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2004: Year of Orthodoxy?

A ROCOR Parish Priest talks to Parishioners.

Thousands of kilometres away, separated by seas and oceans, we offer up especially fervent prayers for our suffering brethren in this Holy Paschaltide. We warm them with our ardent love, that at this time they might feel our spiritual unity with them and in reply to our greeting 'Christ is Risen', they might answer us with their whole heart 'He is Risen Indeed'. To the cry of the souls of our brethren, suffocating beneath the violence and persecution of godless rulers, and to their question to us: 'Can you hear us, distant brethren?' may we reply, 'We can hear you, dear passion-bearing brethren, you who are dear and kin to us by blood and by faith! We can hear you and we suffer with you, for your sorrows and your sufferings are our sufferings'. No distance can separate us and destroy that unity which is bought at the high price of the death and resurrection of our Divine Teacher, Who commanded us to be one.

Very Reverend Savva, Archbishop of Australia and New Zealand, Easter Message, 1969.

Many have now had time to begin to digest the momentous events which took place between the Patriarchal Russian Church and the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia (ROCOR) at the end of 2003. Since the meeting between President Putin and ROCOR bishops last September, three ROCOR bishops visited the Patriarchate in Russia in November, in December a ROCOR Clergy Conference took place in Nyack in the USA with speakers from the Patriarchate, and a subsequent ROCOR Council of Bishops issued its resolutions.

Much has been written on these historic events, especially on the Internet, both officially and unofficially. Many opinions of all shades have been expressed. The following has been compiled from various question and answer sessions with several concerned individual parishioners over the last weeks and months. It also represents the conversations, thoughts and concerns of many other ROCOR members.

Q. How do you explain the speed with which dialogue between the Patriarchate and our Church has happened?

A. It's is rather like the speed with which the old Soviet Union collapsed. One moment you had an 'evil empire' which seemed invincible, the next you had a collapsed and enfeebled ex-Superpower. The whole process was inevitable, but had been bottled up for years. As long ago as 1974, following my first visit to the Soviet Union, I wrote a short article on this, called 'Premonition'. It is on our website. We all knew even then that the Soviet Union would fall, but nobody knew when.

Then in 1981, there followed our ROCOR canonisation of the New Martyrs and Confessors under the valiant and ever-memorable Metropolitan Philaret, whom many now consider to have been a saint. I am convinced that it was through the prayers of the New Martyrs and Confessors that Soviet atheism began to fall. Almost immediately after that glorification, one old leader died after another and perestroika began. I remember the hatred with which the secular 'Church' media condemned us for that canonisation. Personally, I had been praying to New Martyrs in my own prayers for years before that, writing in the names from Fr Michael Polsky's book about them.

As a matter of fact, I was critical that nobody had canonised them before. It was only later that I understood that we had waited so long for canonisation because, hesitant about details of Lives, we had wanted it to be done inside Russia. The New York canonisation came from a sense of impatience and frustration at the paralysis ('zastoi') inside Russia and it was carried out at the behest of those who were suffering inside the Soviet Union.

Ever since the fall of Communism, we had patiently been waiting for the repentance of those at the top of the Patriarchate. We had thought it would have happened by the mid-nineties, but traces of the old Soviet mentality were very slow to dissipate. Only since the Moscow Council in 2000 have these changes slowly been taking place. We can now see the wisdom of patience of our bishops (See the article on our site: 'The Wisdom of Patience'). After the Moscow Council of 2000 (a real turning-point because it began canonising the New Martyrs and Confessors and condemned Sergianism) and the deaths of certain elderly Cold War figures in the Patriarchate, the Patriarchate decided to ask us for a meeting with us in 2003.

Q. You say they condemned Sergianism in 2000, but that was only words. Don't we need actions?

A. Yes, of course, you are quite right, but in fact we are now beginning to see a certain resistance on the part of the Patriarchate to actions of the Putin government. At the moment it is weak, and there is a long way to go. But just recently, for example, the Patriarch has stated that there is no way the Pope will ever come to Moscow because of Catholic aggression and proselytism - and this is despite the pressure of President Putin for a Papal visit. We are beginning to see a Church independent of the State, but it will take time.

