True Orthodoxy in Russia

ADDRESS TO THE ROCA COUNCIL OF BISHOPS
BY THE CHAIRMAN OF THE SYNOD,
METROPOLITAN AGAFANGEL
During the time elapsed from the last Council the life of our Church continued to flow smoothly, and with God’s help, we continue developing and getting stronger. I would say that the most outstanding event from the last Council is our decision to buy property in New York for the administrative offices of our Synod of Bishops. The achievement of such a project will help us to have a centralized administration, without which we can certainly operate, but it is impossible to develop and to have any future growth.  This also serves as an indication of the capability our Church has, from the Synod to parish members, to respond to the common needs of the Church in these difficult days for all of us. Unfortunately, we encountered major problems in this connection, and we are going to deal with them separately during this Synod.
         In general the situation of our Church in the world continues to be stable, with the exception, I must say, of the Russian Federation, where the attitude towards us from the authorities worsened, and I believe this has been influenced by Patriarch Kirill, the head of the Moscow Patriarchate, who lacks tolerance, among other things. However, due to the moral crisis they have in the MP upper circles a lot of interest has been shown towards us.  But, due to the discord among our parishes and parishioners, as occurring in Moscow for example, we cannot ourselves adequately answer these inquiries. I deem that the time has come to have a general meeting of our representatives in Moscow in order to start resolving our internal problems and relationships. It is very sad that one of the main weak points is a total absence of information about us among the population; and this happens not only in the Russian Federation but also in Ukraine and in other countries that are under the canonical jurisdiction of the former Russian Local Church. I will, therefore, request that our bishops work to create web pages, both at the diocesan and at the parish level (in their own dioceses), as well as publish new documents and distribute the information that has been published by us earlier. It is very important to make available at least the information about the life in our Church, which generally gathers and holds our parishioners who are spread out around the world together.  Pilgrimages are also very important, along with general church and diocesan conferences (including choir and youth), lectures, conferences, congresses and other kinds of gatherings. In each one of our dioceses it is necessary for us to organize different kinds of regular gatherings among the clergy and the parishioners (be they diocesan meetings, Lenten retreats, gatherings and meetings of different sorts, etc.).

Another matter that continues being very important is to standardize our services and to ensure that all services in the different parishes are in accordance with the usual practices of the Russian Church Abroad. I understand that this is a very sensitive matter, especially for the clergy that has recently joined us from MP, but all of us have to be extremely patient when dealing with this issue, without undue pressure, but resolutely strive to solve it. Joint clergy concelebrations are a great help in these cases, as our priests can also discuss different matters, exchange pastoral experience and learn from one another. These gatherings may be a good time to detect some deviations from proper Church practice, and, there is a possibility to correct them and ensure that they conform to a common standard.

Another difficult issue for us is funding. Parishioners must support their parishes and we need to establish regular bylaws at every parish by which every parish member (who is entitled to vote at the parish meetings) has to pay monthly dues, in accordance with his or her abilities.  Every parish should elect a particular person, or the parish priest should appoint such a person (and it would be better if it is the church warden (“Starosta”) or the treasurer) who will be responsible for reminding the parish members at the appropriate times of their obligations. The monthly rental charges and utilities (light, heating, water) and other regular church expenditures should not lie on the parish priest and his family only; the whole parish has to contribute.

Parishes are expected to send part of their income to their diocese, as the bishop has to take care of the needs of all the parishes reporting to him; and, in turn dioceses have to send their contributions to the Synod to help it out with its expenses. Unfortunately, we have some parishes that have not made the required contribution to their own diocese in five years, but we also have dioceses that have not contributed to the general needs of the Church. There is a great danger here, that instead of being a closely-knit and solid army of Christ, we risk becoming an disunited and self-centered mass, which cares only about its own personal needs, and from whom one will only hear nothing but ongoing criticism. Unfortunately, this kind of danger exists, and will threaten us until we resolve the basic issues of Church practices and discipline.  Each one of us, from the bishops to the priests, has to prepare replacements. We must strive to organize schools for children in our parishes, attract young people to help us during church services and to have more attendants in church.

It is unfortunate that we have not been successful in resolving the existing differences among the former members of the Russian Church Abroad. Up to now, not even one representative of the different groups (or “fragments” as they are often called) has expressed the intention to discuss the actual circumstances. It seems that the circumstances that actually exist around them suits them and they are not in the least bit worried about the future of the Russian Church Abroad, and their own interests (1). In the past we only exchanged greetings for the feast days with our brothers of the Old Believers Churches.  I did not have any contact with the representatives of the other Local Churches (aside from exchanging Nativity cards with the Serbian Bishop Artemy) and a telephone conversation with Partriarch Iriney (2). In our current circumstances, I believe that we should at least recognize the existence of the Ukrainian Church, although for the time as consisting of different groups, and not demand the impossible from them like joining the Russian Church while abandoning all of their traditions (as we do with the Polish, Bulgarian and other autonomous churches which were a part of the Russian Church earlier) (3). I also heard at one of the Councils that took place at the end of the 1990’s, that we should accept those who come to us, accept their practices, and not demand that they change immediately, but that we should gradually try to make them accept the way we do things. I feel that the same may be said about the “Old Believers” and possibly the Belorussians. Of course, this does not mean that we consider them as independent, autoncephalous Churches (we do not even have the authority to do so), but we should be prepared to change our approach somewhat in possible future negotiations with them (4).

In our own life we cannot feel sorry for ourselves and be isolated from events around us, whether Church-related or everyday matters. The Church Abroad was never like that and has always lived openly, objectively assessing everything that happened around it and quickly reacting, even to political events. There are many people outside of our community who are watching us, and they expect, first of all stability and proper behavior in relation to different general church situations. Therefore, we have to recognize the responsibility that we have to the Church, to the generations that will follow us, and above all else, to God.
+Metropolitan Agafangel
Odessa, May 2012.

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