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Elder Ephraim on the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad


In a bizarre series of events last year [1991], the Abbot of the Monastery of Philotheou on Mt. Athos, Archimandrite Ephraim, left the jurisdiction of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, joined the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia, and then subsequently returned to the jurisdiction of Constantinople. While there are conflicting reports about his reasons for doing this, and while his actions have confused and disappointed a number of people, Father Ephraim's sojourn in the ROCA has left us with a very interesting statement about that Church. Forced to confront polemical and hostile voices from the Greek New Calendarists when he joined the Russian Church Abroad, Father Ephraim wrote a short note on the validity of that Church. Since the Bishops of the Russian Church Abroad Consecrated Bishops for us Old Calendarists when our last Hierarch in Greece reposed, his comments about the validity of their Church are of special importance to us—even more so, since they come from an adherent of the Ecumenical Patriarchate who was compelled by unusual circumstances to speak objectively and truthfully about the ROCA. Such objectivity and truthfulness are rare commodities, indeed, among the modernists, who have so compromised themselves by political self-interest and the demands of the ecumenical movement. We have translated Father Ephraim's comments from the original Greek text, which was distributed by Father Ephraim last year in the United States.

My View of the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad

Apostolic Succession

The Apostolic Succession of the Bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad cannot be impugned, since all of the present Bishops hold canonical Consecrations from the Bishops of the pre-Revolutionary era and their successors.

Canonicity

Canonicity (i.e., a local Church's total conformity to the Holy Canons in its constitution and administrative functioning) is a rare commodity in nearly all of the Patriarchates and the autocephalous Churches today. The synodal system has been seriously weakened by diverse incursions from within and without, and there appears everywhere a move towards despotism among the major Hierarchs or local Synods. Were we to but begin with an examination of canonical impediments to the Priesthood and so on, I do not believe that we would occasion to find absolute canonicity anywhere. I can only say that the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad constitutes an exception to the foregoing, on account of its strict devotion to the Holy Canons and its freedom from the bonds of every worldly power. In response to the allegations which many have made against this Church's ostensibly uncanonical status as a self-governing Church body, these observations can be made:

Patriarch Tikhon, foreseeing a bleak future for the Russian Church, issued a decree to the Bishops outside Soviet Russia, granting them the right to organize self-governing synodal bodies. Despite this, the exiled Russian Hierarchs, having lived in an atmosphere of utmost loyalty to the law and obedience under the Tsar, insisted, during their first few years of exile, on maintaining contact with their base (Patriarch Tikhon and his successors) and to seek from there approval for their more momentous decisions at least—though this was difficult under their circumstances at the time (persecutions, banishments, etc.). This communion was abruptly cut off by the capitulation of the locum tenens and later Patriarch Tikhon (Stragorodsky)* in his infamous declaration—something totally unacceptable to the Bishops in exile—, assuring the full submission of the Church to the atheist regime and ordering the faithful to show full obedience to and pray for the Soviet authorities. In my opinion, this rupture in communion was justified by the Canons, which provide for the cessation of all commemoration of the first Hierarch of a local Church in the event that he preaches heretical teachings; for Marxism is not only a political system, but entails a secular worldview, indeed a heresy.

The present Bishops of the ROCA, because of their isolation from the other Orthodox Churches, hearken back with genuine spiritual reverence to these events, directives, contacts, etc., which demonstrate the lawful and canonical establishment of their ecclesiastical body.

The most compelling argument in support of the canonicity of the ROCA, one insufficiently emphasized with regard to this issue, is that at the outset the Ecumenical Patriarch and all of the other local Churches maintained good relations with the Synod in Exile, which contained within her bosom, it is worthy of note, the "elite" of the Russian Hierarchs and theologians. Men of the stature of Metropolitan Anthony (Khrapovitsky) of Kiev, who made a lasting impression with his memorable homilies at the Athens Cathedral and who cannot be likened to the low level of our own [Greek New Calendarist] Hierarchs, evoked respect and de facto recognition from everyone.

The position of the Ecumenical Patriarchate with regard to the ROCA radically changed after the First Pan-Orthodox Conference in 1923, when the First Hierarch of the Russian Church Abroad at the time, Metropolitan Anastassy,** distinguished himself as a leading personality by his resistance to the innovations of the acknowledged Mason Meletios Metaxakis. Things were somewhat more improved under the successors of Metaxakis, until the end of World War II and a full break in relations, when Soviet external political forces began, by various means, to urge all of the Orthodox Churches to cease communion with the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad and to recognize only the Patriarch of Moscow, who was fully under the control of Soviet political forces and whom these forces used to serve their own ends. The Patriarch of Moscow took the isolation of the ROCA as an opportunity to establish relations with the other Patriarchates and autocephalous Churches: "Either they or we." Thus for political reasons and out of self-interest, but also for ideological reasons, as we have seen, the Phanar cut off all official relations with the Synod in Exile and, in imitation thereof, so did most of the other local Churches, except for the Churches of Jerusalem and Serbia, which have maintained semi-formal relations with the ROCA to this day.

The isolation of the ROCA from the other local Churches—albeit, not a complete isolation (the Blessed Justin [Popovich] and his disciples and the present Patriarch of Serbia have been well disposed toward the ROCA)—can in no way be taken as evidence of doubt about the canonicity of this local Church, since many similar examples can be found in Church history.

Endnotes

* He means, of course, Patriarch Sergius.

** This is an error. Metropolitan Anastassy was not, at the time, First Hierarch of the exiled Bishops.

From Orthodox Tradition, VOL. IX, NO. 1, pp. 17-18.