The Last Enemy

The Last Enemy (as named by St. Paul in 1Cor 15:26) was also the first enemy, and has been our enemy throughout human existence: it is death. Death is more than the separation of the soul from the body, it is the threat of non-being. In the writings of the Fathers, particularly those of the East, being is equated with goodness. For it was God who called all things into existence and saw that they were “very good.” As such, being and goodness are deeply and utterly intertwined. We do not say that any created thing is inherently evil. If it has existence, that existence is good. This same fundamental understanding yields its opposite: non-being has the character of evil, or, more accurately, we can say that what we term as “evil” is simply the character and work of non-being. So, Jesus says of Satan that “he was a murderer from the beginning,” and “he is the father of lies.”

In the work of the fathers, most famously in St. Dionysius, evil is described as a “parasite.” It has no existence of its own but rather works to pervert that which does have existence. So evil is not a “thing” or something “existing.” Rather, it is a will, a perversion, a misdirection and an attempt to direct being towards non-being. This is the ultimate rebellion against the goodness of God who is Being, “Being beyond all being,” the source of all existence and every good thing.

There are a variety of ways that this movement towards non-being manifests itself in our lives.

Christ describes two of them. He tells us that if we are angry with our brother, we have committed murder. He also says that if we lust after someone, we have committed adultery. Both this “murder” and this “adultery” are true on the level of being. They are actions that attempt to reduce the being of another. As such, they are actions of Satan, “the murderer from the beginning,” and the “father of lies.”

We also seek to kill ourselves throughout the day. In subtle ways and choices, we often make moves towars lesser being or even non-being itself. The false identities and consumer-based personalities that often fill our closets or inhabit our anxieties are not part of the path to the truth or the reality of being. When Christ says that He has come to “bring life, and that more abundantly,” He is pointing towards the fullness of being that is grounded in God Himself.

It is the nature of our modern culture that it constantly drives us to be what we are not or to become someone (or something) other than ourselves. The ground of our culture is the economy, while the ground of being human is communion with God. Christ is quite clear: “You cannot serve God and mammon (money).” The power of money, and its alure, is its ability to generate pleasure, and forestall pain, neither of which are sinful nor death-dealing in and of themselves. It is, however, the secular nature of the context in which they occur that make them harmful.

Christ said, “There is none good but God.” It is a grounding of the good, as it is the grounding of being as well. A plant that has been up-rooted dies. Human beings do as well, though the death is slow and takes a myriad of forms.

Our rooting in God (“in Him we live and move and have our being” Acts 17:28) is essential. The moral compass of a culture in which the Christian tradition is dominant is insufficient to give life. It is, however, of use in preventing a culture from spinning into worlds of death-dealing nonsense. For all intents and purposes, that compass has disappeared for the larger part of our culture purveyors. We are not only dying, but dying in increasingly bizarre ways.

The New Testament occasionally makes comments about “lawlessness.” St. John equates sin and lawlessness (1Jn 3:4). When our communion with God is disrupted, lawlessness is the result. That is to say, the inner law, the natural compass of our well-being, begins to malfunction. We lose our direction. Our actions (even intended “good” actions) can become corrupted and serve only to destroy our lives. That this takes place on a cultural level is deeply alarming. Historically, cultures serve as something of a hedge around our lives. They cannot make us good, but they encourage us towards the good and turn us away from evil. Today, this is decreasingly true.

God has given us more than the background of culture with its shifting laws and mores. He has primarily given us the Church, together with its Tradition, and the life of the sacraments. This is more than a protective “garment of skin” (as the Fathers sometimes described the protection of laws and customs). The Church makes possible our active grounding in the communion of life itself. This is the content of all of the sacraments and the basis for the whole reality of the Church. The canons and moral teachings serve the purpose of nurturing us in the true life of Christ (they are not mere laws of outward conformity).

This reality makes it utterly important that the voices who seek to change the Church’s teaching or discipline to conform it to modern cultural norms should be ignored and resisted. Our culture in no way reasons in accordance with our life in Christ. It is the whisper of death that is of a piece with the first lying whispers in the Garden.

Some time back I ran across an interview with Tom Holland, a non-Christian historian, who readily admits that our civilization is rooted in Christianity and is in great danger of losing that grounding. It is deeply honest and worth a listen if you’re interested. We often take for granted the stability of the culture (at least this was once the case). Today, the case for cultural change is not being driven by rebellious, seditious groups, but by the most powerful political, social, and corporate structures themselves. Not since the Protestant Reformation has such a sea-change been marketed from the “top down.”

I take consolation from two thoughts (and a few others). The Scriptures have this:

Surely men of low degree are a vapor,
Men of high degree are a lie;
If they are weighed on the scales,
They are altogether lighter than vapor.
(Psalm 62:9)

And, famously, this:

The voice said, “Cry out!”
And he said, “What shall I cry?”
“All flesh is grass,
And all its loveliness is like the flower of the field.
The grass withers, the flower fades,
Because the breath of the LORD blows upon it;
Surely the people are grass.
The grass withers, the flower fades,
But the word of our God stands forever.”
(Isaiah 40:6–8)

The life of God given to us in the Church abides forever. It is heard in His word. It is written in every rock and tree, every element and molecule of our body.

My prayer, “O Breath of God, blow in our world. Reveal your life in our lives and save us!”


Father Stephen Freeman is a priest of the Orthodox Church in America, serving as Rector of St. Anne Orthodox Church in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. He is also author of Everywhere Present and the Glory to God podcast series.


Featured: “The Crucifixion,” by Giotto; painted ca. 1320-1325.

Believing in the Marvelous: The Rediscovery of the Imaginary

The world of tradition is saturated with marvelous images that modern thought has often depreciated to the rank of “imaginary” productions of Man. This desacralization of the sign, which deprives the religious reference marks of any possible comprehension, is based however on a fundamental ignorance—that of the “imaginal,” of which the hermeneuticist Patrick Geay, in Hermès trahi (Hermes Betrayed) [1996], presents the rediscovery as the key for resolution of the disenchantment of the world.


Hermès trahi (Hermes Betrayed) is the name given by Patrick Geay to his philosophy thesis, published in 1996 and republished in 2010, to illustrate a quite decisive project—that of remedying the divorce of myth and reason, of mythos and logos, upon which philosophical modernism made the mistake of founding itself. Hermes is first of all a god—the god of secrets and stratagems in Greek mythology, son of Zeus and Iris. He is also and above all Hermes Trismegistus, author of a doctrinal corpus which Iamblichus said delivers the hidden science of all things, and which gave its name to “hermeticism,” on the refusal of which modern hermeneutics has built its project. Against it, the director of the journal of traditional hermeneutics, La Règle d’Abraham (The Rule of Abraham), sought to “judge a form of anti-metaphysical philosophy, [namely] critical philosophy,” by the yardstick of the “traditional doctrines” of which the work of René Guénon provides the method of comparison and understanding.

Deepening the philosophical rediscovery of religious symbolism by Jean Borella, Patrick Geay works on a metaphysical rediscovery of the “imaginal.” Largely forgotten, ignored, denied, and sometimes misinterpreted, the imaginal, solidly theorized by the Sufi Ibn ‘Arabi, nevertheless proves to be essential to the understanding of all that traditional religions conceal of the marvelous. By listening to the great visionary tradition of Judaism, Christianity and Islam, Patrick Geay abolishes the reduction of the imagination to the human imaginary, showing that it extends well beyond the limits that modern psychologism assigns to images and their genesis. In doing so, to use the words of the philosopher Bruno Pinchard in his Preface, the author restores the conditions necessary for understanding the “true laws of the constitution of the religious,” against the demystifying undertakings of materialism and neo-spiritualism found at work in the human sciences.

Demythologization

Modern religious thought is based on a serious hermeneutical contradiction—that of interpreting images and sacred texts without recognizing their sacred character. This contradiction has a name—”demythologization.” Initiated by the Protestant philosopher Schleiermacher, who reduced the interpretation of sacred texts to the simple “psychological and grammatical study of the works,” it consists in saving the relevance of sacred texts only by emptying them of all that is mythical; that is to say, extraordinary, miraculous, supernatural—in a word: sacred. Thus undertaken, hermeneutics contradicts itself—it wants to study the sacred without recognizing its sacred character, as Ricoeur admits when he justifies the “oblivion of the signs of the sacred” by the “loss of man himself as belonging to the sacred.” As soon as it is posed, the object of hermeneutics is removed from its study.

Marcel Gauchet tried to save this logical contradiction by conceiving of Christianity as “the religion of the exit from religion;” that is to say, a religion without the supernatural, a religion which, by its monotheistic affirmation, “contributes to placing the unique God outside and beyond the world of men.” For Marcel Gauchet, Judeo-Christianity would thus be the religion of the absence of God in this world. However, in so doing, the philosopher only completes a contradiction with an ignorance; for, as Patrick Geay points out, “this forced and distorting approach to Hebrew prophetism [ignores] the function of the Shekinah as the Presence of the Divine in the Tabernacle of the Ark of the Covenant, which is recounted in Exodus. Marcel Gauchet’s interpretation of Judeo-Christianity also ignores “the very rich Jewish visionary literature, as found in the famous writings of the Merkabah,” as well as the symbolic profusion of “medieval Christian visionary narratives.” In sum, Marcel Gauchet reduces his conception of monotheism to its modern, heterodox version, which came out of the Protestant Reformation. From Paul Ricoeur to Marcel Gauchet, modern hermeneutics, by proposing to the human sciences the method of demythologization in order to satisfy “their claim to have knowledge of the religious,” has thus taken the risk of making them “systematically miss their target for lack of sufficient metaphysical and initiatory preparation” (Bruno Pinchard). This unpreparedness has for cause a progressive dismantling of the symbolic sign by modern philosophy, from nominalism.

The Great Split

The dismantling of metaphysical knowledge consisted in an increasing reduction and confinement of the faculties of the human mind, the stages of which Patrick Geay rigorously traces. As time went by, the image was less and less understood, because it was more and more separated from the idea. Starting with the nominalist William of Ockham, a Franciscan doctor of the 14th century, who held that “words are created by imposition,” “language is no longer the privileged reflection of being; ideas, concepts, the universal have no reality except in the soul” of individuals. In other words, “the names of things… no longer derive from their nature.” Ideas no longer have the value of objectivity and universality that the Neoplatonists of the early Middle Ages recognized—they are entirely mentalized, to be no more than psychological concepts. The word is no longer the real name of an intelligent thing (formally received by the intellect), but the conventional sign of a purely mental conception.

The nominalistic mutilation of the concept is pursued, in modern times, against the imagination. Initially, Descartes separated, in his sixth Meditation, imagination and conception (itself confused with intellection). His argument is the following: if there are things that one can both imagine and conceive, like the triangle, there are however things that one can conceive without imagining them, like the chiliogone (polygon with a thousand sides). Descartes, who differentiates the soul and the body as two distinct substances, takes advantage of it to found on his first dualism that of the concept and the imagination: “the imagination being naturally rather on the side of the body cannot succeed in conceiving any idea of what it simply puts in image, if it even succeeds in doing so.” With Descartes, the image no longer implies the concept in its existence; the imagination without the concept is indigent. Just as the body is, in itself, reduced to its mechanism, so the image is unintelligible by itself.

This split between the concept and the image is completed a century and a half later by Kant who, in his Critique of Pure Reason (A15/B29), bases his theoretical enterprise on the postulate according to which there are “two strains of human knowledge which perhaps start from a common root, but unknown to us; namely, sensibility and understanding; by the first one, objects are given to us; but by the second one, they are thought.” The consequence is obvious: as Geay notes: “this separation makes the corporeal world a neutral, empty form, since, according to Ilya Prigogine’s expression, nature is by it rendered ‘dumb.’” Indeed, for Kant, there is no real giving of meaning. There is only thought produced by the internal activity of understanding—the images that we perceive sensibly do not cause any thought in us; they do not deliver any meaning; but it is we who confer it on them: “in a priori knowledge,” Kant summarizes in his second Preface, “nothing can be attributed to the objects but what the thinking subject draws from himself.” The image is decidedly no longer intelligible, any more than beauty is for Kant a property of the object: “the universe is consequently reduced to the state of confused ‘matter’ to be organized; it is a priori dispossessed by Kant of its semantic content; that is to say, of an intrinsic symbolic structure that man would only have to unveil.” Philosophical modernity is founded thus, from Occam to Kant while passing via Descartes, on the big split between thought and the real, and within thought, between the concept and the image.

Several contemporary attempts, in the 20th century, were made to give back to the images their nobility, and to the images of the supernatural an interest against the materialist impoverishment of the world—Gaston Bachelard, in his “new scientific spirit,” as well as Gilbert Durand, within the framework of his “new anthropologic spirit.” However, impressed by the psychoanalytical theory of the imagination, their common mistake was to reduce the imagination to the fantasy of the human conscience or unconscious. For Bachelard, who saw in alchemical symbolism only an “immense sexual reverie…. a reverie of wealth and rejuvenation… a reverie of power,” while the religious imagination was only human poetry. For Durand, who confused traditional data with that of psychoanalysis, its “transcendental fantasy… remained locked in psychological categories… of ‘fabulation,’ whose ‘supreme meaning’ lay in euphemism; that is, in the human power of ‘improvement of the world.'” Patrick Geay’s conclusion is without clear: the revaluation of the image and the marvelous is not possible within the framework of the modern theory of the imagination, since it deprives of intelligibility any possible mythical content.

Remythologization

What modernity, timidly or resolutely, has dislocated, tradition, on the contrary, has reunited. On the one hand, the concept and the image are the two inseparable modalities of the same thing—the symbol. On the other hand, the symbol is, in its turn, inseparable from the reality of which it is the sensible sign—the idea. This second point can be understood by the fact that “if, in the rational mode, we can say that we know an object through its notion, it is because this notion is still something of the object; that it participates in its nature by expressing it in relation to us,” as René Guénon explained in his Générale à l’étude des doctrines hindoues (General Introduction to the Study of Hindu Doctrines) [III, 9], underlining here the realism of traditional logic. As for the first point, contrary to Kantian separation of the sensible given and the thought, Patrick Geay remarks that “there is no pure sensation which is not already an act of the consciousness.” Sensation is not unintelligent, because man perceives accidents (figures, colors, etc.) which never exist separately from a given essence, but which belong to it and thus inform us about it. This is why Saint Bonaventure noted that “all pleasure derives from a ratio of proportion,” just as beauty is objectively “an equation of numbers” (Journey of the Soul into GodItinerarium Mentis in Deum, I, 5). No more than the world according to the tradition is this homogeneous space of Galileo and Descartes reduced to extent; the images are not dumb matter, but on the contrary, “imprints” (vestigia), whose contemplation can lead us “to see God in any creature which enters in us and by the bodily senses” (II, 1).

The “despisers of the body,” to paraphrase Nietzsche, are therefore not the traditional and orthodox representatives of Christianity, but rather its modern innovators. For Tradition, the physical body is neither unreal nor autonomous, but it derives its reality from its iconic character: it is the image of an essence. Now the image is neither an obstacle to knowledge (iconoclastic error), nor knowledge itself (idolatrous error)—but its iconic means to reach the Idea of which it is the representation. If, therefore, the image puts man in contact with the world, and if this world has an organizing and creating principle (God), then the imagination cannot be reduced to a purely human faculty. Thus Ibn ‘Arabi recognizes three states of imagination—contrary to modern anthropological postulates that reduce imagination to the mere “combining imagination” (psychological) of Man, “it was necessary to conceive, beyond the human imagination qualified as imagination in conjunction with the subject (khayâl al-muttasil), a divine encompassing imagination, dissociable from the subject (khayâl al-munfasil), “having a subsistence in itself.” As the prototype of the human capacity to imagine, the absolute divine Imagination (khayâl al-mutlaq) is thus, so to speak, the container of the joint imagination.” If, therefore, the human imagination is contained in the divine imagination, the latter can allow itself to be contemplated by the former and reveal itself there, in accordance with its own coordinates of representation. The place of this contemplation is not imaginary, since it is not produced by human fantasy; but on the contrary by the divine intelligence—the imaginal belongs to the “creative imagination” of God. It is the intermediate world of the soul, where spiritual principles become sensible, where sensible bodies become spiritualized by being perceived in their principle. The “mixed constitution” of the imaginal thus corresponds to “the mathematical structure of the body of the world” that Plato looked at in the Timaeus as the mediation between the intelligible and the sensible.

“Solidary with a true metaphysics of the image, by which the Invisible is made visible,” the knowledge of the Imaginal and its “cosmological function, which is to unite the corporal plane to the spiritual plane,” is thus doubly required to understand the possibility of the perception of the divine as well as the religious function of the icon and of all sacred symbolism (illuminations, liturgical songs, architecture of the temples…)—for what is an icon or a sacred symbol, if not a spiritual body, or a corporeal spirit? Also, man is a fortiori called to become himself an icon; that is to say a saint who is the carnal image of the spirit, an incarnation of the universal truth. The problem of the imagination thus shows how much “the progressive oblivion of the esoteric tradition,” however “alone capable of allowing an in-depth illumination of religion,” is “the deepest cause of the metaphysical decline in the conscience of men.” The anti-metaphysical separation of mythos and logos is as false and arbitrary as is the anti-symbolic dualism of concept and image.


Paul Ducay, Professor of philosophy with a medievalist background. Heir to the metaphysics of Nicolas de Cues and the faith of Xavier Grall. Gascon by race and French by reason. “The devout infuriate the world; the pious edify it.” Marivaux. [This article comes through the kind courtesy of PHILITT].


Featured: “Sir Isumbras at the Ford,” by John Everett Millais; painted in 1857.

Eurasianism: A Reaffirmation of Empire

Contemporary Eurasianism is undoubtedly marked by the strong personality of Alexander Dugin (1962). However, Eurasianist thought cannot be reduced to that of the latter (which he does not claim). At the same time, the Eurasianist movement has been able, during the two clearly differentiated phases of its history, to gather original and independent thinkers (and regularly in disagreement), while keeping a very specific intellectual identity.

Pyotr Savitsky: Father of Eurasianism and Theorist of Topogenesis

Eurasianist thought was born in exile at the beginning of the 1920s, at the initiative of certain White Russian intellectuals. Its main theorists were Prince Nicholai Trubetzskoy (1890-1938) and Pyotr Savitsky (1895-1968). The Eurasianist movement gradually broke up during the 1930s, before disappearing after the Second World War: the fairly complex thinking of Eurasianism was probably no longer suited to the simplistic confrontation of ideologies typical of the Cold War. However, Eurasianism experienced a revival in Russia in the 1990s (it was then referred to as neo-Eurasianism), around the personalities of Alexander Dugin and Alexander Panarin (1940-2003). It is not insignificant to note that the two historical phases of Eurasianism reacted each time to a fall: the fall of the “White Empire” of the Romanovs for classical Eurasianism, and the fall of the “Red Empire” of the USSR for neo-Eurasianism. We can thus readily define Eurasianism as a will to rethink the fundamentally imperial identity of Russia, at times when it seemed threatened with dissolution.

