I recently read a short article about the English tutor of the Russian imperial family, Charles Gibbes, in Russia Beyond the Headlines: “From Romanov tutor to Orthodox missionary: The life of Charles Gibbes.” Except for the obnoxious introduction about “Orthodoxy in England,” the story itself is fascinating, and the provided photographs make the visit worth it. These articles are an occasion of sin for me, though. Every time I see an image of the Tsarevitch, I think of the Bolsheviks’ notes about his murder and my heart consequently burns hot with anger (see “Murder of the Imperial Family”). How could anyone do such? Foul wretches. Well, Gibbes was a peculiar witness to those dreadful days, and I was ignorant of his existence until I read this article. May his memory be eternal.
“Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.”
For today, I offer Vadim Vinogradov’s documentary «За други своя» (from A.D. 2003) about how Russian Orthodox Christians rallied to defend their homeland during the Second World War, despite the Communist state’s persecution of them during the previous decades. Even if you cannot follow Russian at all, the film includes much interesting original footage.
Russia still has many open wounds that need dressed and healed, but its transformation since the fall of the U.S.S.R. has been miraculous.
All those Leonine prayers worked—though not in the way Rome likely intended.
I would like to wish Orthodox readers a blessed Lazarus Saturday, Palm Sunday, and Holy Week. Pascha is almost here!
The parishioners of Saint Katherine Orthodox Church in Carlsbad, California have compiled a short hagiographic report on Saint Seraphim of Vyritsa to commemorate the one hundred and fiftieth anniversary of his birth (March 31 / April 13, A.D. 1866): “Saint Seraphim of Vyritsa.”
The saint’s story is a fascinating modern version of those ancient Roman aristocrats who gave up their riches and status to take up the monastic cross. Business tycoon Vasily Nikolaevich Mouraviov and his wife Olga donated 44,000 rubles in gold coin (worth almost one billion dollars in today’s money) to charity and both became monastics before the First World War. Vasily took the name Seraphim after Saint Seraphim of Sarov; Olga became Christina (and later Seraphima upon taking the schema). Both survived the Bolshevik Revolution, though the Communists murdered their son. They suffered much and gave much.
Saint Seraphim’s feast just passed—March 21 (currently April 3 on the Gregorian calendar). May he pray for us. If you ever visit Vyritsa, south of Saint Petersburg, you may visit the chapel where these two laborers for Christ rest.
Pope Francis released his papal exhortation Amoris laetitia earlier this month. As expected, he upset many traditional Latins and confused many more. I am not going to comment on the document, which I have not read—the commentaries of others suffice for my purposes. Rather, I would like to share a link to Rorate Caeli’s reaction: “More Catholic than the pope.” I highly recommend that you read the entire post, but here is a lengthy selection:
. . . As explained in the First Vatican Council’s dogmatic constitution Pastor Aeternus, the Church firmly holds that “the Holy Spirit was promised to the successors of Peter not so that they might, by his revelation, make known some new doctrine, but that, by his assistance, they might religiously guard and faithfully expound the revelation or deposit of faith transmitted by the apostles.”
The Catholic Faith is not something invented anew by each pope according to his own opinions, predilections, understanding, or whims. The pope is only good as a “yardstick” when he formally teaches in accordance to “the Faith once delivered unto the saints,” as St. Jude the Apostle wrote.
When Pope Liberius assented to the unjust excommunication of St. Athanasius the Great, and signed off on an ambiguous creedal formula that could be accommodated to the Arian or semi-Arian heresies, every faithful Catholic was then “more Catholic than the pope.”
When Pope Honorius I uttered false theological opinions and failed to correct and condemn the Monothelite heretics, every faithful Catholic was then “more Catholic than the pope.” Indeed, they were so much more Catholic than Honorius that the Church posthumously condemned him as a heretic, a decision that Honorius’ successor St. Leo II approved. “We anathematize the inventors of the new error, that is, Theodore, Sergius, ... and also Honorius, who did not attempt to sanctify this Apostolic Church with the teaching of Apostolic tradition, but by profane treachery permitted its purity to be polluted.” For most of the Church’s history, priests praying their Office repeated the anathema pronounced against Pope Honorius.
When Pope Stephen VII desecrated the remains of Pope Formosus during the hideously shameful Synodus Horrenda (the “Cadaver Synod”), every Catholic who strove to practice justice and who respected the sanctity of the human body was then “more Catholic than the pope.”
