Two Churches in Search of Unity

"The dialog is proceeding well, but one must not set deadlines,"
says Archbishop Mark of Berlin and Germany.

By Dmitrii Urushev

Recently, the third round of discussions between the Russian Orthodox Church/Moscow Patriarchate (ROC/MP) and the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia (ROCOR) to overcome their differences was held in Moscow. Archbishop Mark (Arndt) of the Diocese of Berlin and Germany of ROCOR granted an interview to NGR on the subject of these discussions and their results.

Your Eminence, the third round of negotiations between the Moscow Patriarchate and the Church Abroad have ended. Please tell us what questions were discussed this time?

At previous discussions, we considered the matter of the relationship of the Church and state. This time, also, we discussed the so-called "Declaration" of Metropolitan Sergius (Stragorodsky) and his Synod of 1927 [in which the Church declared its loyalty to the Soviet state—NGR]. The attitude towards this epistle was considered for many years to be one of the fundamental obstacles in principle to establishing liturgical communion between the two parts of the Russian Church.

Representatives of the Church Abroad felt that it was important to return to this question with the aim of developing commentaries to the previous joint documents. In this new text, a new analysis is made of the "Declaration" from the point of view of the "Basic Social Concept of the ROC" adopted by the Council of Bishops of the Moscow Patriarchate in 2000. The "Social Concept of the ROC" was well received and viewed in a positive light by the Council of Bishops of the ROCOR that same year and paved the way for the beginning of our process of negotiations. I think that the document developed by us now, which will be presented to the hierarchies of both Churches, will satisfy both sides equally and will give the fullness of the Russian Church the impetus to proceed further.

Besides this, we discussed the matter of our Ecclesiastical Missions in the Holy Land, about the blow dealt to our relationship by the expulsion of monastics belonging to the Church Abroad by the Palestinian Authority police in Hebron in 1997 and in Jericho in 2000, and the handing over of the monasteries there to representatives of the Moscow Patriarchate. At the same time, looking to the future, we are considering the possibility of joint witnessing of Russian Orthodoxy in the Holy Land.

Another difficult topic we touched upon were the mutual claims made against clergymen received by both Churches without canonical release and without the possibility of checking their canonical status due to the impossibility of normal relations. If the reception of clergymen in such a manner seemed entirely justified during the Soviet era, by the 1990's, such an approach was unacceptable. Now we must seek a means to heal the wounds inflicted upon each other in this regard.

In all these matters, we outlined possible constructive resolutions acceptable to both sides. Our aim as negotiators is only to propose resolution options to the hierarchies of both Churches. In any case, the final word, or the request for further negotiations, must be expressed by the Councils or Synods of both Churches—the separated parts of one Russian Church.

How did the talks go? How do you rate their results?

As always, talks held between people who have had no communication for a long time for one reason or another prove difficult. But I view the results of this serious task in a positive light, having no doubt that both sides in this process are striving to create the most hospitable grounds for continuing upon the mutual path in the service of God and people, both in Russia and abroad. Upon this road, with the good will and readiness for painstaking work that I observe on both sides, I believe one can count firmly on positive results.

Metropolitan Kirill of Smolensk and Kaliningrad, President of the Office of External Church Affairs of the Moscow Patriarchate, stated that the result of the negotiating process will be the reunification of the two Churches. Do you share his optimism?

Metropolitan Kirill said: "We are not setting a deadline as to whether the reunification happens in a week, a month or a year, but in my opinion, the dialog is proceeding successfully." I am in complete agreement with this—the dialog is proceeding well, but one must not set deadlines.

For the Church Abroad, the convening of an All-Diaspora Council is needed to consider matters connected to the establishment of prayerful and administrative communion with the Moscow Patriarchate. We plan to convene one in late 2005 or early 2006, with the participation of clergy and laity from all dioceses of our Church. It is expected to comprehensively study questions relating to the establishment of liturgical and administrative relations. This Council, which will have an advisory function, will conclude with a Council of Bishops, which will adopt a decision.

Some in the Russian media have suggested that the Council of Bishops of the ROC, held recently in Moscow, would declare the reestablishment of liturgical communion with the Church Abroad, which would have allowed representatives of the two Churches to perform divine services and to commune together. Why did this not occur? Who is not prepared for such communion, the Moscow Patriarchate or the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia?

I don't know who could have spread irresponsible rumors of such plans. The Council of Bishops of the ROC was not preparing to make, nor could have made, such a decision unilaterally. Still, the Council of Bishops of the ROC/MP decreed that further work on the reunification of the two Churches be handed over to the Synod, which in my opinion eased the process. This means that further action is possible as soon as the Council of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia makes its decision.

Are there influences abroad hindering rapprochement? What arguments are they using in justifying their position? What, in your opinion, could neutralize these forces?

Without a doubt, such forces abroad do exist--incidentally, they are not small in number. They argue first of all that until now there has not been a sufficiently clear rejection by the Moscow Patriarchate of the "Declaration" of 1927, and also that the ROC to this day participates in the ecumenical movement and is in the World Council of Churches. The documents already adopted by us in the process of discussions can act against these arguments. But from the very beginning, we set the condition that these documents be published only after exhaustive ecclesiastical consideration. That is why we need an All-Diaspora Council--to decide these questions.

For many it is difficult to imagine concretely the status of the Church Abroad as a self-governing part of one Russian Church. A few clarifications are necessary in this regard.

There are also fears with regard to property. Russian President Vladimir Putin, during our meeting in May of this year, in the presence of Patriarch Alexy II and the First Hierarch of the ROCOR, Metropolitan Laurus, unequivocally spoke on this matter, stressing that neither the Russian government nor the ROC will make any claims on the property of the Church Abroad. Still, many people have little trust! Steps must me taken to ensure such trust.