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Perfect Endings, Part One
Fr. George Johnson

“Of all perfection I have seen the outcome.” Ps 118:96


Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

I am no world-traveler. In fact, I tend not to go anywhere except under compelling need. Until this pilgrimage to Moscow, I had never been east of St. John’s, New Brunswick province in Canada, never west of California, and fewer times than the fingers of one hand had I been west of the Mississippi. I was entirely content with the upcoming unification of the Church, since it was the natural fulfillment of the 80-year yearning of the Church of the Diaspora to be one with the Church in the homeland, and the conditions were fully ripened. Being thus content, I was happy to wait at home upon the result and felt no inner compulsion to go, especially since I am not Russian.

Then suddenly something changed inside. I found myself saying at trapeza one Sunday in January, “I think I should go.” It became personally necessary for me not to miss this once-in-a-lifetime event of the greatest significance for the Church. It also became necessary because I am not Russian. Since I had been Orthodox, I had watched crowds of American converts poisoning Orthodoxy with the “good old” American way of religion: when in doubt, there is no doubt, make a new Church and condemn the one you came from. This is not a uniquely American quality, of course, as we know from the old joke about the Russian-Australian émigré who builds for himself a town with two churches in it. Simply, it was time for me to not be part of the stay-at-home, silent majority. It was time for me to leave no doubt in anyone’s mind that this American priest firmly stood with and for what our Bishops have decided.

With inner determination then, I set about preparing for the trip. To those with travel experience, this grim approach may seem laughable, but it turned out to be necessary. Even though I began the process in plenty of time, I found myself pressing and pushing through one little problem after another (including my initial passport saying I was a female), which added up to not getting my Visa till the Wednesday five days before it was time to go. I’ve been Orthodox long enough to realize that a crowd of small temptations can show that one is doing the right thing, and so it proved.
On Sunday evening, the drive to New York was passed very pleasantly in the company of Archpriest Father Victor Potapov, Protodeacon Father Leonid Mikhailichenko (my Godfather) and a couple whom I hadn’t met before, Theodore and Sophia Allison, all from St. John’s and in St. John’s church van. After a night in a hotel about an hour south of town, we rode into the city and into the Synod headquarters parking space in time to participate in a prayer service for our travels with many of the other pilgrims, including Metropolitan Laurus, Archbishop Kyrill, Bishop Michael and the All-ROCOR choir. I was one of the serving priests for the moleben, marking the first time for me, both to be in and to serve in the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Sign, the home of the Protectress of the Diaspora, the Mother of God, the Kursk Root Icon of the Sign. After this, in a brief message during the light luncheon, Metropolitan Laurus enjoined us all to reflect on the importance of the step we were about to be a part of and to let that awareness inform and sober our actions on the journey.

After we rose from the meal and gave thanks, I made my way toward Father Andre Popkov and his daughter, Irena to greet them. They were sharing a cell phone call and as I approached, Ira came out with the news that her grandfather, Mitered Archpriest Father Roman Lukianov, had just reposed. While it was general knowledge that Father Roman was gravely ill and was not expected to live much longer, the news was still a lightning stroke. This was the priest who took second place to no one in his early and clear understanding of the need to fulfill the path of ROCOR and move toward the unity of the Russian Church. He recalled and remarked for the rest of us, that our beloved founding Arch-Pastors intended for this movement to begin directly upon the collapse of the Soviet government. Repeatedly through the years that followed this collapse, he spared no effort to keep ROCOR from going off on tangents from this path, caring nothing for the contumely that might be heaped on him. Once in a general meeting of diocesan clergy, I witnessed his struggle as he made his points amid shouting attempts to silence him.

At first, it seemed painfully poignant that Fr. Roman would not see the culmination of that to which he had given so much. However, while singing the canon for the departure of the soul on his behalf in the Saint Sergius chapel, another perspective dawned. How perfect can it get? Here we were, all together just before going to the airport. At what other time would so many people from so many places who shared Father Roman’s vision of the Church’s high calling be in one place, and all of one mind praying at once with rapt attention for the repose of his soul? Eternal memory for his priesthood, his life, and, in his latter years, for his Moses-like vision of the promised land of Church unity in which we may surely hope that he will rejoice on high.

