SAN FRANCISCO: May 7, 2006

Address of His Eminence Metropolitan Laurus at the Opening Ceremonies of the IV All-Diaspora Council

Your Eminences, Your Graces, Brothers and Fathers,


During these festive Paschal days, there can be no other greeting but the joyous exclamation: "Christ is Risen!" and I am exceedingly happy to hear the equally joyful response "Indeed He is Risen!" Yes, He is truly risen, and today we harvest the fruits of His victory over evil. The light of this world-saving celebration illuminates our Church Council, which we have awaited for so long without knowing what it will bring us during these days of brilliant joy.

It is a joy to see here, at the crypt of the great Saint John, representatives of the entire Russian Church Abroad. I hope that in our contact and in our mutual love, we will find the way to further our Church on the proper path in the spirit of wisdom.

Unfortunately, the enemy, ever rising up against the Church of Christ, whipped up a storm of human passions around the altars of God. Some "out of envy and strife" (Philippians 1:15), "have turned… unto vain jangling, desiring to be teachers of the law; understanding neither what they say, nor whereof they affirm" (I Timothy 1:6-7), others are filled with apparent earnest zeal, but, lacking wisdom, pour gasoline on the flames. " We are become a reproach to our neighbors, a scorn and derision to them that are round about us" (Psalms 79:4). God forbid that mutual argument, reproach and quarrel turn our Russian church emigration into a kingdom divided unto itself.

In order to eliminate the things which led to division and enmity in our midst, we must leave ourselves open to action by Divine grace. First of all we must not be prideful, we must not fall into despair, but, humbling ourselves, rely on the will of God.

Let it be that I only remember this division for the sake of warning all of you in the future. When the Holy Church divides in enmity, those dear and close to each other become enemies, seeking not the common good nor consolation, but opposition and wrath, as though we were born enemies to each other and not born for unity in Christ, in His Church, which He "purchased by His righteous Blood."

I, too, with all my heart, desire that we abandon the enmity and hatred which so ill suits us, people of the Orthodox Church, so that we bear not the burden of response at the Dread Judgment of Christ. We must be grateful to God that He is granting us the opportunity to conduct conciliar work in mutual love. Let us pray that the Lord would steer us away from all harm and danger. Now, as we take to the work of the Church, we must pray with special fervor that the Lord imbue us with the spirit of wisdom and of the fear of God, which is so crucial for our task.

We just heard the sacred words: "Today the grace of the Holy Spirit has gathered us together." They sounded not only in our mouths, but in our hearts. Every good deed is a gift of Divine grace and so especially is conciliar work. The Lord has already shown us a whole series of kind mercies. A great deal of preparatory work was needed before even convening. The Lord helped us overcome all difficulties and we were able to gather here in larger numbers than was possible at previous All-Diaspora Councils.

Everyone likely knows that previous All-Diaspora Councils, the first, second and third, were especially important events in the life and history of our Russian Church Abroad. The first Council was faced with an important task: to place the recently-established Russian Church Abroad upon canonical tracks. That Council is often subjected to the criticism that it had an ostensibly political character. Of course, when it convened long ago in 1921, the pain of the terrible catastrophe that befell the Russian Church and the Russian people was still acute. The imprint of this of course held sway in the work of that Council; naturally, too, everyone was convinced that only through the rebirth of Russia within its genetic ecclesiastical and civil channel would the consequences of this catastrophe and resulting destruction be mitigated. But the fundamental goals of this Council were in fact purely ecclesiastical. It was convened by Metropolitan Anthony of Kiev and Galich, the very first First Hierarch and in fact the founder of our Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia.

The II All-Diaspora Council convened seventeen years later, in 1938, under the second First Hierarch, Metropolitan Anastassy of blessed memory. In some ways, this Council broadened the scope of the Church's work. New spiritual bonds were formed. The Council met under the hopeful mood that soon enough, order would be reestablished in our much-suffering Homeland. At the time, the Russian diaspora planned all sorts of spiritual projects for the homeland to be implimented upon their return. But instead of this, a new catastrophe struck—World War II began, and another period of grave tribulation began for the Russian Church Abroad.

