Vladimir Moss


     In a report to the Conference on the History of the Russian Church in November, 2002 entitled “The Ecclesiastical Principle of oikonomia and the ROCOR under Metropolitan Anastassy” (now on the ROCOR website), Nun Vassa (Larin) has, without saying so explicitly, sought to justify the ROCOR’s unia with the MP on the basis of an examination of Metropolitan Anastassy’s use of oikonomia in the period 1938 to 1962. In this article I propose to examine her argument in some detail.


     Both at the beginning and at the end of the report, Nun Vassa quotes MP authors declaring that canon law as presently formulated is unable to resolve the problems of the Russian Church in the 20th century. This immediately sets one on one’s guard; for what, if not the dogmatic and canonical inheritance of the Church, can serve as a basis for the resolution of her problems? Nun Vassa’s answer to this question appears to be: oikonomia, understood not as a certain weakening of the strictness of canon law, that is, as the opposite of akriveia, but rather in its original sense as God’s “house-building”, that is, the administration and building up of the Church on the basis of love for the sake of the salvation of souls.


     I have no quarrel with Nun Vassa’s definition of oikonomia, and therefore pass over the first half of her report, coming straight to her much more controversial application of Metropolitan Anastassy’s supposed practice of oikonomia.


     It should be pointed out, first, that whatever the rights or wrongs of Metropolitan Anastassy’s practice in this period, as Nun Vassa describes it, it did not correspond to the practice either of Metropolitan Anthony before him, at the beginning of the Sergianist schism, nor, still more clearly, of Metropolitan Philaret after him, nor of the majority of the hierarchs of the Catacomb Church of Russia. Therefore it is impossible to identify Metropolitan Anastassy’s course as the one and unchanging course of the ROCOR, still less of the True Russian Church as a whole. And in fact Nun Vassa provides no argument that it is; for she does not contrast Metropolitan Anastassy’s course with those of his predecessor or successors, nor attempt to explain or justify the differences. It may well be possible to explain these differences; for the whole essence of oikonomia is a certain flexibility in relation to changing circumstances. But the point I wish to make here is that, even if such changes of course could be justified, Nun Vassa has not in fact done so. And this is important; for if we are to draw any conclusion in relation to the present proposed ROCOR-MP unia, we must explain these differences. Too often people say such things as: “Metropolitan Cyril said this in 1929, so we must take exactly the same attitude in 2005,” completely forgetting (if it is only a failure of memory involved) to mention that Metropolitan Cyril said something considerably different in 1937, when circumstances had changed, and would almost certainly have something different again in 2005, when circumstances have again changed – almost out of all recognition.


      Another preliminary point that needs to be made is that the material Nun Vassa uses is not fairly representative even of Metropolitan Anastassy’s views and actual practice.


     Let us now look at some of this material, under Nun Vassa’s headings.


1. The Attitude of Metropolitan Anastassy to other Jurisdictions Abroad


     In relation to the American Metropolia Metropolitan Anastassy said in the ROCOR’s 1953 Hierarchical Council: “They do not have the fullness of truth, they deviate, but this does not mean that they are without grace. We must maintain objective calm with regard to them. We must strive for such unity on the same fundamental concepts of the Temporary Regulations upon which we stand today. Yet it is fair to say that all unity begins with personal contact: Let us love one another that with one mind we may confess. But we seem to regret that the keenness of jurisdictional quarreling has been dulled. But our goal is unity. Certain boundaries were needed as for disciplinary purposes. Now, when many extremes were abandoned in the American Metropoliate, we still sharpen the question and speak of them as heretics with whom we can have no contact. Bishop Nikon said that we are very weak. This is not quite true. But externally, we are weaker than our opponents, who have money and the press on their side. The battlefield is not even. If we elevate the conflict, a very difficult situation will arise."


     So the metropolitan was advocating retaining contacts and not “elevating the conflict” because the position of the ROCOR from an external point of view was weak. It is arguable whether this was the right policy at that time. Perhaps it could be justified in view of the fact that the Metropolia had not yet been absorbed into the MP. However, the important point is that the ROCOR later abandoned it – when the Metropolia was absorbed into the MP. Thus in 1971 the Hierarchical Council of the ROCOR under Metropolitan Philaret declared: “Viewing this illicit act with sorrow, and acknowledging it to be null and void, the Council of Bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia, which has hitherto not abandoned hope for the restoration of ecclesiastical unity in America, sees in the declaration of American autocephaly a step which will lead the American Metropolia yet farther away from the ecclesiastical unity of the Church of Russia. Perceiving therein a great sin against the enslaved and suffering Church of Russia, the Council of Bishops DECIDES: henceforth, neither the clergy nor the laity [of the Russian Church Abroad] are to have communion in prayer or the divine services with the hierarchy or clergy of the American Metropolia.”


