Archpriest Valentin Sventsitsky
THE HOLINESS OF THE CHURCH
[From the Parish Life Bulletin of the Russian Orthodox Cathedral of St. John the Baptist, Washington, DC, Archpriest Victor Potapov, Editor.]
Within the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad there are heated arguments about the paths it is to follow in the future, and about the question of unification with the Moscow Patriarchate. Frequently, one hears sharp attacks directed at individual bishops and Church officials. Sometimes the objections come down to this: we cannot unite with the Church in Russia because some of the clergy there have collaborated with the KGB and been corrupted, and they and have not repented of that.
Can inadequacies of individual people sully the holiness of the Church?
A partial answer to that question was given by Archpriest Valentin Sventsitsky (1882-1931.), a remarkable pastor and confessor, who suffered a great deal at the hands of the atheist regime. The following is an excerpt from a homily given by Fr. Valentin in the 1920s, during an awful time of persecution against the Russian Church:
ÒInadequacies in the Church are not just a contemporary manifestation; they have always existed.
It is enough but to recall the words of St. Gregory the Theologian, ‘Faith in God has perished.' It is enough but to recall the words of St. John Chrysostom, who in a talk on the Epistle to the Corinthians said, ‘In the Church, we only have a plethora of fond memories that both in times past and now people would gather together to chant. However, before, when people gathered together to chant, there was oneness of mind, while now you would be hard put to find even one person who would be of one mind with youÉ'
And this used to be said then, at a time when some of the Nicene Fathers were still alive, when Athanasios the Great had just reposed, when Basil the Great, Gregory the Theologian, and John Chrysostom were alive.
But what does this mean?
It means only that as the result of human weaknesses and illnesses, the Church on earth has many inadequacies.
Can transgressions of individual people shake the holiness of the Church? What a temptation, what a great misunderstanding is expressed if I should leave the Church because I have encountered an unworthy pastor, if I should no longer believe in the Church because one or another bearer of grace has made a bad personal impression on me.
The holiness of the Church does not rest in that. It rests in the Mysteries, in the holiness of God's Grace, in all of the good which that Grace has done for men's souls; it rests in that assembly of saints who were saved by that grace, it rests in every truly kind impulse of our souls.
These glorious and holy [things] are what comprise the holiness of the Church. Our sins – our illnesses – are sinful weaknesses that we wash and cleanse in that Holy Church of Christ.
For that reason, let us not be troubled in our personal life by the evil idea that we need not labor when we weakened by our sins, and likewise let us not, let our faith not, be troubled by doubts in the holiness of the Church whenever we see some inadequacy or other in the earthly Church.
Our recognizing of our sins should evoke in us not despondency, but only ever greater effort to do the Lord's work. Recognition of inadequacies in church life should bring about not estrangement from the Holy Church, but even greater love for it, and a desire to serve for the good of the Church.Ó
Archpriest Valentin Sventsitsky