Orthodox America

  The Free Russian Orthodox Church

       The decision made last spring by the Church Abroad to establish parishes on the territory of Russia has since been debated in print from both theological and historical perspectives. However, almost nothing has appeared, in English, describing the subsequent establishment of these parishes and the current situation of those clergy and communities which have been received into the jurisdiction of the Church Abroad and which now form the Free Russian Orthodox Church. These include a number of priests and parishes in the Moscow region,in Valishchevo (near Podolsk), in Golochevo; in Suzdal (administrative center of the FROC), St. Petersburg, Perm, Kursk, Voronezh, Simferopol, Sebastopol, Kaliningrad, Ekaterinburg, Vladikavkaz; in Siberia--in Tiumen, Marianovsk (Omsk region), Barhaul, Kalachinsk, Shablikino; and elsewhere. Several "societies'' have also declared their affiliation with the Church Abroad, including the Society of Tsar Martyr Nicholas, the Society of St. Andrew (one of a group of German Orthodox communities), and the Brotherhood of St. Job of Pochaev in Moscow. It is not possible here to give a complete chronicle of events which have been reported over the months in the Russian-language press, but the selections below should provide the reader with a composite which reflects the situation of the FROC.

       In providing some background information in justification of the FROC in our June 1990 issue, we commented that its development would undoubtedly be a painful process. And so it has proved to be. Ironically--tragically, one should say--troubles stem less from the civil authorities than from the Moscow Patriarchate, although they often operate in concert, as in the matter of registration, which is required before a community can apply for ownership of a church building, officially open a Sunday school, engage in charitable activities, etc. This particular form of obstruction is described by S. V. Engelhardt, a leader of the Society of Tsar-Martyr Nicholas, in an interview published in Moscow's independent weekly, Stolitsa (January 1991):


     We, for example, tried to get registered under the old law, and were refused. We were told to wait for the new law on freedom of conscience, "and then we'll register you." Today they say that new societies will be registered only from July 1, 1991, in accordance with a particular point regarding the lime the law comes into effect. One wants to believe in this conformity with the letter of the law--if it weren't for certain circumstances.

     As soon as our society applies for a particular church, it is immediately denied. Quite literally the next day, there crops up a society formed by the Moscow Patriarchate, which makes a bid for the very same church. There's a coordinated opposition working here: we are obstructed on one side by local government committees, on another by the MP and on a third by the KGB. They all need a Church which is subordinate, obedient and submissive.

     This is all the more distressing in view of the fact that in Moscow today registration is being granted to just about everyone: sectarians, Krishnaites, even the "Church of Satan"! While we are still unregistered. (The Society has since been registered-Ed. Note.)

     Alas, so far we have been unable to give the situation much publicity, since the leadership of the [MP] has for all practical purposes blocked all means of mass media. People base their attitudes towards us on unfounded rumors and outright slander. In the Soviet press we are usually called "schismatics"...

     By the way, do you know that in an interview, ex-KGB general O. Kalugin stated outright that the KGB has its agents in the [MP] Synod? And the MP did not react to this, thereby indirectly confirming the truthfulness of Kalugin's words!

     Q: But in the"Appeal" of the Bishops' Council of the MP, there are some encouraging words about repentance which give hope [for reconciliation]: "The Mother Church has shown great condescension towards her errant sons, despite the fact that in the difficult years of persecution their irresponsible behavior deepened her wounds and increased her suffering. But even now we are prepared as before to understand and to forgive everything..."

      Engelhardt: Pardon me, but whom can they forgive? Christians who proved by their martyrdom the invincibility of Christianity? These people are persecuted even today. And the Mother Church, "prepared to understand" them, is applying coercive tactics worthy of a wicked step-mother. On October 4, in Sepastopol, the St. Nicholas cathedral, which had came under the jurisdiction of the FROC, was forcibly seized by priests of the Moscow Patriarchate with the help of the Soviet authorities.


         In the same way, on October 7, the Holy Trinity church in the village of Golochevo, Moscow region, was also seized.

         Today, of course, it's increasingiy difficult to use force. Other tactics are being put into play. For example, the rector of the Holy Protection cathedral in Ussurisk was publicly slandered and accused of "selling the church to the Americans."

         And take all the clamor over the "Suzdal story''! The dirt that was heaped on Fr. Valentine and his flock. They just about accused them of complicity with the CIA...

