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Sunday, January 14, 2007


As webmaster, I had the painful task today of removing from my parish's website the links to, and details of, three communities which until recently were part of our diocese: The St Edward Brotherhood at the Brookwood monastery, the Annunciation Convent in Willesden, and the Mission Parish of St Boniface, on the Isle of Wight.

While my parish was celebrating the Nativity of Our Lord with much feasting after last Sunday's Liturgy, the regular worshippers at the aforementioned communities were being informed that their churches were to leave the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad (ROCOR) to join the Holy Synod in Resistance in protest against the canonical restoration of full communion between ROCOR and the Russian Orthodox Church (Moscow Patriarchate), now scheduled for the 17th of May, 2007.

I have mixed feelings about this. I have a great deal of sympathy with many of the Greek Old Calendarists (which have different origins from the Russian old Calendarists), especially having read of the situation in which they came about and why they felt the need to separate from the New Calendarist Church of Greece. Reports of the Oecumenical Patriarchate's activity since the 1920s and up to the present day have really not served to further the idea that the Old Calendarists are purely reactionary. Many of them have been very ill treated indeed, and while I do not think that they're stance is ideal, I do sympathise with them. Unlike most of them which seem to use most of their webspace to condemn the New Calendarist churches, the Synod in Resistance seems to put a lot of effort into spreading Orthodoxy through its articles and various publications. I can respect this.

On the other hand, I know that many within ROCOR (and I include myself) are staunchly opposed to Branch Theory Ecumenism. Indeed, in 1983, our Sobor of Bishops condemned this as a heresy and drafted a formula to be added to the list of anathemas on the Sunday of Orthodoxy. The concept that a church can adopt heresy as its belief and still remain part of the Church is not in keeping with the Church's self-understanding. The Holy Synod in Resistance takes a similar line - or so it seems at first glance. A closer look at their ecclesiology reveals that, for all of their condemnation of Ecumenism, they have an ecclesiology that allows for churches that are traditionally Orthodox but which they consider to have embraced certain heresies to be, not thereby severed from the Church, but rather, "ailing" parts of the Church - but parts of the Church nonetheless. How this is different from Branch Theory Ecumenism is entirely beyond me! Nor do I stand alone, for this group is rejected by the canonical churches (which it considers to be Ecumenist) for being in schism, and by the Old Calendarists for being Ecumenist. The result is that it stands largely alone, except for relations with small groups of Old Calendarists in Romania and Bulgaria. A greater irony is that their first-hierarch is Metropolitan Cyprian of Opropos and Fili, whose namesake, St Cyprian of Carthage, was adamantly opposed to precisely the sort of ecclesiology now being forwarded by this group.

I really wish that these communities had stuck it out and worked with us. Many people have been hurt by their actions and many more will, no doubt, be unchurched over the next few weeks. Please pray for them.

On the plus side, while our diocese has lost two priests, it has gained one, whom my parish is blessed to have serving with us. Who knows what shape our increasingly small diocese will take in the future?

O Master all-good, watch over Thy flock and all the children of the Russian Church Abroad, that we may bring about the structuring of our Church in a manner well-pleasing to Thee. Grant us the spirit of wisdom and understanding; instill in our hearts the spirit of the fear of God, the spirit of piety and zeal for the glory of Thy holy name. Guard us against all temptations, stumbling-blocks and divisions, that, bound together, one to another, by the bond of love for Thee, our Master, we may without hindrance perform the work of our ministry for the edification of the Holy Church as the one Body of Christ. We pray Thee, O greatly Merciful One: hearken and have mercy!

O good Shepherd, Who hast promised to gather Thy scattered sheep into a single flock, put down scandal and division within the Church; all who have strayed from Thy path do Thou lead to repentance and a knowledge of the Truth, and return them to Thy fold; and confirm us all in the Orthodox Faith and the doing of Thy commandments. We pray Thee: hearken and have mercy!


Ian said...


My continued prayers.

Michael Astley said...

Thank you, Ian.

Those petitions have been formulated by the Synod of Bishops to be used in our parishes as part of the Augmented Litany at the Liturgy.

It really is an awful business. There may well be a phoenix rising from the ashes yet and I can see light at the end of this tunnel already because of certain issues but I am not caught up in the thick of it. My worry is for those souls in far outlying places who now have no church to which to go.

Mark said...

Sounds like a bummer.

I'm not sure if you read my inane twitterings on schism over a year ago, but I really do wish there were no schisms. It's one of the things I keep praying about.

Margi said...

I am so sorry about this, I hoped so much it wouldn't happen.

Michael Astley said...

I know. It really is an awful business isn't it?

Mark, no, I didn't see that particular entry. I agree that schism is a dreadful thing - sometimes necessary, but always dreadful.

Margi, I agree with you entirely and share your dismay.

I must say, though, that for all of my slighting of Metropolitan Cyprian's group, I was greatly humbled to have read this truly Christian statement to from one of their bishops to their flock about the whole affair. I quote it here:

From: Archbishop Chrysostomos
To: Exarchate Clergy, faithful, and friends
Re.: The status of our relations with the ROCA

Evlogia Kyriou.

