The IV All-Diaspora Council
Thoughts and Comments of a Delegate
As was the case with most delegates, I became a participant of an All-Diaspora Council for only the first time. I felt my own unworthiness and also a sense of responsibility, since the delegates at this gathering were to express their thoughts on the most important of questions, including those of the very future of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia, in particular, on rapprochement with the Russian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate.
On the agenda was the no-less-important question of the mission of the Russian Church in today's world. From the time of the First All-Diaspora Council in 1921, much has changed. Not only has the situation changed in Russia, but for the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia, too; the Russian land is no longer enslaved by Communism, meanwhile, our communities abroad unite those of Russian extraction together with the growing number of converts of other nationalities who find the path of Orthodoxy through them. In fact, of the four representatives of our Western European Diocese, three were not of Russian descent!
The venue for this gathering, the Cathedral of the Mother of God in San Francisco, was well chosen, despite its distance for the Europeans. Firstly, here are the relics of St John of Shanghai and San Francisco, the apostle of the diaspora—his intercession doubtless enabled the successful conclusion of the All-Diaspora Council. Secondly, this is a large church and there is plenty of room for such an assembly. Thirdly, the parishioners of the Cathedral and other local parishes are very organized and devoted: over the course of an entire week, some fifteen women and girls, from 7:30 am to 10 pm, voluntarily, tirelessly, productively, with a smile on their faces, prepared the meals, organized breaks and assisted the 150 delegates in every way.
The services assumed their proper place at the Council. There was Liturgy every morning at 7:30 am. One Liturgy was conducted by a priest and a deacon from our Diocese (Priest Quentin de Castelbajac and Protodeacon Andre Meillassoux). It was a joy to hear the litany and prayers for the catechumens read in French (even the choir sang in French!) near the crypt of St John. This bore witness to the presence of this tongue in our Church, and served also as a reminder of St John's service in the French-speaking part of Europe.
On both Sundays of the Council, all-night vigil (lasting 3 ? hours) and Divine Liturgy were conducted by the bishops and clergymen: twelve bishops, some fifty priests, more than ten deacons. The photographs posted on the website of the IV All-Diaspora Council give an idea of what these services were like! As Protopriest Pavel Tsvetkoff note: "I felt like I was in one of the churches of Moscow!"
One of the most important moments of the Council was the akathist served on Tuesday evening. The service, performed with rare beauty and power, gathered as one both the delegates and the local parishioners. The antiphonal singing of the choir and clergymen moved like great waves within the church—it was heaven on earth!
The opening of the Council was on Sunday afternoon in the Cathedral itself. The delegates heard a keynote address by Metropolitan Laurus, and also the greeting of Patriarch Alexy of Moscow; Patriarch Pavle of Serbia; the Georgian Katolikos Ilii; Patriach Maxim of Bulgaria; Archbishop Gabriel of Koman (the Exarch of the Ecumenical Patriarch in Western Europe), and the monks of Mouth Athos and Optina Hermitage.
The meetings themselves began on Monday morning at the large church hall, where the Kursk-Root Icon of the Most-Holy Mother of God was kept, and also a cross and the Gospel on an analogion, before which a lampada burned, serving as a reminder of our purpose at this gathering. As His Grace Bishop Ambroise reminded us, the Council must be viewed as a liturgical act.
We had to consistently remind ourselves that this was not a run-of-the-mill meeting, even though externally it may have seemed to be one (delegates sitting at tables, secretaries with their notebook computers, microphones, speeches, etc.).
The tables were set in rows. In front, on the left, were the tables for the bishops. Throughout the week, they patiently listened, infrequently taking the floor, but most of the time listening to the speeches of lecturers and delegates. I think that all were impressed with the energy of Metropolitan Laurus: despite his age and burden of responsibilities, he attended every single session, consistently and attentively listening to everyone. The delegates of the All-Diaspora Council can attest to the fact that we have the joy of having bishops who were close to their flock leading our small Church in the diaspora.
Every day included several scheduled lectures, most of which were well prepared. All the speakers were members of our Church except for Metropolitan Amphilohije of Montenegro, who spoke words filled with earnestness on the attitude of the Serbian Church towards ecumenism and on the experience of the Serbian Church in overcoming the schism in the diaspora which occurred during the Communist era, and the restoration of unity in 1992.
Some of the speakers discussed historical themes: there were lectures on the history of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia and on the progress of the dialog with the Russian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate; and also a long report on how schisms and divisions were overcome throughout the entire history of the Church. All this helped the participants to properly evaluate the problems facing us. For example, it helped us to understand how over the course of history, the attitude of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia towards the Local Church and ecumenism developed, and how problems could have arisen as a result of certain decisions (for instance, the consecration of Greek Old-calendar bishops, the acceptance of parishes in Russia, etc). Our Church continued its witness, but beginning in the 1960's, partly changed its direction. Protopriest Nikolai Karipoff (Australia), in his lecture, reminded us that Archbishop Anthony of Geneva was very concerned with this shift. The seven rules Archbishop Anthony formulated at the Council of 1974 are no less vital in our time 1
In this brief overview I will not repeat the lectures already published (in Russian and English) on the website of the Pre-Council Committee 2 and the Synod of Bishops 3 , which provide food for thought.
