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Priest Serafim Gan

On the Vital Question

Much is said and written now on the beginning process of "reunification" or "union" of our Russian Church Abroad with the Russian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate, despite the fact that many of the questions discussed on the level of the church committees must still be decided on a Conciliar level. At the present time, there are various points of view within our church on dialog with the Moscow Patriarchate—from complete approval to extreme condemnation and rejection. The problem is not that clergy or laypersons disagree amongst themselves—for Apostle Paul said: " For there must be also heresies among you, that they which are approved may be made manifest among you" (1 Cor 11:19) —but that those on one side accuse those on the other of betrayal and apostasy, which destroys the unity of the Church. Some opponents of rapprochement Òplay the betrayal/apostasy cardÓ in their struggle against the Hierarchy, sabotaging the authority of the First Hierarch and the Synod of Bishops, leading the uninformed against the decisions of the ecclesiastical leadership and even incite children of the Church to embark on the fatal path of division and schism. It is precisely upon this path that the "Suzdalites," "Lazarites," and "Mansonville group" entered, accusing the hierarchy of our Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia of heresy and apostasy, and unlawfully creating their "alternative" church groups. These groups thereby attempt to justify their canonically-slippery position. The majority of clergymen and of the laity of our Church, thank God, trust in Him, and in His Eminence Metropolitan Laurus, who is for us is an example of faith, piety and humility, and in the Council of Bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia.

Many have begun to speak of conciliarity [sobornost'] as well. Some feel that conciliarity means democracy, where problems are resolved by a "majority of votes." Also, the meaning of "conciliar consciousness" [sobornoye soznaniye], which exists in the entire Church, is confused with "conciliar leadership" [sobornoye upravlenie], which is given to the hierarchy. One hears accusations against our bishops that they "violate" Church dogma and "tread upon" conciliarity. Speaking of a single ecclesiastical organism, they forget that an organism has various members (can hands or feet carry the functions of the head?). Others think that conciliarity is full, unanimous unity of mind in everything, but in our fallen world, amongst fallen mankind, this is utterly impossible. There could be—and should be--complete unity of mind only in matters of the faith, for Orthodox Christian dogmas are mandatory theological truths for all.

Here one cannot help but remember one edifying episode from the life of His Eminence Metropolitan Anthony (Khrapovitsky, +1936) of blessed memory, regarding conciliarity. Vladyka Anthony once asked Archbishop Nestor (Anisimov, +1962) of Kamchatka and Petropavlovsk, who arrived for the Council in Belgrade from China, having spent some time in the Holy Land on the way: "What were your impressions of the Holy Land?" Vladyka Nestor expressed frustration and consternation that serious discord and problems arose among the monks at the Tomb of the Lord, the main holy site of Christianity. Apparently, Vladyka Nestor expected the same reaction from the blessed metropolitan, but instead received this response: "Thank God, it means they still love and suffer for the Church of Christ. That means Christ and the Church are dear to them."

Differences have always existed in the Church, they will exist until the end of the world. They do not harm the Church at all; on the contrary, they show us that the Church is alive. Every member of the Church can and must share his feelings, thoughts and fears, but this must absolutely be done with love, obedience and respect for the Hierarchy and to each other. For this reason, we cannot think of each other as enemies and traitors, but as people who are concerned with the Church, and as Her children. Only through this will we come to the truth, will we preserve love and retain obedience in love. Slander and accusations have no place in these discussions. What we need now is not to discredit or accuse each other, but serious, constructive and thoughtful discussion in the spirit of brotherly love in all matters connected with the nascent process of reconciliation, which the Lord, in His mercy, has blessed for us to begin. And so, with these thoughts in mind, I proceed with this article, in which I wish to share some thoughts on these events.

Being discussed now is not "unification," "merging" or "union" with the Moscow Patriarchate, but the reconciliation of the two parts of the Local Russian Church. As we know from church history, the Orthodox Church has known only two forms of the reestablishment of unity: "unification" through repentance from a false church or a schismatic group to the Orthodox Church, or the "reconciliation" of two parts of one Church having a temporary falling out, when two parts of the Church of Christ reestablish peace amongst themselves, without losing their face, as A.V. Kartashev wrote: "Reconciling parts of the Church come to an agreement between themselves on an equal footing, on the foundation of mutual demands and concessions, the admittance of guilt on both sides, each one remaining—apart from the points of the resolved discord--what they were before their pacification."

