Your Beatitude, Your Eminences and Graces, Fellow-archpastors beloved in the Lord – Participants in this Bishops’ Council of the Russian Orthodox Church!
By His mercy the Lord has again brought us together, giving us an opportunity to look back and survey the life of the Church for the last four years and to determine what we are to do in the future with the help of God.
It is especially gratifying to note that last year the Lord fulfilled one of our innermost aspirations – the restoration of unity and canonical communion with the Russian Church Abroad. I am very much delighted therefore to welcome His Eminence Metropolitan Hilarion, the First Hierarch of the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad, and her archpastors who will take part in the Bishops’ Council of the united Local Church for the first time since the signing of the Act of Canonical Communion last year.
Speaking about the life of the Church in the pre-council period, we can point out that the recent years were marked with further development of diocesan and parish life, construction of churches, social service and missionary work, as well as educational efforts and ecclesiastical cultivation of the Orthodox soil. Special attention was given to education of the younger generation, strengthening of the family, preservation of the spiritual heritage, Orthodox creative work and the Church’s dialogue with the state and society, i.e., workers in sciences, education and arts, and to building peace and harmony.
At the same time it should be realized that the modern secular conscience guided as it is by the ideals of consumer society – with its thirst for gratification of sometimes vile passions and instincts, its belief in the total power of money, its religion of material wealth and its efforts to cultivate itself for the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does (1 Jn. 2:16) – resists accepting the truth of Christ and rejects the Revelation of the Gospel. It opposes its secularized understanding of human ‘rights’ and ‘freedoms’ to the Christian teaching of personal freedom and dignity. This understanding however, justifying manifestations of human sinful nature and using the protection of liberal freedoms as its cover, is fraught with a danger of rupture with moral laws and gives violations of the gospel’s commandments an appearance of legality.
The Church should be ready to meet this challenge and to fulfill the words of Christ, Go ye therefore, and teach all nations... to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you (Mt. 28:19-20). This is why it is so important that the Church should preach addressing the world and all her faithful should seek the spirit of apostleship and be zealous in bearing witness to the Truth. This requires highly professional theological and cultural level of missionary, catechetical and educational programs. And the Church has accumulated an enormous human and intellectual potential to do this as the clergy and the laity, working in good cooperation, have done much with God’s help in recent years for the regeneration of Orthodoxy in our countries. But what remains the most important thing in the preaching of the Word of God are our faith, our personal devotion and our own works. It is this that makes us the salt of the earth (Mt. 5:13). It is this that makes us the light of the world (Mt. 5:14), the candle that, once alight, cannot be put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all (Mt. 5:15). Let us work then with assiduity, in one mind and peace (2 Cor. 13:11), trusting in the Divine grace, which heals that which is infirm and completes what is wanting.
We should remember and draw strength from the fact that the Church has always been able to cope with internal disorders and vacillations brought in by those who were not fully initiated and enlightened, who showed zeal of God, but not according to knowledge, who sometimes isolated themselves from the life of the Church whose Head is Christ. It is about these people who in their pride oppose themselves to the Mother Church and sow eschatological panic around them that already St. John said, They went out from us, but they were not of us (1 Jn. 2:19).
We hope that with the all-powerful help of God the actions of our Bishops’ Sacred Council will become a valuable contribution to our further work for building church life. I call upon you all, dear Brothers in the Lord, to take an active part in the work of the Council thus helping to make it a success for the glory of God and the benefit of our Holy Orthodox Church.
We are to work at this Council to give answers to the questions that time has posed for us today. These are such important topics as consolidation of church unity and opposition to pernicious divisions, human dignity in the context of the globalization and attempts to impose the secular understanding of human rights, development and adoption of a provision for ecclesiastical court and development of the informational work of the Church. All this should be reflected in the final documents of the Council.
Most Reverend Archpastors, have the same love, be of one accord, of one mind (Phil. 2:2). May we at this Council show our unity to the external world. Only being assembled with one accord (cf. Acts 15:25), we will be able to adopt several final documents which will benefit the Church and the people of God. The future of the Church and the moral climate in society will depend in many ways on the credibility of our pastoral word addressed to the millions-strong Orthodox flock.
We hope that the All-merciful Lord will give us all strength in our work ahead. May the spirit of the Lord shall rest upon us, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the Lord (Is. 11:2).
I declare the 2008 Bishops’ Council open.
June 24, 2008