Protopriest George Lardas
On Sunday 16 February/1 March 1998, I published an open letter in defense of
Archbishop Mark in the controversy that ensued after his publication of "A Ray of Light" describing his talks with his counterpart in the Moscow Patriarchate, Archbishop Theophan. My letter was in response to an open letter by certain clergy, who have since left our church, attacking Archbishop Mark for holding such talks. In it I examined the then-current situation of the Russian Church in light of the historical experience of the Orthodox Church. At the urging of others, I am now republishing it in revised form to take into account the changed situation seven years later. Although I wrote this for another purpose, I hope that this commentary may be of some use to those in our Church who have doubts about the current discussions between the Russian Church Outside of Russia and the Moscow Patriarchate.
I would like to thank Reader Joseph McLellan for his kind assistance, and whose words I use almost verbatim in the sections entitled The Catacomb Church, After World War II, and The Moscow Patriarchate. The patristic quotations in the section entitled Iconoclasm and the Seventh Ecumenical Council are from a translation by his Eminence Archbishop Chrysostomos of Etna, and are used with permission. I take full responsibility for the conclusions reached in this essay, which are not necessarily those of the contributors.
Fr. George Lardas, Rector
On Talks with the Moscow Patriarchate
Fathers and Brethren:
Christ is in our midst! In view of recent discussions with the Moscow Patriarchate, and the strong feelings these have evoked, I thought the following might be helpful. The Russian Church and people have weathered a tremendous storm in the last century, and we as children of the Russian Church are still in the grip of this storm. In the prevailing confusion it is easy to forget that our situation is not without parallels in Church history, and it may be helpful to review a few of these. We notice that often after a major storm, the faithful are divided as to how to deal with the results of a heresy or schism, but eventually peace returns and the divisions of the faithful are healed. We also notice that there are times when Orthodox faithful break communion with each other and remain that way for many years before they are reconciled. Let us look at a few of these cases.
The Donatists and Meletians
After the Roman persecutions had ended, the Church had to deal with the problem of the lapsed, both laymen and clergy. At that time, present at the election and consecration of Caecilianus as bishop of Carthage was a bishop who was a "traditor," one of those who had handed over Church books during the persecutions. A zealot faction, later headed by Donatus, considered this consecration thereby invalid, and formed a separate church, for they would not re-admit as members of the Church any who had apostatized or compromised during the persecutions. At times, the Donatist church was the predominant one in North Africa. Blessed Augustine of Hippo later held debates with them, and won some of them over, and recovered the dominance of the Catholic Church (here I use the word Catholic in its proper sense, of the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church, which is Orthodox in faith and worship). Although more than one local Council was held to discuss the matter of the Donatists, and while it was decided that the presence of a traditor bishop does not thereby invalidate a bishop's consecration, the Donatists continued to exist as a separate church up to the time of the Moslem conquests when Christianity was extinguished in North Africa.
As schismatics, and actually heretics, the Donatist mysteries would not be valid. Yet when groups of Donatists were reconciled to the Church, they were received as clergy without re-ordination and allowed to serve with Catholic clergy.
A similar controversy took place in Egypt, caused by Meletius of Lycopolis, who was also of a rigorist bent. He was opposed by Archbishop Peter of Alexandria. Later, in AD 325, the First Ecumenical Council adjudicated the matter and set the bounds between their respective jurisdictions. However, on the election of Saint Athanasius as Archbishop of Alexandria, Meletius and his followers went into permanent schism as a separate “Church of the Martyrs,” which continued to exist as late as the 8th century.
The common denominator between the Meletians and the Donatists was rigorism in receiving of the lapsed. They rejected the ability of the Church and of God to forgive human weakness and to apply mercy. They rejected the possibility of repentance on the part of those who had erred. Therefore, even though they were right on many things, on this one point they separated from the Church and many were never reconciled. They would never make peace with a Church that had a hierarchy tainted by the presence of bishops who were formerly heretics or schismatics. They became fringe groups with little to say to the body of the faithful, and ceased to be a vessel of spiritual redemption. They had lost the Catholicity of the Church.
