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The Position of Our Church

The Position of Our Church First Hierarch Metropolitan Anastassy

An unsuccessful appeal of a ROCOR bishop of Western Europe to the Paris Exarchate of Ecumenical Throne to join the ROCOR.

From Editor

How real the possibility of unity between the Paris Exarchate and the Russian Church Abroad seemed between 1946–1949, can be seen from the fact of speeches given by this ROCOR diocesan bishop at two diocesan assemblies of the Exarchate in 1948 and 1949. Vladyka Nathaniel is one of the most interesting authors from among the ROCOR bishops consecrated outside of Russia. His address to the diocesan assembly is replete with his characteristic sincerity and striving for the truth of which he speaks here. It is not for nothing that Metropolitan Vitaly, First Hierarch of the ROCOR, recalled his hatred for Nazism.[1]“He was full of some kind of pathological dislike for the German people and of course Hitler”. Letter to Bishop Gregory (Grabbe), undated (1994?). Archive of the ROCOR Synod of Bishops, New York. However, in his life, Vladyka Nathaniel was much more open-hearted than the present talk might lead one to think. This can be seen in a fragment of a letter reproduced here as a footnote in which he refers to Father Alexander Schmemann affectionately as “Sasha”.[2]From a letter of Archbishop Nathaniel to Bishop Gregory (Grabbe) on April 15/25, 1980: “I had a dream today which I consider not to be so simple, and which I wanted to tell you about in order to … Continue reading Vladyka Nathaniel’s sincerity can also be seen from a letter of his to Bishop Gregory Grabbe on a matter directly related to the present publication: “We have almost no bishops with university degrees. The Metropolitan [i.e. Philaret] and I never formally graduated from the Higher Courses in Theology [in Harbin]. You also did not graduate from Belgrade University. Vladyka Vitaly junior is not educated at all and makes very embarrassing blunders in his publications. Vladyka Pavel’s University of Montreal is also not very serious.” [3]Department of Special Collections, Stanford University Libraries. Grabbe Collection. M. 964. Box 1. Folder: Bishop Nathanael to Grabbe. Letter dated April 3/16, 198. This fragment from his letter explains the entirely understandable and sympathy-inducing situation concerning theological education for refugees in the difficult circumstances of the early emigration and later during the Cold War, as well as the conception of Bishop Nathaniel’s talk.[ref]Metropolitan Laurus told me with regret that were it not for the circumstances of World War II, he was to be sent from the monastery in Ladomirova to the Theological Academy in Sofia.[ref] The mission of the ROCOR to speak the truth about the persecuted Church, of which Bishop Nathaniel speaks so sincerely, also elicits sympathy. However, due to the objective reasons outlined above, the talk does not evince the critical methodology of verifying the facts and arguments not only of his opponents but also his own. In the 1990s, Vladyka Nathaniel’s theory about the Catacomb Church—and my own at the time—was put to the test. This very empirical experiment of treating the Catacomb Church as the mother church of the ROCOR, which Vladyka Nathaniel had not had, and the understanding that not all questions could be answered in this earthly life, made the ROCOR realize that there is no other church and no other Russia than those which we have. And one of the results was reunification with the former Paris Exarchate of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, which ‘completed the puzzle’.

Deacon Andrei Psarev, August 5, 2020

One of the main tasks of our Diocesan Assembly is to answer the question: Why do we exist? Why is there a Russian Church Abroad, a Russian Church in France and America, in Australia and New Zealand?

Why, despite being Russian, is she not subject to the Patriarch of Moscow, and if she is not subject to him, why does she not leave the Local Church of which Patriarch Alexis presumes to be the head while being recognized as such by all the other Orthodox patriarchs?

We gave a sufficient reply to the first question (of why we are not subject to the Patriarch of Moscow) at last year’s assembly—my talk last year was dedicated primarily to solving this very question.

