The above warning was given to me when I first met Orthodoxy in 1986. Today [2009] it is even more perilous, even more difficult to find the Royal Path. For one thing there is a far greater abundance of misinformation. And many materials are missing, and other materials are being rapidly rewritten. For another thing there are fewer than ever guides remaining on the Royal Path, especially who speak English. Hopefully this website will be a place where Newcomers to the Faith can keep at least one foot on solid ground, while they are "exploring."

blog owner: Joanna Higginbotham


jurisdiction: ROCA under Vladyka Agafangel

who did not submit to the RocorMP union in 2007


January 17, 2024

Book Review: ROCA & GOC: A History



Sbn. Nektarios Harrison, M.A. 

At the time of publication  the author's jurisdiction is unclear, but now (2024) he is in the Sister Churches.

Uncut Mountain Press, 2023 

independent, non-jurisdictional*


Reviewed by Joanna Higginbotham, ROCOR under Agafangel

January 17, 2023

My first impression was not good, but my first impressions are often flawed and incomplete -- so it was in this case.  I read the introduction and the concluding chapter, and I was ready to criticize and reject the whole book based on that.  The introduction is written by GOC Metr. Demetrios, and at first I was displeased to see our Sister Church endorsing a book authored and published outside of our Sister Churches, especially with the subject being us.  Google indicates the author is associated with questionable activities going on outside the Sister Churches.  Outsiders always get us wrong.  The concluding chapter is also the epilogue — I was at first and I still am unable to agree with any of the epilogue.  

Sbn. Nektarios' epilogue sums up the 80-year ROCOR & GOC history as "clouded with obscurity, biases from multiple sides, resentment, anger, animosity, sinful passions..."  I could argue with that, since I see that negative perception is in error..  Then the author's conclusion is that we need to be nice to each other, and remember we are all Orthodox Christians.  I won't argue with that, but as a conclusion, it's most inadequate.  

The epilogue ignores completely the obvious conclusion that since the ROCOR-MP union in 2007, all the Sister Churches have recognized the ROCOR-Agafangel as the sole valid continuation of the ROCOR.  Instead the reader is reminded that all the various groups that came out of ROCOR have a common past (St. Philaret, St. John, Abp. Averky); and it could be seen to imply they all are today equals because of that common past.  It ignores that those who are separated from the Sister Churches are separated because they have apostasized.  They have fallen away, they have decidedly left us.  This is a deeper problem than any animosity that might have arisen as a result.  Treating the symptoms will not affect a cure.

Next I read through the chapters, and I see the body of the book is actually aimed directly at the cure.  This must be why Metr. Demetrios recommends the book.  Let me take a break from criticizing the epilogue and shift over to some of what is good about this book. 

In his introduction, Metr. Demetrios says the book is "...a voice of reason to those who are in ROCOR-MP, reminding them that we were once in Communion."  Chapters I–VI give a compiled history, 1920–2007, and certainly it is "a voice of reason" and more:  it is a voice in the wilderness.  The reader is given the important facts, and then left on his own to come to the conclusion.  The conclusion is so obvious to me, I have to think the author left it unstated on purpose, so that the reader himself could experience the light bulb being turned on in his head.  The opposite approach is first to state a conclusion and then try to support or prove that conclusion.  The history in this book ends abruptly at 2007, with the severing of the ROCOR from the Sister Churches because of the ROCOR-MP union.  This abrupt ending has an impact on the reader, but it would have more impact if there were no epilogue.  Just end it there at chapter VI and omit the last chapter VII-epilogue.  Keep the timeline, glossary appendix, index.  Then the reader would be left to face the reality on his own and to ask himself, ok, then what does this mean?  Now what?

I appreciate this book for the carefully researched facts of our history.  Sbn. Nekarios has accessed materials that are not normally available to English-speakers or laymen.   This is of great value to us, especially now as our older generation is leaving us; one after another the eye-witnesses to this history are going to the next world. 

Also, personally I am glad to have the opportunity to see the current situation in America from the author's unique perspective, — a contemporary newcomer's point of view.  Sbn. Nektarios is not a newcomer to Orthodoxy, but he is a newcomer to the realization of the Sister Churches.  His conversion story (on his blog) is the opposite of my path.  I met Orthodoxy through the true ROCOR which today is a Sister Church.  Sbn. Nektarios, on the other hand, met Orthodoxy through world-Orthodoxy, and step by step he has moved closer to the Sister Churches and now has become very aware of them.  Now he is so close to us he appears to be an inch away from desiring to join us.  Metr. Demetrios points this out, saying about Sbn. Nektarios:

"He knows that we, the GOC, are truly Orthodox.  He is concerned for unity of the faith, and he wants to get this timely message out, for the days are evil.  He is able to discern through the confusion by using the compass of the holy men of ROCOR."

I hope the readers of this book will also come to this conclusion, — that, at this time, anyway, the presence and existence of the Sister Churches is our best signpost towards finding Christ's One Church that will be here to the end of time.  Along with Metr. Demetrios, I recommend this book especially for folks in the ROCOR-MP, and for newcomers who are uncomfortable with world-orthodoxy, but unable to sort out the jurisdiction mess of all the "true" Orthodox — like is represented on Euphrosynos Cafe forum where you have a club of "trues" and jurisdictional ecumenists. 

