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
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.
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.
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."
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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."
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.
Mark also noted another point of contention which arose during
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."
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.
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.
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.
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].
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.