TO MOSCOW OR NOT TO MOSCOW?
The Message of Metropolitan Antony Khrapovitsky at the First Council of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia in Sremski Karlovtsi, exactly eighty-two years ago (8 to 20 November 1921).
On the one hand, everybody agrees that both inside and outside Russia great political changes have taken place since the turning-point of the millennial celebrations of 1988. The Patriarchal Church is now much freer than before. It is no longer the Patriarchate of Stalinist times, it is not even the Patriarchate of the early 1980's, when a figure like the recently departed Metropolitan Pitirim of Volokolamsk talked of the compromises he was forced to make as 'daily suicide' (2). The Patriarchate has drawn nearer to the convictions of the Church Outside Russia.
Equally, everybody agrees that the independent existence of the Church Outside Russia was never intended to be anything but temporary and conditional. These were the clear terms of the Patriarchal decree No 362, issued nearly exactly eighty-three years ago on 7/20 November 1920.
On the other hand, there is disagreement about the extent to which the Patriarchal Church in Russia is free, both internally and externally. Equally there are those who maintain that the temporary and conditional independence granted to ROCOR means that ROCOR should have ceased to exist in or even before the year 2000, with the first canonizations of New Martyrs in Moscow; others maintain that the time for independence to come to an end is now.
Yet others assert that independence should continue, because the Patriarchal Church is still heavily Sovietized and ROCOR is preparing to sell its independence for some as yet unclear worldly advantage. These people believe that we are not talking about the merger or fusion of the two parts of the Church, separated by the events of twentieth century history. They believe that we are talking about the brutal takeover and absorption of ROCOR into the Patriarchal Church.
In other words, the whole debate can be summed up in a few words: Has the time now come for the two parts of the Russian Church to concelebrate, or is the movement towards concelebration still premature?
Everybody seems to have a different opinion on this matter. Part of the divisiveness of this issue is that so many are idly speculating about uncertain and imagined propositions and details, and not soberly talking and praying about hard facts. What are we to think?
Inevitably each viewpoint depends on our personal experience of Church life.
Parishioners tend to reflect their personal experience of life. But parishioners of the older generation tend to have different views from those of the younger generations.
Parish priests tend to reflect the local views of their whole parishes. But Russian parishes tend to have different views from non-Russian parishes.
Only diocesan bishops tend to reflect not so much personal or local views as the general views of their dioceses. But views in dioceses with large numbers of parishioners and clergy from contemporary Russia also tend to have different views from dioceses with few such parishioners and clergy.
At this point it should not be forgotten that in Greek the word for bishop, 'episcopos', means 'overseer', that is to say someone who has oversight, an overall or global view of things. And given that ROCOR is in fact a global and multinational Church, with members in the Americas, North and South, Australasia, Western Europe and elsewhere, her bishops do literally have a global oversight, a global overview, of Church matters. They have to take into account the complex needs of the members of their international and multinational Church.
It seems to us therefore that only a Church Council of all the ROCOR Bishops, having consulted its faithful people and clergy, can reach not a personal, local or general decision, but a global decision, on the future relations of ROCOR with the Patriarchal Church in Moscow. Only a Council (in Russian 'Sobor') can have a global view, global oversight, in the spirit of conciliarity and catholicity (in Russian 'sobornost'). Only those with such a frightening responsibility can oversee the overall interests of a global Church, Russian and Non-Russian, old and young, rich and poor, and of all political persuasions.
Whatever the propositions and counter-propositions which may be put forward in Moscow, whatever the fruit of historic discussions over the next few months, it seems to us that to pray for what we want to happen cannot be right. In reality there is only one thing that we parish priests and laity can do: to pray to God that His Will may be done. 'Man proposes, but God disposes'. We should already know that God's Will can be and is done, not because of us, but in spite of us. 'Thy Will be done'. This can be the only right way for all of us.
1) Translated by myself and published in 'Eastern Churches Review', Spring 1975.
'Ezhednevnoye samoubiistvo'. A personal communication in early 1990 of
the late Fr Lev Lebedev, who was then staying with us in Paris. Fr Lev
had worked closely with Metropolitan Pitirim since his writings had been
published in the Journal of the Moscow Patriarchate, of which the Metropolitan
was Editor from 1963 to 1994. This confirmed the impressions I had received
from the Metropolitan when in personal conversation with him in England
and France in 1978 and 1979.