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SAN FRANCISCO: May 8, 2006

First Day of the IV All-Diaspora Council

The first day of the Council began with Divine Liturgy in the Cathedral, performed by Hieromonk Euthemiy (Logvinov), Prior of St Job Monastery in Munich, along with Deacon Dimitri Temidis of Holy Virgin Protection Church in Nyack, NY. The young and talented PA Fekula, choir director of the Synodal Choir, led the singing.

Afterwards, in the large hall of the Cathedral of the Mother of God "Joy of All Who Sorrow," the first plenary session of the IV All-Diaspora Council of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia (ROCOR) began. The main holy icon of the Russian Church Abroad, the Kursk-Root Icon of the Mother of God was brought in.

Eleven ROCOR bishops, headed by His Eminence Metropolitan Laurus, were in attendance, as was the honored guest from the Serbian Orthodox Church, His Eminence Metropolitan Amphilohije, and 127 delegates representing the clergy and laity.

The first speech, "The Spiritual-Historical Heritage of the Russian Church Abroad," was read by Protopriest Nicholas Karipoff, Rector of Protection Cathedral, Melbourne, Australia. Fr Nicholas said that from the very first day, ROCOR saw herself as the preserver of spirituality and of proper ecclesiastical life. The speaker is convinced that the ROCOR will bring benefit to Russia if she finds courage to speak honestly, not haughtily, without losing her repentant spirit. The speaker recalled that the founder of ROCOR, Blessed Metropolitan Anthony (Khrapovitsky), taught that Orthodoxy is first and foremost a religion of repentance. The legacy left by the bishops and clerical guides of ROCOR dictated that the proper order of Church life be preserved for the Russian Church, an order that could not be preserved in the Church in the Fatherland which was oppressed by her enemies. While the bishops abroad thought of themselves as sufferers for the Church of Russia, the Lord preserved the spirit of ROCOR unharmed. When the course of exclusivity, of self-satisfaction was later taken, the ROCOR began thereby to sin against the legacy of her founding fathers. "The repentant return onto the original path will not only help us, but the entire Russian church, to return to the sober and healthy life of the Church of Holy Russia, the Church of the Pan-Russian Council of 1917-1918, the Church of the Holy Martyrs," said Fr Nicholas.

Discussion of the speech then began. Among the numerous comments, the matter of the understanding of the Mother Church was raised. Can the Moscow Patriarchate be considered the Mother Russian Church? The speaker responded that he is convinced that the Mother Church is the Church of the New Martyrs, of the Local Pan-Russian Council and of Holy Russia.

In response to the question, What can ROCOR give to the Russian Church?, the lecturer replied that the main thing that ROCOR can share is the experience of her ecclesiology and conciliarity, which was better kept in the diaspora than in Russia, thanks to the fact that ROCOR developed in the free world, in a pluralistic society, which gave her the opportunity to develop immunity to the diseases of the temptations of this world.

Priest Mikhail Luboschinsky (Canada), declared that "Sergianism," as the ecclesiastical course adopted in 1927 by Metropolitan Sergius (Stragorodsky) is conditionally called, is the admission of the permissibility of the "benefit of sin" for the good of the Church. In the opinion of the Canadian clergyman, this concept borders on heresy, or at least hinders repentance.

The afternoon session was opened by a lecture read by Priest Nikolai Savchenko (St Petersburg, Russia) on the topic: "The Reestablishment of Eucharistic Communion and the Overcoming of Divisions in Church History."

At the beginning of his report, Fr Nikolai stated that it is barely possible to find a time of complete internal peace in the Church. Internal ecclesiastical divisions arose from differences of opinion, and these are necessary, as the Apostle said, though sometimes they become long periods of grievous strife. Sometimes, the reasons for division were false teachings. In some cases, the government was the cause of division when it tried to impose its will upon the Church, and internal divisions actually guaranteed the protection of the Church from outside influence. The speaker thinks that internal church divisions are a common disease which can be healed.

Fr Nikolai then conducted an oral excursion through history and examined ecclesiastical divisions beginning with the Old Testament through today.

Divisions occurred over the entire life of the Church among all Orthodox peoples and nations, but they should not cause despair among the faithful, because courageous church figures were always found who strove for reconciliation. In order to escape internal divisions, the Church prays at each Liturgy: "Grant peace to Your world, to Your churches, to the clergy, and to all Your people." What is most important, thinks the speaker, is that reconciliation must have a firm foundation and that it could not be doubted in principle. Reconciliation must be genuine and must include the whole people, that is, it must not be imposed from above. It must be based upon the stable rock of pure confession. For true faith is that which unites and reconciles. If faith is confessed properly, then everything else can and must be conceded to the extent possible for the sake of peace, treating the cautious and zealous with understanding and brotherly love. For peacemakers build the house of peace in Christ, and zealots establish the firm foundation for this peace. For the sake of reconciliation, great personal sacrifices must be made, calling upon others to make sacrifices in this holy task.

