We, the clergy, monastics, and lay delegates to the Twentieth Diocesan Assembly of the Australian-New Zealand Diocese of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia (ROCOR), give thanks to God for the opportunity to gather together at Saints Peter and Paul Cathedral in Sydney, Australia, to review the life and achievements of the Diocese over the past three years. As we stand on the threshold of the seventy-fifth anniversary of our God-preserved Diocese, we rejoice in its continuing growth and strength.
Our joy in coming together is so much the greater given the challenges of the past three years. The COVID-19 pandemic and the response to it of the civil authorities has affected every aspect of life, church life included, and has also been a cause of confusion and division amongst our clergy and faithful. The fratricidal conflict in Ukraine is a source of ongoing anguish, dividing as it does not only peoples who share a 1000-year history of Orthodox Christian faith and culture, but also families and friends.
To our profound grief, in May 2022 our beloved Diocesan Bishop of over 25 years, ROCOR First Hierarch Metropolitan Hilarion (Kapral), departed this life. That this was for us unexpected, and that we were unable to be present for his funeral in New York and his burial at the Holy Trinity Monastery in Jordanville, deepened our sorrow. His memory for us is a bright one of a loving archpastor who accomplished much in our midst.
Since our last Diocesan Assembly three other clerics of our Diocese have also reposed in the Lord: Priest David Lloyd, Protodeacon Vasily Hadarin, and Protodeacon Constantine Moshegov. Each of them rendered faithful service to the Russian Orthodox Church. May God grant them rest with the saints and make their memory to be eternal!
We declare our commitment to the healing of divisions amongst us. As Australia and New Zealand emerge from the pandemic, we are determined to reinvigorate church life and to gather to ourselves those who, for various reasons, have drifted away. We pray fervently for an end to the conflict between Russia and Ukraine. Standing as we do at the beginning of the second century of ROCOR’s existence, we are particularly mindful at this time of our responsibility as the free voice of the Russian Orthodox Church.
We note with joy the decisions of the Council of Bishops convened in New York in September 2022 to elect a new First Hierarch, Metropolitan Nicholas (Olhovsky), and to appoint Bishop George (Schaefer) as the Ruling Bishop of our Diocese. We offer prayers to God for them both in their archpastoral labours for our Diocese and for ROCOR as a whole.
Australians and New Zealanders together were deeply moved by the repose, in September 2022, of our long-reigning and much-loved monarch, Queen Elizabeth II. As she acceded to the throne in 1952, most of us remember no other sovereign. We give thanks to God for her example of long and selfless service and of deep faith in Christ. We pray for her son and heir, King Charles III, as he assumes the heavy mantle of kingship.
The results of the 2021 Australian Census made it clear that there has been a steady decline over the past fifty years in the number of people professing an affiliation with Christianity, together with an increase in the number of people professing no religion at all. There have also been significant changes in the moral sphere, many of which are contrary to Orthodox Christian norms and values. There are similar trends in New Zealand, and in many other Western countries.
In the face of this we are mindful of our responsibility to bear witness to the Orthodox Christian faith and the immutability of God’s moral law. We call to mind the words of our beloved Saint John of Shanghai and San Francisco, who said that “the Russian Diaspora has made all the ends of the world familiar with Orthodoxy”, that it has been “a preacher of Orthodoxy in the whole world.” This, we perceive most clearly, is a task of ongoing importance.
Understanding this, we see a pressing need to attend to the formation of our youth and to the selection and preparation of pastors and educators able to guide our flock and those who come to us seeking the truth in these difficult times. We were pleased to hear of missionary endeavours in the Diocese, of steps taken to engage a Diocesan youth worker, of the educational work of our own Saints Cyril and Methodius Orthodox Institute, and of the ordination of a new generation of clergymen – including Father Pavel Baksheev, [to be] ordained at the Divine Liturgy celebrated on Sunday 30 October 2022 as the culmination of our Assembly.
Essential elements of our witness to the Gospel of Christ, amongst both our traditional flock and the wider community, are the expected conduct of our clergy and a high standard of safety for all children and young people in our care. We commend the 2019-2022 Diocesan Council for their important work in this area.
Committing ourselves to the good of our Australian-New Zealand Diocese, we call on all people of good will in our parishes, monasteries, and missions to take up positions of responsibility in the church and to join us in this work. May our loving and merciful God help us!