NEW YORK: December 16, 2010
EPISTLE OF THE SYNOD OF BISHOPS OF THE RUSSIAN ORTHODOX CHURCH OUTSIDE OF RUSSIA ON THE 90TH ANNIVERSARY OF HER ESTABLISHMENT
To All Archpastors, Pastors, Clergymen, Monastics, and God-loving Flock.
Ninety years ago, on November 6/19, 1920, aboard the naval ship Grand Duke Alexander Mikhailovich, docked in Constantinople, what was in essence the founding meeting of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia took place. The earlier Provisional Supreme Ecclesiastical Authority of South-Eastern Russia—the central organ of church administration in the southern territories of Russia not yet seized by the Bolsheviks—because of the great exodus of Russian believers, had decided to continue its existence under the new circumstances. Emerging into the emigration together with the last portions of the White Army evacuated from Sevastopol, the Russian hierarchs immediately took up the challenge of establishing a supreme ecclesiastical organ for administering and ministering to the hundreds of thousands of émigrés, military as well as civilian.
This decision was dictated by ecclesiastical-pastoral necessity. It was founded upon the experience of recent years and was rooted in particular in the decisions of the Local Council of 1917-1918. This arrangement of a new higher church administration had as its canonical basis two documents issued almost concurrently.
The first was Ukase No. 362, issued on November 7/20, 1920, by the Supreme Ecclesiastical Administration of the Russian Church, that is, by the Joint Presence of the full complement of all three higher ecclesiastical instances: His Holiness Patriarch Tikhon of Moscow and All Russia, the Holy Synod and the Supreme Church Council. This Ukase included the following directive: “In the event a diocese… finds itself completely out of contact with the Supreme Church Administration… the diocesan bishop immediately enters into relations with the bishops of neighboring dioceses for the purpose of organizing a higher instance of ecclesiastical authority.”
The second document was the Decree of the Holy Synod of the Constantinople Patriarchate, No. 9840 of December 2, 1920, sent to Metropolitan Anthony of Kiev and Galicia, granting him permission to convene, out of the member hierarchs of the PSEAS-ER, a temporary commission under the supreme authority of the Constantinople Patriarchate “for the supervision and guidance of general church life of the Russian colony within the borders of Orthodox countries, comprised of both Russian soldiers and refugees, settling unmixed with other Orthodox Christians in the cities and towns, in camps and special premises.” This commission was given the name the Provisional Supreme Ecclesiastical Administration Abroad (Vremennoje vyssheje tskerkovnoje upravlenije zagranitsej--VTsUZ). As mentioned in the aforementioned Decree to Metropolitan Anthony, signed by the Locum Tenens of the Constantinople Throne, “You are to send them priests, antimensia, preachers and all that is necessary, you are to visit them in person, dispersing through exhortation any doubts, ending discord, you will in general do all the things entrusted to the Church and religion with the aim of consoling and encouraging the aforementioned Russian Christians.”
It was upon this ecclesiastical-spiritual and canonical basis that the life of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia began, which immediately set forth for itself the following goals:
To minister to Russian Orthodox Christians abroad and scattered throughout all the lands and continents of the world. No matter where Russian people would settle, they built churches, monasteries, seminaries, established church-parish schools, social and cultural centers, scout and other organizations for educating children, homes for the aged and Orthodox cemeteries.
The preservation of the legacy of Holy Russia in its fullness and intactness in order to pass it on to the next generation. It was also necessary to preserve the Orthodox Faith, and the Russian language and Russian culture in general, and the firm understanding that wherever a Russian person lives, he is called upon to be a loyal son of the Holy Church and his Fatherland.
The open witness before the whole world of the terrible persecutions which unfolded against millions of Christians in the much-suffering Homeland: about destroyed churches, the murder for the Holy Faith of clergymen, monastics and simple laypersons. At a time when it was forbidden to speak the truth of these persecutions in the Homeland, we spoke out to all in defense of the Church, prayed for the tortured, killed and for those who suffered in prisons, camps and in exile.
Preaching the Holy Faith, addressed not only to Russian Orthodox Christians, but to local populations in all the lands of the Russian diaspora. Wherever Russian Orthodox churches were built, wherever Russian Orthodox communities were established, they began missionary work. Many who had previously not known Orthodoxy, or who had not even heard of it, accepted the faith in Christ, heeding the voice of the Savior our God: “Who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:4).
Fulfilling these challenges, the Russian Church Abroad, during the entire course of its 90-year existence, had to painstakingly build relations with those nations in which it operated, with both government and social figures, and with society at large. The Church became also the center of cultural life in the diaspora. The Church did not only publish divine service books and spiritual literature, but organized concerts and festivals of Russian culture, held conferences on scholarly and historical topics, printed schoolbooks for children, and supported and nourished the Russian emigration to the best of its abilities.
Clergymen and communities of the Russian Church Abroad, preserving and keeping the warmth of the Russian heart, at the same time helped Russians “build bridges” in their new circumstances.
