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Last Updated (Wednesday, 02 September 2009 10:50)
Priest Victor Boldewskul
(Lecture given at the «2008 Orthodox Conference,» Erie, PA.)
On a warm spring, Saturday, Moscow morning on May 15, 2004, a delegation of the Russian Church Abroad headed by its First Hierarch, Metropolitan Laurus, attended the patriarchal service at Butovo Polygon, on the outskirts of Moscow. The majestic service was led by His Holiness Patriarch Alexius II together with many bishops and over 300 clergymen, and thousands of laity. For the first time since the founding of the Russian Church Abroad, the spiritual leaders of the two parts of the Russian Church prayed together on the very spot where tens of thousands of martyrs suffered for Christ's sake, soaking the land with their blood and transforming the field into an antemins. After the service, a moleben was served to the Holy New Martyrs and Confessor of Russia, and together His Holiness Patriarch Alexius and His Eminence Metropolitan Laurus laid the cornerstone for a new church to be built on this holy place. With this joint prayer and visit of the delegation of the Russian Church Abroad to holy places of Russia, began the official dialog between the two parts of the Russian Church. Something of great significance occurred on that day in Butovo, the Russian Church Abroad witnessed the fruits and joy of joint prayer, and the Russian Church witnessed the living legacy of the Russian Church Abroad in the person of its First Hierarch, Metropolitan Laurus. And the New Martyrs of Russia had laid the cornerstone for the future reunification of the Russian Church. Almost exactly four years later, on May 17, 2007, both the church was built and the Church reunited. Russian television broadcasted live an unprecedented event in the life of the Russian Church, the signing of the Act of Canonical Union between the two parts of the One Russian Church: the Russian Church Outside of Russia and the Moscow Patriarchate. Millions of Russians watched as His Holiness Patriarch Alexius II with his bishops and clergy served the Divine Liturgy with His Eminence Metropolitan Laurus, the First Hierarch of the Russian Church with his faithful bishops and clergymen. Much has been written and said about this event. I am sure nearly everyone in this hall has been exposed to, in one form or another, of the various opinions, issues and concerns which led up to the process of reunification. There is no need to rehash them here today. However, two years after our delegation visited Russia in May of 2004, the 4th All-Diaspora Sobor in its conciliar voice called for the unification of the Russian Church. In the Resolution we read:
"We archpastors, pastors and laymen, members of the IV All-Diaspora Council, unanimously express our resoluteness to heal the wounds of division within the Russian Church—between her parts in the Fatherland and abroad. Our Paschal joy is joined by the great hope that in the appropriate time, the unity of the Russian Church will be restored upon the foundation of the Truth of Christ, opening for us the possibility to serve together and to commune from one Chalice."
The revival of the Russian Church and the subsequent reunification of the two parts of the Russian Church which followed «upon the foundation of the Truth of Christ» represents more than the restoration of Liturgical and canonical unity –which in itself is monumental –but testifies to the triumph and transformative nature of Orthodoxy and its resiliency vis-a-vis the attacks of forces of evil. «Thou art the Christ of the Living God and «and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.» The revival of the Church is also the reaffirmation of Holy Russia as a living, spiritual ideal. This living ideal gives hope that all divisions within the Russian Church, regardless of their duration (1, 10, 80 or 350 years) can in time be overcome with God's help and a mutual sincerity in striving for unity as our Lord prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane.
Neither Pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through their word; That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me. And the glory which thou gavest me I have given them; that they may be one, even as we are one: I in them, and thou in me, that they may be made perfect in one; and that the world may know that thou hast sent me, and hast loved them, as thou hast loved me. (John 17: 20-22).
An amazing set of circumstances placed a humble monk, Metropolitan Laurus, as the head of the Russian Church Abroad at a time when it became absolutely clear that the Russian Church in Russia had indeed risen from the ruble of decades of persecution, and was free from the horrors of the oppressive, militant atheistic powers, allowing for the restoration of Russian Church unity so that «the world may know that thou hast sent me, and hast loved them, as thou hast loved me. » The path which Metropolitan Laurus took was the path of the cross It would have been much easier for him to bypass this cross. He could have said «it is not time yet,» or «our flock is still not ready,» and thus place the burden of unity onto the next generation of church leaders. It would have been much better for his physical health. But Vladyka accepted the cross of leading the Russian Church Abroad in fulfilling its original mission, thus Church unity was Vladyka's podvig. Metropolitan Laurus' podvig -- marked by humility, prayer and obedience --was rooted in the ideals of Holy Russia, and Vladyka's vita affirms that the ideals which the Russian Church Abroad proclaimed in the 20th century were real and sincere, and not polemical self-justification. Furthermore, the reunification of the Russian Church opens the door to real opportunities in addressing important issues that Orthodox Christians face today, whether in Russia or Abroad. Thus, the revival of the Russian Church and subsequent unity profoundly holds many spiritual lessons and serves as an image for an Orthodox life in the West. First, the revival of the Russian Church in Russia reaffirms the noble ideals of Holy Russia within its proper spiritual and historical setting. Second, it frees the Church's creative spirit that guilds its flock and transforms society and culture, and finally, it shows us the power of the Cross and the redemptive nature of suffering, a concept so foreign to contemporary western society but fundamental to an Orthodox life and world-view.
I. The Quest for Holy Russia.
In order to understand why the question of ecclesiastical unity was so important to our Church, we need to look at least in part at the underpinnings of ROCOR's spiritual world-view. The Church leaders of the Russian Church Abroad and her pious members judged the persecution of the Church and the suffering of the Russian people under the militant atheistic soviet regime within the model of «Holy Russia.» The Russian emigre scholar, Professor Georgii Aleksandorovich Znamenskii, who was a professor at MIT and faithful parishioner of Holy Epiphany Parish in Boston, MA explained the concept of Holy Russia in the following way: Historical Russia was always energized, inspired, and enlightened by the ideals of Russian sainthood and ancient Russian piety, unified in one glorious name: Holy Rus.
Holy Rus is not an illusion, not a sweet dream, not a sweet-smelling legend like the City of Kitezh. Holy Rus is first and foremost an ideal nourished by our glorious ancestors for the creation of a Russian society based on Love and Christ's Truth. And while an ideal in the best sense is an image, achievable only in a person's imagination and not fully attainable in reality, an ideal can be partially achieved through an endless striving for that ideal. That is why “Holy Rus'» is not only an ideal but also a partially attained and constantly reoccurring living reality in historical Russia. This ideal was always the Alpha and the Omega in the hearts and in the endeavors of Russian people in their government and social-cultural work. (Znamenskii p. 6)
In other words, the ideal of Holy Russia is the quest for sanctity. It represents the countless lives of Russian saints who struggled for Christ's sake, it represents the countless number is lives who attempted to emulate the lives of saints in Russia over the span of one thousand years. Recently, Holy Russia became synonymous with the New Martyrs and Confessors of Russia. For the Russian emigration, Holy Russia was the living ideal and a spiritual-ideological underpinning that united the Russian ecclesiastical Diaspora’s multifaceted and diverse flock throughout the world. And this had serious ideological, cultural and ecclesiastical ramifications. Authenticity and legitimacy had their roots in the pre-Revolutionary past. Culture emphasized recreation, as opposed to creation. Pastoral theology naturally tended to rely on 19th-century textbooks, and ecclesiastical education was frozen in time. Even today we read about «restoring the pre-Revolutionary ecclesiastical educational standards, or that «the pre-Revolutionary ecclesiastical educational standards are coming to fruition.» Legitimacy is rooted in relation to past models. The governing ideology of the Russian Church Abroad was to preserve the heritage it had inherited so that when Russia was free, the Russian emigration would return this tradition to Russia return. What exactly they intended to return and how was of course left to the imagination. However, I would suggest that in fact the Russian Church Abroad in fact does have something special to share with the entire Russian Church and that is a universal reception of Holy Russia. The Church in Russia demonstrated that the ideals of Holy Russia could not be extinguished by the fiercest forms of persecution, and the Russian Church Abroad showed that this ideal transcends any geographical boarder.
