The Receptions Of Our Two Catacomb Bishops
Late last year our ROCA received two catacomb bishops of the TOC, Bishop Ioann and Bishop Afanasiy. Some people decided to make an issue out of it. Now that the dust has settled, we find that things written in defense of the receptions do much to help us understand (and appreciate!) the Royal Path of ROCA.
Memorandum from Bishop Georgiy
on the acceptance into the body of the ROCA
of the bishops of the Russian Orthodox Catacomb Church (sekachevtsevs)
On the matter of the canonical standing of the catacomb episcopate of the Tikhon-Pozdeev-Sekach branch of the true RTOC.
Fr. Victor Dobroff
Fr. Victor raises the question of, what were the motives behind those who decided to make an issue about this? I heard that the behavior of some at the Sobor was disruptive. Do they truly just not understand? Or is it that they do not want to understand and would prefer to have something to criticize in Vladyka Agafangel? I recall reading an interview with Bishop Tihkon Pasechnik (Sbn. Nathanael's Church News, maybe?) where after a meeting with Vladyka Agafangel he said something like this:
(paraphrasing) "I don't understand. He (Vladyka Afagafangel) won't be in communion with us. But he says he will accept us as is."
Does he really not understand? Or does he just want his flock to believe there is a contradiction here? Do we really need to spell it out for him so as not to appear contradictory? No, we will not go into communion with you as long as you remain uncanonical. But we are willing and happy regularize your situation and make you canonical "as you are" meaning that the clergy you uncanonically ordained can still be priests, etc. and we will not upset your working structure. I honestly don't get it how that can be twisted into saying that V. Aga contradicts himself.
So, when Fr. Victor says that those who object to the TOC bishops' receptions are opposed to unity, we see it is true. Their behavior at the Sobor also points to their true motives being just to cause schism and maintain schism.
Memorandum From Bishop Georgiy
Memorandum from Bishop Georgiy
on the acceptance into the body of the ROCA of the bishops
of the Russian Orthodox Catacomb Church (sekachevtsevs)
The ROCA Synod of Bishops during the time of Metropolitan Philaret decided on November 26\December 7, 1977, to accept 14 priests of the Catacomb Church in their existing clergy rank. For the next 14 years, this did not raise any questions for anyone. In 1990, due to the views of ROCA Bishop Lazarus (Zhurbenko) on matters within the Catacomb Church in Russia, the ROCA Sobor of Bishops declared in its Determination on May 2\15, 1990, in Item #6, that: “The Sobor cannot recognize the canonical authenticity of the ordination of these catacomb clergy,” which rescinded the decision of the ROCA Synod of Bishops made on November 26\December 7, 1977. Similarly, the ROCA Synod of Bishops in 1990 decided due to the absence of canonical succession of bishops in this group that “it is not possible, in light of the absence of necessary documentation (which may not have been submitted), to recognize the proof of apostolic succession and the canonical ordination of these underground bishops.” Along with this, “the ROCA Synod of Bishops have decided that these ordained clergy (priests and deacons), who desire to establish relations with the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad, must resolve their canonical status by ordination (if they have no canonical obstacles to this action) by a bishop recognized by the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad” (Chancery Memo of the ROCA Synod of Bishops numbers 4\77\133 from August 2\15, 1990). It is important to note that while not recognizing the ordination of the catacomb clergy, the Synod of Bishops offered to perform a chirotesia of them. They refused at that time due to the strained relations with B. Lazarus. They have now agreed. In this way, in accepting the “sekachevtsevs” through chirotesia in 2008, we are fulfilling the decision of the Synod of Bishops of 1990 to resolve their status in our Church.
The passing years have shown that when we do not appreciate the special circumstances of the shattered church during that awful time and the brave witness of the catacomb bishops and we employ a theoretical approach not based on the Gospel and stress the letter instead of the spirit of the church canons in this matter, the unity of the Russian Church does not benefit and only worsens the problems within it. The “sekachevtsevs” lived in the USSR and sought a genuine catacomb bishop and did not “run” to the MP to be ordained. They were compelled during the communist reign to do what they had to do and did not have any other choice. Bishop Seraphim (Pozdeev) ordained Bishop Gennady alone, because there was simply not another second catacomb bishop. In approximately 1974-1975 in Tbilisi, B. Gennady met in prison with the Georgian Metropolitan Malhas and other bishops, who were allowed to serve liturgy on Pascha in a separate room. All the bishops decided to elevate B. Gennady to metropolitan. After he was released from prison, even Met. Gennady’s close friends thought he agreed to this simply for earthly reasons. One day, immediately after the Eucharist, the Bishop said, “I just took in the Body and Blood of Christ and stand before the altar table with a cross and you still don’t believe me? How can I lie in such circumstances?” and he explained that there was no possibility to invite eyewitnesses and there was no way he could provide a certificate of his ordination. Similarly, to prove by way of documents that during a time of horrible persecution and the collapse of the church whether Seraphim Pozdeev was a bishop or not was simply not possible. But their efforts in the USSR deserve our respect and maximum economia. This is in sharp contrast, by the way, to the “followers of Met. Vitaly.” For example, Segey Kindyakov single-handedly ordained Bishop Varnava (who was later defrocked) with Met. Vitaly present and not participating in the ordination. After Met. Vitaly left and against his will, the two of them then ordained Vladimir Tselishchev. This is an outright violation of the canons. Even so, for the sake of peace and a unified Church, we are prepared to heal this wound on the body of the Church. “We do not seek to vanquish our brothers, but to join with them again, as our separation grieves us.” (St. Gregory the Theologian Word No. 41 “On Holy Pentecost”) The “sekachevtsevs” deserve so much more of our respect. Our church has followed and should further follow the example and inspiration of Met. Philaret and Archbishop John (Maximovitch), who were always open to those who, desiring their salvation, ran to our Church, and not maintain a spirit of animosity and sectarianism, which is so prevalent now among the many “true jurisdictions.”
