RUSSIA: October 8, 2004

The Council of Bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church/Moscow Patriarchate

The Council of Bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church/Moscow Patriarchate convened on Sunday, October 3, with a divine liturgy at the Cathedral of Christ the Savior, at the end of which His Holiness Patriarch Alexy called upon the Russian people, the clergymen of the Moscow Patriarchate and especially the people of Moscow to support the Council through their prayers. He greeted everyone on the Sunday holiday, wishing "that the Resurrected Savior would always be with us, strengthening us in the face of difficulties and temptations, imparting to each of us strength and courage to perform our service and our life's labors to the glory of God, to the benefit of our earthly Fatherland, and to help our neighbors."

At three o'clock, in the Hall of Church Conventions, turning to the participants of the Council of Bishops, His Holiness the Patriarch opened the meeting. Thereafter, the bishops commenced appointing the working groups of the Council and adopting the regulations, the agenda and program of the Council, and heard the speech of the President of the Moscow Patriarchate on the inter-Council period (for the Russian text, see, in which he touched upon the activities of the Patriarch, the Holy Synod, the Synodal departments, dioceses, parishes and monasteries, the successes and problems both of the Church and of society, and defined the primary challenges facing the Moscow Patriarchate today. A special topic to be reviewed by the Council was the significant shift in the relationship with the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia, and documents prepared by the church Committees on Dialog between the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia and the Moscow Patriarchate, which were established last December, noted the Patriarch in his speech.

The following day, great interest was drawn by a speech on the same subject given by the President of the Department of External Church Affairs of the Moscow Patriarchate, Metropolitan Kirill of Smolensk and Kaliningrad, in which he said among other things (in Russian at:

"We shall try to briefly describe the differences which were viewed in the early 1990's as primary obstacles towards the reestablishment of relations between the Moscow Patriarchate and the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia. Mainly, these problems were caused by the prior political situation which unfolded in Russia and determined its attitude towards those countries where the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia performed its work.

"In the 1920's and 30's, the Russian Church was in complete isolation, and contacts abroad were minimal. Metropolitan Elevferii (Bogoyavlenskii) wrote: 'It seemed that between the Patriarchy and the Church abroad there lay such an unbridgeable gap that one could not imagine any personal contact. Those of us abroad had no choice but accept nothing more than occasional bits of news.'

"The government of the USSR pursued a policy aimed at the complete destruction of the Church inside the country and the weakening of those parts found in the emigration. Archival documents confirm that St Tikhon was often told to defrock and excommunicate bishops abroad from the Church.

"In the post-war period, the possibility for dialog was complicated by the conditions of the 'cold war,' when the Moscow Patriarchate and the Church Abroad found themselves on opposite sides of the 'iron curtain,' which divided the two opposing systems of the world.

"... On the part of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia, there were, as a rule, the following conditions for the reestablishment of contact with the Moscow Patriarchate:

"1. The condemnation by the Russian Orthodox Church of the Declaration of Metropolitan Sergius of 1927, and also the political course represented in that document, including compromise with the atheist authorities.

"2. The rejection of ecumenism by the Moscow Patriarchate, meaning that form of contact with non-Orthodox Christians or even representatives of non-Christian religions in which are found signs of apostasy from the purity of Orthodoxy. This requirement was first put forth in the last quarter of the 20th century, and in recent years has taken the primary position of importance in considering the matter of the overcoming of divisions.

"3. The glorification by the Russian Orthodox Church of the New Martyrs and Confessors of Russia, especially of the Royal Family. This demand became heard after 1981, when the Host of New Martyrs was glorified by the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia.

"Can these problems be viewed as real obstacles for the reestablishment of church unity today?

"Let us begin with the last question. The fundamental transformation of our country, seen by the Orthodox people as a gift from God sent down in response to the prayers of the New Martyrs, resulted in the Russian Orthodox Church gaining complete freedom. Immediately, the collection and study of documentary and other evidence of the martyric labors of the faithful children of the Church during the period of atheist persecutions began. The Millennial Council of Bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church of 2000 added the New Martyrs and Confessors to the great host of saints, and also canonized the Tsar and the Royal Family. It is worth noting that among the glorified New Martyrs are many who did not share the ecclesio-political course of Metropolitan, and later Patriarch, Sergius.

"The Acts of the Millennial Council on the Canonization of the Saints was viewed by the bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia 'with special hope and gratitude to the Lord our God,' as can be read in the Resolution of the Council of Bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia held later that year. The document also notes that one of the main reasons of the division between the Russian Church Abroad and the Moscow Patriarchate, by the mercy of God, has now been fundamentally eliminated.

