Vladimir Moss


     There can be no doubt that the main problem facing the True Orthodox Church today is the establishment of unity in prayer between its various jurisdictions. In view of the urgency of the problem it is surprising that it is so little discussed in print. One reason for this is probably the sheer intractability of the problem; another – the opinion that the solution is actually is very simple: everybody must submit to such-and-such a leader or jurisdiction.


     However, where angels fear to tread Fr. Gregory Lourié has boldly stepped forward in a four-part report for[1]. Of course, it is ironical that this sower of heresy and schism should now be discussing ways of achieving unity in the truth. But this should not prevent us from examining his arguments, which, even if flawed, can perhaps help us to come to a clearer assessment of the way forward.


     Lourié does not look at the whole Church, nor even the whole of its Russian part, but only those jurisdictions - some only in the process of being formed - which derive their origin from the Russian Church Abroad: ROAC (under Metropolitan Valentine), RTOC (under Metropolitan Tikhon), ROCOR (V) (Bishops Vladimir, Bartholomew, Anthony and Anastasy), ROCOR (V-A) (Bishops Victor and Anthony) and ROCOR (A) (Bishop Agathangelus).


     I. Dogmatic Differences. First he looks at dogmatic differences, and concludes, somewhat optimistically, that while there is a dogmatic abyss separating True Orthodoxy from “World Orthodoxy”, there are no serious dogmatic differences among the True Orthodox jurisdictions.


     (a) Cyprianism. With regard to Cyprianism, Lourié notes that while ROCOR in 1994 officially accepted the Cyprianite ecclesiology, and while there is still some sympathy for it in RTOC and ROCOR (A), “in the True Orthodox Churches of the Russian tradition Cyprianism has not found firm and consistent supporters”.


     So that’s alright then… Or is it? Certainly, the general rejection of Cyprianism in this group of Churches is to be welcomed. But it is worth noting that the assumption that Cyprianism is a heresy in the full sense of the word creates problems for Lourié’s approach to unity. For if ROCOR officially accepted a heresy that is called Cyprianism in 1994, then according to the strict, anti-Cyprianite ecclesiology, all those Churches that consider ROCOR to have remained Orthodox after 1994 and to have derived their own existence from the post-1994 ROCOR trunk – that is, all of the Churches under consideration except ROAC - fell away into heresy with ROCOR at that time!


     In fact, the further consequence follows that if one considers a Church which officially accepts the heresy of Cyprianism to be still Orthodox, one is oneself – a Cyprianite! For then one is forced to accept that there can be heretics who are still members of the True Church. They may be “sick” in the faith through their acceptance of heresy, but they are still in communion with the “healthy” members, and therefore still in the Church – which is precisely the doctrine of Cyprianism!


     As far as I know no bishop – with the single exception of the maverick “Archbishop” Gregory of Colorado, USA – believes that ROCOR fell away from the Church in 1994 as a result of its acceptance of Cyprianism. It follows either that Cyprianism is not a heresy in the strict sense of the word but only a “leftist deviation”, or that the label of “Cyprianism” has been used unscrupulously as a stick with which to beat others by those whose own ecclesiology is only a little to the right of Metropolitan Cyprian’s. In either case, the issue needs to be studied more closely and honestly than Lourié has done here…


     (b) The Gracelessness of World Orthodoxy. The second dogmatic difference considered by Lourié is closely related to the first: the recognition of the gracelessness of the Moscow Patriarchate and the Churches of World Orthodoxy.


     Lourié first congratulates the Russian True Orthodox that, unlike the Greek True Orthodox, they have not adopted the so-called “switch off” theory, “that is, as if by certain actions of Church authorities the grace of sacraments could be ‘switched off’ suddenly. Glory to God, in the Russian Church environment there dominates the understanding that the loss of grace in heretical and schismatic communities is a process, and not a moment. If we don’t have to discuss this, it will be simple enough to understand each other in all the rest.”


     Such a sharp contrast between the Greeks and the Russians on this question is, I think, highly debatable. Moreover, the difference between the “process” and “switch-off” theories, as we shall see, is not that simple. However, let us continue with his argument.