This year marks the 100 th anniversary of the consecration to the episcopacy of Vladyka Anastassy of blessed memory, who never knew a personal life, had no personal interests, but wholly, with self-denial and selflessness, gave his all, imparted every effort and exerted all his energy for the holy work of serving the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia and the Russian people "in exile and dispersement." Through his energy, wisdom and tact, he achieved for the Russian Church Abroad even greater authority in the eyes of all Russian Orthodox Christians and judicious people throughout the world. Besides his own lofty qualities—those of a true monk, a man of prayer and anascetic, and "archpastor by Divine mercy," abstaining from all worldly passions—Blessed Vladyka Anastassy was at the same time the only living representative of the Supreme Ecclesiastical Authority elected by the All-Russian Church Council. His canonical authority alone, not to mention the personal regard held for him by all the Eastern Patriarchs and bishops of the Orthodox Church, was very high, and we can only thank God that He granted to our Russian Church Abroad such a leader, who guided the Russian people surviving in foreign lands through the difficult years of war and tribulations.

In 1956, Blessed Vladyka Anastassy officiated at the consecration of Archimandrite Anthony (Medvedev) as Bishop of Melbourne, who later became the successor to St John upon the cathedra of San Francisco and Western America. Archbishop Anthony was a good pastor by nature, exceptional in the purity of his heart, which was open to all. He was a student of Blessed Metropolitan Anthony and Archbishop Vitaly (Maximenko), form whom he received the spirit of strict churchliness, zeal to the observance of the rule of divine services, love for monastic life and compassionate love for his neighbor. Vladyka Anastassy (Gribanovsky), said this of Vladyka Anthony: "[His love] reconciles enemies and softens embittered and hardened hearts, it soothes them like balm poured into the seething ocean waves." After his appointment here in the late 1960's, Vladyka Anthony soon conquered all hearts in the cathedral city of his new diocese, enduring a great many temptations, and he grew to be loved like a father.

Archbishop Anthony loved young people and children and tended to their education in the spirit of the Church. That is why he was chosen to speak "on school matters" at the III All-Diaspora Council held at our Holy Trinity Monastery in Jordanville in 1974 under His Eminence Metropolitan Philaret (Voznesensky). The main pastoral goal of this Council was the battle against the assimilation of our flock, the struggle for spiritual self-preservation. Thanks to this endeavor and aided by God, we were able to preserve ourselves as Russian and Orthodox. This was a constant concern and theme of the prayers for Archbishop Anthony, the fruits of whose righteous labors are still felt here today.

As we mark the 100 th anniversary of the consecration of Blessed Metropolitan Anthony and the 50 th anniversary of the consecration of Archbishop Anthony, we must also stress their devotion to the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia, in which they saw the protectress of the traditions of the Fatherland. In their epistles they relived the whole tragedy of our history, they denounced the lies of the atheists, they praised the confessors who bore their crosses in our suffering Fatherland, and they rejoiced when the faithful in Russia gained some form of consolation. In particular, I recall a divine service during one of the feast days at the New Kursk-Root Hermitage in Mahopac, in which I participated while still a hieromonk, concelebrating with Blessed Metropolitan Anastassy, when he announced with great jubilation that the holy relics of St Sergius of Radonezh were being returned to the faithful, and he expressed hope that this would strengthen the Russian people suffering from their captors. Archbishop Anthony always stressed the need to announce in our church publications the positive events and phenomena in the life of the Church in Russia. Indeed, their labors were those of a confessor. Blessed Vladyka Anastassy and Vladyka Anthony were worthy of their high calling, for they spared not their strength in serving Christ's Church, they preserved faith, making their way through life in peace, and we must sing Eternal Memory to them.

