Anashkin, D.P. Articles Politics

Ecclesial Conservatism in Contemporary Society

Ecclesial Conservatism in Contemporary Society

Over the past few months, an outbreak of events involving the Russian Orthodox Church has occupied public attention. A series of sensational stories centered on the clergy has evoked a flood of tense conversations in the media regarding the place and role of the Russian Orthodox Church in contemporary society. The situation is continuously becoming more heated, and has already spilled over into open opposition between ecclesiastical and anti-clerical forces.

This is a translation of an expanded text. The original Russian text was published in the journal Politeia № 4 (67), 2012.

Over the past few months, an outbreak of events involving the Russian Orthodox Church has occupied public attention. A series of sensational stories centered on the clergy has evoked a flood of tense conversations in the media regarding the place and role of the Russian Orthodox Church in contemporary society. The situation is continuously becoming more heated, and has already spilled over into open opposition between ecclesiastical and anti-clerical forces. While one side accuses the other of rusophobia, lack of patriotism and pro-western liberalism, the other side emphasizes the backwardness, totalitarianism, and servility of their oppononents, accusing them of trying to alter the secular nature of the Russian state.

From the viewpoint of both Soviet and post-Soviet Russian history, this complicated situation looks very strange. During the Soviet era, the church was as it were forced into a reservation on the outskirts of society, and there was no talk whatsoever of any sort of role for the church that might extend beyond the threshold of a church building. Thus no one was interested at all in the private lives of church hierarchs, whom most residents of the USSR regarded as if they were people from another dimension. But then came the fall of the Soviet system and the rapid rebirth of the Russian Orthodox Church. The credibility of the church increased greatly. Every declaration of a cleric was received as if it were some special kind of wisdom, and an endless stream of doxology was resoundingly addressed to the hierarchy of the church. Then again everything changed. Such ordinary objects as watches and apartment dust became excuses for the commencement of sharp anti-church polemics.

In the official documents of the Russian Orthodox Church, they are already crying about a renewal of persecutions against the church.[1]viz Address of the Supreme Church Council of the Russian Orthodox Church ( Thousands of people are attending molebens to pray that the Orthodox Faith be preserved from defilement, while every criticism against the ROC is regarded as a planned attack by anti-Russian, anti-church, and anti-Christian forces. But we are convinced that this is not a matter of the conspiracy of a handful of evil-doers, bent on the destruction of the Russian Orthodox identity, but of certain processes which are arising within social and political life, and of the Russian Orthodox church’s reaction (or lack of reaction) to those processes. Let us explicitly acknowledge that, within the confines of this article, we are consciously refraining from speaking of the church theologically (as the Body of Christ and Christ’s blameless bride) but have focused our attention on the social aspect of church life.

Over the course of centuries, the Russian Orthodox Church acted within a traditional society, based on subsistence farming, the peasant commune, the patriarchal family, and monarchic government. Both in ancient Rus’ and in the Muscovite kingdom, as well as in St. Petersburg empire, the church was closely related to a state power which, in the last resort, determined the church’s social position. From the seventeenth century onward, these bulwarks of Russian life began to erode and disappear, and by 1917 even the monarchy had been swept away.

At precisely this time, an All-Russian Local Synod assembled in Moscow. This synod strove to restructure the life of the church in accordance with new historical realities, while at the same time decidedly standing against the unrestrained modernization advocated by the so-called renovationists. But this period of relative independence did not last very long at all. The cruel dictatorship of the Bolsheviks was soon established in the country, and adopted a course of complete liquidation not only of the Russian Orthodox Church but of all religion as such. Although there were certain changes in church-state relations during the Second World War, the church remained forbidden to do anything other than her liturgical services. Her participation in the life of society was reduced to nothing. The church’s cooperation with the state authority consisted exclusively in maintaining contacts with the authorized agents of the Council on Religious Affairs, under the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, and of proclaiming the positions of the same party at various international meetings and forums.

The government strictly controlled all church structures, depriving the ROC of any shadow of independence. One can boldy say that the entire life of the church depended completely on the decision of the responsible organs of the party.

We have allowed ourselves this brief historical digression in order to make it clear that, over the course of 1,000 years the (excluding a very short period in 1917-18) the Russian Orthodox Church has operated under the conditions of either monarchical or totalitatarian regimes. It is entirely natural that, under such circumstances, the hierarchy of the church should regard it as an utmost priority to establish and form a relationship with the power structures whereupon they themselves were directly dependent.

It is important to note that from 988 to 1917, these structures were (or claimed to be) Christian. Society itself was also predominantly Christian. It is precisely thus that, as it seems to us and as the facts make clear, that it is difficult for the church to accept the realities of the secular age. But life does not stand still. Tempora mutantur et nos mutamur in illis. The Russian monarchy has departed into the past, whereafter the Soviet Union also sank into oblivion. The chief of police no longer stands guard over the faith, nor does the policeman or the private bailiff; the threatening cries of the Authorized Council on Religious Affairs are no longer heard.

In our days there is a tendency, which is growing progressively more distinct, to exchange the ideology of the state for the ideology of civil society. The church does not seem ready to exist in these new, unaccustomed circumstances. Vladimir Solovyov once said that the priest in Russia was the unhappiest of all men because no one dared argue with him.[2]viz Krasnov Levitin, A.E. 1980. V poiskakh novogo grada: Vospominanii͡a<\li> Along the same lines we might say that the priest in the Soviet Union was the unhappiest of all men, because he never dared to argue with anyone.

The habits produced by life in a totalitarian society, where information about the inner business of the church almost never passed beyond the boundaries of a closed clerical caste, have left the clergy, for the most part, ill-prepared for the transformation of church life into the object of wide and not always benevolent public attention. Thus even the smallest criticism produces a painful reaction in the church. Hence that nostalgia for a cruel regime which, in a few Orthodox radicals, has proceeded so far as to advocate the canonization of Ivan the Terrible and Joseph Stalin.

In our view, the church can find a way out of this complicated situation by adopting a position which is new for her, a position of ministry under the conditions of an open, civil society, wherein it becomes a matter of priority to establish relationships not with a vertical power, but precisely with said society. The attempt to gain access to administrative resources should not in any way prevail over the pastoral function of the Russian Orthodox church.

For its part, society should distinctly acknowledge that the church, in her connection with the spiritual life of the people, cannot be reformed according the model of secular institutions. In today’s circumstances, the social function of the church consists not in serving technological and social progress, but rather in protecting people from their negative effects. The accusation of conservatism leveled against the church can be answered by the assertion that she is conservative in her very nature. In the consciousness of the faithful, she is associated with the eternal and immutable. Therefore all attempts to radically contemporize the church, to adapt her to the momentary whims of this or that segment of the population, are clearly doomed to failure.

Before the Russian church lies the task of learning how to live in a contemporary, democratic society while, at the same time, preserving all the riches of Orthodoxy, with its canons, developed over centuries, its dogmas, holy traditions, its order of divine services — and without becoming any sort of relic of the past. Here, it seems, the church might have recourse to the experience of the Russian Orthodox church Outside of Russia (ROCOR).

The original ROCOR was a church of refugees. Her clergy shared with their flocks the full weight of exile, poverty and homelessness. From her very inception, therefore, she was deprived of any sort of administrative resources. It fell to the exiled part of the Russian Orthodox church to conduct her ministry without any support from state authorities. But, together with state support, the meddling of state powers in the internal affairs of the church also ceased. The church had become self-constituted, in the common sense of the term, and it was given to her find her own way under new circumstances.