     “If we do not dispute that ecumenism is a heresy, nor that all the church organizations of World Orthodoxy that confess ecumenism are heretical communities, then we are all agreed that this leads to the loss by these communities of the grace of church sacraments. There can be disagreements only about whether to consider the process of this loss to be already completed by such-and-such a period of time. At the same time, none of us will dispute that it is impossible for the Church to produce a formula to calculate the ‘half-life’ of grace. The gracelessness of this or that community that has fallen away from the Church is established only by ‘the expert path’ – through the consensus of the Fathers, that is, the agreed opinion of the saints. I think that none of these principles can elicit objections on the part of any of the True Orthodox Churches of the Russian tradition.


     “If that is so, then the difference in views regarding the presence of the grace of sacraments in the Russian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate and in World Orthodoxy as a whole lies in the domain of economy, and not dogmatics (where there can be no economy of any kind). In other words, if anybody admits the presence of the grace of sacraments in the Russian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate, and this opinion is unjust, it does not follow that this person is a heretic with whom there must not be any ecclesiastical communion…”


     On this basis Lourié suggests: “It is sufficient only to anathematize ecumenism and define all the ecclesiastical organizations of World Orthodoxy as heretical communities, ecclesiastical communion with whom is not possible in any circumstances. As regards the question of the grace or lack of grace of the sacraments of the ecumenists, this can be left to time to decide. In a peaceful atmosphere undisturbed by unneeded polemics, the overwhelming majority of the believers will themselves come to the correct conclusion.”


     But what about the anathema against ecumenism of 1983? Is that not valid? Why introduce a new anathema when the old one – passed under a leader, Metropolitan Philaret, of undisputed authority – stands? And if the old anathema stands, does it not anathematize those very people who consider that there is the grace of sacraments among the heretics, since they “do not distinguish the priesthood and mysteries of the Church from those of the heretics, but say that the baptism and eucharist of heretics is effectual for salvation”? So would not the new anathema proposed by Lourié have the effect of contradicting the old anathema, or at any rate of weakening it?


     Lourié anticipates this objection in part when he writes: “The anathema against the heresy of ecumenism produced by the ROCOR Council in 1983 turned out to be powerless to guard against this Church from falling into ecumenism because at that time, in 1983, the Council described the sickness, but did not indicate who were the sick – which left an open door to unscrupulous re-interpretations that began immediately after the death of the holy First-Hierarch Metropolitan Philaret (1985).”


     Fair enough: but what is Lourié’s conclusion: that the anathema of 1983 did in fact fall upon the heretics of World Orthodoxy, or not? If it did, then the need for a new – and weaker – anathema falls away: in fact it becomes harmful as casting a shadow on the validity and sufficiency of the 1983 anathema. If, on the other hand, it did not, then is not Lourié a “crypto-Cyprianite” in that, like the Cyprianites, those “crypto-ecumenists”, as Lourié calls them, he considers the heretics to be “as yet uncondemned”?  The fact that no specific heretics were named does not entail that no specific heretics were anathematized, both because there have been many “anonymous” anathemas in Church history, and because, as “I.M.” writes: “There is no heresy without heretics and their practical activity. The WCC in its declarations says: The Church confesses, the Church teaches, the Church does this, the Church does that. In this way the WCC witnesses that it does not recognize itself to be simply a council of churches, but the one church. And all who are members of the WCC are members of this one false church, this synagogue of Satan. And by this participation in the WCC all the local Orthodox churches fall under the ROCOR anathema of 1983 and fall away from the True Church. In their number is the Moscow Patriarchate…”[2]


     The above, “strong” statement, relying on the conciliar definition of ROCOR’s 1983 anathema, and on the consensus of the great majority of the hierarch-confessors of the Catacomb Church, is a sounder basis on which dogmatic unity among the True Orthodox of Russia can be attained than Lourié’s weaker statement, which while “walling off” the True Orthodox from the heretics of World Orthodoxy, and while anathematizing them precisely as heretics (and presumably by name), nevertheless refuses to say whether they have grace or not. Lourié’s proposed anathema might indeed have been useful if there had not already been an anathema against ecumenism, and if Cyprianism were now, as in the period 1986-2001, the de facto (and, from 1994, the de jure) ecclesiology of the Russian Church Abroad. But now the Russian Cyprianites (unlike the Greek Cyprianites, who have proved firmer in the faith) have either died or signed the Act of Canonical Communion with the Moscow Patriarchate; so there is no good reason why there should not be a substantial consensus for the stronger statement among the hierarchs of the True Orthodox Church.


