On the Upcoming All-Diaspora Council

On May 6-14 of this year, an important event in the life of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia will take place in the city of San Francisco—the IV All-Diaspora Council, with the participation of clergy and laity. A council of this sort is very rare in the life of our Church. Previous All-Diaspora Councils of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia were held in 1921, 1938 and 1974.

What is an All-Diaspora Council?

According to the Regulations of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia (confirmed by the Council of Bishops of 1956 and 1964): "12. In case of special need, the First Hierarch together with the Synod of Bishops may call an extraordinary Church Sobor [Council], composed of bishops, representatives of the clergy and laity. The resolutions of these Sobors have the force of law and go into effect only upon confirmation by the Sobor of Bishops under the presidency of the First Hierarch of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia which should meet at the same time or immediately after the end of the extraordinary Church Sobor."

So the All-Diaspora Council plays an important advisory role in the life of the Church, but its decisions take effect only upon approval and confirmation by the Council of Bishops. This aspect of the All-Diaspora Council was noted by Metropolitan Anthony (Khrapovitsky) of blessed memory in 1935, not long before his death: "It is self-evident that when we talk about the benefit of the participation of the clergy and laity in the work of the Council, in no way do we mean the manifestation of any kind of ecclesio-democratic program. The hierarchal supervision and authority, or rather, duty of the bishops to utter the deciding word must remain firm in accordance with the holy canons and practice of the last Russian Councils" (from his report to the Synod of Bishops on the advantage of convening a Council with the participation of the clergy and laity of January 2/15, 1935).

Archbishop Averky (Taushev) of blessed memory likewise wrote of the meaning of the All-Diaspora Council: "For the sake of strengthening and confirming the oneness of mind and oneness of spirit and for mutual fraternal and unanimous work for the sake of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia, such Councils are convened in which all the members of the Church participate. Although, again, only Bishops rule the Church, it is very important and beneficial for Bishops to know the moods and opinions of the clergy and laity on Church matters, so as to take them into consideration for the good of the Church and for better guidance and nourishment. The Holy Father of the Church, Cyprian of Carthage, known as the Great, stating that "the Bishop is in the Church, and the Church in the Bishop, and he who is not with the Bishop is not in the Church," also stressed that "the Church consists of the Bishop, the clergy and all those who stand in the faith," and wrote to his presbyters and deacons: "From the very beginning of my episcopacy I made it a rule to never do anything on my own without your advice and without the consent of the people" ( Pravoslavnaya Rus , No. 16, 1974, p. 4).

The I All-Diaspora Council, convened by Metropolitan Anthony in 1921 in Sremsky Karlovci, Yugoslavia, was held in the formative period of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia. It was devoted to the organization of church life for the multitude of Russian refugees who found themselves exiled to different countries by the bloody Bolshevik terror in the Homeland. An administrative structure had to be established for the Russian Church Abroad on a canonical basis, to open dioceses and parishes for the spiritual nourishment of Orthodox Russians throughout the countries of the diaspora.

The establishment of the Supreme Ecclesiastical Administration abroad was envisioned by Ukase No. 362 of His Holiness Patriarch Tikhon of November 7/20, 1920, which stated:

"In the event a diocese, in consequence of the movement of the war front, changes of state borders, etc., finds itself completely out of contact with the Higher Church Administration, or if the Higher Church Administration itself, headed by His Holiness the Patriarch, for any reason whatsoever ceases its activity, the diocesan bishop immediately enters into relations with the bishops of neighboring dioceses for the purpose of organizing a higher instance of ecclesiastical authority for several dioceses in similar conditions (in the form either of a temporary Higher Church government or a Metropolitan district, or anything else)."

The manifestation of this ukase of Patriarch Tikhon under conditions of exile occurred under the benevolent protection of the Serbian Orthodox Church, which gave succor to Russian refugees in their free Orthodox country.

The II All-Diaspora Council was also held in Sremsky Karlovci, in 1938, 17 years after the first. This Council, headed by the new First Hierarch, Metropolitan Anastassy (Gribanovsky) of blessed memory, continued the constructive work of strengthening the organization of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia and took on matters relating to the spiritual rebirth of the émigré flock and of youth, struggle against sectarianism and healing church wounds from the sorrowful schisms within the emigration.

At the II All-Diaspora Council, Metropolitan Anastassy reminded those in attendance that

"The Church is a Divine-human organism, in which we all—whoever we may be—are members of each other. Here no one can say to the arm: I don't need you, or the head, or the feet—I need you all. Bishops, clergymen and laypersons only in their coalescence form the manifestation of the Church. The Church is profoundly hierarchical in nature, but the order of internal relationships is different than in civil society, here the greatest seeks to be a servant to all. Here, obedience and mutual love reign, which does not puff itself up, does not seek its own, does not vaunt itself up, but accepts its duty" ("Acts of the II All-Diaspora Council," p. 28).