Now we must reply to the question of why those of us who are in France and America, in Australia and New Zealand wish to belong to the Russian Church rather than hastening to found Local Churches of France, America, Australia, or New Zealand, and, so long as these have not been established, why we do not place ourselves under the omophorion of the most senior Patriarch in the Orthodox world—the Patriarch of Constantinople—and submit to him.

There are those who wish to convince us that the path on which our church has set out is non-canonical and that we have retreated into nationalism and politics, making idols out of them and sacrificing the canonicity of our church and the interests of the universal church to these idols.

I would like to dedicate my talk today to explaining both why our path is the only canonically legi­timate one for Russians in the diaspora, and why it enables us to fulfill our debt not only before the Russian portion of the Universal Church, but indeed before the entire universal Orthodox Church.

Not long ago at an interconfessional gathering in Switzerland, one of the speakers, a professor and clergyman from one of the Christian confessional groups, speaking about another confessional group, said that that he acknowledges the superiority of this other group both in terms of organization and self-sacrifice, and in terms of the high level of religion it has preserved up until the present time, but that he could not convert to this confession because of certain grievous sins that it had committed 500 years ago. This is a deep justification that is in essence correct.

In the life and history of the church, there are no expiry dates. Everything that is done within the church, whether today or a thousand years ago, is forever and the Church bears the full burden of responsibility for everything that has ever been done in it, for its entire history and for all its actions.

And every part of the Church—be it a diocese, parish, or individual member of the Church—must, in some way or another, set right each and every one of its mistakes in order to be relieved of them.

Let us consider from this somewhat more profound point of view—and church-related questions must never be approached superficially, but rather always profoundly—what is currently occurring within the Russian Church.

If, 500 years after the fact, a thoughtful and conscientious person would refuse to join a church that had committed sins or injustices centuries before, then how much less must it be possible for a conscientious and thoughtful person to become or remain part of a church that justifies, whitewashes, and praises extreme acts of brutality, deceit, violence, and in general the trampling of all manner of Divine and human laws—some of the greatest crimes committed over the entire course of human history—and shows solidarity with the force responsible for them.

You can understand that in light of these considerations, the matter of Patriarch Alexis ceases to be a problem only for Russian people, but rather is one for the whole world that is universal in nature.

Furthermore, it must be said in general when speaking about this problem that we are not talking only about Patriarch Alexis himself, even though it is in him that this problem is concentrated with the greatest fullness and completeness.

Yet this problem concerns not only him, but also all the Local Churches that have gone the same route, and beyond this all similar currents in various heterodox ecclesiastical organizations that support, justify, or seek to be amalgamated into the global movement of falsehood and cruelty, of people who have abandoned God’s call.

The scope of the problem cannot be restricted. What is taking place is an assault not on individual branches of Christianity, but rather the entirety of Christianity. It is an attempt not only to bring the whole of Christianity to its knees through direct persecution and thereby eradicate it throughout the world, but also an attempt to compromise Christianity and to sully it in such a way that not a single thoughtful and conscientious person will ever—even thousands of years later—be able to confess the absolute truth of a Church that has shown support for the greatest crimes of falsehood and violence ever known to man.

Christianity and Christ the Savior are in need of conscientious souls. It is they and they alone that are of value to the Church. She only values human souls that are drawn to Her and abide in Her according to their conscience. Any other manner of coming to or existing within the Church is of no value to Her and is fruitless and inconsistent. Satan’s clever plan is to deprive the Church of these conscientious souls, through the instrument not only of Patriarch Alexis of Moscow, but also Patriarch Justinian of Romania, and the Serbian “society of priests”, and the Czecoslovak Hussite “Church” led by “Patriarch” František Kovář, and the Czech “Catholic Action” led by Abbot Horák, and the Anglican Bishop Barnes of Birmingham, and the “Red” Dean Hewlitt Johnson and Doctor Barthes, and numerous other ideologies and people involved in bringing about the reconciliation and collaboration of Christianity with atheism, or to be precise: those who pay tribute and exalt the lies and cruelty of the forces inimical to God.

