets of the big cities and little towns of the world teaching what Jesus sent us to teach – which is the Truth, and the eternal life which is Jesus Christ Himself according with St. John 17. Archdeacon the Truth is that God create man and woman. Do you remember – you should as an Archdeacon – what He did right after He made Man in His image, as male and female (Genesis 1:27)? He blessed them and then He told them: “Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it” (Genesis 1:28). To put it in words more down to earth, he said: “Go and make babies,” which is something only males and females can do, and so it is only in the context of lawful marriage between a man and woman that two human beings can have sexual relations in a way that is blessed by God, and it is only this kind of sexual activity, which has the capacity of procreation in love, which  can be holy and blessed by God. Can we say God married Adam and Eve with the sacrament of Matrimony? Yes, because He blessed them and made them one flesh, and so He made their sexual relationship holy and blessed. So what the Archbishop did was absolutely wrong, and there is no excuse possible. The Holy Scripture is clear, and this is not an ambiguous question, subject to various interpretations.  There is no sexual “love” outside of the love of a male and female, in the context of marriage. “Same sex unions” are only a perversion, as the Holy Scriptures make clear (e.g. Romans 1:20-32; Leviticus 20:13). You know there are more texts but, natural law also makes this clear enough, as we see simply by the configuration of our bodies.

You quoted St. Porphyrios, who went to bless a brothel as saying that those women are in “a better spiritual state than other people.” Reverend deacon, I agreed with that, I do not doubt that those women suffer a lot doing what they do to make some money to bring food to their kids, and of course any of those women may open the Gates of Heaven for me, but are they sinning? According to the law, yes, they are, but whether they understand that this is wrong, only God knows. But what did Christ say to the woman caught in adultery? He had mercy on her, but said “Go and sin no more,” but, Deacon, we are talking of a sin according to nature, female and male ....not a perversion of two people of the same sex, which St. Paul says is “against nature” (Romans 1:26).

You said the children are entitled to be baptized. This is true, but this also depends on the circumstances, because there are quite a few requirements that have to be met, the most basic of which is a promise by the parents and godparents that the child will be raised in the faith, and only Orthodox Christians in good standing can make such a promise, and this requirement was not met in this case. It is amazing the archbishop disregarded this most basic requirement, and that is why he is absolutely wrong, and why he has been condemned for it. It is also important that children have a proper home to grow up in, with their father and mother, in order for them to grow with a proper balance in life. Fathers and mothers are both essential, and neither is dispensable. How then can we encourage homosexual couples to produce children with surrogate mothers, and raise them without the benefit of their mothers?  Men cannot be mothers, and mothers cannot be fathers. A human being needs to have one of each, even if one of them is only a memory handed on to them after they have died. Furthermore, this sacred ceremony was made into a celebration of a perverse relationship, and this overshadowed the actual baptisms which united these children to Christ and His Church. This was a sacrilegious abuse of Baptism. It made a mockery of this most important Sacrament, because through Baptism all the other sacraments are made available to us as members of the Church.

What makes this event even worse, is that these children were produced as a business transaction which made use of surrogate mothers, and so the children were produced by unnatural means, in the absence of love. It is not an exaggeration to call this “satanic." And so Archbishop Elpidophoros not only participated in the celebration of a perverse lifestyle, but also was by his actions endorsing the trafficking of poor women who are compelled by their poverty to rent out their wombs to produce children for wealthy gay men.

Deacon, don’t you know that Morality cannot change? In the final analysis if our actions are not in agreement with the Faith and Tradition of the Church that action is wrong... it is as simple as that. Do you think we change Christian Morality every few decades or so, because society thinks we should?  No, Deacon, you are as wrong as the Archbishop, Morality does not change. 

Rev. Deacon, this unworthy priest has spent fifty years in Christian ministry. You don't seem to understand the tremendous harm the Archbishop has done to the simple people down the street. Society is so confused today with all the different types of problems people face, and such people often don’t know what to do. They need to hear a clear voice from the Church to guide them, but that is not what they heard from the actions of Archbishop Elpidophoros in Athens. I am inclined to think he doesn’t have very much experience with the regular and simple people, how they live, or the problems they have, and probably you are in the same boat. Go to the streets, go do some prison ministry. There you find life in the real world, and those people need the Church to seek them out and bring their souls back to God. When Jesus Christ changes a person’s heart, there is no need for the Church to change Christian morality to conform to his former ideas and desires, because Christ will help him to change, and will instead conform such a person to the moral teachings of the Church.

Unworthy,

Fr. Benigno Pardo 

Assistant Priest at St. Jonah Orthodox Church

Spring, Texas   


Saturday, June 25, 2022

Review: "Between Heaven and Russia," by Sarah Riccardi-Swartz

 

Before reading this review, I would recommend anyone who has not already done so, read my essay "Sarah Riccardi-Swartz and Russophobia." That essay was written before the book in question was available to the public, and so was not based on my having read that book, but was based on reading a number of essays on the same subject written by Sarah, after listening to a number of talks and interviews she has done, and also based on my own experience with her, as well as with people in the communities she has focused on, along with my 32 years as a member of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia (ROCOR). This book repeats quite a bit of what Sarah had already put out in public, but it does provide some new information and new accusations that I don't recall her having stated in public previously, and so I will primarily be focusing on what is new in this book.

One new fact I learned from this book is that she never considered herself to be a member of ROCOR. This is interesting because when she first began appearing as a speaker at various forums and panels, she was routinely identified as a member of ROCOR, and I don't think she would have failed to notice this, but for whatever reason, she made no attempt to correct this information that I have seen, prior to the publication of this book.

In her book, Sarah Riccardi-Swartz uses pseudonyms for places and people, ostensibly because this is how anthropologists do their thing, but the people and the places she is taking about are easily determined by anyone with the slightest familiarity with the Holy Cross Monastery and Christ the Savior Orthodox Church in Wayne, West Virginia. In this review, I will replace these pseudonyms with the real names, because under these circumstances, using pseudonyms is just silliness. I will note this by the use of brackets, where applicable.

Those "Crazy Converts"

One of the notable aspects of this book is how frequently Sarah Riccardi-Swartz chooses to use the label of "convert" -- which is odd, given that she is ostensibly a convert to Orthodoxy herself. For example, as she sets the stage for the rest of her book, she attributes the existence of the parish and monastery in Wayne, West Virginia to converts:

"Both [Holy Cross Monastery] and [Christ the Savior Orthodox Church] came to be in [Wayne, WV] in the early 2000s when two converts -- a local university professor, who donated land for the monastery, and a local politician, who built the parish building -- began to missionize the region" (p. 4).

This is an example of telling half-truths, in the interest of building the desired narrative. The university professor that she is referring to is Maurice Sill, who is a man I got to know fairly well. He was indeed a convert. But Maurice was a man who had long been married to Nadya Danilchik Sill, who was a Russian American who was not a convert, and in fact was the daughter of a very well known, old school, ROCOR priest, Fr. Michael Danilchik (who was the first assigned priest for the Seattle ROCOR Cathedral) -- and so it would be difficult to find a person with deeper roots in ROCOR than Nadya Sill had. And given that the property that Maurice and Nadya Sill owned was joint property, and also given that Maurice would not have done anything of that magnitude without the agreement of his wife in any case, the whole truth would be that that this property was donated by a "cradle" member of ROCOR and her convert husband, who had been a convert of many decades by that time -- but this didn't fit the narrative that Sarah wanted to build, and so this fact was simply excluded from being mentioned here.

Another example of Sarah being selective with the facts that she will mention is that she always mentions that the people she is criticizing are white, except that when she talks about other converts who are not white, she will simply omit any mention of their race. For example, she often mentions a person on Twitter who is known as Patriarch Primus, and who is a convert to Orthodoxy, but she almost never mentions that he is black, though she will mention that he lives in the South (leaving people to assume he is white southern "cracker"), and this is clearly because the whole truth doesn't fit her narrative.

Those "Crazy People in ROCOR"

Sarah also took pains to try to portray the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia as some sort of fringe entity. And so, when laying out the landscape of Orthodox Christianity in America, she says:

"Historically, other forms of Orthodoxy in the United States, particularly the Greek Archdiocese, the Antiochian Church, and the Orthodox Church of America, focused on assimilation, social care and justice movements, and, in many ways, the mainstreaming of Orthodoxy. ROCOR, however, perhaps because of its noncanonical status until 2007, created an insular social group that would preserve not only their understanding of Orthodox theology, but also particular cultural expressions of faith in order to re-missionize Russia after the end of the Soviet Union. Despite this containment of sorts, ROCOR did attract converts, and within the past thirty-plus years the number of coverts have begun to rise, even prior to the religious reunification between ROCOR and the ROC in 2007, when ROCOR was still considered non-canonical in the Eastern Orthodox world" (p. 24).