          You know, when Fr. Valentine's parish came under the omopborion of the FROC, when they established a cathedra there, I was present at that feast. Bishops Hilarion of Manhattan and New York, Mark of Germany, and our hierarch, Bishop Lazarus concelebrated. The church was filled with worshippers in a profound communion of prayer. The entire city had assembled there! And at this time, deliberately, a museum next door was turned into a church. Some unknown people were rounded up from the surrounding area, and they "put on" a service. A beautiful choir sang. The museum exhibits were moved to the side. And around walked "men in black hats". Then they all got on buses and were driven away. The consecrated altar table was discarded, and once again there is a museum there. So you have this kind of blasphemy...

         Why am I speaking about this? Because too many changes in the life of the Church today bear an ideological stamp...

        Q: But there are some very positive incidents in the new history of the Russian Orthodox Church in the USSR.. services in the [Kremlin's  Dormition cathedral, in St. Isaac's [St. Petersburg], the laying of the cornerstone for the Kazan cathedral on Red Square...


Engelhardt: I look upon these as I do the Sunday television broadcasts "about morality," where hierarchs twist their tongues in order not to mention the name of God. As far as the Dormition cathedral-few are aware that they didn't even bother to remove the toilet located directly behind the altar. How could they hold services there?!

      Conceived "at the top," these are certainly effective and altogether "safe" attractions. Their purpose, besides everything else, is to prevent any initiative coming from below, from God's people.

      Last March we established the National Society for those revering the memory of Tsar Nicholas II, a charitable organization whose main purpose is to erect a "Church on the Blood" in memory of the Royal Martyrs on the site of the Ipatiev House in Ekaterinburg. This was made public. And suddenly, quite recently, the newspapers and television proudly announce that the local party committee of Sverdlovsk has given this property--to the Patriarchate! For a chapel.

   In speaking about the return of churches, it's altogether incomprehensible why they must all belong exclusively to the Moscow Patriarchate. We maintain that our Church has a right to lay claim on those churches from whose cathedras bishops were sent to camps and to death because of their disagreement with the Declaration of 1927.

             Q: Sergei Volyevich, today you find yourself in quite a different situation than,

say, a year ago: the head of the parishes of the FROC on the territory of the USSR, Bishop Lazarus of Tambov and Morshansk, became a member of the Bishops' Synod, he was in Canada where he participated in drawing up the above-mentioned "Epistle" and corresponding jurisdictional acts... God grant that you attain to some sort of status here also, in Russia. But the "Appeal" of the [Moscow Patriarchate] emphasizes that the number of "rebellious clergy and laity", who have given notice of leaving the "soviet" jurisdiction for that "abroad', is very small... What has been your observation in this regard?

      Engelhardt: There is a tendency towards growth. And quite rapid. I think that if we weren't obstructed in registration and the return of churches, we could today open hundreds of parishes across Russia. People remember: Blessed are those persecuted for truth's sake. And inasmuch as we continue to be persecuted, just as under all the minions of the Bolshevik regime, this serves as evidence that God's truth is on our side.


    And there are other incidents which likewise demonstrate the MP's shameless and persistent attempts to obstruct the growth of the FROC.

      St. Petersburg: In April, 1990, the community of the FROC legally received the nearly devastated Kazan church in the Novodevichy cemetery. Under pressure of the MP, the civil authorities are trying to rescind the community's right lo this church. Services are held in the crypt, while the upper portion is still occupied by an institute. Under outside pressure, the institute cut off electricity to the crypt. Thanks to the intervention of television and deputy B. Kurkova, the electricity was turned back on. Then Metropolitan John of Leningrad categorically demanded that Kurkova have nothing to do in helping the community--i.e., let the elderly parishioners and children endure the cold and stand in the dark!

      The community is headed by Priest Sorgei Perekrestov, who was ordained last fall by Bishop Mark of Germany. Immediately thereafter, in the Leningrad diocese an ukase was read in all the MP churches, threatening with excommunication anyone who had contact with or took a blessing from him. In the Leningrad Theological Academy, Metropolitan John led a "discussion" with students and faculty, warning them "not to even think" about transferring into the FROC. In spite of the slander and continued efforts of the MP to seize the church, the community is growing Fr. Sergius visits hospitals and prisons. Together with members of the community, he visited a juvenile isolation center where they gave out about 700 religious brochures and books. On the feast of the Meeting of the Lord, Fr. Sergius secretly baptized 44 youths and 11 girls in this prison. ,

