ROCOR and the OCA
Recent concelebrations between the Metropolitans of ROCOR and the OCA have surprised some. It seems surprising to us that some should be surprised: both Metropolitans are hierarchs of the Orthodox Church, therefore they are free to concelebrate. Nevertheless, it is worthwhile considering the three areas which cause some to be surprised.
Firstly, there is the fact that the OCA (not then called that) broke away from ROCOR over sixty years ago. That it did so in highly politicised circumstances naturally caused scandal at the time, but since then the situation has changed. The breakaway was caused by different attitudes towards the Mother-Church in Russia, which at the time was not free. However, today it is free: therefore we should leave historians to mull over the rights and wrongs that caused the scandal at the time. Today, they are not relevant.
Secondly, as regards the canonical status of the OCA, the fact is that even the Local Churches that do not recognise the autocephaly of the OCA still concelebrate with it. The fact of concelebration does not mean that we necessarily have the same view of that ‘autocephaly’. For example, we know many clerics, including hierarchs of the Patriarchate of Moscow, the institution which granted that autocephaly in very different political circumstances over forty years ago, who consider that it was a mistake. That does not stop them from allowing the OCA to concelebrate with them.
Thirdly, there is the calendar problem: over three-quarters of OCA parishes use the Catholic (so-called ‘new’) calendar for the fixed feasts. This is not a problem, as the concelebrations with ROCOR took place on the Orthodox (so-called ‘old’) calendar. In the Western European Diocese of ROCOR we ALWAYS allowed those who used the new calendar for the fixed feasts to concelebrate with us (though we did not concelebrate with them, thus ensuring that we never used the new calendar). Such concelebrations in Western Europe concerned mainly those who had broken away from ROCOR and formed the Paris Jurisdiction, a situation in many ways parallel to the OCA, only the Paris Jurisdiction is centred in France, the OCA centred in North America and the Paris Jurisdiction broke away from ROCOR for political reasons even before the OCA did so. In other words, there is nothing new in such concelebrations.
The Identity of ROCOR
Beyond these three considerations, there are those who pose the question: If ROCOR and the OCA concelebrate, then what is the difference between the two, what is the distinctive identity of each? It is not for me to define the exact identity of such a diverse organisation as the OCA. However, it generally tends to be the case that the OCA mainly uses a rather modern form of liturgical English, it generally refuses to acknowledge the Russian Orthodox origins of most of its parishes and people, and it has largely adopted many American Protestant customs, for example, a certain liberal and ecumenical ethos, communion without confession, lack of vigil services, the ‘new’ calendar, pews in churches and a ‘democratic’, anti-episcopal lay outlook. I will say no more: it is for OCA members to say more.
As regards the distinctive identity of ROCOR, I can however make three points:
Firstly, ROCOR unashamedly proclaims that we confess the unadulterated Russian Orthodox Tradition, without any admixtures from the Protestant, or any other, world. It is important to know this because the above is also true in ROCOR parishes that use only or at least partially English, French, Spanish, German, Indonesian etc. Faithfulness to the authentic, universal Tradition which we have inherited counts for us and we refuse to modernise ourselves ‘American-style’, ‘Western-style’ or any other ‘style’.
Secondly, and following on from the first point, ROCOR unashamedly proclaims that we confess the universal Orthodox Tradition of the Russian Orthodox Church. We have not narrowed ourselves into a particular set of customs of a small minority of the Orthodox world. For instance, we are not narrowly ‘American’, with a set of ethnic, ‘autocephalist’ values. We are part of the now free Russian Orthodox Church, not 90,000, or even 9 million, but 164 million, strong.
Thirdly, and following on from the second point, ROCOR unashamedly proclaims that we are linked to the Centre, to the Russian Orthodox Church, whose direct canonical territory covers one sixth of the planet, and more if we count territories like China, Japan or Thailand, where Russian Orthodoxy is the only Orthodox Tradition which has historic roots and can build a future. We believe that in the modern world, it is very important for us to be linked, although remaining politically independent, with the Church of the New Martyrs, and not cut off from it in isolation.
We believe that those who would criticise the concelebrations between ROCOR and the OCA (and also with the Paris Jurisdiction) are mistaken. First of all, concelebration - just like friendship - does not mean that we agree about everything. The concept that because we do not agree we cannot be friends is utterly unChristian. Secondly, we believe that it is the duty of ROCOR to witness to our uncompromised Church, Faith and Tradition as ambassadors to the outside world (that is, to the world outside Russia). And we can do this by inviting others to concelebrate with us. Through us, the OCA, like parishes of the Paris Jurisdiction, enter into canonical concelebration with the wider and deeper Tradition of the Russian Orthodox Church. And that is an essential part of our missionary witness.
30 November/13 December