My interview with Dr Valerie Karras

On Saturday, June 27, 2015, I attended a fascinating Orthodox Women’s Conference held at the historic ROCOR Church of the Intercession of the Holy Virgin & St Sergius in Glen Cove, New York. Here are some pictures I took of the beautiful, small chapel.

Dedication plaque commemorating the founding of the parish in 1951.

Dedication plaque commemorating the founding of the parish in 1951.

Church exterior.

Church exterior.

These icons of the Lord and the Theotokos are originally from Tsarskoye Selo, the "Tsar's Village", the residence of the Russian Imperial Family.

These icons of the Lord and the Theotokos are originally from Tsarskoye Selo, the “Tsar’s Village”, the residence of the Russian Imperial Family.

The beautiful wooden iconostasis.

The beautiful wooden iconostasis.

The conference theme was “Living and Thinking Orthodoxy Yesterday and Today”. Dr. Nadieszda Kizenko, Associate Professor of History at SUNY Albany,  moderated the discussions. It was a great joy to see my spiritual father Metropolitan Jonah, who spoke on the theme of “Sharing Orthodoxy with Teenagers”, as well as my godmother, who both came up from Washington, DC along with a dear friend Sister Eisodia. Several wonderful parishioners from St John the Baptist ROCOR Cathedral in DC were also present for the event, which was attended by probably 70 people, mostly laity. The very kind Fr. Demetrius Nicoloudakis and his daughter Anastasia visited from Pennsylvania, and it was a great joy to meet them. Metropolitan Jonah spoke first, and then sat through the second presentation before returning to DC with my godmother so that they could attend Vigil at St John’s for his name’s day the following day.

Dr Valerie Karras, Adjunct Lecturer in New Testament at Eden Theological Seminary and board member at the St Phoebe Center for the History of the Deaconess, spoke on “The Liturgical Roles of Women in the Early and Byzantine Church”. This presentation was especially fascinating, as she covered a topic of great interest to me, the institution of the female diaconate which existed from the apostolic age up to the twelfth century in Constantinople. Following this second lecture, a delicious lunch was served by the volunteers. After lunch, Sr. Dr. Vassa Larin, whose sister Natasha Fekula organized the conference, spoke on the question of “Does Tradition Change?”. Sister Vassa, Research Fellow at the Institute of Historical Studies at the University of Vienna, is the popular host of the YouTube channel “Coffee with Sister Vassa”. Following this fascinating lecture, Professor Kizenko moderated a series of question-and-answer with the audience. At the end of the conference, I asked Dr. Karras if she had time for a brief interview. She warmly responded ‘yes’, so below, please read for yourself the results of our interview.

June 27 Conference Poster for "Living and Thinking Orthodoxy: Yesterday and Today".

June 27 Conference Poster for “Living and Thinking Orthodoxy: Yesterday and Today”.

Ryan Hunter: I’m with Dr Valerie Karras who just presented at the Orthodox Women’s Conference here in Glen Cove, New York on June 27, 2015. Dr Karras, where did you pursue your Master’s and your PhD?

Valerie Karras: I received my Master’s in Theological Studies from Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology which is the official seminary of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese. It’s located in Brookline, which is a suburb of Boston, Massachusetts. I then went to The Catholic University of America in Washington, DC and did all of my doctoral work there. I then went to Greece to start working on my dissertation, but I also enrolled in the doctoral program at the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki. I actually ended up finishing that doctorate, doing that dissertation, and completing that first. I then came back to the States and began teaching and finally finished my dissertation for Catholic University.

Ryan Hunter: What led you to become interested in the subject of the female diaconate in the early Church?

Valerie Karras: I had done some research on it and read about it during my Master’s, and some more during my doctoral work at Catholic University but actually it was really after I did my doctorate at Thessaloniki [that I became interested], because the topic of my doctoral dissertation at Thessaloniki was on patristic views of gender, the ontology of gender, looking at their exegeses, their interpretations of the creation accounts in Genesis. Initially I was planning on that to be the first chapter of a much larger work on Orthodox women, on women in the Orthodox Church, but there was so much there that that became my dissertation. So after I finished that and came back to the United States, I decided to just ditch all the research I had done before then for my initial topic, for my Catholic University dissertation, which was on monastic influence in the post-iconoclastic period, and instead I decided to look at what women were actually doing liturgically in the Byzantine Church.

Ryan Hunter: Who do you regard as some of your mentors, and how did they contribute to this field of study?

Valerie Karras: There are so many along the way. My parish priest actually, Father George Nikozises, who had been director of religious education before he came to our parish, suggested I go to the [Holy Cross Greek Orthodox] seminary. I had been planning on law school. Then I decided that I actually wanted to work with the Church, but what I was initially thinking of was doing administrative work dealing with our church choirs, I was very involved in the music of the Church. He said to me, “I think you need a stronger theological background”, so he suggested I go up there [to Brookline] to get my Master’s. I enrolled in the MTS [Master’s in Theological Studies] rather than the MA in Church Service because I was already doing the fieldwork so to speak, I was very involved with the National Forum of Greek Orthodox Church Musicians and the Diocesan Choir Federation, so I thought “I’ll just take as many theological classes as I can”, and then I fell in love with it, I just wanted to do Church history and theology.

At the seminary I had several professors who were supportive, in particular Father Ted Stylianopoulos and Archbishop Demetrios (Trakatellis), who at the time was Bishop Demetrios. Father Ted is the one in fact who suggested that I apply to Catholic University, I had not even heard of it. It was a perfect program for me, for what I wanted to do, and also where it was located in DC, because Dumbarton Oaks Byzantine Library and Research Center is right there. Bishop Demetrios (at that time)– because I was debating about whether to switch to the MDiv program, which was a three year program– said to me, “You’re going on for a doctorate, you don’t need to do that.” One of his classmates was Elaine Pagels, now a professor at Princeton, and he said “She came right out of her undergraduate work. Just go on and do the doctoral program.” So I did. The other women who were at the seminary when I was there were important. Koula Fitzgerald, who had already graduated when I started as a student there, kind of mentored us together, and shared some of this material with us. Then over in Greece my dissertation chairman was very supportive even when I was doing stuff that he didn’t necessarily agree with, coming to conclusions, but he actually found one for me. At one point I had found all of this material from almost every Church Father I was looking at on how they don’t think that there will still be male and female, that the distinction literally will not exist in humanity in the eschaton, and we will no longer exist as male and female, as men and women. I found that in everybody except for Chrysostom, and he [my dissertation chairman] said to me “Oh no, Chrysostom has it too,go and look at his homilies on Matthew” where he deals with the Sadducees asking Jesus about what I like to call ‘one bride for seven brothers’, a take off of the musical. Sure enough, Chrysostom doesn’t say it in so many words, but there’s no other way to understand it, he says “notice that Christ does not say that they shall be like the angels insofar as they do not marry, but rather that they shall not marry because they shall be like the angels”. Well, the angels are sexless, genderless beings.

Zizioulas was really the most important one [at Thessaloniki], Metropolitan John of Pergamon, particularly when I first got there [Thessaloniki] because he was the only one of the three on my committee who spoke English. I spoke French with Fondoulis, who was the Liturgics professor there, for about two years until my Greek got good enough that I could carry on a conversation.

Ryan Hunter: Metropolitan John Zizioulas, the same one who the Ecumenical Patriarch just sent to comment on Pope Francis’ latest encyclical, Laudato Si, on the environment?

Valerie Karras: Yes, and he’s the one who’s also in charge of putting together the agenda for this Great and Holy Synod, the Council that’s going to be held. He’s probably the Constantinopolitan Patriarchate’s most important ecumenical officer. Metropolitan Kallistos (Ware) last night [at Fordham University] said that he [Zizioulas] is the most important and best Orthodox theologian in the world today. I was really excited that Zizioulas was willing to work with me, and it’s funny because when I first met with him about this topic, I said that what I was expecting to find was that the Fathers were products of their time, that there would be some sexism, but I thought that on the theological level, this was my own feeling on the theological level, that sexual differentiation is an intrinsic part of human nature and that is somehow a reflection of the divinity, that it’s part of being created in the image of God, and Zizioulas kind of gave me this small smile, he said “I don’t think that’s what you’re going to find, but you start doing the research.” I did, and once I started doing the research, it took awhile for the Fathers to convince me, but they did and my views changed 180 degrees, so then I was like “Oh no, nobody wants to hear what I have to say because it’s going to be the ‘kill the messenger’ syndrome'”, and I have gotten a fair amount of that, people who don’t want to accept that this is really what the Fathers are saying. I’m very big on intellectual honesty, and I just put it out there, that this is what they [the Fathers] have said. You don’t have to accept it, these are all theologoumena, they’re not essential for salvation, just as you don’t have to accept the idea of women being ordained today to the diaconate, so that’s an issue that the Church needs to determine today. But you have to recognize that this is what these people said and did. Those are historical facts, you don’t get to choose your facts. What you want to do with them and how you want to understand them today in our contemporary situation is a different issue.

Ryan Hunter: Your presentation earlier highlighted the variety of consecrated and liturgical roles filled by women in the early Church. These roles gradually fell into abeyance. Do you realistically see them being restored?

