“Thoughts on the Pre-Council Commission”, written by Hieromonk Ignatiy (Krutkov)

Thoughts on the Pre-Council Commission

“I will build my church and all the powers of hell will not conquer it.” Matthew 16:18

“I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore, be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.” Matthew 10:16

Christ the Savior, whose divine omniscience through the centuries has guided His Church on the path of professing the faith, proclaimed to us that all of the tricks used by ungodly forces have been unable to defeat His Church. In this there is great comfort and encouragement for us. But since ancient times and to this day, the gates of hell use all methods and means to separate the Christian from Christ: external persecution, the distortion of faith, the inciting of passions – all are set in motion in order to leave the Church of Christ only in its external form. As the wisdom of the ascetics tells us: “If you do not face temptation, you will not be skilled in resisting temptation.” As St. Nikolay (Velimirovich) aptly observed “no matter how many enemies rise against the Church, they are the water that drives the Church’s grist mill.” In this fashion the persecution of the Holy Church in the early centuries resulted in a host of martyrs, in whose praise and on whose holy relics, we celebrate the Sacrament of Eternal Life – the Eucharist. The efforts of various heresies to distort the faith, the living knowledge of God, have been resisted through the brilliant defense of the faith by the Holy Fathers of the Ecumenical Councils and the teachers of the Church. The Sergianist temptation, i.e. the subversion of the Church’s position and teachings in the service of the external and internal political interests of a godless government, was broken on the stone of the New Martyrs of Russia’s confession of faith. The closer we come to apocalyptic times, the more insidious and hidden do these efforts become. Instead of the explicit derogation of faith and piety comes the replacement of a life in Christ, for a life based on the principles of convenience and advantage, and using methods borrowed from the elements of the world that reside in evil.

Now Russian Orthodoxy is faced with a new substitution in the leadership of the Russian Orthodox Church. Now as before we are presented with the argument: “If you do not see heresies, you have no cause for separation.” The New Martyrs of Russia recognized the substitution of Sergianism, which was not proclaimed as some sort of heresy, but as a distortion of the essence of the Church, as the loss of the spirit of Christ. Their heroism and instructions guide us as we stand up for ecclesiastical truth. As the Martyr St. Illarion (Troitskiy) tells us “the challenge of today for the Orthodox person is, among other things (if not primarily), that the contemporary life of the Church requires of him a highly spiritual attitude. One cannot rely on official pastors (bishops and priests), on the formal applications of the canons to solve issues that church life presents, and in general one cannot be limited by a legalistic attitude to these questions. Instead, one must have a spiritual feeling that will show the path of Christ among the many trails trodden by fantastical animals in sheep’s clothing. Life has raised questions that can be answered correctly, religiously correctly, only by stepping past custom, form, and rule, and instead being guided by our intuition that is well schooled in recognizing good and evil. Otherwise, it is easy to desecrate the sanctuary of one’s soul, and to start burning one’s conscience (1 Timothy 4: 2) through reconciliation, through following the rules, with the lies and evil spirits introduced into the Church by the bishops themselves. On a ‘legal’ basis even the Antichrist can be accepted…” It is precisely to this falsehood and evil, of which Met. Illarion reminds us, that we must relate the example of duplicity that is displayed in the following excerpts of Met. Agafangel’s letter to the Synod of the Greek Church of Archbishop Kallinikos: “We did not impose penance on Bishops Andronik and Sofroniy. Bishops Andronik and Sofroniy publicly stated that they would no longer obey the Council and Synod of Bishops. We took this declaration under advisement and retired them at their own request until the All-Diaspora Council. This in fact is not a punishment but the fulfillment of their request. They declared their disobedience of the Synod and Council on a personal basis and not on behalf of their dioceses and priests. Therefore, we have turned over the administration of their widowed dioceses to other bishops. If Bishops Andronik and Sofroniy express their desire to again submit to the Synod of Bishops, we will happily reexamine this issue. In any event, in accordance with their statements, the decisions of the Synod, as well as our prohibitions and assignments, have no meaning for them…”

The level of disingenuousness and distortion of reality contained in these lines is beyond description. Suffice it to say that the removal of Bp. Sofroniy from the administration of his diocese was not recognized by 9 priests and 3 deacons of the St. Petersburg and NorthernRussian Diocese, that is more than three-quarters of the diocesan clergy. If this type of pogrom is what Met. Agafangel calls the fulfillment of Bp. Sofroniy’s request, then this is indicative and a measure of the veracity of all of his remarks about claimed misunderstandings. All this applies equally to the diocese of Bp. Andronik, whose clergy also did not recognize the July decision of the Synod, and none of whom even wished to meet with Met. Agafangel when he visited America in mid-August, an indication that trust in the Metropolitan has been exhausted. It is easier, of course, to love “a quiet and peaceful life” rather than to follow the example of the Lord Savior, who though always gentle and loving, was forced to become resolute and implacable when he saw the House of God being subverted by profit-seekers and lovers of power. In response to the “canonical” question: “By what authority do you do this,” the Lord, seeing all of the cunning and guile of those who pose this question, responded with decisive action.

But, of course, our main task is not to proclaim new religious groups with the grandest of names, nor to analyze the latest “pearls” from Met. Agafangel, which are to be expected during this transitional period of establishing order in the Church. The main thing is to restore peace and conciliarity, to create all of the necessary conditions for people to come to church and quietly pray to God, without the fear that their true words and actions will lead to the denial of Holy Communion even on their deathbed. A wise approach to ecclesiastical questions will retain simplicity and gentleness, remembering the words of Chrysostom, that God hears the prayers of sheep not of wolves. Let us be guided by the spiritual experience of Martyr St. Kirill (Kazanskiy): “All bitterness must be completely removed from our midst, even if accusations of enmity and charges of schism rain on our heads. These accusations will not stick to anything when there is in fact no animosity. And our zeal for preserving the full sanctity of our church order, like oil on water, will always rise above accusations of schism in the vessel of genuine truth in the church.”

Hieromonk Ignatiy (Krutkov)