«New Martyrs Unify Us»

Interview with Archpriest Georgy Mitrofanov, participant of the All-Diaspora Pastoral Conference in Nyack (December 8-12, 2003)

– Father Georgy, the expanded All-Diaspora pastoral conference entitled “Path of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia: Past and Future” is over. Could you comment on the work of the meeting and its results? What is the prehistory of this conference, and why exactly did Archimandrite Tikhon (Shevkunov), Archpriest Maxim Kozlov and you participate in it on the part of the Moscow Patriarchate?

Archpriest Georgy Mitrofanov Archpriest Georgy Mitrofanov
Archpriest Georgy Mitrofanov.

– The All-Diaspora pastoral conference, held on December 8-12, 2003, in Nyack, may be regarded in a certain way as an epoch-making event in the history of the relationship of the Russian Orthodox Church in Russia and the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia. For the first time after many decades of sharp controversy representatives of these two parts of – I am sure of it – one Church had a chance to meet each other and discuss looking into each other’s eyes many acute and sore points. It was their different understanding that divided two parts of one Church during many decades. The pastoral conference was all the more important because almost all priests and bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad, except for few people, attended it. But the intercourse during this meeting was mainly between the priests of the Russian Orthodox Churches in Russia and the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia.

On the part of Moscow Patriarchate Archimandrite Tikhon (Shevkunov), Archpriest Maxim Kozlov and me, Archpriest Georgy Mitrofanov, participated in the conference. These participants were chosen on our part not by chance. The reason for it is that in 2002 and 2001 thanks to the active participation of Archimandrite Tikhon two church-historical conferences were held, where representatives of the Russian Church Abroad and of Russian historical and church-historical science for the first time had the chance to fundamentally discuss certain issues of the history of both parts of the Russian Orthodox Church. Besides with the blessing of His Holiness Patriarch Alexy some representatives of our clergy participated in the second conference held last year in the Moscow Synodal library. Archimandrite Tikhon managed to form such a membership of the conference that the participants not only disputed, but at times came to consensus of opinion showing sincere interest in solving moot points. In such cases communiques were issued.

Concerning participation of Archpriest Maxim Kozlov… Being for many years a lecturer of comparative theology in the Moscow Theological Academy, Archpriest Maxim is probably one of the most competent authorities in the complicated issue raised by the Russian Church Abroad in the dispute with us: the issue of ecumenism.

My participation in this meeting did not happen by chance either. The reason for it is not only my participation in the conference last year, where I read a lecture “The Russian Orthodox Church and the main stages of anti-Bolshevik movement (1917-1945)”, which received a very positive attitude of representatives of the Church Abroad. The point is that during all the time of my church-historic activities I have been tackling the problem of the interrelationship of the Russian Orthodox Church in Russia and the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia (since 1988 I have been teaching a course of history of the Russian Orthodox Church in the 20th century in theological schools in St. Petersburg). In fact the first experience of analysis of this relationship was my work that first appeared in 1991 in the “Khristianskoye Chtenie” magazine, and then was published as a separate book under the title “The Orthodox Church in Russia and in Diaspora in 1920s”. I wrote this book very quickly because in Russia parishes of the Russian Church Abroad started to appear, and the deceased Metropolitan John (Snychev) worried about it and blessed me to make an objective analysis of the relationship between the Russian Orthodox Church in Russia and Abroad and tell of the origin of the Russian Church Abroad. That is why I cited amply the documents not only of our Church, but also of the Church Abroad, and in many cases those were documents that had never been published before in Russia; their full texts are given in the end of this book. Since 1991 I worked in the archive of the Synod of the Church Abroad in the State Archive of Russian Federation, and all these years I have been tackling these issues.

– What was the original position of Father Nikolai Artemoff? Has it changed by now? If yes, then was this trend noticeable in the minds of the clergy of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia during the pastoral conference?

– I believe, not only his position, but also the positions of many representatives of the clergy Abroad are changing. But now I am sure of one thing: Father Nikolai represents the majority of the clergy of the Russian Church Abroad, who are not only open to the dialogue with us, they want to develop it and see its closest goal – restoration of the Eucharistic communion between the two parts of the Russian Orthodox Church.

