We all know the saying that history repeats itself, ‘first as tragedy, second as farce’. That was Marx’s take on Hegel’s musings about history. Marx was particularly noting the rather wimpish comparison between the Great Napoleon and his nephew, Louis Napoleon. For my part, I agree with Hegel, and not Marx. I would go further and say history repeats itself daily. Like Groundhog Day. Except instead of getting marginally better, it gets marginally worse. And occasionally, it takes a big leap down. Why?
“Because history is irrational” said Pavel Ivanovich, the scholarly character in the early chapters of the first volume (August 1914) of Alexandr Solzhenitsyn’s greatest work, The Red Wheel. As I re-read that last night, I thought of the prompting of Dr. Briggs’ year-end exercise of asking his readers to predict the happenings of the coming year. And I realized why I had no answer to his call, for I had tried to approach the subject rationally. To try and reason what would happen, based on what certain actors might reasonably think. By reasonably, I mean it in a broad scale. Reason to a Muslim is different than reason to a Christian. Reason to an Easterner is different than reason to a Westerner. A dozen such contrasts came quickly to mind. All of which were true. And knowing them to be true, I could not begin to think what any of these many different actors might ‘reasonably’ do in this new year. Other than, of course, to do what they have always done. Which, as Pavel Ivanovich so succinctly said, is to act irrationally.
Irrationality to one man is sanity to another. So where does that leave us? Right here, of course. Sitting in the dark. All this ignores the other reality of life, and that is this: that nature holds the last card. Let me ask, in this centennial year of The Great War, what was it that actually ended it? The Allied blockade? German miscalculation of the reasonableness of her enemies? The collapse of Russia? The entry of America? Or was it nature that intervened? And if so, at whose behest?
What did end this War to End All Wars? Actually, it was the Spanish Influenza epidemic of 1918. At least, my rationality tells me this is true. Why? Numbers, of course. The numbers said that in order for this exercise in insanity to continue, there must be more of the vital ingredient available. That ingredient? Manpower.
This little skirmish had already consumed 10 million of that vital ingredient. Then, when man and his irrationality refused to heed the pleas of Benedict XV, the Spanish Influenza struck upwards of 500 million, and ate 50 to 100 million of them. Think about that scale for a minute. And ponder the power of nature. And the irrationality of man. Especially the American government, which refused to pay any attention to it, even as the bodies stacked up like cordwood, as it was simply a distraction to the war.
In Marx’s defense of the farcical, look at the Battle of Tannenberg. Or rather, the battles. The first was in 1410 when the Slavs of Poland, Lithuania and Ruthenia (Ukraine) defeated the Teutonic Knights, who were the Lords of Central and Eastern Europe. A glorious battle. A glorious win. Now fast forward to Solzhenitsyn’s August, 1914. A complete farce, as the vastly outnumbered Germans chewed up the Tsar’s armies with glee. Which set the stage for the hot-blooded human irrationality of trench warfare that WWI would devolve into. Which then could only be stopped by the cold-blooded irrationality of nature. The Spanish Flu.
The example I’m interested in today is Vatican Zero. No, not Vatican I, nor Vatican II. Vatican I was all about certainty (‘let’s listen to one leader’) versus Vatican II (‘let’s listen to everybody, all at once’). The two could not be any different than day and night. In that order, too. What I’m referring to here (Vatican Zero as I call it), is the precursor of Vatican II. And that would be the schism that occurred within the Russian-Orthodox world around 1666. The schism that would produce the Raskolniks (the Old Believers) and would lead to the emergence of their opposites, the Narodniks (the Believers in The People). This schism would have a profound effect on the Orthodox world, even unto today. Just as Vatican II has done to the world that existed from the time of Peter till the arrival of The Beatles, as my mother would say. But she was wrong. The Beatles were an effect, not the cause.
What is it that we can learn from Vatican Zero that we can apply to our post-everything world today? Well, everything, actually. But especially the rise of the Western Narodniks, and their supremacy, both in the Church as well as the State. For both are now driven by the new (yet old) god known as Democracy. As opposed to the Democracy of the Dead. Tradition. Where everyone gets to vote. Regardless of your pulse rate. (Note: Chicago has had a popular version of this form of government for well over a century.)
What happened at Vatican Zero that produced these astounding changes throughout Russian Orthodoxy? It was simple. Little changes. But important ones. You know, let’s bless ourselves with three fingers, instead of two. Let’s say three ‘Alleluias’ instead of two. Let’s process counter-clockwise instead of clockwise. (Or was it the other way around?). See what I mean? Nothing doctrinal. Simple rubrics. But in a land where education was sparse, rubrics were everything. They became dogma. And because most Orthodox priests never studied theology, rubrics were all they had. Let’s face it, if you were an Orthodox priest, it was likely your father was too. And his father as well. And so on. You grew up watching the liturgy, not parsing it. And because the peasants had done the same, they were probably your equal in this memorization of motion. Meaning was meaningless.