In this case, our Church, taking into account the significant shifts in the church life of Russia, decided to embark on the path of peacemaking, for if all the questions and problems which formed the division between the two parts of the Russian Orthodox Church are resolved successfully and in accordance with the positions of principle of the Russian Church Abroad, then there can be no "union," no "unification," and moreover no "swallowing up of the Church Abroad by the Moscow Patriarchate." In all likelihood, the form of the future communion with the Church in Russia will be thus: one Chalice, that is, mutual service and spiritual unity, and two absolutely separate ecclesiastical administrations. I am deeply convinced that in the event of a successful outcome of these discussions, our hierarchs will not deem it practical to introduce any essential changes in our church life which could cause pain for some members of our flock and damage the task of Russian Orthodoxy abroad. His Eminence Metropolitan Laurus spoke of this in his interview to the newspaper Kommersant: "Over more than 80 years of independent existence of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia, she not only preserved the succession, traditions and customs of the Russian Church, but she acquired an identity which helped her in preserving her Orthodox heritage in alien, heterodox surroundings. She was able to impart to several generations of Russian Orthodox people in exile the treasure of Orthodoxy and the ideals of Holy Russia. This service must be continued in the light of the experience gained and practices developed, but also in consideration of the newly-forming situation. The Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia was a unifying force among the Russian Orthodox faithful, not only those who suddenly found themselves abroad, but those who were born and raised there. The Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia also fulfilled her service of witnessing by contradicting blasphemous lies and stating to the world the truth about the persecutions and sufferings of the Russian Orthodox Church in the hands of the godless state, and about the numerous martyrs and confessors of the Faith of Christ. The situation of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia in the countries of the global Russian diaspora has its own unique characteristics. The legal status of its structures is determined by local civil laws. The fourth generation of her clergymen has been reared and educated abroad, they know the language, customs and culture of the countries they reside in. For this reason, radically changing the autonomous structure of the administration of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia at this stage is not practical." "With regard to property, the ownership of real and other church property is also regulated by the laws of the specific country. Sudden changes in this regard would make no sense, and so it is necessary to retain the status quoÉ"

From this we see that no one is prepared to "dissolve" the Russian Church Abroad or "cede" it to the Moscow Patriarchate, so arguments over property or of its being "devoured" are utterly without foundation.

I would now like to call to light some examples of "pacification" of churches in the history of Christianity, referred to by A.V. Kartashev in his article "The Unification of Church in a Historical Light:" "During the Arian epoch, the Eastern episcopacy under the leadership of the Antiochians fell from Nicaean Orthodoxy, which was strictly defended by the Western churches under the leadership of Rome. The attempt at reconciliation through the Council of Sardica of 343 led only to the formal division between the churches, placing the mutual excommunication on the nine leading bishops of each side. 'After this Council,' in the words of the historian Sozomen, 'the Easterners and Westerners did not mix among themselves and had no communion as those of a common faith.' Over the next four decades, the Eastern Church recuperated internally from the Arian poisons and by the initiative of St Basil the Great, attempted for a long time to persuade Rome and the West that it was time to reestablish peace and unity with the Eastern hub of the episcopacy. The first agreement and signatures under the Nicaean Creed in Rome with the participation of 64 Eastern bishops occurred in 364. But in fact, no rapprochement took place. In Rome, at the Council of 378, Peter of Alexandria still called the Antiochians Arianists. It was only in 379 that Rome recognized that the 146 Eastern bishops around Meletius of Antioch were an Orthodox nucleus, though many of them had been ordained by Arianists. Then in response to this, at the Antiochian Council of 379, the reconciliation of the churches was formally attested to by the Eastern bishops, and then ceremoniously confirmed at the Pan-Eastern Council of 381 in Constantinople, which was later accepted as being Ecumenical. With this reunification of separately-existing churches, the mutual excommunications of the Sardica Council of 343 was simply ignored. Both sides cast off their mutual suspicions in contradictory heresies. Both drew together in mutual understanding, each preserving its theological coloration. The Eastern bishops once again admitted the Nicaean "consubstantiality." The Western bishops accepted the Eastern formula of "three hypostases" and did not deny the Arian consecration of the Eastern bishops. No one "attached" anyone to themselves. Both halves of the Church once again united. Everything that had happened during the time of separation was not deemed empty or without grace. The Mysteries, the podvigi [labors-in-Christ], the salvation of Christian souls during that time was apparent and accepted as authentic. No one would dream the blasphemy that for example, liturgies conducted by St Basil the Great, formally a "homoiousion" [Semi-Arian]--that is, for Westerners (in the 360's), a "heretic"--were false liturgies. Two parts of the Church, living in grace, were once again externally and visibly united, yet during the time of their discord, they apparently never ceased to be invisibly united in the bosom of the Holy Spirit, the Life-creating Church. This is not 'union,' nor 'unification,' but reconciliation."

