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Jubilee Epistle of the Council of Bishops to the Flock of the Russian Orthodox Church (Abridged)

 

During the jubilee year of 1988, the millenial anniversary of the Baptism of Rus', we, the bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church, having assembled in New York for the Council of Bishops, lift up our voice, addressing to all the children of our Church the words:

Christ is, and will be, in our midst!

     Today, the Church of Russia is, first of all, the vast sea of the believers of our homeland, who are harassed and persecuted for the sake of Christ and His truth--pastors who have withdrawn into the catacombs of their hearts, fathers and mothers who save their children from atheism and unbelief by their prayers, children-confessors-all mighty in their weakness, of whom today’s world is not worthy.

     We also, who love them, though we are beyond the boundaries of the homeland, are the Church of Russia, over which the glory of the Lord has shone throughout the thousand years of its existence.

    We believe that the hour is not far off when today's persecutors, like Julian the Apostate, will say to Christ: "Thou hast conquered us, O Galilean!" Then will the Church of Russia arise, cleansed by persecutions, washed in the blood of the Martyrs, as the Bride of Christ, all adorned in raiment inwoven with the inexpressible sufferings of its faithful children, who cry out with the Apostle:

This is the victory which vanquished the world--our Faith!

     Only then will the Church Abroad and the Council of Russian Bishops beyond the boundaries of the homeland bring to an end its independent existence. But while confessors of the Faith of Christ languish and die in prisons and camps, while the ecclesiastical administration of the Patriarchate of Moscow is stricken dumb and cannot speak the truth, we, the Russian bishops outside of Russia, feel an awesome responsibility lying upon us for the whol e Church.

     Alas, we are the only Russian bishops who, during this historic jubilee, have preserved the inner freedom of the Church as a divine gift of the Holy Spirit, without which the Church is inconceivable; governing the free portion of it, that which is abroad, we are dependent upon no one and no one can force us to act against our pastoral conscience .... We are the only Russian bishops whose voice can and must be the free voice of the much suffering Mother Church .... We are the only Russian bishops who are preserving the canonical purity of ordination from the great and saintly hierarchs of Russia .... We are the only Russian bishops who speak the truth about the state of believers in the homeland ....

We are the only Russian bishops who have preserved the canonical structure of ecclesiastical government on the basis of the decree of His Holiness Patriarch Tikhon (November 20, 1920) .... We are the only Russian bishops who have dared to glorify the New Martyrs and Confessors of our Church...

     Speaking thus of ourselves, we have no intention of boasting, since such would be foolish. It is not by our own intelligence and struggle that we have attained the freedom of speech and activity in our pastoral ministry; such is the will of God for us, that we may preserve abroad that which it is impossible to preserve in our native land. We can only boast in our own weakness.

      The freedom of the Church is inconceivable in a land where atheism is the state religion, where all the means of conveying information belong solely to the atheists, where the representatives of the Patriarchate of Moscow remain the disenfranchised slaves of their slave-masters.

     "The epistle of the Patriarch of Moscow and his synod, on the occasion of the 70th anniversary of the October Revolution, which depicted the history of the relations between Church and state as an ideal harmony," write priests and believers in the homeland, "has elicited a feeling of astonishment and bitterness among many. That epistle reeks of the spirit of political anachronism.".,.

     And further, they say: "We greatly fear that even now the Church's leadership is not utilizing these historic opportunities for the betterment of the state of the Church, but will conduct their celebration of the great Jubilee of the millennial anniversary of the Baptism of Rus' formally, with pompous measures, squandering the opportunity to mark this great date with the beginning of a genuine ecclesiastical renaissance" (appeal to Patriarch Pimen, dated November 1987).

    It is not we who are saying this from our vantage point abroad; rather, it is being said by the priests and faithful in the homeland, who are in those very conditions of lack of freedom and oppression as the leaders of the Patriarchate of Moscow. We must and shall pray for them as we prepare to greet the great jubilee. More has been given to us; and more shall be asked of us. (Luke 11:48)

     We are all children of the Church of Russia; we are flesh of the flesh of the holy martyrs. We must be worthy of them. Let us withdraw from the temptations of open and secret evil which wars against us; let us fear to sell the birthright of the children of the Church and the freedom which is in Christ for a mess of pottage, for transitory pleasures and the comforts of life and sinful personal delights. Let us abstain from anger, judgment, disputes and divisions, that, in the words of the apostle, we may be "one in spirit and in thought" (II Cor. 1:I0).

    We, the pastors at the Council of Bishops in this jubilee year, are praying for this, understanding all our responsibility for the Church, We are praying for our full unity of mind, in which lies the power and righteousness of the Church and a firm foundation in the truth of Christ.

     May we pastors also be worthy of our high ministry, which has been entrusted to us by the providence of God, and, teaching others, let us not be lame in both legs. We pray that you also, the children of the Church of Russia, conquer by faith and prayer the temptations of this world, amid tribulations and persecutions accepted in the name of Christ, and await the triumph of His righteousness on earth and reward in the heavens. 

Metropolitan Vitaly and all Bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia

July, 1988


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