MOSCOW: February 5, 2013
Epistle of the Holy Council of Bishops to the Clergy, Monastics, Laity and Flock of the Russian Orthodox Church
Adopted by the Holy Council of Bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church on Febraury 5, 2013.
Beloved in the Lord Reverend Father Presbyters, Honorable Deacons, Pious Monks and Nuns,
Dear Brothers and Sisters, Eternal Flock of the Russian Orthodox Church:
The Holy Council of Bishops, convening in Christ the Savior Cathedral in Moscow on February 2-5, 2013, appeals to all its flock with the words of Apostolic greeting: “Grace unto you, and peace, from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. We are bound to thank God always for you, brethren, as it is meet, because that your faith groweth exceedingly, and the charity of every one of you all toward each other aboundeth” (2 Thessalonians 1:2).
The main task of the Church is the salvation of man. Everything that is occurring in the life of our Church and the relationship between the Church and society and the state should be subjected to this goal. Our missionary, educational, charitable and other efforts should be in the end directed towards the salvation of each human soul. The call of the Savior: “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:19-20), remains vital for us in our time. Remembering this, the members of the Council of Bishops discussed many matters in church and social life, adopting Conciliar decisions and other documents addressed today to the Fullness of our Church.
Tending to the good order of Church life, the members of the Council have determined the future procedure for the election of a Patriarch at a Pomestny [Local] Council, delineated the authority of the Local Council and Council of Bishops, approved the establishment by the Synod of Bishops of metropoliates and new dioceses. They also proposed resolutions for important challenges facing society.
In particular, the Holy Council expressed the position of the Church on developing technology and the processing of personal data. Standing guard for human freedom, the Church calls upon the state not to force people to accept those technologies which might hinder them in freely confess their faith in Christ and follow it in their personal and public lives. The consent of Christians to various legislative, political or other ideological acts must depend on the latter’s compatibility with a Christian way of life.
The Church continues to care for the strengthening of the family unit, for protection against improper intrusion into its life, the support of strong bonds between children and their parents, the security of children, including safety against violence, cruelty and perversion. With regard to these matters, the Council of Bishops evaluated reforms in the areas of family rights and juvenile law being made in many countries.
The Church harbors serious concern about our present ecology. The exhaustion of resources and environmental pollution are raising the stark question of the preservation of the many forms of life, and the thoughtful use of nature’s gifts. The members of the Council elucidated the position of the Russian Orthodox Church on real ecological issues, reminding society of its responsibility for the preservation of God’s creation.
The pastors and flock of the Russian Orthodox Church are called upon to carefully study the documents adopted by the Council of Bishops, most of which were prepared over the course of three years of discussions led by the Inter-Council Presence, with the participation of hundreds of bishops, clergymen, monastics and laypersons.
Our Lord and God Jesus Christ warned His disciples: “If ye were of the world, the world would love his own; but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you” (John 15:19). Ever since Apostolic times, the historical path of the Church has been bound to witness, which consists of earnest confessing of the truth. The abuse directed against Christians by the spirit of this world (1 Corinthians 2:12), throughout the entire history of the Church has used various means to turn man away from his Creator and Savior. This abuse has not only taken the form of efforts to lure people into sin, but in outright persecutions of the followers of Christ. But the crucible of deprivation and sufferings has only strengthened the faith and stoked the hearts of the faithful children of the Church. St Dalmat of Isetsk, canonized in 2004 as a local Siberian saint, serves as an example of patience in suffering. His veneration throughout the Church was confirmed by the present Council. St Dalmat often witnessed the destruction of the monastery he established, but he rebuilt it every time, staunchly defending his faith and Church rules, and preserving his profound humility before his neighbors.
The events of last year have shown that Orthodoxy is enjoying a rebirth as the foundation of the people’s self-awareness, uniting all healthy forces of society—those forces which strive to transform life on a solid foundation, upon the spiritual and moral values which entered the flesh and blood of our peoples. This is why wicked people have chosen the Church as its victim, by means of lies, slander, blasphemy, the destruction of churches and desecration of holy things.
The Holy Council recalls that the proper response to such actions must be prayer, preaching and confirmation of Divine truth, peaceful civil actions by Orthodox Christians and the multiplication of deeds of love and mercy. We must remain the light of the world and the salt of the earth, so that people who behold our “chaste conversation coupled with fear” even “they also may without the word be won by the conversation” for Christ (1 Peter 3:1-2). Defending the faith, one must always remember the words of Christ the Savior: “By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another” (John 13:35).
Fulfilling our ecclesial service, working the harvest-fields of Christ, we are called not in word but in deed to strengthen “to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:3), conciliarly, together: archpastors, clergymen, monastics and the laity. Mainly, we must strive to guide our lives according to the Gospel. This is the sole path to the transfiguration of each person and of all of society.
May Our Lord Jesus Christ, Chief of eternal life, strengthen us and give us wisdom in the tasks we face.