Saturday, November 12, 2005

From a Discussion at the Recent Clergy Conference in Vancouver

Many of the clergy of the Western American Diocese gathered in Vancouver, BC, for a conference over October 24th-26th. During that conference, time was provided for a discussion of the dialogue that has taken place between representatives of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia (ROCOR) and of the Moscow Patriarchate (MP). Unfortunately, Fr. Alexander Lebedeff was unable to be present (please pray for the restoration of his health); but our diocesan hierarch, Archbishop KYRILL, was present, as was Fr. Peter Perekrestov, who serves on the organizing committee for the Fourth All-Diaspora Council to be held in San Francisco in May, 2006.

The session, which ran between 75 and 90 minutes, was by no means exhaustive. Almost all of the time was yielded to Archpriest George Primak, Dean of the western part of the Diocese of Canada, who had, he said, a number of questions and concerns about the proposed establishment of Eucharistic Communion between ROCOR and the MP. While there was not time to ask all his questions (which are reportedly posted on the internet, although I have been unable to find them in English), he was able to ask several; and have answers given by many of those in attendance. What I intend to present here is a recollection of that session, based on the notes I took during the conversations. (This is not meant to be a verbatim report.) What is my purpose for doing this? To let it be known that nothing whatsoever was done to restrain discussion or silence dissent in the consideration of the proposed establishment of Eucharistic Communion between the divided parts of the Russian Orthodox Church, despite what has been claimed in certain circles.

1. Why is the number of participants (particularly priests) attending the Sobor in May so small (certainly less than the number who attended the meeting in Nyack)? There are rumors that the number is limited to reduce the number of those who might question or oppose the proposed union.

Fr. Peter reported that the system for selecting the delegates, and the number of delegates, is consistent with the system used at all previous All-Diaspora Sobors. The sessions of the meetings are closed to all but those who are delegates, as was the practice before. At the first Sobor, there were a total of 95 delegates. At the second, there were 97 delegates; and at the third, 107 delegates. He further noted that the ratio of delegates to parishes in May is 1:5. At earlier such meetings, the ratio was higher; and at the All-Russian Council in 1917-1918, the ratio was actually 1:500. Among other things, this points out the decline in numbers of parishes and people over the last several decades. There are also financial reasons for not having a larger number of delegates; and a desire to avoid the "free-for-all" atmosphere that took place in Nyack. Even so, each diocese has four delegates: 2 from among the clergy, and two from among the laity. The ruling bishops will also be in attendance, as will representatives of approved organizations. Those who were delegates at earlier All-Diaspora Sobors are also invited to attend and participate. Another point in this discussion was that if all clergy who wished to attend and were willing to pay their way would be allowed to take part, then those who are financially better off and geographically closer would have a great advantage over those priests who do not have the financial resources, or who live in a diocese that is distant from San Francisco. The equal representation of delegates, with four from each diocese, ensures balance and fairness. It was also pointed out that, if any clergyman is allowed to attend, how could any parishioners who wished to do so be excluded? But this would make the meeting essentially unworkable.

As discussion continued, the charge was made that the action under consideration next May constitutes a "180-degree" change in direction. Subsequent discussion noted that the decision of the Sobor of 1917-1918 to re-establish the Patriarchate was also a complete change of direction; the implication being that such actions have, in fact, taken place in the past, when this has been necessary. As well, it was pointed out that the decision to break administrative relations with Moscow following the 1927 "Declaration" was not made by an All-Diaspora Sobor, but by a Sobor of Bishops.

2. For many years, our (ROCOR) hierarchs told us that Eucharistic communion with the MP was not possible, because their hierarchs were appointees, even agents, of the Soviet regime; and Pat. TIKHON proclaimed an "anathema" against those who joined the state church. The MP is involved with the World Council of Churches, which our hierarchs anathematized. Also, the act of selling alcohol and cigarettes by the Church to the people prevents Eucharistic communion.

Abp. KYRILL pointed out that there are many newly-consecrated bishops in Russia who think as we do; and that many who were once involved with the KGB have changed their minds, as well. He noted that he once thought the same way as many who have expressed these types of concerns; but the piety he has experienced while in Russia has changed his mind. The act of establishing communion is being done, not for the buildings, nor for the administrative structure, but for the people, who are the voice of the Church. It was, after all, the people who moved the Church to glorify the New Martyrs and the Royal Martyrs. He has met with many of the bishops and people, and says they have repented of, and condemned, the past. It was also noted that the clergy and people of the Church in Russia love and revere Pat. ALEXIY, and have accepted his repentance. One person, having heard that the Patriarch celebrates the Divine Liturgy some 300 times a year, wondered how anyone could think that a man, no matter what he had done in the past, could do so and not be transformed.

