To Those Who Leave: You Cannot be with the Church Only in the Moments of Her Glory

admin | 23 August 2012

Over recent days blogs and social networks have been echoing to the news of those who have made a public display of leaving the Russian Orthodox Church. Those leaving (some of them turned out to be virtual characters, but some are real and respected people, so the trend is obvious) have explained their action by saying that they are unwilling to remain in the same organization as ‘cruel hypocrites’. The last straw, they say as they slam the door, was the trial and sentence handed out to the punk feminists, which was, in their opinion, instigated by the Church authorities. 

What can we say to those who no longer regard the Russian Church as the Church? How can we stop them? Or should we? Archpriest Alexiy Uminsky replies. 

Satan Laughs 

I have not noticed people leaving the Church en masse. Maybe just one or two on Facebook. 

I do not have this problem in my parish. On the Feast of the Transfiguration we had many newcomers receiving communion, many new young faces, many came for their first real confession… 

But the whole atmosphere is undoubtedly tense and very aggressive, both in secular society and among Church people. There is a lot of hatred on all sides; it almost seems as if people are enjoying the chance to hate one another and take pleasure in doing it. 

It is reminiscent of a civil war situation. One remark from the opposite camp cannot only make you lose your trust in them or remove them from your list of friends, but simply remove them from your life. I feel a deep personal heartache at this. That is why when I have to comment on the issue, I am scared. Any further discussion seems to aggravate the situation. 

Satan is laughing at us all, as His Holiness Kyrill, Patriarch of Moscow and all the Russias said, and we continue to see this. How can we endure this? We can only pray and be silent. It is time to think deeply about what has actually happened. 

The Transfiguration is one of our favorite feasts. “May Thine everlasting light shine upon us sinners” – this is probably what we should ask God for. As it says in the prayer for the blessing of the waters at the sacrament of Baptism, “May the dark demon not be concealed in the water and no deceitful spirit come down to darken our thoughts and trouble our minds”. We must admit that at present this spirit has gained a victory over us all. We all have troubled and darkened minds. 

The Church of respectable people or the Church of Christ?  

I have no doubt that there will always be those who will leave the Church when times are hard. There are always some – those who want to see the Church and Christ Himself only in glory and prosperity, so everyone says, “Our Church is great! Our priests and believers are great! How good it feels to be here!” 

But when Christ says that He is going to suffer, even the apostles start to despair and ask, “Lord, why is this necessary?” And in the darkest moment, they run away.

It’s the same thing now. Some will return later, but not all. 

We cannot be with the Church only at Her rising, glory and rebirth, in romantic dreams and sentiments. We also have to be with Her in the moments of disgrace, when She is spat upon, when it doesn’t look ‘all pretty’. Why should I separate myself from the Church when everything is terrible, but still claim to belong to Her when all is well? 

As a human being, I can understand this situation. We all want to be with decent, respectable, well-behaved people, with those who actually live the Gospel, who are the light of the world. But Christ chose to be with other people as well. If we want to be disciples of Christ, we must be similar to Him, not only when He says to us  ‘Blessed are the Merciful’, and we are to be forgiving and loving. He also teaches us not to hold back and give up on people in the Church just because we do not like them. He has gathered them all together. He is with them, with the fornicators and the sinners, quite simply with people who are not decent. He is patient with them and we must be patient with them too. 

We always want the Church to prosper. Some see prosperity in merging the Church with the State, in might, in imperial power and golden domes. Others seek prosperity in the Church’s pure white raiment. But Christ is not there. “Wherefore art thou red in thine apparel, and thy garments like him that treadeth in the winefat?” asks the prophet Isaiah. 

“I have offended Thee, Lord, with my sins”, as the Akathist to the Passion of Christ goes. 

Winemaking and the Church 

We recently celebrated the Feast of the Transfiguration. The most obvious symbol of the Transfiguration is grapes. Grapes represent God’s people, the Church. Christ says of Himself, “I am the true vine”. The bishop blesses the people in the name of the Lord saying, “Look down from heaven, O God, and behold, and visit this vineyard and strengthen what Thy right hand hath planted”. 

