Interviews Sister Vassa

Orthodoxy Is Not a Religion of Fear

Sister Vassa Larin

Dr. Sr. Vassa Larin, a ROCOR nun of the Diocese of Berlin and Germany, is a University Assistant teaching Liturgical Studies (Liturgiewissenschaft) at the University of Vienna in Austria. She is a founding member of the Society of Oriental Liturgy and a candidate for membership of the North American Academy of Liturgy.

Dr. Sr. Vassa Larin, a ROCOR nun of the Diocese of Berlin and Germany, is a University Assistant teaching Liturgical Studies (Liturgiewissenschaft) at the University of Vienna in Austria. She is a founding member of the Society of Oriental Liturgy and a candidate for membership of the North American Academy of Liturgy. Unknown documents discovered by Sr. Vassa in the State Archive of the Russian Federation and the Archives of the ROCOR Synod of Bishops in 2002 have played a significant role in reconstructing the genuine historical past of the Russian Church Abroad. A result of her research, an article on ‘oikonomia,’ is among the most popular articles posted on this Web site. We are delighted to introduce Sr. Vassa to our readers and to dedicate this interview to the area of her expertise – liturgics.

Please tell us about your background and explain why you decided to study theology.

I was born and raised in the ROCOR, more specifically in the family of a ROCOR priest in Nyack, NY. When I was a novice living in a small monastic community in Munich, it was Archbishop Mark of Berlin and Germany who sent me, along with several other monastics of his diocese, to study theology at the Institute for Orthodox Theology of the University of Munich. His reason for doing this was simple: our diocese needed certified teachers of Orthodox Theology for our parish schools, and we happened to have an Orthodox Institute in Munich. Since higher education in Germany was then free, Vladyka decided to take advantage of this. His decision shocked me at the time, because it never entered my mind that I as an American could study at a German university.

Tell us about your studies in the Department of Orthodox Theologyat Ludwig-Maximilian University in Munich.

Writing papers and then a thesis in German was a challenge, since I had learned the language mostly autodidactically, and not very well. The program of studies, equivalent to the Master’s Degree in the United States, included Ancient Greek, Old Testament and New Testament (Introduction to, History, and Exegesis), History of Philosophy, Church History, Patrology, Canon Law, Homiletics, Pastoral Theology, and Liturgical Studies. I majored in Liturgical Studies and wrote a thesis on the origins of the so-called Royal Office (tsarskoe nachalo) at the beginning of Byzantine matins. Having received a Master’s degree, I was urged by my professors to go on to the doctoral program.

I first intended to write a dissertation on Canon Law, but it was at this time that I met the 75-year-old Professor Robert Taft, today the world’s leading expert on Byzantine Liturgy. It so happened that Fr. Taft read my thesis on Byzantine matins, and wrote me an email about it. In his email he both criticized my work in the most straightforward of terms, and offered to publish it upon its correction. He also invited me to read a lecture at a symposium he was organizing in Bavaria, where I soon met him in person. At the symposium Fr. Taft offered to finance and direct my work if I wrote my dissertation on Byzantine Liturgy (and not Canon Law, which he called “the bad side of the good news”), because, as he then put it, “The ROCOR has always been good at celebrating liturgy. Wouldn’t it be nice if it also had someone who knew something about it? Go tell your bishop that and let me know what he says.”

To make a long story short, with the blessing of Archbishop Mark I wrote my dissertation on “The Entrance Rites of the Byzantine Hierarchal Divine Liturgy” under Taft’s direction. Fr. Robert not only guided my research and writing of the dissertation; he also taught me the basics of liturgical scholarship and its methodology. “I don’t care what you say,” he would tell me, “as long as you back it up with evidence.” He taught me how to locate and analyze liturgical manuscripts, how to prepare scholarly publications, which periodicals to read on a regular basis, etc. He also took me to conferences and symposia around the world, where he introduced me to top scholars in our field, many of which were once his students. Several months before I completed my dissertation I received a job offer for a post-doctoral position at the University of Vienna’s Institute of Liturgical Studies.

On December 18, 2008 I publicly defended my dissertation at the Orthodox Institute in Munich, with both Archbishop Mark and Fr. Robert Taft present. According to German academic regulations the “defense” was actually a two-hour oral examination on three different fields related to my work: Liturgical Studies, History of the Autocephalous Orthodox Churches, and Byzantine Studies (Byzantinistik). I received a “summa cum laude” for the exam and the dissertation, which is soon to be published in Rome as a volume of the series “Orientalia Christiana Analecta.”

After Archimandrite Robert Taft’s presentation at the ROCOR Women’s conference last summer, I was told by one of our clergymen that non-Orthodox people should not offer instruction to the Orthodox on matters of faith. Would you please comment on this idea?

This is a very important issue, and since it disturbs many people I will try to answer in some detail. Let me first comment on the fear of the non-Orthodox that appears to have inspired the comment of our clergyman. It seems that some of our faithful experience Orthodoxy first and foremost as fear, while their faith remains largely uninspired, uncurious, and hence uninformed. Such an Orthodoxy often has no idea about its own tradition, about the wealth of history behind the liturgy one attends every Sunday, or even about scripture itself. At the same time, a fearful Orthodox is often willing to spend hours in the Internet, feeding on church politics and dulling the theological senses all the more. To such a culture of ignorance and fear, even the most brilliant non-Orthodox scholars of our Byzantine liturgy are seen as threats, rather than a humbling admonishment to our own negligence of Orthodox tradition.

Let me recall the lecture to which you are referring. At the ROCOR Women’s conference Professor Taft gave a talk on the topic “Women at Worship in Byzantium: Glimpses of a Lost World,” in which he described the liturgical life of women in the Byzantine Empire based on 5th-14th c. historical witnesses. The participants of the Women’s Conference learned that there was a women’s choir in Hagia Sophia; that Byzantine women once took part in all-night vigils; that there were barriers in the church restricting the mingling of men with women in the church; that several Church Fathers admonished the Byzantines for their misbehavior in church etc. If the clergyman you mentioned intended to say that this lecture was an example of “non-Orthodox instructing Orthodox on matters of faith,” I would have to ask: exactly which “matters of faith” were touched upon in this lecture? Does our clergyman consider the history of women in Byzantium “a matter of faith”? Would an “Orthodox” description of a women’s choir in Hagia Sophia differ from a “Roman Catholic” description?

Be that as it may, I would nonetheless agree that history is generally a “matter of faith.” Especially because there is no such thing as completely impartial, objective history. However, a knowledge of history requires education. And in the past the Church has hardly been self-sufficient in matters of education, utilizing not only non-Orthodox, but completely secular and even pagan institutions/systems of thought when needed. Beginning at least with the Gospel of John, the Church turns to the terminology developed by pre-Christian philosophers to formulate her own dogmas. An openness toward secular education – with a firm grasp and love for one’s own faith – characterized later apologists and teachers of the Church as well. Saints Gregory the Theologian and Basil the Great took pride in having been educated in a pagan school at Athens. The great Chrysostom was taught by Livanius and Theodore of Mopsuestia – the one a pagan, the other a heretic. Although these Holy Fathers lived in times of rampant heresies and dogmatic confusion, they did not cultivate an Orthodoxy of fear. It was rather an Orthodoxy of responsibility and dogmatic awareness, inspired and fortified by a thirst for education.

Many centuries later the Russian Church had no formal system of theological education until it was imported from the Roman-Catholic West via Kiev around the middle of the 17th c. It is an historical fact that St. Peter Moghila organized his theological schools according to Jesuit models, and it was this educational system that was instituted in Muscovy. The reason for importing our educational system from the West was very simple: this was not only the best educational system at the time, it was the only one at the time. The alternative to learning from the West was remaining uneducated. Should the Russian Church have rejected Western education and preferred to remain uneducated? Let me put it differently: If given a choice, would any of us prefer for our children to remain uneducated rather than giving them an education? So the Russian Church chose to learn from the West, demonstrating common sense and, I might add, humility.

Today we have a similar situation. Many Orthodox families in the West send their children to Catholic schools and universities, or to non-Orthodox public or private schools. In these institutions our youngsters are taught, among other things, history, literature, philosophy – subjects that could involve “matters of faith.” In school the children have contact with non-Orthodox in religious matters: for example, they recite the Pledge of Allegiance, pronouncing the name of God together with non-Orthodox, Muslims, Jews, and perhaps atheists. Many of us allow our children to watch movies such as “The Passion” by Mel Gibson, a non-Orthodox. Indeed, we allow ourselves and our children to have contact with non-Orthodox in “matters of faith” on various levels and on a daily basis.