     Instead of bringing to an end arguments about the faith, Lourié’s anathema might give an excuse for their renewal. For if the question of grace is deliberately fudged, and left, in effect, to the discretion of individual hierarchs, then Hierarch X will receive penitents from the Moscow Patriarchate in a strict manner, as not only heretics, but also graceless heretics, while Hierarch Y will be more lenient, arguing á la Lourié that “the loss of grace is a process, and we cannot be sure that it has been completed” - which will give the supporters of Hierarch X the excuse to call Hierarch Y and his supporters “crypto-ecumenists” or worse. In other words, the scenario of the Greek Old Calendarist Church after 1937 will be repeated in Russia – but with much less reason, because the leaders of World Orthodoxy are much more obviously and deeply heretical now than then.


     The important point is that, however we understand the process of the loss of grace in a Church, it is not possible that the imposition of an anathema on the Church, if it is accepted as valid and canonical, can be understood in any other way than that the Church in question has lost the grace of sacraments. Before the imposition of the anathema, there is room for argument, for a diversity of opinions: after the anathema, there can be no more arguing, the Church has spoken, the candlestick has been removed (Revelation 2.5), for that which the Church binds on earth is bound also in heaven. Dissenters may argue that the anathema is not valid for one reason or another – for example, because the hierarchs have not understood the essence of the question, or because they are too few in number, or because only Ecumenical Councils have the authority to anathematize. What they cannot deny is that if the anathema is valid, then those anathematized are outside the Church and therefore deprived of the grace of sacraments; for there are no sacraments outside the Church.


     For the zealots of True Russian Orthodoxy, the question in relation to the Moscow Patriarchate has already been decided, for the Church has already spoken with sufficient clarity and authority: first in the early Catacomb Councils that anathematized it because of sergianism (it was on the basis of these anathemas that Metropolitan Philaret declared that the Moscow Patriarchate was graceless already in 1980), and then in ROCOR’s 1983 Council, which anathematized it because of ecumenism.  What is needed now is not a new anathema that denies for itself the force of an anathema, but the signatures of the new generation of hierarchs under the old anathemas. And if further clarification is needed, that clarification should come only in the form of specifying precisely those patriarchs who fall under the anathemas.


     (c) Sergianism. Lourié says nothing directly about Sergianism as a possible source of dogmatic differences. The reason for that is simple: it is because Lourié himself is a Sergianist. (And a Stalinist: we remember his famous “thank you to Soviet power” and his statements: “I respect Stalin” and “Comrade Stalin was completely correct in his treatment of the intelligentsia”.) Lourié’s Sergianism is obvious from many of his articles, in which he describes even the pre-revolutionary Church as “Sergianist”, thereby depriving the term of its real force, and also from his Live Journal, where he writes most recently: “It is necessary to recognize in general any authority whatever. It is wrong only to allow it [to enter] within Church affairs.”[3] With such a statement not even “Patriarch” Sergius would have disagreed, and it differs not at all from the “Social Doctrine” of the Sergianist Moscow Patriarchate as approved in their Jubilee 2000 Council. But it was rejected by all the confessing hierarchs of the Catacomb Church and ROCOR. For those hierarchs refused to recognize Soviet power, considering it to be that “authority” which is established, not by God, but by Satan (Revelation 13.2). It was in recognition of this fact that the Local Council of the Russian Orthodox Church, which Lourié rejects as “a tragic-comic farce” (!), anathematized Soviet power in 1918. And so Sergianism is not, as Lourié implies, simply one historical, rather extreme instance of “caesaropapism”, but the recognition of, and submission to, the power of the Antichrist.


     In essence, the power of the Antichrist is both political and religious; for, like the Pope, he combines in himself both political and religious authority. Therefore one cannot recognize his power on the grounds that it is “merely” political, and that “all [political] power is from God”; one cannot say to the Antichrist: “I recognize you, but please stay out of my internal affairs.” One has to anathematize it and treat it as an enemy to be resisted in every way and to the limit of one’s strength.


