An Interview with a Russian Website
1. How did your parish greet the news of the reconciliation of the two parts of the Russian Church?
In a parish few people have an overview of the life of the diocese, still less of the whole Russian Orthodox Church. They see only parish life. True, in our parish we had one person who complained that the bishops should have restored canonical unity long before and another person who took the opposite view and said that all been done too quickly. However, everyone else considered that the restoration of unity, though very good, would change little in their lives. Basically, this was because we have always been spiritually united. There has never been any schism between the Church inside Russia and the Church outside Russia, there had only been a division for external political reasons. Once these external reasons stopped existing, there was no longer any division.
Thus, people had been coming to us from the Patriarchal Church for years. For example, in 2002 one young and inexperienced bishop from Russia told one of our parishioners, a young woman from Moscow, that she should not come to us because we were ROCOR. She completely ignored him and continued to come to us. Like others, she was happy to be with us because our parish was like the parishes in Russia, except for two things. The first was that at that time we did not pray for the Patriarch, but for ‘the episcopate of the Russian Church’ and the second was that we used languages other than Slavonic because our parish was multinational. Neither of these factors bothered her – on the contrary, she preferred to come to us rather than attend certain Patriarchal parishes in England. This was because at that time many of them had renovationist customs and so were boycotted by many Patriarchal parishioners.
From the point of view of our parishioners, all that changed in 2007 was that we began praying for the Patriarch by name. So for most people at that time nothing really was different. It is only with time that people have begun to understand the importance of unity. Hence the importance of the last five years when this understanding has begun to deepen.
2. How did you learn that unity would be restored?
Everybody knew about this because we had been discussing it since the resolution of the Fourth All-Diaspora Council in San Francisco a year before in 2006. I was a speaker there and it had become clear what was going to happen. I welcomed this since it was the will of the Church, God’s Will. The time was ripe.
However, what we regret that is that there was so little discussion before 2006. For example, there had apparently been a meeting of some ROCOR clergy to discuss possible reconciliation in December 2003 in Nyack in the USA. We only learned of this meeting after it had happened! We read the internet and discovered that there had, I quote, ‘a meeting of all ROCOR clergy had taken place’. Well, in our diocese we had known nothing of this. This upset many people. It appeared to some at that time that something was being prepared behind our backs. This lack of communications was interpreted as a lack of love, a certain contempt. I regret that we had not been prepared for the reconciliation before 2006. It all happened within one year. I must say that this fact played a negative role among those who were opposed to reconciliation. The whole matter could have been handled in a different way, if there had been more communication and information. In the age of the internet there should have been much better communications.
3. How do you remember that day?
I was in the XXC on the day of the reconciliation and the signature of the Act of Canonical Communion. I was one of only two priests there who were confessing before and during the Liturgy. I still remember the confessions. Many people came, thinking I was a priest from the Cathedral. Then they began confessing how in their previous lives they had persecuted the Church. Their repentance was heartfelt. Many cried. I actually remember this more than anything else. It was only afterwards that I saw on television the pictures of the signature of the Act and so on. Though present in the Cathedral and taking communion at the Liturgy, I had missed the great events in front of the TV cameras, but had witnessed great events in human hearts, if I may put it like that
4. What does it mean to you today?
Only today are the consequences of the reconciliation taking effect. Perspectives are opening up before us which were unthinkable five years ago, let alone twenty, thirty or forty years ago, when we only dreamed of them. Only now are we beginning to understand that we have taken part in a historic event, which will have repercussions outside Russia for generations to come. We have witnessed and taken part in history.
I think that it took the repose soon afterwards of the two main participants, His Holiness Patriarch Alexei II and the Most Reverend Metropolitan Laurus, for many to understand the importance of these extraordinary events. It became clear that they, the émigré Patriarch and the exiled Carpatho-Russian Metropolitan, had both played Providential roles, roles of destiny. There are those who have said since then that one day they will both be canonised as models of Orthodox unity, that one day a church dedicated to St Alexei of Moscow and St Laurus of New York will be raised up. As God wills.
