The question of the grace or gracelessness of the Moscow Patriarchate continues to trouble many members of our Church, as witnessed especially by an attack against the position of our Church launched by Archimandrite Ilia (Yempulev) and several priests of the Omsk diocese. This question is linked, in the minds of these priests, with several others, including: the heretical nature of the teaching known as “Cyprianism”, the status of the Secretary of the Holy Synod, Protopresbyter Victor Melehov, and the competence of the Synod or Sobor of RTOC to resolve such questions.
In the minds of many, these questions can only be answered by answering the prior question: “What is the historical tradition of the Russian Church Abroad?” However, this is an inappropriate question to ask for two major reasons. First, any major question of Church life can be adequately answered, not by appealing to the practice of a local Church in a particular historical period, but to Holy Tradition, that is, the dogmas, traditions, canons and conciliar resolutions that have been accepted as binding by the whole of the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church throughout her history.
Let those for whom any other tradition than the tradition of ROCOR is unthinkable – the single and absolute criterion of contemporary Russian church life – answer the oft-posed question of the grace or gracelessness of the Moscow Patriarchate in the context of the degree to which it corresponds to the ‘historical tradition of ROCOR?’ … But for those for whom any church-historical tradition, whether it be that of ROCOR or that of the prerevolutionary Church, is valuable only to the extent that it corresponds to Church Tradition, and for those in particular who understand and accept the thought of St. Cyprian of Carthage (that custom without truth is only an old error), another criterion is necessary – another criterion than simple correspondence to ‘abroadness’, which has become in the hands of unscrupulous clergymen an instrument for the manipulation of the consciousness of the people of the Church. This must be the criterion from Church Tradition itself, as expressed first of all in the dogmas and canons of the Universal Church, and not simply in the resolutions of the Synod of the historical ROCOR, or the decrees of her most blessed Metropolitans, the declarations of her hierarchs, the opinions of her theologians, and her liturgical traditions, etc. – all that is listed above needs first to be checked by Church Tradition.
The second reason why it is inappropriate to ask: “What is the historical tradition of the Russian Church Abroad?” is that in 2007, as is well known, ROCOR suffered a disastrous shipwreck and most of its members fell into the abyss of heresy. Now it is impossible that a fall of this magnitude should come out of nothing: it must have been preceded by many smaller falls that prepared the way for the great fall. Therefore we must admit that much of the recent “tradition” of ROCOR – in particular, some of the decisions of her Synod and leading hierarchs – must have been incorrect and contrary to Holy Tradition. So a more appropriate question would be: “What went wrong? What were the tendencies and attitudes and decisions that led ROCOR to fall away from the truth?”
Let us make a historical comparison. In 1054 the Roman papacy fell under the anathema of the Great Church of Constantinople. Church historians have examined in some detail the reasons for this fall: the Filioque, the ambition of the papacy to universal rule, the invasion of secular principles into Church life, etc. The question: “What was the historical tradition of the Roman Orthodox Church?” is rarely asked. And understandably; for it is well known that the fall of the Roman Church was a long process, lasting for centuries, in which the Tradition she received from the apostles was gradually corrupted and distorted. What interests us, what is important for future generations who wish to avoid the mistakes of the past, is: “Why did the Church fall? Where did she go wrong?”
Without denying the great saints and great achievements of ROCOR, we shall attempt to answer the same questions in relation to ROCOR.
I. Is there Grace in the Moscow Patriarchate?
When Metropolitan Sergius (Stragorodsky) issued his notorious “Declaration” in July, 1927, most of the senior and best of the Russian bishops rejected the Declaration and broke communion with Sergius and his Synod. The Russian Church Abroad sympathized with these sentiments. On July 22, 1928 her first-hierarch, Metropolitan Anthony (Khrapovitsky) issued and Encyclical in which he spoke of the Hierarchical Synod’s non-recognition of any authority for the sergianist Moscow synod, since it had entered into a union with the enemies of God. It called it an unlawful organization of apostates from the faith like the ancient libellatici, who, although they refused to blaspheme openly against Christ and offer sacrifices to the idols, nevertheless still received from the priests of the idols false documents verifying that they were in complete accord with them
This judgement by ROCOR’s Hierarchical Synod should have settled the relationship to Sergianism once and for all: the sergianists were ”apostates from the faith” and therefore graceless. Moreover, all the most authoritative hierarchs of the Russian Church, both inside and outside Russia, agreed with it. For example, Archbishop Demetrius of Gdov declared that Sergius’ declaration violated the dogma of the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church. Again, Archbishop Victor of Glazov, also a hieromartyr, declared that Sergianism was “worse than any heresy”. Again, Metropolitan Innocent of Peking wrote in 1930 that “to be loyal to the Bolsheviks, and refuse all active struggle against them, which is what Metropolitan Sergius is demanding of those who recognize him – is this not to renounce Christ, and to accept the seal of the Antichrist which the holy Evangelist John the Theologian speaks about in his Revelation?”
Such apocalyptic language was the norm in Catacomb Church circles in the 1930s. Being at the centre of the storm created by Soviet power and the Soviet church, the Catacomb Christians understood better than anybody the apocalyptic, satanic nature of the temptation they had been subjected to. They saw in the Moscow Patriarchate a continuation, or more subtle variant, of the schismatic “Living Church”, led by the same hierarchs (the first two Soviet patriarchs, Sergius and Alexis, were both former renovationists), striving for the same goal (accomodation with Soviet power) and therefore subject to the same condemnation. For inasmuch as Patriarch Tikhon had called the Living Church “an institution of the Antichrist”, and declared that the renovationists “had deprived themselves of God’s Grace, which resides only in the Church of Christ”, the same judgements applied to the Moscow Patriarchate. For, as Metropolitan Cyril of Kazan put it, the “essence” of the patriarchate was “renovationist”.
There is evidence that the Catacomb Church anathematized the Soviet Church shortly after the Declaration of Metropolitan Sergius. This was asserted by Hieromartyr Maximus, Bishop of Serpukhov, and by St. Philaret of New York. According to St. Philaret, the Moscow Patriarchate fell under two anathemas already in the early years of Soviet power – the first the anathema against Soviet power of 1918, and the second the anathema of the Catacomb Church.
“What is the ‘soviet church’? wrote Vladyka Philaret. ‘Fr. Archimandrite Konstantin [Zaitsev] spoke often and insistently that the most terrible things that the God-fighting power had done in Russia was the appearance of the ‘soviet church’, which the Bolsheviks presented to the people as the true church, having driving the real Orthodox Church into the catacombs or the concentration camps. This false-church has been twice anathematized. His Holiness Patriarch Tikhon and the All-Russian Church Council anathematized the communists and all their co-workers. This terrible anathema has not been removed to this day and retains its power, since it can be removed only by the same kind of All-Russian Council, as being the highest instance of canonical ecclesiastical power. And a terrible thing took place in 1927, when the leader of the Church Metropolitan Sergius by his shameful apostate declaration subjected the Russian Church to the Bolsheviks and declared his cooperation with them. And the expression to be found in the prayer before confession: ‘falling under his own anathema’ was fulfilled in the most exact way. For in 1918 the Church anathematized all the co-workers of Bolshevism, while in 1927 she herself joined the company of those co-workers and began to praise the red God-fighting power – the red beast about which the Apocalypse speaks. But that is not all. When Metropolitan Sergius published his criminal declaration, the faithful children of the Church immediately separated from the Soviet church, and the Catacomb Church was formed. And she in her turn anathematized the church for her betrayal of Christ.”