I have to say (anyway I can speak for myself) that we did not actually expect what we saw there. It is worth mentioning that thanks to many years of studies of the ROCOR’s history I got the following impression: theological thinking of the majority of the clergy of the Church Abroad remains on the same level as that of its founding fathers – such theological authorities as Metropolitan Anthony (Khrapovitsky), Metropolitan Anastassy (Gribanovsky), Archbishop John (Maximovich) and a number of other outstanding hierarchs of the earlier decades.

It was sad to see that many young clergymen stick to much less theologically grounded and spiritually reserved positions in their theological thinking, in particular in their attitude to the Russian Orthodox Church in Russia, than the ones of the founding fathers. I understood that after a large-scale persecution, which she had to suffer, the theological level could not but go down comparing with the level in the beginning of the century. And it seemed to me that the Church Abroad took care of the heritage of their founding fathers and contrary to us managed to maintain high level of theological thinking. Alas, I have to state at the pastoral conference we saw people of the older generation being much more serious and deep clergymen in the theological sense. They were the representatives of the first wave of emigration, children and grandchildren of those who left Russia after the Civil war; there were representatives of the second emigration wave, who left the USSR during World War II. Among these people I especially often found understanding, desire to understand our problems, readiness to listen to what we are going to share. As for the youth among the clergy of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia, they amazed me with their diversity in minds and opinions.

– Maybe it is because Russia is not as important for them as for the older generations of emigrants?

– Partially the reason for it is that Russia has ceased to be the basic spiritual issue for them as it remains for the representatives of the second wave of Russian emigration and for the children of the first emigration wave. Partially it is so because – I am afraid – the level of theological education in the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad dropped quite a bit. Besides, I suspect also that the young clergymen experienced influence of not numerous, but active patriarchic clergy who for certain reasons went over to the Russian Church Outside of Russia and are now the least willing to conduct the dialogue with us. This behavior is understandable, though I personally cannot understand the reasons for their going over.

Since its very beginning the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia proclaimed the idea that as soon as the godless regime collapsed and there was a possibility to hold a free Local Council the clergy of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia would participate in such Council and tackle the problems of restoration of the Church unity.

It is already almost ten years that we have had this possibility, but many young clergymen of the Church Abroad seem to be unaware of this intention of their predecessors and even try to deepen the division between our Churches. Nevertheless, the young clergymen of the Church Abroad were different.

I remember the speech of a priest who spoke rather sternly, though in a sense justly about the desirability for the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad to reunite with us, because its opposition to all Orthodox Local Churches would turn it into a sect in a short time. And such position, quite an explicit one, was expressed also by other representatives of the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad. But as a whole, I’d like to note I was surprised that their young clergymen are poorly aware of the theological heritage of the founders of their own Church.

There was one more problem, quite an interesting one for me. I was quite skeptical towards the priests of the Church Abroad, who went over from American Protestants. I thought these were people who were very far from the problems of the Russian history and Russian life, who never felt this painful separation from Russia, who came from Protestant milieu, where the feeling of their opposition and therefore the feeling of chosenness is normal, and maybe for this reason they found themselves in the Russian Church Outside of Russia that stands in opposition to all other Local Churches – I thought the problem of restoration of the unity of our Churches was not so essential. It was a pleasant surprise to find out that many priests, who sometimes did not speak Russian, not only expressed their sincere desire to conduct a dialogue and restore the Eucharistic communion, but also apologized for harsh and sometimes silly words of their colleagues. Not burdened with this 7 decades long confrontation these people had a pastoral attitude to our dialogue. For example, many of them were surprised and indignant about the cruel attitude of certain speakers towards Metropolitan Sergius (Stragorodsky), when they went over from criticism of his policy to criticism of his personality, a very controversial, very tragic one, and no doubt very significant one in the history of the Church. They (the representatives of converts as they are called abroad) showed themselves to be real good. I am very grateful to them for their genuine desire to heal our confrontation.