The ideals of Holy Russia had a profound influence on the Russian Church's historical fate as well which we need to recognize if we truly hope to utilize the fruits of revival and unity. First, since within the Russian Church Abroad authenticity was rooted in the past, and the Church in Russia was being persecuted, the Russian Church's creative spirit tended to be stifled. The Church, therefore, was not able to issue strong responses to contemporary issues (such as faith and science –only Bishop Alexander Melant dared to brake with protestant models and it was not without some grumblings within the Church). Also, issues such as biogenetics, scientific advances in fertility and cloning, and challenges vis-a-vis education of our youth have been ignored. And there are other important issues which the Church seems to be on the sidelines, such as man's relationship with creation (in other words, the environment) and the degradation of culture: a serious problem both in Russia and in the West. Nor has our Church really been able to respond in a sound way to the myriad of contemporary temptations with faced the Church and/or flock, such as language, use of technology and the rejection of basic Christian moral norms. The list could go on. Where the Russian Church Abroad was successful, and this was to be very significant, was to sense and warn of any spirit that was «foreign to the Church,» in other words, that which was alien to the Holy Russia ideal. That which was foreign to sanctity and Grace. Thus, in the end, the ideal of Holy Russia, while at times appearing to be a romantic notion that froze the Church back in time, it also protected the faithful from the contemporary spirit which is of the anti-Christ.
The Russian Church Abroad preserved the ideals of Holy Russia through her churches, iconography, parish schools, periodicals and printing presses, sermons, conferences, epistles, youth groups, the confessional and clerical interaction with the flock. This ideal also made the concept of unity within the Russian Church an inevitable subconscious desire, even if people held various views on how such a unity would manifest itself. Holy Russia was the ideal that guided the ecclesiological and moral consciousness of the Russian Church Abroad, since there never was a Russian Church Abroad without Russia. And it became very clear in the 1990s, lest anyone had any doubts, that the Church head by His Holiness Patriarch Alexius II was the Church in Russia. Therefore, the reunification was of the Russian Church was only possible, in my view, due to the governing principle of Holy Russia within the Russian Church Abroad. Had this ideal been much weaker in the consciousness of our church and faithful laity, the process of assimilation would have accelerated throughout the world, leading to greater diversity among our many dioceses throughout the world. Such diversity would have created an un-manageable tension that could have broken the Russian Church Abroad apart into various independent regions. [A Church of Australia, Exarchate of Germany, independent Church in America etc..] Russian Church unity en masse would have been impossible. For Metropolitan Laurus and those bishops, clergymen and faithful who supported him, Holy Russia was a living ideal that as Znamenskii noted: [was] first and foremost an ideal nourished by our glorious ancestors for the creation of a Russian society based on Love and Christ's Truth. And while an ideal in the best sense is an image, achievable only in a person's imagination and not fully attainable in reality, an ideal can be partially achieved through an endless striving for that ideal.
For this reason, while preaching, serving and publishing in various local languages was necessary and common, Church Slavonic remained the unifying language of our Divine Services and Russian the de-facto official language of Church. More emphasis was placed on publishing in Russian, especially with the hope of sending books to Russia. Our English publications centered predominantly on Russian saints and piety. In spite of linguistic and cultural barriers, the living witness of these ideals also led to many conversions to Orthodoxy throughout the world. Holy Russia was the ideological thread that unified our Church throughout the world for over three generations, enabling the tenants of our Church's founders (Mets. Anthony and Anastasius, Archbishops John and Vitaly) to come to fruition in the person of their remaining spiritual child and heir, Metropolitan Laurus. Apocalyptical Undercurrents and the Theory of Moscow the Third Rome.
