Orthodoxy in Search of Unity"
"We must always deal with Russia, whether we wish
to or not," says a member of the Synod of Bishops of
the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia
An Interview with Archbishop Mark
by Mark Smirov.
Michael Arndt, who took the monastic name of Mark, was born
in 1941 in the city of Chemnitz (Germany), in a Protestant
family. After finishing the gymnasium [a type of European
intermediate school specializing in the humanities-Tr.], he
studied Slavistics at the University of Heidelberg, including
medieval Russian literature. In the course of his studies,
he became drawn to the Orthodox faith, which he embraced in
1964. Already a member of the Orthodox Church, Michael Arndt
received his Ph.D. in 1969.
Unexpectedly for everyone, this thriving university professor
decided to become a monk on Mt. Athos - however, due to obstacles
posed by the policies of the military junta in Greece, this
dream was not to be.
Though it was not possible to live and study on Mt. Athos,
the desire to gain an Orthodox theological education lived
on in the heart of Michael Arndt, and he made a hopeless attempt
to enter the Moscow Theological Academy in the Trinity-St.
Sergius Lavra. With this aim, he wrote to the bishop who represented
the Moscow Patriarchate in Berlin, and waited for over a year
- only to be refused admission. It may have seemed nonsensical
to the leadership of the Russian Orthodox Church that a German,
who had become Orthodox under the Church Abroad, should want
to study in the Soviet Union. At that time (already a distant
one!), political provocation would have been suspected in
such a plan.
Michael Arndt was tonsured a monk in 1975 by Bishop Paul (Pavlov)
of the Church Abroad, and, the same year, he was ordained
to the diaconate and the priesthood. Hieromonk Mark began
serving as pastor of the church of the Holy and Righteous
Elizabeth in Wiesbaden; at the same time, he was obliged to
care for several parishes scattered about Germany: among his
parishioners there were not only Russians, but also Germans,
who, like him, had joined the Orthodox Church.
Since Athos and Moscow were closed to him, Priestmonk Mark
entered the theological department of the University of Belgrade,
where at the time many of the future bishops of the Serbian
Church were studying. A degree in graduate theological studies
helped make Fr. Mark a candidate for bishop. In 1980, when
the ruling bishop of Berlin and All Germany was transferred
to Australia, he was succeeded by Archimandrite Mark.
As bishop, he moved to the monastery of the Venerable Job
of Pochaev in Pasing, a suburb of Munich. An Orthodox monastery
had first come to be here in 1945, when Russian refugees from
Eastern Europe found a safe haven from the Red Army in the
American military zone in Germany. At that time, the Synod
of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia, headed by Metropolitan
Anastassy (Gribanovsky), was located in Munich. Later the
Synod, like the majority of the refugees, moved to America,but
the brotherhood of the Monastery of St. Job of Pochaev stayed
where it was, with a former German army barracks made into
a monastery and church. At present, the Diocesan administration
of the German Diocese is located in this monastery.
Today, Archbishop Mark of Berlin and All Germany is a noted
figure in the Church Abroad. In the heart of Bavaria, on a
tiny bit of German land, he is rebuilding the Russian church
life of the early 20th century, as its many traditions were
preserved by living witnesses who had once left Russia.
- Your Excellency, in the Russian Church Abroad there has
been a change of first-hierarch. Metropolitan Vitaly (Oustinoff)
went into retirement, and at present, the head of the Church
is Metropolitan Laurus (Shkurla). At the same time, Metropolitan
Vitaly seems to be active, and several clergy have declared
that they consider only Metropolitan Vitaly, as before, to
be their first-hierarch. How would you comment on this?
-Last year we received the petition of Metropolitan Vitaly
to go into retirement, on the grounds that, because of his
advanced age, he was unable to direct Church affairs. He had
been issuing contradictory orders, as well as oral statements
that were just as contradictory, which is quite understandable
for an elderly person. In this way, there came to be certain
troubles in our Church. No doubt something similar went on
in the Moscow Patriarchate during the last years of Patriarch
Such a situation made it difficult for the bishops to work
in their own dioceses, and, in particular, meant there was
no clear idea of where our Church was headed. Some of the
bishops made this known to the Metropolitan in personal conversations,
and in the end, this led to his decision to retire.