Is it the will of God that we find ourselves in this situation, surrounded by this non-Orthodox world? The Church has never taught us otherwise. The Founder of the Church left His disciples in this world, having said, “Take heart, for I have defeated the world.” And so the Church sings, “Take heart, ye people of God, for He has defeated the enemies… (Derzayte lyudie Bozhii, ibo toy pobedi vragi…).” This is not a religion of fear.

Of course the faith of the Church is exclusive, and we owe our loyalty to her alone: we embrace one faith, and not many different faiths at once. But this does not mean that we have no contact with people of other faiths. Marriage is also exclusive, but a married couple does not lock itself in a closet, excluding all contact with other men and women. That would be absurd and unhealthy, and the same would be true of the Church if it ghettoized its everyday life.

I noticed that children of the ROCOR clergy who have been studying in our seminary are interested more in liturgics and church music than in history. Can you identify any reasons?

I don’t know the program or the students of your seminary, so the following is only a guess.  The most basic and immediately obvious need of any church parish is a functioning “kliros.” Without someone who can read and sing there can be no church services, and without church services there can be no parish. Since most seminarians are preparing for the priesthood, and being a priest means running a parish, I think it is logical that seminarians are interested in learning the skills most vital for parish life. Women who take courses at a seminary are often also inspired by a desire to “help out more” in church, and their most obvious opportunity to do so is in the choir. Our approach to “helping out” in the Church is hence somewhat similar to public opinion on the recent economic stimulus plan of the Obama administration: billions of dollars in immediate cash seemed the best solution in the immediate crisis, while investing in long-term economic stimuli such as building schools and roads sounded ineffective and uninteresting.

Of course such short-term “crisis management” of our church life reflects a minimalist approach to the Church itself, to liturgics, and to church music, if these subjects are taught without their historical background. Because neither liturgics nor church music nor the Church itself could exist without history, and it is impossible to have a real grasp of any of these without at least some knowledge of their historical development. Neither the Russian Orthodox Church nor her beautiful liturgy fell down from the sky on Pentecost, contrary to what some faithful may think. Priests and parishioners with such a deficient sense of history can easily do more damage than good, especially in complicated times requiring ecclesial consciousness and discernment. The recent divisions and further subdivisions of our Church sadly witness to this state of affairs in a considerable number of our parishes.

Compared to those who grew up in diaspora, Orthodox Christians who were brought up in Russia seem to have more trouble understanding ‘the mindset’ of liturgical services (myself included) even a long time after their joining the Church. What are your thoughts on that?

I think the difference to which you refer has less to do with where one was brought up than with how. Most Orthodox Christians of your age brought up in the Soviet Union did not grow up in the Orthodox liturgical tradition. The “mindset” of the Byzantine Rite is a “symbolic” (more specifically: “mystagogical”) way of thinking that is most naturally acquired in childhood. While the Roman liturgy is generally more direct and, so to say, to the point, the Byzantine tradition guides the worshiper into the experience of the divine (into the mystery) through signs within its various rites. These signs both hide and reveal the mysteries of Christ and the Scriptures, and a sensitivity to this “mystagogy” of our services is indeed a “mindset” that requires cultivating. St. John Chrysostom defined it as follows: “A mystery is not when we believe what we see, but when we see one thing and believe about it something else.” I don’t think this way of thinking is foreign to anyone per se, but since we usually acquire our system of symbols in childhood (for example, our language), it is more difficult to build a new one as adults. It is, however, possible, just as it is possible – though much more difficult – to learn a language as an adult.

I believe that our goal is responsible Orthodoxy. The rite of the Divine Liturgy presupposes that every Orthodox Christian in good standing partake of the Body and Blood of Christ. In many Orthodox Churches parishioners do not necessarily go to confession in order to participate in the Eucharist. In the same way as bishops, priests and deacons in the ROCOR. Do you think that we should also consider adopting that practice?

No, I don’t. It is tempting to view approaching the chalice with no previous confession as “responsible Orthodoxy,” but I don’t think such a practice would signalize “responsibility” in our day and time.

Let me explain what I mean. In our highly globalized world, many faithful have become rather mobile, drifting in and out of various parish churches around the world, frequenting several or no single church regularly. This mobility has brought with it a phenomenon completely foreign to the sacramental life of the Church: anonymity. A priest often has no idea who the new faces are looking back at him as he comes out with the chalice.

But it is not the priest who concerns me in this picture. Modern pastoral theology as well as modern psychology tell us that the increasingly anonymous character of our everyday lives has led to loneliness and depression of pandemic proportions. We belong to a culture of respect for privacy and – inexorably – anonymity, which also affects the way in which we express or hide our spiritual life. The culture of confession of any kind, of standing up and being counted as a sinner, or a Christian, or anything else goes rather deeply against our grain. Talking to anyone about our relation to God is not something we do easily.

But the Church seems to have built-in mechanisms battling anonymity: you come up to the chalice, you must state your name; you take part in the rite of Holy Unction, you must state your name. The sacrament of repentance in the rite of confession goes a step further: you must reveal everything on your conscience and actually talk to another member of the Church, a priest, and state your name. As it were, we are forced to shatter this shell of anonymity in which some of us find ourselves before we approach the chalice.

For the sake of the many faithful who do find themselves in that mobile and very anonymous existence, I believe it is wise for the Russian Church to retain the requirement that one go to confession at least before one approaches the chalice. Although some of us are settled in traditional parishes and cannot relate to what I have described, we must realize that for some faithful this “shell of anonymity” is very real. For such people confession facilitates their communion with Christ through a capacity to communicate with another member of the Church, in this case a priest.

Of course this practice requires pastoral discernment, and I have often seen priests and bishops approach the Confession-Communion practice with such discernment. Needless to say, the above is no more and no less than my personal opinion.

Thank you, Sr. Vassa, for taking the time for this interview, and we look forward to continuing this conversation.


  • Sr. Vassa’s scholarship and insights are a breath of fresh air. Having said that, although I share her concern for proper preparation before Holy Communion and the phenomenon of anonymity, I can’t say that I agree that one must privately confess before each and every reception of Holy Communion. In the Middle Ages the unholy practice of infrequent Holy Communion developed and became the norm. Fr. Schmemann, among others, worked very hard to restore the rhythm of frequent Holy Communion. The sad backlash has been dangerous anonymity and confessing, in many cases, only once a year. How about working to establish private confession once a month for frequent communicants, or for the priest to use his pastoral discretion once having established a relationship with his spiritual child? Confession before every Communion might be one answer, but for someone who is already doing this, the priest can still bless frequent communion but reduce the requirements for private confession without the danger of anonymity creeping in.


    First, I hope I don’t create scandal here, but a regular cycle of confession, but not confession before each and every communion, is what I am accustomed to. I try to be conscientious, and obedient to my father confessor, and to be sure that he knows me well. At present, I function as an assistant to my father confessor, an older priest who doesn’t get around as well as he used to. I believe that Sr Vassa’s concerns are very legitimate, and should be taken seriously, but I don’t believe that a one-to-one correspondence between confession and communion is necessarily the solution for everybody. Where people are only communing one to four times a year, confessing before each communion is an absolute must, of course.

  • Is it possible to contact Sister Vassa directly? I graduate with an M.Div. and M.Th. from St Vladimir’s, and liturgics was my primary area of study. I met Professor Taft once, and at one time had hoped to go on for a Ph.D. in liturgics, but finances were a problem. Since then, I have had a couple of burning questions about Sunday Mattins, and Sister Vassa may be able to at least partially answer them or direct me to solid sources.

  • Dear Subdeacon Mark,
    Thank you for your comment. I have forwarded your query to Sr. Vassa.

  • Neither Subdeacon Mark nor Fr Peter Ollsen are saying anything which contradicts Sr Vassa’s very clear answer to the question of confession before Communion. Whereas clergy communicate at least once, sometimes several times a week, it was normal in Rocor when I was a layman, forr the devout to approach the Mysteries once a month on a regular basis, but in practice, more frequently because of the great Feasts, Nameday, anniversaries, and of course during Lent and Pascha. Certainly, one normally went to confession the evening befor, having attended the Vigil service. But during the Great Fast, those who were attending regularly, received throughout Great Week and Pascha without making their confession during these weeks, unless in case of serious need, and were told that they need not. So there was no one-for-one correspondence, of confession and communion, even in ROCOR.

