Russian Church Unity One Year On: Expectations, Impressions, Thoughts
One year ago, on Ascension Day, 17 May 2007, the two parts of the Russian Orthodox Church went up into the heavens and were blessed, officially entering into canonical communion with one another. Thus, the Moscow Patriarchate and the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia together reconstituted the Mother-Church of the whole multinational and multilingual Russian Orthodox flock. At a stroke, the One Russian Orthodox Church became a worldwide Church, stretching not just from Brest to Vladivostok, but from Amsterdam to Alma Ata, from Buenos Aires to Baikal, from Cannes to Kursk, from Caracas to Kishinev, from Koln to Kiev, from Montreal to Minsk, from Munich to Moscow, from New York to Novgorod, from San Francisco to Sochi, from Sydney to St Petersburg,. In reversing the tragic events that took place ninety years before in 1917, Rus not only reconnected with her own past, she also became global, universal.
I have been asked to write about my expectations, impressions and thoughts since that sunny Moscow day. Here they are:
I did not think at the time that any of us understood exactly what we were doing, we did not realise the great historical consequences of the Act of Canonical Communion, we only knew that what we were doing was profoundly right. This was a conviction that had swiftly ripened among us after August 2000 and the crucial Jubilee Council of the Patriarchal Church.
As for my expectations – I had none. After twenty-three years as an Orthodox cleric, I long ago learned not to expect anything, just as I have learned not to plan. Indeed, there is a popular saying that if we wish to hear God laugh, then we should tell Him our plans. Perhaps that is also true of expectations. We should not expect anything, rather the Church expects from us.
On the other hand, if we should expect nothing, we can hope. And we hope for salvation, whatever the circumstances the Lord sets us, and it is our firm hope that the Act of Canonical Communion is working for the salvation of all.
Apart from my impressions of the events in Moscow itself, of which I have written elsewhere, my first impression was that of our local service of unity in London. In June 2007, after twenty-five years, I returned for the first time to the Patriarchal Cathedral in London, not as an outcast, but as a welcome member of the One, United Russian Orthodox Church. In different circumstances, with very different people, all of whose values I have always shared, with Vladyka Elisey, we concelebrated in complete unity of Faith.
My next impression came a month later at our patronal feast, St John of Shanghai, presided over not by our diocesan bishop, Vladyka Mark, but by Vladyka Elisey. Here was something unique, unthinkable even a few months before, a Patriarchal hierarch presiding the patronal feast of a ROCOR church! And yet, how normal, how natural, how welcome! Since then concelebrations have become not only regular, but routine, as the two parts of the Russian Church merge seamlessly together.
On the other hand, it must be said that this normality has come about only because tiny groups left both parts of the Russian Church, refusing the middle way, the royal path. First, in Great Britain there came the Sourozh schism of May 2006, then the ROCOR schism of January 2007. Sadly, it must be admitted that it was such tiny groups, inclined to renovationism on the one hand and sectarianism on the other hand, that had delayed our long-awaited unity.
Less pessimistically, it must be added that perhaps many of those few who left us and our unity will one day return. But it will take time, patience and prayer for them to obtain healing. Nevertheless, the surging tide of history is stronger than any number of individual drops of water.
I remember Vladyka Lavr at the All-Diaspora Council in San Francisco 2006. And what struck me most was that here was a man of destiny. Here he was, with that simple Carpatho-Russian village smile, concealing the wisdom gained from 70 years of sober, monastic life, now standing on the shores of the Pacific Ocean, from the forests of Slovakia to the cities of California in a lifetime. David who slew Goliath. Yes, a man fulfilling his destiny, that is, a man doing God’s Will.
And when in the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour in Moscow, I saw Vladyka Lavr signing our agreement, the impression was repeated. Here was a man fulfilling his God-given destiny. Only in Moscow the impression was doubled, because Vladyka Lavr, the Carpatho-Russian non-émigré from the Emigré Church, sat side by side with his contemporary, His Holiness Patriarch Alexis II, the Estonian émigré from the Non-Emigré Church. Yes, two men fulfilling their destiny, that is, two men doing God’s Will.
Just now, in May 2008, Vladyka Lavr had been due to visit his family in Ladomirovo in the Carpathian foothills. He is not there. The Lord God judged otherwise. But Carpatho-Russia has played her role in realising Church unity, in realising history. Little wonder that Vladyka Lavr’s successor, Archbishop Hilarion (Kapral), also comes from the same remarkable Carpatho-Russian people and possesses their meek spirit.
Through the act of unity, Russia has made a historic reconciliation with her own history. Now, the wrongs resulting from the Revolution are being righted and the wrongs that caused the Revolution are also being righted.
The unity of the Patriarchate and ROCOR is unity in history. This unity must be mirrored by unity in geography. In geographical terms the consequences of our unity are still being played out. Russia, Ukraine, Belarus – greater unity is still to come here. Russia, Ukraine, Belarus. This is Rus. Unity will come through Orthodox Rus. And if the restoration of Orthodox Rus comes, then there is hope for the restoration of the ideal of Holy Rus in the hearts of all.
And the consequences of our unity are still being played out in the Diaspora also. The awful jurisdictional divisions in the Diaspora that resulted from the fall of the Russian Empire in 1917 are yet to be overcome. But there are many here who look to the example of the reunited Russian Church for help in overcoming their disunity. If you can unite, they say, then we too can unite. We say to them: Unite then with our movement of unity – we are open to you.
We should in no wise think that this mutual act of unity came from us. It did not. It was and is a miracle of the saints. It came from the New Martyrs and Confessors, it came from St Tikhon of Moscow and from St John of Shanghai. It came from holy elders inside Russia and it came from holy elders in the emigration. It came from all the millions of faithful clergy and people everywhere who down all the long years of suffering so earnestly prayed and yearned for this moment, shedding their tears and their blood, most of them not even living to see the great Day of Victory.
On Easter Night this year, once more I read the Prologue of St John. And this year these verses struck me in a new way: He came unto His own and His own received Him not. But as many as received Him, to them gave He power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on His name, which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, but of God (Jn 1, 11-13).
Our unity to become the sons of God is indeed born not of blood, nor of the will of flesh, but of God.
And this is only the first year of our joy. There are many more years yet to come, on which we shall together build further joys. And the daily greetings said in Carpatho-Russian now echo around the world: Slava Isusu Khristu! Slava na viky!
Priest Andrew Phillips,