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Nun Vassa (Larin)
What is the "Orthodox Episcopate of the Russian Church"?

In view of changing historical circumstances, certain words from the Orthodox divine services, understood clearly by previous generations of believers, can with time become utterly incomprehensible for newer generations. For instance, the liturgical exclamation "O Lord, save the pious, and hear us!" If this next Sunday we were to survey those attending church: who are the "pious" and who are those referred to by the words "and hear us ?" Without a doubt, we would hear different suppositions. Some would consider themselves among the pious, others, among the "us."

A similar puzzle in our day is the commemoration in all the churches of the Russian Church Abroad of "the Orthodox Episcopate of the Church of Russia." At the present time, the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia, in all supplications in which the ruling bishop is commemorated, before the latter's name we hear: "the Orthodox Episcopate of the Church of Russia, and our lord His Eminence Metropolitan Laurus, Metropolitan of Eastern America and New York, First Hierarch of the Russian Church Abroad…" that is, the "Orthodox Episcopate" is commemorated first, then the hierarchy of the Russian Church Abroad. Not too long ago, before the fall of the Soviet state, the "Orthodox Episcopate of the persecuted Church of Russia" was commemorated. At the time, the vagueness of the term can be explained by the vagueness of what was happening behind the "Iron Curtain." Upon hearing the words "the Orthodox Episcopate of the persecuted Church of Russia," the mind of the believer abroad could travel to the other side of the "Iron Curtain," to the persecuted, maybe to some unknown catacomb bishops. Today, Russia has been opened, the persecution has ended, and we do not now commemorate the "persecuted" but simply "the Orthodox Episcopate of the Church of Russia." But what is meant by this no-longer-persecuted "episcopate" is hardly understood by the average parishioner. For the commemoration of an "Orthodox Episcopate" before the commemoration of the hierarchy of the Russian Church Abroad itself means the hierarchical superiority of the former over the latter, the accountability of the latter to the former. Besides the Moscow Patriarchate, headed by Patriarch Alexy II, we know of more than one "episcopate" in Russia ( nomina sunt odiosa sed multa : names are better left unmentioned), but there are no catacombs we do not know of. But to which of these "episcopates" could the Russian Church Abroad be accountable?

To clarify this, it is necessary to examine the history of the commemoration of the "Orthodox Episcopate of the Church of Russia," that is, when and under what circumstances was this phrase introduced into the divine services of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia?

In connection with the death of the Locum Tenens of the Patriarchal Throne, Holy New Martyr Metropolitan Peter of Krutitsa, the Council of Bishops of the ROCOR in December, 1937, composed the "Act of the Lawful Succession of the Title of Locum Tenens of the Moscow Patriarchal Throne and the Leadership of the Russian Orthodox Church After the Death of Metropolitan Peter of Krutitsa" [The State Archives of the Russian Federation (GARF); Minutes of the Council of Bishops of ROCOR , f. 6343, op. 1, d. 17, l. 4]. Deeming unlawful the claims of Metropolitan Sergius (Stragorodsky), the Council of Bishops recognized Metropolitan Kirill of Kazan as the legitimate Locum Tenens , not knowing that Holy New Martyr Kirill had been shot on November 20, 1937. Still, in light of the persecutions, the Council deemed it impossible to openly commemorate Metropolitan Kirill, declaring: "[Decreed:] To commemorate Metropolitan Kirill as the Locum Tenens of the Moscow Patriarchal Throne and the Head of the Russian Church during the proskomedia and in private prayers, but to refrain from exclaiming his name during divine services, so as not to provoke grave persecutions upon him by the godless Bolshevik state. This act is to be preserved without publication in future evidence on the succession of the leadership of the Russian Church" [ibid.]. Instead of openly commemorating the name of Metropolitan Kirill, the Council decreed to commemorate "the Orthodox Episcopate of the Church of Russia" [ibid, verso], though more detailed explanation of this phrase is not extant in the Minutes of 1937.

From the above one can conclude that at first, the "Orthodox Episcopate of the Church of Russia" meant a concrete individual, to wit, the Patriarchal Locum Tenens , Metropolitan Kirill, since his name could not be declared openly. This formulation also meant that the Council of Bishops did not recognize Metropolitan Sergius as the head of the Church of Russia.

A vaguer interpretation of "Orthodox Episcopate" is heard a year later, at the Council of Bishops in August, 1938. At this Council, the question "on the commemoration of the bishops of the Russian Church" was again raised (the minutes do not reveal who raised the question). The minutes do not record a new decision on this matter, but only a comment by Metropolitan Anastassy: "[Regarding] how to commemorate the Bishops of the Church of Russia, [Metropolitan Anastassy] indicates that in the Eastern Churches, during the vacancy of a Patriarchal cathedra, the 'episcopate' of a given Church is commemorated" (GARF, f. 6343, op. 1, d. 18, l. 14 verso). It is worth noting that the Council of Bishops at this time did not know of the death of Holy Martyr Kirill. From one of Metropolitan Anastassy's letters of October 1941, we see that by the end of 1941, he did not have reliable information of the fate of Metropolitan Kirill [Synodal Archives, New York. Correspondence on the War, 1941-1944 . Letter of Metropolitan Anastassy to Archbishop Seraphim of October 1, 1941].

