Friday, February 02, 2007

a bunch of little old men standing around in the dark

If you've spent much time on this blog, you've probably noticed that I seem to have a lot of affinity for ROCOR (to those who might not know the ins and outs of Orthodox jurisdictions, that's the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia, also known as ROCA, the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad). Partly, this impression is exaggerated by the process that's been underway over the past few years, and particularly over the past year or two--the movement toward reunification of ROCOR with the Moscow Patriarchate. I hope that my excitement over this process is shared by more in the Orthodox world than those who lean toward Russian Orthodoxy in particular. We should all rejoice to see old divisions (well, maybe not so old in the Orthodox perspective) ready to heal. And I don't think it's exaggerating to say that all of world Orthodoxy suffered the effects of the Communist regime in Russia--it was a huge blow to what was at the time the most powerful (and still the largest) Orthodox Church in the world. Certainly some suffered worse than others, but all suffered. Here in America, the vision of a unified Church still seems remote--a vision that would in all likelihood have been a continuing reality if things had gone otherwise.

But yes, I personally do feel an affinity for ROCOR. Given the choice of parishes in my area, I ended up going with an Antiochian one for various reasons (most of which are probably around here somewhere); but the second candidate was definitely ROCOR. I guess some of it is a general respect for Russian Orthodoxy. I wouldn't necessarily follow the hard-line Third Rome way of thinking, but Russia really did step up to protect Orthodoxy when so much of the Orthodox world had fallen under oppression. I also appreciate the outreach of Russian Orthodoxy that took place before the Revolution. How could I not? It was Russian Orthodoxy that began the missionary enterprise in North America and gave us our first saints. I also like how they preserve just about everything in their worship. While I respect the effort to accommodate people's weakness, with shorter services, more sitting, etc., I love this Church that doesn't shy away from standing for hours at a time. And regarding ROCOR in particular, how can I not appreciate their suffering, and their perseverance, to hold out hope that one day the godless regime would fall, and once again Russia would be Russia. Along the way, they've had to endure the label of schismatic--but this reunion is their vindication. I rejoice with them in that, and I pray for their success.

I love this quote (the subject line of this post) from Fr. George, now of Holy Apostles Church in Beltsville, MD. He says in his conversion testimony that a friend described ROCOR worship as "a bunch of little old men standing around in the dark," and that he felt he just had to check it out. But these little old men are giants, and under all the pressures that came in their lives, they did what they had to do--they stood. As he puts it, they "had not bowed the knee to the Bolsheviks." When you boil it all down, this is what martyrs and confessors do--they know how to bow before God and stand before men, and not confuse the two. That's what I like about St. Peter the Aleut--we know almost nothing about him except that he stood his ground in the face of persecution and even death. And so it is with the countless saints who suffered under Communism.

Fr. George also points to an influential book--Russia's Catacomb Saints--that first awakened him to the spiritual strength of these people. When he originally told me about it, I wasn't able to find a copy to buy or borrow. He had had two copies at one point but loaned one out that was never returned. He was reluctant to let the other one go. I see, though, that someone is working on putting the book online. There are a few chapters available, with many more to go. It's a good taste, though. I highly recommend it.

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