ROCOR Council issues epistle on new First Hierarch, diocesan life, war in Ukraine

New York, September 26, 2022

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The hierarchs of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia gathered at the Synodal Cathedral of Our Lady “of the Sign” in New York City last week for the latest session of the Council of Bishops.

The most important outcome of the Council was the election and enthronement of His Eminence Metropolitan Nicholas (formerly of Manhattan) as the new First Hierarch of ROCOR, following the repose of His Eminence Metropolitan Hilarion in May.

The Council also appointed His Grace Bishop George (formerly of Canberra) as the ruling hierarch of the Diocese of Sydney and All Australia and New Zealand.

The gathered hierarchs also issued an epistle to the fullness of the Russian Church Abroad, detailing the work of the Council and addressing pressing issues of Church life today, including the ongoing war in Ukraine.


The epistle of the ROCOR Council of Bishops reads in full:

To the Pastors, Monastics and the Pious Children of the Church Abroad

Beloved brethren and sisters!

We, the Hierarchs of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia, having assembled together in Sacred Council on the eve of the Ecclesiastical New Year in the Synodal Residence in the God-protected city of New York, in the presence of our Hodegetria and guide, the wonderworking Kursk-Root Icon of the Mother of God, greet you with the words of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, which He spoke unto His disciples after His Resurrection: Be of good cheer: I have overcome the world! (John 16.33).

We are of good cheer, because we are witnesses to the Lord’s great mercy unto His children and the continuity of His headship of the Church. Having seen fit to call unto Himself our pious and humble First Hierarch, the blessedly-reposed and much-beloved Metropolitan Hilarion, He has not left us bereft of order and care. We began our Council with the election of Metropolitan Hilarion’s successor, the seventh Primate of the Russian Church Abroad, following the order of election approved and sanctified by St. John of Shanghai and San Francisco. By the Will of God, His Grace Nicholas, Bishop of Manhattan, was elected to bear this yoke of service—he who for many years has borne the obedience lain upon him by our Synod of accompanying the miraculous Kursk-root icon in its travels throughout the Russian Orthodox Diaspora, and over the last one and a half decades, all across Russia.

Beloved children: the manner in which the election took place, its very course as well as its results, are direct evidence of the unswerving path that our Church Abroad ever follows, being led by the Lord in unchanging faith from grace to grace. This we have felt all the more since, by the Will of God, revealed through His faithful servants, His Holiness Patriarch Alexei II of Moscow and the First Hierarch of the Russian Church Abroad, His Eminence Metropolitan Laurus, the unity within the Russian Orthodox Church was restored. It is our fervent prayer that the successors of each of these men, together with us all, will continue that work of unity in faith and prayer.

In the course of our gathering, the Council heard reports on the life of our Church throughout the world. Our Hierarchs spoke of the state of affairs in the dioceses entrusted to them, and we rejoice at their confirmation that the number of faithful is increasing everywhere, that new communities are being established and churches being built, and that the number of those whom our Lord Jesus Christ leads to the Orthodox Faith from other confessions is increasing, together with those whom He mercifully guides back from paths of error. The return of several parishes to our Church, after years of division, is both a source of deep joy, and also a sign of hope in these days of widespread schism and apostasy, that the door of return is always open, and love may yet triumph over enmity. Further, the report from Holy Trinity Monastery confirmed that, by the grace of God, the flow of pilgrims to the Lavra of the Russian Diaspora, which had become scarce during the pandemic, is again increasing every day—and so, too, in many other parts of the Church. The Council likewise heard reports on the activities of our Orthodox youth, both at the diocesan and international levels; on the life of our ancient communities in the Holy Land; on the growth of our Seminary and pastoral schools; on the labours to preserve and cherish our unique liturgical heritage; on the work of our Fund for Assistance, which tirelessly supports communities and missions that would be difficult to sustain without such aid; on our relations with our fellow Orthodox Christians of other jurisdictions; and many other topics. Receiving all these reports, we heard, as it were, the word of God speaking to the Church: God is able to make all grace abound toward you; that ye, always having all sufficiency in all things, may abound to every good work (2 Corinthians 9.8).