When Pope John XII effectively “turned the Lateran palace into a brothel,” as contemporary historians so colorfully put it, and when Pope Benedict IX gave himself over to unchastity and bloodshed, every faithful Catholic who strove to cultivate the virtues of chastity, purity, mercy, and peace in their personal conduct was then “more Catholic than the pope.”
When Pope John XXII preached in his sermons the error that the faithful departed do not enjoy the Beatific Vision until after Judgment Day at the end of the world, every faithful Catholic was then “more Catholic than the pope”—and the loud and outraged cry of the faithful against him led him to retract his error, and his successor then infallibly defined John XXII’s opinion as heresy.
Papal infallibility doesn’t mean papal impeccability or papal omniscience. The obligations of docility and obedience do not extend so far that one must stand on one’s head and cross one’s eyes in order to see how a scandalous, erroneous papal utterance is in fact true after all. Most of what a pope says is not infallible, and papal authority has never extended to having the right to introduce teachings and laws that contradict or go counter to the Faith. It’s no dishonor or disrespect or disobedience to the Holy Father to point out and to believe those truths of the Catholic Faith.
Words fail me. Ever since my Jesuit undergrad. days, people have called me a liar and a fool for mentioning Honorius and for making the points laid out so well by Confitebor on Rorate Caeli. These accusers have tended to be the most enthusiastic Latin traditionalists, and their extreme ultramontanism horrified me and confirmed decision to stay away from the Roman Church. In truth, I sympathized with my estranged Christian brethren and excused their commitment to papism since, during the pontificates of John Paul II and Benedict XVI, one could understandably believe that the Bishop of Rome alone kept the Latins from going over their cliff in a crowded clown-mass car. Yet, I knew that it was the previous popes who had veered off course to begin with, and I have always found the Latin insistence on papal infallibility either unintelligible or objectionable (or both). Why would any group of people trust their treasure to such fragile hands? Put not your trust in princes, nor in the son of man—successor to Peter or not! The apostolic patrimony is too precious to hand over to any man—or generation.
The Latin contention is, most fundamentally, that the buck (of resolving disputes) must stop somewhere. Hence, the pope must exercise a superepiscopal role with some sort of infallibility (to settle those disputes). For the Lord would not leave his ignorant, straying. foolish sheep without a shepherd, or so they believe. For the same reason, the Latins have centuries’ worth of experience in categorizing every conceivable sin and proper penance—the Good Shepherd would want every aspect of ovine husbandry listed and specified! The Romans have a massive global bureaucracy to manage their Christian flock, and they had specialized “think tanks” for ages before any modern secularist considered them. For the Church must have an answer for every thing—a detailed formula for salvation, a comprehensive jurisprudence that deals with every matter of life, positions on this or that issue in the domains of morality, science, politics, anthropology—you name it. The resulting edifice is impressive, and I certainly do not object to progress in knowledge or to Christians’ attempting to redeem the time here on earth to make the world better. I’m a tikkun olam kind of Christian, after all. What I find objectionable, however, is the blurring of apostolic authority on the fundamental doctrines of the faith with the theologoumena and philosophical theorizing of Christians, hierarchs or otherwise. Mission creep has affected the Roman episcopate in such a monumental way! It is no wonder the Protestants rebelled against this ridiculous shackling of the human mind—and their heirs continue to do so in ever more bizarre and demonic ways. The West’s obsessive compulsive need for the resolution of all questions—indeed, even of life in its totality!—has fouled the reputation of authority and tradition and led to (or at least helped to ignite) the Satanic reaction of the modern world.
We live in a fallen world: life is hard, truth is difficult to grasp, and ignorance is the default position for the human mind most of the time. We must work with what we have—and the Lord has amply provided us gifts—but the proper path for man is not obvious. There is no desk (or cathedra) where the buck of human questioning must stop. We are social animals, and it is folly to disregard the wisdom of previous ages and of one’s betters. Nonetheless, each human soul must struggle to conform to truth, goodness, and beauty to the extent possible. The result is messy, but that is how it must be until the eschaton. No counterfeit Gospel can resolve the contradictions of the human heart. The Almighty has left us no demigod to guide our every step; the Golden Age is long past. So, the basic papist argument fails the reality test. Our fallen world is one where we cannot resolve all our questions and disputes with surety. Rather, it is one where the seeking man finds much providential assistance along his way, though he never is absolutely certain of where he is at any given moment while his travels persist. His only consolation, besides the splendor and beauty of the landscape along the path, is that he has enough tools to know that he is generally headed in the right direction.
