The Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia (ROCOR) has held its final meeting before the Act of Canonical Communion will be in Moscow on May 17. What were the meeting’s results? Has the Church Outside of Russia changed her attitude to the Moscow Patriarchate’s involvement in the WCC? With what feelings the church delegation from outside of Russia prepares its Moscow visit? The secretary of the ROCOR commission for negotiations with the Moscow Patriarchate Archpriest Alexander Lebedev answers these and other questions in his interview to Interfax-Religion.
- Father, how do you evaluate the results of the recent ROCOR Synod meeting?
- The meeting’s main objective was to finish the preparatory work before signing the Act of Canonical Communion that will take place in Christ the Savior Cathedral, Moscow, on May 17. We decided to approve the text of the document and to send to the Russian capital city a delegation led by Metropolitan Laur. We also regularized the situation of some clergy who had left the ROCOR for the Moscow Patriarchate. The meeting participants were in high mood and waiting for the church unity being reestablished soon.
We also decided that the Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia would be remembered in our liturgical prayers before the ROCOR primate. This was approved by the Synod’s special resolution.
The Synod accepted new liturgical forms of prayer for Russia. Today different forms of prayer exist in our different parishes. Some pray for a ‘suffering country Russia’, some for a ‘much-suffering country of Russia.’ Now the Synod decided that there should be a prayer ‘for the God-preserved country of Russia.’ We used to pray for the persecuted Russia but since persecutions have stopped, it is no longer convenient to call the country as ‘suffering.’ I’d like to stress that when we passed the resolution we felt no pressure from the Moscow Patriarchate. It was our own decision aimed at unification of the form of prayer for Russia among our parishes. However, the unified form of prayer has not yet become obligatory. The Synod expressed its willingness but it is diocesan bishops who will legislate for their parishes on the matter.
- What is your attitude to ecumenism as to the Moscow Patriarchate’s involvement with the World Council of Churches that has often been critisized by the ROCOR?
- We are satisfied with the Moscow Patriarchate signing a document in which it denounced all harmful sides of ecumenism, such as syncretism, common liturgical prayer with the non-Orthodox, and everything that may blur Orthodox ecclesiology. Of course most our fellow churchmen would welcome Moscow Patriarchate leaving the World Council of Churches because we regard its involvement with the WCC as confusing. Yet the reasons for this involvement have become much clearer to us. We realize that it is based not upon a desire to share in non-Orthodox prayers or a belief that there are other Churches besides the One Church. The Russian Orthodox Church as the world’s biggest Orthodox Church seeks leadership at international forums. If she leaves the WCC, the Orthodox representation will be assumed by the Patriarchate of Constantinople and the voice of the Russian Orthodox Church will remain unheard. We believe this is a serious reason for the Moscow Patriarchate to remain involved with the WCC at least for some time.
I’d like to note that the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia is never going to participate in the WCC even after it enters into canonical communion with the Church in Russia. We will stay aside of that and continue opposing ecumenism in the Orthodox world as we have always done. Our attitude to the ecumenical movement has remained generally unchanged.
- Will the constitution of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia change after the Act is signed?
- After it is signed, there will be some amendments in the ROCOR constitution. This matter was discussed by the Council of Bishops last year, which suggested a draft set of amendments finally approve by the recent Synod meeting.
- After the reunion, may cultural differences make a serious obstacle for the normal fellowship between the Russian people and Russians outside of Russia?
- Those who were brought up and shaped outside of Russia and never lived in the Soviet Union have a mentality different from that of the modern people in Russia. However, we in diaspora have always tried to preserve our Russianness, Russian Orthodox spirit, language and culture, the Church being very helpful for that. Generally, the experience of living outside of Russia has taught us a lot. We often serve in a non-Orthodox context so we have to work harder to preserve our national and cultural identity, our Orthodoxy. The Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia has a rich spiritual heritage. We hope we’ll have a chance to share it with our compatriots who survived the Soviet persecutions of the Church, but also a possibility to better understand sufferings experienced by the Orthodox Church in Russia.
As for the church language, we have no differences. There are some minor variations in the church offices, but it is a question of practice and does not touch the essence of worship. If a believer from Russia visits, say, the United States and comes to one of our churches, he will hardly notice any difference.
I think the difference in understanding of some things exists rather as a shell while the essence is identical. The Russian Orthodox worldview is the same both in our mother country and outside of it.
- How many believers, parishes and churches are there in the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia today?
- We have nearly 400 parishes in 40 countries, most of them being in North America, Europe and Australia, and some in South America. The ROCOR monasteries exist in the Holy Land, there a community in North Korea, some parishes in Mexico and other countries. As for practicing believers, they possibly number 60,000 to 100,000.
- What thoughts and feelings with do the delegates of the Church Outside of Russia have as they prepare to come to Moscow?
- We are in the anxious expectation of the moment when church unity be reestablished. It is like waiting for an Easter night when all have their candles lit and await the Royal Door open and the Easter night office start. After being involved in the talks for several years, I pray that we make our flight to Moscow safely and complete the healing of wounds of division between Russians in Russia and outside of her. I think any obstacle to reestablishment of our canonical communion are already removed or are being overcome.