      Moscow region: In the summer of 1990 the Dormition parish in the village of Valishchevo was registered with the local soviet. For a whole year parishioners had appealed to Metropolitan Juvenaly for a priest--and were met with silence. They then turned to Bishop Lazarus, who appointed the popular Moscow priest, Fr. Alexey Averyanov, rector of the community. On December 9 Bishop Lazarus, assisted by Fr. Alexey and Priest Victor Usachev, served Divine Liturgy in the Dormition church. At the Hours, Priest Nikolai Pattln from Diveyevo related his spiritual journey. He described how at the Moscow Theological Seminary, the assistant inspector demanded that he inform on his fellow classmates. Fr. Nicholas was then received into the FROC. Shortly thereafter, the chapel outside the walls of St. Seraphim's convent, where Fr. Nicholas served, was seized by agents of the MP. Now Fr. Nicholas serves in his two-room house, where he lives with his matushka and three children.

      On February 15, the head of the regional committee announced that at the end of 1990 a decision had been made to turn over all churches in the region--which would include the Dormition church-to the Moscow Patriarchate. The deputy chairman of the Moscow regional executive committee, L. Novikova, stated that this decision was illegal and could only be explained by "the inexperience of local authorities." The situation is still unclear.

      In Golochetovo, Fr. Victor Usachev and his parish came into the jurisdiction of the FROC. On October 7, Bishop Gregory of Mozhaisk and Archpriest Alexander Ganiba of the Moscow Patriarchate pushed their way noisily into the church, kicked out Fr. Victor, and proceeded to serve a second liturgy on the same altar,

      Sebastopol: On October 4, after the entire parish of the St. Nicholas Church, headed by its rector, Priest George Kokhno, had announced that they had joined the FROC, their church was seized by priests of the Moscow Patriarchate. On the night of October 25, members of the community locked themselves into the church and announced a hunger strike in protest. Fr. George is now serving at home.

      Tomsk: a community of the FROC was denied registration. The chairman for religious affairs motivated the refusal by saying, "From abroad you'll be asked to engage in espionage activities."

      Suzdal: In October, Archirnandrite Valentine attended a meeting of the Bishops Council of the ROCA and gave a report about the situation in those parishes affiliated with the FROC. A decision was made to establish on the territory of Russia a diocesan administration and to appoint Fr. Valentin Exarch of the ROCA in Russia.

      On February 10, the day of the New Martyrs of Russia, at the church of St. Job the Much-Suffering in Brussels, Archimandrite Valentine was consecrated to the episcopacy in a service celebrated by Archbishops Anthony of Geneva and Mark of Germany, Bishop Barnabas of Cannes and Bishop Gregory. Returning to Russia, the new bishop was met at the airport in Moscow by reporters who asked about his immediate plans. His reply: "If you are a Christian, you should know that the most important thing in the life of a Christian is prayer. Not antagonism, not politics, not mutual calumny--this is not our aim. Rather, it is prayer. And then the Lord Himself will guide us and help us. Let people judge our Church not by arguments and quarrels but by our deeds. As for any plans----God knows what tomorrow will bring." Ye shall know them by their fruits.


     There are, of course, clergy within the Patriarchate who bear no such ill will towards the FROC. Priest Michael Ardov, for example, readily concedes that "those clergy who today are affiliating themselves with the Church Abroad are often among our best. They prefer a hierarchy which to a far lesser degree has been drawn into politics and hasn't compromised itself by trying to please a godless authority."

      For more than sixty years, ever since Metropolitan Sergius issued his Declaration in 1927, this deadly spirit of compromise wormed its way into the Moscow Patriarchate, until "sergianism", as it is called, has come to define the very identity of the MP. Metropolitan Vitaly, in his introduction to the Life of St. Basil of Kineshma, wrote that the greatest tragedy was that "the Declaration introduced into the Church an ungodly will," and that the only possible remedy was a heartfelt repentance. Indeed, a majority of clergy have cited the hopelessly corrupt nature of the MP as their reason for leaving.

      The experience of Abbot Evtihy is not atypical. This spring, at the invitation of Metropolitan Vitaly, Abbot Evtihy came to this country for a visit, While at Holy Trinity Monastery he gave an interview which forms the basis for the following account.


