NEW YORK: September 11, 2006
on the Negotiation Process and the "Act on Canonical Communion"
The Synod of Bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia, having heard the opinions of a number of clergymen and members of the laity, deemed it useful to make the following clarifications:
With regard to the opinion expressed by some that differences in matters of principle between the two sides have not been resolved—the questions of ecumenism and "Sergianism"—we feel it necessary to clarify that these questions were painstakingly examined by the joint Commissions, which drafted joint documents, subsequently accepted and approved by the hierarchies of both the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia and of the Russian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate. These include two fundamental documents: "On the Relationship Between the Church and State" and "On the Attitude of the Orthodox Church Towards the Heterodox and Towards Inter-Confessional Organizations." As is stated in the official announcement of July 8, 2004—over two years ago—the Synod of Bishops "adopted the documents prepared at the joint meetings of the two Committees, noting their agreement with the principled positions of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia."
These documents, and also the subsequent joint documents, prepared by the Commissions and approved by the Synods or Councils of Bishops of both sides, clearly define the Orthodox attitude towards the two questions set before the Commissions: "Sergianism" and ecumenism.
Specifically, we read in these documents:
"In the 20th century, after the Bolshevik revolution, unprecedented persecution of the Church in Russia began. During those years, through Divine Providence, the Russian Church produced a great host of Holy New Martyrs and Confessors of Russia. Not everyone withstood during the years of persecution. Some clergymen and laypersons, trampling upon Divine truth, facilitated the persecutors in their actions directed towards the destruction of the Church. Such actions cannot under any circumstances be permitted and justified; they deserve all condemnation, to avoid their repetition in case the Lord allows persecutions to resume.
"[W]hen compliance with legal requirements threatens his eternal salvation and involves an apostasy or commitment of another doubtless sin before God and his neighbor, the Christian is called to perform the feat of confession for the sake of God's truth and the salvation of his soul for eternal life.
"The Church must support all good initiatives of the state, but must resist evil, immorality and harmful social phenomena and always firmly confess the Truth, and when persecutions commence, to continue to openly witness the faith and be prepared to follow the path of confessors and martyrs for Christ" ("On the Relationship Between the Church and State").
"Today we can say that there is untruth mixed into... the Declaration. The Declaration placed for itself the goal of placing the Church in the proper relationship with the Soviet state. But this relationship—and in the Declaration it was clearly defined as the subjugation of the Church to the interests of government politics - is incorrect from the point of view of the Church" (His Holiness Patriarch Alexy II).
"Both in the part of the Russian Church found abroad, and, what is very important, inside Russia as well, the ‘Declaration' was viewed by the people of the Church as a morbid, tragic compromise, but not as the free voice of the Church of Christ."
"[T]he 'Declaration' was seen as a coerced document which did not express the free will of the Church.
"As His Holiness Patriarch Alexy II said in 1991, "The Declaration of Metropolitan Sergius has departed into the past, and we are not guided by it." ("Commentary on the Joint Document of the Commissions of the Moscow Patriarchate and the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia Entitled ‘On the Relationship Between Church and State'").
The concluding words of this document ("Commentary"), adopted by the Holy Synods of both parts of the Russian Church make an perfectly definite evaluation of the "Declaration" of Metropolitan Sergius of 1927: "The rejection of the course of the Russian Church in her relations with the state as reflected in the ‘Declaration' opens the path to the fullness of brotherly communion."
Nothing could be clearer. Rejection means rejection.
As far as ecumenism is concerned, we read in the joint documents:
"The Russian Orthodox Church strictly adheres to the teaching set forth in the Creed that the Church of Christ is one.
"As the Body of Christ is the sole vessel of salvation, as the pillar and foundation of truth, the Church never divided itself nor disappeared, but always, over the entire history of Christianity, taught the pure teaching of the Gospel in the abundance of the grace-filled gifts of the Holy Spirit.
"[A] significant portion of the Protestant world in the course of its development embarked upon the path of humanist liberalism and is losing its bond with the Tradition of the Holy Church more and more, changing by whim the divinely-established norms of morality and dogmatic teachings and placing itself at the service of the interests of the consumerist society, subjecting themselves to notions of earthly comfort and political goals. As 'salt that lost its savor' (Matthew 5:13), such communities have lost their power to resist human passions and sins.
