Vladimir Moss

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In 1990 communism began to collapse in Russia. The communist party gave up the monopoly position it had previously enjoyed in political life, and in March the party candidates in the main cities were routed in the first genuinely free elections in Soviet history. Still more important, a law on freedom of conscience was passed, and believers of all religions were allowed to confess their faith without hindrance.

It was as if the clock had been turned back to the period just before October, 1917, when a large measure of freedom existed under the Provisional Government. Of course, this was not the Holy Russia of the right-believing Tsars; and if the October revolution had been reversed to some degree, the same could not be said of the February revolution. But there were grounds for believing that the restoration of Holy Russia was not beyond the mountains.

In many respects, as we shall see, these were de jure rather than de facto changes; and it must be admitted that the spirit and power of communism was far from dead when the red flag was pulled down from over the Kremlin on December 25, 1991. Nevertheless, the changes were significant enough to indicate the beginning of a new era in Church history. If we seek for historical parallels, then perhaps the closest is that presented by the Edict of Milan in 313, when the Emperor St. Constantine the Great came to an agreement with the pagan emperor Licinius whereby the persecution of the Christians in the Roman empire was brought to an end.

Russian Orthodox Christians reacted to these changes in three different ways. The True Orthodox Christians of the Catacomb Church were cautious, fearing a deception, and in general remained in the underground, not seeking to register their communities or acquire above-ground churches in which to worship. The Moscow Patriarchate (MP) or Soviet church, as it was known among True Orthodox Christians - was fearful that its monopoly position in church life under the Soviets would be lost in the new democracy. Nevertheless, it took the opportunity presented by the new legislation to open many churches (1830 were opened in the first nine months of 1990 alone) and to receive all the money budgeted for church restoration by the Russian parliament. The third force in Russian Orthodox life, the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad (ROCA), which throughout the Soviet period had taken a public position against the MP and in support of the True Orthodox Church, decided to open parishes on Russian soil and thereby provide an alternative for believers who on the one hand did not want to join the MP, but on the other hand were not prepared for the rigours of catacomb life.

In this article, the roots of the eventual failure of the ROACs mission will be examined, with suggestions as to how a similar failure can be avoided by her successor-church on Russian soil, the Russian Orthodox (Autonomous) Church.


The return of the ROCA to Russia was undoubtedly one of the most significant and necessary events in Church history, comparable to the return of the Jews to Jerusalem after the seventy-year exile in Babylon. And yet this momentous step was taken almost casually, without sufficient forethought and without a clearly defined strategy. Hence difficult problems arose, problems that the ROCA in the end found insuperable.

These problems can be divided into three categories: (A) The ROCA in relation to her own flock at home and abroad, (B) the ROCA in relation to the Catacomb Church, and (C) the ROCA in relation to the MP and the post-Soviet Russian State.

A. The ROCA in relation to herself. The problem here is easily stated: how could the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad continue to call herself the Church Abroad if she now had parishes inside Russia? After all, her Founding Statute or Polozhenie stated that the ROCA was an autonomous part of the Autocephalous Russian Church, that part which existed (i) outside the bounds of Russia on the basis of Ukaz no. 362 of November 7/20, 1920 of Patriarch Tikhon and the Holy Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church, and (ii) temporarily until the fall of communism in Russia. With the fall of communism and the creation of ROCA parishes inside Russia in 1990, it would seem that these limitations in space and time no longer applied, and that the ROCA had ceased to exist as a canonical organisation in accordance with her own definition of herself in the Polozhenie.

The solution to this problem would appear to have been obvious: change the Polozhenie! And this was in fact the solution put forward by the ROCAs leading canonist, Bishop Gregory (Grabbe), who possessed unparalleled experience of ROCA life since his appointment as Chancellor of the Synod by Metropolitan Anthony (Khrapovitsky) of Kiev in 1931. However, the ROCA episcopate declined that suggestion, and the Polozhenie, astonishing as it may seem, remains unchanged to this day.

Why? Although we have no direct evidence on which to base an answer to this question, the following would appear to be a reasonable conclusion from the events as they unfolded in the early 1990s. A change in the Polozhenie that removed the spatial and temporal limitations of the ROCAs self-definition would have had the consequence of forcing the ROCA episcopate to: (i) remove the centre of her Church administration from America to Russia, (ii) proclaim herself (alongside any Catacomb Church groups that she might recognise) as part of the Russian Orthodox Church inside Russia and distinguished from the other parts only by its possessing dioceses and parishes abroad, and (iii) enter into a life-and-death struggle with the MP for the minds and hearts of the Russian people.

