Status Quo, ROCOR?


            Of late we have seen a number of open letters questioning the current direction of our Bishops.  Most recently, an open letter with the title “Quo Vadis, ROCOR?” has been circulating on the Internet.  In this reply, I will address the two central objections expressed in that letter to the current dialogue with the Moscow Patriarchate:


1) Are things moving too quickly:


“…the current steps being taken to resolve the question concerning the mutual relationship of the two parts of the Russian Church… are being undertaken with undue speed and without proper preparation.”


            First of all, to assess whether indeed things have moved too quickly we need to consider how far things have actually progressed.  We have had face-to-face meetings with the senior bishops of the Moscow Patriarchate, a visit from the Metropolitan to Russia is in the works; presumably, our bishops have discussed what would need to happen for reconciliation to take place, and what such a reconciliation would result in.  They plan to present this to the assembled clergy at the conference in Nyack.  Now, is that too much too soon?  Let’s consider briefly what has transpired prior to this year:


1) Communism collapsed in August of 1991.


2) The Moscow Patriarchate condemned the Branch Theory, and any cooperation with the state that entailed compromise of the faith or mission of the Church, or which resulted in harm to the Church in August of 2000.


The Statutes of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia state in the very first paragraph:


“The Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia is an indissoluble part of the Russian Orthodox Church, and for the time until the extermination in Russia of the atheist government, is self-governing on conciliar principles in accordance with the resolution of the Patriarch, the Most Holy Synod, and the Highest Church Council [Sobor] of the Russian Church dated 7/20 November, 1920, No. 362.”


            More than twelve years have passed since the Atheistic government in Russia collapsed.  Prior to the August 2000 Sobor, one might have justified not talking to the Moscow Patriarchate because they had not glorified the New Martyrs, had not condemned Ecumenism, and had not condemned Sergianism.  However, they did glorify the New Martyrs – including saints such as St. Cyril of Kazan, who had separated from Metropolitan Sergius.  They condemned Ecumenism. They condemned Sergianism, as we define it.


            Metropolitan Anastassy framed this issue in much the same way:


“As regards the Moscow Patriarchate and its hierarchs, then, so long as they continue in close, active and benevolent cooperation with the Soviet Government, which openly professes its complete godlessness and strives to implant atheism in the entire Russian nation, then the Church Abroad, maintaining Her purity, must not have any canonical, liturgical or even simply external communion with them whatsoever, leaving each one of them at the same time to the final judgment of the Council (Sobor) of the future free Russian Church.”


Is the Moscow Patriarchate today in “close, active and benevolent cooperation with the Soviet Government?” Does

the government of Russia today by any stretch of the imagination “openly professes its complete godlessness”?  Is the Russian government striving “to implant atheism in the entire Russian nation”?  Obviously, no.


            In objection to the points I have made about the current state of the Moscow Patriarchate, one will generally hear arguments that the Moscow Patriarchate has not done enough yet.  But more precisely, at this point, the question should be whether or not they have done enough for us to seriously talk with them.  I would argue that they have.


            Did the Moscow Patriarchate glorify all the New Martyrs that we have? No, but they have a commission that has been working on the issue, and they have been steadily adding to their list.  And while it is true that they have not yet glorified St. Joseph of Petrograd, there is no reason to believe that they will not do so… at least not until we discuss it with them, and hear what they have to say.   They have glorified St. Cyril of Kazan, and so it cannot be argued that they have refused to glorify martyrs who had separated themselves from Metropolitan Sergius.


            Did the Moscow Patriarchate answer every question we might wish to ask on the subject of Ecumenism, and what the practical ramifications of their statements on that subject will be?  No – but again, these are the things we should be talking to them about, in order to clarify these issues.


            Did the Moscow Patriarchate specifically condemn Metropolitan Sergius?  No – but the question is, in light of what they said about the proper relationship between the Church and the state, do they agree that Metropolitan Sergius and others did things that were contradictory to these principles.  I am sure that this is a question that our bishops will get answers to, and we should not expect that they would necessarily have all these answers before they have had opportunity to talk face to face with the bishops of the Moscow Patriarchate.


2) Have our Bishops violated established Church order in this matter?