     So here we have a clear example of a change of course in response to changing circumstances. Oikonomia in the sense of a weakening of the strict letter of the canons in relation to the schismatics of the American Metropolia was no longer felt to be applicable; they were now to be treated as schismatics. But this is fully consistent with oikonomia in Nun Vassa’s sense, that is, the administration of the Church in love for the salvation of souls.


     “These last words,” comments Nun Vassa, “reflect the great sobriety and foresight of Metropolitan Anastassy's prudence, which, without wandering irresponsibly in ponderings of love, has in view the real situation of the Church and takes measures to thwart certain dangers. Metropolitan Anastassy stresses the destructiveness of the printed word for the Church in certain cases, mentioning the press, and in particular the articles in Pravoslavnaya Rus' that irritate its opponents. The importance of avoiding sharpening enmity, first and foremost through the printed word, for the sake of ecclesiastical constructiveness probably has great meaning at the present time for the oikonomia of the Russian Church. It is interesting to ponder whether Metropolitan Anastassy would say now about the Moscow Patriarchate what he said in 1953 about the Metropoliate: ‘Now, when in [the Moscow Patriarchate], many extremes were abandoned, we still sharpen the question and speak of them as heretics with whom we can have no contact.’”


     Well, we know exactly what Metropolitan Anastassy said about the MP. He did not repeat what he had said with reference to the Metropolia: “It is fair to say that all unity begins with personal contact”. On the contrary, in 1957, in his last will and testament, he said: “As regards the Moscow Patriarchate and its hierarchs, then, so long as they continue in close, active and benevolent cooperation with the Soviet Government, which openly professes its complete godlessness and strives to implant atheism in the entire Russian nation, then the Church Abroad, maintaining her purity, must not have any canonical, liturgical, or even simply external communion with them whatsoever, leaving each one of them at the same time to the final judgement of the Sobor of the future free Russian Church…”


     Again, on October 18, 1959, in his address at the opening of the Hierarchical Council of the ROCOR, he said: “We must not only teach others, but ourselves also fulfil [that which we teach], following the examples of the Moscow saints whom we have commemorated today. They stand before us as Orthodox zealots, and we must follow their example, turning aside completely from the dishonesty of those who have now occupied their throne. Oh if they could but arise, they not only would not recognise any of their successors, but rather would turn against them with severe condemnation. With what zeal would St. Philip be set aflame against the weak-in-faith representatives of the Church, who look with indifference at the flowing of the innocent blood of their flock, and yet do not condemn the enemies of the Church, but try in every way to flatter the atheistic authority. How the great adamantine St. Hermogen would have arisen in righteous indignation, seeing the hierarchy remaining deceitfully silent at a time when atheist propaganda is being widely disseminated, forgetting that by their silence they are betraying God. Let us in every way turn aside from them, but at the same time let us arm ourselves with apostolic zeal. We must avoid every kind of contact with them like the plague. You know that these people with their thoroughly burned consciences will never cease to wage war against us, although they constantly change their methods of warfare.”


     In the 1953 Council, according to Nun Vassa, Metropolitan Anastassy “touches upon the question of concelebration with those jurisdictions (the American and Parisian)—and here, one can say, he ‘taps on the brakes.’ Feeling that the time for full liturgical communion had not yet arrived, Metropolitan Anastassy stressed that in the area of the Sacraments, a ‘broad view’ cannot be without its limits, although in certain circumstances he saw the possibility of leniency for the sake of the good of the Church, that is, for oikonomia. ‘It is fairly said that a broad viewpoint cannot be unlimited and uncontrolled. One must set certain standards. There was the question of concelebration. At the last Council, this question remained unresolved. But it turned out that sometimes such contact was unavoidable for the sake of the good of the Church. We must establish limits to such communion. Since ancient times, the concelebration of Liturgy was considered more important than that of molebens and pannikhidas. It must be decided whether the time has come for full communion or not. The President thinks that the time has not yet come, from the point of view of either side. Metropolitan Leonty often says this himself. Prayerful communion is possible, but with discernment. Until now, priests have been allowed to concelebrate with priests. The time for concelebration between bishops has hardly come yet, having the 'little ones' in mind” (ibid).


     “In these last words we see an interesting example of acrivia for the sake of oikonomia, that is, non-concelebration for the sake of the good of the 'little ones,' who might be troubled by such an act. In the post-war period, inter-jurisdictional passions were of course well-stoked, so concelebration with other jurisdictions would hardly have incurred sympathy within the flock.”


