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Patristic Resistance

Is the Moscow Patriarchate the "Mother Church" of the ROCOR?

by Protopresbyter Alexander Lebedeff

In the opinion of the Church Abroad, suspending relations between the two Churches did not at all mean that the two were divided. The Church Abroad continues to maintain that all the Russian Churches, the Patriarchal Church, the Church Abroad, and the Catacomb Church, are part of one Russian Church. The question of what part of the Russian Church followed the correct, canonical path, preserving the traditions and heritage of the old Russian Church, is one which, in the opinion of the Church Abroad, can be determined only by a freely-elected All-Russian Local Council of the Russian Church, in which would participate representatives of the Patriarchal Church, the Church Abroad and of the Catacomb Church.

—Hernot Zeide, The Russian Orthodox Church Abroad: Jubilee Collection, Jordanville, 1988, p. 344

Recently, we are seeing many appeals appearing in the Russian-language press for the clergy and faithful of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia to "return to the fold of the Mother Church." Some of these appeals have been written by prominent ROCOR personalities, for example, by Subdeacon Gleb Rar in Germany. There have also been official comments made on this issue by the Department of External Relations of the Moscow Patriarchate, which has taken the position that the ROCOR is a body in schism from it, and can in no way be considered a part of the historical Russian Church, since it is not in canonical subjugation to the hierarchy of the Moscow Patriarchate.

So, the question needs to be addressed—is the ROCOR, indeed, in schism from its legitimate supreme ecclesiastical authority, represented by Patriarch Alexis II and his Synod?

In order to answer this question correctly, we must turn to some documents of the critical period which established the relationship of the Russian Church Abroad with the Moscow Patriarchate—namely, the time directly following the repose of St. Patriarch Tikhon in 1925. Two documents are exceptionally important in this regard. Both are especially interesting, because they predate the infamous Epistle of Metropolitan Sergius and his Synod, known as the "Declaration," dated July 16/29, 1927. Both documents are also not well-known and are rarely referred to in the histories of the time.

One of the two "key" documents is the letter of the Acting Patriarchal Locum Tenens, Metropolitan Sergius to Metropolitan Anthony (Khrapovitsky) and the Bishops of the Russian Church Abroad, dated September 12, 1926. Metropolitan Sergius at this time had heard about the split between Metropolitan Evlogy of Western Europe and the rest of the Bishops of the Synod Abroad. it is in this context that he writes:

My dear Hierarchs (Sviatiteli),

. . . Your letter gives me an opportunity to postulate a general question—can the Moscow Patriarchate be the directress at all of the ecclesiastical life of the Orthodox émigrés, when between them there is in reality no interaction?

It seems to me that the benefit of the ecclesiastical work itself demands that you, by mutual consent . . . create a central organ of church administration, sufficiently authoritative, that could resolve all misunderstandings and disagreements and would have the power to cut off any misunderstanding and any disobedience, without turning to us for assistance (one could always find a basis for questioning the authenticity of our directives or explaining them as being based on not being sufficiently informed). . .

Metropolitan Sergius concludes this fraternal letter with the following words:

I would wish to embrace all of you, to converse with you personally. But is seems that this will be possible for us only outside of the conditions of our earthly life, which is full of sorrows and tribulations. Forgive me and pray for me.

May the Lord help you carry your cross of exile and may He preserve you from all tribulations,

In Christ remaining true to you, and loving you as a brother,

Metropolitan Sergius

It would be hard for anyone to see in this letter even a hint of condemnation of the hierarchs of the Church Abroad. No demands for them to "return under the omophorion of the Mother Church." No attacks on them for "having abandoned their dioceses" or any of the drivel that later polemicists of the Moscow Patriarchate, the Paris exarchate, or the OCA have directed at the bishops of the Church Abroad.

If one, as these polemicists do, demand that Metropolitan Sergius and his administration be recognized as the legitimate "Mother Church," then what we have here is not only a de facto recognition by the Mother Church of the validity of the Bishops of the Church Abroad, but a clear recommendation that they create and maintain an independent Church Administration, as well as a frank admission that the Russian Orthodox parishes abroad cannot be administered by the Moscow Patriarchate.

How can following this recommendation of the Mother Church be considered being in schism from it?

This document, perhaps the last free expression of the voice of Metropolitan Sergius (he was arrested in December 1926, and when he was freed several months later, he emerged with a very different agenda), should be considered as the formal blessing of the Acting Patriarchal Locum Tenens for the independent existence of the Church Abroad.