I liked a number of Russian clergymen abroad among the most respected Archpriests. Besides Fr. Nikolai Artemoff I’d like to mention also Father Alexander Lebedeff, Father Peter Perekrestov, Father George Larin… I am not going to enumerate all of them, for there were a lot of clergymen, fellowship with whom brought me a deep human and pastoral joy. The fellowship I had with bishops of the Russian Church Abroad (I will not name all of them) evoked mainly good feelings. They participated as equal in our dialogue being its active participants and showing surprising openness to us. Though there were people among them, about whose position I was very sad.

Thus, I have formulated one of the problems: why they need this dialogue. I understand it so that they need it to raise their theological level. For me it was very strange to find out at times in talks with the priests of the Church Abroad that I know their history better than they know the theological heredity of their founding fathers. This is sad. We ourselves suffer of ignorance about our past. But I assumed they took a better care of it being not so numerous and cherishing the Russian tradition abroad.

On the other hand, I have to note the following. In talks with the mentioned clergymen and a number of bishops who treated us with genuine archpastoral love and kindness, I found much better understanding than I often find in my talks with priests in Russia. Being a church historian and a priest, all the 15 years of my teaching and pastoral service I constantly face the opinion of many our clergymen, not only aged, but also young ones, that the history of the Russian Church is not significant, and even more so the history of the Orthodox Russians abroad. However, this history could provide us with a unique experience of existence of the Church under the regulations of the Local Council 1917-1918, which were impossible to fulfill in Russia, but which were realized abroad. I was often amazed by the indifferent attitude of some clergymen to the experience of the Church that many decades have been cherishing the Russian Orthodox tradition in the pluralistic Western society, the society, which is developing now in Russia, and where we have to learn to maintain our Russian Orthodox tradition. Their experience is indispensable for us. We have to make use of it. In fact, all this time they also lived a life of hardships to preserve for us what they had taken with them from Russia: the spiritual tradition of the Russian church life of the pre-revolutionary time.

– Father Georgy, could you tell us more in detail about the course of the All-Diaspora Pastoral Conference? You took an active part in it, reading the lecture “The New Martyrs and Confessors of Russia”.

– Already on the first day we felt that about a fourth of the Conferees were inclined to a tough debate, accusing us of “Sergianism” and ecumenism. The first report of Archbishop Mark of Berlin and Germany “The paths of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia, Past and Future” was well balanced and objective. Asking Archbishop Mark questions, these irreconcilable priests rebuked their Archpastor for his support of our dialogue. The roundtable “Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia Today” was no less acute. Vladyka Mark had to listen to critical questions and comments concerning his support in developing of the dialogue between the Churches.

Archimandrite Tikhon had a difficult task delivering his lecture “Monasteries and monastic life in Russia Today” in the afternoon of the first day. In a lecture with such a title he had to voice the position of the Moscow Patriarchate towards the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia. The topic of the lecture was only slightly touched upon. Fr. Tikhon focused mainly on the comprehension of the way traveled by our Church in the last century. He mentioned also adoption of “The Basics of the Social Concept of the Russian Orthodox Church”, namely in the part where it reads that in certain cases when the State demands from the members of the Church to fulfill certain requirements inadmissible to them according to the Christian doctrine or norms of Christian ethics, the Church can refuse to obey and call her flock to peaceful civil disobedience. Archimandrite Tikhon quoted also the words of His Holiness Patriarch Alexy said in 1991, in which the Primate of our Church testified: we neither renounce the personality nor call in question the feat of Patriarch Sergius, however we cannot accept his path of relationship of the Church and the State stated in the Declaration of 1927 as the only correct one, and today we do not regard the Declaration as a document to follow. Besides, Archimandrite Tikhon gave examples of the recent years that obviously demonstrated independent position of the Russian Orthodox Church (non-commemoration of the authorities by His Holiness Patriarch Alexy during Divine Liturgy in the Kremlin on the Feast of Transfiguration in 1991 (the putsch against Gorbachev – translator’s note), refusal of our Church to recognize the so called “Yekaterinburg remains” to be the relics of the murdered Royal Passion-bearers despite extreme pressure on the part of the secular state). Joining these and other facts together, Archimandrite Tikhon pointed out that in this way our Church in fact defined its independent position toward the state.

