19 June 2021
From 1953, a world-Orthodox book is reviewed by a contemporary Church Father of the ROCOR. Reading this review, you can see why ROCOR would not give OCA the autocephaly it demanded for itself, -- OCA was not ready to be on its own without guidance from "Mother Church." But OCA would not accept that, and in 1970 OCA went to Moscow and got their illegitimate autocephaly from Moscow. This book review was done while OCA was still in the ROCOR. Later, Fr. Seraphim Rose was out-spoken about Schmemann and very critical of the Paris School. Today in world Orthodoxy Schmemann is regarded highly as an Orthodox theologian.
In those days Orthodox information in English was hard to come by.
IS THIS ORTHODOXY?
Or Modernism, Subverting True Orthodoxy, and Unacceptable for the Orthodox Conscience?
Protopresbyter Michael Pomazansky †1988
A review of the book: Orthodoxy in Life.
A collection of articles edited by S. Verhovskoy.
Published by the Chekhov Society, New York, 1953, 405 pages.
As it may be seen from the opening lines by the editor of this collection, the book is intended for a wide circle of readers. Its aim is "to give brief information about Orthodoxy in teaching and life." However, a cursory examination is sufficient in order to see that little is said about the concrete features of Orthodoxy, and that the main part is full of abstract religious-philosophical matter; the other part is composed of articles of a theoretical character. The two articles by A. Kartashev giving church-historical material are an exception. The title Orthodoxy in Life, therefore, is in the latter case, completely unsuitable.
The participants in this collection are representatives, mainly as professors, of two theological schools: the Paris Institute and St. Vladimir's Seminary in New York. The book is arranged in a widely expanding plan:
"Orthodoxy and Today's World," Serge Verhovskoy
"Christianity," Serge Verhovskoy
"Christ," Serge Verhovskoy
"Of The Church," Fr. Alexander Schmemann
"Faith and Knowledge," V. Rev. V. Zenkovsky,
"The Church and State," Anton Kartashev
"The Parish," Rev. E. Melia
"Holy Scripture," Rev. A. Kniazev
"Prayer and Services," B. Bobrinskoy
"Orthodoxy and Russia," Anton Kartashev
"Great Examples," Nikita Struve
"Spiritual Traditions of the Russian Family." N. Arseniev
The collection is internally united by a series of characteristic ideas which, evidently, must be their guide.
"Orthodoxy is Christianity in its purest form," we read in the first line of an introductory article by the editor. A further reading of the content of the articles of this collection permits us to accept these first words as the formula for the basis of the whole book. In this phrase, Orthodoxy is equated with the general, ideal image of Christianity. It follows that everything the authors say about Christianity, in its purest form, is Orthodoxy. The treatment of the subject of Orthodoxy in the basic essays of the book is guided in this direction.
Orthodoxy, however, has its own historical image, representing a way of life, and properly presenting itself as "Orthodoxy in Life." This image is touched on very lightly in the introductory chapter entitled, "Orthodoxy and Today's World." Here the picture is far from ideal... "Christians are weak, inactive, hypocrites; Church society is unchurchly in its spirit, in its life and conscience, often the only thing remaining of it is the form, with a predisposition towards compromise, even with bolshevism or racism. Beginning even with the Middle Ages, Church society ailed with all the illnesses of pharisaism, ritualism, scholasticism, insensibility to evil, an unwillingness to bring the light of Christianity into the essence of life..." (p. 23). "The condition of the Orthodox Church itself is very sad..." (p. 11). Thence follow the deductions: "it is necessary," "it is indispensible," "it is lacking," "it must be," "second necessity," "third necessity" - in a word, the correction of all sides of Church life is indispensible. Such is reality - to the author.
Let us return to the first phrase: "Orthodoxy is Christianity in its purest form." The phrase itself demands a series of rebuttals. A Protestant, of course, moved by an Orthodox service or captivated by the writings of the Holy Fathers, could express himself so: "Orthodoxy is the purest form of Christianity." His point of view is the relativeness of all Christian faiths. In other words, he holds the point of view of present-day ecumenism, and for him such a form of expression is completely natural. But when Orthodox theologians include Orthodoxy in a long list of Christian faiths, even though it is in the first place, the result is worse. First of all, this echoes of a clear subjectivity: to a Christian of any faith or sect, his understanding of Christianity must present itself as being the best, if he is faithful to it. Secondly, by such a listing the name "Orthodoxy" itself is implicitly crossed out. This name must imply to us that Orthodox doctrine is the true Christian doctrine, "the right faith," placed in opposition to "other religions." It is the true Church of Christ. In this collection there is no such direct and clear statement about Orthodoxy. For now, only a slightly noticeable move is made off the solid foundation. The switchman has only lightly separated the rails on the switch; but the brilliant express will now take another direction. If Orthodoxy is the purest form in a line of other forms of Christianity, then where will the authors of this collection place the Church? Will not the name of the Church then be spread throughout all Christianity in the hundreds of its forms of confessions of faith? And if the Church is equated to Christianity in general, then in this diffused state, what does the Church add to Christianity? Is She in that case necessary? And where is She to be found in life, in a concrete incarnation?
