A Striking Parallel

Dear Readers, Compare the coup of the OCA's autocephaly with the coup of the ROCOR+MP union. -jh

Orthodox Word, January-February 1970 [from the regularly featured section Orthodoxy in the Contemporary World]


The Russian Metropolia [a.k.a. OCA] in America, which in December [1969] let it be known that it hoped to receive early this year [1970] the blessing of the Moscow Patriarchate to become the Local Orthodox Church of America, has run into opposition of a totally unexpected degree, both from within its own flock and from other Orthodox Churches. The strongest non-Russian response was that of Patriarch Athenagoras of Constantinopole, who has been followed by his American Exarch, Archbishop Iakovos, several other hierarchs on the American "Standing Conference," and the Churches of Greece and Bulgaria.

In a letter of January 8 to Patriarch Alexy of Moscow [English text in the Rumanian newspapers Credinta, January, and Solia, Feb. 15], Patriarch Athenagoras made known what had already been widely suspected: that the Metropolia had not informed its "brother bishops" of other jurisdicitons in America that it was negotiating for "autocephaly" [it informed Constantinople only that it was negotiating for the "reestablishment of regular relations" with Moscow], and he states the obvious fact that this unilateral move is the cause of "upsetting inter-Orthodox relations" and unity. As a result Constantinople "will neither recognize this action nor enroll this Church in the Diptychs or in the Sacred Catalogue of the Holy Orthodox Autocephalous Churches. We would label as uncanonical this Church which you would choose to proclaim autocephalous. In this connection also, this Throne will take any other action needed to secure canonical order," apparently even including the possibility of excommunication.

Patriarch Alexy has as yet given no response, but the Metropolia has made it known that it plans to go through with its coup, with or without the approval of the other Churches; the other jurisdictions in America will simply have to join it if they wish to belong to the "Orthodox Church in America." The ideological basis for this stand has already been set forth in the official publication of the Rumanian Diocese under the Metropolia, Solia -- which before this article did not even inform its readers that any plan of "autocephaly" was being considered. Solia declares [Feb. 15] that "Constantinople does it again"! This letter "just follows a well worn pattern... The ecumenical Patriarchate has always opposed the creation and functioning of any church independent of herself... Time has always proved that Constantinople was wrong."

0ne need not be any partisan of Patriarch Athenagoras, whose anti-Orthodox ecumenism is well known, to agree that an autocephalous American Church cannot logically or realistically be formed by a self-willed minority -- even if that minority were not as ecclesiastically immature* as the Metropolia obviously is. But this argument by no means touches the whole case against the Metropolia's "autocephaly." Another crucial criticism was directed, chiefly by the Synod and members of the Russian Church 0utside of Russia, against the uncanonical and indeed anti-Christian character of the authority that is granting the "autocephaly" -- the Patriarchate of Moscow.

Strangely enough, from the arguments of the Metropolia over the "autocephaly" one would not even suspect -- apart from a few derogatory references in the Russian language press -- that such a thing as the Russian Church 0utside of Russia even exists -- the Church of which, until 1946, the Metropolia itself was a part! This surely is even more of a blow against Orthodox unity than the slap against the Greeks, for it concerns brothers not only by faith, but even by blood. The response of the Synodal bishops, alike in the decrees of the Synod and the Christmas Epistles of separate hierarchs in America, was immediate and decisive: full of sorrow and righteous protest, it nonetheless expressed concerned love and a sincere desire for the restoration of unity with bishops still regarded as brothers.

Still more telling, however, in its testimony against the Metropolia's actions has been the response of its own flock. The Russian press since the Metropolia's announcement has been full of open letters and protests by concerned laymen in the Metropolia -- including the American-born of the second and third generations -- expressing sorrow and pain and decisive protest, and vowing to leave the Metropolia if this act of "sacrilege and shame" is fulfilled. Some have already left, seeing the Metropolia already betrayed by unprincipled behavior. Alexandra Tolstoy of the Tolstoy Foundation [daughter of the novelist], after publishing a full page protest in Novoye Russkoye Slovo [Dec 20], left the Metropolia for the Russian Church Abroad, bringing with her the "Tolstoy Farm" with its St. Sergius parish. The Tolstoy Foundation is described in the 1970 Year Book as "the sole and exclusive secular representative of the Russian Orthodox Greek Catholic Church of North America [Metropolia] for migration and legal assistance as well as welfare for the communicants of this Church in Europe, Asia, Africa and Latin America" - the Metropolia thus, being now suddenly "American," cutting itself off from its own refuge organization! And a leading Metropolia priest, Fr. Alexy Ionov, until recently editor of the Metropolia's official Russian-language publication, The Russian American Orthodox Messenger, and head of the Metropolia's Committee for the canonization of Father Herman of Alaska and for writing his Life, has also come to the Synod together with his parish in Sea Cliff, Long Island, which on February 22 voted unanimously to follow him. At least two of the few remaining monks in the Metropolia have also come to the Synod.

