Address of Bishop Sebastian of Chelyabinsk and the Provisional Ecclesiastical Council of the ROACTo the Synod of Bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad
(Moscow, June 2/15, 2008: Holy Pentecost)
To the Most-reverend Vladimir, Bishop of San Francisco and Western America,
To the Most-reverend Anastasy, Bishop of Vladivostok and the Far East:
"Fulfill ye my joy, that ye be likeminded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind." (Philippians, 2: 2)
Your Graces, dear Archpastors of the faithful remnant of the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad!
The Epistle of March 27/April 9 of this year by the Bishops' Sobor of your holy Church evoked in us great joy and inspiration. Represented by a multitude of self-governing "fragments", the Russian Church, linked by its origin and traditions with the ROCA of the beginning of the 1990s, is finally starting to feel keenly the unnatural and destructive nature of its disunited state. The "atomization" of those jurisdictions which had come forth from the single root of the ROCA, having turned into some sort of evil, unending process, renders impossible, even "technically", the survival of each one of them individually. For some of these jurisdictions have only two bishops left, while others have even less. But the chief thing is that our witness to the outside world, to our fellow-countrymen, concerning True Orthodoxy, loses its salt when we appear before the face of that world as continually fragmentizing — and moreover, not for matters of faith or of a dogmatic nature, but for petty, often exclusively emotional, quibbles.
One is given the impression that — under the circumstances of the persecution of True Orthodoxy in Russia and in several other countries — our persecutors themselves have come to recognize that the path of "natural extinction" of our Church by means of its endless fragmentization is the most effective means of destroying us. Glory be to God, that after many years of confusion and crisis, for the first time there has appeared the possibility of halting this fragmentization.
Your Epistle contains a clear appeal to all the clergymen and laity who have preserved their loyalty to Holy Orthodoxy and to the principles of the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad
" to unite around our Synod of Bishops and your own archpastors, to continue the saving path of our predecessors, and, while offering repentance for our sins, which we are called to do by the Orthodox Church during these days of the Great Fast, uncondemned to attain unto the Radiant Resurrection of Christ and the gory of God".
Our ecclesiastical community, being linked historically and spiritually with the "pre-schism" ROCA, has preserved totally unblemished holy Orthodoxy and our faithfulness to the spiritual principles of the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad of the epoch of her great Fathers and hierarchs — first among them, Metropolitan Philaret (Voznesensky) — glorified as a saint by the Russian Orthodox Autonomous Church in 2001 — whose presence among the assembly of the saints is now also recognized by your Holy Synod. Therefore our Lesser Sobor of faithful True Orthodox Christians of the Russian Church cannot but respond to your long-awaited appeal to restore our former unity.
The history of our division is linked to those lamentable processes which presently have brought a considerable part of the ROCA to its spiritual death — into the clutches of the heretical Moscow Patriarchate. From the very first days of the re-establishment of legal, open parishes of the Russian Church in the homeland, united by the fraternal aid of the Synod of Bishops of the ROCA in 1990 into a special ecclesiastical association called "The Free Russian Orthodox Church", our hierarchs, clergymen, and communities experienced difficulties in communicating with the ecclesiastical administrative organs abroad. The contradictory instructions emanating from there, the activities of various sorts of ecclesiastical adventurists — sometimes in the rank of "Synodal Representatives" in Russia, inflicted irreparable damage to our church life and led to the abolition of many communities and even of entire dioceses. Russian Orthodox people who had sacrificed a great deal in order to remain faithful to True Orthodoxy, having entered into an uneven battle with the Moscow Patriarchate and the repressive government apparatus supporting her, constantly felt themselves to have been betrayed and deceived by their own archpastors abroad. All this was crowned by the expected outcome: the casting aside of the sheep's clothing and the capitulation by these so-called archpastors before the ecumenistic pseudo-church which they themselves had hypocritically anathematized. As you well know, the first, overt steps on the path to this capitulation were taken in 1993 in the German diocese of the ROCA, where began the official discussions with the "parallel" diocese of the Moscow Patriarchate. At the same time, canonically baseless "interdicts" rained down upon the hierarchs within Russia — on Archbishop Lazar and on Bishops Benjamin, and Valentin — which sought to paralyze the life of the Russian parishes. The hierarchs within Russia found that the sole means to halt the ensuing disorganization of their dioceses was to terminate their voluntary administrative subordination to the ROCA, and to temporarily become self-governing. This, at that time, inevitable step — or rather, the actions of Archbishop Mark and the ROCA administration dependant upon him — led to the first lamentable division among the children of our Church in Russia, who were of one mind concerning matters of faith.
