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“How Wonderful it Would be if All of us Russian Exiles Would Attain the Church’s Freedom from All Influences that Are Earthly, Worldly, and Not of the Church” Correspondence between First Hierarchs of the ROCOR and Parisian Exarchate (1946-1949)

Met. Vladimir (Tikhonitskii) the first hierarch of the exarchate (1947-1959), next to him Archim. Job (Leont'ev) with Kursk-Root Icon, Bishop Nathanael (Lv'vov), Metrop. Anastasii (Gribanovskii), the ROCOR first hierarch (1936-1964) Archim. Leontii (Bartoshevich).
On the left: Met. Vladimir (Tikhonitskii) the first hierarch of the exarchate (1947-1959), next to him Archim. Job (Leont'ev) with Kursk-Root Icon, Bishop Nathanael (Lv'vov), Metrop. Anastasii (Gribanovskii), the ROCOR first hierarch (1936-1964) Archim. Leontii (Bartoshevich). The photo is taken in June 1950 in Geneva.

At the beginning of the Cold War, two Russian emigre churches could not subordinate to the Church in Russia and considered the possibility of merging their jurisdictions.

From the Editor

The Bishops’ Council of 1935 taking place in Serbia lifted the suspension on Western European Metropolitan Evlogii (Georgievskii), which had been imposed at the ROCOR Synod in January of 1927 and confirmed at the Bishops’ Council that took place that year. The decision regarding the entry of Metropolitan Evlogy into ROCOR which had been accomplished at the 1935 Bishops’ Council was never ratified. Nonetheless, the lifting of suspensions was an immense positive factor in the transfer of “Evlogian” parishes in Germany under ROCOR authority and in ministering to former Soviet citizens. In 1945 Metropolitan Evlogy was reunited to the Moscow Patriarchate, and reposed in 1946. Metropolitan Vladimir (Tikhonitskii), his successor, was in no hurry to develop relations with the Moscow Patriarchate, especially in connection with the fact that Metropolitan Seraphim (Lukianov), who had been with the ROCOR before the war and had actively opposed the “Evlogians,” was appointed in Metropolitan Evlogii’s place on August 9, 1946. The first letter in the first hierarchs’ correspondence is dated October 30, 1946, i.e., eleven days after the conclusion of the diocesan meeting confirming the wish to remain in the Ecumenical Patriarchate.

Although the views of both metropolitans regarding the impossibility of submitting to the Church in Russia were in accord the representatives of the two churches could not agree on the practical implications.The Paris Exarchate held the position that church life must be based on the territorial jurisdiction, while ROCOR consisted of parishes and dioceses united on the ethno-cultural principle. The latter position was laid forth by Archpriest Michael Polsky in his 1948 book Kanonicheskoe polozhenie vysshei tserkovnoi vlasti v SSSR i zagranitsei. [The Canonical Position of the Supreme Church Authority in the USSR and Abroad]. In response Priest Alexander Schmemann wrote his critique In 1949 [1]”The Church and Church Structure: Regarding the book by Archpriest Polsky The Canonical Position of the Supreme Church Authority in the USSR and Outside … Continue reading

The First Hierarch of ROCOR, Metropolitan Anastassii, had hopes that Fr. Michael Polsky could substantially layout the ROCOR position in his work. [2] Fr. Michael Polsky’s letter to ROCOR Bishop Nikon (Rklitskii) of Florida, dated February 3/16, 1950, Archive of ROCOR Synod of Bishops, New York . Commenting on Fr. Alexander Schmemann’s critique of his book Fr. Michael wrote to Bishop Nikon (Rklitskii): “Regarding my response to Schmemann, I’ve already prepared it. It is hard to imagine anything more stupid. Judge for yourself – he speaks of the impossibility of a national jurisdiction and allows only a territorial one, while the Russian Exarchate is alongside Germanos’ Greek Exarchate, who protested in every way possible after Metropolitan Evlogii’s death against such a Russian Exarchate independent of him. And everything else is ridiculous in itself, and nothing remains of this stupidity.” [3] August 29/September 8, Archive of ROCOR Synod of Bishops, New York . Fr. Alexander Schmemann’s response “Epilogue” became the final point in this discussion, which was based upon the possible unification of the two émigré churches.

In the same 1949 the ROCOR’s experts responded to Fr. Alexander: Archpriest Michael Pomazansky [4] “Our Church’s Legal Consciousness.” and Archpriest George Grabbe, Head of the Synodal Office gave the ROCOR response in the article entitled Kanonicheskoe osnovanie Russkoi Pravoslavnoi Tserkvi [5] “The Canonical Basis of the Russian Church Abroad” . Fr. Alexander responded to this with his article Spor o Tserkvi [6]“The Debate on the Church” which in turn brought about a response from ROCOR Bishop Nathanael (Lvov) of Brussels and Western Europe that same year. [7] The Local Principle and the Unity of the Church. .

Then in 1952 Fr. Michael Polsky elaborated the part of his above-mentioned book into the more substantial study “Очерк положения русского экзархата вселенской юрисдикции” and responding to it Fr Alexander wrote his final response. [8] “Epilogue”