The history of the Russian Church after the Bolshevik Revolution is complicated, but to make a long story short, the persecution of the Russian Orthodox Church by the Soviets resulted in divisions within the Russian Church both inside of Russia and outside of Russia. Between the time of the death of St. Tikhon, who was elected Patriarch of Moscow in 1918, and the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, there was of course the Moscow Patriarchate, but at various times there was also the renovationist Living Church, as well as various catacomb groups, though after World War II, both the Living Church and the catacomb groups ceased to exist in any significant forms. Outside of Russia, there were two times when most of the Russian bishops were united together within ROCOR, and then there were times when the Paris Exarchate, American Metropolia, ROCOR, the Moscow Patriarchate, and the Living Church had all gone separate ways. For those who want to read about this history in detail, I would recommend reading the book "A Long Walk to Church: A Contemporary History of Russian Orthodoxy," by Nathaniel Davis, the Orthodoxwiki article "ROCOR and OCA," and also Metropolitan Kallistos (formerly Timothy Ware)'s "The Orthodox Church (it should be noted, however, that the older edition goes into much greater detail on this subject). But to be concise, with the exception of the Living Church, which was heretical and schismatic, the rest of the Orthodox Church generally viewed these divisions as unfortunate, temporary, and matters for the Russian Church to settle for itself, when it was free to do so -- which is ultimately what happened. 

Prior to the 1970's, ROCOR regularly concelebrated with the various local Orthodox Churches. For example, Archbishop Vitaly (Maximenko) was one of the consecrators of Metropolitan Anthony (Bashir) of the Antiochian Archdiocese -- and that obviously would not have happened if the Antiochians considered ROCOR to be noncanonical.

Under Metropolitan Philaret, there was the beginnings of a self-isolation on the part of ROCOR as a whole, that was a reaction to the lifting of the Anathemas against Papism by Patriarch Athenagoras of Constantinople, but this was something that varied quite a bit depending on the various bishops of ROCOR, and especially on which local Churches were in question. And the key thing is that this isolation was self-imposed. It was not at all something imposed upon it by any other local Church. ROCOR always maintained close relations with the Serbian Patriarchate (because of the decades prior to World War II when it was headquartered in Serbia with the permission of the Serbian Patriarchate), and also with the Patriarchate of Jerusalem (because ROCOR has always maintained a presence in the Holy Land which continues to the present day, and this was always with the blessings of the Patriarch of Jerusalem). The low point of ROCOR relations with other local Churches was probably in the mid to late 90's under Metropolitan Vitaly, but even then, no local Church condemned ROCOR as "noncanonical." And I myself frequently concelebrated with the local Serbian clergy the entire time I was a clergyman (beginning in 1995). My spiritual father, who baptized me and my wife was ordained by Metropolitan Philip (Saliba) of the Antiochian Archdiocese, and he was given a canonical release by him to ROCOR in the 80's -- which again, would not have happened if they considered ROCOR to be noncanonical.

It is also hardly accurate to suggest that the Greek Archdiocese and the OCA were promoting assimilation in America, while ROCOR was not. The oldest continually published Orthodox Journal in English is "Orthodox Life," which has been published by Holy Trinity Monastery since 1950. ROCOR sponsored the translation of the first complete set of service books into the English language. The Greek Archdiocese, on the other hand, while it is by far the largest Orthodox jurisdiction in the United States, and certainly has far greater resources, has still not published even half of the service books in English translations, and many of their parishes continue to primarily use Greek, and generally if you talk to Americans who have had the experience of looking into Orthodoxy, Greek parish remain some of the least welcoming parishes to outsiders of any jurisdiction. The OCA has certainly had many parishes that have used English going back before the Bolshevik Revolution, but it has also not published an extensive set of English Language service books of their own, and many of their parishes continued to use mostly Slavonic well into the 80's. You can still find ROCOR parishes that serve mostly in Slavonic, to be sure, and some would be less welcoming to outsiders than others, but on the whole, ROCOR has been very welcoming to non-Russian converts, and this goes back to the 1950's. Speaking from my own experience in ROCOR -- having been in mostly Russian parishes, mostly convert parishes, and parishes with a good mix -- I have never been made to feel unwelcome because I was not a Russian.

The Antiochians were probably the earliest champions of using English extensively in the United States, and that goes back to the influence of St. Raphael (Hawaweeny), who had the foresight to see that this was necessary if his flock was to keep future generations within the fold, and so they were ahead of the curve on this point.

"Because ROCOR was not in communion with most of the Orthodox world for almost eight decades, it has seemingly become an echo chamber or perhaps an incubator of prerevolutionary Russian Orthodox thought. Its emphasis on tradition, adherence to the Old Calendar (Julian), submission to spiritual father confessors, and highly structured gender roles have all become concentrated over the years. These distilled ideological distinctions often put them in opposition to their spiritual cousin, the Orthodox Church in America, which embraced among other things, the New Calendar (Revised Julian), pews, and shorter service rubrics" (p. 28).

For Sarah to assert that ROCOR was not in communion with most of the Orthodox world for "nearly eight decades" is an assertion that even the harshest critics of ROCOR would not support -- at least not the ones with the slightest familiarity with the actual history of the period of time in question. 

We live in times that are extremely ideological, and no doubt this is why Sarah cannot imagine embracing Orthodox Tradition and piety without that being an ideology. Ideological thinking is a relatively modern mode of thinking, which is pretty much the opposite of traditional thinking. For more on that, see "What is Wrong with Ideology?" by Donald Livingston.

Speaking for myself, when I discovered the Orthodox Faith, it happened to be in ROCOR. There was nothing political about it, and having brought more than a few people into the Church since then, I have only rarely seen where political thinking even played a significant role in the motivation behind someone becoming interested in the Church, much less was it a big factor in moving them to actually convert. 

Sarah also seems unaware of the fact that the OCA was on the Old Calendar until the 1980's, and big parts of it remains on the Old Calendar to this day (the Dioceses of Alaska and Canada, along with scattered parishes throughout the lower 48 states).

Sarah also fails to explain why being in America requires wearing Roman Catholic clergy suits, being on the New Calendar, shortening the services, or the use of pews. As far back as 1972, it was observed in the book "Why Conservative Churches Are Growing: A Study in Sociology of Religion," by Dean Kelley, that liberal churches tend to shrink, and conservative churches tend to grow. So there is no scientific basis for such an assertion -- there is just the bare assertion of Sarah's opinions without any basis.

For one thing, Roman Catholic clergy suits are of fairly recent vintage. Traditionally, Roman Catholic Priests wore cassocks that were not all that different from the kind of cassocks that Orthodox clergy wear. 

In the classic Bing Crosby movie, Going My Way (1944), Barry Fitzgerald played the old Irish priest Father Fitzgibbon, and he is seen wearing an old fashioned Roman Catholic cassock as well as a clerical biretta which looks no less odd than an Orthodox skufia. Bing Crosby played a young hipster priest, who wears a modern Roman Clergy suit. In the 1940's, you could see why people might have thought that this was an improvement, but looking at the decline in Roman Catholic piety ever since then, I am not so sure it has worked out very well for them, and so why should we emulate failure?

"...many of the older Orthodox folks in [Wayne, WV] converted to ROCOR prior to the reunification [of the Russian Church in 2007]. Those who did so, opted to select an Orthodox body without canonical authority. It seems as if these converts were not looking for an unbroken line of apostolic succession, but rather a religious world built for the purposes of preserving and defending what they saw as traditional Orthodoxy and orthopraxy" (p. 29).  

This statement is a gross distortions of the actual history of ROCOR. It also reflect a rather shallow view of Orthodox Tradition and ecclesiology. Sarah would have her readers believe that St. John (Maximovitch) was a fake bishop, "without canonical authority." But no local Church believed that during his life, and none have believed that since then either. He is one of the most highly venerated saints throughout the Orthodox world today.

Pluralizing Singular Instances

In speaking of the rise of a "new wave of conservatism" since the 1990s. Sarah spoke of "Shootings in historic Black churches throughout the American South..." (p. 45). I am only aware of one shooting since 1990 in an historic Black Church, and that was the shooting in Charleston in 2015 -- which was of course horrendous enough by itself, but it is a gross exaggeration to suggest that this happened many times throughout the American South, when we are actually talking about the actions of a lone crazed young man.

This propensity for taking an isolated case and extrapolating it into something that is ubiquitous perhaps explains how she could take a single layman who allegedly said that he hoped to take up arms on behalf of Russia when it invades the United States (p. 124), and extrapolating this to be a common view among converts in ROCOR. I have been in ROCOR for 32 years, and have never heard anyone say any such thing.

