SAN FRANCISCO: October 12, 2005

“Let us make room for God's Grace":
Interview With Protopriest Peter Perekrestov, Secretary of the Pre-Council Committee for the IV All-Diaspora Council

1. What is the goal of the IV All-Diaspora Council?

The Epistle of the Synod of Bishops on the convening of the IV All-Diaspora Council (May 25, 2005), states that the main themes of this Council will be the question of establishing normal relations between the Churches in Russia and abroad, and internal church matters relating to the mission and service of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia in the contemporary world.

Back in 1993, the Council of Bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia (under Metropolitan Vitaly) adopted the following, very important, resolution:

"We hear repentance in the words of individual hierarchs of the Church in the Motherland and see a cleansing—in the brave endurance of new tribulations… We recognize that it is time to join all forces so that the Orthodox Church could assume its proper place in the life of the Russian people… We see that we must make a new beginning and for this sake, we must seek new paths. At the same time, not one of us can dare assume the position of judge. We must all examine the winding paths of church life in the unheard-of conditions of the 20th century… and emerge cleansed from the difficult experience of our time… We must merge as one the various experiences of all the parts of the Russian Orthodox Church."

The children of our Church know that the Council of Bishops of 2000, also presided over by Metropolitan Vitaly, responded positively to several facets of church life in Russia, specifically the ecclesiastical glorification of the Royal Family so revered by the believing Russian people, and the adoption at the highest level of a document (the so-called “Basic Social Concept”) which lays out the official position of the Russian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate on the relationship between the Church and state, etc. It is worth noting that the Russian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate is the first and only Local Church to so precisely and clearly express the proper attitude of the Church towards the civil authorities. In particular—and this is very important—the following was stated:

"III. 3. …The state should not interfere in the life of the Church or her government, doctrine, liturgical life, counseling, etc.

"III.5 ... The Church infallibly preaches the Truth of Christ and teaches moral commandments which came from God Himself. Therefore, she has no power to change anything in her teaching. Nor has she the power to fall silent and to stop preaching the truth whatever other teachings may be prescribed or propagated by state bodies… The Church remains loyal to the state, but God's commandment to fulfil the task of salvation in any situation and under any circumstances is above this loyalty.

"If the authority forces Orthodox believers to apostatise from Christ and His Church and to commit sinful and spiritually harmful actions, the Church should refuse to obey the state."

Metropolitan Sergius’ Declaration was adopted only at the level of his Synod, while the above document of 2000 was adopted by the Council of Bishops of the Moscow Patriarchate.

Only after the glorification of the Royal Family and the New Martyrs of Russia, and the adoption of the Council of 2000 of the "Basic Social Concept" did it become possible to proceed to a joint historical and canonical study of the paths traveled by the two parts of the Russian Church.

In 2003, the Council of Bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia, by now under the Presidency of His Eminence Metropolitan Laurus, adopted a decision on the formation of Commissions on discussions with the Church in Russia. This Commission is in its second year of work, and has convened five times.

In 2004, an historical event occurred in the Russian Church: for the first time, by invitation of the President of the Russian Federation and of His Holiness Patriarch Alexy of Moscow and All Russia, the First Hierarch of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia, along with a delegation accompanying him, made a visit to the Church in Russia.

So five years have now passed since the beginning of the heightened process of searching for the resolution of the Russian tragedy—the division of the Russian Church—and now the time has come to draw conclusions and determine the path moving forward.

In the Epistle on the convening of the All-Diaspora Council, the Synod of Bishops stated that the Lord has now placed before us new challenges, for great changes have occurred in Russia itself and throughout the world. As St John of the Ladder said, such reasoning is defined as “the ability to know the will of God at all times, in all places and in all things.” Our archpastors are displaying wisdom in convening this Council, for true understanding takes into account all changes occurring in the life of mankind, in social life, in the life of the Church.

Of course, All-Diaspora Councils have been convened by every First Hierarch of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia (except by Metropolitan Vitaly): Metropolitan Anthony of blessed memory in 1921, Metropolitan Anastassy of blessed memory in 1938, and by Metropolitan Philaret of blessed memory in 1974. Our present First Hierarch, His Eminence Metropolitan Laurus, is now continuing this legacy of the spiritual leaders of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia after a 30-year hiatus, scheduling this Council for May 2006, exactly 85 years after the first All-Diaspora Council.

2. Why was it decided to conduct the IV All-Diaspora Council in San Francisco?

Several points had to be considered in choosing a site for the All-Diaspora Council: a large church was preferable, a suitable church hall, the availability of local assistance in organizational matters, a convenient and central urban location. The Synod of Bishops during its sessions of February 25-26 of this year, proposed four possible sites for an All-Diaspora Council: San Francisco, Chicago, Lakewood and Montreal, Canada, and finally decided that San Francisco was the most appropriate site. There were also spiritual reasons for this decision. Firstly, the spiritual-historical legacy of San Francisco: two great saints glorified by the Russian Church lived and labored here: the future Patriarch Confessor, St Tikhon, and the miracle-worker of the Russian diaspora, St John.

We all understand that without God's help, without the intercession of these saints who grieve over the Russian Church, we cannot resolve the problems set before us. I must say that the spirit of SS Tikhon and John is alive in San Francisco: they walked these streets, their memory is revered in San Francisco, a portion of St Tikhon's relics and the incorruptible body of St John are reverently kept at the Cathedral. St Tikhon is an undisputed authority for all children of the Russian Church, and St John was a great champion of the unity of the Russian Church. We rely on their aid in coming to a resolution to the matters placed before the All-Diaspora Council.

3. Who are the members of the Pre-Council Committee?

His Eminence Archbishop Hilarion of Sydney and the Diocese of Australia and New Zealand is the Chairman of the Committee. Members include Archbishop Kyrill of San Francisco and Western America (ex officio, as the Ruling Bishop of the Diocese), Bishop Gabriel of Manhattan, Protopriest Victor Potapov, Priest Serafim Gan, Vladimir V Krassovsky and your humble servant. The Pre-Council Committee has appointed a sub-committee comprised of the three member priests.

4. Tell us about the tasks set before the Pre-Council Committee. What are its guidelines?

The functions of the Pre-Council Committee are organizational. The Committee is charged with preparing everything for the IV All-Diaspora Council, including timelines and the main topics of discussion.

The Committee members feel that they are obligated through obedience and by the dictates of conscience to do everything possible to ensure that the Council is conducted in a spiritual, prayerful tone, ecclesiastically, honorably and in a well-organized manner. We must keep in mind first and foremost that the Church is not a political party but the Body of Christ; the forthcoming All-Diaspora Council is not a meeting, but a quest for the Will of God. Our goal is to prepare the best conditions for this, so that Divine Will would be known.

The legacy of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia is especially important for the Pre-Council Committee. That is why, before commencing work, the members of the Committee conducted a detailed study of the minutes and materials of the previous Pre-Council Committees, the Acts of the I, II and III All-Diaspora Councils, the decisions of the Hierarchs and articles on those Councils in church periodicals. We counted the numbers of delegates at previous All-Diaspora Councils and lists of all reports in order to infuse ourselves with the spirit of the "old" Church Abroad and to operate in that spirit. That is why the drafts for the Instructions, Encyclical and Procedures for the opening of the Council there is nothing new, everything is based on the materials of the previous Councils, and, consequently, continuity with the previous All-Diaspora Councils is preserved.

Besides the Pre-Council Committee, a local Organizing Committee in San Francisco has been established which will work on matters such as transportation of the delegates, housing and other technical and logistical matters.

5. Who is entitled to participate in the IV All-Diaspora Council as full members? What is the procedure for the election or appointment of delegates?

The entire episcopacy of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia will participate in the All-Diaspora Council, as well as the members of the Pre-Council Committee, members of the Commission on talks with the Moscow Patriarchate, lecturers, diocesan delegates, authorized monastic representatives and of Holy Trinity Seminary, members of previous All-Diaspora Councils (who remain members of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia and have the blessing of their ruling bishop), representatives of Synodal organizations (the Fund for Assistance, the Church Music Committee, the St Herman's Youth Conference Committee…), individuals invited by the First Hierarch (no more than 10 persons) and representatives of church-centered charitable, youth and social organizations confirmed by the Synod of Bishops.

