A Reply on the NFTU post “Official Old ROCOR Views on the MP, OCA, Ecumenism,and more.”
This post has some serious issues with context. Although this is not surprising because it is a common narrative held by certain uninformed True Orthodox. It’s a fabrication that any study of World and True Orthodox sources would expose. A cursory read through the works by V. Moss, Fr. S. Allen, NFTU and Deacon Psarev would reveal the truth, which is much more complex and difficult to synthesize. Hieromonk Seraphim of Platina is certainly not alone in his views. Let this information serve as a counterbalance.
Synod of Russian Bishops Abroad 1961
Our Church remains loyal to the use of the Old Calendar and considers the introduction of the New Calendar to be an error. Nonetheless, its tactic was always to preserve spiritual unity with Orthodox Churches, even those who have adopted the New Calendar, but only to the degree to which they celebrate Pascha in compliance with the decision of the First Ecumenical Council. Our Church has never labeled the Ecumenical Patriarchate or the Greek Archdiocese of North and South America as schismatic, and never abrogated spiritual union with them. (Letter dated 27 September 1961 from the Synod of Bishops to the True Orthodox Church of Greece)
Our Church keeps the Old Calendar and considers the introduction of the New Calendar to be a mistake. Nevertheless, according to the policies of Patriarch Tikhon of blessed memory, we never broke spiritual communion with the canonical Churches in which the New Calendar had been introduced. (Vladimir Moss, The Orthodox Church at the Crossroads , Ch. IV “The Lifting of the Anathemas [1955-1970]”, The Orthodox Foundation of St. Michael, Guildford [U.K.], 1992; p.119)
Synod of Russian Bishops Abroad 1974
Concerning the question of the presence or absence of grace among the New Calendarists the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad does not consider herself or any other Local Church to have the right to make a conclusive decision, since a categorical evaluation in this question can be undertaken only by a properly convened, competent Ecumenical Council, with the obligatory participation of the free Church of Russia. (Thirty Years of Trial: The True Orthodox Christians of Greece, 1970-200 pg. 9 by Vladimir Moss)
On the Moscow Patriarchate: They say that Patriarch Alexy sinned more than his predecessor. Whether he sinned more or less, we cannot deny his ordination. Much is said of their apostasy. But we must be cautious. We can hardly make an outright accusation of apostasy. In no place do they affirm atheism. In their published sermons they attempt to hold to the Orthodox line. They took and continue to take very strict measures with regard to the obnovlentsy, and did not tear their ties with Patriarch Tikhon. The false policy belongs to the church authority and the responsibility for it falls on its leaders. Only heresy adopted by the whole Church tarnishes the whole Church. In this case, the people are not responsible for the behavior of the leaders, and the Church, as such, remains unblemished. No one has the audacity to say that the whole Church is without grace, but insofar as priests had contact with the devious hierarchy, acted against their conscience, repentance is necessary.
On the American Metropolia:
They do not have the fullness of truth, they deviate, but this does not mean that they are without grace. We must maintain objective calm with regard to them. We must strive for such unity on the same fundamental concepts of the Temporary Regulations upon which we stand today. Yet it is fair to say that all unity begins with personal contact: Let us love one another that with one mind we may confess.