Our Council took special joy in welcoming the recognition of the Macedonian Orthodox Church-Ohrid Archbishop by the Holy Synod of Bishops of the Moscow Patriarchate, and greets our fellow hierarchs, clergy and faithful of the Macedonian Church with a fraternal embrace. We cannot but rejoice at the news that here, too, we find unity restored and the ability to pray and serve with beloved brethren returned to us. May God ever be praised for His mercies!

And yet, in this earthly life, all is not sweetness and simplicity. The Apostle Paul, addressing the ancient Christians, once wrote: Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? (Romans 8.35).

Especially in these present days, such words seem profoundly relevant. Daily and even hourly the world itself reminds us of the words of the Lord, addressed to His Apostles: Ye shall hear of wars and rumours of wars: but see that ye be not troubled: for all these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet. For nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom: and there shall be famines, and pestilences, and earthquakes, in diverse places. All these are the beginning of sorrows (Matthew 24.6-8). Today, these formidable signs, foretold by the Pillar of the Apostles and spoken about by the Lord, are observed by us personally, directly, and we feel the affects of them both on ourselves and our neighbours. Spirits of evil in high places, through the people they enslave, labour in every manner to thwart us with the poison of division and hatred. Hostile forces have worked hard, and do so still, to sow discord between brothers in faith and spirit, heirs of a common history and culture, who emerged from the common font of the Baptism of Russia.

We have called upon the faithful before to remember that participation in political discussions is not the role of the Church of Christ, whose mission is the Gospel and the guidance of man into repentance and life. The Orthodox Church, by her very essence, cannot call for war, but always, in spite of everything, prays for peace. With respect to the great turmoil currently unfolding around us, we must live by this calling. It has been eight years since our Russian Orthodox Church Abroad began lifting up a special prayer at the Divine Liturgy “for the suffering country of Ukraine, torn apart by strife and discord”—and this prayer we unceasingly continue to offer, and so will do until peace is manifest. Additionally, our dioceses, as well as our Church centrally, and in particular our faithful, have labored in many practical ways to aid those suffering in Ukraine, as well as its many refugees across the world; we express our gratitude for their generosity, and we shall continue to act in like manner until the darkness of suffering has been turned to the light of reconciliation. As for State authorities and the leaders of world powers on all sides, we can only beseech them to take their places at the negotiating table without delay, so that an end can be put to hostilities as soon as possible; and this call, too, we shall not cease to make. It is distressing for us to see frivolities and entertainments—such as pop concerts and the like—organized, when the conflict ought the more rightly to bring us all a sense of sobriety and grief. A fratricidal war, a war between those of a shared faith, is the greatest of sorrows; it cannot but shake every Orthodox heart. May all those in power remember the commandment of Christ: Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called the sons of God (Matthew 5.9).

We therefore exhort all the faithful children of the Church to be such peacemakers, and to be, as His Beatitude Metropolitan Anthony (Khrapovitsky) once called us, “sons of the Resurrection.” Stand firm in the Faith, do not falter in the hope that is in you, dwell on what is good and righteous and flee from what is evil—and know that Almighty God will never forsake those who put their trust in Him.

We invoke God’s blessing on all of you and wish you all peace, health and joy in our Lord Jesus Christ.

Metropolitan of Eastern America and New York, First Hierarch of the Church Abroad.

Metropolitan of Berlin and Germany.

Archbishop of San Francisco and Western America.

Archbishop of Montreal and Canada.

Archbishop of Chicago and Mid-America.

Bishop of Caracas and South America.

Bishop of London and Western Europe.

Bishop of Sydney and Australia-New Zealand.

Bishop of Seattle.

Bishop of Vevey.

Bishop of Syracuse.

Bishop of Sonora.

Bishop of Stuttgart.