In his speech Fr. Tikhon stressed the woeful ignorance of a large portion of the clergy of the Church Abroad about the situation of the Church in Russia today and about the confessorial path of Russian bishops, priests and laymen in the years of persecution by the godless power. He expressed his conviction that the experience of existence of Christ’s Church in a theomachic state in the last century was still waiting for proper historical, hagiographic and theological analysis, and it will be a precious contribution of the Russian Church into the treasury of the Universal Orthodoxy.

Fr. Tikhon’s report reached many Conferees, though not all. And that is why the roundtable “The Church in Russia Today”, which opened towards the end of the first day of the conference, was again a discussion to sort out whether our Church indeed changed… During this roundtable Archpriest Maxim Kozlov in his 8-minute address tried to explain new trends in our church life related to catechizing, work with the youth and so on. This attempt to shift the talk to the discussion of the topical modern problems of our church life, in fact it is topical not only for us, but for them too, often stumbled on vapid questions with the point we had to repent of “Sergianism”, ecumenism, that Metropolitan Sergius destroyed church life in our country and so on.

After the first day of the conference, when the participants, who were suspicious and ill-disposed and did not see any prospects neither in restoration of the Eucharistic communion nor in the further development of the dialogue, blew off steam this way, the work on the second day was more fruitful. The audience could see: those who are not interested in the dialogue could offer nothing better than traditional incantations against “Sergianism” and ecumenism, without even trying to define what these things were in their essence.

The second day started with a lecture of Archpriest Nikolai Artemoff “Sergianism and the Russian Orthodox Church in Accordance with Ukaz (Decree) No. 362.” Being a consistent supporter of basic principles of organization of church life used by the Russian Church Abroad for many decades, Fr. Nikolai was not inclined to be biased and sharply criticize the position of Metropolitan Sergius. He subjected it to – in my opinion – well-grounded and reasoned criticism. But it is indicative that the aura of an advocate of the dialogue with the Moscow Patriarchate around Fr. Nikolai and his reasoning, which was more deep, versatile and erudite than that of the other speakers, aroused criticism of the most diehard opponents of the dialogue. I’d like to emphasize that the opponents of the dialogue did not make any reports; they only asked questions, commented on the statements of other lecturers from their places. When I was listening to their attacks at Fr. Nikolai Artemoff, to their questions that sounded like accusations and sharp comments that seemed to stun him, I felt the Soviet spirit in the air. Later I said to Fr. Nikolai, that before he had read his lecture, rather a lively, emotional one and perhaps for this reason not quite well structured, he should have stated he denounced “Sergianism” and ecumenism. After this rhetorical trick he could set forth with what he wanted and nobody would have had questions. It reminded me of the way of disputing forced upon the Church in the Soviet time, which we are getting rid of today. I was very surprised to find it in the Church Abroad, and for Fr. Nikolai it caused sharp polemics.

Then there was roundtable “The Russian Orthodox Church (Moscow Patriarchate) during the Soviet Regime”. I participated in this roundtable too. Beforehand I thought over what I should speak about, because my report on the third day was entitled “The New Martyrs and Confessors of Russia” – the topic, which was closely related to me, because already for 10 years I have been a member of the Synodal canonization commission. In my address at the roundtable I decided to talk about the new martyrs to put certain Conferees out of the tone, which could lead us up a blind alley. It is worth mentioning that during breaks and meals many priests, including aged ones, came up to us and apologized for their young brethren, for their ignorance and intolerance.

Therefore, in the very beginning of my address at the roundtable I pointed out we spent too much time in our unprecedented and unique dialogue for accusations of “Sergianism” and ecumenism against the Moscow Patriarchate. I added that in such an atmosphere it was impossible to reach any consensus if we didn’t pray together, not only to Christ and the Most Holy Mother of God, but also to the saints. I suggested addressing in prayer the holy new martyrs who unlike us there at the roundtable personally participated in those dramatic events. Taking into account lack of information of a large part of the clergy abroad, I related about the events of the historical period when major Church hierarchs started to separate from Metropolitan Sergius and criticize his church policy after 1927. Then I showed how different the positions of those were who criticized Metropolitan Sergius: from formal preservation of subordination to him with retention of the right not to fulfill his decisions inadmissible from Christian point of view, to complete refusal of the Eucharistic and canonical communion and even up to accusation of heresy. I listed these lines of the church anti-Sergius opposition and noted that some its representatives were glorified by our Church at the Jubilee Council of Bishops of 2000. It caused astonishment and – I was glad to notice this – joy of many Conferees. At the same time, I remarked, among the new martyrs of the Russian Church glorified in the host canonization in 1981 by the Church Abroad there were those who remained faithful to Metropolitan Sergius and could be blamed in this hall as a “Sergianist”. I said, it meant they and we had common saints.