     Nun Vassa’s concept of acrivia  - that is, strictness in the application of the canons - is very strange here! How can it be “strict” practice to allow communion at the level of the priesthood with condemned heretics?! For condemned heretics is exactly what the Parisians were (and are) – and condemned, moreover, not only by the ROCOR under Metropolitan Anthony, but also by the MP under Metropolitan Sergius).


     Let us recall the historical facts.    


     On January 13/26, 1927 the ROCOR Synod suspended Metropolitan Eulogius of Paris and his vicar bishops pending an ecclesiastical trial that was to take place at the next Council. On January 22 / February 4, the Synod sent a circular letter to all the parishes in the Diocese of Western Europe in which it announced its decision of January 13/26 and exhorted the faithful not to commune with the suspended Metropolitan, bearing in mind that the validity of the Mysteries received might be placed in doubt.


     On August 26 / September 8, the Council of Bishops convened an Episcopal Tribunal comprising twelve bishops to judge the case of Eulogius. He was condemned, and the Act of Sentence read, in part: “Every liturgical function performed by him is devoid of grace, the Mysteries administered by him are not Mysteries, and the ordinations he performs are anticanonical.”


     The Council again appealed to the vacillating clergy of the Western European diocese, threatening them with canonical penalties if they did not submit to the conciliar decision. Archbishop Seraphim, in the name of the Council, wrote a declaration to all the faithful of the Western European diocese that “it is absolutely forbidden, under pain of excommunication for schism, to remain in prayerful communion with Metropolitan Eulogius, Archbishop Vladimir, Bishop Sergius and their clergy, since the Mysteries administered by them are devoid of benefit.”


     In 1935, Metropolitan Eulogius was reconciled with the ROCOR. But he never renounced the sophianist heresy of his priest, Fr. Sergius Bulgakov, which was officially condemned by both the ROCOR and the MP in 1935. Moreover, he again broke communion with the ROCOR and eventually joined Constantinople.


     At the ROCOR’s 1956 Council, continues Nun Vassa, Metropolitan Anastassy “apparently rejected the notion expressed in 1953 that ‘certain standards’ for concelebration needed to be made. In response to the comment made by Bishop Leonty of Chile that Evlogians were to be dealt with [in the same way] as members of the Living Church [obnovlentsy], and that ‘no concelebrations’ could be allowed, ‘The President explains that the obnovlentsy are another matter. They are in essence heretics. But attitudes towards them changed in different periods. When they weakened, greater condescension was employed in the practice of receiving them. The Church behaved this way in the past, too. We are not talking about the obnovlentsy in this case. The principle of oikonomia was always adhered to in the Church. Its goal is to save the person, not push him away. No law or rule can envelop all the multitude of circumstances of ecclesiastical practice. That is why the principle of ecclesiastical oikonomia was established, that is, of ecclesiastical benefit. That is why each bishop must be guided in difficult circumstances by this principle’.”


     This is confusing. Is Nun Vassa asserting that Metropolitan Anastassy no longer considered the Evlogians to be heretics, and that concelebration with them, in his opinion, was now permissible, not only at the priestly, but even at the episcopal level? Or only that he considered that Evlogians could be received back into the True Church more leniently than before, in accordance with the principle of oikonomia? In either case, we need to know what considerations motivated the metropolitan in departing to some degree from his position of only three years earlier, and to a large degree from his position, and the position of his predecessor, Metropolitan Anthony, in 1927 and 1935. Moreover, we are given no reasons why Bishop Leontius’ perfectly reasonable (in the present writer’s opinion) comments should simply be dismissed.


     The fact is that not only did the ROCOR not follow the course apparently suggested by Metropolitan Anastassy, but his successor, Metropolitan Philaret, advocated adopting a stronger position, in accordance with Bishop Leontius’ view: “I do not agree with our practice of halfway relations with the American and Parisian schismatics. The Holy Fathers insistently state that long and obdurately continuing schism is close to being heresy, and that it is necessary to relate to stubborn schismatics as to heretics, not allowing any communion with them whatsoever…”[2]


     This shows, once again, that Metropolitan Anastassy’s attitude to the Parisians was not in accord with the policies either of his predecessor or of his successor. But more importantly, it shows that when it comes to communion with condemned heretics there can be no question of acrivia or oikonomia: any form or degree of communion is simply forbidden. The question of the application of acrivia or oikonomia arises only in relation to the method of receiving repentant heretics into the True Church: whether to receive them strictly (by the first or second rite) or with condescension (the third rite), which question may be resolved in different ways at different times, depending on changing circumstances and tactical considerations.


