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Informed sources report that by the end of 2006 both parts of the Russian Orthodox Church, the Moscow Patriarchate (MP) and the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia (ROCOR), will have entered into eucharistic communion with one another. Presumably, this will also mean that those Local Orthodox Churches which, under political pressure once weakly bent and broke off communion with ROCOR, will then also enter into communion with it again, thus normalizing their canonical relations.

According to some, this refound unity of Russian and worldwide Orthodoxy will be marked by a solemn Divine Liturgy, concelebrated in the Cathedral of the Dormition in the Moscow Kremlin. Although no precise date has been indicated to us, we cannot help noticing that this autumn will mark the twenty-fifth anniversary of the ROCOR canonization of the New Martyrs and Confessors of Russia in 1981. It would be difficult to find a more suitable and symbolic date to celebrate Russian Orthodox unity between now and the end of 2006 than this. It was through their holy prayers that the intolerable Soviet Communist Yoke at last fell, the Rebaptism of Russia began and so the face of World Orthodoxy began to be normalized.

If these reports are true, it will mean that those claiming to be Russian Orthodox, but in fact outside the One Russian Church will be very few in number. For example, there will remain a few hundred individuals, like those who split off from ROCOR a few years ago. They now quarrel interminably amongst themselves, considering that their ever-fracturing Russian nationalist political introversion is more important than Universal Orthodoxy. These will be matched by the equally introverted, tiny Amphipolis group in England, led by a bishop who abandoned his mixed Russian and English flock, because it was too Orthodox for him. The Amphipolis group also considers that its curious, 1960s brand of the Faith, shaped by Western humanism, is more important than Universal Orthodoxy.

In both cases, the cause and the result are the same. The cause is a failure to put private and partial opinions (in Russian ‘otsebiatiny’) above the catholicity of Universal Orthodoxy. The result is schism.

Such groups raise the whole question of faith and national culture. On the one hand, we belong to a Universal Faith, on the other hand, we are all born into a specific nation and culture. In this respect the Orthodox Faith is the opposite of Roman Catholicism. There, outwardly, we find a monolithic institution. However, it is inwardly riven by nationalities, orders, rites, liberals, conservatives, charismatics and traditionalists, in a Protestantized, consumerist, pick and mix religion. In Orthodoxy, outwardly we find many Local Churches with an immense variety of languages and customs. However, they are inwardly united by their sense of the catholicity of the common Faith, ironically quite unknown to Roman ‘Catholicism’. For the latter, catholicity merely means being united with the Pope of Rome - hence ‘Roman’ ‘Catholicism’ – under whom the Faith ‘evolves’.

For Orthodoxy, catholicity means sharing in the same Faith of Christ, at all times and in all places. Thus, there is no need for some outward institution to enforce the Faith, Orthodoxy is the free, inward choice of all who accept Christ. It is this sense of catholicity which is also unknown to the little groups which remain outside Russian Orthodoxy. Limited in their depth of knowledge and experience of the Faith or simply rejecting the Tradition, and therefore lacking in the sense of the catholicity of Universal Orthodoxy, they have allowed private, partial opinions to take the place of the Church. Tragically, as a result, they are refusing to take part in the coming general and worldwide celebration of the victory of the New Martyrs and Confessors of Russia over the enemies of Orthodox Christians.

Their error is surely clear. Although we all belong to a particular nation and culture by birth, by nationality we are all Orthodox. And it is only by putting our Faith first, before our local place of birth and local culture, that we may enter into the catholic bonds of Universal Orthodoxy. May they hear these words, and may they realize, while it is not yet too late, of what exactly they are depriving themselves.

Priest Andrew Phillips

Holy Myrrh-Bearer Mary Magdalene,
Equal to the Apostles
22 July/4 August 2006


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