The high degree of the likelihood of the two ecclesiastical entities being united in this initial period of the Cold War conditioned the unusual attentive tone of polemics of the issue in the press. It would have been strange to expect a different tone from such saintly hierarchs as Metropolitans Anastassii (Gribanovsky) and Vladimir. This correspondence took place between 1946 and 1949, and if the drafts of Metropolitan Vladimir’s letters were prepared by Fr. Alexander Schmemann [9] On Christian Leadership: The Letters of Alexander Schmemann and Georges Florovsky (1947-1955), Paul L. Gavrilyuk, ed. (St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, Yonkers, NY, 2020), 148. it would be hard to state that Fr. George Grabbe fulfilled the same role for Metropolitan Anastassy. “Behind the scenes” of the correspondence Fr. Alexander didn’t mince words. In his letter to Fr. Georges Florovsky of November 22, 1949 he writes: “Our ‘situation’: as expected, the diocesan assembly [of Paris Exarchate] caused a storm. Nathanael’s response, our response to Nathanael’s response [10] “Dispute about the Church”, Nathanael’s response [11] “The Local Principle and the Unity of the Church.” to our response and so on. Out of all this mess, here is what is becoming clear:
1) the issue of the Karlovtsy sect has been raised acutely for the Church, and this is something that has not been done in the occasional “episcopal disputes” for the last thirty years. The letters of [Metropolitan] Anastassy to Metropolitan Vladimir are confused and embarrassed: essentially, it is clear that he has no response to make. He [Metropolitan Anastassy] is held hostage by his own fanatics and admits this openly. When he dies, and he is already old, the “sectarian Montanism” of the Munich people will finally become evident. Their last gamble is DP, but DP’s “become assimilated” faster than the old emigration, and such a foundation is not good for making much progress.” [12] Ibid., pp. 187-188. Although the correspondence came to a dead-end the two metropolitans met in Geneva in July 1950. For the ROCOR the likelihood of unification with the Paris Exarchate abated after the Bishops’ Synod moved from Munich to New York in 1950.

The originals of these letters are in the file 53/38 at the ROCOR Bishops’ Synod Archive in New York. All of the letters are typed in pre-revolutionary orthography. The publisher’s notes are in brackets. I express my deep gratitude to Nikolai Alexeevich Ohotin, who works in the office of Metropolitan Hilarion, First Hierarch of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia, for his help with archival searches.

Deacon Andrei Psarev, July 24, 2020

Copy. Paris, October 30, 1946
To His Eminence Metropolitan ANASTASSII

Your Eminence, Dearest Archpastor and Father,

  • Once again I ask Your Preeminence to accept from the depth of my heart my gratitude for your good wishes, which were conveyed to us by His Eminence Seraphim [Ivanov, consecrated on March 9, 1946, in the Geneva Cathedral] at the very beginning of our Diocesan Assembly. The Lord God did not withhold His gracious help, and all sessions of our Diocesan Assembly went by in exclusive unanimity and peace.
  • Both the clergy and the laity, in clear awareness of the unsurpassable nature of God’s Church out of everything existing on earth, stood up firmly in defense of the freedom of church life and church organization. And how wonderful it would be, and necessary for our common task, if all of us Russian exiles, no matter where we might be and to what temporary and transitory subsets we might belong, would attain, through God’s mercy, what is most important and basic in our church life – the Church’s freedom from all influences that are earthly, worldly, and not of the Church.

I assume that we could attain this more quickly and successfully if we start counteracting in concert the general source of evil and falsehood. In this we are united, and this unity should be preserved and affirmed with all our might. And for this reason should we not, at this very moment, totally leave behind all emphasis upon our disagreements, whether they’re regarding the opening of new parishes in places where they already exist, even if they’re not ours, or by way of any verbal or written presentations. All this, I feel should be totally set aside. It’s impossible to convince everyone of our rightness — there will always be those who are irreconcilable. And the main thing is that this striving toward the realization and affirmation of our rightness will inevitably bring about counteraction, bitterness, and animosity. So since we already have something that unites us and is essential, would it not be better to gain a foothold on this and not to strive to necessarily open up our parishes and organizations in places where church activity is already happening, with our approval, even if not by our parishes. The Lord will manage and set up His inheritance, as long as we don’t stray along worldly paths, carried away by whatever non-church considerations and bases. By God’s mercy and in the realm of your Eminence, and in our souls and in the hearts of all the church people God’s Church occupies the first place, in its immaculate purity and holiness. And we will stand up on this, praying for each other, as we do all the time. And for this reason, perhaps, the visits of Bishop Nathaniel [L’vov] to Paris and Hegumen Theodosius [Trushkevich] to the south of France are unnecessary and superfluous. Instead of bringing benefits the appearance of new church figures might bring about totally unnecessary and harmful disputes, animosity, and burning of passions.

I will be very grateful to your Preeminence if you will not leave me uninformed on this matter.

Asking for your prayers, with brotherly love in Christ, the obedient servant of your Eminence Archbishop Vladimir.

[A handwritten addendum] P.S. The press-cutting from Sovetskii Patriot [the Soviet Patriot] newspaper dated Nov. [November] 1, 1946 which is enclosed here is an illustration to what has been enumerated above. A.V.

Minutes of the November 1/14 Session of the Bishops’ Synod (ROCOR)
Parargarph 1. Heard: A copy of a letter from Archbishop Vladimir, who is in the jurisdiction of the Constantinople Patriarch, addressed to Chairman of the Bishops’ Synod, dated October 30, 1946, regarding the successful getting through and conclusion of the Diocesan Assembly by the clergy under its jurisdiction in Paris and the necessity of restoring relations between the representatives of the Synodal and the Constantinople jurisdictions. From this point of view settling His Grace Bishop Nathanael in Paris appears highly undesirable to Archbishop Vladimir, since it might inflame dissension.

This was ruled to be taken into consideration.