Q. What about Ecumenism? The Patriarchate has not condemned that.

A. If you read the official statement of the Patriarchate (it's on their website), they have stated clearly that they take part in that movement only to witness to Orthodoxy. Their participation in the World Council of Churches is now low-level, more on a diplomatic level. They have been very critical of Ecumenism and have broken off all dialogue with the homosexual Episcopalians - that would not have been done a few years ago. Of course, we would like to see the Patriarchate leave the WCC completely, but Ecumenism today is largely dead. It died with the Cold War and the end of funding by the KGB and the CIA.

We have to stop thinking in terms of the ecumenical heresy of the 1960s and 1970s, when intercommunion took place. Metropolitan Nikodim of Leningrad, the Catholic Cardinal, as has been clearly confirmed in the Catholic press, is dead. The Cold War is over and the excesses of the past now rejected. True, there are still a few elderly disciples of Metropolitan Nikodim alive, like his former cell-attendant, Bishop Lev of Novgorod, who recently forced his clergy to give communion to some Catholics. Just as the Patriarchate suspended the priest Zenon, who concelebrated with Catholics a few years ago, we hope that they will solve the problem with Bishop Lev as well. His actions scandalised both the faithful of the Patriarchate as well as ourselves.

You see, ROCOR is in a very strong position on Ecumenism, because we reflect the views of 99.9 % of ordinary Russian Orthodox on this issue. Their ecumenist activists having lost the support of the disappeared Communist State, now have to listen both to ROCOR and to their own people. They have all but lost their battle and the victory is due to our firmness and faithfulness.

Q. What about their canonisation of the New Martyrs? Surely it is not complete and they have not canonised anti-Sergianist New Martyrs?

A. That is incorrect, they have canonised martyrs who condemned Sergianism, as well of course as the Royal Martyrs. There have been misunderstandings here on both sides. We have wrongly been accused of errors in our canonisations, for which information was taken largely from Fr Michael Polsky's book. True, the Patriarchate has more information than us for its canonisations for which it is still collecting information which is still inaccessible to us. True, the final list of names of the New Martyrs and Confessors will be far longer on both sides. In that sense, both canonisations are incomplete, as Soviet archives are opened to us.
Q. They say that the Patriarchate has accused us of canonising a Protestant and a Catholic among the New Martyrs. Is that true?

A. Not exactly. I remember having a long discussion about this with the ever-memorable Archbishop Antony of Los Angeles, a very conservative figure in our hierarchy, over ten years ago. He had been present at the Synod meetings when this had been discussed. Of the servants of the Russian Imperial family, one was Lutheran and one Catholic. Since they had remained faithful to the Royal Martyrs unto death, our bishops decided, like the Early Church used to, that they had been baptised Orthodox in their blood. You see we follow Tradition in this matter, neither the conservatism or the liberalism of which one Moscow priest has accused us.

Q. I have heard that the Patriarchate wants to canonise Patriarchate Sergius as a New Confessor. That is blasphemous for us.

A. Indeed it would be blasphemous. But this sounds like just another Internet rumour. It is unthinkable, and the idea has been denounced by several Patriarchal representatives.

Of course, as regards that individual, we must also judge the sin not the sinner. As one of our bishops said, perhaps out of human weakness, we would have done the same as Metropolitan Sergius. The vital difference between us and them is not that we do not have human weakness, but that we had freedom and the freedom not to sin as he did and so speak the truth. And that is what we did.

Q. As regards the present Church-State situation, can we trust President Putin? Is he Orthodox?

A. I simply don't know. His statements on religion are contradictory, like the statements of all heads of state. Look at Bush (supposedly a Protestant) and Blair (supposedly a Catholic, though officially an Anglican). At least Putin is not a hypocrite like them. All I know is that Putin is a head of state who has time for the Church. All we know is that Putin not only does not persecute the Church, but actually encourages the Church, despite the resistance of diehard atheists in Moscow.

Q. But even so, doesn't President Putin head a corrupt Mafia State and a kind of gangster Church?

A. Certainly, the Mafia is very powerful in Russia. This was inevitable after Communism, since Communism itself was merely a Mafia. But what proof do you have of what you say regarding President Putin and the Church? This sounds like the propaganda of his political enemies and the Church cannot be a supporter of political parties.

On the other hand, it is true we have doubts about the integrity of certain elderly individuals inside the Patriarchate, who were trained under Communism. The solution is for the Patriarchate to show the same transparency as on our side. They must implement the decisions of the 1917-18 All-Russian Moscow Council, as we did. There should be some public audit of Patriarchal accounts and those of every single parish, as in our Church. This is something which the Commissions appointed by both parts of the Russian Church must look at.