When Orthodoxy is included in the list of Christian faiths, even though it is given the first place, Orthodoxy itself is crossed out.
Those are exactly the questions posed in the article by Fr. Alexander Schmemann, "Of the Church." "Why is so little said about the Church of the Gospel?" Is She not an "unnecessary, human obstacle" between Christ and those who love Him? In order to begin to answer this question, the author deems it necessary first of all "to allude to that perspective, in which 'the problem of the Church' is placed and resolved by the Gospel itself." In presenting this perspective, the author speaks of the Kingdom of God, of "birth from water and the Spirit," of following Christ, of personal freedom, of faith, of renewal in Christ; of the Holy Spirit, Who is a) "the Life of the Father and the Son" and b) the Life "uniting me with the Son and adopting me to the Father"; of the Sacrament of the Eucharist, of love towards brothers in Christ, "of the service of one fulfilling the service of Christ, becoming the tie for all" – one could think that the theme here is the papacy, although, apparently, pastorship is the question at hand. And, finally, the last chapter gives an answer about the Church. This answer is very unclear. We shall cite important thoughts from it. "New life, unity in Christ, the gathering of believers in the Spirit is the Church of God..." "The Gospel calls us to life; but the life announced by it is revealed as the Church. Christ came to the people and for the people. If He then did not remain alone, if even two or three heard and received Him, He is already in them and they in Him - and this oneness of Him with people the Gospel calls the Church: I will build My Church and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it (Matt. 16:18)..." "But many will pose the last question: where then is She, the true Church? We see Her in divisions, in quarrels, in sin and temptations. How can one be sure what is of Christ in Her, and what is apostasy from Him? Here too we receive an answer from Christ Himself: 'Seek, and ye shall find. Knock, and it will opened for you - every one who seeks will find, to everyone who knocks it is opened...' One thing is certain: faith in Christ brings us into the Church and life in Him is life in the Church." The author then leaves the reader in this enigma, leaving him alone, with the Gospel in his hands, to search for the answer to the question of the Church.
On a parallel with the main theme, the Church, Fr. A. Schmemann in the same article conveys another thought, later more fully developed in the articles of S. Verhovskoy. This is the struggle with the seemingly false but ancient view of "the purest form of Christianity" – in Orthodoxy – that the substance of Christianity is "the salvation of the soul." Having reminded us that "the teaching about the Kingdom of God is opened to us in a somewhat double perspective," Fr. A. Schmemann writes, "We have already long ago reduced all Christianity to the teaching not of a new life, but of the salvation of the soul in a life beyond the grave" (p. 61). We must note in passing, that such an expression, "the salvation of the soul in a life beyond the grave," is not generally encountered in an Orthodox church lexicon. The author calls us to "examine our usual understanding of Christianity as the salvation of the soul" (p. 63). This thought of Fr. A. Schmemann puts us into a state of perplexity. All the writings of the Apostles, of the Holy Fathers, and finally all the Church services, beginning with the prayer "O Heavenly King" ["...save our souls, O Good One"], place the salvation of the soul in the center of our thoughts; whether this is right or wrong in the estimation of the authors of this work, such in truth is "Orthodoxy in Life," and without this, it is an illusory "Orthodoxy." Whoever reckons that the constant thought and prayer of the salvation of the soul is an unwanted element in Orthodoxy cancels out for himself Orthodoxy in general.