    That said, I am suspicious of the motive behind the reaction to what Sr Vassa said quite clearly. Even monastics, who receive the Mysteries weekly, make their confessions at least weekly. Many make their confession much more frequently, precisely because of the spiritual benefit coming from an honest opening up and admission of one’s most secret delinquencies. Why would anyone resist doing so, unless they were listening to the promting of the evil one?

  • It seems to me that continuous Christian education is as important for today’s Orthodox as the Mystery of confession. We catechize converts and have Sunday classes for kids but many baptized adults, both cradle and convert, do not receive regular education. As Orthodox Christians, we must be willing to examine, to explore and even occasionally to doubt our faith. Clergy must be willing to understand these needs and to engage with the faithful without apprehension or disdain. Today there are many Orthodox with very strong opinions on church matters but poor knowledge of their theology and history. Perhaps, this has always been the case but in modern-day world it is very easy to fall away from the Church if one becomes disinterested or disillusioned. I have noticed that both lukewarm and stringent Orthodox lose their children to the Church. We will not be able to pass our faith onto our kids if we remain anxious and defensive rather than active and inquisitive Christians. Neither can we effectively uphold our beliefs unless we have a firm and thoughtful grasp of them.

  • CHRIST IS RISEN! I would refer readers to pp. 126 – 132ff in ‘Great Lent,’ by Fr. Alexander Schmemann for a frank and interesting explanation of confession and Communion. I think that most of us don’t know the history or theology behind private confession, and the notion that ‘Communion for laity is impossible without sacramental confession and absolution’…..has ‘no foundation in Tradition but, in fact, lead to very alarming distortions of the Orthodox doctrine of the Church, of the Eucharist, and of the Sacrament of Penance itself.’ (page 126, ‘Great Lent.’) I would consider this to be a prompting from the Evil One. A frank discussion and sincere dialog about the topic is good and not evil. Sr. Vassa points out that Orthodoxy should not be a religion of fear. Hieromonk Avraamy makes a good point. Private confession is not required before each Communion during Holy Week and Pascha because we are receiving frequently. The same should apply if we receive frequently throughout the year, which is the norm for Orthodox Christians.

  • I believe that people who look for spiritual guidance often need the practical advice of a psychologist. A priest should emphasize that his suggestions are of a consultative, not an imperative, nature.
    If our goal is responsible Christianity, a priest should educate his flock in this direction. The flip side of micromanagement is paralysis of will, paranoia, and inability to function independently. Unfortunately, all these problems are interconnected with our current perceptions of spiritual guidance and the mystery of confession.

    • I take issue with the idea that a priest cannot speak to psychological issues. In my own experience, as a loner, who had to sort out a lot of psychological stuff, studying psychology and theology again on my own, and eventually became Orthodox, there is a great overlap between psychological and sin issues. Sin is after all, a psychological condition. Especially in the sins of the spirit, but also in the sins of the flesh, because these can’t happen without first sin the spirit which is then cultivated and finally acted on.

      In the case of depression, there is the condition itself, and there is the sin of give up itis and sloth, and these both figure in depression as a hopeless sense and lethargy. These can have brain chemistry origins, or may start as mental and become physical chemistry from habit of thought cutting tracks in the brain as I put it which will need disruptions with medication. Which I used, and eventually got to where I didn’t need any more.

      The so called passions could also be called obsessions, someone pointed out online. Certainly concepts like “inordinate affection” in St. Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, inordinate being a word that has many implications from excessive to inappropriate, disordered, out of bounds or whatever, might figure in some mental cases, or leading to a mental breakdown, but in itself can be addressed as sin.

      The behavior that comes from being sunk in oneself and going with whims of mood swings can be addressed, and the person concerned to love others as themselves, might learn to first act right and second bring the feelings and thoughts that lead to wrong action under control.

      This point about doing unto others as you would have them do unto you, can defang a lot of paranoia. The paranoid might still have some delusions of persecution, but not act badly in reaction, or delusions of superiority, but not be nasty about it. Gradually they could come to face reality in terms both of controlling thoughts and feelings that lead to problematic words and actions, and, in terms of pursuit of truth and cultivate enough humility to admit they could be wrong, and deal with reality. A certain amount of psychology knowledge might be a good ting for priests, however.

  • Thank You Sister. A nice interview.
    For the others: I’m allso a member of the ROCA and I’d like to ad something to the discussion on confession and frequent communion. As I understand the development of the overall church life after the turningpoint of Constantine the Great and the changes that came along with opening the doors for the common public, the old christian liturgical practise that the hole eucharistic community took part of the eucharist every time while a rite of confession as such was not developed yet, seemed no longer possible. The eschatologic communitiy of a few serious ascetics certainly was able to do so, but when in the course of the 4th century you got big churches full of worldy minded and unconcious former-pagans you had to caution these people in order not to lessen the austerity of the mystery. Such great guides of the church like saint John Chrysostome found themselfes facing the question whether to lessen the demands of purity, continence and seriousness for everyone and therefore not discerning between the ‘prepaired’ and the ‘unprepaired’ to communion or otherwise taking into account that christians would proceed to communion less frequently beeing concious of the fact that one has to live a rigorous life according to the gospel at least in order to prepare for the great mystery of the union with the holy flesh an blood of our Saviour.
    The church, as we know, decided for the latter and I think it was the right decision. Until today I find the situation not fundamentally changed because still there ist a great amount of indifferent christians in every parish that doesn’t understand the importance and the encompassingness of spiritual life that I regard the precondition for frequent communion.
    Thank You.

  • As a convert to Orthodoxy in 1985, I must mention that the ‘Orthodoxy of Fear’ was quite prevalent at that time. Convert clergy always warned us that we must NEVER attend parishes of the Greek Archdiocese, OCA, Antiochian Archdiocese-or, really, parishes of ANY other Orthodox Church than ROCOR. ESPECIALLY the Moscow Patriarchate! I was very surprised, indeed, when I finally met members of ROCOR who were of Russian descent, and was told that NO ONE had ever told them to stay away from any Orthodox Church, and that when visiting Russia, they went to confession and communed in MP churches, and the Bishop of the ROCOR Diocese to which they belonged, when they told him of this, did not tell them that they had done anything ‘wrong.’ It seemed to me that a sort of high percentage of the convert clergy had totally different attitudes than did the Russian clergy. Of course, many of those convert clergy I speak of have moved on to the more-uh- intolerant jurisdictions.

  • The context of the question directed to Sister Vassa had to do with her own training in liturgical studies under a foremost Roman Catholic scholar. But what particularly interested me was the suggestion that Orthodox Christians might at times approach their own faith in a fearful, insecure, threatened kind of way. The result is a faith that seems to reach an impasse or even a wall, a faith that ceases to grow and so “remains largely uninspired, uncurious, and hence uninformed.” This can often be the situation that particularly those raised in the Orthodox Church can find themselves, but it can happen to anyone. She continues: “Such an Orthodoxy often has no idea about its own tradition, about the wealth of history behind the liturgy one attends every Sunday, or even about the scripture itself.” It might be that one concludes not only that there is nothing a non-Orthodox scholar and even just a Christian can teach me, but also that there is nothing more that I even need to learn about
    my faith. We can become satisfied. But beyond that, one may even come to believe that learning more might upset, challenge, or confront what I have come to believe and the level of the commitment I have chosen to make towards God, the Church, and my own spiritual life. So anything new or more becomes a threat to the stability I have come to accept and, therefore, something to be avoided and even feared.

    But what a way to live? Is Orthodoxy really afraid of the world and are we as Christians afraid to learn more and to grow, afraid of what might happen to us, afraid of where we might end up? The same kind of challenges can confront us anytime we proceed more deeply in any
    kind of relationship, especially those that require love and commitment: we can be afraid of extending ourselves too far, afraid of getting hurt, afraid of being misled or betrayed, afraid of where we might end up.
    So, it becomes not just a question of whether we can learn from those who are not like us, but if we are willing to be surprised, to be amazed, to wonder, and to grow in “life and faith and spiritual understanding.” Orthodoxy is not about instigating fear as a way of controlling our
    minds or habits. Orthodoxy does not inspire us to condemn all that which is around us, to simply say “no,” but from the deepest resources of our Tradition to acknowledge that which is good, true, and beautiful.
    As we approach the last few weeks of the Paschal season (trying to hang on to the context of those images and expressions that will be embedded in our liturgical life and language throughout the year), let us celebrate, be given strength and courage, and be illumined by the faith that “shines in the darkness” – and not be afraid.

  • Warning: this comment will NOT be popular in this environment!