Beginning at Kennedy Airport and throughout the 9-hour flight to Moscow, there was constant getting acquainted and re-acquainted. I sat between one of the choir’s tenors from Toronto and the daughter of Priest Paul Bassett of St. George’s in Cincinnati, who sat across the aisle with his matushka. (Father gave us a set of communion veils at the start of the mission.) Nearly everyone on the plane was on the pilgrimage. Flying is pretty much of an anxiety producer these days, but tension is lessened a lot if you can go through it with a friend. Multiply that by 200 and you can get an idea what the atmosphere on the plane was like. Through the long flight, fatigue never seemed to take hold of the whole crowd. People dozed from time to time (including me, so I can’t say much about what happened then), but it seemed that most of the people were active, moving back and forth in the aisles to see or meet others and conversing.

Far into the evening (or was it next day?), probably just prior to his own resting time, the Metropolitan came out from the front cabin and went down one aisle and back the other, blessing and chatting briefly with each one of us. Being among us, touching us, smiling on us, Vladyka Laurus put the seal on the reality of our ROCOR Church family, of which he is the loving and benevolent father. The sense of this was palpable. It can be seen in the photographs. Here we were, all together, under his guidance and the guidance of all our bishops, doing the will of the Lord.

After we landed in Moscow, the significance of our trip for Russia was immediately apparent. Rows of people with journalistically purposed cameras and microphones lined our way to the buses and various of our people were pausing for short interviews. One can scarcely imagine this sort of media interest in religion at home, except perhaps for the Pope or Billy Graham, or over some clergy scandal. This sort of reception, repeated throughout our time there, points to a central fact of Russian life. Even after three generations of persecution and suppression, the Orthodox Church is surging towards its central place in Russian society, just as water seeks its own level. Individual motives get attached to this resurgent life and are played up by nay-sayers who seek to explain away the phenomenon. But the void in the Russian heart hewed out during the Bolshevik-Communist interregnum is undeniably being filled according to God’s purpose. This I witnessed and want to witness to.

To Be Continued...

The Path of the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad -- Observations and Thoughts of an Elder Priest
The Newly-Reposed Fr. Roman Lukianov

In connection with the recent turmoil within the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad, I think it would be beneficial to share certain observations and reflections. Recently there has been much talk about the path followed by the ROCA. Now it has become obvious that the «straight» path which some people refer to, has led in the end to a schism within the ROCA. This schism has been ripening over many years. In order to understand what is going on, one should look first of all at the Guideposts that actually have determined the course of the ROCA throughout its history.

The First Guidepost was Ukaz (Decree) No. 362 of Patriarch Tikhon, dated
Nov. 20, 1920, paragraph 2: «In the event that a diocese, as a result of movement of the front lines, or changes of state borders, finds itself out of communication with the highest church authority, or that the highest church authority itself, headed by the Holy Patriarch, for some reason terminates its activity, the diocesan bishop should immediately contact the bishops of the adjacent dioceses in order to organize a higher level of church administration for several dioceses which find themselves in similar circumstances (in the form of a temporary church government or a metropolitan district, or in some other way)».

This Ukaz was formulated at the time of the Civil War in Russia, whose consequence was the departure abroad of a sizeable lay flock (estimated at over a million), and of a substantial number of clergy and bishops.

The Second Guidepost on the path of the ROCA were the early Sobors (Councils) of Bishops Abroad, presided over by Metropolitan Anthony {Khrapovitsky): the First Sobor in Constantinople in 1920, in which 34 bishops participated in person or in writing; the First Sobor of representatives of the entire ROCA, held in the town of Sremskii Karlovtsi in Serbia in 1921; and the Sobor of Bishops Abroad on September 13, 1922, which estabilished a Temporary Synod of Bishops, based on the above-quoted Ukaz No. 362 of Patriarch Tikhon. At those Sobors, which led to the formal establishment of the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad, were represented parishes in Europe, the Balkans, the Near and Far East, North and South America, including the soon-to-be-separated Metropolitan Districts: one known as the Paris Metropolia, presently under the Patriarch of Constantinople, and the other known today as the Orthodox Church in America in the USA.

The Third Guidepost was the Resolution of the Sobor of Bishops of the ROCA, in September of 1927, which rejected the Declaration of Metropolitan Sergius and defined the following rule: «The part of the All-Russian Church located abroad must cease all administrative relations with the church administration in Moscow until restoration of normal relations with Russia and until the liberation of our Church from persecutions by the godless Soviet Authorities. The part of the Russian Church that finds itself abroad considers itself an inseparable, spiritually united branch of the Great Russian Church. It does not separate itself from its Mother Church and does not consider itself autocephalous.» This Resolution makes it clear that the emigre Hierarchs, while rejecting what later became known as «Sergianism», did not separate the part of the church that was abroad from that in the homeland, thus showing compassion to those who did not withstand the terror. At about that time evolved the concept of the three parts of the Russian Church: the «Church enslaved», that is, the Moscow Patriarchate; the «Catacomb Church», i.e, the secret, persecuted, underground Church of confessors within the borders of the Soviet Union; and the «Russian Orthodox Church Abroad», which was the free voice of the whole Russian Church.

