Sunday, September 30, 2007

men and Orthodoxy

That article I mentioned about men and Orthodoxy has been published. I don't see it yet on beliefnet, but Frederica has a copy on her blog. Maybe I should give out a prize for anyone who can identify my quote(s) :-)

Thursday, September 27, 2007

reviewing my story

Recently I was asked to contribute some thoughts to an article about men and Orthodoxy. There's no particular distinction in that--I was one of something like a hundred men contacted for that one article, and it's anyone's guess which quotes will make it into the final product. It's got me thinking, though, about my journey to Orthodoxy. I still have no idea how many people read this blog or who most of them are, but it's possible that some have started here too late to see my rather lengthy, multi-part account of my journey, which I posted more than a year ago, which I wrote about a year before that. The nine segments that I posted were:

Coming Home: Why I Have No Choice but to Be Orthodox
For the most part, it still seems like an accurate representation. If I were to write it over again, I'd probably emphasize certain points differently.

If you want a quick-and-dirty chronology, either so you can skip the narrative altogether or to help keep straight what happened when, here's the gist:

My Philippians 3 list:
  • born into an Evangelical home (1975)
  • active in my youth group--quiz team, Scripture memory, choir, writing, preaching, etc. (1987-93)
  • graduated top of my class from Bible college (1996)
  • graduated top of my class from seminary (1998/2000)
  • taught college classes in Bible, theology, and language (1998-2000)
  • earned an M.A. (and ABD) in Semitic languages (2003/2004)
Key Milestones:
  • 1994--adopted a strong, four-point Calvinism
  • 1996--Tony Badger fired from PBC for teaching against Lordship Salvation (I later adopted his view)
  • 1997--adopted a radically biblical approach to theology; adopted Arminianism (with eternal security, not Calvinist perseverance)
  • 1999--controversy erupted at WBC/CBS over the Openness of God (pros were mostly WBC faculty, cons were mostly CBS--I was teaching at one school and still finishing up as a student at the other)
  • 2000--started exploring non-Evangelical hermeneutics
  • 2001--started exploring Oriental Orthodoxy and traditional fasting
  • 2002--started exploring Orthodox Judaism and liturgical prayer
  • 2003--started exploring Messianic Judaism
  • 2004--first Eastern Orthodox prayer book; first visit to St. Matthew's
  • 2005--resumed Orthodox fasting; first visits to Holy Cross and Holy Apostles; informed Evangelical friends
  • 2006--informed parents and in-laws; became a catechumen at Holy Cross
  • 2007--first visit to St. Tikhon's Monastery

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

more Chrysostom on prayer

In his fourth homily on Hannah, St. John discusses at length the practical application of frequent prayer:
Blessed David also practised [prayer], and hence said, "Seven times a day I praised you for the judgments of your righteousness." Now, if a king, a man immersed in countless concerns and beset from every quarter, beseeches God so many times a day, what excuse or pardon would we have, with so much free time on our hands, not to implore him incessantly, especially as this puts us in a position to reap such benefit? . . .

How is it possible, you ask, for a man of the world, tied to the bench, to pray three times a day and betake himself to church? It is possible and quite simple: even if heading off to church is not manageable, it is possible even for the man tied to the bench to stand there in the vestibule and pray. After all, there is not such need for words as for thoughts, for outstretched hands as for a disciplined soul, for deportment as for attitude, since Hannah herself was heard not for uttering a loud and clear cry but for calling out loudly inside in the heart: "Her voice was not audible, but the Lord hearkened to her," the text says, note. Many other people also did this in many cases, despite the officer calling out from inside, threatening, ranting and raving, while they stood in the porch making the sign of the cross and saying a few prayers in their mind, and then going in and transforming and soothing him, turning him from wild to mild. They were not prevented from praying like this by the place or the time or the absence of words. Do likewise yourself: groan deeply, recall your sins, gaze towards heaven, say in your mind, "Have mercy on me, O God," and you have completed your prayer. The one who said "Have mercy," after all, gave evidence of confession, and acknowledged their own sins: it belongs to sinners to have mercy shown. The one who said "Have mercy on me" received pardon for their faults: the one to whom mercy has been shown is not punished. The one who said "Have mercy" attained the kingdom of heaven: the one on whom God will have mercy he not only frees from sin but also judges worthy of the future goods.

Accordingly, let us not make excuses, claiming a house of prayer is not close by: if we have the right dispositions, the grace of the Spirit made us personally temples of God, and there is ease for us in every respect. Our worship, after all, is not of the kind that formerly prevailed among the Jews, which was long on appearance but short on reality. In that case, you see, the worshiper had to go up to the temple, buy a turtle-dove, get hold of wood and fire, take sword in hand, appear before the altar, and carry out many other requirements. In our case, on the other hand, it is not like that: wherever you are, you have the altar with you, the sword, and the victim, you yourself being priest and altar and victim. In other words, wherever you are, you can set up the altar, giving evidence only of an attentive will, place being no obstacle, time no hindrance; even if you do not go down on your knees, do not strike your breast or raise your hands to heaven, and merely demonstrate an ardent disposition, you have completed the whole of the prayer. It is possible for a woman with distaff in hand working at the loom to gaze towards heaven in her mind and call upon God with ardor; it is possible for a man venturing into the marketplace and walking by himself to pray with attention, and for someone else seated at the workbench sewing skins to direct his soul to the Lord; it is possible for a servant making purchases and running hither and yon, or standing in the kitchen, when there is no possibility of going to church, to pray attentively and ardently. Place is not something God is ashamed of: he looks for one thing only, a fervent mind and sober spirit. . . .

In saying this, I exhort you unceasingly to keep up the habit of visiting the churches and praying at home in tranquility, and when time allows going on your knees and stretching out your hands. If, however, we are caught up by reason of time or place with a crowd of people, let us not on that account abandon prayer, but in the fashion I mentioned to your good selves pray and beseech God in the conviction of gaining your petition nonetheless with that prayer. I said as much, not for you to applaud and marvel, but for you to practise this yourselves, night time and day time, interspersing the time of work with prayers and petitions.

Chrysostom on prayer without ceasing

In St. John Chrysostom's second homily on Hannah, he writes:
But how is it that the text says that "she continued" her prayer? Surely the woman's length of prayer was short . . . . She kept saying the same thing over and over again, and did not stop spending a long time with the same words. This, at any rate, is the way Christ bade us pray in the Gospels: telling the disciples not to pray like the pagans and use a lot of words, he taught us moderation in prayer to bring out that being heard comes not from the number of words but from the alertness of mind. So how is it, you ask, that if our prayers must be brief, he told them a parable on the need to pray always, namely, the one about the widow who by the constancy of her request wore down the cruel and inhumane judge, who had fear neither of God nor of men, by the persistence of her appeal? and how is it that Paul exhorts us in the words, "Persevere in prayer," and again, "Pray without ceasing"? I mean, if we must not reach to lengthy statements, and must pray constantly, one command is at variance with the other.