Before Eurasianism

If the double birth of Eurasianism is thus linked to precise contexts, the latter was obviously not constituted like Athena already emerging armed from Zeus’ brain. Without falling into the always somewhat vain exercise of “searching for precursors,” it is obvious that Eurasianism is rooted in a typically Russian intellectual soil, inaugurated by the father of Slavophilism, Aleksey Khomyakov (1804-1860). He interpreted history as the confrontation of two principles: the Iranian principle and the Kushite principle. These two principles were conceived as covering all the structural dichotomies of the world. To the Iranian/Kushite opposition thus corresponds the oppositions freedom/determinism, spirituality/ materialism, peasant civilization/industrial civilization, autocracy/plutocracy, Orthodoxy/Catholicism and Protestantism, East/West. Khomyakov thus radically opposed to a Kushite West an Iranian East, to which he integrated Russia. This integration of Russia with the East nourished Khomyakov’s interest in Iran and India (he would go so far as to learn Sanskrit to be able to read in the original the classical works of Hinduism). This conception of a Russia, open to the East but closed to the West, would become a constitutive pillar of Eurasianism.

The work of Constantine Leontiev (1831-1891) can be seen as a link between nineteenth-century slavophilism and twentieth-century Eurasianism. The latter, a veteran of the Crimean War, conceived of “Western progress” as a globalist and aggressive process of standardization of humanity from below. In contrast, he defended a diversity of men and cultures, finding its unity in a common imperial identity. This dialectic of the respect of the human diversity in the unity of the empire, put in opposition with the petty-bourgeois uniformity of the Western State-nation, will find itself in the Eurasianist thought. Thinking that the future of Russia was not in Europe but in Asia, Leontiev invited his compatriots to consider themselves no longer as Slavs, but as “Turanians” (the term “Turanians” designating, in the vocabulary of the time, the Turko-Mongolian peoples of Central Asia). Inaudible for his contemporaries, this renewal of Russian identity proposed by Leontiev will find an echo among Eurasianists.

The Idea of Eurasia

Eurasianist thought is vast and embraces many fields and themes. It is thus impossible to reveal it in its entirety here (we would in any case be hard pressed to give an account of Nicolai Trobetzskoy’s structural linguistic work). However, Eurasianists share a common way of conceiving the Eurasian discourse in itself. Totally anti-constructivist, Eurasianist thought considers that Eurasia pre-exists in its essence. The idea of Eurasia is an Idea, in the Platonic sense of the term, and the purpose of the Eurasianist discourse is therefore not to construct it, but to unveil it. This Eurasian Idea is thus fundamentally revealed in a territory that is neither Europe nor Asia, but a third continent: Eurasia. That the Idea of Eurasia is revealed in the territory of Eurasia may seem a very trivial statement, but it is not. Indeed, it means that, for the Eurasianists, Eurasia is a fact of nature, whose unity and specificity will have to be demonstrated by the geographical sciences. Eurasianism is thus thought of, on the theoretical level, as a scientific demonstration of the Eurasian Idea. Eurasian thought is thus characterized at the same time as a metaphysics and as a science (Trubetzskoy thus spoke of a geosophy of Eurasianism).

This naturalistic conception of Eurasia explains why the delimitations of the latter have never been the object of a clear consensus among Eurasianists, without them regarding this state of affairs as a real problem. Indeed, being defined by geographical and not historical-political criteria, Eurasia is not delimited by borders in the strict sense of the term, but rather by peripheral zones, by boundaries. Globally, Eurasia corresponds to the territory of the former USSR. In the East, Mongolia and possibly Tibet are generally added to it. Dugin excludes the Kuril Islands, which he proposes to return to Japan. The problem of the eastern limits of Eurasia has never really worried Eurasianists, insofar as they think of an opening of Eurasia to Asia, and see in the Asian countries natural allies in the face of Western hegemony (Alexander Panarin, who was a professor of political philosophy at Moscow State University, thus theorized the construction of a Sino-Eurasian alliance against the American “new world order”).

The problem of the Western limits of Eurasia is quite different, and has been of great concern to Eurasians (which is explained by their conception of a Eurasia closed to the West). The Eurasian territory is also based on that of the former USSR, excluding the Baltic States and the enclave of Kaliningrad, and with the addition of Bessarabia for some. Ukraine is considered Eurasian, but suffers from a very ambiguous status. As a western boundary of Eurasia, and because of its historical links with Poland, Ukraine is seen as having been largely influenced by the West (to such an extent that Eurasianists called the westernization of Russia in the Petersburg period “Ukrainization”). As a result, Eurasianists always considered that an independent Ukraine detached from Russia could not be anything other than a Trojan horse of the West in Eurasian unity.

The Concept of Topogenesis

Alexander Dugin describes this basically continental Eurasian space as “tellurocratic,” characterized by a traditional and socialist spirit, and opposes it to a “thalassocratic” Atlantic space, modern and capitalist (an opposition that we already find, mutatis mutandis, in The Peloponnesian War, where Thucydides opposes a “tellurocratic” and aristocratic Sparta to a “thalassocratic” and democratic Athens). The geographical opposition between a continental Eurasian space and a maritime Atlantic space is thus coupled with a civilizational opposition. Eurasian thought holds that civilization is conditioned (and not determined) by place. This is what Pyotr Savitsky proposed to call “topogenesis” (and which he considered a scientific concept): A specific geographical space conditions a specific civilization. To the Eurasian space thus corresponds a Eurasian civilization.

In the eyes of Eurasianists, religion is at the foundation of any civilization. The Eurasian civilization is thus for them fundamentally Orthodox. Atheism, deism, Catholicism, or Protestantism are seen as Western elements, foreign, and even opposed to Eurasian civilization. Thus, with a few exceptions, all Eurasianists are explicitly Orthodox. However, without questioning the sincerity of the personal faith of the Eurasianists, some criticized the ensuing notion that Russian Christianity thus does not seem to be based on a supernatural revelation, but simply as an expression of the Eurasian topogenesis; Father Georges Florovsky distanced himself from the movement for this reason, seeing in it a naturalistic reduction of the Christian mystery. Nevertheless, Eurasianists always remained conscious that not all Eurasians are Orthodox, and stressed that Russian Orthodoxy, while keeping its central role, can recognize, esteem, and fraternize with other Eurasian religious expressions. Thus, in the inter-war period, the Jewish Eurasianist Yakov Bromberg defended the existence of a specifically Eurasian Jewishness through the Khazar experience. More recently, Dorji-Lama, a spiritual leader of the Kalmyk Buddhists, joined Alexander Dugin’s Eurasianist organization.

But it is especially to Islam that the Eurasianists opened up, underlining the precocity with which the Russian empire was equipped with a representative institution of the Muslims of Russia (the great Muftiate of Russia was created by the empress Catherine II in 1788), and not forgetting that 40% of the citizens of the ex-USSR were Muslims. They held the existence of a specifically Eurasian Islam, Turkic, and influenced by Sufism and Shiism (Wahhabi Islam is on the other hand absolutely rejected as non-Eurasian, and being totally subservient to hated America). Dugin, mobilizing a conceptuality drawn from his reading of René Guénon, affirmed that Turkic Islam and Russian Orthodoxy are both linked in their essence to the “Primordial Tradition” (as well as all the authentically traditional religions) coming from “Hyperborea,” which he situates in Siberia (this conception is not foreign to Russian mythology; indeed, in the fourteenth century the archbishop Basil of Novgorod affirmed the existence of a secret terrestrial paradise in Siberia, which obviously refers to the biblical myth of the Garden of Eden and is very reminiscent of the Buddhist myth of Shamballah). Muslim personalities thus drew closer to Eurasianism: Talgat Tadzhuddin, former grand mufti of Russia, joined Dugin’s Eurasianist movement; and especially Nursultan Nazarbayev, former president of Kazakhstan and promoter of a specifically Turkic Eurasianism, distinct from the properly Russian Eurasianism (and to whom Dugin devoted a dithyrambic book).

As we can see, topogenesis is neither a determinism nor a universalism; it conditions and adapts that which exists. The various religions and cultures of Eurasia keep their particular identity, while showing common civilizational traits, making them all converge in the Eurasian unity, understood as a community, both natural and mystical, of destiny. The concept of topogenesis is thus a nodal point of Eurasian thought, where a dialectic of the one and the many is woven, founding an imperial affirmation of identity that respects (but also embraces) the particular identities of Eurasian peoples. it should also be noted that this strictly organicist conception leaves no room for individual choice—a Mormon Tatar who loves the country cannot be anything but a dangerous anomaly from a Eurasian perspective).

A Differentialist Critique of Western Universalism

This notion of topogenesis is also the basis of the Eurasian critique of Western universalism. The latter is understood as postulating the existence of a unique human civilization, the different cultures being only the expression of this unique civilization at different historical stages of advancement, obviously leading to the Western model, seen as the most advanced and most desirable historical stage of humanity (Eurasianists note that white supremacism is finally only a naturalized form of this universalism). Western civilization is thus seen as the goal of all humanity, and its model of development as the unique direction of history. Alexander Panarin considers that this superiority complex of the West comes from the obvious power of its industrial and consumerist model, while underlining that the contemporary ecological crisis undeniably demonstrates its harmful character.

To this historicist universalism of the West, justifying its political hegemony as well as the cultural westernization of the world, Eurasianists resolutely oppose a “geographist” differentialism. In their eyes, the Western model is absolutely not universal. As we have already said, each geographical space corresponds for Eurasianists to a given civilization, the Western model therefore legitimately and exclusively corresponds to the Western geographical space. Eurasianism thus defends an incommensurability and an equality of civilizations between them, which must each be respected in their specificity. The inexpiable fault of the West is thus to have believed itself superior to the rest of the world, granting itself the right to invade it “for its own good,” scorning thereby the irrefutable right of each people to remain itself and to develop according to its own internal logic; that is to say to remain faithful to its own topogenesis. The Eurasianists thus always presented themselves as anti-colonialists and Third Worldists (and this already in the 1920s; that is to say at a time when this was not yet fashionable). In France, Aleksander Dugin came closer to the New Right led by Alain de Benoist, which also carried a differentialist critique of Western universalism, while Aleksander Panarin, for his part, came closer to certain researchers from postcolonial studies. The latter affirmed in this respect that the providential mission of Eurasia is to take the lead in the revolt of the Third World against Western hegemony.

Eurasia as Ideocracy

Panarin’s Eurasian messianism undeniably reproduced certain “tics” of Russian nationalism. It is an observation that can be extended to the whole of Eurasianist thought, which grants Orthodox “Holy Russia” the role of the “spearhead” of Eurasia. Eurasianists, however, have always denied being reactionary. In the 1920s, they strongly criticized White Russians who stubbornly remained monarchists, and instead claimed to be “futurists” (and even “cosmists” for the most left-wing). If they rejected the Marxist ideology, they saw in the Soviet experience an important step in the process of political incarnation of the Eurasian Idea. For the Eurasianists, the Russian people, Orthodox and theophore, were providentially elected to carry out this process, i.e., to make the Eurasian empire come true. The latter, political incarnation of the Eurasian Idea, is thus understood by Eurasianist thought as an ideocracy, aristocratic and authoritarian regime, of religious and socialist essence, expressing the Eurasian organicity.

The Eurasianists trace the history of the constitution of the Eurasian ideocracy, through a historical meta-narrative breaking with traditional Russian historiography. Indeed, the Rus’ of Kiev is thus seen as denying its usual founding role. Only Saint Vladimir of Kiev (958-1015), for his historical choice of Byzantine Christianity, and Saint Alexander Nevsky (1220-1263) are preserved. The latter, confronted in the East by the Mongols, and in the West by the Teutonic Knights (launched in the famous Baltic, or Northern Crusades), chose to recognize the suzerainty of Batu Khan, grandson of Genghis Khan, and to oppose the Teutonic Knights—thus making the choice of Eurasia against the West (the Eurasianists also contrasted Saint Alexander Nevsky with another Russian prince, Daniel of Galicia, who made the opposite choice, and whom they condemned to hell-fire for that; one finds here the dual character of Ukraine in Eurasianist thought)—because it is indeed the Mongolian empire which is seen as the matrix of the Eurasian ideocracy. The Eurasianist historiography, in an original way, thus rehabilitated Genghis Khan and the Genghisids. Lev Gumilev (1912-1992) pointed out the Christian dimension of the Mongol empire, including among its high aristocracy (the mother of Kublai Khan, emperor of China and grandson of Genghis Khan, was a Church of the East Christian princess). While traditional Russian historiography sees in the affirmation of Muscovy a founding struggle for national liberation against the Mongols, Eurasian historiography sees in Moscow the heir to the Mongol empire. The providential mission of the Russian people is therefore to bring to its historical completion the work that the Mongolian people started: the constitution of the Eurasian ideocratic empire.

It is difficult to assess the influence of Eurasianism on contemporary Russian politics. Those who have made Dugin into an eminence grise of the Kremlin, or even into a Eurasianist of President Putin, have probably greatly exaggerated. However, it would be wrong to underestimate the capacity of Eurasianist thought, with its mystical, political and scientific roots, to infuse some of its ideas into the state ideologies of the countries of the former USSR (as the examples of Russia, Kazakhstan and, to a lesser extent, Kyrgyzstan demonstrate).


Grégoire Quevreux currently teaches philosophy at the Institut Protestant de Théologie de Paris, and is completing a doctoral thesis on process theology under the direction of Professor Cyrille Michon. This article appears through the kind courtesy of PHILITT.


Featured: “The Road in the Rye,” by Grigoriy Myasoyedov; painted in 1881.

Eastern Caesaropapism: History and Critique of a Concept

To understand what “caesaropapism” means, we must compare and contrast this vague term with another, much clearer one, namely, “theocracy.” A theocratic society can be described as one ruled by, and over which “reigns,” God (1 Samuel 8:7), manifesting, directly or indirectly, His will in everything. The word itself, applied to the Jewish people, was created by Josephus Flavius. It fits both the original covenant theocracy embodied in the titanic figure of Moses, the divinely anointed kings of Israel, and the theocracy of the High Priests. The rigidity of the system was only marginally mitigated by the creation of the Levitical priesthood and the emergence of state authority: orders were always given by God, and in His name the prophets and interpreters of the Law spoke. Thomas Hobbes, followed by Spinoza, perfectly described this model: the agreement with God which this model presupposes, and the transfer of legal rights which it imposes. But while the latter declares the age of the prophets over, and warns against the slightest interference by the clergy in affairs of state, the former deduces from the example of Israel a “Christian republic,” in which the ruler “will take the same place as Abraham in his family” and will himself determine “what is the word of God and what is not.” This ruler would become by divine right the “supreme shepherd,” tending his flock and presiding over the Church in his state.

Going beyond Jewish history, these constructions and analyses have led sociologists to distinguish between several types of political organizations based on revelation and closely tied to religion: in some cases, the priests are content to lend legitimacy to secular authority (“hierocracy”); in others, the high priest or head of the community of believers ex officio also possesses supreme authority (theocracy proper); in still others, secular authority subordinates the religious sphere to a greater or lesser degree (forms of caesaropapism). This is how theocracy and caesaropapism, the model of the priest-king and the model of the king-priest, are opposed to each other.

Thus, the word “caesaropapism” stigmatized any “secular” sovereign who claimed to be a pope. The term itself has a sociological character, but it was used with an obvious polemical purpose, within the framework of a general classification that contrasted the theocratic or caesaropapist East with the West, where the independence of the “two powers” was perceived as dogma: in the first case there is confusion; in the second—distinction. Justus Henning Böhmer (1674-1749), professor at the University of Halle, in his textbook on Protestant ecclesiastical law (Jus ecclesiasticum protestantium), devoted an entire passage to the two main types of excesses of power in the religious sphere: “Papo-caesaria” and “Caesaro-papia.” In this way he sought, on behalf of the Reformed Church, to equate and denounce both the pope, who appropriated political power, and secular rulers dealing with religious problems, as Justinian had already done. Of the two opposed terms, only the second term was successful: it was often used in the second half of the nineteenth century, though not so much as a theoretical concept but to stigmatize Byzantium and its Orthodox successors: the “schisma” between the Christian East and the Christian West was said to have been caused by “Constantinian” or “Justinian” interference in matters of faith.

Such an approach turned the distinction between secular and spiritual authority into a complete incompatibility between the two. The vague notion of “caesaropapism” was reduced above all to a murderous-sounding word, which, however, could not be mollified by introducing a more genial definition; it was therefore impossible to raise the meaning of the word beyond the various currents of thought that gave it the derogatory character that has survived to this day. Thus, a brief review of historiography must precede any analysis of the essence of the problem.

To understand the essence of our problem and the ways in which it developed, it is necessary to mention briefly the Reformation and the Counter-Reformation, that struggle of ideas which gave rise to Christian historiography as a reaction to critical reflections on the original truth of Christendom before its immersion in history.

Protestants instinctively disassociated themselves from all historical legitimacy, from that evolution which separated the clergy from all “other Christians, from that tradition which had established the Church in power. In his treatises On the Freedom of a Christian (1520) and On Secular Authority (1523) Luther paradoxizes the difference between the spiritual and the secular, starting from the Augustinian theory of the “two cities”: being part of both the spiritual and the secular cities, the Christian, according to Luther, is at the same time both absolutely free and absolutely enslaved. God created these two cities because only a small minority of true Christians belong to His city, while the vast majority need the “worldly sword” and have to submit to it, according to the covenant of Paul (Rom. 13:1: ” for there is no authority except from God”) and Peter (1 Peter 2:13: “accept the authority of every human institution”). But although worldly princes have their authority from God and although they themselves are Christians, they have no right to claim to “rule as a Christian” and in accordance with the Gospel. “The Christian kingdom cannot extend to the whole world, not even to one single country.” Between religion, understood primarily personally, and State, understood primarily in a repressive way, there can be no mutual accommodation; Luther sneers at those secular rulers who “arrogate to themselves the right to sit on God’s throne, dispose of conscience and faith, and… bring the Holy Spirit to the school pews,” just as he scoffs at popes and bishops “who become secular princes” and claim to be endowed with “authority” and not merely “office.” However, this radical separation of secular and spiritual does not lead to the recognition of the two powers, “since all Christians truly belong to the body of the Church,” and there is no reason to deny secular rulers “the title of priest and bishop.” It was not been easy to abide by these principles, and sometimes turned Lutheranism into a kind of caesaropapism (and Calvinism a kind of theocracy). But this new approach to “religion” undoubtedly carried with it the leaven which began the fermentation process by which the question of the origins of the Christian empire was fundamentally reconsidered in the 19th century.

The Council of Trent (1545-1563) made no determination on this question, but in proclaiming the Church to be the mediator between Christians and God, and giving sacred tradition the same weight as sacred Scripture, this Council brought together what Luther tried to divide. Both at the Council and around it, attempts were made to bring the two powers together rather than to separate them. The policy of the concordat was intended to find a difficult compromise between religious universalism and national churches. The Jesuits, on the other hand, supported the thesis of the “indirect power” of the pope in political affairs. And the justification they found, of course, in history. In thirteen volumes. of the Croatian Lutheran Matthias Vlacic (or Flacius Illyricus) and the Magdeburg “Centuriators” (1559-1575), who boldly called Pope Gregory VII a monster and thereby sowed confusion in the Catholic milieu; Caesar Baronius gave a belated response in twelve volumes of his Annales ecclesiastici (1588-1607). In this history of Christianity loomed the central character—Constantine the Great. Baronius looked upon him through the eyes of his apologist Eusebius of Caesarea, but also took into account orthodox and clerical corrections to the legend, according to which the first Christian emperor was baptized in Rome by Pope Sylvester, and that the popes’ secular authority and their royal prerogatives date back to Constantine’s imperial grant. It is not surprising that the volumes of the Annales, which were devoted successively to secular rulers and to Catholic pontiffs, were warmly received in the Orthodox world, and subjected only to a slight revision by the Russian hierarchs.

