Father Andrei, very briefly, especially for our readers, tell us how it came about that the Russian Church Abroad was formed? Why was it impossible to maintain unity with the Moscow Patriarchate in the 1920s?
The 20th century brought unprecedented experience for the entire Russian Church. This began to take shape amidst the division of the front lines of the Russian Civil War, and was different again after the Civil War was over. Patriarch St. Tikhon and his successors, Metropolitan St. Peter and Metropolitan Sergius, tried to secure legal status for the Russian Church from the Soviet government. However, the Soviet government long took advantage of the Church’s lack of any such status, as a means of influencing the Church, and granted it only in 1990. When I studied church-historical documents from the 1920s, I noticed that bishops in Russia who protested against Metropolitan Sergius’ administrative course mostly avoided criticizing the Soviet regime. For the refugee bishops, the question of the “godless regime” was just as important as the question of preserving conciliarity [sobornost]. At the same time, there were no channels for confidential communication between hierarchs in Russia and abroad. In 1927, the ROCOR Council of Bishops decreed:
“In order to relieve our hierarchy in Russia from responsibility for the refusal of the foreign part of our Church to recognize the Soviet regime, until normal relations with Russia are restored and until our Church is liberated from the persecution of the godless Soviet regime, the foreign part of our Church must govern itself, according to the holy canons and the resolutions of the Holy Council of the All-Russian Local Orthodox Church of 1917–18, and the resolution of His Holiness Patriarch Tikhon, the Holy Synod and the Supreme Church Council of November 7/20, 1920 [on provisional autonomy – Protodeacon A. P.], with the assistance of the Synod of Bishops and the Council of Bishops under the presidency of Metropolitan Anthony of Kyiv.”
Members of the ROCOR, though forced into exile, tried to help their homeland whenever possible. For example, before World War II, Archimandrite Nafanail (Lvov) was involved in bringing Orthodox literature from Harbin across the Amur to the USSR. Metropolitan Antony, the first chair of the Synod of Bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia (d. 1936), blessed the activities of White terrorists and Russian fascists. During World War II, at the request of the Belarusian Autonomous Church, Bishop Grigorii (Borishkevich) was consecrated Bishop of Gomelʹ in Vienna. Metropolitan Anastasii, the second First Hierarch of the Russian Orthodox Church, took an active part in the establishment of the Vlasov Committee for the Liberation of the Peoples of Russia in 1944. Many of its active members belonged to the National Alliance of Russian Solidarists, had firsthand knowledge of what was happening in their homeland, and sought to support the revival of Orthodoxy there.
From the point of view of the Soviet regime, such activities of members of the ROCOR rendered it irreconcilably hostile to the Soviet system and forced the Moscow Patriarchate to treat the ROCOR accordingly.
Revolution, civil war, exile, and dispersion are serious challenges. Tell us, were there no attempts at reunification in subsequent years? Was there a conflict between the Church Abroad and the Moscow Patriarchate, and what was the essence of it?
In 1934, Metropolitan Sergius’ Synod suspended ROCOR hierarchs from serving. In the following decades, the ROCOR was considered to be implicated in an internal schism within the Moscow Patriarchate. After World War II, ROCOR clergy in Yugoslavia, Central Europe, and China were admitted through the rite of penance. Beginning in 1945, the two churches addressed open denunciations to each other. In 1959, the ROCOR adopted a rite for receiving Moscow Patriarchate clergy, which remained in use until 2007. In his testament, Metropolitan Anastasii (Gribanovskii, d. 1964), the First Hierarch of the ROCOR, made an appeal to avoid contact with clerics of the Moscow Patriarchate abroad owing to their collaboration with the atheistic regime. It was for this reason that the ROCOR stopped sending observers to the assemblies of the World Council of Churches after the ROC (MP) joined in 1961. The Russian Orthodox Church continually took over ROCOR property, as it did with the Cathedral of the Resurrection in West Berlin or the property of the ROCOR Ecclesiastical Mission in Israel.
In his testament, Metropolitan Anastasii (Gribanovskii, d. 1964), the First Hierarch of the ROCOR, made an appeal to avoid contact with clerics of the Moscow Patriarchate abroad owing to their collaboration with the atheistic regime.
The tone regarding reunification changed in 1988 when the leadership of the Moscow Patriarchate approached the ROCOR with an offer to send representatives to the Local Council of the Russian Orthodox Church. No official representatives were sent, but the 1988 message of the ROCOR Council of Bishops stated: “The Russian Church today is, first and foremost, a vast sea of believers in our country, mourners and those persecuted for Christ’s sake and His righteousness, pastors who have gone into the catacombs of their hearts, fathers and mothers who save their children from godlessness and unbelief through prayer, child-confessors, all strong in their weakness, of whom the world today is unworthy.”
