Archpriest Alexander Schmemann Canon Law Other Orthodox

The Church and Church Structure: Regarding the book by Archpriest Polsky The Canonical Position of the Supreme Church Authority in the USSR and Outside Russia

Protopresbyter Alexander Schmemann

A defense of the territorial principle of church organization and subordination to the Ecumenical Throne.

From the Editor of the Historical Studies of the Russian Church Abroad

The post-war period was marked by a thoughtful and generally friendly discussion between representatives of the Russian Church in emigration, deciding which church organization in diaspora followed the canonical requirements in the most precise way. The publication in 1948 by Holy Trinity Monastery in Jordanville of the book by Archpriest Mikhail Polsky
Каноническое положение высшей церковной власти в СССР и заграницей (The Canonical Position of the Supreme Church Authority in the USSR and Abroad) became a starting point for the discussion.  The dispute between Priest Alexander Schmemann and Bishop Nathanael (Lvov) became a productive part of this discussion. The present text of the article by Father Alexander Schmemann is posted from the offprint of Tserkovnyi vestnik Zapadno-Evropeiskogo russkogoekzarkhata, published in Paris in 1949. Fr. Alexander was Editor in Chief of this journal.

Father Alexander convincingly upholds the territorial, “local” principle, based on Apostolic Canon 34. Proceeding from the meaning of the canons, that there cannot be several parallel church organizations in one geographic area, but that there should be one, without duplicate bishops’ titles, and in ecclesiastical communion with each other, Father Alexander explains that the title, for example, “Australian” should include all Orthodox in the territory designated by this title.

Father Alexander defended the decision taken in 1931 by Metropolitan Evlogii (d. 1945) about the transition to the Ecumenical Patriarchate of the Russian metropolitan district in Western Europe. Father Alexander considered this decision as the most relevant to the Christian, supranational spirit (cf. Col. 3:10-11), when one church, naturally, helps the other in a difficult situation. Commenting on this decision, Father Alexander explains that “we ‘went off’ not to the ‘Greeks’ but to the unquestionably senior patriarch of the One Orthodox Church, and that we did it not according to some whim, but because such is the objective norm of Church life. Having been cast off outside our local Church onto a territory that does not have a local Orthodox Church, we feel that in the expectation of a general Church structure in these countries that are new to Orthodoxy, it is precisely the Ecumenical Patriarch who is required to guarantee our inclusion into the universal Church organism.”

This article suddenly obtains a topical twist. On November 29, 2018, the Patriarchate of Constantinople decided to terminate the organized existence of the Archdiocese of Orthodox Russian Churches in Western Europe. Can this decision of the Patriarchate of Constantinople be considered “the objective norm of church life” and the completion of the “general church structure” as mentioned above by Father Alexander? And would he continue now to defend this decision to cease the existence of “the church realm of Metropolitan Eulogii,” as a manifestation of the “universal consciousness, the life-creating power of the integral Tradition of the Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church?”

Father Alexander’s article resulted in lively responses from Frs Michael Polsky, George Grabbe and Michael Pomazansky.

Deacon Andrei Psarev

This article first appeared in nos. 15, 17, and 19 of our diocese’s Tserkovnyi Vestnik as a review of the book The Canonical Position of the Supreme Church Authority in the USSR and Outside Russia by Archpriest M. Polsky  (St. Job of Pochaev Press at the Holy Trinity Monastery, 1948, 196 pp.) and is being reprinted here without any essential changes.  In it I touch upon (and very briefly at that) only one issue from among all those broached in Fr. M. Polsky’s book, which is Church structure outside Russia.

In his book Archpriest M. Polsky, on the basis of a detailed analysis of facts and documents comes to the following categorical conclusion:  “At the present time the Bishops’ Council Outside Russia is the only canonical authority in the Russian Orthodox Church in its entirety, both for its portion outside Russia as well as for Russia herself since 1927” (p. 193). What could be clearer?  So therefore our respect for the author and his work demands that we pay close attention to his evidence and present the issueto the point. This is not a matter of polemics.  Either Fr. M. Polsky is correct and then those who until now had thought otherwise and are convinced by him must accept his conclusions and organize their ecclesiastical life accordingly, or he is incorrect, in which case it’s not enough for us to simply say this – we need to discover where the truth lies.  There is no place for relativism in the Church.  And the fact that so many at the present time do not “attach importance” to the issue of Church structure, regarding it as an unimportant “bishops’ matter,” simply indicates a profound sickness —  the secularization of ecclesiastical consciousness. There cannot be many equally acceptable ways to understand the Church, its nature, tasks, and structure.

Fr. M. Polsky’s book demands a clear and definite response from us to the following question:  What is our basic disagreement with the Bishops’ Council Outside Russia and where do we see the norm of the canonical structure of our ecclesiastical life?  I am convinced that the time has come to present and examine these issues to the point, i.e. in the light of the Church’s Tradition, rather than in the fruitless form of “jurisdictional polemics.” Of course, a single article will not suffice for this, since what is needed is a conciliar effort brought about by ecclesiastical consciousness. This article’s task is simply to present this issue and to try to evaluate Fr. M. Polsky’s book in a certain all-encompassing manner.  It goes without saying that there is nothing official about it and that it represents simply a personal attempt, and represents merely a personal attempt to approach ecclesiastically, to the extent of our competence, certain agonizing difficulties of our church life.

1.Canons and Canonicity

All of the arguments regarding church structure usually add up to the question of canonicity or uncanonicity, and there is no end to the diversity of definitions in either instance.  Thus, Fr. M. Polsky bases his opinions upon the 34thCanon of the Apostles:: ”It behooves the Bishops of every nation to know among them who is the premier or chief, and to recognize him as their head, and to refrain from doing anything superfluous without his advice and approval:  but, instead, each of them should do only whatever is necessitated by his own parish and by the territories under him.  But let not even such a one do anything without the advice and consent and approval of all.  For thus will there be concord, and God will be glorified through the Lord in Holy Spirit, the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.”  But, we may ask, why is it precisely this canon and not any other that Fr. M. proclaims as a “basic criterion”?  We can take as an example Canon 15 of the First Ecumenical Council, which forbids bishops, priests, and deacons from going from one diocese to another.  And yet, both in and outside Russia the transfer of bishops has been and remains not an exception but is usual practice, and the majority of the Council Outside Russia has been made up of bishops who had abandoned their sees. Consequently, if we use this canon as “basic criterion” the entire episcopate of the Russian Church of the Synodal Period can be regarded as uncanonical, not to mention that of the emigration.  We present this example not for superficial polemics but rather to point out the arbitrary nature of the method used by Fr. M. P. which makes all contemporary arguments about canonicity so futile.  Just about anything can be proven on the basis of canonical texts that are selected arbitrarily and interpreted in an ad hocmanner, and one can find in the polemical church literature of the emigres how the very same canons were used to prove and justify two diametrically opposite viewpoints.  This makes clear that before using the canons we need to determine the norm of such usage, i.e. to try to comprehend what a canon is and how it functions in Church life.

We know that the Church put together the canons at various times and for various reasons, for the most part to correct some kind of distortion in Church life or in connection with changed conditions of that life.  Thus, their emergence was determined by the historical context for which they were created. This leads certain “liberally” oriented Orthodox to come to the hasty and false conclusion that canons are generally “inapplicable,” since the living conditions for which they were created have changed, and that consequently all arguments about canonicity amount to fruitless and harmful casuistry.  Liberals are opposed by those who can be dubbed zealots of canonical formalism.   Usually being poorly informed in theology and history they see only the letter in a canon and regard any attempt to see any sense beyond the letter as a “heresy.”   At first glance the observance of canons runs against great difficulties.  How could certain canons, it would seem, apply to our life?  We can take,for example, Canon 132 of the Council of Carthage, which specifies how to divide dioceses with bishops returning from the Donatist heresy.  And yet the Church repeatedly and solemnly affirmed that the canons were “unwavering and rigid” (Canon 1 of the 7thEcumenical Council, the Quintisext Council), and the promise of faithfulness to the canons is included in our rite of episcopal consecration.  But actually this opposition is illusory and is based upon a theological misunderstanding. The great error on the part of both “liberals” and “zealots” lies in the fact that they regard statutes juridically, as certain administrative rules applied automatically, as long as an appropriate text can be found.  Using this approach some, finding such a text, attempt to base their position on it (while actually having chosen it for totally different reasons), while others simply dispose of references to canons as being “obsolete lawgiving.”