"Let us turn now to the matter of the 'Declaration' of 1927. The hierarchy of the Russian Orthodox Church has more than once attested to the fact that the 'Declaration' is viewed now as merely a historical document which has lost its validity. The Council of Bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church in 1990 stated: 'WeÉ do not at all feel boundÉ by the Declaration of 1927, which remains for us a marker of that tragic epoch in the history of our FatherlandÉ We do not at all idealize this document, recognizing also its coerced nature.' In an interview given to the newspaper Izvestia in 1991, His Holiness Patriarch Alexy said: 'The Declaration of Metropolitan Sergius, of course, cannot be considered voluntary, for, while sustaining terrible pressure, he was to state things that were far from the truth in order to save people's lives. Today we can say that there are lies mixed into his DeclarationÉ The Declaration does not place the Church into the correct relationship with the state, in fact the opposite, it destroys that distance which in a democratic society must exist between Church and state.'

"Without limiting ourselves to these statements, our Church freely and without any coercion has described the norms of church-state relations, founded upon the word of God, the witness of many centuries of Church Tradition, including, in part, the experience of the New Martyrs garnered by the Church in the era of persecution at the hands of the totalitarian godless regime. Many spoke of the historical significance of the 'Basic Social Concept of the Russian Orthodox Church' when this document was first adopted by the Millennial Council of Bishops in 2000. Later it became clear: the significance of the 'Foundations' is also in that this _expression of the Church's teachings opened new opportunities for rapprochement with the Church Abroad. 'The Church,' states the document, 'preserves loyalty to the state, but above that requirement of loyalty is the law of GodÉ If the state forces Orthodox believers to apostasize from Christ and His Church, and also towards sinful acts detrimental to the soul, the Church must refuse obedience to the state,' says the third chapter of the 'Basic Social Concept.'

"The free voice of the Church, heard especially clearly in this Conciliar document, gives us the opportunity to see the 'Declaration' in a new light. While completely understanding that the path of relations with the state chosen in 1927 was based on the desire to preserve the possibility of legal existence of the Church, the Council of Bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church decreed that this course did not accord with the true norms of church-state relations. The epoch of the imprisonment of the Church has come to an end. In this way, the problem in our relations with the Church Abroad—which lasted for many years—was for all intents and purposes removed. This was essentially recognized by the Council of Bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia in 2000. During the recent talks, it became very clear that the chapter 'Church and State' in the 'Basic Social Concept of the Russian Orthodox Church' is seen by both sides as a faithful reflection of church teachings. Declarations by the church authorities on both sides made in the past under external conditions that were extremely inhospitable to the Church contradicting these norms cannot in any way be seen by us as actions having any validity for the Church.

"Let us now examine the question of relations with the heterodox. First of all, it must be said that representatives of our Church who participate in dialog with Christians of other faiths were never guided by the intention of creating a syncretic religion and never viewed inter-Christian organizations as a sort of super-Church. They never accepted the so-called 'branch theory.' Our contacts in the inter-Christian area had as their primary goal to witness Orthodoxy. Also, it is worth noting that under conditions of brutal control on the part of the atheist state, these contacts presented a real opportunity to counteract the pressure of the state by providing the Church entry into the international arena.

"Still, it must be admitted that participation in inter-church activity, with exhaustive control by the state, bore an elite character, remaining opaque to the Church for the majority of its members. One cannot, also, ignore the fact that some participants in ecumenical conferences, through their publications—likewise controlled—created a distorted image of the Russian Orthodox Church in its inter-Christian contacts. All this served as temptations which created on the side of the Church Abroad, but also within our Church, mistrust and suspicion towards inter-Christian contacts.

"In this regard, special significance is given to the document 'Basic Principles of the Russian Orthodox Church's Attitude to the Non-Orthodox,' adopted by the Millennial Council of Bishops of 2000. In this document, founded upon the traditions of the Church, the norms of our participation in inter-Christian relations are outlined. It should be stressed that these norms were also formulated by the Church without encumbrance by government involvement. This document clearly confirms the unique quality of the Church and the 'branch theory' is rejected. It states that the Orthodox Church, as the preserver of Tradition and the grace-filled gifts of the Ancient Church has as its 'primary task, therefore, in her relations with non-Orthodox confessionsÉ to bear continuous and persistent witness which will lead to the truth expressed in this Tradition becoming understandable and acceptable.' I am convinced that what is stated in this Conciliar document fully coincides in essence with the attitude of the Church Abroad towards this problem, representatives of which at one time actively participated in inter-Christian contacts. The question of whether the Russian Orthodox Church allows any liturgical communion with the heterodox was not even paid particular attention in the 'Basic Principles,' since for us this was not a problem: our rejection of this is entirely apparent. Still, some explanations regarding our practices were, at the request of the representatives from abroad, presented during the talks, of which more will be said later.

