In Defense of Father Dimitry Dudko
This article, written shortly before the repose of Blessed Father Seraphim of Platina in 1980, is a bit dated. Nevertheless, it contains many timeless Orthodox concepts that are still very relevant for the Church today. At the very least, this article reflects well the thinking of Fr. Seraphim concerning the Moscow Patriarchate and other dilemmas within the Church. It is worth reading again. —OCIC Ed.
MANY ORTHODOX CHRISTIANS in
the free world were saddened to hear of Father Dimitry Dudko’s "confession" on
Soviet television (June 20, 1980), when he read a prepared statement renouncing
all his articles and books and acknowledging himself guilty of "anti-Soviet
activity." This occurred after Fr. Dimitry had been imprisoned for five months
and had been allowed to see no one, not even members of his own family.
One can only guess at the
pressures and psychological weapons (including injection of mind-weakening
drugs) that caused Fr. Dimitry to read this statement, which was evidently
composed for him by the KGB. Perhaps he was actually "broken" by the
pressuresbroken not in his Christian faith, which he did not renounce, but in
his sense of mission to preach the Gospel so boldly in the midst of the
impossible conditions of Soviet Russia but until such time as he becomes free
to speak openly (which may never occur) it is hardly possible to say just what
happened to him. According to the latest information about him, he has been set
"free" awaiting his trial, but has been sent outside Moscow and is allowed
contact with no one. A few people in the free world took advantage of this sad incident to proclaim
in effect "I told you so!"as though this "confession" proves that Fr. Dimitry
was not genuine in the first place, or that he himself and his message are now
thoroughly discredited. Some have quoted obviously slanted accounts that state
that Fr. Dimitry was "calm and cheery" and was "smiling’ during his
"confession," contradicting other accounts that say he was clearly "nervous" and
"ill at ease." This response was obviously what the Communist authorities had in
mind when they arranged this show "confession"; their clear intent in staging it
was to cut off the "religious revival" in Russia and stop the support in the
West for such leaders of it as Fr. Dimitry.
But even before this, there
were a number of attacks made against Fr. Dimitry in the free Western press,
both Russian and non-Russian, and these attacks continue up to the present. In
general these attacks, which have caused disturbance and confusion among some
Orthodox Christians, are characterized by a lack of understanding and sympathy
for the situation of the suffering Orthodox Christians in the Soviet Union, as
well as by certain preconceived ideas about Orthodoxy there. The present article
will examine some of the main accusations made against Fr. Dimitry and attempt
to answer them by giving a more thorough picture of Fr. Dimitry’s actual views
and the real situation of Orthodox Christians in the Soviet Union today. In the
course of this examination we will try to evaluate Fr. Dimitry’s message for
contemporary Orthodoxy and suggest what our attitude in the free West should be
towards him and other representatives of the Orthodox revival in the Soviet
1. IS FATHER DIMITRY A "RUSSIAN CHAUVINIST"?
Some of the attacks in the West have accused Fr.
Dimitry of being a "Russian chauvinist" who places Russia before Orthodoxy, as
well as of being "messianic" and "apocalyptic," of placing too much emphasis on
a "world crisis" of faith, and of seeing Russia as the very center of this
crisis, the religious "resurrection" of Russia having a message for the whole
world. For some Russian liberals in the West (many of whom have now rejected Fr.
Dimitry) the "last straw" in this respect was his several letters in defense of
the martyred Tsar Nicholas II and appealing for his canonization, together with
his statement that he already prayed to the "Great-martyr Nicholas" as a saint (Orthodox
Life, 1978, no. 5, p. 47). Thus, despite Fr. Dimitry’s clear statements that
he venerates the Tsar for religious and not political reasons, some people
condemn him also as a "tsarist" and even a "fascist."
These are all precisely some
of the chief accusations made against the Catacomb Church of Russia, and this
shows (among other things to be noted below) how close in spirit Fr. Dimitry is
to the Catacomb Church. What is regarded by unsympathetic outsiders as
"chauvinism," "tsarism," and "crisis mentality" is, on a closer and more
sympathetic examination, seen to be a profoundly "suffering Orthodoxy" (to use
the phrase of St. Gregory the Theologian) which goes deeper than the
comfortable, academic Orthodoxy that is so easy to hold in the free West; it is
simply Orthodoxy in action, filled with love for the suffering brother in front
of one. In his "letter from exile" (The Orthodox Word, no. 89) Fr.
Dimitry well says: "If I will simply speak of Orthodoxy and not see suffering
Russia, Orthodoxy for me could be something of the head." No one who has read
his writings carefully can seriously doubt that, for all his love for Russia and
the Tsar, it is always and only Orthodoxy to which he is inviting and
converting people. As he himself says: "Both a ‘Russian priest’ and the ‘Russian
Church are partial phenomena which must enter into the whole. But before me
always and first of all is the Church. It is to the Church that I
strive to bring people" (Vestnik of the Western European Diocese of the
Russian Church Outside of Russia, 1980, no. 16, p. 17).
This is not "chauvinism"it
is simply heartfelt Orthodoxy, a kind we ourselves need much more of in the
West. And if we in the West are not aware of the literally "apocalyptic" crisis
of which Fr. Dimitry speaks, and which is felt most acutely in the suffering
Russian land (even as many of the listeners of St. John of Kronstadt thought
that he also was "exaggerating" about the spiritual crisis of his times), then
it is surely time we woke up from our spiritual sleep and began to see it.
Finally, if some in the West do not understand what the "resurrection" of Russia
might mean, let them at least, in Christian charity, not disparage this hope of
a suffering people that is literally going through Golgotha now.
2. IS FATHER DIMITRY AN "ENEMY OF THE CATACOMB CHURCH"?
Some people have accused Fr.
Dimitry of being an enemy of the Catacomb Church of Russia and state that he is
virtually a "heretic" because he does not "join the Catacomb Church" but on the
contrary stays with the Moscow Patriarchate and says that "one is forced to
remain with the hierarchy that has been given us." This kind of critic can see
only "either/or": if the Catacomb Church exists in Russia, one must join
it or be outside the Church. When Fr. Dimitry states that the Catacomb Church is
very small, has very few priests, and is not accessible to the people, such
critics think that Fr. Dimitry is only trying to disparage the Catacomb Church
and justify his own position as a priest of the Moscow Patriarchate.
