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Archpriest Maxim Kozlov: "My heart and soul are craving for the unity of the
Archpriest Maxim Kozlov, rector of St. Tatiana's Church in the Moscow State
University and one of the participants of the dialogue with the Russian
Orthodox Church Outside Russia, speaks about the process.
- Father Maxim, it's common knowledge that the Moscow Patriarchate was
acutely disliked in the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia up to mid-1990s. In
your opinion, what are the reasons of the recent change of attitude of the
ROCoR Synod to the Church at Home?
- I would like to begin with a historical and theological prelude. For any
Orthodox believer, a division within the Church is a tragedy, and severing of
the ecclesiastical communication damages the unity of the Church. No external
circumstances can stop the people of the Church from understanding a tragedy in
the disunity of Orthodox Christians.
But, while this is an axiom, we must also understand that the historical
circumstances that the Church has found itself in during the 20th century, are
unprecedented in church history. It is hardly possible to treat the divisions of
the 20th century the way we treat the divisions of the 9th, 10th or earlier
centuries. Never before had the Church found itself living in a state whose
final aim during the whole of its existence was to destroy the Church altogether
and eradicate religious worldview. We must understand that this was the aim of
the Soviet regime, and it was carried through with different means, different
degree of consequence and cruelty, but all the time.
That is way the life of the Church in Russia went through different phases,
with different intensity, from the 1920s onwards, and this is perfectly
understandable. The position of Metropolitan Sergius (Patriarch from 1943) was also
perfectly explicable: he wanted to retain the official structure of the Church,
he wanted the people to have churches where they could come to christen their
children or bury their dead, without the fear of finding themselves in prison
the next morning. He wanted the church life to go on, even be it t in very a
Certainly, Metropolitan Sergius, as any hierarch of the Synodal period,
considered the legalising of church life to be his main aim, and he couldn't
imagine that the people he tried to reach an agreement with were, in the words of
St. Augustine, a "band of robbers", who would sign the decision to legalise the
Church with one hand, and the decision for death-sentence t and for prison of
priests of this very Church with the other. Metropolitan Sergius believed
that, once the legal status is acquired, a certain order in the relations with the
state would take place. At the time, in the late 1920s, no one could foresee
what would happen in the 1930s, what Calvary was waiting for the Orthodox
Church in Russia.
But the position of courageous hierarchs, priests, monks and nuns and lay
people, those confessors who considered it impossible to make compromises with
the Godless authorities and rejected Metropolitan Sergius's position, who went
into the underground, is perfectly justifiable as well. That is why, for a
considerable period of time, the Orthodox Church was both official and underground
in the Soviet Russia. At the same time, a part of it was in exile, abroad,
and could speak freely on the events in the USSR.
It will probably take decades for us to see clearly that the position in the
1920s and 30s was God-sent. But, together with the Design of God, human
relations played their part too - the contradictions, insults and confusion that
broke human communication, brought about enmity and mutual repulsion, so that the
other side turned into an enemy or a traitor. Unfortunately, a certain
phantom image of the Moscow Patriarchate started to form itself in the minds of many
clergymen and laymen in the ROCoR. They started to perceive it as a small
group of hierarchies, a slightly larger group of clergymen and a still larger
group of ignorant lay people, who are used by the Soviet authorities and the KGB,
without realising that or even with their consent. This fantastic image
really did exist in the minds of the majority of people within the ROCoR.
Just the changing situation in the Soviet Union from the late 1980s, just the
opened possibility of communication - first tentative, then more and more
obvious - started to change the minds of Russians abroad. People could come to
Russia and see what was happening, visit our monasteries and parishes, read the
books that we began to publish, look at the whole entirety of church life.
Thus the unrealistic image started to dispel in the minds of sober-thinking
people. It's hard to believe, being a rational person, that all that is happening
within our Church is done according to the design of the unforgettable KGB. A
sensible person will understand that building churches, consecrating the new
martyrs, canonising the saints, reviving church education and many other things
cannot be a sort of cunning evil plan on behalf of the Moscow Patriarchate
aimed solely at turning people away from God and the true Orthodoxy. So life
itself, and not anything else, started to change the situation, and the enmity
that the Church Abroad felt against the Moscow Patriarchate started to dwindle
naturally, the wall between us started to disintegrate.
- What steps were taken at the start of the dialogue between the Moscow
Patriarchate and the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia, what did the talks
that are on now begin with?
- I would like to remind you that our present Primate, His Holiness Patriarch
Alexii II, has stated our openness for dialogue throughout his Primacy. All
the Councils of the Russian Orthodox Church, beginning with the Council that
elected His Holiness Primate, addressed the Church Abroad, calling for unity.
It has taken quite a long tome for their reaction to take place. I think
these 10 or 15 years had to be spent in learning each other, seeing each other in
a real light, before the actual dialogue on unity began.
We had to go through the crisis connected with the appearance of ROCoR
parishes in Russia, too. It was extremely painful for us, for many of us it spoiled
the image of the Church Abroad as a kind of 'pure maiden in festive attire'
who makes no mistakes and never seeks to gratify its own interests.
