MOSCOW: May 1, 2006
Responses of Patriarch ALEXY II of Moscow and All Russia on Questions From the Official Internet Site of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia
From the Editors: At the last joint meeting of the church Commissions held last February in New York, it was decided to address questions to the First Hierarchs of both parts of the Russian Church relating to the reconciliation process between the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia and the Moscow Patriarchate. This proposal was approved by the Synod of Bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia and by the Holy Synod of the Moscow Patriarchate. In accordance with this decision, we addressed questions to His Holiness Patriarch Alexy that concern the clergy and laity of the Russian Church Abroad:
1. Your Holiness: What is your opinion of the path traveled by the Russian Church Abroad in the 20th century? What was the significance for the clergy and faithful of the Moscow Patriarchate of the mission and service of the Russian Church Abroad during the Soviet years? What did the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia mean personally for you?
The Russian Church Abroad preserved in exile the spiritual values of the Orthodox tradition of the fatherland. She preserved them unharmed, though we know this was not easy. For they lost their Homeland, they lost those dear to them, lost the possibility of contact with those who remained on the other side of the border, they endured instability and the poverty of emigre life, a heterodox and sometimes hostile environment, in which it was difficult to live according to the Orthodox customs of their ancestors.
The spiritual treasures of Orthodoxy were not only preserved but increased by the Russian emigration, the finest of whom saw their life in the West as a mission given by God. Thanks to this, we see among the members of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia today clergymen and laity who have no physical Russian roots, but who love and pray for Russia .
Religious literature published by the Russian Church Abroad made its way into Russia in limited quantities even during the period of the "iron curtain." This was very valuable assistance. Different times came, and the legacy created in the Diaspora was republished in Russia in enormous editions—Protopriest Seraphim Slobodskoy's "Law of God" alone, for instance, is used by hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of children in Sunday schools, while teenagers use this book to prepare for seminary. Other works by the religious writers of the Church Abroad—Archbishop Averky (Taushev), Protopresbyter Michael Pomazansky—are part of the curricula of the religious schools of the Moscow Patriarchate.
It can be put thusly: we saw the Russian Church abroad as the flesh of the flesh of our people, an inseparable part of the Russian Church , tragically distanced from us by the horrifying events of the 20 th century; revolution, civil war, the violence of god-battlers who caused the suffering and death of millions of people. We always believed that this division was temporary, because we are of one faith, we have the same holy things and sites, and one Fatherland, wherever our children may live.
Of course, there was bitterness, sometimes from harsh or insulting statements heard from abroad aimed against those who fought for the preservation of the Church under a godless government. This was painful for us, we saw that we were misunderstood by those who did not live under such difficult circumstances—and that they did not wish to understand us. Of course, there were also harsh words spoken by our side. I think that we should not remember this now, but, as the Apostle taught, we should "forget those things which are behind, and reach forth unto those things which are before" (Philippians 3:13).
As far as my own attitude towards the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia is concerned, I turn to my memories. My childhood and youth were spent in Estonia . So the life of the Russian emigration, its hopes and troubles, its special service to the Church and to Russia, the cross it bore, its sufferings, its podvig , but also the poverty, the strife and the mistakes—these were not just hearsay for me. As a child, I served as altar boy under Fr Alexander Kiselev, who had a great influence on my spiritual development. As a boy I traveled together with him and with my father, Protopriest Mikhail, throughout the military prison camps in Estonia . My father would serve, and I helped in the altar and read. Those were tragic, unforgettable years.
So Fr Alexander gave me a sort of spiritual bond with the Church Abroad for many years, because his image always remained in my soul. Many years later, it was a great joy to meet Fr Alexander and Matushka Kallista in Moscow , show them hospitality in Donskoy Monastery, of which I am abbot. We spoke for many hours with this most worthy Russian pastor, of the fate of the Church, of the coming reunification of the Church Abroad and the Church in the Homeland. Much of what Fr Alexander said about the Church Abroad, the good and the bad, is happening now. May this wonderful Russian batiushka abide in the Kingdom of Heaven .
2. In your opinion, is a canonical evaluation of the path of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia needed? Who is authorized to make such an evaluation ?
It is, of course, necessary and important to make a detailed and dispassionate examination of the history of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia. She must be analyzed from a canonical point of view. But it is important to realize that it is difficult, while assessing all the phenomena and figures of history, to come to full unanimity. The entire truth lies only in God's judgment.
But we see now that for every argument made by some historians, others propose a counter-argument or a different interpretation of historical events. Full agreement in this regard is not to be found, either in Russia or in the Diaspora.
One might ask: do we have a final, exhaustive appraisal, for instance, of the Synodal period of Russian Church history? Or, for example, of the actions of Patriarch Nikon?
