‘We must fight for the purity of Holy Orthodoxy’.
Words said to me by the Ever-memorable Metropolitan Laurus at the Fourth All-Diaspora Church Council in San Francisco, May 2006
Orthodox from Russia very often ask us what the difference is between the very large Russian Orthodox Church inside Russia (35,000 churches, often called the Moscow Patriarchate, which paradoxically includes some parishes which are geographically outside the ex-Soviet Union) and the very small Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia (ROCOR with 500 churches), whose administrative centre is in New York and whose territory covers the Western world. ROCOR only came into existence by Patriarchal decree in 1920, but today, as then, both parts of the Russian Orthodox Church have the same Patriarch Kyrill. To most of us who live outside Russia, the difference and our identity are clear, even obvious, and they cover six different areas, both dogmatic and pastoral.
First of all, ROCOR has complete political independence from the Russian Federation. It particular, we thoroughly reject that form of political dependence known as Sergianism, which refers to Patriarch Sergius who died in 1944 and whom a great many Russian Orthodox, not only in ROCOR, consider compromised the Church with the Soviet State. Thus, inside Russia it is actually possible to meet Orthodox who admire Stalin! Such Soviet nationalism is unthinkable for us. Such Sergianism has led to careerism, papalistic authoritarianism and an admiration for Roman Catholicism among a few senior clerics inside Russia, such as the late Metropolitan Nikodim and his followers. Why? Because of their admiration for a all State institutions, which is what the Vatican is. Such a mentality is quite alien to ROCOR.
Keeping the Tradition
ROCOR has always remained faithful to the pre-revolutionary Church Tradition. It has not suffered Soviet-period alterations to the Tradition and relics, however liturgically minor, such as using different Paschal liturgical colours, and in particular it does not suffer from the form-filling bureaucracy, centralization and almost superstitious Soviet ritualism which can often be found in the Church inside Russia. On a more important level, ROCOR does not therefore suffer from the spiritual disease of ecumenism, which affects certain individuals in the Church inside Russia and which distresses many there and in ROCOR. In the same way, ROCOR has always looked forward to the restoration of the Monarchy inside Russia. This view is shared by many in the Church inside Russia, our allies, though not by all.
Veneration of the Saints
ROCOR has a strong love of the Saints, especially of the New Martyrs and Confessors, but also of the Local Saints, the ancient saints of Western Europe, few of whom were until recently included in the Russian Church calendar. ROCOR canonized the Royal Martyrs and some 8,000 New Martyrs and Confessors 19 years before the Church inside Russia. Indeed, many in ROCOR had very much wanted these canonizations decades before even this. These canonizations included some (but still not all) of the servants of the Imperial Family. Interestingly, two of these servants were not members of the Orthodox Church. For ROCOR this presents no problem at all. For us, they were simply baptised in their blood, like many ancient martyrs. This thought seems to be alien to some in the Church inside Russia.
I remember how someone from Russia came here and saw a bishop sweeping the floor of his Cathedral. He was astonished and at once thought he was a saint! How absurd! Bishops and priests cleaning their churches is perfectly normal for us, though, sadly, we are not saints. For us it is the opposite that is abnormal. For instance, I can recall a few years ago how a bishop from Russia was appointed to a church that was geographically outside Russia. The first thing he did was to buy himself a luxurious black car. Automatically, he had lost all respect, he was finished and should have returned to Russia there and then. Clerical opulence with meaningless, militaristic pomp and ceremony are not for us. Our priests usually work in secular employment, even if only part-time, and choirs are hardly ever paid anything.
Closeness to the People
Just as in ROCOR we sing out of love for the church, we have no scandalizing price lists for baptisms, weddings etc. People simply donate whatever they can. Thus, simply by virtue of being in the Non-Orthodox world, ROCOR is adaptable, less insular, more multinational (just look at the nationalities of our bishops), much more even than the Church inside Russia. ROCOR adapts to local people, uses local languages and has a far more open and missionary outlook. In this way, although ROCOR keeps the Tradition, we are actually more ‘liberal’ in some ways because of the realities of life. For instance, as a small minority in Non-Orthodox countries, we pray for Non-Orthodox and welcome them to our churches, but we would not dream of making dogmatic compromises of the ecumenistic sort, such as intercommunion.
One Russian from Russia told me: Our churches are like railway stations, people coming and going, staying for a few minutes and leaving, nobody knows anyone, people never belong. The fact is that parish life was destroyed in Russia by the Soviet period, whereas in ROCOR we have real parishes, communities to which people belong. Our parishes are smaller, our parishioners know one another, they receive personal attention, our churches do not operate like factories, we baptise individually, not en masse. Almost every week I do two or three baptisms, which are done properly and individually. We understand our parishioners, we accept prams, pushchairs and wheelchairs, we baptise babies in warm water, after the service parishioners sit down and socialize, drink and eat something together.
Members of ROCOR sometimes visit cathedrals and large monasteries in Russia or large churches in Moscow and Saint Petersburg. Although we appreciate what we see, admiring the infrastructure and organization, wondering at the gold, marble, general ornateness, ritual and the singing, we tend to come back with the words: ‘It was good to be away, but it is better to be at home’. The words ‘Home Sweet Home’ are how we feel about ROCOR. We are a family to which we belong. Our churches may be small and modest, wooden and plain, our choirs amateur, our theology unsophisticated, but we belong to our Church, as did the simple fisherman of Galilee. Here we are at home and no-one can take that away from us. Here is something that the Church inside Russia can learn from us.