2005.02.01 Sourozh: Metropolitan Kirill, "IT IS OUR URGENT DUTY TO
RESTORE CHURCH UNITY"
Metropolitan Kirill of Smolensk and Kaliningrad
IT IS OUR URGENT DUTY TO RESTORE CHURCH UNITY
The following interview, with its introduction, is taken from the Parisian
Russian-language weekly, Russkaia Mysl', No. 40 (4-10 November 2004). It
will be clear from the introduction and the interview itself that there
very strongly held and opposing opinions held within the Archdiocese of
Russian Orthodox Parishes in Western Europe (Ecumenical Patriarchate).
Metropolitan Kirill of Smolensk and Kaliningrad, chairman of the Department
of External Church Relations, was in France at the end of October on the
occasion of the opening of a new parish of the Russian Orthodox Church
(Moscow Patriarchate) in Bordeaux.
The French journalist Victor Loupan, well known for his many reports about
Russia in Le Figaro Magazine, met him in Paris on 24 October. Victor Loupan
is a member of the 'Movement for Local Orthodoxy of the Russian Tradition
in Western Europe' (OLTR), which was established in France in 2003 soon
after the well known epistle of Alexis II, Patriarch of Moscow and All
Russia (Russkaia Mysl' No. 4451). This epistle was addressed to the
diocesan bishops of the West European dioceses of the Russian Orthodox
Church (ROC)) and the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia (ROCOR), to
the Archdiocese of Russian Orthodox Parishes in Western Europe (under the
jurisdiction of the Ecumenical Patriarch) and to all parishes of the
Russian tradition in Western Europe. In it the head of the Russian Church
proposed the unification of all these dioceses into one single metropolitan
constituency, which would have wide powers of autonomy, but would
canonically be part of the Moscow Patriarchate.
The epistle of Alexis II was received in Paris after the death of
Archbishop Sergii and a month before the election of a new ruling bishop
for the Archdiocese, Archbishop Gabriel, who then took on canonical
oversight over the parishes under the jurisdiction of the Ecumenical
Patriarch. The epistle was received with misgivings (Russkaia Mysl', Nos.
4452 and 4453).
On the one hand, a group of lay Orthodox, which was to come together as the
Movement for Local Orthodoxy of the Russian Tradition in Western Europe
(OLTR), warmly supported the suggestion by Patriarch Alexis II and asked
for widespread discussions concerning it within the Archdiocese. This was
the intention of the two discussion forums that took place on 1 February
and 25 April 2004 (Russkaia Mysl', No. 4502). Members of the movement
insisted that now, when 'the Mother-Church has become free, we must return
to it to be faithful to our inheritance and to preserve the canonical
structure of Orthodox Churches in the diaspora' (Seraphim Rehbinder,
Chairman of the Movement).
On the other hand, many lay Orthodox and clergy of the Archdiocese are
convinced that, following the emigration of the twentieth century, the
Orthodox are no longer purely 'Eastern', and that a local Orthodox Church
is emerging in Western Europe, for all members, not depending on their
national origins and the language of services. They regard the path forward
towards a canonical structure for the Orthodox Church in Western Europe to
lie in support of the work of the Assembly of the Orthodox bishops of
France, and they consider that for the establishment of a local Orthodox
Church in Western Europe there is no need for the union of Russian parishes
in a metropolitan region within the Moscow Patriarchate (cf. Russkaya
Mysl', No. 4513 and the reply to it by OLTR in No. 4518).
In his interview for Russkaya Mysl' His Grace Metropolitan Kirill, a
permanent member of the Holy Synod of the Moscow Patriarchate, recalls that
the appeal of Patriarch Alexis of 1 April 2003 is still in force. He speaks
of his work with His Grace Archbishop Sergii of blessed memory on the
possibility of organising the structure of Orthodoxy of the Russian
tradition in Western Europe, and of the present relationship between the
ROC and the new head of the Archdiocese, Archbishop Gabriel.
