ROC or ROCOR?
The Church is the Body of Christ, the God-man, Who is the Son of God Incarnate, in the world but not of the world. This paradoxical fact, the source of creative tension in the Church, is represented by two principles which have always been present and always will be present in Church life. On the one hand, there is what may be called the Prophetic or Visionary. On the other hand, there is what may be called the Pragmatic or Political.
The Prophetic is represented in the Old Testament by the Prophets, ending with the holy Forerunner and Prophet John the Baptist, who opens the door to the New Testament. In the early years of the Church the Prophetic is represented by the martyrs. In the fourth century it is represented by the monastic movement in Egypt and Palestine, later in Gaul and Ireland. In later Church history it is represented by those who refused to compromise with the powers of this world, in seventh-century English Church history by St Cuthbert of Lindisfarne, in the Church history of Constantinople by the exiled St John Chrysostom and later by monks who fought against wicked emperors and empresses and iconoclasm, in Russian Church history by St Nil of Sora (c. 1433-1508) and the Transvolgan hermits, by St Paisius of Neamts, the Optina Elders and more recently the New Martyrs, including the newly martyred priest Daniel (Sysoiev).
The Pragmatic is represented in the Old Testament by the Judges, by King David (who sinned with Bathsheba) and King Solomon, ending with the Seven Maccabees who fought against this world with arms. In the early years of the Church it is represented by hierarchs who defended and administered the Church, in the fourth century by those who organised the baptisms of the nominal millions into the Church. In later Church history it is represented by hierarchs who defended the Church and ensured the infrastructure necessary to catechise the millions, in seventh-century English Church history by St Wilfrid of York, in the Church history of Constantinople by fearless Patriarchs and monks, in Russian Church history by St Joseph of Volokolamsk (c. 1439-1515), who defended the Church against Western heresy and upheld the landholdings of monasteries and links with the State, and by those who defended the Church from wicked emperors and empresses and then Communist dictators.
Which of these principles is correct? Clearly, both are correct, for the Church has canonised both St Cuthbert and St Wilfrid, St Nil and St Joseph. The Church needs both principles, otherwise its life becomes unbalanced. However, each principle has temptations inherent in it.
The Prophetic tendency can become disembodied, falling into the sect of the pure, the fanatical, the obscurantist, the ghetto of those who do not wish to belong to a big Church, the long-haired, long-bearded who dress in strange clothes, who do not want millions to be baptised, but instead wish to remain Stateless, in tiny, inward-looking, intimate but disincarnate chapels, awaiting the apocalyptic, cut off from the mainstream. In terms of Russian Church history, this could be called the Old Ritualist deviation, though some might prefer to call it ‘Avvakumism’ or ‘the Anadyr deviation’. The Pragmatic tendency can fall into compromise through the flattery of political power and riches offered by the State to the clergy, becoming erastian, anti-monastic, obsessed with its power over the nominal masses, with the corporate management of its infrastructure and property, its servile relationship with the State and its foreign embassies, diplomacy with the powers of this world, seeking worldly advantages through the compromise of ecumenism. In terms of Russian Church history, this could be called the Sergianist deviation, though some might prefer to call it ‘Nikodimism’ or ‘the Volokolamsk deviation’.
ROC or ROCOR?
The contemporary Russian Orthodox Church (ROC) is separated into two. Firstly, there is the administration of the Moscow Patriarchate (MP), 99.5% of which is to be found in the territories of the former Soviet Union. Secondly, there is the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia (ROCOR), 99.5% of which is to be found throughout the rest of the world.
It could be said that ROC (MP) represents the Pragmatic principle, as it is found largely in States where the vast majority are baptised, but practise their Faith only nominally. This is the Church of the masses.
It could be said that ROCOR represents the Prophetic principle, as it is found in States where it is but a small minority. Called in Russian ‘Zarubeznaya’, the ‘Transborder Church’, ROCOR could be called the heir of the ‘Transvolgan’ hermits of St Nil of Sora. They lived beyond the Volga, in pagan, mission territory, just as in the 21st century the ‘Transborder’ Church lives beyond the borders of the Orthodox world, in pagan, mission territory.
However, such a rigid distinction is an oversimplification. In ROC there are plenty of poor churches, especially in small villages and towns, where life resembles exile and peasant life. Here there may be little contact with the ex-Soviet authorities who show the Church indifference and even hostility. And in ROCOR, there are some large churches, with a certain infrastructure, contact with local authorities and a multinational and multilingual flock, who may work in well-paid positions of status. And the first Metropolitan of ROCOR was Metr Antony of Kiev, who, though a father of monks, well understood that the Church is incarnate and looked forward to the day of the canonisation of the great Patriarch Nikon (1605-1681).
Nevertheless, there is a distinction between ROC and ROCOR and both parts of the Russian Church should be aware of the differences. ROC has, relatively, means, influence, infrastructure, finance. ROCOR, the ‘Transborder Church’, is destined to be the ‘Transvolgan’ Church, exiled, poor, a ‘DIY’ church, with weak infrastructure and a lack of means. As such, ROCOR faces difficulties and temptations – the deviations of the ghetto and the sect. However, ROC faces its difficulties and temptations too – the deviations of political compromise with the State and ecumenism.
The existence of these temptations is why ROC needs ROCOR and ROCOR needs ROC. It is not a question of ROC or ROCOR, it is a question of ROC and ROCOR. We must all be on our guard.
Archpriest Andrew Phillips
27 January/9 February 2010