Ðåäàêöèÿ Ïðàâîñëàâíîãî àëüìàíàõà
î Ìèòð.Åïèôàíèè Êèòèéñêîì è «Orthodox Pnoi», î òåîðèè âåòâåé, î Êàòàêîìáíîé Öåðêâè â Ðîññèè è î «ñòàðîñòèëüíîì ýêóìåíèçìå»
Îò ðåäàêöèè «Ðîìàíèòàñà» Ïðåäëàãàåì íàøåìó ÷èòàòåëþ àêòóàëüíóþ ñòàòüþ èñòîðèêà Öåðêâè ÷òåöà Âëàäèìèðà Ìîññà, ïîñâÿùåííóþ íîâåéøèì ñîáûòèÿì â Ãðåöèè è Ðîññèè, çàòðàãèâàþùóþ òàê æå äîãìàòè÷åñêèé è öåðêîâíî-èñòîðè÷åñêèé àñïåêò íåêîòîðûõ ñîâðåìåííûõ ñòàðîñòèëüíûõ ýêêëåñèîëîãè÷åñêèõ òåîðèé è âûçûâàåìûõ èìè ðàçäåëåíèé.
BRANCH THEORY, THE
The February, 2004 (N 145) issue of Orthodoxos Pnoi, the organ of the Matthewite Metropolitan Kyrikos of Mesogaia, contains an extraordinarily bitter and unjust attack on his brother bishop Metropolitan Epiphanios of Kition (Cyprus). The present writer would not normally devote great attention to yet another impending schism in the True Orthodox world, if it were not that this attack actually highlights in a very instructive manner not only what is wrong with the Matthewites – more precisely: with the Kyrikite offshoot from the Matthewites, but also how a fanatically unbalanced attack on one heresy can lead to a fall into the mirror-image of that heresy, just as unbalanced attacks on Nestorianism lead to Monophysitism, and on Catholicism – to Protestantism. In this case, the heresy under attack is the ecumenist “branch theory” of the Church, whose mirror-image, into which the attackers are in danger of falling, is what I shall call the “monolith theory” of the Church.
The cause of the present quarrel is
Metropolitan Epiphanios’ founding, in
January/February of this year, of a mission of the True Orthodox Church of
However, a closer examination of this
quarrel reveals that the Kyrikites have already in
effect created a schism from the Matthewites, so
their accusing Epiphanios of schismatical
activity is hypocritical. For in what other way can we characterize the
language that the editor of Orthodoxos Pnoi uses about the Greek Matthewite
Archbishop Nicholas, with whom all the Matthewites,
including Metropolitan Kyrikos, are still formally in
communion? He calls him “the pseudo-archbishop Mr. Nicholas” (p. 44)!!! This
language is repeated by the theologian Eleutherius Goutzides, who calls him “Mr. Nicholas Messiakaris”
(p. 62) and mocks Metropolitan Epiphanios’
description of him as “a canonical and Orthodox archbishop” (p. 62). Again, Goutzides writes: “His Beatitude Andreas [the former Matthewite archbishop] has fallen as far as possible with
the abomination of his resignation in favour of Mr.
Nicholas Messiakaris of the
Since the Kyrikites
reject them so violently, it is hardly surprising that the Matthewites
under Archbishop Nicholas feel that they are entitled to found their own
But the Kyrikites have another argument: they claim that their flock in Russia (five priests, one deacon, several hundred parishioners) is the Catacomb Church of Russia, so that Epiphanios is, in effect, trespassing on the canonical territory, not simply of another diocese (that of Mesogaia), but of another Local Church (the Russian).
Leaving aside for the time being the
question how the Kyrikites can claim that their very
small flock constitutes the whole of the Catacomb Church of Russia, let
us consider another canonical problem that their position raises. Since a
The resolution of this anti-canonicity can
proceed in one of two ways. Either Metropolitan Kyrikos
renounces for his flock the title “the Catacomb Church of Russia”. Or he
consecrates a bishop for
Let us now look a little more closely at
the concept of the
The idea that the
The first Catacomb hieromartyr was probably the priest Timothy Strelkov, who, after being executed by the Bolsheviks in June, 1918 and then having his severed head miraculously restored to his body, was forced to go into hiding until he was caught and executed for the second time in 1930.
In the same year of 1918, Patriarch Tikhon himself had called on the faithful to form unofficial, quasi-catacomb brotherhoods to defend the Orthodox Faith. Shemetov writes: “The brotherhoods which arose with the blessing of the Patriarch did not make the parishes obsolete where they continued to exist. The brotherhoods only made up for the deficiencies of the parishes.”