The union of secular and ecclesiastical authorities was as little questioned in Catholic Europe as in Eastern Christianity, and Constantine was a symbol of this union. In 1630, Jean Morin, priest of the Oratory, wrote his Histoire de la délivrance de l’Église chrétienne par l’empereur Constantin, et de la grandeur et souveraineté temporelle donnée a l’Église romaine par les rois de France (History of the Liberation of the Christian Church by the Emperor Constantine, and of the Temporal Sovereignty Granted to the Roman Church by the Kings of France), in which he rebutted Baronius, and disputed the fact of Roman baptism and the reality of Constantine’s gift—but all this only in order to claim that the emperor had been converted and had seen the heavenly cross in France, that he had been catechized under French bishops, and that it was the French kings who are the only initiators of the greatness and temporal power of the Holy See.

Ultramontanism and Gallicanism had different goals, but followed almost the same line of in interpreting the beginnings of the Christian Empire. It would take a long time before the Lutheran movement seriously threatened the Constantinian myth; which happened when criticism of the very foundations of “political Christianity” led, in Protestant countries, to the condemnation of caesaropapism. The sharp-eyed detective Santo Mazzarino noticed that a certain Johann Christian Hesse defended at Jena. in 1713. a thesis with a very telling subtitle: “On the Difference between True Christianity and Political Christianity.” And that’s where it all began. From then on, Constantine always served as a scarecrow. He, they say, chose Christianity ex rationis politicis, “for political reasons,” and made it serve the interests that he considered to be his own.

Next the baton was taken up in a book by Jacob Burckhardt, who in 1853 [Die Zeit Constantins des Grossen] rendered judgment on this false Christianity in the service of power; under his pen Constantine’s “psychological portrait” came out even harsher. The historian reproached the emperor for insidiousness and shamelessness, and Eusebius for concealing the truth. As a Western humanist and typical Protestant, Burckhardt believed that between religion and power there could be nothing but a constant friction; he rejected all forms of state Christianity and wrote against it; he was obviously antipathetic to what he called “Byzantinismus” [“Byzantinism”] which was soon to be called “Caesaropapismus.” He likened it to Islam, thereby expelling it from Europe. Historical interpretation played on all possible moral oppositions: between sincerity and opportunism, between religion and politics, between Church and State, and, in the end, between West and East.

In the same manner was the later shift from a moral critique of “political Christianity” to a more fundamental critique of “political theology.” To describe and eradicate this perversion was the task of Erik Peterson in in his brilliant essay, “Monotheism as a Political Problem,” which he published in Leipzig in 1935, under the conditions of Nazi Germany. He wrote about the dangers of monolithic and charismatic power. The reader immediately grasped the allusions that the author himself later revealed in 1947, well after the disaster. Constantine receded into the background and the proscenium was now occupied by Eusebius of Caesarea: the theologian, historian and panegyrist was now turned into a dangerous ideologue (and was disqualified as such), who wanted to make Christianity a continuation of Alexandrian Hellenistic-Judean philosophy and integrate it into Roman history. The notion of divine monarchy as developed by the Arian Eusebius and refuted by trinitarian dogma, was to be interpreted not as a theological reaction to the issue of deity, but as a political reaction to the threat of the demise of the imperium romanum. This is why the delusion of Eusebius is revealing, which is why his rejection of the proclamation of God as simultaneously one and threefold, which took the religion of Christ beyond the boundaries of Judaism, was so liberating. By so doing, it was forbidden to transfer to secular power and to the secular world models of Christian monarchy and “peace,” which could not be other than in the Godhead.

The false eschatology of Eusebius, who exaggerated the importance of the Empire in salvation history, Peterson contrasted with the distinction of the “two cities.” His preference is made all the more evident by the fact that he dedicated his book to the Blessed Augustine. He thus sketched the contradiction, which others would later develop with far less subtlety, between the East, secretly Arian and totalitarian—and the West, which had managed to get rid of political theology brought on by monotheism, and thereby destroyed all grounds for the contamination of the religious with the political.

Erik Peterson was neither the first nor the last in the line of those who made the connection between Arian “subordinatism” and the ideal of a monarch who, like the Byzantine emperor, receives directly from God both the anointing and the covenant to lead His people to salvation. But Peterson was the only one who, departing from this historical perception of caesaropapism, clearly dating back to the fourth century, made a general condemnation of any political speculation based on Christian theology. In 1969-1970 he was critiqued by Karl Schmitt whose text, both confusing and harsh, is not very convincing in which he argues about history and which is more interesting when he demands the sociologist’s right to investigate the process of secularization of Christian concepts and models.

Many historians, whether they have read the 1935 essay or not, assimilated the same perspective and turned Eusebius, whose Arianism was, we note, condemned, into the inspirer and mouthpiece of “Byzantinism,” i.e., caesaropapism; and in so doing they take at face value the opposite myth of the cynic Constantine and contrast the Western “mentality” to the Eastern one. Thus, it seems reasonable to speak of a sequence, from the Reformation to Burckhardt and Peterson (although the latter converted to Catholicism). In this perspective, the concept of caesaropapism is built on a critique of all religious authority; the debunking of “political Christianity” and the defeat of any “political theology.” At the same time. it is difficult to name beyond the university walls the source of this historiographic direction (distinctly French, sometimes tinged lightly with Catholic anticlericalism) that has arrived at a similar result, from an analysis of “modernity. No doubt, it took as its starting point the last chapter of Fustel de Coulanges’s La cité antique (The Ancient City) written in 1864, which set out to demonstrate how Christianity had “changed the conditions of government” and “marked the end of ancient society.” The historian insisted on the universality of the religious idea, which severed the connection of cults to family and polis, as well as the interiorization of faith and prayer which released the individual and allowed him to realize his freedom. What had been the privilege of a tiny elite of Stoic philosophers—the distinction between “private virtues and public virtues”—became the domain of all mankind. [Christianity] preaches that there is nothing in common between state and religion; it separates what throughout antiquity has been mixed. It must be observed, however, that for three centuries the new religion lived absolutely outside the limits of any activity of the state, able to do without its patronage and even to struggle against it—these three centuries dug a chasm between the domain of government and the domain of religion.

Since the memories of this glorious era cannot fade away—the distinction has become an indisputable truth—which even the efforts of some of the clergy cannot shake. History thereby recognizes a certain role in the separation of secular and clerical powers, the function of a certain inhibition is attributed to the church hierarchy, but as a whole is explained by the first principles of Christianity which laid a natural, non-religious foundation for law, for property and for the family; these principles are what has drawn the boundary “which separates ancient politics” from “from the politics of modernity.” With a fervor that led to accusations of his “clericalism,” Fustel de Coulanges briefly jumped through the centuries, leaving others to investigate in detail the phenomenon of caesaropapism, that remnant of antique paganism in the Eastern Christian Empire, the transformation of which was slow and incomplete.

These few pages from La cité antique had nearly the same impact in France as Burckhardt’s book had had in Germanic countries. They have been quoted in many articles and studies on the relations of Church and State. The teacher’s ideas were picked up and developed especially by one of his pupils, Amédée Gasquet, in 1879, in his doctoral dissertation, De l’autorité impériale en matière religieuse à Byzance (On the Power of the Emperor in Religious Matters in Byzantium), which he dedicated to “Academician Mr. Fustel de Coulanges.” The scientific apparatus of this dissertation is somewhat weak; but the mode of expression is sustained in the spirit of academic propriety—the author carefully avoids using the term “caesaropapism.” In any case, the intent of the work is quite clear—”ancient societies,” explains Gasquet, referring to La cité antique, which by that time had already gone through five or six editions, “did not know the division between political and religious power.” The Christian emperors of Byzantium, without renouncing any of the prerogatives of their pagan predecessors, claimed a dominant position not only in the secular but also in the ecclesiastical community; and in so doing they flaunted the title priest-king, and claimed holiness just as the pagan emperors had made the claim to apotheosis. Having embraced Christianity, they were confident that they could reform it at their own whim and adapt to their imagination “the immutable text approved by the Great Councils.” But Rome staged against the Caesars a grandiose revolution, which consisted in the separation of powers; “the pope, the vicar of Christ, deprived the imperial majesty of that power which did not belong to the title.” In the midst of this constant struggle and upheavals caused by the “caprices of the eastern rulers,” “the center of the universal church shifted from Constantinople to Rome.” The contradictions were aggravated. The pope “as a result of a bold usurpation,” began to distribute crowns in the West to those loyal to him. Thus, a political schism took place, soon followed by a religious one. Hence came the modern world, divided into those who remained faithful to the Byzantine tradition, and those who accepted the separation of powers and the supremacy of the spiritual over the secular. This division, boldly carried to its extreme consequences, was the principle which “awakened the Western nations, which grew, dwindling in barbarism.”

Consecration does not necessarily imply assent and patronage, and there is no guarantee that some of Amédée Gasquet’s assertions would have been fully endorsed by Fustel de Coulanges. But it is well to see how a generally fair idea of the inherent distinction between the spiritual and the temporal in Christianity could give rise to the false idea that this was a distinction between “two powers;” and how the image of the modern world, born of such a division, prompts one to declare “caesaropapism” a pagan legacy, preserved in the stagnant East, from which the liberated West quickly separated itself. The term, conciliatory or provocative, is not the least important. The image of an emperor scarcely washed of his paganism and all too used to playing the pontifex maximus runs through virtually all subsequent historiography. To pay tribute to Peterson, it is usually added that the ideology of the Hellenistic king, skillfully applied by the heretic Eusebius of Caesarea to a Christian monarch, served as a mediator and gave an appearance of new religious legitimacy to the successors of Augustus. But the conclusion, whether declared or implied, is always the same: Constantine’s conversion did not lead to a profound Christianization of the Empire; where imperial tradition survived, namely in the East, power remained secretly pagan. This is what polemical literature has always tried to convince the reader of, whether in the days of iconoclasm or the Union of the Churches, to cast as tyrants, persecutors and Antichrists this or that Byzantine emperor, who donned his religious role and tried to uproot the remnants of paganism from the Church.

The more “Romanesque” tradition in historiography makes some important adjustments to this scheme. The abbot Luigi Sturzo, in his book widely circulated in France, takes as his point of departure “the novelty of Christianity in comparison with other religions;” that Christianity had “severed any binding connection between religion, on the one hand, and family, tribe, nation or empire on the other, and also established a personal basis for these connections.” “For the Christian,” he continues, “there was an inherent dualism between the life of the spirit—and the worldly life, the religious and supra-worldly tasks of the Church—and the earthly, natural interests of the State.” But If unification is always harmful, the diarchy, “sealed in facts,” corresponded not so much to the separation of powers, but to their mutual accommodation. “From the Edict of Constantine and up to the formation of the Carolingian Empire, two types of religious and political diarchy developed: the Byzantine Caesaropapist and the organizing Latin.” The first represented “a political-religious system in which the power of the State became for the Church an effective, normal and centralizing power, though external to it; a system in which the Church participated in the exercise of certain worldly power functions; and in a direct form, though not independently.” Such was the position of the Eastern Church after Constantine, which led to a loss of autonomy, to subordination to the State, to the preservation of the economic and political interests of the secular elite and the privileged caste of clerics. In contrast, in the “Latin organizational diarchy,” “the Church, while constantly calling on the aid of the civil authorities and constantly ceding to the rulers some powers, some opportunities and some privileges within the ecclesiastical body, nevertheless almost always protested against any real dependence on them and, when necessary, insisted on its independence.” The author goes on to analyze in detail the Reformation, the Counter-Reformation, the development of national Christian churches, and the politics of the “concordat.” Of course, he fails to draw a line down the centuries between the mixing of powers inherited from antiquity and their differentiation as an innovation of Christianity. However, he draws a distinction between the Eastern model (modern rather than medieval)—and the Western model, which, a better knowledge of the subject, permits him to present in a more nuanced way.

The nuances give way to polemics in literature which more openly declares its confessional character; one of its most recent representatives is Fr. Martin Jugie a great connoisseur of the East, but also a great persecutor of schismatics: “Caesaropapism, as the term itself shows,” he writes, “means a State where civil power, Caesar, substitutes himself for the pope in exercising supreme power over the Church; this is—a totalitarian state, arrogating to itself absolute power both over the mundane and over the sacred, both over the earth and above, practically ignoring the separation of civil and spiritual powers, and at the least subordinating the latter to the former.” The roots of this evil stretch back to the pagan past: “The pagan empire was Caesaropapist in the full sense of the word. It was unfamiliar with the distinction between the two powers. The pagan emperor, who was called summus pontifex, possessed both the fullness of the priesthood and the fullness of authority over the clergy and over sacred matters. This absolute caesaropapism is incompatible with the Christian religion, in which we find a hierarchy endowed with special liturgical powers inaccessible to the laity… The head of the Christian State cannot be analogous to the Roman Pope, for he never had the authority of an ecclesiastical person. He can only usurp the role of the pope in the Catholic Church.” Such invasions have occurred frequently. “But it was in the East that caesaropapism was given a green light; it happened as early as the fourth century, the day after Constantine declared himself the patron of the Christian religion…. The pernicious example set by the first Christian emperor was followed by his successors, especially those who, after the division of the empire into two halves, ruled the eastern part… It is true that imperial caesaropapism often served the interests of the Church… But in terms of the unity of the Church it has had disastrous consequences: such are the nationalization of the Church, the enslavement of the clergy, the muted or open hostility to the popes… Unlike the Western Church, which, in spite of temporary abuses, found in the popes staunch defenders of its independence, the Byzantine Church had very few such fighters, although they were not absent altogether. On the whole, the eastern episcopate showed itself very obedient to dogmatic antagonisms and political heresies of their emperors.” Here we have a really well-stuffed bag of prejudices that, under the influence of the spirit of ecumenism and simple historical objectivity, are somewhat out of fashion and no longer in vogue, even in clerical circles.

The spread of the term “caesaropapism” is of course on the conscience of Roman Catholicism, but reformist Russian Orthodoxy also had a hand in this. In the last decades of the 19th century, Vladimir Solovyov debunked tsarist absolutism and its claims that the Eastern Church “itself gave up its rights” to hand them over to the State. He especially blamed the Syriac Orthodox Church for having become “a national church” and therefore losing the right to represent Christ, to whom all authority on earth and in heaven belonged. “In all countries, the church is relegated to the position of a national church,” he wrote, “and the secular government (whether autocratic or constitutional) enjoys the absolute fullness of all power; the ecclesiastical institutions appear exclusively as a special ministry, dependent on the general state administration. Here again it was pointed to Byzantium, which in the ninth century (in other words, during the time of Photius) claimed to be the center of the universal Church, but in reality gave the impetus to the deviation to nationalism.” Even closer to the present day, Cyril Toumanoff put across the same point of view—according to him the “Byzantine evil” consisted in the absence of a clear distinction between the spiritual and the temporal, in the predominance of the latter over the former, and in “Caesar taking responsibility for divine matters.” In this perspective, he described Russia as a “provincialized and barbarized Byzantium,” noting in passing the fusion of caesaropapism “à la Rousse,” with Protestant ideology, which seemed important to him. This time the problem shifted; and if we are still talking about pagan survivals in the Constantine Empire, now the birth of caesaropapism was attributed to a “later time,” the period of schism and the explosion of “Greek” nationalism, as opposed to Christian universalism.

In response to these many attacks, the wounded “Orientals,” whose beliefs and whose concern for truth had been questioned, attempted to offer resistance. It was not too difficult for them to introduce significant nuances to this black picture of retrograde “Byzantinism,” and to show that “caesaropapism” was a flawed word, an anachronism, incorrectly projecting to the East the Western notion of the papacy, and to the Middle Ages—the concept of separation of powers—applicable only to the New Age. Byzantium never denied the distinction between temporal and the spiritual, never officially allowed that the emperor could be a priest; those autocrats who ventured to suggest such a thing were regarded as heretics, and those who encroached on ecclesiastical rights (or, worse still, on ecclesiastical wealth) were branded as sacrilegious. So goes the rebuttal. But historians have also tried to make a distinction. They said, the interventions of the Empire in the affairs of the Church should not to be lumped together: some of them were permissible (the right of the emperor to summon and preside at councils; the promulgation of laws and canons; the maintenance and modification of the church hierarchy); others were reprehensible (the appointment of bishops; the formulation of the creed).

The global disapproval of Byzantine practice was casuistically dissected thus: The Byzantine emperor did not go beyond his powers if he was content to enforce canons or conciliar decisions; he went only a little beyond these limits when, on his own initiative, he passed laws concerning the Church, if they were in accordance with her own wishes (as Justinian and Leo VI had done in their Novels); the emperor was allowed a harmless violation when he imposed his personal preferences on the Church with her consent—but when he did the same not only without consultation, but sometimes with a minority of bishops against their majority, especially in matters of faith, then this was a flagrant abuse. Only the last two cases were attacks on the independence of the Church—the first two, although based on the same legal principle, at least respected the rules of the game.

Theologians or canonists have always been less tolerant than historians—but they oppose actual interference with a legal division written in the canons and constantly commemorated. They sought and found those responsible for the perversion: the authoritarianism of Constantius II (so as not to offend the inviolable Constantine); the Justinian mania for lawmaking; the “imperial heresy” of the iconoclasts, or the “Scholia” of Balsamon—all of which flirted with the concept of a quasi-priest emperor. Interpretation of canonical heritage, given at the end of the 12th century and taken up by Matthew Blastares, absorbed this stable tradition without any rethinking. Even though there was a deviation, the position of the Eastern Church was not (or was not always) conciliatory; it had to fight the “paganism” that persisted in the imperial ideology. How late it remained there is evidenced by titles like “epistemonarch” or “intercessor.”

At any rate, the word “caesaropapism” is annoying. It sounds like a slap in the face. It is attributed to the “Latins,” without realizing that the physical evidence for the accusation was fabricated throughout the Byzantine Middle Ages. Given the charge of Eastern caesaropapism, an accusation of Western “Papotsarism” is made. On the whole, this is a weak objection: it drags one into a polemic—when what is required is an analysis of the mechanisms, as suggested in our brief historiographical review.

In any case, of course, Byzantium itself is “not without sin;” but of it was made a scapegoat. In the artificially constructed concept of caesaropapism is a mix of contradictory elements. At its inception, Roman fundamentalism entered into a strange alliance with the spirit of the Reformation; the radical distinction between the spiritual and the temporal, which was supposed to purge religion from politics, curiously led to the recognition of the “authority” of the clerics; the founder of the Christian empire was blamed for lack of secular ideals. It is clear that Europe cannot understand medieval Byzantium— this is not allowed by European history, geography and culture.

Without going into detail, let us recall a few obvious truths. The opposition or dialogue between “Church and State” is possible only for a secular power, more or less irreligious and confined to the framework of a single state, and for the Church, identified with its clergy. This opposition reveals the originality of the Christian Empire: its universality (at least theoretically), its place (as a political structure, as a society, and as a historical phenomenon) in the divine government, centered on it, with all its ruptures, with all its reversals, with its past and especially with its completion. The rupture? And what else can one call the Incarnation of Christ, by which the coming of the age of Grace was heralded in the midst of a political regime pleasing to God—for the Empire of Augustus was chosen as the cradle for the new religion. Return? What else was the curious projection of the Jewish past onto the Christian present, when Byzantium and its emperors lived as if on two levels, the level of Old Testament models, read as “images” from the Christian future, and the level of Christian history, which was nothing more than the realization of these “images.” Completion? This is a programmed end, as announced by Daniel and all the Apocalypses, because of it. Christian time, since the reign of Constantine, has become a “countdown.” Within this timeframe, empire is presented as a setting, and the emperor as the principal actor. Notions of “this age,” “the State,” or “worldly power” are useful for delineating the domain of imperial institutions in contrast to the institutionalized Church, handed over to the cares of the clerics. But these same concepts ignore the aforementioned alchemical transformation of time, this sacred history, within which the emperor was something like a High Priest. Back in 1393, Patriarch Anthony IV of Constantinople reminded Prince Vasily of Moscow about the role of emperors in the formation of Orthodoxy, about the unity of the empire and the Church. The idea of two separate powers is not prerogative; but this is where it took the “modern” form, the form of the political revolution that accompanied the separation, later the collapse, of the empire in the fourth and fifth centuries.

