This article, in the form of a series of questions and answers, deals with various aspects of the impending union of the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad with the Moscow Patriarchate. Other views on this important subject certainly exist, but because of the lengthiness and comprehensiveness of Father Peter's article, comparable responses may take a while to appear. As an interim measure, the below article is presented for consideration. It addresses many of the same points, but from different perspective. It is important that this perspective be considered, not only by those for whom the fate of the Russian Church Abroad is important, but also by anyone having an interest in Russian Church affairs.
Some of us know Daniel Olson, who here suggests that Fr. Peter's OWN WORDS are the best answer to his 25 Questions. Although the article below was originally written twelve years ago, it is remarkably topical. Beyond that, some of the author's observations have proved to be prescient, or even prophetic. The text below has been taken from the November-December 1994 issue of "Orthodox Life" (Volume 44, Number 6) published by Holy Trinity Monastery, Jordanville, New York, and is presented as it appeared therein. The author is the very same Archpriest Peter Perekrestov.
The following is a letter by Archpriest Peter Perekrestov to the Council of Bishops recently held at the Convent of the Mother of God of Lesna in France (November 1994). Father Peter offers his thoughts on some important questions concerning relations between the Russian Church Abroad and the Moscow Patriarchate. Father Peter is a graduate of Holy Trinity Seminary and currently serves at the Cathedral of Our Lady Joy of All who Sorrow in San Francisco. The original letter has been edited by the author.
Why is the question of talks with the Moscow Patriarchate being raised at the present time?
This has mainly occurred under the influence of the Russian community in the diaspora which loves Russia very much and considers that our church divisions are weakening Russia in these troubled times in her history. Unfortunately the overwhelming majority of these people are guided more by emotional than by spiritual and ecclesiastical criteria. The questions of "talks" has also been raised now due to the difficulties which have arisen in connection with the establishment of the Free Russian Church, i.e. the Church in Russia which consists of catacomb communities, parishes which have left the Moscow Patriarchate and newly founded parishes - all under the spiritual and administrative jurisdiction of the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad. Besides the above reasons, some of the clergy which remains in the bosom of our Church but are not in agreement (or never where) with the Church's principles, or who suffer from an inferiority complex due in part to the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad's small size, are drawing our Church
vessel towards union with the Moscow Patriarchate. In conversations one has with these people, everything ultimately boils down to personalities, to comments or statements made by someone to somebody (comments which cannot be proven or refuted) frequently by people who have reposed and have not left any written testaments on their positions regarding certain church issues. As a rule, ideals and principles are absent.
Why could a Church council resolution regarding "talks" be dangerous?
There is little doubt that such a resolution, especially if it is not clearly stipulated, would elicit confusion among the flock in the diaspora, as well as among the clergy and faithful in the Free Russian Church in Russia. No matter what is meant under the heading of "talks," it will be perceived by many as capitulation and compromise. Such a resolution would be especially painful for the catacomb faithful in Russia. They will feel that they have been betrayed. One should especially fear this - betrayal of one¹s brothers. Some people will interpret "talks" as unofficial meetings with representatives of the Moscow Patriarchate. Others will see a resolution as a signal to take part in conferences, dialogue, celebrations, joint projects, exchanges - everything short of liturgical concelebration.
One should also keep in mind that the translations from "talks" to "negotiations" can be instantaneous. For example, at the Council of Bishops in San Francisco in July the possibility of some type of "talks" with the Moscow Patriarchate was brought up, but on the list of questions sent to all members of the Council in France the following question: "What is the goal of the proposed negotiations with the Moscow Patriarchate?" was posed. And in the widely circulated Assur-Zelenin-Rahr-Holodny "Address" it was announced that: "The long awaited day for the establishment of canonical unity of the Russian Church Abroad with the Mother Church has arrived?"!
What separates us from the Moscow Patriarchate?
