In late December 2005, an Orthodox Conference of the Diocese of Berlin and Germany of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia was held. Sergei Chapnin, Editor-in-Chief of Tserkovnij Vestnik ["Church Messenger"], participated in the Conference at the invitation of Archbishop Mark of Berlin and Germany. His Eminence spoke to him of the attitudes in the Russian Church Abroad, and about the work of the Synodal Commission on talks with the Moscow Patriarchate in an interview with Tserkovnyj Vestnik:
-Your Eminence, at what stage are the talks between the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia and the Russian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate? Which problems have been resolved and which remain before the Commissions during this period before the convening of the All-Diaspora Council?
- The Commissions of each Church examined all the fundamental questions set before us at the meeting of His Eminence Metropolitan Laurus and the delegation of our Church with His Holiness Patriarch Alexy and several members of his Synod. The following problems were on the agenda for years: the glorification of the New Martyrs, the relationship between the Church and state, Orthodoxy and ecumenism. In these areas we managed to achieve a great deal of complicated work. The fundamental positions were often diametrically opposed, but we still found a common tongue. As a whole, the hierarchies of both sides accepted the documents we prepared. I will note: this does not mean that the documents have been adopted by the entire Church, but by the hierarchies. In this regard I can immediately state what the desired conclusion of this process is: we foresee that the All-Diaspora Council will examine these documents and summaries of the work that was done, and only after this will the Council of Bishops make its decisions. Whether they will be adopted in the form we propose or whether changes will be required I cannot predict.
- What do you expect the Council to decide? What documents might be adopted, what positions will be clarified by authority of the Council?
- All adopted documents will contain positions accepted by both sides. Naturally, these are documents of compromise, which in one phrase reflect what one side says, and in the next phrase, something said by the other side. This was an honest attempt to find the minimal basis for a common platform. Of course, much is left unsaid, and I can imagine what an enormous discussion may arise at the upcoming Council. There are two possible paths: to agree that the documents express a common consensus, and on this basis to continue work, or to say "No, these documents are unacceptable, they must be worked on." The Commissions will meet one or two more times before the Council in order to finish the documents, taking into consideration the reactions which followed their publication. I must say that often it is difficult to capture in words what actually bothers people, because they very often cannot express their positions.
At the end of 2005, our Diocesan Vicar, Bishop Agapit, and I visited many parishes. This is our usual practice, but after the publication of the Commissions’ documents, we put extra effort into them. Our parishioners need the opportunity to express their opinions directly to us. It is one thing when we receive letters of praise or of derision, or when a priest tells us about the mood of his parishioners. It is an entirely different thing when we meet the people face to face and listen to them. This decision was made by the Diocesan Council. It proved worthwhile , in my opinion . There is no substitute for personal contact . People usually read about the talks in the diocesan magazine, or, God forbid, the internet. In recent times it is horrifying to see on the internet how people use some conjured-up arguments, assume fanatical positions, paint themselves into a corner and then don’t know how to escape. Personal meetings with people provide the opportunity for live discussion, and people soften when they see that not everyone shares their opinion. In some parishes we had several such meetings, and the feedback we received, however varied, was always calm. In other dioceses of our Church such discussions were held at diocesan conferences.
- You speak of the need to work out the published documents. How is this possible ?
- Yes , the documents will be worked on . It is one thing when the Synod, or a bishop, says: "This is too much to swallow, this has to be completely reworked. Or written in an entirely different way." This is understandable and easy, we will again seek a formulation and then, with God’s help, come to an agreement. It is much more difficult in passages where there is some dissatisfaction which is expressed in general terms, and very difficult to dot the i’s and cross the t’s, to capture what is wrong, what needs alteration or an entirely different approach. I hope that the Lord will allow us to do this, too.
I must say that at the actual meetings of our Commissions, we often reach a point where we are ready to walk out and slam the door. But each evening we would disperse with heavy hearts, but the following day we would find the right approach. But another factor comes into play here. Here we are, five people from each side; we understand each other, we feel for each other, but we cannot share this feeling with anyone else. I understand what the person I am speaking with is like, how he sees things. And he understands, in turn, that I can be harsh, that at first I can say strong words, but then I would joyfully meet him halfway. Yes , that is my nature . But our flock stands behind us, and these feelings, unfortunately, cannot be conveyed.
I I remember some ten years ago I said at a diocesan conference that maybe I was naive, but I thought that we must first begin Eucharistic communion without any other agreements, without administrative underpinnings. My young priests immediately said: "No, Vladyka, that is impossible, one must first always resolve canonical questions, and the crowning event is Eucharistic communion." I swallowed this idea whole. This is all clear—according to the textbooks, that is how you should think, but I try to approach life creatively. This is how I was taught in Serbia, where I studied theology. The fathers and teachers had that kind of boldness. If we possessed such freedom, I am sure, we would progress in our talks much more quickly.