But to make a canonical judgment of the path of the Russian Diaspora of the 20 th century is even more difficult: not enough years have passed, not all facts, by far, have been uncovered. By the way, the conditions under which the Church found herself, of the most brutal persecution in the Homeland and of the forced exile of millions of believers, was in many ways without precedent. Holy Martyr Metropolitan Kyrill in his time warned against any attempt to impose canonical literalism. He wrote in 1929: "Church life in recent years is developing and organizing itself at odds with the literal sense of the canons." That is why, for example, our Church glorified as saints those who accepted the actions of Patriarch Sergius as well as those who not only did not accept them but were under suspension by him, as long as there was evidence of holiness in their life, their podvig . We know of such examples from ancient church history .
Maybe for the Church Abroad now, when the period of godlessness in Russia is ending, it is important to look back and more fully understand the road traveled. But judging from the experience of the Church in Russia , I dare say that such processes do not occur in an instant.
Regarding the attitude of the Diaspora towards the Church in the Fatherland: I am convinced that we must not judge each other, or entire generations of our fathers and predecessors now, but in the spirit of Christ's love and joint responsibility, find the path towards unity and common witness.
3. What at the present time is the attitude of the Moscow Patriarchate to the "Declaration" of Metropolitan Sergius and its consequences? How do you view church-state relations today?
The Russian Orthodox Church spoke out more than once on the subject of the Epistle of Metropolitan Sergius of 1927; I also spoke about it more than once, during the years when this was a real question for us in Russia, when we, finally, could say aloud what was bothering us. One does not wish to repeat endlessly something already said. It is enough to say: thank God that the current life of the Church is not guided by this coerced document.
The position of the Moscow Patriarchate on its relations with the state authorities was more fully expressed in the "Basis of the Social Concept of the Russian Orthodox Church." The further clarifications requested by our brethren abroad are provided in the documents adopted by the Commissions of the Moscow Patriarchate and the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia. These texts have now been published.
Practically speaking, we are gradually able to realize to an ever greater degree the approach of the Church in its relationship with the government and society described in the "Basis of the Social Concept." The Orthodox faith never died in Russia , even in the years of violent state atheism. Now the country is rising up before our eyes, it is turning more and more to its ancient Orthodox traditions. And we often see support in this on the part of government representatives, among whom there are more and more believers.
4. What is the opinion of the Moscow Patriarchate to the "branch theory" and joint prayer with the heterodox? Is the withdrawal of the Moscow Patriarchate from the World Council of Churches possible? Is the "Balamand Agreement" still in effect today?
The so-called "branch theory" was never accepted by the Russian Orthodox Church, which now utterly rejects it as an idea that contradicts the spirit of Orthodox teaching. We categorically reject the admissibility of liturgical concelebration with non-Orthodox. As far as attending the services of other confessions, it is allowable in instances of certain expediency, as it was in pre-Revolutionary Russia, and in the Church Abroad, at least until the 1960's. And now, actually, the WCC does not obligate our delegates to participate in joint prayer at its assemblies.
But this does not mean that it is not worth meeting, that all contact with non-Orthodox Christians is to be avoided. There are many questions which must be decided together. For instance, many support our position against abortion, the propaganda of homosexuality, the spread of euthanasia.
Of course, the earnest aspirations of the first Orthodox participants of the ecumenical movement—among them eminent representatives of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia— have faded into the past, that through mutual contact, it would be easy to attract non-Orthodox Christians to the Church. Our experience of many years in inter-Christian contact has led to troubling conclusions. Liberal values taken up by a group of Protestant communities have blocked Christian concepts of morality, have led to the trampling of the norms of Holy Scripture and Tradition. All this has in fact served to end further contact with these communities. Nevertheless, others under the current growing onslaught of liberalism are listening to our positions, which we confess clearly and firmly, and viewing them with respect. For the sake of continuing this difficult witness, in order that the view of the Orthodox Church on current world events is heard, we feel the need to having a presence at the World Council of Churches. We have won a reevaluation of the procedure for adopting decisions in this body, and now no one can say anything on behalf of the entire Council if the Orthodox Church is not in agreement. But if under certain circumstances negative trends increase, we do not reject at all the possibility of withdrawing from the WCC.
As far as the "Balamand Agreement" is concerned—this was a working document produced by a mixed theological commission, aimed, first of all, at curbing the proselytizing activity of Uniates. This text was never given dogmatic significance. Unfortunately, the document did not prove to be an obstacle for the Catholics in imposing Unia and continuing their expansion to the East.
5. How do you envision the future organization of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia, her status and relationship with the Moscow Patriarchate? How in Your Holiness' opinion should the relationship develop between the dioceses and parishes of the Moscow Patriarchate abroad and of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia located on the same territory? What is to be done in those instances when pastoral practice does not completely coincide between the two sides?
The organizational structure of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia, it is our understanding, will remain the same as it is now, with her own Council of Bishops, her own Synod and her own existing administrative organs. If the Russian Church Abroad herself in the future wishes to change anything, that is another matter, but this question should not be addressed to us. We foresee the preservation of the historically-developed community of dioceses, parishes and monasteries of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia—as a self-governing part of one Local Russian Church. The Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia defined herself in just this way over the course of decades, only before this status was described as temporary, "until the fall of the godless regime in Russia ."
Now, when all the conditions for this have been met, normal relations between the Church Abroad and the Moscow Patriarchate as a whole can be reestablished. They will be defined by an Act on Canonical Communion.
Of course, the reestablishment of communion and unity assumes that some ecclesio-legal norms prescribed by the holy canons will be applied. If bishops of the Russian Church Abroad become members of the Council of Bishops of the Moscow Patriarchate, then, naturally, the confirmation of their elections by the Holy Synod of the Patriarchate as designated by the canons will be required, although the actual elections will occur as before—by the Council of Bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia. The same applies to the election of the First Hierarch.
The situation wherein parallel dioceses and parishes of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia and those directly subject to the Moscow Patriarchate exist on the same territory cannot be considered fully normal and canonical. But it developed over the course of a very long history, and it cannot be artificially changed in a short period of time. Yet we hope that in the future, as cooperation, concelebration and mutual contact develop further, life itself will bring us to the point when these dioceses and parishes will merge. But both the timetable and form of such unity is difficult to determine now: let us leave this to Divine Providence.
"Parallel existence" puts forth the question of cooperation between archpastors and pastors. We hope that this interaction will develop in peace and brotherly love. Regular local meetings will be required, and we have no doubt that they will succeed. First of all, we are motivated by the desire for the salvation and benefit of our flock.
The Moscow Patriarchate and the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia have developed differences in church practice in various areas of secondary importance. For instance, the manner of accepting those who were baptized in various Christian confessions into the Church, or the matter of mixed marriages. This may in fact be unimportant, nothing that could seriously threaten church unity. Let existing practices remain in place, at least until the Church feels the need to change one mode of practice or another. Such norms of church discipline, and also the limits of ecclesiastical economy, have often changed over the centuries in the Russian Church. Besides, they differ today among the different Local Churches, and even within some Local Churches: for example, on Mount Athos, this question is treated differently than in other places which are also under the jurisdiction of the Patriarch of Constantinople. The Moscow Patriarchate in its general practice holds to those rules that were created before the Revolution by the Holy Synod. Still, I assume that nothing will hinder the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia in following its accustomed practices.
6. At times one hears of fears that if unification does occur the Russian Church Abroad will lose its property. The events in the Holy Land in particular are recalled. How accurate are these fears?
The answer to this question can be found in the documents prepared by our joint commissions on dialog, and already approved by the Hierarchies of both the Moscow Patriarchate and the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia: the "Act on Canonical Communion" decrees that the "Russian Church Abroad is independent in pastoral, educational, administrative, management, property and civil matters." So all property owned by the ROCOR or her parishes remain their property and complete control.
When real dialog commenced between the Moscow Patriarchate and the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia, one of the first decisions reached was to cease all mutual property claims which had existed from before the beginning of dialog, and even during opposition. We agreed that in regard to property, the status quo would be preserved, determined by the moment the talks began. The Holy Synod gave our bishops and representatives of the Russian Orthodox Church instructions that in those few instances where there are yet-unresolved problems, they are to make every effort to peacefully resolve the matter.
As far as old quarrels and conflicts are concerned, I feel that it is not worth returning to them again and again. It is important to understand the historical context of these events. It is unpleasant to remember, but harsh accusations were heard on both sides. Even to the point that abroad, for example, they said that the Church in Russia had no grace, that even if the sacraments are indeed performed there, then only in certain individual cases, in certain churches. The opening of parishes by the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia within Russia, the acceptance of clergymen suspended by the bishops of the Moscow Patriarchate, statements that our hierarchs allegedly preach heresy openly, and so any canonical censure they impose cannot be taken seriously: that was the atmosphere in which, alas, it was difficult to establish normal relations.
Thank God, in recent years, everything has changed. Finally, we could meet each other face to face. And to see each other once again as brothers. In the Holy Land, our representatives greet each other now with love, they discuss current affairs, they make agreements on cooperating. Although we have not yet established Eucharistic communion, we did issue instructions to all the churches of the Moscow Patriarchate in the Holy Land that clerical pilgrims of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia could, if they wish, serve a Liturgy and commune their spiritual children. In Jericho, nuns of the Moscow Patriarchate and of the Church Abroad now live truly as sisters, and we hope that this practice will spread further.