12, RUE DARU-PARIS. ?? February. In Metropolitan Anastassy’s hand: February 11/24, 1947. To be filed with A’s report to the Synod M. Anastassiiy]

Your Preeminence,
Dearest Archpastor,

I am very grateful for your warning regarding Bishop Sergii Okhotenko [who had received hierarchical consecration during the WWII from the Ukrainian autocephalists], but I find it necessary to inform you that I didn’t enter into any dealings with him and didn’t raise the question of his entrance into our diocese. I did actually receive a message from a certain Lutheran pastor in Switzerland that Bishop Sergii of Melitopol and the Crimea is living in Constanza and would like to start corresponding with me. I answered that I would be glad to correspond with him if he writes to me himself and gives detailed information about himself and his service. In particular, he should indicate precisely where and when he was ordained to the priesthood and consecrated to the episcopacy, and, if possible, send the relevant documents. I also added that in the latter years there were so many illegal consecrations in Russia’s south that it’s necessary to be more than cautious when dealing with unfamiliar hierarchs. I did receive a brief letter from Sergii Okhotin himself before Christmas, but I didn’t respond to it, since he does not give any information about himself, while my response to his letter could be interpreted as an acknowledgment of his legitimacy.

[A handwritten addendum] With love in Christ, I remain an obedient servant of Your Eminence +Archbishop Vladimir




No. 1689
May 29/June 11, 1948

To His Eminence
The Most Reverend
Metropolitan Vladimir

Your Eminence,
Dearest Archpastor!

In its concern about the difficult situation of those in our flock with frequent deprivation of rights in the occupation zones [in Germany], forcing them to seek a transatlantic move in the hope of finding more favorable and stable conditions for the ordering of their lives, our Church has taken upon itself the care of organizing the relocation of our compatriots.

For this purpose, it has created local relocation committees in Germany, Austria, and Italy, headed by a Central Committee under the Bishops’ Synod.

This committee has entered into relationships with the governments of those countries which are opening their doors to our relocatees, especially with the government of Argentina, which has made available a few thousand exit visas for our refugees, thanks to our efforts.

His Eminence Bishop Nathanael has informed me of the difficult situation of the refugees in France, and of the fact that the drive to relocate is taking over wide sections of the Russian population there as well. He informed me, to my great satisfaction, that your Preeminence as well is prepared to cooperate with us in helping the emigration by creating a joint committee with participation by representatives of both jurisdictions. Currently, Vladyka Nathanael’s information is confirmed by a letter I additionally received from His Eminence Bishop Kassian and a speech by T. A. Shaufuss [European representative of the charitable organization, the Tolstoy Foundation.].

On my part, I welcome warmly the working collaboration by the representatives of our jurisdictions in the matter of aiding refugees and I earnestly ask your Eminence to lend your authoritative assistance to the organization of the proposed joint committee.

Besides being of undoubtable benefit to the committee’s direct purpose this brotherly collaboration of ours in providing aid to our Orthodox flock will hopefully have a healthy influence upon the entire Russian community abroad, which is suffering so much from constant divisions in its midst.

The original was signed by: Your Eminence’s fellow brother,
devoted in Christ, Metropolitan Anastassii

[Letterhead: ARCHEVEQUE des Eglises Orthodoxes Russes en Europe Occidentale EXARQUE DU PATRIARCHE OECUMENIQUE 12, Rue Daru-Paris 8]

August 9, 1948

To his Eminence
The Most Reverend
Metropolitan Anastassii

Your Eminence, Dearest Archpastor,

That exchange of letters which took place recently between us, as well as those letters that were exchanged between you and my vicar Bishop Kassian [Bezobrazov] bears witness to the fact that the uniting of church powers for coordinated actions to benefit the new Russian refugees is being acknowledged as an urgent task, both on your side and mine.

You are perhaps aware that the acknowledgment of this task’s urgency has arisen in wider social circles grouped around the nationalistically oriented newspaper Russkaya Mysl’ [Russian Thought]

It is quite significant that these efforts toward unity are aimed at their realization under the Church’s aegis. But it appears to me and my colleagues that the unity toward which we are striving can turn out to be a reality only if it extends to all Russian groups that have an Orthodox and patriotic frame of mind outside Russia’s borders.

The first step to this unification would be, as I see it, a personal encounter of the heads of the three basic parts of the Russian Church Abroad. I have in mind Your Eminence, Metropolitan Theophilus [Pashkovsky, First Hierarch of the North American Metropolia], and myself. It appears to me that proving the expediency of such an encounter is superfluous.

The question of relocating DPs [displaced persons] across the ocean necessitates the active participation of the Russian Church in America in this undertaking. Aware of Metropolitan Theophilus’ infirm state, I would, on my part, be totally prepared for the encounter I am contemplating to be held in America.

Upon discussing this question with my closest colleagues I reached the decision to make a brotherly offer to Your Eminence for the three of us to meet in the United States. I am also writing about this to His Eminence Theophilus.

I will be very grateful to you, Vladyka, for a quick response to this letter. I would greatly value hearing your thoughts on this question that I have touched upon.

I ask for your holy prayers, and with deep respect and love, I remain the obedient servant of Your Preeminence, Metropolitan Vladimir.

[On the letterhead: ARCHEVEQUE des Eglises Orthodoxes Russes en Europe Occidentale EXARQUE DU PATRIARCHE OECUMENIQUE. 12. Rue Daru-Paris 8]

January 10, 1949

Your Eminence, Most Honored Master,

From my whole heart I greet you in return on these great days of the Nativity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, and with full oneness of mind do I send up my prayers to the One who was born for us in the Bethlehem manger. May He renew holy love and oneness of mind in our hearts and may He preserve us in the coming year in good health and prosperity.

But my heart is deeply sorrowful at the thought that in these holy days, when the Holy Church summons us to sing together with the angels “Glory to God in the Highest, and on earth peace, goodwill to men” there is no peace in our Church…

I still have in mind that Marseilles matter. As for the transfer of Priest Malinovskii himself into your jurisdiction, whether to accept him or not was Bishop Nathanael’s personal business. As for me, I dismissed him from the position of rector of the church that he had taken over illegally and removed him from the diocesan roster with the prohibition of serving in its parishes.