People accuse us of being political and demand that we leave any “political struggle”—that is, the struggle with the God-hating forces that are cloaking themselves in a religious or, rather, anti-religious disguise—to special political movements, and that we, as representatives of the church, should distance ourselves from it entirely. But we must clearly understand that any denunciation of this evil, God-hating forces from non-Christians outside the Church does not reduce the temptation coming from movements inside the Church that call themselves Christian but approve of the evil forces that are rising up against God.

On the contrary, rebukes from outside the Church only intensify the tempting effect of peaceful collaboration between servants of the Church and the enemies of God.

If the struggle against communism is led by only non-Christian forces from outside the Church, and those within the Church either support communism or distance themselves from the struggle against it, then any rebuke or any revelations of the lies and crimes of the communist regime will serve as a testimony against Christianity, as well.

The non-Christian world, in its struggle against communism, will say: “Look at these crimes, look at this morally degrading and outrageous phenomenon that is supported and praised by representatives of various branches of Christianity.”

Thus, the greatest threat to Christianity is that its most precious birthright—conscientious human souls—will be taken away from it, that the way into the church will be morally barred for them from various angles, even through the act of denouncing those forces which are inimical to God.

Will this terrible, spiritually destructive plan succeed? No. Praise and thanks be to God, it will not!

It is a great honor for us, fathers and brethren, that you and I are one of the reasons why this plan of the devil, so craftily dreamt up and carried out, will not meet with success.

Who is first among those who stand in the way of this plan to compromise the Church and sullying it through shameless actions?

It is, of course, first and foremost those who directly, in the thick of the struggle, do not submit to this coercion by all the forces mobilized by the devil.

In our Russian Church, it is the Secret Church, the martyr-bishops, priests, and laity who not only have given up their lives for Christ’s sake, but also undergo suffering and death at every minute and every hour while resisting the fine-tuned, inventive, well-planned machine intended to frighten people, coerce them through torture, bribe them, persuade and win them over, all while harnessing the full power of a regime with absolute control over one-fifth of the earth, and without any prospect of this regime being overthrown.

It is they who are the true glory of the Church. Were it not for the existence of the Secret Church in Russia, the current dreadful period in the history of our Church would be one of Her decline and the betrayal of Her Head and Herself; yet thanks to the existence of the Secret Church, it is a period of Her supreme glory and a clear fulfillment of the words of the Lord that the gates of hell—all the forces that have been mobilized and readied by the devil—shall not prevail against the Church which has remained faithful to Her Divine Head.

This concerns all the branches of the Church who have not yielded to the forces of Satan, but first and foremost the Secret Church in Russia, because, while attempts to subdue other heterodox Christian groups by destruction or subjugation have begun only recently and it is too early to speak about the results, for the Church of Russia, these satanic efforts have already come full circle, and what has passed through this furnace over the course of thirty years is by now fine gold rather than straw.

Why forces of Hell have assailed the Orthodox Church among others, and its strongest and most fruitful branch, the Russian Church, in particular, becomes clear if we recall the highly telling words of the Apostle Peter: “Yet if any man suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed; but let him glorify God on this behalf. For the time is come that judgment must begin at the house of God: and if it first begins at us, what shall the end be of them that obey not the gospel of God?” (I Peter 4:16–17).

In such a way, it is the secret confessors and martyrs who are saving the Church of Christ and the entire race of men from the defilement of everything that is truly holy in them.

And it is precisely because they are secret, and that more so than ever before in human history, that they are not able to tell of their struggle and their very existence. They are not able to make open statements for all to hear about the injustices of those branches of the Church that have surrendered to Satan and are proclaiming lies in the name of the Church.