If the question of repentance of “Sergianism” arises, then what kind of repentance is necessary, if by canonizing the host of the New Martyrs consisting also of such hierarchs as Metropolitan Kyrill (Smirnov), Metropolitan Agaphangel (Preobrazhensky), bishops Viktor (Ostrovidov), Serafim (Zvezdinsky), deeply revered by the Church Abroad, by canonization of those who prayed for Metropolitan Peter (Polyansky) as the Primate of the Russian Orthodox Church, our Church proclaimed we were not only successors of the policy of Metropolitan Sergius, but also policies of other hierarchs. I reminded also that the discord between the “Kyrillians”, “Josephites” and “Sergianists” were inspired by GPU. We have to put these splits aside. At the roundtable I said that the policy of Metropolitan Sergius had been erroneous, just like the position of Metropolitan Joseph, who accused Metropolitan Sergius of heresy. After all there was the position of Metropolitan Kyrill who never prejudiced canonicity of Metropolitan Sergius, graciousness of the clergy who preserved canonical fidelity to him. Metropolitan Kyrill declined the Eucharistic communion with Metropolitan Sergius only because he did not find necessary like-mindedness with him. He wrote to Metropolitan Sergius that the Eucharist of Metropolitan Sergius, a doubtless graceful one, would be for condemnation of both of them if they partook of the Eucharist together having so different views in understanding the place of Metropolitan Sergius in the Russian ecclesiastical hierarchy and the right way to preserve the Russian church life.

During the first day of the conference it was decided to applaud only the lecturers, but not those who spoke at the round-tables. But my words drew loud applause. And I saw also those applauding who had been disposed very critically. Then questions were asked. There was nothing to object when I suggested our brethren abroad should turn their eyes to the new martyrs, glorified by both them and us. But questions were different. For example, one of senior priests, a son of an active functionary of the anti-Communist emigrant movement asked about the attitude of our Church to the White movement. I answered that every time on November 7 I start the day serving a panikhida at the Smolenskoye cemetery at the grave of the junkers who perished on the first days after the October coup. I told him that for many years I nourished the Squad of young Russian scouts named after general Drozdovsky bearing in mind education of the youth at the examples of the heroes of the White movement is a very important component in the revival of the genuine patriotism in our youth. Later some priest, perhaps a grandson of emigrants of the first wave, came up to me, looked at me for a moment and said: “Where have they found the one like you in Russia? You perceive Russian history just like we do.”

I think this was the moment when they suddenly felt their mistrust and malevolence toward us were absolutely superfluous. Certainly, Archimandrite Tikhon said the first word; somebody responded to interesting reasoning of Fr. Maxim Kozlov about the problems of church life today. But when it was mentioned we were bound together by the blood of holy new martyrs, whom we had glorified and whom we revered, when I mentioned I believed that the basic principle of spiritual education was orientation of the youth today to the history of the Russian anti-Bolshevik movement, and my authorities neither punished nor prohibited me for these words, they understood in Russia many things were happening which they did not know, or did not fully understand.

On the same day in the evening we had a break in the sittings. We used it to go to New-York for all-night vigil, and on the next day we participated in the celebration of the feast day of the Synod Cathedral of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia and attended Liturgy, where we were simple worshippers. When the clergy of the Church Abroad started to partake of the Holy Gifts, we left the solea where we stood during the service and went out of the church. Afterwards many came up to us and giving us hugs said they were sad to perceive they could not commune with us. It was a very important confession, and it was made by senior priests, who spent their life in confrontation to – as they saw it – the “Soviet” Church, the Church of the Moscow Patriarchate. On that day they discovered something important.

– What happened on the third day?

