At the Crucible of History: The Centenary of the Romanov Family’s Murder

Romanovs 1913

For today and tomorrow, I am using this photograph as my Facebook cover photo.

Many of you already know who these people are, but for those who do not, let me tell you why I am featuring them, and what they represent to me. Above all else, in terms of my thinking, keep in mind the premise that “those who are ignorant of history are doomed to repeat it…”

First, let me begin with a quick note about the photograph: it was taken in 1913, 105 years ago. In 1913, World War I had not yet begun, Woodrow Wilson was President of the United States, George V King of Great Britain and Ireland. Pius X was Pope of Rome, while China had only just overthrown its millennia-old monarchy. An Ottoman sultan still reigned from Istanbul, while the Meiji Emperor had died in Tokyo the year before. Most homes in the world used neither electricity nor gas, most people used horses or carriages rather than cars, and the wealthiest kings and captains of industry were just as vulnerable as the poorest factory worker or pauper to numerous diseases which we now no longer have among us.

Look at this family pictured here, seemingly of a world so far removed from our own, a century apart, and see if you can find a glimpse into their unique personalities. Look at their faces: the two eldest daughters on the photo’s left and right edges, beautiful in the golden age of their late teens. Notice the shy, inquisitive gaze of the oldest, on the left, and the somewhat bolder smile and direct gaze of the next-oldest, on the right. The youngest daughter, whom her parents called the ‘Imp’ for her mischievous ways, stands next to her clearly naturally reserved father, arm-in-arm with the family’s youngest child, her brother and the only son. Standing in the back, the mother, who looks so much like her own maternal grandmother, places her arm on her husband’s chair; even in this photo, worry etches her face, while to her right, our left, the middle daughter, whose face radiates kindness, looks on with a thoughtful stare.

Who were these people, who was this family? What happened to them only five years after they sat for this photograph, a moment in history when their father and husband’s dynasty had, been on the throne of Russia for three hundred years and seemed certain to continue in power for generations to come?

One hundred years ago, in the pre-dawn hours of July 17, 1918, the unlawfully imprisoned Imperial Family of Russia—held without any semblance of legal authority or pretense—was murdered by a team of Bolshevik Cheka secret police along with four of their devoted servants and assistants. This was both a horrific tragedy and a history-changing political murder.

The murdered family members were: the Emperor Nicholas II Romanov (50), his wife, Queen Victoria’s beloved granddaughter, the Empress Alexandra Fyodorovna (46), their four daughters, the Grand Duchesses Olga (22), Tatiana (21), Maria (19), and Anastasia (17), and their son, the Grand Duke and Tsarevich Alexei Nikolaevich (13).

Murdered with them were their four devoted servants and friends who chose to share their exile and imprisonment: their physician Dr Eugene Botkin (53), footman Alexei Trupp (62), cook Ivan Kharitonov (47), and maid Anna Demidova (40). All the servants who stayed with the Imperial Family and shared their martyrdom were Orthodox, save for Trupp, who was a Catholic Latvian, but, interestingly, he was also glorified as a saint by the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia (ROCOR) along with the others in 1981.

The murders took place in the dimly lit cellar of the Ipatiev House in the isolated town of Yekaterinburg, Ural Siberia. Led by Yakov Yurovsky, the ten killers were all convinced atheistic Bolshevik revolutionaries from Baltic Latvia and Lithuania.

The Emperor, the Empress, the two oldest Grand Duchesses, and the men died from the initial hail of bullets; the Tsarevich, Grand Duchesses Maria and Anastasia, and Anna Demidova survived the initial blasts. The princesses, wearing diamonds and other gems sewn into their dresses, were savagely bayoneted along with their brother and Demidova, who attempted to fight back. One of the family’s poor dogs, a French bulldog, was also killed, while another escaped and was later found and adopted by the anti-Bolshevik (White) Army soldiers. These details are disturbing to read and to learn, but I believe that we must know these things to understand the depths of the utter evil and the sadism that motivated the murderers, both those who gave the order and those who drunkenly carried it out.

The most disturbing part is that Lenin and all his lieutenants had—after inventing a revolutionary propaganda machine to spread both slander and distorted half-truths about the Tsar and his policies—somehow convinced themselves that these heinous murders were for the ‘good’ of ‘The People’ and the totalitarian cause of advancing the Soviet Proletariat against its ‘Class Enemies’…

The order to kill them all—not only the Emperor, but his wife, children, and their servants—came directly from Lenin and his lieutenants Yakov Sverdlov and Filipp Goloshchyokin. Not content merely with killing the Emperor, Empress, and their children and servants, their killers mutilated the victims’ bodies and then attempted to destroy them by kerosene and fire before irreverently dumping them nearby at Ganina Yama.

The very next day, July 18th, 1918, the Bolsheviks killed the late Empress’ older sister, who was also the late Emperor’s aunt-by-marriage, the widowed Grand Duchess-turned-nun-and-abbess Elizabeth Fyodorovna. Along with her devoted former maid and fellow nun Varvara Yakovleva and several cadet princes of the Romanov family, the Grand Duchess was taken by the Bolsheviks to an old mine shaft at Alapaevsk, clubbed on the head, and thrown alive down the mine shaft. Save for one grand duke, Sergei Mikhailovitch, who had been shot, the others survived the fall and sang hymns down in the shaft until they died of Bolshevik grenade blasts, smoke inhalation from burning brushwood that the Bolsheviks threw down upon them, or blood loss.

One of the most beloved women in Moscow who was immensely popular with the faithful for all her social work and loving kindness—in some ways comparable to a kind of Russian Orthodox Mother Teresa figure—the Bolsheviks didn’t dare arrest Abbess-Grand Duchess Elizabeth in broad daylight. Like her sister, brother-in-law, young nieces and nephew, and millions of other future victims of Soviet repression and mass murder, Grand Duchess Elizabeth was arrested without legal pretense, imprisoned, and ultimately killed under shadow of darkness.

Glorified as martyrs in the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia (ROCOR) in 1981, and glorified as passion-bearing saints in the Moscow Patriarchate of the Russian Orthodox Church in 2000, the Imperial Family and their dear servants are widely venerated throughout the Orthodox world. Many Catholics and high church Protestants also revere them as well. They are viewed by most Orthodox as martyrs (Gr. ‘witnesses’) who were killed in large measure due to their killers’ utter hatred for all religion, Christianity generally, but Orthodoxy in particularly. Others view them as ‘passion-bearers’—those who went to their deaths with Christ-like composure, forgiveness, and long-suffering.

In the short term, the brutal murders achieved what Lenin had sought—eliminating the main focal point for the unity of anti-communist White Army resistance to the Bolshevik Red Army. Within several years as the Russian Civil War began to wind down under Lenin, Trotsky, and then Stalin’s brutal regime, the United States recognized the USSR as a legitimate political entity and established full diplomatic relations with it, with other countries quickly following suit.

Yet today, increasing public veneration of the Imperial Family in Russia and Eastern Europe represents one of the most visible healings of memory. For many, it is an inseparable part of the ongoing civil society transformations of post-Soviet Russian cultural, political, and religious life. Just as many formerly communist countries have torn down their Soviet-era statues of Lenin and Stalin, statues of Nicholas II and his family and shrines to their memory have risen across Russia, Ukraine, and Serbia, with plans for more to follow.

