Prior to the publication in June of the documents adopted by the conciliatory commissions, the medium outside of Russia was dominated by several propaganda myths which have now become torn down at a blow. The myths are as follows.
1. The myth to the effect that the most immediate aim of the negotiations consists in establishing eucharistic communion, that without any previous decision to be taken concerning administrative connection between the ROCA (L) and the ROC MP.
The ordinary people who live "abroad" are not versed in diplomacy well enough in order to try to position themselves in the vantage point of the ROC MP and try to understand what purpose she may be pursuing in so doing. But for someone who has even only a slight knowledge of the church politics it is perfectly obvious that for the ROC MP such a decision would present a diplomatic defeat: she obtains nothing to her advantage in exchange for recognizing the ROCA(L). No such item could even be placed on the agenda of the meeting. If the ROCA(L) negotiators invented something like that late in 2004, then the purpose becomes quite obvious: to deceive the flock, in quite a clumsy manner, at that. The deceit was aimed at making the flock accustomed to the very fact of the negotiations, in order to damp down the protest wave in this way.
This one is the least interesting of the myths of the Church Abroad. It will result in an even greater disappointment of the flock in their hierarchs and, hence, in an even greater indifference in the flock towards any hierarchs, whoever they be. Thus it will be all the more easier to become integrated into the ROC MP.
2. The myth to the effect that the unification will take place on the basis of denouncing ecumenism. True, we see among the documents of the commissions one that is entitled precisely as follows -- " On the Attitude of the Orthodox Church Towards the Heterodox and Towards Inter-Confessional Organizations".
The document declares theoretical denunciation of the "theory of branches". But does it declare denunciation of the contemporary practice of ecumenism? In the Church Abroad abandonment of ecumenism was traditionally connected with leaving the World Council of Churches. But the document reads plainly that no such action of leaving the Council is supposed. Then may it read, at least, that there will be no joint prayers with heretics? There is only the following text on the issue: "The Orthodox Church excludes any possibility of liturgical communion with the non-Orthodox. In particular, it is considered impermissible for Orthodox to participate in liturgical actions connected with so-called ecumenical or inter-confessional religious services. In general, the Church should determine the forms of interaction with the heterodox on a conciliar basis, stemming from its teachings, canonical discipline and ecclesiastical expediency". One can hardly surmise from this text a plain interdiction of joint prayers on which the apostolic rules insist. Moreover, the scandalous decision of the 1994 Council of Bishops of the ROC MP, leaving the matter of permitting joint prayers with heretics in the purview of the particular diocesan bishop, has found no mention in the recent document, and, consequently, no cancellation of that decision is being planned.
3. The myth to the effect that the unification will take place on the basis of denouncing the Sergianism. Prior to June 2005, the opinion was held even in the ROCA(L) that denunciation of the Sergianism presupposes in the least a clearly expressed conviction that Metropolitan Sergius who subordinated the Church organization that had been entrusted to him to a total control of the atheists, was not right in his actions. They were those actions that had to be denounced, whereas anathematizing Sergius was not called for by anyone in the Church Abroad.
Outside observers did not share such optimistic hopes nurtured by ordinary members of the ROCA(L). They understood that for the ROC MP the figure of the founder of the Moscow Patriarchate, Metropolitan and, since 1943, Patriarch Sergius is a symbolic one, with which they will never admit in the ROC MP any single fundamental delusion. The reality that was formulated in the Commentaries to the document entitled " On the Relationship Between the Church and State" surpassed all, even most daring, expectations. They say the following regarding the famous Declaration of Metropolitan Sergius:
"A critical view of the above document [Declaration of Met. Sergius about the loyalty to Soviet Power ] does not equate to a condemnation of His Holiness Patriarch Sergius, and does not express an effort to besmirch his person and mitigate the podvig of his First-Hierarchical service in the difficult years of the Church's life in the Soviet Union".
