I also Experienced, Together With My Church, the Very Unique Changes We Underwent

Sister Vassa (Larin) has lived the Orthodox monastic life for twenty-five years. She received her Masters Degree in Orthodox Theology from the Ludwig Maximilians University of Munich, where she also received her doctorate degree in 2008 under the direction of Robert Taft, S.J.  Since January 2009, she teaches Liturgical Studies at the University of Vienna. Sister Vassa also hosts the popular YouTube show “Coffee With Sister Vassa,” where she discusses liturgical, ecclesiastical and spiritual topics.

What does it mean for you as a nun and scholar to communicate with a world wide audience via your YouTube channel?

I see this kind of communication as my “obedience“ (or “poslushanie“, as we say in  Russian) and also my obligation. Because my spiritual father  and archbishop, Vladyka Mark of Berlin and Germany, both sent me to receive  academic degrees in theology, and later blessed me to take on a teaching position at the University of Vienna. He also blessed me to make these videos, as part  of my academic  activities. He did not send me to get a doctoral degree just to stimulate my own brain cells or to decorate my CV. I was blessed to receive a theological education to be of service to others; to share this gift with others. Today in academia it is becoming increasingly popular for professors to offer courses online, as a service to the larger public. However, as an Orthodox Christian in academia, I am not only a member of the  academic community, but also a member of the Church. So, just like the rest of us within the one body that is the Church, I try to make myself useful in the way that I can.

As far as the world-wide audience is concerned, I am grateful for it. I never  expected to have viewers volunteer to translate the videos into the many languages we now have in the subtitles: Russian, Greek, Serbian, Spanish, Romanian, Bulgarian, Ukrainian,  Slovak – and occasionally Japanese, Portuguese, Georgian, Hungarian, Finnish, and even Arabic. We have received letters of thanks from war-torn Syria, from South Africa, and many more from Russia, Serbia, and Greece –  even from Mount Athos. Christ calls us all to “Go and teach all the nations…“ Both men and women answered that call in the Early Church with great enthusiasm. Even the Samaritan woman in the Gospel – a sinful woman – managed to convert her entire village to faith in Christ, by spreading the word about Him. So, if today we are able to spread His word through the internet, as well as the word about His saints – then I think we can be nothing other than grateful for that opportunity to answer Christ’s call.

You have a substantial support base within the Russian Church Abroad. In which ROCOR communities have you made “coffee affiliated” presentations? Can you tell us some of the encouraging comments that came from the ROCOR audience?

I have only given one talk in a ROCOR parish, and that was at Fr. Victor Potapov’s Cathedral of St. John the Baptist, in Washington, DC. That talk was a great blessing for me, not only because Fr. Victor and his parishioners were very welcoming, but also because the talk was given in the presence of the Kursk icon of the Mother of God. I will not repeat the comments of the audience, because the  entire talk, as well as the audience’s comments, was filmed and is available on YouTube, entitled “Living Tradition in the City.“ It can be accessed at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tbGsoaEcYJo.

I have also accepted an invitation to speak at the ROCOR St. Herman’s Conference in Cincinnati, as well as several ROCOR parishes in the Chicago Archdiocese, at the end of this upcoming December and the beginning of January.

You were raised in the Russian Church Abroad and have lived in traditional ROCOR convents in Lesna and in Jerusalem. You speak the same cultural language  as some of us who might find it problematic that a ROCOR nun is  “running a YouTube show.” Could you explain what you do so that a member of our Church will better understand the need for such work?

I think I explained that sufficiently, in reply to your first question. But I am not sure what you mean, since I don’t know any ROCOR members who find the show “problematic.“ In any event, this surprises me. Nobody from our Church has ever approached me with such a comment. After all, our Church has several YouTube channels, and various members of the Church appear in these videos. For example, Fr. Victor Potapov’s parish regularly posts very interesting videos of talks given at that parish – talks given by monastics and laypeople. There is also humorous content in some ROCOR videos, such as the video of the Eastern American Diocese entitled “Orthodox in Dixie.“ So, it is apparently OK for our Church to have YouTube videos, and it’s also apparently OK for members of our Church – monastic and otherwise – to appear in them, also in a humorous context.