However, the fact that the Russian Orthodox Church secretly consecrated Bishop Lazar (Zhurbenko) in 1982 for the Catacomb Church in the USSR led to the rejection of dialogue with the ROC (MP) hierarchy and to believers in the USSR being received under the omophorion of the ROCOR after 1990. Whereas before this, the attitude toward the ROCOR as a schismatic body was an official position, and the people in the church in Russia were grateful to the ROCOR for printing books, now many began to perceive it as they did other overseas missionaries. The expectation that the “excellent” episcopate of the ROCOR would unite with the “excellent flock” of the ROC did not materialize in reality. The crisis forced the ROCOR Diocese of Germany to initiate a dialogue with their ROC brethren in Germany, which marked the beginning of the church-wide dialogue that led to the signing of the Act of Canonical Communion in May 2007.
There was an understanding that “God for the sins of our fathers deprived us of Holy Russia”. But there was no understanding that certain social, economic, and political decisions that led to the Revolution could also be classified as sins.
Often, when I talk to descendants of Russian Church émigrés, I hear that the émigrés were skeptical of the Church in Russia. But why? How was it possible quite literally to count out and not to give any opportunity to those who, by fate, remained in Russia and needed pastoral care? Should people really have had to drop everything and get out of the Soviet Union?
It wasn’t enough just to get out of the Soviet Union. I should have tried not to be born there at all. [laughs] The fact is that the core of the Russian Orthodox Church consisted of people of the same circle, descendants of “old” émigrés who went through the same phases and have the same “cultural” code. The life experience of the “Soviets,” as they called the natives of Russia, was unknown to them. Hence the attitude toward the natives of Russia and the Russian Church in the homeland, which had made compromises with the Soviet regime. The Russian Church Abroad was imbued with an idealization of imperial Russia. There was an understanding that “God for the sins of our fathers deprived us of Holy Russia”. But there was no understanding that certain social, economic, and political decisions that led to the Revolution could also be classified as sins. Of course, what I said in answer to your question is the “broad-brushstrokes” picture. There were people who tried to understand, to hear, such as Ever-memorable Metropolitan Laurus or nowadays Archpriest Fr. Nikolai Artemov.
Your experience here is very interesting: you put yourself at the “disposal” of the ROCOR even before communion was restored. How did you feel transferring from one jurisdiction to another?
Let’s start with the fact that I was born and raised in the USSR. I felt like a “very righteous” person in joining the ROCOR in Russia. [laughs] In late 1989/early 1990, I received a blessing from my late confessor, Fr. Viacheslav Reznikov, to study at Holy Trinity Orthodox Seminary (HTOS). But this was not enough for me. In the spirit of the “Josephites” of the 1920s, I came to Fr. Viacheslav and made a “declaration” that I was exiting the “Sergian schism”. In May 1990, the Council of Bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia resolved to minister to believers in the USSR, and I became actively involved in that process. In August of that year, I came to Jordanville. However, sometime later, when I was already at HTOS, I began to have doubts about whether my “declaration” had been right. So I spent years studying in-depth the divisions in the Russian Church during the second period of Metropolitan Sergius’ administration of the church as Deputy Patriarchal locum tenens (1927–1943). I am glad that in 2000, I was able to ask Father Viacheslav’s forgiveness for my declaration and, above all, to resume Eucharistic communion until his death in 2011.
As for the Russian Church Abroad, the Iron Curtain was still very much in place. It was supported not only by the Soviet authorities but also by the ROCOR. I remember once asking a seminarian from the Church Abroad, now an esteemed archpriest: “When will you go to Russia?”, to which he replied: “But Metropolitan Vitaly has not blessed us to go to Russia.” So the division into “Soviet” and “Church Abroad” was palpable. We had Archpriest Georgii Skrinnikov (d. 2008), a teacher of Russian history, at our seminary. He was a draftsman and made wonderful contour maps for us. A very soulful and caring man who grew up in Yugoslavia. He said of the seminarians who came from Russia: “These are not Russian people. They are different.” As an aside, Fr. Georgii did not accept the resumption of communion in 2007.
I believe that without increased communion (conciliarity) among the people of God, both those ordained and those consecrated for ministry in the sacrament of baptism, we will not succeed.
It was an interesting time, and your experience is interesting. On the one hand, you are a historian of the Church Abroad. On the other, you are a direct observer of events, having witnessed both the “thaw” in relations in the 1990s-2000s and the moment of signing the Act [of Canonical Communion —transl.], and the first few years after that, and today, now that the process is completed. Tell us briefly about the peculiarities of each period. Was it possible to overcome the divide at once? What difficulties did the “Church Abroad” folks face?
The period of dialogue in the late 1990s was characterized by a softening of rhetoric against the Moscow Patriarchate in ROCOR publications. However, this “change of tack” caused concern among some ROCOR clergy who were waiting for the Moscow Patriarchate’s leadership to repent of Sergianism and ecumenism in the spirit of the adoption of Renovationism in the 1920s.
It turned out that all attention was focused on the extent to which the Moscow Patriarchate had “evolved” according to the expectations of the ROCOR, while the history of the ROCOR itself was hardly considered.