The fact of the matter is that before 1992, that is, until recently, the exact date of the death of St Kirill remained unknown. The famous catalog of the Russian episcopate compiled by Metropolitan Manuil Lemeshevsky (1966), lists the wrong date, and offers a slanderous note: "Metropolitan Kirill died in August 1941 from a snake bite" [Manuil (Lemeshevsky), Metr.: Russkije pravoslavnyje arkhierei s 1893 po 1965 god ("Russian Orthodox Bishops, 1893 to 1965") in Oikonomia: Die Russischen Orthodoxen Bischofe von 1893 bis 1965 . Teil IV, B. 43. Erlangen, 1986. S. 120.]. Now we know that Metropolitan Kirill was shot in prison in Chimkent on the eve of the feast day of Archangel Michael, 7/20 November 1937, [see Akty Svjatejshego Patriarkha Tikhona ("Acts of His Holiness Patriarch Tikhon"), M.E. Gubonin, ed., Moscow, 1994, p. 867 et al], and Metropolitan Manuil's version—truly serpentine —remains a monument to the variety of untruths inflicted upon the New Martyrs of the Russian Church, in particular upon the most senior bishops of the Russian Church during the years of St Kirill of Kazan.

Although the Council of Bishops did not know for certain of the death of St Kirill, the likelihood that the Patriarchal Locum Tenens had died was undoubtedly taken into account in 1938, both by Metropolitan Anastassy and by the entire Council of Bishops Abroad. We presume that Metropolitan Anastassy was not unaware of the likelihood when he broadened the meaning of the "Orthodox Episcopate," which no longer meant a specific individual but instead a specific unusual ecclesiastical situation: the widowed patriarchal cathedra.

One must say that the practice of the Greek Church to which Metropolitan Anastassy probably refers (Metropolitan Anastassy served in Constantinople from 1921-1924, where he was invited more than once to serve in Greek churches, then in Jerusalem he occupied the position of Overseer of the Ecclesiastical Mission, so he had the opportunity to become acquainted with Greek practice) is not exactly the same as that adopted in 1937 by the Council of Bishops. In the Greek Church, an "episcopate" is commemorated in only two instances, both of which signalize no specific episcopate (and nowise that of the Greek Church itself), but rather "all of the Orthodox episcopate" ( pases Episkopes Orthodoxou ).These two instances in Greek liturgical practice can be described as follows: 1.)When the patriarchal throne is vacated, before the election of a new patriarch, the ecclesiastical legislation of the Greek Church ( Ekklesiastike nomothesia ) prescribes an archbishop to commemorate "all of the Orthodox Episcopate" ( pases Episkopes Orthodoxou ). [Konidori-Troianou, Ekklesiastike nomothesia, arthron 28. Athens 1984, p. 49.] 2.)In the Greek Archieratikon (bishop's liturgical service book, trans .), the patriarch himself or archbishop (i. e., the First Hierarch or primate) is directed to commemorate "all the Episcopate of the Orthodox ( pases Episkopes Orthodoxon ) and our holy Synod" during Divine Liturgy, when the First Hierarch himself is celebrating. [Archieratikon. ApostolikeDiakonia. Ekdosis 3. Athens 1994, p. 26.] Here, as we see, the primate himself commemorates the "episcopate" of other Local Orthodox Churches, communion with which is realized first and foremost through the primate himself, that is, by the patriarch or archbishop. The commemoration of the "episcopate" of ones own church is not stipulated by the statutes of the Greek Church. Thus we can establish that the commemoration by the Russian Church Abroad of the "Orthodox Episcopate" of its own, Russian Church has no precedent in Greek practice and is unique in its wording.

Be that as it may with the Greeks, from the history of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia we can conclude that by commemorating the "Orthodox Episcopate of the Church of Russia," a specific, extraordinary canonical situation is established: the vacancy of the patriarchal cathedra. And the use of the wording in question to this day establishes that the Russian Church Abroad to this day desires a patriarch of the entire Russian Church . As we know, the present Patriarch of Moscow, Alexy II, is not the patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia. In accordance with Ukase No. 362 of Holy Patriarch Tikhon, ROCOR during the period of persecutions administered itself separately, just as the Moscow Patriarchate administered itself separately, without submitting its decisions to the bishops of the Russian Church Abroad. This situation was foreseen canonically (Ukase No. 362) and was—tragically—quite understandable in a historical sense. Therefore, one might say, the present patriarchy of the Moscow Patriarchate was established amid the particularities of those times, without the participation of the Fullness of the Russian Church. Now, in accordance with Ukase No. 362, it is necessary to reestablish ecclesiastical leadership, maybe through the mutual recognition of existing ecclesiastical centers, of the entire Fullness of the Russian Church, that is, by means of a Local Council [ Pomestny Sobor ] of the entire Russian Church.

In conclusion, one can say that by commemorating the "Orthodox Episcopate of the Church of Russia," the Russian Church Abroad attests daily to its desire of just such an All-Russian Council, which alone can restore the succession from the last All-Russian Council of 1917-1918, and which alone can be called in the full sense of the term the "Orthodox Episcopate of the Church of Russia."