In every instance when the Church has been assailed by one or another heresy, we find that many people are fooled by the heresy without actually understanding what is happening. Heresy is always presented as the truth and in this way many are misled.
-- Metropolitan Ephraim, Holy Orthodox Church in North America, 2001
Wednesday, January 2, 2013
On the Economist articles
Several weeks ago, a British news magazine, The Economist, published two articles sympathetic to name-worshipping, and soon afterward, the links were being triumphantly circulated by members of the Holy Orthodox Church in North America.
Since the articles were not signed, it is hard to know what background the author has in Orthodox theology and history, and what makes him or her qualified to render an opinion on the thorny issue of name-worshipping.
Still, one can imagine that if Metropolitan Ephraim of Boston published an article about world economics in the True Vine, not many people would take him seriously. So why should Orthodox Christians pay serious attention to an article about a theological dispute written by a secular writer and published in a secular publication?
Instead, they should be asking their friends in HOCNA some questions.
How did the anonymous author come to be writing about name-worshipping? Could he or she be connected to HOCNA's Bishop Gregory of Brookline, who went to university in England?
Why is it that the only living people named in the article are supporters of name-worshipping? Why did the author not seek out critics of name-worshipping and present a balanced picture of the Orthodox view of the situation? After all, only two so-called Orthodox groups in the world recognize name-worshipping as a legitimate teaching: HOCNA and the Russian and Ukrainian group affiliated with the so-called Bishops Gregory Lourie and Job Konovaliuk. The rest of the Orthodox world regards these tiny groups as heretical sects.
The main article, "In the name of the Name," published Dec. 22, 2012, is written from a secular perspective. Take this line from the fourth paragraph: "But it is Athos's history, as well as its spiritual importance, that attracts visitors: these calm waters have seen some strange disturbances." In other words, tourists are cruising the waters off of Mt. Athos not because the mountain has been a spiritual center for many hundreds of years, but because they are intrigued by name-worshipping and other controversies that have plagued the Holy Mountain. Really?!!
The author goes on to describe the Russian presence on Mt. Athos in the early twentieth century: "What the Russians lacked in political power, they made up for in numbers and spiritual passion, exemplified by Ilarion's book. ...In a tender, cautious tone, the book argues that just as 'in God's name, God himself is present,' the name of Jesus Christ, when recited prayerfully, radiates sanctity; it is more, infinitely more, than a set of letters." This is a series of arguments, not facts. Argument one, that the Russians monastics on Athos were full of spiritual passion. This assertion is just thrown out authoritatively, with no supporting evidence. Two, that Fr. Ilarion's book, "In the Mountains of the Caucausus," exemplified this passion. Again, no supporting evidence. Three, that the book (which the author gives the impression of having read cover to cover) is tender and cautious, a sympathetic description to be sure. One might be forgiven for suspecting it came straight from a champion of name-worshipping, such as Bishop Gregory of Brookline.
The author characterizes Fr. Ilarion as having hit on a fundamental dilemma of monotheism: are words, images or phenomena pertaining to God an aspect of the Creator or a part of creation. Here again the author seems to draw his argument from a champion of name-worshipping. The author describes how the Russian community on Mt. Athos was polarized by Fr. Ilarion's book, and how its supporters felt victimized by its critics. The author is not interested, however, in how the monks who opposed name-worshipping felt about the heretical movement that was taking hold of their monastery.
The chief proponent of name-worshipping, Fr. Anthony Bulatovich, is presented in a similarly one-sided manner. The author relates that Bulatovich sat down to write a critique of name-worshipping and felt possessed by an emptiness, coldness and darkness. Bulatovich interpreted this as God's grace withdrawing from him because he opposed the truth of the name-worshipping, so he wrote a treatise defending it instead. Anyone with any knowledge of Orthodox teaching would question Bulatovich's conclusion. Emptiness, coldness and darkness suggest the presence of demons. Why not raise the more spiritually plausible argument that Bulatovich was led astray by these demons and his reliance on his own intellect, and fell into heresy?
Likewise, when the author asserts, "Bulatovich could still use his fists as well as his pen," and describes how Bulatovich led the forceful eviction of the anti-name-worshipping abbot from St. Andrew's Skete, he seems blind to the absolute contradiction between Bulatovich's behavior and his monastic vows.
And when he asserts, "Whatever the merits of theology by water-cannon, the literature of the glorifiers often reads better than the propaganda of their foes, who caricature the glorifiers' views to make them sound like crude pagans," he not only gives the impression that he has read all the literature on both sides, but writes off the entire opposition of the Russian and Greek Orthodox Churches as propaganda without so much as a supporting quote. What kind of journalism is this?
In winding up his sympathy piece, the author refers to the nun Kassia as a learned nun in St. Petersburg attached to a dissident wing of the Orthodox Church. Mother Kassia is one of Lourie's closest disciples, and the "dissident wing" is his sect, isolated in the Orthodox world except for its friendship with HOCNA. The author also refers to Metropolitan Hilarion of the Moscow Patriarchate, who argues that the name-worshipping question was never resolved by the Russian Orthodox Church. Funny, he also mentions that Hilarion was trained at Oxford. A strange place for an Orthodox theologian to learn about his faith, but certainly a place whose name carries weight among secular readers.
The author concludes that in all faiths, there is a tension between visionaries and prophets on the one hand (read: like Fr. Ilarion and Bulatovich) and hierarchs and administrators on the other hand (read: Metropolitan Anthony and the Russian synod), and that mysticism is a power-to-the-people movement that authorities naturally resist in order to retain their own power. It's a cynical view. From an Orthodox perspective, the opposite is likely to be true: having recognized name-worshipping as alien to Orthodox teaching, the leaders of the Russian Orthodox Church did their best to stamp out the heresy because they were answerable to God for the wellbeing of their flock.
The second article, "How the name-glorifier's influence rippled through intellectual history," is a short sidebar to the first. It recounts how two scholars consider that the Russian mathematician Nikolai Luzin and his friend Fr. Pavel Florensky were able to make intellectual breakthroughs in the study of infinity precisely because of their name-worshipping views. The author - again, unnamed -- notes that Luzin, who was tried for treason under the Soviets but escaped execution, was rehabilitated posthumously by the Russian Academy of Sciences in 2012. He concludes, "Perhaps the monks who inspired him will have a similar vindication." Is this journalism? Or wishful thinking?