An interview with Metropolitan Kirill (tipped to be in the running for next Patriarch) about Russian Church unity. He talks about the Russian Church Abroad and about the situation in Europe (which will interest the Europeans on the Forum.)
Sorry it is a bit lengthy. I am not able to provide a website for reading.
Sourozh, No. 99, February 2005, pp. 12-23
Metropolitan Kirill of Smolensk and Kaliningrad
IT IS OUR URGENT DUTY TO RESTORE CHURCH UNITY
The following interview, with its introduction, is taken from the Parisian Russian-language weekly, Russkaia Mysl', No. 40 (4-10 November 2004). It will be clear from the introduction and the interview itself that there very strongly held and opposing opinions held within the Archdiocese of Russian Orthodox Parishes in Western Europe (Ecumenical Patriarchate).
Metropolitan Kirill of Smolensk and Kaliningrad, chairman of the Department of External Church Relations, was in France at the end of October on the occasion of the opening of a new parish of the Russian Orthodox Church (Moscow Patriarchate) in Bordeaux.
The French journalist Victor Loupan, well known for his many reports about Russia in Le Figaro Magazine, met him in Paris on 24 October. Victor Loupan is a member of the 'Movement for Local Orthodoxy of the Russian Tradition in Western Europe' (OLTR), which was established in France in 2003 soon after the well known epistle of Alexis II, Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia (Russkaia Mysl' No. 4451). This epistle was addressed to the diocesan bishops of the West European dioceses of the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC)) and the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia (ROCOR), to the Archdiocese of Russian Orthodox Parishes in Western Europe (under the jurisdiction of the Ecumenical Patriarch) and to all parishes of the Russian tradition in Western Europe. In it the head of the Russian Church proposed the unification of all these dioceses into one single metropolitan constituency, which would have wide powers of autonomy, but would canonically be part of the Moscow Patriarchate.
The epistle of Alexis II was received in Paris after the death of Archbishop Sergii and a month before the election of a new ruling bishop for the Archdiocese, Archbishop Gabriel, who then took on canonical oversight over the parishes under the jurisdiction of the Ecumenical Patriarch. The epistle was received with misgivings (Russkaia Mysl', Nos. 4452 and 4453).
On the one hand, a group of lay Orthodox, which was to come together as the Movement for Local Orthodoxy of the Russian Tradition in Western Europe (OLTR), warmly supported the suggestion by Patriarch Alexis II and asked for widespread discussions concerning it within the Archdiocese. This was the intention of the two discussion forums that took place on 1 February and 25 April 2004 (Russkaia Mysl', No. 4502). Members of the movement insisted that now, when 'the Mother-Church has become free, we must return to it to be faithful to our inheritance and to preserve the canonical structure of Orthodox Churches in the diaspora' (Seraphim Rehbinder, Chairman of the Movement).
On the other hand, many lay Orthodox and clergy of the Archdiocese are convinced that, following the emigration of the twentieth century, the Orthodox are no longer purely 'Eastern', and that a local Orthodox Church is emerging in Western Europe, for all members, not depending on their national origins and the language of services. They regard the path forward towards a canonical structure for the Orthodox Church in Western Europe to lie in support of the work of the Assembly of the Orthodox bishops of France, and they consider that for the establishment of a local Orthodox Church in Western Europe there is no need for the union of Russian parishes in a metropolitan region within the Moscow Patriarchate (cf. Russkaya Mysl', No. 4513 and the reply to it by OLTR in No. 4518).
In his interview for Russkaya Mysl' His Grace Metropolitan Kirill, a permanent member of the Holy Synod of the Moscow Patriarchate, recalls that the appeal of Patriarch Alexis of 1 April 2003 is still in force. He speaks of his work with His Grace Archbishop Sergii of blessed memory on the possibility of organising the structure of Orthodoxy of the Russian tradition in Western Europe, and of the present relationship between the ROC and the new head of the Archdiocese, Archbishop Gabriel.