Consequently, the existence of the Secret Church and of secret servants of God who are fighting for God and His righteousness in inevitable total secrecy does not in itself fully dismantle the devil’s plans to compromise the Church of Christ in the eyes of humanity and history.

There is a very real danger that the voice of the Secret Church will not be heard by anyone, and that its very existence will remain unknown and misinterpreted by mankind.

The Secret Church needs to have a mouthpiece in the free world, if at all possible one that is organically united with Her and is able to perform the part of the work that the Secret Church, while accomplishing the most exalted and difficult feat of all, is physically unable to do: publicly denouncing the actions of clergymen who have given in to the forces of Satan, bearing witness to their inadequacy, making statements on behalf of the persecuted Church, and in so doing refuting accusations that the Church is collaborating with the God-hating regime and bearing witness to the glory of the Church and Her martyrs.

This is what our Russian Orthodox Church Abroad is doing, and we have the great joy and honor of being members of the same.

We of course understand the huge qualitative difference between our work and the struggle of the Secret Church. If the latter did not exist, then the Church would not have the glory to which it is our joy and adornment to bear witness. If not for us, there would still be witnesses to the struggles of the Secret Church. Perhaps, according to the word of the Lord, the stones would cry out, but in that case, their cry would be the judgment and condemnation of us all.

However, if the Secret Church in Russia should ever be utterly destroyed and suffocated by the forces of the devil—from which may God deliver His world!—the need for our Church Abroad to exist would not cease, but rather would increase manyfold.

In that case, we would be the only representatives of the Russian Church who remained faithful to Christ and would be able to defend Her, before the judgment seat of God, world history, and the conscience of men, from accusations, that She had in her entirety yielded to the forces of evil and began to collaborate with them.

Yet the importance of our Church Abroad is not limited even to this most holy cause of unity with the Secret Church and of representing Her in the free world.

We represent not only the Secret Church of Russia, but also give voice to the best expectations, the best thoughts and feelings of the best part of the clergy of the official church, as well, even though we are struggling against them, inasmuch and insofar as they are tools in the hands of the satanic regime.

Despite this fact—or, to put it more correctly, thanks to this very same fact—many of the best from among those enslaved clergymen who sorrowfully and unwillingly commemorate the name of the pseudo-patriarch appointed by the terrible regime still nurture feelings of gratitude towards us in the depths of their souls due to our rebuking this pseudo-patriarch and thereby giving voice to their own thoughts and sentiments.

This is not a made-up claim: it is the unanimous witness of all the priests and monks who in recent years have escaped from the terrible yoke of oppression in Russia.

They tell us that this is exactly how they imagined the part of the Russian Church outside of Russia to be: unwilling to be reconciled with the satanic regime and any form of service to it. They had always wanted to confess these same things in word and deed, and only their panicked fear of the terrifying, diabolical regime to which they were subject had prevented them from doing as much and forced them to submit to the church authorities that had become enslaved to Satan.

Upon finding themselves in the free world, almost all these clergymen who had belonged to the official Church in Russia became part of our Russian Orthodox Church Abroad. While some of them, a comparatively small number, have recently departed for neutral church groups, they have done so not on principle, but rather owing to practical considerations.

Not one of them, however, has joined Moscow. This clearly testifies to the fact that in the depths of their hearts, which are not yet enslaved, the entire Russian clergy, with some rare exceptions, is with us and not with Patriarch Alexis.

The witness of these hundreds of clergymen, who have cast off at the very first opportunity any pretense of unity with the church authorities in Moscow, and who are in complete accord with us, assures us of the fact that the position of our church is a genuine expression of the thoughts and feelings of the majority of the Russian faithful.

This also counters the unworthy accusation that is occasionally made of us, that our intransigent stance agains the Moscow Patriarchate is a form of proud condemnation of the entire Russian Church and Russian people.

