try to explain to whoever will listen that the Orthodoxy here is not the real
thing, that the Church is not at fault – but rather our church politics which
is deformed, like our whole society…
-- letter from an Orthodox believer in Russia
After five years, hopes that glasnost and perestroika would revitalize the Moscow Patriarchate apparatus have withered. Far from pressing the limits of the State’s claim to religious freedom, Moscow Patriarchate hierarchs have been content with white-washing and window-dressing – building new churches, giving televised sermons, making publicized visits to prisons. All this is not to be scorned, but it does not solve the essential problem of a rotten foundation, a foundation permeated by a noxious subservience to the State, introduced by Metropolitan Sergius’ Declaration of 1927.
While most believers endure this lamentable situation with a long-suffering characteristic of Russians, many clergy -- who are more directly affected by State control – are anxious to seize the opportunity offered under glasnost and perestroika to transfer their allegiance onto a solid foundation. By its nature, the Catacomb or “True Orthodox Church”, is incapable of offering the necessary leadership; were it to emerge into the open, it, too, would be pressured with state interference. To invite another jurisdiction to establish itself in the Soviet Union in order to provide clergy and believers a healthy alternative to the Moscow Patriarchate would necessarily cause some painful divisions, as the Orthodox experience here in the West can bitterly attest. Nevertheless, present exigencies require that some action be taken – soon. Already, more than 350 priests in the Ukraine have joined the Uniate Church (to be discussed in our next issue), while other people, likewise repelled by the compromised state of the Moscow Patriarchate, are being attracted to various Protestant sects (American televangelists are reportedly waiting in the wings), non-Christian cults, Eastern religions, parapsychology and even the occult – all of which threaten to proliferate if a true Orthodox witness is not manifest soon.
This winter a Moscow priest, Fr. Alexey Averyanov, wrote an open letter calling the Church Abroad to establish parishes in the Soviet Union, and initiating the collection of signatures in support of such a move:
“…No matter to what extent the Church is persecuted by the State, it can with full confidence peacefully await the time when the State, in its own interests, will unite with the Church and take advantage of that moral power which, in the absolute sense, only the Church possesses. The new politic of the Soviet Union today would suggest that the time has come for the utilization of the Church’s moral strength.
“On this path of equal dialogue and cooperation, however, the 1927 Declaration of Metr. Sergius has erected a wall for the Church community, even more ignominious and destructive than the Berlin Wall for the Germans. On one side of the wall we find the Moscow Patriarchate, politicized to the extreme, ready at the first signal to express its loyalty but essentially inactive. On the other side – millions of churchgoers with a small group of faithful clergy, striving to throw over the wall of silence their petitions. In vain!
“The time has come to say the truth about Metr. Sergius’ Declaration. The time has come to say the truth about the activity of the Orthodox Church Abroad, to attest to its faithfulness to the Motherland and to the Orthodox people, thanks to which there has been preserved true knowledge of the history of Russian piety and rule.
“The time has come to open
parishes of the Church Abroad in Moscow, Leningrad, and other cities…”
(Translated from Pravoslavnaya Rus’,
In preparing for such an eventuality, the Synod of the Church Abroad, in the early ‘80’s, secretly consecrated a bishop who was to have charge over those priests and laity in the Soviet Union who wished to join the Church Abroad. This became public when the bishop, Lazarus, came for a visit to this country early this year. Already six priests of the Diocese of Omsk have announced they were withdrawing from the Patriarchate and joining the Church Abroad; priests in the Suzdal area have expressed their intent to follow suit.
That the Moscow Patriarchate should protest such an “encroachment” is to be expected, although the fact that the Patriarchate has parishes in this country will surely void any arguments against the proposed move by the Church Abroad. As for the Soviet government, legally it does not recognize ecclesiastical jurisdiction, and therefore, while it will be uncomfortable with such an arrangement, it is hard to predict how it will act without violating its own laws.[OA/_private/oabot.htm]