It is not at variance, however--perish the thought; it is quite consistent: both Christ and Paul bade us make brief and frequent prayers at short intervals. You see, if you extend your prayers to great length without paying much attention in many cases, you would provide the devil with great security in making his approach, tripping you up and distracting your thoughts from what you are saying. If, on the other hand, you are in the habit of making frequent prayers, dividing all your time into brief intervals with your frequency, you would easily be able to keep control of yourself and recite the prayers themselves with great attention.
His argument here is quite plain and is repeated in many Orthodox sources. I'm not sure how or where it was lost somewhere between the fourth century and today's Evangelical thinking about prayer, but it bears consideration in any case.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Till We Have Faces

Several years back I discovered C. S. Lewis's novel Till We Have Faces--an adaptation of a Greek myth about Psyche, who though mortal is so beautiful that she provokes the jealousy of Aphrodite. She ends up chained on a mountain as an offering to a dragon, but Eros rescues her and marries her. He will not let her see his face, but her sisters persuade her to sneak a peek while he's sleeping. She is caught and banished as a result. I never actually read the book back then, and it slipped my mind until recently, when someone referred to it in a talk I was listening to. I decided to get it from the library so I could finally read it.

It's a good story, all in all, and an interesting twist on the myth. What we get is the "back story" from the perspective of the sister (there are two sisters, but only one visits Psyche and persuades her to disobey her husband). She writes in protest against the gods, to set the record straight and present her complaints about their manipulation. We discover late in the book her specific motivation--that years after the key events take place, she encounters a temple to Psyche and is told the story in a different form. Essentially, the priest at the temple presents the classical version of the myth, but her own recollection of things is more complicated. One major difference is that the palace in which Psyche lives is invisible to outside observers. Aside from one brief glimpse at night, her sister cannot see it, or Psyche's clothes, but what appears to be a girl in rags, living (though living well enough) in the woods. She struggles with various doubts and theories about what is going on, until she finally determines to force Psyche by whatever means necessary to look at her husband and see whether he is actually a god.

There is a teacher in the story--a Greek slave--who speaks for secularism (he seems to be a stoic, but Lewis is, after all, writing for a modern audience), while the barbarian natives have a more ingrained trust in the supernatural. Neither contingent sees the truth, however, so for instance when the sister is processing Psyche's situation, one side says the "husband" can only be a criminal vagabond of the mountains, while the other allows that he is probably a demon or monster.

Probably the most poignant part of the story for me comes when the two sisters meet after Psyche is sacrificed. The joy that she is alive gives way to confusion when she speaks of a palace that should be present but isn't. To Psyche it is real and present and substantial; to her sister it is invisible and most likely a hallucination. There is a strong echo here of the dwarfs at the end of the Chronicles of Narnia. In the final chapters of the last book, when that world reaches its end, and those who refuse to side with the Antichrist figure are cast into a stable to be killed, most find the door to be a portal into heaven. A few, however, experience it as merely the entrance to a dank stable and act accordingly. The others can see them as if they were in heaven with everyone else, but as far as they are concerned, it's dark, and small, and smells and feels exactly like a stable should. A group of dwarfs who chose in the end to take no one's side falls into this latter category, and they sit in a tight circle, oblivious to the world around them. No matter what the others try, they cannot convince them that they are anywhere but a stable.

In Narnia, it's a pretty clear image of the notion that Lewis expresses elsewhere--that people who end up in hell are there by their own choosing, not even in some special place per se, but experiencing the presence and love of God through the darkness of their own hearts. This is a fully Orthodox notion--the light that the blessed will experience will be fire to the damned, only because they choose to experience God's love as hatred. Here, the interaction is very much the same, but without the kind of finality you get in the other story. What struck me when I read it was not so much the connection with Narnia, but with my own situation. Sometimes when I'm trying to communicate with Julie about Orthodoxy it feels like Psyche trying to tell her sister about the palace. To her, it is there, it is real and plain as anything, and she need only take it in--but to her sister, it is totally invisible and can only have some dark explanation (whether natural or supernatural).

In the same way, what seems so real and meaningful to me about Orthodoxy (I can only imagine) seems half-baked, if not downright insane to Julie. It's a desperate moment when you realize the other person can't see what seems so plain to you. You realize that the things that seem most obvious are that much harder to explain to those who can't see them, much less convince them that they're there. At the same time, you can't help but feel sympathy toward the sister in the story, who for all that she can see has no good reason to accept Psyche's story. (Except, of course, that she was formerly a very honest and very real person, who was not at all likely to make up such things--but there is no Professor Kirk in this tale to point that out.) Likewise, I feel sympathy for Julie and other Evangelicals who react the same way. There's simply no room in their world for all this mystical hocus-pocus. I didn't get here by "figuring it out" or by forcing my will to accept it. Only God knows what it really took to open my eyes so I could see, and only he knows what it will take for them.

The real problem is if someone does see and still refuses to believe. In the story, after Psyche glimpses the god and is banished, he appears briefly to her sister as well, and in no uncertain terms. From that point on, her continued resistance is of a different sort, because now she knows and has no excuse. It seems to me that something similar happens with Orthodoxy. For most Evangelicals, the big hurdle they'll never even bother to clear is recognizing Orthodoxy for what it is. Many never really encounter it at all; others might have some exposure but see it through the lenses of what they already know and believe and decide it doesn't measure up. It's when the glasses come off, and they see Orthodoxy in truth that the decision to reject it becomes particularly problematic. At that point, they've moved from not knowing to not wanting what they do know. Certainly such a response is possible, but if the Spirit has truly been at work in their lives, can it be common? I hope not.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

can we ever make them happy?

I want to start out by clarifying the tone of my title here. It's not an exasperated exclamation, but a thoughtful and honest inquiry. I don't know the answer, but it bears considering. That said, what am I talking about?

Today I ran across a talk given by Hieromonk Damascene about a year ago, on the subject of Orthodox Evangelism. Whenever I encounter such things, I'm initially excited about the prospect of passing them along to Evangelical friends, or at least taking away useful tidbits for possible discussion. In most cases, however, as in this one, initial excitement gives way to frustration. I don't mean to blame Fr. Damascene here, or any other writer or speaker whose materials have provoked this kind of response. There's nothing they're doing wrong. It's just that I know how some of what they say will be received, and how it will tend to color the reception of their overall message.

I wrote last year about how it seems that Evangelicals react negatively to Orthodoxy in opposite directions, when they judge its view of salvation as both too legalistic and too universalist. Here, it seems like there's something similar at work. On one hand, they accuse Orthodoxy of ignoring the Great Commission. And certainly, Orthodoxy has had its share of problems in this area. Although there are plenty of historical examples one can point to, where Orthodox saints have brought the Gospel to unreached peoples, in recent history they seem to be few and far between. Although present trends in America and some other places are more favorable, with Orthodoxy experiencing significant growth, the reaction is often that they are growing mostly by taking in disgruntled Protestants. (This is not altogether accurate or fair, but there is a certain amount of truth. Case in point--I recently listened to an interview with the editors of Death to the World, an Orthodox punk zine, who set up shop at Christian music festivals, where presumably most of the target audience already has some connection with Christianity.) There is important stuff happening, to be sure, but it still looks rather inward focused by comparison with what a lot of Evangelicals are used to.

