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The Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia and World Orthodoxy
by Subdeacon Victor Ganson

This paper was submitted during the Spring '07 semester as a class assignment for course “104 — The Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia”.

The Orthodox Church is the true Church in which the Holy Tradition and the fullness of God's saving grace are preserved intact. She has preserved the heritage of the Apostles and Holy Fathers in its integrity and purity. She is aware that her teaching, liturgical structures and spiritual practice are the same as those of the apostolic proclamation and the Tradition of the Early Church.
— Bishops’ Council of the Russian Orthodox Church, 2000 [1]

During the course of its more than eighty-year existence, the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia (ROCOR) found itself increasingly on the periphery of World Orthodoxy. While this was certainly in part attributable to the complex and extraordinary circumstances of its temporary separation from the Moscow Patriarchate, no less a factor was the Church Abroad’s principled stance against the scourge of modernism and ecumenism within the Orthodox Church. Despite being comparatively tiny in terms of its flock, ROCOR from its inception never shied away from speaking out in support of the truth. The tone was set by Metropolitan Anthony (Khrapovitsky), a highly-respected and authoritative figure in the Orthodox world, and continued on accordingly through the years. In many ways, ROCOR served as the conscience of the Orthodox Church, upholding tradition and attempting to bring those with either ill or misguided intentions back to sobriety. As large segments of World Orthodoxy began to succumb to the trappings of the modern world and lead others astray, the resolutely traditional Church Abroad became a significant thorn in their side. Now, with the Act of Canonical Reunification with the Moscow Patriarchate having passed, ROCOR finds itself again in the fold of World Orthodoxy. In light of this, it is timely to examine the historicity of ROCOR’s relationship with other Orthodox jurisdictions, particularly as relates to modernism and ecumenism.

From its inception, the Russian Orthodox Outside of Russia made clear that it would battle fervently to preserve Orthodox Tradition. This unyielding approach was most certainly embodied by its First Hierarch, Metropolitan Anthony, who was already known prior to the revolution as a fervent protector of traditional Orthodoxy. Indeed, “Archbishop Antony of Volynia, later Metropolitan of Kiev, was especially firm and zealous with regard to the purity of Orthodoxy and the exact fulfillment of the canons. Progressive society regarded him with prejudice and very negatively.” [2] Archbishop Anthony’s reputation, however, extended even beyond the borders of Russia. Patriarch Varnava of Serbia spoke of Metropolitan Anthony as “a great hierarch who is an embellishment of the Orthodox Church. A lofty mind, similar to the first hierarchs of the Church of Christ at the dawn of Christianity. And in him all Church truth is evident.” [3] Even a representative of the Constantinopolitan Church, Metropolitan Dorotheus, declared to Metropolitan Anthony: “Under your guidance, the Patriarchate will permit any undertaking, for it is known to the Patriarchate that your Eminence will not do anything uncanonical.” [4] Such was the esteem in which the Metropolitan Anthony was held-as a protector of Orthodox purity. These beginnings charted the course of ROCOR as it navigated through the twentieth century and to the present day. Despite derision from some of the “progressive” and “enlightened” wings of the Orthodox Church, the dedication of ROCOR to the moorings of Orthodoxy has never wavered. [5]