In actual fact, our stance is not a form of condemnation, but rather an expression of all the collective, unanimous thoughts and sentiments of the Russian people and the whole Russian Church in all its parts that are capable of bearing this name, both the holy, invincible Secret part of it that is struggling for the Lord’s sake, and the unhappy, enslaved, fearful part of it that nonetheless in its spirit does not desire to be enslaved.

We do not express the thoughts and sentiments of those who are, only officially, the heads of the Church, appointed by the God-hating regime in order to subjugate the Church, as has been accomplished first and foremost in the person of Patriarch Alexis. We cannot consider him and those who are fully with him to be part of the Church, since a servant and accomplice of atheism cannot be a part of the Church, which is the Body of Christ.

Our organic connection with the Church of Russia is not at all defined by any kind of secret ties with discontented clergymen under Patriarch Alexis or with figures from the catacomb movement.

Even if there were such ties in the past, they were rare and the exception. Our connection with the Russian Church is the same as that of the entire diaspora that is interested in life within Russia: we listen attentively to what is occurring in the Church and capture this information with a concerned ear from all the sources at our disposition.

In the life of grace in the Church, this organic commonality can reach the greatest degree of fullness, yet even in the exterior, secular world, outward ties are not a necessary condition for a commonality of life and thus for the ability to represent a particular phenomenon.

During the war, the overseas divisions of the Paris Academy did not have any communications with their central body for many years, during which the latter could have been destroyed, yet they continued to represent the Academy. This must be all the more true in the life of the Church, one of the laws of whose existence is conciliar unity and one of whose principal attributes is the notion that the eternal cannot be subordinated to that which is temporal.

But why is bearing witness to the Secret Church within Russia, defending the Russian Church from false accusations, and giving voice to the thoughts and sentiments of the Russian Church inextricably linked with being an integral part of the Russian Orthodox Church?

Why can this act of witnessing not be performed within some other local church, such as that of Constantinople?

First of all, because each strand that binds us together with our suffering fellow brethren is precious to us. And in order for us to be able to achieve our aim of being representatives of the martyred church in the free world, we must not break the threads that tie us to her, but rather seek them out and maintain them.

They belong to the suffering Russian Church, and we belong to Her, too. We bear witness on Her behalf that She has not yielded to the satanic regime, that She, in her best parts, is faithful to Christ even unto blood, suffering, and death, and that the claims of those who pretend to speak in Her name while betraying this truth and being involved in the persecution of the Church are false.

Our belonging to the suffering Russian Church is not a role that we have assumed on our own initiative, and it is not merely an eloquent but unsubstantiated claim.

It is a duty of which we cannot be relieved, a vocation imposed on us by the will of God through the very circumstance of our having been born in the Russian Church rather than any other Local Church, and by the fact that, by the will of God, we became children of the Universal Church, members of the Body of Christ through holy baptism in none other than the Russian Church.

One cannot be a member of the church in general yet nowhere in particular. In the Church, everyone has his own specific place: a parish, a diocese, a Local Church. The canons of the church are entirely clear and unambiguous in forbidding a bishop, priest, or any clergyman at all—and in stricter times any layperson, as well—from leaving his place in the Church (including his Local Church) and placing himself under the authority of a different hierarchy without the blessing of the former hierarchy that he is leaving. The canons that address this issue are: Apostolic Canons 14, 15; 1st Ecumenical Council, Canon 16; 2nd Ecumenical Council, Canon 2; 4th Ecumenical Council, Canon 10; 6th Ecumenical Council, Canon 39; 7th Ecumenical Council, Canons 10, 15; Council of Antioch, Canons 3, 6, 13, and 21; Council of Carthage, Canons 32, 65, and 67; and First-Second Council, Canons 14, 15.

This is an elementary truth of which each and every clergyman is well aware: when he leaves one country and travels to another, he must obtain a letter of canonical dismissal from his bishop, without which he cannot transfer to the jurisdiction of another bishop, nor can another bishop receive him.

