The Theological and Spiritual Foundations of the Return to the Icon.

Western Orthodoxy

        In the thirties, there was intense activity on all levels of Church life in the Brotherhood. It was a time of meetings at Berdayev's and Jacques Maritain's homes with the participation of the members of the Brotherhood and other members of the Patriarchal Church. Each member of the Brotherhood would investigate Western Christianity in his field of predilection: for some it would be theology and history, for others, ecclesiology and liturgy, the icon and Saints or music. There were always conferences held by one or other member of the Brotherhood here and there, such as Eugraph Kovalevsky's famous exposé on Church history given at Maritain's house.They wanted to publish it but the few notes taken were unusable and almost all of it was improvised. Speaking about his friend Krug, Leonid Zuroff describes well the atmosphere at that time: «Almost everyday, they would meet somewhere, they lived in a state of excitement, in a heated atmosphere - reflecting and going deeper into Church issues. Georges Ivanovich lived at that time in such intellectually heated circles. At night, he would paint. His mother would complain but could not do anything about it. He would paint and then, destroy. At that time, before the war, he lived with an extreme intensity. He said that contemporary art had reached a dead-end, that there were no more ways out, that it was not worth working, and he had exceptional gifts, and immeasurable subtlety. He asserted that salvation was in religious art only. (93)»

        It was the time when Mgr. Winnaert's community was received into Orthodoxy. V. Lossky writes: «Three elements, quite different in scale and ecclesiastical significance, were to meet at some stage in a common field of activity so that Western Orthodoxy would become reality in Church life. These three elements were: the Catholic-Evangelical movement of Mgr. Winnaert, Saint-Photius Brotherhood and, lastly, the Moscow patriarchy; fermentation among Western Christians in search of the true Church tradition first, the idea of Western Orthodoxy proclaimed by us, second, and, to crown this, the profound understanding and clear-sightedness of the Most Blessed Sergius of Moscow, who gave ecclesiastical shapes to this intention of the Westerners and transformed our idea into a fact of real life. (94)»

        On this occasion Patriarch Sergius of Moscow promulgated the famous decree dated 16th June 1936 (95) , by which he admitted Mgr. Winnaert into the communion of the Patriarchal Church, a decree which was profusely commented on at that time and which is commonly considered by experts as a model of equilibrium and discernment. This event brought to the whole project of the Brotherhood both its fulfilment and confirmation. Patriarch Sergius wrote to Vladimir Lossky on August 25th 1939: «It impossible not to welcome warmly your efforts in view of an apostolate among the non-orthodox. (…)

        The missionary activity was to be entrusted to the Brotherhood, which was established in order to study heterodoxy and sensitise Westerners to Orthodoxy. I mean by this that the largest part of the preparatory work was assigned to the Brotherhood: holding negotiations with groups who wished to join the Orthodox Church and carrying out the necessary procedures. (…) The approval of these measures and their practical realisation, as well as the study of the beliefs and the reception of the converts into the Church, falls within the competence of the hierarchy. (…) The Western rite accepted among us must be accepted as a first experience; besides one it was realise rather hastily ,and , as a result, does not exclude in any way new experiences or corrections. (…) In other words, the current version of the Western Orthodox Divine Service (96) can be considered neither as the definitively established version, nor as the only possible one. (…)

        It appears that parallel use of two versions of the Divine Service, for the Liturgy in particular, does not contradict ecclesiastical tradition: actually, in our Eastern Church, in addition to the Liturgy of Saint John Chrysostom, we also use the liturgies of the Apostle James and Saint Basil the Great. It is only necessary that this new version is not - if we can put it this way - completely fabricated, but is clearly related to an authentic Church Tradition: a Gallican or another rite (for non-French people), without ruling out the Roman tradition (with some modifications). (…) The wish of some to have a regularly celebrated Eastern liturgy or mass in French should not be neglected either. (…) We do not want to impose on anyone our Western rite in any form, but we shall leave this choice to those who will come to us. (…). Those who want to apply the Western rite should be allowed to do so. The existence of Western Orthodoxy is of extremely profound significance for us. Besides it is excellent for the objectives of the mission. However we also know thinkers and theologians who used to be non-orthodox and were primarily attracted by our Eastern rite, in which they find deep religious satisfaction.(97)» We can see from these words how deeply Metropolitan Sergius - alone in his time - was concerned with the spiritual destiny of Westerners, and the creation of local Orthodoxy and how insightful his intuition was in this respect.

