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Saint John concerning the Russian Orthodox Diaspora

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  • Rev. Sergei Overt
    ... Abroad. More than a million Russians had to leave their homeland and were scattered across the face of the globe. Living in new conditions, among other
    Message 1 of 1 , Jul 2, 2003
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      > Today is the thirty-seventh anniversary of his repose.
      > His words are prophetic for the future of the Russian Church Abraod.
      > Here *are* the answers.
      > The Spiritual Condition of the Russian Orthodox Diaspora
      > By Saint John of Shanghai and San Francisco
      > A consequence of the downfall of the Russian Empire was the rise of Russia
      Abroad. More than a million Russians had to leave their homeland and were
      scattered across the face of the globe. Living in new conditions, among
      other peoples, many of the Russians in the course of these years have
      managed almost to forget their homeland, their language, and their customs
      and to merge with the peoples in whose midst they reside. The overwhelming
      majority however, not only preserved their nationality, but even live with
      the hope of returning to the fatherland on the fall of the present
      government. At the present time Russians live in all corners of the world.
      There is not one corner on earth where there are no Russians in greater or
      smaller quantity.
      > The important question is, "What is the spiritual outlook of the Russians
      > A significant portion of the Russians that have gone abroad belong to the
      intelligentsia which in the last days before the revolution lived according
      to the ideals of the West. Although they were children of the Orthodox
      Church, confessing themselves to be Orthodox, the people of that class had
      in their world outlook strayed far from Orthodoxy. The main sin of these
      people was that their beliefs and way of life were not founded on the
      teachings of the Orthodox faith. They try to reconcile the rules and
      teachings of the Church with their western habits and desires. For this
      reason they on one hand had very little interest in the essence of Orthodox
      teaching, often even considering the Church's dogmatic teachings completely
      in essential, and on the other hand, they fulfilled the requirements and
      duties of the Orthodox Church but only in so far as this did not interfere
      with their more European than Russian way of life. This gave rise to their
      disdain for the feasts, to their going church for only a short time and then
      only to satisfy a more aesthetic than religious feeling and to a thorough
      misunderstanding of religion as the main foundation of man's spiritual life.
      Many, of course, were inwardly otherwise disposed, but they lacked the
      strength of spirit and the ability to display this outwardly in their way of
      > In the social sphere this class also lived by the ideas of the West
      without giving any room at all to the Church's influence; they strove to
      rebuild according to western models the whole life of Russia, especially in
      the field of government. This is why in the last days an especially bitter
      struggle was waged with the government administration with the result that
      liberal reforms and
      > democratic structuring of Russia became, as it were, a new faith. Not to
      confess this new idea meant that you were backward. Seized with a thirst for
      power and utilizing for this struggle with the monarchy widespread slander
      against the Royal Family, the intelligentsia brought imperial Russia to its
      downfall and prepared the way for a communist government. Then, unreconciled
      to the thought of losing the power which they had waited for for so long,
      > declared war on the communists, in the beginning mainly out of their
      resistance to ceding them power. The struggle against the Soviets involved
      large sections of the populace, especially drawing in the youth in a fervent
      uprising to reconstruct a "united indivisible Russia" which was the goal of
      their lives. There were many feats which displayed the valor of the
      Christ-loved Russian army, but the Russian nation proved itself still
      unprepared for liberation, and the communists turned out to be the victors.
      > The intelligentsia was partly annihilated and partly fled abroad to save
      itself. Meanwhile, the communists showed their true colors and, besides the
      intelligentsia, large sections of the population left Russia, partly to save
      their lives and partly because ideologically they did not want to serve the
      communists. Finding themselves abroad, the Russian people experienced great
      spiritual shocks. A significant crisis occurred in the souls of the majority
      which was marked by a mass return of the intelligentsia to the Church. They
      filled many churches abroad. The intelligentsia took an interest in
      questions of spiritual life and began to take an active part in church
      affairs. A multitude of circles and societies was formed. Having religious
      enlightenment as their self-imposed task, their members studied the Holy
      Scriptures, the works of the Holy Fathers, general spiritual life and
      theological questions, and many of them became clergy.