     But is this relevant now, after the fall of communism, the Soviet Antichrist? Yes, for several reasons. First, Church life must be built on a correct evaluation of her past history, otherwise those past conflicts will come back to haunt us again. Secondly, the Soviet Antichrist is not dead, but only wounded: since the year 2000, Putin’s regime has been turning the clock back to the Soviet Union in many ways, making it more and more a “neo-Soviet” regime that considers itself, and is, the “lawful” successor to the Soviet Antichrist. Therefore the True Church will sooner or later again have to define its attitude to the regime, and probably reject it as the Local Council of 1917-18 rejected it. And thirdly, since 1917 the Church has entered the era of the Antichrist, and can expect only temporary relief from the struggle against it until the Second Coming of Christ. The Antichrist appeared openly for the first time in 1917 in a relatively crude form. His next appearance will be more subtle, and probably still more lethal. Sergianism is therefore only the first appearance of what is likely to be the dominant phenomenon of Church life in the last days: the attempt, in ever more subtle and “reasonable” ways, to make the Church make its peace with the enemy of God, forgetting that “friendship with the world is enmity with God” (James 4.4).


     II. Canonical Differences. Lourié goes on to consider the canonical differences between the True Orthodox jurisdictions, which, he says, constitute 99% of their mutual accusations. He divides these into two kinds: those that relate to injustices of one kind or another, and those which involve schisms, the break-up one group of bishops into two or more sub-groups. The latter kind is the more important, in his view, and therefore he concentrates on that.


     He begins by pointing out that, apart from the Holy Canons of the Universal Orthodox Church as published in The Rudder, there is only one Church decree generally accepted by all that is relevant to determining the guilty party in a schism – the famous ukaz N 362 of November, 1920 issued by Patriarch Tikhon and the Holy Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church. It was on the basis of this ukaz that the Russian Church Abroad based its autonomous existence in the 1920s (although the ukaz almost certainly did not envisage the creation of an extra-territorial Church on the global scale of ROCOR), as did ROAC in the 1990s and RTOC in the 2000s. The problem is that not only does the ukaz not provide any sanctions against schismatics: it also fails to provide a criterion for determining who is schismatical - for the simple reason that it in effect decentralizes the Church on the presupposition that a central Church authority, in relation to which alone a church body could be defined and judged as schismatical, no longer exists or cannot be contacted. In 1990s the Synod of ROCOR in New York briefly tried to set itself up as the central authority for the whole of the Russian Church, inside as well as outside of Russia. But this attempt had a firm basis neither in the Holy Canons of the Universal Church nor in the ukaz N 362, and therefore only succeeded in creating schisms and weakening its own, already shaky authority. In view of this, Lourié comes to the conclusion that “no decrees of ecclestiastical authorities issued specially in order to regulate the life of the True Orthodox Church of the Russian tradition can include any special rules that the hierarchs are obliged to carry out. The only thing that is obligatory is all that is decreed by the Canons of the Universal Church.”


     With this conclusion (to his surprise) the present writer is in broad agreement. (It is an interesting question whether a similar conclusion can be drawn with respect to the Greek Old Calendarist Church. But that question goes beyond the bounds of this article.) De jure, there has been no central authority in the Russian Church since the death of Metropolitan Peter in 1937. De facto, depending on one’s opinions, there has been no such authority since 1986, 1994, 2001 or 2006 – and that only if we allow that the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia had the right to regulate Church life within Russia. Now, with the fall of the New York Synod into heresy and the death of Metropolitan Vitaly, no Church grouping or Synod can claim, whether de jure or de facto, to be that unique Church centre in relation to which all other independent groupings and Synods are schismatical. This is not to say that no grouping or Synod has acted in a schismatic spirit or been guilty of the sin of dividing the flock of Christ. What it does mean that there is at present no grouping or Synod that can claim to be the judge of that, and impose sanctions for it, from a strictly canonical point of view.


     This might appear to be a dispiriting conclusion that can only lead to chaos. However, chaos has existed in Russian Church life since at least 1937, if not 1927 or even 1922; and it can be argued that ukaz N 362 was composed in anticipation of that chaos and in order to mimimize its effects – to control it, as it were, and stop it spreading and deepening. The tragedy of the last twenty years has consisted not so much in the presence of chaos, which has already existed for many decades, but in the misguided attempts to restore order by unlawful means, by creating a Church centre that did not have the sanction of a lawfully convened Church Council. The result, as pointed out earlier, has been the creation of further chaos, as this artificial Church centre, ignoring not only the Holy Canons of the Universal Church, but also ukaz N 362 and even its own “Statute”, has expelled large groups of bishops and parishes without even a trial or summons to a trial. This unlawful usurpation of Church power has now received its just reward, as, suddenly feeling that its own authority rested on sand, it surrendered itself and the flock that still remained loyal to it to what it perceived to be the “real” Church centre – the Synod of the Moscow Patriarchate.