The II All-Diaspora Council, as did the First, sought to draw the attention of the Western world to the persecutions inflicted by the godless state in Soviet Russia against the Church and the faithful. When Metropolitan Sergius (Stragorodsky) issued his declaration of 1927, the Council of Bishops of the Church Abroad rejected this grievous document on the Church's loyalty to the Soviet authorities as utterly unacceptable and sinful, and ceased all contacts with Metropolitan Sergius and those who supported him, yet stating that:

"The part of the Russian Church abroad deems itself an indissoluble, spiritually-united branch of the Great Russian Church. She does not separate herself from the Mother Church and does not consider herself autocephalous. As before, she considers her Head the Patriarchal Locum Tenens , Metropolitan Peter, and commemorates his name at divine services" (from the report of Count George Grabbe, "Acts," p. 136).

The III All-Diaspora Council was the first convened on the North American continent, where the Synodal Administration of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia was transferred in 1950. This Council was held in 1974 at Holy Trinity Monastery in Jordanville, NY, under the First Hierarch at the time, Metropolitan Philaret (Voznesensky). This Council examined ecclesiastical matters in the increasingly difficult circumstances of the surrounding modern world, calling for unity among the parts of the Russian diaspora that found themselves in schism from the Church Abroad, removing the 17 th -century ecclesiastical censure of the Old Rite, noting the danger of ecumenism and modernism in church life, and drawing attention to the continuing suppression of the much-suffering Russian Church in the Homeland at the hands of the godless state.

Today, a challenge no less important faces the members of the IV All-Diaspora Council. The Synod of Bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia, in its decision on May 11/24, 2005, to convene this Council, calls upon the members of this upcoming Council to exhaustively examine the following questions:

a) the establishment of normal relations between the Churches in Russia and abroad;

b) the mission and service of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia in the contemporary world.

With the fall more than 15 years ago of the Communist government in Russia and the end of persecution of the Church, the situation in Russia with regard to ecclesiastical matters has radically changed. Conditions have ripened for reexamining our attitude to the formerly-enslaved Church and hierarchy in Russia and the establishment of official dialog between the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia and the Moscow Patriarchate. In 2003, the Council of Bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia decided to enter into dialog with the Moscow Patriarchate. There have already been six joint meetings of the corresponding church Commissions. At their meetings, these groups continue to discuss many questions which continue to divide the Russian Church.

In accordance with Paragraph 1 of our official laws, that is, the "Regulations of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia:

"The Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia is an indissoluble part of the Russian Orthodox Church, and for the time until the extermination in Russia of the atheist government, is self-governing on conciliar principles in accordance with the resolution of the Patriarch, the Most Holy Synod, and the Highest Church Council [Sobor] of the Russian Church dated 7/20 November, 1920, No. 362."

Therefore, in view of the disappearance in Russia of the atheist state, which persecuted the Church for 70 years, very important questions have arisen for the entire Church relating to our temporary self-governance and the search for future steps towards the normalization of relations between the Church in Russia and the Church abroad.

Delegates were chosen from every diocese of our Church from among the clergy and laity to participate in the All-Diaspora Council, along with the episcopate of our Church, to consider the aforementioned questions. The delegates will gather in San Francisco on the eve of the Sunday of the Myrrh-bearing Women for the solemn opening of the Council.  

The Synod of Bishops calls upon all the faithful children of the Church Abroad to fervently pray for Divine help to come down upon the delegates of the Council and for fruitful results of the IV All-Diaspora Council and Council of Bishops, which will immediately follow.

Before the III All-Diaspora Council began, Metropolitan Philaret of blessed memory called upon all to unite in love:

"Most importantly, the All-Diaspora Council must unite all of us, the children of the Church Abroad, in love… The Council must set before itself this task and fulfill it, to unite us all in love, for the Church Abroad to remain a fraternal, united, close-knit, loving spiritual family" (Keynote address of Metropolitan Philaret at the IV All-Diaspora Council).

Let us heed this holy call at this Council as well!

We, the delegates—episcopate, clergy and laity—as true sons of the Church of Christ, following the legacy of the Holy Fathers of the Ecumenical Church, with prayer and the podvig of love, patience and unity of mind, with the intercession of the Holy Spirit, must work towards the fulfillment of the task set before us, for the benefit and the strengthening of our Church, whose Head is Christ.

May the Lord bless the work of the IV All-Diaspora Council for the enhancement of church unity in truth and love!


Archbishop of Sydney and the Diocese of Australia and New Zealand

President of the Council Organizing Committee