The author continues, "When we read the Gospel in the light of this question, we are convinced that the teaching of Christ is certainly not limited to the 'soul,' and that on the contrary, in His life He pays much attention to man's body. He 'heals all disease and sickness among the people,' returns sight to the blind, cures the lame, the paralytic, the hemorrhaging, and finally, raises the dead... He speaks of the luminous body.' He performs miracles and heals through the medium of His body: by touch, spittle, breath - and, finally, His very resurrection is the resurrection of His body. And even though age after age we search and await from Christ most of all especially healing, i.e., bodily help – still, blinded by our own, and not by the Gospel understanding of the salvation of the soul, we connect salvation to the soul alone, and limit it to the life of the soul beyond the grave" (pp. 63-64). Further the author writes, "And seeing that man lives in this union of the spiritual and bodily, and outside of it discontinues being a man, then..." (p. 64). In answer to the reasoning of Fr. A. Schmemann one could turn to the Gospel, where it is said: and fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul (Matt: 10:28); but it is not necessary to enter upon discussion of this sort here, since, as it is said elsewhere in this work, "you can prove anything through the Gospel" (p. 59). It is enough to turn one's attention to the fact that the truth of the soul's immortality, the truth of a knowledgeable life beyond the grave, after separation with the bodily "temple," is preserved in full force from Apostolic days to our time, namely by Orthodoxy, and this forms not only its distinctive characteristic from other faiths, but also its grandeur, strength, glory, its life. Hence, in Orthodoxy it is the exceptionally high regard for the dead and the heavenly Church, the Eucharist and general remembrance of the departed, an uninterrupted mindfulness of the saints and a prayerful communion with them, which astounds the heterodox. If a soul without the body is already not a personality, then how can we pray, "Give rest, O Lord, to the souls of Thy departed servants, where from eternity the light of Thy countenance shineth, and gladdeneth all Thy saints"? Fr. Schmemann calls his readers to that melancholy world-view into which Protestantism has already sunk, having almost lost its faith in life beyond the grave. Nobody denies the importance of the body and the bodily needs of man in earthly life, but the author evidently has a special purpose when he speaks of the meaning of the body. With such a world-view, two results are natural: 1) oblivion of the heavenly Church (and we see this in this work, where, in spite of its comprehensive character, the heavenly Church receives only several passing and pallid lines (p. 302), and 2) the idea of arranging "a happy life" on earth under the protection of religion. Fr. A. Schmemann does not elaborate on these points, but his second conclusion provides the inspiration for the two long articles of Serge Verhovskoy: 1) "Christianity," and 2) "Christ." These articles can be regarded as the heart of the whole Collection. We shall limit ourselves to a number of excerpts from them.
Serge Verhovskoy writes, "The substance of Christianity is the union of people with God, between themselves and with all beings," we read in the beginning of the first article (p. 277). What draws us to God? "In love, in understanding and creativity we can rise above life's problems. The understanding of nature and the contemplation of its beauty creates in us the ideal image of the world. Relationships with people... open to us the depth of man's spirit. In science and art we express all the riches of knowledge and beauty through which man is capable of living. If man could limit himself to spiritual riches which he finds in himself and in the world, he would not even begin to think of God. But in spiritual life man is never satisfied with his own accomplishments... Who of us will say, without falling into dull self- conceit: I love enough, I am holy enough; I know enough, everything beautiful is open to me, I am perfect!... In this consciousness of our limitedness, which appears to us on our endless road toward perfection, God is revealed to us; He is that All-Complete Being, to Whom we aspire; in Him is accomplished all that we seek..." (p. 278). [Here an observation must be made: is it really true that hunger for that which is greater than what is in our possession leads us to God? Is it not rather often the opposite; does it not lead us away from God?] The author sees man's good in the attainment, during life, of Truth, Good, and Beauty. "In God we attain our Desire: Truth, Good, and Beauty," (p. 281); the triad of "Truth, Good, and Beauty," is used by the author on every page, but especial attention is allotted to Beauty. "There is only one Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, one good, one truth, one beauty in God" (p. 283). "The beauty of the outside world and the inner beauty of man leads us to the ideal beauty, in which we see primary shapes of beings, as they exist in God, for God placed within the universe not only wisdom, but also beauty" [page unknown, ed.]. "Whether we unite in the way of love or morality, knowledge of beauty, ideals, or creativeness, the summit of our way will be in God... Only a general living love for the one living God, only a general faith in absolute Good, Truth, and Beauty can completely unite people in the one and all-sided ideal of man's life" (p. 300). "Every individual Christian recognizes the truth from one angle, even though the Truth stands wholly before him in Christ. But Truth is fully open for the unity of all. The same can be repeated also concerning beauty. One should not forget that in multi-unity, i.e., in a complete unity of singleness and multitude, of originality and sameness, lies the foundation of good and truth and beauty, and of Being itself, and that is why God is the complete Tri-Unity" (p. 304). "Why are we so persistently speaking of good, of truth, and of beauty? Isn't there here a poor abstraction? No, the whole irreplaceable and necessary value of good, truth, and beauty consists in the fact that in them we are united with reality itself, i.e., with God, people, and the world... The perfection of life is revealed to us in beauty, more than in anything else. The perfect is always beautiful. It follows then that in beauty we also enter into communion with Reality itself – with God and everything existing... For this reason the Kingdom of God can be but a Kingdom of good, truth, and beauty" (pp. 306-307).
