«17 “Make an atonement cover of pure gold—two and a half cubits long and a cubit and a half wide. 18 And make two cherubim out of hammered gold at the ends of the cover. 19 Make one cherub on one end and the second cherub on the other; make the cherubim of one piece with the cover, at the two ends. 20 The cherubim are to have their wings spread upward, overshadowing the cover with them. The cherubim are to face each other, looking toward the cover. 21 Place the cover on top of the ark and put in the ark the tablets of the covenant law that I will give you» (Exodus 25:17-21).
«31 “Make a curtain of blue, purple and scarlet yarn and finely twisted linen, with cherubim woven into it by a skilled worker» (Exodus 26:31).
«5 Above the ark were the cherubim of the Glory, overshadowing the atonement cover. But we cannot discuss these things in detail now» (Hebrews 9:5).
God is the unique Being, the absolute existence; nothing can be compared with Him and the honor which is due Him, i.e. worship and adoration, is rendered unto none other; neither to some non-existent god nor to some idol.
But God’s grace is transmitted in every way in accordance with His will; even through material objects or even through the shadow of holy men, as was the case with the shadow of the Apostles, which is their imprint, a type of image (Acts 5, 12-16. 19,11-12).
In the Old Testament some of the objects which transmitted the miraculous grace of God were the bronze snake of Moses, the Ark of the Covenant, the sheep-skin coat of the Prophet Elias, et al. Every desecration of the sacred objects was severely punished by God (see Num. 10,15-20. I Kings 5, 2-4).
The teaching of the Orthodox Church concerning the holy icons has a Christological foundation. God is by essence unapproachable; He can neither be expressed by words nor depicted. The Son and Word of God, however, became man and we beheld His glory (Jn 1, 14). Thus we can depict the person of Christ which constitutes the visible sign of the invisible presence of God, an “image of the invisible God” (Col. 1, 15). In the Orthodox Church that which is seen can be depicted; we express the same confession of faith either by written or oral word and even by depiction. The icon of Christ constitutes the confirmation of the incarnation of the Son and Word of God, which was a totally real, and not a docetic or imaginary, one.
Through the sacred icons we express our internal desire to grow in the love of Christ and the saints, to attain to the “new creation in Christ” and to become “conformed to His image” (Rom. 8,29). Just as the word sanctifies our lips, in a like way the icon, which transmits the same meaning as does the word, sanctifies our eyes and our mind.
The icons of the saints refer to “the new man” and are a declaration of our belief in our tranformation in Christ and in the incorruption of man and the entire world. They do not refer to the “beauty” of this world, but rather symbolize the beauty and the glory of the “future age”. This is why the holy icons lack the dimension of “depth” and are two-dimensional. They proclaim a transfigured world which however we observe “as through a mirror” (I Cor. 13, 12). The holy icons give us the feeling that there exists a new world that is being transformed, and they constitute the assurance of our hope, expressed in the words of our Lord: “Behold I make all things new” (Rev. 21,5).
The honor rendered to the holy icons is placed within the framework established by the Seventh Ecumenical Council. According to the Holy Fathers of this council, the honor shown towards the holy icons refers back to the ancient Church and confirms the belief in the real incarnation of God the Word. This council ordains that along with the Holy Cross icons be made for the Churches, to be placed on the sacred vessels and the vestments of the priests, in the homes and in the roads; icons of Christ, the Theotokos and all the saints. It further underlines:
“For the more frequently they [the sacred icons] are seen, all the more those who see them are moved to remembrance and desire of those depicted; to them [the icons] they render greetings and a veneration of honor, but not true worship, which in accordance with our faith, is due only unto the divine nature…for the honor rendered to the icon is transfered to the prototype, and he who venerates the icon venerates the person depicted thereon”.
Orthodox Christians believe that the Holy Cross is their only pride (Gal. 6,14). It is the instrument through which sin, the source of death, was set at naught (Rom. 5,12. 8,3). The Cross is thus no longer a symbol of death and of shame (Deut. 21,23), but a source of eternal life. Through the Cross the curse is done away with, conciliation “in Christ” is brought about, and “the new man” is created (Eph. 2, 15- 16). These truths are expressed in many of the hymns of the Church:
“You spread out Your hands on the Cross, Ο Merciful One, and You gathered together the Nations that were far from You so that they might glorify Your great goodness”.
“By spreading out Your divine hands upon the Cross, Ο Jesus,
You brought unto Yourself the work of Your hands, and You freed all from the hands of the Evil One and subjected them [unto You], for which cause let us faithful hymn Your majesty, for indeed it is glorified”.
The Cross of Christ is thus characterized by the Lord Himself as glory, as the judgment of this world, as the casting out of the Devil and as exaltation (Jn 12, 24-33). Our Church characterizes the Cross as “a weapon against the Devil”, because he trembles and shudders at the sight of the Cross, not being able to bear its power.
“Lord, You have given us Your Cross as a weapon against the Devil; for he shudders and trembles, not being able to gaze upon its might.
For its resurrects the dead,
and abrogated death;
for which cause we venerate
Your entombment and Your Resurrection”.
The Holy Cross of Christ becomes a standard and a measure of either man’s triumph or his condemnation, depending upon the position he takes vis-a-vis it. Whoever equates Christ’s Cross with that of the thieves, is equated with the unrepentant thief and is condemned. On the contrary, whoever differentiates the Cross of Christ and considers it to be a royal scepter, and invokes the mercy of Christ, is likened unto the good thief, and the road leading to Paradise is opened up before him. In this way the Holy Cross becomes the measure of the judgment of the world, “the scale of justice” as it is called by the hymn of the Church:
“Your Cross stood between two thieves
as a scale of justice.
The one is led down to hell
by the weight of his blasphemy,
the other is lightened from the burden of his sins
unto the knowledge of things divine.
Ο Christ-God, glory to You”.
When we speak of the Holy Cross we do not mean only Christ’s crucifixion, but also the wood of the Cross. For this, too, is sanctified by its contact with the Body of Christ, and that is why it, too, is venerated: “The wood of Your Cross do we venerate, Ο Lover of man, for on it was nailed the Life of all things”, states one of the Church’s hymns. The sign of the Cross is also “divine and venerable”, says St. Gregory Palamas, for it is “a venerable seal, sanctifying and perfecting all the marvelous and ineffable good things that come from God”. It is an image of the crucified Christ and it draws its power and grace from His passion. This is why the sealing with the sign of the Cross is the external sign of all of the Church’s Mysteries through which man’s salvation is wrought.
The Cross of Christ expresses the ineffable love of God, but at the same time it also expresses man’s infinite value in God’s sight. A contemporary theologian says that Christ put sin to death without slaying the sinner; He did away with guilt and yet saved the guilty one. This is the great difference between Christ and human justice which crushes guilt by deriding and disgracing the guilty one. However, Christ did not simply conquer sin but also the consequence of sin which is death, and restored man to his pristine purity. Thus He led man to a surpassing of death, to the life of immortality and incorruption. Thus we do not have here a lifting of some type of Augustinian inherited guilt, nor room for any type of “payment” or “ransom” – save only in the patristic sense – and certainly not an Ansel-mian satisfaction of Divine justice. Rather the weight rests on Christ’s love, Who achieved the most extreme limits of sacrifice in behalf of those whom He loves. And it is in precisely this that we see man’s infinite value.