Gender and Sexuality

She is particularly bothered by the fact that people in ROCOR tend to have "ultra-conservative understandings of gender, sexuality, and the roles of women and men should have in the Church, the domestic sphere, and society more broadly" (p.127). The question an Orthodox Christian should be asking, however, is whether or not these views are consistent with the teachings of the Church. Sarah, on the other hand supports homosexuality, transgenderism, and the whole ever expanding alphabet soup of sexual deviancy that the left is promoting. These things are completely contrary to the teachings of the Church, and so she should either humbly submit to the teachings of the Church, or find a religion that better suits her predetermined beliefs. The Orthodox Church is not a religious Burger King, where you can "have it your way." The Orthodox Church is what it is, and you can either take it, or you can leave it. See: The Pro LGBTQP "Orthodox," for more information.

"Within ROCOR, it is the job of spiritual fathers to monitor how and in what ways men and especially women participate in the church, just as it should be the job of a monarch to guide a country" (p.130).

 I don't think Sarah knows what she is talking about here. In my parish, I have a Greek American woman choir director who has a Masters of Divinity degree from St. Vladimir Seminary. I have had her teach classes before in the parish in the past, and would do so more frequently if she didn't already have her hands full with the choir. I don't micromanage the choir, because I know that she knows what she is doing. And as a matter of fact, if I have a question about how something ought to be handled liturgically, I often ask for her opinion, because she has been in the Church all of her life, she knows both Greek, Antiochian, and Russian practices fairly well, and so she has a good feel for what is normal or what is odd. I have a Sisterhood Vice-President who is an engineer, and as I often tell my parish, she is the handiest man or woman in the parish. If something needs to be fixed, built, or if I need an opinion on what we ought to do with regard to anything mechanical, I call her. And since I am usually busy serving or hearing confessions, I have little time to pay attention to what happens in the Nave of the Church during the services. I leave that to lay leaders in the parish, both men and women. I certainly am not monitoring the women in my parish during the services, or outside of it. I do hear confessions, and so give advice when it is warranted, and direction when it is called for, but I have told my people where the boundaries are when it comes to pastoral guidance from a priest, and that they should flee any spiritual father that would try to impose monastic style obedience on a layman. For more articles on Women in the Church, Click Here.

Monarchism and American Politics

Sarah seems to think that ROCOR is full of monarchist revolutionaries who want to overthrow the United States government and install a Tsar (p. 126f). You will certainly find a higher than average percentage of people in ROCOR who admire the idea of Christian Monarchy, I don't believe I have ever heard anyone seriously suggest that it could be imposed in the United States. There are many prophecies of a new Tsar returning to power in Russia, and so you do find interest in that. But I don't think anyone envisions that happening even in Russia by a violent revolution.

There are certainly people in ROCOR who are "right-wing," but what that means, even among those who could fairly be labelled as such, varies quite a bit. You have those who are American Nationalists, in the Hamiltonian sense, and then there are those who have more of a small government Jeffersonian view, and then you have just about everything in between. But there are people who are in ROCOR who politically are on the left, but who theologically nevertheless embrace the Traditions and teachings of the Church. I have some in my parish, and I am sure if I had a parish in a heavily Democrat region, I would have a lot more of those folks. I don't tell people how to vote, and I don't get upset if they don't share my opinions on political matters, because I believe in being tolerant of other people, and I can imagine people coming to conclusions that are different from my own without them having to be evil people. If someone denies the teachings of the Church, however, that is obviously another matter altogether.

The Russian Collusion Hoax Goes to Church

Sarah repeatedly makes assertions about "Russian interference" in the 2016 election (e.g., p. 76), as if it were a fact. I don't think that it is a coincidence that she began looking for Russian boogeymen in West Virginia in 2017 either. There is no doubt that Sarah is on the political left. She promotes the LGBTQP agenda. She capitalizes "President" when she speaks of Barak Obama (e.g., p.168), but not in reference to Donald Trump. She speaks of people who were merely at the rally in Washington D.C. on January 6th, 2021, as "insurrectionists," even if they were nowhere near the Capital building. Clearly, Sarah was one of those on the political left that was traumatized that Donald Trump was elected, and spent four years arguing that the 2016 election was stolen, but who now argues that any suggestion that the 2020 election might have been less than kosher is a Q-Anon conspiracy theorist. It doesn't seem to matter that the claims about Russia and the 2016 election have since been debunked, and originated with the Hillary Clinton Campaign. Not only is it clear that politics drove Sarah's interest in this research, but if it were not for this political element, it is also clear that few would be paying any attention to her work.

West Virginia is one of the most conservative states in the United States. It should come as no surprise that you would find a high concentration of political conservatives in a ROCOR parish in rural West Virginia. Had Sarah gone down the street and spent much time in a local Baptist Church, she probably would have found that those people have lots of guns, voted for Trump, and that they don't support transgenderism either. On the other hand, if Sarah went to a ROCOR parish in a heavily Democrat area, while there would probably also be some people who were politically conservative, she would also find a lot of Democrat voters too.

Conclusion

In June of 2020, my parish had a serious terroristic threat from someone who referred to our parish as "St. Jonah Russian Orthodox Church," despite the fact that we never use "Russian" in the name of our parish, though we make no secret about being part of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia.* When that happened, I called the FBI, as well as the local Constables office. The local authorities were very responsive, but the FBI never called me back. I mentioned what had happened to a Protestant minister I know who is fairly well connected. He contacted our Lt. Governor, and he called the FBI. Only then did I get a call back, but in the end, they did almost nothing to track down the person who had made these threats, though he had an online profile that should not have been hard to track down, and he was certainly living in this area. This year, on Old Calendar Annunciation, I finally received a visit from an FBI agent (nearly two years later), who began by mentioning what had happened in 2020, and who said that they just wanted to make sure everything was OK, given tensions around the war in Ukraine. He asked if I would agree to talk to him, and I did. His line of questioning had almost nothing to do with the safety and security of my parish. It was all about what contacts I may have had with the Russian Consulate in Houston, whether the Russian government had any influence over my Church, and things of that nature. Recent history has shown that you don't have to actually be guilty of anything for the FBI to put you in jail. So obviously, this attention is unwelcome, though it would have been nice if they had been more interested in my parish in June of 2020. 

When people like Sarah Riccardi-Swartz promote conspiracy theories that try to convince people that ROCOR is somehow connected to Putin stealing the 2016 election, and is full of a bunch of Fifth Columnists, who are anxiously awaiting the Russian invasion of the United States, so that they can join in on their side, this has real world consequences. If Russophobia continues to heat up in this country because of further deteriorations in our relations with Russia, it is not farfetched that the kind of Blue-Anon conspiracy theories spun by people like Sarah will result in innocent people being seriously harmed or killed. This is dangerous, unchristian, and it is irresponsible.

Aside from all of that, this book is not particularly well written. Sarah doesn't know her history. She is politically motivated, and she has taken her own spin on isolated people and two particular communities, and made the logical leap that she can fairly characterize the entirety of ROCOR, despite all of the geographic and cultural differences one can find within ROCOR. We have parishes in Australia and New Zealand. These parishes have very different histories than the typical ROCOR parish in the United States and Canada. We have parishes in Latin America, Asia, Great Britan and Western Europe that are even more distinct. Sarah Riccardi-Swartz has made no effort to study ROCOR more broadly than what she could find in Wayne, West Virginia. Anyone with any sense of logic or even just a sense of fairness would not make extrapolations beyond what she actually has studied. But from what I know of the communities in Wayne, West Virginia, I have little reason to believe she was fair to them either. In a recent presentation, she pointed out in passing that these communities did not tolerate hate speech, but she has made an entire career out of suggesting that they are somehow connected with racism and white supremacy... but how she could think that those two things could coexist in the same universe is beyond me.

*We don't have that on our sign, are website, or anywhere else, because we do not want anyone who is not a Russian to think that this is not a Church for them. Our parish, as a matter of fact, is a fairly diverse parish in comparison with what you would find in the average Orthodox parish in the United States.

Saturday, May 14, 2022

The Pro LGBTQP "Orthodox" (The Birth of a New Religion, Part 2)

For Part 1, see The Pro-Abortion "Orthodox" (The Birth of a New Religion, Part 1)

The fact that today we have people openly promoting the LGBTQP agenda in the Orthodox Church is something that was unthinkable less than a dozen years ago. But here we are. They are vocal minority to be sure, but like most leftists, they try to convince people that their opponents are the minority, and they are only motivated by hate.

