Archbishop Mark
Moscow, Nezavisimaya Gazeta, 5 June 2002

"Russian Orthodoxy in Search of Unity"

"We must always deal with Russia, whether we wish to or not," says a member of the Synod of Bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia
An Interview with Archbishop Mark
by Mark Smirov.

Michael Arndt, who took the monastic name of Mark, was born in 1941 in the city of Chemnitz (Germany), in a Protestant family. After finishing the gymnasium [a type of European intermediate school specializing in the humanities-Tr.], he studied Slavistics at the University of Heidelberg, including medieval Russian literature. In the course of his studies, he became drawn to the Orthodox faith, which he embraced in 1964. Already a member of the Orthodox Church, Michael Arndt received his Ph.D. in 1969.

Unexpectedly for everyone, this thriving university professor decided to become a monk on Mt. Athos - however, due to obstacles posed by the policies of the military junta in Greece, this dream was not to be.

Though it was not possible to live and study on Mt. Athos, the desire to gain an Orthodox theological education lived on in the heart of Michael Arndt, and he made a hopeless attempt to enter the Moscow Theological Academy in the Trinity-St. Sergius Lavra. With this aim, he wrote to the bishop who represented the Moscow Patriarchate in Berlin, and waited for over a year - only to be refused admission. It may have seemed nonsensical to the leadership of the Russian Orthodox Church that a German, who had become Orthodox under the Church Abroad, should want to study in the Soviet Union. At that time (already a distant one!), political provocation would have been suspected in such a plan.
Michael Arndt was tonsured a monk in 1975 by Bishop Paul (Pavlov) of the Church Abroad, and, the same year, he was ordained to the diaconate and the priesthood. Hieromonk Mark began serving as pastor of the church of the Holy and Righteous Elizabeth in Wiesbaden; at the same time, he was obliged to care for several parishes scattered about Germany: among his parishioners there were not only Russians, but also Germans, who, like him, had joined the Orthodox Church.

Since Athos and Moscow were closed to him, Priestmonk Mark entered the theological department of the University of Belgrade, where at the time many of the future bishops of the Serbian Church were studying. A degree in graduate theological studies helped make Fr. Mark a candidate for bishop. In 1980, when the ruling bishop of Berlin and All Germany was transferred to Australia, he was succeeded by Archimandrite Mark.

As bishop, he moved to the monastery of the Venerable Job of Pochaev in Pasing, a suburb of Munich. An Orthodox monastery had first come to be here in 1945, when Russian refugees from Eastern Europe found a safe haven from the Red Army in the American military zone in Germany. At that time, the Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia, headed by Metropolitan Anastassy (Gribanovsky), was located in Munich. Later the Synod, like the majority of the refugees, moved to America,but the brotherhood of the Monastery of St. Job of Pochaev stayed where it was, with a former German army barracks made into a monastery and church. At present, the Diocesan administration of the German Diocese is located in this monastery.

Today, Archbishop Mark of Berlin and All Germany is a noted figure in the Church Abroad. In the heart of Bavaria, on a tiny bit of German land, he is rebuilding the Russian church life of the early 20th century, as its many traditions were preserved by living witnesses who had once left Russia.

- Your Excellency, in the Russian Church Abroad there has been a change of first-hierarch. Metropolitan Vitaly (Oustinoff) went into retirement, and at present, the head of the Church is Metropolitan Laurus (Shkurla). At the same time, Metropolitan Vitaly seems to be active, and several clergy have declared that they consider only Metropolitan Vitaly, as before, to be their first-hierarch. How would you comment on this?

-Last year we received the petition of Metropolitan Vitaly to go into retirement, on the grounds that, because of his advanced age, he was unable to direct Church affairs. He had been issuing contradictory orders, as well as oral statements that were just as contradictory, which is quite understandable for an elderly person. In this way, there came to be certain troubles in our Church. No doubt something similar went on in the Moscow Patriarchate during the last years of Patriarch Pimen's rule.

Such a situation made it difficult for the bishops to work in their own dioceses, and, in particular, meant there was no clear idea of where our Church was headed. Some of the bishops made this known to the Metropolitan in personal conversations, and in the end, this led to his decision to retire.

The Synod accepted and approved the Metropolitan's request, and on this basis it was decided to convoke a Bishops' Sobor. At the Sobor, the Metropolitan again publicly affirmed his desire, after which the members of the Sobor began the procedure of electing a new Metropolitan - who was Vl. Lavr (Shkurla).

Because of the fact that Metropolitan Vitaly is not in full control of the situation, he is being used by certain people, who think the hierarchs making up the majority in the Synod are on a wrong path. It is just such people who have now surrounded him. Out of all of our episcopate, only the former bishop of Cannes, Varnava, takes this line, and by then he had been deposed and had no influence.

Metropolitan Vitaly left for Canada and settled in Holy Transfiguration Skete in Mansonville (in his former Canadian diocese), where there followed new consecrations of bishops - consecrations which we cannot, of course, recognize. This is all the more odd, since, due to his physical weakness, the Metropolitan was unable to celebrate divine services in recent years, and he would have been physically unable to perform these consecrations. From a canonical standpoint this is clearly an infraction, since only a Bishops' Sobor of our Church may authorize the consecration of a new bishop.

- In the mid-90's, Bishop Varnava of Cannes was often in Russia, and is known there through several publications stating that he gave spiritual counsel to the "Pamyat'" group of Dimitri Vasiliev. What were the reasons for his being defrocked?

-After these developments in Russia, the Synod of our Church forbade him to go there for several years. But the reasons for his suspension and then his being deposed relate to the events of the year 2000, when the affairs of the West European Diocese were examined at the Sobor. At that time it was ordered that he be only the vicar of our parishes in France, but not the ruling bishop there. Bishop Varnava did not obey this conciliar decision, and therefore he was placed under suspension by the Church. He too was made
use of by certain extremists among the clergy there. This group consists of only 10 individuals: 8 priests and 2 deacons, and in no way do they express the general opinion of the Western-European Diocese. For their schismatic activity, they were all defrocked, except for two persons who repented in time.
In the other dioceses, such dissent is altogether insignificant. Even in Canada itself, only two priests, without their parishes, joined this movement. Thus one cannot speak of a division or separation: this is something on a very different scale.

It is another matter in our parishes in Russia, where, according to my information, two bishops broke away and recognize only Metropolitan Vitaly.

- Can you tell us who they are?

- They are Lazarus (Zhurbenko), archbishop of Tambov and Odessa, and Benjamin (Rusalenko), bishop of Kuban and the Black Sea, both active in the Ukraine and southern Russia. But even among the parishes of our Church in Russia, they represent a minority.

- In Russia, besides the Moscow Patriarchate, there is also another "alternative" Church - the Russian Orthodox Autonomous Church headed by Metropolitan Valentine (Rusantsev), with its center in Suzdal. What is the attitude of the Russian Church Abroad to this hierarch?

- The answer to that is quite unambiguous: he was defrocked for serious misdeeds, and therefore cannot be either a bishop, or a priest. For us, he is nothing more than a monk.

- Vladyka, the latest Sobor of Bishops of the Church Abroad in the year 2000 re-evalutated the perspectives for its relationship with the Moscow Patriarchate, and, because of this, many Orthodox in Russia began to hope that a reunion of the two Churches was possible. What are the real perspectives for such unity?

- Our new approach in this question is based, first of all, on the very fact that there have been changes in the religious life of the country. At the Bishops' Sobor of the Russian Church Abroad (in October 2000), a talk was heard about the Sobor that had recently been held in Moscow. As is known, [at the Moscow Sobor of 2000] the foundations of a social conception of the Russian Orthodox Church were made known, and in many of their points, they changed our old views of what sort of a Church the Moscow Patriarchate was. What I have in mind is those points where the independence of the Church from the government is discussed. We took this as a condemnation of "Sergianism". What was especially important to us was the glorification of the New Martyrs of Russia at that Sobor, since we had already long since canonized them, and had venerated them more than one decade [since 1981-Tr.].