Valerie Karras: Some of them have been, and it’s weird how they’ve been restored in different ways. I’ve noticed that a number of parishes at least in the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese, I’m not sure about the other jurisdictions here, they now have these young girls serving as myrrh-bearers during Holy Week. Now I would actually like to see what the Church of Jerusalem did, because it’s interesting — those [myrrh-bearers] were women [grown women who anciently filled the role of myrrh-bearer] and I think that there is still this issue…we have to deal with this crazy issue that somehow menstruation makes you impure. I think that’s why we like to see these younger girls dressed all in white, it’s all this purity idea. My response to that is going all the way back to that Didascalia Apostolorum from around AD 250 and it says “What’s the matter with you, woman, do you think that you’re without the Holy Spirit during this period? If that’s the case, you really have lost the Holy Spirit”, and then it goes on to say none of these things, and it mentions things like nocturnal emissions– these are all basic bodily functions, God has made our bodies this way, none of this is impure. I think that just takes care of it.

Ryan Hunter: So you said some of the early roles held by women have been restored...

Valerie Karras: Yes, the female diaconate in different ways. I’ll first mention a couple of the non-Chalcedonian Churches, the Armenian Church and the Coptic Church have, in different ways [restored the female diaconate]. Inthe Armenian Church starting around the seventeenth century we start seeing occasional references to deaconesses. Then it really seems to ramp up in the nineteenth century, and these female deacons in the nineteenth and twentieth century–and I don’t know whether there are any left alive now, I’m not sure what’s happened now in this modern era why they’re not doing it, but they were at least up through the middle of the twentieth century…

Ryan Hunter: Even after the Genocide?

Valerie Karras: Right, yes there were many, in fact I gave a talk at the large Armenian church in Worcester, Massachusetts when I was a professor at Hellenic College/Holy Cross, and the priest there, who had grown up in Jerusalem, he remembered a female deacon at the church or the cathedral  there — I’m not sure where exactly it was, and I don’t know, now I can’t remember whether this was something that he saw regularly, or whether she just happened to be visiting — because all of their female deacons in the nineteenth and twentieth century were nuns. He remembered her serving liturgically and that she did everything that the male deacon did, served identically, and in fact in that photograph that I showed [earlier at the conference] she [the Armenian deaconess] is vested identically to the male deacon.

Ryan Hunter: Yes, she has the orarion and everything…

Valerie Karras: Yes. A friend of mine, a colleague from another institution who’s of Armenian background, her family found a photograph of a great aunt who was a nun who was apparently also an ordained deacon. It’s a photograph of her with several of the other nuns who were deacons in this monastery, they’re all wearing the orarion. They’re not vested completely, but they’re wearing the orarion. It’s just amazing. Now the Coptic Church, as far as we can tell, there’s maybe some evidence that there were female deacons in the early Church, in the Church of Egypt, but not a lot.

Ryan Hunter: After the Chalcedonian schism, or?

Valerie Karras: No, it would have been before. They [the Coptic Church] have deaconesses today, they have a lot of them. They’re not ordained as a major clerical order, they’re consecrated.

Ryan Hunter: They’re considered a minor clerical order?

Valerie Karras: I’m not even sure it’s considered clergy, I think it’s more of a tonsuring and consecration. They’re doing all the kind of typical work that you would see of deaconesses in terms of social service and religious education and that sort of thing.

Ryan Hunter: What’s astonishing about what you just pointed out, the fact that it’s the Coptic Church that has resurrected and restored this practice–arguably this is one of the Churches that has suffered more in recent years than many of the others, so in times of crisis, in times of such turmoil, they’ve restored this ancient practice. Do you think there’s anything to be said for the argument that the first world Orthodoxy, so to speak — the United States, Canada, Britain, parts of Europe–they haven’t restored this practice because they haven’t encountered the kind of persecution that makes them want to restore that aspect of what the early Church did?

Valerie Karras: Maybe, but I think that it’s in these areas where we are seeing some of the strongest push for it [the restoration of the female diaconate]. I think that it’s because the Church in general is a minority and it’s in a new place , everything is sort of being rethought. You don’t just take for granted everything, but look at Russia. On the eve of the Bolshevik Revolution at the All-Russia Council, they were talking about it [instituting female deacons]. They didn’t really know a lot about it, but there were a number of prominent people, including among the royalty and the upper hierarchy [such as St Grand Duchess Elizabeth Romanova] who were talking about the need for a female diaconate. Now this would not be a restoration because the Russian Church never had it, and yet they knew about it and they thought that it was something that would be good for the Church. Of course, we’ll never know what would have happened if not for the Bolshevik Revolution, but there was this openness overall, it was like this breath of fresh air, the Patriarchate had just been restored, it was “let’s enliven Orthodoxy, what are we doing here?”

Ryan Hunter: Your presentation earlier suggested that many of the ancient vocations open to women in the Church — consecrated widows and ordained deaconesses for instance — could and should be revived. How do you see this being accomplished?

Valerie Karras: One way would be to do what Saint Nektarios [of Aegina] did. I think people forget that it has only been about a century — it’s really been less than a century — since we had a few female deacons in the Church of Greece ordained to the diaconate according to those euchologia (εὐχολόγιa) [prayer books with the services in them from the priest’s point of view]. So we’ve got Saint Nektarios doing this, and I think that’s a really important precedent that nobody said [this was impossible] even though there was some disagreement about what we had done. Nobody said it’s not legitimate, how could you say that when we have this long history? Presumably, all he did was use the rite, the service [of ordination] that’s right there in the older εὐχολόγιa.

Ryan Hunter: Were there any efforts by other hierarchs at the time to discipline him in certain ways for ordaining the women as deacons?

Valerie Karras: I think he was getting some sort of flak, because I think that’s why he wrote the letter to the Archbishop of Athens saying “well they were really ordained more like subdeacons” [a clever defense of his having ordained them at all]. But again, what’s the function? We have different functions for subdeacons and deacons. Subdeacons do not do petitions [during the Liturgy, e.g. “In peace let us pray to the Lord”] and these women did. I think that’s amazing because they [female deacons] didn’t do petitions even during the Byzantine period. The whole reason that he [St Nektarios] had ordained these women was because this was a women’s monastery [at Aegina] on this little island and they didn’t always have a priest, and he wanted them to have a fuller prayer life, a fuller liturgical life and cycle of services, their Liturgy of the Hours which is so central to monastic life. So it made a lot of sense, and I think that’s exactly why when the Synod of the Church of Greece decided that they would look at restoring the female diaconate, they wanted to restore it starting with these women’s monasteries, [they believed] that there was a real liturgical need there. Now I think that our parishes equally need them, not so much for liturgical reasons, although that can certainly help there too, but for pastoral reasons.

Ryan Hunter: You kind of touched on this before regarding certain Russian royalty that were active in this regard, but has any of your research touched on the role of Emperor St. Nicholas II or his sister-in-law Grand Duchess Elizabeth in supporting the institution of female diaconate in pre-revolutionary Russia?

Valerie Karras: No, I’m sorry to say that I only know a couple of things that I’ve read [in this area] because my own time periods of specialization are the Early Church and the Byzantine Church, so I don’t really deal with modern Church at all.

Ryan Hunter: I asked you this earlier, but I didn’t get it recorded, so I wonder if you could perhaps touch on this again. You mentioned that most Byzantine women were not public figures, but then we have the imperial consorts, the Augustae, the Empresses, and then we have some instances such as Irene of Athens of women who actually declared themselves as βασιλεύς, they declared themselves as emperors in their own right. Is there any evidence that you’ve come across that deaconesses, who would have been serving in the Byzantine Church at the time, were present at the coronation rites of Byzantine emperors or the empresses?

Valerie Karras: I haven’t seen that. but then I also just haven’t seen the rites described in a detailed way that would say “this is all the clergy that do it”. Because of your question, I do want to kind of look back at Constantine Porphyrogenitus’ De Cerimoniis to see if he’s got anything. Now, I had mentioned about the Empress Helena — I’m sorry I can’t remember whether she was married to, I think it was Emanuel II [Manuel II Palaiologos], I’m not absolutely certain, but it was one of the Palaiologoses, but this is the Late Byzantine period. She took the Eucharist, she took communion, at the door to the altar. Now by that period we know that there were no longer ordained female deacons. There seem to have still been female deacons, women who were styled female deacons but had not actually been ordained, but this may have been used as a monastic title. We know about that coronation, that enthronement, very well because of this Russian pilgrim who writes about it in detail. But it’s unfortunately in this period after female deacons.

Ryan Hunter: It’s interesting, when you mentioned that earlier in your presentation, that this empress as late as the late fourteenth or early fifteenth century was communing at the Royal Doors, at the entrance to the sanctuary, the Beautiful Gate, because that is where empress consorts of Russia, as well empresses regnant and all male emperors before the Pauline Succession Laws changed, received communion at their coronation rites. I don’t believe this was done at any other time, but at their coronation rites, they did receive communion at the Royal Doors. The emperor and I believe the empresses as well, if they were reigning in their own right, were anointed with the holy myron or chrism at the same spot

Valerie Karras: Presumably they were following Byzantine custom.

Ryan Hunter: All of the Russian coronation rites were based off of the available Byzantine service rites and customs.

