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ORTHODOX IDENTITY Was Eastern Christianity Always Orthodox? Church and Mission In Search of American Orthodox Architecture






Was Eastern Christianity Always Orthodox? Cyril Hovorun



“How to Expand the Mission” Robert M. Arida

13 They Never Met: Church and Civil Society in Present-Day Russia Sergei Chapnin



Talks on the Beatitudes: Blessed Are Those Who Mourn Alexander Schmemann



The Harlot Kōan David O’Neal


Resonant Silence: Is Arvo Pärt’s Music Orthodox? Peter Bouteneff


Constantin Pertzoff and the Quest for American Orthodox Architecture Inga Leonova


Little Song Bill Coyle


The Day I Committed Myself to the Abolition of Torture Brigitte Vilanova

Š 2015 The Wheel. All rights reserved. May be reproduced and distributed for noncommercial use.

Editorial Board Joseph Clarke Michael Berrigan Clark John Congdon Inga Leonova Rebecca Magaziner Matovic

Advisory Board Archpriest Robert M. Arida Sergei Chapnin Archimandrite Cyril Hovorun Archpriest Andrew Louth Art Direction JHCreative

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To Our Readers The Wheel is a journal of Orthodox Christian thought. It seeks to articulate the Gospel intelligently and constructively for the twenty-first century, a pluralistic era when the social identity of Christian faith and its role in public discourse present new and unique challenges. By embracing contributions on Orthodox theology, spirituality, and liturgical arts alongside serious engagements with the challenges of contemporary political ideologies, empirical science, and cultural modernism, this publication aims to move beyond the polarizations of much current debate in the Orthodox Church. Our editorial mission is inspired by the early believers who transformed the pagan symbol of the wheel into the Christian acronym ΙΧΘΥΣ (see figures). Today, the wheel serves as a metaphor for a tradition that both grounds us and moves us forward. Such an understanding of church tradition is consonant with the description given by one of the great Orthodox thinkers of the last century, Vladimir Lossky: If the Scriptures and all that the Church can produce in words written or pronounced, in images or in symbols liturgical or otherwise, represent the differing modes of expression of the truth, tradition is the unique mode of receiving it. We say specifically unique mode and not uniform mode, for to Tradition in its pure notion there belongs nothing formal. It does not impose on human consciousness formal guarantees of the truths of faith, but gives access to the discovery of their inner evidence. It is not the content of Revelation, but the light that reveals it; it is not the word, but the living breath which makes the words heard at the same time as the silence from which it came; it is not the truth, but a communication of the Spirit of Truth, outside which the truth cannot be received. […] It is the life of the Holy Spirit in the Church. The thorniest problems of our time cry out for guidance from the Church’s tradition, approached with the awareness of the multifaceted nature of truth that continues to be discovered and implemented over time through a process of prayer, creative reflection, and debate. Likewise, although the perspective of the editors is firmly rooted in the Orthodox Church, we welcome contributions from those outside its formal boundaries that challenge us to engage more deeply the living Gospel of Christ. Our first issue considers the question of Orthodox identity. The following articles reflect on what it means to be a modern Orthodox Christian as revealed through works of art and the lives of the saints, how the contemporary Church has come to understand itself, and the realities of Christian participation in public dialogue. We do not promise that the perspectives offered here will satisfy everyone, but we hope our readers will never retreat from prayerful, respectful efforts to discern God’s hand in contemporary life. Indeed, our one editorial certainty is that living out the inexhaustible truth of the Cross and the empty tomb will continue to beckon the Church to hear and respond to the most radical and challenging of ideas without fear.

The wheel symbol overlays the Greek letters ΙΧΘΥΣ, an acronym for Ἰησοῦς Χριστὸς Θεοῦ Υἱὸς Σωτήρ (Jesus Christ, Son of God, Savior).

The Wheel 1 | Spring 2015

Christian graffito on a marble slab in Ephesus.



Was Eastern Christianity Always Orthodox? Cyril Hovorun


Why is the identity of eastern Christianity defined, in large part, by Orthodoxy? This is a little like asking: why am I who I am? The question seems rhetorical—and yet not easy to answer. This article offers clues to answering this question.

and mostly in the North American context, the word orthodox has come to connote “conservative,” standing for certain moral issues. This notion is more limited than what was originally meant by “Orthodoxy” in the Eastern Christian tradition.

The English word orthodox comes from two Greek words, ὀρθός and δοκέω. Together they mean “I think correctly.” Orthodoxy thus refers to a way of thinking about or perceiving God. Orthodoxy is also commonly understood as derived from the words ὀρθός and δόξα, “right” and “glory.” It is often said that Orthodoxy is about the correct way of glorifying God—that it has to do with rite and prayer more than with thinking and perception. This is also a possible interpretation of the term. There is no contradiction between the two interpretations, as we Orthodox like to connect our manner of thinking with our way of praying and glorifying. Recognition of this connection dates to the fourth century, when Evagrius of Pontus, the great systematizer of spiritual and monastic life, coined the famous phrase: “If you are a theologian, you will pray truly. And if you pray truly, you are a theologian” (Treatise on Prayer). More recently,

Orthodoxy was never the only term used to designate the Eastern Christian tradition; it was always used along with others, such as catholic (καθολικός). The Orthodox continue to use this term, which occurs in the Nicene Creed, with the reservation that it does not designate us as Roman Catholics. Another term the Orthodox have applied to ourselves historically is Roman. This name became especially significant on the soil of the Ottoman Empire, where all the Orthodox, regardless of their national identity, were called “Rum”—Romans. Even today, the Orthodox in Turkey, Syria, Lebanon and other countries that once belonged to the Ottoman Empire often call themselves “Rum.” Eventually the Orthodox began to adopt other terms, such as “Greek” and “Russian.” In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the churches were becoming increasingly connected with national identity, and the

famous 1823 Catechism of Metropolitan Philaret of Moscow identified the Orthodox Church in the Russian Empire of his time as the “Orthodox Catholic Eastern Greek Russian Church.” As before, these changes in Orthodox self-identification denoted shifting perceptions of what a local church was. Una Sancta A principal feature of Orthodox self-understanding is that Orthodoxy is self-sufficient. Its self-sufficiency is conditioned by the ecclesiology it professes, sometimes called an Una Sancta ecclesiology. This term implies that there is one Church, which exists visibly here and now and has existed without disruption or deficiency since apostolic times. We believe in the continuity of our Church and its tradition from the day of the Pentecost. One of the key points of Orthodox ecclesiology is that the gates of Hades will not overcome the Church of Christ (cf. Matt. 16:18). The Orthodox believe that our Church is the one established by Christ. This Church is constituted by communities of faithful that share the same faith, ministry, mysteries, and prayers. Those communities that are different in faith (heretical) or do not share communion (schismatic) do not belong to the one Church but remain outside it. There are fervent debates among the Orthodox as to whether either heretics or schismatics somehow participate in the Church. While a strict approach excludes them, there are also those who believe that some non-Orthodox Christian communities have a certain participation in the Body of Christ, though the details of that participation are unclear. They find this The Wheel 1 | Spring 2015

approach especially applicable to the Roman Catholics. Orthodox and Roman Catholics argue about the borders of the Church, but notwithstanding these disagreements, we hold in common a belief that the Church is one. We both reject the theory that the Church exists in branches, which, though not visibly sharing communion, invisibly constitute the same Church. The Orthodox insist that visible communion between local communities is essential for their participation in the life of the Church. Breaking this communion means falling out of the Church. The Una Sancta ecclesiology contrasts with another kind of ecclesiology, which is shared mostly by the Protestant churches. This other ecclesiology considers the unity of the Church something to be achieved in its fullness only in the eschatological perspective, while in our own time the various churches have only partial communion and their unity is invisible. This is the point where Orthodox and Protestant ecclesiologies seem irreconcilable.

“Orthodoxy was never the only term used to designate the Eastern Christian tradition; it was always used along with others.”

Principles of Unity What makes the Church one, from the Orthodox perspective? Over the course of history, several different factors have ensured the unity of the Church. For a long time, it was guaranteed by the unity of the Roman empire. Unity of Church and unity of Empire became closely interrelated categories. The former was considered an important precondition for the integrity of the state, and the emperors considered it their duty to see to the unity of Christians within their dominion. This does not neces3

Council of Ephesus (Third Ecumenical Council). The council, which settled christological questions of central importance to the faith, was convened in 431 by a political authority, Roman Emperor Theodosius II. Fresco by Symeon Axenti, St. Sozomenos Church, Galata, Cyprus, 1513.

“The emperors had to balance the purity of the faith against protecting the unity of Church and state. The former was often compromised in favor of the latter.”


sarily mean that, in pursuing church unity, the emperors had in mind only the protection of the state. They considered this unity to be valuable in itself, and regarded themselves as having the sacred duty to preserve and, when needed, restore it. The emperors had to balance the purity of the faith against protecting the unity of church and state. In the Roman empire, the former was often compromised in favor of the latter. The history of such compromises began with Constantine himself, when he persecuted Athanasius (293–373) and his followers—who fought for the teaching of the council of Nicea (325)—in order to preserve unity on the basis of the faith of majority, Arianism. After the council of Chalcedon (451) and the resulting splits among the Christians of the East, many emperors undertook steps toward reconciliation that were considered by church leaders and theologians to compromise the faith. For example, the Henotikon of the Emperor Zeno (482) caused a major split between West and East, the so-called Acacian schism. Of the same nature was an attempt undertaken by emperor Heraclius (575–641), who, together with Sergius, the Patriarch of Constanti-

nople (610–638), invented Monenergism, which later grew into Monothelitism. These doctrines were proposed in attempts at compromise in order to heal the splits among the Christians caused by the council of Chalcedon, but the undertakings of both Zeno and Heraclius were rejected by the Church as compromises too far-reaching to be acceptable. More successful was the Neo-Chalcedonianism formulated by the Emperor Justinian (483–565) and contemporary theologians, an attempt to interpret Chalcedon in terms of Cyril of Alexandria (376–444). There were no theological reasons to develop Neo-Chalcedonianism—only political ones—but it appeared to be theologically fruitful, despite prompting some reservations in the West. In all these examples, the ideal of true faith was compromised by the idea of the one Church and correct balances were not found. When the unity of the empire started to decline at the beginning of the second millennium, other features of the unity of the Church reemerged. Pivotal among these was unity of faith. We may understand faith differently in a modern context. Nowadays, we often perceive faith as the acceptance of God’s existence and as a personal relationship of an individual with God. In the early Christian period, however, starting approximately from the third century, the category of faith was understood mostly as a set of ideas about God. Faith became identified with doctrine. To many modern Christians, this concept may appear reductionist, but Roman Christians believed that the way they thought about God affected their relationship with him. They

were convinced that if they understood the mechanisms of salvation wrongly, those mechanisms would not work for them and they would be deprived of salvation. Modern Orthodoxy maintains the same belief. The idea of Orthodoxy as correct doctrine about God and his incarnation thus became a key feature of Eastern Christian identity, regardless of the fact that it was in the East that most heresies had been born and had been supported by church leaders and civil authorities. Orthodoxy was proclaimed and propagated as the most important feature of Christianity, overshadowing all its other characteristics. The feast of Triumph of Orthodoxy, which had been introduced at the end of the iconoclast controversies (843), now became especially popular. Initially, it had been intended to celebrate the victory over iconoclasm, but gradually it developed into celebration of Orthodoxy as such, a kind of cult of Orthodoxy. A special genre of literature was developed to celebrate the triumph of Orthodoxy, the so-called Synodika of Orthodoxy. These are the catalogues of all known heresies and apostasies from the true faith, and they became extremely popular from the eleventh century onward. The new focus on issues of faith was one reason that the Eastern Church accepted the split with the West in 1054. This occurred not only because of the universalist claims of the Roman Popes—which had begun much earlier and had been more or less tolerated by the East—but also in response to their deviations from the true faith, which the Easterners saw expressed primarily in the Filioque. It was thus The Wheel 1 | Spring 2015

Sultan Mehmed II receiving Gennadios II Scholarios, whom he had appointed as Ecumenical Patriarch in 1454. Under the rule of the Ottoman Empire, the sultans played a role in defining what it meant to be Orthodox.

a doctrinal issue that triggered the Great Schism, which continues to our day. In the fourteenth century, the issue of the nature of divine grace and whether it is created or uncreated was added to the Filioque controversy, further complicating matters. The so-called Hesychast Controversy that evolved around this issue made the notion of reconciliation between East and West even more difficult. With the fall of Constantinople, issues of faith became less important for Eastern Christians. Scholars of this period are astonished at how many doctrinal inaccuracies are found among theologians of the post-Byzantine period: judged by the criteria of late Byzantium, many of them would be condemned as heretics. It appears that doctrinal purity became less important for the Orthodox under Ottoman rule, though this does not mean that the criterion of church unity based on orthodoxy of faith disappeared altogether. Other mechanisms of securing unity appear to have arisen during the period when the Church operated within the Ottoman state. It seems that unity was seen as a mechanism of the millet, a group of people sharing the same faith, under a leader both spiritual and civil, the Patriarch of Constantinople. The fact 5

of survival as one people—Orthodox Christians—under the conditions of Muslim dominance became a powerful factor of consolidation of the Orthodox, replacing other factors: it is from this period that Roman or Rum identity became crucial for Orthodox self-understanding. National and Orthodox

“In Byzantium, autocephaly functioned within the confines of a single state, helping to maintain its unity, but in the modern era it furthered the independence of Orthodox states from one another.”

