Open Letter from Archimandrite Alexis to Laurus and ROCOR-V

December 5, 2003
ENGLISH VERSION: Letter of Archimandrite Alexis to Metropolitan Laurus and all faithfull children of ROCOR(V)


Dear-in-Christ, Archpastors, Fathers and Brethren,
I ask your Archpastoral and pastoral blessings and prayers.

Many of our people have urged me to write this letter as they feel that their voice will not be heard at the All-Diaspora Clergy Conference, held in Nyack next week. At the time of writing the representative appointed to attend the conference from England has not canvassed our views and in general he has very little contact with the two monastic communities and our English-language missions.

I can only define our people, as those who look to Saint Edward Brotherhood for some kind of leadership, the parishioners here and at the Convent of the Annunciation in London, those in the other missions within the English-language deanery, and those who correspond with us, and increasingly so those who contact us by e-mail.

The visit of our ruling hierarch, His Grace Archbishop Mark, to London in October opened up the subject of the possible rapprochement between the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad and the Moscow Patriarchate. Nowadays people have much freer access to information through internet reports and lists, and so the question in the last few weeks has come very much to the fore.

In these exchanges I have only found one person who seems wholly enthusiastic about developments. Many others have various misgivings and feel disquiet in various ways, and I would like to put these matters before you, so that you are as fully informed of the situation as possible. I shall not be able to do this with any great wisdom or learning, and may have misinterpreted various events or positions, but I ask you to bear with this, that our voice might be heard.

Having mentioned the one person who enthusiastically endorses the idea of a union, I should also say that I have only come across one or two people who believe that any approach to Moscow on the part of our hierarchs is essentially and fundamentally wrong.

In the main this letter reiterates what I have already addressed to Archbishop Mark, and which he has assured me "will certainly help" him "when participating in the conference," although I have expanded several thoughts. As in my letter to the Archbishop, I think it may be useful if I list under various headings some of the things which are troubling people:-

A) Timing. This seems to come highest on everyone's list of worries. They have the impression that we are rushing towards an agreement, and feel strongly that we should be taking time, testing every step as we go. They fear that the union seems likely to be agreed within months, whereas they would feel happier if the time scale extended over several years or even a decade, for reasons that I hope will become clearer in the items below.

B) Fundamental Issues. They feel that the two fundamental issues are the Sergianist past and present of the Patriarchate, and its espousal of Ecumenism, and they hope that these will be wholly renounced and expunged from the life of the Patriarchal Church before we enter into communion with Moscow. From various statements from Moscow spokesmen it seems that rather than renouncing the legacy of Metropolitan Sergius, it is being lauded and he is seen now as something of a hero, whose compromises "saved" the Russian Church. Many have the impression that the present emphasis has been to gloss over these issues and to concentrate on administrative matters pertaining to the status quo after the union.

C) Study of our Past History. It is felt that before we proceed far along the path to any union, a thorough study should be made of the Synod's past position, so that we do not make some kind of unfortunate u-turn on a matter of principle. For instance, when Patriarchs Sergius, Aleksii I, Pimen and the present Patriarch were "elected," our Hierarchs issued statements saying that they considered these elections (in that they were not free) out of order. If this is so, do we not have to somehow accept the legitimacy of the present Patriarch, and on what grounds can we do so?

D) Study of the Present State of the Patriarchate: This is also an imperative. It is obviously true that the Soviet state has fallen, but it is by no means clear that the Moscow Patriarchate now operates free of state or government interferance. According to many commentators, the present socio-political situation in Russia is even more deleterious than it was under the Soviets, and it appears that the Church is deeply involved in many aspects of what seems to be a "Gangster State" in a way that is less excusable than its subservience to the Soviets, which after all was a totalitarian tyranny.

E) Putin. Putin's role in the present process has also caused widespread disquiet. One appreciates that perhaps he was only a catalyst for contact, and no one has any wish to decry his personal piety or adherence to Orthodoxy, but it does appear that his "zeal" is not always according to knowledge. Soon after meeting our hierarchs, it is reported that he went to Rome and proposed some kind of rapprochement between Rome and Moscow. Further, his interest at the best seemed to be to support the Russian state. This aim might be laudable and something we would all like to contribute to, but it is not the purpose of the Church, which is to save souls. It appears that his imput is itself a continuation of the Sergianist tradition: that the "reunion of the churches" is primarily to serve a socio-political purpose. Interestingly enough in this regard, parishioners from the Patriarchal Cathedral Parish in Ennismore Gardens, London, contacted me, and said that they would rejoice to witness the re-union of the two churches, but also felt some disquiet over the present moves, and that it seemed to them to be politically motivated and something of a "fix." They speak much more boldly of the perceived political motivation behind the present moves from the Moscow point of view, than any I have heard from our side. One, a Russian who spends much of his time in Moscow, when visiting us, declared, "Obviously, Putin wants this, and has leaned on the Patriarch!" Such is their trust in the freedom of the Patriarchal administration.

