Written by Vladimir Moss
The moral disease that afflicted both the fathers and the sons of Russia in the 1860s could not fail to be manifested in other forms in other parts of her mystical body – that is, the Russian Orthodox Church. As the future New-Martyr Anna Zertsalova wrote: «It was a sad time then in the capital. The holy churches, the unconquerable strongholds of Orthodoxy, stood in it as before, as did the unshakeable walls; the holy icons were adorned with shining covers of precious stones, the God-pleasers rested in the churches in their incorrupt relics. But the people were perishing from their vices and errors. The spirit of little faith and debauchery entered everywhere like the most savage plague into unstable heads. Tolstoy and other false teachers crept into inexperienced young hearts with their destructive propaganda, undermining in them the bases of faith and piety. The Lord was forgotten, forgotten were the rules of morality and honour; forgotten were the authorities and order; passions and vices broke out into liberty.»
One who succumbed – fortunately, only temporarily – to this temptation was Sergius Alexandrovich Nilus. «I was born,” he wrote, “in 1862 (25 August), in a family which on my mother’s side counted in its midst not a few advanced people – advanced in the spirit for which the 60s of what is now already the last century was distinguished. My parents were nobles and landowners – major ones. It was perhaps because of their links with the land and the peasants that they escaped any extreme manifestation of the enthusiasms of the 70s. However, they could not escape the general, so to speak platonic-revolutionary spirit of the times, so great then was the allure of the ideas of egalitarianism, freedom of thought, freedom of thought, freedom… yes, perhaps freedom of action, too, which overcame everyone. It seems that at that time there was not one home of the nobility in both the capitals where the state structure of the Russian empire was not reshaped in its own model, according to the measure of its understanding and according to the last book it had read, first from Sovremennik [The Contemporary], and then Otechestvennie Zapiski [Notes on the Fatherland] or Vestnik Evropy [Herald of Europe]. Of course, the hard food of conversations of a political character did not much help to develop in me religious dreams, as they were then called, and I grew up in complete alienation from the Church, uniting it in my childish imagination only with my old nanny, whom I loved to distraction. Nevertheless, I did not know any prayers and entered a church only by chance; I learned the law of God from teachers who were indifferent, if not outrightly hostile, to the word of God, as an intractable necessity of the school’s programme. That was the degree of my knowledge of God when I, as a youth who was Orthodox in name, went to university, where they already, of course, had no time for such trivialities as Orthodoxy. Left to my devices in the life of faith, I reached such an abominable degree of spiritual desolation as only that person can imagine who has lived in this spiritual stench and who has then, while on the path of his own destruction, been detained by the unseen hand of the benevolent Creator.»
Nilus did not become a revolutionary. But many others subjected to the same influences did, such as L.A. Tikhomirov. Few were those, like Nilus and Tikhomirov, who found their way back to the ancestral faith of Orthodoxy. Thus did the woolly liberalism of the fathers corrupt the sons, preparing the way for the revolution…
Among those who still considered themselves Orthodox, one of the earliest signs of this spiritual sickness was indifferentism, what we would now call ecumenism, that is, an increased tolerance for Christian heresies to the extent of placing them on a par with Orthodoxy. By this time, the first ecumenical dialogue with the American Episcopalians had begun, and while the Church leaders stood firm in Orthodoxy, the spirit of Anglican indifferentism was infectious.
Thus in the 1850s St. Ambrose of Optina wrote: “Now many educated people bear only the name of Orthodox, but in actual fact completely adhere to the morals and customs of foreign lands and foreign beliefs. Without any torment of conscience they violate the regulations of the Orthodox Church concerning fasts and gather together at balls and dances on the eves of great Feasts of the Lord, when Orthodox Christians should be in church in prayerful vigil. This would be excusable if such gatherings took place on the eves of ordinary days, but not on the eves of Feasts, and especially great Feasts. Are not such acts and deeds clearly inspired by our enemy, the destroyer of souls, contrary to the commandment of the Lord which says: carry out your ordinary affairs for six days, but the seventh (festal) day must be devoted to God in pious service? How have Orthodox Christians come to such acts hated by God? Is it not for no other reason than indiscriminate communion with believers of other faiths?…”
In 1863 St. Theophan the Recluse described how western indifferentism had begun already centuries before: “Have you heard of the indulgences of the Pope or Rome? Here is what they are: special treatment and leniency, which he gives, defying the law of Christ. And what is the result? From all of this, the West is corrupt in faith and in its way of life, and is now getting lost in its disbelief and in the unrestrained life with its indulgences.
