Hieromonk Gregory (Lourie). St. Petersburg.

A report given to the 8th Congress of clergy, monastics and laity of the Suzdal diocese of the Russian Orthodox Autonomous Church, November, 2000.

The last hierarchical council of the ROCA has been a real shock for those children of the Church Abroad who are still not indifferent to true Orthodoxy. But this same council has also posed a whole series of problems for our Russian [Autonomous] Church and not even of a purely canonical nature, but also of a dogmatic character.

Without going into a detailed discussion of the councils documents, I shall pause only on two documents the conciliar Epistle to the flock [of the ROCA] and the conciliar epistle to Patriarch Paul of Serbia in which the ecclesiological position of the ROCA episcopate is declared for the first time with such clarity. To wit: in both documents the MP is spoken of as a church (the impossibility of communion with which is recognised at the given moment as existing solely at the administrative level). In the epistle to Patriarch Paul it is presupposed that the organisation headed by him is also a church. In this way the whole council of the ROCA that is, its hierarchy as a whole has taken upon itself the responsibility for the frequent concelebrations of its clergy and bishops with the ecumenist Serbs. (I wish to emphasise that the resolutions of the hierarchical council were passed in the name of the whole episcopate, including Bishop Daniel of Erie and Bishop Seraphim of Brussels who were not present at the council. So as to remove from himself the responsibility for any conciliar act, a bishop must, as a minimum, express in writing his particular opinion. However, immediately it is a question of the recognition of heretical ecclesiastical communities, then, after his particular opinion, the bishop is obliged to break canonical communion with those who have recognised notorious heretics.)

The aim of my communication is to analyse the internal problems of the ROCA, but only those conclusions which our Church must draw with regard to the present ROCA. My opinion will be, though far from conciliar as yet, nevertheless not quite personal: it was formed as a result of discussions that have taken place in our two parishes in St. Petersburg.

First some words about the ROCAs 2000 council in its recent historical perspective.

The first-hierarch of the Church Abroad, Metropolitan Philaret of blessed memory, who departed to the Lord in 1985, left the Church on a truly Orthodox path, but without enough internal strength to stay on this path. The period in which Metropolitan Vitaly has been first-hierarch has witnessed a rapid squandering of the heritage of the Church of Metropolitan Philaret. Here are only the most vivid stages:

  1. 1986. In the West European diocese of Archbishop Anthony of Geneva (the main opponent of Metropolitan Philaret in the sphere of ideas), the concelebrations with clergy of the ecumenist jurisdictions, which were supposed to have ceased from 1983 (after the anathema against ecumenism) were renewed. In reply to protests Archbishop Anthony of Geneva issued a pastoral epistle, in which the possibility of such concelebrations was officially declared. The clergy of the French mission of the ROCA (headed by Archimandrite Ambroise Frontier) tried to protest against this epistle to Metropolitan Vitaly, but received no reply.
  2. 1986/87. The reply came to be the Nativity epistle of Metropolitan Vitaly, which de facto rescinded the anathema against ecumenism hurled in 1983. (If in 1983 they did not succeed in completing the anathematisation of ecumenism since not one anathematised ecumenist was indicated by name, and one could only make a logical conclusion that the ecumenist jurisdictions of World Orthodoxy were subject to the anathema, then the Nativity epistle drew a quite different conclusion: the anathema supposedly referred only to the members of our Church. It is interesting to ponder: when in history have councils approved of anathematisations for members of their own Church?) However, the epistle of Metropolitan Vitaly was formally no more than the expression of his personal opinion.
  3. 1987. The ROCA Synod de facto signed up to the Nativity epistle of its first-hierarch (the Synod expressed its gratitude to Protopriest Alexander Lebedev for his reply to Priest Neketas Palassis, who criticised Metropolitan Vitaly from a truly Orthodox point of view).
  4. The canonical position of the ROCA was becoming shaky. Its bishops were either ecumenists themselves or defiled by communion with this heresy. The only hierarch who at that time resisted the new course of the ROCA was the ever-memorable Bishop Gregory Grabbe the true Prophet Jeremiah of the Church Abroad.

    However, compromises with heresy were still, in the 1980s, only at the level of the Synod, not of the Council.

    Reasoning by akriveia, it was time to separate from the ROCA already in 1986-87 on the basis of the 15th canon of the First-and-Second Council of Constantinople. That is how more than 30 parishes in America and France acted at that time. But the supporters of ekonomia had reasons for not rushing into separation.

    In 1990 there took place an explosion of hope for the re-establishment of the ROCA, and parishes were opened in Russia. This decision objectively led to the necessity for a break with World Orthodoxy or, from the point of view of the present masters of the ROCA, it was a tragic mistake. And in truth: the pendulum swung in the direction of true Orthodoxy but not for long. Let us continue our sad chronicle.