With that said, I think that Pope Francis might indeed provide the latest occasion for one of those undeserved divine gifts. Perhaps, someone like him is necessary to correct Rome’s ultramontanism—a prerequisite step for a possible future reconciliation between the East and the West. An odd gift, one might think, but providence often appears inscrutable until we examine it in hindsight. Similarly, the turmoil following the Second Vatican Council has been very instructive to the Orthodox. The Latins have been the blue whale in the coal mine of modernity, so to speak. In both cases, the Christian West’s contemporary hemorrhaging might be the painful though necessary trauma that will eventually lead to the restoration of Christian unity. Even the best Physician must sometimes amputate a mutilated or diseased limb to save the body.
The English version of Православие.Ru has a remarkable interview with Matushka Maria Potapova, wife of Fr. Victor Potapov and daughter of Fr. Sergy Chertkov: “I grew up near St. John.” Matushka Maria’s blood connections form a nexus of imperial Russia; she is the great-granddaughter of the pre-revolutionary Duma’s chairman, niece of Bishop Basil (Rodzianko), granddaughter of a princess from one of Russia’s most intellectually accomplished families, and relative to Tolstoy. This daughter of Old Russia recounts her childhood memories of Saint John, which you will find interesting. I have always found Matushka Maria very kind and rather pensive—the experiences recounted in the interview may explain the foundation for that disposition.
I wish my co-religionists a blessed feast of the Annunciation. For today, I’ll offer a short news report that I watched a couple of years ago about the visit of the Kursk Root icon to Kursk. Every September, there is a twenty-five mile procession with the icon from Kursk Cathedral to the Korennaya Hermitage, where the icon was found more than seven hundred years ago. You don’t need to know Russian to appreciate the story.
The uncharitable part of me relishes that the Bolsheviks must be turning in their graves. All their violence and persecution to bring about the materialist atheism Commie paradise—and their revolution’s descendants are returning to the ways of the faithful ancestors. God is great and merciful!
You may read about the history of the icon at “The Wonderworking Kursk Root Icon of Our Lady of the Sign.” Since the icon’s current home is the synodal cathedral in New York City and since it regularly travels around the States, Orthodox Christians in America have numerous opportunities to meet the icon. If you are interested, you may also watch an informative children’s program about the icon and its celebration:
Last week, Mark Citadel posted “An Open Letter to Pope Francis” on the Orthosphere. Some consequent commentary has been lacking in warm fuzzies. I thus commented:
Though I appreciate Mark’s points, I wasn’t going to enter into the polemical comment thread on here. I prefer to follow my general “pas d’ennemis à Droite” policy, admiring even jack-booted TFPers of the most extreme papio-fascist tendencies, who probably would like to burn people like me at the stake. Hey, they have cool uniforms, banners, and drums—and their womenfolk know their place. Yet, as with the recent sorry state of affairs in the Ukraine, I must prioritize my confession over warm well wishes toward Latin reactionaries.
With that said, like John XXIII of sorrowful memory, please let me open a window and let in some fresh air to the discussion above. ISE and others find it objectionable that Mark, an Orthodox man, criticizes the current pope (or “pope” for the sedevacantists in our midst), while our own hierarchs have a track record of voicing modernist platitudes from time to time. I think that it might be useful to compare Pope Francis to Patriarch Kirill here. Both men have leftist backgrounds. The pope sees the world through his Jesuit and South American libtheo. lenses, while Kirill grew up in the Soviet era and became the leading ecumenist bishop in the Russian Church. Both men have a long history of palling around with Communists and other leftwing dictators while criticizing capitalism and the materialist West.
The difference is, I suspect, that Francis appears to be a true believing man of the Left in most ways and acts accordingly, while Kirill, as our bishops in general, often walks the well-trodden paths of Byzantine diplomacy when dealing with secular and heathen powers but nonetheless doggedly advocates and works for the good of traditional Christians (in fact, the words of the former serve the deeds of the latter). To be more precise, Kirill cares for his sheep, while Francis saves his disdain and chastisement for the most pious members of his own flock.
Comments above mention Kirill’s happy talk about mosques. That is true—but it is also true that the Moscow Patriarchate has pushed for the rechristianization of Russia in every domain of life for the past twenty years with surprising success. The M.P. recognized that post-Soviet Russia was not yet ready to embrace the old Throne and Altar symphony of imperial Russia. So, it has gradually and opportunistically chipped away at official secularism—and it has been able to do so by couching its moves as a representative member of Russia’s historic faiths—along with rabbinical Judaism, Buddhism, and Mohammedanism. Moreover, imperial Russia once secured the loyalty of southern Mohammedans from the empire’s borders, and Putin and Kirill both understand what is practically needed to maintain the peace of those peoples and regions today. That understanding has allowed for the expansion of Russian Orthodoxy into the Dar al-Islam, just as British military and economic power did the same for Western Christian sects in the Middle East during colonial times. Different methods, similar positive results.