As a follow-up to the several messages sent to you by me and by
His Grace, Bishop Auxentios, I would like to set forth some guidelines with
regard to relations with our former Sister Church, the Russian Orthodox Church
Abroad (ROCA or ROCOR [Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia]). For the sake
of some of the faithful, who have not been privy to all of our correspondence,
let me recapitulate synoptically the situation that we face. These are the
stages through which we have passed, leading to an eventual cessation of
communion between our Churches, following a union between the ROCA, our Church,
and our Sister Churches, the Romanian and Bulgarian Old Calendar Orthodox
Churches, in mid-1993-1994.

* * *

1) Within five years from our union with the ROCA, Metropolitan
Cyprian was privately told by Metropolitan Laurus, when we inquired about
rumors of negotiations between the ROCA and the Moscow Patriarchate (MP), that
his Bishops were in a very delicate position and that we should cease any
visitations or interactions with his Church, unless specifically invited to a
particular event. Despite this situation, two of the Priests of our Exarchate
here in America were serving in parishes of the ROCA (one in the Old Cathedral
and, subsequently, in the New Cathedral in San Francisco). Occasional
concelebrations also took place.

2) As we heard more rumors and learned of negotiations between
the ROCA and Moscow, our Synod sent private inquiries to the Bishops of the
ROCA, asking for clarification. Many of our private communiques were made
public and, over time, it became evident that the ROCA did not intend to
respond to our inquires.

3) Finally, when we learned in the press (since we were never
informed or consulted regarding these matters by the ROCA) that a union between
the ROCA and Moscow was being brokered, our Bishops addressed a letter to the
Bishops of the ROCA, making it clear that we and our Sister Churches in Romania
and Bulgaria, would not endorse such a move and that we were thus ceasing our
relations with the ROCA. We stated that this decision would be implemented at
the moment that the ROCA officially opened communion with the Moscow
Patriarchate, since this would place it in open and official communion with
so-called "world Orthodoxy" and the ecumenical excesses of Moscow (which have
increased drastically, despite its putative concerns about ecumenism),
Constantinople, and other ecumenical Churches (such as Serbia, in particular,
with which the ROCA has long had unofficial and informal relations, but which
is in the throes of ecumenical activities, nowadays,
heretofore unknown in that Church).

4) In the meantime, articles began appearing in various Church
journals, reinforced by statements from intelligence sources following the
religious life in Russia, citing rumors that the ROCA would be required to
break communion with the Old Calendarists in Greece, Romnania, and Bulgaria as
a prerequisite for union with the Moscow Patriarchate. This came on the heels
of the appearance of more and more derogatory statements about "Old
Calendarism" among ROCA clergy, including statements playing down the
population and immense success of the Romanian Church (the largest of the Old
Calendarist Churches, which is many, many times larger than the ROCA), in
particular, and disavowing our Synod for its distribution of well-documented
exposes of ecumenical abuse (in print and film media) that have made their way
in the inner circles of the "official" Churches..

5) Finally, the following occurred.

a) Last year, at a meeting of five Bishops, the ROCA broke communion
with our Synod, on the false grounds that we had Consecrated one of its
clergymen, a Priest of ours in South Ossetia. The letter conveying this message
contained absolutely inappropriately insulting remarks against Metropolitan
Cyprian, comparing his actions to those of the extremist Old Calendarists,
whose actions and behaviors we have always and consistently rejected and
criticized. We protested this false accusation, sending along correspondence
with Metropolitan Laurus on the subject. Though the Secretary of the Synod of
Bishops of the ROCA responded to me personally, noting that the Bishops were
apparently unaware of the facts that we reported, nothing more was ever said.

b) Subsequently, we were informed of a second cessation of communion with
our Synod, this time on the grounds that we had broken communion with the ROCA,
simply ignoring the fact that we made it quite clear (I translated the relevant
document, so I can state this unequivocally) that we would not implement our
decision until such a time as the ROCA and the MP officially and publicly
joined together.

c) Last summer, without informing them of the fact, the ROCA broke
communion with our Sister Churches in Romania and Bulgaria.

6) Of late, we have noticed the proliferation of rumors and
private statements that our Churches in Greece, Bulgaria, and Romania are
outside of the Orthodox Church, that we are illiterate practitioners of "Old
Calendarism," and that we are beset by personal, moral, and theological
deficits. Such nonsense and slander we have, unfortunately, always expected
from the fringe elements of the resistance, who resent our moderate style of
opposition to innovation and irresponsible ecumenism.

We have candidly expressed our opinions about the importance of
religious tolerance in our opposition to political ecumenism, our concerns
about "ethnocentrism" (i.e., phyletism) as a polluting factor in the defense
of Orthodox tradition, and our disquietude at the use of untruthful
accusations, slander, and calumny in various disputes between elements in the
Church. This has made us the focus of controversy vis-a-vis these extremists
and Orthodox ecumenists, as well, since the latter would like to paint us as
something that we are not, in order to dismiss our valid criticisms of their
deviations from the Faith.