Before long this administrative division unexpectedly assumed a canonical, and even dogmatic, basis. The 1994 Bishops' Sobor of the ROCA, having "condemned" the bishops of the Free Russian Orthodox Church, entered into communion with a dubious group of Greek Old-calendarists calling themselves "The Synod in Resistance". This step — unexpected by the majority of the members of the Church Abroad — was directed, as later became clear, at gradually preparing the consciousness of the clergy and laity of the ROCA to accept the heresy of ecumenism and the idea that subordination to the Moscow Patriarchate was possible. After all, the Bishop's Sobor of the ROCA had solemnly declared its own teaching to be identical to the ecclesiology of the "Synod in Resistance" of Metropolitan Cyprian (Koutsoumbas), which absolutely recognizes the mysteries of the heretical ecumenists to be grace-filled and salvific, and which, moreover, declares itself to be found in "the one Church" with those heretics. And yet, the ROCA Sobor — in a manner most paradoxical — abrogated neither its own anathema of 1983 against ecumenism and all those who have communion with ecumenists, nor the decisions of the Sobors of 1968–1973 concerning communion with the True Orthodox Greek Old-calendarists: the "Chrysostomites" and the "Matthewites", who have rejected the heresy of Cyprian.
At the end of 1994 an attempt was made — on very tenuous, and compromising conditions — to re-establish administrative unity between the ROCA Synod and the Free Russian Orthodox Church. But the differences in doctrine and view of prospects for church life were already great. In addition, a loyal assistant of Archbishop Mark made his appearance among the episcopate of the ROCA, who has presently been rewarded with the post of vicar bishop of Patriarch Alexis II, Bishop Evtikhy, who, having arrived in Suzdal in January of 1995, spared no efforts to repair the division. That attempt to re-establish communion with the group of Archbishops Laurus and Mark, who were preaching Cyprianism and who were striving for union with the MP, is now seen by our Lesser Sobor to have been a serious mistake, of which we have repented.
As the day of the capitulation of the Laurus-Mark part of the ROCA before the Moscow Patriarchate drew nigh, the number of hierarchs, clergymen and laity — historically and spiritually linked to the Church Abroad — whose eyes were opened to the perniciousness of the path along which their ecclesiastical leaders sought to take them, began to grow. In connection with that, new "fragments" of the ROCA appeared in 1996, in 1997, in 2000, in 2001, in 2006, and finally in 2007, when the process of apostasy from Orthodoxy was brought to completion. Many members of the Church Abroad left the Russian tradition and joined various Greek Old-calendarist groups. To a certain degree, these too can be considered "fragments" of our Church.
Analyzing the causes of the catastrophe which has occurred, the majority of our "fragments" came to the conclusion that the deceptive doctrine of Metropolitan Cyprian concerning the unity of the True Orthodox and the ecumenists, and that the latter have still not fallen away from the Church, inevitably leads to the recognition of the Moscow Patriarchate and subordination to her. For us it was very heartening to learn that the Bishops' Sobor of your Church had condemned the heresy of Cyprianism in 2002, and by this very act had abrogated the corresponding acts of the ROCA from 1994 to 2001.
