MOSCOW: July 2, 2008
Epistle of the Holy Sobor of Bishops to the Clergy, the Honorable Monastics and All the Faithful Children of the Russian Orthodox Church
On June 27, 2008, the Council of Bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church addressed an Epistle to the whole of the Russian Orthodox Church:
Beloved in the Lord—most honorable father priests, right honorable deacons, monks and nuns beloved in God, pious layfolk—faithful children of our Holy Mother, the Russian Orthodox Church!
The Holy Sobor of Bishops, which met between 24 and 29 June, 2008, in the city of Moscow, addresses to all of you the Apostle's words of greeting: "Grace [unto you], mercy, and peace, from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord" (II Timothy 2:1).
The present Council of Bishops has been marked by a symbolic date. This year marks 1,020 years from the time when, in accordance with God's will, through the labors of Saint Vladimir the Great, Prince of Kiev, our ancestors accepted Holy Orthodoxy and were numbered among the people of God in Kiev's baptismal font.
Although more than a thousand years has passed since Rus' converted to Christianity, the goals of the Church of Russia have not changed. As in previous centuries, it is called to sanctify and transform this world, leading it into unity with its Lord and Savior, producing within human society the fruits of the vivifying activity of the Holy Spirit: "love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance" (Galatians 5:22-23).
Despite all trials and temptations, people are searching for God, sometimes without even being aware of it; and the third millennium, like all of previous history, reveals to us the unsurpassed value of the glad tidings of Christ.
The present Holy Council of Bishops has, as a sign of the victory of Christ, glorified for veneration throughout the whole Church locally revered saints who have been canonized earlier: saints who lived in various times and in various places, yet who together reveal to the world the triumph of the Gospel tidings that the risen Savior has trampled down sin and death. These are: the holy Hierarch Anthony (Smirnitsky) of Voronezh, the holy Hierarch John (Maximovich) of Shanghai and San Francisco, and the venerable Abbess Juliana and the Nun Eupraxia of Moscow.
This year also marks another memorable date: 90 years since the martyrdom of the Imperial Family. Rendering honor to the Holy Royal Passion-bearers, we should all immerse ourselves in the veneration of their struggle of strength and courage, and, seeing how they opposed evil with meekness and humility, we should imitate their faith (Hebrews 13:7). We are likewise convinced that today's society and state should make a moral evaluation of the crime committed in 1918.
The fellowship of the episcopate, clergy and flock which has become possible thanks to the re-establishment of the unity of the Church of Russia last year, is a good example of mutual support and brotherly love. May the joy and spiritual benefit found in common labors and prayers serve as a pledge and a foundation for the further, unshakable unity of the Church against all the temptations and divisions instigated by the enemy of the human race, who tries to introduce schism into the one Body of Christ. Our Church embraces people of various nationalities, generations and cultures. Many of them have differing views on various aspects of Church life. However, we must not forget the words of the Savior: "That they all may be one; as Thou, Father, art in Me, and I in Thee" (John 17:21). Let neither national borders, nor human distinctions, nor the differences of opinions natural among Christians, separate us. The holy Apostle Paul writes: "Let all your things be done with charity" (I Corinthians 16:14). Let all our discussions, and our whole life, be imbued with the spirit of brotherly, Christian love.
The path which all of us must tread to follow the Lord and Savior is a thorny path, which demands that the disciples of Christ stand firmly in the Faith. The divine Truth is not always readily accepted by the world, which lies in sin. According to the words of the Scriptures: "We preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumbling-block, and unto the Greeks foolishness" (I Corinthians 1:23).
The concept of human rights has become one of the main considerations when the laws and policies of states are formulated. Lately, this concept is being used to justify sin and to diminish the role of religion in the life of society, to deprive people of the possibility of being able to live according to their faith.
The Council has set forth the Orthodox view of this problem, approving "The Bases of the Teaching of the Orthodox Church on the Dignity, Freedom and Rights of Man." This document speaks of the inseparability of human rights from moral values and the responsibility of the person before God and his fellow man.
Orthodoxy is not, by its very nature, an ideology, nor a form of culture, nor yet a slogan on the banner of any political power whatever, but is the image of life in Christ, according to the words of the Gospel: "I am the Way, the Truth and the Life" (John 14:6).
We must remember that the Christian in called to seek first "the kingdom of God and His righteousness" (Matthew 6:33), and to conduct his activity in the world in accordance with such an understanding of the goal of the Christian life.
Holding fast to the immutable principles of the Gospel, the Church remains steadfast in its ministry and foreign to all possible extremes. The pastors and the children of the Church ought not to indulge in self-isolation or to avoid the challenges posed to Orthodoxy by our times; nor must it adopt a position of silent collusion with "the spirit of this world" (I Corinthians 2:12), lest we become subject thereto.
The Council of Bishops calls all the people of God to oneness of mind, steadfastness in the Faith, and life according to the Gospel, that, looking to this, all may glorify the heavenly Father (Matthew 5:16).
With paternal love the Council addresses itself to those Orthodox Christians who have not been able to overcome the temptation of schism and find themselves outside the bosom of the Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church, having followed schismatic teachers. Fulfilling the commandment of the Savior that the penitent be forgiven, the Church is prepared to clasp to its bosom with meekness and humility all who, having rejected spiritually destructive fellowship with schismatics, have recourse with repentance to its maternal protection.
For the preservation of the unity of the Church, of peace, concord and ecclesiastical discipline, the Council has reinstituted the Ecclesiastical Court, which is called upon to preserve the purity of the Faith, canonical order, and the inviolable nature of the moral principles of Orthodoxy.
Let us pray that all of us may with our whole soul be filled with an understanding of the will of God, "in all wisdom and spiritual understanding; that [w]e might walk worthy of the Lord unto all pleasing, being fruitful in every good work, and increasing in the knowledge of God" (Colossians 1:9-10).
We address to you, dear fathers, brethren and sisters, words of joy and hope: "The God of peace, Who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant, make you perfect in every good work to do His will, working in you that which is well-pleasing in His sight, through Jesus Christ; to Whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen" (Hebrews 13:20-21).