There is one more document that needs to be examined. It is the Ukaz No. 93 of Metropolitan Sergius and his temporary Synod, dated July 1/14, 1927 (some two weeks before the "Declaration"). This Ukaz demands that all clergy abroad promise that they will cease all criticism of the Soviet government, and that they sign a formal pledge to this effect. It also directs that any clergyman abroad who refuses to sign such a pledge will no longer be considered as being part of the Moscow Patriarchate. It even included the actual text of the pledge to be signed. Here it is:

I, the undersigned, promise that because of my actual dependence upon the Moscow Patriarchate, I will not permit myself in either my social activities nor especially in my Church work, any expression that could in the least way be considered as being disloyal with regard to the Soviet government.

I am curious to know whether any of the staunch defenders of the Moscow Patriarchate on this list or elsewhere, could actually sign such a pledge (remember that this is an official Ukaz of the Church they recognize as the "Mother Church")? Could Fr. Alexander Golubov (who I suspect is an American citizen and would lose his citizenship if he pledged loyalty to any foreign power)? Could Hieromonk John? Because, if you considered the Moscow Patriarchate to be the "Mother Church" and you refused to sign this pledge, you were absolutely and unequivocally cast out of the Moscow Patriarchate. Period.

Remember, we are talking about formally pledging never to even criticize the government of Stalin, which by this time (1927) had imprisoned and murdered countless bishops, priests, monks, nuns, and laity and destroyed countless churches and stolen countless relics and church valuables.

Of course, it is clear that the publication of this Ukaz was one of the conditions made by the Soviet authorities for the release of Metropolitan Sergius and for permission being granted to him to form some sort of Church Administration. The criticism by the clergy of the Russian Orthodox Church abroad of the actions of the Soviet government and its persecution of the faithful had long been a thorn in the side of the Soviets, and it wanted to ensure that measures would be taken by the now obedient Acting Locum Tenens to bring the clergy abroad in line.

Metropolitan Sergius, it seems to me, did this in a rather clever way. He put forth a demand for a signed declaration of loyalty to the Soviet state, probably knowing full well that it would be impossible for most clergy abroad to sign such a statement. At the same time, his Ukaz declared that those who refused to sign the loyalty pledge were thereby cut off from the Moscow Patriarchate—meaning that the Moscow Patriarchate could no longer be responsible for their anti-Soviet statements or activities, since they were no longer subject to its authority.

But the bottom line is that this Ukaz again formally releases all the bishops and clergy abroad from the jurisdiction of the Moscow Patriarchate, if they refuse to sign the loyalty pledge. No other ecclesiastical sanctions are threatened or imposed—just a release from the jurisdiction of the MP.

And so the clergy of the Church Abroad, who refused to sign a pledge of loyalty to Stalin’s government, once again by an action of the Metropolitan Sergius as the head of the "Mother Church" (this time not by a letter, but by a formal Ukaz) are freed from any ecclesiastical subordination to the Moscow Patriarchate. Being so released, how can they be considered to be in schism from the "Mother Church" that released them itself?

After this Ukaz, no further sanctions by the Moscow Patriarchate against the Bishops and clergy of the Church Abroad could have any ecclesiastical force at all, since the clergy abroad were released from ecclesiastical subordination to it.

All in all, these two documents of Metropolitan Sergius show clearly that the Russian Church Abroad cannot and should not consider the Moscow Patriarchate under Metropolitan Sergius and his successors as its "Mother Church."* It remains what it was from its inception—the free part of the historical Church of Russia, temporarily self-administering in accordance with the canons, the Ukaz of Patriarch Tikhon No. 362, and even with the blessing of Metropolitan Sergius as shown above.

* Added later: What I have said in this last paragraph may seem to contradict other official uses of the term "Mother Church." However, there is only an appearance of contradiction, as this term involves multiple levels of reference. Hence, the confusion commonly surrounding its usage.

The comments above were originally part of a larger article. The wider context was addressing whether the Synod should "reunite with its Mother Churchthe MP, from which it broke away." Herein lies the seeming contradiction. Certainly, the Church entity known as the MP is definitively not the "Mother Church" of the ROCOR. It was created at the behest of Soviet atheistic authorities as a "Puppet Church" totally under their control. 

However, we must also recognize that the leaders of the ROCOR never considered the ROCOR to be the entirety of the Russian Church, nor did they consider the ROCOR to have split off from the Mother Churchwhich is an entity that cannot be described solely in administrative terms.