On the Eulogians: …on October 19, 1956, in response to a statement by Bishop Leontius of Chile that ROCOR should treat the Eulogians as renovationists and not permit any concelebrations, the Metropolitan said that the Eulogians were different, since they were not heretics (see V. Moss. New Zion in Babylon 4, pp. 125-127)
On Greek Old Calendarists: “Nun Vassa writes that “at the Council of 1959, following the opinion of Metropolitan Anastasy, the Council decided to once again decline the request of the Old Calendarists. While considering this matter, the opinion was expressed that through the principle of oikonomia, they could help their Greek brethren. Metropolitan Anastasy rejected this oikonomia, finding that the ordination of a bishop in this instance would not be constructive but destructive for the Church, first of all because of the condemnations such an act would invoke among the other Local Churches and the Moscow Patriarchate.” So vital brotherly help to the persecuted Greeks was refused on the grounds that it would irritate the heretics of World Orthodoxy… ” (V. Moss. New Zion in Babylon 4, p. 155)
St. John Maximovitch:
‘Archbishop John continued to retain this “liberal” attitude toward the MP to the end of his life. Thus in a letter dated September 13, 1963 he wrote: “… When under Metropolitan Anastasy they began to speak about ‘the incorrect actions of the Church’, he used to stop them, pointing out that one must not ascribe the actions of the hierarchy to the Church, since the hierarchy is not the whole Church, even if it speaks in her name. On the see of Constantinople there were Paul the Confessor, Macedonius, Gregory the Theologian, John Chrysostom, Nestorius, Proclus, Flavian and Germanus. Some of them shone in sanctity and Orthodoxy, but others were the leaders of heresies. But the Church remained Orthodox. During iconoclasm after the expulsion of Severnin, Nicephorus and other, not only their sees, but also the majority of Episcopal sees were occupied by Arians. The other Churches did not even have communion with it [the see of Constantinople], according to the witness of St. Paul, who abandoned the heresy and his see, since they did not wish to have communion via the iconoclasts. Nevertheless, the Church of Constantinople remained Orthodox, although part of the people, and especially the guards and the bureaucrats, were drawn into iconoclasm. So now it is understandable when people who are not familiar with the language of the Church use the expression ‘Soviet church’, but it is not fitting for responsible and theological discussions. When the whole hierarchy of South- Western Rus’ passed into uniatism, the Church continued to exist in the person of the believing Orthodox people, which after many sufferings restored its hierarchy. For that reason it is more correct to speak, not of the ‘Soviet church’, which is impossible in the correct understanding of the word ‘Church’, but of the hierarchy, which serves Soviet power. Our relationship to it can be the same as to other representatives of this power. Their rank gives them the opportunity to act with great authority and to substitute the voice of the suffering Russian Church, and it is leading into error those who think to learn from them the true position of the Church in Russia. Of course, among them there are both conscious traitors, and those who simply do not find in themselves the strength to fight with their environment and who go with the current – that is a question of their personal responsibility. But as a whole it is the apparatus of Soviet power, the God-fighting power. Being on the one hand a hierarchy in the sphere of Divine services, for grace works independently of personal worthiness, in the social-political sphere it is a cover for the Soviet God-fighting activity. For that reason those who are abroad and have entered its ranks have become conscious helpers of this power…’ (V. Moss. New Zion in Babylon 4, p. 123-124)
Met Philaret sent the Matthewites a letter wherein he denied that ROCOR had ever declared World Orthodoxy to be graceless:
Concerning the question of the presence or absence of grace among the New Calendarists the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad does not consider herself or any other Local Church to have the right to make a conclusive decision, since a categorical evaluation in this question can be undertaken only by a properly convened, competent Ecumenical Council, with the obligatory participation of the free Church of Russia. (this synodal ruling was quoted by Metropolitan Philaret in his personal letter to Matthewite Archbishop Andreas dated October 5, 1974 ref. no. 3/50/760.)
in 1974, Met. Philaret also wrote this to A. Solzhenitsyn:
“Not long ago, when the American Church declared herself autocephalous, we invited her to unity anew, but our invitation went unheeded. In spite of this, in painful consciousness of our lack of unity, our Council recently decided to approach our brothers with another invitation. And still we sincerely and warmly hope for unity, and are convinced that, with goodwill on their side, conditions of unity could be found, as they were in America in 1936.
Lack of concern for Russia and often a complete lack of understanding of the sufferings of the Russian church of course divide many people from us. But, thank God, we do not see in our parishes the kind of inhumanity that you describe. We do not know of one case of the refusal of Communion to a dying man (on jurisdictional grounds – O.C. Editor’s note). No one has ever opposed day-to-day relationships between priests, at any rate, on our side. However, when people cut themselves off from the Russian Church, feeling that they are now Americans, French or Greeks, then much that might have united us is certainly lost..