In our opinion, this exclusive interview with Metropolitan Kirill casts
light on many questions that have arisen in the polemic taking place within
our Archdiocese, and is especially important in that it reflects the
official position of the Moscow Patriarchate.
* * *
Q: Your Grace, a Bishops' Council of the Russian Orthodox Church was
recently held in Moscow, and its proceedings were carefully followed
overseas. Of course a very important topic was the discussion on the
rapprochement with the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia (ROCOR). But
we noted as well that the Council also expressed its concern 'regarding the
canonical divisions of those Orthodox believers in the diaspora, who
identify their Church life with the spiritual traditions of Russian
Orthodoxy, and who are not involved in the process of reconciliation
between the Moscow Patriarchate and ROCOR'.
A: Discussion of this theme at the Council was at the initiative of His
Holiness. His Holiness the Patriarch said that the divisions between the
Church at home and the Russian diaspora were a tragic consequence of the
revolution and civil war in Russia. This applies both to the Russian
Orthodox Church Outside Russia and to that part of the Russian diaspora
which is now part of the Paris Exarchate. But surely now all those
political reasons for division have been consigned to history. This is why
His Holiness Patriarch Alexis pointed out that the reunification of the
Church was an urgent duty. One should also realise that this question is
bound up with another subject of great importance, that of the spiritual
unity of the Russian people. We must overcome the effects of the civil war!
It was in this context that His Holiness recalled his epistle of 1 April
2003 to the Orthodox of the Russian tradition in Western Europe.
Q: Does this mean that the epistle of] April 2003 is still in force? There
are some here who say that with the death of Metropolitan Anthony, to whom
the Patriarch wished to entrust the work of unification, and since
negotiations with ROCOR have taken their own path, the proposals of the
Patriarch are no longer relevant. How do they fit with the negotiations
A: The Patriarch's epistle reflects our fundamental vision for the future
of the Russian diaspora throughout the world and in particular in Western
Europe. In that sense the document is of permanent significance. We shall
not renounce -- and have no intention of renouncing -- the fundamental
principles expressed in the epistle. Its general outlook is shared by our
brothers in the Russian Church Outside Russia. However, they consider that
at present their West European flock would prefer to re-establish
eucharistic unity with the Church in Russia, whilst remaining within the
organisational framework of ROCOR, as it has developed thus far.
Q: When, in your opinion, can we hope that eucharistic unity will take
place between the Moscow Patriarchate and the Russian Church Outside
Russia? And will this mean the restoration of jurisdictional unity?
A: The recent Bishops' Council approved the work that has been achieved so
far by the commissions of the Moscow Patriarchate and the Russian Church
Outside Russia. Thus far the task has not been completed. It assumes
further clarification of the conditions for eucharistic and canonical
unity. We anticipate that ROCOR, structured as it is now, will become a
self-governing part of a single Russian Orthodox Church. How at a later
stage the relationship of the existing parallel organisational structures
in Western Europe, in America and in other parts of the world will develop,
only time will show. It is not worthwhile trying to determine everything in
As to the time scale for establishment of eucharistic unity one can say the
following: if members of the Bishops' Council had not felt optimistic on
this score, they would not have given the Holy Synod the powers to deal
with this canonical question, and would have suggested that we return to
this issue in four years time, when, according to our Statutes, there is to
be another Council.
Q: In your opinion, what does this mean for the West European Exarchate as
the other branch of the Russian ecclesial presence in the West?
A: I think that success in rapprochement between the Russian Orthodox
Church and the Russian Church Outside Russia will be source of inspiration
for those forces in the Exarchate that seek to overcome the divisions
between the separated parts of the Russian Church. Of course we are
speaking firstly of those who consider themselves to be the heirs of the
traditions of the united Russian Church of the pre-Revolutionary period and
are conscious of the abnormality of the persistence of such divisions at
the present time, when the causes for it are in the past. These people will
naturally be lobbying for the involvement of the Exarchate in the process
Q: However, in your own presentation at the Council there were some remarks
about the lack of understanding with which the epistle of His Holiness
Alexis was greeted by the leadership of the Archdiocese. We would like to
take advantage of your presence here in Paris to clarify some details.
