At the present time, in the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia (ROCOR) are thinking about the significance of this our centenary year. Many will be thinking about the past, the last hundred years, and its important events. However, I would rather focus on the future, though it is also perfectly true that we cannot think of our future if we do not first understand our past. Here is a small offering.
Introduction: Four Councils
Church Councils are called whenever major decisions have to be taken, whenever there are controversies, for which solutions are urgently needed. Thus, a period without Councils can in some respects be seen as a calm and positive period, a period without divisive controversies. For we do not hold Councils just for the sake of them. This is as true of the Seven Universal (Oecumenical) Councils as it is of Local Councils. Thus, in the one hundred year history of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia (ROCOR), which was founded effectively by a Russian and an American citizen, St Tikhon, Patriarch of Moscow, by his decree No 362 of 20 November 1920, four ‘All-Diaspora’ ROCOR Councils of clergy and laity have so far taken place. These were in 1921, 1938, 1974 and 2006. Although not occurring exactly every generation, they have in effect marked generational change, turning-points in our history.
The Four Councils
- The First Council – Foundation and Organisation – 1921
The First Council was called by Metropolitan Antony (Khrapovitsky) of Kiev, who was the most senior Russian bishop forced into exile. It took place in 1921 in Sremsky Karlovtsy, in what later became Yugoslavia, with the blessing of the Serbian Orthodox Church. This was in the foundational period of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia and this Council was devoted to organizing administrative and canonical structures for the Church. In this way, the thirty-four Russian bishops forced into exile worldwide were able to establish a united Church structure of metropolia, dioceses and parishes for their flocks, composed almost uniquely of Russian Orthodox refugees.
- The Second Council – Consolidation and Pastoral Care – 1938
The Second Council was held in 1938, also in Sremsky Karlovtsy. This Council, led by the second primate of ROCOR, Metropolitan Anastasy (Gribanovsky), consolidated the organization of the Church for the second generation. It considered the spiritual rebirth needed by the émigré flock and the new generation, the struggles against sectarianism, political schisms, the persecutions of the Church inside Russia and the missionary sense of the Russian Diaspora. Here, ROCOR continued to assert that ‘the part of the Russian Church which is outside Russia is an indissoluble, spiritually united branch of the Russian Church. She does not separate Herself from the Mother Church and is not autocephalous’.
- The Third Council – Resistance and Canonisation – 1974
The Third Council was held in 1974 at Holy Trinity Monastery in Jordanville, NY, under the third primate of ROCOR, Metropolitan Philaret (Voznesensky). Facing the challenges met by the third generation, this Council examined Church life in the ever more difficult conditions of the Western world where most had been born or were settled for ever. It also called for unity among the parts of the Russian Diaspora that were in schism from the Church Outside Russia. It noted the dangers of ecumenism and modernism in Church life and the need to resist these disintegrating movements. It also drew attention to the continuing persecution of the Church inside Russia, thus paving the way for the heroic and history-changing canonisation of the New Martyrs and Confessors of Russia in 1981.
- The Fourth Council – Reconciliation and Mission – 2006
After the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991 and so the end of persecution, the situation of the Church inside Russia changed radically. ROCOR now had to re-examine attitudes to the once Soviet-enslaved Church and hierarchy there. Following the long-awaited canonization of the New Martyrs and Confessors in Moscow in 2000, which confirmed the ROCOR canonisation of 1981, and other acts showing new freedom and at last the beginning of the multi-generational process of de-Sovietisation, in 2003 the ROCOR Council of Bishops entered into dialogue with the Patriarchal administration. Very important questions had arisen, relating to normalizing relations with the Church inside Russia and to ROCOR’s temporary self-governance, which in its fourth generation needed to become permanent. Also examined were issues regarding ROCOR’s future identity, purpose and mission as an integral yet also spiritually independent part of the Western world, with only very few of the faithful, many of them born in the ex-Soviet Union, ever intending to return to their impoverished native lands.
The Fifth Council?
In 2020, our centenary year, no-one is as yet talking about the need for a Fifth Council. Indeed, such a Council could easily be a generation away, in 2045, or even after. However, whatever may happen, it is clear that there are temptations to avoid in the second century of our existence. These temptations come about because, whatever our origins and native languages, we, the fifth generation, and our children, grandchildren and all our descendants in the 21st and perhaps 22nd centuries, are here to stay. We are clearly outside both disappeared (Imperial) Russia and the disappeared Soviet Union. We are not abroad. We are not a Diaspora.
Indeed, most of us are not Russian, but Ukrainian, Moldovan, Latvian, Kazakh, American, English, Australian, but most hold the passports of Anglosphere countries. Though there are faithful in Germany as well as in Switzerland, Belgium, Italy, Venezuela and other countries, most members of our Church now belong to the English-speaking world, whether to the USA, which is our centre and almost unique source of bishops, or Canada, Australia, the UK, Ireland, New Zealand or countries in some way dependent on the Anglosphere (Costa Rica, Haiti, Jamaica etc). In this, our real situation, what are the two temptations to avoid, temptations which in one way or another will certainly be discussed at any future Fifth Council?
- The Temptation of being a Church, but not Local
The first temptation to avoid is that of ceding to any form of political pressure from Russia, direct or indirect, and so becoming a mere mouthpiece for some form of post-Soviet nationalism. This was the error of parts of the old ROCOR, which died out because they looked back only to a disappeared past, a past that was irrelevant to the generations born here. Any forms of nationalism and cultural nostalgia, Russian, Soviet, post-Soviet or other, are not the way to go. They are an indulgence that rapidly becomes spiritually perilous. That is the way to the ghetto which will inevitably die out, like all ghettoes, the way to the old people’s home and the cemetery.
- The Temptation of being Local, but not a Church
The second temptation to avoid is that of ceding to local Western pressure, direct pressure by persecution from local Western States or indirect pressure by assimilation, and becoming, like so many ‘ethnic’ and flag-waving ‘jurisdictions’ of so many nationalities, just another mouthpiece for US/Western nationalism and secularism. Then we would be just another secularist organization, integrated not into Western society but into Western secularism, an organisation with a mere religious and ethnic façade, that has lost its identity, except for titles, folkloric food recipes and folk dancing and costumes. Salt that has lost its savour. Such organisations are always absorbed and disappear into history.
In order to avoid both temptations we must at one and the same time be faithful to the (Imperial) Russian Orthodox Tradition which we have gratefully received and continue to receive, but also be local in the present, for the sake of the future. We must be transcendent, but also immanent, be godly, but also incarnate locally, be divine, but also human. We must be pastoral and so stop losing generation after generation of young people through their assimilation. We have to look back to our inheritance, but also to be incarnate in our present for the sake of our future. In short, we have to be a real Church, but also really Local.