The Synod accepted and approved the Metropolitan's request,
and on this basis it was decided to convoke a Bishops' Sobor.
At the Sobor, the Metropolitan again publicly affirmed his
desire, after which the members of the Sobor began the procedure
of electing a new Metropolitan - who was Vl. Lavr (Shkurla).
Because of the fact that Metropolitan Vitaly is not in full
control of the situation, he is being used by certain people,
who think the hierarchs making up the majority in the Synod
are on a wrong path. It is just such people who have now surrounded
him. Out of all of our episcopate, only the former bishop
of Cannes, Varnava, takes this line, and by then he had been
deposed and had no influence.
Metropolitan Vitaly left for Canada and settled in Holy Transfiguration
Skete in Mansonville (in his former Canadian diocese), where
there followed new consecrations of bishops - consecrations
which we cannot, of course, recognize. This is all the more
odd, since, due to his physical weakness, the Metropolitan
was unable to celebrate divine services in recent years, and
he would have been physically unable to perform these consecrations.
From a canonical standpoint this is clearly an infraction,
since only a Bishops' Sobor of our Church may authorize the
consecration of a new bishop.
- In the mid-90's, Bishop Varnava of Cannes was often in Russia,
and is known there through several publications stating that
he gave spiritual counsel to the "Pamyat'" group
of Dimitri Vasiliev. What were the reasons for his being defrocked?
-After these developments in Russia, the Synod of our Church
forbade him to go there for several years. But the reasons
for his suspension and then his being deposed relate to the
events of the year 2000, when the affairs of the West European
Diocese were examined at the Sobor. At that time it was ordered
that he be only the vicar of our parishes in France, but not
the ruling bishop there. Bishop Varnava did not obey this
conciliar decision, and therefore he was placed under suspension
by the Church. He too was made
use of by certain extremists among the clergy there. This
group consists of only 10 individuals: 8 priests and 2 deacons,
and in no way do they express the general opinion of the Western-European
Diocese. For their schismatic activity, they were all defrocked,
except for two persons who repented in time.
In the other dioceses, such dissent is altogether insignificant.
Even in Canada itself, only two priests, without their parishes,
joined this movement. Thus one cannot speak of a division
or separation: this is something on a very different scale.
It is another matter in our parishes in Russia, where, according
to my information, two bishops broke away and recognize only
- Can you tell us who they are?
- They are Lazarus (Zhurbenko), archbishop of Tambov and Odessa,
and Benjamin (Rusalenko), bishop of Kuban and the Black Sea,
both active in the Ukraine and southern Russia. But even among
the parishes of our Church in Russia, they represent a minority.
- In Russia, besides the Moscow Patriarchate, there is also
another "alternative" Church - the Russian Orthodox
Autonomous Church headed by Metropolitan Valentine (Rusantsev),
with its center in Suzdal. What is the attitude of the Russian
Church Abroad to this hierarch?
- The answer to that is quite unambiguous: he was defrocked
for serious misdeeds, and therefore cannot be either a bishop,
or a priest. For us, he is nothing more than a monk.
- Vladyka, the latest Sobor of Bishops of the Church Abroad
in the year 2000 re-evalutated the perspectives for its relationship
with the Moscow Patriarchate, and, because of this, many Orthodox
in Russia began to hope that a reunion of the two Churches
was possible. What are the real perspectives for such unity?
- Our new approach in this question is based, first of all,
on the very fact that there have been changes in the religious
life of the country. At the Bishops' Sobor of the Russian
Church Abroad (in October 2000), a talk was heard about the
Sobor that had recently been held in Moscow. As is known,
[at the Moscow Sobor of 2000] the foundations of a social
conception of the Russian Orthodox Church were made known,
and in many of their points, they changed our old views of
what sort of a Church the Moscow Patriarchate was. What I
have in mind is those points where the independence of the
Church from the government is discussed. We took this as a
condemnation of "Sergianism". What was especially
important to us was the glorification of the New Martyrs of
Russia at that Sobor, since we had already long since canonized
them, and had venerated them more than one decade [since 1981-Tr.].
