By Archpriest Nicholas Deputatov
an Orthodox Life staff translation
Editors’ Introduction: Hieromonk Seraphim (Rose) wrote the following in 1976: “The true Orthodox theologians of our day are not, as a rule, to be found in Orthodox academies, nor in pompous ‘theological conferences.’ They are to be sought in humbler places, and usually they will not bear the name of ‘theologian’: They themselves would not presume to call their handing down the Orthodox theological tradition anything more than ‘faithfulness to the Holy Fathers’ – but it is just this faithfulness and this humility that mark them out as bearers of the authentic tradition of Orthodoxy – qualities which are lacking in the most renowned ‘Orthodox theologians’ today. The Russian Church has known many such authentic theologians in the past century, even if in our time of spiritual barrenness it would seem that they are dying out. One such bearer of the Church’s traditional wisdom is a priest who would be astonished to hear himself called a ‘theologian’: Father Nicholas Deputatov of the St. Nicholas Cathedral in Brisbane, Australia.”1
Fr. Seraphim was so impressed by the works of Fr. Nicholas that he labeled him a “living link with the Holy Fathers.” In 1975 the St Herman of Alaska Brotherhood in Platina published Fr Nicholas’ book Богопознание (trans. The Awareness of God), which is made up of seventy-two short essays on spiritual topics, in the original Russian. Although Fr Seraphim himself translated four chapters into English, a full translation has not yet appeared in English. Here we offer the first of these seventy-two essays, first published in Russian by the St Herman of Alaska Brotherhood, and in English in the pages of Orthodox Life (v. 62, No. 3. May-June 2011).
Apart from the historical, dogmatic, and moral values given us over the course of Orthodoxy’s two thousand year existence, there is also the witness closest to us of our holy faith’s everlasting vitality and inestimable value. Orthodoxy is not proven; it is shown. Have a look at the century nearest to us.2 Where will you see such spiritual power as that which came from Optina, from Sarov, Valaam, the Glinsk Hermitage, from Kiev, Moscow, Kazan, Novgorod, New Athos, and other places? Where will you find such people as Fr John of Kronstadt, Fr George Kossov, Fr Alexis Gnevushev (who resurrected a child), Fr Alexander Bodanin from Vologda, and others? Where are there ascetic bishops equal to Theophan the Recluse, Ignatius (Brianchaninov), Ambrose (Kliucharev), Michael (Gribanovsky), to name a few? Then there are the grace-filled Elders, heirs of the great Paisius Velichkovsky: Leonid, Macarius, Anthony, Ambrose, Joseph, Anatoly, Nectarius, and many others. We also had learned ascetics and theologians who revealed the depths of Holy Orthodoxy by their vast knowledge and martyric assiduousness. This is an incontrovertible witness to Holy Orthodoxy. Later there is His Holiness, Patriarch Tikhon, with his bold statement: “I bless the faithful servants of the Lord Jesus Christ to suffer and die for Him.” And the faithful servants, steady and firm as rocks, were led to the firing squad! And hundreds of thousands of New Martyrs! Their blood is the seed of Holy Orthodoxy. Courageous and steady, they, like our pious ancestors, gave their lives for the Orthodox faith. They exchanged all earthly glory, and their prosperity, and even the existence of the government for the “good pearl” of holy Orthodoxy. “Above all, let Russia retain her Orthodoxy. If the light of truth given to Russia to shine forth dims and is extinguished, if there is no Orthodox faith or if its purity be threatened, then earthly goods are superfluous, then let Russia herself perish. The Kingdom of God and the eternal salvation of the soul are more precious than anything for man, and for it he is ready to sacrifice his possessions, his family, and his fatherland. He gives all this up, so as to acquire the former… Therefore, if we know that Christ’s teaching in all its unadulterated purity is preserved in the Orthodox Church and, consequently, that in it is the source of true life and eternal salvation, then we must do everything on our part to belong only to this Church and, in case of need, we must sacrifice everything we have only not to lose this membership. Our personal earthly happiness, our care for our families, our social or governmental service – all of this comes after the faith and does not justify its neglect. We must sell all this in order to purchase the field with the hidden treasure”3
“The Orthodox faith is the authentic soul of the Russian people, the source of its vital strength and power; if it loses this precious treasure, it loses all…”