– The third day was opened with my report about the new martyrs. In this report I set a different goal: I tried to tell them, first, about the major waves of persecutions against the Russian Church, providing them with statistics of the real number of victims among our clergy, and I was surprised to find out it was unavailable to them till recently, and secondly, the problems faced by the Synodal canonization commission, because in the third and fourth waves of persecution (1929-34 and 1937-41) many repressed clergymen went through horrible torture investigation.

I discovered they learnt the history of the new martyrs mainly from the book of Protopresbyter Mikhail Polsky, who wrote it from reminiscences and stories, and when they saw the real picture of what was happening – in these hard conditions many clergymen did not stand the tortures and admitted their fictitious guilt (including Bishop Feodor (Pozdeevsky) not glorified for this reason by our Commission contrary to the Church Abroad) – they were shocked and shaken. I saw in them something, that the Russian people unfortunately almost completely lost today, but which was so typical of the Russians before the revolution – the feeling or ability to get horrified, to be deeply shaken, even to weep, when a person learns something terrible about life. I illustrated my report with some expressive episodes. And it seemed to me I proved a very important thing to them: their host canonization conducted without a serious preparatory work in 1981 turned out to be far from irreproachable.

The point is that in Russia we got the chance to glorify new martyrs only in the early 1990s. By now about one thousand five hundred new martyrs have been glorified. We studied personal records of each new martyr, if he died during investigation or after pronouncement of a capital sentence. We have a life story of each new martyr, at least a short one, and the Church Abroad had no information about many of them. It was unexpected for them. They understood how difficult the situation was: up to 90 percent of the clergy admitted their guilt during investigation. They could not suspect this. More than this, I showed them our broad approach to the canonization. We allowed canonization even of those, who slandered themselves, but only themselves. If somebody slandered others and they perished, or if he was a secret agent of NKVD, any possibility of his glorification was excluded. And they did not understand this fully all these decades. They said all the clergymen of the Moscow Patriarchate were church-clothes officers of cheka, but what it meant they did not understand. They could not realize how deep GPU and NKVD penetrated into the church hierarchy. But when I showed them, yes, there were such people, but not all our clergy were such, it was serious food for thought for them.

Then I was asked the question why we try to rehabilitate the repressed clergymen before their canonization? I answered, certainly the new martyrs did not need any rehabilitation from the state, since the Communistic state had its reasons to murder Christians, because the Christians were its enemies: they were servants of God, and the state was a satanic one. But I explained that only after the one or another was rehabilitated we got the opportunity to obtain more information about his investigative case. Without rehabilitation we could get only the information from FSB archives. So after rehabilitation we could obtain more information, in certain cases even the investigative case itself.

– May I put it so that through rehabilitation of a repressed person the state acknowledges that it no more regards him as an enemy?

– In a way, yes.

Then there was a roundtable, where one of the main opponents of our dialogue amazed me with his incompetence and ignorance, being a professor of the Jordanville seminary. He started with the statement that Archbishop Hilarion (Troitsky) and Metropolitan Anatoly (Grisyuk) whom I had mentioned and named among the new martyrs, who were revered by both our Churches, were not in the list of the holy martyrs glorified in 1981. Some puzzled voices were heard from the hall: “How is it? We always revered them, they are pictured in our icons.” “Yes, they are pictured in our icons, – he responded, – But this icon was painted at that time, in a fuss, and now there are lists where these people are missing”. Other priests of the Church Abroad took the floor: “We have seen these lists, but it is surprising. Why certain “Sergianists” are excluded from them, and the other remain?” For example, Metropolitan Evgeny (Zernov) was mentioned, an active participant in preparation of the “Solovky Epistle”. After that I addressed the audience with a remark that we chose a better way of conducting canonization without a hurry and studying the individual case of each martyr: “You chose a different way and now you are not sure whom you revere and whom not. If somebody disappears from an icon, another one has to appear in it”. It was a weighty reason. Just like one more reason that I employed: in their hurried canonizing they glorified all the murdered together with the Royal Family including their servants, among whom there were a Catholic and a Protestant girl. I drew their attention to the fact that we decided not to do this. Somebody from the hall expressed the idea that the sanctity of their feat may be compared with sanctity of those pagans, who received Baptism of blood perishing with the Christian martyrs of the first centuries. I remarked such an opinion had been expressed also in Russia, but it was found too liberal. “It is quite surprising for me, – I said, – that I hear such liberal opinions in your Church, which always stands on the positions of rigid conservatism and accuses us of liberalism”. Thus I purposefully sharpened the polemics. But I had to show how close we were in our concepts of canonization of the new martyrs.

