Thursday, October 16, 2014

ON THE UKRAINIAN CRISIS

Article by Igumen Andrei (Erastov), Melbourne
Editor’s note: These comments are Fr Andrei’s personal views and do not reflect an official position of the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad to the situation in the Ukraine.

The Ukrainian events of this year left only a few to remain indifferent. Many people lost their friends because of their position on the war in Ukraine. Such emotional impact of the Ukrainian crisis shows that this is a moral, and not only a political question.

We should try to understand what is going on from the spiritual perspective.

Almost 100 years ago, in 1917, the Russian people, the majority of them, accepted communism, and it was necessary that the Russian people would consciously and freely reject it. Otherwise no true repentance could be possible. When the Soviet Union fell apart 23 years ago, it was not a result of a revolution. Communist authorities changed their rhetoric; they left behind the ideology of Communism, but retained its nature.

ukrayna-map.jpgIn the countries, which were formed after the fall of the Soviet Union, in place of Communism, power was taken by corrupt dictators’ regimes. The Ukrainian revolution of 2014 overturned one of these regimes. It was a revolution of Dignity, as it is often called. Unfortunately, a similar movement for freedom in Russia 2 years ago was unsuccessful, having been defeated by Putin.

People of Maidan (the square in Kiev, where manifestations took place) fought for freedom and dignity of life, against corruption, tyranny, and crime. This was a revolution against that evil, satanic power, which took hold of Russia after the Bolshevik revolution. Thus the Kiev revolution of 2014 was opposite to the revolution of 1917. That’s why in many places, Ukrainian activists toppled Lenin’s monuments; monuments which are still standing in every city of Russia and Ukraine as symbols of the dark past.

Putin’s propaganda affirms that the Kiev revolution was a project of USA, which payed billions for it. Even if this may be true that USA sent financial help for Maidan, what does it change? Those who repeat this statement apparently believe that everything may be bought for money. But this is not the case. No money can buy love for freedom, courage and self-sacrifice, even readiness to put one’s life, - this is what we have observed in people of Ukraine.

Due to the amazing courage of the Maidan people, they won, and Ukraine started on the way to freedom. However the flight of Yanukovitch marked only the first victory. Putin immediately started his war against Ukraine, or more correctly, against the Ukrainian people’s aspiration for freedom. Apparently, he regards this aspiration as an insult and threat to himself.

This war is Putin’s revenge to the people of Ukraine. He realizes that if Ukraine becomes a modern, free country, it will cause Russia to change as well; and it will be the end of his power.

Putin is personally accountable for this war. He started this war through his agents in Ukraine; he armed local thugs; he covertly sends his soldiers to Ukraine, and supplies fighters with arms.

In order to justify Putin’s aggression against Ukraine, Russian TV denounced the whole people of Ukraine to be Nazis, who want to organize genocide of ethnic Russians in Ukraine. Putin’s propaganda is absolutely shameless; it exceeds even Soviet propaganda of the past. They lie endlessly telling tales about babies crucified by Ukrainian soldiers; they publish pictures of children, killed in Syria, and say they are killed by Ukrainians, etc.. The most ignoble is that the victim of Putin’s aggression is reviled as an aggressor. Incited by propaganda hundreds of Russian volunteers went to Ukraine to fight with “cruel Ukrainian Nazis” and defend people of Donbas.

Of course, in all countries there are right wing nationalists, Ukraine is not an exception. However we may estimate their influence in Ukrainian society by the fact that at the presidential election of 2014 the two most prominent nationalist leaders received less than 1% of votes.

Kiev revolution was not about Ukrainian nationalism. Just consider the fact that among the most popular Ukrainian patriots of these days are ethnic Russians: they speak Russian and have Russian surnames. The conflict in Ukraine is not between Ukrainians and Russians, but between the mentality of a free man on one side, and the Soviet mentality, sometimes in guise of Russian patriotism, on the other side.

No government would tolerate armed bandits, who occupy government buildings and establish their rule. The Ukrainian government sent troops to return control over its territories. It was its duty; any other government would act similarly. Thus the war started; a war which has already caused a loss of several thousand lives, and destruction of the whole region.

Who is at fault in this war? - Apparently, the one who started it - i.e. Putin. Also, he can easily put an end to this war. If he stops sending his troops to Ukraine, if he stops sending supplies to those fighting in Ukraine, the war will end very soon.