Fr. Peter, in reply to the question about selling cigarettes and alcohol, said that part of the problem is the way in which this issue has been reported by the media, who have an interest in undermining the Church. The issue arose when Russia received humanitarian aid from the West, and cigarettes and alcohol were included in these shipments. The Church did not desire to hand these out to the people with the other forms of assistance (food and clothing); but instead made arrangements for the cigarettes and alcohol to be provided to some merchants; who sold these goods and gave the proceeds to the Church. He added that this was a "one-time" event.

To illustrate the way in which media reports can be distorted, the example was cited that Canada now allows same-sex marriages; and that the Orthodox clergy of Canada have been silent, without protest (or even comment) on the matter. Does their silence convey their approval of the action? It is possible to report it that way. Does their failure to protest indicate that they are subordinate to the secular powers, and will not oppose them? Again, it could be reported that way; and the people, without knowing otherwise, could call the Church into question for its actions; as has happened with the reports about cigarettes and alcohol sales "by the Church" in Russia.

3. Are we receiving myrrh (for chrismations) from the MP?

Abp. KYRILL replied plainly that this is not happening, and is not possible at this time. Another priest noted that this is a part of what might take place upon the potential reunion; but that is not the present situation.

4. There was an extended discussion about the question of whether or not there is grace in the MP. As this has been demonstrated many times, our Bishops never made such a statement; while statements to the contrary were made many times. Abp. KYRILL pointed out that the private opinion of a bishop, whether from conversation or in private correspondence, has no bearing on the official position of the Church. It was also noted that there is a distinction between "doubting" and a definitive statement. That is to say, it is possible for someone to question the presence of grace without taking the step to making this as a proclamation. Certainly, the circumstances faced by the Church in Russia under the Communist regime may have caused some of our hierarchs to wonder if there was still grace on the Church in Russia; but this was never the policy of ROCOR.

5. Pat. ALEXIY sent congratulations to the head of state in Vietnam upon the 30th anniversary of their victory over the United States; and gave an award to the head of the government of Kazakhstan, who is a Muslim. How can this take place?

Abp. KYRILL noted that there were occasions in Imperial Russia when awards were given to Muslims (and others who were not members of the Orthodox Church). When an objection was made that this was the action of a head of state, the reply, unfortunately, was primarily in Russian (and so beyond my ability to record and report). However, it was pointed out that our hierarchs, and even priests, must interact with secular authorities all the time; and it is in our best interests to maintain cordial relations with the state. Fr. Peter noted that the message sent to Vietnam also coincided with a decision to allow the re-establishment of divine services there. The general tenor was that the act of "diplomacy" can be understood in a number of ways, and need not be detrimental to the Church; nor be understood as a remnant of the "state mentality" that the Church in Russia had to exercise while under the control of the Communist regime.

At one point, Fr. Peter asked questions of Fr. George, about the way in which his "Thirty Questions" have been handled (having been submitted to “Nasha Strana”; and subsequently posted to the internet). Fr. Peter asked Fr. George if he was indeed the author of 30 questions to the upcoming Sobor. Fr. George replied that he was the author. Fr. Peter, noting that Fr. George had signed the questions in his capacity as the dean of Western Canada (and not just as a private party), asked, did he notify his ruling Bishop that he was doing so as the dean of Western Canada? Fr. George said, "No." "Were the questions posted to the internet with the knowledge of your ruling bishop?" "No." “Since the questions were directed at the upcoming Sobor, did Fr George send his questions to the Chairman or Secretary of the Sobor?” “No.”

Fr. Peter then asked why Fr. George sent his questions to an anti-Church periodical, one that calls bishops of our Church names, spreads lies, publishes articles by schismatics and defrocked clergymen? Fr. George replied, “I didn't think about it.”

The closing comment by Fr. Peter spoke about the last charge given by Abp. ANTONIY (Medvedev) to the clergy of the Western American Diocese at the last clergy conference he attended before his repose in 2000. He urged us to place a high value on church unity, and to weep over the divisions and disunity in the Church.

While there were some tensions in the room throughout the session, the overall tone was one of civility; and an acknowledgement that we all need to be open to those who have questions, and will engage in conversation.

[Again, please remember that these are my observations only; and do not in any way constitute an "official" document or report.]