But the fact of the matter is that a canon is not a juridical document, not a simple administrative rule that is applied purely formally.  A canon contains instructions on how to incarnate and reveal the eternal and unchangeable essenceof the Church in the given circumstances, and so, this eternal truth expressed in a canon, albeit on the occasion of totally different historical circumstances that are radically unlike ours, becomes the eternal and unwavering content of a canon and makes canons an unchangeable part of Church Tradition. “The forms of the Church’s historical existence are very diverse,” an Orthodox canonist writes, “so for anyone who is in the least familiar with Church history this is so indisputable that it requires no proof. In this process one historical form is replaced by another.  However, in spite of all the diversity of historical forms, we find in it a certain fixed nucleus, which is the dogmatic teaching of the Church, or, in other words, the Church itself.  Church life cannot take any form. It can only take those which correspond to the Church’s essence and which are able to express this essence in a given historical context.”[1]Prof. Archpriest N. Afanasiev,   Consequently, a canon is the norm for incarnating the unchangeable essence of the Church in changing historical conditions.  For this reason the use of canons means, first of all, the ability to find in a canon’s text that eternal nucleus, that aspect of the dogmatic teaching about the Church which is contained in it, and then again and again to actualize this eternal nucleus in life.  But for such usage of the canons, as in fact for everything in the Church, a lifeless knowledge of the Book of Rulesis insufficient.  What is required is spiritual effort, since canons cannot be plucked out of the entire integral Church Tradition as is often done by those who use them as absolute juridical rules.  Loyalty to the canons is loyalty to the entire Church Tradition, which, in the words of Fr. G. Florovsky, “does not mean loyalty to bygone times and to outward authority; it is a living connection with the fullness of Church experience.  Reference to tradition is no historical inquiry. Tradition is not limited to Church archaeology.”[2]Fr. G. Florovsky, “Sobornost: The Catholicity of the Church”, in E. L. Mascall, The Church of God, London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 1934, p. 63.

Thus, the criterion for Church structure is not a canon’s text by itself, but that witness to Church Tradition contained in it. Only such understanding of the canons provides an objective and ecclesiastical criterion for determining the applicability or inapplicability of a particular canon in a given context, and indicates how it is to be applied as well.  And so, as we try to determine the canonical norm for our Church organization in those new conditions in which God has appointed us to dwell, we need to remember first of all what the Church has incarnated always and everywhere in its external structure and what forms the basis of what the canons indicate.

2. The Church’s Essence

The Church’s essence can be expressed by one word – unity.  The Greek term ekklesia (church) denotes, as defined by St. Cyril of Jerusalem, “a gathering of everyone together in unity.”  “And the fact that from the beginning this term, with its close connection to Old Testament terminology, was used to designate the Christian Church, indicates the consciousness of unity which permeated the Church in its initial stage,”[3]V. Troitsky, Ocherki is istorii dogmata o Tserkvi, Sergiev Posad, 1912, p. 15.  See also E. Akvilonov, Tserkov’ (nauchnyia opredeleniia  Tserkvi i apostol’skoe uchenie o nei, kak o Tele … Continue reading  writes V. Troitsky (who was later the Confessor of Solovki Archbishop Hilarion) in his book. So what is this unity, and how is it expressed and should be expressed?

It must be admitted with sadness that if we are continuing to confess the Church’s unity as well as other dogmas with our lips , then it has become in our consciousness an almost abstract concept, or else we have almost subconsciously replaced its original meaning with our own concept.  Meanwhile, the Church’s unity is not simply a “negative” sign, indicating that the Church is one when it has no overt disagreements, but is rather the very content of Church life.  It is the unity of people in Christ with God and the unity of people in Christ among each other, or, in the Lord’s words, “I in them and You in me, that they may be made perfect in one” (Jn. 17:23).  And, as  Fr. G. Florovsky writes, ”It is a unity, first of all, because its very being consists in uniting separated and divided mankind.”[4]Florovsky, op. cit., p. 55.  See also Metropolitan Anthony: “The Church’s being cannot be compared with anything on earth, because there is no unity on earth, only division… The Church is a … Continue reading  Everything divides people in the fallen and sinful world, and for this reason Church unity transcends nature.  It requires the reconstruction and renewal of human nature, which are accomplished by Christ in His incarnation, death on the cross, and resurrection, and which are given us by grace in the Church through the mystery of baptism.  In the fallen world Christ has established the beginning of a new existence.  “It is this new existence of humanity that the Apostle Paul calls the Church and describes it as the Body of Christ,”[5]Troitsky, op. cit. p. 24.   i.e. it is such “organic unity of all believers that even the life of a reborn person is unthinkable outside of this organic unity.”[6]Ibid., p. 7.

But, just as we receive all of the fullness of grace in the Mystery of Baptism, but must grow in it ourselves, fulfilling it in ourselves, so it is in the Church.  The entire fullness of unity is given to it in Christ, but the fulfillment or the realization of this unity, its manifestation in life, is required of each one of us.  Life in the Church is, therefore, “for the edifying of the body of Christ, till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ” (Eph. 4:12-13).  “And only then with the head be fulfilled – i.e. Christ –when we will all be fitted together and fastened in the firmest manner.”[7]St. John Chrysostom.   And the means of the realization of this unity in Christ, for the edification of His Body, is love.  “Paul demands from us such love,” says St John Chrysostom, “which would bind us with each other, making us inseparable from each other, and such perfect unity, as if we were members of one body.”[8]Ibid., p. 96. And, finally, in the Liturgy, which is the highest and final incarnation of unity in Christ, only after we “love one another,” can we pray: “And unite all of us to one another who become partakers of the one Bread and Cup in the communion of the Holy Spirit” (St. Basil Liturgy, OCA  translation).

In this way unity is, actually, the content of Church life.  Having been given to the Church from the beginning, it is likewise the aim of each one of us and of all of us together.  It is that fullness which we must strive for in each moment of our ecclesiastical being.

3. The Catholicity of the Church: Local and Universal

So it is this unity, since it is the Church’s dogmatic essence, that is the norm for its organization. In other words, it is precisely what is incarnated in the external and internal structure of the Church in its earthly history, and the Church canons point to it and guard it unalterably.  “This unity, i.e. the Church itself, does not constitute itself as something desired and merely anticipated.  The Church isn’t something we simply think about, for it is actually a historically perceptible phenomenon …. In the natural world Christ has initiated a particular supernatural society, which is to exist alongside natural phenomena.”[9]Troitsky, ibid. Therefore the historical forms of Church organization, although they change depending on external historical circumstances, change only so that in these new circumstances  they might unalterably incarnate the very same and eternal essence of the Church – primarily its unity.  This is why, with the multifaceted and diverse nature of these forms, we always find one basic nucleus, a certain constant principle, and to change or violate it would mean changing the very nature of the Church.  This is the principle of theterritoriality of Church structure.

The Church’s territoriality means that only one Church may exist on one territory.  In other words, this refers to a single Church organization, expressed in the unity of its leadership.  The bishop is the head of a Church, according to St. Cyprian of Carthage:  “The Church is in the bishop and the bishop is in the Church.”  Thus, only one head –- the bishop — can be over one church, and in turn this bishop is over the entire Church in a given place.  “The Church of God which is at Corinth” (1 Cor. 1:2):  church history starts with such ecclesiastical units, dispersed over the whole world.  And if further on this unit and its territory expand, from a small community in one city to a diocese, from a diocese to a region, and from a region to a huge patriarchate, the principle itself remains unchanging and the same unbroken cell remains as its basis – one bishop, heading one church, in one place.  If we have a basic understanding of the canons relating to the bishop’s powers and the demarcation of these powers among bishops there is no doubt that they protect this age-old norm, demanding its incarnation in any circumstances.

