St. Savva and our Time
ST. SAVVA AND OUR TIME
It is a great honour for me to be asked to speak here in Germany to your truly Orthodox community on the feast of St. Savva of Serbia, one of the greatest saints who ever lived.
St. Savva was a great and holy man for many reasons. First of all, he was a monk of the strictest life, an ascetic and wonderworker who even raised a man from the dead. Secondly, he was exceptionally merciful, helping the poor of many nations and building great churches in many lands: on Mount Athos, in Constantinople, in Jerusalem and especially, of course, in his native Serbia. Thirdly, he was the founder of the autocephalous Church of Serbia, her first archbishop and the creator of the native Serbian hierarchy. Fourthly, he established the line of the Serbian Orthodox kings, crowning her first-crowned king, his brother St. Stefan. And fifthly, he was a great peacemaker, bringing peace not only to his native land, but also reconciling other Orthodox nations, such as Bulgaria and Greece.
St. Savva accomplished all this at a time of great crisis for the Orthodox community of nations. Indeed, the thirteenth century, when he lived, may be called the nadir of Orthodox Christianity, its lowest point – until the catastrophic twentieth century which we have just lived through. And what I would like to do today is compare the thirteenth and twentieth centuries, to see whether we can learn any lessons for our time from the experience of the thirteenth century.
So let us look briefly at the situation of Orthodoxy in the thirteenth century.
Orthodoxy in the thirteenth century was under attack from all directions. In the East, the Muslims had conquered the ancient patriarchates of Jerusalem, Antioch and Alexandria, and controlled most of Anatolia, present-day Turkey. The only independent Orthodox state in the East was little Georgia, ruled at that time by the great Queen Tamara. In the centre, Constantinople had been captured and devastated by the Crusaders in the year 1204, and Crusader kingdoms were to be found in Greece and other parts of the formerly Orthodox world. The Greek Orthodox were divided into three small enclaves: the Nicaean empire, situated in what is now Western Turkey, Trebizond on the south coast of the Black Sea, and Epirus in Western Greece. Bulgaria was wavering between Orthodoxy and Roman Catholicism. Romania was in an unstable condition. And Russia was about to be devastated by the Mongols, who completely destroyed Kiev. Only Serbia in the West was free. Under St. Simeon, St. Savva’s father, the Roman Catholic threat was neutralized, and a powerful kingdom emerged stretching from the Adriatic to Sofia. St. Savva’s achievement was to consolidate the work of his father, and lay the foundations of a revival of Orthodoxy in the Balkans that lasted until the Turkish invasions in the late fourteenth century. Without Serbia, and without St. Savva, it is likely that the Roman Catholics would have conquered the whole of Europe and even overwhelmed the Greek Nicaean kingdom.
Let us now turn to the twentieth century.
At the beginning of the century, before 1914, we see what superficially appears to be a very rosy picture. Orthodoxy was now concentrated in the mighty Russian empire, which stretched from the Baltic to the Pacific and contained perhaps eight out of nine of all Orthodox Christians. The Russian Church had major missions in the United States, Alaska, Japan, China and Persia, while the Russian Tsar protected the Orthodox of the Middle East and the Balkans from Turkish oppression. With the help of the Russians, most of the Balkans had gradually freed themselves from the Turkish yoke, and there was every hope that, with the fall of the Ottoman empire, the whole of Eastern Europe and the Middle East would revert to Orthodox rule and a general expansion of Orthodoxy throughout the world would take place.
It was not to be. Only ten years later we see a completely different picture. The Russian empire has been destroyed, and in the power of a fanatical group of Jewish bandits who have initiated the greatest genocide in history. The Russian Civil War was the most bloody war in history to that date. But it was followed by the even bloodier persecutions of the 1930s. Each class of Russian society was systematically exterminated. First, the nobility and the intelligentsia. Then the workers. Then the peasants. At all times the Christians.
Just let me give you one small statistic. According to Russian government figures, in 1937 alone 136,900 clergy were arrested, of whom 106,800 were killed. This was only priests. And only in one year. And yet the persecution lasted for more than 20 years! Even during the Second World War, while the Russians were fighting the Germans, they found time to murder Orthodox priests and laity.
The situation was hardly better in other parts of the world. The Turks, supported by the Bolsheviks, defeated the Greeks in 1922, and destroyed the ancient Greek Orthodox civilization of Asia Minor. Only in Serbia and Bulgaria did Orthodoxy continue for a while under the protection of Orthodox kings. But then came the Second World War, when 700,000 Orthodox Serbs were killed by the Croat Roman Catholics. The Red Army moved into Eastern Europe, and the Red Terror descended upon the Balkans. Hundreds of thousands more died. Millions were destroyed spiritually.
Then came 1989-91, the fall of Communism – or so it seemed. However, peace has not returned to the tortured body of Orthodox Christendom. Although no longer tortured for our faith, we are confused and divided. There are many millions of Orthodox Christians around the world, and yet we seem unable to form a united front. We still seem to be in trauma. We have no clear goals, no clear programme, no good leaders. Consequently, the world ignores us, missionary activity has almost ceased, Christ is not glorified.
Why? Why could the Orthodox recover from the depths of depression in the thirteenth century, but are failing to do so now? Why, when the greatest persecution in history has finally come to an end, are we unable to reap the fruits of the peace sown in the blood of the martyrs? Why is there no St. Savva today? And no St. Constantine?
In order to answer these questions, I should like to point out some important differences between Orthodoxy in the thirteenth and in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries.
