At this year’s Council, the questions of Christian productivity and the tradition of discipleship within the church were central to the discussion. Brothers and sisters came together for plenary sessions and met in small groups to discuss the following topics: “what sort of fruits give glory to God? In what cases is it fair to speak of a “lack of” or “substitution for” fruit in church and brotherhood life?”, “what does it mean to be a disciple of Christ?”, and “the worthy fruits of service as mastery of the gift of discipleship”.
During the session dedicated to the discussion of what it means to be a disciple of Christ, Larisa Musina, Head of the Scripture Faculty at SFI, presented a paper entitled, “Discipleship in Holy Scripture.” Most often, Christ is referred to as “Teacher” in the New Testament, and this is, in the first instance, how he reveals himself to the world. In calling his disciples to himself, Christ reveals his mercy to the world, showing that discipleship is an option for absolutely anyone. The similarity between Christ’s group of disciples and groups from other schools of the time is only superficial – Christ primarily teaches his disciples to follow Him and live in communion with each other, rather than focusing on prayer, fasting, or even observance of the law.
In her paper “Our Teachers on Discipleship”, Lydia Kroshkinaja, a teacher at SFI and the Chairman of the Brotherhood of St. Mary, quoted Nikolay Nikolayevich Nepljujev, (founder of the Elevation of the Cross Workers’ Brotherhood), Bishop Mikhail (Gribanovsky), Mother Maria Skobtsova, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and others. All those whom the brotherhood sees as its teachers were in agreement about one main thing – the Christocentric nature of discipleship means more than simply adoption of Christ’s teachings: it includes following Him in imitation of his life.
However, discipleship to Christ is impossible outside of the church, outside of brotherly unity with other Christians. Discipleship is always pursued “in community.” Our teachers, beginning with Alexey Stepanovich Khomjakov, affirm that “a person learns the love of Christ, the unity of Christ, freedom and life only within the Church, having become a part of the Church’s body, having been grafted into the root of the Vine and joined to the essence of Christ’s Love. Outside of this setting, learning from Christ will be but an abstract and external action. Only here (in the Church) are our weaknesses covered. It is to these bonds of love that we must come.”
A conciliar meeting is a possibility for all to come together to sum up the events of the past year and plan for the next. At the final meeting of our Council, we remembered the main events of 2017. In the 100th anniversary year of the October Revolution, our brotherhood rolled out its “Calling Our Nation to Repentance – Those who Live in Hope” initiative.
“The Calling Our Nation to Repentance Initiative has begun, but of course the repentance and atonement for the sin of having forsaken God remains incomplete and an important task even for those who count themselves among the victims of our bloody Soviet times,” remarked Fr. Georgy Kochetkov, the Spiritual Father and Founder of the Transfiguration Brotherhood. He reminded those gathered at the Council of Nikolay Berdyaev’s well-known question, “Abel, where is your brother Cain?”, and proposed that each attendee address this question to him or herself.
One of the reasons for the Revolution of 1917 and its tragic consequences was the loss of the spirit of brotherhood and unity within our society and our church. And we still do not understand the experience of life in community and holiness which was manifest in the Russian church. “It still remains for us to discover the main point of our history in the 20th century. The church still needs to come to know itself in the experience of the new martyrs and confessors – this still has not happened. Monuments and even canonizations are not enough. They themselves don’t change the life of the church – they don’t help today’s Russian Orthodox Christians become inheritors of the tradition of our 20th century saints,” said Dmitry Gasak, Chairman of the Transfiguration Brotherhood.
During the past year, more than 200 events and meetings of various sorts took place in more than 30 cities under the auspices of the Calling Our Nation to Repentance initiative. “Whether these fruits are counted as worthy before our Lord is not for us to judge,” said one of the active participants of the initiative, Head of the “Stol” Media Project, Andrey Vasenyov.
One of the central tasks for the brotherhood in the coming year will be meditation on what exactly church brotherhood has been historically as well as what it is in the present day. It is common in the church to call each other brothers and sisters, to speak about unity and fellowship, but these everyday words and concepts too often lack the power of true brotherly relationship.
Early February 2018 marks 100 years since Patriarch Tikhon uttered his call to forge spiritual bonds in community. This anniversary of Patriarch Tikhon’s call, which was the impulse behind the creation of many brotherhoods and communities, is an important historical date for our church, but it is also a call to understand the revelation of the church as a community of brotherhoods and a call to bear witness to the spirit of brotherhood. In St. Petersburg, Ekaterinburg and Veljsk, as well as in other cities, this date was marked with various conferences and festivals. During our Council, we watched a film about Bishop Makary (Opotsky) which was prepared by members of the Transfiguration Brotherhood and which showed a meeting of our members with a member of the Brotherhood of Vladiko Makary, Ekaterina Ivanovna Pikina.
In 2018, Saint Philaret’s Institute, which the Transfiguration Brotherhood supports, also celebrates its 30th anniversary. We also look forward to our traditional “Transfiguration Meetings”, in August of this year.
The final day of this year’s Council was Forgiveness Sunday, therefore the event ended with the traditional rite of forgiveness which takes place every year in the Orthodox Church on this day.
Photo: Alexander Volkov, Maksim Sobolev