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2006: The Beginning of Reconciliation?

If Russia perishes, then the whole world will perish, but if Russia rises again, then the whole world will rise again.

Orthodox Russia, No. 1, 1996.

1. Introduction

2006 is a vital year for Russian Orthodoxy worldwide. Just four months from now, in May, those who remain faithful to the pre-Soviet heritage of Russian Orthodoxy, the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia (ROCOR), hold our Fourth Council in San Francisco.

Numerically, ROCOR is small - some 300 parishes, against over 26,000 in the Patriarchal Church inside Russia. However, ROCOR is significant, and not only because it is scattered all over the world. Above all, the significance is in the main question on the agenda of the ROCOR Council - that of restoring eucharistic communion with the present Patriarchal Church inside Russia. (Confusingly, it should be noted that the Patriarchal Church also has some representatives outside Russia, and ROCOR also has some representatives inside Russia).

2. For and Against

There are those in ROCOR who believe that they should respond positively to the wish for eucharistic communion with the Patriarchal Church. They believe that the Patriarchal Church (which set up ROCOR 86 years ago, before the Patriarchal Church was broken by the militant atheist Communist regime) is now free of Communism. Communism, they freely admit, did force the Patriarchal Church into erastian compromises with the anti-Church State authorities (known as Sergianism), modernism (known as Renovationism) and syncretism (known as Ecumenism). Communism, they say, did shackle the Patriarchal Church for most of the twentieth century - until its Council of 2000. At that Council, they say, the Patriarchal Church at last officially renounced the errors of its past, described above, and began to canonize its New Martyrs of the Communist Yoke.

However, there are those in ROCOR who are against restoring communion with the Patriarchal Church. All their arguments are based on their single belief that the Patriarchal Church (and the Russian Federation) is still basically Communist. Names may have changed, but, they say, realities have not. Some of those who are against restoring communion have spoken in strong terms about the 'union', 'merger', or 'takeover' of ROCOR by the 'Soviet' Patriarchate. Many of them, natural political conservatives and patriotic citizens of countries which took a strongly anti-Soviet line during the Cold War, fear that somehow they would be forced to 'vote Soviet', as a result of restoring eucharistic communion.

In reality, as far as we know, such a 'takeover' has never been on anyone's agenda. Nevertheless, the concerns of those who are legitimately concerned about the possible implications of restoring eucharistic communion (particularly property rights) must be addressed, if restoration is to happen. It is clear that those legitimate concerns can only be dealt with, if ROCOR retains its full self-governing status, its Independence, granted to it in 1920 by the then Patriarch of Moscow, Tikhon.

3. Fragments of Russian Orthodoxy Outside ROCOR

Here is the significance of the May Council. The confirmation of self-governing status, Autonomy or Independence, is not only vital to ROCOR, but also to many others. For beyond ROCOR, there is a whole series of ecclesial entities, descended from the pre-Revolutionary Russian Church outside Russia, but broken away from ROCOR, which are still to be reconciled with the Patriarchal Church inside Russia.

This reconciliation is either literal (the restoration of communion), or else spiritual (the restoration of the Tradition of Russian Orthodoxy). In this latter case, reconciliation is not only about overcoming the mistrust which the leaders of the Patriarchal Church, so long loyal servants of atheistic Communism, have bred in the outside world. It is also about restoring the living Tradition. In this matter, it can be said that if the Patriarchal Church cannot gain the trust of ROCOR, then neither will it gain the trust of others. For there are other parts of Russian Orthodoxy outside Russia, which also broke away from ROCOR. Although most of these are in communion with the Patriarchal Church, they are mostly not actually spiritually reconciled with the Tradition of the Church inside Russia. Below we present these entities, in order of their distance from the Patriarchal Church and the Tradition of Russian Orthodoxy.

a. The Sourozh Diocese

Firstly, there is the tiny Sourozh Diocese in Great Britain. Although, ironically, at present under the Patriarchal Church itself, its origins are in the modernism and syncretism of the Paris Jurisdiction, (see d. below), with which it was linked until 1945. It has for decades been in a state of semi-rebellion against Moscow and most of its parishes have always refused to commemorate the Patriarch in Moscow. Now it seems as though civil war has broken out there between Orthodox believers and liberal intellectuals, who long ago took a stand against the Orthodox Tradition and Orthodox piety.

Indeed, countless Orthodox faithful, both Russian and English, have over the last forty years been persecuted and driven out of it by the liberals. One of the latest to be driven out was even a bishop, sent by Moscow itself, in order to restore canonical order - which he was unable to do. Now, a new threat to Orthodoxy has arisen there and yet another petition sent to Moscow. It is difficult to predict what will happen, given the present turmoil, and whether the Patriarchal Church will be able to restore the Orthodox Tradition, thus redeeming one of its own dioceses from modernism. Rumours have abounded over the last two years that the liberals who control Sourozh wish to leave Moscow and join the Paris Jurisdiction, where they would be allowed by Constantinople to continue their canonical errings (1).

b. The OCA

Another much more important case is that of the several hundred parishes of the Orthodox Church in America (OCA). Made up mainly of the (often Uniat) descendants of Orthodox immigrants, fleeing the poverty and persecution of the pre-First World War Austro-Hungarian Empire, it was granted autocephaly (independence) by Moscow over 35 years ago. Unfortunately, it too fell into a measure of modernism and syncretism, for instance persecuting its members who remained faithful to the Orthodox calendar (similar to the Sourozh Diocese above, with which it was once closely connected).