Q. Why is that 1917-18 Moscow Council so important?

A. One of the myths put about by some is that this whole process of unity is about ROCOR returning to the 'Mother Church'. That is nonsense. We have kept faith with the Mother Church; we are part of it and we cannot return to something that we have never left. But over recent years the Patriarchate has been returning to the Mother Church. The point is that until the situation of the Russian Church changes back to that of the 1917-18 Council, there can be no unity. The whole Mother-Church is represented by the 1917-18 All-Russian Moscow Council. Our Church is by nature a Conciliar (Sobornaya) Church.

For us I think we should study very carefully the writings of genius of Metropolitan Antony Khrapovitsky, our first Metropolitan, the foremost Russian Orthodox theologian of the twentieth century. You should read in the seventeen volumes of his Life and writings how he combatted the very difficult situation in the Russian Church before the Revolution. Things were far from perfect in Russia before the Revolution, there was a lot of corruption and erastianism. And erastianism, as you know, is simply the general word for Sergianism. After all, that's why the Revolution happened, because things were not right before the Revolution. Read how Metr Antony fought to restore the Patriarchate, how he concelebrated with the new calendar Patriarch Myron of Romania. Much of the fanatical nonsense on the fringes of our Church in recent years, little judgemental sects breaking away from our Church, would never have occurred if everyone had read him and followed him.

Q. Two of the Patriarchal representatives have spoken of the ignorance of some of our younger clergy. Isn't that insulting?

A. Firstly, you have to remember that those representatives only met some 50% of our clergy who were at the Conference in Nyack. Many highly-educated clergy were absent, they were not invited. I am not quite sure why, perhaps they lacked space. The Patriarchal representatives seem not to have known this.

Nevertheless, there is a problem in our Church. This is because there are many younger clergy who do not read Russian, even though they speak it. You have to remember that Russian is not the language which most of our clergy studied in. They went to school and university outside Russia. One of our younger priests said this to me on this topic: Suppose the Clergy Conference in Nyack had been held in English - the Patriarchate would then have been embarrassed to provide representatives to speak to us. We are the Russian Church Outside Russia, not inside Russia. This is a difference between us and them.

On the other hand, the fact is that few of our clergy have doctorates in Theology or Church History - but that is only because the Russian Orthodox Theological Academies were closed to us. I would love to have studied there in the 1970s, but that was the Cold War. Perhaps in the future they will open them to us. The same was true for Archbishop Mark when he was a layman in the 1960s, but was rejected by the Patriarchate because he came from the West. Like our Bishop Peter, he had to study for his doctorate in Belgrade instead.

I think Patriarchal clergy also suffer from ignorance on their side. Virtually all our clergy speak two, three or four languages. Many of our clergy are highly-skilled, they are teachers, engineers, computer programmers, surgeons, clinical psychologists etc. Many of the Patriarchal people who come here are amazed at how well-educated our clergy are. Again, many Patriarchal clergy have never even heard of ROCOR. Now that is ignorance.

Q. Some Patriarchal representatives have accused us of using Cold War language about them, terms like 'the Soviet Church'. What do you think?

A. It is true that you cannot speak about a Soviet Church, when the Soviet Union fell over a decade ago, although there can be vestiges of the Soviet mentality. On the other hand, we know from experience that some of them use far worse language than we do. They used to call us 'schismatic' (!), 'imperialist lackeys', all sorts of nonsense! But we have always loved Russia and Russian people, spiritually we have always been part of them. Our argument was only with their leadership. That was why they broke off communion with us.

Q. But they say we broke off communion with them. They also accuse us of being out of communion with other Local Orthodox Churches.

A. That is simply not true. Not only did they break off communion with us, but from the 1960s on they put political pressure on other Local Orthodox Churches to break off communion with us in order to isolate us. However, both the Serbian Church and the Patriarchate of Jerusalem resisted and remained in communion with us. We will never forget that and always be grateful to them for their spiritual strength. They alone did not bow to Communist pressure. Other individual priests too from other jurisdictions, Constantinople for instance, like the Vityazi priests in France, continued and continue to concelebrate with us, despite official policies.

