ROCOR Bishops Epistle 1990
Orthodox Life magazine 1990 (3)
Epistle of the Council of Bishops
of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia
to our faithful pastors and beloved flock
As God willed, in 1920 a portion of the one Church of Russia found itself, as a result of the bloody Revolution, outside the boundaries of the homeland, where thirty-four bishops, headed by Metropolitan Anthony of Kiev, founded the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia. The flock of our Church has been comprised of emigres from all parts of Russia. Thus has our Church existed for seventy years. And now many heterodox Christians are converting to the Orthodox Faith and joining it. The canons of the Church, the decisions of the All-Russia Council of 1917-1918 and the 1920 decree of His Holiness Patriarch Tikhon form the foundation of the portion of the Church of Russia which is abroad. Supreme authority belongs to the Council of Bishops, who govern the Church independently. But this temporary autonomy has not rent apart the seamless robe of the Body of Christ.
The Russian pastors and flock abroad have always remained a branch unsundered from and spiritually united with the Mother Church, which has been crucified by the minions of Antichrist who have risen up against Christ and His Church. Far from our homeland, which has been cut off from us by the Iron Curtain, we have lived through great struggles of the faithful children of the Church and have experienced the tribulations of the Mother Church as her own, rejoicing in her joys and fervently praying for those who suffer in our native land.
In defense of the persecuted, Metropolitan Anthony, the First Hierarch of our Church constantly appealed to the primates of the autocephalous Churches, to the governments of Christian nations, asking for moral help at each new blow directed against the Church: The imprisonment of Patriarch Tikhon, the danger of the false council of the Renovationist Schism, etc.
Our bishops have been part of the episcopate of the Church of Russia, never having separated themselves from it. They commemorated the name of His Holiness Patriarch Tickhon at the divine services until his repose. Afterwards, they commemorated the name of the legitimate locum tenens of the Patriarchal Throne, Metropolitan Peter of Krutitsa, on the basis of the decision of the Council of 1917-1918, despite the many years he spent in prison, until his repose in exile. The head of our Church remained and called himself the Metropolitan of Kiev until the end of his life.
One after another, His Holiness the Patriarch and even Metropolitan Sergius considered us their own and wrote to us abroad. Yet Metropolitan Sergius, while only the deputy of the locum tenens, unexpectedly exalted his own authority, violated the episcopate’s oneness of mind, and, contrary to the opinions of the overwhelming majority of the hierarchs and without consulting with them, issued his own declaration on the unity of the interests of the Church and the atheist government. The senior hierarchs, Metropolitans Peter and Cyril of Kazan, condemned this act and severed communion with Metropolitan Sergius.
The portion of the Church of Russia abroad followed their example. The Council of Bishops, in their encyclical dated 9 September 1927, declared:
“The free portion of the Church of Russia is terminating administrative relations with the ecclesiastical administration in Moscow [i.e., with Metropolitan Sergius and his synod], in view of the fact that normal relations with it are impossible and because of its enslavement by the atheist regime, which is depriving it of freedom to act according to its own will and of freedom to govern the Church in accordance with the canons.”
Thus, it was Metropolitan Sergius who created the schism within the episcopate of the Church of Russia. Some (the majority) trod the path of martyrdom; others chose that of a forced compromise.
Within months of the regime’s legalization of the ecclesiastical administration unexampled reprisals were directed against the majority of the bishops who disagreed with Metropolitan Sergius. Audaciously, without having any right to do so, Metropolitan Sergius retired the inflexible ones, personally suspending them from serving the divine services, thus giving the authorities grounds for bringing them to trial, imprisoning them in jails and camps, and exiling them, where they died as martyrs for Him Who loved them.
This vendetta against the episcopate brought it nearly to the point of total annihilation. Metropolitan Sergius had to create a hierarchy anew. Those bishops who managed to escape the devastation went into the catacombs, i.e., led an illegal existence.