In fact, the organization of unofficial,
catacomb bodies like the brotherhoods became inevitable once it became clear
Shortly before his death, on the Feast of the Annunciation, 1925, the Patriarch confided to his personal physician and friend, Michael Zhizhilenko, that he felt that the unceasing pressure of the government would one day force the leadership of the Church to concede more than was right, and that the true Church would then have to descend into the catacombs like the Roman Christians of old And he counselled his friend, who was a widower, that when that time came, he should seek the monastic tonsure and episcopal consecration.
That time came in 1927 with the notorious
declaration of Metropolitan Sergius; and Michael Zhizhilenko, following the advice of his mentor, was
consecrated as the first bishop (with the name Maximus)
of the anti-sergianist
Now one of the disadvantages of a Church in a catacomb situation, hiding from State power, is that it is almost impossible to maintain the organizational integrity of the Church, to have regular Councils to resolve problems and disputes; for the central authority may be unable to contact all the bishops, still less convene them in one place. Even worse will be the situation if the central authority, in the person of the Patriarch, is himself killed, and it proves impossible to elect a new one. Anticipating this, Patriarch Tikhon and his Synod issued ukaz ¹ 362 dated November 7/20, 1920, whose first three points were as follows:
“1. With the blessing of his Holiness the Patriarch, the Holy Synod and the Higher Church Council, in a joint session, judged concerning the necessity of… giving the diocesan Hierarch… instructions in case of a disconnection with the higher church administration or the cessation of the activity of the latter…
“2. If dioceses, as a result of the movement of the front, changes of state boundaries, etc., find themselves unable to communicate with the higher church administration or the higher church administration itself together with his Holiness the Patriarch for some reason ceases its activity, the diocesan hierarch will immediately enter into relations with the hierarchs of neighbouring dioceses in order to organize a higher instance of church authority for several dioceses in the same conditions (in the form of a temporary higher church government or metropolitan region, or something similar).
“3. The care for the organization of the higher church authority for the whole group who are in the situation indicated in point 2 is the obligatory duty of the eldest ranked hierarch in the indicated group…”
Now it was anticipated that these
autonomous groups of bishops would remain in communion with each other, even if
communication was difficult. However, it was also tacitly admitted that if the
persecutions intensified (which they did), then communication between groups
might be broken entirely. With the loosening of communication, differences were
likely to arise between the groups; there might even be ruptures of communion
because different groups might suspect each other of canonical irregularities,
or even of falling away from the faith; and with the absence of any central
authority recognised by both sides, there might be no
means of healing the divisions thus created. Such a scenario had taken place in
other periods of Church history when the faith had been persecuted – for
example, in the second half of the fourth century in
So where, in such a situation, was the
Church? And on what basis could the Church still be called “one” if she was in
fact divided into many parts unable to commune or communicate with each other?
Could two autonomous jurisdictions of the
A very partial and schematic answer to
these questions was provided by the Russian Church Abroad in its All-Emigration
Council in Serbia in 1938: “We must follow the example of the Church prior to
the Council of Nicaea, when the Christian communities
were united not on the basis of the administrative institutions of the State,
but through the Holy Spirit alone.” In other
words, administrative unity was not the criterion of Church unity in the deep
sense. The Holy Spirit can “jump the gap” created by administrative disunity to
preserve true unity in the Mystery of the
A little earlier, in July, 1937, the Ust-Kut Council of the
“1. The Sacred Council forbids the faithful to receive communion from the clergy legalized by the anti-Christian State.
“2. It has been revealed to the Sacred Council by the Spirit that the anathema-curse hurled by his Holiness Patriarch Tikhon is valid, and all priests and Church-servers who have dared to consider it as an ecclesiastical mistake or political tactic are placed under its power and bound by it.
“3. To all those who discredit and separate themselves from the Sacred Council of 1917-18 – Anathema!