"The podvig (holy deed) of his First-Hierarchical service" is phraseology which would be proper for an occasion narrowly short of canonization. This noteworthy fact can now be noticed in passing only, but let us put it in this way at least: the negotiations with the ROCA(L) provided for the first time a pretext for floating the idea of canonizing the founder of the Moscow Patriarchate. The idea is not new per se, but it heretofore used to be voiced quite timidly. For example, in 1997 the Canonization Commission of the Synod of the ROC MP was seized (without making the fact public) with the matter of possibility of simultaneous canonization of Sergius and Metropolitan Iosiph of Petrograd, the leader of the Underground Church which rejected Sergius. The prospect is opening now for the first time ever for canonizing Sergius only, as the sole victor who has chosen the solely correct path and who has created the solely correct Moscow Patriarchate.
For the final triumph of the Moscow Patriarchate such canonization of Sergius is something more than coveted. It is almost necessary. And now, at last, there remain no obstacles in the way. We should not be surprised if the next few years bring us the news of instances of wonderful healing at the grave of "Most Holy Patriarch Sergius".
4. The myth of the church autonomy of the ROCA(L) after the unification. – Objections may be heard raised at this point: why even autonomy becomes a myth whilst commissions’ documents clearly carry the word in their texts?
Autonomy is a myth because, regardless of the immediate levers with which to govern the parishes abroad, these levers will be set into motion by the strongest – that is, by Moscow and none other than Moscow. That was clear a priori and without the media of any commissions. But the commissions have invented something interesting in this matter as well:
"The Commissions recognized that the reestablishment of full unity of the organizational structures of the Russian Orthodox Church outside of her canonical territory is a desirable goal which should be pursued. Still, the historical realities developed through the long separation must be taken into account. For this reason, in the aim of further establishing the life of a single Russian Church, it is necessary to apply proper oikonomia and pastoral discretion, gradually developing pastoral cooperation in the countries of the Russian diaspora..." ( On the Joint Work of the Commissions of the Moscow Patriarchate and the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia).
What was the purpose of citing in this "letter of intent" the
"reestablishment of full unity of the organizational structures", that is, this meaning cancellation of even mere semblance, mere name, of autonomy for the ROCA? Is this not too early? – Once they decided to speak about it, it is not too early, it is the right time: this means that it is intended to carry out the process fast enough in order that the present "letters of intent" serve also the purpose of the "Unification, Part II" at a time in the future when the joint commissions will no longer exist.
Let us mention also three more myths, less important ones but equally dispelled in the cited document "On the Joint Work of the Commissions…"
5. Some peoplein the ROCA(L) sincerely believed that the unification council of the ROC MP and the ROCA(L) would subject to a critical analysis the activities of both church organizations and would elect anew the Patriarch (in the ROCA (L) there stays effective until now the ruling of the ROCA Council of 1990 which rejects the canonical character of the election of Alexy II as the Patriarch). They must be very naive people to think that the hierarchs of the ROC MP would be reporting to several foreign bishops.
6 and 7. Many, not just some, peoplein the ROCA(L) believed that in the process of the unification it would be impossible to betray the Greek, Bulgarian and Romanian Old-Style Believers with whom the ROCA has stayed in communion since 1994, as well as the Russia parishes of the ROCA. But in the cited document "On the Joint Work of the Commissions…" we see now also formal separation from the Old-Style Believers, as we see there absence of any guarantees with respect to the Russia parishes of the ROCA(L). It has become clear now concerning the latter that the ROCA(L) bishops do not intend to defend their rights in any way.
So, the seven myths of the unification in which they believed in the ROCA(L) have been dispelled. Now is the opportune time for saying: the myths have died – long live the myths. New myths, of course.
New myths that are always better than the old ones
The flock of the ROCA(L) outside of Russia are not particularly worried over the Russia parishes, and they stay virtually unperturbed over the plight of the Old-Style Believers; nor do they claim re-election for Patriarch Alexy; after the pause of several months, they now also readily reconcile themselves to the idea of an expedited solution of various issues of administrative subordination, inevitably to be followed by the "transfer of property". To justify all this, one can do without creating myths.
But one cannot do without myths in order to justify Sergianism and ecumenism.
