The Will of God or the Will of Man?
by Dimitri Gontscharow (2006)
The bishops, clergy, joint commissions and others insist all issues preventing the union of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia (ROCOR) and the Moscow Patriarchate (MP) have been resolved to a great degree. When confronted with troubling facts, alarming statements made by the Moscow clergy, dire predictions for the future, one response has been to divert attention instead to the failings of the Russian Church Abroad in a desire to intimidate and stifle the misgivings of its faithful. When pushed further, the pro-union clergy falls back on the ever-popular answer: “it’s Providential.” It is the “Will of God” that is orchestrating the union of the two churches and healing the rift. One is to take it upon faith that despite all the evidence to the contrary, this is a good thing in the long run. That pretty much stops the discussion and makes it hard to argue further, when the shrewd clergy wrap themselves in the intangibles of religious faith.
Though a handy way out, and perhaps true on some level, it is hard to believe when the hand of God is not so discernible and the hand of man, in the form of some of our clergy, is quite visible. It is they who initiated private meetings with the MP without the Synod’s blessing. It is they who have pushed this agenda along, despite all the objections. It would be nice to think our clergy is worthy of divine intercession as in the old days, but these are different times. It would be far more prudent to model ourselves after the words of Ronald Reagan, who said, “Trust, but verify.” Reagan carefully maintained close and productive dialogue with the Soviet Union, but he remained true to his convictions and principles. In that way, he played a significant role in the fall of the Soviet Union. Truth defeated the lies and deceits of that regime.
Some of our clergy and their supporters would like us to trust the MP, the hierarchy of which was born and bred in the Soviet system. A hierarchy that recently praised the virtues of the Soviet period, adding that not only was that period more moral, but that the precepts of the communist state were similar to religious precepts in nature and intent. It is this hierarchy that not so long ago, spoke of the ROCOR church with contempt, calling us “karlovtsy,” “sektanty” and avoided any contact with our church. Then when Putin, a KGB colonel, came to power and solidified the KGB’s or FSB’s control over the country and its national and regional governments, suddenly everything changed. Suddenly, Putin met with our bishops in New York City, who looked in his eyes and found a Russian soul. Might it be more correct to say that Putin’s attention may have an ulterior motive? That the prospect of suddenly having hundreds of churches throughout the world at his disposal to act as listening posts and centers of espionage greatly interests Putin and the KGB masters.
As if assigned a task, the MP hierarchy then suddenly approached us with open arms, welcoming home their brethren. Our bishops were feted during official visits to Russia, but there was little substance to discern among their attentions. Our church has brought the relics of the Holy Martyrs Elizaveta Fedorovna and Varvara for veneration throughout Russia. It brought our precious Kursk Mother of God icon to the MP church in New York City. We have acceded to their wishes, bending our principles to suit them, accepting their views on the issues that divided us for so long, and what have we gotten in return? In all of the published interviews and documents, where is the recognition of our heritage overseas, of our efforts to preserve the Church, of our role in the history of the Russian Orthodox Church? Where are the invaluable icons and relics in Russia that could be visiting our parishes? Where is the reciprocity that marks a genuine union and would give one the feeling that this is indeed the Will of God? Instead we get Soviet-style, paramilitary goons occupying our church property in the Holy Land and Bari, Italy.
Yet our clergy continues to insist we trust the MP. We are told Sergianism, the subservience of the church to the government, has been repudiated by the MP. Then we see during the last elections in Russia, the Patriarch allowing voting booths to be erected in monasteries and promising the clergy vote to Putin; the Patriarch congratulating the Socialist Republic of Vietnam on Victory Day, the commemoration of their defeat of the American forces; an announcement that the MP will build a church in North Korea, where there are almost no Orthodox faithful. In recent years, the MP has regularly met with Muslim clerics from Iran. The theme of one of their conferences was “Battling American Globalism.” Interesting how all these actions coincide with Putin’s foreign policy, the desire to re-establish Russia as a Soviet-style world power. Are these the activities of a church independent of the state?
Have any of our parishioners considered what membership in a church that is allied with such a religious body might mean for them? Many of them work for the governments or the military of whatever country they live in. Have they forgotten how our older generation was treated with great suspicion in earlier decades, when they sought work in the government? How they were kept apart from other employees and were not given security clearances? The power of guilt by association is great. How will they answer the polygraph examiner when he asks if they are a member of any foreign organization? If international affairs heat up, will we be tarred with the same brush, if we belong to a church that supports America’s enemies? Has anyone thought ahead, instead of getting misty-eyed as we look towards Mother Russia?
Archives of the former Soviet Union have shown that Patriarch Alexy II cooperated with the KGB and even had a cover name, Drozdov. The Russian Church Abroad was started with the help of members of the White movement, who, along with others, battled the Soviet Union and communism for decades. Has anyone thought of the bitter irony of such a church commemorating a KGB agent, as it will have to once union is achieved? The MP may canonize Metropolitan Sergey (Stragorodskiy) as a martyr (at a minimum) or possibly more. Will the ROCOR parishes then honor the cleric who caused so much division in the Russian Orthodox Church and who was the antithesis of everything that ROCOR stood for?
Our clergy also says the issue of ecumenism has been resolved. Yet on the very day that the documents of the joint commissions are released, the Patriarch meets in Moscow with the leaders of the World Council of Churches, the premier ecumenical organization. You would think that at least for the sake of our church, the Patriarch would schedule the meeting on another day. It just shows a complete, callous indifference and lack of respect for our church. Those documents of the joint commissions also include an escape clause for the MP, in that it underlines the importance of remaining members in ecumenical organizations. The Moscow Patriarchate will continue whatever behavior is politically expedient and some of our clergy will continue to find excuses for them.
“Trust, but verify.” So far there has been little verification that this union is a natural, God-given thing. There has been much evidence that we should bide our time, maintain friendly relations with the MP and wait for generations to pass. We can maintain contacts with the faithful in Russia and work together to continue and strengthen the spiritual rebirth occurring there. By remaining defenders of the truth, we can cause the renewal of the Russian Orthodox Church, just as Reagan’s convictions contributed to the fall of the Soviet Union. Then the force of this reborn faith will wash away the traces of the Soviet Union and reveal God’s will and not that of man.