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SAN FRANCISCO: May 9, 2006

Report by Mitred Protopriest Alexander Lebedeff on the Negotiation Process

The Commission of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia on talks with the corresponding Commission of the Moscow Patriarchate was created by decree of the Synod of Bishops on December 4/17, 2003.

Appointed to the Commission of the Russian Church Abroad were: His Eminence Archbishop Mark of Berlin and Germany, President; His Grace Bishop Ambroise of Vevey; Archimandrite Luke; Protopriest George Larin and Protopriest Alexander Lebedeff, Secretary.

Also appointed were His Grace Bishop Evtikhii of Ishim and Siberia (on matters concerning parishes of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia on the territory of Russia), and also Protopriest Valery Alexeev of the Diocese of Odessa and Priest Nikolai Savchenko of St Petersburg, as consultants.

After the first joint meeting, by decision of the Synod of Bishops of Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia, Protopriest Nikolai Artemoff replaced Fr George Larin.

The Commission was given the following ukase by the Synod of Bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia on the same day containing the mandate for its work:

UKASE
of the Synod of Bishops of the
Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia

To His Eminence Archbishop Mark,
President of the Commission on Talks with the Corresponding Commission of the Moscow Patriarchate

The Synod of Bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia, on December 4/17, 2003, decreed: on the mandate for our Commission on discussions with the Moscow Patriarchate, to issue the following Instructions, to examine:

  1. The establishment of normal relations,
  2. The attitude towards the ecumenical movement,
  3. The attitude of the Church towards the state,
  4. The summation of these matters must comprise a mutually-acceptable confession of the faith,
  5. The existence of parallel structures and property issues,
  6. The question of expanding the mandate is to be decided jointly with the Synod of Bishops and the members of the Commission,
  7. Changes to the membership of the Commission is within the competency of the Synod.

For which to issue this Ukase.

+ Bishop Gabriel

Secretary of the Synod of Bishops

¹ 11-35-16

In May, 2004, an official visit to Russia was made by His Eminence Metropolitan Laurus, First Hierarch of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia, along with an entire delegation. The official joint statement on this visit included the following:

"On May 17-18, joint discussions between the delegates of the Russian Church Abroad and those of the Moscow Patriarch were held. On May 18, these discussions were held under the chairmanship of His Holiness Patriarch Alexy II of Moscow and All Russia.

    "Expressed at the joint discussions was the common desire of the Moscow Patriarchate and the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia to overcome the tragic division of our people, which arose as a result of the revolution and civil war, and the desire to achieve the reestablishment of Eucharistic communion and canonical unity within one Local Russian Orthodox Church, an indissoluble part of which the Russian Church Abroad always sensed itself. Our goal is to draw nearer that day when with one mouth and one heart we would glorify God.

    "An important role in the resolution of various problems which hinder the restoration of the fullness of communion is reserved for the Committees which were established in December 2003 by the hierarchies of the Moscow Patriarchate and the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia. The Committees, having earlier worked separately, will in the near future commence working jointly. The Committees are charged with developing a common understanding on the following matters, based on the historical experience of the Russian Church and the problems facing the Church today:

    • The principles of the relationship between the Church and state in accordance with the teachings of the Church;
    • The principles of the relationship between the Orthodox Church and heterodox communities and inter-confessional organizations in accordance with Church traditions;
    • The status of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia as a self-governing part of the Russian Orthodox Church;
    • The canonical conditions for the establishment of Eucharistic communion.
    "The Committees must prepare, by God's will, a joint statement on the above questions of principle, which is to reflect their current understanding of both the Church in Russia and the Church Abroad. This statement will be presented for confirmation by the hierarchies of the Moscow Patriarchate and the Russian Church Abroad.

    "It was recognized as necessary to continue the joint academic-historical study of church events of the 20th century, especially the examination of the podvig of the Holy New Martyrs and Confessors of Russia and the experience of the Church existing under conditions of persecution by the godless regimes.

    "Witnessing with joy the growing mutual understanding in discussing those topics which in the past were causes of division, the participants of these talks noted the importance of refraining from steps which could harm the further process of rapprochement, in part, from the expression of animosity. A special duty in this regard lies upon the clergymen and participants of church institutions."

