I am a young member of the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad, who grew up with the perspective of actively participating in church life while living in an increasingly relativistic Western culture. Recent changes in the course of our Church compel me to share some concerns regarding the reestablishment of communion between the Church Abroad and the Moscow Patriarchate, officially to take place May 17, 2007 . on the feast of the Ascension of Our Lord.
It seemed propitious that, in the last few years, relations between the two Churches had matured, from long-standing antagonism to that of respect and dialogue. Many Orthodox Christians hoped this dialogue would lead to a constructive relationship, strengthening the Orthodox traditions of both Churches and possibly restoring communion between the two. At the conclusion of the 4th All-Diaspora Council, our hierarchs issued a statement on May 19,2006 , addressed to the faithful flock, supporting reconciliation between the Church Abroad and the Moscow Patriarchate, while acknowledging "well-documented" conflicts which must first be resolved. The implication was that these conflicts are evident to everyone and require no further description. On December 2006, the faithful flock learned of an agreement reached by ,the Church Abroad and the Moscow Patriarchate, to officially reinstate canonical communion in May 2007. No mention was made of these conflicts, nor resolution thereof.
The issues at hand are indeed well-documented: the role of the Moscow Patriarchate in collaborating with the Communist government, and the current 'membersliportHeMoscow^atrWOTSieTnTIieW^ 01 CnurtTSs'(WUt:r- KS f
young person living in a culture which promotes ambiguous values and flexible morality, these issues do not seem trivial, as they breathe of the same liberal mindset found in mainstream society, and should have no place in the Sanctuary which is Christ's Church. Pursuing the most advantageous course of action, or being morally adaptive, works in politics and business, but not in the Orthodox Church.
When Patriarch Sergius issued his Declaration of 1927, he set a historical precedent for collaboration with the government - placing earthly authority higher than Christ, Who is the only Head of Our Church. Patriarch Sergius did so under duress and we do not judge him as an individual; rather, it is the responsibility of both Churches to condemn the act itself, so future generations do not justify similar actions based on one man's mistake. A serious analogy could be made here with Christ and the authorities of His time; had He simply chosen to establish a relationship of "brotherly love" with the Sanhedrin, He surely would not have been crucified. Instead, Christ exposed the hypocrisy and blindness of these Old Testament authorities, because He taught that while Love is the ultimate goal of every Christian, Truth is the narrow path by which that Love is realized. One cannot be attained without the other. On a purely human level, it is ironic to note that some historians postulate that Sergius' act may have saved the beleaguered Russian Church , but history has proven otherwise. Not only did persecution of the Church increase during this period, but so did the personal involvement of individual clergymen in the NKVD and later KGB.
The membership of the Moscow Patriarchate in the World Council of Churches (WCC) is the other troubling issue which must be resolved before communion is possible.
The WCC is a 'fellowship of churches, now 347.. .from virtually all Christian traditions", including Orthodox, Anglican, and Protestant, among others. Not only does the WCC call for a unity of faith with the heterodox under its auspices, but also the future possibility of including non-Christian religions; it also supports the ordination of women > and homosexuals, granting homosexual relationships equal status with those of heterosexual. Although many Orthodox members within the WCC protest these beliefs, they nevertheless remain members, thereby endorsing the WCC belief system. Silent endorsement is a well-known aspect of social psychology, which the Holy Fathers of the Orthodox Church fully understood. This is why they were so vigorous in separating the Christian Orthodox Church from heresies, sects, and other deviations from the Truth. If the Moscow Patriarchate does not leave the WCC, and the Church Abroad reestablishes communion with the Moscow Patriarchate, it effectively will be condoning the belief system of the WCC by proxy. Once again, both Churches are required by their Christian conscience to condemn the WCC beliefs as un-Christian and severely divergent from the teachings of Christ's Apostles and our Holy Fathers. If the Moscow Patriarchate truly views the WCC as a 'forum" for theological discussion, could it not do so as a non-member, as does the Roman Catholic Church?
Many members of the Church Abroad are afraid of speaking out against the decisions of their peers, elders, and hierarchs, citing the need for unity, obedience, and brotherly love. These virtues are made real only when accompanied by a corresponding Spirit of Truth. Of the many precedents available from Church history, one seems to be the most relevant in relation to the role of individuals in their Church. In the 15th century, Byzantium was on the eve of its eventual destruction. In desperation, Emperor John VIII T^Ie^ologu^ turned mhePOpTWRoTn^^ --
The Pope agreed to "save" Constantinople if the Eastern Orthodox Patriarchs collectively conceded to his primacy and accepted the filioque in the Credo. Only Metropolitan Mark of Ephesus opposed this decision, while the rest of his peers signed the decree in 1439, now remembered as the Union of Florence. This decision was condemned by the majority of Eastern Orthodox faithful, and overturned by a subsequent Council of the Orthodox Church. St. Mark of Ephesus was canonized by the Orthodox Church, as a staunch protector of the Truth. The army sent by the Pope was destroyed by the Turks, and Constantinople fell in 1453. No physical advantages were achieved through the compromise, only spiritual harm and the empty feeling of having betrayed one's beliefs.
The Church Abroad has made mistakes in the past, and should be willing to openly discuss its problems. Canonical communion will become a possibility only when both Churches have solved their respective problems. By joining now with the Moscow Patriarchate, the Church Abroad will compromise its historical opposition to all of the problems mentioned above. Some members of the Church Abroad have written effusively on the necessity of overlooking past mistakes in the interest of preserving brotherly love. This type of solution is akin to patching a long-open wound without cleaning it or drawing out the pus; it will become gangrenous with time, and lead to larger problems in the future. Denial, obfuscation of facts with personal attacks, or avoidance of difficult questions by issuing blanket statements is the easy way out and demonstrates fear or lukewarm passivity. Conversely, it is an act of love and courage to condemn sin and falsehood, without judging the individual.
Instead of just extending our brotherly love to a People and a Church in a land far from us now, historically and geographically, it would be wonderful to see that same love extended first toward our neighbors: the priests, laity, or family members who may have different opinions, yet with whom we have celebrated many years and liturgies together. Let us ask forgiveness from these people, our closest neighbors, whom we may have offended. Truth is a difficult and thorny path to traverse, and the only one which leads the Orthodox Christian to the Love of Christ. So many people love the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad and Her traditions, and look to the Church Abroad as their anchor in this sea of spiritual tribulations. May God help us remain steadfast in our Faith, so that we do not make unnecessary compromises now, which will leave a bitter taste in the mouths of generations to come.