Why is this so? Why, precisely because this exclusiveness of the Church in each given territory constitutes the primary concrete incarnation of that oneness which, as we have seen, comprises the very essence of the Church and its life. This is the oneness of people reborn to a new life by Christ and for whom there is “one Lord, one faith, one baptism” (Eph. 4:5).  And for this reason there cannot be another principle of Church structure other than the territorial one, for any other principle would mean that any natural sign – be it national, racial or ideological – would replace the super-naturaland grace-filled unity in Christ. The Church contrasts the natural divisions of the world with super-natural unity in Christ and incarnates it in its structure.

The other name for the Church, the New Israel, has the same meaning.  The Old Testament Israel was the nation of God, and its religion was essentially a national religion, so that adopting this religion meant becoming Jewish “in the flesh,” entering into the Hebrew nation.  In reference to the Church, the name New Israel meant that Christians comprise a new single nation of God, whose prototype was the Israel of the Old Testament, and in this new oneness “circumcision or uncircumcision” no longer have any meaning, and there is neither Jew nor Greek, but all are united in Christ.

This territoriality principle is the basis of the Church’s catholicity.[10]The precise definition of the Orthodox Church is “The Orthodox Catholic Eastern Church.”  See Metropolitan Philaret, The Greek word katholikos means, first of all, integrated, and when applied to the Church it indicates not only its universality, i.e. the fact that the Universal Church is the simple sum of all its parts, but also the fact that everything in the Church has this catholicity.  This means that in each of its parts the entire fullness of the Church’s experience, its entire essence, is completely incarnated.  “The Catholic Church, which is in Smyrna” – this is how the Christians of Smyrna identified themselves in the mid-second century (The Martyrdom of Polycarp).  And each Christian is called to this same catholicity, i.e. to “correspondence with the full.”  “The commandment to be catholic” writes Fr. G. Florovsky, “is given to every Christian… The church is catholic in every one of its members, because a catholic whole cannot be built up or composed otherwise than through the catholicity of its members.”[11]Florovsky, op. cit., p. 59.  Thus, each church, each community in any place is always a living incarnation of the complete essence of the Church.  It is not merely a part, but a member, living the life of the entire organism, or, to express it better, the catholic Church itself, which is in this place.

In the first period of its existence the Church contained many communities that were isolated and independent, and without any canonical connections among themselves, in terms of how we understand them.  And by the same token Christians have never had such an exclusively strong awareness of being one Church later on as it did precisely then, and “one Church was not just an idea but a most realistic fact.”[12]Troitsky, op. cit., p.52.   This was because each church, each individual community had in itself, in its territorial unity, the living experience of the unity of the people of God.  “And the lack of unity in the external organization was not due to its allegedly being opposed to the Christian idea of the Church, as Protestant scholars are inclined to suppose, but simply because in actuality there was a deeper and more closely knit unity.  Those forms of Church relations which can be discerned in the first period of the Church’s existence give more evidence of a feeling among Christians of the one Church idea than later forms of relations that were formal, juridical, and bureaucratic.”[13]Ibid., p. 58   In other words, the Church’s unity wasn’t defined by canonical ties, but they themselves were a development, incarnation, and protection of this unity, which was given, first of all, in the unity of the local church.

Territoriality and universality – such, consequently, is the dual basis of the Church’s catholicity. The one universal Church does not break up into separate parts and is not a federation of churches, but is a living organism in which each member lives the life of the whole and reflects in itself its entire fullness.  In this way territorial unity is a necessary condition of the Church’s universality, the organic basis of its catholicity.

4. The Development of Church Structure

But if the territoriality principle is the initial and basic norm of Church structure, flowing organically from the Church’s nature itself, this principle was incarnated historically in various ways, depending on changing external circumstances of the Church’s life.

The first stage in this development was the uniting of local churches into more extensive ecclesiastical regions and the establishment, parallel to this, of hierarchies of senior and junior churches.  Initially, Christianity was established in the large cities of the Roman Empire.  Then new communities emerged gradually around these first, naturally maintaining their connection with the Mother Church, from whom they received their hierarchy, “rule of faith,” and liturgical tradition.  In this way natural ecclesiastical unions or regions were formed, and the bishop of the senior church would receive the title of metropolitan. The metropolitan would consecrate newly elected bishops of his region, would preside over regional episcopal councils twice a year, and had the authority to settle appeals in matters among bishops or in cases of complaints against a bishop. Metropolises, on their part, were grouped around capital sees, such as Rome, Antioch, etc., whose bishops were later to receive the title of patriarch.  By the time Emperor Constantine converted to Christianity, this naturally developed structure of ecclesiastical organization was established almost everywhere and was affirmed by the First Ecumenical Council of 325.[14]For detailed accounts of this evolution see V. V. Bolotov,

The Roman Empire’s reconciliation with Christianity, of course, affected Church life most profoundly, and further on its external fate became increasingly determined by its close relationship with the government.  Insofar as the Roman Empire recognized itself as a Christian nation and all of its citizens became members of the Church as well, the Church, with total consistency, started coordinating its structure with the Empire’s administrative structure.  “Pursuant to civil and public formalities, let the order of the ecclesiastical parishes be followed” proclaim the canons of this era (Canon 17 of the 4thEcumenical Council, Canon 38 of the 6th).  At this point the distribution of the Churches into the five major patriarchates was firmed up conclusively, and moreover, due to the above reason the significance of certain episcopal sees grew in connection with the governmental significance of their cities.   The most indicative example of this is the rapid growth of the significance and power of the Bishop of Constantinople, who, already at the Second Ecumenical Council (381), received, as “Bishop of the city of the King and Senate,” the second place after the bishop of old Rome.[15]On this issue see the following: V. Bolotov, op. cit., p, 223 and ff.

We are mentioning this evolution because the organic law of the development of Church structure stands out in it in an obvious manner.  On one hand the Church unalterably “follows” history, i.e. it consciously and systematically applies its structure to the forms of the world in which it lives.  But, in this application, it does not change that foundation which, making up the Church’s essence, cannot depend upon external historic circumstances.  Whatever changes there might be in the system of grouping churches, in their seniority, in the action of a conciliar institute, etc., the territorial principle remains unchangeable, like a root from which all of the diverse forms of Church organization develop.  The canonical activity of ecumenical and local councils is unalterably aimed toward its protection, so that there would never be “mixing of churches” (Canon 2 of the Second Ecumenical Council).  This involves the canons forbidding two bishops to be in one city, regulating clergy transfers from diocese to diocese, and directing “not to ordain anyone other than with an assignment to a city or country church”(Canons 6. 10, and 17 of the 4thEcumenical Council, Canon 20 of the Quintisext, 9, 13, and 22 of Antioch, and Canon 20 of Sardica). Conceptualized in a correct historical and ecclesiological context, all of these canons protect, essentially, that same fundamental fact of Church life:  that Christians who are in one place, fused together by the grace-filled rule of one bishop, make up an organic unity, revealing and incarnating the catholic and universal essence of the Church.

Thus, in regard to this development we can only repeat the cited words of Fr. N. Afanasiev: “Church life cannot take any form… it can only take those which correspond to the Church’s essence and which are able to express this essence in a given historical context.”

4. Territorial, Universal, National

Having noted the unchanging and “organic” nature of this basic principle in the development of Church structure, we now need to examine the action of that factor which gradually enters into the Church’s life in the Late Byzantine Era and which in earnest brings us to our contemporary difficulties.  This is the national factor.