“Those ignorant of history are doomed to repeat it”. Today millions of Western schoolchildren rightfully learn about the horrors of the Nazi Holocaust, but very few are educated about the horrors of the Soviet holocausts and various communist purges and revolutions, in which tens of millions of people have died as “enemies of the People”. This was not just in Russia and China, Ukraine, Kazakhstan, North Korea, and Cuba, but all across the world. In Vietnam, Cambodia, Georgia, Armenia, Angola, Belarus, Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Poland, Czechia, Slovakia, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, Serbia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Albania, Macedonia, and Mongolia, millions of people died under communist firing squads, in gulags, concentration camps, torture chambers, mental hospitals, etc. Millions more died of deliberate famine-inducing policies and purges of dissent. People must learn of communism’s murderous history or, in their ignorance, they will be more likely to sympathize with its proponents today and ignore the historical realities of its massive abuses and murders.

While controversial among some Westerners for how the Russian government has utilized the Romanovs’ murders to foster conservative nationalist and Orthodox political sentiments (it is worth noting here that all governments engage in co-opting national historical events and prominent personalities for ideological purposes), the growing popular veneration of the Imperial Family today is also undoubtedly part of something else, a reality that transcends a purely earthly political dimension. This is something that, while often connected to political considerations, also exists independent of them: the ongoing spiritual process of a gradual re-Christianization of Russian society after the +70 year experiment in atheistic communist Soviet dictatorship. This was an experiment with many scientific and medical achievements, but also one of innumerable totalitarian horrors, persecutions, and genocidal levels of engineered starvation in Kazakhstan and Ukraine, which, along with all the purges, claimed the lives of tens of millions of people from 1918 to 1991.

Through the wise actions and policies of so many brave men and women across the world, and, I believe, Divine Providence, this murderous experiment collapsed in less than eight decades where it had first been violently launched a century ago. A century ago today, the men ruling Russia ordered the murder of its previous ruler, its last monarch of a three centuries-old dynasty, and his entire family and household. Today, the people ruling Russia overwhelmingly abhor the ideology that inspired these murders, and instead many of them are among the patrons and pilgrims of the commemorations going on across Russian cities and towns today. In only a century, think of all that has changed. Think, too, of those who, even now, seek to bring to Western countries the communist policies which led to untold suffering for tens of millions in Russia, Eastern Europe, and indeed worldwide.

In remembering and honoring the Romanovs today and tomorrow—and all the tens of millions of victims of Soviet and communist oppression everywhere—let us keep in mind the historical nuances surrounding their lives and deaths, the examples found in both, and the reality of the hope of our Resurrection above all else. May they intercede for us all before the Throne of God!

Analyzing the transformation of Church-State Relations in Russia from 1987 to 2008

The “Gorbachev Revolution” and Beyond: An End to State Repression and an Organic Orthodox Resurgence, 1987-2008:

The quarter century that has passed since the fall of the USSR has seen the resurgence of the Russian Orthodox Church (Moscow Patriarchate) [1] as a major force in Russian public and political life. Given that the Church is the only ancient public institution which survived Soviet rule, and that it serves to tie Russians to their pre-revolutionary national culture and history, understanding how it came to revitalize and resurrect its cultural influence and political power in the wake of the Soviet collapse is crucial to understanding Russia today. Russian church-state relations beginning with Gorbachev in the mid-1980s were marked by an end to the Soviet policy of marginalization and repression of the MP and growing state toleration of Church influence. The seeds for much of the Church’s rapid rise in political prominence, influence, and power under Yeltsin and especially Putin may be found, ironically, in Gorbachev’s personal attitudes and official changes in state policy toward the Church during his tenure at the helm of a USSR where, ironically, Marxist-Leninism and atheism remained official state ideologies until the 1991 collapse. Patriarch Aleksey II proved crucial to developing, along with Gorbachev and later Yeltsin, many aspects of this new church-state relationship which marked a complete departure from Soviet leaders’ entrenched anti-Church attitudes, laws, and policies before 1985. By the fall of the USSR, the Church’s resurgence and revitalization had already begun, and would only deepen and grow stronger in the following years.

Gorbachev and the Church’s new-found freedom: mid-1980s to 1991

As Metropolitan Hilarion (Alfeyev) observed in a January 2008 lecture one year prior to then-DECR chairman Metropolitan Kirill’s election as Patriarch and Hilarion’s own appointment as Kirill’s replacement, the case for a genuine religious reawakening in Russia can be made from as far back as the period of perestroika and glasnost under Gorbachev in the mid-to-late 1980s when Russia remained an officially atheistic communist republic. [2] As former Reagan adviser and Russian cultural historian Suzanne Massie observed in a lecture she gave at the Washington DC Kennan Institute in December 2008 [3], by the 1980s, an astonishing “55 million Russians were willing to say that they were Orthodox (almost three times as many as were in the Communist party).” [4] That a solid majority of Russians identified themselves as Orthodox in an officially atheistic political society is remarkable and speaks to the tenacity of Orthodox identity as an integral part of historical memory for most Russians. One telling anecdote Massie noted in her lecture, is that when reporters asked Gorbachev in France whether or not he had been baptized, he responded incredulously “Yes, isn’t everybody?” [5] [6]. For the leader of the Soviet Union to utter these words is nothing short of astonishing, and speaks to the Church’s quiet but continued influence among ordinary Russians despite intermittent waves of persecution under the communist regime.

A major watershed moment for the Church came leading up to the 1988 millennial anniversary of the historic baptism of Kievan Rus under Prince Vladimir the Great, in which, ironically, major state-supported religious celebrations took place in Kiev, Moscow, Saint Petersburg, and many other cities. [7] While many anti-Kremlin Ukrainian Catholic and Orthodox leaders and faithful laity opposed and protested the Soviet-sponsored celebrations, successfully urging Pope John Paul II not to attend any of the events in the USSR but to send a delegation in his place [8], major Orthodox dignitaries from around the world did attend. The Ecumenical Patriarch was, however, notably absent.

In the wake of these celebrations in numerous Russian, Ukrainian, and Belarusian churches, and the previously unimaginable state-sponsored publication of commemorative plaques, medals, and history books about the Millennium, the atmosphere of greater openness Gorbachev sought to encourage resulted in something happening which was unthinkable before his tenure: the Soviet state returned many desecrated churches and confiscated ecclesiastical properties to the Church. This began before the anniversary, but culminated with the symbolic handing back of the Kiev-Pechersk Lavra [9], the center of Orthodox spiritual life in Ukraine, to the MP. Despite that many Ukrainian observers disappointedly noted how the commemorative events centered around Moscow, not Kiev [10], even if the celebrations were Russocentric, they were nevertheless enthusiastically observed throughout the USSR. Soon after the Millennium, the Soviet state sent shockwaves throughout Orthodox and Catholic circles by lifting the universal ban on religious broadcasts on state television. As Marilyn Pfeifer Swezey — Massie’s friend and a former Hillwood Museum docent [11] — observed in an interview, this meant that for the first time in Soviet history, both Orthodox believers and non-catechized Russians curious about their patrimonial Church could view Orthodox religious services on state television, the primary source of electronic media. As Ms. Swezey recalled, these services were immensely popular in part because everyone wanted the thrill of participating in history, in something that had until only recently been forbidden.

