Tuesday, January 31, 2017
Editorial from the “Brotherly Listok”
Communion between the Far East Diocese and the Synod of Bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad was restored on the day of the Feast of the Dormition of the Blessed Virgin Mary in the past year (2016). This brought us not only the joy of reunion with many of the same faith on the territory of historical Russia and abroad, but also inevitable anxieties.
Already then, the rift between the Synod headed by Metropolitan Agafangel and a group of clerics and laymen was perceptibly unfolding. The group were accusing the Primate of usurping power and non-canonical actions, while demanding the convention of an extraordinary All-Diaspora Council. On August 27, 2016 Bishops Sophrony and Andronik, along with part of their flocks, announced their non-submission to the ROCA Synod and Metropolitan Agafangel. In his response, the First Hierarch addressed the initiators of the convention of this “All-Diaspora Council”, for the first time using the term “parasynagogue”.
(* Parasynagogue (Greek παρασυναγωγή -. arbitrary gathering) - a form of departure from Orthodoxy, other than division based on a heresy in that it does not apply to dogmatic questions and is the result of a violation of church hierarchal discipline – disobedience to the hierarchy established by God. “The ancients … named such meetings as are drawn up by unruly presbyters or bishops and unwise people - arbitrary gatherings. For example, if someone, being rebuked for sin, is removed from the priesthood, thereafter does not submit to the rules, and himself retains the authority and standing of the priesthood, and if certain others separate with him”. (Saint Basil’s the Great: First Canonical Epistle to Amphilochius of Iconium).)
It should be noted that neither the First Hierarch nor the Synod members had any objection in principle to the convening of an All-Diaspora Council. However, they simply and legitimately insisted that the council be held in compliance with the rules of the Church, in accordance with procedure prescribed in the “Regulations on the ROCA”. However, even then it was visible that the goal of the initiators of strife was not a constructive dialogue in the spirit of Christ’s love with a view to resolving the existing problems, but rather – an escalation of the conflict.
In early September 2016, the “Pre-Council Commission” appeared, which even before any investigation or trial announced that “Metropolitan Agafangel and his Synod, by their erroneous decisions and abuse of power have lost credibility and trust.” In October 2016, the members of this self-appointed Commission sent Vladika Agafangel another appeal, which, in particular, offered the First Hierarch “to resign as Chairman of the Council of Bishops and Synod, keeping the rank of Metropolitan and management of the Odessa diocese” and to “decentralize the Church administration”, creating three autonomous church districts - Ukrainian-Moldovan, Russian, and Abroad, - each controlled by its own Synod. It was not clear what was behind this idea - thoughtlessness or a clear desire to weaken the church structure of the remnant of the former ROCOR.
Soon enough however the issue became clear. At the same time a picture was revealed before us, in which the deepening the split transformed into something more dangerous. On October 12, 2016 representatives of the new schismatic group published a statement on their website to the effect that “in our time … we believe that the universal Church has the form of splintered “fragments”, which have no communion with each other.” Metropolitan Agafangel immediately objected to this, saying that this statement directly falls under the anathema, proclaimed by ROCOR against the ecumenists (1983) “To those who attack the Church of Christ by teaching that the Lord’s Church is divided into so-called “branches” which differ in doctrine and way of life, or that the Church does not exist visibly, but will be formed in the future when all “branches” of sects or denomination, and even religions, will be united into one body, …: Anathema.”
At the Council of Bishops, held in Odessa from 25 to 27 October 2016, this theme was developed further. Members of the Council heard a memorandum by Metropolitan Agafangel “On the Heresy of Schism-ecumenism” and concluded that the Bishops’ Council cannot accept this teaching as Orthodox, which claims that the Local Russian Orthodox Church is split into equally-salvific and grace-filled fragments that do not have communion with one another, neither in prayer or administratively, nor communion in the sacraments, and that these fragments together constitute the Local Russian Orthodox Church. This doctrine was considered a particular form of the heresy of Ecumenism.
Meanwhile, the decision of the Bishops’ Council in relation to the formal leaders of this new division, at the time officially retired archbishops Andronik and Sophrony, were most correct, careful and patient. While warning about the inadmissibility of non-canonical meetings and calling for the dissolution the so-called “Pre-Council Commission”, they also invited their Eminences [Andronik and Sophrony], together with the faithful of their group, to participate “in the preparation of a canonical All-Diaspora Council of our whole Church, in accordance with the Regulations of the ROCOR.” To our deep regret this proposal remained unanswered.
In a special “Appeal” the Council of Bishops once again warned the initiators of this unauthorized meeting that, in the event of it convening, “would be an act of schism and visible evidence of falling away from the Church. If this gathering is convened, all who wish to be present, testify that being warned, they have knowingly and willingly separated from the Church; which will be confirmed by the Council of Bishops by a decree prohibiting archbishops Andronik and Sofrony from serving, the prohibition from serving by their respective ruling bishop of all priests who take part in the unlawful gathering, and for all laity who participate - excommunication from Holy Communion; for which a special Conciliar Decree has been issued.
However, no Appeal, neither any open letter could stop the engine of division, which at full steam rushed to its goal. The arbitrary unlawful meeting, composed of people united by non-Orthodox sophistry, disproportionate ambition and pronounced personal dislike of the First Hierarch, was opened on January 11, 2017 in the state of New York. The final warning of the Council of Bishops of ROCA came into force, and another schism was added to the dramatic history of the Church Abroad.
Metropolitan Agafangel in his comments to the sad events noted “there was on obvious pre-programmed path towards a schism right from the beginning. It is a fact that not a single constructive suggestion for preserving unity was brought forward by the parasynagogue. Our suggestions at the joint meeting with the Greeks were rejected. In other words it is obvious that this group did not need anything else, except a split. In this connection I wish to remind you that it is a documented confirmed fact that all divisions in the Russian Church were provoked by the NKVD-KGB-FSB (the schism of 2007 is as yet not confirmed by documents - the names and titles of the real “heroes” are not yet proclaimed). I do not suspect – by virtue of my position and status in the Church, no, I feel and see the action of external forces in our midst, which are interested in our destruction. To break up something, it is necessary to make an effort - this is an axiom. We now have the visible result of this effort.”
Of course, in these words of the First Hierarch has his own reason [свой резон]. Nevertheless, regardless of the nature of these hostile external forces, it is painful to see with our own eyes how yesterday’s fathers and brothers, have been unable to withstand this temptation, and now they undergo malignant spiritually-harmful mutations and leave for “a country far away”, tearing off chunks of flesh from the Mystical Body of Christ. Yet, however deep the bitterness and pain of the current loss, the more clear are the words of our Lord God and Saviour Jesus Christ: “Be of good cheer, I have overcome the world”.
The editors of the “Brotherly Listok” (Vladivostok).