This year, our Church marks the 10th anniversary of an important event: the reunification of its two branches: the Moscow Patriarchate and the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia. The Act of Canonical Communion was signed in May, 2007, on the feast of the Ascension of the Lord. This holiday will be a special day for Sretensky Monastery in Moscow: its new Church of the Holy New Martyrs and Confessors of Russia will be consecrated.
We spoke to Archbishop Mark of Berlin and Germany of ROCOR--who had contributed a great deal towards the overcoming of division in the Russian Church--about the experience of the Church over the last decade, about the importance of venerating the New Martyrs, and about the events and processes that made reconciliation possible.
– Vladyka, as someone who was directly involved in the process of reunification of the two parts of the Russian Church-the Moscow Patriarchate and ROCOR-what is your opinion of the events in the ten years since?
– It was necessary, and the right thing to do. We always knew that it was going to happen, and we have not been disabused of this notion to this day. The Russian Church in the diaspora never considered itself separate, an independent organism, but always considered itself a part of the one Russian Church. That is stated on the first page of our Regulations.
That is in fact why we glorified the New Martyrs only in 1981. The calls for their canonization began a long time earlier, but our fathers had their doubts. Metropolitan Anastassy even refused to canonize St John of Kronstadt. Everyone knew that he should be glorified as a saint, but Vladyka Anastassy said “We do not want to do anything that might cause a rift between the two parts of the Russian Church.” Only when it began to dawn on us that the Soviet regime might never end, that nothing would change, that the Church in the USSR could not express its free will, then we gradually began to perform canonizations: first St John of Kronstadt, St Herman of Alaska, Blessed Xenia of St Petersburg, and finally, the Holy New Martyrs.
– And the Royal Martyrs?
– All of them. The entire host of New Martyrs. The Royal Family with them, not separately, but at the top of the list.
The hesitancy demonstrates that we never wished to be separated. People would ask us: why don’t you just elect your own patriarch? Or: Why do you serve in Church Slavonic, or in German, or French, but not in Russian? But we did not wish to introduce any novelties. Possibly it was some sort of sense of self-preservation-it was important for us to preserve tradition. We avoided doing anything that might divide us. And thank God, we did not suffer anything like the Obnovlentsy movement [Renovationists--transl.], having uncanonical, twice-married clergymen, etc., which for us was out of the question.
It was important for us to carefully preserve tradition. We tried not do take any steps that would lead to a rift in the Church.
We always strove towards unity within the Russian Church. Reunification could have happened earlier, as early as the beginning of the 1990’s. But had we been ready to do so in 1991-1992, we would have had to hold talks with Denysenko [excommunicated former Metropolitan Filaret-transl.], and no one else. He was then in charge of matters abroad. But the Lord prevented this from happening. We all knew who he was, and that we could not sit at the negotiating table with him. A cleansing process was required first, which would allow us to start with a clean slate.
When the Council of Bishops of the Moscow Patriarchate glorified the New Martyrs in the year 2000, this opened the door. Of course, it was difficult at the time, and some problems still linger, for instance, we have two “Archbishops of Berlin and Germany.” But as a whole, our two dioceses, which cover the same territory, are growing together. Gradually, but surely. There are different approaches to life’s problems, people sense this, but these are not unusual. One diocese is different from the other, so it always was. The differences are partly in the way we conduct divine services, and everyday differences that we inherited from our forefathers. We are much more conservative in the Church Abroad than in Russia. A community that exists in foreign surroundings more zealously guards its character and traditions, meanwhile, those who live in their homeland allow things to develop and change organically. We are more vulnerable abroad, we are on the edge of our civilization, we try harder to preserve untouched that which we inherited.
Long before reunification, we had constructive meetings and discussions. Some clergymen from Russia began to participate in our events, our clergymen met with clerics from Russia, and we began to understand each other better, to see that things look different up close than they do from afar. I was always amazed how Russian people living abroad loved Russia: despite the divisions and borders, Russia was always first and foremost on their minds. So separating from the Russian Church, from the traditions of our fathers, was out of the question.