Ms. Swezey’s friend and spiritual father, whom she aided for over a decade as his personal assistant, was a Russian Orthodox bishop Basil Rodzianko (formerly Fr. Vladimir, 1915-1999) [12]. A veteran BBC religious news broadcaster to the Soviet Union who produced thousands of tape cassettes of Orthodox spiritual talks, sermons, and reflections, in the late 1980s Bishop Basil produced a widely circulated Russian language video “Reemergence” on the ongoing revitalization of the Church in Russian public life. Russians widely regarded Vladyka Vasily as a starets in the Orthodox mystical tradition; as my godmother, his assistant, told me, on one visit to a rural Russian village in the early 1990s, babushki crowded around him exclaiming “He is with the angels!”. Bishop Basil was formed spiritually during his Belgrade youth by Church luminaries living there at the time such as Metropolitan Antony (Khrapovitsky), the first First Hierarch of ROCOR, and the future St John (Maximovitch), archbishop of Shanghai and San Francisco. [13]

Ms. Swezey credits Gorbachev’s reformist political policies with “liberating” the Church from what Bishop Basil and all his episcopal friends in Russia regarded as the “Soviet captivity” under Stalin, Khrushchev, and Brezhnev. She helped Bishop Basil and a Washington DC committee in defense of persecuted Christians organize the first ever state-approved religious pilgrimage to visit historic Russian churches and monasteries for the 1987 Nativity and Theophany celebrations. Ms. Swezey emphasized that this would have been unthinkable before Gorbachev; his predecessors simply never would have allowed it. Bishop Basil’s radio broadcasts had inspired a large popular following in Russia, and many people recognized him during the 1987 pilgrimage from his distinctive voice.

At this time, the timid Patriarch Pimen headed the Church (r. 1971-1990); he had endured house arrest for a number of years and rumored torture, as Bishop Basil recalled, and was unwilling to approach the Soviet authorities about the upcoming 1988 Millennial celebrations for fear of incurring their displeasure. Bishop Basil was aware from his close contacts on the MP Synod that, prior to Gorbachev, neither Brezhnev nor his two elderly, old guard successors had been willing to permit the Church to plan any public commemorations of the Millennial anniversary in major Soviet cities, especially Kiev and Moscow. In contrast to this ideological refusal, Gorbachev’s openness represented a virtual sea change in state attitudes toward the Church as an institution in Soviet public life.

One example of this radical change under Gorbachev, as Ms. Swezey related in the interview, was at a major diplomatic reception in the Kremlin in fall 1986. Bishop Basil’s friends on the Synod informed him that at the reception, at which both Gorbachev and Patriarch Pimen were present, the General Secretary approached the Patriarch, asking him “are you having any difficulties in your preparations for the Millennial celebration?” , knowing full well that he was. The Patriarch, taken aback, responded “no”. The General Secretary replied diplomatically, “Well, if you do have any difficulties, let me know” and the state would step in to help. As a result of this conversation, and the tidal wave it represented of a subtle but definitive change in official state attitude toward the Church, soon after it was announced that the ancient, crumbling Danilov Monastery in Moscow would be fully restored and serve as the principal patriarchal administrative center and site of the Millennial celebrations. By the time of Ms. Swezey and Bishop Basil’s pilgrimage with American Orthodox believers in January 1987, major restoration work on the monastery had already begun. These construction and restoration projects could never have occurred before Gorbachev’s tenure.

Ms. Swezey emphasized that most of this repair work was not financed by state coffers or supervised by the Soviet authorities, but represented a genuine, large-scale, organic outpouring of support and labour from all segments of Russian society. Ordinary babushki, specialist artisans, and thousands of ordinary Russian men and women set about donating what they could and helping physically in the restoration efforts at the Danilov and other monasteries and churches, mirroring the later efforts under Patriarch Aleksey in the 1990s to rebuild Christ the Saviour Cathedral which Stalin had demolished in 1931. [14]

One cannot ignore the personal aspect of Gorbachev’s reasons for so abruptly and completely reversing his predecessors’ restrictive approach to the Church. As Bishop Basil recalled to Ms. Swezey, it was universally known among Orthodox believers that Gorbachev’s mother was an active churchgoer and dedicated parish council member in Stavropol. After becoming General Secretary, Gorbachev ensured that a new parish church was built close to his mother’s residence.

Ms. Swezey described how, in her view,

the whole country came to do the work and donated rubles. The Church seemed to come together as people came to do the reconstruction and restoration projects — not just carpenters and masons and other specialists, but ordinary grandmothers and unskilled male laborers. Somehow the Church collected the money needed for all the construction projects, and this was no easy task, as the Danilov, among so many others like it, was in a state of rubble and near collapse.

Gorbachev not only designated the Danilov as the principal locus of the upcoming Millennial events, but facilitated the construction of a new administrative building from which to oversee the restoration work. Talking with a young monk at the Danilov who spoke excellent English, the American Orthodox pilgrims led by Bishop Basil and Ms. Swezey learned a revolutionary bit of news: the monk said quietly “Well, you see, we believe that the celebration of the Millennium will bring about a new baptism of Rus” and the reemergence of the Church as a prominent force in public life. Ms. Swezey clarified that this meant that Church leaders and ordinary faithful anticipated an organic revival of the Church’s position, but not the fall of communism itself. Like most clergy, Bishop Basil always attributed the rapid fall of the USSR to God’s providence.

Around this time, Bishop Basil learned that Gorbachev had asked four senior MP Synod bishops to meet with him, and that he had proposed an unprecedented, revolutionary alliance which violated the core tenets of Marxist-Leninism’s view of religion generally as an enemy of the working class and Bolshevism’s view of Orthodoxy in particular as backwards, superstitious nonsense. In the wake of Gorbachev’s campaigns to push for a more open and healthy society, Bishop Basil’s episcopal friends told him that the General Secretary asked the Synod bishops to enlist the Church’s cooperation in helping to restore what he called “moral values”, offering the Church a major cultural role in the public life of what he envisioned as a new, revitalized Soviet society. This shift in 1987-88 not only marked the end of all remaining Soviet state attempts to marginalize the Church, but instead prefigured the future efforts of Yeltsin in the 1990s and Putin since the early 2000s to co-opt the Church and use its influence to buttress government policies and ideals.