5. How would you describe the relations between the two parts of the One Church today?
Relations today are generally very good. The only tensions are caused by ignorance, by the spirit which has no concept of history. That spirit knows nothing of either the history of the Church inside Russia or of the Church outside Russia. The solution here is to write and publish a popular work – not an academic study - to relate the facts of the history of the two parts of the One Church. This is a vital need, yet to be done. The huge ignorance must be overcome.
6. What gives you joy about this?
The normality that we now have.
7. What remains to be worked on in order to solve problems between the Church in the homeland and the Church Outside Russia?
You mention problems between the Church of the Fatherland and ROCOR. Such terminology is to misunderstand the situation. To oppose ‘the Church of the Fatherland and ROCOR’ is to misunderstand everything! Only someone in Moscow would use such terminology and make such a distinction. In the Ukraine or Estonia, we would probably not speak in this way. Still less would we. Let me explain.
First of all, ‘the Church of the Fatherland’ is not the Church of the Russian Federation. It is the multinational Church of Rus. In other words, it exists not only in the Russian Federation, but also in the ‘near abroad’, in the Ukraine, Belarus, Moldova, Latvia, Kazakhstan etc. This is also Rus. However, the Church of Rus also exists in ‘the far abroad’, in Italy, England, Denmark, Portugal, Canada, the USA, New Zealand, Argentina etc, that is on our territory, which is also Rus for us. This is why we speak of American Rus, Australian Rus, English Rus and so on. It is this part of the Church which interests us most because it is the part to which we belong. We in ROCOR, like you, all belong to ‘the Church of the Fatherland’, the Church of Rus, and have never belonged to any other Church.
For example, I remember how babushka (grannies) welcomed the ROCOR delegation when we concelebrated in Trinity-Sergius Lavra in May 2007. They said: ‘It is a pity you weren’t here before’. I answered: ‘In spirit we have always been here’. And so it was and so it is.
However, one problem remains to be resolved between us. This is that it makes no sense that in the ‘far abroad’, there are not only ROCOR parishes, but today parishes of the Patriarchate too. It is clear to me that all Russian Orthodox abroad should be united. For example, in ROCOR there is an ‘Archbishop of Berlin and Germany’ and in the Patriarchate there is also an ‘Archbishop of Berlin and Germany’. This is both illogical and uncanonical.
Now, in the 1990s it is true that some bishops of ROCOR temporarily received some small communities on the canonical territory of the Patriarchate, mainly in Russia and the Ukraine. To many of us even in ROCOR that made little sense. How can you be ‘Outside Russia’ and yet inside Russia? At the reconciliation in 2007 the communities which had canonical understanding naturally returned to the Patriarchate. But today the Patriarchate still has many communities outside Russia. This is not logical. I am not saying that a solution can quickly be found to this problem, which has its roots in the depths of twentieth-century history, but I am saying that we must begin to find solutions. We need to talk and work together to solve it.
This general need for co-operation affects all areas. For example, only a few days ago I was talking on the phone to the Archbishop of the local Patriarchal Diocese, who wants to publish a priest’s service book in English in October. He did not know that our diocese had already done this a few months ago. There is a huge lack of communication. And when that exists, there is a huge possibility of misunderstanding. ROCOR has existed for over 90 years, most of the Patriarchal parishes abroad are recent. Therefore, we often did one or two generations ago things which the Patriarchate is only just beginning to do. It often has no idea that the work was done long ago. The greatest problem here is undoubtedly that many of the Patriarchal clergy do not speak a Western language. If we can co-ordinate our activities, we can do much more together. We cannot assume that those in the Patriarchate read our websites for news and they cannot assume that we read theirs. We need to create channels of communication. We need some central points, intermediaries, through which communications can pass.
8. Has the mood of protest settled down among those who disagreed with the reconciliation, compared to before?
I think this question in itself shows a great misunderstanding. It is a one-sided question, because it overlooks the protest groups which left the Patriarchal Church and so the Russian Orthodox Church, the Church of Rus, both recently and in the past. However, I will first of all answer the question as you have expressed it.
As regards the problem of those who left ROCOR because of the reconciliation between the two parts of the Church and formed, or joined, a number of sects, we should keep it in proportion. Outside South America, very, very few left us, less than 1% of the Church. Let us speak of them first.