It seems to me that before the questions of talks with the Moscow Patriarchate can be raised we ourselves must clearly, from a spiritual and church perspective, clarify those issues which divide us. Sergianism. What is Sergianism? We do not have one definition of it. For some it is the voluntary/involuntary collaboration of the Church with the godless authorities. For others it is a spiritual state, a spiritual condition, a spiritual illness in which a person is unable to confess the Faith. There are other definitions of Sergianism: the legalized worship of Mammon; the ecclesiastical justification of lies (the classic Jesuit "the end justifies the means"); the teaching that the first responsibility of the Orthodox Church is in the preservation of the outward, organization church structure as opposed to faithfulness to Christ and to the true Spirit of Orthodoxy, at whatever cost. The late Archbishop Vitaly (Maximenko) wrote:
"They say that the Patriarchate has not changed anything in dogmas, in the services, in the rites. No, we answer, - the Patriarchate has destroyed the essence of the Dogma of the Church of Christ, it has rejected her essential purpose - to serve for the renewal of the people, and replaced it with what is unnatural for the Church, serving the godless goals of Communism. This apostasy is worse than all previous Arianisms, Nestorianisms, Iconoclasms and others. This is not the personal sin of one or another hierarch, but rather the deep rooted sin of the Patriarchate, which is confirmed, proclaimed by them, bound by them before the whole world, what one might call dogmatized apostasy" (Themes of my Life, p. 25).In the official, what one might call leading, ranks of the Moscow Patriarchate not only has the principle of Sergianism not been rejected (the principle, as opposed to the person of Metropolitan Sergius), but conversely, as of late, it is being theologically justified (see for example an article by Igumen Innokenty (Pavlov) entitled "Concerning Metropolitan Sergius's Declaration" or Deacon Andrei Lorgus's "Render to Caesar the Things that are Caesar's" in a recent issue of the official periodical "The Journal of the Moscow Patriarchate," or the article by E. Polischuk, the editor of "The Official Chronicle of the Moscow Patriarchate," in the Paris based "Vestnik"). Archbishop Mark of Berlin and Germany paid particular attention to this new trend in an interview published in the Moscow journal "Vertograd."
When some people refer to that fact that Patriarch Alexis II "repented" of Sergianism in one of his numerous interviews ("Golos" No. 33, p. 11), this is misleading. Firstly, official ecclesiastical positions and policy are made by the highest church authority, i.e., by a council of bishops, not by one hierarch in a newspaper interview, even if it is the chief hierarch.
Secondly, Patriarch Alexis did not repent of Sergianism, but rather declared:
"I do not renounce it [i.e., the Declaration of Metropolitan Sergius], for it is impossible to renounce one's own history. I think that in the present year we [the Church, i.e., the Moscow Patriarchate] have been able to withdraw from under the state's trivial [sic!] charge and, therefore, we have the moral right to affirm the fact that Metropolitan Sergius's Declaration is a fact belonging to the past, and we no longer are guided by it. At the same time, however, this does not mean that we are against the government. The hierarchs of the Church took upon their souls certain sins: the sin of silence, the sin of lying for the good of the people, lying in order that they themselves should not disappear completely from real life. It happened that I, too, whether heading a diocese or administrating the affairs of the Moscow Patriarchate would, while I stood my ground on one thing, I would give in on another. I ask forgiveness, understanding, and prayers, not only before God, but before all those people to whom these compromises, silence, forced passivity, or displays of loyalty on the part of the hierarchy of this period inflicted pain. I say to them: Forgive me, dear ones, forgive me, my children."
Undoubtedly, there are healthy elements in the Moscow Patriarchate, mainly in the lower ranks. For example, there is a well-known priest in the Moscow Patriarchate, Archpriest Vladislav Sveshnikov, who, although not in agreement with the "opening" of parishes under the Church Abroad in Russia (in fact, not one parish has been opened by our Synod, parishes have been only been received), not long ago wrote an essay titled "The Psychology of Neo-Sergianism" in which he states that the most damaging consequence of Metropolitan Sergius's politics was the extreme distortion of Church consciousness. This distortion also manifested itself in acts of collaboration with certain government agencies and in "a lie, an extensive, evil lie which entered into the life of the Church after the Church was legalized. The evil of this consists foremost in the fact that we say one thing, but a completely different meaning stands behind it." The same author writes: "How good and valuable it would be if, by some council of the Russian Church, a resolution was approved in which all the wounds, sins, and defects of the recent past of our Church would be exposed honestly, seriously, with utter frankness and without compromise. What a joyful sigh would resound from a multitude of hearts. What a final, living and pure unity in love this would lead to in the Church in all its fullness."