Under Aleksey II and Yeltsin: Greater transparency, confronting the Soviet legacy, renewed public prominence, and the seeds of close cooperation between Church and State:

Patriarch Pimen’s death in 1990 and the election to choose his successor marked a second major watershed; this was the first free (non-Soviet controlled) patriarchal election since the 1917 All-Russia Sobor raised St Tikhon as the first Patriarch since Peter I let the office fall into abeyance. Whereas Pimen and his predecessor Aleksey I (r. 1945-70) had presided over a Church which was completely dominated by, collaborated with, and subservient to the communist state [15], Aleksey II was the first patriarch to lead the Church in the post-Soviet era. He was chosen in large measure due to his established “reputation as a conciliator, a person who could find common ground with various groups in the episcopate.” [16] As Metropolitan Hilarion (Alfeyev) observed in a December 2013 interview with Pravmir, prior to his elevation as Patriarch, then-Metropolitan Aleksey served as a member of the Supreme Soviet, the highest parliamentary body, and he was thus well acquainted with all senior Soviet leaders at the time of his election. [17] As one of the archbishops who voted for his election observed in the MP’s official journal in October 1990, “With his peaceful and tolerant disposition Patriarch Aleksi will be able to unite us all.” [18] Aleksey was thus expected to be a conciliator and peace-builder who would work to resolve the tensions in Soviet (and soon, post-Soviet) society without upsetting the communist old guard who had reluctantly agreed not to interfere in the election process.

Unlike his two Russian predecessors whom Stalinist repression had cowed, Aleksey was born in Tallinn to an ethnically Baltic German family of emigres who had fled the 1917 Revolution. He grew up in a religious family prior to the Soviet invasion of his country, and thus, he was raised in a society in which the Church was essentially free. During his first year in office, as Soviet institutions remained paralyzed, the economy struggled, and millions of citizens suffered the fear and uncertainty of not knowing what the year would hold politically and economically, Aleksey shrewdly capitalized on the Soviet state’s weakness to insist on an increasingly public place for the Church in society. [19] Whereas Pimen had been shocked and unprepared for Gorbachev’s openness and desire to work with the Church, Aleksey quickly became a vocal advocate of what he regarded as the Church’s rights, calling for the Soviet government to allow religious education in state schools [20] and for a “freedom of conscience” law to protect believers from discrimination. [21] During the attempted communist hardliner coup in August 1991, the Patriarch shocked the Soviet old guard by publicly denouncing the plotters’ arrest of Gorbachev. [22] He went further and declared the plotters excommunicated (a largely symbolic gesture, since they were all atheists, this kind of bold gesture of defying the communists would have been unimaginable five years earlier). In a series of press releases and public statements, the Patriarch denounced the communist junta as illegitimate, implored the military not to attack the legitimate elected authorities, and demanded that Gorbachev be allowed to address the Soviet people. [23]

In order to better understand how the Church came to dominate Russian public and political life as it does today, it is crucial to first realize that the Orthodox religious revitalization began under Gorbachev, who, ironically, played a leading role in reviving this ancient anti-communist institution which would ultimately outlast the Soviet state he sought to restore. While Gorbachev departed from power in 1991 following the dissolution of the USSR, Patriarch Aleksey remained as the earthly head of the Church until his death seventeen years later.

As patriarch in post-Soviet Russia after 1991, Aleksey presided over Orthodoxy’s historic revitalization and re-emergence in Russian public life. It is a telling sign of his tenacity that Aleksey managed to outlast Yeltsin’s time in office, attend and formally bless the new President Putin’s first inauguration in May 2000, and, upon his death in December 2008 and his almost-official state-level funeral, receive official words of praise and elegies from both Putin and Medvedev.

Ms. Swezey recounted from her many visits to Russia how the Patriarch managed to retain a degree of popularity as his Church grew in appeal and public stature while old Soviet institutions crumbled, the Russian economy floundered under hyperinflation, and public confidence in democratically elected President Yeltsin quickly evaporated. As the economy worsened, the churches filled, becoming, as she recalls, stiflingly crowded on major holidays. Unlike his predecessors who never dared to publicly criticize the Soviet regime, during Aleksey’s first official visit to Germany in 1995, the Patriarch publicly apologized for the “Communist tyranny that had been imposed upon the German nation by the USSR”, for which Russian Communists criticized him for his supposed insult to Russian national memory. [24]

Symbolic of the Church’s ever-increasing role in public life, Patriarch Aleksey presided over the combined country-wide and international effort to rebuild the historic Christ the Saviour Cathedral in central Moscow, which Alexander I had ordered erected as a monument to Russia’s overcoming Napoleon’s Grand Army in 1812. Donations poured in from across Russia and the Orthodox world, and momentum continued to build for the temple’s dedication as a monument to all victims of Soviet oppression.

Ms. Swezey observed how it was universally known among all Russians that every Orthodox cleric, every seminarian seeking an ecclesiastical career in the USSR had to have a modus vivendi with the KGB; they were vetted by KGB officials and received frequent visits from their designated KGB handlers. Every Russian patriarch from Sergey on was rumored to have been a secret KGB agent, which the MP strenuously denies to this day. In an unprecedented gesture of transparency and reconciliation, Patriarch Aleksey boldly discussed the issue of collaboration between MP clergy and the Soviet state in a wide-ranging interview with Izvestia in June 1991, imploring forgiveness for the role Soviet-era hierarchs had in agreeing to the Soviet domination of the Church:

Before those people, however, to whom the compromises, silence, forced passivity or expressions of loyalty permitted by the leaders of the church in those years caused pain, before these people, and not only before God, I ask forgiveness, understanding and prayers. [25]

Serge Schmemann, award-winning son of the late Orthodox theologian Fr. Alexander Schmemann [26] and former Associated Press and New York Times Moscow Bureau chief, noted in November 1991 in The Times the many challenges facing Aleksey in the post-Soviet era:

Standing at the center of the magnificent Cathedral of St. Isaac [St Petersburg]… diamonds and rubies glittering from his miter and staff and with a host of Romanov princes, politicians and worshipers arrayed around him, Patriarch Aleksy II… was the image of the church victorious over seven decades of militant atheism.

Not long ago the great domed cathedral was a state museum, the Romanovs were a curse, no Soviet politician would dare step foot in a working church and Patriarch Aleksy was a bishop locked in a running struggle with atheist watchdogs of the State Council of Religious Affairs.

[F]or all the obvious gains of the Russian Orthodox Church and of religious freedoms in the years of perestroika, the 62-year-old Patriarch, like his country and his church, is also a leader who faces a barrage of new problems raised by the sudden outbreak of freedom.

In his sermon in St. Isaac Cathedral, the Patriarch… spoke of the urgent need for tolerance and unity. Those are themes to which the Patriarch returns often, as he did in a recent interview in Moscow.

[H]e seemed in personal awe as he checked off the statistics of the Russian church’s rapid revival. More than 5,000 parishes opened since 1988, 106 in Moscow alone. Baptisms tripled, marriages increased ninefold, the number of monasteries up from 18 to 121.

And yet the Patriarch also spoke, as he has in many sermons and speeches, of the deep and profound damage left by Communism.

“The greatest wound inflicted by the Communist dictatorship was lack of spirituality,” he said. “All other evils were the result of the planned, systematic and total eradication from the souls and consciousness of the people of the very notion of ‘spirituality.’ I am not even talking about the disgusting anti-church propaganda and actions against the church.” “I never thought the moment would come,” acknowledged the Patriarch,..

