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The Universal Church and Nationalism

Met. Anthony sketch

by Blessed Metropolitan Anthony of Kiev and Galicia, 1899

On the eve of the Nativity of Christ and Theophany, and also on the Sunday of Orthodoxy, when the protodeacon exclaims the many years to the “holy Orthodox Patriarchs: of Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch, and Jerusalem,” the Christian inspiration of the sons of the Church always noticeably comes, which motivates them in these moments to raise their hand high for the sign of the Cross and to widen their tender gaze, as if capturing with desire those far-removed holy cities and temples, in which the heirs of the divine apostles “uphold Orthodoxy.”

There was a time, when Holy Rus often showed a respectful hospitality to these pillars of our apostolic Faith and with single soul everyone, from the tsar to the last peasant, bent their heads and knees while receiving their blessing. It is amazing that neither an exterior fall [through political circumstances] of the patriarchal thrones, nor the founding in Russia of the most powerful independent patriarchate lessened the fascination with the four universal patriarchs. To the contrary, their oppression by the enemies of Christianity, helplessness, and poverty made their holy authority even greater in the eyes of our forefathers. The pious and most merciful Tsar Alexis Mikhailovich, receiving the eastern hierarchs and inquiring of their grievous position under the rule of the infidels, fell upon their necks and poured out his compassion with tears, even asking for forgiveness on behalf of himself and the Russian people because they were not able to liberate the inheritance of the Lord from the tormenting of the Hagarenes. The clergy and the people with the same candor hosted the eastern patriarchs. So, when the Hierarch of Jerusalem Theophanos (1608-1644) decided to visit the Sergiev Lavra and its holy Abbot Dionysius, then the latter with the entire brotherhood and a multitude of the people went out with a cross procession far beyond the boundaries of the lavra into the field to meet their most holy guest. The people, seeing the patriarch, with tenderness raised their hands to the heaven and thrice threw themselves down to the ground. This spiritual delight was carried over into the most blessed visitor, so that when, entering after the service into the trapeza, he from the tenderness of his heart was not able to take any food, but poured forth joyous tears for so long that it troubled the brotherhood with fear: Our most high guest isn’t offended, is he? He is not about to give up his righteous soul to the Lord, is he?

Now the times have changed. In Russia people are cold not only towards the veneration of the most holy patriarchs, but even towards Him Whom they serve. However, piety has not been emptied out completely even up till now, and the number of faithful sons of the Church with us has not diminished in all the social classes. The holy, apostolic, catholic Church, confirmed by the Seven Ecumenical Councils and walled round about by the four patriarchal thrones is until now a precious, treasure equal-to-none for a multitude of laymen and clergy. Many of them count the greatest joy in life to bow down before the great holy places of the East and with bent knee to receive the blessing of the eastern patriarchs. Spiritual unity with the latter, and through them also with the former great Eastern fathers of the Church, constitutes for these genuine slave of Christ the great joy that in this unity they see the confirmation of the precious and life-giving words of the divine Spirit, opened to us by the vessel of election: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male and female; for ye are all one in Christ Jesus” (Col. 3:11). The Holy City Jerusalem even up till now [1899] remains our spiritual capital and its pastor is forever our spiritual father, so that when the quick-winged newspaper reports about the repose of our most blessed Gerasimos (1891–1897) reached us, then his nameaccording to the wish of priests and laymen, the famous and even the most poor simple folkwas lifted up in prayer in the cities and villages of the boundless Russia, amidst the plains of Great-Russia and Malo-Russia (Ukraine), in the forests of the Vyatskaya district, on the coasts of the White Sea, and in far-removed Siberia and the Caucasus.

Today, our unity with the eastern hierarchs is being weakened neither by the differences in our speech, nor by the particularities of our typikon. To the contrary, the precious words of prayers and blessings in the foreign, but holy, speech of the Greeks and the Syrians, leads our hearts to even more tenderness and awe. With confidence we obey our Russian pastors, knowing that they do not wish to sunder the communion of prayers and faith with those who have been strongholds of Orthodoxy since the beginning, confirming the truth in the holy cathedrals of Christ-loving antiquity.

