NFTU: It seems as if everything has always been on the precipice, with only short respites before another storm.

Relations between the ROCOR and the Roman Catholic Church, 1920-1964

Andrei Psarev

A chapter from Psarev’s Masters thesis, “The Attitude of the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad toward Non-Orthodox Christians and the Ecumenical Movement (1920-1964): A Historical Evaluation.”


This chapter will review the following subjects:

  1. The issue of proselytism:
    1. Regarding Russian youth;
    2. The Vaticans relations with Soviet Russia;
    3. The Eastern rite;
    4. Renegade clergy.
  2. The Attitude to the Sacraments of the Roman Catholic Church:
    1. Views of the hierarchy;
      1. Metropolitan Antonii;
      2. Archbishop Vitalii of Eastern America;
      3. Archbishop Feodosii of Brasil;
      4. Archbishop Leontii of Chile and Peru;
    2. The reception of clergy;
    3. The attitude toward lay people.
  3. Ecumenical Relations with the Roman Catholic Church:
    1. Spontaneous union movement;
    2. Metropolitan Antonii;
    3. The Second Pan-Diaspora Council;
    4. Bishop Nafanail of Brussels and Western Europe;
    5. Archbishop Leontii of Chile and Peru;
    6. The First, second, and third sessions of the Vatican II (October 1962 – November 1964);
      1. The Issue of Participation;
      2. The Question of Observers.
  4. Conclusion.

1. The Issue of Proselytism

The issue of proselytism colored relation between the Roman Catholic and the Russian Churches from the thirteen century. The Russian Synod in its epistle of 1903 noted: “The conversion of Russia and of the Russian people constitutes the secret dream and unconditional goal of the yearnings of the Papacy of our times.” 1 Since my paper is dedicated to the evaluation of the position of the ROCA, I am not going to review the vision of proselytism from the Roman Catholic side. 2

a. Regarding Russian Youth

At the meeting of the Higher Russian Church Authority in Constantinople (April 6/19 – 8/21, 1921), Bishop Veniamin of Sebastopol reported attempts to “seduce Russian children” who are studying in French educational institutions “into Roman Catholicism.” It was resolved: to inform the Apostolic delegate, Monsignor Dolchi, about this with a suggestion to allow Bishop Veniamin and priests assigned by him into the foreign schools. Bishop Veniamin was charged personally to clarify this problem with Monsignor Dolchi. 3

In the report of the missionary department of the First Pan-Diaspora Council in 1921, concern was already expressed regarding the activities of sectarians, especially Adventists, among members of the Russian Church as well as the increase of Roman Catholic propaganda. The department suggested numerous missionary measures for the protection of the flock. 4

On May 17/30, 1922, the HCAA discussed the intensification of Roman Catholic propaganda among Russian Orthodox. It was resolved 1)To charge Bishop Veniamin with the collection of existing material regarding the proposed letter to the Pope of Rome concerning his use of the difficult circumstances of Russian people for seduction from Orthodoxy; and for an appeal to the parents of Russian children with warnings against Catholic propaganda; 2) To charge the secretary of the HCAA, E.I. Makharoblidze, with taking measures to print the pamphlet of Metropolitan Antonii, Conversations of an Orthodox Priest with a Uniate Priest About the Delusions of the Greek Catholics, 5 planning for a wide distribution of this pamphlet among the Orthodox and Uniates; 3)The cost for this project should be taken from the funds of the Higher Church Authority Abroad. 6

Metropolitan Evlogii in his memoirs recalls his visit to Rome in 1924 with the following activists for Church union: Count A. Volkonskii, Fr. Abrikosov, and Msgr d’Herbigny, director of the Pontifical Oriental Institute. 7 Evlogii said that the union of Churches was a holy idea, but there are some obstacles, and he drew attention to Catholic propaganda. He does not mind if adults become Catholic, but when Catholics are catching the “small ones” in the orphanages and schools, it is inadmissible violence against the children’s souls. As an example, Evlogii points to the activity of a certain Sipiagin in Belgium. Another obstacle brought up by Evlogii was the persecution of Orthodoxy in Poland. His opponents did not object, but said that the Holy Father does not sympathize with all these efforts. 8

Igumen Filip (von Gardner), in his report to the Second Pan-Diaspora Council of 1938 concerning education, called for a study of the Roman Catholic Weltanschauung in order to demonstrate to youth the moral consequences arising from it. The speaker appealed for opening the world of Orthodox practice to the teenagers in order to preserve them from the influence of the rigorous religious life of Roman Catholics. Bishop Ioann of Shangai, in his report to the same Council on the spiritual state of the Russian people in diaspora, 9 noted that a significant part of those Russian children who now study in Catholic convents will become traitors of their fatherland and that it is the fault of their parents. Such people, according to Ioann, should be baned from entering Russia after the victory over Bolshevism.

That the issue of the proselytism of children was still a concern as late as 1961 can be seen from the statement of Bishop Antonii of Geneva to Cardinal Bea. Bishop Antonii pointed to proselytism, especially aimed at the young, as an obstacle to good relations with Roman Catholics. 10

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