The tactic that the Pro-LGBTQP "Orthodox" have generally taken to promote their agenda is to pretend that the only people concerned about what they are pushing are "fundamentalist" converts. The suggestion being that somehow prior to the time when Americans began to convert to Orthodoxy in large numbers, everyone in the Orthodox Church was fine with the idea that homosexuality was an acceptable lifestyle. Back then, they would have us believe, no one would have objected to embracing transgenderism, or any of the other limitless "sexual preferences" and "gender identities." This is of course complete nonsense. Not only was no one pushing for the acceptance of homosexuality in the Orthodox Church prior to 2009, no one in the Orthodox Church was even contemplating the acceptance of transgenderism, and most had never even heard of it. 

Homosexuality was considered a mental disorder by the American Psychiatric Association until 1973, when activists pushed the organization to change this designation. It was only in 1987 that homosexuality was completely removed from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. It was in the wake of the AIDS epidemic, which began in 1981, that the acceptance of homosexuality in the wider culture began to increase from something which previously had been close to non-existent.

Fr. Alexander Schmemann is not usually thought of as a fundamentalist convert, and yet one of his students told me that around 1981, he made the statement "I refuse to be the dean of a seminary of pot-smoking homosexuals." This was in the context of him having actually kicked a pot-smoking homosexual seminarian out of the seminary, and so these were not idle words.

If you look at the views of the Orthodox in traditional Orthodox countries even today, you don't find them embracing homosexuality or transgenderism either -- this is true of their populations as a whole, but it is all the more true when you consider those who actually go to Church.

I have been blogging since 2004, and the first article I have in which I felt a need to respond to the push for gay marriage was in 2009, and this was completely without reference to any dispute within the Church, because at that time, there was no such dispute. I suspect that this began in 2009 because prior to that, George W. Bush had successfully used the issue to win his second term, by ensuring that there were ballot measures in swing states that banned gay marriage. But after Obama was elected, apparently people on the left felt emboldened, and so the push began. And it was only in 2011 that I began to see Orthodox Christians who were pushing for the acceptance of homosexuality. Initially, this was mostly done anonymously, or in private discussion groups. 

2013 was the year that the Supreme Court struck down the Defense of Marriage Act, and forced every state to allow for gay marriage. Many dismissed the significance of this at the time, but two things happened almost immediately as a result of it -- this strengthened the general push for the acceptance of homosexuality, and no sooner had gay marriage been forced on the country did the push for the acceptance of transgenderism begin in earnest. 

2014 was the first time to my knowledge that an Orthodox priest began to publicly push for the acceptance of homosexuality. In November of 2014, Fr. Robert Arida posted an essay to the official OCA website. After being overwhelmed with complaints, the OCA removed the essay, though you can still read it via the Internet Archive. Among the many statements which responded to this essay, the Orthodox Clergy Association of Houston and Southeast Texas wrote a rebuttal, which was signed by almost of all the clergy in the Association (and was signed by all who were present at the meeting which discussed it). This rebuttal was reposted on the Greek Archdiocesan website at the time.

In 2015, the City of Houston tried to push through an ordinance which would have forced churches and businesses to allow men who identify as women to use women's restrooms. Again, the Orthodox Clergy Association issued a statement against it. The ordinance was overturned by a referendum, and it was mostly Black and Hispanic churches in Houston that led the fight against it. Houston is about 44% Hispanic, 24% White (Non-Hispanic), 22% black, and 7% Asian, and so it was not a bunch of racist White people who overturned this ordinance. The vote was not even close: 61% opposed to 39% in favor.

Onto the scene came George Demacopoulos and later, Public Orthodoxy. George wrote an essay attacking those he termed Orthodox Fundamentalists on January 29th, 2015. I wrote a reply, and we later had a sort of debate hosted by Kevin Allen on Ancient Faith Radio. Since then, George has made attacking anyone who is not ready to embrace homosexuality, transgenderism, modernism, and a whole host of other perversions a career through his website Public Orthodoxy, which is a part of the Fordham University Orthodox Christian Studies Center, which has been formally endorsed by the Greek Archdiocese.

If you look over the archives of Public Orthodoxy, you will see that it has produced a steady stream of articles that defy almost every aspect of Orthodox Christian morality, and as a matter of fact they regularly argue that while dogmatic issues (which they define as being limited to strictly theological matters) are beyond debate, moral issues are not dogmatic, and therefore up for revision. This is a completely novel approach, and one that is heretical and contrary to the clear Tradition of the Church.

Most recently, the former Chancellor of the OCA, Fr. John Jillions gave a lecture for the Orthodox Theological Society in America, in which he bemoaned those Orthodox "fundamentalists" who are unwilling to dialogue on matters such as homosexuality and transgenderism. He argues that we cannot judge such matters "before the time," which will apparently only come when (so they hope) they finally wear everyone else down with their endless pressing of their agenda and we let them have their way. The problem is that these issues are not up for debate. Not only are the Scriptures clear on these issues, we have numerous canons from Ecumenical Councils, and the clear and unified testimony of the Fathers and Saints of the Church which leave no room for doubt as to what the Church has always taught on these subjects. In this lecture, you see the same kind of mealy-mouthed argumentation that we found in the essay by Fr. Robert Arida, but as time goes on, they are becoming more emboldened. One has to wonder how long their respective bishops will put up with this, but I think at this point, we have to conclude that at least some of the bishops in question allow this to go on because they agree with it.

Now if people like Fr. John Jillions wanted to dialogue about how to deal pastorally with people who are struggling with these sins, in order to help them overcome their sins, that would be a dialogue worth having. But you can't have that dialogue with people who are unwilling to concede that we are talking about actual sins. That has to be the starting premise. And to be clear, this is the point that they refuse to concede. In fact, they will almost never provide a direct answer to a direct question on whether or not these things are inherently sinful -- and that is for the simple reason that to say what they actually believe would put them in an indefensible position, and would force their bishops to do something about it.

We are not opposed to the LGBTQP agenda because we hate those who have been sucked into going along with it. We are opposed to it because this agenda is destructive to these people. As St. Paul tells us, these things are contrary to God's created order, and as such, they can only lead to great misery and the destruction of souls. St. Paul tells us that homosexuals and the transgendered (i.e. effeminate) will not inherit the Kingdom of God:

"Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate [malakoi], nor sodomites [i.e., homosexuals, arsenokoitai], nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you: but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God" (1 Corinthians 6:9-11).

Not inheriting the Kingdom of God is pretty big deal, if you actually believe in God, and so if you love the people struggling with these issues, you would want to help them to repent and overcome them, rather than affirm them in a choice that will lead to their spiritual deaths. 

I hope I am wrong, but I believe we are witnessing the unfolding of a full-blown schism. It will not just be over abortion, or over the LGBTQP agenda, or over the other issues we will be looking at, but each of these are pieces to the larger puzzle. If a schism is to be averted, it will only be averted because bishops begin to find their backbones, put their collective foot down, and put a stop to the spreading of these false and destructive teachings.

Update:

Someone has put together a very useful video that provides an overview of what has been going on in terms of the push for the acceptance of LGBTQP ideology in the Orthodox Church, particularly in the English-speaking world:

The same channel has a 4-part video series that covers the same ground, but provides some additional footage that is very helpful.

For More, See: 

Sermon: A Mad Mad World (Which was in response to Fr. John Jillions lecture referenced above)

Moral Heresy?

Discernment or Scaffolding?

The Living Church 2.0

The Bible the Church and Homosexuality: Obscurantegesis vs the Truth

Thursday, May 12, 2022

Reader Services through Pentecost Sunday


This installment covers the Sundays and Feasts of Old Calendar May, which on the civil Calendar runs from May 14th through June 13th. I intend to keep these texts posted as long as there are states or English speaking countries that are still under lockdown due to the Coronavirus.

The Eves

For the Eves of the upcoming Sundays and Feasts, you could ideally do the Vigil. The fixed portions can be downloaded here:

http://www.saintjonah.org/services/reader_vigil.doc

or viewed in HTML, here:

http://www.saintjonah.org/services/vigil.htm

For the Rubrics, see: http://www.saintjonah.org/rub/

The variable portions of the service can be downloaded here (all of these would be served on the eve of their respective days). During this period service variables for the Vigils are all found in one file.

