ROCOR and its Relations with the Roman Catholic Church

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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5 thoughts on “ROCOR and its Relations with the Roman Catholic Church

  • July 15, 2016 at 5:54 pm

    The info presented in this blog post is shocking… but corroborated elsewhere. Lord have mercy!

    Archpriest John Shaw (Bp. Jerome):

    “Be that as it may, Metropolitan Anthony Khrapovitsky was photographed in 1925 in vestments together with vested Anglican clergy; Metropolitan Anastassy spoke and gave a blessing to the congregation in St. Paul’s Cathedral in London [Church of England]; there was a vested Anglican bishop in the altar at the consecration of the future Metropolitan Vitaly; and Archbishop Averky allowed the Coptic Church to hold services in the lower level of the cathedral in Jordanville. Were all of those Synodal hierarchs, along with those in communion with them, deposed and excommunicated?”

    Excerpted from “Orthodoxy and the Ecumenical Movement” by SiR Archimandrite Cyprian Agiokyprianites, pp. 80-84. Archimandrite Cyprian states that Fr. George Tsetsis of the EP pulled out two photos, one from the 50s and one from the 60s and asked the question:

    “In what way does today’s President of the Russian Church Abroad, Metropolitan Vitaly, differ from the ‘Orthodox ecumenists,’ when on the day of his Consecration, for reason of political expediency, he had an Anglican bishop by his side, and inside the Holy Altar, praying with him in full hierarchical vestments; or his predecessor, Metropolitan Philaret, when on one occasion he carried the wonder-working Kursk-Root Icon of the Mother of God in procession on the streets of Marseilles, walking along a ‘Papist’ bishop, en route to serving a Paraklesis in a Roman Catholic Church?”

    • July 21, 2016 at 1:03 pm

      Met. St. Philaret actually got into a series of arguments about the Coptic issue with Archbishop Averky. As I understand, Met. St. Philaret eventually prevailed upon Abp. Averky to stop allowing any future Coptic services at Jordanville.

    • July 21, 2016 at 1:13 pm

      My theory is that ROCOR represented a broad based version of Orthodox traditionalism that inherited a lot from the Pre-Revolutionary period. It was also a true multi-national and intercontinental jurisdiction, with bishops in the US, Canada, South America, Europe, Asia, and Australia. There was even a divide between how the ROCOR in Europe thought and how the ROCOR in the US thought (for example, Met. St. Philaret’s desire to have a statement in the early 1970s at a Sobor in Jordanville declaring the MP to be without Grace of the Sacraments; this was blocked by Abp. Anthony of Geneva and his allies who threaten a break with Met. St. Philaret if this happened). It was impossible, therefore, because of the size in numbers and the different competing factions, to be able to enforce one view. Even the 1983 Anathema was interpreted in widely different ways. This doesn’t mean that one could necessarily find a better jurisdiction during the period that was ‘better’, or such.

      Of course, St. Philaret processing with the Roman catholic bishops of Marseille with the Kursk-Root Icon, or Met. Vitaly being consecrated with a vested Anglican bishop on the solea (I’ve only seen the picture with the Anglican on the solea??), or Abp. Averky allowing Coptic liturgies in Jordanville, or the ROCOR sending representatives to Vatican 2, etc, can be classified in different ways. Merely having your picture taken with heretical clergy doesn’t necessarily make you an ecumenist, but, it’s a pretty bad idea (St. Nicholas of Japan said as much about St. Tikhon’s picture with the vested Anglican bishops).

      As to the allowance of a Coptic liturgy at Jordanville, this can be related to another NFTU post on Constantinople and the Armenians. There seemed to be this bad tendency about this stuff in Orthodoxy for the past nearly 140 or so years. People almost have a view that seems to think that “Eastern Ecumenism” is somehow ‘better’ (until they are shaken out of that mentality). However, St. John Maximovitch, for example, was very stringent with one person who told him he had been going to Coptic services, and St. John made the man repent and go to confession.

      • August 1, 2016 at 8:02 pm

        According to V. Moss, Bp. Grabbe was also opposed to a public declaration of Moscow’s gracelessness:

        New Zion in Babylon 4, p. 148: The OCA Archbishop John (Shahovskoj) tried to argue that the position of ROCOR towards the MP in this period was hypocritical insofar as it simultaneously called the MP apostate and sorrowed over the persecutions in the USSR and the closure of churches, although according to its logic, it should have rejoiced over the closure of apostate churches. In reply, the secretary of the ROCOR Synod, Fr. George Grabbe, replied while calling the the MP “apostate” and even, in some cases, using the word “gracelessness”, ROCOR never, at any of its Synodal sessions, expressed any doubt that the pastors and laymen belonging to the MP who were faithful to God were true pastors. Then, citing examples of the infiltration of agents into the hierarchy of the MP, Fr. George continued: “That is the gracelessness we are talking about! We are talking about those Judases, and not about a few suffering people who are vainly tryng to save something, the unfortunate, truly believing pastors.”

        New Zion in Babylon 5, pp. 108-109

        Metropolitan Philaret was the only hierarch willing and able to fight for the True Orthodox confession against Archbishop Anthony. However, he had very few allies in the Synod. Even a conservative such as Bishop Gregory (Grabbe) would not go so far as him. As Bishop Gregory’s daughter, Matushka Anastasia Shatilova, recalls:

        “[Metropolitan Philaret] had especially many quarrels with Archbishop Anthony of Geneva… mainly on ecumenist questions… with the Serbs, the Antiochians and all kinds… Unfortunately, Archbishop Anthony was distinguished for his very sharp character and wrote several very boorish letters, to which the Metropolitan replied a little sharply… Vladyka Gregory was distinguished by somewhat great diplomacy and was afraid that to speak in this way could create too great problems… [and] restrained the declarations of the Holy Hierarch Philaret concerning the lack of grace in the MP. For example, he used to say: ‘… tell 60 million Russian people that they are not chrismated, and have been baptized only according to the laymen’s rite…” The Metropolitan was prepared to say this, but Vladyka Gregory thought that for the sake of Church construction it would be more correct not to put it so sharply…”

        Why can’t some of the Russian fragments treat the subject of the MP and grace the same way? It only causes divisions; and many of these groups end up anathematizing their own foundations if they maintain consistency. Truly, the GOC’s tactic seems to be the wisest course.

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