Valerie Karras: So even though we only know this about Eleni, about Empress Helena, it probably was occurring with many or even all of the other empresses as well. Pulcheria’s situation is unusual because she was essentially reigning, particularly after her brother Theodosius II died [in AD 450]. She does take Marcion as her consort, but she’s the one who’s still running the show, because when she convokes the Fourth Ecumenical Council at Chalcedon [in 451]  — I remember this because of the work I was doing on monasticism — she sent out an imperial letter demanding that all the monks stay in their monasteries and not be wandering around and showing up at the Council [and disrupt the Council proceedings] because that had been an issue two years earlier with what was called the Robbers’ Council of Ephesus in 449.

Ryan Hunter: So the Empress Pulcheria herself, in her own name, wrote this letter, issuing an imperial edict?

Valerie Karras: Right.

Ryan Hunter: One other question. I personally am not afraid of this happening, I don’t see it as a threat of any kind, but as Sister Dr. Vassa Larin said earlier, the Church does not exist in a vacuum. Keeping that in mind, do you have any fear that people both within and without the Orthodox Church would mistake the restoration of the historic female diaconate as opening the door for advocates of women to the presbyterate [priesthood] and even to the episcopacy? How would you address those concerns?

Valerie Karras: Well obviously people do have that fear, and that’s why you get some really bad theology and a failure to be honest about the historical record from somebody like Father Lawrence Farley, who then admits that his concern is that if we were to restore the female diaconate then a female priesthood will be not far behind. No, I don’t accept that, because there are two major differences here. One is that where we have a long and solid history of the female diaconate, we do not have that with women ordained to either the priesthood or the episcopacy. So it’s a completely different issue on that level because it’s not a question of restoring something that historically existed, it would be a question of changing the eligibility for those two offices in our faith. So I think that’s one major difference.

The other issue is that these are two very different offices [the priesthood and the diaconate]. It really concerns me particularly when clergy don’t seem to understand the difference between the diaconate and the priesthood. Now there’s a relationship between the priesthood and the episcopacy, in fact of course one of the titles for bishop is ἀρχιερεύς, chief priest, head priest. So [in the Liturgy] the priest is acting on behalf of the bishop, that’s what the bishop signs the antimension that the priest has on the altar, so the priest is able to celebrate the Divine Liturgy, the Eucharistic Liturgy, and the other sacraments on behalf of the bishop. The only sacrament that the bishop does that the priest cannot do is the ordination of higher clergy, or of clergy generally. In the case of the deacon, the deacon is kind of a liminal position. Even though the deacon is ranked as one of the three major orders of clergy — we see that from the early Church orders, there’s clearly a distinction in the ordination rite, and certainly that’s made explicit in some of Justinian’s legislation — even though the deacon is ranked with the priest and the bishop as part of the hierosyni or priesthood in the broader sense, one of the major orders of clergy, the diaconate is still kind of a liminal office. As I mentioned before, the priest doing all these sacraments, being able to celebrate the sacraments, the deacon cannot; the deacon cannot be the celebrant, the deacon cannot baptize, the deacon cannot celebrate the Eucharist; he assists in the celebration of the Eucharist but he is not himself the celebrant.

Deacons cannot marry; in the Roman Catholic Church where the theology is that it’s really the two people getting married who marry each other, the deacon can be the one overseeing this because he’s really just the witness, but in our Church we see the priest or bishop as actually the celebrant of the marriage, and therefore it cannot be a deacon doing it. So the deacon is very different from the priest and the bishop because the deacon does not celebrate the sacraments. The word ‘deacon’ comes from διάκονος (diakonos), diakonia, the Greek word that means ‘service’. We see from the New Testament on that their primary roles were to do what we would today call social service, and they also did administrative functions — archdeacons, that sort of thing, they did a lot of the administrative functions for the Church.

The second thing that shows this difference, I think, is, strangely, the funeral rite. A deacon is buried as a layman, it’s the same rite as we use for the laypeople. They do not have the rite that is done for priests.

Ryan Hunter: Is that uniform throughout Orthodoxy?

Valerie Karras: It should be.

Ryan Hunter: InterestingSo everything that you’re saying is underlining the fact that there is this clearly articulated distinction between the order of the presbyterate, the priesthood, and the diaconate?

Valerie Karras: Right.

Ryan Hunter: So you’re not concerned that there would be some sort of push — “well, women have the diaconate now, so let’s jump to the priesthood”?

Valerie Karras: No, I don’t think it works that way. Don’t take this to mean that I don’t think that women can or should be ordained to the priesthood or the episcopacy; I’m saying that it’s a completely different subject, it is not closely related to the diaconate for the reasons I just said.

Ryan Hunter: Thank you very much for your time, and it was a very interesting interview. Thank you as well for your earlier presentation.

Valerie Karras: You’re welcome!

Advertisements

A picture speaks better than words

Compare this…

Matthew Heimbach is sitting in the center with two of his supporters wearing the Nazi-style “Traditionalist Youth Network” yellow arrow armband.

With this…

Actual Nazis.

Deliberate evocation? I guess, in Heimbach’s view, imitation is really the highest form of flattery.

My Interview with Matthew Heimbach

Matthew Heimbach (far right) at a meeting of the neo-Nazi IKA (Imperial Klans of America) meeting. Note the Nazi swastikas present.

Matthew Heimbach (far right) at a meeting of the neo-Nazi IKA (Imperial Klans of America) meeting. Note the Nazi swastikas present.

Many of you have read my previous open letters to Their Eminences Archbishop Demetrios of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese, Chairman of the Assembly of Canonical Orthodox Bishops, and Metropolitan Joseph of the Antiochian Archdiocese, Vice Chairman of the Assembly, urging them to take specific action to reiterate that Matthew Heimbach is not a member of the canonical Orthodox Church in America. In my hour long phone interview with him this morning, Heimbach freely admitted that he does not commune in America, but that his spiritual father is an unnamed priest of an unnamed jurisdiction in Europe (he would not specify which country). A senior ROCOR priest confirmed with me that he has spoken with Heimbach numerous times and that ROCOR does not have the authority to “lift” an excommunication put out by the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese. Here is my wide-ranging interview with Heimbach. Emphasis on my part is in bold.

Phone interview with Matthew Heimbach

June 26, 2015, 10:00-11:00am EST

1) RH: You’ve publicly said that you consider the suspected Charleston shooter Dylann Roof a “victim” of a society that supposedly hates white people. Isn’t it grossly offensive to the memory of the victims of the Charleston shooting to call the alleged killer of nine innocent people a “victim”?

MH: ABC News quoted me out of context. They showed thirty seconds, the inflammatory part, of what was a thirty minute interview.

RH: Still, you called the alleged killer a victim….

MH: The Charleston shooting is a tragedy being used for political cheap shot [by white liberals]. I actually went there [to Emanuel AME church] to lay flowers in front of the church and pray for the victims of the shooting. I met with members of the black community there and they were very respectful. They appreciated me talking with them. I didn’t see any other white people doing it. I see it as very important to condemn this tragedy. What Dylan Roof did was absolutely horrendous. I would say there is a moral equivalcy between young marginalized whites [who become radicalized] and marginalized Muslims who resort to radicalism and terrorism.

2) RH: You have publicly said you support “white power” in an ABC interview. What does this concept mean to you?

[Avoided answering the question directly]. I truly believe in local solutions to local problems. A majority black community should have a majority black police force that reflects the community, so the black community would be empowered in places like Ferguson, Missouri, so that they’re in charge of their own school systems, their own law enforcement…. that would stop racial tension. I want white people to be in charge of white communities.

3) RH: Why do you see the solution to racial tensions as dividing people, segregating them from each other?

What I’m asking for is not to force everyone to live separately, but freedom of association – to have the option of self-segregation. [Nationwide], we’re at some of the highest level of segregation ever now. When people have the opportunity, they generally choose to live among people like themselves. All I’m asking for is the right for white communities to be able to do the same. I’m just asking that whites be allowed to have homogeneous communities. There is no homogeneous white identity.

[White self-segregation is good because it enables you] to be able to not have your culture and your identity displaced. Good fences make good neighbors.

4) RH: In a public ABC interview, when asked “Are you a racist?”, you responded: “Sure? So what? It’s natural.” Are you a racist, Matt?

I asked them to specifically clarify what their definition of a racist was. The definition they gave me was if I believed that there were any differences [emphasis MH] between racial groups and if I had a special pride in my ethnic community, and for that, I said, “yes, under that definition, I consider myself a racist, it’s natural”. Every person I think should have pride in their ancestors, but not hate their neighbors.

5) RH: You were excommunicated from the Antiochian Orthodox Church in 2014. I have read Fr. Peter John Gilquist’s letter to that effect. A priest high up in the ROCOR [Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia] also confirmed that you are denied communion in ROCOR churches. Where, if anywhere, do you take communion?