II. The Position of Metropolitan Cyril of Kazan
This was the common position or tradition of the Catacomb Church and the Russian Church Abroad in the early years of the schism. There was disagreement only on one issue: the date when the sergianist church finally lost all grace of sacraments. This was not a major disagreement, because even those who, like Metropolitan Cyril of Kazan, considered that the sergianist church still had grace in the early 1930s, had changed their minds a few years later. However, since Archimandrite Ilia and others have tried to overturn the whole position of True Orthodoxy in relation to the soviet church (today, nearly 80 years since Metropolitan Cyril’s martyrdom!) on the basis of this disagreement, it is necessary to discuss it.
By contrast with several other catacomb hierarchs, Metropolitan Cyril did not decide – at least until 1934 – to declare Sergius to be a complete apostate, and his organization deprived of the grace of sacraments. The reasons for this were twofold.
First, as he himself recognized in a letter to a catacomb hierarch, he was “extremely cautious”, because, being in exile, he was not completely informed about the Church situation. And secondly, he was in a special position, being the only lawful locum tenens who had the opportunity to correspond and discuss things with Sergius. Therefore he naturally turned the dialogue to the subject of the canonical rights of the locum tenentes and their deputies, accusing Sergius of usurping the power of the first-hierarch.
A review of this canonical-administrative aspect of the problem, without touching on the still more important dogmatic aspect created by Sergius’ submission to the atheists, inevitably led to a less serious estimation of this sin. Nevertheless, a careful study of Metropolitan Cyril’s letters to Sergius written between 1929 and 1934 will provide little comfort to the sergianists and their fellow-travellers. Thus in 1934 he wrote that although the sergianist priests celebrated valid sacraments, those Christians who went up to receive them knowing of Sergius’ usurpation of power and the illegality of his Synod, could received them only to their own condemnation.
However, this is what Vladyka Cyril wrote in a letter dated February 23 / March 8, 1937: “With regard to your perplexities concerning Sergianism, I can say that the very same questions in almost the same form were addressed to me from Kazan ten years ago, and then I replied affirmatively to them, because I considered everything that Metropolitan Sergius had done as a mistake which he himself was conscious of and wished to correct. Moreover, among our ordinary flock there were many people who had not investigated what had happened, and it was impossible to demand from them a decisive and active condemnation of the events. Since then much water has flowed under the bridge. The expectations that Metropolitan Sergius would correct himself have not been justified, but there has been enough time for the formerly ignorant members of the Church, enough incitement and enough opportunity to investigate what has happened; and very many have both investigated and understood that Metropolitan Sergius is departing from that Orthodox Church which the Holy Patriarch Tikhon entrusted to us to guard, and consequently there can be no part or lot with him for the Orthodox. The recent events have finally made clear the renovationist nature of Sergianism. We cannot know whether those believers who remain in Sergianism will be saved, because the work of eternal Salvation is a work of the mercy and grace of God. But for those who see and feel the unrighteousness of Sergianism (those are your questions) it would be unforgiveable craftiness to close one’s eyes to this unrighteousness and seek there for the satisfaction of one’s spiritual needs when one’s conscience doubts in the possibility of receiving such satisfaction. Everything which is not of faith is sin…. I am in fraternal communion with Metropolitan Joseph, and I gratefully esteem the fact that it was precisely with his blessing that there was expressed the first protest against Metropolitan Sergius’ undertaking from the Petrograd diocese…”
Evidently, Metropolitan Cyril’s position had become stricter by the last year of his life. “The events of recent times have finally revealed the renovationist nature of Sergianism”– this is a death sentence on the Moscow Patriarchate, because, of course, renovationism was a heresy whose sacraments, as Patriarch Tikhon officially declared in July, 1923, were “devoid of God’s grace and power, which resides only in the Church of Christ.”
Metropolitan Cyril now agreed with the Josephites and the majority of the catacomb hierarchs that the sergianists, being renovationist in essence, shared the condemnation of the renovationists. And in order to seal this agreement, as it were, the Lord brought Metropolitans Cyril and Joseph together to a prison in Chimkent, where catacomb Christians reported that they had attained complete unity with each other, and where they were shot together on November 20, 1937.
We conclude that it is impossible for Archimandrite Ilia to justify his own position on the basis of that of Metropolitan Cyril. Hieromartyr Cyril was by no means as “soft” on the MP as Fr. Ilia would like to think. And if the hieromartyr was so strict on the MP in 1937, how strict would he be now, in 2016, nearly 80 years later?!
III. The Heresy of Ecumenism.
In 1943 Stalin made a pact with Metropolitan Sergius. In exchange for the MP’s unconditional support for the God-fighting Soviet State, Stalin agreed to grant the MP legal status of the patriarchal church and certain privileges, while leaving it under the strict control of the Soviet Department of Religious Affairs. So from 1943 the MP became in effect an official part of the Soviet State – which is why many True Orthodox Christians and jurisdictions date the final fall from grace of the MP to this time.
After the Second World War, many Catacomb Christians were able to flee to the West and join ROCOR. Among these was the Catacomb confessor and theologian Ivan Andreyev. He noticed a subtle difference in spirit between the Catacomb Church that he had known and ROCOR in America. Probably because of its lack of direct experience of conditions in the Soviet Union, ROCOR was less prepared to make categorical judgements about the Soviet church and was inclined to argue that the process of apostasy was not yet complete, and so a final judgement could not yet be made. Professor I. Andreev, who became a teacher in Jordanville, wrote:
«One cannot but agree with the fact that the falling away of a church from God, and its transformation into ‘a synagogue of satan’, is a process. But there can also be no doubt that the Soviet church has set out on the path that leads to this ‘synagogue’. It is a church that is in an ‘ideal’ relationship with the State of the God-fighting autocracy, which has set as its main task an antichristian work. It is a church that has renounced ‘the pillar and ground’ of Christian righteousness – confession and martyrdom. Instead, it calls on us to carry out the ‘exploit’ of man-pleasing and blasphemous ecclesiastically organized lying. It is a church that has called the leader of the world’s antichristian powers, Stalin, ‘the elect of the Lord’. Such a church has undoubtedly set out on the path that leads it to being transformed from the Church of Christ into ‘the synagogue of satan’.»
However, as the fiery spirit of zeal for the confession of the faith began to weaken in the post-war years, Russian Christians began to demand further proofs that the Soviet church was really as bad as Andreev and the majority of Catacomb hierarchs thought. Of course, such proofs were many, for the Moscow Patriarchate did not get better in this period, but on the contrary became much worse. Although there still remained in the MP people who “read Metropolitan Sergius’ declaration of 1927, and all the later words and deeds of the Soviet patriarchs, with great pain, they still consider that grace is still preserved in the Orthodox Church for the sake of those millions of unfortunate Russian people who derive great comfort from the church. With an extremely heavy heart they listen to the Soviet church’s panegyrics of the Soviet atheist power. But they continue to go to the open churches and pray with tears in front of the wonderworking icons. These people are sentimental [dushevnie]; they have not yet grown to the spiritual understanding of religion. They take their psychological [dushevnie] consolations for Grace-filled spiritual mysteries.”
