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Nun Vassa (Larin)

"Glory be to God, Who Did Not Abandon His Church"
The Self-Awareness of ROCOR at the Third All-Diaspora Council of 1974

The Third All-Diaspora Council of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia commenced on September 8, 1974, (1) at Holy Trinity Monastery in Jordanville, NY. Fifteen bishops and 72 clerical and lay delegates were in attendance, presided over by the First Hierarch of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia, Metropolitan Philaret. The Council convened in this composition for a week and a half (until September 19). Then, from September 23, the Council of Bishops met at the Synodal Building in New York. The Council concluded on October 2 with a Divine Liturgy in the Synodal Cathedral.

I. The Internal Challenges of the Council

Before the Third All-Diaspora Council, the first matters at hand were of an internal ecclesiastical and pastoral nature. Problems of preserving "Russian Orthodox way of life" under the difficult circumstances of the emigration were discussed, (2) as well as internal parish and diocesan problems. (3) An especially great amount of time was devoted to parish schools, "having in mind" as the corresponding Resolution states, "the primary significance of our church schools in the diaspora in the task of preserving the growing generations within Orthodoxy and Russianness." (4) The "Resolution of the Missionary Publishing Committee" speaks of the special challenges of the priest in the emigre environment, where the "mission" of the priest is understood first of all as work with his own parishioners, that is, the internal mission of the Church: "A priest must ' preach the word; be instant in season, out of season,' as Apostle Paul says, ' reprove, rebuke, exhort;' clarify the truths of the Orthodox faith to all his parishioners and defend them from heretical and other modern tendencies, especially caring for the strengthening in Orthodoxy of the newly-converted and those living in mixed marriages."

It was recommended here that priests "visit the homes of parishioners as often as possible, trying to lend conversation a religious character," and also: "publish books, brochures and newsletters in Russian and the local languages which may be beneficial in the exposition of the truths of Faith and the spiritual development of Christians... Where possible, such literature should be provided to Russian people in the USSR." (5)

Personnel problems of the Church Abroad were also discussed. We refer to the beginning of the "Resolution on Expanding the Clergy": "The Third All-Diaspora Council of ROCOR views with alarm the acute lack of clergymen and is concerned with taking necessary measures to fill the ranks of the clergy. The main reason for the thinning of the ranks of the clergy is the same for all Christian confessions, the 'temporalization' of the soul. In the life of the Russian Church Abroad, there are two negative factors doubling the problem of the lack of clergymen: the gradual assimilation of the Russian emigration into the surrounding environment and the lack of material sustenance for the clergy." (6)

As we can see from the brief overview of the internal challenges of the Third All-Diaspora Council, the main threat to the spiritual life of the Russian Church Abroad was the surrounding heterodox world. This is the main pastoral goal of the Council—the struggle against the assimilation of its flock, in other words— the fight for spiritual self-preservation .

II. External Matters

Against the backdrop of this primary, internal challenge, we will examine the external situation of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia in 1974. Conditionally speaking, the situation of the Church Abroad in the Orthodox world then can be described as " self-isolated ," or better, as one of " turning inwards, " occupation with exclusively internal, pastoral affairs. It is known that ROCOR by this time did not participate in the ecumenical movement, (7) having almost no contact with other Orthodox Churches and jurisdictions, only speaking out in the press periodically against the participation of the Orthodox in "ecumenism." This turning inwards of the Church Abroad during the reign of Metropolitan Philaret was a very important phenomenon in the history of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia, which can be interpreted in various ways. Indeed, the bishops of ROCOR evaluated this in different ways during the Third All-Diaspora Council.