In our opinion, this exclusive interview with Metropolitan Kirill casts light on many questions that have arisen in the polemic taking place within our Archdiocese, and is especially important in that it reflects the official position of the Moscow Patriarchate.
* * *
Q: Your Grace, a Bishops' Council of the Russian Orthodox Church was recently held in Moscow, and its proceedings were carefully followed overseas. Of course a very important topic was the discussion on the rapprochement with the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia (ROCOR). But we noted as well that the Council also expressed its concern 'regarding the canonical divisions of those Orthodox believers in the diaspora, who identify their Church life with the spiritual traditions of Russian Orthodoxy, and who are not involved in the process of reconciliation between the Moscow Patriarchate and ROCOR'.
A: Discussion of this theme at the Council was at the initiative of His Holiness. His Holiness the Patriarch said that the divisions between the Church at home and the Russian diaspora were a tragic consequence of the revolution and civil war in Russia. This applies both to the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia and to that part of the Russian diaspora which is now part of the Paris Exarchate. But surely now all those political reasons for division have been consigned to history. This is why His Holiness Patriarch Alexis pointed out that the reunification of the Church was an urgent duty. One should also realise that this question is bound up with another subject of great importance, that of the spiritual unity of the Russian people. We must overcome the effects of the civil war! It was in this context that His Holiness recalled his epistle of 1 April 2003 to the Orthodox of the Russian tradition in Western Europe.
Q: Does this mean that the epistle of] April 2003 is still in force? There are some here who say that with the death of Metropolitan Anthony, to whom the Patriarch wished to entrust the work of unification, and since negotiations with ROCOR have taken their own path, the proposals of the Patriarch are no longer relevant. How do they fit with the negotiations with ROCOR?
A: The Patriarch's epistle reflects our fundamental vision for the future of the Russian diaspora throughout the world and in particular in Western Europe. In that sense the document is of permanent significance. We shall not renounce -- and have no intention of renouncing -- the fundamental principles expressed in the epistle. Its general outlook is shared by our brothers in the Russian Church Outside Russia. However, they consider that at present their West European flock would prefer to re-establish eucharistic unity with the Church in Russia, whilst remaining within the organisational framework of ROCOR, as it has developed thus far.
Q: When, in your opinion, can we hope that eucharistic unity will take place between the Moscow Patriarchate and the Russian Church Outside Russia? And will this mean the restoration of jurisdictional unity?
A: The recent Bishops' Council approved the work that has been achieved so far by the commissions of the Moscow Patriarchate and the Russian Church Outside Russia. Thus far the task has not been completed. It assumes further clarification of the conditions for eucharistic and canonical unity. We anticipate that ROCOR, structured as it is now, will become a self-governing part of a single Russian Orthodox Church. How at a later stage the relationship of the existing parallel organisational structures in Western Europe, in America and in other parts of the world will develop, only time will show. It is not worthwhile trying to determine everything in advance.
As to the time scale for establishment of eucharistic unity one can say the following: if members of the Bishops' Council had not felt optimistic on this score, they would not have given the Holy Synod the powers to deal with this canonical question, and would have suggested that we return to this issue in four years time, when, according to our Statutes, there is to be another Council.
Q: In your opinion, what does this mean for the West European Exarchate as the other branch of the Russian ecclesial presence in the West?
A: I think that success in rapprochement between the Russian Orthodox Church and the Russian Church Outside Russia will be source of inspiration for those forces in the Exarchate that seek to overcome the divisions between the separated parts of the Russian Church. Of course we are speaking firstly of those who consider themselves to be the heirs of the traditions of the united Russian Church of the pre-Revolutionary period and are conscious of the abnormality of the persistence of such divisions at the present time, when the causes for it are in the past. These people will naturally be lobbying for the involvement of the Exarchate in the process of unification.
