Last winter, in interviewing Metropolitan Vitaly for Voice of America, Fr. Victor Potapov asked him to address a question of concern to believers in the Soviet Union: "What is the position of the Russian Church Abroad regarding the establishment of parishes under its jurisdiction on the territory of the Soviet Union?" The Metropolitan replied:
"...For us what is important is not to have parishes there belonging
to us, but that the Moscow Patriarchate change its course, that it renounce 'Sergianism,'
that it recognize all the New Martyrs of Russia whom we have already
glorified... This is what we are waiting for, not to set up parishes. If this
should happen it would be a major event of a spiritual nature. The Moscow
Patriarchate would stand on its lawful path, and then there would be no question
of setting up parishes; all would be one. This is what we want, what we desire,
what we pray for."
Clearly, this era of glasnost has seen a number of positive developments with regard to church life in the Soviet Union--the return of churches and monasteries, the opening of seminaries, the freedom to attend services and to participate in the Church's Sacraments without fear of reprisal, a greater vitality on the local level, a much more visible, more active presence in society... Nevertheless, contrary to popular demand that the Moscow Patriarchate dissociate itself completely from State interference, the present hierarchy shows no intention of liberating itself from its "sweet captivity".
It seemed, therefore, increasingly probable that the Church Abroad would, in fact, establish its jurisdiction in Russia, where a number of priests have long urged such a move, having already recognized Metropolitan Vitaly as their lawful ecclesiastical authority. But while many anticipated this move as a healthy challenge to the Sergianist dominated Moscow Patriarchate and vital to Russia's spiritual interests, others voiced grave concerns over the effect such a move might have. In analyzing the situation, one believer from the Soviet Union wrote:
"...Today there is nothing more terrifying for Russia and for its church people than schism. The country today stands on the verge of becoming (civil) dismembered. Only the one Orthodox Church can, even in the most tragic external circumstances, as it did in the time of Patriarch Hermogenes and in the era of appenaged princes, save the people and the country from historic ruin.
For Orthodox people today the need for spiritual unity between the Church in Russia and abroad is evident. From your uncompromising Christian spirit, from the truth about the history of the Church which you have preserved, the people draw strength for their standing for the faith on their native soil. It's possible that in this attitude towards the Church Abroad there is an element of idealism. But this doesn't matter: the ideal moves one towards spiritual growth and perfection. The tragedy, a real tragedy, will begin then when powers within, as well as evil powers without, begin to destroy this ideal. And this will be a tragedy not only for the Church Abroad, but also for church activity in Russia, where Orthodox people will be deprived of that support which for decades was provided by the high moral authority of the Church Abroad. /.../
"in Khrushchev's time, for the purpose of discrediting the Russian Orthodox Church on Mount Athos, the Council for Religious Affairs sent to St. Panteleimon's Monastery monks who suffered either from drunkenness or from some other shameful vice. There are serious grounds for suggesting that a similar practice will be renewed today. Among those trying to enter the Church Abroad there will inevitably be people who were unwilling to find themselves a place on the way of the cross of pastoral service to' the Russian Orthtodox people. More, there Will be those who unknowingly oriented towards the Church Abroad by certain powers, will discredit her by their sinful behavior and morals.
“In any case, the aims of the antichristian 'democrats' and destroyers of Russia is schism, the removal of the sole unifying spiritual institution--the Church. /.../
"What real help can Russia expect today from the Church Abroad? A few months ago, in the newspaper, Literaturnaya Gazeta, there appeared a letter by Metropolitan Vitaly to the young people of Russia. [To appear in the next issue of Orthodox America] It is difficult to exaggerate its significance. The letter was copied; it was read at youth meetings, at gatherings of crowds of people; it was quoted in many publications. Such a word, coming from the preservers of the Church and Orthodox Faith abroad, a word of uncompromising service to the Saviour-this is the most vital act in the transfiguration of the sick and suffering church community.
Don't members of the Synod [of the Moscow Patriarchate] know that the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad is part of the Russian Orthodox Church in Russia ? That borders between states, ideological doctrines and systems cannot cause divisions and splits between parts of the same Orthodox Church which is one in spirit, faith and dogmas? -- Zoya Krakhmalnikova Moscow News, May 27 - June 3, 1990
Such a word, addressed also to the hierarchs, and to clergy and to laymen, cannot but move the hearts of millions of Orthodox believers.
"Parallel with the official Church, it is likely that only the
Catacomb Church, historically formed within the country, can develop to be
beneficial. (Her hierarchs and clergy are familiar with the situation in the
country from within, and it's easier for them to correctly evaluate those
entering the Church.) In the many years of its existence it has not caused a
ruinous schism, and now its very existence can stimulate the return to health of
the whole Church..."
Two documents issued by the Synod of Bishops at its recent Council (May 2-8 n.s.) would indicate that the decision to establish parishes in Russia was motivated by a desire to encourage such a healing. Furthermore, they make it clear that in making such a move the Church Abroad is not acting as a "foreign body," inasmuch as it has always considered itself part of the one Russian Church and has always maintained spiritual ties with the Catacomb Church. It is chiefly at the urging of catacomb clergy that the Church Abroad is extending to them its omophorion, providing them with a canonical hierarchy and enabling them to function openly and freely. This move, then, does not constitute any more of a schism than that which has existed between the Catacomb Church and the Moscow Patriarchate ever since Metropolitan Sergius issued his Declaration in 1927. In an Epistle addressed to the faithful, the Council of Bishops explains:
'The canons of the Church the decisions of the All-Russia Council of 1917-1918 and the 1920 decree of His Holiness Patriarch Tikhon form the foundation of the portion of the Church of Russia which is abroad. Supreme authority belongs to the Council of Bishops, who govern the Church independently. But this temporary autonomy has not rent apart the seamless robe of the Body of Christ. The Russian pastors and flock abroad have always remained a branch not sundered from and spiritually united with the Mother Church, which has been crucified by the minions of Antichrist who have risen up against Christ and His Church./.../ : .
