Interview with the First Hierarch of the
Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia,
Your Eminence, in your opinion, how can relations between the Russian Church Abroad and the Moscow Patriarchate develop?
I hope that relations will develop for the spiritual benefit for the entire Russian people. The main obstacle for rapprochement and unity of the two parts of the Russian Church--the Church Abroad and the Mother Church in Russia--was always that the leadership of the Church in Russia was not free. As part of the Russian Church, the Church Abroad could not have contact with the church authorities which were subjected to and enslaved by a state antagonistic to the Church. The situation of the Church leadership in Russia made it difficult to see what was done freely and what was done under duress. Now the godless state has collapsed, and now people who are at least nominally Orthodox stand at the helm of power; there is mutual understanding and support between the ecclesiastical and civil authorities, so one cannot speak of the limitation of freedom for the Church in Russia now.
What specifically hinders rapprochement at the present time is the official membership of the Moscow Patriarchate in the ecumenical movement, even though there is no such participation on the pastoral and lay level. The Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia always stood firmly upon the foundation of church canons, without approaching those who depart from the canons, and never remaining silent about violations of ecclesiastical truth. But ecumenism is the heresy of heresies; this is why it is important for the leadership of the Moscow Patriarchate to withdraw from the ecumenical movement.
Were there predictions by the bishops abroad and by saints on the paths and possible rapprochement between the Russian Church in Russia and abroad?
All the bishops in exile lived in hope of returning to Russia, to the Homeland: Metropolitan Anthony and Metropolitan Anastassy of blessed memory, our unforgettable Abba, Archbishop Vitaly (Maximenko), the first abbot of our Holy Trinity Monastery, all lived with love for Russia, her history, her saints, her holy things and places. Saint John (Maximovich), Archbishop of Shanghai and San Francisco, who was glorified by our Church and is venerated in Russia, always hoped and believed that the reunion in Christ of the two parts of the Russian Church would come. He wrote: "The Russian Church Abroad does not spiritually separate herself from Her suffering Mother. She lifts up prayers for Her, preserves Her spiritual and material treasures and in time will unite with Her, when the reasons for division disappear." The main reason of division, he felt, was the lack of freedom of the Church in Russia, and the main reason for the existence of the Russian Church Abroad was Her freedom. "It was for the sake of freedom of the Church that the part of the Russian Church abroad began Her independent existence, and it will continue as long as the underlying reasons exist." In his epistle to the Orthodox flock of Shanghai in 1946, Bishop John wrote that the hour of return (return, not simply unification) of the bishops Abroad to the Homeland will come, and he felt that any decision regarding the fate of the Russian Church must be accepted not on a piece-meal basis, but with unity of mind, together. The question of the unity of the separated parts of the Russian Church can be decided only at an All-Russian Council.
It is known that not everyone supports the rapprochement of the two parts of the Russian Church. Surely, there is some basis for this. Is resistence to this process expected?
It is possible that some are against it. People resist the process of rapprochement and the unification of the two parts of the Russian Church for different reasons. Some say: "We don't need Russia, what are we to do there? We have our own culture and our own Church. We never lived in Russia, and our children are not Russian at all. Why do we need this unification? All we can expect is trouble and unpleasantness." We cannot agree with this opinion. We cannot wall ourselves off from Russia, from her fate and her Church, for the fate of Christianity in the entire world depends on whether Russia will arise as an Orthodox sovereignty, and in fact, the fate of the whole world itself, as foretold by St. Seraphim of Sarov.
Others recall their parents' memories of post-war Soviet propaganda in China and France, when the Soviets cunningly lured people to the Soviet Union, and how these gullible people then suffered.
Others say that only members of the Russian Church Abroad can be called Christians, and that the Russian Church of the Moscow Patriarchate, the "Soviet church," as they say, has no grace. In place of love to God and one's neighbor, instead of love for our Homeland, Russia, they plant hatred and loathing in their hearts. Those who are obstinate in this opinion fall into pride and the prelest' (spiritual delusion) of neo-phariseeism. Many automatically repeat the words of others without thinking. Some hypocritically and falsely exploit the good name of our retired Metropolitan Vitaly to create a schism in the Church. May God grant all of them the reason in truth and may they return to the bosom of our dear Russian Church Abroad, which has not, and will not, compromise in matters of faith, but also does not fall into extremism, straying neither to the left nor to the right... As the Primate of the Russian Church Abroad, I can say that we will be happy to receive into the bosom of the Church all those who return. We hope that the Lord will lead them, Orthodox Russian people, to us, to unity of mind and solidarity.
If the Lord leads us to unity in any form, what will this bring to Russian and to Orthodoxy?
I think that the rapprochement of the Church Abroad and in Russia will bring spiritual benefit for the entire Russian people, for this will deliver our church from self-isolation and its consequent fragmentation and division on one hand, and on the other, from dissolution into her heterodox surroundings.
For the Church in Russia, unification with the Russian Church Abroad, which preserved both external and internal spiritual freedom, will introduce a strong and fresh current. Russia is enormous, and the people there have various attitudes towards faith and the Church, there are many who are indifferent and lukewarm, who are hypocritically self-serving, but there is a small flock, the chosen troops, who, like candles, burn before God with pure, pious lives. These people publish and disseminate Orthodox books and journals, they build and adorn churches, establish schools, visit prisons and hospitals, orphans, the elderly, the indigent and homeless, each one serving God where he is called. We have many self-sacrificing people devoted to the Orthodox Church as well. And when all artificial barriers between these people fall, the mistrust, suspicion, slander, calumnies, when all people of good will join forces, then, I believe, the prophecies of St. Seraphim of Sarov and St. John of Shanghai and San Francisco will come to pass--Holy Russia will rise, if only for a short time! I think that the reunification of the two parts of the Russian Church will hasten the full and final renascence of Russia, Orthodox Russia will assume her proper place in the family of nations and may even restore political and moral balance to the whole world.
Interview with Monk Vsevolod (Filipiev)
for Russkiy Vestnik
16 March 2004