But here a bitter sorrow and concern starts to wound our hearts, with reference to these precious depositories of the holy Faith; it is not an exterior torment from the Saracens, in which our Redeemer and Lord was glorified, but the most evil inner poison of discord that depresses our well-disposed love towards the apostolic thrones. Alas! Our hearts quake with fear, lest there, on the strongholds of universal Orthodoxy, they forget the universal Truth for the sake of the vain strivings of their nationalities. Upon this treacherous and Christ-hating soil there have already been those who stumbled and lost the saving light of Orthodoxy, the Copts and Armenians, and later also the Russian schismatics, who swayed the Bulgarians. But those losses of the Church did not touch the most prominent strands of the seamless garment of Christ, for it did not shake the four thrones. True, there was another fifth throne, pre-eminent among the four, and it, from all indication, forever ripped itself off of Christ’s body; but the grace of God, always filling in where it begins to lack, granted the Church the Third Rome, the country of Moscow, and she, serving as the youngest fifth sister, united herself to the four guardians of apostolic piety. Will we continue tempting the Lord’s long-suffering and shake the foundations of the Church? Alas! bitter experience does not make us wiser, and now, instead of the concerted fight of the most holy thrones against faithlessness and impiety, there are found wars of the Greeks with the Arabs and the Greeks with the Slavs. Disdained by many is that Orthodoxy in which alone do Hellenism, Slavism, and the Syrian nationality become hallowed, and for the sake of which, in a necessary situation, one’s own nationality, and home, and children, and parents, and one’s own life must be sacrificed, to throw everything away, like meaningless rags, like a shabby penny, if only to find that pearl of salvation which is hidden in the universal Church. Alas! Many of the Greeks, Slavs, and Arabs have ceased understanding this, and like unto to the ancient faithless Jews, they bow down to the vainness of their nationalistic fantasies, the vanity of something more bitter than the idols of Baal and Astarte, and to such a grievous stupidity do they reach that they reveal their readiness to tear themselves off from the body of Christ in order to forge out of themselves a statue of Nebuchadnezzar in the guise of half-Mohammedan pan-Arabism, Uniate Serbianism, schismatical Bulgarianism, or “the great idea” of Phanariotism. O the woe! We hear anew now the mindlessness of the Christ-killing words of the God-hating Caiaphas with his Satan-befriending co-conspirators: “This Man is doing many signs. If we should let Him thus alone, all will believe in Him; and the Romans shall come and take away both our place and the nation” (John 11:47-48). O mindless ones! Now you have come to an understanding, have you? that by these words exactly you have killed your tribe and gave it up to the harrowing of the Romans, that not from Christ, but you yourselves and your own people did you sentence to death. You did not rid life from the Bearer of life, but He Himself gave it up for only two days, so that He would rise again in glory and fulfill the sentence upon you given by God through Moses: “I will scatter them and wipe their memory out from the midst of the peoples” (Deut. 32:26).

Thus did the Old Israel die, and you are the New Israel! Let not your firstborn receive a similar lot! What will replace for you on earth Christ’s grace, in which your fathers delighted in the midst of tribulations? What will replace for you the heavenly joy after death, which all those who abandon the saving ship of the Church lose forever? Could it be replaced by the pitiful existence of a nation state that lacks any kind of intelligent worldview, when it is founded upon only national pride and becomes foreign to the religious idea? This is already not a people but a stinking corpse, which assumes its rot for life, when in it there is no life, but living in it are only moles, worms, and foul insects, rejoicing in the fact that the body died and now decays, for in a living body there would not have been any gratification for their desire, there would be no life for them. The one who will understand our words will be whosoever is familiar with the heroes of Panama, or the co-workers of Milan of Serbia (1854– 1901), or the Austrian separatists. But if spiritual death happens to be the lot of every people who deprive themselves of a life-giving religious worldview, then for the nations of the East, following the example of the nation of God Israel, not only a spiritual but also a bodily, political death will be the quick recompense for their betrayal of Christ. True, this recompense is already inconsequential in comparison with the eternal curse of God, under which all are thrown who prefer different goals upon the earth than the universal Church, but we will show to these mindless ones that, exchanging the glory of the incorruptible God for the fantasy of political well-being, they will not come anywhere near their goals but will fall even farther away from them and will lose not only the pledge of eternal salvation but also all that spiritual worthiness of their ethnicity, which consists also of its earthly strength, all of this in justification of the words of the One Who said: “From the one who hath not, even that which he hath shall be taken away from him” (Mt. 25:29).