A: I find it inevitable that those seeking unity should encounter some lack
of understanding on the part of those for whom links with the spiritual
tradition of Russia are not seen as something important or necessary. But
if we look at the epistle of His Holiness the Patriarch, we see in it that
the suggested model for a Metropolia meets in the best possible way the
aspirations of those seeking reunification as well as the desire of many
who wish to retain the specific characteristics of Church life that have
developed during the more than seventy year existence of the Exarchate. It
is a shame that there is a noticeable bias against those who do not always
share the views of the leadership of the Exarchate regarding the future of
the Church structures and are in sympathy with closer ties with the Russian
Q: His eminence Archbishop Gabriel, when he was locum tenens, publicly
promised to invite widespread discussion of the proposals of His Holiness.
However, after his election he did not allow this to happen, and it would
appear; has no intention of doing so, despite repeated requests from many
members of the Archdiocese. As a result there has been no official response
to the Patriarch letter. However; in an interview published in Russkaya
mysl', Archbishop Gabriel did say that he had sent a personal letter to His
Holiness the Patriarch of Moscow and of all Russia, though without making
public its contents. At the same time, however, Archbishop Gabriel has
sharply criticised the Patriarch for not replying to his letter
A: Such a letter was indeed received. Unfortunately, however, its contents
were not a reply to the Patriarch's appeal of 1 April 2003. Instead,
Archbishop Gabriel sought to see in it some sort of plot aimed against the
Exarchate. On the basis of these suspicions he constructs totally baseless
accusations against the Russian Orthodox Church. The tone of the letter by
the head of the Exarchate was so blunt, that a written reply from His
Holiness the Patriarch was not possible. The letter which was received in
Moscow in no way conforms to the accepted style and manner of an official
exchange with the head of the Russian Church. To respond in a similar tone
would have been unworthy of the Patriarch. With the blessing of His
Holiness, I gave an oral reply to Archbishop Gabriel when we met in Zurich
in February of this year.
Q: Can we return to those disagreements with the Exarchate already
mentioned? The catastrophe of 1917 thrust out millions of Russians on to
the highways and byways of the world. Amongst them there were not a few
hierarchs and many priests of the Russian Orthodox Church. They were
destined never to see their homeland again, but they did establish hundreds
of parishes all over the world, which are functioning to this day. How do
you regard the Russian Orthodoxy that has taken root in the West? Is it, in
your opinion, still Russian, or is it rather a 'Western' Orthodoxy that
only has Russian roots?
A: The prayers of the Orthodox Russians living outside of Russia and their
love for their suffering homeland helped the Russian Church survive during
the period of persecution. The Church at home endured a most vicious
persecution. In seventy years the atheist regime produced more martyrs than
any other period in the history of the Church. During this time Russian
refugees living in the countries of Western Europe exercised a special
ministry. We should remember that at the beginning of the last century
there were very few Orthodox Churches in Europe, and most of them were
located either in Russian diplomatic missions or at holiday resorts. One
could not speak of real Orthodox communities or of the participation in
them of local inhabitants. After the 1917 revolution, for the first time in
centuries, a real encounter of the West with Orthodoxy took place.
I will not dwell on the significance of this encounter for Western
Christians. One could say a great deal about that. But for the Orthodox
there were also significant gains. It gave birth, amongst other things, to
the well known school of 'Paris theology'. Those of us living in the Soviet
Union, and who were familiar with the writings of its representatives,
always accepted it as a part of the heritage of the Russian Church. The
emigration in those days was filling a void in Church life of the Church
that could not be filled at that time in Russia. And then the atheistic
colossus collapsed. The martyr Church could develop its life fully. The
'Parisian heritage' began to return to Russia, and also became part of our
rebirth. We always believed that not only would there be a home coming for
academic ideas, and for books, but that there would be a restoration of the
organic unity between the branches of Russian Orthodoxy in the West with
the Mother Church that had been interrupted temporarily by political
At the same time we understand very well that one of the results of the
witness of our fellow countrymen in the West is the fact that, today,
Orthodox believers who are not of Russian descent make up a definite part
of the parish communities originally established by the first Russian
emigres. Even the descendants of the first Russia emigres do not think of
themselves as newcomers in foreign surroundings, but as full citizens of
the countries where they were born and are culturally rooted. But like the
descendants of emigres from other Orthodox lands, they remain attached to
the spiritual tradition of the country from which they came. Apart from
that, in recent years many new Orthodox have settled in Western Europe,
whether permanently or on a temporary basis. The 'Iron Curtain' no longer
exists. The whole world is caught up in a process of globalisation. In
these circumstances people especially desire to preserve a spiritual link
with their roots, with their national religious traditions.
