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Prof. I.M. Andreev

The Second All-Diaspora Council [Sobor] of the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad

On 2/15 January, 1935, a year and a half before his death, the President of the Synod of Bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad, Blessed Metropolitan Anthony, reported to theSynod on the desirability of convening a Second All-Diaspora Council with the participation ofclergy and laity. In his report, Metropolitan Anthony wrote: "The conditions in which our Church Abroad finds itself, having no support from any state and growing thanks to a great degree to the work of pious parishioners, necessitates the invitation of representatives of the flock for their closest participation not only in parish matters, but in social matters in general. Such participation by the laity in Councils [Sobors] in Moscow, Stavropol and later in Sremskije Karlovtsy in 1921 was in many ways beneficial. For us hierarchs it is very important to learn from the flock of their spiritual and other needs, and on the other hand, measures that are worked out with the participation of the clergy and laity can be established upon more multifaceted and detailed consideration. Of course, while speaking of such participation by the clergy and laity in Conciliar work, in no way do we have in mind the manifestation of some sort of ecclesio-democratic program. Hierarchal supervision and privilege--or rather, the obligation of bishops to declare the final word--must remain firm in continuity with the Holy Canons and the practice of the recent Russian Councils. Incidentally, it must be noted with satisfaction that thus far, at our Councils, it was the laity that especially zealously guarded the preservation of the fullness of the canonical rights of the hierarchy. In the diaspora there has only been one Council with the participation of clergy and laity. The plan to convene a second such Council remained unfulfilled for various reasons, one of which one may consider the developing church troubles. The easing of divisions within the Church of recent times gives reason to say that this last reason, if it has not disappeared entirely, then in any case it cannot be considered sufficient to justify the further delay of a Council, which, if it will not be able to lead us to unity, it will still be important for the Russian Church Abroad, united around the Council of Bishops and the Synod.

It musn't be forgotten that the First Church Council in the Diaspora in Sremskije Karlovtsy in 1921, though subject to certain reproach, was still able to help strengthen the organization of the Church Abroad. Still, one cannot but see the beneficial significance of the diocesan meetings in some of our dioceses, as, for example, in Harbin [in China--transl.]. All this gives us reason to expect that the convening of an All-Diaspora Council now would help unite the Church Abroad, strengthen its organization and bring its material situation in order.

But no lesser a task for the Council, if not greater, will be to show the Orthodox Russian Diaspora the paths of spiritual rebirth and the education of the emigration, the examination and development of measures to fight sectarianism, anti-ecclesiastical currents abroad, and, finally, to the extent possible, bring the healing of wounds inflicted upon souls by troubles in the Church. Towards this goal I would joyfully welcome the participation in the Council of representatives of Russian Church organizations which are not now fully united with us, with the condition, of course, that they express a willingness to submit to decisions made by the Council with the participation as full members of their representatives. More than once have we invited hierarchs who have left us to reestablish unity; it would seem that a new invitation of them and to representatives of their flocks could serve the goal of church unity."
In concluding his report, Metr. Anthony offered to create a Pre-Council Committee at the Synod of Bishops under the presidency of Archbishop Anastassy. This Pre-Council Committee was formed and it was recommended that the Council be convened in 1936. However, due to circumstances, the Council was delayed. In 1936, Metr. Anthony died, which also delayed the Council. It was finally convened in 1938.

In the "Decree" of this Council was the following decision, among others: "The Council of the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad, with the participation of the clergy and laity, must act on the basis of the Word of God, the Holy Canons and the laws of the Russian Orthodox Church, inasmuch as these laws are applicable to the conditions of contemporary life of the Church Abroad."
"The Second All-Diaspora Council of the Russian Orthodox Church is convened on the territory of the Serbian Orthodox Church under the aegis of His Beatitude the Patriarch of Serbia, who is the honorary President of the Council."
"Bishops, members of the Council, form a Conference of bishops who have the deciding vote in all decisions of the Council."
"The President of the Conference of bishops is the First Hierarch of the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad, the President of the Synod of Bishops."
"By the authority of the Word of God and of the Holy Canons, all decisions of the general sessions of the Council are subject to the confirmation of the Conference of Bishops and assume validity only upon the signature of the latter."

The following bishops took part in the Second All-Diaspora Council of the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad of 1938: 1) Metropolitan Anastassy, President of the Synod of Bishops, 2) Archbishop Seraphim, head of the Russian Orthodox Churches in Western Europe, 3) Archbishop Germogen, member of the Synod of Bishops, 4) Meletii, Archbishop of Harbin and Manchuria, 5) Archbishop Feofan, Secretary of the Synod of Bishos, 6) Archbishop Vitaly of Eastern America and New Jersey, 7) Archbishop Seraphim of Boguchar, head of the Russian Orthodox communities in Bulgaria, 8) Archbishop Nestor of Kamchatka and Petropavlovsk, 9) Archbishop Tikhon, President of the Scholarly Committee of the Synod of Bishops, 10) Bishop Seraphim of Germany, 11) Bishop John of Urmia, 12) Bishop Benjamin of West Virginia and Pittsburgh, 13) Bishop John of Shanghai. Besides 13 bishops, there were also 26 priests and 58 laymen (97 members in all).

The opening of the Council took place on Sunday, 1/14 August, preceded by momentous events: memorial services for Metr. Anthony and Patriarch Varnava. After the services, all the clergymen and members of the Council headed for the monument to Russian soldiers across the street from the Iveron Church. There a memorial litany was performed and the first prayer for the repose of the soul of Tsar-Martyr Nicholas II, Tsarina Alexandra, the Heir, Tsarevich Alexei Nikolaevich, Tsarinas Olga, Tatiana, Maria and Anastasia and all those who fell in the field of battle while laying down their lives in the struggle for Faith, the Tsar and the Fatherland.

At the foot of the monument to the struggles of the Russian people, in memories and prayers for the passion-bearers for God's Truth and for the much-suffering Russian nation, arose an ecclesio-national coalition of Russian people, the “Tikhonites-Karlovites.”

The Council lasted from 1/14 until 11/24 August, 1938. Many especially interesting and content-filled lectures were read (see Acts of the 2nd All-Diaspora Council of the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad, Belgrade, 1939). In conclusion, the Council issued two wonderful, moving Epistles: one titled “To the Russian People Suffering in the Fatherland,” the other “To the Russian Flock in the Diaspora.”

I.M. Andreev, “Brief Overview of the History of the Russian Church from the Revolution to Our Day,” Jordanville, 1952.