“We have to rebuild everything — charity, catechism,” he said. “The new generation has forgotten everything — the very word charity was barred from dictionaries. An immediate revival is impossible, but the will is there.” [27]

Symbolic of Russian society seeking to reexamine its immediate pre-Soviet past and freeing itself from Soviet communist propaganda, Aleksey II presided over the glorification of hundreds of Russian “New Martyrs” — bishops, priests, monks, nuns, and laity killed by the communist regime– including Grand Duchess and Abbess Elizabeth Romanova, widowed sister to the last empress, in 1992, and in 2000 the glorification of the “Royal New Martyrs”, the last Imperial Family, as “passion-bearers” (the assassinated Emperor Nicholas II, Empress Alexandra Feodorovna, Tsarevich Aleksey, the Grand Duchesses, et cetera).

In September 1997, another major watershed moment in Russian church-state political relations took place when the widely unpopular President Yeltsin signed into law, despite vocal American opposition, a parliamentary bill “that protects the Russian Orthodox Church from competition with other Christian faiths…”. [28] While not officially establishing Orthodoxy as the state religion (forbidden by the Russian Constitution), “the law create[d] a hierarchy of religious groups, with the Russian Orthodox Church firmly ensconced in the first and most privileged category while rival Christian groups are afforded a secondary status.” [29]

Patriarch Aleksey unsurprisingly praised the law which cemented his Church’s predominant legal and political position, saying ”Today’s law is another step toward perfecting the legislation that secures and defends the rights of Russia’s believers”. [30] Despite that U.S. Vice President Al Gore had urged senior Russian politicians to persuade Yeltsin to veto the bill, and that President Clinton had personally urged Yeltsin not to sign it, the Church lobbied successfully to pass the legislation, which restricted the legal rights of faiths (mainly Protestants, Mormons, and Jehovah’s Witnesses) that did not have a long-established presence in Russia to organize, proselytize, and build houses of worship. [31]

For those who would espouse the Western liberal critical view and blame President Putin and Patriarch Kirill for (by Western standards) an inappropriate church-state relationship today, this law is vital to understanding that as early as 1997 the Church was essentially operating as a quasi-established state religion, a protected and state-supported institution, and that it was President Yeltsin, the Western-friendly ‘democrat’, and Patriarch Aleksey II, not Putin and Kirill, who presided over this new arrangement. It is astonishing that, in only a decade, the Church went from being a cowed, barely public institution in an officially atheist state under a timid Pimen (a man who had no idea how to influence Gorbachev) to being protected under Aleksey as a semi-established state religion.

 

The Church in Putin’s Russia: Developing into the unofficial State Church, 2000 to today

Putin’s first inauguration ceremony in May 2000 solidified in a symbolic way the Church’s increasingly dominant role as the preeminent religious institution in Russian society. The Patriarch was not only prominently present at the inauguration in a seat of honor, but he formally blessed the new Russian president with the sign of the cross in the name of the Trinity, and presented Putin with an icon of St Alexander Nevsky.

Photograph courtesy of Kremlin.ru: Inside the Dormition Cathedral (Uspenskiy Sobor) in the Kremlin, the Patriarch presents new Russian president Vladimir Putin with an icon of St. Alexander Nevsky at the latter’s presidential inauguration, 7 May 2000.

 

As this photograph shows, Putin began his first term as president with the Church’s full symbolic (and literal) blessing. How did church-state relations develop in Russia to the point that in 2015, to all intents and purposes, the Church has become the unquestionably leading religious institution in Russia, whose Paschal and Nativity services the President and Prime Minister publicly attend each year at Moscow’s Christ the Saviour Cathedral? [32] One of the watershed moments was the 19 May 2007 signing of the Act of Canonical Communion between the MP under Patriarch Aleksey and the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad (ROCOR) under Metropolitan Laurus at the Cathedral in the presence of then-President Putin and then-Prime Minister Medvedev. [33] All Orthodox bishops I have talked with about the Act reported that the President had taken a keen interest in the restoration of communion (all these hierarchs likewise hold the President in high regard, including ROCOR’s present First Hierarch, Metropolitan Hilarion Kapral, and the OCA’s [34] former reigning Metropolitan Jonah Paffhausen, now a retired ROCOR bishop). It is impossible to know for certain whether Putin’s behind-the-scenes involvement in the reconciliatory Act is an example of his calculating politically to use the rupture between the Russian Church in and outside of Russia to solidify his political appeal among Orthodox around the world and Russian Orthodox in particular living abroad, or the genuine desire of a devout Orthodox believer who happens to be the Russian president to help facilitate the historic reconciliation. It is entirely possible that both political calculation and genuine piety informed Putin’s role in supporting the Act.

The extent to which, by 2008, Church and state had become firmly intermeshed and intertwined is evident with the Kremlin’s reaction to Patriarch Aleksey II’s death in December of that year. Immediately following his death, President Medvedev — widely held to be more personally devout than Putin — issued a presidential ukaz which “enjoined” that on the day of the Patriarch’s burial Russian cultural organizations and news broadcasters should cancel entertaining programs. [35] This decree stopped just short of ordering a day of full, official national mourning. While the President issued his decree, the Prime Minister (Putin) released a statement via Interfax, an official state news source, lauding Aleksey as a “a prominent figure in the history of the Russian Orthodox Church, as well as a great statesman” who “made a very considerable contribution to relations between various faiths.” [36] Putin also acknowledged that Aleksey “did a great deal to help establish a new governance system in Russia”. [37] Along with their wives, both Medvedev and Putin attended the funeral liturgy in Christ the Saviour Cathedral presided over by the Orthodox primus inter pares Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew. [38] [39]

From left: Russian President Vladimir Putin, his then-wife Ludmila Putina, Svetlana Medvedeva, and Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev at Aleksey II’s funeral liturgy in Christ the Saviour Cathedral, Moscow.

Bibliography

Aleksey II: Patriarch of Moscow”. Encyclopaedia Britannica. 19 January 2008. Accessed 28 November 2015. http://www.britannica.com/biography/Aleksey-II

Davis, Nathaniel. A Long Walk to Church: A Contemporary History of Russian Orthodoxy, 2nd Edition (Oxford: Westview Press, 2003).

Gedney, Adam. “Reunification Service ROCOR and Moscow Patriarchate [Full] Moscow 5-19-2007”. YouTube. 29 December 2014. Accessed 28 November 2015. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x_Rq7px-Z0c

Gordon, Michael R. “Irking U.S., Yeltsin signs law protecting Orthodox Church”.  The New York Times. 27 September 1997. Accessed 28 November 2015. http://www.nytimes.com/1997/09/27/world/irking-us-yeltsin-signs-law-protecting-orthodox-church.html

Greeley, Andrew. “A Religious Revival in Russia?”. Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, Vol. 33, No. 3 (Sep., 1994), page 253. http://www.jstor.org/stable/1386689?seq=1#page_scan_tab_contents

Hunter, Ryan. “A short history of Christ the Saviour Cathedral in Moscow”. Pravoslavie.ru. 14 October 2015. Accessed 29 November 2015. http://www.pravoslavie.ru/english/86793.htm

Hunter, Ryan. “Remembering a spiritual giant of our time”. Juicy Ecumenism: The Institute on Religion & Democracy’s Blog. 17 September 2013. Accessed 29 November 2015. https://juicyecumenism.com/2013/09/17/remembering-a-spiritual-giant-of-our-time/

Interfax Religion. “Death of Alexy II a tragic and sorrowful event – Putin”. 5 December 2008. Accessed 28 November 2015.  http://www.interfax-religion.com/?act=news&div=5458

Kolarz, Walter. Religion in the Soviet Union (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1966).

