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Protopriest Nikolai Artemoff

What Does Canonical Communion Mean for Us?

The participants of the IV All-Diaspora Council are charged with examining two main questions: the mission and service of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia today, and the normalization of relations between the two parts of the Russian Church —in Russia and abroad.

These questions are closely bound together, for the mission of the Church Abroad is not only to preach Orthodoxy among the heterodox, but also the task which follows from the tragic division of the Russian Church . The Church Abroad was called upon to preserve the healthy foundations of Russian Orthodoxy, many of which it had become exceedingly difficult to preserve in the USSR because of persecution. Exile, impoverishment and life in foreign lands enabled us to see, as we turn towards the spiritual, what we lost, to make sense of and to mourn the Russian tragedy. Under the leadership of our First Hierarchs, beginning with both Metropolitans Anthony and Anastassy, the Church Abroad developed the practice of pastoral service under new, previously-unseen circumstances.

The other part of the Church which remained in the Homeland experienced the flame of persecution during this time, acquiring the ability to confess Christ under the most widespread persecution of Christians in history. We know that the division of the Church into two parts gave rise to further divisions—those that occurred within the very parts themselves. The restoration of the lost unity can be not only a convergence of the unique experiences which each part gained apart from the other, but the reconciliation of many other disorders. The first step in this direction must be the end of opposition to each other.

With this goal in mind, the corresponding Commissions were established in 2004 by both sides to work out proposals for the hierarchies to regularize the relations between the two parts of the Russian Church.

The Council of Bishops of the Moscow Patriarchate approved the work of the Commissions, entrusting to its Synod to continue its progress, and as a final result "to perform a canonical act through which Eucharistic communion and unity would be reestablished" (Decision of the Council of Bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church, October 3-8, 2004).

For us, these matters are subject to discussion on the level of the All-Diaspora Council (with the participation of clergymen, monastics and laymen). The decision will be made by our Council of Bishops, which will immediately follow the conclusion of the All-Diaspora Council.

The adoption of a Canonical Act by both sides will not mean the abolishment of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia. As our First Hierarch notes in his address (see "Epistle of Metropolitan Laurus, First Hierarch of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia to the Participants of the Diocesan Conference of Sydney, Australia and New Zealand "), the Russian Church Abroad will preserve its independence. This will mean, in practice, that its Regulations of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia will be retained, its division into dioceses and its legal status. As before, bishops will be selected from among our own, our Council of Bishops will be preserved, as will the existing procedures for electing the Synod, and, consequently, the First Hierarch of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia. The election of the Metropolitan is confirmed by the Patriarch of All Russia by canonical law, as is the election of bishops.

But our faithful are troubled by the question: what if a newly-elected First Hierarch is not confirmed? Confirmation is prescribed by canon law, so refusal to confirm should also have a canonical basis. Is it conceivable that the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia would violate the canons? If it proved simply an arbitrary decision, this would be apparent as such to all. At one time, such arbitrariness—the suspension of clergymen issued by Moscow —was responded to in accordance with canon law by Holy Metropolitan Kirill (Smirnov) in 1930, and also by Metropolitan Anthony (Khrapovitsky) in 1934 on behalf of himself and our hierarchy. As far as the refusal to confirm an election, this would lead to great ecclesiastical conflict, which benefits no one. But let us assume it comes to pass that ecclesiastical freedom is blatantly trampled underfoot, then one way or the other we will be obliged to separate ourselves once again, and once more await better times…

Nowadays, however, there is no extreme situation, and the ecclesiastical reasons for our division have fallen away (see below). That is why we must bring ourselves in accordance with the laws which exist for the entire Orthodox Church. According to these laws, the head of the Council of Bishops of the Russian Church , which includes our bishops as a Lesser Council, confirms the election on behalf of the entire Council. Otherwise, there can be no conciliar, catholic, participation in the life of the whole Russian Church . The idea is that our bishops will become full-fledged members of the Council of Bishops of the National Russian Church . They will participate according to the established order in the meetings of the Synod of the Moscow Patriarchate. There will be no Moscow representatives at our Councils or Synod envisioned. All decisions made in Moscow by the Council or the Synod will apply to us only subject to our Regulations and our status as a self-governing part of the Russian Church.