"Such tendencies evoke profound anxiety, and have motivated the Orthodox Church to reexamine its relationship with various confessions and inter-confessional organizations.
"A condition of the participation of the Orthodox Church in inter-confessional organizations, including the World Council of Churches, is the exclusion of religious syncretism. Orthodox Christians insist on their right to freely confess their faith in the Orthodox Church as the One Holy Universal and Apostolic Church without conceding the so-called 'branch theory' and definitively reject any attempts to dilute Orthodox ecclesiology.
"The Orthodox Church excludes any possibility of liturgical communion with the non-Orthodox. In particular, it is considered impermissible for Orthodox to participate in liturgical actions connected with so-called ecumenical or inter-confessional religious services. In general, the Church should determine the forms of interaction with the heterodox on a conciliar basis, stemming from its teachings, canonical discipline and ecclesiastical expediency." ("On the Attitude of the Orthodox Church Towards the Heterodox and Towards Inter-Confessional Organizations").
In a recent published interview, His Eminence Metropolitan Kirill, President of the Department of External Church Relations of the Moscow Patriarchate, says:
"I wish to declare with absolute clarity that for Orthodox Christians there can be no doubt that the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church is the Orthodox Church. Throughout the history of the WCC, none of its Orthodox participants support the so-called 'branch theory,' since it fundamentally contradicts Orthodox ecclesiology."
"After many Protestants embarked upon the path of the extreme liberalization of theology and morality, decisively abandoning the norms of the faith and life of the Apostolic Church, representatives of the Russian Church declared that they cannot participate in joint prayer within the WCC."
In the same interview, Metropolitan Kirill justifies the continuing participation of the Russian Orthodox Church in the following way:
"The World Council is a good tribunal for preaching and for defending the values and interests of Orthodoxy throughout the world. It should not be forgotten that consultative work between the Local Orthodox Churches is also achieved within the framework of the WCC. In view of the fact that pan-Orthodox conferences are not held for certain reasons, and the Pan-Orthodox process has come to a halt, the World Council of Churches often remains the only forum at which Orthodox participants meet, where they can discuss the urgent questions of today. By leaving, we would isolate ourselves from the advisory process among the Local Orthodox Churches. It cannot be excluded that this would suit certain people. It is well known that there are forces within Orthodoxy which are concerned by the successes of the Russian Orthodox Church and are interested in her being weakened. If the Christian world does not hear the voice of the Russian Church, it will hear other voices instead. This can upset the balance within Universal Orthodoxy, which is maintained through great efforts, specifically thanks to the world-wide authority enjoyed by the Russian Orthodox Church. Withdrawal from the WCC today would mean the weakening of the positions of the Russian Church within the Orthodox family, and also throughout the world, including Russian society, which is very interested in the topic of inter-confessional and inter-religious relations. The demand for the self-isolation of the Russian Orthodox Church can only made by those who do not know what happens in the WCC and what the real role of the Russian Church is in the whole complex system of inter-Christian and inter-religious relations, or by those who consciously strive to limit her influence and weaken her authority.”
In conclusion, he says:
“Also, if key participants in the WCC continue to depart from the fundamentals of Christian theology and morality, we will reconsider the forms of—and even the very fact of—our further participation.”
As far as the reasons for participation in the WCC are concerned as expressed by Metropolitan Kirill, we understand them, but in no way does this change our negative attitude towards participation in ecumenical organizations. Fully sharing the tenets outlined on this matter in the joint documents, we confirm what was declared in the Resolution of the IV All-Diaspora Council: “the participation of the Russian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate in the World Council of Churches evokes confusion among our clergy and flock. With heartfelt pain we ask the hierarchy of the Russian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate to heed the plea of our flock to expediently remove this temptation."
* * *
On the second question often raised, that the Russian Orthodox Church today lacks a legitimately-elected Supreme Ecclesiastical Authority, since in accordance with the decision of the All-Russian Council of 1917-1918, the highest authority in the Church belongs to the Local Council with the participation of the bishops, clergy and laity, it is worth noting that the “Act on Canonical Communion” specifies the Local Council of the Russian Church as the supreme ecclesiastical authority.