Page 29 quotes Orthodox Life magazine 1964 report of Metr. Philaret's enthronement:

"The enthronement of Metropolitan Philaret, which took place on Saturday and Sunday, May 17/30 — 18/31, developed into an unprecedented solemn feast which left a deep and abiding impression upon all.  To a degree perhaps never before experienced by such a multitude, participants in this feast felt themselves engulfed by the grace-endowing and holy mystery of the Church....

These are not just poetic words.  The Mystery of Piety is real, the Mystery of the Church is real.  The Church Triumphant is real, and her grace is unique, tangible, recognizable — it was noticed also at St. Philaret's ROCOR-Agafangel glorification in November 2008. 


*non-jurisdictional is my word, akin to non-denominational. 

Remember that Fr. Seraphim Rose and the St. Herman Press, while being open to all jurisdictions, clearly identlified with ROCOR under Philaret.  The first issue of the Orthodox Word magazine states:

"Orthodox Word magazine is addressed to Orthodox of all nationalities, to Converts to the Orthodox faith, and to those outside the Church who desire to learn more of her faith and practice.  The editors are members of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia and obedient to the Synod of that Church; but our collaborators will include members of other Orthodox Churches... "


other notes:

• The author's Conversion Story (so far, 2023)


• It could help the reader to know ahead of time that the GOC and the SIR are now considered the same Church being under the same Primate in Athens.

• Orthodox Life magazine 1999 (4) pdf, featuring St. Glicherie, can be downloaded here: 

January 10, 2024

On the Nativity of Christ, by St. Maximus Confessor

Life of the Virgin

Chapter 3


download pdf:



A Review of The Life of the Virgin

by St. Maximus the Confessor 

Translated with an Introduction and Notes by Stephen J. Shoemaker of the University of Oregon
Hardback: Yale University Press, 2012

Review by Jordan Daniel Wood, Englewood Review of Books


Translated for the first time into English, The Life of the Virgin is the earliest complete hagiographical biography of Mary the mother of Jesus (1). That fact alone commends and justifies the excellent work Stephen J. Shoemaker has completed. What is more, The Life was almost certainly authored by the currently acclaimed (and justly so) Maximus the Confessor, a towering theological giant for Christian traditions East and West. Shoemaker makes the authorial case cogently in his “Introduction” to the work, citing the “unanimous” attribution of the manuscript to Maximus, highlighting several internal features of the text that place it in the early-mid 7th century (Maximus’s time), pointing to circumstantial evidence in Maximus’s historical-biographical context that contribute to the likelihood of his composing such a work, and even deferring to the seasoned intuition of Hans Urs von Balthasar, who was certainly no stranger to the thought-world of Maximus: for Balthasar, in The Life one finds “a Maximus, who is entirely new but recognizable,…. And is much more accessible than in most of his theological works” (12). Providing such a different portrait of Maximus, then, also commends Shoemaker’s timely translation.

The only extant manuscripts of Maximus’s Life are in Old Georgian, translated from the Greek by Euthymius the Hagiorite atop Mount Athos in the 11th century. Other than a French critical edition and translation published in 1986 by Michel van Esbroek, Shoemaker had only the remaining eleven Old Georgian manuscripts from which to produc

e his translation and compose his notes (2-3). Since I am no expert in Old Georgian, I cannot speak to the accuracy of Shoemaker’s emendations and corrections of Esbroek’s French version, but both the brevity and clarity of Shoemaker’s notes evince tedious scrutiny and linguistic acumen. The scholarly labor involved in producing this English translation, particularly in that it requires such expert knowledge of a rather obscure language, puts us all in Shoemaker’s debt.

But such a labor is, as Shoemaker’s tone intimates, more than a display of scholarly ability. It is a labor of love that shares the aim of the work itself – to cultivate devotion to and emulation of Mary, Theotokos, the Mother of God. Shoemaker’s text is divided into nine clear chapters with a total of 134 sections. Within these pages Maximus the Confessor’s focus is steadfast, a focus which is punctuated by the rushing cascade of laudatory names he heaps upon the Virgin at both the beginning and the end of the work: “Hear this, all you nations, and take heed…let us hymn, praise, and glorify the all-holy, immaculate, and most blessed Theotokos and ever-virgin Mary,” trumpets Maximus in the opening lines. She is the “throne of the king more exalted than the cherubim and seraphim, the Mother of Christ our God, the city of God…the temple of the Holy Spirit, the source of living water, the Paradise of the tree of life” (36, §1). As such, Mary is eminently worthy of our praise, though “even if all the nations of humanity came together, they would not be able to attain the worthiness of her praise and glory” (37, §1).

A good bit of Maximus’s account of Mary’s life is familiar, since much of it is drawn from the canonical Gospels. However, he does not shy away from other, less conspicuous sources such as the Protevangelium of James, earlier homilies on various parts of Mary’s life, the 4th-century “Six Books” compilation on Mary’s Dormition, and even spiritually inspired Old Testament texts such as the Psalms (interestingly, Maximus vehemently rejects the value of the Infancy Gospel of Thomas, 89, §62). In the latter he finds a hermeneutical volatility which allows for spiritual interpretations of Scripture that prophetically testify to Mary’s virtue, goodness, knowledge, and worthiness. In one place, for instance, he notes that a given text (Psalm 44) is typically interpreted as speaking of the Church, but hastens to add that “there is nevertheless nothing at all that impedes understanding [these texts] as being about the holy Theotokos. For words spoken by the Holy Spirit should not be understood only in one way but in many ways, for they are a treasure house of good things” (41, §6).