On the other hand, when you do find someone promoting evangelism with an Orthodox audience, as in Fr. Damascene's talk, there is another problem for Evangelicals. To motivate Orthodox to take the Great Commission seriously, he stresses that it is not enough for Christianity to be spread around the world--it must be Orthodox Christianity. So (Evangelicals reply), now Orthodoxy has the only true Gospel, and what the rest of us are doing is worthless! Well (we say), which do you want? First you don't think we get what a pressing need there is to go out and preach the Gospel, then when we do, you think we overestimate the message that we uniquely have for the world.

I think I know the Evangelical response--we don't want you to evangelize on your own terms, but to join us in evangelizing on ours. At least, that would be the honest response. Evangelicals obviously aren't going to accept Orthodoxy's claim to be the one, holy, catholic, apostolic Church. For one thing, if there is such a thing, it can only be the invisible Church comprising all believers everywhere. For another, if they accepted the Orthodox view on this point, they would themselves become Orthodox--there would be no other rational response they could give. So they'll always see a claim to be the one, unique Church as exclusivistic. For Orthodox to evangelize properly (they would assume), they must first straighten out their ecclesiology and enter the arena of evangelism as part of the Protestant team. If Orthodoxy does not proactively evangelize, it will be judged as ignoring the Great Commission; if it tries to evangelize on its own terms, it will be perhaps worse yet--it will be working against the Evangelical effort.

So, to return to my question, can we ever make them happy? Is there a way for Orthodox as Orthodox to evangelize the lost without antagonizing Evangelicals? Should we bother trying? One thing that I think needs to be communicated as clearly as possible is that we're not in the business of proselytizing Evangelicals or other Christians. We believe Orthodoxy is the true Church, but we don't generally go around telling people they need to leave their churches or face the wrath of God. For one thing, we don't believe that per se--mostly we're agnostic about what will happen if they stay where they are. For another, we just don't see that kind of thing as our mission. A lot of Evangelicals have come into the Orthodox Church, but for the most part, they've done it on their own initiative. If anything, Orthodox have probably been less helpful than they could have been to these Evangelical seekers.

Holding to the idea of the one, holy, catholic, apostolic Church may sound like "us vs. them," but that's not how we treat it. This may sound offensive, but in a sense, there can be no "us vs. them," because there is no "them." It's never "our church vs. your church"--there is only one Church. We think we're in, and we think everyone else should be too. But whether they are or aren't is a matter of individual standing--there's no other team "out there" for us to play against. (Not a Christian one, anyway.)

I could go on with this, but I think I've already dug myself a deep enough hole, with no hope of climbing out. Maybe I'm trying too hard for something that doesn't exist. Maybe this is one of those things that you only get once you're in and can see it from a place of faith. Maybe I'm not the one they should be listening to, anyway.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

more from the Gulag Archipelago

In the lengthy excerpt that follows, Solzhenitsyn recounts two trials related to the famine in the Volga region after the Russian Civil War. The question of spending money to make worship beautiful vs. giving it to help the poor is a long-standing one; the agenda of the Soviet government, however, seems to have gone far beyond any legitimate critique in that area, to manipulate the circumstances as an excuse to attack the Church:
[342] In the two trials following we will take leave of our favorite supreme accuser for a while: he is occupied with his preparations for the major trial of the SR's. This spectacular trial aroused a great deal of emotion in Europe beforehand, and the People's Commissariat of Justice was suddenly taken aback: after all, we had been trying people for four years without any code, neither a new one nor an old one. And in all probability Krylenko himself was concerned about the code too. Everything had to be neatly tied up ahead of time.

The coming church trials were internal. They didn't interest progressive Europe. And they could be conducted without a code. We have already had an opportunity to observe that the separation of church and state was so construed by the state that the churches themselves and everything that hung in them, was installed in them and painted in them, belonged to the state, and the only church remaining was that church which, in accordance with the Scriptures, lay within the heart. And in 1918, when political victory seemed to have been attained faster and more easily than had been expected, they had pressed right on to confiscate church property. However, this leap had aroused too fierce a wave of popular indignation. In the heat of the Civil War, it was not very intelligent to create, in addition, an internal front against the believers. And it proved necessary to postpone for the time being the dialogue between the Communists and the Christians.

At the end of the Civil War, and as its natural consequence, an unprecedented famine developed in the Volga area. They give it only two lines in the official histories because it doesn't add a very ornamental touch to the wreaths of the victors in that war. But the famine existed nonetheless--to the point of cannibalism, to the point at which parents ate their own children--such a famine as even Russia had never known, even in the Time of Troubles in the early seventeenth century. (Because at that time, as the historians testify, unthreshed ricks of grain survived intact [343] beneath the snow and ice for several years.) Just one film about famine might throw a new light on everything we saw and everything we know about the Revolution and the Civil War. But there are no films and no novels and no statistical research--the effort is to forget it. It does not embellish. Besides, we have come to blame the kulaks as the cause of every famine--and just who were the kulaks in the midst of such collective death? V. G. Korolenko, in his Letters to Lunacharsky (which, despite Lunacharsky's promise, were never officially published in the Soviet Union), explains to us Russia's total, epidemic descent into famine and destitution. It was the result of productivity having been reduced to zero (the working hands were all carrying guns) and the result, also, of the peasants' utter lack of trust and hope that even the smallest part of the harvest might be left for them. Yes, and someday someone will also count up those many carloads of food supplies rolling on and on for many, many months to Imperial Germany, under the terms of the peace treaty of Brest-Litovsk--from a Russia which had been deprived of a protesting voice, from the very provinces where famine would strike--so that Germany could fight to the end in the West.

There was a direct, immediate chain of cause and effect. The Volga peasants had to eat their children because we were so impatient about putting up with the Constituent Assembly.

But political genius lies in extracting success even from the people's ruin. A brilliant idea was born: after all, three billiard balls can be pocketed with one shot. So now let the priests feed the Volga region! They are Christians. They are generous!
  1. If they refuse, we will blame the whole famine on them and destroy the church.
  2. If they agree, we will clean out the churches.
  3. In either case, we will replenish our stocks of foreign exchange and precious metals.
Yes, and the idea was probably inspired by the actions of the church itself. As Patriarch Tikhon himself had testified, back in August, 1921, at the beginning of the famine, the church had [344] created diocesan and all-Russian committees for aid to the starving and had begun to collect funds. But to have permitted any direct help to go straight from the church into the mouths of those who were starving would have undermined the dictatorship of the proletariat. The committees were banned, and the funds they had collected were confiscated and turned over to the state treasury. The Patriarch had also appealed to the Pope in Rome and to the Archbishop of Canterbury for assistance--but he was rebuked for this, too, on the grounds that only the Soviet authorities had the right to enter into discussions with foreigners. Yes, indeed. And what was there to be alarmed about? The newspapers wrote that the government itself had all the necessary means to cope with the famine.