Others in the Metropolia are awaiting the next turn of events before taking any decisive action. It has become common knowledge that not only laymen of the Metropolia, but many priests and bishops as well, have been kept largely uninformed of what was going on; at least one bishop with his clergy has found out more about the "autocephaly" from the publications of Fr. Neketas Palassis of the Synod than from the Chancellor's office of the Metropolia!

All that has been made known thus far about the "autocephaly" tends to confirm the suspicion of a layman of the Metropolia, Dr. Michael A. Grishkov of Detroit, expressed in an Open Letter to Metr. Ireny [Novoye Russkoye Slovo, Feb. 5], that "it is not You, but a certain group in the Metropolia that has led this whole secret work, not having the courage to answer the laymen honestly." The Metropolia defends itself by saying that each Diocesan Assembly has met and approved the "autocephaly." But these assemblies were approached more in the manner of a military campaign than anything else: The two brilliant stars of the Metropolia, Frs. Schmemann and Meyendorff -- who are apparently the chief promoters of the whole scheme -- conducted a blitzkrieg** campaign, going to these assemblies one after the other and using their prestige and "theology" to convince them of the necessity and benefits of the "autocephaly." In the meantime, any mention that such a thing as negotiations with the Soviet Patriarchate was being conducted was scrupulously kept out of the newspapers and the Metropolia's publications, so that there was no general awareness of what was going on and no opposition cold thus be organized. Finally, the public announcement was made, in the belief that the coup was already successful. The ensuing protests from inside and outside the Metropolia indicate that not all the faithful are so easily fooled, after all.

It is therefore surely an understatement when even The Russian Orthodox Journal [Feb.], which favors the "autocephaly," admits that "the Metropolia has done a poor job of informing its faithful that negotiations were proceeding." The faithful can only suspect that such a veil of secrecy must hide something that will not bear scrutiny in road daylight,and the arguments of the spokesmen for "autocephaly" only tend to reinforce this impression. The replies in the religious and secular press so far have not even tried to answer the heartfelt -- and quite logical -- protests that have been made, but rather attempt to counter them with outright name-caololing joined to the vaguest kind of emotional effusions over the newly-attained "freedom" and "canonical status" [what? was the Metropolia before this not free? not canonical?].

To the question: Why didn't you consult the other Orthodox jurisdicitons in America,including the much larger Greek Archdiocese? -- the answer is: "Constantinople does it again, it is again on the wrong side" [Solia, Feb. 15] -- a reply that can only inspire the counter-exclamation: The Metropolia does it again, its fourth proclamation of "autocephaly" in 45 years, the first three of which it had to back down on!

To the question: How can you derive canonicity from the agents of atheistic Communism? -- the answer is: "An outright slander, not deserving refutation" [The Russian American Orthodox Messenger, Jan.,p.16] -- but the published proof that Metr. Nikodim is a indeed working to promote Communism and destroy the Church and faithful will not simply vanish because you do not wish to look at it! The propaganda of the Metropolia strangely assumes that "the end justifies the means," that no matter how or with whom the agreement was reached, the end -- "autocephaly" -- justifies it and puts an end to any influence of Moscow in America. But does it? Fr. Meyendorff is so naive as to declare [in the Washington Post] that "We do not know why this new freedom would come to us at a time when the existence of the church there is much more dangerous than it was ever before... For some reason the Church in Moscow was enabled to act now. It is certain that it had to have the approval of the Communist government in order to do this." But if one even admits that the Communist government is somewhere behind the "autocephaly," is it really so difficult to see the benefits which it thus obtains? It obtains recognition for its puppet church from a large group of free Russians abroad. It gains a foothold in every Orthodox church in America that accepts the "autocephaly," for its ecclesiastical representatives will be able to serve and preach there, while it keeps the long-disputed St. Nicholas Cathedral in New York City and any parish of the Exarchate that chooses to remain directly under Moscow. It gains control of the Church of Japan. It tightens the noose around the neck of the Russian Church Abroad, the last free voice of conscience in the Russian Church. It crushes those few brave souls inside the USSR who have dared to protest openly against the persecutions of Orthodoxy by the hierarchs of the Soviet Church. The layman Boris Talantov, for example, writes that "a full unmasking of what Metr. Nikodim and the Patriarchate are doing would mean the end of his undercover enterprise. The time has come to reveal how delegates from the Moscow Patriarchate have betrayed the Church abroad..." [quoted in The Russian Review, Oct. 1969, p.420]*** Will the hierarchs of the Metropolia dare to agree with this courageous fighter for Orthodox principal inside Russia, or will they not rather back up their benefactor, Metr. Nikodim, who says that Talantov is now justly imprisoned for "political" statements? [Most likely of all, to be sure, they will simply maintain a prudent silence and let the Soviets do what they want, which is perhaps the chief purpose of the "autocephaly."] By means of the "autocephaly" the prestige of the Soviet Church is increased, and its "favors "bind a whole Church to it by the tightest invisible bonds. Moscow, indeed, knew exactly what it was doing when it threw out its bait to the Metropolia; it loses only a single uninfluential Exarch, while world Communism and its puppet church gain propaganda and espionage benefits which they could not have purchased for millions!