I well remember being told how the last Constantinople bishop, I think it was Metropolitan Meliton, concelebrated with us in 1966 at our Cathedral in Geneva and got into very hot water at the Phanar. That was because Moscow was then putting such pressure on Constantinople to isolate us, that the Greeks thoughts the Turks might even expel then from Istanbul if they did not obey the KGB. In the case of Fr., now Bp. Kallistos, he concelebrated at our convent in London right up till 1977 with the blessing of Metr Philaret, but was then forbidden by his own Archbishop, Athenagoras. It was none of our doing that they broke off communion with us.

Of course, some immature individuals on the fringes of our Church did display ignorance and were unfriendly to other Orthodox. They were mainly of the Greek Old Calendarist fraction, whom we had taken out of Christian charity, bravely or foolishly, depending on your viewpoint, under our canonical protection. For the most part they then left us. They were poorly integrated into the Russian Church and did not even thank us for our sacrifices for them. True, they did damage our relations with other Local Orthodox Churches.

Now that talks are under way with Moscow, I suspect that the political pressure will be taken off and the other Local Orthodox Churches will start swimming with the tide, inviting us to concelebrate. As a matter of fact, it is already happening. I have myself recently been invited to speak to the Church of Constantinople - they refused to have anything to do with us before, as though we were lepers. It was very unChristian. We are the Confessors in this matter, we stood up for the truth, when others gave way. The credit is due to us and history will not forget this.

Q. But what about modernism? Many of us are shocked by the modernism, renovationism ('obnovlenchestvo') in some Moscow parishes and other parishes of Local Orthodox Churches. And then there is freemasonry, especially in the Paris Jurisdiction, as you well know.

A. Yes, that is still a problem, especially in England, Holland, Finland, France and the USA. Outside Russia, modernist practices are all too frequent in some Patriarchal or ex-Patriarchal parishes. It scandalises us. The problem is that a lot of the people in those parishes seem to be living in a time-warp of 60s and 70s modernism. But things are changing. Just recently for example one of the senior representative of the OCA celebrated at Platina for the anniversary of the ever-memorable Fr Seraphim (Rose). Yet during Fr Seraphim's lifetime, they mocked and derided him. A lot of these modernist parishes now have icons of the New Martyrs - and yet at the time that derided them.

We should never underestimate the power of repentance on the part of those who were wrong in the past. And in the same way we should be able to forgive those who deride us and attacked us so viciously. As regards the freemason 'Orthodox', they are now adopting a very low profile. If the grassroots Orthodoxy of the Russian Church in Russia comes to dominate, the masons and modernists will run and the triangular masonic window in the Russian Cathedral on Rue Daru in Paris can at last be blocked up. The modernism of these people outside Russia would be totally unacceptable inside Russia. Do not doubt the power of God. The Truth will always out. As Julian the Apostate said over 1600 years ago: 'Thou hast vanquished, O Galilean'.

Q. If the Commissions on Unity, appointed by both parts of the Russian Church, do resolve our remaining differences, will ROCOR still keep its autonomy?

A. Yes, I think that is essential at the present time. Although we are all part of the same Russian Church, we live in very different conditions, even having different nationalities. We can see this difference of mentalities in their clergy. One bishop from our Church has told me that he has a letter every week from a Patriarchal cleric asking to come over to our Church. The problem is that they think of the priesthood as a job and expect to be paid! In reality, of course, not only are most of our clergy not paid, but it is often our priests who help pay for the upkeep of their parishes. Recently one Patriarchal priest contacted me from Archangelsk. He has 15,000 parishioners, but needs an extra set of vestments. I told him that he would have to do what I do when I need vestments - go out to work and earn the money myself. He was shocked. This is why we need autonomy, because our priests have to work twice as hard, because mentalities are so different.

You can also see this when Patriarchal people contact our church and ask for a baptism or wedding. The first thing they ask is: 'How much?' Of course, they are amazed because we do not have tariffs and price-lists for the sacraments, as the Patriarchal priests do, and, let it be said, as the Russian Church had before the Revolution.

Another example of this difference is in the Moscow clergy who wish to come over to us (Moscow is worried by this). We have accepted some Moscow clergy, but have encountered enormous problems with some of them. For example, alcoholism and second marriages are problems. They simply don't seem to know the canonical norms of clerical behaviour and are then surprised when they are suspended by our bishops for what they see as minor infringements of Canon Law.

Q. Supposing both parts of the Russian Church do unite, what is the time-scale for unity?

A. That's impossible to say. It depends on so many things. Most people seem to think that there must first be another All-Russian Council, like that of 1917-18. One of our bishops mentioned 5-10 years to me. Some of our clergy are thinking of a generation, others after the election of a new Patriarch, others just a few months. The fact is that nobody knows.