Meanwhile, in the Volga region they were eating grass, the soles of shoes, and gnawing at door jambs. And, finally, in December, 1921, Pomgol--the State Commission for Famine Relief--proposed that the churches help the starving by donating church valuables--not all, but those not required for liturgical rites. The Patriarch agreed. Pomgol issued a directive: all gifts must be strictly voluntary! On Febraury 19, 1922, the Patriarch issued a pastoral letter permitting the parish councils to make gifts of objects that did not have liturgical and ritual significance.

And in this way matters could again have simply degenerated into a compromise that would have frustrated the will of the proletariat, just as it once had been by the Constituent Assembly, and still was in all the chatterbox European parliaments.

The thought came in a stroke of lightning! The thought came--and a decree followed! A decree of the All-Russian Central Executive Committee on February 26: all valuables were to be requisitioned from the churches--for the starving!

The Patriarch wrote to Kalinin, who did not reply. Then on February 28 the Patriarch issued a new, fateful pastoral letter: from the church's point of view such a measure is sacrilege, and we cannot approve the requisition.

From the distance of a half-century, it is easy to reproach the Patriarch. Of course, the leaders of the Christian church ought not to have been distracted by wondering whether other resources might not be available to the Soviet government, and who it was who had driven the Volga to famine. They ought not to have clung to those treasures, since the possibility of a new fortress of faith arising--if it existed at all--did not depend on them. But one has also to picture the situation of that unfortunate Patriarch, not elected to his post until after the October Revolution, who had for a few short years led a church that was always persecuted, restricted, under fire, and whose preservation had been entrusted to him.

But right then and there a sure-fire campaign of persecution began in the papers, directed against the Patriarch and high church authorities who were strangling the Volga region with the bony hand of famine. And the more firmly the Patriarch clung to his position, the weaker it became. In March a movement to relinquish the valuables, to come to an agreement with the government, began even among the clergy, Their still undispelled qualms were expressed to Kalinin by Bishop Antonin Grunovsky, a member of the Central Committee of Pomgol: "The believers fear that the church valuables may be used for other purposes, more limited and alien to their hearts." (Knowing the general principles of our Progressive Doctrine, the experienced reader will agree that this was indeed very probable. After all, the Comintern's needs
and those of the East in the course of being liberated were no less acute than those of the Volga.)

The Petrograd Metropolitan, Veniamin, was similarly impelled by a mood of trust: "This belongs to God and we will give all of it by ourselves." But forced requisitions were wrong. Let the sacrifice be of our own free will. He, too, wanted verification by the clergy and the believers: to watch over the church valuables up to the very moment when they were transformed into bread for the starving. And in all this be was tormented lest he violate the censuring will of the Patriarch.

In Petrograd things seemed to be working out peacefully. The atmosphere at the session of the Petrograd Pomgol on March 5, 1922, was even joyful, according to the testimony of an eyewitness. Veniamin announced: "The Orthodox Church is prepared to give everything to help the starving." It saw sacrilege only in forced requisition. But in that case requisition was unnecessary! Kanatchikov, Chairman of the Petrograd Pomgol, gave his assurances that this would produce a favorable attitude toward the church on the part of the Soviet government. (Not [346] very likely, that!) In a burst of good feeling, everyone stood up. The Metropolitan said: "The heaviest burden is division and enmity. But the time will come when the Russian people will unite. I myself, at the head of the worshipers, will remove the cover [of precious metals and precious stones] from the ikon of the Holy Virgin of Kazan. I will shed sweet tears on it and give it away." He gave his blessing to the Bolshevik members of Pomgol and they saw him to the door with bared heads. The newspaper Petrogradskaya Pravda, in its issues of March 8, 9, and 10, confirmed the peaceful, successful outcome of the talks, and spoke favorably of the Metropolitan. "In Smolny they agreed that the church vessels and ikon coverings would be melted down into ingots in the presence of the believers."

Again things were getting fouled up with some kind of compromise! The noxious fumes of Christianity were poisoning the revolutionary will. That kind of unity and that way of handing over the valuables were not what the starving people of the Volga needed! The spineless membership of the Petrograd Pomgol was changed. The newspapers began to howl about the "evil pastors" and "princes of the church," and the representatives of the church were told: "We don't need your donations! And there won't be any negotiations with you! Everything belongs to the government--and the government will take whatever it considers necessary."

And so forcible requisitions, accompanied by strife, began in Petrograd, as they did everywhere else.

And this provided the legal basis for initiating trials of the clergy.

H. The Moscow Church Trial--April 26-May 7, 1922

This took place in the Polytechnic Museum. The court was the Moscow Revtribunal, under Presiding Judge Bek; the prosecutors were Lunin and Longinov. There were seventeen defendants, including archpriests and laymen, accused of disseminating the Patriarch's proclamation. This charge was more important than [347] the question of surrendering, or not surrendering, church valuables. Archpriest A. N. Zaozersky had surrendered all the valuables in his own church, but he defended in principle the Patriarch's appeal regarding forced requisition as sacrilege, and he became the central personage in the trial--and would shortly be shot. (All of which went to prove that what was important was not to feed the starving but to make use of a convenient opportunity to break the back of the church.)

On May 5 Patriarch Tikhon was summoned to the tribunal as a witness. Even though the public was represented only by a carefully selected audience (1922, in this respect, differing little from 1937 and 1968), nonetheless the stamp of Old Russia was still so deep, and the Soviet stamp was still so superficial, that on the Patriarch's entrance more than half of those present rose to receive his blessing.

Tikhon took on himself the entire blame for writing and disseminating his appeal. The presiding judge of the tribunal tried to elicit a difTerent line of testimony from him: "But it isn't possible! Did you really write it in your own hand? All the lines? You probably just signed it. And who actually wrote it? And who were your advisers?" and then: "Why did you mention in the appeal the persecution to which the newspapers are subjecting you?' [After all, they are persecuting you and why should we hear about it?] What did you want to express?"

The Patriarch: "That is something you will have to ask the people who started the persecution: What objectives were they pursuing?"

The Presiding Judge: "But that after all has nothing to do with religion!"

The Patriarch: "It has historical significance."

The Presiding Judge: "Referring to the fact that the decree was published while you were in the midst of talks with Pomgol, you used the expression, behind your back?"

The Patriarch: "Yes."

Presiding Judge: "You therefore consider that the Soviet government acted incorrectly?"

A crushing argument! It will be repeated a million times more in the nighttime oflices of interrogators! And we will never answer as simply and straightforwardly as:

The Patriarch: "Yes."

[348] The Presiding Judge: "Do you consider the state's laws obligatory or not?"