If, perhaps, you mean that only my videos, specifically, are “problematic,“ because I happen to be a female monastic – then you will have to find the Gospel about the Samaritan woman “problematic,“ among other passages in the New Testament, because there, in the New Testament, we see various types of women spreading the good news about Christ. Of course, those women did not use YouTube, because they did not have that resource. But I do have that resource. And I use it, just like other members of my Church.

You are fluent in contemporary theological, academic and social trends. How does your ROCOR background help you in your work?

My ROCOR background helps me in everything, not only my work. Because it is the Church that baptised me, taught me its traditions as well as love for them, accepted  me into monasticism, heard my confessions and raised me up again when I fell (and continues to do so), and blessed me to study. I also experienced, together with my Church, the very unique changes we underwent, as ROCOR members, when our Church opened up to communion with other Orthodox Churches. Our Church had the humility and wisdom to change, and to open up to the broader world of Orthodoxy; to open up after many years of a very isolated existence. I find myself still processing this immense transition, and learning from it. I now cross paths with other Orthodox jurisdictions on a regular basis, and am often very impressed by the vibrant church-life that I observe there. This kind of capacity to change, demonstrated by our Church in recent  years, is very unique in the history of church divisions, and I am grateful to be part of it.

Source: Conducted by Deacon Andrei Psarev.

7 thoughts on “I also Experienced, Together With My Church, the Very Unique Changes We Underwent”

  1. A very interesting and informative interview, unearthing a deeper understanding of both, Sister Vassa, and the Church she loves! As a Byzantine Catholic who prays daily for unity of all the body of Christ, this gives me great hope for the future of our Churches!

  2. I of course can only speak for myself, but I find Sister Vassa’s broadcasts both learned and accessible. They are serious and informative yet unassuming. I didn’t know that Sister Vassa had an advanced degree, but thinking about it now, it makes perfect sense and is so obvious. I sense that a lot of good is being done by these broadcasts because complex problems of theology and ecclesiology are presented in smart but understandable ways–no small accomplishment! And as a faithful, devoted son of the Church Abroad–my home on so many levels–I will be so bold even to assert, at the risk of being an искушение, that hers is a needed voice at this particular moment in the history our beloved Church. And, to bend a quote of Sister Margaretta from the Sound of Music: “I’d like to say a word in her behalf: Sister Vassa makes me laugh!”

  3. First of all I want to say that I am delighted to see that someone like Sr. Vassa takes on the task to missionize in the world the Orthodox faith and using tools that are available to us to do so. And I am not only talking about the technology, also the method of humor is drawing peoples attention.

    However I have to say that I was taken a little aback about the attitude she answered the third question. It came across to me as a bit arrogant. Just by the mere fact that someone is putting herself out there into the mass media, internet connected world, it is bound to happen that someone will voice critic. And not to put words in the mouth of Fr. Andrei, I don’t think the critic he mentioned was so much meant on the media tool as on the content of some of her shows. I witnessed myself some comments Sr. Vassa made in her shows, that raised an eyebrow when I heard them. The reason I am concerned was not so much that someone can say something that might be questionable or representing the churches teaching in its perfect condition, especially when one tries to put it in simple terms. That can easy happen, and I think not anyone is protected in that regards. I might have said, even from the ambon, things that by closer inspection would be questionable and I would probably not say it the same way again, because they were imprecise or flat out wrong. But I have at least the chance to correct it the next Sunday, or at other opportunities. The problem to do that on a show that mostly is addressed to people that want to learn more about the Orthodox faith, that they might be lead into the wrong direction. So I would wish that some statements Sr. Vassa makes would not come across as such absolutes.

    The other point that I have to make is to her statement in the interview that ROCOR was in a state “of a very isolated existence” for many years. Let me be clear: I was and am in favor of a reunited church with the MP. However this whole paragraph might construct the illusion that it was ROCOR, out its own will, who went into isolation. Rather than, that it was ROCOR who tried to protect the faith. Strongly speaking, it seems to me that she said that ROCOR was in schism and we were humble enough to return to the mother church. There are many that would like to see it that way nowadays, but that is just doing the historical facts unjust to say the least.

    Again, maybe I am too harsh on Sr. Vassa. These two things just might have rubbed me the wrong way. But if I misunderstood what she said, I apologize. I am just concerned that others might have understood it the same way as I did, hence I am voicing this so public here.

