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WASHINGTON, DC: April 24, 2012
Open Letter from Protopriest Victor Potapov to Oleg Mikhailovich Rodzianko

From the Editors: Protopriest George Larin, Rector of Holy Virgin Protection Church in Nyack, NY, is being summoned to the Supreme Court of the State of New York on May 11, 2012, to respond to a complaint filed by Oleg Mikhailovich Rodzianko, brother of the late renowned Bishop Basil. The main intention by Mr Rodzianko is to “restrain the Parish of the Russian Orthodox Holy Virgin Protection Church from taking any further steps to merge its parish with the Moscow Patriarchate of the Russian Orthodox Church.” This complaint was received by Fr George on April 16, Bright Monday of Pascha.

Below is an open letter by Protopriest Victor Potapov addressed to Mr Rodzianko. Fr Victor’s wife, Maria Sergeevna, is the niece of the plaintiff, who is a former parishioner and one of the founders of Holy Virgin Protection Church in Nyack. Unfortunately, despite repeated efforts to bring Mr Rodzianko to his senses on the part of the hierarchy, rector and parishioners, and by his relatives, he went into schism in 2007.

Dear Uncle Oleg:

Christ is Risen!

By Divine mercy, we passed through Great Lent in prayer, and festively met the Resurrection of Christ, yet the second day of Pascha was marred by the shocking news that you have filed suit against Holy Virgin Protection Church in Nyack ("Oleg Rodzianko, Plaintiff  -  against - The Parish of the Russian Orthodox Holy Virgin Protection Church, Inc. - Defendant"). I can only imagine what it felt like for Protopriest George Larin, the Parish Rector, to receive a summons to court on such a joyous day.

Your monstrous undertaking against your home parish is profoundly amoral.

In his Epistle to the Church of Corinth, Apostle Paul writes: “I speak to your shame. Is it so, that there is not a wise man among you? No, not one that shall be able to judge between his brethren? But brother goeth to law with brother, and that before the unbelievers” (1 Corinthians 6:5-6). Apostle Paul implored his Corinthian flock not to appeal to civil court to resolve their own conflicts, since other principles of life act upon Christians which demonstrate that they are not of this world: “Now therefore there is utterly a fault among you, because ye go to law one with another. Why do ye not rather take wrong? Why do ye not rather suffer yourselves to be defrauded? Nay, ye do wrong, and defraud, and that your brethren” (1 Corinthians 6:7-8).

You are attempting to seize Church property in Nyack with the intention of handing it over to “Bishop” Agathangel, the leader of a schismatic group based in Ukraine, and wish to force Protection Parish to spend the donations of its parishioners on civil lawsuits.

You demand that the court halt the further unification of ROCOR with the MP. What further unification? It already occurred five years ago. This is a historical fact which you refuse to accept. Do you seriously hope that an American court will violate the Constitution of the United States and intervene in our internal Church life and order us to cease commemorating His Holiness the Patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church during divine services? Do you not understand that representatives of the American legal system have absolutely no interest whom Russian Americans commemorate during divine services, and whom they pray with?

Maybe you have forgotten that in America, the Church is separate from the state. Let me remind you that in 1970, during the height of the “Cold War,” the American Metropoliate (now the OCA), entered into full Eucharistic communion with the Moscow Patriarchate, and, naturally, US civil authorities took no measures to intervene. And at that time, the MP was unable to make a single step without the approval of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union.

In your press release, you state that you have been a member of the Nyack parish since the 1950’s. Yet you deprived yourself of this honor five years ago, when you left this ecclesiastical community in protest under the pretext that you were forced to do so, after the Rector forbade you from Communion. Every priest possesses the right to “bind and to loosen” and can ban any layperson from approaching the Holy Chalice should he deem that this individual might lead a reprehensible way of life, and that Holy Communion would be to his “judgment and condemnation.” Even a cursory reading of the Normal Parish By-Laws of ROCOR makes clear that by your escapade, you fell from ecclesiastical communion and have deprived yourself of membership in the parish.*

Further in your press release and the documents you filed with the court, you say: “By joining the MP, the Parish effectively places its members, U.S. citizens and/or residents, under the rule of a foreign government that is openly hostile to the U.S.”

What does Eucharistic/prayerful communion with the Church in Russia have to do with subjugation of us, the flock of ROCOR, to a “hostile foreign government”—a territory which, by the way, is where your children, citizens of the US, live and earn a good living? Is such success even possible in any such pro-Communist and “hostile foreign government”?