Saint Meletius of Antioch
In Antioch, another Meletius was elected Archbishop by a combined Council of the Antiochian Church in AD 360. Included in the membership of the council were bishops who were semi-Arians. His election was opposed by an ultra-Orthodox faction who viewed his consecration as invalid because of the presence of the semi-Arians, and so they took the opportunity of Meletius' exile by the Arian civil authorities to elect another Orthodox Archbishop of Antioch, Paulinus, a man of high moral and spiritual stature. This caused a split of the Orthodox Church of Antioch, and on Meletius' return in 363 there were three archbishops of Antioch, one Arian, and two Orthodox. Meletius later presided over the Second Ecumenical Council in Constantinople in AD 381, and died while the Council was in session. The council passed over the candidacy of his rival, Paulinus, who was still alive, and chose another archbishop for Antioch. The schism continued for another two decades. When Blessed Jerome visited Antioch, he wrote to the Bishop of Rome inquiring with whom to commune. The Pope directed him to the Paulinist group. But despite the fact of his “tainted” election, Meletius is recognized as a Saint of the Orthodox Church and the true Archbishop of Antioch.
Other bishops who are saints of the Church have been consecrated by assemblies that included heretics. Some of these are: Saint Cyril of Jerusalem, Saint Anatolius of Constantinople, and the majority of the Fathers of the Sixth Ecumenical Council.
Iconoclasm and the Seventh Ecumenical Council
Let us now consider the stormy Iconoclast period. Iconoclasm was for two long, extended periods the State Church of the Roman (Byzantine) Empire. At the end of both periods the question was how to reconcile the bishops of the State Church to Orthodoxy. For those who were willing to renounce Iconoclasm, the matter was very simple. They were received as bishops. There was no rebaptism, no re-ordination, not even an extended period of penance. They were received as bishops and remained incumbents of their former sees, for there were few Orthodox bishops left in that Church.
The Seventh Ecumenical Council, under the presidency of Patriarch Saint Tarasius in AD 787 stated, “Many Canonical, Synodal, and Patristic books have been consulted; and they have taught us to accept those returning from heresy, unless there be some evil cause in them,” that is to say that clergy should remain clergy “unless there is some other canonical reason which prevents it.” This was possible because up to the time of the Council these heretics had not been judged by a general Council and their orders were therefore considered valid. When the zealot monastic party objected, the objection was not that they had come from heresy, but over the accusation of simony against some of the bishops received. Saint Tarasius stated that “We should accept those who have been ordained by heretics... because their ordination is from God.” Saint Theodore the Studite, himself a zealot, a confessor, and a champion of the veneration of icons, defended this action of Saint Tarasius, stating that this was not an innovation, because the Holy Fathers acted in this way from of old. He said “If the Metropolitan falls into heresy, it is not the case that all those who are in direct and indirect communion with him are regarded automatically and indiscriminately as heretics,” despite, of course, the fact that in ignoring this situation and the necessity of walling themselves off from such error, “they bring upon themselves the fearful charge of silence.”
The principle followed by the Seventh Ecumenical Council (which indeed is also to be found in the previous six Councils) was that until condemned and expelled from the Church the orders of heretics are valid. The Seventh Ecumenical Council imposed these conditions on the returning bishops: 1) that they no longer confess heresy, 2) that there be no moral impediment to their office (such as simony), 3) that they subscribe to the Faith and the Canons of the Church, and 4) that they not hold communion with heretics.
In AD 861 the First-and-Second Council (Dvukratnyj Sobor) of Constantinople was held under the presidency of Patriarch Saint Photius the Great. Its 15th canon was composed to prevent schisms at that time over the unworthiness of some bishops. It approved separation from the Metropolitan only in the case that he preaches heresy bareheaded in the Church, for thereby one preserves the Church. In characterizing such bishops as pseudo-bishops and pseudo-teachers it did not thereby hold their ordinations invalid, but rather submitted them to the adjudication of a future Council. In the same spirit, Saint Cyril of Alexandria called the heresiarch Nestorius “the most reverend Bishop Nestorius,” while at the same time characterizing him diagnostically as a wolf. For the same reason the Third Ecumenical Council called him “most reverend” and “Kyr” before his synodal condemnation, but after his sentencing as “most impious.”