This criticism comes, quite
simply, from ignorance; no one with a realistic awareness of the actual
religious situation in Russia today could say such things. Fr. Dimitry’s
description of the Catacomb Church coincides exactly with the description of it
we have from actual members of that Church:
it is indeed small, with very few clergy, and it is virtually inaccessible to
all but a small number of people; being illegal, it does not make itself known
to outsiders but hides from everyone; it is virtually impossible for an outsider
to find any clergy from this Church, and out of the question for someone like
Fr. Dimitry, who is well-known and under constant watch by the KGB. The most
optimistic and sympathetic guess as to the number of Catacomb priests does not
exceed 200 for the whole of Russia (less than one to every million
inhabitants!)*, and we find out about these courageous strugglers only if
the Soviet police uncover them and bring them to trial.
What would be involved for
Fr. Dimitry to "join the Catacomb Church"? Even if he could find it (that is,
let us say, find an actual Catacomb priest and attend his services), this is not
yet the same as "joining" it. In the free West, when a priest wishes for
conscience’ sake to change from one Orthodox jurisdiction to another (let us
say, from the ecumenistic Greek Archdiocese to the Russian Church Outside of
Russia), how thoroughly he investigates the whole situation: talks to priests
and bishops, attends services, examines exact doctrinal positions, clears up all
manner of rumors and tales; and even then he often hesitates for fear of the
difficulties that might arise in an organization and with people so new to him.
How much more complex is this whole process in the Soviet Union, where only one
Orthodox jurisdiction is allowed to exist, where the Catacomb Church is fiercely
persecuted and reliable information about it is extremely difficult to come by.
At the present time Fr. Dimitry’s knowledge of it (on the clergy level) can be
little more than hearsay, based on contacts with a few lay members; and does one
join a new jurisdiction on the basis of hearsay? Even if he could meet a priest,
could he ever go so far as to meet a bishop? If not, he could hardly be received
into the Catacomb Church. But how could he know that the person he might be
introduced to as a "catacomb bishop" is actually an Orthodox bishop instead of a
sectarian irnposter, or even a KGB agent? And what Catacomb bishop will
sacrifice his anonymity to meet with Fr. Dimitry, who after all might himself be
a KGB agent (for such is the air of suspicion in Soviet Russia that literally no
stranger can be trusted)? What of the conflicting rumors that there is not one
but several groups of Catacomb Christians who call themselves
"Orthodox"the "True Orthodox Church," "True Orthodox Christians," "True
Orthodox Christian Wanderers," etc.? What if one joins an "Orthodox" sect
instead of the actual Catacomb Orthodox Church? Critics in the West would surely
accuse Fr. Dimitry of being a "heretic" and "outside the Church" if he did that!
The real problems involved (and we have given only a few here) in finding and
joining the Catacomb Church in Russia are not at all as simple as they seem to
someone enjoying the freedom and leisure of the West, where one need only look
in a clergy listing or even a telephone book to find official representatives of
whichever Orthodox jurisdiction one might choose.
But even supposing Fr.
Dimitry could join the true Catacomb Church of Russia, his first public
confession of this fact would be the sign for the
end of his church activity; he would be arrested instantly for belonging to this
illegal organization. In such circumstances his only purpose in announcing this
change would be in order to confess the truth; but why should he do this if this
is not at all what the Catacomb Church itself is doing in Russia today? Catacomb
clergy do not confess this fact but remain in hiding until they are
caught by the police. We in the free West have little enough right to judge
someone there, in enslaved Russia, for failing to be an open confessor;
but if we insist on judging Fr. Dimitry for this, then we surely should condemn
the whole Catacomb Church for the same thing.
No one aware of church life
in Russia could possibly condemn Fr. Dimitry for not "joining the Catacomb
Church"; if he did, it would be a miraclebut it is not something we could
expect or demand of him.
In actual fact, Fr.
Dimitry’s activity in the past several years has been very much in the
spirit of the Catacomb Church in its early years. We have already mentioned his
"suffering Orthodoxy," his apocalyptic awareness, and his veneration of the
Tsar-martyr Nicholas II; further, his bold accusations against the betrayal of
Orthodoxy by his own bishops have not been heard in Russia since the days
of Metropolitan Joseph and other founders of the Catacomb Church in the late
1920’s; and the fervor of his heartfelt Orthodoxy is so far from the dreary
legalism of the Moscow Patriarchate that it can only be compared with that of
the early martyrs of the Catacomb Church in Russia.
Let us see now what Fr.
Dimitry himself has said about the Catacomb Church in Russia, about his own
attitude to the "Sergianism" of the Moscow Patriarchate, and about his view of
the church situation in general in Russia.
all recognize Patriarch Tikhon, and we look on Patriarch Sergius as a betrayal
of the Church’s interests to please the authorities. The following
(Patriarchs)Alexy and the present Pimenonly go on the road already opened. We
have no other hierarchy. The Catacomb Church would be goodbut where is it? The
True Orthodox Churchthese are good people, morally steadfast; but they have
almost no priesthood, and you simply can’t find them, while there are many who
are thirsting. And one has to be ministered to by the hierarchy we do have.
Immediately the question arises: are they ministering to us? Basically,
they are the puppets of the atheists. And another question: at least, are they
believers? Who will answer this question? I fear to answer. . .
"One should say a few words about the so-called Tikhonites, the True Orthodox
Christians. I have met them, rejoiced at their moral steadfastness, rejoiced
even at their conservatism, rejoiced at their courage and asceticism; but I’ve
taken a look at them, and they have no unanimity. And the chief thing about
them: they have almost no priesthood, the leadership has been taken over by
women dressed in black like nuns, who consider everyone to be heretics and only
themselves infallible. They should be put in a museumand I speak without
ironyin a museum where people could look at them and even learn something; but
after all, life is not a museum. Some of the "Tikhonites" have begun to preach
celibacy for everyone, but can everyone take this?
"Many of them suffer for years without communion. One such person came to me; I
spoke with him, and he received communion. And you should have seen how he
instantly came to life!
"And so, whether we wish or not, we must take into consideration the hierarchy
which we have. What should we do?
think that, being together with everyone, we should strive to revive church life.