Father Vladislav further writes about the distinguishing features of contemporary neo-Sergianism. They are the following:
1) The task of neo-Sergiansim is to justify Sergianism, to not only search for theological and historical interpretations for it, but to glorify Sergianism.
2) The lack of desire to see or know the historical truth.
3) The loss of Christianity, properly speaking, as a moral religion.
4) The Church's mystical life takes on an exclusively psychological dimension.
5) Instead of repentance, justification, if not of the sin, then the motive for the sin ‹ giving it a lofty sacrificial appearance.
6) Due to the above, Father Vladislav concludes, many young people now are indifferent to martyrs. Thus, Sergianism, or neo-Sergianism, is alive.
The most aware and sensitive pastors in the bosom of the Moscow Patriarchate sense this; the masses, as a rule, do not.
The subject of ecumenism is also complex. It is certain that ecumenism is unacceptable to the Russian Orthodox people (see, for example, numerous articles attesting to the this in such publications as "Russkiy Vestnik," "Rus' Derzhavnaya," "Literaturnyi Irkutsk"). As a rule, the Moscow Patriarchate's ecumenical activities take place behind the scenes, i.e., on the highest level, behind closed doors, or abroad. Not only the people, but the majority of the clergy do not even suspect what is happening. The publications which report "ecumenical contacts," "peacemaking activities" and conferences on "the holy gift of life," are generally accessible to a very small percentage of parishioners, mainly to the ones in Moscow and St. Petersburg. When evaluating ecumenism, it is very important to keep in mind that, at its inception, the ecumenical movement was inspired by genuine and sincere motives - the desire to find a common language among Christian denominations. But this initial motive quickly evolved and a demand for participation in common prayer, acceptance of common theological statements, the recognition of one another as "sister churches" and the establishment of a "new religious world order" took over. Therefore, one cannot compare the ecumenical movement of the 1920's, or even the 1940's and 1950's with ecumenism in the late 1960's to the present. A representative of the Moscow Patriarchate signed the document which achieved union with the Monophysites at Balamand, but this Unia has not yet been ratified by a council of the Moscow Patriarchate. Many outstanding theologians have expressed their alarm regarding contemporary ecumenism: a faithful son of the Church Abroad, Fr. Seraphim Rose, Archimandrite Justin (Popovich) of the Serbian Orthodox Church, Archimandrite Seraphim (Alexiev) of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church. This alarm is not the "politics" of some "party" of bishops of our Church, but an awareness of the soul-destructive element of this "pan-heresy." Few have paid heed to one very important ecumenical event in the life of the Moscow Patriarchate, perhaps because the activities of the Moscow Patriarchate in the World Council of Churches are more obvious. This event was the spiritual and moral rapprochement of Patriarch Alexis with Judaism.
In 1991 he met with New York rabbis, presented them with a bowl (not liturgical) and delivered his famous speech "Your Prophets are Our Prophets." Later, despite the outcry of a significant part of the clergy in Russia, Patriarch Alexis did not renounce his address, but in one of his interviews he even referred to this meeting as an example of the absence of anti-Semitism in the Moscow Patriarchate ("Trud" Nov. 29, 1991). In the fall of 1993, Patriarch Alexis was honored by the Appeals of Conscience Foundation in New York and the president of the Fund, Rabbi Arthur Schneier presented him with an award for his "leadership in the strengthening of the spiritual renaissance of the Russian people." One is hard-pressed not to ask the question: why is a rabbi thanking an Orthodox patriarch for his spiritual activities?
The new politics of the Moscow Patriarchate.
Previously, active, idealistic or outstanding pastors were worrisome to the hierarchs of the Moscow Patriarchate. Now the attitude of the Patriarchate has changed. In part, this is thanks to parishes under the jurisdiction of the Church Abroad in Russia. The Moscow Patriarchate hierarchs are simply afraid to take any measures against many of these priests, for fear that the latter will leave the Patriarchate and join the Free Russian Church. In fact one authoritative archpriest of the Moscow Patriarchate has recently written a letter to one of our bishops thanking God that parishes of the Free Russian Church exist openly in Russia, otherwise it would be very difficult for him and other priests of like mind with him.