Paragraph 8 states: “The Bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia are members of the Local Council and Council of Bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church and participate in the prescribed manner in the meetings of the Holy Synod.”
Paragraph 9 of the “Act” states: “The highest instance of ecclesiastical authority in the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia are the Local Council and Council of Bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church,” in which, according to paragraph 8, all the bishops of the Russian Church Abroad participate.
Paragraph 8 also says that “Representatives of the clergy and laity of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia participate in the Local Russian Council of the Russian Orthodox Church in the prescribed manner.” All this is in full accord with the decision of the All-Russian Council of 1917, which states: “In the Russian Orthodox Church, the highest authority—legislative, administrative, judicial and controlling—belongs to the Local Council, which is periodically convened and consists of the bishops, clergy and laity.”
The resolution of the IV All-Diaspora Council also refers to the Local Council: “We hope that the forthcoming Local Council of One Russian Church will settle remaining unresolved church problems.”
It must be clearly understood that without the two parts of the Russian Church entering into canonical communion by jointly signing the “Act on Canonical Communion,” the participation of representatives of the bishops, clergy and laity of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia in a future Local Council of the Russian Church will be impossible.
Regarding some other provisions in the “Act on Canonical Communion,” which, in the opinion of some, “place one Church above another,” in particular, the commemoration of the Primate of the Local Russian Church, the Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia, the receiving of Holy Chrism from him, and other theses: it is important to remember that these points derive directly from canonical requirements reflected in the decisions of the All-Russian Council of 1917-1918.
In its Decision of December 8, 1917, entitled “On the Rights and Duties of His Holiness the Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia,” paragraph 2(k) states that the Patriarch “has the care for the timely preparation and consecration of Holy Chrism for the use of the Russian Church.”
In paragraph 3 of the same Decision it states: “The name of the Patriarch is commemorated during Divine Services in all churches of the Church of Russia.”
Therefore, the provisions laid out in the “Act on Canonical Communion” are in full agreement with the decisions of the All-Russian Council and with the canonical norms of church administration.
According to the “Act on Canonical Communion,” the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia is “self-governing in pastoral, educational, administrative, management, property and civil matters” (par. 2). No decrees of the Synod of Bishops or Council of Bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia are subject to the review or confirmation of the Holy Synod or Council of the Russian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate, except those of a canonical nature.
Consequently, there can be no discussion of the “subjugation” of one side to another, or of the self-dissolution of the Russian Church Abroad. Quite the opposite, the “Act on Canonical Communion” confirms the future canonical status of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia—by recognizing that she “in the historically-developed complement of the dioceses, parishes, monasteries, brotherhoods and other ecclesiastical establishment, continues to be an inseparable, self-governing part of the Local Russian Orthodox Church” as she always deemed herself to be.
The Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia, in her fullness, thus preserves her existence and self-governing status. She will continue to have her own First Hierarch, her own Council of Bishops, her own Synod of Bishops, her own Regulations, and will govern herself with complete independence.
Howver, her temporary status departs into the past, a status which had been conditioned, as was explicitly stated in the first paragraph of the Regulations of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia, on the existence in Russia of the godless regime. That paragraph states: “The Russian Orthodox Church Abroad is an indissoluble part of the Russian Orthodox Church, and for the time until the extermination in Russia of the godless regime, is self-governing on conciliar principles…”
With the abolishment of the godless regime in Russia, this paragraph loses its force, and cannot remain as the basis for the canonical status of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia.
Therefore, it was necessary to establish a new, indisputable canonical status recognized by the full complement of Universal Orthodoxy for the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia, while preserving its original condition of being an “indissoluble part of the Local Russian Orthodox Church.”
This in fact was achieved in the “Act on Canonical Communion” approved and confirmed at the latest Synod of Bishops.
Metropolitan of Eastern America and New York,
First Hierarch of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia
+ Mark, Archbishop of Berlin and Germany
+ Kyrill, Archbishop of San Francisco and Western America
+ Michael, Bishop of Geneva and Western Europe
+ Gabriel, Bishop of Manhattan
+ Peter, Bishop of Cleveland