The special character of the ROCOR consists in the fact that her clergy and laity were always dominated, for the most part, by the right-leaning, conservative segment of the Russian emigration. To a large extent, in particular, they persistently resisted assimilation, considering themselves to be a part of the Russian nation. They strove to preserve the Russian language and culture. In ecclesiastical life, this conservatism expressed itself in a striving for the strict preservation of all liturgical and canonical structure, and in the guarding of Russian church law. [3]T͡serkovnai͡a zhizn’. 1936. № 7. p. 14 The Russian Church Abroad had to adapt herself to circumstance, and in the process she constructed a new model of relations with state powers, with society, and with her own parishioners.

Even before the revolution, those parishes of the Russian Orthodox church that were situated outside of Russia commemorated the local authorities, even authorities that were not Orthodox. In this they had as an example the experience of other Orthodox churches that had existed on the territories of heterodox governments (for example the Patriarchate of Constantinople, which commemorated the Turkish sultan). The ROCOR simply adopted the same practice.

The parishes of the ROCOR were scattered throughout all the world, operating in countries with various political regimes and various qualities of life. They were in the Manchurian Empire, headed by a pagan emperor, the Muslim kingdom of Morocco, Hitler’s Germany, the Serbian kingdom, among the Croats and Slovaks, the military dictatorships of South America, constitutional monarchies (Great Britain, Canada, and Australia), presidential or presidential-parliamentary republics (USA, France), etc.

Before the end of the Second World War, the majority of the parishes of the Russian Church Abroad were located on the territory of Yugoslavia (where the Synod was located) and also in Bulgaria and Greece. The commemoration of these Orthodox monarchies presented no difficulty. In countries with different governmental structures, it was necessary to seek out a special formula for the commemoration of the heads of state, each time taking into consideration the local reality.

On June 8 1936, the Hierarchal Synod heard the presentation of Bishop Tikhon (L’ashenko) of Berlin, especially dedicated to the question of the commemoration of the German authorities during the divine services. The result was the establishment by the Synod of the following forms for the commemoration of said authorities:

1) At the Great Ectenia: “For the Christ-loving Leader of the German people, for his government and military, let us pray to the Lord.”

2) At the Augmented Ectenia: “Again let us pray for the Christ-loving Leader of the German people, for his power, victory, continuance, peace, health and salvation, and that the Lord our God shall thoroughly grant him success and enable him in all things, and will subdue all enemies and adversaries beneath his feet.”

In the Harbin Eparchy in 1937, there arose the question of the commemoration of the head of the Manchurian empire, Emperor Pu I. The problem was made all the more important by the fact that, prior to World War II, Manchuria had been the place of the largest concentration of Russian emigrants. Harbin was like a piece of Old Russia that had miraculously survived. Following the presentation by Archbishop Meletii on this topic, the Hierarchal Synod decided, “to commemorate in the divine services of all churches of the Harbin diocese the local state authorities.” [4]At the present time, the majority of the parishes of the ROCOR are found in the USA, Canada, Western Europe and Australia. Thereafter the emperor was commemorated as the head of state — but under no circumstances was he commemorated as a sacred person or as the son of heaven, as he was considered to be in China.

The parishes on the territory of Great Britain, Canada and Australia adopted the commemoration of the British queen, “for the sovereign and her military …”[5]T͡serkovnai͡a zhizn’. 1937. № 9. p. 131—132. In Germany, by the influence of Archbishop Benedict, the prayer of commemoration of the authorities looked like this: “For this country, its government and for all Christian countries, let us pray to the Lord.”[6]vizPravoslavnyĭ vestnik v Kanade. 1972. № 18—19. p. 10. In France in 1980 the following form was given for the commemoration of the government in the ectenias: “For this country, for its right-believing people and its government.” At the Great Entrance : “Our suffering Fatherland, its much-suffering people, this country, its government, and its Christ-loving military, may the Lord God remember …”[7]T͡serkovnye vedomosti Pravoslavnoĭ T͡serkvi v Germanii. 1951. № 6. p.3. The absence of the army in this case is explained by the fact that in 1951 there was simply no one to commemorate. The … Continue reading

As we can see, the form of the commemoration of the authorities and the military varied according to the local circumstances. In an effort toward unity of practice, in a directive of May 2, 1946, the Hierarchal Synod established that “At the Great Entrance, the deacon says: The God-preserved Russian land, this land and its governors [our italics — A.D.] may the Lord God remember in His kingdom always, now and ever, and unto the ages of ages.”[8]Vestnik Zapadno Evropeĭskoĭ eparkhii Russkoĭ T͡serkvi zarubezhom. 1980. № 16. p. 39.

The question of the form of commemoration of authorities was especially taken up at the Hierarchal Synod of 1950. The result was the establishment of a single “form of commemoration of the civil powers for all countries, where this power conforms to the character of a supreme authority [our italics — A.D.].”[9]T͡serkovnai͡a zhizn’. 1947. № 2. p. 1—2. \ In this way the Hierarchal Synod blessed the commemoration not of any authority whatsoever, but only that authority which corresponded to Christian commemoration. Unfortunately the synodal definition does not preserve any clarification of the given statment. However, knowing the history and ideology of the ROCOR, it is easy to imagine that they are speaking of countries the government of which does not persecute the Orthodox church, but allows her to freely carry out her ministry.

It is necessary to remark that in any situation the purity of the faith was always the chief criterion for the ROCOR. When the situation required the church to express her relationship to some event or another, she sought out those forms which allowed her to do so without harm to the church or her members. The church rejected any activity that might lead to a break from Orthodox teaching, or which could foster doubt or confusion among the clergy and laity, and did so even where such activity might provide some immediate political gains. An example of this attitude can be found in the negative reaction of the Hierarchal Synod to the requiem arranged by the Western European parishes of the ROCOR for Paul Dumer, president of the French Republic, who was slain by Russian terrorist Pavel Gorgulov:

“Was there no other means by which to express condolence with France and condemnation of Gorgulov’s evil deed than a church requiem service? Does it not nullify the church’s worthiness in the eyes of the heterodox, that she should be made the tool of purely political ends? In order to curtail the ecclesiastical decadence arising from church commemorations of heterodox persons, especially from the deliberate serving of pannykhidas for them, the Hierarchs of the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad consider it necessary to remind both the clergy and the Russian Orthodox laity abroad of the impermissibility of any sort of departure in such matters from the ancient canonical order.”[10]ibid. 1951. № 2. p. 5.

How then was clergy abroad to express its relationship to the head of state? The answer to this question was given in a decision of the Hierarchal Synod of the ROCOR on 26 September, 1974:

“In various political circumstances, one may serve a Moleben for the health and salvation of the Head of State, should he call himself a Christian. But in the event of his death it is not permitted to serve a Pannykhida for him, as this is generally not permitted for the heterodox. In such a situation it is necessary to keep within bounds any form of expression of condolence (the sending of telegrams, personal visits to the appropriate persons, the organization of commemorative gatherings outside of the temple, etc.”[11]ibid. 1933. № 4. p. 50—53.

