Email: Cold War Christian Monastics Visit the West (3.10.2020)

Trappist Monk

Dear Gillian

I am slowly reading my way through Abbot Andre Louf’s book entitled ‘In the School of Contemplation’. In Chapter 8 – ‘Notes from a Pilgrimage’ – he speaks about a ‘sensitive topic’ whereby in 1968 a Russian Orthodox monk visited the Trappist monastery in France from the USSR. Abbot Louf states that the Monastic Church is a separate and distinct entity that represents to all Christian Churches the imminent arrival of God’s grace on earth. The issue was twofold. The Russian Orthodox Church was a ‘Schismatic’ and divorced from the Catholic Church – whilst the Vatican had continuously propagandised against the Communist countries – claiming there was no Church or active monasteries. The Trappists knew this wasn’t true, but did not want to be seen to be contradicting Rome. Anyway, the Russian monk arrived and immediately settled down to the routine – which he was fully familiar with. This process was assisted by the fact that his Latin was excellent. The Abbot noticed that the Western monks kept apart from the new monk and to remedy this, he asked the monk to address the congregation. He did this and said the Socialist System had both rescued and strengthened the Church and had improved the lives of everyone in the USSR. He said that the governments of the West routinely lie about the reality of his homeland. From a child the Soviet State had supported his yearning to become a Christian monk. It had even suggested and financed his travel to the West. Abbot Louf said that at this moment all the barriers in their hearts and minds fell away and they become one with this man. Again, in 1970, a Romanian Orthodox Monk visited France and a similar experience unfolded. He said that God manifested through Socialism far more effectively than through capitalism and said that he wanted to learn from the Trappists. By the end of his time in France, Western monks were kneeling at his feet and humbly asking for his blessing! Although I have heard Thomas Merton (unfortunately) express anti-Communist sentiments, Abbot Louf does not, as he had actual experiences of religion under Soviet Communism. Another monk who openly disagreed with the Vatican position was Brother David Steindl-Rast who was waiting in Austria to be deported to the Nazi Death Camps for opposing Hitler when the Soviet Red Army entered the area and rescued him and thousands of others! The Vatican supported Hitler when the Death Camps had special sections for Catholic and Orthodox monks and priests who supported Communism. They were used in hideous medical experiments which are recorded in the Transcripts of the Nuremberg Trials. The Vatican refused to complain to the Nazis or assist these brave men, but instead had them ‘defrocked’. All very sad. There is definitely something worth fighting for and preserving within monasticism. Perhaps it is the unseen heart of the Church. 

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