The Triumph of Orthodoxy in Our Lives

Dear brothers and sisters, last Sunday, it was a great joy – as always – to celebrate the Triumph of Orthodoxy and the Restoration of the Holy Icons, but even more so this year with the chanting of the Synodikon and the procession at the end of our long succession of services.

Looking and seeing Kyril and Yury holding the menaion icon of the liturgical year and the synaxis of the saints of the Kiev Caves for everyone to kiss was a source of joy, as was James’s keenness in pointing out that he was carrying the icon of the Holy Face of the Saviour given to him for his nameday.

As we reminded our children, they are the Church’s tomorrow, and I hope they will remember occasions such as Sunday, and the many details that can only be memories because of the thoroughness with which Sacred Tradition is observed and celebrated.

When I first came to Orthodoxy through a parish not in ROCOR, my experience lacked the maximalism, energy, enthusiasm and great joy that resonated in last weekend’s celebrations: rather a shadow of our Church life, in a warm but intellectualised and theologically limp parish that was more interested in ecumenism and the arts than zealous defence of Orthodox Tradition, and though it had wonderful and generous people, it had as much spiritual zeal as a wilted lettuce.

In contrast to our understanding of the inheritance of Faith, others had suppressed the things that THEY were uncomfortable with. If it was to be compared to a box of chocolates, others had removed the centres they didn’t like, but had been quick to cover the gaps in the tray by introducing confectionary of their own making: ecumenist, renovationsist, intellectual and liberal, with very soft centres (filled with additives, artificial colours and synthetic flavouring) that were pleasing to THEIR palette, and which THEY believed everyone else had to like and, indeed, swallow! These introductions reflected individual human whims and enthusiasms,  and NOT the consciousness of Christ’s Church.

Not once can I (with a very obsessive memory) remember celebrating the Triumph of Orthodoxy in any detail, and I cannot even recall discussion of the Church Fathers, of the Ecumenical Councils, of the Holy Mountain, of monasticism, even of ascetical life.

It’s astounding and highly disturbing to recall this, and I now realise that one young man probably returned to Anglo-Catholicism because these topics were more discussed and considered in certain High Church Anglican circles than in that local Orthodox parish.

This was certainly not the fulness of Faith or the fulness of Orthodoxy, and I thank God that this became apparent even to a rather idealistic neophyte, and when I returned home from the South Coast, I was greatly blessed to encounter Igumen Seraphim of our former Birmingham parish and our deeply devout, ascetical and prayerful starosta, Vera Vasilievna Mokarova, who showed me the fulness and beauty of traditional Russian Orthodoxy – built on the legacy of Bishop Constantine, fed by the Optina elders, startsy and righteous ones of Holy Russia, imbued with the breath of the Holy Mountain, and heavily influenced by the life and labours of St John the Wonderworker, Blessed Father Seraphim (Rose) of Platina and the St Herman of Alaska Brotherhood.

The portraits and photographs on the walls of the staircase and trapeza attested to the spiritual legacy inherited from successive generations.

I am so grateful that years later, despite my original stubborn odyssey as a refusenik when ROCOR and the Moscow Patriarchate united, the Lord’s mercy led me to the reconciliation that brought me, through our late Metropolitan Hilarion, to be the rector of the Cardiff parish and mission-priest to our Gloucestershire mission (and now to our Wessex mission), and to be able to serve the wonderful people of our widely scattered community, with their thirst for a maximal and full Orthodox Faith and life summed up by last Sunday’s celebrations.

Sunday, saw us stand together to not only celebrate the Triumph of Orthodoxy, but to celebrate and remember our own history and spiritual legacy as a local part of the Russian Orthodox Church born in the pain and poverty of dislocation, exile and displacement, struggling for holiness and the preservation of Faith and Holy Orthodoxy, despite the hardships and demands of simple survival.

As our deacons remembered the departed during our moleben, what precious names were heard: our departed First Hierarchs, including the great Abba of the Church in Exile, Metropolitan Antoniy of Kiev and Galych, Metropolitan Philaret, whose relics remain incorrupt, and our greatly missed Metropolitan Hilarion; also Vladyka Irenei’s predecessors in this God-preserved diocese – St John the Wonderworker and Bishop Constantine.

What great names were also heard in other dioceses of our Church Abroad: Archbishop Averky of Jordanville, Archbishop Andrei of Novodiveevo, Archbishop Nektary of Seattle: spiritual giants of our Orthodox Christian Faith.

We heard the names of great champions of Holy Orthodoxy, from an age when our small, poor, unconnected and seemingly unimportant Russian Orthodox Church Abroad produced saints, in men and women of great asceticism, holiness and unsullied Faith – and at a time when the patriarchates of world Orthodoxy were producing bureaucrats, ethnarchs and apparatchiks advancing the geo-political interests and foreign policies of world governments.