Let us begin with our older brothers in the Faith, the Greeks. They are afraid that, without pushing aside the other nations from participation in ecclesiastical education and Church authority, they will throw their local churches into the danger of turning away from the canons and even from the dogmas, so that, according to their opinion, in the entire East there is only the Greek nationality that can maintain an unassailable stronghold for guarding Orthodoxy.

We will not refuse to accept the supremacy of the Greek people in both preserving and in explaining the divine truths of the Faith and the holy canons of the Church, as shall be seen below. True, in Russian literature there sometimes appears lampooning of the religious life and religious thought of the Greeks, but this lampoonery comes from people who have lost their peculiar Christian thought and have filled their mind with the erroneous jabs of Luther and the blasphemous Strauss, and for that matter, their abuse can only serve towards the praise of those to whom it is directed. Look at those who in truth are the best theologians and most righteous fathers of the Russian Church. They all treat with great reverence the most Christian nationality of the Greeks and count Athos as the capital of Orthodox life and thought. Such was our Blessed Theophan, the bishop, theologian, and recluse; such were those living in the middle of the last century (the 19th) who were the righteous abbots of the Monasteries of Optina, Sarov, Valaam, Glinsk, these who in truth resurrected Russian monasticism. They were all disciples of Paisius Velichkovsky, who, although a Slav by blood, was a Greek according to his thoughts, having found the fountains of spirit and life in the Philokalia of the Greek fathers, which great book became, thanks to the Optina elders and Theophan, a supply for the ascetical life even in our Russia up to this day.

But the floweringlike a phoenixmonastic life all the same grants with humble love the palm of primacy to the Greek ascetic and accepts that we are not able to keep up with our older brothers on the path to spiritual perfection through a hatred of the flesh and contemplative podvigs equal to them. It is also necessary to speak concerning the theological science, particularly the explanation of the word of God. The Russian school possesses in this field an exceptionally formal preparation, knows ancient tongues, compares ancient manuscripts, but regarding the creative spirit in the explanation of divine words, she is far from attaining to the level of the Greeks, who even up till now, in the person, for example, of the former Patriarch Anthimus [1895-1896], hardly differs from the great ancient fatherly interpreters. The Greek services, foreign to our magnificence and our great adornment of churches, nonetheless are much more spiritual and deeper than ours. In general, in the area of religious life, the Greeks even up till now (1899) remain the examples and leaders of the Orthodox Christians everywhere and of Russians in part. This is accepted by the leaders of Russian monasticism on Athos, who are worthy of all blessedness, and also their followers in our country; for these too, as well as others, try according to their ability to keep the Greek order of services; and Russian academies and seminaries find special comfort when, at least once a year, they complete a Liturgy in the Greek tongue.