     But there is a silver lining to this cloud: there has never been a more opportune time in recent history to convene that lawful Church Council which alone can create a lawful Church centre having the power finally to resolve the chaos within the True Orthodox Church. On this, at any rate, we can agree with Lourié. The question is: is there the will to adopt this, the only way?


     III. Politico-Economic Differences. Lourié points out that the economic interests which have played such an important part in the MP-ROCOR unia have played very little part in the differences between the True Orthodox Churches – for the simple reason that the True Orthodox Churches have very little money or property.


     The only real difference has consisted in the fact that, early in the 1990s, the Suzdal diocese under Bishop Valentine tried to obtain a number of churches, mainly in the Suzdal region, by legal representations to the authorities, whereas the dioceses under Bishops Lazarus and Benjamin chose to continue to serve, catacomb-style, in flats. Valentine had considerable success early on in his drive, which was reflected in his larger number of priests and parishes; but the cost, in terms of hassle and money, has been great; and in recent years the MP has taken back several of the churches (the latest was the church of St. Olga in Zheleznovodsk). In some minds this difference between the “possessors” and “non-possessors” is connected with a more sinister political difference, the inference being that Bishop Valentine was continuing to use his continuing links with the (post-) Soviet authorities for base material ends, whereas Bishop Lazarus was free of such contaminating links.


     Not surprisingly (in view of his possession of an above-ground church), Lourié backs the possessors in this argument. He makes the valid point that it is not “dirty” to try to acquire church property, and that many confessors have died in defending the property of the Church (e.g. the thousands who were imprisoned or killed in 1922 for resisting the Bolshevik campaign of requisitioning church valuables). Many people who might otherwise be drawn to the True Orthodox Church are put off by having to worship in flats, so the Church’s material possessions and buildings have a direct spiritual value in the gathering and saving of souls.


     Lourié ascribes the ROCOR-ROAC schism of 1995 to analogously “spiritual” economic motives, that is, the need to defend the property of the Church inside Russia against the threat to it posed by the “Act” of the 1994 Lesna Sobor, which proposed redrawing the boundaries of the Russian bishops’ dioceses in such a way as would have necessitated re-registering hundreds of parishes and church buildings, which in turn would almost certainly have led to the loss of most of those buildings to the Moscow Patriarchate. So the insistence – by most of the Russian clergy – that certain changes be made to the Act was completely natural and right. Of course, the motives of this “economic warfare” on the part of the New York Synod led by Laurus and Mark were purely political: to give them an excuse to expel the Russian bishops, who, as they well knew, having burned their bridges with the MP, would never have agreed to the Synod’s plan to unite with it.


     IV. Psychological Differences. Under this seemingly innocuous heading are concealed all the most intractable differences lying in the path of the unification of the True Orthodox Church. Lourié calls them “psychological” because he wants to emphasize that they are not fundamental, and can be overcome if only the leaders of the Churches would, if not dismiss their suspicions with regard to the other leaders, at any rate take a more strictly pragmatic view of the profit to be gained by communion with them – if they would demonstrate, in short, more Christian love. For one who, like the present writer, knows Lourié’s complete ruthlessness and lack of Christian love towards his ecclesiastical opponents, this lengthy sermon is somewhat nauseating. However, suppressing such feelings, and trying to do justice to the basic thought within it, we have to agree: if all the leaders of the Churches, and all of us True Orthodox Christians in general, were to make a determined effort to display more love towards our opponents, then all these problems would probably vanish overnight. Provided that this love is not sentimental and self-serving, and that justice and truth are not lost along the way…


     But the suspicion remains that Lourié’s concept of love does not conform with such a proviso…


     We noted, in the section on canonical differences, that Lourié divides the canonical differences between the True Orthodox jurisdictions, - which, he says, constitute 99% of their mutual accusations - into two kinds: those that relate to injustices of one kind or another, and those which involve schisms, the break-up one group of bishops into two or more sub-groups. In that section he dismissed the first kind as unimportant, but did not explain why they could be so easily dismissed. In this section, it seems, he is obliquely returning to these “unimportant” canonical grievances and trying to bury them on the grounds that it would be “unloving” to bring them up.