Here, however, spiritual reconciliation with the Russian Orthodox Tradition appears to be starting and there is a move away from the modernism and syncretism of the recent past. Its present head, Metropolitan Herman, now officially regrets his calendar persecution and regularly visits Moscow. Unlike many of the other fragments of Russian Orthodoxy outside Russia, listed below, the OCA is not recognised by the Patriarchate of Constantinople, which never managed to intervene in its internal affairs, and insists that the OCA is not canonical.

c. The Carpatho-Russian Diocese

There is also the small Carpatho-Russian Diocese in the USA, made up of the descendants of Uniat Carpatho-Russian immigrants from the Austro-Hungarian Empire from before the First World War. Like the Paris Jurisdiction below, its fifty parishes have long been under the Patriarchate of Constantinople. Inclined to modernism and syncretism, it has yet to free itself from these movements.

d. The Paris Jurisdiction

The 'Exarchate of the Russian Tradition', centred in Paris and usually known as 'the Rue Daru' or 'Paris' Jurisdiction, is at present still under the control of the Patriarchate of Constantinople. Very small, with fewer than thirty real parishes, and nearly wholly confined to France and Belgium, it was founded by liberal intellectuals and anti-Monarchist aristocrats, who left ROCOR in the 1920s. They then veered off into liturgical modernism (for example, the new calendar) and doctrinal syncretism (for example, Ecumenism). Both those errors were, and still are, protected by the Exarchate's patron, the Patriarchate of Constantinople, where modernism and syncretism took root soon after the Russian Revolution. Hence, the connection between the two and also the Sourozh Diocese, as we noted above, a spiritual offshoot of the Paris Jurisdiction.

e. Belorussian and Ukrainian Nationalist Jurisdictions

Beyond these, there are the non-canonical or Constantinople-sponsored Belorussian and Ukrainian Churches in exile, which have long been anatagonistic to the Patriarchal Church, on both political and nationalistic grounds. The Belorussian groups are tiny, but the Ukrainians, although divided, are numerous, especially in Canada. The fate of the Ukrainian groups in exile is undoubtedly connected to the international politics of the Ukraine itself and the schismatic Ukrainian ecclesiastical organizations operating there. All these organizations have yet to reconcile themselves with the Patriarchal Church in Moscow.

4. Relations with Constantinople-sponsored Local Churches and Constantinople

Outside the Russian Church, there are other Churches, for instance the Polish and Finnish Churches, whose territories were under the Russian Church before the Revolution. After the Revolution, however, they received autocephaly in an irregular manner from Constantinople, following the political interference of the Polish and Finnish governments. The tiny Finnish Church also succumbed to the modernism and syncretism (notably the new calendar and the new Paschalia), emanating from the forces which have controlled Constantinople, more or less since the 1920s.

Also, there is the Church of the Czech Lands and Slovakia (made up largely of Carpatho-Russians), which has depended on Russian influence since 1945. Yet today, it too is veering towards Constantinople and its modernism and syncretism. This is especially so, with the adoption of the new calendar and new Paschalia in one of its two dioceses in Slovakia and the current battle for Church property control in the Czech Lands. Here, too, in some sense, there is need for reconciliation of a spiritual sort, reconciliation with the fullness of the Russian Orthodox Faith and Tradition.

Finally, there is the question of the wider spiritual reconciliation with the Russian Orthodox Church of the tiny but influential Patriarchate of Constantinople itself. As we have noted above, soon after the Russian Revolution, it fell into the decadence of modernism and syncretism, from which it has not yet extracted itself. Moreover it partially took with itself (notably in the calendar question) other Local Churches, close to the Greek Tradition.

5. Conclusion

Without doubt, for the Orthodox Churches, directly or indirectly, the greatest disaster of the twentieth century was the Russian Revolution. Even since the fall of Communism inside Russia some fifteen years ago, reconciliation within the Orthodox family has taken place only slowly. It is clear that this reconciliation can only take place, if Moscow leaves a maximum of Independence to those Churches around the world, which follow the Russian Orthodox Tradition. However, that Independence should not be confused with pandering to doctrinal syncretism or liturgical modernism. The Tradition of the Church is not negotiable.

What is at stake is rather the internal freedom of Churches of the Russian Tradition to:

a. Have a form of Independence, which gives cast-iron guarantees that the Russian State, whatever its government, can in no way intervene in the life of these Churches and use them as tools for nationalism or other political manipulations.
b. Appoint their own bishops and clergy, of whatever nationality they choose.
c. Own their Church property.
d. Use the Orthodox calendar
e. Use appropriate liturgical languages.
f. Venerate their own local saints of the Pre-Schism period.

Hence, the importance of the Fourth Council of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia this coming May. If the Patriarchal Church is not willing to guarantee the Independence of ROCOR in its integrity, this will send out a negative signal to the other parts of Russian Orthodoxy outside Russia. And then they will not wish to normalize relations with the Patriarchate or the fullness of the Russian Tradition either. In other words, if the Patriarchal Church is not willing to guarantee Independence, the whole of the Orthodox Church will remain paralysed by the mistrust, which has characterized it since the Patriarchal Church fell into the grip of Soviet Communism in the years after 1917.

In such a case, instead of looking to Moscow for international leadership and protection, each Local Church will continue to go its own way, not united and standing, but divided and falling. This means falling further into the manipulations of those who would undermine the Orthodox world, who have already done so much damage within the Patriarchate of Constantinople and elsewhere. If, on the other hand, Moscow shows clear signs of flexibility, decentralization and political independence from the Russian State, calling wayward elements to order for their anti-Orthodox doctrinal syncretism and liturgical modernism, 2006 may yet come to be looked back on as the Year when Reconciliation began and everything changed.

Fr Andrew


1. See our 2003 article: 'A Continuing London Russian Orthodox Pastoral Tragedy' (See under 'Events 2003' on this site).

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