Now we will ask: which kind of branch of Greek lifethe ancient ecclesiastical one, or the new Europeanized, political oneis the one which attracts such lofty respect from the mighty Russian people and the best pastors and laymen of the Slavic and Arabic Church? Of course, the ancient one, the Church one! For in its Europeanized political life the Greeks were only able to copy the worse principles of the constitutional life, so rightfully made fun of in the “Moscow Collection” by Pobedonostsev. Here we will not find anything except the avaricious intrigue of a ministerial party, reciprocally undermining each other and jointly destroying the fatherlandin the present case, poor Greeceand, meanwhile, these cursed political partisans, covering themselves with the “great idea,” strive to corrupt the Constantinopolitan and Holy Sepulcher clergy and teach them to betray their pastoral calling for the sake of nationalistic dreams and to prefer rather than Christ the stench of political intrigue. Of course, they are not ashamed to completely lose their union with Arabs and Slavs for the sake of these intrigues, for they find no joy in Copts and Ethiopians being united to the Church, they only want to keep such a money-earning place in the hands of Greeks. But, O the madness! Do you not see that, giving up the universal ecclesiastical culture for your narrow, nationalistic one (and for that matter a completely perverted one), along with this betrayal of Orthodoxy you also put to death the Greek nationality! The people are not able to exist amidst enemies without an animating idea. But with what unifying thought will the nation fill itself if it loses that by which it became great, that is, universal Orthodoxy? It cannot be self-praise alone, can it? Or the former pagan Hellenism, for which the Christ-hating Renan praised you, who learned your language in order to set at naught the Holy Gospel, which has glorified for all ages the Greek tongue? Could you really not understand that other than the Greek monk, the Greek theologian, the Greek patriarchal farmer and family man, there is no good type of Greek? Do you truly not understand that your insidious Western friends will swallow up your small nationality? Just when it wants to be identified with the godless Western culture, they will swallow it up exactly as they swallowed up a tenth of the Western-Slavonic nations, poisoning their life first with Latin Papism and afterwards with Western nihilism. Shall the Greek Orthodox, living at the footstool of holy temples, remain the older, more experienced, and loving brothers of all the Orthodox people, or become a pathetic English colony, full of lies and money-laundering, being chewed up by infighting political parties and despised even by its false friends. Such were the Jews at the time when, not wishing to accept into the communion of the new Faith the other nations, they threw into prison the preacher of this universal community, the divine Paul, and quickly, very quickly, lost both their Jerusalem and their fatherland and were scattered across the entire inhabited world, becoming a horror and a proverb and a laughing-stock, the subject of scorn for all the nations (Deut. 28:37).

“But what do you want from us?” they will ask me. I desire that you recognize yourself before everything else as Orthodox, that your pastors place as the goals of their activity the salvation of every Christian soul, for the well-being of all the holy churches of God, and not the pride and wealth of your nation. And if you will act this way, then you will be not only rich, but also you will safeguard the specialties of your nation and widen your influence on all Orthodox nations. If you will not hinder Arabs and Slavs to be taught in your higher schools, to receive monasticism, and to occupy hierarchal thronesif you yourselves would struggle in the learning of theological truth and in spiritual perfection, to show in yourself the image of true pastorship and Christianity, then your co-pastors from the other nations would willingly, or even unwillingly, assimilate the principles of Greek culture together with education and monastic perfection. Then they would love you as a nation enlightening the entire universe, as a kingdom of priests, a holy nation, like those of which it is said, “Be not taking hold of Mine anointed ones, and with My prophets be not acting wickedly” (Ps. 104:15). “But the time has already passed!” you will say: “You cannot turn back history, and if we were strong in ancient times, then now they will forget us and destroy us if we do not protect our power, even by means of intrigues and crimes.” No, beloved. Your strength is great in the Orthodox world. The Orthodox world lives by its past, by its holy tradition, the writings of the holy fathers, and the remembrance of martyrs and saints. But you have all of this in your possession, as you still have, according what has been said, also a higher energy of the religious spirit and the gift of despising the flesh and understanding the divine Scriptures. And if you will not extinguish that spirit, if you will hold onto the culture of the universal Church, then all the Orthodox nations will follow you. Of such, before anything, I will speak of the Russians, that our attachment to the holy and ecumenical Orthodox antiquity is great, but the continuation of this golden age of Christianity we see in you, in the Greeks. And for this reason we are turned to dust before the most holy throne of the Constantinopolitan patriarch and we continue to see in him the supreme pastor. We bow down before Holy Athos despite all of our wealthy cities, learned academies, beautifully adorned temples, tens of millions of people, wealth of land, gold, diamonds, and family nobility. All this we deem small and of no worth and consider rubbish in comparison with the cities and villages that seem humble to us, but where the preaching of the apostles resounded, where the ecumenical fathers liturgized, where the righteous ascetics worked miracles. We with tears of compunction kiss the ground upon which their beautiful feet walked and reverently bow the knee before their successors, when they carry their spirit, as, for example, the Athonite hermit, the most holy Joachim the Third (Patriarch of Constantinople, 1878–1884), that truly great father of Orthodoxy, recognizing his influence not upon false dogmas, not against superstition, not on political intrigue, not on military or wealth, but by humble wisdom, the height of his all-loving soul and holiness of life. Let His Holiness be blessed unto many years! Let his pastoral prayers be lifted up for the good estate of the holy churches of God, for the unity of all!...