Another issue connected to this is the takeover of the parish. Priest Malinovskii, taking advantage of an incidental majority at a general meeting that had been called specifically for this, took over the church. I cannot call this act anything other than an illegal takeover by force.

I will not rest upon those details by which Bishop Nathanael vainly attempts to justify this takeover. A fact remains a fact, and what is more lamentable, we are threatened with such phenomena in the future.

I consider it my duty to point out directly the reason for this event, which is extremely dangerous for the Church. I am speaking of Bishop Nathanael’s presence in Paris. When he came to Paris he paid me a visit and assured me in the presence of witnesses that he did not come to start parallel parishes or to organize parallel dioceses, but on DP business, and that he hopes to work in peace and concord, and I accepted this in a brotherly manner.

When the Vityaz organization asked me to allow Bishop Nathanael to concelebrate with me at their convention, I gave him my permission right away, and we served the Divine Liturgy together. During the Great Entrance Bishop Nathanael commemorated me as “Archbishop of Western European Russian Orthodox Churches,” and with this same title (later as metropolitan) he commemorated me always, whenever he would come to serve in a youth camp (although without my knowledge).

But it turns out that Bishop Nathanael himself enjoys the title of “Bishop of Western European Russian Orthodox Churches,” and his office is called “Diocesan Administration.” One does not need to be a canonist to know the elementary rule that there cannot be two legitimate bishops in one see.

Regarding himself right in the Marseilles matter, Bishop Nathanael threatened to do the same in the future. While I have not placed under my authority a single “outside” parish, the actions toward my diocese on the part of the clergy of your diocese are continuing (Belgium).

I will allow myself to transmit to you two letters, one that has been written at my behest by my secretary Archimandrite Savva [Shimkevich], and the other is Bishop Nathanael’s response to it. The latter saddened me to the depth of my heart. I regard these attacks without any foundation against a person who enjoys my full trust and is acting at my behest as being directed at me personally.

You, Vladyka, could still be certain on the basis of our previous correspondence that I constantly strive toward strengthening peace and that after the repose of Metropolitan Evlogii I turned to you about this, and recently I offered an encounter together with Metropolitan Theophilus with the same purpose. And I am not to blame that there is no peace.

You wrote in your last letter that you were certain that I would find the means to strengthen peace-loving brotherly relations, but I see no other means than by reiterating the principle, based on the canons and reinforced by the thousand-year awareness by the Church that there cannot be two legitimate hierarchs in the same place and in the same see…

Only the removal of this illegitimate phenomenon can renew holy love and oneness of mind in our hearts, so that we may send up Glory to God in the Highest from the fullness of our hearts and preach goodwill to men.

[Handwritten] With brotherly love in Christ, your fellow intercessor, and servant of your Eminence Metropolitan Vladimir

[Letterhead: ARCHEVEQUE des Eglises Orthodoxes Russes en Europe Occidentale EXARQUE DU PATRIARCHE OECUMENIQUE 12, Rue Daru]

February 7, 1949

Your Eminence, Much Honored master,
In response to your letter of January 5/12 let me express to you a series of thoughts brought about by what you write.

I value very much that love of peace and genuine church-like love, which you invariably display with respect to me and which I sense in your last letter regarding the lamentable events at the Marseilles parish. On my part I ask you as well to believe my feeling of reverence, love, and a sincere wish to remain in peace and oneness of mind with you. Believe me, I am not simply guided by polemics in the difficult and painful issue of the interrelationships of our two jurisdictions.

Alas, it is totally true that, as you write, it is easier to diagnose an illness than to find the means to heal it. Only you will probably agree that this does not mean that the illness should be seen as a normal state. And if this is so, we cannot avoid seeking the means to heal it in the firm belief that Our Lord, the Chief Pastor, will aid us in this holy task, and long as we sincerely wish to fulfill all truth.

I firmly believe that what is impossible for man is possible for God, and that according to Our Lord’s truthful promise the Holy Spirit unalterably heals the infirm and fulfills that which is lacking. It is this faith that forces me to seek ways of healing the sickness that is rending the Church’s body for many years now. I feel that the duty lies upon us hierarchs to strain every effort to return peace and unity in the Church.

I cannot hide from you that I read with regret that you are apparently ready to be reconciled to the division in the Russian Church of Western Europe and to regard this division as inevitable. I agree with you that the circumstances in which we live are difficult and unusual, but does this really mean that the interpretation and application of the canons can be diverse, depending on varying points of view? Why this would mean justifying all possible divisions and various types of individualism when approaching church structure. May this not be. The Church has always applied the canons to reality and has always unalterably found a single canonical path in any conditions and circumstances.

You write, Vladyko, that our canonical path is unacceptable to the canonical mindset of the bishops, clergy, and the flock under your rule, and that it would be futile to try to change their minds, but is it not our duty as senior hierarchs to show them the way? However, what I hear in most of the pronouncements by representatives of the jurisdiction you lead I invariably hear not so much the voice of a canonical mindset, but the accusation that we are betraying the Russian Church, refusing to participate in the Russian Church’s destiny, and so on, Moreover, I regard this very formulation of the question incompatible with a canonical mindset, since a canonical mindset is always based upon the Church and upon its divine nature, rather than upon external facts, however close to us and important to us they might be because of our humanity.

Regarding the letter of the Ukrainian metropolitan that you sent over to me, I do not deny the possibility of mistakes on the part of the Ecumenical Patriarch. And our duty is to witness before the whole Orthodox Church about those complicated questions with which we are more familiar and to clarify the true situation of matters. I see in this the Church’s true conciliar nature, and I suppose that this witness demands urgent participation in the conciliar and universal life of the Church and not alienation from it.

I had a discussion with His Holiness Patriarch Athenagoras during his visit to Paris, and he told me that he served his last Liturgy before leaving for America with the Ukrainian Bishop Bogdan, while his Exarch Metropolitan Germanos said that Bishop Mstislav was illegitimate and self-consecrated.

