Reader George Luimes: Hello Father, it’s good to see you and speak with you.
Protodeacon Andrei: Hello Reader George!
There are a lot of questions, I think, that people have with the upcoming conference or council, in which, among other things, the nomination of the next Metropolitan will be, and I thought it might be interesting to start with a very basic question, and that is; what is the role of the Metropolitan compared to the other bishops in the Russian Church Abroad?
I like this question because it’s just- start from ground level, from a basic level, that’s how questions should be. The highest authority in the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia is the bishop council. Theoretically, we have All-Diaspora Councils, and we’ve had four of them, but it’s still a matter of the discretion of our bishops when to convene them or whether to (convene them), so there are no regular terms. Whereas bishops’ councils were supposed to meet regularly, and they didn’t meet for several years. I believe it is like three of four years since the last one, due to obvious reasons, from what the whole world experienced. So, our Metropolitan, he’s responsible to those who elected him, which are the bishops. So, the bishops elect the bishop, who is or becomes a metropolitan, the first hierarch of the Russian Church Abroad. He becomes an executive arm of bishop councils, along with the Synod of bishops. So, the Bishop Council is the legislative authority, and the Synod of Bishops, with the Metropolitan as chairman of the synod of bishops is the executive arm of our bishops.
Interesting and so the Metropolitan is expected to make executive decisions while also being accountable to the Synod of Bishops then, and so, will this upcoming council of the bishops- is this just the next of the regular meetings of bishops or is this a special session?
No, it definitely is a special one, because as we know, our beloved Metropolitan Hilarion passed away in May, so this new upcoming council will deal with nominating the successor to him. Normally, the council would start with an address or report from the Metropolitan, where he would report about the life of the Russian Church Abroad, and specifically also about those many parishes that still are directly under Him, stavropegial parishes, and otherwise, like Western Rite parishes. So, he would report because he was still accountable to the Council of Bishops. He is not above the Council of Bishops. He is the first among those hierarchs, especially honored and venerated, but nevertheless, he remains one of the bishops.
So if you are a parishioner in one of the churches throughout the Russian Church Abroad, in what way does the role of the Metropolitan factor into your experience with your hierarch, with your priest? You know, we commemorate the First Hierarch at services, but how as a parishioner of the Russian Church Abroad would you understand the Metropolitan in relation to you, and how would you understand in extension- do you appeal to the Metropolitan as a lay person, or how does that interaction exist?
Another good question starting from a basic level, yeah, this commemoration that our parishioners, Christians, hear multiple number of times throughout the service demonstrates our Orthodox ecclesiology, which is, bishop centered ecclesiology, and demonstrates that whatever the priest does, he does with carte blanche, with the license he received from his diocesan bishop, and also from our Metropolitan. So, normally, a parishioner should not have the situation where he would appeal to something, to the Metropolitan. It can only be when he went through the chain of command, he went to his rector, and he went to the bishop, and if, by some very hard-to-imagine reason, all these appeals fail, then he would have logic and reason to turn up the Metropolitan, but again in real life things happen that people aren’t happy and so and, and they try to use basically a “checks and balances” in the person of the Metropolitan. They would appeal to him, unless also, he is not their diocesan bishop, because our late Metropolitan Hilarion was a diocesan bishop for Australian Diocese, then for the largest diocese in this Church, the Eastern American Diocese. He was the directly ruling hierarch in those places. So, there are cases where a parish council would submit minutes of their annual parish meetings to be confirmed and approved by the diocesan bishop, so in this capacity, he was much closer to parishioners, then, lets say than to a parishioner in Germany. I don’t know, it doesn’t come to mind right away how he [a regular parishioner] would interact with the Metropolitan. So, unless he visits his parish and he sees the figurehead of the Russian Church Abroad. So, he finally visits with this person whose name he/she hears multiple times, they can visualize it and give them a stronger feeling of belonging to this Church.
Okat, so, redirecting to the upcoming council that’s taking place, for anyone, how does that meeting or council look? How has the election process worked in the past? Does there need to be general consensus among the bishops, or is it a fifty-plus 1 vote, or how will the bishops choose?
That is a good question for a hierarch. That’s probably more asked of a ROCOR hierarch. I understand that it is majority; that’s how it works, by the majority. There might be a tie situation or so on, but I need to revisit those rules. I hope one of our bishops would agree to explain all of this. That would be very useful.
Absolutely. So, with this taking place, I was wondering what new perspectives on the Russian Church Abroad, and the processes of the Russian Church Abroad, by watching this process, and the recent events leading up ecclesiologically to this council?