Maximus’s varying sources allow him to knit together a unified narrative that at once follows the canonical books while leaving room for a plethora of details not found in those books: that Mary’s parents, Anna and Joachim, were barren and so Mary’s birth was miraculous (38, §3); that Mary was dedicated to the Temple from birth and grew up in its courts (39-45); that an event occurred in the Temple one night that foreshadowed the Annunciation, wherein Mary saw a brilliant light and heard a voice say, “Mary, from you my Son will be born” (46, §14); that Joseph was a 70-year old man with grown children when betrothed to the ever-virgin Mary (48, §17); that Mary’s delivery of the Christ-child, being a reversal of the Eve’s curse, inflicted no child-bearing pains (53, §22); that the “star” the magi followed to the Nativity was no star at all, but a “rational power” that was “guiding them deliberately by the power and command of the creator” (67, §36); that Mary was in fact the first witness to the Resurrection of her Son (119, §92); and practically the entire narrative from the Resurrection to Mary’s Dormition, a spectacular event that includes the translation of Mary’s soul by Jesus into heaven, surrounded by all the apostles and myriads of angels (119-148).

Maximus’s hagiographical account never wavers from its intensely spiritual aim of cultivating true and pious devotion toward the Son and his Mother. But Mary herself is not just an object of praise and glory, though she is undoubtedly that. In Maximus’s retelling she becomes the preeminent disciple of Christ, a leader of the apostles, the hope and courage of all believers, and so a model and source of the divine life lived on earth. “Wherever [Jesus] went,” says Maximus, “she went with him, and she was considered the life and the light of his eyes and soul, going with him and listening to his words” (96, §68). And when the immense suffering of Christ’s Passion occurred, “I would say,” asserts Maximus, “even though it is a bold statement, that [Mary] suffered more than him and endured sorrows of the heart: for he was God and Lord of all things, and he willingly endured suffering in the flesh. But she possessed the frailty of a human being and a woman and was filled with such love toward her beloved and desirable son” (101, §73). Moreover, Mary is peerless in her tenacious presence through every single moment of Christ’s agonizing death, never leaving the foot of the cross, sleeping and praying ceaselessly at the tomb, and eventually becoming the first witness of the Resurrection. Indeed, her steadfast devotion at every moment of Christ’s life leads directly to her glorification, aside her Son (119, §92). Thus after Christ’s ascension, “the holy mother of Christ was the model and leader of every good activity for men and for women through the grace and support of her glorious king and son.” Amazingly, she even “instructed the holy apostles in fasting and prayer,” becoming the “steward on [Christ’s] behalf and teacher and queen of all the believers and those who hope in his name, men and women,” performed miracles and an abundance of good works from her dwelling in Jerusalem (John’s house); so she “became greater than all, as the sun is brighter than the stars (123, §96; 129, §102). And at her miraculous death, which like Christ’s birth was devoid of the pain of the curse, all the apostles – including John, Peter and Paul – along with the angels, gathered and honored Mary as she was ushered by Jesus himself to her place at his right hand (140-1, §§116-7).

It is because of these astounding accolades that the Virgin, Theotokos, Mother of God, has become and remains – next to Christ – the ever-present intercessor for Christians before God. This is granted to her by her Son, and she declares it to those gathered at her Dormition: “And when I stand before him, I will not cease to pray and intercede on behalf of you and all Christians and the entire world, so that the one who sees mercy as necessary will have mercy on all believers and make them steadfast and guide them on the way of life” (132, §106). For she is the “dwelling place of the Holy Spirit, queen of all things, urn of gold receiving the manna, rod that sprouted from the root of Jesse…table of life, temple of light, ark of holiness, source of immortality, intellectual Paradise, cloud of light, unwavering pillar of brilliance…gate of God, which he alone passed through and it remained closed…all-holy mountain, Eden of the second Adam…mother of God, immaculate Virgin, most blessed Theotokos and ever-virgin Mary” (157, §132). All this because, “above all,” exclaims Maximus in direct address, “you are…the imitator of your son and God, and so through your intercessions with him, the gracious and benevolent one spreads forth his mercies and delights even more upon us” (156, §130). Because she is the unparalleled model of her Son, she is the unparalleled intercessor with Him – and because of these things, she is most worthy of praise. Shoemaker’s wonderful edition of Maximus the Confessor’s The Life of the Virgin, therefore, furthers Maximus’s own goal: to inculcate devotion and gratitude toward the Mother of God.


December 23, 2023

Toll Houses of the Aerial Rulers

"...from the exacting toll houses of the aerial rulers..."

The prayer after the Canon to Jesus in the Old Believer's Prayer Book is not the same as the one found in the Jordanville Prayer Book.  Why?  Did ROCOR think it best to re-arrange the prayers somewhat to eliminate mention of the toll houses?  Because many people have difficulty with the imagery of "toll houses," did our Synod hope to prevent needless time/energy wasted over what, apparently for many, can be a harmful controversy?  This was the first possible explanation that came to my mind, but later I came to think not.  Most likely the reason was to make the Jordanville Prayer Book more suitable for laymen and less obviously intended for monastics.  The morning prayers we use at our icon corners are taken from the Matins Service which is originally first intended for monasteries.  This we see especially in the Matins prayers where the abbot and the monks ask each other for mutual forgiveness.