Believe me, honorable Master, everything I have written is dictated only by an earnest desire to find a path, not only to “good neighborly” relations but also to that organic unity in life, which is the inalienable demand of the Holy Church.

And is it not time, in the face of fearsome events, in which one senses with such power the activity of the prince of this world, to seek “the one thing needful” for the Church with fervor and persistence – its truth, its power by which we move…

[Handwritten addendum] Asking your holy prayers, I remain the obedient servant of your Preeminence and your fellow brother, devoted in Christ.
Metropolitan Vladimir

[Letterhead: The diocesan administration
of the Russian Orthodox Churches in Europe
Administration diocesaine des eglises orthodoxies
Russes en Europe. 12 Rue Daru, Paris (VIII)] March 21.1949

Your Eminence, Dearest Archpastor,

Allow me to turn your attention to the case of Priest Gregory Svechin, who is in your jurisdiction.

Fr. Gregory Svechin, who at one point was a student at out Theological Institute in Paris, is tied with close personal bonds to our church circles and has been asking to join our jurisdiction for a long time.

I know him personally, am ready to receive him, and I can offer him a position within Paris and its environs, but I don’t find it possible to do this until he gets a release from church authorities.

I have information that he has already contacted Bishop Nathanael long ago with a written request for a canonical release, but this request has remained without a response for over two months. As far as I know, he also wrote to Your Eminence at the same time.

Wishing to help him I am appealing to you with this letter, asking you to hasten the resolution of this lingering issue, and if you would deem it possible to render your good offices toward the reception by Priest Gregory Svechin of the canonical release he is asking for.

Hoping for a positive response, I remain the obedient servant of and brother in Christ of Your Eminence, M. Vladimir.


March 26/April 8, 1949
No. 275

To His Reverence
The Most Reverend Nathanael
Bishop of Brussels and Western Europe

Your Grace, Dearest Archpastor,

I have received a letter from his Eminence Metropolitan Vladimir in which he expresses regret at not receiving a response for over two months to his written request to grant a canonical release to Priest Gregory Svechin.

I do not know if you have any need for him at the present, but in any case, I am asking you to give an answer one way or another to Vladyka Vladimir. If you have no place for Fr. G. Svechin, you could give him the requested release, especially since in a certain sense this could as a certain relief for you, in view of his certain shortcomings.



March 26/April 8, 1949
No. 276

To His Eminence
The Most Reverend Metropolitan Vladimir

Your Eminence, Dearest Archpastor

I received the letter of Your Eminence dated March 21 regarding Priest Gregory Svechin. Not having any information about the status of his case. I am concurrently writing to His Eminence Vladyka Nathanael, asking him to hasten his decision and to inform Your Preeminence about it without delay.


Munich, October 19/November 2, 1949

Head of the Bishops’ Synod
of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia
No. 1029

Your Eminence, Dearest Archpastor,

I regard it my duty to confirm the receipt of your letter of October 28 of this year in which you invite me, along with you, to Holy Ecumenical Patriarch so that he would introduce peace in the Russian Church Abroad through his high authority.

Your Eminence asserts that your appeal to me with such an offer is brought about by those “expressions of unquenchable heartfelt sorrow and confusion of soul” regarding our church divisiveness which you observed in the participants of the regular Diocesan Assembly of clergy and lay representatives of the Western European Exarchate of the Ecumenical Patriarchate to which nourish spiritually. Your Eminence, you share these sentiments yourself.

These sorrowful sentiments of our church flock must be understandable to us. Exhausted by constant social conflicts, which have made our name the talk of the town, it wished to find relief under the Church’s roof as an element of peace, which it must announce to the whole world, but alas, within its own boundaries lay people find the same divisions, arguments, and human passions attached to them, with which our entire social life is filled.

There is no doubt that our internal church division lessens our Church’s authority in the eyes of “outsiders,” i.e., the representatives of other nations and Christian confessions, among whom we currently live through the will of Providence.

Both of these circumstances oblige us to carefully ponder over this phenomenon, which has become our grave illness, in order to determine the causes that gave birth to it. Usually, the diagnosis of an illness everywhere precedes its treatment.

And so, what are the causes of the lamentable divisions in our Church Abroad?

Their initial source must be sought in us, in the insufficiency of love and mutual trust between us. As we strive to reestablish our broken unity we wish to create church peace through rational means, while “knowledge puffs up, but only love edifies.” Love alone leads us to the oneness of mind, as we always hear at the Divine Liturgy. Through it we attract the grace of the Holy Spirit, through whose power oneness of spirit and unity of peace are created in us.

In the light of love and mutual respect contradictions that bring about arguments and disagreement in our midst cab be easily resolved. Our ecclesiastical differences of opinion are not a matter of deep principle, they rather signify diverse directions of practical church life, the kinds that we observe in different parts of the Russian Church Abroad. They need to be totally ascribed, as some do, only to the influence of worldly elements, which intruding into church attempt to turn it into a weapon for the attainment of their earthly goals and in this way they distort its royal and free paths.

The influence of the laity in the church has really become more significant abroad because it has been taking a more active part in building up church life, but the authority of the Church and of the clergy has also grown significantly in the new conditions.

It is around the Church that Russian exiles gather in a foreign land. Often feeling lonely and helpless, they now see in it their only refuge, their intercessor and protector. They see it as their familiar home in foreign lands. Almost our entire social and cultural life is being built up under its roof, especially in the DP camps. And it must often represent the Russian emigration before foreign governments and international charitable organizations.

