SAN FRANCISCO: May 16, 2006
The Delegates of the IV All-Diaspora Council Speak
1. What does the IV All-Diaspora Council mean to you?
Protopriest Michael Protopopov, Dean of Victoria (Australia): The voice of the entire Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia is expressed at the IV All-Diaspora Council. This Council is especially important because questions regarding the future existence of the Russian Church Abroad are being decided. We must decide—whom do we wish to be in the 21st century? Will we be an inseparable part of the Local Russian Church not only in theory but in fact, or will we stand apart from the fate of Russia?
Protopriest Gabriel Makarov, Rector of St Nicholas Cathedral in Brisbaine (Australia): This Council is the most significant, the most important event in my service to the Holy Church. At the Council Opening, during the reading of the "Instructions," I was seized by the fear of God and at the same time gripped with profound gratitude to Him for His forbearance and mercy to all of us members of the Holy Orthodox Church.
Archdeacon Eugene Burbelo, clergyman of Our Lady of the Sign Cathedral at the Synod of Bishops in New York: This is an historic event in the life of the entire Russian Church.
GN Nikolsky, member of the Diocesan Council of the Diocese of Eastern America and New York: For me it is a great honor to be a delegate at this Council, which is being held under the omophorion of the Mother of God "Joy of All Who Sorrow." Indeed, the clergy and laity of the Russian Orthodox Church in Russia and abroad, that is, scattered throughout the world, are in sorrow. I hope that Eucharistic communion will bring spiritual joy to all who are in sorrow. May the Lord's will be done.
Bernard Le Caro (Diocese of Geneva and Western Europe: I respond with the words of St John Chrysostom: "The Church exists not that those gathered would divide, but that the divided would gather."
PP Paganuzzi, Eastern Canadian Diocese: The meaning and significance of the All-Diaspora Council is contained in our desire to fulfill the will of the Chief Pastor, the Lord Jesus Christ. Our actions at this Council must reflect that desire which must come from the depths of our hearts. We are called upon at this Council to reveal, firstly, for ourselves, and then for others, the Truth, and walk upon that path, for the Lord is the Way and the Truth. We must understand that our actions will influence many of our contemporaries and descendants, and will affect their fates.
To be at the Council is both an honor and a great responsibility.
It is very important not to forget that the Church is not a social or political organization. Decisions must be made in a conciliar manner and of one mind.
The matter of the unity of the Russian Church must be discussed openly and honestly. Only in this way can we discuss this matter, which has exceeding importance for us. Its discussion should be dispassionate, but there also must be zeal for the glory of God, and the desire to express the Truth.
2. What was the atmosphere during the services and in the meeting hall?
Protopriest Michael Protopopov: We were all amazed at the great spiritual elevation felt during the services. The grace-filled spirit of our Kursk Protectress and St John are felt. The atmosphere in the meeting hall is sometimes heavy. Of course, one cannot expect that complete and exact unity of mind can be achieved in everything while discussing all matters. As they say, "from the clash of opinions emerges the truth." Thank God, at the end of the workday, we disperse to our hotel rooms with brotherly love, and our mutual understanding grows.
Protopriest Gabriel Makarov: The atmosphere in church can be described very simply—even without Pascha it would have been Pascha! As far as the debates and discussions are concerned, they are held in a spirit of brotherly love, and it is apparent that the members of the Council are not indifferent to the fates of the Russian Church.
Archdeacon Eugene Burbelo: The mood at services was prayerful; the meetings, businesslike.
GN Nikolsky: The services are solemn, one senses fraternal unity.
Bernard Le Caro: I feel that we are praying "with one mouth and one heart," and that is the most important thing. If we have not yet attained this atmosphere in the meeting hall, through the prayers of St John of Shanghai and San Francisco, we will without a doubt [these words were spoken before the discussion and adoption of the Resolution—Ed.].
PV Lisytsyn, Warden of Dormition Cathedral in London and personal guest of His Eminence Metropolitan Laurus: The atmosphere during services was grace-filled to the highest degree. Participating in the services with a host of bishops and priests leaves a most profound and indelible impression. The atmosphere in the meeting hall is somewhat different. I don't mean worse, just completely different. The voice of reason and thoughtfulness presides, not that of heartfelt prayer.
