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“Holiness cannot be feigned, one must strive towards holiness.” 

We offer our readers an interview held prior to the IV All-Diaspora Council of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia held in May 2006 in San Francisco, CA. The Council drew up and adopted, among other things, an Epistle to the Flock, which in particular illuminates the spiritual meaning of the process of reestablishing the fullness of brotherly communion within the one Russian Orthodox Church. The First Hierarch of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia, His Eminence Metropolitan Laurus of Eastern America and New York, in an interview granted to Igor Smykov, Chief of the Military Orthodox Mission who heads social projects for Ekonomicheskije strategii [Economic Strategies] discusses the reasons why during the first years of the Soviet state, a division occurred between the two parts of the Russian Orthodox Church, and gives his opinion on perspectives for dialog between them, explaining the mission of the Russian ecclesiastical emigration.

Your Eminence, in your opinion, how are we to view the relationship between the Orthodox Church and government in Russia today? How does the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia see the political, economic and social processes taking place in Russia today?

The relationship between the Church and state in Russia were very complicated, even tragic, in the 20th century. The Bolsheviks who came to power as a result of the events of 1917 set as their goal the construction of a godless society and the cultivation of the “new man” for this society. The struggle against religion was based not only on their atheist world view, but upon an effort to eliminate a dangerous competitor in the spiritual life of the nation. The situation began to change in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s. The persecution of the Church and of believers ceased, churches and monasteries were being opened and restored and returned to the believers. Religious literature began to be disseminated. The opportunity arose to provide a religious education to children. The state does not now hinder this positive process. The conflict between Church and state has faded into the past. The government does not strive to destroy the Orthodox Church or “ghettoize” it. This is very important. Still, not all problems have been resolved, and Church-state relations in Russia must continue to be resolved and perfected. We find the ideal in this kind of relationship in the preface to the Novella 6 of the Byzantine Emperor Justinian the Great.  There it states; “if the priesthood is well ordered in everything and is pleasing to God, and kingdom [the state]… is guiding and taking care of human affairs…  then there will be full harmony [symphony] between them in every thing that serves the good and benefit of the human race.” After many long years, when Church-state relations bore an exclusively negative character, the experience of cooperation and joint constructiveness cannot suddenly reappear, and a great deal of work needs to be done in this regard.

The political, economic and social processes under way in Russia are viewed in a variety of ways in the Russian Church Abroad. There are many positive and negative phenomena. The monopoly of the Communist Party has collapsed along with its godless ideology, the Cold War has ended. Russia ceased to be a source of Communist peril to the world, it strives now for cooperation with its surrounding nations. On the other hand, the weakened government has led to nationalistic conflicts on almost all the borders of the former USSR. A series of regional wars has been sparked. The multi-party system has on one hand given the people an opportunity to choose freely and participate in the life of their country, and on the other hand has opened the door to many irresponsible demagogues thirsting for power.

The main negative aspects in the economy are of course high taxes, rampant corruption and crime.  

The quality of life of the population and the economic indicators are very modest compared with other countries. According to official, understated statistics, 30% of Russians live below the poverty line, while a small group of the “fortunate,” the “new Russians,” are bathing in luxury. People find it hard to survive, difficult to rear children, provide for their aging parents with the dignity they deserve. Here, abroad, we see how many of the new emigres leave Russia for this very reason. They are spurred to abandon their Fatherland for the sake of stability, a decent life, well being and social justice. Many leave in order to send help to their parents, relatives and children back home. The source of the new wave of emigration is the negative aspects of economic and social life in Russia. The main goal of any government is the well being of its subjects, and not only material but spiritual, too. Yet we are still far away from well being in Russia.

What are the perspectives for dialog between the Moscow Patriarchate and the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia? If possible, please explain to our readers how and why the division arose in the Russian Orthodox Church.

