Saturday, April 22, 2006

Paschal Epistle of Valentine Metropolitan of Suzdal and Vladimir, Chief Hierarch of the Russian Orthodox Autonomous Church

To the Reverend Pastors, Monastics,
and All Loyal Children of the Russian Orthodox Church

“Belief in the resurrection is the crown of faith and the stone upon which faith is tested. Belief in the resurrection separates the Christian from the non-Christian.”
Metropolitan Anthony (Khrapovitsky)
First Hierarch of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia

Spiritually contemplating and celebrating the radiant day of the resurrection from the dead of Christ the Life-giver, His beloved bride, the Holy Orthodox Church, “Which He hath purchased with His Own Blood,” exults, calling her faithful children to enter into the joy of her Lord.

The most precious and pure possession that we have in this earthly life is the good news that our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ is risen from the dead. This news ignites faith, strengthens hope, and increases love.

Through this supernatural event of the victorious resurrection, God was well pleased to grant unto mankind both wonder, and wisdom. Just as during the time of the apostles, when the masses demanded to see miracles, and the more educated, such as the Greeks, sought wisdom (1 Cor. 1:22), the Christian faith increased the reputation of the Church of Christ, and introduced to the world the miracle of the resurrection of Christ.

It is essential to remember that while accepting or rejecting the news of Christ’s rising from the dead, we all, nevertheless, remain the same creatures of God as we were, capable of opening our souls and hearts to the call of our Creator. Man has been given the freedom of choice; to accept or to reject, to believe or not to believe.

Faith is a gift from God! A burning lamp is capable of being snuffed out by a strong burst of wind, or, to the contrary, is capable of being fanned into a bright flame, which gives light to all. On the eve of our Lord’s Passion and sufferings on the cross, treasuring the gift of faith, the Apostle Simon-Peter, in the name of the entire gathering of all of the apostles, asked Christ, his Lord and Divine Teacher, “Lord, increase our faith!”

“Confirm, O God, the holy Orthodox Faith and Orthodox Christians,” asks the holy Church of her Lord even until now. The Christian faith is founded on the immutable truth of the resurrection of Christ, “If Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain,” says the holy Apostle Paul in his epistle to the Corinthians (1 Cor. 15:14).

We must feed the flaming fire of our faith with our love for God, actively intensifying our pursuit of the Christian virtues, so that “men may see your good works, and glorify your Father, Who is in heaven.” Hoping in God, and trusting in Him, no man has the right to deny His holy Church, “Which He hath purchased with His Own Blood,” or to hold his own vain opinions higher than His canons and rules, remembering that “only those, who are found to be in the Church may receive salvation, for it is only to the Church that the Lord has promised an eternal kingdom. (From the “Spiritual Meadow.”)

The most joyous feast of the Lord’s Pascha, annually renewed for us by the holy Church, should become for us the precursor of divine and eternal life. The soul must be renewed in God, and in the light of His resurrection.

Behind us now lies the field of great lent, which we have just finished; days of fasting and of feeling remorse for our sins. We are comforted by our Christian hope that the merciful God will forgive us our sins, just as He forgave the prodigal son, the repentant sinful woman, and the publican who amended his life.

The love of God strengthens us and inspires us. The joy of the resurrection fills us with spiritual ecstasy and with a feeling of triumph of the truth of the kingdom of God.

We must not lose sight of the fact that these moments of triumphant joy will pass, and we will be left with our earthly vanities and cares, labors, sorrows, and illnesses, which will act to diminish the spark of faith, cool the soul, and try to drown out our spiritual joy. “If we do not work to keep the flame of faith going in our hearts, then because of our carelessness it may completely die out in us, and Christianity with all of its sacraments will become as something lifeless for us. This is exactly what the enemy strives for—to put out the fire of faith in our hearts and consign the truths of Christianity to forgetfulness,” as St. John of Kronstadt writes in his diary.

