Thursday, August 31, 2006

Union or Schism?

The joint commissions of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia (ROCOR) and the Moscow Patriarchate (MP) continue their work, but the issues dividing the two churches remain the same. All the while, the Russian press continues to speak of the union of the churches as a settled matter. Novoye Russkoye Slovo (NRS) was able to have its question on these issues answered by Bishop Gabriel, the Secretary of ROCOR and Bishop of the Manhattan diocese.

Archpriest Alexander Lebedev, the Secretary of the ROCOR joint commission, recently told a journalist in Russia that the Synod of Bishops in New York City was developing a grand ceremony to mark the union. Have matters really gone that far?

Archpriest Alexander probably meant to say that if the ROCOR episcopate ratifies the proposal known as the “Act for Eucharistic Communion” between our two churches, that is to say the two parts of the Russian Orthodox Church that were never united, then at that time it would be appropriate to develop a ceremony to mark the signing. First we must accept the “Act.” At the next scheduled meeting of our Synod, planned for early September, this matter is slated for discussion. Many points in the proposed “Act” require further deliberation. The issues of the Moscow Patriarchate’s involvement in the World Council of Churches (WCC), and the MP’s position on the well-known “Declaration of Patriarch Sergius” remain unresolved.

Who would authorize the commission’s secretary to discuss the matter of the solemn ceremony before the signing of the “Act?”

It would be best to ask Fr. Alexander himself about that. It’s possible that he is rushing matters along in anticipation of union, but this haste seems premature to me and many others in ROCOR. Even President Putin remarked that matters related to the process of union of the churches should not be forced.

Isn’t Archpriest Lebedev duty-bound to keep his statements in line with the official positions of his superiors?

Certainly. He is in a subordinate position and answers to the chairman of our commission, Archbishop Mark, the Bishop for Berlin-Germany and Great Britain.

Who is, as we all know, one of the primary proponents of immediate union. Is it possible that the dioceses of western Europe may join with the MP on their own, without waiting for agreement by the Synod?

As Secretary of the Synod of Bishops, I know of no such plans. I cannot answer on behalf of the dioceses of western Europe, they have their own ruling bishops. My wish, though, is that we can come to a common agreement on the matters before us and that it will not lead to a schism.

In his discussion of the ceremony, Lebedev says that it will include expressions of repentance from the ROCOR representatives. What repentance could there possibly be?

I did not read such statements in Fr. Alexander Lebedev’s remarks. I believe you are referring to information provided in an article in the newspaper “Nasha Strana.” This newspaper represents the views of schismatic groups who seek to do harm to our church. It would seem to me that if there is talk of repentance, we should expect it from those who consider themselves disciples of the false teachings which the MP has followed since the 1920’s. If we have erred somehow in the past and this is brought to our attention, then I believe we will repent accordingly. I would think the main matters of contention would be our opening of ROCOR parishes in Russia, or the ordination of Archbishop Valentin of Suzdal. I agree that the ordination of Valentin was a mistake, but to put this mistake on the level of the “Declaration of Patriarch Sergius” is just not possible, by simple fact of their difference in magnitude. The “Declaration” was a grave deviation from the church’s norm and recognized a regime which openly persecuted the church.

I have often heard accusations that ROCOR collaborated with the Nazis during World War II. Perhaps someone expects repentance for that?

The German government, which was headed by Hitler, helped ROCOR build a church in Berlin in 1938. At that time, all the nations in the West and East were actively cooperating with Hitler (who was the legal head of the German government. Ed.). Excellent relations were maintained with him by Moscow and Washington. People from all over the world attended the Olympics in Berlin (in 1936. Ed.). The situation changed only after World War II erupted. And to call the establishment of churches in the parts of Russia occupied by Germany “collaboration with the Nazis” is unthinkable. Let’s not forget that these churches were closed, defiled, some even turned into warehouses by the Soviet regime. If that had not happened, it would not have been necessary to restore them as churches. Also, that earlier some ROCOR bishops blessed the work of the ROA (Russian Liberation Army. Ed.), we need to remember the mindset of the Russian émigrés of the time. They believed the ROA (even though German led) could be the force that could liberate Russia from the Bolsheviks.

