Interview with Archpriest Alexander Lebedev
The fifth round of talks between the Commissions of the Russian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate (ROC/MP) and the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia (ROCOR) concluded in Moscow. The Secretary of the ROCOR Commission, Protopriest Alexander Lebedeff, spoke to on what was accomplished. The Commissions of the ROC and ROCOR on overcoming the differences between the two branches of the Russian Church were established a year ago. Has an agreement been reached during this time? –I think that purely from a human perspective, it is impossible to achieve a 100-percent resolution of absolutely all contentious questions through any such joint meetings. But this was not the goal set before the Commissions. It is important to achieve agreements on the main questions that divide us. In my opinion, a great deal has been achieved in this regard, which is clear from the documents published which have already received the approval of the hierarchies of both sides. In what issues have the differences been removed? –From the very beginning of the talks, it was decided to concern ourselves first of all with issues of principle. These include matters of church-state relations and the attitude of the Orthodox Church to the heterodox and all types of inter-confessional organizations. Full concordance was reached in these matters. On the first point, both sides decided to condemn the path of the complete servitude of the Church to a totalitarian state as being contrary to Holy Scripture, Tradition and church laws, and on the second matter, syncretism, concelebration and the dilution of Orthodox ecclesiology were condemned. What remains to be resolved? –The negotiation process on practical or administrative matters has not yet been finished. This involves, for example, points of conflict currently being disputed in civil courts. –It is well known that the Commissions agreed on the status of the ROCOR as a self-governing church. What does this mean? –This means that the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad will continue to exist with all its present dioceses and parishes, monasteries, educational institutions, Synodal and other establishments, and will, as now,continue to administer them with complete independence. The ROCOR will preserve its name, its independent legal identity, and will be guided by its Council and Synod of Bishops under the presidency of its independently-elected First Hierarch. The ROCOR will adhere to its existing Statutes, in which several necessary amendments will be made which will reflect its status as a self-governing part of the Russian Church. At the same time, despite its complete independence in administrative, educational, pastoral, property and management matters, the ROCOR, upon the ratification of the proposed Act on Canonical Unity, will recognize itself an indissoluble part of the Russian Church headed by His Holiness the Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia. This situation is a canonical requirement, or formality, since the Church Abroad never claimed the rights of an autocephalous church, and always considered itself to be only the free part of the Russian Church as opposed to the part of the Church enslaved by the militantly atheistic Soviet regime. What will happen if the All-Diaspora Council does not accept the Commissions' conclusions? –It is crucial to keep in mind that the All-Diaspora Council is not the highest administrative organ of the ROCOR, which remains the Council of Bishops. Besides bishops, the All-Diaspora Council will include the participation of representatives of the clergy and laity. Still, the supreme authority in the Orthodox Church is retained exclusively by the bishops, since the Church in its essence is not democratic, but hierarchical. As a result, immediately after the end of the All-Diaspora Council, the Council of Bishops will convene, in which only bishops will participate. And only the Council of Bishops can make the final decision on the approval or rejection of the Act on Canonical Unity of the Russian Church. Some are of the opinion that the unification of the Churches will lead to a schism within ROCOR itself… –Most often, those who express the opinion of an impending schism in ROCOR are people who have already separated themselves from it. These include the followers of Valentin Rusantsov, who calls himself Metropolitan of Suzdal and Vladimir, and also various Lazarevites and others who abuse the good name of the 95-year old Metropolitan Vitaly, who because of his age knows nothing of this. They all hope that the rapprochement between the Russian Church in the Fatherland and the Russian Church Abroad will prove unacceptable to many in the Church Abroad and that they would be forced to join those who already left. In fact, their dreams will never be realized. The overwhelming majority of the clergy and flock of the Church Abroad love and value their First Hierarch, Metropolitan Laurus, and trust him and their ruling bishops. If the decision is made to establish Eucharistic communion with the ROC, they will calmly accept this and will rejoice that the differences between the two parts of the Russian Church will finally be overcome. It is possible that some individuals will leave into one schism or another, or will form a new schismatic group, but this will be those who have already mentally rejected any possibility of reconciliation, and it is impossible to change their minds. In case of the unification of the ROCOR and ROC, what will be the fate of the parishes of ROCOR in Russia and of the Russian clergymen of the Church Abroad living there? –That is one of the problems still under discussion. I can only say that as it was expressed in the joint documents, in this matter decisions will be made with a maximum level of oikonomia, that is, of ecclesiastical condescension, since we are talking about living persons and their pastors. It is worth bearing in mind that the clergymen of the Russian parishes actively participate in the negotiation process as consultants and that His Grace Bishop Evtikhii will for the third time directly participate in the Commission meetings.