For the Sunday of the Paralytic (May 15th n.s. / May 2nd o.s.):

http://www.saintjonah.org/services/pascha3.doc 

For Mid-Pentecost (May 18th n.s. / May 5th o.s.):

http://www.saintjonah.org/services/midpentecost.doc 

For the Sunday of the Samaritan Woman / St. Nicholas (May 22nd n.s. / May 9th o.s.):

http://www.saintjonah.org/services/pascha4_stnicholas.doc 

For the Sunday of the Blind Man (May 29th n.s. / May 16th o.s.):

http://www.saintjonah.org/services/pascha5.doc 

For the Apodosis of Pascha (June 1st n.s. / May 19th o.s.):

http://www.saintjonah.org/services/pascha_apodosis.doc 

For the Ascension of the Lord (June 2nd n.s. / May 20th o.s.):

http://www.saintjonah.org/services/vigil_ascension.doc 

For the Sunday of the Holy Fathers (June 5th n.s. / May 23rd o.s.):

http://www.saintjonah.org/services/pascha6.doc 

For the Sunday of the Pentecost (June 12th n.s. / May 30th o.s.):

http://www.saintjonah.org/services/vigil_pentecost.doc 

Typika

In place of the Liturgies, you would do Typika:

For the Sunday of the Paralytic (May 15th n.s. / May 2nd o.s.):

http://www.saintjonah.org/services/typika_pascha3.doc 

For Mid-Pentecost (May 18th n.s. / May 5th o.s.):

http://www.saintjonah.org/services/typika_midpentecost.doc 

For the Sunday of the Samaritan Woman / St. Nicholas (May 22nd n.s. / May 9th o.s.):

http://www.saintjonah.org/services/typika_pascha4_stnicholas.doc 

For the Sunday of the Blind Man (May 29th n.s. / May 16th o.s.):

http://www.saintjonah.org/services/pascha5.doc 

For the Apodosis of Pascha (June 1st n.s. / May 19th o.s.):

http://www.saintjonah.org/services/typika_apodosisofpascha.doc 

For the Ascension of the Lord (June 2nd n.s. / May 20th o.s.):

http://www.saintjonah.org/services/typika_ascension.doc 

For the Sunday of the Holy Fathers (June 5th n.s. / May 23rd o.s.):

http://www.saintjonah.org/services/typika_pascha6.doc 

For the Sunday of the Pentecost (June 12th n.s. / May 30th o.s.):

http://www.saintjonah.org/services/typika_pentecost.doc 

Thursday, May 05, 2022

The Pro-Abortion "Orthodox" (The Birth of a New Religion, Part 1)

who as the Icon shows, famously said 
There can be no compromise in matters of the Orthodox Faith.

In recent years, there are lines of division that not only show the signs of an emerging schism in the Orthodox Church -- it is becoming increasingly clear that we are witnessing the birth of a new religion, which will only retain some of the outward trappings of the Orthodox Christian Faith, but in fact is increasingly becoming unrecognizable as Christian. We see this when it comes to how the innovators see the sanctity of life, sexuality, human nature, the Church, and Tradition.

As we currently contemplate the prospect of Roe vs. Wade being overturned, it is important to remember that in January of this year, at the March for Life, Archbishop Elpidophoros used the occasion to affirm his support for abortion "rights." 

When I first saw the above meme, I thought a critic had put it together, only to find that this was the image from Greek Archdiocesan website -- and so evidently they were proud of what he said, and wanted these two quotes to be especially noted.

Here is the full text of his speech, taken from the official website of the Greek Archdiocese:

"Dear Sisters and Brothers,

Today, we come together in solidarity with our Brother Bishops of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and of the Assembly of Canonical Orthodox Bishops of the United States of America.

We affirm the gift and sanctity of life – all life, born and unborn. As Christians we confess that every human being is made in the image and likeness of God.  Every life is worthy of our prayer and our protection, whether in the womb, or in the world. We are all responsible for the well-being of children. We are their “keepers,” and cannot shirk from our accountability for their welfare.

At the same time, we also affirm our respect for the autonomy of women.  It is they who bring forth life into the world.  By His incarnation, our Lord, God, and Savior Jesus Christ assumed human nature, through His conception in the womb of the Virgin Mary. She freely chose to bring Him into the world, and God respected her freedom. We can and must make the case for life, both born and unborn, by our own example of unconditional love.

We march not for coercion.

We march with compassion,

With empathy,

With love.

And with our arms extended to embrace all.

Let us pray to the Lord. Lord, have mercy.

Lord, You have granted us the opportunity to offer these common prayers in unison and have promised that when two or three gather in Your name, You are there also. Fulfill now, O Lord, who was conceived in the womb of the Virgin Mary by the power of Your All-Holy Spirit, the petitions of Your servants. Remember, Lord, the people here present and those who are absent with good cause. Have mercy on them and on us according to the multitude of Your mercy. Remember, O God, all those whom we are not able to commemorate by forgetfulness or because of their multitude since You know the name and age of each, even from their mother's womb. For You, Lord, are the helper of the helpless, the hope of the hopeless, the savior of the afflicted, the haven of the voyager, and the physician of the sick, the protector of the voiceless. Be all things to all, You who know all people, their requests, their households, and their needs. For You are the Giver of Life, bringing each person from non-being into being, sealing each person with love and sanctity. May we come to the light of Your Truth and glorify You, the Giver of Life, together with Your Father, and Your All-Holy and Life-giving Spirit, now and ever and unto the ages of ages. Amen."

Clearly Archbishop Elpidophoros agrees with Roe vs. Wade. And so giving such a speech at the March for Life was an insult and a betrayal of all who have prayed and marched to overturn it for nearly a half century.

You find the most devote representatives of every Christian denomination at the March for Life, which has taken place every year since Roe vs. Wade made abortion on demand the law of the land. To have an Orthodox bishop participate in this March, be given a platform, and to have him endorse "a woman's right to choose" to kill her baby was an embarrassment. And make no mistake, everyone understood exactly what he was saying. The Washington Post cited it as an example of a "pro-choice" shift among many Christian and Jewish groups. George Demacopoulos, editor of "Public Orthodoxy," who champions the abandonment of Christian morality in the Orthodox Church, is cited in support of Archbishop Elpidophoros' coming out speech:

"George Demacopoulous [sic], a Fordham University theology professor and expert on Orthodox Christianity noted that abortion is legal in every major Orthodox country. While the faith views abortion as tragic and wrong, he said, it also respects the autonomy of women. Church and state are generally separate, he said, and abortion is more divorced from politics.

"In the United States, the debate is very much positioned as these two goods at war with one another; we’re being asked to pick. And he’s saying that’s theologically wrong," he said of Elpidophoros. "It’s a Christian truism that you can hold seemingly contradictory views. Christian moral teaching isn’t black and white"" (Washington Post: "The threat to Roe v. Wade is driving a religious movement for reproductive choice," by Michelle Boorstein, February 5, 2022, Emphasis added).

George Demacopoulos

This is part of a pattern on the part of the Fordhamites at "Public Orthodoxy," of downplaying Christian morality, and suggesting that it is fluid, something apart from dogma, and therefore open to debate and revision. Here they suggest that one can affirm the sanctity of life, while supporting the "right" to murder the innocent. Elsewhere, they suggest that perhaps homosexual sex might be allowable, and transgenderism is something we should embrace. Up until recently, while we have seen a shift on the part of modernists in the past decade towards defending sexual deviancy, they at least used to give lip service to being pro-life. Apparently, the slippery slope is a thing, and where it stops, nobody knows.

What does George Demacopoulos mean when he says that we believe abortion is "tragic and wrong"? The Church has unambiguously taught, from the beginning that abortion is not just a tragedy or a wrong choice, but that it is murder. If you believe it is murder, affirming someone's right to murder someone else is moral nonsense.

The earliest Christian document outside of the New Testament is the Didache (which is usually dated to be of first century origin), and it says:

"...thou shalt not murder a child by abortion nor kill them when born" (Didache 2:2).

Canon 91 of the Sixth Ecumenical Council states:

"As for women who furnish drugs for the purpose of procuring abortion, and those who take foetus-killing poisons, they are made subject to the penalty prescribed for murderers" ((D. Cummings, trans., The Rudder of the Orthodox Catholic Church: The Compilation of the Holy Canons by Saints Nicodemus and Agapius (West Brookfield, MA: The Orthodox Christian Educational Society, 1983), p. 395).

Canon 2 of St. Basil (whose canons were specifically affirmed by the 4th and 6th Ecumenical Councils, states:

"A woman that aborts deliberately is liable to trial as a murderess" (Ibid, 789).

There is absolutely no ambiguity at all on the question of whether or not abortion is murder. How you deal with someone who has engaged in this sin pastorally is another question -- and there certainly is forgiveness for those who confess and repent -- but that it is a sin which is absolutely prohibited by the Church, is as clear as it gets. There are not shades of gray here. You will not find a single Church Father or Saint of the Church that calls abortion anything less than murder.

The Scriptures are abundantly clear that God takes the shedding of innocent blood very seriously. We are told that God destroyed the kingdom of Judah because they engaged in child sacrifice:

"And he [Manasseh] made his son pass through the fire [a form of child sacrifice], and observed times, and used enchantments, and dealt with familiar spirits and wizards: he wrought much wickedness in the sight of the Lord, to provoke him to anger" (2 Kings 21:6).