Q: However, in your own presentation at the Council there were some remarks about the lack of understanding with which the epistle of His Holiness Alexis was greeted by the leadership of the Archdiocese. We would like to take advantage of your presence here in Paris to clarify some details.
A: I find it inevitable that those seeking unity should encounter some lack of understanding on the part of those for whom links with the spiritual tradition of Russia are not seen as something important or necessary. But if we look at the epistle of His Holiness the Patriarch, we see in it that the suggested model for a Metropolia meets in the best possible way the aspirations of those seeking reunification as well as the desire of many who wish to retain the specific characteristics of Church life that have developed during the more than seventy year existence of the Exarchate. It is a shame that there is a noticeable bias against those who do not always share the views of the leadership of the Exarchate regarding the future of the Church structures and are in sympathy with closer ties with the Russian Church.
Q: His eminence Archbishop Gabriel, when he was locum tenens, publicly promised to invite widespread discussion of the proposals of His Holiness. However, after his election he did not allow this to happen, and it would appear; has no intention of doing so, despite repeated requests from many members of the Archdiocese. As a result there has been no official response to the Patriarch letter. However; in an interview published in Russkaya mysl', Archbishop Gabriel did say that he had sent a personal letter to His Holiness the Patriarch of Moscow and of all Russia, though without making public its contents. At the same time, however, Archbishop Gabriel has sharply criticised the Patriarch for not replying to his letter
A: Such a letter was indeed received. Unfortunately, however, its contents were not a reply to the Patriarch's appeal of 1 April 2003. Instead, Archbishop Gabriel sought to see in it some sort of plot aimed against the Exarchate. On the basis of these suspicions he constructs totally baseless accusations against the Russian Orthodox Church. The tone of the letter by the head of the Exarchate was so blunt, that a written reply from His Holiness the Patriarch was not possible. The letter which was received in Moscow in no way conforms to the accepted style and manner of an official exchange with the head of the Russian Church. To respond in a similar tone would have been unworthy of the Patriarch. With the blessing of His Holiness, I gave an oral reply to Archbishop Gabriel when we met in Zurich in February of this year.
Q: Can we return to those disagreements with the Exarchate already mentioned? The catastrophe of 1917 thrust out millions of Russians on to the highways and byways of the world. Amongst them there were not a few hierarchs and many priests of the Russian Orthodox Church. They were destined never to see their homeland again, but they did establish hundreds of parishes all over the world, which are functioning to this day. How do you regard the Russian Orthodoxy that has taken root in the West? Is it, in your opinion, still Russian, or is it rather a 'Western' Orthodoxy that only has Russian roots?
A: The prayers of the Orthodox Russians living outside of Russia and their love for their suffering homeland helped the Russian Church survive during the period of persecution. The Church at home endured a most vicious persecution. In seventy years the atheist regime produced more martyrs than any other period in the history of the Church. During this time Russian refugees living in the countries of Western Europe exercised a special ministry. We should remember that at the beginning of the last century there were very few Orthodox Churches in Europe, and most of them were located either in Russian diplomatic missions or at holiday resorts. One could not speak of real Orthodox communities or of the participation in them of local inhabitants. After the 1917 revolution, for the first time in centuries, a real encounter of the West with Orthodoxy took place.
I will not dwell on the significance of this encounter for Western Christians. One could say a great deal about that. But for the Orthodox there were also significant gains. It gave birth, amongst other things, to the well known school of 'Paris theology'. Those of us living in the Soviet Union, and who were familiar with the writings of its representatives, always accepted it as a part of the heritage of the Russian Church. The emigration in those days was filling a void in Church life of the Church that could not be filled at that time in Russia. And then the atheistic colossus collapsed. The martyr Church could develop its life fully. The 'Parisian heritage' began to return to Russia, and also became part of our rebirth. We always believed that not only would there be a home coming for academic ideas, and for books, but that there would be a restoration of the organic unity between the branches of Russian Orthodoxy in the West with the Mother Church that had been interrupted temporarily by political circumstances.
