Thoughts on Russian Church Unity
(From the editor's foreword in the journal Svyataya Zemlya [Holy Land], No.11, 1935, Jerusalem)
We are experiencing especially important times in our Church. Having no government of our own, a government under which our lives would follow the ways dictated by the moral ideals of the Russian people, we live in various countries among those of various faiths, often among heathens, or worse, former Christians who are now without faith, the Russian people are forced to adopt the ways of life of those peoples among whom the Lord scattered them. The way of life of these nations reflects their moral ideals; it cannot but have an effect on Russian life in the Diaspora.
In every country, Russian Emigrants developed their way of life, their own views. But this leaves a mark on a person’s character, and on his inner world. The only thing that unites the Russian people is the unity of the moral ideal of the Russian people, and the preserver of the purity of this moral ideals the Russian Church Abroad, whose hierarchs united in a Council of Russian archpastors abroad, independent of any political or material influences.
Only the Church, the keeper of the untouchable treasure of the Orthodox Faith, this life-creating essence of Russian national life, can now be trusted to guide the world-view of the Russian people and to keep safe the essential traits of the Russian soul in inviolability from external influences. Of course, the guarantee of the preservation of our national unity, the guarantee of the preservation of the sanctity of the finest traditions of the true Russian Orthodox ideal only exists in that organ which is entirely independent of any outside influences, and, having no interests at all except for the preservation of the purity of the faith of the Russian people in the Diaspora, is prepared for patriotic self-sacrifice in its confession of the truth.
He who fully understands the spiritual needs of the Russian people in the Diaspora, who experiences heartfelt suffering for their sorrows completely, can only be one for whom the Russian Diaspora and the Russian people are not only a brother nation, but for whom they are of one flesh and blood and soul. Only that person for whom the spiritual state of the people is that of his own can properly lead the people on the path of salvation, without falling into temptation and without being repulsed by instances of disgraceful distortion of their souls. Only he, who is an organic part of the Diaspora, not only spiritually, but physically, can pastorally combine in his heart the sorrows of the Diaspora, and will be prepared for pastoral and patriotic self-sacrifice. That is why we cherish the holy Conviviality of our bishops, for it is from them that we hear the bold voice of the hierarchs who are enduring, alongside of us, both the spiritual and material difficulties of exile.
We hold dear the Council for the very fact that it expresses the spiritual unity of our Diaspora and its spiritual independence, and for this reason it by its very essence it can be dependent upon no one, to fully defend the interests of the Russian Orthodox people scattered throughout the world, serving only them, and not the special interests of those organizations and political unions, faiths, jurisdictions or nations which would exert their influence. Any person who submits to another obligates himself to assume the interests of the latter.
By entering a non-Russian jurisdiction, one would need to protect the interests not of the Russian nation, not of the Russian Church, not the spiritual interests of the Russian people, but first of all of those, to whom he submitted. At the same time, today, when the Russian people in exile have no national property? Territory having been taken from them -- no national rulers to whom the treasure of the national spirit is dear, they have only spiritual leaders. They assumed the entirety of Russian national interests, possessing the mysterious essence of the Russian national spirit, and they manifest these spiritual and moral ideals.
Our faith and traditions of Orthodox piety cannot be taken from us; one can reject them out of blindness or ignorance, but they cannot be taken away by force. This tradition of Russian piety, preserved from external influence, the independence of our Council, gathered from all points of our Diaspora, will preserve for us Holy Russia. In the present difficult daily circumstances of the Russian Church abroad, as we said, our hierarchs must truly be patriotically self-sacrificing confessors of the truth. Indeed, insults from those of other nations, material hardships, betrayals from false brothers, sorrows even from our own brothers, from those of other faiths, ahead lying only unremitting darkness, the striving of the enemies of unity to dismember it?
All this, instead of consolation and joy, is what our archpastors and pastors see around them, this is what they must struggle against, overcoming the helplessness which such circumstances evoke. That is why a person who doesn’t feel prepared for self-sacrifice cannot understand the situation, cannot find the proper and necessary paths of our treasure of the Orthodox faith and Russian Orthodox piety. Of course, it is easier from afar, from a point of safety, a judicial security, to bear some platonic sympathy for those unbelievable difficulties caused by internal and external forces and endured by the pastors in the emigration. It is a great podvig [spiritual struggle] to lead an unruly flock, which often demand that their pastor fulfill their own capricious desires, which sometimes contradict the basic principles of Orthodoxy, even of Christianity itself. These pastors protect from straying to non-Orthodox ideas and the temptation of compromises, which could lead to the appearance of some external splendid and peaceful life, and they protect us from the wolves who try to exploit the incredible lack of awareness of the flock in questions of faith, not to speak of canonical law. In this silent, unnoticed great podvig of suffering over the spiritual impoverishment of the Russian emigration is the greatness of the Council four hierarchs, in it lies the historical justification of its existence.