The phenomenon pointed to by Andreev – the patriarchate’s glorification of Stalin, the greatest murderer of Christians in history, – manifested new depths of man-worship and slavish submission to evil, which, as Metropolitan Anastasy (Gribanovsky) pointed out, amounted to blasphemy. Nevertheless, for the defenders of the patriarchate this was unimportant. They demanded proof of the heresy of sergianism, which they mistakenly considered not to be heresy, but only personal weakness.
The patriarchate was happy to provide them with proofs of its own heresy. One was the so-called “theology of peace”, a variant of Catholic “liberation theology”, which in the best traditions of the Living Church aimed to reconcile Christianity and Communism. Another was ecumenism, of which the MP became officially part in 1961, when it joined the World Council of Churches (WCC).
Commenting on the decision of the Local Orthodox Churches to become “organic members” of the WCC, the famous Serbian theologian, Archimandrite Justin Popovich, formulated the matter as follows:
“We are renouncing the Orthodox Faith of the God-Man Christ, and organic ties with the God-Man and His Most Holy Body: we are repudiating the Orthodox Church of the holy Apostles, the holy Fathers, and the Ecumenical Councils – and we wish to become ‘organic members’ of a heretical, humanistic, humanized and man-worshipping club, which consists of 263 heresies – every one of which is a spiritual death.
“As Orthodox Christians we are ‘members of Christ.’ ‘Shall I therefore take the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute?’ (I Corinthians 6.15). But this is what we are doing this by our organic union with the World Council of Churches, which is nothing other than the rebirth of atheistic man, of pagan idolatry.”
Archbishop Vitaly (Ustinov) of Canada expressed the essence of ecumenism well:
“Ecumenism is the heresy of heresies, because up to now every heresy in the history of the Church has striven to take the place of the true Church, but the ecumenical movement, in uniting all the heresies, is calling them all together to consider themselves to be the one true Church.”
In the 1980s the WCC, backed enthusiastically by the MP, graduated from the acceptance of all Christian heresies to the acceptance even of non-Christian religions. This finally produced an authoritative response from the True Russian Church. Outraged by a particular flagrant manifestation of the ecumenist heresy at the Vancouver General Assembly of the WCC in 1983, the Russian Church Abroad led by St. Philaret of New York, anathematized ecumenism in the following words:
“To those who attack the Church of Christ by teaching that Christ’s Church is divided into so-called ‘branches’ which differ in doctrine and way of life, or that the Church does not exist visibly, but will be formed in the future when all ‘branches’ or sects or denominations, and even religions will be united in one body; and who do not distinguish the priesthood and mysteries of the Church from those of the heretics, but say that the baptism and eucharist of heretics is effectual for salvation; therefore to those who have communion with these aforementioned heretics or advocate, disseminate, or defend their new heresy of Ecumenism under the pretext of brotherly love or the supposed unification of separated Christians, Anathema.”
One of the major points of contention between Archimandrite Ilia and his group and the Holy Synod is their attitude to this anathema. The question is: does Archimandrite Ilia accept the 1983 anathema against ecumenism or not? Strange as it may seem, it appears that he accepted it when he was just leaving the Moscow Patriarchate, but has in effect rejected it now that he has joined the True Church.
Thus in June 2008 Fr. Ilia wrote to “Patriarch” Alexis Ridiger:
“It is well known that the heresy of ecumenism has been subjected to anathema by the Council of ROCOR in 1983. Thus after the union of the Moscow Patriarchate and ROCOR, this conciliar anathema was activated against all the representatives of the ROC taking part in this heresy. Fearing separation from God and not wishing to fall under the anathema on the heresy of ecumenism, we are breaking communion in prayer and liturgical services with you, Your Holiness, and with all those who are in liturgical communion with you… It is terrible for us to be in spiritual union through prayer and Eucharistic communion with that schismatic-heretical ‘church of the evil-doers’ to which in their time belonged the former first hierarchs of the Russian Orthodox Church – the Catholic and uniate Metropolitan Isidore, the Judaizing heretic Metropolitan Zosimas and the former renovationists Metropolitan Sergius. One can enter into communion with heresy and spiritual union with this false-church through prayer and commemoration in liturgical prayer of the contemporary followers of the Catholicization and renovationism of the Russian Orthodox Church.”
This is excellent… However, more recently, in 2015, Fr. Ilia declares: “I confess my complete agreement with all the conciliar decisions of ROCOR (1918-2000) in relation to ROC-MP (1918-2000) and the churches of World Orthodoxy. I confess and recognize the anathema of ROCOR against the heresy of ecumenism of 1983, in the context of the Nativity epistle of the first-hierarch of ROCOR, Metropolitan Vitaly (Ustinov) of 1986/87”.
Now it is necessary first to explain Metropolitan Vitaly’s interpretation of the 1983 anathema in his Nativity Epistle, and then to demonstrate how ROCOR, including Metropolitan Vitaly himself, a few years later – rejected this interpretation.
In his Nativity Epistle Metropolitan Vitaly declared that the anathema of 1983 had no universal significance, but could be applied only to members of ROCOR who held ecumenist views.
However, such an interpretation is absurd. First, it contradicts the text of the 1983 anathema, which is clearly universal in meaning. Secondly, if Metropolitan Vitaly’s interpretation were true, it would mean that an old woman of ROCOR who believed that the Catholics were in the Church would be under anathema, while the leaders of the World Council of Churches would not, which trivializes the anathema and is clearly contrary to its whole historical context and purpose. Thirdly, it contradicts the nature of anathemas in general: if an anathema is valid, it expresses the unchanging decision of God with regard to something that is eternally false; it is necessarily applicable at all times and in all places. If a teaching is heretical, and therefore subject to anathema, it clearly remains heretical and subject to anathema whoever utters it. For a heresy is eternally and universally false; it makes no sense to assert that the heresy is anathematized in one person but not in another.
The application of this anathema was self-evident: since the Moscow Patriarchate was a full member of the WCC, then it was under anathema and consequently deprived of the grace of sacraments. “There is no heresy without heretics and their practical activity. The WCC in its declarations says: ‘The Church confesses’, ‘the Church teaches’, “the Church does this’, ‘the Church does that’… In this way the WCC witnesses that it confesses itself to be not simply a council of churches, but the One Church. And all those who are members of the WCC are members of this one false church, this synagogue of satan. And by this their participation in the WCC all the Local Orthodox Churches fall under the anathema of ROCOR of 1983 and fall away from the True Church. Among these is the MP.”
Fortunately, Metropolitan Vitaly later renounced his perverted interpretation of the 1983 anathema, and in 1998 reiterated it in its natural sense – while clearly declaring that the MP was outside the Church. It follows that Archimandrite Ilia is consistent neither with the plain meaning of the anathema, nor with Metropolitan Vitaly in his more considered statements, nor even with himself in his letter to “Patriarch” Ridiger.
