A Conversation About Modernism
What follows is a conversation between Fr. Alexander
Lebedeff and an inquirer to the Orthodox Faith. The content was drawn from numerous email
postings to the Orthodox List Forum (a.k.a., the "Indiana List") in 1996. I took
the liberty of piecing them together to form one complete conversation.
I am a Roman Catholic who is inquiring into the Orthodox Faith. I have some
friends in the OCA who have gotten me interested in your church. I am attracted to
Orthodoxy, but also quite confused by all of the divisions I see in the Orthodox Church
today. People are arguing about a lot of issues, many of which seem trite. Can you please
explain to me the reason for all of this? It is all so bewildering.
I am happy to address your important question. At the outset I would like to say that the
opinions I express are my own, and do not necessarily represent the official position of
the ROCOR (Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia), in which I have been a Priest for
In my honest opinion, world Orthodoxy is now experiencing a polarization into two camps:
for lack of a better term one can think of them as "traditionalists" and
As we all know, the 19th century saw the development of liberal ideas that ultimately led
to the revolution in Russia. A number of the clergy in the Russian Orthodox church had
become involved in the liberal movement and wished to "liberalize" the Church.
Their proposals included: a change to the New Calendar (the Gregorian Calendar, introduced
by Pope Gregory XIII at the end of the 16th century and rejected by all the Orthodox
churches at that time, who continued to use the traditional Julian Calendar); married
Bishops; permission for Priests to marry a second time; shortening of services; reduction
of fasting periods and the strictness of the fasts; use of non-clerical garb by clergy
outside of the church; eliminating the traditional requirement of beards and long hair for
clergy; and many other innovations.
These Priests became the kernel of the so-called "renovationist" movement in
early post-revolutionary Soviet Russia, which cooperated with them, since they expressed
complete support for the Communist regime. Most of the church buildings in the Soviet
Union were transferred to the renovationists, and those who didn't cooperate (the
followers of Patriarch Tikhon) were persecuted and often killed.
At the same time, a rather interesting figure had had himself elected to the office of
Patriarch of Constantinople, Meletios Metaxakis. This individual had previously been
ArchBishop of Athens, then Patriarch of Alexandria. It is not exactly clear how he had
been able to be the head of three independent local Orthodox Churches in succession.
Suffice it to say, it is known that he was a Freemason and had "connections."
He was extremely modernist in his views. He supported all of the above-mentioned
innovations of the renovationists, and shocked the Orthodox world by appearing in a
civilian suit. In 1923 he instituted an official change to the new calendar, although the
other innovations he proposed did not go through. He also recognized the Renovationists in
Soviet Russia as the true Church of Russia and joined in their condemnation and deposition
of Patriarch Tikhon.
To make a long story short, as a result of the calendar innovation, the Orthodox world was
divided. Some of the Orthodox churches remained Old Calendar, some accepted the New, and
the liturgical unity of the Church was shattered. In Greece, the introduction of the new
calendar caused extraordinary upheaval and physical persecution of the old-calendarists
The calendar question is one of extraordinary significance to "traditionalist"
Orthodox, although it is presented as a matter of little importance by the
new-calendarists ("This is not an issue of dogma, Father, just custom,"
one hears). The answer, of course, is that the Pope's calendar innovation had been
condemned many times by pan-Orthodox Councils, so it is not a matter of "taste."
So how has this affected Orthodoxy in the United States? Today one can see the
following: New-calendar churches, typically, have accepted many of the
"trappings" of Roman Catholic and Protestant churches. They, for the most part,
have pews in their churches, some have organs (!) and electronic carillons instead of
bells, their Priests, and in some cases even Bishops, most often wear "clerical
collars" and suits (outside of the services), almost all clergy have short hair and
trimmed or no beards, and like to be called "Father Tom," or "Father
Al." The services are typically shortened, frequently even Saturday-night Vigil
services are eliminated. The new-calendarists have relatively few monasteries and monastic
clergy. Many churches thrive on Bingo, and almost all have lay "presidents" of
the congregation, who, together with a parish council, direct the affairs of the church.
Being a Freemason is not considered to be in conflict with Orthodoxy.
On the other hand, traditionalist Orthodox parishes will never have pews, organs and
the like; their clergy will never be seen without a rasson (they wouldn't be caught dead
wearing a "dog collar" and "clergy shirt"!); no one would dream of
addressing them as "Father Tom"; they typically do not cut their hair or beards
(unless required by outside employment); the services follow a much fuller Typicon; the
Priests are rectors of their parishes and they are themselves the "presidents"
of the parish corporations, with the parish council acting in a more advisory role; there
are far more monastic clergy and many monasteries and convents. Freemasonry is soundly
condemned as incompatible with Orthodoxy.
Another significant area dividing traditional Orthodox from their "modernist"
brethren is the area of Ecumenism. To a traditionalist Orthodox, ecumenism is an outright
heresy, condemned by innumerable Councils who clearly forbid praying with heretics. The
new-calendarists, on the other hand, are very active participants in the
"ecumenical movement," in the WCC and the NCC, notwithstanding the incredible
mixture of paganism, new-world thinking, radical feminism, and other weird stuff that goes
on at WCC assemblies.
Unfortunately, the last three Patriarchs of Constantinople (Athenagoras, Demetrius,
and, now, Bartholemew, have been rabid ecumenists. Patriarch Bartholemew, at least at the
time he was Metropolitan) had frequently been photographed in a civilian business suit
(with tie, not even an ecclesiastical collar), and studied at the Papal Institute in Rome.
He recent meetings with the Pope underscore his desire to reunite with Rome by the year
2000. He, and other ecumenically-oriented Eastern Patriarchs have virtually accepted the
Monophysite heretics as valid Orthodox, without making them renounce their views or accept
the Orthodox position regarding the Divine and human natures of Christ.
All this is appalling to traditionalist Orthodox, who wish to preserve the faith of the
Apostles and the Fathers without any change.
As a Roman Catholic, some of this may be familiar to you. You may remember the upheaval
that was caused in the RC church when wholesale modernization took place. The traditional
Orthodox will struggle to keep this from happening within Orthodoxy. Although a relatively
small part of the contemporary Orthodox population, the traditionalists (comprising the
Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia, which has 400 clergy outside of Russia; the old
calendarist churches of Greece, Bulgaria, Roumania, and like-minded Orthodox throughout
the world) will continue to witness for the purity of Orthodoxy and against the heresies
of modernism and ecumenism that have, so unfortunately, infected so much of World
While there are some fanatical fringe groups within the traditionalist movement (who aver
that everyone else is devoid of grace), the majority of traditionalists do not agree. They
consider the other (modernist) Orthodox to still be Orthodox, although in grave error, and
pray for their return to the path of traditional Orthodoxy, as preserved by the Church for
2000 years. Among the "modernists" there is also a fanatic fringe, who consider
the traditionalist Orthodox to be "schismatics" and outside the Church.
I think we should let the two fanatic fringes shout themselves out, while the more
rationally-minded traditionalist and new-calendar Orthodox Christians should engage in
peaceful and constructive dialogue in non-confronational places such as this forum, and of
course, pray for each other as brothers and sisters in Christ.
In closing, I should point out that there are ROCOR parishes that have some of the same
ills as I have mentioned above. I do not wish to give the appearance of oversimplifying a
complex situation in order to make the point that there were significant differences
between the appearance and praxis of "traditionalist" and "modernist"
Orthodox in America.
Certainly, there are ROCOR parishes that shorten the Typicon far beyond reason. There are
ROCOR Priests who have no beards and short hair. Some ROCOR clergy (mostly deacons),
appear among parishioners wearing suits. Some parishes are run by a Church board with a
lay president. In fact, some ROCOR parishes may even have pews! At the same time, there
are some parishes in "modernist" jurisdictions with no pews, with Priests who
preserve traditional clergy appearance and garb, who follow a full Typicon, etc.
Still, these may be the proverbial exceptions that prove the rule. I am speaking of
new-calendarist jurisdictions as a whole, and not any specific one. You have friends in
the OCA, which definitely can be characterized as a "modernist" jurisdiction.
However, compared to, say, the Antiochian Orthodox in the USA, the OCA is more
traditional. I remember being alternately amused and appalled at a photograph I saw in the
Word (the Antiochian magazine) some time in 1982 (or so). It was a picture of Metropolitan
Philip dressed in a cowboy suit, complete with bandana and six-shooter (his panagia was
tucked into his shirt pocket). The Archdiocese was having its annual convention in Dallas,
Texas, and the Metropolitan decided to "dress for the occasion." The six-shooter
was pointed at the reader, with the inscription "Pay your diocesan assessment, or
else," or something similar. I imagine no OCA Bishop would have been caught dead in
such a ludicrous get-up. I, in fact, have never seen a picture of Metropolitan Philip in a
rason except when the Patriarch of Antioch comes to visit. But this type of external
appearance, together with big cigars, is a long-standing tradition from the time of
Metropolitan Anthony Bashir. Can you blame traditionalist Orthodox for being scandalized?
I am certain that there are extremely dedicated, competent, and serious clergy and lay
people in the OCA. There are also some serious problem situations among the clergy and
parishes of the ROCOR. Neither changes my admittedly generalized picture of
"modernist" vs. "traditionalist" poles of Orthodoxy in America. The typical
OCA parish is new calendar, has pews, clergy wearing Western-style clerical suits and
collars, and a much-shortened typicon. The typical ROCOR parish does not.
Exceptions exist on both sides, but do not change the substance of the dichotomy. Also,
the OCA is definitely involved in the ecumenical movement, with the Chancellor of the OCA,
Fr. Leonid Kishkovsky, actually having served for a time, relatively recently, as a
President of the National Council of Churchessomething I doubt any clergyman of the
ROCOR would ever think to do.
So there are differences, of substance as well as form. To deny this would be to deny
OK, this makes sense. On the old calendar, though, my OCA friends tell me
that their Bishops allow each parish to choose which calendar to use. Isn't this a fair
compromise that keeps the Tradition?
This position of the OCA (to have both old and new calendar parishes) has always amazed
me. As far as I know, lay members of parishes were actually allowed to vote as to
which calendar to follow. This must be a first in the history of the Churchlay
people making decisions regarding the calendar by which the Church lives (and, as a living
organism, one could saybreathes). People without any theological education are given
the authority to decide serious theological issues? I fear that the best they could do
would be to vote for what was most convenient for them. In my view, it would have been
much better for the Bishops of the OCA to have made a conciliar decision that would have
been binding on all parishesone way or another, but with unity in the calendar among
all the parishes.
To an Orthodox Christian, the Calendar of the Church directs much of his life. According
to the calendar, he knows when to fast, when to prepare for major Feast Days, when to
celebrate these Feast days and for how long after. We all look forward to the next feast
day, to the next fast period.
Imagine yourself a Bishop in the OCA with parishes under both calendars. How do you direct
your life? In one parish, you may be celebrating the Nativity and breaking the 40-day
Nativity Lent. The next week (or even day, you may be celebrating Liturgy in a parish
under the old calendar, whose members are still strictly fasting and still awaiting the
arrival of the Feast of the Nativity. How can your own spiritual cycle of anticipation and
celebration be reconciled with this? Do you in your heart follow the calendar you believe
to be correct, and then pretend to celebrate with those who follow a different one?
This is not an enviable position.
I know that in Paris, at one time, the situation was even worse. In the same cathedral,
the upper church was old calendar and the lower church was new. On January 6 (n.s.) the
upper Church was in strict fast, serving the Liturgy for the Eve of the Nativity. In the
lower church, at the same time, they were celebrating the Feast of Theophany and
blessing water. Nativity had long come and gone...
Does this make sense?
One can think of the Orthodox Church Julian Calendar is a marvellous machine, consisting
of several gears, intricately intermeshing. It combines Menaion cycle (based solely on the
date) with two paschal cycles (that of the current year and of the next), the daily cycle
and eight weekly cycles. It is so wondrous that the full cycle repeats only every 532
The new calendar reform was very much the same as throwing a monkey-wrench into this
intricate machinery. By keeping the paschal cycles intact and changing the Menaion cycle,
absurdities began to occur, such as the well-known one where the Fast of the Apostles (one
of the most ancient institutions of the Church) actually ends before it begins!
(this happens every few years under the "new" calendar, when there is a very
late Pascha, since the beginning of the fast (eight days after Pentecost) depends upon the
time of Pascha, while the end comes on a fixed calendar datethe Feast of Sts. Peter
How do New Calendarists reconcile themselves to the disappearance of one of the four major
fast periods of the year? Don't they realize that this cannot in any way be what the holy
fathers of the Church intended when they established these fasting and festal periods?
For a nominal Orthodox, who goes to Church on Sundays (occassionally), these issues are
relatively unimportant. For an Orthodox Christian trying to guide his life by the life of
the Church as expressed in its marvellous calendar, this is a critical issue.
But why all the arguing? There seems to be a fair amount of hostility
between Orthodox. This is especially evident on the Orthodox email forums.
To a traditionalist Orthodox, the modernist innovations are a departure from the
established path of Orthodoxy, so you should understand that the traditionalists will
defend what they believe is the way the Church has taught and practiced throughout the
They deplore the new calendar, pews, organs, no royal doors (or always open royal doors)
or curtains, Bishops and Priests in business suits or clergy shirts, clean-shaven clergy,
clergy that smokes, shortening of services, laxity regarding fasting practice, general
confession or no confession before Communion, lack of Saturday night vigil services,
Saturday weddings, twice-married clergy, participation in the ecumenical movement,
lack of strictness regarding monophysite heretics, reception of heterodox through
Chrismation rather than Baptism, and a host of other new things that are not in keeping
with established Orthodox practice.
Traditionalist Orthodox feel strongly about these things. To them, correct faith and
practice (Orthodoxy and Orthopraxy) are indivisible. When they speak of these practices as
being common in a particular jurisdiction, it should be taken as an expression of sincere
concern, rather than hatred.
As I said, there are many very sincere and pious clergy and faithful in the Greek and
Antiochian jurisdictions. There are many very admirable programs of outreach to
non-Orthodox as well, especially among the Antiochians, and many, many people have been
brought into the Holy Church as a result. This is wonderful.
The traditionalists would be concerned as to whether what these new members of the
Church have been given a "watered down," American-style "EZ
Orthodoxy," rather than the fullness of the faith and practice of the Church as
handed down through the ages.
It is not an ethnic question. Many of the traditionalist posters to this list, Fr. Alexis
Duncan, Fr. David Moser, Fr. Anthony Nelson, Fr. Seraphim Holland, and others, are all
American converts to Orthodoxy themselves. They may be part of the Russian Orthodox Church
Abroad, but none are Russian. In their parishes, they mostly serve in English (some, only
in English). Many have had exposure to modernist jurisdictions, but have come to believe
that if Orthodoxy is to be taught and lived, it must be taught and lived the way it has
been for centuries. These Priests don't want to look like Anglican Fr. Bob down the
street. They don't want their churches to look like Fr. Bob's down the street, either. To
them, there is absolutely no reason to "Americanize" the Orthodox Church by
copying practices of the non-Orthodox.
Orthodoxy should stand on its own. As I said before, our goal should be to make America
Orthodox, not to make Orthodoxy American.
Some of these matters seem to be "little things." But Our Lord told us that
those who are faithful in little things will be put in charge of bigger things. Although
your Orthodoxy is not measured by the length of your Priest's beard, even little things
like that can matter. You get used to accepting little deviations from Orthodox practice,
and pretty soon you're in danger of throwing out the baby with the bath water. There is a
point when you're watering down grape juice when it begins to taste more like water than
grape juice. It may still look purple, but it doesn't taste right.
I deplore "jurisdiction-bashing" as much as anyone. But I feel that I have
the responsibility to point out deviations from Holy Tradition when I see them. I am
opposed not to jurisdictions, not to their Bishops, Priests, or faithful, but to those practices,
which I feel are not in keeping with Orthodoxy.
We should be able to discuss these things without nastiness, name-calling,
finger-pointing, etc. But these unfortunate distinctions between traditionalist and
modernist Orthodox are real, not imaginary, and it would be yet another departure from the
tradition of the Holy Church to ignore themthe history of the Church gives us plenty
of examples of saints who stood up for their faith, sometimes alone, facing Emperors,
Patriarchs, and popular opinion. History has shown them to be right.
Would you mind saying a few more words about what you call "little
things," as they do often seem fairly petty?
Many people often assume that things traditionalist Orthodox get upset about are merely
"little t" traditionsthings that are really ethnic variants or that are of
little consequence. This disturbs me, for all of these "little things" are part
of the greater Holy Tradition of the Church, so that the division between "little
t" and "big T" traditions I find arbitrary, artificial, and harmful.
Especially in a country where Orthodoxy is relatively new and little known among the
general population, one would think that it would make sense to be extremely careful in
keeping all of the traditions strictly. Orthodoxy in America is young, and needs the
support of valid traditions, just as a newly planted sapling needs to be tied between two
solid stakes before it can be allowed to grow on its own. If there are no stakes to
support it, it will bend and grow crooked, rather than straight. These solid stakes are
Holy Tradition, expressed in many ways, including little things, which may seem
unimportant, but, cumulatively, can be very significant. Just as a bag of tiny pebbles can
outweigh a rock, so can an accumulation of little departures from established tradition
outweigh a major departure from the faith.
It is not a matter of just one national custom or another. Let's take liturgics. In the
Russian Orthodox Church, we get our instruction on how to do the services from the
Typikon, a heavy volume full of rubrics on how to put the services together. The rubrics
for just the service of the Annunciation probably span 50 pages, with every possible
combination of this Feast with each day of Great Lent and Pascha Week worked out in
detail. Remember, the Orthodox services repeat exactly only once every 532 years!
The Typikon used by the Russian Church is the Typikon of St. Savva's Monastery in the
Holy Land. (The other widely-used Typikon is that of the Great Church in Constantinople).
It is this Typikon that tells us when to serve Vigil Services, when to open and close the
curtain and the Royal Doors.
So, it is not a matter of local or ethnic practicethe correct way to do the
services is clearly written in the Typikon. You either do it correctly or you don't.
One thing to keep in mind. You hardly need the Typikon for Sunday Divine Liturgy, where
very little changes from week to week.
Unfortunately, in this country, people have become accustomed to the idea that being a
believer means going to church on Sundays (or at least some Sundays), Christmas and
Easter. Well, not for the Orthodox. The Orthodox have an extremely rich liturgical
calendar. Of all of the richness of Orthodox liturgical texts, perhaps 1/10 of 1 percent
is used at Sunday Liturgies, so if that's all you attend you are missing 99.9%.
Pious Orthodox believers live their lives by the calendar of the churchfrom feast
to feast, from fast to fast. They even speak of dates only by the Church feast days:
"I'm going to visit my parents in New Jersey right after
TransfigurationI'll be back by Dormition," they'll say. The church calendar is
the heartbeat of the life of the churchtrue Orthodox Christians tune their own lives
to be in keeping with it.
Actually, the Church is a radiant joyevery single day of the year is a feast day!
Every day of the year is the feast day of a saint (actually of a large number of saints),
so we are continually celebrating. Those in tune with the life of the Church look forward
to the next major feast day or major saint's day. On the eve of these days, vigil services
are held, and on the day itselfDivine Liturgy.
Let's take the month of July. This is particularly rich in special holy daysin
our parish we celebrate Sts. Cosmas and Damian (July 1), the Royal Martyrs of Russia (July
4), St. Sergius of Radonezh (July 5), The Kazan Icon of the Mother of God (July 8), St.
Anthony of the Kiev Caves (July10), St. Olga, Enlightener of Russia (July 11), St.
Vladimir, Enlightener of Russia (July 15), St. Seraphim of Sarov (July 19), The Holy
Prophet Elias (Elijah) (July 20), St. Mary Magdalene (July 22), Sts. Boris and Gleb (July
24), and St. Panteleimon (July 27). Also in July comes the feast of the Holy Fathers of
the Sixth Ecumenical Council. This is all in addition to Saturday and Sunday services (we
serve Divine Liturgy every Saturday year round), and, of course, this means services on
the eve of all these days as well as Divine Liturgy on the day itself.
Such a schedule should be the norm in every parish where the Priest is not forced to
work on the side. And guess what? People come. They come after work for the vigil
services. Those who are able come in the morning for liturgy. Glory be to God, wondrous in
The "I go to church on Sundays" mindset has to be combatted. Every effort
must be made in all our parishes to encourage people to come to Saturday night vigils, and
to the many feast day services that are held (or should be held) during each month.
Alright, this all makes sense to me. But aren't many of these erosions of
Tradition due to the influence of American culture on Orthodoxy? Weren't these changes
No. Whenever I read discussions regarding [altar] curtains, pews, organs, vigil
services, clergy appearance, etc. my mind involuntarily keeps asking the question,
"Where were the Bishops?"
It is the Bishop's responsibility to insure that good order and Orthopraxis is maintained
in the parishes under his direction. When the first churches with pews started to be built
in this country, where were the Bishops? I imagine that all of these churches were duly
consecrated by a Bishop, and had episcopal services at least once a year. In theory, the
Bishop should have been asked to approve the building plans before construction, as well.
If the Bishop saw pews in the building plans, why didn't he say, "Sorry, no
pews."? Or if he came into a newly-built church that had installed pews, why didn't
he say, "The pews go, or I will not consecrate this church."? The Bishop's
responsibility at that time would have been to explain to the congregation that pews were
outside of the tradition of the church. He should have brought the issue up at the next
Bishops' council meeting and had an official statement issued that pews were not
acceptable. Why didn't those Bishops do this?
The same goes with curtains and royal doors. If a Bishop came to visit a parish and
noticed that there was no curtain, it was his responsibility to instruct the Priest and
the congregation that a curtain was an absolute requirement and insist that it be
installed or punitive measures would be taken. This is just simple church order and
If the first time a Bishop walked into a church that had installed an organ and said,
"Sorry, no organ," we wouldn't have these problems today. If the first time a
Bishop saw a Priest wearing a clergy shirt or a suit jacket said, "Put on your
rassayou are never to appear in front of your parishioners without it," we
wouldn't have this issue being a problem today.
It is the Bishop's direct responsibility to ensure good order in his diocese. The Bishop,
finding out that a Priest doesn't serve vigil services on Saturday night, has the
responsibility of correcting him. Bishops doing their jobs meet with their Priests, visit
parishes, issue directives, and maintain good order.
The problem in this country is that the Bishops of most jurisdictions failed to do
their jobsthey allowed innovations to creep in and did nothing about it.
So, let's not blame these things on the influence of American cultureevery one of
these departures from established Orthodox tradition was allowed either overtly or tacitly
by Bishopswho knew these things were wrong and did nothing to correct them.
Other Commentary on Modernism Posted to Orthodox Email Forums by Fr. Alexander
The test for modernism is interesting but really not a very accurate one.
There are plenty of us who would answer 'no' to the questions while their
parish would answer 'yes'. The personal feelings of a person has
nothing to do with what their parish prefers. I don't like pews, for example,
but my parish has them and since we are not officially attached there is nothing
we can say about it. I find this obsession with outward things disturbing
at times. Just because a Priest wears a clerical collar and is clean shaven
does not make him a bad Priest and visa versa. We all know what the traditional
way is, but because a person does not follow it does not make them 'modernist'
and, as many will tell you, there are plenty of liberal or modernist Priests
who have long beards and cassocks. I don't think you can catagorize someone
with a 'test for modernism' such as this one. It always has to be a case-by-case
basis taking into consideration the person's environment and special situations.
Permit me a few comments on your comments.
First, the admittedly tongue-in-cheek "Modernism Test" was just thatit
was not a test for determining Orthodoxy [i.e., in a dogmatic or ontological
waywebmaster], or "goodness" or "badness."
It consisted of a list of things (mostly external) that are prevalent in the
majority of non-traditionalist Orthodox parishes in the US today. These are
the things that make a traditionalist Orthodox cringe.
Not all are external, outward things either. The trend to make optional or eliminate
private confession before communion in many, if not most, GOA, OCA, and Antiochian
parishes is extremely disturbing to me.
And one must be aware that even the "outward
things" I seem "obsessed with" are often a reflection of deeper "inner
things." This is the relationship between "form" and
"substance." I believe that form is to substance as a vessel is to the liquid it
containsyou eliminate the vessel, and the liquid just leaks
That is why the external appearance of the Church is important, the external aspects of
the services are important, and the external appearance of the Priest is important. It was
God Himself Who decreed to Moses that the Priests of the Old Testament church were to wear
distinctive vestments. Otherwise, it would be perfectly appropriate for the Priest to
serve Liturgy wearing his suit and clerical collarhis internal essense doesn't
change and his God-given grace doesn't disappear because of what he wears, does it?
One really needs to look at what the motivation is in abandoning traditions that have
existed in the Orthodox Church for almost two thousand years.
Perhaps the best way to phrase the question is: "What in the world would make an
Orthodox Priest put on a suit and ecclesiastical collar instead of a rasson?" The
answer, unfortunately, lies in the question itself: "What in the world?"
Abandoning clerical garb that has been traditional for countless centuries in order to
look just like "Pastor Bob" down the street?
Whether you like it or not, we live in a society in which "clothes make the
man." You would probably not interview for an executive position wearing a sweatshirt
and jeans, even though your external appearance is just an "outward thing" that
has absolutely nothing to do with your intelligence, experience, or ability.
When an Orthodox Priest wears his cassock outside the Church (yes, even at K-Mart) he is
witnessing for the faith. I remember how impressed I was as a child when I saw Roman
Catholic nuns before they "kicked the habit." Now, most wear civilian clothes
with only a lapel pin to identify them as a nun. I, personally, feel that this is a sad
attempt to be "of the world," when we are called by our Saviour to be "not
of this world."
Pews, organs, and clergy shirts are clearly an attempt to assimilate into the Western
cultureand one should seriously ask "why?" If the early immigrants were
looked down upon because of their "old country" ways and accents, and so tried
to assimilate into the American mainstream as soon as possiblethis certainly does
not apply anymore.
The ROCOR has over 300 Bishops, Priests, deacons, monks, and nuns here in the US. More
than half of them are American converts to Orthodoxy. Yet the overwhelming majority of
them seem to have no problem in maintaining traditional Orthodox attire and outward
appearance, both in church and out. So there is no "imperative" that one needs
to "go mainstream" in this country.
Orthodoxy is a "counter-current" faitha constant struggle against the
things of this world. Assimilation, even in "outward things," should be avoided,
for in abandoning the "outward things" there is a real danger of losing some of
the "inner things" and then Orthodoxy in America will drift on with the current
and popular culture and finally become a sort of mainstream "Eastern Rite
It was never my intent to go "jurisdiction-bashing." There are many fine
Priests among the "modernist" jurisdictions as I have been labelling them, who
are doing their best in leading people to salvation.
But I believe that faithfulness to traditions, even in the smaller "outward"
things, is important. Let's not forget the words of our Savior, Who said to those who were
faithful in small things: "Well done, thou good and faithful servant:
thou hast been faithful in small [things], I will make thee ruler over many: enter thou
into the joy of thy Lord" (Matt. 25:21).
+ + +
You ask, "Are there canons that speak to the issues of pews and tobacco?" I
would ask you, where are the Canons that forbid use of marijuana or snorting cocaine or
downloading pornography from the Internet? Obviously, there are none. Does this mean that
your innate Orthodox common sense should not be enough to guide you to recognize what is
healthy and what is not? The Canons should not be considered a compendium of answers to
all possible questions. God gave us a mind and a conscience and we should use them to
determine what is right and what is wrong, whether or not the particular issue has been
addressed in the canons or not.
Smoking tobacco is a digusting, filthy, addictive habit that turns the mouth of the smoker
into an ashtray. It not only poisons the body of the smoker but pollutes the air that
others around the smoker breathe. It is absolutely incompatible with the dignity of the
Orthodox Priesthood, diaconate, or monastic state, whether the Canons specifically address
it or not.
Pews violate the principle of standing while praying to God and make prostrations
impossible. They are obviously an innovation in Orthodox churches, taken from
non-Orthodox, heretical assemblies. They have absolutely no place in an Orthodox church.
Beards and exorassa have been a mark of Orthodox clergy for countless centuries. What, as
I asked before, would be a rational reason for abandoning the traditional Orthodox
external appearance of a clergyman? To look just like "Pastor Bob" down the
street? I must tell you, that I have experienced many, many instances where little
children, seeing me in long beard, long hair and rasson come up to me and ask: "Are
you Jesus?" or even "Are you God?" These little children, who have never
seen an Orthodox Priest before, still see the image of Christ in a Priest dressed in a
traditional way, no matter how sinful, in this case, the Priest may be. I doubt that a
modernist cleric in a clergy shirt or suit would get the same reaction. The inability to
grow a beard, however, would never be an impediment to ordination (for example, the late
Archbishop Paul of Sydney, being ethnically a Kalmuk, was unable to grow a full
beardno one considered him any less Orthodox for it, but he was the exception that
"proves the rule"). This is a far cry from institutionalizing the
"anglicanization" of the external appearance of Orthodox clergy in America.
The change to the new calendar is a gross "liturgical innovation" in itself. But
there are many more. In how many Antiochian parishes does the Priest start the Divine
Liturgy ("Blessed is the Kingdom") behind closed Royal Doors, as the rubrics,
including the ones published by the Antiochian Archdiocese) clearly indicate? In how many
parishes are the doors closed after the Gospel, and then closed again after the Great
Entrance? In how many Antiochian parishes is the curtain behind the Royal Doors closed at
the appropriate times during the Divine Liturgy? Isn't it true that many Antiochian
parishes have only vestigial Royal Doors and no curtain at all? Aren't pews and organs a
"liturgical innovation"? How many Antiochian parishes do full Vigil Services on
Saturday nights? How many Antiochian parishes preserve the prayers for the catechumens and
the litanies and prayers for the faithful just before the Cherubic Hymn? Aren't there many
parishes where private Confession as a requirement for receiving the Holy Sacraments has
And, of course, the Orthodox world witnessed the incredible liturgical innovation of the
Antiochian Church performing "mass ordinations" of the EOC clergy, when,
according to the Canons, only one Priest and one deacon can be ordained at one Divine
Liturgy. Recently, there was some scandal regarding the lax attitude of the Antiochian
Church concerning some divorced Priest who had been teaching at St. Vladimir's Seminary
that led to the departure of the Antichian Seminarians. I don't know the details, nor do I
particularly care to, but the matter revolved around the OCA being more strict in
following the canons regarding the marriage of clergy that the Antiochian Archdiocese.
The attempt to justify participation in the ecumenical movement as a sort of
"witness for the Church" is so weak it does not hardly merit a response. Nothing
in the Holy Canons permit prayer with heterodox, no matter how good the intentions. Anyone
who saw or read anything about the WCC Assembly in Canberra can not accept Orthodox
participation in these meetings at all.
And, frankly, Easter Egg hunts during Great Lent seem to be an obvious failure to teach
children the Sanctity of the Holy Fast.
Regarding Freemasonry, I am unaware of any official statement by the Antiochian Church
condemning it as incompatible with Orthodoxy. My own experience has been that it is
tolerated, as many Parish Board members in many Antiochian are openly involved in
Freemasonry. My experience with this comes from several years of serving a
"mainline" OCA parish and, with the blessing of my Bishop, being a member of the
Bridgeport Association of Orthodox Clergy, where the question of Freemasonry and the
attitudes of the various jursidictions (twelve in all) toward it were a frequent matter
for discussion. Also, my two brothers-in-law and their families have been long-term
members of the local Antiochian parish, so my familiarity with the customs and practices
of the Antiochian church in the US is not based on abstract "book knowledge" but
The Antiochian choir director even consulted with me as to which music would be more
appropriate to play on the organ at the entrance of my niece at her weddingthe
Mendelsohn Bridal march or the Bach Cantata about Grazing Sheep. I told her I preferred
the Bach, of course.