But it turned out to be an even more important lesson for the Church Abroad
itself. They hoped that, these parishes having opened, people would join the
Church Abroad diocese after diocese. But all who came were a handful of
clergymen and parishes. Moreover, the Synod of the Church Abroad soon found out what
particular kind of clergy came to those parishes. For the most part they were
not the flower of Russian clergy, mostly they were people with very strange
ideas, or those who had been suspended from service or had a conflict with their
ruling bishops. Many of them went through the Church Abroad only to find
themselves in whatever places. We can remember the notorious Valentin Suzdalskiy,
for example. There were direct warnings about him: he was just one of the
people who did really collaborate with the Soviet authorities. But the Church
Abroad made him bishop - and now they have rejected him. Archimandrite Adrian
(Starina) from Noginsk first turned to the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia,
and then to the false patriarch of Kiev. There were many others who came to
the Church Abroad, then left it for some schism.
Beyond any doubt, the conferences that were called on the initiative of our
European dioceses and the German diocese of the Church Abroad, with its
Archbishop, Mark (Arndt), also played a very important part in the process of
convergence. Many outstanding church scholars, historians and theologians, took part
in it. The conferences were called to consider the historical context of our
20th century divisions.
Also, a very important part was the markedly respectful attitude to the ROCoR
shown by the Russian President, who pointed out that the unity of the Russian
Orthodoxy is a thing that the Russian state and the Russian society are
immediately interested in.- The main points that the Church Abroad held as
accusations against the Moscow Patriarchate were so-called 'Sergianism' and the
ecumenical activities of the Moscow Patriarchate. How are these problems being
- As it is known, common committees were established in connection with the
present unification process. Their aim is to consider issues that still do or
appear to divide us. Indeed, among the issues of principle (not practical
problems) only two are still pending, and these are the issues that you've
mentioned: the attitude to the ecumenical movement and the so-called 'Sergianism'.
Gradually, through reading the official documents of our Church, first and
foremost - the Social Concept of the Russian Orthodox Church, and the decree of
the Archpastors Council of the Russian Orthodox Church on the attitude to
other branches of Christianity, the representatives of the ROCoR saw our true
attitude to these issues and found out that there are virtually no differences in
the way we understand these problems. The following way was suggested: we
think that certain joint church and historical research is necessary in the
future, but we will not consider our past and our existing different views on the
history of the Church an obstacle on the way to our main aim, the revival of
Our aim now is to work out a joined declaration, common principles of
relations between the Church and the state, which would state the impossibility of
the Church being subject to any state whatsoever. Our Social Concept mentions
this already. Probably, we should also condemn what the ROCoR traditionally
terms 'Sergianism' but what would better be called 'servility' - that is, an
unacceptable degree of servility of the Church hierarchies and administration
before any state, both the atheistic Soviet and the democratic American equally.
As for the ecumenical activities, the principles of what is desirable,
permissible and unacceptable in relations to Christians of other branches have to be
formulated. These principles might be articulated at the nearest meeting of
the committees of the Moscow Patriarchate and the Church Abroad, before the
Archpastors Council. They may be offered for consideration at the Councils, if
that is accepted, then they may be ratified first by the Archpastors Council of
our Church, and then the Archpastors Council of the Russian Orthodox Church
Outside Russia. Afterwards, new steps towards our union may be taken.
A very important step was achieved when the latest meeting of our Holy Synod
decided not to start new and to stop all the old legal arguments with the
ROCoR. It was decided that all the disagreements should be tackled within the
framework of joined committees.
Some disagreements still remain, of course. The issue of 'Abroadist' parishes
inside Russia still craves its solving, both in principle and in connection
to the actual clerics and bishops now adhering to those parishes. The issue of
co-existence of parishes of our two Churches in the Diaspora, the presence of
Moscow Patriarchate bishops there, are waiting too for being gradually solved.
But I think they can be resolved with the restored communication in
Eucharist. It's so much easier to talk when we can pray together at the Liturgy, when
we can take the Communion from one and the same Cup of the Body and the Blood
- The authorities of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia, together
with its Head, Metropolitan Laurus, have demonstrated their sincere wish to bring
our Churches closer, but is this position unanimously shared within the
Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia?
- Of course not. There are archpastors, whole dioceses within the Russian
Orthodox Church Outside Russia who are constant in their support of Metropolitan
Laurus and the cause of unity of the Russian Orthodoxy which has now, I'm
sure, become the aim of his life and his service. There are also clergymen and
laymen who, for various reason, disagree with the line of action chosen by
Metropolitan Laurus or are doubting it. I would divide these people into several
groups. There are people who have simply not yet grasped the changes that took
place in our Church, our country, who are maybe not familiar enough with today's
Russia. These are mainly elderly clerics and laymen. They need to be talked
to, quietly, lovingly, patiently, without being hurt by their accusations,
which they often make because of lack of the information. Step by step, example by
example, official paper by official paper we should demonstrate that their
prejudices against the Moscow Patriarchate are unfounded. We must understand,
accept and love these people.