But the new politics of the Moscow Patriarchate really stem from the fact that it has no firm principles. The key question for them is one of power. It is not important to them whether a priest is involved in shady business dealings or purely church activities; whether he is a democrat or a monarchist; whether an ecumenist or zealot; whether he wants to serve Vigil for six hours or one; whether the priest serves a panikhida for the victims who defended the White House or a moleben for those who sided with Yeltsin; whether the priest wants to baptize by immersion or by sprinkling; whether he serves in the catacombs or openly; whether he venerates the Royal Martyrs or not; whether he serves according to the New or Orthodox Calendar - it really doesn¹t matter. The main thing is to commemorate Patriarch Alexis. Let the Church Abroad have its autonomy, let it even speak out, express itself as in the past, but only under one condition: commemorate Patriarch Alexis. This is a form of Papism - let the priests be married, let them serve according to the Eastern rite - it makes no difference, what is important is that they commemorate the Pope of Rome.
Therefore one can in all sincerity say that the Moscow Patriarchate is disassociating itself from ecumenism and venerates the New Martyrs - this is true. But one can, with equal reason, say that the Moscow Patriarchate is renovationist and hates the Tsar Martyr - and this is also true.
Patriarch Alexis's position constantly changes, depending on the circumstances. For example, in 1990 he prayed for the unity of the communist party; during the putsch of 1991 he played a waiting game; after the putsch he blessed Yeltsin's presidency. In an interview Patriarch Alexis explained ("We are Saved by Our Own Labors," "Trud," Nov. 29, 1991) that his blessing "clearly shows that we [the Church] support the forces of democracy which, as you [i.e., the correspondent for the newspaper "Trud"] have correctly stated, are personified in the president of Russia." After the assault on the Parliament in October of 1993, the Patriarch took no clear stand.
In 1994, submitting to the pressure of "traditionalist" Moscow clergy, the Patriarch removed the "renovationist" priest, George Kochetkov, from his parish, yet shortly after he sent Father George, together with Father Vladimir Vorobiev, to the Fifth International Theological Schools Consultation held in Halki - both in the capacity of representatives of Moscow Patriarchate theological schools: Father George from the liberal Father Alexander Men University and Father Vladimir from the conservative St. Tikhon¹s Theological Institute in Moscow. In the introduction to one article ("In the Catacombs," "Sovershenno Sekretno," No. 7, 1991) Patriarch Alexis wrote the following: "I believe that our martyrs and righteous ones, regardless of whether they followed Metropolitan Sergius or did not agree with his position, pray together for us." At the same time, in the weekly, "Nedelya," No. 2, 1/92, the same Patriarch Alexis states tht the Russian Church Abroad is a schismatic church, and adds: "Equally uncanonical is the so-called Catacomb Church." In other words, he recognizes the martyrs of the Catacomb Church (many of whom were betrayed to the godless authorities by Metropolitan Sergius's church organization, and to their death (at the hands of these authorities) refused to recognize Metropolitan Sergius as the head of the Church of Russia), and at the same time declares that these martyrs are schismatic and uncanonical.
Why are talks with the Moscow Patriarchate dangerous at the present time?
They may provoke a deep division among our clergy and flock, both in Russia and abroad. Archpriest Lev Lebedev of Kursk considers the moral decay among the Moscow Patriarchate¹s episcopate to have penetrated too deeply. They lack any true sincerity. The priest Timothy Alferov, while still in the Moscow Patriarchate, warned our Church that dialogue with the hierarchy of the Moscow Patriarchate is impossible. I. Lapkin, the well-known missionary of Siberia, warns that the Russian Church will meets its end when "The Moscow Patriarchate will agree to all the demands of the Free Russian Church, renounce the Declaration of Metropolitan Sergius, canonize the New Martyrs, leave the World Council of Churches, stop all ecumenical activity - all this without any corresponding inner rebirth. All this good may be done as a political move and then the Russian Church Abroad will have not reason not to sit down at the negotiating table. Then, by majority vote, the truth will be suppressed" ("ZN," No. 12, 1993).
For some reason we sometimes do not hearken to the voice of our clergy in Russia, in particular to those priests who have sacrificed everything in order to be with us. Have they been asked what they think of the present situation in Russia and the possibility of "talks" with the Moscow Patriarchate? Those clergy may feel that they have been cast aside and be overcome by a feeling of abandonment.