In the East, the reaction was neither so rapid nor so unequivocal. The dispute was accompanied inexorably by vestiges of messianism and the expectation of an eschatological denouement. Although the emperors seldom dared to publicly proclaim their priesthood “according to the order of Melchizedek,” they still believed in their special mission: to dispose of that double heritage, Davidic and Levitical, which Christ declared to be His, having come into the world in the flesh, during the first “advent,” but which He will enter into possession of, having finally established His kingdom, when the end of the world, called the second “coming,” will soon come. The royal priesthood in Byzantium was a continuation of the messianic spirit during that interval between the two “comings” which exactly corresponds to the period of the Christian Empire.

Needless to say, in this matter (as in all others), history does not decide who is right and who is wrong. It only allows us to understand past justifications and measure the bias that has been created to date by any history that has become a tradition, and then any tradition that has become an ideology. The West, for which Judaism played almost no role as the main standard and which grew up on the ruins of the Empire, made valor out of necessity. The West underestimated and dismantled that majestic building, which was the result of the meeting of two traditions, Roman and Jewish. It divided the “authorities” in order to create a spiritual power in the backyard of modern states, which was often nothing more than a powerless theocracy. As for the East, it prolonged that grandiose and fruitless dream which was already illusory in the Empire of the Second Rome, a dream which served as an alibi for the retrograde autocracy in the Russian Empire of the Third Rome and which in today’s world often appears under the ugly mask of nationalism. The political aporia “priest and king,” “priest or king” is undoubtedly one of the basic problems of mankind, and its solutions in history grow out of each other in the process of mutual adaptation of cultures.

In conclusion, let us give the floor to Dostoevsky. In one of the first chapters of The Brothers Karamazov, the most Byzantine of his novels, Dostoyevsky sets forth, in the form of a paradox, the problem we have been discussing here. Ivan Karamazov, an intellectual revolutionary and atheist, has written a treatise on church tribunals in which he denies the principle of separation of Church and State. He is questioned about this by the participants in the conversation, who embody the entire spectrum of opinion: Miusov, a secular man, landowner, Westerner, and skeptic; Father Paissy, a worthy representative of Orthodoxy; and an elder who speaks his heart. Ivan justifies his position by explaining that the mixing of Church and State, intolerable in itself, will always exist because there can be no normal relationship between them, “because lies lie at the very heart of the matter.” Instead of asking about the place of the Church in the State, we should instead ask how the Church is to be identified with the State in order to establish the kingdom of God on earth. When the Roman Empire became Christian, it naturally included the Church; but the Church, in order not to renounce its principles, must in turn seek ways of gaining control over the State.

Miusov observes that this is a trivial utopia, “something like socialism.” The elder hesitates for another reason: he fears that in a world where law and love will merge, the criminal will no longer have the right to mercy, as he believes there is no such right in “Lutheran countries” and in Rome, where the Church has proclaimed itself the State; and yet he foresees the distant day when the Church will revive. “What is this really about,” exclaimed Miusov, as if suddenly bursting out, “is the State being eliminated from the earth, and the Church being elevated to the degree of a State. It’s not just ultramontane, it’s arch-ultramontane! This was not even imagined by Pope Gregory VII! Quite the opposite of what you mean!—Father Paissy said sternly.—It is not the Church that turns into a State, understand that. That’s Rome and its dream; that’s the third devil’s temptation! On the contrary, the State converts to the Church, ascends to the Church and becomes the Church in all the earth, which is quite the opposite of both Ultramontaneism and Rome and your interpretation, and is only the great destiny of Orthodoxy on earth. From the East the star shall shine forth” (The Brothers Karamazov, Part 1, Book 2, Chapter 5).

Such debates were waged in Russia in the 1870s-1880s. They somewhat confused the concepts of theocracy and caesaropapism. Here the ideological costs of the church-state may have been anticipated, but they were generally found to be more consistent with the spirit of Orthodoxy than the spiritual betrayal the church-state seemed to represent. The one point on which all agreed was the recognition that the fundamental separation of the two powers rested on a lie.


Gilbert Dagron (1932-2015) was a foremost scholar of Byzantine history, whose best-known work is Emperor and Priest: The Imperial Office in Byzantium.


Featured: Double-headed Eagle, anonymous, from Filenka, ca. 1740s.

Ukraine: From Christianity to Satanism—Part 1

I am Ksenia Golub, a Russian journalist, currently living in Belgrade for three years. But my ties to Serbia go back a long way—I first came to the Balkans in 2009 to shoot a documentary. In this article, I want to share my reflections on the background of the current situation in Ukraine. And in this article, I act both as an eyewitness, as I have repeatedly been in the Donbass for a long time, and as an expert—I am a certified specialist in religion.

The processes of transformation of Ukrainian society, which resulted in a special military operation to denazify this once brotherly country of Russia, began long before the coup d’état took place there. The mental revolution took place much earlier.

I can judge this from my trips back in the early 2000s, to my relatives in Donbass. My relatives lived in Gorlovka, Donetsk, Severodonetsk, and Dokuchayevsk—right on line of fire, where they had been since 2014.

Even during those trips, I encountered fits of anti-Russian rage among representatives of central and especially western Ukraine. “Moskals,” as the Russians were derogatorily called, were blamed for all of the country’s problems. These people always saw the Kremlin’s interference in even the smallest matters. It got to be ridiculous—when Putin was blamed for the problem of poor maintenance of property and backyards. Or when the price of Ukrainian-made food rose.

More than once, I faced open accusations and insults when “real Ukrainians” (residents of Donbass have never been considered such in this country) found out that I was from Russia or heard my Russian speech.

So based on my personal experience I can openly state—the problem of hatred towards everything Russian in this state has deep roots. But in this article, I want to draw attention to another aspect of the problem.

The Emergence of Sects in Ukraine

We all know very well that religion has a huge role in the development of society—we see evidence of this in history. Thanks to Orthodoxy, Russia has turned from a principality into a great empire, while its territory has preserved the various religions of its peoples—from Islam to Lamaism. But it is this Christian faith which was able to unite the people around itself, because it is based on the principle of unity, which is very suitable for the Slavic mentality.

That is why the main anti-Russian ideologist of the United States, Zbigniew Brzezinski called Orthodoxy the main enemy of America.

Ukraine has always been an Orthodox country. Of course, the percentage of Greek Catholics in its western part was quite high, but the country had no more than 4 million adherents of the western branch of Christianity. Most of its residents belonged to the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate.

We all know the phrase: “If you want power, create your own religion.” The fight against Orthodoxy in Ukraine began even earlier than the moment it seceded from the Soviet Union in 1991. Even then, in the late 1980s, representatives of various pseudo-Christian sects, which were closely connected with the Western special services, began to infiltrate the republic.

The word “sect” means to separate or cut off from something. In this case we are talking about the cutting off of believers from the main religion.

In the 2000s, the situation with the activity of various religious and occult organizations in Ukraine reached unbelievable problems. They wrote about it and spoke about it from the rostrum, but their activities remained permissible.

In 2007, Bishop Antony of Boryspil, vicar of the Kiev Metropolitan Church, said that dangerous sects were operating in Ukraine and that their ideology was capable of causing considerable damage to the mental health of the people. An article about this was published in the weekly Dzerkalo Tyzhnya.

In particular, answering the question of what sects in Ukraine can be called the most influential and widespread, the Bishop said: “In the context of our conversation, the word ‘influential’ is identical to the word ‘dangerous’. In brief, we would have to name the Charismatics (Neo-Pentecostals, the most prominent organization, the Embassy of God), Jehovah’s Witnesses, the Church of Scientology, the Krishna Consciousness Society, White Lotus, and the Bogorodichny Center. According to the bishop, these are the most dangerous organizations, based on the level of harm caused to the individual.

In 2009 the Ukrainian portal Segodnya.life also published an article on this topic. I will quote part of it.

“Sectologists and psychologists are sounding the alarm: religious organizations, which ‘official churches’ call sects, are developing at a huge pace, with a large influx of neophytes into their ranks expected during the crisis. Recently in Ukraine, several people tried to create a cell of the so-called Islamist sect, which is banned in many countries, but we prevented it,” says SBU spokeswoman Marina Ostapenko. According to her, in the scale and destructiveness the lead is still held by the notorious ‘White Brotherhood,’ which was active in the mid-1990s,” the article said.

Let me remind you of what this association is all about. It was founded in 1990-1991 in Kiev by Yuri Krivonogov and Marina Tsvigun. Later he took the ritual name Yoann Swami (Swami John [the Baptist]) and Tsvigun the name Mary Devi Christos, declaring herself to be the Virgin Mary, the living embodiment of Christ, his mother and bride at the same time.

In 1993 this scandalous sect took over the Orthodox St. Sophia Cathedral in Kiev. The adherents of the White Brotherhood were waiting for the end of the world and were going to perform a last prayer service in the church. Only the intervention of the riot police helped to free the cathedral. The sect organizers were arrested, but were soon released.

The lifestyle of the sectarians was strict: it was forbidden to eat animal food, make phone calls, or watch TV. A person who joined the White Brotherhood had to break off relations with his family, friends, and colleagues. The members of the Brotherhood lived 20-30 people in one apartment and slept no more than four hours a day. Yuri Krivonogov and Marina Tsvigun promoted self-sacrifice. They said that the adherents had to endure pain, torture, and death. The founders themselves pledged that they would also die, but they would be the last to die. In three days, they would be resurrected, and a very different life would begin on earth.

In Russia, this sect was declared extremist, and its activities on the territory of the state were banned. But in Ukraine it continued to exist, even right now.

The Jehovah Witnesses were also very active; they were constantly walking the streets, distributing their “Watchtower” magazines, making door-to-door visits. And it sometimes came to the point of absurdity, when any stranger who rang the doorbell would face aggression from the apartment-owner, who saw a sectarian in everyone.

In Donetsk itself, “houses of prayer” of these organizations could be readily seen during walks around the city. In conversations with local priests, the depth of the problem was even more vivid. They described situations of complete zombification of former Orthodox believers, who even left their families, forgetting about their children and parents, and who signed over their apartments and other property to the sects.

It is not surprising that we, the future religious studies majors, devoted so much attention to events in neighboring countries during our study at the Department of Theology.

To be continued…


Ksenia Golub is a journalist who lives in Belgrade.


Featured: “The Ghost of a Flea,” by William Blake; painted ca. 1819-1820.

On The Theology Of The Icon

Olivier Clément (1921-2009) was a French Orthodox theologian who actively engaged with modernity. This essay, which reviews a book about icons, was published in the journal Contacts in 1960. Contacts was founded by Clément in 1949. We are pleased to present the first English translation.


The Theology of the Icon (1960), by Leonid Uspensky, is a book that will be a milestone. On a hot topic and essential, because art becomes for many of our contemporaries a quest for the absolute, and because Christian art therefore directly questions our ability to confess and live our faith. Here is one of the first efforts at synthesis that is not primarily aesthetic, or philosophical, but fundamentally theological, in the full sense of the word that implies and requires contemplation. Moreover, it is the work not of a theorist but of one of the best iconographers of our time, who in collaboration with Fr. Gregory Croug, has just painted important frescoes, in the middle of Paris, in the new Cathédrale des Trois-Saints-Docteurs, Paris [5 rue Pétel, Paris (l5th arrondissement). I would simply like to take this work as a starting point to identify some fundamental themes in the theology of the icon.

The author reminds us first of all that the veneration of the holy images, the icons of Christ, the Virgin, the angels and the saints, is a dogma of the Christian faith, a dogma formulated by the 7th Ecumenical Council. The icon is therefore not a decorative element, nor even a simple illustration of Scripture. It is an integral part of the liturgy, it constitutes “a means of knowing God and uniting with him.” We know that the celebration of a feast requires that one exhibit in the middle of the nave the (transportable) icon that reveals, with the immediate evidence of vision, the meaning of the event that is being commemorated.

More widely, the whole church, with its architecture and its frescoes (or mosaics), represents in space what the liturgical unfolding represents in time: the reflection of the divine glory, the anticipation of the Messianic Realm. The liturgical word and the liturgical image form an indissociable whole—this medium of resonance, this “pneumatosphere” one could say, by which the Tradition makes present and alive the Good News. Thus, the icon corresponds to the Scripture not as an illustration, but in the same way that the liturgical texts correspond to it: “these texts do not limit themselves to reproducing the Scripture as such; they are as it were woven from it; by alternating and confronting its parts, they reveal its meaning, they indicate to us the means of living the evangelical preaching. The icon, by representing various moments of sacred history, visibly transmits their meaning and their vital significance. Thus, through the liturgy and through the icon, the Scripture lives in the Church and in each of its members” (pp. l64-l65).

The veneration of icons is thus an essential aspect of the liturgical experience, that is, of the contemplation of the Kingdom through the actions of the King. Although “veiled” and through faith, this contemplation is nevertheless lived by the whole being of man; it has the immediate character of sensation; it is a “sensation of divine things” realized by the total man. The Orthodox conception of the liturgy appears thus inseparable from the great certainties of the oriental asceticism on the transfiguration of the body begun here below, on the perception of the Taboric light by the spiritualized bodily senses; that is to say, not “dematerialized” but penetrated and metamorphosed by the Holy Spirit. The liturgy, in fact, sanctifying all the faculties of man, initiates the transfiguration of his senses, makes them capable of glimpsing the invisible through the visible, the Kingdom through the mystery.

The icon, stresses Leonid Ouspensky, sanctifies sight, and readily transforms it into a sense of vision: for God did not only make himself heard, he made himself seen; the glory of the Trinity was revealed through the flesh of the Son of Man. When we think of the importance of the sense of sight in modern man, how much he is torn apart, possessed, eroticized by the eyes, how much the flow of images of the big city makes him discontinuous, makes him a “man of nothingness,” one understands the importance of the icon, because the icon, systematically freed from any sensuality (unlike so many works, though admirable, of Western religious art), has for its goal to exorcise, to pacify, to illuminate our sight, to make us “fast with the eyes” according to the expression of Saint Dorotheus (quoted p. 2l0).

In our civilization of possession by the image, a Protestant friend wrote to me, the icon has become an emergency of the cure of souls. It was during the iconoclastic crisis, in the 8th and 9th centuries, that the Church had to clarify the meaning of the icon, and Leonid Ouspensky’s book is nourished by the doctrinal and conciliar texts of that time. Μonsieur Ouspensky devotes a brief chapter to iconoclasm, but it has the merit of going straight to what was essential for the antagonists: their religious motivations. Indeed, iconoclasm seems to be explained in depth by a violent surge of Semitic transcendentalism, by Jewish and Muslim influences that increased, in the Orthodox tradition, the sense of divine incognoscibility to the detriment of the sense of “Philanthropy” and of the Incarnation. “The argument of the iconoclasts about the impossibility of representing Christ was a pathetic attachment to the ineffable” (p. 152).

But iconoclasm was also a reaction against a sometimes-idolatrous cult of images, against the contamination of this cult by the magical οr theurgic notion (in the neo-Platonic sense of the word) which wanted the image to be more or less consubstantial with its model. Thus, the icon was confused with the Eucharist, and certain priests mixed with the holy gifts the pieces of particularly venerated icons. Thus were opposed in the Church the two great nοn-Christian conceptions of the divine that only the dogma of Chalcedon could reconcile: on the one hand, the God of a static Old Testament who would not be “evangelical preparation;” a personal God but enclosed in his transcendent Monad, a God whom οne cannot represent because οne cannot participate in His holiness. On the other hand, the divine as sacred nature; or, rather, as the sacredness of nature, the omnipresence of which all forms participate.

Orthodoxy overcame these two οpposed temptations by affirming the Christological foundation of the image and its strictly personal (and nοn-substantial) value.

It showed first of all that the image par excellence is Christ himself. In the Old Testament, God revealed himself through the Word; therefore, no one could have represented him without blasphemy. But the prohibition of Exodus (20:4) and Deuteronomy (5:12-19) constitutes a prefiguration “in depth” of the Incarnation—it sets aside the idol to make room for the face of God made man. For the unrepresentable Word became representable flesh: “when the Invisible One,” writes St. John Damascene, “having clothed himself in flesh, appeared visible, then represents the likeness of Him who showed himself…” (P.G. 94,1239). Christ is not only the Word of God but his Image. The Incarnation founds the icon and the icon proves the Incarnation.

For the Orthodox Church, the first and fundamental icon is therefore the face of Christ. As Leonid Ouspensky suggests, Christ is par excellence the image made by man—this is the deep meaning of the tradition taken up by the liturgy, according to which the Lord printed on a cloth his Holy Face. Ouspensky interprets in a literal way the liturgical texts telling of Christ’s sending to the king of Edessa a letter and the veil (mandilion) on which he imprinted his face. Would it not be better, since the letter to Agbar is obviously a forgery, to identify the symbolic meaning of this episode, as the Church has been able, for example, to authenticate the testimony, but not the historicity, of the Areopagitic writings?

Let us say then that the historical memory of the face of Jesus was preciously kept by the Church, first of all in the Holy Land and in the Semitic countries which surround it. It is a fact that all the icons of Christ give the impression of a fundamental resemblance. Not a photographic resemblance, but the presence of the same person, and of a divine Person who reveals himself to each one in a unique way (some Greek Fathers, starting from the evangelical accounts of the apparitions of the Risen One, have underlined this plurality, in the unity, of the aspects of the glorious Christ). The resemblance here is inseparable from an encounter, from a communion: there is only one Holy Face, whose historical memory the Church has preserved (renewed from generation to generation by the vision of the great spiritualists), and as many Holy Faces as there are iconographers (or even as many moments in the mystical life of an iconographer). The human face of God is inexhaustible, and keeps for us, as Denys underlined, an apophatic character: face of faces and face of the Inaccessible…

Ouspensky emphasizes, with a large number of beautiful reproductions, that the image has existed since the earliest times of Christianity, and that the art of the catacombs, which is an art of the sign, sometimes offers, alongside pure symbols and allegorical representations, an undeniable concern for personal likeness. However, sanctity is then designated by a conventional language rather than symbolized by the artistic expression itself: it was in the third and especially in the fourth century that this incorporation of content into form, characteristic of properly iconographic art, began.