IV. The Struggle within ROCOR
At the Third All-Diaspora Council in Jordanville in 1974 a sharp conflict arose between St. Philaret and his supporters on the one hand (that is, those who wished finally to break communion with apostate World Orthodoxy), and Archbishop Anthony of Geneva and those who wanted to remain in communion with World Orthodoxy, on the other. The struggle between these two camps became so sharp that St. Philaret confided to Protopresbyter George (later Bishop Gregory) Grabbe that he wanted to retire, so isolated did he feel among the other bishops. He had some supporters, such as Archbishops Averky (Taushev) and Andrei (Rymarenko), his spiritual father; but after the death of these, he was supported openly by very few. Among these few was the Secretary of the Synod, Bishop Gregory (Grabbe), the Greek-American monastery of the Holy Transfiguration, Boston, and a large number of Greek and American parishes that followed their lead.
These “Bostonites” protested particularly against the ecumenist activities of Archbishop Anthony of Geneva, who, even after the anathema against ecumenism of 1983, concelebrated with clergy of churches that were under anathema, such as the Ecumenical Patriarchate and the Serbian Patriarchate. Already in the 1970s several West European parishes left him and joined the Greek Old Calendarists for this reason. The Paris Mission of ROCOR under its highly respected leader, Archimandrite Ambrose (Frontier), protested strongly about this to Metropolitan Vitaly, but the metropolitan did nothing. The result was that the Paris Mission left ROCOR… Similarly, in 1986-87 two monasteries and about 40 parishes, convinced that Metropolitan Vitaly was not strong enough to act against the ecumenist hierarchs inside ROCOR, also left and their clergy were suspended from serving.
Among those suspended was Protopresbyter Victor Melehov. Fr. Victor and his fellow priests were suspended for leaving hierarchs who allowed their clergy to concelebrate with ecumenists and new-calendarists, already under ROCOR’s anathema. Because of this, Fr. Victor should be praised for his zeal for the faith, and his suspension should be recognized as invalid. Metropolitan Vitaly did precisely that in 2001, thereby recognizing his mistake of 14 years earlier. However, Archimandrite Ilia argues that this suspension was valid, and that Metropolitan Vitaly’s reinstatement of Fr. Victor in 2001 was invalid. His argument is that if we believe that Fr. Victor’s original suspension was invalid, then we must also believe that ROCOR lost grace already from that time (1987). However, the Orthodox Church does not believe that a true Synod can never make mistakes. Consider the example of St. John Chrysostom’s defrocking by the Synod of Constantinople in 403. St. John did not accept the legality of his defrocking, and he was later (after his death) restored to the diptychs. But he never said that the Synod of Constantinople, which made this bad decision, had fallen away from the One True Church.
There is an important principle here that needs emphasizing. While the Orthodox Church is infallible in the sense that it will never, in all its parts, confess heresy, this does not preclude the possibility that the hierarchs of the Church may commit serious canonical transgressions, but still remain hierarchs of the True Church. Before a Local Church finally falls into apostasy, there is always a period of decline in which canonical transgressions are committed, and even heretical statements uttered. The same was true of ROCOR.
Another consequence of Fr. Ilia’s incorrect thinking is his insistent attempt to affirm that heretics are cut off from the Church of Christ only by the decision of authoritative Councils that have the right to bind and to loose. The Orthodox patristic understanding is that even before a conciliar decision – elicited, doubtlessly, by the Holy Spirit – heretics that stubbornly resist their exposure are self-condemned, reprobate and fallen away from the Church. Fr. Ilia has declared this to be almost a heresy. Let us recall that heretics, as was explained at the last Synod to Fr. Ilia as he stubbornly insisted on his logical investigations, do not become such “automatically”, as he himself put it, as a result of their unorthodox opinion, but fall away from the Church because of their stubbornness even though the heresy was exposed to them. That is, not “automatically’, but through the action of the Holy Spirit, and before their Conciliar condemnation. New Martyr Bishop Victor Ostrovidov makes this point convincingly:
“Metropolitan Sergius, being in the whole of his activity an anti-ecclesiastical heretic, who is turning the Holy Orthodox Church from the house of the grace-filled salvation of believers into a graceless carnal organization deprived of the spirit of life, is at the same time, through his conscious renunciation of the truth and in his mad betrayal of Christ, an open apostate from the Truth of God. And without any external formal trial of the Church (which cannot be carried out on him) he is ‘self-condemned’ (Titus 3.10-11); he has ceased to be what he was, “a servant of the truth” in accordance with the word: ‘Let his dwelling place be desolate,… and his bishopric let another take’ (Acts 1.20).
The Lord is merciful and does not immediately cut off a heretic from the external organization of the Church. He gives him time to repent, in accordance with the words of the Lord to the Church of Thyateira: “I gave her time to repent of her adultery, and she did not repent” (Revelation 2.20). He gives him time to listen to the exhortations and explanations of his fellow bishops, – or, if the other bishops are also in heresy, from the priests and laity. And the time for repentance continues until the final verdict of the canonical court upon the unrepentant heretic or his final joining to the camp of the heretics. In the meantime, the faithful are permitted to break communion with those who proclaim heresy openly “with a bared head”, that is, openly speak against the consensual teaching of the Church on matters of the faith. According to the 15th canon of the First-and-Second Council of Constantinople (861), such people are not only not to be condemned, but are to be praised because they have sought to defend the faith.
It was not only the “Bostonites” who were subject to unjust and invalid sanctions from the ROCOR hierarchs. When Metropolitan Vitaly came to power in 1986, almost his first act was to remove Bishop Gregory (Grabbe) from his position as Bishop of Washington and Florida and Secretary of the Synod, and replace him as secretary with the future traitor – Bishop Lavr, whose assistant was another future traitor, Bishop Ilarion. This was to have a catastrophic effect on the discipline and order of ROCOR. Archbishop Seraphim (Ivanov) of Chicago strongly condemned the act. Bishop Gregory himself, writing to Metropolitan Vitaly in 1994, wrote:
“For a very long time now in fact, since the first days of your leadership of our Church Abroad I have with great anxiety and turmoil of heart been tracing how quickly she has begun to slide into the abyss of administrative disorder and canonical chaos… Our woes began with the first Hierarchical Council to take place after the death of Metropolitan Philaret… On the disorganization of our Chancellery I can judge from a series of signs. Thus I was sent from Russia copies of your letters to Archbishop Lazarus and Bishop Valentine. First, I very soon managed to find out that these documents were unknown to both Secretaries of the Synod, to whom I handed over these copies. Moreover, the very subject of these letters, by the delicacy of their content, demanded their presentation by you for discussion in the Hierarchical Synod. But it turned out that the letters were not only dispatched without the knowledge of the Secretaries, but also had a whole series of other defects, which quite clearly demonstrated the bankruptcy of your personal Chancellery. Although Russian notepaper was available, the letters to Russia were sent on English notepaper; they not only had no numbers, but even no dates. In the letter to Archbishop Lazarus there was no indication of whom it was being sent to, while Bishop Valentine’s title was incomplete. Finally, the very text of the letters was by no means brilliant grammatically and stylistically. Moreover, it also emerged (which is especially terrible) that at the bottom of both letters was not your signature in your own hand, but a facsimile!