The ideal model of the relationship of the church to politics, per se, is described in an article by the Archbishop of Syracuse and Detroit Averky (Taushev) entitled “The Church and Politics” In this article he develops quite a simple and understandable thesis: the Christian is obliged to fulfill all that his devotion to the church requires of him, but at the same time he must fulfill that which a lawful governing power demands of him. The question of the church and politics, and of the relationship between them must be decided only in the light of the Word of God: “What a shame for those unhappy, spiritually blinded people — and there are such both on the ‘left’ and on the ‘right’ — who do not know how to distinguish the church from politics! And a greater shame it is for those, to express it more clearly, who strive to employ the church as a tool for their own, purely earthly, political views! Moreover they even become angry at the church and begin to persecute Her when she does not submit to their attempts to make her the tool of whatever political goals they may have.” [12]STDS Archive, Hierarchal Synod Foundation

How pertinent these words of thirty years past are today! Various political parties and social groups are trying to draw the church into the orbit of their activities, while they understand neither her nature nor her fundamental mission. Among them are not only organizations and movements who claim Orthodoxy as the foundation of their ideology. Their specter is much more broad, ranging all the way from “United Russia” to any and all kinds of radical group.

In the emigration, a similar situation arose at the end of the civil war, when there were representatives abroad of all political powers (except of the Bolsheviks). The Russian diaspora considered itself a segment of pre-revolutionary Russia. Moreover, the conservative attitude of part of the church gravitated naturally toward right-leaning, sometimes openly extremist organizations. Thus, as is well known, Metropolitan Anthony (Khrapovitsky) gave his blessing to the terrorist organization “Brotherhood of Russian Truth.” The hierarchs of the ROCOR had friendly relations with the leader of the Russian fascists, Vonsyatsky, and even accepted help from him. Monarchy, however, was ideologically closer to the hearts of the clergy and laity and the Russian Church Abroad than was anything else.

It was no accident that the All-diaspora Council of 1921 adopted an openly monarchist resolution: “And now let our vigilant and flaming prayer be thus: May the Lord show us the path to the salvation and structuring of our native land; may He protect the faith and the church, and all the Russian land, and may He overshadow the heart of the nation; may He return to the Anointed All-Russian Throne a lawful Orthodox Tsar from the House of Romanov, strong in the love of the nation.” [13]Pravoslavnai͡a Rus’. 1976. № 13. p. 1.

In a letter to all Orthodox Russian refugees abroad, the president of the Council, Metropolitan Anthony (Khrapovitsky) clarified his position not only on moral and civic duties before lawful powers, but also on political expediency: “Not in vain have we reminded you of the Tsar. For the spirit of mutual solicitude (rather than of striving for one’s own advantage at the expense of one’s neighbor), the spirit of the moral consistency of our common national life is possible only under a Christian Monarchical system, when there stands at the head of political life the personal conscience of a man, a conscience that triumphantly confesses his subservience to the Gospel and the Church in the words of the Creed of Orthodox Faith — a conscience, not a company of persons chosen temporarily, fighting one another for predominance.” [14]Letters, resolutions and lectures received by the Church Council of the Russian Church Abroad: Letter from the Church Council of the Russian Church Abroad to the Children of the Russian Orthodox … Continue reading

After World War II the situation began slowly to change. The temples abroad were filled with parishioners from a new wave of emigration, who had not in any way established their identities within monarchist environs. True, many of them became monarchists after entering the ROCOR, but by no means all of them. If anti-communism remained inherent to the flock of the Russian Church Abroad as a whole, yet the business about monarchism was becoming more complicated. Among the new parishioners there now appeared members of movements (such as the Vlasovtsy, the Solidarians, etc.) whose attitude toward the monarchy was one of reserve if not of coldness.

But let us return to the article of Archbishop Averky. Although ostensibly apolitical, it also expresses the thought that the church is rather above political life than outside of it. She is higher than politics:

“While not interfering in political life, equally with all other people, especially, of course, the unfortunate politicians who strive for their own personal, egoistic ends, who now have become so numerous, the Church has both a right and a duty, laid upon Her by Her Divine Founder Himself, Christ the Savior, to appraise the value of all that happens on earth, including the political, from the point of view that is given to people by the Law of God.”

While declaring (in disagreement with the previously cited resolution of the All-diaspora Council of 1921) that “it is not the business of the church to interfere in the purely political sphere, setting up one or another purely external order of life,” Averky at the same time emphasizes that the church should under no circumstances be confined to the cycle of divine services nor live in the past without responding to contemporary life at all:

“But the thought occurs of itself: It is the business of the church to approve or reject one or another order of human life, approving and supporting all that helps people to be good Christians, condemning and rejecting all that leads people to godlessness and immorality. It should be entirely clear, even indisputable, to every honorable and clear-thinking person that the true Church of Christ … must approve and support by her own authority that governmental and political order that does not hinder Her from fulfilling the mission laid upon her by Christ the Savior.” [15]ibid. p. 138.

Having been conservative and anti-communist from the moment of her foundation, the ROCOR naturally viewed the conservative and anti-communist powers leading the United States in particular as the most essential hindrance to the progress of Soviet expansion. We can boldly say that the Church Abroad considered all wordly circumstances through the lens of her opposition to communism and modernism (the latter term signifying the de-Christianization of society). An excellent illustration of this position is to be found in a series of telegrams which the Hierarchal Synod of the ROCOR sent to the presidents of the United States over the course of several years.

In 1953, the Synod wrote to President Eisenhower:

“In your person, Mr. President, we see a sincerely convinced defender of Christian principles in the structure of our personal and political life. Now all of humanity is enduring a serious crisis, and it will not be able to turn back to that peace and calm which has been lost. Humanity will not see mutual trust and brotherly unity between nations until such a time as it should return to God and call upon Him for help.

“Not infrequently we hear such a call from your lips. It finds a lively response in our hearts, profoundly resonant as it is with our native worldview, which has nourished and supported the Russian Orthodox Church over the course of centuries … Living now in various countries and enjoying the protection of those countries that have received us, especially the USA, which has demonstrated such broad and magnanimous help to our nation which has suffered from the destructive war, we fervently pray to the Lord Master and Provider of the peace, that He might open the eyes of the blind, which have yet to see or do not wish to see the danger posed to the world by global communism, that He might unite all free nations in a single brotherly union and might send them down that salvific path to which you, Mr. President, unceasingly summon all, both with your warm and brave words, by all of your direction of wise legislative activities, and by your government of the United States of America.” [16]Pravoslavnai͡a Rus’. 1976. № 13..

As we see from the above letter, Eisenhower’s most important qualities were, in the eyes of the Synod, his anti-communism and his Christian attitude.

In 1957 a crisis broke out in southeast Asia, leading quickly to the Vietnam War. Needless to say, the sympathies of the ROCOR lay entirely on the side of the anti-communist forces. They considered the military action exclusively in terms of the struggle against global communism. For example, on December 12, 1966, the North American Eparchy of the ROCOR sent this telegram to President Johnson:

“The North American Eparchy of the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad … warmly greets the valiant army of the United States in Vietnam, who are heroically struggling against the further spread of global communism, which is trying by means of force and moral decay to subordinate the entire world. We pray sincerely for the success of the heroic American Army.” [17]Pravoslavnai͡a Rus’. 1953. № 4. p. 4..

The same stance is reflected in a telegram sent to Johnson by the Hierarchal Council of the ROCOR in 1967, which says in part: “As we are devoted to a church that is persecuted in Her own homeland, we especially value the freedom which we enjoy in Western countries, and especially in the United States, which is the bulwark of freedom in all the world.”[18]ibid. 1966. № 24. p. 14.

