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SAN FRANCISCO : May 9, 2006

The Path Towards Healing the Divisions in the Russian Church; the Pre-Conciliar Process

We have gathered here to discuss the current situation of our Russian Church Abroad and to make decisions which will have a decisive effect on our future.

The Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia is in a unique position. During the Russian Civil War, everyone hoped that this trial for the Russian Church and society would end very soon. But the Lord judged otherwise, and prolonged this Babylonian captivity for three generations. In the 1950's the initial optimism that the godless regime would be short-lived gave way to pessimism. By then few people believed that Russia would soon be freed from this oppression, and this view was based on a sober evaluation of political reality. But even then, when everyone had stopped believing that the atheistic regime would soon disappear, we always emphasized that our Church was a part of the one Russian Orthodox Church. It was always clear that we did not want to distance ourselves from the Church in Russia or from the enslaved Russian people. We always suffered with them and for them, spoke out in their defense wherever we could, and we printed spiritual literature and sent it to Russia.

Our love for Russia and her Church inspired us in an attempt to establish our hierarchy in Russia, which we put into effect by consecrating Bishop Lazarus. At that time we thought only of helping the Catacomb Church, and had no intention of establishing a hierarchy parallel to that of the Moscow Patriarchate. However, later, when we began to receive clergymen from the Patriarchate, we lost a clear vision of what exactly it was we were doing in Russia. In my view we stepped over the line of what was admissible when we received Archimandrite Valentine Rusantsov, a clergyman of the MP in Suzdal. This action was undertaken of his own initiative by a single bishop without advice and without discussion by the Synod or Sobor of our Church. For the first time a bishop of our Church stretched out his hands beyond the limits of the Church Abroad. This act cannot be described other than as uncanonical.

When I went to Russia for the first time (after 1990), I went to Suzdal and there at the service I commemorated the name of the First Hierarch of the Russian Church Abroad. Then I clearly felt that this was absurd. In the center of Russia, in the capital city of an ancient Russian principality, in one of the most ancient dioceses of Russia, we suddenly had several parishes of the Russian Church Outside of Russia.

Later an attempt was made to rectify this canonical error. By a decision of the Council of Bishops, Archimandrite Valentine was consecrated bishop, but even that proved to be a mistake. It became clear that Rusantsov was following completely unecclesiastical ends, that he was an adventurer, to whom we had reached out in our naive and blind love for Russia (even though this was evident to some even before his consecration).

With the passage of time we came to realize that our Church had inflicted an enormous wound in the body of the Russian Church, and particularly in the Diocese of Vladimir and Suzdal. We had to defrock Valentine, but this wound continues to fester. At the beginning of all these developments we hoped that we would be able to keep the dissatisfied Russian priests within the bosom of the Russian Church, so as not to allow the Greek Old Calendarists to gain a hold in Russia, since they are always ready to pour salt into the wounds of the Local Churches. Now, however, it is obvious that the result was the opposite: we had opened up a path for the dissatisfied into these very jurisdictions and so had contributed to tearing apart the already tormented body of the Russian Orthodox Church.

A short while after we received Rusantsov, our Church also received a number of priests in Siberia who had been subjected to persecutions from the local hierarchy for the purity of their Orthodox confession of faith or for observing the Church canons—especially as they related to performing the sacrament of baptism. It seemed to us that this was not interference in the inner affairs of the Russian Church because we—a part of the one Russian Church—wanted to give refuge to those who were persecuted for the faith. From that time on, we began to have a two-sided perception of Church life in Russia: we received priests who were truly being persecuted, but we did not have a clear enough understanding of how modern people had been perverted by Soviet rule, or of their capacity to cover up dubious aims by lies, deception and half truths. Taking everyone at their word, with a naive impression of contemporary people who had lived under the Soviets, we received many people who were completely unworthy of holy orders, and who described as “persecution” what had in fact been attempts by their bishops to restore proper Church order.

