Council of Bishops of
2001 and the Election of the New First Hierarch
An extraordinary session of the Council of Bishops of
the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia was held from
23-31 October 2001 in the Synodal building in New York City.
Thirteen bishops took part in the Council. Those hierarchs
who did not attend the Council had the opportunity to come
and openly declare their positions on a series of matters,
but declined to participate. The main reason for the convening
of the Council was the election of a new First Hierarch of
the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia. Metropolitan
Vitaly over the course of several years had not served in
church, did not visit parishes and dioceses and also as a
result of his health due to his old age could not delve into
daily church matters. Certain forces constantly tried to exploit
Metropolitan Vitalys weakness for their gain.Vladyka
Vitaly very much desired to mark the 50th anniversary of his
episcopacy in July 2001 and after that, as did the Blessed
Metropolitan Anastassy, to retire.
In the tradition of the Church Abroad, all the sessions of
the Council of Bishops were held in the presence of the Protectress
of the Russian Diaspora, the Kursk-Root Miracle-working Icon
of the Mother of God. A moleben was served before the Icon
before the start of the Council. Every day during the Council
one of the Bishops performed the Divine Liturgy in the lower
church of St. Sergius of Radonezhone of the bishops
helped in the altar and the others sang on the kliros.
On Wednesday, 24 October, the bishops convened in the Cathedral
of the Our Lady of the Sign. A panikhida was served for the
reposed First Hierarchs of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside
of Russia, Metropolitans Anthony, Anastassy and Philaret;
and then a moleben before the Icons of the Kursk-Root Mother
of God, the Holy New Martyrs of Russia, St. Patriarch Tikhon
and St. John of Shanghai and San Francisco the Miracle-worker.
Bishop Agapit of Stuttgart opened the submitted ballots (all
of the bishops of the Church Abroad, including those who were
absent and retired had the opportunity to submit their ballots)
and announced the candidates. After counting the votes, the
result was announced: for the first time in 65 years the First
Hierarch of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia
was elected after the first round of ballots. By the Will
of God, His Eminence Archbishop Laurus was chosen. Vladyka
Laurus, with his characteristic humility, quietly accepted
his election as an obedience, relying on the Lord and on the
support of his brethren.
Metropolitan Vitaly came to the afternoon session of the Council,
assumed the presidents seat, congratulated the new First
Hierarch and the entire Council of Bishops and called upon
everyone to work in peace and unity of spirit. The Council
of Bishops thanked Vladyka Vitaly for all of his labors for
the good of the Church.
The enthronement of the First Hierarch was scheduled for Saturday
and Sunday. Vladyka Laurus asked that his cross and panagia
be brought from Holy Trinity Monastery, which had belonged
at one time to Metropolitan Anastassy of blessed memory and
Archbishop Vitaly (Maximenko)these two hierarchs had
a special influence on the spiritual formation of the new
On Sunday morning, Metropolitan Laurus was greeted by the
bishops vested in their mantles. A special joy could be sensed
in the Synod Cathedral, a certain simpleness, and all present
truly felt themselves to be members of a single church family.
At the end of liturgy, a moleben was served to the Mother
of God and All Russian Saints, and then Archbishop Alypy of
Chicago and the Midwest read the prayer for the enthronement.
Metropolitan Laurus uttered the words of response of the prayer
and blessed the flock.
Vladyka Metropolitan then made an appeal to the flock. He
said that what he feared most proved
to be his fate and that he accepts the election only in obedience
to God, obedience to the Church, obedience to the Council
At the end of liturgy a feast was held at Protection Church
in Nyack, NY, but the sorrowful events following the election
of Metropolitan Laurus could not go unmentioned, specifically,
the departure of Metropolitan Vitaly from the Synodal house
and his declaration bearing his signature that he does not
recognize the Council, and his call to schism. At the end
of the feast, Metropolitan Laurus remembered the past labors
of Metropolitan Vitaly for the good of the Church. He said
that he genuinely loved Vladyka Vitaly and his soul was very,
very burdened with grief that Vladyka Vitaly was surrounded
by ill-wishers who dragged him into schism.
The subsequent sessions of the Council of Bishops were mainly
devoted to the events connected with the new schism. Epistles
to the flock were composed, as well as a response to the Moscow
Patriarchate. Both the left and the right
expressed their opinion to the Council of Bishops that a unification
of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia with the
Moscow Patriarchate either had already occurred or was about
to occur at any momentthe right threatened
schism, and the left was jubilant. But the Council
of Bishops of 2001continued on the traditional path of the
Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia: it stated that
the unity of the Russian Church is to be desired, but only
when there is unity of mind with regard to fundamental Church
matters. As a result, both the right and the left
were disgraced, and the sober, middle, royal path was takenthe
path of truth and love, devoid of extremes.
In the first interview with Metropolitan Laurus the question
was posed: Your Eminence, what problems faced by the Russian
Orthodox Church Outside of Russia require the speediest resolution?
Vladyka Metropolitan responded:
Before the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia
, which is a part of the Universal Orthodox Church, lie all
those same eternal problems which the Lord Jesus Christ laid
before His Church.
These are, first of all, the preaching to the world of the
Gospel of Christ; secondly the spiritual nourishment of the
people of God, and thirdly, prayerful and repentant expectation
of the Second Glorious and All-Praised Coming of the Lord.
Unfortunately, we contemporary Orthodox Christians often forget
these truly important aims. We concentrate our attentions
on what is temporary and fleeting, spend inordinate amounts
of time on empty quarrels that we should be using for repentance.
I must say that at the present time the Russian Orthodox Church
Outside of Russia is subject to attacks and misunderstandings
both from the left and right for the reason that it is alien
both to the extremes of liberalism, modernism and ecumenism
and to the extremes of fanaticism, militant fundamentalism
and feelings of proud contentment.
To walk along this middle, royal path as does the Russian
Church Abroad is very, very difficult, but it is the true
path and one cannot stray from it.