The author of the article cited does not see any difficulties in the fact that the idea of serving truth, good, and beauty is also used by irreligious humanism, pantheism, and atheistic philosophy. The article suggests to us that no matter what unites searchers of the fullness of life, whether in creativity, in love, or in beauty, the summit of their road will be in God, they will be united by faith in "the Absolute Good." "Everything positive already in fact belongs to Christianity, even though it may not recognize this. Sooner or later everything will be gathered into the Church, and at the end of world history the Universe will become the Kingdom of God" (p. 308). The arts of the world, even though non-Christian, are rated by the author as an integral part of the Kingdom of God, when he says: "The arts of the world of the past (not only Christian) were the treasure houses of the beautiful" (p. 321). So, if we follow the thought of the author, the ideals of godless humanism flow together with the Christian building of the Kingdom of God, and the Christian concept of the Church diffuses into total vagueness.
The fullness of life in Christ, as represented by the author, seems to be easily attainable. "Who loves Christ," we read here, "will want to belong to Him and live a common life with Him. Continually remembering Christ, we will turn to Him with our thoughts and feelings and search for personal communion with Him, at first possible in answerless prayer to him, and afterwards in prayerful conversation with Him and internal contemplation of His actual presence in us. When we do feel the presence of Christ, we will see Him in all the positive content of the spiritual life, as well as in all that is good in the world" (p. 294). "The first sign of grace is the presence in us of a force surpassing our strength; we perceive that our actions and experiences contain in themselves more than our own capability. Grace inspires and warms our soul: it is light; it is joy; it is love; it is the fire which burns us and gives life to us, and this fire we can transmit to others..." (p. 295). Do these words not suggest an empty self-delusion? Is this not self-flattery? Is it fitting to use the word "we" in representing the heights of spiritual experience? And, is this in fact what the saints, who have reached these heights, experienced?
The essence of the Church, according to the author, is multi-unity. "No human differences of sex, conditions of life, profession, education, class, nation, or race can divide the Church. All Christians, parishes, dioceses, and churches must be one, notwithstanding any differences which are possible among people. We should not forget that the essence of every being from the Most-holy Trinity to the atom, and also the essence of good, truth, and beauty is multi-unity..." (pp. 312-313). The author does not make mention of the dogmatic distinctions; it may be that they are to be understood in the expression: "notwithstanding any differences which are possible among people." He places a mark of equality between the "Church" and "all Christians"; on the other hand, he speaks of the (seven) Ecumenical Councils of the Orthodox Church, as the highest authority of the Church (p. 312). We cannot know whether by the words "all Christians" he means only the Orthodox Church or, on the contrary, whether "Church" is to be understood as Christians of all possible confessions, sects, and doctrines.
The author understands Christian activity as "creativity" – "according to that ideal which we find in Christ": "to transform your own or other souls, to cleanse and transfigure them, to elevate them to the fullness of the life of the Kingdom of God – cannot be the work of mechanical effort or book learning; only an extreme effort of the will, mind, artistic sensitivity, a continual inspiration and illumination from God, can give us success... Christ, the prophets and apostles, left everything for the sake of this creativity, and God and the World glorified them more than all other genus of mankind" (p. 314).
Such a lofty spiritual state, an uninterrupted existence in Christ, etc., according to the author, are fully compatible with ordinary forms of life and activity. He writes: "From what has been said, it does not follow of course to come to the conclusion that Christians should not give their efforts to those types of creativeness which are usually spoken of in the world, i.e., social activity, science, art, etc. They are justified in so far as they serve good, truth, and beauty" (p. 315).
"The spiritual life" is understood by the author as "love for God, people, and the world, the recognition of truth and beauty" (p. 312). "The understanding of spiritual life is constantly being reduced among Christians to a plain concentration on a religious or prayerful-ascetic life. The apostolic understanding of spirituality was not such," he writes (p. 315).
Only from the point of view of the breadth of Christianity does the author tolerate the right of monasticism's existence. "The Church counts it permissible to renounce these forms of life (political, family, cultural, and household) for those who want to concentrate on an inner life, in solitary prayerful labors: such is the ideal of monasticism." "It is understood," the author finds it necessary to warn, "that love for one's neighbor and the duty to help him remains in force even for a monk" (p. 37).