The Mother Church (for those abroad as well as in the homeland) is the historical Church of Russia, administratively sundered as a result of the revolution. During Patriarch Tikhon's time, the Church Abroad considered itself the free part of the "Tikhonite" Church, as opposed to the church of the Renovationists. After the repose of St. Tikhon, the ROCOR continued to commemorate his Locum Tenens, Metropolitan Peter, although there was no longer any true Church Administration. So the "Mother Church" became a more mystical conceptreferring to those Russian Orthodox clergy and faithful who were true to the traditions of Russian Orthodoxy and who did not accept as valid the subjugation of the Church to the Godless authorities. Some of them were in the Catacomb Churchothers were working within the State-directed Church, as best they could.

It is with the senior administration of the MP that we have a problemnot with the Orthodox faithful. This is clear from the words of Archbishop Vitaly, which I quoted, the Epistles of the Sobors of the Church Abroad, and even the latest statement by Metropolitan Vitaly, in which he clearly separates the administration of the MP from the faithful.

This separation is a reality. In the MP today there is an ever-growing chasm between the higher-upsthe "white hats" and assorted ecclesiastical bureaucrats and professional ecumenists (all very visible and located in the main capitals)and the regular clergy and the peopleoutside of Moscow and St. Petersburg.

The "white hats" are all KGB-appointees and hopelessly tainted by their collaboration. The are the remnants of the Soviet-age "nomenklatura"the privileged ruling class, who had their limousines, dachas, and special food stores and hospitals. These are theones that are pushing ecumenism, defending Sergianism, and who are involved in the shady business dealings.

But, our hearts and minds are with the great masses of the clergy and people not in this elite groupthey are certainly the part of the Mother Church that has been persecuted, but has never lost faithfulness to Christ's truth.

Excerpts from ROCOR Sources on the Term "Mother Church":

First, Metropolitan Anthony on the Church Abroad:

"The part of the Russian Church that is abroad considers itself to be a indivisible, spiritually-united branch of the great Church of Russia. She does not separate herself from her Mother Church and does not consider herself autocephalous. . . " (Letters of Metropolitan Anthony, p. 262).

Second, Archbishop Vitaly (Maximenko), writing in 1953 (when the situation of the Moscow Patriarchate was very clear to all):

First of all, with our former steadfastness we confess our unity with the Mother Church of Russia, now enslaved; our faithfulness to Her historical thousand-year path, and we send to Her our cordial prayerful wishes that She may be freed quickly from the domination of the God-fighters. Without any compromise, we condemn the collaboration of Her current leaders in the USSR with the atheistic communist authorities. But in a like manner, we also condemn all self-created autonomies, separatism, divisions, and independent-mindedness. The essence of our Church is not in divisiveness and seeking power, but in keeping Divine truth in Unity. (Motifs of My Life, p. 71).

[Actually, in this book, Motifs of My Life, published in Jordanville in 1955, Archbishop Vitaly (who was a confessor, himself) uses the term "Mother Church" dozens of times to refer to the Church in Russia. Yes, enslaved, yes, downtroddenbut still the Mother Church. Archbishop Vitaly's statement cannot grammatically be taken to mean anything other than what it says: "We confess our unity with the Mother Church. . . We uncompromisingly condemn the collaboration of Her current leaders in the USSR with the atheistic communist authorities." In Russian, "ispoveduem nshe edinstvo c Mater'ju Tserkov'ju Russkoi. . . Bezkompromissno osuzhdaem sotrudnichestvo sovremennykh vozglavitelej ee v SSSR s bezbozhnoi kommunisticheskoi vlast'ju." There is no wayas some have tried to arguethat these words can be taken to mean the Catacomb Church, since its leaders were not collaborating with the Godless authorities.]

And, a little more clarity on the opinion of Metropolitan Anthony on Metropolitan Sergius (in personal letters, written after the "Declaration"):

Metropolitan Sergius has scandalized humself: in church the people yelled at him: "Traitor, Judas!" and chased him out, tearing off his vestments—Evlogy has stopped commemorating him and doesn't know whom he can stick to now. Nevertheless, I feel sorry for Metropolitan Sergius: he has no willpower, but his mind is clear and his heart is good. (Letters of Metropolitan Anthony, p. 221).

I feel sorry for poor Most Reverend Metropolitan Sergius, who was reviled and whistled at in a Moscow church—that is, in the temple; he is, of course, not as he was characterized by the revilers, although the last three years he has acted unwisely—he outsmarted himself. (Ibid., p. 249).