F) ROCOR in Russia. In the early nineties or thereabouts, our Synod began to offer pastoral care to the faithful in Russia, who in conscience could not remain within the Moscow Patriarchate; we provided them with a hierarchy and pastors. In many ways, in retrospect, it seems that this development was not well nourished and supported, and, as we all know, various schisms not unlike those among the Greek Old Calendarists, have arisen. But there remain people in Russia, a number have contacted us, who are still loyal to the Church Abroad for reasons of conscience. A speedy or improper union with Moscow, would betray their faithfulness and loyalty.

G) Our Sister Churches. Also after the visit of Archbishop Mark to the Monastery of Sts Cyprian and Justina at Fili in the same decade, our Church entered into a special relationship of Sister Church with the Synod of Metropolitan Cyprian, that of Metropolitan Vlasie in Romania and with Bishop Fotii's diocese in Bulgaria. Here people are disquieted that this special relationship is also being betrayed. We have heard nothing of any discussions with the hierarchs of these Sister Churches about a move which will assuredly greatly change our relationship with them. I think it was Khomiakov who characterised one of the greatest evils of the schism of Rome from Orthodoxy in the eleventh century as a lack of brotherly love because they acted unilaterally and without consulting their Sister Churches in the East. It now appears that ROCA is following a similar course with regard to her professed Sister Churches in Greece, Romania and Bulgaria.

H) The Proposed Autonomy. This has given rise to disquiet at various levels. Some see it as a useful temporary arrangement to ease the way to full unity, if such a unity can be achieved in a right way without falsehood and compromise of principles. However, several people have expressed the thought that it seems to be the primary concern of our hierarchs and that it is being promoted only so that they can safeguard their own positions and prerogatives. In Britain, for instance, it would make our situation particularly difficult, and even more so for those of us who are not of Russian extraction and who do not follow Russian liturgical practices. What would be the point of our being under a Bishop in Germany, if it were perfectly right and proper to be in full communion with the Moscow Patriarchate who have two hierarchs in this country, and the first language of whose ruling hierarch here is English? (But more of the British situation later).

J) Global Orthodoxy. Entering into communion with Moscow would put us in unhindered and full communion with "Global Orthodoxy" and with those ecumenist jurisdictions such as Constantinople and Antioch (which, Antioch, is de facto in communion with the Monophysites, and in which, as we heard from one of their priests two weeks ago, they are permitted to offer the Holy Msyerties to Roman Catholics). When he spoke to us in October, His Grace Archbishop Mark expressed the view that each rector could refuse to concelebrate with or offer the Mysteries to clergymen, whose position he found uncertain. But this seems on reflection to be untenable, and puts us in the realm of having to make personal judgments. I remember that when I was sent to England in 1977, I was told by the then Protopresbyter George Grabbe, and I assumed this was with Synodal authority, that I should not concelebrate with any non-ROCA clergy, but was to explain that this was not a reflection on the Orthodoxy of the other jurisdictions but only a pastoral matter. Fr Milenko Zebic of the Serbian Church then wanted to come and concelebrate and I explained what I had been told. He was deeply upset and reported the matter to the Serbian Synod who complained to our Synod, and, as Secretary at that time, Fr George himself wrote rebuking me for following the very course he had enjoined upon me! This was simply one instance, and with regard only to the Serbian Church. What opportuities for misunderstanding would open up if "technically" we were in communion with Global Orthodoxy? It would leave our church in a position not unlike that of a Protestant sect which existed in this country until a generation or so ago when it amalgamated with another similar group. This sect called themselves Congregationalists, because each local congregation decided its own policy measures. The hierarchical nature of our church would dissolve.

K) ROCA's present position lost. It has been put to me that ROCA has been respected for decades - a respect which seems to have lapsed somewhat under the Metropolitanate of Met. Vitaly, when her position often seemed unclear or vasillating, - for her firm traditonalist stance which avoided extremism. This respect was accorded us even by those who were in some ways our enemies, and it appears that it greatly heartened numbers of the faithful in Russia, who dismayed by their own corrupt Church administration, could look to the Synod as a beacon. Presumably it was for this reason that people in Russia looked to the Synod for pastoral care as soon as, with the weakening of the Soviet tyranny, this opportunity was opened up to them. If we are subsumed into the Patriarchate that position will be lost, even the "Autonomy" will mean that our position is compromised beyond repair.

