A Report on ROCOR-PSCA Continuity

This report was delivered by Protopriest Valery Alexeev, IN the May 13-15, 2008 meetings of ROCA's Higher-Interim Church Authority, held in Vl. Andronik's residence, in Richmond Hill, New York, USA.

Archpriest Valeriy Alekseyev. A Report on Our Continuity

“Do not be afraid, little flock!” (Luke 12:32)

Christ is Risen!

Your Eminences! Honorable Fathers!

In response to the decision and order of the Provisional Supreme Ecclesiastical Authority of the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad on December 6-7, 2008, the members of the Subcommittee (Archpriest Valeriy Alekseyev, Hegumen Georgiy (Kravchenko), and Fr. Leonid Plyats) reviewed the documents from the sobors of the ROCOR before May 17, 2007.

First, let us consider the document, the “Epistle of the ROCA PSEA to all the faithful members of the Russian Church Abroad” from June 28/July 11, 2007, which called for this current review, guided by this excerpt: “We affirm the continuation of the course of our church as dictated by the standards and all the sobor decisions of the ROCOR from its inception to May 4/17, 2007.”

We now hear people who insist that our ROCA and its “little flock,” which did not accept union with the Moscow Patriarchate while affirming its complete succession to the course of our church, the ROCA, should accept the Decision made on September 7, 2007, by the Synod of Bishops, consisting of a group of Archbishops and led by Met. Lavr, to approve the “Act of Eucharistic Communion.” By extension, we should also accept union with the ROC MP itself, which occurred on May 17, 2007. If not, they state we will have committed a grievous offense to the church.

Let us carefully consider the excerpt above: “We affirm the continuation of the course of our church as dictated by the standards (this word is underlined and bolded by me, Archpriest V.A.) and all the sobor decisions.” This is a thesis. The opposite of it, logically, is an antithesis, which can be summed as: “We reject everything in the course of our church that does not correspond to the standards and all the sobor decisions.”

A principled stand to follow the standards of the church was expressed uncompromisingly by the ROCA Odesssa and Zaporozhye dioceses, headed by the Most Reverend Bishop Agafangel, in the Address from the participants of the Extraordinary Diocesan Meeting of the Odesssa and Zaporozhye dioceses to the ROCA Hierarch Met. Lavr.

As a reminder, here are the essential points of that Address: “ With great sorrow, we learned that the Synod of Bishops made the decision on September 7th to merge into the structure of the Moscow Patriarchate by approving the “Act of Eucharistic Communion” at their meeting, wherein our Synod struck down all the previous documents (considering them “as if they never happened”) of our many Sobors and Synods…” In this way, the meeting of the clergy of the Odesssa and Zaporozhye dioceses affirmed, that in this case, the standards of the collegial decisions of the ROCA were violated.

The Resolution of the diocesan conference of the Odesssa and Zaporozhye dioceses of the ROCA states: “We do not accept the course of uniting the two parts of the Church, which is proposed by the “Act of Eucharistic Communion.” According to this Act, the ROCA is to become an autonomous part of the MP. The rights of the ROCA are constrained by the “Act” and the standards of the church which were developed over time by the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad are violated.

Some time before that, the Most Reverend Bishop Agafangel wrote in his Report to the faithful of the Odesssa and Zaporozhye dioceses of the ROCA to explain what transpired at the IVth All-Diaspora Sobor and the Sobor of Bishops: “The Resolution of the IVth All-Diaspora Sobor was approved unanimously for all practical purposes (there were a few who abstained or voted against it) and it said that such a union would be possible in the future after the disagreements over matters of principle between us would be decided (ecumenism was mentioned). The final decision to go ahead with such a union can only be made at a Local Sobor of the entire Russian Church with the participation of the clergy and laypeople. (…) The Sobor of Bishops affirmed the decision of the All-Diaspora Sobor. The main discussion at the Sobor of Bishops was on the Act of Eucharistic Communion, a completely confidential document that was worked out by the commissions for rapprochement, which was never intended to be discussed by all the ROCA bishops, and which was not even intended to be read at the All-Diaspora Sobor. Due to its dubious nature, mentioning the Act was deliberately avoided in the Resolution of the IVth All-Diaspora Sobor and in the Epistle of the Sobor of Bishops. (…) A vote to accept the Act was never held at the Sobor, and therefore, I do not know exactly where the assertion that the Act was “largely accepted and approved” comes from. The statement that “the final approval of the text of the Act and the details of the signing ceremony are left to the Synod of Bishops” also has no basis in reality. The question of the “final approval …by the Synod of Bishops” was actually raised (without any mention of the “details of the signing ceremony”), but since there were differing opinions, it was set aside without any final decision by the Sobor. Also, no vote was taken on the matter.”