The attitude of the bishops at the Third All-Diaspora Council to the isolation of the Church Abroad, broadly speaking, was divided into two poles:

1) The first position, expressed in the majority of the resolutions of the Council and held, in particular, by the President of the Council, Metropolitan Philaret, and Protopresbyter George Grabbe, viewed the situation of the Church Abroad at the time as necessary for the preservation of her freedom , considering reconciliation with the other Churches, which were bound by their participation in the ecumenical movement or by communist authorities, as a danger for witnessing the truth. From this point of view, the Church Abroad held a unique position in the Orthodox world: it had its own calling: to remind the remaining Orthodox Churches of the dogmas of the Church. Opening the Third All-Diaspora Council in Jordanville, Metropolitan Philaret said in his keynote address: "Remember that we are alone in this world, because our Church is essentially the only one that is free, and can freely warn the world of the terrible danger hanging overhead. We say this not with pride, but with sorrow, because that is the tragedy: that we cannot persuade the 'free world' that this danger looms above… Great challenges are set before our Council. First of all, the Council must declare not only for the Russian flock, but for the entire Church, its concept of the Church; to reveal the dogma of the Church... The Council must determine the place our Church Abroad holds within contemporary Orthodoxy, among the other 'so-called' churches. We say 'so-called' for though now they often speak of many 'churches,' the Church of Christ is single and One." (8) We cannot devote time here to Metropolitan Philaret's ecclesiology, which corresponds to the opinions of Protopresbyter George Grabbe. (9) Still, it should be noted that in the case of Vladyka Philaret, revered in the Church Abroad for his lofty prayer and ascetic life, one cannot view his often harsh declarations without taking into consideration his general turning inwards . If the history of the Church includes figures of the "Church not of this world," and on the other hand those of "the Church within this world," (10) if in the Church it is necessary to have the antithetical concepts of "the desert" and "the empire," (11) then Metropolitan Philaret was without a doubt a representative of "the desert." We will return to this at the conclusion.

2) The second position, representing the opposite pole from that of Metropolitan Philaret, viewed the isolation of the Church Abroad as a hindrance to the work of the Church in her heterodox, emigre environment, or moreover—the danger of sectarianism and rejection of the more measured, "royal" path of Metropolitan Anthony and Metropolitan Anastassy. This position was taken at the Third All-Diaspora Council of 1974 primarily by Archbishop Anthony of Geneva as expressed in his report "Our Church in the Modern World," read on the fourth day of the Council in Jordanville. We will concentrate on this report since it illustrates an overview of the gradual isolation of the Church Abroad in the Orthodox world, important in understanding this phase of the existence of the Church Abroad in 1974.

Early in his report, Archbishop Anthony describes the attitude of Metropolitan Anthony (Khrapovitsky) to the new-style Orthodox Churches: "The head of our Church, Met. Anthony… as a true pastor of the Church of Christ, and not like the scribes or Pharisees of our times, showed our Church the middle, royal path, arming himself on this road with the sword of truth and the fire of love and mercy… He does not break prayerful communion with the Churches that adopted the new calendar, he does not anathematize anyone… He accepts the offer of the Rumanian Church and travels to Rumania after that Church switched to the new style." (12) Further, the lecturer addresses the First-Hierarchal service of Metropolitan Anastassy: "under Metropolitan Anastassy, we prayed, until very recently, for the holy Orthodox patriarchs, though they were ecumenists and new-calendarists. Under him, a great and sad event occurred in the Orthodox world: all the Local Churches finally entered the World Council of Churches. Yet Metropolitan Anastassy was unperturbed. Our Church was alone in the free world in rejecting the ecumenical movement. What does this mean? It means that without extraneous verbiage or anathemas, the Free Russian Church condemned ecumenism firmly and decisively as an un-Orthodox movement! She chooses her own path within Orthodoxy… Metropolitan Anastassy does not fear solitude upon this path. Yet the courageous elder does not break prayerful communion with anyone, does not declare anyone a heretic, does not threaten fire and brimstone… For it is not difficult to call ones brother a heretic, but in the eyes of God, he who accuses his neighbor of heresy takes upon his soul the responsibility of being the herald of the judgment of the Church.” (13) Then, Archbishop Anthony talks about the attitude of Metropolitan Anastassy and St John of Shanghai towards the new calendar: “Metropolitan Anastassy at first allowed the new style in our Church for the sake of the newly-converted from other faiths. And the late Archbishop John, revered by many as a righteous man and an ascetic of our times, accepts a group of Orthodox Dutchmen, who, using the new calendar, existed in our Church for 22 years—more than a brief period of time. At the same time, new-style Rumanians appeared in our Church…” (14) The speaker then continued: “Metropolitan Anastassy, rejecting the ecumenical movement, eagerly sends his observers to their conferences to witness the truth. Without a second thought, he sends observers from our Church to the Vatican Council. He participates in a worthy manner in the lives of the Catholics and Protestants, without fear, but also never mixing deceit with the truth, not putting himself on the same plane as the heterodox. He tried to plant a seed of truth into this movement. And though in his time, ecumenism grew widely within the Orthodox world, the Metropolitan took no definite measures against it.” (15) We must omit the subsequent important passages in the lecture of Vladyka Anthony on the frequent concelebrations with the Paris Exarchate, permitted by St John of Shanghai and by Archbishop Anthony himself, (16) and we move onto the conclusion of the speech: “For the unity of the Church is her nature and foundation. By the example of our First Hierarchs we must carefully preserve those fine threads which bind us with the Orthodox world. Under no circumstances must we isolate ourselves, seeing around us, often imagined, heretics and schismatics. Through gradual self-isolation we will fall into the extremism which our metropolitans wisely avoided, we will reject that middle, royal path which until now our Church has traveled… By isolating ourselves, we will embark upon the path of sectarianism, fearing everyone and everything, we will become possessed with paranoia… But to take such a course, we will have to reject our Church's past and condemn it.” (17) It is characteristic that upon discussing Archbishop Anthony's report, Protopresbyter George Grabbe notes: “…the report does not mention to the degree necessary, maybe, that life goes on and the sickness of ecumenism deepens and widens more and more. Condescension, oikonomia , must under different circumstances be applied differently, and to different degrees. In doses too great it can betray the Truth.” Right after Fr George's remark, “Archbishop Anthony of Los Angeles recalled that we have many Greek parishes [the Greek old-calendarists— N.V .]. Our concelebration with the new-calendarists was very bitter for them.” (18)

