on the Joint Document of the Commissions of the Moscow Patriarchate
and the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia Entitled "On
the Relationship Between Church and State"
One of the most important questions facing Church life in the 20th
century was undoubtedly that of the relationship between the Church
and state. Both Commissions deemed it necessary to speak out on
one of the most tragic phenomena of recent church history, the conciliar
recognition of which is necessary for the reestablishment of the
unity of the Russian Church. This refers to the Declaration of the
Deputy Locum Tenens of the Patriarchal Throne dated July
16/29, 1927, often called the "Declaration," and also
to the ecclesiastical policies which followed under conditions of
the God-battling totalitarian regime.
1. Although the publication of the "Declaration" was not
the only reason for the church divisions arising in the 1920's,
it is undoubtedly this document which in fact served to hasten the
establishment of an administrative rift between the Church in Russia
and its emigre part outside of her borders. It became for many the
beginning of a spiritual separation.
2. The "Declaration" was written under unprecedented pressure
from the militantly atheistic state, which threatened to completely
eliminate all legal forms of church life. His Holiness Patriarch
Alexy II of Moscow and All Russia said the following as early as
"Today we can say that there is untruth mixed into... the Declaration.
The Declaration placed for itself the goal of placing the Church
in the proper relationship with the Soviet state. But this relationship—and
in the Declaration it was clearly defined as the subjugation of
the Church to the interests of government politics—is incorrect
from the point of view of the Church." .
3. The ecclesiastical policies of Metropolitan Sergius were doubtless
aimed towards the preservation of the church hierarchy, which was
the target of destruction by the militant atheists, and also aimed
towards the possibility of administering the Mysteries.
The passage of time showed that communities refusing communion with
the church hierarchy headed by Metropolitan Sergius were deprived
of the possibility of survival under persecution, and those remnants
that did survive could not openly confess Christ's teachings and
influence the spiritual life of the people. After the Church Council
of 1945, a significant portion of the "non-commemorating"
clergy and laity entered the jurisdiction of the Moscow Patriarchate.
Among those who remained separated from communion with the Moscow
Patriarchate, the danger arose of veering into sectarianism.
4. The policies of Metropolitan Sergius enabled the reestablishment
of church life during and after the Second World War.
The patriotic stance expressed in part in the "Declaration"
resonated in the hearts of many members of the Russian Orthodox
during the years of the Great Patriotic War. Orthodox Christians
fought and struggled for the good of their homeland, as did Great
Martyr George the Victory-bearer, St Theodore Stratilatos, and many
holy warriors in the first centuries of Christianity, who fought
to defend their pagan countries, as did St John the Damascene, who
labored to benefit his country, then under Muslim control.
The activity of the bishops and pastors of the Russian Orthodox
Church during the years of World War II, blessing the people in
their self-sacrifice in the battle against fascism, became a shining
example of the fulfillment of Christian and patriotic duty. Also
recognizing the terrible danger of German Nazism were the bishops
of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia, who also suffered
grief from the tragic fate that befell the Russian people. It is
known that Archbishop John (Maximovich), who was included among
the host of saints by the Russian Church Abroad, while beyond the
reach of the godless regime, performed services of supplication
for the victory of his Fatherland, and made monetary collections
for the needs of the troops in action.
5. The publication of the "Declaration" did not mean that
the Church was of one mind with the ideology of the atheist state.
An attempt was made in the document to express what the Church had
stated since the first centuries of her history, from the time of
the Apostles and her apologists: Christians are not enemies of the
state. Still, for the godless state, Orthodox Christians remained
unreliable and alien even after the publication of the "Declaration."
At the same time, the "Declaration" introduced a sharp
rift within the people of the Church. There are known instances
when during the interrogation of the "non-commemorating"
clergymen, the persecutors of the Church referred to the "Declaration."
It was then, and is to this day, a temptation for many children
of the Russian Orthodox Church.
6. Over the course of the two-thousand-year history of the Church,
such compromises under conditions of persecution are known. But
never did those people who made compromises for the sake of preserving
the legal existence of the Church, nor, of course, those who disagreed
with such a policy, ever deem the path of compromise as normal,
as the only path or the as natural path of the Church of Christ.
7. The martyrs and confessors who gave their lives for Christ and
His Church were numerous, both among those who accepted the "Declaration"
and among those who rejected it. From among one group and another,
many are now among the host of saints. The actions of Metropolitan
Sergius, which spurred and continue to spur so many arguments, were
without a doubt dictated by the search for a way to preserve church
life in the coming crucial epoch, in difficult circumstances theretofore
"The tragedy of Metropolitan Sergius lies in the fact that
he attempted in earnest to reach an agreement with criminals who
had wrested power."