PP Paganuzzi: It was difficult to hold back tears of spiritual joy for the unity of the worshipers at Tuesday night's akathist. One hears a great many expressions of genuine concerns over the question of unity. There exist various opinions and desires, but one thread passes throughout. Everyone always wanted and still wants the unity of all the parts of the Russian Orthodox Church, but this unity must be achieved in Truth. During the times of persecution, the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia always supported the Russian Church in the person of her faithful people. One of the most heartwarming prayers of our Russian Church Abroad is the prayer for the salvation of Russia, which to this day we read in all our churches. It reflects our consistent mood. Let us hope that the Council, in unity of mind, finds the correct path for this unity. In my opinion, it is necessary to give time to our flock so that the entirety of our Church could have the opportunity to make sense of this path. I think that haste in this matter is unacceptable. That is why I would like to address my compatriots and propose that they patiently await the reestablishment of unity.
NE Buick, Delegate from the Russian American Community Services (San Francisco): The entire atmosphere of the Council is radically different from all lay conferences I have every attended. All the sessions and meetings begin and end with prayer. The Kursk-Root Icon of the Mother of God, always present, constantly reminds us that all our thoughts must be directed towards Eternal Truths, and not temporary worldly cares. Most of the delegates have Orthodox roots. Even the auxiliary personnel: the kitchen, the secretariat and the security are strict. The Bishops are always ascetic.
PA Fekula, Delegate from the Church Music Committee of the Synod of Bishops: The atmosphere during the services is calm and prayerful. These divine services unite the delegates. Every morning a priest and deacon, delegates of the Council, serve. The members take turns helping in the altar, singing and directing the choir. Although the services start at 7:30 am, almost all the delegates are in attendance. These services set the tone for the day ahead and the sense of unity is reborn.
The atmosphere in the meeting hall is businesslike. We sense that we are working together, we are working towards unity of mind and concord, and that we are making progress. But there are highly stressful moments and even expressions of dissatisfaction by one person or another towards the opinions of others.
Thank God, the sessions begin on time, and people are prepared to sacrifice recesses and free time. It is obvious that the delegates came to work.
3. How do you see the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia in the future?
Protopriest Michael Protopopov: I see the future of our Church in the bosom of the great Local Russian Church, in which, as a self-governing part, could continue to nourish Russian Orthodox Christians in the diaspora, and encourage the good works and directions of the faithful in the Homeland, and to perform its broad ministry among the heterodox.
Archdeacon Eugene Burbelo: United.
Bernard Le Caro: It depends on each of us what our Church will be like in the future. The Athonite Elder Paisius said that "if you correct yourself, a small part of the Church will correct itself." If everyone did that, the Church would be brought to perfect order.
PV Lisytsyn: All the lectures were very deep, informative and aimed at the heart of the matter. It was apparent that the speakers were not only well prepared from a theological and academic point of view, but also imparted much suffering and care for their topics. For me personally, all the lectures were highly valuable for the understanding the historical, theological and spiritual aspect of the questions the Council deliberated upon. I especially liked the lecture and responses of His Eminence Metropolitan Amphilohije. The Holy Spirit was clearly sensed.
NE Buick: I have worked for the future for 11 years now. I head an organization that ensures the nourishment of and communal and social needs of Russian pensioners who belong to three Russian "jurisdictions." The people are all the same. They are divided by various parishes not by dogma, but by convenience, for practical purposes and through friendship. After services they gather for social purposes. In years past there could have been valid reasons for division, but now they have disappeared except in the narrowest of minds. They eat at the same table, but then disperse to different parishes. I foresee the complete collapse of these obsolete walls. They have long fallen away for our pensioners. Changes will occur with the expansion in the choice of churches we can attend. Canonical communion with our brethren will expand the number of our parishes and will serve the needs of our scattered flock. Our services and church singing are far from the Western ritual modernism of some other Churches. The Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia will remain firm and will attract new believers through our traditional church services, our exceptional iconography and our singing. The measure we are pondering will preserve the Russian Church Abroad for many generations.
Georgii Gavriilovich, you represent Camp NORR. How did you react to the news that you were selected as a delegate to the IV All-Diaspora Council?
