Orthodox Conference in Munich: 2003

Archbishop Mark (Arndt)

The Unity of the Russian Church; the Situation Today

The Conference opened on Friday, 26 December. The first lecture was given by Archbishop Mark. Below is an abridged report on the speech:

"We are a part of the Church in order to be saved, so that through the mysteries of the Church to grow into the body of Christ," began Archbishop Mark. "The mysteries give us the possibility to commune with God. The mysteries, however, do not exist in a vacuum. They are given within the Church. The Church, as the body of Christ, is that living organism in which we come into contact with Christ. From apostolic times, the Church exists in the form of various local churches, created according on territorial and national foundations. Thus did the Slavic peoples, including the Russian nation, accept baptism a thousand years ago, and since then the Russian Church has grown, with all the difficulties incurred by man when he meddles in the work of God. The fallen nature of man is the greatest obstacle in the work of the Holy Spirit, the effect of the grace of God. The Russian Church had existed for almost five hundred years as one of the dioceses of the Byzantine Greek Church, and only gradually acquired its independence, which in ecclesiastical terms is called autocephaly. The achievement of autocephaly was accompanied by many difficulties, with the Russian Church existing for a period of time in a strange, uncanonical state, and yet finally the matter was resolved.

"In the following centuries, the Church lived a more or less normal ecclesiological existence until the emergence of a czar who decided that he was no longer a czar but an emperor (the title alone speaks volumes), a person with Protestant views, Peter I. He revoked the Patriarchy, replacing it with a Synodal structure based on the Protestant type.

The Synodal structure cannot be called uncanonical, but still it was alien at the time, it harmed the Russian Church and wounded it so badly that in many ways it turned into a civil institution. This lasted for two hundred years, but during this time, hope did not leave the Russian Chuch that the patriarchy would be restored. Finally, on the eve of a complete catastrophe--spiritual, first of all, but also political, historical and national--a Council was convened in 1917 at which Patriarch Tikhon was elected."

Then Vladyka briefly spoke on the history of the emergence and canonical foundations of the existence of our Church Abroad, after which he detailed the history of the relationship of our Church and the Church in Soviet Russia.

"During the last decades, naturally, our relationship with the church structures which were preserved or arose in Russia changed, for development there was not uniform. Still," Vladyka stressed, "over these decades we did not doubt in principle that in the Church in Russia, in the enslaved Church, despite its imprisonment, the mysteries were performed. Yet based on the Ukase of Patriarch Tikhon, we had no right to submit ourselves to the ecclesiastical structure which existed in Russia because in its actions it was chained by the atheist state.

"Some tried to justify this enslaved existence, referring to the fact that the Church during its first few centuries did not live with much greater freedom, and may have enjoyed even less freedom. But this argument is unacceptable. In ancient times, during the persecution of the Church, not one emperor, not one hegemon, or whichever way they were called at one time or another, made an attempt to subject the church administration to himself. He simply persecuted the Church and executed Christians. This was a direct, straightforward matter. Yet no pagan emperor attempted to enslave the Church, that is, conspire with the church administration to coerce it to work at his behest.

"Such enslavement, such imprisonment was the first, and maybe the only reason why we could not enter into communion with that ecclesiastical structure. The constraints on the Church administration in Russia was especially apparent during the Second World War, when Stalin seized the Church in hopes of gaining support in the war against Germany.

Since then, the relationship changed, but all the following generations, the powers that were sought one goal--to destroy the Church, if possible, with its own assistance.

"We did, however, have a moment of very close communion with the Church in Russia. This was during World War II. Some priests from the emigration went into the occupied territories because churches were opened there, but with time, more priests left there for the West. In Munich, Germany alone at the end of 1945 we had fifteen bishops in one camp--an entire Sobor. Our diocese then had over 150 major parishes.

"Not only did priests find themselves in the West, but even bishops who had at one time been in communion with Metr. Sergius, but there was no question about their canonicity and legitimacy--they were our own bishops, our own priests. Mostly these were refugees, priests and parishioners, who resettled overseas. And again the time came when there was no, or almost no communication with Russia.

"Based the accounts of clergymen and parishioners who joined our Church during the war or immediately following, we were able to obtain an understanding of the existence in Russia not only of an official Church, but of the Catacomb Church. Through difficult, roundabout ways we tried to support contact with the Catacomb Church in Russia over the next few decades. First of all, we gave them the right to commemorate our hierarchs, for by this time they were left with no bishops. There were instances when we were even able to pass on myrrh for baptisms to them when they had none left.

"There were attempts made on the part of the official Church of the Moscow Patriarchate immediately after the war to attract the emigration as a whole, but this was not successful, because the larger part of the emigration understood that these were politically-, and not ecclesiastically-motivated efforts.

"And so we have survived until the 1990's, the time of changes. We have been able to impart to the Catacomb Church not only moral support, literature and myrrh, but even the secret consecration of one bishop, Bishop Lazar, who was consecrated under those special circumstances by one secret bishop of our Church. Later, when the borders were opened, this ordination was augmented, because in accordance with church canons, the ordination of a bishop must be performed by at least two bishops.