Naturally any rapprochment with the U.S.S.R. produced an extremely negative reaction. Published in the same issue of the magazine “Orthodox Russia” with the telegram greeting Johnson was an article that expressed alarm at the conclusion of a diplomatic convention between the USA and the Soviet Union:

“We very well know and understand, both from our own experience and from the fate of our enslaved nation, what is the nature of godless communism. We are sure that under the form of Soviet diplomacy with the United States they will institute points of communist propaganda and Soviet espionage which, making using of the protection of the liberal laws of the United States, will carry out their destructive work.

“We deeply value the prosperity and freedom which America enjoys by the gift of Divine Providence, and we fear that drawing near to the communist government of Soviet Russia will facilitate the destructive work of communism, which strives to destroy America and to enslave the entire world.” [19]ibid. 1967. № 10. p. 10.

Along with the anti-communism, another important moment clearly comes to light in the above communications. The hierarchs persistently confirm the high value they place on freedom, which allows the church to completely fulfill her salvific mission. The conservatism of the Church Abroad is fully enlivened under American democracy. The given example makes it apparent that it isn’t at all necessary for the zealots of ecclesial antiquity to be partisans of dictators, nor to dream about strict totalitarian powers. The theme of civil and religious freedom is particularly expressed in a telegram from Ronald Reagan in response to the Hierarchal Council of September 11, 1985:

“You deserve the highest commendation for your efforts in support of the return of religious and civil freedom to the Russian people. Your work furthers the interests of all members of the human family, because it is inspired by faith in the Creator and by the desire for liberty that burns in the hearts of every man, woman, and child on earth.

“The values you hold aid in the preservation of your own great heritage and in the strengthening of religious principles within each nation where your church is located. In safeguarding the wondrous beauty and timeless grandeur of the ancient faith and culture of your motherland, you provide all mankind with the hope that this magnificent institution will one day be restored to its former place in the life of the Russian nation and people.” [20]ibid. p. 10—11.

In 1976, the United States celebrated two-hundred years of independence. On the occasion of this jubilee, the First Hierarch of the ROCOR Metropolitan Filaret expressed himself in a letter to the God-loving Orthodox flock in North America. We shall permit ourselves to quote him extensively:

“The bicentennial of the Independence of the United States of America, which is marked this year, is naturally celebrated by her people as a joyous anniversary. Over the course of this time, the Lord has been merciful to the American people and has blessed them with prosperity and an abundance of the fruits of the earth.

“We call upon the children of our church who live in this country to thank the Lord God for His mercy toward her.

“But every manifestation of the mercy of God toward the nations of the earth obliges them to live according to His commandments and to serve as His instruments. Over the course of many years, the great American nation has shown itself to be such an instrument. And now, celebrating the bicentennial of their independence, we must pray that the Lord might enable them to fulfill this mission yet further, prevailing over the temptations of this world and preserving themselves from the world’s growing abyss of unbelief, sin and perversion.” [21]ibid. 1985. № 17. p. 9..

According to Filaret’s thinking, the flourishing of the country is directly dependent on the preservation by its citizens of the divine commandments. And, again, he acknowledges the American nation’s frontline role in the struggle against communism as its chief merit. During the Cold War era, the ROCOR sincerely supported the external political course of the Western countries without receiving in return any financial support, nor increase in prominence, nor access to administrative resources.

After the collapse of the system of global socialism and the Soviet Union’s disappearance from the political map, the role of the USA and other Western countries as bulwarks of anti-communism was past. The conservatism of the Russian Church Abroad remained unchanged. Her attention in the realm of worldly affairs now turned from already non-existent communism toward the situation of the Russian and other Orthodox nations. Here the positions of the ROCOR was hardly ever consistent with those of the countries of the West. The Balkan crisis provides a clear example. In spite of the fact that the Synod and the majority of the parishes the Russian Church Abroad are located in the USA, the church came forward with a decisive condemnation of NATO’s military aggression against Serbia. Thus the letter of Hierarchal Council which was held in the Lesna Convent in France in 1994:

“In the course of the fall of communist Yugoslavia, with its unnatural internal borders, the incomprehensible recognition by Western countries of the new governments that have arisen from this country has led to a war, in which a significant number of our brothers the Serbs will have to defend territories which have already been their homes for centuries. The Western mass media, having themselves no sufficient knowledge or understanding of the local situation, have from the beginning tarred the Serbian nation as the ‘aggressors.’

“We know that in such a terrible war, started by the communists, who despise not only spiritual values but national ones as well, there are no righteous ones. Innocent people are fighting on both sides. But we, Russian hierarchs and our flocks, who have received great benevolence from our brothers the Serbian Orthodox people during the bitter time of our emigration, raise our voice in prayer to the Almighty, that He may grant our Orthodox Brothers the Serbs peace and great mercy.” [22]ibid. 1976. № 13. p. 1.

The message of the Hierarchal Synod on the occasion of the military action in Kosovo had an even sharper character:

“The military actions in Balkans, which have already continued for more than a month, have only worsened long-standing internecine ethnic strife on the territory of much-suffering Serbia. After fifty years of repose, bombs again are falling on European cities and villages in the name of falsely claimed ‘human values,’ which have been chosen in a biased and hypocritical manner. Right and truth are being shamelessly trampled upon without punishment. The hierarchs of the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad are forced to address the conscience of people who claim to be civilized, condemning their barbaric attack on the defenseless village of Orthodox Serbia, and with convinction demanding that they cease at once the murder of innocent people and the destruction of the country, thus preventing the spread of the fire of war to a yet greater territory.”

After the condemnation, the hierarchs turn to directly threatening NATO:

“God and His Saints are not to be abused. The blasphemous and shameless attack by a great military power against a small and defenseless people, which brings suffering to people who are not guilty of anything, both the Orthodox and non-Orthodox residents of Kosovo and all of Serbia, shall be turned back against those who have taken up this unrighteous sword. We believe, and have seen it demonstrated innumerable times in history, that retribution shall come not only in the age to come, but also in the present age. Mighty ones of this world! If you do not fear God, then fear for your own sake! For aggresion unfailingly turns back against those who set out upon its destructive path.” [23]ibid. 1994. № 24. p. 6.

A message to the leaders of the NATO countries was composed in the same spirit:

“We, the Hierarchs of the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad, address ourselves to administrations of the states that comprise NATO with a decisive condemnation of their military activites directed against the territory of an independent, sovereign state in the Balkans … Using human rights as a pretext, the Western members of NATO are, in their present actions, pursuing their own interests. Among other things, the West is closing its eyes to the systematic expulsion of the Serbian population from Krayna and from Kosovo. We are troubled by the fact that our flock may, in the present situation, find themselves in internal conflict between their Christian conscience and their civil duty. Therefore we call upon the responsible representatives of the states comprising NATO to return to the eternal foundations of Christian morality and consciousness.” [24]ibid. 1999. № 9. p. 3..

It stands to reason that it was only possible to address such sharp words to the country of the church’s residence thanks to the democratic rule of that country. Not one totalitarian regime would have endured anything of the kind. We have not been able to find a single document of the Russian Orthodox Church in which the political actions of Russia were criticized, much less in such a strict manner as this. From this it follows that the church either completely approved of the politics of Her civil government, or prefered to keep silence in order not to lose the government’s support and the benefits therewith associated.