The Serbian Orthodox Church was the only one that recognized us for all these decades (apart from the Church of Jerusalem, which recognized us in part) and preserved full Eucharistic communion with us, and it was they who warned us of the destructive nature of this path. In recent years our Serbian brothers have begun to listen to the arguments of the MP, which was objecting to our communion with the Serbian Church, because the Serbs could see the revival of the Church in Russia, and our irreconcilable position was no longer as indisputable as it had been before.

Relations between the MP and the Church Abroad were exacerbated by a number of unacceptable events. Everyone can remember, of course, the seizure of our churches in the Holy Land, the endless disputes about church property in Europe, etc, and statements made by certain leading figures in the MP. Unfortunately, we gave in to the temptation and repaid them in kind.

Gradually, alas, we began to relate to the Moscow Patriarchate as we had to the Soviet regime, to some extent using the same terminology and the same mental constructs as we had in relation to the Soviet regime—in our perception we began to regard them as one and the same. This psychological shift made the confrontations more intense. We really forgot that the leadership of the MP is not the whole of the Russian Church, that many bishops and most of the priests and, what is most important, the believing people, were not guilty of our misadventures. Instead of thinking of how we could help the Church in Russia, we began to think in terms of a narrow party line, in a spirit which in many ways corresponded to that of the Greek Old-Calendarists.

In the 1990's, the late Archbishop Anthony (Medvedev) of San Francisco appealed to us over and over again at the Synod meetings to pay close attention to positive developments in the life of the Church in Russia. Unfortunately, his words did not find an adequate response. But realities in Russia overtook us. The opening of more and more parishes, monasteries and theological schools, and the consecration of more and more new bishops, had its own effect. At diocesan conferences the Patriarch continued to insist on baptisms being performed properly, on priests properly instructing their flocks and on normalizing the order of parish life.

More and more often some clergy of the Moscow Patriarchate began to express very severe criticism of the policies of Metropolitan Sergius—what we have come to refer to as “Sergianism”—of the Russian Church's participation in the ecumenical movement, and about the delay in glorifying the Holy New Martyrs and Confessors of Russia. But many of us did not want to listen to these voices or offer them support. Instead, we intensified our confrontation, while many of us forgot, or tried to forget, that we ourselves had not lived through any concentration camps, or pressure from the government, and that a particular part of our Church had not come out of its short period of coexistence with another dictatorship—that of Hitler—in altogether pristine condition. Our hierarchy did not collaborate with it, but our parishioners were quite ready to support it and it is not important through what motives—the motives of people in Russia who demonstrated varying degrees of loyalty to the Soviet regime were also varied. But we do not know what would have happened to us if the Nazi regime had lasted for 70 years. Also many people have forgotten (or never knew) to what extent our Church previously took part in ecumenical activities. In this area we will have much to explain to new generations.

The longer we were able to observe the free development of Church life in Russia, the clearer it became that we dare not overlook the first paragraph of the Constitution of the Church Abroad: “The Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia is an inseparable part of the Local Orthodox Church of Russia, temporarily self-governing on conciliar principles until the abolition of the atheist regime in Russia.”

And then, at the end of the year 2000, we learned that the New Martyrs had been glorified at the Bishops' Council of the Moscow Patriarchate, and we learned that the Council had adopted the “Social Concept” with its clear postulates directed against any kind of submission of the Church to any state—that is to say, against what we had called “Sergianism.” We could not close our eyes to this. Now we were called upon to act in accordance with what we had desired for so many years. If we are a part of the Russian Church, as we had always asserted, then we should act in accordance with our Constitution.

That same year, in 2000, the Council of Bishops of our Church established a commission for negotiations with the Moscow Patriarchate. Later, in November 2003, a delegation of our Church set off for Moscow and was received by his Holiness Patriarch Alexis, first for a private conversation, and then to meet with some members of the Synod. At these first meetings the Patriarch clearly defined the attitude of the Russian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate to the Russian Church Abroad by saying, “You are of the same flesh and blood as the Russian Church and the Russian people.” In May 2004 there followed the visit of our First Hierarch, Metropolitan Laurus, to Russia together with a large delegation. During this visit the major issues were outlined on which the negotiating commissions of both churches were to develop joint documents with suggested ways to resolve the misunderstandings and the opposing views.