Another bitter division took place in 1265. Constantinople had been liberated from the Latins the previous year. Because Patriarch Arsenius Autorianus reprimanded Emperor Michael VIII Palaeologus for blinding and banishing his brother and co-emperor, John IV, Emperor Michael had Patriarch Arsenius deposed and exiled. This precipitated a schism which was not healed until 1310, when the remains of Patriarch Arsenius was buried by Patriarch Niphon in the Hagia Sophia. The followers of Arsenius were zealots, and correct in their opposition to the Union of Lyons in 1274. The bishops of the State Church were willing participants in Michael's pro-Latin policy. They were called politikoi because they were politicians, and swayed by worldly considerations. The Arsenites, also called zelotae, included many extremist elements. Yet even not even the repentance of Michael's successor at Arsenius' grave could persuade the extremist Arsenites to be reconciled with the official Church. After 1310 the Arsenite faction eventually faded away, but many died unreconciled to the Church.
A close examination of the various schisms and divisions in the Church will show that the issues never were simple. People chose the paths that they did out of conviction, or out of fear, and by God's mercy some of them were reconciled. There were varying manners and degrees of apostasy, of personal sin, of political circumstance, and of intransigent opposition to the Church. The Church of Christ dealt with heretics and schismatics with severity when the issue was acute, and with condescension and mildness when the crisis was past. In all cases the Church was guided by love of God and love of man. Even the greatest champions of Orthodoxy did not hate those who had gone astray, but sought by all means to bring about reconciliation in truth. The Church has always had in view the care, salvation, and recovery of souls. In other words, heresy and schism have a pastoral dimension as well as a doctrinal and dogmatic dimension. The Church has always been assiduous for the purity of doctrine, but also assiduous for the healing of souls. As the examples of misguided zeal above show, it is possible to be absolutely correct in doctrine and teaching, but without compassion and mercy this correctness separates us from Christ. Our Savior never behaved so.
The Church of Georgia
Another example of reconciliation is the Church of Georgia. For two hundred years the Church of Georgia was out of communion with the Orthodox Catholic Church. It had departed into schism with the Armenian Church on their rejection of the Council of Chalcedon. Yet there remained an Orthodox core in the Church of Georgia, and after a long lapse, Communion was eventually restored. At that time, there was no rebaptism, no rechrismation, and no re-ordination. The Church of Georgia has been solidly Orthodox ever since.
The Bulgarian Schism
Another instructive case is the Bulgarian Schism at the end of the 19th century. Before the schism, Bulgaria was part of the Church of Constantinople, and its hierarchy was mostly Greek, and appointed by the Patriarchate. But the Bulgarians desired their own church, and so seceded from the Patriarchate of Constantinople and declared themselves autocephalous. This autocephaly was not acknowledged by Constantinople, which considered the Church of Bulgaria to be in schism, and separate from the Church. However, the other autocephalous Churches, those of Russia, Serbia, and others, continued to hold communion with both the Church of Bulgaria and the Church of Constantinople. Eventually Constantinople acknowledged the Autocephaly of the Bulgarian Church and restored communion. In this case the Orthodox world considered the matter to be an internal dispute between the two parties, and saw no difficulty in maintaining communion with both. Were the Mysteries of the Bulgarian Church valid? That depends on whom one asked. Not in the eyes of Constantinople during the years of schism. Certainly in everyone else's point of view. And now that is no longer an issue. The manner whereby Bulgaria obtained independence may have been objectionable and uncanonical, but it did not touch the fundamental Orthodoxy of the Bulgarian faithful. Furthermore, this example puts the lie to the neo-Papist claims of the Ecumenical Patriarchate that the criterion of Orthodoxy and grace is union with the Patriarch of Constantinople.
