The Moscow Council of 1917-18

Moscow CouncilThe recent Holy And Great Orthodox Council in Crete inspired me to read about another Orthodox council, THE MOSCOW COUNCIL (1917-1918) from a book written by Hyacinthe Destivelle.   This Council was held in the midst of most interesting and tumultuous times as Russia was in the spasms of its revolution which would overthrow the dominant social order of their empire.  The Church leaders and membership at times resisted the changes, at times prompted the changes and at times were pushed and carried along by the changes.

The Council was being considered and planned for a number of years before it actually took place.  The outbreak of the Russian revolution actually catalyzed the Church into action.  And while the Church leaders meeting were often inspired with creative thinking and were willing and able to look at issues the Church had not given serious consideration to in the past, ultimately the Church found itself chasing the retreating waters of history and then being smashed by the incoming tsunami called Bolshevism.

The Russian Church for years had been seeking to be freed from its enmeshment with the state, but was totally ill prepared for the collapse of the Russian state and the rise of the Bolsheviks.  And while the atheist Soviet state might seem to be the very government that would have also wanted a church-state separation, it instead decided that controlling the Church as the Russian state had done since the time of Peter the Great was actually to its own advantage.  Rather than ignoring the Church it no longer believed in, the Soviet State attempted to dominate and then destroy the Orthodox Church.  The Council members were trying to delineate (from the Church’s point of view) what the role of the Orthodox Church would be in a society in which there was a separation of Church and state, but history was passing them by and they didn’t realize the arising state had no interest in giving the Church freedom to realize its mission.

ww2russiaWhile these events were just beginning to unfold, we can see the ambivalence or even confusion expressed by the Council as to what the Church’s relationship to the state should be.  “… the Church, although it aspired to independence, did not have the intention of renouncing its privileged relation with the state or of separating itself from it.” (p 183)  The Council members believed the Church had a privileged position and used demographics to bolster their belief.  Stating that since factually “the larger majority of the population” (p 138) claimed membership in the Church it therefore was entitled to an advantaged position in the land, the Council members never envisioned that the Church might lose that majority position or that for the Bolsheviks such thinking meant nothing.  They seemed not to have realized how unaffiliated many (most?) of the population really was with the Church.  It was a state religion, cultural religion, but didn’t have the sincere loyalty of the hearts and minds of many in the Church.  The masses (what the Church believed were their faithful members) did not rise to the defense of the Church.

That the Council members continued to believe in

“The ‘juridical status of the Orthodox Church of Russia’ shows that the ideal of a ‘symphony of powers,’ formulated by Justinian I (527-65), clearly takes precedence over their separation.  In the name of its historical, sociological, and perhaps theological primacy, the Russian Orthodox Church claims a status that would unequivocally assure a privileged place – not only with respect to other confessions but as regards all other Russian institutions.  By claiming this preeminence, the council sometimes seems to resist the idea of separation from the state – especially in its insistence that the principal political leaders profess the Orthodox faith.”  (pp 140-141)

So, on the one hand, the Council believed that in order for the Church to fulfill its true mission, there must be the separation of Church and state.  They knew the disadvantages of being not only wedded to the state but controlled by the state. They wanted the Church to be released from the stranglehold of the Petrine Russian State, what they didn’t realize is what government was coming in Russia intended to fully strangle the Church.

On the other hand, they still wanted to draw upon entitlement from the state.  They expected the newly emerging Russia would give the Church independence while at the same time using all of its civil powers to keep the Church in a entitled position.  It wasn’t to be, for what emerged in Russia was a state freed from the powers of the Church but totally willing to dominate and abuse the Church hoping to eradicate it altogether.

As events in the emerging Soviet society were moving rapidly toward an anti-Church position, the Council frequently ended up responding to the ever changing events rather than leading the Church to help shape the nation.  For example, the Council promulgated in the face of communities losing not only the sacred liturgical objects but their church buildings that

“’The sacred vessels… may be without any ornamentation, and the vestments may be made from a common linen.’  The council gives a spiritual meaning to this persecution that forces the Church to become poor and simple and a better witness ‘so that it may be known to all that the Orthodox Church appreciates its holy objects because of their inner significance, rather than for the sake of material value, and that violence and persecution is incapable to deprive the Church from its chief treasure – its holy faith, the pledge of its eternal triumph, for ‘this is the victory that overcomes the world, our faith’ (1 John 5:49”  ( p 150)


It was, apparently, the revolution, not the Council, that  was forcing the Church to abandon its excesses in order to hold on to what is important and essential to Christianity.  The Church is not about gilded ornamentation but about the Gospel of a poor and humble incarnate God.  The Church is about God not gaud.   The Church was forced to embrace the poverty that Christ lived and taught.  It was the loss of its material treasures that caused the Church to remember its true treasure – Jesus Christ.  This certainly turns out to be a case in which the enemies of the Church in stripping away from the Church its possessions and privileges returned the Church to its fundamentals – the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the living faith of the people.