It should be said that as in previous All-Diaspora Councils, the upcoming one will be closed sessions, and only full members of the Councils who possess a certificate from their ruling bishop may participate.

As for the numbers of delegates from the dioceses, they are equal to the number present at the III All-Diaspora Council: four persons from each diocese—two clergymen and two laymen. In dioceses containing over 30 parishes, another four delegates are selected for each additional 30 parishes.

The general procedure for the selection of delegates is as follows: each parish elects one (or more, depending on the number of assigned clergymen at the parish) delegate from among the laity (male or female) to send to their diocesan assembly. The diocesan assembly then elects delegates from their diocese to the All-Diaspora Council.

6. Will women delegates participate in the All-Diaspora Council?

At the All-Russian Council of 1917-1918 and the previous All-Diaspora Councils, all the delegates were men. The Pre-Council Committee has no authority to change this rule of the Local All-Russian Council. I personally feel that in the future the question of the participation of women in All-Diaspora Councils will be considered, but it is necessary to undertake this study calmly, without pressure, but now there is very little time before the Council, and the process of convening, organizing and running it is under great pressure.

In those dioceses where for one reason or another it is impossible to convene a diocesan assembly, delegates will be elected either by the diocesan council or by appointment by the ruling bishop.

The deadline for submitting the names of delegates to the All-Diaspora Council is December 31, 2005. Your readers may find interesting a small fact on the ratio of delegates to the number of parishes at the All-Russian Council of 1917-1918. There was one delegate for every 500 parishes. At this All-Diaspora Council in San Francisco, the ratio of delegates to the number of parishes will be one for every 4-5 parishes.

We hope that by the end of 2005, a special internet site devoted to the All-Diaspora Council will be launched. This site will contain materials, articles and documents relating to the Council. The official site of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia will announce this launch and will provide its address. We hope to update this site every day during the Council with press releases, lectures and photographs. The site of the IV All-Diaspora Council will be the first and most reliable source of official information for clergymen and the flock of the Russian Church Abroad, and for the press and all those interested in the fate of the Russian Orthodox Church.

7. Can you share some of the details of the proposed program of the IV All-Diaspora Council approved at the May session of the Synod of Bishops held in Munich?

By the mercy of God, the Pre-Council Committee prepared a very—in my opinion—balanced list of lecturers and topics. This list was presented to the Synod of Bishops in May and was approved, with some alterations.

Each day of the Council will begin with the most important thing: Divine Liturgy.

The first three days of the All-Diaspora Council will be devoted to the main topic. The first day, we hope, will set the tone for the following discussions: lectures by Protopriest Nikolai Karypov (Australia), Priest Nikolai Savchenko (Russia) and representatives of our fraternal Serbian Orthodox Church will be heard. It should be recalled that the Chairman of the I All-Diaspora Council was the Serbian Patriach Dimitri. All the bishops of the Serbian Church were invited to that Council, and a small delegation headed by the Patriarch participated. The II All-Diaspora Council was convened with the blessing of Patriarch Gabriel of Serbia. Although he could not attend due to reasons of health, he sent his representatives, who were full-fledged members of the Council. The service written for All Russian Saints contains remarkable words about St Athanasius of Constantinople, who died in Lubensk Monastery (Poltava oblast') in the 17th century and buried in a seated position, whose relics now abide in Annunciation Cathedral in Kharkov. He became a symbol of the unity of the Russian Church with the Universal Orthodox Church. Besides representatives of the Serbian Church, no speakers or observers from any other Church, including the Russian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate, will attend the Council.

The second day of the Council will open with a report by the President of the Commission on discussions with the Moscow Patriarchate, His Eminence Archbishop Mark of Berlin and Germany, followed by speeches by members of this Commission on the following matters: Church-state relations (Sergianism), ecumenism, ecclesiastical-canonical and property issues, the process of talks and joint summary documents of the negotiation Commissions. Should God grant, a resolution will be adopted on the third day of the Council.