Archbishop Vitaly (Maximenko), who holds a place of great esteem in the Russian Church Abroadfor his work in maintaining a remnant of the Pochaev Lavra in Ladomirovo in the Carpathians (including its press)which later moved to Jordanville, and, especially for keeping the Synodal Church alive here in the States, after being sent here as a bishop in 1935. He rebuilt the Synodal Church from the ground up here not once, but twice (first, upon his arrival, when there was just a handful of parishes, and then again in 1946, after the infamous Cleveland Council, when again only a few parishes remained loyal to the Church Abroad).

He was a very well-educated man, graduate of the Kazan Theological Academy, and was universally revered with the title of "Avva"a title that only he and Metropolitan Anthony have had consistently applied to them.

Yet, reading his book Motifs of My Life, one cannot but come to the conclusion that his heart suffered greatly for the long-suffering Church in Russiawhich he calls the "Mother Church"consistently and constantly. One also can see from the context of his statementswhich definitely express the mind of the ROCOR at that timesince he was its chief representative in the States (and, in fact, during the period of WWII, he was the chief spokesman for the ROCOR, period, since Metropolitan Anastassy and the ROCOR bishops in Europe and the Far East were basically out of reach because of the war).

And, his concept of the "Mother Church" certainly and unequivocally was not limited to the Catacomb Church in Russiabut included those in the enslaved Russian Church that were faithful to the historical Church of Russia.

Please let me be clearhe did not EQUATE the Moscow Patriarchate with the Mother Churchbut he certainly did not EXCLUDE it. This becomes clearly evident when one reads further in Motifs. Archbishop Vitaly, among many articles in which this subject was discussed, wrote one called "Our Responsibility before the Mother-Russian Church."

Writing about the change in attitude of the Communist authorities toward the Church during the War, he writes:

. . .they even permitted the Russian Orthodox Church to elect Patriarch Sergius for itself.

(Notice the term "Russian Orthodox Church"—not "the Moscow Patriarchate") Further, he writes:

. . . we need to point out our direct responsibility [debt], our great responsibility [debt] before the Mother-Russian Church and let us speak of Her with great love and with devotion towards Her, with deep prostration before the struggle [podvig] of Patriarch Sergius, but with full obedience to the Truth of Christ and the Church as well, believing deeply that "Truth is great, and vanquishes all."

Now, again with all respect, please tell me how "deep prostration before the podvig of Patriarch Sergius" (in Russian "s glubokim prekloneniem pred podvigom Patriarkha Sergiya") can be considered speaking of the Catacomb Church?

This article, published in Motifs and undated, was obviously written during the short time that Sergius was Patriarch (1943-1944), and is a very clear analysis of the situation of the Russian Church at that time. It does not "pull any punches" in debunking bolshevik propaganda about the "freedom" of the Church.

Read, for example, the following paragraph from the same article:

Yes, we rejoice in seeing the first glimpses of the easing [of the situation] of the Russian Orthodox Church, and for this we are thankful to God. But let us know the boundaries of all things, and let us not fall into temptation and go along the path of anti-clerical agitators. We are no longer infants—the bitter experience of past years has taught us to be wise.

I believe that these words can be applied to the current situation of the Church in Russia, as wellwe must rejoice for all the positive things we see, while keeping the wool from being pulled over our eyes.

In any case, it is perfectly clear that Archbishop Vitaly, key spokesman for the Russian Church Abroad (also as editor of "Pravoslavnaia Rus'"its key publication) had a very clear concept of the "Mother Church"and it was much broader than some would now like to hold.

Question: Does the MP consist of the Patriarch only, or does it include all of his bishops? If not all of his bishops, which ones? The term "current leaders" seems to refer to some or all of the bishops (and perhaps some priests?).

Answer (by Fr. Alexander Lebedeff): Actually, there is a good answer to this question.

First, please remember that we are discussing a 1953 statement by the reposed Archbishop Vitaly (Maximenko) of Jersey Cityin the context of refuting affirmations that  the Synod's First Hierarchs and senior bishops never included the Moscow Patriarchate in their concept of the "Mother Church." Those affirmations are simply not true.

Second, as you probably know, one of the most damaging pieces of irrefutable evidence of the collaboration of the leaders of the Moscow Patriarchate with the Soviet authorities was the "Furov Report"a top secret report to the Central Committee of the USSR by the Deputy Chairman of the Committee on Religious Affairs (in reality a department of the KGB to established to control the affairs of the Church). This document was somehow leaked to the Keston News service and published in the West.