Since the time of the III All-Diaspora Council, the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia canonized the Holy New Martyrs and Confessors of Russia, whose blood was the source and inspiration of the current sobriety displayed by our compatriots. Of course, this is not a universal, but we see today that active religious educational work is taking place in many dioceses, that is, that the Church, taking advantage of its freedom, is trying to perform an "apostolic movement to the people." Priests can be seen in hospitals, in schools, in prisons, they appear in the press, on the radio and television, preaching of Christ. Members of the Church in Russia are winning the return of their churches, monasteries and miracle-working icons, they are having holy sites destroyed in the godless years restored, where Russian people are now streaming in from everywhere. Archbishop Vikenty of Ekaterinburg told us about how people undergo a spiritual change when visiting holy places connected with the memory of the New Martyrs and other saints. Not he alone, but many others say that the veneration of our New Martyrs is constantly growing, and miracles granted through their prayers are leading people to church. Thank God, the problems and symptoms of the Soviet period are being overcome. I believe that the external rebirth of Russia and of the Church began with the glorification by our Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia of the many-million host of New Martyrs. May God grant that this period of sobering up reaches us, too, that the holy New Martyrs and Confessors of Russia pray in intercession for the forgiveness of our sins and for our renewal.

In our service to God and mankind, we always tried to follow the legacy of our fathers, some of whom we canonized during the reign of His Eminence Metropolitan Vitaly: specifically, St John of Shanghai and San Francisco and St Jonah of Hankow. The glorification of these saints and the glorification of the New Martyrs, proved to be an enormous contribution by the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia to the treasury of the faith, piety and holiness of the entire Russian Church, our investment in the great event of the rebirth of Russia.

In 1991, the communist state fell. As a result, the people of the Church began to examine the relationship between the Russian Church Abroad and the Moscow Patriarchate. Our Council of Bishops' view on this matter was reflected in its Epistle to the Flock of 1991: "Schism can be overcome only with humble prayer, repentance and brotherly love toward all those who fell in the difficult time of persecutions and those currently gone astray... the revival of faith... must begin with our own spiritual renewal, through repentance and the cleansing of ourselves from sinful uncleanness and from self-justification. 'The pure in heart will see God,' i.e. to be cognizant of God and to live in Him, it is essential to purify your thoughts, feelings, and very life."

" We call upon all children of the Orthodox Church to join in this grace-filled pre-Council process with profound understanding of our poverty and sinfulness, relying on the mercy and help of God 'Who remembered us in our low estate' (Psalms 136:23)."

With this, our Church declared the beginning of the pre-Council period which has led us here to San Francisco.

At the time, we began to accept under our omophorion clergymen and faithful of Russia, many of whom, unfortunately, found themselves in the grip of various schismatics, and did not gain the trust and goodwill of our Hierarchy. We grieve for these divisions, as we grieve for the present fate of His Eminence Metropolitan Vitaly, who had done so much for the Russian emigration. I pray to God that He preserve Vladyka Vitaly and open the eyes of those who exploit his good name.

In October, 2000, the Council of Bishops of our Church noted that under their newly-gained freedom, the Council of Bishops of the Moscow Patriarchate held in August, 2000, made a series of declarations which inspired us to hope for a change in the Moscow Patriarchate's attitude towards matters of principle which had until then divided us. These statements concerned the internal order of the Moscow Patriarchate, church-state relations and participation in the ecumenical movement.

These positive changes in Russia's ecclesiastical life motivated the Council of Bishops of our Church held in October 2000 to form a committee on the question of the unity of the Russian Church, and also to bless scholarly historical conferences on the history of the Russian Church in the 20 th century, with the participation of our clergy and clergymen of the Moscow Patriarchate. These conferences were held in 2001 and 2002. Then, in the end of 2003, a Commission on talks with the Moscow Patriarchate was created. None of this means that our Hierarchy revoked those conciliar decisions on the Moscow Patriarchate; this was a response to the earnest and good-willed effort of the Russian Church Abroad to make sense of the tragedy of our common history, in order that we "may discuss peacefully… whatever question there is which separates your communion from us," as we read in the Canon of Carthage No. 92.