After discovering the full version of this prayer in the Old Believer's Prayer Book, I started using it in my morning prayers — Prayer VIII, on page 23 of the Jordanville Prayer Book.  I am posting the prayer here in case anyone else would like to have it.   When I get to the word "superiors" I imagine the clergy and my elders-in-the-Faith who are those who have been in the Church longer than I.  Monastics also strive to be obedient to each other, to "all the brethren in Christ."  This is worthy of meditation, because true obedience is given out of love, and we are commanded to love one another.  ~jh

Morning Prayer VIII,

to our Lord Jesus Christ

O my plenteously merciful and all merciful God, Lord Jesus Christ, through Thy great love Thou didst come down and become incarnate so that Thou mightestsave all.  And again, O Saviour. save me by Thy grace, I pray Thee.  For if Thou shouldst save me for my works, this would not be grace or a gift, but rather a duty; yea, Thou Who art great in compassion and ineffable in mercy.  For he that believeth in Me, Thou hast said, O my Christ, shall live and never see death.  If, then, faith in Thee saveth the desperate, behold, I believe, save me, for Thou art my God and Creator.  Let faith instead of works be imputed to me, O my God, for Thou wilt find no works which could justify me.  But may my faith suffice instead of all works, may it answer for, may it acquit me, may it make me a partaker of Thine eternal glory.  And let Satan not seize me and boast, O Word, that he hath torn me from Thy hand and fold.  But whether I desire it or not, save me, O Christ my Saviour, forestall me quickly, for I perish.  Thou art my God from my mother’s womb.  Vouchsafe me, O Lord, to love Thee now as fervently as I once loved sin itself, and also to work for Thee without idleness, diligently, as I worked before for deceptive Satan.  But supremely shall I work for Thee, my Lord and God, Jesus Christ, all the days of my life, now and ever, and unto the ages of ages.  Amen.  

And grant, O Lord, that I may have love and obedience toward my superiors (abbot) and toward all the brethren in Christ, without condemnation until my very last breath.  O Lord, make me to know mine end, and the number of my days.  And at the departure of my soul, send guardian angels of peace to protect my wretched soul from demonic attacks, from the exacting toll houses of the aerial rules and from the lot of the goats on Thy left.  And eliver me from eternal torment, and vouchsafe me to stand at Thy right hand, O just Judge, with all those who from all ages have been pleasing unto Thee, through the prayers of Thy most pure Mother and of all the saints: For blessed art Thou unto the ages.  Amen

At lower left we see the dying Theodora, with an angel receiving her soul.

Two of 20 segments depicting the tollhouses in the Monastery of St. John of Rila, in Bulgaria.


Old Orthodox Prayer Book, 1986, pp.150-151

cf. Jordanville Prayer Book, 1986, p. 232

https://shop.churchofthenativity.net/collections/books/products/old-orthodox-prayer-book [ROCOR-MP]

Soul After Death, by Fr. Seraphim Rose

Orthodox Dogmatic Theology, by Archpriest Michael Pomazansky

http://www.saintjonah.org/articles/tollhouses.htm to this list I add Friday Matins canon to Theotokos Tone IV, Ode 8 [ROCOR-MP]

"St. John taught the toll houses" see RRb archives July 2012 in Joanna's Shared Library

                  Sermon: "I believe in the Resurrection of the Dead" http://orthodox.cn/saints/manofgod/manofgod_en.doc.

                       copy here also http://www.holytrinitymission.org/books/english/sermons_john_maximovich.htm

December 21, 2023

Book: Eternal Mysteries Beyond the Grave

Book: Eternal Mysteries Beyond the Grave 
December 2023

     Eternal Mysteries Beyond the Grave     published 2012


The 1968 edition has no Table of Contents, instead it has an INDEX:


 1. The Mystery of the Holy Trinity  

 2. Orthodox Teachings on the Existence of God

 3. On the Immortality of Our Soul

 4. The Origin of Death

 5. The Actual Existence of the Devil

 6. On Fallen Angels

 7. St Anthony’s Struggles Against Devils

 8. What Is Death?

 9. What Is the Soul, and What Is Its Origin?

10. How Significant for Our Lives Is Belief in Immortality?

11. Proofs of Immortality

12. The Particular Judgment

13. What the Church Teaches Us About the Trials of the Departed

14. The Journey Beyond Death

15. The Mystery of Death

16. The Mysteries of Life Beyond Death

17. A General View on the Immortality of the Soul and on Life Beyond the Grave

18. Testimony of the Departed About the Immortality of the Soul and About Afterlife

19. Accounts of Passages through the Holy Torments

20. The Remarkable Deaths of Christian Boys

21. Two Visions of the Heavenly Kingdom

22. The Life of Departed Souls Before the Universal Judgment 

23. Two Marvelous Occurrences

24. The Miraculous Dream of the Novice Thecla

25. The Tale of a Clairvoyant Girl

26. The Experience of a Certain Ascetic

27. Another Ancient Tale

28. The Story of the Soldier Taxiotes

29. One Hour of Hell on Earth

30. What are the Sufferings of Hell?

31. One Hour of Suffering in Hell

32. How Important It Is to Remember the Dead

33. The Departed Request the Living to Pray for Them and Are Grateful for Such Prayers

34. The Departed Appear to Their Relatives and Friends to Tell Them of Their Death

35. The Departed Take an Interest in Their Survivors

36. More Accounts of Appearances of the Departed

37. A Moral Conclusion to Be Drawn from the Previous Accounts

38. What the Holy Scripture and the Fathers of the Church Teach About the Location of Paradise

39. What the Holy Scripture and the Fathers of the Church Tell Us About the Location of Hell

40. The Future Punishment of Sinners

41. An Answer to the Eternal Question: Shall We Live After Death? An Attack on Atheism and the Doctrine That Death Is Final  

