Orthodox America


  Archbishop Averky - “Spokesman for true Orthodoxy”


Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine. (II Tim. 4:2)

"In our confused days, when a hundred conflicting voices claim to speak for Patristic Orthodoxy, it is essential to know whom one can trust as spokesman for true Orthodoxy. It is not enough to claim to speak for Patristic Orthodoxy; one must be in the genuine tradition of the Holy Fathers, not merely 'rediscovering' them in a modern academy or seminary, but actually receiving their tradition from one’s own fathers. A merely clever explainer of the Patristic doctrine is not in this tradition, but only one who, not trusting his own judgment or that of his peers, is constantly asking of his own fathers what is the proper approach to an understanding of the Holy Fathers. Archbishop Averky...is in this genuine Patristic tradition .... A disciple of the great 20th century theologian and holy hierarch, Archbishop Theophan of Poltava (+1940) (who himself ended his days as a literal cave-dweller), Archbishop Averky is a bearer and transmitter, in a direct and unbroken line of Orthodox theologians, of the genuine Patristic doctrine which is in danger of being eclipsed by today's generation of Western-educated -proud 'young theologians'.  [1]

Born in Russia in 1906, the future Abbot and Rector of Holy Trinity Monastery and Seminary, left his revolution-torn homeland for Bulgaria in 1920. There he completed his studies and departed for Czechoslovakia, where he was tonsured a monk in 1931 and given the name Averky.

The next year he was ordained a priest and, during the pre-war years became editor of a religious publication, abbot, diocesan administrator and missionary. The end of World War lI found him with the Synod of Bishops Outside Russia in Munich, Germany, where he headed a Missionary Educational Committee.

Coming to America in 1951, Archbishop Averky taught at Holy Trinity Seminary in Jardanville, NY, and also organized a youth organization. The following two years he was appointed rector of the seminary and Bishop of the Syracuse-Holy Trinity Diocese. In 1960 he became Abbot of Holy Trinity Monastery and, the next year, Archbishop.

Archbishop Averky had the gift of being able to explain basic Orthodox Christianity in a specially clear and effective way. He could quickly penetrate to the heart of a question and make it understandable. An example is the theme to which he often re:turned: what is the essence or "chief thing" :in Christianity?

He saw that few people any longer have a concept of the purpose of Christ's Church, and even among Orthodox Christians there has begun to be a tragic lack of awareness. Archbishop Averky was able to explain to those who would listen that true Christianity consists first in bearing the cross. This means not only patient long-suffering with regard to one's daily trails, but also "self crucifixion, consisting of ceaseless 'unseen warfare'.

He was fond of quoting St. Isaac the Syrian: "The way of God is a daily cross. No one will ascend to heaven by living lukewarmly. We know about the lukewarm way and where it ends up." But Archbishop Averky also wrote:

"Truly never before has the cross of each person who wants to be a true Christian been as heavy as in this time of the triumph of falsehood which we are experiencing. Never before on this earth has there been such a huge number of people who freely and easily, without any shame, without any pangs of conscience 'call evil good, and good evil' ! (Is. 5:20)"

But in order to hear this cross without lukewarmness or discouragement, one must have, as Archbishop Averky put it, "holy zeal ":

"The chief thing in Christianity, according to the clear teaching of the Word of God,

is the fire of divine zeal, zeal for God and His glory, the holy zeal which alone is able to inspire man in labors and struggles pleasing to God, and without which there is no authentic spiritual life and there is not and cannot be any true Christianity. Without this holy zeal Christians are 'Christians' in name only."

To those that speak of the Saviour only in terms of meekness, peacefulness, and love, the Archbishop replied that Christ "sometimes found it necessary to manifest great strictness and had recourse to severe measures, teaching us also by this very fact, that meekness and humility do not mean spinelessness and should not yield before manifest evil, and that a true Christian should be far from sugar-sweet sentimentality and should not step away in the face of evil..."

Himself filled with this divine zeal, he explained that Orthodox Christians "do not dare to remain indifferent" to their Faith, that '!we must show ourselves to be completely uncompromising" and not "enter into any sort of cunning compromises or any reconciliation, even purely outward" with the spirit of this world, with the spirit of lukewarmness toward Christ and His Holy Church. "Friendship with the enemies of God," he wrote, "makes us ourselves the enemies of God; this is a betrayal and treason towards God."

Noting that without zeal "there is no true Christianity," he also saw that an amazing and easily recognizable phenomenon was taking place in our own times and before our eyes--"the 'winnowing': some will remain with Christ to the end, and some will easily and naturally join the camp of His opponent, Antichrist, especially when the hour of threatening trials will come for our faith, when precisely it will be necessary to show in all its fullness the whole power of our holy zeal, which is abhorred by many as 'fanaticism'."

 Stand fast in the truth. 