    But I wish to commend the very wise-seeming Sister on her healthy outlook on the topic of education of the Orthodox young in Catholic institutions of learning. She mentioned other non-Orthodox as well, but I wish to draw attention to the fact that many children of ROCOR priests have been sent to respectable Catholic colleges. For example, Father Peter Perekrestov of San Francisco’s daughter at least, and maybe son too, I don’t know, attended Dominican College across the Bay from San Francisco.
    Some of the White Russian emigration attended either Catholic convents in Shanghai, for example, and up to the present day, when Russian Orthodox emigrants arrive in America, theyare readily hired in find faculty or other positions in Catholic high schools across the country.
    The fact is that Catholics have always felt close to Russians, particularly those who fled Communism. This is due partly to the widespread anti-Communist attitudes deeply ingrained in the Catholic hierarchy and members until Vatican II, at least. Thus if there has been any way to assist, Catholic institutions have opened their arms to those with whom they sympathized deeply.
    If a Russian Orthodox exhibit of Icons needs a temporary display, who will happily accept it first of all? A Catholic college! For example, St Mary’s in Moraga, CA, had a beautiful display of Icons from the Tsarist Era, a few years back. Early this May, University of San Francisco held another exhibition of Icons, perhaps motivated by interest in encouraging learning about the Eastern icon, which has become ever-more popular amongst Catholics.
    But Russian Orthodox have I feel taken this warmth for granted and returned it with something resembling hostility, with many snide comments about the sinister Catholics.
    I would like to see a sincere appreciation for all that has been extended by Catholics to help out Orthodox. While traditionally, many Catholics viewed the Orthodox as their close relation, they unfortunately have rarely even realized about the mutterings, sniping comments, and at best, grudging attitude of the Russian Orthodox toward them.
    It’s spiritually unhealthy when one rather heartlessly takes from others as though it were their due, without gratitude, and being able to balance their prejudices with a fair attitude, such as ‘Well maybe Catholics are not THAT terrible if they gave me a great job teaching at the local Sisters of Mercy elementary school’.
    I think there could be a much healthier cooperation that would benefit both sides.
    It’s by necessity that Russian Orthodox who live in this country must deal with a kaleidescope of various beliefs, some quite strange, not to mention outright repulsive!
    But my question is – and I know there are deep historical roots for this – why can’t those hostile old knee-jerk anti-Catholic reactions [‘they’re all sneaky Jesuits trying to undermine us’, etc.!!] be smoothed over at this point in the game? T
    For, despite all the real differences which undeniably exist, the Russian Orthodox believer is most likely to find common ground in this vastly secular society with whom else but Catholics, who in general feel warmly toward those of their perceived ‘sister church’.
    I know my viewpoint may not please most readers of this much-needed site. By the way, I really appreciate its intellectual tone with this interview particularly– as well as the archiving of superlative photos of Old ROCOR. Looking forward to see more as they show up! The discussions are stimulating too; hope it will develop into a good forum for debating many such topics as this
    But I think it would be spiritually healing for ROCOR people to ‘fess up’ as long as we are talking about confession! – and acknowledge, even if just to themselves, the contributions that Catholics in the U.S. and Western Europe have made toward making them better people and perhaps even better Orthodox in many cases.

  • Catherine!

    Thank you for your thoughtful comment and your kind words regarding this site. Your post raised an acute ethical question regarding our relations with non-Orthodox: While we would like to benefit from their various resources, we at the same time do not want to recognize that many of their beliefs and traditions are essentially Orthodox and that they might be better human beings than we are.

    Unfortunately, aggressive proselytism of Catholics in the period between two world wars helped in fermenting present negative stereotypes. Met. Evlogii wrote in his memoirs that Catholics were catching the ‘small ones’ in the orphanages and schools. In his talk at the Second-Pan Diaspora Council (1938), St. John of Shanghai noted that a significant part of those Russian children who now study in Catholic convents will become traitors of their fatherland and that it is the fault of their parents. In ‘Bishop Michel d’Herbigny SJ and Russia: a Pre-Ecumenical Approach to Christian Unity’ (Würzburg:Augustinius verlag, 1990), Léon Tretjakewich explains how d’Herbigny tried to establish a secret relationship with the Soviet leaders. There was pressure from Croatian and Slovakian Roman Catholic states on Russian Orthodox subjects during WWII.

  • I can only comment from personal experience. I am aware of the history of ‘Pro Russia’, Russicum and Michel d’Herbigny. However, as a small boy with a widowed mother, I was placed in the St Nicholas Lycee in Harbin. I believe there were about a hundred boys and the vast majority remained Orthodox. Although we attended services in the Lycee’s chapel, we would periodically be marched to the near-by Russian Orthodox Church for confession and Communion. I do not recall any overt attempts to change any of us to become Catholic. There were a few, among them the future Bishop Andrei Katkov who was later shamefully treated by ambitious people at Russicum, and Fr Brianchianinov who went to Australia. Upon arrival to San Francisco my mother found it necessary to place me in a Catholic boarding school where I was treated with dignity and no attempt was made to ‘convert’ me. I went to a Jesuit High School where I voluntarily attended religious classes. Here again, I was treated with dignity and whatever Thomism rubbed off on me, I was able later to shed at St. Vladimir’s Seminary. So, I must agree with Catherine on many points and if my treatment by Catholics resulted in my eternal gratitude towards them while allowing me to remain Orthodox, then let this be a mark of success of some kind.

  • The insight into Dr. Taft’s personality is quite different than that present in his NCR (Nat’l Catholic reporter) article in which he adamantly spoke against Orthodoxy, often with rather colorful language. Having been taught by the Jesuits, this was no surprise to me. With the western view that Liturgy ‘developed’, and was not given to us by the apostles, it seems that this modernist idea is now being presented as Orthodox. Perhaps I am mistaken; I would hope and pray to be.

    • A core liturgy, adapted from the Jewish Temple Liturgy, would indeed have come from the Apostles, even the pronunciation alleluia note the ee-aa ending strikes me as indicative of how YHWH is pronounced on the first syllable since there were regular Temple attendees and even priests and levites who converted to Christ and would have brought the knowledge with them. The focus on the psalms is another indicator, as these were the core of the Temple Liturgy.

      But development is something that must also have occurred. That doesn’t mean it should continue. Because the correct doctrine is enshrined in the Holy Liturgy, from early times, and to change anything now would endanger this. There have been at times and are dubious notions among Orthodox laity and even clergy thanks in part to getting into seminaries. There are Origenists notions that crop up even in the writing of Fr. Seraphim Rose, because he slavishly drew on The Fathers who were influenced by Origen, and who incorporated some of his ideas in their writings, before he was anathematized after his death and after theirs, on precisely some of these points.

      But they are not in the Holy Liturgy, and if it is changed by people who are under such revived influences, or any notions from the late 1800s when certain notables played with ideas that a quick read of St. Athanasius or St. Symeon the New Theologian would refute, and which are still around, these could creep into The Holy Liturgy, or safeguards against them be left out or weakened.

  • To Nicholas from the book `Return:Repentance and Confession` by Arch. Nektarios, Antonopoulos, the Abbot of the monastery of Sagmatas in Greece.
    Many people think that divine communion necessarily is associated with confession and fasting. We don`t approach divine communion if we don`t first confess and don`t fast enough days. For this reason we also commune so rarely. This is a mistake and contrary to the Orthodox tradition, which is in favor of frequent divine communion. What is observed in our days, for us to commune that is, at most 2-3 times a year, is completely unacceptable and gravely undermines the body of the Church. We reached the point of placing `fasting` above divine communion, which is the `mystery of mysteries`. We made the means an end, and found something else to justify our negligence and our indifference for our frequent participation in the divine Eucharist.
    The ancient Christians communed almost daily. Basil the Great mentions that the Christians of his eparchy communed at least 4 times a week. It was inconceivable for them to be in the divine liturgy and to not commune, unless they were under a penance. If these spiritual forbears of us came today to one of our churches and saw this unacceptable phenomenon, that is that the divine liturgy is going on and no one or very few people are communing, he would experience dreadful surprise and wonder.
    In each liturgy we prepare the prosphoron, the wine, we offer them to the church, we ask God to alter them into Christ`s body and blood. God obeys our request, the Holy Spirit descends, the miracle occurs. The Lord prepares for us His own table, invites us to participate: `With fear of God faith and love draw near` and we scorn Him. We leave hungry, satiated however with cheap justifications. With this attitude, says Saint John Chrysostom, `don`t you insult Him who invited you?` In our days a blessed effort is very timidly observed by enlightened spiritual fathers and Christians for this evil state to be broken and for us to return to the tradition of frequent divine communion.
    So if we wish to commune frequently, — always, of course, with the agreeing opinion of our spiritual father— then it is not possible for us to confess constantly. Whenever we have something to say we will see the spiritual father. Not with the slightest thing. If for example we fall and are wounded and the wound is small, we don`t need to bother the doctor. If the wound is large, then of course we will visit him. So since we can`t easily avoid the daily sins, we will try to live in constant repentance and frequent confession.
    The other extreme is for us to confess sparsely and rarely. Most people, furthermore schedule a confession before the great feasts, at the last moment. And we become particularly demanding. This however is ugly both for us, but also for the spiritual father, who due to the burden of the days, cannot respond and help us better. And of course, when time pressures, we cannot create a correct communication.
    Time recipes don`t exist. Each one has his particularity, his own needs and we can find the golden path with our spiritual father.
    What nevertheless is necessary for us to stress, is that all of our life must be a journey of repentance, but also of preparation for divine communion. Each day, each hour, each moment, we should live `in repentance` and with longing for the divine Eucharist. In this the service of divine communion which we can read, not only on the eve before, but gradually, during the whole period of the week will greatly help us. These most beautiful prayers will help us live the event of repentance, and prepare us for participation in the mystery of divine communion. Living constantly `in repentance` and frequently communing the immaculate mysteries, our life obtains meaning, becomes a celebration, a feast, a rejoicing, joy.

