Chapter 1. Sweet Captivity: Myth and Reality

God demanded that His people go into the Babylonian captivity.

Through the prophets who had been exhorting God's people "from early in the morning" he demanded that they consent to this captivity.

Why should a human soul already suffering the unbearable yoke of earthly captivity, endure yet another captivity? Apparently, in order to comprehend the meaning of freedom.

Freedom is a supreme gift comprehended only by those who crave to escape captivity.

When our soil became tired of receiving the relics of the martyrs and confessors of Christ, when there arose a false hope that the captivity may provide a refuge from death, our Church voluntarily embraced captivity led by the great "starets" (Elder) and no less great theologian (as the official authors of monographies often assured us) Metropolitan Sergius Stragorodsky.

This opportunity was provided by the well known Declaration of Metrpolitan Sergius.

The key idea of the Declaration was expressed in one phrase: "Your joys are our joys". Its meaning today, sixty years later (it was made public in 1927), is sufficiently definite and it cannot be misread; its synonimity has been confirmed by the last 60-year history of the Church.

It means only what it means, namely: your joys bound with the building of a new atheistic society in which there is no place and cannot be any place for the true Orthodoxy - from now on are our joys, too.

At this point I shall make a reservation. I am not writing an historical ecclesiastical essay and I do not intend to expound episodes of our Church history. It is being written by individuals who are competent in this field and who are called to this kind of creativity.

My task is of a different nature. I am interested in the approximation, as far as possible, to the spiritual essence of events which are taking place in the life of our church today and which have become the "FRUITS", in their way, by which we are to know about our activity and which God manifested today for us to see.

Thus, it was a voluntary captivity. It was chosen as a means of protection from persecution.

It was necessary to preserve the Church, explain the apologists of Metr. Sergius.

However, it is difficult to imagine that The Apostles Peter or Paul, or any of the Apostle-martyrs would declare to Nero: "Your joys are our joys", in order to preserve the Church.

Just like the host of martyrs persecuted by Traianus, Diocletian, Decius a.o. they preserved the Church in a different way, in the way taught by Christ.

Maybe Metropolitan Sergius was indeed rejoicing at the joys of Stalin?

Or had he chosen a special way for Christianity, a new way, and unlike the one followed by the Church at the time of the Apostles and at the time after their death?

Has Metropolitan Sergius really SAVED the Church from persecution by his Declaration? And is it possible to save the Church by HUMAN means?

The history of the Russian Church bears witness to the fact that the Church did not submit to the politcal program of Metropolitan Sergius. And only because she followed the Gospel commandments, did she survive despite the destructive policy of Metropolitan Sergius. His Declaration, however helped the regime to deal with those who did not wish to betray the Gospel revelation about the Church.

Those whose joys had become the joys of Metropolitan Sergius answered with the most cruel persecution. The years of Yezhov's terror, followed by the years of Beria, carried away countless numbers of victims...

The Church which rejected the joys of Stalin's era, which was not subjugated by persecutions remained faithful to Christ. And it would be dishonorable to assume that truth remained on the side of those who preserved their lives, rather than on the side of those who lost their lives for Christ's sake.

In the Church the bearers of truth are not those who survive by way of a compromise with conscience, but those who walk in the footsteps of Christ.

The captivity chosen by Metropolitan Sergius was not only voluntary, it was joyous: "Your joys are our joys". In the 30's and 40's it was regarded as "wisdom" by a certain section of the clergy. As a special wisdom.

The Church authorities use the term "special wisdom" every time as an evidence of their striking wisdom when saving the Church under the circumstances intended for her destruction. And each time it turns out, paradoxically, that the "special wisdom" for saving the Church is applied namely in ACCEPTING the conditions created to destroy the Church.

The last time this "special wisdom" was extolled by one of the archbishops was at the preliminary session of the Church Council, when discussing revocation of the decree passed by the Council of 1961. He announced that the archbishops' unanimous approval of the decree of 1961, which had doomed the Church to countless woes, was an act of "special wisdom".