      > However, all these gratifying manifestations also had a negative aspect.
      Far from all of those who returned to the faith adopted Orthodox teaching in
      its entirety. The proud mind could not be reconciled to the fact that, up
      till then, it had stood on a false path. Many began to attempt to
      > reconcile Christian teaching with their previous views and ideas. This
      resulted in the appearance of a series of new religious philosophical
      trends, some completely alien to Church teaching. Among them Sophianism was
      especially wide spread. It was based on the recognition of mans worth and
      expressed the psychology of the intelligentsia.
      > Sophianism, as a teaching, is known to a comparatively small group of
      people and very few openly espoused it. None the less, a significant part of
      the immigrant intelligentsia was spiritually related to it because the
      psychology of Sophianism is based on reverence for man' not as the humble
      servant of God, but rather as a little god himself, without the need for
      being blindly obedient to the Lord God. The feeling of keen pride connected
      with faith in the possibility of man living by his own wisdom was quite
      characteristic of many people cultured by today's standards, who place their
      own deductions higher than everything and do not wish to be obedient to the
      churches teaching on all things, since their attitude is one of
      condescension. Because of this, the Church Abroad was rocked by a series of
      schisms which have harmed her up till now and have attracted even a part of
      the Hierarchy. This consciousness of a feeling of a personal worthiness is
      manifested also in social affairs where each person who has advanced a
      little among the ranks, or thinks he has, puts his own opinion higher than
      everyone's and tries to be a leader. As a result Russian society is split
      into innumerable parties and groups irreconcilably at odds with each other,
      trying to put their own program forward, which is sometimes a completely
      worked out system and sometimes simply an appeal to follow after this or
      that personality.
      > With the hope of saving and resurrecting Russia by the realization of
      their programs, these social activists almost always lose sight of the fact
      that besides the acts of man in historical events, there moves the hand of
      God. The Russian people as a whole have committed great sins which are the
      reasons for the present misfortunes, namely oath-breaking (disloyalty to the
      government) and regicide (allowing the Czar to be murdered). Social and
      military leaders renounced their obedience and loyalty to the czar, who did
      not want internal bloodshed, even before his abdication forced it from them.
      The people openly and noisily greeted this deed, without any loud protest
      anywhere. This renunciation of obedience was a breach of the oath taken to
      the Emperor and his lawful heirs. On the heads of those who committed this
      crime fell the curses of our forefathers, of the Zemsky Sobor of 1613, who
      imposed a curse on those who disobeyed their resolutions. The ones guilty of
      the sin of regicide are not only those who physically performed the deed but
      the whole people which rejoiced when the Czar was overthrown and allowed his
      degradation, arrest and exile, leaving him defenseless in the hands of
      criminals, which itself foreordained the end.
      > Thus, the calamity which befell Russia is the direct result of terrible
      sins and her rebirth is possible only after she has been cleansed from them.
      However, until now there has been no real repentance, the crimes that were
      committed have clearly not been condemned, but many active participants in
      the revolution continue even now to assert that then it was impossible to
      act otherwise.
      > By not expressing a direct condemnation of the February revolution, of the
      uprising against the Anointed One of God, the Russian people continue to
      participate in the sin, especially when they defend the fruits of the
      revolution, for in the words of the Apostle Paul, they are especially sinful
      who know, that they who commit such things are worthy of death and not only
      do the same but have pleasure in them that do them (Romans 1:32). While
      punishing the Russian people, the Lord at the same time is pointing out the
      way to salvation by making them teachers of Orthodoxy throughout the world.
      The Russian Diaspora has acquainted the four corners of the earth with
      Orthodoxy, for a significant part of the Russian immigration unconsciously
      preaches Orthodoxy. Everywhere, wherever Russians live, they build little
      refugee churches or even majestic cathedrals or simply serve in premises
      adopted for this purpose.
