"Now 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 among you; but that ye be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment" (I Corinthians 1:10).
In the days before the Nativity of Christ, during the festive time when the Christian world awaits the arrival of Christ the God-Man, we gathered for our Diocesan Assembly in Geneva, under the light of the Cross of the Lord, to which our Cathedral is dedicated.
Let us remember that the incarnation of the Divine Word was for Him the first cross, when, for our sake and for the sake of our salvation, He "but made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant" (Philippians 2:7), and for this reason let us meet His love and prepare ourselves properly, that is, through prayer, participation in divine services, through fasting, especially strictly on the Eve of the Nativity, and through partaking of the Holy Mysteries on the very day of the Nativity of Christ.
During these holy days, we remember the words of the last Nativity Epistle of the father of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia, Metropolitan Anthony: " I hope that upon the arrival of the joyful days of the Nativity and Epiphany, the rays of Christian hope will once more shine in the hearts of the faithful, shine through their sinfulness… especially now, when one can hope that our entire flock in the diaspora can glorify the Born Savior with one mouth and one heart . " These words refer to the reconciliation of all the parts of the Russian Church that were abroad, confirmed by the joint celebration of the Divine Liturgy by Metropolitan Anthony, Metropolitan Evlogii, Metropolitan Theophilus and Metropolitan Anastassy in Belgrade in November 1935. It is noteworthy that the appeal of the four metropolitans ends with the following words: " Pray without ceasing for our now-suffering Mother Church, kiss her wounds and beseech the Lord that He grant her relief and reunite us as quickly as possible with her, though we have never separated ourselves in spirit . "
This clearly shows that our bishops' striving towards ecclesiastical peace is not a novelty, some sort of "new course." Also, our Western European bishops—Bishop Nathaniel, St John of Shanghai, Bishop Leonty—fought for reconciliation abroad , considering, in their appeal of 1952, that the troubles arose from a " feeble awareness of the need to preserve our church unity."
If those efforts, unfortunately, lacked success, then the emancipation of the Church in Russia from the godless state has given us the possibility to express our devotion to the unity of the Body of Christ. In Russia, indeed, the godless state has been abolished, but her bitter consequences remain, which must be immediately healed without delay, while the desire for this still exists in Russia. Let us remember that in accordance with the Regulations approved by our Council of Bishops in 1920, headed by Metropolitan Anthony, the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia " is self-governing… until the extermination in Russia of the atheist government ." This is why the long-awaited day of ecclesiastical reconciliation with our brethren in Russia, expressly desired by all the hierarchs of Russia Abroad in 1935, has now apparently become possible. Over recent years, many circumstances and efforts are enabling this.
The following question can be posed: What does this mean for the beleaguered Western European Diocese of the Russian Church Abroad? We can refer to the oft-repeated citation from Revelations (3:11): " hold that fast which thou hast ." We must hold to that which we have both spiritually and administratively. In the spiritual sense, this means, in the words of Archbishop Nathaniel uttered in the 1950's, that "[W] e, the part of the Russian Church that is abroad, stand in the truth. And we must fulfill our sacred duty with regard to the Russian Church and the Russian people. We must carefully preserve the treasure we inherited from centuries of history: the untainted piety of our people, the spiritual and material property of the Russian Church found outside the borders of Russia ." In fact, the spiritual state of the Russian people is today a global question, and maybe for us, from a pastoral point of view, is the most important one. This also means that we do not intend to depart from our positions of principle with regard to the World Council of Churches and the ecumenical movement.
