The Bishop of Western America Mr. Maxim Vasilevic, in his interview for Serbica Americana, on the occasion of celebrating Christ’s Nativity – Christmas, among the other things, comments on the 800 years- jubilee since the granting of autocephaly of the SOC, as well as on the new events and turmoil in the Orthodox world. This interview has been released on theology.net. These are some excerpts from the interview.
The modern spirituality often hides behind various falsehoods and masks, trying to avoid facing with the truth. As the eminent worldly renowned Orthodox psychologist, Fr. Basil Thermos, has stated, the fear of freedom, as a permanent feature of the human being, rises the need to subject and subordinate to some other “ego” (and in this contemporary time of ours – to the imaginary “me” of the computers and the internet). Beside that, it’s one thing to aspire for the truth, it’s other to possess it. I have noticed such great vanity and self-confidence of many editors and members of many “spiritual” internet portals. We sometimes seem to forget that it’s of no use to us to have the truth, and not have love. “If this should be the end, I would know that it wasn’t love” – so touching but yet truthful is this verse of the singer Bajaga in his song called “If this should be the end”.
This end is something we should very much be interested in, above all as a kind of test or fulfilment of our historical search. And the search for God itself has no end. This was wonderfully explained by St. Gregory of Nysa in the following statement: “The real revelation of God is in the constant search for Him, never satisfying the thirst.” (St. Gregory of Nysa, For the life of Moses)
To the question what his impression about the objective and critical thinking is, can we find it today, and do we have highly creative individuals, he replied as following:
Every totalitarian authority is afraid of the critical mind and the new way of expressing. For such people, whether they live in the XXI or the VI century, “the Areopagite scriptures” would be a “dangerous novelty” or “an introduction of philosophy in the theology”. Even St. Simeon New Theologian (X cent.) would have been rejected (as it actually was) for his bold criticism of the “high clergy” and St. Basil the Great for his mixing of the scientific overview with theology etc.
However, I would personally put the freedom in Christ and the Church before the critical attitude of doubt and dispute. Lately I’ve noticed that certain individuals take pleasure in claiming that “the Church is not right in this or that” or point to “a historical failure of the Church”. I think this is the mentality of the post-modern time. However, if we refer to the Holy Fathers, we would recognize their “fool’s love” for Christ and the Church, which they don’t perceive only as a hierarchy or an institution (such understanding is prevalent in the theological dialogue of today), but rather as a Church, as “The Paschal mystery of Christ” and “The Pre-eternal Council of God”, a Church, the foundation of which lies somewhere before the creation of the world and is equal with the Kingdom to come.
I think that today’s unsupported freedom to criticize “everybody and everything” should be restricted, certainly beginning first with self-restrain. Only then would the sermons of priests, the published ecclesiastical books, the seminars, the ecclesiastical magazines, etc. be real witnesses of the “theology of surprise”.
As to the question about his attitude, regarding the 800 years jubilee since the granting of the SOC autocephaly, and how he would celebrate this event in his diocese, as well as his opinion on the personality of St. Sabbas, the first Serbian Archbishop, Bishop Maxim gives the following interesting reply:
The celebration of autocephaly, according to my humble opinion, is a holiday of unity, not of “independence”. Because the Church, and through it the entire creation, has an essence which acts as a yeast of history, it is the grace which sanctifies everything and everybody.
The historical circumstances and development in 2019, bring St. Sabbas to Nicaea and what happens? The Ecumenical Patriarch of that time, covered with the robe of weakness (hidden and banished to Nicaea), completely ignores the canonical Head of the Serbian territories, which at that time was the Archbishop of Ohrid Demetrius Chomatianus, and grants an “autocephaly” to the Serbian state. This historical moment from the XIII c. is an interesting, but also a strong analogy to the recent events in the Orthodox world.
Actually, the entire life of St. Sabbas would be filled with paradoxes. Running away from his parents, he would be caught in the net of the Holy Spirit, so that later, he could bring “his nation” to Christ’s net. This monk with strong desire for ascetism would be an extraordinary constructor, a rare diplomatic person, exquisite ruler… This son, who was “disobedient” to his father, would make the father obedient to his son, so Sabbas would bring to Mount Athos his father Nemanja (1197). Out of many opportunities and directions, St. Sabbas choses the following coordinates as his path of life: Mt. Athos, Constantinople, Studenica, Jerusalem and the Holy Land, Serbia, Byzantium, Thessaloniki, Alexandria, the Egyptian desert, Mount Sinai… In one sentence, a perfect topography for a perfect holy biography.