ΙΙ would be fascinating, for a history of meanings, to study to what extent this evolution of Christian art coincided with the transformation of Hellenistic art into the “art of the eternal,” in the sense that Malraux gives to this expression, and to what extent it differed from it; for the “art of the eternal” impersonalizes while the icon personalizes… If therefore the image that belongs to the very nature of Christianity, and if the icon par excellence is that of Christ, Image of the Father, this one, inaccessible abyss, cannot be directly represented: He who has seen me has seen the Father,” said Jesus (John 14.9). The 7th Ecumenical Council and the Great Council of Moscow of 1666-1667 formally forbade the representation of God the Father. As for the Holy Spirit, He showed himself as a dove and tongues of fire; only in this way is He be painted. Couldn’t we also say that the presence of the Holy Spirit is symbolized by the very light of every icon? Let us recall, although Ouspensky does not mention it, probably reserving this theme for the second volume of his work, that the “rhythm” of the Trinity, its diversity as one, is expressed by the Philoxenia (hospitality) of Abraham receiving the three angels, these Three of whom Rublev knew how to paint, with colors that seem like a mother-of-pearl of eternity; the mysterious movement of love that identifies them without confusing them…

If the Old Testament prohibition was lifted by and for Christ, it was also lifted for his Mother, and for his friends, for the members of his Body, for all those who, in the Holy Spirit, participate in his deified flesh.

However, in order to cut-short the accusations and confusions of the iconoclasts, as well as the abuses of certain Orthodox, the Church has vigorously emphasized that the icon is not consubstantial with its prototype: the icon of Christ does not duplicate the Eucharist; it inaugurates the vision face to face. By representing the deified humanity of its prototype (which implies a transfigured but resembling “portrait” element), it is a person, not a substance that the icon brings forth. In an eschatological perspective, it suggests the true face of man; his face of eternity; this secret face that God contemplates in us and that our vocation consists in realizing.

If it is possible for human art to suggest the sanctified flesh of Christ and his people, it is because the very material used by the iconographer has been secretly sanctified by the Incarnation. The art of the icons uses and, in a certain way, manifests this sanctification of the material. “I do not adore matter,” wrote St. John Damascene, “but I adore the Creator of matter who became matter for my sake… and who, through matter, made my salvation” (P.G. 94, 1245).

Obviously, however, the representation of the light that transfigures a face can only be symbolic. But it is the irreducible originality of Christian art that the symbol is placed at the service of the human face and serves to express the fullness of personal existence.

The Hindu or Tibetan mandala, to take a theme made fashionable by depth psychology, is the geometrical symbol of a resorption in the center. What one might call an Orthodox mandala—for example a square nave surmounted by a dome- has for its center the Pantocrator, and unites us to a personal presence…

This is why Ouspensky cannot be praised enough for having highlighted the iconographic decisions of the Quinisext Council (692) which ordered to replace the symbols of the first Christian art—especially the Lamb—by the direct representation of what they prefigured: the human face transfigured by the divine energy, and first of all the face of Christ. The Quinisext Council triumphantly put an end to the prehistory of Christian art, a prehistory that revealed the Christ-like meaning of all the sacred symbols of humanity, “figures and shadows… sketches given in view of the Church.” The true symbolism of Christian art now appears as the way of representing the human person in the perspective of the Kingdom. This is why, as Ouspensky shows, the symbolism of the icon is based on the experience of Orthodox mysticism, as a personal “appropriation” of the glorious Body (appropriation by participated grace, that is to say, by de-appropriation of all egocentrism). The immense eyes, of a softness without brilliance, the reduced ears, as if interiorized, the fine and pure lips, the wisdom of the dilated forehead, everything indicates a being pacified, illuminated by grace. Let us mention in this connection a text by Palamas, recently translated by Jean Meyendorff. Ouspensky does not quote it, but he could without difficulty add it to his file of ascetic quotations: it is necessary, therefore, to offer to God the passionate part of the soul, living and acting, so that it may be a living sacrifice; the Apostle said this even of our bodies: I exhort you, he says in fact, by the mercy of God, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy, pleasing to God (Rom. 12:Ι). How can our living body be offered as a sacrifice pleasing to God? When our eyes are gentle, as it is written, “He who is gentle will be forgiven” (Prov. 12:13); when they attract and transmit to us mercy from above; when our ears are attentive to the divine teachings, not only to hear them, but, as David says, “to remember the commandments of God in order to fulfill them” (Ps 102 (103), 18); when our tongue, our hands and our feet are at the service of the divine will (Triads Louvain 1959, p. 364). Ιt is a sacrifice of God (p. 364).

It would be particularly important to compare this iconographic expression of the transfiguration of the senses with the lakshanas of Buddhist art, which also designate through a distortion of the sense organs, the state of “deliverance.” An analysis of the similarities and differences would be very significant. Let us confine ourselves to a few suggestions: in the icon, the symbol is at the service of the face. It expresses the accomplishment of the human face through encounter and communion. It suggests an interiority where transcendence is given without ceasing to be inaccessible. In Buddhist art, the face is identified with the symbol; it abolishes itself as a human face by becoming a symbol of an interiority where there is neither self nor the Other but an unspeakable nothing. In both cases, the face is surrounded by a nimbus: but the Christian face is in the light like iron in the fire; the Buddhist face becomes spherical, dilates, identifies itself with the luminous sphere that the nimbus symbolizes. In the icon, the treatment of the senses suggests their transfiguration by grace. The lakshanas, on the other hand, symbolize powers of clairvoyance and clear hearing through the excessive enlargement of the sense organs, the ears for example. Finally, the Christian face looks on and welcomes, while the Buddhist non face, with closed eyes, meditates.

This Christian concern for welcome, for communion, explains why the saints, on the icons, are almost always represented from the front: open to the one who looks at them, they draw him into prayer, because they are themselves praying; and the icon shows this. Light and peace penetrate and order their attitudes, their clothes, the atmosphere that surrounds them. Around them animals, plants, rocks are stylized according to their paradisiacal essence. The architectures become a surrealist game, an evangelical challenge to the heavy seriousness of this world, to the false security of the architectures of the earth…

The word abstraction never emerges from the pen of Ouspensky; but one cannot help but think of it when he speaks of symbolism οr stylization. There is in the icon an abstraction which leads to a higher figuration, an abstraction which is dead to this world and which allows the inter-vision of the world to come. The icon abstracts according to the Logos creator and re-creator of the universe and not according to the individual, fallen, ultimately destructive logos… The abstraction of the icon is the cross of our carnal look. Its realism is Taboric and eschatological: it announces and already manifests the only definitive reality—that of the Kingdom.

The light of the icon symbolizes the divine light, and the theology of the icon appears inseparable from the distinction in God of essence and energies: it is the divine energy, the uncreated light that the icon suggests to us. In an icon, the light does not come from a precise focus, because the celestial Jerusalem, says the Apocalypse, “does not need the sun and the moon, it is the glory of God that illuminates it” (Rev. 21:23). It is everywhere, in everything, without casting a shadow: it shows us that in the Kingdom God himself becomes light for us. In fact, notes Ouspensky, it is the very background of the icon that iconographers call “light.”

The author has remarkable lines on the “reverse” or “inverted” perspective: in most icons, the lines do not converge towards a “vanishing point,” sign of the fallen space that separates and imprisons; they dilate in the light “from glory to glory.” Could we not speak here of iconographic epectasis, epectasis designating precisely, in St. Gregory of Nyssa, this infinite dilation in the light of the Kingdom? Οne understands that the exercise of such art constitutes a charismatic ministry. The Orthodox Church venerates “holy iconographers” whom Ouspensky brings closer to the “apostolic men” of whom Saint Symeon the New Theologian remains the main spokesman. The “apostolic man” is the one who receives the personal graces promised by Christ to the apostles: not only does he heal souls and bodies and discern spirits, but, like St. Paul, he hears ineffable words; like St. John he has the mission to tell what he has seen (Revelation, as we know, means Revelation). In the same way the “holy iconographer” really glimpses the Kingdom and paints what he has glimpsed. Every iconographer who paints “according to tradition” participates in this exceptional contemplation, both through the liturgical experience and through the communion of saints. This is why the icon painter does not paint in a subjective, individual psychological way, but according to tradition and vision. Painting is for him inseparable from faith, from life in the Church, from a personal ascetic effort.

The Fathers insisted a lot on the pedagogical value of the icon. In fact, as Ouspensky shows all the history of the dogma is registered in the iconography. However, the value of the icon is not only pedagogical, it is mysterious. The divine grace rests in the icon. It is there the essential point, the most mysterious also of its theology: the “resemblance” to the prototype and its “name” make the objective holiness of the image. The icon,” writes St. John Damascene, “is sanctified by the name of God and by the name of the friends of God, that is to say, the saints, and that is why it receives the grace of the divine Spirit” (P.G. 94,1300). Ouspensky limits himself to posing this essential affirmation; he does not seek—at least not yet—the foundations of it. Ιt is necessary to recall here, to take up a suggestion of Μonsieur Evdokimov, the whole biblical conception of the Name as a personal presence, a conception which is also implied in the Hesychast invocation of the Name of Jesus (let us think of the power of this Name in the Book of Acts). The icon names by form and by color; it is a represented name: this is why it makes present to us a prototype whose holiness is communion; that is to say, offered presence, interceding… Like the name, the icon is the means of an encounter that makes us participate in the holiness of the One we meet; that is to say, in the end, in the holiness of the “Only Holy One”.

Ouspensky also offers us an important chapter on the “symbolism of the church.” An entire church must be an icon of the Kingdom. According to the ancient Apostolic Institutions, it must be oriented (for the East symbolizes the eternal daybreak and the Christian, says St. Basil, must always, wherever he prays, turn towards the East); it must evoke a ship (for it is, on the waters of death, the ark of the Resurrection); it must have three doors to suggest the Trinity, the principle of all its life. The altar is located in the eastern apse, slightly elevated—symbol of the Holy Mountain, the Upper Room—and called par excellence, the “sanctuary.” The altar represents Christ himself (Dionysius the Areopagite), the “heart” of Christ whose body the church represents (Nicholas Cabasilas). Ιt is perhaps regrettable, in this connection, that Ouspensky did not use, in order to study the symbolism of the sanctuary, Cabasilas’ “Life in Christ,” and the corresponding studies of Madame Lot-Borodin… The altar is the heart of the whole building; it loves it and sanctifies it. The “sanctuary” that surrounds it, reserved for the clergy, is sometimes compared to the “holy of holies” of the Tabernacle and the Temple of the Old Covenant. It is the “heaven of heavens” (Saint Symeon of Thessalonica), “the place where Christ, King of all things, is enthroned with the apostles” (Saint Germain of Constantinople), as is, in his image, the bishop with his “presbyterium.”

An eschatological vessel, the “nave”, often surmounted by a dome, represents the new creation, the universe reunited in Christ with its creator, just as the nave is united to the sanctuary: “The sanctuary,” writes Saint Maximus the Confessor, “illuminates and directs the nave, and the latter thus becomes its visible expression. Such a relationship restores the normal order of the universe, overthrown by the fall of man; it therefore restores what was in Paradise and will be in the Kingdom of God” (P.G. 91-872). Οne might ask if the union of the dome and the square does not repeat, in a vertical mode, this descent of heaven to earth, this theandric mystery of the Church…

Ouspensky does not pose the problem of the iconostasis, no doubt reserving to return to it in the second, as yet unpublished, part of his work. We know that the sanctuary was separated from the nave, until the end of the Middle Ages only by a very low chancel, a kind of balustrade in the middle of which stood, preceding the altar, the triumphal arch, a true door of life before which the faithful receive communion (these are today our “royal doors”). But, from the 15th and 16th centuries, as Orthodoxy, in a secularized world, closed in on its sense of mystery, the chancel was replaced by a high partition covered with icons: the iconostasis. The paintings of the iconostasis represent the total Church, one through time as well as through spiritual spaces. The angels, the apostles, the martyrs, the Fathers and all the saints are arranged on either side of a central composition that surmounts the Royal Doors, the Deesis (intercession) representing the Virgin and the Baptist interceding on either side of Christ in majesty.

Frescoes and mosaics normally cover almost the entire interior of the church. If Ouspensky does not speak of the iconostasis, he lists the main themes of this wall decoration. One is struck by their theological depth which gives an organic character to the overall symbolism of the building. In the apse of the sanctuary, it is the whole mystery of the Eucharist, “sacrament of the sacraments”: below, the communion of the apostles which evokes the memorial; on the vault, the Pentecost, evoking the divine response to the epiclesis; between the two, the Virgin in prayer, figure of the Church (her arms are raised like those of the priest), pointing to Christ, our High Priest, himself a sacrifice and a sacrificer… The decoration of the nave recapitulates the theandric unity of the Church: in the center of the dome, the Pantocrator, source of the heaven of glory that descends to envelop all, bless all and transfigure all. He is surrounded by the prophets and apostles. At the four corners of the square bearing the dome, the four evangelists. On the columns, the column-men: martyrs, holy bishops, “apostolic men.” On the walls, the great moments of the Gospel.

Orthodox iconography has experienced a late but profound decadence, in Russia from the seventeenth century, in Greece in the nineteenth. Ouspensky vituperates, with a purifying violence, the jumble of mediocre images which too often clutter the Orthodox churches and most of which constitute, under the label of icons “of Italian taste,” distressing by-products of what is most questionable in the religious art of the modern West. (About this art, one could notice, not without malice, that Ouspensky has chosen as a counterpart to the icons he reproduces, the blandest productions of Italian and Spanish “mannerism.” It is perhaps a good pedagogy to bring out the specificity of Orthodox sacred art. It is certainly not a valid approach to evaluate from an Orthodox point of view Western art, sacred οr “profaned”—an urgent evaluation which has yet to be done).

The fact remains that it is not a question of taste but of faith. This is why we must thank Leonid Ouspensky for having so vigorously specified the theological and liturgical foundations of the Orthodox icon. This article would like to be nothing else than a testimony of gratitude and above all an invitation to the reader: whoever loves icons not as an aesthete but as a man of prayer, must read this book, which is a great book.


Featured image: “Theotokos Deesis,” Mount Athos, 14th century.

Reading Macarius: On Being Human, On Being Holy

We are so very honored and pleased to present this excerpt from the recently launched, The Round Tower Review, an Irish journal of Christian culture. Please support this worthy endeavor and purchase a copy today – and tell all your friends, too. We need to stand together against the encroaching barbarity.

Copies may be purchased directly from the editor and publisher, by clicking here. (Please scroll down the page).


In one of John Wesley’s (1703–1791) most frequently preached sermons, “The Scripture-way of salvation,” the Methodist leader sought to address misunderstanding of his teaching about the way of salvation. Wesley was concerned to stress that in the overwhelming experience of conversion it was natural for those who go through

such a change [to] imagine that all sin is gone! That it is utterly rooted out of their heart, and has no more any place therein! How easily do they draw that inference, “I feel no sin; therefore I have none.” … But it is seldom long before they are undeceived, finding sin was only suspended, not destroyed. Temptations return and sin revives, showing that it was but stunned before, not dead. They now feel two principles in themselves, plainly contrary to each other: “the flesh lusting against the spirit,” nature opposing the grace of God.

To reinforce the point, Wesley turned to an obscure fourth-century monastic author whom he referred to as “Macarius” — an individual known to modern scholars as Pseudo-Macarius or Macarius-Symeon. “How exactly,” he considered, “did Macarius, fourteen hundred years ago, describe the present experience of the children of God!”: The unskillful (or unexperienced), when grace operates, presently imagine they have no more sin. Whereas they that have discretion cannot deny that even we who have the grace of God may be molested again.

During his sole sojourn in America, at the close of July 1736, Wesley had been introduced to a German Pietist translation of Macarius’ homilies by some Moravian friends in the colony of Georgia. Wesley so appreciated these homilies that he would later edit and reprint some of them in the first volume of A Christian Library, a collection of edifying literature that he published for the benefit of lay preachers.

The major themes of these texts did indeed dovetail with Wesley’s interests, for in them Macarius set forth the biblical dimensions and theological implications of the work of the Holy Spirit in salvation, and explored the experience of the believer, who, though indwelt by the Spirit, nevertheless battles indwelling sin. In what follows, these major themes of theology and spirituality are explored as they are found in one collection of Macarian texts, the Fifty Spiritual Homilies (also known as “Collection II”), which has exercised a significant influence upon both Eastern and Western Christianity.

While there is much that is unclear about Macarius, the author of these works, he appears to have been active between the 380s and the first decade of the fifth century. He had strong ties to Syrian Christianity, although his mother tongue was most likely Greek. He would thus have been very comfortable with the theological ambience of Greek Christian life and piety. His ministry seems to have been situated on the frontier of the Roman Empire in upper Syria and in southern Asia Minor, where he was the spiritual mentor of a number of monastic communities.

Four collections of his homilies are extant. They have been historically linked to Messalianism, an ascetic movement that was condemned at various councils, including the ecumenical Council of Ephesus in 431 as well as the earlier Synod of Side in Pamphylia (c.395), which was presided over by Amphilochius of Iconium (c.340–c.400), the protégé and close friend of Basil of Caesarea (c.330–79), one of the leading theologians of that era.

According to those who condemned them, the Messalians argued that there was an indwelling demonic power in each human soul, and that only intense and ceaseless prayer could break the power that this demonic power held over the soul. Consequently, they were said to refuse to work so that they could devote their entire time to prayer. They were also said to affirm physical experiences of the Spirit, and to make light of the sacraments of the church as well as the ministry of those in official positions of power. Although there are a number of clear points of contact between the Messalians and Macarius, especially with regard to Macarius’ deep interest in the Spirit, the burden of current scholarly opinion is that Macarius cannot be regarded as a Messalian.

Confirmation of this perspective of recent scholarship on Macarius is found in his strong connections to the Cappadocian theologians, in particular, to Basil and his brother Gregory of Nyssa (c.335–c.394). For example, in Nyssen’s On His Ordination, preached at the induction of Gregory of Nazianzus (c.330–389/90) as bishop of Constantinople, he mentioned various ascetics at the ordination, who have been identified plausibly as Macarius and some of his followers. Gregory had a deep admiration for these men, who had, he said,

like Abraham left their own country, their family and the world at large. They look to heaven; they cut themselves off, so to say, from human life; they are superior to the passions of nature … They do not struggle with words, they do not study rhetoric; but they have such power over the spirits that they expel demons not through syllogistic arts but through the power of faith.

This deep admiration of Gregory of Nyssa for Macarius, as well as Macarius’ concern that he shared with the Cappadocians to defend the deity of the Spirit, were key factors that helped to preserve his writings.

Macarius was deeply impressed by the awful devastation caused by the fall of Adam and the experiential reality of the tyranny of sin that ensued for his progeny as a result of his disobedience. Prior to the fall, Adam had been clothed with the glory of the Holy Spirit, and thus knew the Spirit’s personal instruction as well as that of the Word of God — for the “Word was everything to him.” He lived in total purity, was pleasing to God in all areas of his life and had sovereign control over his thoughts and actions.

Nevertheless, when through his own free will he disobeyed God’s Word, his disobedience became the doorway through which all kinds of evil were sown in the world, as well as being the vehicle for the entrance of “tumult, confusion, and battle” into the inner being of men and women.

After the fall, Adam and his descendants lost both God and their God-given beauty. God, ever “the Lover of mankind,” wept over his fallen creation, for human beings were now marred by corruption, spiritual ugliness, and the “great stench” that emanated from their souls.

Fallen men and women were now, in one of Macarius’ most trenchant descriptions, like “houses of prostitution and ill-fame in which all sorts of immoral debaucheries go on.” Dominating their lives was a love of this age and its passions and concerns. Instead of their Maker being their Lord, Satan had become their prince and ruler, and had filled their hearts with spiritual darkness.

Ever true to his nature as a wicked tyrant, Satan did not spare any area of human existence from his deadly touch and control. The “evil prince corrupted” the human frame “completely, not sparing any of its members from its slavery, not its thoughts, neither the mind nor the body.”