      > The majority of Russian refugees are not aware of the religious tendencies
      of their intelligentsia and they are nourished on those spiritual reserves
      which they accumulated in the homeland. Large masses of refugees attend
      divine services, some of them actively participate in them, helping with the
      singing and reading on kliros and serving in the altar. Besides churches,
      church organizations have been established which take upon themselves the
      responsibility of maintaining the churches, also performing charitable work.
      > If you look at the faithful who pack the churches on feast days, you can
      think that in fact the Russian people have turned to the Church and are
      repenting of their deeds. However, if you compare the numbers who go to
      church with the number of Russians who live in a given place,
      > then it turns out that about 1/10 of the Russian population regularly goes
      to church. Approximately the same number attend divine services on great
      feasts, and the rest very rarely go to church. Others from time to time pray
      at home or have completely left the Church. The latter sometimes is a
      conscious choice under the influence of sectarian or other anti-religious
      influences, but in the majority of cases it is simply because people do not
      live in a spiritual manner; they grow hard, their souls become rough and
      sometimes they become real nihilists.
      > The great majority of Russians have a hard life full of heavy spiritual
      feelings and material deprivations. Despite the hospitable attitude towards
      us in some countries, especially in our fraternal Yugoslavia whose
      government and people do everything possible to show their love for Russia
      and to ease the grief of the Russian exiles, still Russians everywhere feel
      the bitterness of being deprived of their homeland. Their whole environment
      reminds them that they are strangers and must adapt to customs that are
      often foreign to them, feeding on the crumbs that fall from the table of
      their hosts. Even in those countries where there is a benevolent attitude
      towards us, it is natural that preference should first be given to the
      country's citizens; but in the current difficult situations of most
      countries, often Russians can not find work. Those who are comparatively
      well provided for, nevertheless are constantly made to feel their lack of
      rights in the absence of organizations which could protect them from
      injustices. Although only a comparatively insignificant number have been
      completely absorbed into local society, it quite often happens that if they
      are, they are totally alienated as a consequence from their own people and
      > In such a difficult situation in all respects, the Russian people abroad
      have shown a remarkably high degree of patience endurance and
      self-sacrifice. It is as if they have forgotten about their formerly
      wonderful (for many) conditions of life, their service to their homeland and
      the countries allied to them during the Great War, their education and
      everything else that might make them aim for a comfortable life. In their
      exile they have taken up every kind of work and occupation to guarantee for
      themselves some existence abroad. Former nobles and generals have become
      simple workers, artisans and petty merchants, not disdaining any type of
      work and remembering that no work is degrading, provided it is not
      associated with immorality. The Russian intelligentsia in this respect has
      manifested an ability, whatever the situation, to preserve their life's
      energy and to overcome everything that stands in the way of its realization
      and development, but it has also shown that it has lofty spiritual
      qualities, an ability to be humbled and to be patient. The school of refugee
      life has morally regenerated and elevated many people. One has to give honor
      and credit to those who bear their refugee cross doing unaccustomed work
      which is difficult, living in conditions which before they did not know or
      even think of, and with all this, remaining firm in soul they preserve
      nobility of spirit and ardent love for their homeland and without a murmur
      repent over their former sins and endure their lesson. Truly, many of them,
      men as well as women, are now more glorious in their dishonor than when they
      had glory. The spiritual wealth which they have now obtained is better than
      the material wealth which they left in the homeland, and their souls, like
      gold which has been purified by fire, have been cleansed in the fire of
      suffering and burn like glowing lamps.
      > But with sorrow I have to note that by no means did suffering have such an
      affect on everyone. Many proved to be neither gold nor precious metal but
      reed and straw that have perished in the fire. Many were not cleansed and
      whitened by suffering, did not endure the test, and became worse than they
      had been before. Many were embittered and do not understand that, being
      punished by God, we must be consoled, remembering that there are no children
      that have not undergone punishment, that God in punishing us, is looking at
      us as sons and daughters who must be corrected by punishment. Forgetting
      about their previous sins, such people compound their sins instead of
      repenting, asserting that there is no use being righteous, that God does not
      even look at man's affairs since He has turned His face away from them or
      even that "there is no God." Considering in their imaginary righteousness
      that they are suffering innocently, these people have more pride of heart
      than the boastful pharisee, but often in their sins surpass the publican. In
      their bitterness against God they are in no way inferior to the persecutors
      of the faith in our homeland and by their way of thinking have become
      closely connected with them.