The resolve of ROCOR to stand up for traditional Orthodoxy was almost immediately put to the test. In the early 1920s, the militantly atheistic Soviet regime seized upon the developing renovationist movement (obnovlenchestvo) in an attempt to further weaken the Orthodox Church in Russia. The ‘ Living Church’ was a renovationist group that called for, among other things, the consecration of married priests into the bishopric, the permission for priests to marry and remarry, as well as gross liturgical reforms. With the weight of the Soviet government behind it, the Living Church gained the support of the Patriarch of Constantinople. When Patriarch Gregory of Constantinople called for Patriarch Tikhon to step aside and hand over authority to the Living Church, the ROCOR immediately interceded. The Church Abroad “boldly expressing the defense of the truth and the denunciation of lies… convinced the Patriarch of Constantinople and the Metropolitan of Athens of the correctness of Patriarch Tikhon and the deceit of the Living Church.” [6] The friction with Constantinople, however, would continue, as Meletios Metaxakis, “ a devoted and self-avowed Freemason and a die-hard renovationist,” [7] came to the Patriarchal seat. The reform-minded Patriarch succeeded in introducing the New Calendar to the Constantinopolitan Church. He had even greater modernist ambitions, as “ Meletios put together an agenda for a Pan-Orthodox Council that was to include on its agenda not only the acceptance of the Gregorian Calendar, but also the easing of restrictions for fast periods, the shortening of services, permission for clergy to remarry, and many other renovationist ideas.” [8] The Church Abroad, comparatively small a group as it was, did not shy away from standing up to Constantinople and vociferously opposing such betrayal of Orthodoxy. In the words of Serbian Patriarch Varnava, “When at the beginning of the post-war period, a wave of modernism washed almost all the Church of the East, it broke upon the cliff of Metropolitan Anthony.” [9]

Unfortunately, “the wave of modernism” referred to by Patriarch Varnava was more than a fleeting trend, as large segments of World Orthodoxy began to progressively shift further from traditional Orthodox teaching. The adoption of the New Calendar by portions of the Orthodox Church-specifically the Patriarchates of Constantinople, Bulgaria, Rumania, and Alexandria-ushered in with it a new preoccupation with ecumenism. It must be emphasized that “the New Calendar was introduced into the Orthodox Church not for the sake of astronomical correctness, but as the first step in achieving a forced, false union of the Orthodox Church with non-Orthodox New Calendarist Christian bodies, for the sake of certain secular advantages which such a union was expected to have.” [10] In other words, changing to the New Calendar was the necessary first step of the ecumenical agenda. Now, it should be noted that ROCOR was not necessarily entirely opposed to “ecumenism” and did indeed participate in some ecumenical gatherings itself. Lest it be said that ROCOR is a group of isolationists that has always eschewed any interaction with the heterodox, take note of the following:

Maintaining the belief in the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church, the Synod of Bishops professes that the Church has never been divided. The question is only who belongs to her and who does not. At the same time the Synod warmly greets the efforts of heterodox confessions to study Christ's teaching on the Church with the hope that by such study, especially with the participation of the representatives of the Holy Orthodox Church, they may at last come to the conviction that the Orthodox Church, being the pillar and the ground of the truth (I Tim. iii. 15), fully and with no faults has maintained the doctrine given by Christ the Savior to His disciples. With that Faith and with such hope the Synod of Bishops accepts the invitation of the Committee for Continuation of the Conference on Faith and Order. [11]

The above was written by the Synod of Bishops of ROCOR in 1931, upon the occasion of the appointment of a representative to the Committee to the Continuation of the Conference on Faith and Order. Thus, the Church Abroad never opposed meeting with the heterodox, as long as Orthodoxy was in no way compromised. However, the brand of ecumenism that began to gain steam was much more sinister. Watching their Orthodox brethren dive headlong into the streams of ecumenism distressed the hierarchy of ROCOR enough that it felt obligated to take a stand. In the words of Metropolitan Philaret, “Can any one of us be silent if he sees that many of his brethren simultaneously are walking along a path that leads them and their flock to a disastrous precipice through their unwitting loss of Orthodoxy?” [12] This stand in defense of traditional Orthodox teaching came in form of a series of “Sorrowful Epistles” from Metropolitan Philaret and the Synod. These epistles were written with full conviction “that in this protest we have with us all the Holy Fathers of the Church,” and spoke out emphatically against the ecumenical movement as “and effort to unite truth with error” and a “mixture of errors which have gone so far astray from Tradition.” [13] The following effectively sums up exactly why the Church Abroad felt obligated by conscience to speak out against involvement with the ecumenical movement:

The strength of Orthodoxy has always lain in Her maintaining the principles of Church Tradition. Despite this, there are those who are attempting to include in the agenda of a future Great Council not a discussion of the best ways to safeguard those principles, but, on the contrary, ways to bring about a radical revision of the entire way of life in the Church, beginning with the abolition of fasts, second marriages of the clergy, etc., so that Her way of life would be closer to that of the heretical communities. [14]