At the Sobor in 2000, a Commission was set up to study the
questions of the mutual relations of our Church and the Moscow
Patriarchate. You mentioned two Churches: I have never recognized
this, and never shall: we are not two Churches, but two parts
of the one Russian Church. Since the beginning of the 1990's,
when it became possible for Russians to have some sort of
human contact with the West, even then the question of a rapprochement
arose. It was right here, on the territory of the German diocese,
that from 1993 we began to have discussions with representatives
of the Moscow Patriarchate. In these discussions, one bishop
and four priests from each side took part. I represented the
Church Abroad, while Archbishop Feofan (Galinsky) represented
the Moscow Patriarchate. We met usually twice a year, and
discussed all the questions that we considered important for
overcoming the present divided state. And I must say, at these
meetings we found many new possibilities for overcoming these
difficulties. Thus, in my view, this was a very valuable experience,
and I personally very much regret that it was so rudely broken
off by the Moscow Patriarchate.
- In what way?
- By the seizure and expulsion of our monks from monasteries
in the Holy Land, the rude breach of the most basic human
rights on the part of the Stalin-like structure of administration
of the Russian Orthodox Church--the Moscow Patriarchate. This
structure, which interferes with any positive development,
unfortunately, even now exists as an inheritance from the
darkest times in 20th century history.
This was particularly unpleasant for me, and the cause of
pain, since I personally was responsible for these monasteries
in the Holy Land, and could do nothing to prevent what happened.
Despite all the discouraging circumstances, our meetings with
the representatives of the Moscow Patriarchate still continued
for a time, but our flock abroad did not understand this,
and therefore it became necessary to break off the meetings.
- You mentioned a Stalinist legacy in the Russian Orthodox
Church of the Moscow Patriarchate. Could not that which the
enemies and critics of the Moscow Patriarchate call "Sergianism"
interfere with the process of reunion of the two parts of
the one Church?
- Here there emerges the close bond of the Moscow Patriarchate
with the government, a bond which has survived till the present.
I recently read an interview of Metropolitan Kirill of Smolensk,
where he praises this bond, which, in his opinion, developed
so splendidly in the Soviet period. In my eyes this is the
same repulsive "Sergianism". But we all recognize
that the Department of External Relations, and other establishments
of the Moscow Patriarchate, are not the Russian Church as
a whole. The Russian Church is far broader, and, when I speak
of it, I speak with love of the Russian Orthodox people, of
the majority of the clergy.
- Have you had occasion to meet with Patriarch Alexy II in
Moscow, and to discuss these problems with him?
- Yes, I have met the Patriarch, though to be sure it was
some time ago, in 1997, and we had time only to touch upon
these subjects briefly. Of course, in any serious meeting
of two hierarchs, these issues cannot be avoided.
- Was this the first encounter of the Patriarch with representatives
of the Russian Church Abroad?
- As far as I know, he met Vladyka Mitrofan who is now reposed,
and Protopresbyter Alexander Kisselev, who lived out his last
years in Moscow; so that, I think, this was not the first
- How would you picture a possible reunion: the Synod of the
Church Abroad relinquishing its powers? Dioceses subordinated
to the Moscow Patriarchate and the Moscow Synod? Or would
it be on the model of mutual co-existence, mutual recognition
and eucharistic communion?
- First, there is the question of the problems mentioned above
which need discussion, and second, of the possibility in principle
of eucharistic communion. In the document which we signed
at the end of 1997 with Archbishop Theophan, it was so stated:
we, at our level, see no obstacles in principle for eucharistic
communion. I think that this is a serious question. I signed
the document, as did Vladyka Feofan, at my own risk, without
having consulted any of the members of our Synod and brethren.
Nonetheless, I hold to such a view, and think that this might
be a next step, where two Church Sobors could recognize the
existence of such a possibility. Beyond that, it would be
correct, with the condition that there be progress on both
sides, to continue the work of the commissions, which could
meet, and discuss the question, for example, of observers
from each side at the other's Councils. This is my personal
opinion; I have not discussed this question with anyone, and
do not know how my brethren might react to it.
In a more distant perspective, this might take the form of
co-existence, and further on, of communion in the form suggested
already by Patriarch Alexy II. In one of his interviews, he
saw it as natural that the Church Abroad has its own life,
its own characteristics, which have developed in these 80
years, and no one should forget them.
For example, among our parishioners there are many non-Russians.
By this very fact, we differ considerably from the Russian
parishes. Therefore some model of mutual recognition is needed,
one that would gradually become a kind of autonomy.