–If merging does occur, what will happen to the property of ROCOR? Will it become the property of the ROC?

–Questions of property are not even under discussion. From the very beginning it was decided to apply the principle of the preservation of the status quo in all property matters. So there will be absolutely no transfer of properties at all.

–In case of unification, will the ROCOR pay any sort of dues to the Moscow Patriarchate, as dioceses of the ROC do now?

–Absolutely no payments from ROCOR to the Moscow Patriarchate will be made. Also, no financial assistance from the Moscow Patriarchate will be received by the Church Abroad. The Church Abroad will be entirely self-governing, that is, administratively independent, and will as before support its own central ecclesiastical administrative organs.

–Has the question of the contested properties been decided, for example, in Jerusalem?

–In all matters concerning contested properties or points of conflict, talks are continuing, and information about them will be published as they are resolved. As of now, it has been decided to avoid new conflicts and lawsuits and to proceed towards resolving the existing conflicts in the spirit of oikonomia and fraternal, mutual understanding.

–Has it been easy for the Commissions' members to find a common language?

–No, of course. Both sides, and even each individual member of the Commissions brought their own personal viewpoints of the matters, their own evaluation of things, their own historical judgment of the events that occurred over the long decades on each side of the division. To find a common tongue, to understand ones opponent, to try and delve into his opponent's world view is a difficult matter. Still, I am deeply convinced that each side has determined that the other side is speaking frankly, and moreover, is convinced of the authenticity of their belief that the conflict must be overcome (while preserving their positions of principle) to finally achieve the common goal: to heal the wounds inflicted by this very long and unhealthy forced separation.

I might add that, thank the Lord, the more often we meet, the easier it is to understand each other and to reach a mutual decision on matters.

–Will this unification add to the number of parishioners of the Church Abroad?

–I think that this question is not posed properly. The matter at hand is not the size the flock of the Church Abroad, it is a question of overcoming of divisions, that is, the matter is on another, higher plane.

Still, it is very possible that there are some believers abroad who until now have been pushed away by the lack of unity among the churches. Some of them may have had the impression that this division arose on the basis of some personal conflicts: that the bishops have quarreled and cannot make peace. Or that all this resulted from efforts to increase personal power or control over property. In these cases the achievement of the desired unity can help overcome their misunderstanding and draw them closer to the Church. Then the reconciliation will enable the flock of the Church Abroad to grow.

–If the All-Diaspora and then the Bishops' Councils in the spring of 2006 confirm the decisions of the Commissions, when in your opinion could the unification of the two parts of the Russian Church occur?

–If the All-Diaspora and Bishops' Councils make a positive decision on this matter, and the Holy Synod of the ROC­since this decision was deferred to it­confirms the Act of Canonical Unity, then the ceremony of the signing of the Act by the First Hierarchs of both Churches and their joint concelebration might happen very quickly.

In conclusion I would like to recall the Holy Scripture, which I paraphrase: "A kingdom divided will never flourish. And -- there is nothing better or more beautiful than when brothers live together in peace."

July 29, 2005 Pavel Korobov (“Kommersant”) , exclusively for

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