Portal-Credo.Ru: Could you comment about the four documents which recently appeared simultaneously on the official sites of the ROCOR(L) and the ROC MP and were worked out conjointly by their commissions on dialogue for unification and approved by the leadership of both Churches, especially the part where the activity of Metropolitan Sergius (Stragorodsky) was referred to as his great "sacrifice of service?" How much influence do these documents have on the process of unification between these two Churches?
Bishop Gabriel: For now, it is too early to say that because these documents were accepted, we are proceeding directly to unification. Rather, these documents should be seen as some kind of blueprint for future development. I must stress, and this is not only my own opinion, but, I assume, the opinion of some of the other bishops of our Church, that we must first come to some kind of mutual agreement on all of the problems that face us.
As far as the Declaration is concerned, perhaps these documents have already addressed these problems. I think that in these documents there are many things, even wording, which could lead someone astray and give the impression that we have surrendered our position and have already fully adopted the position of the MP. This is not the case. These commissions have expended a lot of effort. In the documents which they have produced, of course, there are many things which have upset me a lot, and upset many others too. For example, the "sacrifice (podvig) of service" of Metropolitan Sergius. I, of course, could never call his service a "sacrifice," and I think that many people are upset by this expression. At the same time, however, the MP’s commission has had to acquiesce to a lot of what we wanted and agree at least that the Declaration of Metropolitan Sergius was essentially wrong. The Church simply cannot behave as Metropolitan Sergius did, no matter what the circumstances of life then might have been.
It should be remembered that we are going to have an All-diaspora Council next year, at which every diocese will be represented by delegates chosen from among the clergy and the laity. But no matter what decisions come out of this council, they must be ratified by a Synod of the bishops which is to be held right after the Council.
I might point out that we have yet to begin a serious discussion about Ecumenism, but so far have been talking mostly about the Declaration, about Metropolitan Sergius himself, and about what kind of relationship should exist between the Church and the State. Too little time has been devoted to the question of Ecumenism.
You may have noticed yourself the day that these documents appeared on the MP’s website that the top news item of the day was devoted to Patriarch Alexey II’s meeting with a delegation from the World Council of Churches. Our documents, however, only made third or fourth place. This is unsettling to see for anyone, but especially for us abroad. This tells me that solving the issue of Ecumenism will be very problematic indeed. For this reason, to speak of some kind of unification, as long as the issue of Ecumenism remains unsolved, is premature.
Q: How are the bishops of the ROCOR(L) who are in favor of joining the ROC MP getting along with the bishops who take a stronger, principled stand like the one the Church Abroad always had?
Bishop Gabriel: I would not presume to speak for my fellow bishops. I want to think, and I hope, that all of the bishops of the ROCOR are in agreement with the idea that we cannot talk of any unification until all of the difficult questions have been resolved. If, for now, we have come to some kind of agreement, to some degree or another, (although this is also hotly disputed; take for example the Declaration, Metropolitan Sergius himself and his service, and his so-called "sacrifice"), nevertheless, I am convinced that this agreement will be the cause of much tension and disagreement for us. I am sure that none of our bishops is going to turn a blind eye to some of these issues simply for the sake of speeding up the process towards some kind of unification. To ignore these things or to say that they are no longer as important to us as they have been all these past years would be impossible, because we have the flock standing by, watching, and it is very upset by this process.
Q: I’ve just got to ask the following question then: What does the flock think about this process; and the clergy, excluding the bishops?
Bishop Gabriel: There are bishops who are more inclined to a more speedy unification process than others. This is the case among the laity as well. However, I am under the impression, knowing the situation and the mood in the dioceses, that the larger part of our flock, I am reluctant to use the expression "vast majority," but simply put, the larger part of our flock, is looking at the prospect of unification with a great deal of apprehension, with alarm and worry, because they mistrust the present structure of the MP. Even if we agreed with the MP on all points, this mistrust would still remain.
Our church-going people understand what separated us in the past and still separates us. Our people do not think that the time for unification has arrived; that the time is ripe. We cannot yet say with genuine certainty and with a clear conscience that the time has come for unification because all of the questions and problems have been resolved. I know that there are many of our people who desire unification, who openly speak and write about it, but I think that I would not be wrong by saying that most of them, if not completely opposed to it, nevertheless regard this process with apprehension.
Q: I am going to ask a very provocative and pointed question, which you may decline to answer if you wish, but I am going to ask it anyway. A rather large number of Orthodox Christians, both inside Russia and abroad, consider that the MP is an uncanonical and illegitimate creation in general, from an ecclesiastical point of view, because practically all of its present higher-ranking bishops received their appointments during the Soviet period with the blessing, not simply of the authorities and atheistic leadership, but under the full control of the KGB. And with this kind of structure in place, until its entire leadership is replaced, which was put into position by an atheistic government, it is simply impossible to have anything to do with it. It is a similar situation to when the Lord led the Israelites for forty years in the desert, so that they would not carry the infection of slavery into the Promised Land…
Bishop Gabriel: I think that there are many members of our flock who are of the same opinion. Just exactly as you say. This is the impression that all of us had before. That was our understanding of the MP. We used to say that we had always been, and were, a part of the Church of Russia, but we never said that the MP was the main part of the Church of Russia; or even the "Mother-Church," as she likes to call herself. There was even a question about whether or not she could even call herself a part of the Church of Russia. For this reason, for most of our flock, it is unclear what has changed and why we suddenly have a different position toward the Moscow Patriarchate, as if there had never been any other. But there was another. It is troubling for the flock, and for me, that this cooperation with the MP is under way, and although the government is no longer communist, there is still a lot left over from the communist period. For example, not very long ago at all, the Patriarch congratulated the communist president of Viet Nam on the victory of Communism. This, as you may know, is shocking for us and more than troubles us. And there are many such examples. This shows that, in any case, the Church is still not separate from the government. It continues to cooperate with it, and maybe, just as before, the government continues to be the one giving the orders; how the Church is to live, to develop. Many people are worried that through unification, we will lose our own freedom, our autonomy and rightful position upon which we have stood all these years.
Correspondent: Vladimir Oyvin