There is another aspect of Holy Russia which needs to be noted, and that is the apocalyptical and eschatological element. The ideals of Holy Russia have its antecedents in the theory of Moscow the Third Rome. According to the Moscow the Third Rome theory which emerged in 15th-century Muscovy, two romes had fallen due to heresy (Rome itself and Constantinople). According to this theory, the legacy of Rome was passed onto to Moscow and there would be no forth Rome. In understanding this concept, we need to remember that the end of the fifteenth and beginning of the sixteenth centuries witnessed the emergence of a unified Russian state with Moscow as the capital. The Russians had freed themselves from Mongol rule, while our Orthodox brothers in Bulgaria, Serbia, and Byzantium had fallen to the Ottoman Empire. The fall of Constantinople in 1453 had a profound influence on the spiritual world-view of the Russian Church. The Orthodox Church was interwoven with the ideal of empire. Thus, an explanation was needed as to how God could allow for the fall of Constantinople.
Russian churchmen sought to explain Russia's role in the post-Byzantine age. Starets filofei well known doctrine of «Moscow the Third Rome» emerged from the Eleazarova Monastery in Pskov. The sources and meaning of Filofei's epistles have been examined from various points of view in many studies. Some historians have interpreted this theory as a blue print for future Russian (and Soviet) imperialism, while others, familiar with the language of the day, understood it as an admonition to the Muscovite leaders to defend Christian truth and righteousness at home, lest failure bring on the Apocalypse. Generations of scholars fastened on Filofei's treatise to explain the origin of Russian self-righteousness, xenophobia, and despotism, the same ills some elements within the west falsely perceive in Russia today. However, while there may indeed have been uses and abuses of this theory throughout history (perhaps even enabling the tragic schism of the 17th century), at its core the theory of Moscow the Third Rome is a prophetical admonition to the Russian people: remain faithful to Christ and His Church, less a similar fate befall onto Russia as well. The Gift of Grace was not without accountability. Therefore, Holy Russia which I define as the universal Orthodox quest for sanctity and transformation of society by the law of Grace is the antithesis of chauvinism, exclusionary nationalism, xenophobia, and oppressive occupation. It is not a symbol of arrogant triumphalism, but the humility of seeking the will of God. We find many echoes of this admonition in the Russian Church. There are scores of prophecies that from the 19th and early 20th centuries concerning the future of Russia and the Russian Church. It is important of course that caution be observed in reading these prophecies and that we don't get too caught up into what one elder may or may not have said or written. These prophecies are not without contradictions, nor should they be regarded as Holy Scriptures or as dogmas of the Church. One could go through two volumes of «Russia before the Second Coming» and find a quote to justify almost anything. However, when taken all together within the context of the life of the Church, a clear picture emerges which is completely harmonious with the life of Christ: the coming suffering of the Russian land (i.e. the cross), and the revival which is to follow (i.e. Resurrection). They all speak of the horrors which were to befall Russia, and that Russia and the Russian Church will emerge out of destruction. For example, Archimandrite Jonna (Miroshnichenko) wrote in 19th century: «Remember what will occur in fifty years: all will reject (ostaviat) God's Law and will fall from the faith, and then again will return». --On the rebirth of Russia, Hieromonk Seraphim Byritskii, the last spiritual father of Holy Trinity Lavra before it was closed was attributed to have said: «There will come a time when in Russia there will be unusual flowering (neobychainyi rastsvet). Many churches and monasteries will be opened, and even foreigners will come to us to be baptized. But this will not be for long, 15 years, and then will come the Antichrist. » p. 334. One of the more famous statements is attributed to St. Seraphim of Sarov. «Sorrow in Rus will be such that the earth has not seen since the beginning of the world. A time will come, when the angels will not be able to keep pace accepting the souls of the departed. » However, «Endure, endure for the Lord all sickness and sorrow! You will have such joy that in midsummer you will sing Pascha!» These prophecies were well known within the Russian Church Abroad, and were published in many of our ecclesiastical journals. The Russian Church Abroad believed that the time will come when the Church in Russia will be free and the prophecy of St. Seraphim fulfilled. I wish to bring your attention to one document, a letter the cell attendant to Metropolitan Philaret, Protodeacon Nikita, wrote to his friend Archpriest Roman Lukianonv, the rector of Holy Epiphany Church in Boston, in 1985, where by the way, Professor Znamenskii was a parishioner. Fr. Nikita was dieing, and he wanted for Fr. Roman to take care of some vestments which Metropolitan Philaret had worn, and give them to the Patriarch of Moscow when the Lord frees Russia as foretold by St. Seraphim of Sarov. Fr. Nikita writes:
Dear in the Lord Fr Roman! Bless me!
