Skip to comments.Perspectives on the Russian Orthodox - ROCOR Reconciliation
Posted on 05/21/2007 12:47:10 PM PDT by Teˇfilo
An analysis by Teófilo de Jesús .
The news has traveled already around the world. Four days ago on May 17, the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia (ROCOR) represented by Metropolitan Laurus, and the Patriarchate of Moscow, whose tenant is the Primate or First Hierarch of the Russian Orthodox Church, have healed a schism dating from the Bolshevik takeover in Russia in 1917, and the subsequent submission and humiliation of the Church by the Soviet State.
We can all agree that the healing of a schism in a historic Catholic and Orthodox Church is always a welcome development. Wherever charity triumphs we can expect to find God, because God is Love. All schisms are particularly painful when they happen although, arguably, healing it is also painful, as all memories and slights, real or imagined, bubble up to one's waking consciousness where they threaten to reignite ancient animosities and rivalries once again. The Russian Church offers all Christians but particularly Roman Catholics an object lesson in this regard. Congratulations are in order and I humbly offer them.
Yet the work is not yet complete. According to Protopriest Alexander Lebedeff, "the acceptance of the Act of Canonical Communion by the Council of Bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia places the Russian Church Abroad on a solid canonical foundation, making clear that she is a living and active part of the pleroma , or the fullness of the entire Orthodox Church. This is related to the recognition of her as lawful and canonical by all the autocephalous Orthodox Churches, as provided by this regularization." ROCOR's regularization will have the greatest impact upon the various canonical Orthodox jurisdictions in the United States, but so far, the silence between them and ROCOR has been deafening.
The Standing Conference of Orthodox Bishops in the Americas (SCOBA) is the highest pan-Orthodox consultative and coordination body in this hemisphere. "The purpose of the Standing Conference," according to their website, "is to create and foster ties of unity among the canonical Orthodox Churches and administrations for a stronger and more visible witness to the Orthodox Faith. The hierarchs meet semi-annually for discussion and decisions on inter-Orthodox and ecumenical matters, to review the work of its commissions and dialogues, and to plan future events." I reviewed their site today and I found no mention of the historic agreement reached in Moscow last week. No reaction, no joint statement, not even a news report. Nothing.
A similar review of the Orthodox Church in America's (OCA) website, the one Orthodox jurisdiction with historical ties to ROCOR, makes no mention of the accord. Its FAQ Page on OCA and ROCOR remains unchanged in its unenthusiastic rapport with "The Synod." OCA has taken no public notice of the ROCOR-Moscow reconciliation. Google News searches on ROCOR and SCOBA, OCA, and/or ROCOR yielded no returns.
Clouds on the horizon
The question is, now that ROCOR is a recognized canonical body, will SCOBA recognize ROCOR? Would ROCOR want to join SCOBA?
For the moment, I find no indication of ROCOR wanting to join SCOBA. This is due primarily to historical factors. Reader Andrei Psarev, in an extensive document entitled ROCOR's Attitude Toward Other Local Orthodox Churches and Non-Orthodox Christians, observes that
ROCOR was invited to participate in the Standing Conference of Orthodox Bishops of America (SCOBA) established in 1960 at the initiative of Archbishop Iakovos (Patriarchate of Constantinople). In his reply, however, Metropolitan Anastasii stated that ROCOR would participate in the conference only if representatives of the Moscow Patriarchate were excluded, which was unacceptable to Archbishop Iakovos. At times, an uncompromising stand in regard to the communist government was, within ROCOR, as significant an issue as protecting the true Orthodox faith; in other words, resistance to communism was perceived as an inseparable part of protecting the purity of the faith.However, these political issues aside, matters of theological import also mar the relations between ROCOR and the other canonical jurisdictions in the Americas. In his Nativity Epistle of 1986, ROCOR's Metropolitan Vitaly stated that: At the present time, most other Orthodox Churches have been shaken to the core of their being by two successive blows: the new ecclesiastical calendarand ecumenism. Despite their impoverished state, however, we do not declare and may the Lord save us from ever having to declare them as having lost Gods grace. [Emphasis mine]
On February 19 1987, according to Reader Psarev, the ROCOR's Synod of Bishops notified its clergy that the ROCOR was not in communion with either "New Calendarists" or "ecumenists." Therefore, beyond the political and protocolary reasons they stated in 1960, ROCOR also cites its opposition to the SCOBA churches' changes in the liturgical calendar and their pursuit of "ecumenism" as reasons to avoid integration with the canonical Orthodox churches. I would like to emphasize that ROCOR's problem is with the canonical Orthodox churches as institutions, not with individual, non-ROCOR Orthodox Christians, although ROCOR treatment of these varies from church to church.
The participation by SCOBA-affiliated Orthodox Churches in the ecumenical movement represents a major stumbling block for communion in the eyes of ROCOR and, needless to say, much of this Orthodox ecumenism is aimed at improving relations with the Catholic Church. Simply put, ROCOR doesn't like us very much.
Relations with the Catholic Church a stumbling block
ROCOR's attitude to the presence of observers from the Russian Orthodox Church in the Second Vatican Council was ambivalent. According to Reader Psarev, whereas Archbishop Averky of Syracuse and Holy Trinity Monastery saw the Second Vatican Council as "a step in the direction of global apostasy," other bishops saw the gathering as a "missionary opportunity" to "bear witness to the truth" and to "talk about the persecuted Russian Church." ROCOR's Metropolitan Philaret wrote a "Sorrowful Epistle" to Patriarch Athenagoras of Constantinople when he lifted the excommunication against Rome which started the East-West Schism. ROCOR also has banned ecumenical prayer in a liturgical context with the "heterodox" due to the "impermissibility both of religious relativism and any prayer with the heterodox in a liturgical context."