Not long ago I saw this kind of dream: I woke up amidst a gathering of Athenian people. Greeks in Parisian blazers with cigarettes and canes, reflecting in their clothes and manners all the vulgarity of European nihilism, talking with great gusto about ministerial crises. Noticing I was a Russian, one of them asked me with self satisfaction, “Is it not true that we are no worse than Europeans, and our gathering is not inferior to a Parisian salon?” Up to this point I was silent, but I could no longer restrain my words and, standing up, raised my voice so loud that all conversations ended and all those present looked at me with astounded, curious glances. I said, “You ask me how Russians view the modern Greek life, and here I respond. We think that Greeks, the descendants of the first Christians, lead their lives only in the reading of the divine Scriptures and the works of the Spirit-bearing fathers. We think that the flock of Chrysostom and Gregory Palamas do not want to know about any kind of petty worldly news and, as before, at the markets of their cities, forgetting about buying and selling, are only discussing whether He is ‘of like essence’ or ‘of one essence,’ or about how one ought to understand the heavenly light that shined round about the Savior on Tabor? We think that they end these kinds of discussions only with the ringing of the church bells, so that, meeting together, they can praise the saving Passion of Christ God, be edified by the hearing of the saving Ladder of John, and afterwards, between Vespers and Compline, hastily conclude their civil and household matters so that they can dedicate the remainder of the day to conversations about the healing of passions, about which the divine fathers of old taught us. We think, we want to think, that if for us in Russia everything holy and sacred came from the Greeks, then everything Greek ought to be holy and sacred too. You say to me, ‘See, we are no worse than Europeans.’ Alas! I see that you are no better than them, those wretched degenerates of a thousand-year-old heresy, those corrupters of the entire world. But I don’t believe what I see. I cry from this thought alone: that the reality, perhaps, is similar to this disgraceful vision. But all the same I hope that this vision is false, that I am only depressed by a nightmare.” Having said these words, I woke up and sensed that my eyes were wet with tears.

And in truth, I believe to this day that the better principles of national life among the Greeks will be taken up above the perversion of Europeanism and they will pursue their national “great idea” not so as to chain it to Kahalic-Jewish intrigue, but in order to lead the many-tribed flock to the communion of Christ, “neither as exercising lordship over the clergy, but becoming examples to the flock” (1 Pet. 5:3), in order to value the sacred members of Christ’s body, in order to imitate the divine Pastor, Who left the 99 sheep in the mountains and went to search for the single lost sheep, in order to recall the words of the Lord: “Be taking heed that ye do not ever despise one of these little ones” (Mt. 18:10), and “Thus it is not the will of your Father Who is in the heavens that one of these little ones should perish” (Mt. 18:14).

What should we say to our Slavic brothers of the same blood, Romanians, Serbs, and Bulgarians? Do not become like unto the unfaithful Israel, who due to greediness rushed after the imitation of the enemies of God and made themselves the enemies of God Himself. While founding yourselves upon the principles of disobedience and self-will, sweeping aside the authority of the ecumenical throne, you yourselves are putting to death the remainder of Orthodoxy in your country, and if the excommunication of the patriarch had come any later, then your very isolation would have deprived you of your life-giving strength of the Christian spirit. Your countries, which were not so long ago founded, do not even need, for their political and moral destruction, European marauders to finish them off (although it will not be long before this either); but within your very countries themselves destroyers of the people are multiplying, political swindlers like parasites establishing their prosperity on the corruption of the national life and using the freedom of state structure in order to destroy the chief stronghold of the peopleholy, catholic Orthodoxyand to beat the life out of your fatherland. These insolent ones acquired from Europe only its vices, but all the same they found among their unfortunate and ignorant fellow citizens a sufficient number of idiots who are ready to believe their big talk about culture, freedom, progress, and similar words, of which neither the ones saying them nor the ones listening understand.

But glory be to God, not all Serbs and Bulgarians are such; and we will pray so that the Lord give strength of soul and strength of word to those better representatives of these peoples, who understand that their salvation is in uncorrupted Orthodoxy, and it is only possible for them to preserve Orthodoxy in communion with their mother Church, preferring the universal meaning of the Church to the narrow nationalism of a Slavic province.