2. The Attitude of Metropolitan Anastassy to the MP


     Nun Vassa quotes the following from the Protocols of the ROCOR’s 1938 Council: “DISCUSSED: concelebration with the clergymen of the jurisdiction of Metropolitan Sergius and his Synod. METROPOLITAN ANASTASSY points out that clergymen arriving from Russia from this jurisdiction are immediately admitted into prayerful communion, and refers to the opinion of Metropolitan Kirill of Kazan in his epistle, published in Tserkovnaya Zhizn' [Church Life], that Metropolitan Sergius' sin does not extend to the clergymen under him. DECREED: To recognize that there are no obstacles to prayerful communion and concelebration with clergymen of Metropolitan Sergius.”


     Nun Vassa comments on this: “In this section, Metropolitan Anastassy gives little argument for his position, referring only to the opinion of Holy Martyr Metropolitan Kirill… The very fact of Metropolitan Anastassy's unity of mind with Metropolitan Kirill in this ecclesiastical question is very interesting for us. For the foundation of his ecclesiastical position of St Kirill was not the letter of the law, but the real meaning of the Holy Canons constructive for the Church, opposing his understanding to the formalism of Metropolitan Sergius.”


     However, there are several major problems with Nun Vassa’s interpretation here. First, Metropolitan Cyril never, even in his earlier, more “liberal” epistles, expressed the view that “there are no obstacles to prayerful communion and concelebration with clergymen of Metropolitan Sergius”. On the contrary, in his earliest epistle, that of 1929, he wrote: “I acknowledge it as a fulfillment of our archpastoral duty for those Archpastors and all who consider the establishment of the so-called ‘Temporary Patriarchal Synod’ as wrong, to refrain from communion with Metropolitan Sergius and those Archpastors who are of one mind with him.” Nor did he ever declare that while it was wrong to have communion with the Sergianist bishops, it was alright to have communion with their priests – which would have been canonical nonsense in any case. True, he refrained – at that time – from declaring the Sergianists to be graceless. However, he did say, in his epistle of 1934, that Christians who partook of the Sergianist sacraments knowing of Sergius’ usurpation of power and the illegality of his Synod would receive them to their condemnation – a point for all those contemplating union with the MP today to consider very carefully…


     Moreover, we now know (as Metropolitan Anastassy did not know) that by 1937 Metropolitan Cyril’s position had hardened considerably: “With regard to your perplexities concerning Sergianism, I can say that the very same questions in almost the same form were addressed to me from Kazan ten years ago, and then I replied affirmatively to them, because I considered everything that Metropolitan Sergius had done as a mistake which he himself was conscious of and wished to correct. Moreover, among our ordinary flock there were many people who had not investigated what had happened, and it was impossible to demand from them a decisive and active condemnation of the events. Since then much water has flowed under the bridge. The expectations that Metropolitan Sergius would correct himself have not been justified, but there has been enough time for the formerly ignorant members of the Church, enough incentive and enough opportunity to investigate what has happened; and very many have both investigated and understood that Metropolitan Sergius is departing from that Orthodox Church which the Holy Patriarch Tikhon entrusted to us to guard, and consequently there can be no part or lot with him for the Orthodox. The recent events have finally made clear the renovationist [that is, heretical] nature of Sergianism…”


     It follows that Metropolitan Anastassy’s position was weaker than that of Metropolitan Cyril’s position at the end of his life. In fact, it was much weaker also than that of Metropolitan Anthony in his encyclical of 1928, which proclaimed “the completely definitive declaration of our Synod of Bishops that the Moscow Synod has deprived itself of all authority, since it has entered into agreement with the atheists, and without offering any resistance it has tolerated the closing and destruction of the holy churches, and the other innumerable crimes of the Soviet government… That illegally formed organization which has entered into union with God’s enemies, which Metropolitan Sergius calls an Orthodox Synod – but which the best Russian hierarchs, clergy and laymen have refused to recognize - … must not be recognized by our Orthodox Churches, nor by our Synod of Bishops with its flock here abroad. Furthermore, the organization of the Moscow Synod must be recognized to be exactly the same sort of apostates from the Faith as the ancient libellatici, that is, Christians who although they refused to blaspheme openly against Christ and offer sacrifices to the idols, nevertheless still received from the priests of the idols false documents verifying that they were in complete accord with the adherents of pagan religion…”


     Again, in 1933 Metropolitan Anthony wrote to Sergius: “Here we offer you the salutary oil of faith and loyalty in the Holy Church. Do not refuse it, but reunite with it.” This clearly implies that Sergius was outside the Church…


     It should be noted that Metropolitan Anthony’s 1928 epistle was quoted in the Archpastoral Epistle of the Synod of Bishops of the ROCOR under Metropolitan Philaret in 1969. So it could be said that in 1969 the ROCOR returned to the “zealot” position she had adopted at the beginning of the Sergianist schism, and which was adopted by the leading hierarchs of the Catacomb Church, abandoning the supposedly “moderate” position of Metropolitan Anastassy in the intervening years. As for Metropolitan Philaret himself, his zealot position in relation to the MP was expressed many times, as is well-known, in the period that he was first hierarch.  