Let us remember that Russia according to treaties is a sponsor of Ukraine’s integrity, but instead it has become an aggressor. Putin covertly sent his troops to Crimea and to Donbas; he lied that there are no Russian troops; he dared to start a war against a brotherly nation.

But Russian people are overjoyed; they are excited about these immoral, unlawful, heinous actions. Russian soldiers fulfil illegal commands, they go to Ukraine and kill Ukrainian soldiers; the majority in Russia approve this war. Thus, Russian people approve baseness, treason, lie and crime. Those who approve criminal acts become to a certain extent accountable for them. Truly, this is an extreme moral fall of the Russian people.

On the other hand in these last months we observed an incredible rising of people in Ukraine, both Ukrainians and Russians. The people of Ukraine showed themselves free and courageous, ready to sacrifice even their life for their freedom and their country.

At the same time it is painful to admit, that people of Russia showed themselves awfully. This is a true tragedy of the Russian people. Tragedy is that they believe Putin’s propaganda. They believe propaganda, because they want to believe it and don’t want to know the truth, or they just don’t care.

Of course not all Russian people agree with Putin’s politics. There are millions of honest, conscious people, who suffer in their hearts and pray for Ukraine. But they are in the minority.

Russian fighters pretend they defend Donbas people, but in fact this is hypocrisy. If they really cared about local people, they would have put down arms and left, so that peace and order would return to this region. Nowhere else in Ukraine is blood shed except in the territories occupied by Russians.

Russian patriots claim that there is no such country as Ukraine, that this is an artificial formation, that most of Ukrainian territory is actually Russia. Well, in this case what will they do with 40 million Ukrainians, who love their country, want to live in an independent and free Ukraine and are ready to die for it? Maybe it would be better if Russian nationalists wake up from their imperial dreams and learn to live in peace with other countries and to respect integrity of their borders. What will happen if all countries decide to claim their historic borders? – Only war and bloodshed.

In Russia nationalists live under strict surveillance of FSB, and are strictly limited in their activities. Now in Donbas they are thrilled, having received a chance to organize their own state, according to their ideals. However, they imagine this Russian paradise differently. Some dream of social equality, others idealize Stalin’s Soviet state, some aspire for a monarchy. The dreamers don’t realize that they are only an instrument in Putin’s hands, and serve his goals as long as he needs them.

The move of Ukraine towards European Union they regard as betrayal of the Orthodox faith and a step forward to apostasy of the West. They dream of Novorossia (New Russia), a Russian Orthodox State, a stronghold which would resist apostasy of the modern world. Of course, the apostasy quickly moves forward and “the mystery of lawlessness is at work” (Thes. 2), preparing the kingdom of Antichrist. But let us not forget the teaching of St Ignatius Brianchaninov, that apostasy has been allowed by God, and we cannot stop it with our weak hand. What we can do is to preserve ourselves from the spirit of apostasy.

No fantastic Novorossia can resist the oncoming apostasy. We should resist it in our soul, through our faith. And faith is based on spiritual freedom.

What is the result of this wonderful experiment? - Thousands killed, destroyed cities, ruined economy of the region. Why don’t they decide to organise their New Russia somewhere in vast Russian territory, then they would not need to kill Ukrainian boys for the sake of their experiment? However, unfortunately, in Russia for similar actions they will immediately find themselves behind bars for many years.

People may endlessly argue on the questions of history and politics, but no one has a right to come to the territory of another state and take up arms. No ideology may justify bloodshed.

It is not surprising when those living in Russian distant provinces, where TV is the only source of information, believe it. But how can one explain the fact that Russians living in the West in great number believe the same Putin’s propaganda, though they are constantly exposed to western media, which more or less correctly cover the Ukrainian events?

Typically, people believe what fits into the frame of their ideas. Generations of Russian emigrants were raised on patriotism, on the love of the Russia we lost. Propaganda skilfully uses the concepts of Russian patriotism for its own goals. There is nothing in common between Russian Orthodox tsardom and Putin’s evil empire. Russia of old was based, at least in principle, on the ideal of Holy Russia, on the ideal of symphony between the Church and the state. The latter had as its goal to help its subjects in reaching the heavenly kingdom.

Putin’s regime, on the contrary, is based on lies, corruption, cruel force, injustice and hypocrisy.