Concerning the population issue, Kirill and other Orthodox hierarchs have been insistent on the growth of their nations’ people. How many Western prelates voice concerns about the viability of their nations’ native population levels? They’d be embarrassed and ashamed even to think it! As far as Kirill’s calling for more Mohammedan immigration to the West, I wonder if such is just taunting—kind of like Eric Holder’s scolding white Americans for making the U.S. a nation of cowards. It’s a cruel form of mockery, but a just one—the object of the humiliation deserves to be mocked because its vice keeps it from objecting to the mockery. In addition, perhaps the Patriarch recognizes that Europe’s salvation will likely come from a forced reaction to the current age and to its values—with jihad’s being the supplied force. The Russians know a lot about “the worse, the better.”
As for the pope, personally, I really don’t know what to make of Francis. He frequently demeans his most faithful followers as well as the hallmarks of the Roman Church that he leads. Yet, any bishop who constantly reminds people of hell and of the devious power of demons—who supports the expansion of exorcism activities today—is not a complete minion of the enemy. Far from it! So, I don’t think that he is an intentional subversive leader. I am not even in the Roman camp and thus haven’t drunk any Kool-Aid, but perhaps men like Peter Kreeft are right. The current pontificate might be a brilliant Trojan Horse operation against (which is really, ultimately, for) the West’s apostates. Maybe, Francis’ role is to infiltrate the enemy’s ranks (read “lost sheep”) and ingratiate himself with their leaders by conspicuously agreeing with all their pet bigotries—while underhandedly slipping enemy propaganda (i.e. Holy Writ) into their public and private places. Indeed, could the Pope Emeritus have succeeded in getting the Gospel into HuffPo articles? Maybe the Argentinian will prove to be a devastating sleeper agent for the atheistic elite. Never underestimate the strategic wisdom of providence.
Kudos to Mark for articulating our concerns in the letter. It’s a shame that no one with a figurative megaphone will state the same—only unknown bloggers crying in the wilderness. However, wise words would likely fail to achieve their goal even if they were to arrive at the Vatican. One must have ears to hear. At any rate, you may be interested in reading a relevant older post, “Forgetting the City of Man.”
A recent newsletter from the Russian Church Abroad’s Fund for Assistance included a story about the summer boys’ camp at Holy Trinity Monastery in Jordanville: “Jordanville ‘Summer Boys’ Then and Now.” The article mentions how alumni of the camp have gone on to serve the Church in a variety of ways. A fine program, indeed—honest, hard project-oriented work, fellowship, typical summer camp fun, specialized religious instruction, and worship in such a hallowed place. Like Capra’s Jefferson Smith, I wish that all our boys could have that opportunity. However, we should not assume that the men’s experience at the camp as boys caused them to devote their lives to supporting Christ’s flock. For the type of boy who attends the camp probably has already felt such a calling or is at least open to it, and it is likely that the attending boys come from families that cultivate the religious and moral formation conducive to a vocation of ministry. In addition, Orthodox priests tend to sire future priests, and alumni who have become priests send their (to-be-ordained) sons to the camp. Still, such a program allows these boys to begin to actualize their formation in a significant, concrete way away from home—a foretaste of a freely chosen adult commitment to Christ and to his Church.
While reading the article, I sadly thought of how such a program has become nigh impossible for many religious confessions in America due to the malfeasance of the few. In learning of a program like Jordanville’s Summer Boys, many Americans would immediately think of child molesting monks and/or Jonestown-style brainwashing. Our irresponsible, sensationalist, and theomachic media have achieved their goals quite successfully. Thankfully, in this case, at least, the “ethnic” Orthodox in America have continued to maintain their distance from contemporary American culture. When assimilation begets apostasy and madness, then assimilation be damned.
I hope that Western Christian readers are having a lovely (and early) Paschal season while we Orthodox have five more weeks of Lent and Holy Week.
For today, I would like to showcase a remarkable article in The Wall Street Journal: “The Challenge of Easter.” The piece is written by the Jesuit editor of America, Fr. James Martin. Yes—a Jesuit essay on the Resurrection of Christ in WSJ. A selection:
. . . If you believe that Jesus rose from the dead, however, everything changes. In that case, you cannot set aside any of his teachings. Because a person who rises from the grave, who demonstrates his power over death and who has definitively proven his divine authority needs to be listened to. What that person says demands a response.