     It cannot be denied that some of Metropolitan Anastassy’s statements on the MP were at times exceedingly liberal – so much so that they caused considerable distress to Catacomb Christians in ROCOR.[3] However, Nun Vassa is subtly distorting the evidence; for for every “moderate” statement of Metropolitan Anastassy it is possible to find a much more “zealous” one. Thus in the same 1938 Council the ROCOR under his presidency declared: If the Church of God is destined to live in the wilderness through the Providence of the Almighty Creator, the judgement of history, and the legislation of the proletarian state, it follows clearly that she must forego all attempts to reach a legalization, for every attempt to arrive at a legalization during the epoch of apostasy inescapably turns the Church into the great Babylonian whore of blasphemous atheism.” Since the Moscow Patriarchate was legalized by the proletarian state, it is impossible to escape the conclusion that, in the official opinion of Metropolitan Anastassy in 1938, the MP became “the great Babylonian whore of blasphemous atheism”!


     Again, at some time in the 1950s – that is, under the leadership of Metropolitan Anastassy - the ROCOR consecrated holy chrism in Holy Trinity Monastery, Jordanville. This is traditionally the act of a completely autocephalous Church. The ROCOR would not have been expected to carry out such an act if it regarded the MP as her “Mother Church”…


     Again, in response to the MP’s description of Stalin as “the chosen one of the Lord, who leads our fatherland to prosperity and glory”, Metropolitan Anastassy wrote that this was the point “where the subservience of man borders already on blasphemy. Really – can one tolerate that a person stained with blood from head to foot, covered with crimes like leprosy and poisoned deeply with the poison of godlessness, should be named ‘the chosen of the Lord’, could be destined to lead our homeland ‘to prosperity and glory’? Does this not amount to casting slander and abuse on God the Most High Himself, Who, in such a case, would be responsible for all the evil that has been going on already for many years in our land ruled by the Bolsheviks headed by Stalin? The atom bomb, and all the other destructive means invented by modern technology, are indeed less dangerous than the moral disintegration which the highest representatives of the civil and church authorities have put into the Russian soul by their example. The breaking of the atom brings with it only physical devastation and destruction, whereas the corruption of the mind, heart and will entails the spiritual death of a whole nation, after which there is no resurrection.[4]


     In view of the fact that the MP continues to this day to glorify Stalin, it would be interesting to know Nun Vassa’s opinion of Metropolitan Anastassy’s words. Are they not also a manifestation of oikonomia? Do they not preclude any union with the MP at the present time?


     Nun Vassa quotes again from Metropolitan Anastassy’s words at the 1953 Council: “Metropolitan Anthony was guided by this rule of St Basil the Great when he said that he was prepared to accept through the third rite both Catholics and Anglicans. He was of the view that as soon as organic ties to heresy are torn and Orthodoxy is accepted, grace is received, as if an empty vessel were filled with grace. We hold to the principle that we can accept those through the third rite whose thread of succession had not been torn. Even the Armenians, who confess a definite heresy, are accepted in their existing rank. Concerning the Anglicans, the question arose because they themselves are not certain that they have succession. If we accept those who depart from heresy, how can we not accept our own [emphasis mine—NV]? They say that Patriarch Alexy sinned more than his predecessor. Whether he sinned more or less, we cannot deny his ordination. Much is said of their apostasy. But we must be cautious. We can hardly make an outright accusation of apostasy. In no place do they affirm atheism. In their published sermons they attempt to hold to the Orthodox line. They took and continue to take very strict measures with regard to the obnovlentsy, and did not tear their ties with Patriarch Tikhon. The false policy belongs to the church authority and the responsibility for it falls on its leaders. Only heresy adopted by the whole Church tarnishes the whole Church. In this case, the people are not responsible for the behavior of the leaders, and the Church, as such, remains unblemished. No one has the audacity to say that the whole Church is without grace, but insofar as priests had contact with the devious hierarchy, acted against their conscience, repentance is necessary. There can be no discussion of ‘chekists in cassocks.’ They are worse than Simon the Sorcerer. In this regard, in every individual case, one must make a special determination, and, if there is suspicion that a chekist is asking to come to us, we must not accept him.”