Making the sign of the Cross is an early Christian Tradition testified to by St. Justin the Martyr (+ 150) and by Tertullian (+ 200). The latter writes: ” We Christians in all our travels and in all our movements about, at every departure and upon every arrival, when we put on our clothes and shoes, in the bath and at the table, when we light our lamp, when we sit or sleep, in all the acts of our every-day life in general, we make the sign of the Cross”.
” This custom,” Tertullian concludes, “has its beginnings in the Church’s Tradition, it is strengthened through habit and should be preserved in faith”.
Orthodox Christians unite the three fingers of their right hand and place them first on their forehead, then on their stomach and finally bring them to their two shoulders from right to left. All of the Church’s theology is depicted in the sign of the Cross. By uniting our three fingers we depict and confess our belief in the One Triune God. From the forehead we bring our fingers to the stomach, and by so doing “typify the Son” Who was pre-eternally born of the Father and came down to earth by His birth from the Virgin Mary. When we place our united fingers on our shoulders we do so to “typify the Holy Spirit”, Who is characterized as being the “arm” and the “might” of God. By uniting the remaining two fingers we depict Christ’s incarnation and the inseparable union of the two natures, through which human nature was cured and exalted to the height of theosis.
We must not make the sign of the Cross in a mechanical way, but conscientiously, with inner participation. We should make the sign of the Cross upon our bodies distinctly and not carelessly, but in accordance with the order of the Church: with our three fingers joined together and as if the Cross itself were touching us. It is understood that the sign of the Cross must be accompanied by analogous faith in that which it depicts and b> the unwavering decision to crucify and do away with oui sinful selves and our passions; to put on the new man and ever be orientated towards the Cross and the Resurrection of Christ.
Orthodox Christians therefore render respect and honorary veneration to the Cross just as they do to the holy icons, in relation always to the personage of Christ. This also holds true for the honor rendered to the saints. This honor is not adoration and worship, but an expression of respect and love towards persons and things which God Himself honored by abundantly bestowing upon them His grace. This veneration would be transformed into worship only in such case where one were to render it by identifying in his conscience that which he venerated with God. No Orthodox Christian, however, ever identifies the Holy Cross, the sacred icons or the saints with God, nor does he differentiate the honor accorded them from their relationship to the person of our Lord.
I primi tre secoli della Chiesa sono stati contrassegnati da fatti importanti: la notevole espansione del cristianesimo nell’Impero romano, e la feroce persecuzione dei cristiani in determinati periodi, fino alla convenzione di Milano (313) con cui l’imperatore Costantino il Grande concedeva libertà di culto ai seguaci di Cristo.
Gli apostoli e i loro primi successori fondarono molte chiese nelle città principali dell’Impero romano. In ogni città c’era una comunità cristiana di base, presieduta da un vescovo che, nominato originariamente dagli apostoli, era aiutato da presbiteri e diaconi. Questo tipo di organizzazione dal triplo ministero già verso la fine del I secolo era ben consolidato; è quanto appare con chiarezza già dagli Atti degli Apostoli e se ne fa menzione nelle lettere scritte tra 95 e 98 da san Clemente vescovo di Roma e verso il 107 da Sant’Ignazio, vescovo di Antiochia, mentre si recava a Roma dove sarebbe stato martirizzato. Sant’Ignazio fu il primo ad esprimere chiaramente che la comunità cristiana locale è Chiesa, idea che rimane il cuore della concezione ortodossa.
La preoccupazione principale dei cristiani, durante questo primo periodo, era innanzitutto la celebrazione della fede e la testimonianza di questa fede in un ambiente sovente ostile.
I primi discorsi esplicativi della fede cristiana sono stati scritti a partire dal II secolo – sono quelli di Ireneo di Lione, di Giustino, di Clemente di Alessandria, di Origene, di Tertulliano, scritti spesso per necessità di spiegare la fede di fronte al paganesimo e ai filosofi ellenisti all’esterno della Chiesa, e di precisarla di fronte agli insegnamenti erronei che la minacciavano dall’interno. Ma dopo la decisione rivoluzionaria nei confronti del cristianesimo da parte dell’Imperatore Costantino, nell’anno 313, le grandi controversie dottrinali hanno scosso e per secoli la Chiesa. Come notato, accennando alle principali dottrine elaborate dai sette Concili ecumenici, la Chiesa ha conservato “la vera fede” ponendo e difendendo i dogmi necessari alla fede. Ciò però è avvenuto non senza problemi, perché certe parti della Chiesa non hanno accettato tutte le decisioni dei Concili.
La prima frattura importante della Chiesa è avvenuta tra il IV e il V secolo, a seguito delle controversie cristologiche. La Chiesa di Persia divenne nestoriana e fu rotta la comunione tra le Chiese “calcedonesi” (Roma e Costantinopoli) – che accettarono le decisioni del Concilio di Calcedonia nel 451 – e le Chiese “anticalcedonesi”: le Chiese di Armenia, di Siria (la Chiesa giacobita), di Egitto ( la Chiesa copta), di Etiopia e dell’India.
Nei primi secoli, il Cristianesimo, universale nella sua missione, si espresse in tre culture maggiori: semitica o “orientale”, greca e latina. La prima grande scissione della Chiesa spaccò quasi completamente i Semiti e gli altri Orientali, lasciando i Greci e i Latini. In questo periodo, Greci e Latini formavano una sola Chiesa, testimoniando nelle loro rispettive sfere il messaggio evangelico e lottando contro le eresie – la maggior parte delle quali sono sorte nel mondo greco, fortemente influenzato dai filosofi ellenisti. E’ notevole, ad esempio, che i papi di Roma, nella lunga e talora sanguinosa disputa delle icone che non toccava affatto l’Occidente, abbiano sostenuto la dottrina ortodossa.