Let us continue to study the examples of A.V. Kartashev, presented here in abridged form: "There was a new division of the churches, at the 3rd Ecumenical Council in Ephesus in 431, between that of the Alexandrian and Roman churches on one hand, and the Antiochian (that is, Nestorian—Pr. S.G.) (This notion of A.V. Kartashev reminds me of the position taken by Holy New Martyr Metropolitan Kirill of Kazan, expressed in his second letter to Metropolitan Sergius (Stragorodsky): ÒI refrain from celebrating liturgy with you not because the mystery of the Body and Blood of Christ would ostensibly not be manifested during our joint service, but because in communing from the Chalice of the Lord we would both be under guilt and condemnation, since our internal state, confused by differing understandings of our ecclesiastical relationship, would deprive us of the possibility to bring the mercy of peace, sacrifice of praise in utter spiritual peace.Ó Metropolitan Kirill did not recognize the administrative actions of Metr. Sergius, considering them an Òusurpation of rights,Ó yet also did not consider the sacraments performed by the ÒSergianistsÓ without grace.—Pr. S.G.) on the other--and a new reconciliation in 433. The bishops who had anathematized each other agreed to leave the common excommunication only upon the head of Nestor himself. It was thereby implicitly admitted that all the other bishops mutually excommunicated from the Church over the preceding two years were not objectively deprived of the grace of priesthood and did not perform the sacraments idly, but that their flocks in Alexandria and Antioch had not been deprived of the grace-filled Gifts in their churches and continued to save their souls despite the subjective belief of their bishops that their theological opponents in the other church were already cast out from the priesthood, and therefore without grace. Consequently, the fact of the matter was that it was not that an empty, imaginary false church was accepted into another, true, church, nor that after the two-year absence it was being restored to its fullness by the other, solely-authentic church. Both of them were real and grace-filled and both had genuine catholic churches, but only separated conditionally, formally, in terms of discipline and externally. Better to say, both were profoundly, objectively part of one catholic church, whose unity--internal but invisible externally--allowed on a historically and practically visible level a temporary, and maybe even very long, centuries-long, division.

ÒStill, formal, canonical divisions between churches is not a trifling thing. As do all rights and laws, they have their juridical, formal weight, the reality of the rule of order. The canons place the limits of ‘mine' and ‘the other's.' ‘My' Church, ‘my' hierarchy, ‘my' feast of the Eucharist, ‘my' holy things, and that of ‘others,' forbidden for me, even unto invocation, but salvific for others. ‘My' source of grace and that of ‘others.' ‘For them,' for salvation, ‘for me' unto condemnation, for if I take of a holy thing that is not meant for me, I would be unlawfully trespassing on other territory and taking that which belongs to another [emphasis mine—Pr. SG].* Such is the objective meaning that canonical invocation holds. It divides the church in practice. Subjectively for each side it seems absolute. But the cases of reunification—wherein the closed and invoked holiness of one or another side becomes mutually authentic not only now but in the past, during the time of the division—these cases undoubtedly show that the absoluteness of borders drawn by the canons do not exist, that even under the canonical division of churches, the objective unity may remain untouched. It lies deep down, unattainable for subjectively sufficing practical, canonical divisions.