These in brief are the canonical and historical foundations for the current process of negotiations.
The commissions have met six times in different places. Sub-committees have been set up on the canonical position of clergymen who have changed jurisdiction and on the question of possible further development of our relations with the Ukrainian Church. It is understood that the members of neither commission can claim to represent the full range of views of the entire Church.

From my experience as chairman of our commission, I would like to share my impressions of the negotiation process and some thoughts about it. From the very first meetings it became clear that the experience – both in the Church and in society – of both clergy and lay people on either side of the Iron Curtain had been very different. If we want to approach the problems with pastoral sensitivity, we have to take into account the different perceptions of people who have lived under a totalitarian system and those who have lived in freedom. This difference has its effect on later generations. The perceptions of people living under different regimes and in different conditions will inevitably have been different. But even those who have lived in identical conditions can view things differently. People who have been forced to take part in particular events or who have been exposed to particular ways of thinking frequently look at things in a totally different way than those who have not been fated to take part in such activities. There are very many differences of degree here.

During the negotiations it soon became obvious that we cannot, as a result of the differences of experience of the two parts of the Russian Church, resolve all the perplexities and misunderstandings instantaneously.

During the negotiation process we can only hope to reach a mutually acceptable evaluation of those events which interest us. It is doubtful whether a process of negotiation has ever, throughout the course of human history, led everyone to full agreement about all the issues. But if there are no fundamental disagreements, we can easily live together in the one body of the Church with those specific individual features which distinguish a given individual or a given society. We are all too ready to discuss what divides us, or has divided us, from the clergy in Russia, and to talk about the differences in Church practices in Russia and abroad, but at the same time we often forget that we can point to far more differences in the life of our parishes in Europe compared to those in Australia or America, or even in Germany compared to those in France or England. If we are so determined to emphasize the things that can divide us, we will never come to unity. But if we are prepared to humble ourselves, let the will of God be accomplished for us, then we can obtain unity in the Body of the Lord without giving way or compromising on any fundamental matters of principle. The end of the negotiation process cannot be called a “victory” for either side. It can only be called a victory for that truth that we are prepared to confess together.

The agreed-upon documents we have put together do not reflect the often intense, heated debate that lead up to them. But undoubtedly, in many passages it will be possible to detect which side had contributed a particular idea of expression. It would be naive to expect full agreement on all points. But the very fact that documents of this kind have come into being testifies to the presence of good will on both sides, and most particularly of the desire to overcome our disagreements and achieve Church unity. Having myself been involved in the work which has resulted in our two commissions formulating these documents, I can only regret that each person present here today has not had the opportunity to follow the same path. It has taught us a great deal. We have come to see how different can be the way people perceive one and the same thing, and how much effort has to be made just to understand the position of the other side. But at the same time, we were often amazed at how easily and quickly we managed to find a common language in many areas.

From a pastoral perspective we feel that what is now important is not so much to condemn the mistakes and falls of the past, as to prevent them being repeated. Those who demand an absolute condemnation or anathema of a particular form of behavior or of an individual forget that the representatives of the other side may evaluate given events quite differently to the critics or the opposition at the time the events occurred or to other present day members of the Church in Russia and abroad. It is true that the final documents do not reflect a clear and unambiguous condemnation of the declaration of Metropolitan Sergius or his Church policies. Evidently the time for a sober and dispassionate evaluation of this has not yet come. But it is more important, in our view, that the Council in the year 2000 adopted the “Social Concept” which gave a detailed exposition of what is not permissible for a Christian in conditions of a dictatorship.