The disastrous schism in ROCA, which was building for many years, finally occurred on May 17, 2007, initiated by the former hierarch Metropolitan Lavr and other bishops that followed him. The Provisional Supreme Ecclesiastical Authority under the chairmanship of the Most Reverend Agafangel, Bishop of Taurida and Odessa and ruling bishop for Buenos Aires and South America was formed on June28\July11, 2007, in New York, based on the resolution passed by a meeting of the ROCA parish representatives. It was established as a temporary ROCA church authority in the period between sobors and is governed by the “Status of ROCA,” which was ratified by a decision of the ROCA Sobor of Bishops on June 5\18, 1964. As the Provisional Supreme Ecclesiastical Authority of the ROCA, and consisting of 4 bishops, the ROCA PSEA has all the canonical authority of a Supreme Ecclesiastical Authority (ie. Synod) of ROCA. It is consistent with rule 11 and rule 15 of the “Status of ROCA,” which state that, “In the inter-sobor period, all urgent and important matters that should be decided by a Sobor (ie, a sobor of bishops), are decided by the Synod of Bishops with the participation of all the ROCA bishops.” In line with all of this, since the ROCA PSEA has all the canonical authority of a Supreme Ecclesiastical Authority (ie. Synod) of ROCA, it can, in accordance with rules 26 & 29 of the “Status of ROCA,” make decisions as to how and to what extent economia is used to accept clergy from other jurisdictions. Therefore, having accepted the bishops of the Catacomb Church, the “sekachevtsevs,” into the body of ROCA through economia and chirotesia, the ROCA PSEA did not exceed its authority and for the sake of the Church and desiring peace and unity in the Church, it did not violate the letter or spirit of the Holy Canons and previous ROCA decisions.
Fr. Victor Dobroff's Defense
On the matter of the canonical standing
of the catacomb episcopate of the Tikhon-Pozdeev-Sekach branch of the true RTOC.
Fr. Victor Dobroff
The joy of the faithful members of the Church Abroad at the acceptance of the catacomb bishops of the Russian TOC (True Orthodox Church), Bishop Ioann (Zaitsev) and Bishop Afanasiy (Savitsky), into the body of the Council of Russian Eminences under the omofor of the ROCA was overshadowed by those who are opposed to unity in the Church and who fool others, who are not informed of Church matters. These people initiated a broad campaign of innuendo even claiming that the ROCA PSEA and its episcopate has lost its canonicity by entering into union with a “dubious” episcopate that is without apostolic succession.
It must be stated that the PSEA did not enter into a union with a “dubious” episcopate of some minor jurisdiction. ROCA has always and will continue to consider itself a part of the Russian Local Orthodox Church and one with the Catacomb Church. To avoid any temptation, the two genuine bishops of the Russian TOC were accepted through chirotesia and the PSEA clearly accepted under its omofor Orthodox bishops who belong, just like the ROCA episcopate, to the same Russian Local Church of Patriarch-Confessor Tikhon.
The matter of the canonical status of the two bishops was thoroughly examined and their acceptance into communion with the PSEA was not the result of a hasty decision, as it is being portrayed by some. The Most Reverend Soforniy (Musienko), at the behest of the PSEA, researched the canonical status of the Tikhon-Pozdeev-Sekach branch of the Catacomb Church in Russia for almost an entire year before the canonical acceptance of the “Sekachevtsevs” took place.
The possibility of joining with the “Sekachevtsevs” was discussed within the ROCA before and not just once. In point of fact, the fourth ROCA hierarch, Metropolitan Vitaly of Blessed Memory, was prepared in 1990 to enter into Eucharistic communion with the Pozdeev-Sekach branch of the TOC without any preconditions; while at the same time, others, who were under the influence of the unsubstantiated claims of Bishop Lazarus (Zhurbenko), considered it absolutely necessary to remedy the status of the catacomb ordinations through chirotesia.
