Epistle of Bishop Alexander
to the Pastors of the South American Diocese
October 9, 2004
Holy Apostle and Evangelist John the Theologian
Reverend Fathers, Dear Brothers in Christ:
I offer here two documents recently appearing on the internet: 1) excerpts from an interview given by our Bishop Gabriel of Manhattan of the ROCOR to the Russian Orthodox publicist Andrei Ryumin (dated September 27), and 2) excerpts from the report of Metropolitan Kirill of Smolensk and Kaliningrad delivered by him to the Council of Bishops of the Russian Church of the Moscow Patriarchate on October 3.
Since the opinions expressed by Bishop Gabriel are shared by many of our clergymen and laypersons of our South American Diocese, they deserve full attention. On the other hand, the words of Metropolitan Kirill answer a series of questions posed by Vladyka Gabriel and show that the discussions being held between the corresponding Committees working on the rapprochement of the two branches of the Russian Church are proceeding on the proper path.
In both of these documents, I stressed certain phrases and words. In places I made clarifications in small type. At the end, I offer my own thoughts on the issues raised here.
First are excerpts of Vladyka Gabriel's interview, then excerpts from Metropolitan Kirill's report.
1. Excerpts from Bishop Gabriel's Interview
Andrei Ryumin: Your Grace, the Orthodox Information Agency "Russkaya liniya" is closely following the long-awaited rapprochement of the two parts of the Russian Orthodox Church, divided at one time as a result of our innumerable sins. Realizing all the difficulties inherent in such a rapprochement, "Russkaya liniya" tries to shed light on them in its publications, to give our readers an idea of all its aspects, to acquaint the reader with all the shades of opinion of this process with the ROCOR. Allow us to humbly request that you clarify for our readers the present situation. Can you also express your own attitude towards the process of the pacification of the two parts of the Russian Orthodox Church? What are you dissatisfied with, what do you approve of? How do you evaluate the work of the Church Committees called upon to examine all the questions and problems which form obstacles between the both parts of the Russian Orthodox Church, and the general progress of the talks?
Bishop Gabriel: As we know, the conciliatory Committees of the ROCOR and the MP have already met a second time. It is worth emphasizing that the schismatic and non-ecclesiastical press intentionally distorts the truth, calling these "reunification" Committees, when it we are talking specifically about reconciling our viewpoints, which is reflected in the names of the Committees. Be that as it may, the questions discussed at the meetings concern us a great deal, those which are the most important for us are the attitude towards the "Declaration" of 1927 of Metropolitan Sergius and the problem of the participation of the Moscow Patriarchate in the World Council of Churches. These matters, we feel, must be decided before any beginning the discussion of possible prayerful communion. Here again I wish to emphasize that the hostile press, exploiting the ignorance of their readers, says that prayerful communion has already ostensibly been reestablished. This is not true. In the Orthodox, ecclesiastical understanding, prayerful communion does not mean "standing beside" one another, for example, in front of an icon, but mutual prayerful service before the Holy Altar, that is, standing in the Truth in unity of mind. Such witnessing in unity of mind can be embarked upon when mutual agreement all those questions which we understand differently is reached.
These questions are not simple, and as far as I understand, the "Moscow" side continues to defend their traditional attitude towards Metropolitan Sergius: in their eyes, he remains some kind of hero, who "saved the Church." They are not ready to condemn — no, not Metropolitan Sergius himself — but the deed connected with his name — the "Declaration" of 1927, which drew along with it fatal and sorrowful consequences for the Church. We feel that this "declaration" must be official admitted to be a mistake. That is, we state and demand one thing, and the other side defends another. In this area we seem to be "speaking different languages." And I don't know if the Committees will come to an agreement or not, if a compromise will be found or not, a degree of oikonomia [the doctrine of ecomony], acceptable to the ecclesiastical consciousness. So what remains is one of two things: for us to admit that things were not so hopelessly bad as we had once thought and wrote, or for the bishops of the Moscow Patriarchate to admit that the "Declaration" of Metropolitan Sergius was an act which was far from "salvific" for the Church, but the opposite — that it was ruinous, wrong.
