Epistle to the Flock
OF THE RUSSIAN ORTHODOX CHURCH ABROAD,
BELOVED OF GOD
Rejoice in the Lord always (Phil 4:4). With these words of the holy Apostle Paul we turn to you and greet you, our flock, in the diaspora, entrusted to our care by the Chief Shepherd, the Lord Jesus Christ Himself. Rejoice. for the Lord has chosen you to be children of the Holy Orthodox Church, had made you partakers of the grace of the Holy Spirit, has illumined you with the light of truth. To live and walk in His light is a great honor and a great joy. Therein lies the fulfillment of the promises made by God to His people. You are the people of God, and joy must be your heritage, for the "love of God is shed abroad in our hearts" (Rom 5:5).
We know that to be Orthodox in our times, so full of trials and hitherto unprecedented temptations, to belong to the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad, is a great podvig, and requires the utmost exertion of the powers of the soul. Our Church follows the path of faithfulness to God, which is so contrary to the modern world; and on this account the world subjects her to various oppressions and assaults. Our membership in the free Church Abroad is not only a gift of God, but us also a great responsibility which places us under moral obligation. All who belong to the persecuted "True Orthodox" or "Catacomb" Church look to our Church as the repository and receptacle of true piety and the pure Orthodox Faith. For the sake of our own salvation and of our persecuted, suffering brethren, we must not betray their trust, but vindicate it. Let us pray at home, assiduously attending the divine services; and having frequent recourse to the Mysteries of Confession and Communion, let us be diligent in keeping the Church's fasts and in reading books spiritual in content which are now so easily obtained. All of this is a living source for the acquisition of spiritual strength, without which it is impossible to bear the exalted appellation of Orthodox Christian.
As of old God notified Nineveh of its impending destruction through the Prophet Jonas, so now He warns us through "rumors of wars ... famines and pestilences, and earthquakes" of the tremendous shocks which will threaten the whole world if we do not set ourselves aright. But the Lord promises to cut short the days of suffering "for the elects' sake." And as God's command concerning Nineveh was withdrawn because of the repentance of the inhabitants of that land, so even now, in our hands lies the future of today's life of vacillating peace. The Lord began His preaching with a call to repentance, continued it with a sermon on repentance ("I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance"), and finally warned that "Except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish" (Lk. 13:1-5).
Our Savior has called us to be children of the true Church; He calls us to be participants in His Kingdom, and awaits our good deeds, that we may become heirs of eternal life. Yet, at the same time, we see how representatives of certain local Orthodox Churches are turning aside from this path of salvation and are seeking out paths new and foreign to our Church. We stand apart from their activity. And our Church has been ostracized by them, either because our faithfulness to Christ denounces them, or to please the Soviet authorities.
In our difficult times, we believe that the Lord, in the ways of His Providence, has found a special Church Body – our Russian Church Abroad – to be a necessity, i.e., a Church not connected with the territory of the Soviet Union and tis rulers, the militant atheists. In other words, only the Church Abroad can be free in our evil times.
Our Church exists in a fully canonical manner in the Orthodox diaspora, is guided by a canonical hierarchy, and has no other Master, save the Head of the Church, our Lord Jesus Christ. Here we have two tasks: preserving true Orthodoxy and bearing witness before the whole world concerning the truly bestial face of atheistic communism, and, perhaps, to warn all the nations for one last time to avoid being deceived by this terrible evil.
Our situation in the diaspora has drawn to the Church many heterodox who have sought the truth of Orthodoxy and have become faithful children of the Church. And now they are going forth to preach Orthodoxy, principally in the name of our Church, together with the sons and grandsons of former Russian, Serbian, Romanian and other political refugees. This generation of Orthodox citizens of many countries bears witness to true Orthodoxy before the world. Thus by God's mercy, the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad has outgrown its name and has come to occupy a special, unusual place in the conscience of all Orthodox Christians. Despite our weakness, we have been vouchsafed so great an honor; on this account they may but love us or despise us. Without separating ourselves from the Mother Russian Church, our Church is truly the free, multinational, multilingual Church of the diaspora.
Our Church fully confesses her unity with the tormented and persecuted Church in our homeland, with her martyrs and confessors. Indeed, each martyr represents the victory of the whole Church over the powers of evil; each courageous confessor of the Faith is the joy of the whole Church. In her entirety, she lives by this victory which has conquered the world – our Faith. Our persecuted brethren in our much-suffering homeland tell us: You are on the right path; stand firm and steadfast thereon. Yes, all true children of the Church know us and trust that with God's help we will preserve Holy Orthodoxy in all its purity.
While our fatherland had been deprived of the most basic freedoms, we here abroad can openly confess our Faith and witness to the truth. But even here we have an enemy. It is not militant atheism or any organized evil, but overabundance and prosperity in freedom. How many of us, imperceptively, but in actuality, has this insidious enemy torn away and continues to tear away from God! Let us not forget the words told us from "over there", that true freedom is only in God; that there is no freedom in man if he has slain the knowledge of God and buried the very memory of Him. The possession of freedom and prosperity places a great responsibility on man. One must know how to use them correctly. And this is possible only when we use them for the implementation of the teaching of the Gospel.
Thus, we call you to faithfulness and steadfastness in Holy Orthodoxy. Be not troubled that more and more often we see ourselves as though abandoned by all. Our path is the path of faithfulness to Christ. Therefore, we prefer to be with the Church which is persecuted and torn apart, not only by enemies from without, but by enemies within as well. It is our desire to glorify the new, undaunted martyrs to confess our own spiritual unity with them, and to kiss their bloody wounds with love, We pray for the courageous confessors, striving to stretch forth a helping hand to them. Is this not why we are persecuted and not recognized by individual official representatives of the Churches? If so, we are happy to share even one hundred thousandth of the struggles of the persecuted.
We want to be with the new confessors, with the hundreds of thousands incarcerated in camps and prisons, with those lamps hid beneath the bushel, of which the world is not worthy. "Ye are the light of the world," Christ says to them. By the reflection of this light do we also wish to live, despite our being completely unworthy, which we sorrowfully acknowledge.
O holy new-martyrs and all saints of the Russian Church, pray to God for us!
Metropolitan PHILARET, Presiding Bishop of the Council
Archbishop SERAPHIM of Chicago and Detroit
Archbishop ATHANASIOS of Buenos Aires and Argentina-Paraguay
Archbishop PHILOTHEOS of Berlin and Germany
Archbishop VITALY of Montreal and Canada
Archbishop ANTHONY of Los Angeles and Southern California
Archbishop ANTHONY of Geneva and Western Europe
Archbishop ANTHONY of San Francisco and Western America
Archbishop SERAPHIM of Caracas and Venezuela
Archbishop THEODOSY of Sydney and Australia-New Zealand
Bishop NATHANAEL of Vienna and Austria
Bishop LAURUS of Syracuse and Holy Trinity
Bishop NIKANDR of Sao Palo and Brazil
Bishop NEKTARY of Seattle
Bishop PAUL of Stuttgart and Southern Germany
Bishop ALYPY of Cleveland
Bishop CONSTANTINE of Boston
New York, September, 1978