In the darkest days of repressions of the Church in the Fatherland, the Russian Church Abroad used every means possible to send Bibles to the Homeland, along with prayer books, spiritual literature and printed icons. The members of the Russian Church Abroad actively participated in radio broadcasts, so that the Word of God was constantly heard in all points of the much-suffering Homeland.
The spiritual bond with the whole Russian Church was indissoluble for us. For this reason, when the glorification of the saints was impossible in the Homeland, the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia canonized to the ranks of the saints: St John of Kronstadt, St Herman of Alaska, St Xenia the Blessed, the Host of New Martyrs and Confessors of Russia headed by the Royal Martyrs, as well as the podvizhniki St Paisius Velichkovsky and the Holy Elders of Optina, and then the Saints who lived among us: St John of Shanghai and San Francisco and St Jonah of Hankow.
* * *
Now, 90 years later, the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia continues to fulfill the same goals, but under new circumstances. By the mercy of God, the persecution of the faith has ceased in Russia: the Church in the Fatherland has been emancipated. Churches and monasteries are being reestablished, religious books are being published, millions of people are once again finding faith and life in the Church.
The Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia was not a bystander in the changes taking place in the Homeland, but in 2000 entered into discussions with the Russian Orthodox Church in the Fatherland, with the Moscow Patriarchate, with which it had no contact for many decades due to the lack of freedom of the Church under the militantly-atheist regime.
By Divine mercy, the discussions between the two parts of the Russian Orthodox Church were crowned with success, and on the feast day of the Ascension of the Lord in 2007, the Act of Canonical Communion was signed. This Act clarified and confirmed that the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia had always been an inseparable part of the Local Russian Church; this Act reestablished full canonical and Eucharistic communion within the one Russian Church; the self-governing status of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia within the framework of the Local Russian Church was confirmed.
Now Russians both in the Homeland and abroad can pray together and commune from one Holy Chalice. Clergymen and parishioners of the Russian Church Abroad can take an active part in the reestablishment of church life in Russia which had lost so much during the years of Bolshevik rule.
The flock ministered to by the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia is diverse and heterogeneous. One can, from a very general approach, describe some of the main “layers” of our flock.
The first wave of emigrants were forced to leave the Homeland in the most difficult of times after the end of the Civil War. Among them were White officers and other soldiers, Cossacks and professors, composers and writers, doctors and priests. It is our duty to cherish their memory, and, following their example, preserve love for the Orthodox Faith, to the Russian language and culture, love for the Homeland of our fathers, preserving and passing it on to the following generations.
Those who found themselves in the emigration after World War II endured terrible years of war: bombings, imprisonment, forced labor, then life in refugee camps in Europe and Asia. Resettling in new lands, they had to build new lives. Despite the privations and sorrows of the war and post-war times, they remained devoted children of the Church of Christ. Russians participated in the building of churches and church schools wherever they settled. They serve as examples of irrepressible faith in Divine aid, firmness and staunchness of faith.
In recent decades, people who come from the former Soviet Union have streamed into our parishes and also found themselves in an utterly new environment. They were born in a country where faith was persecuted; where for the open confession of faith in Christ, a person was driven out of his institution or fired from his job. From their childhood, they were taught that God does not exist. Yet despite all the efforts of the godless regime, it proved that it is impossible to root out faith in God. Many of them came to faith as mature adults. Now they fill the churches and parish schools of the diaspora. Often, they must delve further into church life, ripen in the faith and in piety, and in the experience of their predecessors come to the conviction that preserving the Faith, the Russian language and culture in a new environment is both possible and necessary.
Finally, many parishioners have appeared in our church society who converted to the salvific Orthodox Faith and were baptized. They consciously left behind their prior religious convictions, accepting Holy Orthodoxy. Some of them even accepted ordination to the priesthood and minister to their own flock. Others participate in the life of Russian-speaking parishes; some comprise communities of the Russian Church Abroad in which divine services are held not in Church Slavonic but in the vernacular. Others take part in the life of parishes which are primarily Russian-speaking. Both types face difficulties and obstacles. But they should not feel sorrow nor despair, nor wane in spirit, but grow strong and firm in the faith. Passing the faith on to their children and illuminating the heterodox, they continue the missionary work which once brought them to the bosom of the Holy Church.
To all the faithful children of our Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia we address the words of the Holy Apostle:
“Therefore, brethren, stand fast, and hold the traditions which ye have been taught,
whether by word, or our epistle” (2 Thessalonians 2:15).
By Divine mercy, the Russian Church Abroad has for 90 years fulfilled the obedience lain upon Her: to minister to the faithful and disseminate the Orthodox Faith through all the lands of the diaspora.
There are many obstacles on its path. The Russian Church Abroad has endured persecution, privation, sorrows; at times, the pain of schisms and divisions.
We beseech the All-Merciful Lord to do away with division, so that with one mouth and one heart, even in a strange land, all together in the bosom of the Holy Church we may joyfully sing together to the glory of the Triune God. Amen.
November 28/December 11, 2010