By St. John S&SF
Report to the All-Diaspora Sobor, 1938
THE RUSSIAN PEOPLE as a whole has performed great sins which are the cause of the present misfortunes: the specific sins are oath-breaking and regicide. The public and military leaders renounced their obedience and loyalty to the Tsar even before his abdication, forcing this latter from the Tsar, who did not desire bloodshed within the country; and the people openly and noisily greeted this deed, and nowhere did it loudly express its lack of agreement with it. At the same time there was made here a violation of the oath given to the Sovereign and his lawful heirs; and besides this, upon the heads of those who performed this crime fell the curse of their ancestors—the Zemsky Sobor of 1613, whose decrees it sealed with the cursing of those who would violate them.
Those guilty of the sin of regicide are not only those who physically performed it, but the whole people which rejoiced on the occasion of the overthrow of the Tsar and allowed his abasement, arrest, and exile, leaving him defenseless in the hands of the criminals, which fact in itself already predetermined the end.
Thus, the catastrophe which has come upon Russia is the direct consequence of terrible sins, and the rebirth of Russia is possible only after cleansing from them. However, up to this time there has been no genuine repentance, the crimes that have been performed have clearly not been condemned, and many active participants in the Revolution continue even now to affirm that at that time it was not possible to act in any other way.
In not expressing a direct condemnation of the February Revolution, the uprising against the Anointed of God, the Russian people continue to participate in the sin, especially when they defend the fruits of the Revolution, for, in the words of the Apostle Paul, especially sinful are those who, knowing that they which commit such things are worthy of death, not only do the same, but consent with them that do them (Rom. 1:32).
But in chastising, the Lord at the same time also shows the Russian people the way to salvation by making it a preacher of Orthodoxy in the whole world. The Russian Diaspora has made all the ends of the world familiar with Orthodoxy, for the mass of Russian exiles, for the most part, is unconsciously a preacher of Orthodoxy. Everywhere that Russians live there are built small exile churches, or even magnificent churches, and often there are services in buildings which have been adapted for this purpose.
A consequence of the fall of the Russian State was the arising of the Russian Diaspora. More than a million people were forced to leave their homeland and be scattered about the whole face of the earth.
A significant part of the Russians who went abroad belonged to that intellectual class which in recent times has lived by the ideas of the West. While belonging to the Orthodox Church and confessing themselves to be Orthodox, the people of this class in their world outlook significantly departed from Orthodoxy. The chief sin of people of this class was that they did not build their convictions and way of life on the teaching of the Orthodox faith, but rather strove to make the rules and teaching of the Orthodox Church conform to their own habits and desires. Therefore, on the one hand they were but very little interested in the essence of Orthodox teaching, often even considering the dogmatic teaching of the Church as being completely unimportant; and on the other hand they fulfilled the demands and rites of the Orthodox Church, but only in so far as this did not interfere with their more European than Russian way of life. From this comes their disdainful attitude towards fasting, their visiting of churches only for a short time, and this rather more for the satisfaction of aesthetic than religious feeling, and their complete lack of understanding of religion as the chief foundation of the spiritual life of man.
In the public realm this class likewise lived by the ideas of the West. Without giving any place at all for the influence of the Church, it strove to reconstruct the whole life of Russia, especially in the realm of State government, according to Western models. For this reason, in recent times an especially fierce battle was waged against State authority, and at the same time the necessity for liberal reforms and a democratic organization of Russia became as it were a new faith, not to confess which signified that one was behind the times. Making use in their battle with the monarchy of a slander against the Imperial Family which was widely spread throughout Russia, and likewise being possessed by a thirst for power, the intellectual class led Imperial Russia to its fall and prepared the way for the Communist power.
After the coming to power of Communism, the intellectual class was partially annihilated, and partially it fled abroad, saving its own life. At the same time the Communists showed their true face, and besides the intellectual class a multitude of Russians of other classes was forced to leave Russia, in part in order to save their own lives, and in part for ideological reasons, as they did not desire to serve Communists. Finding themselves abroad, the Russian people suffered great spiritual shocks. In the souls of a majority there occurred a significant crisis which was marked by a mass return of the intellectual class to the Church.