However, the ROCA bishops were not prepared to accept these consequences. After all, they were well-established abroad, increasingly dependent economically on contributions from foreign converts to Orthodoxy, and with few exceptions were not prepared to exchange the comforts and relative security of life in the West for the uncertainty and privations of life in Russia (to this day the ROCAs first-hierarch, Metropolitan Vitaly, has not set foot on Russian soil since the fall of communism, in spite of numerous invitations from believers). Of course, the whole raison detre of the ROCA was to return to her homeland in Russia (she was previously called the Russian Church in Exile, and exiles by definition want to return to their homeland); and it was in anticipation of such a return that she had steadfastly refused to endanger her Russian identity by merging with other Local Orthodox Churches or by forming local jurisdictions identified with specific western countries (like the formerly Russian schism from the ROCA calling itself the Orthodox Church of America). But generations had passed since the first emigration, the descendants of that first emigration had settled in western countries, learned their languages, adopted their ways, put down roots in foreign soil. The exiles were no longer exiles from, but strangers to, their native land

: : , . : , ? ( 1.2-4)

B. The ROCA in relation to the Catacomb Church. Since 1927, when the ROCA had broken communion simultaneously with the Catacomb Church from Metropolitan Sergius MP, she had looked upon the Catacomb Church as the True Church inside Russia with which she remained in mystical communion of prayer and sacraments, even if such communion could not be realised in face-to-face meeting and concelebration. Indeed, after the death of Metropolitan Peter, the last universally recognised leader of the Russian Church, in 1937, the ROCA commemorated the episcopate of the persecuted Russian Church, by which was undoubtedly meant the episcopate of the Catacomb Church. After the war, however, a change began to creep in, at first almost imperceptibly, but then more and more noticeably. On the one hand, news of Catacomb bishops and communities became more and more scarce, and some even began to doubt that the Catacomb Church existed any longer (Archbishop Mark of Berlin declared in the 1990s, when catacombniks were pouring into the ROCA, that the Catacomb Church had died out in the 1950s!). On the other hand, some Catacomb priests inside Russia, having lost contact with, and knowledge of, any canonical bishops there might still be inside Russia, began commemorating Metropolitan Anastasy, first-hierarch of the ROCA.

These tendencies gave rise to the not unnatural perception that the leadership of True Russian Orthodoxy had now passed from inside Russia to outside Russia, to the ROCA. Moreover, the significance of the Catacomb Church began to be lost, as the struggle was increasingly seen to be between the red church inside Russia (the MP) and the white church outside Russia (the ROCA). This condescending attitude towards the Catacomb Church was reinforced by the negative attitude taken towards most of the Catacomb clergy still alive in 1990 by Bishop Lazarus of Tambov, the bishop secretly consecrated by the ROCA in 1982 as her representative in Russia. In particular, Bishop Lazarus rejected the canonicity of the groups of Catacomb clergy deriving their apostolic succession from Bishop Seraphim (Pozdeyev), Schema-Metropolitan Gennady (Sekach) and Archbishop Anthony (Galynsky-Mikhailovsky). Basing themselves on this information, on August 2/15, 1990 the ROCA Synod issued an ukaz, signed by Bishop Hilarion of Manhattan, rejecting the canonicity of these groups (although St. Philaret, had recognised the clergy of Archbishop Anthony in 1977 and taken several of them under his omophorion!), and declaring that they would have to seek reordination from Bishop Lazarus if they wished to be recognised by the ROCA.

In evaluating this statement, it should be pointed out that all the Catacomb groups here excommunicated at the stroke of a pen were venerators of the ROCA, even considering her to be in some sense their Mother Church. Of course, it was perfectly reasonable and correct that the ROCA should first seek to check their canonical status before entering into communion with them. However, even assuming that the main canonical charge brought against them was valid (that they did not have ordination certificates, in violation of Apostolic Canon 33), the way in which they were rejected without the slightest consultation or attempt to come to some kind of agreement was harmful in the extreme.

First, the possibility of correcting the canonical anomalies of these groups in a peaceful manner and with their complete cooperation was lost.

Secondly, the news that the ROCA had rejected them produced catastrophic effects in these Catacomb groups. Thus the present writer remembers coming to a catacomb gathering in Moscow on the eve of the Feast of the Dormition, 1990. The priest entered, and instead of vesting himself for the vigil service, took off his cross in the presence of all the people, declaring: According to the ROCA I am not a priest. Then he immediately went to Bishop Lazarus and was reordained. Meanwhile, his flock, abandoned by their shepherd and deprived of any pastoral guidance, scattered in different directions

Thirdly, the impression was created that the ROCA had come into Russia, not in order to unite with the Catacomb Church and work with her for the triumph of True Orthodoxy in Russia, but in order to replace her, or at most to gather the remnants of the catacombs under her sole authority. And indeed, in one declaration explaining the reasons for the consecration of Bishop Lazarus, the ROCA stated that it was in order to regulate the church life of the Catacomb Church. Moreover, in the years to come the ROCA Synod did sometimes describe herself as the central authority of the True Russian Church in spite of the fact that this central authority was based, not in Russia, but thousands of miles away in New York!