In short, the Resurrection makes a claim on you.
This is unlike Christmas. To be clear, Christians believe that, at the first Christmas, God became human. This is the meaning of what theologians call the “Incarnation.” God took on flesh, a concept as bizarre then as now.
But the Christmas story is largely nonthreatening to nonbelievers: Jesus in the manger, surrounded by Mary and Joseph and the adoring shepherds, is easy to take. As the Gospels of Matthew and Luke recount, there was no little danger involved for Mary and Joseph. But for the most part, it can be accepted as a charming story. Even nonbelievers might appreciate the birth of a great teacher.
By contrast, the Easter story is both appalling and astonishing: the craven betrayal of Jesus by one of his closest followers, the triple denial by his best friend, the gruesome crucifixion and the brutal end to his earthly life. Then, of course, there is the stunning turnaround three days later.
Easter is not as easy to digest as Christmas. It is harder to tame. Anyone can be born, but not everyone can rise from the dead. . . .
What difference does Easter make in the life of the Christian? The message of Easter is, all at once, easy to understand, radical, subversive and life-changing. Easter means that nothing is impossible with God. Moreover, that life triumphs over death. Love triumphs over hatred. Hope triumphs over despair. And that suffering is not the last word.
Easter says, above all, that Jesus Christ is Lord. That is an odd thing to read in a secular newspaper. But I’m merely stating a central Christian belief. And if he is Lord, and if you’re a Christian, then what he says has a claim on you. His teachings are invitations, to be sure, but they are also commands: Love your neighbors. Forgive. Care for the poor and the marginalized. Live a simple life. Put the needs of others before your own. . . .
That’s some high proof good stuff there. “Easter says, above all, that Jesus Christ is Lord.” From a Jesuit in a mainstream secular newspaper! Amazing.
I recently learnt about Clemens August Graf von Galen, the Latin bishop of Münster during the Second World War. You may read about his extraordinary life on Nobility.org: “March 22 – He Stood Up to Hitler Without Flinching.” From the article:
In 1941 von Galen gave a string of sermons protesting against Nazi policies on euthanasia, Gestapo terror, forced sterilization and concentration camps. His attacks on the Nazis were so severe that Nazi official Walter Tiessler proposed in a letter to Martin Bormann that the Bishop be executed.
On July 13, 1941, von Galen publicly attacked the regime for its Gestapo tactics of terror, including disappearances without trial, the closing of Catholic institutions without any stated justifications, and the resultant fear imposed on all Germans throughout the nation. The powerful Gestapo, he argued, reduced everybody, even the most decent and loyal citizens, to being afraid of ending up in a basement prison or a concentration camp. As the country was at war, von Galen rejected the notion that his speech undermined German solidarity or unity. Using the lines of his friend Eugenio Cardinal Pacelli, as written in Opus Justitiae Pax and Justitia fundamentum Regnorum, von Galen noted that “Peace is the work of Justice and Justice, the basis for dominion,” then attacked the Third Reich for undermining justice, the belief in justice and for reducing the German people to a state of permanent fear, even cowardice. He concluded: “As a German, as a decent citizen I demand Justice.”
In a second sermon on July 20, 1941, von Galen informed the faithful that all written protests against Nazi hostilities had proved to be useless. The confiscation of religious institutions continued unabated. Members of religious orders were still being deported or jailed. He asked his listeners to be patient and to endure, and that the German people were being destroyed not by the Allied bombing from the outside, but from negative forces within.
On August 3, 1941, von Galen informed his listeners in a third sermon about the continued desecration of Catholic churches, the closing of convents and monasteries, and the deportation and murder of mentally ill people (who were sent to undisclosed destinations), while a notice was sent to family members stating that the person in question had died. This is murder, he exclaimed, unlawful by divine and German law, a rejection of the laws of God. He informed them that he had forwarded his evidence to the State Attorney. “These are people, our brothers and sisters; maybe their life is unproductive, but productivity is not a justification for killing.” If that were indeed a justification for execution, he reasoned, everybody would have to be afraid to even go to a doctor for fear of what might be discovered. The social fabric would be affected. Von Galen then remarked that a regime which can do away with the Fifth Commandment (thou shalt not kill) can destroy the other commandments as well.
A Jesuit, by the way! The article notes that the White Rose Society featured the bishop’s sermon in its first publication (I mentioned die Weiße Rose in “Alexander Schmorell”). After the war, the bishop tried to defend the German people from brutality by the Allied occupiers. Von Galen died in A.D. 1946. May his memory be eternal!