Unvanquished catacomb Christians who totally repudiate the contemporary Patriarchate of Moscow, despite terrible and pitiless persecutions, exist in great numbers, by God’s mercy, even in our times, though, alas, they have no single hierarchy.
The free portion of the Church of Russia has remained spiritually, and with regard to grace, with the martyrs and confessors, glorifying their struggle and seeing there the glory and triumph of the Church during the dark and bloody days of her devastation.
Carefully preserving the memory of the martyrs and desiring to emulate their struggle (in the not always easy conditions of life abroad), the Council of Bishops, conscious of its duty before the Mother Church, and supported by clergy and the faithful in Russia, did what could not be done in the homeland: it glorified all the new martyrs and new confessors as saints, entrusting the fate of the Church and Russia to their prayers.
By the act of canonization, the Council of Bishops bore witness to our real and unbroken bond in prayer with them in the one Church of Russia.
With fear and trembling, and aware of our own unworthiness, we consider ourselves their kinsmen in Christ Jesus.
We are striving to preserve outside Russia that for which they received the crowns of martyrdom. And only the renunciation of the martyrs can place us outside the Church of Russia. May God forbid!
Now, when the carefully erected Iron Curtain is beginning to crumble, we have the possibility to meet with and have direct fellowship with our brethren and sisters in the homeland and to rejoice in their steadfastness and firmness in the Faith and in love for Christ. The grace of God strengthens them and puts the ungodly to shame.
We believe and confess that in those churches of the Patriarchate of Moscow where the priest fervently believes and sincerely prays, showing himself to be not only a “minister of the cult”, but also a good shepherd who loves his sheep, to those who approach him with faith, the grace of salvation is accessible in the mysteries. Such churches are few in number on the immense territory of the Russian land.
The churches of the catacomb Christians, our brethren, in which the divine services are celebrated by priests who have preserved canonical succession from those who received the crown of martyrdom, the true archpastors of the Church, are even fewer in number and inaccessible to the vast mass of believers.
This is why priests and believers from Russia are appealing to us to cover them with our omophorion, to impart grace to them. Our pastoral conscience tells us that we not only can, but we must help them, investigating in each case the reasons which impel them to turn to us. However, we are approaching this our new ministry with great caution, trusting in the help of God, for what is impossible for man is possible for God. We still do not know how far the Soviet regime has become democratic and to what extent perestroika is real. For our part, we are ready to extend our hand to those in need of our help, if God so blesses.
Will we be creating a schism within the Church by doing this, as some who do not understand the Church’s life of grace think and say? They obviously have forgotten or do not know that the schism within the Church of Russia was caused sixty-three years ago by Metropolitan Sergius and his followers.
The Patriarchate of Moscow has not overcome the terrible consequences of the declaration, having lost the inner freedom of the Church by flagrantly violating Canon 30 of the Holy Apostles, and it stands resolutely and irrevocably on the path of destruction, even now when all levels of society are freeing themselves from the sins, falsehood and hypocrisy of the past decades.
In due course, former renovationists entered the ecclesiastical administration of the Patriarchate of Moscow, and they have introduced modernism and a passion for ecumenism.
The following question lies before us: Can the hierarchy of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia have its own bishops in Russia, on Russian territory? We think and believe that it not only can but must. For Russian bishops the land of Russia in not the territory of another autocephalous church. The territory of Russia is vast, and in it there are millions of believers who remain without priests, without the nourishment of grace. We are receiving a great many letters from believers who are suffering from lack of spiritual food, in which they beg us to provide them with priests. Like poor beggars they beseech us to give them spiritual bread. Can we then place in their outstretched hands the stone of indifference? Let it not be so! It is our duty to do everything possible to satisfy their spiritual hunger.
The Patriarchate of Moscow obviously cannot do this, and therefore has no right to hinder us.
No one knows what still awaits our homeland, what changes will occur in her life even in the near future. While there is a crack open, possibly only temporarily, we must take advantage of it. The rest is in God’s hands; for our God is the God Who works wonders. May His holy will be done!
3/16 May 1990
Bishops of the Council