By way of summary, we might say that preservation of the purity of the faith has played a chief role in the relations of the ROCOR to the governing powers of the countries of her residence. Where the government has not interfered in the internal business of the Orthodox community, the church has called upon her children to be loyal citizens. But loyalty to the authorities must not extend to the injury of the Orthodox faith. The church supports the politics of her civil government not simply by virtue of the fact that she finds herself on the territory of a given government, but only insofar as the these politics correspond to her expectations. In the opposite situation, the authorities may lose the support of the church.

Finding themselves scattered throughout all the world, the clergy and laity of the ROCOR strove to have neighborly relations with the people of the countries wherein they settled. To this end they demonstrated respect for their faiths, traditions and customs, while at the same time preserving their Orthodox identity. In 1953, the saint of the Russian diaspora Archbishop John of Shanghai, at that time the ruling hierarch of the Western European Diocese, summoned his clergy to the veneration of Western saints in his decree № 223:

“As we are scattered abroad in countries where of old holy God-pleasers struggled and were glorified by their sufferings or other ascetical acts, and were honored by the Orthodox church of Christ in ancient times, it is meet that we should worthily honor them and have recourse to them, while at the same time not cooling toward those holy God-pleasers to whom we have previously had recourse in prayer. We call upon the clergy to commemorate during the divine services (at the litias and in other prayers) those God-pleasers who are the protectors of that place or country wherein the service is being celebrated, and also those who are especially venerated there. The same should be done at the dismissal.

“In particular, within the Paris region one should commemorate the Hieromartyr Dionysius, the Venerable Genevieve, and the Venerabe Klotwald; in Lyons — the Hieromartyr Irenaeus; in Marseilles — the Martyr Victor and the Venerable Cassian; in the Toulouse region — the Hieromartyr Saturninus, Bishop of Toulouse; in Tours — the Holy Hierarch Martin. In doubtful and unclear situations, refer to us for clarification and instruction.

“Also invite your flock to honor these saints.” [25]ibid. p. 5.

As a result, not only was the number of saints of the Russian church increased, but the Orthodox also manifested their respect for the religious sentiments of the residents of Western Europe.

Gradually, the Orthodox church began to prayerfully observe certain civil holidays, such as Thanksgiving Day. Through the intiative of Archbishop Anthony of San Francisco and Western America, the Orthodox churches of the USA have served Molebens of thanksgiving on this day since 1985.

The church allows cooperation with heterodox organizations toward the practical resolution of humanitarian problems, but at the same time values her own independence. As is well known, financial influence has a corrupting effect. The decisions of the Hierarchal Synod of November 14, 1974, speak of the necessity of avoiding financial help from non-Orthodox structures. Those church organizations which were receiving such help are advised to seek out other means of subsistence. At the same time, the decisions emphasize that this must be done gradually and tactfully, so as not to offend one’s benefactors.

In our opinion, an exhaustive answer to the problem of mutual relations with the heterodox was given in the decisions of the Hierarchal Council of November 19, 1950:

“Cooperation with the heterodox within the social and charitable realms is possible as long as full indepenence is matters of faith and confession is preserved … Orthodox Christians, following the teaching of Christ, should manifest love and benevolence toward all, without distinctions of faith or nationality, striving to help them in their needs and being their generous benefactors.” [26]Svi͡atitel’ russkogo zarubezh’i͡a vselenskiĭ chudotvoret͡s Ioann. 1998. — М. p. 592—593.. The point addressed by the above decision is, of course, quite concrete for contemporary Orthodox in Russia.

It would be entirely incorrect to think that, abiding in the West, the ROCOR isolated itself within a Russian Orthodox environment and lived exclusively in the remembrance of the lost fatherland. On the contrary, her clergy and flock had a lively reaction to the events of social and political life within the countries of their residence, paying special attention to those processes and phenomena that indicated a departure from Christianity, a break with tradition. The ecclesiastical press of the Russian émigrés provides us with a variety of examples. Thus in 1963 the pages of the famous organ of the ROCOR “Orthodox Russia” published the article “The Spiritual Degeneration of the USA and its Outcome,” which discussed the gradual exchange of Christian values for some sort of vague humanism. [27]T͡serkovnai͡a zhizn’. 1951. № 1. p. 2.

In our view, the very possibility of the appearance of articles with titles like this tells us something about democracy and freedom of speech. It is absolutely unthinkable that in the same year of 1963 the “Journal of the Moscow Patriarchate” could have have published an article called “The Spiritual Decay of the USSR.” And the difference here is not with the ecclesiastical press, but with the totalitarian communist regime.

In 1976 “Orthodox Russia” published an address by Metropolitan Filaret to all the Christians of the United States in which he protested again the showing of the film “The Passover Plot.” [28]Pravoslavnai͡a Rus’. 1963. № 18. In the same year, Archbishop Seraphim of Chicago and Detroit went on Russian radio in Chicago and accused Americans of abusing freedom:

“The genesis of our United States was thought up beautifully by the founders and rested on solid foundations: faith in God, freedom of conscience, speech, the press, equality of all before the law, etc. As long as faith in God was strong, everything was fine. Faith kept the people of America from abusing freedom of speech and press, from perversion, etc. And America went from being a semi-barbarous country with an extremely varied population to being the most civilized, the richest, and the most powerful country on earth.

“Unfortunately, over the last fifty-to-sixty years, has begun to decrease gradually among Americans. The result is all of these horrors we read about in the newspapers and see on television, and which many experience themselves. As a result, the power and authority of the USA has already decreased, for the power of a state does not consist in the number of its atomic bombs, but in the morality of its people.” [29]ibid. 1976. № 13. p. 1..

The author of the 1984 article “Spiritual Crisis” comes to similarly discomfiting conclusions. In his opinion, the Western world has been soiled by lack of ideals and irreligion. The lack of faith is persistently overtaking the quality of the people, and this is leading to horrible consequences in the form of wars and social catastrophies. [30]ibid. p. 2.

Among comparable documents of the present time, we must note the 2004 Pastoral Epistle of Archbishop Kyrill of Western America and San Francisco with the clergy of the Western Diocese on the subject of same-sex marriages, which says in part:

“With deep grief and great concern for our future, we the clergy of the Western American Diocese of the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad, together with our archpastor the Right Reverend Kyrill, Archbishop of San Francisco and Western America, view the increasing disdain for the laws of God and for governmental issues shown by that which pretends to be a marriage license for those of the same gender, and the by the performance of ceremonies that pretend to establish a union equal to marriage for such people.

“It is the duty of the church to direct Her children toward obedience to the laws of the state, insofar as these are not found to be in conflict with the laws of God. When the laws of the state diverge from the path of righteousness established by God, the church must call attention to the dangers of such apostasy.” [Emphasis ours. -D.A.] [31]ibid. 1984. № 21. p. 7.

As can be seen from the above-cited materials, the fundamental principles informing the ROCOR’s relations with heterodox society have been goodwill and neighborliness, together with concern for the preservation of the Russian Orthodox identity and of proper independence. While approving of one side of social and political life in the country of their residence (anti-communism, Christian and conservative attitudes, civil freedom), the church has at the same time fearlessly criticized those phenomena which, from her perspective, have brought harm to morality, have gnawed at the foundations of society, or have gone contrary to Christianity.

