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COUNCIL OF BISHOPS - December 2003 

EPISTLE TO THE FLOCK FROM THE COUNCIL OF BISHOPS OF THE RUSSIAN ORTHODOX CHURCH OUTSIDE OF RUSSIA

In the Name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit!

The Council of Bishops, having gathered at this time, as had preceding Councils, under the auspices of the Holy Miracle-working Kursk-Root Icon of the Mother of God, had as its main task the matter of the relationship between the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia and the Russian Orthodox Church/Moscow Patriarchate.

The session was preceded by an All-Diaspora Expanded Pastoral Conference. The bishops who were present at the Conference were able to hear the entire scope of opinions from practically the entire clergy of the Church Abroad. It can be decisively stated that not one person doubts the necessity of having dialog with representatives of the Moscow Patriarchate towards overcoming existing divisions.

A significant portion of the participants once again raised the matter of condemning Sergianism and ecumenism. Without a doubt, this resounded in the work of the Council and will be taken into account going forward.

Before us stands the question not of merging or uniting churches, but the establishment of normal church relations between two parts of the once-whole Russian Church , parts which found themselves separated for historical reasons.

As is well known, the Russian Church Abroad was established on temporary principles in the 1920-s in accordance with a ukase of Patriarch Tikhon. It was assumed that the communist state would fall in a few years, and that Russian emigres, headed by their archpastors, could return to their homeland.

Unfortunately, because of our sinfulness, this did not occur! The godless regime enslaved the Russian people for over 70 years and inflicted brutal persecution upon faith in Christ.

Concurrently, over the years of its wanderings, the Church Abroad spread to almost all countries of the world. New dioceses were formed, churches were built with parish schools, monasteries were established, youth and patriotic groups were formed, newspapers were published along with journals and books. The goal for the pastors of the Church Abroad became not only to preserve the Orthodox faith and Russian culture within its flock, but to attract those of other faiths to Orthodoxy, instilling in them our Church traditions. And so, in many countries, parishes were born consisting almost exclusively of the local population which converted to Orthodoxy. Over the years, even the composition of the parishioners changed. While the older generation passed to another world, their children and grandchildren began to forget the Russian language and lost the cultural legacy of their parents. Mixed marriages became a common occurrence. These factors presented a new challenge for the Church Abroad, which her founders did not foresee, to wit, that the Russian Orthodox Church must proselytize and bring the world the light of Orthodoxy.

We, Russians who find ourselves abroad, must thank God that, being in complete freedom from godless communism, our Church was able to preserve the purity of the Orthodox faith, and not submit to the fatal temptations of ecumenism and modernism.

At the same time, in our much-suffering homeland, the godless state employed brutal terror and every means possible to enslave the Russian Church .

Fortunately, this has come to an end! As our saints foretold, God showed mercy to our Russian people and freed them from the yoke of the godless state. May the earth be glad and the heavens rejoice: " Babylon the great is fallen, is fallen—the great harlot!" (Rev. 18:2).

One can argue endlessly on the ambiguity of socio-political shifts in Russia , but the change in the situation of millions of the faithful is apparent to all.

Now we have become witnesses to that relentless spiritual renewal occurring in our Homeland: hundreds and thousands of Russia people are being baptized, churches and monasteries are being rebuilt, theological academies, seminaries and parish schools are opening, religious books are being published in enormous numbers!

We, living abroad, must rejoice at the spiritual wakening of the Russian people, and thank God that He heard our prayers and the prayers of the host of New Martyrs of Russia for the salvation of Russia .

Maybe it will not be as rapid as one would like, but the Church in Russia is gradually recognizing the need for destroying the wall that has thus far divided the Russian flock in the Homeland and that abroad. Indeed, the Chuch in Russia glorified the host of New Martyrs, as well as the Royal Family, which was unimaginable under the godless regime. It also condemned the principle of the Church serving the interests of the state, in essence, the principle of Sergianism. A great number of clergymen and laypersons in Russia insist upon the withdrawal of the Russian Church from the World Council of Churches. This all gives hope that with time the other wounds inflicted upon the Russian Church by the militanly atheist regime will be healed.

Now we must agree upon how to overcome the obsolete and possible new misunderstandings between both parts of the Russian Church , and to agree upon how to resolve all future problems of interrelations peacefully and in the spirit of truth.

It is our firm conviction that the Church Abroad, in light of the tasks which stood before her in regard to the nourishment of such a scattered and disparate flock, must preserve her freedom and administrative independence. At the same time, it is desirable, in those places where parishes of the Church Abroad and of the Moscow Patriarchate exist side by side, to work out a plan of friendly coexistence in the fulfillment of the single mission of witnessing Christ. The matter of full Eucharistic communion may be only a final result of the conciliar actions of both parts of the Russian Church , to be prepared by the corresponding committees.

For the resolution of problems relating to overcoming confrontations between the two parts of the Russian Church , the Council of Bishops formed a committee which will exhaustively examine questions of relations between the two parts of the Russian Church and will offer measures acceptable to both sides.

Recognizing the importance and responsibility of the developing process of negotiations, we find it desirable to convene in the future a Fourth All-Diaspora Council.

We invoke God's blessing upon our entire faithful flock and ask for their holy prayers for us, your archpastors, who wish to preserve our flock in unity and the purity of the Orthodox faith.

Most-Holy Mother of God, our Guide, continue to lead us according to the commandments of Your Son and the Holy Fathers who pleased Him. Amen.

+Metropolitan Laurus
+Archbishop Alypy
+Archbishop Mark
+Archbishop Hilarion
+Archbishop Kyrill
+Bishop Ambroise
+Bishop Evtikhii
+Bishop Agathangel
+Bishop Daniel
+Bishop Gabriel
+Bishop Alexander
+Bishop Michael
+Bishop Agapit
+Bishop Peter