Fr. George Larin Flip-Flop
On Archpriest Georgiy Larin’s Interview to Pravoslaviye.ru from August 1, 2005
By Dimitri Gontscharow
Archpriest Georgiy Larin is one of senior priests within the Russian Church Abroad and has devoted many years of service to his parish in Nyack. Unfortunately, like so many of our priests and bishops he has also radically changed his thinking about union with the Moscow Patriarchate in recent years. One would hope that such senior priests, who know firsthand the evils of the Soviet system and seem to understand what our church has stood for, would stay true to their principles. Instead, they change their minds seemingly overnight and suddenly agree to everything that not so long ago was condemned by our church. They try to offer explanations, but they are usually based on emotions and over-optimistic illusions about the future, rather than clear-headed thinking about the present. The eventual union of the two churches must be approached seriously and with great care, based on principles, not emotions, nostalgia or misplaced nationalism.
Fr. Georgiy begins the interview with a preamble of reminiscences of his early years, which attempts to establish his sincerity as a long-standing member of the church and a nationalist and a patriot. Fr. Georgiy is then asked about the documents released by the “joint commissions.” He finds Moscow’s mild criticisms of Metropolitan Sergey’s “Declaration” to be a monumental development. One gets the sense from his comments, and those of others, of a heartfelt desire to see the good in any little bit of change. That emotion is understandable, but dangerous lest the person’s objectivity be clouded. Those of us more skeptical of such small steps are immediately chastised as being extremists, desiring only a wholesale condemnation of Met. Sergey. No, but a renunciation would certainly be nice. Or at least relegating Met. Sergey to the dustbin of history, instead of preparing icons with his likeness.
Fr. Georgiy is further asked for his appraisal of the “noble deeds” of Met. Sergey and his overall opinion of the former Patriarch. Then the most astounding thing occurs, a senior priest of the Russian Church Abroad who has known the horrors of the Soviet period, begins to help in the rehabilitation of this controversial figure. He counsels us to look beyond the “Declaration” and appreciate all the good Met. Sergey may have done for the Church. That is very Christian of him, but a proper evaluation of Met. Sergey will have to wait for the passage of time. History will be his judge. Meanwhile, we can do without the exaggerated propaganda the Moscow Patriarchate offers on the legacy of Met. Sergey, or the sentimentality of priests such as Fr. Georgiy. The fact remains, the spirit of Met. Sergey’s cooperation with the government lives on in Patriarch Alexy’s slavish devotion to Putin and his policies. Just one of many examples is the church’s bestowing of a medal of the Order of St. Seraphim of Radonezh to the Minister of Interior and also to the Chief of the Foreign Intelligence Service. Previously, the Director of the Federal Security Service (FSB – Russia’s CIA equivalent) received a similar award from the church. Actions speak louder than words, and for all this talk of change, on the official level it seems little has changed.
If these comments are not disconcerting enough, Fr. Georgiy goes on to make a most ridiculous statement, he explains that the Moscow Church’s relationship with Met. Sergey is similar to the Russian Church Abroad’s relationship with Met. Vitaliy. He considers how history will judge Met. Vitaliy’s “tragic” decision to “split” from the church and that we should not allow this to besmirch his reputation as one of the leading figures in the life of the Russian Church Abroad. To compare Met. Sergey’s decision to collaborate with the Soviet regime with Met. Vitaliy’s decision to try to preserve the legitimacy of the Church Abroad is mind-boggling. With friends like these, Met. Vitaliy does not need any enemies. In the many decades of Met. Vitaliy’s service in the church, he did much to help Orthodoxy gain a firm foothold in the United States and Canada. His tireless efforts contributed to the growth of the Canadian diocese and the establishment of a monastery, a printing press, and many other institutions necessary in the diaspora.
What’s next? Do we praise Lenin for bringing electricity to the Russian countryside? Mussolini for making the trains run on time? Hitler for building the first highway system in the world? These are absurd comparisons, but equally absurd are the attempts by clergy who support union to continually make apologies for Moscow. It is sad and disturbing to see perfectly reasonable, educated people suddenly turn their values inside out and speak out in favor of matters they themselves condemned not so long ago. All too often, it smacks of outright opportunism. As if union is inevitable and they must curry favor with their new masters. It makes one long even more for the leaders of yesteryear, who fought for their convictions.
The issue of ecumenism is addressed at the end of the interview and Fr. Georgiy admits that the matter has not been settled. He redeems himself by at least admitting he would like to see more specifics about how this matter is to be dealt with. Other bishops and priests have said so in interviews as well, so again the question arises, where are we rushing to? There have been minor concessions about not serving together with other clergy, but the main issue continues to be ignored, Moscow’s active involvement in ecumenical organizations and movements. Lest anyone say we are not rushing towards anything, be skeptical. All along the official pronouncements have talked about “eventual” agreements and discussions, only to be betrayed by actions showing a more hurried schedule.
A recent example can be found in the statements of the joint commissions. There the issue of clergy who have left the Moscow Church to join the Church Abroad and ROCOR clergy in Russia was considered a “long-term” question that will be decided eventually and that a separate sub-committee would be formed. Only a few weeks after the publication of these documents, a press release is issued saying the fifth working meeting of the joint commissions has been completed where these issues were discussed, with no mention of any sub-committee being created. One wonders how such weighty topics like sergianism, ecumenism, and all the other matters of canonical importance can be resolved so quickly. Easy, you just concede all your positions and accept those of your negotiating partner.