President Vladimir V. Putin celebrating Easter Sunday 2007 with Patriarch Alexei II
Thursday marked a historic occasion in Moscow - the reunification of the Russian Orthodox Church with the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia (ROCOR) . For Patriarch Alexei II, this marks another triumph by the church over the materialist legacy of atheistic Soviet Communism. For Russian President Vladimir Putin this event is another example of Russia's spiritual and national revival in recent years. According to an Atlantic Monthly article by Paul Starobin, Putin was secretly baptized as a child by his mother in the final years of Stalin's reign, and continues to meet regularly with his personal confessor Father Tikhon.
Russia Blog has written previously about this topic and other topics related to Russian Orthodoxy:
Click on the extended post to read an excellent news article from the Los Angeles Times, and commentary on the splits that remain in the Orthodox churches by RIA Novosti commentator Anatoly Korolev.
Christ the Savior Cathedral (Photo by: Yuri Mamchur)
Russian Orthodox Church Mends Global Schism
Overseas church that refused Soviet control formally reunites with homeland hierarchy in Moscow.
By David Holley, Times Staff Writer
Los Angeles Times, May 18, 2007
MOSCOW -- The Russian Orthodox Church on Thursday formally ended an 80-year global schism triggered when overseas exiles refused to accept the church's subservience to the Soviet state.
In a ceremony at Christ the Savior Cathedral, which was rebuilt in the 1990s after it had been torn down decades earlier by Soviet dictator Josef Stalin, leaders of the domestic and overseas Russian Orthodox hierarchies signed an act of "canonical communion."
The document provides for the full restoration of religious unity under the Moscow patriarchate while maintaining autonomy for the church abroad in organizational and economic matters.
"A historic event has taken place, which has been awaited for many, many years," Patriarch Alexei II said during the religious service marking reunification.
"Confrontations in society inherited at the time of the revolution and civil war are being overcome. The church is being strengthened. Our fatherland is being revived," he said.
The Russian Orthodox Church was torn by the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution, a subsequent civil war pitting Vladimir I. Lenin's Red Army against a monarchist White Army, and the flight of refugees abroad. But the split was not formalized until 1927, when the leader of the church in the Soviet Union, Metropolitan Sergiy, declared loyalty to the communist government.
Sergiy's defenders later said he was trying to save the church from destruction.
At Thursday's ceremony, the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia was represented by its head, Metropolitan Laurus, who is based in New York. He expressed hope that the new "bonds of brotherhood" would help the church in its "joint service for God and the Russian people at home and abroad."
Russian President Vladimir V. Putin, who in recent years played a key role in facilitating the reunification, also spoke at the ceremony.
"The split in the church was caused by an extremely deep political split within Russian society itself," said Putin, a former KGB agent who since becoming president in 2000 has frequently attended Orthodox services.
"We have realized that national revival and development in Russia are impossible without reliance on the historical and spiritual experience of our people," Putin added. "We understand well, and value, the power of pastoral words which unite the people of Russia. That is why restoring the unity of the church serves our common goals."
Reunification has been controversial within the church abroad, with opponents arguing that the hierarchy in Moscow still has not properly addressed the issue of its infiltration by the KGB during the Soviet period. Konstantin Preobrazhensky, a former KGB officer turned Kremlin critic who now lives in the U.S., said Thursday in a telephone interview from Washington that he believed the church outside Russia would lose its independence and that eventually priests with loyalties to the Russian government would be sent to work in the United States.
An outspoken church activist, Preobrazhensky said that by agreeing to reunification, Laurus was inviting a new split, this time within his own flock. The Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia has more than 400 parishes worldwide, with an estimated membership of more than 400,000.
Advocates of reunification, however, can point to a dramatic revival of the Russian Orthodox Church under Alexei II's leadership, including the restoration or construction of thousands of churches across the country. For ordinary Russians who came to Thursday's service, the event was a milestone that bode well for their country.
"The reunification of our church will be a symbol that will help to reunite the entire Russian people, and the reunited Russians will become an even stronger and greater nation," Yevgeny Alexeyev, 33, a nuclear physicist, said before entering the cathedral.
Darya Filipenko, 23, a musician, said she considered the ceremony "an immensely important historic event."
"There is no Red or White Russia anymore, no Russian and foreign church," she said. "We managed to prove to the world that we can recover and fortify our moral foundation, which for many years appeared to be irreparably damaged if not lost altogether."
"This act of reunification will become one of the most important landmarks in the history of Russia and in the history of the Russian Orthodox Church," she said. "The civil war is finally over."
Times staff writer Sergei L. Loiko contributed to this report.
Bronze statue of a saint on the exterior of Christ the Savior Cathedral (Photo by: Yuri Mamchur)
Russian Orthodox Church Reunited: Why Only Now?
By Anatoly Korolev
RIA Novosti News Agency, May 17, 2007 16:17
MOSCOW - The Russian Orthodox Church (ROC) and the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia (ROCOR) have signed the Act of Canonical Communion in the Cathedral of Christ the Savior in Moscow.