Many think that the reason for the division between the Russian Orthodox Church into the ROCOR and MP was the Civil War. This is untrue. The Russian people, because of the Revolution, found themselves divided. The Russian diaspora emerged, but the Russian Orthodox Church remained one. After the end of the Civil War, the bishops who found themselves abroad commemorated His Holiness Patriarch Tikhon, then his Locum Tenens, Metropolitan Kirill of Krutitsa. The main reason for the division of the Russian Church was actually the Declaration of Metropolitan Serius (Stragorodsky) of 1927. In this document, he recognized the Soviet government as a lawful Russian state which tended to the care of the people, “whose joys are our joys and whose sorrows are our sorrows.” At the same time, in accordance to an agreement he received from the Soviet state, Metropolitan Sergius requested of the clergymen abroad loyalty to the Bolshevik government. Metropolitan Sergius himself could hardly have expected that anyone abroad would heed his ukase. It was obvious that he did this to fulfill the demands of the Soviet government. Naturally, the hierarchs of the Russian Church Abroad, headed by Metropolitan Anthony (Khrapovitsky), staunchly refused to vow fealty to the Soviets, and issued a clear refusal. From that moment, relations between the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia and the Moscow Patriarchate ceased. Yet this did not mean that a separate ecclesiastical organization originated in the Russian diaspora. The Russian Church Abroad always considered itself a part of the Local Russian Orthodox Church. It was in spiritual unity with Metropolitan Peter of Krutitsa, who was suffering in exile in the north. His name was commemorated in all the churches of the Russian emigration, along with the prayer for the suffering nation of Russia and for her deliverance from the bitter persecution from the godless state. For all these years, remaining true to our Fatherland, we did not recognize the state as lawful, for it went against the thousand-year world-view of our people. We went abroad in order not to submit to this government. Another reason which deepened the rift between the two parts of the Russian Church was that the Moscow Patriarchate joined the World Council of Churches in 1961, and participated in the ecumenical movement. The Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia condemned as heresy and anathematized the teaching that the Church divided into many branches, each of which allegedly contains a part of the truth.  

By the will of God, many Russian people found themselves abroad. What was, and is, the mission of the Russian diaspora?

Yesterday and today and going forward, the main mission of the Russian church emigration is to preserve and expand the unadulterated Orthodox faith and legacy of Holy Russia in the diaspora. The main goal of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia is the salvation of the souls of its flock. But time, of course, leaves its mark on our work. In earlier years our existence was determined by the need to preserve the free nation of Russia and resist the atheistic Communism which enslaved our Homeland. With the fall of the atheist regime, such resistance lost its purpose. Now there are very many of yesterday’s Soviet people living abroad, people who were born and raised under official atheism. When they travel abroad, they often come to the Church, seeing in it their only connection with their Homeland, a place where they can meet their compatriots, and find solace in a difficult moment. But in religious terms, these people are unlearned. The often don’t know the simplest things. This is taken advantage of right and left by various sectarians, who draw in Russians who have been torn away from their Homeland into their snares. If the previous emigration was mostly church-going, the new emigration must be brought into the church, adults as well as children, and in this area, our Church has a great deal of work to do. It is the Church Abroad specifically that gives the emigres spiritual strength, uniting them, protecting them from fading away and losing the Orthodox faith, and together with the faith, the Russian culture created by Orthodox Christianity. Yet it is not only Russians who comprise our flock. By Divine Providence, being scattered throughout many nations, our Church disseminates Orthodox Christianity among the peoples around us. Work with the newly-converted is another important aspect of the work of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia. Among our flock, clergymen, the students of Holy Trinity Seminary, are representatives of the widest scope of nationalities who came to Orthodoxy from various heresies and sects. The Lord has given our Church the task of bearing witness of Orthodox Christianity to all the peoples “who know Him not,” and this mission is very important and a great responsibility.

Over the course of decades, the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia refused to have contact with the Orthodox bishops of Moscow, since Metropolitan Sergius issued the declaration you mentioned in 1927 vowing loyalty of the Church to the Soviet state. What obstacles do you now see for the reunification of the two parts of the Russian Church? What is the basic mission of ROCOR in Russia at the present time?

Until recently, there has been a series of obstacles for reconciliation between the Russian Church Abroad and the Moscow Patriarchate. Some of them we already discussed. Matters which divide us have been discussed on the church-commission level. The Synod of Bishops adopted documents on these issues, and they are being passed on for consideration to the forthcoming Council of Bishops.  

