ON THE RESTORATION OF EUCHARISTIC UNITY IN THE RUSSIAN ORTHODOX
In wisdom, the Bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia (ROCOR) have given a year’s advance warning of the Fourth All-ROCOR Council in San Francisco in May 2006. This means that all the ROCOR faithful have adequate time to discuss the main item on the agenda of this Council. This item concerns the relations between the Moscow Patriarchate (MP), based in Moscow, and ROCOR, based in New York, and the possibility of restoring eucharistic communion and concelebration between them, following the end of the Cold War.
Over the last few months those interested have had time to put forward views, both for and against this restoration of eucharistic communion and concelebration between clergy. (Laypeople from both parts of the Russian Church have been taking communion in each others’ churches for many years). With an open mind I have waited for several months to hear arguments for and against. However, it seems that those in favour have in the main kept silence, whereas those who are opposed to eucharistic communion have been very active.
Although there may be worthy arguments in favour of putting off the restoration of eucharistic unity, I have yet to hear them. What I have heard is voices opposed to this unity on political and secular grounds, speaking with cultural nostalgia, a lack of knowledge of facts and, often, only a scant knowledge of Orthodox Christianity. What are the main arguments of such voices?
1. ILLUSIONS ABOUT THE PAST
There are those who accuse the MP of being illegal, uncanonical and even possessing no grace (bezblagodatnost). The same people also appear to believe that ROCOR is in all ways pure and indeed infallible. What can be said of such black and white views?
Firstly, such views appear to deprive our Russian Orthodox brothers and sisters, many of them martyrs for the Faith, hundreds of millions of members of the MP over the last fifty to eighty years, of the hope of salvation. Is this realistic? Is this charitable? Is this the will of the God of Love?
Secondly, if the Moscow Patriarchate has no grace, then surely ROCOR has no grace. After the catastrophe of World War II, ROCOR was re-formed with bishops and clergy who escaped from the Soviet Union, mostly from the Ukraine and Belarus. They had all been ordained or consecrated by bishops of the MP, to which they themselves had belonged. Having escaped the Soviet nightmare and joined ROCOR, they went on to consecrate other ROCOR bishops who have consecrated our present bishops, who in turn have ordained clergy. Therefore, if our post-War bishops from the Soviet Union had no grace, then do we?
Thirdly, any theory that the MP is graceless surely belongs to the ‘lightswitch theology’ of sectarian Donatists. According to this, at one moment someone has grace, at another he does not. But we do not give out grace; God gives it. If the human side of the Faith, Apostolic Succession with the Orthodox Faith, exist, then how can the divine side of the Faith, the grace of God, not exist? Thus, at what moment did the MP lose grace? Were all of its members, from the Patriarch down to the last village babushka, affected by this loss of grace, or did ‘patches of grace’ somehow remain? And what of the ROCOR bishops in the Far East who joined the Moscow Patriarchate after the end of the Second World War, mistakenly believing that Communist persecution of the Church was over? Did they too ‘lose grace’? And if so, when? The scope for absurdity here is very broad indeed
Fourthly, in comparing the post-Revolutionary Moscow Patriarchate with the pre-Revolutionary Russian Orthodox Church, such individuals display considerable ignorance, again making everything into black and white and idealizing the past. Let us look at some facts:
The pre-Revolutionary Russian Church was without a Patriarch, having a totally uncanonical structure, being governed in a completely Protestant style by a layman, by whom it was paralysed. Having deposed the great Patriarch Nikon in the seventeenth century, in the eighteenth century, Russian rulers decapitated and persecuted the Russian Church. Thus, Archbishop Seraphim (Sobolev), in his illuminating work Russkaya Ideologiya (The Russian Ideology), describes how in the eighteenth century Catherine II closed 754 of the 954 Russian monasteries and the holy Metropolitans, Arseny of Rostov and Paul of Tobolsk, suffered a living martyrdom.
Then, and in the nineteenth century, many of the great monastic figures in the Russian Church were ignored, despised and exiled. St Paisius (Velichkovsky) escaped to Mt Athos and then lived in what is now Romania, the despised St Seraphim of Sarov awaited canonization for some seventy years, St Theophan the Recluse became a hermit, not preaching Orthodoxy openly. As for the State, it refused the Church the right to canonize its righteous, for fear of giving the Church power and influence. (Does this not resemble the recent MP, which until the year 2000, feared to glorify its own New Martyrs and Confessors?) It was only in the reign of the pious future martyr, Tsar Nicholas, that a few of these righteous and holy people were canonized.
As for the Patriarchate itself, it was restored only at the end of 1917, after the fall of the monarchy and the Kerensky Government, thanks largely to the heroic efforts of Metropolitan Antony of Kiev. For further details of how the Church lived before the Revolution, it is enough to read the first four volumes of the latter’s Biography, compiled by the then Bishop Nikon (Rklitsky). In these we see how Metropolitan Antony, the most brilliant Russian bishop of the period, was exiled to remote parts of Russia by the government, which in itself he fervently supported (for he prophetically foresaw the alternative), becoming a Metropolitan only after the Revolution. Sergianism was prepared during the whole Synodal Period; it did not appear out of nowhere; it was merely the ultimate fruit of the deposition of Patriarch Nikon in the seventeenth century and the ‘reforms’ of Peter and his followers.