"So the most important acts of the Council of Bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church in 2000—the adoption of the 'Basic Social Concepts' and the 'Basic Principles of the Russian Orthodox Church's Attitude to the Non-Orthodox,' and also the canonization of the great host of New Martyrs—formed the real groundwork for substantial dialog with the Church Abroad with the aim of finally removing misunderstandings and overcoming the problems between us.

"A new invitation to such dialog was expressed in the Epistle of His Holiness Patriarch Alexy II and the Holy Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church to the Council of Bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia in 2001. The Epistle stated that the joy of the emancipation of the Russian Church will be complete only when the mortal schism is overcome. 'Our hearts are filled with sorrow that we and you, our brethren, who confess one Orthodox faith, cannot commune from one Chalice and that we continue to find ourselves imprisoned by historically-obsolete divisions,' we read in this document, which also contained an offer to establish joint committees to resolve those misunderstandings which still lay on the path of unity.

"Division is pain for the entire Church, the sorrow of all people. This is not an exaggeration: it is enough to see the interest our society takes in the process of rapprochement. The government is also not remaining aloof. Russian President V.V. Putin, while in Washington in 2002, had a brief meeting with a representative of the Synod Abroad, through whom he passed on an invitation to Metropolitan Laurus to visit our nation. In 2003, the President personally met with the President of the Church Abroad and again, on his own behalf and that of His Holiness the Patriarch, relayed to Metropolitan Laurus the invitation to visit Russia. This meeting had a very benevolent effect on our brethren abroad. I think that they came to the conclusion that the era of the godless state in Russia has truly ended.

"The idea of Metropolitan Laurus' trip in principle was decided in November of last year, during the visit of the first official delegation of the Church Abroad, headed by Archbishop Mark. The visit proved very fruitful. From the start, a trusting and respectful tone was established for our talks. Forgiveness was asked by both sides for the exaggerations which occurred in the years of division, and also the desire was expressed that the 'movement for unity no longer meet with new obstacles through statements or actions which could hinder the process of mutual rapprochement.'"In conversations with our brother bishops, we came to an agreement on that which is most important—the basic principles of the effort to overcome the division. First of all, it was decided to reject the repetition of the polemics of past decades. Of course, this did not mean that the process of analyzing the path traveled by the Russian Orthodox Church in the 20th century has ended. Personalities and events can and must be studied by historians. But now, through discussion, we must determine the level of our present unity of mind and fine-tune our common positions regarding problems which divided us.

"It is for this reason that these problems were recognized as advisable to examine, emerging from their current understanding by the Moscow Patriarchate and the Russian Church Abroad. In connection with this, the need was expressed to jointly compose documents in which such an understanding would be adequately reflected. The sides came to an agreement to mutual formulate our general attitude towards such topics as 'The Church and State,' 'Orthodoxy, Heterodoxy and Inter-confessional Organizations,' and the other issues being discussed.

"The belief was expressed on both sides that in the process of rapprochement it is necessary to act in such a way as to avoid prejudices and the inflicting of new injuries upon each other. There is no place for one-sided tactical victories on this path, there should not and cannot be winners and losers. It is especially important that we come to an agreement to move forward in consideration of the ecclesio-administrative realities which developed in the 20th century.

"For practical purposes, it was decided to form committees which must prepare the corresponding texts.

"An important event on the path to unity was the visit of the Head of the Church Abroad, Metropolitan Laurus, last May. This visit had great symbolism: for the first time, the Head of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia officially visited our country, and he met with His Holiness the Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia. Metropolitan Laurus was accompanied by a large group of clergymen. Our guests from abroad prayed at Patriarchal services and made pilgrimages to holy sites of Russia. The atmosphere of the visit was very warm and gregarious, and this was a great contribution by the archpastors, both those who participated in the meetings in Moscow and those who lovingly greeted our guests in their dioceses.

"The visit had great practical meaning. A decision was reached on the beginning of joint work by the Committees on dialog established last December, and concrete topics were formulated which demanded joint study. The Committees were proposed to speak on:

  • "1. the principles of the relationship of the Church and state in accordance with the teachings of the Church;
  • "2. the corresponding traditions of the Church on the relationship of the Orthodox Church with non-Orthodox communities, and also with inter-confessional organizations;
  • "3. the status of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia as a self-governing part of the Russian Orthodox Church;
  • "4. the canonical conditions for establishing Eucharistic communion.

"Documents prepared by the Committees were to be presented for the consideration by the hierarchies of the Moscow Patriarchate and the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia.