The Roman Empire thought of itself as a worldwide empire, one that was super-national and even called itself simply “universal” (ecumenical).  And having become Christian, in other words having made Christianity its faith, it kept seeing its religious calling and purpose as the uniting all nations into a single Christian kingdom corresponding in the earthly frame of reference to the uniting of all people into a single universal Church.[16]About this ideal and its history see A. V. Kartashev, This conviction was shared (although never “dogmatized”) by Church representatives as well, and the Byzantine Church literature of that period frequently points out the providential coincidence of humanity in one worldwide nation and one true religion.

But do we need to be reminded that this dream of a single Christian kingdom was not fated to be realized, and that, in actuality, the Empire was increasingly losing its universal character?  Barbarian invasions first broke off the West from it, while Arabs, Slavs, and Turks unceasingly, up to the moment of its fall, ate away at it from the north and the east.  By the ninth and tenth centuries Byzantium became a relatively small Greek nation, surrounded by newly arisen “barbarian” nations.  The latter, fighting with Byzantium, and in the same way coming into close contact with it, themselves fell under its religious and cultural influence and adopted Christianity.  It was at this point that the issue of nationalism in the Church arose for the first time with particular acuteness.

For, in contrast to the first spread of Christianity in the time of persecutions, it wasn’t separate individuals who were adopting Christianity and were being baptized as a result of personal conversion to Christianity, but entire peoples.  And the adoption of Christianity conducted from above, by governmental authority, naturally acquires a nationaland political character.   Such were the baptism of Bulgaria in the ninth century and of Rus’ in the tenth. And for Holy Tsar Boris and for St. Vladimir the baptism of their people was not only their enlightenment by the light of true faith but also a path to national self-determination and self-validation.

But, paradoxically, this religious-political idea of the young Orthodox nations which they adopted from Byzantium, from its ideal of a Christian world, a Christian state, ran against the idea, also Byzantine, of a single Orthodox kingdom, which, in spite of its historical failure continued to rule over the minds and hearts of the Byzantines.  In Byzantine thought the baptism of new nations naturally meant bringing them into the imperial religious-national organism and submitting them to the universal Orthodox kingdom.  Only in reality this kingdom had itself long before lost its authentically universal super-national character, and for the newly baptized nations the Byzantine ideology too often turned into Greek ecclesiastical and political imperialism.  By this time “the pathos of the initial Christian universal unity in love had significantly faded in the Greek Church.  It became very frequently replaced by that of Greek nationalism…  In Byzantium itself one could hardly hear that once powerful harmony of tongues which was miraculously demonstrated in the Zion upper chamber as a symbol and sign of the Christian announcement of the Good News to all nations.”[17]Archimandrite Kiprian,   And so, inevitably, a struggle began between these nationalisms, because of the religious character reflected in the Church life as well.  One of the chief aims of the young Orthodox nations became the acquisition of autocephaly as a basis for their political independence, and this struggle for autocephaly runs through the entire history of the Orthodox world from then on.[18]For the history of this struggle see E. Golubinsky, “K

In order to avoid misunderstandings we should clarify at this point with all certainty that in itself this national moment in Christianity is in no way an evil. And, first of all, the replacement of a single Christian kingdom with many Christian nations is the same kind of historical fact as is Emperor Constantine’s conversion to Christianity.  And since the Church does not absolutize any form of the historical existence of the world in which it lives it can equally apply its life to the Greco-Roman idea of a universal empire and to national forms of statehood.  The Church is always thoroughly “in this world” and to the same degree “not of this world”, and its essence, its life, do not depend upon the form of this world.  Moreover,  just as the Empire’s reconciliation with Christianity, after three centuries of conflict, produced great and holy fruit – the ideal of Christian statehood, Christian culture — so does the unfading glory of the Church reside also in the upbringing of Christians who have become aware of the aim and meaning of their national existence in service to Christian truth, in dedicating their national gifts to God.  Such was the ideal of Holy Russia and of the great Russian culture, which was inseparable from the Orthodoxy which had nourished it.  And the Church, having blessed the Empire on its “universal” path blessed and sanctified this national service to this Truth as well.

But, while acknowledging all of the positive value of the national in Christianity, we should not lapse into idealization of history.  Seeing light, we should not shut our eyes before shadows.  The path of the Church in the world, in earth’s history, is never an idyll and requires untiring effort and tautness of Church consciousness.  No formula can save on its own, neither a universal empire, nor Holy Russia, nor the “symphony” of Church and government, and each of these must constantly be filled with living truth and not with just theoretical correctness.  Just as the Byzantine “symphony” ideal of Church and state in practice too frequently turned into simple submission of the Church to the state, so did this new national path, with its shadowy side, involve the submissionof the Church to the national, rather than its enlightenment.  The danger of nationalism lies in the subconsciously occurring change in the hierarchy of values, when it is no longer people who are serving the Christian truth and measure themselves and their life accordingly, but, instead, Christianity itself and the Church start being measured and evaluated from the viewpoint of their “contributions” to the people, the native land, the state, and so on. In our day, alas, many seem to think that it is perfectly natural that almost the right of the Church to exist is justified by its national and governmental contributions, its “utilitarian” value.  When speaking about Holy Russia it is often forgotten that for ancient Rus’, which had brought out this ideal, national existence was valued not just in itself, but only to the extent that it served Christian Truth, protecting it from the “faithless,” preserving the true faith, incarnating it culturally, socially, etc. In other words the genuine formula of this religio-national ideal is precisely the opposite of the one which was glorified by one of the major Russian hierarchs in the Soviet Union when he said, “The Church was always with its people.” But for the ideologists and thinkers of ancient Rus’ the people’s value was precisely in that they were always with the Church.  And nowhere as specifically as in this sphere of the national, where the voice of blood and of elemental and unenlightened feelings and emotions was so strong, do we need a “standing on guard” and discernment of spirits – are they from God or not?

6. The Collapse of Universal Consciousness

Meanwhile, if the “churching” of the new nations introduced so many bright and holy pages into Church history, it likewise cannot be denied that simultaneously the collapse of universal consciousness began in Orthodoxy.  And this happened precisely because the issue of Church structure in this era was presented not only ecclesiastically, but in a political and national manner.  The chief aim of each nation-state became the acquisition of autocephaly at any cost, which was seen as the independence of a given national Church from the old Eastern centers, and first of all from Constantinople.  We repeat that this is not a matter of accusing or defending someone. We can hardly deny that at the basis of this lamentable process lies, first of all, the degeneration of Byzantine universalism itself into Greek nationalism.  It is important to understand that this equating of the meanings of the terms autocephalyand independence is a typical phenomenon of that new spirit which appeared at that time in the Church and which demonstrates that ecclesiastical consciousness started being determined by a nation-state orientation instead of itself being its determinant and enlightener.  National and political categories were unwittingly carried over into Church structure, and the awareness that not they but the Church’s essence itself, as an organism of both God and man, determines the forms of Church structure, was weakened.

The early Church had a very strong awareness of its independence and freedom from the world, and an awareness that it was a new people, the people of God gathered from all nations into a new unity.  And precisely for this reason, as we have already seen, the only principle of its structure was the territorial principle.  Each church, no matter where it was and no matter who was in it, was, first of all, a joyous occurrence of these new people united in Christ.

And thus relations within the Church were foreign to any juridical formalism, being built “according to Christ, not according to the elements of this world.”  In a certain sense each local church was “autocephalous,” it recognized in the deepest way its “dependence” upon all of the other churches making up the one Body of Christ.  In our day there are many arguments about “interference” and “non-interference” of one church in the affairs of another. But if, for instance, St. Ignatius of Antioch would have been told that by writing his letters to the churches of Asia Minor he was “interfering” in their internal affairs, he would not have understood this language.  For him the unity of the Church body, in which mutual joy and suffering were shared among all members, was self-evident. For this reason the term “autocephaly,” in its initial meaning, indicates just the specific form of the incarnation of that same territorial principle.  It is the regulating form of connection between Churches and in no way is it a principle of division of the Church into units that are absolute in their juridical “independence.”  The Church never divides, it always unites.  It is not a federation of “independent” units, but an organism founded on communion of all of its members to Christ.  Its unity is always from above, from God, and never from below, from the world and its values.  It is sad to see how in our days “autocephaly,” which is frequently understood juridically, is perceived as some kind of form self-defense which churches employ against each other, in prideful self-determination.  It is even sadder when relations between churches are thought of in terms of international law.

