SOURCE: Orthodox England
The following article was written over ten years ago by the recently martyred missionary, Priest Daniel Sysoiev. It deals with the Neo-Renovationism (new modernism) which crept into Russia in the 1990s from the West, where, as Renovationism (old modernism) but which had been developed to its ultimate form, it has been practised for decades in France, England, Finland and the USA.
Is there anything whereof it may be said, See, this is new?
It has been already of old time, which was before us.
Fr. Daniel Sysoyev (1974-2009). These sad words from Solomon’s wisdom involuntarily come to mind when we chance to observe the polemics on the activities of the Neo-Renovationists. I have repeatedly had to deal with people suffering from the Renovationist heresy. We should note that most of the criticisms made about Fr. George Kochetkov and his faction, criticising his ‘renewed Orthodoxy with a human face’, do not hit their target, since they are not aimed at the essence of this heresy.
The indignation of Orthodox public opinion is expressed either at the use of modern Russian in services, or else at non-communicants who are chased out of Church, or else at the exaggerated elitism and ecumenism in such communities. However, the ‘Parisian’ background of this phenomenon, in other words, the influence of the ‘Paris School of Theology’, goes virtually unnoticed. For example, at the well-known 1994 conference, ‘The Unity of the Church’, representatives of St. Tikhon’s Theological Institute tried hard to dissociate the teachings of the ideology of Kochetkov from the teachings of Schmemann and Afanasiev, who were the pillars of ‘Orthodox’ modernism. Fr. George Kochetkov was granted the ‘honour’ of creating his own doctrine, thus fuelling his claims to the role of self-styled prophet. All this recalls recent history, when at the dawn of perestroika, Stalin was condemned as an apostate from the heritage of Lenin and the ideals of Communism.
Indeed, in some small details Russian Neo-Renovationist ideas and practices do differ from the nostrums prescribed by the ‘Paris School of Theology’. However, this is only the consequence of human imperfection, which has not (to our good fortune!) led to the implementation of these ideas in all their glory. However, at the heart of modernism, both in Russia and in the West, is one and the same thing - the rejection of Patristic tradition in its entirety. As a result, we see the rejection of the contemporary structure of the Church, either because it is ‘obsolete’, or else because it has ‘departed from its apostolic origins’. By their fruits, ye shall know them. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles? So every good tree bringeth forth good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit; neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit (Matt. 7, 16-18). If we use this criterion of the Saviour, we must reject all attempts to justify the ‘Parisians’, because the fruits of ecclesiastical modernism are here for all to see.
My experience with Kochetkov’s followers (both former and current) shows that there is little room for the Christianity of the Fathers in their minds. Frs. A. Schmemann, N. Afanasiev and Alexander Men, and, of course, ‘the great catechist, prophet, and teacher’ Fr. G. Kochetkov, have taken the place of the divine wisdom of the Fathers of the Church. This movement has its own dogmas, from which they derive their own liturgical practices and peculiar moral concepts, notions that are very far from Orthodoxy.
Here are some examples. Their custom of driving non-communicants out of the Church goes back to the idea of the Eucharist articulated by Fr. A. Schmemann (see his book, The Eucharist: Sacrament of the Kingdom), which has its dogmatic basis in the Protestant doctrine of the universal priesthood of the laity. Consequently, he teaches that the laity concelebrates with the priest, who only presides and does not celebrate the sacrament. Of course, with this understanding of the Eucharist, there is no place for non-communicants at the liturgy, lust like the celebrant priest who must always take communion at the Liturgy in the Orthodox Church. However, if you follow this view, it is not clear why the Apostle Paul calls only the apostles stewards of the mysteries of God (1 Corinthians 4, 1) and not the whole Church. When Christ instituted the Sacrament of His Body and Blood, He said the words, Do this in remembrance of me (Lk. 22, 19), only to the twelve, not to everyone. It is neither the priest, nor the people who have priestly authority in themselves, it is the Lord Jesus Christ Who performs all the sacraments through His apostles and their successors, the bishops and their priests, who are not creators of grace but distributors of grace.