Examining the materials of the first meeting, I can say that in the course of their work, nothing "terrible" occurred. Analysts and commentators are alarming the people of the church for no reason. At the same time, even if the members of the Committees agreed with us personally, there is still the official position of the ROC/MP, there is the Patriarch, the Synod's point of view, there are the many books and documents which have appeared recently. What the Patriarch said in his recent sermon during the memorial service to Metropolitan Sergius (Stragorodsky), during the very visit of our delegation, once again convinces me and many others that they cannot at this time "accommodate" the rejection of the "Declaration" of Metropolitan Sergius. The same thing can be said about ecumenism.
Question: That is, the ecclesiastical condemnation of the "Declaration of 1927" and withdrawal from membership in the WCC are two points which are in and of themselves unconditional demands on the part of ROCOR?
Bishop Gabriel: Yes, of course. And I hope that the members of our Committee will firmly insist on these positions of ours. Our Church has stood upon them for many years. We cannot, as I noted before, speak of prayerful communion with the Moscow Patriarchate until these questions are resolved.
Question: Can you point out some positive moves in the course of their talks? For example, at the last session of the Holy Synod of the ROC/MP, there was a decision made to cease all lawsuits over property with the ROCOR and not to initiate new lawsuits of this type. Can this can be called a show of good will on the part of the Moscow Patriarchate towards the Synod of Bishops Abroad?
Bishop Gabriel: Without a doubt, the negotiations are being conducted in the right direction, but it is one thing to talk about property issues, earthly matters, and another thing to talk about the most important things, the matters of principle, church matters. But thank God, good will has been shown in this area — that is good, and we welcome it. After all, we all remember how not too long ago our church property in Palestine was taken away, we remember the attempts made to take it away in Germany and in Canada. And it is understandable that such attempts only bolstered the fear which already existed in the majority of the flock in our diocese on the matter of possible rapprochement. Yes, one must admit that the majority of our diocese is now mistrustful of the Moscow Patriarchate, in any case, conditionally speaking, of the administration of the Moscow Patriarchate (we are not talking about the people of the church). The seizure of our property only increased suspicion, because many believe the rumors that the Patriarchate will allegedly take possession of our churches. People cannot forget that our churches were recently taken by force, and now we are being offered a hand in friendship.
Question: Indeed, the faulty policy of seizures of the mid-1990's bolstered the propaganda that is being aimed to persuade the flock of the Church Abroad that in the course of "unification" their "church property will be taken away." This propaganda is being disseminated by those uncanonical groups which at one time broke away from ROCOR. Can you say a few words about them?
Bishop Gabriel: I will speak only of those who are earnestly in error. It is a sad situation: they broke away from the Church Abroad, each persisting in their opinion… And the Mansonville schism has now itself broken into three groups, one of them in Canada, nominally headed by Vladyka Metropolitan Vitaly, another in France, where former Vladyka Varnava lives, and the third in Russia: Vladyka Lazar. They all — separately--declare their head to be Metropolitan Vitaly, yet among themselves, they broke apart, quarreled, had a falling out. [Rather, Metropolitan Vitaly hardly knows that he "heads" three "churches" in conflict with each other, all of which claim to be under his omophorion. Bp. A.] The present situation is the fruit of the schism they wrought. For me personally, and for many others, it is very sad that they left us, offering reasons which I feel are unfounded, reasons dictated by human pride, wrath, momentary agitation. If they truly cared for the fate of the entire Church Abroad, they absolutely had to stay, to fight for the truth as they understood it, to raise their voices. But it is impossible to fight for the Truth of the Church being outside of the Church. I think that they left the boundaries of the Church without any justification, they created a schism, an uncanonical hierarchy — and now they themselves have fragmented. And so we have it, now they cannot in fact help with their voices in ways beneficial to the Church, by taking a "stand," so to speak. What have they achieved, having wrought schism? Nothing.