The millet became something of a proto-nation and, as such, fostered national revolutions in the Balkans, leading to other independent states and national churches. In the period after the French revolution and emergence of the national states, the unity of ethnos, the nation, became important for securing the unity of the local churches. Ecclesial unity came to be safeguarded by autocephaly, an ancient principle that, by the beginning of the nineteenth century, had become neglected, but which was now revived as a church analogue to the independence of national states. As it reflected political situations, autocephaly itself turned into a phenomenon with a strong national—if not even nationalistic—and political character. In this sense, it became quite different from autocephaly as it was known in the ancient Church. In Byzantium, autocephaly functioned within the confines of a single state, helping to maintain its unity, but in the modern era it furthered the independence of Orthodox states from one another. The process of local Orthodox churches becoming national churches, independent from each other according to the political model of national states, has been criticized in recent years. In its initial stage, however, this process was probably helpful in consolidating


local churches after the fall of the Ottoman empire. It helped the Church preserve its visible unity through a system of independent churches that nevertheless maintained mutual communion. It was not long before this process showed its dark side, however. Identification of the local church with the nation led to the phenomenon of ethnophyletism. This term describes a situation in which a church attempts to structure itself along national and political lines, especially when it violates the principle of “one city, one bishop” and when parallel jurisdictions are established in a single location. Ethnophyletism was condemned at the local Council of Constantinople in 1872—a condemnation now unanimously supported by all the Orthodox churches—but survived its condemnation in various forms and can be seen in the life of local churches even in our days. The beginning of the twentieth century brought a challenge to global Orthodoxy, when, with the collapse of the Russian Empire, many of its habitants had to emigrate to escape the Bolshevik regime. There was no longer a single state or ideology they could rely upon to preserve a sense of unity as members of one Church— something they had enjoyed under the protection of the Russian Empire. Seeking other bases for ecclesial unity, theologians among these Russian emigrants developed a number of concepts, among the most fruitful of which is the so-called Eucharistic ecclesiology. According to this concept, the core of the Church is the Eucharistic community, a group of faithful who partake from one chalice. Our participation in one Eucharist makes us a local church, which has all the fullness of the Body of Christ. Eucha-

ristic communities can form various ecclesial structures, starting from dioceses up to the level of autocephalous churches, but the main criterion of their belonging to the Church of Christ is the true Eucharist they have and share with other communities. In our days, theologians have begun to think beyond Eucharistic ecclesiology. For instance, in looking for signs of the unity of the Church, they recognize such aspects of its life as Baptism, community, forms of prayer, principles of monastic and spiritual life, and other aspects of church life that not only make people feel as though they belong to one Church but that actually make us one Church. In other words, many other aspects of church life apart from the Eucharist are factors of unity of the Church. Theology still has much work to do in exploring these aspects of unity. Orthodoxy and Ecumenism Since we started by exploring the factors that ensure the unity of the Church, it is worthwhile at this point to say a few words about the key factors of unity in other Christian traditions. In the Roman Catholic Church, it is obvious that the bishop of Rome is an important source of church unity. Ironically, the papacy has contributed to unity among the Eastern Churches too, but in a negative sense. However significant the disagreements between the Eastern Churches might have been, they joined in rejecting papal primacy as it was understood in the West. In the first millennium, the Eastern bishops held the role of Rome in high regard when it came to ecclesial and theological matters, but never considered it essential for keeping the Church The Wheel 1 | Spring 2015

together. A unified Church did not necessarily have to be unified around or under the primus inter pares. Therefore, when they felt that Rome at the turn of the millennium had abused its primacy, they broke with it. In doing so, they did not believe the Church had ceased to be one: they believed that they remained the Church, while Rome had fallen out of it. The same understanding is preserved in the Orthodox tradition up to our own day. Does the concept of church unity from the Eastern perspective, as it was expounded earlier, presuppose the exclusivism of Orthodoxy and an unwillingness for ecumenical dialogue? To some extent, it does. There is a popular feeling among the Orthodox that there is no need to have any kind of dialogue with non-Orthodox. Moreover, many people believe that such dialogue can be dangerous because it can compromise the faith. This belief engenders suspicion among the Orthodox faithful about the ecumenical activities of our hierarchy, sometimes leading to outbursts in actions of protest and even church divisions. The fixation of the Orthodox on issues of faith in the context of ecumenical activities is sometimes paradoxical. Quite often, people who object to ecumenical dialogue on the grounds of protecting the faith appear to be quite ignorant about the faith they protect. This does not mean that only the ignorant are opposed to dialogue. Well-educated people and theologians with much knowledge also sometimes object to ecumenical activities. Their objections can be explained by the idea of self-sufficiency that results from the belief that there is only one Church

“Does the concept of church unity from the Eastern perspective presuppose the exclusivism of Orthodoxy and an unwillingness for ecumenical dialogue?�


of Christ, and that this Church is Orthodox. Secure in the belief that they belong to the one Church, such people do not regard splits among Christians as a tragedy. But many educated members of the Orthodox churches, especially those who have intensive personal contacts with non-Orthodox Christians, believe that splits among Christians are abnormal. In thinking this way, they do not betray the concept of one Church and the exclusivity of Orthodoxy, but they struggle to bring Christians closer to each other and they consider it a deficiency in Christianity as long as divisions exist. They seek to overcome existing divisions by supporting dialogue and

providing through it a witness to the Christian tradition as preserved in the Eastern Church. The identity of Orthodoxy underwent dramatic evolution even in the early centuries of Christianity. In recent times, the speed of its evolution has increased, as the disestablishment of traditional Orthodox churches and their encounter with other Christian traditions has prompted the development of modern Orthodox identity. Once again, Orthodox Christians are challenged to redefine what it means to be Orthodox, in accordance with the Gospel we confess and without ignoring the reality of the world we face.

The V. Rev. Dr. Cyril Hovorun is Associate Dean of St. Ignatios Theological Academy (Sweden), Director of Research at the Institute of Theological Studies at the National University of Kyiv-Mohyla Academy (Ukraine), and a research fellow at Yale University (USA). From 2007 to 2009, he chaired the Department of External Relations of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church. From 2009 to 2011, he was the first Deputy Chairman of the Educational Committee of the Russian Orthodox Church.

Š 2015 The Wheel. May be distributed for noncommercial use.

SUBMISSIONS The Wheel publishes essays, reviews, poetry, fiction, and images. Writers should familiarize themselves with the journal before contacting the editors. A query for an article submission should include a basic thesis statement, an explanation of why it is important to argue in this journal, and a short biography. The editors will also consider unsolicited manuscripts; these should include a cover letter giving the same information as for a query. The Wheel rarely publishes articles over 3,000 words. Manuscripts should be sent in Microsoft Word format. Manuscripts and queries should be submitted to If you have not received a response within four weeks, please send a follow-up query. Letters in response to articles published in The Wheel are welcome, and will appear in the following issue if they are deemed to contribute to the discussion. Letters should be submitted promptly in order to meet editorial deadlines. Submissions under four hundred words are preferred, and may be edited for length and clarity. Please send them to 8


“How to Expand the Mission” Robert M. Arida Introductory Note Though it was originally written as a reflection for the OCA’s upcoming All-American Council in July of 2015, I believe what follows applies to all Orthodox Christians in North America. The theme of mission and evangelization permeates our ecclesial atmosphere. From the beginnings of Christianity, mission and evangelization have compelled the Church to enter the new and unknown. This is seen in the Pauline letters and in the Acts of the Apostles regarding the reception of Gentiles. Guided by the Spirit, this monumental movement on the part of the Church to move beyond the confines of Judaism was fraught with fear, suspicion, and opposition. Yet, in the end, as the Church expanded its mind and heart, Christianity was saved from becoming another Jewish sect as it engaged and transformed its surrounding cultures. How to expand the mission has challenged and continues to challenge the Church on the national, diocesan, and parochial levels. It would not be an exaggeration to say that virtually every Orthodox church in North America seeks to expand the ministry of the The Wheel 1 | Spring 2015

Gospel. This includes those churches that base their raison d’être on ministering to a particular ethnicity. They recognize, in theory if not in practice, the dominical imperative to proclaim the Gospel to all people. Yet, for the Church to expand its mission to and for the life of the world, it must strive to examine itself in relationship to the people it is entrusted to serve and ultimately save. This ecclesial introspection or μετάνοια is necessary if the Church is to maintain its credibility among an informed audience that is often justifiably critical of its inability (and unwillingness) to hear and respond to its questions. This ecclesial μετάνοια is necessary if the body of Christ is to take upon its shoulders the sin and agony of the world. To expand its mission the Church must renew and therefore expand its mind and heart. —RMA I The 18th All-American Council bases its overall theme on the words of Saint Tikhon, Patriarch of Moscow. During his ministry in North America (1898–1907), the then Archbishop Tikhon convened the first All-American Council in Mayfield, Pennsylvania, in February of 1907. This council, per9

Gregory Afonsky, A History of the Orthodox Church in America, 1917– 1934 (Kodiak: St. Herman’s Theological Seminary Press, 1994), 11. 1


haps the last significant and prophetic act of Archbishop Tikhon’s North American ministry, recognized not only the difficulties but also the many opportunities for the Church to carry out the missionary mandate of the Gospel. Based on the minutes recorded by Saint Alexander Hotovitsky, the vision of the 1907 council looked toward the future. For Archbishop Tikhon, “the defining goal of the council was the question of ‘How to Expand the Mission’ in order to prepare the way for self-governing, unsubordinated existence and development” in North America.1 Clearly, the Mayfield Council understood expanding the mission to include the unity of the various ethnic Orthodox communities within a united hierarchy and the future establishment of an autonomous if not autocephalous church in North America. Though the Russian Revolution of 1917 together with the large waves of immigrants from Eastern Europe and the Mediterranean delayed Orthodox unity in America and the establishment of a self-governing local church, the Mayfield Council still remains an important signpost in the history of Orthodoxy in America. It stands upon the vision and labors of missionaries extending back to late eighteenth-century Alaska and points to the granting of autocephaly by the Moscow patriarchate in 1970. This organic development leading to the establishment of the Orthodox Church in America serves to remind us that our autocephaly is a sacred gift that is given to sustain a multifaceted, multi-ethnic demographic bound by hierarchical and sacramental unity. Though our autocephaly continues to challenge the irregular and uncanonical status quo

of jurisdictional pluralism and overlapping episcopal boundaries, the Mayfield Council provides us with the moral support to stay the course of a local church. Gathered around Saint Tikhon, the Mayfield Council stands as a humble and courageous paradigm to be emulated by those who will gather in Atlanta in July of 2015. Just as world events at the beginning of the twentieth century radically changed ecclesial life here and abroad, our church in America—poor and mainly comprised of immigrants—continued the struggle to carry on and to expand its mission in and for America. Similarly, as the Church will gather in council in 2015, one can only hope that it will seek ways to implement a vision for “expanding the mission” when life here and abroad have placed before its doors unprecedented challenges as well as new opportunities to respond to the ever changing culture(s) of our time. But for this to occur, the Atlanta Council will need to consider other ways to understand Saint Tikhon’s vision of “how to expand the mission.” II If how to expand the Church’s mission is to be perceived as more than the development of commissions and programs to bolster membership and revenue, and if the Church is to have a credible presence in our culture, offering it more than a condemning word couched in the language of love, then it is necessary for the Church to expand its mind and heart. The task is formidable for it demands a reassessment of how to speak and act in a culture that, while infused with religious pluralism, continues to turn a critical

Participants at the first All-American Council in front of St. John’s Church, Mayfield, Pennsylvania, 1907. Photographer unknown. Courtesy Orthodox Church in America.