The main mission of the Russian Church Abroad in Russia today is to familiarize the Russian Orthodox people with the legacy of our Russian diaspora. After the Revolution, eminent theologians, hierarchs, the flowers of Russian culture found themselves abroad. The first Primate of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia was an eminent theologian, Metropolitan Anthony (Khrapovitsky) of blessed memory. Metropolitan Anastassy and Metropolitan Philaret, his successors, left a series of writings and sermons. Other bright figures in Orthodox theology were Archbishop Nikon (Rklitsky); Protopresbyter Michael Pomazansky; Bishop Mitrophan (Znosko-Borovsky); Bishop Gregory (Grabbe); Archbishop Averky (Taushev); Archimandrite Konstantin (Zaitsev); the historian ND Talberg, Professor Andreevsky and many others. It is enough to say that the most famous Russian textbook “The Law of God” was written by Protopriest Seraphim Slobodskoy, a priest in the town of Nyack, near New York City. Such renowned writers and thinkers as IA Ilyin and IS Shmelev were very close to the Russian Church Abroad. Throughout these years, theological, literary and philosophical thought flourished.  

But it is not only acquainting Russians with the emigration’s history that is the purpose of our Church in Russia. The Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia always strove to support those forces in Russian society which stand firm in the positions of the Orthodoxy of the Holy Fathers and Russian patriotism. We wish to see the Russian Church preserve the purity and fullness of the Orthodox Christian faith, and to see the Russian state flourish and be strong, as it was under the pious Tsars. 

What made the greatest impression upon you during your official visit to Russia?

I have been to Russia several times, unofficially, on a personal basis. The first time was in 1994. I was able to visit the central region of Russia, Moscow and the closest cities, with their holy sites, and also Northwest Russia—Novgorod, Pksov and St Petersburg. After that I visited Russia a few more times, in particular in the North—St Petersburg, Valaam, Solovetsky Monastery and Anzer Island. 

During my most recent visit to Moscow, I was amazed by the splendor of Christ the Savior Cathedral, which was already having divine services. But I was especially struck by my visit to Ekaterinburg, to the sites where the Royal prisoners were imprisoned and martyred: Tsar-Martyr Nicholas II, his entire family and servants. The site of Ipatiev House is now the home of the grand Church-on-the-Blood in honor of All Russian Saints and the Royal Family. This is the Russian Golgotha. One can say that the entire land here is bathed in the blood of the Royal Martyrs. We were there in May, during the feast day of St Nicholas the Miracle-worker. Despite the fact that it was during the week, the Cathedral was overflowing with worshipers. There are seven churches on the premises. During Liturgy we were in St Nicholas Church, then we visited Alapaevsk and prayed where Grand Duchess Elizabeth and Nun Varvara and those with them met their martyric death. We were all thankful to the Lord for His great mercy: we were able to visit these holy places and pray there! We were also grateful that there are wonderful churches built on these sites, and that divine services are constantly being celebrated there. Worshipers come from all ends of Russia, and even abroad, year round, to pray here.

We visited Diveevo and the relics of St Seraphim of Sarov. There we prayed as we walked along the canal, we spent the night at Diveevo and went to Liturgy at the cathedral the next day. It was good to see the monastery reborn, it is adorned with renovated churches and new buildings. I was there in 1994 the first time, when the monastery was just handed over to the Church. At the time there were only 107 women living there, who rebuilt it from the ruins. Now there are some 600 monastics there.  

Vladyko, Divine Providence holds something for each nation. What is the historical calling of Russia and of the Russian people? Is it possible to reestablish the Third Rome? 

The idea of the Third Rome has lived in the mind of the people for many long years: “Two Romes have fallen, a Third stands, a fourth shall not be…” One might say that under the pious Tsar-Martyr Nicholas II, Russia stood as the Third Rome—the spiritual heir and sole protector of Orthodox sovereignties. Still living then were Russians who—from the Royal Court to the furthest hut—confessed Orthodox Christianity, a national Russian Orthodoxy, a patriotic world view. It was the binding force which made the Russian people united in the government and in Orthodoxy, and made Russia the Third Rome. But the tragedy of Russia was that from long ago, even from the 18th century, other, alien tendencies came to rise within the Russian people, foreign to true Orthodoxy, and taken up by atheists and revolutionaries. These dark forces, inimical to Orthodox Russia, seduced and perverted the people, and opened the path towards that horrifying era of atheism and Communism.