At the same time we understand very well that one of the results of the witness of our fellow countrymen in the West is the fact that, today, Orthodox believers who are not of Russian descent make up a definite part of the parish communities originally established by the first Russian emigres. Even the descendants of the first Russia emigres do not think of themselves as newcomers in foreign surroundings, but as full citizens of the countries where they were born and are culturally rooted. But like the descendants of emigres from other Orthodox lands, they remain attached to the spiritual tradition of the country from which they came. Apart from that, in recent years many new Orthodox have settled in Western Europe, whether permanently or on a temporary basis. The 'Iron Curtain' no longer exists. The whole world is caught up in a process of globalisation. In these circumstances people especially desire to preserve a spiritual link with their roots, with their national religious traditions.
Thus we see that the contemporary situation of Russian Orthodoxy in Western Europe is a complex phenomenon, in a new stage of development. In principle, the future will see the emergence of a local Orthodoxy, united not by nationality, but territorially, and bringing together many languages and cultures, without negating or being ruled by any one of them. They will carefully preserve their inherited traditions and give them a new, creative form. But such a development must in no way be rushed. We cannot impose upon God a timetable that may seem correct to us. Movement in the right direction will be assisted, I believe, by those steps that will lead to a coming together of the various national diasporas. We are convinced that it is necessary to grant to Church structures in the diaspora an ever-increasing measure of independence in proportion to their 'maturity'.
Q: Vladyko, what you have said will come as a surprise to many. Here, in Western Europe, the Russian Church is often accused of defending a distorted ecclesiology that is both nationalistic and 'autocephalist'. That is to say, according to this ecclesiology, all Russians or descendants of Russians anywhere in the world -- or those who have been converted to Orthodoxy as a result of the mission of the Russian Church -- must always remain within the jurisdiction of the Moscow Patriarchate.
A: Only those who are not at all familiar with history and the current practice of the Russian Church could say this. We have consistently applied the position that I have just laid out, starting in the 1960s. And this is attested to by numerous documents of the pan-Orthodox pre-Conciliar meetings of the time, starting with Rhodes and continuing at Chambesy. The representatives of the Russian Church always expressed the following idea at these meetings: Christianity is spread by the mission of the Church, and when this bears fruit it becomes the source of new Church communities. And then these communities, when on territories that are not part of the territory of a given local Church, gradually move towards autonomy or autocephaly. These principles have been handed down to us by the Early Church. The Apostles of Christ worked on this principle. The great Russian missionaries have also sought this. A true missionary ministry must above all be sacrificial, without selfishness, free of any egotism or ambition. Otherwise it will have nothing in common with the spirit of apostleship.
Besides, the Russian Church has more than once demonstrated its adherence to this principle in practice. Remember the bestowing of the status of autocephaly on the Orthodox Church in America, or of autonomy on the Japanese Orthodox Church. Very recently a very high level of independence has been granted to the self-governing Churches within the territory of the Moscow Patriarchate, in Ukraine, Moldova, Estonia, Latvia. No one can accuse the Russian Church of attempting to concentrate ecclesiastical power in its hands.
Q: But surely this process of decentralisation, or of passing on ecclesiastical authority, met with some opposition?
A: One has to admit that these decisions were arrived at with some difficulty. Firstly there was the opposition to this by those Churches that were not prepared to deal with their own diaspora in a similar way, by granting them greater autonomy. They feared that the actions of the Moscow Patriarchate might serve as a catalyst for similar processes within those parts of the diaspora under other Patriarchates. This was particularly sharply felt when we granted autocephaly to the American Church. Within the Russian Church there were many discussions on this subject, as the Orthodox Church in America is flesh of our Church flesh, and Orthodoxy was spread there over many years by the work of Russian missionaries. Until 1922 there was only the jurisdiction of the Russian Church, although there were multilingual parishes and clergy. It was only after the Russian revolution that an abnormal jurisdictional pattern emerged.
