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On the Identity of ROCOR

Below is an answer to a question posed by a young seminarian in Nizhny Novgorod in Russia.

Q. Is there anything that makes ROCOR distinct from the rest of the Russian Church?

A. Yes, ROCOR is distinct in three ways:

1. Our essential and primary task has always been to keep the Russian Orthodox Tradition which we have inherited from those who brought us this Tradition. At one time we feared that this Tradition might even be wiped out inside Russia. Therefore, our task was historically particularly great. We guard the Tradition like the apple of our eye; this is our greatest treasure, the spiritual heritage of our fathers and mothers in the faith. We have indeed even kept some facets and minor customs which have been lost inside Russia itself and are only now being restored here. For us the Russian Orthodox Tradition is the ideal of Holy Rus, Orthodox Rus. Inside Russia, this is also often true, but not to the same extent. In Russia the Tradition tends to be taken for granted, it is part of mass culture, it is unconscious, and sometimes people are even negligent of it. This is not the case with us who live in a sea of Non-Orthodoxy and have to be conscious of our faith.

2. The second layer of our identity is our understanding of what Rus is. For us this is not a narrow, mononational or nationalistic identity, but a multiethnic and multilingual identity. Unlike other Local Orthodox Churches, the Russian Orthodox Church has always been multiethnic and multilingual. We have extended and deepened this, translating most, if not all, of the services into common Western languages, such as English, German, Dutch, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Italian etc. We use them and sing in them, according to the melodies we have inherited, which adapt so well to Western and other languages. Thus we speak of ‘American Rus’, ‘Australian Rus’, ‘English Rus’ etc. Such diversity is however possible only if we keep the Tradition, as is our primary task. As long as our faith unites us, we can have such diversity. Although we have different nationalities according to our civil passports, our heavenly passports all say ‘Russian Orthodox’. Of course, here the word ‘Russian’ does not necessarily mean ethnic Russian, but rather refers to the fullness of the Orthodoxy, without those compromises made among westernised Orthodox, such as the adoption of the Non-Orthodox calendar.

3. The third layer of our identity concerns our relations with the outside world. On the one hand, we fully realise, as perhaps only in the west of Belarus it is realised, where Uniatism is not a problem, that we need to have good-neighbourly relations with the Non-Orthodox world around us. This is especially so with Roman Catholics, who have preserved more of the Orthodox heritage of the ancient Orthodox Church of the West than anyone else. Many of the people who come to our churches are married to Non-Orthodox. We show respect for and understanding of their humanity. This is part of our mission to the outside world, to which we have to be open. On the other hand, ROCOR has a very specific attitude towards ecumenism, that is, syncretism, which St Justin of Chelije rightly called a ’pan-heresy’. We firmly believe that the Orthodox Church is the only Church and that there can be no compromises about this. Like those in the west of the Ukraine, who have been so bitterly persecuted by Uniatism over the centuries, we know this well. In Russia these attitudes are shared by most people. However, you can also meet a few extremes here, for example, those who condemn Non-Orthodox out of hand without understanding them, mainly because they do not know any Non-Orthodox, and, conversely, those naive people whose Orthodox consciousness is so unformed and immature that they are tempted by the foolishness of ecumenism.

Here then is our identity. It is our task and calling to work closely and faithfully with the Church inside Russia, to be ambassadors and missionaries of the Russian Orthodox Church in the Western world, in Western Europe, in the Americas and Oceania. We are to be faithful witnesses to the Tradition, but also to be missionaries around the world, building up the Church where She has not been before, pursuing missions in Indonesia, South Korea, Thailand, Polynesia, India, Pakistan, as well as in Australia, New Zealand, Western Europe and North and South America. We sail with the great ship of the Church inside Russia, the Centre of and three-quarters of, World Orthodoxy, gathering together, uniting, protecting and keeping faith with the Tradition.

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