The colossal significance which the Council has for preserving us as Orthodox and pious people will be fully recognized only by the future historian, who will draw conclusions without bias on all that transpired with the Russian people. If we had no Council to spiritually unite the entire Russian emigration from one end of the earth to the other, if Russian church groups differentiate in their own countries, or, worse yet, went under the omophorion of non-Russian jurisdictions, then the spiritual division occurring as a result of their dissemination among other peoples would gradually lead first to the external, then to the internal disappearance of the Russian spiritual character, in awesome proportions.
Unwillingly, the traits of other nations (first external, then internal) would be assumed, and the following generations raised in this way, and in 15 years, no more, there will no longer be Russian people. There will be Russian surnames, but not that which comprises Holy Russia: there will be no Russian spirit, nor its life-giving origins -- Russian Orthodox piety; instead there will be Frenchmen and Americans with Russian surnames. The truly Orthodox Russian person is most alarmed at that mark which causes division in the Russian Church Abroad. It happens that autocephaly (that is, full independence in governance) is obtained by a local church as result of external circumstances, preserving at the same time full unity of faith and unity in prayer with other Local Churches. For in principle, if a church is Orthodox, its members are humanity that is saving itself, the Head of which is the God-Man Jesus Christ. In this way, the following churches found their identity in an administrative sense: the Churches of Antioch, Jerusalem, Russia, Serbia, Rumania, etc. -- in a purely administrative sense, but not at all in an ideological one. This, the salvific path, does not violate the unity of mankind, which is seeking salvation, and attitude is not violated. This seeming division did not alarm the Orthodox person very much who strove for salvation. But if we closely examine the reasons, which cause unrest, we will see that division arises not on a personal and administrative basis, as the newspapers attempt to portray it, relying on the insufficient awareness of the Russian intelligentsia in matters of faith, but on an ideological basis.
These are the bases upon which divisions and groupings of people occur in various ecclesiastical unions: 1) compromise with non-Orthodox, accepting ideas alien to Orthodoxy, 2) modernism. The first tendency abides in Western Europe, the second in the newly formed governments, especially in the New World. The limitations of space do not allow us to examine these bases; let us see how the two directions lie at the foundation of the sorrowful ideological divisions.
The Council of Russian Bishops, gathering from all parts of the Russian Diaspora and headed by the staid protectors of Orthodox tradition, firmly stood guard to this day over the purity of this tradition. The unity of the Church and the uniting of all hierarchs at the Council would demand following the traditions of Orthodox piety in the full sense of the term. At the same time, this way contradicts the inclinations and desires; it contradicts the very mood of those who know only a part of the truth, from the heterodox (and some untruth from us), who sympathize with the modernist tendency, which has already shown its lack of saving grace. This is what makes the Counciliar manner of preserving the purity and wholeness of the Orthodox attitude unacceptable for those who no longer sense the Church as a constantly-renewing entity which saves mankind, but sees in her only a political force or a recollection of a splendid past.
Look how the people in these various groups have fallen together. They united in the commonality of their mood: modernist with modernist, inter-confessionalists with inter-confessionalists, Orthodox with the true preservers of the Orthodox spirit (and not only its external aspects) of apostolic tradition. It is in this and nothing else that the root of division lies. This is simply the expression of the inner world, the spiritual state of mind; but in fact it occurred in the soul first, before it was written about and brought to life. In that case, they will say, this is not a matter of divisions, but the separation of traditional Orthodox from non-traditional Orthodox, that is, of real Orthodox from those who mix into Orthodoxy something novel, or from those who hinder piety. Alas, this is true. For those who left and adopted other ways will more easily accept novelties in emulation of the non-Orthodox, then one cannot be held responsible, one can be free (not in an administrative sense; this is only an excuse; but in a moral sense, freedom from conscience and responsibility before the Church, the Council; this is the subconscious root of division). Division is rooted in moral disharmony. That which Christ spoke of (Matth. 25:32). This happens from the attitude of the soul, from the free choice of either the path to salvation in agreement with the fullness of Orthodox piety loyal to God, or the path to perdition, by seeking one’s own ways, in freeing oneself from the moral imperatives, which is developed through communion and unity with the Council of true preservers of apostolic tradition, our Hierarchs.
From Svyataya Zemlya [Holy Land], No. 11, Jerusalem, 1935