We can only put it down to misunderstanding or to someone who has misinformed you, that you express anxiety that we should count on returning to Russia in the capacity of judges or leaders. We know of no one in our ranks who has such thoughts. But if the liberation of Russia were to take place and unity with a restored Orthodox and canonical hierarchy were effectuated, then we would count ourselves part of the Russian hierarchy. What weight we would carry in these conditions we have not considered. The flock in exile is numerically a drop in the ocean compared with the whole Russian people. (September 10/23,1974)
It’s well known that Met Vitaly basically voided the 1983 Anathema of any interpretation close to how some would like it interpreted. If it’s not voided, then ROCOR has fallen under its own anathema a number of times, in a number of ways. Especially in 1994 when they went into communion with the much-despised Cyprianites.
Metropolitan Vitaly Ustinov 1910-2006
At the present time, most other Orthodox Churches have been shaken to the core of their being by two successive blows: the new ecclesiastical calendar and ecumenism. Despite their impoverished state, however, we do not declare and may the Lord save us from ever having to declare them as having lost God’s grace. (1986 Nativity Epistle Pravoslavnaia Rus’ 1 : 1)
Fr. Steven Allen (GOC) comments:
“The one synodal act of ROCOR which came close to stating a clear position was the Anathema of 1983, but its use as a canonical basis for formally breaking communion with the World Orthodox hierarchies was publicly rejected by the 1986 Nativity Encyclical of Met. Vitaly, which clearly states that the Anathema applies to no one, a position which the other members of his synod did not dispute. From that point on, the Anathema was a dead letter; there were cathedrals where the ruling bishops disdained even to proclaim it pro forma on the Sunday of Orthodoxy. The 1994 decision regarding Cyprianism finally destroyed any remaining possibility that the ROCOR would formally assert that a local council could anathematize heretics, much less that a heretic is outside the Church even prior to a conciliar judgment.” (The Demise of ROCOR, the Synod of Metropolitan Agathangel, and the Ecclesiology of the Cyprianite “Synod in Resistance”)
Fr. Seraphim’s letters should not be read merely to pertain to the personal feud between Platina and HTM. Instead, one should see in them a view into the inner workings of ROCOR of that day. Granted, it is one man’s view presented in personal letters BUT much of what he wrote is easily corroborated and more importantly, it was prophetic. He predicted what was to occur with those on the Left and the Right within ROCOR. People need to see ROCOR as it was and not to idealize it. Here are more Hieromonk Seraphim quotes on the MP specifically; these sentiments would certainly get him booted out of some True Orthodox synods.
Letter 304. Dec. 28/Jan. 10, 1981
Dear Brother and Sister in Christ, George and Margaret,
…When our bishops in 1971 condemned the decision of the Moscow Patriarchate to give communion to Roman Catholics, they used strong language, calling it a “heretical” act; but they did not proclaim the Moscow Patriarchate to be deprived of grace, or to be totally fallen away from the Church. The bishops, on various occasions, have specifically refused to make such a proclamation; and in their statement at the 1976 Sobor they specifically addressed the sincere and struggling priests of the Moscow Patriarchate in terms reserved only for priests who possess and dispense the grace of God (as noted in our article on Fr. Dimitry). This statement was enough to cause some ex-members of our Church in England to proclaim our bishops as “heretical.”
I think the whole question of the Moscow Patriarchate is much more subtle and complex than you seem to think. When you quote our own article on the “Catacomb Tikhonite Church,” I find no contradiction between it and our article on Fr. Dimitry: in the former article, we stated only that “if normal Orthodox Church life is not restored to Russia, the Moscow Patriarchate will eventually wither and die in apostasy, and the innocent people who follow it will find themselves beyond any doubt outside the Church of Christ.” I still believe this to be true; but it does not follow that we must regard the Moscow Patriarchate today as being without the grace of God (this very question was discussed in that same article), nor does the article deny that normal Orthodox Church life could be restored to Russia—and I think the phenomenon of Fr. Dimitry and the other confessing priests of the Moscow Patriarchate gives us good hope that such will eventually be the case (after the fall of Communism).
