Orthodox America

"Decision" of the Synod of Bishops  

Editor's Note: The following "Decision'' of the Bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad is in response to protests concerning an article sent by Metropolitan Philaret and printed in "The Orthodox Word" (P96, 1981) about a Russian priest-monk, Archimandrite Tavrion (+1978), who left the Catacomb Church of Russia for the official state-controlled Church in order to give spiritual direction to many who otherwise might have been without help, while at the same time in no way condoning the betrayal of the Church by the Moscow Patriarchate. A few readers of that article, acting under the false assumption that the Church Abroad regards the Moscow Patriarchate as totally fallen away from Orthodoxy and as "without grace", mistakenly presumed that it represented a change in the attitude of our bishops towards the Moscow Patriarchate, and protested this in articles , letters, sermons, and petitions. 

The “Decision" printed below in full, represents  an important clarification and restatement of  the traditional position of the Russian Church Outside Russia. Footnotes have been added to assist the reader in understanding the historical background of the subject. The first four paragraphs of the ''Decision' are the report to the Synod by the presiding bishop, Metropolitan Philaret, while the remaining section is the "Resolution" of the Synod on this matter. The ''Decision" is being printed here. at the request of our Archbishop Anthony of Western America and San Francisco.

On 12/25 August, 1981, the Synod of Bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia heard the report of the President of the Synod of Bishops on the following matter: the appearance of an article about Archimandrite Tavrion published in issue number 96 of The Orthodox Word has caused great consternation among some readers , especially those who are not very familiar with the conditions of church life in the USSR. In my covering letter to the editor of the magazine (which was not intended to be published with the article), they saw what they believed to be a kind of approval of the dual position taken by the late archimandrite rather than the simple forwarding of some interesting, informative material. Archimandrite Tavrion , after long years of imprisonment as a member of the Catacomb Church, somehow came to join the Moscow Patriarchate while never sharing its policies . None of us has ever had any relations with him. We only know that he advised those of his spiritual children leaving the USSR and going West to join the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia, It is also known that when talking to his spiritual children, he condemned the political subservience of the Patriarchate to the atheistic authorities. His pastoral and spiritual methods were rather unusual.  In the favorable description of his life written by his spiritual daughter, some readers found not only the fact that he brought people into the Church, but they also suspected us of approving his compromising attitude toward the Church, This is not true,

The condemnation by our hierarchy of the agreement with the atheists promulgated by the Moscow Patriarchate at the time of Metropolitan Sergius certainly remains in effect and cannot be changed except by the repentance of the Moscow Patriarchate.[1]   This policy, which seeks to serve both Christ and Belial, is unquestionably a betrayal of Orthodoxy..  Therefore, we can have no liturgical communion with any bishop or cleric of the Moscow Patriarchate. But this does not prevent us from studying with love and sorrow the religious life in Russia.  In some cases we see a complete collapse while in others we see some efforts to remain outside the apostate policies of the Patriarchate's leaders in an attempt to attain salvation even in the territory of Antichrist's kingdom (as in the case mentioned in Canon I I of St. Athanasius), and bearing in mind the words of our Saviour that by a hasty judgement one might root up the wheat along with the tares (Mt. 13:29)) [2].  Under varying circumstances, the venom of sinful compromise poisons the soul in varying degrees.

As the free part of the Russian Church, we can fully approve only that part of the  Church in Russia which is called the Catacomb Church, and only with her can we have full communion.[3] Yet any departure from atheism and "Sergianism" must be seen as a positive. step towards pure Orthodoxy even though it not yet be the opening of the way to ecclesiastical union with us.  Beyond this, our present evaluation and judgement cannot proceed, due to lack of information.   How- ever, our interest in all aspects of religious life in Russia cannot ignore any positive event we see against the background of total apostasy. We should not focus our attention exclusively on those facts which merit unconditional condemnation.

In light of this, the life and activity of the late Archimandrite Tavrion was an interesting phenomenon. And for this reason, I found his biography worthy of attention and publication certainly disapproving his membership in the Sergian church organization. This was apparently misunderstood by some readers: I was not offering his example as worthy of imitation.

Resolved: To take into consideration the report of the President of the Synod of Bishops and, sharing his opinion, to publish his account in the religious press. At the same time, the Synod of Bishops deems it necessary to remind its flock that first of all, we must strongly uphold our own faith and exercise our zeal in the authentic fire of the Church under the conditions in which God has placed each one of us, striving towards the salvation of our souls. Due to insufficient information, deliberations about the significance and quality of various events in Russia do not at present provide adequate guidance for the faithful. Indeed, in the majority of cases these deliberations cannot serve as instruction but must rather be regarded as personal opinions.

The Synod of Bishops is grieved by the reaction to the article about Archimandrite Tavrion and the hasty conclusions which some zealous believers, and even some clergymen, have drawn. Mutual love and concern for Church unity, which is especially necessary in times of heresy and schism, require from each of us great caution in what we say. If no one is supposed to condemn his neighbor in haste, even more care is demanded where our own primate is concerned. Rash implications about his allegedly unorthodox preaching as well as open criticism in sermons reveal a tendency towards condemnation and division which is unseemly in Christians. The Apostle said, “Who art thou that judgest another man’s servant?” How much more appropriate might it be to say, “Who art thou that judgest thy metropolitan?” Such an attitude, which can easily develop into schism, is strongly censured by the canons of the Church, for it shows willful appropriation by clerics of the “judgement belonging to metropolitans” (Canon XIII of the First-and-Second Council).[4] Everyone must be very careful in his criticism, particularly when expressing it publicly, remembering that “Judgement and justice take hold on thee” (Job 36:17). If, contrary to the apostolic teaching about heirarchical distribution of duties and responsibilities, all the clerics and laymen were to supervise their hierarchs (I Cor. 12:28-30), then instead of being a hierarchical Body of Christ, our Church would turn into a kind of democratic anarchy where the sheep assume the function of the shepherd. A special grace is bestowed upon bishops to help them in their work. Those who seek to control their bishop should be reminded of Canon LXIV of the Sixth Ecumenical Council which quotes the words of St. Gregory the Theologian:

Learning in docility and abounding in cheerfulness, and ministering with alacrity, we shall not all be the tongue which S the more active member, not all of us apostles, not all prophets, nor shall we all interpret and again:
Why dost thou make thyself a shepherd  when thou art a sheep? Why become a head
 when thou art a foot? Why dost thou try to be a commander when thou art enrolled in the number of the soldiers?

The canon ends with the following words: “But if anyone be found weakening the present canon, he is to be cut off for 40 days."

The situation of the Church in Russia is  without precedent, and no norms can be pre- scribed by any one of us separately.   If the position of the Catacomb Church would change relative to its position in past years, any change in our attitude would have td be re- viewed not by individual clergymen or laymen but only by the Council of Bishops, to which all pertinent matters should be submitted.

The above decision must be published and  a copy of it forwarded to the Secretariat of  the Council while the diocesan bishops should  give instructions, each in his own diocese, to the clerics who have too hastily voiced their opinion.

1. In 1926 Metropolitan Sergius of Nizhni- Nevgorod became the guardian of the Patriarchal throne in Moscow (the Soviets at that time not allowing the election of a successor to Blessed Patriarch Tikhon, who reposed in 1925). The following year, after a 3+ month imprisonment, Sergius issued the infamous "Declaration" of Compromise with the Soviet state, which amounted to a complete submission.  He also demanded from all Russian clergy in exile ''a written promise of their complete loyalty to the Soviet government” under the penalty of expulsion from the ranks of   the clergy. Such an action was clearly anti- canonical and without force, and is called today the policy of "Sergianfsm." The Majority of bishops and clergy outside Russia refused to accept this demand and continued to follow the directions given by Patriarch Tikhon for just such an exigency. According to Ukase #362, issued in November, 1920, the last freely-elected Patriarch of Moscow ordered that Russian Orthodox Christians in exile must form their own independent Church government in the event that contact with the Patriarch was broken or the Patriarchate "cease its activity."  Since this happened almost immediately, the Russian bishops in freedom quickly formed an exile Church government, the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad, which still exists today and speaks out freely and boldly on behalf of those who cannot in the USSR.

Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves: for they watch for your souls.       (Heb. 13:17)

2. St. Athanasius the Great was a Holy Father of the 4th century. He attended the First Ecumenical Council and was a valiant champion against the Arians. His three Canonical Epistles were confirmed by the Fourth, Sixth, and Seventh Councils of the Church. The second of these Epistles refers to those clergy who, out of weakness, submitted to pressure and even force from the Arian civil government of the time and joined the Arian heresy, excusing their action on the grounds that they did not want to see the laity given over completely to spiritual destruction under Arianism. Later, many returned to Orthodoxy in repentance; the question naturally arose as to how they should be treated. St. Athanasius said that while their submission to error could not be condoned or imitated, if they had joined the Arians involuntarily they should be pardoned and permitted to continue to serve as priests.

3. Because the Moscow Patriarchate has violated numerous canons by her official submission to an atheist state, the Russian Church Abroad has no communion with her in order to be a witness to the rest of Orthodoxy and the world, drawing attention to the fact that the Russian Mother Church lies in bonds and fetters, utterly unable to function freely. This, however, does not mean that the Church Abroad believes the Moscow Patriarchate to be without grace, as some have mistakenly deduced; she leaves a final judgement on the whole Russian Church situation to a future free Russian Church Council, such as can only be convoked after the fall of communism. In 1945, Metropolitan Anastassy wrote to the Russian people in exile:

“Those who are in submission to the jurisdiction of the Council of Bishops and Synod Abroad never regarded nor do they reqard  themselves as being outside the fold of the Russian Orthodox Church, for they have never broken canonical, prayerful, and spiritual unity with the Mother Church.., We never cease to thank God that He destined us to remain us the free part of the Russian Church. It is our duty to guard this freedom until such time when we shall return to the Mother Church that precious pledge entrusted to us by her."

In this same spirit, 30 years later the bishops of the whole Russian Church Abroad in their Council addressed an Epistle "To the Russian People in the Homeland":

Although we, in accordance with the testament of the ever-memorable, Most Blessed Metropolitan Anastassy, have no communion with the Soviet Patriarchate, we have never broken off with the Russian Church, our Mother Church. Therefore, the needs of the Russian Church are our needs, and the needs of our brethren who live under the heavy yoke of the God-hating regime are our needs.

4.  The First-and-Second Council was called at Constantinople in 861 and attended by 318 Church Fathers. Canon XIII deals with the good order of the Church and says in part:

"If any priest or deacon, on the alleged ground that his own bishop has been condemned for certain crimes, before a conciliar or synodal hearing and investigation has been made, should dare to secede from his communion and fail to mention his name in the sacred prayers. ..he shall be subject to prompt deposition from office., . For any (priest) who forestalls the Metropolitan's judgement (and) condemns his own father and Bishop is not even worthy of the honor or name of Priest."