"After 1990, significant changes occurred. Insofar as external freedom had been achieved in Russia, it was natural for us to re-examine our attitude towards the Church in Russia. When we began to visit Russia and acquaint ourselves with life there, we saw that the Church was no longer imprisoned as it had been in previous years. Still, it was difficult to evaluate how free the Church really was, or how its actions may have been restricted with bishops who had been appointed with the consent of the Soviet state, who were educated by this state, etc.

"With time, we developed several points which we raised when discussing our relationship with the Church in Russia. We saw that the time had not come to enter into communion, since baptisms were being performed incorrectly almost everywhere (we knew little of other mysteries), we could not accept that the Church had not yet glorified the New Martyrs, and we could not accept the methods of contact with the heterodox and those of other religions, which we later identified under the term "ecumenism," that is, prayerful communion with the non-Orthodox and those of other faiths, and finally, we could not make peace with the effort made over the course of many years on the part of the MP to justify the cooperation with the atheist state, through the misapplication of Holy Scripture. Still, we could not but see the enormous changes that had occurred in Russia with regard to the Church and the state. Gradually, bishops, and first of all the Patriarch, began to demand that priests perform the mysteries in accordance with the traditions of our Church, began to insist that baptisms be performed through full immersion, and even over the latest months re-introduced such institutions as the ecclesiastical court. The Council of the MP glorified the New Martyrs. At this point we declared that several persons were left uncanonized, but we needed to take into consideration that the matter of glorification is approached far more cautiously and judiciously in Russia than we were ever able to. We knew the names of New Martyrs almost exclusively from the Soviet press. The Soviet Union had been proud that it murdered people, and lists of their victims were published. Other sources were practically non-existent.

"But in Russia, an entire commission was established to examine every individual instance of how a person was martyred." Vladyka spoke of the painstaking and thorough work performed by the Commission on the Glorification of the New Martyrs in Russia, noting that we conducted the glorification fifty years later than when it was needed, because those in the emigration were hesitant. "Therefore," said Vladyka, "before cricitizing the bishops of the MP for not wishing to glorify the New Martyrs, we should look at ourselves, who grew up in freedom, lived freely our entire lives, and did not dare undertake this task promptly. So the glorification of the New Martyrs performed in Russia represented the overcoming of a great obstacle. Two, however, remained: Sergianism and ecumenism. In regard to Sergianism, that is, cooperation with the atheist state, this was addressed at the Council of the MP, along with the glorification of the New Martyrs (spiritually this is the same movement), which adopted a document using the term 'social concept.' This document took many years to prepare and includes a section on the relationship of the Church and state. This document fully satisfied the bishops of our Church, because it plainly states that a member of the Church must resist the government if it requires the rejection of Christ or His teachings.

"Another problem remained—ecumenism. In this regard, there is a whole series of documents recently published by the MP in which it unambiguously states that there must be no prayerful communion with the heterodox and those of other religions, participation in ecumenical measures must be connected with witnessing Orthodoxy, etc. These are positions which we share. Still, the MP has kept its habit of maintaining contact with those of other faiths, which does not sit well with us. But here I must state that until the 1960's, we calmly participated in such actions ourselves. In fact, ecumenism itself originated on the territory of the Russian Church of the 19th century. The Russian Church began to have contact with the Anglican Church, among others. In this regard, our judgments in this area must be set against the background of the life of our entire Church, and not some decades," Vladyka stressed.

Vladyka then said that after the meeting with President Putin, the Synod of Bishops decided to send a delegation to Russia to prepare the possible trip of our First Hierarch: "The delegation arrived in Moscow in mid-November. On the first day, the three bishops had a meeting, which lasted for several hours, with the Patriarch, and the second day, the entire delegation met with the Patriarch, three members of the Synod of the MP and two priests. At these meetings, our delegation tried to gain a sense of the foundation and reach an understanding of what the Russian hierarchy thinks of our Church, and also what possible steps might be foreseen in the future." Vladyka explained that he personally envisions as one possibility, and maybe the most desirable one, that we could exist in Eucharistic communion, that is, not only the people, but the clergymen, that we could commune together. He based this position on the fact that over the course of recent decades, we never principally questioned the effect of Divine grace in the MP and the validity of all the mysteries performed there, naturally, with the exception of unlawful ones. The ordination of a deacon, priest or bishop, that is, the central moment in the continuation of the Church, is performed during liturgy. If we recognize these ordinations, we cannot doubt the validity of the mysteries being celebrated during which these ordinations are occurring. The fact that we do not approach the same Chalice was based purely on administrative decisions, for the Church there was imprisoned. Since we see now that the Church is truly free, this very reason, in Vladyka's opinion, has become obsolete.