And then perhaps someone will say to us, “Where now is the triumph of the risen Christ? What has happened to the joy that was once in the human heart?” Knowing our weaknesses and wishing to help us in every way possible, the holy Church has equipped us with rules and regulations, services and rituals, through the keeping of which we can gain and increase zeal for God, which is an inexhaustible fountain of good deeds and of an all God-pleasing life; it is a bush that burns and is yet unconsumed. If you stop up a fountain, the flow of refreshing and life-giving water will cease; if you restrain zeal, beneficence and all thoughts about pleasing God will end. If you put out a fire, there will be no light, no warmth; if you extinguish zeal, the soul will not be inclined to any good thing, and its life in God will grow completely cold,” St. Theophan the Recluse says.

So then, an active faith increases love, and gives strength to hope. It suffices for us to recall St. Seraphim of Sarov; all of his life was lived in the joy of the risen Christ, and he greeted everyone who came to him at any time of the year or of the day with the comforting words, “My Joy, Christ is Risen!”

Dearly beloved in the Lord, Fathers, brothers, and sisters of the holy, much-suffering Orthodox Church of the Holy New Martyrs and Confessors of Russia, I direct to you the triumphant words of our faith, Christ is Risen! And mutually responding to you in turn, I proclaim, Truly He is Risen! And my prayerful and ardent desire for you is to find this grace-filled Paschal joy on this auspicious and holy day!

Metropolitan of Suzdal and Vladimir
Pascha, 2006

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Russia Jouns Ecumenical Carnaval

By Alexander Soldatov, The Moscow News

We have not seen the like of this since the Soviet era: More than 20 representatives of the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC) attended the General Assembly of the World Council of Churches (WCC) at Porto Allegre, Brazil, February 14 through 23. At this inter-religious forum, Orthodox Russians discussed not only theological and humanitarian issues. Their mission also had a clear political agenda.

Background The ROC entered the world's largest ecumenical organization, uniting 350 churches, in 1961, on explicit orders from the country's ruling authorities. The incumbent patriarch, Alexy II, at that time a young bishop, was a member of the Moscow delegation at the General Assembly in New Delhi, where the ROC was formally admitted to the WCC.

In its reports, the KGB's Fifth Directorate, created especially to control religious activities in the country, liked to highlight its agents' "success stories" at the WCC. Indeed, the WCC was ideally suited for the propaganda of the Soviet Union's "peace-loving foreign policy." The organization, created to pique the Vatican, mainly united churches from developing countries, proclaiming leftist slogans. On the initiative of Soviet religious figures, the WCC regularly condemned "NATO's aggressive policy," neocolonialism, multinationals, and so on and so forth.

Church dissidents criticized the ROC leadership not only for the overpoliticization of the ecumenical movement. Suffice it to look at the photos and video footage of WCC events to understand how incompatible WCC membership was with Orthodox Christianity. Consider, for example, Archbishop Kirill (Gudnyaev) at the WCC General Assembly in Vancouver in 1983 taking part in the ceremony of erecting a pagan idol. Eight years later, in Canberra, he was pictured holding the Gospel at an ecumenical liturgy with a woman priest. Joint prayers and services with the non-Orthodox are prohibited by Church canons (specifically Canons of Apostles 10 and 45). The New York-based Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia (ROCOR), which even anathematized ecumenism, accused the Moscow Patriarchy of breaching Church laws. The proactive propaganda conducted by the ROCOR in Russia in the early 1990s caused a crisis of ecumenism within the ROC which mulled plans of pulling out of the WCC, with only three Russian delegates being sent to the General Assembly in Harare in 1998.

The WCC leadership was scared, seeking compromise with the ROC and setting up a commission on WCC reform, which would allow the Orthodox to exercise the right of veto when voting on most essential issues. Meanwhile, the ROCOR is gradually reuniting with the ROC, so those who once anathematized ecumenism will soon join the WCC.