L) Central Ground. Over the years ROCA has also seemed to maintain a perillously difficult central ground, striving to remain faithful to the teachings of the Fathers, but being moderate and accommodating to the weaknesses and difficulties of others. She has thus avoided the extremism and, indeed, the fanaticism of many of the "Old Calendarist" groups and their sectarian spirit, and the laissez-faire attitude of the more "liberal" jurisdictions with regard to the patristic tradition. If she enters precipitiously into union with a Moscow Patriarchate which has not set her course aright in this regard, a precious path of moderate traditonalism within the "Orthodox world" will be lost.

M) Glorifications. Some have raised the question of the gloifications of the New Martyrs and other Saints. The Patriarchate has blocked the glorification of those New Martyrs who opposed Metropolitan Sergius' policy (a witness to their continuing Sergianism?), whereas the Church Abroad glorifies these Saints. Further Moscow seems of late to have canonised a series of saints, about some of whom it does not seem fanatical to have reservations.

N) The situation in Britain. The above points have all been general, but there are a number of points which perhaps pertain only to the situation in Britain. Joining with Moscow, with or without autonomy, would put us in full communion with the Sourozh Diocese, which in many ways is completely different from other eparchies of the Patriarchate. It is to all intents and purposes the creation of the late Metropolitan Antony (Bloom) and thus reflects many of his eccentricities. Its character is essentially Evlogian rather than Moscovite; there is a strong anti-monastic bias among the majority of its clergy and people; feminism in various shades is prominent among its intellectuals and Met. Antony even came close to endorsing the acceptance of women priests; many of the clery have impediments to ordination (it was often said this was how the Metropolitan held their "loyalty"); it is ecumenist broadly and deeply in a way that the (New Calendarist) Greek Archdiocese in this country is not; and in general it reflects the most "liberal" trends within "Orthodoxy." Most of the Moscow parishes and missions in this country operate on the New Calendar. In one parish, at least, the Holy Mysteries are regularly given to Roman Catholics who "wish to become Orthodox." Even if all other things were equal as regards the Patriarchate as a whole, one would not want to be in full communion with Sourozh. Visiting clergy from Russia (MP) have often told us that they see it as something like the "Living Church".

P) Our People. Because ROCA's presence in this country has been weak for decades - (In Archbishop Nikodem's (+ 1976) declining years, the presence naturally weakened. Immediately after his repose there were several changes of administration. I believe that Bishop Constantine's tenure here did not give people confidence in ROCA, and although Archbishop Mark has done much for the ROCA presence in the eighteen years he has been our ruling hierarch, he has of necessity been an absent landlord, and there has been no spokesman for our church here) - because of this, many of the people who now belong to our church have come to us from other jurisdictions, only with time and effort seeing the purpose of ROCA's position. In our own congregation in Brookwood, a number of the people first joined the Patriarchate including three of our monks. They joined us not because of better opportunities, but because they believed that ROCA's course was true and that of the Patriarchate and of Sourozh off course. They have grave misgivings about any hasty "reconciliation." Furthermore, as a community, we have grown, and have been loyal to ROCA, even though as individuals and as a community we have not always been welcome or supported, even though attempts have been made to destroy us by people (even clergymen) within ROCA, and even though in any one of the "official" jurisdictions we would probably have been helped and supported both financially and morally to a much greater extent. We have done so because, even though this left us within a tiny minority of the Orthodox, among people who did not accept us - (even this week people from the Russian language parish who wanted to make a pilgrimage to our brotherhood tell us that they were forbidden to do so on a Sunday), - among people who do not understand us, we believed ROCA's course to be true and worth suffering for. Perhaps as a result of faint-heartenedness we feel now that perhaps that struggle was in vain.

I hope that putting these disquiets before you, does not hurt or offend anyone. I felt it was imperative to write as we feel it is important that these disquiets come to the attention of Your Graces and the other clergymen and of the members of the Conference meeting next week in Nyack.

I ask your holy prayers and blessings, and that you attempt to set hearts at rest.

Your unworthy son in Christ Jesus,
the sinful monk and unworthy priest,
Archimandrite Alexis Saint Edward Brotherhood, Brookwood, England

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