42. More About Proofs of Man’s Immortality and of the Preservation of His Own Identity After Death

43. A Final Word on the Subject of Immortality: After His Death, Man Preserves His Identity and Leads a Fully Spiritual Life

44. On the Holiness of the Christian Religion

45. A Last Word on the Divine Origin of the Christian Religion

46. The End of the World, the Resurrection of the Dead, and the Last Judgment

47. The Blessed Condition of the Righteous in the Future Life

48. About the Eternal Blessedness of the Saints

49. Thoughts on the Omnipresent Wisdom of God   [a pdf of this chapter is in my Shared Library]

50. A Defense of Christian Faith Against Disbelief


     Journey Beyond Death

This smaller book is 3 chapters from Eternal Mysteries Beyond the Grave


The main chapter is Journey Beyond Death which recounts a vision that describes the toll houses.  This toll house chapter is #14 in the 1968 edition.


See the review published in the Orthodox Life magazine 

OL 1970 (6), Nov-Dec,  page 39


download could be necessary depending on your browser, viewing not always possible in Safari


November 30, 2023

Catholicity of the Church


Selected Essays, by M. Pomazansky

     Archpriest Michael Pomazansky of Jordanville (†1988, Oct22/Nov4) left us some valuable writings that have been translated into English.  He had a clear concept of the Church and the ability to transmit this to others through his writings.  

     This book review consists of preview pages: the Table of Contents and one particular essay (chapter) that, I believe, can help in discerning the Church.  The most important thing to seek is fellowship (communion) with the Heavenly Church.

     At least some of these essays are available online, but you want to have a copy of this book in your home library.   ~jh

Selected Essays

by Protopresbyter Michael Pomazansky

Jordanville, 1996 

240 pages



In Memory of Protopresbyter Michael Pomazansky

Is This Orthodoxy?

Children in Church

On the Rite of Churching an Infant and the Prayer for a Woman Who Has Given Birth

The Glorification of Saints

Catholicity and Cooperation in Church

Everything Has Its Time, Its Place

How Each of Us Can and Ought to Serve the Church

An Outline of the Orthodox World-View of Father John of Kronstadt, Based on His Own Words

The Liturgical Theology of Father A. Schmemann

Liturgical Books: From Manuscript to Print

A Luminary of the Russian Church, His Beatitude Metropolitan Anthony

The Old Testament and Rationalistic Biblical Criticism

Sophianism and Trends in Russian Intellectual Theology

The Old Testament in the New Testament Church

The Church of Christ and the Contemporary Movement for Unification in Christianity

Our War is not Against Flesh and Blood, On the Question of the “Toll-Houses”

Catholicity and Cooperation in the Church.

Catholicity — this is not merely a sonorous word, but a theological concept of the loftiest significance.  It is, of course, used in the Nicene Creed as one of the non-biblical terms to define the Church as one, holy, catholic, and apostolic.  What does the original Greek word mean of itself?  The main root of this word, όλος, means, according to Lampe (G. W. H. Lampe, A Patristic Greek Lexicon, Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1965), “whole, entire, complete.”  The prefix καν has as one of its three meanings the intensification of the word to which it is joined.  Thus, in sum, the meaning is that of an unlimited fullness, all-inclusiveness, a "pleroma."  "Catholicity" expresses what the Scriptures state of the Church, that in her there is neither Greek nor Jew, nor circumcision, nor un-drcumcision, nor Barbarian, Scythian, bond nor free, but Christ is all in all (Col. 3:11). And again, the Father... gave Him to be the head over all things to the Church, Which is His body, the fullness of Him that filleth all in all (Eph. 1:22-3). And again, That at the name of Jesus, every knee should bow, of things in the heavens, things in earth, and things under the earth (Phil. 2:10).  Catholicity refers to the fact that the Church is not limited to space, by earthly boundaries, nor is it limited in time, that is, by the passing of generations into the life beyond the grave.  In its catholic fullness, in its catholicity, the Church embraces both the Church of the called and the Church of the chosen, the Church on earth and the Church in Heaven.  Such is the Orthodox understanding of the essence and elements of the Church in its perfect form, as our Orthodox services make especially clear.

A problem has arisen in some Russian theological circles due to the misinterpretation of the Russian word for catholicity, sobornost.  This word, whose adjectival form has been used in the Slavonic translation of the Symbol of the Faith for a thousand years, is related to the Slavonic word for a council, sobor.  In its present form as a noun, sobornost is indebted to the Russian Slavophiles, who employed it to define the uniquely lofty connotations of the Slavonic sobornuyu as used in the ninth article of the Creed: "I believe in One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church."  "I will not presume to say," writes the Russian Orthodox thinker and devoted son of the Church, A. S. Khomiakov, "whether this profound realization of the essence of the Church (to translate the word 'Catholic' with the word 'Sobornaya') was taken by the first teachers of the Slavs from the very sources of truth in the schools of the East or whether it was yet a more lofty inspiration granted by Him Who alone is Truth and Life, but I boldly affirm that this one word contains in itself a complete confession of the faith" (A. S. Khomiakov, Theological Works, p. 313).  One must bear in mind that in Greek there is no philological or linguistic connection between the concepts “catholic” and “council” (ecumenical).  A council of the Church is called in Greek Σύνοδος, and an ecumenical council, οικουμενική Σύνοδος.  In the secular usage, the dictionary meaning of Σύνοδος is “a gathering, meeting, congress.”