  • I am a foolish peasant. I dare approach the Holy Chalice with one impure thought, not uncovered by the priest.

    Frequency? I would rather commune 2 times a year with tears of compunction than habitually with a cold spirit. Sometimes it takes a whole life time before one tear drop appears. And with fasting, the prayers before confession & communion, and consulting your priest, this will happen. It is hard work! Holy week is no exception! There is no free meal available during the Passion of Christ.

    One example comes to mind where I saw an old Abbess from S.F. approaching the body and blood of Christ with tears streaming down her cheeks. We learn from our own blessed faithful.

  • On the issue of frequent Communion let us listen to the words of St. John Cassian:

    ‘We must not, avoid communion because we deem ourselves to be sinful. We must approach it more often for the healing of the soul and the purification of the spirit, but with such humility and faith that considering ourselves unworthy . . . we would desire even more the medicine for our wounds. Otherwise it is impossible to receive communion once a year, as certain people do . . . considering the sanctification of heavenly Mysteries as available only to saints. It is better to think that by giving us grace, the sacrament makes us pure and holy. Such people manifest more pride than humility . . . for when they receive, they think of themselves as worthy. It is much better if, in humility of heart, knowing that we are never worthy of the Holy Mysteries we would receive them every Sunday for the healing of our diseases, rather than, blinded by pride, think that after one year we become worthy of receiving them.”

  • St. John Cassian, indeed a true doctor of the church!

    Hey, I suppose besides the holy priesthood it is entirely possible that we peasants could take holy communion 365 days a year if we lived the monastery life.

    So help me understand. How many times can we Orthodox partake of the Lord`s body & blood without confession to a priest? Before we become vain glorious?

    And how many times can we go to confession without taking communion?

    Help me Batiushka, I don’t trust myself!

  • I enjoyed reading the interview with Sister Vassa. Thank you!
    I have what may seem a strange request. Can you list your comments from oldest to newest, and not the other way around? It seems I read the response to a question before reading the question itself. Just a fine point. Thanks!

  • Sorry, Matushka Maria. Unfortunately, I have no feature to arrange comments in any other way. Hopefully in future. Thank you!

  • I really enjoyed the interview – S. Vassa is brilliant! The confession/anonymity response was beautiful, like all the others, but it left me wondering – yes, anonymity can lead to loneliness & depression, but revealing one`s soul/exposing oneself to someone who may be insensitive or harshly judgmental may deepen the pain and alienation, no? Is it the revealing/lifting off the cloak of anonymity that is healing in and of itself, or doing so to an inspired, compassionate, loving soul that can bring us closer to light, whether in the context of confession or otherwise?

  • Response to Andrei Psarev.
    Well written, well said father. I am somewhat still confused. As a peasant teenager I attended a church under the care of a great old Hierarch who instilled in us kids the idea of communing with confession on the 12 feasts and during great lent. Our church had commonality in this. During communion, sometimes our priests would ask unknown attendees approaching the Holy Chalice whether they had confessed prior, and were turned away if they hadn’t. Do our holy priests, by the grace of God, do this for the individual’s protection?

    I have also attended a service or 2 outside in a non-ROCOR church, on a regular Sunday Liturgy at a Seminary where to my surprise, the entire church communed, and it seems that it is common for the parishioners to do this every week. And I asked myself, did these all confess? Do you see what I am getting at? How does the priest know, or is it his job to know that the communicant has, according to St. Paul, properly examined himself if he communes every Sunday? Do you know that your spiritual children are ready?

    In the life of St. Issaky, abbot of Optina, (Orthodox Word, #5,1990), “Each Saturday, the day before he served, according to his custom he used to go to the skete for confession, and there, sitting in the reception room of Elder Ambrose, he humbly waited his turn, together with the other visitors. This wait sometimes took a long time. He did not change his habit even after the repose of the reverend elder.”

    Batushka! I can’t live in this furnace of a world being exposed to all sorts of temptations on a daily basis. I don’t trust myself to be honored to take communion without confession.