Therefore it becomes obvious that this process was a flagrant violation of the standards of the church and the past Sobors of the ROCA by a group of bishops in Met. Lavr’s Synod, which is why the Odesssa and Zaporozhye dioceses did not accept it. Instead, they affirmed their principled stand in this matter by the Bishop, clergy, and flock taking the unprecedented move of not commemorating the name of the Hierarch: “…we are compelled to stop commemorating Your name at church services until this matter is resolved conclusively.” Commemoration was resumed about a month before the union was concluded, in the vain hope that the Hierarch’s wisdom would prevail and the fall would be averted.

After the Synod of Met. Lavr signed the “Act of Eucharistic Communion” and the hierarchy lost the ability to see church matters clearly (Matthew 15:14), the “large flock” of the ROCA ended their historical existence and merged with the Moscow Patriarchate and became ROCOR(MP), while the “little flock” formed the Provisional Supreme Ecclesiastical Authority headed by the Most Reverend Agafangel and gathered the healthy forces within the Church and affirmed the historical tradition of the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad. It is important to note that the ROCA has always been a collegial Church and not synodal.

In 1996, a Sobor Commission reviewed the “Status of the ROCA” and noted in their fourth point: “Given the circumstances, we must consider our governance to be temporary. A final resolution of this matter can only be made by a future Sobor of the Russian Local Church.”

Nevertheless, it was remarked by Metropolitan Vitaliy, after considering the state of Russian society, the conditions in the Church, and the current government, that: “…an infiltration is currently occurring into our midst by forces from the KGB and the Moscow Patriarchate that mean us harm.” And even went so far as to say that, “after the final downfall of this regime, a union of the church and coming to an agreement will not be possible… .”

The 1998 Sobor of Bishops declared: “Do not have dialogue with the MP, not on any level; not on the level of bishops, not on the level of the parishes or monasteries.”

Alas, a group of the Synod bishops and a part of the flock were seduced, as they thought they saw changes in the MP: the canonization of the Royal Martyrs; the selective canonization of the New Russian Martyrs and Confessors; and a few paragraphs in the “Social Concept.” Without regard for the Decision of the 1998 Sobor of Bishops, Archbishop Mark developed contacts with the MP hierarchy and even met with the President of the Russian Federation, for which he was dismissed from the ranks of the Synod of Bishops, but later reinstated.

History proved that the position taken by the Commission and the words of Metropolitan Vitaliy was correct. The violation of the standards of the church led to the union of May 17, 2007.

Let us now consider a document, the Epistle to the Serbian Patriarch Pavel. On June 1, 1967, the ROCA Sobor of Bishops decreed that all bishops “refrain from serving with the bishops of the Serbian Church.” Sadly, the Sobor of 2000 already sent an Epistle to the Serbian Patriarch Pavel, which said in part: “We ask Your Holiness not to withhold from us liturgical communion with you.”

This was a deviation from the standards of the sobors, as the Sobor of 1998 reaffirmed the anathema against ecumenism which was approved by the Sobor of 1983. The Sobor of Bishops of 1971 had earlier resolved to baptize all Roman Catholics and Protestants wishing to convert to Orthodoxy, while the Serbian Patriarch Pavel was an open ecumenist.

The Most Reverend Bishop Agafangel disavowed his signature on the Epistle to the Serbian Patriarchate, in line with the 23rd paragraph of the “Status of the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad.”

Let us now turn to “sergianism.” Several members of our Church along with representatives of groups who have separated from the ROCA now speak of the necessity of a collegial acceptance of “sergianism,” of the acceptance of heresy, to accept the lack of grace of the Moscow Patriarchate.

It needs to be pointed out, based on the documents we researched, that the ROCA hierarchy was always concerned with its opinion on “sergianism.” Metropolitan Vitaliy said at the Sobor of 1998 that, “Met. Sergey’s change in the course of the Church was unlawful;” “Sergianism is when the Church is in the hands of a government which is hostile to the Church and it should be condemned and rejected by the Church.”