First, in the thirteenth century, while the body of Orthodoxy was enslaved to foreigners and heretics, the soul remained free. In other words, the Orthodox did not renounce their faith. Thus when the Crusaders conquered Constantinople and much of Greece, the clergy and the people suffered, but they refused to commemorate the Pope of Rome. Although the Eastern Patriarchates were under the Muslim yoke, they never tainted themselves by recognizing the false prophet Mohammed. Although the Russian Alexander Nevsky paid tribute in money to the Mongols, he never bowed down to the Pope of Rome – and destroyed the Teutonic Knights at the battle on the ice. In Georgia 10,000 died rather than walk on the holy icons at the demand of the Persian Shah.
In the twentieth century, however, while there have been millions of martyrs, there have also been millions of apostates – and especially among the higher clergy. Thus in Russia in 1927 the official church surrendered to Soviet power and praised Lenin and the revolution. After 1945 all hierarchs of the official Church, and most of the priests, were KGB agents. Let us take the present Patriarch of Moscow Cyril Gundiaev. He is a KGB agent with the greatest admiration for the achievements of Soviet power. He cannot deny that the Communists did some bad things in the 1930s, but he says that these sins were wiped out by the victory of the Red Army in 1945, by which they “trampled on death by death”. He did not explain how the Red Army could be doing Christ’s work when they did not believe in Him and when they raped two million innocent German women on the way to victory! Nor does he explain how he, as a monk, can have a fortune estimated at $4 billion from the tax-free import of alcohol and tobacco!
The Greek and Serbian hierarchs are hardly better than the Russians. In 1989 Patriarch Parthenius of Alexandria said that Mohammed was an Apostle of God – and none of his fellow hierarchs criticized him! The Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew has commemorated the Pope at the liturgy, and is very close to the Jews and Muslims. In December, 2010 the Serbian Patriarch Irenaeus celebrated Hannukah with the Jews…
Since the 1960s all the Orthodox Patriarchs have taken part in the World Council of Churches and signed its blasphemous statements that renounce Orthodoxy. Fr. Justin Popovich called the World Council of Churches “a heretical, humanistic, humanized and man-worshipping club, which consists of 263 heresies – every one of which is a spiritual death”. And he said that before the joint prayers with pagans, Hindus, Buddhists and Jews!
Of course, every Orthodox who has even an elementary knowledge of the faith knows that ecumenism, which tries to unite all religions in a kind of foul-tasting soup, is false. That is why our Church has anathematized it, and an Inter-Orthodox Conference on Ecumenism in Thessalonica in September, 2004 came out strongly against ecumenism, concluding that “the Local Orthodox Churches should undertake an heroic exodus from these assemblies.” Unfortunately, however, there are no heroes in the leadership of the Local Orthodox Churches, which is why they still remain in the ecumenical movement, and why union with Rome looks closer than ever.
This is the reason why, in the twenty-first century, no resurrection of Orthodoxy is taking place as it did in the thirteenth century. It is no good our saying that we have no St. Savva to lead us. If we really wanted a true leader, then God would send him to us! But the bitter truth is that we care very little about our faith. So we do not protest against the cowardly Judases that lead World Orthodoxy, and there is little pressure on them to leave.
Orthodoxy is not like Roman Catholicism; we are not blind sheep who follow an infallible leader. We are rational sheep who, if we see our leaders going on the wrong path, reject them and follow Christ, the Good Shepherd. We are the sheep of Christ, we know His voice, and we do not recognize the voices of wolves and traitors. In 1848 the Eastern Patriarchs said: “The protector of religion is the very body of the Church, even the people themselves.” So when religion is threatened the people must act.
First, by leaving the false bishops who have betrayed Orthodoxy. For “it is better to be led by no one,” said St. John Chrysostom, “than to be led by one who is evil.” Indeed, as St. Paul says, even if an angel from heaven preaches to you a different Gospel, let him be anathema.
Secondly, we must pray for true leaders to arise. With God all things are possible. If God can makes stones into sons of Abraham, then he can raise true, God-fearing leaders who will raise the standard of True Orthodoxy and drive the false hierarchs from their sees – the KGB agents and the Freemasons, the crypto-Catholics and the crypto-Jews. Just as in the thirteenth century God raised St. Simeon and St. Savva in Serbia, and St. Alexander Nevsky in Russia, and St. Tamara in Georgia, so He can do the same now.
All that is needed on our side is a little courage, and a little faith the size of a grain of mustard seed. This grain will be enough to move the great mountain that is false Orthodoxy. For Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever. His faith remains the same, and His power to destroy all false faiths remains the same. And He can exercise that power now as He did in the time of Moses, and of St. Constantine, and of St. Savva.
He has not exercised that power up to now because we have not wanted it, we have not even seen the need for it, and so we have not deserved it. The Lord says through David: “If My people had heard Me, if Israel had walked in My ways, quickly would I have humbled their enemies, and upon their oppressors would I have laid My hand” (Psalm 80.12-13). But we didn’t hear Him, and we didn’t walk in His ways, which is why our enemies still oppress us.
However, the joy of our faith is that in Christ there is always forgiveness for the penitent. It is never too late to start again, to ask forgiveness and to repent like the prodigal son. Then our Father will embrace us and put on us our first robe, the robe of purity and victory over sin. And then Orthodoxy, the one true faith, will triumph again. God is with us! Amen.
January 14/27, 2011.
St. Savva of Serbia.