  • The ROCOR has always been good at celebrating liturgy. Wouldn’t it be nice if it also had someone who knew something about it? Go tell your bishop that and let me know what he says. Robert Taft, SJ Some of our faithful experience Orthodoxy first and foremost as fear, while their faith remains largely uninspired, uncurious, and hence uninformed. Such an Orthodoxy often has no idea about its own tradition, about the wealth of history behind the liturgy one attends every Sunday, or even about scripture itself. At the same time, a fearful Orthodox is often willing to spend hours in the Internet, feeding on church politics and dulling the theological senses all the more. Mother Vassa Larin I do NOT agree with either of the statements at the head of this post. Mr Taft is nothing but a Uniate windbag, no grounded Orthodox Christian takes anything that he says seriously. A priest-friend of mine said, “Robert Taft is a known quantity, he’s been around for well over thirty years… he’s just another Jesuit spouting through his spiritually empty brain. He’s of no interest at all”. I agree. As one of the comments on my site said, “’Archimandrite’ Robert Taft speaks the same language as ADS (that he quotes approvingly). Underneath the professed admiration for Eastern Churches is the same spite of the ‘West’ for the ‘East’. To make such a one the judge of our Liturgy is a serious faux pas, however… ‘Foremost leading authority on Byzantine liturgy’. God have mercy!” I agree with that too. Yet another person said about Mr Taft, “I’ve got one of Taft’s volumes on the Divine Liturgy of John Chrysostom (the Communion volume). After the hype I’d heard concerning his work, particularly this very multi-volume series, I was severely disappointed in reading through it. The evidence is insufficiently presented and poorly handled. But he has a ‘name’ doesn’t he? Perhaps, that will suffice for some”. I think that one notes that none of this criticism is illiterate, rude, or expressed unfittingly or in an ignorant way. Indeed, I would argue that this piece is not that, either. Therefore, Mother Vassa should retract the statement, “Their faith remains largely uninspired, uncurious, and hence uninformed. Such an Orthodoxy often has no idea about its own tradition, about the wealth of history behind the liturgy one attends every Sunday, or even about scripture itself”. It is manifestly untrue and is the defensive reaction of an intellectual to criticism not coming from the academic milieu or couched in scholarly language. I would remind Mother Vassa, in all kindness, generosity, and charity that one can find many intelligent people outside academe in industry, commerce, trade, agriculture, the fine and performing arts, the forces, the Church, and all other forms of human endeavour. I would warn Mother Vassa that her interview made her sound like a priggish and stuck-up pseudo-intellectual… however, the same priest who (rightfully) dismissed Robert Taft, said, “Vassa Larin comes in two halves. One is fully Orthodox; the other is merely academic. When she speaks as an academic, she’s often rather wishy-washy”. As I respect my friend, I respect his judgement of Mother Vassa. In other words, he seems to say, “Cut her some slack, she has good instincts”. Yes… that’s right. However, I do not believe that I am in the wrong to point up that the Orthodox side must rule the academic side, and not vice-versa. It may very well be that relative youth and inexperience is the cause of this… didn’t we all wish to impress others (especially “important” people) when we were younger? Now that I am in my middle-50s, I don’t care about such, not one bit! One of my older friends tells me that such an impulse gets stronger as one ages. Perhaps, this is something that time shall take care of naturally (there are many such things… aren’t there?). Taft has a big “name” and she wanted to strut her intellectual stuff… well, I shan’t dump a ton o’ bricks on her for that, for we all did the same thing at one time or another. If you tell me that you didn’t… I won’t argue with you… for it’s bad form to argue with fools, drunks, simpletons, and the “respectable”… you’ll never win and you’ll be at it until the last trump (it’s one of the many forms of pig rasslin’). [photo of Kursk Icon crowd Russian Orthodox faithful] Orthodox gathered for a procession in Kursk with the Kursk Root Icon. They don’t look very fearful to me! I do not think that grounded Orthodox fear the outside world. To cite an example, a recent news article reported that Igumen Vitaly Utkin, the Secretary of the Diocese of Ivanovo-Voznesensky, created a “rapid response team” of educated priests ready to go to colleges and other places where there are young intellectuals. That doesn’t sound like fear at all! That sounds to me like Fr Vitaly is blowing the bugle and folks are gathering around the flag! I think that people such as Deacon Andrei Kuraev, Igumen Sergei Rybko, Professor Kirill Frolov, Fr Vsevolod Chaplin, Archbishop Vikenty Morar, and Professor Aleksei Osipov are facing the future boldly… they are not cowering in fear. To say, “Some of our faithful experience Orthodoxy first and foremost as fear, while their faith remains largely uninspired, uncurious, and hence uninformed. Such an Orthodoxy often has no idea about its own tradition, about the wealth of history behind the liturgy one attends every Sunday, or even about scripture itself” is pure poppycock and unduly dismissive of non-academic discourse. For instance, I do not go to Church to analyse the liturgy, for “instruction”, or to get “information”. I go to the services to PRAY. What a concept! That a person would go to church to pray to Almighty God… I thought that is the purpose of the Church. If Mother Vassa does not check this side of her personality, she’ll end like ADS and others. However, I believe that she is far from that point and shall (God willing) easily turn away from that outcome. Yet, I see the point that our clergy must have education and general ability, but, that does NOT mean that they must focus on academics. Indeed, they had best not stress such too much, for then they would be useless as pastors. I think that Patriarch Kirill put it best in a recent statement, “If we take losers, the mediocre, and non-starters, that is, people with various mental problems, into seminary, the Church’s mission will fail; such people will be unable to bring the Church into the hearts of modern man. This would leave the Church to poorly educated people; it would only be for grandmas who have no knowledge of English or the Fathers. This doesn’t mean that we should discriminate against grandmas in our church community, but, it does mean that the church should aim to work with everyone, not only grandmas, but, also, with contemporary young people who may express criticisms of the Church. Badly-educated and boorish people too often become anti-cultural obscurantists. They defend and justify their low educational and cultural level with zealotry and ostentatious piety. Thus, we reproduce and replicate this image… it becomes a new ‘ideal’, which we saw quite recently in an exacerbated form in the Chukotka [dispute with Bishop Diomid Dzhuban]. I am afraid that we’ll have a long fight with this monstrous phenomenon. It has nothing in common with genuine piety, nothing to do with the patristic example. Without theology, we begin to transmit, in the words of the Apostle Paul, ‘old wives’ tales’ (1 Timothy 4:7) instead of true church tradition. Indeed, when we don’t oppose such ‘old wives’ tales’, they become part of local practise. Then, we lose the ability to discern one thing from another, to discriminate between legitimate and false. On this soil are born heresy and schism, when ‘old wives’ tales’ become in the minds of the people part of the teaching [of the Church], they become for them the centre of the Gospel”. [icon of fr-st-maksim-sandovych-of-lemkovshchyna] St Maksim Sandovych, Hieromartyr of Lemkovshchyna (1886-1914)… killed by the Hapsburgs and their Uniate toadies… remember him when you think that Bob Taft is making sense, Mother Vassa… I know your instincts are good… get your mind right, too! That’s not fearful in the least! Where does Mother Vassa find this fear? If it’s because she resents that many of us don’t care for her association with Bob Taft (and have the guts to say so to her face (politely and civilly, of course))… she’d best grow up and understand that most grounded Orthodox are suspicious of Uniates and Uniatism. I would commend to her the lives of Ss Germogen of Moscow and Maksim Sandovich of Lemkovshchyna. Orthodox DIED for their faith in the face of Uniatism and papism. We do not find her connection with Mr Taft reprehensible because of our fear of the “other”. Rather, it comes from a deep sense of history and shared experience that we cannot express in intellectual terms. In short, it is WRONG, profoundly and horridly WRONG. It is NOT fear that would make me say, “STOP!” to you if I knew that you are in imminent danger of stepping on a land mine. NO! Prudence and (yes) love would make me speak out. I should say that I fully realise and appreciate the role of the intellect in both our ordinary lives and in our spiritual endeavours. However, we must never forget that academe does NOT have a monopoly on knowledge. My Nicky is always saying, “Get your mind right!” To be sure, I would argue that a creative tension exists between high culture and mass pursuits, but we must approach them with a proper attitude. Indeed, I wrote earlier in reply to a comment on this site, “Let’s be frank… Popeye and Renoir are not mutually exclusive! In fact, I would say that they are complementary, and that one cannot understand high culture without a concomitant love for popular culture… if you can’t appreciate Kevin Bloody Wilson and George Formby, you can’t fully comprehend Pavarotti and Yuri Temirkanov! THERE!” I can appreciate a Renoir at the Clark and the wisdom found in I Eats My Spinach (it’s there… trust me!). Beethoven’s Seventh (I am thinking of the old recording from the 50s by Guido Cantelli) moves me and I laugh heartily at Kevin Bloody Wilson singing Manuel the Bandito. I’ll scarf down a brace of rippers at Rutt’s Hutt in Jersey, then, I’ll have an Ethiopian feast at the Blue Nile on the West Side (if it’s still open, that is). God willing, Mother Vassa will return to her sound instincts. Perhaps, all this is one of those detours we all make in our lives. Sometimes, they are the most enlightening episodes of all… but, Mother, I would say to you, “Get your mind right! There’s no place like home”.

    • the canons may not be a chain that binds, thanks to Trullo 102 economia is built into the system. But that doesn’t mean the canons some especially such as about self mutilation and homosexual acts are dispensable some are about more serious matters than others. Last heard from, while you post as if in ROCOR you are in fact in OCA one of those Orthodox jurisdictions that is rather, ah, lenient. Does Nicky know everything?

      If you’d bothered to pay attention to Sr. Vassa’s remarks, her academic sources are ancient Byzantine liturgical papers. OBJECTIVE RECORDS OF FACT. Not subject to interpretation, RC or Uniate or Orthodox, they are records not guesswork shaped by bias.