eye toward Christianity. By no means is the Orthodox Church in America spared this public scrutiny. In spite of our small numbers, our Church has assumed a noticeable posture in the public square that varies little from that of Christian fundamentalists. Consequently, the biblical, patristic, and liturgical pillars of our tradition are being toppled by a hermeneutic that precludes dialogue, nuance, and change. Should this closed hermeneutic— which has made its way to seminary classrooms, parish ambos, and synodal proclamations—continue to spread, the Church will steadily lose its ability to listen and respond to the questions of the day. If the Church is to stem the polarity of ideas and opinions growing within itself, and if it is to be the presence of Christ in society, then it can no longer allow its mission to be impeded by fear and ignorance. Within and outside of the Church, questions are being raised relative to issues that were once considered, from a theological and pastoral perspective, outside the realm of reexamination and reevaluation. No longer can the Church expect its faithful and the wider public to accept The Wheel 1 | Spring 2015

its decrees, exhortations, and admonitions, which often ignore sophisticated and refined theological scholarship, science, and technology. If the Church is to “expand its mission,” it can no longer turn away from, ignore, or condemn questions and issues that are a priori presumed to contradict or challenge its living tradition. Among the most controversial of these issues are those related to human sexuality, the configuration of the family, the beginning and ending of human life, and care for the environment. If the Church is to “expand its mission” then, in and through the Holy Spirit, it must be able to expand the understanding of itself and of the world it lives in. The ministry of Christ, who is “the same yesterday, today and forever” (Heb. 8:13), cannot and has not been proclaimed by only resorting to what has been said in the past. So long as the mind and heart of the Church accept the fiction that all questions pertaining to God, human life, and society have been raised and answered in the past there can be no possibility to expand its life and mission. More specifically, when the Church is oriented only to the past, it cannot be the Church of the Kingdom which is to come. 11


Georges Florovsky, “Le corps du Christ vivant” in La Sainte Eglise Universelle: Confrontation oecuménique (Neuchâtel: Delachaux et Niestlé, 1948), 34. 2

If the Church is to expand its mind and heart then each of its members—clergy and laity—is compelled to expand his or her mind and heart. Unless there is a renewal of those comprising the Church, the Church’s very catholicity—that is, its quality of life and faith—are jeopardized, inasmuch as those called to have “one mind and heart” cease to allow the Truth to grow within themselves. Often the inability to grow in the Truth leads to a course of mutual exclusion and division. A closed mind and a hardened heart cannot repent and ultimately prevent a union and communion of persons. A closed mind and heart also lead to a type of faith that is bereft of Divine energy and life. This, in turn, creates an ecclesial environment that is myopic, oppressive, fearful, and self-contained —the very antithesis to catholicity. “The human aspect of the Church is never fully conformed to the divine model. The Church must not cease to make itself catholic. But this is possible only because it is essentially catholic in its Lord... The main problem to resolve is always that of recreating the catholic and full mind...”2 Without an ongoing process of repentance among its faithful, the Church

will be unable to articulate the “mind of Christ” here and now. This bold concept of Saint Paul, “we have the mind of Christ” (1 Cor. 2:16), can easily be misconstrued now, as it was among some of the Corinthian Christians of the first century. To possess the mind of Christ is not to be understood as a static mode of consciousness that can only repeat what was said in the past. The mind of Christ is inexhaustible, and therefore human consciousness and awareness are eternally dynamic, ever expanding, ever extending into the divine mystery. “Speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ” (Eph. 3:15). With the expansion of the Church’s mind and heart, what is of the past can be augmented. Consequently, Holy Scripture can continue to be interpreted and clarified. Patristic writings can continue to be reassessed and even corrected. Liturgical texts can continue to be composed while existing texts can be revised. With the expanded mind and heart of the Church, the ministry of Christ will be able to expand through the creative operation of the Holy Spirit. This will allow the Church to maintain its authentic voice, the voice of Christ, as it expands its mission for the life of the world and its salvation.

The V. Rev. Robert M. Arida is Rector and Dean of Holy Trinity Orthodox Cathedral in Boston, Massachusetts. He is a graduate of St. Vladimir’s Seminary. Some of his published and unpublished articles and essays can be found on the HTOC website at © 2015 The Wheel. May be distributed for noncommercial use.


Rally “in defense of the faith,” Moscow, April 22, 2012.


They Never Met: Church and Civil Society in Present-Day Russia Sergei Chapnin Translated by Misha Cherniak I have to begin by admitting that this is a difficult topic for me. The recent history of Russia fills me with sadness and bitterness, and by history I mean the course of political, social, and religious life. At the same time, though, this is a chance to look directly and honestly at what has been happening in Russia and in the Russian Orthodox Church over the last few years. It is hard for me to speak with detachment and analyze as if from the outThe Wheel 1 | Spring 2015

side, for I was a direct participant in many of these events. I apologize in advance for being partial. I hope that such an approach will give you some insight into recent developments and their context.

Talk delivered at Heidelberg University, Germany, on November 27, 2014.

Church Revival as a Phase of History: Challenges of Chronology What began in Russia in the late 1980s is usually called a time of “Church Re13

“Prayer, salvation, deification, and other spiritual goals are no longer considered to be the main objectives of a religious life.”

vival.” Millions were baptized, tens of thousands of churches opened, thousands of new ones built. If the numbers were all that mattered, then indeed those metrics are simply astonishing. However, it is no less interesting to consider the qualitative characteristics: quality of faith, as I once called it in my essay “The Orthodox Church in Post-Soviet Russia.” If time permits, I will come back to this concept. The next issue that arises is creating a timeline: When did this revival start? Can we consider it finished? If so, when did it come to its end? Chronology can help us significantly in considering the relations between the Church and civil society. First of all, I need to mention that there is a more or less established point of view: Church Revival is considered to have begun in the year 1988, with the celebration of the millennium of the Baptism of Rus. The state, which back then was still Soviet, had acknowledged for the first time that the millennium was not just a regular date on the church calendar. There have been no serious discussions on the possible end of the period, yet the general consensus is that it ended in late 2008–early 2009, just before the election of Metropolitan Kirill to the Patriarchal See. In my opinion, however, the dating should be adjusted. I believe that Church Revival ended three years later, in 2012, after the notorious performance of a punk group on the ambo of the rebuilt Christ the Savior Cathedral. It was the moment when the state itself, de jure and de facto, demonstrated its readiness to protect the domain of the sacred. The Church


was not expected to participate, as long as it kept silent. Both the beginning and the end of the so-called Church Revival stemmed, therefore, not from any activity of the Church but from decisions made by the state. In the first case, the state acknowledged the “social significance” of the Russian Orthodox Church and thereby initiated the latter’s exodus from the underground and the process of its legitimization. In the second case, the state’s decision brought the revival to its logical end. This end may seem paradoxical: prayer, salvation, deification, and other spiritual goals are no longer considered to be the main objectives of a religious life. Instead, priority has been given to practical objectives, the first of them being the protection of sacred objects and places. And in that context the state no longer needs the services of the Church. It can handle this problem efficiently enough alone. Is any need felt in this situation for longterm cooperation between the Church and civil society? The answer is obvious: no, there is none. Above all, the Church intends to focus on maintaining its relations with the state. I would like to propose a different timeline, which, in my opinion, shows the dreadful symbolism of Russian history. And viewed vis-à-vis the events of 100 years ago, it makes one think of the possible consequences. This is my timeline: from the murder of Archpriest Alexander Men, biblical scholar, brilliant preacher, fervent missionary, and gifted ecclesiastical writer, on September 9, 1990, to the murder of Archpriest Pavel Adelgeim, confessor, wonderful pastor, and church publicist, on August 4, 2013. Even the weapons of mur-

der—an axe for Fr. Alexander and a kitchen knife for Fr. Pavel—bear an evil resemblance. What did these two men have in common? I believe it was their deep and genuine faith and something that is inherent to such faith: their freedom in Christ. The latter phenomenon is the most difficult and incomprehensible for many even among the Orthodox Christians in Russia. And, as we see, it is the most dangerous, for those two men were faithful to Christ even to the point of death. Yet those two priests shared one more thing: they did not belong to the hierarchy or the church bureaucracy. They were both charismatic leaders around whom community and social life flourished. In other words, Fathers Alexander and Pavel were at the center of communities in which ecclesiastical and social dimensions were closely intertwined. And today, these communities are utterly weakened, if not totally destroyed. Lay Movements and Civil Society My conscious involvement in church life began in 1989. And I actually came to it from the side of civil society, through samizdat. I took part in the meetings of a small ecumenical community in Moscow that gathered Orthodox, Old Believers, Catholics, Lutherans, and Baptists. Some of the group members had just been released from prison, including the founder of the group, Sandr Riga, who was discharged in 1987. The meetings took place in the crypt of one of Orthodox churches in Moscow that was still closed at the time and used as a museum. We had lots of difThe Wheel 1 | Spring 2015

ferent guests from all over the place. And the general atmosphere was that of fellowship and long-awaited freedom. Then I joined one of the newly opened parishes, where we also formed a youth fellowship. At that time, a wide range of groups emerged from the underground, Christians among them. The formation of civil society began, and Christians who had survived the persecutions were its integral part. Beginning in the 1990s, a rapid growth of lay movements in post-Perestroika Russia took place. Christian politicians sat in the Supreme Council of the USSR. Orthodox fellowships that had emerged all over Russia had the desire to unite, and thus in October 1990 the Union of Orthodox Fellowships was established. Independent magazines and newspapers on religion were being published. From 1990–92, the peak period of this activity, there were more than 120 organizations in the Union of Orthodox Fellowships. But then this spontaneous movement, lacking clear goals and spiritual leadership, became polarized and split. Not the biggest but certainly a very active part of the community of lay groups saw its task as forming some kind of Orthodox ideology and establishing a broad Orthodox patriotic movement. Convinced Orthodox monarchists and Russian nationalists, like the founder of Christian Revival Union, Vladimir Osipov, extended their influence. The second president of the Union of Orthodox Fellowships, Igumen Kirill Sakharov, later recalled that already back at the second Conference of the Union in 1992, “the vast majority of the participants

“This is my timeline: from the murder of Archpriest Alexander Men, on September 9, 1990, to the murder of Archpriest Pavel Adelgeim, on August 4, 2013.”


“The brotherhoods and sisterhoods in their religious, administrative, financial and economic activities shall be subordinate and accountable to the diocesan bishops through the rectors. The brotherhoods and sisterhoods shall abide by the decisions of the diocesan authority and the rectors of the parishes.” Chapter XI, clause 15 of the Statute of the Russian Orthodox Church as revised in 2000 and amended in 2008 and 2011. 1

It is particularly remarkable that at more or less the same time, in 1995, the Publishing Department of the Moscow Patriarchate—which had been a prominent intellectual center of the Russian Orthodox Church in the 1960–80s, when it had been headed by Pitirim Nechayev, Metropolitan of Volokolamsk and Yuryevsk—was reorganised and effectively quelled. 2


spoke in favor of Orthodox monarchy as the only God-given political system.” A search for the enemy from within soon started. In autumn 1993, the Union became the first organization to approach Patriarch Alexey II with an appeal to pay closer attention to the activities of the Fellowship of the Transfiguration of Our Lord and to warn its leader, Fr. Georgy Kochetkov, who had been actively involved in catechesis and liturgical translations into Russian, of the impermissibility of introducing any changes into the Liturgy without the prior blessing of the supreme church authorities. A larger group of fellowships found itself not ready for any ideological confrontation and chose to leave the Union in order to focus on their own everyday work, particularly education and charity. In this situation, however, the leaders of most of these fellowships were unable to make a convincing case to church hierarchy that they were part of the Church, and not merely socio-political groups and NGOs using church rhetoric as a cover. Back then, the bishops had virtually no experience of cooperation with lay movements and organizations and were simply not ready for their emergence in the post-Soviet Russia. The reaction to the new and unknown phenomenon was a knee-jerk reflex. In 1994, the Bishops’ Council rigorously tied all the brotherhoods and sisterhoods to parishes and virtually subordinated them to parish rectors.1 Every fellowship was required to have a blessing for its activities, which in fact meant strict control by the church hierarchy. Most of the fellowships involved people who were members of the different parishes.

