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Some Unnecessary Tensions within the Russian Orthodox Church

Indeed, thousands of thousands, living the Church way of life, loving God and keeping His commandments, have made their way to the Truth, inside and outside Russia. The criterion by which we can judge this is simple. It is whether we venerate the New Martyrs and Confessors, starting with the Royal Family. Indeed, this has been officially recognised by the whole of the Russian Church in Her glorification and veneration of the Royal Family and the victims of Communism – the New Martyrs and Confessors. It was on this basis that we were able to recognise that the Church inside Russia was free and had rejected Sergianism, for Sergianism would never have venerated its enemies, the New Martyrs and Confessors. And it was on this basis that the Church inside Russia and outside Russia ascended to Christ together, reconciled in unity.

We wrote the above last week. We had hoped that the current tensions within the Russian Church about the historical role of General Vlasov would by now have subsided.

In reality, surely the situation is very simple. During the Second World War (in Russia rightly called the Great Fatherland War), the captured Russian General Vlasov decided to try and free Russia from the atheist yoke. The intention, taken at face value, was good, patriotic. But he chose to try and do this by fighting with Hitler. This was his huge mistake, which naturally opens him up to all accusations of treachery.

However noble your goal, you cannot fight evil with evil. All the more so, when to fight against the atheist yoke during the Second World War meant fighting against the very people who also suffered that yoke. We should recall that General Vlasov and those with him (and there were not so many of them) were hostages of Hitler. Hostages do not make free choices.

Surely it is time to leave this debate about the past behind us, handing it over to historiographers and academics, who can debate furiously amongst themselves. The rest of us, many of whom have never even heard of General Vlasov, can get on with living an Orthodox life and rejoice in the unity of our common Russian Orthodox Faith, the unity founded on the blood and sufferings of the New Martyrs and Confessors. Perhaps His Holiness Patriarch Kyrill and His Eminence Metropolitan Hilarion will yet issue a joint statement on the subject, showing the reality of our unity.

A second area of tension has now also arisen. Again it is not simply between the Moscow Patriarchate (MP) and the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia (ROCOR), but between different sections of the Church. Just as the Vlasov debate arose because of a book by a priest of the Patriarchate, so here too tensions have arisen inside both parts of the Russian Church, the MP and ROCOR. This tension concerns last week’s visit to the Vatican by His Grace Archbishop Hilarion of Volokalamsk.

We well understand the need for normal, good neighbourly relations between the Russian Orthodox Church and the Vatican. This is the case not least among us Orthodox in the West, where we are a small minority and Roman Catholics far more numerous. Clearly, with Russian Orthodox now present in numbers in France, Italy, Spain and Portugal in particular, it would be positive if the Russian Orthodox Church could be allowed the use of redundant Roman Catholic churches in those countries.

The need for good relations is all the more obvious given the festering wounds between Orthodox and Uniats (‘Greek Catholics’) in the west of the Ukraine. Frankly, it would surely be better if Uniatism were dropped by the Vatican and Uniats were instructed either to accept normal Roman Catholicism or else return to their ancestral Orthodox Faith. This at least would be honest, rather than continuing the fundamental dishonesty of Uniatism, the mere existence of which is an open wound for all Orthodox.

Despite the understanding of this need for good relations, many in both parts of the Russian Orthodox Church are still concerned about this phase of Russian Orthodox diplomacy in Rome. Russian Orthodox should be careful not to compromise themselves by association. There is always a risk that Orthodox will be seen merely as an exotic, though at present detached, oriental branch of Roman Catholicism, which is how some try to portray us. Although the language of such people is of ‘the Division of the Church’, ‘Sister-Churches’, ‘Separated Brethren’ and of the need for ‘both lungs’ to breathe together, our language is not this. Ecumenist doublespeak is simply compromising and Orthodox should not engage in swimming with the tide of compromise.

There needs to be a righting of historic injustices before we in the Orthodox Church can sit down and talk seriously with the Vatican. Let it at last renounce Uniatism and renounce the medieval inventions, the papal claims, the filioque; then we can talk seriously. Until then, everything else is only unnecessary photo opportunities, mere window-dressing.

Perhaps if Patriarch Kyrill and Metropolitan Hilarion were one day to issue a joint statement, they could mention this issue also. This would clear up possible misunderstandings and fully re-establish the peaceful and benevolent atmosphere which is normal among us all.

Archpriest Andrew Phillips

7/20 September 2009
Forefeast of the Nativity of the Mother of God

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