At the Sobor in 2000, a Commission was set up to study the questions of the mutual relations of our Church and the Moscow Patriarchate. You mentioned two Churches: I have never recognized this, and never shall: we are not two Churches, but two parts of the one Russian Church. Since the beginning of the 1990's, when it became possible for Russians to have some sort of human contact with the West, even then the question of a rapprochement arose. It was right here, on the territory of the German diocese, that from 1993 we began to have discussions with representatives of the Moscow Patriarchate. In these discussions, one bishop and four priests from each side took part. I represented the Church Abroad, while Archbishop Feofan (Galinsky) represented the Moscow Patriarchate. We met usually twice a year, and discussed all the questions that we considered important for overcoming the present divided state. And I must say, at these meetings we found many new possibilities for overcoming these difficulties. Thus, in my view, this was a very valuable experience, and I personally very much regret that it was so rudely broken off by the Moscow Patriarchate.

- In what way?

- By the seizure and expulsion of our monks from monasteries in the Holy Land, the rude breach of the most basic human rights on the part of the Stalin-like structure of administration of the Russian Orthodox Church--the Moscow Patriarchate. This structure, which interferes with any positive development, unfortunately, even now exists as an inheritance from the darkest times in 20th century history.

This was particularly unpleasant for me, and the cause of pain, since I personally was responsible for these monasteries in the Holy Land, and could do nothing to prevent what happened. Despite all the discouraging circumstances, our meetings with the representatives of the Moscow Patriarchate still continued for a time, but our flock abroad did not understand this, and therefore it became necessary to break off the meetings.

- You mentioned a Stalinist legacy in the Russian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate. Could not that which the enemies and critics of the Moscow Patriarchate call "Sergianism" interfere with the process of reunion of the two parts of the one Church?

- Here there emerges the close bond of the Moscow Patriarchate with the government, a bond which has survived till the present. I recently read an interview of Metropolitan Kirill of Smolensk, where he praises this bond, which, in his opinion, developed so splendidly in the Soviet period. In my eyes this is the same repulsive "Sergianism". But we all recognize that the Department of External Relations, and other establishments of the Moscow Patriarchate, are not the Russian Church as a whole. The Russian Church is far broader, and, when I speak of it, I speak with love of the Russian Orthodox people, of the majority of the clergy.

- Have you had occasion to meet with Patriarch Alexy II in Moscow, and to discuss these problems with him?
- Yes, I have met the Patriarch, though to be sure it was some time ago, in 1997, and we had time only to touch upon these subjects briefly. Of course, in any serious meeting of two hierarchs, these issues cannot be avoided.
- Was this the first encounter of the Patriarch with representatives of the Russian Church Abroad?

- As far as I know, he met Vladyka Mitrofan who is now reposed, and Protopresbyter Alexander Kisselev, who lived out his last years in Moscow; so that, I think, this was not the first meeting.

- How would you picture a possible reunion: the Synod of the Church Abroad relinquishing its powers? Dioceses subordinated to the Moscow Patriarchate and the Moscow Synod? Or would it be on the model of mutual co-existence, mutual recognition and eucharistic communion?

- First, there is the question of the problems mentioned above which need discussion, and second, of the possibility in principle of eucharistic communion. In the document which we signed at the end of 1997 with Archbishop Theophan, it was so stated: we, at our level, see no obstacles in principle for eucharistic communion. I think that this is a serious question. I signed the document, as did Vladyka Feofan, at my own risk, without having consulted any of the members of our Synod and brethren. Nonetheless, I hold to such a view, and think that this might be a next step, where two Church Sobors could recognize the existence of such a possibility. Beyond that, it would be correct, with the condition that there be progress on both sides, to continue the work of the commissions, which could meet, and discuss the question, for example, of observers from each side at the other's Councils. This is my personal opinion; I have not discussed this question with anyone, and do not know how my brethren might react to it.

In a more distant perspective, this might take the form of co-existence, and further on, of communion in the form suggested already by Patriarch Alexy II. In one of his interviews, he saw it as natural that the Church Abroad has its own life, its own characteristics, which have developed in these 80 years, and no one should forget them.

For example, among our parishioners there are many non-Russians. By this very fact, we differ considerably from the Russian parishes. Therefore some model of mutual recognition is needed, one that would gradually become a kind of autonomy.