To say the truth, not that the Church Abroad has ever had any strong allergy to ecumenism – with the exception of the two decades between 1965 and 1985, under the third First Hierarch Metropolitan Philaret. After 1985 the term "ecumenism" could only be metin one context – as a bogy against the ROC MP.
Hence, with respect to ecumenism only minimal myth-creation was required: they only had to make people pass without notice the difference between Metropolitan Philaret and his predecessors Anthony and Anastassy, as well as to make them forget the essence of the anathema against ecumenism that was adopted by the ROCA Council in 1983. As soon as late in 1986, none other than the now deposed First Hierarch Metropolitan Vitaly spoke forth in his Christmas message to broadcast a hitherto unheard of interpretation of the anathema as effective "for our Church only", that is, exclusively for the flock of the ROCA. The implication being that if there are any such exotic ecumenist beasts inside the ROCA, those should be anathematized. The beasts reacted chanting in chorus in reply that there existed none of them.
So we can see that on the issue of ecumenism they have been working taking their time and making thorough planning, making use of the undoubted incompetence of Metropolitan Vitaly as the First Hierarch even at the time when he was the head of the yet undivided ROCA.
As to Sergianism, here everything turned out to be more clumsy. Before the appearance of the rulings of the conciliatory commissions, no one in the ROCA(L) took the trouble of creating a new image of "the Most Holy Patriarch Sergius". However, immediately after the June publication this was taken care of, not without success, by archpriest Alexander Lebedev, a member of the conciliatory commission from the ROCA(L).
It turns out, as usually, that the Church Abroadhas "always" venerated the "podvig" of Sergius. Thus, the following was literally said in the official message of the ROCA Council of Bishops of 1933, drawn by Archbishop Anastassy (the would-be Metropolitan and First Hierarch of the ROCA) and signed by Metropolitan Anthony, the then head of the Church: "We are taking fully into account the extraordinary difficulties of the position of Metropolitan Sergius, who is now the de facto head of the Church of Russia, and are aware of the heavy burden of responsibility for the fate of the latter, which lies upon him. No one, therefore, has the audacity to accuse him for the mere attempt to enter into dialogue with the Soviet regime so as to obtain legal standing for the Church of Russia".
And Archbishop Vitaly (Maximenko), the founder of the Jordanville monastery and closest disciple of Metropolitan Anthony, wrote in the 1940es about his "deep prostration before the podvig of Patriarch Sergius" (his words were reprinted in the ROCA several times).
One cannot charge here archpriest Alexander Lebedev with obvious lying. Those who studied the history of the ROCA not to expedient ideological ends, but at least somewhat impartially, have no doubt whatsoever about the possibility of finding there literally anything, and coming straight from the mouth of the topmost leaders. In fact: would it not be stretching one’s imagination rather far in order to visualize Metropolitan Anthony and Metropolitan Anastassy, had they remained in Russia, not together with Metropolitan Arseny Stadnitsky (the most "authoritative" bishop of the time) and not together with Metropolitan Sergius Stragorodsky-- both of them close to the ROCA hierarchs in spirit and in the upbringing --but with some marginal Metropolitan Iosiph? Did they not act "in a Sergian manner" with regard to the persecuted Greek Old-Stylists, who tried in vain, both under Metropolitan Anthony and under Metropolitan Anastassy, to resort to the ROCA in order the have the hierarchy restored? Didn’t both Metropolitans support the official Church of Greece against her contemporary underground Old Stylists?
Those who are governing the ongoing processes in the ROCA(L), including the said archpriest Alexander Lebedev, have an unmistakable sense of style, inherited from all the preceding generations of the ROCA. This very sense tells them that the Church must take her place in the mainstream, not among outsiders.
In the past the ROCA always used to be part of the mainstream outside of Russia. Not now though. This is why she has to make everything possible in order to go back into the mainstream, even if at the price of being swallowed by the Patriarchate, and even at the price of – a terrible thing to say – having to lose her property.
For an ordinary worshipper of the ROCA(L) those recollections of archpriest Alexander Lebedev were shocking at the beginning, but then, not more than a couple of days later, they came to be taken as something that is already well known.
Hieromonk Gregory, for Portal-Credo.Ru