Problems, Conflicts Nonetheless, it would be premature to talk about "ecumenical renaissance" within the ROC. On the one hand, Alexy II receives the WCC general secretary and spotlights his "rich ecumenical past," while Metropolitan Kirill goes to Porto Alegre to pay tribute to the "lofty assembly." On the other hand, the selfsame Metropolitan Kirill attacks globalization, liberalism, and religious syncretism, while ROC print outlets publish his anti-ecumenical pamphlets. Father Vsevolod Chaplin, Metropolitan Kirill's deputy, recently published a satirical code of new ecumenical commandments, patterned after the biblical commandments, including these: "Thou shalt observe the Sabbath with Jews and Fridays with Muslims. On Sundays thou shalt go to the beach;" "Thou shalt not covet anything that is at odds with pluralism;" "Blessed are the pacifists for they are protected by armies;" and "Blessed are the oppressed in any sphere whatsoever for theirs is the Kingdom of Mass Media." His sarcastic view of ecumenism did not prevent Father Vsevolod from organizing his own road show at the assembly and making a politically correct report.

No, the ROC today is not what it was 15 years ago, but the WCC has changed little. Documents from the latest assembly are still marked by the same "left-wing infantile disorder" [reference to a work by Vladimir Lenin. - Ed.] and contain the same old calls for syncretism. Even a representative of the Orthodox Church - His Holiness Aram I, Catholicos of the Great House of Cilicia - told the Port Alegre congress: "Christ is present in different religions under different names." By tradition, a joint prayer service was conducted to the sounds of Indian tambourines, attended by representatives of all eastern churches except the ROC. Yet a communique of the WCC Reform Commission, which was signed by the ROC, says that a call to joint prayer service still has priority.

Successes and Setbacks of Church Diplomacy Members of the ROC delegation made no secret of the fact that their mission in Brazil was linked with Russia's special interests in Latin America. This immediately evokes President Putin's statement about Russia's strategic partnership with Brazil and its intention to lobby for Brazil's status as a permanent member of the UN Security Council.

Brazilian President Lula was given a rousing reception by Assembly delegates, but he also had informal meetings with ROC representatives, pledging support for ROC parishes in his country. While the Assembly was in session, Metropolitan Kirill consecrated the Church of St. Zinaida in Rio de Janeiro where more and more wealthy Russians are coming. The ROC "foreign minister" conducted another divine service at a Russian church in Sao Paulo.

The ROC's foreign-church interests and the Kremlin's foreign policy interests are becoming increasingly homogeneous, as the Russian foreign minister recently said in so many words when visiting the St. Nicholas Cathedral in Vienna. Few are surprised by the fact that the Russian Embassy in France has sued the Constantinople Patriarchy over an Orthodox cathedral in Nice. If the foreign policy interests of the Church and the State are so intertwined, isn't it time to think about creating a special body like the Soviet-era Council for Religious Affairs that would coordinate interaction in this important sphere?

Could such a body, by providing Church diplomats professional advice, have prevented some diplomatic lapses that occurred in the ROC delegation's work in Porto Alegre? The Assembly's final resolution says that peaceful civilians faced with the threat of annihilation should be given the right to ask for external intervention and protection. According to Walter Altman, a WCC Program Guidelines Committee moderator, the authors of the document referred to, among other things, the situation of noncombatants in Chechnya and other trouble spots in the post-Soviet area. A special statement on the threat of nuclear proliferation says that one fundamental provision of the NPT, whereby countries possessing such weapons must not transfer nuclear technology to countries that do not have them, has now been breached in a certain part of the world. Was it not a reference to Russia's support for Iran's nuclear program?

Otherwise, the General Assembly at Porto Alegre was marked by general revelry and a carnival-like atmosphere. Informal contacts in chat rooms and at presentations were interspersed with concerts and dancing prayers. Colorful marches by Assembly delegates were devoted to the poor, social and sexual minorities, children, and disabled invalids. Not only ecumenical youth but also venerable bishops and pastors could be observed marching under psychedelic banners the color of the rainbow. The rainbow could be seen both in assembly halls and at ecumenical services. The rainbow is the WCC symbol of tolerance and openness.

