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Irina is from Vinnitsa in the Ukraine. Baptized in the Moscow Patriarchate there, she now lives in England and is a parishioner in the ROCOR parish here, where her daughter is baptized. When she returns to the Ukraine, she has confession and communion with her family in a Moscow Patriarchate parish. Her priest there heartily approves of this arrangement and is a friend of ROCOR. Thus, she typifies perhaps the majority of ROCOR parishioners in Western Europe and increasing numbers in North America. The following is a compilation and translation of three recent conversations with her. (I.R.. = Irina; F.A. = Fr. Andrew).

I.R.: Next May the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia (ROCOR) is holding an important All-ROCOR Council and Council of Bishops in San Francisco to decide about entering into eucharistic communion with Moscow. Do you think that after this the Moscow Patriarchate (MP) will take over ROCOR?

F.A.: Definitely not! That is not even on the agenda.

I.R.: What then is on the agenda?

F.A.: The main question on the agenda is how ROCOR should reply to the MP's desire for eucharistic communion with us, which it broke off after the death, in fact the virtual martyrdom, of Patriarch, now Saint, Tikhon of Moscow in 1925.

I.R.: Well, how will ROCOR reply to that question?

F.A.: I do not wish to sound unhelpful, but this is a question which I cannot answer, since the reply must be made by our bishops, not by any individual, least of all me. The Church is governed by the Holy Spirit through Councils of bishops, not by individuals like me with their opinions.

I.R.: But surely you can give me some idea what their views might be?

F.A.: I suppose I can do that. There seem to be two views held by members of ROCOR, though to what extent these are the views of the bishops, I cannot exactly say.

The first view is that we should reply positively to the overtures of the MP. This view is held by those who believe that the MP has repented for its sins of the past. When someone comes to church and wishes to repent, then you receive them. Therefore, we should enter into eucharistic communion with the MP.

The other view is that there is uncertainty about repentance in the MP. After all, they say, only nine years ago they stole our Church property in the Holy Land. People who hold this view believe that the MP is not yet ready to enter into eucharistic communion with us. Our relations with the MP can only be normalized, when they have normalized themselves.

I.R.: What do you mean by 'sins' of the MP?

F.A.: I mean the co-operation and compromises of bishops in the MP with the militant atheism of the Soviet State. There is also the moral corruption of certain bishops in the MP.

I.R.: What corruption?

F.A.: From the 1960s on, it is well known that the KGB infiltrated the MP, placing homosexual and pedophile agents among the episcopate of the MP. There was also sexual corruption. Nearly twenty-five years ago I was myself offered the priesthood by an MP bishop, provided that he could sleep with my wife. Naturally, I refused. There were other similar cases in Siberia some twenty years ago. Then there was the notorious case of their homosexual bishop in France in the 1990s, who thankfully was replaced.

I.R.: But all of this was in the past!

F.A.: Exactly, that is why I think. However much we have been persecuted by the MP in the past, what is past is past. Moreover, I would add something else, that is that the MP has no connections with freemasonry - unlike some other jurisdictions, it remains pure in that respect.

I.R.: You have told me stories about corruption. Are you sure that they are true?

F.A.: They are well catalogued, and as I say, one such story involved an offer made to myself. In any case, I would not mention them, if I were not sure. I would not repeat something as serious as this, if I were unsure.

I.R.: In fairness, are you saying that there were never any such scandals in ROCOR?

F.A.: Of course there have been problems in ROCOR. We are all human beings. Nobody is perfect. Everybody needs to repent for one thing or another. All of us, members of ROCOR like anyone else, need to repent for sins. But the ROCOR way of dealing with these problems is different. For example, the bishop who made me an offer in return for the priesthood was notorious for this sort of activity over decades. Nothing was ever done about it. He just continued. Everyone who has been here over the last few decades knows about it.

In ROCOR, on the other hand, there is a well-known case of a bishop who in the 1950s was seduced by a young woman. It happened once. The next day, he himself went and confessed what he had done and was sent to a monastery to repent. After fifteen years of sincere repentance, Metropolitan Philaret, with the full support of his fellow-bishops, clergy and people, who loved that bishop, forgave him his weakness and the bishop in question was given a diocese again. Look at the difference in approach!

I.R.: Can you give me some names?

F.A.: No, I refuse. God knows their names and that is enough. We must pray for them all, because otherwise we shall end up falling into the same sins. I pray at every liturgy for that bishop who suggested that terrible thing to me. We are all only human. We must all repent. Our temptations are not the same, but we all have sins. The only solution is repentance for all of us and there is only one thing that we should fear - that is lack of repentance in ourselves. As regards others, we must pray that God will have mercy on their souls before their end.