The Patriarch: "Yes, I recognize them, to the extent that they do not contradict the rules of piety."

(Oh, if only everyone had answered just that way! Our whole history would have been different.)

A debate about church law followed. The Patriarch explained that if the church itself surrendered its valuables, it was not sacrilege. But if they were taken away against the church's will, it was. His appeal had not prohibited giving the valuables at all, but had only declared that seizing them against the will of the church was to be condemned.

(But that's what we wanted--expropriation against the will of the church!)

Comrade Bek, the presiding judge, was astounded: "Which in the last analysis is more important to you--the laws of the church or the point of view of the Soviet government?"

(The expected reply: "The Soviet government.")

"Very well; so it was sacrilege according to the laws of the church," exclaimed the accuser, "but what was it from the point of view of mercy?"

(For the first and last time--for another fifty years--that banal word mercy was spoken before a tribunal.)

Then there was a philological analysis of the word "svyatotatstvo," meaning "sacrilege," derived from "svyato," meaning "holy," and "tat," meaning "thief."

The Accuser: "So that means that we, the representatives of the Soviet government, are thieves of holy things?"

(A prolonged uproar in the hall. A recess. The bailiffs at work.)

The Accuser: "So you call the representatives of the Soviet government, the All-Russian Central Executive Committee, thieves?"

The Patriarch: "I am citing only church law."

Then there is a discussion of the term "blasphemy." While they were requisitioning the valuables from the church of St. Basil the Great of Caesarea, the ikon cover would not fit into a box, and at that point they trampled it with their feet. But the Patriarch himself had not been present.

[349] The Accuser: "How do you know that? Give us the name of the priest who told you that. [And we will arrest him immediately!]"

The Patriarch does not give the name.

That means it was a lie!

The Accuser presses on triumphantly: "No, who spread that repulsive slander?"

The Presiding Judge: "Give us the names of those who trampled the ikon cover! [One can assume that after doing it they left their visiting cards!] Otherwise the tribunal cannot believe you!"

The Patriarch cannot name them.

The Presiding Judge: "That means you have made an unsubstantiated assertion."

It still remained to be proved that the Patriarch wanted to overthrow the Soviet government. And here is how it was proved: "Propaganda is an attempt to prepare a mood preliminary to preparing a revolt in the future."

The tribunal ordered criminal charges to be brought against the Patriarch.

On May 7 sentence was pronounced: of the seventeen defendants, eleven were to be shot. (They actually shot five.)

As Krylenko said: "We didn't come here just to crack jokes."

One week later the Patriarch was removed from office and arrested. (But this was not the very end. For the time being he was taken to the Donskoi Monastery and kept there in strict incarceration, so that the believers would grow accustomed to his absence. Remember how just a short while before Krylenko had been astonished: what danger could possibly threaten the Patriarch? Truly, when the danger really does come, there's no help for it, either in alarm bells or in telephone calls.)

Two weeks after that, the Metropolitan Veniamin was arrested in Petrograd. He had not been a high official of the church before the Revolution. Nor had he even been appointed, like almost all Metropolitans. In the spring of 1917, for the first time since the days of ancient Novgorod the Great, they had elected a Metropolitan in Moscow and in Petrograd. A gentle, simple, easily accessible man, a frequent visitor in factories and mills, popular with the people and with the lower clergy, Veniamin had been [350] elected by their votes. Not understanding the times, he had seen as his task the liberation of the church from politics "because it had suffered much from politics in the past." This was the Metropolitan who was tried in:

I. The Petrograd Church Trial--June 9-July 5, 1922

The defendants, charged with resisting the requisition of church valuables, numbered several dozen in all, including a professor of theology and church law, archimandrites, priests, and laymen. Semyonov, the presiding judge of the tribunal, was twenty-five years old and, according to rumor, had formerly been a baker. The chief accuser was a member of the collegium of the People's Commissariat of Justice, P. A. Krasikov--a man of Lenin's age and a friend of Lenin when he was in exile in the Krasnoyarsk region and, later on, in emigration as well. Vladimir I1yich used to enjoy hearing him play the violin.

Out on Nevsky Prospekt, and at the Nevsky turn-off, a dense crowd waited every day of the trial, and when the Metropolitan was driven past, many of them knelt down and sang: "Save, O Lord, thy people!" (It goes without saying that they arrested overzealous believers right on the street and in the court building also.) Most of the spectators in the court were Red Army men, but even they rose every time the Metropolitan entered in his white ecclesiastical hood. Yet the accuser and the tribunal called him an enemy of the people. Let us note that this term already existed.

From trial to trial, things closed in on the defense lawyers, and their humiliating predicament was already very apparent. Krylenko tells us nothing about this, but the gap is closed by an eye-witness. The tribunal roared out a threat to arrest Bobrishchev-Pushkin himself--the principal defense lawyer--and this was already so in accord with the spirit of the times, and the threat was so real that Bobrishchev-Pushkin made haste to hand over his gold watch and his billfold to lawyer Gurovich. And right then and there the tribunal actually ordered the imprisonment of a witness, Professor Yegorov, because of his testimony on behalf of the Metropolitan. As it turned out, Yegorov was quite prepared for this. He had a thick briefcase with him in which he had packed food, underwear, and even a small blanket.

[351] The reader can observe that the court was gradually assuming forms familiar to us.

Metropolitan Veniamin was accused of entering, with evil intent, into an agreement with . . . the Soviet government, no less, and thereby obtaining a relaxation of the decree on the requisition of valuables. It was charged that his appeal to Pomgol had been maliciously disseminated among the people, (Samizdat!--self-publication!) And he had also acted in concert with the world bourgeoisie.

Priest Krasnitsky, one of the principal "Living Church" schismatics, and GPU collaborator, testified that the priests had conspired to provoke a revolt against the Soviet government on the grounds of famine.

The only witnesses heard were those of the prosecution. Defense witnesses were not permitted to testify. (Oh, how familiar it all is! More and more!)

Accuser Smirnov demanded "sixteen heads." Accuser Krasikov cried out: "The whole Orthodox Church is a subversive organization. Properly speaking, the entire church ought to be put in prison."

(This was a very realistic program. Soon it was almost realized. And it was a good basis for a dialogue.)

Let us make use of a rather rare opportunity to cite several sentences that have been preserved from the speech of S. Y. Gurovich, who was the Metropolitan's defense attorney.

"There are no proofs of guilt. There are no facts. There is not even an indictment. . . . What will history say? [Oh, he certainly had discovered how to frighten them! History will forget and say nothing!] The requisition of church valuables in Petrograd took place in a complete calm, but here the Petrograd clergy is on the defendants' bench, and somebody's hands keep pushing them toward death. The basic princip:e which you stress is the good of the Soviet government. But do not forget that the church will be nourished by the blood of martyrs. [Not in the Soviet Union, though!] There is nothing more to be said, but it is hard to stop talking. While the debate lasts, the defendants are alive. When the debate comes to an end, life will end too."