The situation with the local churches is the same: when transferring to another jurisdiction or obtaining autocephaly, they must receive the blessing of their mother church. In the absence of such a blessing, they fall into schism, occasionally into a very long and painful schism, such as that of the Church of Bulgaria, which lasted from 1872 until 1945, or 73 years.

When we were leaving Russia in the 1920s, in reply to the question, “What are we to do?”, the legitimate hierarchy of our church (His Holiness Patriarch Tikon, the Holy Synod, and the Church Council) gave us exhaustive instructions on how to proceed in a unitary document, the famous Decree (Ukase) No. 362.

These instructions did not grant us the right to transfer to other Local Churches, but rather emphatically stated that it was the bounden duty of the most senior bishop to band together with the other Russian bishops outside of Russia for the purpose of organizing a supreme instance of ecclesiastical authority for dioceses existing under identical conditions.

This order of Patriarch Tikhon and the entire governing structure of the church under him remains the cornerstone of the structure of our church. The only thing that could exempt us from our duty to obey this order is a new decree issued by the lawful hierarchy of the Russian Church. Yet there has been no such thing.

Consequently, according to the full force of canon law, we must remain part of the Russian Church on the basis that has been prescribed for us by the Church Herself in the current abnormal, tragic circumstances of our life.

Even if we ended up within the territory of another Local Church, there could not be any question of our transferring to the jurisdiction of that Local Church. The only question would be of whether the authorities of that church would let us celebrate our own services in their territory. But there could be no question of going over to another hierarchy without the blessing of our own, even on the generally recognized territory of another Local Church.

Only when the abnormal period of suffering and persecution for the Russian Church is over and a legitimate church authority comes to light will those of us who wish to remain outside the Russian Local Church be able to ask for Her blessing to transfer to another Local Church or to form some new Local Church out of the pieces of the Russian Church together with those of other Local Churches.

This is the canonical aspect of this issue. As is always the case, the moral aspect concurs.

As long as the Russian Church is being persecuted by the satanic regime, it has an urgent need of our voice, the voice of Her organic part in the free world, in order to witness to the fact that the pretensions of the hierarchs who have yielded to the God-hating regime and become tools in their hands, and yet claim to be leaders and mouthpieces for the Russian Church, are false, and that apart from this disgrace, our Church also can boast of a great glory: the martyric struggle of the Secret Church and Her confessors.

When the persecutions cease, if and when it will please the Lord to give us back the normal structure of our church life, then the need of the Russian Church to have branches abroad will vanish, and She, ever-generous and self-sacrificing, will make all the moral, cultural, and material legacy of the diaspora available to new church organizations outside of Russia.

Therefore, on very precise canonical grounds and for moral reasons, as long as the dreadful suffering and persecution persists, Russian clergymen may not leave their own Church and come under the authority of another hierarchy without the blessing of their own.

Yet how could it come to pass that a portion of the Russian clergymen, albeit only in one small area, here, in France, have done just that? The process whereby part of the Russian church departed into another jurisdiction has already been described by us multiple times. I spoke about it in-depth in my talk last year, and I will, therefore, be brief here.

In 1927, when the official leadership of the Russian Church faltered for the first time and bent before the authority of the persecutors, the Russian Church Abroad refused to cooperate in ceding their positions to the atheists and parted ways with Metropolitan Sergius, who had yielded to the anti-Christian regime. Only Metropolitan Evlogii, the bishop of the Russian diocese in France, sided with Metropolitan Sergius by signing a statement on behalf of himself and all his clergy saying that the church should not be involved in politics and this ought to mean that any struggle against the atheist Soviet regime should come to a stop.

In so doing, he brought about a schism in the Russian Church Abroad.

