SYNOD OF BISHOPS: October 28, 2004

Epistle of the Synod of Bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia to the God-loving Flock on the Overcoming of Spiritual Division in the Russian Orthodox Church

"Peace be to the brethren, and love with faith, from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Grace be with all them that love our Lord Jesus Christ in sincerity. " (Eph. 6:23-24).

These words of the Apostle prefaced the Epistle of the Council of Bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia of August 27/September 9, 1927, when it became necessary to respond to the Epistle published in July of that year by Metropolitan Sergius and the Temporary Patriarchal Synod, which became known as the "Declaration of loyalty."

In the conclusion of the responding Epistle written on behalf of the Council of Russian Bishops Abroad, under the presidency of Metr. Anthony (Khrapovitsky), it was said:

"Exhaustively examining the Epistle of the Deputy Locum Tenens of the Patriarchal Throne and the Temporary Patriarchal Synod, and taking into account that the supreme ecclesiastical authority in Russia is under grave imprisonment by the enemies of the Church, is not free in its actions, and also that we have no possibility of having normal contact with it, the Holy Council of Bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church abroad decided:

"The part of the All-Russian Church abroad must cease its relations with the authority of the Moscow Patriarchate in light of the impossibility of normal relations with it and in view of its enslavement by the godless Soviet state, which deprives it of the freedom of will and the canonical operation of the Church.

"In order to free our hierarchy in Russia of responsibility for the non-recognition of the Soviet state by the part of our Church that is abroad, until the reestablishment of normal contact with Russia and until the emancipation of our Church from persecution by the godless Soviet authorities, the part of our Church abroad must govern itself, in accordance with the holy canons, the decisions of the Holy Council of the All-Russian Local Orthodox Church of 1917-1918 and the decree of His Holiness Patriarch Tikhon, the Holy Synod and the Supreme Church Council of November 7/20, 1920, with the assistance of the Synod of Bishops and the Council of Bishops under the presidency of Metropolitan Anthony of Kiev.

"The part of the Russian Church abroad considers itself an indissoluble and spiritually-united branch of the great Russian Church. She does not separate herself from her Mother Church and does not consider herself autocephalous. As before, she considers her head to be the Locum Tenens of the Patriarchal Throne, Metropolitan Peter, and commemorates his name during divine services."

We feel it necessary to remind our flock of these foundations for the autonomous existence of the part of the Russian Church that is abroad. Although it continued for many decades, it was conditioned by the unprecedented situation of the Church under the God-battling totalitarian regime in the Homeland, and the Russian Church Abroad never considered itself to be outside of the All-Russian Local Church.

If the division of the Russian people as a result of the revolution and civil war was a division of the flesh, the appearance of the Declaration introduced an ideological, spiritual division. The state wished to deprive the Church of her independence, to discredit her, to divide and conquer her, and for this reason the Declaration that was forced upon her confused the essence of the interrelationship of the Church and state.

The demand made in the Declaration "from the clergymen abroad to make a written oath of complete loyalty to the Soviet State in all their social activities" was unacceptable for Russian people abroad as an attempt to deprive them of their freedom to denounce atheism, to unmask the persecutors of the Church, and bear witness to the podvig [spiritual struggle] of the New Martyrs.

On the anniversary of his election as the head of the Russian Orthodox Church/Moscow Patriarchate, His Holiness Patriarch Alexy criticized the Declaration, saying that "lies were included in his [Met. Sergius'] Declaration," and that in it is expressed "the submission of the Church to the interests of state policy" (Izvestia, 6/10/1991). In 2000, the Council of Bishops in Moscow adopted the "Basic Social Concept of the Russian Orthodox Church" in which the norms of church-state relations are described, essentially condemning the Declaration and the path it announced. Among the New Martyrs of Russia glorified that year were those who did not accept the path of Metropolitan Sergius, but continued—as did the Russian Church Abroad—to commemorate Metropolitan Peter as the head of the Russian Church. For this reason, the prerequisites appeared for fruitful dialog on new foundations. Two historical conferences were devoted to its development (in 2001 and 2002), which included independent historians along with clergy of both parts of the Russian Church. Then, at the end of 2003, joint Committees were designated for dialog towards the resolution of all problems hindering further rapprochement and in the long term, prayerful-eucharistic communion.

The overcoming of long-term divisions is a serious and laborious process. The differences in historical experience of the sides cannot but have an effect. The work must also be conducted cautiously yet purposefully. The hierarchies of both sides are attentively following the development of dialog. The report by His Eminence Metropolitan Kirill, President of the Department of External Church Affairs of the Moscow Patriarchate, during the Council of Bishops of 2004, clearly attests to this, not least of which is the matter of the "Declaration of loyalty" as a phenomenon of the totalitarian period, the consequences of which must be overcome. We see that the work of the joint Committees is also moving in a positive direction. The Council of Bishops in Moscow approved the documents presented jointly by the Committees.

The Synod of Bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia, on its part, having approved these documents, will present them to the Council of Bishops of our Church for examination. In September, the joint committees met in Munich, and in November of this year their next joint meeting will be held in Moscow.

The mutual readiness for the amicable resolution of existing conflicts over property issues in some places, partly connected with lawsuits, should be viewed as one positive result of this dialog. These conflicts were created by the same past history, whose consequences must be overcome with all due responsibility for the good of the flock and to bear the witness of Orthodoxy.

From all this it is clear that the church committees are working with piety, in the name of the truth of God and the worthiness of the Local Russian Church. For this reason, we bless them to continue to work in the same spirit, prayerfully wishing them God's help and the blessings of the New Martyrs, whose lives, service and death are the seeds of genuine fraternal dialog, which we hope will lead to the making of peace and prayerful-eucharistic communion.

We will pray to Lord that He, as the Psalm-singer said, "bless His people with peace," with His unearthly peace, of which He Himself spoke to the Apostles before His sufferings: "Peace I leave with you; My peace I give unto you."