In What
Do Contemporary "Orthodox" Believers

by Tatiana Senina, St. Petersburg, Russia
Original Translation by Vladimir Moss, U.K.
Edited by Father John Bockman

The following two articles, in our judgment, serve several useful purposes for those committed to a pure confession of faith in a world in which compromise of the faith is a "virtue" (e.g., "doing God's service" [John 16:2]).

The first purpose is to examine a critique of the present state of Orthodoxy in a country once known as Holy Russia, a profoundly Orthodox society mercilessly strangled throughout the past century, first by the apostasy of the secularizing intelligentsia, and then by the vicious persecution of the Church and traditional Russian society by atheistic communists. There are many lessons to ponder here! For example, how do faithful Orthodox Christians of that or any other society go about assisting the Holy Spirit in the restoration of True Orthodoxy which was lost or seriously compromised, especially where ecclesiastical externals — historical institutions, liturgical forms, the training of clergy, and public relations — are controlled by heretical hierarchs?

The second purpose is to hold up a mirror whereby the present state of Orthodoxy in ourselves may be considered. It is not out of the question that widespread apostasy and adverse secularizing conditions stemming from materialism and false concepts of democracy will be seen as equally destructive of True Orthodoxy here in America.

These articles are adapted from an English translation of Tatiana Senina's "Deception," which appeared originally in Russian in Vertograd-inform, No. 18–19, April-May 2000. The translation was rendered by Vladimir Moss of the United Kingdom and is reprinted (with minor changes) with his kind permission.

Tatiana Senina, a remarkable young Russian woman in her twenties, is a member of the Parish of St. Elizabeth the New Martyr in St. Petersburg, a parish of the Russian Orthodox Autonomous Church under Archbishop Valentine of Suzdal. Because the translation by Vladimir Moss contains numerous references to specifically Russian circumstances and conditions, we have modified it to accord with experience and terminology more familiar to Americans. (Bar-codes on food packages, for example, which loom large as dangers in the minds of some Orthodox in Russia and elsewhere, do not appear to be of much concern to American Orthodox.) We believe that in general, however, the article will suggest that western secularism can be every bit as corrupting of Orthodoxy as communism has been in eastern Europe.

Article 1

If you ask, "Do you believe in God?" members of the "official" Orthodox churches reply in the affirmative. But what beyond that? Very often they display a consumerist psychology, which, moreover, is greatly facilitated by contemporary commercial and market relationships which have already penetrated deeply into church life. For example, a "believer" comes into the church and asks, not about how he should repent, be cleansed, struggle to change his life, live according to the commandments. But about which icon he should put a candle in front of "so that things may go well." He comes when a complicated situation in daily life confronts him, in the hope that "God will sort it out." Or when someone has fallen ill or fallen into some misfortune, he will ask for deliverance. And often he receives help, but then it almost always turns out as the Lord described in the parable of the ten healed lepers — that he fails to thank God for His blessings. Or it happens that the person does not receive what he asks for, in which case he may decide within himself that God does not exist, without considering that what he asked for was perhaps not for his spiritual welfare. But one rarely finds him recognizing that much in his life does not turn out well because he is simply living incorrectly, in an unchristian manner, and that he has to change something in his manner of life — radically change it.

Of course, it is difficult to expect great awareness of these questions in people who have come to the church for the first time. And it is at this point that pastors should explain to the people that the Church exists not only for the placing of candles and to find consolation in the beauty of the icons and chandeliers.

If we examine the views of the contemporary bishops of "official Orthodoxy" everywhere, in general they roughly come down to the same "everyday" secular interests: the mission of the Church consists in facilitating "the friendship of the peoples" and peace on earth, so that there should be no war or international tension, so that all peoples should love one another and care for "universal human values"; it consists in the political regeneration, for example, of "Great Russia," in the material restoration of "holy things which were trampled on"— "so that everything should go well for everybody."

But why should the Church worry about these interests, and not about Orthodoxy? Why care for "universal human values"? And what are these values anyway? What do they consist of, and where do they come from? Why regenerate Russia and ignore the regeneration of True Orthodoxy? What is the need for a "false" Russia? After all, Russia collapsed precisely because Orthodoxy was not preserved! Why do people often link the regeneration of Orthodoxy with the regeneration of Russia, and not the other way around?

