Group portrait of the participants of the Council of Bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia, Buchendorf, June, 2017

The Foundation For Our Moral Choice

Epis­tle of the Coun­cil of Bish­ops of the Russ­ian Ortho­dox Church Out­side of Russia

Buchendorf, Germany
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,1 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)