In 1929, when it became morally impossible for Metropolitan Evlogii not to take part in the surging wave of protests against the persecution of Christians in Russia, he violated this commitment and took part in protest gatherings against religious persecution in the USSR. As a result, Metropolitan Sergius demanded that he be put on trial before an ecclesiastical court in Moscow. In order to avoid such a trial, Metropoltian Evlogii approached the Patriarch of Constantinople, thereby violating the church canons that we have listed above which forbid clergymen from switching hierarchies arbitrarily. The Patriarch of Constantinople, in violation of these canons, received Metropolitan Evlogii into his group.

Yet for a Russian church body, being under the Patriarch of Constantinople is not only non-canonical, but it also prevents us from carrying out our church’s main objective in the diaspora: struggling against defamation of the Russian Church in cooperation with the enemies of God.

The Patriarch of Constantinople maintains brotherly relations with the Patriarch of Moscow, in whose election he took part via a legate. He regularly sends extremely friendly greetings and missives to the Patriarch of Moscow.

Were the whole of the Russian Church Abroad to submit to the Patriarch of Constantinople, she would have to bear responsibility for these actions of his, as well, and would be an accomplice in his moral support for the Moscow Patriarchate and its terrible cause.

Any conscientious and thoughtful human soul—which, as we said before, is a most precious birthright for the Church—will be painfully afflicted not only by the injustices of the Moscow Patriarchate, but also by the stance of the Patriarchate of Constantinople, which keeps up brotherly relations with a collaborator and encomiast of the enemies of God.

In order to mitigate this temptation, it might be said that the Patriarch of Constantinople, as a non-Russian, does not have the same possibility of insight into complex Russian affairs, such as we Russians do.

Yet from this point of view, it is thus all the more reprehensible for Russian clergy who are called to full awareness of the problems in the Russian Church to be under the Patriarch of Constantinople, who recognizes the Patriarch of Moscow as legitimate.

In participating in the recognition of the Patriarch of Moscow as the legitimate head of the Russian Church via the highest-ranking members of their hierarchy, the Russian clergymen in the Patriarchate of Constantinople have trapped themselves in circular logic.

If they have placed themselves under a Patriarch who acknowledges the primate in Moscow to be legitimate, then they themselves also ought to recognize him as legitimate; and if the Patriarch of Moscow is legitimate, then the Russian clergy ought to be under him rather than the Patriarch of Constantinople.

If the whole Russian Church Abroad were under the Patriarch of Constantinople, this would weaken and complicate its denunciation of the injustices of the Patriarch of Moscow, not only by virtue of the fact that the head of this Patriarchate would, at some point, inevitably order that this denunciation cease, but also owing to the fact that this kind of denunciation coming from another church rather than from within the Russian Local Church would be a type of denunciation and accusation of the entire Russian Church from the outside, and thus an admission that it was impossible to remain part of the Church of Russia without partaking in the grievous sins of the official church authorities.

No. We are in the Russian Church. We take all Her pains, all Her disgrace, but also all Her joys to be our own. The shame of the existence of Patriarch Alexis and his associates is our shame, too, but at the same time, the glory of the martyrs of Russia is also our glory.

Taking account of everything that has been outlined here, we ought to be able to understand why any call for us to abandon the position of our church and adopt another one is a call to commit a crime against the church and cannot be acceptable for us, regardless of how much we, on our part, might strive for unity.

In the name of our duty to God and the Church—both the Church of Russia and the whole Universal Church and the universal history of the church—we cannot abandon our outwardly difficult and disastrous, yet internally joyful position.

Yet as we have already pointed out multiple times, our absolutely staunch and principled position does not mean that we ought to have a hostile attitude toward other church groups.

We shall not have a hostile attitude toward anyone and will struggle only against those who are instruments of the forces of satan. The Moscow hierarchs and their associates are such instruments, and we shall, therefore, struggle against them; however, we shall simultaneously pray to God with all our heart that the Lord might soon free them from their terrible enslavement, and from their lot, so frightening to us, of being tools in the hands of the satanic forces of the enemies of God.