Right, so the Russian Church Abroad is a very hierarchical church on the one hand, as we already mentioned today several times. So, the name of the bishop was commemorated throughout the services to demonstrate our Orthodox ecclesiology, and this [hierarchical trend] happened for several years because Russian Refugee bishops had to look after their flock, they had to guide their flock, and so on, but I think it’s also important to understand the place of a Christian in this system of interaction within the Church. If you think about the service of Baptism, there is a strong resemblance to the service of ordination, like taking around the baptismal font. There is no singing of “Holy Martyrs” as in the wedding and ordination, but there is also singing when this person is taken around the baptismal font. So, it is also the event that connects this person with a particular community, right? You were installed a reader for a particular church. Even let’s say they didn’t know what church in which you would be serving, they still conditionally proclaimed you were a reader of the Cathedral of Holy Trinity, and there is no reason not to think that the same thing happens to baptism. So, the person becomes a member of the particular congregation. It doesn’t really follow all the time. And this is something that answers your question. What if we would focus on this, like, recently, a friend attended what’s called a baptismal liturgy, where the baptism is integrated into the liturgy, and this is strongly demonstrated, this bond, this connection, and then from there when you become a Christian. You participate in Divine Liturgy, where the choir sends up responses on behalf of the whole congregation. Even for an observer who comes to Orthodox Church, who never experienced it to him or her, it would be like – there is the icon wall, something goes on behind it, there are passive observers, and there is the choir loft. Whereas it is one thing, it is one thing, it is common worship, a common thing. So, basically, one of the Christians who is ordained, he sends up prayers, and the whole congregation says “Amen” to what he says, and actively participates, and if you wish, concelebrates. So, if you think about this perspective, which I think is vital, then it will give you a little bit of a different angle to understand the place of the Christians, they are not just a passive-guided flock, but they are also the new Christian race, as St. Apostle Paul mentions in his epistle. So, I think with this in mind, we might benefit from a higher level of interaction because what our bishops are going to do in their close corporation, inspired and illuminated by the Holy Spirit, they will elect a person who will also guide all the rest of the Church. So it will not be just a new peer and colleague for bishops, but also the person who will be a father to all of us. So, I think [it is vital] to have more conversation about the status of Christians and the place of Christians to basically hear more from people, to solicit some kind of feedback from people would be healthy and well needed for us.
It reminds me of a Fr. Andrew Damick, an Antiochian priest, who wrote a very good book on St. Ignatius the God-Bearer, and in it he mentions, I forget the name, but a bishop visited St. Ignatius, and when St. Ignatius wrote a letter to this bishops flock later, he said that “you as a diocese visited me in the person of your bishop.” It was a very interesting thought that the bishop and his flock aren’t these two foreign objects that interact through Ukaz, but the bishop represents and is apart of, and shepherds, and flock knows him by his name, so having that pastoral, that loving relationship between the bishops and the flock since the very earliest part of the Church, seems to be a very key aspect of understanding how bishop and the people interact, and this strikes me as apart of what you’re saying, if I’m understanding- understanding that the flock, the Orthodox Christians, are baptized are baptized into the community of the Church, and the decisions of the Church involve the people who are baptized into it.
Yes, I think that’s sensible, yeah. It would be nice if we had more catechization in parishes, where people would be explained what they participate in, what the meaning of Liturgy, and what happens there. I think it would be beneficial, yea.
Interesting, well, I believe, I actually had a couple of questions. I was excited to speak to you. I believe the last of my questions is, in this upcoming council, besides the election of the new first hierarch, will there be anything that’s discussed alongside it? I believe in your interview with Metropolitan Mark, he mentioned that when the first hierarch is elected in the Russian Church Abroad, they don’t stop being the ruling hierarch of their old diocese and that some decisions will have to be made, some process- making sure if the diocese needs a vicar bishop or not, something along those lines. So, I was wondering if you knew if there has been any discussion about what else might be discussed at this conference or will that be figured out closer to the actual event?
Again, I’m not a spokesperson for the Synod, and I don’t want to come across as I speak on behalf of the Synod or represent it. So, I’m a professor from Jordanville this is basically where I belong and where I’m comfortable to speak about, but based on the mentioned interview from Metropolitan Mark I believe they will be talking about what’s going on in the rest of the Russian Church, about different takes on this situation, about the war and so on, and different perspectives, and how to be homogeneous, how to have the same vision if possible, or a coherent vision, to express this vision. I think this is what we could expect. Also, other questions, because I’m sure there are questions that the bishops would like to ask their peers, their expertise for some pressing issues, because they come as a college, a body, and I believe they will be using this opportunity to partake in the common wisdom of all of them regarding some issues and so, they didn’t have a chance to speak about in the last three years, even though they had synodal meetings online, but I guess it’s not the same as the synod of bishops, and not all hierarchs are members of the synod of bishops and so on.