Well, now, regarding Metropolitan Valentin of Suzdal, this is an ambition person who always strived to move up, to create something of his own, and when something was not to his liking, then in the early 1990's he left us, then came back, then left again… All this is not serious; just look at those whom he is ordaining. Recently he consecrated into the episcopacy a man he didn't know, an unstable person, and right away he rejected him… It caused a scandal which the enemies of the Church of Christ seized upon. This only confirms the ruinous nature of the schism he created.
All these "zealots" left the boundaries of the ROCOR for different reasons, but all desiring the same thing: to create something of their own. Schism is schism, and for me, personally, I repeat, it is sorrowful that they left the bosom of the Church. And now — what can be said of them? They are no longer in the Church today. And this is understood even by the most radical opponents of the negotiations with the ROC/MP. Everyone intuitively senses that church wounds are not healed by schism. Schism only doubles the hurting in the Church.
Question: As I understand it, Vladyka, today there is a difference of opinion in the Church Abroad on the speed of the process of rapprochement, and also that there are people who feel that at some level of this process it will already be possible to establish church communion, Eucharistic communion.
Bishop Gabriel: You are right: there are people who are prepared to commence with church communion right away, leaving aside the differences. I feel that they are mistaken. We must have full unity of mind in everything that concerns questions of Faith. That is why we, reading the Creed, we confess our faith in the One Church. But if we still have differences, how do we dare hear the words during liturgy: "with one mind we may confess?"
The following must be stressed: many people, one might say a majority of our flock, is watching the process of rapprochement with alarm and fear — and still, everyone, I am sure, wish that the Church become one. In this there is no conflict. Church unity is necessary on the proper foundations, and, first of all, by overcoming all problems and differences. These fears are based on the notion that unity will occur through compromise on our part in matters of principle. In my opinion, these are questions concerning participation in the World Council of Churches and the attitude towards the "Declaration" of 1927. How are we to approach One Chalice without overcoming these differences? If these problems are resolved, grant God — the Russian Church will once again be united, this is what we all want, and always did.
2. Excerpts from the Report of Metropolitan Kirill of Smolensk and Kaliningrad
To the Council of Bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church, October 3, 2004, on Questions of the Relationship with the Russian Church Abroad
A special theme to be considered by the present Council is the significant change occurring recently in our relationship with the Russian Church Abroad.
As is well known, since the time of the election of His Holiness Patriarch Alexy II of Moscow and All Russia, new possibilities arose for rapprochement with the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia, which were quickly taken advantage of by His Holiness and the Hierarchy of the Russian Orthodox Church. In part, in an open letter of His Holiness the Patriarch of October 17, 1991, which had great importance, it was stated: "The external chains of militant atheism, which bound us for many years, have fallen away. We are free, and this creates the foundation for dialog." The aim of this dialog was described as the reestablishment of canonical unity in witness and prayer with the preservation of the autonomy of the Church Abroad [all emphasis mine, Bp. A. Unfortunately, Vladyka Metropolitan Vitaly immediately rejected the offer of Patriarch Alexy II. And then the sorrowful conflicts began between the two parts of the Russian Church. As a result, we lost the lofty moral authority which we had among the faithful in Russia and unwittingly played into the hands of the enemies of Orthodoxy and Holy Russia. Bp. A.].
We shall try to briefly describe the differences which were viewed in the early 1990's as primary obstacles towards the reestablishment of relations between the Moscow Patriarchate and the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia. Mainly, these problems were caused by the prior political situation which unfolded in Russia and determined its attitude towards those countries where the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia performed its work.
In the 1920's and 30's, the Russian Church was in complete isolation, and contacts abroad were minimal. Metropolitan Elevferii (Bogoyavlenskii) wrote: "It seemed that between the Patriarchy and the Church abroad there lay such an unbridgeable gap that one could not imagine any personal contact. Those of us abroad had no choice but accept nothing more than occasional bits of news."
The government of the USSR pursued a policy aimed at the complete destruction of the Church inside the country and the weakening of those parts found in the emigration. Archival documents confirm that St Tikhon was often told to defrock and excommunicate bishops abroad from the Church.
In the post-war period, the possibility for dialog was complicated by the conditions of the "cold war," when the Moscow Patriarchate and the Church Abroad found themselves on opposite sides of the "iron curtain," which divided the two opposing systems of the world.
