Russian Orthodox Community in America, Part II

Russia - A New Empire Emerging out of the Old

Orthodoxy Cannot Be Reduced to Principles and Liturgies

Orthodoxy, to Russians, is something that encompasses all of life, a “symphony” of both heaven and earth, of both the spiritual and the physical. This is something that is quite foreign to most Americans, who generally think of Christianity as something that is separate from what is earthly, something that can affect earthly things but cannot coincide or be justly collaborated with earthly things, often quoting Christ’s statement about his kingdom not being of this world as an apologetic.

To be Russian Orthodox is not to believe or be a part of certain dogmas or even certain traditions. To be Russian Orthodox is to be a part of a unified people…not one that is mere doctrinal or ceremonial, but one that is living as an actual community. In fact, as Dostyovesky explains, a community that is not so much into logical formulas of who they are as much as they are a “realized” community of Christ.

Russia - A New Empire Emerging out of the Old

After over a thousand years of the Church reigning with Christ as an imperial community under Constantinople, she was overthrown by the radical movements of Catholicism, and then Islam. But at that same time, the Russian Church had been successfully thriving as a Christian nation under the missional efforts of the Viking, Prince Vladimir, who converted to Orthodoxy from a visit to the Constantinople cathedral.

To this day the Russian Orthodox Church continues the communal tradition of the empire, explicitly teaching that Orthodoxy creates communities, and even nations.

New Israel

From the very birth of Russia as a Christian community, her bishops and monastics began teaching that Russia was a successor of Ancient Israel, and the “bearers of the true faith in history.” And because St Michael Archangel has always been considered the protector of God’s chosen people, he became a patron and very important cultural symbol for their calling of the “New Israel.” In Fr. John Strickland's, The Making of Holy Russia, an entire chapter is dedicated to historical quotes and facts on this patristic theology of THE NEW ISRAEL. Fr. Strickland speaks of how all Russian men have been historically encouraged to take a pilgrimage to the Palestinian portion of Israel to begin evangelistically merging Russia with her and fulfill the prophesy of Isaiah and St Paul for “all Israel to be saved.”

Russia’s first native metropolitan, Metropolitan Ilarion (1051-1055) was one of the first on record to make that statement of being the New Israel. He also said that the land and overall environment of Russia itself had been sanctified by its conversion. This is important to note because Orthodoxy, to Russians, has always been about not just doctrine and prayer, but also about the very community of the doctrine and prayer. Her is the metropolitan’s quote regarding Holy Russia:

“they adorned all the sanctuary and vested holy churches with beauty. Angel’s trumpets and Gospel’s thunder sounded through all the towns. The incense rising toward God sanctified the air. Monasteries stood on mountains. Men and women, small and great, all people filled holy churches.”

Our current Russian Patriarch, Kyrill of Moscow, recently said this in regards to Russia, who, remember, has already established sobornost in Russian through the Church community:

“The power of God which we receive transforms our inner world and helps us in accordance with the Lord’s will to change the outer world.”

The Basis of the Social Concept of the Russian Orthodox Church says:

“I. 4.  “The Church is not of this world, just as her Lord, Jesus, is not of this world. However, He came to the world He was to save and restore, «humbling» Himself to match its conditions. The Church should go through the process of historical kenosis, fulfilling her redemptive mission. Her goal is not only the salvation of people in this world, but also the salvation and restoration of the world itself…The Church is called to serve the salvation of the world, for even the Son of man Himself «came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many» (Mk. 10:45). “When a nation, civil or ethnic, represents fully or predominantly a monoconfessional Orthodox community, it can in a certain sense be regarded as the one community of faith — an Orthodox nation."

Can Russian Orthodoxy Grow in America?

Can the Russian mission in America properly represent Russia if it ceases to be a communal effort? In the 1800s Russian monks began to expand the Church's community to Alaska, which remained as Russian territory at that time. The Church did not evangelize Alaska by popping up parishes to 'change the native's doctrine', but they expanded their entire economy of trade and overall culture. It was a very philanthropic endeavor and Alaska began to become a part of Holy Russia in a very historical way: through blood, sweat and tears! Of course, the natives literally heard the gospel taught but as a follow-up to the greater task of the saints laying down their lives for them. Alaska was eventually bought by America and so there was no possible way that Orthodoxy could completely finish the task of establishing Alaska as a Christian nation, or part of a Christian nation.

In the mid 1900s Orthodox temples began to emerge within America, settling within the American culture and becoming what seems to be just an alternative to the Protestant and Catholic parishes. We now have a full blown “temple-only” model of Orthodoxy within America, just as all other forms of Christianity are structured. What we might need to be asking ourselves within America is how this temple-only model can somehow transform into an ancient model. We will talk about this more in the coming chapters. Some questions that will be pondered are: Are we simply an alternative to the modern, western, parishes, or are we an actual alternative to the unbelieving community as a whole? Also, in a future chapter we will discover how this temple-only model of Orthodoxy has become even more dissociated from the ancient euangelion model, due to her adaptation of western philosophy, culture and politics. The recent events of the Coronavirus can demonstrate this to us. We reduced Orthodoxy down to exactly what the cultic American ethos and government has taught us, and it has now been quite easy for them to disable.