        After Mgr. Winnaert's death in 1937, a few months after his entry into Orthodoxy, his parish was entrusted to Father Denis Cambault. Father Denis came to live at Father's Athanasius house and was educated by him in Monachism. After his death, «on March 5th 1944, he took the Western habit, thus becoming the first Orthodox Benedictine monk for at least six centuries (98)». He knew monastic poverty, too: Metropolitan Anthony recounts that he would take a meal only when invited to someone's home. The French parish was later transferred to his house in rue d'Alleray where a small Orthodox Benedictine Monastery was organised - the Saint-Denis and Saint-Seraphim of Sarov priory. With the help of Catholic Benedictine monks and that of the members of the Brotherhood, he devoted himself to the creation of an Orthodox Benedictine ritual, which enabled him to receive monastic professions (99). ... He was ordained prior after the war, in 1945. At that time, there were eight monks, among them Father Seraphim Rodionov who later became a bishop. It seems that Father Sergius Shevich also used to visit the parish and the little community as well as Father Sophronoy Sakharov after his return from Mount Athos.

        Unfortunately, Orthodox Benedictine Monachism did not survive the death of Father Denis in 1965. However, in a more fundamental way, the real aim of the restoration of Western Orthodoxy was the return of all Western Churches as a whole into the congregation of the Orthodox Churches, as Lossky himself indicated in the report of June 1937 (100). More than Western Orthodoxy itself, the means that Providence later chose to attempt to achieve it was the development of «Eastern» French-speaking Orthodoxy as well as the growing influence of Orthodox theology and spirituality, better known in this way, on other confessions.

93) Leonid Zuroff, "Le moine iconographe G.I.Krug", in 'Le Père Grégoire', op.cit., chapter XI, p.60

94) Vladimir Lossky, 'Rapports du 18 Juin 1937', p.2; in van Bunnen, op.cit., Annex n°11.

95) Integral text of the report of April 1936 by the Brotherhood on this community to Patriarch Sergius and the integral text of the decree the 16th of June 1936 of the Patriarch, in Bourne, La quête de vérité d'Irénée Winnaert, Genève, 1966, p.281-284 and 290-294 respectively.

96) Four Western-rite liturgies were used: the version approved by the Synod in 1875, Mgr. Winnaert's, taken up by Father Denis Chambault, Mgr. Alexis Van der Mensbrugghe's as well as the liturgy that was to become the so-called 'Saint Germain' liturgy, then in the process of being drawn up. Mgr. Sergius refers to the version used by Father Denis Chambault at that time. For a description and a history of these different versions, see van Bunnen, opus cit., p.209 and sq. as well as pages 291 to 330 in the chapter 'L'idéologie de l'ECOF'.

97) The letter of Metropolitan Sergius of Moscou to V.Lossky on the issue of Western Orthodoxy, dated 25th August 1939, in Le Patriarche Serge et son héritage spirituel , 1947, p.72-74; published in English in One Church, 2 (1948), n°9-10, p.27. French translation by Pavle Rak.

98) On the persistence of Benedictine Monachism in the realm of Orthodoxy and the case of St Anthony the Roman in particular, cf. Serge Bolshakov, "The Western rite in the Orthodox Church", in 'Living Church', 9th June 1946, p.15.

99) Cf. van Bunnen, op. cit. p. 200 - 204.

100) See page 3.   

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