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How Are We Preparing for the All-Diaspora Council?

One of the distinguishing characteristics of a great people
is its ability to get up on its feet after a fall.
--V. Kliutchevsky

"We are all children of the Church of Russia …. Let us shun the temptations of open and secret evil which war against us… Let us abstain from anger, judgment, disputes, and divisions that we may be, in the words of the Apostle 'one in spirit and in thought.' (I Corinthians 1: 10). We, the pastors at the Council of Bishops in this jubilee year, are praying for this, understanding all our responsibility for the Church. We are praying for our full unity of mind, in which lies the power and righteousness of the Church…."

Eighteen years since their publication in 1988, those words of the Epistle of the Council of Bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia (ROCOR), have not only retained their significance, but now, on the threshold of the IV All-Diaspora Council, have taken on particular relevance and power.

Since the time of the millennial celebration of the Baptism of Rus', we have witnessed events of worldwide dimension, events that have materially affected the lives of all people. The most important of those events was the downfall of atheist communism. By God's providence, in 1991, on the feast of the Transfiguration of the Lord, the communist regime fell, and the totalitarian Soviet state ceased to exist.

At the time, many in the Church began to consider the question of normalizing relations between ROCOR and the Moscow Patriarchate (MP), relations that had been interrupted in 1927. This was made especially and forcefully evident in the appeal issued by the ROCOR Council of Bishops in 1991, an appeal in which our archpastors succinctly laid out their view of the regulation process:

"Schism can be overcome only with humble prayer, repentance and brotherly love toward all those who fell in the difficult time of persecutions and those currently gone astray... the revival of faith...must begin with our own spiritual renewal, with repentance and the cleansing of ourselves from sinful uncleanness and from self-justification. 'The pure in heart will see God,' i.e. to be cognizant of God and to live in Him, it is essential to purify your thoughts, feelings, and very life…

"We call upon all children of the Orthodox Church to join in this beneficial and grace-filled, pre-conciliar process [emphasis added— Archpriest VP ] with profound cognizance of their own weaknesses and sinfulness, and hoping in God's mercy and help. The Lord 'remembered us in our low estate' (Psalms 135: 23)."

Thus, 15 years ago ROCOR's archpastors called upon us, the children of the free part of the Russian Church, to join in the pre-conciliar process of rapprochement between the parts of the Russian Church, and to behave toward those freed from the communist yoke with "brotherly love toward all those who fell in the difficult time of persecutions and those currently gone astray... the revival of faith... must begin with our own spiritual renewal, with repentance and the cleansing of ourselves from sinful uncleanness and from self-justification."

Did we then heed those inspired words?

Two years after the ROCOR Bishops' Council of 1991, on July 17, 1993, His Holiness Alexis II, Patriarch of Moscow and all Russia , and the Holy Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church released an Epistle of staggering power. The following is an excerpt from that Epistle:

"With intense prayer and particular pain in our hearts, we remember the sorrowful anniversary… Our people have not repented of the sin of regicide that occurred amid the indifference of the citizens of Russia . As a transgression of both Divine and human law, that sin lies as a most heavy burden upon the soul of the people, upon its moral self-image. And today we, on behalf of the entire Church, on behalf of all its children, those deceased and those living, offer before God and men repentance for this sin. Forgive us, O Lord!

"We call upon our entire people, all of its children, to repent—regardless of their political views or opinions about history, regardless of their attitude toward the idea of monarchy or toward the person and character of the last Russian Emperor. Repentance for the sin committed by our forebears must become for us yet another sign of unity. May this day of sorrow unite us in prayer with the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia , and may it engender that spiritual communion with [ROCOR] after which we strive, in our fidelity to the spirit of Christ …" [emphases added— Archpriest VP ] .

Did we respond to that appeal? Did we believe in the sincerity of what was said?

Unfortunately, instead of being of assistance to the Lord in developing the process of reconciliation, instead of moving toward one another and strengthening mutual trust, both sides allowed themselves to make most unfortunate blunders. On the canonical territory of the MP, ROCOR began to create parallel church organizational structures. With the assistance of the Palestinian authorities, the MP undertook to forcibly wrest churches and chapels from ROCOR.