“The Pope changed many doctrines, spoiled all the sacraments, nullified the canons concerning the regulation of the Church and the correction of morals. Everything has begun going contrary to the will of the Lord, and has become worse and worse.
“Then along came Luther, a smart man, but stubborn. He said, The Pope changed everything as he wanted, why shouldn’t I do the same? He started to modify and to re-modify everything in his own way, and in this way established the new Lutheran faith, which only slightly resembles what the Lord commanded and the holy apostles delivered to us.
“After Luther came the philosopher. And they in turn said, Luther has established himself a new faith, supposedly based on the Gospel, though in reality based on his own way of thinking. Why, then, don’t we also compose doctrines based on our own way of thinking, completely ignoring the Gospel? They then started rationalizing, and speculating about God, the world and man, each in his own way. And they mixed up so many doctrines that one gets dizzy just counting them.
“Now the westerners have the following views: Believe what you think best, live as you like, satisfy whatever captivates your soul. This is why they do not recognize any law or restriction and do not abide by God’s Word. Their road is wide, all obstacles removed. But the broad way leads to perdition, according to what the Lord says…”
The danger of religious indifferentism was especially noted by St. Ignaty Brianchaninov (+1867): «You say, ‘heretics are Christians just the same.’ Where did you take that from? Perhaps someone or other calling himself a Christian while knowing nothing of Christ, may in his extreme ignorance decide to acknowledge himself as the same kind of Christian as heretics, and fail to distinguish the holy Christian faith from those offspring of the curse, blasphemous heresies. Quite otherwise, however, do true Christians reason about this. A whole multitude of saints has received a martyr’s crown, has preferred the most cruel and prolonged tortures, prison, exile, rather than agree to take part with heretics in their blasphemous teaching.
«The Ecumenical Church has always recognised heresy as a mortal sin; she has always recognised that the man infected with the terrible malady of heresy is spiritually dead, a stranger to grace and salvation, in communion with the devil and the devil’s damnation. Heresy is a sin of the mind; it is more a diabolic than a human sin. It is the devil’s offspring, his invention; it is an impiety that is near idol-worship. Every heresy contains in itself blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, whether against the dogma or the action of the Holy Spirit.»
“The reading of the Fathers clearly convinced me that salvation in the bosom of the Orthodox Russian Church was undoubted, something of which the religions of Western Europe are deprived since they have not preserved whole either the dogmatic or the moral teaching of the Church of Christ from her beginning.”
St. Ignaty was especially fierce against the heresy of Papism: «Papism is the name of a heresy that seized the West and from which there came, like the branches from a tree, various Protestant teachings. Papism ascribes to the Pope the properties of Christ and thereby rejects Christ. Some western writers have almost openly pronounced this rejection, saying that the rejection of Christ is a much smaller sin than the rejection of the Pope. The Pope is the idol of the papists; he is their divinity. Because of this terrible error, the Grace of God has left the papists; they have given themselves over to Satan – the inventor and father of all heresies, among which is Papism. In this condition of the darkening [of the mind], they have distorted several dogmas and sacraments, while they have deprived the Divine Liturgy of its essential significance by casting out of it the invocation of the Holy Spirit and the blessing of the offerings of bread and wine, at which they are transmuted into the Body and Blood of Christ… No heresy expresses so openly and blatantly their immeasurable pride, their cruel disdain for men and their hatred of them.”
St. Ignaty was pessimistic about the future of Russia: «It is evident that the apostasy from the Orthodox faith is general among the people. One is an open atheist, another is a deist, another a Protestant, another an indifferentist, another a schismatic. There is no healing or cure for this plague.»
«What has been foretold in the Scriptures is being fulfilled: a cooling towards the faith has engulfed both our people and all the countries in which Orthodoxy was maintained up to now.»
«Religion is falling in the people in general. Nihilism is penetrating into the merchant class, from where it has not far to go to the peasants. In most peasants a decisive indifference to the Church has appeared, and a terrible moral disorder.»
«The people is being corrupted, and the monasteries are also being corrupted,» said the same holy bishop to the future Tsar Alexander II in 1866, one year before his own death.
Another pessimist was Metropolitan Philaret of Moscow, who feared “storm-clouds coming from the West”, and advised that rizas should not be made for icons, because “the time is approaching when ill-intentioned people will remove the rizas from the icons.”
