THE TRIUMPH OF REPENTANCE AND THE VINDICATION OF CHURCH TRUTH
As I live, saith the Lord God, I do not desire the death of the sinner, but that the sinner turn from his way and live.
Yesterday’s publication of documents detailing the agreements on former points of discord between the Moscow Patriarchate and the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia (ROCOR) is a historic event. It reflects the repentance of those who only ten years ago still rejected and even scorned the central positions of the Church Outside Russia on the New Martyrs and Confessors, Sergianism and Ecumenism. It reflects the will of the Patriarchate to reunite with the historic path of Truth of the whole Russian Church, faithfully adhered to by ROCOR, and the will of ROCOR to recognize this. It now remains for all concerned to agree on the Act on Canonical Communion in 2006.
The present agreed positions have become possible only because of the words spoken at the Moscow Council of August 2000, when the episcopate of the Moscow Patriarchate at last threw off the Communist yoke. As soon as the words of that Council could be implemented, it was inevitable that talks would begin between ROCOR, that part of the Russian Church which had always been free, and the newly freed Patriarchate. For in August 2000, not only did the Patriarchal Church begin canonizing the New Martyrs and Confessors, but also it condemned yet again the excesses of the Sergianist period of its history (1), its compromises with the atheist State and also its compromises with the ill-absorbed Renovationism of the ‘Living Church’ schism and the Ecumenist heresy.
The moment of repentance in August 2000, so long awaited, for three generations, by ROCOR, was a cause for rejoicing. With the acceptance by the Patriarchate of the positions of ROCOR, it was time for ROCOR to pay attention to itself. This meant making sure that those politically and nationalistically-minded, as well as foreign, elements which had been trying to take over ROCOR and persecute the patient faithful ever since the 1960s, imposing their ideologies, could now finally be put in their place. Under the wise leadership of the Most Reverend Metropolitan Laurus and the episcopate, this has been done: hence the present agreed documents of both parts of the Russian Church. The Moscow Patriarchate has accepted the ROCOR views concerning the New Martyrs, Sergianism and Ecumenism. As Metropolitan Kirill of Smolensk admitted, only in 2004: ‘The epoch of the imprisonment of the Church has come to an end’ (2). The patience of ROCOR in waiting until now has been vindicated.
As regards the future, according to the Act on Canonical Communion, ROCOR is to keep its self-governing Metropolitan status within the Russian Church, granted to it by St Tikhon in 1920. ROCOR will continue to be independent in all internal matters, including in its pastoral work and in matters of Church property. This will ensure the ability of ROCOR to continue, and hopefully reinforce, its missionary work among Non-Orthodox, under the patronage of St John of Shanghai.
As regards ROCOR’s gallant attempts to reunite the Old Calendarists of the Balkans with their Mother-Churches, and at the same time guarantee that they keep the Church calendar, it seems that here too there is some hope. Thus, one Greek Old Calendarist group has received an offer that it return to the Mother-Church, with the guarantee that it may keep the Church calendar. It seems that the battle to restore the Church calendar for the fixed feasts to the three Balkan Churches (the Greek, the Bulgarian and the Romanian) is by no means lost, despite the pernicious influence of Western modernism in those countries. (The same is true for the very small but ancient Greek Orthodox Patriarchates of Constantinople, Antioch and Alexandria).
As regards Ecumenism, we believe that the joint agreement represents an official Orthodox position on Ecumenism, which is both firm and truthful, but also accepts that Orthodox must continue their missionary witness to the heterodox. It is our belief that here too, other Local Orthodox Churches could overcome many of their internal divisions on this issue by adopting this agreement. This balanced agreement represents the rejection of already anathematized Ecumenism, but admits of the need for missionary witness.
Thus the documents published here point the way to the restoration of eucharistic communion all through the Russian Church. Furthermore, they also send out signals to other Local Orthodox Churches which have erred in similar ways. Thus, the three Balkan Churches, which have yet to return to the Church calendar, also still have to canonize their own New Martyrs, as have the Russian Church and the Serbian Church. Meanwhile other former fragments of the Russian Church, in Poland, the Czech Lands and Slovakia, the USA, Finland, the Eulogian group in Paris who refused to bear the cross of the Russian Church, and other ageing renovationist fractions of the Moscow Patriarchate in the diaspora, are now called on to move ahead in the same spirit of repentance and return to the Orthodox Tradition. This will take time, but this is the nature of all human repentance.
After the canonization of St Tikhon, the founder of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia, we look forward to further canonizations. Over eighty-five years, there have been many holy men and women who have laboured for Church Truth in ROCOR. Of these St John of Shanghai and St Jonah of Manchuria have already been added to the numbers of the saints. However, there are others: notably, we think of Archbishop Theophan of Poltava (+ 1940) and Metropolitan Philaret of New York (+ 1985).
Among such figures, there is one even more outstanding hierarch, whose greatness as a twentieth century Church Father and struggler for Church Truth, long recognized by figures such as his disciple St John of Shanghai, St Justin of Chelije (3), Patriarch Barnabas of Serbia (4) or Archbishop Nathaniel of Vienna (5), is now being recognized inside Russia also. This is Metropolitan Antony of Kiev, the First Primate of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia (+ 1936). For decades many of us have recognized his greatness and his holiness. His relics, however, still lie in Belgrade. We believe, and here boldly assert, that the time is coming when the heavenly glory of Metropolitan Antony, and of others who toiled in the face of the contempt and persecution of this world, will be revealed on earth.
Nevertheless, we must admit that the future remains uncertain, if there is not full repentance by all. And, as the Fathers say, without repentance, there is no salvation. Here, there can be no triumphalism, for we are all sinners, there can only be rejoicing at repentance by all, that the path to salvation is taken by all, that Church Truth is victorious for all, that God’s will is sought by all. Glory to thee, O God, glory to Thee!
1. Already in 1991, Patriarch Alexis II had observed of the 1927 Declaration of Metropolitan Sergius, ‘There is untruth mixed into the Declaration’. And also: ‘The tragedy of Metropolitan Sergius lies in the fact that he attempted in earnest to reach an agreement with criminals who had wrested power’. See Commentary on the Joint Document of the Commissions.
2. See Commentary on the Joint Document of the Commissions.
3. See Theology, Vol XIV, No 1, 1939 (In Serb).
4. See his
eulogy of Metropolitan Antony: ‘The adornment of the Universal Orthodox
Church...similar to the first hierarchs of the Church of Christ at the
beginning of Christianity. In him is Church truth and those who have separated
must return to him’.
See his article in The Orthodox Observer, June 1978 (In Russian).