Kutash, Ihor G. “The Soviet Union Celebrates 1000 Years of Christianity”. Christian History. Christian History Institute. Issue 18. Accessed 30 November 2015. https://www.christianhistoryinstitute.org/magazine/article/soviet-union-celebrates-1000-years-christianity/

Leustean, LucianEastern Christianity and the Cold War, 1945-91. New York, NY: Taylor & Francis, 2009. 

Massie, Suzanne. “Reagan’s Evolving Views on Russia and Their Relevance Today”. Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. Kennan Institute. December 1, 2008. https://www.wilsoncenter.org/sites/default/files/Massie.pdf

“Патриарх Алексий завершил свой земной путь”. 9 December 2008. Accessed 30 November 2015. http://newsru.com/religy/09dec2008/pohoronypatriarha.html 

Pospielovsky, Dimitry. The Orthodox Church in the History of Russia (Crestwood, NY: St Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1998).

Pravmir. “The Russian Orthodox Church and Contemporary Events: Dispelling the Myths”. Pravmir.com. 15 December 2013. Accessed 28 November 2015. http://www.pravmir.com/the-russian-orthodox-church-and-contemporary-events-dispelling-the-myths/

Sanidopoulos, John. “Atheism and Orthodoxy in Modern Russia”. 27 January 2011. Accessed 28 November 2015. http://www.johnsanidopoulos.com/2011/01/atheism-and-orthodoxy-in-modern-russia.html

Schmemann, Serge. “St. Petersburg Journal; Patriarch’s Church Revives, but Will Spirituality?”. The New York Times. 9 November 1991. Accessed 29 November 2015. http://www.nytimes.com/1991/11/09/world/st-petersburg-journal-patriarch-s-church-revives-but-will-spirituality.html

Shevkunov, Archimandrite Tikhon (now Bishop). “His Eminence the Novice”. “Everyday Saints” and Other Stories. Accessed 29 November 2015. http://everyday-saints.com/eminence.htm

Указ Президента № 1729/2008. Kremlin.ru. 7 December 2008. Accessed 28 November 2015.

VideoNews. “Russian President attends Easter services at Moscow cathedral”. YouTube. 12 April 2015. Accessed 28 November 2015. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IeOJXO0619g

Weekly, The Ukrainian. “1988: A Look Back: The Year of the Millennium”, The Ukrainian Weekly. 25 December, 1988, No. 52, Vol. LVI. Accessed 29 November 2015. http://www.ukrweekly.com/old/archive/1988/528813.shtml

Zhurnal Moskovskoi Patriarkhii. No. 10 (October), 1990, p.16, quoted in Nathaniel Davis, A Long Walk to Church: A Contemporary History of Russian Orthodoxy, 2nd Edition (Oxford: Westview Press, 2003).

 

End Notes

[1] Hereafter, for brevity and consistency’s sake, I will refer to the Moscow Patriarchate as the “MP” and the Russian Orthodox Church as “the Church”.

[2] Sanidopoulos, John, “Atheism and Orthodoxy in Modern Russia”. 27 January 2011. Accessed 28 November 2015. http://www.johnsanidopoulos.com/2011/01/atheism-and-orthodoxy-in-modern-russia.html

[3] A lecture at which my godmother was present.

[4] Massie, Suzanne,“Reagan’s Evolving Views on Russia and Their Relevance Today”, Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. Kennan Institute. December 1, 2008. Page 6. https://www.wilsoncenter.org/sites/default/files/Massie.pdf

[5] Ibid.

[6] According to Andrew Greeley, professor of sociology at the University of Chicago, this anecdote actually occurred between Gorbachev and Pope John Paul I. See: Greeley, Andrew, “A Religious Revival in Russia?”, Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, Vol. 33, No. 3 (Sep., 1994), page 253. http://www.jstor.org/stable/1386689?seq=1#page_scan_tab_contents

[7] Kutash, Ihor G, “The Soviet Union Celebrates 1000 Years of Christianity”, Christian History, Christian History Institute. Issue 18. Accessed 30 November 2015. https://www.christianhistoryinstitute.org/magazine/article/soviet-union-celebrates-1000-years-christianity/

[8] “1988: A Look Back: The Year of the Millennium”, The Ukrainian Weekly, 25 December, 1988, No. 52, Vol. LVI. http://www.ukrweekly.com/old/archive/1988/528813.shtml

[9] Ibid.

[10] Kutash, Ibid.

[11] Ms. Swezey obtained her MA in Russian History from Harvard, concentrating on Russian cultural and artistic history. Aside from her work at Hillwood, she ‎has also served as a Guest Curator at the American-Russian Cultural Cooperation Foundation. She lives in Washington, DC, where she served as the parish historian at St. Nicholas Orthodox Cathedral for over thirty years. She has edited and authored numerous articles on Russian history, Orthodox iconography, and imperial decorative arts, especially Faberge, an anthology The Tsar and the President: Alexander II and Abraham Lincoln, Liberator and Emancipator, and The Romanov Family Album

[12] Hunter, Ryan, “Remembering a spiritual giant of our time”,  Juicy Ecumenism: The Institute on Religion & Democracy’s Blog. 17 September 2013. Accessed 29 November 2015. https://juicyecumenism.com/2013/09/17/remembering-a-spiritual-giant-of-our-time/

[13] Shevkunov, Archimandrite Tikhon (now Bishop), “His Eminence the Novice”, “Everyday Saints” and Other Stories. Accessed 29 November 2015. http://everyday-saints.com/eminence.htm

[14] Hunter, Ryan, “A short history of Christ the Saviour Cathedral in Moscow”, Pravoslavie.ru. 14 October 2015. Accessed 29 November 2015. http://www.pravoslavie.ru/english/86793.htm

[15] Upon his Stalin-approved election as Patriarch in February 1945, Aleksey I assured the dictator of his “profound affection and gratitude” and vowed to “safeguard the Church against mistakes and false steps” against the communist state. See: Kolarz, Walter, Religion in the Soviet Union (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1966), page 55.

After Stalin’s death in March 1953, the collaborationist Patriarch Aleksey composed a statement of condolence to the USSR’s Council of Ministers: “…His death is a heavy grief for our Fatherland and for all the people who inhabit it. The whole Russian Orthodox Church, which will never forget his benevolent attitude to Church needs, feels great sorrow at his death. The bright memory of him will live ineradicably in our hearts. Our Church proclaims eternal memory to him with a special feeling of abiding love.” See: Kolarz, page 65.

[16] Davis, Nathaniel, A Long Walk to Church: A Contemporary History of Russian Orthodoxy, 2nd Edition (Oxford: Westview Press, 2003), page 86.