Leaving aside the political rhetoric of the past, one can say there were the following canonical problems, which, from the point of view of the Moscow Patriarchate, needed to be resolved in order to overcome our division:
On the part of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia, there were, as a rule, the following conditions for the reestablishment of contact with the Moscow Patriarchate:
1. The condemnation by the Russian Orthodox Church of the Declaration of Metropolitan Sergius of 1927, and also the political course represented in that document, including compromise with the atheist authorities.
2. The rejection of ecumenism by the Moscow Patriarchate, meaning that form of contact with non-Orthodox Christians or even representatives of non-Christian religions in which are found signs of apostasy from the purity of Orthodoxy. This requirement was first put forth in the last quarter of the 20th century, and in recent years has taken the primary position of importance in considering the matter of the overcoming of divisions.
3. The glorification by the Russian Orthodox Church of the New Martyrs and Confessors of Russia, especially of the Royal Family. This demand became heard after 1981, when the Host of New Martyrs was glorified by the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia.
Can these problems be viewed as real obstacles for the reestablishment of church unity today?
Let us begin with the last question. The fundamental transformation of our country, seen by the Orthodox people as a gift from God sent down in response to the prayers of the New Martyrs, resulted in the Russian Orthodox Church gaining complete freedom. Immediately, the collection and study of documentary and other evidence of the martyric labors of the faithful children of the Church during the period of atheist persecutions began. The Millennial Council of Bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church of 2000 added the New Martyrs and Confessors to the great host of saints, and also canonized the Tsar and the Royal Family. It is worth noting that among the glorified New Martyrs are many who did not share the ecclesio-political course of Metropolitan, and later Patriarch, Sergius.
The Acts of the Millennial Council on the Canonization of the Saints was viewed by the bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia 'with special hope and gratitude to the Lord our God,' as can be read in the Resolution of the Council of Bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia held later that year. The document also notes that one of the main reasons of the division between the Russian Church Abroad and the Moscow Patriarchate, by the mercy of God, has now been fundamentally eliminated.
Let us turn now to the matter of the "Declaration" of 1927. The hierarchy of the Russian Orthodox Church has more than once attested to the fact that the "Declaration" is viewed now as merely a historical document which has lost its validity. The Council of Bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church in 1990 stated: "We… do not at all feel bound… by the Declaration of 1927, which remains for us a marker of that tragic epoch in the history of our Fatherland. We do not at all idealize this document, recognizing also its coerced nature." In an interview given to the newspaper Izvestia in 1991, His Holiness Patriarch Alexy said:
"The Declaration of Metropolitan Sergius, of course, cannot be considered voluntary, for, while sustaining terrible pressure, he was to state things that were far from the truth in order to save people's lives. Today we can say that there are lies mixed into his Declaration… The Declaration does not place the Church into the correct relationship with the state, in fact the opposite, it destroys that distance which in a democratic society must exist between Church and state" [emphasis mine — Bp. A.]
Without limiting ourselves to these statements, our Church freely and without any coercion has described the norms of church-state relations, founded upon the word of God, the witness of many centuries of Church Tradition, including, in part, the experience of the New Martyrs garnered by the Church in the era of persecution at the hands of the totalitarian godless regime. Many spoke of the historical significance of the "Basic Social Concept of the Russian Orthodox Church" when this document was first adopted by the Millennial Council of Bishops in 2000. Later it became clear: the significance of the 'Basic Social Concept" is also in that this expression of the Church's teachings opened new opportunities for rapprochement with the Church Abroad. "The Church," states the document, "preserves loyalty to the state, but above that requirement of loyalty is the law of God… If the state forces Orthodox believers to apostasize from Christ and His Church, and also towards sinful acts detrimental to the soul, the Church must refuse obedience to the state," says the third chapter of the "Basic Social Concept."