For decades, they have fought for what they thought to be the Holy Russia,
they fought against the Soviet power which was for them a personification of
global evil, and falsely identified the Moscow Patriarchate and our church with
that evil. And now all has been changed. Their situation is very much like the
situation that our elderly people found themselves in when the Soviet Union
collapsed: people struggled of some ideals and aims all their lives, and
suddenly they are left with nothing. They are told that their ideals were false and
that the state they have been building no longer exists. So some of those
confused people now agitate for the Communists or join some marginal groups. Let us
understand our brothers abroad and be patient with them.
But among the clerics of the Church Abroad there are a number who take an
extremist, 'zealot' position. These people will probably never accept the union,
and will find themselves in a schism. Unfortunately this is almost certain.
Our aim would be to minimise the number of pious people who would be carried
away by the 'zealots'.
At last , there is a group of clerics in the Russian Orthodox Church Outside
Russia who fled there from the Moscow Patriarchate, and for whom the issue of
church unity is not ideological but personal. It will be unpleasant for many
of them to find themselves facing the unpleasant facts of their personal life
that triggered their joining the Church Abroad. It's clear that union with
these people is not very feasible either.
- So there is a threat that some conservative part of the Russian Orthodox
Church Outside Russia will be against the union with the Church at Home?
-I wouldn't like to call that part of the clergy and parishioners of the
ROCoR conservatives. I think that the reasonable, conservative part if the Church
Abroad in the good sense of the word is just the one headed by Metropolitan
Laurus. And these people prevail in the Church Abroad. I would rather call those
who are against unification people with a potentially sect-like ideology
(like the Greek 'old-stylers' or other marginal groups who seem to be willing to
return to the pure Orthodoxy, but in actual fact turn out to be virtual sects).
And the ones who pursue their own interests are still less worthy of the name
When all the followers of Metropolitan Laurus join the united Russian
Orthodox Church, the reasonable, traditional, truly conservative spirit will be most
welcome in our Church. It will show some of our mock-conservatives and
marginals their real place. All those who wage a war against tax documents, all those
who what to canonise Rasputin or Ivan the Terrible, and call themselves
conservatives, will find themselves in their designated place, the margins of
I think that all sensible hierarchies and clergymen of the Church Abroad
understand that it is inevitable that a part of the clergy and the parishioners
would become dissidents.
- How can the issue of the status of the Church Abroad within the Russian
Orthodox Church be connected with the project of creating a self-governing
metropolis in Europe?
- As far as I know, the question is not being considered in detail as yet.
When the talks had just begun, there were two possible variants: the one
involved Metropolitan areas being created in Europe and America, and, respectively,
the revival of the idea that His Holiness the Patriarch named in his famous
address, about the Russian Orthodox entirety in Europe.
The other project, which, as far as I know, has been accepted as basic, is to
retain the considerable autonomy of the Church Abroad (like the Ukrainian
Orthodox Church, for example): it would remain economically independent,
internally administered, will be free to choose the bishops. At the same time, the
project involves the Patriarch and the Synod confirming the choice of the Primate
of the Church Abroad, who will probably become a member of the Synod too. His
Holiness the Patriarch of Moscow and all Russia will be prayed for at the
services of that part of the Russian Orthodox Church.
But let me repeat: this project is not a subject of detailed discussion as
yet. The main issue is to restore the communication in Eucharist, and only then
will the canonical status of the Church Abroad as part of the united Russian
Orthodox Church be discussed.
- At the moment, a new round of talks between the Church Abroad and the
Moscow Patriarchate is taking place. What stage are they on now, what decisions
have been achieved?
- For the time being, there is only one decision: that before the end of the
talks, neither the participants nor those who have any information about it
will give any comments, only official communiquИs will be made after each round
of the talks. I think we should respect this decision. It doesn't mean that
the talks are closed to the public, its only aim is to prevent the idle
discussions that may become a stumbling block in the very delicate period when such
important decisions are being taken.
- Father Maxim, and what do you, personally, wait from the coming Archpastors
Council in terms of the developing dialogue with the ROCoR?
- My heart and soul are craving for what Christ the Saviour commanded us to
retain - the unity of the Church. That is why I sincerely hope that, in spite
of all the snags and a certain wariness that some people still feel, the
Archpastors Council will be able to carry out a decision which, once the respective
decision is carried out by the Synod of the Church Abroad, will enable us to
restore our communication in Eucharist in the very nearest future. That is what
we should strive to achieve in the first place.
This is the thing that is commonly misinterpreted by lay people, who talk
about the aims that our Church or the Church Abroad are pursuing. Secondary
considerations are taken into account: the Church abroad is trying to converge with
us so as not to be assimilated, and the Moscow Patriarchate needs to
strengthen its presence abroad, to improve its standing in the view of Constantinople
etc. We should understand that the main aim that, as I strongly believe, is
shared by both His Holiness the Patriarch and Metropolitan Laurus, and all those
who take part in the process, is to achieve the church unity that God Himself
commanded us to have.
Interviewer: Mrs. Svetlana Nebytova, Sedmitza.Ru's special correspondent
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