In 1993, when I was in Russia, I met with many priests of the Moscow Patriarchate. I asked one Dean: "Of the bishops you know, who can we pin our hopes on, which ones can be trusted?" The Dean, who remains in the Moscow Patriarchate, hung his head and replied: "Not one of them." I asked another priest, a professor at one of the theological academies, what were the ideological reasons for the recent expulsion of the rectors (Archbishop Alexander of Dmitrov and Archpriest Vladimir Sorokin) of the academies in Sergiev Posad and St. Petersburg. The priest began to laugh and I did not understand why. He explained to me that I was very naïve: "What kind of talk can there be of principles? If you dare to look the wrong way at some bishop's secretary, you can be removed from you position." This priest told me that there is a gradual purge going on. There were opponents to Patriarch Alexis's election and now, little by little, reprisals are taking place. This may explain why Metropolitan Pitirim of Volokolamsk is being pushed into the background and is threatened with removal from the Synod of the Moscow Patriarchate.
It is not rare that the Moscow Patriarchate in the persons of its hierarchs says one thing and acts completely to the contrary. In the Russian press and before representatives of Russian emigre organizations they call us to love and unity, while at the same time, in Germany for example, they are making every effort to take away our church property, a fact that Archbishop Mark can readily attest to. After the beginning of "talks," pressure to conduct "negotiations" will noticeably increase.
What would we lose by striving for unity with the Moscow Patriarchate?
Our final goal in Russia should not be unity with the Moscow Patriarchate, but the triumph of Truth. Hieromonk Seraphim (Rose) warned us that administrative, external unity is easily achieved, but inner, spiritual unity is difficult to come by. It is my conviction that if we pray, if we strive for the Truth and for a pure confession of Faith, and if in Russia the faithful do likewise, we will invariably get closer and our unity will be organic, natural and truly ecclesiological. Any unity achieved at round tables and "high level dialogue" and secured by all types of "declarations" will not be sound.
Unity with the Moscow Patriarchate at this time is dangerous. We will lose our freedom. Even if we are autonomous, we will be bound and become participants, although indirectly, of all the activities of the hierarchy in Russia. We will be forced to indiscriminately receive into our diocese abroad all the bishops of the Moscow Patriarchate and to serve with them.
The Moscow Patriarchate is closely tied with some apostate churches and also heterodox confessions. The latter pay little attention to us now, but if we become a part of the Moscow Patriarchate the Patriarchate will be pressured to force us to be silent - we will lose the ability to be the free voice of Orthodoxy. We will also lose our spiritual succession and unity with part of the Heavenly Church - the assembly of New Martyrs of Russia who rejected Metropolitan Sergius and his successors. In the Moscow Patriarchate we will simply "dissolve." "Talks" can become the beginning of this process. There yet remains one point of no small importance: the criminal-mafia essence of both the government and business apparatus in Russia. There is a reason to assume that a considerable number of hierarchs in the Moscow Patriarchate have maintained close ties with their former "benefactors," some of whom are not part of a mafia structure. For example, the British weekly, "The Economist," recently published an article about crime in the former U.S.S.R. The article mentioned that one Volodya Pudel (Vladimir Petrovich Podatev) now controls the city of Vladivostok. In the past he spent 17 years in prison for criminal acts, and now he has his own political party, his own television station and a "letter from the Patriarch of the Orthodox blessing his charitable work."
Why does the Moscow Patriarchate yearn for union with us?
1) As long as our Church exists the Moscow Patriarchate will not rest. Even if only one parish of our Church openly existed in Russia, it would give the Moscow Patriarchate no peace. In the province of Novgorod one parish came under the omophorion of our Church. A Dean of the Moscow Patriarchate sought to evict our community out of the church building. Our priest and parishioners began to offer alternatives regarding usage of the church. They spoke of freedom of conscience, of the possibility of coexisting communities and finally of a court process to resolve the property dispute. There was only one answer: "You must not exist."
2) The Moscow Patriarchate needs legitimacy. As the new "democratic" authorities in the Russian Federation needed the West's recognition, so the Moscow Patriarchate needs the recognition of our Church for the sake of legitimacy. The fact that we are not in communion with the Moscow Patriarchate is based not only on Metropolitan Sergius's Declaration, but also on the fact that Metropolitan Sergius usurped Church authority. It is precisely for this reason that so many of the hierarchs, future New Martyrs, opposed Metropolitan Sergius. The Moscow Patriarchate is subconsciously aware of this. This is a very important matter.