Finally, in comparing ROCOR and the MP, there are those who greatly idealize the clergy of ROCOR. Everybody knows that ROCOR has over the years made mistakes, indeed serious errors, leading to the retirement and defrocking of many clergy. Why compare the best of ROCOR with the worst of the MP? This is as unjust as comparing the best of the MP with the worst of ROCOR. In any organization, there are human-beings and we are all fallible.
For instance, critics of the MP often quote the famous words of St Ignatius (Brianchaninov) about outward restoration and inward rottenness, ‘the gilding of cupolas’. These words refer back to the Gospel words of the Saviour to the Jews: Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye are like unto whited sepulchres, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men’s bones, and of all uncleanness (Matthew 23, 27). However, is it just to use these words to refer to all the 20,000 new and restored churches of the Patriarchate? After all, the ‘gilding of cupolas’ has happened in ROCOR too…Why one sweeping generalization for one part of the Russian Church and not for the other? He that is without sin...let him first cast a stone (John 8, 7).
2. ILLUSIONS ABOUT THE PRESENT
Another thread in the criticisms of the MP is based on the inability to keep up with present reality, what the French call ‘le passéisme’. Many such critics appear not to have realized that the Cold War is over; some indeed almost seem not to have heard that Stalin is dead. This appears to be particularly the case among some elderly Russians in South America and also a few in Australia. This is not the case in Western Europe and many parts of North America, where there are large numbers of new Russian immigrants.
A decade ago, from 1992 until 1997, for example, I was priest of a whole new parish in Lisbon, Portugal, which considered only of such immigrants. Today, possibly a majority of our parishioners in Western Europe were actually baptized in the MP. No-one in ROCOR ever had the absurd thought of ‘rebaptizing’ them. Today, there are more and more clergy in ROCOR outside Russia (let alone inside Russia) who were born and raised inside what was the Soviet Union. Many of these were ordained inside the MP; yet nobody at any time ever suggested that they should be ‘reordained’, thus ‘receiving grace’, in order to be able to serve in ROCOR.
In recent years, ROCOR faithful have been able to frequent contemporary Russian Orthodox in the new immigration. Also, many staunch ROCOR faithful, once very sceptical about the MP, have in the last few years been able to visit Russia, seen some of the 20,000 new churches, the 600 new monasteries and convents, and met many of the faithful clergy and laity of the MP. They are now pressing for the restoration of eucharistic communion and concelebration.
However, it is also true, that all of us have grave concerns about the directions taken by post-Soviet Russia and wonder what exactly the word ‘post-Soviet’ means. Some have drawn attention to the recent celebrations in Moscow of the 60th anniversary of the victory over Nazi Germany, with all its Soviet nostalgia, or the fact that Lenin’s corpse is still on display outside the Moscow Kremlin, the towers of which are still topped by red stars. Others consider that although post-Soviet Russia may not be Communist-controlled, it does seem to be Mafia-controlled. Alcoholism and abortion continue to wreak havoc and corrupt and criminal gangs appear to run large sections of the economy.
However, are we then saying that the MP, which represents only the practising minority of contemporary Russians, is responsible for these misdeeds? Can we really blame the organization most persecuted of all by Communism, for the current traumas which result from 75 years of Communist ideology and the godless way of life it imposed? And are we also saying that here in the West everything is wonderful, that there is no political Mafia in power, no corruption, no abortions, no epidemics, no drug-taking, AIDS and crime? What have we got to be so proud of? What influence have we had in Christianizing Western societies? Why do we expect so much of others and yet so little of ourselves?
By all means, let us be aware and illusion-free about post-Soviet Russia, where Orthodoxy is reviving after the Communist Golgotha. But let us be equally aware and illusion-free about the fundamentally atheistic nature of modern Western life, where Orthodoxy is declining after the Capitalist Golgotha. It is no good comparing the West of the 1950s with contemporary Russia. Let us rather compare today’s West with today’s Russia. Just like Communism itself, the present wave of exploitation, materialism, pornography, sexual perversion and moral decadence which has flooded into Russia in recent years, was born in the West, not in Russia. The sin of Russians is to have accepted the decadence that the West has generated. The sin of the West is to have generated such anti-Christian ideologies and decadent lifestyles at all.
3. ILLUSIONS ABOUT OURSELVES
Finally, there is another thread to the arguments against eucharistic communion with the MP, which also distorts reality. This is the tendency, sometimes very marked, to judge without compassion. We all know the stories (quite true ones, and some of them quite recent) about how senior bishops of the MP told flagrant lies. Even at the beginning of the 1990s there was at least one (since departed this life) who was still denying that there had ever been any persecution of the Church by Communism. How are we to judge these individuals?
