Protopriest Theodore Shevtsov:
Thoughts of a Priest of the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad
About Liturgical Communion with the Moscow Patriarchate
On an April Sunday, Protopriest Theodore Shevtsov led a discussion with the parishioners of St John the Baptist Cathedral in Washington DC. The following is an excerpt of his speech:
My attitude to the question of Eucharistic (liturgical) communion with the church of the Moscow Patriarchate was not something formed thoughtlessly, shooting from the hip “for” or “against,” or in accordance with the American expression “My mind is made up; don't confuse me with facts.” However, I would like to emphasize that I did not form my attitude toward the coming events of May 17-19, 2007 by way of cold logic, but rather by seriously mulling it over mentally and spiritually.
Most of us know quite well what woes and adversities, and even tragedies befell the Russian Orthodox Church, both abroad and in Russia after the Revolution of 1917, during the reign of the Soviet regime, especially after the death of the Holy Confessor Patriarch Tikhon. We know perfectly well about the terror and the coercion and lying that existed in the USSR, and that the Russian Orthodox Church could not escape.
I think that of these three misfortunes, the most awful and dangerous one, especially for the Church, was untruth, for untruth can change one's outlook on the world and firmly implant the idea that “the end justifies the means.”
As for us, the Church Abroad, we also experienced woes and sorrows. The path our Church took was far from smooth; it was even a sorrowful one. Our greatest misfortune lay in the fact that we were subjected to various kinds of schisms. I will say a few words about the most serious one, as it occurred long ago, during the early years of the emigration, and many people have either forgotten or do not know about it.
By the way, it was perhaps the most serious schism in the Church Abroad, for it disrupted unity in the very midst of our Church. It happened in the summer of 1926, when all, or almost all, of the Church Abroad assembled for the Sobor [Council] of Bishops in the little town of Sremski Karlovtsy, Serbia, then the headquarters of the ROCOR. Chairing the Sobor was Metropolitan Anthony (Khrapovitsky), then the First Hierarch of the Church Abroad. Metropolitan Evlogy (Georgievsky), Metropolitan Platon (Rozhdestvensky) of America, and Archbishop Anastassy (Gribanovsky) also took part in the Council. Because of the political differences and differences in the conditions of ordinary life in the various countries of the Russian Diaspora, the bishops could not achieve oneness of mind as to the direction of the Russian Church Outside of Russia; Metropolitan Evlogy, who administered the parishes of Western Europe, and Metropolian Platon, who had earlier been assigned to North America, even walked out of the Council meeting. That caused the most serious and even destructive schism in the Church Abroad, for it disrupted prayerful and liturgical communion within the ROCOR. That event was a source of pain for all of the bishops and the Russian people of the Church Abroad, especially so to Metropolitan Antony and Archbishop Anastassy, who considered any schism in the Church to be a great sin. The intelligent and extremely well-educated professor and theologian Archpriest John Meyendorff stated quite aptly with respect to the schism of 1926: “There is no question that the emigres had the spiritual responsibility to preserve freedom and unity, which were being ever more persecuted in Soviet Russia. In the 1920s, some kind of ‘fixing of boundaries' was becoming ever more essential. However, central to the question was how to accomplish that defining of boundaries without losing the sense, the spirit of the Church, i.e. without a schism, without a disruption in prayerful communion, without a departure from universal Orthodoxy.” Quite unfortunately, that schism and the ensuing lack of liturgical communion between the once-united parts of the Church Abroad has persisted to our days, even to the extent of having part of it in America transformed into an autocephalous church in America, with a gradual loss of its Russian roots.