The Fourth Guidepost was the adoption of the Temporary Polozheniye (Fundamental Law) of the ROCA by the General Sobor of Bishops on September
22-24, 1936. Its first paragraph states: «The Russian Orthodox Church Abroad, which consists of dioceses, spiritual missions, and parishes outside Russia, is an inseparable part of the Russian Orthodox Church, which exists temporarily under autonomous administration». This Sobor, in effect, established an orderly administrative leadership of the ROCA for the entire period of its independent existence.

The Fifth Guidepost is defined by the Reply of the Blessed Metropolitan
Anastassy in 1945, and of the Bishops' Sobor in Munich in 1946, in response to the address of the Patriarch of Moscow Aleksey I, who called for reunification after the Second World War. During this terrible period of manhunts by Soviet agents for displaced persons and non-returnees all across Western Europe, Metropolitan Anastassy, reasserting the necessity for the continued existence of independent ROCA, writes: «The bishops, the clergy and the laymen, subordinate to the jurisdiction of the Synod of Bishops Abroad, never broke canonical, prayer, or spiritual unity with their Mother Church.» The Sobor of Bishops in its message, writes to the Patriarch of Moscow: «We trust that, on the bones of martyrs a new free Russia will arise, strong in Orthodox truth and brotherly love; then all of her scattered sons, without any pressure or force, but freely and joyfully, will strive to return from all over into her maternal embrace. Recognizing our unbroken spiritual bonds with our homeland, we sincerely pray to the Lord that he may speedily heal the wounds inflicted upon our homeland by
this heavy, although victorious, war, and bless it with peace and well-being.» This message was signed by Metropolitan Anastassy, three archbishops, and ten bishops.

The Sixth Guidepost, and probably the most important one in our days, is
the Corporate Charter in the USA of our Church Abroad, which was signed by
its most prominent Hierarchs, Metropolitan Anastassy, Archbishop Vitaly
(Maximenko), Archbishop Tikhon, Archbishop Hieronim, Bishop Seraphim, and
Bishop Nikon, and registered in the State of New York on April 30th, 1952.
It states:

«II. The principal aim and purpose of the corporation shall be to provide
for the administration of dioceses, missions, monasteries, churches and parishes of the Russian Orthodox Church, which are located in the United States of America, the Dominion of Canada and other countries which are outside of the Soviet Union and the satellites of the Soviet Union, but including dioceses, missions, monasteries and churches which recognise the corporation as the supreme ecclesiastical authority over them.

«III. The corporation in its corporate functions and operation, and all of its trustees and officers, shall maintain no relations whatever with the Russian ecclesiastical authorities and organizations within the boundaries of the Soviet Union and the satellites of the Soviet Union, so long as the said countries, or any of them, shall be subject to Communist rule.»

Further on, the next paragraph of the Charter refers to Ukaz #362 of Patriarch Tikhon of November 20, 1920, and its acceptance by the Sobor of Bishops on November 24, 1936. This demonstrates that Metropolitan Anastassy and all Bishops, signatories of the Charter, just as, in their time, Metropolitan Anthony and the founding Bishops of the Russian Church Abroad, accepted the fact that the validity of the Ukaz of Patriarch Tikhon, which, in effect, is his Patriarchal Blessing, is limited in time. In turn, they also Blessed the time-limited independent existence of the Russian Church Abroad until the fall of the communist regime.

The Seventh Guidepost is again the Polozheniye (Fundamental Law) of the
Russian Church Abroad, revised and approved by the Sobor of Bishops, presided over by Metropolitan Anastassy, in 1956. Its paragraph #1 states: «The Russian Orthodox Church Abroad is an inseparable part of the Local (Pomestnoy) Orthodox Church, temporarily self-governing until the fall in Russia of the godless authorities, in compliance with the Decision of Holy Patriarch Tikhon and the Highest Church Council of the Church in Russia of 7 /20 November 1920, #362.» The same Paragraph is repeated word for word in the Polozheniye, reviewed and re-approved in 1964.