After hearing the lectures, the delegates were then given the opportunity to ask questions. From day one, and especially from the second day on, some questions simply proved to be a means to express individual opinions. Many participants truly wished to express their feelings on what was taking place.
Debates on the question of reconciling with Moscow began immediately. Already based on personal conversations, it was clear that opinions were very much divided: many delegates said that the process of reconciliation was too speedy, though no one argued against the necessity of unification in the distant or not-so-distant future. Two problems attracted special attention: Sergianism and the participation of the Moscow Patriarchate in the World Council of Churches.
There were many speakers, and over the course of several hours, the mood of the IV All-Diaspora Council was very tense. It seemed to me that it was going to be impossible to arrive at a more or less unanimous decision.
Before dispersing, the delegates of the Western European Diocese gathered and prepared a draft statement, which we reworked several times in the first days of the Council, in order to prepare a document that was not only acceptable for all of us, but would take into account the concerns within our Diocese. We were able to draft just such a document, and its contents were presented to the delegates, and the original handed over to the Secretariat and attached to the Minutes of the IV All-Diaspora Council. We felt that it was important to express the position of our Diocese in the form of a document which would have the approval of our bishop and signed by all the participants from our Diocese (both delegates and representatives of organizations). After the period of unrest our Diocese experienced a few years ago, we sensed that it was important to seal our unity.
Frankly, I came to the Council without having decided in advance what position I would take in the main question. Of course, I had my own thoughts, and I firmly decided to follow certain principles, beginning with keeping unity with the bishops and taking care for the preservation of the unity of our Church. As far as everything else was concerned, it seemed wise to rely on the Lord, that He would guide each one of us, even if this may be counter to our original viewpoints, specifically because the Council was not a simple assembly. I experienced something that stunned me: every morning, the decision became clearer and clearer.
On Wednesday afternoon, the tone of the discussions again became placid, despite the fact that until now we had heard the widest scope of viewpoints.
We also heard the draft Act of Canonical Communion with the Moscow Patriarchate. According to this Act, the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia will enter into the Russian Church with its own administration, possessing the same autonomy as, for instance, the Ukrainian Church enjoys within the jurisdiction of the Moscow Patriarchate. The Patriarch would be commemorated along with the First Hierarch of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia and the local bishop. It is important to note that the Act read at the All-Diaspora Council was only a working draft. That is why it was only read aloud, but not distributed on paper.
The discussion and voting on the Resolution on the future relationship of the Church Abroad with the Church in Russia were held on Thursday, May 11. Voting was held on each paragraph separately, and there was no voting on the Resolution as a whole. What happened at this time seemed to be a small miracle: during the voting, almost all the paragraphs were accepted almost unanimously, or with only a couple of objections; sometimes there were abstentions. I wish to point out that the meeting unanimously accepted the first paragraph which states: "…we shall… obey the decisions of the forthcoming Council of Bishops." Despite the fact that not long before the adoption of the Resolution, mistrust was sensed, the unity of spirit in voting showed in fact how the Holy Spirit acts in the Church.
I have three comments with regard to the Resolution:
1) The Resolution properly leaves to the bishops the decision of when and how the unification with the Church in Russia is to occur. The only thing clearly expressed is that our Church will become an autonomous and self-governing part of the Local Russian Church in accordance with our Regulations. We continue to feel that our position was always canonical, but, in light of present circumstances, after the fall of the Communist regime, it is necessary to reach certain conclusions and to confirm our canonicity: from the very beginning, our Church viewed herself as a temporary administration arising out of the tragedies experienced by the Russian Church and Russian people.
2) The Resolution does not contain a demand to condemn Sergianism, something many expected, nor a demand for repentance by the Moscow Patriarchate. One can say that the most important thing in the life of the Church in Russia in recent years was the glorification of the New Martyrs and the rebirth of church life. We are not talking about accusing each other again, making impossible demands of each other. The Social Concept of the Russian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate (adopted at their Council of Bishops in 2000) is principally and essentially antithetical to Sergianism. Now the main thing is to look to the future and be vigilant that there are no departures again within the Church such as those which occurred in the Soviet years. Of course, one must think: will the hierarchy be subjected to the direct threat of martyrdom?