Now, let us turn to today, May 2007. What are we now facing? We are now facing the most important event in the entire history of ROCOR: We hope to establish liturgical communion with the Moscow Patriarchate. For us this is truly an unusual event. In my opinion, this is not a restoration of liturgical communion, for one can restore only that which once existed, and liturgical communion between ROCOR and the current Russian Church of the Moscow Patriarchate has never existed. This is something entirely new, and so it is not surprising that many of us are worried and concerned about it. Any novelty, anything to which we are not accustomed, can be frightening. I myself have experienced that concern and worry. Only a year or a year and a half ago, I was opposed to ROCOR taking such a step. I would pose the following question to myself: How could we forget and discard everything we had read, what we had seen for ourselves, and what had been taught to us from childhood by people whom we greatly respected and loved? Having been schooled and educated both at home and in Russian schools in the spirit of truth and Christian virtues, how could we forget everything that had gone on in the USSR, both in ordinary life and in the Church, involving lying, terror, and forcible coercion? However, later, especially over the course of the past two years, after mulling over and coming to understand the entire question both in heart and mind, I realized that neither did I have to discard anything I had been taught or seen for myself, nor was I being forced to, nor did I intend to change my deeply-held convictions! How then, should we proceed?
We must simply accept Russia, its suffering Church there, and the Russian Church here, as they are today, not waiting for the Church in Russia to become the Church as I would like to see it be, as our instructors teachers, and parents were hoping to see it. To await that is to be daydreaming. On the contrary, I (we) need not be afraid of actively participating in the creative activity in Russia, just as a priest should not be afraid to go to a hospital, a place where there are difficulties and needs, rather than wait for the sick person himself to get well and have his problems disappear before going to him. No, we must not be afraid, but must only remember and watch that we not be controlled by fear, hatred, enmity, haughtiness, or a sense of being superior to the Church in Russia.
There is an abundance of work to be done in Russia, and we are needed there. I am certain that among the laity, among the priests, and even among the bishops, we will find people of like mind with us. We will be heeded far more readily if we are in liturgical communion with them, not creating and maintaining some kind of parallel “organizational structures” or churches, and not waging a “partisan/guerilla” war with the Moscow Patriarchate but rather helping it defend itself against the various foreign, heterodox sects that are actively striving to establish themselves in Russia. What would be incomparably more fruitful is if we ourselves were to “live not according to falsehood,” and help the people and the Church in Russia to do the same.
- Now let us see what we would have if we were among those in opposition to liturgical and prayerful communion with the Moscow Patriarchate.
- We would either unite with one of the already existing “breakaway groups” that have left our Church or create a new breakaway group. How many more schisms must we endure?
- We would cease to recognize our First Hierarch and the other bishops of the Church Abroad, whom we had heretofore respected and to whom we had been subject.
- None of our previous First Hierarchs, beginning with Metropolitan Antony, would have ever given his blessing for such a thing.
- We would be bereft of liturgical communion with our Holy Trinity Monastery in Jordanville, with Novo-Diveevo Convent, and with the other churches that I love and in which I served.
- We would be bereft of Church communion/association with many of our brethren, priests, and friends, whom we love and respect.
- It is as if we were rejecting Russia and the vast majority of Russian Orthodox people in their time of difficulty.
Certain people who do not agree with having liturgical communion with the Moscow Patriarchate will say that there are a number of groups, under true Orthodox Russian bishops, and also Greek Old Calendarists under the omophorion of Greek Metropolitan Cyprianos, with whom one could join. Yet that path would still mean leaving everything for a schism away from the historical ROCOR and all but one or two of its bishops. It is impossible that everyone who is moving toward liturgical communion with the Moscow Patriarchate is completely deluded!
The First Hierarchs of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia considered all paths leading to schism to be a great sin. St John Chrysostom used to say that “schism in the Church is worse than heresy.” Thus the right path for us is to heal the schism and to turn to one another and to all Orthodox people in Russia and throughout the world with those words given to us: It is the Day of Resurrection, let us be radiant for the Feast, let us embrace one another…and let us say: Brothers and sisters, even to them that hate us, let us forgive all things on the Resurrection, and thus let us cry out: Christ is Risen!
Archpriest Theodore Shevzov