Nel primo millennio dell’era cristiana, la Chiesa intera era essenzialmente “ortodossa”: architettura delle chiese e arte iconografica (icone e non statue o quadri originali secondo il gusto e l’estro del singolo pittore), liturgia e sacramenti, spiritualità e disciplina ecclesiastica (non esisteva il celibato del clero, come ancora oggi nella Chiesa Ortodossa) in occidente come in oriente erano molto simili, se non proprio identiche a ciò che si trova ancora oggi nell’Ortodossia. Per lunghi secoli ci fu comunione di dogma, liturgia, di usanze e leggi, di mentalità e sensibilità religiosa: comune ad esempio era la concezione (tipica ancor oggi nell’ortodossia) della struttura della Chiesa, fondata sulla pienezza (plèroma) della partecipazione attiva di clero, popolo e monachesimo; i vescovi venivano concepiti come rappresentanti delle chiese locali, molto autonome le une di fronte alle altre; tutto questo trovava segno di unione visibile e storico non in una persona particolare, ma in una collegialità espressa dalla comunione delle cinque Chiese principali: Roma, Costantinopoli, Alessandria, Antiochia e Gerusalemme, la “pentarchia” il cui ordine di precedenza rifletteva l’importanza delle Chiese. Il popolo aveva (come ancora oggi nella Chiesa Ortodossa) la possibilità di annullare le decisioni di un concilio (Efeso 449, Firenze 1438-39) e di accettare o rifiutare l’ordinazione di un vescovo o di un sacerdote: come si sa, in effetti, finché Roma fu un patriarcato ortodosso, era il popolo romano a eleggere direttamente il papa; il sistema chiuso del Conclave fu imposto nel 1071 dal primo papa tedesco, Gregorio VII, uno dei maggiori responsabili della diversificazione tra occidente e oriente.
Lo scisma tra Oriente e Occidente
La Chiesa di Roma, per ragioni insieme politiche ed ecclesiali, finì col subire l’influenza del sistema feudale franco-germanico e avviò, non senza resistenze e contestazioni interne, quelle trasformazioni che la portarono, mano a mano che si feudalizzava, fuori dalla comunione con gli altri patriarcati. Insieme con le trasformazioni giuridiche, che portavano il sacerdozio ad assumere poteri monarchici non solo nella sfera spirituale, escludendo il popolo e il monachesimo dal tradizionale ruolo attivo, poco a poco venivano anche modificati dogmi, sacramenti, teologia, spiritualità, liturgia e arte liturgica.
Le ragioni profonde della separazione, le sole che ne spiegano la durata, sono propriamente religiose. Innanzitutto la questione della processione dello Spirito Santo, il Filioque. Tuttavia, la causa principale dello scisma fu di fatto la questione dell’autorità del papa. I papi dell’epoca (IX e X secolo) tentarono di trasformare un primato d’onore in un potere giuridico diretto su tutte le Chiese, nonostante i diritti tradizionali dei vescovi e dei patriarchi delle altre Chiese. Nel secolo XI, la riforma gregoriana volle sottomettere direttamente al papa non solamente i vescovi, ma anche i re – e in quel contesto rivendicò l’infallibilità del sovrano pontefice, dottrina occidentale che sarà elevata a dogma dal Concilio Vaticano I nel 1870.
Nel 1054, una delegazione del Papa Leone IX, mandata a Costantinopoli, capitale dell’Impero Romano d’Oriente, per negoziare un’alleanza politica ed una unione delle Chiese, depose sull’altare di Santa Sofia, la Chiesa imperiale di Costantinopoli, una sentenza di scomunica del Patriarca Michele Cerulario, il quale a sua volta scomunicò il Papa. Le reciproche scomuniche saranno tolte soltanto nel 1965 dal Papa Paolo VI e dal Patriarca Atenagora I, durante uno storico incontro a Gerusalemme.
L’irreparabile era stato consumato nel 1204: la IV crociata, deviata dalla Terra Santa per ragioni commerciali e politiche dai Veneziani, si diresse su Costantinopoli; la città fu saccheggiata, le icone e le reliquie furono profanate o rubate, sul trono patriarcale fu piazzata una prostituta, un Veneziano fu nominato Patriarca di Costantinopoli e un crociato divenne imperatore di Costantinopoli. Nel 1261 gli imperatori crociati furono allontanati da Costantinopoli, che ridivenne capitale dell’Impero Romano Ortodosso, erede della civiltà greco-romana e guardiano della fede ortodossa. Quell’ingerenza franco-latina, però, diede un colpo mortale all’Impero ortodosso, che lentamente crollò di fronte al potere sempre più grande dei musulmani turchi venuti dall’Asia.
L’ortodossia dopo lo scisma
Già nel IX e X secolo, Costantinopoli fu missionaria in Europa orientale, dal Caucaso ai Carpazi e sino al circolo polare. I santi Cirillo e Metodio tradussero la Bibbia e la liturgia in slavo per i Moravi, dando ai popoli slavi una lingua scritta, che costituisce ancora oggi la lingua liturgica di parecchi popoli slavi. I Bulgari e i Serbi furono battezzati nel IX secolo e i Russi del principato di Kiev nell’anno 988. Costantinopoli organizzò le nuove Chiese in metropoli ampiamente decentralizzate, ma il loro vescovo principale o metropolita viene consacrato dal patriarca di Costantinopoli.
Con la distruzione della Rus-Kiev ad opera dei Mongoli ed il ripiegamento delle popolazioni nelle foreste del nord-est, la Chiesa russa divenne la guardiana dell’anima nazionale. Nel XIV secolo, sotto l’impulso e la guida di san Sergio di Radonetz i monasteri si moltiplicarono, diventando centri di cultura cristiana e l’iconografia ortodossa conobbe uno dei suoi apogei, in particolare nel XVI secolo, con i grandi centri di Novgorod, Mosca e Pskov. La Chiesa russa a sua volta divenne missionaria, convertendo molti Mongoli e le tribù finniche del Nord. I missionari ortodossi raggiunsero Pechino nel 1714, poi, alla fine del XVIII secolo, le Isole Aleutine e l’Alaska – origine dell’Ortodossia nell’America del Nord.
Dal XIII secolo, al fine di ottenere dall’Occidente aiuto militare contro il potere turco che minacciava l’Impero, gli imperatori ortodossi cercarono di riavvicinarsi a Roma. Fu in tale contesto che, nei Concili di Lione (1274) e di Ferrara-Firenze (1438-39), i rappresentanti ortodossi, spinti dall’imperatore, capitolarono di fronte alle pretese romane riguardo all’autorità del papa e al filioque. Ma le conclusioni di quei Concili furono respinte dal popolo e dal clero, che rimasero fedeli alla fede ortodossa.
Nel 1453 i Turchi s’impadronirono di Costantinopoli, fu la fine dell’Impero romano ortodosso e la Russia divenne il baluardo dell’Ortodossia. Sotto l’Impero ottomano, la Chiesa fu ora perseguitata e ora tollerata; i quattro patriarcati tradizionali di Costantinopoli, Alessandria, Antiochia e Gerusalemme, ebbero per secoli un’esistenza precaria, che dura fino ad oggi in tutto il Medio oriente. Nello stesso tempo però, i grandi centri di spiritualità ortodossa, in particolare i monasteri di Santa Caterina sul Sinai e quelli del “Santo Monte”, il Monte Athos in Grecia, continuarono a splendere anche sotto la dominazione musulmana.
La Grecia fu liberata dal giogo ottomano nel 1832, la Bulgaria e la Serbia nel 1878 e le loro Chiese divennero autocefale. Nel XX secolo, la Chiesa di Grecia conosce una vera rinascita spirituale, con movimenti religiosi ed eminenti teologi ed un vigoroso risveglio monastico femminile e maschile guidato dalle grandi figure di asceti moderni che il Monte Athos continua a produrre.
Dal Santo Monte, come viene comunemente chiamato dagli ortodossi l’Athos, era partito quello che si chiama il“rinnovamento filocalico” della spiritualità ortodossa nel XIX e XX secolo. Nel 1782 un monaco del Monte Athos, san Nicodemo l’Aghiorita, e il vescovo di Corinto Macario, pubblicano a Venezia una monumentale Filocalìa (“amore della bellezza”), un florilegio di testi spirituali nella grande tradizione esicasta risalente ai Padri del Deserto del IV e V secolo, passando attraverso i grandi spirituali della Chiesa d’Oriente fino al XIV secolo. Tradotta da un monaco ucraino stabilitosi in Moldavia, san Païssi Velitchkovsky, la Filocalìa slava, poi russa, diventa la fonte della rinascita spirituale della Chiesa russa nel XIX secolo. Questa rinascita attinge le sue radici nell’esicasmo, segnatamente la preghiera di Gesù, e raggiunge il suo apogeo in personaggi come san Sérafino di Sarov e i santi starets del monastero di Optino. Questo rinnovamento filocalico è l’ispirazione del famoso “pellegrino russo” e continua ad influenzare non soltanto il mondo ortodosso, ma anche l’Occidente.
Nel XX secolo, dopo la rivoluzione bolscevica, tutta la violenza dell’ateismo e del materialismo moderni si è rovesciata sulla Chiesa russa, poi a partire dal 1945 sulle Chiese ortodosse di parecchi paesi dell’Europa dell’Est. Dal 1918 al 1941, la Chiesa Russa ha subito una delle persecuzioni più terribili che il mondo cristiano abbia conosciuto, con centinaia di migliaia di martiri. La maggior parte delle chiese, i monasteri e i seminari furono chiusi, fu vietata ogni forma di catechesi, nel 1925 fu sospeso il patriarcato e buona parte della gerarchia si sottomise allo stato comunista. Durante la seconda guerra mondiale, Stalin “normalizzò” le relazioni con la Chiesa, diverse chiese furono riaperte, e anche qualche monastero, alcuni seminari e accademie di teologia. Un nuovo periodo di persecuzione, non sanguinosa ma asfissiante, si abbatté sulla Chiesa tra il 1960 e il 1964 e poi ancora tra il 1979 e il 1985. Soltanto con la caduta del regime comunista, mentre era al potere Gorbaciov, alla fine degli anni ottanta, la Chiesa ortodossa in Russia è uscita dall’ombra in cui era vissuta per 70 anni.
L’incontro dell’ortodossia con l’Occidente
Uno dei grandi avvenimenti spirituali del XX secolo è stato l’incontro dell’Ortodossia con l’Occidente, grazie soprattutto alla presenza in Occidente della diaspora ortodossa, ucraina, russa e greca soprattutto, ma anche rumena, serba ed araba. Già alla fine del XIX secolo c’era in Europa occidentale e in America settentrionale un’importante presenza di immigrati ortodossi. La prima guerra mondiale e soprattutto i massacri del 1922 scatenati da Ataturk provocarono l’arrivo massiccio di rifugiati greci cacciati dalla Turchia. A partire dal 1920 dilagarono ondate di emigrati russi, cacciati dalla patria a causa della rivoluzione bolscevica. Fra questi, una parte dell’élite culturale russa si stabilì principalmente in Francia. L’indomani della seconda guerra mondiale, ad una seconda ondata di emigrati russi si aggiunsero Rumeni, Bulgari e Serbi. Dopo la crisi libanese, molti arabi cristiani provenienti dal Libano e dalla Siria si sono stabiliti in Europa ed in America del Nord. Ai nostri giorni, una terza ondata di immigrazione russa e balcanica, a seguito del crollo dell’Unione Sovietica, sta aumentando nei paesi occidentali la presenza di popolazioni venute dalla tradizione ortodossa.
Alla fine degli anni venti appaiono alcune “Ortodossie occidentali”, parrocchie che utilizzano nella liturgia le lingue occidentali. Esse sono scaturite sia dall’ insediamento progressivo degli immigrati e dei loro discendenti nei paesi di accoglienza, sia dalla conversione di Occidentali dal protestantesimo e dal cattolicesimo. La prima liturgia celebrata in francese risale al 1927 e la prima parrocchia francofona fu fondata a Parigi nel 1928. Così si sono formate parrocchie e diocesi che utilizzano nella liturgia il francese, l’inglese, il tedesco e ultimamente anche l’italiano.
L’ortodossia in Italia
In Italia la presenza ortodossa è antichissima. Anche se già dall’XI secolo i Normanni avevano strappato a Costantinopoli Calabria, Puglia e Sicilia, non riuscirono tuttavia a imporre immediatamente il cattolicesimo. L’ortodossia nell’Italia meridionale sopravvisse a lungo e solo nel periodo della controriforma (dal XVI secolo in avanti) essa venne faticosamente estirpata dall’Inquisizione. Tracce consistenti di questo recente passato rimangono in varie tradizioni e memorie popolari calabresi e pugliesi, nei toponimi e nella venerazione di numerose figure di santi locali del nostro meridione, che la Chiesa ortodossa commemora nel suo calendario.
Nei principali porti italiani da tempi immemorabili sono stabilmente insediate piccole comunità greche, la più importante delle quali è ancor oggi Venezia. Dopo la caduta di Costantinopoli la comunità greca veneziana divenne un centro della massima importanza grazie alla presenza di un vescovo ortodosso e alla prima tipografia moderna, che negli anni più duri della dominazione ottomana pubblicava liberamente i libri per la madre patria oppressa.
Il nuovo Concordato firmato tra il Vaticano e il Governo Italiano nel 1984 offriva agli ortodossi presenti in Italia una migliore possibilità di esprimere il loro culto. Nel 1989 Sua Santità Bartolomeo I, patriarca di Costantinopoli, fondava la Sacra Arcidiocesi Ortodossa d’Italia, consacrando dopo secoli, il primo Metropolita Ortodosso d’Italia. La Sacra Arcidiocesi Ortodossa d’Italia, riconosciuta come Persona Giuridica agli effetti civili dalla Repubblica Italiana già dal 1993, ha come scopo l’assistenza religiosa, spirituale, morale e sociale di tutti gli i cristiani ortodossi residenti in Italia senza distinzione di lingua, passaporto, provenienza, nazionalità. Il nucleo fondatore è costituito da chierici e fedeli greci appartenenti al Patriarcato di Costantinopoli, a cui l’Italia ha sempre fatto riferimento, come sopra ricordavamo. Ad essi si sono aggiunti chierici e fedeli russi, romeni, serbi, bulgari ucraini, moldavi, albanesi e recentemente anche italiani convertiti all’ortodossia.
