Tonight marks the centennial of the Bolsheviks’ murder of Tsar Nicholas II, his wife, his five children, the family’s physician, and intimate servants who willingly followed the Tsar into exile. I believe that I last mentioned the wicked deed six years ago in “Murder of the Imperial Family.” It sickens me to think of such a horror, though Christian hope invites me to consider the eventual triumph of the cross over the hammer and sickle. Such is the way of martyrs, whose precious blood overcomes injustice in emulation of the God Man himself.
Orthodox pilgrims from around the world have traveled to Ekaterinburg to commemorate the event; one hundred thousand people will pray and make a twelve mile procession—the last segment of a 435 mile pilgrimage that thousands have made from Tobolsk to Ekaterinburg in retracing the last months of the royal family’s life. Evidently, an even longer 1,800 mile, four month pilgrimage started earlier in Pskov, where Nicholas II signed his abdication. Such is a sign of the new Russia. May God bless them and heal their land!
The Patriarchate of Moscow site features news items of the commemoration, and Metropolitan Hilarion of ROCOR has issued an epistle on the “100th Anniversary of the Martyrdom of the Righteous Royal Passion-Bearers.”
Let God arise, let his enemies be scattered: let them also that hate him flee before him.
The wise often remind us that life in this vale of tears is always in flux, with certain aspects of the world undergoing improvements while others decay. At least, this is what my friends tell me the wise say when I lament how far to hell the handbasket has already traveled. Last night, I pondered their counsel after I encountered the two following videos while reading some blogs that I regularly visit. The first video is a program from Australia’s SBS Dateline that I found on George Michalopulos’ site. It is clear that the segment’s journalist finds “Putin’s family values” alarming, but I would say that the episode is fair according to what we normally see from the agents of Satan. Let it suffice to say that the very same material horrified and gratified the right people.
What a delight it is to witness the demonic work of the Soviets melting away like wax before fire!
Again, the Aussie show is probably generous to the Russians compared to recent mainstream American media standards, though note how Tatiana Sorokina’s open house for orphans is set up as a contrast to the priest’s family (with Phariseeism not so subtly implied). For all we know, the Sorokins are a pious Orthodox family. Yet, covering salt of the earth Christian generosity and self-giving would not work as well for the narrative. Still, I’ll forgive the journalists all just for the delightful line, “Russian Orthodoxy is not a turn the other cheek religion.” I laughed out loud and actually teared up a bit mirthfully. By the way, if you would like to know more about Tatiana Sorokina, the Russian press has several stories about her large and large hearted family. Now a widow, Tatiana must support her children without her late husband’s help. Please pray for this dear woman and for the recently deceased Michael.
Overall, yet more joyous news from Russia! Alas, I then turned to Fr. John Zuhlsdorf’s blog, where the culinary cleric had posted the following sobering segment from Tucker Carlson’s show:
My old friend Tyler just asked in a comment to an earlier post whether I knew about Dr. Peterson, and I certainly do. I am impressed by his reach; even my brother listens to him. We should thank and encourage Dr. Peterson and all those who have elected to defend the city from the latest horde of barbarians. To the minions of hell, they say, “You assail our civilization. You demand that we surrender our culture, our children, our very faith! Mολὼν λαβέ.”
So, the world’s affairs make for quite a mix. I wish the Russians well; they deserve brighter days after the past century of trials and martyrs. I also hope for the West’s metanoia. We will wake from our nightmare, or our peoples will die.
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:
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.
For today, I offer the life story of Venerable Righteous Princess Saint Evfrosynia of Polotsk, whose feast day we celebrate on May 23 (June 4). The following biography by Alexander Medeltsov originally appeared in The Bronze Horseman, but the following version is from Saint John the Baptist’s newsletter. As you read it, consider how modern people think about Christianity’s supposed subjugation of women, the medieval estimation of knowledge and education, and the place of women in the Middle Ages.
It would be impossible to envision the spiritual life and culture of Belarus and its Orthodox Church without St. Evfrosynia of Polotsk. A princess, abbess, and outstanding educator, she is greatly remembered by its people.
The renowned ascetic, one of the most erudite people of her time, lived in the 12th Century, during the great epoch of pre-Mongol Rus’. It was a time in which the people of the ancient Russian State accepted the Orthodox Faith, and consolidated it not only not in themselves but in monuments of architecure, literature and art.
During that period, Polotsk, with its churches and monasteries, and its episcopal throne, was a great center of education and book production. The Nikon Chronicle relates that Prince Isyaslav of Polotsk (+1001) “was devoted to reverence for books.” In running chronicles produced in Polotsk, events were recounted by those who had been actual eyewitnesses to them.
It was here that, in about 1101, Predslava, later to receive the name Evfrosynia of Polotsk, was born. She was the daughter of Prince Georgi and the granddaughter of Vladimir Monomakh. As a child, Predslava developed a love for books. Monastics taught her to read and write. Her “Life” describes her extensive abilities and her striving after scholarly knowledge. In the prince’s residence there was a large library, consisting predominantly of religious books, but also containing secular literature.
When she was 12 years of age, her parents decided to give her in marriage. However, Predslava chose a different path for herself. On learning of her father’s intentions, she said to herself, “If I marry, I will be unable to rid myself of the sorrows of this world.”