According to ROCOR, non-Orthodox Christians, even Roman Catholics, are little better than Pagansat least this is the way I interpret their stance because the receive converts from the Catholic Church through baptism.
Reader Psarev tells us that "in 1971 the Russian Church Abroad crossed a serious boundary between historical periods in its relations with the non-Orthodox Christians. On 28 September 1971, the ROCOR Council of Bishops convened in Montreal determined that non-Orthodox were to be accepted into the Church only by baptism. In this manner, the traditional Russian practice (except during the period of 1620 to 1667) which did not require Catholics and some Protestants to be baptised was set aside, and the practice confirmed by the Patriarchate of Constantinople in 1765 was adopted."
To the best of my understanding, and based upon my own experience in Orthodoxy, SCOBA-affiliated jurisdictions do not receive Roman Catholics into the Orthodox Church by baptism, but by Chrismation (the Sacrament of Confirmation). Implicit in this is the recognition by SCOBA churches of the objective validity of Roman Catholic sacraments, something ROCOR adamantly denies on theological, canonical, and historical grounds.
Since ROCOR denies the existence of sacramental grace outside of Orthodoxy, they conclude logically that "ecumenism" is "heresy" and they have formally defined it as such. This has caused monumental liturgical and canonical problems for ROCOR, for almost every major Orthodox Patriarch participates in the ecumenical movement in terms deemed offensive and heretical by ROCOR. Their stance against ecumenism has isolated them even further from World Orthodoxy and the canonical Orthodox churches in North and South America.
Now, suddenly, ROCOR's canonical status has been normalized, having become, by its reconciliation with Moscow, a full-fledged member of the recognized global Orthodox Church. Will ROCOR join SCOBA's team? Will ROCOR "play ball"?
SCOBA and ROCOR will not get together at first. Once all behind-the-door meetings and consultations endwhich I think is going on now and also explains the silence from SCOBA, ROCOR and the OCA in particular before the developments in MoscowI foresee the creation of an intermediate organ similar to the G7+1 of the 1990's, composed of SCOBA and ROCOR delegates to study the issues still separating the communions and to identify areas where mutual cooperation, dialogue, and fellowship are feasible.
The regularization of the ROCOR places a great deal of pressure upon prelates from both organizations. SCOBA cannot ignore ROCOR's normalization and it can be said that Orthodox canonical discipline almost forces ROCOR and SCOBA to talk to each other. But the fact remains that most SCOBA bishops will be reluctant to even consider the application of 18th century Russian solutions to 21st century American problems if, in their view, the global mission and even the very nature and existence of the Orthodox Church is to remain viable and coherent for men and women today. Many SCOBA bishops want to take their churches out of the self-imposed European cultural ghettos forged by their forebears when they arrived to this continent and look upon ROCOR with suspicion for daring to hold on to theirs.
The failure of a SCOBA-ROCOR rapprochement will not affect the ROCOR-Moscow reconciliation, at least not immediately. Yet, we must recognize that, with all its idiosyncrasies and less-than-charitable relations with other Orthodox churches, the Russian Orthodox Church in Russia is different from the 18th century ideal ROCOR holds to. The Church in Russia has changed and its Primate, Patriarch Alekseii is attempting to open a space for his Church in global Christianity. The Moscow Patriarchate may consider the traditionalist approach adopted by ROCOR valuable as long as it is contained within its autonomous jurisdictions in the Americas, but more than likely the Patriarchate will ignore ROCOR's stances in favor of Orthodox pan-Christian engagement, as it simultaneously soothes ROCOR's misgivings with occasional grand gestures.
The best that can happen is that ROCOR suffers its own aggiornamiento, by becoming a "tent" big enough for Orthodox traditionalists of every stripeand every Orthodox Christians is a traditionalist by definitionto meet in fellowship. The worst that can happen is that ROCOR retrenches, reneges on her commitments to global Orthodoxy, or that the Russian Church grows impatient with her erstwhile child, and cuts them off altogether. ROCOR will then become little more than a quaint sect in the West's religious market.
It is a cliché to say that "time will tell." But this is the case. "Time will tell" if the healing of this schism will hold. A lot gravitates against it. May God's grace prevail.
- Read the ROCOR-Moscow Act of Canonical Communion.
This is insanely premature. The reconciliation took place only four days ago. Anyone who knows anything about the bureaucratic speed of the Orthodox Church knows that four days means nothing!
The Patriarchate of Moscow is probably still drafting the letters to notify the other Patriarchates of this change.
Once that happens, the letters can be officially delivered by a representative of the Moscow Patriarchate.
Which will begin the process of the bishops drafting their celebratory acknowledgement of the news.
Ping me sometime next February. If nothing has happened by THEN, that will be newsworthy.
Fine. Orthodox Christians celebrate in slow motion. The rest of the article stands.
The rest of the article is outrage!
But no less true. :-(
Got to agree with FL on this one, T. Allow me to add that you are placing way too much emphasis on SCOBA. The FACT is that ROCOR, upon recipt and acceptance by the Patriarchs of the Act of Canonical Communion, ROCOR hierarchs will be in communion with all parts of the hierarchy of what we call Canonical Orthodoxy. Whether they join SCOBA or not is in the end neither here nor there.
i tried to cover that much as well, was hoping to address individual errors...
For a long while many East European Churches required baptism from all converts, so ROCOR is not doing anything uncanonical if it insists that all converts be baptized, just in case.