The pinnacle of Christian attainment is the feeling of "happiness on earth." "If three unite in the name of Christ, they will be strong and happy. If thousands gather in the Kingdom of God, here on earth, the Christian world will begin to be transfigured... The happiness of man is in unity with God and people, in a nearness to all beings, in love, truth, and beauty, in beneficent creativity. On earth all of this is accomplished in the Church; in it resides the Kingdom of God..." (p. 329).
Church services are offered by the author as one of the kinds of Christian art (pp. 287-311).
A dangerous philosophy is observed in his expression of the relationship of God to the world: "It is also evident, that God is inseparable from the world. He Himself united Himself with us, desiring to be our Creator, Guide, and Saviour. He, too, Who is the Perfect Spirit, is also the Creator of the Universe. We must not divide God. Therefore, it is erroneous to separate, in our religious life, our relationship to God from our relationship to created beings" (p. 305). "God is actively present in the material world, in the body of Christ, in Church, in icons, in the Cross, in sacred articles, in priestly actions, in the relics of the saints" (p. 311).
What does "actively present" mean? Does He dwell "in the body of Christ" and "in the material world" on an equal footing? Does the omnipresent God "dwell especially" in sacred articles and in the relics of saints? Can He dwell in priestly actions?
A special article, as the author writes, is "dedicated to our Lord Jesus Christ" (p. 293). Former themes are partly repeated here.
Beauty: "For Christ it was most important to create an internal spiritual world, in which the souls of mankind would be united one with another in one truth, verity, holiness, love, beauty" (p. 345).
Arts: "Christ says nothing about arts, but in the image of God and man, which is revealed by Him, are shown the foundations of all beauty. It does not follow that Christ regarded with animosity all forms of our earthly life, repudiating them in the name of pure spirituality" (p. 345).
The body: "Christ's body had an enormous meaning in His theanthropic life...His miracles, transfiguration, resurrection, ascension, were connected with His body... and in general, Christ disclosed His Divinity through His body... Thanks to His body, Christ was in direct communication with the material world" (p. 350).
Asceticism: "Poverty and persecutions forced Christ to experience bodily sufferings and deprivations, but premeditated asceticism occupies a secondary place in the life of Christ; we know only of His forty-day fast after Baptism" (p. 352). We ask: Where does asceticism not occupy a secondary place? Did the circumstances of life really "force," i.e., compel the Saviour against His will to suffer deprivations and poverty? Do not the words of the Saviour call one to an ascetic regard of life: whoever wishes to follow Me, let him deny Himself and take up his Cross? The author, it is evident, forgot the ascetical example of Saint John the Baptist.
The author thinks it is necessary to suggest to readers that Christ loved life in all its entirety. "Being Himself the Wisdom of God, Christ sees wisdom and beauty in nature, in the Scriptures, in the ordinary life of people... He is ready to accept accusation even from an evil slave; Christ does not scorn any man: neither the loyalty of the fishermen, chosen by Him, nor the children, nor the plain family of Lazarus, nor the entertainment of publicans and pharisees, nor the anointing and tears of a sinning woman" (p. 358). "Not justifying sin, He loved sinners with a special love and occupied Himself more with them than with the righteous" (p. 361). He "rejoiced with parents whose children were cured of sickness or sin, rejoiced over the birth of a baby, a wedding, a shepherd finding a sheep, and even the woman who found a coin" (p. 361). "Christ regarded pagans with condescension: they know truth poorly, but can follow the simplest morality" (p. 367).
Concerning the fact that the Saviour came to bring to earth not peace, but a sword, not a word. Christ loved sinners not with a "special love," but of publicans and sinning women He said: Verily I say unto you, that the publicans and the harlots will go into the Kingdom of God before you; for John came unto you in the way of righteousness, and ye believed him not, but the publicans and the harlots believed him. It is strange even to read such an expression: "did not scorn the loyalty of the fishermen, chosen by Him"; to read of the Saviour, praying for them before the sufferings on the cross: "I sanctify Myself for them." The author's understanding of Christian humility is certainly original. He writes, "Humility is usually understood very one-sidedly – not in substance, but in its ascetic expression – as self-abasement, the regarding of oneself as nothing, the emphasizing of one's sinfulness." The essence of humility, according to the author, is not in the above, but rather: "My good is in all good, my life is in unity with all, my truth and good and beauty is the same truth, good and beauty for all, my worth is measured by a common measure - this is the essence of humility" (p. 357).
It is evident that with such "humility" it will not be difficult to be "reconciled" even with evil. And this we do read further. "Every manifestation of Christ's humility is explained by His condescension to everything alive – to the worst sinner, to the slightest good" (p. 358). "Why do the humble avoid external strife with evildoers? Because, in them they are ready to see some good, and fear to destroy the good together with the evil... In every being there is at least a drop of good and for this reason God tolerates even those who knowingly become evil" (p. 359).
