Church History for Orthodox | 11


1. An ocean of blood.

In the year 1917 , a horrific calamity befell the Christian world: A revolution overthrew the Orthodox Tsar of Russia, and the “Third Rome ” fell to atheistic Communists.

In many ways, this event signalled the end of the Church's prosperous “Constantine’s Era ” and the return of a martyr’s age:

Over 20 million people lost their lives in the conflict, many of them Martyrs for the name of Christ. Indeed, their number surpasses even the number of early Martyrs who suffered in the catacombs and amphitheatres of the Roman world.

Although the Communists strove for 70 years to stifle the Faith with torture and death, it remained utterly unconquerable.

2. Orthodox Diaspora.

The calamity caused a river of Orthodox émigrés to flow out of Russia to every corner of the earth. This is of great importance, for we know that the end of the world will not come until the Gospel has been preached everywhere.

According to St. John Maximovitch , this preaching is not a preaching by just anyone, in just any manner, but a preaching in the fullness and authority of Holy Orthodoxy. The Orthodox Christian Diaspora has made this virtual impossibility a reality.

We have seen, in this century, a resurrection of the Orthodox Faith in Western lands after a 900-year exile, and the spread of the Faith all over the globe, far beyond its historical confines.

3. Variety of “Jurisdictions” enters America.

Orthodox missionary activity in America was initiated along the north-eastern seaboard by “cloaked” (monastic) Bishops from Norway in 956 A.D.

However, the lasting missionary work here was begun by the Russian Orthodox Church in 1794, in Alaska . Therefore, all Orthodox Christians in America, of whatever ethnicity, were under the Russian Bishops.

But after 1917 , different ethnic churches, in violation of canon law, sent their own Bishops to America to tend to Orthodox of their own ethnicities. This led to chaos, but it must be borne in mind that the needs of Orthodox immigrants were unusual and truly pressing.

These overlapping extensions of various national Orthodox Churches from the Old World were called jurisdictions , and many tedious rivalries have arisen between them, to the discredit, in this land, of our sacred Faith.

4. Mid-Twentieth Century.

After the end of World War II , the number of Eastern Orthodox emigrating to the United States increased:

Labouring among them were St. Nicholas (Velimirovitch) , a Serbian Bishop who had the character of an Apostle (+1956),

and Bishop Theodore (Irtel) , a monk from the sacred monasteries of Pskov Caves and Valaam in Russia, who worked with St. Nicholas for a time in Canada.

During this period several substantial Orthodox seminaries were founded in the U.S.

5. Rome turns away from its heritage.

In 1962 , the Second Vatican Council of the Roman Catholic Church was called by Pope John XXIII :

Vatican II , considered an ecumenical council by the Catholics, was unique among all the “ecumenical ” councils of history because it issued no dogmatic decrees, concerning itself only with social, structural, and liturgical issues.

The results were a mixed bag - in some cases, early Christian ideas were introduced into the Roman Catholic system; in other cases, its last Orthodox vestiges were swept away.

The most notable change was to Roman Catholic worship, where the Tridentine rite (the bare-bones remnant of Western Orthodox liturgy) was replaced

by forms of worship so unaspiring, irreverent, and banal that Roman Catholics by the millions stopped attending Sunday services in disgust and disillusionment.

Many Catholics turned to Episcopal churches for reverence and ceremony, or even, in some cases, to Judaism.

In view of their desperation, it was felt that many such Christians could be welcomed back into the Orthodox Church, and that this reunion could be helped if they were offered familiar, Western forms of worship.

This programme in the Orthodox Church, called Western Rite Orthodoxy , was not extensively realized, however, for several reasons:

6. Difficulties of Western Orthodoxy.

1) The number of Western Rite outlets was very small;

2) Other Eastern Orthodox were and are often suspicious, or even hostile, towards any Western Christian expression;

3) There were few spiritual leaders of a high calibre to guide the Western Rite missions, and virtually no monks (in Orthodoxy, only a monk can be chosen Bishop).