Following the intensified persecution of our Church from 2002 to 2008, the rigid, hierarchial ecclesiastical governance within the Russian Orthodox Autonomous Church (such was the Free Russian Orthodox Church renamed at the insistence of the state officials when our church organization was re-registered in 1998) ceased to exist. From the point of view of canon law, such a vertical chain of command did not exist even prior to 2002, inasmuch as the unification of bishops into a Provisional Ecclesiastical District (a Lesser Sobor), in the event of the abolition of the Supreme Ecclesiastical Authority, is voluntary, and the temporary ecclesiastical administration formed by them does not seek to replace the lawful Supreme Ecclesiastical Authority, nor does it take upon itself the latter's plenary powers. After 2002, when, owing to various circumstances, the senior-ranking (according to consecration) hierarch of our Lesser Sobor, Metropolitan Valentin, considered it possible to make a series of uncanonical decisions, including ones which exceeded the authority of a provisional Synod of a Lesser Sobor, then there began the process of administrative isolation on the part of the bishops of the ROAC. In 2004, at the initiative of Metropolitan Valentin himself, Archbishop Gregory (Abu-Assaly [of Denver]) ceased to be in administrative subordination to the Suzdal Synod; in 2006 the author of this present epistle, Bishop Sebastian, was compelled to take the same action, and this year Bishop Amvrosy (Epiphanov) did likewise. For all intent and purposes, the Catacomb hierarchs — Archbishops Seraphim and Anthony — are totally self-governing. However, the present position of these hierarchs, including the author of these lines, has not led to new church schisms, as, unfortunately, it is still the practice in several "fragments", but it is a purely administrative measure, undertaken in the expectation that any questionable actions will be examined by the future lawful Sobor of our Local Church. And most importantly, it has not led to a severing of canonical communion between the bishops, clergy, and laity of the ROAC; therefore all of us, with good reason, remain spiritual children of the ROAC. Such is not only our canonical, but also our official, legal status. More detailed information concerning the structure of our Lesser Sobor can be found in the Memorandum which we have attached to this Address.
For us it was very important to see that your Bishops' Sobor in April corrected the imbalance — formerly characteristic of the Church Abroad — between the dioceses and parishes abroad and those within Russia, where the latter were perceived as being "in subordination" to the former, and possessed curtailed rights. The establishment of a Eurasian Ecclesiastical District with its center in Russia, which unites the absolute majority of the parishes of your Church, indicates a wide autonomy for the Russian parishes within the body of a single ecclesiastical-administrative structure. Our own Church is also organized according to the principle of autonomous ecclesiastical districts (Lesser Sobors) which unite several dioceses and bishops. Moreover, as you can see from our fundamental documents attached to this Address, we consider such a principle of ecclesiastical organization to be the sole, viable one amidst the conditions of persecution, right up until the convoking of a Pan-Russian Local Sobor and the re-establishment of the full canonical structure of our Church. Obviously this principle of the autonomy of each Lesser Sobor is likewise the only possible one applicable to our further unification with other "fragments" of the ROCA, who are of one mind with us in matters of faith.
And so, on behalf of our Lesser Sobor of the ROAC, we propose that we re-establish canonical communion between us, based on those principles which existed prior to 1994. Our common rejection of the heresy of Cyprianism — which served as the cause of the division in 1994 — together with our common confession of the Orthodox Faith, serve as the dogmatic basis for such a restoration of communion. The historical-canonical basis for such a restoration of communion is our common descent from the historical ROCA, the common rootstock of our episcopate, our belonging to the general Russian True Orthodox tradition, and what is more — to that part of her which is linked to the spiritual heritage of the Russian Church Abroad. In conformity with canon law, our Lesser Sobor may preserve its internal structure and self-government, and likewise the temporary, extraterritorial state of its dioceses. At the same time, we imagine a joint Bishops' Sobor as the higher body of ecclesiastical authority in our unified ecclesiastical association. Of course, in the event that the process of "gathering the remnants" progresses favorably, a transition to a territorial demarcation of all dioceses cannot be ruled out. However, we perceive that the full implementation of that principle in all its strictness will be difficult prior to the convoking of the Pan-Russian Local Sobor and the restoration of the lawful organs of a Supreme Ecclesiastical Administration on the scale of our entire Local Russian Church.
In conclusion, permit me once again to thank you for the Appeal — inspired by the Holy Spirit — of your Sacred Sobor for the restoration of canonical communion among the "fragments" of the ROCA, and to express our hope that our response to that appeal will be received with fraternal consideration and love, and may they cover our former differences and misunderstandings, so that nothing human or worldly should hinder us from glorifying and hymning with one mouth and one heart the One God magnified in Trinity. Amen!
+ Humble Sebastian,
Bishop of Chelyabinsk
The Provisional Ecclesiastical Council of the ROAC
Moscow, June 2/15, 2008 — Holy Pentecost
Attachments [from Bp. Sebastian, for the ROCA-V]:
1) Appeal of the Provisional Ecclesiastical Council of the Russian Orthodox Autonomous Church: To All the True Orthodox Christians of the Russian Tradition — In Connection with the Falling Away of the ROCOR-Laurus
(Bezhetsk, Russia, May 17, 2007)
2) Memorandum on the state of the Provisional Ecclesiastical Council of the ROAC and the other communities and clergymen found under the omophorion of His Grace, Bishop Sebastian