What I can say is that I was excommunicated from Antioch. [I personally believe] my excommunication was lifted by ROCOR. My spiritual father is a priest in Europe who has the support of his bishop, so it’s sad that I have to go overseas

I’m not a Phyletist. Fr Peter John Gilquist saw that I brought non-white co-workers to Vespers and Liturgy to his own church. I’ve literally been bringing non-whites to his church in the hopes that they convert to the Faith. I’m not a Phyletist, I’ve never been a Phyletist. My political views are about changing things politically, not the Church. I don’t put ethnicity above the Church. It really bothers me that I tried to dialogue with Bishop Anthony for months, and he refused to speak with me. I’ve condemned phyletism on several occasions.

6) RH: It’s no secret, my bishop is His Eminence Metropolitan Hilarion of ROCOR. Who is your bishop?

I won’t name names.

7) RH: You have publicly expressed your support for Romanian fascist activist Corneliu Codreanu. I have read numerous anti-Jewish statements made by Codreanu. He referred to Jews as mosquitoes. Do you agree with his anti-Jewish views?

[MH took issue with me calling Codreanu a fascist].

I think that Codreanu and his legions were actively supported by the [Romanian] Church at the time. If I’m standing on the same level with Fr Justin Parvu, who supported the Legions, then I stand behind Codreanu and I stand behind his statements. Fr Justin Parvu, on his way to sainthood, was a member of the Legion.

I’m not asking everyone to become a nationalist, I’m not asking to transform the Orthodox Church into my vision. What I’m asking for is to simply be allowed to exist in the Orthodox Church with my vision.

8) RH: Most Orthodox Christians worldwide do not support political Zionism, but we do not hate Jewish people. We support the State of Israel’s right to exist. You seem to believe in a worldwide Jewish conspiracy of some kind. Please tell me more about that.

In regards to ethnic Jews – I am an anti-Zionist. My inspiration to be anti-Zionist came from Middle Eastern Christians. I used to be an ardent Zionist who believed the Zionist narrative. It wasn’t til I met with Arab Christians that I changed my mind.

When it comes to the “Jews”, quote unquote, I pray for their salvation, I pray for their return to Christ, we’re called to bring the Gospel to all nations. Following St John Chrysostom and St John of Kronstadt, I have to acknowledge that the Pharissees have continued to wage a war against Christianity in rebellion against God for the past 2,000 years.

I would reference the Black Hundreds, supported by St John of Kronstadt and St Tsar Nicholas II…

Regarding the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, I do believe it is a genuinely accurate portrayal of tactics used against Christian civilization. St Tsar Nicholas II is the one that backed the printing of hundreds of thousands of copies of the pamphlet throughout Orthodox Russia. The Crown was directly funding groups like the Black Hundreds to get Russians to support the monarchy against Bolshevism. The Protocols were an important document in Russian history that the Tsar thought the people should read.

9) RH: Tell me about your immigration views. Aren’t we a nation of immigrants? Your last name is German, at some point your ancestors immigrated here. Even the first Native Americans crossed the Bering land bridge thousands of years ago.

[Never directly answered the question]. America as a proposition nation is truly the first proposition nation in human history. Prior to America every nation was based around a single tribe with shared values. America is truly an aberration. By indulging in these Enlightenment era philosophies – the Enlightenment era that was anti-monarchy, anti-hierarchy, anti-nation – we see that with the spread of the French Revolution and America to a certain extent. America from the beginning as in rebellion against traditional forms of government, traditional community. America seems to be in rebellion against the civilizational basis of every other society.

What I would say first and foremost is that we [white separatists] have totally lost, the battle for immigration is already over. What I want to see – what I truly believe will bring racial reconciliation – is to allow communities and states and regions – to Balkanize and have their own nation-states on the American continent. Many regions, especially the Southwest or the Deep South – that if they were to create their own independent nation-states would have a pretty ethnically homogenous population. I’m not asking for change within the church, but a political change.

I support the right of self-determination which I believe could lead to secession. While I support Russia in most things [such as the Crimean annexation], I support the Chechens’ right to secession. [Mentions the Scotland independence vote, the Catalans in Spain]. This isn’t a fringe idea. My people – white people—and all people should have this right [to secede]. Specifically, I identify as a Southerner from a small Southern town in Maryland.

10) RH: You identify as a “White separatist”, meaning you support white people’s self-segregation from non-whites. Doesn’t this interfere with Christ’s Great Commission to baptize and make disciples of all people? I know many Orthodox Christians who are non-white. What would you say to them?

I support a political solution to these problems which would allow for the right of self-determination. I want to see the entire world become Orthodox. What I’m asking for is a political solution. I am an Orthodox Christian, yes, but at the same time, say in Greece, Golden Dawn members can go to liturgy with PKE, the communist party in Greece, and they remember the important line of the liturgy “lay aside all earthly cares”. I want the church to be open to everyone of political persuasion and ethnic background. God-willing, all of the American continent will become Orthodox.

We couldn’t have black Orthodox churches, we are a catholic Church, a universal Church. I don’t want to bar anyone at the door,. I don’t want to stop interracial couples from coming into the Church. If I were to ever push to deny someone the mysteries of the Church, that’s putting so much judgment on my soul.

If we had separate nation-states, I believe if Orthodoxy were to grow in America, the idea of having autocephalous churches – Southerners have a very distinct culture, and to be able to dream of an autocephalous Dixie Church would be amazing. That would depend on conversion and the politics of the time. The Church is not supposed to be political.

11) RH: You have attended numerous events with Neo-Nazis present. Do you consider yourself a neo-Nazi? You say you support the fascist Codreanu. Why, if you don’t consider yourself a neo-Nazi, do you praise them?

I don’t consider myself a neo-Nazi. Codreanu is my largest inspiration and the Legions. The Legion’s mission was to save souls through the revitalization of the Orthodox Church in Romania.

I do not identify as a neo-Nazi. I consider my biggest spiritual inspiration to be the Legion of St Michael the Archangel. When I went to Romania with my wife, when I got to talk to some old timers who remember the Legion, I saw humble and loving Orthodox Christians who were willing to suffer torture for decades in prison.

12) RH: People aren’t trying to hurt you. No one is trying to force you out of the Church. We want you, we want everyone, in the Church. All we are praying for is that you abandon your racism. If you do that, the Church will show you mercy. Would you consider abandoning your racist views and conforming your mind to the Church?

First and foremost, it’s most important to be able to find a way to reconcile myself to the Church in America. I feel like the biggest problem has been miscommunication. Not a single bishop has sat down with me and discussed these issues.

13) RH: Why, if you claim you are not a phyletist, did Fr Peter John Gilquist publicly excommunicate you?

I can’t speak for Fr Gilquist, — the call for my original excommunication came from Bishop Anthony, Diocese of Toledo and the Midwest. He was the one who ordered my excommunication. A prayer vigil that my group was holding in Bloomington, Indiana, in which there was a slut walk walking down the street, the local anti-fascist activists attacked us….we were attacked on the street. My friend, Thomas Buhls, an Iraqi war veteran, was physically attacked. I grabbed the attacker off of my friend. He was literally punching my friend in the face, and I grabbed him in a headlock to pull him off of him. Then, after we had been attacked by these people, they took my cross, spit on it, and broke it. I have video evidence of this. We stood on the corner for the next hour and prayed the rosary for these men. We did not respond with more violence, but with prayer. I never beat him with the cross. The man was wearing a mask.

14) Will you try to be reconciled to the Church? Would you consider changing your views, which the Church has condemned as racist and unacceptable?

If I’m in heresy, I want to know it and repent. If I’m not, let me in communion. I had gone to Greece and Romania and visited several monasteries in both countries, to meet with different priests. My wife and I honeymooned in Greece and Romania. We stayed with a priest who put us up with his family in one of those countries. What I was told over and over again was that this would not be happening in Romania. They said you sound like you live under communists.

Response to Matt Parrott, Matthew Heimbach’s father-in-law, who responded to my Open Letter to Archbishop Demetrios

“Do you consider yourself a racist?”

“Sure! So what?”

– Matthew Heimbach to an interviewer in the video clip here.

A man that is an heretic after the first and second admonition reject.

-Titus 3:10

Matt Parrott, Matthew Heimbach‘s father-in-law and supporter, and an active blogger at their curiously named “Traditionalist Youth Network”, has responded here to my open letter to His Eminence Archbishop Demetrios. Orthodox Christian observers will note right away the outrageous comparison Parrott makes with an illustrated Simpsons caption, equating Heimbach’s fight for “white pride” and “white separatism” to St Athanasius’ fight against the Arian heresy of the fourth century. (Athanasius contra mundum — “Athanasius against the world”, is here altered to read “Heimbach contra mundum). This, and the deliberately fascist-like sign or logo of three yellow arrows pointing upwards, should immediately raise concern for any Orthodox Christian.

Here are my critiques of Parrott’s essay.

1) “The charge of “phyletism” against Mr. Heimbach is intellectually irresponsible, as the scope of this canon relates to relations within the Church, specifically relating to communion and jurisdiction.”

As Heimbach’s own priest enunciates, the canonical Church regards “white separatism” as a form of phyletism. Bishop Anthony of the Antiochian Orthodox Diocese of Toledo and the Midwest, who excommunicated Heimbach in 2014, also defended Heimbach’s excommunication on the grounds of phyletism.