Not justifying, then, strife with evil, the author does justify egoism. "Love naturally arises from humility, because it is natural to love that which you recognize as good for yourself. (!). Love is a yearning to live one life with the loved one, to give yourself to him, to possess him. (!) Only he really loves God, people, truth, good, beauty, who not only takes from them and makes use of them, but who also gives himself to them. However, it is true that love is also possession, for if I do not have possession of something, then how can I be in unity with it? It is justifiable also to love one's self, for it is natural to want to possess and live for yourself" (p. 359). In the final analysis, then, humility leads to the desire to "possess," to love for oneself, and to "live for yourself."
There are many separate phrases in the article which catch the eye with their inappropriateness to Christian truth; others are so unclear that it is difficult to appraise them.
"Riches and power seemed to Christ and the apostles to be dangerous for spiritual life" (p. 341). Is it possible to apply to Christ the expression "seemed"?
"Those who fulfill the word of God are more blessed than His Mother" (p. 343). [Where did the author get this? The Gospel does not say this.
"Christ was the Righteous One, and His righteousness was first of all internal holiness" (p. 346). What does "first of all" mean? What other kind of holiness can there be?
"To follow Christ is the first step of Christianity; a higher step is to live by Him" (p. 347). Does this mean that to live by Him is already not being a follower of Christ?
Thoughts which are plainly contradictory to dogmas of faith are expressed in the following deliberations.
"In His love for the Father and the world, Christ gave them His life and His soul. (?) The death of Christ in itself was not related to His body alone, but also His soul" (p. 366). This is something entirely new in theology, for we know that every person's soul, not only Christ's, is immortal. "In the grave bodily, but in hades with Thy soul as God...," we hear in the Paschal service.
Just as far from Orthodox theology are the following words: "Christians have but one God – Father, Son and Holy Spirit; one Lord – Christ is our Lord not only in that He is a divine, perfect Personality, but also because in Him is opened to us a new world of being and a perfect ideal of life; the true meaning of life is opened to us... In Christ we have reached the comprehension of what man is; we have learned to appreciate the wealth of the spirit and its indivisibility from the body" (p. 369). So says S. Verhovskoy. But we have been taught by the Church not to separate God the Son and Christ the Lord, for in Him mankind is united to God "inseparably" and "indivisibly." There is no God the Son separately from Christ the Lord. And concerning the assertion by the author about the indivisibility of the spirit from the body – the dust will return to earth, as it was, and the spirit will return to God, Who gave it (Eccles. 12:7), and according to the Apostle: There is a natural body (of the present age), and there is a spiritual body (of the future age); Now this I say, continues the Apostle, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the Kingdom of God, neither doth corruption inherit incorruption (I Cor. 15:44, 50).
Both articles of Professor S. Verhovskoy, to whose pen belongs more than a quarter of the whole collection, contain a number of subjective elements, which can be found only in modernistic "theological" literature or in publications of extreme Protestant doctrines. The internally contradictory understanding of the essence of Christianity, the artificial, touched-up picture of Christianity strikes the eyes. It may be that this picture, as well as the style of exposition, was intended to meet the taste of a definite circle of readers by its novelty and originality; it maybe that some who are little acquainted with Christianity will indeed find such a picture satisfying. In any case, this is far from authentic Orthodoxy, and we can say with confidence, that Orthodoxy is not in need of such an embellished view.
We will now proceed to a short survey of other articles in this collection following in order from general to particular themes.
"Faith and Knowledge," by V. Rev. V. Zenkovsky – The author presents this question: How are miracles possible in our world of strict causal dependence of phenomena? He proposes to resolve this question by applying the teaching of Cournot about the confines of causality, explaining the appearance of "chance" in the world of causality. Chance is the result of the collision of two "independent causative series," as the collision of two moving machines at the point of intersection of two paths (i.e., to the collision of a train and an auto). But the will of the engineer can forestall the collision. Does not the will of God in the same way invade the course of causative series, creating a favorable junction of events, without violating the laws of causality, and this appears in our eyes to be a miracle? However, in the opinion of Fr. V. Zenkovsky, there is one exceptional miracle which does not conform to such an explanation: this is the miracle of the resurrection of Christ. "In the matter of the resurrection of the Saviour, on the contrary, the question of its very possibility is difficult, but the question of its authenticity and reality...is decided simply and categorically... The reality of the resurrection of the bodily dead Saviour is certified, not only by its complete possession of the mind and heart of His followers, but especially by its entrance into the souls of the Lord's disciples in its victorious radiance, that their preaching kindled endless masses of people with a fire unquenchable until the present day. This force lives in mankind till now..." (p. 50). The reader of the article draws the inference that the very reference to the one fact of the resurrection, as the deciding argument in the question of the miracle, namely the fact of Christ's Resurrection, pushes aside as superfluous all discussions of the relationship of miracles to the law of causality.