“4. All branches of the Church which are
on the common trunk – the trunk is our pre-revolutionary Church – are living
branches of the
So the mystical unity of the
Of course, these two conciliar decisions are only schematic; they do not solve, or pretend to solve, any particular quarrel between jurisdictions. Such quarrels can only be resolved with the re-establishment of central authority – that is, a canonical Patriarch and Holy Synod - after the persecutions have come to an end (which time has still not yet come today, in 2004). At the same time, these decisions enable us to say that a jurisdiction such as the Russian Church Outside Russia (ROCOR) under Metropolitan Lavr is outside the unity of the True Church of Russia insofar as it does allow its members to commune from the clergy of the Soviet church. Moreover, they condemns such a clergyman as, for example, Hieromonk Gregory Lourié, who, though belonging to a jurisdiction which claims to be part of the Catacomb Church, declares that the Sacred Council of 1917-18 was a “a tragic-comic story, which exerted a minimal, or negative rather than positive, influence on the following life of the Church…” ! What these two conciliar decisions exclude is the idea the Church as an administrative monolith. On the contrary, the Church is like a “tree”, of which the different catacomb jurisdictions are the “branches”.
Is this a form of the ecumenist branch
theory of the Church? No, because the branch theory that was anathematised by
the ROCOR in 1983 spoke of branches “which differ in doctrine and way of life”,
whereas the different branches of the Church envisaged in the conciliar decisions quoted above are understood to have the
same faith and way of life, even if they may have not agree about everything.
In other words, the
In view of the above characterisation of
However, the Kyrikites
have to prove that all other branches of the
Their reasoning is as follows. If we are true, then they are false, and if they are true, then we are false. But we know that we are true, so they must be false. This theory is held completely sincerely; they see no other way of understanding the dogma of the Unity of the Church. If we are not to fall into the ecumenist branch theory, they think, we have to believe in the monolith theory.
But their reasoning is false because they
confuse the Unity of the Church as understood in the Symbol of the Faith, which
is a dogmatic unity, with canonical or administrative
unity. St. Maximus the Confessor declared, “Christ
the Lord called that Church the Catholic Church which maintains the true and
saving confession of the faith.”
Thus faith alone is the criterion of unity. And that does not mean
agreement on absolutely every Church question. Even the apostles did not have
such agreement. Thus the Apostles Paul and Barnabas could not agree on how to
conduct the mission to the Gentiles – but both remained in the
Of course, the two kinds of unity, dogmatic and administrative, are related. Dogmatic unity should be expressed in administrative unity, so that the inner unity of faith of the Christians is expressed outwardly as well; hence the canonical requirement that there should be only one ruling bishop in any one territory. But history shows that there have been many occasions when there has been administrative disunity in the Church while dogmatic unity – and therefore the grace of sacraments – has been preserved.
“Ah, but it is not only heresies that lead to falling away from the Church,” they will object, “but also schisms, in which there are no dogmatic disagreements.” True, but is every division in the Church leading to a break in communion equivalent to a full schism leading to the loss of the grace of sacraments on one side? Church history seems to indicate otherwise, as the following divisions show:-
(i)between the Roman Church and the Asian Churches over the date of Pascha (late 2nd century), (ii) within the Roman Church over the legitimacy of Pope Callistus (early 3rd century), (iii) between the Roman Church under St. Stephen and the African Church under St. Cyprian over the question whether schismatics have the grace of sacraments (3rd century), (iv) within the Antiochian Church over the legitimacy of St. Meletius (4th century), (v) between St. Epiphanius of Cyprus and St. John Chrysostom (early 5th century), (vi) between the Celtic and Anglo-Saxon Churches over the date of Pascha (6th-7th centuries), (vii) between St. Wilfrid of York and the rest of the English Church over the division of his diocese (7th-8th centuries), (viii) between St. Theodore the Studite and St. Nicephorus over the lawfulness of restoring Priest Joseph to his rank (9th century), (ix) between St. Photius the Great and St. Ignatius over who was lawful patriarch of Constantinople (9th century), (x) between the Arsenites and the Ecumenical Patriarchate over the forcible deposition of Patriarch Arsenius (13th-14th century), (xi) between the Serbian Church and the Ecumenical Patriarchate over Serbian autocephaly (14th century), (xii) between the Russian Church and the Ecumenical Patriarchate (15th-16th centuries), (xiii) between the Greek kollyvades and the Ecumenical Patriarchate (18-19th centuries), (xiv) between the Ecumenical Patriarchate and the Greek State Church over the Greek War of Independence (1821-52) (xv) between the Bulgarian Church and the Ecumenical Patriarchate over the Bulgarian exarchate (1872), (xvi) between two contenders for the throne of the Cypriot Church (late 19th century), (xvii) between two contenders for the throne of Antioch (late 19th – early 20th centuries), (xviii) between several contenders for the throne of Constantinople (late 19th – early 20th centuries), (xix) between the Russian Church and the Georgian Church over Georgian autocephaly (1917), (xx) between the Russian Church and the Ecumenical Patriarchate over the latter’s seizure of many Russian territories (1920s).
