POV of a Priest from the MP
Archpriest Maxim Kozlov: "My heart and soul are craving for the unity
of the Church"
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
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 confined way.
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
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
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 communication.
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 of Christ.
- 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
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 of 'conservatives'.
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 Church life.
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
communiquÈs 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
- 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