After my forty minutes lecture was over I answered questions for about an hour and a half. And the dialogue was interesting, becoming at times a bit emotional. For example, some opponents took the word again and among other their thoughts there was the following one: though we had glorified new martyrs in Russia, we had no right to do so, because we were the successors of the Sergius’ path. I remarked that the majority of those whom we glorified as martyrs were “Sergianists”, and the reply was that the sin of “Sergianism” was not redeemed even with a martyr’s blood. Such statements evoked a sharp reaction of the majority of the Conferees. I pointed out that the position of so intolerant participants of the conference led our dialogue up a blind alley. At first, we were accused of not revering the new martyrs. After we glorified them, they say we had no right to do so. And then, continuing my polemical line, I suggested they should formulate their beliefs: it seemed we were bad just because we had survived, because not the all clergy had been murdered, and the only thing we could do was to apologize that we were still alive and more over we dared glorify the martyrs… Laughing and applause followed. When I carried the point of view of these “zealots” to an absurdity, I showed again such rigorism had nothing to do with truly Christian attitude to the topic of our talks – to the feat of our new martyrs.

As a result, the morning of the third day of the conference was devoted to the new martyrs, and they unified us again. After my lecture and answers to the questions one of the bishops came up to me, hugged me and asked not to pay attention to the extreme opinions expressed by the opponents of the dialogue. After my lecture I felt that a real dialogue started. After the first three days the atmosphere of the conference changed cardinally. So I felt relief and said a joke that after such polemics I would prefer to fellowship with the reposed clergymen of the Church Abroad, and headed for the Novo-Diveevo cemetery, a very significant place for me. For many years it was my dream to visit it. It is a cemetery where many outstanding people of the Russian Diaspora were buried; there is a monument to the officers of the Russian corps… My trip to the cemetery – in my opinion – also played an important role in deepening our dialogue.

– Father Georgy, the sittings were translated simultaneously into English. Was it really necessary?

– I have already mentioned, I was surprised by a balanced and objective approach of the clergy abroad who converted from the Protestantism. The point was that many of them did not speak Russian. Simultaneous translation was done for them.

I remember very well an address of hieromonk Trifon, one of such Americans of Norwegian origin, who spoke absolutely no Russian. He was an aged person, a former psychologist. Because of bad health he spoke with difficulty. Fr. Trifon said, he held the non-Christian criticism of Metropolitan Sergius voiced at the conference for absolutely inadmissible. A Christian may not behave like this toward anyone, even to the errant archpastor. As a psychologist and psychiatrist with many years of experience he watched the record of enthronement of Metropolitan Sergius in 1943 and saw a very ill person who looked like people after Nazi concentration camps. And he added: “I am amazed by callousness of those who dare speak so irreverently about this man.” It was a brilliant speech of a man who acted as a true pastor. He drew attention to something that remained absolutely unnoticed by the people, who seemed to be very concerned about the fate of the Russian Church. I expressed him my gratitude for his kind words.

In a short time one of the young priests took the floor and said, our Churches could not only restore the Eucharistic communion, but also fully unite, if we anathematized Metropolitan Sergius. “It will be the best rejection of “Sergianism”, – he said. – Are you ready to anathematize Metropolitan Sergius?” I saw that this absurd question led us again up a blind alley, and I answered: “I am a normal priest and not a young starets (“young elder”), who is ready to personally anathematize any bishop”. Again, laughing and applause sounded in the hall, and the situation returned to the positive dialogue.

– What could you say about the roundtable on “Ecumenism” on the same third day of the conference?

– Unfortunately because of my trip to Novo-Diveevo cemetery I did not have the chance to be at this roundtable, Fr. Maxim Kozlov participated in it. But when I returned after it was over I understood that Fr. Maxim on his part helped those, who were still in doubts about our right attitude to ecumenism, to get free of their stereotypes.

– What are the results of the All-Diaspora Pastoral Conference in your opinion?