When men and women act under the impulse of these evils, they think that they are doing so on the basis of their “own determination.” But the reality is that they are controlled by the power of sin. From Macarius’ vantage-point, every fallen human being is so under sin’s dominion that he or she can “no longer see freely but sees evilly, hears evilly, and has swift feet to perpetrate evil acts.”

Although this extremely realistic view of the Fall and its impact would appear to commit Macarius to a strongly determinist perspective with regard to the human condition, Macarius vehemently maintained that men and women ultimately commit evil of their own free will.

As he asserted on one occasion: “Our nature … is capable of both good and evil, either of divine grace or of the opposing power, but never through compulsion.” However, this ability to choose appears to extend solely to individual sinful acts. What human beings cannot do is remove the deeply-rooted interiority of sin itself. Its dominion within the human heart is far too strong to be defeated by human energy alone. It is “impossible,” Macarius insisted, “to separate the soul from sin unless God should calm and turn back this evil wind, inhabiting both the soul and body.” Again, as he put it elsewhere: “without the Lord Jesus and the working of divine power,” that is, the Holy Spirit, “no one can … be a Christian.”

Macarius believed that this situation could only be changed for the better as an individual cried out to God to be transformed from “bitterness to sweetness.” Macarius could argue that “even the man confirmed in evil, or the one completely immersed in sin and making himself a vessel of the devil … still has freedom to become a chosen vessel.” Given Macarius’ views about the devastation that has resulted from the Fall, some of which has been detailed above, this statement must be taken to mean that Macarius believes that human beings have enough freedom to cry out to God for salvation.

Macarius argued that without God’s aid through the gift of the Spirit, no-one will ever “return to their senses from their intoxication with the material realm.” Without the life-giving power of the Spirit, one is dead “as far as the kingdom goes, being unable to do any of the things of God,” for “the Spirit is the life of the soul.” And so great is the plague of sin in the human heart, healing is only found through the medicine of the Holy Spirit.

Macarius also likens the conversion of a person to the taming of a horse. Before being tamed, an unconverted person is “wild and indomitable.” But once “he hears the Word of God and believes, he is bridled by the Spirit. He puts away his wild habits and carnal thoughts, being now guided by Christ, his rider.”

Paul, for Macarius, was a prime example of such conversion. He had been living under the “tyrannical spirit of sin,” and as a persecutor of the Church he can be rightly described as being “steeped in evil and turned back to a wild state.” But Christ arrested his progress in sin, and “flooding him with ineffable light,” liberated him from sin’s domination. Here, Macarius stated, we see Christ’s “goodness … and his power to change.” From another angle, the Spirit comes into the entirety of a person’s being to put it in order and beautify it just as “a house that has its master at home shows forth an abundance of orderliness, and beauty and harmony.”

This gift of the Spirit in conversion, though, is only the beginning of what formed a major aspect of Macarius’ theological reflections, namely, the remarkable nature of life in the Spirit. Sometimes the believer’s life is flooded with the joy of the Spirit and he is like “a spouse who enjoys conjugal union with her bridegroom.”

On other occasions, he finds himself overwhelmed by grief as he prays in accordance with the “love of the Spirit towards mankind.” Other times there is “a burning of the Spirit” which enflames the heart with regard to the things of God. Then, just as “deep, conjugal love” between man and a woman lead them to marry and leave father and mother and all other earthly loves, so “true fellowship with the Holy Spirit, the heavenly and loving Spirit” ultimately brings freedom from the loves of this age.

It bears noting that the gift of the Spirit is dependent on the cross-work of Christ. Likening the cross to the work of a gardener, Macarius argued that through the cross Christ, “the heavenly and true gardener,” removed from the barren soul “the thorns and thistles of evil spirits” as well as uprooting and burning with fire “the weeds of sin.” With the removal of these, he can now plant in the soul “the most beautiful paradise of the Spirit.” The gift of the Spirit is a fruit of the death of Christ.

Macarius thinks about the cross in primarily two ways. On the one hand, the cross is a place of healing and Christ is “the true physician” who has come to heal “everyone afflicted by the incurable wound of sin.” Then, the cross is conceived of as a place of ransom, where Christ’s life is given in payment for those of sinners. Thus, Macarius argued that Christ’s blood was poured out on the cross so that there would be “life and deliverance for humanity.” Again, he could state that Christ came to earth to “suffer on behalf of all and to buy them back with his blood.”

The gift of the indwelling Spirit, though, does not mean that the one whom he indwells is now exempt from spiritual warfare, for, “where the Holy Spirit is, there follows … persecution and struggle.” As Marcus Plested has noted, Macarius argued for “a profoundly militant Christianity.” There is persecution of the Church by the powers of this age. The faithful believer is “nailed to the cross of Christ” and knows what it is to experience “the stigmata and wounds of the Lord.”

And there is struggle within the heart of the Christian, such that even the most mature Christian can fall back into a life of sin. In part, Macarius argued, this is because of the malice of Satan, who is “without mercy and hates humans,” and thus never hesitates to attack Christians. In part, though, it is because Christians, even “those who are intoxicated with God” and “bound by the Holy Spirit,” are not under constraint to do that which pleases God, for they still have their free will. Thus Macarius read Ephesians 4:30 to mean that it was up to Christians’ “will and freedom of choice to honour the Holy Spirit and not to grieve him” through sin.

Macarius personally knew men who seemed to be making great progress in the Christian life and then, through yielding to sin, lost everything. One man, who was a Roman aristocrat, seeking to follow Christ, sold his possessions and freed all of his slaves. He soon gained a reputation for being a holy man. But he grew proud, and eventually “fell completely into debaucheries and a thousand evils.”

Another individual suffered as a confessor in what was probably the last great imperial Roman persecution of the Church, namely, that of Diocletian. He was horribly tortured. While in prison, a Christian woman sought to minister to him, but, tempted by lust, they “fell into fornication.” The Christian experience of life in the Spirit in this world was thus one of great struggle against evil powers, whom, in a memorable turn of phrase, Macarius likened to “rivers of dragons and mouths of lions and dark forces.”

Ultimately, though, it is not the human will that is the determinant factor in perseverance. It is “the power of the divine Spirit” that is the critical necessity for a person to attain to eternal life. True to the pneumatological emphasis of his thought, Macarius thus concluded: “if [a person] thinks he can effect a perfect work by himself without the help of the Spirit, he is totally in error. Such an attitude is unbecoming one who strives for heavenly places, for the kingdom.”

Macarius’ vision of the Christian life is one of victorious liberation from the tyranny of sin by the power of the Spirit of Christ. The experience of salvation begins with a heart dominated by evil, due to Adam’s disobedience. Conversion brings liberty from this dreadful state of affairs, but plunges the believer into a warfare with indwelling sin and external spiritual enemies. Although the human will is now truly free to follow Christ or return to a life of sin, ultimately it is the grace of the Spirit that ensures victory in this war.

In many ways, Macarius’ homilies are not marked by the deep theological sophistication of his contemporary Gregory of Nyssa, whom he influenced and who shared his interest in theological anthropology and pneumatology. Nevertheless, Macarius’ deeply realistic approach to the human condition, his emphasis on the vital necessity of the Holy Spirit to effect eternal transformation, and his desire to take seriously human responsibility reveal him to be a thinker worthy of attention in our day, a day that is also marked by a fascination with spirituality and a passionate interest in what it means to be truly human.


Born of Irish and Kurdish parents, Michael A. G. Haykin is the author of over twenty books, including, Rediscovering the Church Fathers: Who They Were and How They Shaped the Church. He is Chair and Professor of Church History at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.


The featured image shows an icon of Macarius the Great.

From The Gulag To Freedom

This month, we are so very delighted to present this unique interview with Nikita Krivoshein who was born in Paris, in 1934. His family of Russian noblemen, fled communism during the First Wave of emigrants. His grandfather, Alexander Vasilievich Krivoshein, was Minister of Agriculture in the Russian Empire and Prime Minister of the Government of Southern Russia, under General Wrangel. His father and uncle were decorated fighters in the French Resistance during World War II. His father was arrested by the Nazis and sent to Buchenwald and then Dachau.

Nikita, along with his father and mother, returned to the Soviet Union, in 1948, thinking that they were going back home to peace and security. Instead, his father was soon arrested and sent into the Gulag.

Nikita himself was arrested in August 1957 by the KGB for an unsigned article in Le Monde about the Soviet invasion of Hungary. He was convicted and sent into Mordovian political camps (the Gulag), where he worked at a sawmill, as a loader. After his release from prison, he worked as a translator and simultaneous interpreter, from 1960 to 1970. He was able to return to France in 1971. His parents also returned to France in 1974. He lives in Paris. He has just published a book about his Gulag experiences.

Nikita Krivoshein is interviewed by Christophe Geffroy of La Nef.



Christophe Geffroy (CG): You have had an unimaginable journey. Birth in France, then departure for the USSR where you came to experience the gulag and return to France. Could you summarize it for us?

Nikita Krivochein (NK): Heaven was merciful and generous. I was able to return to France, to reintegrate myself, to bring my parents back, to found a home. Among the young emigrants taken to the USSR after the war, those who had this chance can be counted on the fingers of one hand. From Paris, I was able to see the collapse of the communist regime, and this without bloodshed! A great wave of murderous settlements of accounts was more than likely. We survived in the USSR physically as well as in our faith, our vision. But how many “repatriates” preferred to make themselves invisible, to depersonalize themselves to survive. My return to France was, and remains, a great happiness!

CG: Why did your parents return with you to the USSR in 1948, when the totalitarianism of Soviet communism was manifest?

NK: In the immediate post-war period, the totalitarianism was muted and less obvious. From 1943 onwards, Stalin had noticed that the Russians were not very keen on being killed by the Wehrmacht in the “name of communism, the radiant future of all mankind,” so he changed his tune and started to invoke “Great Russia,” its military, its culture, and reopened the churches. He changed the national anthem and renounced the motto, “Proletarians of all countries, unite,” revived the officer corps. In 1946, he returned to the repression of the Church. In 1949, he launched a very dire wave of arrests (including that of my father). But during the war the illusion of a renunciation of communism worked.

CG: What was the most important thing about your life in the USSR and your time in the camps?

NK: I have intimately felt and internalized that Hope is a great virtue. It would have been enough to stop living it, even for a moment, to sink into the great nothingness of “homo sovieticus.”

Our family was one of the few in the Russian diaspora in Paris who did not live in misery. Until the outbreak of the Second World War, my early childhood was happy. With my parents, we lived in a large three-room apartment on the banks of the Seine, opposite the Eiffel Tower. We lived in a comfort that was rare at the time, especially in the families of Russian emigrants. My father had studied at the Sorbonne and had become a specialist in household appliances. When I was born, he was chief engineer at Lemercier Frères. My father owned a black Citroën, and with my mother they traveled a lot. I was an only child, born late.

In June 1946, Stalin organized a vast propaganda campaign – amnesty was proposed to all former white emigrants in France, with the delivery of a Soviet passport and the possibility of returning to their homeland. Pravda came out with a new, flashy slogan: “For our Soviet homeland!” – instead of “Proletarians of all countries, unite!” And the radio no longer played The International but Powerful Russia… The Russians thought that “debolshevization” was indeed launched.

I found myself in the USSR in 1948 and then for many years I was obsessed with the idea of running away. Our ship, which left from Marseille, docked in the port of Odessa. It had on board many Russians who wanted to return to the country. The next day was May 1st. We were waiting. A soldier in a NKVD uniform entered our cabin, asked my mother to open her purse and confiscated three fashion magazines. “This is forbidden!”

We were told – you are going to Lüstdorf, an old German town near Odessa. On the landing pier, trucks were waiting for us, driven by soldiers. We were taken to a real camp, with watchtowers, dogs, barbed wire and barracks! We were transferred to Ulyanovsk in a wagon (40 men, 8 horses, 12 days trip). In 1949 my father was arrested and sentenced to 10 years in the camps for “collaboration with the international bourgeoisie.” My happy childhood was over. I relate all this in my book.

CG: In your book, you warmly evoke the beautiful figure of Canon Stanislas Kiskis, a Lithuanian Catholic priest. What place did religion have in the Gulag and what relationship did it fashion among Orthodox and other Christians?

NK: This question would require a whole study. In 1958, when I arrived at the camp in Mordovia, an old deportee said to me in French: “Allow me to introduce you to Canon Stanislav Kiskis.” That meeting marked my entire stay in deportation. Our friendship continued after our release.
He was a short, stocky man. His face, his head, what a presence! One could immediately sense that he was a strong person in every respect. A week had hardly passed when Kiskis was transferred to our team to load trucks. There were about ten of us, almost all from the countryside, war criminals, quite a few Ukrainians and Belorussians, all of them certainly not ordinary fellows.

Kiskis had chosen the method of Socrates’ maieutics for his mission.
I guess he had practiced his speech in previous camps. On the subject of the “nature of property,” for example, without addressing anyone in particular, Father Stanislav would ask, “And this pile of stones, who owns it? What about the land on which the pile is located?” The answers were obvious. “To no one.” Or, “to those stupid communists and Chekists!” Or, “We don’t know.”

Stanislav and I used to analyze Roman dogmas such as the Immaculate Conception, the rational proof of God’s existence and papal infallibility. We did this exclusively from an analytical and historical point of view. The canon-psychotherapist had to express himself in a more delicate and confused way than when he was dealing with property, but he succeeded in demonstrating what distinguishes work as a punishment inflicted on Adam from that which is the principal sign of our likeness to God. He even succeeded in establishing a quality, a usefulness and a saving side to certain aspects of forced camp labor. On his return to Lithuania, he was warmly welcomed by the Catholic hierarchy.

CG: You knew Solzhenitsyn. What do you remember about the man and, more than twelve years after his death, what can we say today about the historical role he played?

NK: My father was in the First Circle camp at the same time as Solzhenitsyn. It was a lifelong friendship between them. When I left the former USSR, Alexandr Issaevich honored me by coming to say goodbye and encouraging my decision to emigrate.

CG: More generally, what was the influence of the dissidents in the USSR? In what way are they an example for us today?

NK: It is certain that the resistance fighters in the USSR (preferable to “dissidents”), by their actions, hastened the collapse of the system. They are an example because, according to Solzhenitsyn and Sakharov, they did not accept to “live in a lie.” But the Communists continue to hate and vilify them.

CG: When we read in your book, the amount of suffering that you and your parents had to face, haven’t we in the West lost the tragic sense of life?

NK: It is enough to be aware of mortality. One can very well do without the Gulag to be aware of the tragedy of existence.

CG: How do you analyze the current situation in Russia? Has the page of communism definitively been turned?

NK: Alas, no! As long as the “stuffed man,” as we used to call the tenant of the mausoleum, remains in his quarters, nothing is irreversible. Stalin worshippers remain numerous, and monuments to this criminal are even erected clandestinely here and there.

CG: While Nazism was unanimously rejected, the same cannot be said of Communism, whose crimes do not arouse the same repulsion (statues of Lenin can still be found in Russia). Why such a difference? And why should Russia not engage in an “examination of conscience” about Communism?
NK: National Socialism never promised anyone a happy life. Communism, on the other hand, has managed to gain acceptance as the “bright future of all mankind.” When a genuine Nuremberg-style decommunization takes place, I will celebrate it wholeheartedly. But the utopia of the earthly paradise has the gift of not setting free its followers.

CG: You are a believer. How do you see the future of our societies, which are moving further and further away from God? And how do you see the future of relations between Orthodox and Catholics?

NK: Five generations of believers have lived under a deicidal regime. The martyrs cannot be counted. The Christian revival was felt in Russia long before 1991. The period of agnosticism that we went through is coming to an end. Man cannot live on bread alone for too long a time. A new generation, not genetically infected with “homo sovieticus,” has appeared. The parishes are full of young people.


This articles appears through the kind courtesy of La Nef.


The featured image shows, “Rehabilitated,” by Nikolai Getman, ca. 1980s.

Saint Aebba Of Coldingham

It is regrettable that only a few facts about the life of this great abbess who was venerated all over Scotland and northern England and esteemed by the Venerable Bede are known. Now that the interest in this holy woman is increasing among the Orthodox, let us recall her biography.

St. Aebba, also known as “Ebba the Elder,” was born in about 615, in the royal family of the Kingdom of Bernicia, in northern England. Her father was King Aethelfrith, who ruled Bernicia from 593, as well as Deira (from 604) until his death in 616 (the amalgamation of these two kingdoms was later to be called Northumbria).

Among her brothers were St. Oswald the martyr, and Oswiu, kings of Northumbria. After her father had been killed at the Battle of Bawtry, St. Aebba’s mother Acha took her children to the kingdom of Dalriada, situated in the north-west of Scotland and founded by Irish Gaelic settlers. Princess Aebba was a little girl then. Meanwhile, Edwin, St. Aebba’s maternal uncle, who converted to the faith much later, assumed the Northumbrian throne. At that time, Dalriada was a stronghold of Christianity (by contrast to the largely pagan Pictland in the rest of Scotland and Northumbria in England) – and numerous spiritual and monastic centers sprang up there, the most famous being the Monastery of Iona founded by the Irish St. Columba in 563.

Under the protection of Dalriadan kings, having absorbed the Irish spiritual tradition, St. Aebba and her kinsmen were converted to Christ and baptized.

In the 630s, when her brother St. Oswald became the king of Northumbria and a champion of the Orthodox faith, St. Aebba decided to return to her homeland and help him evangelize the Northumbrians, most of whom were still pagan. In 635, on St. Oswald’s initiative the Irish St. Aidan, a former student of Iona, was sent to Northumbria and founded Lindisfarne Monastery, which became a beacon of Orthodox monasticism, culture and learning.

St. Aebba was beautiful and had suitors, but the princess chose to become the bride of Christ and took the veil in about 640. According to late tradition, she was tonsured on Lindisfarne by St. Finan, who later became the successor of St. Aidan as its abbot and bishop. No doubt, St. Aidan himself was among St. Aebba’s spiritual mentors and friends.

Well instructed in monastic life, and with the assistance of her brothers St. Oswald and Oswiu, the maiden of God in due course established her famous double monastery in Coldingham (its original name, according to St. Bede, was urbs Coludi, meaning “Colud’s fort,” and later became known as Colodaesburg), with two communities of monks and nuns who lived separately and prayed in the same church. At that time, Coldingham was part of Northumbria in England; now it is in the Scottish Borders area of Scotland.

Alas, we know little about the activity of St. Aebba as abbess, but she was noted for her wisdom, exemplary holy life and preaching that contributed to the conversion to Orthodoxy of many pagans. It is likely that in governing Coldingham, St. Aebba imitated her celebrated contemporary St. Hilda, who was abbess of Whitby in Northumbria at the same time.

Aebba’s monastery was situated some twenty-five miles north of Lindisfarne in a very austere place: Coldingham sits on the North Sea coast off south-eastern Scotland, with cold weather, heavy storms and large waves. Until recently, historians argued as to where exactly St. Aebba’s monastery was located. Some maintained that it was in what is now the village of Coldingham, and others—that it was at the Kirkhill overlooking the rocky promontory of St. Abb’s Head (named after St. Aebba) in St. Abbs village with cliffs right by the sea. The archeological excavations led by DigVentures, and carried out from 2017 to 2019, proved that her monastery was in Coldingham—exactly where the present-day Coldingham Priory stands.

This royal establishment enjoyed the influence that may be compared with Lindisfarne. Alas, that prosperity did not last long after St. Aebbe’s death.

