Epistle of the Council of Bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia
June 3/16, 2017
We, the hierarchs of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia, gathered for a Council of Bishops in the Monastery of the Venerable Martyr Grand Duchess Elizabeth in the God-preserved city of Buchendorf, near Munich, during the afterfeast of Pentcost, in the blessed presence of the Kursk-Root Icon of the Mother of God “of the Sign.” This year we remember with sorrow the hundredth anniversary of the terrible, bloody events of 1917; we are at the same time filled with joy over the centennial of the restoration of the patriarchate and the tenth anniversary of the reestablishment of unity within the Russian Church.
We remember those who labored towards the reestablishment of unity, and those who continue to work to strengthen our spiritual bonds. On the feast of the Ascension of the Lord, we prayed together with the Patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church and the President of the Russian Federation at the Divine Services during the Consecration of the Church of the Resurrection of Christ and the Holy New Martyrs and Confessors of Russia on Lubyanka Square, and we conclude our assembly with the great consecration of the Cathedral of the Holy New Martyrs and Confessors of Russia in the city of Munich, the only temple of the Russian Church Abroad where once served the ever-memorable Holy Patriarch Alexy II of Moscow and All Russia, who signed the Act of Canonical Communion together with Metropolitan Laurus of blessed memory. We always knew that the unity, which was once externally rent asunder, was always preserved in the spiritual plane.
With gratitude to God, we also mark the hundredth anniversary of the birth of a New Martyr of the Russian Church who proved the saying, “The blood of Christian martyrs is the seed of faith.”2 St Alexander (Schmorell) of Munich shed his blood in Germany. The hundredth anniversary of his birth is marked by the completion of the construction of a church not far from his grave. His Beatitude Metropolitan Onouphry of Kiev and All Ukraine consecrated the cathedral, joined by His Eminence Metropolitan Hilarion of Eastern America and New York, the Primate of the Russian Church Abroad, along with Her full episcopate, bishops from Russia and Ukraine, and archpastors of other Local Orthodox Churches. In the light of the spiritual struggle of the New Martyrs of Russia, among them St Alexander, a bridge appears here uniting East and West.
The restoration of the patriarchate at the All-Russian Council of the Russian Church, the hundredth anniversary of which we now celebrate, was a positive step towards the return to our Christian roots, to the millenium-long experience of our Ecclesial organism. His Beatitude Metropolitan Anthony (Khrapovitsky) of Kiev and Galicia, that same hierarch who would later became the first Primate of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia, played a leading role in the reestablishment of the patriarchate. Taking the work of the Local Council of 1917–18 as his foundation, he and his brother archpastors in distant lands preserved conciliarity within the Church administration and thereby remained faithful to the commands of the Mother Russian Church. The theology of Metropolitan Anthony returned the Church’s consciousness to Her patristic roots, cleansed Russian theology from imposed alien influences, and in many ways determined the theology of the Church Abroad, manifesting itself in Her received tradition3 and practice of pastoral ministry.
The triumph of the conciliarity of the Russian Church and her New Martyrs lies in the fact that despite the crumbling of the Orthodox empire and the imposition of a régime whose ideological goal was to war with God and everyone who believes in and honors Him, faith in the Truth and the Church could not be destroyed. In light of the apostasy that began in the 19th century, the struggle of bearing witness to the faith even unto death4 is especially poignant, as is the example of the purity of family life of the last Russian Emperor. We are all called to contemplate the spiritual life among the peoples of Russia and of the whole world.
The spiritual catastrophe of the Russian nation led to the destruction of the system of government of a mighty state and to terrible sufferings. How could it happen that a significant portion of the people, who for almost 1,000 years had borne the name of Christ, turned against the Church? The Righteous St John of Kronstadt often prophesied about the consequences of turning away from the Church. Ye shall be as gods5 became the slogan of a new order, and people strove to establish a world without God. “Faith in the word of Truth, the Word of God, has disappeared and been replaced by faith in human reason,” wrote St John. “Children no longer obey their parents, students their teachers… marriages are destroyed, family life is decaying.”6
Today entire peoples both in the Fatherland and abroad face a choice: spiritual cultivation of the soul or utter devotion to material well-being. God forbid that we once again see the brutal consequences of the false spiritual and moral choice, the voluntary giving up of our souls for evil substitutes. That is why — not with a political aim, but for the acquisition of spiritual succession — we call anew for purification of conscience, gazing upon the path of the Holy New Martyrs, and for a separation from the symbols of militant atheism, ridding ourselves of the old glorification of murderers by naming cities and towns, streets and plazas, train stations and parks after them. We call for the removal from the nation’s main square of the body of him, with whom is tied the establishment of the militant atheist state, which sacrificed millions of lives to its ideology.
The foundation for our moral choice is a turn towards our Christian roots. It is built on the search for God, a deepening of our ecclesial life, learning our faith, growth and strengthening in our moral struggle. It is from our parents that we must receive our first experience of knowledge of God, of prayer, participation in the Mysteries — we call upon all parents to tend to their own spiritual edification and to teach children not so much by words, but by example. It is within the family, the “little Church,” that the meaningful, fully-formed church life is established and preserved.
The expulsion of multitudes of people from Russia led to the introduction of the Western world to Orthodoxy. Thus Divine Providence brought forth good consequences even from the separation from good. Today, Orthodox Christians living in the West, where the crisis of family life is exacerbated, are called upon to lead a mission within their communities, as an example of moral purity in their own life, whether in Christian family life or in the monastic struggle.
Bearing all of this in mind, let us courageously declare in the bright joy of the Church, together with the Holy Apostle Paul, the Righteous St John of Kronstadt, the Martyred Royal Family and the multitude of New Martyrs and Confessors of Russia: I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.7
With love in Christ,
Metropolitan of Eastern America and New York,
First Hierarch of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia.
(The signatures of all the participants in the Council of Bishops follow)