"Surely at the commandment of the Lord this [the destruction of Judah by the Babylonians] came upon Judah, to remove them from His sight because of the sins of Manasseh, according to all that he had done, and also because of the innocent blood that he had shed; for he had filled Jerusalem with innocent blood, which the Lord would not pardon" (2 Kings 24:3-4).

So is it morally tenable to say that you believe abortion is murder, but affirm the "right" of others to engage in it? Let's see how this logic works when applied elsewhere:

Can a person really be opposed to rape, but not want to "impose their morality" on others? No.

Could a person oppose lynching, but not want to "impose their morality" on others? No.

And so clearly a person cannot be opposed abortion, and yet affirm the "right" of others to engage in it. 

Every law reflects someone's morality. There is no reason why Christians should not use their power to vote to influence the laws to protect innocent life. This after all is why the March for Life takes place, and if you want to affirm "abortion rights," you should not only show up at the counter protest, rather than style yourself pro-life -- you should also admit that you have departed from the Orthodox Christian Tradition, because as a matter of fact, you have.

Update: Metropolitan Nathaniel of the Greek Archdiocese felt the need to say something about abortion on Mother's Day Sunday, because as a bishop it is his duty to teach. But watch how he studiously avoids saying anything that might discourage a woman from killing her child in the womb, and ends up affirming that women who abort their babies are mothers too. Well, yes, they are mothers, because the babies they had killed in the womb were really babies, but it would have been good to have said that, and to have pointed out that the Church teaches that this is something that Orthodox Christians are not supposed to do, because it is murder:

Continued in The Pro LGBTQP "Orthodox" (The Birth of a New Religion, Part 2)

See Also: Moral Heresy?

Sermon: Choose Life (Roe vs. Wade and the Orthodox View of Manhood and Womanhood).

Monday, April 11, 2022

Reader Services through the Sunday of the Myrrh-bearing Women


This installment covers the Sundays and Feasts of Old Calendar April, which on the civil Calendar runs from April 14th through May 13th. I intend to keep these texts posted as long as there are states or English speaking countries that are still under lockdown due to the Coronavirus.

The Eves

For the Eves of the upcoming Sundays and Feasts, you could ideally do the Vigil. The fixed portions can be downloaded here:

http://www.saintjonah.org/services/reader_vigil.doc

or viewed in HTML, here:

http://www.saintjonah.org/services/vigil.htm

For the Rubrics, see: http://www.saintjonah.org/rub/

The variable portions of the service can be downloaded here (all of these would be served on the eve of their respective days), all the variable material is included in one file. 

Beginning with Lazarus Saturday (April 16th n.s. / April 3rd o.s.) through Pascha (April 24th n.s. / April 11th o.s.), you will find all of the services laid out as reader services here:

http://www.saintjonah.org/services/holyweek_index_rs.htm

For St. Thomas Sunday (May 1st n.s. / April 18th o.s.):

http://www.saintjonah.org/services/pascha1.doc 

For the Sunday of the Myrrh-bearers (May 8th n.s. / April 25th o.s.):

http://www.saintjonah.org/services/pascha2.doc 

Typika

In place of the Liturgies, you would do Typika:

Beginning with Lazarus Saturday (April 16th n.s. / April 3rd o.s.) through Pascha (April 24th n.s. / April 11th o.s.), you will find all of the services laid out as reader services here:

http://www.saintjonah.org/services/holyweek_index_rs.htm

For St. Thomas Sunday (May 1st n.s. / April 18th o.s.):

http://www.saintjonah.org/services/typika_pascha1.doc 

For the Sunday of the Myrrh-bearers (May 8th n.s. / April 25th o.s.):

http://www.saintjonah.org/services/typika_pascha2.doc 

Thursday, March 17, 2022

Sister Vassa and Public Orthodoxy on Ukraine, Part 2

 

A wall in Cathedral of the Schismatic Church in Ukraine, which has been recognized by the Ecumenical Patriarchate. In it you see St. George slaying the Russian Double-Headed Eagle, people literally draped in the Ukrainian flag, and you also see the Neo-Nazi Right Sector Flag in the background.

The people at Public Orthodoxy have issued a declaration against the Russian Church in which they accuse the Russian Church of heresy -- which they assert is the idea of "Русский мир" or "The Russian World." They included accusations against the Russian Church for failing to condemn one of the three major parties in the war in Ukraine (which includes Russia, the post-coup Ukrainian government, and the United States). They also allude to the controversy over the Ecumenical Patriarchate's recognition of the schismatics in Ukraine. I won't repeat what I have said about the complexities of the war, in part 1. And I have written fairly extensively on the Ukrainian schism -- which you can read in full here, but if you only want to read one article, see "An American Perspective on the Ukraine Crisis." In this article, I will focus specifically on the merits of the claim that there is a heresy called "The Russian World."

What Public Orthodoxy has Not Felt a Need to Condemn

Before getting into the merits of their claims in this declaration, I think it is interesting to consider that while Public Orthodoxy has posted numerous articles condemning the Russian Church and its position on the Ukrainian schism, as well as numerous articles condemning Russia for the war in Ukraine (which has been going on for 8 years, and began with a coup sponsored by the United States), but they have not felt any need to condemn the United States' regime change war in Syria which has raged for 10 years. Far more people have been killed in that war (the current estimates range between 500,000 and 610,000), and this war represents an existential threat to the Orthodox Christians in Syria (which was about 10% of the Syrian population before the war). If the United States had succeeded in installing an Islamic jihadist government in Syria, this would have meant the end of Christianity in Syria, for all practical purposes, and likely the same fate would have befallen Lebanon. Russian military intervention has thus far prevented that from happening, but the United States continues to occupy 10% of Syria, denying Syria access to its own oil resources, and it has imposed crippling sanctions on Syria that are causing immeasurable suffering among the people of Syria -- both Christian and Moslem. So this is an issue that Orthodox Christians ought to be concerned about -- and yet not only has Public Orthodoxy not issued a statement condemning the actions of the American government in Syria, it has hardly said anything about it at all. Perhaps some big money might dry up, if they chose to take such a stand, but one would think anyone who was a believer, and had an ounce of courage would take the right stand regardless. Why the silence? 

See "The Immoral Policy of the United States Government in Syria," for more information, though the article is from 2016, it nevertheless lays out the reasons why US policy in Syria is undeniably evil.

Public Orthodoxy not only fails to condemn those who oppose Christian morality -- they are one of the chief purveyors of these heretical teachings. So Public Orthodoxy is hardly a reliable guide on the subject of what is, or is not heretical.

"Ethno-Phyletism" for Me, but Not for Thee

One telling fact of this declaration is that it does not include a single quote of a specific statement that it might have cited as an example of the errors they claim the Russian Church is teaching. They also do not reference any document in which one might look to find this heresy espoused. 

In a search of the official website of the Moscow Patriarchate, I found an article in which Patriarch Kirill summarized what he understands the concept of "The Russian World" to refer to: "Святейший Патриарх Кирилл: Русский мир — особая цивилизация, которую необходимо сберечь," which in English means "His Holiness Patriarch Kirill: The Russian world is a special civilization that must be preserved."

Patriarch Kirill notes that the Orthodox Culture of the Kievan Rus', which is the common heritage of the Russians, Belarusians, Ukrainians, and Carpatho-Russians, is not defined by political boundaries, and he has does not see it as promoting the building or rebuilding of any empire. He does see it has something worth preserving, which if lost, would be a loss to humanity. He does not see this as ethnic or racial, but cultural. He also does not assert that this culture is superior to all others, only that it is their culture, and it is worth preserving.

In the official conciliar documents of the Russian Church, the question of the Church's relationship to culture has been addressed in detail. "The Basis of the Social Concept of the Russian Orthodox Church," which was approved in 2000, includes in section II, a statement entitled "Church and Nation." I would defy anyone to point to anything in this statement, and to lay out a reasoned and supported argument for why it is heretical.

It is especially curious to hear this charge from an organization which is headed by two members of the Greek Archdiocese, because one hears a very similar concept to "The Russian World" fairly frequently, only it is called "Hellenism." A Google search of the official website of the Greek Archdiocese for the word "Hellenism" turns up "About 13,900" hits. One of the first articles to come up is entitled "New Program to Promote Hellenism in the United States." And the subtitle of that article is, interestingly enough "The Greek Orthodox Archdiocese and the Foundation for the Hellenic World Announce New Program to Promote Hellenism in the United States" [emphasis added]. In that article, you will see that Archbishop Elpidophoros himself was involved in the promotion of this new program. It certainly seems like Archbishop Elpidophoros thinks that there is a Greek Orthodox culture that is not limited by political boundaries, which is the heritage of all Greek people, and is worth preserving.