Their leaders were unable to implement the decisions of the Council.2 Such fellowships ceased to exist. A catastrophic manpower shortage was another important reason for the “washout” of the lay movement, however strange that may seem. In the early 1990s, the Church’s increased demand for new priests could not be met by the seminaries of the time. Thus many young churchmen who could have become the backbone of the lay movement were ordained, and the Orthodox community lost the most active and engaged members who could have replaced the older generations. After having practically slaughtered the rising lay movement by the mid1990s, a few years later the church hierarchy felt the need for church NGOs and associations. Unfortunately, in the late 1990s and early 2000s, the social and political activity of such lay groups took quite humble, if not grotesque, forms. These were generally small-scale projects that had no significant impact either on the Church or on society. Some of them even had virtually the same names—endless carbon copies of various kinds of Orthodox union: fellowships, citizens, gonfalon-bearers, you name it. Some major fellowships survived, however, and are still active. Their activities range from organizing one of the biggest educational institutions of the Church—St. Tikhon’s Orthodox University—to establishing a network of small lay groups and fellowships associated with Fr. Georgy Kochetkov, which lead catechetical courses often more efficiently than traditional parish communities. And of course lay activities are not limited by the institutionalized forms

of life of various communities, unions, and fellowships. “Loners” play a critical role in the life of the Church by shaping the cultural and intellectual context of church life wherever they are, be it an academic institution, a secular school, the art world, or the realm of journalism. Charity and volunteer organizations are crucial as well.3 What Is This Church Revival? The severe identity crisis that Russia is going through has substantially influenced both the so-called Church Revival as well as the Orthodox Church as a whole. While Orthodoxy has long been considered an aspect of national identity, until the last couple of years this has been more of an intuitive understanding than a conscious realization. On the external, social level, the Church was given a huge credit of trust as a community that had been persecuted for a long time but had nevertheless survived. At the same time, it is important to remember that in spite of the reemergence of the Church into the public realm, for the entire post-Soviet period, the Gospel as well as church praxis have remained the domain of a very small share of Russia’s population. This fact is attested to not only by surveys but also by priests themselves. Consider, for example, the observations of Bishop Panteleimon Shatov: At the beginning of the 1990s we saw a surge of people coming into the Church.... Not just coming, but swarming into it. Alas, not many stayed inside. The period of active attention to the life of the Church and so called ‘churching’ ended very quickly... In my estimation, people who The Wheel 1 | Spring 2015

go to church every Sunday amount to 1% of the country’s population or even less.4 One would think that the marginalization of Orthodoxy in society would be an obvious trend. It is not the entire story, however. At the same time— thought it may seem paradoxical—the concept of Church Revival has developed not only within the church context but also in society as a whole. What does this mean? First of all, Church Revival became an element of the ideological movement for de-Sovietization. However, we should not forget that this role was played by the Church Revival only at the early stages of the process, in the 1990s. After that, an essential transformation took place, a sweeping change of priorities of the revival movement. Pastoral care took a back seat (in other words, the Church acknowledged that its missionary efforts had failed), and the tasks that came to the fore were construction and renovation—that is to say, the development of property and assets—and identity building through the propaganda of patriotism and traditional values. By 2014, it has led the Russian Orthodox Church to become a predominantly national church, in which other nations do not feel welcome. The “Russian World” concept, a weak imitation alternative to Russian nationalism, proved to be insolvent and was widely perceived as a cover-up for the rebirth of the imperial ambitions of the Russian state. Instead of focusing on creative efforts to reclaim modern culture, Church Revival has resorted largely to appealing to the past and advocating the reconstruction of pre-revolutionary Synodal-era practices.

Examples include the Miloserdie (Mercy) ministry, uniting 18 organizations connected to the Synodal Department of Social Ministry and Charity, the Danilovcy movement, the Predanie (Tradition) Charitable Foundation, the Yu. A. Garnaev “Russian Birch-Tree” Orphaned Children and Large Families Foundation, and many others. 3

Panteleimon Shatov, Bishop of Smolensk and Vyazma, “People Remember God, But Have Forgotten Christ,” Journal of the Moscow Patriarchate 10 (2012): 44–49. 4


“O Holy Russia, preserve the Orthodox faith”—the words of a stikhera (hymn) to all the saints who have shone forth in the Russian land— have turned into an adage in the last two decades. It appears to be the only quote from liturgical texts that has become a catchphrase. This hymn is sung in the second tone, solemnly but energetically, while the theological problem behind it remains unsolved.

“For me as a Christian, it is especially painful to acknowledge that the place of those who speak on behalf of the living tradition is taken in Russia by those who speak of the Soviet past.”

Liturgical poetry is one thing; furnishing a motto and a formula for guidance in practical issues is another. From a theological perspective, this formula appears to be incomplete and inaccurate. This can be proven when one compares it to the commandment the Lord gives Adam in Eden: “The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it” (Gen. 2:15). Preserving and caring for the garden is listed as secondary. The first task is to work the ground and develop it creatively. Even after Adam is expelled from the Garden of Eden, the Lord still expects him “to till the ground from which he was taken” (Gen. 3:23). The commandment to protect and care for does not follow Adam after the expulsion. The main messages that the Church offered, both to individuals and to society as a whole, remained attractive for a long time: “Let’s preserve our traditions!” and “Disregard for traditions is very dangerous.” One might think it is nothing but a sound Christian conservatism. However, we should not forget to ask ourselves: what are those traditions? In today’s Russia, one needs to make considerable moral and intellectual effort to look deep into the history, beyond the revolution of 1917. Too much time


has passed, too many generations have changed, and too many bearers of those traditions have been eradicated. The mere appeal to the Christian traditions of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries inevitably degenerates into producing either a historical reconstruction or an amateur drama. If we accept that Christian traditions in Russia are in fact dead, there can be only two possible practical implications. One can either strive to find a remaining living tradition, or lay foundations for new traditions, that are relevant in the political, economical, social and cultural conditions in which we live. For me as a Christian, it is especially painful to acknowledge that the place of those who speak on behalf of the living tradition is taken in Russia by those who speak of the Soviet past. Here lies the key to the magnetism of everything Soviet and related to the Communist past, not just for the elderly but for the young as well. If one looks closely to the current heritage of Russia­—whether cultural, historical, social, philosophical, or religious— there will be only one tradition alive that everyone knows, remembers and can pass on to the next generation. This is the Soviet tradition. Its triumphant return in recent years is the best proof that there is actually nothing else left alive in Russia. The Church today does not distance itself from warm feelings for everything Soviet. On the one hand, this is an expression of the solidarity between the Church and the state. On the other hand, it is a statement of fact that the pro-Soviet mindset within the Church is as strong as ever. Such

a situation can be explained easily, as I have already mentioned, by the failure of missionary and catechetical efforts. As a result, a generation of Soviet people had been baptized, but were never taught the basics of their faith. The Church absorbed them the way they were, in the hope that they would edify themselves in some natural way. The problem, however, lies in the fact that the Soviet people had no intention of changing. They remained the way they were. The only changes that happened were the changes they caused the Church to undergo. Nevertheless, despite the official watchdog rhetoric of the Church and its direct support of various radical conservative groups, it has been actively moving along very different lines as well. It has been seeking creatively to seize opportunities offered by the modern world, bearing in mind a proper social and political outlook as it looks toward new technologies and frontiers. The historian Alexey Beglov sums up the last two decades of church life as follows: What is happening is not the mechanical recovery of something lost, but a process of enculturation—the creative entry of the Church into the modern and post-modern culture of Russia and other CIS countries.5

school curriculum (a compromise of sorts between the Church and the state educational system, which is still ideologically Soviet) •• The active use of the Internet and online communication technologies •• The use of monolithic construction and other process innovations in building It is my opinion that, amid the current crisis, the potential for appealing to the past has been exhausted and is no longer of any use. We have to acknowledge that “Church Revival” was a convenient ideological concept rather than something real. It allowed us to turn a blind eye toward the lack of solutions to church problems. The Church Has Overlooked... The key problem of the Russian Orthodox Church is that it has overlooked and thus missed civil society. It has paid no attention to it. It has invested all its effort in establishing good relations with state authorities and big business. And this is not just a problem at the level of the hierarchy. These are the priorities at all levels of church administration, including parishes.

Here are some examples of enculturation that have nothing to do with the revival of traditions from before the Revolution:

The Church has wanted to appear friendly and coherent to the government bureaucracy and various state institutions. Many have considered this to be essential to the restoration of historic justice toward the Church. This process has included:

•• The opening of Sunday schools, which the Russian Orthodox Church had never used before •• The introduction of the Basics of Orthodox Culture course into the

•• The recognition of religious communities as legal entities •• The recovery of church property •• The tax exemptions for religious communities

The Wheel 1 | Spring 2015

Alexey Beglov, “Through Thick and Thin,” Russia Profile, September 19, 2011. Available at culture_living/ 45540.html. 5


•• The introduction of army chaplains •• The introduction of the Basics of Orthodox Culture course into the schools’ curriculum •• The recognition of theology as a scientific discipline requiring state educational standards •• The funding for the renovation of churches as cultural heritage sites; •• The acknowledgement of Orthodoxy’s particular contribution to the formation of Russian culture and statehood •• State benefits and honors for the Primate of the Russian Church and diocesan bishops on the local level. Twenty years were spent on winning official recognition, being perceived as “a partner,” and, in such capacity, being offered financial support. It is fair to say that the desired goal has been achieved. These days, every single state official masterfully speculates on cooperating with the Church, on advances in developing church and state relations, on protecting traditional values, and so forth. It would seem that this is exactly the expected victory. One should consider the price of that partnership, however. By my reckoning, the price is unthinkably high—so high that the external victory has turned out to be an utter internal defeat. Concern over excessively close cooperation between church and state has evolved into a much harsher realization: that the Church now serves the ideological interests of the state. Cooperation and service are two different arrangements. Cooperation suggests relations on equal terms. Service is first and foremost a form of submission. The Church was so eager to show that 20

it had something to offer the state, but how could it prove this to the cynical and corrupt officials who very rarely think in terms of public interest? The usefulness of the Church had to be demonstrated within their customary frames of reference—not by using the normal goal-setting of the Church, but by dancing to the tunes of politicians and bureaucrats. In order to get involved in solving the problems faced by the country, the Church opted to borrow the lens from the state rather than use one of her own. Specific tasks were chosen accordingly. In the 1990s and 2000s, attempts were made to mobilize an Orthodox voting block, to no avail. In recent years, every care has been taken to promote “traditional values,” patriotic feelings, and the idea of “Holy Russia,” again to no positive effect. By guarding state interests in socio-political issues, the Russian Orthodox Church has remained within a traditional Byzantine framework. It is a familiar approach for the hierarchy, perhaps even the only possible one. But is this not a mistake? Is it consistent with the reality of public life in the twenty-first century? Can we ignore civil society? Can we afford to turn a deaf ear to its voice, especially when there is an obvious conflict of interest between it and the state? The answers to these questions are self-evident. Instead of ignoring society, the Orthodox Church must learn to see it as a partner, perhaps an even more important one than the state. But is the Church the only party at fault here? Is she alone responsible for overlooking civil society? It might seem that the correct answer is no: so-

ciety is also to blame. However, I cannot uphold this position. Civil society did assert itself and did send signals to the Church. It rejoiced when the Church spoke out with words that it longed to hear. But those occasions were scarce. A few months after the political demonstrations on Bolotnaya Square in a presentation before a Catholic audience I called those months “a Pentecost of social and church life.”6 Unfortunately, we were unable to keep the gifts of those days for long. The Church failed to do

the most important thing: it never expressed its moral stand in regard to what was going on in society and politics. Yet it will have to learn­ —learn to uproot the habit of servility toward state authorities ingrained in church tradition, learn to be independent in its relations with political and social actors. Quite possibly, as an indirect effect, such a shift will solve some internal church problems. Perhaps it will even help overcome the crisis of parish life. But that is a topic for another occasion.

Sergei Chapnin is Managing Editor of the Journal of the Moscow Patriarchate. In 2010–2014 he served as a secretary for the Commission of the Moscow Patriarchate on Church, State, and Society. He is one of the founders of the Church Builders Guild and leads several projects on ecclesial arts as a board member, publisher, and editor.

Sergei Chapnin, “Modest revival of Christian social life,” Trace (Sled) magazine, March 2012. 6

© 2015 The Wheel. May be distributed for noncommercial use.

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The Wheel 1 | Spring 2015

Drawing by Alexis Vinogradov.



Talks on the Beatitudes Alexander Schmemann Translated by Inga Leonova (Note: The Wheel here begins publication of talks given in Russian on Radio Liberty by Father Alexander Schmemann. Audio recordings of these translated talks are forthcoming from SVS Press.)

Drawing by Alexis Vinogradov.