But how? This question is like a nail driven into our brains. O Lord, have
You really abandoned us?
is easy to observe from outside, but how difficult it is to do somethingit is
unbearable, impossible. But one must do something.
"The question stands thus: either live or perish.
perish is not the same thing as deciding the question abstractly. And you who
try to draw a conclusion from she whole matterdo not take just one tendency be
an example. I think that everyone now wants to find a way out; we’re sick and
tired of atheism, it has become repugnant even to the atheists.
possible, carefully support ushere I appeal to the West. Try not to
remake us to somehow fit your own situation. The Russians have their own path.
You can lure them into another one, but you will see that you will get no good
"Each one goes on his own path. We are going on the path of Golgotha, a
difficult one; such is God’s will. If you support our crossthank you. We need
nothing more than this; we must find the way out ourselves. If we do this,
perhaps we will have something new to say to you also (Possev, July,
1979, pp. 37.38).
No open-minded Orthodox
Christian in the West can read such a statementwhich comes from a deeply
suffering Orthodox heartwithout feeling great sympathy for Fr. Dimitry and all
like him who are trying to find their way out of the literally unparalleled and
impossible situation in which they find themselves within the Moscow
Patriarchate and in an atheist society. One cannot quote canons to a drowning
person; we cannot turn away from such people and tell them to "join the Catacomb
Church" before we will offer them our support.
The agony of suffering
Orthodoxy in our days cannot always be by a change of jurisdictions. Even in the
free West the jurisdictional situation is immensely complicated. Some of those
who see things in terms of "either/or" think that all new calendarist Greeks,
for example, should simply "join the old calendarists." But many new calendarist
Greeks have found the situation of the old calendarists in Greecewith their
innumerable "jurisdictions" and sometimes extreme and ignorant viewsto be
exactly the same situation that Fr. Dimitry finds in the Catacomb Church in
Russia, and they have rejected this "logical conclusion" ("logical" to outsiders
who don’t have to face the actual choices involved) in order to join the Synod
of the Russian Church Outside of Russia. But this also is an irregular and
abnormal solution which produces its own conflicts and problems, and no one has
a right to demand of anyone else that they "join the Synod" as the answer to the
ever more open apostasy of the new calendarist Greek bishops. If someone can do
this, and find his place in this jurisdiction without falling into the pitfall
of criticizing his bishops and spreading the atmosphere of suspicion that
prevails among Greek old calendarists, and thus coming into conflict with the
clergy and believers of the Synod, well and good; but no one can demand
this of anyone.
The situation of Fr. Dimitry
in many respects is identical with that of those new calendarist Greek priests
who are aware of the false path of their own bishops but are unable to "join the
old calendarists" because of the confusion and extremism to be found in their
ranks (not, of course, among all old calendarists, but in enough of them
to make the situation very confusing and difficult). Fr. Dimitry does not have
the third alternative of "joining the Synod"although it is quite clear from his
own statements that this is precisely what he would do if the choice were his
(that is, if he were to he exiled to the West). Here, for example, are some of
his words about the Russian Church Outside of Russia in one of his last
tape-recorded talks before his arrest (Grebnevo, November, 1979):
"They have to preserve Tradition in the West. This is better and more convenient
for them. Let it be that it is the ‘old women’ there, but they also can do much.
We know who is pained over Russia, for whom Russia is dear, even if there
may be among them some extreme views. . .
"I will say that I am very thankful to the Synodal Church Outside of Russia,
because it is most of all people from there that, when they come here, I feel
they are ‘mine’; it is so pleasant to speak with them . . . Perhaps not everyone
in the Church Outside of Russia understands me, but for the most part they do
understand. And I’m not offended! When people from the autocephalous American
Church came, there were good talks; but I feel that they have a somewhat Western
outlook . . .
"They tell me that I am of a Slavophile tendency. I acknowledge, of course, that
I am really a Russian, a priest, and that I have a Russian attitude, without
being separate from the Fullness of the Church. Both a Russian priest and the
‘Russian Church’ are partial phenomena which must enter into the whole. But
before me always and first of all is the Church. It is to the Church
that I strive to bring people" (Vestnik of the Western European
Diocese of the Russian Church Outside of Russia, 1980, no. 16, p. 17).
In the Soviet Union, as
nowhere else in the world, it is impossible to apply strict
"jurisdictional" labels. In the Moscow Patriarchate there nave been betrayer
bishops, and the very principle of "Sergianism" is a betrayal of Orthodoxy, as
Fr. Dimitry has said; this is why the free Russian Church Outside of
Russia can have no communion with this jurisdiction. But in the same Moscow
Patriarchate there is an increasing number of priests like Fr. Dimitry Dudko who
do not participate in this betrayal, but speak in the spirit of the Catacomb
Church and the free Russian Church Outside of Russia. We even know of at least
one Catacomb priest (and probably there are others) who deliberately entered the
Moscow Patriarchate in order to bring the grace of God to more people than is
possible in the small cells of the Catacomb Church.
By no means all members of
the Catacomb Church itself share the extreme views with which Fr. Dimitry has
come into contact there. Metropolitan Cyril of Kazan and other leading hierarchs
of the Catacomb Church have regarded it as a blasphemy to deny that the
sacraments of the Moscow Patriarchate are grace-filled (see The Orthodox
Word, 1977, no, 75 P. 182). An articulate spokesman of the Catacomb Church
in the 1960’s has stated specifically that he does not condemn the reception of
Holy Communion in churches of the Moscow Patriarchate for those unable to endure
the Catacomb life or find the Catacomb Church; he says: "If the present days
were like the days of the Sergianist disturbance, I would tell you what I said
then: Go to churches which do not have communion with Metropolitan Sergius but
do not go to him and his partisans. But the times have changed. We have no
churches now in the USSR, and can we, who have gone into our, solitary cells and
find there everything which the churches gave us, forbid the thousands of
believers who do not have such an opportunity from seeking consolation
and spiritual food in the churches that exist, and can we condemn them because
they go there?" (Lev Regelson, The Tragedy of the Russian Church, YMCA
Press, 1977, p. 192). Many bishops of the Russian Church Outside of Russia have
said the same thing. One of the staunchest defenders of the Catacomb Church in
the Church Outside of Russia, Bishop Gregory (Grabbe), Secretary of the Synod of
Bishops, notes something that has been mentioned by many others both inside and
outside of Russia: "Zealots of the true faith in Russia have nurtured within
themselves a feeling of a certain type, which alerts then to those of the clergy
whom they can find to be true pastors, and to those they find to be otherwise (Orthodox
Life, 1979, no. 6, p. 40); thus, people cut off from the Catacomb
Church do receive communion from priests of the Moscow Patriarchate whom they
can trust. (Fr. Dimitry has described one such incident, quoted above), and we
cannot condemn them for this. The Synod of Bishops of the Russian Church Outside
of Russia, in view of all this, has decreed for all dioceses the commemoration
at the Proskomedia of Fr. Dimitry and other imprisoned priests and laymen of the
Moscow Patriarchate (Ukase no. 17 of Jan. 16/29, 1980; see The Orthodox Word,
1980, no. 90, p. 2); and as zealous a hierarch as Archbishop Andrew of
Novo-Diveyevo commemorated publicly at the Great Entrance of the Liturgy the
newly reposed hierarch of the Moscow Patriarchate, Archbishop Germogen, who
ended his life in disgrace with the church authorities because he would not
accept the dictation of the atheists.
