The Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia (ROCOR) is on the track toward reconciliation and unity with the Moscow Patriarchate, thus ending a 80 year old rift.
The decision was made at the All-Diaspora Council meeting of the ROCOR in San Francisco in May, which gathered representatives of dioceses and church-related organizations, both clergy and laity. Following the turmoil of the communist revolution and the emigration of a large number of Russians, ROCOR had been formed as a temporary administration of Russian bishops in exile, based upon provisions made by then Patriarch Tikhon. ROCOR’s founders had hoped to return some day to Russia and carefully kept all the traditions of the Russian Church. Following the fall of the Communist regime in Russia, the question of restoring links with Moscow soon emerged, since canonical justification for the continuation of a separate existence seemed to have disappeared. And an increasing number of newly-arrived Russians are now attending ROCOR parishes in the West.
Long-held suspicions do not disappear overnight, however. Some within ROCOR continued to consider the Russian Church as a “Soviet Church”. Moreover, moves by the Patriarchate in order to take control of ROCOR properties (e.g. in the Holy Land) gave rise to new questions about Moscow’s intents. Another point of contention was the fact that ROCOR accepted within its ranks some clergy and parishes within Russia. A few years ago, as then reported in RW (January 2002), a split took place within ROCOR over the issue of the rapprochement with Moscow, while negotiations with the Patriarchate were undertaken by the main ROCOR group (RW, June 2004)
Participants at the Council–the fourth meeting of its kind since 1921–held widely different views on the pace toward unity. However, following sometimes heated debates among the 134 delegates, a resolution was adopted nearly unanimously, expressing the hope for unity with the Russian Church “in the appropriate time” – thus leaving in fact the decision on the timing to the bishops. ROCOR would become a self-governing part of the Russian Church, with its own bishops and administrative structure. The resolution did not ask the Patriarchate to repent of its collaboration with the Soviet State, but it expressed a desire (though not making it a precondition for unity, since it was not one of the original issues) to see the Russian Church leave the World Council of Churches. Such a view is reported to be widely shared among Orthodox in Russia, but not by the Department of External Relations of the Patriarchate.
While no date has yet been set by the bishops, it is expected that unity might be achieved soon, although persisting reluctance within some parishes and sectors of ROCOR will have to be dealt with in order to prevent a new schism. The move should be put into the wider context of adjustments in the Russian diaspora. Following a “clash of cultures” with the Department of External Relations and newly-arrived Russians, some parts of the Russian Diocese under the Moscow Patriarchate in Great Britain (which was developed largely as a missionary diocese) are currently making a move to switch jurisdiction to Constantinople. In Russia, decisions of the ROCOR Council and bishops seemed to be widely welcomed — and not only in church circles. Some observers have interpreted the move in strategic terms, for instance Vyacheslav Nikonov, president of the Politika Fund think tank, claimed that church unification would “strengthen Russia’s international position,” reports Interfax (May 12).
(The documents of the Council are available on a bilingual website:http://www.sobor2006.com)
— By Jean-Francois Mayer, RW Contributing Editor and founder of the website religioscope (http://www.religion.info)