All of this indicates the gradually enacted replacement of purely ecclesiastical concepts by those of state and nationalism, the submission of ecclesiastical consciousness to a purely worldly “natural” mentality.

The territorial principle was not revoked, of course, and theoretically remains as a canonical norm. But in practice it became increasing tinged in nationalistic hues, to the point that it gradually became the main measure of ecclesiastical consciousness.  Fighting at first for its religiously national autocephaly and finally attaining it, these nation-churches became isolated, strengthening their national alienation from the others, their “self-sufficiency.”  Of course, dogmatic unity, the unity of faith, was preserved, but unity of life, universal consciousness, started dying away, giving way to national hostility and suspiciousness.

The Turkish yoke isolated the Orthodox East from Russia even more.  And if the generous aid and defense given to Russian brothers in the faith during those difficult centuries will never be forgotten, this still should not hide from us many violations of the conciliar principle and of love displayed in this period by Orthodox churches in mutual relations.  The Russian Church, being aware of its might, got used to regard its Eastern sisters with condescension, as impoverished relatives who had lost that magnificence, enlightenment, and even spirituality, which, according to Russian mentality, were preserved in full only by “Russian Orthodoxy.” As an unexceptional but characteristic example we can cite the instructions given for the establishment of the Russian Spiritual Mission in Jerusalem, in which the archimandrite and two hieromonks were told to “strive little by little to transform the Greek clergy itself…  elevating them both in their own eyes and in the eyes of the Orthodox flock.”[19]Archimandrite Kiprian, op. cit,, p. 116;  N. F. Kapterev,  And the Eastern Churches, having preserved even in their impoverishment and humiliation the awareness of their ecclesiastical primogeniture, while valuing and accepting Russia’s help, became accustomed to regard the great power image of the Russian Church with caution and suspicion.  Similar nationalistic enmity was growing in the East itself as well, between Greeks and Slavs, Greeks and Arabs, and, finally, between the various Slavic nations. Conciliar unity in life was replaced by enmity, or at best by indifference, and the unity of the Orthodox world was expressed mainly in official greetings exchanged between the heads of autocephalous churches on solemn occasions.  ”Who knows”, writes a knowledgeable Russian expert on the Orthodox East, “if at the right time there had been an effort to bring the Russian Church again into living contact with all of the separate parts of the Universal Church, perhaps we wouldn’t have experienced the disastrous schism brought about by the Living Church and the Renovationists.  And perhaps even life in the Orthodox East would now have avoided those agonizing and fateful temptations, such as the separation of the Bulgarians, the Arab question, the Neoterist Movement among Greek clergy, and so on.  If we, using our influence in the East, had enhanced the unity of all parts of Orthodoxy into one, there probably would not have been even half of the attitude of the Greeks toward us which can be observed today. But our diplomats strove to invalidate the election of patriarchs who were unsuitable to us (or rather to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, just think!), and our Mission quarreled with the Synod of the Holy Sepulcher and antagonized it.”[20]Archimandrite Kiprian, op. cit., p. 140. I

If, as we said, the meaning of conciliarity is that each part of the Church lives  the experience of the whole, reflecting and incarnating the life of the entire organism, we must admit that the lamentable result of the improper dominance of the national over the ecclesiastical was the weakening precisely of the catholic conciliar consciousness.  The emphasis was transferred to one’s own faith, with a shade of mistrust or even contempt toward a different one, as if Russian faith was not the same and unchangeable faith of the Apostles and Holy Fathers, as if commitment to the Church does not consist always of the expansion of one’s heart and being to the fullness of the entire experience of the Church, and, as if, finally, our Russian saints are holy due to their Russianness and not to their holiness, having sanctified and enlightened their earthly homeland through the acquisition of the Holy Spirit.

7. Juridicism and Bureaucracy

The intensification of juridicism in church life, connected to the same national state regeneration, should be added here.  This is the reduction of church relations, already within the local churches themselves, to formal and administrative relations, distorting the very nature of Church life as well as the source of authority and governing in the Church. In Russia this began with Peter’s reforms, which applied to the Church principles of governmental administration and turned it into, from the government’s point of view, the “Department of Orthodox Confession.”  And so, for instance, bishops started being transferred from see to see (in violation of all the canons) by a simple edict of the central church authority, and this was done not because of some need of the Church, but as an application of the purely civilian principles of “doing the job” and “promotions in the ranks.”  But because of this, from a small local church, an organic cell of the universal ecclesiastical organism, uniting into indissoluble unity the lives of the bishop, the rest of the clergy, and the flock, the diocese came to resemble more of a kind of ecclesiastical province, a simple civilian administrative region ruled by edicts and circulars coming from an anonymous consistorial bureaucracy.  As for the conciliar governing of the Church by bishops (the canons prescribe bishops’ councils twice a year), it was replaced by a central super-administration, operating likewise through edicts and circulars. From this point genuine canonical consciousness, which had been nourished by an ecclesiastical spirit and by an urge to build up Church life in accordance with Church Tradition, yielded to blind submission to red tape.  When we are informed about “rebirth” of the Church in the USSR, which has been allegedly freed from the Ober-Procurator administration, without even mentioning this freedom, it suffices to read in any issue of the Journal of the Moscow Patriarchate the “Chronicle of Appointments and Transfers of Hierarchs” to become convinced that from out of the entire great past of the Russian Church what is being “reborn” most of all is this bureaucratic centralization of the Church’s administration.  But to one degree or another Church life suffers from this everywhere.  And this likewise weakens the conciliar life of the Church, in which, according to the 1848 Message of the Eastern Patriarchs, the entire body of the Church, the entire Church, is the preserver of truth and piety.

8. The Issue of Church Structure in the Emigration

Everything that has been said until now had the aim of briefly characterizing those sicknesses and defects of contemporary ecclesiastical consciousness which, being connected to facts that are very old and have long ago entered the mentality of Orthodox people, make any question of Church structure and “canonicity” so difficult.  A simple reminder of the age-old norm which flows directly out of the very essence of the Church seems like an unheard of innovation or a groundless utopia.  But this sickness of ecclesiastical and canonical consciousness has manifested itself with particular force in the émigré situation.

Probably, to many all of these theoretical historical discussions seemed abstract and distant from the burning and sore subjects of “actuality.”  But as we now turn to our “foreign paths” and, more specifically, to Fr, Michael Polsky’s book, we will try to demonstrate why all of our “jurisdictional” arguments cannot be solved without following the path of a genuine return to the living and integral sources of Orthodox canonicity, i.e. to the Orthodox understanding of the Church’s essence.

According to our deep conviction, the basic cause of all of the foreign ecclesiastical arguments and divisions was precisely the fact that from the beginning, in the light of the entire Tradition of the Church, there was no theoretical consideration and realization of the unprecedented appearance of hundreds of thousands Orthodox with bishops and other clergy “beyond the borders”, i.e. outside the territory of their own local Church.  For the question of how they should build their Church life canonically, in agreement with the dogmatic and canonical tradition of the Church, precisely due to totally unusual and new conditions, required intensive analysis and conciliarism and was a question forthe entire Orthodox Church, in all of its ecumenical fullness, rather than a particular émigré matter. It wasn’t even a matter for one local church.   In antiquity individual churches were not afraid to discuss even their internal local difficulties with other churches, for here the question dealt with what was beyond the borders and directly bore upon the entire Orthodox Church as a whole.