     But, of course, many of these accusations are important. Is it not important whether Bishop X was, or was not, a KGB agent - or a Mason? Or whether Bishop Y is, or is not, a homosexual – or a thief? Or whether Bishop Z did, nor did not, ordain a divorced man for personal advantage - or drove out another priest because he was a witness to his crimes?


     However, if bishops were allowed to raise accusations of this kind against each other, the Sobor would probably not last more than one, extremely bad-tempered hour – if it started at all.


     The question, then, is: is the attainment of unity among the True Orthodox so great a prize that we are prepared to sweep all such accusations under the carpet? Lourié would probably reply: yes, for that is what love demands. Let us examine the arguments for and against.


     V. Arguments For and Against. There can be no question that the attainment of unity is a very great prize – probably the greatest that could be given to us in the present ecclesiastical situation. Not the least of its blessings would be the creation of a Church court that would be competent to judge just such accusations as we have mentioned above and to make its verdicts stick – that is, be accepted by the Church as a whole.


      The first problem with Church courts in small jurisdictions is that it is difficult to find a sufficient number of judges to meet the requirements laid down by the holy canons. Thus according to the canons a priest must be tried by six bishops, and a bishop by twelve. And yet how many trials conforming to this requirement have been carried out in the True Orthodox Church? Only one instance springs to the mind of the present writer: the trial of Archbishop Auxentius (Pastras) of Athens in 1985, in which thirteen bishops delivered their guilty verdict.


     The second problem is that it is virtually impossible to bring a first-hierarch to trial in a small jurisdiction, because to the other bishops – especially those who owe their promotion to him - that would be like putting themselves on trial. The example of Archbishop Auxentius in 1985 again appears to be the only significant exception. And yet even there a minority of bishops refused to admit the right of the majority to bring their first-hierarch to trial.


     A third problem is that those brought to trial in a small jurisdiction will often refuse to stand before such a court, but will cite all kinds of procedural irregularities and then “jump ship” and join another jurisdiction. Thus the leaders of the Holy Transfiguration Monastery in Boston left ROCOR even before the trial against them began in December, 1986. Then, having joined the (tiny) jurisdiction of a bishop whom they knew beforehand was on their side – the already-defrocked Archbishop Auxentius again – they graciously allowed themselves to be tried by a court set up by him – with the entirely predictable verdict: “not guilty”.


     All these problems could be avoided in a united True Orthodox Church with a comparatively large number of bishops, few of whom owe their position to the patronage of the first-hierarch, and from whose judgements there is no escape in this life – except by fleeing to manifest heretics.


     A great prize indeed…


     But let us now look at the other side of the coin. That is, let us see the possible negative consequences of the convening of a Sobor of all the True Orthodox bishops in the present situation.


     A hypothetical Bishop A: “At present I know my flock, and my flock knows me. There is mutual trust and love among us. If I suppress my suspicions about Bishops X, Y and Z, this situation will change – and almost certainly for the worse. Several members of my flock joined me from the jurisdictions of X, Y and Z. When they see me concelebrating with them, they will be dismayed, and perhaps leave me. Nor will I be able to convince them by saying that Bishops X, Y and Z, whatever their personal sins, are not heretics. They did not leave the jurisdictions of Bishops X, Y and Z because they were heretics but because their personal sins were so serious and so blatant that to remain in communion with them would have been equivalent to becoming accomplices in their sins. But now I, and they through me, am becoming complicit in the sins of these bishops, in defiance of the apostle’s word: ‘Do not partake in other men’s sins: keep yourself pure’ (I Timothy 5.22). They will feel betrayed, and I will feel that I am betraying them, however much I argue with them, and with myself, about the need for unity. In other words, the small-scale but real unity that already exists will be undermined for the sake of a larger-scale, but weaker, and even chimerical, unity.


     “It is no consolation to me to argue that after the union, a spiritual court binding on all the bishops will be in existence, and I will be able to bring Bishops X, Y and Z to trial before this court. How can I rejoice in union with them around the Lord’s Table on one day, and then accuse them of the direst sins on the next? They will feel deceived, and perhaps with reason. They will say: ‘If you fostered such suspicions against us, it was your duty to express them, honestly and openly, during, and not after, the union negotiations.’ Moreover, they will refuse to allow me to be one of their judges. And the same will apply to others of my colleagues who share the same suspicions about them.