The Church of Constantinople under Turkish Rule
Let us now look at the years of Turkish rule over the Great Church of Constantinople, which are most instructive. This was a terrible period for the Orthodox Church, especially in the decades following the fall of Constantinople to Mehmet II in 1453. Christians were required to wear distinctive clothing to separate them from the Turks. They had to pay a special poll tax not imposed on the followers of Muhammad. In any legal dispute between a Muslim and a Christian, the Christian's word had no standing in a Muslim court. In any village, the most magnificent church building could not be more splendid than the meanest mosque. Reminders of the inferiority of the Christians were part of daily life, and every opportunity was taken to make life hard for those that chose to remain faithful to Christ. The physical prestige of the Church and of Christendom had fallen to an all-time low. Many wavered in their faith. Many were persecuted and martyred. Yet for all that, the wonder of it is that the Faith survived. It is a veritable miracle and mercy of God. The most hated and galling burden was the forcible collection of a quota of young men and boys from each village to be taken away from their parents to be raised as Muslims and fanatical defenders of the Sultan, his crack troops, the Janissaries.
The Church of Constantinople was not free. She was made an instrument of the Turkish government. The Patriarch was made Ethnarch of the Rum Millet (the subject Roman nation), the secular head of his faithful. He was responsible for the good behavior of the Sultan's Orthodox subjects, and sometimes paid for this with his life. The Church administration was entirely subservient to a government that was hostile to the Church. If the Patriarch displeased the Sultan, he could and did command the Holy Synod to depose him and the Synod obediently complied. The Sultan chose candidates acceptable to himself, and commanded the Holy Synod to elect them, and they did. At each election the Crown imposed a tax (bribe) of enormous price, and the new patriarch had no choice but to pass it on to the faithful in the form of special taxes. Sometimes the Crown installed and replaced a series of patriarchs in a short period of time for no other reason than to squeeze the Church for more money. Indeed, several patriarchs served more than one term, alternating with a rival. The costs were recouped by forcing candidates to the episcopacy and other Church offices to pay for their appointment. All this notwithstanding, the Canons that subject both the buyer and seller of Church office to the penalty of deposition, and the Canons forbidding the appointment of Church office by the secular authority (let alone, by infidels). These costs were eventually passed on to the faithful. And the money ultimately went to a hostile government.
Even Saints of the Church did not dare to criticize the oppressor directly unless they were courting martyrdom. Those who minded their own business and made a point of not offending their Turkish neighbors were sometimes by envy or circumstance put to the test of faith. Some stood and became martyrs, others quailed and apostatized. It should be noted, however, that as time passed, the situation of the Church under the Turkish government improved somewhat, and the later centuries were not as bad as the earlier ones.
To an outsider it must have seemed that the Orthodox Faith was a dead religion, that there was no vitality in it, that its clergy was venal, corrupt, and ignorant. Yet no one today doubts that the Church of Constantinople was a vessel of Grace, had Apostolic Succession, and valid Mysteries. In spite of all her tribulations, she nourished within her bosom many Saints, not just Martyrs, but scholars, and pastors, and ascetics. And the Church of Constantinople, until the end of the first decade of the 20th century, was a pillar of Orthodoxy.
The Church of Russia after Peter the Great
Likewise, the Church of Russia fell under the power of the State in the time of Peter the Great (albeit one that was nominally Orthodox, and not atheistic). An anomalous Church organization was imposed on her, and the Patriarchate was permitted to lapse, and the Church was made an arm of the government. The Church of Russia became quite open to influence from the West, and performed extraordinary economies. An example that comes to mind is the reception of Roman Catholic (both Uniate and Latin) clergy without Baptism, without Chrismation, without Ordination, and without an explicit profession of faith, but only by vesting and serving. Yet for all that, the Russian Church gave birth to many Saints.
The Catacomb Church
Coming to the last century, let us look at what happened to the Church of Russia. Well known is how the All-Russian Sobor of 1917 restored the Patriarchate and elected Saint Tikhon Patriarch. Also well known is how he withstood the unprecedented assault on the Church, the martyrdom and decimation of the clergy and the faithful, the declaration of Metropolitan Sergius and the emergence of the Catacomb Church.