Political parties and other societal groups, having splintered into parts and lacking material means, have lost their past significance to such a degree that they cannot apply serious pressure upon the clergy and must often themselves seek its support. On the other hand, the ecclesiastical self-awareness of the latter has grown so much under the influence of the catastrophe we experienced that it won’t want to sacrifice its ecclesiastical primacy for the sake of illusory earthy blessings, even if those were all the kingdoms of the world, for we see how they crumble before our eyes. The apocalyptic nature of our days in itself unintentionally distracts the clergy’s glances from the earth and focuses them upon eternal incorrupt values, to which the Church must lead believers first of all. The first of these blessings is church peace, which, alas, we have lost and which we need now.

It is very significant that the people – the keepers of piety – have themselves started saying persistently that we need to restore out church unity and encourage their pastors as responsible church builders to find the necessary means for this. This proves that the soil for church peace has been prepared and that we could overcome our separation without difficulty if we would start seeking paths toward reconciliation with sincerity and thoughtfulness.

We ourselves can and must, with God’s help, be healed of the illnesses of separation. We do not need to go to Constantinople for this and turn over our sad internal conflicts to the Ecumenical Patriarch’s judgment, which is what Your Eminence is calling upon us to do. Even if the Patriarch of Constantinople would unite us formally under his jurisdiction, this would not give us that oneness of mind and unanimity, without which our union would be fragile. But entering upon that path we take upon ourselves a great responsibility, not only before the entire Russian Church but partly before the Universal Church, since an extremely important canonical question arises for us – does the Ecumenical Throne have the right to subordinate the entire Russian diaspora in Europe to itself?

Apparently such a question does not exist for Your Eminence, for you assume that it has been resolved politically, basing yourself on the proposition you advance that “the territory of Western Europe, except for some of its sections, is subject to other autocephalous Churches, and, according to the ancient canons, receives spiritual nourishment from the Ecumenical Patriarch.”

This is actually the canonical pretension of the Ecumenical Throne, which manifested itself with particular clarity after the weakening of the Russian Church by the heavy wounds that the Revolution brought on to it, but it is justified neither by the ancient canons nor by Orthodox Church history.

We honor highly the Constantinople Church for the glory of its first hierarchs, among whom shine such lights and pillars of the Church as Gregory the Theologian, John Chrysostom, Proclos, Flavian, Photios, we pay her tribute of respect and gratitude for introducing the Russian people to Christianity 960 years ago, for which we justifiably regard it as the Mother Church. We highly value its fortitude in defending the Orthodox faith during heretical troubles and disturbances and for its suffering under the Turkish yoke over many centuries, in the midst of which it was able to preserve Holy Orthodoxy undamaged. But none of this obliges us to acknowledge that it possesses those rights which the Early Church did not give her. From early times the Constantinoplitan Patriarch was accorded only the primacy of honor from among all of the heads of the autocephalous Churches, but not primacy of power.

The defenders of the opposing view wrongly point to the title “Ecumenical,” which had been conferred upon him early on. This title was given to the Constantinople Patriarch, as were other privileges, as “Bishop of the New Rome, the City of the Emperor and Synklitos [Senate],” and lost its real content after the fall of Byzantium, remaining no more than a historical memory from then on.

We will indicate only that the 28th canon of Chalcedon, which accords him the right to appoint metropolitans for “the Pontian, Asian, and Thracian dioceses… and likewise the Bishops of the aforesaid dioceses which are situated in barbarian lands” does not give him the right to extend his power onto the entire diaspora situated outside the borders of other autocephalous churches, even in the opinion of the authoritative Greek canonical commentators Aristen, Zonaras, and Balsamon. “Only the metropolitans of Pontus, Asia, and Thrace, says Aristen, “should receive their consecration from the Bishop of Constantinople, as well as bishops of foreign, specifically barbarian, peoples which are situated in these dioceses.”

S. V. Troitsky, the well-known canon law professor, devoted two extensive articles (“Iurisdiktsiia Tsaregradskogo Patriarkha v oblasti diaspory and Dymnoe nadmenie mira i Tserkov’ [“The Jurisdicion of the Patriarch of Constantinople in the diaspora region and the Smoky Arrogance of the World and the Church”] — see Tserkovnye vedomosti for 1924) to specific research on this question and came to the conclusion that Chalcedon 28 certainly did not give the Constantinople Church the right to send bishops in partes infidelum, and certainly did not prevent other churches from doing the same. The evidence for this comes from 1) the authoritative view of Orthodox canonists of the old and new eras and 2) all authoritative collections of the Orthodox Church, and, finally, the entire history of Orthodox missions, starting from 451, the year of the Council of Chalcedon, and until 1922, when the Metropolitanate of Thyateria was established in London with the purpose of denying all Orthodox autocephalous churches the right that belonged to them canonically from time immemorial (Tserkovnye vedomosti, 1923, nos. 17-18).

His Beatitude Metropolitan Anthony likewise denies the Ecumenical Patriarch’s exclusive right to the entire diaspora in Europe, in spite of the fact that, as he personally admitted, “From my youth I raised my voice only to glorify the Eastern, and, in particular, Ecumenical Patriarchs, having been a ‘panhellenist’.”

When the Ecumenical Throne, taking advantage of revolutionary troubles which tore Poland and Finland away from Russia, wished to extend its power onto Russian Orthodox dioceses in those countries, Metropolitan Anthony rose up against this with his characteristic zeal and wrote his well known “Skorbnoe poslanie Sviateishemu I Blazhenneishomu Arkhiepiskopu Konstantinopolia – Novogo Rima i Vselenskomu Patriarkhu Kir-Kiru Konstantinu VI” [A Sorrowful Epistle to the Most Holy and Blessed Archbishop of Constantinople – the New Rome and Ecumenical Patriarch, Kyr-Kyr Constantine VI].