The tribunal condemned ten of them to death. They waited more than a month for their execution, until the trial of the SR's [352] had ended. (It was as though they had processed them in order to shoot them at the same time as the SR's.) And after that, VTsIK, the All-Russian Central Executive Committee, pardoned six of them. And four of them--the Metropolitan Veniamin; the Archimandrite Sergius, a former member of the State Duma; Professor of Law Y. P. Novitsky; and the barrister Kovsharov--were
shot on the night of August 12-13.

We insistently urge our readers not to forget the principle of provincial multiplicity. Where two church trials were held in Moscow and Petrograd, there were twenty-two in the provinces.

a few random thoughts on Luther

. . . the 2003 movie, that is. Julie put it in our Netflix queue at some point, and we received it about seven weeks ago. I was interested in seeing it, but we had the chaos of her gall bladder issues to deal with; and aside from that, our evening schedule has been unpredictable, adjusting here and there to fit whenever Jenna goes to sleep. Then the other day Julie mentioned that she didn't really want to watch it, so we wouldn't get into a debate over the contents. Fair enough. I decided to watch it last night without her before sending it back.

In general, I think it's a decent movie. I'm not going to say much more than that about the artistic or technical aspects, except that I think Doc Oc (Alfred Molina) as Tetzel was a great choice :-) I wonder a bit about the portrayal of Luther himself. It was done well, but I'm not sure it quite captured his personality. I guess I'd always thought of him as having a stronger personality, which I guess is a polite way of saying, I would have expected him to be a bit louder and more obnoxious. Maybe it's just a stereotype, half-inspired by his appearance (he looks stouter in portraits than in the film); in any case, he comes across mostly as a meek, quiet person, with occasional controlled outbursts. We do see some rather hysterical private arguments with the devil, but even those seem a bit off. It's hard to put my finger on the exact contrast with what I was expecting. He sometimes comes across as mentally imbalanced, but perhaps not violent enough. (I don't think they included the episode where he throws an inkwell at the devil.)

The presentation of the conflict is about as good as I could have expected. In the scene where he crawls up the steps in Rome (I forget which building it is), it seems to me that the others around him exhibit heartfelt piety; Luther himself is mostly distracted by the commercialism of the clergy and the street vendors. There is a wide array of Catholics portrayed--opportunist clergy and monarchs, charismatic hucksters, those who follow Luther, and others devoutly sympathetic but nonetheless maintaining their loyalties. Luther is clearly the hero of the story, but at the same time he is by no means perfect. His words and subsequent absence spark peasant revolts, while his return and condemnation of their actions spark subsequent slaughter at the hands of the princes. In this, you get an impression of Luther as a reluctant leader, who comes back to prominence to straighten out the distortion of his teachings that happens in his absence. I'm not sure this sequence was intended to communicate what I got out of it--that as much as he talked about people reading and interpreting for themselves, it really did end up requiring strong leadership to keep things from getting out of hand.

From an Orthodox perspective, the movie seems to have captured most of the conceptual issues. Luther begins by addressing himself to an overly legalistic, overly commercialized expression of Christian tradition, not practiced to the same degree throughout all the Western Church, but problematically applied at the top. He finds the answer by appealing to Scripture alone, but his teachings are easily carried by others far beyond what even he intended. This foreshadows the fundamental weakness and the future trend of Protestant theology, in that it lacks sufficient controls to restrain every theological whim. The political dynamics of Western Europe at the time play a pivotal role in the success of the Reformation, as princes are pitted against pope and emperor. Eastern Christianity gets the passing reference that it got in fact during the Reformation--mostly as an example of non-Roman Christians who must show that grace exists outside the Church.

The Gulag Archipelago

At some point this summer, I picked up a copy of Aleksandr I. Solzhenitsyn's The Gulag Archipelago 1918-1956: An Experiment in Literary Investigation (New York: Harper & Row, 1973) at a yard sale. This exposé of Soviet oppression, compiled from the author's own experiences and testimonies of many others, has been popular in the West; but perhaps we have failed to identify with the special suffering of the Russian Church. For those who don't have time to wade through its intimidating 600 pp., here are some key passages about the Communist attack on Orthodox believers (page numbers are in brackets):
[36] In the spring of 1922 the Extraordinary Commission for Struggle Against Counterrevolution, Sabotage, and Speculation, the Cheka, recently renamed the GPU, decided to intervene in church affairs. It was called on to carry out a "church revolution"--to remove the existing leadership and replace it with one which would have only one ear turned to heaven and the other to the Lubyanka. The so-called "Living Church" people seemed to go along with this plan, but without outside help they could not gain control of the church apparatus. For this reason, the Patriarch Tikhon was arrested and two resounding trials were held, followed by the execution in Moscow of those who had publicized the Patriarch's appeal and, in Petrograd, of the Metropolitan Veniamin, who had attempted to hinder the transfer of ecclesiastical power to the "Living Church" group. Here and there in the provincial centers and even further down in the [37] administrative districts, metropolitans and bishops were arrested, and, as always, in the wake of the big fish, followed shoals of smaller fry: archpriests, monks, and deacons. These arrests were not even reported in the press. They also arrested those who refused to swear to support the "Living Church" "renewal" movement.

Men of religion were an inevitable part of every annual "catch," and their silver locks gleamed in every cell and in every prisoner transport en route to the Solovetsky Islands.

From the early twenties on, arrests were also made among groups of theosophists, mystics, spiritualists. . . . Also, religious societies and philosophers . . . . The so-called "Eastern Catholics" . . . . And, of course, ordinary Roman Catholics--Polish Catholic priests, etc.--where arrested, too, as part of the normal course of events.

However, the root destruction of religion in the country, which throughout the twenties and thirties was one of the most important goals of the GPU-NKVD, could be realized only by mass arrests of Orthodox believers. MOnks and nuns, whose black habits had been a distinctive feature of Old Russian life, were intensively rounded up on every hand, placed under arrest, and sent into exile. They arrested and sentenced active laymen. The circles kept getting bigger, as they raked in ordinary believers as well, old people, and particularly women, who were the most stubborn believers of all and who, for many long years to come, would be called "nuns" in transit prisons and in camps.

True, they were supposedly being arrested and tried not for their actual faith but for openly declaring their convictions and for bringing up their children in the same spirit. As Tanya Khodkevich wrote:

You can pray freely
But just so God alone can hear.

(She received a ten-year sentence for these verses.) A person convinced that he possessed spiritual truth was required to conceal it from his own children! In the twenties the religious education of [38] children was classified as a political crime under Article 58-10 of the Code--in other words, counterrevolutionary propaganda! True, one was still permitted to renounce one's religion at one's trial: it didn't often happen but it nonetheless did happen that the father would renounce his religion and remain at home to raise the children while the mother went to the Solovetsky Islands. (Throughout all those years women manifested great firmness in their faith.) All persons convicted of religious activity received tenners, the longest term then given.