His Beatitude, Metropolitan Anthony, a direct branch from the Mother Church of Russia, which was held captive by atheists, was appreciated even by Pope Pious XI, who said the following in a conversation with a bishop in Warsaw: “The greatest man in the Eastern confession is Archimandrite Anthony Khrapovitsky.” He [Metropolitan Anthony] inscribed the following words as if on granite: “For the sake of Orthodoxy, one must when necessary sacrifice one’s nationality, and one’s home, and money, and parents, and wife, and throw it all away like a worthless rag, like two cents, if only to find the pearl of salvation hidden in Orthodoxy.”4
“The Orthodox faith is the authentic soul of the Russian people, the source of its vital strength and power; if it loses this precious treasure, it loses all…”5 “Russia lived by and was exalted by Orthodoxy, and by it will it be reborn and saved… Apostates from Orthodoxy, however, cease to be Russian; they are traitors to the faith, the nation, and the Homeland.”6 “While punishing, the Lord simultaneously shows the Russian people the path to salvation, making it a preacher of Orthodoxy in the entire oikoumene. The Russian diaspora has acquainted all the ends of the earth with Orthodoxy, for the mass of Russian refugees are, to a significant degree, unconscious preachers of Orthodoxy.”7 Moreover: “The Lord gave us the grace to preserve the purity of His true faith, and we bear this treasure everywhere for the salvation of the world.”8
“Beloved Protestant brethren!” – Overbeck appealed to his coreligionists – “look at the Church that the Holy Spirit founded and that He will guide until the end of the ages… Turn your gaze to the East – light comes from the East! … This Church is always, as before, unchanging in the Orthodox faith.”
Our marvelous man of righteousness, Fr John Sergiev9, sings endless hymns to Orthodoxy. He is in love with its wondrous, life-giving, divine nature: “This priceless treasure, given us by God…” He pleads with us to value Orthodoxy and to live worthily, in order to glorify God. He witnesses to its superiority over other confessions. He himself lovingly and graciously received everyone: Roman Catholics, and Protestants, and Jews, and Muslims, and pagans, and at their request he performed miraculous healings over them all – but all the while he constantly taught that the saving truth is only in Orthodoxy. “Where are there such prayers, glorifications, thanksgivings, and supplications, such wondrous divine services, as in the Orthodox Church? Nowhere!”10
It is for good reason that scholars give such rapturous appreciations of Orthodoxy: the Englishman Neale and the Americans Abercrombie, Professor Overbeck, and Dr Stanley. The first wrote: “The Eastern, i.e., Orthodox Church today remains what it was from its very beginning: manifold in its institutions and simple in its faith, incomprehensible to the alien and well understood by its sons, widespread in its branches and harshly pressed by its enemies – but calm, and always, as it normally calls itself, one, holy, catholic, and apostolic. Such it is in reality!” “The more we study the history of the Orthodox Church,” writes Abercrombie, “the more closely acquainted we become with its teaching and institutions, the louder the voice of its authority sounds, and the more vivid our desire to enter into communion with it is awakened… The Orthodox Church is faithful to the original teaching of the Church of Christ and is foreign to the artificially constructed dogmas of the Reformation; and the Roman Church itself was but a colony of Greek Christians…” “Beloved Protestant brethren!” – Overbeck appealed to his coreligionists – “look at the Church that the Holy Spirit founded and that He will guide until the end of the ages… Turn your gaze to the East – light comes from the East! … This Church is always, as before, unchanging in the Orthodox faith.”
Dr. Stanley: “Orthodoxy is more integral and complete than any other Christian Church, and it carries us back to the first centuries of Christianity…; namely, one should expect faithful servants from her by whom she, by the Almighty’s will, will glorify the Lord and bring happiness to mankind.”
How many more recent confirmations and appreciations of the beauty and inestimable value of Orthodoxy are there in foreign literature? However, let us put this aside… Conciseness and brevity are needed. The conclusion suggests itself. All originators of new doctrines and all teachers separated from Orthodoxy, though humble in their personal appearance, have their service founded on self-regard and pride. They witness to themselves, do their work about themselves, and preach their word about themselves. Orthodoxy is not in the deeds of its hierarchs and members, but in the succession of Truth, guarded from the beginning in its purity and integrity: holy, blameless, and divine.