     Metropolitan Anastassy’s extremely liberal attitude towards the reception of Catholics, Anglicans and Armenians is perhaps excusable in that it reflects the extremely liberal attitude of the Russian Church as a whole just before the revolution. However, it disagreed not only with prior Russian practice, but also with the practice of the Greek Church, and with the holy canons themselves (for example: the canons decree that Armenians should be received by Chrismation). Fortunately, this illegitimate practice of “oikonomia” was officially rescinded by the ROCOR Synod under Metropolitan Philaret in September, 1971, when it was decreed that Catholics and Protestants should henceforth be received by baptism. And when the Copts were once allowed to conduct a service in Jordanville, Metropolitan Philaret ordered that the church be cleansed from the defilement of heresy by holy water!


     As regards the Metropolitan Anastassy’s assertion that the MP took “very strict measures with regard to the obnovlentsy”, this, unfortunately, is not true. As is well-known, both the first “patriarchs” of the MP, Sergius and Alexis, were former renovationists (obnovlentsy), and, far from repenting of their renovationism, they transformed the MP into an institution that was “renovationist in essence” (St. Cyril of Kazan’s words). Still more seriously, they received into the episcopate a whole series of renovationist protopriests with the minimum of formalities.


     As Catacomb Church Bishop A. writes: “From September, 1943 to January, 1945, with a wave of a magic wand, all the renovationists suddenly repented before Metropolitan Sergius. The penitence was simplified, without the imposition of any demands on those who caused so much evil to the Holy Church. And in the shortest time the ‘penitent renovationists’ received a lofty dignity, places and ranks, in spite of the church canons and the decree about the reception of renovationists imposed [by Patriarch Tikhon] in 1925…


     “As the Journal of the Moscow Patriarchate informs us, the ‘episcopal’ consecrations before the ‘council’ of 1945 took place thus: the protopriest who had been recommended (undoubtedly by the civil authorities), and who was almost always from the ‘reunited’ renovationists or gregorians, was immediately tonsured into monasticism with a change in name and then, two or three days later, made a ‘hierarch of the Russian Church’.”[5]


     This acceptance of the renovationists was dictated in the first place by the will of the Bolsheviks, who now saw the Sergianists as more useful to them than the renovationists. Thus on October 12, 1943 Karpov, Stalin’s “over-procurator”, wrote to Stalin and Molotov: “The renovationist movement earlier played a constructive role but in recent years has lost its significance and base of support. On this basis, and taking into account the patriotic stance of the Sergiite church, the Council for Russian Orthodox Church Affairs has decided not to prevent the dissolution of the renovationist church and the transfer of the renovationist clergy and parishes to the patriarchal, Sergiite church.”[6] On October 16 Karpov sent secret instructions to the regions not to hinder the transfer of renovationists to the Sergianist church.[7]


     Since Karpov wanted the renovationists to join the state church, the rules for their reception were relaxed. Thus in 1944 Metropolitan (and future “Patriarch”) Alexis (Simansky) severely upbraided Bishop Manuel (Lemeshevsky) for forcing “venerable” renovationist protopriests to “turn somersaults”, i.e. repent, before the people, in accordance with Patriarch Tikhon’s rules.[8]


     As Edward Roslof writes: “The relaxation of rules by the patriarchate reflected the needs of both church and state. The patriarchal synod had full backing from the government and expected to emerge as the sole central authority for the Orthodox Church. So it could afford to show mercy. At the same time, the patriarchate faced a scarcity of clergy to staff reopened parishes and to run the dioceses. Sergii’s bishops had problems finding priests for churches that had never closed. This shortage of clergy was compounded by the age and poor education of the candidates who were available. The patriarchate saw properly supervised red priests as part of the solution to the problem of filling vacant posts.”[9]


     However, the penetration of the patriarchate by these “red priests” meant that the new, post-war generation of clergy was quite different from the pre-war generation in that they had already proved their heretical, renovationist cast of mind, and now returned to the neo-renovationist MP like a dog to his vomit (II Peter 2.22), forming a heretical core that controlled the patriarchate while being in complete obedience to the atheists. The way in which the renovationist-sergianist hierarchs sharply turned course at a nod from the higher-ups was illustrated, in the coming years, by the MP’s sharp change in attitude towards ecumenism, from strictly anti-ecumenist in 1948 to pro-ecumenist only ten years later.


     In his assertion that “the false policy [of the MP] belongs to the church authority and the responsibility for it falls [only] on its leaders”, Metropolitan Anastassy was unfortunately contradicting the teaching of the Orthodox Church, which considers that lay Christians are rational sheep who can and must separate from heretical leaders. Similarly, his assertion that “only heresy adopted by the whole Church tarnishes the whole Church” would not have been accepted by the hierarchs of the Ecumenical Councils. If the hierarchy of a Church adopts a heretical or antichristian policy, then it is the responsibility of all the lower ranks to rebuke their leaders, and if the rebukes fail, to separate from them because they are no longer true bishops (15th canon of the First-and-Second Council of Constantinople).