From various discussions during the Council of Bishops of 1974 we see that other some of the sharp phrases of the “sorrowful epistles” of Metropolitan Philaret, especially the Epistle of the Council of Bishops of 1971, which called the ecumenical movement a “heresy” did not evoke sympathy from all the bishops. Upon discussion of the draft document “On the Dogma of the Church,” on the first day of meetings of the Council of Bishops, the bishops of the European dioceses (19) urged softening the wording against the ecumenical movement, since the Catholic and Protestant world provides material help for the parishes in Germany and Austria, which could not support themselves. (20) Bishop Laurus of Manhattan (now First Hierarch of ROCOR), also spoke out for mitigating its tone, expressing concern over our monks on Mt Athos: “Bishop Laurus also seeks softening of the phrasing,” the protocol reads, “so as not to complicate the situation of the St Elias Skete on Athos. Bishop Laurus was assailed in the Protat [the governing body of Mt Athos— transl .]. The old-calendar Greeks want us to speak out, but then they will say that we have strayed in some area. It is better to soften the contents of the text.” (21) We note that the pressure of the old-style Greeks upon ROCOR mentioned by Vladyka Laurus and earlier by Archbishop Anthony of Los Angeles during this period was a significant factor in the development of the ecclesiastical self-recognition of the Church Abroad in those years. Unfortunately, we cannot delve into this area here.

As a brief detour from the matter at hand, we should remark that the widely-known History of the Russian Church of the 20 th Century, by Protopriest Vladislav Tsypin, contains an error in regard to the ROCOR Council of 1974: at the end of his account of this Council, the author notes without a reference that “the Council declared” the Moscow Patriarchate “is without grace.” (22) We examined all the resolutions of the Council of Bishops and of the All-Diaspora Council of 1974 and found no such statement. Moreover, we do not know of a single official document of the Council of ROCOR throughout the course of her history that contains a declaration on the “gracelessness” of the Moscow Patriarchate. Indeed, individual hierarchs, including Metropolitan Philaret, expressed such a notion, but the conciliar voice of the Russian Church Abroad did not adhere to the opinions of such bishops.