Then a certain species of zealot arose; mostly from the new converts, especially in America, who said “No, no, we’re the only ones who are right, there is no truth left over there, in Russia.” They rejected everything about the Moscow Patriarchate. They only noticed the negative, they only spoke about ecumenism. Here, I think, is where many of us got the message and knew that we had to act. God forbid that we suffer total rejection-such a wound would never be healed. It is rare that a schism heals in the Church. Our separation was only administrative, there was no schism, there were not even any hints of it, but the risk remained, and it stemmed from people who had no bonds with Russia, who did not feel the love for her that our old emigres preserved.
– If we examine the process of unification itself not from a canonical and historical viewpoint but from a spiritual one: in your opinion, what was the most difficult thing to overcome for people who personally participated in all this, who bore the responsibility for it? What did you learn from the experience? Maybe you came to new realizations of some kind?
– We feel that there is a serious difference between clergymen and faithful on either side of the Russian border, which is natural, because we traveled separate paths and our experiences differed. But experience can’t always be passed down. I sometimes meet young people who don’t know the meaning of simple Church terminology. Naturally, we can’t expect others to absorb our own experiences, having come from different circumstances.
Earlier, as we were establishing ourselves in local émigré life, it was very hard; the Moscow Patriarchate actively participated in ecumenical gatherings, which was unthinkable for us. Later, it became more understandable and easier to accept, though even now there is a great deal we don’t comprehend.
There are no other Orthodox Christians in my own family but me. You in Russian live among many people who are nominally, or at least potentially, Orthodox, but we don’t. This creates a foundation upon which our lives are built. Our attitude towards ecumenism is harshly negative, because we live among heterodox and heretics. Or, take for example Holy Communion: in the West, in the Russian diaspora, the tradition of partaking of the Holy Gifts on a frequent basis arose earlier than in the new Russia. The Moscow Patriarchate has preserved for many long years, and even to some extent today, the tradition of infrequent Communion from the 19th century. Those of us who live outside of Russia were more sensitive to what was happening in the West, we saw how Catholicism and Protestantism are in decay, and we don’t want to suffer the same thing.
There are many difference between us. What for us is very unusual, for instance, is that there is a great deal of centralization in Russia. Russians are more accepting of this than other nations. We are all free thinkers of a kind. Each diocese has its own identity, its own character, independence, we have a strong sense that we have no central headquarters. It is unheard of for some metropolitan bishop to come to my diocese and start giving orders without my consent. This freedom grants a degree of originality, a creative attitude. We don’t wait for someone in Moscow to issue a directive, we decide things for ourselves.
– And yet, is Church life in contemporary, post-Soviet Russia of any use to you in the Church Abroad?
– Without a doubt. First of all, the very reason I am here now, in Moscow, is for a meeting of the Inter-Council Presence: This was a proposal made by the Church Abroad in fact, and it was accepted. This is important! This is a sign of our sobornost’ [ecclesiastical collegiality-transl.]. This is a vivid example of how the Church can develop in relative independence. I think that all independence is relative. Of course, we are bound by our habits and our traditions, but the Church becomes strong when current events of Church life are discussed on a broad scale-not only within the framework of a Council or Synod of Bishops, but they are taken out for deliberation by a wider circle of people. For us, at least in this form, such a forum would have been impossible-we live too far away from each other. But we always had a closer connection between bishops and the laity. Here in Russia I often see bishops living in virtual isolation. For us it is normal for a bishop to visit a remote parish on its feast day, to have lunch with the parishioners, talk to them about church life, what he is currently working on, he answers questions-this is a real, invigorating exchange of ideas. And this applies to all parishes that have their own church, and some kind of gathering place after services, where parishioners meet and talk after Liturgy.
We have a very foggy concept of how parish life operates in Russia, and what the people themselves are like. We were reared by those Russians who fled Russia, the descendants of Russian emigres, who were utterly different than the Russians of today-they even spoke differently. It is important for us to take note of how new parishes have been founded over the last twenty-odd years, not only the construction of churches, but the establishment of parishes, that is, as living organisms, where genuine interpersonal communication takes place. These efforts do not always succeed, but there are interesting examples, representing a healthy trend that affects our life in general.
– The Church Abroad canonized the Holy New Martyrs before we did, and started to paint icons representing them. Vladyka, what is your opinion of how the New Martyrs are venerated in today’s Russia? Did you expect to see such veneration?