However, this positive manifestation also had its negative side. By no means all of those who returned to faith accepted it in all the fullness of Orthodox teaching. The proud mind could not agree that up to now it had stood on a false path. There arose strivings to make Christian teaching agree with the previous views and ideas of the converts. Therefore there was a whole series of new religious-philosophical currents, often completely foreign to Church teaching. Of these currents, especially widespread was Sophiology, which is founded on the recognition of the value of man in himself and expresses the psychology of the intellectual class.
Sophiology as a doctrine is known to a comparatively small group of people, and very few actually subscribe to it openly. But a significant part of the Intellectual class of the emigration is spiritually akin to it, for the psychology of Sophiology is the worship of man, who is no longer the humble slave of God, but is himself a small god who has no need to be blindly submissive to the Lord God. A feeling of refined pride bound up with faith in the possibility for a man to live by his own wisdom, is very characteristic of many people who are "cultural" in the modern sense, who place above everything else the conclusions of their own minds and do not desire to be in everything submissive to the teaching of the Church, looking upon it favorably in a condescending way. Thanks to this the Russian Church Abroad has been struck by a series of schisms which have caused it harm up until now and have drawn away into themselves even a part of the hierarchy.
In the future life the judgment will be most severe for those Russians who, being educated in superb colleges, become the fiercest enemies of Russia. One is forced to foresee already that in the future the Diaspora will give many conscious workers against Orthodox Russia, who will strive to make it Catholic or spread various sects, and likewise those who, while remaining outwardly Orthodox and Russian, will secretly work against Russia.
But Russia was founded on and grew through Orthodoxy, and only Orthodoxy will save Russia.
To the Russians abroad it has been granted to shine in the whole world with the light of Orthodoxy, so that other peoples, seeing their good deeds, might glorify our Father Who is in Heaven, and thus obtain salvation for themselves. But if it does not perform this purpose, and even abases Orthodoxy by its life, the Diaspora will have before itself two paths: either to be converted to the path of repentance and, having acquired forgiveness for itself through prayer to God and through being reborn spiritually, to become capable also of giving rebirth to our suffering homeland, or else to be finally rejected by God and to remain in banishment, persecuted by everyone, until gradually it will degenerate and disappear from the face of the earth.
And what of the Russian fatherland? Blessed are you, O Russian land, being purified by the fire of suffering. You have gone through the water of baptism, and now you are going through the fire of suffering, and you will yet enter into your repose. At one time Christians gathered with reverence sand from the Colosseum which was drenched with the blood of martyrs. The place of the sufferings and death of the martyrs became sacred and especially revered. And now the whole of Russia is an arena of passion-bearers. Her earth has been sanctified by their blood, her air by the ascent of their souls to heaven. Yea, sacred are you, O Russia. The ancient writer was correct who said that you are the Third Rome, and there will be no fourth. You have surpassed the ancient Rome by the multitude of exploits of your martyrs, you have surpassed also the Rome which baptized you [Constantinople] by your standing in Orthodoxy, and you will remain unsurpassed to the end of the world. Only the land which was sanctified by the sufferings and the earthly life of the God-man is holier than you in the eyes of Orthodox Christians.
Shake away the sleep of despondency and sloth, O sons of Russia! Behold the glory of her sufferings and be purified; wash yourselves from your sins! Be strengthened in the Orthodox faith, so as to be worthy to dwell in the dwelling of the Lord and to settle in His holy mountain! Leap up, leap up, arise, O Russia, you who from the Lord's hands have drunk the cup of His wrath! When your sufferings shall have ended, your righteousness shall go with you and the glory of the Lord shall accompany you. The peoples shall come to your light, and kings to the shining which shall rise upon you. Then Lift up your eyes and see: behold, your children come to you from the West and the North and the Sea and the East, blessing in you Christ forever.** Amen.
—Shanghai, 1938, and Report to the All-Diaspora Sobor, 1938
* Now St. John of Shanghai and San Francisco, the Wonderworker.
** Paschal Canon, Canticle 8.
From The Orthodox Word, Vol IX, pp. 91-94.
The ancient writer to whom St. John refers is elder Philotheus of Pskov who lived in the early 1500's. -jh