III . Conclusion

The Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia, having from the first days of her existence undergone a forced “exodus” from a Russia enslaved by the godless authorities, had by 1974 separated herself from the rest of the Orthodox world, creating “outside the camp” [Lev. 4:12] its legacy for Russian Orthodoxy. As were other “exoduses” in the history of the Church, the "exodus" of the Russian Church Abroad was a temporary phenomenon, not without its dangers. In connection with this, it is worth recalling the words of Fr George Florovsky: "The Church, establishing herself in the world, is always open to the temptation of excessive adaptation to it… But the Church, removing itself from the world, sensing its utter 'otherworldliness,' is threatened by the opposite danger—of excessive isolation." (23)

We have seen that the danger of excessive isolation was recognized by individual bishops at the Council of 1974. In the decades that followed, the Russian Church Abroad gradually continued to make sense of the legacy of this turning inward, so to speak, making corrections to it through living ecclesiastical experience. In our day, on the eve of the Fourth All-Diaspora Council, one observes both the positive and negative fruits of self-preservation of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia. On one hand, it was not an accident that the Church Abroad endured a schism under Metropolitan Vitaly before embarking on the path of communion with the rest of the Russian Church: the move from isolation to communion did not prove painless. On the other hand, it is thanks to the intentional preservation of Russian Orthodox church life, that is, thanks to its struggle for self-preservation that the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia today senses itself to be a specifically Russian Church, and directs herself towards Russia, towards her roots. Thanks to this forced self-preservation we can all speak a common tongue today, and participate in the common work of the Church. In light of all this I wish to say in conclusion: glory be to God, Who did not abandon His Church.

1. Dates are given according to the new style.

2. " Rezoljutzija po dokladu svjashchennika Vladimira Shishkova o tserkovnom byte " ["Resolution on the Report of Priest Vladimir Shishkoff on Church Life,"] All-Diaspora Council of 1974, Synodal Archives of ROCOR, NY (USA). Since the Synodal Archives are not catalogued, the author refers to the names of the folders of cited documents.

3. " Rezoljutzija po dokladu komissii o polozhenii prikhodov i eparkhij " ["Resolution on the Report of the Committees on Parishes and Dioceses," ibid.

4. " Rezoljutzija po dokladam o tserkovnykh shkolakh " ["Resolution on the Reports on Church Schools"], ibid.

5. " Rezoljutzija Missionersko-izdatel'skoj Komissii " ["Resolution of the Missionary-Publishing Committee"] , ibid.

6. Ibid.

7. On the participation of ROCOR in the ecumenical movement under Metropolitans Anthony and Anastassy, see A.V. Psarev, "The Attitude of the ROCA toward Non-Orthodox Christians and the Ecumenical Movement (1920-1964): an Historical Evaluation,” (Master's thesis), St. Vladimir's Orthodox Theological Seminary, Crestwood 2004.

8. Third All-Diaspora Council, 1974, Protocol No. 1, August 26/September 8, Synodal Archives, p.2.

9. A detailed, fascinating analysis of the ecclesiology of Protopresbyter George Grabbe can be read in Psarev's thesis.

10. Protopriest Alexander Schmemman, Vvedenije v liturgicheskoje bogoslovije ["Introduction to Liturgical Theology"], Paris, 1961, p. 87.

11. Protopriest George Florovsky, Imperija i pustynja/Dogmat i istorija [" Empire and Desert: Antinomes of Christian History "], Moscow 1998, pp 256-291.

12. Report of Archbishop Anthony of Geneva " Nasha Tserkov' v sovremennom mire " ["Our Church in the Modern World'], addendum to the protocols of the Third All-Diaspora Council, Synodal Archives, pp. 5-7.

13. Ibid , p . 8.

14. Ibid . p . 9.

15. Ibid ., p . 10.

16. Ibid ., p . 11.

17. Ibid ., p . 13.

18. Protocol No 4 of the Third All-Diaspora Council, Aug. 29/Sept. 11, 1974, Synodal Archives, p. 4.

19. Archbishop Filofej of Berlin and Germany, Bishop Paul of Stuttgart and Southern Germany, Archbishop Anthony of Geneva and Western Europe.

20. Protocol No. 1 of the Council of Bishops 1974, Sept. 10/23, Synod Archives, pp. 5-8.

21. Ibid., p. 8.

22. Protopriest Vladislav Tsypin, Istorija Russkoj Tserkvi 1917-1997 gg . [History of the Russian Church 1917-1997], Moscow, 1997, p. 610.

23. Protopriest George Florovsky.