Under the Russian Empire, the Orthodox church was part of the governing apparatus and was “obligatory” for all who were born into the Orthodox faith. In the USSR all of the activities of the clergy and laity were confined to the performance of divine services. A completely different situation obtained beyond the borders of Russia. Here, especially in the period between the two World Wars, the life of society was seething. Numerous parties, political and youth movements, emigrant organizations, strove to obtained the blessing and support of the church. Accordingly, it became necessary to define what sort of participation the clergy might have in matters of civil society, and to answer whether such involvment was a hindrance to pastoral service.

Archbishop John of Shanghai gave an exhaustive answer to this question. In his decree “The Possibility of the Clergy’s Participation in the life of Society” he says directly that the primary task of the priest it to lead human souls to the Kingdom of God. Therefore he should not waste time in worldly matters. This does not mean, however, that a clergyman should entirely alienate himself from any worldly activity. For example, they can participate in benevolent organization, and may even head them. What is impermissible for a priest is to join any party, thus becoming subject to the discipline of the party and taking on societal duties. [32]The ban for clergy on formal membership in social or political organizations is also contained in the handbook for clergy of the ROCOR. According to the page 20 of this handbook, clergy “may … Continue reading According to the Archbishop, the participation of the clergy in the life of civil society must be confined to the sanctification of personal, governmental and social life. [33]Svi͡atitel’ russkogo zarubezh’i͡a vselenskiĭ chudotvoret͡s Ioann. 1998. p. 598—601.[34]T͡serkovnai͡a zhizn’. 1938. № 10. p. 151—152...

Quite demonstrative in this regard is the resolution of the Hierarchal Synod concerning the Russian Christian Work Movement:

“Having brought to attention the fact that the Russian Christian Work Movement, although its primary goal is to provide for the material needs of the Russian people in diaspora, yet at the same time has taken the Holy Orthodox Cross as its symbol and thus gives the Russian people an opportunity to realize the necessity of giving their powers to the holy struggle for our native land, which proceeds from the Christian ideal of life, and that in their illuminating work the aforesaid movement is fighting against godless marxism and the Third Internationale, as against the bulwark of militant godlessness and anti-nationalism, we bless the work of the Russian Christian Work Movement and recommend that the clergy become acquainted with it. acquaint their flocks with it, and recommend cooperation with the movement’s work.” [35]T͡serkovnye vedomosti. 1926. № 15—16. p. 3.

The same principle was operative in relations with young students. In 1926 the Hierarchal Synod released the decision to take under their protection all Orthodox student societies which, in their founding documents, officially considered themselves to be Orthodox, arranged their internal and external activities in accordance with the Orthodox Church, and were under the spiritual guidance of Orthodox hierarchs or of persons invested with their trust. [36]ibid. p. 602—603.

In 1938 the Second All-diaspora Council heard the presentation of the head of the ideological division of the Supreme Council of the RTKhD of Yugoslavia, Boris Gershelman on the subject of moral significance of contemporary social trends. The Council declared in its resolution that:

“The Synod, the diocesan Hieararchs and the leaders of the parishes should turn their concerned attention to the Russian national organizations and help them to follow the true Orthodox Russian path.

“To this end it would be desirable that the administrative center of every organization that agrees to this should be placed under the spiritual care of a special spiritual director — the pastor of the local parish or, in special circumstances, another pastor appointed by the Diocesan Hierarch. The task of the spiritual director will be to become acquainted with the ideology and internal nature of the organization, to ensure the degree of their correspondence with the Orthodox Russian worldview, to clarify what it means to be devoted to this understanding of the world and to its principles, and to strive by means of brief instruction and admonition to extinguish as quickly as possible all temptations and errors, so that the organization might set out and go firmly by the salvific Holy-Russian path.” [37]T͡serkovnai͡a zhizn’. 1938. № 10. p. 151—152.

As for the participation of ecclesiastical parish organizations in political matters, it was condemned. Thus in Germany a decree of Metropolitan Seraphim acknowledged that interference by parochial organizations in socio-political matters was just as undesirable as interference by socio-political organizations in church or parish affairs. At the same time, personal participation by the clergy in social organizations was entirely allowed. [38]Raspori͡azhenii͡a vysokopreosvi͡ashchenneĭshego Serafima, mitropolita Berlinskogo i Germanskogo i Sredne-Evropeĭskogo mitropoloch’ego okruga. 1950. January. p. 3.

While they supported the religious and patriotic structuring of organizations, the hierarchs were completely opposed to attempts to drage the ROCOR into the political squabbles of the Russian emigration. One such attempt occured at the beginning of the 1960s, when a series of articles directed against the order of hierarchs and clergy in the Russian Church Abroad appeared in the émigré press. In response, the Hierarchal Synod, considering such publications to be a result of political discord among émigré groups, especially emphasized in its decree of November 21, 1963 that the church, whose chief task is bring salvation to human souls, must stand aside from petty political disputes and from conflicts between various organizations. [39]Pravoslavnai͡a Rus’. 1963. № 22. p. 7.

In 1993, after an infamous auto race organized by the society “Pamyat” in company with Bishop Varnava of Cannes, the Hierarchal Council resolved:

“1. To publish in the church press a declaration that our church is not connected to any sort of political or social organization whatsoever, but receives into her bosom all people who seek salvation, regardless of their political views.

“2. Our church likewise condemns all hatred toward people on the basis of national origin, political views, or religious convictions.” [40]T͡serkovnai͡a zhizn’. 1993. № 3—4. p. 10.

Thus the mutual relations between the ROCOR and political parties or movements has been established on the principles of the church’s integrity and independence. The church has never associated herself with a political ideology and has never adopted the position of one party or another. Cooperation with various movements among the Russian emigration has occured for the most part within the spiritual sphere and has consisted in the church’s direction and nourishment of such organizations as have sought these from the church.

While having relations and cooperating with a whole series of organizations, the church has not clearly expressed a preference for any one of them. As a rule, the sympathies of the ROCOR have been with the most extremely anti-communist organizations. The church’s representatives have regularly taken part in anti-Soviet events (the Day of Non-capitulation, actions on behalf of prisoners of conscience, etc.), but all of this activity was considered as part of the struggle against godless communism, which had enslaved the Homeland and was persecuting the church and the faithful, which means that it had an important spiritual component.

The church decidedly opposed the development of political disagreement and conversations within its environs. Although the representatives of the clergy, naturally, might have had their own personal sympathies and antipathies, these did not alter the general picture. In the end the church did not completely stand on the side of this or that political or social movement, such that they would condemn all other movements. The experience of the church’s contact with various political powers permits us to draw the conclusion that it is necessary for the church to preserve a definite balance, one that allows Her spiritual duty to stand before Her in the first place.

Ideally, she should neither have to align herself with the ruling party nor with the opposition. Alignment with the ruling party solely on account of the fact that it is ruling is not only unsuitable for the church, but is also dangerous. On the other hand, imperceptive dissent is just as unsuitable.

Cooperation with the authorities is possible and necessary insofar as it enables the arrangement of political and civil life of Christian principles. After the church had lost the support and protection of the government, the laity turned out to be her primary support. The call to strengthen the role of the laity in ecclesiastical life was already being heard at the Local Council of 1917-1918, when the corresponding parochial by-laws were revised. Under the difficult circumstances of refugee life, the task of a closer unity between laity and clergy became yet more concrete. It is no accident that the First All-diaspora Council of 1921 paid the most prominent attention to this problem.