The Most Reverend Bishop Agafangel gave a more precise assessment of “sergianism:” “Sergianism is the voluntary subservience of the bishops of the Church to foreign atheistic forces, whose influence causes the bishops to distort Orthodox theology and order within the church. It is being involved in the plans of the atheists to destroy the Orthodoxy of the Holy Fathers.”

Thus, “sergianism,” this “path for the Church” in the words of Metropolitan Vitaliy, is a platform, a social concept, church politics, which depart or even refute the Traditions of the Holy Fathers and place the Russian Orthodox Church in the Homeland in a grave anti-canonical position, incompatible with the Traditions of the Church and the decisions of the Holy Ecumenical Councils.

Note: Church politics – the politics of the Church, that is, the collective opinion of the church administration on its relationship to society and the government (Complete Orthodox Religious Encyclopedic Dictionary. T.P.M.C. 2323). We see that during the Synodal period, the politics of the All-Russian Orthodox Church were predicated by its relation to the government.

“Sergianism” has been rife with schismatic actions and heretical teachings. But it cannot compare to the heresy of ecumenism, which has amended the Julian calendar and even led to Pascha based on the Gregorian calendar. All of this has now affected the Local Orthodox Churches. Metropolitan Vitaliy said, “The Patriarchates were rocked.” Logic dictates that it is necessary to judge collegially the Local Churches for modernism, for New Calendar leanings, and for “Baptist theology.” The ROCA, though, has not offered its determination on the other Local Churches at a sobor. If a sobor of the ROCA were to take such an action, it would deviate from the standards of the historical Church Abroad, though there are “devotees” who push it towards that, inspired by the donatism of history. It is well known that donatism has been the basis of divisions in the church throughout the ages.

In their personal writings and research, the theologians of our Church should use a scalpel to cut out the boil of “sergianism,” as it is a development antithetical to the church. Within the Moscow Patriarchate, there should emerge bishops and theologians who can make the correct canonical judgment on “sergianism,” and in that way, try to sow and nourish the growth of the Orthodoxy of the Holy Fathers among the weeds. Let the process of cleansing the Church begin.

Our “little flock” should nourish the seeds in good soil, using the steadfast example of True Orthodoxy, as exemplified by the words of Holy Apostle Paul, “It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery.” (Galatians 5:1) The Russian Orthodox Church Abroad has always acted in this way.

I will now turn to the matter of the other groups that separated from the ROCA. It is known that the Sobor of Bishops of May 2/15, 1990, issued a Statement on the parishes of the Free Russian Orthodox Church. Note that these parishes which were gathered further into dioceses were not autonomous entities in Eucharistic communion only with the ROCA. They were in ROCA’s jurisdiction and were subordinate to the jurisdiction.

However, under the pretext of saving the Catacomb Church, the actions of certain bishops who received their ordination as bishops from the ROCA began to be distinguished by the metastasis of church separatism. This was evidenced first in the actions of Bishop Valentin (Rusantsov).

We all bow before the memory of the New Martyrs and Confessors of Russia. We offer our prayers to the bishops and priests of the Catacomb movement, but we remember that due to the persecution, the Catacomb Church was not able to establish its central authority at any time in its existence. It did not become an alternative Church to the Moscow Patriarchate, but remained a persecuted part of the All-Russia Church, hidden away in the catacombs with its canonical ties to the renegades of Orthodoxy severed. It was a Church Confessor, just like the Church Abroad was the Émigré Church, which also severed its ties with the bishops who changed the course of the church. And the ROC in the Homeland, whose rule was unlawfully usurped by the administration of the Moscow Patriarchate, was the Silenced Church.

On January 26, 1995, after the Sobor at Lesna, Bishop Valentin unceremoniously convened a meeting of his followers (willfully, forming a cabal, a plot, creating a compact - 18th Rule of the IVth Ecumenical Council) at which he renounced the agreed-upon Act and performed unlawful ordinations of bishops. They tried to justify their schism by saying that “…the ROCA parishes in Russia did not have the luxury of waiting the many years until the bishops from abroad restore church discipline…This caused the suspension of Eucharistic communion between the Russian Orthodox Church and the ROCA Synod of Bishops which was established in 1995.” The ROCA hierarchy “…began to insist on their right to establish the higher authority in Russia.”