Vladyka once again emphasized that he considers the question of Eucharistic communion as the most important, because we are Orthodox only insofar as we are in communion with the entire Orthodox world.

Another question regards the possible administrative relations between us and the Church in Russia. At the meetings in Moscow, Archbishop Mark expressed the position (knowing that our Synod of Bishops holds firm to the same position) that in any case, the unity of the Church Abroad cannot be violated, because this was a structure that grew organically and showed its viability over the course of decades. At the same time, Vladyka admits the possibility that in a hundred years, or two, or five hundred years, this matter may undergo re-examination, depending on the situation.

"In the Moscow talks, our bishops as a whole saw the same approach to the matter of the re-establishment of Eucharistic communion between our Churches, though there were difference in opinion on the road to be traveled towards that end. In any case, Patriarch Alexy himself feels that Eucharistic communion can be only the end result of the entire course. As it turned out later, our pastors also--as was made evident during the All-Diaspora Pastoral Conference [in December]--and our bishops hold a similar position, according to which Eucharistic communion can be only the final goal after a longer process of preparation. Our Council of Bishops, held recently, formed a committee which would study all the difficult problems existing between the two parts of the Russian Orthodox Church. Three bishops and two priests comprise this Committee. Today," Vladyka said, "the Synod of the MP is convening in Moscow, which will appoint a corresponding committee. The work of these committees will be very difficult, but it cannot be postponed. What will they talk about?" Vladyka listed several possible questions: these include ecumenism, Sergianism, property questions, which are especially acute in our diocese, since we have many old churches dating from the 19th century that the Russian government is laying claim to (not the Church, the government).

"Of course, the attitude towards our parishes--the so-called parishes "abroad" in Russia--will be a very difficult problem. Another matter is the relationship of our church to some old-calendarists--Greek and Rumaniam--though we must say that this relationship is extremely limited, insignificant, but it remains an obstacle, because all the official Churches, both in Greece and in Rumania, insist that these old calendarists are uncanonical, illegal entities."

Vladyka recalled the astute words of one of our bishops on the possible form of our future relationship with the Church in Russia; "One Chalice and two administrations. We see examples of such communion in the newly-formed autonomous Churches: for instance, the Ukrainian Autonomous Church, in Latvia, Lithuania, Moldavia, etc. One diocese of the MP, the Sourozh Diocese in England, from the beginning of its existence has had this status. They conduct their own church life, and only make reports to the Council of the MP." This is roughly the existence Archbishop Mark envisions as the most attractive for us, not allowing even the thought of subjecting our Church to the MP, because in the West, under conditions of freedom, we have developed many habits which are not even comprehensible there, and in the same way, it would be absurd to adopt some form of existence which are absolutely unacceptable to us as well.

At the Pastoral Conference in New York in December, Archbishop Mark learned of an example of such autonomy that was encouraging. A priest from Moscow, a member of the Committee on the Glorification of the Saints, an invitee of the Conference, said that the Ukrainian Church does not even recognize all the saints that were glorified in Moscow, and in turn, it glorifies those whom Moscow is not prepared to glorify. This is only one feature which shows what our relationship can and should be like.

Yet Archbishop Mark also noted another point of contention which arose during the

recent meeting in Moscow. "We are two branches of one Church. The MP does not have that direct and successive tie to Patriarch Tikhon, we are convinced, which our Church has, because Metropolitan Sergius did not maintain a fully legitimate path, in our opinion. That is why we cannot view the MP as the Mother Church, though the Patriarch of Moscow insists on this formula.That is why we do not accept the notion that the MP can grant us autonomy--we only speak of its recognizing our existing autonomy."

Vladyka also said that one bishop, back in the 1990's, when the Council discussed possible relations with the MP and other Local Churches, offered one bold idea. This bishop said "We exist; that is a fact. We do not need anyone's recognition. We are the only Church which spreads throughout the entire world. That is why we will live like we do, and at some point the other Orthodox Church will be forced to recognize us."

It was a bold idea, because it has no precedents. Still, in Archbishop Mark's view, there is a fault here, for we continue to call ourselves the Russian Church Abroad, but one can hardly find a canonical basis for an international Church. There being no precendents, we would in any case argue this point for decades or centuries.

In conclusion, Vladyka repeated what he said at the Pastoral Conference and the Council of Bishops: we cannot speak of submitting ourselves, unifying, dissolving, etc. We can only discuss living a normal ecclesiastical life: not in resistance to other normal Orthodox Churches, where such resistance has no foundation, but in a union of love.

Vladyka turned the listeners' attention on the fact that there are a great many problems in daily church life which cannot be decided, if we continue to live distinctly, without communion with other Orthodox Churches.

These problems, still, are sometimes only seen by bishops, they are not accessible to laymen, nor even to priests--it is no wonder that a bishops stands upon an orlets [eagle rug].

Archbishop Mark concluded his speech by stating that in his opinion, the developing dialog will not likely result in some quick rapprochement, but the movement itself in this direction is necessary.