I myself find it painful that there are differences between some of us in the Russian Church Abroad. However, I think that a sincere expression of these differences is not sufficient cause for a loss of unity between us. Something else, however, is the spirit of accusation and attack which a few members of our Church have been indulging in; this is already a violation of unity, and I very much fear the end result of it. A number of people, as I have said, have already left our Church in anger, and I see others evidently preparing to go the same way. Our warnings on this subject in The Orthodox Word are meant to save as many people as possible from this suicidal step. Some dangerous signs: Just recently the priest of the St. Nectarios Church in Portland told two of my spiritual children whom I had sent there, that our Russian bishops are “betraying” him by their “ecumenism”; another Greek priest has told his flock that soon they will again be without bishops because they will have to leave the Russian Church Abroad; another clergyman openly calls some of our bishops “heretics.” The perils about which we are warning are not imaginary, not at all.
Letter 311. August 13/26, 1981 Apodosis of Transfiguration
Dear Dr. Johnstone,
I am sad to hear that you find The Orthodox Word, no. 96 so greatly disturbing. I honestly think the content of the issue does not warrant such a strong reaction. The real issue involved is surely no more than the propriety of presenting as an Orthodox model a priest who was, after all, a member of the Soviet Church, with which we have no communion (and with which, as our issue 96 states quite clearly, we should have no communion).
Articles on Archimandrite Tavrion, Fr. Dimitry Dudko, and other courageous priests of the Soviet Church have appeared for several years in the Russian-language church periodicals published in Jordanville, and there has been on outcry in our Church; it is generally understood that this is a matter of personal choice, and those who would prefer to keep the “strict line” and not even mention such priests have not shown any particular disturbance when others (such as ourselves) have considered the words and actions of these priests as having a posidve value for us in the West. Our readers, judging from our mail, have generally agreed with us in this. The reason there has been no outcry, I think, is quite simply because our disagreement over the small question of propriety is outweighed by our much greater agreement on the nature of the Church, the stand of our Russian Church Outside of Russia, etc.
The outcry and the disturbance come, rather, from converts to our Church like yourself who, it would seem, find their disagreement to be much deeper. This disagreement may be seen in some of the value judgments you make in your letter to the Metropolitan: a bishop in the Soviet Church is a “pseudo-bishop,” “Soviet bishops are no bishops.” Your disagreement with us, therefore, is a deep one over ecclesiology; evidently you agree with Fr. Michael Azkoul who recently stated (Orthodox Christian Witness, Aug, 10/23) that “heresy has negated these ancient Sees. There is no ‘church,’ hence no Mysteries” in the Churches of Moscow and Constantinople.
I hope you are aware that our Russian Church Outside of Russia has never taught and does not now teach this; this is an opinion which has been introduced into our midst by some converts who think themselves wiser than our bishops. I am sorry that you seem not to see the obvious meaning of our Church’s not having communion with the Soviet Church: that way we stay free of politics and do not bind ourselves to bishops who are not free and who are often forced to betray the truth. But to state that this Church has no grace is a presumption our bishops have never dared to make. This view, in my opinion, is not at all the result of a sound or strict ecclesiology, but is the result of a too-strict logic (a typical disease of our Western mentality) being applied where it does not fit. I do think that the comfortableness of our Western life (in particular, the absence of the agonizing choices that sometimes present themselves to clergy in Russia) only helps one to be “strictly logical” without seeing the whole context of church life in Soviet Russia. I believe the statement on the church situation in the “Catacomb Epistle” printed in our same issue no. 96 says nicely what needs to be said on this subject, and I would encourage you to study it more closely, without hastening to think that it contradicts itself; it sets forth the very position of our Russian Church Abroad: no communion with the Soviet Patriarchate, but no statement about “lack of grace,” and compassion for those who have no other source of church life. This is surely the position of our Metropolitan Philaret, who in sending us the material on Archimandrite Tavrion for publication was not in the least inconsistent with his strict stand against the Soviet bishops.