None of this changes in the
least our basic attitude towards Sergianism is a betrayal of the church,
nor does it allow us who are free to enter into communion with the Moscow
Patriarchate. But it does persuade us that, far from viewing Fr. Dimitry and
others like him (such as Boris Talantov ten years ago) as jurisdictional
"enemies" because they do not "join the Catacomb Church," we should try to
understand better their extremely difficult situation and rejoice that such a
genuine Orthodox Christian phenomenon is coming even from the midst of the
compromised Moscow Patriarchatea proof that church life is not dead even there
and a promise that, once the political situation in Russia that produced
"Sergianism" will have changed, a full unity in the faith will be possible with
such courageous strugglers as Fr. Dimitry.
We do know that a Catacomb
bishop showed his concern, from the other world, that Fr. Dimitry be ordained to
the priesthood, even in the Moscow Patriarchate. This was Bishop Parthenius, a
vicar of the Odessa diocese, who died in a concentration camp in the 1930’s
without recognizing Metr. Sergius. Once, in the difficult days of 1960 when
Dimitry Dudko was despairing of ever being ordained (two years had passed since
his graduation from the theological academy, and he was still regarded with
suspicion by the church authorities as an ex-prisoner), the mother of his friend
Gleb Yakunin had a dream: "Bishop Parthenius was standing fully vested at the
table of preparation and told her: ‘I am caking out a small piece of prosphora
for your Mitya (Dimitry)on November 7 (20) he will be a deaconand a large
pieceon November 8 (21) he will be a priest."’ It happened as Bishop Parthenius
had foretold, and from that time Fr. Dimitry has always commemorated this
Catacomb bishop at the Liturgy as one of his own fathers in the faith. (A.
Levitin-Krasnov, in Russian Life, Jan. 22, 1975.)
3. IS FR. DIMITRY A "KGB AGENT’?
Yet another criticism of Fr.
Dimitry in the West is that he must be a KGB agent himself, or else he could not
have been so free in speaking and writing and even sending his sermons abroad
This is the reward of Fr.
Dimitry’s immense labor in confessing the truth of Orthodox Christianity! None
but an unloving, un-Christian heart could make such a cruel accusation after
reading Fr. Dimitry’s obviously suffering and heartfelt words; one can only
assume that these critics have not read his writings. Fr. Dimitry himself, just
before his arrest, wrote of his "sleepless nights" of agony and grief after
reading such criticisms in the Russian émigré press; and undoubtedly such
criticisms were used by the KGB in their attempt to "break" Fr. Dimitry and make
him think that even the Orthodox Russians abroad were against him.
Few critics abroad, to be
sure, have been quite so cruel, but a number of people have been unable to avoid
a certain mistrust of him; the Soviets, they think, must have some "plan" in
allowing Fr. Dimitry to speak so freely.
No one aware of Soviet
reality can doubt that the schemes of the KGB extend literally everywhere, and
that they seek to use the Church and its representatives for their own ends. But
let us only reflect for a moment in an Orthodox way: Fr. Dimitry speaks in the
spirit of age-old Orthodoxy and he speaks to the heart of the Russian (and not
only the Russian!) people today; he is very popular among the Orthodox people,
and so of course the Soviets would like to "use" him if they can. They
have also sent their agents into the Catacomb Church and have tried to "use"
conservative Orthodoxy by having such agents pose as anti-Communist
traditionalists. Theoretically, therefore, we have a right to distrust anyone
who speaks for Russian Orthodoxy. But it is one of the tricks of satan in
our times to sow discord and misunderstanding in the midst of Orthodox
Christians, and lack of trust for each other.
The obvious sincerity of Fr.
Dimitry Dudko can only be judged by a loving, struggling, Christian heart. If
such a truthful man as Fr. Dimitry can be mistrusted (as was Solzhenitsyn before
him), then where can trust be placed in our cold-hearted world? One will begin
to mistrust everyone around oneself, and end by closing oneself in a small group
of "reliable" peopleone of whom is probably a KGB agent!
The Orthodox answer to this unhealthy outlook can
only be based on a believing Christian heartwhich may sometimes be mistaken,
but, with God’s grace, will not be led entirely astray. The writings of Fr.
Dimitry before his "confession" are of such a character that one cannot
reasonably doubt their sincerity; they speak directly to the believing heart as
do few other Orthodox writings of our times. Whatever may become of Fr. Dimitry
now, these writings will remaindespite his forced "disowning" of thempart of
the important Orthodox literature of our century.
Fr. Dirnitry himself gives
an answer to this air of suspicion that has become so widespread now in the
Orthodox world: "Is it not time for us to learn to understand each other, to
help each other, to rejoice for each other? . . . Brethren, Russia is perishing,
the whole world is perishing, hiding itself behind a false prosperity, and we
hinder each other from doing the work of God!" (Possev, June,
1980, p. 52.)
4. IS FR. DIMITRY AN "ECUMENIST" AND A "HERETIC"?
A final criticism of Fr. Dimitry, made by some would-be zealots of Orthodoxy in
the West, is that he is an "ecumenist" and thus is literally a "heretic." This
accusation is made on one of two grounds:
a. He belongs to the Moscow
Patriarchate. which since 1970 has allowed Holy Communion to be given to Roman
Catholics and Old Believers in Russia, and thus is a "heretical" organization,
all of whose members are likewise "heretics."
b. In some of his writings
and sermons, Fr. Dimitry praises "ecumenisrn," and he does not condemn heterodox
Christians and does not state explicitly that Orthodoxy alone is the Church of
The first of these
accusations may be dealt with briefly: the decision of the Moscow Patriarchate
to give Holy Communion to the non-Orthodox (under certain restricted conditions)
is surely an anti-canonical act and one, perhaps, that is even heretical (if
those promulgating it actually believe that Roman Catholics can be part of the
Orthodox Church). As such it was condemned by the Sobor of Bishops of the
Russian Church Outside of Russia shortly after its promulgation (see The
Orthodox Word, 1971, no. 6, p. 301). But this canonical disorder does not as
such constitute a heresy that deprives all members of the given Church of the
grace of God. The same bishops of the Russian Church Outside of Russia who
condemned this act in 1971, in their Sobor of 1976 addressed the priests of the
Moscow Patriarchate as genuine Orthodox pastors, giving them the greeting
reserved only for Orthodox priests who have God’s grace: "Christ is in our
midst!" [See excerpts, belowWebmaster]. The Moscow Patriarchate has
worse faults than this (the chief of which is "Sergianism" itselfthe subjection
of the Church to dictation by atheists), but the free Russian Church has never
condemned it as "heretical." Fr. Dimitry cannot be called a "heretic" on this
basis, and those who attempt to do so find themselves at variance with the
bishops of the Russian Church Outside of Russia.
As for the second
accusation, even friends of Fr. Dimitry have to admit that in his earlier
writings he sometimes used the word "ecumenism" as a word of praise. This was
obviously done in ignorance of what the "ecumenical movement" actually is, and
any sympathetic Orthodox Christian in the West can readily overlook this fault
(as did Protopresbyter Michael Pomazansky in his review of Our Hope in
Orthodox Russia in 1976), as long is Fr. Dimitry is not teaching the actual
heresy of the ecumenical "super-church."
This brings us to a
fundamental question of definition: what is ecumenism? Some would-be
zealots of Orthodoxy use the term in entirely too imprecise a fashion, as though
the very use of the term or contact with an "ecumenical" organization is in
itself a "heresy." Such views are clearly exaggerations. "Ecumenism" is a
heresy only if it actually involves the denial that Orthodoxy is the true
Church of Christ. A few of the Orthodox leaders of the ecumenical movement have
gone this far; but most Orthodox participants in the ecumenical movement have
not said this much; and a few (such as the late Fr. Georges Florovsky) have
only irritated the Protestants in the ecumenical movement by frequently stating
at ecumenical gatherings that Orthodoxy is the Church of Christ. One must
certainly criticize the participation of even these latter persons in the
ecumenical movement, which at its best is misleading and vague about the nature
of Christ’s Church; but one cannot call such people "heretics," nor can one
affirm that any but a few Orthodox representatives have actually taught
ecumenism as a heresy. The battle for true Orthodoxy in our times is not
aided by such exaggerations. All the less, then, can one call Fr. Dimitry a
"heretic" for his naive praise of a movement in which he has never himself
But what are Fr. Dimitry’s
actual views about the Church of Christ? Is it really a matter of indifference
for him, as his critics say or imply, which Christian sect one might belong to?
These critics quote certain
statements of Fr. Dimitry (in his book Our Hope) which they think deny
the uniqueness of Orthodoxy: "We can’t look down upon those of other faiths" (p.
19); "rejoice that you’re Orthodox, but don’t look upon others as if they’d all
gone astray. God will judge us all, and we should leave such judgment to Him"
(p. 44); "the Catholics also form a church, and we don’t call them heretics" (p.
46). In some of these statements there are faultsstrictly speaking, for
example, Roman Catholics are indeed "heretics," as St. Mark of Ephesus stated
them to be. But these statements are addressed to simple people whose main
concern is not theological precision, but practical advice: how should we behave
towards the non-Orthodox? Fr. Dimitry’s replies are pastorally correct, even if
theologically sometimes imprecise. For this he cannot, by any stretch of the
imagination, be called a "heretic."
In actual fact, however, we
in the West have something to learn from Fr. Dimitry’s attitude towards the
non-Orthodox. Among Western converts to Orthodoxy (to speak of something close
to home) there is indeed a temptation to speak too freely of "heresy" and
"heretics," and to make the errors of the non-Orthodox an excuse for a certain
pharisaic smugness about our own "Orthodoxy." Even when it is worded in a
theologically correct manner, this attitude is spiritually wrong and
helps to drive away from the Orthodox Church many who would otherwise be
attracted to it. Fr. Dimitry’s attitude in this case, even if he sometimes
expresses it in an imprecise way, is a sound one, both for the avoidance of
phariseeism and a certain "sectarian" attitude on the part of his own Orthodox
flock, and for the conversion of the non-Orthodox. Fr. Dimitry emphasizes that
Orthodox Christians should go deeper into their own faith without judging the
non-Orthodox; he rightly says: "Anyone who grows conceited about his faith is
faithless" (Our Hope, p. 19), and again: "One can be Orthodox formally
and yet perish faster than someone who belongs to another faith. Orthodoxy is
joy at having found the truth, and the real Orthodox always looks at others with
love. But if belonging to the Orthodox Church is accompanied by irritation at
those who think otherwise, then one ought to doubt one’s belonging to Orthodoxy"
(p. 44). By such statements Fr. Dimitry does not at all "betray" the Orthodox
faith, as some think; he only encourages his flock to be first of all humble and
loving in their confession of Orthodoxy, and to avoid pride and irritable
"correctness," for these are sectarian and not Orthodox qualities (which is why
we should doubt our Orthodoxy if we have them) and will indeed cause us to be
judged more severely than those of another faith.
That Fr. Dimitry does indeed
confess Orthodoxy to be the true faith, and does not regard it a matter of
indifference what sect one might belong to, can be seen in numerous statements
he has made, many of them already translated into English. For example, in
Our Hope he states: "All religions
do, indeed, contain some truth in themsome more, others less. Therefore, I
welcome all religions and would like to find a common language with them all.
This, however, does not in any way exclude the fact that I myself consider
Christianity to be the only religion which satisfies all the needs of the
human spiritand moreover, Christianity in the Orthodox understanding . . . Now
if Christianity fails to satisfy someonethat’s a matter for his own conscience.
Let God judge himI won’t. But my opinion about such people is this: God hasn’t
yet revealed Himself to them from the Christian point of view. Seek and you will
findjust don’t try to create your own religion" (pp. 234-5).
Fr. Dimitry’s attitude to the non-Orthodox may be seen in his meetings with
Baptists and other sectarians:
Two young men somehow came to us. They were happy, polite, believing people. For a
long time we could not make out what confession they belonged to. But as the
conversation advanced it began to be felt that they were not Orthodox . . .
"What confession do you belong to?" I asked.
"And is that so important? We are Christians: with this, everything is said."
"Of course, Christians, that is good . . ."
They continued: "With the Catholics we are Catholics, with the Orthodox we are
Orthodox, with the Baptists we are Baptists . . .
"You can combine all these things right away?
"Of course . . ."
"And if all families would be poured together into one collective farm, so that
nobody knows who is father and who is mother?"
"Well, so what?"
"And how long have you been believers?"
"A year. . ."
"My, my! After a year you have been able to hold so much! Live a little longer
and you will be able to hold yet more . . .
Another incident: A Baptist came to me. (I try to be respectful to every one.)
He even came to beg pardon: somewhere in a conversation he had said about me
that I was "combining" everyone in myself, and people told him that he had
betrayed Father Dimitry, and the Orthodox might punish him.
"Of course," (I said,) I am respectful to everyone, but with this reservation: I am
strictly Orthodox. I strive to preserve my own character. This does not mean
that today I am one person and tomorrow somebody else. The attempt to create a
universal Christianity is a fantasy . . ."
"But I would like to be simply a Christian," the Baptist interrupted me.
"You can’t do that. For example, you come up against the Sacrament of Communion.
The Baptists perform this simply as a remembrance, while we Orthodox perform it
not only as a remembrance, but (believing) that this is the True Body and True
Blood , . ."
"One must choose and stand on a definite point of view."
. . . People ask: there are various churches; which is the right one?
Khomiakov, the Orthodox philosopher and theologian, and most important, a true
Christian in his life, has said: "The Church is known only by one who lives by
the life of the Church." Like is known by like. Live rightly and a little
longer, grow strong as is fitting, and here the Church will be also; but just
considering yourself churchly is not enough.
"One must live by the life of the Church!"
Further, noting in this same
place that Christian seminars are being started in Russia, Fr. Dimitry clearly
warns against the non-Orthodox, non- churchly attitude which is often present in
these seminars: About the seminars, he writes, "one can only rejoice. However,
one can also give a warning: strive not to break away from the Church, remember
that Christianity is not a matter simply of glittering with knowledge; here
spiritual experience is needed, and this is given by life in the Church." (Nikodemos,
Fall, 1979, pp. 28-30).
Thus, it is clear enough
that Fr. Dimitry strives to be "strictly Orthodox"; he is respectful towards
those of other religions, but he is quite firm that one cannot be "simply a
Christian" but must be definite in one’s beliefand in his opinion Orthodoxy is
the true belief. When he states that "for me Orthodoxy is correct," or "we
shouldn’t judge those of other faiths," we need not believe that he is denying
the objective truth that Orthodoxy is indeed the true Church of Christ; he is
simply expressing himself in a humble manner which, especially in Soviet
conditions where the people are just awakening to faith as opposed to atheism,
is very understandable, sharply distinguishes him from the sectarians who
proclaim loudly that everyone else is in error, and helps to make converts to
the Orthodox faith. Fr. Dimitry himself has baptised some 5000 adult
convertsitself a testimony that he is not "indifferent" as to which faith one
should belong to, and that his missionary approach is quite effective!
Some Orthodox people outside
of Russia who are aware of the actual indifferent and even non-Christian
character of the ecumenical movement, rather than condemn Fr. Dimitry for his
naive statements about it as an "ecumenist" and a "heretic," have written to him
warning him of its nature and perils. As a result, Fr. Dimitry’s later
statements reveal a different attitude towards it. Thus, in 1979 he wrote strong
words against the "progressive" tendency among some of the clergy of the Moscow
Patriarchate: "They are for reforms! They can do anythingboth lie and change
things. Their emphasis is on young people, no matter what kind they might be.
Anything is acceptable. Quantity! Throw dust in their eyes! They can collaborate
with anyone you pleasewith the state security organs (KGB), with other
confessions. ‘Ecumenism’ is their slogan. I am afraid that one can create a
church in one’s own image and likenessa church of evil and cunning men" (Possev,
July, 1979, p. 37). In this and other articles he confesses himself to he a
"conservative" in church matterseven to the extent of admiration for the
Catacomb Church in Russia and the most traditional elements of the
Russian Church Outside of Russia.
Such a man cannot be
regarded as a ‘heretic" or an "ecumenist." This accusation comes from ignorance
or a misreading of his actual views. Those people who are applying these false
names to Fr. Dimitry today, if they do not see the error of their views, will
undoubtedly be applying them in the near future to the bishops and priests of
the Russian Church Outside of Russia, as well as to certain spokesmen of the
Catacomb Church in Russia, with whom Fr. Dimitry is in agreement.
WHAT IS FR. DIMITRY’S MESSAGE FOR US?
We have tried to defend Fr.
Dimitry from the unfair accusations made against him by people who have acted in
ignorance or out of a lack of sympathy for the situation of suffering Russia
today. No one will deny that Fr. Dimitry has faults and has made mistakes: but
none of these justify the evil slanders that have been heaped upon him: "agent,"
betrayer," ‘heretic." He has been a courageous priest preaching the Orthodox
Gospel of Christ in an almost impossible situation; and he has deserved our full
support and ardent prayers. These prayers are warmly offered by the clergy of
the Russian Church Outside of Russia both at the Proskomedia, in accordance with
the decree of the Synod of Bishops, and at other parts of the Divine services.
Now, of course, he has
"recanted" his sermons and writings. Should our attitude towards him change?
The Russian Church has known
a similar situation in this century. Patriarch Tikhon, after his imprisonment in
1922, began to make statements and issue decrees which indicated a certain
compromise with the atheist authorities, in sharp contrast to his uncompromising
statements and decrees made before that time. The free Russian Church accepts
his earlier statements, which remain part of the inalienable heritage of the
suffering Russian church in the 20th centuryso much so that even the absolutely
uncompromising Catacomb church continues to regard itself as "Tikhonite"; but
the statements made after his imprisonment, obviously issued under compulsion,
are disregarded without any doubt being thereby cast upon him as an Orthodox
confessor and new martyr.
Towards Fr. Dimitry we
cannot but have the same attitude. His truer statements will continue to be
regarded as an important part of the Orthodox confession and teaching of the
suffering Russian Church under Communism, but his "recantation" and any
subsequent statements that contradict what he said earlier must be rejected.
Archbishop Anthony of
Geneva, of the Russian church Outside of Russia, has noted how much closer
Fr. Dimitry is now to those who look at suffering Orthodox Russia with
sympathy and love: "By the ‘repentance’ of Fr. Dimitry, the atheists have
deceived not us, but themselves, in that now the whole world understands what
frightful means for the murder of the human will and personality the
contemporary persecutors of Christ are using! . . This mockery of Fr. Dimitry
has made him even closer to us, our own brother in Christ, not only a confessor
but also a martyr; it has allowed us to participate in his sufferings. It is not
doubt and uncertainty that should take hold of us, but the firm conviction of
our victory, by the power of Him Whom Fr. Dimitry serves so sincerely and with
such self-sacrifice" (Orthodox Russia, 1980, no. 15, p. 1).
But the question of our
attitude to Fr. Dimitry is not limited to his person; behind him stands the
whole Orthodox revival of the much-suffering Russian peoplea revival to which
the atheist authorities hope they have given a fatal blow by "breaking" Fr.
Dimitry. Fr. Dimitry has helped to lead the way in this revival; but others will
follow. Our attitude towards Fr. Dimitry will indicate what attitude we have to
this Orthodox revival in Russia.
From the time when Fr. Dimitry’s sermons and writings became known in the West
in the mid-1970’s, he was accepted as a genuine manifestation of Holy Russia by
the most responsible and conservative elements in the Russian Church Outside of
Russia. This was in spire of the almost universal initial reluctance to listen
to him because, "after all, he is in the Moscow Patriarchate." The free Russian
Church, one may say, took him to heart and, without changing in the least its
uncompromising stand towards the "Sergianism" of the Moscow Patriarchate,
recognized in Fr. Dimitry an authentic representative of the deep religious and
Orthodox awakening of the Russian people.
This was not in the least a
"liberal fashion," as some enemies of Fr. Dimitry would like to make it out. It
was precisely the older, more conservative generation of Russian theologians who
led the way in the discovery of Fr. Dimitry among us. Thus, Fr. Michael
Pomazansky, the preeminent theologian of the Russian Church Abroad and surely
(in his late 80’s then) a leading "conservative" of this Church, gave great
praise to the book Our Hope, even while noting that one should not be put
off by Fr. Dimitry’s superficial praise of "ecumenism," which he excused owing
to Fr. Dimitry’s ignorance of this movement (Orthodox Russia, 1976). Fr.
Sergei Shukin (now reposed), at 80 years of age one of the last of the real
zealots of Orthodoxy in Russia in the 1920’s, wrote a review of Our Hope
and other writings of Fr. Dimitry, highly recommending them to Orthodox readers
and affirming that "in them we feel that in the Soviet Union there is truly
occurring a spiritual awakening" (Russian Word in Canada, Sept., 1976, p.
Archbishop Vitaly of
Montreal, in the foreword to the second of Fr. Dimitry’s books which he has
published, calls Fr. Dimitry "a fearless confessor of the true Orthodox Church.
. . Only the grace of the Holy Spirit strengthens his always limited human
powers, inspires him in the exploit of confession and martyrdom, and places in
his words a divine fire which burns the hearts of men" (Sunday Talks,
St. Job Brotherhood, Montreal, 1977, p. 5).
Archbishop Anthony of Los
Angeles, who is always most strict in his judgments regarding church life in the
Soviet Union, has quoted pages of Fr. Dimitry’s writings in the church press,
noting that "although we do not agree with everything in the book of this
exceptionally gifted priest, we cannot deny his faith, sincerity, and lively
talent," and he cites Fr. Dimitry’s words as proof that "in Russia a great and
for us a tremblingly-joyful religious rebirth is occurring" (Orthodox Russia,
1976, no. 18, pp. 5-6).
One could also cite the
enthusiastic solidarity shown for Fr. Dimitry by Archbishop Anthony of Geneva,
Archbishop Anthony of San Francisco, the official periodical of the dioceses of
Western Europe and Australia, the leading church organ of the Russian Church
AbroadOrthodox Russiaand numerous bishops and priests, all of which
testify that the best part of the Russian Church Outside of Russia has found in
Fr. Dimitry a priest who is one in spirit with them in their battle for true
Orthodoxy. Bishop Gregory (Grabbe) of Manhattan has written: "Those in Russia
who are holding fast to Orthodoxy and preaching the truth, not submitting to the
influence of outside powers, are not merely our allies, but our brethren in one
and the same Church" (Orthodox Life, 1979, no. 6, p. 40). That is why the
Sobor of Bishops in 1976, in the official epistle representing the views of
Metropolitan Philaret and all the bishops of the Russian Church Outside of
Russia, declared to the courageous priests of the Moscow Patriarchate who are
following Fr. Dimitry’s path: "We kiss the Cross which you have taken upon
yourselves, O pastors who have found the courage and power of spirit to be open
accusers of the faintheartedness your hierarchs who have capitulated to the
atheists. . . We know of your exploit, we read about you, we read what you have
written, we pray for you and ask your prayers for our flock in the Diaspora.
Christ is in our midst! He is and shall be!"
This is not the enthusiasm of a moment; it is not a blind following of some new
intellectual fashion. It is rather the deep response of the best part of the
free Russian Church to the re-awakening voice of true Orthodoxy in Russiaa
response which is all the more heartfelt in that it sees that Fr. Dimitry and
others like him have something important to say to us in the free world also.
This response of the Russian
Church Outside of Russia is quite remarkable in the contemporary Orthodox world,
which is characterized by canonical and doctrinal looseness at one extreme, and
a self-righteous "correctness" on the other. We in the free Russian Church are
in one and the same Church with Fr. Dimitry, even though we have no communion
with his hierarchs and even with him (until he becomes free of them). Fr.
Dimitry himself has expressed this paradox well: "The unity of the Church at the
present time consists in division . . . Right now we cannot be one; we must be
separate in order to preserve unity. The kind of unity where they want to drive
us all into a single herdthis is precisely the worst kind of division . . . We
must all learn to understand each other, to be tolerant towards each other. This
will also be a pledge of our unity. Let everyone be guided by his own
conscience; each one stands or falls before God, and God will judge everyone . .
. But this does not mean that one should not stand up for the rightness of his
own jurisdiction and even consider others to be in error. One must look more
widely through the narrow gates of love; the commandment of love is wide. Live
as your conscience says, choose according to your conscience, battle according
to your conscienceand you will preserve unity!" (Vestnik of the Russian
Student Christian Movement, 1979, no. 129, p. 272).
Those who try to see
everything in terms of the canons regarding officially "schismatic"
organizations will not wish to understand this message, which has been taken so
much to heart by the free Russian Church. Yet this is precisely the teaching of
one of the founding fathers of the Catacomb Church of Russia, Metropolitan Cyril
of Kazan, who fought against the "legalistic" understanding of the Church’s laws
which Metr. Sergius was advocating. He wrote to Metr. Sergius in 1929:
"It amazes you that, while refraining from celebrating Liturgy with you, I
nonetheless do not consider either myself or you to be outside the Church. ‘For
church thinking such a theory is completely unacceptable,’ you declare; ‘it is
an attempt to keep ice on a hot grill.’ If in this case there is any attempt on
my part, it is not to keep ice on a hot grill, but rather to melt away the ice
of a dialectical-bookish application of the canons and to preserve the
sacredness of their spirit" (The Orthodox Word, 1977, no. 75, p. 183).
The leading canonical expert
in the Russian Church Outside of Russia, Bishop Gregory (Grabbe), has written
that the canons of the Church "give the reaction of the Church to persecution of
the Faith under the conditions of the first centuries of Christianity. Now,
apparently, there also exist other causes unforeseen 1700 years ago and which
we, outside the Soviet Union, cannot assess. For this reason alone we have been
compelled to abstain from very decisive judgments concerning personalities and
certain phenomena of the religious life of the Soviet Union, both from
condemning them and approving them, with the exception of individual cases that
are sufficiently clear" (Orthodox Life, 1979. no. 6, p. 43). This caution
in applying the canons to church life in Russia has enabled us to be both strict
in condemning "Sergianism" (even though it is accepted as "canonically correct"
by most of the Orthodox world) and supportive of priests like Fr. Dimitry who
are with us in our anti-Sergianism even while belonging (for outward reasons) to
the Moscow Patriarchate.
What is happening in Russia,
so difficult to puzzle out for the logical mind, is much more easily understood
by the believing Orthodox heart. And it must be understood by us in the
free world. Fr. Dimitry speaks to us: "We must understand that what is being
done in Russia today is being done for the whole world. And if they will
understand our experience, they will not suffer everything that we have
suffered. But if they will not understand, then, as Solzhenitsyn has said, only
Gulag can bring them to their senses. May God grant it may not be thus!" (Vestnik
of the Western European Diocese of the Russian Church Outside of Russia,
1980, no. 16, p. 14.)
The Gulag, the Golgotha of
Russia, may indeed come to us for our sins; but will it produce the Orthodox
revival which Russia is now undergoing? Let us admit that, seeing the awakening
of Orthodox Russia in the midst of unparalleled sufferings and difficulties, our
own feeble, comfortable, calculating, "correct" Orthodoxy is exposed for the
pitiful thing it is; and let us take our example from the suffering, heartfelt
Orthodoxy of Fr. Dimitry and his fellow strugglers. They are calling us to a
deeper and more genuine Orthodoxy. If we do not hear their call, we could indeed
have an Orthodoxy that is only a "museum-piece"as proper and correct as you
want, but without the fire of true zeal and love which our Lord came upon this
earth to ignite.
* Religion and Atheism in the USSR, December, 1974, p. 2.
From The Orthodox Word, No. 92 (Vol. 16. No. 3, May-June 1980), pp. 115-122, 127-138.
Excerpts from the Epistles of the 1976 Sobor of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russian, especially
"To the Russian People in their Homeland"
To Priests of the Moscow Patriarchate
We kiss the Cross which you also have taken upon
yourself, O pastors who have found the courage and the power of spirit to be
open accusers of the faintheartedness of your hierarchs who have capitulated to
the atheists, to be fearless gatherers and instructors of those who seek
spiritual foodfirst of all, young people. We know of your exploit, we read
about you, we read what you have written, we pray for you and ask your prayers
for our flock in the Diaspora. Christ is in our midst! He is and shall be!
The Orthodox Revival in Russia
The life of the Church
continues even under the pressure of atheism, often taking, thanks to the
pressure and violence, forms unusual in peaceful circumstances, breaking out
through the bonds and chains into the freedom of spirit and the victory of the
children of God!
With love we follow this process in our Homeland
and rejoice over it. We know how difficult it is, especially for young people,
to find Christ after the atheist upbringing they have received in school. This
is why they often waver between Orthodoxy, Roman Catholicism, and the sects. But
Prince Vladimir, who renounced paganism at the end of the tenth century, did not
waver. He became Orthodox, finding in Orthodoxy the true Faith, and he placed
Russia upon the historical Orthodox path. We believe that if you will seek the
truth freely, sincerely and honestly, you will go on his path.
We know that among you some
are attracted by so-called "ecumenism." We fully understand that the rightless
and persecuted want to feel the support of a neighbor, of someone who is also a
believer, even though in some other way. Against this one cannot object . . .
But even under the best of mutual relations, there is still a boundary which an
Orthodox Christian cannot cross, where the "holy of holies" of the true Faith