Only a few of these have returned and we have always greeted them. They have warmed our hearts. However, the majority of those who left will probably not return – though we shall continue to wait for them and pray for their return. Why will they probably not return? Firstly, some have died – many who left were elderly. Secondly, unfortunately, many of the others are rather fanatically-minded. They seem not to want to belong to the Church or to obey the bishops, but want to belong to sects. Mostly, these were the very people who had already been causing many problems in ROCOR for many years before the reconciliation, disobeying bishops and making our life difficult. It should be added that most who left lived in countries without a resident bishop. This illustrates the theological fact that without a bishop, there is no Church. It is a miracle that our Church has survived at all in countries where there is no resident bishop.
In South America, where ROCOR lost, I think, ten priests in all, the problem was very specific. Our diocese in South America was very isolated, politicised, small and poor. Very importantly, it had not had a resident bishop for many years, so that the personalities of individual priests played a great role. This was a recipe for a sort of ‘Orthodox Protestantism’. When most of the priests there left ROCOR (and the problem of isolation and lack of communication played a very important role in their decision), the people were obliged to leave as well, because we did not have any new clergy to send there to replace those who had left. In order to continue some sort of life, the people followed the clergy. If we had ten clergy we could send to South America and we could pay and house them, most of the people would come back to us. However, the fact is that ROCOR is far too poor to be able to do that. And where would we find ten free clergy who speak Russian and Spanish or Portuguese?
However, your question overlooks a far more important question - those who protested and over the decades left the Patriarchate. In Russia, people have little concept of this. Some have heard of the Sourozh schism of 2006, when 300 individuals left the Sourozh Diocese of the Patriarchate in Great Britain because they wanted to keep their renovationist ‘heritage’, which is what they themselves call it. They rejected the Russian Orthodox norms of the Patriarchate inside Russia, which were then being restored in the West, just as they had already rejected the identical Russian Orthodox norms faithfully conserved by ROCOR. Unfortunately, elements of the same Sourozh-style renovationism still exist in a very few Patriarchal parishes in Western Europe. Here there is still a real danger of sectarianism, even of schism, because renovationism is an ideology that is always based on the personality cult, on personalities who place themselves above the catholicity of the Church.
However, beyond these elements, there are several large groups which in the more distant past left both ROCOR and the Patriarchate and which have still not returned to our common Russian Orthodox Church, the Church of Rus. The first group is the very small Paris Exarchate of the Patriarchate of Constantinople, where the 300 Sourozh schismatics took refuge. It left the Russian Orthodox Church in 1931. At present, with only one bishop, it is sharply divided between those who wish to return to the reunited Russian Orthodox Church and those who do not.
The second group is the OCA, to which the Patriarchate controversially gave autocephaly in 1970, during the Cold War. Today, parts of the OCA want to return to the reunited Russian Orthodox Church, but others do not. That is a complex situation which naturally can only be resolved by members of the OCA themselves.
Finally, there are large Ukrainian groups, a small Carpatho-Russian group and an even smaller Belorussian group, all based in North America, which essentially belong by history to the Russian Orthodox Church, but which still have not returned to unity with us.
In all these cases the main problem is undoubtedly political nationalism or phyletism, whether Ukrainian, American or other, which has crept into the life of those parts of the Diaspora. Again, only members of those groups can decide what they want to do, to reunite with the Church of Rus or to remain outside Her.
9. What questions, claims and misunderstandings still remain today?
The first great question is that of the future of all Russian Orthodox outside Russia, whether within ROCOR or in dioceses and parishes of the Patriarchate outside Russia. We would hope that one day soon there could be a meeting or Council of all the Russian Orthodox bishops who have dioceses outside Russia. For example, they could consider how our Churches outside Russia could be structured and organised so that we could work together much more efficiently. They could issue a joint statement, stating our common values and aims, affirming our Russian Orthodox Tradition and Identity, our common Russian Orthodox ‘nationality’, which is above worldly nationalities and languages. This declaration would speak not only to our own Russian Orthodox faithful, but also to the outside world. We should express our common Church Tradition and our readiness to co-operate especially with other Orthodox, but also with those of goodwill outside the Orthodox world. We do not live in a ghetto, but with others.