In an essay on apostasy, Archbishop Averky made this even clearer: "Not everything that bears the most holy and most dear name of Orthodoxy really is Orthodox--there is now also pseudo-Orthodoxy, which we must fear and from which we must flee as from fire. True Orthodoxy is only that which does not accept and does not permit in anything, neither in teaching nor in church practices, any sort of innovations opposed to the Word of God and the decrees of the Universal Church. True Orthodoxy does not bless and does not indulge in modern fashion--the morality and customs of the modern corrupt world .... True Orthodoxy considers only pleasing God and saving souls, not arrangements for temporary, earthly happiness, a career, and earthly advantages and possessions. True Orthodoxy is spiritual, not natural and carnal." 

But, equally important, Archbishop Averky saw that there is also a false zeal, .a "zeal without understanding," a zeal without discernment. He explained that "Orthodoxy is not only the sum total of dogmas explained in a purely formal manner. It is not only theory, but practice; it is not only right Faith, but a life which agrees in everything with this Faith. The true Orthodox Christian is not only he who thinks in an Orthodox manner, but who feels according to Orthodoxy and lives Orthodoxy, who strives to embody the true Orthodox teaching of Christ in his life,"

Behind the mask of purely formal, outward Orthodoxy, behind the mask of "false zeal," lies "the foaming of ordinary human passions --most frequently pride, love of power and honor, and the interests of a party politics like that which plays the leading role in political struggles, and for which there can be no place in spiritual life...and is a chief instigator of every imaginable quarrel and disturbance in the Church, the managers and instigators of which...(are) zealous not for God's glory but for their own glory and the glory of the colleagues and partisans of their own party."

In a short essay sub--titled "A Reminder for Everyone Who Considers Himself an Orthodox Christian," Archbishop Averky further discusses the danger of allowing this false zeal to enter into church life:

“The Church is not an arena for the struggle of power, nor any other political or partisan struggle, in which the opponents, for the most part, are governed by their pride or ! vanity, by their ambition to 'play a role',... The Church exists not for the mutual antagonism of those who seek honor and prominence, not for partisan squabbles, nor for the sowing of enmity, intrigue, calumny, and slander, nor for the earning of scores."

Archbishop Averky was very concerned lest "dead formalism" become the motivating spirit of Orthodox Christians. In Orthodoxy there can be no "blind adherence to the 'letter of the law,' for it is 'spirit and life.' Where, from an external and purely formal point of view, everything seems quite correct and strictly legal, this does not mean that it is so in reality."

Clearly he saw the two dangerous extremes in church life today, both of which involve 'playing a role' and not letting Orthodoxy penetrate deeply into the heart: on the one hand are the ecumenists, playing the "role" of brotherly-love at any price, no matter how great are the compromises demanded of them; and on the other, the elitists, playing the "role" of knowing better than anyone what Orthodoxy is, of constantly correcting and belittling all that do not agree with their "party." These are the ones, Archbishop Averky explained, that act as though there is no one to defend the Church but themselves, and to defend it they adopt or borrow quite worldly elements and passions "which are hostile to the Church and will rather hasten its fall."

How to avoid either extreme? First, we can avoid the ecumenist pitfall simply by "standing fast in the truth": "wherever the inherited spiritual link of grace going back to the holy Apostles and their successors, the Apostolic men and Holy Fathers, has been broken, wherever various innovotions have been introduced in faith and morals with the aim of 'keeping in step with the times,' of 'progressing, ' of not getting out of date and of adapting to the demands and fashions of this world.., there can be no talk of the True Church."

Secondly, in order to avoid formalism and phariseeism we must keep in mind that we Orthodox Christians of the last times "have neither the strength nor the authority to stop Apostasy, as Bishop Ignatius (Branehaninov) stresses: 'Do no t attempt to stop it with your weak hand.., But what then  should we do? 'Avoid it, protect yourself from it. and that is enough for you. Get to know the spirit of the times, study it so that you can avoid its influence whenever possible." 

In his last years Archbishop Averky's voice "resounded and thundered as never before," guiding, warning, protecting, as only a true shepherd could do, until, finally he gave his soul up to the Lord, on April 13 (ns), 1976. (This month marks the fifth anniversary of his blessed repose.) But his message-the message of truth, of the Gospel of salvation, of Orthocoxy--lives on in his writings and in the memories of those many hundreds and even thousands that knew him and were formed by him. He consciously chose to be a pastor rather than a hireling, but he himself observed, in his last book: "It is not for me to judge how I fulfilled this. I will be judged as we all will be, by the impartial God. But, I can say one thing: I did everything honestly, according to my conscience and without regard for personalities."

 

Archbishop Averky--

 ETERNAL MEMORY!

[1] Quotations in this article come from "Orthodox Life," Vol. 26, No.3, '76; "The Orthodox Word," Vol. 11, No. 3, '75; Stand Fast in the Truth; and Vol; II of "The Works of Archbishop Averky" (in English., available from "Orthodox America.")

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