[17] Pravmir. “The Russian Orthodox Church and Contemporary Events: Dispelling the Myths”. Pravmir.com. 15 December 2013. Accessed 28 November 2015. http://www.pravmir.com/the-russian-orthodox-church-and-contemporary-events-dispelling-the-myths/

[18] Zhurnal Moskovskoi Patriarkhii, No. 10 (October), 1990, p.16, quoted in Nathaniel Davis, A Long Walk to Church: A Contemporary History of Russian Orthodoxy, 2nd Edition (Oxford: Westview Press, 2003), page 284.

[19] “Aleksey II: Patriarch of Moscow”, Encyclopaedia Britannica. 19 January 2008. Accessed 28 November 2015. http://www.britannica.com/biography/Aleksey-II

[20] Mandated by a parliamentary law signed in January 2013 by President Putin.

[21] Encyclopaedia Britannica, Ibid.

[22] Davis, 96.

[23] Ibid.

[24] Pospielovsky, Dimitry, The Orthodox Church in the History of Russia (Crestwood, NY: St Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1998),  page 394.

[25] From an interview of Patriarch Alexei II, given to Izvestia issue No 137, 10 June 1991, entitled “Patriarch Alexei II:—I Take upon Myself Responsibility for All that Happened”, English translation from Nathaniel Davis, A Long Walk to Church: A Contemporary History of Russian Orthodoxy, (Oxford: Westview Press, 1995), page 89.

[26] Father Alexander Schmemann, a prominent Russian Orthodox theologian of the St Sergius Institute in Paris and former dean of St Vladimir’s Seminary in NY, played a leading role in negotiating the autocephaly of The Orthodox Church in America (OCA), headquartered in Syosset, NY. The OCA received the Tomos of Autocephaly from the MP in 1970. Most of the world’s canonical Orthodox jurisdictions do not recognize the Tomos, since it was given at a time of Soviet oppression of the MP. Thus, to most Orthodox jurisdictions, there are 14, not 15, autocephalous or “local” (national) Orthodox Churches, with the OCA, like ROCOR, falling under the MP’s jurisdiction. The OCA disputes this, and insists upon its autocephaly.

[27] Schmemann, Serge, “St. Petersburg Journal; Patriarch’s Church Revives, but Will Spirituality?”, The New York Times. 9 November 1991. Accessed 29 November 2015. http://www.nytimes.com/1991/11/09/world/st-petersburg-journal-patriarch-s-church-revives-but-will-spirituality.html

[28] Gordon, Michael R, “Irking U.S., Yeltsin signs law protecting Orthodox Church”,  The New York Times. 27 September 1997. Accessed 28 November 2015. http://www.nytimes.com/1997/09/27/world/irking-us-yeltsin-signs-law-protecting-orthodox-church.html

[29] Ibid.

[30] Ibid.

[31] Ibid.

[32] VideoNews, “Russian President attends Easter services at Moscow cathedral”, YouTube. 12 April 2015. Accessed 28 November 2015. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IeOJXO0619g

[33] Gedney, Adam, “Reunification Service ROCOR and Moscow Patriarchate [Full] Moscow 5-19-2007”, YouTube. 29 December 2014. Accessed 28 November 2015. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x_Rq7px-Z0c

[34] The Orthodox Church in America (OCA), headquartered in Syosset, NY, received the Tomos of Autocephaly from the MP in 1970. Most of the world’s canonical Orthodox jurisdictions do not recognize the Tomos, since it was given at a time of Soviet oppression of the MP. Thus, to most Orthodox jurisdictions, there are 14, not 15, autocephalous or “local” (national) Orthodox Churches, with the OCA, like ROCOR, falling under the MP’s jurisdiction. The OCA disputes this, and insists upon its autocephaly.

[35] Указ Президента № 1729/2008, Kremlin.ru. 7 December 2008. Accessed 28 November 2015.

[36] Interfax Religion, “Death of Alexy II a tragic and sorrowful event – Putin”. 5 December 2008. Accessed 28 November 2015.  http://www.interfax-religion.com/?act=news&div=5458

[37] Ibid.

[38] Указ Президента № 1729/2008, Kremlin.ru.

[39] “Патриарх Алексий завершил свой земной путь”, 9 December 2008. Accessed 30 November 2015. http://newsru.com/religy/09dec2008/pohoronypatriarha.html 

 

Photographic montage of St. Emperor Nicholas II

Courtesy of Nigel Fowler Sutton’s superb YouTube channel. Here Mr Sutton presents photographs of the Tsar from infancy to his final days of confinement and ultimate death.

Tsar Nicholas II was the last Emperor and Autocrat of all the Russias. Born on 18 May 1868 he came to the throne on 1 November 1894 following the untimely death of his father Tsar Alexander III. He ruled the vast empire of Russia until his abdication on 15 March 1917. Together with his family, he spent the next year in captivity, subject to great deprivation, ridicule, and harassment by his Bolshevik jailers. During the night of the 16/17 July 1918 he was murdered at the Ipatiev House in rural Ekaterinburg with his wife Empress Alexandra, his son the Tsarevich Alexey, his four daughters, the family doctor, his valet, the lady-waiting to the Empress and the family cook.

In 1981 the Synod of Bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia (ROCOR) glorified the late Imperial Family as Royal New Martyrs of the Orthodox Church. The new martyrs also include St. Elizabeth Feodorovna Romanova, sister to Empress Alexandra and aunt-by-marriage to Nicholas II. In 2000, with the blessing of His Holiness Patriarch Alexey II, the Moscow Patriarchate of the Russian Orthodox Church followed suit, glorifying them as passion-bearers, or those who meet earthly death with Christian dignity and fortitude.

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.

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”.

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Glory to God for all things!

Belated message: Metropolitan Jonah’s Nativity Sermon

Here is Vladyka Jonah’s Sermon from the Great Feast of the Nativity of the Lord, given at St John the Baptist Cathedral in Washington, D.C. on the 7th of January, 2015 (December 25, 2014 O.S.):
 
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
 
Christ is Born! Glorify Him! I greet you with the Nativity of our Lord and God and Saviour Jesus Christ. There is not much that one can add to the Patriarch [Kirill]’s beautiful message, but this one thing I would like to emphasize: it is so important for us to really accept the Orthodox Faith as the very essence and the core of who we are, of what we believe, and how we live. How everything in our life has to do with Christ, because as Christ took on humanity and became a man, he has taken us on Himself. We are clothed in Christ, we have been adopted as Sons of God. We participate in Christ’s own relationship with the Father. He came to make us not only what He is, but to share in who He is, so that we might communicate Him to this world. 
 
Our world is a world that is lost in hopelessness and despair, shameless immorality and amorality: virtually undifferentiated darkness where the values have all collapsed. But we as the people whom Christ has called out, whom Christ has filled with His life, whom Christ has given part of the knowledge of God as our Father, can be a beacon of hope, can be a beacon of life. It’s so easy to want to fall into the trap of being Orthodox for two hours on Sunday morning, maybe a couple of hours on Saturday night, and live like we were in and of the world the rest of the time. 
 