Translator’s Preface Father Alexander Schmemann’s Radio Liberty talks represent a unique body of contemporary catechetical work. He gave these weekly homilies almost every Sunday from March of 1953 until his death in 1983. From the United States he was addressing listeners on the other side of the world, in a country governed by militant atheism. Father Alexander never literally encountered his audience—in fact, he never set foot in the Soviet Union. Yet he became a household voice in the homes of people he never met, offering the prisoners of a

cruel and deceitful utopia a window into reality and truth. This utopia was something that Father Alexander had to wrestle with as part of his catechetical talks. He was speaking to an audience that was not completely devoid of religion. On the contrary, they were reared in the ideology of Communism, a materialistic cult complete with its own idols, creeds, rituals, and eschatology. This explains why many of his talks were structured around juxtapositions and dichotomies. He was not only proclaiming the truth of the Gospel, but also exposing the lie of the ideological system in which his listeners were ensnared. And he knew that it was essential for him to point out that the lie was not only political, but existential—that it was at odds with the Divine order and purpose of creation and the truth experienced in the person of Christ. Insight into how Father Alexander structured his Radio Liberty talks may be found in his journal entry from May 11, 1977: But the whole logic of our time (including that of the anti-Communists) is infused with the unconscious conviction that the devil is stronger than God, that one can destroy evil only with evil, even if it is called anti-evil. [...] How understandable and needful becomes Christ’s

silence about all the things that so passionately interest us: Government, religion, history, even morality. He always talks to me and about me—only that is of interest to Him. But in me, for Him, is the whole world, the whole of life, the whole of history. Therefore He saves me, not Russia, not the government, nothing else. So that any fight, any ‘anti-’ always has and carries in it the most awful ‘spiritual’ defeat... Within this framework of thinking, the Sermon on the Mount becomes central to the understanding of what constitutes the encounter of “Christ and the human ‘I.’” In his series of talks on the Beatitudes, Father Alexander uses the Sermon on the Mount to establish the outline of Christian anthropology. In its center is the human being as the image of God. Defining what constitutes that image is what defines humans as they were created by God in an act of love for communion with Him and the world. For Father Alexander, the Beatitudes present the perfect vehicle for outlining this anthropology, because the person described in the Beatitudes is the image of Christ, the true Adam. Christ tells His followers: “Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect,” and He tells them what it means to be perfect, to be Christ-like, to be people of the Kingdom of Heaven rather than people of the kingdom of this world. The person in the Beatitudes does not behave, but rather is—which creates a sharp contrast to what risks becoming a pseudo-Christianity as oppressive as secular materialism. What becomes very clear to those who listen to Father Alexander’s broadcasts or who read the transcripts is something that is especially The Wheel 1 | Spring 2015

poignant for the challenges that the Church faces in the modern world, especially the challenge of moralism. Within the Soviet context, “moral conduct” became the final goal for the collective. For Father Alexander the new person arises from the commandments of the Beatitudes. This new person is defined not by a learned behavior, but by a true transformation of the self brought about by metanoia (repentance). This true transformation is possible only by the grace of God and only for one whose spirit is “broken and contrite” (Ps. 50). It reveals a person who seeks to restore the undefiled image of God and who is not merely a “civilized animal.” For Father Alexander’s listeners in the Soviet Union this distinction must have been utterly earth-shattering, contrary to all the principles of their society. It is no less earth-shattering for us today, when the challenges of the encounter with Christ are being replaced in our conscience by the challenges of “Christian moralism.” The “new person” that emerges from these talks is the resurrected Adam, called by Christ the New Adam to the new life in the Spirit, free from “the shadow of the Law.” The joy of this new life lived here and now permeates all of Father Alexander’s writings and, indeed, his very person, which emerges from them. The brevity of the talks on the Beatitudes, necessitated by the radio format, brings the delivery of this message into such a focused form that it leaves the reader feeling momentarily blinded as if by a flash of light. —IL 23

“Blessed Are Those Who Mourn” (Note: This is the second talk in the series. The first recording is missing.)

In my last broadcast, I spoke about the first Beatitude: Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven (Matt. 5:3). I tried to explain what kind of poverty is being spoken about, namely the kind of internal freedom from everything that habitually enslaves a human being, making him inwardly blind and deaf to what is crucial—to the very essence of human life, to its authentic content. The first Beatitude is reinforced by the second: Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted (Matt. 5:4). Again, we are astonished by the paradoxical nature of this statement, which goes against everything we are used to seeing in life, against how we are used to measuring and valuing life. Those who mourn... But isn’t mourning—and therefore grief, sorrow, discontent, tragedy—isn’t it something negative? Isn’t it natural for a person to strive for calm and joy, and to remove from his life everything that may cause mourning? Therefore it is again necessary to try to think about and to listen to what stands behind these words and what anti-religious propaganda, in its superficial “exposure” of the Gospel, cannot comprehend. This propaganda insists, just as with the first Beatitude about the poor, that Christianity is not only not indifferent to human grief and suffering, but even considers them useful, since they help people to transfer all their aspirations to another world, the world beyond the grave, and calmly to bear all the evil, inequality, injustice, and so forth of this world. And to support this interpretation of Christianity, anti-re-


ligious propaganda often quotes the second Beatitude. But of course this Beatitude speaks about something completely different, something diametrically opposed to the cheap statements of anti-religious propaganda. What does it speak of, then? To answer this question, we have to go back to where we started our analysis of the first Beatitude—to the twofold perception of the human person in the Christian understanding. A person stands in it, on the one hand, as one completely immersed in life, in pursuit of success, and on the other as a pauper, and therefore open to what is deepest and most important, beautiful, and pure. On one hand, he is a slave, on the other, a free person; on the one hand, enslaved by “the lust of the world” (1 John 2:17), on the other, owning nothing and having everything (2 Cor. 6:10). And the same dichotomy continues and grows even deeper here in the second Beatitude. We can put it this way: the higher a person rises spiritually, the less vulnerable he is to the base and crude happiness that satisfies so many. In other words, the mourning and sorrow spoken of in this Beatitude is that very “high sorrow” that is known to every great poet, every creator, everyone who has even once plunged deeper and gazed higher, has broken through the noise and bustle, has understood the paucity and vanity of everything offered to him by life. And just as true humanity begins with internal liberation from everything undeserving of our complete surrender, it also begins with this exalted longing, with mourning. Christ’s preaching begins with the call: Repent—presuming, first and foremost, an internal

conversion, the ability to see the world and life anew. This beginning inevitably leads to a profound and spiritual sorrow. For, in the world governed by fear and suffering, it is that which is most cheap, crude, and superficial that wins attention, and a person who has even mildly perceived the distant, the profound, and the exalted—a person, as the poet says, “having inhaled the heavenly deeps”1—cannot help being a person who mourns. And he cannot be consoled by the triumphant speech about glory and achievements, about victories on multiple “fronts,” or by the promises of the next glorious human anthill, comfortable but suffocating in its own boredom and mediocrity. But Christ says: Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. The entire Gospel is filled not just with the promise of forthcoming joy. It shines with the joy that has already come, that is possible now. Where is that joy? First of all in the knowledge that the evil, vulgar face of the world is not its real face, but a caricature, a perversion, and not the last truth about it. Let us take two images, two portraits. One stares at us from every wall, from all the newspapers and posters, imposed upon us as the real image of a man—full of himself, content with his small and pitiful happiness, satisfied with his truncated ideology and not bemoaning it.

And some would like for us all to be like that—identically sprightly, striding in step to the clatter of a marching band. Yet here is another image: of the one whom for decades now they have been trying to erase from our memory and consciousness. My soul is sorrowful even unto death (Matt. 26:38), he says, and drops of sweat fall from his face like drops of blood. There he is on the cross, abandoned by all, but judging no one, betraying no one, forgetting no one. An amazing face on which many generations have been gazing intently, carried by him to an entirely other dimension of life! And so we ask ourselves: which of these images contains the truth about the world and man? And we answer without hesitation: the second! And this knowledge, this certainty, is the first consolation in the midth of our tears, the first joy that, in the words of Christ himself, no one will take from you (John 16:22). Yet this joy cannot be achieved, this consolation cannot be received, until a person laments over his own condition and that of the world, until, in other words, he looks deep into himself, “inhales the heavenly deeps,” and does not become astonished by what passes for truth by the creators and peddlers of pseudo-happiness. Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.

The Rt. Rev. Alexander Schmemann was an Orthodox theologian who played a central role in founding the Orthodox Church in America. He was a graduate of St. Sergius Orthodox Theological Institute in Paris. He was Dean of St. Vladimir’s Seminary from 1962 to 1983, and also taught at Columbia University, New York University, and Union Theological Seminary.

The Wheel 1 | Spring 2015

From the poem by Alexander Blok, “The grey wisp of fire’s smoke…” (1909). 1

Translation © 2015 The Wheel. May be distributed for noncommercial use.



The Harlot Kōan David O’Neal Hers is perhaps the ugliest image in Orthodox iconography. Just about all the other saints, even the serious ascetics, get to shine with ageless, transcendent beauty. But not her. She’s always presented to us as a gaunt, withered old woman, naked but for a borrowed cloak, her skin leatherized from years of exposure to the elements, and with a bad hairdo. Her expression is often almost pathetic. It’s difficult to imagine her as sexually alluring in her youth, even though that’s how the story goes, and her story is familiar to the many Eastern Orthodox Christians who encounter it annually on the fifth Sunday of Great Lent. Her life is read aloud with the Great Canon of St. Andrew of Crete at that Wednesday’s matins. It can be an emotional experience to be confronted with the image of her radical repentance. It can also be an occasion for modern people like me to come up against elements of her tale that raise more questions than they answer. The Life of Our Holy Mother Mary of Egypt is attributed to St. Sophronius, Patriarch of Jerusalem from 634–638. His text is said to be based on an oral tradition that had circulated among the monks of Palestine for a century prior to that, having originated with the monk St. Zosimas—the only person ever to meet Mary after her departure for the desert. According to the 26

Life, Mary was a woman of sixth-century Alexandria who became emancipated from her parents as a teenager and lived independently, supporting herself by begging and spinning flax in order to make herself available for what she considered her true vocation: having sex with any and all men who were interested. And many were interested indeed, according to her account. This happy harlothood went on for seventeen years before the change of life occurred that she recounted so movingly to Zosimas: One day, seeing some pilgrims boarding a ship bound for Jerusalem for the feast of the Exaltation of the Cross, Mary decided it’d be fun to go along, and she offered the crew use of her body for ticket price. Though she makes what reads to me like a humorous effort to speak demurely of what transpired on the boat, she doesn’t conceal the fact that she was responsible for turning the voyage into quite an orgy. On arriving in Jerusalem, she followed the pilgrim throng toward the church where the celebration was taking place but found herself somehow unable to enter. When this confounding exclusion was revealed to her to be the result of her dissolute life, she was overcome with repentance. She cried out to the Virgin Mary for help and her prayer was answered. She entered the church, venerated the cross,

St. Zosimas and St. Mary of Egypt. Icon by Mirra Meylakh.

and then departed for the desert beyond the Jordan River, where she spent the rest of her life wandering in solitude. It was after more than four decades of this ascetical journey that she had her surprise encounter with Zosimas, who was spending Lent in the desert according to the custom of the monks in his coenobium. She told him her story—basically what I’ve summarized above, but in greater detail. He agreed to bring her holy communion the next year at the same time and place, which he did, keeping her existence a secret for the time being. Another year later, he returned again to find her lifeless body. She had passed away immediately after reThe Wheel 1 | Spring 2015

ceiving communion, but not before having written a message in the sand for him, in which she revealed her previously undisclosed name. A lion appeared, to help Zosimas dig Mary’s grave. The burial is said to have taken place in 522. The story gained a lot of traction in the early church and went on to become one of the great classics of Christian hagiography. It is often regarded as a true image of repentance, and rightly so. Hearing it works like medicine for the disease of self-pity, and for our tendency to compartmentalize the process of repentance in our lives or to put it off for a more convenient time. Every year she knocks us down, and when we get back up, we’re headed in a better direction. My 27

gratitude for her story is immense. But it also makes a lot of alarms go off for me. I know I’m not the only one scratching my head with puzzlement even as tears arise.

“Mary may have represented a kind of nightmare come true to innocent monks: proof that an independent woman loses all moral control when left to her own devices.”