Bishop Gregory concludes crushingly:
“For all the years of the existence of the Church Abroad we have enjoyed respect and glory for nothing else than for our uncompromising faithfulness to the canons. They hated us, but they did not dare not to respect us. But now we have shown the whole Orthodox world that the canons are for us just an empty sound and we have become a laughing-stock in the eyes of all those who have any kind of relationship to Church questions. Look: you yourself, at the Council in Lesna, permitted yourself to say that for us, the participants in it, this was not now the time to examine canons, but we had to act quickly. You, holding the tiller of the ecclesiastical ship, triumphantly, in front of the whole Council, declared to us that now we had to hasten to sail without a rudder and without sails. At that time your words appalled me, but I, knowing of your irritation towards me because I insist that we have to live in accordance with the canons, still hoped that all was not lost and that our Bishops would somehow shake off the whole nightmare of these last years. Think, Vladyko, of the tens of thousands of Orthodox people we have deceived both abroad and in Russia. Don’t calm yourself with the thought that if there is some guilt somewhere, then it lies equally on all our hierarchs. The main guilt will lie on you, as the leader of our Council. I have had to hear from some Bishops that sometimes the Synod decrees one thing, and then you, taking no account of previous resolutions, on your own initiative either change them or simply rescind them. And look now, as has already become quite well known, after the stormy March session of the Synod, it dispersed without making a single resolution. During it the question was discussed of banning the Russian Hierarchs from serving. Nevertheless, you demanded that the Secretariat that it send off an ukaz banning bishops who were not even under investigation. Both from the point of view of the 34th Apostolic canon, and from an ecclesiastical-administrative point of view, this is unprecedented lawlessness. Remember, Vladyko, your reproachful speech against Metropolitan Philaret, when in 1985 you for ten minutes non-stop fulminated against him for transgressing the 34th Apostolic canon. The crimes of Metropolitan Philaret seem to me to be miniscule by comparison with what is happening now.”
The transition from the leadership of St. Philaret to that of Metropolitan Vitaly in 1986 in effect led to the domination of the pro-Moscow party in ROCOR. From 1986 a there began a “purging of the cadres”, which continued in 1994 and again after 2000, in the course of which the leading opponents of the union with Moscow were removed and replaced by pro-Moscow ecumenists. The leaders of the pro-Moscow clique were Bishops Mark, Lavr and Hilarion.
V. The Practice of Oikonomia
In the following years Metropolitan Vitaly wavered between strictness and liberalism in relation to World Orthodoxy as a whole and the Moscow Patriarchate in particular. But it was precisely his more liberal pronouncements that received the greater publicity. At the same time the struggle with the patriarchate became more intense as glasnost’ and the fall of communism revealed the truth about the subjection of the patriarchate to Soviet power and inspired ROCOR to open parishes in the Russian land. In the new situation ROCOR was moved, on the one hand, by the desire to attract to itself patriarchal parishes that for the first time had the opportunity to move into the Free Church but which might be put off by an excessively confrontational approach on the part of the latter. On the other hand, ROCOR was moved the necessity of defending itself from the patriarchate, which tried by all means – including the most desperate lies, fraud and physical force – to discredit and drive out ROCOR.
In its desire to draw as many members of the MP to the True Church as possible, ROCOR employed “oikonomia”, that is, leniency, in its reception of them. Only rarely were the heretics baptized; in the great majority of cases, they were received by chrismation or confession only. However, Archimandrite Ilia and his followers – perhaps under the influence of the inadequate training they received in the seminaries of the heretical MP – have chosen to misinterpret this practice in order to draw the conclusion that those received into the Church by “oikonomia” were not participants in heresy and already had received true baptism in the MP.
Now the practice of “oikonomia” has been used in the reception of heretics and schismatics by the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church since the beginning. Even the Arian heretics were not rebaptized, but were received by chrismation. The reception of the Arians in this way in no way implies that the Arians had already received the Grace of baptism while they remained in heresy. On the contrary: St. Athanasius the Great considered the baptism of the Arians to be “useless bathwater”! A little later, St. Basil the Great wrote in his canon that all those who leave the Church, for whatever reason, are deprived of the Holy Spirit and therefore cannot pass It on to anyone else. At the same time, he recognized the practice of “oikonomia” in the reception of schismatics; that is, he agreed that they should not be rebaptized “for the sake of the edification of many.” For“I am afraid that [the strictness] of our council regarding baptism may stop [the heretics] from wanting to join the Church, and we, because of the strictness of our decision, may become a hindrance for those who are being saved.”
Even earlier than this, St. Cyprian of Carthage and the Synod of Carthage in 251 declared that all heretics and schismatics are outside the Church and have no Grace of sacraments. This decision entered the body of Orthodox canon law, and was fully accepted by the Russian Church, although it almost always accepted heretics by “oikonomia”.
Hieromartyr Hilarion Troitsky wrote:
“St. Cyprian rejected any Grace-filled life outside the Church. St. Basil the Great’s canonical reply is in complete agreement with him. According to it, those who have fallen away from the Church into schism do not have the Grace of the Holy Spirit. And if at the same time St. Basil considered it possible to receive schismatics without baptism, while Blessed Augustine tries to demonstrate the validity of baptism outside the Church, we should not see in this a contradiction or the admission of genuine Grace-filled life outside the Church. After all, according to Augustine, the Grace of baptism begins to act only from the moment of union with the Catholic Church, which is why there is no salvation outside the Church. The correct performance of baptism outside the Church is only a basis on which the Church can receive schismatics into her depths even without baptism. Moreover, as St. Basil and the 79th Canon of the Council of Carthage suggest, the reason for such an acceptance is seen in the benefit of peace. Evidently, such a possibility is admitted for the sake of ecclesiastical peace… In his letter to Jubayan, it is true, St. Cyprian demanded the rebaptism of the Novatians for the sake of the benefit of the Church. St. Cyprian and Firmilian considered the definition of the benefit of the Church, and the practice that depended on that, as being the bishop’s business. In this way, they admitted the possibility of various methods of receiving heretics and schismatics into the Church at various times and in different Churches. Neither did St. Basil the Great and St. Amphilochius of Iconium, to whom St. Basil wrote his canonical epistle, deny this possibility. The reason for this, of course, is that the Fathers considered all those outside the Church to be equally graceless, but found it possible, depending on circumstances of place and time, not to demand baptism from schismatics if that would be beneficial for the Church. Unity with the Church makes a man a Christian; outside it he is nothing, even if he has been baptized.”
In 1971, in view of the spread of the heresy of ecumenism, ROCOR decided to receive Catholics and Protestants by baptism. At the same time, it fully accepted the principle of “oikonomia”, explaining its true rationale in a particularly clear manner:
Resolution of the ROCOR Council of 1971 on the Question of the Baptism of Heretics Receiving Orthodoxy
On the question of the baptism of heretics receiving Orthodoxy the following resolution was passed: From ancient times the Holy Church has believed that there can be only one true baptism, namely that which is accomplished in her bosom: “One Lord, one Faith, one Baptism” (Ephesians 4.5). In the Symbol of Faith “one baptism” is also confessed, while the 46th canon of the Holy Apostles indicates: “We order that a bishop or priest who has accepted (that is, recognized) the baptism or sacrifice of heretics should be deposed.”