The fourth and fifth days of the All-Diaspora Council will be devoted to matters of our service in the contemporary world: parish life, youth, mission, ecclesiology and the challenges of the 21st century. Speakers will include Archimandrite Luke (Jordanville), Protopriest Victor Potapov (Washington DC), Protopriest Gabriel Makarov (Australia), Priest Andrew Philipps (England), Andrei V Psarev (Holy Trinity Seminary), Bernard le Caro (Switzerland) and George A Skok (Canada).

8. Do you think that this Council will decide the question of Eucharistic communion between the two parts of the Russian Church?

The question of Eucharistic communion with the Church in Russia is without a doubt the main one set before this Council. At the May session of the Synod of Bishops in Munich, this matter was formulated thusly: "the establishment of normal relations with the Church in Russia." The meaning of "normal relations" includes first of all Eucharistic communion, but also inherent in it are canonical questions.

The function of the All-Diaspora Council is deliberative. The final decision of the matter of Eucharistic communion belongs entirely to the competency of the Council of Bishops. Such is the practice since apostolic times: the supreme body of ecclesiastical authority is the Council of Bishops. But without a doubt, discussions, the opinions of the participants of the All-Diaspora Council and the resolution it adopts will have weight in the decision of the Council of Bishops, which will commence immediately after the end of the All-Diaspora Council.

9. Do you fear that there will be difference of opinion at the Council, that unity of mind will not be achieved?

There will always be conflict, spiritual battles, in the Church Militant. This is normal. During war, the enemy does not sleep. In the 4th century, St Basil the Great wrote about the Church that it is a naval battle in a roiling sea, amid confusion. This condition exists to this day and will continue until the Church completely transforms into the Church Triumphant.

As far as possible differences of opinion at the All-Diaspora Council are concerned, it is worth remembering the epistle of Archbishop John (Maximovich) to his Shanghai flock after he returned from the 2nd All-Diaspora Council in 1938. The Saint of the Russian Diaspora described the conclusion of the Council in this way:

"In our sorrowful time, when Russian people are divided into many groups, often at odds with each other, and continue to fragment and come face to face with all sorts of problems, sometimes important, sometimes insignificant, it seemed impossible to reach unity within a great gathering [there were 97 participants in the All-Diaspora Council of 1938], which included people living in widely-differing circumstances, different in thought and in temperament. It was feared that the Council would bring no good, but evil, instead of unity it would spawn further divisions, that it would deepen the chasms and could not even conclude in peace, that it would be necessary to cut short the Council and part ways without reaching any decisions. Such fears were expressed before the very start of the Council. And these fears were well-founded.

"But what happened then, and what influenced the work of the Council, introducing unity of spirit within its participants? It was nothing but the unseen breath of the Holy Spirit, arriving through the intercession of the Unassailable Rampart of Christians, the Miracle-working Icon, which was present throughout the Council, and especially influenced the souls of its participants, as they partook of the Most-Pure Body and Blood of Christ, to Which all are summoned…"

"The resolution adopted thereupon on the spiritual unity of the Council was not merely a hollow sound, for then all were embraced by the desire to bring the greatest benefit to the Church and at the same time to make the Council a stepping-stone to the rebirth of Orthodox Russia."

That is how the Holy Spirit worked. The Church is a living organism, constantly developing and renewing itself through Grace. The Holy Spirit has guided us throughout these 85 years of existence, and I believe that He will not abandon us now.

I would like to end our discussion with the remarkable words of Holy New Martyr Metropolitan Veniamin of Petrograd, written by him not long before his death to the deans of his Petrograd Diocese:

"Christ is our life, our light and our consolation. With Him, everything everywhere is good. I do not fear for the fate of God's Church. One must have more faith, we pastors must have more faith. We must abandon our self-reliance, our reason, our intellect and powers and make room for the Grace of God."

This is the first and main goal, in my opinion, of the coming All-Diaspora Council—to make room for the Grace of God!

Interview granted to the Editors by Protopriest Peter Perekrestov