Ninth clergy-laity conference of the Russian Orthodox Autonomous Church held in Suzdal

(CEB – Suzdal) On September 3-4, the ninth clergy-laity conference of the Russian Orthodox Autonomous Church was held in Suzdal. The previous clergy-laity conference, number 8, of the ROAC took place almost five years ago, in November of 2000, in Suzdal, at which it was decided to canonize the Synaxis of the Venerable Women of Diveevo. After that, a period of persecution began, brought about by the actions of A. Osetrov and encouraged by the Moscow Patriarchate.

The conference opened on the morning of September 3rd, with a special moleben to the Savior, the Mother of God, and the New Martyrs of Russia, which was celebrated in the Tsar Constantine Cathedral by His Grace Bishop Ambrose together with all of the clergy. In all, the conference was attended by 26 clergymen and about 20 lay persons from the various dioceses of the Russian Autonomous Church, representing the Russian Federation and neighboring countries, as well as by seven bishops of the Russian Autonomous Church.

At 10:00 a.m., in the conference hall of the Suzdal Diocesan Administration building, after the invocation, the First Hierarch of the Russian Orthodox Autonomous Church, His Eminence Valentine, Metropolitan of Suzdal and Vladimir, opened the clergy-laity conference with an introductory address, in which he pointed out that the purpose for having a conference is, first and foremost, to give the participants an opportunity to pray together liturgically, to have eucharistic communion as children of the Russian Autonomous Church from one holy chalice, as well as to collectively discuss vital issues facing the dioceses and parishes, and resolving various questions and problems that the clergy meet up with in parish life. Vladyka underlined, that the conference is not the place for examining questions of a canonical or dogmatic nature, nor is it appropriate to discuss the recent decisions made by the Synod of Bishops and the diocesan authority.

In his official capacity, Vladyka Metropolitan read a lecture concerning the life of the Suzdal diocese of the ROAC over the course of the last five years. He pointed out that in the well known legal persecution of the First Hierarch of the ROAC and the smear campaign directed against the Church, the devil was endeavoring to destroy the Russian Autonomous Church and its First Hierarch completely. The past persecution demonstrates that all of the Church’s children, especially Her pastors, must not be lulled into complacency, but must be ever ready to maintain the purity of their faith and their consciences in order to escape the various traps set for them by the enemy of our salvation. At the present time, “he is trying embroil our Church in a morass of slander, disorder, and heresy.” In the words of our First Hierarch, this serves as proof positive that we are on the right path; the path of truth.

“True Orthodoxy presupposes the keeping of the canons of the holy Apostles, the holy Fathers, and the Councils. This is the foundation of our Church.” The First Hierarch emphasized that “all are required to keep the holy canons. For example, if someone refuses to commemorate the Metropolitan, or gives a blessing to others to do so, he is to be deposed, according to the canons. And if our Synod fails to depose such clergymen, then the grace of the Holy Spirit will abandon it.”

“From the history of the Church, we know that through various arguments, intrigues, and temptations, the Saints were purified and strengthened, and those traitors who besmirched themselves through pride fell away from the Church. It is difficult to keep oneself inside the saving ship of Christ’s Church, but through repentance, it is possible for any sin to be healed,” Vladyka Metropolitan concluded.

In the course of his comments, Vladyka Metropolitan made several comments of a disciplinary nature; in particular, he mentioned that without a letter of release or permission from his ruling bishop, no clergyman has the right to permit any other clergyman or bishop to serve in his parish.

Vladyka Metropolitan also spoke about the necessity of the rectors to pay their diocesan dues, to pay the proscribed tithe, remarking that many of the clergy fail to fulfill this requirement of the Russian Autonomous Church.