When we hear the commemorations of the departed, I know that alongside the names in the petitions, many of us will be remembering the formative influences in our lives: the people from whom we have inherited the precious Deposit of Faith.

We hear the names of great stalwarts of the diocese in each proskomedia and Liturgy: Archbishop Nikodem and Bishops Nicholas and Constatine; the Archpriests Yevgeny, Mikhail and Georgy; Archimandrite Nikanor; the Abbesses Elizabeth and Seraphima… and others from whom we have received the fulness of Holy Orthodoxy.

We make a poklon to their memory and pray “Memory Eternal… Vechnaya pamyat!”

And just as we then prayed for many years for the living, and return to today, my heart rejoices as we consider not only today, but also tomorrow, with our young people approaching Orthodoxy already fed and fired by the very spiritual food, and inspired by the very elders, holy men and women that I encountered in my discovery of real Orthodoxy, and even by some of the great ones who were remembered in our prayers.

To have young people and those young in Orthodoxy (if not in years) imbued with the sacred legacy of Faith transmitted by St John the Wonderworker, Father Seraphim Rose, the Optina Elders. St Theophan the Recluse, Archbishop Averky, St Nikolai Velimirović, the elders of Mount Athos, and the great Romanian elders is music to the soul.

To know that ordinary people – neither scholars nor intellectuals – are imbued with the lives and writings of Church Fathers and great elders and eldresses, rather than modernist, intellectual and renovationist “theology” is a relief and comfort!

To have the Psalter read in its entirety everyday in Lent through the organisation of the parish brothers and sisters (largely young) themselves is exemplary and inspiring.

To have parishioners who wish to be part of services that are long because they are celebrated according to the fulness of our ROCOR liturgical tradition is a great blessing, and to have spiritual children who are fervent and serious about confession and the mystery of repentance is a joy.

We are very far from perfect as a community, and we still have a great list of things that need resolving and issues in which we seem to make little progress. But, whilst we are aware of our sins, shortcomings and faults, we are a family of believers who accept Orthodoxy as it is meant to be, whether we like all of the rules, canons and expectations or not.

We endeavour, and sometimes struggle to fulfil and live our Faith in obedience, even if that is occasionally an uncomfortable and hard obedience.

Others have thought themselves entitled to move the goalposts, and they themselves will have to answer for their actions.

We can only pray for them with mercy and compassion, and remind ourselves that there is nothing particularly laudable or praiseworthy in our tenacious preservation of Sacred Tradition.

Not only are we not heroes, but simply basic Christians for fulfilling the Saviour’s commandments to love and serve our neighbour (as preached a few weeks ago), but we are also not some sort of uber-Orthodox Christians for being strict in preserving the Sacred Traditions and praxis of Faith. We are simply being Orthodox – in what you know I see as “plain vanilla Orthodoxy”.

We are only fulfilling our duty as Orthodox Christians – preserving the fulness of Faith in dogma and action, as the inheritance of the children who carried their icons in Sunday’s procession.

As our deacons powerfully proclaimed,

“This is the Apostolic Faith!

 This is the Faith of the Fathers!

 This is the Orthodox Faith!

 This Faith confirmeth the universe!”

And… the confirmation of this Faith is not in editing, adapting, doctoring, modernising and reinventing – rather it is in FAITHFULNESS to Sacred Tradition, by obedience, in submission and with humility.

May this humility lead us into that obedience through submission, putting aside our likes, enthusiasms and personal opinions to embrace the mind of the Church; to speak with the voice of the Church; to act in unison as the Church.

This may not always be easy. Indeed, it may sometimes be a difficult struggle, but in body, soul and spirit, in heart and mind, in word and deed and thought, this is the way of Faith: the ORTHODOX Faith.

Let us all beware of counterfeit Byzantine ‘flavoured’ imitations of Orthodoxy. Fakes are not always obvious, and not everything that says Orthodox on the label IS Orthodox.

We would never knowingly walk through a mine-field, or drink from a poisoned well, and so we must equally stay away from counterfeit or pick-and-mix “Orthodoxy”, but rather be demanding, maximalist and stubborn: guarding and preserving our Faith, and sharing it as a precious treasure and the pearl of great price.

Be steadfast and rejoice in our Faith!

“Вера наша, вера славна, вера наша ПРАВОСЛАВНА!”

In Christ – Hieromonk Mark

“O Lord, save Thy people, and bless Thine inheritance. Grant victories to the Orthodox Christians over their adversaries. And by virtue of Thy Cross, preserve Thy habitation.”

Posted in Pastoral.