“However, when the zeal of any heretics in their struggle against the Church weakened, and when there was a question of their mass conversion to Orthodoxy, the Church, to ease their union, accepted them into her bosom by another rite. In his first canon, which was included in the canons of the Sixth Ecumenical Council, St. Basil the Great points to the existence of various practices in different countries in the reception of heretics. He explains that every separation from the Church deprives of Grace. And he writes about schismatics: “For although the beginning of their apostasy took place through a schism, those who have apostasized from the Church no longer have the Grace of the Holy Spirit in themselves. For the giving of Grace has withered away because the lawful succession was cut off. For the first apostates received their consecration from the Fathers and, through the laying on of hands, had a spiritual gift. But those who have been torn away, having become laymen, had power neither to baptized nor to ordain, and could not give the Grace of the Holy Spirit, from Which they themselves had fallen away, to others. Therefore the ancients ordered that those who came to the Church from them should be regarded as baptized by laymen and should be purified by the true Church baptism.” However, “for the sake of the edification of many”, St. Basil did not object to another reception of schismatics: the Catharoi in Asia. About the Encratites he writes that “if this could be a hindrance to the general benefit”, then another practice could be employed, explaining it as follows: “For I fear lest we may by the severity of the prescription actually prevent men from being saved because of their being too indolent in regard to baptism.”
“And so St. Basil the Great, and through his words the Ecumenical Council, in establishing the principle that outside the Holy Orthodox Church there is no true baptism, allowed out of pastoral condescension, so-called oikonomia, the acceptance of certain heretics and schismatics without a new baptism. And in accordance with this principle, the Ecumenical Councils allowed the reception of heretics by various rites, taking account of the weakening of their fierceness against the Orthodox Church….
In the Rudder the explanation of Timothy of Alexandria is cited. To the question: “Why are heretics who are being converted to the Catholic Church not baptized?” he replies: “If it were thus, then a man would not quickly convert from heresy, being ashamed of baptism (that is, of a second baptism). But by the laying on of hands of the presbytery and prayer, the Holy Spirit descends, as is witnessed by the Acts of the Holy Apostles.
“In relation to the Roman Catholics and Protestants who claim to preserve baptism as a sacrament (for example, the Lutherans), the practice was introduced from the time of Peter the First of receiving them without baptism, through the renunciation of heresy and chrismation of Protestants and unconfirmed Catholics. Before Peter Catholics were baptised in Russia. In Greece the practice also changed, but for almost three hundred years, after a certain break, the practice of baptizing those who came from Catholicism and Protestantism was again introduced. Those who are received by another rite are not recognized as Orthodox in Greece. In many cases also such children of our Russian Church were not even allowed to receive Holy Communion.
“Bearing in mind this circumstance, and the present growth of the ecumenical heresy, which tries completely to wipe out the difference between Orthodoxy and every heresy, so that the Moscow Patriarchate, in spite of the sacred canons, has issued a resolution allowing Roman Catholics to be communed in certain cases, the Hierarchical Council has recognized the introduction of a stricter practice to be necessary, that is, that all heretics coming to the Church should be baptized, and that only insofar as it is necessary and with the permission of the bishop, from considerations of oikonomia, should another practice be allowed in relation to certain people, that is, the reception into the Church of Roman Catholics and Protestants who have been baptized in the name of the Holy Trinity through renunciation of heresy and chrismation.”
This is ROCOR’s official explanation of the practice of “oikonomia” in the reception of heretics and schismatics. It is in complete agreement with the teaching of the Early Church, as cited above. It follows that Archimandrite Ilia’s argument that the MP has Grace because we receive those fleeing from it by “oikonomia” is false…
In 1994 ROCOR under Metropolitan Vitaly entered into official communion with the schismatic group of Greek Old Calendarists under Metropolitan Cyprian of Orope. This union had been prepared by the pro-Moscow Archbishops Mark and Lavr. It was rejected by Bishop Gregory (Grabbe), who wrote a serious analytical article about it. ROCOR now officially accepted the heretical, crypto-ecumenist ecclesiology of Cyprian, known as “Cyprianism”. Metropolitan Cyprian himself and his teaching were condemned by the True Orthodox Church of Greece under its first-hierarch, Archbishop Chrysostomos (Kiousis) in 1986. Cyprian never repented or returned into communion with the True Orthodox Church of Greece before his death. Therefore entering into communion with his group in 1994 was a serious canonical transgression. Three hierarchs of RTOC apologized to representative hierarchs of the Greek True Orthodox Church for this transgression in Odessa in 2008. And then, a few days later, during the Sobor of 2008, RTOC officially condemned the main teaching of Cyprianism, namely that heretics and schismatics are not apostates, but so-called «sick members of the Church».
It should be pointed out that Cyprian sinned in that point in his Theses, where he required a council for a newly-appeared heresy. A heresy is a false teaching and departure from the Orthodox confession of faith. A council only establishes the fact of this departure in order to warn the flock. But Cyprian gave one or another heresy (or several heresies together) to remain at peace in the Church, eroding her confessional base. In such a situation the Grace of the Holy Spirit inevitably leaves the Church, since it has departed from the truth, even if the external forms of Church life in such a ‘church’ are being preserved. This one fact alone makes Cyprianism completely unacceptable for the True Orthodox consciousness. Cyprianism represents a variety of that religious «tolerance» (in other words, religious indifference) that is the basic ideological direction of contemporary official Orthodoxy. This is its cunning essence – hidden ecumenism (crypt-ecumenism).
Cyprianism is much more than the simple recognition of Grace in the sacraments of World Orthodoxy, including the MP. Cyprianism is a new theory of the relationship between the Church and heresy. The essence of this theory can be expressed in three points:
1. Local Councils are not competent to drive heretics out of the Church. This is an extreme innovation. It is false because many Local Councils drove heretics out of the Church. For example: (1) The Local Councils of the Early Church that drove out Sabellius and Marcian; (2) The Local Councils of the Greek Church that expelled the Roman Catholics in 1054 and in the fourteenth century; (3) The Local Councils of the Russian Church that anathematized the communists and their co-workers in 1918 and the renovationists in 1923.
2. Only so-called «Unifying Councils» – that is, Ecumenical or Pan-Orthodox Councils at which the heretics themselves are present – can expel heretics from the Church. However, even certain Ecumenical and Pan-Orthodox Councils – for example, the Councils that anathematized the new calendar in 1583, 1587 and 1593 – were not unifying, and the heretics that they condemned were not present at them.
3. He who confesses heresy openly remains a member of the Church – albeit a «sick» member, until he has been expelled by an Ecumenical or Pan-Orthodox Council. If this were true, however, then if there were no Eighth Ecumenical or Pan-Orthodox Council before the end of the world, the Church would be powerless to expel any heretics. Theoretically, then, if the Antichrist will be Orthodox and declares himself to be god, he will remain a member of the Church in spite of the fact that a countless number of Local Councils of the Orthodox Church are anathematizing him! And if he will be a priest or patriarch, he can still dispense true sacraments!