In this document, Deputy Chairman Furov reports that the hierarchy of the MP can be divided into three groups: one which is fully subordinate to their masters in the CRA/KGB, and which actively works to help fulfill the party goal of minimizing or eliminating religious influence from Soviet society; the second group of bishops are those who, while not actively supporting the CRA's goals, still do not do anything against their Soviet masters; the third group consist of those bishops who, while paying lip service to the "party line," in actuality by word and deed do everything in their power to subvert the activities of the CRA and secretly encourage resistance to its authority.

Now, we have made much hay (and with good reason) with the fact that all of the current leaders of the Moscow Patriarchate were listed as being in "Group 1"and heading the list was Metropolitan Alexis of Estonia and Tallinthe current Patriarch. These were the most loyal supporters of the Soviet regime and actively closed monasteries and churches and transferred capable priests out of their parishes, sending them into the boondocks, so that they would not be able to influence Soviet young people and the seeking intelligentsia. But we never talk much about the bishops in Group 3the ones who fought valiantly against the closure of even one church or monasterywho refused to transfer capable priests, and who looked the other way when priests would teach children the Law of God (a crime under Soviet law) or who refused to report baptisms to the authorities.

We do not know how many bishops of the 100 or so belonged to each categorybut let us assume an even distribution for the purposes of discussion. That would mean that there were as many as 30 bishops of the MP, in the darkest time of Soviet control of the Church, that were clandestinely fighting for the good of the people of the Church.

Are we ready to smear them with the same broad black brush that we use on the members of Group 1—the active collaborators and KGB agents? I think not. 

Once againI believe that our senior hierarchs throughout the last 70 years have never equated the Moscow Patriarchate with the Mother-Russian Church. But they never excluded from the Mother Church those clergymen and faithful that were part of of the Moscow Patriarchate but remained true to the spirit of the historical Russian Church.

Further Q&A's regarding these issues. The answers were publicly posted to various email lists by Fr. Alexander:

Question: Grace is always, as we know, based on confession of faith, not on worthiness of the individual. The Moscow Patriarchate for all these years did not confess the Orthodox faith; indeed, it fought actively against it.

Answer: An amazing generalization.

The Moscow Patriarchate is a very large organization, consisting of 150 bishops, 30,000 priests and 100 million + parishioners.

Some within it perhaps did not confess the Orthodox faith. Others did.

It is my opinion, substantiated by the Furov report, that there was always a significant part of the clergy (including bishops) in the MP who struggled hard to maintain the Faith.

As you know, that report divided the bishops and clergy of the MP into 3 groups, depending on their willingness to serve the state.

I have no problem condemning the Group 1 bishops—these were the loyal agents of the atheistic government, actively working to destroy the Church.

But in addition to these Group 1 bishops, there were many others in Group 2 (the quiet non-resistors, but not active destroyers) and in Group 3—the ones who fought both openly and covertly to foil the attempts of the government to destroy religion.

Your comments do not apply to the bishops and clergy of Group 2, and especially not to Group 3.

We should be careful to avoid blanket generalizations. The Moscow Patriarchate is a very large tent, with a broad spectrum of views represented in it—from modernist to monarchist.

Actually, one of my fundamental points is that the ROCOR is also a very large tent, with a broad spectrum of views represented in it—from rabid fanaticism to very broad-minded thinking.

Question: What about the views of the ever-memorable Metropolitan Philaret? Did he not have the following to say from the published letter of Metropolitan Philaret to Protopriest Victor Potapov, June 26 / July 9, 1980:

"Why did this calamity befall Fr. Dmitri Dudko? Let's assume the best, not suspecting him of conscious collaboration with the KGB and betrayal of his convictions, but simply noting the sad fact that he did not endure, but was 'broken'; he capitualted before the enemies of Christ. Why? It would seem that he did display courage and daring; and then suddenly, such an inglorious end. Why?!

"Because his activity took place outside the true Church....

"I would also like to note the following. The Catacomb Church in Russia relates to the Church broad with love and total confidence. However, one thing is incomprehensible to the Catacomb Christians: they can't understand why our Church, which realizes beyond a doubt that the Soviet hierarchy has betrayed Christ and is no longer a bearer of grace, nevertheless receives clergy of the Soviet Church in their existing orders, not re-ordaining them, as one's already having grace. For the clergy and flock receive grace from the hierarchy, and if it has betrayed the Truth and deprived itself of grace, from where then does the clergy have grace? It is along these lines that the Catacomb Christians pose the question.

