MOSCOW: May 28, 2004


At the invitation of His Holiness Patriarch Alexy II of Moscow and All Russia and President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia, a delegation of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia headed by His Eminence Metropolitan Laurus visited Russia to meet with the Patriarch, archpastors and clergymen of the Church in Russia, in order to acquaint themselves with church life and to conduct prayers at the holy sites of our Homeland.

The delegation consisted of representatives of almost all the dioceses of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia: besides the Metropolitan, there were two archpastors, eminent protopriests and young priests, protodeacons and readers. With one exception, all were born and raised outside the borders of Russia. At the same time, all, with one exception, had visited Russia before.

The trip was twice delayed and only upon our arrival in Russia did it become clear why we came, by God's providence, specifically in May. The first service at which we prayed was a divine liturgy at Butovo Polygon, at the site of the murder by atheists of thousands and thousands of Russian Orthodox people, including bishops and priests. The Patriarch served along with other bishops and more than 300 priests. After liturgy, one protopriest of the Moscow Patriarchate said to us: "Today the earth itself was a living antimension for us." The blood of the New Martyrs became a banner under which our visit, our pilgrimage was made.

Besides prayers at the site of the massive executions at Butovo, we prayed, in Moscow, at the relics of St. Patriarch Tikhon the Confessor, whose memory is so dearly held by all the faithful of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia; in Ekaterinburg at the site of the Russian Golgotha, where the Royal New Martyrs were brutally killed; at the mineshaft in Alapaevsk, where the bodies of the Holy Grand Duchess Elizaveta, Nun Varvara and those with them were thrown; at the relics of St. Seraphim of Sarov, the God-pleaser; the pastor of All Russia, St. John of Kronstadt; at the chapel of St. Xenia the Blessed at Smolensky Cemetery and at the site of the appearance of the Miracle-working Kursk-Root Icon of the Mother of God.

At every one of these sites we elevated our fervent prayers for our clergymen, our parishioners, our families, our children. We prayed that all the actions, thoughts and words of our delegation would fulfill the will of God. To these prayers we added the one that never ceased in every parish of the Russia diaspora over the course of 80 years--the prayer for the much-suffering Russian people.The fate of the Russian people is inseparably tied to the fate of the Russian Church, and the Russian Church bears the wound of division for over 75 years, unhealed to this day. The spiritual guides and our parents passed on their love for the saints and holy sites of our Fatherland--these sites are not simply memorials of days past. They are bound together with the fate of living people and even today, as before, the people of God in Russia--selflessly, with faith and love--restore these sites, they build churches, strive in their lives to follow in the footsteps of the saints. Our love cannot only be turned to the past--it must be an active, living love, acting in the present, at the time and place in which the Lord situates us.

Everywhere we visited we heard from the mouths of the archpastors and pastors of the destruction by the godless regime of the holy sites, especially of the holy image of God in people's souls. Calls for repentance and the emulation of the struggles of the New Matyrs in their sermons were accompanied by remarkable tidings of the piety and faith of the Russian people of today, of their striving towards the faith in Christ. An example of this is the story of the Russian people who walked on foot from Ekaterinburg to Diveevo for the 100th anniversary of St. Seraphim of Sarov. Many who visit holy sites such as Alapaevsk go there with one goal, yet leave completely transformed, renewed. We were especially heartened that in the dioceses we visited, instead of friction and abstract discussions, there is action focused on educating the faithful, work with children and youth, help for the needy and publishing work. In the Ekaterinburg Diocese, for example, there are hot meals served daily to the poor, while Holy Trinity-St. Sergius Lavra created a whole center for orphaned boys.

In each diocese, on the steps of every church we communed with the people of the church, spoke with parishioners, youth and children. This contact, however brief, brought us great joy. At Moscow Theological Academy we had the opportunity to speak before 500 people--all participants of theological schools.

Against this background, we felt with particular pain the wound of division upon the body of the Russian Church. Indifference towards the return of health of church life in Russia is impossible. We cannot but participate, hold out a helping hand, as far as we are able, and support all those who labor for the glory of God. From the mouths of youth and church people in Russia we heard words and saw tears of Paschal joy that there is finally hope for the attainment of spiritual unity of the two parts of the Russian Church. Both we and they have faith that the blood of the New Martyrs was not spilt for naught. We cannot allow ourselves to believe that the Lord does not heed the prayers and groans of millions of souls. Our Church Abroad was thanked for its standing in Orthodoxy and for its witness to the persecutions, for its publications, its radio broadcasts. The glorification of the saints was noted, not least of which was that of the Royal Family in 1981. This conciliar action served as an impetus for the recognition of the podvig of the Royal Family and their veneration in Russia. We were also frequently told that the church division, besides all else, pushes young people away from the Church, weakens the witness of Orthodoxy both in Russia and in the entire world.

At the same time, along with positive phenomena in the life of Russia, there is much which is difficult and even tragic. This is recognized in practice by all the archpastors and pastors with whom we met. They do not deny the problems and difficulties in church life, but the belief is growing fast in the possibility of overcoming the difficulties of internal chuch life, and that the Church can act upon the Russian people and society more than it does now, if the experiences of the two parts of the Russian Church flow together into a single effort.

Our delegation had two discussions with the corresponding delegation of the Moscow Patriarchate on the matter of the rapprochement of the two parts of the Russian Church. Over 50 years ago, Metropolitan Anastassy of blessed memory, the second First Hierarch of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia, said that any unity begins with personal meeting. Looking each other in the eyes, hearing each other and speaking openly, we felt the softening of hearts, the mutual good will, pain for the ecclesiastical division and the desire, with God's help, in the spirit of repentance and truth to overcome the division caused at one time by bitter necessity under terrible conditions.

At the discussions with the delegation of the Moscow Patriarchate, a list of the important topics which were in need of mutual agreement and recognition by the Church was prepared, which was later confirmed during the meeting with His Holiness Patriarch Alexy and handed down to the joint committees of the Moscow Patriarchate and the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia. This list includes the relationship of the Church and state, the attitude towards heterodoxy and the self-governance of the part of the Russian Church which is abroad. The desire was expressed that the committees begin their work in the end of June. The committees will report on their progress to the Supreme Church Authority, and then concrete proposals will be discussed at the Councils of Bishops. It is best not to guess the timeframes and results of the work of the committees and the decisions of the Supreme Church Authorities, but to recall the words of a bishop of the Moscow Patriarchate: "We sometimes think in human terms that we decide the fate of the Church. We are mistaken--the Lord decides."

Our delegation thanks the Lord God for the possibility of accompanying His Eminence Metropolitan Laurus and the bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia during this first official visit. Our First Hierarch and the delegation was greeted with honor both by representatives of the Church in Russia and by highly-place government officials, for which we thank His Holiness Patriarch Alexy II and President Vladimir V. Putin of the Russian Federation.

We sensed the growth of mutual trust and we began everything with prayer. The members of our delegation are of one spirit in its observations, evaluations, joys and troubles. We call upon our brethren and parishioners to trust our hierarchy, to strengthen their prayers and to rejoice that the Lord, by His grace and in ways invisible to us, gives us now real hope for the reestblishment of church unity, for which we prayed always and will continue to pray.