The 1983 anathema against ecumenism condemned the crypto-ecumenist teaching of Cyprianism in the following words:
”… to those who do not distinguish the true priesthood and sacraments of the Church from the heretical priesthood and sacraments, but teach that the baptism and eucharist of heretics is effective for salvation:anathema.”
In spite of this, Archimandrite Ilia writes:
“The phrase from the conciliar resolution – ‘We reject the destructive opinion that heretics and schismatics are not apostates, but so-called ‘sick members of the Church’, can be accepted by me only in the context of the Sacred Ecclesiastical Tradition of the Orthodox Church, and in particular the acts of the Ecumenical and Local Councils in relations to the condemnation of various heretics and their teachings.”
“Another phrase from the conciliar resolution – ‘official World Orthodoxy has fallen away from the Church of Christ’ is understood by me only in the confines of the conciliar acts of ROCOR and the Sorrowful Epistles of the holy Hierarch Philaret (Voznesensky). Our Sacred Council of RTOC in 2008 did not have the status of an Ecumenical Councils so as to take decisions on World Orthodoxy.”
What is Archimandrite Ilia trying to say? That the Ecumenical and Local Councils supposedly allow that certain heretics and schismatics are not “apostates”, and that some open heretics remain as «sick members of the Church”? From the context of his writing, it appears that this is indeed what he means. Like Cyprian, he appears to believe that only Ecumenical Councils can expel heretics from the Church, and that until the convening of such a Council the heretics remain “uncondemned, but sick members of the Church”. This allows him to dismiss the 1983 ROCOR anathema against ecumenism, and the 2008 conciliar decision of RTOC, as unimportant and not binding, because neither of these (of course!) have the status of an Ecumenical Council. In this he follows closely the teaching of Cyprian, whose Ecclesiological Theses were first published in 1984, the year after the 1983 anathema, with the clear aim of undermining the significance of that anathema…
However, in the first three centuries of the history of the Church there were no Ecumenical Councils. Many important heretics were condemned by Local Councils, such as Marcion and Sabellius. One of the most important heretics in the whole history of the Church was Arius. He was cast out of the Church by a Local Council under the presidency of St. Alexander in Alexandria. The Holy Fathers of the First Ecumenical Councilconfirmed this decision; but the original excommunication (expulsion) was not made by them. Again, Nestorius was cast out of the Church by a Local Council in Rome under the presidency of St. Celestine; the Third Ecumenical Council did not make this original, completely valid decision of the Church of Rome, but merely confirmed it. Again, the Monothelites were cast out by a Local Council in Rome in 649, and St. Maximus declared that after this conciliar decision the Monothelites had no grace of sacraments. And yet this was over 30 years before the Sixth Ecumenical Council, which again confirmed the earlier decision.
And the contemporary Latin heresy was not condemned at any Ecumenical Council, since it appeared after them, but was condemned only by Local Constantinopolitan Councils.
Does Archimandrite Ilia really want to say that the Roman Catholics are merely “sick” and “as-yet-uncondemned members of the Church”? If so, then he is no less of an ecumenist heretic than his former master Patriarch Ridiger, whom he condemned for the heresy of ecumenism! Moreover, as we have seen, if no future Eighth Ecumenical Council or Pan-Orthodox Council is convened before the end of the world, the Church will be powerless to expel any heretics, even the Antichrist!
This way, the Church will lose its power to bind and to loose!
In this context, it is important to remember that, as Alexei Stepanovich Khomyakov said, authority is based on truth, not truth on authority. Conciliar decisions help the faithful to see and keep away from heresy, but they do not by themselves make heresies heretical. The Lord said to Nicodemus: “He that believeth not is condemned already” (John 3.18) – before any decision of the Church. Again, the Apostle Paul says: “A man that is a heretic… is self-condemned” (Titus 3.10, 11). So there can be no “not-as-yet condemned heretics”, as the Cyprianites affirm: all heretics are condemned immediately they preach heresy publicly, and are “false bishops” even “before conciliar condemnation”, as is explicitly affirmed by the 15th Canon of the First-and-Second Council of 861.
New Hieromartyr Mark (Novoselov), Bishop of Sergievo, explained this teaching by making a distinction between the mystical organism of the Church and her visible, external organization. Until a heretic has been condemned by a canonical Council of Bishops, he remains a member of the visible, external organization of the Church. But he has already been cut off from the mystical organism of the Church by Christ Himself. In accordance with this distinction, we can say that Arius was cut off from the mystical organism of the Church by the Lord immediately he began to proclaim his heresy publicly, but was cut off from the external organizationof the Church, first by Local Councils of the Church of Alexandria under Saints Peter and Alexander, and then by the First Ecumenical Council in Nicaea.
Archimandrite Ilia continues:
“In this resolution of the RTOC Sobor I have not seen any proclamation that ‘the destructive opinion that the heretics and schismatics are not apostate, but so-called ‘sick members of the Church’ is heretical. There is a big difference between the terms ‘destructive opinion’ and ‘heretical teaching’. The first presupposes a further investigation of the question with regard to its Orthodoxy, while the second makes a final decision or verdict on the heterodoxy of the given opinion. According to the ‘Statute on the Russian True Orthodox Church’, only a Sobor, and not a Synod, can make resolutions of a confessional character… Therefore it seems to me, and all the priests who have signed addresses to the Synod, that the RTOC Synod’s use of the term ‘heresy’ in relation to the theses of Metropolitan Cyprian is a breach of ecclesiastical order.”
This is reasoning truly worthy of the Jesuits! What is a “destructive opinion” concerning the faith if not a “heretical teaching”?! The Sobor of 2008 clearly condemned the “destructive opinion” of Cyprian about the Church. Whether they also called it a “heresy” is beside the point. The point is that this is a false and pernicious teaching about the Church, and the members of the Church are not allowed to hold it.
It is likewise absurd to claim that the members of the Holy Synod are not allowed to discuss heresies in Synodal meetings, but only in Sobors. The “Statute of the Russian True Orthodox Church” does not say that only a Sobor, and not a Synod, can make resolutions of a confessional character, but only that “the Sacred Sobor of hierarchs, clergy and laymen is… the highest legislative organ”. In other words, a Sobor could in theory overturn the decision of a Synod, but this is not the same as saying that the Synod is not allowed to make any decisions about heresy!
It should be pointed out in passing that the distinction between “Sobor” and “Synod” cannot be found in the decisions of the Ecumenical Councils. There are two words in Russian but only one in Greek – Συνοδος. So the Ecumenical Councils are in fact «Συνοδοι», «Synods» in Greek… The fact is that, if we look at the history of the Church, we find no precise definition of what kind of Council of bishops can cast out heretics. Nor does canon law teach us how big a Synod of Sobor has to be in order to make valid and binding decisions about the faith. Many large Councils have been rejected by the consciousness of the Church, while some rather small and Local Synods have acquired great and even ecumenical significance even though they have not been called «Ecumenical». There are only two criteria of the validity of a Council: (1) that the bishops should be canonical, genuine successors of the apostles, and (2) that what they decree should be in accordance with Holy Tradition. If these criteria are satisfied, then the Council can be as small as you like, but it will speak through the same Holy Spirit that spoke through the Holy Apostles at the first Council in Jerusalem.