After the proceedings of the 4th All-Diaspora Council ended, many opponents of union at any cost began to have a more accepting view of the work of the joint commissions. They realized that the bishops stand firm in their positions and immediate union with MP is not expected. Nevertheless, one reads in the Russian press the opinion that the Council had only a consultative role, while the issue of union will be decided by the Synod of Bishops.

In accordance with the Holy Canons, all final decisions are made by the episcopate, the Synod of Bishops, but as those same Canons stipulate, it cannot ignore the wishes of the clergy and laypeople, and even the bishops themselves, as the Resolution of the Council in San Francisco was agreed upon by all of them together.

After the proceedings of the 4th All-Diaspora Council ended, a priest in New York City, Fr. Victor Dobroff, said in an interview with a NRS reporter that he believed it would make sense at this time to reconsider the composition of the joint commission, as it does not reflect the opinions of either the laypeople or the clergy.

This proposal was also made at the All-Diaspora Council. Such matters should be decided by the Synod. Perhaps, the question of the need to change the personnel of the commission will be raised during the Synod’s meeting in September, when its work relating to the proposed “Act” will be discussed.

A statement has been made in the Russian press, that joint prayer has been established. That is, that official union is simply a formality. Is that true?

I heard just such a sentiment last year from his Holiness the Patriarch of Moscow. He informed me that during a visit to Moscow, that praying together occurred and that joint prayer was established. I feel that view is somewhat of an exaggeration. Typically, in the Orthodox Church, full Eucharistic communion is achieved only when clergy serve the Holy Liturgy together. This has not occurred yet. A memorial service to the New Holy Martyrs of Russia was held at which our delegation was present. That can be considered, if you wish, only a sort of common prayer.

Are you surprised that the Moscow Patriarch constantly sends letters of congratulations to leaders of communist countries like Vietnam, North Korea or Cuba?

This gives a basis for the fear of many of our clergy and laypeople that the MP has not yet broken with its Soviet past. This involvement in international matters is especially unusual, when the Russian people are in such need of religious education. Less than 2% of the Orthodox believers in Russia go to church. This is the problem that the MP should be attempting to resolve. Instead, the Patriarch sends out congratulations to heads of states which persecute Christians.

At the Council in San Francisco, an informal poll was conducted of the delegates on their opinion of the union. The poll revealed that most were opposed. How do you think the clergy and laypeople feel about it?

I think the press often makes the same mistake, either saying that “a majority of émigrés oppose union” or “a majority is for union.” I believe a significant majority of our Church support the idea of union, but the argument, which is sometimes heated, is about how and in what way that union will be achieved, but only after those two critical issues, which ROCOR puts to the MP, are addressed. Even if someone says they are against union, that does not mean that that person categorically does not want anything to do with the MP under any circumstances. One needs to only question the person further and you will find that he or she insists on the resolution of those two points that ROCOR has always required of the MP. We desire union, after the MP leaves the WCC, which will answer the wishes of millions of the MP’s own clergy and laypeople, and after the MP loudly and clearly explains its stand on the “Declaration” of Metropolitan Sergius. We fully understand how difficult it is for the hierarchy of the MP, but we also have problems, and there are many, related to the coming together of our churches. That is why we must proceed with extreme caution.

You meet with representatives of MP, how willing do you believe they are to compromise?

One gets the impression that at this time, not very. Our requests go unanswered. The MP continues to participate in ecumenical events and the same can be said about their stand on sergianstvo. An official acknowledgement, in unequivocal terms, of the mistaken “Declaration” of 1927 is not expected. Unfortunately, we have no choice but to believe that many in Russia still feel that Sergius’ actions were the only possible ones at the time and that he saved the church from being destroyed completely. One can understand such a view, but that does not mean it “trumps” our opinion. Those who do not admit their mistakes are doomed to repeat them.

Let us imagine that all disagreements are resolved and the “Act” is signed. What degree of independence will ROCOR still have?

The “Act” talks of restoring Eucharistic communion and the recognition of the Moscow Patriarch as the spiritual head of the Russian Church, but at the same time, ROCOR will retain its administrative, proprietary and financial independence. Nothing will change in those regards. The worry is that the MP hierarchy will interfere in our life for no good reason. For now, we must still overcome the obstacles you allude to in your question. Let us be patient.

This is the English translation of the interview which was conducted
by aReporter of the “Novoye Russkoye Slovo.”
New York, August 25, 2006.
The translation was published
in LiveJournal of Dr. Magerovsky