Priest Victor Boldewskul of Epiphany Church in Boston noted that today's children of the Russian Church are poorly informed on the history of the Church and forget that the Holy Fathers always healed schism with love. We must do likewise.

Protopriest Pimen Simon, Rector of the Old Believers' parish of ROCOR in Erie, PA, then spoke. Fr Pimen said in part:

"First of all I am not advocating union with the Moscow Patriarchate now. I understand that those who have represented our Church in these negotiations with the Moscow Patriarchate deeply love ROCOR and know the circumstances and delicacies that will lead us to one recommendation or another. And as I indicated in my open letter after Vladyka Daniel’s interviews, my parish and I will remain faithful to the bishops of ROCOR to whom we united ourselves in 1983. But either now or later we must face the issue if there is to be reconciliation with the Moscow Patriarchate Church.

"My reason for requesting the opportunity to address this conference is because I have constantly noted the ironic parallel between the attempt to accomplish reconciliation between ROCOR and the MP to the attempts to reconcile Old Believers to, how shall I say, 'Niconians.' Every argument I have heard sounds the same as the diatribes between Old Believers and New Ritualists that have gone on now for several centuries. First of all the charges-depending on what side you find yourself:

Old Believers
'New Ritualists'
1. You are heretics.
1. You are schismatics.
2. You want to absorb and destroy us.
2. You look for excuses to remain apart.
3. The Patriarch has no right to claim legitimacy.
3. Apostolic Succession is intact and personal sin does not destroy Apostolic succession.
4. We have retained purity and truth.
4. You have become Pharisaical in your exalted opinion of yourselves.

"I could go on, but I'm sure that you get the point. As an Old Believer 'nastavnik' [preceptor] struggling to educate my flock as to the legitimacy of the Russian Orthodox Church, I came to realize that one of the most formidable tasks I faced was speaking to the vituperative and extreme language used to justify the Old Believer position. Old Believer polemicists had labeled the 'Niconians' as heretics, betrayers of the Faith, persecutors and even as ministers of the Antichrist—if Nicon was not the Antichrist himself. Constantly the question arose: would joining the ROC be a betrayal of our forefathers who died voluntarily or involuntarily for the preservation of the 'True Faith'? And if we are honest, it must be admitted that many of the reforms of Patriarch Nicon and the later westernized practices of the ROC were unnecessary and ill-advised. Thus, Old Believers had some justification in feeling reticent to recognize the legitimacy of the ROC. And to this day no Old Believer can join himself to the ROC unless he can conclude that Stoglav, an All-Russian Council, had exceeded its authority in certain areas.

"And so here we are again. Did Metropolitan Sergius lead the Church in Russia to be heretical? Is there even a legal Patriarchate in Russia? What does the MP want from us? Do they want to annihilate us? Are we betraying our forefathers? Has the MP repented? I have been struggling now for over 20 years to convince other Old Believers to follow our path when we united ourselves to the 'Niconian' Church. Recently I spent several months talking to two young Old Believers from Oregon who had decided that they and their families could no longer live without priesthood. They agreed that there may very well be legitimacy in the Niconian priesthood and that they would join us as soon as the ROCOR faithful, who seemed to have returned to true Orthodoxy, would begin praying with the two-fingered sign of the Cross. I looked at them incredulously and advised them that they shouldn’t hold their breaths. Always one more reason to justify the division!

"Vladyka Daniel told me over 20 years ago that the problem with most Old Believers is that each step the ROC took to answer the Old Believers justification for not uniting, would be met with another requirement demanded before any union could occur. And now? We make requests (or demands). Collaboration between state and church must end. The MP 2000 Sobor seems to answer. The New Martyrs and Royal Martyrs must be glorified. Repentance must be sought. But the reality is that no matter what is done, the faithful who grew up listening to all of the insults hurled at the MP are never going to be satisfied—even as most Old Believers won't end their division with the New Ritualists—no matter what steps are taken.

"And finally, as I wrote in my open letter, please finally admit that the collaboration and submission of the Church to the order of Peter I to forbid the election of a Patriarch and to place a state procurator over the Synod of Bishops is not far removed from the submission of the 20th Century. Or consider the Church’s submission and collaboration with 'Orthodox' Catherine the Great? Do you really believe the claims that this is all so different because the Church was united and servile to 'Orthodox' rulers rather than avowed atheists? Of course there is a difference, but as an Old Believer who has no connection with the need to claim the legitimacy of 18th and 19th century collaboration with the state, while calling the collaboration of the 20th century as unmitigated sin, I must personally stand before you and ask forgiveness as I suggest that there is a significant degree of hypocrisy in such a claim.