It appears that even the Russian Church supports Putin’s war against Ukraine. Not to mention MP patriarch Kirill, who found the explanation: “this is the war of Ukrainian Uniates against Orthodoxy.” It goes without saying that he will always back up his “boss”. But it appears that many Russian priests and the faithful also justify this war.

Even many parishes of the true Orthodox Churches, of different synods, took Putin’s side against Ukraine.

Recently Vladyka Agafangel asked his clergy to pray for Ukrainian authorities and army, but some nationalist priests in Russia answered that they would rather pray for those Russian fighters who fight against Ukraine.

We should pray for Ukrainian soldiers, not because they are Ukrainian, but because the Ukrainian army represents the forces of order and law, while those who oppose them are armed bandits. Even if there are some sincere people among them, still their activity is criminal, whatever wonderful ideals they might cherish.

It appears that these Russian priests regard the very idea of independent Ukraine as wrong. They accuse Vladyka Agafangel, because they see in his recognition of Ukrainian state treason of the Russian Church.

What a strange position! One may have an impression that Russian nationalists live in a different world. Of course, 100 years ago nationalist movements in Russian Empire were regarded as evil by Russian hierarchs. Nationalists, for example in Poland and Georgia, fought alongside revolutionaries in the destruction of tsar’s Russia. One of the pillars of the ROCA, Vladyka Vitaly (Maximenko), as an archimandrite of Pochaev Lavra, struggled with nationalists in Ukraine.

But time has changed. There is no Russian Empire; instead there is an evil empire of Putin. People of Ukraine want to be free of it. Ukrainian people have a different language, history, customs. Why are they not allowed to have an independent state?

Finally, no Petlura (Ukrainian nationalist of early 20th century) made as much to turn Ukraine away from Russia, as did Putin and Russian nationalists.

A month ago about a thousand Ukrainian soldiers were surrounded in the town of Illovaisk. President Poroshenko negotiated with supreme Russian commanders that Ukrainians would be given a passage out. However when the Ukrainian convoy started its move on the designated road, it turned out to be an ambush, Russian tanks opened point-blank fire on them.

Russian TV tells tales about cruelty of Ukrainians, however atrocities of Russians in Ukraine is not a tale, but a well-documented fact. One young captive had his right hand cut off for a tattoo “Glory to Ukraine”. How many decades should pass before such manifestations of brotherly love are forgotten in Ukraine?

Our Church should make a strong statement about the Ukrainian events with no respect of persons. This is not politics. The Church should give spiritual and moral evaluation of these events. If we fail to do so we would become as “salt that lost its flavour”.

Hegumen Andrei. Melbourne

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

On sins of the tongue

On the conduct of a pure heart
tihon-zadonsky-3.jpgTreat every man not with flattery, but simply, just as you do yourself. As you appear to him outwardly, be so inwardly as well; and what you say to him and what you have on your lips must be in your heart also. For flattery and treachery are the works of pestilent people, and the devil lives in their heart teaching them flattery and treachery so as to deceive us.
Keep, then, from treating your neighbour craftily and treacherously, lest you give place to the devil in your heart, and lest he overcome you and take you captive.

By no means offend anyone
Be extremely careful not to offend anyone in word or deed, for it is a grave sin. When someone is offended, God, Who loves the man, is also offended, for there can be no offending man without offending God. Whoever sins against a man, also sins against God. This is a serious matter, as you can see for yourself. And when you offend your neighbour, straightway humble yourself before him and beg forgiveness of him with humility, lest you fall under God’s just condemnation.

Do not pry into other people’s affairs
Keep from prying into other people’s affairs, for such prying gives occasion for slander, judgement and other grevious sins. Why do you need to be concerned about others? Know and examine your own self.
Recall your own past sins and purge them with repentance and contrition of heart, and you will not look at what other people do. Look often into your own heart and examine that most ruinous evil hidden there, and you will have sufficient material for investigation. For we can never examine our heart without knowing precisely that every evil is contained in it.
This investigation is profitable to you, for it gives birth to humility and to fear and watching over one’s own self, and to sighing and prayer to God. But examination of the sins of others is the beginning of every iniquity and it is a curiosity hateful to God and man. Then guard yourself against it.
St Tikhon of Zadonsk (18th century)