We shall pray for them in the words of the inspired prayer of the Church that was crafted in our tragic times: “Reveal Thyself to those who have departed from Thee and no longer seek Thee, that not one of them might perish.”

We shall continue, as before, to keep up friendly relations and collaborate with Metropolitan Vladimir’s group, even though they initially committed the sin of submitting to the God-hating regime and leaving the Russian Church of their own volition in 1927 and 1930, respectively, since they now no longer serve the God-hating regime and can thus now be our fellow workers and free ministers in caring for the most important task in the world: the saving of human souls.

The dire consequences of their sin are obvious. They have manifested themselves in painful ruptures and convulsions along the path of their church, in the nervous and troubled nature of their ecclesiastical activities.

We are not called to judge them. We will not tread their path, but we will collaborate with them, patiently pardoning them all their attacks against us such as are dictated by their nervous lack of self-confidence.

And we shall thank God for the fact that not by our merits, but rather despite our unworthiness, the Lord has kept us on the straight and irreproachable path of faithfulness to the canons under the leadership of our First Hierarch Metropolitan Anastassy.


1 “He was full of some kind of pathological dislike for the German people and of course Hitler”. Letter to Bishop Gregory (Grabbe), undated (1994?). Archive of the ROCOR Synod of Bishops, New York.
2 From a letter of Archbishop Nathaniel to Bishop Gregory (Grabbe) on April 15/25, 1980: “I had a dream today which I consider not to be so simple, and which I wanted to tell you about in order to make sure this episode was recorded somewhere, since I am the last person who remembers it (maybe Father A[lexander] Schmemann does, too). In 1938, we—Vladyka Nestor, Father Mikhail Polskii, Father Nicholas Gibbes, and myself (and maybe Sasha Schmemann, too, the thing is I don’t remember)— were at the Lambert Conference of the Anglican Church. During the conference, we received news of a striking miracle of the Mother of God during the construction of a church in Her honor on the Laccadive, Andaman, or Seychelle Islands.”  Department of Special Collections, Stanford University Libraries. Grabbe Collection. M. 964. Box 2. Folder: Bishop Nathanael to Grabbe.
3 Department of Special Collections, Stanford University Libraries. Grabbe Collection. M. 964. Box 1. Folder: Bishop Nathanael to Grabbe. Letter dated April 3/16, 198.


  • Regarding Bishop Gregory’s statement (note 1) about Archbishop Nathaniel’s hatred of Germans and of Hitler in particular:

    In 1951 the Synod appointed Bishop Nathaniel as Bishop of Preston and the Hague. It was planned that he should live in London, arriving in the spring of 1951. However, since he had not entered the country with the correct immigration papers, the UK immigration authorities required the bishop to leave and apply for the correct papers while outside the UK. He left in January, 1952, returning twice for short visits in 1952.

    This always struck me as odd. I once asked the historian, Fr Deacon Christopher Birchall, why Bishop Nathanael never returned to London to take up his appointment. (Instead, Bishop Nathaniel was appointed by the Synod to organize a diocese in north Africa.) Fr Christopher suggested that the UK authorities had decided (wrongly) that Bishop Nathaniel was too pro-German during the Second World War and, accordingly, they had decided not to grant him permission to reside and work in the UK.

    This probably needs more research. For example, there may be relevant papers in the UK National Archives but often such sensitive papers are embargoed for 100 years.

    (see C. Birchall, Embassy, Emigrants, and Englishmen, New York, 2014: 387-388)

    Regarding Note 2:

    This is a problematic statement. There was no Lambeth Conference in 1938. The Seventh Lambeth Conference was held in 1930 and the Eight Lambeth Conference was held in 1948.


    However, Archbishop Nathaniel was correct in saying that he (then a priest) was in London in 1938 and that the London priests were Fr Mikhail Polskii and Father Nicholas Gibbes. At the time Alexander Schmemann, then aged 16, was living in Paris. It is unlikely that Fr Alexander was in England in 1938.

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