If we wish to perpetuate the division that has come about between the two parts of the Russian Church, then we should, as some people demand, insist on an unswerving fulfillment of those demands that we put forward in the past: a clear and unambiguous condemnation of Sergianism, a complete and final renunciation of any participation in the ecumenical movement, and so on. But this would mean ignoring the spiritual and psychological condition of the other side. The representatives of the Church in Russia, taking a similar position, could on their part demand blind submission from us: if we consider ourselves a part of the Russian Church then naturally we should submit to the ecclesiastical authorities in a country which is now free. Here the whole process would have run aground, and we would have gone our separate ways after a short time, and most likely it would have been once and for all, or at least for a very long time. If at the Seventh Ecumenical Council even the iconoclasts were treated with extreme “economia,” then in our time we see no other way.

What I have said so far about perceptions and points of view should in no way be understood as meaning that all values are relative. It is understood that while there may be many points of view, only one of them represents the truth. This one true point of view and one true opinion belongs to Him who is Truth Itself—to Christ. Can we claim to have understood “what is the mind of Christ” (Rom. 11, 34)? We can only pray to the Lord that He will guide us into His Truth.

Why does the thought of the rapprochement with the Church in Russia cause so much anguish and disturbance to many children of our Church? In my view there are just two main reasons for this: fear and lack of trust. Fear in the face of changes to our life (and changes will happen nevertheless, whether we agree to the rapprochement or refuse it) and lack of trust for our partners in the negotiations. Many people simply do not believe hierarchs of the MP, who during the Soviet period collaborated one way or another with the Soviet regime. They do not believe that they will carry out the terms of the agreements they have signed—in Soviet times documents of this kind never guaranteed that the agreements would be fulfilled. Many people simply dislike particular individuals in the upper echelons of the MP. All of this would be correct and justified if we were talking about negotiations between two worldly organizations or collectives. But the life of the Church is primarily a mystical life. If, for example, somebody does not like a priest, this does not mean that one should not confess to this priest and receive communion from him. Hostility is considered a man's personal sin, but the sacrament is mystically accomplished. If a bishop or priest personally dislikes one of his brother clergymen, this does not mean that communion between them should be broken off. The Church as the Body of Christ is the principal sacrament or mystery, the one mystery which encompasses all others—the mystery of Christ, as the ancient Christians understood it. (It is well known that the doctrine of the seven sacraments is borrowed from the Latin West). In this Divinely-ordained spiritual community and communion of the members of the Church between themselves and at the same time with Christ, the Head of the Church, there is no place for fear and mistrust. Fear, suspicion and hostility relate to the sphere of the soul, the human psyche, which, according to the Holy Fathers, is a plaything for the forces of darkness, and all reasoning based on such feelings and thoughts is not “from above, but is earthly, sensual, devilish” (James 3, 15).

Let us stop and think where we would be if Christ judged us with the same judgment that we use to judge our brothers. But the Lord Christ came to earth to save sinners, not the righteous. He drew publicans and harlots to Himself, healed lepers and the possessed, while among us many demand that the sick man should heal himself before the physician begins his treatment. Would it not be better for us to be healed together of all the wounds which we have suffered during the painful period of fratricide, hatred of Christ, internal strife, feuding, hatred, mistrust and unbelief?

I am convinced that unity, whether in society, in marriage or in a monastery, just as in the Body of the Church, is not a state, but a task on which each of us has to work hard all our lives. Our perception of the current situation, and our decision to enter or not to enter into communion with the whole fullness of the Russian Church and take upon us a responsibility for the path it follows in the future, will demonstrate whether or not we are capable of living according to the Gospel. The Apostle's words: “I beseech you, brethren, by the name of Our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions (in Greek, “schismata”) among you; but that ye be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment” (I Corinthians 1:10) require of us that we should all unite our souls to the Conciliar [ soborniy ] soul of the Church. The Soul of the Church, in the divinely wise thought of our Abba Fr Justin Popovic, is boundless and unlimited, since this Soul is eternal, that of the God-Man. In it there is always a place for every Christian soul. And this soul grows, taking into itself all the infiniteness of the divine-human existence.