For example, one meets believers who are ready to support the communists — not because they have suddenly become Orthodox, but because they supposedly stand "for a strong, law-and-order Russia."

Many people go to church for "consolation": life now is hard and joyless, all routine things are boring, people want something "spiritual," such as beautiful choirs, golden iconostases, and imposing priests in elegant vestments. But faith and the Church do not exist so that there be more consolations in this world, or that we should find some good companionship in the church that delivers us from the feeling of loneliness and not being needed. Faith and the Church exist so that one should prepare oneself for another life — and to this end it is not doing very much if you visit the church once a week and have pious conversations with acquaintances about the corruption of the world and the necessity of going to Church. You have to fight against your passions, to renounce the world and all that is valued in it. And this renunciation is an absolute condition of salvation, not only for monks, but also for laymen, for every Christian. The Gospel is the same for everybody: "Love not the world, nor the things that are in the world" (1 John 2:15); abandon whatever sinful habits you may have or your sinful mode of life as a whole; renounce worldly "consolations" — and that, not for the sake of immediately receiving spiritual consolation, but simply out of love for God and a striving to live in accordance with His commandments.

But when one begins to say such things as these, he immediately comes up against incomprehension, even offense. Many people want to legalize their lawlessness in life not only in a secular way, but also in the Church, for which they are sometimes ready to pay the church large sums of money. And then we find Moscow Patriarchal priests giving "blessings" for money — whatever you like, so long as you can live "more comfortably" — with the consciousness that "God's good Will" for your way of life is already guaranteed with the help of the priests who are in charge of it.

Other pastors, however, put on a "strict" demeanor, saying: "Don't do this, do that!" — but all this is normal within the bounds either of the worldly interests of the flock, or of the ambitious strivings of the pastors; but real salvation of the soul interests neither the former nor the latter.

But what do contemporary "believers" believe in? How do they square up this present ecclesiastical reality with the life of the saints and the ascetics, with the patristic teaching on salvation, with the words of the Lord on the narrow way, and with the teachings on the bearing of one's cross, on "hating one's soul" for the sake of the Gospel? Where has the Apostle's commandment on unceasing prayer gone, and on the necessity for those who use this world not to use it, as it were? Where is heed paid to the Apostle's words on false teachings and heresies? And in general what relationship does the whole Gospel have to contemporary "faith."

And yet contemporary believers still go to services, feel compunction, even weep! But what is the value of "spiritual feelings" while standing at prayer in church, when after doing these things the person calmly returns to his everyday life ("I've been to church, now I must get down to business")?

Why read the lives of the saints if the position is wittingly taken that "such heights are not for us sinful and weak ones, so there's nothing to strive for"? How can one regenerate real spirituality in the people if the pastors say that the Church canons, rules, and asceticism are one thing, but "ordinary life" is something else? And can one expect a person to understand such things as canons and heresies if he sometimes even considers it unnecessary to keep the fasts? Finally, even Roman Catholics or Muslims or other heretics also sometimes have even more religious "spiritual" feelings. So in general, why go into an Orthodox church if you are seeking only such "spirituality"? Perhaps it's more worth your while to go to a Roman Catholic church or a mosque — the moreso in that Muslims are often much more zealous about everything that concerns their faith than are Christians?

At this point, incidentally, I remember one more argument that is often used by Orthodox Russians in trying to draw unbelievers into the Church. For example, a person is looking for faith, he is striving for something spiritual and by chance is attracted by Buddhism or some other false teaching. An Orthodox says to him in horror: "What, how is it possible!? A Russian person can only be Orthodox!" Isn't that a wonderful argument! So a Tibetan or Buryat, for example, can only be a Buddhist? After all, this is their historical religion. And an Italian can only be a Roman Catholic? Isn't that a "fine" argument — one has to be Orthodox, not because the truth is in Orthodoxy, but because Orthodoxy is the historical religion of Russia! And what if a Russian then goes to live in Turkey — can he then become a Muslim?

It's still worse when a person keeps the fasts, fulfills his prayer rule, goes to church once a week, and "is content with that," as if he were already a completely respectable Christian. But such "piety" was reproached by St. John Chrysostom.

As regards the regeneration of Russia, who will dispute that it is necessary to regenerate her; but we must understand how that can be done.