No decisions of the Church can be made outside the framework of an established orderly procedure…   It would be completely naïve from the standpoint of the church administration to assume that any decisions at such a “gathering” without the participation and consent of the flock could open wide the doors for the top clergy of the Church to begin activity toward unification, or even the establishment of conditional ties, with the MP. 


            The argument that lay participation at either the upcoming Pastoral Conference, or the Sobor, is necessary for any decision our bishops might make to have validity is fallacious on several grounds:


            First off, the Statutes of the ROCOR make no mention of lay participation being a requirement for the Synod of Bishops to make decisions regarding our relationship with the Moscow Patriarchate:


            The Statutes state:


“The administration of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia is carried out by a Sobor of Bishops through the First Hierarch and Synod, and through diocesan bishops.”


“The Sobor of Bishops is to be convoked annually, if possible, in accordance with Church canons, and it is the highest law-making administrative, judicial and controlling body in the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia…. The following matters come within the authority of the Sobor of Bishops.”


“The following matters come within the authority of the Sobor of Bishops…. Consideration of reports of the Synod of Bishops, its President, diocesan and vicar bishops and others and of institutions, concerning various aspects of church administration and life, and also other assorted questions concerning relations with governments and church authorities or representatives of other Orthodox Churches and heterodox faiths…. The supplementing and alteration of the Regulations of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia.”


The Statutes do speak of the possibility of lay participation in the following paragraph:


In case of special need, the First Hierarch together with the Synod of Bishops may call an extraordinary Church Sobor, composed of bishops, representatives of the clergy, and laity. The resolutions of these Sobors have the force of law and go into effect only on confirmation by the Sobor of Bishops under the presidency of the First Hierarch of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia which should meet at the same time or immediately after the end of the extraordinary Church Sobor [emphasis added].”



            But what is interesting to ponder is that of the various groups that are rooted in the pre-revolutionary Russian Church, there is only one that has consistently had lay participation in its Councils… and that would be the OCA.  And yet those who are opposed to talking to the Moscow Patriarchate usually introduce the OCA into the discussion as a boogey man that we should shudder at the thought of being in communion with.  Now, whether the image conjured by them is accurate is another question (those I know in the OCA here in Texas certainly do not fit that description), but given that this is generally the stated opinion of those opposed to reconciliation with the MP, perhaps they should question whether lay participation is such a good idea after all.


            It should also be noted that none of the Ecumenical Councils included lay delegations, and so obviously direct lay participation at a council is not required for the decisions of that council to have authority. 


            And after all, the real question here is not really lay participation.  There were no cries for lay participation when the anathema against Ecumenism was written.  There were no cries for lay participation prior to our establishing parishes in Russia.  And so if direct consultation with the laity was not needed when these serious matters were decided, why should this issue be raised now?  Only because the bishops have done nothing that can legitimately be condemned as contrary to Church order.





            Until we have specific documents and proposals to discuss with regard to the final shape of any reconciliation with the Moscow Patriarchate, all talk of being too hasty or selling out the store is premature at best.   Our bishops deserve our support and our trust, until and unless they should do something that warrants condemnation.  Such a time has not come, and so open letters questioning the intent and motives of our bishops should either be kept to oneself or expressed respectfully in private communications with ones bishop.  The canons say that we can only separate from our bishops if they preach heresy, “bareheaded” and publicly.  We certainly have no justification for attacking our bishops on the basis of what we think they might do, or on the basis of what we think might be motivating them.


            In any case, sooner or later, we have to come to grips with the fact that things have fundamentally changed, and the ROCOR cannot justly continue to function on the basis of Ukaz 362 indefinitely.  Our Statutes are quite specific as to when the time for action is, and that time has been here for quite awhile now.  If we attempt in vain to maintain the “status quo”, the day will come when the question will be no longer which way is ROCOR headed, but rather why a Church that began with such a noble purpose, ended in splintering and finally disintegrated entirely.