After all, if we see that, within the Russian Orthodox Church, there exists an autonomous Ukrainian Church, then the question arises: why not a Siberian or a Far-Eastern [autonomy], and so on. And if, indeed, in such a small country as Latvia, the authorities decided that the Russian Orthodox are outsiders, and demanded that the Moscow Patriarchate grant autonomy to the diocese of Latvia, then all the more so the Church Abroad, which comprises one whole with the Russian Orthodox Church, should maintain its identity. Because of the external circumstances in which we live, we have retained many old Russian traditions, which in the Church in Russia no longer exist. After all, our liturgical life has continued unbroken, and nothing interfered with it. Therefore one would in no wise want to lose that precious contribution made by our fathers, who against their will were forced to leave Russia. Many people who come to the West today from Russia see and appreciate this very thing.

- If there is a rapprochement on the eucharistic level, if both parts of the once-unified Russian Orthodox Church recognize each other as Sister Churches, would this not lead to conflicts, mutual accusations of a breach of the canonical territory of one or the other Church? Thus, for example, in Germany there would be two bishops with the title "of Berlin and All Germany", and a like situation could arise in other cities of Wester Europe as well. What do you think about this?

- The very concept of "canonical territory" is a novelty! This term never existed before in the Church, and it would be better not to use it, because it leads us away from the main issue...

As concerns parallel structures, this is something unhealthy and it ought not to exist, but it should disappear gradually and in a peaceful way. I am certain that in a generation all these questions will have resolved themselves in a conciliar manner. But not in the way this came about in the USA, when the Moscow Patriarchate gave autocephaly to the Orthodox Church in America, and then opened its own new parishes in the same place, sending its bishops to America, when according to canon law it no longer had the right to assign them there. But this was in the time when in the MP the same Stalinist spirit had dominion, and I hope that in the future this will no longer be the case, but that the problems of reunion will be resolved in a conciliar way Here, outside of Russia, we, the members of the Church Abroad, in no wise differ in our social life from the other citizens of those countries in which our dioceses and parishes are found. Our priests and our flock are also united to one another by the fact of constantly living here, they have the same lot and the same concerns. ... For this very reason, we have had very good successes in the spreading of the Orthodox faith in both the Old and the New Worlds. The priests who arrive from Russia to serve in the parishes of the Moscow Patriarchate seem foreign enough to our flocks. After all, they have come here for a predefined period, nothing ties them too deeply either to the country or to the Orthodox community in which they serve.
And so, I am certain that with good will on both sides, all can be resolved successfully. But this good will must be present, and it must be put under the conciliar rule of a free Church, one that is not oriented towards one or another government and its policies, one directed by the conciliar wisdom of the Church.

- Could one say that you personally were the initiator of a drawing-near of two parts of the Russian Church, that it was you who took the first steps in this direction?

- It think that the issue is not me personally, but the fact that our diocese has the peculiar role of being a geographical fore-post of the Church Abroad, regarding Russia. We meet people from Russia, including priests and bishops, more often than others do. Even back in the 1990's, our interest in Russia was much greater than was the case in the other dioceses of the Russian Church Abroad. For example, this discussion you and I are having, is taking place in the monastery of the Venerable Job of Pochaev, where since 1945 service bookshave been published in Church Slavonic, as well as booklets on Church history and theological themes, which were then sent into the USSR!

Not in a single other diocese of our Church was there anything like this...Proximity to our historical fatherland demanded such steps. Besides that, I received my theological education in Serbia, and therefore I probably have a broader view of Orthodoxy than do many other bishops. I had occasion many times to discuss questions connected with the life of Orthodoxy with Serbian bishops, my friends, and with the present Patriarch Pavle of Serbia. And so, I feel that my active part in discussions with the Moscow Patriarchate is not my personal achievement, but only a situation in which I find myself, by dint of being the Archbishop of the Church Abroad in Germany. It would be hard to picture how a bishop located in South America could show the initiative needed for the matter at hand...

And here I would like to emphasize that we have always prayed for the Russian people to be delivered from godless rule, and hoped for the reunion of the Russian Church. Naturally, the problem of unity has entirely depended on purely external, political conditions.

- How, in this connection, do you view the current policies of the Russian government, the president and parliament? Is it possible to work with this Russia?

- We must always deal with Russia, whatever the circumstances or conditions might be, whether we wish it or not. As long as we are a part of the Russian Church, we cannot renounce it, or the Russian people, regardless of what conditions that people live in. Of course, now it is much easier for us to be in contact, and we make use of this. To be sure, I have not been in Russia for some time now, but we make active use of the possibility, which itself speaks of the positive changes there. We are not called upon to give any kind of evaluation of the present government and its policies, but, if we regard it from the point of view of the Church, then the Church's situation in Russia now is much better than it was 20 years ago. This is a fact, which we rejoice in and welcome, in the hope that the situation will further develop in a way beneficial both for the Russian people in a cultural and spiritual sense, and for the Russian Church, which, we shall continue to believe, will free itself from the legacy of the Soviet past.

- How would you evaluate the decision by the Roman Catholic Church to set up 4 Catholic dioceses in Russia, with ruling bishops headed by a metropolitan residing in Moscow?

- The Church Abroad has no such close ties with the Roman Catholics as does the Moscow Patriarchate, with its active participation in the ecumenical movement. The Catholics are an alien Church for us, because we do not have close contacts with them. Nonetheless we have always observed the canonical order of not giving our bishops the same titles as Catholic or Anglican bishops. For example, in London we had a bishop since the 1920's, but we never called him "the Bishop of London", because there is an Anglican bishop with this title, even if we do not recognize his holy orders. This is not even a canonical question; this is a question of tact, of an etiquette needed in human relations.

For this very reason, it was a bitter moment for us when, in January of 1993, despite the protests of some members of the Moscow Patriarchate clergy, the president of the Department of External Church Relations, Metropolitan Kirill, assigned Archbishop Feofan (Galinsky) to Germany with the title "of Berlin and All Germany". This was a deliberate invasion, since an Orthodox archbishop with that title already was here. Canonically this was absolutely inadmissible, because the Moscow Patriarchate does not deny our Sacraments, does not deny our existence, and indeed our bishops have borne that title for decades. All of this is the fault of a small group inside the Moscow Patriarchate, a group that is in fact interested in spoiling rather than improving relations.

- Nevertheless, what do you think of the initiatives of the Vatican in Russia, and of the conflict between the Moscow Patriarchate and the Roman Catholic Church?

- You see, we have our own experience in co-existing with other religions and Christian confessions. This is expressed variously, in various dioceses and countries. But due to that experience, we have learned how to conduct ourselves correctly in relations with the heterodox, without mixing with them. The Moscow Patriarchate on the other hand does everything the opposite, which no doubt is the result of inadequate theological training. The clerics of the MP have come to the point of holding church services with the Catholics and Protestants, which we completely reject. At the same time, the Moscow Patriarchate seeks the defense of the government from so-called missionaries, which, from my point of view, is a mistake! I think that the 300-year experience of the Old Believers should help us understand that the Church is obliged to deal with these misfortunes by ecclesiastical means, in a spiritual way. If I live a spiritual life and feel myself right in my belief in Truth, I cannot turn to any other form of defense, except prayer...We should not give anyone occasion to think that the Catholics and we are one and the same. Unfortunately, the Moscow Patriarchate does this constantly, calling the Roman Catholic Church her Sister, that is, erases the borders, and then suddenly warns of the danger presented by the Catholics.

The main danger that I see is that the Russian people are not sufficiently taught and rooted in the Orthodox faith. This is not the fault of the Russian people, but their misfortune! For many decades, Orthodox families did not have the possibility of teaching their children. As a result, they do not have enough firmness in the faith, and the idea that Orthodoxy is the True Faith. But I, having come out of Protestantism and joined the truth of Orthodoxy, cannot put up with the opinion that there exist many true faiths. The Lord is One, and the Truth is One!

[Published in Russian by Nezavisimaya gazeta, on June 5, 2002.]

English translation by Archpriest John R. Shaw, June 6, 2002.


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