The human soul, united to the conciliar soul of the Church, receives the divine-human qualities of Love, Truth, Righteousness and Eternity as something of its own, it lives by them and develops by their measures. This soul does not lose its independence, or its uniqueness, even though it is rooted in one and the same understanding and thought. This should be remembered especially by those who are afraid that the Church Abroad may lose its own special character in the event of its entering into communion with the Church in Russia.

The divine-human mind is so unlimited, that it gives freedom to any human mind which strives towards union with Christ. Here each mind in its own way becomes endless, unlimited, immortal and eternal. In the conciliar mind of the Church it finds its immortality and its eternity.

This may seem unattainable for us. But in fact the state that is unattainable and unfathomable for us is attained through our constantly humbling our mind and wisdom before the conciliar wisdom of the Church. We do not thereby renounce our own inimitable personality, but we renounce all that is sinful, everything that isolates and destroys this personality.

Whoever does not humble their soul, their heart and their thoughts before the Conciliar Soul of the Church will inevitably fall into individualism, separating and isolating themselves from God, from the Church and from their neighbor. We see examples of this in those people who have departed from us into various schisms.

Limited, proud human wisdom emphasizes its imagined virtues: “I am of Paul, and I of Apollos, and I of Cephas, and I of Christ (I Cor. 1,12). This is the teaching of secular philosophy, which kills everything Divine in man. By its standards, man is the measure of all that exists. This leads to separation, divisions and wars.

For the Christian, only Christ is the measure of all things. It is He who unites all, and grants us to be grounded in the same understanding and the same mind.

When do isolation and schisms arise? It is when some group declares itself to be the only bearer of Church righteousness and truth, while all others are apostates. Now we have before us the sad example of people who have recently left us, thinking themselves to be the last defenders of True Orthodoxy. There is also the example of the Greek Old Calendarists, who in their undiscerning “acrivia” have driven away many of their own supporters. Suppose for a moment that we really do possess the Truth and are its ultimate arbiters. Would we, with our lukewarmness and negligence, being accustomed to comfort of soul and body, being opinionated and with all our other infirmities, be able to stand firm in that truth, being cut off from the life giving energy of the Conciliar Orthodox Church? Who of us could emulate St Mark of Ephesus or St Maximus the Confessor? Let each of us look into their own soul and see if the words Christ said to the Angel of the Church of Laodicea are not more applicable to us: “Because thou sayest I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing, and knowest not that thou art wretched and miserable and blind and naked” (Revelations 3:17) Is it not time to “anoint our eyes with eyesalve,” that we may see (Revelations 3:19)?

If at this fateful moment we do not resolve in favour of unity, we will be abusing the meaning of Ukase No 362 and the name of the Russian Church. For thus we will be showing that we do not desire to share its fate at the moment when it is rising from the ashes. And this will mean that we will, although very much later than they, follow the same path taken by the French Archdiocese and the American Metropoliate when they departed from the path of our fathers. If our ancestors in the western districts of Russia in the 18th and 19th centuries had taken this path, the Russian Empire would never have been united either in its confession of faith or as a state.
Before us stands a fundamental question: do we want to give an account of our independent development and our activity over 80 years and account for ourselves to future generations? In the physical sense the responsibility of contemporary humanity to our descendents extends far into the future, because today technology gives us the ability to foster a more humane way of life or to completely destroy life on the earth. Our spiritual responsibility as members of the endless and eternal Body of Christ is far more awesome: it is not just limited to our own time, to our own dioceses and parishes; it extends beyond the limits of physical time and space, beyond the limits of this sensual world into completely other worlds.

We are faced by the question: should we continue to crucify Christ, to tear apart his unsewn robe, or should we offer a living sacrifice for the sake of the unity of His Body?

Are we capable and are we ready to answer before the fullness of the Russian Church and the Russian people and before Russian Church history and, in the final analysis, before the Dread and impartial judgment of the Lord?

Not in pride is our strength, but in our humility hath the Lord remembered us (Psalms 135:23).

Translated from the Russian by Protodeacon Christopher Birchall