This most recent epistle of the Synod of Bishops of the ROCOR should be greeted with joy by all those who sincerely pray for "the good estate of the holy churches of God and the union of all." Unfortunately, it has also been met with some objections from those who read in it a sign that the ROCOR has suddenly changed course. A more sober reading, however, would reveal that the Epistle's intent is simply to acknowledge positive developments within the Moscow Patriarchate: the recent glorification of the Royal Family and other New Martyrs; its strong statements concerning abortion, homosexuality, euthanasia, drug addiction and other social issues; and its affirmation that the Church cannot and will not submit to any godless and unethical decrees of the government (effectively annulling the principle of Sergianism). At the same time the MP's continuing participation in the ecumenical movement and its attempts to seize church property of the ROCOR are duly noted and remain major stumbling blocks in ROCOR/MP relations.
In support of their objections, critics have been circulating on the Internet writings of various bishops, clergy and other members of the ROCOR, writings that stand in contradiction to the present Epistle. However, these are expressions of personal opinion (to which everyone is entitled), and they were written when the changes that have recently taken place in Russia were quite unforeseeable, while this Epistle is a conciliar statement reflecting the present state of church life in Russia, and it bears the signatures of all the bishops (including four from Russia and Ukraine), none of whom would sign against his conscience. It is the fruit of careful and considerable deliberation and of much prayer, and it should inspire our confidence.
We should continue to submit ourselves to those who have the rule over us (Heb. 13:17), and pray for our hierarchs that they continue to guide us, "rightly dividing the word of Truth." - Editor's note
Overshadowed by the presence of the miraculous Kursk-Root Icon of the Mother of God, the Council of Bishops of the Russian Ortho-dox Church Outside of Russia, assembled at the Synod Building in New York, addresses itself to its faithful flock, scattered throughout the whole world and in our homeland, the much-suffering Russian land, wherein we perceive the beginnings of a genuine spiritual awakening.
We have never taken for granted that the return of the people of Russia to our common spiritual Orthodox roots would be simple and like a triumphal procession.
For this reason, with benevolent sympathy, we welcome the turn to prayer of the whole Russian people to all the holy New-martyrs of Russia, and especially the martyred Imperial Family, which has henceforth become possible thanks to the recognition of their sanctity by the Council of Bishops of the Moscow Patriarchate. And we are likewise given hope by the adoption of a new social concept by that Council, which in essence cancels out the 1927 "Declaration" of Metropolitan Sergius by acknowledging the supremacy of the commandments of God over those demands of temporal powers which might lead to the violation of religious and moral principles. We venerate the martyric struggle of the many Russian soldiers who, when they were captured by infidels during recent wars, refused to renounce the Orthodox Faith and convert to another religion, for which they endured torture and death. Such confession has shown that the Russian people have preserved faith in Christ within their hearts to an unexpected degree, despite eight decades of the erosion of the Faith by the godless regime. However, our Council has noted the absence of any understanding by the Moscow Patriarchate of the position of the Russian Church Abroad, which has carefully been preserving the heritage of the Russian Orthodox Church. Especially lamentable are the aggressive actions of the Patriarchate in the forced confiscation of churches and monasteries from the Church Abroad, the preservation, and at times the salvation, of which has cost the Russian emigration great effort and represented a real struggle of sacrificial service to those Russian holy places which are beyond the borders of Russia. To these grievous circumstances must be added the fact that at its Council, the Moscow Patriarchate in fact confirmed its dedication to broad participation in ecumenism, and took no steps to protect its own younger generations from that pan-heresy.
Nor did we see the Council of the Moscow Patriarchate offer an honest assessment of the anti-ecclesial actions of Metropolitan Sergius (Strago- rodsky), his Synod and their successors, even though the present Council came close to historical truth in its Act of the Glorification of the New-martyrs, and, both in the aforementioned Act and in its new social concept, obliquely acknowledged as praiseworthy the path of the confessors who refused to accept the path of Metropolitan Sergius. Guided by the spirit of the Gospel, we acknowledge, with due understanding, how difficult it is to free oneself from the consequences of the Church's enslavement by the Soviet governmental structure with its atheistic ideology. This understanding moves us to deal sympathetically and kindly with the faithful of the formerly enslaved Church, and to welcome substantive steps toward the healing of Church life in Russia.
On the other hand, the relationship of these measures to the fundamental points which we have enunciated for many years in our care for the purity of the Church persuade us to remain faithful to the course of the Church Abroad. Even now we must fulfill our historic mission of standing for the Truth, until all who have been redeemed by the blood of our Lord Jesus Christ are convinced of it.
The Council of Bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia addresses to its flock a new, urgent call to be loyal to the end. Your archpastors must be able to have confidence in your love and your trust in the Russian Orthodoxy of the Holy Fathers which is being preserved by our Church, a loyalty which all the members of the Council of Bishops, without exception, confess again and again in unanimity.
The eighty-year history of our exiled Church has borne clear witness before the world that we have not turned ourselves into an exclusive, self-enamored society, but remain a Church possessed of the fullness of soul-saving grace. Those who depart from us have not been able to undermine the authority of our Church, since its glory has not derived and does not derive from earthly power or any sizable membership, but from immutable adherence to the Truth, to the righteousness of God.
We hold it our duty to remind our flock of the paramount importance of each member of the Church preserving the personal piety which is the principal token of our salvation within the Church.
Frequently among us the critical stand taken against social vices, against the retreat of today's world from the divine and moral laws, begets an inattentive attitude toward one's personal spiritual peace, and as a result the level of personal piety falls. So it happens that, while criticizing apostasy, we ourselves become participants in the universal abandonment of piety.
Conversely, feats of personal piety: prayer, fasting, abstinence, repentance, brotherly love, patience, humility and meekness, have been, and remain, the principal weapon against the destruction of the whole world and the salvific means not only of one's personal salvation, but of that of the universal establishment of the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church. Yet we will proclaim to the whole world our stand for the Truth in vain if the members of our Church prefer not the personal life of virtue but of suspicion towards others, arguments, the formation of groups for the condemnation of others, and various actions which shatter the life of parish and diocese. This ruination, which draws into everlasting destruction each who participates in it, inevitably besmirches the face of our whole Church and weakens its witness.
With gratitude toward God that we belong to the true Church
which is founded on the Rock of Faith, our Lord Jesus Christ, we urge you to
remain its faithful members and to strengthen its saving work by feats of
personal piety, mutual love and the patient bearing of one another's burdens
(Gal. 6: 2). Be mindful of the words of Christ: By this shall all men know that
ye are My disciples, if ye have love one to another (Jn. 13: 35).
+Metropolitan Vitaly, President of the Council
of the Council: