MOSCOW: June 26, 2008
Metropolitan Hilarion Delivers a Speech at the Council of Bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church
Your Holiness, Your Eminences, Your Graces!
The Act of Canonical Communion of the Russian Orthodox Church, signed only a year ago, finally, by the mercy of God, lay down the foundation for a new and proper relationship between the Russian Church in Russia and abroad. And now, we bishops from abroad, greet our brothers in the historic homeland of our Church. We are participating in the Council of Bishops in Moscow for the first time. We hope that our participation is fruitful. We have come here with the hope that joint work will strengthen our unity on ecclesio-canonical, and also on personal levels.
Much here will be new, and maybe even strange, for us. The family of the episcopate of the Church Abroad is small today, but not so many years ago we also had no more than 20 bishops. Naturally, in such a close circle one could discuss various matters in church life with greater substance and depth than is possible amid a host of some 200 bishops. Yet we will try to become accustomed to the situation we face here and participate constructively, recognizing our responsibility before God and His Church.
Throughout the years of the existence of the Church Abroad, our forefathers, and then we ourselves, paid close attention to the life of the Church in the homeland. Our view of various aspects of church life differed from attitudes here, and at times this difference was sharp, but one can state confidently that it always stemmed from fervent love and empathy with the faithful people of Russia. Naturally, in our small episcopal family, we were influenced by the people around us. Bishops who served in America, Australia and Europe viewed events in Russia, and sensed their proximity to her, differently. Still, with all this, there always existed the understanding in the Church Abroad that we are part of the one great Russian Church.
Despite all the differences of our paths and our experience, now, after the unification of the two parts of the Russian Church, we can share our experiences of all these decades. I will recall a few areas of church life in which our experiences abroad might be usefully applied in Russia and the “near abroad.”
Over the 90 years of the separate existence of our Church, we could not but coexist and deal with the most wide-ranging forms of government structures. In the 1920’s, the Synod Abroad, for instance, had to separate the German Diocese from the Western European Diocese, because the Church saw the danger of ruling a diocese located on the territories of two constantly hostile and warring governments, Germany and France. In some countries, the Church Abroad enjoyed complete freedom under democracies, while at the same time in other countries it had to minister to its flock under one form of dictatorship or another. In the Far East, we have even had to face a heathen government which demanded worship of the Sun.
A similar variety of conditions, we think, can be seen in the various regions of the former Russian Empire. In countries where the Church plays a role in a society which is oriented on the Western European norms of democracy, but whose customs it has not adopted, the experience of the Church Abroad, accumulated over the past century under such law-based governments may be useful. The main principle of the ministry of the Church in democratic societies is achieving or preserving maximum freedom from interference by the state in its life.
The function of government is based on establishing or preserving necessary conditions for the free existence of the Church. Every century has seen a particular temptation for the state: to attempt to influence the Church in its interests, which are not always good. Having survived various totalitarian systems, our Church recognizes the need to defend her Divinely-granted freedom under any regime, the need to rise above fickle political circumstances. Unfortunately, Church figures at various times fell victim to temptation—to use the government to “protect” or “strengthen,” or as it is sometimes unfortunately put, to “save” the Church.
Today many speak of the “symphony” or the Church and state, forgetting that this concept, introduced and theoretically developed by pious Byzantine emperors, firstly involved an understanding of symphony (that is, resonance, accord), of an Orthodox sovereignty (and not any form of government) and an Orthodox patriarch, and secondly, that it remained unmanifested as an ideal in reality. The history of Byzantium and the history of Russia attest to the fact that the desired symphony often resulted in a fatal cacophony. We cannot forget that the state and the Church of Christ are not at all “equal partners,” since the temporal and the eternal, the earthly and heavenly, are not equals. The spheres of duty and challenges of the Church and the state are different. The Church is called upon to lead her flock to salvation, to the heavenly fatherland, while the State must to the best of its abilities care for the well-being, peace, good order and floourishing of its citizens.
Yet this does not mean that the Church must always distance herself from all social phenomena or movements. The Church must speak clearly on matters that directly concern her flock. In the “Basic Social Concept” adopted by the Council of Bishops of 2000, we see a worthy example of the expression by the Church of its positions on the matters of, for instance, civil obedience, euthanasia, abortion, organ transplantation, etc. But in these matters, the Church must always be on guard, for laws and legislation change, so in discussing these topics in social forums, the full voice of the Church must always be heard.
In many countries, our Church has the status as a legal entity. This allows her to lead its internal life independently and at the same time gives her a voice in social problems. Without a doubt, the Church must achieve this status both in Russia and in the countries of the “near and far abroad.”
In almost all the Western governments, clergymen are not subject to military service. In many countries this extends down the ecclesiastical levels to the rank of subdeacon. In our opinion, in this area the Russian Church does not enjoy enough rights in contemporary, post-Soviet society.