     The metropolitan then goes on to say: “There can be no discussion of ‘chekists in cassocks.’ They are worse than Simon the Sorcerer. In this regard, in every individual case, one must make a special determination, and, if there is suspicion that a chekist is asking to come to us, we must not accept him.”


     The clear implication of these words is that it is impossible to have communion with the present-day MP insofar as all its leading bishops have been proved to be KGB agents, and therefore “worse than Simon the Sorcerer”…


3. Metropolitan Anastassy and the Greek Old Calendarists


     Having tried to justify Metropolitan Anastassy’s lenience towards KGB agents and renovationists, Catholics, Anglicans and Armenians, Nun Vassa now tries to justify his strictness towards the Old Calendarist Greeks, in refusing to consecrate bishops for them: “At the Council of 1959, following the opinion of Metropolitan Anastassy, the Council decided to once again decline the request of the Old Calendarists. While considering this matter, the opinion was expressed that through the principle of oikonomia, they could help their Greek brethren. Metropolitan Anastassy rejected this oikonomia, finding that the ordination of a bishop in this instance would not be constructive but destructive for the Church, first of all because of the condemnations such an act would invoke among the other Local Churches and the Moscow Patriarchate.”[10]


     So vital brotherly help to the Orthodox and persecuted Greek Old Calendarists was refused on the grounds that it would irritate the heretics of World Orthodoxy…


     However, other hierarchs of the ROCOR – notably Leontius of Chile, Seraphim of Chicago, John of Western Europe and Averky of Jordanville – took a different view of what constituted oikonomia. The result was that the Greeks obtained their desired consecrations. Metropolitan Anastassy refused to accept the canonicity of these acts since they were done without his approval. From a strictly canonical point of view he was right. But from the point of view of oikonomia in the sense that Nun Vassa wishes to emphasise – that is, love acting for the salvation of souls – there can be little doubt that the other bishops were right.


     An interesting point of view on this controversy was expressed by Archbishop Averky of Syracuse and Jordanville during the session of the Hierarchical Council of ROCOR on November 17/30, 1962: “I myself would not have decided to carry out the consecration of the Greek Old Calendarists. But at the same time, in the depths of my soul, I cannot help being delighted at the boldness with which Archbishop Leontius carried out this act to which his conscience called him.


     “We emphasize that we do not recognize Patriarch Alexis, while all the patriarchs recognize him. We talk about communion with these patriarchs, and thereby we turn out paradoxically to be in communion with Moscow. A vicious circle is the result. In view of this irrational position, it is especially important for us to stand on a firm canonical foundation, preserving the essence, and not the letter, which can lead to the worship of Satan…


     “He [Vladyka Leontius] carried out a courageous act of assistance to a fraternal Church, which is now the closest to us in spirit. The Greek Church is now attacked and persecuted. It was a great mistake that we in our time were too condescending to the introduction of the new style, for its aim was to introduce schism into the Orthodox Church. It was the work of the enemies of the Church of Christ. Its fruits are already evident. Even in America there are Greek clergy whose conscience torments them for accepting the new style. The keeping of various traditions in various spheres is bound up with following the old style. With the expulsion of the old style from the church the ascetic principle is also expelled. The Old Calendarists are the closest to us in spirit. The only ‘but’ in the action of Archbishop Leontius consists in the fact that he acted as it were in a non-fraternal manner, contrary to the decision of the council, although from good motives.”[11]


     At the same session Archbishop John Maximovich noted: “… The Old Calendarists have been knocking on our doors for six years. The Hierarchical Council cannot take the decision upon itself, since it recognizes that this is an internal matter of the Greeks. We must accept Archbishop Leontius’ explanation [that the Greek Church is persecuted in the same way that the Catacomb Church is in Russia, so we must support it] as satisfactory, and with that bring our arguments to an end.”


     Vladyka John also recalled that in the past century there had been similar disturbances in the Antiochian Church. At that time the Constantinopolitan Church had intervened. In the same way the Greek Church had helped the Church of Cyprus.