If Russia fell as a result of apostasy from Orthodoxy, we must first strive to regenerate Orthodoxy, and not just "run-of-the-mill" Orthodoxy, like golden cupolas on the churches, icons on the family altar, pussy willows on Palm Sunday, cakes and eggs at Pascha, and communion after quite a formal confession once a year or so, or, at best, once in every fast period.

They had that kind of Orthodoxy in pre-revolutionary Russia, but it did not save her from the Communist Revolution. We must return to patristic Orthodoxy, which presupposes constant inner sobriety, struggle with the passions, striving for unceasing remembrance of God in prayer, fasting, almsgiving, frequent confession and communion, daily reading of the Holy Scriptures and the Holy Fathers, while striving to carry out the Fathers' instructions in reality and according to our powers, rejection of vain entertainment, and much else. When people acquire a correct understanding of what the true Christian life is, then Russia can be regenerated in time, as in the first centuries of Christianity, when believers simply first learned the faith and how to preserve it, and then the Orthodox empire appeared.

As regards signs of the coming of the Antichrist, it is amazing how sensitive some contemporary Orthodox are: everywhere they see "the number of the beast," "the seal of the Antichrist," "Judæo-Masonic conspiracies," "the claws of the beast." They fight for the removal of credit cards and the removal of bar-codes from food packaging. But for some reason they do not consider the apostasy from Orthodoxy of the overwhelming majority of contemporary hierarchs to be a sign of the speedy coming of the Antichrist, and if they do consider this to be true, they do not specially exert themselves to struggle against it. They will try to convince us that it is not worth buying something "sealed with the claws of the beast," but if you speak "too actively" against heretics and those who commune with heresy, these same "warriors' will label you proud and unspiritual "fanatics." More than that, bar-codes, don't you know, are much more dangerous! And struggling against them is much less dangerous for one's psychological comfort and life as a whole than struggling against heretics."

Believers who are particularly aware have one other occupation: with all their strength they "struggle against schism." In replying to charges of apostasy from the faith of the "official churches," they say, "How can that be; after all, we have so many miracles, our icons are myrrh-streaming, relics appear, elders instruct the people! But the Roman Catholics and Protestants also have multitudes of "miracles," and because of this they have not, and perhaps never will, become Orthodox.

Of course, it is much simpler to lay all decisions on the head of one or the other spiritual father or "elder" and live calmly without thinking any more about it. Time passes, and the general ability to think independently is lost. From personal experience we know Moscow Patriarchate believers who were once able to think clearly and did actually wonder about various canonical irregularities in the life of the Moscow Patriarchate. Later, persuaded by having read various Patriarchal literature and by having listened to a lot of "spiritual fathers and elders," they completely lost the gift of discerning truth from falsehood and hypocrisy from true piety. They will tell you about miracles, about somebody's visions and prophesies, about the veneration of the Holy Royal Martyrs in the Moscow Patriarchate, about "not judging," and about the necessity of praying for the hierarchs who are sinning against the faith, "that they correct themselves," and about the absolute impossibility of separating from them, since this would be a "schism."

It is particularly deplorable that all aspects of the faith-life of believers are being covered with lies. Thus stories about "visions of the saints," which are, in fact, of a clearly demonic character, are given credence as genuine heavenly manifestations.

As an example, let us take a publication in the newspaper Rus' Pravoslavnaya which is read and taken seriously by many zealots and warriors for Orthodoxy in the Moscow Patriarchate. In issue No. 1 for the year 2000 under the heading "Russia's Heavenly Host," there is a lengthy account of a certain "servant of God Nina" to whom the Royal Martyrs have allegedly appeared throughout her entire life. First, there are doubts about the authenticity of the account, insofar as it was submitted to the newspaper through a third party — a certain S. G. Trubytsin. But let us assume that all the described events really took place. What are we talking about here? At the age of six years Nina was allegedly healed of an incurable disease when the "Royal Martyrs" appeared to her. At that time she was told by the alleged martyrs: "When you grow up, tell people directly: let them not search for our remains; they don't exist!" The second time they appeared to her in the classroom in 1972 when she was studying in the eighth grade: "His Majesty came up to us and blessed us all. And he said to them, ‘You will live to see my glorification. Write down all that you have seen." Allegedly, the Empress Alexandra said to His Majesty: "You know you are not yet glorified, and yet you are already giving blessings."And he turned to her and smiled and said, "Not you, but we! We are all blessing together."