(In those years, particularly in 1927, in purging the big cities for the pure society that was coming into being, they sent prostitutes to the Solovetsky Islands along with the "nuns." Those lovers of a sinful earthly life were given three-year sentences under a more lenient article of the Code. . . . Religious prisoners, however, were prohibited from ever returning to their children and their home areas.) . . .

[50] Religious believers, of course, were being arrested uninterruptedly. (There were, nonetheless, certain special dates and peak periods. There was a "night of struggle against religion" in Leningrad on Christmas Eve, 1929, when they arrested a large part of the religious intelligentsia and held them--not just until morning either. And that was certainly no "Christmas tale." [51] Then in February, 1932, again in Leningrad, many churches were closed simultaneously, while, at the same time, large-scale arrests were made among the clergy. And there are still more dates and places, but they haven't been reported to us by anyone.) . . .

[59] There were once again believers, who this time were unwilling to work on Sundays. (They had introduced the five- and the six-day week.) And there were collective farmers sent up for sabotage because they refused to work on religious feast days, as had been their custom in the era of individual farms.

And, always, there were those who refused to become NKVD informers. (Among them were priests who refused to violate the secrecy of the confessional, for the Organs had very quickly discovered how useful it was to learn the content of confessions--the only use they found for religion.) . . .

[86] (In fairness we must not forget the brief reverse wave of priests in 1947. Yes, a miracle! For the first time in thirty years they freed priests! They didn't actually go about seeking them out in camps, but whenever a priest was known to people in freedom, and whenever a name and exact location could be provided, the individual priests in question were sent out to freedom in order to strengthen the church, which at that time was being revived.) . . .

[131] N. Stolyarova recalls an old woman who was her neighbor on the Butyrki bunks in 1937. They kept on interrogating her every night. Two years earlier, a former Metropolitan of the Orthodox Church, who had escaped from exile, had spent a night at her home on his way through Moscow. "But he wasn't the former Metropolitan, he was the Metropolitan! Truly, I was worthy of receiving him." "All right then. To whom did he go when he left Moscow?" "I know, but I won't tell you!" (The Metropolitan had escaped to Finland via an underground railroad of believers.) At first the interrogators took turns, and then they went after her in groups. They shook their fists in the little old woman's face, and she replied: "There is nothing you can do with me even if you cut me into pieces. After all, you are afraid of your bosses, and you are afraid of each other, and you are even afraid of killing me." (They would lose contact with the underground railroad.) "But I am not afraid of anything. I would be glad to be judged by God right this minute." . . .

[322] This case, in Krylenko's opinion, is going to have a "suitable place in the annals of the Russian Revolution." Right there in the annals, indeed! It took one day to wring Kosyrev's neck, but in this case they dragged things out for five whole days.

The principal defendants were: A. D. Samarin (a famous man in Russia, the former chief procurator of the Synod; a man who had tried to liberate the church from the Tsar's yoke, an enemy of Rasputin whom Rasputin had forced out of office); Kuznetsov, Professor of Church Law at Moscow University; the Moscow archpriests Uspensky and Tsvetkov. (The accuser himself had this to say about Tsvetkov: "An important public figure, perhaps the best that the clergy could produce, a philanthropist.")

Their guilt lay in creating the "Moscow Council of United Parishes," which had in turn recruited, from among believers forty to eighty years old, a voluntary guard for the Patriarch (unarmed, of course), which had set up permanent day and night watches in his residence, who were charged with the responsibility, in the event of danger from the authorities to the Patriarch, of assembling the people by ringing the church alarm bells and by telephone, so that a whole crowd might follow wherever the Patriarch might be taken and beg--and there's your counterrevolution for you!--the Council of People's Commissars to release him!

What an ancient Russian--Holy Russian--scheme! To assemble the people by ringing the alarm bells . . . and proceed in a crowd with a petition!

[323] And the accuser was astonished. What danger threatened the Patriarch? Why had plans been made to defend him?

Well, of course, it was really no more than the fact that the Cheka had for two years been conducting extrajudicial reprisals against undesirables, the fact that only a short while before four Red Army men in Kiev had killed the Metropolitan, the fact that the Patriarch's "case had already been worked up and completed, and all that remained was to bring it before the Revtribunal," and "it was only out of concern for the broad masses of workers and peasants, still under the influence of clerical propaganda, that we have left these, our class enemies, alone for the time being." How could Orthodox believers possibly be alarmed on the Patriarch's account? During those two years Patriarch Tikhon had refused to keep silent. He had sent messages to the People's Commissars, to the clergy, and to his flock. His messages were not accepted by the printers but were copied on typewriters (the first samizdat). They exposed the annihilation of the innocents, the ruin of the country. How, therefore, could anyone really be concerned for the Patriarch's life?

A second charge was brought against the defendants. Throughout the country, a census and requisition of church property was taking place (this was in addition to the closing of monasteries and the expropriation of church lands and properties; in question here were liturgical vessels, cups, and candelabra). And the Council of Parishes had disseminated an appeal to believers to resist the requisition, sounding the alarm on the church bells. (And that was natural, after all! That, after all, was how they had defended the churches against the Tatars too!)

And the third charge against them was their incessant, impudent dispatching of petitions to the Council of People's Commissars for relief from the desecration of the churches by local authorities, from crude blasphemy and violations of the law which guaranteed freedom of conscience. Even though no action was taken on these petitions (according to the testimony of Bonch-Bruyevich, administrative officer of the Council of People's Commissars), they had discredited the local authorities.

Taking into consideration all the violations committed by these defendants, what punishment could the accuser possibly demand [324] for these awful crimes? Will not the reader's revolutionary conscience prompt the answer? To be shot, of course. And that is just what, Krylenko did demand--for Samarin and Kuznetsov.

But while they were fussing around with these damned legal formalities, and listening to too many long speeches from too many bourgeois lawyers (speeches which "for technical reasons" we will not cite here), it turned out that capital punishment had been . . . abolished! What a fix! It just couldn't be! What had happened? It developed that Dzerzhinsky had issued this order to the Cheka (the Cheka, without capital punishment?). But had it been extended to the tribunals by the Council of People's Commissars? Not yet. Krylenko cheered up. And he continued to demand execution by shooting, on the following grounds:

"Even if we suppose that the consolidation of the Republic has removed the immediacy of threat from such persons, it seems nonetheless indubitable that in this period of creative effort . . . a purge . . . of the old turncoat leaders . . . is required by revolutionary necessity." And further: "Soviet power is proud of the decree of the Cheka abolishing the death penalty." But this "still does not force us to conclude that the question of the abolition of capital punishment has been decided once and for all . . . for the entire period of Soviet rule."

That was quite prophetic! Capital punishment would return--and very soon too! After all, what a long line still remained to be rubbed out! (Yes, including Krylenko too, and many of his class brothers as well.)