GG Temidis: I consider this a great responsibility, especially from a spiritual point of view. I took to heart the Great Lenten Epistle of our dear Metropolitan Laurus, and since Forgiveness Sunday tried to confess and commune of the Holy Gifts of Christ every Sunday, in order to prepare spiritually for the Council. Here in San Francisco, I already partook of the Holy Gifts twice. Of course, each one of us has his viewpoint and concerns, but we must always remember that we are members of the IV All-Diaspora Council, and this is an enormous responsibility not only before the Church but before God Himself. I believe that the will of God will be done at this Council and at the Council of Bishops that follows.
Vladimir Vladimirovich, what was your impression of the service and presentation of His Eminence Metropolitan Amphilohije?
VV Krassovksy, Director of the Cathedral Choir and member of the Pre-Council Committee: When Vladyka spoke to, or rather with, us in a fatherly, loving way, I sensed that a great bishop stood before the Council; a theologian and humble, simple monk. I was stunned by his wise thoughts, spoken very profoundly and with great love for Christ's Church. While listening to him, I remembered my spiritual father and mentor, Archbishop Anthony (Medvedev, +2000), the blessed predecessor of our Vladyka Kyrill. The Lord honored me, so unworthy, to be a close aide to Vladyka Anthony, who very often shared with me his view of church problems, illnesses and temptations. Vladyka spoke a great deal about unity and conciliarity of the Church. Vladyka's all-loving heart was open to all of Universal Orthodoxy. His service, as well as that of our St John, witnesses his "universal spirit" in participating in the life of the entire Orthodox Church and her peoples. This is the spirit of Vladyka Amphilohije. To literally every question that he was asked, Vladyka Amphilohije responded with the words: love, patience, forbearance, understanding, compassion, unity. He said that Russia is being reborn, that it is important for all Orthodox Christians to participate in the process of rebirth.
The Serbian Orthodox Church and Russian Church Abroad have long had close fraternal ties. It is interesting to note that in 1926, the future St John was tonsured to the monkhood by Blessed Metropolitan Anthony (Khrapovitsky) at Vvedenskij Milkovo Monastery in Serbia, where Vladyka Anthony of blessed memory also lived. The young Hieromonk John, continuing under the obedience of Blessed Metropolitan Anthony, taught at a Serbian gymnasium, and then in Bitol Seminary, which is located in the diocese of St Nikolaj Velimirovic, the "Serbian Chrysostom," the 50th anniversary of whose death is being piously marked not only by the Serbian Orthodox Church but by the entire Orthodox Church this year. The students of Bitol Seminary loved their teacher very much for his prayerful and fatherly care for them, for the fact that he served as an example of ascetic rigor. As we know, from the time of his tonsure, emulating the ancient ascetics, Vladyka John never rested on a bed, and from the day of his ordination, conducted Divine Liturgy or communed of the Holy Gifts on a daily basis. St Nikolai Velimirovich himself greatly admired the young hieromonk, who even then, visiting patients in the local hospitals with an icon of St Naum of Ochrid, greatly revered by the Serbs, and miraculously healed many of them.
Blessed Metropolitan Anthony and St Nikolaj Velimirovic together with other bishops performed the consecration of Fr John as bishop for Shanghai, Vicar of the Chief of the Russian Ecclesiastical Mission in Peking. At the reception in honor of the newly-consecrated bishop, one of the speakers said of this day: "Many archpastoral lanterns were lit here, but these were a kind of relic of Old Russia, reared and educated by her. The new bishop was a new sprout of that life of the Russian spirit which the storms and tribulations could not kill: this spirit is expressed in the new bishop, greeted in Bitol by the first sons of the Church, the representatives of the Greek population, and the high delegates of the now-strongest Serbian Church. May this be the path of the new coming Russia."
In 2000, foreseeing his end, Archbishop Anthony, addressed the clergy of the Diocese of San Francisco and Western America during the Great Lenten Retreat with the following words: "I thank you all for everything, for covering my faults with your love, your prayers. And please forgive me graciously. I thank God that He gave you to me. I hope that you preserve the Local Russian Orthodox Church, of which we are a part; that you preserve all the Orthodox Churches which suffer so greatly, especially the Serbian Church, to which we owe so much and which we helped. Let us pray to the Lord that He show us His Truth in His light. Let us pray for everyone. Confirm, O God, the Holy Orthodox Church, which You gained through Your blood." This was Vladyka Anthony's wish, expressed before his death. This is my wish also for the participants of our Council.