This, not unexpectedly, led to a notable backlash from the Orthodox communities entrenched in the ecumenical camp. Various arguments were used in an effort to undermine the canonical legitimacy of the Church Abroad and thereby suppress its voice. While revisionist historians intent on discrediting the message of ROCOR may have claimed otherwise, the facts show that the Church Abroad was an acknowledged member of the Universal Orthodox Church (with the exception of the Moscow Patriarchate, of course). [15] It was only with the “spread of ‘ecumania’ and the vocal opposition of Metropolitan Philaret to it, the Synod is viewed as ‘schismatic’ and uncanonical.’” [16] “It was precisely the opposition of the Church Abroad to communism, ecumenism, and the calendar change which led to its alienation from Moscow and Constantinople, following the birth of the “ Living Church” in Russia and its support by the innovators who had come to power in the Great Church of Constantinople following the Russian Revolution.” [17]

Over the years, many of the barbs thrown at the Church Abroad have come from the two groups that went into schism from the Church Abroad-the descendent church organizations of Metropolitan Platon’s North American diocese and Metropolitan Eulogious’ Western European diocese. The attacks of these groups on ROCOR should not have been in the least surprising. Firstly, they felt compelled to discredit the legitimacy of ROCOR and thereby bolster their own dubious canonical standing. Secondly, much of their membership genuinely disliked ROCOR’s devotion to Orthodox purity and chafed under such “conservative” leadership. This led to “the polemical arguments and distortions of fact put forth for so many years by the late Fathers Alexander Schmemann and John Meyendorff” and by others along with them. M. Rodzianko expounds on what drove many of these individuals to leave the auspices of the Church Abroad:

The reason for the separation was… the desire to preach unsound theological ideas unhindered. This lack of control led to a digression from the true Orthodox way, founded on the traditions of the Holy Fathers. The new theologians, propagating their teaching for 30 years in a radical fashion, changed the psychology of the youth studying with them. This psychology went far astray from the psychology of a faithful people who for a thousand years were able to preserve the purity of Orthodoxy with all its pious customs, notwithstanding even unheard of persecutions of the Church. These people have ceased to be Orthodox in spirit, and have remained Orthodox only in their own scholastic reasoning, not realizing the horror of their deeds. [18]

Thus, the Russian Church Abroad bore an onslaught on unfounded attacks on its canonicity by Fr. Alexander Schmemann and other clerics of the Orthodox Church in America (OCA), largely due to the Church Abroad’s principled stance against the heresy of ecumenism. Certainly, with the OCA’s “penchant for modernism, minimalism, ecumenism, and sterile academic ‘theology’” [19] it is no wonder that Fr. Alexander found ROCOR to be quite a significant nuisance. Thus, calling ROCOR’s canonical basis into question and implying that ROCOR is but a group of schismatics provided a cheap means of discrediting the substance of the message. As for the OCA’s dubious canonical basis, “this canonical irregularity will continue to be overlooked in practice and deemed unimportant by the other Patriarchates as long as the OCA adheres to what is of greater concern to the Ecumenical Patriarchate in particular, the path of modernism and ecumenical unity.” [20] Of course, the times are changing, as the Church Abroad now stands to have its own stance and voice bolstered through the re-establishment of canonical relations with the Moscow Patriarchate. The historically momentous re-establishment of this relationship demands ROCOR’s acceptance as a canonical entity by World Orthodoxy. Thus, jurisdictions such as the OCA are no longer able to call ROCOR’s canonicity into question in an attempt to undermine the validity of the Church Abroad’s stance.