This unusual man would turn the mystery of Christ’s way of existence into his own modus vivendi. With his presence he would ennoble and transform every surroundings: ecclesiastical, social, political, international… and then he would rush back to his place and from there continue to send blessings. This Christ-like man put all his strength and action in the service of others and signed with – the most unworthy among the sinners, Sabbas. This “presence in absence” would be Sabbas secret maxim and a method which could apply to his entire life: with his absence he attracted his own father to Mount Athos, with his absence he acted form Studenica, from Mount Athos, and even now acts invisibly but permanently from the Heavenly Kingdom. His exits during the day lasted only as long as he needed to help somebody, to support, to strengthen, inspire and then he would simply retreat. Contrary to the mundane manners, he always gave his place to others, ever since the beginning till the end: he gave up the Royal Throne for the sake of his brothers and gave his Archbishop Throne to Arsenius. Thus, in his solitude he reached unity with everybody, fulfilling the words of the old monastic Geronticon. In his humbleness, God gave him the power to unite the divided and seek the lost.
Contrary to our present manners, St. Sabbas did not differentiate the East and the West, but rather worked for their reunion. As, St. Nicholas of Zhicha has said, “the East and the West encountered in him and reached full harmony. He was used to contemplating as an Easterner, but energetic in his actions as a Westerner”. He is a model, not just for that time, but also for ours…
The profound adoption of the Great Church of Constantinople’s Tradition and of the Sion Church of Jerusalem elevated St. Sabbas to a higher level of spiritual-cultural education: architecture, iconography, music, poetry…
So, while celebrating the jubilee of our autocephaly, if we don’t include everybody, the East, the West, the North and the South, we would not be worthy of the testimony left to us by St. Sabbas.
As a comment of the recent “turmoil” in the Orthodox World, the Bishop Maxim stated the following:
We have turmoil. Those who follow history “from within” are aware that making the right verdict requires time, and we should be especially careful not to judge. The history of the Church teaches us that God’s Providence is often revealed through distressful and paradoxal events. The Church Councils accepted schismatics even at their slightest sign of repentance. St. John Chrysostom being the Archbishop of Constantinople, acted completely ”uncanonically” and beyond his jurisdiction in Asia Minor and was condemned for that it in his time. However, this proved to be pastoral and beneficial and even the history showed that his actions had soteriological dimensions.
We have mentioned that in 1219 the Ecumenical Patriarch completely ignored the canonical situation in the territories under the rule of Stephen Nemanja, which I repeat, at that time were under the jurisdiction of Ohrid Archbishop Demetrious Chomatianus (one of the most esteemed canonist of late Byzantium), and uncanonically granted “an autocephaly” to the Serbian state. Today we are proud and joyful for that bold, although uncanonical act. The present turmoil in Ukraine is a temporary issue and I don’t believe that it has those geopolitical dimensions they have assigned to it. If the Church would break down over just one canonical turbulence, it would mean that the Church is not so great, but rather minor and lost even before that. I would express my humble opinion, which I know for sure is “a minority”: I believe that the ultimate purpose of Primate Church intervention is not taking over a geographic territory, but rather introducing the huge multitude of Ukrainian faithful to the Orthodox community. This nation had so far stayed out of the Eucharistic communion with the true Church, regardless of the justified or unjustified reasons for it… That is why the other part of the Church which already communes the fulness of Ecclesiastical life, should not dispute, but rather prayerfully recognize the opportunity which has been given to their co-citizens to enter that same Church in a different way. We should believe that the Church would overcome the temptations and maybe one day we would all be grateful to the rising of such temptations. The Church of Christ historically wins in those moments when it allegedly suffers loss. As Moscow, and many others seem to think, this act has maybe put Constantinople in a state pf defeat. However, on long terms, this might be a yeast for a deeper unity which will come after our generation. Bartholomew took upon himself the cross of a historical decision and later the history – and not the present – will show if he was right or not.