Recently, the idea of eucharistic communion between the ROCOR and the MP, but without administrative submission of the former to the latter, has been raised in ROCOR circles. As Dimitri Gontscharow writes: “In his recent letter to the dioceses of Australia and New Zealand, Met. Lavr… assures us that the talk is not of a ‘merger’, a ‘coming together’ or even ‘union’ with [the] MP. That once all the issues dividing us are resolved, we will be able to have Eucharistic communion from one chalice, but retain separate church administrations. That ROCOR will continue to maintain autonomy and decide all its internal business.”[2]


     This idea was first raised, to my knowledge, by Archbishop Mark of Berlin (Vestnik Germanskoj Eparkhii, 1997, ¹ 4) shortly after he had assisted in the seizure by the MP and MGB agent Yasser Arafat of the ROCOR’s monastery in Hebron in July, 1997. This coincidence reveals what ROCOR “autonomy” will actually mean in practice: complete control of the ROCOR by the MP.


     However, let us look more closely at the idea of ROCOR autonomy, leaving aside for the moment the question of how and whether eucharistic communion could ever be justified. Is the proposed autonomy canonical? Is there any way in which, if certain conditions were met in reality and not simply on paper, it could guarantee true spiritual life for the ROCOR?


     The autonomy of the ROCOR within the MP could be considered canonical only if the MP bishops who now occupy the same territories as the ROCOR bishops were voluntarily to resign their sees and go back to Russia, or accept to become vicar-bishops subject to their ROCOR counterparts. For it is a fundamental principle of canon law that two bishops of the same Local Church – or two bishops of different Local Churches who recognise each other and are in communion with each other – cannot occupy one and the same see. The question is, then: has either the ROCOR or the MP raised the possibility of the MP bishops in, say, Berlin or London or New York, resigning their sees in favour of their ROCOR counterparts? The answer to this question is a clear: no. In fact, the idea of MP bishops resigning their sees, has never, to my knowledge, been mentioned once in public by the MP.


     Nor is that surprising. For the MP is negotiating from a position of overwhelming strength, and has no desire or need to disenfranchise its own favoured sons in favour of foreign upstarts whom only a short time ago it was calling “schismatics”. Even when it granted the Orthodox Church of America autocephaly – and “autocephaly” implies a much larger degree of independence than “autonomy” – it did not merge its own sees and parishes on the American continent into the OCA.


     This brings us to the related problem of relations with the OCA. After the union with the MP, who will be the canonical bishop of San Francisco – Bishop Kyrill of the ROCOR, or Bishop Tikhon of the OCA? One thing is certain: they cannot both be, according to the holy canons which all bishops and priests solemnly swear to uphold and observe.


     More fundamentally, as Gontscharow points out, “if Eucharistic communion occurs between ROCOR and the MP, it is a violation of the canons for ROCOR to exist as an autonomous church on the same territory as the OCA. We would have to recognize OCA as the legitimate, canonical church of America and drop all our pretenses at sovereignty.” To do otherwise would be schismatic, for according to the MP, the OCA is the one canonical Local Orthodox Church of America. The fact that the MP itself retains parishes on American soil in violation of the OCA’s autocephaly does not alter this fact, but only shows that the MP itself is schismatic!


     Will the MP allow Metropolitan Lavr to be the first-hierarch of the whole of the ROCOR throughout the world? Gontscharow thinks not. “The MP may allow Met. Lavr to remain in charge of North America, but if they need to, they can reduce that to the United States and assign someone else to Canada. The documents of the joint commissions hint at this arrangement, when they say all our bishops will be members of the MP synod in Moscow. Their synod will simply increase with new bishops and land areas.”


     Moreover, there are several parts of the world in which the MP has bishops while the ROCOR has only priests and parishes. Consider my native England, for example. There are two MP bishops resident in England, but no ROCOR bishops. Of course, Archbishop Mark bears the title of Germany and Great Britain. But can even the most naïve person believe that he would become the sole Russian Orthodox bishop in both Germany and Great Britain? No: the best he can hope for is to become Bishop of Germany alone – and that will be very difficult (unless he can use the KGB connections he is suspected of having acquired in 1983).