      > For this reason some of their fervent opponents have become, even here in
      exile, their friends. They have become their open and secret slaves and try
      to lure their other brothers into the net. Others, in general, see no
      ultimate purpose of existence and consciously give themselves up to vices,
      or, finding no joy in anything, end their lives by suicide. Then there are
      others who have not lost faith in God or awareness of their sinfulness; but
      their will is completely broken and they have become like reeds shaken in
      the wind. Externally they resemble the former group we just spoke about,
      though internally they are different in that they recognize the foulness of
      their behavior. They cannot find the strength to fight with their weaknesses
      and sink further and further, incapable of doing anything, becoming the
      slaves of intoxicating drink or giving themselves up to drugs. It is truly
      pitiful to see how formerly worthy and respectable people have sunk to the
      level of beasts. Now they direct the whole meaning of their existence
      towards satisfying their weaknesses, their only occupation being to search
      for the means of fulfilling this goal. Already incapable of earning a living
      they look greedily for a hand out, and having received something they
      immediately set off to indulge their passions. The faith that seems to be
      hidden in their souls, if combined with self-condemnation, gives us the hope
      that not all of them are lost for eternity.
      > There are others who, although better outwardly, are far from being better
      inwardly. They keep the outward rules of pious behavior but their
      consciences are dull. Sometimes they occupy a well paid position at work and
      enjoy good standing in the society where they have relocated. With the loss
      of their homeland they have lost the law of inner moral life. Penetrated
      through and through with self-love they will do the worse things to anyone
      who opposes their success. They are deaf to the suffering of their
      compatriots and act as if they have no connection with them. They are not
      ashamed to intrigue and slander others in order to lead them astray,
      choosing especially defenseless exiles.
      > There are some that strive to deny that they have a homeland in order to
      gain favor in the eyes of the local community. As a rule these spiritually
      wasted people have no inner law which controls them and are therefore
      capable of any crime, as long as it is to their advantage and
      > they are assured of not being caught. We are ashamed to say that in almost
      all the countries of the diaspora many crimes are committed by people with
      Russian names. This is why people have less trust in us and our name is
      ruined among the nations. The breakdown of morality is
      > especially noticeable among families. Twenty-five years ago no one would
      have believed what is going on now.
      > Marriage as something sacred has ceased to exist and has turned into an
      everyday transaction. Many notable couples happily , and inseparably married
      for many years have dissolved their marriage and entered into a new one.
      Some have done this because of passions, others for gain. Every imaginable
      reason is found to dissolve a marriage, some even lying under oath to gain
      their end.
      > There is no permanency in marriage among the young or old. It has become
      quite common to hear of a divorce only a few months after a marriage. The
      slightest argument or disagreement is the basis for a divorce. This occurs
      because the consciousness that marriage is holy, has been
      > lost. Church authorities have fallen into wide compromises in relation to
      the present generation and thus have made it easier to obtain a divorce. The
      extent of this unbridled leniency knows no limits, even avoiding the present
      rules. After a marriage is dissolved another is quickly
      > formed and sometimes a third.
      > Not able to satisfy all the demands of their lust by marriage in the
      Church, some ignore all Church and moral laws and do not bother to trouble
      themselves by asking the Church for a blessing. In countries where the civil
      law does not demand a church wedding we very often see people living
      together without the blessing of the Church, or obtaining a divorce without
      the consent of the Church, even when the marriage was performed in the
      Church. One easily forgets that there is no less a sin because an official,
      'proper' name is given to something sinful and that a bond, not sanctified
      by the Church, is none the less, fornication or adultery. Many openly live
      together without the slightest concern about hiding their open dissipation.