  • Neither liturgics nor church music nor the Church itself could exist without history, and it is impossible to have a real grasp of any of these without at least some knowledge of their historical development. Neither the Russian Orthodox Church nor her beautiful liturgy fell down from the sky on Pentecost, contrary to what some faithful may think. Priests and parishioners with such a deficient sense of history can easily do more damage than good, especially in complicated times requiring ecclesial consciousness and discernment. The recent divisions and further subdivisions of our Church sadly witness to this state of affairs in a considerable number of our parishes. Larin, Nun Vassa 1Mother Vassa Larin 4 May 2008 Orthodoxy is Not a Religion of Fear Please do read the above article in its entirety FIRST. Much of what passes below presupposes an acquaintance with the arguments presented by Mother Vassa. In any case, a stimulating read! I do not agree totally with the conclusions reached… but, Mother’s arguments are literate and to the point. My disagreements are on certain points of her thesis, not her submission. No doubt, she would say likewise of me! THAT is how we should handle all honest and legitimate disagreements. :-D ****** One of the most enduring myths about the Church is that it is a monolithic body, that it only has one opinion on everything and that the faithful must conform themselves to it in every possible way. I believe that such a construct is profoundly false. Indeed, the Church is the most intense epitome of freedom within its stated boundaries. Can’t you see the konvertsy jumping up and down and shouting, “What about the canons? What about the Fathers?” Yes… what about THEM? Let’s not confuse the actual canons and the real Fathers with the uncritical and illiterate interpretation of such by those without the educational tools to use them properly. One of the things that I consider crucial in forming an Orthodox world-view is a profound sense of history. Knowledge of where the Church has been is crucial (that is why JP is such a disaster), for the knowledge of its road in the past shall tell us where she is wending her way now. Some think of this as an academic exercise; others oppose such an idea, relying on popular instincts and memory. In my view, both are deficient, and each needs the insights provided by the other. In addition to this, there is excellent material on history published by heretics (especially SVS or St Herman’s Press)… one is stupid not to use it. Of course, one rejects the heretical interpretation that one finds beside the facts… approach anything from SVS, New Skete, St Nektarios Press, or St Herman’s Press with caution (often, the facts are straight, but, it shall have a skewed interpretation). Of course, be doubly wary of anything with a heterodox (papist or Protestant) provenance. However, once one understands the general caveat that one must apply, one should use all possible sources. If for no other reason, if you do not use “adversarial” sources, you shall not be aware of the opposition’s arguments and general intellectual weltanshauung. Your own work will suffer impoverishment as a result; it shall not be what it should. In Mother Vassa’s words, “Saints Gregory the Theologian and Basil the Great took pride in having been educated in a pagan school at Athens. The great Chrysostom was taught by Livanius and Theodore of Mopsuestia… the one a pagan, the other a heretic. Although these Holy Fathers lived in times of rampant heresies and dogmatic confusion, they did not cultivate an Orthodoxy of fear. It was rather an Orthodoxy of responsibility and dogmatic awareness, inspired and fortified by a thirst for education”. In our day, Archbishop Kyrill Dmitrieff of San Francisco studied under Aleksandr Dmitrievich Schmemann at SVS… ADS was a consummate heretic and modernism and indifferentism infested SVS. Nevertheless, Vladyki Kyrill took what was good out of it all and he is one of the more grounded of Orthodox bishops as a result (this specific instance, I believe, proves Mother’s basic thesis… a very sound one in its generality). However, one should supplement reading with experience… otherwise, the base of your conclusion is bloodless paper and ink and not life. If you wish to understand the history of the Mayfield PA church dispute, I would say that it is important to go there and pray at St John the Baptist Cathedral. I have… as a result, I have a deep understanding of why the people of Russian Hill fought so bitterly for their church-home. Trust me… it shouts at you from the very stones of the building! Yes… go to New Skete. See their little statue of “Saint” Francis… see their “icons” of ADS, Dorothy Day, and Edith Stein. Steel yourself and attend one of their hotchpotch services (I know… it’s hard… I stood it, so can you). Only then shall you realise how shockingly obscene the place is. Motor about northeastern Pennsylvania… look at Olyphant (my Nicky’s father is from there), Mayfield, Jermyn, Pittston, and Hazleton… this is where Russian Orthodoxy had its birth in “the lower-48”. It won’t hurt to go to Minneapolis MN… that is where the first parish (St Mary’s) to “come home” from the Unia to Russian Orthodoxy in 1892 (the true foundational date of the so-called Metropolia) is still located. You shall have a deep respect for the founders of our faith in this country consequently. Above all, go to Jordanville. Go to services there. Walk about the grounds, eat in the refectory, and talk with the monks and seminarians. After doing this, you realise that this is the beating heart of Russian Orthodoxy in America. Like all living things, it is not perfect… there are such things as false elders and sin… yes, Jordanville has had its fair share of both (Satan is twice as active in places where people seek after holiness). Yet, if any place is the “icon” of Russian Orthodoxy in our land, Jordanville is it, easily. You can tell those who lack experience and only have reading as a foundation. Everything is a bit “off”. In fact, there is a reason for all of their posturing about the inflexible teaching of the Church. These people did not come into the Church because they loved Christ and His (Unique) Church. They came to us because they perceived lacks in their earlier confessions… they saw what they thought was mindless indifferentism in them. Therefore, they fastened upon those facets of Orthodox life, thought, and writing that appeared to contradict such. Ergo, they fail to see that the final authority in the Church is the living word of the bishops… not the sterile clauses of the canons… not the writings of the often-contradictory Fathers… and, certainly, not the vapouring of scatter-brained ivory-tower-bound contemporary “scholars”. Oikonomia is a life-giving principle… it covers over situations that the canons did not envision. I asked a real canonist (there are very few in the USA, none in the OCA) what his job consisted of. “I tell the bishop what the canons say on a given topic. Then, he makes up his mind”. THE CANONS ARE NOT A CHAIN WRAPPED AROUND OUR BISHOPS… THEY DO NOT IMPRISON THEM. They INFORM them. They GUIDE them. They show him what his brother bishops thought and did in the past. However, in the end, the bishop makes up his own mind. He may choose to follow the canons exactly or he may opt to forgo them (in disciplinary cases only… not dogmatic questions). This is his freedom as a bishop. If he oversteps the mark, what happens is that the other bishops, usually, bring a case up to the Holy Synod (itself composed of senior bishops) to resolve it (this is what occurred recently in regards to the case surrounding Diomid Dzhuban). One can only pity those who straitjacket the Faith so. They are looking for a consistency that never was and one that we shall never have. Their quest shall lead them, I believe, out of the Church, for the Church’s very freedom is what is going to repel them. What they think is “canonical” is, all too often, only a non-binding theologumena of some theologian, or an “official statement” penned by a clerical bureaucrat (only the canons of a recognised General or Local Council are truly canonical according to my sources), or the personal opinion of this or that “scholar” or “expert”. In short, they assign a weight to such things that they should not have. In the end, they chase after a certainty that cannot be… one can only pity them. I only have two quibbles with Mother Vassa’s article. Firstly, she appears to swallow the papist lie that the West is the Salvation of All… “The alternative to learning from the West was remaining uneducated” (God willing, the concise format of the article is what led to the distortion). She did not take her proposition far enough. Where did the West of Mogila’s time receive its education? When New Rome fell in 1453, Roman scholars fled to the West… THAT is why the West was so “educated”. In short, we owe NOTHING to the heterodox West. Secondly, she appears to accept the papist lies about a “Byzantine Church”, a “Byzantine liturgy”, a “Byzantine theology”, and a “Byzantine tradition”. Again… the very brief nature of the piece concerned may be the cause of this (or, it could show the bias of the interviewer… one can shape a reply by the questions one asks). We Orthodox are the proud heirs of ROME… New Rome… the papists always try to evade the fact that Constantinopolis Nea Romana (and the Orthodox Faith it embodied (albeit, imperfectly… it was no worse (and, probably, far better) than the Rome of the Borgia popes) was the most literate, most affluent, and most powerful centre of European civilisation from the fourth century to the eleventh (Old Rome was nothing but a provincial backwater… no doubt, its hayseed-hick backwardness and general illiteracy were reasons that the Popes of Rome developed such odd and conceited notions about themselves). If we are anything, we are Romaioi… ROMANS (or, one can say NEW ROMANS)… not (sneeringly, with a snarl) B-Y-Z-A-N-T-I-N-E-S. I, for one, refuse to use papist categories. I am against hatred or nastiness. However, Mr Taft is outside the Church (I believe that he is a Uniate Jesuit, of all things), and that affects how we should accept his utterances. He is, no doubt, a very nice and personable fellow… I would be nothing but polite and civil to him, trust me on that. Yet, if he speaks on Churchly topics, we must bear in mind that he is a convinced heretic and wishes to convert us to his heresy. Caveat auditor. In the Church, a hundred different flowers blossom in Christ’s garden. It has always been such. God willing, let it always be so.

  • In response to Barbara-Marie Drezhlo: I, also, was reluctant to respond to this post, but felt obliged to do so upon some consideration. As an Orthodox Christian, bound by the Gospel to respect my neighbours, I would point out the following: neither is Fr. Taft, a priest, to be referred to as `MR. Taft,` nor is Sister Vassa, a rassofor nun, to be referred to as `MOTHER Vassa.` A quick reference check would have made this clear. It is also wrong to say things like `I would be nothing but polite and civil to [Taft]` and then go on calling him things like `Uniate Windbag`. [Funny, but save it for your blog or start writing for the Onion or the New Yorker.] Similarly, it is unwise to toss around the term heretic as one likes, especially regarding people with whom you are now in communion. If you really believe that `the final authority in the Church is the living word of the bishops`, then it is your bishop that must tell you who is or is not a heretic. Secondly, Drezhlo quotes Sister Vassa`s well-known article on `oikonomia` almost verbatim when she exclaims, `the canons are not a chain wrapped around bishops.` Credit should be given here, where credit is due, and certainly not when an attempt is being made at discrediting Sister Vassa. Thirdly, the commentator, Drezhlo, condescendingly remarks that Sister Vassa takes unmerited pride in having studied with Fr. Taft. Let us note that Sister Vassa was asked in an interview about her dissertation and her studies (as distinct from the commentator, who was actually not specifically asked by anyone about her opinion on this). So, in all fairness, Sister Vassa`s account on how and where she completed her studies is simply an answer to a question. It should also be noted that Sister Vassa happens to be a woman going on 40, and needs not be patronized on the dangers of pride and conceit by the commentator, who (somewhat proudly) informs us that she is in her `mid-50-s.` Regarding Drezhlo`s criticism of both Fr. Taft`s and Sr. Vassa`s academic work, this should merit no comment. However, for the sake of standing up for what is true and right, let me say that this is simply pathetic. Do you truly think that anyone who has actually read Fr. Taft`s work will heed the comment of your `friend` that Taft cannot handle his sources properly? If there is proof of this, where has it been published so that I can read it myself? It is easy to make sweeping statements; it is a rather different story to prove them. What exactly proves that Sister Vassa`s academic work is `wishy-washy`? I have yet to see any argument against the evidence she presents in support of her rendition of `ritual im/purity`. Please keep in mind that the arguments you present in your conversations, produced in the privacy of your own kitchen or parish hall, have much less at stake than the arguments presented by these scholars. They publish them for all to read and criticise, and back them up by historical evidence. They put their money where their mouth is. One should at least respect these people, since they are the ones who dedicate their lives and livelihoods to finding answers to these difficult questions.