     “Let us recall what happened with our brother bishops in the Greek Old Calendarist Church. In 1986, for the sake of a greater Church unity, Archbishop Chrysostom (Kiousis) of Athens agreed to enter into communion with Metropolitan Euthymius of Thessalonica. But his flock in Thessalonica never accepted Euthymius, having a multitude of accusations against him. Nor was Chrysostom able to bring him to court, because a coterie of bishops consistently opposed him. Finally, in 1995, Euthymius fled, taking other bishops with him into schism. So the union proved to be illusory and even harmful…


     “Our Russian Church, after priding ourselves on being more stable than the Greeks for many years, now have as many, if not more divisions than they. This should be a reason for humility – and for caution. Let us learn from the mistakes of our brothers and not repeat them out of a misguided feeling that we are better than they…”


     Conclusion: The Path to True Unity. The arguments for and against seem finely balanced. On the one hand, the commandment of love and the great prize of unity requires, as Lourié rightly says, that for the sake of this goal we abandon personal prejudices, dislikes and grudges, swallow pride and ambition, and give practical, visible expression to the fact that we are indeed united in the dogmas of the Orthodox Faith (although that dogmatic unity cannot include Lourié himself unless he abandons the heresies of his that the True Orthodox are united in rejecting). On the other hand, we must be realistic and accept that unity in the truth but not in justice is an illusory unity which will fall apart immediately a serious attempt to correct injustice is made. For what value can a union of bishops have in God’s eyes if it is used by some to cover up the most glaring iniquities? How can we say that “righteousness and peace have kissed each other” (Psalm 84.10) if we win peace at the cost of perpetuating unrighteousness?


     The present writer has no ready solution to this dilemma. However, some historical parallels may provide some hope.


     First, the last True Council of the whole Russian Church, the Moscow Council of 1917-18, was also preceded by quarrels and disputes of all kinds, both dogmatic and non-dogmatic. Nor did the first two months that the Council was in session provide any relief. Paradoxically, it was the October revolution that triggered a change. One of the delegates, Metropolitan Eulogius of Paris and Western Europe, described the change thus: “Russian life in those days was like a sea tossed by the storm of revolution. Church life had fallen into a state of disorganization. The external appearance of the Council, because of the diversity of its composition, its irreconcilability and the mutual hostility of its different tendencies and states of mind, was at first matter for anxiety and sadness and even seemed to constitute a cause for apprehension… Some members of the Council had already been carried away by the wave of revolution. The intelligentsia, peasants, workers and professors all tended irresistibly to the left. Among the clergy there were also different elements. Some of them proved to be ‘leftist’ participants of the previous revolutionary Moscow Diocesan Congress, who stood for a thorough and many-sided reform of church life. Disunion, disorder, dissatisfaction, even mutual distrust… – such was the state of the Council at first. But – O miracle of God! – everything began gradually to change… The disorderly assembly, moved by the revolution and in contact with its sombre elements, began to change into something like a harmonious whole, showing external order and internal solidarity. People became peaceable and serious in their tasks and began to feel differently and to look on things in a different way. This process of prayerful regeneration was evident to every observant eye and perceptible to every participant in the Council. A spirit of peace, renewal and unanimity inspired us all…”[4]


     So the Grace of God is able to work miracles even in the most unpromising and intractable of situations so long as a critical mass of people is present who want the miracle and believe in its possibility and are prepared to take the preliminary steps to make it possible. 


     Secondly, there is the example of the First Ecumenical Council. The 318 bishops who were ordered to appear at Nicaea were far from being at peace with each other, even in non-dogmatical questions. But the emperor was not going to allow their mutual accusations to stop the attainment of the unity he so longed for, and so, before the dogmatic discussions began, he ordered all the mutual accusations to be placed in an urn in front of him, and burned…


     Although the idea of hoping in the appearance of a True Orthodox emperor to solve the problem of True Orthodox unity is anathema to the anti-monarchist Lourié, there can be no doubt that such a figure would greatly help the achievement of that unity for which he argues. For history shows that emperors have more than once provided the focus of unity for the Church when the quarrels of bishops have threatened to tear it asunder.