– In fact, the third day was the last for us, because on Friday we left the Pastoral Conference and went to New York. As it is well known, on December 12 the conference adopted a resolution and approved an appeal of the participants of the conference to the Council of Bishops that started on December 13. After adoption of the Appeal several priests called us from the conference and told us with pleasure the appeal contained the same trend as had prevailed at the conference. The overwhelming majority of the clergy of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia (the Appeal was adopted even unanimously) were no more against the dialogue with the Russian Orthodox Church in Russia. Thus the dialogue between the two parts of the Russian Orthodox Church started.

We managed to show the clergy abroad things they were unaware of: the enormous work conducted in our Church in the recent years. It is most important that we marked to them the aspects of the path of martyrdom traveled by the Church in Russia, which might have been known to them, but were not paid the due importance. This is the most important result of our meeting.

I do not know if Metropolitan Laurus visits Moscow in January 2004 or not. But fellowship with him was very light. He was not only kind to us; he acted as a genuine archpastor. I believe it is because of his presence that the most of episcopate of the Church Abroad were well disposed to us. During the conference I had the chance to talk to many bishops and priests, and I felt they were certainly our brothers, more over they were the co-servants of our one Church.

At the end of our talk I would like to mention something very important for me personally, which became even clearer to me after the conference. Not only as a history lecturer, but also as a priest I regarded the study of history of the Russian Orthodox Church of the 20th century to be the key to understanding of today’s topical problems and finding the way to solve them both abroad and in Russia. Church and civil history of Russia in the 20th century, particularly the history of the Russian Diaspora and White movement, and in general the history of the Russian anti-Communism here in Russia and abroad are very important aspects of our self-knowledge. One of the greatest contributions of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia is that during the time when the Church was being destroyed in Russia and then employed in the interests of the authorities, when she had to keep silent about many topical issues, all these decades the Church Abroad did not only unmask the theomachic essence of Bolshevism, the truth about this movement. They developed a deep theological grounding why Communism was not only incompatible with Christianity, but was its enemy, whatever form it took. Finishing my lecture at the Pastoral Conference I said that the host of the new martyrs glorified by our Church in 2000 was a wall between the Orthodox Church and communism. This wall would be an unbreakable barrier for communism if we remain faithful to the legacy of our new martyrs. The image of the host of new martyrs, detaching our Church from evil and being the foundation for our unification in the good and the truth, was accepted by the conferees as a very important one.

If we lack strength to solve some problems, we should pray not only to Christ, but also to the saints, in the first line to those saints, with whom the problems to be solved are related. It was important for me to feel at this Pastoral conference that the host of saints is not only a kind of board with photos and names of the honoured figures of the Church history, but also an important component of church life. The saints always come to our rescue, when we turn to them for help trying to solve insoluble problems. Most important in the conference was the feeling that our common saints can help us, enlightening our hearts with the spirit of love and mercy. Exactly this point makes this conference a pastoral conference, not a scientific congress or a political rally.

– May we say the holy new martyrs will unify us?

– They have already done this, I am sure of it. I am convinced the Eucharistic communion will be restored. It is not so significant, what administrative and canonical form the unification will take. Now it is important to solve the following problem: the Church Abroad, having broken off the relations with all the Local Churches, except for the Jerusalem Patriarchate, is in a very difficult spiritual situation today. In fact, they are on the very verge of the Universal Orthodoxy. Solving the task of restoration of the Eucharistic communion with the Russian Orthodox Church will be the beginning of their return into the Universal Orthodox Church, which – I’d like to emphasize it – they have actually never left. They are the Church; more over they are a part of the one Russian Church. But absence of the Eucharistic communion that we all so painfully perceived during the conference should be overcome. And then their traditional rigorism can be even helpful to the Local Churches, inclined to secularization and compromise with the secular society of our time.

The interview with Archpriest Georgy Mitrofanov,
Professor of theological schools in Saint-Petersburg,
a member of the Synodal Canonization Commission of the Russian Orthodox Church
was conducted by Maxim Massalitin
on December 13, 2003

Interview with Archpriest Georgy Mitrofanov, participant of the All-Diaspora Pastoral Conference in Nyack (December 8-12, 2003)

1/6/2004

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