In the meantime, a real tragedy for foreign Orthodoxy was the fact that Church life was being built upon facts and foundations that were themselves a result of revolutionary disturbances rather than upon the fullness of catholic tradition.  Canonicity was deduced from the Supreme Church Authority in Southern Russia or from similar precedents, and not enough attention was being paid to the obvious fact that the situation had outgrown the boundaries of usual ecclesiastical administrative procedures and required creative effort of ecclesiastical consciousness.  It was here that the habit of thinking of Church life exclusively manifested itself with particular force, and the fact that the teaching of the Church, expressed in dogmas and canons, and not they, was the norm of Church structure.  But by virtue of this mentality it was considered undoubtable that parallel to Russia and the Russian Church there should be a Church beyond the borders, which from an ecclesiastical point of view is a contradictory word combination.  This is because, according to the accurate comment of Patriarch Meletios of Antioch in his letter to Metropolitan Anthony, Church rules know only the “borders” of Churches and know nothing of “churches beyond the borders.”  In other words, the question of the canonical meaning of Orthodox dispersion and its organization was never presented from the beginning in its essence.

9. “The Church Beyond the Borders”

Of course, in the whirlwind of the Revolution and the first years following it, in the first heroic period of the emigration, both the displacements and changes in Church life and this great exodus of the Church itself seemed to be temporary misfortunes.  People sat “on suitcases”, and in these conditions Church life naturally developed on a temporary basis.  Each Church authority outside Russia  officially called itself “temporary,” and bishops, regarding their withdrawal from their dioceses to be involuntary and also temporary, kept their “territorial” titles, thinking of themselves as being on a journey, when due to need “the limits of governing must not be constrained.”  For St. Athanasius the Great, while hiding from Arian persecutions, ruled his church from the Egyptian desert.  And the bishops interred in the Solovetsk Monastery ruled their dioceses from exile.  But the matter is much more complicated today, after thirty years, when Orthodoxy “beyond the borders” took firm root in almost all of the world’s countries, and when our Church life can hardly still be regarded as unsettled, in the expectation of a simple return to the old order.

And so, something paradoxical took place.  The Council of Bishops, officially naming itself “Beyond the Borders”, in other words, not having its own territory, divided the whole world into dioceses and regions and called its members bishops of Brazil, Canada, Australia, and so on.  In other words, it founded local churches.  This is neither pettiness nor a quibble.  The immemorial titling of bishops according to place has profound significance and is linked exactly that basic dogmatic principle of Church organization of which we spoke above. Eastern hierarchs to this day when signing often simply write “of Chalcedon” or “of Smyrna,” and this demonstrates the ancient awareness that only one bishop can be in one place and that a bishop’s authority, his “jurisdiction” is inseparable from his territorial Church. In this way, titles such as “of Canada” or “of Australia” mean that a given bishop heads a local Orthodox Church, and is not a “foreign” bishop who in such a case has a diocese of the territory of his local Church, from which he is temporarily separated.  In the meantime, all of these de facto local dioceses continue de jureto consider themselves to be foreign émigré dioceses, and their management of affairs as being no one’s business, since this is an “internal” matter of the Local Russian Church.

So it is to this strange situation that Fr. M. Polsky wishes to give a canonical basis, for it seems to him to be totally normal, and, more than that, the only correct way.  He bases this on a premise which he regards as “axiomatically simple and indisputable:”  “The autocephaly of a national Church,” writes Fr. M. P., “has a need and right to establish missions, parishes , and dioceses outside its countries at its will and under its direct rule, and in territories of other Orthodox Churches with their permission” (p. 186).  But this very premise appears to us as being absolutely incompatiblewith the age-old universal Church Tradition, with that basic principle of Church structure, which, as we have tried to show in the first part of this article, cannot be changed, since it is organically linked to the dogmatic essence of the Church itself.  And it would have been one thing if Fr. M. P. was speaking about a temporary structure, connected to the difficulties of émigré existence.  But no, he actually alludes to a “norm” and considers his premise to be fully canonical and ecclesiastical!

From this text it would make sense to have the courage to make the deductions that perforce come to mind, which are that each autocephalous andnational Church is nothing other than a religious projection of a given people, or, going further, of a given nation, and, that consequently, it is not the territorial principle, but actually the national principle that determines the Church’s structure.  In this case the Orthodox Church is a federation, a simple union of national Churches, whose mutual relations are formulated analogously to relations between sovereign nations, i.e. on the principle of “noninterference” in each other’s matters, defense of one’s rights, and so on.  And just as a citizen of any nation keeps his citizenship, so is a member of each national Church under any conditions under its authority and only under its authority.  Not for nothing does Fr. M. P. frequently mention defending and preserving the “inheritance” of the Russian Church from the encroachment upon it on the part of other Churches.  It is characteristic that this same viewpoint – the analogy with international law – was quite recently defended on the pages of the Journal of the Moscow Patriarchateby Professor S. V. Troitsky, who had for many years been in the emigration as the canonical expert for the Karlovac Sobor. In both cases the point of departure is the same – a sharpened ecclesiastical nationalism, an accent on “independence,” defense of “one’s own” from “encroachment by others,” and so on. Of course, from such a viewpoint it is not only not sad, but, on the contrary, totally normal and appropriate to have on the same territory as  many national “jurisdictions” as there are national groups living in it, as it is already taking place in North America.  The collapse of universal consciousness and the clouding of the Church’s consciousness as a grace-filled and super-natural unity in Christ, which had occurred over many  centuries,, must be openly admitted to be “normal” and the Church’s unity should be conclusively reduced to purely natural, national, or even ideological merits. For it is really much easier to feel and acknowledge the already existing worldly and natural unity, be it national, racial, or psychological, and to crown it with the ecclesiastical, than to widen one’s own earthly nature and narrow-mindedness to catholic fullness “for the edifying of the Body of Christ.” (Eph. 4:12)

We repeat, one’s thought should be brought to its logical conclusion, and the main thing is not to use the expression “local Church,” which has nothing to do with such understanding of the Church.  Really, what could the expression “the foreign part of the Russian Local Church” (p. 127) mean?  For it is obvious that a local Church is first of all limited by its place and cannot have partsthat also assert openly that they “are not tied to territory” (p. 128).  True, in order to confirm his whole construction, Fr. M. P. refers  to missions, churches, and dioceses under the Russian Church which had for a long time existed outside Russia “without anyone’s agreement.”  But the Church Outside Russia can hardly be equated to a mission, which by its verynature is either a temporary establishment (when it is sent to the non-Orthodox to preach Christianity and concludes with the establishment of a new local Church) or one that is limited by a specific task(like the Russian Mission in the Holy Land, aimed toward ministering to Russian pilgrims).  As for “embassy churches” it is doubtful that they could be cited as a canonical “precedent.”  In the second place, and this is the most important consideration, one cannot use as a canonical basis  for one’s viewpoint phenomena that themselves were caused by the weakening of canonical consciousness and themselves need that kind of basis.  For not everything that existed a hundred years ago serves as an example of canonicity and true ecclesiastical consciousness, beginning at least with the Synodal system of the Russian Church, which the late Metropolitan Anthony and the best part of the Russian episcopate expended so much effort to criticize.

In any case, it is not such “precedents” that can serve as a basis for the Bishops’ Council with its jurisdiction over the whole world, and it would be better to assert openly, as was done recently by another of its representatives, that ”The Church Outside Russia is an unprecedented phenomenon.”[21]Bishop Nathanael., ed.    Equally groundless is Fr. M. P.’s attempt to deduce the legitimacy of the Bishops’ Council from among the bishops within it. “The canonicity of the Council,” he writes, “is defined by the presence of bishops in general who are invested with grace from on high and are successors to the apostles, regardless of the degree of their administrative rights” (p. 114).  But this amazing assertion is meant only for those who have never opened rule books or are unfamiliar with the very foundations of Orthodox ecclesiology.  The Orthodox Church knows no “bishops in general” and any non-ruling bishop (one who has retired or a vicar bishop), while keeping, as Fr. M. P. rightly notes, “the honor and service of a bishop,” cannot perform any hierarchical actions without the permission or assignment of the bishop ruling the local Church.  In other words – and this is an ABC of canonical law – a bishop cannot have any “jurisdiction” outside the limits his diocese.  Thus, hierarchs who for years maintained their titles according to their dioceses, in spite of their sees in Russia being filled, simply emphasized their uncanonical situation.