To the question about what relations are permissible with clergy of the True Russian Orthodox Church, Metropolitan Valentine responded by saying that since the Russian Orthodox Autonomous Church has established no official relationship with this Church, the only kind of relationship that our members may have with it is one of an everyday nature. Speaking in general about our relationship with the other groups that have appeared as a result of the break-up of the ROCOR, namely the True Russian Orthodox Church and the ROCOR(V), Vladyka said that as of today, no sharply defined position has been taken by the Synod of Bishops of the ROAC concerning these jurisdictions. The reasons for the divisions between the ROAC and these other Churches result not so much from a difference in confession of Faith, as from differences arising from the personal ambitions of the different bishops involved. “I am against the idea of personal ambition,” noted the Metropolitan. His Grace Bishop Ambrose commented that the new head of the True Russian Orthodox Church, Archbishop Tikhon of Omsk and Siberia, made extremely negative comments about the Russian Orthodox Autonomous Church, calling it an “outgrowth of the MP” in his encyclical letter. Archbishop Theodore, in turn, emphasized that the positions of the Synods of Metropolitan Vitaly and of Archbishop Tikhon are contradictory. “These people strive first for one unification, and then for another. Metropolitan Vitaly extended his sympathies upon the death of Archbishop Lazar, but then Bishop Victor (Pivovarov) branded the True Russian Orthodox Church a ‘schism’.” “The main thing for us,” concluded Vladyka Metropolitan, “is to keep the commandments of Christ, and to stay on the path of Christ’s truth. Then, those who are seeking the truth will come to us, and then we will be able to choose whether or not to have anything to do with them. There is no need to rush.”

Upon the recommendation of the dean of the churches of the Suzdal circuit, Archpriest Arkady Makovetsky, and with the blessing of Metropolitan Valentine, the conference elected a new father confessor for the Suzdal diocese. Igumen Simon (Koretsky), a resident of the New Martyrs of Russia Monastery in Suzdal was chosen as such. Previously, the father confessor was Archbishop Anthony of Yaransk and Vyatka, who is no longer able to fulfill this obedience owing to the difficulties connected with his advanced age.

In conclusion, His Grace Bishop Ambrose read a lecture “On Several Widely Accepted Errors in the Celebration of the Divine Services,” which then became the subject for comments and discussion.

In the evening of the same day, the participants of the conference prayed together at Divine Services in the Tsar Constantine Cathedral. The next morning, September 4th, there was a concelebration of the Divine Liturgy, which was headed by His Eminence Valentine, Metropolitan of Suzdal and Vladimir, Their Eminences Archbishop Theodore of Borisovsk and Otradna, Archbishop Seraphim of Sukhumsk and Abkhazia, Archbishop Anthony of Yaransk and Vyatka, Their Graces Bishop Timothy of Orenburg and Kurgansk, Bishop Irinarch of Tula and Bryansk, Bishop Ambrose, and a multitude of clergy (twenty-four priests and two deacons). The responses were made by two choirs, singing antiphonally. After the reading of the Gospel, His Grace Bishop Ambrose gave a sermon, in which he emphasized the importance of the sufferings of the New Martyrs for the Russian Autonomous Church, who saved the Church during the years of militant atheism by their blood. “Wherever there is God’s truth, there is suffering, there is prison and exile, there is torture and death, but there is also the grace of God. Not with the Sergianists, who betrayed the New Martyrs and handed them over to their deaths, not with the heresiarchs, the “saviors” of the Moscow Patriarchate, but in the catacombs of the persecuted Church–there was the grace of God,” His Grace Bishop Ambrose stressed. “We must remember this always.”

After trapeza, the second session of the conference was held. Metropolitan Valentine reminded the participants of the conference that on the 8th of October is the tenth anniversary of the repose of the Ever-memorable Bishop Gregory (Grabbe). “Vladyka Gregory,” continued the Metropolitan, “it may be said, was the only bishop who held a consistent position vis-a-vis the Moscow Patriarchate, without any compromise, to the end, and he exerted every effort to maintain the ROCOR’s confession of true Orthodoxy. Only after the death of St. Metropolitan Philaret, once Vladyka Gregory understood that his struggle was doomed to failure, he said, ‘All hope has vanished here in the diaspora; nothing is working out. Let us go to work in Russia. You must continue the line of confessing the Faith begun by the First Hierarchs of the ROCOR, Anthony, Anastasy, and Philaret. The Church Abroad is finished.’”

Then, Archbishop Theodore read a lecture which had been prepared by the daughter of the Ever-memorable Bishop Gregory, A.G Schatiloff, on the life and accomplishments of her father. Following this, the participants of the conference continued their discussion on several questions: publishing a general church calendar, the correct way to receive people from the different communities of “world Orthodoxy,” the fine points of celebrating different services, publishing, etc. At this, the conference finished its work.

On the whole, despite the fact that the conference was attended by a relatively small number of clergy from the Russian Autonomous Church, the friendly atmosphere amongst themselves and with the bishops, as well as the opportunity that all had to serve together, left everyone with a very pleasant impression.