  5. 1993-1994. The events which all those present here recall much better than I. The clerical leadership of the ROCA began to correct its mistake: there began conflicts with the Russian bishops.
  6. 1994. Conciliar decisions were taken, decisions which became the first conciliar proclamation of heresy in the history of the ROCA. To wit: the recognition of the ecclesiology of Metropolitan Cyprian of Fili and Orope (in particular his opinion that heretics, until their condemnation at a council, are guaranteed to preserve the grace of sacraments) and the resolution concerning the possibility of negotiations with the MP (in which was contained, albeit obliquely, a recognition of it as a church). After this there were noticeably fewer grounds for ekonomia in relation to the ROCA, and several more parishes left it in the USA.
  7. However, at this point it is necessary to point out: a council that proclaims heresy is not yet the downfall of the church organisation, the church does not automatically become graceless after such a council. A council of Orthodox bishops is not a collective Roman Pope, and therefore it does not claim infallibility even in questions of faith. Even after a heretical council the church organisation can still survive but only if the collective sin of the hierarchs is corrected under pressure from below(from the clergy, monastics and laity) or from outside (from other churches). The whole Churchs part in such a situation is obtain the correction of one council by another. It is precisely in this that the meaning of the history of the ROCA in the last six years consists. But what did it in fact succeed in obtaining?

  8. 1995-1996. An exit from the crisis linked with the position of the Russian parishes through the creation of a schism. Insofar as the decisions of the 1996 council (alas, again a council, and not simply the Synod) in relation to the defrocking of the Russian hierarchs were uncanonical, they thereby constituted the foundational decisions for the creation of a schism. Here there is an exact parallel with the creation of the sergianist schism in 1928-29, when Metropolitan Sergius usurpation of power was demonstrated, first of all, in the ascription to himself of the right to impose bans on those hierarchs who were not in communion with him. But incorrect decisions fall on the head of those who impose them. The episcopate of the ROCA, carried away by heresy, began to create a schism.
  9. At this point I would like to make one comment. The point is that the ROCA was already tending towards being turned into a schism before 1996. From the canonical point of view, and equally in accordance with all its founding documents, the ROCA was never a local Church, but was only a temporary church organisation. The time of its existence was limited by a definite condition (until the fall of the atheist regime in Russia), on the fulfilment of which the ROCA had to submit to a council of the local Russian Church. Therefore in the 1990s, after the fall of the communist regime, the hierarchs of the ROCA had only two canonical possibilities:

    1. either, preserving its leadership in the new church organisation, to return together with its Synod to Russia,
    2. or concede its leadership to the Russian hierarchs.

Any other situation for the ROCA was ambiguous (and in any case could not be dragged out for too many years), while the passing of punitive decisions against the Russian hierarchy was not simply canonical nonsense, but a directly schismatical act.

I will not continue this sad chronicle and so I will remain silent about all the details of the negotiations with the MP, which were carried on in the German diocese with the connivance of the whole episcopate, and about the unceasing concelebrations with the Serbian ecumenists and similar events, which more and more convinced us that the heretical and schismatical decisions of the ROCA councils of 1994 and 1996 were no coincidence, but deeply thought through.

Now I come to the main subject, the relationship of our Church to the contemporary ROCA.

In the five years that have passed since 1995, when our administrative links with the ROCA were finally severed, this relationship was one of waiting. It recalled the relationship of the Orthodox-minded members of the ROCA itself to its episcopate. We all both the Russian [Autonomous] Church and the zealots of Orthodoxy from the ROCA were waiting to see whether our hopes, albeit last hopes, for a correction of the course of the present clerical leadership would be justified. Finally, we have come to the directly heretical declarations of the council of the year 2000, when the episcopate of the ROCA gathered in its fullness has not held out, but, having lost even its usual external respectability, has run to the heretical Serbian patriarch asking him to take it on board the cruiser World Orthodoxy that was passing by. It is of no significance for the Church of Christ whether they will hear these unfortunate bishops more precisely, former bishops on board the cruiser. The Church is not interested in the opinion of heretics on those apostates who run to them from the Church.

The affair of the council of 1994 has come to its logical conclusion. The ROCA is no longer a church in which a heretical council has just taken place, but a heretical organisation in which heresy has acquired complete domination after a struggle of many years (which was being waged even under Metropolitan Philaret). Each person has had enough time to define himself. Today it is no longer possible to cite any consideration in favour of ekonomia: if a person even today continues to consider the bishops of the ROCA as real bishops, such a person is being ruled by some kind of canons of his own, and not by those which the holy fathers established.

The real heirs of the historical ROCA are the Russian Orthodox [Autonomous] Church, and also the zealots of Orthodoxy from the ROCA who have now remained without hierarchs. The latter need our help. But from our side a simple desire to offer such help is not enough: it is necessary, but not sufficient to invite them to come over under the omophorion of our hierarchs. It is also required that we ourselves should be capable of offering such help, so that these people should have a basis for trusting us, and not only a desire to trust us. They must understand that we are in principle distinct from the ROCA of Metropolitan Vitaly, and are not an organisation similar to it, but which has not just not yet reached the last stage of decomposition. And for this we must clearly define what distinguishes us from the ROCA.

In such cases they wont believe an explanation in words such an explanation is not sufficient, although it is necessary. The main thing is an explanation on the level of canonical norms. And here my suggestions come down to three points:

  1. to forbid intercommunion with the ROCA (that is, forbid the communion of members of our Church in the ROCA and members of the ROCA who retain communion with her episcopate in our Church),
  2. to forbid concelebrations of our clergy with the clergy of the ROCA, and
  3. to introduce not today, but in the course of some not very long period for those joining us from the ROCA the same rules as will exist at that moment for those joining us from the MP.

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