  • Sister Vassa`s interview is quite inspiring. Her points about fear are very important. So often we are tempted to live in states of isolated fear of all things `Un-Orthodox`, and in so doing we are unintentionally professing that the Incarnation, Death, and Resurrection of our Lord were in vain. The comments below are interesting. Barbara-Marie Drezhlo`s comment is embarrassing. She claims to be `against hatred or nastiness` and but makes not a few `nasty` comments. She also states that no Orthodox bishop takes the `Uniate windbag` Fr. Taft seriously. If this were so, then why have I seen Fr Taft`s books in the libraries of very solid Orthodox bishops. She is obviously ignorant of who Fr Taft is. I have seen him defend Orthodox beautifully, and when hearing him speak at a lecture, I can honestly say that my own Orthodox faith was nurtured. Elizabeth below makes a good point about confession. Loneliness and isolation can be enhanced when having to confess to a priest who is inconsiderate or down-right mean to a particular spiritual struggle that one is opening up about. The first comment by Fr Peter Olsen is a good point. I`ve encountered this Confession-Communion debate many times. Many sides back up their views with quotes from the Fathers. It is very confusing. But by concretely searching out proper responses to the spiritual needs of the faithful, and through prayerful reflection, I believe bishops and their parish priests will be able to respond appropriately. I really enjoy reading Sister`s Vassa`s thought-provoking answers. They are really a breath of fresh air. ROCOR is fortunate to have Sister Vassa representing the Church on an academic level. And if her academic formation under Fr Taft had anything to do with how faithfully sound, humble, and academically honest she is (which I believe he probably did), then, may I add, ROCOR is fortunate to have had one of her daughters study under him.

  • I`m about to go have lunch with a gentleman I recently met here in Spokane, Washington, Father Ireneus, who attended the most recent Lumen Orientale Conference in Constantinople this past July, and in my hurried attempt to have at least some semblance of cursory knowledge of what transpired there, lo and behold, I have enjoyingly stumbled upon this article. Thanks, John Lauerman

  • Well Sister Vassa`s article is still generating controversy many moons later I already had seen the recent critique and could barely even read through all the snarling comments! First this talk about papists is absurd. Though I know it`s standard jargon in such quarters, this term is worthy of rebellious Protestants who broke away from the Catholic Church many centuries ago and ended up in what i consider the spiritual dustbin of hisotry evidenced by their outrageous liberalism of today. Why not be respectful and at least say `Roman Catholics`? Some people just love to hear themselves rave on and on in this style. To a more balanced mind, it makes them look discreditable on every OTHER subject as well. Who could take them seriously when all they do is rant against Catholics and most of all the very respectable Fr. Robert Taft? Who does this `Vara` think she is talking about such a man in such deprecating terms? I wasn`t going to comment here but that rambling and unsavory description made me feel the need to stick up for Sister Vassa`s amazing academic achievements under his tutelage. As a result, she has the most clear-minded point of view about relations between Orthodox and Catholics that I have come across. Where is Vara`s academic record? Let`s take that out and examine it! One can argue that common sense is of greater value than any sterling academic pedigree. But in that department, Sister Vassa is most distinguished. Common sense dictates that one look for the GOOD in others, not snarl away at perceived and often real disagreements. Why has this Vara put herself up on a the Analyst Pedestal as though a self-styled arbiter of ROCOR correctness? Does she imagine she is the proprietress of a French salon where she presides over discussions by eminent politicians of the time? It`s Sister Vassa who has the real credentials for all of this. It`s not appropriate for a nun to start a blog, but I wish she could, to combat this type of eccliesiastical twilight zone thought! Most of it is simply unreadable by someone with objectivity. This Vara uses the term `grounded` – to me, it`s a New Age term. I never have heard Orthodox speak like that. But much as I dislike the word, it does describe Sister Vassa`s grasp of realities. I have one of Fr Taft`s books which I like very much, and I`m grateful to him for his pioneering work. For me, to trash such a person speaks volumes about the source! Not about him or his work, or his supposedly sinister influence on Sister Vassa`s thought. Vara implies this using unbearable condescension and corny and flippant pop talk `Mother, get your mind right`. Who is she to tell an immensely accomplished NUN this?!!!! This might pinpoint the need for a new topic: `Orthodoxy is not a Religion of Hatred, Either!` We hope that Sister Vassa will not be upset by such unreasoned diatribe and will continue to make her ideas known here and any appropriate forums. Neither do I think as the Rocorrefugees blog said, that she is part of an orchestrated campaign by malevolent forces to indoctrinate the ROCOR-MP into pro-Catholic stances. That`s too conspiratorial. Clearly the ROCOR under Met Hilarion is interested primarily in fostering reconciliation with other Orthodox jurisdictions. That`s not my cup of tea, personally at all. But one has to observe clearly what they are doing. No meetings with Catholic prelates, as that obviously rankles too much with most of the leading ROCOR-MP clergy. But wooing the OCA seems to be what they are engaged in, trying to be accepted into SCOBA one thinks. None of that is my interest. But I would like to have these negative stereotypes about Catholics become erased.

    • if you want the inside scoop on Barbara-Marie Drezhlo, email me. This person is in no position to talk about anything except objective facts that anyone can speak about or rather recite, without putting a spin on them. Maybe by now 5 years later, after the explosion on a yahoo Orthodox egroup (that got me kicked off because of my language when I found out and blew the lid off that situation) it is more common knowledge.

      • Great, thanks for the reply ! It is amazing that 5 whole years have gone by.
        Your comment brought me back here and makes me start fuming again about this injustice.

        Yes, I would be very interested to hear. Where can I find your email, Justina ?
        Strange ! I was just thinking strongly about the story of Sts Cyprian and Justina today and then fhappened to find this reply. Thanks.

  • […] –Sister Vassa (Larin): Orthodoxy is Not A Religion of Fear ( ) I also have seen many situations where these Christians are less than humble because they can keep the legalism imposed by their Church better than other outside, and even others within their Congregation. In my mind, these are forms of idolatry; "I must feel good"; "I must be entertained"; "I don't like what that Pastor is telling us"; "I could never listen to another Pastor"; I am most righteous. I, I, I, I, I; me, me, me. It's about self, so the individual often becomes their own idol; and is more central than our Lord Jesus Christ! Definitely understand – although it does take a variety of shapes…and I'd also argue that it can even go into the realm of idolatry whenever it seems that others without what we deem valuable are assumed to have the worst of motives or doing things from a self-focused basis rather than unto the Lord – for only He can see the hearts… And there's only ONE Messiah… __________________ To view links or images in signatures your post count must be 10 or greater. You currently have 0 posts.To view links or images in signatures your post count must be 10 or greater. You currently have 0 posts. Ancient, Messianic & glad Yeshua is the Messiah! To view links or images in signatures your post count must be 10 or greater. You currently have 0 posts. "It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men." ( Fredrick Douglass ) Proverbs 18:15 "The heart of the discerning acquires knowledge; the ears of the wise seek it out."Proverbs 24:3-6 5 A wise man has great power,and a man of knowledge increases strength. Become a CF Site Supporter Today and Make These Ads Go Away! googletag.cmd.push(function() { googletag.display('div-gpt-ad-1322318033491-2'); }); googletag.cmd.push(function() { googletag.display('div-gpt-ad-1322318033491-3'); }); […]

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