Monday, November 07, 2005

Synopsis: Outstanding Issues; ROCOR-MP Dialogues

(originally posted to the "orthodox-reunion" group at

You know the one that goes, "Never give a microphone to a preacher and
ask him to say a few words?" This will probably be the internet
equivalent... [grin]

The Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia (ROCOR) came into existence in 1921, following the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia, and the ensuing civil war. Patriarch (now Saint) TIKHON issued a decree (ukaz)authorizing the organization of a temporary Higher Church Authority to administer those parts of the Russian Church that were prevented from having contact with the central administration in Moscow. This body was organized under the leadership of Met. ANTONIY (Khrapovitskiy), and became the group known today as ROCOR. (The group known as the OCA was, at times, associated with ROCOR; exactly how, and what happened, depends upon who is telling the story. But let's not go down that rabbit hole right now...)

Matters became incredibly more complicated when, in 1927, Met. SERGEI (Stragorodskiy) issued a declaration which many consider to have uncanonically subjugated the Church to the state -- amde all the more offensive because it was the openly anti-Church and atheistic government of the Bolsheviks, who earlier had initiated the "Living Church" renovationist attempt to subvert and divide the Church; had confiscated Church property, including the sacred vessels used for the Holy Mysteries of Christ's Body and Blood in the Divine Liturgy; and which has arrested, exiled, or executed thousands of clergy and laity. ROCOR broke relations with Met. SERGEI at that time, as did also a number of other hierarchs still in Russia. Many of these bishops were
later sent to the gulag or were executed outright.

As the Soviet Union fought a war against Nazi Germany, Stalin, in order to rally the people of the Soviet Union in that struggle, took a number of steps that further complicated matters for the Russian Church in its sundered portions. Met. SERGEI became a Patriarch; a move which made it necessary for some of the imprisoned bishops to be freed from their suffering in the gulag -- only to be returned there once more upon the completion of the consecration of the new Patriarch. (Of the 4,000 bishops that had served the Church prior to the Revolution, only 4 remained at the time Met. SERGEI became the patriarch.) ROCOR did not recognize this elevation; nor did they accept those who succeeded Met. SERGEI as the "patriarch" of Moscow and all Russia.

The end of the Second World War saw the appearance, on the international stage, of the USSR in a new way. The Church in Russia was used by the Communist (nee Bolshevik) government; principally in advancing its anti-capitalist/anti-western campaigns for "Peace and Freedom"; and in using the church to deny that there was, or had ever been, any persecution of the Church or the faithful in the Soviet Union. A significant forum for these activities was the World Council of Churches (WCC). In 1970, the Church in Russia granted autocephaly to the American Metropolia, which became the OCA. (ROCOR has not accepted this as a legitimate action; seeing in it, among other things, that the Church was once again used for political purposes; and questioning the canonicity of the Patriarch of Moscow to take such an action.)

The Soviet Union collapsed in 1991; and, in that same timeframe, ROCOR decided to establish parishes in the territory of Russia, to form what was, for a time, the "Free Russian Orthodox Church." Many have questioned the canonicity of this action; and some have seen it as the equivalent of an "invasion" of Russia by ROCOR. Relations with the FROC (sometimes called the "True Russian Orthodox Church") went badly; and that body broke away from ROCOR to form the Russian Orthodox Autonomous Church (ROAC) under Met. VALENTINE of Suzdal. As part of this movement, ROCOR accepted several clergymen who came to her from the Church in Russia, includiing some who had been defrocked. This remains as a source of some controversy.

ROCOR has never said officially that the Church in Russia was without grace; nor did ROCOR ever consider herself to be anything other than a temporary body to administer the Church abroad, until such time as the Church in Russia was free once more; and anticipating an All-Russian Council, at which all the parts of the Russian Church -- that which is abroad, that which was once controlled by the Communists, and the so-called "Catacomb Church" -- could give an account for their actions. Over time, several conditions were stated as being necessary for there to be any possibility of rapprochment between the MP and ROCOR. These included the glorification of the New Martyrs and COnfessors of Russia, and the Royal Martyrs by the MP; a repudiation of the declaration made by Met. SERGEI subjugating the Church to the state; and an end to ecumenism by the MP. The Church in Russia gained its freedom in 1991; and, in a Sobor in 2000, glorified the New Martyrs and Royal Martyrs of Russia; and adopted a comprehensive document for the Church, which includes a statement that sets as Church policy the necessity for the Church to resist the state when obedience to the dictates of the state would violate the teachings, beliefs, and practices of the Orthodox Church.

In response, the Synod of Bishops of ROCOR, meeting in the fall of 2000 (after the actions by the Church in Russia), issued a statement that these steps made them hopeful that relations could be improved. (This led to the formation of a group that, initially, called itself the "Russian Orthodox Church in Exile" (ROCiE), under Met. VITALIY, who had retired, at the 2000 Sobor, as the First Hierarch of ROCOR. They have since changed their name to the "Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia." Go figure...) It took some time, but joint committees to explore what would be needed to bring ROCOR and the MP closer together were appointed and began working in 2003 (if I remember correctly). The agreements worked out were held in confidence until the documents resulting had been approvied by the bishops of both the MP and ROCOR. Upon this approval, the documents were published. They can be found at the ROCOR web site.

I apologize if I have incorrectly remembered or reported any information herein, as I have done this from memory, with a minimum of cross-checking.