07 October 2017

Sanity and stability

TL: Saint Alexis (Tovt); TR: Saint John (Pommers);
BL: Saint John (Kronstadt); BR: Saint Tikhon (Bellavin)

For my one-thousandth blog post, I still feel it’s somewhat important, in an age where the liberal consensus (long my bête noire) is busy not so much eroding as blowing itself apart (with the nouvelle nouvelle-droite taking the place of the postwar liberal-conservatives, and the identitarian regressive left taking the place of the postwar social-liberals), to clarify that I still adhere – paradoxical as it may sound – to both the broad ideals of the Old Left, and to the suspicions of the Old Right that these ideals cannot be achieved in defiance of human nature.

Insofar as I’m a socialist – a label which is still arguable, though perhaps not as arguable now as it once was – I would like to think myself a socialist in the same broad and non-dogmatic sense that Patriarch Saint Tikhon (Bellavin) of Moscow, Father Saint John (Sergiev) of Kronstadt, Father Saint Alexis (Tovt) of Wilkes-Barre and Archbishop Saint John (Pommers) of Riga all were. All of these holy men were forthright, vocal and unapologetic in their support for the rights of labour against the depredations of capital. All four spoke to this support with their deeds in life, and not just their words. All four understood the need for concerted, collective political action in support of the poor, the infirm and the dispossessed – not merely private ‘charity’. All four publicly decried inequality and poverty, racism and bigotry, exploitation, usury and greed precisely as systemic social evils, as well as personal ones. These positions are consistent, in full, with the witness of the Holy Orthodox Church, and require no alteration. However, these same positions do preclude an embrace of materialism. All four of these modern saints would likely be described by modern commentators (such as Nadia Kizenko) as Christian socialists, but none of them can be justly described as Marxists.

Which is why I think it necessary also to look at the other side of their thinking. Apart from Archbishop Saint John of Riga, of whom I know only that the Marxists suspected him of monarchism whether he held to it or not, all of these Russian saints were also indeed committed monarchists and defended even the ‘Asian’ institution of the Tsarist autocracy. And this, in spite of – or, indeed, even because of – their service and connexion with the Church in the Americas. Both Saint Tikhon and Saint Alexis publicly prayed for the Russian Tsar, defended both him and his office to their flocks, and asked them to do the same. They did so, not naïvely, but after having known and experienced the deep republican sentiments and temperament of the American people, and the instinctive distrust they displayed to any sign of royalism. They saw in the Tsar and in the institution of monarchy one of the surest ways of restraining the greed of the wealthy and the pride of the powerful, provided the Tsar himself understood himself as a servant of Christ and a younger brother to the Church. Saint John Kronstadt, too, mourned the 1905 revolution against the Tsar, though he did not cease his political activism in its wake.

And even though these men were themselves much of the time on the move, the bishops in particular being transferred from one eparchy to the next, they encouraged their flocks to root themselves, to maintain their old traditions and resist assimilation (even while, if possible, learning the tongue most commonly used in their community), and to love their immediate neighbours. Saint Alexis of Wilkes-Barre and Archbishop Saint John of Riga both also preached sobriety, patience, modesty and stability in marriage to flocks in which discipline was lax.

I hope and pray these great and gracious saints of the Church will not be too offended by what I say, when I claim their memories and witnesses as relevant to a Western, Anglocentric political concept like Tory socialism or Tory radicalism. But they do offer, and offer strongly, a perspective which is deeply, even implacably, critical of liberal individualism and the capitalist ethos; a perspective which takes opportunities to show both material and moral support for the working class. At the same time, these saints have little patience or tolerance for the totalitarian presence which was making itself felt in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, on either side of the political spectrum.

In memory of these saints and of others, I still think it’s necessary to call for a ‘third way’, a ‘personalist’ way and even (yes) a ‘socialist’ way – only if, however, we understand the snarl of ‘socialism’ in the mouths of our accusers in the same way Father Paisiy of The Brothers Karamazov did and, then, if we try to live in the way that Father Paisiy and Father Zosima (or these real-life saints!) did. When both sides of the liberal consensus are unravelling into madness in peculiarly illiberal ways, holding to sanity and stability becomes all the more pressing.

Holy Fathers Tikhon, Alexis, John and John, pray to God for us!


  1. What a refreshing and timely witness to economic justice and against concentrated wealth. It's shameful that so many in the churches corporate institutions choose to skirt this central aspect of the gospels. My fervent prayers are that the leaders of our governments, commerce and industries will open their hearts and minds to the righteousness of a fair and compassionate distribution of Earth's wealth and resources, and that the developed nations of the West become a model of economic justice for all the peoples of the world.

  2. Allow me to say simply: Amen.

    Thank you, Bud 1! I don't think we'll be able to get rid of wealth inequalities altogether, but it's wrong that we have so little will to see them as a problem in deed of redress.