Here’s the weird part. You have to understand this, or none of this will make sense. The proponents of both Vatican II and Vatican Zero made their case based upon ‘ancient tradition’. At Vatican II, the modernists said we can’t move forward in the modern world unless we revert to the practices of ‘the primitive Church’. Based on the assumption that this infant Church was infantile, they dumbed things down. Got rid of Latin. Got rid of the Calendar. Got rid of Rosaries. And Saints, and their Statues. Got rid of anything that smacked of hierarchy. Because, according to the modernists, the early, that is, traditional, Church was democratic. That, according to them was the true tradition. And actual tradition was derided as the hijacked form of the ecclesial Bonapartists from the time of Constantine. Sound familiar, all you Lutherans?
In the name of the Narod (The People) the Western Church must return to her earlier, purer days and ways. Seen that bumper sticker that says ‘We Are the Church’? And how should this be done? Let’s get as many People in the sanctuary as is physically possible. And make as many of them women as we can. Maybe if they all crowd around the ‘presider’ (the new word for ‘priest’), maybe they can crowd him out. Let’s get that choir out of the loft in the back and put them up front too, where everybody can see them, and hear their new songs. And most importantly, let’s let everybody and their dog handle the Blessed Sacrament.
Mind you, all of this was done in the name of ‘real’ tradition. Not that there ever was a scintilla of evidence for any of this. Subsequent research has shown that the liturgy of 1962 was basically the same as AD 62. Seriously. Why wouldn’t it be? After all, those twelve men Jesus selected (well, eleven, plus that transfer student from Tarsus) spent three years in the most intense seminary setting you can imagine. Why would their liturgy be infantile? If their whole object in belief was to keep the words that they had heard Him utter (and explain), why wouldn’t their liturgy be frozen in time, so that these same words could never be ‘newly interpreted’? And thus, real and true tradition was born. That, after all, was the purpose of using Latin, a ‘dead language’, as the universal tongue of worship. It’s meaning could never be ‘updated’ with daily conversational usage.
Now in Vatican Zero, a similar switcheroo occurred, wherein the revolutionaries claimed the mantle of tradition in order to effect their changes. It began with Tsar Alexis (the second Romanov), whose father Mikhail was the Tsar before him, and his grandfather Philaret was the Patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church. It was in the 1650;s that this movement to return the Russian Orthodoxy to her Greek roots was begun. Now the question that most historians argue about is whether it was begun by Patriarch Nikon, or Tsar Alexis. Most say it was Nikon, but newer works (Paul Meyendorff’s Russia, Ritual and Reform) credit Tsar Alexis with the idea. And with good reason.
The reason for this Russian-Orthodox ‘need for reform’ is the inverse of the desire for the ‘reforms’ of Vatican II. The former was the brainchild of Tsar Alexis, who saw this as the means of making Moscow the Third Rome, and thus the acknowledged leader of all Orthodoxy. The latter was designed by men like Cardinal Annibale Bugnini (creator of the New Mass) for the purpose of reducing First Rome to No-Rome. In other words, to make it part of the collegial, ecumenical Church, alongside it’s brethren churches in Angland and Germany. And Constantinople too, of course. How could I forget that? Wait, what about Salt Lake City? Can they join too? Sure, c’mon in! By the way, why would anyone with a brain ordain a man named for Hannibal? The enemy of Rome, whose name means ‘the grace of Baal‘? Just musing. Sorry.
Most historians would howl at that. And they do. After all, they are firmly in the camp and grip of the ‘It just happened that way’ school of thought. It was all a series of random happenings. All of which dovetails with the random view they generally take of creation, life and of course, death. They would gasp at the idea that there were actual aliens. But only if I said there were, but that they didn’t have physical bodies. But physical ones, sure, why not! Evolution, you know.
Here’s the funny part of the story, and it too mimics Vatican II and it’s supposed intent to reconcile the Church with the wider world. How? By ‘renewing’ the Church with it’s supposedly ancient practices. Kind of like Infant Stem Cell therapy, you know. Not a problem, we can do this, Komrade. But yes, we have to kill the baby to get those precious cells. But it’s for a good purpose, Da?
Alexis (the grandson of Patriarch Philaret) picks Nikon to be the Patriarch upon the death of Patriarch Joseph in 1652. Nikon was a good and loyal subject whose liturgical fanaticism was rivaled only by the Tsar. Read the story as told by Patriarch Macarius III of Antioch to his son, Deacon Paul. Remember, at this time in history all the Patriarchies had been captured and subdued by the Mohammedans. And each of them, for a hundred years since the fall of Constantinople, had to go to Moscow, hat in hand, begging alms from the Tsar in order to keep their Chanceries operating. Forget about their churches, they were busy being remodeled into mosques.