8. Both in the part of the Russian Church found abroad, and, what
is very important, inside Russia as well, the "Declaration"
was viewed by the people of the Church as a morbid, tragic compromise,
but not as the free voice of the Church of Christ.
9. Certain chapters of a document adopted at the Council of Bishops
of the Russian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate (August
2000), formulated in complete agreement with the teachings of the
Church and the Holy Fathers on the relationship of the Church and
the civil authorities, were soon afterwards given a positive evaluation
by the Council of Bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside
of Russia (October 2000).
"The Basic Social Concept of the Russian Orthodox Church,"
in a series of theses ,
clearly defines the principles of the ecclesiastical approach to
the relationship of the Church and state. In part, it says that
the Church under certain circumstances must call for civil disobedience.
The "Concept" contains ideas which differ in principle
from those expressed in the "Declaration."
In comparing the "Declaration" and the "Basic Social
Concept," Metropolitan Kirill of Smolensk and Kaliningrad noted
at the Council of Bishops of October 2004:
"The free voice of the Church, speaking with particular clarity
in this conciliar document ['Concept'], gives us the opportunity
to look upon the 'Declaration' in a new way. While understanding
that the path chosen in 1927 on the relationship towards the state
was motivated by the desire to preserve the possibility for the
Church to exist legally, this path was authoritatively deemed inconsistent
with the genuine norms of Church-state relations by the Council
of the Russian Orthodox Church. The epoch of the imprisonment of
the Church has come to an end."
In this way, the "Declaration" was seen as a coerced document
which did not express the free will of the Church.
At the same time, a critical view of the above document does not
equate to a condemnation of His Holiness Patriarch Sergius, and
does not express an effort to besmirch his person and mitigate his
First-Hierarchical service in the difficult years of the Church's
life in the Soviet Union.
As His Holiness Patriarch Alexy II said in 1991, "The Declaration
of Metropolitan Sergius has departed into the past, and we are not
guided by it." .
The rejection of the course of the Russian Church in her relations
with the state as reflected in the "Declaration" opens
the path to the fullness of brotherly communion.
His Holiness Patriarch Alexy II, "I Take
Upon Myself the Responsibility for All That Happened," Journal
of the Moscow Patriarchate, 1991, No 10, pp. 5-6.
Ibid, p. 6.
See, in part:
[T]he persecuted Church is also called to endure the persecution
with patience, without refusing to be loyal to the state persecuting
her. Legal sovereignty in the territory of a state belongs to
its authorities. Therefore, it is they who determine the legal
status of a Local Church or her part, either giving her an opportunity
for the unhampered fulfilment of church mission or restricting
this opportunity. Thus, state power makes judgement on itself
and eventually foretells its fate. The Church remains loyal to
the state, but God's commandment to fulfil the task of salvation
in any situation and under any circumstances is above this loyalty.
If the authority forces Orthodox believers to apostatise from
Christ and His Church and to commit sinful and spiritually harmful
actions, the Church should refuse to obey the state."
"III.6. ...The Church... should point out to the state that
it is inadmissible to propagate such convictions or actions which
may result in total control over a person's life, convictions
and relations with other people, as well as erosion in personal,
family or public morality, insult of religious feelings, damage
to the cultural and spiritual identity of the people and threats
to the sacred gift of life."
"III.8. ...[T]here are areas in which the clergy and canonical
church structures cannot support the state or cooperate with it.
They are as follows: a) political struggle, election agitation,
campaigns in support of particular political parties and public
and political leaders; b) waging civil war or aggressive external
war; c) direct participation in intelligence and any other activity
that demands secrecy by law even in making one's confession or
reporting to the church authorities."
"IV.3. ...[I]n the cases where the human law completely rejects
the absolute divine norm, replacing it by an opposite one, it
ceases to be law and becomes lawlessness, in whatever legal garments
it may dress itself."
"IV.9. [W]hen compliance with legal requirements threatens
his eternal salvation and involves an apostasy or commitment of
another doubtless sin before God and his neighbor, the Christian
is called to perform the feat of confession for the sake of God's
truth and the salvation of his soul for eternal life. He must
speak out lawfully against an indisputable violation committed
by society or state against the statutes and commandments of God.
If this lawful action is impossible or ineffective, he must take
up the position of civil disobedience."
V.2. "[T]he Church preaches peace and co-operation among
people holding various political views. She also acknowledges
the presence of various political convictions among her episcopate,
clergy and laity, except for such as to lead clearly to actions
contradicting the faith and moral norms of the church Tradition."
His Holiness Patriarch
Alexy I, "I Take Upon Myself the Responsibility for All That
Happened," Journal of the Moscow Patriarchate, 1991, No 10,