Of course, one could not have expected the question of establishing Eucharistic Communion with the Church in Russia to be resolved smoothly and immediately. Decades of communist rule left their mark, both in the Homeland and in the Diaspora, on the way of thinking of the Russian people; a way of thinking that can be overcome only with enormous effort.

The process of mutual recognition of the parts of the Russian Church evoked and continues to evoke emotional agitation in a part of the people of ROCOR, and has even led to internal dissension. How can we surmount these disputes? What can we do to help, so that we might assemble at the coming All-Diaspora Council and all, as we pray at the Liturgy, "with one mouth and one heart glorify and hymn Thy most honorable and majestic name: of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit?"

We must begin with the basics: Not to fashion external peace and unity, but rather to pay attention to fundamental peace, internal peace, to have everyone, individually, take care to make peace with his conscience, i.e. to care after his own peace and harmony in life with the Lord God. In striving for and achieving such peace, we will also be striving to achieve general peace and unity. That is the fundamental, principal, matter, to which general peace and unity will be joined as well; without it, no matter how hard we try, divisions and bickering will persist.

* * *

We all perceive evil outside ourselves, outside the boundaries of our own person, but in ourselves as well. We see that in a mysterious way, evil carries on, right next to the good, in our souls.

Each of us mourns, along with the Apostle,

"[F]or that which I do, I allow not: for what I would, that do I not, but what I hate, that do I… Now then it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me… the good that I would, I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do… Now if I do that I would not, it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me… For I delight in the law of God after the inward man, but I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members. O wretched man that I am! Who shall deliver me from the body of this death?!" (Romans 7: 15-24).

Each of us knows the internal dichotomy that interferes with our chaste devotion to the Good Shepherd.

But why is it that, having personally experienced that dichotomy, we find it so difficult to entertain the possibility that it exists in others? Why is it so difficult for us to imagine that not everything is going smoothly for others, that they too are doing battle and having inner conflicts?

Why do we constantly fool ourselves, saying that such a combination of good and evil cannot exist in someone else? Why do we often imagine that other people are some solid monoliths, made up of but a single substance? After all, such a groundless preconception interferes with our ability to assess a person and to come to like him for his good qualities, despite his deficiencies.

In our one-sided evaluation, we risk not seeing the forest for the trees, not seeing, for the sins and deficiencies of prominent hierarchs, valuable qualities possessed by an entire believing people. Everywhere and in everything, we are inclined to blame others. We constantly complain about others, but if we were to be in their shoes, would we strive to do service with good will, from the heart (Ephesians 6:6)—honestly and selflessly? Experience shows that in their behavior in life, those who complain are just like those of whom they complain.

Instead of being the Lord's co-workers in the task of attracting all people to join in one single flock in Christ, we stigmatize others. In so doing, while the Lord forgives the thief on the cross, Matthew the publican, and the sinner Mary, we hinder the Lord, whose desire is to forgive all people!

When we throw stones at the women caught in the act of adultery, we forget how, standing in our shoes, Christ once treated her (John 8:7-11).

Muscovite Professor AB Zubov, a man dedicated to the idea of rapprochement between the sundered parts of the Russian Church , wrote,

"You must not recoil from our great Church, but like Christ, join together with the sinner who is thirsting after healing, so that you might save him… The position of 'let's watch and wait, and if you are healed, perhaps we will join with you'—is a morally corrupt position… To wait until we either regain our health or die? Your fathers did not act in this manner. They answered the people's madness by self-sacrificial, spiritual struggle, taking a stand in the ranks of the White movement, to oppose evil. And it seems to me that now a new phase of that battle is beginning, a phase without the material cover of civil war, but in its true aspect of 'unseen warfare' with the world's spirits of malice. And you, your Church, can help us rid ourselves of all those mausoleums and statues, of the hymns and other filth… for you have the holy treasure of the Faith that conquers the evil of our world…"

* * *

For many ROCOR parishioners, Sergianism remains the principal obstacle to reconciliation between the sundered parts of the Russian Church .

Let's speak plainly: Sergianism is a synonym for false witness and is the manifestation of the most extreme servility toward the powerful of this earth.

At the same time, it is essential to categorically state that Sergianism is a tragedy not just for the MP, but for the entire Russian Church , for the Church's servility did not just come out of nowhere.

Secular authorities have meddled in Church matters throughout almost the whole of Christian history. This happened both in the time of the Byzantine Empire , and during Ottoman rule. Moreover, in Holy Russia, the "the sovereign's eye"—the oberprokuror , or chief procurator (often a Mason and atheist), meddled egregiously in Church life.

Let us bring to mind the Russian Church 's 200-year Synodal Period. One can count on one's fingers the number of times in the 18th and 19th centuries that the leadership of the Russian Church dared to raise objections to the Imperial Authorities and stand up in defense of the Church and flock. Members of the Synod, the "Spiritual Collegium," were required to swear the following offensive oath of loyalty to a secular monarch's anti-canonical position as the chief ecclesiastical authority:

"I confess and swear that the ultimate judge of this Spiritual Collegium is the Monarch of All-Russia Himself, our Most All-gracious Sovereign."

Russian hierarchs, of course, understood perfectly well that the "ultimate Judge" could be none other than the Lord; nonetheless, for almost two hundred years, they (with the single exception of Metropolitan Arseny Matseevitch) continued to obediently swear that oath until 1901, when the sovereign, Emperor Nicholas II rescinded it.

Such gross interference by Imperial authorities in the internal life of the Church continued for 200 years. It is quite a sad phenomenon, for it clearly points to a great sickness in our Church, one that was underscored by our visionary writers, and identified by one of them, Dostoyevsky, as "its paralyzed condition." This markedly weakened the Church's influence on Russian society, and laid the groundwork for the tragic events of 1917.

Yes, servility, was, is, and as the result of our sinfulness, unfortunately will be. However, thanks be to God, through the mercy of God there also was, is, and will be, holiness until the end of time. As in the "Synodal" period of Russian Church history, when despite everything, there struggled a multitude of prominent righteous people, so in Soviet times our Church revealed to the world a countless number of New Martyrs and Confessors.

The consequences of Synodal servility toward government powers, and the Sergianism that grew out of it, must be overcome through our common efforts. The Joint Commissions' ability to make material progress in that regard gives reason to hope. The MP and ROCOR Commissions' document "On the relationship between Church and State" cites an important determination of the MP's Jubillee Council of 2000:

"The Church remains loyal to the state, but God's commandment to fulfill the task of salvation in any situation and under any circumstances is above this loyalty... If the authority forces Orthodox believers to apostasize from Christ and His Church and to commit sinful and spiritually harmful actions, the Church should refuse to obey the state."

Another determination regarding Metropolitan Sergius (Stragorodsky's) Declaration is in the Joint Commissions' "Commentary on the Joint Document on the Commissions of the Moscow Patriarchate and the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia 'On the Relationship Between Church and State'":

"Today we can say that there is untruth mixed into... the Declaration. The Declaration placed for itself the goal of placing the Church in the proper relationship with the Soviet state. But this relationship—and in the Declaration it was clearly defined as the subjugation of the Church to the interests of government politics—is incorrect from the point of view of the Church."

"The Declaration… was then, and is to this day, a temptation for many children of the Russian Orthodox Church.

"…The rejection of the course of the Russian Church in her relations with the state as reflected in the 'Declaration' opens the path to the fullness of brotherly communion."

* * *

Unfortunately, we do not sufficiently appreciate the importance of Church unity, and we take little care for its confirmation. At the same time, everything in our lives that is most radiant, most joyous, everything that brings joy and comfort to the heart, everything that wreathes our spirit with sacred hope for the future—all this is based in Christian unity. Our strength and our power rest in elevating the Christian spirit and firmly establishing unity.

In her appeal entitled "The Russian Orthodox People Abroad, on the Eve of a Spiritual Podvig," addressed to the coming Fourth All-Diaspora Council, Dr. LA Tkachevksy, a member of ROCOR, correctly speaks of joint action to prayerfully overcome what caused the division of the Russian Church .

"God's will for us perhaps must be fulfilled in the Gospel sense, in that it is love in Christ. In what does it rest? In our repentance.