Monday, November 07, 2005

On Ecumenism

"Ecumenism" is a word that is often bandied about in Orthodox discussions, and particularly those on the internet. It seems to me that the same word is used to describe two different types of activities; and therein may be a part of the problem, as one form of "ecumenism" is not Orthodox; while the other, in my opinion, is certainly Orthodox. Let me unpack this a little bit. The form of ecumenism, which embraces the so-called "branch theory" of Christianity, or which might otherwise hold that all those denominations that profess the name of Christ are essentially equally valid paths to salvation – is not consistent with Orthodox teaching and belief. (Beyond this threshold is the "ecumenism" that would hold that all forms of religious belief -- Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, Shinto, etc., etc, etc. -- are essentially equally valid paths. If the former isn't Orthodox, this form is even less consistent with Orthodoxy!)

As a way of distinguishing somewhat what is acceptable from what is not vis-à-vis ecumenism, we might say that "ecumenical relations" are permissible, where "ecumenism" (in the form described above) is not permissible. As such, it is possible for us, as Orthodox Christians, to be engaged in contacts with other Christian groups, in order to bear witness to them of the Orthodox Church and faith. We can also share in activities that do not require us to make a statement about the validity or non-validity of the beliefs and teachings of these other groups. For example, there is not, to my knowledge, any barrier to a group of churches, Orthodox and non-Orthodox, coming together to operate a program to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, or to offer alternatives to abortion, or otherwise address a need or confront an evil in the world around us. We do not, and cannot, pray together with those who do not believe as we do; but if we withdraw from their presence completely, we cannot tell them (in word and in deed) about the great treasure that is to be found in the Orthodox Church and faith. The "walling off" is certainly easier to achieve, and involves far less risk of accidentally "crossing the line"; but is that really the form of witness we are called to perform in the world? I don't think so.

Which brings us, inevitably, to the question of the World Council of Churches. Can Orthodox bodies participate therein? When it comes to worship, I'd say, no -- and increasingly, this is the stance being adopted by the Orthodox at the WCC. When it comes to being a signatory to statements that place all beliefs on a common plane, I'd say, no -- and again, the Orthodox members are saying that they must be allowed to make their statements without being obliged to support teachings contrary to our beliefs. I think this is appropriate; and not a surreptitious form of entry into "world Orthodoxy" or into "ecumenism" in its unacceptable form.

What about the position of the Moscow Patriarchate? As I read the document from the Sobor in 2000, entitled "Basic Principles of the Attitude of the Russian Orthodox Church Toward the Other Christian Confessions," it seems to me that the Church of the MP has defined appropriate and inappropriate activities as described at the start of this article. That is to say, those who accuse the Moscow Patriarchate of being participants in “ecumenism” are ignoring what that Church has said about the issue. Let me quote some relevant parts of the “Basic Principles”:

2.3. Nevertheless, while recognizing the need to restore our broken Christian unity, the Orthodox Church asserts that genuine unity is possible only in the bosom of the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church. All other "models" of unity seem to us to be unacceptable.

2.6. Orthodoxy cannot accept that Christian divisions are caused by the inevitable imperfections of Christian history and that they exist only on the historical surface and can be healed or overcome by compromises between denominations.

2.7. The Orthodox Church cannot recognize "the equality of the denominations". Those who have fallen away from the Church cannot re-unite with her in their present state. The existing dogmatic differences should be overcome, not simply bypassed, and this means that the way to unity lies through repentance, conversion and renewal.

2.9. The Orthodox Church also rejects the assumption that the unity of Christendom can only be restored through common Christian service to the world. Christian unity cannot be restored through agreement on earthly matters, in which case Christians would be united in what is secondary but still differ in what is fundamental.

3.1. The Orthodox Church is the guardian of the Tradition and the grace-filled gifts of the Early Church. Her primary task, therefore, in her relations with non-Orthodox confessions is to bear continuous and persistent witness which will lead to the truth expressed in this Tradition becoming understandable and acceptable.

4.3. Representatives of the Russian Orthodox Church conduct dialogues with non-Orthodox confessions on the basis of faithfulness to the apostolic and patristic Tradition of the Orthodox Church and the teaching of the Ecumenical and Local Councils. Any dogmatic concessions or compromises in the faith are excluded.

5.2. With regard to her membership in various Christian organizations, she adheres to the following criteria. The Russian Orthodox Church cannot participate in international, regional or national Christian organizations in which (a) the constitution or rules require the renunciation of the doctrine or traditions of the Orthodox Church; (b) the Orthodox Church has no opportunity to bear witness to herself as the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church; (c) the decision-making process does not take into account the ecclesiological consciousness of the Orthodox Church; and (d) the rules and procedures make a "majority opinion" obligatory upon the members.