     In 1969, the Synod of the ROCOR under Metropolitan Philaret officially recognised the consecrations of the Greek Old Calendarist bishops, thereby reversing the policy of Metropolitan Anastassy…


     In parenthesis, we should note that the ROCOR Synod under Metropolitan Anastassy also rejected the application of the Free Serbs to join them. And once again, Archbishops Averky of Jordanville and John (Maximovich) of San Francisco were among the dissidents…[12]




     In conclusion, we may agree with Nun Vassa that “ecclesiastical structure is closely bound to the understanding of oikonomia, or the oikonomia of the Holy Fathers”. But we cannot agree that Metropolitan Anastassy’s application of oikonomia provides a solution for the present ecclesiological crisis in the Russian Church. Even if Metropolitan Anastassy’s policy of extreme leniency to the MP and World Orthodoxy (and other heretics) were the right one for his time (approximately fifty years ago, before the “heresy of heresies”, ecumenism, had become a major problem), it agreed neither with the policy of his predecessor, Metropolitan Anthony, nor with that of the Catacomb Church as represented by Metropolitan Joseph and Metropolitan Cyril, nor with that of his successor, Metropolitan Philaret, and therefore does not provide a model for the projected union of the ROCOR with the MP today unless we are to argue – which Nun Vassa has not even attempted to do – that Metropolitans Anthony, Joseph, Cyril and Philaret were all wrong in the comparatively stricter positions they adopted.


     It should also be pointed out that, for all his “extreme leniency” as I have called it, Metropolitan Anastassy never seriously considered union with the MP, and in his last will and testament forbade any communion, even everyday, with its servants. Moreover, he was absolutely opposed to accepting any KGB agent in a cassock, whom he called “worse than Simon the Sorcerer”. In that respect, at any rate, we can well take him as our model and guide…


November 11/24, 2005.

St. Thedore the Studite.




















[2] Metropolitan Philaret to Fr. George Grabbe, July 12/25, 1975, Vertograd-Inform, ¹ 11 (68), November, 2000, pp. 52-53 ®.

[3] Thus Professor I.M. Andreyev wrote: “Not only were we ready to die, but many did die, confident that somewhere there, outside the reach of the Soviet authorities, where there is freedom – there the Truth was shining in all its purity. There people were living by it and submitting to it. There people did not bow down to Antichrist. And what terror overwhelmed me when, fairly recently, I managed to come abroad and found out that some people here ‘spiritually’ recognise the Soviet Church. Spiritually! Many of us there fell, ‘for fear of the Jews’, or giving in to the temptation of outward cooperation with the authorities. I knew priests of the official Church who, at home, tore their hair out, who smashed their heads making prostrations, begging forgiveness for their apostasy, calling themselves Cain – but nonetheless they did not recognise the Red Church. But these others abroad – it is precisely spiritually that they submit to it. What good fortune that our priest-martyrs, in dying, did not find out about this betrayal!”(Russia’s Catacomb Saints, Platina, CA: St. Herman of Alaska Press, 1982, p. 49).

[4] I.M Andreyev, Is the Grace of God present in the Soviet Church? Wildwood, Alberta: Monastery Press, 2002, pp. 32-33 (with some changes in the translation).

[5] “Pis'mo 2-oe Katakombnogo Episkopa A. k F.M.” (The Second Letter of Catacomb Bishop A. to F.M.), Russkij Pastyr' (Russian Pastor), ¹ 14, III-1992; Russkoe Pravoslavie (Russian Orthodoxy), 1996, ¹ 2 (2), pp. 10, 11 ®.

[6] Karpov, in Edward E. Roslof, Red Priests: Renovationism, Russian Orthodoxy, and Revolution, 1905-1946, Indiana University Press, 2002, pp. 194-195.

[7] Roslof, op. cit., p. 195.

[8] See Metropolitan John (Snychev) of St. Petersburg, Mitropolit Manuil (Lemeshevsky) (Metropolitan Manuel Lemeshevsky)), St. Petersburg, 1993, p. 185 ®.

[9] Roslof, op. cit., p. 196.

[10] Metropolitan Epiphanius of Kition (Cyprus) told the present writer that when he visited New York in the 1960s, Metropolitan Anastassy had refused his request on the grounds that it would upset Constantinople…

[11] Andrei Psarev, "Vospominania Arkhiepiskopa Leontia Chilijskago" (Reminiscences of Archbishop Leontius of Chile), Pravoslavnaia Zhizn' (Orthodox Life), ¹ 5 (557), May, 1996, pp. 11-12 ®.

[12] On September 14/27, 1967, Archbishop Averky wrote to Metropolitan Philaret: “With regard to the question of the Serbian Church, whose Patriarch German is a stooge of the communist Tito, as the Serbs themselves are convinced, calling him ‘the red patriarch’. We have heard this from many clergy and laity who have fled from Serbia. How can we recognize, and have communion in prayer with, ‘the red patriarch’, who maintains the closest friendly relations with red Moscow? Cannot our Hierarchical Council make erroneous decisions? Do we in the Orthodox Church have a doctrine about the infallibility of every Council of Bishops?”