LONDON: October 22, 2012
Declaration by the Conference of Russian Orthodox Bishops Serving in the Diaspora
With the blessing of His Holiness Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia, a Conference of Russian Orthodox Bishops Serving in the Diaspora was held in London on October 19-21, 2012, marking the fifth anniversary of the signing of the Act of Canonical Communion between the Russian Orthodox Church and the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia. The event gathered archpastors serving outside the canonical territory of the Russian Orthodox Church.
The Moscow Patriarchate’s Commission on Dialog with the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia and its counterpart on the side of the Russian Church Abroad proposed this event in 2006 during their sixth joint meeting in Nyack NY. It was later approved by the Synod of Bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia and the Holy Synod of the Moscow Patriarchate. The agenda for the conference was drafted at the time and later supplemented by other topics which proved important during the first five years of joint church life. Many of these questions had already been discussed during joint pastoral meetings on the local level, and at meetings of the Working Group on Strengthening Church Unity established by His Holiness Patriarch Kirill before the fifth anniversary of the signing of the Act of Canonical Communion, at the request of the Council of Bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia. This group operates under the auspices of His Eminence Metropolitan Ilarion of Volokolamsk.
On October 19, 2012, after a prayer before the Kursk-Root Icon of the Mother of God “of the Sign,” the Protectress of the Russian Diaspora brought to London for the event, His Eminence Metropolitan Ilarion, President of the Department of External Church Relations of the Moscow Patriarchate, opened the conference with a welcoming word on behalf of His Holiness Patriarch Kirill. He stressed the importance of the reunification achieved five years earlier, touching upon the special nature of pastoral work outside of the canonical territory of the Russian Orthodox Church, and shared his thoughts on the challenges facing this assembly of archpastors.
This was followed by a greeting by His Eminence Metropolitan Hilarion of Eastern America and New York. The First Hierarch of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia noted that the bishops abroad face a double challenge: to spiritually nourish those who hail from the former lands of historic Russia who have settled far from the homeland, and to show the truth of Orthodoxy to local populations. Metropolitan Hilarion called upon the archpastors to pay special attention to pastoral and missionary work with youth, and wished everyone at the gathering God’s help in their efforts.
A secretariat was selected by the conference participants which consisted of Protopriest Alexander Lebedeff, Secretary of the Inter-Orthodox Relations Department of the Synod of Bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia; Protopriest Nikolai Balashov, Vice President of the Department of External Church Relations of the Moscow Patriarchate; Protopriest Serafim Gan, Chancellor of ROCOR’s Synod of Bishops; and Protopriest Mikhail Dudko of the Sourozh Diocese.
Each of the conferees then reported on the state of affairs in their own regions, concentrating on cooperative efforts between dioceses and parishes and analyses of the fifth anniversary of the reestablishment of unity. Speaking on these topics were His Eminence Archbishop Anatoly of Kerch; His Eminence Archbishop Mark of Berlin and Germany; His Eminence Archbishop Feofan of Berlin and Germany (via remote feed); His Eminence Archbishop Kyrill of San Francisco and Western America; His Eminence Archbishop Gabriel of Montreal and Canada; His Eminence Archbishop Michael of Geneva and Western Europe; His Eminence Archbishop Mark of Egoriev; His Eminence Archbishop Elisey of Sourozh; His Grace Bishop Iov of Kashira; His Grace Bishop Agapit of Stuttgart; His Grace Bishop Peter of Cleveland; His Grace Bishop John of Caracas and South America; His Grace Bishop George of Mayfield and His Grace Bishop Nestor of Korsun.
The conferees discussed celebrations of the fifth anniversary of the reestablishment of the fullness of brotherly communion within the Russian Orthodox Church, and on the work of the Committee to Strengthen Church Unity. They learned of progress made in the area of certain provisions of the Act of Canonical Communion for the transitional period, determined at the time of the signing of the Act, aimed at regularizing canonical matters. Discussed were prospects for bettering coordination between dioceses of the unified Russian Church on a local level, in particular with regard to opening new parishes and in joint pastoral work, external and internal mission work, practice in divine services, as well as the method of receiving persons wishing to join the Orthodox Church. Careful attention was paid to questions of the spiritual nourishment of the multi-lingual Orthodox diaspora in various nations where the Russian Orthodox Church conducts its service, and cooperation in the Holy Land.
A great deal of joy was inspired by the fact that over recent years, fruitful results in joint youth projects were attained, and that certain existing problems were resolved.
Also discussed was the participation of archpastors in European meetings on a regional level and in accordance with the decisions of the IV All-Orthodox Pre-Council Conference of 2009 in Chambessy. The hierarchs shared their thoughts on joint action with dioceses of other Local Orthodox Churches in various parts of the world, discussing the question of the participation of bishops, clergymen and laity of the Russian Orthodox Church in inter-confessional forums.
At the conclusion of their meetings, the archpastors participated in all-night vigil in the main cathedral of the Diocese of Great Britain of the Russian Church Abroad. The following day, Sunday, they celebrated Divine Liturgy at the cathedral of the Sourozh Diocese, which is marking its fiftieth anniversary this year. After Liturgy, a memorial litany was performed for the founder of the diocese, Metropolitan Anthony of Sourozh of blessed memory, and a bas-relief plaque in his memory was unveiled. The conference participants also attended a ceremony devoted to the diocesan anniversary and the fifth anniversary of the reunification of the Russian Orthodox Church abroad.
Lifting praise to God, Who blessed us with peace and unity, the participants of the conference nonetheless noted that much is lacking in the relationship between the dioceses and parishes of the Russian Orthodox Church outside of her canonical territory and requires further perfecting and development. For this reason, similar assemblies will be convened in the future in order to cultivate the gift of unity received from the Lord.
The archpastors of the Russian diaspora, gathering from all corners of the world to discuss vital questions in Church life in the spirit of unanimity and love, were inspired in their joint efforts to lead the people of God to the Kingdom of Heaven, ever recalling the words of the Lord: “But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness” (Matthew 6:33).
The contemporary world presents many obstacles on the path of the Orthodox Christian who wishes to attain this blessed goal. The widespread loss of spiritual and moral values, the denigration of the Holy Church and attacks upon her even to the degree of blasphemy and the desecration of the churches of God, and the corresponding indifference or even support by certain strata of society can evoke within the faithful a sense of bewilderment and even despair. The conference participants call upon their flock not to succumb to such reactions, to stand firmly in the defense of Holy Orthodoxy, to be filled with the Spirit of God, love for the Lord and one’s neighbor, according to the commandment of Apostle Paul: “ever follow that which is good, both among yourselves, and to all men” (1 Thessalonians 5:15).
The archpastors of the Russian Orthodox Church serving outside her canonical territory are filled with determination to “earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints” (Judas 1:3), to labor together with hope in the Lord, to preserve the legacy of Holy Rus, relying on the prayers of the Most-Pure Mother of God and all the saints.