Some monks and nuns of Coldingham neglected vigils and prayers and towards the end of her abbacy it was hard for St. Aebba to keep discipline at the monastery. That is why she would ask the great ascetic St. Cuthbert of Lindisfarne, an illustrious pastor and wonderworker, to visit Coldingham and instruct its inhabitants. It was during one of those visits by St. Cuthbert that his famous miracle with the otters occurred. Let us cite from Bede’s Life of St. Cuthbert:

“When this holy man was acquiring renown by his virtues and miracles, Ebbe, a pious woman and handmaid of Christ, was the head of a monastery at a place called the city of Coludi, remarkable both for piety and noble birth, for she was sister of King Oswiu. She sent messengers to the man of God, entreating him to come and visit her monastery. This loving message from the handmaid of his Lord he could not treat with neglect, but, coming to the place and stopping several days there, he confirmed, by his life and conversation, the way of truth which he taught. Here, as elsewhere, he would go forth, when others were asleep, and having spent the night in watchfulness return home at the hour of morning prayer. One night, a brother of the monastery, seeing him go out alone followed him privately to see what he should do. But he when he left the monastery, went down to the sea, which flows beneath, and going into it, until the water reached his neck and arms, spent the night in praising God. When the dawn of day approached, he came out of the water, and, falling on his knees, began to pray again. Whilst he was doing this, two quadrupeds, called otters, came up from the sea, and, lying down before him on the sand, breathed upon his feet, and wiped them with their hair after which, having received his blessing, they returned to their native element. Cuthbert returned home in time to join in the accustomed hymns with the other brethren. The brother, who waited for him on the heights, was so terrified that he could hardly reach home; and early in the morning he came and fell at his feet, asking his pardon, for he did not doubt that Cuthbert was fully acquainted with all that had taken place. To whom Cuthbert replied, ‘What is the matter, my brother? What have you done? Did you follow me to see what I was about to do? I forgive you on one condition,—that you tell it to nobody before my death.’ In this he followed the example of our Lord, who, when He showed his glory to his disciples on the mountain, said, ‘See that you tell no man, until the Son of man be risen from the dead.’ When the brother had assented to this condition, he gave him his blessing, and released him from all his trouble. The man concealed this miracle during St. Cuthbert’s life; but, after his death, took care to tell it to as many persons as he was able.

From the 660s on St. Aebba had considerable influence on St. Etheldreda (Audrey), the future foundress and abbess of Ely Monastery in what is now Cambridgeshire. In 672, St. Etheldreda was separated from her nominal husband, King Ecgfrith of Northumbria (670—685; Aebba’s nephew), took the veil and for some time lived at Coldingham under St. Aebba’s guidance before travelling south to the Isle of Ely.

St. Aebba communicated with other contemporary saints too. She interceded for the great missionary, bishop and builder of churches St. Wilfrid of York, who more than once was treated unfairly by royalty. In 681 the same King Ecgfrith visited St. Aebba’s Monastery with his second spouse, Ermenburga, who was struck down by an illness after the unjust imprisonment of St. Wilfrid and the theft of the holy relics brought by Wilfrid. This episode is narrated in the earliest Life of St. Wilfrid by Stephen of Ripon, an extract from which we quote below:

“In the meantime the king and queen were making their progress through the cities, fortresses, and villages with worldly pomp and daily feasts and rejoicings, in the course of which they came to the nunnery of Coldingham. The abbess, King Oswiu’s sister Aebbe, was a very wise and holy woman. At this same place the queen was possessed by a devil during the night and, as in the case of Pilate’s wife, the attacks were so severe that she was hardly expected to last till day. As dawn was breaking the abbess came to the queen and found her lying with the muscles of her limbs all contracted and screwed up. Obviously she was dying. Off went Abbess Aebbe to the king and with tears in her eyes gave her opinion of the cause of the calamity. Indeed she rounded on him. ‘I know for a fact that you ejected Wilfrid from his see for no reason. He was driven into exile and went to Rome to seek redress. Now he has returned from that see that has the same power as St Peter himself in loosing and binding. And what have you done but despised its injunctions and despoiled the bishop? Then to pile injury on injury you have had him locked away in jail. Listen, my son, to your mother’s advice. Loosen his bonds. Restore the relics your queen has taken from his neck and carried round from city to city like the ark of the Lord to her own doom. Send a messenger with them. The best plan would be to reinstate him as bishop, but if you cannot bring yourself to do this, at least let him and his friends leave the kingdom and go where they will. Do this and you will live and your queen will recover. Disobey and, as God is my witness, you shall not escape punishment.’ The king obeyed the holy matron, freed our bishop, and let him depart with his relics and friends. And the queen recovered.”

During hat time there lived a holy recluse called Adomnan (Adam) in the Coldingham community of monks under St. Ebbe (feast: January 31). He was born in Ireland, ordained hieromonk, and during his pilgrimage to Scotland remained at Coldingham. (He shouldn’t be confused with his great namesake, St. Adomnan of Iona, the author of the Life of St. Columba).

Adomnan excelled in the ascetic life, the strict observance of all monastic rules and denounced those members of the community who behaved in a disorderly way. In a vision it was revealed to him that in the future the monastery would be destroyed by fire because of “the frequent gossip and frivolity” of some of its monks and nuns. Hearing this prophecy, the negligent monastics mended their ways, but not for long. After the deaths of St. Adomnan (c. 680) and St. Aebba a disaster befell the monastery – it was destroyed by fire in 686, though rebuilt soon afterwards.

After 870, monastic life was not resumed at Coldingham for a long time. Little by little the waves washed away the original beauty of Coldingham, St. Abb’s Head and Ebchester, but no waves could ever erase the memory of the virtues of their foundress, Aebba, in people’s hearts.

In the late eleventh century, after the Norman Conquest, the relics of St. Aebba were rediscovered and in 1098 King Edgar I of Scotland (1097–1107) endowed lands for the new Roman Catholic Benedictine Coldingham Priory in honor of the Virgin Mary, St. Cuthbert and St. Aebba (later often referred to as the Priory of the Virgin Mary). Its church was consecrated in 1100, but the priory was officially established under King David I of Scotland (1124–1153). The Priory brethren consisted of monks who came from Durham. It grew into one of the largest and most flourishing in Scotland and a center of the wool trade.

Thus the veneration of St. Aebba was revived all over Scotland and across northern England. Part of St. Aebba’s relics was kept at Coldingham, and another part in Durham. Among medieval figures associated with Coldingham, let us mention Monk Reginald of Durham († c. 1190), who composed his version of the lives of St. Godric of Finchale, St. Oswald of Northumbria, and wrote an account of St. Cuthbert’s miracles and preserved a sermon of St. Aebba of Coldingham, where he may have lived for some time. The Priory also produced Geoffrey of Coldingham (+ c. 1215), its sacristan and a chronicler, who recorded the history of Durham between the 1150s and 1215 and probably composed the lives of St. Bartholomew of Farne and St. Godric of Finchale.

A true gem is kept at the British Library in London. It is the Coldingham Breviary, created in the late thirteenth century, by a monk of Durham (Coldingham Priory was a cell of Durham Monastery and later of Dunfermline Abbey) for Coldingham Priory. This beautiful manuscript in Latin and French contains the calendar of local feasts and commemorations (such as the dedication of the altars of the Archangel Michael and St. Aebba at Coldingham Priory, the consecration of the church in Coldingham, etc.), along with the texts for the feasts read during the year, and hymns and psalms to be read weekly, complete with illuminations. Among the relics once kept by the priory were a tiny piece of the True Cross and a nail with which the Savior was bound to the Cross. However, the Priory was almost wiped off the face of the earth several times over its history—for example, by King John of England in 1216, during his punitive expedition to the north after signing the Magna Carta.

Coldingham Priory was of such great renown that King James IV of Scotland included revenues from this monastery among the gifts to his wife, Queen Mary Tudor, for their wedding in 1503.

In 1560, during the Scottish Reformation, Coldingham Priory was dissolved, the relics of St. Aebba and other holy objects destroyed, and its lands passed to a local landowner. The Priory’s demolition was completed in 1650, when Oliver Cromwell besieged it and drove out some Royalists who had taken refuge inside it. Later it was extensively used as a quarry by locals. In 1852 a splendid new church was constructed in Coldingham using the materials from the Coldingham Priory ruins. This church is open to this day. It belongs to the Presbyterian Church of Scotland and is called “Coldingham Priory”. Although the current church is huge, it comprises materials from only one section of the former monastery’s choir. Recently work to improve the state of the Priory ruins was carried out and theme gardens dedicated to its history were added. The remains of the original monastery of St. Aebba were unearthed beside this church in 2019. The radiocarbon analysis results showed that the fabric, materials and butchered animal bones are from the Anglo-Saxon period—between 660 and 860 A.D. Among the most impressive finds was the original ditch, or vallum, that surrounded St. Aebba’s Monastery.

Today only remains of the wall foundations, chapel ruins and a well survive from the supposed community of St. Aebba at St. Abb’s Head near Coldingham. Interestingly, no finds of any significance were made during excavations at St. Abb’s Head, as opposed to a wealth of discoveries at the Coldingham site. This indicates that there was no permanent community at St. Abb’s Head throughout its history, apart from the buildings whose ruins are mentioned in the article. Coldingham is slightly further inland, and it was logical if St. Aebba set up her main community there. As for St. Abb’s Head, the saint may have used it for quiet prayer and retreats.

The remains are concentrated on the headland called Kirkhill close to the lighthouse at St. Abb’s Head, a local landmark. The chapel was built in the Middle Ages by the neighboring Coldingham Priory to perpetuate the memory of their pre-Norman predecessors. This place was visited by many pilgrims in the late Middle Ages and miracles were worked. Thus, a girl who was blind in one eye and deaf in one ear was healed after praying at the chapel for fifteen nights.

In his work, Britain’s Holiest Places, Nick Mayhew-Smith mentions two small coves beside St. Abb’s Head; one of them was certainly used by St. Cuthbert for nocturnal prayer in the waters (the Horse Castle Bay). The other cove preserves a well chamber, which was popular among pilgrims in earlier days who came here to commemorate the local saints; another well which reportedly has water in it is close by and is dedicated to St. Aebba (this second bay is called the Well Mouth). This area offers spectacular views of the seashore, with recurring howling gales and waves crashing beneath, as in the time of St. Aebba.

The village of Ebchester in County Durham stands on the site of the Roman fort of Vindomora. It was believed that St. Aebba founded one of her monasteries here, but it was subsequently plundered by pirates and never restored. The village church is dedicated to St. Aebba and dates back to the eleventh or twelfth century, its foundations being pre-Norman. However, no traces of an earlier monastery have been found so far. In the Middle Ages this isolated and rural spot attracted many hermits and it was known as a haven for anchorites.

There is St. Aebba’s Church in Beadnell village in Northumberland, which has a stained glass window depicting Sts. Aebba and Oswald. The village sits on the North Sea coast not far from Bamburgh. The church was built as a chapel in the eighteenth century and rebuilt in the following century. Apart from this there is a narrow promontory called Ebb’s Nook on the edge of the village, where in 1853 a very ancient stone chapel was dug up. The chapel was dedicated to St. Ebba and dated back to the thirteenth century. During the latest excavations in 2012 many burials, much earlier remains and a series of earthworks were found around it, presumably of the seventh century, enabling historians to suggest that St. Ebba may have founded a hermitage/skete here and the later chapel was erected to commemorate her. Now the site is carefully preserved.

There is the Episcopalian St. Ebba’s Church in the fishing town of Eyemouth in the Scottish Borders of the Diocese of Edinburgh, built in 1887. There used to be a St. Abb’s holy well beside the famous Ayton Castle at Ayton village in the Scottish Borders.

Finally, a district, a street and a parish church in the city of Oxford are named after St. Aebba (“St. Ebbes”). Historically, it may have been the oldest parish church in this university city. Though its origins are unknown, it formed part of Eynsham Abbey in Oxfordshire in 1005, and even then it was referred to as “a very ancient church.” St. Aebba is depicted in it on an old stained glass window. According to one version, the presence of a St. Aebba’s Church so far in the south is explained by the fact that she may have accompanied her brother St. Oswald to the nearby Dorchester-on-Thames to attend the baptism of King Cynegils of Wessex by St. Birinus, the enlightener of this region. Thus this church may have been built to commemorate the holy maiden’s visit to the area. The present church was almost wholly rebuilt and enlarged in the nineteenth century, while retaining some medieval monuments, stained glass and communion plates; over its history it was connected with some outstanding figures.

Perhaps this holy princess, one of numerous seventh-century powerful early English women, should be revered on a par with her brother St. Oswald, who founded Lindisfarne Monastery, making history and enlightening the north-eastern England. Likewise, his sister, St. Aebba founded Coldingham, made history and contributed to the enlightenment of south-eastern Scotland. They truly are two stars—two of a large number—shining in the firmament of seventh-century Britain.

Holy Mother Aebba, pray to God for us!


Dmitry Lapa writes for Pravoslavie on Church history.


The featured image shows, St. Ebba in stained glass from St Ebba’s Church Beadnell, Northumberland.

Hellenism: Past, Present, Future

When we commemorate the Metropolitan in the Liturgy, we do so out of submission to his authority. The commemoration of the local Metropolitan does not necessarily signify our prayers for his health or longevity, rather it is a token of our canonical subordination as a parish and Eucharistic community to a certain bishop. Greek Orthodox Christians must reflect carefully on this fact. Will they continue to subordinate themselves to shepherds whose only interest is the dissolution of Hellenism and Orthodoxy with the substitution of what St. Kosmas termed the “ψευτο ρωμαϊκό” that is, a false Orthodoxy, a false Christianity, a false Hellenism?

Now, two hundred years after the glorious Greek Revolution, again, we are called to muster our defense of everything sacred: Our Christianity, our Hellenism. We do this by arming ourselves with the weapons of faith. Unlike in 1821, these are not literal weapons. They are the weapons of piety, of conviction, of knowledge, of evangelical truth. We have allowed the Constantinople Patriarchate to create a false “Orthodoxy” in Ukraine to the detriment of the canonical Ukrainian Orthodox Church led by the saintly Metropolitan Onouphry. One of the false “bishops” acknowledged by Constantinople recently declared that the faithful of the canonical church should be “marked on the ear” as we “mark stray dogs.”

This “bishop”, Adrian (Kulik) of Shepitivsky, who made this statement on Facebook, had a rather circuitous path to the OCU. He was born March 25, 1972 in Kkmelnitsky province. He studied for two years in the Moscow theological seminary, from 1991 to 1993, but continued his studies in the Lvov theological seminary of the Ukrainian autocephalous Orthodox church—a self-consecrated schismatic organization. He served in Kiev as a deacon, and then in 1993 moved to the US, where he was received into the jurisdiction of the Orthodox Church of America (OCA), in which jurisdiction he was ordained a priest. In 2001 he officially left the OCA by reason of his return to the Ukraine. In 2002, he joined the Ukrainian autocephalous church of North and South America and the diaspora, where after his tonsure as a ryassaphore monk with the name Bogdan, he was consecrated a bishop in New York by bishops of the Ukrainian autocephalous church of North and South America. In 2004 he returned to the schismatic Ukrainian autocephalous church, and was received into that church in Kiev, then appointed bishop of the Cherkassy and Kirovograd diocese. He continued to serve as bishop in that church in other dioceses. Due to a conflict of opinions between two lines of the Ukrainian autocephalous church, he was tonsured a stavrophore monk, which he received with the name Adrian, and re-consecrated bishop on the same day. In 2913 he switched churches again, this time to the Kiev Patriarchate, and was assigned as rector of the church of St. George in the city of Khmelnitsky.

The glorious generation of 1821 such as Kolokotronis, such as Makriyiannis, such as Papaflessas would in no way tolerate such ridicule and stain as a matter of principal. We have allowed the Constantinople Patriarchy and its affiliates to subsist off of our work and labors and to create a plutocracy off of the labors of our fathers and grandfathers which has not benefited Hellenism in the least. It is my sincere conviction that now, Greek Orthodox Christians must vote with their feet. Complacency with the agenda of the Patriarchare at Constantinople means one thing only: Hellenic Orthodoxy won’t live to see a 300th year anniversary of the Greek Revolution.

In essence, the patriarchate of Constantinople, despite its claims at persecution by the Turkish state authorities, has enjoyed the relative tolerance of Turkey as of late. In fact it praises the Turkish government often and is often used by the Turkish government as a propaganda platform. The vast majority of the Patriarchate’s flock (and thus income) are Greeks of the USA, Australia, Canada, Germany, and the UK (Greek Cypriots in the case of the later). In the last one hundred years, the Patriarchate of Constantinople has, in general, aided western allied (American, British) interests—since the Allied Occupation of Constantinople until our present day. In return, the Patriarchate is “guaranteed” its existence in Turkey i.e. the western powers apply the proper pressure on the Turkish authorities which do not do what they did in 1955 (search for “Istanbul pogroms” on Wikipedia) to the rest of Constantinople’s Hellenism, to the 2000 or so remaining Romoioi of the City: decimate and expel them.

As is well documented—and has been generously commented on as of late—the Patriarchate of Constantinople mistakes its interests with those of the West. Certainly, western powers such as America have declared common cause with Constantinople and the evidence of their co operation, especially as concerns the birth of the schismatic false “church” in Ukraine is ample. In fact, this information is confirmed by the western powers themselves. One need look not further than the former Secretary of State’s (Pompeo’s) statement: “Took action on lots of fronts with Russia, including religious freedom. I made sure the U.S. supported international recognition of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine, helped the Metropolitan escape Russian influence,” which was posted on Twitter.

Western powers historically attempted a “containment” of Russia, using every means possible to this achievement. Napoleon did so and Hitler did so. Communism is no doubt a supreme evil and ought to have been contained and stopped. Yet, for the duration of my lifetime Communism has ceased to exist in Russia. The USSR collapsed some 31 years ago. The world should understand the first victims of Communism were the Russian people themselves, and the Russian church itself. Communism: the supreme evil to which the Russian Church fell victim as is testified by the New Martyrs and Confessors of Russia whose memory we recently celebrated. The Russian Church and the Russian Orthodox faithful earned “top of the list priority” in the persecutions driven by the Soviet regime. As the West continues its traditional assault on Russia, it seems the Constantinople Patriarchy has confused its interests both political and ecclesiastical with those of the Western powers, and thus its “war” on the canonical Ukrainian Orthodox Church by the establishment of a false “autocephalous” “church” in Ukraine.

What does the survival of Orthodoxy and Hellenism, in particular, Hellenic or Greek Orthodoxy have to do with these events? It is clear that the shepherds of Hellenic Orthodoxy and the political authorities that rule Greece—i.e. the Mitsotákis government—are taking us for a shipwreck of the finest caliber. This is quite fitting, it is quite “Byzantine” of them. Similar courses of action were followed in other times by the Patriarchate of Constantinople co-operating with the Byzantine empire—read the life of St. Simeon the New Theologian and find out how the illustrious ecclesiastical authorities of the time buried icons of St. Simeon’s spiritual father to extinguish his veneration which they considered blasphemy. St. Simeon was finally exiled for speaking eternal truths to the Constantinople Patriarchy.