What is not well known, however, is what happened subsequently. Just as the histories heretofore sanctioned by the Moscow Patriarchate make it seem as though there is one unbroken unity from Patriarch Tikhon to Patriarch Sergius to Patriarch Alexy I to Patriarch Pimen to Patriarch Alexy II, ignoring all the unpleasant details on the way, so also many here seem to think that the Catacomb Church had a continuous existence and that it still exists today in some reasonable form as it was when it came into being. World War II and its aftermath drastically changed the situation. Many of the people who were confessors during the terror of the 1920's and 1930's, people who suffered in prisons and concentration camps and had great spiritual and moral authority, those who had been non-commemorators and anti-Sergianists before the war—most of these people who survived were united to the Moscow Patriarchate after the war. After that, the non-commemorating opposition basically ceased to exist in any form that had meaning to the body of the faithful in Russia.
After World War II
What was the difference? Before the War, the policy of the State was the uncompromising extirpation of the Church, its total destruction. After the War, the State conceded the limited existence of the Church, and it was difficult, but possible, for the faithful to worship openly. Stalin had begun to use the Church as an instrument of the State, as a vehicle for nationalism in the struggle against Germany. While worship was constrained, and the persecution continued, at least it was not as consistent and thoroughgoing as in the previous decades.
Where the catacomb groups continued to exist, they did so in utmost secrecy, and the departure of most of their members left only the most extreme of temperament in the movement. Consequently, the lack of communication with other Orthodox and the lack of ability to be educated in the traditions of the Church led to the loss of Catholicity and the spread of sectarianism unchecked within the remaining catacomb groups. Most lacked the ability to obtain ordination from a reliably consecrated bishop, and so even the question of sacramental grace and apostolic succession among them is not settled.
While before the War, Metropolitan Kirill of Kazan and other authoritative and principled opposers of Metropolitan Sergius retained the love and respect of the believing Russian faithful (who did not like Sergius and avoided his churches whenever they had another option), after the War the catacomb groups retained virtually no influence on the spiritual life of the Russian faithful. Most of the catacombs had come above ground.
This is not to denigrate the courage and faithfulness of the opposers of Metropolitan Sergius or the faithfulness of the martyrs, or to disparage their witness, this is just historic fact. If one were to hold that the Moscow Patriarchate has some share of the inheritance of the Church of Patriarch Saint Tikhon, perhaps that is because it came to contain most of the catacomb confessors who survived the War, and because it has been responsible for nourishing Russia spiritually for the past 60 years almost single-handedly. One can argue about how good or bad a job they did, but they, and they nearly alone, did it.
One example of a confessor who had been imprisoned and later made peace with the Moscow Patriarchate was the Elder Archimandrite Tavrion, who was praised by our own Metropolitan Philaret. Some of our people raised a controversy over this, considering the Moscow Patriarchate to be without grace, but in the end Metropolitan Philaret was vindicated by the full Sobor of our Bishops and the ones who stirred up the controversy were censured.
The Moscow Patriarchate
Now as to our dealings with the Moscow Patriarchate: the Russian Church Abroad has never declared the Moscow Patriarchate to be without grace and their Mysteries invalid. Those of us who take this view will be hard put to find a single official statement to that effect (in fact there are none). The proof comes in the fact that no Mysteries performed by the clergy or hierarchy of the Moscow Patriarchate are ever repeated or redone by our Church. Priests are received from the Moscow Patriarchate as priests; married couples are not remarried; people are not re-baptized. If a bishop were to come over to our jurisdiction, he would not be re-consecrated. In actual fact we have had such bishops in the past (they have since reposed). And this is true not merely because they keep an Orthodox form of the Mystery.
Now some might point to seeming exceptions to this: perhaps they might know of someone who was baptized by one of our priests. Usually this is because the one baptized is not certain of his baptism (there was no certificate, there were no witnesses, no relative who could vouch for it having been done secretly). In exceptional cases it is because the form of baptism was not observed and the conscience of the one baptized was troubled. In the former case these are conditional baptisms, in the latter it is the correcting of a baptism improperly done, without denying the ability of the Moscow Patriarchate to impart grace. This is, however, exceptional. It was decided at the Sobor of Bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia, held in Lesna, France, in 1994, that we would not redo baptisms performed by the Moscow Patriarchate. This is the decision of our bishops as a whole and has more authority than the opinion of any individual, be he a priest, or even a bishop.
