NEW YORK: February 4, 2005

Statement of Nicholas A. Ohotin, Communications Director of the Synod of Bishops and New York Representative of the Russian Ecclesiastical Mission in Jerusalem

Since the statement made by the Secretary of Inter-Orthodox Affairs of the Department for External Church Relations of the Moscow Patriarchate has caused consternation even among those who support the rapprochement of the two parts of the Russian Church, and has complicated the situation, it is worth noting that the declaration of the representative of the DECR, Protopriest Nikolai Balashov, was an unfortunate attempt to whitewash the violent, unlawful actions of 1997-2000, in which the DECR was directly involved. This statement by the DECR Secretary is of no significance to the joint Committees, their work and joint decisions.

The two appointed Committees exist on the Synodal level. They are directed to draft joint documents which are being submitted for approval by the Hierarchies. No limitations exist in the scope of the points of contention being considered. No alleged exclusions from the matters placed before the Committees of questions pertaining to the Holy Land or matters connected with this complex issue were envisioned. Property questions are not excluded from the agenda, nor are questions on the actual cessation of lawsuits over property, or the filing of new claims. The reference to a future united Russian Church which would decide everything is irrelevant, since the task of the Committees consists of determining the path of towards this future.

At the next meeting, planned for early March, it is expected that all the obstacles standing between the two parts of the Russian Church will be considered with the aim of drafting joint resolutions, or possible options thereof, to present to the Hierarchies. It may be that the apparent violation of the Committees' own rules by the Secretary of the Committee of the Moscow Patriarchate in his capacity of a secretary of the DECR will be discussed. It is beyond belief that one Committee member tried to make such an unusual political play of the internal questions on the Committees' agenda by making such a suggestion. It was intentionally decreed from the beginning that the Committees would work behind closed doors. It was with the aim of avoiding harmful polemics in the press and to protect the work of the Committees from external pressure that the decision was made to work in a closed forum, even though this has led to criticism. The Synod of Bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia may send a request to the Synod of the Moscow Patriarchate to publish the entire set of documents thus far drafted, but any such decision depends on the consent of both sides, on the Synodal level.

Meanwhile, the statement made by the President of the Committee of the Russian Church Abroad, His Eminence Archbishop Mark of Berlin and Germany, was unavoidable--and legitimate. The problem is that a matter set before the Committees was presented in a one-sided fashion, without consideration of the very existence of the Committees. The reference to a status quo is unjustified. In fact, it is at this very moment that the status quo is being violated. The desire to legally formalize that which has not yet been formalized that was expressed is a new development in the real circumstances today. As is well known, the actual status quo involves the presence on the territory of the Jericho monastery of monastics belonging not only to the Moscow Patriarchate but to the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia. Finally, the seizure of the monasteries in Jericho and Hebron through the use of force on the part of the Palestinian Administration under Yassir Arafat was viewed in the Holy Land as a violation of the status quo of holy sites in Palestine. This disruption of the status quo greatly alarmed and troubled not only the Jerusalem Patriarchate but many other Christians in Palestine.

The process of dialog with the Moscow Patriarchate was begun in the German Diocese, specifically by His Eminence Archbishop Mark, in 1993. This dialog lasted several years and was accompanied by the blessing of the Council of Bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia, but was interrupted by the seizure of the Hebron monastery in the summer of 1997. The participants of the dialog issued a Statement in December of 1997, stressing the mutual desire to continue their constructive meetings. In January of 2000, the monastery in Jericho was seized. Despite this, new steps towards the renewal of dialog were made by the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia in the second half of 2000. In this context, the suggestion that there is some new status quo, and the suggestion that certain topics are to be blocked out, are unacceptable.

Since the beginning, both sides stressed that the work of the Committees would be laborious. This has now been proven true. But what is least of all needed now are fresh attempts to justify the policies of recent years which might undermine trust. Such attempts can only inflict new wounds. This instance shows the importance of caution and care. And especially crucial is the prayerful support for the work of the Committees.

Nicholas A Ohotin
Communications Director, Synod of Bishops and
New York Representative of the Russian Ecclesiastical Mission in Jerusalem

Further references (in Russian):