MOSCOW THE THIRD ROME?
From 'The Saints of Russia and the Universality of Orthodoxy', November 1993, Pp. 267 and 272 in 'Orthodox Christianity and the English Tradition'.
Personal experience with the old Russian emigration in England and with Orthodoxy in Greece and France (1974-1983) and again in France (1983-1997), then as priest-in-charge of the only all-new Russian immigrant parish outside Russia in Lisbon (1992-97), and then since 1997 experience with a small multinational parish in England, has led me as an observer of these events to a number of thoughts.
First of all, it is clear that the hackneyed Cold War language of 'return to the Mother Church', 'absorption', 'liquidation', 'reunion with the Patriarchate' are irrelevant. (See the Declaration of Archbishop Mark at www.synod.com). We are talking about both parts of the Russian Church coming together in mutual repentance without politicking of any sort, their unity refound in Church Tradition.
Other terms have also been defined. The 2000 Statement by the Patriarchate clearly means that the erastian position of the Patriarchal Church, known by the name of Sergianism, has been dropped. The interference of the Russian State in the internal affairs of the Russian Church is no longer acceptable. The canonisation by the Patriarchate in 2000 of New Martyrs who condemned Sergianism and died for the Orthodox Faith makes this clear. Perhaps it still needs to be made even clearer by some even more formal statement from Moscow, so that doubters can understand this.
Perhaps also some statement on Ecumenism also needs to be issued by the Patriarchate. The word Ecumenism itself is notoriously difficult to define. Having anathematised the absurd Branch theory in 1983, ROCOR needs a clear statement from the Patriarchate on Ecumenism. The Patriarchal statement on Ecumenism that the Orthodox Church is the One True Church and that its ecumenical witness is purely missionary should reassure many. Its recent decision to cut off relations with Anglicans who justify the practice of homosexuality (See: www.mospat.ru) is also equally clear, as is the desire to continue to talk to orthodox Anglicans. But here there are doubts, for example with the recent actions of the heirs of the late Metropolitan Nikodim. But perhaps the errors of one particular bishop could be overlooked, if a clear statement against intercommunion were to be issued by the Patrairchate once and for all.
The recent letter of Metropolitan Kirill of Smolensk to the Greek Metropolitan Meliton against the secular position of the Patriarchate of Constantinople concerning the proposed anti-Christian EU Constitution suggest a very healthy appreciation by the Patriarchate of the situation in the Non-Orthodox Western denominations. His statement that we need to witness to Christ in order to save the last vestiges of Christian Faith in the West are very welcome and are in accord with the historic mission of the Russian Church. It is exactly what ROCOR has been doing for decades (See this site: 'An Alternative Constitution for the EU'). This ties in with the declaration of Patriarch Alexis himself that in Russia there is no such thing as a 'post-Christian society' (See www.radonezh.ru). Russia has been in a post-Christian society, it is now coming out of it: let the West which is entering a post-Christian society, learn from Russia (See our article on this site: 'Church, State and Society in Russia in the Twentieth Century').
On the other hand, it is also clear that the situation of the Patriarchate in a multi-ethnic and multi-religious State such as the Russian Federation must also be understood. It is inevitable that the Patriarchate has to deal with questions concerning relations with Islam, Judaism, Catholicism etc in a way that ROCOR simply does not. Perhaps a solution acceptable to both sides would be that the Patriarchate relinquish full membership of the World Council of Churches and adopt observer status, as other Local Orthodox Church have done. The advantages of membership of the WCC must now be virtually non-existent and the disadvantages overwhelming.
Then there is the question of more or less well-known controversies surrounding certain personalities within the Patriarchate. The fact is that during the Cold War and for many years after it, certain personalities both inside and outside Russia were allowed to commit immoral deeds. Many of us are all too painfully aware of the pastoral disasters within the Patriarchate as a result and have suffered hugely personally. Although now many of the personalities involved have either been removed or else have died, surely something better must be done than simply ignoring the consequences of these problems. There must be some in the Patriarchate who fear that the scandals will come out and be spattered across the pages of the Western media. This would do a disservice to all Orthodox. Apologies to all concerned, made in a Christian manner, would perhaps be enough and nobody would demand payment for damages. Let the Patriarchate everywhere behave as a mother, not as a stepmother, taking responsibility for its wayward children of the Cold War.
On the other hand, it is also true that the Patriarchate seems to be returning to the Tradition and canonical practices. The recent statement by Metropolitan Kirill that there would be no unthinkable change from the Orthodox to the Catholic calendar or change to using Russian in services are welcome (See www.radonezh.ru). The recent plea for a stavropegic parish from Patriarchal faithful in London has been dealt with a certain understanding (See this site: 'Old Problems Surface Anew at the Patriarchal Cathedral'). Orthodox souls have indeed not been understood. The recent and forthcoming Conferences in Moscow on Ecclesiology, gathering together serious representatives of other Local Orthodox Churches, indicates that the Patriarchate is taking up again its historic role as leader of World Orthodoxy, as before the Revolution (See www.mospat.ru, in particular regarding the Conference 'Russia and the Orthodox World' in February 2004). If we could all see an end to uncanonical practices and ordinations, weddings on Saturdays, cremations, the restoration of fasting, confession and the veneration of the New Martyrs and Confessors (as in the Patriarchal church in Dublin), this would further reinforce ROCOR confidence in the Patriarchate. It is difficult to take seriously Patriarchal churches outside Russia which refuse to have icons of the New Martyrs or sell the works of the ever-memorable Fr Seraphim Rose, works which are bestsellers inside Russia.
Perhaps the two parts of the Russian Church are indeed going to come together in the next few months or years. There seems to be common ground that ROCOR should for the present time remain a single Autonomous Metropolia of the Russian Church outside the Russian Federation, the model for this being the Autonomous Ukranian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate in the Ukraine (See www.russian-church.de). Possible in the distant future this would turn into different Metropolia (See our article on this site: 'The Path to R.O.M.E., R.O.M.A. and R.O.M.A.N.Z.'). The main difference would be that sacramental communion and concelebration would be restored. We can think back to ROCOR bishops like the ever-memorable Archbishop Antony of Geneva and Bishop Mitrofan of Boston and many others who sadly did not live long enough in this world to see this day that they would so much have wanted.
As mere observers, it is not possible to predict what will actually happen. Indeed the participants themselves do not know exactly the timescales ahead. But perhaps it is already possible to see that the Russian Orthodox Church is now at last beginning to start again where it was forced to leave off in 1917. After a tragic interruption of some three generations owing to savage atheist persecution, new worldwide perspectives are now opening up. Moscow is becoming a global Church, the dream of Moscow the Third Rome and Second Jerusalem is perhaps now less unreal. We await further events, but we must never forget the fates of both the First Rome and the Second Rome.
The First Rome lost its way because it forgot its martyrs and turned itself into a Caesaropapist State. The Second Rome lost its way because it forgot its Confessors and was willing to exchange its destiny of humility for a betrayal of the Faith. The Third Rome must do neither. In the long term it must found new Local Churches outside Russia, strengthening the Confederal, Trinitarian nature of the Family of Local Orthodox Churches, Unity in Diversity. A unified Russian Church of the Martyrs (inside Russia) and of the Confessors (outside Russia), a Church of Martyrdom and Confessordom, may be now the only bulwark in this world against the coming of Anti-Christ.
And now ye know what witholdeth that he might be revealed in his time. For the mystery of iniquity doth already work. (2 Thess. 2, 6-7).