"The Sixth Ecumenical Council of 680 put an end to the 40-year de facto division between the Churches of Rome and Constantinople. The heretical acts committed by the emperors and patriarchs Sergius, Pyrrhus, Paul and Peter were sufficient for the break to occur. The Lateran Council of the Holy Pope Martin I of 649 imparted canonical weight to this split. Only the violent pressure upon Rome and the popes on one hand, and the confusion in heresy of Pope Honorius on the other kept the break from assuming its final external form. The ecumenical council confirmed the anathemas invoked by Pope Martin and added new ones for Cyrus, Patriarch of Alexandria, Macarius, Patriarch of Antioch, and others. But no one could even consider doubting the authenticity of their priestly services in the past. The Church once again reunited without the demeaning ÒuniateÓ notion that one, real and true church absorbs into itself another, false one, or that, for example, the hierarchs anathematized in 649 by the Lateran Council, from then on performed false consecrations, that the priesthood of the Eastern church was corrupted and in need of some sort of correction and reestablishment. The churches simply, through their heads, erred, fell upon the wrong path, sinned in dogma, and then repented one before the other, cast out those who were guilty and made peaceÉ The salvific grace of the ecclesiastical sacraments does not abandon the quarreling factions of the church during these periods of division. Each of them nourishes its flock spiritually and opens the path for salvation. The very same Pope Martin, martyred by the emperor and betrayed by the Church of Constantinople, was, after reconciliation, recognized as a saint. The error of churches causes blindness, temporarily hiding who is holy and who is a sinner. But with the passage of time, the blindness of past passions falls away and church consciousness once again shines through."

In December of last year, the Council of Bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia decided to Òestablish normal relationsÓ and enter into dialog with the Moscow Patriarchate. For this reason, in fulfilling this decree, our Church has begun to employ the official titles in addressing the hierarchs of the ROC/MP, which bewilders some. This does not mean that our hierarchy renounced those conciliar decisions which were rendered in regard to the Moscow Patriarchate, but rather witnesses the earnest and conscientious efforts of the Russian Church Abroad towards discerning the tragedy of our common history; towards the normalization of the state of the Local Russian Church, towards the resolution of all questions and problems arising during the time of division, and expresses the joy of the part of the Russian Church found abroad over the changes and positive processes taking place in the life of the Church in the Fatherland. The observance of the rules of etiquette and respect are necessary for the establishment of normal relations, which will aid in the honest and constructive dialog leading to reconciliation. For this, the Council of Bishops created a committee on discussions with its counterpart in the Moscow Patriarchate, to Òpeacefully study all that is subject to question, and hindering us from mutual communion,Ó as we read in Rule 92 (103) of the Carthaginian Council, from which comes the text of the epistle of the gathered bishops to the Donatists: ÒSo that if ye think we have any part of the truth, ye do not hesitate to say so: that is, when your council is gathered together, ye delegate of your number certain to whom you intrust the statement of your case; so that we may be able to do this also, that there shall be delegated from our Council who with them delegated by you may discuss peacefully, at a determined place and time, whatever question there is which separates your communion from us.Ó

If all the questions of principle are decided and our hierarchy will be fully satisfied with the results of the work of the church committees, then, in all likelihood, both parts of the Russian Church, repenting on a Conciliar level and reconciling, will resume Eucharistic communion, Òremaining each, besides the points of the resolved conflict, that which they were before the reconciliation.Ó Due to the special circumstances of general church life and influenced by certain particularities of internal order arising in the Russian Church Abroad during the period of estrangement, we cannot now meld into one with the Moscow Patriarchate, but in any case, both parts of the Church expressed their genuine good will towards overcoming their temporary divisions and towards the peaceful coexistence and cooperation with each other, so that any misunderstandings arising on the way may be calmly resolved through the brotherly exchange of opinion between representatives of both sides. At the same time, no one is forcing the issue, but Òthe ice has broken,Ó as one of our hierarchs said during the Expanded Clergy Conference last year.

Reconciliation with the Moscow Patriarchate, nevertheless, does not resolve the question of our relationships with other parts of the Russian Church and with Orthodox jurisdictions with which the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia does not have communion. Still, I believe that this will serve to strengthen the Orthodox positions throughout the world in general, and, in part, will guarantee a more effective defense of the interests of Russian Orthodoxy.

Let us ask the Ruler of the world that He Ògrant strength to His people,Ó that ÒHe bless the people with His myrrh,Ó with His unearthly peace for His glory and for the good of the suffering Russian Church. I believe that the Lord will not leave us, that He steers His Church, that He Himself arranges all things, we must only trust in Him, remain true to our Church, Which He gave us, and not resist His will, always leading us to good.