Visions from above seemed to confirm that apocalyptic times were approaching. Thus in 1871 the Over-Procurator of the Holy Synod, Count Alexander Petrovich Tolstoy, had the following vision: «It was as if I were in my own house standing in the entrance-hall. Beyond was a room in which on the ledge between the windows there was a large icon of the God of Sabaoth that gave out such blinding light that from the other room (the entrance-hall) it was impossible to look at it. Still further in was a room in which there were Protopriest Matthew Alexandrovich Konstantinovsky and the reposed Metropolitan Philaret. And this room was full of books; along the walls from ceiling to floor there were books; on the long tables there were piles of books; and while I certainly had to go into this room, I was held back by fear, and in terror, covering my face with my hand, I passed through the first room and, on entering the next room, I saw Protopriest Matthew Alexandrovich dressed in a simple black cassock; on his head was a skull-cap; in his hands was an unbent book, and he motioned me with his head to find a similar book and open it. At the same time the metropolitan, turning the pages of this book said: ‘Rome, Troy, Egypt, Russia, the Bible.’ I saw that in my book ‘Bible’ was written in very heavy lettering. Suddenly there was a noise and I woke up in great fear. I thought a lot about what it could all mean. My dream seemed terrible to me – it would have been better to have seen nothing. Could I not ask those experienced in the spiritual life concerning the meaning of this vision in sleep? But an inner voice explained the dream even to me myself. However, the explanation was so terrible that I did not want to agree with it.»
St. Ambrose of Optina gave the following interpretation of this vision: «He who was shown this remarkable vision in sleep, and who then heard the very significant words, very probably received the explanation of what he had seen and heard through his guardian angel, since he himself recognized that an inner voice explained the meaning of the dream to him. However, since we have been asked, we also shall give our opinion…
«…The words ‘Rome, Troy, Egypt’ may have the following significance. Rome at the time of the Nativity of Christ was the capital of the world, and, from the beginning of the patriarchate, had the primacy of honour; but because of love of power and deviation from the truth she was later rejected and humiliated. Ancient Troy and Egypt were notable for the fact that they were punished for their pride and impiety – the first by destruction, and the second by various punishments and the drowning of Pharaoh with his army in the Red Sea. But in Christian times, in the countries where Troy was located there were founded the Christian patriarchates of Antioch and Constantinople, which flourished for a long time, embellishing the Orthodox Church with their piety and right dogmas; but later, according to the inscrutable destinies of God, they were conquered by barbarians – the Muslims, and up to now have borne this heavy slavery, which restricts the freedom of Christian piety and right belief. And in Egypt, together with the ancient impiety, there was from the first times of Christianity such a flowering of piety that the deserts were populated by tens of thousands of monastics, not to speak of the great numbers of pious laity from whom they came. But then, by reason of moral licentiousness, there followed such an impoverishment of Christian piety in that country that at a certain time in Alexandria the patriarch remained with only one priest.
«… After the three portentous names ‘Rome, Troy, Egypt’, the name of ‘Russia’ was also mentioned – Russia, which at the present time is counted as an independent Orthodox state, but where the elements of foreign heterodoxy and impiety have already penetrated and taken root among us and threaten us with the same sufferings as the above-mentioned countries have undergone.
«Then there comes the word ‘Bible’. No other state is mentioned. This may signify that if in Russia, too, because of the disdain of God’s commandments and the weakening of the canons and decrees of the Orthodox Church and for other reasons, piety is impoverished, then there must immediately follow the final fulfillment of that which is written at the end of the Bible, in the Apocalypse of St. John the Theologian.
«He who saw this vision correctly observed that the explanation given him by an inner voice was terrible. Terrible will be the Second Coming of Christ and terrible the last judgement of the world. But not without terrors will also be the period before that when the Antichrist will reign, as it is said in the Apocalypse: ‘And in those days shall men seek death, and shall not find it; and death shall flee from them’ (9.6). The Antichrist will come during a period of anarchy, as the apostle says: ‘until he that restraineth be taken away from the midst’ (II Thessalonians 2.7), that is, when the powers that be no longer exist.«
St. Ambrose’s identification of «him that restraineth» the coming of the Antichrist with the Russian State had long roots in the patristic writings. St. John Chrysostom, Blessed Theophylact and others identified him with the Roman emperor, whose successor, as being the emperor of «the Third Rome», Russia, was the Russian Tsar. Metropolitan Philaret had restated the political teaching of Orthodoxy with exceptional eloquence in the previous reign. And now St. Theophan the Recluse wrote: «The Tsar’s authority, having in its hands the means of restraining the movements of the people and relying on Christian principles itself, does not allow the people to fall away from them, but will restrain it. And since the main work of the Antichrist will be to turn everyone away from Christ, he will not appear as long as the Tsar is in power. The latter’s authority will not let him show himself, but will prevent him from acting in his own spirit. That is what he that restraineth is. When the Tsar’s authority falls, and the peoples everywhere acquire self-government (republics, democracies), then the Antichrist will have room to manoeuvre. It will not be difficult for Satan to train voices urging apostasy from Christ, as experience showed in the time of the French revolution. Nobody will give a powerful ‘veto’ to this. A humble declaration of faith will not be tolerated. And so, when these arrangements have been made everywhere, arrangements which are favourable to the exposure of antichristian aims, then the Antichrist will also appear. Until that time he waits, and is restrained.»