  4. I agree with you, mostly. I also didn’t care for that political slant. To try to make it sound like Rocor was in error is outrageous ! With already several incorrupt hierarchs, what else does one need as proof that Rocor was on the right path ? We have had St John Maximovitch, Metropolitan Philaret and now Bishop Constantine [Essensky], all hierarchs from THAT era, discovered incorrupt, with others rumored to be too, such as Archbishop Tikhon [Troitsky].

    Can anyone name a single incorrupt hierarch from any other jurisdiction during this era ?

    Whatever humans think, God’s verdict is clear.

    I like Sister Vassa very much. She has accomplished an amazing amount.

    But I was also taken aback by her reply to that reasonable question posed by Deacon Andrei. I thought also it may have be a little bit out of place for a conservative Orthodox nun to be broadcast like that regularly. I am a woman, so I can’t be accused of “chauvinism” !

    The Samaritan woman analogy doesn’t ring true. There also weren’t Orthodox nuns at that time, so the comparison is not apt. If nuns had been giving speeches to crowds in the early years of Christianity, but perhaps the practice sunk into disuse over time, she might have an argument here.

    It would have come across as more polite for Sr Vassa to acknowledge what Deacon Andrei said and present a more thoughtful answer rather than lash back [which is how it sounded to an observer, however her reply may have been intended.]

    I wouldn’t have said anything regarding either of these points had you not carved out the path, so I am grateful that you expressed your opinion forthrightly, Hieromonk Alexander. Just meant as constructive criticism, while wishing her efforts all the best !

  5. Science and wisdom have masters opposites.

    The Dead Sea due to high salinity is lifeless.
    No science can fill it of life.

    Eliminate the canon in 1172
    the world will see the impossible,
    will know the truth, there will be Peace

    Why it is necessary to eliminate the 1172 Catholic canon?
    One day the disciples came to Jesus to report a man that casting out demons in his name: “Marco9 [38] John said to Jesus: Master, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we forbade him, because he was not one of us. “[39] But Jesus answered them: Do not prevent it, for there is no one who does a miracle in my name and immediately after can speak evil of me”. As say: “do not prevent it because I can act only through those which they have faith in my name”. Knowing what it would have made in the centuries the malignant one in order to make them to fall in error Jesus put them in guard because, by virtue of the power conferred to the Church, whatever thing they establish in earth is law in sky “Matthew 18 [18] In truth I tell you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven”. In defiance of how much it has ordered N. S. Jesus Christ (the word of God is verb and law of life) in 1985 the Cardinal Joseph Ratzingher has established the exact opposite (can.1172): “No one can legitimately act (free possessed people) in name of God if he has not obtained from the local bishop express permission. The local ordinary is to give this permission only to a presbyter who has piety, of knowledge, prudence and integrity of life”. In two word, without express permission of the Bishop, none priest can act in name of God and without the permission of the Pontiff none person that it has received the baptism. A rule demential useful only to the devil to hide himself, hide the truth and act undisturbed. Not only. What is more difficult to liberate a possessed person, heal a sick or move a mountain? That’s why Jesus said: “because there is no one who does a miracle in my name …” Freeing a possessed is a miracle. It means that there not exist the healers and the exorcists but the Saints that do the two things together because to act is always God with His Spirit. Anyone who says he had freed a possessed men and quickly after does he not heal any disease and infirmity other is not that a victim of the devil that deceives himself and others. Not only. Saints one is not born but it becomes by grace of God in virtue of the faith. How can therefore the Church establish a license of holiness if only God knows our faith? The canon 1172 is a sin (the most severe sin because against the Holy Spirit) that kills the faith and enchains the saints. More than so.