Apparently, "special wisdom" is bound in the consciousness of the "church leaders" (as the ruling Diocesan Archbishops are called not only by the state authorities, but as they call themselves as well) with the Lord's advice given to His Apostles: "be ye wise as serpents, and harmless as doves" (Mt. 10:16). But in the Holy Scriptures the serpent is regarded not only as the "symbol of wisdom"; we know from Genesis that the flattery and lies of the serpent who "was more subtle than any beast of the field" (Gen. 3:1) caused catastrophe for mankind. For that he was cursed by God and commanded to crawl, to "walk on his belly" (Gen. 3:14)

The wisdom of the serpent and the harmlessness of the dove commanded by the Lord are in no way compatible with the ability to crawl. It would be disgraceful to assume that the Lord taught His disciples "to walk on their bellies", like the accursed serpent scorned by Him.

The parable of the WISE and foolish virgins reveals the gospel meaning of wisdom (Mt. 25:1-12), as faithfulness to Christ's commandments in all their fullness. "For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God", - says the Holy Apostle Paul explaining the meaning of the gospel wisdom (I Cor. #:19) - for the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. Whoever possess this gift, he will not grovel like the serpent.

But the devil, as is well known, is the Father of lies and the creator of false theories. The devil turns the meanings of Divine words into anti-meanings, and he presents lies for truth.

So, captivity was the only way out for those who received the ecclesiastical powers with the approval of the secular powers.

This is a sorrowful topic. Compromise with evil enhances the evil. Compromise is not a cross, and it has nothing in common with humility before the will of God.

This is the beginning of new sorrows, of countless temptations and spiritual losses, of fiery trials, and we have no way of assessing the extent of woes and their price.

The Lord wanted the Babylonian captivity to be voluntary.

Among the many kinds of His abandoning, which the Holy Fathers discern in the Scripture, there is "abandoning for apostasy", as it happened, according to St. Maximus the Confessor, with the Jews in order to make them repent through punishment.*

*>note: Philokalia.v 3. p.106. further quotations from writings of St. Maximus are taken from this work.

St. Maximus considers the instances of abandoning which he enumerated, including the "abandoning for apostasy" to be salutary and filled with God's mercy and love for man.

This idea of St. Maximus is confirmed in Psalm 137 ("On the rivers of Babylon"). The Holy Spirit revealed to us through His prophet the meaning of the Babylonian captivity, which is sometimes incorrectly identified with the captivity chosen by Metropolitan Sergius.

Psalm 137 is a treasury of spiritual insights and it is not by chance that the Church sings it on the eve of the Great Lent, thus through her experience in prayer, revealing the spiritual meaning of the Babylonian captivity which has become the SCHOOL OF COURAGE AND SOBRIETY. and one of the means of acquiring blessedness, according to the Fathers of the Orthodox Church.

But WHO, then, will be happy in the Babylonian captivity? The one who will not betray his spiritual homeland, the one who will place it "above the chief joy" in his captivity, the one who will "dash the little ones" born of Babylon ("destroyer of the spiritual foundations of the captive people) against the stones. Against the corner stone, against Jesus Christ.

On this stone He erected His Church. The Holy Fathers often interpreted the word "little ones" as "sinful thoughts", admonishing to give in to Satanic captors, which therefore, should be destroyed "in infancy" (i.e. as soon as they arise).

Captivity is a fateful topic in Christianity. It is the theme of two paths. The theme of devotion to Christ and the theme of betrayal of Christ. Therefore, the Lord sends captivity, as a temptation by fire, so that the gold of one's faith may be tried in its crucible.

This is a sorrowful topic. It is just as frightening to touch it, as to touch fire. God Himself will judge His people.

He commanded us not to judge, but to LEARN. To learn by the fruits and to forgive those, whom He did not endow with the strength to serve Him.

At this point I'll make another necessary digression in anticipation of the inevitable objection of those who just as arbitrarily understand the word "to judge", as the Lord's precept on "the serpent's wisdom".