According to the Council’s participants, the strong parish community, in which all Orthodox Russian emigrants might be engaged, had to be placed at the foundation of the church’s structure. The parish had to become as it were a singe family with the pastor at its head. Active participation in parochial life was seen as the duty of an Orthodox person. The Council’s decree especially emphasized that the bulwark of the church’s constitution was not the [secular] authorities, nor any party whatsoever, but precisely the Orthodox flock. [41]Acts of the All-Diaspora Council of the Russian Church Abroad. 1922. — Sremski-Karlovt͡si p. 70—72..

In 1935, the First Hierarch of the ROCOR, Metropolitan Anthony remarked in his address on the occasion of the convocation of the Second All-diaspora Council:

“The circumstances in which our church lives abroad, having no support whatever from the governing powers, subsisting, to quite a significant extent, thanks to the labor of pious parishioners, makes it unavoidable that respresentatives of the laity should be drawn into close participation not only in parochial matters, but in the business of the whole church.” [42]T͡serkovnai͡a zhizn’.22 1935. № 7. p. 117.

Accordingly, the hierarchs decided to include representatives of the clergy and laity in the upcoming Council:

“The invitation, in agreement with certain examples in the ancient church and occasioned by the demands of life, of the clergy and laity to participate in the Council, lays upon the clergy and laity the obligation of a conscientious and sacrificial attitude toward the authority of the hierarchs in matters of ecclesial administration.

“The inclusion of the clergy and laity in the work of the Preconciliar Comission and in its local divisions shall serve as a first experience of such cooperative labor.” [43]ibid. p. 118.

In this way, the cooperative work of hierarchs, clergy and laity was made fundamental to the organization of ecclesial life. But this did not at all indicate the introduction of some sort of ecclesial democracy — the final word remained with the episcopate in all cases.

The issue of parish life was actively discussed at the All-Diaspora Council itself in 1938. The Council stated that a close relationship between pastor and flock was a rare phenomenon, especially in large parishes. The pastors often see their flock only in church. Individual work with parishioners was almost completely forgotten. In order to correct the situation, the Council recommended that the clergy employ the sacraments and occasional services for the care of individual souls. They especially emphasized that confession should be vital and accesible for the parishioners[44]ibid. 1938. № 10. p. 152—156..

Having addressed the task of revitalizing parish activities by way of the activization of the laity and their closer unity with the clergy, the Second All-diaspora Council simultaneously strove in all ways to support the authority of the pastors, and to remind the laity that they had not only rights, but also responsibilities. According to the Council’s decision, the strengthening of the role of the laity in ecclesial life should come about while preserving the hierarchal principal, and not to the detriment of ecclesial discipline. [45]ibid.

Unfortunately, the parish reform which began at the All-Russian Local Council of 1917-1918, and which continued abroad, also had negative aspects. During the 60s of the last century, there arose a movement among the laity of the Russian Orthodox Church which strove to limit the authority of the bishops. The clearest manifestations of this attitude were the “Society of Laymen” in San Francisco and the “Union of Ecclesial Agents,” which operated in the Northern United States. The latter, in February 1967, released a communication in which they accused the ecclesial administration of establishing a “dictatorship of bishops” and demanded an expansion of the laity’s participation in church administration.[46]ibid. 1967. № 1—12. p. 24—29. Four years earlier, in connection with the founding of the “Society of Laymen”, the Hierarchal Synod published a statement in which they clearly said that the structure of the church does not know of any organization of laity, separate from the hierarchs and clergy, for the direction of ecclesial affairs. [47]ibid. 1963. № 1—12. p. 10—11.

In 1967 the Hierarchal Sobor made another reminder that the representatives of the clergy and the laity could be included to participate in ecclesial administration only in the quality of co-workers with the hierarchs, and that the fulness of authority in a diocese rests with the bishop, while in the church as a whole it rests with the council of bishops. Attempts on the part of the laity to lay claim to an authority in the church on par with the bishops could only be received as self-appointment, which leads to the destruction of the church.

The problem of relations between the laity and hierarchs was also addressed in the “Instructional Decrees” composed by Archbishop Averky at the request of the Council of bishops as a principled introduction to the Normative Parochial By-Laws of the ROCOR, which was developed on the basis of the parochial by-laws of 1918 and, accordingly, invited the laity to actively participate in parish life. Basing himself on the inviolability of the canonical foundations of Orthodoxy, Averky emphasized that, in light of the difficult situation of the church after the revolution, the laity were invited to an active cooperation with their pastors, but under no circumstance were they invited to direct church affairs:

“This COOPERATION would not have promised any priviliges or distinctions to the layman, which could only lead him to exaltation and vainglory, but only the ASCETICAL STRUGGLE OF CONFESSION and even MARTYRDOM before the face of the godless authorities who ruled over Russia, who intended to uproot the faith and annihilate the church. They were not called by their own authority to rule and make decrees, but to cooperate fruitfully with their episcopate and with the clergy, humbly and selflessly helping them to fulfill their high service under the new and difficult circumstances created by the godless revolution, which required that they risk not only their material prosperity but also their own lives.

“Therefore any attempt by inexperienced or unchurched persons to make use of the formal aspect of the Parochial By-Laws, of their literal or rigoristic interpretation … for the sake of any personal or party interests, foreign to those of the church, should be decisively cut off by the canonical authority of the Bishops… There is no exertion of power in ecclesial matters, but service; no lordship but only the BEARING OF ONE’S MINISTRY.” [48]Holy Trinity Seminary Archive, Synod of Bishop Fond

Thus the path to the active participation of the laity in ecclesial life was in large part clarified by the church’s loss of support from the government, which had taken up the position of militant atheism. When the believing people had been left as the only support of the church, it was entirely natural that layman’s role should become greater both in parochial and church-wide affairs. Under the conditions of the emigration, this role became even greater. The ROCOR welcomed the activism of the parishioners and instructed the clergy to encourage it by all means. But this did not at all indicate the intrusion of any sort of democratic principles into ecclesial life. Attempts to establish organizations of laymen independent of the hierarchy, striving to lay claim to a measure of ecclesial authority for themselves, were met with a decisive rebuff, and the church preserved her canonical organization and hierarchal structure.

As a result of the expulsion from Russia of a part of the Russian Orthodox Church, we can see how they came to related to the governments of the countries of their residence, with political parties among the emigrants and, finally, with their own flock.

The most essential requirement which the ROCOR has given to the goverments of countries wherein in the Russian emigration lives has been non-interference in the internal business of the ecclesial community. Wherever the church enjoys freedom and can fulfill Her ministry unhindered, she supports the governing authority and demonstrates loyalty thereto (as long as the demonstration of such loyalty does not produce extend to injury to the faith or take such forms as would confuse the faithful). But the preservation of loyalty does not exclude criticism of such actions as contradict the aspirations of the church herself and are likely to have a negative effect on the spiritual consistency of society in general, and of the church’s flock in particular.

In her relations with heterodox societies, including secularists, neighborliness has been the fundamental principle. This includes respecting foreign faiths, traditions and customs, so long as the Russian Orthodox identity is carefully preserved. The assertion of their proper integrity has not led the ROCOR to transform into any sort of ethnic club. She remains open to society and attentively follows the events that occur therein, giving them a Christian evaluation. The relations of the ROCOR with political parties and movements within the emigration are founded on the principles of self-sufficiency and independence.