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Protection of the Mother of God

protection.jpgToday the Holy Church celebrates the Protection of the Most-Holy Mother of God. This feast stems from the vision of St Andrew, the Fool-for-Christ, in Constantinople. Nevertheless, it has become a much-loved celebration of the Russian Christians, who have dedicated innumerable churches and chapels to this feast, celebrating it with much splendor and solemnity.
Every Orthodox Christian, living in the modern world, understands that we urgently require the help of the Most-Holy Lady, the Mother of God:

In these latter and heavy times, when due to the increase of our sins, our troubles also have increased - fulfilling the words of the Holy Apostle Paul: “Thrice was I beaten with rods, once was I stoned, thrice I suffered shipwreck, a night and a day I have been in the deep; In journeyings often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils by mine own countrymen, in perils by the heathen, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren; In weariness and painfulness, in watchings often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness…..“- in these times, when, as our Lord Himself predicted, nation is rising up against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and there are famines, plagues, and earthquakes in places, when the invasion of alien peoples are crushing us, as are civil wars and deathly wounds - in these evil times, the Most-Holy and Most-blessed Virgin Mary, the Mother of God, defends us with Her Protection, so as to free us from all kinds of troubles, to keep us from famine, death, and earthquakes, save us from wars and injury, and keep us unharmed under Her Protection.
St Dimitry of Rostov (18th century)

By Her prayers to Her Son, the Most-Holy Virgin can effectuate a change, not only in the events of the world around us, but also in the souls of the most hardened sinners - making them saints!

She makes apostles of sorcerers, evangelists of tax collectors, and causes harlots to become more pure than virgins.
St Anastasios the Sinaite (7th century)

This can happen if we, although sinners, repent, humbly ask Her help, accept and patiently carry the personal Cross our Lord has appointed for each one of us. Without the Mother of God to help us and lead us on the path of this Cross-bearing life, we would be lost:

It cannot happen that anyone, of angels or of men, can come otherwise, in any way whatsoever to participation in the divine gifts flowing from what has been divinely assumed, from the Son of God, save through His Mother.
St Theophanes the branded (14th century)

Indeed, the Mother of God is our hope and guide on the path of salvation!

Holy Virgin, our Lady! O thou, whose love toward Christians surpasses the love of every earthborn mother and of every wife, hear our prayers and save us! May we constantly remember thee! May we always pray fervently to thee! May we even undoubtingly take refuge beneath thy holy Protection!
St John of Kronstadt (19th century)

Saturday, October 11, 2014

What does it mean to carry one another’s burdens?

Bear ye one another’s burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ.
Gal 6:2

Igumen Methodius gives a sermon on persistence in faith - persistence in prayer, patience, love, forgiveness, and in fulfilling all the commandments of our Lord Jesus Christ.

kak-zit-meste.jpgMetropolitan Agafangel expounds further about the necessity of Christians having patience with one another’s weaknesses and passions. The earthly Church is held together by oneness of faith and the common goal and ideal of reaching heaven and eternal life with God. Everything else is of secondary importance, and in such matters, every person has freedom.

The Church is not an organisation. It is not a formal institution, such as the Old Testament Church was at the time of the pharisees and sadducees. They did not recognise their Messiah, because they themselves had no spiritual communion with God!

The Church is the mystical Body of Christ!
Sin separates a person from Christ, and His Body, the Church…

Any one of us could be found outside of the mystical unity of the Church…without even realising this ourselves! This can happen if we continue to sin, without repentance, and grace does not find space in our heart… A high rank does not guarantee a place in the Mystical Church, neither does respect from clergy, parishioners or friends…

Each one of us has to ask ourselves:
Are we humble? Do we carry one another’s burdens? Do we forgive others? Do we ask forgiveness from our whole heart? Do we repent? Are we fit for the Kingdom of God?

See also Fr Seraphim Rose’s comments on the nature of the Church as understood in our times, some questions that may arise in the contemporary world.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Holy Zeal for Christ and Truth by Archbihop Averky (+1976)

Vladika Averky was the Abbott of Jordanville Holy Trinity Monastery, the seminary instructor of whole generation of priests in the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad, and spiritual father to monks such as Fr Seraphim Rose, who later transmitted Vladika Averky’s teaching and understanding of our times to English-speaking faithful.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Photo from service in Melbourne with Vladika Andronik

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Parish of the Protection of the Mother of God, serving in the Belarusian Church of the Three Martyrs of Vilnius Anthony, John, and Eusthatius in the suburb of Yarraville, Victoria.

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