"The answer to this is simple. The Church has the authority in certain cases to employ the principle of economia—condescension. The hierarch Saint Basil the Great said that, in order not to drive many away from the Church, it is necessary sometimes to permit condescension and not apply the church canons in all their severity. When our Church accepted Roman Catholic clergy 'in their orders,' without re-ordaining them, She acted according to this principle. And Metropolitan Anthony [Khrapovitsky], elucidating this issue, pointed out that the outward form—successive ordination from Apostolic times—that the Roman Catholics do have, whereas the grace, which the Roman Catholic church has lost, is received by uniting [themselves to the Church] from the plenitude of grace present in the Orthodox Church, at the very moment of their joining. 'The form is filled with content,' said Vladyka Anthony.

"In precisely the same manner, in receiving the Soviet clergy, we apply the principle of economia. And we receive the clergymen from Moscow not as ones possessing grace, but as ones receiving it by the very act of union. But to recognize the church of the evil doers as the bearer and repository of grace, that we, of course, cannot do. For outside of Orthodoxy there is no grace; and the Soviet Church has deprived itself of grace."

Answer: This is actually quite good, Fr. X. I do not remember this letter, but I applaud you stepping up to the challenge and producing a document, which although not an official proclamation but a personal letter to a priest, does support your position.

(Of course, I was only the Secretary of the Diocese for six years under Metropolitan Philaret (1976-1982) and handled most of his correspondence during that time—I saw him and spoke with him on an almost daily basis, and was very familiar with his attitude toward the MP—he told me many times that he viewed the MP as consisting of 3 groups (basically the same as mentioned in the Furov report)—he wanted nothing to do with Group 1, but he certainly felt that Group 3 clergy were in spirit part of the Catacomb Church).

We should also remember that Metropolitan Philaret had been a clergyman in the MP for many years, and commemorated Patriarch Alexei (I). Do you think that he considered all of the Mysteries that he performed during that time as invalid?

Statement: The New Martyrs that were in communion with Metropolitan Sergius at the time of their death are to be viewed as compromisers, or in some way less than the Russian martyrs who died in resistance to Metr. Sergius. The compromisers gave their lives for the false Church.

Reply: Are you willing to state, unequivocally, that the struggle of these people was in vain, because they were, as a matter of conscience, unwilling to break with their hierarchy and enter into what they considered schism?

We're not talking about heretic Nestorians here. We're talking about the confessors of the Solovki concentration camp, who were being tortured, starved, and frozen to death. We know that out of the 100 bishops incarcerated in Solovki, 40 protested against the Declaration. That means that 60 did not, on serious, principled grounds. Does that make them heretics? And all of them—both groups, were eventually martyred. Do you wish to say that they did not earn their crowns?

Some of the New Martyrs and Confessors whom we commemorate at every service and who appear on the Icon of the New Martyrs never broke with Metr. Sergius. Metropolitan Peter did not. Metropolitan Agathangel did for a time, then returned and died recognizing Metr. Sergius. Archbishop Hilarion (the author of the Solovki Epistle) never broke with Metr. Sergius.

It happens to be the official position of our Church who glorified these Martyrs and Confessors even though they died in full communion with Metr. Sergius. Are you saying that the Church was wrong to do this?

Fr. Alexander comments on a recent post by Vladimir Moss on the issue of grace in the MP (5-5-98, n.s.):

A few comments on the recent posting by Vladimir Moss regarding grace and on his previously disseminated "Open Letter" to me (which, by the way, he never had the courtesy to send to me directly, and which I read only after it was posted on the Internet, and some time after others had received it and made comments on it).

While there are certainly many statements, both official and private, that have been made during the past 60 years by the Synod of Bishops and its chief hierarchs, there has never been a single official statement declaring the Moscow Patriarchate to be without grace.

There are statements declaring the Moscow Patriarchate as an institution to be uncanonical, its acts invalid, and even statements calling the leadership of the Moscow Patriarchate apostates and traitors to the legacy of St. Patriarch Tikhon. But there has not been a definitive statement declaring the Mysteries of the Moscow Patriarchate to be invalid.

Let us compare this with the situation of Metropolitan Evlogy and his schism in Western Europe.

On January 13/26, 1927, the Synod of Bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia formally suspended Metropolitan Evlogy and both his vicar bishops pending an ecclesiastical trial that was to take place at the next Council (Sobor) of Bishops.

On January 22/February 4, 1927, the Synod of Bishops sent a circular letter to all of the parishes in the Diocese of Western Europe in which it announced its decision of January 13/26 and exhorted the faithful not to commune with the suspended Metropolitan, keeping in mind that the validity of the Mysteries could be thus placed in doubt.