In spite of the presence of strong monarchist attitudes, the Russian Church Abroad does not bind itself to any political ideology decisively resists attempts to draw her into political disputes on behalf of one or another political party or group. Cooperation with varies organization bears a spiritual character and consists in ecclesial nourishment and direction upon the Orthodox-national path.

Having made a stake in increasing the role of the laity in parochial and church-wide life, the ROCOR also has been able to resist the tendency to undermine the hierarchal foundations of the church and to inject democratic principles into ecclesial life. The vital and fruitful activity of the laity in the Russian Church Abroad is operates under the direction of the clergy and in canonical submission to the hierarchy.

Of course, the ROCOR has had its mistakes and errors. But she also most certainly possesses an experience which, with an appopriate corrective, could be put to good use in Russia. This experience, in part, witnesses to the fact that the church is able to carry out her ministry in contemporary society without renouncing her inherent conservatism. In order to build a relationship with the secular world, it is not necessary to rush into imperceptive reforms or to slavishly follow the caprices of the moment. The careful guarding of the riches of ancient church tradition does not by itself require us to become isolated in some sort of spiritual reservation, or to be transformed into a relic of a past era. But the most important thing for the church is to preserve her independence, for only then can her free voice be heard.


1 viz Address of the Supreme Church Council of the Russian Orthodox Church (
2 viz Krasnov Levitin, A.E. 1980. V poiskakh novogo grada: Vospominanii͡a<\li>
3 T͡serkovnai͡a zhizn’. 1936. № 7. p. 14
4 At the present time, the majority of the parishes of the ROCOR are found in the USA, Canada, Western Europe and Australia.
5 T͡serkovnai͡a zhizn’. 1937. № 9. p. 131—132.
6 vizPravoslavnyĭ vestnik v Kanade. 1972. № 18—19. p. 10.
7 T͡serkovnye vedomosti Pravoslavnoĭ T͡serkvi v Germanii. 1951. № 6. p.3. The absence of the army in this case is explained by the fact that in 1951 there was simply no one to commemorate. The German Bundeswehr was not founded until 1955.
8 Vestnik Zapadno Evropeĭskoĭ eparkhii Russkoĭ T͡serkvi zarubezhom. 1980. № 16. p. 39.
9 T͡serkovnai͡a zhizn’. 1947. № 2. p. 1—2.
10 ibid. 1951. № 2. p. 5.
11 ibid. 1933. № 4. p. 50—53.
12 STDS Archive, Hierarchal Synod Foundation
13 Pravoslavnai͡a Rus’. 1976. № 13. p. 1.
14 Letters, resolutions and lectures received by the Church Council of the Russian Church Abroad: Letter from the Church Council of the Russian Church Abroad to the Children of the Russian Orthodox Church in Diaspora and Exile, 1921, Sremski-Karlovt͡si. p. 83.
15 ibid. p. 138.
16 Pravoslavnai͡a Rus’. 1976. № 13.
17 Pravoslavnai͡a Rus’. 1953. № 4. p. 4.
18 ibid. 1966. № 24. p. 14.
19 ibid. 1967. № 10. p. 10.
20 ibid. p. 10—11.
21 ibid. 1985. № 17. p. 9.
22 ibid. 1976. № 13. p. 1.
23 ibid. 1994. № 24. p. 6.
24 ibid. 1999. № 9. p. 3.
25 ibid. p. 5
26 Svi͡atitel’ russkogo zarubezh’i͡a vselenskiĭ chudotvoret͡s Ioann. 1998. — М. p. 592—593.
27 T͡serkovnai͡a zhizn’. 1951. № 1. p. 2.
28 Pravoslavnai͡a Rus’. 1963. № 18.
29 ibid. 1976. № 13. p. 1.
30 ibid. p. 2.
31 ibid. 1984. № 21. p. 7.
32 The ban for clergy on formal membership in social or political organizations is also contained in the handbook for clergy of the ROCOR. According to the page 20 of this handbook, clergy “may particiate in the work of appropriate organization only in the capacity of representatives of the Church or spiritual directors with the appointment of the diocesan hierarch.” (T͡serkovnai͡a zhizn’. 1985. № 5—6. p. 126).
33 Svi͡atitel’ russkogo zarubezh’i͡a vselenskiĭ chudotvoret͡s Ioann. 1998. p. 598—601.
34 T͡serkovnai͡a zhizn’. 1938. № 10. p. 151—152.
35 T͡serkovnye vedomosti. 1926. № 15—16. p. 3.
36 ibid. p. 602—603.
37 T͡serkovnai͡a zhizn’. 1938. № 10. p. 151—152.
38 Raspori͡azhenii͡a vysokopreosvi͡ashchenneĭshego Serafima, mitropolita Berlinskogo i Germanskogo i Sredne-Evropeĭskogo mitropoloch’ego okruga. 1950. January. p. 3.
39 Pravoslavnai͡a Rus’. 1963. № 22. p. 7.
40 T͡serkovnai͡a zhizn’. 1993. № 3—4. p. 10.
41 Acts of the All-Diaspora Council of the Russian Church Abroad. 1922. — Sremski-Karlovt͡si p. 70—72.
42 T͡serkovnai͡a zhizn’.22 1935. № 7. p. 117.
43 ibid. p. 118.
44 ibid. 1938. № 10. p. 152—156.
45 ibid.
46 ibid. 1967. № 1—12. p. 24—29.
47 ibid. 1963. № 1—12. p. 10—11.
48 Holy Trinity Seminary Archive, Synod of Bishop Fond


  • Please take notice of the telling reference to the caonized Saint of the Orthodox Churh, St. John of San Francisco as “Archbishop John”: it can serve a key to this whole publication.

  • The Russian Church has had some difficulties in adapting since the fall of communism. A large segment of western governments, media, and people today see the Church in Russia as “completely under the control of the Russian government.” Much of this misperception is due to, basically, anti-Christian sentiments from various directions.
    However, there have been unfortunate actions by the Russian Church, or those representing it, that have made it a target for political and ideological foes. The case of the extremely expensive watch being one of these. Perhaps the problem is more one of “Public Relations” than anything else … several pronouncements of Fr Vsevolod Chaplin, for example, calling for a “national dress code” for Russia, seem both extremely odd, and a call for rather extreme government measures. The yearly “congratulations” to leaders of North Korea, arguably the most repressive government on earth, obviously some sort of twisted monarchy claiming communism, is also extremely unfortunate. “But, they allowed a church …” Met. Anastassy is still criticized in some quarters-in Russia-for one letter thanking the German government, in the person of its leader, Adolf Hitler, for building a church. Yearly “congrats” to North Korea reek of the same to “fraternal socialist countries” during the communist era.
    Met. Hilarion (Alfeyev), in an interview concerning the Union of Ukrainian Uniates to the MP in 1946, enforced by the Soviets, when questioned about the fate of those who did not “go along” with the union, only remarked vaguely about “the modalities of history” being strange … it seems the Church in Russia could do better. After so many years of oppression and control by the communists, missteps are understandable … those mentioned, however, are of relatively recent vintage.

  • Quote from the essay:

    “…Along the same lines we might say that the priest in the Soviet Union was the unhappiest of all men, because he never dared to argue with anyone.”

    Such are our times. Those priests who will stand up and argue as the madness encroaches on our parishes, families, and society in the coming years and decades will truly be martyrs.

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