And, indeed, the tribunal was submissive and sentenced Samarin and Kuznetsov to be shot, but they did manage to tack on a recommendation for clemency: to be imprisoned in a concentration camp until the final victory over world imperialism! (They would still be sitting there today!) And as for "the best that the clergy could produce"--his sentence was fifteen years, commuted to five.

Other defendants as well were dragged into this trial in order to add at least a little substance to the charges. Among them were some monks and teachers of Zvenigorod, involved in the Zvenigorod affair in the summer of 1918, but for some reason not brought to trial for a year and a half (or they might have been, but were now being tried again, since it was expedient). [325] That summer some Soviet officials had called on Father Superior Ion at the Zvenigorod monastery and ordered him ("Step lively there!") to turn over to them the holy relics of 5t. Savva. The officials not only smoked inside the church and evidently behind the altar screen as well, and, of course, refused to take off their caps, but one of them took Savva's skull in his hands and began to spit into it, to demonstrate that its sanctity was an illusion. And there were further acts of desecration. This led to the alarm bell being sounded, a popular uprising, and the killing of one or two of the officials. (The others denied having committed any acts of desecration, including the spitting incident, and Krylenko accepted their denials.) Were these officials the ones on trial now? No, the monks.

We beg the reader, throughout, to keep in mind: from 1918 on, our judicial custom determined that every Moscow trial, except, of course, the unjust trial of the Chekists, was by no means an isolated trial of an accidental concatenation of circumstances which had converged by accident; it was a landmark of judicial policy; it was a display-window model whose specifications determined what product was good for the provinces too; it was a standard; it was like that one-and-only model solution up front in the arithmetic book for the schoolchildren to follow
for themselves.

Thus, when we say, "the trial of the churchmen," this must be understood in the multiple plural . . . "many trials." And, in fact, the supreme accuser himself willingly explains: "Such trials have rolled along through almost all the tribunals of the Republic." (What language!) They had taken place not long before in the tribunals in North Dvina, Tver, and Ryazan; in Saratov, Kazan, Ufa, Solvychegodsk, and Tsarevokokshaisk, trials were held of the clergy, the choirs, and the active members of the congregation [326]--representatives of the ungrateful "Orthodox church, liberated by the October Revolution."

The reader will be aware of a conflict here: why did many of these trials occur earlier than the Moscow model? This is simply a shortcoming of our exposition. The judicial and the extrajudicial persecution of the liberated church had begun well back in 1918, and, judging by the Zvenigorod affair, it had already reached a peak of intensity by that summer. In October, 1918, Patriarch Tikhon had protested in a message to the Council of People's Commissars that there was no freedom to preach in the churches and that "many courageous priests have already paid for their preaching with the blood of martyrdom. . . . You have laid your hands on church property collected by generations of believers, and you have not hesitated to violate their posthumous intent." (The People's Commissars did not, of course, read the message, but the members of their administrative stalf must have had a good laugh: Now they've really got something to reproach us with--posthumous intent! We sh-t on your ancestors! We are only interested in descendants.) "They are executing bishops, priests, monks, and nuns who are guilty of nothing, on the basis of indiscriminate charges of indefinite and vaguely counterrevolutionary offenses." True, with the approach of Denikin and Kolchak, this was stopped, so as to make it easier for Orthodox believers to defend the Revolution. But hardly had the Civil War begun to die down than they took up their cudgels against the church again, and the cases started rolling through the tribunals once more. In 1920 they struck at the Trinity-St. Sergius Monastery and went straight to the holy relics of that chauvinist Sergius of Radonezh, and hauled them off to a Moscow museum.

[327] The People's Commissariat of Justice issued a directive, dated August 25, 1920, for the liquidation of relics of all kinds, since they were a significant obstacle to the resplendent movement toward a new, just society.

Pursuing further Krylenko's own selection of cases, let us also examine the case tried in the Verkhtrib--in other words, the Supreme Tribunal. (How affectionately they abbreviated words within their intimate circle, but how they roared out for us little insects: "Rise! The court is in session!")
This is already quite long, so I'll save for another post the last segment--a rather lengthy excerpt about the trials involving famine and the seizure of church valuables.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

grace and free will

I'm continuing to plod my way slowly through John Cassian's Conferences. The saint's life spans the fourth and fifth centuries, during which time he wrote extensively the wisdom and teachings of the Desert Fathers. His writings are preserved in Latin, and he wrote his Institutes for the bishop of Rome, but his grounding is in the East, and Eastern Orthodox are somewhat more comfortable with his not-so-Augustinian soteriology. In his third conference, with Abba Paphnutius, he spends several chapters (from eleven to the end) on grace and free will. I thought it might be of some interest to anyone who's curious about the Orthodox take on this issue, normally more sensitive with Westerners and especially Protestants. I'm reproducing here a key passage, chap. 19, but the full text is available from CCEL:
And this plainly teaches us that the beginning of our good will is given to us by the inspiration of the Lord, when He draws us towards the way of salvation either by His own act, or by the exhortations of some man, or by compulsion; and that the consummation of our good deeds is granted by Him in the same way: but that it is in our own power to follow up the encouragement and assistance of God with more or less zeal, and that accordingly we are rightly visited either with reward or with punishment, because we have been either careless or careful to correspond to His design and providential arrangement made for us with such kindly regard. And this is clearly and plainly described in Deuteronomy. “When,” says he, “the Lord thy God shall have brought thee into the land which thou art going to possess, and shall have destroyed many nations before thee, the Hittite, and the Gergeshite, and the Amorite, the Canaanite, and the Perizzite, the Hivite, and the Jebusite, seven nations much more numerous than thou art and stronger than thou, and the Lord thy God shall have delivered them to thee, thou shalt utterly destroy them. Thou shalt make no league with them. Neither shalt thou make marriage with them” (Deut 7:1-3). So then Scripture declares that it is the free gift of God that they are brought into the land of promise, that many nations are destroyed before them, that nations more numerous and mightier than the people of Israel are given up into their hands. But whether Israel utterly destroys them, or whether it preserves them alive and spares them, and whether or no it makes a league with them, and makes marriages with them or not, it declares lies in their own power. And by this testimony we can clearly see what we ought to ascribe to free will, and what to the design and daily assistance of the Lord, and that it belongs to divine grace to give us opportunities of salvation and prosperous undertakings and victory: but that it is ours to follow up the blessings which God gives us with earnestness or indifference. And this same fact we see is plainly taught in the healing of the blind men. For the fact that Jesus passed by them, was a free gift of Divine providence and condescension. But the fact that they cried out and said “Have mercy on us, Lord, thou son of David” (Matt 20:31), was an act of their own faith and belief. That they received the sight of their eyes was a gift of Divine pity. But that after the reception of any blessing, the grace of God, and the use of free will both remain, the case of the ten lepers, who were all healed alike, shows us. For when one of them through goodness of will returned thanks, the Lord looking for the nine, and praising the one, showed that He was ever anxious to help even those who were unmindful of His kindness. For even this is a gift of His visitation; viz., that he receives and commends the grateful one, and looks for and censures those who are thankless.