But now, much to our amazement and chagrin, we see ourselves
denigrated and assailed by clergy of the ROCA itself; and, indeed, not only by
Archbishop Mark, who has written in a document in our possession that, despite
his esteem for Metropolitan Cyprian, we are "outside of the Church" and that
any ROCA parishes or institutions that come to us, being unable in conscience
to accept union with Moscow, are thereby departing from "Holy Orthodoxy."

We have also been placed in the difficult position of accepting
those from the ROCA who, threatened with punishment should they protest union
with Moscow, are, as a result, being refused canonical releases on the basis
that we, a former Sister Church, are not recognized by the ROCA as Orthodox.
Thus far, this applies to the St. Edward Brotherhood and the Annunciation
Convent in England, as well the clergy attached thereto.

Not only was the St. Edward Brotherhood immediately attacked by a fellow clergyman in England, because of its move, but today I learned that some
of our faithful attending ROCA Churches have been told that they will no longer
be allowed to Commune, as a long as they maintain communication with us. One young man, though not officially aligned with our Church, was also told that
any communication with our clergy would result in his excommunication.

* * *

Given the foregoing synoptic presentation of circumstances and
events that have led to the regrettable relations between our Church and the ROCA, I feel obliged to respond to those of you who have asked for clarification of matters that, again, have not been fully public until now, and for guidelines with regard to attendance at ROCA parishes. The latter issue affects not a few of you, since we have such a shortage of parishes in this country and have faithful attending parishes of the ROCA. Hence, the following comments:

1) The events and circumstances that I have presented are true,
to the best of my knowledge. About most of them, I can offer personal testimony as to their accuracy, as can Bishop Auxentios and our other Bishops. They are not, however, for public presentation; nor are they presented for the sake of spawning contentions, argumentations, accusations, and counter-accusations. They
simply present our position on the basis of facts and our honest perceptions.

2) Though we have had been placed in the position of receiving
those in the ROCA who have petitioned us, and doing so, much to our chagrin, outside of canonical order (again, by no fault of ours but because of the
apparent belief by at least some of the clergy of the ROCA that we are not Orthodox), we have not recruited anyone from the ROCA. Though some unfair and untruthful individuals have said this, we have been sedulous to avoid the reception of those who are opposed to the ROCA-MP union, unless they approach us on their own. At the same time, we cannot, in the present situation (again, created by the ROCA and not by us) deny refuge to those who come to us
sincerely and with the prospect of suffering for their decisions of conscience and faith.

3) We DO NOT consider the ROCA to be outside of the Orthodox Church or Holy Orthodoxy, have never stated that it is, and will CERTAINLY NOT make such a clearly blasphemous statement. When the ROCA unites with the MP, we
will clearly wall ourselves off from it, on account of its official and general communion with so-called "world" Orthodoxy and the Orthodox ecumenists; but never, in the style of the Old Calendarist extremists, would we declare it to
be without Grace, heretical, or, as I said, outside of the Orthodox Church. It is only with the deepest dismay, consternation, and confusion that we see it applying such epithets to us, its former Sister Church. We simply intend to
regret and forgive such things. You, as our clergy and faithful, should do the same.

4) If, as some of you have been told, you are no longer welcome
to commune in parishes of the ROCA, humbly accept this fact. You should ask if you will be allowed to attend services (which is important for families, in particular) and to avail yourself of that privilege. If you are denied that, too, then we will have to work assiduously to solve this problem, as time permits. In no circumstance should you act arrogantly or disrespectfully towards any clergyman of any believer in the ROCA, on account of the situation
which now exists. I do not want our laymen sending out "Open Letters" and condemnations of this or that clergyman or Church. In fact, anyone who does so will receive a strong kanona.

5) With regard to those in the ROCA who may seek refuge with us (and there are yet others who have approached us), they should not be treated as visitors or outsiders. They are our brothers and sisters and equals. Nor should any comment be made about their following their national customs in Liturgics, Church psalmody, vestments, and so on. We are catholic in our outlook and must seek to preserve Orthodoxy, and not some ethnic expression thereof, however sympathetic or close we may be to the traditions in which we were raised. That sympathy we must grant to others, as well. Realize, too, that those coming to us are doing so at GREAT personal cost, since they will be punished for their moves. That demands that we show them great love and that we express our concern for them in an ugly and sad situation.

6) God knows what the future holds. If we act so as to alienate no one in this situation, we will have taken the higher road, will pave the way for mending fences in the future, and will find ourselves thrice-blessed for our Christian actions, whether we are considered to be in the Church or not.
Let us be like St. John Chrysostomos, who died in disgrace and outside the "official" Church. The "Chrysostomite" party of his day was in many ways like the "Cyprianite" party of our day: it represented not "correct" Christianity, but the genuine Christianity of peace, love, and forbearance. This was the Christianity that triumphed and that always triumphs. Let us be part of it and not arrogant, contentious, or divisive.

Please pray.

Benjaminw1 said...

Kyrie Eleison