The ROCA later came to believe that she had made a mistake. Thus Archbishop Hilarion wrote to the present writer: The statement which I signed as Deputy Secretary of the Synod was based entirely on the information given to us by Archbishop Lazarus. He reported to the Synod on the different groups of the Catacombs and convinced the members of the Synod (or the Council I dont recall offhand which) that their canonicity was questionable and in some instances their purity of doctrine as well (e.g. imyabozhniki). The Synod members hoped (naively) that this would convince the catacomb groups to rethink their position and seek from the Russian Church Abroad correction of their orders to guarantee apostolic succession. We now see that it was a mistake to issue the statement and to have based our understanding of the catacomb situation wholly on the information provided by Vl. Lazarus. I personally regret this whole matter very much and seek to have a better understanding of and a sincere openness towards the long-suffering confessors of the Russian Catacombs.

Such repentance was admirable, but unfortunately the fruits of it have yet to be seen. The ROCA continued to look on the humble catacombniks, serving, not in the splendid cathedrals of the emigration, but in poor, dingy flats, if not as contemptible, at any rate as unimportant. How could the Russian Church, so splendid in its pre-revolutionary glory, be resurrected on the basis of such poverty?

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C. The ROCA in relation to the MP. The Catacomb Church might have forgiven such arrogance if the ROCA had shown herself capable of fighting resolutely against the MP. But here the compromising tendencies developed abroad and noted above bore bitter fruit that was to lead to schism and the collapse of the ROCAs mission inside Russia. For the ROCA bishops proved themselves incapable of making up their minds whether the MP was their bitterest enemy or their most beloved mother, whether it was necessary to fight her or help her!

The roots of this indecisiveness go back to the post-war period, when large numbers of Christians fleeing towards Western Europe from Soviet Russia were joined to the ROCA. In receiving these Christians, little difference was made between those who had belonged to the Catacomb Church, and those who had belonged to the MP. Some, even including bishops, turned out to be KGB agents, and either returned to the MP or remained as moles to undermine the ROCA. Others, while sincerely anti-Soviet, were not sufficiently to see the fundamental ecclesiological significance of the schism in the Russian Church. Thus a certain dilution in the quality of those joining the ROCA in the second emigration by comparison with the first and the problem was to get worse with the third and fourth emigrations of the 70s, 80s and 90s began to affect the confessing stance of the Church as a whole. Even members of the first emigration were proving susceptible to deception: over half of the Church in America and all except one diocese in China (that of Shanghai, led by St. John Maximovich) were lured back into the arms of the Soviet Fatherland and its Soviet Church.

Another reason for this diminution in zeal proceeded from the fact that the ROCA did not break communion with the Local Orthodox Churches of World Orthodoxy even after all of these (except Jerusalem) sent representatives to the local Councils of the MP in 1945 and 1948. The reasons for this depended on the Church in question. Thus communion continued with the Serbian Church because of the debt of gratitude owed to the hospitality shown by the Serbian Church to the ROCA in the inter-war years. Communion continued with the Jerusalem Patriarchate because all churches in the Holy Land, including the ROCA monasteries, were required, under threat of closure, to commemorate the Patriarch of Jerusalem. Communion also continued, albeit intermittently, with the Greek new calendarist churches, because the Patriarchate of Constantinople was powerful in the United States, the country to which the ROCA moved its headquarters after the war.

This ambiguous relationship towards World Orthodoxy in general inevitably began to affect the ROCAs zeal in relation to the MP in particular. For if the MP was recognised by Serbia and Jerusalem, and Serbia and Jerusalem were recognised by the ROCA, the conclusion was drawn that the MP, while bad, was still a Church. And this attitude in turn affected the ROCAs attitude towards the Catacomb Church, which was no longer seen by many, including several of the bishops, as the only true Church in Russia, but rather as a brave, but not entirely canonical organisation or collection of groupings which needed to be rescued by the ROCA before it descended into a form of sectarianism similar to that of the Old Believers.

As the ROCA began to lose confidence in herself and the Catacomb Church as the only bearers of true Russian Orthodoxy, the accent began to shift towards the preservation, not of Orthodoxy as such, but of Russianness. This was bound to fail as a weapon against the MP. For for a foreign Church, however Russian in spirit, to claim to be more Russian than the Russians inside Russia was bound to be perceived as arrogant and humiliating (especially in the mouth of an ethnic German such as Archbishop Mark of Berlin!). And so, after the need to display a specifically Soviet patriotism fell away in the early 90s, the MP was able to mount a successful counter-attack, claiming for itself the mantle of Russianness as against the American church of the ROCA.