Finally, in 1970, it was the position taken by Metropolitan Nikodim of Leningrad and Novgorod -- to grant independence -- that gained the upper hand. The thinking behind the decision was motivated neither by gain nor political thinking. It was founded on apostolic tradition, as I have already said. This decision also conforms to the vision of St Tikhon, the future Patriarch, for the future of Orthodoxy on the American continent, when he was Archbishop of the Aleutian Islands and North America at the beginning of the 20th century. Time has shown that the decision taken in 1970 was the correct one. The Orthodox Church in America is developing in a stable way, it has proved its vitality, and in many ways is an example for Orthodox Christians of other jurisdictions in North America.
Q: But why, in that case, does the Russian Church, having granted autocephaly to its American Metropolia, still retain its parishes in America?
A: One must not forget that by far not all the parishes of the Metropolia supported the idea of independence for the American Church or wish to be associated with its future development. We could not ignore the mood of the people. From a pastoral standpoint it would have been wrong to leave these parishes to the mercy of fate, as this might have led to some form of schism. I would draw your attention to the fact that the list of those parishes which remained under the jurisdiction of the Moscow Patriarchate were specifically mentioned in the Tomos granting autocephaly. Since then we have not opened a single parish beyond this list, even though there is a real need to improve spiritual care for the very large number of Orthodox from Russia and the CIS who have recently arrived in America, and cannot imagine themselves in any Church other than the Russian Church. We are trying to solve this problem together with the Orthodox Church in America, and are engaged in discussions with representatives of this Church, on how best to care for these people.
Q: But even so, why do the Patriarchal parishes in the USA and Canada not join the Orthodox Church in America?
A: This is a complex matter, mostly due to human psychology. I think that it is very important for any multi-national Church to check the balance carefully, and to see that no one ethnic, cultural or linguistic group feels itself in any way put upon.
Q: As far as we know, during the final decade of the last century all the Orthodox Churches have been trying to resolve the problem of the diaspora. To what do you attribute the low success rate of their efforts?
A: To my mind, the essential error in this process was the fact that the representatives of the local Churches, at meetings called by the Patriarch of Constantinople and chaired by his representatives, attempted to resolve the question of the diaspora without actively involving representatives of the diaspora itself. The Russian Orthodox Church indicated from the very start that this was wrong. I remember how during the last meeting of the Inter-Orthodox Preparatory Commission at Chamb-Psy in November 1993, I once again raised this question. Regrettably our concerns expressed at the time did not meet with any support.
Q: And what about the episcopal conferences? Surely the setting up of these was decided during the pre-Conciliar process. How do you regard this step?
A:This was a good decision. The idea was that these regional conferences would become a core around which synods of local Churches could gradually be formed. But there was another interpretation: these conferences were to be a transitional phase for the establishment of full Church authority of a single Patriarchate in each country of the diaspora. This was reflected in the arguments over the chairmanship of these conferences. We thought that the bishops themselves should elect the chair, and we also suggested the idea of a rotating chairman. Constantinople, on the other hand, insisted that only their representatives could fulfil this role. As a result, in many parts of the world the planned episcopal conferences never took place.
Q: However, in France there is an Assembly of Orthodox bishops. Some people have expressed the thought that the proposals of the Patriarch of Moscow seem to ignore its existence.
A: That I cannot understand. You know that our Church actively participates in the Assembly, and that Archbishop Innokentii of Korsun is a member. The Assembly is a very useful undertaking, which facilitates better mutual cooperation between the Orthodox.
Q: How would you characterise the present state of relationship between the Moscow Patriarchate and the Exarchate of Russian Orthodox Parishes in Western Europe? What has changed over the recent years and what sort of contact has there been?