This is that same trap that Herod fell into, that same trap that Herod in his pride and in his passions [fell into]; [he] tried to look holy, consulting the great scholars, asking “Where will the Christ be born”, appearing as the King of Israel, and yet he was of the world. Brothers and sisters: we cannot be of the world and of Christ. The Apostle tells us that friendship with the world is enmity to God. 
 
So let us take this great message of the Nativity of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ not only as a warning but as a goal of who we are, that we might put Him first in every aspect of our life, that we might let all that is in the world and all that is of the world fall away from us, so that we might be sojourners within the world, but know that our true kingdom is the Kingdom of God, that our true King is Jesus Christ, and that we live according to His Life, according to His laws, and according to His Kingdom, which is not of this world. That we too can share in that hope, that we can have meaning for our lives, that we can have joy and peace and the reality of that Kingdom in our lives even in the midst of this broken world, so that the love of Christ might shine forth from us and embrace all of those that are around us so that they too might be given a ray of hope. 
 
Our culture celebrates Christ so nicely in America — we have all these nice Christmas carols and everything is decorated, but there’s an ulterior motive. How much is motivated by faith in Christ and how much is motivated by materialism and consumerism? Let us be people who are people of the Gospel, and of that message that Christ has become like us in order that we might become like Him, so that He might share that likeness with us, to all eternity.
 
Christ is Born! Glorify Him!
 
With love in Christ,
-Ryan
P.S. You may find the Metropolitan’s above sermon here at the St John the Baptist YouTube page.

Metropolitan Jonah: A man of extraordinary kindness

“Oh how great is thy goodness, which thou hast laid up for them that fear thee; which thou hast wrought for them that trust in thee. . .” – Psalm 30:19 (LXX)
 
It is often the seemingly simplest things in life which give us the greatest joy, from the happiness of an unexpected call or e-mail, to an impromptu dinner surrounded by the warmth and laughter of great friends. Yesterday was filled with both these simple joys for me. I’ve resumed my correspondence with one of my mentors, the world-traveling futurist and educator Gary Marx, and in the evening I attended a fascinating conference planning session and wonderful dinner with a group of Orthodox friends.
 
Image
 
Metropolitan Jonah invited a group of Orthodox friends to his house here in Washington. As a university student, I was the youngest person present. It was a great joy to be with so many dear friends (and several new acquaintances, including an Anglican priest and a newly-arrived Orthodox monk) brainstorming about panel and lecture topics, reaching out to would-be sponsors and affiliate organizations, and discussing media outreach strategies. We are in the infancy of planning a series of pan-Christian conferences focused on the overarching themes of secularism and the place of faith in public life.
 
Vladyka is a wonderfully kind host! Following several hours of enthusiastic discussion, and tea served by Vladyka, we moved to the dining room for a delicious Lenten dinner which he had prepared for us. My godmother has told me many times, and I discovered for myself that he is a very gifted cook! It was very touching to gather together in his home enjoying this lovely dinner which he had made for all of us. The main course was a savory vegetable stew with squid (an Athonite recipe, he told us) along with plenty of pasta, bread, fresh tomatoes and cut lemon.
 
For dessert we enjoyed blackberry turnovers and cherry pie with soy ice cream, and I was delighted to see that my godmother (who is not of Jewish heritage) brought hamentaschen! These triangularly folded fruit pastries baked with poppy seeds are a delicious Ashkenazic Jewish tradition. Most often eaten during the Purim festivities, the time when Jews commemorate the Hebrews’ deliverance from destruction through the courage of Queen Esther, they remain popular year-round with Jews and non-Jews alike. It was a delight to eat these Jewish pastries during our Orthodox Lenten dinner, as I recalled my introduction to them during my Long Island childhood.
 
The food was delicious, but it is the warmth of the conversation, the easy and frequent laughter (Vladyka and the visiting Anglican priest are both wonderful storytellers) which I will most remember. It was a great blessing to spend the evening with such wonderful church friends. The dinner was yet another reminder of how profoundly blessed I am to have such a kind and thoughtful man as my spiritual father and bishop.
 
To those of us who are blessed to see him regularly, Metropolitan Jonah is a shining example of Christian love actualized through thoughtful actions, a warm nature and a heart filled with a deep awareness of God’s presence and an abiding love for serving others. Unassuming, down-to-earth, and warm-hearted to the core, he is a blessing to talk with and a joy to learn from in his brilliant Bible study talks and incisive and pastoral sermons. I feel very blessed that I have come to know him over these past several years, and that I have the opportunity to continue learning from him. To all those whose lives he touches, he is a great blessing.

Abbot Tryphon on love for the Saints

Abbot Tryphon

THE SAINTS
Our Friends in High Places
 
We Orthodox are known for our veneration of the saints, recognizing as we do the truth that there is no separation between the Church Militant, here on earth, and the Church Triumphant, in heaven. In the Divine Services we are not gathered together alone as mortals, but we are joined in our worship before the Throne of God by the Cloud of Witnesses, who are joined with us in Christ. This truth is exemplified by our use of icons and frescoes depicting the saints. Their images surround us, reminding us that heaven awaits us, where those who have won the good fight have gained their reward, and stand before the Lord of Glory.
 
When entering our temples we venerate the icons with a kiss, not because we believe the saints reside within these icons, but because we, by our veneration, pass on our love to the archetypes. This is not really any different than if we’d kissed a photo of a beloved relative, whose memory we cherish. In our veneration of the icons, we are not worshiping the saints, reserving adoration only for God, but showing honor and love to our friends. They stand before us as witnesses, by their lives, to the truth that eternal life is a reality, because of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ.
 
Because of His redemptive act upon the cross, the saints are not dead, but alive. The saints gaze upon the glory of Christ in the Kingdom of Heaven, and through the Holy Spirit they see the sufferings of men on earth. The great grace that resides within the saints allows them to embrace the whole world with their love, and they see how we languish in affliction, and they never cease to intercede for us with God. The saints, having won the good fight, encourage us by their example, and pray for us to be victorious.
 
Their lives give witness to the importance of living in repentance, and placing Jesus above all else, for it is in Jesus Christ that they have gained eternal life. It is in Jesus Christ that we, like the saints who have gone on before us, have the same promise of this life eternal. As our friends, they await the day when we will join them, and they offer their prayers for that end.
 
With love in Christ,
Abbot Tryphon
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The Very Reverend Igumen Abbot Tryphon is the spiritual leader at All Merciful Saviour monastery located on Vashon Island in Puget Sound near Seattle, Washington State. The monastery is within the canonical jurisdiction of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia. The monastery’s widely acclaimed and popular Facebook page can be found here. Abbot Tryphon’s popular blog can be accessed here.

Metropolitan Jonah’s sermon on the Sunday of the Prodigal Son

Video

His Beatitude Metropolitan Jonah (Paffhausen) delivered this sermon on March 3, 2013, the Sunday of the Prodigal Son, at the Russian Orthodox Cathedral of St John the Baptist in Washington, D.C.

Since Metropolitan Jonah spoke at the end of the Slavonic Liturgy, Cathedral rector Fr. Victor Potapov translated his words into Russian.