Now some may argue that some of these divisions were in fact full schisms, leading to the falling away of one of the parties for a greater or longer period. Perhaps… But this list proves one thing: that the mere fact of a break of communion between two ecclesiastical bodies does not necessarily entail that one or other of the parties has become schismatic and lost the grace of sacraments. Why? Because in several of these instances there were saints of the Church on opposite sides of the debate.
Consider, for example, the division in the
Church of fourth-century
Again, let us take the Bulgarian “schism”
of 1872. The Kyrikites, being Greeks, would probably
argue that the Ecumenical Patriarchate’s anathema against the
It follows that the monolithic theory of the Church is false. The Church is not divided into different branches differing in faith and life – that is the heresy of ecumenism. But neither is it an absolutely monolithic structure in which the slightest deviation from the norm of unity as understood in the holy canons immediately entails the deviant “branch” being deprived of the grace of sacraments.
We can come to a better understanding of the true meaning of the phrase “the Church is One” by studying a distinction between the Church as organism and the Church as organization made by the Catacomb Church Hieromartyr, Bishop Mark (Novoselov) of Sergiev Posad: "It is necessary to distinguish between the Church-organism and the Church-organization. As the apostle taught: 'You are the Body of Christ and individually members of it' (I Corinthians 12.27). The Church-organism is a living person, and just as the cells of our body, besides having their own life, have the life that is common to our body and links between themselves, so a man in the Body of Christ begins to live in Church, while Christ begins to live in him. That is why the apostle said: 'It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me' (Galatians 2.20).
"The basis for the affirmation of the
Church-organism is love for Christ. The Lord Himself saw the basis of His
Church precisely in love for Him. He asked Peter: did he love Him? And He
added: 'Feed My sheep'. The
"Only to the Church-organism can we apply such titles as we meet in the Word of God, for example: 'glorious, holy, spotless' (Ephesians 1.4); 'the Bride of the Lamb' (Revelation 19.7; 21.9); 'the Body of Christ' (Ephesians 1.23; Colossians 1.24); 'the pillar and ground of the truth' (I Timothy 3.15). These concepts are inapplicable to the Church-organization (or applicable only with great qualifications); they lead people into perplexity and are rejected by them. The Church-organism is the pure 'Bride' of Christ (Revelation 21.2), but the Church-organization has all the faults of human society and always bears the marks of human infirmities... The Church-organization often persecutes the saints of God, but the Church-organism receives them into her bosom... The Church-organization rejects them from its midst, deprives them of episcopal sees, while they remain the most glorious members of the Church-organism… It is possible to belong externally to the visible Church (organization), while one belongs only inwardly to the Body of Christ (organism), and the measure of one's belongingness is determined by the degree of one's sanctity."
The unity of the Church as organism can remain intact even when her unity as an organization is damaged. A person or church body is cut off from the Church as organism only when the damage done to the Church as organization reaches a certain critical degree, or when union is effected with another, heretical body. In the same way, a couple can remain married even when one spouse walks out on the other. Separation leads to final divorce only when a certain degree of alienation is reached, or when one of the spouses commits adultery. May God preserve us from the spiritual adultery that leads to a falling away from the Body of Christ, and also from a rationalist, mechanical understanding of Church unity which leads to accusing others of spiritual adultery when their only concern is to make externally manifest the true, inner unity of the True Orthodox Christians!
May 12/25, 2004.
Holy Hierarchs Epiphanius
Archimandrite Joseph, Kormchij,
 Monk Anthony (Chernov), Tserkov’ Katakombnaia na Zemle Rossijskoj (MS) (in Russian).
 N. Shemetov, "Khristos sredi nas", Moskovskij tserkovnij vestnik, N 11 (29), May, 1990, p. 3 (in Russian).
 “Vladyka Lazar otvechaiet na voprosy redaktsii", Pravoslavnaia Rus', no. 22, 15/28 November, 1991, p. 5 (in Russian).
 Cited by Arfed Gustavson, The
 Schema-Monk Epiphanius (Chernov), personal communication; B. Zakharov, "Vazhnoe postanovlenie katakombnoj tserkvi", Pravoslavnaia Rus', N 18, 1949 (in Russian).
 Fr. Christopher Birchall,
The Life of our Holy Father Maximus the Confessor,
 M.A. Novoselov, Pis'ma k druziam,
 Novoselov, op. cit., “Letter 18”, pp. 252-253, 253-254.