I learned yesterday that I am being bad-mouthed in one of our diocesan parishes as a кляузник or a ‘denouncer’ or ‘tale-bearer’. I assume the reference is the article published in 2013 in Russia’s premier Orthodox journal where I criticized the triumphalistic tone and the praise-singing that accompanied our diocese’s 150th anniversary in 2012. I am sure the bad-mouthers have not read the article. I do not rule out a clerical source.
I stand by that article, which, I remind my detractors, passed through the church censors in Moscow. Three years after writing it I remain deeply worried at the danger that one the main functions of our Russian-speaking church communities in Belgium, that of providing a meeting space for Russian-speakers living in a foreign country, is subverting the primary purpose of any Christian community, which is to be a place out of which the Christian gospel can be lived to the full.
I am not saying that the ROC should not provide a social function, nor that religion should not be a component of group identity. But when this social and identity function distort the Christian gospel, than I object.
Distort is perhaps the wrong word: better, prevent it from ever flowering to the full. My reading of the ROC in Belgium is that we are stuck in what, for lack of a better term, I would call improved Judaism – with our religion defined too much by rites and rules and insufficiently informed by direct experience of the living God, and unable to express to the outside world what experience we do have. It is this full Christianity, what I sometimes call ‘Book 2 Christianity’ which I am concerned about, because I believe it is the only Christianity that is of any real use outside the four walls of the church. For some it is probably scary: it demands much greater pastoral skills, real spiritual discernment, and inevitably questions established patterns of power and authority. It calls for a certain pruning (John 15), but without this pruning, the tree will wither and die.