2) “In fact, the heresy of phyletism is being committed by those who insist that Whites and Whites alone must renounce, reject, or be silent about their White identities in order to receive communion. What’s been done to Heimbach is a textbook case of phyletism, denying him communion due to a political rejection of his racial and ethnic identity, the White American identity. All he’s ever asked is for the Church to extend the same dignity and respect for his racial and ethnic identity that it has historically done an excellent job of extending to every other identity. Being anti-white is found nowhere Holy Tradition.”

This is an argument out of nothing. No one in the Church is saying you cannot be proud of your ancestry if you are white. Everyone can and should be proud of his or her ethnic history and heritage. I am not saying, nor have I ever said, that Heimbach and his followers “must renounce, reject, or be silent about their White identities”. What I have said, and will continue to say, is that Heimbach is entirely missing what being an Orthodox Christian is truly all about. I will develop this point later on below.

3) “It’s very unfashionable to be pro-white in the contemporary American society, and the epithet of choice for men who are pro-White is “White Supremacist.” I assume Ryan Hunter quite probably doesn’t know the difference between a White Advocate and a White Supremacist, and doesn’t care to make the distinction.”

I do know the distinction, but I think it’s an artificially created one. There is no real distinction between “White Separatism” and “White Supremacy” except among those who subscribe to such notions (a tiny minority of Orthodox believers). Joining the Orthodox Church, one’s first and foremost loyalty ought to be to the Church, not to the ethnic or political nation to which one belongs. My brothers and sisters in Christ, my fellow Orthodox believers, many of whom are dear friends, are of all ethnic races. There is, in Orthodoxy, ultimately only one real race, of which numerous Church prayers speak: the Orthodox Christian race. All other distinctions are decidedly secondary, but Heimbach’s activism — identifying a “White nation”– brings these ethnic differences to the forefront. This is where I disagree with him. Instead of celebrating the racial diversity of the Body of Christ, the Orthodox Church, Heimbach exults in his whiteness at the expense of his Orthodoxy. So dedicated is he to whiteness, as it were, that he remains outside of the canonical Church.

I believe Heimbach and his cohorts are wrong for espousing White Separatism, which, from all my conversations with White Separatists and my reading about them, I understand to be thinly veiled racism.

4) Parrott here is portraying Heimbach as a victim:

“It’s alarming that Matthew Heimbach has been cast into the outer darkness by the Church for arguably (with a bad argument, at that) being a phyletist without the usual opportunities to defend or explain himself, whileMichael Dukakis has gone on for decades confirming that slaughtering the unborn is consistent with the Orthodox faith without censure, excommunication, or piles of incendiary public letters being fired off. This double-standard has yet to be explained or defended.”

Parrott should take this up with the Orthodox Church hierarchs. I have spoken out repeatedly on the subject of abortion, which the Church rightfully condemns as murder of unborn innocents. If I were a priest or bishop, I would never give Dukakis communion, as his public pro-abortion position puts him outside the teachings of the Orthodox Church. Dukakis should not be communed as an Orthodox Christian, just as Nancy Pelosi and Joe Biden should not be communed as Roman Catholics due to their pro-abortion public political positions.

5) “The charge that Matthew Heimbach’s secular politics are outright heretical is hysterical and theologically indefensible. I’m sensitive to the fact that Orthodoxy–both within America and globally–has an obligation to demonstrate itself inclusive of every identity, but it also has an obligation to demonstrate itself above picking sides in secular politics.”

This is a clever bit of diversion. The only person “picking sides in secular politics” is Heimbach. While his positions are taken relative to secular politics (he’s on the far right), Matthew Heimbach’s politics are not secular by any means. He always appears in public wearing an Orthodox Christian cross, deliberately and consciously associating himself and his public image with Orthodox Christianity. At a public event he physically assaulted a man while carrying a three-bar Orthodox wooden cross. Note that this evidence of Heimbach assaulting the man while carrying the cross comes from a far-right neo-Nazi site, the Daily Stormer (as in SS Storm Troopers). The same article on the Daily Stormer, from April 29, 2015, asserts that “Matthew Heimbach will be now be producing a new podcast each week for Radio Stormer.” So he’s writing for a neo-Nazi website that deliberately uses fascist imagery, but we are supposed to believe he is not a racist, only a “white separatist”? Right…

This image, showing Matthew Heimbach physically assaulting a man while carrying an Orthodox wooden three-bar cross, appears on the neo-Nazi Daily Stormer website.

This image, showing Matthew Heimbach physically assaulting a man while carrying an Orthodox wooden three-bar cross, appears on the neo-Nazi Daily Stormer website.

6) “Please carefully reflect on whether or not to participate in or support the witch hunt against this humble Orthodox Christian parishioner, Matthew Heimbach.”

Again, Parrott seeks, amusingly, to portray Heimbach as a victim of a “witch hunt against this humble Orthodox Christian parishioner”. Heimbach is no innocent victim, but a deliberate provocateur and member of the far right who openly sympathizers with Romanian fascist politician and anti-Semitic activist Corneliu Codreanu. As the same article in the Daily Stormer notes, Heimbach “sees Corneliu Codreanu as his main influence and takes much inspiration from him.” Codreanu publicly advocated for Romania’s alliance with Nazi Germany.

7) You can see the anti-Jewish comments below the article for yourself. Here is one particular one that stood out to me for its nauseating content:

An anonymous coward, “Eric”, wrote the following:

Pressure to excommunicate Heimbach was completely political, and done under duress from groups like the Southern Poverty Law Center whose leadership believe in a “religion” that states the Virgin Mary was a prostitute and Jesus Christ was her illegitimate child. The goal here is to silence his political dissent by holding his religious beliefs hostage, can’t think of anything more insidious than that.

The fact that “Ryan Hunter” would side with Jews over another Orthodox Christian in pretty much every context shows that he’s in the wrong religion, he either doesn’t take it seriously or doesn’t understand what Orthodoxy is. He needs to go back to being an Evangelical or whatever he was before.

First off, “Eric”, I was a Roman Catholic before becoming Orthodox; I have never been an Evangelical in my life. Furthermore, as he is currently excommunicated from the Orthodox Church, Heimbach is not an Orthodox Christian. He remains outside the life and fellowship of the Church. After his excommunication from the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese in 2014, Heimbach approached clergy in the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia (ROCOR). The ROCOR clergy agreed to accept him only if he promised to stop his political activities and cease all talk of white separatism, etc. Heimbach initially promised this, but, according to a senior ROCOR priest I interviewed today, he immediately went back on his promise. This ROCOR priest told me that Heimbach lied to several ROCOR priests about his intentions, a grave offense in the Orthodox Church. Thus, Heimbach, by his own choice, remains outside the Church.

8) A series of concrete, specific actions taken by Orthodox hierarchs oppose Heimbach’s message. His Eminence Archibshop Iakovos, then Primate of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, chose in 1965 to march alongside Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr at Selma. Earlier this year, His Eminence Archbishop Demetrios, current Primate of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese, commemorated the event alongside US President Barack Obama. As the Archdiocese’s news letter reads:

The Greek Orthodox Church has always been an advocate for equality and continues to fight against racism, prejudice, discrimination and xenophobia with fervent love for God and all people. To commemorate the 50th Anniversary of the March on Selma, and to highlight the efforts of His Eminence Archbishop Iakovos of blessed memory to advance the Civil Rights Movement, the Holy Archdiocese has launched a website with a plethora of historical resources and announcements for upcoming events around this most important time in our nation’s history. Please visit:civilrights.goarch.org

In closing, Heimbach an Parrott’s self-asserted allegiance to “white separatism” obscures the very real theological and religious unity that exists between people of all races who share the same religion. Heimbach’s true brothers and sisters are not white people, but, when and if he repents, his true brothers and sisters will be his fellow Orthodox believers across the world, including many non-white people. His loyalty to “white separatism” constitutes a denigration of his real non-white brothers and sisters in Christ. By identifying first and foremost as white, and saying he advocates for “white separatism” (voluntary segregation from the non-white community) Heimbach is saying to all non-white Orthodox Christians (many of whom are friends of mine), “You’re not one of my people. You’re not my brother or sister.” Matt Parrott and Matthew Heimbach should read my friend Nathan Lawrence’s open letter to Heimbach. Nathan is biracial Orthodox Christian. He is a personal friend of mine, and he has been personally hurt by Heimbach’s white separatist and nationalist views.

There is nothing wrong with having pride in your heritage. I am proud to be of English, Scottish, and Irish descent. But what matters far more than your biological descent is your adopted sonship in Christ as a member of the Orthodox Church. Heimbach’s error comes in valuing his ethnic identity above his sonship in Christ, a sonship he shares with my friend Nathan and many other people who are not white. I would humbly invite Heimbach to do as Nathan has asked, and meet with him. Share beer, break bread together. Heimbach, insofar as he is Orthodox, is a brother in Christ. Insofar as he remains excommunicated, until he repents, he remains outside the Church. Heimbach has been admonished by clergy of two canonical Orthodox jurisdictions, and persists in his anathematized beliefs. His ongoing public actions — most recently calling suspected Charleston shooter Dylann Roof a “victim” — and the posts of his organization speak to his lack of repentance. Unless he repents, anathema sit.

Romanov Family Invited to Return to Russia

As many of you have heard by now, a Leningrad Oblast legislator, Vladimir Petrov, affiliated with President Putin’s ruling party has extended a formal invitation to the two rival branches of the Romanov family to reside in an old imperial palace, either in St Petersburg or the Crimea, and begin to take up a host of national functions. RT reports:

A regional lawmaker has addressed the heirs of the Romanov imperial house with a request to return to Russia promising them a special legal status and one of historic palaces in Crimea or St. Petersburg.

Vladimir Petrov of the legislative assembly of the Leningrad Region wrote letters to Grand Duchess Maria Vladimirovna and Prince Dimitri Romanovich asking them to become symbols of national culture and maintaining traditions, like in many European nations that retained their monarchies to this day.

Coming as it does from a relatively minor official in Putin’s governing United Russia party, Petrov’s invitation does not mark a restoration of the Romanov monarchy, but the beginning of what will likely be a several years-long process of deliberate rehabilitation of the living Romanov family members. Should HIH Grand Duchess Maria Vladimirovna and HIH Prince Dimitri Romanovich accept Petrov’s invitation, we would likely see their incorporation into leading echelons of Russian high society. They would serve, as Petrov notes, as a symbol of national unity and historical identity, an institutional connection to Russia’s pre-revolutionary imperial past, and as non-political embodiments of Russian heritage and cultural history.

Petrov writes:

For the whole length of its reign the Romanov imperial dynasty remained a foundation of the Russian statehood. At present Russia is undergoing a complicated process of regaining its glory and worldwide influence. I am sure that in this historical moment the Romanovs would not stay away from all processes that are taking place in Russia…

Petrov “suggested that this move would help to smooth political controversies within Russia and help to restore the “spiritual power” of the nation”, adding that he and other United Russia leaders in the Leningrad Oblast legislature “would very soon develop and draft a bill “On the special status of representatives of the Tsars’ family” that would give some guarantees to the returning Romanovs. He also said that the royals could use one of the palaces that belonged to them before the revolution and that now remain vacant or are misused.”

To this day a lot of wonderful Tsar’s palaces near St. Petersburg are either empty or used not according to their destination. I think if one of these palaces is used as an official residence of the Romanov family it would only be for everyone’s benefit,” the lawmaker said in comments to Izvestia daily. He noted that another option was to settle the royals in the Livadia Palaces in Crimea.

So far, Prince Dimitri Romanovich has not yet commented publicly on the invitation, but Grand Duchess Maria Vladimirovna’s representative, ” the head of the Chancellery of the Russian Imperial House, Aleksandr Zakatov” told Izvestia “that some representatives of the dynasty were ready to move to Russia. However, he noted that Grand Duchess Maria Vladimirovna held a high post of the head of the imperial house and therefore her return should be decent and solemn.”

Noting that the Grand Duchess claimed neither “property or political privileges [or]  powers, she only wants the imperial house to become a historical institution and part of the national legacy”, Zakatov observed that “this recognition must be manifested in a legal act” passed by the legislature before Maria Vladimirovna would consider moving to Russia.

While the “two major competing branches of the Romanov dynasty – one headed by Grand Duchess Maria Vladimirovna and the other by Prince Nikolai Romanovich” have often sparred with each other in the past century, “their representatives often visit Russia and take part in various events.” As RT reports, “none of them have made any political claims.”

RT notes growing support for the possible reestablishment of the constitutional monarchy: “An opinion poll conducted in 2013 in connection with the 400th anniversary of the Romanov royal house showed that 28 percent of Russian citizens would agree to the rule of Tsars…” My own hope is that, with a peaceful and popular restoration of the monarchy some years from now in the wake of the Romanovs’ rehabilitation, Russia could continue to strengthen its post-Soviet national identity and economy, and civil society at large.

No less prominent a person than His Holiness Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia has publicly supported HIH Grand Duchess Maria Vladimirovna’s claim to the Russian throne, observing the following:

Are the claims of the descendants of the Romanovs to the Russian throne legitimate? I would like to say right away that there are no pretenders. Today, none of those persons who are descendants of the Romanovs are pretenders to the Russian throne. But in the person of Grand Duchess Maria Vladimirovna and her son, Georgy, the succession of the Romanovs is preserved—no longer to the Russian Imperial throne, but to history itself.

And I should acknowledge with gratitude to this family and to the many other Romanovs the current contributions they make to the life of our country. Maria Vladimirovna supports a great many good initiatives, she makes visits to Russia, she meets with people, she grants noble status to ordinary people who have in various ways distinguished themselves. I remember very well how, when she was visiting Smolensk, she elevated an old peasant woman to noble status who had done much for her neighbors during the difficult years of the war and immediately after the war. Thus the cultural contributions of this family continue to be very significant in our society.

As His Holiness notes, the Grand Duchess has already been closely engaged in fulfilling non-controversial, ceremonial aspects of imperial duties that would typically be performed by a constitutional monarch. This pattern of already-existent engagements and public activities would likely set an example for any further incorporation of Her Imperial Highness or the other Romanov claimants into Russian public life. With their presence at major national and religious events celebrated by the Russian State and the Russian Orthodox Church, we would likely see an ever-increasing rise in support for the monarchy’s restoration.

This could be a huge, groundbreaking development, with could being the operative word. While the Romanovs are not being offered the Russian Throne, the Leningrad Oblast is offering them residence in one of the many imperial palaces that surround St Petersburg. If they accept, Grand Duchess Maria Vladimirovna and Prince Dimitri Romanovich will likely be acting as cultural figures in Russia, showing up to all the culturally and historically important events and celebrations, and doing charity work on the side, much like King Alexander II in Serbia and Tsar Simeon in Bulgaria. While this is not an invitation to return to the Imperial Throne, this action will surely help rehabilitate the image of Monarchy in the collective mind of the Russian people.

Clandestine plans possibly exist between the Kremlin and the Danilov (MP headquarters) to restore the Romanov House in time for the 2017 centenary of Emperor Nicholas II’s abdication or the 2018 centenary of the imperial martyrdoms. One thing is certain: Petrov could not have extended such a high profile invitation to the Romanov family without the Kremlin’s direct approval and Putin’s subtle encouragement. As one priest friend of mine observed, an eventual “restoration of the Romanov dynasty represents a breathtaking turn of events because it repudiates the Marxist claim to historical inevitability that lies at the heart of that spiritually bankrupt (and murderous) ideology. Like him or not, Putin is a very smart man, arguably one of the strongest leaders on the world stage today. This man understands culture and history.”

This is precisely why a minor Leningrad legislator could not have done any of this without first checking with the Kremlin and the Danilov. This carries the clandestine approval of Putin and his inner circle as well as the Patriarch. We are about to see a breath-taking overturning of the “inevitable” Marxist “once you become a republic you can’t go back” Hegelian view of history. As the same priest observed, when it comes to the possible eventual restoration of the Romanovs, “Dostoevsky may trump Nietsche, at least in the Christendom of the East.”

Open Letter to Metropolitan Joseph on Matthew Heimbach

We censure, condemn, and declare contrary to the teachings of the Gospel and the sacred canons of the holy Fathers the doctrine of phyletism, or the difference of races and national diversity in the bosom of the Church of Christ.

– Article I of the Decree of the 1872 Council of Constantinople

“Do you consider yourself a racist?”

“Sure! So what?”

– Matthew Heimbach to an interviewer in the video clip here.

To: His Eminence Metropolitan Joseph, Primate of The Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America, Archbishop of New York, and Vice-Chairman of the Assembly of Canonical Orthodox Bishops of the United States of America.

CC: archdiocese@antiochian.org

Your Eminence, bless!

I consider it the greatest blessing to be part of the Orthodox Church, the Body of Christ which has produced so many holy men and women and Saints over the centuries. In particular, it is a great source of inspiration to me and so many of my Millennial generation that we have the prophetic words of the 1872 Council of Constantinople which, possessed of a divine vision for the inherent dignity of all humanity, condemned phyletism and other forms of racism decades before the national Civil Rights movement arose.

My conscience obliges me to report to Your Eminence that a white supremacist named Matthew Heimbach, who claims to be a practicing Orthodox Christian in good standing, has unfortunately been receiving major media coverage from ABC News in the wake of the recent Charleston shootings. Only yesterday, an article appeared in ABC News in which Heimbach was interviewed while wearing an Orthodox cross. Mr. Heimbach has publicly claimed that the suspected shooter in the Charleston attach is a “victim” of a culture which, supposedly, hates and oppresses white people. Mr. Heimbach has claimed, and continues to claim –falsely– that his racist views somehow are in line with those of Orthodox Christianity.

He further claims, despite having been excommunicated for his views by Bishop Anthony of the Antiochian Diocese of Toledo and the Midwest, to be an active Orthodox Christian in good standing. While his constitutional rights to free speech allow him to do this, I and a number of my friends from across Orthodox jurisdictions are greatly concerned that Mr. Heimbach’s views will cause non-Orthodox members of the public to associate the Holy Church with his radical, un-Orthodox views. He is furthermore presenting a false narrative, claiming himself to be an active member of the Church when in fact he is excommunicated.