Soon after Vladyka Metropolitan Philaret's repose, with the knowledge of Vladyka Laurus, I left a second set of episcopal vestments of Vladyka First Hierarch, which I paid for with my own funds, so that it would be packed away and given to you, Fr Roman, for safekeeping. My health is poor, and the doctors say that I will not live long; that is why I leave them to you to safeguard, and when the time comes, when the Lord frees Russia, our Homeland, when blessed days arrive, foretold by St Seraphim of Sarov the Wonder-worker, then take them to our Homeland. Give them to His Holiness the Patriarch of All Russia, and one set must be given to Diveevo Lavra, and tell them whose they were. Say that we preserved them as a treasure, and say that Vladyka Metropolitan Philaret, as he performed the rite of the glorification of the Holy New Martyrs and Confessors of Russia, in his sensitive soul, endured the suffering of every martyr and rejoiced at their staunchness and unwavering strength and devotion to the Truth. Metropolitan Philaret performed the great deed of glorification in 1981. With conciliarity and with the whole people, in a great church ceremony he glorified the many millions of new Saints of God. Here I end my letter. I ask you holy prayers and blessing.
With love in the Lord,
Protodeacon Nikita, the sinner
This wish was fulfilled by Fr. Roman in November of 2006, one month before an expanded meeting of the Synod of Bishops confirmed the Act of Canonical Union and prepared the visit of our bishop to Russia in May. What is amazing about this letter is the firm conviction that the prophecies of the rebirth of Russia will be fulfilled. Six months after Fr. Roman passed on these vestments to His Holiness through Archimandrite Tikhon, Fr.Roman reposed, three days before the signing of the Act of Canonical Union. The ideals of Holy Russia were not abstract concepts, but governing principles. On the future of Russia and the Russian Church, Professor Znamenskii wrote the following in 1975, the heart of Brezhnev era and the Cold War when no one foresaw any positive changes in the Soviet Union. Historical Russia will be reborn and breathe freely! Her bones are broken, but her soul lives on! The Russian spirit is constrained from all sides by iron chains, but it is not broken! The walls of the people’s strength are wrecked, but in its citadel, in the heart of the people’s soul, remains an invincible spirit! The limbs of Historical Russia have been cut off, but her Orthodox roots remain! And these roots are nourished by springs of living water, gushing forth in inexhaustible streams from the most hidden depths of the Russian soul, and from the untouched sanctuaries of the Russian heart, which are inaccessible to her enemies!
And despite the fact that there, on our native Holy Russian Land, we see again Golgotha and the Cross, again the tomb and the Shroud, the people’s deep faith in the rebirth of Russia, like the Unconsumed Bush, which burns but is not consumed in the tortured and emptied hearts of our people, strengthened and warmed by the emboldening prophetic visions of Russia’s great sons and true visionaries of the coming fate of our Homeland in a bright future for Russia! We will set our attention on the prophetic visions of three of our chosen ones.