Our Church has her own priests in the military on par with ministers of other faiths. Our priests in most of the Western world can freely visit those in prison, they minister to Orthodox believers in hospitals, universities and schools, even teach of the Law of God as a subject accepted by the state. It is not shameful to take advantage of these and similar fruits of democracy in the interests of the Church and to the glory of God.
The Fund for Assistance to the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia is prepared to review projects aimed at strengthening Russian Orthodox spiritual values and to work together with ecclesiastical and cultural-educational organizations in Russia for the development of pilgrimages, artistic, spiritual and practical gatherings, to develop ties with the Russian emigration on the basis of representing Russian regions abroad; to receive local delegations of bishops and clergymen, government and municipal representatives, and cultural, business and social representatives.
Let us touch upon a matter painful for many of us: the matter of the continuing participation of the Russian Church in the ecumenical movement.
Of course, we view the problem of the relationship between Orthodox and the heterodox or those of other religions differently than it is viewed in Russia. We face these problems every day in our life to a degree possible in only a few dioceses of Russia. On the other hand, many members of our flock come from mixed families, and so feel a special responsibility before their spouses, parents or children of different faiths. But even here, we feel, much which seemed normal and natural in the 19th century cannot be transferred automatically into the 20th or 21st centuries.
Our brethren in Russia, doubtless, know that some clergymen, parishes and monasteries have left the Church Abroad into various schismatic groups before and during the signing of the Act of Canonical Communion of the unity of the Russian Church last year. This is a bleeding wound on the body of the Church. We understand that this wound occurred as a result of ignorance. But people have reason to fear that the call of the IV All-Diaspora Council to the clergymen of the Church in Russia—that they reconsider their participation in the World Council of Churches—would remain unheeded. Moreover, one may get the impression that this involvement not only did not abate, but in fact increased after the signing of the Act. In our now-unified Church, to this day, a great deal is occurring which demands explanation to those who cannot by their convictions or due to the lack of information understand what is happening.
Each one of us must take care not to cause temptation to the “little of the flock,” remembering the Lord’s words of warning to those who cause temptation in this world. In many cases, certainly, one must rethink one’s positions and actions within the framework of ecumenical activities (if for some reason they cannot be abandoned completely), so that the guiding principles in this area outlined, for example, in the Basic Social Concept, would not simply be words on paper, but words brought to life.
Even if we have relations with those of other religions solely for the aim of persuading them of the rightness of Orthodoxy, but thereby we lead our own faithful into temptation and watch as they depart into schism, it is our duty to reevaluate our positions, because first of all we are connected to our flock with fatherly and brotherly bonds of love. Our experiences abroad shows that one can defend one’s faith and preserve one’s traditions while living in peace and civilized interaction with the local population of other confessions or religions. As an example one of the local ministries of culture in Germany, consulting with our local diocese, even included a list of Orthodox holidays as legal holidays for Orthodox Christians. In America, some published lay calendars include Orthodox Pascha and indicate that January 7 is Christmas according to the Julian calendar.
We have in recent times been troubled and pained by the situation of the Church in Ukraine. One cannot but be horrified by the fragmentation of the Orthodox Church in this most ancient of territories of Orthodoxy in the Fatherland. We ourselves have lived in division for decades, and only a year ago we reestablished Eucharistic and canonical unity within the fullness of the Russian Orthodox Church. Still, living separately, we always viewed this as an ailment needing healing, and never abandoned the ideal of salvific unity.
If there are people today who rush to premature autocephaly (even with the consequence of Unia with the Catholics), or hurry to separate from the Russian Church in some other way, we can only pray that the Lord restore them to the correct path. Church unity cannot be played as a political card. Let us set aside problems of national identity and statehood to politicians. Let us ponder something else: is ecclesiastical autocephaly needed for the people of the Church? Can we not live together and be saved within one church bosom—Little Russians, Belarussians, Great Russians and the multitude of other nationalities which were for centuries in one Russian Church, which was founded on the territory of today’s Ukraine? No one denies the distinctiveness of the three Eastern Slavic peoples. But from the moment of our baptism, they were bound by love and mutual respect within one Church. The rending of her seamless garment will do no one any good.
In the diaspora, we cannot break our dioceses down by Little Russians, Belarussians and Great Russians, Moldovans, for instance, who have found work abroad, attend our churches (as do, by the way, Greeks, Serbs, Georgians and other Orthodox Christians). Why cause new divisions, which abroad are even more fatal than in the homeland? We pray to God and we hope that we do not fall to such temptation and that our brethren always gratefully and carefully preserve the great gift of the unity of the Church, the unity of the people of God, among whom there is neither Hellene, nor Jew, nor anything else to separate us.
Having now entered the membership of one Russian Church, we, the bishops of the Church Abroad, earnestly wish to participate in church life in Russia and the “near abroad,” and hope for such participation by our Russian brethren in our lives. May the Lord help us and may the One, Undivided Sovereign Most-Holy and Life-Giving Trinity strengthen our newly-restored unity. Amen.