            Appendix: Links and quotes from the Decisions of the Moscow Patriarchate’s August 2000 Sobor:



·        The Social Concept Document


Which States with regard to the relationship between Church and State:


"The Church infallibly preaches the Truth of Christ and teaches moral commandments which came from God Himself. Therefore, she has no power to change anything in her teaching. Nor has she the power to fall silent and to stop preaching the truth whatever other teachings may be prescribed or propagated by state bodies. In this respect, the Church is absolutely free from the state. For the sake of the unhindered and internally free preaching of the truth, the Church suffered persecution by the enemies of Christ not once on history. But the persecuted Church is also called to endure the persecution with patience, without refusing to be loyal to the state persecuting her.


Legal sovereignty in the territory of a state belongs to its authorities. Therefore, it is they who determine the legal status of a Local Church or her part, either giving her an opportunity for the unhampered fulfilment of church mission or restricting this opportunity. Thus, state power makes judgement on itself and eventually foretells its fate. The Church

remains loyal to the state, but God's commandment to fulfil the task of salvation in any situation and under any circumstances is above this loyalty.


If the authority forces Orthodox believers to apostatise from Christ and His Church and to commit sinful and spiritually harmful actions, the Church should refuse to obey the state. The Christian, following the will of his conscience, can refuse to fulfil the commands of state forcing him into a grave sin. If the Church and her holy authorities find it impossible to obey state laws and orders, after a due consideration of the problem, they may take the following action: enter into direct dialogue with authority on the problem, call upon the people to use the democratic mechanisms to change the legislation or review the authority's decision, apply to international bodies and the world public opinion and

appeal to her faithful for peaceful civil disobedience....


At the same time, there are areas in which the clergy and canonical church structures cannot support the state or cooperate with it. They are as follows:


a) political struggle, election agitation, campaigns in support of particular political parties and public and political leaders;


b)waging civil war or aggressive external war;


c)direct participation in intelligence and any other activity that demands secrecy by law even in making one's confession or reporting to the church authorities....


However, in the cases where the human law completely rejects the absolute divine norm, replacing it by an opposite one, it ceases to be law and becomes lawlessness, in whatever legal garments it may dress itself. For instance, the Decalogue clearly states «Honour thy father and thy mother» (Ex. 20:12). Any secular norm that contradicts this commandment indicts not its offender but the legislator himself. In other words, the human law has never contained the divine law in its fullness, but in order to remain law it is obliged to conform to the God-established principles, rather then to erode them....


In everything that concerns the exclusively earthly order of things, the Orthodox Christian is obliged to obey the law, regardless of how far it is imperfect and unfortunate. However, when compliance with legal requirements threatens his eternal salvation and involves an apostasy or commitment of another doubtless sin before God and his neighbour, the

Christian is called to perform the feat of confession for the sake of God's truth and the salvation of his soul for eternal life. He must speak out lawfully against an indisputable violation committed by society or state against the statutes and commandments of God.  If this lawful action is impossible or ineffective, he must take up the position of civil disobedience (see, III. 5)."


·        The Attitude of the Russian Orthodox Church Toward Other Christian Confessions


Which states in part:


“…The so-called "branch theory", which is connected with the conception referred to above and asserts the normal and even providential nature of Christianity existing in the form of particular "branches", is also totally unacceptable. Orthodoxy cannot accept that Christian divisions are caused by the inevitable imperfections of Christian history and that they exist only on the historical surface and can be healed or overcome by compromises between denominations. The Orthodox Church cannot recognize "the equality of the denominations". Those who have fallen away from the Church cannot re-unite with her in their present state. The existing dogmatic differences should be overcome, not simply bypassed, and this means that the way to unity lies through repentance, conversion and renewal.  Also unacceptable is the idea that all the divisions are essentially tragic misunderstandings, that disagreements seem irreconcilable only because of a lack of mutual love and a reluctance to realize that, in spite of all the differences and dissimilarities, there is sufficient unity and harmony in "what is most important". Our divisions cannot be reduced to human passions, to egoism, much less to cultural, social and political circumstances which are secondary from the Church's point of view. Also unacceptable is the argument that the Orthodox Church differs from other Christian communities with which she does not have communion only in secondary matters. The divisions and differences cannot all be reduced to various non-theological factors…. It is inadmissible to introduce relativism into the realm of faith, to limit unity in faith to a narrow set of necessary truths so that beyond them "freedom in what is doubtful" may be allowed.



            See: “Voices of Reason,” for more information