Il 4 aprile 2007 ha segnato una svolta storica per l’ortodossia in Italia: il capo del Governo, Romano Prodi firmava l’intesa con Sua Eminenza Gennadio, arcivescovo ortodosso d’Italia e Malta ed Esarca per l’Europa Meridionale. I nuovi accordi presi con lo Stato Italiano permetteranno alla Chiesa Ortodossa non soltanto di godere di quella tolleranza che in Italia le è concessa da una ventina d’anni, ma anche di potersi sviluppare e meglio organizzare a favore di tutti i fedeli ortodossi che vivono attualmente nella nostra penisola (circa un milione) potendo beneficiare delle risorse derivanti dall’8 per 1000.
In Italia la massiccia ed improvvisa presenza di centinaia di migliaia di immigrati dall’Europa dell’est ha richiesto la presenza di chierici appartenenti anche ad altri patriarcati, soprattutto a quello di Mosca e di Bucarest. La comunione sacramentale e dogmatica con i sacerdoti di questi patriarcati è piena, anche se giuridicamente prestano obbedienza ad altri metropoliti che non risiedono in Italia. E’ importante tener presente che l’idea secondo cui la nazionalità e la chiesa devono coincidere, anche se attualmente serpeggia fra alcuni ortodossi e non, che la incoraggiano, è stata condannata come eretica due secoli fa, quando fu espressa la prima volta. Il nazionalismo ecclesiastico è un’eresia: i patriarcati nazionali, le chiese autocefale di recente formazione, come gli stessi patriarcati antichi, sono solamente suddivisioni amministrative dell’unica Chiesa ortodossa, la quale ritiene di essere la Chiesa una, santa, cattolica ed apostolica. La prima vera patria degli ortodossi dunque è la Chiesa Ortodossa: non importa in quale lingua si celebri, non importa a quale patriarcato appartenga, non importa la provenienza etnica del sacerdote o dei fedeli.
La presenza delle popolazioni di immigrati di tradizione ortodossa in Italia e in genere in Occidente consente un contatto vero tra le due grandi tradizioni del cristianesimo. I cristiani occidentali possono scoprire nelle nostre parrocchie le tradizioni spirituali e liturgiche del cristianesimo antico, accuratamente trasmesse ed arricchite per secoli nella Chiesa ortodossa, rimasta fedele agli insegnamenti dei Padri e dei Concili ecumenici.
Sister Nun Porphyria (+2015) was born and raised in Piraeus, Athens, Greece.Exercise at times various professions.For ten years (1997-2007) he worked as a taxi driver in Athens and Piraeus.Meet the modern virtuous and inserts Elder Porphyrios (now he is Saint Porphyrios) of books on the life and teachings.This acquaintance brought her closer to Christ and conscious Christian life.With a strong faith and deep love to God has been working His glory and the salvation of others.So the taxi became a modern pulpit, which led many to change life, blessed lesions.In recent years she became a monk with dual purpose: to fight distractions for salvation and to minister to the modern investigational human.
Athens of my heart…!
The Nun Porphyria, tells us:
“The shift is my night, eleven o’clock in the evening. I driving in the street Piraeus to Square Omonia, the center of Athens. Inside the taxi, as usual, I was talking to my sweet Jesus. Spontaneously I told myself to Christ: “The first man who would I bore signal to stop, I will go him without money, sufficient to bring him near You. Does not stop it until it reached at the streets Piraeus and Menandrou. There in the corner stood a girl. Stop and look at her. Waiting customers for payday. Without thinking, I went near her.
-Good evening!, she replied.
-You know, this time, I feel a lot of pain in my soul and I with someone to share.
She looked puzzled and says:
-Well, and you found me to talk?
-Yes! My heart tells me you’d understand me.
-You know what I do for myself?
-And you want to talk with me?
-Yes! I want to talk with you. You’re wasting both today payday? May be able to help me and be saved.
-Come, he says reluctantly.
-OK, let’s go!
Threw a glance around her and went quickly into the taxi.
Glad I did, but puzzled; what I would say? “Oh my God!Come down and help me, what do I do now? What to tell? Once properly introduced, I said:
-Difficult professions choose to do, huh?
And so begins a very nice chat.
In the beginning around the taxi and difficulties. And timidly started to fall into its own life. However, we arrived at the Kavouri. I said:
-We will come down here to drink coffee and continue our conversation.
Then she told me something that moved me:
-I am not ashamed to go through together?
As I understand, the dress was different from mine, and also the whole look. I said:
-NO! I am not ashamed! Be ashamed of what brought you to this state! For me you are a sweet and tender creature of God.
We went in; looks all fell into upon us. But that does not interest me at all, nor the bruises that had been on her feet made me ashamed and start to run. For me that time was sacred. Should, with the help of God, to resurrect pasῃ sacrifice this girl. Should, with the help of God, to resurrect this girl.
Like other times, I feel that I didn’t speak, but someone else from me; through the same thing happened in this case; someone else to help push this girls. He told me all her life from her childhood until today. And also, how they had to bore this profession.
A profession painful, not just hard. This profession thee destroys the personality, dignity, forget if you are a man, I forget you, thou livest and function with want of others. You do not exist anywhere, because, apart from your flesh, that is why he has nothing. So we’re obliged to obey them. That is, you are in obedience of the devil and not of God. The difficulty of this art to hear for the first time this evening. Believe me, a sword pierced my heart! Confession this girl with so much hurt, pain attributable not remember to have felt in my life!
Then I started to speak about God and the great happiness which we gives when we are with Him; spoke to the Virgin and our how sweet, tender and protective is for her children. Talked about the wonders of our Saints, For the Elder Porphyrios of Athens, for the miracles that lived in the taxi and many people with me. Spoke about the power of confession, Holy Communion and for a lot of issues around the God and faith. Tried to persuade her to change her life, letting my tears running then unstoppable, holding her hands tenderly.
When anymore, tired from the crying, I told her: “Time is going,” I paid and got up to leave.
When you reach the taxi and waited for the big surprise. He came close to me and says:
-Lets me hug?
-And, of course, be hugged, I told her with much joy.
Hugged me and then burst into sobs. Through sobs of them told me:
-Help me, help me, your God sent you to me, help me to change my life, I tired to make this work! I am very new, as you say and you, although I feel a hundred years old. Help me make a new start, to do a family, to have children. You are right, I can be restarted from the beginning. Your God sent you to me. Please, take me in your God and, please, tell him me and give me what I gave you. And I become happy and joyful as much as you.
I promised to help her. I host her for one month in my house. One month agonizing and dangerous to me. Because, as you know, these girls have someone who “protects”. Risked my life sometimes. But I was sure that God would not happen to me any harm; contrary would help me save this girl; because He sent me to her.
So this is happened; From that night her life changed integrator. Today she is married, happy and near to God, and she has two kids.
An interview with the dean of parishes of the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad in New Zealand, Archpriest Vladimir Boikov We imagine New Zealand as a distant, fairy tale land at the end of the earth. Its landscapes have become known only recently through their depiction in the movies.
Nevertheless, few know that Orthodox parishes of the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad have existed here for a half century now. Other local Orthodox churches also serve the spiritual needs of their flocks in New Zealand. Today we are speaking with Fr. Vladimir Boikov, a recent guest of Sretensky Monastery, about the Orthodox Church today, the Russian diaspora, and the spiritual problems of New Zealand society.