How are we to understand this, in view of the contention that the Moscow Patriarchate is not legitimately constituted, and has allowed itself to become an instrument of the Soviet State? If an Ecumenical Council accepted the ordinations of outright heretics, it is all the more justifiable to accept the Mysteries of the Moscow Patriarchate, which confesses the Orthodox Faith. Metropolitan Sergius was consecrated by legitimate and true bishops, as were those that formed the synod that elected him Patriarch. We may view that election as forced and that council invalid, but at least the bishops who constituted it may be said to have true orders. There was no Council called to anathematize them, to cut them off from the Church. No Council deposed them, therefore they have the Mysteries of the Church, and God works through them for the sake of the faithful. This despite the fact that some of these bishops were unworthy, that many collaborated with the KGB, that some were outright agents and unbelievers. All this means is that despite their unworthiness, God's grace and mercy covered their ministrations to their own condemnation. And most of these have gone on to stand before a Higher Tribunal and now have received their reward according to their deeds. But the Mysteries of the Church are not impaired.
The situation today is different from that in 1928. What was the situation then is no longer the case today. What the Saints have died for is important, but there is now no Diocletian or Marcus Aurelius persecuting the Church in Rome, so there is no reason for us to pattern our daily actions according to the sufferings of the early Roman martyrs. Likewise, it is unreasonable to presume that now, in the 21st century, our actions must be identical to the actions of even holy men and confessors in the early part of the 20th century who lived in very different circumstances. The principles of the life in Christ never change, but their application changes according to our circumstances. To deny that is to deny God's ability to alleviate the suffering of the Russian people and Church, and to mend that which is broken. Do we not believe in God and His ability to do that?
Let us restate the obvious: the Soviet Union no longer exists. There can therefore be no Soviet church. To use that word to describe the Moscow Patriarchate is to imply that they long for the bad old days of Stalinist terror. It is beyond conception that even the most worldly, careerist, and political bishop in the Moscow Patriarchate should desire a return to the nightmare of his childhood. Using the term “Soviet Church” is therefore rhetoric that can only be intended shut off reasonable discussion. The men, both outside and inside the Church, who perpetrated the atrocities that caused the division of the Russian Church are now dead.
Recovery takes time. It is painful and slow, and probably never runs to completion. The Church of Greece still suffers some of the effects of 400 years of Turkish rule. Likewise it is unreasonable to expect the effects of 70 years of communist rule to disappear immediately after the collapse of the Soviet Union. We do not overlook the problems: they may have actively participated in the Ecumenical movement, they may still have senior bishops who are compromised by collaboration with the KGB, in the recent past they may have engaged in shady economic enterprises.
However, while there are problems, there are also signs of hope: parishes are being opened; churches are being returned to use as places of worship; millions of Russians are seeking baptism and a life in the Church; the Church press is printing many spiritually beneficial books (some of them reprinted Jordanville editions); monasteries and convents are being founded. How can we not rejoice in these changes? These changes are not superficial—they are reflected in a better understanding of the Christian life and a desire to lead it among recent emigres from Russia than we have seen in the past.
The mission of the Russian Church Abroad was to preserve the freedom of the Russian Church, to be its conscience and free voice during the terrible persecution of the Russian Church. As such, our Church had no choice but to sever ties with a church administration that had fallen into the hands of the enemy. Let us also not forget that another reason for this separation was so that the leadership of the captive Church would not have to be answerable for the actions of our Hierarchs in freedom. In the subsequent controversies and canonical disputes we have appealed to a future free council of the Russian Church. The founders of our Church had always envisioned our mission as temporary until such a council could be called. At that point we can hope for a reconciliation of the Russian Church as a whole.