It should be noted, however, that on the basis of the 15th Rule of the Two-fold Sobor, a suspension of Eucharistic communion would be possible if the ROCA Synod of Bishops was preaching heresy, but it was not preaching heresy at that moment in time, even though it was already falling little by little into union with the MP.

ROCA did not offer autonomy to its parishes in Russia. The ROCA parishes (dioceses) were registered with the government as the Russian True Orthodox Church jurisdiction of the ROCA. They were not independent in their administrative self-rule and they were based on the Decree of the 1998 Sobor: “The Russian parishes of the ROCA have the blessing to register under the name: the Russian True Orthodox Church (RTOC).”

The Sobor of Bishops in September 28/10, 1996, issued a resolution declaring the divestiture of Bishop Valentin’s office of bishop, in accordance with the 28th Apostolic Rule, 38th Carthaginian Rule, and the 88th Rule of Basil the Great.

The urge to separate from the ROCA at any cost, against the canons, and create a new church group, served as the basis of the schismatic actions of Archbishop Lazarus (Zhurbenko), who in 1996 already called a meeting of his clergy for the purpose of discussing how to get out from under the subordination to the ROCA Synod of Bishops on the basis of Ukaze No. 362. The Synod of Bishops declared in 1996, “Award the Russian Council of Bishops the rights and duties delineated in the decision of the 1994 Sobor of Bishops.” That is, there was no talk of any autonomy.

The Hierarch Metropolitan Vitaliy’s going into retirement was done of his own volition and was based on a precedent already established in the ROCA, the retirement of the Hierarch Metropolitan Anastasy. Metropolitan Vitaliy certainly saw the process that was leading the Church away from the standards of church life, but due to the condition of his health, he could not change the course of gathering events. Archbishop Lazarus’ followers took advantage of this and the “paris” and “mansonville” groups of clergy pushed the Metropolitan to take such ill-informed actions such as removing his signature from his request to go into retirement. The reason given was ostensibly the 34th paragraph of the “Status of the ROCA.” They went on to explain that the 34th paragraph “…gives a Hierarch the right to submit his appeal to the Synod or a Sobor, if he disagrees with some decision.” At that time, Metropolitan Vitaliy was already no longer the Hierarch. In contrast, the representatives of the clergy and laypeople of the Odessa and Zaporozhye dioceses did hope to use the 34th paragraph when they ceased commemorating the Hierarch and asked him to stop the process leading to the downfall.

In conclusion, it can be said:

on the whole, the documents from the sobors correspond to the Holy Canons and the Status governing the ROCA. In several of the documents from the sobors, one can see a partial deviation from the historical course of the ROCA, which led to a review of several other statements. As a result, we can state that on the basis of the thesis found in the PSEA’s Epistle, “We affirm the complete continuation of our course for the church, corresponding to the standards and all the documents from the sobors of the ROCA up to May 17th, 2007,” and in accord with the antithesis, “We reject in our continued existence all that does not conform to these standards derived from the sobors.”

We, who guard ourselves from those who bring harm to the Traditions of the Church, which by the Holy Spirit abide in the Church, and seek salvation in the “little flock,” pray at every Holy Liturgy: “O Lord Jesus Christ, our God! Accept from us, Thine unworthy servants, this fervent supplication, and having forgiven us all our sins, remember all our enemies that hate and wrong us, and render not unto them according to their deeds, but according to Thy great mercy convert them… Grant peace and tranquility, love and steadfastness, and swift reconciliation to Thy people, whom Thou hast redeemed by Thy precious Blood. But unto them that have departed from Thee and seek Thee not, be Thou manifest, that not one of them perish, but that all of them be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth; and all in harmonious oneness of mind and unceasing love may glorify Thy most holy name, O patient-hearted Lord Who art quick to forgive, unto the ages of ages. Amen.”

Truly He is Risen!

1 comment:

Joanna Higginbotham said...

I am told that:
Fr. Valery was imprisoned by the Soviet government for about 20 years, for "parisitism"....the charge hurled at many monastics who had been thrown out of their monasteries....and who had, then, to fend for themselves. In the various photos of our recent church events, at Richmond Hill....and in the Astoria church, he is the smallest/shortest priest...of all the group of the clergy. He is greatly respected in the Ukraine, for his knowledge of church matters, and for his sanctity. Many consider him as a sort of an elder.