I and so many of my generation appreciate Your Eminence’s loving and strong message of support for and solidarity with the victims of the Charleston Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church shooting. I particularly appreciate your boldness in condemning the attack for the racist hate crime that it was. It is a joy to have such a conscientious hierarch as yourself to express such sentiments which reflect the timeless Orthodox teaching on the inherent dignity of all human life. I am writing now to Your Eminence in your capacity as the Primate of the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese and a member of the Assembly of Canonical Orthodox Bishops, with the fervent hope and prayer that, in your wisdom and charity, you will urge your brother bishops in the Assembly to 1) reiterate that Matthew Heimbach is an excommunicated person outside the Orthodox Church and 2) to issue a statement from the Assembly bishops condemning the Charleston shootings for what they were: a racist, hate-motivated terrorist attack.

Yours faithfully in Christ,

-Ryan Hunter (Christian name “Silouan”)

P.S. I have also written here to His Eminence Archbishop Demetrios, Chairman of the Assembly of Canonical Orthodox Bishops and Primate of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America.

Open Letter to Archbishop Demetrios of America on Matthew Heimbach

We censure, condemn, and declare contrary to the teachings of the Gospel and the sacred canons of the holy Fathers the doctrine of phyletism, or the difference of races and national diversity in the bosom of the Church of Christ.

– Article I of the Decree of the 1872 Council of Constantinople

“Do you consider yourself a racist?”

“Sure! So what?”

– Matthew Heimbach to an interviewer in the video clip here.

To: His Eminence Archbishop Demetrios, Primate of the Greek Orthodox Church in America, Exarch of the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, Chairman of the Holy Eparchial Synod of Bishops, and Chairman of the Assembly of Canonical Orthodox Bishops of the United States of America.

CC: Ms. Marissa P. Costidis, Department of Communications, Coordinator, Managing Director of GOTelecom, Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America

Your Eminence, bless!

I consider it the greatest blessing to be part of the Orthodox Church, the Body of Christ which has produced so many holy men and women and Saints over the centuries. In particular, it is a great source of inspiration to me and so many of my Millennial generation that we have the prophetic words of the 1872 Council of Constantinople which, possessed of a divine vision for the inherent dignity of all humanity, condemned phyletism and other forms of racism decades before the national Civil Rights movement arose. I consider it a great honor and blessing that the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese in particular was blessed with so courageous a hierarch and Primate as the late and ever-blessed Archbishop Iakovos, who marched at Selma with Dr Martin Luther King, Jr in 1965. I am aware of Your Eminence’s own recent commemoration of this momentous event in the life and history of our nation.

My conscience obliges me to report to Your Eminence that a white supremacist named Matthew Heimbach, who claims to be a practicing Orthodox Christian, has unfortunately been receiving major media coverage from ABC News in the wake of the recent Charleston shootings. Only yesterday, an article appeared in ABC News in which Heimbach was interviewed while wearing an Orthodox cross. Mr. Heimbach has publicly claimed that the suspected shooter in the Charleston attach is a “victim” of a culture which, supposedly, hates and oppresses white people. Mr. Heimbach has claimed, and continues to claim –falsely– that his racist views somehow are in line with those of Orthodox Christianity. He further claims, despite having been excommunicated for his views by Bishop Anthony of the Antiochian Diocese of Toledo and the Midwest, to be an active Orthodox Christian in good standing. While his constitutional rights to free speech allow him to do this, I and a number of my friends from across Orthodox jurisdictions are greatly concerned that Mr. Heimbach’s views will cause non-Orthodox members of the public to associate the Holy Church with his radical, un-Orthodox views. He is furthermore presenting a false narrative, claiming himself to be an active member of the Church when in fact he is excommunicated. I am especially anxious that the memory of your illustrious predecessor Archbishop Iakovos not be profaned by the shameful association of such an ignoble man with Holy Orthodoxy.

I and so many of my generation appreciate Your Eminence’s loving and strong message of support for and solidarity with the victims of the Charleston Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church shooting. It is a joy to have such a conscientious hierarch as yourself to express such sentiments which reflect the timeless Orthodox teaching on the inherent dignity of all human life. I am writing now to Your Eminence in your capacity as Chairman of the Assembly of Canonical Orthodox Bishops, with the fervent hope and prayer that, in your wisdom and charity, you will urge your brother bishops, both in the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese and in the Assembly itself, to 1) reiterate that Matthew Heimbach is an excommunicated person outside the Orthodox Church and 2) to issue a statement from the Assembly bishops condemning the Charleston shootings for what they were: a racist, hate-motivated terrorist attack.

Yours faithfully in Christ,

-Ryan Hunter (Christian name “Silouan”)

P.S. I have also written to His Eminence Metropolitan Joseph of the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese here.

On the Virgin Mary’s sinlessness throughout her earthly life

Stuart L. Koehl, a Greek Catholic friend of mine, speaking great sense on the question of the Virgin Mary and Theotokos’ conception and sinless life:

[While foreknowing that the Virgin Mary would say ‘yes’ to bearing Christ, God] must also preserve her absolute freedom to reject the mission, otherwise she cannot fulfill her role as the Second Eve. And the meaning of “immaculate conception” depends largely on your understanding of the term “original sin”: does man bear a stain of the sin of Adam that somehow renders his nature corrupt from birth? Or does man bear the consequence of Adam’s sin, which is mortality? [The latter is the Orthodox view].

Mary died, ergo, she still endured the consequences of Adam’s sin. But Mary was also preserved from sin throughout her existence. Is this due to Mary’s conception being ontologically different from that of other human beings? Or is it due to God placing his protective grace over and through her from the moment of conception? [The latter is the Orthodox view].

It is difficult to remember, and all too easy to forget, that the Western thread of anthropology saw Adam’s sin as being transmitted through procreation (the [Catholic] Church would rather forget that, these days, but the fact is, it taught it for centuries, and it deeply colored the Western Church’s view of sex). So, in Western eyes, if Mary was conceived as other women, then she herself would be tarred with the sin of Adam; therefore, her conception must have been . . . different.

On the other hand, if you take the Eastern Christian position that man suffers from the effects of Adam’s sin, but not the stain, and that this leads man to develop disordered passions that lead to actual sin, then Mary can be conceived as other women, and then protected from all sin from that moment forth, by God’s preeminent grace.

This view tends to be borne out in Eastern liturgical texts. While on the one hand, Mary is called “all-holy”, “all-pure” and “without stain”, at the same time other texts, like the Paschal Hymn say:

Having beheld the resurrection of Christ,
Let us adore the holy Lord Jesus,
Who alone is without sin [also translated “The Only-Sinless One”]. . .

While the funeral service (Panahida) says:

For there is not a man who lives and does not sin,
In thought, or word or deed,
And You [Christ] alone are without sin,
And to You we give glory. . .

So, Christ alone is ontologically without sin, while Mary’s sinlessness is derivative of Christ’s grace and Mary’s perfect cooperation with it.

This explains how Eastern saints such as Maximos the Confessor could believe Mary was preserved from all sin from the moment of her conception, without believing that Mary’s conception itself was different in any way from that of other humans–he simply had a different view of original sin.

Metropolitan Jonah’s Sermon on the Feast of All Saints of North America

Russian Orthodox Cathedral of St John the Baptist

Washington, DC

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Metropolitan Jonah (Paffhausen)

His Eminence Metropolitan Jonah, then Primate of the Orthodox Church in America (OCA) in St Catherine's, the OCA podvorie in Moscow, with His Eminence Metropolitan Hilarion (Alfeyev), Chairman of the Department of External Church Relations for the Moscow Patriarchate.

His Eminence Metropolitan Jonah, then Primate of the Orthodox Church in America (OCA) in St Catherine’s, the OCA podvorie in Moscow, with His Eminence Metropolitan Hilarion (Alfeyev), Chairman of the Department of External Church Relations for the Moscow Patriarchate.

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Today we celebrate the Sunday of All Saints of North America. We hear for a second time today, already in the service, the Beatitudes. Certainly the Beatitudes are an absolutely central part of the teaching of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ because they offer us a path to sanctity. Now we all know that we’re surrounded – just come into the church and we’re surrounded by this great cloud of witnesses, of all of these Saints who have shone forth before us. Many who have shone forth in Russia, those who have shone forth in America. Their icons are on the walls and we have their icons in our homes and we venerate them, and we remember them. Not only that, but we establish relationships with them, and we know that they’re there for us and they will come to our aid and will help us if we ask. The Saints are our friends, the Saints are those who, having attained to the Kingdom of Heaven, live forever in Christ. But the Saints are not only those who have been canonised by the Church. The Church holds up the great examples of sanctity, of piety, of those who have fought the good fight and struggled with themselves, and overcome themselves, have overcome the world, have overcome the forces of evil.

Last week we talked about the Holy Martyrs and how it’s imperative for each of us to strive to maintain the full integrity of our lives, and not to give in to the pressures of this world—lust, the desire for power, the desire for gratification, etc. We see all of those Holy Martyrs as those who were willing to renounce their lives, their possessions, everything that they had, for the sake of our Lord Jesus Christ, for the sake of maintaining their integrity in Christ. The Church gives us a whole discipline of life to live by, and that in itself is there to help sanctify our life. It’s a discipline of self-denial, it’s a discipline of prayer and fasting, of how we live. That discipline is there in order to strengthen us when we have to confront the world, and all of those powers, all of those forces, all of those temptations that constantly come at us from all directions.