“ One after another, His Holiness [Patriarch Tikhon] ,and even. Metropolitan Sergius considered us their own and wrote to us abroad.
'"Yet Metropolitan Sergius, while only the deputy of the locum tenens, unexpectedly exalted his own authority, violated the episcopate's oneness of mind, and, contrary to the opinions of the overwhelming majority of the hierarchs and without consulting with them, issued his own declaration on the unity of the interests of the Church and the atheist government. The senior hierarchs, Metropolitan Peter and Cyril of Kazan', condemned this act and severed communion with Metropolitan Sergius
'"The portion of the Church of Russia abroad followed their example. The Council of Bishops, in their encyclical dated September 9, 1927, declared: 'The free portion of the Church of Russia is terminating administrative relations with the ecclesiastical administration in Moscow [i.e., with Metropolitan Sergius and his synod], in view of the fact that normal relations with it are impossible and because of its enslavement by the atheist regime, which is depriving it of freedom to act according to its own will and of freedom to govern the Church in accordance with the canons.'
'Thus, it was Metropolitan Sergius who created the schism within the episcopate of the Church of Russia... /.../
"We believe and confess that in those churches of the Patriarchate of Moscow where the priest fervently believes and sincerely prays, showing himself to be not only a 'minister of the cult', but also a good shepherd who loves his sheep, who approach him with faith, the grace of salvation is accessible in the mysteries. Such churches are few in number on the immense territory of the Russian land.
'The churches of the catacomb Christians, our brethren, in which the divine services are celebrated by priests who have preserved canonical succession from those who received the crown of martyrdom, the true archpastors of the Church, are even fewer in number and inaccessible to the vast mass of believers.
"This is why priests and believers from Russia are appealing to us to cover them with our omophorion, to impart grace to them. Our pastoral conscience tells us that we not only can, but we must help them, investigating in each case the reasons which impel them to turn to us. However, we are approaching this our new ministry with great caution, trusting in the help of God, for what is impossible for man is possible for God. We still do not know how far the Soviet regime has become democratic and to what extent perestroika is real. /../
"No one knows what still awaits our homeland, what changes will
occur in her life even in the near future. While there is a crack open, possibly
only temporarily, we must take advantage of it. The rest is in God's hands; for
our God is the God Who works wonders. May His holy will be done!" (full
text in Orthodox Life 1990, #3, and Living Orthodoxy #67)
The second document defines the status of parishes of the Free Russian Orthodox Church (i.e., those in Russia under the jurisdiction of the ROCA), it outlines the fundamental rules by which they are to be guided, and offers a "possible form for the appeal of clergymen who wish to withdraw from the errors of the Moscow Patriarchate." Listed among the "fundamental errors of the Moscow Patriarchate after the Declaration of 1927" are:
The casting out of hierarchs, clergymen, monastics and laity who would not accept the Declaration;
The reviling of the memory of the New Martyrs and Confessors
Neglect of the spreading of the Word of God;
Participation in the ecumenical movement;
Submission to secular, atheistic authorities and permitting them to take part in the governing of the inner life of the Church, even to the point of allowing them to proceed with the eradication of the Faith;
The widespread moral depravity and avarice of clergy.
In addition to those priests already under the jurisdiction of Bishop Lazarus, several others have offered repentance and have been received into the FROC This summer Bishop Hilarion of Manhattan and Bishop Mark of Germany concelebrated with Bishop Lazarus in St. Constantine's Church in Suzdal, whose rector, Archimandrite Valentine (Rusantsev), together with two priests, a deacon and the parishioners, asked to be received by Metropolitan Vitaly several months ago after Archimandrite Valentine was chastised by his superior for his refusal to inform the authorities about foreign visitors at his church. The service attracted an estimated 5,000 faithful. There are likewise a number of clergy (two hegumens, several priests and a deacon) from the Siberian city of Omsk who have entered the fold of the FROC. From Voronezh a community of catacomb believers, spiritual children of Fr. Michael Rozhdestvensky (+1988), asked to be received by Bishop Lazarus. And there are many others who have expressed interest. It is anticipated that by this winter the FROC will have its own church in St. Petersburg.
It should be pointed out that the majority of catacomb believers are not with Bishop Lazarus, nor do they possess a recognized canonical episcopate. Many of them categorically deny that the Moscow Patriarchate has grace, while others, accustomed to extreme caution, are adopting a wait-and-see attitude. One should pray particularly for those priests within the Moscow Patriarchate who are sympathetic to the Church Abroad; the choice they now face is very difficult and will no doubt be painful for many of them. Lest this give cause for a hardened attitude of separation or harsh judgment--as too often happens between members of jurisdictions which are not in communion--the Council of Bishops has included in its guidelines for members of the FROC:
"Clergy of the Moscow Patriarchate must be treated as brethren who have fallen away and gone into error. They cannot be received into fellowship, since they are, as it were, under suspensions 'until they repent'; this must not, however, occasion haughty or arrogant behavior. One's attitude toward laymen must be tolerant, as toward those who have departed from true Orthodoxy not of their own will, but because of circumstances beyond their control.
"Offering up its prayers 'for the union of ail', the Russian
Orthodox parishes hope for the repentance of the Moscow Patriarchate....The
parishes pray and hope for the speedy unification of all the children of the
Russian Orthodox Church both in Russia and in the diaispora, which will be an
occasion of great joy.”