I.R.: What will happen if the Council of ROCOR Bishops in May decides against accepting Moscow's request for eucharistic communion?

F.A.: I do not and cannot know. However, I imagine that the dialogue initiated with the MP will continue until such time as our bishops feel that we can accept their request.

I.R.: And what will happen if the Council of Bishops accepts their request?

F.A.: In that case MP priests will be able to concelebrate with us in our churches and we will be able to concelebrate with them in their churches.

I.R.: Do you think that that would happen often ?

F.A.: I rather doubt it, except for the MP priests who have always loved our Church and have always been our friends. However, most MP priests cannot simply close down their parishes every other Sunday to come and concelebrate with us and ROCOR priests likewise. In any case, there are not so many places where there are two parishes, MP and ROCOR, nearby. You can take the example of cities where there are, for instance two MP parishes or two ROCOR parishes. At present they do not often concelebrate, often only once a year, on each other's patronal feasts - if that.

In view of such fats, I think we should not talk about concelebration, we should think rather of 'the possibility of concelebration'. I know of MP parishes in the same city where the priests never concelebrate or even refuse to concelebrate, for example, when one parish is on the old calendar and the other is on the new. The only time the priests concelebrate is when they are together with their bishop.

I.R.: What would happen on an average Sunday, if eucharistic communion existed? Would you as a ROCOR priest commemorate Patriarch Alexis and then Metropolitan Laurus?

F.A.: All this is speculation. The Council of Bishops has not met and decided one way or the other. In any case I would simply follow their instructions. However, it must be said that in the MP Diocese in this country, most of their parishes never commemorate their own Patriarch, just their local Bishop. If MP parishes do not commemorate their Patriarch, I do not see why we should!

I.R.: So in fact what would change if you had, as you say, the possibility of concelebration?

F.A.: I suspect virtually nothing! After all, ROCOR will continue to be an independent, self-governing part of the Russian Orthodox Church - as it always has been. I cannot help feeling that this whole affair, in some respects, is much ado about nothing.

I.R.: What about the question of Ecumenism? Is the MP not tainted with that?

F.A.: There is a problem here, but in fact it is inside the MP. That is: What do you mean by the MP? It is such an enormous creature.

For example, the MP Bishop in Vienna, though excellent in many respects, is strongly disliked by his MP parishioners for his ecumenism. However, in his case, it is pro-Roman Catholic ecumenism. On the other hand there is another MP bishop in Western Europe, who has even openly been called 'a Protestant' by another MP Archbishop! The fact is, and you know this very well, that apart from a few individual
cases, and they could probably be counted on the fingers of two hands, everybody in the MP knows that ecumenism is a heresy. We are talking about a few naive individuals. True, at least two of them are bishops, but they are outnumbered by the solid Orthodoxy of millions in the MP. If we are going to say that the views of a handful are typical, then the MP could say the same of the views of a handful of eccentrics who could, no doubt, be found in ROCOR. Let us compare like with like.

If you look at the people who have spiritual authority in the MP, holy monks at Optina, Pskov or in the Lavras, abbesses, ordinary priests and believers, people like Fr John Krestiankin, I cannot think of anyone in ROCOR who would not wish to concelebrate with them. So often, when some ROCOR parishioners complain about modernists in the MP or certain individual State-minded MP bishops, they forget that these are not the people who count. Patriarch Alexis himself called the modernists 'Neo-Renovationists' and himself suspended one of them. They are not what the MP is about.

I.R.: On the internet I have read the views of some members of ROCOR which are absolutely virulent against the MP. What would you say?

F.A.: I too have read such views, but, in truth, I am not sure that any of their authors are actually members of ROCOR. For example, one well-known author of such views was excommunicated by Metropolitan Philaret in 1976. Another never wrote a letter which was attributed to him - in fact, he cannot even write or speak Russian. A third, I am told, only goes to church once a year for Easter Matins and has not been known to take communion since childhood - and that was over fifty years ago! Yet another, who always says that the MP is run by the KGB and goes on about the Cold War of thirty years ago, has worked all his life for the CIA and does not practise his faith in ROCOR churches! The fact that these views were written by non-members of our Church also helps to explain their virulence, disrespect, frequent untruthfulness, slanders and, frankly, their expressions of hatred. Christians do not have hatred. Where there is hatred, there is no Christ. Where there is hatred, there is politics. Often, it must also be said, such views are full of cultural nostalgia and have little spiritual understanding in them, but a lot of political prejudice.