Thus we see that the contemporary situation of Russian Orthodoxy in Western
Europe is a complex phenomenon, in a new stage of development. In
principle, the future will see the emergence of a local Orthodoxy, united
not by nationality, but territorially, and bringing together many languages
and cultures, without negating or being ruled by any one of them. They will
carefully preserve their inherited traditions and give them a new, creative
form. But such a development must in no way be rushed. We cannot impose
upon God a timetable that may seem correct to us. Movement in the right
direction will be assisted, I believe, by those steps that will lead to a
coming together of the various national diasporas. We are convinced that it
is necessary to grant to Church structures in the diaspora an
ever-increasing measure of independence in proportion to their 'maturity'.
Q: Vladyko, what you have said will come as a surprise to many. Here, in
Western Europe, the Russian Church is often accused of defending a
distorted ecclesiology that is both nationalistic and 'autocephalist'. That
is to say, according to this ecclesiology, all Russians or descendants of
Russians anywhere in the world -- or those who have been converted to
Orthodoxy as a result of the mission of the Russian Church -- must always
remain within the jurisdiction of the Moscow Patriarchate.
A: Only those who are not at all familiar with history and the current
practice of the Russian Church could say this. We have consistently applied
the position that I have just laid out, starting in the 1960s. And this is
attested to by numerous documents of the pan-Orthodox pre-Conciliar
meetings of the time, starting with Rhodes and continuing at Chambesy. The
representatives of the Russian Church always expressed the following idea
at these meetings: Christianity is spread by the mission of the Church, and
when this bears fruit it becomes the source of new Church communities. And
then these communities, when on territories that are not part of the
territory of a given local Church, gradually move towards autonomy or
autocephaly. These principles have been handed down to us by the Early
Church. The Apostles of Christ worked on this principle. The great Russian
missionaries have also sought this. A true missionary ministry must above
all be sacrificial, without selfishness, free of any egotism or ambition.
Otherwise it will have nothing in common with the spirit of apostleship.
Besides, the Russian Church has more than once demonstrated its adherence
to this principle in practice. Remember the bestowing of the status of
autocephaly on the Orthodox Church in America, or of autonomy on the
Japanese Orthodox Church. Very recently a very high level of independence
has been granted to the self-governing Churches within the territory of the
Moscow Patriarchate, in Ukraine, Moldova, Estonia, Latvia. No one can
accuse the Russian Church of attempting to concentrate ecclesiastical power
in its hands.
Q: But surely this process of decentralisation, or of passing on
ecclesiastical authority, met with some opposition?
A: One has to admit that these decisions were arrived at with some
difficulty. Firstly there was the opposition to this by those Churches that
were not prepared to deal with their own diaspora in a similar way, by
granting them greater autonomy. They feared that the actions of the Moscow
Patriarchate might serve as a catalyst for similar processes within those
parts of the diaspora under other Patriarchates. This was particularly
sharply felt when we granted autocephaly to the American Church. Within the
Russian Church there were many discussions on this subject, as the Orthodox
Church in America is flesh of our Church flesh, and Orthodoxy was spread
there over many years by the work of Russian missionaries. Until 1922 there
was only the jurisdiction of the Russian Church, although there were
multilingual parishes and clergy. It was only after the Russian revolution
that an abnormal jurisdictional pattern emerged.