The Martyrs were those who, no matter what the world offered them, believed—and knew— that their relationship with Christ was more important than anything else in this world, than family, than possessions, than position—anything. We are also called to that same confession, whether it is going to cost us our lives or it might cost us our jobs—whatever it is in this world. The Saints are those who, having renounced themselves, have found their true selves.

What we are called to do is to renounce ourselves, to get over ourselves, and to live with that life which is given to us by Christ in the Holy Spirit, which is the only place that we find our true identity. That true identity, that true person of the heart, that person that God has not only called us to be, but created us to be, is holy, is beautiful, and cannot be damaged by sin, it cannot be damaged by rejection; it cannot be damaged by anything of this world, because God made it true and pure and holy. This is who we are called to be and who we are called to rediscover, because the life in this world, the life of this world, draws us away from that and has us create this false identity by which we live, running around gratifying our passions and desires, living according to our anger and resentments and our lusts, our envy and our pride and vainglory, and our self-assertion over other people—and all of these things, which are not of God. Rather, that true person of the heart, whom God knows us to be, is what we are called to rediscover in our lives, and to know that that process – which on one hand looks like some pretty kind of difficult asceticism, some difficult self-denial, some cutting away of the things that we like and that we want to do – is ultimately the most important thing in our lives: to find that true person of the heart, and to live according to that true person that God created us to be. Let all the rest pass away.

The Saints are those who did that, who set that as first and foremost, to live according to Christ, to live according to His discipline, to live according to His Gospel, to live so that that true person that he has created might emerge and be manifest. We see this of course most clearly in the holy monastics, because that’s what monastic asceticism is all about. Indeed, anyone who strives according to the discipline and life of the Church to overcome themselves will, to one degree or another, find this kind of self-mastery.

We look at the Martyrs, we look at the Confessors, we look at all of those who gave up the things of this world for the sake of the Kingdom of God and have set themselves on that path to seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, being strengthened by their discipline so that they might tread that path which is laid out in the Beatitudes, so that they might be poor in spirit, so that they might mourn and be comforted, so that they might be meek, so that they might be peacemakers, and so that they might be able to endure when men revile and persecute and say all manner of evil against them falsely for Christ’s sake. [Would] that we might rejoice.

On this day we celebrate all of those Saints who have shone forth in the American land; those that we know, those we do not know. There are a few that are not yet canonised that I know about, and what an incredible inspiration and what an incredible model they have been and they are to us who are still in this earthly battle.

I think of Mother Olga, who is being revealed as a Saint in Alaska; this very simple woman, the wife of a priest in a place that I do not think it’s possible to imagine a place or a life that’s more hidden – to be the wife of a priest in a Yupik village on the Kuskokwim River in south-western Alaska. And yet God has graced her to visit hundreds of people to bring them peace, to bring them consolation, to bring them joy. Just as she did during her lifetime in this world, so she does now after her death, visiting people who have never heard of Yupik Eskimos, who never imagined that they were Christians, and yet her sanctity shines forth.

I think of Elder Dimitri, who was in Santa Rosa. [He was] one of the most important figures for the establishment of monasticism in northern California. His patient endurance, his example. We all know of Metropolitan Philaret [of ROCOR], whose relics were found incorrupt. We all know of these others who have shone forth—some that are widely known and some that only maybe we know about, some people who lived in the most complete obscurity but pursued Christ with the totality of their life.

Each one of us is called to be a Saint in that same way. We are given all the tools by the Church to work out that sanctity, to work out that salvation. We are given the grace of the Holy Spirit in baptism and chrismation; that grace is renewed every time we receive communion. We are given the gift of confession to help us to overcome our sins and to keep striving for that life of the Kingdom which is to come. We are given the disciplines of piety in order that we might redirect our desires and our thoughts and ideas away from the things of this world and to the things of God. That is why all of this is here—that’s why we have the temples, the Liturgy, everything that’s here is to enable us to live that life of the Kingdom of God which is given to us freely by the gift of the Holy Spirit.

So let us give thanks to God for all of those Saints that He has revealed, and those that He has not yet revealed, for all of those who love us, who pray for us, and who accompany us on our way to the Kingdom of God. Those we know, and those that we don’t.

There’s one final thought that I’d like to leave with you as to what real sanctity is about. This is from the thought of [Elder] Father Sophrony [of Essex], who was the one who revealed Saint Silouan [the Athonite]. Saint Silouan said that the task of the Christian is to expand our personal “I” so that “I” doesn’t just mean “me”. “I”—when we stand before God—not only includes me, but all of those whom I love, and all of those who love me, so that my “I”, as we grow spiritually, our personal identity expands so that when we stand before God we cannot think of ourselves alone, but with our wife, our husband, our children, our families, our friends, our parish, our people, our nation.

The Saints are those whose personal “I” expanded to embrace churches and peoples and nations. So let us expand that personal “I” by our love for one another, so that standing before God, we might give thanks to Him, truly, with one mind, with one heart, with one voice, as one mystical person in our Lord Jesus Christ, who has sanctified us and enabled us to be participants in His Kingdom.

[Singing and blessing the people with the Sign of the Cross] The blessing of the Lord be upon you through His grace and love for mankind, always, now and ever, and unto the ages of ages.

Metropolitan Jonah Released From the OCA to ROCOR

His Eminence Metropolitan Jonah, then Primate of the Orthodox Church in America (OCA) in St Catherine's, the OCA podvorie in Moscow, with His Eminence Metropolitan Hilarion (Alfeyev), Chairman of the Department of External Church Relations for the Moscow Patriarchate.

His Eminence Metropolitan Jonah, then Primate of the Orthodox Church in America (OCA) in St Catherine’s, the OCA podvorie in Moscow, with His Eminence Metropolitan Hilarion (Alfeyev), Chairman of the Department of External Church Relations for the Moscow Patriarchate.

Dear friends in Christ,

It is with a glad heart full of rejoicing that I share with you that earlier today Metropolitan Jonah received a signed letter of official release from Metropolitan Tikhon and the Synod of the Orthodox Church in America (OCA) releasing him to the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia (ROCOR). His Eminence Metropolitan Hilarion (Kapral), First Hierarch of ROCOR, has been notified that the OCA Synod has, at long last, made good on their promise to release Metropolitan Jonah. Vladyka Jonah is thus received into ROCOR’s jurisdiction. His status–whether he will be received as a retired or an active Metropolitan– is still to be determined by the ROCOR Synod. The OCA publicly and officially acknowledged its release of Metropolitan Jonah here.

This means that, at long last, Metropolitan Jonah will be free to serve wherever he is blessed to do so by the Synod of the ROCOR and Metropolitan Hilarion. He will be free to serve unhindered at St John the Baptist ROCOR Cathedral (where he has been serving for most of the past three years) and wherever else he is invited to do so, with the blessing of the ROCOR Synod. He will continue his teaching ministry at St John’s (including regular sermons and lectures which may be found here), continue to speak at conferences and symposia and other academic events, and, above all else, continue to serve weekly Liturgies at the Holy Archangels Chapel in Washington, DC. He ultimately plans to begin a monastery, but in the meantime looks forward to living and teaching the Orthodox Faith and serving his spiritual children.

Now that he is no longer in the OCA, Metropolitan Jonah will lose his modest stipend which he has, until now, received from the OCA in his capacity as one of their several retired Metropolitans. ROCOR cannot afford to grant Metropolitan Jonah a stipend, so he will rely on the charitable support of the Holy Archangels Orthodox Foundation to meet his basic living needs. You may donate to the Holy Archangels Foundation and subscribe to receive e-mails here.

In terms of his recent activities, Metropolitan Jonah met this past weekend with His Eminence Metropolitan Kallistos (Ware) of Diokleia, who is visiting for the upcoming Washington, DC Orientale Lumen conference this week. Time allowing, Metropolitan Kallistos will join Metropolitan Jonah in con-celebrating Liturgy at the Holy Archangels Chapel this coming Friday, June 19.

At the end of June, on Saturday, June 27, Metropolitan Jonah will present at a conference at the ROCOR Church of the Intercession in Glen Cove, NY, titled “Living and Thinking Orthodoxy: Yesterday and Today” along with Dr. Sister Vassa Larin and Dr. Valerie Karras. Dr. Nadieszda Kizenko, Professor of History at SUNY Albany, will moderate the discussion. Below is the event poster.

June 27 Conference Poster for

June 27 Conference Poster for “Living and Thinking Orthodoxy: Yesterday and Today”.

Metropolitan Jonah will then travel to South Carolina to commemorate the murder and martyrdom of the Russian Imperial Family, the Tsar-Martyr Nicholas II and Tsarina-Martyr Alexandra and their children, along with the Tsarina’s sister the nun Grand Duchess Elizabeth and her companion the nun Varvara. He will serve vigil at the ROCOR Church of St Elizabeth the New Martyr in West Columbia on Friday, July 17, followed by Liturgy the following morning, St Elizabeth’s feat day and the day of her martyrdom. On Sunday, July 19, he will again serve Liturgy, followed by giving a lecture on “Temple Worship and the Liturgy”.

1514988_1092382084124803_446091439891050274_n

Glory to God for all things!