Alexy II, the Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia, and Metropolitan Laurus, First Hierarch of ROCOR, signed the act in the presence of President Vladimir Putin.
It is good the communion has happened, but why has it taken so long?
The 1917 Bolshevik Revolution and the subsequent Civil War forced part of hierarchs to join the Bolsheviks' opponents who fled Russia. At first they could not bear living and working outside the Russian Orthodox Church, but the Bolshevik terror campaigns and the destruction of churches throughout the country forced them to anathematize the godless rulers.
During World War II, Stalin partially revitalized Orthodoxy, reopening some churches and monasteries and allowing them to train the new clergy. The hierarchs living abroad had a highly critical view of that development, saying that the Moscow patriarch had made an alliance with Satan.
As time went by, their total rejection was somewhat alleviated, as the church was rapidly regaining strength after the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991. Eventually, rejection became an anachronism.
The movement towards communion accelerated when Metropolitan Laurus became the First Hierarch of the ROCOR in 2000.
The only thing that hindered it was the murder of Tsar Nicholas II and his family by Bolsheviks in 1918. The ROCOR hierarchs believed that the Moscow Patriarchy must speak clearly and passionately about the murder of the Tsar's family, the defeat of the anti-Bolshevik movement, and the execution and persecution of priests. They also accused the top officials in the ROC of servility and were alarmed by the ROC's ties with other branches of Christianity, notably Catholicism.
Some of these complaints were laid to rest at the Jubilee Council of Bishops in 2000, which canonized the last Russian emperor and his family, along with more than a 1,000 martyrs and confessors. It also passed a document on relations between the church and the secular authorities, which censored potential servility and complaisance, and also rejected the possibility of any connection between Orthodoxy and Catholicism.
In short, the ROCOR, which has suffered much and long, is the dominant party of the communion. The Pope is unlikely to visit Moscow in the next 100 years. The feeblest ties between the branches of the same religious tree will be cut off. It is for the church to decide if this is good or bad, yet I would say this is definitely pushing the Russian church into the True-Orthodox (Catacomb) rut.
The first, symbolic, communion of the two churches took place in May 2004 in Butovo, where Bolsheviks had buried thousands of executed priests and other "enemies of the people." Metropolitan Laurus, who had visited Russia only unofficially (frequently incognito) before, donned his ceremonial dress to join Alexy II in the common prayer for the dead.
Hundreds of believers stood in the glades where Bolshevik tractors had rolled over the dead and wounded, sticking hundreds of candles into the black earth mixed with the earthly remains of the martyrs.
It was the day the Civil War ended in Russia, and the construction of a cathedral in memory of the dead began.
On May 19, the first common prayer of the two churches will be held by Alexy II and Laurus in that Cathedral of the Resurrection of Christ and of the Holy New Martyrs and Confessors of Russia.
By that time, the main communion documents will have been signed, the Moscow Patriarchy and the Holy Synod will have approved the First Hierarch to stand over the 13 hierarchs, 320 parishes and 20 monasteries and nunneries in the United States, Australia, Austria, Germany and South America, and the ROCOR will accept the authority of the Bishops' Council.
This seems like a happy ending, yet the split in the Orthodox Church is deeper now than it ever was in the thousand years of its history. Millions of Orthodox Ukrainians have accepted the guidance of the Kiev Patriarchy, although the church in Ukraine is also split, with part of its parishes recognizing only the authority of the Moscow Patriarchy.
The ROCOR is only part (although a very important one) of the Orthodox churches that keep aloof of the ROC and reject rapprochement, such as the autocephalous Orthodox Church in America and the Constantinople Patriarchy. Moreover, some parishes and priests of the ROCOR have always rejected the idea of a reunification with the ROC and said they would leave the ROCOR if this happened. The communion in Moscow may accelerate their departure.
The ROC itself was split by Nikon's reform 400 years ago into the followers of the seventh patriarch, Nikon, (the majority) and Old Believers. The latter have been growing stronger of late, along with numerous Christian sects. For example, thousands have flocked to Siberian preacher Vissarion, head of the Church of the Last Testament, which spotlights not the church rite, but the spiritual quest for coexistence.
It may sound strange, but the schism is natural to Russians, and this truth is becoming clear now. It is the division of Russians into the Red and the White, patriots and pro-Westerners, Slav lovers and Slav haters, the Left and the Right, the Communists and anti-Communists, and most importantly, believers and atheists, that stabilizes the Russian mentality and keeps you alive, with your wits intact, in this huge country.
This schism can be compared to an ice movement that gives the ice floe of obscurantism and orthodoxy the required motion necessary to keep the Christian idea alive.
Christianity itself is divided into three branches: Orthodoxy, Catholicism and Protestantism, but this does not detract one iota from the power or prestige of that global religion.
The opinions expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.
You can watch news clips about this historic event from Russia Today TV: