GENEVA: June 1, 2007
Statement By the Diocesan Council of the Geneva and Western Europe on the Departure of Lesna Convent
It seems that the letter written by the nun of the Convent of the Mother of God in Lesna “to their benefactors and friends” continues to be disseminated by various means, sowing discord among the friends of the monastery and the members of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia. A large part of our flock is especially troubled by this. We view with great sorrow how saddened and frustrated many have become, especially within our flock, who cannot make sense of all the tragic church schisms and divisions of recent years.
In connection with this, we feel it is our duty to once more inform the clergy and flock of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia that, to the great sorrow of all the children of the Russian Church, the nuns of Lesna Convent left the confines of the Church and departed into schism, having joined a completely uncanonical group, the so-called “Russian True Orthodox Church” and its “Archbishop” Tikhon. This group is one of the many warring factions of the tragic divisions of 2001.
It is sad that their decision to go into schism was planned in silence. The Hierarchy and many honest and earnest friends of the Convent were utterly taken aback by their sudden action. It turns out that those who love the monastery were led astray with regard to the true intentions of some of the nuns. The group that initiated the schism did not wish to openly discuss all the difficulties and misunderstandings which continue to exist in many minds on the reestablishment of unity in the Russian Church.
Of course, those who have broken away are striving to justify their action, deeming unacceptable certain recent circumstances in Russia, for example, the unresolved relationship between the Church and state and the continuing involvement with the heterodox, which we view more as diplomacy and geopolitics. All this is a temptation which continues to offend our sensibilities. Indeed, the most dangerous lie is the lie that contains a morsel of truth, as Dostoevsky noted. It turns out that while the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia, during its IV All-Diaspora Council made the conciliar decision to reestablish ecclesiastical unity within the Russian Orthodox Church through reconciliation with the Moscow Patriarchate, and reestablish Eucharistic communion, the schismatics, relying on arguments that have no relation to basic church principles, began leaving the Church even before the signing of the Act. The question immediately arises: why? Another question: who is behind this? It is he who has serious cause to fight Church unity. But who could challenge the Church? Judge for yourselves.
They leave the Church that nourished them, educated them, tonsured them, enlightened them, strengthened them spiritually and gave them the path to salvation. We say to them now, Where are you going? To whom are you going? Where have you been lured to go? You have been deceived by prelest' [spiritual delusion— transl. ] and have struck a terrible blow against the Church, against our clergymen, against the flock that loves you, and against your pilgrims.
We realize that the last decade has been very difficult for our Lesna nuns, and know what troubles they have endured from earlier schisms. We can attest to the fact that they bravely and patiently, humbly and staunchly endured these assaults. We prayed for them and empathized with them. But this time, the enemy has prevailed. We implore you, Mother Abbess and your sisters, come to your senses! The monastery is the heart of the world, return it to us and come back to the Church!
Division in the Church Abroad, right before her encounter with the other part of the Russian Church, disturbs the equilibrium of the whole church. The matter of ecclesiastical reconciliation is a holy deed. For the sake of love, the feeling of repentance and mutual forgiveness always triumphs. It is specifically this love that is that Strength granted by God, Which through its Grace is able to unite that which is rent asunder, or, as in this case, is able to begin the process called reconciliation . That is what we declared with the Act on Ascension Day on May 4/17. You have refused this and have deprived us of your participation as a treasured part of the Church. If we strive towards the unity of the whole Russian Church, we also treasure the unity of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia herself, which, in the process of reconciliation, fully preserves her image, and you injure this image. For the image, as the hypostasis, must be whole, within this lies the condition of its independence, its full value and its worthiness. In wholeness we can continue our church life in that scope and mission towards which our Hierarch, Metropolitan Anthony (Khrapovitsky), the first Primate of our Church, directed us.
In this unity, in the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church, we will be able to resolve misunderstandings with our Orthodox brethren and correct our mistakes. Within the Church, and only in the Church, is true, open, conciliar dialog on painful matters possible.
We call upon all the devoted children of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia to fervently pray for the return of the nuns of Lesna Convent into the bosom of the Mother Church. The Most-Holy Mother, the Miracle-working Icon of the Mother of God of Lesna is now in the hands of impious schismatics. Their seizure of our beloved convent is plain to see. A transfer to another legitimate church “jurisdiction” would have been accompanied by a document of canonical release from the ruling bishop. But this was not sought by the Abbess of the Convent, nor by its spiritual father. For this reason it is clear that the monastery is leaving the Church, not simply “transferring” to another church, especially since this so-called “True Orthodox Church” is in fact usurping the name used by the Catacomb Church in Russia during the persecutions. At that time, the Church was being persecuted, destroyed, robbed, but nothing of the sort is happening now; on the contrary, the attack by schismatics upon our monastery is in fact the persecution of our Church Abroad. This is an unlawful seizure: all they had to do was to tempt a few nuns with the aim of acquiring the Miracle-working Icon, the walls, the land, the property in France of this sixty-year-old Convent. It exists thanks to the constant prayers, labors and care of an innumerable number of Russian emigres who preserved this convent as their most prized possession. This lasted for more than a half-century, and for this reason the convent thrived, giving all the members of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia, especially in Western Europe, a chance to visit the place which for them was the spiritual heart of our entire Diocese.
Today all these people, and their descendants, have lost—we hope only temporarily—the possibility of participating in services and in obtaining nourishment, for one can receive no grace from schismatics.
We call upon all the faithful to tell everyone about what happened, and to explain the danger of the situation they have been lured into by schismatics. We are certain that what is happening in the convent today is happening under the influence of an insignificant group of those who went astray.
The nuns' letter refers to the Hierarchs of the Diaspora, to the fathers dear to all, and the former abbesses of the convent of blessed memory. But the letter neglects that for which they always stood: for Church unity, and they not only did not beckon towards schism but on the contrary strengthened all the flock of the Church Abroad to stand firm in unity. To use their names to break away from the Church they built is a terrible paradox, for this schism is aimed against the memory of the Hierarchs and fathers of the emigration.
We ask that all the faithful pray that the nuns that have gone astray return to their senses, and we believe that the Most-Holy Mother of God will not allow Her Miracle-working Icon to remain in the hands of schismatics who trample upon the very concept of the Church of Christ.