The first of the alarms has to do simply with the sexist attitude the story exemplifies: the unquestioned idea that forty-plus years in the desert is appropriate penance for a profligate woman, versus what would likely have been required for a comparably promiscuous male (who’d probably have to fast for a few weeks before being ordained a bishop). It’s reasonable to assume that Mary’s story, after a century of retelling by male monastics, would have been colored by attitudes common toward women then and later: that they were naturally morally and intellectually inferior to men (as the fathers are said to have taught) and prone to outrageous promiscuity if given the chance. Mary may have represented a kind of nightmare come true to innocent monks: proof that an independent woman loses all moral control when left to her own devices. Then there’s the idea of a woman living an independent life in the ancient world, which is unlikely enough as to be preposterous. It strains credulity to think that Mary could have lived on her own, supporting herself, in sixth-century Egypt—let alone to think that she’d be able to find opportunities in her spare time for the prodigious amount of casual sex she claimed to have enjoyed. And she’s careful to emphasize to Zosimas that she was not a prostitute. She did it all for fun. It’s very difficult to imagine this. I think we can be reasonably sure that 99.9 percent of women in the history of the world up until fairly re-

cently who had sex with many partners did so out of economic necessity. It’s nearly impossible to imagine a woman of Mary’s time and place living the life she describes, even if she wanted to. But for the sake of argument, let’s concede the possibility that she could have been a precursor of the late-twentieth-century-style sexually liberated woman. Even then, it remains difficult for me to imagine anyone actually enjoying sex with so many people over a period of seventeen years, as she claims to have. People who do that nowadays, when casual sex is more readily available and less stigmatized, end up burning out, usually either getting religion or seeking help for the addiction when it turns into compulsion or when age begins to limit their prospects. And Mary must have been thirtyish at the time of her wonderful awakening— middle-aged for that time and place. Add to all this the fact that the sexually transmitted diseases that have always been around were, until recently, usually a death sentence, and credulity is even further strained. Mary’s story of her pre-repentant life is dubious in the extreme. So, is the Life of Mary of Egypt simply pious fiction with a heavy dose of misogyny thrown in? It does nothing to the truth of the story to regard it that way. But even so, I find myself clinging to the idea that there’s a real person behind Mary. Maybe it’s only wishful thinking on my part, based on the story’s effectiveness in annually cleaning the dross from my heart. But maybe not. There was certainly precedent for her desert-dwelling in that pious age, even if the naked wandering she took up was on the extreme fringe of that lifestyle. But there are also subtle elements of Mary’s story

that ring deeply true to me beyond its sentimentality and hard-to-swallow aspects. Chief among these is her description of the pivotal moment when repentance overwhelmed her—the moment she understood why she was unable to enter the church. In the translation I have, she says: “The word of salvation gently touched the eyes of my heart and revealed to me that it was my unclean life which barred the entrance to me.” “Gently,” it says. This gently rings true to me across the centuries. There wasn’t an angel with a fiery sword; the heavens didn’t open. I don’t think it’s even clear that what prevented her from entering the church was anything other than the press of the crowd. The point was she woke up. And whether what kept her from the church was some mysterious force or just a rowdy mob makes no difference. In the face of her awakening, either would have been just as miraculous, and just as ordinary. And though Mary was sincerely regretful of her behavior, I suspect she didn’t spend her years in the desert beating herself up. There’s a way of wallowing in repentance that’s really just the flip side of wallowing in sin. If that kind of self-abnegation is what her flight to the desert was about—an appeasement of a God she’d offended—I really don’t think she’d have been able to endure all those years. It seems to me rather that the God who’s beyond offense—who’s beyond the word God, and who can’t be said properly to “exist,” who a few hundred years previously had been revealed through Christ to be profoundly intimate with all things—was revealed to Mary. In the revelation of that paradoxical intimacy, when evThe Wheel 1 | Spring 2015

erything looks utterly different yet completely the same, the misguidedness of her previous direction became apparent. When this happens, there can be no question about it; there’s no need to justify it, prove it, or make it match what anyone else might say about it. No religious authority is needed to articulate or enforce it. The radical reorientation of one’s being that takes place seems quite natural. This change of mind and heart can be called repentance. It includes regret for whatever past deeds set one in a direction other than God and fellow being, but the pathological aspect of regret is overwhelmed by gratitude for being able to see what went wrong. It’s akin to joy. Or maybe this repentance is the same thing as joy. Dramatic displays or supernatural phenomena don’t belong to this radical change of heart, as they’re inadequate in the face of the miracle of it. When Mary describes her experience with the word gently, it feels to me as though something of a real woman’s experience has been transmitted to me across a millennium and a half. This waking up is a paradigm shift worthy of a radical response. Mary’s flight to the desert is a sign of just how different the new life looks in relation to the old. But I wonder if, given her situation, the flight was also simply a practical move. There may realistically have been no place for the new Mary in the world. I wonder if someone with her reputation would have been unwelcome in communal monastic life. That’s been the case for “fallen women” at various points in history. If she couldn’t be a nun, what else could she do? Go back to Alexandria and continue to spin and beg while she preached to her old Johns?

“When Mary describes her experience with the word ‘gently,’ it feels to me as though something of a real woman’s experience has been transmitted to me across a millennium and a half.”


“There’s no difference between Mary and any of us who wake up to our wrong direction.”

Not a viable option. The life of a respectable Christian matron would not likely have been possible for Mary either. As an independent woman of ruined reputation, she may well have had no options. In the face of this, is it possible that life in the desert was not a heroic act, but simply the one that made sense? It was a horribly difficult life—I get the feeling she downplays the horror of it, in the same way she downplays the orgy on the boat—but probably not a lot more difficult than sex work would have been. It’s the Mother of God, who seems to have taken Mary under her wing like a daughter, who sends her into the desert. She tells Mary: “If you cross the Jordan you will find glorious rest.” Not, “If you cross the Jordan you’ll have plenty of time to agonize over your sins, which are so much worse than anyone else’s,” but, “You will find glorious rest.” There’s a feel of truth about those words as well. I somehow don’t imagine the Virgin Mary’s promise went unfulfilled. There’s a temptation to see in Mary an extreme version of ourselves: to take her function to be that of revealing our sinfulness by showing us our own blown way out of proportion, so that it becomes like a spotlight on us. I believe that’s a temptation to be avoided along with the sentimentality that’s also sometimes confused with repentance. There’s no difference between Mary and any of us who wake up to our wrong direction. There’s no meaningful difference between the sins of a prostitute and those of a respected Alexandrian wife in that regard, despite appearances. The idea that there’s a significant difference between any of us when it comes to degree of misdirection is laughable in


the face of repentance when it arises. One who by grace has had her direction realigned understands this, and smiles. The details aren’t as significant as the joy of seeing it. But back to the implausibility of Mary’s story. If there is a real woman behind it, and if it’s not just been revised by misogynists, is it possible that Mary was simply making things up about her pre-desert life? I quite boldly like to imagine that she was. I like to think that Mary misrepresented herself to Zosimas in order to keep herself from being cast as victim, as that would have missed the point. I don’t mean that she wasn’t a victim—in fact, I’m convinced that she was as much a victim as most of the sex workers throughout history have been. But I take her to be attempting to deflect Zosimas’ (and our) attention toward what was important. She was a victim, but awakening happens in the midst of victimhood, and victimhood doesn’t prevent it. Awakening happens in the midst of a world of delusion, and the delusion doesn’t go away. Included in that delusion is every sort of oppression and injustice, which, horrible as they are, can’t triumph over the awakening. There’s a temptation to think that the business of salvation is the eradication of delusion and of the injustice and suffering that arise from it. It’s not. Christ appeared in the middle of an oppressive political situation and did nothing to solve it—though everyone was expecting him to. His salvation was about something entirely other than an independent state of Israel. St. Paul, in the midst of all his self-sacrificial bearing of witness, did nothing to address the system of enslavement

of some human beings by others that was part of the social system in his time. He even seems to condone it. As does St. Peter. And Mary lived in a time when the systematic oppression of women was so completely embedded in the culture that no one was even aware that there was a problem or the possibility of something better. Mary herself, who suffered greatly from it, probably didn’t consider that an alternative was possible. But as it turned out, as it always seems to turn out, no oppressive system can do anything to inhibit the truth of the encounter with Christ. Nothing inhibited Mary’s perception of it. Nothing diminished for her the joy of being set in the right direction. Here I need to declare in no uncertain terms that I believe injustice and oppression should be resisted and fought against at every moment of our lives. The Bible is full of (mostly ignored) references to that idea, but no “proof text” is needed other than our own dawning awareness of the suffering of the person standing right before us. I believe the awakening of repentance in our hearts in fact makes the struggle for justice more rather than less important—but it also puts the struggle in perspective. The delusion from which oppression arises doesn’t ever go away, even though it waxes and wanes. Awakening has never waited for oppression to be

solved. Mary woke up in the midst of a world mostly deluded, and the delusion didn’t go away. It’s never any different for anyone. She alluded to the unsurprising fact that her life alone in the desert was difficult. But I have to wonder if it would have been just as hard for her back in the world as a rootless and relation-less former whore. One thing I feel certain of, though, is that she transcended hardship through her repentance. She found the glorious rest she was promised in the midst of the hardship, and the hardship did nothing to impede it. I believe our hymnography gets her wrong. She doesn’t teach us to “disregard the flesh for it passes away,” as the troparion says. To transcend something is not to leave it behind. Transcendence includes what’s transcended, sharpening our understanding of it. My guess is she understood and appreciated “the flesh” better post-repentance than she ever did when she was trading in it. And I also feel that our iconographic tradition gets her wrong by focusing on her literal reality rather than on the greater reality that iconography should be about. She should shine with radiant beauty and quiet joy. She’s been misunderstood. But that’s OK. She’s used to it.

“The awakening of repentance in our hearts in fact makes the struggle for justice more rather than less important—but it also puts the struggle in perspective.”

David O’Neal is a book editor who lives in Boston, Massachusetts. He is a graduate of St.Vladimir’s Orthodox Seminary. His essays and poetry are archived on his blog, Nonidiomatic ( © 2015 The Wheel. May be distributed for noncommercial use.

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Resonant Silence: Is Arvo Pärt’s Music Orthodox? Peter Bouteneff Arvo Pärt. Photo: Kaupo Kikkas/ Arvo Pärt Centre.


Many factors led me to the deeper study of Arvo Pärt’s music that I have undertaken during recent years. First among them was the music itself which has made an indelible mark on me for the past quarter-century. Another stemmed from my early encounters with the composer himself during visits to an Orthodox monastery, where we forged an enduring connection. But in recent years my admiration for his art and my sense of a significant kinship were joined by a fascination with the nature and scope of his appeal in the wider world. I had experienced him as a fellow Orthodox pilgrim in a monastic setting, and later found that he had fervent admirers from all walks of life: classical music buffs and hipsters, religious, atheist, “spiritual but not religious.” Perhaps most interesting to me was that people of all faiths and of no particular faith have used strikingly similar language to describe his music’s effect on them—words like “angelic,” “oceanic,” “contemplative,” “reflective,” “mystical,” “ethereal,” “transcendent.” Together these words describe music that brings people into an encounter with something or someone immeasurably greater than they are, so that they are left humble, speechless, reverent. In short, the

music of this Orthodox Christian has provoked in all kinds of people, religious or not, what they have called “a spiritual experience.” I saw this as a fruitful paradox: universal spiritual resonance emanating from a particular spiritual tradition. Yet both sides of this equation need exploring. As to the universality, what is the nature of this “spiritual resonance” experienced by such a va-

riety of listeners? What do they mean by “spiritual?” It would be too easy for a seriously observant Christian to trivialize people’s vaguely “spiritual” aspirations, and I have no interest in doing that here. How, then, exactly does Pärt’s music emanate from Orthodox Christian tradition? He converted to Orthodoxy, but does his work bear a palpable “Orthodox identity”? Although that question has been at the core of my own recent study of the composer, there are some Pärt fans who are decisively uninterested in probing this spirituality, especially its roots in “Traditional Christianity.” True, the vast majority of his pieces are set to sacred texts, but to them the music is spiritually potent despite those religious underpinnings. A different set of listeners has been awaiting insight from the Orthodox Christian world about what makes Pärt’s music tick. Some have written gropingly on the spiritual character of his work, but because his Orthodox Christian affiliation is so well known—that “mystical, Eastern faith” has been mentioned in almost everything ever written about him—they either seize on Ortho-stereotypes like icons or bells or they remain silent. Evidently, then, there is a void to be filled. But addressing the connection between Pärt’s Orthodoxy and the spirituality of his music has been anything but straightforward. The composer himself embodies the paradox of the particular and the universal: he is a committed, faithful Orthodox Christian who reads the scripture and the fathers, prays the Liturgy, and cherishes his retreats at monasteries. Yet he is also adamant that he not be pigeonholed as “The Orthodox The Wheel 1 | Spring 2015

Composer Arvo Pärt,” for this would betray both the breadth of his reach (making his music into something exclusive), and the catholicity of his musical influences. As to the latter, Pärt consistently acknowledges that he has been steeped in the sacred music of the West far more than that of the East. Complexities like this are welcome in that they help keep us from fetishizing Orthodoxy, as if it were a discrete and exclusive imprint. That being said, it remains of interest to explore how his Orthodox faith and life has affected his work (a) in his life’s odyssey, (b) in his choice of sacred texts, and (c) in the “inner life” of his music. Born of an Orthodox father and a Lutheran mother, Pärt was raised in a Protestant tradition during Estonia’s Soviet period. What began leading him towards a genuine and adult faith was his study of music during his conservatory years, music that had included Masses, Requiems, Passions, and other devotional works of Western classical composers. The pivotal years between 1968–1976, during which he composed almost nothing, were years of turmoil and ferment involving personal, musical, and spiritual transition—sometimes all at once. Western sacred music played a still more central role during this time: his immersion into medieval and renaissance music, and particularly his discovery of Gregorian chant, was for him a musical revelation of the purity of the single line. But it was also a spiritual one, in that he came to realize that this music, which had emanated from an ethos of prayer and faith, could best be “received” in the listener who is him- or herself on a journey of prayer and faith.

“It would be too easy for a seriously observant Christian to trivialize people’s vaguely ‘spiritual’ aspirations.”


“For many of his listeners, the texts are not what speaks spiritually. It is the music.”