In 1956, the reply of Metropolitan Anastassy was reprinted by Holy Trinity Monastery. The same themes were voiced by Archbishop Vitaly (Maximenko) of blessed memory, in his work «Motifs of My Life». Archbishop Andrew (Fr.Adrian) used to refer to the Church Abroad as a temporarily self-governing Diocese of the Russian Church. Holy Archbishop John of Shanghai and San Francisco wrote: «The Russian Church Abroad does not separate itself spiritually from the suffering Mother Church. She offers up prayers for her, preserves her spiritual and material wealth, and in due time will reunite with her, when the reasons which have caused the separation will have vanished.» Similar statements were made by many other archpastors, priests and writers in the church press. It is from them that our generation, which came into the Church after the end of the Second World War in 1945, has acquired the understanding of the temporary existence of the independent Russian Church Abroad until the liberation of Russia from the Communist yoke. The calls of Metropolitans Anastassy and Philaret of blessed memory to abstain even from conventional contacts with the representatives of the Moscow Patriarchate had to do with the period of the 1960s and 1970s, when the Soviet government began to use the Church for its own ends througout the Western world. And Metropolitan Vitaly was completely correct when he said that we cannot declare that the Church in
Russia is without Grace, but certain specific deeds of its clergy, performed on orders of the godless authorities in order to harm the Church, are, of course, graceless.

In 1991 the Communist regime fell and the totalitarian Soviet state ceased
to exist. The leftovers of the Soviet mentality and even of the State government still remain, but the country and the Church consider themselves free and feel free, and there is no more party ideology to interfere with Church communications. Therefore, with the fall of the Soviet government and cessation of terror in 1991, there also ended the time span, blessed by Holy Patriarch Tikhon and the founding Archpastors of the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad for the existence of ROCA as a separate entity.

The Path marked by the abovementioned Guideposts began to be subtly changed with the secret (and canonically questionable) consecration of Bishop
Varnava (Barnabas) in about 1984. A new ideology began to be evident, subtly but deeply russophobic. Under the guise of restoring the arch-pastorate of the Catacomb Church, new church bodies began to be created within Russia, subordinate to the Church Abroad. The old Catacomb Church, which was highly respected as the Church of true confessors, was soon forgotten. The new ideology promoted the idea that the Russian Church Abroad is the only true Church, and the bearer of the restoration of the Church in Russia. This led to estrangement and unnecessary confrontations between the Russian Church Abroad and the Mother Church, and then to a strange set of attitudes and actions on the part of some ROCA bishops, first in Russia, and more recently abroad. Now that these bishops and their followers have expelled themselves from the Church Abroad and created their own church organizations, the Church Abroad has regained freedom of opinion and an opportunity to return to the path blessed by Holy Patriarch Tikhon and the Founding First Hierarchs and Archpastors of blessed memory.

The new obstacles to normal relations that have been brought forward within our Church Abroad, such as the absence of repentance, failure to glorify
the Royal New Martyrs, Sergianism, and participation in the ecumenical movement, have today ceased to be insurmountable. Back in 1993 His Holiness, Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia, Alexey II and the Holy Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church proclaimed, before God and the Russian people, repentance for the sin of regicide. Their Epistle on the 75th anniversary of the murder of Emperor Nicholas II and his family states:
«With augmented prayer and great pain in our hearts we commemorate this sad
Anniversary. The sin of regicide, which took place amid the indifference of the citizens of Russia, has not been repented of by our people. Being a transgression of both the law of God and civil law, this sin weighs extremely heavily upon the souls of our people, upon its moral conscience. And today, on behalf of the whole Church, on behalf of her children, both reposed and living, we proclaim repentance before God and the people for this sin. Forgive us, O Lord! We call to repentance all of our people, all of our children, regardless of their political views and opinions about history, regardless of their attitude toward the idea of Monarchy and the personality of the last Russian Tsar. Repentance of the sin committed by our forefathers should become for us a banner of unity. May today’s sad date unite us in prayer with the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad, with whom we so sincerely desire restoration of spiritual unity in faithfulness to the Spirit of Christ... .» The call was, unfortunately, ignored.

The Royal New Martyrs were glorified, and Sergianism and ecumenism
rejected, by the Jubilee Sobor of Bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church in the year 2000. Sergianism, being in fact not a doctrine but a mode of behavior, was rejected in the chapter «Fundamental Conceptions of Society» in the published Acts of the Sobor, and ecumenism in the chapter «Fundamental Principles of Relations of the Orthodox Church to the Heterodox.» n October of 2001, in his «Brotherly Epistle to the Sobor of Bishops of the Russian Church Abroad,» His Holiness, Patriarch Alexey II again called for mutual forgiveness and restoration of liturgical communion. The answer of the ROCA Sobor of Bishops was only mildly encouraging.