The ROCOR Anathema of 1983

The "ROCOR Anathema of 1983," which condemns ecumenism, reads (in full) as follows:

To those who attack the Church of Christ by teaching that Christ's Church is divided into so-called "branches" which differ in doctrine and way of life, or that the Church does not exist visibly, but will be formed in the future when all "branches" or sects or denominations, and even religions will be united into one body; and who do not distinguish the Priesthood and Mysteries of the Church from those of the heretics, but say that the baptism and Eucharist of heretics is effectual for salvation; therefore, to those who knowingly have communion with these aforementioned heretics or who advocate, disseminate, or defend their heresy of ecumenism under the pretext of brotherly love or the supposed unification of separated Christians, Anathema!

Does the Church of Russia-MP teach or proclaim the branch theory? As far as I know, it does not; and so the Anathema of 1983 does not apply. If someone will say that the MP does teach the branch theory, please cite your sources.

Does the Church of Russia-MP teach or proclaim that the Priesthood and Mysteries are found in non-Orthodox Churches, or that the baptisms and eucharistic offerings of non-Orthodox Churches are effective for salvation? As far as I know, it does not; and so the Anathema of 1983 does not apply. If someone will say that the MP does teach that the mysteries of the non-Orthodox are grace-filled, please cite your sources.

Does the Church of Russia-MP knowingly have communion with these aforementioned heretics or those who advocate, disseminate, or defend their heresy of ecumenism under the pretext of brotherly love or the supposed unification of separated Christians? The applicability of the Anathema of 1983 in this case will hinge upon the meaning of the word "communion." It is not enough to say simply that the MP presence in the World Council of Churches equals "communion" and that the Anathema thus applies. Participation in joint worship services would be problematic, but not still does not necessarily constitute "communion" as in the Anathema. As for the "official position" of the Church of Russia-MP on this question, the quotations from the “Basic Doctrines” statement of 2000 cited above address this question.

This is not to say that the MP did not, in the past, participate in the ecumenical movement in a way that would cause it to have run afoul of the Anathema of 1983. There is no doubt that the MP, in international meetings, would claim that there was no persecution of the Church or the faithful under the Communists; and similarly adopted positions that were anti-Western, advancing the “peace and freedom” positions that were also the basis for elements of the foreign policy of the secular government of the USSR. There are also people who maintain that the churches of the MP gave the holy Mysteries to non-Orthodox persons, and, in particular, to Roman Catholics (although substantiation of these reports, while requested, has not, at this time, been found or provided in response to these requests). However, it is not unreasonable to say that allowances can, even must, be made for actions and statements that took place during the time that the Church was subject to control by the Communist government, and was not free to oppose the measures “required” of her during the time of her captivity. A more telling question would be to ask whether these positions and practices have continued after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. A fair examination of history over the past fourteen years will lead a reasonable observer to conclude that the MP has abandoned all of these positions and activities.

Bottom line: By my analysis, the Anathema of 1983 does not apply to the Church of Russia-MP.

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.

The Rapprochment between ROCOR and the MP

This past summer saw the publication of a series of documents written in concert by committees, one of persons appointed by the hierarchs of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia (ROCOR), the jurisdiction in which I serve, and one of representatives appointed by the Church of Russia-Moscow Patriarchate (MP). The documents were approved by the Synod of Bishops of both ROCOR and the MP, and were simultanteously published by both. (The documents can be found at the web site of ROCOR.)

The documents address a variety of issues and questions that are involved with the proposal to establish eucharistic communion between ROCOR and the MP. The contents, as well as th eproposal in general, have had a varied reception. There are those who think that closer relations should already have been established; others who oppose closer relations, no matter what may be resolved, or remain unresolved, through the dialogues; those who don't know (or don't care) what happens; and those who are willing to allow the hierarchs of ROCOR make the decision, trusting that they will fulfill the ministry entrusted to them by God to serve as guides of the Church, and defenders of the faith. I would count myself in this last group: If our hierarchs say, "Go," we go; and if they say, "Not now," we don't go. It's that simple -- really!

It has sometimes been difficult to find a place where conversation about the questions and concerns that have been raised can take place. One such forum is a group at, called "Orthodox-Reunion." In the next several days, I intend to post here a series of articles that have been posted there (in whole or in part) that I have written to try to facilitate the discussion of some of the issues and concerns. The first will give a bit of background to the reason why the separation of ROCOR and the MP occurred, and what has transpired since 1917 that has caused some of the problems that await resolution to arise. Articles about ecumenism and "Sergianism" will follow.

It has always been my belief that we can best choose when we are as informed as possible. In the hope that these articles will help in that process, I post them here.