So is there a heresy of "The Hellenic World"? If not, it seems like members of a Church that considers the promotion of Hellenism to be a key part of their mission, might want to lay out exactly how this concept is not heretical, before they accuse the Russian Church of heresy for essentially having the same idea with regard to their own culture.

As a non-Russian who has been in the Russian Orthodox Church for close to 32 years now, I can tell you that I never felt pressured to become a Russian, nor have I been made to feel like I was a second class member of the Russian Church because I was not a Russian. For more on that, see "Converts and Culture," and "The Colors of the Russian Church."

In short, this declaration consists of a series of assertions that the Russian Church teaches things that they provide no evidence of anyone actually teaching, and they should perhaps examine their own views of Orthodoxy and culture, before they attack those of others.

Reader Services through the Sunday of St. Mary of Egypt



This installment covers the Sundays and Feasts of Old Calendar March, which on the civil Calendar runs from March 14th through April 13th. I intend to keep these texts posted as long as there are states or English speaking countries that are still under lockdown due to the Coronavirus.

The Eves

For the Eves of the upcoming Sundays and Feasts, you could ideally do the Vigil. The fixed portions can be downloaded here:

http://www.saintjonah.org/services/reader_vigil.doc

or viewed in HTML, here:

http://www.saintjonah.org/services/vigil.htm

For the Rubrics, see: http://www.saintjonah.org/rub/

The variable portions of the service can be downloaded here (all of these would be served on the eve of their respective days). The Sunday services prior to Pascha require two files, because these combinations do not repeat annually. Beginning with Pascha, all the variable material is included in one file. On Sundays, there are some hymns that are appointed according to which Matins Gospel is read. To find out which one is read, you also need to look at the Rubrics. For those texts, you will find them here: http://www.saintjonah.org/services/matinsgospel.doc Those hymns are usually done at the Exapostilaria and then at the Doxasticon at the Praises.

For the Sunday of the St. Gregory Palamas (March 20th n.s. / March 7th o.s.):

http://www.saintjonah.org/services/lent2.doc 

http://www.saintjonah.org/services/tone6.doc

For the Sunday of the Cross (March 27th n.s. / March 14th o.s.):

http://www.saintjonah.org/services/lent3.doc

http://www.saintjonah.org/services/tone7.doc

For the Sunday of St. John Climacus (April 3rd n.s. / March 21st o.s.):

http://www.saintjonah.org/services/lent4.doc

http://www.saintjonah.org/services/tone8.doc

For the Great Canon, (which this year is on Tuesday of the 5th Week of Lent, due to Annunciation), for those who are not use to doing services, I would recommend that you use the text of Small Compline: http://www.saintjonah.org/services/compline.htm and then, right after the Creed, you would do the Great Canon. This text has the text has the text for the Great Canon on the 5th week of Lent, beginning on page 42:

http://www.saintjonah.org/services/greatcanon_sts.pdf

For the Feast of Annunciation (April 7th n.s. / March 25th o.s.):

Annunciation is one of the more complicated services in the Liturgy Year. If anyone wants to try to put it together, the rubrics and texts are posted here:

https://saintjonah.org/services/annunciation_index.htm

But for most people, I would suggest that if you are unable to go to Church, on the eve of the feast (Monday night) use this text for Small Compline, which has the Annunciation Canon in it, laid out for lay use:

http://www.saintjonah.org/services/smallcompline_annunciation.doc

For the Fifth Friday of Great Lent, we do the service of the Akathist Hymn. For those not use to doing services, I would recommend using this text, which follows the more simple Greek order of service, but is arranged as a Reader Service:

http://www.saintjonah.org/services/smallcompline_akathist.doc

For the Sunday of St. Mary of Egypt (April 10th n.s. / March 28th o.s.):

http://www.saintjonah.org/services/lent5.doc 

http://www.saintjonah.org/services/tone1.doc

Typika

In place of the Liturgies, you would do Typika:

For the Sunday of the St. Gregory Palamas (March 20th n.s. / March 7th o.s.):

http://www.saintjonah.org/services/typika_lent2_t6.doc

For the Sunday of the Cross (March 27th n.s. / March 14th o.s.):

http://www.saintjonah.org/services/typika_lent3_t7.doc

For the Sunday of St. John Climacus (April 3rd n.s. / March 21st o.s.):

http://www.saintjonah.org/services/typika_lent4_t8.doc

For the Feast of Annunciation (April 7th n.s. / March 25th o.s.):

http://www.saintjonah.org/services/typika_annunciation.doc

For the Sunday of St. Mary of Egypt (April 10th n.s. / March 28th o.s.):

http://www.saintjonah.org/services/typika_lent5_t1.doc

Wednesday, March 16, 2022

Sister Vassa and Public Orthodoxy on Ukraine, Part 1



Once again, Sister Vassa and Public Orthodoxy have boldly staked out positions, which just happens to coincide with the fashionable opinion of the moment. In a video by Sister Vassa, and then in a declaration published by Public Orthodoxy (which Sister Vassa signed), they express their belief that Russia's invasion of Ukraine is evil, that Putin is solely to blame, and that the Russian Church should condemn Putin for it. And the declaration goes on to accuse the Russian Church of outright heresy. In this response, I will focus my attention on Sister Vassa's video. In part 2, I will address the Public Orthodoxy declaration.

The Intentional Fog of War Propaganda

Before getting into Sister Vassa's specific assertions, I would like to remind those who are old enough to remember the lead up to the first Gulf War -- and to inform those who were too young or not yet born -- of the lies our government propaganda machine churned out to talk us into going to war. I remember it well, and enlisted in the United States Marine Corps because I believed the things we were told. Iraq had invaded Kuwait, and we were told horror stories of how the Iraqi soldiers treated Kuwaitis. One of the more memorable things we were told was that Iraqi soldiers burst into hospitals, took babies out of incubators, left them on the floors to die, and then carted those incubators off to Iraq. There was testimony to this effect before the United States Congress, from a young woman who claimed to have been an eye witness to these barbarous acts. George H. W. Bush alluded to this frequently as he beat the war drums. This could not stand. Something had to be done. The only problem was, it was a lie. The young woman who testified before Congress happened to be the daughter of the Kuwaiti ambassador to the United States, and had not been in Kuwait at all during or after the Iraqi invasion. Of course, this only came to light long after the war was over. In 1990 and in 2003, the vast majority of Americans supported going to war with Iraq. Today, the vast majority of Americans believe it was a mistake.

 

Then under Bill Clinton we launched a war against Serbia, in which we bombed them back to the stone age, killed thousands of civilians, and carved off Kosovo from Serbia, where we still have American troops stationed to this day. This also happened due to the stenographers in the mainstream media, which dutifully presented a one-sided story of a complicated civil war, along with countless fabrications and lies which were designed to inflame the emotions of the American people... and then the United States did exactly what we are accusing Russia of doing right now.

In the lead up to the second Gulf War we were assured that there were weapons of mass destruction being amassed by Sadam Hussein, and this also turned out to be a lie. We invaded Iraq, and a country that was 10% Christian now has few remaining Christians because we unleashed Islamic Jihadists that Sadam Hussein had kept on a short leash, and the country has been a wreck ever since. I think there are few people left who would not gladly turn back the clock, and put Sadam Hussein back in charge of Iraq. As bad as he was, the world was a far safer place, and Iraq was a far better and safer place too.

More recently we launched regime change wars in Syria and Libya in which our military played direct roles, which have resulted in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of civilians, and millions of refugees. What we did in Libya caused further Islamic terror in other parts of Africa, as Libyan weapons made their way into the hands of Islamic terrorists, like Boko Haram. We have seen open slave markets, and human misery increased exponentially all because we wanted to take out the latest Hitler of the Month. If when we embarked on these regime change wars, we were creating paradises in their stead, perhaps one could justify this as a foreign policy theme, but instead, we consistently make bad situations into hell holes.

I could go on, but we have been repeatedly lied into going to war in country after country, and in almost every case, the situation has been made far worse by our actions. But the point here is that the media willfully presented propaganda to the American people, designed to whip up public opinion and get them to support American foreign policy based on lies.

The Complexities of the War in Ukraine

In Sister Vassa's comments, she repeats a great deal of the spin we are hearing in the western media, as if it were all true, and there was nothing more to it. Her arguments amount to appeals to emotion based on the media narrative, and appeals to majority opinion, rather than on reason, evidence, or logical argument. The problem here is we should know by now that we cannot put a lot of faith in what our government or the media tells us when our government is trying to push public opinion to support a war. And make no mistake, that is what is happening. We are being asked to support an economic war, which will have huge repercussions on our own economy, as well as every economy in the world -- which will disproportionately affect the poor throughout the world, and put them in positions in which keeping body and soul together will be extremely difficult. We are being asked to supply weapons to one side, and there is the very real prospect that we could soon be drawn into the fighting on the ground before all is said and done, if we are not careful.