On August 26/September 8, 1927, the Sobor of Bishops convened an Episcopal Tribunal, comprised of twelve bishops to judge the case of Metropolitan Evlogy.

The Act of Sentence of Metropolitan Evlogy read, in part:

"Every liturgical function performed by him is devoid of grace, the Mysteries administered by him are not Mysteries, and the ordinations he performs are anticanonical."

The Sobor once again appealed to the vacillating clergy of the Western European Diocese, threatening them with canonical penalties if they did not submit to the conciliar decision. Archbishop Seraphim, in the name of the Sobor, wrote a declaration to all of the faithful of the Western European Diocese that

"it was absolutely forbidden, under pain of excommunication for schism, to remain in prayerfulcommunion with Metropolitan Evlogy, Archbishop Vladimir, Bishop Sergei and with their clergy, since the Mysteries administered by them were devoid of any benefit."

Now, that is an unequivocal declaration of the absence of grace.

Has there ever been a conciliar declaration by the Sobor of the Church Abroad similar to the above with regards to the Moscow Patriarchate?

The answer is a definitive NO.

All of the argumentation brought forth by Vladimir Moss regarding grace requires one to derive conclusions through some sort of logical process. For example, to think like this:

"the Synod anathematized ecumenism in 1983, the Moscow Patriarchate is involved in ecumenism, therefore the Moscow Patriarchate falls under the anathema, therefore the Moscow Patriarchate is devoid of grace."


"St. Patriarch Tikhon anathematized the bolsheviks in 1918, the Moscow Patriarchate subjugated itself to the bolshevik government, therefore the Moscow Patriarchate falls under the anathema, therefore the Moscow Patriarchate is without grace."

But these conclusions are, as I said, the result of the use of deductive reasoning, which is absolutely unnecessary when the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia has had the ability to make a definitive statement declaring the Moscow Patriarchate to be without grace and its Mysteries invalid (just as it had done in the case of Metropolitan Evlogy)—and for sixty-one years it has not done so!

As was clearly stated in the letter of the newly-departed Protopriest Lev Lebedev (for whom I had the greatest respect—he may have even been a distant relative, since my father was also from the Kursk reagion) the faithful in Russia are divided on this issue. He wrote:

"Hence for many people the question of the validity of the sacraments in the MP again became a question. The question became more acute when the heresy of ecumenism made its appearance in the MP in the 1960's. In our days it is the subject of heated discussions among members of the ROCA in Russia. Opinions are divided: some take the position enunciated by Metropolitan Kyrill in 1934, while others take the position of Vladika Joseph and the Catacomb Church. There is no sign of agreement. It is clear that only a special Council (Sobor) of the ROCA is competent, using the formulation 'It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us,' to resolve this question, which is too complex a matter to be addressed by ordinary reason."

This is my point exactly. The matter is "too complex to beaddressed by ordinary reason." 

Then why are attempts being made by Vladimir Moss and others to use "ordinary reason" in order to prove their point?

Absent a definitive declaration on this issue by the only authority capable of making one (the Sobor of Bishops of the Church Abroad) all discussions and debates on the issue stay firmly in the realm of speculation and personal opinion (remember, one man's logical reasoning may lead to a different logical conclusion than that of another, since the underlying premises may be differently understood).

And the question of the validity of the Mysteries is far too important an issue—since it concerns the salvation of millions of souls— to leave to intellectual exercises and deductive logic.

Until the Sobor of Bishops makes a definitive statement declaring the Mysteries of the Moscow Patriarchate invalid (as it had done in 1927 with regards to Metropolitan Evlogy), it is fruitless to engage in intellectual discourse on the issue.  

With love in Christ,

Prot. Alexander Lebedeff

When in his reply Vladimir Moss stated that Fr. Alexander's post was in error because it argued against logic per se, the latter replied:

Dear Vladimir,

Thank you for your latest post. I find little in it to disagree with. I, of course, am not opposed to logical thinking—we are, after all, rational beings. My point was simply that deductive reasoning cannot be substituted for unequivocal conciliar determinations.

Speaking of unequivocal conciliar determinations, it is interesting to note what occurred several years after that completely definitive statement of the Sobor of Bishops declaring the of Mysteries of those in the Evlogian schism as being invalid and without grace.

A bit of historical perspective, first.