The free voice of the Church, heard especially clearly in this Conciliar document, gives us the opportunity to see the 'Declaration' in a new light. While completely understanding that the path of relations with the state chosen in 1927 was based on the desire to preserve the possibility of legal existence of the Church, the Council of Bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church decreed that this course did not accord with the true norms of church-state relations. The epoch of the imprisonment of the Church has come to an end. In this way, the problem in our relations with the Church Abroad — which lasted for many years — was for all intents and purposes removed. This was essentially recognized by the Council of Bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia in 2000. During the recent talks, it became very clear that the chapter 'Church and State' in the 'Basic Social Concept of the Russian Orthodox Church' is seen by both sides as a faithful reflection of church teachings. Declarations by the church authorities on both sides made in the past under external conditions that were extremely inhospitable to the Church contradicting these norms cannot in any way be seen by us as actions having any validity for the Church.
Let us now examine the question of relations with the heterodox. First of all, it must be said that representatives of our Church who participate in dialog with Christians of other faiths were never guided by the intention of creating a syncretic religion and never viewed inter-Christian organizations as a sort of super-Church. They never accepted the so-called 'branch theory.' Our contacts in the inter-Christian area had as their primary goal to witness Orthodoxy. Also, it is worth noting that under conditions of brutal control on the part of the atheist state, these contacts presented a real opportunity to counteract the pressure of the state by providing the Church entry into the international arena.
Still, it must be admitted that participation in inter-church activity, with exhaustive control by the state, bore an elite character, remaining opaque to the Church for the majority of its members. One cannot, also, ignore the fact that some participants in ecumenical conferences, through their publications — likewise controlled — created a distorted image of the Russian Orthodox Church in its inter-Christian contacts. All this served as temptations which created on the side of the Church Abroad, but also within our Church, mistrust and suspicion towards inter-Christian contacts.
In this regard, special significance is given to the document "Basic Principles of the Russian Orthodox Church's Attitude to the Non-Orthodox," adopted by the Millennial Council of Bishops of 2000. In this document, founded upon the traditions of the Church, the norms of our participation in inter-Christian relations are outlined. It should be stressed that these norms were also formulated by the Church without encumbrance by government involvement. This document clearly confirms the unique quality of the Church and the "branch theory" is rejected. It states that the Orthodox Church, as the preserver of Tradition and the grace-filled gifts of the Ancient Church has as its "primary task, therefore, in her relations with non-Orthodox confessions… to bear continuous and persistent witness which will lead to the truth expressed in this Tradition becoming understandable and acceptable." I am convinced that what is stated in this Conciliar document fully coincides in essence with the attitude of the Church Abroad towards this problem, representatives of which at one time actively participated in inter-Christian contacts. The question of whether the Russian Orthodox Church allows any liturgical communion with the heterodox was not even paid particular attention in the "Basic Principles," since for us this was not a problem: our rejection of this is entirely apparent. [That is, the Church of the MP rejects in principle the possibility of liturgical communion with the non-Orthodox, in complete agreement with our ecclesiastical canons. Bp. A.]
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The belief was expressed on both sides that in the process of rapprochement it is necessary to act in such a way as to avoid prejudices and the inflicting of new injuries upon each other. There is no place for one-sided tactical victories on this path, there should not and cannot be winners and losers. It is especially important that we come to an agreement to move forward in consideration of the ecclesio-administrative realities which developed in the 20th century.
For practical purposes, it was decided to form committees which must prepare the corresponding texts.
An important event on the path to unity was the visit of the Head of the Church Abroad, Metropolitan Laurus, last May. This visit had great symbolism: for the first time, the Head of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia officially visited our country, and he met with His Holiness the Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia. Metropolitan Laurus was accompanied by a large group of clergymen. Our guests from abroad prayed at Patriarchal services and made pilgrimages to holy sites of Russia. The atmosphere of the visit was very warm and gregarious, and this was a great contribution by the archpastors, both those who participated in the meetings in Moscow and those who lovingly greeted our guests in their dioceses.
The visit had great practical meaning. A decision was reached on the beginning of joint work by the Committees on dialog established last December, and concrete topics were formulated which demanded joint study. The Committees were proposed to speak on:
Documents prepared by the Committees were to be presented for the consideration by the hierarchies of the Moscow Patriarchate and the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia.