Anyone who is presenting this war in simple terms is either ignorant of the facts, or is trying to deceive you, and they are certainly not advancing the cause of peace. This war has an extremely complicated background. For one thing, Ukraine was never an independent country prior to the 1990's. For most of the last 3 centuries it has been united with Russia, and so there are strong ties to Russia, particularly with the Eastern and Southern regions of Ukraine. Ukraine has had two "revolutions" since it became independent, both of which the United States had more than a small role in. In 2014, we had a blatant coup d'etat in which our country sponsored the violent overthrow of the lawfully elected government of the country. As a result there was unrest throughout Eastern and Southern Ukraine. The Russian government seized Crimea, which has been the base for the Russian Black Sea fleet since Catherine the Great, and whose population overwhelming supported the action. In most of the South, unrest was violently squelched, but in Eastern Ukraine, two regions declared their independence, and with Russian support, were able to keep from being crushed by the new Ukrainian government, but the people in those regions have been subjected to continuous shelling by the Ukrainian military for the past 8 years, and about 14,000 people have been killed... but CNN didn't bother stoking anyone into being outraged about those deaths -- and in fact, most people are unaware of this aspect of the present conflict entirely. 

For more on the 2014 Coup, see the documentary Ukraine on Fire, the follow up documentary Ukraine Revealed, as well as How US-backed Maidan coup, Russiagate led to war in Ukraine.

Since 2014, there have been two peace agreements that have been signed which would have ended the war in Eastern Ukraine, and in both cases, nothing came of them, because the president of Ukraine was either unable, or unwilling to implement them. I am sure the politics of this is very difficult to navigate, but while the last two Ukrainian presidents both ran on a platform of bringing peace to Eastern Ukraine, and they may both have been very sincere in their intentions, neither was able to accomplish their stated intentions... for whatever reason. Zelensky even went to Eastern Ukraine and personally ordered the overtly Nazi Azov Battalion to withdraw... and they simply refused to do so. So it is unclear who has really been running the show in Ukraine.

On top of the 8 year war against Russian speaking people in Eastern Ukraine, Zelensky suggested in February of this year that Ukraine would be seeking to acquire Nuclear weapons, and Ukraine has stated its intention to join NATO, and to retake Crimea from Russia... by force if necessary. Russia had laid out to the US a list of its "Red Lines," the biggest of which is Ukraine entering NATO, and the US refused to accommodate Russia on any of its concerns. Countless experts have been warning that this policy of NATO expansion would eventually lead to a military response from Russia:

And so given that this was entirely predictable, one has to wonder why the Biden administration chose to continue to press ahead with NATO expansion, rather than to press Ukraine to actually implement the Minsk agreements, and end the 8 year war in Eastern Ukraine.

Sister Vassa notes that even Fox and CNN agree that this is all Russia's fault. The problem is that war is the one remaining bi-partisan issue in America. The establishments of both parties generally support going to war. Fox News has generally taken the same stance.

Sister Vassa dismisses concerns about Nazis in Ukraine because Israel sides with the US, Zelensky is Jewish, Ukraine fought against the Nazis in World War II, and she suggests that like any other country, Ukraine simply has people with various political leanings. But Israel has little choice but to side with the US, given that the US is Israel's only ally in the world, and heavily funds and supplies its military. Zelensky is Jewish, but that doesn't prove that there are not Nazis throughout Ukraine's military and security forces, and when you have overtly Nazi Battalions that are part of the Ukrainian Army, that is not just having some kooks in your country. Yes, 8 million Ukrainians died fighting the Nazis, but many of those from Western Ukraine died fighting for the Nazis. You had Ukrainian divisions of the SS. And they have a Nazi war criminal that is celebrated as a National hero -- Stepan Bandera. Obviously the average Ukrainian is not a Nazi, and one could argue that the Russian government makes more of this than is warranted, but pretending that this is not a real issue is either ignorant or dishonest.

The BBC has reported on the heavy role played by Nazis in Ukrainian politics as well:

A good case can be made that the primary reason why the Minsk Agreements have never been implemented is that the Ukrainian government has a legitimate fear of being overthrown by these Nazi forces.

You cannot honestly discuss the current war in Ukraine without addressing the 2014 coup, the last 8 years of war in Eastern Ukraine and the 14,000 people (mostly Russian speaking Ukrainians) who have been killed under nearly constant shelling, and dealing with the role of various Nazi groups in both the coup and the war, and you certainly cannot discuss this without mentioning the United States' role in all of the aforementioned. And yet Sister Vassa almost completely ignored all of this.

To say that this war is all Putin's fault is, at the very least, simplistic. If you say it is all his fault, you are in effect saying it is not the United States' fault, or the fault of the post-coup Ukrainian government. But it is quite possible that there is some blame that is due to each party here. And while God knows exactly how much everyone responsible is to blame, I don't believe we do, at this point. It certainly simplifies things if you can paint one side as heartless people who take babies out of incubators and throw them on the floor, but it probably is better to wait until you have a better idea of what has actually happened before you jump to simplistic conclusions.

Furthermore, laying all the blame on Putin takes off any pressure for the US or Ukraine to seek a compromise solution, and at this point, a compromise solution is the only way the fighting will end in the short term. So while people who take this position have the self satisfaction of virtue signaling, and can claim that they are for peace, they actually are making it less likely that peace will be restored any time soon.

The Pastoral Issues for the Russian Church

Aside from the problem with pinning the blame on only one side when we don't have sufficient evidence to really reach that conclusion, the Russian Church has the very real problem of having people who are on the various sides, and everywhere in between -- and this is true just among the Ukrainians in the Russian Church. In my parish alone I have Ukrainian people who believe Russia is coming to the rescue, and people who think Putin is evil, and then people who have mixed opinions. I don't want to alienate any of those people. They all have family and friends who are suffering, and many who have been killed or will be killed. The Church has to rise above such things, and appeal to all sides to find a way towards peace.

Conclusion

We can all agree that war is evil. We are praying for a swift end to the war. And in the meantime we are doing what we can to raise money to help those who have been displaced by the war. No one in the Russian Church wanted to see things come to this point. All sides should do what they can to end this war as soon as possible. We can certainly say that anyone who contributed to causing this war will have a lot to answer for before God. Anyone who chooses war when they have other viable options is committing a great sin. God knows the truth. At this point, I don't believe we do.

This war was certainly preventable. I believe the US government could have prevented it, and so if I was going to condemn anyone, I would have to start with the government that at least theoretically answers to the American people.

For more information:

Sermon; The War in Ukraine

Sermon: God is on the Throne

Update: Let me clarify one point so that no one is confused. It is not my place or the place of the Church to tell Ukrainians that they should not want to have an independent country, nor would it be to say that they should. Ukrainians themselves are not of one mind on this question, and so obviously everyone cannot have their way when people disagree. They should find a peaceful way to resolve such disputes, but this really should be a matter that they settle without outside interference.

Furthermore, war is always an evil thing, and there is always at least one side that is in the wrong. Sometimes both sides are in the wrong. Reasonable people can disagree about such things, because we all have limited knowledge, and we come from our own perspective. God, however, knows exactly who is to blame, and it would be a horrible thing to have to answer for on the day of judgment.

Update 2: One other point, just to be clear. Anyone has the right to think or say whatever they believe to be true about the current war in Ukraine. If Sister Vassa had simply voiced her opposition to it, I wouldn't have responded. It is the accusation that the Church has to condemn one of the three major parties to this war, but not condemn either of the other two, that I take issue with. War is horrible. Everyone with any compassionate would rather it not have happened, and would want it to end as soon as possible. But the reasons for why we are where we are at this point in history are not simple, and demanding that the Church pretend otherwise, and exonerate the US and the post-coup government of Ukraine, while laying the blame only on the Russian government, is not a reasonable position to take. If Russia had invaded Ukraine out of the blue, that would be a different matter, but there has been a war going on for 8 years, and so it is not nearly so clear cut. More facts will hopefully come out, and as they do I hope everyone will revise their opinions accordingly, but that is how I see it at this point.

Also, one commentator mentioned that a lot of other people collaborated with the Nazis, including Russians. I can understand why people living under Stalin, knowing only what they knew at the time, might have thought that Hitler was the lesser of the two evils. However, when you have groups of Ukrainians in 2022, who choose to identify with this particular chapter of their history, and identify themselves as Nazis, they have a lot less of an excuse then their grandfathers had. And furthermore, when you have those people functioning openly in the Ukraine military, in Nazi units, it is a far more problematic matter. Every country has its share of kooks. Most don't have Kook Battalions in their military.