There was much more to the Evlogian schism than just the fact of Metropolitan Evlogy breaking away from the Synod of Bishops of the Church Abroad and establishing his independent ecclesiastical organization (which later vacillated several times between complete independence, submission to the Moscow Patriarchate, and submission to the Ecumenical Patriarchate).

There were significant cultural, political, ideological, and theological issues that separated the two spheres of Russian Orthodoxy in Europe.

One was simply cultural bias— the Russian emigres in Paris considered themselves the creme de la creme of the Russian emigration, and looked down
upon the Russian emigres in the Balkans as second-class citizens.

Another was political. Metropolitan Evlogy was absolutely opposed to the Church Abroad taking a stand on the issue of the restoration of the monarchy in Russia, and especially on the stand that if monarchy were restored, then it must be restored to the Romanoff dynasty. (Actually, Metropolitan Anastassy shared Metropolitan Evlogy's on this point). Metropolitan Anthony, on the other hand, was adamant that the Church take a stand for the restoration of the Romanoff throne.

A third issue had to do with Freemasonry. Metropolitan Evlogy and his church were considered to be, to a certain extent, under the influence of Masonic organizations, specifically the YMCA (which continued to be the publisher of all religious literature put out by the Parisian Exharchate for many decades), and the RSKhD—the Russian Student Christian Movement.

And finally, there was a significant theological issue—the fact that the several prominent members of the faculty of St. Sergius Theological Institute in Paris were involved in the "Sophian Brotherhood" and espoused the heresy of "Sophianism" — the idea that there was another "female" hypostasis—namely "Sophia"—the Wisdom of God. This heresy was analysed by the renowned theologian, Archbishop Seraphim of Bulgaria, and was condemned by the Sobor of Bishops of the Church Abroad.

Add to this all the fact that there were many erudite supporters of Metropolitan Evlogy and that some very acrimonious letters and articles were published by both sides, and it easy to understand the depth of the rift between the two parts of the Russian Church in Europe.

As I had posted previously, the Sobor of Bishops unanimously and unequivocally declared, in 1927, that Metropolitan Evlogy and his clergy were outside the Church and that their Mysteries were null and void, and devoid of grace.

But let us see what happened later.

In 1935, when under the auspices of Patriarch Varnava of Serbia, a special convocation was held in Belgrade with the specific goal of reuniting all of the separated parts of the Russian Church that were abroad, Metropolitan Evlogy participated (as did Metropolitan Theophilus from the North American Diocese, which had also separated from the Synod). When Metropolitan Evlogy agreed to and signed the Temporary Statutes of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia all of the sanctions that had been so unequivocally placed on him and his clergy just melted away. Set aside were all of the mutual acrimonious accusations and counter-accusations; set aside was the question of the restoration of the Romanoff dynasty; set aside was the issue of Masonic influence; set aside, even, was the question of the Sophianist heresy and the Orthodoxy of the faculty of St. Sergius Institute.

And, in a special resolution of the Sobor of Bishops, all Mysteries performed by the Evlogians while they were in schism were declared to be valid, and all ordinations performed by him and his vicar bishops were accepted as being valid, as well.

So, this lesson from history teaches us something very important. Metropolitans Anthony and Anastassy (who both participated in this special convocation) were very open to any overtures that would heal the rift in the Russian Orthodox Church—even to the point of nullifying the unequivocal canonical sanctions and declarations of the absence of grace in the mysteries performed by those in schism from the Church.

If we read Archbishop Vitaly's (Maximenko) description of task entrusted him by the Sobor of Bishops in 1934, we also must come to the conclusion that the Synod so wished to achieve ecclesiastical unity on this continent, that it was perfectly willing to gloss over the significant issues that had led to the separation of the North American Diocese from the rest of the Church Abroad. Archbishop Vitaly was explicitly told that he was to serve with all of the various ecclesiasticalgroupings on this continent, and that the Synod would support whoever would be elected at an All-American Sobor to head the Church here, no matter what jurisdiction that newly-elected hierarch would be from.

This bit of historical perspective clearly demonstrates the willingness of the Synod to open channels of communication and to forgive and forget past wrongs in order to reestablish and preserve the unity of the Church.

If the Synod could set aside "yako ne byvshii" (as if they had never been) absolutely categorical declarations of the absence of grace among the Evlogians, could in not be perceived as within the realm of possibility that such compassion could be extended to the long-suffering Christians of the Church in Russia, especially considering that no conciliar categorical declaration on the absence of grace among the Sergianists has ever been made? 

With love in Christ,

Prot. Alexander Lebedeff