Can’t we agree on this much and let our disagreements be over small points? If not, I fear the schism that is brewing in our midst on the part of those who really think they “know better” than our bishops. I can already see in Fr. Michael’s sermon in Orthodox Christian Witness the beginnings of exaggerations which can serve to accelerate a schism: certainly none of us who admire Fr. Tavrion think that he attempted, or that one can, “join the Moscow church in order to save it”; we have no “enthusiasm for the Moscow church” (I regard that as simple slander); we are not engaging in any kind of “muddled thinking,” “twaddle,” or “sophistry”—but the use of such language certainly shows that he is not well disposed to understand the position of Metropolitan Philaret and the rest of us.
I pray that, since you are so interested in this question, you will not be satisfied with a superficial answer, and will not press “logical deductions” that take the place of real ecclesiology, but will study the question more deeply in the statements of our Russian bishops (both of the Catacomb Church and the Russian Church Abroad—see, for example, our bishops’ statements in The Orthodox Word, 1976, no. 5, pp. 160-166). I think you will find that the position of our bishops has not changed at all; rather, what has been uncovered is that you (and those who think like you) were not of one mind with our bishops in the past, and you are only now finding this out. I pray that you will find that you can be of one mind with our bishops; their attitude is really just about the only sound one in the Orthodox world today, even if it is not always easy to “define” it to our very Western, modern minds.”
Now, it is a FACT that many eminent persons within ROCOR called the MP “graceless” but what does that terminology actually mean? Bp. Grabbe offers his interpretation in reference to the MP. Please notice that he says what “we mean” not “I mean”.
V. Moss, New Zion in Babylon Vol. 4, p. 148:
“The OCA Archbishop John (Shahovskoi) tried to argue that the position of ROCOR towards the MP in this period was hypocritical insofar as it simultaneously called the MP apostate and sorrowed over the persecutions in the USSR and the closure of churches, although according to its logic, it should have rejoiced over the closure of apostate churches. In reply, the secretary of the ROCOR Synod, Fr. George Grabbe, replied while calling the the MP “apostate” and even, in some cases, using the word “gracelessness”, ROCOR never, at any of its Synodal sessions, expressed any doubt that the pastors and laymen belonging to the MP who were faithful to God were true pastors. Then, citing examples of the infiltration of agents into the hierarchy of the MP, Fr. George continued: “That is the gracelessness we are talking about! We are talking about those Judases, and not about a few suffering people who are vainly trying to save something, the unfortunate, truly believing pastors.”
One could continue on to include the views of Met. Anthony Khrapovitsky, Archbishop Vitaly (Maximenko) and Archbishop Leonty. However let me conclude with Archbishop Lazar Zhurbenko on sacramental grace in the MP, his view is the same as that which was held by Met. Anastassy, St John of San Francisco and Hieromonk Seraphim, And one could also say by many of the New Martyrs and the Synod Abroad:
“This is not my personal opinion; it is the position of those well-educated priests with whom I associated. Fr. Vladimir Krivoliutsky belonged to a group led by Metropolitan Cyril of Kazan, a moderate. Fr. Sergius Tigrov was of like mind. They recognized the Mysteries [of the Moscow Patriarchate] because dogmatically there were no violations concerning the Orthodox teaching about the Holy Trinity, and the Mysteries were performed according to the rules of the office. …We likewise do not deny their ordinations. Re-ordinations were performed only for renovationists, following the instructions of Patriarch Tikhon. …And inasmuch as a final judgment on the Moscow Patriarchate has not been made, we consider that the grace of God has not left the people. After all, there are many pious people [within the Moscow Patriarchate], many good priests grieving, tormented. Not everyone knows of the Catacomb Church, and not everyone can emigrate; they are, after all, in bonds, in prison. For this reason, with respect to those living in the Soviet Union there are no such strict demands. (Orthodox America: Out from the Catacombs)