—Fr. Vladimir, what is the Russian Church like in New Zealand; how is it administratively organized in that distant, seemingly exotic land?
—We are part of the diocese of Australia and New Zealand of the Russian Church Abroad. The majority of the Russian flock in our diocese lives in Australia. There are especially many people from Russia and the former USSR in Sydney.
There have always been fewer Russians in New Zealand. The main wave of Russian immigrants came after the Second World War. These were people resettling from Europe and China. Russians came from China in the 1950’s–1960’s, first to Australia, and then some families reached New Zealand. Nevertheless, with time the majority of them returned to Australia, influenced by familial ties and the particularities of life in New Zealand.
—In other words, we can say that the Russian diaspora in New Zealand appeared during the period after the Second World War?
—Yes. Especially many Russians appeared in Australia, and as I said, significantly fewer in New Zealand. The first Russians who came to that country founded three of our parishes. The problem is that there have never been sufficient resources to cover New Zealand in our diocesan center; and, as I think, also because the question of support for parishes and missionary work has never been seriously raised, even by the Russian Orthodox themselves. That is my personal opinion.
In New Zealand there was one Russian priest who came, as did many others, from Australia, from the resettlers’ camp. He himself was a very interesting man—Fr. Alexei Godyayev. If I am not mistaken, he departed to the Lord in 1989. When we travel from Auckland to Wellington, we always stop at his grave in the cemetery and serve a pannikhida. He and his matushka, Anna, are buried in the cemetery in Wanganui. In the early 1950’s, he came and established himself in this little town of Wanganui. He lived there because it was a center of the milk industry, or more precisely, the cheese industry. Fr. Alexei was a chemist, and he is now famous in New Zealand as one of the founders of our cheese-making. He studied bacteria that is used in the making of cheese, and made a great contribution to the development of the production of famous New Zealand cheeses.
He was a true scholar. I read his letters to the bishop in our diocesan archives in Sydney. He related very seriously and conscientiously to his work, and was very busy, because the cheese industry was only just beginning then. It is now an hour’s drive from Wanganui to the capital city along a good road, but the conditions were worse then. But he would travel on the weekends to serve in Wellington, where the Russian Church Abroad had a small parish. Now, just as then, the Russians are concentrated in the three largest cities. These are the capital, Wellington, the large city of Auckland on the Northern part of the island, and on the southern part, the city of Christchurch, where there was recently a strong earthquake. Three parishes were built in these cities at the initiative of Fr. Alexei and certain other people. In Auckland, we have the Resurrection parish, in Wellington is the church of Christ the Savior, and in Christchurch is the church of St. Nicholas.
These parishes are still active. We also had a small mission dedicated to the Archangel Michael in the town of Palmerston North. It was centered around a chapel built in the backyard of one of the parishioners, and certain services were held there. We served there once every few months on Saturdays, when we would go to Wellington. But we have not served there for two or three years now; we don’t have the time or the energy to do it. The Orthodox woman who owns that chapel is now in the hospital.
In the 1980’s, when Fr. Alexei Godyayev retired, a new priest from Australia was sent to us for two or three weeks every two months. This responsibility lay upon five or six priests, mainly from Sydney, and one would come from Melbourne.
Thank God, that in the 1990’s serious attention was given to services in New Zealand, and a permanent priest was sent.
The community grew during those years. At the beginning of the new century, there was a wave of immigrants, and Metropolitan Hilarion, before he became the First Hierarch of the Church, decided to send me here as rector of the parish and dean of the parishes of New Zealand. I have been serving here for six years. Parish life is steadily becoming stronger here. This can particularly be felt in Auckland, because we have a second priest. In Wellington and Christchurch it is less perceptible, but there is serious growth, nonetheless. There are people who relate seriously to parish life. These are regular parishioners, who frequently confess and receive Communion.
—Tell us more about your service there today.
—I am the rector of the Resurrection parish in Auckland, the rector of the church of Christ the Savior in Wellington, and the dean of the Russian Orthodox parishes in New Zealand. We have a second priest serving in Auckland—Fr. Evgeny Kulanov. He has been serving for four years now, and we try to serve according to our strength, more and more intensively. Usually I serve the Liturgy for three weeks in Auckland and one in Wellington.
Since Fr. Evgeny was ordained, we have services in Auckland regularly. It is very rare that we do not have services during weekdays. In Wellington, we are now serving twice monthly.
But the strongest parish we have in New Zealand is the Resurrection parish in Auckland, because most of the newly-arrived Russians live there. Auckland is the largest city in the country, and it is easiest to find work there. A third of the population of New Zealand lives in Auckland.
We have a third priest, Fr. Arkady, who serves in Christchurch. There are great problems there after the earthquake. The church, thank God, was not damaged, only some cracks, but during the earthquake some icons fell… Anyway, the services are still being conducted.
We organized a Russian school in Auckland. It is run at the church, but the classes are taught in another town, where there is space in a building. It has become very popular. It is not a Sunday school , but a Saturday school—the lessons and meeting take place on Saturdays. The difficulty lies in the fact that some people who have to spend time getting their children to school on Saturday then find it hard to get to church on Sunday for services. This is a Western illness: I came once; why should I come a second time? And the school is viewed as a participation in one’s cultural traditional life, part of which is considered also to be the Church.
Of course, we would like to have lessons after the Sunday Liturgy, but that is not possible right now. We recently had a picnic for the parents and children of our Russian school. Eighty-five people participated. That is very good for such a school. Our second priest is the school’s principal. I see that many young families have begun to associate with him more actively. Unfortunately, there simply isn’t enough space in the church for everyone. On Sundays, many people have to stand outside the church. Some do not want to come to church and stand outside, especially since the church is surrounded by cars. Thus, the current inconvenience prevents people from freely coming to pray. Of course, this needs to be addressed.
The land on which our Resurrection church stands was donated by the daughter of the last Tsarist governor of Tver Province, who bought a few parcels of land in the center of Auckland, and donated one of them to the Church under the condition that a church be built there. The church was built, but it is small, because there were only 20–30 families there at the time, they gathered for services about twice a month, and so a large church was not needed, although the parcel is large.
We are still serving in this small church—20–30 square feet. On Holy Saturday, we had 135 communicants. People had to stand out on the street during the services. This is very inconvenient.
—Could you tell us about the recent earthquake and its consequences? How did this affect the life of the Russian community? We know that it was a great catastrophe, with many victims.
—The city of Christchurch really did suffer much damage. Almost the entire downtown area was destroyed, and the roads were closed… People’s spirits fell. Some Orthodox families left altogether, some intend to leave forever, while others only left temporarily.
We had never experienced anything like it. The city was a closed zone for two months. Now many who have left are re-thinking their life plans. It is hard for people to stay there, where underground shockwaves are felt almost daily. From September 2010, when the earthquake happened, to February 2011, when there was another strong earthquake, there were 4,000 shockwaves. Now they are happening almost every day, several times a day.