The main thing is that whatever our personal opinion is of this process, we must keep our unity, obeying our bishops. The Church is a ship, not several little boats. We should be grateful that our bishops are now leading our Church, showing rare vision, courage and leadership. They will still need to do a lot of explaining, especially to less educated people. There are those in our Church who are still living in the past. Stalin and Khrushchov are dead, but they do not yet realise that. The Patriarchate has changed - they do not always know that. They often think the situation is the same as when they left Russia fifty years ago. That's the problem of being an emigrant. That's why the two Commissions have been appointed by the two parts of the Church to look at the question of our remaining differences and investigate the facts. Once we have facts, then we can have opinions. Prejudices, ill-will and stereotypes from the past must first be broken down on both sides.

Q. So how do you see the future?

A. With cautious optimism. But the essential thing is that we must follow our bishops in unity. We all need more explanations. Many clergy and people still don't realise how much has changed in Russia.

It must also be said that the Patriarchate has its own difficulties. Many of its senior bishops are elderly and ill, including the Patriarch. There will be many changes there in the coming years. Those who had to associate themselves with the KGB in Soviet times are dying out. The Patriarchate is also having internal difficulties as it comes over to the points of view of ROCOR. There is great ignorance for it there, since for years we were called names and slandered both individually and collectively. Now the Patriarchate is saying something else about us.

Repentance is never easy, because it means renouncing previous viewpoints and actions, such as those in the Holy Land in the nineties. Recently, for example, non-ROCOR Russian bishops from America have been called to Moscow to prepare them for the new approach. New, non-political bishops may well be appointed for the Patriarchal parishes in the West, including for London, bishops who love Russian piety and tradition. Repentance is the key word, as we have written in all our articles on this issue over nearly 30 years, many of which are on our website.

Q. If unity comes about in the next few years following genuine repentance, how will this affect inter-Orthodox relations?

A. If Moscow implements the decisions of the 1917-18 All-Russian Council, as we do, other Orthodox Churches which lapsed into compromises after the Revolution, in the Balkans and the Middle East, for example on the calendar issue, could return to Orthodox Tradition. Here there is new hope. We can hope that all the Local Orthodox Churches will come back to the best of pre-Revolutionary Orthodoxy.

Only the Russian Church is strong enough to take the lead in World Orthodoxy, helped by others in a Pan-Orthodox movement. We must not forget that the post-1917 Orthodox world has been a profoundly decadent one, as we can see in the actions since the 1920s of the Patriarchate of Constantinople, with at least two freemason Patriarchs and unheard of compromises in all fields. The 20th century was a profoundly abnormal one, and this can very clearly be seen in the Diaspora. This is a time of hope for the Diaspora.

Q. Wasn't all of this prophesied?

A. Yes, several Russian saints prophesied a recovery before the end, including St Seraphim of Sarov. We should remember that 2003 was the centenary of his canonisation and 2004 is the 250th anniversary of his birth. It is not a coincidence that all this is happening now. There are no coincidences in Church life. Yes, there will be a return to faith before the end, but we don't know how extensive it will be and we should not be over-confident. All prophecies are dependent on our repentance. They only come true, if people repent and that means all people, including ourselves.

Q. I am surprised that you speak in these terms. You speak like a Russian. What difference will any of this make to you, a Non-Russian?

A. The difference will be in the emphasis on missionary work. By that I don't mainly mean preaching to the Non-Orthodox world, although that is part of it. As you know, we are a parish almost without 'converts' in that sense, but what we do is bring lapsed Orthodox back to the faith. Today we have a multinational parish. Although we are under the Russian Church, we use more Romanian in our services than Slavonic. Serious missionary work is however hampered by lack of funds. Our mission is in particular an internal mission, as the ever-memorable Archbishop Averky used to call it. For instance I have just come back from talking and preaching at a Russian Youth Conference in Australia and there I was engaged in fact in internal missionary work. If Russian Church unity is restored, it must help us in the missionary field.

Q. So in conclusion, you are for unity with the Patriarchate?

A. I did not say that; rather I am for their unity with us. I am for Orthodoxy, I am for obedience to our bishops, I am for the decisions of All-Russian Councils, I am for the repentance of all, I am for Mercy and Truth and Righteousness and Peace (Psalm 84, 11). I am for doing God's Will.

Fr Andrew

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