In an administrative sense, the Statutes of our Western European Diocese, registered with the prefecture, state, in their original French version of 1932: " Le Diocèse conservant l'union spirituelle avec l'Eglise Patriarchale en Russie, est soumis à l'autorité épiscopale de l'Archevêque des Eglises Orthodoxes Russes en Europe Occidentale et l'autorité supérieure du Synode et du Concile des Evêques de l'Eglise Orthodoxe Russe à l'étranger. Le dit Synode réside actuellement à Sremski-Carlovci (Yougoslavie) " ["The Diocese preserves its spiritual union with the Patriarchal Church in Russia, and is subject to the episcopal authority of the Archbishop of the Russian Orthodox Churches in Western Europe and the higher authority of the Synod and Council of Bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad. This Synod currently resides at Sremski Karlovci (Yugoslavia)"]. It was confirmed with slight amendment in 1955 by St John, and in 1992, the same text was used by Archbishop Anthony of blessed memory. The Statute succinctly determines our status: " Le diocèse, conservant l'union spirituelle avec l'Eglise Russe , sans être soumis à son autorité administrative, est soumis à l'autorité de l'archevêque de l'Eglise Orthodoxe Russe à l'Etranger en Europe Occidentale, soumis lui-même à l'autorité du Synode et du Concile des Evêques de l'Eglise Russe à l'Etranger, résidant actuellement à New York" ["The Diocese, preserving its spiritual union with the Russian Church , without being subjected to its administrative authority, is subject to the authority of the archbishop of the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad in Western Europe, who is subject himself to the authority of the Synod and the Council of Bishops of the Russian Church Abroad currently residing in New York"].*
The above is confirmed by our own tradition abroad and does not contradict the Act of Canonical Communion approved by the Synods of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia and the Moscow Patriarchate, which states:
1. That the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia… remains an indissoluble, self- governing part of the Local Russian Orthodox Church.
2. That the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia is independent in pastoral, educational, administrative, management, property, and civil matters, existing at the same time in canonical unity with the Fullness of the Russian Orthodox Church.
Canonical unity is a necessity. Archbishop Anthony of Geneva of blessed memory said the following at the III All-Diaspora Council in Jordanville in 1974: " Through the example of our First Hierarchs, we too must carefully preserve the delicate threads which bind us with the Orthodox world, " since " spiritual life may only exist with an organic bond with the Universal Church; should this bond break, Christian life will dry up," as Hieromartyr Hilarion (Troitsky) stressed.
If our inability to commune with the clergy of the Moscow Patriarchate over the course of almost 90 years was justified by the words of St John of Shanghai: " For the Church administration, it is against its nature to be dependent upon a state which places as its goal the destruction of the Church and faith in God itself, " then today the conditions of church life in Russia have clearly changed fundamentally, and these changes are already bearing their fruit, which provide the opportunity for a different, now-peaceful communion in Christ. For ten years we have gradually prepared ourselves, and our communion with the Universal Church will be manifested now not solely through the Serbian Orthodox Church.
The enemy of mankind "scattereth," while we must "gathereth" (Matthew 12:30), for the enemy of mankind tries in every way to turn us away from the Church, and, consequently, from our salvation. By separating from the Church, forming groups which do not commune with each other, some follow the lead of those of whom St Theophan the Recluse says: " They have dissent everywhere… and do not commune with one another. Where is the one Church of Christ? What sort of Body of the Church is this, where all the members have fallen away and scattered in different directions? How can one say that the one true Divine Pastor is their Pastor? " In the words of St John Chrysostom, " The Church is established not so that thosed who gather within her become divided, but that the divided come together." That is why we fervently call upon those who have broken away to heed the conciliar voice of the Church, and, in the words of St John, " create, and do not destroy."
For those who feel bewilderment, we resort to the words of the Serbian Saint Nicholas: " Let us with full trust in the Savior fulfill the duties lain upon us and not fret over what is or could have been. A droplet of prayer is worth more that a sea of anxiety. It is especially idle to despair over the Divine Church… If the helmsman of the Church were a mortal, it would capsize from the storms, but her Helmsman both then and now is the omnipotent Spirit of God."
And so, let us desire and accept with all our being the reestablishment of Eucharistic communion with the Russian Orthodox Church, in May 2007, should God grant it. This will be a victory for the Church of Christ over the forces of darkness which strove to destroy her. May the God of love and mercy help us preserve in the future that what was given to us by our Great Hierarchs towards the good of our Western European Diocese, strengthened by the unity of the Russian Church.
May the God-Child help us in these days of the Feast of the Nativity of Christ to strengthen our unity of spirit.
Geneva, December 14/27, 2007
+ Bishop Michael of Geneva and Western Europe
+ Bishop Ambroise (Vevey-Lausanne)
The clergy and lay delegates of the Diocese of Geneva and Western Europe.
* The first text of 1932 was signed by Metropolitan Seraphim (Loukianoff) of blessed memory, administering the Metropoliate District at that time. The 1955 text is in effect today, which was confirmed under St John of Shanghai.