MOSCOW: October 24, 2005

Interview of Bishop Gabriel of Manhattan in Nezavisimaya Gazeta

Your Grace, in early October you made a pilgrimage to the holy sites of Russia, met with the leaders of the Moscow Patriarchate and became acquainted with the life of Russian monasteries and parishes. Has your perception of church life in Russia changed?

It did not change, it has been enhanced. I learned and saw over this short time a good deal of new things compared with what I saw ten years ago. I was moved, seeing the rebirth of our Russian holy sites, the spiritual foundation of the history of the Russian Church: Optina Hermitage, Valaam, Solovki. In St Petersburg, the Savior-on-the-Blood Church is gradually becoming an active church with divine services being performed. My interaction with clergymen was open, earnest and beneficial.

Do you think that the time for the unification of the ROCOR and ROC/MP has indeed come?

We are not talking about unification if by that you mean the merging or even interaction on an administrative level. Today we think that the time has come for Eucharistic communion; that is, allowing our clergymen and flock to partake of communion in each other's churches. We are trying to overcome our ecclesiastical differences. For this we must together examine our views concerning the current church questions.


That is why we should call what is happening between the Churches a gradual reconciliation. This, in my view, is the most apt characterization. A correctly-believing Orthodox person can only welcome such rapprochement. But we can only see the fruits of reconciliation when we overcome everything that divides us now, so that we can say with a pure heart during Divine Liturgy: "Christ is among us."

So reconciliation comes through the overcoming of differences. It's easy to say, but how hard it is to do… It is the need for this overcoming that I discussed with journalists, but for some strange coincidence this word was dropped in all the published versions of my interviews. "Reconciliation" was left in, "overcoming" was left out. People often hear only what they wish to.

Alas, Russians abroad and the Orthodox people in Russia will always be divided in their views of the historical fate of the Russia people… For example, we have different perceptions of the actions of General Vlasov during the War of the Fatherland of 1941-45, or of the role of the Communist state in the internal policies of the Moscow Patriarchate. There are other examples, too. Aren't these viewpoints the basis for the division of the Russian Church, and not at all the stated terms "Sergianism" and "ecumenism" that are little understood by the people of the Church?

If the main reason of our differences was only the historical-political divide, then your whole question could be answered with a simple "yes." For earthly history and politics are not justifications for ecclesiastical divisions. Church unity is immeasurably more important and higher than any politics. If one side or the other involved in the church dialog referred to historical or political viewpoints as a reason to reject unity, one could almost accuse them of heresy.

You are right in the sense that the various historical-cultural backgrounds hinder our ability to understand each other. But this is a much more important matter. The problem is not, for example, what you called the role of the CPSU [Communist Party of the Soviet Union] in the internal policies of the ROC/MP. If the temporal powers tries to "pressure" the Church, if it persecutes her, tries to enslave her, this, as strange as it may seem, may seem almost "normal" to you. But when we speak of "Sergianism," we are not discussing state policy but ecclesiastical actions.

Did not Metropolitan Sergius and his followers, in their attempts to find some common tongue with the state, which was absolutely hostile to Christ, cross the unseen but well-known Church boundary beyond which the very teaching of the Church of Christ is compromised?

Ecumenism is not an pretext—it is a false teaching of the faith and the Church. We are trying to understand; did not contact and cooperation with the heterodox Churches and other religious organizations in certain cases in fact turn into de facto agreement with the concept that there could be several Divine Revelations and that each of them holds some part of the truth? "Oh, this is alright, and this isn't that bad…"

In one of my interviews, very recently appearing in the Russia media, by the way, I was not quoted accurately; I expressed the opinion that the ROC/MP, somewhat surprisingly for me, made a great deal of progress in its evaluation of the "Declaration" of Metropolitan Sergius.

But I must say that for practically all the people I spoke with in the Fatherland—and our conversations were frank—the admission of any untruth in the actions of Metropolitan Sergius (Stragorodsky) is out of the question. This is also the case with the participation of the ROC/MP in the World Council of Churches (WCC). They do not see in such participation any of the dangers of ecumenism. And we are bound to take this into consideration.

But even with different viewpoints of the role of General Vlasov during the war, Orthodox Christians can easily pray together in one church and commune from one Chalice. That is already the case abroad.

Why is ROCOR then seeking autonomy from the MP? Why not have normal friendly and prayerful relations? Look at the Greeks. They have the Ecumenical [Constantinople—trans.], Alexandrian, Jerusalem Patriarchates, the Hellenic and Cyprus Archbishoprics. Five independent (autocephalous) Orthodox Churches. This does not prevent them from being Orthodox, no matter where they live.

The autonomy of the Russian Church Abroad, that is, its current existence on an independent basis, is founded upon the famous Ukase No 362, issued by Patriarch Tikhon in the fall of 1920. The independent (self-governing) internal administrative and structural existence of ROCOR in all forms is not even discussed in the process of negotiations.

In the foreseeable future, for example, until an All-Russian Local Council, where some sort of changes in principle may be adopted, it will remain unchanged.

Don't you think that the time for the unification of ROCOR with the ROC/MP will come when the bishops of the ROCOR will submit their activities to the judgment of an All-Russian Local Council, and not when they ask and receive some degree of inviolability from the MP? For now the Patriarch and Synod can simply send, for example, a bishop from Kaluga out to Chita somewhere…

In fact, there is no discussion of anything like what you termed "asking for and receiving inviolability". You were led astray… In fact, your ignorance is partly the fault of our Church. Maybe we are too silent, we do not disseminate the facts of the negotiations we are holding.

So there is no need to panic: our bishops abroad will continue to occupy our cathedras abroad by appointment of the Councils of ROCOR. This is stated quite clearly in the draft Act on Canonical Relations prepared by the Commissions.

The practice of transferring bishops from one cathedra to another was common and universal in the Russian Empire. This sometimes even contradicted ecclesiastical canons. By the way, when the time comes—through Divine Will—to convene an All-Russian Local Council, all the parts of the once-united Russian Church will submit their actions to its judgment, not only ROCOR.