After all, if we see that, within the Russian Orthodox Church,
there exists an autonomous Ukrainian Church, then the question
arises: why not a Siberian or a Far-Eastern [autonomy], and
so on. And if, indeed, in such a small country as Latvia,
the authorities decided that the Russian Orthodox are outsiders,
and demanded that the Moscow Patriarchate grant autonomy to
the diocese of Latvia, then all the more so the Church Abroad,
which comprises one whole with the Russian Orthodox Church,
should maintain its identity. Because of the external circumstances
in which we live, we have retained many old Russian traditions,
which in the Church in Russia no longer exist. After all,
our liturgical life has continued unbroken, and nothing interfered
with it. Therefore one would in no wise want to lose that
precious contribution made by our fathers, who against their
will were forced to leave Russia. Many people who come to
the West today from Russia see and appreciate this very thing.
- If there is a rapprochement on the eucharistic level, if
both parts of the once-unified Russian Orthodox Church recognize
each other as Sister Churches, would this not lead to conflicts,
mutual accusations of a breach of the canonical territory
of one or the other Church? Thus, for example, in Germany
there would be two bishops with the title "of Berlin
and All Germany", and a like situation could arise in
other cities of Wester Europe as well. What do you think about
- The very concept of "canonical territory" is a
novelty! This term never existed before in the Church, and
it would be better not to use it, because it leads us away
from the main issue...
As concerns parallel structures, this is something unhealthy
and it ought not to exist, but it should disappear gradually
and in a peaceful way. I am certain that in a generation all
these questions will have resolved themselves in a conciliar
manner. But not in the way this came about in the USA, when
the Moscow Patriarchate gave autocephaly to the Orthodox Church
in America, and then opened its own new parishes in the same
place, sending its bishops to America, when according to canon
law it no longer had the right to assign them there. But this
was in the time when in the MP the same Stalinist spirit had
dominion, and I hope that in the future this will no longer
be the case, but that the problems of reunion will be resolved
in a conciliar way Here, outside of Russia, we, the members
of the Church Abroad, in no wise differ in our social life
from the other citizens of those countries in which our dioceses
and parishes are found. Our priests and our flock are also
united to one another by the fact of constantly living here,
they have the same lot and the same concerns. ... For this
very reason, we have had very good successes in the spreading
of the Orthodox faith in both the Old and the New Worlds.
The priests who arrive from Russia to serve in the parishes
of the Moscow Patriarchate seem foreign enough to our flocks.
After all, they have come here for a predefined period, nothing
ties them too deeply either to the country or to the Orthodox
community in which they serve.
And so, I am certain that with good will on both sides, all
can be resolved successfully. But this good will must be present,
and it must be put under the conciliar rule of a free Church,
one that is not oriented towards one or another government
and its policies, one directed by the conciliar wisdom of
- Could one say that you personally were the initiator of
a drawing-near of two parts of the Russian Church, that it
was you who took the first steps in this direction?
- It think that the issue is not me personally, but the fact
that our diocese has the peculiar role of being a geographical
fore-post of the Church Abroad, regarding Russia. We meet
people from Russia, including priests and bishops, more often
than others do. Even back in the 1990's, our interest in Russia
was much greater than was the case in the other dioceses of
the Russian Church Abroad. For example, this discussion you
and I are having, is taking place in the monastery of the
Venerable Job of Pochaev, where since 1945 service bookshave
been published in Church Slavonic, as well as booklets on
Church history and theological themes, which were then sent
into the USSR!
Not in a single other diocese of our Church was there anything
like this...Proximity to our historical fatherland demanded
such steps. Besides that, I received my theological education
in Serbia, and therefore I probably have a broader view of
Orthodoxy than do many other bishops. I had occasion many
times to discuss questions connected with the life of Orthodoxy
with Serbian bishops, my friends, and with the present Patriarch
Pavle of Serbia. And so, I feel that my active part in discussions
with the Moscow Patriarchate is not my personal achievement,
but only a situation in which I find myself, by dint of being
the Archbishop of the Church Abroad in Germany. It would be
hard to picture how a bishop located in South America could
show the initiative needed for the matter at hand...
