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UNTRUSTWORTHY PRONOUNCEMENTS

Recently, an article entitled, "Is the Wind Returning to Its Circuits?"[1] appeared in the Russian-language periodical, Pravoslavnaya Rus (Nov. 1/14, 1998). One of the major subjects of the article was the Orthodox Church in Georgia, and it began as follows:  
Extraordinary events are taking place in our times. In the Orthodox Churches recently liberated from the wardship of Communism, there has begun a gradual restoration of Orthodox doctrine in all its purity. Despite the long years of Communist oppression in Russia, the overwhelming number of the churchly-minded laymen reject with indignation the falsely-called ecumenism which recognizes the heretical congregations as Christian Churches.
The editors point out that the Moscow Patriarchate, even against its will, is being forced by the anti-ecumenical mood of its flock to re-evaluate its relationship with the World Council of Churches. The authors feel that "the flock of the Orthodox Churches of the East to a significant degree share the attitude of the churchly people of Russia." Thereupon follows a general discussion of the current relations of various of these churches with the WCC: the Serbian, Bulgarian, and Georgian Orthodox Churches, etc.

Much space is devoted to the ecclesiastical developments in Georgia of the past year. Mention is made that the official Georgian Orthodox Church was compelled to withdraw from the World Council of Churches at the insistence of its more zealous members. Attention is given to the recent official pronouncement by the Georgian Orthodox Church that many of the ecumenical resolutions of the WCC (which the Georgian Patriarchate had approved at the time) are now "unacceptable."[2] Credit is given to the State Church of Georgia for having taken these "steps in the direction of the Orthodoxy of the Holy Fathers, to which Pravoslavnaya Rus has constantly called upon people to return," yet it is also shown that once again this decision too was reached under pressure from the zealous monastics.

While discussing the Georgian Orthodox Church, the editors also inform their readers that: "Unfortunately, the Georgian monastics who had seceded from Patriarch Ilia, have joined the parasynogogue formed by former clergy of the ROCA, the so-called Bostonians. This sad fact reminds us that the danger of falling into spiritual calamity lies in wait for Christians even on the right path."

The editors correctly state that "eucharistic unity is impossible without doctrinal unity," and then conclude by offering their readers the following reassurance:

 
Therefore the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad does not have eucharistic communion with those who permit persons who have not repented of their errors against the doctrine of the Church to join in common prayer: whether they be called ecumenists, Monophysites, or those, who on various ‘plausible’ pretexts, have for many years disavowed her glory ? the Holy New Martyrs.
This last paragraph is very important and merits special attention. The only problem with this commendable statement is: is it true?

In its January-April, 1987 issue, Church Life, a ROCOR periodical, published the Decisions of the Synod of Bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia. Among its other deliberations, the ROCOR bishops officially commended Archpriest Alexander Lebedev for his "written defenses of the position of the Russian Church Outside Russia in connection with the Boston schism." Completely contrary to what Pravoslavnaya Rus asserts in its above-mentioned 1998 issue, the letters of Fr. Alexander Lebedev?officially and synodically commended by the ROCOR bishops?state that it is permitted to the ROCOR clergy to give communion to members of new calendar and ecumenistic jurisdictions!

Which of these two pronouncements is true?

Unfortunately, this is not the only example of the ROCOR’s theological "double-speak."

After the repose of Metropolitan Philaret, the ROCOR issued many false communiques concerning the large exodus of clergy and laypeople from its ranks in 1986. And this, in fact, raises the question: Are the communiques and statements of the ROCOR hierarchy really trustworthy?

A look at some examples of these statements will give us the answer.

In 1983, the ROCOR bishops published the anathema against Ecumenism, specifically against those who "advocate, disseminate, or defend their new heresy of Ecumenism." But in 1986, an article published in Orthodox America (Oct., 1986) presented a different story.

In the fall of 1986, a clergy conference of the Mid-West Diocese of the Russian Church Abroad took place at the parish of St. John Chrysostom in St. Louis, Missouri. The discussions were presided over by Bishop Alypy of Cleveland. A report of this meeting was published in the above-mentioned issue of Orthodox America, in which the following comments were recorded:

 
With the Icon [of the Mother of God of Kursk] at his side, we also received instruction from our Archpastor, Bishop Alypy, who re-assured us that in spite of all the difficulties occurring throughout world-wide Orthodoxy, our Synod of Bishops of the Russian Church Abroad does not judge any other jurisdiction as being . . . . in heresy [emphasis ours].
As we see, essentially and in a very basic matter, Bishop Alypy’s comments effectively contradicted the text of the Synod’s Anathema of 1983, which was directed specifically against those who are involved in Ecumenism. Further, it is significant that these comments were not simply the opinion of one bishop. In the presence of clergymen, and in the name of the entire hierarchy of the Russian Synod, a public statement was made that the "Synod of Bishops of the Russian Church Abroad" does not consider "any other jurisdiction" ? i.e., the ecumenist "Orthodox" members of the World Council of Churches ? to be in heresy.

Later, in 1991, Fr. Seraphim Johnson, a priest who left the ROCOR almost a year after the clergy that left in 1986, wrote the following observations to a layman.