Apart from questions like the above one and also the ecumenical problem, which is very painful for us in ROCOR, as also for many in the Patriarchate, I think there is another area which causes many misunderstandings. This is a question of human psychology and stereotypes. For example, some who come from Russia look at some in ROCOR and see only the heirs of a decadent aristocracy and feel disdain. On the other hand, there are those in ROCOR, suffering from the isolation of the past, who distrust those who come from Russia.
Another example is when someone who was only baptised a few years ago in Russia and has the psychology of a newly-baptised young communist, a ‘pioneer’, and wants to take everything over, disrespecting what ROCOR has been through over the last 90 years in order to survive, this hurts ROCOR members. Many from the Patriarchate fail to understand the persecution which we underwent in ROCOR for decades – and still today by some. For political reasons, all the other Local Churches officially boycotted us from the 1970s on. Only the Serbian Church remained free to concelebrate with us. On the other hand, it is also true that when someone from ROCOR does not respect someone who comes from the Patriarchate or distrusts their motives, this can only hurt them. Misunderstandings can occur on both sides.
There is no reason to be pessimistic about such human problems. They are of the past. We look to the future. Time will bring healing here, as all learn to know and respect each other. Without doubt the main problem here is one of ignorance, a leftover from the mentalities of the past on both sides. The old Soviet stereotype of the aristocratic émigré who allegedly ‘lived in luxury in Paris’ is of course absurd. The vast majority of émigrés, not aristocrats, did nothing but suffer in great poverty in Paris and elsewhere. However, the émigré stereotype of the Orthodox in the Soviet Union who compromised himself with the Soviet regime is equally absurd. Russian Orthodox suffered, whether it was inside the Soviet Union or outside it. The New Martyrs and Confessors are the basis of our unity. Such human misunderstandings are already rapidly dying out as a result of the dynamic of history.
10. Are there any disappointments or, conversely, unexpected successes?
Personally, I cannot think of any disappointments or unexpected successes. I think this is because I had a good idea of the situation before. I had already lived through the last quarter of the twentieth century as a conscious Russian Orthodox and knew the mentalities in the different parts of the then divided Russian Church. However, I cannot speak for others.
11. Do you feel connected with the Church in the Homeland and how do you support that connection?
Yes, now that the old atheist regime of the past has gone, we who belong to Rus abroad feel this attachment to the Church in ‘old Rus’ very strongly. We have always felt very strongly that we belong to the Russian Orthodox world, whatever our first language and whatever the country we live in. Russian Orthodoxy for us is a kind of super-nationality. We all have worldly passports, which may say ‘German’, French’, British’, ‘Swiss’, Venezuelan’, ‘Chilean’, Australian’, Canadian’, ‘American’, ‘Indonesian’, ‘Mexican’, etc, but our spiritual passports all say ‘Russian Orthodox’. Of course, in ROCOR, we always had this sense of identity. We are all Russian Orthodox first, then secondly we belong to the country whose passport we hold. But this feeling of attachment to ‘Rus’ has been much reinforced by the reconciliation. I know several ROCOR members who have been able to obtain Russian nationality. I know many, many more who would like to obtain Russian nationality, if only it were to be made easier for us.
Today, we have a very good idea of what is going on in Russia and in the other countries which form Rus, the homelands of our Faith. Sadly, since the fall of the Soviet Union we have seen ever more clearly that there are elements in the West which want to create a new Cold War. Before, they said that they were only against the Soviet Union, but in reality some hated Russia and the Russian Orthodox Church. The Soviet Union was only an excuse for this hatred.
Some of these elements are today actively work for the downfall of Russia and of our Russian Orthodox Church, sending out disgraceful propaganda against authentic Orthodoxy and against Russia. Russophobia is a reality among Western Powers which are jealous of Russia. These people are also enemies of our Church because they know that our Church has Christian values, whereas their values are secularist, humanist, atheist.
It is our task to defend the Russian Orthodox Church, Tradition, Identity and Values. There is colossal ignorance about Russian Orthodoxy in the West. It is our task to dispel this. We are unpaid ambassadors for the Russian Orthodox Church. Unfortunately, many here reject Orthodox Rus, the Tsar-Martyr Nicholas, and the revival of Orthodox culture in Russia, to which they oppose the Godless West, Secularism, and the Mammon of the dollar and the euro.
This is not a political question, this is a question of defending our common Russian Orthodox values. The heartfelt desire of ROCOR has always been the restoration of Sovereign Orthodox Rus, of Holy Rus. The closer the Russian State identifies with our ideals of Holy Rus, the more our hearts rejoice. What we certainly do not want is the downfall of the Russia which is today being reborn. Of course, some perfectionists are impatient, they want everything restored now, but that is not possible. ‘In your patience you will save your souls’ (Lk 21, 19). And those who have patience always have humility. We do not have the right to ask for perfection of others, only of ourselves. The restoration of Orthodox Rus takes time and needs a constructive and positive approach, not a fault-finding approach.
12. Separately, we would like you to tell us about the joys and difficulties of life today in the Church Outside Russia.
I would say that our difficulties at present are twofold:
Firstly, we suffer from the problem of Western atheism, as we can see, for example, in the banning of Christian symbols, political correctness, the promotion of gay marriage etc in the West. Unfortunately, many ‘semi-Christians’ in the West also support these secular values. The problem is that most of the West only knows and understands deformations of Christianity and the Church. When it discovers Orthodoxy, it often does not even recognise it as Christianity. A common question we get here, especially from Protestants, is: ‘But are you Christians?’ If you tell them that Orthodoxy is the original form of Christianity, they may even comment: ‘But then isn’t it about time you changed?’ Such is the ignorance here.
This Western ignorance can also come in the form of the proud delusion of ‘spiritualism’. For example, some people in the West say, ‘I am a very spiritual person, therefore I am not a Christian’. What they mean is that they reject the Incarnation, the duty of the Church to influence and Christianise the State, the armed forces etc. This anti-Incarnation West is simply denying the Church as the Body of Christ. Here, most Christianity is reduced to a personal hobby, part of the individualistic and egoistic cult of consumerism. What such people should say is, ‘I am not at all a spiritual person, therefore I am not a Christian’. The problem is that their knowledge of Christianity is limited to a deformed and deluded Christianity.
Our second difficulty is the problem of our poverty. ROCOR is poor. I remember in the 1990s many priests from Russia started contacting us, wanting to emigrate and join us. The first question we asked them was: What Western languages do you speak? Usually the answer was ‘None’. The second question we asked was: ‘What is your secular profession?’ The usual answer was ‘None’. But how can an Orthodox priest live in the West, if he does not speak the local language and has no secular profession?
Most ROCOR priests do not expect be paid – rather the priests expect to pay for the Church. Most ROCOR priests speak three or four languages and may work as office-workers, nurses, engineers, teachers, programmers etc. The concept of the Church as a money-making activity or career is alien to us. However, as a result of the lack of money, we also lack infrastructure. What is possible in countries like Russia, Romania and Greece is very difficult for us. And in this context we must mention our lack of bishops, a problem which we have already mentioned above.
However, I would say that our joys are also twofold:
Firstly, there is the current large-scale expansion of ROCOR and our task of Churching Orthodox who have emigrated to us. New parishes are opening all the time as a result. Baptisms and weddings are far more numerous than funerals. This is the opposite of our situation in the 1970s and 1980s.
Secondly, there is our task, or mission, to bring Non-Orthodox into the Church. Our witness to those fragments of Christianity that survive in the Western world is very important. It is always a joy when Non-Orthodox come to us and find a spiritual home in the Church. Here in our Church they can at last find the great picture, into which they can fit their little pictures, the fragments of Christianity which have survived in the West and which they have kept. Our Orthodox Tradition is the key to the door of the Church for them.
Overall, I would say that despite all our difficulties, it is a privilege for us to be alive now. We face huge challenges but also huge opportunities. We must make use of this extra time that God has given us, the time that He has added on to the end of time, for the repentance of many through ‘the preaching of the Gospel among all nations’ (Mark 13, 10).
Archpriest Andrew Phillips
11 May 2012