As the Council proceeded it made more decisions which were direct responses to the unfolding events of the Russian revolution.  Critics of the Council began to complain that the Council members were being overly influenced by secular law and the demands of the moment.  But the Council noted quite correctly that “…the fathers of the first councils had been influenced by Roman law…” (p 179)  The Church has never existed in a vacuum.   Indeed the Fathers of the Ecumenical Councils did often accept Roman civil law and structures in shaping the Church in the Roman Empire.   That the Russian Council had to take  the new Soviet law into account is a sign of the incarnational nature of the Church.  Christians from the time of St. Paul had prayed for their civil leaders, even when they were not Christian or even hostile to Christianity.

“This is why the Council of 1917-1918 still interest us: it reminds us that the Church, in every epoch, even the most troubled, can only be built up again by posing apparently ancient questions in order to find new answers and thus pour an ever-new wine into ever-new wineskins, the wine of its own marriage feast.”   (p 190)


Vicarious Living


I mentioned in a previous blog that I don’t get out as much these days for health reasons.


So I have to rely on seeing the world through other people’s eyes or lenses.


Fortunately my son, Seth, has been traveling the country and sharing his photos with me.


He’s much more adventuresome than I.


You can see all his photos at my son’s photography.  Hope you enjoy his photography and travels as much as I do.


I would say he is a better photographer than I am, but I’ll say it is because he has a better camera.




Marriage: Helping Your Partner Attain Heaven

“…The primary purpose of marriage in the Orthodox Tradition: that the married couple may aid one another in their journey towards eternal salvation. They, and any children God may give, are to be ‘glad with the joy’ of the Lord’s ‘countenance’, as the Psalm says. In other words, they are to be in His presence – to behold Him. We know from the Beatitudes that to see God requires purity of heart (Matt. 5.8), and this implies holiness of life. Clearly, by chanting of this beautiful Psalm in the marriage service, the couple is summoned to help each other towards holiness, so that they may abide in the presence of the Lord, both now and forever.” (David and Mary Ford, Marriage As a Path to Holiness: Lives of the Married Saints, p xxix)

Wealth Which Enslaves

“Material wealth enslaves us, sharpening self-interest, corroding the heart, overwhelming us with anxiety and fear; like an insatiable demon, it demands sacrifice. Instead of serving us, it makes us serve it. Cannot the same be said of the treasures of health, strength, youth, beauty, talent? Do not they likewise confirm in our pride and constrain the heart, leading it away from God? Yes, truly: ‘Blessed are the poor’ in the world’s goods. How easily they gain evangelical lightness of spirit and freedom of earthly fetters; but blessed also are those who are without health and youth (for ‘he who suffers in the flesh ceases to sin’). Blessed the ugly, the ungifted, the unlucky – they are free of the chief enemy, pride – for they have nothing to be proud of. But what are we to do if God has granted us this or that earthly gift?  Is it possible that we shall not be saved until we are divested of it? We may keep (but not for ourselves) our riches and still be saved, but we must be interiorly free of them; we must tear our heart from them, hold our treasures as if we did not hold them; possess them, but not let them possess us; lay them at Christ’s feet and serve Him through them.” (Father Yelchaninov in A Treasury of Russian Spirituality, pp 439-440)


Let Us Rejoice in the Lord

Come, let us greatly rejoice in the Lord; Let us shout aloud to God our savior;  Let us come before His face with thanksgiving, And let us shout aloud to Him with psalms.

For the Lord is a great God, A great King over all the gods;  For in His hand are the ends of the earth, And the heights of the mountains are His;  

Olympia National Park by Seth Bobosh
Olympic National Park by Seth Bobosh

For the sea is His, and He made it, And His hands formed the dry land.  

Ruby Beach, Olympic Park by Seth Bobosh
Ruby Beach, Olympic Park by Seth Bobosh

Come, let us worship and fall down before Him, And let us weep before the Lord who made us;  For He is our God, And we are the people of His pasture And the sheep of His hand.

(Psalm 94:1-7, OSB)

Thinking About Walking on Water

“If you walk in my statutes and observe my commandments and do them, then . . . I will walk among you, and will be your God, and you shall be my people.”  (Leviticus 26:3, 12)

In the Gospel lesson of Matthew 14:22-34, we encounter Jesus walking on water.

The Apostle Peter asks Jesus for permission to join Him in perambulating across the stormy sea.  At first, all goes well, but then Peter finds himself in a bit over his head, so to speak.  Peter discovers that being the Rock doesn’t help one to stay on the surface of the water.  Here is the Gospel lesson:

Then Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go before him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up on the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, but the boat by this time was many furlongs distant from the land, beaten by the waves; for the wind was against them. And in the fourth watch of the night he came to them, walking on the sea. But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, saying, “It is a ghost!” And they cried out for fear. But immediately he spoke to them, saying, “Take heart, it is I; have no fear.” And Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, bid me come to you on the water.” He said, “Come.”

So Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came to Jesus; but when he saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, “Lord, save me.” Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him, “O man of little faith, why did you doubt?” And when they got into the boat, the wind ceased. And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.” And when they had crossed over, they came to land at Gennesaret.

Jesus clearly favored Peter among the Twelve, though Peter is not the disciple whom Jesus loved – that was John.  Peter though has a favored status, even a leadership position among the chosen apostles.  Jesus recognizes Peter as the rock, and I still have to think that the disciples ultimately might have found it amusing that Peter also sank like a rock when he so boldly asked to walk on the sea with Jesus.

Fr. Paul Nadim Tarazi makes an interesting observation about walking in the bible.

“The scriptural ‘walking’ is not done with one’s feet. Rather, it is a way of life that one has to decide for one’s mind.” (The Chrysostom Bible: Romans, p 141)

By this we may be sure that we are in him: he who says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked.  (1 John 2:5)

Self-Will: The Wall We Erect to Keep God Away

Abba Poemen said: ‘A person’s will is a brazen wall [cf. Jer. 1:18] and an immovable rock between him and God. If a person abandons it, he too says: ‘In my God I will leap over the wall’ [Ps. 18:30-31]. But if [self-] justification combines with the will, a person is in a bad way.” ( Give Me a Word: The Alphabetical Sayings of the Desert Fathers, p 236)


Is Our God Too Small?


For the Lord of all will not stand in awe of anyone,
or show deference to greatness;
because he himself made both small and great,
and he takes thought for all alike.

(Solomon 6:7)

Is our God too small?

“Too” can mean in English, “also.”  So yes, our God is too small.  As Solomon says God created the great and the small and is not more impressed with the great than the small.  God’s love is a constant in the universe, even for the tiniest of things.  Nothing is too small for God and everything is also small for the Creator of all.

One of the effects of the several surgeries, cancer and chemo which I have experienced over the past two years is that my world has shrunk in many ways.  Obviously planet earth has not grown smaller, but the part of it in which I participate has decreased in size.   I go on photo safaris very seldom these days.  When on those rare occasions I do go, it seldom is beyond the county I reside in.  And I tend to be paying attention to the small things.

I am not as steady as I used to be so getting macro photos becomes trickier as I don’t haul along a tripod.  But I do so appreciate and enjoy what I am able to see.  God makes things so beautiful – even that which is close and tiny.

I thought I would celebrate the little, the tiny and the small in this blog, giving thanks to God for all things.  It is amazing how small things can so attract one’s attention or jump into one’s vision.  Especially true if one is being attentive to the little things in life – if one has the eyes to see, the tiniest things can be captivating and even fill one’s eyes.

“Better is a little with the fear of the LORD

than great treasure and trouble with it.”   (Proverbs 15:16)

“… one who despises small things will fail little by little.” (Sirach 19:1)

“The bee is small among flying creatures,

but what it produces is the best of sweet things.”  (Sirach 11:3)

“Praise our God,

all you his servants,

and all who fear him,

small and great.”   (Revelation 19:5)

People ask me frequently if I’m doing “better.”  I always have to consider how to answer that.  A “little.”  For God takes thought for the small.  The doctors only speak about coping and managing,  not so much about better and worse.  A scale of one to ten.  “Better” for me is a moment not the direction in which things are headed.  So I can always enjoy the moment – a little.

The Sun as Servant and Symbol

“… the sun knows its time for setting.”

(Psalm 104:19)

“Arise O sons of the Sun of God! Arise, the merciful sun has risen and has begun to pour its light lavishly over the dark fields of the earth. It has risen to set you free from sleep’s gloom and terror.

Your sins of yesterday are not written out on the sun. The sun does not remember or seek revenge for anything. On its face there are no wrinkles from your forehead, nor is there any sadness, envy, or sorrow. Its joy lie in giving, its youth-its rejuvenation- lies in serving.

Blessed are those who serve, for they shall not grow old. What if the sun were to imitate you, my neighbors? How little light it would shed on earth you misers! How bloody its light would be, you murderers! How green it would become with envy when it saw greater suns that itself, you envious people! How red with wrath it would become when it heard the profanities below, you short-tempered people! How yellow it would become with yearning for the beauty of the stars, you greedy people! How pale it would become with fear, if no one marked its way, you cowards! How dark it would become with worry, you worrisome worriers! How wrinkled and old it would become living on yesterday’s wrongdoing, you vengeful people! How astray it would go from the right way if it fought over rights, you auctioneers of rights! How cold and dead it would become, and how it would envelop the entire universe with its death, you preachers of death!

Oh how fortunate it is for the world that the sun will never imitate you, O sons and daughters of earth! Indeed, the sun does not know many things as you do, but it does know two things eternally: that it is a servant and a symbol. It knows that it is a symbol of the One who put it at His service.” (Bishop Nikolai Velimirovich, PRAYERS BY THE LAKE, pp 28-29)