2006-05-12 14:48:00

We have come close to the moment of restoring full canonical unity between the two parts of the Russian Church

The majority of the 4th All-Diaspora Council of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia delegates has voted for a resolution expressing ‘determination to heal the wounds of the division of the Russian Church between its parts in the Fatherland and abroad’. The secretary of the Moscow Patriarchate Commission for dialogue with the ROCOR archpriest Nikolay Balashov comments on the event in his interview to Interfax-Religion.

- What is the meaning of the resolution passed by the 4th All-Diaspora Council?

- An historic event is happening before our eyes, symbolically meaning the final overcoming of the tragic consequences of the political and spiritual disaster that Russia had experienced in the 20th century. The division with our brothers of the same Orthodox faith and the same spiritual tradition has always been painful to us. I believe that the hour is near when full canonical unity and the eucharistic communion would be fully restored. As the Council’s resolution says, we shall concelebrate and take the Holy Communion together.

We welcome the Council delegates’ resolution which opens the door to a quick overcoming of the schism between the Russian Church in the Fatherland and its part abroad that lasted for over eight decades. All our people cherish it. We are convinced of that also because of the close attention of the mass media to the events in San Francisco and to the talks held earlier. This attention shows the deep interest of Russian society towards the developments. Having one Church, Russia would be stronger, wherever its children live. The unity of the Church is needed for our national revival and for rooting those spiritual values in the Motherland by which emigrants of the Civil War time stood by. Undoubtedly, the decision to restore unity brings about an historical truth, as generations of the Russian exiles and their descendants had lived by the hope for reunion.

We are near the goal that our Patriarch called a most important one in the beginning of his primatial ministry. To tell the truth, it was hard for many of us to hope for unity with the church abroad in the immediate future. We lived in an atmosphere of polemics and mutual accusations for decades. When the Church regained its freedom in the early 1990s, when the revival of church life, earlier chained by stifling limits, began, many people had expected the reunion with the church abroad soon to follow.

Unfortunately, the opening of the ROCOR parishes in Russia, the appearance of this strange ‘internal abroad’, was not only an unexpected painful blow for many, but also dispelled hopes for unity. I am happy that some speakers at the All-Diaspora Council gave a correct canonical evaluation to this development. In spite of everything, Patriarch Alexy continued to hope and pray for the reunion and address our brothers abroad. The process of dialogue moved out of a standstill in the late 2003. The Commissions’ work done for over two years was difficult, even with dramatic moments when it seemed to some of us that the goal of the unity will be prolonged indefinitely. Nevertheless, we were learning to understand and know each other. With all difficulties, we had an exciting feeling that developments occur not thanks to our intellectual capabilities, but by the will of God. We felt an ineffable joy because God vouchsafed us to participate in His work. The Patriarch has paid great and constant attention to the process of dialogue, and we have adjusted all our moves to the guidelines of the Primate of our Church.

Undoubtedly, the restoration of unity in the one Russian Church is a great and joyful event also for the world family of the Local Orthodox Churches. The Patriarchs of Georgia, Serbia and Bulgaria have clearly expressed it in their welcoming addresses. An address of the monks from Mount Athos under the jurisdiction of the Patriarch of Constantinople to the All-Diaspora Council is also testimony. We believe that this event should promote the overcoming of the divisions in the other Local Churches, for instance, in the Greek and Rumanian Churches.

- When will the final decision about the reunion of the Church Abroad with the Church in the Fatherland be taken?

- The canonical decisions, as the All-Diaspora Council delegates indicated, will be taken at the ROCOR Episcopal Council to take place next week. At the moment it is impossible to speak of the concrete dates of the act of reunion. The Commissions have done a lot of work over two years to remove the obstacles on the way to unity. All principal decisions have been taken and preliminarily approved by the hierarchs of the Moscow Patriarchate and the Church Abroad. Yet there are practical, ecclesiastical and canonical problems to be resolved. These include, for example, the ROCOR parishes on the territory of the Moscow Patriarchate, mostly in Russia and Ukraine, and the situation of certain clergymen. However, the problems could be solved in the near future, as the principal approach to their solution has been outlined.

- What will be the status of the Church Abroad after the reunion?

- The All-Diaspora Council resolution says that the ROCOR would retain its current canonical status as a self-governing part within the one Russian Church. Proper relations of this part of the church to the Moscow Patriarchate and its Primate would be restored according to the canons.

- The resolution notes that the participation of the Moscow Patriarchate in the activities of the World Council of Churches ‘causes confusion’ among the ROCOR clergymen and flock. How would you comment on it?

- As far as the relations between the Moscow Patriarchate and the World Council of Churches are concerned, opinions differ even in Russia. The authorities of our Church have repeatedly stated that we had not considered this theme closed and the matter resolved once and for all. I believe that the voice of the Russian abroad would be undoubtedly taken into consideration when this problem is further discussed. We shall resolve this problem like all other problems in our church life together. When canonical communion is restored, all ROCOR hierarchs will become members of the Bishops’ Councils of the Moscow Patriarchate and will take part in all-church decision-making.