      Born in the western Siberian city of Ishim in 1955, he was a member of the komsomol and served a year in the army before obeying his grandfather's insistence that he enter seminary. Upon graduation in 1982 he was tonsured and ordained deacon; three months later he became a hieromonk and began serving in his native city. Well liked by his ruling hierarch, he was raised to the rank of abbot. To many, his situation was enviable,

      "But for all the glitter I saw an inner emptiness, falsehood and absence of spirituality....The severing of my relations with the Moscow Patriarchate came closer after my report to the Moscow Synod concerning the amoral conduct of the hierarch and the atmosphere of falsehood he had created. This of course, was an individual case, but the way in which the Synod responded very clearly showed the condition of the Moscow Patriarchate as a whole.....I became convinced that the Synod of the MP could not listen to the truth and act according to the truth; I could no longer trust it."

      He was transferred to Shablikino, a village some twenty miles from lshim. The church had been closed for fifty-two years and was in terrible condition. But the parishioners soon learned what kind of priest he was and became attached to him.

      "After some hesitation but taking full responsibility I decided to transfer, and with this aim I turned to Bishop Lazarus. After verbal and written repentance, he received me into eucharist communion on January 10, 1990...

       "When after the meeting with Bishop Lazarus, on the eve of Theophany, I returned home, then, in accordance with the rite of uniting, I explained the situation to my old ladies in the parish; I placed on the analogion an icon of the New Martyrs and said, 'If you venerate the icon, it means that you recognize the Church Abroad, and if you venerate the cross which I bring out, it means that you follow me. You now stand before a responsible decision: either I will leave here without hard feelings, and you will be sent another priest, or together with me you will come over to the jurisdiction of the Church Abroad.'

      "We have in the parish one 90 year-old woman, Babushka Pelagia, who enjoys considerable authority, and she said: 'They've deceived us enough; we're with you!'

      Every one of my parishioners came over, although none had the slightest idea about the Church Abroad. They came over because they trust me; they know me by my actions..."

      The village of Shablikino has a population of about 700-800. The number of parishioners who attend the services depends generally on the agricultural calendar and hovers around twenty. But at Nativity, Theophany, Pascha, the church is full. On the cliros we usually have two women, both ninety years old; one can't see well, the other can't hear well. I wrote out for them in huge letters the Cherubic Hymn and "A Mercy of Peace." It's all right; with God's help we manage.

      Our villagers saw that for some clergy the church had become simply a place of business. So when I arrived they asked me, 'And you, Batiushka, do you still believe in God?'

      After so many years of life outside the Church, people have to get used to it; at first it was strange to them to hear about fasting, about the rules of Christian life.

      The local populace has good relations with us, one can even call them friendly. But the believers in Ishim were forbidden to have contact with me or risk being denied Holy Communion. I feel sorry for them; it's a shame that they turned out to be so weak in faith; after all, they know my parents, and one can say that they've know me since I was in diapers; I served there for seven years, and still they believe all kinds of slander, that I am a "Roman Catholic", and a "Baptist."

      As soon as Archbishop Theodosius learned of my first attempts to make contact with the hierarchs of the Church Abroad, he informed the local authorities in Ishim, but this did little to change their attitude toward me; they didn't need the archbishop to tell them what I was up to. If everyone in Ishim is "in plain sight," it's all the more true of those living in a village where everyone knows one another. The local authorities know that I'm not doing anything immoral or illegal, and for this reason they don't participate in the smear campaign organized by the diocesan leadership. On the contrary, the village council, the director of the 'sovkhoz' and the regional authorities all actively support our community.

      "Unfortunately, the further away from the local authorities, the closer to the center, the worse the attitude...Who compromises the local authority? Local people; close or distant relatives of my parishioners, and no matter how you look at it, we all have to live on one earth. Everyone is tired of that stupid atheism, it's now out of fashion even among representatives of the Soviet regime..." 

Asked what concrete help could come from us here in the West, Fr. Evtihy replied:

      "You have already provided invaluable help - in preserving Orthodoxy.

      "If each member of the Church Abroad would preserve and fulfill God's commandments, he would be helping us in a very real way. Remember, good does not disappear; what you do for a Chinaman or for an African will reach us. If one of our brothers abroad, reading your publications and becoming acquainted with this interview, and for the sake of our village church undertakes even the smallest act of personal piety: visits his elderly mother, or turns off the television when adultery or other ungodliness is being shown, or says his evening prayers with warmth and attention, or refrains from buying some unnecessary thing which has already captivated his heart, then he should know that this good will reach us. We need help, and I beg you--for the sake of us sinners do a good deed, something which earlier you lacked sufficient determination to do. I beg this of each person who reads this!”