Independence of this sort for today's Russian Church is a proven phenomenon. The independent parts of the one National Russian Church exist in just such a way in Ukraine , Belarus , Moldavia and Latvia . Our Church also may be listed alongside them in the Ustav of the Moscow Patriarchate. A reformulation of relations such as this will not hinder the preservation of our individual characteristics and traditions, which developed over the course of our existence and were often connected with the particularities of the countries we inhabit. All of this is taken into account and recorded.

This canonical approach in principle applies to all basic questions of church order, but, depending on circumstances and local conditions, other decisions may be made based on the principle of oikonomia. As far as Eucharistic communion is concerned, in and of itself it excludes any coercion: in the Orthodox Church, concelebration is founded upon personal invitation. Of course, no one has authority to demand any "rights" or act "over someone's head." Worthy of noting is that the doorway opens then for full, profound communion—to see the ecclesiastical life of the other side, to participate in it and to nurture mutual understanding and trust.

The ecclesiastical arrangement developed by the Commissions is not only normal under the present circumstances of the Church, but is in exact accordance with the All-Russian Council of 1917-1918. The Russian Church had just restored the Patriarchate and decided at the All-Russian Council to combine dioceses into separate metropoliate districts, each possessing a high level of independence—both in Russia and abroad. It was presumed that each such district would be self-governing and have its own supreme organs—the annual Councils of Bishops and the "extraordinary" Councils, with the participation of clergy and laity (see: All-Russian Council , Acts 168-169, September 18-19, 1918).

Because of the persecutions that followed, it was impossible to execute this decision in the Russian Church . It became possible to bring this decision into effect in part by the Russian Church Abroad, with the freedom from persecution that it enjoyed, basing its operations, of course, on the decisions of the Supreme Ecclesiastical Authority under the presidency of Patriarch Tikhon (Ukase No. 362 of November 20, 1920), which was based on the aforementioned Council decision. Our dioceses always existed in the spirit of such independence (and such metropoliate districts existed in the Russian Church Abroad for 15 years, and were only abolished in light of the difficulties arising in church life after the War).

Both the Council's decision of 1918 and Ukase No 362 that was based on it presume not only a broad independence of discrete parts of the Russian Church , but also their conciliar unity. In our day, establishing communion with the Moscow Patriarchate in the spirit of such catholicity is viable. In other words, the legacy of the fathers will then be fulfilled.

But the lengthy separation between the parts of the Russian Church—the specifics of church life in the USSR on one hand and the particularities of the life of the Church in exile on the other—and the long period when normal ecclesiastical contact was impossible erected a whole series of obstacles on this path.

Extreme, irreconcilable positions existed in both parts of the divided Russian Church . Under the pressure exerted on the Moscow Patriarchate by the state, such positions were expressed both by its representatives and in official channels. This continued within the confines of the ecclesiastical politics of the time. But genuine good will towards union was preserved here even in the most horrifying years. As far as the Church Abroad is concerned, individuals or groups of people have expressed extreme and exclusive positions against the Moscow Patriarchate, but such were never adopted by a Council, and so were not the official voice of the Church Abroad. In essence, the mainline viewpoint of the Russian Church Abroad coincided with the approach of three Russian bishops, Metropolitan Agafangel (Preobrazhensky), Metropolitan Kirill (Smirnov) and Metropolitan Peter (Polyansky), named by Holy Patriarch Tikhon as candidates for the locum tenens of the Patriarchal Throne. All three, remaining in Russia , clearly expressed their rejection of the actions of Metropolitan Sergius, but at the same time preserved the vision of unity and wholeness of the Russian Church and avoided taking steps that could worsen inner divisions. The position they adhered to is a healthy foundation for today's reconciliation. Apparently, it is not alien to the Moscow Patriarchate, since they have already canonized the three named hierarchs.

The question of glorifying the Holy New Martyrs and Confessors of Russia, who were for so long an obstacle to rapprochement, was removed from the agenda thanks to the Council of the Moscow Patriarchate of 2000, which decided to glorify the entire host of New Martyrs.