In it he complains to the latter about those “offenses that were inflicted not only on bishops abroad, but on the entire universal Russian Orthodox Church, or rather the entire Church of Christ, by his predecessor – by Most Holy Patriarch Gregory VII and Most Holy Meletios, who arbitrarily seized the dioceses of Poland and Finland from the Russian Church and tried to seize American and Russian parishes in Western Europe as well, totally distorting the holy canons, in which not only it is impossible to find any justification for such actions, but it is also easy to point out strict prohibitions of them, starting with the eighth canon of the Second Ecumenical Council. The citation of the 38th canon of the Fourth Council to justify such unlawful takeovers by the Ecumenical Throne is obvious in its falsehood, for it deals only with the metropolitanates of Pontus, Asia, and Thrace, which had belonged to that same throne earlier (Tserkovnye vedomosti, 1925: 11, 12).

Metropolitan Evlogii protested just as decisively against the encroachment of the Ecumenical Throne upon his own Western European Diocese and upon formerly Russian parishes in Finland and Poland, until unexpectedly to many he started asking the same Patriarch of Constantinople to accept him and his flock under his omophorion. Here is what he wrote in 1926 to Metropolitan Dionisii of Warsaw: “I recognize as improper the appeal to the Patriarch of Constantinople and his participation in this matter (i.e., in the determination of the fate of the Russian Orthodox Church in Poland) with all my deep respect to the high position of this Orthodox first hierarch. What I regard incorrect is his act of interfering in the internal matters of the Autocephalous Russian Church, which is not justified by the canons.”

But the voice of His Holiness Patriarch Tikhon is more authoritative for us, as expressed in a letter he sent to Patriarch Gregory VII in 1924.

The occasion for this was Patriarch Gregory’s appeal to him in which he, having himself previously called Patriarch Tikhon “a confessor,” having now succumbed to the influence of renovationists, “with the agreement of the Holy Council of Constantinople” offered him [Patriarch Tikhon] “for the sake of the reunification of schismatics and for the sake of his flock to sacrifice himself by stepping away from ruling the Church, as befits a true pastor who is full of love and cares for the salvation of many, and so the Patriarchate would be simultaneously abolished, having arisen in totally abnormal circumstances and being regarded as a significant obstacle to the restoration of peace and unity.” He proposed that a commission be sent for an on the spot investigation, but His Holiness Tikhon refused to receive it.

In his response to Patriarch Gregory VII he expresses “great surprise” that “the representative of the Ecumenical Patirarchate, the head of the Church of Constantinople, is interfering in the internal life and matters of the Russian Autocephalous Church without any prior contact with him as the legal representative and head of the entire Russian Orthodox Church.” He reminds him that “the holy councils always recognized his primacy over other autocephalous churches in honor, but not in authority.” He expresses doubt that he could have actually “studied precisely the flow of Russian church life in order to make correct judgment about them” and condemns “schismatic renovationists” as the main cause of the troubles in the Russian Church, whose leaders have been suspended from serving.

The content of this letter and, in part, its very tone, happen to remind us of epistle of the Fathers of the Council of Carthage to Pope Celestine, which was written, as we know, under analogous circumstances.

“Do not deign” wrote the Council’s Fathers, “to send your clerics as investigators and do not allow this to happen, lest we appear to be bringing in smoky arrogance of the world into Christ’s Church, which brings the light of simplicity and the day of humility to those who wish to see God.”

By tying its fate to the Ecumenical Throne, the Russian Church Abroad would not only be going against Patriarch Tikhon’s behests, it would place itself under the necessity of coordinating its relationship with the Moscow Patriarchate and Soviet authorities with its changeable, as we see, and wavering church policy (if only it would sincerely wish to follow the canonical leadership of the Patriarch of Constantinople, rather than simply taking refuge in his opinion when it is expedient). This would often place us in great conflict with our conscience and would sometimes create a hopeless situation for us. We cannot take this path at least because for us this would be equivalent to being torn from the Russian ecclesiastical body of which the Conciliar Church Abroad has been and remains to this day, in spite of the fact that it has temporarily separated from the Supreme Church Authority in Russia, after it became a weapon in the hands of the atheistic government and organized its church life on the basis of self-govern until, when the time comes it will flow back anew into the bosom of a free Mother Church in Russia. It sees the canonical basis for its existence in canon 39 of the Sixth Ecumenical Council, which determined the canonical position of Archbishop John of Cyprus after his arrival “together with his people because of barbarian invasions” in the Hellespont Region, and the familiar edict of November 20, 1920, issued by His Holiness Patriarch Tikhon and the Holy Synod as an instruction to the bishops, who, together with their flock, will find themselves separated from the organs of the Supreme Church Authority in Russia.

If we examine the state of the matter from a strictly formal aspect we can, of course, object to the application of canon 39 of the Sixth Ecumenical Council in full measure to the situation of our Church Abroad, but the Church was never guided in organizing its life only by the letter of the law, especially in extraordinary historical circumstances, but tried to delve into its spirit and readily sacrificed formal truth for the sake of economy, i.e., the Church’s benefit, which implied, of course, not any practical profits, but, first of all, the facilitation of the realization of its primary mission on earth – bringing the Church into all areas of life as much as possible and guiding believers toward eternal salvation.

From this final point of view our church organization abroad, having been named conciliar, because it is concentrated around the Bishops’ Council and Synod, has managed to justify itself sufficiently since its existence for almost thirty years. It has managed to gather clergy and flocks around itself, keep them from spiritual disintegration and devastation, organize their church life on the basis of canonical episcopal nurturing and the correct structuring of parish life, and help them to preserve in purity not only their faith but the best ideals and traditions of Holy Russia as well, which have created our national cast of mind. All Orthodox Churches have recognized this organization de facto, if not de jure. Representing the free part of the Russian Church, it could fearlessly denounce before the whole world the evil of Bolshevism, struggle against its covert influence, defend, as much as is possible along the paths of our exile on this side of the border, the Church at home from persecution, and conduct Orthodox mission among the heterodox as much as it can.