      Some are joined together out of passion, others for the advantage gained
      from the marriage are joined together, and without the slightest shame
      appear everywhere in society together with their "live in" and dare to
      introduce them as their spouse. It is specially pathetic that people have
      begun to look at such occurrences with indifference, not expressing any
      negative opinions about them. Thus the number of such cases increases since
      there is nothing holding them back. According to Church rules people who
      fall into this category should be refused Communion for seven years or more;
      according to civil laws they should be restricted in their civil rights.
      That which was despised not long ago by society has now become commonplace
      even among people who come to church regularly and desire to take part in
      Church functions, which in such cases is forbidden by Church rules. What can
      we say of those who are even less influenced by the Church! How low has the
      morality fallen among our countrymen; one part coming to church out of habit
      and the other turning into the dwelling place of lower passions. They have
      given in to a life-style worse than the animals, they disgrace the name of
      Russian and bring down the wrath of God on the present generation.
      > The future generation of children and young people will grow up learning
      immoral lessons from their elders. Besides this, the present generation sins
      before the future one in that it pays so little attention to the upbringing
      of children. Before, in Russia the raising of children played a great role
      whose influence became part of life. Now without this influence children can
      be raised well only if they are given special attention by their parents who
      are frequently preoccupied with their jobs. The entire community abroad is
      in the same state. Although in some places Russian schools have been
      founded, they do not always live up to their purpose and the majority of
      Russian children study elsewhere without any Orthodox training or the study
      of the Russian language. They grow up as strangers to Russia, never knowing
      her true wealth. In some places Sunday schools or other types of Russian
      school have sprouted up in order to give the children that knowledge which
      they cannot receive in native schools. We must admit sorrowfully that the
      parents show little interest in sending their children to these schools.
      Rich as well as poor parents are guilty of this.
      > In past years, despite the difficult conditions for Russians, many have
      been able to acquire a comfortable existence. There are also some among us
      who were able to bring considerable sums out of Russia or had foreign
      capital previously and maintain it to this day. Although there
      > are many among them who generously help their compatriots and generally
      support Russian affairs, most of them are only occupied with their personal
      business. They relate coldly to the plight of their compatriots whom they
      look upon with disdain. They are occupied with their wealth and their free
      time they spend on amusing themselves. Frequently they amaze the native
      population by their carefree attitude. They find it hard to believe that
      among the Russians there are people in need when the rich ones among them
      are annoyed when other Russians turn to them for help. Truly, if there was a
      greater national self awareness and understanding of the debt to one's
      homeland, then great things might be accomplished abroad. For now we have
      only a small part of what we could have and in fact many of our benevolent
      and educational institutions are maintained more through the gifts of local
      people than Russians. Because of this the majority of our institutions,
      which do not have enough means
      > although there are enough Russians to help, are not cared for. The people
      are satisfied in using similar native institutions pouring their money into
      them. It is a disgrace that the majority of wealthy Russians frequently
      raise their children in native schools. These schools can do nothing
      > for the children's' Orthodox outlook and appreciation of their homeland,
      even in the best of circumstances. The wealthy put no money aside for
      Russian schools, which could make up for the lack of national consciousness.
      > Many parents are completely indifferent towards the future views their
      children. Many poor parents use scholarships and others who have money send
      their children to educational institutions which have as their goal the
      upbringing of children in a spirit completely antagonistic to Orthodoxy.
      Various colleges which have as part of their program some sort of religious,
      though not Orthodox, education are filled with Russian children, sent there
      either by
      > rich parents who are interested only in the external side of education, or
      by poor parents who are gratified by the idea of free education for their
      children, and, therefore, turn over their children's' upbringing to the
      whims of the institution.