On Bright Saturday, Metropolitan Hilarion and I served Divine Liturgy in Christchurch, to support our faithful there. Vladyka himself wanted to go to Christchurch, serve, and pray with the Orthodox of that city. There were many people at the services, and all received Communion. The service was very touching. We flew in at seven in the morning, and literally before our arrival, there were two strong 5.3 aftershocks. This is frightening, of course. People are in constant tension, waiting for the next shockwave.
During the first earthquake, in September 2010, there were no deaths; during the second, in February of this year, over 180 people died. The first earthquake happened at night, and there were few casualties, while the second happened right during the workday, and many people who were at work or in school perished. In the English language school, over 100 people died.
Incidentally, after two earthquakes in Christchurch, twenty-four Anglican churches suffered. They have about fifty or sixty parishes in that diocese. These twenty-four churches are now closed due to the damage.
—Approximately how many Russians and people from the former USSR now live in New Zealand?
.—In fact, it is hard to count them all. Almost all of the old Russian immigrants are gone—the descendants of those who came from Europe and China. Nearly all of them left for Australia, or have completely assimilated into New Zealand society. The fact that divine services were served infrequently is partly to blame. From the 1950’s to 1980’s, one priest took care of three parishes, and travelling around the country was much harder in those days. On the weekends, he served in Wellington, twice a month he went to Auckland, and he travelled to Christchurch twice a year.
In general, there has always been a tendency here to go to Australia, and this goes on today. People use their residency rights in New Zealand in order to get to Australia. They come to New Zealand, live a while, receive their residency permits, and then go to Australia.
I would say that currently in Auckland there are from seven to ten thousand Russian Orthodox people who arrived after 1990. In Wellington there are probably 1,000–2,000, in Christchurch there are much fewer—around a thousand.
—What do the Russians in New Zealand mainly do?
—That is a very interesting question. It is also one of our problems.
We won’t talk here about the immigrants from the older generation, who have completely adapted, become New Zealanders, have professions, and a stable social standing.
If we speak of the majority, then those who came in the 1990’s intended to work in their professions. These were scholars, doctors, engineers, and specialists in general. They thought that they would come to this fairy tale land, would be given jobs, and everything would be fine. I think New Zealand itself also counted on this, to a certain extent. But in the end, it turns out that there is a serious language barrier, and New Zealand did not fully recognize the soviet diplomas and degrees. They had to learn the language and pass qualification examinations.
Not many who had studied for years in their homeland and then achieved some success in their fields were ready to tackle this serious and sometimes humiliating work. These educated people would sometimes have to do menial labor: dig ditches, paint houses, make repairs, adapt and earn money in whatever way they could. This reflected itself in parish life. Many were “lost” because they had to work on Sundays.
At the beginning of this century, the situation has changed somewhat. People have arrived who already know English, although the level itself of professionalism has fallen. Many have come on student or other visas, in order to somehow catch on and remain living in New Zealand.
Many of our parishioners are preoccupied with serious life problems. Now, people often come to church and ask for molebens to Blessed Xenia of Petersburg, so that she would help them find work, or obtain their [residence] documents. And she really does help many people. I myself believe in this, and call all to pray to her, because I myself feel great help from St. Xenia.
People who have turned up here live far from our Russian culture and the traditions of our Orthodox Church. This isolated life is also one of our most serious pastoral problems. Now with all the means of mass communication and information, the world has become nearer in some respects; but even so, we feel we are far removed from everything.
Returning to what our immigrants are doing, I will say that there are those who have gone through all the necessary procedures needed to enable them to work in their professions. I know doctors who have confirmed their qualifications in New Zealand. True, there are only four. It really is a difficult path. One has to completely reorient himself and become a student again, pass exams. Then, perhaps a person was a head doctor in Russia, but here, even after having received the corresponding registration, he has to work at night, do the grunt work, work on weekends, and so on. What head doctor will want to work on Saturday night or Sunday morning when he comes to the “land of milk and honey?” So, this is also one of our pastoral problems.
Another pastoral problem is that there have been many marriages arranged over the internet. In New Zealand, agriculture is well developed. We have many large farms, located far from the cities, and sometimes it is hard for a farmer to find a wife. Many use the internet to do this. They specifically look for Russian sites, meet someone, pay a lot of money, do all the paperwork, invite their fiancés, and register their marriages. However, the women from Russia come to us without a thorough understanding of the land they are coming to, and what awaits them there.
I believe that this social phenomenon has done much harm to our Russian Orthodox society. Especially to the women. They come, for example, from Moscow or St. Petersburg, and find that they are not able to become simply wives, to live in the backwoods of New Zealand, where no one speaks Russian, and there are no women friends or acquaintances. They fall into depression, and their husbands don’t understand them. This all leads to personal tragedy.
When I came to Auckland in 2005, we opened the church twice a week: Wednesday mornings and Friday evenings. People, mainly women, came and placed candles. I specially sat near the candle table and talked with those who came in, asked their names, and where they came from. Very often, I would listen to the first twenty minutes of their ecstatic tales of how great it is in New Zealand, but when the conversation would reach the heart, the women would simply begin sobbing. They came here with their dreams about how their husbands would make their lives so special, that they would love each other, and that they would be living in an earthly paradise. But their husbands cannot relate to them normally. They don’t understand each other. Then arguments begin, and scandals.
The thing is that the Western culture of Australia and New Zealand is something quite particular. It is not even the U.S.A. I can say this quite definitely, because I myself am an Australian, and was born in Australia.
Now the wave of such people has waned. I think that there are a great deal fewer of these “internet marriages.” Their peak was in the late 1990’s, but now the New Zealand men themselves understand that this is a mistaken practice.
There are, of course, parishioners (now the majority), who work in their professions and have work where their profession was needed, and so their work is more or less pleasant to them. Most of the women are accountants, and work somewhere in accounting departments, in hotels or other companies. The men are mainly electrical, construction, or other sorts of engineers.
The majority of parishioners are still not able to buy their own homes, to fulfill their dream of having their own living space. Many rent apartments. Nevertheless, they are very conscientious about their work and their spiritual lives. This is very perceptible—a spiritual upsurge. Our church in Auckland has once more become a center of Russian life for those people who need it; and glory be to God!
—How else is the Orthodox Church represented in New Zealand? Are there other national Churches there?
—Yes. The largest in number of parishes is in the Greek Church, Constantinople Patriarchate. Greeks and Arabs were essentially the first Orthodox people in New Zealand.
The first parish was founded by Orthodox Lebanese and Arabs at around the beginning of the 20th century, in the town of Daniden, on the very southern tip of the island. Then the Greeks began actively immigrating after the Second World War, like our Russians, and settled mainly in Wellington. The Constantinople Patriarchate is the only national Church that has its own bishop in New Zealand. This is Metropolitan Amphilocheos of New Zealand and the Pacific islands. He is an active missionary. He has been laboring for the second or third year on Fiji Island, where he has built a church, and already has several priests from amongst the local population. He spends the greater part of the year there. Vladyka Amphilocheos was earlier the archimandrite and abbot of monasteries on Rhodes. After becoming the bishop of New Zealand, he also retained the abbacy of the Rhodes monasteries, and he goes there periodically to spend some time.