I had never thought that I should live to see the end of the Soviet government and the lifting of the persecution of the Church, yet it has taken place. We walled ourselves off from the official church in Russia because it was not free, because through its official acts and pronouncements it was forced to serve a hostile power. We could not sign any declaration of loyalty to a hostile and atheistic government. But now the situation has changed. The time for reconciliation will come too, and we shall live to see it. We would not be true to ourselves if we do not desire this with all our heart.
Conditions for Reconciliation
In the past, in reply to overtures from the Moscow Patriarchate, our Synod of Bishops had stated the conditions on which we would consider reconciliation: 1) Renunciation of the lie that there was no persecution under the Soviet government, and the glorification of the New Martyrs; 2) Renunciation of collaboration with the atheist government (Sergianism); 3) Withdrawal from the Ecumenical Movement and the World Council of Churches; and 4) Removal of unworthy and compromised clergy.
Much progress has been made in the past few years. In their Jubilee Sobor of 2000 the Moscow Patriarchate has glorified the choir of the New Martyrs. In their company they recognize both commemorators and non-commemorators of Metropolitan Sergius as well as the Royal Martyrs. They also have an ongoing commission to examine historical archives very carefully with a view to adding more verified names to the list.
As to the second point, as far as the rank and file of their clergy is concerned, Sergianism is a dead issue. Furthermore, at their Jubilee Sobor, the Moscow Patriarchate officially adopted a resolution entitled "The Basic Social Concept of the Russian Orthodox Church" in which they clearly state that the government has no right to interfere in the internal life of the Church, and that if the State demands anything contrary to Salvation, it is the duty of an Orthodox Christian to oppose the State in this matter. They have recognized the Declaration of Metropolitan Sergius as being of none effect, since it was obtained under extreme duress, and does not reflect the conscience of the Russian Church.
The same Jubilee Sobor adopted The Basic Principles of the Russian Orthodox Church's Attitude to the Non-Orthodox, in which they reject the Branch Theory and concelebration with non-Orthodox, and espouse the proper method of witnessing the Orthodox Faith without violating the Holy Canons. This is also reflected in the Thessalonica Statement of 1998 approved by all the Autocephalous Orthodox Churches, including the Moscow Patriarchate. There is a strong movement in Russia to withdraw completely from the World Council of Churches, and opponents of our reconciliation with the Moscow Patriarchate cannot show proof of continued concelebration with non-Orthodox.
As for the removal of compromised clergy, this will take time. But it is happening. The opening of the KGB files has hastened it. The clergy that are compromised are for the most part elderly, and time will inexorably remove them as they pass on to their reward. It will not take a generation for this to happen.
In view of these positive developments, do we not have an obligation to speak with these people? How can they know what our objections are unless we tell them? To tell them means to speak with them face to face. If they are willing, nay eager, to sit down with us and speak, how can we refuse? As a bearer of the responsibility for the pastoral care of the Russian Orthodox faithful outside of Russia, our Church has an obligation and a duty to speak with those that claim to have it inside Russia. What have we to fear? Do we really think that sitting down and talking with an adversary will confuse our minds? It has been my observation that some of those who condemn the Moscow Patriarchate the loudest have never been to Russia, do not speak Russian, have no stake in the welfare of the people there, and have never suffered from actual persecution. It is easy for us who have not been in those terrible circumstances to criticize, but unless we ourselves have stood the test, we have no right to condemn those that have failed. Perhaps in the test we would have fared even worse. The greater part of the Russian-speaking clergy in our Church desire the reconciliation and reunion of the Russian Orthodox Church.
There are those who maintain that the Moscow Patriarchate is Sergianist, that they are Ecumenist, compromised by collaboration with the KGB, that they do not represent the true Russian Orthodox Church, that Patriarch Alexy and the Hierarchy should repent and step down. What many here do not realize is that this discussion has already taken place in Russia more than ten years ago. Before whom should this Hierarchy repent? To whom should they be answerable? Not to us, but to the Russian people, the people of God who go to church and pray, and try to lead an Orthodox and Christian life. These people have accepted this Hierarchy, these Bishops, and this Patriarch as their unquestioned spiritual authority and Fathers in Christ. It is this Hierarchy that, when it had the freedom to speak its mind, officially and synodically adopted the canonical position that the State must not interfere in the internal life of the Church, it officially and synodically stated that the Orthodox Church is the One True Church and must not be compared with other faiths. It is this Hierarchy that has glorified and celebrates for the Russian people in the homeland the memory of the New Martyrs and asks their prayers. It is this Hierarchy that has renewed itself—more than four-fifths of their clergy, and that includes bishops, were ordained since the collapse of the Soviet Union and have never had dealings with the KGB. Among them are true men of prayer. It is this Hierarchy that we must deal with if we truly care for the good estate of the Russian Church.