     So the ROCOR flock in England, if it does not flee to another jurisdiction, is almost certainly destined to be swallowed up in the MP diocese of Sourozh – perhaps the most liberal and ecumenist in the whole of that ecumenist organisation! If the ROCOR leadership cared for their flock in England, they should consecrate a bishop for England now, and then they would at least have a further piece to bargain with in the final end-game. However, the only possible candidate for the episcopacy in England, Archimandrite Alexis (Pobjoy), has remained an archimandrite now for nearly 30 years; so for reasons best known to themselves the ROCOR bishops have evidently passed him over…


     Another point to be considered is the fact that autonomous Churches are usually created to “accommodate”, as it were, a foreign nationality, or the flock of the Local Church in a single foreign State. The ROCOR is neither of these. It is not confined to a single State, such as the Ukraine, Moldova, Estonia, Latvia or Poland, but is spread over several continents. And, unlike the autonomous Churches of Ukraine, Moldova, Estonia, Latvia or Poland, it does not consist, in the main, of believers of a different nationality. On the contrary, the whole “pathos” of the movement for the union between the ROCOR and the MP has been patriotic feeling: we are all Russians together, so we have to be united in a single church organisation, the “Mother Church” of the MP!


     Of course, the ROCOR has existed since the early 1920s as an autonomous Church on the basis of Patriarch Tikhon’s ukaz of November 7/20, 1920, which envisaged the existence of autonomous groups of Russian bishops for as long as a central church administration did not exist or could not be contacted. But that kind of autonomy will cease to exist immediately the ROCOR enters into eucharistic communion with the MP and recognises the MP Patriarch as its canonical head. The ROCOR cannot have it both ways: it cannot have the kind of complete control of its own affairs (more like autocephaly than autonomy) that it had as long as it considered Patriarch Tikhon’s ukaz to be in force and the MP Patriarch to be uncanonical, while at the same time being in eucharistic communion with the “Mother Church” and recognising the MP Patriarch to be its canonical head.


     Gontscharow goes on to point out that “the documents produced by the joint commissions… do indeed described this self-styled ‘autonomy’ that ROCOR will enjoy, but they also include very specific language that is important to remember. The documents state that all matters outside the ROCOR’s purview will be decided by the MP’s synod in Moscow. Clerics usually do not have much experience with contracts, but the MP delegation seems to, for they did not accidentally include that clause in the statements. They know it can provide Moscow with the upper hand in the future, as when any large firm absorbs a smaller company. That the clause can be used for a large variety of circumstances, where it might be useful to Moscow to declare a matter outside of the competencies of ROCOR and impose its will on the church.”


     Let us speculate what matters may be considered by the MP to be “outside the ROCOR’s purview”: ownership of church property, choice of liturgical language and liturgical practice in general, including liturgical calendar, sacramental practice (e.g. immersion or sprinkling at baptism), membership of the WCC, communion with the Catholics, Monophysites and others, confirmation of the election of a new chief-hierarch, perhaps all important church appointments, support both open and covert for the KGB-FSB, loyalty to the Russian government at all times, including time of war.


     I have emphasised the phrase loyalty to the Russian government at all times, including time of war to show that those living outside Russia should not expect to be free of political demands from the MP inside Russia. Of course, it was Metropolitan Sergius’ demand that the ROCOR bishops swear allegiance to the Soviet Union which constituted, even more than his notorious declaration, the immediate cause of the rupture between the ROCOR and the MP. And there is no reason why the same conflict should not arise again.


     For even as I write the neo-Soviet regime of Putin has begun to flex its political muscles by increasing the price of gas exported to the Ukraine fourfold, which is likely to have an enormous knock-on effect on energy prices throughout the world. If this conflict escalates into another cold, or even hot war, then the ROCOR will have to choose its loyalties: to the Western States in which it lives, or to neo-Soviet Russia, including the neo-Soviet MP. Only this time the decision to break with Russia and the MP will be much more difficult than in 1927: first, because the ROCOR will just have joined the MP, and secondly, because it is already much more thoroughly infiltrated and controlled by Putin’s men.


     Then, perhaps, we shall see the fulfilment of the prophecy of Elder Ignaty of Harbin: “What began in Russia [in 1927] will end in America [in 2006?]…”



Vladimir Moss.

December 21 / January 3, 2005/2006.

St. Peter, Metropolitan of Moscow.
















[2] Gontscharow, “On Met. Lavr’s Letter to the Dioceses of Australia and New Zealand”.