What should we say to you, Orthodox Syrian fellow countrymen of our Lord and Redeemer? You thirst for enlightenment and want to lead your people out from a semi-destitute condition. Well for you if it is so, but let this enlightenment be the enlightenment of Orthodoxy, universal-ecclesiastic, and not the widening of your pitiful and laughable self-esteem and nationalistic fighting, which is ready to rip away your sons from the universal body of the Church. The holy Church gazes at your patriarchal societies with great respect; do not waste, by imitating the Western battles of political parties, the inimitable treasure of a Christian way of life, bequeathed to you by your Orthodox ancestors. Far from government centers, as if forgotten amid the mountains and plains, those cradles of Christianity, you have preserved in a simple structure of parish societies many traits of that Christian way of life by which the Church was glorified only in the time of the martyrs and which afterward was changed significantly in the epoch of Christian emperors. With great compassion and honor does European historical scholarship strive to learn the foundation of this lifestyle and to present it to its contemporaries as the highest perfection of Christian culture. Do not betray, then, the wealth of your fatherland, which your enemies envy, for the food of swine under the hard-hearted citizens of a distant nation, where spiritual famine reigns.

The apostle said, “Cease owing even one person even one thing, except to be loving one another” (Rom. 13:8). This is where the noble rivalry of Orthodox peoples resides and is multiplied. Let us, according to the words of the Scripture, “in honor give precedence to one another” (cf. Rom. 12:10), considering our true fatherland the universal Church, and our national propertyincorrupt Orthodoxy. Let us be taught this by humble Russian common folk, those truly unhypocritical carriers of the universal spirit of Christianity, who with equal strength love their native land for the fact that it is Orthodox, and another Orthodox country for the fact that it is Orthodox, even if it is foreign. This feeling is similar to the feeling of a good son towards his mother, from whom he never moves away, and in relation to his father, whom he meets up with after long years of distant separation. Very diverse in appearance, but similarly strong are these two feelings. The good son showers his mother with love; her constant presence is necessary for his soul, like air; but he displays no less warmth of love in relation to his father, who from a distant voyage returns for a short time to his family, always remaining for the family its native, irreplaceable father. Such are the feelings of a true Christian to his people and native church, on the one hand, and towards foreign Orthodox churches, on the other. And it is likened to how the aforementioned good son feels the fullness of joy only during that time when his father and mother unite in their native home for friendly conversation with him; so does the son of the universal Church feel the fullness of the spiritual life only when the pastors of different Orthodox peoples unite without envy and rivalry into one choir for the sake of reverent prayer and like-minded building up of the Church.

And if only, I will say again, for the sake of this blessed unity of all in God we have to forever sacrifice our nationality and even forever lose her in history, then we, without any kind of doubt, “deem all things to be dung, that we might win Christ” (Phil. 3:8). But even this kind of sacrifice is not demanded: “Be seeking first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you” (Mt. 6:33). As the individual personality of a man comes to a halt in its development and becomes empty and vulgar when a man makes his own self the subject of his activity, so does the collective personality of a people only reach the full development of its gifts when the goal is not for itself, but a means for the unselfish fulfillment of divine providence. In this field, namely, did the great Russian nationality flourish towards the end of the 17th century from the former frightened flock of Tatar tributaries. Upon this very rule of unselfishly enlightening the neighboring barbarians did the Byzantine Christian geniuses flourish in bygone years. Upon this very principle of undivided loyalty to Orthodoxy and mutual Christian friendliness did all Orthodox tribes guard both the Faith itself and its nation’s soul, enduring the centuries-old yoke of the fanatical Saracens. And only in the current faithless and depraved time did there begin to penetrate a spirit of nationalistic fever and indifference, in every Orthodox nation without exception, towards the universal unity in the Church of Christ. Of course, the holy Church will not be prevailed upon by the gates of Hades, but let not the words of the Lord come upon us which were spoken to the Jews: “Verily, verily I say to you that the kingdom of God shall be taken away from you, and it shall be given to a nation producing the fruits of it” (Mt. 21:43). Let it not be so! “But chiefly, remember, O Lord, Thy holy, catholic, and apostolic Church, which is from end even to the end of the universe, and grant peace unto her whom Thou hast established with the precious blood of Thy Christ.”


Archbishop Gregory
Dormition Skete
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