3) There is among the Moscow Patriarchate an element which sincerely desires unity, but which does not have a true ecclesiological consciousness.
What should we do?
A few facts must be established.
1) Our goals in relation to Russia have not been clearly formulated. If we do not have clear goals, it is difficult to know where and how to direct our efforts.
2) Our Church's position has at times been expressed in a manner which is perceived as "super-correct." This has had an adverse effect on the Russian people, including the flock in the diaspora.
3) It seems to me that we should consistently strive to follow the middle "royal" path. On the one hand, we have the emotional, purely nationalistic position held by some Russian patriots and Russian organizations abroad - this is unacceptable, for Russia, not Christ, is central here. On the other hand, there exists a blind position which can find nothing positive in contemporary church life in Russia is possible. Its constant scolding of the Moscow Patriarchate is unacceptable. It lacks both love and compassion. It is also a sign of weakness and ultimately a lack of faith in the power of Truth.
Concretely, what can be proposed?
1) If the Council of Bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad finds it imperative to meet with representatives of the Moscow Patriarchate, this can be done without being formally stated, i.e., each bishop may decide how, when and with whom to meet. If our Church is invited to participate in a conference or symposium in Russia, then a suitable representative should be sent to uncompromisingly state the position of our Church on the subject of the meeting.
2) There are positive forces in Russia, including among ranks of the Moscow Patriarchate. It seems to me that the majority of clergy in this category are usually in the country, away from the biggest cities. Moscow clergy are often very bound. The positive church forces in the ranks of the Moscow Patriarchate deserve our support. It would be beneficial to concretely approach these people, ask them what kind of support they need and even inquire how we might positively influence the course of church life in Russia. We should make contacts and show support only on the lower levels: parish clergy, monastics and faithful. In this way we will not be supporting the Moscow Patriarchate per se, but rather only the positive elements in their ranks.
3) The tone of our epistles should be softened. Russia needs tenderness, love and compassion. In our epistles this spirit should come across. If we are to speak of helping the Church in Russia and the Russian people then we must first strive for a peaceful coexistence. We must be completely free of any malice. Even if we notice apostasy, our intolerance must be directed towards the apostasy itself, not toward people. We should strive for a ³good² division and avoid a "treacherous" union (according to St. Gregory the Theologion). We must be ready to account for our faith.
4) We should examine ourselves. Are we consistent in our actions, in the confession of our Faith? Are we faithful to the canons, to the principle of conciliarity and proper church order? Are our pastors and parish life worthy of emulation?
5) Create a commission to work our various theological and canonical questions (including Sergianism) and also to formulate our goals in Russia.
6) Perhaps the time has come to convene a IVth Council of the whole Russian Orthodox Church Abroad with the participation of clergy and faithful from around the world, including Russia. Possibly, someone from among the positive element of the Moscow Patriarchate can be invited in the capacity of an observer, or maybe a speaker. It would probably be more appropriate to call this Council simply a Russian Orthodox Council. Before such a Council convenes diocesan assemblies would be held in all dioceses in order to choose representatives and to discuss the main questions on the Council¹s agenda, including our relations with the Moscow Patriarchate, the possibility of closer contact with the Catacomb Church and our goals in Russia. Thus conciliar discussions concerning these important issues will take place. This will give us time for spiritual preparation and to unhurriedly consider many questions which stand before us. Often, when steps and decisions are taken in haste, we regret them later.
Days of fasting and repentance should be set aside before the opening of this Russian Orthodox Council. These days should be strictly observed. Measures should be taken so that the faithful in Russia might also take part in this fast (if the Moscow Patriarchate desires, it can summon its flock to do so).
I think that such a period of preparation and such a Council will demonstrate both to our flock and to the faithful in Russian that we are striving in a conciliar manner to outline our Church¹s direction and to do God's will. This will also show that we are taking the initiative. If we hope for a future All-Russian council, we must first prepare ourselves for it. Perhaps then we will be made worthy of God¹s mercy and a miracle. I think that such an approach will not be rejected by anyone.
Sincerely asking for your archpastoral blessing and prayers,
Archpriest Peter Perekrestov