Will Russian rise once again as the Third Rome? Another question necessarily lies behind this one—he matter of the “symphony of powers,” of the powers of the state and the spiritual authority of the Church. But when we speak of the spiritual authority of the Church, it is important to understand what the Church represents. The emigre theologian, Protopresbyter Michael Pomazansky, would say: “If people cross themselves, make prostrations, kiss the icons, light candles, take a priest’s blessing, drink holy water, this does not mean that these people are Christians. For pagans, too, when they worship their idols, participate in rituals. A true Christian is one who has made the Gospel Law the main law of his life, who seeks to obtain the grace of the Holy Spirit. Otherwise, these are not Christians.” So it is more correct to call the Church a society of saints. Indeed, the Lord, in the Gospel, and the Apostles in their epistles call Christians “saints”: “Be holy, for I am holy.” One can say that the “symphony of powers” is the symphony of holiness and the state which bows down before holiness and protects her holy Church, and the Tsar, defending the Church, laying down the Royal Purple before Christ.

This is what it was like in newly-baptized Rus. The Illuminator and transformer of Rus’, Holy Prince Vladimir, Equal-to-the-Apostles, was able to transform his state from a pagan one to a Christian one, because he himself venerated holiness, and was able to uproot his own soul and life, “having first of good will subjected the Royal Purple to Christ,” changing from a coarse pagan to a true Christian, combining “piety with power.” The Holy Church calls Holy Prince Vladimir, Equal-to-the-Apostles, “the highest of the Russian princes,” since he was not only the progenitor of all the Russian princes, the rulers of the Russian state, but the first princely saint in a host of such holy Russian princes. Not one nation had so many holy rulers. One can say that in Ancient Rus’, almost everyone who showed himself in the ecclesiastical, political or cultural life of the country, who left a mark on its history, was a saint.

“Piety and power” were united by the son of St Vladimir, Prince Yaroslav the Wise, while Prince Vladimir Monomakh was his worthy great-grandson. It is significant that in the nation’s fables, these two Vladimir—Equal-to-the-Apostles and Monomakh—are united into the image of “Vladimir the Beautiful Sun.” Important, too, is that Elder Filofei of Eleazarov Monastery, who first proposed the concept of the Third Rome said that the idea that “Moscow is the Third Rome” can be manifested only on the condition that the ruler of the Russian land “holds the reins of the holy churches of God… a holy supporter of the Orthodox Christian faith,” that he does not overstep the holy laws laid down by his forefathers, Holy Prince Vladimir and Prince Yaroslav, who was chosen by God.

Many holy men, for instance, Joseph Volotsky, warned that if the Tsar submits to passions and exceeds his authority, then “such a tsar is not a servant of God, but a devil, and is not a tsar, but a tormentor.” Patriarch Nikon, defending the Church from temporal powers, stated outright: “If the Church submits to the powers of the world, it is not a Church but a house of men and a den of thieves.”  

What relationship could the Church, which preserves holiness, have with the Satanic, god-battling state? In the 1920’s, all honest bishops and priests loyal to the Church were of one mind in recognizing their pastoral duties and services as preserving the souls of the people, who were being degraded by the incursion of materialism and the theory of class struggle, hatred and vengeance, who saw their duty not in active resistance to the Soviet state, but in passive martyrdom.

In conclusion, I would like to say the following: We must all remember that holiness cannot be feigned, one must strive towards holiness: to constantly follow Christ on the path of the Cross, and in selfless service to God and mankind. Imitating holiness will only lead to hypocrisy, in the words of St Ignatius (Brianchaninov), towards wickedness. It is very important to preserve the legacy of St Seraphim given to the nuns of Diveevo Convent: “Preserve your conscience. The conscience is what is most needed.” Otherwise, a very dangerous situation may arise in Russia: the external imitation of the “symphony” of Holy Russia by the state through deception that “symphony,” concord and mutual understanding have already been achieved. And even interchangeability, if by some circumstances the ecclesiastical and civil leadership changed hands, that no one would notice a difference, because the internal and external clergy meld more and more with the civil authorities. This path is fraught with peril. The true path is that of the Gospel, and that means the narrow path of one’s conscience, of earnestness and honesty.  

Moscow-Jordanville, 2006. 
Published in
Ekonomicheskije strategii [Economic Strategies] magazine, No. 4, 2006.