 
Initially they [ROCOR] denied that any contacts with ecumenical Orthodox were taking place. Then they admitted that they were in communion with a member-Church in the World Council of Churches (the Serbian Patriarchate), but claimed that this didn’t matter because they didn’t serve with the Serbian Church very often anyway. Then they published a letter by Fr. Alexander Lebedev in Orthodox Life in which he claimed that the ROCOR recognized the validity of all the other Orthodox jurisdictions, whatever their involvement in Ecumenism. (This in fact contradicted the ROCOR’s earlier practice of accepting clergy from those churches without canonical releases on grounds of the heretical positions of those churches.) Metropolitan Vitaly then published his Nativity Encyclical in which he denied that the condemnation of Ecumenism applied outside the ROCOR at all, stated that the ROCOR did not serve with ecumenical Orthodox, and added that when it did, it was by economy. Of course, this use of economy would justify serving with Roman Catholics and Protestants, which is in fact what happened when a joint ROCOR-Episcopalian wedding was held in the St. John the Baptist Church in Washington, D.C. ? there was no official reaction to this wedding by any ROCOR hierarch. [See the complete text of this letter.] [3]
In February of 1995, Bishop Valentine (of the Free Russian Orthodox Church) wrote the following in a Lenten encyclical to his flock in Russia:  
. . .the Chancellery of the Synod of the ROCA is only witnessing. . .to a deep crisis in the administration of the ROCA itself, when the President of the Hierarchical Synod, Metropolitan Vitaly, is not able to control the resolutions and ukazes issuing from the Chancellery of the Synod. It is impossible to take the documents signed by Vladyka Metropolitan Vitaly seriously when in the course of less than a year their meaning has several times changed to the complete opposite. [4]
In a footnote, it is noted that Bishop Valentine was no doubt referring to the incident  
when Archbishop Anthony of Los Angeles declared that in its session of February 21-24, the Hierarchical Synod had banned both Archbishop Lazarus and Bishop Valentine from serving at the same time that Metropolitan Vitaly was writing to Bishop Valentine that he was "in no wise banned from serving" (Suzdal’skii Palomnik, 21, 1995, pp. 28-29).
Then, in 1994, an Epistle of the Council of ROCOR Bishops stated clearly, "The time has come to seek living links with all parts of the Russian Orthodox Church, separated due to historical circumstances. [emphasis added]." (So, the ROCOR’s Archbishop Mark of Germany obviously was not exaggerating when he insisted that he had received a blessing from the Council of Bishops to start his negotiations with the ecumenistic hierarchy of the Moscow Patriarchate.)

But recently, in the Epistle of the Council of ROCOR Bishops of May, 1998, the following bald-faced and completely untrue statement was made: "The Council of Bishops finds it necessary to make clear that our Church has never held any negotiations concerning union with the Moscow Patriarchate"! [emphasis added].

Then, a little later, the bulletin Church News (June-July, 1998) published an article entitled, "A Few Words About the ‘Non-Existent’ Negotiations of the ROCOR with the Moscow Patriarchate," with the following information:

 
The magazine Vozvrashcheniye (Return), published in St. Petersburg, in its issue #11 published an excellently documented article entitled "Berlin Initiative" which is part of an interview given by telephone [Ed.: after the above-mentioned meeting of the ROCOR bishops in May of 1998] to the newspaper Radonezh by Archbishops Mark (ROCOR) and Theophan (Moscow Patriarchate).

Archbishop Theophan declared: "First of all, from the very start we agreed that we are one Church, and not two, or even two confessions. This was Vladyka Mark’s idea ? to speak of one Church and two dioceses, which, truly, are in a rather delicate situation. . . In general, I see no legal obstacles [i.e., to collaboration, Ed.]. The only problem is the manner of entrance of the Church Abroad into the Moscow Patriarchate, maybe some sort of reunion, I don’t know what to call it. I am afraid to make definitions, which might frighten someone. . . All of it might be decided in one day [Emphasis by Church News] After our dialogues, I do not see what can seriously separate us. Of course, one can invent anything, but there are no serious obstacles for reunion. . ."

Such is the authoritative opinion of a hierarch of the Moscow Patriarchate, who held negotiations with a representative of the ROCOR, Archbishop Mark.

Archbishop Mark, in turn, made the following statement: "In some questions we could rather quickly come to a common denominator, and in others problems arose, which we did not anticipate. . . Therefore, we have to strive to transfer the discussion onto Russian soil [Emphasis by Church News]. The idea of such discussion was born in our diocese, but at some time we received a blessing from the Council of Bishops of our Church" [Emphasis by Church News].

Finally, in an interview published in the Russian bulletin Vertograd-Inform (July, 1998), Metropolitan Vitaly, the president of the ROCOR, stated that, in speaking to Archbishop Mark about the latter’s negotiations with the ecumenistic Moscow Patriarchate, he told Archbishop Mark, "You have erected a huge enterprise and we cannot destroy it. The further it goes ? the more difficult it will be" [emphasis added].

Where is the truth in all these self-contradictory pronouncements?

As Metropolitan Vitaly stated in the above-mentioned interview: "Among the [ROCOR] clergy there is a lack of understanding, a lack of knowledge."

Given these theological zig-zags, should this "lack of understanding and knowledge" among the ROCOR clergy (and laity) surprise anyone?

 [1] Cf. Ecclesiastes 1:6 — “The wind goes round and round, and the wind returns to its circuits.”
 [2] See “An Unacceptable Resolution,” issued recently by the clergy of the Orthodox Church in Georgia (i.e. of the True Orthodox Church) against the above-mentioned official pronouncement of the Georgian Patriarchate.
 [3] Editors’s Note: Actually, there was an official reaction from Bishop Hilarion, the Assistant Secretary of the Synod of Bishops of the ROCOR. In a letter to Matushka Anastasia Schatilova (2/15 October, 1988), Bishop Hilarion ordered her to print a retraction of her report of this wedding, and he affirmed that a “thorough investigation” had demonstrated that her report did “not correspond to reality.” However, a video-tape of the wedding showed clearly that the service had indeed taken place as she reported it.
[4] Quoted in The Free Russian Orthodox Church: A Short History (1982-1998), by Vladimir Moss, p. 42.