At the closing session of the Assembly, the delegates passed several resolutions (on water shortages in Africa, observance of human rights in combating terrorism, and rapprochement with other religions) and elected a new 150-member Central Committee. The Orthodox Christians at the apex of the WCC pyramid will be represented by Albanian Archbishop Anastasy, a nominee of the Constantinople Patriachy, which is hostile toward the ROC.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

ROAC Church of St. Olga in Zheleznovodsk Given Over to Stavropol Diocese of the MP With Help From Cossacks and OMON

( – Vertograd, Zheleznovodsk)

At about 9:00 AM on Monday, April 3rd, the Church of St. Olga, which belongs to the ROAC (Russian Orthodox Autonomous Church), was transferred by officers of the court to the authority of the Stavropol and Vladikavkaz Diocese of the MP. This information was given to a reporter for Portal-Credo.Ru during his conversation with one of the priests of the ROAC Orthodox community there, Archpriest George Novakovsky.

According to him, approximately five hundred parishioners of St. Olga’s Church, together with the community’s clergy, Frs. Anatoly, Roman, and George Novakovsky, assembled at about 7:00-8:00 AM in order to serve a supplicatory prayer service. The parishioners did not wait for the court officers since office workers of the court had earlier told community representatives that the officers might come at any time during the course of the day. Nevertheless, at 8:00 AM, Cossacks from the town of Mineral Waters arrived, which began to force their way into the church. However, the parishioners formed a human barricade and would not let them get through.

Fr. George remarked that the MP Diocese had purposely invited Cossacks from Mineral Waters since the Cossacks from Zheleznovodsk had refused to be involved in any action against the most well-known and largest Orthodox community of the ROAC in town. After the Cossacks failed to take immediate control of the church, police officers and members of the OMON (paramilitary police), together with officers of the court, arrived. They forced the parishioners and the Cossacks out of the way, and the three priests—the Novakovsky brothers—and their wives, who had remained in the church, ceased opposing the representatives of the court and turned over the church keys to the bailiff. The bailiff in turn gave them to Vasiliy Chechil, representative of the MP Diocese of Stavropol.

According to Fr. George, the rector of the Church of the Holy Protection of the Mother of God in Kavminvody, Fr. Ilya Ageev, has been named as the new rector of St. Olga’s Church. Archpriest George Novakovsky made a special point of saying that when it came to the question of removing the furnishings from the church, the community had been willing to leave the icon screen in the church, but the MP’s representative said that they had their own icon screen.

The police in Zheleznovodsk, who are well acquainted with the community led by the Novakovsky’s, offered the use of a vehicle to the parishioners for moving the church furnishings. After all of the icons and other furnishings were moved, the parishioners and clergy of St. Olga’s Church marched in procession to Fr. George’s home, where the parish will continue to meet after their eviction.

The ROAC community, which had been using the church built by the Novakovsky brothers for the last sixteen years, is planning on petitioning the Zheleznovodsk city administration for a parcel of land where they can build another church center, especially now that relations between the ROAC community and the Zheleznovodsk city administration have improved since Victor Lozovoy replaced the MP sympathizer Anatoly Zubtsov as mayor. According to Fr. George, Lozovoy had been promising from the start that the church would not be taken away from the parishioners.

We remind our readers that what took place on April 3rd, was nothing other than the fulfillment of the decisions handed down by the Stavropol and Krasnodar (arbitrazhny) courts concerning the transfer of the buildings of St. Olga’s Church to the jurisdiction of the Stavropol Diocese of the MP. In the fall of 2005, the judges had confirmed the claims of the Stavropol Diocese of the MP to property belonging to the ROAC, and had given the parishioners until the spring of 2006 to cede their property.