The only solution to all these difficulties was and can only be a joint normalization of the question of the Church life of the Orthodox diaspora, together with the entire universal Church.  But this is exactly what Fr. M. P. rejects, since other Churches are “alien” and can only “encroach” upon the Russian inheritance and “take it over” illegally. In his opinion, all that is happening is “the expansion of the properties of Russian Church Outside Russia” (p. 127), a sort of a colonization of a no man’s land.  The other Orthodox Churches not only “cannot encroach upon the Russian inheritance or place it under its authority without the agreement of the Russian Church.”  They also have no right to “take any side in that internal canonical dispute which the latter has” (p. 131).  Such is the final and unavoidable deduction from the unconditional implementation of the nationalist principle.  What realistically expresses  conciliarity and the unity of faith and love in the life of the Orthodox Church (and this is precisely how St. Ignatius of Antioch defined the Church), and how, with such an understanding, the members of the One Body of Christ can share in each other’s joys and sufferings, remains unknown.  But Fr. M. doesn’t cite conciliarity.  He cites the “law of autocephaly” (p. 131), or, to put it plainly, jurisdictional sources, or international law as applied to the Church.  

10. Jurisdiction of the Ecumenical Patriarch

It must be said openly that Fr. M. P.’s entire construction is understandable and convincing only if we acknowledge the absolute character of the national basis in the life and structure of the Church.  But it is with this that we cannot agree, and not because, as Fr. M. P. and his sympathizers think, that we have “betrayed” Russia and the Russian Church, but only because this contradicts in the most glaring way the Church’s very essence, all of its Tradition, and in the most undeniable manner the words of the apostles, fathers, and saints from all periods.  Christianity and Church Tradition cannot be made to fit our tastes and requirements. On the contrary, a Christian’s entire life should be a difficult feat of entering “the wisdom of truth.”  We should measure ourselves.  We should evaluate ourselves on the basis of the Church rather than evaluating the Church on our own terms.

Fr. M. P. does not see that exaggerated nationalism, which has nothing in common with an authentically Christian and enlightened attitude to one’s country and one’s people, is a terrible poison which has been poisoning ecclesiastical consciousness for a long time already, and that the overcoming of this poison is one of the tasks of that great Orthodox dispersion which has now become truly “universal.”

From his point of view Fr. M. P., of course, is correct when he considers us, who have “gone off to Constantinople,” to be “Greeks” and “traitors.”  For to him, as it is, alas, true for many, belonging to the Church is apparently equivalent to national citizenship.  In unison with the Journal of the Moscow Patriarchate he lists all of the manifestations of the hostility and ecclesiastical “imperialism” of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, that “Greek papism” (p. 130). How can we respond to this?  The writer of these lines happens to teach Byzantine Church History at the Theological Institute.  He has sufficient knowledge of the dark pages and facts in the history of the Ecumenical Patriarchate (who doesn’t have them in any place?), and they were the subject of his article in an academic journal (Sud’ba Vizantiiskoi teokratii, inPravoslavnaiia mysl’,  V: 1948).  But does this mean that Greek ecclesiastical nationalism justifies Russian nationalism? Shouldn’t both we and the Greeks, on the contrary, instead of “digging in” against each other, admit afresh with all our might that we are, first of all, one in Christ and His Holy Church, and that He, and not people’s weaknesses, are the single living norm of Church life?  So much offense, misunderstanding, provincialism, and nationalist pride has accumulated over the past centuries in the Orthodox world, that an actual rebirth of ecclesiastical consciousness is needed.  And it is possible not through “isolation” or through a prideful assertion of one’s “independence” but through a return to the living sources of Church life – to its universal Tradition.

Archpriest M. Polsky does not understand that we “went off” not to the “Greeks” but to the unquestionably senior patriarch of the One Orthodox Church, and that we did it not according to some whim, but because such is the objective norm of Church life.  Having been cast off outside our local Church onto a territory that does not have a local Orthodox Church, we feel that in the expectation of a general Church structure in these countries that are new to Orthodoxy, it is precisely the Ecumenical Patriarch who is required to guarantee our inclusion into the universal Church organism.  And we have never heard from him, as we have from our Russian brethren, that we have become “Greeks,” but, on the contrary, we have always experienced concern and love for our Russian tasks and to our Russian peculiarities.  If Greeks, just as we, sin at times by being ecclesiastically nationalistic, as, for example, they are on the Holy Mountain, which Fr. M. P. points out, then overcoming it both in them and in ourselves can be done only by maintaining genuine relations in life, a gradual effort of mutual understanding, love, and respect, and not by fruitless accusations and animosity.

We feel that authentic ecclesiastical truth should be sought in the Church always and exclusively. And in such a submission of everything to Christ’s truth, doesn’t the real faithfulness to the authentic behests of Holy Russia lie, in a Russia that lived, first of all, dreaming of a heavenly Jerusalem rather than asserting its “independence” and its “inheritance”? When the young Russian Church, at the dawn of its history, was in the “jurisdiction” of the Ecumenical Throne, neither the Greeks nor the Russians regarded it to be a Greek Church and its members to be Greeks.  And this didn’t stop it from developing the ideal of Holy Russia and nourishing a whole multitude of saints.  Having attained maturity it became autocephalous, becoming equal to the ancient Eastern patriarchates.  And this was perfectly natural.  But those who know Russian history remember that in this striving toward autocephaly there were no less politics of “great nationhood” than actual ecclesiastical attitudes.  It is no surprise that of all the glorious past of the Russian Church it is precisely this anniversary of the autocephaly that turned out to be the event most favored by the current Moscow hierarchs.  The actual creators and representatives of Holy Russia – the Russian saints and ascetics – were inspired not by the autocephaly.  And didn’t crises and irregularities arise in the Russian Church when there appeared more thoughts of the Third Rome in Russia and less living by that tradition of the Holy Fathers, which is not an “inheritance” either of the Greeks, or of the Russians, but of the entire Orthodox Church, “which in concord glorifies the All-Holy Spirit.”  And, finally, hasn’t the entire Russian culture, nourished by Orthodoxy, and all of her best behests been always “universal” by intention and inspiration? And thus, doesn’t it befit us Russians to be the first to return out of the “provincialism of local traditions” onto the royal path of universal Orthodoxy?

We repeat that in the émigré Church life everything was unavoidably temporary at first, and this explains, mainly, our Church divisions. But isn’t it time to reexamine this temporary situation and to realize what Church Tradition requires and expects from us in the conditions that God has sent to us?  For it is precisely in themand today that we need to be faithful to Orthodoxy in all its fullness.  For, in the final analysis, for the Church everything is always temporary, but being precisely temporary it lives as eternally meaningful and truthful, and we incarnate it always and everywhere in our earthly wanderings.

It is not at all important to know who was right or wrong in one or another émigré dispute.  Such polemics are hopelessly biased and fruitless. It is dangerous and regrettable when something known to be temporary, accidental, or one-sided is justified as being truly canonical and is absolutized as an eternal norm.  And this is precisely what Fr. M. P. is doing.  His entire book is a complete and utter paean to ROCOR.  He alone has never made mistakes, was never seduced, “never yielded to deceit, was never found to be naïve or gullible,” and he alone “has always acted competently, responsibly, and seriously” (p. 193).   To him alone belongs the monopoly of what is “authentically ecclesiastic” and “truly Orthodox.”  “The way of truth belongs to the Bishops’ Council Outside Russia, which took the true path of self-rule according to the living conditions of the part of the Russian Church that is outside its borders” (p. 192).  Alas, it is precisely in this path that we cannot fail to observe that, and we have tried to demonstrate why there is a profound distortionof both canonicity and canonical consciousness.