Finally, in 1970, it was the position taken by Metropolitan Nikodim of
Leningrad and Novgorod -- to grant independence -- that gained the upper
hand. The thinking behind the decision was motivated neither by gain nor
political thinking. It was founded on apostolic tradition, as I have
already said. This decision also conforms to the vision of St Tikhon, the
future Patriarch, for the future of Orthodoxy on the American continent,
when he was Archbishop of the Aleutian Islands and North America at the
beginning of the 20th century. Time has shown that the decision taken in
1970 was the correct one. The Orthodox Church in America is developing in a
stable way, it has proved its vitality, and in many ways is an example for
Orthodox Christians of other jurisdictions in North America.
Q: But why, in that case, does the Russian Church, having granted
autocephaly to its American Metropolia, still retain its parishes in America?
A: One must not forget that by far not all the parishes of the Metropolia
supported the idea of independence for the American Church or wish to be
associated with its future development. We could not ignore the mood of the
people. From a pastoral standpoint it would have been wrong to leave these
parishes to the mercy of fate, as this might have led to some form of
schism. I would draw your attention to the fact that the list of those
parishes which remained under the jurisdiction of the Moscow Patriarchate
were specifically mentioned in the Tomos granting autocephaly. Since then
we have not opened a single parish beyond this list, even though there is a
real need to improve spiritual care for the very large number of Orthodox
from Russia and the CIS who have recently arrived in America, and cannot
imagine themselves in any Church other than the Russian Church. We are
trying to solve this problem together with the Orthodox Church in America,
and are engaged in discussions with representatives of this Church, on how
best to care for these people.
Q: But even so, why do the Patriarchal parishes in the USA and Canada not
join the Orthodox Church in America?
A: This is a complex matter, mostly due to human psychology. I think that
it is very important for any multi-national Church to check the balance
carefully, and to see that no one ethnic, cultural or linguistic group
feels itself in any way put upon.
Q: As far as we know, during the final decade of the last century all the
Orthodox Churches have been trying to resolve the problem of the diaspora.
To what do you attribute the low success rate of their efforts?
A: To my mind, the essential error in this process was the fact that the
representatives of the local Churches, at meetings called by the Patriarch
of Constantinople and chaired by his representatives, attempted to resolve
the question of the diaspora without actively involving representatives of
the diaspora itself. The Russian Orthodox Church indicated from the very
start that this was wrong. I remember how during the last meeting of the
Inter-Orthodox Preparatory Commission at ChambÎsy in November 1993, I once
again raised this question. Regrettably our concerns expressed at the time
did not meet with any support.
Q: And what about the episcopal conferences? Surely the setting up of these
was decided during the pre-Conciliar process. How do you regard this step?
A:This was a good decision. The idea was that these regional conferences
would become a core around which synods of local Churches could gradually
be formed. But there was another interpretation: these conferences were to
be a transitional phase for the establishment of full Church authority of a
single Patriarchate in each country of the diaspora. This was reflected in
the arguments over the chairmanship of these conferences. We thought that
the bishops themselves should elect the chair, and we also suggested the
idea of a rotating chairman. Constantinople, on the other hand, insisted
that only their representatives could fulfil this role. As a result, in
many parts of the world the planned episcopal conferences never took place.
Q: However, in France there is an Assembly of Orthodox bishops. Some people
have expressed the thought that the proposals of the Patriarch of Moscow
seem to ignore its existence.
A: That I cannot understand. You know that our Church actively participates
in the Assembly, and that Archbishop Innokentii of Korsun is a member. The
Assembly is a very useful undertaking, which facilitates better mutual
cooperation between the Orthodox.
Q: How would you characterise the present state of relationship between the
Moscow Patriarchate and the Exarchate of Russian Orthodox Parishes in
Western Europe? What has changed over the recent years and what sort of
contact has there been?