Prior to this, many know well that St. John Chrysostom himself died as a disgraced former bishop of what is today the Greek Orthodox Church, which promogulated his exile, ultimately causing his death. Thus, St. Simeon the New Theologian wrote of the bishops of the Constantinople Patriarchate (as if Christ was speaking to them): They (the bishops) unworthily handle My Body and seek avidly to dominate the masses… They are seen to appear as brilliant and pure, but their souls are worse than mud and dirt, worse even than any kind of deadly poison, these evil and perverse men! (Hymn 58)

How is the Russian Patriarchy different, you ask? Never did the Russian Patriarchy claim any rights and prerogatives not its own. Never did it begin teaching that it is “first among unequals” – Constantinople has done so. Meanwhile, the Russian Orthodox Church freely has apologized for its historic errors. The persecution of Old Believers, the imprisonment of St. Maxim the Greek are examples. The Russian Church historically has also stood up to the Russian state. The death (execution) of Metropolitan Philip II of Moscow is a testimony to this. The suspicious death (likely poisoning) of Patriarch Tikhon is also testimony of this. And what has Constantinople ever apologized for? How has Constantinople or the Church of Greece ever stood up to the State’s interests when their end result is the destruction of Christianity and the family unit? Archbishops Seraphim and Christodoulos of Athens are exceptions. The later resisted the intrigues of the Constantinople Patriarchy to the point where they struck his (Christodoulos’) name from the diptychs.

Since Constantinople is leading Hellenic Orthodoxy, I as a Greek Orthodox priest -though now under from within the Russian Orthodox Church—will never stop proclaiming that it is leading Orthodoxy and Hellenism to a cliff and to destruction and to ultimate demise. There is certainly no contempt within me for the See itself. There is only righteous disdain for the decisions of the men who occupy the See. Invoking the intercession of such Fathers, such as, St. John Chrysostom and St. Maximus the Confessor and St. Symeon the New Theologian I bring to mind the ancestors of today’s Greeks who fought their way out of Turkish slavery and into the light of freedom. Look around yourselves and at least in the secrecy of your own interior thoughts and life be honest with yourselves: is this the Hellenism and Orthodoxy they were shot, burned alive, or roasted over open, coal-fires for?


The word “Hellenism” conveyed different concepts at different times throughout Christian history. Consistently in the first millennium it meant “paganism.” St. Basil uses the word “Hellenic” meaning “idolater.” This was a time when identity was based primarily on faith. As the Eastern Roman Empire disintegrated, the final Emperors added to their title the phrase “of the Hellenes”—in addition to “of the Romans.” Gemistus Pletho, a late Byzantine (pagan) philosopher who died around 1453, was among the first to “revive” the idea of a modern Greek cultural group/nation as we would come to understand the Greeks today. Yet, he rejected Christianity by adopting a neo-pagan identity; prior to this, to be Greek (as we understand Hellenic identity) meant to be: a Roman citizen, an Orthodox Christian, and one who spoke Greek, in addition to one’s native language (Armenian, Turkic, Bulgarian, etc.).

With the advent of the Ottoman Empire, the Emperors of which retained within their title the phrase “of the Romans”, the “millet” system—the classification of society into various religious groups that constituted the pillar of their identity—was established. In the Orthodox Christian part of the “Roman” millet were Greeks, Serbs, Bulgarians etc., and they referred to themselves and were in turn referred to by the Turks as “Romans”. Conversion from Orthodox Christianity to Islam meant adoption of a Turkish identity and—for our modern intents and purposes—amalgamation into the Turkish nation. This is exactly why today, in Western Turkey, most Turks look (and act) European, i.e. Greek, as they descend from Greeks who at various historical stages adopted Islam. There were also “middle” groups, such as the “Crypto Christians”, who outwardly practiced Islam yet maintained an “underground” Orthodox Christianity in secret churches with secret clergy. Other “millets” were the Jewish Millet, and the Armenian Millet—for Armenian Monophysite Christians.

Language, in this religious context, was secondary. There existed Turkish speaking Greek Orthodox villages in Anatolia well into the 20th century wherein Turkish was written in Greek characters and scripture readings at the services were read in their dialect of Turkish, Karamalídika. And later, there existed Greek-speaking Muslims in places like Thrace and Crete. These were formerly Greek Orthodox Christians who embraced Islam for the status, wealth, and influence that came with conversion. The fact that language did not immediately translate into national identity is not an Eastern phenomenon: the French of Lorraine spoke German, and the Irish to this day speak English. In Asia, Japanese is written in Chinese characters. We will return to the issue of language as one of the primary sources of identity (the other being Faith) below.

During the nationalist movements beginning in the eighteenth century, the various Balkan ethnic groups conspired against the Ottoman Empire. Revolutionaries, such as, Rigas Ferraios envisioned a “re-birth” of the Roman Empire: an Orthodox Christian Federation stretching from Moldova across to the Dalmatian Coast and down the Balkan Peninsula to Greece and east to Anatolia, including Syria, Egypt and the Holy Land—the capital of which would be Constantinople. This would be a “multi-cultural” and “multi-ethnic” empire wherein many would co-exist as they did in Byzantium, with the common factors of faith, citizenship, and language.

Various uprisings had occurred against the Turks, such as the Orlov Revolt and the First Serbian Uprising. Success came when nationalistic tendencies were left aside. Though what we term today as the “Greek Revolution of 1821” began in Iasi, Romania, as the “start” of a pan-Balkan revolt, the end result was that only those living in what became modern Greece revolted. When falling back on their insular tendencies, on jealousy, intrigue and selfishness, the Greeks quickly descended into factions and proceeded to a series of civil wars that were fought consecutively in the decade after the Revolution of 1821 and before Greece became a sovereign entity in 1831. Consequently, only the intervention of the Great Powers, in the end, enabled the establishment of a Greek Kingdom, and its freedom and protection against the Ottoman Empire was guaranteed. Guaranteed by who? By the great Christian Monarchies of the time: Russia, the United Kingdom, Austria, and France.

Not all the Greek revolutionaries spoke Greek; many spoke Arvanítika—such as, Markos Botsaris—or Vlach, or even Turkish. Knowledge of Greek or lack thereof did not imply non-inclusion into the body of those we know today as the Greeks. The Greek government in the early twentieth century engaged in a massive “re-education” campaign that resulted in the near extinction of Arvanítika in places like Kranidi (where I was ordained), Hydra, Aegina, and Thebes.

The end result of this campaign, however, was a uniformity in terms of identity according to the nationalistic European model, which is: To be x means to speak x. This concept that identity flows solely from language, naturally, is foreign to the Eastern Roman (and later Ottoman) concept of identity wherein identity is based primarily on common faith.

Aléxandros Papadiamántis, “the saint of Greek letters”, within his short stories, records the last vestiges of such a society. Evidence of this is, within the predominantly Greek context, the appearance of Arvanites, or converted Turks or Slavs, who with their dialects, sayings, and customs enrich the Hellenic world. Such influence, which runs multiple ways, is seen in persons such as the philhellene Bavarian Doctor, Wilhelm Wild (†1899), who “adopted” the “strange ways of the Greeks,” living amongst them on Skiathos for over fifty years, having come from the Kingdom of Bavaria to Greece as a young man to fight in the later phase of the Revolutionary War.

The Eastern Roman concept of identity passed well on to the Russians who, during the time of the Russian Empire, converted and amalgamated many tribes and peoples—Finnic, Turkic and others—into the Russian Empire through missionary activity. Besides the adoption and perseverance of Byzantine state symbols (doubled headed eagle) and titles (Tsar) this effort to unite an empire on the basis of faith is the Eastern Roman legacy that lived on within the Russian Empire. It was for this reason that Patriarch Nikon of Moscow said, “Though I am a Russian and son of a Russian, my faith and my religion are Greek.”

Hellenism is Ecumenicity in the sense that many peoples can be grafted onto the body. This is the Roman identity, the Orthodox identity, which we find alive and exemplified in such authors such as the above-mentioned Papadiamantis. And yet Papadiamántis stands firmly within what may be termed the “European Christian tradition” along with other writers such as Chekhov, Dickens, Dostoyevsky, and Chesterton. In its originality, therefore, Hellenism is not insular, it is outward looking, and confident in its contact with other cultures and civilizations. And yet, it preserves and maintains Tradition as it has been transmitted through the generations.

We conclude our present thoughts ahead of a series of questions, however, which inevitably arise: In what condition is Hellenism today? What is the supposed “guardian” of the Hellenic Christian identity (i.e. the Greek Orthodox Church, the Constantinople Patriarchate) doing to preserve and transmit the Eastern Roman legacy? And, is it the proper vehicle to conduct this transmittance? What has it truly given the Greeks in the past one hundred years? These questions will be answered shortly…


“Two Hundred Years After the Greek Revolution”: We arrive at the topic of Hellenism today, Hellenism in the modern world and specifically, Hellenism outside the modern day nation-state of Greece. What is the state of Hellenism and Orthodoxy amidst the Hellenism of the diaspora?

During the Turkish oppression of 400 years, the Church was the guardian of what might be termed, “the Eastern Roman conscious identity” of the Greeks. Later, after the Revolution of 1821, the state naturally participated in this effort of ethnic cohesion. Greeks were travelers and explorers from the times of the ancients to our own era. The urge to go forth and explore, colonize, and create new worlds is hymned and lauded in Greek literature from the sixteenth-century Erotokritos to the works of Papadiamántis in the nineteenth century to the songs of our own modern Savvópoulos. Exile. Colonization. These are among the defining characteristics of Hellenism’s essence. Until the time of Nasar and the nationalists in Egypt, Alexandria had a thriving Greek community. My own great-great grandfather made a fortune laying marble in Alexandria. One of my distant ancestors, Photius, became Patriarch of Alexandria in the early twentieth century (where, by the way, he opposed the introduction of the new calendar), and until 1955, when perhaps one in four citizens of Constantinople were Greeks.

Segments of the Greeks began to immigrate abroad—at first to far-off America, Australia and Panama (to build the canal)—but also to places like Italian Ethiopia, Eritrea, Uganda and the Congo in Africa at the turn of the twentieth century. During these decades, a Greek family on average had one quarter of its relations abroad. After the Second World War, the Greeks immigrated to Western Europe—mainly Germany, the Cypriots, to the UK—and Canada, and (once again) to the USA, and yet other far-off places. After the economic crisis of the 2000’s, an unexpected wave of immigration, helped by common EU citizenship, made its way to places—some of them quite unexpected—like Hungary, Czechia, and Poland—countries whose citizens themselves had, during the Communist era, immigrated to Greece as a stepping-stone leading to the wealthier European nations. Now roles were reversed, and, once again, Germany and Austria saw an influx of new Greeks.

The direction taken by the Greek ecclesiastical authorities—the guardians of Hellenic identity in the lands abroad among the diaspora—historically, in the new world, sought maintenance of an ethnic ghetto. There is nothing inherently negative about self-preservation… except to say that, historically, Hellenism has sought to “conquer by influence”. Contact with other civilizations is a sought-after affair, and exchange is encouraged. Hellenism seeks to “graft” others to its world by conversion to Orthodoxy and adoption of its habits, its thinking, and its world-view by other civilizations.

Yet preservation of our faith and culture—while influencing the surrounding culture—were never hallmarks of Constantinopolitan policy. The end results of the policy promoted by the Greek ecclesiastical authorities under Constantinople are: decades of food festivals and dance associations, which promoted what may be termed a “distorted” Hellenism. These have nearly ensured the extinction of Hellenism proper in the New World. The focus on Orthodox Christianity was absent; “Americanization” in such a context was the key. How can we look and act more “normal”? How can we rid our church of things like Byzantine music, vigils, and monasticism and cassock-wearing priests, and fill in with European-style choirs with organs, beardless priests in suits, pews, and hymnals? And today, how exactly do we become more “woke” so as not to offend the militant left? How do we promote moral inclusivity and neo-Marxist movements? How do we dilute everything sacred in our worship—even the age-old practices concerning the Holy Mysteries? Admittedly, certain elements of traditionalism—such as the clergy wearing cassocks and beards—made a comeback. These cannot save the irreparable damage done. These are just musicians playing as the Titanic sinks.

Undoubtedly, the fault also lies with our parents and grandparents, many of whom silently allowed this corruption to occur, and others who even affirmed and promoted it for their own gain and for their own purposes (“respected” positions on parish councils, etc.). While I grew up, for example, traditional Greek Christmas carols were ignored; instead, Christmas carols translated into Greek from English (most of which are originally German) were sung. There’s nothing inherently wrong with western Christian carols. But western messages and values permeated my young being, not the messages and eternal truths of our Orthodoxy heralded in the eternal Byzantine carols of the Greeks. The question became: Why this mania of forsaking anything that strikes as Byzantine? Papadiamantis, Seferis, Elytis—these authors—perhaps the most profound Greeks of the past one hundred years—were never mentioned to us as children. No one ever told us of the Erotokritos or Diogenis Akritas.

I had a question as a child that nagged internally at me: each Saturday I was dragged by my blessed mother to Greek School where I was absolutely forbidden to speak English in class. Yet, on Sunday, perhaps half the Liturgy was celebrated in English. Our priest dressed like a Roman Catholic in a suit. Any sense of traditionalism was scoffed at. My young mind did not understand the contradiction, and, without perhaps the proper articulation on an internal or external level, I asked myself a basic question: “Why is our Greek Orthodox Church not really Greek and not really Orthodox?”

As more information on Orthodoxy in the traditional Orthodox nations readily became available with the advent of the internet in my early teens, this question only deepened. This question would lead me, at around fifteen years or age, to the respected and ever-memorable Fr. Mikhail Lubochinsky—a man who became a formative father in Christ. He introduced me to authentic Orthodoxy. Later in my life, as I read and translated Papadiamántis many years after Fr. Mikhail’s unexpected repose in 2014, I began to see in this simple Russian priest living in twentieth century Canada an example of a nineteenth-century Greek priest.

What does this mean? Elegant and yet simple, charitable and sacrificial to all his parishioners, faithful in his celebration of the Divine services and the Holy Liturgy, with an unwavering, other-worldly purpose, the ever memorable Fr. Mikhail sought to initiate his spiritual children into the inner mystery which is the true Christian life. Irrespective of their particular background or ethnic identity, all—Poles, Georgians, Greeks and average Canadians alike—were made to feel as equal children under his pastoral care, with no distinctions, no exceptions. Would our ancestors account such a man as not being a Greek? Fr. Georges Florovsky, the eminent theologian (and by coincidence godfather of the aforementioned Fr. Mikhail from whom I was told stories of Fr. Georges’ little-known asceticism and fasting) said: “If a theologian starts thinking that ‘the Greek categories’ are archaic, he automatically will lose the rhythm of Catholicity. We must be more Greek to be truly Catholic, to be truly Orthodox.” Broadly speaking, the “Greek” referenced by Fr. Georges is defined as the Hellenism born from the early Church Fathers, such as the Cappadocians, who reconciled Ancient Greek philosophy with Christianity. This has nothing to do with genetics and DNA and who is descended from who—these categories are absolutely irrelevant. As a flower, one could say, or as an organism, Hellenism blossomed then, and is growing still.

Would our ancestors account the modern day Greek bishops as true Greeks? The question—“What would the ancestors say?”—is the fundamental question. Recently, Metropolitan Sotirios of Toronto stated: “Let us work together for the glory of God and for our Holy Orthodox Faith in Christ! Only then will we live in peace, unity and love. In doing so, Greeks in Canada will accomplish even greater things! This is what we deserve! This is what we need. Let us all advance as one. Let no one remain behind or forgotten.” And yet, the policy of assimilation within the West promoted by the official Greek Orthodox Church in the past fifty years has failed the Greeks. This policy has ensured that scores—that thousands of Greeks—have become totally Anglicized, and finally, foreigners to the Orthodox Church.

Those who have a conscience know and understand that the official Greek Orthodox Church has absolutely nothing to offer them. It is void of any spirituality, any authenticity, any hint of originality. It has become a parody wherein once a year a food festival occurs, the main goal and focus being the collection of funds—with no absolute existential goal, no ultimate purpose or end beyond the exchange of funds, soulless numbers within a system. We could say it has morphed into a bank with the guise of faith. And reading these words, the Greeks know this message to be true as they see their children apostatizing from Orthodoxy and not speaking Greek, not feeling any particular “tie” to their ancestral homeland—the same homeland Metropolitan Sotirios appeals to to provide Hellenism with “ethical” support. This is not to say anything of the ties the Greeks no longer have with their Byzantine ancestors and the Eastern Roman legacy of Byzantium championed by Fr. Georges Florovsky!

Here is a fact we must all reckon with: The fact that ninety percent of those who identify as Greek Americans are not Orthodox Christians—a fact that the Greek Archdiocese of America ignores. It’s time that we find a new mode of ecclesial existence in order to preserve our faith and identity as Greeks.

Adherence to the Patriarchate of Constantinople in the New World has seen a ninety percent apostasy.2 I ask: why should the Greeks continue to adhere to Constantinople? Since when was adherence to the Greek Archdiocese of America or Constantinople the defining characteristic of Hellenism? Are the Greeks who adhere to the other Patriarchates, such as Alexandria or Jerusalem, any less Greek? Are the Antiocheans, who still term themselves and their Patriarchate, “Greek Orthodox”, though today they are all Arabic-speaking, less Greek? If so, then Kottas Hrístou who died for Greece while screaming “Long live Greece!” in Bulgarian as he was hung by the Ottoman authorities also isn’t Greek. When nineteenth-century Orthodox Slavic immigrants to the new world termed their parishes “Greek Catholic”, what did they reference? The Unia? Obviously not.

They were referencing the Ecumenical Hellenism we mentioned, the distinct combination of Orthodoxy and Hellenism on which our common ancestors, the Eastern Romans, built a mighty empire. Whether we are Greeks or Serbs or Romanians or Russians, this legacy is our legacy. We are all co-inheritors of this legacy. We all share in the common duty of preserving it and influencing modern culture with it. In these uncertain times we live in, in this truly “novel” age of history that has dawned, little stability is left in western society. We must look into the past, to the Faith of our ancestors who intercede on our behalf, and we must seek new historical (though not physical) destinations and solutions to the seemingly insolvable problems we face. Despite the fallen men and women of Byzantium, it was a society wherein Christianity and Christ came first. This is what the common goal should be: that the Kingdom of God is reflected within our own earthly kingdom. Do all men and women not share in this goal as common children of the Father? Is our Eastern Orthodox Christianity not the basis of unity for all?

Here in the West, since the Russian Church has given us the opportunity to live the faith purely, there is no “loss of Hellenism” in doing so from within the Russian Church. After all, what is the difference in being a Greek under the Russian Church or a Greek under the Patriarchate of Jerusalem? How does an Orthodox jurisdiction—a representative of the Eastern Roman Church—“prove” its Hellenism? Were the Greek Bishops who served the Russian Church historically, such as, Evgenios Voulgaris and Nikephoros Theotokis, both of Kerkyra, not Greeks?

Here, in the New World, for us Greeks, the preservation of our language, our customs, and our traditions—but primarily our Orthodox Christianity—can only occur under the freedom provided by the Russian Orthodox Church, since the Greek Archdioceses long ago rejected their true vocation. The Greek Archdiocese claimed that Russians can live their faith within it in the so-called “Slavic” Vicariate, composed of defrocked and disgraced Russian clergy who were unfaithful sons. History will prove that I, and those who follow this example, are the faithful children of the Eastern Roman legacy. We invite those who care about the preservation of Orthodoxy and Hellenism—while ensuring their transmittance to the peoples of this land—to come and work with us.


Father Ioannis Fortomas, originally from Canada, now serves as Orthodox priest in the Peloponnese (Greece). His work is regularly fearured in Pravoslavie.


The featured image shows Christ as Pantocrator, a mosaic from the Pammakaristos Church, Constantinople (Turkey), 11th-12th century.