Let us not forget that in 1923 His Holiness Patriarch Tikhon condemned the renovationists as outside the Church and without the grace of sacraments without even convening a Sobor. On July 2/15 the patriarch anathematized the “Living Church”, proclaiming:
“… They have separated themselves from the unity of the body of the Universal Church and deprived themselves of the Grace of God that resides only in the Church of Christ. And by virtue of this all the decrees made in Our absence by the unlawful authority that does not have canonical succession are invalid and nothing! And all the actions and sacraments performed by the bishops and priests that have fallen away from the Church are graceless, while the believers who took part with them in prayer and the sacraments not only do not receive sanctification, but are subject to condemnation for their participation in their sin.”
If we follow the logic of Metropolitan Cyprian and Archimandrite Ilia, then we must admit that the Patriarch went beyond the bounds of his authority, and the renovationists remained “uncondemned heretics”, “sick members of the True Church”!
Let us put it in the words of Blessed Augustine on the Pelagian heresy:
“Is it necessary to convene a Council in order to expose their so obvious destruction? As if no heresy was ever condemned without the convening of a Council! On the contrary, we know of very few heresies, for the exposure of which this was necessary, while there are many – nay, more – that were subject to just exposure in the places where they appeared, whence the news spread from there to all the other churches so as to warn them.”
Archimandrite Ilia continues: “It is precisely that which elicited our request for a theological commission be created to investigate the teaching of ‘Cyprianism’.” But here Archimandrite Ilia shows serious inconsistency. First he says that the 2008 RTOC Sobor did not condemn Cyprianism – although, as we have seen, not only the 2008 Sobor, but also the 1983 ROCOR Sobor condemned the teaching we now know as “Cyprianism”. Secondly, he declares, following the false teaching of Cyprianism, that in any case only Ecumenical Councils can expel heretics from the Church. And thirdly, he says that the problem can be solved by passing it on to a «theological commission», which is neither an Ecumenical Council, nor a small Council, neither a Sobor nor a Synod, but simply a consultative organ having no power to decide anything!
What is the purpose behind this tactic? Clearly his aim is to justify Cyprianism, despising the authority of the bishops and giving power to the lower orders of the Church. He wishes to create a commission that will be filled with his own Cyprianite supporters and thereby introduce a heretical decision «through the back door», as it were. So the aim is a revolution against the bishops, the God-appointed guardians of the truth in the Church, in order to overthrow the true ecclesiology and introduce the false one of Cyprianism!
Archimandrite Ilia quotes from Archbishop Tikhon’s “Report on the Relationship of RTOC to the sergianist-ecumenist MP (with regard to the question of the reception rite of former MP clergy)» at the 2008 Sobor, he points out that he was not always so categorical about the question of grace. «On the question we are discussing there can be various private opinions, as was the case among the Holy Fathers. However, the last word always belongs to the conciliar mind of the Church.».
This is true, but misses the essential point. When heresies arise in the Church, they are not immediately recognized by all the faithful for what they really are. Some see through the deception immediately; others need more time to study the question. In this early period, it is wise to give time for open debate before imposing a decision that is binding on all. However, this “consultative period” cannot last for too long. Otherwise, “their [the heretics’] word will spread like cancer” (II Timothy 2.17) and kill more people with spiritual death. Moreover, once the heresy has been condemned in one part of the Orthodox world, it is essential that other parts should respond by supporting their brothers in the faith, thereby manifesting the Unity of the Church and strengthening her witness against the enemies of the truth.
Now it must be admitted that RTOC has been slow in recognizing the heresy of Cyprianism by comparison with other parts of the True Orthodox Church. The heresy was first recognized and condemned by the True Orthodox Church of Greece under Archbishop Chrysostomos – which is only to be expected, since the heresy arose in Greece. In Russia the process of recognition was hindered, first by the lack of communion with the True Orthodox Church of Greece since the 1970s, secondly by the lack of theologians able to read Greek and examine the heresy in the original sources, and thirdly by the use made of the heresy by the hierarchs Mark, Lavr and Hilarion in their pursuit of union with Moscow. By pushing ROCOR into communion with Cyprian – although several hierarchs had severe doubts (thus Bishop Gregory (Grabbe) said that by this act ROCOR “is falling under its own anathema of 1983”) the faithful were deceived into thinking that their new brothers, Cyprian and his fellow hierarchs, were truly Orthodox.
If Archimandrite Ilia wishes to point to an inconsistency between the relatively liberal position of RTOC before 2008 and its stricter position since then, we have no quarrel with him; we admit it. But if he wishes us to renounce our present position and accept his own philosophizing, his position regarding the false teaching of Met. Cyprian, as Orthodox teaching, thereby repeating the mistake and the fall of ROCOR, and renouncing our unity in faith with the Holy New Martyrs and Confessors, with St. Philaret and ROCOR (before entering into communion with the group of Met. Cyprian, and accepting his false teaching as the identical ecclesiology of ROCOR), and with the other contemporary True Orthodox Churches – then we reject his proposal with indignation.
Of course, the Sobor of 2008 never claimed to have the status of an Ecumenical Council. But we would be betraying our own calling, and the apostolic grace that we were given at our ordination, if we did not speak out and condemn every threat to the faith of our flock. World Orthodoxy has fallen away from the Church by embracing the pan-heresy of ecumenism. That is the terrible but inescapable fact that was proclaimed by ROCOR in its anathema of 1983. Our Sobor, small and insignificant as it may be in the eyes of Archimandrite Ilia, had not only the right but the duty to join ourselves to the witness of St. Philaret and the Synod of Bishops of the ROCOR under his presidency. Otherwise, we would have been like the watchmen described by the Prophet Isaiah: «His watchmen are blind, they are all ignorant; they are all dumb dogs who cannot bark» (56.10).
Archimandrite Ilia and his followers must be careful that they do not become still worse, as according to the words of Scripture becoming like «the dog who returns to his own vomit» (Proverbs 26.11; II Peter 2.22), that is, he who begins to accept the heresy that he previously condemned, and the supposedly Grace-filled nature of the Soviet church…
The Lord said: “By their fruits ye shall know them.” We see the fruits produced by the MP and World Orthodoxy as a whole, and we know them for what they are – heretics who have fallen away from the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church. Their fruits are not only the 263 heresies embraced by the WCC, nor even the “pan-heresy” of ecumenism, but also sergianism and all the other abominations consequent on their union with the most evil and antichristian anti-government in world history, which was anathematized by his Holiness Patriarch Tikhon and the Local Council of the Russian Church nearly one hundred years ago. We reject with the blasphemous idea that the “church” which made this pact with Satan can have the grace of the Holy Spirit.
+Archbishop Tiihon of Omsk and Siberia
+Bishop Savvaty of Vinnitsa.
Protopresbyter Victor Melehov, Secretary of the Synod
From the Chancery:
Due to his reluctance to engage in disputes of a theological nature, which, in his opinion, may exacerbate relations within the flock, which is unacceptable to him, Archbishop Benjamin, of Chernomorsk and Kuban, has decided to remove his signature. He has proposed to prepare his decision regarding these questions, which he views as being not simple, for discussion at the future Sobor of the Church.