The same Council also made a resolution in principle of the problem which divided us for a long time, that of the relationship between the Orthodox Church and the civil authorities. The "Declaration of Loyalty" (1927) issued during persecution of the Church in Russia , and the policy that arose from it, justified the godless state and allowed deviation from the demands of Christian conscience in appeasement of this state ("Sergianism"). It is important to note that the rejection of this false position was declared on the level of the Council of Bishops of the Moscow Patriarchate, which thereby expressed its ecclesiastical will on the highest level.

Both in Russia and abroad there are various points of view on the actions of Metropolitan—later Patriarch—Sergius. Only in its full complement will the Russian Church be able to make its spiritual evaluation of this tragic and complicated period in Russian history. Without a doubt, serious scholarly work will be required for this. The question of the "Declaration" itself can no longer be an obstacle to canonical communion.

The question of ecumenism has also lost its acuteness. The Ecumenical "branch theory," which our Church anathematizes together with other heresies during the Triumph of Orthodoxy, was never actually adopted by the Moscow Patriarchate. Instances of joint prayer with the heterodox have been done away with, too. The Moscow Patriarchate expressed clearly Orthodox tenets at the same Council of 2000 ("Basic Principles of Attitude to the Non-Orthodox" and the addendum: "Participation in International Christian Organizations"). These principles guide the leaders of the Moscow Patriarchate in international organizations. Not lacking foundation is the conviction expressed in Russia that canonical communion with the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia will influence the internal life of the Russian Church , restraining liberal tendencies and bolstering traditional positions.

As far as property disputes which arose between the Moscow Patriarchate and the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia are concerned, the position outlined by the "Act on Canonical Communion" is that the status quo must be maintained; that is, the property of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia which belonged to it at the beginning of the discussions (2004) remains in its possession. Lawsuits over property must be withdrawn.

In the future, questions that arise over ecclesiastical administration must be resolved in the spirit of brotherly love.

This also applies to the question of church property in the Holy Land , which is sensitive for us. Concord has been reached on the joint presence of monastics of both parts of the Russian Church in Jericho ; the church is now used by both. The Moscow Patriarchate also unilaterally provided clergymen of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia the right to serve in its churches throughout the Holy Land . This applies to pilgrims as well as representatives of our Russian Ecclesiastical Mission, and is already in practice.

One cannot ignore that property rights issues in the Holy Land have special complications. Obviously, in gaining unity, the Russian Church may do more for the preservation of holy sites on the territories of Israel and Palestine.

One point of contention for both sides is the question of parallel ecclesiastical structures. In Russia , a Catacomb Church once came into being. Metropolitan Kirill (Smirnov) of Kazan, who in fact headed this opposition to Metropolitan Sergius, did not deny the grace of the legal church structure, but felt that under the circumstances, parallel organizations of believers in opposition were permissible. The Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia was aware of his point of view and shared it, and there was a connection with the Catacomb Christians. Maintaining such an approach, in the early 1990's, it became possible to accept communities in Russia wishing to join our Church. By that time, the situation in Russia , and in particular, in the Moscow Patriarchate, began to normalize. Against this backdrop, our acceptance of communities in Russia drew not only understandable bewilderment, but indignation in Russia . All this deepened the conflict.

On the other hand, the Moscow Patriarchate also established parallel structures in the countries of the diaspora, where the Russian Church Abroad had historically existed. (This process began in the Post-War years, when the Soviets allowed the Church, within strict limitations, to operate abroad.) This also elevated the antagonism between the two sides. Of course, the acute problem of parallel structures cannot be resolved with the stroke of a pen. It demands thoughtful, sober and deliberate work in organizing the canonical situation, with the interests of all parties in mind. This question affects the fate of many people.

Pastoral discretion and a caring attitude towards each other are explicitly-stated concepts in the documents produced by the joint work of the Commissions.

Returning to the idea of the meaning of the existence of the Russian Church Abroad, of her service in today's circumstances, it needs to be stressed that her mission is not only unfinished, but it gains a new dimension, for it can now manifest itself in all its fullness through communion with church life in Russia.