    Who am I?
    We say a Catholic that in 2000 (after a series of unexplained events that have destroyed the family) has began to do some researches on human faculties and occultism. A long history. A road full of pitfalls. An ordeal of suffering and tribulations that they have address me to the prayer and to the study of the scripture until to arrive to the summit of the knowledges. The unknowable is all that we cannot see, feel and understand without the help of God because a force that act on the faculties prevents it. It is the spirit that dominates the matter and directs the thoughts and not reverse. To conquer and retain the domain of the faculties it is necessary to fight sin (deforms the spiritual substance and drag to the dementia) and pray regularly (maintain a stable level of protection). Climbing the scale of degrees of perfection that lead to the holiness (+Truth = + capacity to love) you get to the summit where nothing is impossible. 7 February 2009 13:30 I send a web message to hundreds of stations of the Carabinieri, the Italian President Giorgio Napolitano, dozens of national newspapers (always the Corriere della Sera) and an army of religious with the title:”I can wake up Eluana from coma if the Church authorize me”. Silence. February 9, 2009. Eluana dies. But doesn’t life come before everything? I repeat the appeal in 2014 for Chiara the 19 year old reduced in the end of life by her boyfriend and for the Formula One driver Michael Schumacher: “I can wake up them both from a coma and heal them in front your eyes if the Church allows me”. Silence. A behavior that does not make sense and it smells of burnt. Or I am a crazy person to be closed in the insane asylum or I know something that the world ignores. It is really so difficult to ascertain the truth?

  6. I would like to describe my reaction to the above comments by Hieromonk A. and Maria T. From my humble place (just an orthodox lay person trying to worship and love God), I ask you to consider that perhaps you are not in touch with the needs of the humble flock. Maybe the average person is not as learned as you. I guess I would like to make 2 points. The first is that the Church is Alive, vibrant, not perfected, in that the body is not perfected, but striving to reach that place in God’s providence that it be so. The second is that, as much as people may like, they will never explain theological or spiritual concepts perfectly, even with corrections. Because there is so much not known than known. But the important is known. What is important? Sharing the faith, with everyone, with prayer and guidance from the Holy Spirit; Recognizing that no person is perfect in orthodoxy (Orthodoxy is perfect only in the perfected Body of Christ.) We humble laity are part of the Body, and too shall be perfected (men and women alike). To have someone accessible, and striving to share the faith, with God granted education by great Orthodox scholars, by continued reading, preparedness, effort, and also with an appreciation for present cultural conditions…that is, where we are. I see Christ in Sr Vassa’s work, she sees the lowly of the church as important, like Christ did. She will never preach to us about God with perfection, but she tries, and re-tries. And she listens carefully, prayerfully, thoughtfully, rigorously, and compassionately. And she further tries to reach us. She gifts us with the gifts God gave her to bring us to some understanding and to His presence and love. We are not all scholars or Monks. Most of us could not be even if we wanted this devotion, as our lives and formation do not make it possible.
    So, my points are: The Church is living, and being one in body is God’s will, and that takes humility, as well as the ability to forgive and be forgiven, and to see the strength and truth in others; The other point is that, trying and trying again from different approaches and building blocks can help the humble laity, even if we never become as learned and perfected as a monastic. And in this recognition of a living Body and a willingness to devote a huge ministry to lowly laity, and dare I say to the non-Orthodox whose otherwise education would not be reachable, not would it even be perfect. A very grateful student, and a truly a humble voice with sincere appreciation for Sister Vassa. I really do wish her ministry well, it feeds me the everlasting water, the knowledge of everlasting life.
    Yes, I believe you are harsh. I believe you are blinded by her being female, though she is obedient to her faith and vocation. And she has more strength than I, since I do not over come my tender heartedness.
    I sincerely mean you no harm or reproach, recognizing my opinion not relevant. I just ask if you would search your heart and try to see what a value her ministry is to the lowly, and in fact her femaleness is actually not a disgrace, but a blessing to us.

  7. After hearing of Sister Vassa’s appalling July 2017 remarks on her Coffee Facebook page, I want to 100 % retract the laudatory portion of my comment above.

    Full credit goes to Hieromonk Alexander for being the first to expose – very politely and tactfully – that “something was rotten in Vienna”.

    For this Byzantine liturgical expert became the proverbial loose cannon, dispensing tasteless and bad advice, while displaying no respect for her Church. Why to preface her reply that it is her own opinion, and not that of the Orthodox Church’s when one is a ryassophore nun of the Church ? Her defiant stance is unmistakable and disappointing.
    It’s a pity that Sister Vassa has tarnished Rocor’s image in a variety of ways, seen and unseen.

    None of it has to do with whether she is a woman or a man. Far too much has been made out of that subject to cash in on contemporary feminist ideas. When it is instead a question of a monastic’s obedience to the Holy Church. If her views are so very liberal, then she needs to find another jurisdiction which is sympathetic to her shocking viewpoint.

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