Concerning the Russian and Slavonic word sobor, one can readily see its relationship to the concept of catholicity in its usage as a term for a large church or cathedral.  A sobor is a church with two or three altars, which thus more fully expresses the union with the heavenly church, whose lofty iconostasis portrays the choirs of the saints, where the daily services are constantly being celebrated in memory and glorification of the heavenly Church, and where the vessel of Grace and the bond with the hierarchy of heaven and earth, the bishop, serves and has his seat.

     What is the Catholicity of the Church on Earth and How Is It Expressed?

Catholicity is the unceasing prayerful communion with the celestial Church. The radiant bonds of prayer go in all directions: we on earth pray for one another; we ask the saints to pray for us; the saints, we believe, hear us and lift our prayers unto God; we pray for our reposed fathers and brothers in Christ; we ask the saints to assist us also in these appeals to the Lord.

Catholicity is the unceasing prayerful communion with the celestial Church

Catholicity is expressed in the fact that the ancient Fathers and Teachers of the Church continue to be as relevant in our times, and are just as instructive, memorable and valuable as they were in their own time.  The Church is nurtured by One Spirit, and therefore temporal divisions between generations of Christians are irrelevant.  The Christian who studies the Apostolic Scriptures, the writings of the Holy Fathers and Ascetics, or the texts of the divine services, we believe, enters into a spiritual communion outside of time, with the very authors of these writings, fulfilling the behest of the holy Apostle John the Theologian: That which we have seen and heard declare we unto you you, that ye also may have fellowship (communion) with us; and truly our fellowship (communion) is with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ (I John 1:3).

The Christian who studies the Apostolic Scriptures, writings of the Holy Fathers and Ascetics, or texts of the divine services can enter into a spiritual communion outside of time, with the very authors of these writings. . . 

Catholicity is expressed in the fact that members of the Orthodox Church living at various ends of the earth have one common faith.  This is why in the ancient Church the faith itself was called the "catholic faith" and "catholic truth."  All have one and the same Mysteries; all commune of the one Body of Christ in the Mystery of the Eucharist, no matter where or when they live; all have one priesthood, which takes its one succession from the Apostles; all Church life is built on the common foundation of the canons of the Church.

Catholicity, finally, is expressed in the fact that all true members of the Church treasure her.  We grieve for the Church in her times of difficulty.  For the members of the small community of a parish, she is just as close whether in part or as a whole. "For the welfare of the holy churches of God and the union of all," we pray at every liturgy.  A Christian who makes the salvation of his soul the goal of his personal life in the Church demonstrates concern for the peace and welfare of his own local church, working towards this according to the measure of his own capabilities and strength.  Of course, such an ecclesiastical cooperativeness is also an expression, although more remote, of the concept of the catholicity of the Church.

It is, generally speaking, with these characteristics that the Russian Slavophiles received into their hearts the concept of the catholicity of the Church; such was the understanding which they had of the term "the sobornost of the Church."  Expressing by this formula the fullness of the spiritual unity of the Orthodox Church, regardless of her geographical and national separations, they underscored the ethical aspect of Orthodox catholicity which is free from compulsion and legalistic concepts.  It is this ethical aspect of Orthodoxy which contrasted with the legal principle of "rights and privileges" in the structure of the Roman Church, and likewise, to the cold rationalism, sometimes replaced by mysticism, in Protes- tantism.  The Slavophiles did not associate with the concept of sobornost any kind of elective lay organs of Church government.

     Catholicity in the Usual Vernacular Sense.

With the passage of time the meaning of the term sobornost began to narrow.  At the beginning of this century when talk arose of the need for calling a council of the Russian Church, due to the similarity of the Russian words for council (sobor) and catholic (sobornaya), this term began to be used in everyday polemics as virtually identical with the concept of a council of bishops, local or ecumenical.  Subsequently it came to be identified with conciliar government in the Church in general, which, incidentally, was conceived of by different people in different ways: for some a patriarchate in conjunction with periodical, frequent convocations of the bishops; for others on the contrary, a continuation of conciliar government by the Synod; still others saw in a patriarchate an immensely unifying moral force which eliminated the need for collegial forms of ecclesiastical government.

During the sessions of the Russian Church Council of 1917-18 this term took on a new significance.  At that time one could already foresee and sense the approach of the brutal blows against the Russian Church from the enemies of the Orthodox Church, of Christianity, and of religion in general.  It was imperative to seek out means of uniting all the vital forces of the Church, an authentic alignment of firmness and the faithful forces of the believers in accordance with the principle of the catholicity of the Church.  The Church must be defended; a moral confirmation of the episcopate and the parish pastors was required, so that they would not be left isolated.  This goal could be realized only by attracting the faithful to an active participation in the protection of the Church through representatives of the laity who were self-sacrificing and well-tested.  The vast majority of these turned out to be people who were also prepared to be confessors when this choice sooner or later presented itself.  The consciousness of this necessity and the corresponding summoning of the people was reflected in the resolutions of the Council of 1917-18.  This mobilization of Church forces at that moment was truly an expression of the idea of the catholicity of the Church in a profoundly ethical sense.