And here I would like to emphasize that we have always prayed
for the Russian people to be delivered from godless rule,
and hoped for the reunion of the Russian Church. Naturally,
the problem of unity has entirely depended on purely external,
- How, in this connection, do you view the current policies
of the Russian government, the president and parliament? Is
it possible to work with this Russia?
- We must always deal with Russia, whatever the circumstances
or conditions might be, whether we wish it or not. As long
as we are a part of the Russian Church, we cannot renounce
it, or the Russian people, regardless of what conditions that
people live in. Of course, now it is much easier for us to
be in contact, and we make use of this. To be sure, I have
not been in Russia for some time now, but we make active use
of the possibility, which itself speaks of the positive changes
there. We are not called upon to give any kind of evaluation
of the present government and its policies, but, if we regard
it from the point of view of the Church, then the Church's
situation in Russia now is much better than it was 20 years
ago. This is a fact, which we rejoice in and welcome, in the
hope that the situation will further develop in a way beneficial
both for the Russian people in a cultural and spiritual sense,
and for the Russian Church, which, we shall continue to believe,
will free itself from the legacy of the Soviet past.
- How would you evaluate the decision by the Roman Catholic
Church to set up 4 Catholic dioceses in Russia, with ruling
bishops headed by a metropolitan residing in Moscow?
- The Church Abroad has no such close ties with the Roman
Catholics as does the Moscow Patriarchate, with its active
participation in the ecumenical movement. The Catholics are
an alien Church for us, because we do not have close contacts
with them. Nonetheless we have always observed the canonical
order of not giving our bishops the same titles as Catholic
or Anglican bishops. For example, in London we had a bishop
since the 1920's, but we never called him "the Bishop
of London", because there is an Anglican bishop with
this title, even if we do not recognize his holy orders. This
is not even a canonical question; this is a question of tact,
of an etiquette needed in human relations.
For this very reason, it was a bitter moment for us when,
in January of 1993, despite the protests of some members of
the Moscow Patriarchate clergy, the president of the Department
of External Church Relations, Metropolitan Kirill, assigned
Archbishop Feofan (Galinsky) to Germany with the title "of
Berlin and All Germany". This was a deliberate invasion,
since an Orthodox archbishop with that title already was here.
Canonically this was absolutely inadmissible, because the
Moscow Patriarchate does not deny our Sacraments, does not
deny our existence, and indeed our bishops have borne that
title for decades. All of this is the fault of a small group
inside the Moscow Patriarchate, a group that is in fact interested
in spoiling rather than improving relations.
- Nevertheless, what do you think of the initiatives of the
Vatican in Russia, and of the conflict between the Moscow
Patriarchate and the Roman Catholic Church?
- You see, we have our own experience in co-existing with
other religions and Christian confessions. This is expressed
variously, in various dioceses and countries. But due to that
experience, we have learned how to conduct ourselves correctly
in relations with the heterodox, without mixing with them.
The Moscow Patriarchate on the other hand does everything
the opposite, which no doubt is the result of inadequate theological
training. The clerics of the MP have come to the point of
holding church services with the Catholics and Protestants,
which we completely reject. At the same time, the Moscow Patriarchate
seeks the defense of the government from so-called missionaries,
which, from my point of view, is a mistake! I think that the
300-year experience of the Old Believers should help us understand
that the Church is obliged to deal with these misfortunes
by ecclesiastical means, in a spiritual way. If I live a spiritual
life and feel myself right in my belief in Truth, I cannot
turn to any other form of defense, except prayer...We should
not give anyone occasion to think that the Catholics and we
are one and the same. Unfortunately, the Moscow Patriarchate
does this constantly, calling the Roman Catholic Church her
Sister, that is, erases the borders, and then suddenly warns
of the danger presented by the Catholics.
The main danger that I see is that the Russian people are
not sufficiently taught and rooted in the Orthodox faith.
This is not the fault of the Russian people, but their misfortune!
For many decades, Orthodox families did not have the possibility
of teaching their children. As a result, they do not have
enough firmness in the faith, and the idea that Orthodoxy
is the True Faith. But I, having come out of Protestantism
and joined the truth of Orthodoxy, cannot put up with the
opinion that there exist many true faiths. The Lord is One,
and the Truth is One!
[Published in Russian by Nezavisimaya gazeta, on June 5, 2002.]
English translation by
Archpriest John R. Shaw, June 6, 2002.