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Nikolai10/2/2022 9:20 pm
Dear Brothers in Christ, No need to tell God who the victim is, who the aggressor is, who the liar is, and who the righteous is. He already knows. In prayer, mercy for all and enlightenment for all is asked for. Keep up the reading and research about Historical Rus' - there is much to learn. Consider reading about one of today's Saints, Blessed Igor-George of Chernigov and Kiev. When reading about Chernigov, read also about St. Lawrence of Chernigov, a more contemporary Saint. Once again, thank you for your Holy Prayers.
Jason10/2/2022 10:03 am
Ioann: It's your press that is lying, or at the least not giving the whole story. Who was the victim for eight years? The Ukrainian nazis who were terrorizing the people in Donbas? Your media tries to make it look as though the aggression somehow just started last February. You can lie all you want, but the truth has a way of prevailing--albeit after a lot of damage has been done. God gives us time to see for ourselves who is the tares and who is the wheat.
Herman10/2/2022 2:04 am
Nikokai: you are wrong. The bishops are right.
Ioann10/1/2022 5:10 pm
Nikolai: When Sviatopolk the Accursed killed his brothers, the Saints Boris and Gleb, who was the aggressor and who were the victims? When Cain murdered Abel, who was the aggressor and who was the victim? It is fundamentally offensive to the Ukrainian people to compare their state with the state of the Russian people as if they are both equally victims. This is propagandist "spin" as we call it in the US. In the eyes of the Orthodox Church outside of the Russian Orthodox bodies, its just a lies.
Nikokai10/1/2022 12:00 am
In the situation, who is "the aggressor" and who is "the victim" is a matter of opinion. It would be more objective to offer prayer which would be worded as not "in Ukraine" but "in Historical Rus'" and not "in hostilities against Ukraine" but "hostilities in Historical Rus'"
Ioann9/28/2022 6:01 pm
Re: "It has been eight years since our Russian Orthodox Church Abroad began lifting up a special prayer at the Divine Liturgy 'for the suffering country of Ukraine, torn apart by strife and discord...'" It's time to update this eight-year old prayer. We can take use as a template the prayers offered by the OCA. The former Metropolia has the right idea that the cessation of hostilities by the aggressor against the aggressor's victim forges a greater peace than mere words and treaties that are easily broken by the aggressor. From the OCA: "[To be inserted after the petition for the departed]Again we pray for those who have lost their lives because of the war in Ukraine: that the Lord our God may look upon them with mercy, and give them rest where there is neither sickness, or sorrow, but life everlasting. [To be inserted after the petition for the living] Again we pray for mercy, life, peace, health, salvation, for those who are suffering, wounded, grieving, or displaced because of the war in Ukraine. Again we pray for a cessation of the hostilities against Ukraine, and that reconciliation and peace will flourish there, we pray thee, hearken and have mercy."
Ioann9/26/2022 7:22 pm
Metropolitan Anastasy (Gribanovskii) in his role as the head of the ROCOR made these statements on how politics, in this case fascistic politics, can make the ideal of a "Holy Russia" an impossibility. “Fascism is incompatible with Christianity because it suppresses personal spiritual freedom, without which the spiritual life of Christianity is not possible.” “Fascism as a type of state-political structure can never be our ideal. It is founded upon principles of compulsion which extend to a person’s very ideology. Yet without freedom, there can be no moral heroism nor moral responsibility. Without either of the latter a Russian Orthodox state is also unthinkable for us.”
Ioann9/26/2022 7:05 pm
It is good to remember the words of Our Lord: "Blessed are the peacemakers..." but it should be an to remember what happens to the false peacemakers. "Because from the least of them even to the greatest of them, Everyone is given to covetousness; And from the prophet even to the priest, Everyone deals falsely. They have also healed the hurt of My people slightly, SAYING, 'PEACE, PEACE!' When there is no peace. Were they ashamed when they had committed abomination? No! They were not at all ashamed; Nor did they know how to blush. Therefore they shall fall among those who fall; At the time I punish them, They shall be cast down,” says the Lord. Jeremiah 6:13-15
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