This yearly caravan to Moscow eventually led to Tsar Feodor asking in 1587 why Moscow should not also be ranked as a Patriarchate. That”s a hard one to answer if the answer is ‘no’ and yet here you are, still begging for dough. So, sure, Komrade Feodor! Welcome to the Pentarchy! You can take the place of Old Rome. Now we can field the team at full strength, and now we can celebrate the new and improved Third Rome! ‘Why, I hadn’t thought of that,’ said Feodor. Right.
Patriarch Macarius III goes on to relate his utter astonishment at the rigorous nature of Orthodoxy as practiced east of the Dniester River. Further, it was not just the Patriarch who was enraptured by their liturgy, it was the Tsar himself! At one 8-hour liturgy (conducted standing, Orthodox fashion of course), the Tsar did over 1,200 full prostrations. Could you do that? And if you could, would you? The Tsar would not be outdone by his friend, Patriarch Nikon. But soon, something would come between them. Something that would lead to a showdown. When the Tsar called Nikon a ‘Muzhik bladin!’ all bets were off. And the war was on. But that’s another story.
The story here is that while they were pals, they both became convinced that the liturgical books (and therefore the rubrics) of the Russian Orthodox Church had been tainted with transcriptional errors over the preceding centuries. Therefore, in order to ‘purify’ the Church; that is, to restore her traditional purity, it was incumbent upon both of them to correct these mistakes. The Tsar commissioned Nikon to do exactly that. Nikon gathered all the books from Mt. Athos (in Greece) that he could find, and he set to work to search for the most ancient usages. Sure enough, he found them. Three fingers, not two. Three alleluias, not two. Et cetera.
But there was a problem. Several, actually. First, the two friends fell out, over that steward that shoved the Patriarch’s man at that dinner party. And the insult related above, of course. All of which would lead Nikon, in a fit of ecclesial pique, to vacate his see, and retire to a monastery until such time as the Tsar came begging his forgiveness. Which never happened. Instead, the Tsar got the visiting beggar Patriarchs to convene a council of deposition, and to declare Nikon anathema. Again, the price was just right for those men of Oriental rectitude.
Here’s the strange part (if you take people at face value): the Tsar implemented the reforms promulgated by Nikon, yet the Tsar’s puppet council deposed Nikon. The whole purpose of the reforms, from Alexis’ point of view, was to reconcile the Russian Orthodox Church with the practical reality of the Greek Orthodox liturgical books of that day. He was positioning himself (and his heirs) to lead the world-wide Orthodox Church for the purpose of obtaining Constantinople. That’s what Meyendorff says. And I believe it. Every other Russian source I have ever read, from Monk Nestor thru Solzhenitsyn, makes this clear: this has been the driving goal of Russian life for a thousand years and more.
Something had to give if Russians were to become the peacefully acknowledged leaders of all Orthodoxy. In this case, it was Alexis who had to give. Why? Because just as the Russians were ignorant of any theological thought beyond the memorized motions they had known forever, the same was true of most other Orthodox believers outside Russia. Alexis figured he’d show his respect for tradition by amending the Russian liturgical books to fit the Greek model of that day. After all, those Russian books certainly couldn’t be more accurate than the Greek books. Could they? Amazingly, they were! But leave that aside, and ask yourself, who could have guessed these simple changes would produce such a reaction amongst the faithful?
Well, nobody around here I’m sure. On the surface of the planet. Not above. Not below. Shallow or deep. What has been the result? The schism of the Russian Orthodox Church. A deep, still-lasting division that has seen the Raskolniks claiming that either (or both) Nikon and Alexis were the Anti-Christ and deserving of death. Seriously. After all, this whole thing went down in 1666. Just look at that number. Of course! A schism that led to persecutions on a scale not matched until the arrival of the new Narodniks. The Bolsheviks.
Has Vatican II done the same to the Western Church? Well, yes. Was it done in the same manner of changing rubrics? To a large degree, yes. Was it done for the same reasons? Well, no. For the inverse, actually. Which, in an ‘ecumenical’ way, is in support of the Russian attempt to master the Orthodox world. So that ‘no’ actually means yes.
Where does this lead us? The bottom line has led to the same result. Precipitous change generates confusion. Confusion generates dissent. Dissent degrades the ability to command. And that disability prevents an effective defense. That, my friend, makes victory impossible. It’s clear to me that all of these results are very productive for the forces of revolution. And very deleterious for the forces of tradition. And so, Komrade, the lesson today is that the best way to sell revolution is to do it under the banner of tradition. Sound irrational? Well, I told you, history is irrational. And there’s nothing more irrational than revolution. Guess what’s coming soon? You’d best read those approaching banners. Read them very closely.