As regards the ways in which the “Sekachevtsevs” were accepted into union with the ROCA, there are two Decisions – one from a Sobor and one from a Synod.
In May, 1990, the ROCA Sobor of Bishops considered the proposal to enter into communion with the “Sekachev” episcopate in their existing clergy rank (ie. without chirotesia) and Decided that based on the archival information available to the ROCA Synod, they cannot categorically recognize the canonicity of the “Sekachev group.”
This decision at the Sobor was made due to the scant information available in the archives of the Synod and before the archives of the KGB were opened and made possible the determination that the Pozdeev-Sekach branch of the Catacomb Church in Russia can be traced back to Patriarch St. Tikhon. The decision of the Sobor was also influenced by the declaration of Bishop Hilarion (Kapral), the secretary of the ROCA Synod at the time, that he had documents somewhere that proved conclusively that the “Sekachevtsevs” were not canonical. As it turned out later, these “documents” of Bishop Hilarion was a letter he received from “catacomb” Bishop Lazarus (Zhurbenko).
As a result, the lack of official documentation of their ordination, such as an authorized certificate (the existence of such a certificate in the USSR, if found, would have threatened its owner if not with a death sentence, then at least many years in prison; which is why such certificates were not issued in the catacombs), and the anti-Sekachev efforts of Bishop Lazarus (Zhurbenko), halted the natural union of one of the most populated Russian catacomb branches of the TOC with the ROCA, due to doubts of canonicity from the side of the ROCA.
An explanation and clarification of the ROCA Sobor Decision of May, 1990, regarding the way in which the Pozdeev-Sekachevtsevs could be brought into communion was provided for in the Determination of the August session of the ROCA Synod later in 1990, which said:
“…the ROCA Synod of Bishops cannot determine the validity of the apostolic succession and the canonical ordination of these underground bishops in light of the absence of (or not provided by them) legitimate proof (ie. authorized certificates – ed.)…As a result, the ROCA Synod of Bishops declares that…the clerics with the ordination specified above who desire to enter into communion with the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad must establish their canonical status by the laying on of hands from bishops recognized by the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad.”
It is not by chance that the Synod Determination says:
1. “the clerics with the ordination specified above” – you do not call people clerics and ordained that do not have apostolic succession, but only those who have it, but may yet have to be confirmed completely. Such an instance occurred when a ROCA bishop, Bishop Varnava (Prokofiev), secretly ordained as a bishop in the USSR (without an authorized certificate, I believe) the future founder of the schismatic RTOC, Lazarus (Zhurbenko). His ordination was not proper from a canonical standpoint, and to complete it, a chirotesia needed to be performed, which was done to Lazarus much later, in the Synod Cathedral in New York during his first visit in the US.
2. “establish their canonical status” – in the cases of self-ordained episcopates, that is where apostolic succession is not present, the ordained individuals do not possess a sort of canonical status. To establish it, that is to correct the canonical status, is possible only when it exists and needs to be completed through chirotesia. Therefore, the ROCA Synod Determination of 1990 does not deny the presence of a certain canonical status in the bishops of the Pozdeev-Sekachev TOC. It then becomes apparent that the ROCA Synod Determination of 1990 requires that the “sekachevtsevs” need to be accepted through chirotesia. That how this ROCA Synod Determination was understood at the September session of the ROCA PSEA.
Therefore, the acceptance into the body of the Council of Russian Eminences of the ROCA jurisdiction of the “sekachev” bishops Ioann (Zaitsev) and Afansiy (Savitsky) enacted by the PSEA in September, 2008, through a conciliar chirotesia performed by the entire ROCA episcopate adheres strictly to the letter and spirit of the Sobor and Synod Determinations of ROCA from May and July of 1990.
Many years have passed since the ROCA Synod Determination of 1990 and certain important facts regarding the origins of the “sekachev” episcopate which were not known earlier in ROCA or were cast in doubt by the adherents of the lazarus schism have now become known. We can now say without a shadow of a doubt that the “sekachevtsevs” trace their apostolic succession and origins through Bishop Seraphim (Pozdeev) back to Holy Patriarch of All Russia Tikhon.
Interesting facts about how Bishop Seraphim (Pozdeev) became the lawful head of the Russian TOC after his release from the Solovetsky camps, and the bishop ordination by him of Gennady Sekachev, even though it was done by him alone due to the circumstances, was performed with the agreement of other catacomb bishops, and that Metropolitan Gennady Sekach had close contact with the ROCA episcopate when he was ordained a priest by a future bishop of the ROCA, Bishop Leonty (Filipov), and other matters of interest may be gleaned from the short biographies provided below of Schema-bishop Seraphim (Pozdeev) and Metropolitan Gennady (Sekach).