At the same joint meeting in Moscow, with the participation of His Eminence Metropolitan Laurus and other delegates, the following agreement was made regarding the work of the Commissions:

    "The topic 'On the Canonical Conditions for Establishing Eucharistic Communion,' in particular, proposes the following questions for discussion:

  1. The form of liturgical commemoration of the Hierarchy;
  2. The removal of suspensions from years past;
  3. The attitude towards Old Calendar groups in Greece, Romania, Bulgaria and other countries;
  4. Parallel structures (dioceses and parishes of the Russian Church Abroad) on the canonical territory of the Moscow Patriarchate;
  5. The status of clergymen accepted from other jurisdictions who are under canonical suspension;
  6. The procedure for electing and confirming the First Hierarch of the Russian Church Abroad;
  7. Pastoral interrelations in the countries of the Russian diaspora."

The following was also adopted:

    "The official delegations of the Moscow Patriarchate and the Russian Church Abroad propose that the Commissions maintain mutual trust in their work. The working documents of the Commissions are not to be published until their work is completed and approved by the Hierarchies of the Moscow Patriarchate and the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia. Information on the work of the Commissions will be published exclusively in the form of joint communiques."

His Eminence Archbishop Innokenty of Korsun was appointed President of the Commission of the Moscow Patriarchate; other members included His Eminence Archbishop Evgeny of Verey; the Prior of Sretensky Monastery in Moscow, Archimandrite Tikhon; the President of the Historical-Legal Commission of the Moscow Patriarchate, Professor Protopriest Vladislav Tsypin; and the Secretary of the Department of External Church Affairs of the Moscow Patriarchate, Protopriest Nikolai Balashov, was appointed Secretary.

Over the last two years, six joint meetings were held by the Commissions. According to the agreement, the meetings are held alternately in Moscow and abroad. The first meeting was held in Moscow in June 2004; in Germany and Austria in September 2004; in Moscow in November 2004; near Paris in March 2005; in Moscow and Riazan in July 2005 and in Nyack, NY, in February 2006.

The Commission of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia is guided by the above Instructions and by agreements reached during the meeting of the First Hierarchs in Moscow.

On two questions of principle—the relationship between the Church and state and the attitude of the Orthodox Church towards other faiths and inter-confessional organizations, joint documents were drafted which expressed the view of these questions by both sides.

On the question of the relationship with the government, the joint document states, in particular:

    "Not everyone withstood during the years of persecution. Some clergymen and laypersons, trampling upon Divine truth, enabled the persecutors in their actions directed towards the destruction of the Church. Such actions cannot under any circumstances be permitted and justified; they deserve all condemnation, to avoid their repetition in case the Lord allows persecutions to resume."

And also:

    "The Church must support all good initiatives of the state, but must resist evil, immorality and harmful social phenomena and always firmly confess the Truth, and when persecutions commence, to continue to openly witness the faith and be prepared to follow the path of witness and martyrdom for Christ."

On ecumenism, the joint document says in part:

    "Orthodox Christians insist on their right to freely confess their faith in the Orthodox Church as the One Holy Universal and Apostolic Church without conceding the so-called "branch theory" and definitively reject any attempts to dilute Orthodox ecclesiology.

    "The Orthodox Church excludes any possibility of liturgical communion and concelebration with the non-Orthodox. In particular, it is considered impermissible for Orthodox to participate in liturgical actions connected with so-called ecumenical or inter-confessional religious services. In general, the Church should determine the forms of interaction with the heterodox on a conciliar basis, stemming from its teachings, canonical discipline and ecclesiastical expediency."

In accordance with the pre-determined order, these two joint documents were submitted for study to the hierarchies of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia and the Russian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate, and received official confirmation of the Supreme Ecclesiastical Authority.

The official statement on this matter by the Synod of Bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia includes the following

    "The Synod of Bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia at its regular session of June 22/July 5 [2004] heard the report of His Eminence Archbishop Mark of Berlin and Germany, President of the Commission on discussions with the Moscow Patriarchate, and Protopriest Alexander Lebedeff, Secretary of same Commission, on the working sessions with the joint Commissions of the Moscow Patriarchate held in Moscow on June 22 and 24 (new style). The Synod of Bishops approved of documents prepared at the joint meetings of the two Commissions, taking note of their concordance with the positions of principle of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia. The Synod of Bishops expressed gratitude to the Commission on discussions with the Moscow Patriarchate, wishing the two Commissions to continue to work in the future for the benefit of the Church in the spirit of brotherly love, adhering to the truth and the unharmed Orthodox confession of faith."