Its heaviest responsibility, which, however, it could not avoid, was to denounce falsehood from the Russian ruling hierarchy, which tried not only to justify but to glorify the godless and inhumane powers as well.

We have often been reproached for judging our brothers in Russia with a judgment that is too severe, for they are bearing such a heavy cross. Purely human sentiment brings out our sympathy, but we suppose, however, that they themselves make their lot heavier by being tied with tight bonds to God’s enemies. Their conscience cannot remain at peace even if we, sparing them, were to place the seal of silence upon our mouths.

They are judged by the Word of God itself and Church history itself. They are rebuked by the Holy Fathers of the Councils, who fought for the truth even to the point of blood, they are judged by St. Nicholas, saving the innocent from execution and dungeon and St. Ambrose, who had blocked Emperor Theodosios from entering the church for shedding the innocent blood of his subjects, and Holy Metropolitan Philipp, who rebuked Ivan the Terrible for his cruel brutalities and executions, and finally, His Holiness Patriarch Tikhon, who was not afraid not only to call the Bolsheviks scums of the earth but to prohibit them from Holy Communion and to anathematize them.

A pastor of the Church must not extinguish his prophetic zeal, directed against the atheistic Marxist teaching which kills the human soul. For this reason struggle against Bolshevism is not politics for clergy representatives, it is their direct obligation as Christ’s servers if they want the Church’s victory over the powers of hell and the establishment of God’s Kingdom on earth.
As we steadfastly lead this struggle, we would ourselves want our brothers in Russia not to avoid it, and even if not all of them are capable of the feat of martyrdom and active confession, through which many of the Church servers have glorified themselves in our land, to at least not oblige Soviet authorities, thereby not fortifying their pernicious power in Russia.

The internal strength and livelihood of our Church organization abroad made itself evident as well by being able to unite our entire church diaspora, albeit only temporarily. It was exactly on this genuinely conciliar path that representatives of all three jurisdictions were able to get together at the conference held in Sremski Karlovci in 1935 with the personal participation of Patriarch Varnava of blessed memory, in order to restore church peace and work out a “position on the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia,” having united into one complete organism.

In essence, nothing has been new for us here. The Church Abroad simply returned to that situation in which it was before the 1926 Council until Metropolitans Platon and Evlogy left this council due to their dissatisfaction with the resolutions that were adopted there, which is what initiated the church turmoil in the diaspora.

Unfortunately, this emerging unity of the Church Abroad was soon disrupted by the exit of Metropolitan Evlogii, head of the Western European Region, who did not want to cut his ties to the Ecumenical Throne.

However, the canonical unity between the American Metropolitanate and the center of the Church Abroad, which was located in Yugoslavia and then in Germany, continued for eleven years with great benefit for the Church’s task, until the famous Cleveland (the Seventh All-American) Sobor of 1946 tore it apart with its notorious resolution, which was advanced mainly under the pressure of laymen who were carried away by an uncontrolled impulse from outside the Church that emerged out of their midst at that council.

When we continue to defend so persistently our genuine conciliar structure of church governance, which we have been maintaining for nearly thirty years, which is characteristic of all who are sincerely convinced that they are following the correct path, we are told that we regard ourselves to be infallible. We know well, of course, that this characteristic belongs only to the whole Universal Church, while we are a temporary ecclesiastical organization embracing only part of the Russian Church. But we are certain that in the current extraordinary circumstances of social and Russian church life, which could not have been foreseen by church rules, our path corresponds more with the spirit of the canons and the practices of the Early Church, and is, therefore, more acceptable and salvific for us. We do not cease calling representatives of other jurisdiction to it, especially because, according to our conviction, it alone can lead us to church unity which is so fervently desired by churched people, but frequently by those quite distant from the Church who sorrowfully behold various divisions in our midst, splintering only the nation’s organism in parts and our weakening forces in the struggle for the liberation of the Homeland.

Valuing highly the blessing of church peace and prepared to sacrifice everything for it except for the Church’s truth, we welcome any form of contact, be it written, ou as a more living and immediate one, which has undoubtable advantages over the former – to discuss the issue of restoring our church unity. We would only ask that there would be an advance guarantee of total freedom of opinion, independent of outside influences or definite preconceived presumptions.

It is even more important, of course, that the activities of such a council, if it were to be called through mutual effort, would pass in an atmosphere of brotherly love and mutual respect and trust, since without that they will not bring on themselves the grace of the Holy Spirit, which alone leads us to an agreement at church councils and instructs participants in any truth.

Sending up my humble prayers to the Heavenly Helmsman of the Church so that he may send us the blessing of peace, with deep respect and love I remain a devoted fellow brother in Christ Metropolitan Anastassii.

Translated from Russian by Priestmonk Alexis (Lisenko)


1 ”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.”,/
2 Fr. Michael Polsky’s letter to ROCOR Bishop Nikon (Rklitskii) of Florida, dated February 3/16, 1950, Archive of ROCOR Synod of Bishops, New York
3 August 29/September 8, Archive of ROCOR Synod of Bishops, New York
4 “Our Church’s Legal Consciousness.”
5 “The Canonical Basis of the Russian Church Abroad”
6 “The Debate on the Church”
7 The Local Principle and the Unity of the Church. 
8 “Epilogue”
9 On Christian Leadership: The Letters of Alexander Schmemann and Georges Florovsky (1947-1955), Paul L. Gavrilyuk, ed. (St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, Yonkers, NY, 2020), 148.
10 “Dispute about the Church”
11 “The Local Principle and the Unity of the Church.”
12 Ibid., pp. 187-188.

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