     Thus at the time of the Fourth Ecumenical Council St. Isidore of Pelusium declared that some “interference” by the emperors (Marcian and Pulcheria) was necessary in view of the sorry state of the priesthood: “The present hierarchs, by not acting in the same way as their predecessors, do not receive the same as they; but undertaking the opposite to them, they themselves experience the opposite. It would be surprising if, while doing nothing similar to their ancestors, they enjoyed the same honour as they. In those days, when the kings fell into sin they became chaste again, but now this does not happen even with laymen. In ancient times the priesthood corrected the royal power when it sinned, but now it awaits instructions from it; not because it has lost its own dignity, but because that dignity has been entrusted to those who are not similar to those who lived in the time of our ancestors. Formerly, when those who had lived an evangelical and apostolic life were crowned with the priesthood, the priesthood was fearful by right for the royal power; but now the royal power is fearful to the priesthood. However, it is better to say, not ‘priesthood’, but those who have the appearance of doing the priestly work, while by their actions they insult the priesthood. That is why it seems to me that the royal power is acting justly…”[5]


     Such “interference” was justified, in St. Isidore’s view, because “although there is a very great difference between the priesthood and the kingdom (the former is the soul, the latter – the body), nevertheless they strive for one and the same goal, that is, the salvation of citizens”.[6]


     So the dream of a True Orthodox tsar – not a dream only, but a future directly prophesied by several prophecies – is not only one more factor uniting the True Orthodox, but the one that may be decisive in making that unity visible in one Church jurisdiction. This is not to say that we can simply fold our hands and wait for the tsar. Rather we must raise our hands and plead for his coming – and later, perhaps, set about electing him ourselves. For, as Archbishop Theophan of Poltava said: “The Lord will have mercy on Russia for the sake of the small remnant of true believers. In Russia, the elders said, in accordance with the will of the people, the Monarchy, Autocratic power, will be re-established…”


     Through this tsar, continues the prophecy, the heretical hierarchs of the Moscow Patriarchate will be removed and a united Russian Church will be re-established. For, as St. John of Kronstadt said: “I foresee the restoration of a powerful Russia, still stronger and mightier than before. On the bones of these martyrs, remember, as on a strong foundation, will the new Russia we built - according to the old model; strong in her faith in Christ God and in the Holy Trinity! And there will be, in accordance with the covenant of the holy Prince Vladimir, a single Church!... The Church will remain unshaken to the end of the age, and a Monarch of Russia, if he remains faithful to the Orthodox Church, will be established on the Throne of Russia until the end of the age.”


     And so our present disunity will be overcome, difficult as it is to see the path to that end now. As St. Anatolius the Younger of Optina said: “A great miracle of God will be revealed. And all the splinters and wreckage will, by the will of God and His might, be gathered together and united, and the ship will be recreated in its beauty and will go along the path foreordained for it by God. That's how it will be, a miracle manifest to all...”


     Let us remind ourselves, finally, that we are talking about a true unity on the basis of the True Orthodox faith, not the false ecumenist unity offered by the Moscow Patriarchate. As Fr. Basil Redechkin writes: “In these 70 years there have been a large quantity of people who have been devoted in mind and heart to Russia, but we can still not call them the regeneration of Russia. For such a regeneration a real unity into a society is necessary. .Such a unity in fulfilment of the prophecies is possible only on the basis of true Orthodoxy. Otherwise it is in no way a regeneration. Thus even if a tsar is elected, he must unfailingly belong to the true Orthodox Church. And to this Church must belong all the people constituting a regenerated Russia…”[7]


October 4/17, 2006.

Hieromartyr Hierotheus, Bishop of Athens.


[2] “Iskazhenie dogmata 'O edinstve Tserkvi' v ispovedaniakh very Sinodom i Soborom Russkoj Pravoslavnoj Tserkvi Zagranitsej “ (Distortion of the Dogma ‘On the Unity of the Church’ in the Confessions of Faith of the Synod and Sobor of the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad) (MS) ®.

[4] Translated in Nicholas Zernov, “The 1917 Council of the Russian Orthodox Church”, Religion in Communist Lands, vol. 6, ¹ 1, 1978, p. 21.

[5] St. Isidore, Tvorenia (Works), Moscow, 1860, vol. 3, pp. 400, 410 (in Russian).

[6] St. Isidore, quoted in M.V. Zyzykin, Patriarkh Nikon, Warsaw, 1931, vol. I, p. 244 (in Russian).

[7] Redechkin, “Rossia voskresnet” (“Russia will be resurrected”), Pravoslavnaia Rus' (Orthodox Russia), ¹ 18 (1495), September 15/28, 1993, p. 11 (in Russian).