Also, the question of pastoral interrelations in the lands of the diaspora, the following decision was made by the Synod of Bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia and the Holy Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate:

"To accept and publish the following Resolution

    a) to propose to the bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia to hold regular meetings with the bishops of the Moscow Patriarchate who conduct their ministry in the same geographical location to discuss questions of common intere

    b) to encourage contact between pastors and the laity, for example, joint pilgrimages, conferences, publishing work, with the blessing of the local bishop;

    c) to deem it necessary to cease the filing of lawsuits and to cease existing lawsuits;

    d) in instance where it is impossible to resolve conflicts locally, to propose that such matters be sent to joint examination to the Commissions on dialog."

In addition to the two aforementioned documents, the Commissions worked out two other joint documents:

    1) "On the Joint Work of the Commissions of the Moscow Patriarchate and the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia," and

    2) "Commentary on the Joint Document of the Commissions of the Moscow Patriarchate and the Russian Church Abroad, 'On the Relations Between the Church and State.'"

The latter document says in part:

    "[T]he 'Declaration' introduced a harsh division among the people of the Church. Instances are known when during interrogations of the 'non-commemorating' clergy, the persecutors of the Church referred to the 'Declaration.' It was and continues to be a source of temptation for many children of the Russian Orthodox Church.

    "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.

    "As His Holiness Patriarch Alexy II said in 1991: "The Declaration of Metropolitan Sergius as a whole departed into the past, and we are not guided by it."

    "The rejection by the Russian Church of such a course in her relations with the government, as reflected in the 'Declaration,' opens the path to the fullness of brotherly communion."

In order to better inform the clergy and flock on the process of the negotiating process, after the confirmation of these last two documents by the hierarchies of both sides, the Synod of Bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia and the Holy Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church both decided to concurrently publish all four adopted documents on the official internet sites of both Churches, which was done in 2005.

In accordance with the guidelines provided, the Commissions drafted an "Act on Canonical Communion."

This draft is discussed in the "On the Joint Work of the Commissions of the Moscow Patriarchate and the Russian Church Abroad":

    "The drafted 'Act on Canonical Communion' determines the canonical status of the historically-formed assemblage of the dioceses, parishes, monasteries, brotherhoods and institutions of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia as an inalienable, self-governing part of the Russian Orthodox Church.

    "According to the draft, the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia is independent in pastoral, educational, administrative, management, property and civil matters. The supreme authority within the Russian Church Abroad is manifested in her Sobor [Council] of Bishops, convened by her President (the First Hierarch) on the basis of the "Regulations of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia."

The negotiating process itself was conducted in the following manner:

As Secretary of our Commission on negotiating, I would meet or speak on the telephone with our First Hierarch, His Eminence Metropolitan Laurus, who would give directions in matters he decided needed discussion and would give guidance. Sometimes Vladyka Metropolitan would give such written instructions to members of the Commission.

Afterwards, I would contact the Secretary of the Commission of the Moscow Patriarchate to agree on the agenda and the detailed program of the next meeting.

Before each joint meeting, the members of our Commissions (sometimes with the participation of Bishop Evtikhii and other consultants), would meet separately to discuss the proposed topics for discussion and the study and elaboration of positions. Documents outlining these positions which reflect our viewpoint of the matter would also be prepared.

Immediately after the end of the joint meeting, I would send the minutes and documents drawn up to our First Hierarch for his information.

At the next meeting of the Synod of Bishops I report in detail on the last meeting, and read the Minutes and agreed-upon documents which are either approved, or changes are proposed, which are then returned to the Commission for further discussion. The bishops express their opinion on the progress of the talks and give corresponding instructions.

In this way, our First Hierarch and members of the Synod of Bishops take the most active participation in the work of the Commission.

Regarding the talks themselves, it should be noted that all the members of the Commission actively participate in the meetings, each side expresses and defends the positions of their hierarchies. Upon working out the joint documents, each phrase, and sometimes every word is debated until an acceptable formulation is found. The discussions are sometimes frank, and sometimes there are difficult moments, harsh words are even uttered. The presidents then make an effort to return the discussion to a calmer and more peaceful discussion of the matters.

During the first joint meetings, it was sensed that to some degree we do not understand each other, or there are difficulties in terminology, since some expressions are understood differently in the Homeland and abroad.

Still, as the joint work continued, these difficulties gradually began to disappear, and all the members of the Commissions became imbued with a trembling recognition of the importance of this obedience, which they bear at the direction of their hierarchies. It was sensed that what they were doing was not the work of their hands, but of God's.

The members of the Commissions ask the holy prayers of all of you in continuing our task, recognizing this as a duty before the Lord God which we bear for healing the wounds and divisions with the aim of strengthening the spiritual rebirth of the Russian people, and for the benefit of the One, Holy Russian Churches.