As a result of all this, at the very moment that the ROCA was called by God to enter into an open war with the MP for the souls of the Russian people on Russian soil, she found herself tactically unprepared, hesitant, unsure of her ability to fight this great enemy, unsure even whether this enemy was in fact an enemy and not a potential friend, sister or even mother. And this attitude guaranteed the collapse of the mission. , 1 . 14.8). Looking more at her enemies than at the Lord, she began, like the Apostle Peter, to sink beneath the waves. And the MP which, at the beginning of the 90s had been seriously rattled, recovered her confidence and by the middle of the 90s had recovered her position in public opinion.

, , . , o? ... ( 4.6-7).


The problems began on May 3/16, 1990, when the ROCA Synod issued a statement that was in general strongly anti-MP, but which contained the qualification that there might be true priests dispensing valid sacraments in the patriarchate nevertheless. The idea that there can be true priests in a heretical church is canonical nonsense (Apostolic Canon 46), and Bishop Gregory (Grabbe) immediately obtained the removal of the offending phrase. But the damage had been done.

Worse was to follow. Bishops and priests visiting Russia from abroad often showed an extraordinary inability to distinguish between the true Church and the false. Thus Archbishop Lavr, on visiting a village in which there existed a ROCA priest, chose instead to stay with the local MP priest! Another bishop proposed entering into union with the Ukrainian samosvyaty and the fascist organization Pamyat! A third shared some holy relics with the MP Metropolitan Philaret of Minsk (KGB agent Ostrovsky)!

The veneration shown by some foreign ROCA clergy for the MP was very difficult to understand for Russian believers, for whom the ROCA represented purity and light in the surrounding darkness, and who thought that the ROCAs mission in Russia was to rescue them from the MP.

Still more shocking was the way in which visiting ROCA bishops publicly slandered their colleagues in Russia. Thus Archbishop Mark of Germany publicly called Bishop Valentine (Rusantsov) of Suzdal, the most active and successful of the newly ordained Russian bishops, a wolf in sheeps clothing. Then, - together with Bishop Barnabas of Cannes, who in 1992 had been appointed, completely uncanonically, as the Synods representative in Russia with authority over all its parishes there, - Mark proceeded to do everything in his power to undermine the very constructive work of Vladyka Valentine.

Later it became clear who was the wolf. In 1997 Archbishop Mark had a secret meeting with Patriarch Alexis. Soon after, with the very active support of Mark, the patriarch took over the ROCAs monastery in Hebron, Israel. Could all this be linked, wondered believers, with the fact that in 1983 Mark was detained at Leningrad airport for more than 24 hours for the possession of anti-Soviet literature, and was then released unharmed, claiming that nothing had happened? Could Marks great love for the MP, and passionate hatred of his own colleagues in the Russian section of the ROCA, be a product of the fact that he was actually a secret colleague of the MP bishops after all? Could his wrath against Vladyka Valentine be due to the fact that Valentine had been too successful, and that it was largely to him that the ROCA owed its very rapid increase in membership in the early 1990s, while the MP suffered a sharp drop in popularity?

The destructive work of Archbishop Mark and Bishop Barnabas elicited a series of protests from the episcopate within Russia. But no reply came. Eventually, in order to protect their own flocks from this invasion by supposed friends and colleagues from abroad, the Russian bishops were forced to form their own autonomous Higher Church Administration, on the basis of the same patriarchal ukaz no. 362 which had formed the basis for the ROCAs formation as an independent Church body in the 1920s. At this point (1994), the writing was already on the wall for the ROCA in Russia. If she repulsed even the most loyal and successful of her leaders on Russian soil, treating them as enemies and traitors, how could she claim to be the leader of True Russian Orthodoxy anywhere in the world?

At the Lesna Sobor in November, 1994, the Russian bishops Lazarus and Valentine made a last despairing effort to restore unity with the bishops abroad. Unity was restored, but only for a short time. In February, 1995, seizing on some false information provided by Bishops Evtikhy and Benjamin, the ROCA Synod banned five of the Russian bishops, expelling them from their midst without even an investigation or trial. The banned bishops had no choice but to resurrect their autonomous administration but this time not in communion with the ROCA. And so there came into being ( ) , whose task was to gather together what remained of the ROCAs mission in Russia and start the rebuilding process, with a clear strategy and a well-defined, strictly canonical attitude towards the MP.

As the Scripture says, pride goes before a fall. The fall of the ROCAs position in Russia, which was confirmed by the catastrophical Sobor of October, 2000, was the result of pride pride in her own past virtues, pride in relation to the other bearers of True Russian Orthodoxy, pride in her ability and right to claim the leadership of the whole of Russian Orthodoxy. The tragedy of the ROCAs failure by no means excludes the possibility of a recovery. But that recovery must now come from within Russia, and not from abroad. And must it come with a full understanding of the causes of the past failures, and a determination not to repeat them.

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. 9/22 , 2001 .