Continuing in the appointed order, we will speak briefly about the two articles of Anton Kartashev, "Church and State" and "Orthodoxy and Russia." Both articles, expressing thoughts already known from previous articles of A. Kartashev, are distinguished by the author's knowledge of the history of the Eastern Church and love of Russia's past. He speaks about the symphony of the Church and state in Byzantium and in Russia with sympathy, notwithstanding all historical sins, and speaks sorrowfully of the present "divorce" of Church and state. In conclusion, he contrasts the laudable old symphony to the present "most absurd compromise" between a godless state and the Church, "on the terms of reciprocal service, to which, in the darkness of a Bolshevik hell, a terroristically-harassed and freedom-bereft part of the episcopate lowered itself. This nightmarish absurdity is accepted with unfeeling stupidity as something normal and tolerable by foreign general church opinion, ecumenical circles, some Eastern Orthodox hierarchs, and – what is most unforgivable – even by a small handful of Orthodox Russians, living here, in the blessed lands of human and Christian freedom" (p. 171).
The second article of A. Kartashev concerns the ideas of "Holy Russia" and "Third Rome." In it the belief is expressed that, in spite of all the terrifying reality, these two ideas even today have not lost their meaning. "Let us pre-assume that we have already been pushed into eschatological times... We are called with all the more anxiety to a stronger stand with the banner of Christ even in rear-guard battles" (p. 202).
Referring to the past of the Eastern and Russian Churches with understanding and love, the author acknowledges that you cannot return what is lost. At the end of the first article, he writes: "In the belief that the archaic Eastern system of the symphony is ideal, we do not weaken ourselves with inactive, romantic longing for the irrevocable past" (p. 177). At the end of the second article: "Raising the banner of Orthodox Russia and rendering her becoming honor for her attainments in the past, we count it neither obligatory nor wise to take upon ourselves the thankless and Utopian role of restorers" (p. 204). In the light of these reservations, more strange but characteristic is the reaction by the editor of this work to the ideas of the author about the monarchic order of Orthodox kingdoms in the past. In the most intimate sections of the article the editor of this collection retorts with the following remarks in the footnotes: "The intervention of Christian monarchs in the administration of the church is a negative fact" (p. 204); "We do not think that at the present time all Orthodox people must be monarchists" (p. 207); "...that the constant and principle intervention of Christian monarchs into church affairs was evil" (p. 161). On the question of the USSR the editor remarks, "One can imagine that far from all the Russian hierarchy in fact serves the interest of the Soviet authority..." (p. 202).
The article, "The Small Church: The Parish as a Christian Community," by Rev. E. Melia, gives a series of theoretical, but in practice, useful ideas about the organization of the internal life of a parish. Built on the plan: unity, holiness, conciliarity, and apostolicity of the Church, by its very plan it traces the idea that every Christian community is a small Church, retaining all four signs of the Church.
A series of thoughts in the article appears as a fresh and good stream in comparison to the prevailing spirit of this work. Such are: a) the idea about the "unsuitability of Christianity with the natural reality of the world, about the foreignness of Christianity in respect to the world" (p. 112); b) about monasteries: "the monastery is a likeness of a parish or even of a diocese, it has such an accumulation of spiritual power that it does not yield to the latter in its allotted importance in the Church" (p. 115); c) the priesthood: "like a prophet, the priest is subjected to reproach, mockery, and even to a hidden anger because – just like every Christian, but in the first rank, where he offers himself voluntarily – he appears as a monk on earth, i.e., with all his being, witness of life, and service, as also in his outer appearance. In the name of the Church he reminds all of the corruption of this world, and of the coming age" (p. 105).