When we had our first official meeting with His Holiness the Patriarch and the members of the Synod, I foolishly raised the question again: "Let us begin by getting to know each other better, let us pray together. When you don’t know who you’re dealing with, it’s a completely different matter."
As you know, we constantly have pilgrimages to Russia. Vladyka Hilarion even went from Australia last year. But I say that I will never participate in such a pilgrimage until I can perform Divine Liturgy wherever we go, otherwise it is unacceptable for me. I did not travel to Russia for years because I did not want to come like a thief, as an alien, incognito. I do not like that . Either I belong or I don’t . But that is only my dream.
- What does the latest Synodal Epistle refer to concerning the progress of the talks?
- Yes, we issued a Synodal Epistle to the flock in which we call for a peaceful approach to these matters, to act not according to party politics, but by God’s grace. There are individuals and even whole parishes adopting the position that we must not even talk to Moscow until it clearly and unequivocally rejects all ecumenism, until it withdraws from the Council of Churches. Another problem is those bishops who were appointed during Soviet times and cooperated with the government. They must retire . These are extreme opinions put forth by opponents of the negotiations. Lest these people accuse those who disagree with them, we felt the need to issue such an epistle which calls not for party politics but for the conciliar examination of our position instead.
- At the end of December, you had a diocesan conference. How would you characterize the mood of the people, what is the scope of opinions? Are there differences between the positions of the clergy and the laity, between the lay descendants of the first and second waves of immigrants and those who arrived in Germany in recent years?
- The common view is that we must establish relations and that we must strive to reestablish the unity of the Russian Church. Yet many, both priests and laypersons, fear that talks are progressing too rapidly. In this area, one of the most acute problems is the Holy Land. Although in my opinion this isn’t an argument, emotions can strongly affect events as they unfold.
- Vladyka, who will participate in the All-Diaspora Council from your diocese, who are the elected delegates?
- At the end of December, at a joint meeting of wardens and clergymen, we considered candidates, not without some disagreement. Then we decided to approach it from the other end. Before electing delegates, I asked: what instructions can you give the delegates, what should they bring with them to this Council, in what spirit should they speak? We understand that each delegate—two clergymen and two laymen, as it turned out, wardens—each has his own personal point of view, but he must absorb the moods of the diocese, and the mood that will reign at the Council. Most of our clergymen and wardens understand that we cannot stop on the process of negotiations. This process is vital, though there may be various opinions in regard to their pace, details of the discussions, and the elaboration of one matter or another.
- Much is being done to acquaint the clergy and laity with what is happening in Russia today, what the Russian Orthodox Church is like now. It seems to me that little attention is given to educate the Church in Russia as to what the Church Abroad is, what it represents today. This is also a problem. Are there any plans to show Russia what the Church Abroad is today, and if so, how are you doing this?
- Unfortunately, this not being done in a systematic manner. I must say that our priests are overburdened with pastoral service, since the flock is geographically scattered, and each priest must travel several hundred kilometers a month to visit his flock. This is a different ituation than what exists in Russia. Many priests, when they come here from Russia, cannot imagine what our life is like, and they are amazed. One priest once saw that a bishop got behind the wheel of his car, and asked in bewilderment "Where is your chauffeur?"
Speaking of reconciliation, we seriously considered convening a mixed pastoral conference with the participation of clergymen from Russia and Germany. But the idea never got off the ground, and I am afraid that the moment eluded us. In Germany there are two dioceses—those of the Moscow Patriarchate and of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia—on the same territory, there are two bishops with the same title, there are priests who in many places work in parallel. We have many sores spots in church life which must be addressed. If we make the first step, I am sure, we will be able to hold such conferences on a wider scale. Our priests from various dioceses would love to go to Russia—not necessarily to Moscow, but specifically to other regions—to meet with priests there, talk about various problems of common concern. Let them see that we have a great deal in common, though not without sharp contrasts.
- Vladyka, what would you like to wish for our readers and those who confess the Orthodox faith in Russia, and, like you, desire unity, the unity of the Russian Church?
- The most important thing is that in our spiritual life, we must not allow ourselves to be kidnapped and led astray or fall into despair over decisions that may be spiritually difficult to accept. I wish for all of us to see that we are taking upon ourselves a spiritual podvig , and that the Unity of the Church stands higher than many, many other questions. Many of these will be resolved as soon as, God willing, this unity is achieved. We all require a great deal of patience, in longsuffering and condescension towards each other. And first of all in mutual forgiveness.
Correspondent Sergei Chapnin