"My good friend, and the translator for most of our Old Rite publications, Fr German Ciuba, has stated to me on a number of occasions that there are so many critical issues facing the Church and the faithful today, that to constantly argue over what Metropolitan Sergius did in 1927 ought to be put in the past, even as the persecutions against the Old Believers must be put into the past for God’s judgment. I agree. In the 1970's, after you courageously lifted the anathemas against the Old Rite and against Old Believers, I came into contact with then Hieromonk Hilarion, Hieromonk Ioanniki, and Fr Theodore Jurewicz. They showed me love and Orthodoxy. I stopped worrying about who did what to whom in the 17th Century. They loved; I had to forgive—and they forgave me. Of course I had to investigate carefully whether there was heresy in the ROC. And you had to decide if the Old Believers had become heretics. I found none; you could find none.

"Do we really believe that millions of Orthodox Christians in Russia are not partaking of the Body and Blood of our Lord in theLiturgy? If they are, must there not be a time to forgive and reconcile? We did. Old Believers and Niconians - who would have thought it possible? Will you act in the same manner that you criticized us Old Believers for so long as being stubborn, bull-headed people who would not listen to logic?

"When we came to priesthood, we had dissenters. Some left us. Some have condemned me in public places. Some have spat at my wife in public places. Some claimed that I had been given a gift of a red Cadillac as payment for my betrayal of the pure Old Believer Faith. And if you make peace with the faithful under the authority of the Moscow Patriarchate, there will be dissent rumors and even some division I fear. But if this is what is right, then at some time we must have the courage to do what is right. If it is the will of God, we will be safe and saved. I have experienced the pain and suffering of division. I encourage those who would cause raskol, to trust that the grace of the Holy Spirit will guide our bishops to rightly divide the word of truth."

The next speaker was the honorary delegate to the Council from the Serbian Orthodox Church, His Eminence Metropolitan Amphilohije of Montenegro and the Coastlands, who read the lecture "Reestablishing Unity—the Experience of the Serbian Orthodox Church," and "Ecumenism. The Serbian Orthodox Church's View on the Issue and the Contemporary State of the WCC."

His Eminence Metropolitan Amphilohije began by saying that he inherited his love and respect for Metropolitan Anthony (Khrapovitsky), the founder of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia, from his spiritual father, Saint Justin Popovich. He also lovingly remembered a number of Russian teachers who taught him theology.

Metropolitan Amphilohije said that Serbia was always torn by external and internal enemies. Very unfortunately it cannot be ruled out that the holy Serbian land, the "Serbian Jerusalem" as it is known, Kosovo, will be lost.

The speaker remembered the ecclesiastical troubles of ancient Serbia, connected with the Patriarchate of Pec' and the Karlovac Metropoliate in Austrio-Hungary in the 18th and 19th centuries. From 1766 to the early 20th century, canonical disorder reigned. The Church in central Serbia received autocephaly from the Ecumenical Patriarchate only in 1867. Still, the spiritual life of the people continued and the Church was alive.

World War II brought the Serbian Church more and more horrifying tribulations. Many bishops and priests suffered. Fascist Uniates in Jasinovica executed 800,000 Serbs. At the same time, Communists killed 115 clergymen of the Serbian Orthodox Church.

The plight of the Serbian Orthodox Church and the Serbian diaspora in the 20th century is similar to that of the Russian Orthodox Church and the Russian diaspora. Serbian patriarchs during the Communist period were elected not without the influence of the authorities. This caused mistrust among many Serbian emigrants to the Church in Yugoslavia. In the 1960's, a schism occurred, which continued until 1992. At this time, a number of dubious episcopal consecrations were performed in the Serbian "Free" Church. But the new Serbian Patriarch, Pavle, exhibited extreme condescension and love and recognized these consecrations, thanks to which to the schism was overcome, and Eucharistic communion reestablished.

After a lively exchange of opinions on Metropolitan Amphilohije's first speech, the esteemed guest moved to the other topic—the attitude of the Serbian Church towards ecumenism. The speaker said that in 1996, the Serbian Orthodox Church began the last of the Local Churches to become a member of the World Council of Churches. In 1997, Bishop Artemije of Rasko-Prizren gave a speech at which he recommended that the Serbian Church withdraw from WCC based on the fact that this organization is becoming less interested in inter-Christian dialog, more and more confessing the ideology of syncretism. The Serbian Church is still in the WCC in order not to lose the opportunity to conduct dialog with the external world to benefit the Serbian people.