It turned out that all attention was focused on the extent to which the Moscow Patriarchate had “evolved” according to the expectations of the ROCOR, while the history of the ROCOR itself was hardly considered. The years 2001–2007 are directly tied to the memory of Metropolitan Laurus. Many people brought up with a belief that the ROCOR was absolutely right did not understand how it was possible to accept the reunion, [which they perceived as] the ROCOR “surrendering”. However, knowing the degree of Vladyka Laurus’ church consciousness, they simply trusted him. Vladyka also respected the conscience of his fellow clergy, and issuing letters of canonical releases to all who were unwilling to accept the reunification. Vladyka Laurus worked to ensure that the opposition to canonical communion was fully represented at the All-Diaspora Council in San Francisco. The All-Diaspora Council adopted a resolution that gave the ROCOR Council of Bishops the right to make the final decision on the restoration of Eucharistic communion. It turned out that the Moscow Patriarchate refused to label the “Karlovtsians” as schismatics, while the “Church Abroad” party recognized the Patriarchate as their Mother Church. After reunification, it turned out that the ROCOR went from a period of denunciation of apostasy of “global Orthodoxy” to a period of “mere Christianity”. I believe that without increased communion (conciliarity) among the people of God, both those ordained and those consecrated for ministry in the sacrament of baptism, we will not succeed. Before the union, it was much easier for our bishops to speak critically about what was happening in Russia. Now, the fact that they personally know both His Holiness the Patriarch and the other bishops forces them to act with a different degree of responsibility so as not to do any harm. At the same time, the obligation to speak openly and freely on behalf of “our brothers who are in the territory of the former Russian Empire […] who are in any kind of distress” (from the “exclamation” at the Liturgy) does not go away for our ROCOR archpastors. It is only a question of finding a form for this intercession.
What is the significance of reconciliation between the Moscow Patriarchate and the Church Abroad? For you personally.
It is important that the ROCOR has returned to communion with the other local churches. I think there was an understanding that we must protect to the utmost the unity that Christ the Savior commanded in the Gethsemane prayer (Matthew 26:36–46). We now have the opportunity to adopt the positive experience of the Russian Church. For example, an advisory body like the Inter-Conciliar Assembly could assist our hierarchs. We now fearlessly venture beyond polemical discourse, speaking without embellishment or reticence about our own history. Our “White Army icon” makes visits throughout the Russian Orthodox Church. A number of saints glorified in the ROCOR have been added to the register of saints for the entire Russian Church.
On a personal level, this means for me an answer to the doubts I spoke of above: we have no other Church, nor do we have any other Russia.
“They are different [people].” I wonder if Metropolitan Laurus would have proceeded with the reunion if he’d realized how true this was? He was a loving man, so perhaps he would have. Many at that time were against it – speaking about [ex-]Soviet people, Putin’s prior ‘work experience,’ et cetera – and it is hard to say they were wrong in these troubled times.
The overall silence, even complicity, of our hierarchy abroad today could be due to knowing our ex-Soviet patriarch better, but is still horrifying all the same. The ROCOR needed to find a way to exist more fully within the wider Church, but it’s a pity a way couldn’t be found to preserve its freedom of conscience while doing so.
*****If approved, please post this version. I corrected some typo and omissions from my first attempted post. Thanks*****
On May 17, 2007 the ROCOR Synod published a news release on their homepage, part of which read: “His Holiness [Patriarch Kirill] then addressed the Chief of State of the Russian Federation, noting his participation in the work of reestablishing unity within the Local Russian Orthodox Church. His Holiness reminded everyone that a few years ago, Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin, during a visit to New York, met with His Eminence Metropolitan Laurus and the members of the Synod of Bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia. ‘In you they saw a person dedicated to Russia, an Orthodox Christian who serves his people,’ said the Primate of the Russian Orthodox Church. In memory of this event, His Holiness gave the President a triptych representing the Life-Giving Trinity, the Vladimir Icon of the Mother of God and the Icon of the Host of New Martyrs and Confessors of Russia. The Russian President then addressed those present. He said that the signing of the Act of Canonical Communion is an epochal event not only in the history of the Church but in the life of society in general. This event places an end to the division of the Church in the Fatherland and abroad.”
It is horrifying now to remember that the Act of Canonical Communion was set into motion by a visit of Putin to the Synodal Cathedral in New York. We now see the fruit of his labor, a quiescent, cowed ROCOR that has lost its fighting spirit against the “godless authority” that we have prayed against for decades. The heroic stance of our current ROCOR Metropolitan (Locum Tenens) Metropolitan Mark against this invasion of Ukraine, the slaughter of its people – including our brothers and sisters in the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, is like a candle lit in this present darkness. Does his Eminence Metropolitan Mark have any support within the Synod to move the ROCOR take a stand against the Russian invasion, or is he just a voice crying out in the wilderness, a prophet-jeremiad not welcome amongst his own?
For many of us, we may have no “other Russia,” but it is not true for any of us that “we have no other Church.”