OUR HERITAGE

 

 

Hieromonk SERAPHIM (Rose)

Our Living Links with the Holy Fathers: Archbishop Andrew (Rymarenko)


In recent years, Archbishop Andrew, founder of New-Diveevo Convent in Spring Valley, New York, where the memory of St. Seraphim is sacredly kept, has deservedly been given much honor, especially in 1971 on the 50th anniversary of his ordination as priest, and in 1973 on his 80th birthday, when he was elevated to the rank of Archbishop. Many come to him just to receive his blessing, knowing of him as a kind of “last Russian Orthodox Elder,” and hoping to obtain through him some contact with the genuine tradition of Orthodox spirituality which is fast dying out today. And to be sure, he is a living link with the Holy Fathers in a literal sense, for he was a disciple of the last two Optina Elders, Anatole and Nectarius, and it was under his epitrachelion that the last Elder, Nectarius, died in 1928. But it is not for this that he is most important to us today; it is rather for his teaching, received from these holy Elders, on how to survive as an Orthodox Christian in the anti-Christian 20th century.

This teaching, while solidly Patristic, is not a teaching from books, but from life. The four excerpts from his writings that are presented below tell the main events of his life, which is one of great trials and sufferings, taking place in conditions of revolution, anarchy, arrests, catacomb services, exile, bombings, evacuations. But in these sufferings alone-- as helpful as they are to spiritual life--is not to be found the key to his teaching; others have suffered similar trials fruitlessly. In every place where historical circumstances have driven him--Kiev, Berlin, Wendlingen, New York State--a close-knit Orthodox community has formed around him; and this is closer to a key to understanding his teaching. Such communities, rare today among Orthodox Christians, do not arise spontaneously, but only in especially favorable circumstances, if there is present a conscious Orthodox philosophy of life. This conscious Patristic philosophy is what, most of all we can learn from Archbishop Andrew. Let us try to set down here the main points, of this philosophy which, of course, is not a “systematic” philosophy based on abstractions, but a living philosophy derived from Orthodox spiritual experience.

First, Orthodoxy is not merely a ritual, or belief, or pattern of behavior, or anything else that a man may possess, thinking that he is thereby a Christian, and still be spiritually dead; it is rather an ELEMENTAL REALITY OR POWER (ÒÚËË in Russian) which transforms a man and gives him the strength to live in the most difficult and tormenting conditions, and prepares him to depart with peace into eternal life.

Second, the essence of the true Orthodox life is GODLINESS or piety (·Î‡„ÓÂÒÚËÂ), which is, in the definition of Elder Nectarius, based on the etymology of the word, “holding what is God’s in honor.” This is deeper than mere right doctrine; it is the entrance of God into every aspect of life, life lived in trembling and fear of God.

Third, such an attitude produces the Orthodox WAY OF LIFE (·Ú) which is not merely the outward customs or behavior that characterize Orthodox Christians, but the whole of the conscious spiritual struggle of the man for whom the Church and its laws are the center of everything he does and thinks. The shared, conscious experience of this way of life, centered on the daily Divine services, produces the genuine Orthodox community, with its feeling of lightness, joy, and inward quietness. Non-Orthodox people, and even many not fully conscious Orthodox Christians, are scarcely able to imagine what this experience of community might be, and would be inclined to dismiss it as something “subjective”; but no one who has wholeheartedly participated in the life of a true Orthodox community, monastic or lay, will ever doubt the reality of this Orthodox feeling. When Archbishop Andrew tells of his lifelong-- and successful-- search to find and even create the lost “quietness” of his Orthodox childhood, he expresses the desire of everyone who has drunk deeply of Holy Orthodoxy to find the place, create the conditions, and acquire the state of soul wherein to live the full and authentic Orthodox life, one in mind and soul with other similar strugglers. Even if this ideal is seldom attained in practice, it still remains the Orthodox ideal.

Fourth, without a constant and conscious spiritual struggle even the best Orthodox life or community can become a “hothouse,” an artificial Orthodox atmosphere in which the outward manifestations of Orthodox life are merely “enjoyed” or taken for granted while the soul remains unchanged, being relaxed and comfortable instead of tense in the struggle for salvation. How often a community, when it becomes prosperous and renowned, loses the precious fervor and oneness of soul of its early days of hard struggles! There is no "formula” for the truly God-pleasing Orthodox life; anything outward can become a counterfeit; everything depends on the state of the soul, which must be trembling before God, having the law of God before it in every area of life, every moment keeping what is God’s in honor, in the first place in life.

Fifth, the greatest danger to the Orthodox way of life in modern times is what Archbishop Andrew calls “humanism”--a general term encompassing the whole vast intellectual (and now also political) movement which has as its ultimate aim to destroy true Christianity and replace it with a this-wor1dly, rationalistic philosophy in which man, in effect, becomes a god unto himself. The manifestations of humanism are many, from the Renaissance in the West and the heresy of the Judaizers in Russia in the 15th century and before, through the brazen atheism and Revolution of the 18th century, to Communism and every other philosophy in our own day which places the ultimate value in this world and leads men away from God. Humanism takes possession of men in various ways, not usually by a conscious intellectual conversion to it, but more often by laxness and unawareness in spiritual life. The Orthodox answer to this danger--whose ultimate end is the reign of Antichrist--is a CONSCIOUS ORTHODOX PHILOSOPHY OF LIFE.

This teaching is profound, and few perhaps are they who are capable of following it to its end. Archbishop Andrew, much ailing in body, is in the sunset of his age; this living link with a time and a tradition much richer than our own will not long be with us. Put his teaching must not die with him. By God’s Providence, the celebrated writer Solzhenitsyn came this year to New Diveevo, and Archbishop Andrew took advantage of this opportunity to communicate this teaching, even if in the briefest form, to him, a typical example of the awakening-- but still unforme-- religious consciousness in Russia today. But this teaching is not only for Russians, who either have known Orthodoxy thoroughly incarnated in life, or else (like Solzhenitsyn) are drawn by their blood with longing for something their ancestors had; it is the teaching of life for all conscious Orthodox Christians.

Let those who deeply love and treasure Orthodoxy now take this teaching and--even as Archbishop Andrew did with the teaching of his beloved St. Tikhon-- live by it, and thereby regain and restore even in our barbarous and anti-Christian times, the ORTHODOX WAY OF LIFE.

First published in The Orthodox Word, July-August 1975.

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