"The Committees have begun their joint work and have had two meetings already: in Moscow and in Munich. Joint documents have been agreed upon on a series of issues which were determined during the May visit of Metropolitan Laurus. More about this will be said by Archbishop Innokentii of Korsun, the President of the Moscow Patriarchate's Committee on Discussions with the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia in his report. Vladyka Innokentii will also present for the Council's consideration the documents prepared by the Committees. On my part, I would only like to comment on the atmosphere in which these talks were held. I was able to sense them myself, since I often met with the participants of the meetings and kept close contact with them. The talks are being held in a calm and amicable atmosphere. One senses the purity of motives of the participants, as well as the lack of any hint of other aims besides those set forth. Both sides are earnestly striving to reach mutual understanding, without abandoning their principles. The Holy Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church made a determination based on the conclusions of the first meeting in Moscow, in which bishops who perform their duties outside our canonical territory are to develop joint initiatives with their brother bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia in every way possible. It was decided going forward to reject the filing of lawsuits and to cease those that are in progress, and in instances when such conflicts cannot be resolved, to hand such matters over to the Committees. It is expected that a similar decision will be adopted by the Synod of Bishops Abroad.

"Regarding the possibility of resolving the aforementioned problems which concern the Moscow Patriarchate, it seems that in the process of dialog, success is being achieved to agree on a common approach to their examination. We hope that the continued work of the Committees, including that of their November session, will result in joint texts attesting to unanimity. If, God willing, all their work is successfully concluded and the approval of the Hierarchies is received, then the corresponding canonical acts will be required which would mark the end of division and the reestablishment of full communion with the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia. What must be decided now, I feel, is: Will it be necessary to convene a Council of Bishops, or, upon the examination of this matter in principle by the present Council, will such authority be granted to the Holy Synod?" (End of quotation from the Report of Metropolitan Kyrill.)

At a later session, the President of the Committee on Dialog with the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia, Archbishop Innokentii of Korsun presented the documents jointly drawn up by both Committees and the discussion of this matter, after which the following resolution was adopted: "Hearing and discussing the report of His Holiness Patriarch Alexy of Moscow and All Russia, and also the report of Metropolitan Kirill of Smolensk and Kaliningrad, the President of the Department of External Church Affairs, and the report of Archbishop Innokentii of Korsun on the successful continuing dialog with the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia, the Council of Bishops thanked the All-merciful Lord for the substantial improvement of mutual relations with our brethren and unanimously decided:

  • "1. To recognize as exceptionally important the steps taken to overcome the divisions existing for many decades in the body of the Russian Orthodox Church.
  • "2. To express satisfaction on the visits to Russia of the official delegations of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia, including the delegation headed by the First Hierarch, His Eminence Metropolitan Laurus, and also in connection with the successful joint work of the Committee of the Moscow Patriarchate on Dialog with the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia and the Committee of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia on Dialog with the Moscow Patriarchate.
  • "3. To approve the contents of the documents prepared by the Committees presented to the Council for consideration.
  • "4. Upon the completion of the Committees' work and the bilateral agreements on the prepared documents, to entrust the Holy Synod, on the basis of the decisions made at the present Council, to execute the canonical acts with which Eucharistic communion and unity will be restored."

Besides questions relating to the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia, reports were heard on matters of the relationships with the Local Churches and the Old Believers, social service, demographics, work with youth, the drafting of temporary regulations on ecclesiastical courts for diocesan courts, and regulations on ecclesiastical awards. The Council also adopted a resolution on resisting extremism and terrorism and other documents and decrees.

On Wednesday, October 6, Russian President V.V. Putin met with the Patriarch and the members of the Council of Bishops at Alexandrovsky Hall of the Moscow Kremlin, where he discussed with them the conclusions of the Council, and listened to the bishops' statements on the cooperation of the Church and state in reestablishing monuments of history and culture, the teaching of the Foundations of Orthodox culture in government schools of general learning, social work and church philanthropy. Bishop Evstafii of Chita and Zabaikal expressed support for the proposal to celebrate the memory of the emancipation of Russia from the terrible enemy and the end of the Time of Troubles in 1612, to be held on the feast day of the Kazan Icon of the Mother of God, celebrated on November 4. After the meeting with the President, the members of the Council of Bishops, headed by the Patriarch, departed for Dormition Cathedral, where a moleben was performed to the First Hierarchs of Moscow, whose relics are kept there, and a commemorative litany for those who perished in Beslan. That evening, everyone went to Protection Convent to venerate the relics of Blessed Matrona of Moscow, whom it was decided would be added to the host of saints on the second day of the Council of Bishops.

The final divine services to conclude the Council were held at Holy Trinity-St Sergius Lavra on the feast day of St Sergius.