Further on, Nina's account continues: "Now I already have five children, and we live in Moscow. In recent years I have seen Tsar Nicholas several times in my sleep. Once His Majesty said: ‘They don't believe you now, but they soon will.' He repeated this several times and pointed to a calendar on the wall, where he was represented with the whole royal family, and said: ‘Hang it in the holy corner and pray.' Another time he said: ‘Tell the priests that they should paint icons and that there should be prayer. Through these icons I will obtain miraculous aid. I have power to help many. And I will receive power to help the whole people when I am glorified on earth! And then tell them that Russia will flourish for a short time.'" (From this one would have to conclude that the apparitions do not consider the 1981glorification of the Royal Martyrs to be a true glorification.)

Further on he threatens St. Petersburg and Russia as a whole with all kinds of woes if they bury and venerate false relics, and exhorts: "Tell everyone that if we glorify His Majesty, he will arrange everything! And there will be no war! Write it down and pass it on to the clergy. Amidst the clergy there are some who are not real; they are stooges, liars. They will hide much of what I have said from the people. And others will believe and help you."

Here we see the Patriarchal myth that is now widespread, that as soon as the Tsar is glorified, immediately "everything will be all right." Not a word is said about the preservation of Orthodoxy; it is probably presupposed that the Moscow Patriarchate, notwithstanding the presence of a certain number of "lying priests," is irreproachable as a church. Nothing is said about the hierarchs. The "Tsar" allegedly appeared to Nina for the last time in broad daylight last winter in the Danilov monastery and reproached her for saying nothing about his appearances. He blessed her like a priest, and this time he appeared to her at the beginning in secular attire, but a few minutes later in priestly.vestments. "He began to disappear before our eyes, as if he were going up, until he dissolved in the air."

If all this is not just madness or some church hooligan's forgery, then it is, clearly, demonic activity.

It is noteworthy that the woman more than once even had doubts whether the person who appeared to her was really who he said he was. She had probably never read what the holy Fathers say about all visions and appearances, and about the true Christian attitude toward them.

But the most terrible thing is that in the newspaper this "appearance" is taken for completely genuine and that it will be seen in the same light by the majority of readers. If we remember the false relics of St. Alexander of Svir, which in their time were ardently defended by the same Rus' Pravoslavnaya, and a mass of myrrh-streaming icons and other contemporary Patriarchal "miracles," the conclusion has to be drawn that we are dealing here with demonic deception, not just with individual heretical hierarchs and priests, but also masses of believers in the Moscow Patriarchate. Before our eyes is being fulfilled the holy Apostle Paul's terrible prophecy about the "influence of error" (the mystery of iniquity): "God shall send them great delusion that they should believe a lie" (2 Thes. 2:7). These messages are sent to those who did not believe the truth of Orthodox teachings of the faith as taught us by the Holy Fathers.

Even those who by the mercy of God are in the true Church of Christ should fear lest, by a mindless justification of the lost members of the official churches, out of a falsely understood "love for our neighbor," they draw upon themselves the wrath of God and that same influence of error which is inevitably found in all those who "had pleasure in unrighteousness" (2 Thes. 1:11–12). For the truth is not contained in our musings and cognitions, but in the patristic teaching that is recognized by the whole Church. But if we, so as "not to frighten" the fainthearted, and out of a desire to please this world, begin to distort, soften, or keep quiet about this teaching and in this form preach it to people, then we shall undoubtedly be condemned with this world, and our pseudo-Orthodoxy will not help us.

Tatiana Senina, St. Petersburg, Russia

The Holy Fathers Speak

The tales of the poets tell us that of old the hydra when its heads were cut off gained by its injuries, and sprang up more abundantly. . . Thus also heresies in the churches bear some likeness to that hydra invented by the poet, for they too hiss against us with deadly tongues, and they too cast forth their deadly poison, and spring up again when their heads are cut off. . . The remedy should be the more speedy as the sickness is the more dangerous. . . For these shoots of an unnatural seed are no new thing in the churches. The harvest of the Lord's field has always had to put up with burrs and briars, and in it the shoots of choking tares have constantly spring up.

St. John Cassian

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