"What is Holy Scripture?," by Rev. A. Kniazev contains the chapters: Books of Holy Scripture. Their origin. The place of Holy Scripture as the source of the knowledge of God. The nature of Holy Scripture. The mutual relationships of the Bible and science. The composition of the Bible. Holy Scripture and the prayerful life of the Church. The article represents an introduction to the usual course on Holy Scripture. "Prayer and Services in the Life of the Orthodox Church," by B. Bobrinskoy: The first part of the article deals with prayer, its forms, the meaning of the rule of prayer. The second part speaks of public services: of the Christian icon, of reading and singing in church, of the daily, weekly, and yearly cycle of services. The central place is here occupied by an explanation of the Eucharist. The author explains the Eucharist symbolically. The Eucharist is a symbol of our redemption by the Saviour and is presented here as a reproduction of the Hebrew Paschal feast, celebrated as a remembrance of the kindness of God during the leading out of Egypt of the Hebrew people. The lamb on the table of the Old Testament Passover, the bitter herbs, the chalice, were to the Hebrews symbols of historic remembrances. Having expounded in detail and in succession the Old Testament rituals of the Passover foods, the author writes: "Christ placed into the rituals... a new meaning" (p. 261). "And so this bread and this wine, of which all partake according to rank, is none other than the Body and Blood of Christ. As this bread – His Body will be broken. As this wine – they will spill His Blood. This chalice is the symbol of the sufferings of Christ; the lamb is Christ Himself. The bitter herbs are the bitterness of His Passion and desertion. There are no more doubts. At the Supper the disciples are experiencing the very death of Christ" (p. 261). In such a fashion, the significance of the lamb on the Paschal table and of the bitter herbs is placed here on the same level with the bread and wine of the Eucharist, and all of this together is interpreted as a symbolic image of the sufferings. Of the change in essence in the Sacrament of the Eucharist the article says nothing. Although on the earlier pages one finds the expression "the communion of the Body and Blood of Christ," a phrase following this, "in the Liturgy we break the bread and drink from the common chalice with Christ and His disciples" (p. 255), does not give the basis for understanding the explanation of the Eucharist in the Orthodox sense.
This is extreme Protestantism. We Orthodox Christians do not drink from a common chalice with Christ when we accept Communion of His Body and Blood.
"The Spiritual Traditions of the Russian Family," by N. Arseniev – This chapter is from the book: Of Russian Spiritual and Creative Traditions. Here is presented the life of the Russian family, properly of a family of the upper class, satiated with cultural tradition, a tradition where the contemporary was blended with the old religious ways and with the living world of the past, where the main person, even though often unnoticed, and the guardian of the firm principles was the mother. This literary illustration only obliquely approaches the general theme about Orthodoxy; it touches on general Russian life, an integral part of which was the Orthodox way, and is confined only to the social stratum of old Russia.
The last article in this collection is an outline by Nikita Struve entitled "Great Examples." The aim of this essay is "to prove from examples of the most diverse epochs," that Christianity is "a great vital and creative force." Contained in it are short biographies of the Apostle Paul, Ignatius the God-bearer, St. Justin the Philosopher, St. Athanasius the Great, St. Anthony the Great, Vladimir Monomachus, Metropolitan Philip, and St. Seraphim of Sarov; all of whom, except Vladimir Monomachus, are glorifled by the Church as saints, though in the text the title of "Saint" is given only to some of them. The features of these great personalities are presented concisely, but expressively. But here something is characteristic. They are composed in the form of ordinary biographies of "historic personalities." This fully harmonizes with the general one-sided direction of this collection. Where else, if not here, could we have expected the idea of the heavenly Church, of the everlasting blessed life of these pillars of the Church, of their ties with those living on earth? But the biographies of the saints here end with a dull "laid down his soul" for the Truth; "died in bed"; "went the way of his fathers"; "fell in an unequal battle and by martyrdom won the victory."
Such is the collection as a whole. Its themes are varied, but one-sided in content, and almost completely avoid many essential elements of Orthodoxy. There is no mention of life beyond the grave, of temperance and asceticism, of penitence, of the writings of the Holy Fathers, etc. In fact very little is presented of "Orthodoxy in Life" and instead, too much is given concerning Orthodoxy "outside of life," in the form of a questionable subjective philosophy of Christianity. But what is most important is that many points here do not represent authentic Orthodoxy, both from the point of view of dogmatics and of history, as it came into being in life, with its constant striving for the heavenly. The "Orthodoxy" of the collection longs intensely for the earth.
In vain does it sorrowfully proclaim that "we have long ago reduced Christianity to life beyond the grave" and to the Kingdom of the age to come. No, we have not "reduced" it. Christians know that when they believe in the Kingdom of Heaven and search for it, then the Kingdom of Heaven is already entering "inside them" and into the world through the Church. But if they intend to build a happy life of the Kingdom of God now on earth for themselves or even for future generations, not only will they fail to build it on earth, but they may lose it in Heaven as well.
17 August 2020
Vita Prima of St John Maximovitch