The frightening and heart-wrenching visions of the prophetic elder Saint Seraphim, the Wonderworker of Sarov, have come to pass: «Sorrow in Rus will be such that the earth has not seen since the beginning of the world. A time will come, when the angels will not be able to keep pace accepting the souls of the departed.» However, «Endure, endure for the Lord all sickness and sorrow! You will have such joy that in midsummer you will sing Pascha!»
Since the visions of our New Testament prophet and visionary Dostoevskii about the enormous suffering and universal tragedy of humankind in our day have been fulfilled with accuracy and detail, we must heed also with full trust his authoritative prophecy about the rebirth of Great Russia on the basis of our luminous Eastern Universal Orthodoxy, which those who currently govern enslaved Russia did not have at all within their power to tear out of the people's hearts.
With a renewed strength we here the edifying words of Dostoevskii: «An unbeliever among us, in Russia, will never accomplish anything, even if he is genuine and ingenious. Remember this. Salvation will come from the people, from their faith and humility. The people will come face to face with the atheist and will defeat him! And again their will be One Orthodox Rus!» (Znamenskii 308)
Here are the words of I.S. Shmelev:
«Look! Russia lives! Oh, wonder! Our people, without leaders, finding itself under a yoke, defended what was most important and that without which it could not live: God, Church, and Land! The Russian peasant lives, despite efforts to put him under a yoke and to turn him into cattle through famine. Not even knowing it, but sensing it and carrying it inwardly, the peasant preserved his holy national image.
Look! Russia is hidden but alive! Communism, though corrosive, only managed to scratch the giant in body and spirit! The people will heal its wounds. It can do anything! It will move mountains! And there will again be the same two hundred-million strong great Russian people! The people will re-erect everything, and resurrect and return to humankind the Russia of geniuses!
Lord! Strengthen our faith as well! Justify our hopes also! Continue Thy mercy unto them that know Thee! Lord, allow for our suffering Fatherland and the whole human world, which finds itself in a dead end, not to perish but be saved! (Znamesnkii 309)
These were the fundamental underpinnings of the Russian Church Abroad during the oppression of the militant atheistic state upon the Russian Church and people. Our identity was self-defined by the ideals of Holy Russia and the reemergence of Christ's Truth in Russia and a witness of the faith before the whole world. There would be no forth Rome, and the Third Rome still stands. Within this context, the question of Church unity was never a question of if, only when. After the Church had indeed freed itself of the chains which were upon her, all that was left was for the Church Abroad to recognized that fact and fulfill her pledge. The Sobor of 2000 was proof that the chains were gone.
The Life of the Church is the Life of the Holy Spirit. However, the history of the Church, which is the manifestation of the Holy Spirit within time, reveals itself before our very eyes. We as Orthodox Christians, as members of the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church, strive to embed our lives to the life of the Church. Today the Russian Church Abroad serves her mission throughout the world in a new era which is marked by the context of ecclesiastical unity. She is the voice of the One Russian Local Church outside the boarders of Russia calling her faithful members to a life of Christ and witnessing Orthodoxy to the heterodox. The revival of the Russian Church is important for us living here thousand of miles away from Russia, because it is the revival of our Church and is a living image for an Orthodox life. The Orthodox Church is the Body of Christ. Her life is the continual reenactment of the life of our Lord Jesus Christ; from birth to baptism, from preaching and healing the sick to persecution and rejection. The Church simultaneously relives both the cross and the Resurrection. As the Church is embedded in the life of Christ, so are we (as Orthodox Christians) embedded in the life of Christ through the life of the Church. In the span of about 80 years (or the average lifetime of an individual today) all these points come together in the history of the Russian Church. The spiritual lessons of the history of the Russian Church are far reaching. Hopefully, an examination of Church's revival through the prism of the historical consciousness of the Russian Church Abroad will strengthen our piety and fortitude in the faith, and renew an active, transformative faith that will guide us in the 21st century.