You force Holy Virgin Protection Parish to hire lawyers for quite a bit of money in order to argue against this gibberish in court—and irresponsible waste the time of the judiciary, forcing them to confirm a banal truth known by schoolchildren throughout the world, and that is: the Soviet Union and the Communist regime ceased to exist in 1991.

In August, 1991, you were in Moscow attending the Congress of Compatriots, where together with everyone else, you experienced the putsch and became a witness to the genuine miracle of the global fall of communism—and now you maintain that nothing in fact changed, that communism is alive and well in Russia!

Obviously, you and your companions carefully planned this action of harassing Protection Parish during Great Lent—a period during which Orthodox Christians are called to other things. Your complaint was filed on April 12, Great Thursday. What thoughts passed through your head during the reading of the 12 Gospels, when the Holy Church sorrowfully remembers the betrayal of Christ by the impious Judas? One cannot call this agitation prepared during the period of Great Lent, Passion Week and through the second day of Pascha anything less than the work of the Devil.

Twelve years ago, while in Moscow, you found yourself in a Kremlin hospital at death’s door as a result of internal bleeding. You were ministered to, confessed and given communion by a priest of the MP. At that time you repeated how much consolation it had brought you and how it strengthened your faith that everything would pass. When death threatened, you recognized the MP as the Church of God.

And now? 

You are 89. Death is not far off. What will your passage from temporal existence to life eternal be like? Will it be a “Christian ending to your life, painless, blameless,” or the death of a proud schismatic and tempter of “these little ones”?

In the documents filed with the court, you list the achievements of you and Aunt Tanya in benefit of the Nyack parish. Do you not understand that as a result of your rebellious schismatic actions and by means of this lawsuit, you have scratched out all your “good deeds,” as though they had never taken happened? Even worse, you present your “achievements” as an argument to the court to support your “right” to sue the parish!

The words of St John Chrysostom are appropriate here, which were referenced by your father in his brochure on the history of ROCOR:

Nothing is so offensive to God as divisions in the Church. Although we may have performed a thousand good deeds, we are subject to censure no less than those who have tortured His Body, if we rend the body of the Church. That is the reason we say all this, and remind you of all this, so that you would not be able to say at that last day: 'nobody told us, nobody explained, we did not know this, and certainly did not regard it as a sin.' And so I say as a witness, that to produce divisions in the church is no less an evil than to fall into heresy. Since every one of you is mature and will answer for his deeds, I ask that you, placing all the blame on us, do not count yourselves blameless, and in such fashion deluding yourselves, harm yourselves in vain." (Ì.Ì. Rodzianko, The Truth About the ROCA, New York, 1954, pp 1-2).

Even in 1974, Alexander Solzhenitsyn addressed the Third All-Diaspora Council with the following words:

I see no other healthy path for every living thing, for any nation, for society, for any human group, and of course, moreover for the Churches by their own very nature, any other path except to recognize their own faults, and not the sins and faults of others; repentance in them; movement and development by restraining themselves first and foremost. This is the universal path, and there is no basis to propose anything different for the Russian Orthodox Church—free or enslaved, abroad or in the homeland. The sins of centuries and sins of decades lie upon us all, not only upon some church current, there is no ecclesiastical organization pure of them; we all comprise Russia and we all made her what she is today… Paradoxically, any stance assumed, in order to preserve its position undistorted, must develop with time” (From the “Open Letter of AI Solzhenytsin to the Third All-Diaspora Council of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia”).

But how much has changed over the last twenty years, both in Russia and here, abroad! In the words of the uncompromising warrior against communism, Solzhenitsyn, “Paradoxically, any stance taken, in order to preserve its position undistorted, must develop with time.”

By Divine mercy and the prayers of the Holy New Martyrs and Confessors of Russia, the atheist regime crumbled, and the Church in Russia is no longer persecuted.

As early as 1991, His Holiness Patriarch Alexy II, publicly, in the press, brought his repentance, in a statement regarding the Declaration of Metropolitan Sergius. Unfortunately, this and other statements by the MP are ignored by you and your supporters:

That declaration is part of the history of our Church. As a person of the Church, I must take upon myself responsibility for everything that happened in the life of my Church: not only the good, but that which was difficult, lamentable, and erroneous. It would be too simple to say, ‘I did not sign it and don't know anything…'  

Today we are able to say that untruth was mixed in his [Metropolitan Sergius'] Declaration...  

Defending one thing, he had to make compromises in something else. Were there other organizations or other people among those who had to bear responsibility not only for themselves but for the fate of thousands of others, who in those years in the Soviet Union did not have to proceed in like manner? It is not only before God, but also before all of those people to whom the compromises, silence, forced passivity or expressions of loyalty that the Church leadership allowed themselves to make in those years brought pain that I ask forgiveness, understanding and prayers” (Journal of the Moscow Patriarchate, ¹ 10, 1991).

In the words of Apostle Paul, we are all obligated to suffer any schism within the Church as a stabbing pain in the Body of Christ: “[T]hat there should be no schism in the body; but that the members should have the same care one for another. And whether one member suffer, all the members suffer with it; or one member be honored, all the members rejoice with it” (1 Corinthians 12:25-26).

Thank God, at the beginning of the new century, His Holiness Patriarch Alexy II and His Eminence Metropolitan Laurus of blessed memory heeded the words of Apostle Paul and manifested the great deed of uniting the two branches of the Russian Church.

Our ROCOR remains autonomous and self-governing today. The second point of the Act of Canonical Communion states: “[T]he Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia is independent in pastoral, educational, administrative, management, property, and civil matters, existing at the same time in canonical unity with the Fullness of the Russian Orthodox Church.”

In your civil suit you declare that the decisions of the All-Diaspora Council of 2006 were illegal; you are bothered by the fact that you were not consulted as to whether to join with the MP, and you come to an original conclusion: that this is a “violation of human rights.”

Everything you have undertaken against the Church in recent years is suffused with abominable politics. Read again the New Testament and ponder what the Word of God calls us to: it calls us to love, not to protect “human rights.”

Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal. And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing. And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing. Charity suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up, doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil; rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth; beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things” (1 Corinthians 13:1-7).

I implore you: soberly compare the words of Apostle Paul with the text of your suit against the Nyack parish. The suit you filed is as a “sounding brass” or a “tinkling cymbal.” 

You behave like a genuine Protestant for whom this simple truth is alien: that the Orthodox Church is hierarchal because it is Apostolic, and it has no place for democracy. 

In your complaint you reach fantastical statements and demands. On one hand you affirm that the Church in Russia remains in the grip of Sergianism and is subjected to the state, and on the other hand, you demand that an American court intervene in the internal life of the Church and grant you the right to take possession of the parish and to take Communion. You wish for the American courts (the state) to subject the Church to its will. You are imposing a new form of Sergianism in the post-Communist 21st century!

Is it not time for an 89-year-old man to set aside politics and wholly devote himself to repentance and thoughts of the eternal life?

"God resisteth the proud, and giveth grace to the humble” (1 Peter 5:5).

To judge a church community—a part of the Body of Christ—is an act of pride, equivalent to spiritual suicide. I fear for you and your allies. Come to your senses before it is too late and while the merciful Lord grants you the opportunity in this life.

Do not bring disgrace to yourself and your family. What legacy will you leave your grandchildren and multitude of kinfolk? If you do not repent and convert, I am afraid that you will be remembered as a person who committed a terrible blasphemy against the Church of God…

Since you bring public suit against Holy Virgin Protection Church in Nyack, consider this an open letter.

I wish you all the best from the three-day Resurrected Lord God and Our Savior Jesus Christ,

Protopriest Victor Potapov

_____________________________________________________

* PART 3. (Parishioners and Parish Members.)

11. All Orthodox Christians of both sexes, regardless of their nationality, who have reached the age of 21, who pay the established membership dues, who make their confession and take Holy Communion not less than once a year, and who tend to the moral and economic welfare of the parish may become parish members.

Note 3: Those who make confession to a priest other than their parish priest must present the latter with a document from the former attesting to their having made confession.

13. All parish members, except those mentioned in Note 2 under Paragraph 11, who regularly pay the membership dues and other obligatory dues fixed by the diocesan meetings, shall have the right to participate with a decisive vote in all parish meetings, to elect parish officials and to be elected to parish offices.

Note 2: Parish members who shall have failed to pay their membership dues during three months shall be deprived of their rights to vote and to be elected to parish offices pending the payment of such arrears. Parish members who have failed to pay their membership dues during twelve months shall be excluded from parish membership. However, should a parish member fail to pay his dues with valid reason (illness, unemployment, etc.) the question of his right to vote shall be determined by the Parish Council.

14. Parish members found disloyal to the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia and to their parish; or who deliberately neglect Church rules and obstruct lawfully adopted resolutions of the parish meetings and the instructions of the Parish Council, as well as those who shall have violated good order and decorum in the church or who shall be found engaged in some ignoble occupation may be excluded from parish membership by decision of the Parish Council, submitted by the latter for approval of the Ruling Bishop. The said persons may be restored in their rights by decision of the Parish Council provided they repent and prove by their ways of living and behavior their moral rectitude.