We are forbidden to judge and to condemn, and God detests those who judge His servants. But the Church would have been prevailed upon long ago by the gates of hell, if "they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness" had remained silent about violations of the Truth. There would not be the first martyr, Stephen, who cast accusation at the Synhedrin and who, following this accusation, "saw the heavens opened and the Son of man standing on the right hand of God" (Acts 7:56).

"Ye do always resist the Holy Ghost; as your fathers did, so do ye" - said the first martyr Stephen to all that sat in the Synhedrin.

This is not judgement, this serving Christ and His Church.

There would be no manifestations of unity, of strength of mind in the face of the most cruel persection of the first Christian Church, if the Apostle Peter had not repudiated the FIRST ECCLESIASTICAL LIE of Ananias and Sapphira who lied to the Holy Spirit abiding in the Church and who were deprived of life for this (Acts 5:1-11). There would be no saints who upheld the Orthodox faith by exposing heresies without making any compromises.

If Christians were to keep silent, hiding behind false humility their fear of the powerful ones of this world, of foreign powers, pagans and idolators, there would be no hosts of hieromartyrs, martyrs and confessors whose blood is the seed of the Church. As we know from the first chapter of St. John's Revelation, the Lord awaits and approves of the exposure of lies within the Church enclosure, the exposure of heresies and apostasy. He promised to crown the Philadelphia Church with victory over the "synagogue of Satan" (Rev. 3:9) for their firmness and "keeping His word" (Rev. 3:8)

Had the Church kept silent refusing to expose evil, hell would have devoured her long ago. According to the promise of God, she stands firm just because God has called upon His disciples to fight the servants of Hell for the Truth, granting them power for victory.

Who, then may expose evil within the Church enclosure or outside? Any Christian. It is not only his right, it is his SACRED obligation, the proof of his devotion to Christ. And whoever does not expose the false truth, the anti-truth, he, according to our faith, will have to answer for refusing to expose evil and lies just like those who originated them, for we will then be scorched by the SAME fire. "But the fearful, and unbelievers, the abominable, and murders, and whoremongers, and sorcerers, and idolators, and ALL LIARS, shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone: which is the second death (Rev. 21:8).

But let us continue with our interrupted topic.

What kind of joy then, marked the captivity chosen by Metropolitan Sergius? In the Solovki concentration camp there were bishops waiting to be executed for disputing Metropolitan Sergius' position in their Epistle. Enticements, treachery, denouncements, intrigues, hypocrisy, duplicity, betrayal - this is what Metropolitan Sergius' "joys" turned out to be for the Church. In 1939 only three bishops beside Metr. Sergius (Stragorodsky) still remained free. Those who did not share Metr. Sergius' position were exiled; those who flattered his "special wisdom" received their appointments as Bishops.

Bow to me and you will be a patriarch. Bow to me and you'll become a bishop, your service will be an Apostolic one, you'll enjoy respect, fame, wealth, power, people will bow low to you, they'll bow to the wheels of your car. Just bow to me.

The time comes when every soul undertaking the service of God is taken out into a desert by the Holy Spirit to be tempted there by Satan, it is taken into captivity.

The choice was made by Mter. Sergius, who became the Patriarch. The fruits of Sergianism in our Church which lived through the 6 decades after accepting the joyful captivity, have turned out to be extremely impressive. God manifested them to us in all His generosity, He manifested them in order that those who wish to have ears to hear, and eyes to be able to see - could learn from the fruits whether the chrisma of the patriarchal power, or the charisma received by a bishop or a priest at the time of their consecration, may become a formalized act, like a seal leaving its outlines on a paper to which it was affixed. May charisma become a "lifelong rent" or it is the LIVING LIFE of the Life-bearing and Consoling Spirit? The Life which inevitably produces the fruits of the Spirit (see Gal.5:22), an overabundant Life, independent of any formalities, overcoming them, surpassing everything without exception in the name of eternal life.