It is crucial to regularize the situation the Local Russian Church finds herself in, as the Regulations of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia obliges us to do, for this is a document by which we live and exist. It is interesting to note that a committee on reviewing the Regulations of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia was appointed even before 2000. This shows that even then it was clear that our Regulations, our Ustav, was in need of renewal. Since 2000, new opportunities also presented themselves. Now the Regulations may be reexamined on the basis of future decisions, to some extent, yet also by taking into consideration new possibilities.

It is important to point out here that we are not talking about "unification" or a "merger," but of reconciliation and mutual recognition, of establishing Eucharistic communion with the Moscow Patriarchate while retaining our administrative independence, for we understand the needs of our clergymen and flock better than they are understood in Moscow.

We do not intend to withdraw from our positions of principle, especially regarding ecumenism. We intend to continue to speak out with decisive condemnation of the so-called "branch theory" and all sorts of joint ecumenical prayer, which is reflected in the documents of both church Commissions and approved by the Synod of Bishops. We see that acceptance of our understanding of the heresy of ecumenism has matured within the Moscow Patriarchate, and so we are actively working towards ensuring that the Wholeness of the Russian Church is imbued with this same attitude. We are striving towards having the entire Orthodox Church return to the initial declaration adopted in Moscow at the Pan-Orthodox Conference in 1948. In this regard, we are not compromising our inherited principles, which have guided us in recent decades. Still, living in the non-Orthodox world, we were always open to dialog with everyone, strictly adhering to the idea that this must be done without any harm for the faith and Orthodox dogmatic teaching. In our official documents we always held to a conservative ecclesiology and never rejected the existence of grace in the Local Orthodox Churches.

We are pleased by the obvious positive processes in the life of the Church in Russia. Bringing us joy, too, are the positive phenomena we see now in other Local Churches, for instance: the Constantinople Patriarchate and the Greek Church in recent years began to allow the use of the church [old] calendar in monasteries and parishes in Greece and abroad. Recently, Archbishop Chrystodoulos of Athens and All Greece appealed to all the Old Calendarists in Greece with a proposal to open dialog on the healing of divisions in the Greek Church. New parishes have appeared in the Orthodox Church of America which adhere to the old calendar and strict Orthodox traditions. These steps are encouraging, and we believe they are a result of our standing witness for the purity of the faith and ecclesiastical tradition. That is why, in dialog with the Moscow Patriarchate, we see the possibility of positively influencing not only church life in Russia, but the situation throughout the Orthodox world in general, and we feel that this way we will provide to the world an example of good-willed, constructive dialog with the aim of normalizing relations, healing church illnesses and strengthening truly Orthodox positions in the whole world.

Let us always remember that only in the Kingdom of Heaven will everything be good, in the Church Militant we will always be beset with problems, mortal passions and temptations, which we must overcome by means of dialog and a Christian attitude towards each other, as Apostle Paul wrote to the Galatians: "restore such a one in the spirit of meekness." We pray to God for the healing of the wounds of division, and we work towards this. We hope that the Old Calendarists, combining zeal for the preservation of Church tradition with the consecration of bishops performed by canonical bishops, will be able to resolve their problems, make peace and participate in the healing of ecclesiastical ills throughout the Orthodox world, for this is the duty of the witnesses of the faith and tradition of the Fathers.

It was pleasing to the Lord that we gather today not anywhere, but specifically in this wondrous cathedral, which matches the significance of our work. Here abide the uncorrupt relics of our St John, whose care for his flock was a precursor to his prayerful intercession for us sinners, as we sing to him in the troparion: "Lo, thy care for thy flock in its sojourn prefigured the supplications which thou doest ever offer up for the whole world."

We have gathered at an auspicious time, when the Holy Church is in need of direction towards the clear path we must take. In the Church, "Let all things be done decently and in order." But that is not the essence, for the letter often kills while the spirit gives life. We must observe the unity of love in the union of peace, for this is needed for all life and especially in conciliar work. Only under these conditions will the Lord grant us unity, will He grant the breath of the Holy Spirit. We must pray for this, so that our Council may lead the flock with a confident hand to the glory of God and the benefit of the entire Church. Amen.


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