DIOCESE OF SAN FRANCISCO AND WESTERN AMERICA: November 16, 2006
Epistle of the Pastoral Conference of the Clergy of the Western American Diocese
We, the clergy of the Western American Diocese of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia, having gathered for a Pastoral Conference at the Church of the Holy Ascension in the capital city of California, Sacramento, greet all the parishioners and all the faithful of the wide-spread Western American Diocese with the words: "Peace be unto you."
Over the past four days we have had fellowship, have prayed, have listened to lectures, asked questions, have shared our joys, concerns, sorrows, worries and hopes. On the most important questions, by the grace of God, our clergy has demonstrated remarkable oneness of mind and mutual understanding. For this we give thanks to the Lord God.
Great hierarchs have served in our diocese: the future Patriarch of All Russia and Confessor St Tikhon, the Wonderworker St John of Shanghai and San Francisco, the ever-memorable Archbishop Anthony (Medvedev), and Bishop Nektary of Seattle, who was the spiritual son of the Elder Nectarius of Optina. The Western American Diocese was especially loved by two First Hierarchs of the Church Abroad: His Beatitude Metropolitan Anastassy, who established a summer residence in Burlingame, and the ever-memorable Metropolitan Philaret, who loved to visit California. It was here that he celebrated the 50th Anniversary of his priesthood. All of these hierarchs not only left behind them an indelible mark on the Western American Diocese, but also their directives concerning the organization of Church life, concerning their love for the Russian Church, concerning spiritual unity, concerning sobornost' and trust. The spirit of these great hierarchs is alive in the Western-American Diocese to this day, and we sense their prayers for us.
We are thankful to our Lord God that five years ago it was pleasing to Him that the Most Reverend Metropolitan Laurus be elected First Hierarch of the Russian Church Abroad. The lot of service fell upon Metropolitan Laurus at that moment in the history of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia when enormous changes occurred in the life of the Church in Russia—changes which permitted the two parts of the Russian Church, in Russia and abroad, to overcome their differences and to step forward onto the path of restoration of ecclesiastical unity.
After the repose of the Right Reverend Bishop Nektary of Seattle in 1983, when there was no auxiliary bishop in the Western American Diocese, the ever-memorable Archbishop Anthony wrote in his will that in the case of his death the Most Reverend Archbishop Laurus of Syracuse should administer the Western American Diocese until the appointment of a Ruling Bishop. Archbishop Anthony felt that Archbishop Laurus not only earned the trust of the clergy and the flock of the Western American Diocese, but also was gifted with love, peace, sobriety and discernment, which are especially necessary at times of change in Church life. Now, not only the Western American Diocese, but the entire Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia is poised to enter into canonical communion with the Church in Russia, and it is not by chance that it is Metropolitan Laurus who stands at the head of the part of the Russian Church that is found abroad.
The restoration of canonical unity with the Church in Russia means that the day which the spiritual leaders of the Russian diaspora long awaited has come. The restoration of canonical unity will allow our Russian Orthodox Church Abroad to return to the family of Orthodox Local Churches and to fulfill its mission in the contemporary world not in isolation, but in collaboration with the healthy forces of Orthodoxy in the entire world. We must not be afraid of this and look for enemies where there are none. If we have the truth, if the Lord is with us, if we have a glorious past, then it would be a sin at the present time to lock ourselves away in our own righteousness. It would be a sin to hide our inheritance.
During the past several years we have had the opportunity to experience collaboration of our Western American Diocese with representatives of the Local Churches: we have frequently been visited by guests from Russia, by representatives of the Moscow Patriarchate, among whom were the Rector of the Moscow Theological Schools, the Most Reverend Archbishop Evgeniy and the well-known All-Russian Father-Confessor of Optina Hermitage, Schema-Abbot Iliy; our youth has begun to participate in the activities of other jurisdictions—assisting in the construction of houses for the poor in Mexico, and youth camps in Romania; a representative of our Church participated in the Diocesan Assembly of the Orthodox Church in America; one of the main spiritual treasures of the OCA, the Wonder-working Sitka Icon of the Mother of God visited the San Francisco Cathedral; representatives of the Greek, Antiochian, Jerusalem and OCA jurisdictions support (and teach at) St John's Academy, the only institution of its kind in the Russian Church Abroad; Orthodox families of the Bay Area took in children from an orphanage in Belarus; church choirs and Orthodox ensembles from Russia sang at parishes of the Western American Diocese; one of the main presentations at the Pastoral Conference of the clergy of the Western American Diocese in the Spring of 2006 was given by a representative of the Antiochian Archdiocese; a Christian music group made up of converts from the Bulgarian Church in the USA participated in our diocesan young adult Retreat in September 2006; choir directors and clergy from the Moscow Patriarchate gave lectures at Church Choir Conferences and at the All-Diaspora Youth Conference; the participants of the Diocesan Pastoral Conference in Vancouver prayed with and shared the joy of the "Slava" of the local parish of our fraternal Serbian Church...
We must state and affirm that these joint activities brought nothing but inspiration, joy and mutual benefit to Orthodoxy. We lost nothing, but, to the contrary, were enriched by this experience and fellowship.
How much energy and time have been wasted on confrontation with the Church in Russia? One of the speakers at the IV All-Diaspora Sobor noted that in his diocese, for years, if not decades, at Pastoral Conferences only two topics were discussed: "Sergianism" and ecumenism. About pastoral questions, questions concerning youth, the Orthodox family, missionary work, education, the preparation of the generation to follow—not one word. Before us stand so many challenges, there is so much work, so much not even begun, and even more uncompleted.
We, the clergy of the Western American Diocese feel that it is necessary, as soon as possible, without delay, or without any slowing down, to complete the process of the reestablishment of the unity of the Russian Church. This will allow us to move on to the critical problems of our parish and diocesan life. This will allow us to collaborate and share experiences with our Orthodox neighbors from the Local Orthodox Churches. This will also allow us to travel to Russia, and at Russian holy places, in ancient churches and monasteries, to pray together with those related to us by faith and by blood – our brothers and sisters – to commune of the Holy Mysteries of Christ and to draw spiritual strength for the continuation of our service in the Western American Diocese. This will also permit all who wish to visit the holy places of Mt. Athos, Georgia, Jerusalem and other countries not only as pilgrims, but as fully-accepted Orthodox, who can have Eucharistic communion with the Orthodox faithful of these countries.
The "Act of Canonical Communion," which has been confirmed by the supreme ecclesiastical authority of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia, will establish a firm canonical foundation for the Russian Church Abroad, as a self-administering part of the Local Russian Church. As a result of this "Act," it, on the one hand, will preserve its internal freedom, its church structures, its own special God-given place in the contemporary world, its spiritual-pastoral-historical heritage; and, on the other hand, it will reestablish its canonical and prayerful communion with the Church in Russia and the status of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia will fully conform with the ecclesiastical canonical norms of Orthodoxy.
Among the participants of our Pastoral Conference there are seven members of the IV All-Diaspora Sobor. On the fourth working day of the All-Diaspora Sobor, at the opening of which the words "Today the grace of the Holy Spirit has gathered us together" were sung, a Resolution was ratified. The first paragraph of the Resolution, where is expressed "the full trust and love of the clergy and the laity to their First Hierarch, the Most Reverend Metropolitan Laurus, and to the Hierarchical Sobor," and that the members of the Sobor witness that as faithful children of the Holy Church, they will bow down before the will of God and be subject to the decisions of the forthcoming Hierarchical Sobor, was passed unanimously. In other words, every member of the All-Diaspora Sobor witnessed, before the Holy Spirit, that he gives a promise of faithfulness to the Russian Church Abroad, its First Hierarch and the Hierarchical Sobor. At the Hierarchical Sobor it was decided to complete the matter of the unification of the Russian Church "without delay." The members of the IV All-Diaspora Sobor, participating in this Pastoral Conference, reaffirm the promise given by them at the All-Diaspora Sobor and do not plan to betray the grace which they received at that Sobor.
We, the participants of the Pastoral Conference of the Western-American Diocese firmly believe that the Holy New Martyrs of Russia did not shed their blood in vain, and that their prayer before the Throne of God cannot fail to bring fruit. Twenty-five years ago they were glorified and twenty-five years ago in this very month for the first time the Prayer to the New Martyrs was read, in which the call for Church unity so strongly resounds:
"Let all divisions in our Church cease to exist, that all may be one…"
Exactly half a century ago Our Western American luminary St John, archpastor, man of prayer and ascetic clairvoyantly foretold that about which he prayed so fervently and desired with all his heart:
"We beseech the Lord that He will hasten the advent of that longed-for and expected hour, when the First Hierarch of All Russia, having ascended his Patriarchal throne in the Dormition Cathedral of the ancient capital, shall gather around himself all the Russian archpastors having assembled from all the Russian and foreign lands" (from the Epistle of Archbishop John to His Shanghai Flock dated August 2, 1946).
We firmly believe that by the mercy of God and the prayers of the Holy New Martyrs of Russia and the Holy Hierarch St John, Wonderworker of Shanghai and San Francisco, this long-awaited hour has come and that we may proclaim with the words of the Paschal prokimenon:
"This is the day which the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it!"
† Archbishop KYRILL
Archpriest Alexander Lebedeff (Los Angeles)
Archpriest Stefan Pavlenko (Burlingame)
Archpriest Peter Perekrestov (San Francisco)
Archpriest John Ocana (Sunnyvale)
Archpriest George Kurtow (Monterey)
Archpriest Serge Kotar (San Francisco)
Archpriest Paul Volmensky (Sacramento)
Archpriest Alexis Kotar (Seattle)
Archpriest David Moser (Boise)
Archpriest Yaroslav Belikow (San Francisco)
Archpriest Martin Swanson (St. Louis)
Priest Boris Henderson (Denver)
Hieromonk Raphael (Winnipeg)
Priest Seraphim Bell (Walla Walla)
Hieromonk Tryphon (Vashon Island)
Priest Luke Higgins (Walla Walla)
Priest Anatole Lyovin (Honolulu)
Priest James Steele (Diamond Springs)
Priest John McCuen (Phoenix)
Priest Sergei Kapitan (Reno)
Priest Alexey Chumakov (Los Angeles)
Priest James Baglien (Corvallis)
Hieromonk James (San Francisco)
Priest Martin Person (Los Angeles)
Priest Daniel Reese (Walla Walla)
Deacon Nikolai Lenkoff (Mulino)
Deacon Jan Veselak (Denver)
Deacon Dimitri Jakimowicz (San Francisco)
November 3/16, 2006