Grapes are picked from the vine, thrown into a vat and trodden underfoot until they ‘bleed’ with juice. Fermentation begins and in time it turns into wine, which only then becomes the Blood of Christ at the Liturgy. 

We are being trodden underfoot. We are in ferment. We hate it. We do not want to be in such a Church? All right, let us create another one then. But that will be a ‘non-alcoholic’ or ‘lite’ Church, so to speak. 

We do not choose the hierarchy 

We don’t like the hierarchy? Those in power are always bad, because they are in authority. No-one in authority can please everyone. ‘Some like the priest, some like the priest’s wife’ – it’s a silly saying, but it does reflect reality. 

Another thing. Our authorities were not just appointed. It was God who sent us the Patriarch. The Church chose him because She was told to do so by the Holy Spirit. 

We do not know exactly why Patriarch Tikhon, or Sergius, or Alexis, or Kyrill were given us by God. But what we do know is that it was God’s will. This means we should go through this time together with the whole Church, together with the Patriarch. Only then will we find out if he is good or bad, worthy or unworthy. 

Living without Illusions: We are not Christians 

The present time is infinitely useful for the Church. At last we are getting to know one another and understand what we are worth. And it turns out that we are absolutely worthless. We are being disabused of the illusion that we are Christians. 

We are beginning to live without illusions – this is wonderful! We have got used to thinking that the Church is being reborn and it turns out that Satan can easily defeat us, as he has done now. We do not know how to love others, when somebody hates us or is angry with us, we hate the or are angry with them back. We do not know how to pray for one another, all we are prepared to do is constantly to accuse others, burn other people’s portraits, chase those who wear T-shirts with slogans on that we do not like out of the coffee shop. The world has gone crazy and is happy about it. Insane people dance in our churches, and everyone discusses it and thinks it is normal. 

All this shows what we are. Surely we can explain it? Does it not prove that we have lost the battle and are in a disastrous position? But the Apostle Paul spoke precisely about this, “We are a spectacle unto this world”.  And if we agree with the words of the Apostle, why should we be ashamed of our own Church? 

People who smell bad

We can say whatever we like. We can say that the Moscow Patriarchate is an institution and the Church is the Church. We can say whatever we like and people who justify leaving the Church have always justified themselves in this way, so this is not an argument for me. If you are in the Church, you are in the Church, whatever the name – the Moscow Patriarchate or the Church of Greece. Whatever Local Church you belong to, She is always in the same position and always has been, for these are the grapes that are being trodden underfoot. 

You may not want to be the grapes, but then there can be no Transfiguration, no light, only darkness and confusion of mind. But if you are ready to be scorned for Christ, do not be afraid of being in the Church. Be glad that you can be with the Church, that you are spat upon by people who dance in churches and who rejoice at any Church scandal. And there always will be some scandal or other. 

We are people and we smell bad. This world will always yell with joy on finding another dark, foul-smelling stain among us Church people. But we will always have such stains, because the Church is here on earth not in heaven, and we are the Church’s patients, in the ward for those with foul-smelling wounds. We always reek and the world is only too happy about it. It points at us and says “Look! Another depraved priest! They’re all the same!” 

So what should we reply? “No, we are not like that! We are good! We are not with the extremists! We’re the good ones. We have good priests too!” As for me, I’d sooner be with the ‘baddies’ in this situation, not with the ‘goodies’.

Can the Church stop being the Church? 

The Church will always be the Church, She will be in this world until the Second Coming. A community ceases to be part of the Church only when there are no more sacraments and apostolic succession is broken, when Christ’s truth has been distorted, when the people in it no longer try to live the Gospel and accept statements which blatantly go against the Gospel as the truth. 

Why did we come to the Church if we only want joy and prosperity? What about persecution? Isn’t now the time of persecution, regardless of whether it is just or unjust? Of course, this is partly our own fault. The question is what is our attitude to the problem? Are we like the elder son from the parable of the prodigal son, who did not want to have anything to do with the younger son, who was a disgrace to his father. The younger son was ‘bad’. He was a disgrace to the Church, to his father and his whole family, who were pointed at… 

Or do we look at our brother differently? 

I am staying with the Church.


Translated from the Russian

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