The Reply of the Council of Bishops to the Brotherly Epistle of the Bishops of the Moscow Patriarchate
Reverend archpastors and members of the Holy Synod of the Moscow Patriarchate!
We thank you for your friendly letter to our Council with a call to overcome our division and rely on the sincerity of the desires you expressed.
On our part, we testify that the unity of the Russian Orthodox Church has been desired by the hierarchy of the Rocor since its very foundation. This desire did not simply accompany the life of the Church Abroad but it pervaded the prayer life of the Russian diaspora.
In response to your call to unity, we propose beginning an exploration of acceptable principles for achieving this goal. We want you to understand the essence of our approach to the problem of church division. In this matter we feel that there should be no place for compromises since the issue is the eternal salvation or eternal perdition of all members of the church.
The division between you and us is dismissed as “political” by many. However, in the revolutionary events in Russia that are to blame for the beginning of our division, we see nothing political in the proper sense of the word. The motivating factors of those bloody events were lies, deception, apostasy and theomachism. You must agree that this gives us the right to evaluate the “sovietization” of Russia as a moral and profoundly religious catastrophe. Metropolitan Sergius' declaration of 1927 expanded this catastrophe to the internal life of the Church, laying the foundation for the phenomenon we call “sergianism.” This “sergianism” was manifested especially in the cooperation of church hierarchs with the KGB. Maintaining the principle of condemnation of the sin and not the sinner, we understand that we do not have the right to judge those hierarchs, especially since we were not forced to live in the grip of that horrible totalitarian regime in which they found themselves. We only pray that God will grant to those hierarchs the courage to reveal and condemn the sin of such cooperation, or else it will be very difficult to speak about our mutual understanding.
The lack of freedom of the Russian Church led to its joining the World Council of Churches and its active participation in ecumenism. That ecumenism is alien to the ecclesiastical consciousness of Russian believers is clearly shown by the assessment give to it in 1948 at the Moscow Council that was adopted on the basis of the memorable report by Archbishop Serafim (Sobolev). Life has shown that the majority of Russian church people and others do not accept ecumenism.
Recently we saw your archpastoral response to the desire of the majority of your Russian flock in the glorification of the Holy New Martyrs of Russia and especially of the Royal Family. Relying on your archpastoral wisdom, we hope for the possibility of also overcoming other obstacles that continue to exist between us—the attitude toward ecumenism and “sergianism.”
Holding firmly to the consistent course of the Church Abroad, which it would be fatal for all of Russian Orthodoxy to abandon, we do not doubt that even we have sometimes made mistakes and that there may be sins within our church life. We will be grateful if you will frankly point these shortcomings out to us for correction.
Never ceasing to rely on God's grace that “ever heals our infirmities and fills up what is lacking,” we consider it useful to conduct constructive meetings between our representatives, which would help show the essence of our division and determine mutually-recognized hindrances that separate us, and ways for their subsequent overcoming. In so doing we see no use in unprincipled compromising “fraternizing.”
We link the movement to our unification inseparably with the movement towards the triumph of truth. In the text you appropriately quoted from the high priestly prayer of the Lord Jesus Christ, the prayer to God the Father: “Sanctify them by Your truth…for them I have sanctified Myself, so that they may be sanctified by the truth” (Jn. 17, 17:19). May our unification also be sanctified by truth and may we then be united and may our flock recognize in us witnesses to the truth and love of God.
“May all in unison and in pure love glorify Your holy and majestic, longsuffering and merciful Lord, forever and ever, Amen” (from the prayer for the salvation of Russia).
Members of the Bishops' Council of the Rocor
17/30 October 2001