Through a series of personal encounters, and through a transformative engagement with the texts of the Philokalia and other early Christian writings, Pärt’s journey to Orthodoxy culminated in his reception into the Church in 1972. It is important to note that he saw this as an entry into the life of the Church and its faith, rather than a renunciation of anything “Western,” nor an affiliation with Russianness, nor a political statement of any kind. His reemergence as a composer came in 1976, since which time his numerous compositions, in the style he has called tintinnabuli, have nearly all taken on explicitly sacred themes. His earliest tintinnabuli works, from 1976–77 include several of his most enduring and well-known. These are among his very few compositions that are not set to any text: Für Alina, Spiegel im Spiegel, Cantus in Memory of Benjamin Britten, Fratres, and Tabula Rasa. Concurrently with these, and then for the following decade, there are works set either to scriptural passages or to Western (Latin) liturgical texts and prayers. These include major works like the St. John Passio, and Miserere (Psalm 51), both in Latin. In the 1990s, there was a flourishing of works using texts in Church Slavonic taken from the Orthodox liturgical and prayer tradition (for example, Bogoroditse Djevo [Rejoice, O Virgin Theotokos], Trisagion, Litany, Kanon Pokajanen [The Canon of Repentance to Our Lord Jesus Christ]), as well as from the writings of St. Silouan the Athonite (Silouan’s Song). This latter piece is one of two so far that testify to Pärt’s close relationship to


the legacy of St. Silouan, particularly as conveyed by Archimandrite Sophrony (Sakharov) and his monastic community in Essex, England. More recently, his 2010 composition Adam’s Lament, set to St. Silouan’s eponymous meditation, has become one of Pärt’s most significant compositions. Although the 1990s saw a proliferation of compositions set to Slavonic (and identifiably Orthodox) texts, this was not a period of Orthodox exclusivity. Those above-mentioned works developed alongside others in Latin, English, Italian, Spanish, and German, with origins in Scripture as well as in both the Eastern and Western prayer traditions. Text plays a critically important role for Pärt’s compositions—he has spoken of his compositions as merely translations of the texts, their ultimate content and meaning. The texts and their languages would thus seem all the more to be a crucial way of conveying spiritual content. For many of his listeners, however, the texts are not what speaks spiritually. It is the music. They are not hearing Christian music, whether “Eastern” or “Western,” they are hearing music that evokes the transcendent. If not the texts, then, what enables the music to operate at that level? Since the sacred texts mean so much to the composer, perhaps the music that so completely relies on them somehow manages to breathe their inner meaning across the divides of language and faith, so that the text itself somehow recedes in importance. If this is the case, his music has succeeded in its stated goal of translating the text. Orthodox listen-

ers will resonate in a particular way with the texts coming from their tradition, Western Christians likewise from theirs, and those outside these traditions will hear music that mysteriously bears the traces of a particular, Christian tradition. As at Pentecost, each will hear it in their own language. But there is also something else within Pärt’s music that speaks universally, something lodged deeply within the tintinnabuli method that he developed in 1976. The dynamic of the tintinnabuli style means that the music, which tends towards the somber or even the sad, is able to convey an inextricable interweaving of suffering and hope. This two-natured character often appears in listeners’ descriptions. The configuration of pain and consolation, fall and redemption, death and life, shines through. Audiences often feel as though the music is listening to them, hearing out their grief. The delicate but somehow inevitable interweaving of suffering and hope is a universal, archetypal reality, even as Orthodox Christians will justifiably identify it within the particular framework of the Cross of Christ, the

defeat of death by means of death, the ethos of “bright sadness,” and the great saying revealed to St. Silouan: “Keep your mind in hell, and despair not.” Through their overarching ethos as well as through the texts that serve as their basis, Pärt’s compositions have embraced a catholicity of spiritual and linguistic origins. Together with the texts, the music itself is of a character that is unique to the composer while bearing traces of Slavic and Western traditions. The music expresses the character of human suffering and sadness that have been irrevocably redeemed by hope. What we have in Arvo Pärt is a man who is steeped in Orthodoxy, who takes his faith totally seriously, but who is at the same time open to the spiritual and artistic riches of the Christian West, a man who speaks to the ambivalence of the fallen-yet-redeemed human condition in ways that are relevant to anyone. His Orthodox Christian identity is undeniable, it nourishes his soul and feeds his music, but it is not worn as a badge of identity. And he is embraced by audiences that the Orthodox Church itself has yet to reach.

Dr. Peter Bouteneff has taught at St. Vladimir’s Seminary since 2000, in early and modern theology and in the arts. He is cofounder of the seminary’s Arvo Pärt Project, which brought the composer to New York for concerts at Carnegie Hall and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Bouteneff recently completed the monograph Arvo Pärt: Out of Silence, forthcoming from SVS Press.

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© 2015 The Wheel. May be distributed for noncommercial use.


Pertzoff signing the construction contract for Boston’s Holy Trinity Cathedral with representatives of the parish council and contractor A. J. Martini. Archival photo.


Constantin Pertzoff and the Quest for American Orthodox Architecture Inga Leonova No architect can rebuild a cathedral of another epoch embodying the desires, the aspirations, the love and hate of the people whose heritage it became. Therefore the images we have before us of monumental structures of the past cannot live again with the same intensity and meaning. Their faithful duplication is unreconcilable. —Louis Kahn, “Monumentality”

Photos by author, except as noted.


Study the old work but do not copy. Rather think what the masters of old would have done if they had the methods and materials of construction which we have now. Then go ahead with the design and,

during this long and difficult process, fight hard for the right to do things in as simple and straightforward a way as possible. —Constantin Pertzoff The history of church architecture in America reflects in wood, brick, stone, and concrete the turbulent history of the establishment and development of Orthodoxy in America. The first missionaries in Alaska began by resorting to the tradition of house worship of the early years of Christianity, establishing chapels in houses of the Russian American

Company and later, as the mission expanded, in homes of the converted native Alaskans. The first church buildings reflected the architecture of the northern Russian wooden churches. As the mission moved its headquarters into the mainland, first to California and then to the East Coast, it carried with it the same tendency to construct its houses of worship in the image and likeness of churches of its homeland. However, with the influx of immigrants from Eastern Europe and Western Russia in the first decades of the twentieth century, the establishment of the new parishes far outpaced the ability of the immigrant groups to finance construction of new churches. Everywhere in the United States Orthodox parishes had to rely on the hospitality of neighboring Christian communities. Borrowing space for worship in Episcopal, Congregational and other churches often led to the subsequent purchase of these buildings, followed by modifications to accommodate Orthodox liturgy and to make them look more “Orthodox.” More often than not exterior changes were limited to

the addition—usually highly incongruously—of onion domes. Most of the work done in the interior spaces, where iconostases, panikadila, and other Orthodox interior decorations and appointments were added, created a curious transition from a familiar Protestant exterior to a fairly typical Orthodox interior. Around that time, however, a decidedly non-Orthodox element of interior space established itself in many Orthodox churches: pews, which were generally the legacy of the “previous owners.” In the early years of such conversions, pews were removed so as to imitate the open and more functional liturgical space of the home parishes. But as the immigrants became more assimilated into the American mainstream, pews began to become a familiar fixture of American Orthodox churches. The Orthodox appropriation of those “foreign” buildings usually reflected the prevailing taste of one or another ethnic group, which is why the ethnic pedigree of the Orthodox immigrant communities can be easily traced by the Carpatho-Russian, Ukrainian, Northern Russian, or Vladimir shapes of the onion domes on their churches.

Three Saints Church, Ansonia, Connecticut: exterior and nave.

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From the preparatory documents for the Eighth All-American Orthodox Church Council, 1950. Grammar, spelling, and emphasis are preserved from the original. 1


It is worth noting that the Westernized style of Orthodox architecture of post-Petrine Russia made little mark on the American Metropolia. Nostalgia focused on the images of prePetrine structures which felt more “native” to the immigrants. Where new churches were built from the 1 ground up, and when there was sufficient capital to spare, their design strove to imitate” the familiar—from the clean white stone of the ancient churches of Vladimir and Suzdal to the architectural richness of the Russian and Ukrainian Baroque. In the Old World, the nascent development of the new architectural thinking that had begun in prerevolutionary Russia (and carried great potential for the architectural development of the Metropolia) was arrested and squashed by the October Revolution. For the multitudes of Russian and Eastern European exiles, little need was felt to establish an American Orthodox architectural identity. Their desire was for romanticized traditional church architecture. Post-revolutionary immigrants reacted with sometimes violent disdain to the proliferation of cheaply constructed Orthodox churches in America, such as St. Gregory the Theologian Church in Wappingers Falls, New York or St. Stephen Cathedral in Philadelphia, which utilized typical, one-size-fitsall church blueprints prepared by American architects with minimal Orthodox “customization.” One of the most vocal critics of the disparity and lack of vision in American church construction was an immigrant architect from St. Petersburg, Roman N. Verhovskoy. He was a curious figure. A graduate of the Imperial Russian Academy of Art in St.

Petersburg, Verhovskoy aspired to be—and eventually succeeded in establishing himself as—the official architect of the Russian Metropolia. He vehemently professed that Orthodox architecture in America had one purpose only: to be the face of the Russian people in America. In the words of his manifesto: The church is the face of the national soul (spirit) of each nation. Only persons deprived of the deep feeling of their national dignity and self-respect (personality) go toward other foreign people to beg them for their ‘face’—image (project) of their own church, i.e. of their own spirit, their own religion. As a result, the foreign, outside world considers this kind of people as being a ‘lower race.’1 In the course of his long career in America, Verhovskoy was tireless in his violent criticism of Orthodox church architecture which deviated in any way from what he considered the “gold standard” of Russian Orthodox church building. This standard was, not surprisingly, his personal vision, which, judging by several surviving churches and drawings of unbuilt edifices, was a romanticized and somewhat modernized version of the Vladimir style, on par with the explorations of the great Russian architect Alexei Shchusev but nowhere near as elegant or sophisticated. In fact, an analysis of his archive demonstrates that he sought to legislate his oversight over every single architectural design in the Russian Metropolia, and he took as a personal offense every project that had been undertaken without appealing to his expertise and advice. In spite of such active campaigning for himself, his legacy includes only a handful of church-

Left to right: early rendering of Holy Trinity Cathedral; 1960 exterior photo with original cupola. Archival images.

es, several iconostases and an unrealized project for an All-American Cathedral intended for the site of the present Cathedral of the Holy Virgin Protection on Second Street in New York City. In conflict with his repeated statements that only national architects should build national churches, he undertook two projects for the Greek Archdiocese and even one for a Buddhist temple. Never was his criticism so vitriolic, however, as when the offending architect was striving to explore the vernacular legacy of the American architectural landscape and to develop the archetypes that would go beyond the repetition of familiar ancient forms from the old country. His comments on those projects are not for the faint of heart to read. One of his favorite targets, perhaps due to the fact that he practiced in the vicinity of Verhovskoy’s own studio in New York, was a Boston architect, Constantin Pertzoff. Constantin A. Pertzoff was also a White Russian immigrant from a similar background to Verhovskoy. Being some years Verhovskoy’s junior, he The Wheel 1 | Spring 2015

had received his architectural training in his new homeland. He was a graduate of the Harvard Graduate School of Design at the time when austere Bauhaus Modernism brought from Germany by Hitler’s exiles was triumphantly conquering the minds of young American architects.2 He went on to become a friend and colleague of one of the greatest Bauhaus architects, Walter Gropius, who founded the famous Boston office of “gentlemen architects” from Europe, The Architects Collaborative (TAC). Pertzoff’s professional legacy includes several houses, his own among them, in the modernist colony in Lincoln, Massachusetts; a fairly well-known 1944 master plan for the redevelopment of Manhattan; and a small but interesting collection of writings that are especially notable for his forward-thinking notions on sustainable architecture. In 1944, he coauthored an article ambitiously titled “An Organic Theory of City Planning.” In it, he argued that modern city planning needed to recover the notion of the city as a community and to strive for reestablishment of social spaces. Without mounting a direct challenge to the governing American philoso-

The Bauhaus was a design school in Germany founded by Walter Gropius that synthesized education in crafts and the fine arts. Active from 1919 to 1933, it had a lasting influence on modernist architecture and design. 2


Nave of Holy Trinity Cathedral. Photo by Christopher Smith.