The Greeks have established four or five missionary parishes over the past two years in New Zealand, and in one place, they have even purchased an old Anglican church, where one hieromonk now serves. Vladyka Amphilocheos has five or six clergymen. They have a small monastery, in which they recently constructed a church. Vladyka is a strong, experienced spiritual father, he has spiritual children all over the world, who actively help him in all his missionary endeavors.
You rarely meet such a selfless attraction to missionary work in our Western world. Vladyka labors on Fiji Island, where it is hard for a Westerner just to live because of the climatic conditions. There, it is not only hot; it is very humid and stifling. The ordinary clothing of a Fiji Islander is a tee shirt, shorts, and flip-flops. But Vladyka Amphilocheos always wears a Greek ryassa and klobuk, and serves in full hierarchical vestments.
There are also three parishes of the Serbian Orthodox Church. The strongest parish today is in Auckland. They recently purchased an old Presbyterian church. We had our Paschal services there with their permission, because we don’t have enough space. Those living in Auckland are almost all refugees from Kosovo. The SOC has also established itself in Wellington. They have the largest church there, but there are few older Serbian immigrants, while the majority of new ones live in Auckland. They have the same problem as we have with the newly-arrived: difficulty with the language, and the lack of acceptance of their degrees and qualifications.
The Serbs also have a small community in Christchurch. They live together, side-by-side with Russians, serve in the same church, and this is very pleasant. Fr. Liubomir comes to them from Wellington and serves with our priest on Sundays, they are friends, and it is very nice to see how we, who are living far away from our homeland, help and support each other. Some Romanians come to us in Oakland (fewer now that they have been sent their own priest), Bulgarians come (they do not have their own church or priest), as well as Macedonians.
In connection with the Serbian Church, I would like to recall one born New Zealander who converted to Orthodoxy and a became monk in the monastery of Kovil. He labored in monasticism in Serbia and was a brother in this monastery, located not far from Novi Sad. He departed to the Lord not long ago. This Fr. Savva was from Hamilton, and he used to come to our services. He was a very kind man.
There is also the Romanian Orthodox Church. The new Romanian bishop of Australia and New Zealand, Michael, is young, very energetic, and of a missionary spirit. He has already established four priests in New Zealand. There are fewer of them than there are of us, but they relate very seriously to themselves. I very much like the spirit of the Orthodox Romanians. They have services in Auckland, in the small town of Hamilton, in Wellington, and in Christchurch. The Romanian government helped them purchase an old Anglican church in Christchurch. It was in poor shape, but they serve in it nonetheless. During the first earthquake, some bricks fell, and the church was closed; during the second earthquake, two-thirds of the church collapsed. Thank God, they were serving in their hall at the time and no one was inside the church. We concelebrate with them when there is a feast, inviting invite each other.
There is also the Antiochian Church here; it has several parishes, which serve mainly in English. They also conduct missionary work amongst the New Zealanders.
—What is unique about missionary work in New Zealand?
—It is very hard to do missionary work with the New Zealanders, just as it is in Australia. They are absolutely different people from, let’s say, Americans, never mind Russians. An American, for example, seeks something. That is why they have so many sects, protestant [denominations], and churches are founded by the thousands—they are always seeking something. Australia, however, and even more so in New Zealand, there is a completely different situation.
—They are not seeking anything?
—No, they are seeking, but what are they seeking? They are seeking the beach, soccer, beer, and television. In New Zealand, on Saturday evening everyone should be at a rugby game, or watching the match on television. If it is not rugby season, then cricket, or some other sport. Sport is a very strong thing, and everything is based upon it. Drinking beer is also nearly a religious act. The beach and vacationing are also. Every New Zealander tries to have his own dacha. This is often a small hut somewhere by a beach so that he can go there on weekends, forget his cares, shut himself up in it, swim, lie around, read the paper, and then return to the everyday world late Sunday evening.
—Apparently the climate, conditions, and standard of living have such a relaxing effect?
—I would say that this relaxation, worldliness in spirituality is especially felt amongst the Catholics and Anglicans. Perhaps they themselves do not understand this, but certain older, more conservative Catholics and Anglicans do understand why there are so few people in their churches.
How to they adapt to life, if that is how it is? How do their parishes continue to live? Every parish opens its door to other religious groups. For example, next to our parish is a very beautiful church dedicated to the martyr Alban. It has one of the oldest and largest organs in New Zealand, but they do not use it, because there are only about fifteen traditional Anglicans left in the parish. On Sundays the church fills up five different times—after the Anglicans come some island Christians, then once or twice a month come some Indian Thomasite Christians, then someone else. Thus, from eight in the morning to six in the evening, their church is busy, but not only with Anglicans. Those who use the church pay the Anglicans some rent. They are in a pitiful condition, they have no money to repair the churches, because there are no parishioners. They often rent their buildings.
Our Serbs who bought the church served very often in the hall of the Anglican church. At that time, they had six groups who used this church and its property on Sundays. This is something very widespread now, due to the decline in faith and religious life. Every church is used for some other, even non-religious, purpose. Either bingo, or dance, karate, or something like that—just in order to support that church.
—How does the institution of the traditional family stand in Russia?
—I would say that the immigrants play an important role in this. Indians, for example, have a very strong family institution, as do the Chinese and Moslems. Our Cook Islanders also have strong families. (They once lived under the government of New Zealand, and so now easily receive residency permits, and are preferred ahead of other emigrants.) These are very religious people and very traditional. When you drive past their churches on Sunday, everyone is dressed in white suits. They have very open souls, are simple, and very pure. My matushka worked with sick children in a school where they teach children with cerebral palsy, and there were very many aides from amongst the Islanders, because they have soft hearts. In every class there are several children and several aide. The majority of these aides were these Cook Islanders.
The Maori also have a strong traditional family institution. This is called in Maori, “faneo.” This means not only your own personal family, but also your common family; the concept extends even to the tribe. Everyone is obligated to help each other. The problem lies in something else. It is hard to talk about this because of political correctness, but the Maori and certain other islanders have a problem with crime. They themselves war with this, but because their young people rarely finish school, these problems arise. They work at the most simple jobs, have too much spare time, and, of course, they have an inclination, like other natives (American Indians, Australian Aborigines) toward alcohol and drugs. This is something that happens all over the world: natives always suffer more from these Western illnesses than the Westerners themselves.
—Do you know at least one Maori in New Zealand who converted to Orthodoxy? Are there any plans for missionary work amongst them?
—I have not yet heard of a single Maori who has become Orthodox, but the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom exists in the Maori language. We have not celebrated it because none of us know this language. The translation was made by a priest in the Antiochian Church, but he is now serving in Alaska, if I am not mistaken, in the OCA. I do not know how complete it is.