Bishop Theophan wrote: «When these principles [Orthodoxy, Autocracy and Nationality] weaken or are changed, the Russian people will cease to be Russian. It will then lose its sacred three-coloured banner.» And again: «Our Russians are beginning to decline from the faith: one part is completely and in all ways falling into unbelief, another is falling into Protestantism, a third is secretly weaving together beliefs in such a way as to bring together spiritism and geological madness with Divine Revelation. Evil is growing: evil faith and lack of faith are raising their head: faith and Orthodoxy are weakening. Will we come to our senses? O Lord! Save and have mercy on Orthodox Russia from Thy righteous and fitting punishment!»
Again, he wrote: “Do you know what bleak thoughts I have? And they are not unfounded. I meet people who are numbered among the Orthodox, who in spirit are Voltaireans, naturalists, Lutherans, and all manner of free-thinkers. They have studied all the sciences in our institutions of higher education. They are not stupid nor are they evil, but with respect to the Church they are good for nothing. Their fathers and mothers were pious; the ruin came in during the period of their education outside of the family homes. Their memories of childhood and their parents’ spirit keeps them within certain bounds. But what will their own children be like? What will restrain them within the needed bounds? I draw the conclusion from this that in one or two generations our Orthodoxy will dry up.”
As St. Ignaty Brianchaninov wrote: “We are helpless to arrest this apostasy. Impotent hands will have no power against it and nothing more will be required than the attempt to withhold it. The spirit of the age will reveal the apostasy. Study it, if you wish to avoid it, if you wish to escape this age and the temptation of its spirits. One can suppose, too, that the institution of the Church which has been tottering for so long will fall terribly and suddenly. Indeed, no-one is able to stop or prevent it. The present means to sustain the institutional Church are borrowed from the elements of the world, things inimical to the Church, and the consequence will be only to accelerate its fall. Nevertheless, the Lord protects the elect and their limited number will be filled.”
 «Zhizneopisanie Protoiereia Valentina Amphiteatrova» (Life of Protopriest Valentine Amphiteatrov), Pravoslavnaia Zhizn’ (Orthodox Life), 53, N 11 (658), November, 2004, pp. 9-10.
 Monk Boris (Ephremov), «Sergius Nilus», Pravoslavnaia Rus’(Orthodox Russia), N 1 (1454), January 1/14, 1992, pp. 5-9.
 Theophan the Recluse, Sermon on the Sunday after Nativity, December 29, 1863.
 Brianchaninov, Pis’ma, no. 283; translated as «Concerning the Impossibility of Salvation for the Heterodox and Heretics», The Orthodox Word, March-April, 1965, and Orthodox Life, January-February, 1991.
Brianchaninov, «Lamentation», in The Orthodox Word, January-February, 2003, p. 20.
 Brianchaninov, in Fomin and Fomina, op. cit., vol. I, pp. 339, 340.
 Zhizneopisanie Sviatitelia Ignatia Brianchaninova, p. 485. In the last decade of his life the holy hierarch composed notes for an agenda of a Council of the Russian Church that would tackle the grave problems facing her. See http://catacomb.org.ua/modules.php?name=Pages&go=page&pid=1968.
 Fomin and Fomina, op. cit., vol. I, p. 349.
 St. Ambrose of Optina, Pis’ma (Letters), Sergiev Posad, 1908, part 1, pp. 21-22.
 St. Theophan, in Fomin and Fomina, op. cit., vol. I, pp. 346, 347.
 Sokolov, L.A. Episkop Ignatij Brianchaninov (Bishop Ignaty Brianchaninov), Kiev, 1915, vol. 2, p. 250. Italics mine (V.M.).