NEW YORK: August 3, 2010
The Synod of Bishops Sends an Open Letter to the Clergymen of the South American Diocese Who Left the Russian Church Abroad
The Synod of Bishops has received your letter dated June 1/14, 2010, addressed to the Ruling Bishop of the South American Diocese, His Grace Bishop John, with copies to His Eminence Metropolitan Hilarion, First Hierarch of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia, several members of our Synod, and to Hierarchs of Local Orthodox Church which minister to the flock in South America. In your letter you express your disagreement with the suspensions imposed upon you by ukase of His Grace Vladyka John.
Your letter both gladdened and disheartened us. It gladdened us because you still deemed it wise to address His Grace Bishop John of Caracas and South America, who imposed the suspension upon you. Yet you characterize these suspensions as “invalid,” and you refuse to recognize Bishop John’s Hierarchal authority over the diocese entrusted to him. But if that is the case, why address a letter to him at all? From whom are you asking blessing? If you truly assume that Vladyka John’s ukase and his suspensions do not apply to you, then why did you not simply disregard it?
This means that your pastoral consciences, thank God, are unsettled. They not only have not died--may the Lord deliver you from that—but your consciences live on, despite maybe even your own wishes, and they respond to the voice of God which leads you to your senses. This is what troubles you, and what grants us hope that you will recover your powers of reason.
But we are disheartened by the angry stubbornness with which you seek—yet do not find—justification for your actions.
But this only attests to your alarming spiritual state. Consequently, how are we to know if our answer will bring you any benefit?
We will attempt to respond to all the misunderstandings you expressed.
What are these “various,” as you put it, Holy Canons “which have no relation to your situation,” but are the basis upon which His Grace Vladyka John executed his decision?
You doubtless know the 15th rule of the First and Second Council of Constantinople: “So that if any presbyter or bishop or metropolitan dares to secede from communion with his own patriarch and does not mention his name… in the divine mystagogy, but before a synodical arraignment and his [the patriarch's] full condemnation, he creates a schism, the Holy Synod has decreed that this person be alienated from every priestly function…These rules, therefore, have been sealed and ordered concerning those who on the pretext of some accusations against their own presidents stand apart, creating a schism and severing the unity of the Church.” Of course, the Holy Fathers of the First and Second Council state directly that those who separate from their Primate “on account of some heresy condemned by Holy Synods or Fathers sever themselves from communion with their president, that is, because he publicly preaches heresy and with bared head teaches it in the Church, such persons as these not only are not subject to canonical penalty for walling themselves off from communion with the so-called bishop” but are “worthy of due honor.”
So our Divinely-inspired Fathers state simply: a clergyman has the right to separate from his bishop in only one instance—if the latter publicly preaches an previously-condemned false teaching (heresy).
Dear fathers, let us look truth in the eye and leave behind falsehood. Many clergymen in your God-saved dioceses were once ordained to the priesthood by Metropolitan Laurus of blessed memory. After the repose of Vladyka Alexander, and in full concord with the Regulations of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia—founded on “various” Holy Canons—he remained, even as First Hierarch, also your own Ruling Bishop. Who among you would dare to say that our meek and God-fearing Vladyka Laurus ever preached any heresy condemned by the Holy Councils anywhere, at any time? And if he did not, then why did you leave him?
Let us boldly continue. Did the late Patriarch Alexy of Moscow and All Russia publicly preach any heresy condemned by a Council? Has the present Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia, elected by the fullness of the Russian Church? Have our present First Hierarch, His Eminence Metropolitan Hilarion, or your Ruling Bishop John disgrace themselves with such preaching? Can you clearly declare what heresy you are talking about? What Ecumenical Council denounced it? And if you don’t have simple and clear response to these questions, would it not be better to admit that you are in error? Just think: it is to your very situation that the thunderous words of the 31 Rule of the Holy Apostles apply (“If any Presbyter, condemning his own bishop, draw people aside, and set up another altar, without finding anything wrong with the Bishop in point of piety and justice, let him be deposed, on the ground that he is an office-seeker”), and the 10th and 11th Rule of the Holy Carthaginian Council, according to which a priest, corrected by his bishop, but through self-conceit, separately offers the sacrifice to God of the Holy Gifts--let him be anathema. And the 14th Canon of the First and Second Council gives the instructions to excommunicate those clergymen who disdain their Bishop, and those Bishops who disdain their Metropolitan. The 39th Canon of the Holy Apostles states: “Let not the presbyters or deacons do anything without the sanction of the bishop.”