3) The Resolution contains our concisely-worded attitude towards ecumenism, and also a call to the Moscow Patriarchate to withdraw from the World Council of Churches. One must note that this request in the Resolution is not a condition set before the Moscow Patriarchate, if only because the division within the Russian Church did not occur because of ecumenism. Membership in the WCC is a problem which arose afterwards, and, in any case, affects only small circles within the Russian Church and not the vast majority of the Russian Orthodox people. To make such a request while at the same time expressing our desire towards unity means sending a powerful signal, to inspire those who are working towards the rebirth of the Russian Church. This is a constructive step, and not an attempt to make up an excuse to delay unity.
What will happen now? In the Epistle to the God-loving Flock of the Council of Bishops of May 17, 2006, it clearly states that the time has come for reconciliation, that we must seek unity without delay and without proposing new demands. At the same time, wisdom requires us to move with caution, so as not to cause unnecessary anxiety among the faithful. And so, step by step, we are heading for full canonical and Eucharistic communion, if this be the Will of God. The members of the negotiating Commission of the Russian Church Abroad have been asked by the delegates to find a resolution for the vital questions at their next joint meeting. No timetables have been set, but there is no doubt that the goals set could be achieved fairly quickly, with the condition that the Church does not experience stress.
In this regard, the delegates participating in the IV All-Diaspora Council bear a great responsibility: to disseminate in the parishes the spirit of unity reigning at the Council, especially when the Resolution was being adopted, despite all the doubts, uncertainty and anxiety.
A sense of relief came after the adoption of the Resolution, and, it seems to me, following the afternoon meeting, each participant for a moment fell into a sort of slumber after the anxiety and stress of the recent days.
In the second half of the Council, we also heard several lectures on the witness of our Church in the world, including the lecture by Bernard le Caro and Priest Andrew Phillips (who at one time was a clergyman of the Western European Diocese before returning to his homeland of England). Fr Andrew ended his lecture with thoughts on the meaning of "Holy Russia" not only as a local spiritual ideal but as a universal one, regardless of language, since he sees clergymen and laity in the English, American, Belgian, French and Swiss "provinces" of Holy Russia. He explained that Holy Russia Abroad can always exist, even when the descendants of Russia forget the Russian language, because this is not a linguistic phenomenon, but a spiritual one. In his opinion, the true spirit of Holy Russia is Orthodoxy, Tradition and Independence (we must preserve these three principles in our soul, so that they guide us): our Church is not the Church of some Russian state, but the Church of Holy Russia.
Two lectures were devoted to youth ministry—a subject that has special significance in Europe. A result of this was that the second Resolution of the Council, on the Mission and Service of the Church, included the call to create a committee on youth for the entire diaspora under the aegis of the Synod of Bishops. But it should be pointed out that the perspectives described by the speakers applied more to the larger dioceses with a large number of youth—it would be difficult for us in Western Europe to bring to life such structures, since we do not have the same breadth. Existing organizations of the Russian emigration (for instance, Vitiazi) or inter-ethnic and inter-jurisdictional youth groups, of course, are more suitable for us. Our problem lies in helping today's teenagers remain believing Orthodox Christians tomorrow. But the attention devoted to the problems of our youth in and of itself gave me reason for hope.
The only thing that disappoints me about the Council is that because of the discussions on rapprochement with the Moscow Patriarchate, very little time was left to the Mission of the Church in today's world. This shows, still, that the resolution of this matter is a necessary requisite for us to move onto the most important things. In the words of one American priest, who admitted that he himself worried about this: more and more people are growing tired of hearing of the faults of the Moscow Patriarchate, of Sergianism and other questions, which of course left their mark upon our Church. Moving towards unity, preserving the uniqueness of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia, means concentrating our attention in the future on the main thing, on Christian witness in the secularized world to the glory of God.
(delegate from the Western European Diocese)
The seven rules are:
1) To preserve the purity of Orthodoxy, resisting the temptations of godlessness and modernism. In other words, to remain fearlessly upon the path of our Church.
2) To be the bold and free voice of the Church of Christ ; to witness the truth without compromise, as do our hierarchs, who witness it to this day.
3) Using our freedom, we must sympathize with those who do not have it, and not condemn them, but understand them and offer them our help in the spirit of brotherly love.
4) To preserve and cherish the unity of the Church, seeing ourselves as the inseparable parts of the Universal, Living Church of Christ and as worthy standard-bearers of the Russian Church within her bosom.
5) To the extent possible, to avoid self-isolation, since the spirit of the Church is the spirit of unity, and not division. Not to seek heretics where they may not be, and be wary of any distortions in this matter.
6) To call to unity all Russian Orthodox believers and pastors who have fallen away from us. To call them not with threats of punishment, but with brotherly love in the name of the suffering Russian Church and our much-suffering Homeland.
7) To turn our gaze towards Russia , which is beginning her renascence , and to help her whenever possible.