phy of redevelopment—exemplified, for instance, by the mercilessly pragmatic enterprises of Robert Moses in New York City—Pertzoff and his collaborators presented a distinctly contrary view of the modern city. In urban planning as well as in sustainable residential design, Pertzoff was ahead of his time in terms of his concern with human scale and with social engagement in urban development, notions which are only now gaining traction in American urban design. He was a committed modernist and viewed architecture in moral terms, a philosophy that he shared with his European modernist colleagues. He was also well educated in the history of European architecture, having supplemented his studies with extensive travel thanks to a Wheelwright Traveling Fellowship in Architecture. Pertzoff spent the early years of his career working for architectural firms that were known for church architecture among other things. After returning from his travels in Europe in 1938, he set up his own practice, which focused mostly on residential design. By virtue of being a parishioner of Holy Trinity Cathedral in Boston, in 1948 Pertzoff received a commission for the design of the new cathedral 40

on Park Drive, which led to another church project in Ansonia, Connecticut. The church of St. Nicholas in Whitestone, New York, designed by Sergey Padukow, who became a successor of sorts to Roman Verhovskoy as the spokesperson for the architecture of the Metropolia, exhibits interesting parallels with the design of Holy Trinity. In a contrast to many of his compatriots, Pertzoff had been so successfully assimilated into American society that his 1937 marriage to Olga Monks, a niece of the art collector and philanthropist Isabella Stewart Gardner, took place in an elaborate threestage ceremony that included two religious services (one Orthodox and one Episcopalian) and a reception in the Gardner Palazzo. Pertzoff family history maintains that this connection proved highly advantageous to the Holy Trinity parish when, a few years later, it was seeking a site for the new cathedral. Apparently the Gardner family assisted the parish in their negotiations for the plot in the prestigious Fenway neighborhood across the park from the Palazzo. According to parish documents, Pertzoff, in addition to being the architect for the new cathedral and its iconostasis, was one of its most significant do-

nors, which allowed him to exercise considerable freedom in making decisions and to wield significant power in his relationship with the cathedral building committee. The design and erection of the new Holy Trinity Cathedral was plagued by considerable financial difficulties and ultimately relied heavily on supplemental “penny collection.” In spite of that, the groundbreaking ceremony, presided over by Bishop Dmitri (Magan) of Boston and Fr. Theodore Chepeleff, took place on September 25, 1949. The first (lower) part of the building, at 165 Park Drive, was consecrated by Bishop Dmitri on February 3, 1952. The construction of the upper structure of the cathedral began in 1959, and on October 16, 1960, the new Holy Trinity Cathedral was consecrated by Metropolitan Leonty and Archbishop Ireney of Boston and New England. The consecration was attended by, among others, Bishop Valerian of the Romanian Diocese and Princess Ileana of Romania, who was apparently one of the most significant benefactors.3 Due to a lack of additional funds, the construction of the iconostasis did not begin until 1968 at the earliest. The original design called for painted icons, but subsequently a decision was made to commission mosaics from Baron Nicholas B. Meyendorff, an iconographer residing in Vienna, Austria. Special collections were taken to cover the cost of each mosaic icon. In June 1969, Nicholas Meyendorff unexpectedly passed away, and the mosaics already started were completed by his daughter Helen. Ten out of the planned twelve mosaics of the Apostles were eventually completed and installed. The Wheel 1 | Spring 2015

The architectural design of Holy Trinity Cathedral is completely unique in the fabric of Orthodox architecture, American or otherwise. Pertzoff’s inspiration for the space was the cathedral of Hagia Sophia in Constantinople, a grand volume of space uncluttered by structure and permitting unrestricted movement and visibility. The architect attempted to synthesize his knowledge of traditional Russian ecclesiastic architectural forms with the motifs of New England ship design, using glued laminated wood beams as barrel ribs and wood planking as cladding to evoke the imagery of a boat’s hold—a reference both to seafaring traditions and to the ancient Christian image of the Church as ship. The architect’s modernist sensibility is evident in the simplicity of the main volumetric solutions as well as in the use of light yellow brick, which contrasts with the traditional Boston red brick. In a rather charming nod to his modernist friends, Pertzoff used the same pendant light fixtures in the cathedral hall and wall sconces in the nave that had been used by Gropius in his projects at the Harvard Law School and in his own house in Lincoln.

Princess Ileana later became Mother Alexandra, founder of Holy Transfiguration Monastery in Ellwood City, Pennsylvania. 3

The success of this synthesis is more evident inside the church than on the exterior. The cathedral’s cruciform barrel vaults, completely uninterrupted due to the load-bearing structural properties of laminated wood, form a glorious open space that inspire a feeling of awe and of a soaring of the spirit in those who enter. The use of natural wood allows for a more intimate feeling in the space than would be expected from its physical size. The abundance of natural light and the placement of the windows bestow a dynamic and sometimes mystical 41

Three Saints Church, Ansonia, Connecticut: view from the east and interior of cupola.

quality upon the space that enriches the experience of liturgical services. The absence of interior divisions in the nave, save for the iconostasis which separates the main space from the sanctuary, conveys the “oneness” of the church community in the celebration of the Liturgy. The exterior form of the cathedral lacks proportional development and shows evidence of the difficulty of synthesizing disparate architectural traditions. The main cupola was redesigned several times, evolving from a classic Vladimir-style drum and cupola as represented in the early fundraising rendering to its ultimate form, sporting elliptical arches around the drum and an austere top. The original “spaceage” form was replaced in 1994 by a more traditional Ukrainian Baroque onion dome, which resolved the practical problem of leaking but did not help alleviate a certain stylistic confusion. Holy Trinity Cathedral is recognized as a landmark of Boston modernist architecture and is featured as such in 42

the American Institute of Architects’ AIA Guide to Boston. In spite of Verhovskoy’s expressions of disdain for Pertzoff’s architectural experimentation, the design brought Pertzoff the commission for Three Saints Church in Ansonia, Connecticut. Completed and dedicated in 1965, the church in Ansonia represented the architect’s attempt to respond to an iconic New England church image with its tall white spires. The design was a true marriage of a traditional Orthodox temple with the local vernacular. It is both modern and traditional in lines and volume, and it walks that fine line gracefully. Like the Boston Cathedral, Three Saints appears much larger inside than it does from outside—another success of Pertzoff’s command of volume and space. The interior volume is more partitioned than that of Holy Trinity, responding to the requirement to have secondary chapels in side naves, but the main space remains open and soaring. The demand for pews gives the building a more

Three Saints Church, Ansonia, Connecticut: details of the nave.

Western feel. There is a complexity of architectural references in its design, such as the central cupola under the spire which simultaneously evokes the shatyor churches of medieval Russia and the spires of the American colonial era. The iconography, executed in close coordination with the design, enhances the richness of the experience of the space without overwhelming its clarity. Constantin Pertzoff’s explorations of American Orthodox architecture in response to an emerging American Orthodox identity represent an effort which, while not completely isolated, is nevertheless unique in both its courage and the strength of its results. Unfor-

tunately, those explorations were conducted without the benefit of creative collaboration or theological dialogue and produced little ongoing development. Nevertheless, they represented a response to the profound necessity “to build churches out of that reality which we experience and verify every day” while remaining faithful to the definition of an ecclesiastical building as one whose primary function is to be an epiphany of divine and human transcendent co-celebration. Recovering the freedom of creative thought that nourishes such experimentation is essential if American Orthodoxy is to gain its own unique architectural identity.

Inga Leonova is a practicing architect and educator. She teaches a course on monotheism, culture, and sacred space at the Boston Architectural College and serves as a thesis advisor at the New England School of Art and Design. She is the author of several publications on Orthodoxy and cultural issues, including liturgical architecture and ecology.

The Wheel 1 | Spring 2015

Rudolf Schwarz, The Church Incarnate: The Sacred Function of Christian Architecture (Chicago: Henry Regnery, 1958), 11. 4

© 2015 The Wheel. May be distributed for noncommercial use.



Little Song Bill Coyle Shouldering bits of granite on graveled driveways, wading waist deep through polished green, spreading like wildfire, penning purple passages…and here at our doorstep, and here at the foundation… Crocus—a fistful, a flourish worthy of an old-time magician: ex-nihilo. What next, a rabbit? The oldest trick in the book of nature, the oldest profession (make that profusion) of faith, answering the grave’s hollow mockery with this infinite gesture.

© 2015 The Wheel. May be distributed for noncommercial use.


The poems of Bill Coyle have appeared in the Hudson Review, The New Criterion, The New Republic, Poetry, and The Swallow Anthology of New American Poets. His 2006 collection, The God of This World to His Prophet, won the New Criterion Poetry Prize. In 2010, he was awarded a translation fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts. His website is at


The Day I Committed Myself to the Abolition of Torture Brigitte Vilanova Translated by Michael Berrigan Clark From early on I had the desire to be politically engaged. Already in my student days I was tutoring troubled adolescents. I admit it without blushing: I have the soul of an activist—and it is true that the spirit of the 1960s was manifest in all that... After getting my degree in history, I became a public school teacher. Of course, I quickly turned to involvement in the teachers’ union, and from my early twenties was an enthusiastic participant in the SGEN–CFDT.1 I think that fundamentally I’m a down to earth woman, close to ordinary people, to those who suffer, who have difficulties in their daily existence. I completed my entire career as a history teacher for the National Education System in a zone designated as underprivileged.

I liked very much. On that evening, he invited me to meet with a group of Chilean refugees. I remember very well how little charm there was in that evening. It was a dark, cold, sad day, with a gray sky typical of November in the Paris region. We were dinner guests at a convent. I was welcomed by some rather austere nuns. Once in the dining hall, I was startled by the face of a young Chilean woman. Her features were drawn, she seemed to have wept so much that her eyes were circled in blue. She spoke in Spanish and shared with us the story of her suffering. Her husband and son had been murdered before her eyes. She was not alone. Her friends joined her with their testimony: they had been tortured, their faces still marked by cuts and bruises from beatings.

But one experience in particular transformed my outlook on the world. It was November 1973. Augusto Pinochet had just taken power in Chile— and so began the authoritarian regime marked by multiple human rights violations. I had kept in contact with my high school chaplain whom

Their testimony devastated me: I was aware that there were regions of the world where suffering was the everyday lot of the population, but this was only a theoretical knowledge. But from that moment, tangible proof rose up before me: faces marked, disfigured by the

The Wheel 1 | Spring 2015

(Note: This article appears with the permission of Mouvement, a new journal created by and for the Orthodox youth of Europe, in which it originally appeared. Mouvement may be downloaded at mouvementjjo. Article reported by Igor Sollogoub.) Syndicat général de l’Éducation nationale–Confédération française démocratique du travail. This is France’s federation of unions that includes teaching personnel from elementary through university research levels. — ­ Ed. 1


“From that evening forward, I decided no longer to remain indifferent to the suffering of others.”

atrocity of torture. Suddenly our Chilean friends stood up and began a simple dance. A dance from their country, a spare, restrained dance, but their faces lit up and their smiles appeared. That dance overwhelmed me: how could these people, who had suffered so much just a short while ago, still manage to find the strength to dance?

major confessions. Our action is more humble than that of Amnesty International, but my commitment there [in ACAT] makes more sense. We pray together for those tortured and those condemned to death, and we maintain a written correspondence with them. The connection is direct, often very intense, and real friendship can be established.

I saw a powerful sign in all that: even brought low, humiliated, human beings are able to raise themselves up and remain dignified. From that evening forward, I decided no longer to remain indifferent to the suffering of others, even those geographically far away. At first I committed myself to the work of Amnesty International, a non-governmental organization that takes action on a large scale around the globe. But the desire to live out my commitment in the heart of a community pushed me to join ACAT, the Association of Christians for the Abolition of Torture, in 1980. This is an ecumenical association of Christians including faithful from all three

I felt a very strong unity between my commitment to ACAT and my entry into the Orthodox Church, which also took place in 1980. In Orthodoxy I found the Resurrection, the raising up of the human being by the resurrected Christ. In my parish I heard Olivier Clément refer to a mosaic found in a small church in Istanbul: in it one sees Christ pulling up out of hell Adam and Eve, that is to say, all of humanity. At ACAT, that is what we do on a somewhat smaller scale: we set people on their feet, we give them back a little hope. A spark of resurrection that I had already sensed on that evening in November 1973 among the Chilean refugees.

Brigitte Vilanova was the Orthodox vice president of the Association of Christians for the Abolition of Torture from 2006 to 2012.

Translation © 2015 The Wheel. May be distributed for noncommercial use.


Photo by Nina Lefoulon.

“Whatever this ‘Christ-living-in-me’ is, and it is most

assuredly not a particular thing, it holds true for each of us. My Christ-self is your Christ-self, our enemy’s

Christ-self (2 Cor. 10:7). A helpful image to express this

sort of thing is a wheel with spokes centered on a single hub. The hub of the wheel is God; we are the spokes.

Out on the rim of the wheel the spokes are furthest from one another, but at the center, the hub, the spokes are

most united to each other. They are a single meeting in the one hub. The image was used in the early church to say something important about that level of life at

which we are one with each other and one with God. The more we journey toward the Center, the closer

we are both to God and to each other. The problem of

feeling isolated from both God and others is overcome in the experience of the Center. This journey into God

and the profound meeting of others in the inner ground of silence is a single movement. Exterior isolation is overcome in interior communion.”

– Martin Laird, Into the Silent Land: A Guide to the Christian Practice of Contemplation.

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