Another frequent error is that these people imagine that ROCOR is a 'Church of the perfect'. There is no such thing! Just recently, someone was complaining to me about the strange liturgical practices in an MP parish in this country. They do the sort of thing which is unthinkable in Russia. But then I thought of a former ROCOR bishop - he is now defrocked - who used to serve the vigil service in 45 minutes! You can always find strange things within your own Church. You do not have to go to another Church to find strange things. For example in ROCOR I know of three parishes where the deacons are alcoholics. It often causes scandals in the parishes. The point is, do we really have the right to criticise others, when we are not perfect ourselves? I do not think so.

Christ came to call sinners to repentance - and that means us. If we are not sinners, then we should not be in the Church, because we do not need the Church! In fact if we really imagine that we are not sinners, then we should get our photos taken and stick them up on the iconostases. The Church is for the repentant, for those who need to repent.

I.R.: You mention politics, that is another point, ROCOR is often accused of playing politics. What do you say to that?

F.A.: Of course there are a few individuals in ROCOR who play politics. But as a Church, that is quite untrue. It is the others who have played politics on us. Normality in Church relations will return only when those who wrongly accuse us of playing politics themselves stop doing the bidding of Soviet and post-Soviet governments. That is what is at last happening now. As I said before, where there is hatred, there is politics. I put that to all those who hate us without cause - and there are, sadly, many of them.

I.R.: In this respect, if the ROCOR bishops do decide to accept the MP's request for eucharistic communion between the two parts of the Russian Church, what will other Local Orthodox Churches do? Will they also enter into full communion with ROCOR?

F.A.: Firstly, let me say that the Serbian Church never bowed to political pressure from Moscow and always remained in communion with ROCOR. We are very grateful for that. They will always be our friends. As they say: 'A friend in need is a friend indeed'. The friendship of the Serbian Church with ROCOR will go down in the history books and in the great book in heaven, where all deeds are recorded. At the end of her life, my mother said that. God rest her soul!

As regards the other Local Churches and their relations to ROCOR, that, of course, is not for me to say. Only they can decide on their relations with us. They were the ones who cut themselves off from us under pressure of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. You see, for decades, really since the late 1960s, ROCOR has been persecuted by several other Local Churches, by being isolated by them.

When a Church is persecuted, there are only two possible attitudes you can have towards it. The first is to support it, the other is to side with the persecutors and join in the stoning. Sadly, many choose the latter course and that has been their situation for thirty or forty years. And to persecute part of the Church is to persecute Christ, because the Church is His Body. Now, if those people who hate us, persecute us, slander us and 'say all manner of evil against us' wish to cleanse their consciences and repent for the evil they have done to us over the years and continue even now to do, then of course we can only accept their repentance. In the Gospels, Christ did not send the repentant away, on the contrary, He welcomed them and held them up as examples. We must do the same.

I.R.: Is that not hard to do, when they have been so horrible to you over the years, slandering and persecuting?

F.A.: It is hard, but we must do it, if their repentance is there and they cleanse their consciences of their sins against the Church. Years ago, talking of the Croat atrocities against the Serbian Orthodox during the Second World War, Patriarch Pavle of Serbia said: 'We must forgive, even though we cannot forget'. That too must be our attitude to such people who try to isolate us, if this situation arises.

I.R.: Having said all this, are you in favour of eucharistic communion with the MP?

F.A.: I am, but only in certain conditions of independence. The details of those conditions, I am sure, are talked of among our bishops and faithful and will be much discussed at the Council in May.

I.R.: If eucharistic communion was accepted by the ROCOR Council of Bishops, what do you think would be the greatest benefit?

F.A.: I think that the Orthodox world is under such threat at present, that we need to be together. We are threatened by Brussels (behind which hides Rome, which invented the EU) and Washington (behind which lies Protestantism, which is the national American faith). We see it clearly in the Balkans, in Greece, Romania, Bulgaria and Cyprus. Two of those countries are already EU members, two will become EU members in 2007. The Local Churches there have already been weakened by the EU. The EU is also helping finance political revolution in the Ukraine. As regards the US government, it is doing the same, pouring 'missionaries' into Georgia, pouring tens of millions of dollars into the Ukraine and the Balkans, and supporting the modernism of the Patriarchate of Constantinople.

It is through this soft Balkan underbelly of the Orthodox world that the Russian Church will be attacked next. The Russian Church is not our enemy! We are part of it. We too in ROCOR have to stand up and defend Orthodoxy and, whatever nationality we are, not be naive and fall into the hands of the enemies of the Orthodox world. The injustices done to ROCOR during the Cold War are now part of history. We must live in the present, in the face of the worldwide attack on Orthodoxy. Let us be in communion, but let us keep our independence within our communion.

I.R.: Thank you.

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