Do you not sense in depths of your souls that the suspensions and sanctions listed in these and many other Church Canons apply specifically to the actions you have taken in recent years? Is that why, with such carelessness, you refer to “various Holy Canons” and stubbornly repeat: we have not gone anywhere, we remained in place, that it was you (that is, the Council of Bishops of ROCOR and the overwhelming majority of clergymen and laity) who did? But, dear fathers, this is exactly how all who opposed the Church of Christ, beginning with the Pharisees, and using almost identical words, justified themselves: “We staunchly preserve the testaments of the fathers, our father Abraham, etc. It was He Who departed from our patristic legacy.”
Clergymen who do not teach their flock obedience to the Bishop installed over them are to be excommunicated (Apostolic Canon 36). Have you taught obedience to your parishioners? On the contrary, you have pushed them towards disobedience and rebellion, “insulting” and “speaking evil” of your Hierarchs (Apostolic Canon 55.)
You justify your disobedience by saying that in April 2007, the Council of Bishops offered then-Bishop Agathangel (Pashkovsky) of Odessa to take the widowed cathedra of the South American Diocese. This appointment was accepted only verbally, for three weeks later he declared his departure from the Council of Bishops of ROCOR and established a so-called “VVTsU” [Temporary Supreme Ecclesiastical Authority—transl.]. Obviously, his appointment to the South American Diocese had lost effect. You, as clergymen with seminary educations, cannot fail to understand this. Subsequently, the VVTsU, having performed self-authorized, canonically-impossible “consecrations” (among them the widowed Protopriest Georgi Petrenko, whom you recognize), called itself “the true ROCOR.” As with any self-proclaimed assemblage, further divisions await you; this has already happened with another “true ROCOR,” the infamous “Mansonville church,” which allegedly received the legacy of the late Metropolitan Vitaly.
Today there are five such “successors,” and other “schisms within schisms” are unavoidable: this doubtless progresses, as Church history shows, dating back to Apostolic times.
You also rail at the fact that the Synod of Bishops did not make any attempt to hold dialog with you, to heed your words, and as a result, we “lost” the South American Diocese. As you know, our First Hierarch, His Eminence Metropolitan Hilarion, recently visited your area, together with His Grace Bishop John, whose ukases you feel do not apply to you. Do you recall how you greeted them? Did you wish to heed the words of your own lawful Hierarchs?
Finally, you refer to your appeal to Metropolitan Laurus of blessed memory, with the request that he grant a decree of release, sent in 2006. For ages, there have been certain conditions made by the Church under which such decrees are requested and granted. From that appeal, it seemed that you expected the Metropolitan to give his blessing for you to go into schism. The sole response to such a request, as dictated by Holy Canon, was suspension. But the late Primate decided to remain silent, hoping to give you an opportunity to come to your senses, but you did not understand him.
Now, being outside of the Church, under suspension, you doggedly insist on your “independence,” you choose for your leaders people of your own liking whose hierarchical standing and very episcopacy are canonically flawed. You thereby deprive yourselves—and those who, through their ignorance, belong to your flock—of the most important thing: the Holy Mysteries. Dear fathers, this is sin and it is death. You will answer for every soul on the Dread Day of Judgment. Why, in the name of what are you dooming yourselves and others?
So where is this so-called “true” Church Abroad which you and those whom you consider your bishops comprise? Please open the ROCOR Regulations and read its first paragraph: “The Russian Orthodox Church Abroad is an indissoluble part of the Local Russian Orthodox Church, and for the time until the extermination in Russia of the atheist government, is self-governing on conciliar principles.”
What did our legislators understand as “atheist government”? We are not talking about opposition to Monarchy as a God-given form of government. If that were so, we could not explain our existence in countries where a republican form of government has long been established. The late Bishop Gregory (Grabbe) addressed this point as one of the authors of the Regulation’s text. Atheist government specifically means one which persecutes the Orthodox Church and limits its freedoms.
Persecution of the Orthodox Church in any form whatsoever by the government in Russia today does not exist at all. Naturally, the process of bringing our people to the Church is fraught with many difficulties and obstacles. Of course, we hope that this process gains momentum, that it would become broader and deeper, that it would sweep up more of our brothers and sisters. But you, dear fathers, stubbornly refuse to acknowledge the obvious: by the great mercy of God, the Holy Orthodox Church is being reborn in our Fatherland. This is not about the massive restoration of destroyed churches and the building of new ones. It is not even a matter of the free and ubiquitous preaching of the Word of God. What is most important lies elsewhere: the preaching of the word has found visible, palpable response in the hearts of millions and millions of our compatriots. In the harsh conditions of today’s world, Russia, our Russia, our historic Fatherland, once again remembers the blessed ideals of Holy Rus’. For today’s Russian, becoming “churchified” is not limited to attending church on Sundays and holidays, but is becoming the very essence of daily life. Prayer, efforts to follow Church teaching in every way, even one’s daily schedule, in accordance with Church rules, all of this has become for many people something natural, the only possible way to live, a daily fact. Once again, like at one time in Holy Rus’, when at certain hours, her entire population, from the Grand Duke of Moscow to the poorest peasant in the remote village, would turn to the Lord with words of prayer, morning and evening, just such a coordinated prayerful choir is beginning to resound in Russia today. This is a great and wondrous Divine miracle: the prophesies of St Seraphim of Sarov and St John of Kronstadt are coming true.
And you can see this miracle with your own eyes, if you so desire. We have often pleaded with you: visit Russia, see your brothers and sisters, look upon how through their efforts (often voluntary), monasteries and destroyed churches are being restored, talk to them, try to comprehend this Russia, and the Lord, we believe, will bring you to your senses.
But you have preferred to close your eyes and ears to everyone and everything, drawing from accounts of what is happening from the feeble deductions of the haters of Russia and the Holy Orthodox Church. How is it that you can judge today’s Russia without even visiting? On what basis are you claiming authority to refer to Metropolitans Anthony, Anastassy and Philaret of blessed memory, using them to justify your departure from the Russian Church Abroad? On the contrary, we are convinced that our late Primates, seeing what is happening today in the Russian Church, would follow that path chosen by their humble disciple, Metropolitan Laurus of blessed memory.
Incidentally, the actual father of Vladyka Philaret of blessed memory, His Grace Bishop Dimitry of Khailar, left the emigration and returned to Russia (Soviet Russia!) and joined the Church in the Fatherland. Do you actually believe that Metropolitan Philaret denounced him and deemed him “uncanonical?”
Despite what you say, the reestablishment of canonical communion within the Russian Orthodox Church, in the Fatherland and abroad, that is, the fullness of the Church, has in no way diminished the fullness of our practical autonomy, for it now serves to benefit the entire Local Russian Church. So the ukases which you refuse to recognize come not from the Moscow Patriarchate, but from your direct lawful Hierarchy of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia.
The Metropolitans Anthony, Anastassy and Philaret to whom you refer endlessly, tearfully, prayed for the rebirth of the much-suffering Russian Church. And their prayers have been heard. The Lord calls upon us today to participate in the renascence of Holy Rus’. But you still have not heeded His call, and in justification of yourselves you turn to arguments of old political conflicts which it has long been time to set aside.
“Understand the times!” said St Ignatius (Brianchaninov). Ponder, dear fathers, what our great Church writer meant when he appealed to all of us with these words.
May the Lord speedily grant you wisdom from His Holy Spirit.
(Signatures of the President and members of the Synod of Bishops.)