In the period of the Russian emigration after the First World War, the term sobornost began to be used in an extremely simplistic way and acquired a special connotation.  The idea was spread abroad that the lay members of the Church were being deprived of their rights; that the time had come to put elected persons into diocesan government, both from the laity and from the clergy.  As long as this was lacking in the ecclesiastical framework, it was said, the doctrine of the Creed was not being implemented.  From time to time these voices grew more shrill and they were even given a hearing in the press.  Before the Second World War a pamphlet published throughout the emigration entitled For Sobornost (in Russian), expressed this kind of understanding of the word.

The Church in the Sea of Life.

The historical path of the Church has not been an easy one.  The Holy Fathers represented it by the image of a ship sailing on the sea of life.  Its lot is such that even when the sea is calm, the vessel must move against the current.  What then must be said about the moments of storm?  The Church is forced always to maintain a resistance against the sinful world.  The world possesses power, authority, the instruments of compulsion and punishment, as well as the seductive pleasures of life.  The Church in and of herself possesses nothing except moral influence.  Whence could she draw on the strength that she requires, were it not that the Lord protects and has mercy on her?

The Orthodox Church is the inheritance of Christ.

The Lord protects as well the little vessel which is called the Russian Church Outside of Russia, the offspring of the once outwardly magnificent Russian Orthodox Church. Should the Church in the homeland be reborn, then this free part of her will return to her bosom.

Within the diaspora, our little Church watches over, to the fullest extent, the canonical structure that she inherited from of old, and sets for herself as one aspect of her duties to maintain the entire inheritance of Orthodoxy inviolate, undiminished, and undistorted.  To keep watch over oneself in this way in foreign lands is more difficult than at home, however, she has not only succeeded in this, but even shows certain encouraging signs in comparison with the past in Russia.

In old Russia the ruling bishop had under his jurisdiction a thousand or more parishes; this meant a population of millions in a diocesan flock.  Could he have visited each and directed it personally?  Could he have been as close to it as are our archpastors here?  Our bishops here know the parishes committed to them, with their own eyes they see their members and, one can say, bear them all within their hearts, rejoicing and weeping together with them.  All the more painfully, of course, do they experience disturbances in the parishes, and it may be that only God sees their suffering of soul for their flocks.  One must also say the same concerning the parish pastors.  How often both bishop and priest quietly reconcile them-selves to the most adverse conditions of life, concerning which many of the flock, being themselves well provided for in life, perhaps do not even take the trouble to consider...?  And frequently those who serve the Church face, instead of cooperation, only cold analysis and criticism — a very discouraging phenomenon.

Nonetheless, the negative aspects do not overwhelm the spiritual consolation which accompanies service to God and the Church.  Those living amid the vanity of the world do not even imagine the existence of such consolation, and for this reason so few are prepared to embark on the pastor's way of life.  Because of this, there is in our day an acute lack of clergy, and the number of parishes not tended by their own pastors continues to grow.

The apostolic epistles provide us with a sketch of the image of pastoral sorrows.  The Apostle Paul writes to the community of Christians which he founded: "You are already filled; you have grown rich; you have begun to reign with us... We are fools for Christ's sake, but you are wise in Christ; we are weak, but you are strong; you are in glory but we are in dishonor... O, if only in fact you had begun to reign, so that we might reign together with you!" (cf. I Cor. 4:10, 8) What then? Is this grief of the apostle a cause of despair and indecision? Not in the least! Note the outstanding spiritual state of the Apostle: "Who can separate us from the love of God: grief or deprivation? or persecution or hunger or nakedness? or danger or the sword?.. All this we overcome by the power of Him Who loved us" (cf. Rom. 8:35, 37).

Catholic Unity and Cooperation in the Church.

The biblical image of the Church in the world is that of a human body. In the body there is an innumerable number of parts that work together, both visibly and invisibly. They all have their value and their purpose. The foot does not say: I do not belong to the body, because I am not a hand... the ear does not say: I do not belong to the body because I am not an eye... (I Cor. 12:15-16) — So also in the Church; for each of her members there is a place for union with the other persons who serve her. But just as the body is in need of outer coverings, clothing, and other necessary items which are not a part of the body, so in the serving of the Church there are also two spheres: the internal sphere, truly ecclesiastical, catholic; and another -the outward, on the surface, temporary, passing. We must distinguish between the "essential" and the "nonessential," at least in practice and in indispensable matters. Since we live in a material world, a world of relativity, the external often becomes indispensable. In the Church this constitutes the organizational aspect — besides the Grace-bearing hierarchal structure; there is also the need to maintain the church building and clergy, parish meetings, finances, organizations associated with the Church: schools, publishing, and so on. Life summons us to participate in both spheres. However, it is of no benefit to a person's salvation to take part in the outward without participating in the internal.

Which of our activities, then, represents the full and authentic expression of the catholicity of the Church?

It is manifested, namely, in congregational prayer in the church building. The church is the Christian center of our lives. Setting out for the services, we say, "Let's go to church," or "Let's go to the cathedral"; thus we express half-consciously by these words the fact that catholicity and the Church are fully manifested in the church building.

Is the priest, standing before the gates of the sanctuary or within it, praying for himself alone? No, these prayers of thanksgiving for the past day and the approaching night, these petitions for the mercy of God are completely catholic. "Incline Thine ear, and hearken unto us, and remember by name, O Lord all that are with us and pray with us, and save them by Thy might... Give peace to Thy world, to Thy churches, to the priests and to all Thy people." "Teach us, O God, Thy righteousness... grant us to behold the dawn and day in rejoicing,.. Remember, O Lord, in the multitude of Thy compassions, all Thy people that are with us and pray with us, and all our brethren, on land, on the sea, in every place of Thy dominion, needing Thy help and love for mankind... that always remaining saved in soul and body, with boldness we may glorify Thy wondrous and blessed name..." One after another, these prayers reach ever higher unto the "Treasury of good things, the Ever-flowing Fountain, the Benefactor of our lives, Who is Holy and Unattainable." The majority of these prayers could be read aloud. But experience has proven that people in church are not able to maintain sufficient concentration and attention to become absorbed in the meaning of these prayers — the fruit of the lofty, Grace-filled inspiration of the great Fathers of the Church. In particular, this must be said of the principal section of the Divine Liturgy, that of the Faithful. Therefore, the Church has found it better to place in our thoughts and mouths as often as possible, the brief prayer of contrition and request, "Lord, have mercy." This prayer expresses the Church-inspired catholic consciousness of the primary importance for a Christian: sincere repentance.

Is not the whole Church meant to pray through the mouth of the choir? We must add that the readers and chanters, as well as those who listen, should bear in mind the communal character of the praises, petitions, and thanksgiving of the services, and mutually strive to realize common prayer. In at least certain parts of the divine services it is possible for the whole congregation to participate actively in the chanting. Undoubtedly, in the future Russian Church, reborn through sufferings, this aspect of ecclesiastical catholicity will attain a more complete expression.

At the conclusion of each service we leave the church. At the end of the vigil service we hear the concluding prayer of the First Hour: "O Christ the True Light, Who enlightenest and sanctifiest every man that cometh into the world..." And, indeed, our departure from the services is, in fact, a passing over "from the Church into the world." We depart to our worldly cares and interests. The Church and catholicity recede for a time into the background, into the past. Completely? That depends on us. Not completely, if we preserve them within ourselves, in our soul, in our consciousness, in our actions; in a word, if we maintain ourselves in piety. Thus, even in the world it is possible to work together with the Church, as a reflection of that same catholicity. It cannot be said here that the Church's path is narrow.

What activities of the members of the Church, then, can and do express the spirit of catholicity?

One of the first modes of activity is directly associated with the church building itself. This includes the construction of the church, the providing of it with all that is necessary, acquisition of icons and frescoes. In terms of moral value, acts of love and philanthropy in the name of Christ have an even greater significance. The manifestations of Christian faith and love can be extremely diverse. For example, personal Christian missionary activity springs from devotion to Christ and the Church, upholding the right, compassionate defense of the persecuted and abused. Christian service through lectures, reports, the printed word, work in church schools, scholarly activity in a Christian spirit — all this constitutes a broad, open and, here outside the Communist world, a free field for Church cooperation, both as individuals and in groups.

These forms of activity and those like them are loftier and more worthy than plans for participating in the administrative side of the Church. The peaceful and prosperous management of the house of God rests not on legal foundations but on the rock of right faith and ethical, voluntary obedience to the rules of the Church by all her members, both clerical and lay. One cannot imagine how such an approach to the question of catholicity could be considered conventional or boring.

Vladimir S. Soloviev and the Catholic Aspect of the Church.

So that the skeptical reader might not think that the concept of catholicity found in the ninth article of the Creed and set forth here is onesided, and to make it clear that such an understanding is not limited to a single group of persons or to that movement whose spokesman was A. S. Khomiakov (the Slavophiles), let us avail ourselves of the opinions of Vladimir S. Soloviev on this question. We consider him here not as a theological authority, but as a free-thinker who did not confine himself to the traditional theological frame of reference. In many of his opinions he went far beyond the bounds of the Gospel's truths. However, he was a sincere Christian, and he had a well-intentioned, if vain, hope that by an originality of conclusions he might interest the Russian intelligentsia in the questions of faith, towards which it had grown so indifferent. But his devoted followers, when they began to introduce certain philosophical speculations into theology and develop them, made him the source of one more heresy. In his work The Justification of the Good, Soloviev, commenting on the characteristics of the Church given in the Creed, writes in agreement with the conception generally accepted by the Orthodox Church:

Catholicity (καθόλον — as a whole, or in agreement with the whole) consists in this, that all the forms and activities of the Church join separate persons and separate nations with the entire God-Manhood, both in its individual concentration  – Christ, and likewise in its collective circles – in the world of the bodiless hosts, the saints who have departed and live in God, and the faithful struggling upon the earth.  In so far as all within the Church is brought into harmony with an absolute whole, all is catholic.  Within her all the exclusions of national and personal characteristics and social status fall away, all the separations and divisions cease, and all differences are left behind, for godliness requires that one perceive unity in God not as an empty indifference nor bleak uniformity, but as the unconditional fullness of every life.  There is no separation, but rather there is preserved the distinction between the invisible and the visible Churches, for the first is the hidden active power of the second, and the second is the first becoming manifest; they are one with each other in essence, but different in condition.  There is no separation, but rather there distinction is preserved in the visible Church between the many races and nations, in whose unanimity the one Spirit by various tongues witnesses to the one Truth and by various gifts and callings imparts one Good.  There is not, finally, any division, but rather there is preserved the distinction in the Church between those who teach and those who are taught, between the clergy and the laity, between the mind and the body of the Church, just as in the distinction between husband and wife there is not a barrier but a basis for their perfect unification.

(The Justification of the Good, Pt. Ill, Sec. VIII, pp. 473-4)