Therefore, every priest reads the following at the Liturgy, ‘Vouchsafe that I, by the power of Thy Holy Spirit and vested with the grace of the priesthood, may stand before Thy holy Table and celebrate the mystery of Thy holy and most pure Body and Thy precious Blood, for Thou art He Who Offers and He Who is Offered, He Who receives and He Who is given out, O Christ our God’. (Prayer at the Cherubic Hymn). Laypeople do not have the grace of the priesthood and therefore cannot concelebrate with the priest. ‘The royal priesthood’ (1 Peter 2, 9) of the laity means that they must, present (their) bodies as a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is (their) reasonable service (Romans 12, 1), not that they must concelebrate with the bishop or the priest. Therefore, the rank of penitent existed in the Church, they were those who stood together with the faithful and were not dismissed along with the catechumens, but did not take communion. St. Gregory the Wonderworker (3rd century) speaks of this practice in his 12th canon.
Another example of modernist theology is the doctrine of Fr. N. Afanasiev that the power and grace of the priesthood and the episcopate are identical (see his book, The Church of the Holy Spirit). Orthodox often wondered: ‘Why did Fr. George Kochetkov not obey his Patriarch? (1) Why did he and members of his community subtly judge His Holiness, deciding in what he was right and in what he was wrong? How can Kochetkov’s followers set up parallel Orthodox parishes across the country?’ The answer is simple. Renovationists consider themselves to be bishops. For them, the Patriarch is only a colleague, and even then ‘uncatechised’.
This is the very opinion of Fr. N. Afanasiev’s (borrowed from Protestant pseudo-intellectuals) which was rejected by the famous 19th century Church historian, Professor V. Bolotov: ‘Dogmatically speaking, the episcopal rank precedes the rank of priest and therefore cannot historically be derived from it. Any historical understanding of the priesthood of the early Church, stating that bishops were only priests in the strict sense of the word, must be seen as disagreeing with the basic dogmatic understanding of the Universal Church’ (Lectures on the History of the Early Church, Moscow, 1994, Vol. 2. p. 486). The most fundamental concept for Renovationists is the ‘community’, by the way, this notion is very reminiscent of the totalitarian sect and developed out of the opinion of Fr. N. Afanasiev that such concepts and phenomena as the Universal Church did not exist in the first millennium of the Church. He taught that the Church was just a self-sufficient Eucharistic assembly which therefore needed no contact with other Churches.
It is amazing how someone who teaches this heresy can be regarded as an Orthodox priest, if at each Liturgy he testifies, ‘I believe … in the Catholic Church’. This false doctrine is untrue even historically. The Apostle Paul called the Church the Body of Christ, the fullness of all in all (Ephesians 1, 23). To the Christians at Corinth, he writes about eucharistic communion, there is One Bread, and we many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread (1 Corinthians 10, 17). At that time the Apostle Paul was himself in Ephesus. If we fail to recognise the existence of the Universal Church at that time, both in theory and in practice, this text is inexplicable.
Many Renovationist customs become explicable only in their ‘Parisian’ context. The denial by the latter of sacramentality in the Church before St. Constantine leads them to attempt to expunge sacramentality from the services as ‘Non-Apostolic’ accretions. The result is the use of the Russian (or rather, secular) language in worship, the abolition of the Hours (Fr. A. Schmemann believed that the theology of time has been lost and that therefore it made no sense to read the Hours) and the stress on the uselessness of the iconostasis. We could cite many more examples.
For all these reasons, we are convinced that Orthodox theology must not only judge contemporary Renovationism, but also, more importantly, expose its origins. Otherwise, if we condemn only Fr. G. Kochetkov and crude Renovationists, we run the risk of succumbing to the same thing, but only in a different and more attractive package.
In conclusion, we note that any attempt to justify the activities of the ‘Paris School’ must first explain why their ideas generate such monstrous fantasies (incidentally, these notions do not arise in the doctrine of V. N. Lossky (he also lived in Paris)). In addition, they must also disprove the already quoted words of Christ, A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit (Matt. 7, 18).
However, it would be better if the followers of the ‘Parisians’ ceased to use their strange doctrines to trouble the souls of neophytes.
Translated by Archpriest Andrew Phillips