"The entire Russian Orthodox people in the Homeland and Abroad, symbolically together, shoulder to shoulder, will get on its knees, and will ask the Lord for forgiveness of our sins and that he spare us: for our sins of regicide, for apostasy from Christ. With this act, something else will be accomplished: forgiveness of one another … However, many will say that this is something impossible for people. After all, we see in the world endless, hopeless protraction of hatred, as understanding of forgiveness in Christ has been wiped out! Yet what is impossible for men is accomplished through Christ the Savior. And lo, He gives us, Russian Orthodox people, this gift of grace.

"There is no greater joy for a human being than sincere repentance, there is no greater happiness than forgiving one who just recently was an opponent—that is in fact the heavenly gift of Freedom granted to man by Almighty God, the gift for which the Son of God Himself accepted death on the Cross, i.e. for our salvation, to make possible man's rebirth and transfiguration. Without that, there would be no Christianity…

"The Fourth All-Diaspora Orthodox Council stands before us as an historic milestone—an examination of our Orthodox confession of the Christian Faith…"

If we can manage to endure the test of faith sent us by God, the test of which Dr. Tkachevsky writes, we will, in so doing, also perform a great missionary work, of attracting many people to Christ's Door, where, as Church hymnody states, there will be "the unceasing voice of celebration and endless sweetness of the sight of the ineffable beauty of the Lord's face."

We cannot achieve the slightest measure of success in this holy podvig without the love of Christ. Archpriest Nikolai Deputatov, a good shepherd who labored for many years for the good of the Church, accurately stated:

"Everything in our interrelations comes down to love; without it, nothing has any meaning. Where there is love, the unsatisfied thirst of ambition, greed, and lust for power all calm down. Where there is love, we, knowing the weakness of others, do not lay upon them heavy burdens grievous to be borne (Matthew 23: 4)...

"In our day, there are many tears and much suffering, and the warming power of love is so essential so appealing. By the action of the sun's rays, fogs and putrid vapors dissipate; the air becomes clean and transparent. Likewise in the world of morality, under the influence of love, everything revives, brightens, becomes orderly and in proper proportion."

The 4th All-Diaspora Council should proceed in that spiritual key. God grant that reigning at that Council may be the same spirit of love and true tserkovnost' [churchliness] that attended the 2nd All-Diaspora Council. In that regard reminiscences of PS Lopoukhine, a participant in the 2nd All-Diaspora Council, are instructive:

"The Council would not have been a Council, had we not understood, had we not sensed, that it was not we people, but God's mercy and God's grace that created and conducted that Council. Moreover, had we in fact done everything that was accomplished at the Council, it would not have been a Council, but a convention, and everything would have had an entirely different meaning, for what is precious is the fact that the Church Council proceeded in accord with the Church, according to the will of God...

"We sensed this from the very first day, at the moment when we sang, with fear of God, the prayer, 'Now the grace of the Holy Spirit has gathered us together.' Daring words, and yet at the same time, how much humility is required for us to so daringly pronounce them. Many times over the course of the Council that prayer came to mind… The entire Council, all members of the Council lived through those days with their souls held open to God's grace, and allowing It to lead them. We expressed our points of view, but we did not fight with one another. We defended our ideas, but our souls were open to understanding a different idea, and what was needed for the good of the Church. We expressed our opinions, but were prepared to retract them. This imparted a totally special mood to the Council, a feeling of [harmony with the Church], and we both understood and appreciated it to the end..."

His Beatitude Metropolitan Anastassy once said that Church Council, with participation of the clergy and laity, is "a gathering of the spirit of the people under the banner of the Holy Cross." Let us avail ourselves of the beneficial time of the Holy Quadragesima, Great Lent, and pray that the Fourth All-Diaspora Council might be filled with the power of the Life-giving Cross and the grace of the Holy Spirit, so that together we might establish in our in our hearts and for a long time that salvific burst of feeling, of which PS Lopoukhine, participant in the Second All-Diaspora Council, wrote so simply and with such inspiration. Finally let us pray that the IV All-Diaspora Council be the Triumph of Orthodoxy.

Archpriest Victor Potapov