Interesting. it’s an encouraging thing to hear. Reading the very interesting interview with Vladyka Mark makes you realize that ROCOR has a unique challenge in that there are dioceses throughout the world, and to maintain oneness of mind in the Russian Church Abroad, through tradition, through common understanding, is something that needs to be worked on, something that needs to be talked about, not just presumed, and with the bishops, it seems this is true, and they respect each other’s opinions and want to maintain that, but even for the lay people throughout the Russian Church Abroad, a lay person in Germany might have a very different perspective on some things than one in Canada, and communicating with each other, and discussing these things, as our hierarchs do, seems to be a very important part of maintaining our unity.
Right, I think our hierarchs are all open to supporting any healthy initiative, but then there should be those initiatives. It should not be expected that our hierarchs would just set up something. Still, if, if lay people were to approach them for a blessing, then this would be something else, so I think the ball is in the court of the lay people to suggest, to come up with some healthy initiatives, have discussions, and so on. We are trying to do it here in ROCOR Studies, you and me, but I don’t know; I think our hands are full, and I don’t really have enough imagination to think about what we could come up with regarding this.
I was mentioned about this hierarchal dimension of the Russian Church Abroad. Still, practically, Russian Church abroad is very congregationalist, parishes are on their own, and it would be nice to have a more centralized vision, so what we can do, what programs we can offer.
But you know, I think in this regard too, is that the Church is the Body of Christ, not just one diocese or one jurisdiction, but the Church, as a whole, is the Body of Christ. This means that every part of the body is needed, all the faithful are part of this, so it’s not that you have to wait for the archpriests to talk about things, to have the initiative on outreach for the world around us, or positive things in the Church, being apart of the body of Christ, everyone who was baptized, as you said at the beginning, father, is someone who with humility and with the strength of faith, be one to reach out and try to have initiative.
Right, but at the same time, I think if we talked more about this vision, people would also receive a message it’s okay to suggest and to talk, because I think right now our flock receives passively the message that you just come to church, you pray, you participate in Holy Mysteries, and that is what you are expected to do. So basically, there is not really an invitation for people to suggest participating, they are on the receiving end. I think if there were this appeal or invitation to participate, they would receive it because right now, they passively come and learn, “okay, you come to Church you just participate, not just, but you participate in sanctification, and this what you do in Church”, but there is no liturgy after liturgy. There are many issues because I was mentioned about this hierarchal dimension of the Russian Church Abroad. Still, practically, Russian Church abroad is very congregationalist, parishes are on their own, and it would be nice to have a more centralized vision, so what we can do, what programs we can offer. We have these parish schools around the Russian Church Abroad. Maybe there would be some kind of inspector like we had in the 1960s, a person who would be going around to the churches to study their programs, because we have lots of wealth in a sense, I don’t mean financial wealth. Still, we have a lot of resources, valuable resources like those parish schools and so on. So I hope that our new first hierarch would do more for a centralized vision, that there would be a common message, like addressing the situation with clergy, because all parishes can revisit the way they reimburse their clergy, and I think that our “top management” can do a lot if they support our clergy in their struggle, not just the Fund For Assistance which constantly points to this, but hierarchs would say, like, perhaps the amount of parish of your parishes due that you decided decades ago, doesn’t really work anymore. Maybe there should be some other form of reimbursement, and so on and so on. So those centralized issues that are topical, and as I mentioned, parishioners, they get a message, that’s how we do things in the Russian Church Abroad, but then the clergy also get this message, especially those who recently joined the Russian Church Abroad from the former Soviet Union. That’s how things work in the Russian Church Abroad, like you have to work, you have to do this, and you don’t ask for any help from the supreme church authority because you are one-on-one with your congregation. So maybe there would be more input from bishops regarding those things, I hope.
I hope that our new first hierarch would do more for a centralized vision, that there would be a common message, like addressing the situation with clergy, because all parishes can revisit the way they reimburse their clergy, and I think that our “top management” can do a lot if they support our clergy in their struggle, not just the Fund For Assistance which constantly points to this, but hierarchs would say, like, perhaps the amount of parish of your parishes due that you decided decades ago, doesn’t really work anymore.