Fist of all, we have to realize that those bishops were hostages. We may judge people who tell lies severely. We may say, if I had a gun in my back, and had to tell a lie, I would refuse, and be martyred for the glory of the Church. However, in the Soviet Union, this was not the case. The guns were in the backs of other bishops, in the backs of bishops’ brothers and sisters, nephews and nieces, in the backs of the wives of priests of bishops’ dioceses, in the backs of priests’ children. And the bishops were not even being asked to renounce the Faith; they were being asked to tell political lies.
We may have the faith of St Sophia and urge our children on to martyrdom. Or we may not. Who of us has the courage to sacrifice our children and the children of others? Some of us, perhaps. But we do not have the right to condemn others for lacking that courage. The only person we have the right to condemn for lacking courage is ourselves. And we were not even in the Soviet Union, to be put to the test. To tell a lie to a foreign journalist, without actually renouncing the Faith, or to see a dozen parishes, sacramental centres, closed, and thousands deprived of liturgical life? That was the dilemma. Which is the lesser evil? I do not know, and I refuse to judge.
To fall into judgementalism on such questions is very swiftly to fall into sectarian condemnation, censoriousness, phariseeism. The Prayer of St Ephraim tells us not to judge our brothers. Nowhere do the Gospel, the Apostles or the Fathers tell us to condemn others. Rather they tell us to condemn ourselves and be indulgent towards others. And this brings me to the most disturbing element in the present arguments of those opposed to the restoration of eucharistic communion and concelebration between ROCOR and the MP. This is the persistent and even determined refusal of some to recognize the possibility of repentance and forgiveness, which are at the very heart of the Orthodox Christian Faith.
Yes, we have all read about Patriarch Alexis past. Yes, we all know his past KGB code-name (‘klichka’). But suppose his very clear statements of regret and repentance since then are sincere? Suppose he is, in fact, a man who only ever did what he did because he believed it was for the good of the Church? Certainly, we may believe that he was mistaken. However, we may also believe that he too now thinks that he was mistaken. After all, we all make mistakes. And, as it is written: to err is human, but to forgive is divine.
So far, in all the arguments of those opposed to the restoration of eucharistic communion, I have read only political and secular arguments, taken from history, Bolshevik or post-Bolshevik, but I have never heard any protestors utter the words ‘forgiveness’ or ‘repentance’. Yes, in the past, the MP did this and this and this. And our bishops, and we too, in political freedom, condemned the errors of those times, and rightly so. We condemned the sins, but we never condemned the sinners, leaving them to God’s judgement. So why then should we condemn them now, when they have the possibility of repentance, when, indeed, they have uttered words of repentance? Forget your political ideologies: open your hearts!
We in ROCOR have suffered immensely. In history we have suffered from the persecution of the Communist Party in Moscow, which operated through the KGB agents, some of them in the MP. We have suffered from the pressure they applied (successfully) to the Patriarchate of Constantinople and most Eastern European and Middle Eastern Orthodox Churches to isolate us. We have suffered from the slanders of masonic modernists, ecumenists and elderly ‘Neo-Renovationists’ (a term of Patriarch Alexis himself), especially in Paris and New York.
But we have also suffered from our own errors. The ever-memorable Archbishop Seraphim of Western Europe (+ 2003) always used to say that although we made mistakes, we always made them sincerely, thinking that we were acting for the best. Nevertheless, mistakes occurred. We only have to think of how members of our Church put St John of Shanghai on trial. It was not the MP or the Renovationist jurisdictions who put him on trial: we did it ourselves. And so many of our clergy and faithful, exiled to distant parts of the world, have suffered down the decades through mistakes. We have suffered unjust accusations, persecutions, slanders; our lives have been disrupted, in worldly terms, even ruined and wasted.
Today, we have an opportunity, not to give up suffering, because the Cross of suffering will of course be our lot until the end of the world, which, according to some, may not be very far off. Rather, we have an opportunity to forgive, and so give up needless suffering, and instead suffer for real causes.
Thus, the whole world is now speeding towards global unity. That unity is not based on the unity of the Gospel, but on the unity of godless secularism. Muslims fight against it with terrorist violence and murderous fanaticism. We do not do that, because we are Orthodox Christians. However, one thing is certain. This is, that if Orthodox are not united, we will not be able to make our voice heard in opposition to this New Babylon, which is now bearing down on us. And he who speaks of the need for Orthodox unity is obliged to start with the unity of Orthodox Russia, for Russia is the key to the Orthodox world and civilization, the bulwark against which the West stumbles.
It is, we believe, the destiny of Russian Orthodoxy to counter the pseudo-unity of modern secularism, in favour of the unity of the common Orthodox Faith. We will not achieve this, if we fall into the trap of internal squabbling which is exactly what Babylon wants us to do. At the present time, all the powers of hell have been let loose, so that Russian Orthodox unity may not come about. Let us not fall into the wiles of the demons. The Russian Orthodox Church Inside Russia has known some three generations of Martyrdom (Muchenichestvo). The Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia has known some three generations of Confessordom (Ispovednichestvo). Is it not time to combine forces?
Priest Andrew Phillips
September/12 October 2005,