anglomedved: (assissi)


For the past three years, my main job in the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC) in Brussels has been liaison with non-Orthodox. Let me share my four biggest challenges and concerns as I travel backwards and forwards across the bridge between 'us' and 'them'.

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Victor­­_vlad, in response to yesterday’s posting, asked the question: “Why not a united Orthodox parishes in Namur" (and by extension, elsewhere in the Orthodox diaspora)”

Let me make a couple of quick and rather disjointed comments:

1)      A church has to be cognate with the society it lives in. It does not have to agree with it (“in the world, but not of it”), but it does have to live in reference to it, as does any individual Christian, in order to have any relevant witness. I fear that much of the Russian Church in Belgium lives in a sort of no-man’s land, neither in Russia (whom most of its current population chose to leave, and yes, Europe, unless you are a particularly strong character, is simply a more comfortable place to live than Russia), nor in Europe (whose language its flock has been slow to learn – but whose generous social security it has been quick to grasp …).

2)      A ‘united Orthodoxy’, presumably more or less in the local language, is a step in the right direction and forces people out of the ghetto. But once you have made this jump, horror horrorum, there is the question of why not make the one extra jump and join up with the Roman Catholics, who are the traditional church of this country (‘Forget also thine own people and thy father’s house’ Psalm 44). I do ask at times whether this is not the more honest solution for second generation refugees. It is certainly better than leaving the Church altogether, which is generally what happens – not helped by a certain ‘Orthodoxy or die’ attitude in certain Orthodox parishes.

3)      This forces of course the real question of the ‘Orthodox particularity’. Where does it lie (and, pace Professors Koslov and Vasechko) I am pretty sure it lies elsewhere than in the traditional doctrinal differences trapsed out in comparative theology lessons in every seminary)?  If it lies, as I believe, in a particular type of spirituality, are we effectively expressing it in Europe? And does it not effectively already exist, perhaps with rather different vocabulary and mutated forms, in other Christian confessions, or at least parts of them?

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Over coffee today with a Swiss friend, we got into the subject of Ecône – which is shorthand for the Society of Pius X, the conservative raskol  in the Roman Catholic Church, started by the late Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, and headquartered in Switzerland. 

Something tells me – and it is no more than an intuition, but feedback is welcome ­– that a coming together of the Russian Orthodox Church with Rome, which part of the Moscow hierarchy seems to want, passes by Econe.

Why: because cut away the ‘crazy boys’ on the ultra-right, and there is a lot in the movement that feels closer in spirit to Russian Orthodoxy than ‘conciliar’ (i.e. normal) Roman Catholicism.  

According to my colleague, young Swiss men from the better bourgeoisie are flocking to Ecône. Many of the priests include in their names the ‘de’ which demarcates the French nobility. I suspect that the it picks up a spirit of ‘noblesse’ (qui oblige!) and a positive elitism which has flown out of the window in modern Roman Catholicism.

On verra. We shall see.

anglomedved: (Default)

 Increasingly I seem to see a problem of church structures blocking the road to spiritual maturity. Let me test out a hypothesis on spiritual development. The consequences are different in Russia and in Western Europe, but the underlying pattern is the same. I tried it on our mixed-confession group of English-speaking clergy in Brussels, and they reacted positively.  

Let me start with a basic three-stage model of Christian development, for both lay people and clergy outside monasteries:

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Throughout its existence, the Russian intelligentsia has found itself in loosely networked dissent against an authority seen to be (and which was) sophisticated only in its brutality From the mid-80s onwards, led by figures like Fr Alexander Men and the group in Moscow which became St Tikhon's Orthodox University, part of the intelligentsia found its way into the Orthodox Church. But twenty years on the Christian intelligentsia remains edgy, often deeply believing and extraordinarily well-read in theology and church art and history, but unwilling to commit fully into mainstream church life.  It is viscerally anti-power, and the Orthodox Church has quickly been perceived as a power structure which, notwithstanding deep faith, is little different to any other in Russian history. Not all bishops and priests ordained in a hurry as the Church restaffed in the nineties have been models of Christian honesty, humility or simple living, and everyone outside the church nomenklatura has their stock of episcopal horror stories. The fundamentalist right has set itself up as the self-appointed vigilantes of the Orthodox blogosphere, whose onslaught of rude and crude comments caused a leading Russian Orthodox Live Journal blogger to retire from the fray last week with what looks like a nervous breakdown. Everyone in the Russian Church – even your non-Russian correspondent ­– knows instinctively just how far they can safety go (a bit further if you know how to write to be read between the lines or are covered by someone in the hierarchy). 

My English sense of fair play tells me that it is unjust to place the entire blame on the central Church hierarchy, many of whom are men of considerable spiritual and intellectual vigour and pastoral concern. Indeed I at times ask myself – as have others in the western press – just how much they are masters in their own house, given the blurred frontiers between secular and spiritual power, including a deep-rooted nationalist and anti-western populism, in which Church and State are hopelessly fused. Coming back to the intelligentsia, the Roman Catholic church has perhaps been wiser: it has parked its intelligentsia in organizations like the Jesuits, Dominicans and Opus Dei, which are answerable directly to Rome and not the local bishop, as are the monastic orders. A possible new development in the Russian Church is that many competent clergy are staying away from the church power centres of Moscow and St Petersburg, a position that internet, skype and the blogosphere are making increasingly tolerable.

(Please feel free to comment in Russian also).


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October 2015

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