And, while you’re mentioning this, I thought about two of our fathers of the Russian Church in recent times, St. John of Kronstadt and St. John (Maximovitch) who served liturgy daily, but then didn’t stop there, the grace of the liturgy and the grace of the sacramental liturgical life, they took that and went out and served the poor, they went out and went to hospitals, that was the anchor for them spiritually, but it transformed their whole lives to lives of service. For the Russian Church Abroad, for each one of us, we’re called to a similar thing, not just to stop there but to then, like you said, the liturgy after the liturgy of sorts, and for the hierarchs, the priests, and lay people to then reach out further outside of ourselves to other people. There are a lot of administrative questions in the Russian Church Abroad. The Russian Church Abroad has a foundation in the respect for tradition, it has a foundation in the liturgical life, but then to have this as the anchor for these discussions, but not to be afraid to have them. It brings up, as God willing, we will be able to face these problems. It reminds me what you were saying about how dues in the past may not work now; a lot of people when they were very young-they would have their kids put a single dollar into the collection box, you know, when they would walk around with the little basket, and that was their contribution. In modern times, well, that one dollar means a lot, but it doesn’t have the same.
But now it is a tradition, so now you must defend this tradition. It was a dollar! My grandfather used to put a dollar, and my father and I, I put a dollar.
Yes, which is a very nice tradition to watch the kids walk up with their dollar bills for the box, but it doesn’t help with some of the other necessary things as much as it used to.
As long as there are other donations besides the traditional dollar, a dollar doesn’t take us as far away as it used to.
Yes. Wonderful. I was wondering if you had any other thoughts or any other reflections.
Yes, thank you very much for this conversation, Reader George. What recently occurred to me was that we had this situation when bishops, members of the Canonical Assembly of Bishops in North America, they voiced their concerns about a single issue that bothered them. They were very-, and it is connected with the Russian Church Abroad, with a former clergyman of the Russian Church Abroad, who was supposed to be promoted to episcopal rank, and so on, but I am not talking about this cause, but what amazed me was the message that they sent, “we are the Church, we are the Church,” and I think this is something for us also to keep in mind, that we Orthodox, unlike Anglicans, we have so many things in common, we have same theology, same dogmatics, that is the Lord, all we Orthodox have the same understanding of the spiritual life. We have humility, self-renunciation, and so on, and all Orthodox should agree that there is a necessity of piety, all Orthodox would agree that secularism is a thing that will challenge all of us. So we have more things that unite us than things that divide us, like the calendar and so on, but at the same time, we often think of ourselves not exactly as St. Paul was saying, responding to those who would consider themselves “I am a Pauline” and so on, but it is similar. The Russian Church Abroad, we would think of the Russian Church Abroad and maybe the Russian Church. So maybe in some areas where there is no Russian Church, people would experience collaboration between the OCA, let’s say, and the Serbian Church. The Serbian Church is, of course, very near and dear, unique to us. But, maybe we should consider that all of us Orthodox, above our ethnic adjectives, all of us are first of all Orthodox, we are the Church in a spiritual sense, in a doctrinal sense, and then there are different colors, like Russian, Canadian, American, and so on. I think if we were to think this way, it would help us to challenge secularization. Otherwise, we are really weak, we are peddling in Jordanville alone. Even Holy Cross [the Greek Seminary], who are supposed to be doing better than anyone else, have their share of troubles and so on. I mean, I’m not saying we should give up ROCOR identity or anything like that, but I think it makes sense based on our teaching; that’s all I am saying.
Maybe we should consider that all of us Orthodox, above our ethnic adjectives, all of us are first of all Orthodox, we are the Church in a spiritual sense, in a doctrinal sense, and then there are different colors, like Russian, Canadian, American, and so on
I suppose it’s a confidence that we have our tradition as the Russian Church Abroad, and we are obedient to it, but it should also- the teaching of our fathers before us and our tradition should give us the confidence to speak to other Orthodox, should give us the confidence of faith to learn and to speak, and not be afraid to hear what might be said. I think when you read, especially a lot of the early writers, the early fathers of the Russian Church abroad, these were very well-educated hierarchs, very well-educated people, they knew about culture, they know about other jurisdictions and their traditions, and this made them all the more able to speak with a lot of relevance, but also to cherish what their tradition was from knowledge. So, I think this was a strength of theirs and one we can learn from their lives and their examples as well, I suppose, in contribution to what you were saying, father.
No, that’s a beautiful addition that comes very close to what we’ve been doing on ROCOR Studies. Explaining the history and different periods in the Russian Church Abroad, and of course, what you said, comes very close to Metropolitan Anastassy’s profile, who spent time in Constantinople, who spent time in the Holy Land, he also lived long enough here in America. It is hard to find the right words, but in many cases, as we see, he turned out to be, as they say now, on the right side of history. Time proved that he was right, and for me, he is a great guide, and now in Jordanville, we have him, we have Metropolitan Hilarion. Many venerate Metropolitan Philaret, whose remains are incorrupt, so those hierarchs were of very pious life, and they give us a source of food for our thoughts.
Absolutely, thank you for the conversation; always a pleasure.
Thank you Reader George.