The Committees have begun their joint work and have had two meetings already: in Moscow and in Munich. Joint documents have been agreed upon on a series of issues which were determined during the May visit of Metropolitan Laurus. More about this will be said by Archbishop Innokentii of Korsun, the President of the Moscow Patriarchate's Committee on Discussions with the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia in his report. Vladyka Innokentii will also present for the Council's consideration the documents prepared by the Committees. On my part, I would only like to comment on the atmosphere in which these talks were held. I was able to sense them myself, since I often met with the participants of the meetings and kept close contact with them. The talks are being held in a calm and amicable atmosphere. One senses the purity of motives of the participants, as well as the lack of any hint of other aims besides those set forth. Both sides are earnestly striving to reach mutual understanding, without abandoning their principles. The Holy Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church made a determination based on the conclusions of the first meeting in Moscow, in which bishops who perform their duties outside our canonical territory are to develop joint initiatives with their brother bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia in every way possible. It was decided going forward to reject the filing of lawsuits and to cease those that are in progress, and in instances when such conflicts cannot be resolved, to hand such matters over to the Committees. It is expected that a similar decision will be adopted by the Synod of Bishops Abroad.
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My Opinion with Regard to the Above Matters.
In his interview, Bishop Gabriel expressed a very valuable notion, that church problems are not decided through schism. Schisms always lead to further fragmentation of the breakaway groups and to their mutual destruction. Everyone has the right to defend his point of view — with the condition of preserving respect towards the opinion of his brother in Christ, without insulting or troubling him. Moreover since we are not now arguing over dogmas of the faith, but evaluate the actions of individuals, let us instead leave final judgment to God, who knows men's hearts.
The speech by Metropolitan Kirill to the recent Council of Bishops held in Moscow goes a significant way towards answering the questions put forth by Vladyka Gabriel in the above interview. Metropolitan Kirill's explanations on "Sergianism" and ecumenism generally correspond to that which we usually say on the subjects.
I wish to recall once more that the composition of the Church in Russia, which has recently been emancipated from the godless regime, is so complicated and self-contradictory, that one cannot expect to have complete unity of mind in every question. Yet, the discussions being held on matters of principle — both abroad and in the homeland — have their positive side, in that they help all people of good will to more clearly see the truth."For there must be also heresies among you, that they which are approved may be made manifest among you,"wrote Apostle Paul (I Cor. 11:19).
I believe that time and the grace of God will heal the Russian Church from other wounds inflicted upon her by the godless state. Let us all pray for this!
Taking into account that the one Russian Church was divided by external, forced reasons, and not by teaching of the faith, one would think that as soon as the godless state fell, both parts of the Russian Church could have agreed to mutually not exclude liturgical communion, especially in those cases when circumstances were hospitable (for instance, during pilgrimages or feast days). For our First Hierarchs abroad did not doubt the brace of the Church in our Homeland, and so accepted clergymen who came from there in their existing ranks, and those laypersons who were baptized over there were admitted to ecclesiastical Mysteries in churches abroad.
Under such conditions, one would think, the process of rapprochement between the parts of the Russian Church torn asunder would have commenced with a calmer and more thoughtful tempo. Then, soon after Perestroika, both parts of the Russian Church should have agreed not to sue each other, not to quarrel over property, but in a friendly atmosphere discuss existing problems. Folk wisdom says: "a bad peace is better than a good war." Approaching each other with good will, we would have avoided the mistakes and injuries wrought upon each other in wrath.
Regarding the administrative side of the rapprochement of our Churches, I feel that this question must not be forced, that it is better to retain the status quo. The matter of administrative unity of the Russian Church I would leave to Divine Providence. If we can amicably labor in the harvest-fields of Christ, together care for the salvation of human souls, then the question of administrative structure would be of secondary importance.
I call upon all of you, my dear brethren, to pray to God that He lead our Church along his most wise paths. The most important thing: I ask you not to grieve, not to quarrel, not to break away into groups of doubtful canonicity, but to remain in ecclesiastical unity!
May the Lord bless all of you, my dear ones.
With love in Christ,