A: Invariably we take as a starting point the fact that we all belong to
one Body of Christ, in which we are united by love and the fullness of
grace that is of the essence of the Church. This applies to our
relationships with all local Orthodox Churches and their dioceses. But our
ties with the Exarchate are special, as it was once a part of the Russian
Church, and only by force of political circumstances moved under the
jurisdiction of the Church of Constantinople. This is why we are concerned
about the signs of alienation from the Russian Church which have been seen
recently within the Exarchate and which take different forms.
Q: Is it true that during the rule of the late Archbishop Sergii there were
discussions about reunification? How far did these discussions go? It is
said that the epistle of the Patriarch was a development of the contacts
that took place between the Russian Church and Vladyka Sergii of blessed
A: It is to the great credit of Vladyka Sergii of blessed memory that
eucharistic communion was re-established between the Exarchate and the
Russian Orthodox Church. He also understood the reasons that led to the
separation of the Exarchate from the Russian Orthodox Church. That is why,
when the reasons, which were -- I repeat -- of a political nature,
disappeared with the collapse of the so-called 'Iron Curtain', he began a
process of surmounting the consequences of these political divisions in
Church life. He realised that the present situation of the Exarchate, whose
original 'temporary' character was being forgotten, did not correspond with
the newly changed circumstances and with the special mission of the
Exarchate in Western Europe. With this particular goal in mind, Vladyka
Sergii created a special commission called 'The Future of the Archdiocese'.
It was during the work of this commission that the idea was put forward of
establishing in Western Europe a self-governing Metropolia, which would
bring together the dioceses and parishes of the Russian tradition. This
idea was welcomed in Moscow. There followed a period of working out the
statutes for the creation of such a Metropolia. Unfortunately, Vladyka
Sergii of blessed memory was not able to see his project for the future of
Russian Orthodoxy in Western Europe realised before his death.
Q: You mention a project for the statutes of a Metropolia. Can you say in
more detail what this document is?
A: As a basis we used the extant statutes of the Archdiocese, and the
statutes of the self-governing parts of the Moscow Patriarchate. We also
looked at the decisions of the Local Council (Sobor) of 1917 to the extent
that they apply to the current situation. We were able to create a well
thought through, if not finalised, document, which satisfied both sides.
The statutes regulate the canonical position of the Metropolia, the rights
and duties of the ruling bishop and of diocesan bishops, the powers of
governing bodies: the General Assembly, Bishops' Council, the Synod, the
ecclesiastical courts. The programme and timetable are clearly set out. A
distinctive feature I see is the fact that it provides for a high level of
involvement on the part of clergy and laity in the administrative bodies of
Q: Would it be possible to see the text of these statutes, or are they to
be buried in the archives?
A: I do not think there are any reasons why not. We are prepared to obtain
a copy of the last redaction of the text.
Q: What is your attitude to the activity of the recently created 'Movement
for Local Orthodoxy of the Russian Tradition in Western Europe' (OLTR)?
A: We are following the work of this movement with interest and we agree
with a number of the statements of its members. It is important that a
serious, thoughtful discussion is now taking place. I see here the
particular significance of the Patriarchal letter of 1 April 2003. It has
stimulated a spiritual analysis of the history of Russia and the
contemporary role of the Russian emigration. Of course, there are various
views on this subject. It is still too early to draw any conclusions, but
it is already clear that the question of the unity of the Russian diaspora
is one that demands some kind of solution. It must be examined in the
general context of the establishment of a proper, canonical situation in
Western Europe that on the one hand is organically tied to the Mother
Churches, and on the other will lean towards the formation of a local Church.
Q: Many Orthodox in Western Europe place their hopes in the resolving their
problems in the proposed Pan-Orthodox Council. What prospects are there for
such a Council?
A: The Russian Orthodox Church is constantly coming out in favour of the
need to call such a Council. It is ready to take part in its preparation.
It is a shame that the preparatory process has been slowed down. You know
what has caused this: above all the events in Estonia, which, moreover,
have been an indicator of contradictions that have been growing for some
time. Nonetheless, we cannot just sit by with folded arms. We must act now,
and try and resolve together those problems that world Orthodoxy is now facing.
Sourozh, No. 99, February 2005, pp. 12-23