Without telling her father or mother, Predslava went to the monastery and received monastic tonsure. There was no doubt as to the name she was to receive upon tonsure: It could only be Evfrosynia, a name that means “joy,” in honor of St. Euphrosyne of Alexandria. Prince Georgi made a number of attempts to have his daughter return to secular life, and wept over her as if she were dying, but her father’s tears could not sway her from her decision. As her “Life” relates, she remained at the monastery, in obedience to the Abbess and the Sisters, and surpassing them all in fasting, prayer, and night vigils, “gathering up her good thoughts in her heart, as a bee collects honey.”
In the monastery, Evfrosynia dedicated herself entirely to learning. In the book depositories of the Fathers of the Church, she would discover the works of Roman and Byzantine Theologians, Slavic luminaries, and chronicles.
After spending several years in the monastery, Evfrosynia moved to the Sophia Cathedral, where as it says in her life, she “began to write books with her own hands.” She wrote down her own instructions and prayers, and translated Greek-language works. Evfrosynia taught people to love one another, to be kind-hearted and not to permit themselves envy, strife, hatred, or evil passions. Erudition and literary talent were characteristics present in her writings. A sermon she addressed to nuns has come down to us: “Here I have gathered you together, like a hen that gathers her chicks under her wings, and with a happy heart I care for your salvation and teach you, in hopes of seeing the fruits of your labors. I have already sown so many words of God’s teaching in the field of your hearts, but those fields do not remain in place, and do not bloom with virtues and perfection. I implore you, my sisters, become pure wheat of Christ, and be ground on the mill-stones of prayer, humility and pure love, so that on the Feast of Christ, you might be sweet, fragrant tobacco [flowers].
She greatly expanded literacy in Polotsk, first establishing a women’s monastery, and then a men’s monastery, in which there were scriptoria. From those sciptoria, books were distributed throughout the land of Polotsk. Schools had existed there before the coming of Evfrosynia, but her establishing of new monasteries and her educational activities gave new impetus to the spread of education. Thanks to Evfrosynia, many of the people of Polotsk were able to attain literacy, and not only the wealthy, but also the common people. Both in curriculum and in teaching methods, Evfrosynia’s school was one of the most advanced of its time.
With reverence for all that was beautiful, Evfrosynia became the first patron of the arts in the Principality of Polotsk. In the 1150s, at her direction, a local architect named Ioann erected a Church of the Savior along entirely new architectural lines. By the way, Evfrosynia was not simply the talented master’s patron, but also his advisor, assistant, and inspiration. The Church of the Savior, or the Savior-Transfiguration Church (often also called the Savior-Evfrosynia Church), became the masterpiece of the Polotsk architectural school. This magnificent monument of antiquity continues to amaze, both for its elegance and for the soundness of its construction. How many centuries have passed, how many wars have roared through, and yet Evfrosynia miraculously continues to protect it. Even today, it can tell us a great deal about the Saint’s outlook, for in the church frescoes, we can see the figures spiritually near and dear to her.
Evfrosynia of Polotsk is also remembered as the patron who ordered a masterpiece of ancient Russian art, a Cross made in 1161 by the Polotsk master-jeweler Lazarus Bogsha. There are no earlier Crosses like it in Rus’, and later ones are all to a greater or lesser extent copies of that holy object. Rare materials - precious stones, gold, silver, and enamel, on a foundation of cypress wood – were all utilized in fashioning the Cross. Unfortunately, through a series of events [during World War II], the Cross made by Lazarus Bogsha was lost.
In 1992, when the Millenium of the Polotsk Diocese and of the Orthodox Church in Belarus was being celebrated, it was decided to recreate the Cross. On August 24, 1997, Metropolitan Philaret of Minsk and Slutsk, Patriarchal Exarch to all Belarus, blessed an exact copy of the Cross of St. Evforsynia. Currently, it is kept in the Polotsk Cathedral of the Savior-St.Evfrosynia Women’s Monastery.
Throughout her life, Evfrosynia never abandoned the idea of visiting the holy Christian sites. In 1163, she left Polotsk and set forth on a journey. Upon reaching Constantinople, she visited the Church of the Holy Wisdom [Hagia Sophia], about which so much had been told in Rus’, and she received the Patriarch’s blessing. Everywhere, she was warmly greeted as an honored guest. In late April 1167, she reached the city gates of Jerusalem. However, she did not remain in the Holy Land for very long. She soon fell ill, and in May 1167 departed to the other world. Thus concluded the earthly path of the great ascetic and englightener, Venerable St. Evfrosynia of Polotsk. She was interred in Jerusalem, at the St. Theodosius Monastery of the Most-holy Theotokos.
In 1187, when Jerusalem was taken by Egyptian Sultan Salahuddin, Russian monks who were leaving Palestine removed the relics of St. Evfrosynia, and brought them to the Kiev Caves Lavra. In 1901, the remains of St. Evfrosynia were transferred to the Savior-Evfrosynia Monastery she had founded in Polotsk.
In 1547, Evfrosynia of Polotsk became the first woman to be canonized as a Saint by the Russian Orthodox Church.
With her strength of spirit and her educational activities, she raised up the level not only of her native Polotsk, but of all Belarus and the Orthodox Church.
Quite a different commemoration for “V Day,” no? The decadence and idiocy of our contemporary society cannot and will not last, but the prayers of Saint Evfrosynia will endure. May she petition the Lord for the true enlightenment of Christians and of their neighbors everywhere.