A: Invariably we take as a starting point the fact that we all belong to one Body of Christ, in which we are united by love and the fullness of grace that is of the essence of the Church. This applies to our relationships with all local Orthodox Churches and their dioceses. But our ties with the Exarchate are special, as it was once a part of the Russian Church, and only by force of political circumstances moved under the jurisdiction of the Church of Constantinople. This is why we are concerned about the signs of alienation from the Russian Church which have been seen recently within the Exarchate and which take different forms.
Q: Is it true that during the rule of the late Archbishop Sergii there were discussions about reunification? How far did these discussions go? It is said that the epistle of the Patriarch was a development of the contacts that took place between the Russian Church and Vladyka Sergii of blessed memory...
A: It is to the great credit of Vladyka Sergii of blessed memory that eucharistic communion was re-established between the Exarchate and the Russian Orthodox Church. He also understood the reasons that led to the separation of the Exarchate from the Russian Orthodox Church. That is why, when the reasons, which were -- I repeat -- of a political nature, disappeared with the collapse of the so-called 'Iron Curtain', he began a process of surmounting the consequences of these political divisions in Church life. He realised that the present situation of the Exarchate, whose original 'temporary' character was being forgotten, did not correspond with the newly changed circumstances and with the special mission of the Exarchate in Western Europe. With this particular goal in mind, Vladyka Sergii created a special commission called 'The Future of the Archdiocese'. It was during the work of this commission that the idea was put forward of establishing in Western Europe a self-governing Metropolia, which would bring together the dioceses and parishes of the Russian tradition. This idea was welcomed in Moscow. There followed a period of working out the statutes for the creation of such a Metropolia. Unfortunately, Vladyka Sergii of blessed memory was not able to see his project for the future of Russian Orthodoxy in Western Europe realised before his death.
Q: You mention a project for the statutes of a Metropolia. Can you say in more detail what this document is?
A: As a basis we used the extant statutes of the Archdiocese, and the statutes of the self-governing parts of the Moscow Patriarchate. We also looked at the decisions of the Local Council (Sobor) of 1917 to the extent that they apply to the current situation. We were able to create a well thought through, if not finalised, document, which satisfied both sides. The statutes regulate the canonical position of the Metropolia, the rights and duties of the ruling bishop and of diocesan bishops, the powers of governing bodies: the General Assembly, Bishops' Council, the Synod, the ecclesiastical courts. The programme and timetable are clearly set out. A distinctive feature I see is the fact that it provides for a high level of involvement on the part of clergy and laity in the administrative bodies of the Metropolia.
Q: Would it be possible to see the text of these statutes, or are they to be buried in the archives?
A: I do not think there are any reasons why not. We are prepared to obtain a copy of the last redaction of the text.
Q: What is your attitude to the activity of the recently created 'Movement for Local Orthodoxy of the Russian Tradition in Western Europe' (OLTR)?
A: We are following the work of this movement with interest and we agree with a number of the statements of its members. It is important that a serious, thoughtful discussion is now taking place. I see here the particular significance of the Patriarchal letter of 1 April 2003. It has stimulated a spiritual analysis of the history of Russia and the contemporary role of the Russian emigration. Of course, there are various views on this subject. It is still too early to draw any conclusions, but it is already clear that the question of the unity of the Russian diaspora is one that demands some kind of solution. It must be examined in the general context of the establishment of a proper, canonical situation in Western Europe that on the one hand is organically tied to the Mother Churches, and on the other will lean towards the formation of a local Church.
Q: Many Orthodox in Western Europe place their hopes in the resolving their problems in the proposed Pan-Orthodox Council. What prospects are there for such a Council?
A: The Russian Orthodox Church is constantly coming out in favour of the need to call such a Council. It is ready to take part in its preparation. It is a shame that the preparatory process has been slowed down. You know what has caused this: above all the events in Estonia, which, moreover, have been an indicator of contradictions that have been growing for some time. Nonetheless, we cannot just sit by with folded arms. We must act now, and try and resolve together those problems that world Orthodoxy is now facing.
Sourozh, No. 99, February 2005, pp. 12-23