On May 17, the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia officially reestablished communion with the Moscow Patriarchate. The move has been hailed by some as finally marking the end of the Russian Civil War (Russia Profile, May 17). As reported by RW (June 2006), a Council of the Church Abroad had accepted unity as a matter of principle a year ago, leaving to its Synod of Bishops the task to solve remaining problems and set the date. The final step came earlier than some had expected.
During the period before and immediately after May 17, some groups have left ROCOR in order to join Russian or Greek traditionalist groups. They include several clerics and a few parishes in the USA and South America, two monasteries in England, one monastery in France and one in Canada. In the FSU, Bishop Agafangel of Odessa and his clergy have also refused to accept the Act and see themselves as the true continuation of ROCOR. But a large majority of ROCOR’s clergy and flock seem to have remained with their bishops.
Most media comments focused on the meaning of the event rather than on its impact within ROCOR. While Russian journalists emphasized the meeting of “two Russias” (Interfax, May 22), foreign journalists and analysts paid special attention to the active role played by President Putin in the merger. Putin was present on May 17 and described the event as a “moment of rebirth.” Time‘s Yuri Zarakhovich (May 17) writes that nationalism on Orthodox foundations is developing into a major ideological resource for the current Russian regime. A reunited Orthodox Church should also contribute to reinforce Russia’s position in the Orthodox world (in competition with Constantinople). However, ROCOR’s communications director, Nicholas Ohotin, has answered such comments by remarking that the first overtures to the Church Abroad came as early as 1990 from the Moscow Patriarchate itself, long before Putin came to power (Wall Street Journal, June 2).
Some liberal orthodox circles in the West have expressed mixed feelings about the consequences of the event: they are afraid that “conservative” trends within the Moscow Patriarchate could be reinforced. It makes it also more likely that some Russian circles in France – currently in their own Archbishopric under Constantinople – will increase the pressure for union with Moscow, a move which other members of their group are reluctant to accept.
— By Jean-Francois Mayer