4) Orthodoxy demanded that potential converts rethink their faith more than the casual Sunday crowd, even the devout, were willing to do;

5) Once Catholics or Episcopalians had converted, and saw that the Byzantine Rite was more beautiful, ancient, and majestic than the Tridentine rite or the Book of Common Prayer, they gladly switched to the Byzantine rite; and

6) Catholics raised in that generation could not surmount the belief that if they left the Pope their eternal salvation was in jeopardy. Better a non-practicing Roman Catholic, many thought, than an active Orthodox Catholic.

7. St. John of San Francisco (+1966).

One of America's greatest Saints was Archbishop John Maximovitch :

Born in Russia, ordained Priest as a young man in Serbia, he was consecrated Bishop to lead the Russian Orthodox community in China, where, in Shanghai, he built a large cathedral and orphanage.

After some years as a Bishop in Western Europe, where he encouraged Western Rite Orthodoxy as a means of bringing the Orthodox Faith back to Europe,

St. John was appointed Archbishop of San Francisco , where he healed a bitter dispute and built the great Cathedral of Our Lady , Joy of All Who Sorrow .

He was a great Orthodox educator and theologian, a loving pastor, an amazing ascetic, and a wonderworking saint.

In 1994 he was glorified as a Saint of the Church, and his sacred and incorrupt relics rest today in a shrine in his Cathedral in San Francisco . Countless spiritual and physical healings have occurred through his relics and his unsleeping prayers.

8. The Orthodox Church today.

Orthodox Christendom, our holy Mother, whose great and sacred legacy is as dear as our own hearts, stands today at a great and decisive crossroads:

On the positive side, vast missionary opportunities await us on every continent and across our own nation. With the advantage of highly-developed media, great numbers of people may now come to know what Orthodoxy is and what she teaches.

Byzantine iconography is becoming well-known and well-respected the world over, so that there is great opportunity for our holy icons to accomplish their silent preaching.

Since the Iron Curtain has been “torn in twain,” the faithful in formerly Communist lands (85% of all Orthodox) have new freedoms to preach and practice the Faith, and spiritual revivals in Russia, Romania, and elsewhere appear promising.

In places as unlikely as Australia, Uganda, Sicily, and the U.S., there are flourishing Orthodox communities and an outpouring, often deeply personal rather than theatrical, of the grace and mercy of God.

Moreover, in varying degrees and at varying paces, separated Christian bodies who are searching for historical Christianity are moving closer and closer to Orthodoxy.

On the sobering side, however, it cannot be denied that the spirit of our age is one of materialism, hedonism, selfishness, and aimless religious wandering-antitheses of spiritual rebirth. Ethnic exclusivity and jurisdictional infighting threaten the integrity of Orthodox witness.

In America there is a terrible shortage of monks and nuns, and as long as spiritual goals are outranked by monetary and secular concerns , in various of the churches, Orthodoxy's strength will be checked and her testimony to the world crippled.

Our souls and the souls of our children are in real danger from the materialistic, morally bankrupt, religiously empty culture which surrounds us and which is now being rapidly exported to Orthodox countries .

Since the battle lines have already been drawn up, our own response to Christ will have much to do with the future of the Church and of our planet. This is not a time to shirk or be gloomy.

When a theologian complained to St. Nicholas Velimirovitch (†1956 ) about the lack of faith today, he received this reply:

There is bitter truth in your letter. However, let all despair be far from us. Despair is the dowry of death which unbelievers accept alongside their marriage with death.

There have been even more difficult times for the Church of Christ, but the soldiers did not collapse, nor was the battle lost.

You've only to read the picture St. Basil paints of the state of affairs in the Church and in the world (4th century), a picture black as the black night on a rough sea. It looked as though the world's end were nearing and God's judgment were in sight:

Since then, some 16 centuries have rushed by. Not only did the Christian Faith not extinguish itself, but its light enveloped the entire globe and enlightened every corner of the world...

Will disbelief destroy God's Faith?

This is the question that Christ's heroic Apostle asked in the first days of a history which has now reached 19 centuries. These numerous centuries have justified his bright look into the future.

Take as your own this radiant apostolic glance into the future of Christianity. Try to write an article on the Church entitled Christ's Triumphal Chariot.

And now, dear reader, may the peace of God remain with you, and may you be borne aloft to the Heaven of joy in this triumphal Chariot, whose destination is the Throne of the Living God.