In most likelihood Fr. M. P.’s sympathizers won’t miss a chance to once again sarcastically remind us of our “tortuous path” and “jurisdictional variations.” Well, then, we don’t claim to be infallible, as does Fr. M. P.  Our diocese has indeed undergone intense upheavals and crises a number of times.  But we feel that in this seeking of the right path each time, in our mindfulness, and in the conciliarity of our entire Church organism there has been more of an ecclesiastical spiritthan in the prideful infallibility of ROCOR.  Falls and errors are always possible in Church life, and there are plenty of them in Church history.  The only important thing is that in overcoming them there was a desire to find the truth and an aspiration to attain ecclesiastical fullness .  In the tragic conditions of the emigration this search was often difficult.  And whatever concrete reasons drove Metropolitan Evlogy to turn to Constantinople, however he may have understood this act himself, the essence of the matter is not in this subjective and psychological side of the matter.  What matters is its ecclesiastically objectivemeaning.  The further we go, the more do we understand its inner ecclesiastical correctness.  It was this very act that pulled apart the vicious circle of various subjective and accidental approaches to Church structure and with it a firm canonical foundation was obtained.  We know that only on such a foundation, on the way to ecclesiastical fullness, can we find a right combination of the national and universal, the eternal and the temporal, for only along this path can a correct hierarchy of values be found.

It is possible and likely that Fr. M. Polsky’s views are guaranteed greater success than what we are writing about. Too many in the Church need not “canonicity” and not ecclesiastical truth but for the Church to respond to their tastes, habits, and concepts.  Alas, the poison of demagoguery penetrates deeper and deeper into Church life, and those in it start matching themselves according to what the majority likes and to what seems true to it.  It is so much easier to play on people’s habitual emotions than to summon their humility before truth.  But truth does not cease being truth, regardless of the degree of its human success.


We have intentionally limited our argumentation with Fr. M. P. to the area of Church structure. Fr. M. P. himself wishes to give us a specifically canonical analysis, and this is indicated by the title of his book. But in conclusion we cannot fail to add that actually the whole weight of his reasoning is not in the factor of canonicity, and this is the true pathos of his book.  Actually, Fr. M. P. calls canonical what corresponds to his understanding not of a canonical structure, but to the content of Church life among emigres.   And in this mixing of two areas, which are heterogeneous in their very essence, a certain basic feature of the “Karlovac” mentality is made evident most markedly.

The substance of this is faithfulness to the Russian Church:  “Never to break away from the Russian Church, and to live according to its interests, needs, struggles, truth, and defense of canons and martyrs, continuing outside Russia that old, Tikhon-inspired, and canonical path of the first ten years, which went away over there into the catacombs from the day of Metropolitan Sergius’ fall” (p. 125).   In the words of another ROCOR representative, on it lies ”the duty of denouncing the Moscow Patriarch  for his falsehood and for his alliance with an atheistic and satanic government,” and it “must be a mouthpiece, a voice of the genuine Russian Church in the world” (Bishop Nathanael, ed., Vesna, Paris, 1948).  It is this faithfulness, this struggle, which in the opinion of Fr. M. P. and his sympathizers we have rejected, having gone to Constantinople.  We regard responding to such accusations to be superfluous and useless.  The best response is found in that Russian cause which has been conducted and continues to be conducted in the “Greek” jurisdiction, that voice of truth which has always sounded in it.  The right to measure our love and compassion for the Russian Church and for our fellow Russians hardly belongs to anyone.  But it is also true that we do not attribute to ourselves the mission of representing the catacomb Church and the role of future judges of the Moscow hierarchy, and this is because, in our opinion, our situation does not authorize us for this.  It seems to us that there is something intolerable when a bishop living in America sends telegrams to a Catholic cardinal “from the name of the blood-soaked martyrs of the Russian

Church.”  We feel that if those who have remained have their own path, there is also a path for those who have left.  And both of these paths meet each other and are revealed as a single path of faithfulness to Christ’s truth, in the fulfillment of the authentic essence of the Church, for which the contemporary Russian confessors are indeed suffering.

It is precisely because of this that we cannot voice approval for canonicity being determined by one or another task or mission, however important and holy it might be.  Canonicity is determined always and exclusively by the Church’s eternal essence, its eternal task.  And, perhaps, isn’t our discovery of the forgotten source of living water, the authentic universal consciousness, the life-creating power of the integral Tradition of the Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church one of the meanings of our exilic path?

Yes, Russian Orthodox people outside Russia have their own sacred duty, which is the duty of faithfulness and witnessing, the duty of defending the truth and denouncing evil.  But all of this will be simply a human struggle, one that is exclusively and excessively so, if it won’t be based upon the eternal foundation of the Church, and if, first of all, in ourselves and in our Church life we won’t have and won’t manifest that Light of Christ, which alone exposes and denounces darkness and evil.

“Preserve the fullness of Thy Church,” we pray at each Liturgy.  It is in the growing of each of us and of all of us together into this fullness that our first “task” consists.  And we believe that the rest will be added to us.

Paris, 1948

Materials of the Ensuing Discussion Posted on This Website

1948. Archpriest Michael Polsky, “The Canonical Position of the Supreme Church Authority in the USSR”

1949. Archpriest Michael Pomazanskii, “Our Church’s Legal Consciousness”

1949. Archpriest George Grabbe, “The Canonical Basis of the Russian Church Abroad”

1949. Bishop Nathaniel,  “About the Fates of the Russian Church”

1950. Priest Alexander Schmemann, “A Debate About the Church”

1950. Bishop Nathanael, “The Local Principle and the Unity of the Church”

1952. Priest Alexander Schmemann, “Epilogue”



1 Prof. Archpriest N. Afanasiev,
2 Fr. G. Florovsky, “Sobornost: The Catholicity of the Church”, in E. L. Mascall, The Church of God, London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 1934, p. 63.
3 V. Troitsky, Ocherki is istorii dogmata o Tserkvi, Sergiev Posad, 1912, p. 15.  See also E. Akvilonov, Tserkov’ (nauchnyia opredeleniia  Tserkvi i apostol’skoe uchenie o nei, kak o Tele Khristovom), St. Petersburg, 1894, and I. Manstvetov, Novozavetnoe uchenie o Tserkvi, Moscow, 1879.
4 Florovsky, op. cit., p. 55.  See also Metropolitan Anthony: “The Church’s being cannot be compared with anything on earth, because there is no unity on earth, only division… The Church is a complete, new, and unusual being on earth, the only one of its kind.  It is a ‘unique object’ which cannot be defined by any concept from the life of the world…  The Church is a likeness of the being of the Holy Trinity, a likeness in which many become one.” (Collected Works [in Russian], v. 2, pp. 17-18).
5 Troitsky, op. cit. p. 24.
6 Ibid., p. 7.
7 St. John Chrysostom.
8 Ibid., p. 96.
9 Troitsky, ibid.
10 The precise definition of the Orthodox Church is “The Orthodox Catholic Eastern Church.”  See Metropolitan Philaret,
11 Florovsky, op. cit., p. 59.
12 Troitsky, op. cit., p.52.
13 Ibid., p. 58
14 For detailed accounts of this evolution see V. V. Bolotov,
15 On this issue see the following: V. Bolotov, op. cit., p, 223 and ff.
16 About this ideal and its history see A. V. Kartashev,
17 Archimandrite Kiprian,
18 For the history of this struggle see E. Golubinsky, “K
19 Archimandrite Kiprian, op. cit,, p. 116;  N. F. Kapterev,
20 Archimandrite Kiprian, op. cit., p. 140. I
21 Bishop Nathanael., ed.

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