Just as in the Church in Russia the veneration of the Royal New Martyrs was widely practiced by believers long before their official glorification, so it is that parishioners of the Church Abroad, when they visit Russia, pray, confess, and partake of Holy Communion in their beloved churches and monasteries of the Moscow Patriarchate, and have humbly done so for many years, without making an issue of it. And after visiting Russia, many of our clergy, including American converts to Orthodoxy, state in private conversations that those who say there is no Grace in the churches of the Moscow Patriarchate do not know what they are talking about. As no one has wanted to provoke the ill winds of dissension within our ranks, it has been customary not to make such observations publicly. However, now that the bearers of ill winds have expelled themselves from the Church, showing no respect for anyone including the Sobor of Bishops, the possibility has arisen again, and perhaps for the last time, of restoring God-pleasing spiritual unity and normal relations with the whole Mother Church.

Sinful individuals and bad deeds have always existed, exist now, and will continue to exist both there, in Russia, and here in our midst. But a division which was lawful, must not be allowed to evolve into sectarian schism, a
phenomenon much discussed and feared by many of our priests and parishioners, both Russians and Americans. If the Russian Church Abroad is
allowed to become «a broken-off vine», it will be doomed to a slow but inevitable drying out, an atrophy from which no collection of selected quotations from the Canons will save us. On the other hand, the restoration of Eucharistic and Canonical unity with the Mother Church, with an autonomous administration of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia, appears to be the natural next Guidepost in the current History of the Church of the Great Russian Exodus into Diaspora.

December 11, 2001. Boston
New Martyr Metropolitan Seraphim (Chichagov), of St. Petersburg.

(Translated and revised by the Author)
Archpriest Roman Lukianov
A Letter from Fr.George on his pilgrimage to Russia

Unification of the Russian Church
May 9/22, 2007
St. Nicholas, St. Christopher

Dear Brothers and Sisters of Holy Apostles Orthodox Church,

Wednesday the 23rd at 7 PM we will gather for our customary prayers before the Mother of God, healer of cancer, for the healing of the sick. After this, we will pray a prayer of Thanksgiving for the Unity of the Russian Orthodox Church accomplished during the just-completed pilgrimage to Moscow.

The petition in the great litany for the “good estate of the holy churches of God, and the union of all” has had special poignancy within the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia. For generations, Soviet oppression and subversion of the good purposes of the Church in the Russian homeland by the God-hating authorities thwarted the fulfillment of this God-given desire. But at length in God’s own time, we are now witnesses to His merciful and clear answer to our prayer.

The evil one and enemy of our salvation has known that this day would come, and he has done everything he can to sow seeds of discord within our Church so as to prevent, if possible, our unity as one Russian Church from becoming fact. The Holy Apostle John tells us that the enemy will turn the heads of many to follow after this or that deception. And so we see in the midst of these days of blessedness people conspiring against their bishops, priests counting as nothing their oaths to their bishops and leading others astray from God’s path because of rumor, half-truth, supposition, unsubstantiated accusation, failure to measure up to false standards of perfection, overemphasis of isolated instance, or artificial constructs and conditions for union that were never in the minds of our ever-memorable arch-pastors who established our temporary administration eight decades ago. We pray when we prepare for receiving the Holy Mysteries that we not fall into the net of the deceiver. We need especially to pray for ourselves and for each other to remain safe within the fold of Christ’s flock.

To put into words the experience of participating in the pilgrimage to Moscow together with our bishops and about 600 of our brothers and sisters is not possible, any more than it is possible to put into words the fullness of any of God’s mysteries. In this case I must speak, however, because, even though the clouds of sin afflict my sight, such light as I have seen must be shown to others because silence would be betrayal indeed. The Orthodox Faith was brought to birth in me by the example of the New Martyrs and Confessors of Russia; it is not too much to say that the blood of the New Martyrs is the foundation of my faith. I know this is true for many others. Therefore, to pray with my fathers, brothers and sisters in this faith upon the very soil saturated with the blood and inter-penetrated with the bone-dust of these same New Martyrs during the Divine Liturgy at Butovo is to have a new world of the meaning of my faith opened to me.

As God allows, I hope to continue with the attempt to bring out everything I can about this wonderful pilgrimage following the Thanksgiving moleben Wednesday evening.  God willing, we will see each other then.

In Christ,

Father George

 
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