I hope that the points I mentioned above serve as sufficient answer to those who oppose the current dialog. I have never been taught by anyone in our Church who has authoritative standing that the Moscow Patriarchate has no grace or that its Mysteries are invalid. The storm is over; Bolshevism has been consigned to the scrap heap of history. The boat is within sight of the harbor. Shall we shipwreck ourselves and hopes for a true reconciliation before the time? Where is our pastoral care for the hundred million souls that constitute the Moscow Patriarchate, and for the future of the Church of Russia? While the storm was raging we provided encouragement to the captive faithful, we prayed for them, we sent them literature, which no one else could do. Shall we now marginalize ourselves and make ourselves irrelevant now that the Russian people have the freedom to speak their mind, or do we still have something to say to them? It will take some time to sort things out, but the question is, Does our situation resemble that at the end of the Iconoclast period, or that of the Donatists, Meletians, and Arsenites?
Now that the storm is past, some have embraced a position our Church has never before held—that the Moscow Patriarchate is without grace and its Mysteries are invalid. These people have lost the Catholicity of the Church and have themselves departed into schism. To embrace that position is to go against the conciliar conscience of the Russian Church Abroad, it is to go against the Patristic experience and pastoral practice of the Church, it is to go against the love that we have for our brethren, who hold the same Faith that we do, and have the same hope of Salvation in our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Having taken that step they have nothing further to say to the Russian people and have become sectarians, just as the Old Believers became sectarians. They no longer have any witness to the Orthodox world.
At the time, some have made much of the tone of Archbishop Mark's "Communique" of 1998 on dialog as that it resembled the vague and meaningless platitudes of the Ecumenical Movement and the New Agers about love. What troubles me about the rhetoric of some of those that have opposed reconciliation is its vituperative, judgmental and peremptory tone. It is motivated by fear—of what? It precludes rational discussion and sometimes stoops to ad hominem attacks. Let us not forget that the very reason the Church exists is love. Our Savior saved us out of His love for us, and He desires that we who are His should be one as He and His Father are one. Not all dialog is betrayal of principle. Some dialog heals. We should be willing to speak with anyone, anywhere, and at any time about the peace of the Church. If we have the truth we cannot be afraid of dialog. Our Salvation comes not from our being Right, while everyone else is Wrong—no! It comes from our union with Christ and with Grace. Nothing can separate us from the love of Christ. The Spirit of God is not the spirit of fear, but the Spirit of love, of adoption to sonship. “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the sons of God.”
I beg your forgiveness if I have offended anyone. Please pray for our Synod of Bishops, and for the peace of the Russian Church. It is especially appropriate to pray for repentance and salvation, both of the Moscow Patriarchate and ourselves, and for our mutual reconciliation. The Prayer for the Salvation of Russia in our Service Book of the Liturgy is most appropriate here: “...Remember all our enemies that hate and wrong us, and render not unto them according to their deeds, but according to Thy great mercy convert them: the unbelieving to true faith and piety, and the believing that they may turn away from evil and do good.... Grant peace and tranquility, love and steadfastness, and swift reconciliation to Thy people, whom Thou hast redeemed by Thy precious Blood...” May God bring to fruition all changes for the good, and thwart all evil actions and intentions.
Yours in Christ,
Fr George Lardas, Rector
St Nicholas Russian Orthodox Church
Sunday 20 June / 3 July 2005
Second after Pentecost
All Saints of Russia
Hieromartyr Methodius Bishop of Patara