To the question: Why do you turn your backs on your own brothers, the clergy and faithful of the Russian Church Abroad, and even on those within your own ranks who beg you to stop before you completely betray Orthodoxy and the faithful? -- the answer is: our explanations "will be heard by all except incorrigible fanatics, who... wish to bring political warfare into the Church's enclosure" [Messenger, Jan., p.12]. Archbishop John Shahovskoy, indeed, in a letter to a layman which was published as a paid advertisement in Novoye Russkoye Slovo [Jan 18], accuses Alexandra Tolstoy and others who oppose the "autocephaly" of writing "demagogic-emotional" protests and dismisses the entire "so-called Russian Church 0utside of Russia" as being in a state of "delirium, hatred, and pharisaical pride"! Therefore, it follows, one does not have to stop to listen to what they say, even if it may be true!

What is one to think of such incredibly irrelevant and callous answers to genuine questions that demand straightforward answers? They only serve to reinforce the widespread impression that the whole "autocephaly" scandal is a political trick which a small group is trying to force upon a flock whom they must consider abysmally ignorant.

And what of the suffering flock of the Metropolia, so often already misled by its leaders? Already deprived of communion with their Russian brethren abroad, are these faithful now supposed meekly to accept the blessing of the agents of Communism who, on February 20 New York Times, Feb. 21], removed the last barrier to the Unia with Rome by announcing that the Moscow Patriarchate will now give communion to Roman Catholics? Will the large Carpatho-Russian population in the Metropolia, which returned to Orthodoxy in America from the enforced Unia with Rome, accept this in silence? One of their number, Joseph Zelenyak, a delegate to the Detroit Sobor in 1924, had the courage to refuse to sign the "autocephaly" decree of that Sobor and to inscribe this note in the minutes: "Minneapolis has always waged war for Orthodoxy against the papacy, and now it will wage war against the autocephaly."

But now the battle against "autocephaly" is joined to the battle against papism, and the remaining elements of sound Orthodoxy in the Metropolia have come to a critical choice: to turn back to the Russian Church Abroad, in leaving which the Metropolia set out on the path which ends now in its total disgrace and shame, or to follow its "leaders" to the next stage in the continuing 20th-century martyrdom of Russian Orthodoxy. There is no need to accuse these "leaders" of consciously betraying Orthodoxy; they seek only the recognition and applause of the world, and this has blinded them to the Apostolic truth that the friendship of the world is enmity with God {St. James 4:4}, and they thus cannot even see the enormity of the evil which they are trying to force upon American Orthodoxy. May the sound conscience of the faithful lead them on the right path -- the narrow path, despised by the world, of genuine and principled -Orthodoxy.

-----Further information and comment on the "autocephaly" question, including an Appeal by Holy Transfiguration Monastery to the clergy and faithful of the Metropolia, and a 100-page study by John Dunlop of the recent activities of the Moscow Patriarchate, may be obtained free of charge by writing to:

St. Nectarios American Orthodox Church
223 20th Avenue Northeast
Seattle, Wash. 98115 ****


* "ecclesiastically immature as the Metropolia obviously is" The normal establishment of an autocephalous Church requires the fledgling Church to be under the wing of its "parent" Church for a specific time. This time period was not nearly fulfilled in the case of the OCA. -jh

** "blitzkrieg" is a war tactic using lightning fast surprise attacks

*** Boris Talantov, 
I can't find this particular essay, but here are other related articles:

archives.homb.org/ Fr%20Neketas%20to%20Arch%20Laurus%20February%201978.pdf
www.hocna.net/.../ The%20Evil%20Communion%20St%20Matin%20of%20Tours.pdf

**** This offer is almost 40 years old, but the St. Nektarios Press is still a good source of non-World Orthodox information -jh

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