Monday, December 13, 2004

The Healing of the Russian Orthodox Church

Yesterday, at our annual parish meeting, one of the members suggested that we adopt a resolution to thank and support Metropolitan Laurus, First Hierarch of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia, and Archbishop Kyrill of the Diocese of San Francisco and Western America, our hierarch, for their efforts in the conversations with the Church of the Moscow Patriarchate that will, hopefully, result in the healing of the divisions in the Russian Orthodox Church, and the establishment of eucharistic communion between the Church Abroad and the Church in Russia. When it has been prepared in its final form, I intend to make it available at our parish website, at the discussion group based at, and at this location.

There is, however, more to the story - and it is this which prompts me to this blog entry. When the idea of the resolution was first proposed, there was some hesitancy on the part of some of the people present about what was being suggested. There may even have been some resistance; and it wasn't until an actual text was proposed and read that we could proceed. The final text was adopted without dissent.

For many, this is not an issue. There are members of the congregation of Holy Archangels Orthodox Church who come from other Orthodox backgrounds: Greek, Romanian, and Antiochian, among many. Others are, as I am, American converts to the Orthodox Church and faith. The remaining part of our congregation consists of those who have their roots in Russia. Together, we are, on the one hand, quite a "mixed bag"; yet we are also one in Christ: one family; One Body. It cannot be any other way, if we are truly going to be Orthodox Christians. The Body of Christ is not, and cannot be, divided.

The origins of the divisions in the Russian Orthodox Church are many, arising from the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917, and in the aftermath of the Civil War, as the revolutionaries set about to destroy the Church, if for no other reason than that the Church was capable of serving as a rival center of power against the Bolshevik control of the state and its people. This is not to say that the Church would function as a rival power; simply that it could serve that function. Add to this the atheism of the Bolsheviks, and you have a script for the attempt to eradicate the Church and all of its influence from the Russian land and people.

How much of this is a concern to those who are not of Russian origin? It probably goes without saying that those members of the parish who are from Russia, whether the children and grandchildren of the earlier waves of emigres, or who have only recently left Russia, will have strong feelings about the possibility of reconciliation between the sundered branches of the Orthodox Church of Russia. Some will see no other possible course; while others cannot see how the Church Abroad can have anything to do with a body they had been told was under the control of the atheists, and had (actively) participated in the closure and destruction of churches, and the arrest, torture, exile, and execution of hundreds of thousands of persons whose only crime was that they would not renounce their faith when ordered to do so by the authorities of the state. But why should those who are from the Antiochian, or Greek, or Romanian, or Serbian churches, or who are American converts, care about the potential reconciliation of the Russian Orthodox Church?

When the conversations between ROCOR and the MP were beginning, I had conversations with a number of people in the parish who were worried about what it all might mean. My reply to them was, "How will it change anything here? Will the music change? The icons? The Divine Liturgy? The vestments? The preaching? Imagine, for a moment, that your worst fears with regard to the situation come true: how will that affect us here? Our mission remains the same: to save our souls by living the Orthodox faith and way of life; and to bring the good news of our salvation in Jesus Christ to a world in darkness, and in the shadow of death." I don't think that this alleviated their concerns to any great extent; but we all did agree that, in the end, we must pray; and trust our bishops to discern, and follow, the will of God. The same is true for those who are ready without hesitation for immediate and full restoration of relationships with Moscow: We must pray, and follow our bishops, waiting for them to find the way we are to go. And, when all is said and done, what will change here?

Let me answer my own question. What will change will not, on one level, be at all discernible. We will go about the tasks appointed to us, laboring fro salvation on behalf of ourselves and of others, exactly as if the conversations between ROCOR and the MP had never started. But there is and aspect that those who oppose, or even are "merely" concerned about, the on-going dialogue for restoring eucharistic communion, must think about - our Lord's prayer that we all may be one.

If we are not willing to reach out to our brothers, we are not Orthodox. If we are not willing to forgive, we are not Orthodox. If we are not willing to repent, and ask our brothers to forgive us, we are not Orthodox. If we will not do all that is within our power to achieve reconciliation, short of compromising the faith -- and, the last I heard, no one was proposing we do that -- then all the attendance at worship, all the reverencing of icons, all the attention paid to music, and to the ritual, and to the way the church looks, and so on -- all of this is meaningless, if we close ourselves to pursuing the restoration of familial relations, of communion, between our parts of the suffering Russian Orthodox Church. This is not to say that we accept any circumstances, ignoring problems that need to be resolved, to establish unity. It may well be that the end result of the meetings of the committees working on the he question will be that the time is not yet right for restoration of communion; although I hope this will not be the case, and I find the reports of the work of the committees to be encouraging. But we must be engaged with our brothers, out of love for them, and obedience to our Lord Jesus Christ, if we truly desire to be living and acting as Orthodox Christians.

May God bless and guide all our hierarchs (MP and ROCOR) in this effort to be restored to each other, for the glory of His Name, and the blessing of His Church.