– I expected it. I understood even before the early 1990’s that the people of Russia already revered the New Martyrs. We hesitated to canonize them for a long time, but we gradually began to receive communications and even direct requests from Russia, and on that basis we glorified them. That is why the veneration of the New Martyrs in Russia doesn’t surprise me. It may not be spreading as quickly as it did in our church. We relied on documents we were able to find; and the most fundamental source was the Soviet press, where the prosecution and punishment of clergymen was widely reported on. We knew little of the two servants of the Royal Family, whether they were even Orthodox Christians or not (one woman definitely wasn’t, there are doubts about the other). Here in Russia, each martyr’s life is painstakingly studied! Sometimes to the point of absurdity…
We feel that it is enough that a person suffered, demonstrated through the shedding of his blood that he was a Christian.
Our approaches may differ, but it gladdens my heart that at each Council, the importance of venerating the New Martyrs is emphasized, that a great deal is written in Russia about them, books and magazines about them are being published. This is all good, for only by remembering our martyrs can we build the future of the Church.
– We are meeting today in a place where a great many Christians suffered [Sretensky Monastery, former site of a KGB facility-transl.]. What does the existence of a Church of the Holy New Martyrs and Confessors of Russia in the middle of Moscow mean for you? Is it important for our unified Church?
– I think it serves to unite us. Having a church in such a terrible place, as well as in Butovo Square, where tens of thousands of Christians were martyred, is crucial.
The Lord arranged for a much easier shift from dictatorship to democracy in Russia than in my country of Germany. There it took place in a tragic way after World War II, it was harsh and painful (yet thank God that it did happen!), while here it is happening very gradually. In fact, you still live among people who participated in these executions, who were persecutors of the Church. This has not died out even on a symbolic level: the corpse of the main executioner still lies in a mausoleum in Red Square.
That is why this symbolism is so necessary. In order to conquer this filth, we need to move it away from the people. We often raise this question at the Council of Bishops and hear the following arguments in response: “Yes, but we have to be careful, we need to remember that many people are still alive… Is this really necessary?” This is an important question.
I am grateful to God that in Germany, decisive measures were taken to deal with the past. Maybe it is easy for me to be thankful, because my family was not involved with that specific evil. But I saw how tragic it can be when this surgical operation is not conducted in time-Yugoslavia, for instance. I knew Yugoslavia like the back of my hand, it was always dear to me, I often traveled there, it was the only socialist country to which I could travel. And everything that happened there: the wars, the collapse of the nation, was a result of the fact that during Tito’s reign one could not speak the truth about World War II, it was suppressed, all conflicts were masked over, but then the past came out in the open with tragic consequences. Everything must be done in its proper time.
For our parishioners, it is very important to be able to come here, to venerate the holy sites-we had dreamt about it for so long… In fact, we couldn’t even bear to hope. I was educated by the Lives of the Kievo-Pechersk Fathers, but I couldn’t even imagine visiting Kiev. When I found myself in Novgorod for the first time, and was able to enter the Church of St Sofia, to venerate the relics of St Nikita of Novgorod, I was brought to tears.
My acquaintance with monks from Russia took place in Mt Athos: then, in the 1960’s, the very first monks from [Soviet] Russia arrived, and these served as the first seeds of our future rapprochement. It was important-many emigres simply did not know what was happening in Russia. Unfortunately, this is especially the case in South America, which almost completely went into schism after the reunification. There are very few parishes there, may clergymen still entertain the notion of things as they were 40 years ago, they don’t know what happened here, what is happening now, and they led their flock into schism. When a priest goes into schism, where are his parishioners to go? Especially when there isn’t another church within 50 kilometers… This is a terrible thing. That is our greatest pain-the people we lost to schism.
– Have there been cases when people at first rejected reconciliation, and then came to understand that they were wrong?
– Yes, thank God.
– What is it that influences the attitude of such people?
– They change their views, probably because they see that we were not “swallowed whole” by the “Soviet regime” or the Moscow Patriarchate. They used to say: They will come, seize everything, change everything around and establish their own way of doing things. But no, thank God, we coexist in peace.