      > It is difficult to say which children are more unfortunate, the above or
      the outcast children of the diaspora. The outcasts, having never known their
      father, cast away by their mothers, wander about the big cities begging for
      food and finally resort to theft for it. In the end they become professional
      criminals and fall ever lower morally. Many of them end up in prison or are
      executed. These will not have to give such an answer to God as those who
      have been educated in splendid colleges and then became the worst enemies of
      Orthodox Russia. One can foresee the time when out of the future diaspora
      workers against Orthodox Russia will come, who will strive either to turn
      her Roman Catholic or spread sectarianism within her boundaries. These are
      the people who remain outside of Orthodoxy and Russia and will secretly work
      against her. A significant part of those who are educated in native schools
      will apostatize and betray Orthodox Russia, though certainly not all. Not
      only will they be guilty, but even more so will their parents who did not
      guard them from such a path and did not instill in their souls a firm
      devotion to Orthodoxy.
      > Striving to free their children from the cares of this life and therefore
      choosing schools which seem to them will give the children more security in
      the future, the parents pay no attention to the souls of their children and
      thus are guilty for their future falling away from Orthodoxy and the
      betrayal of their homeland. Such parents are greater criminals before Russia
      than their children. The children are won over to a new religion often at an
      unconscious age and then educated in a spirit hostile to Orthodoxy. Similar
      criminal types are those who leave the Orthodox Faith for another in order
      to assure themselves of a more comfortable lifestyle and a more lucrative
      job. Their sin is like the sin of Judas, their betrayal of the Faith for a
      better job or position is counted as the "thirty pieces of silver." Let not
      some of them affirm that their betrayal of Orthodoxy was due to the fact
      that they discovered Orthodoxy not to be the true faith and that they are
      serving Russia by confessing their new faith. Russia was founded and
      glorified by Orthodoxy and only Orthodoxy will save Russia. Those who betray
      Russia should be treated like the traitors during the hard times in 1612.
      They should not be permitted to reconstruct Russia or allowed back into her
      borders... Has not the diaspora become the source of a new infection which
      will return to the homeland?
      > The moral state of the people in the diaspora would be hopeless if we did
      not observe, together with the facts presented, a greatness of spirit and
      sacrifice. Despite the difficult conditions in which the exiles live they
      find the means to build and embellish churches, support priests [though
      poorly], and partially support the needy. Though their hearts are hardened
      and they offer nothing towards the general good, they manage to set aside a
      considerable amount for the upkeep of these projects. There are still those
      among us who joyfully make offerings to the church out of their hard earned
      labors. Others out of their scarcity, what they can, this is counted as the
      "widows mite". Offerings are not only in terms of money but also in the
      tireless labors for the good of the Church and one's neighbor. Many bear
      such labors for various church and philanthropic organizations with zeal and
      dedication, or work independently. Burdened already by labors connected with
      making a living, they give up their free time, rest, energy and strength for
      these good deeds. Men bring to these labors their common sense and women
      their innate love.
      > The concerns of Russians abroad embrace not only Russian needs in the
      diaspora but there are courageous fighters for the homeland preparing for
      its liberation. Some of these fighters even risk reentering Russia's
      frontiers, braving certain death. Love for the homeland has led many through
      severe trials which history will record as heroism.
      > Much zeal and fortitude has been shown in the struggle for Church rights.
      It is heartening to see how dedicated to the Church and homeland are some of
      the youth, having never seen it though loving it wholeheartedly.
      > Such examples, together with the unsilenceable voice of the conscience,
      give us the hope that there still remain those ten righteous men for whose
      sake the Lord was willing to spare Sodom and Gomorrah and who will show the
      way to the Russian Diaspora.
      > Russians abroad have been given the light of Orthodoxy to shine throughout
      the world in order that the other nations, seeing their good works, might
      glorify our Father in heaven and seek salvation. In not fulfilling this task
      and even degrading Orthodoxy by our lives, the diaspora has
      > before it two roads: either turn to the path of repentance and beseech of
      God forgiveness, renew ourselves spiritually, make ourselves capable of
      giving rebirth to our suffering homeland, or be finally cut off by God and
      remain in exile, persecuted by everyone, until finally, degenerating, will
      disappear from the face of the earth.
      > Taken from The Acts of the Second All-Church Council of the Russian Church
      Abroad, Belgrade 1939, pp 147-158.
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