The Act of Canonical Reunification, however, brought with it a level of wariness among some members of the Church Abroad, with the question of ecumenism causing some trepidation. For some it was enough to oppose the process entirely, while for others, it was simply a reason to proceed cautiously. After all, the 1987 Epistle of the Synod of Bishops of ROCOR had stated, “We have observed with regret the ever greater attraction of the Patriarchate of Moscow to ecumenism, with participation in prayer services even with pagans and idolators (we have in mind here the ecumenical encounter in Assisi).” [21] Furthermore, the 1990 Epistle further declared: “In due course, former renovationists entered the ecclesiastical administration of the Patriarchate of Moscow, and they have introduced modernism and a passion for ecumenism.” [22] The concern was again repeated in 1994, though now with some concession to the presence of positive elements:

We are distressed that wide circles within the Patriarchate have been following the lead of other Local Churches who have lost a healthy sense of the understanding of the Traditions of the Holy Fathers. Yet at the same time we rejoice that within the same Patriarchate there are also healthy elements. These consist of priests and even laymen who are Orthodox in mind and preach true Orthodoxy despite all obstacles. [23]

The members of ROCOR had a historical basis for approaching the matter with at least cautious apprehension. Was the Moscow Patriarchate’s involvement in ecumenism no longer a concern? Would reunification with the Moscow Patriarchate in any way force the Church Abroad to compromise its approach to modernism and ecumenism?

Clearly, given the Moscow Patriarchate’s history of participation in the World Council of Churches (WCC), this was a most legitimate concern on the part of ROCOR clergy and laity. Alas, these concerns were largely addressed in the documents which were composed prior to the Act of Canonical Reunification. The document, On the Attitude of the Orthodox Church Towards the Heterodox and Towards Inter-Confessional Organizations, directly states: “A condition of the participation of the Orthodox Church in inter-confessional organizations, including the World Council of Churches, is the exclusion of religious syncretism.” [24] This could not be stated more directly—participation in any organizations that reconcile opposing religious principles is unacceptable. This is so because “Orthodox Christians insist on their right to freely confess their faith in the Orthodox Church as the One Holy Universal and Apostolic Church.” [25] Thus, uncompromisingly believing that the Orthodox Church is the True Church leads the Russian Orthodox Church to deem unacceptable “the so-called ‘branch theory’ and definitively reject any attempts to dilute Orthodox ecclesiology.” [26] By no means, however, is the intent for the Orthodox Church to barricade itself off from the rest of the world. The document reaffirms that “cooperation with the heterodox is not excluded” and “dialog with the non-Orthodox remains necessary to witness Orthodoxy to them, to overcome prejudices and to disprove false opinions”, while reiterating that “it is not proper to smooth over or obscure the actual differences between Orthodoxy and other confessions.” [27] Should this not be enough to allay the fears or apprehension of any members of ROCOR as to the attitude of the Moscow Patriarchate towards ecumenism, one needs look now further than the Principles of the Attitude of the Russian Orthodox Church Toward the Other Christian Confessions , adopted by the Jubilee Bishops’ Council of the Russian Orthodox Church on August 14, 2000. In this document, which predates any serious discussions of reestablishing canonical relations, the document states that, “ while recognizing the need to restore our broken Christian unity, the Orthodox Church asserts that genuine unity is possible only in the bosom of the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church. All other ‘models’ of unity seem to us to be unacceptable.” [28] Thus, the “Orthodox Church cannot recognize ‘the equality of the denominations’. Those who have fallen away from the Church cannot re-unite with her in their present state. The existing dogmatic differences should be overcome, not simply bypassed, and this means that the way to unity lies through repentance, conversion and renewal.” [29] Returning to the joint document on the heterodox relations, it is acknowledged that “a resolution must be found in the nearest future to the problems of the degree to which existing forms of inter-Christian cooperation permit Orthodox representatives to remain free of those attitudes and participation in those practices which contradict the spirit of Orthodoxy.” [30] The resolution of this matter is one that certainly bears watching. However, given the unbending traditional stance of ROCOR and with traditional sentiments currently prevailing in the Moscow Patriarchate, one seems highly inclined to believe that the Russian Church will act solely in the interest of traditional Orthodoxy.

In the words of Bishop Mitrophan (Znosko), a longtime pastor and archpastor of the Church Abroad, “Before each of us is placed the burning question: will I mingle with the weak and unfaithful, or remain with the strong in Christ?” [31] The Church Abroad has through the “years of her existence remained unfailingly true to the path she had chosen for herself once and for all” [32] and has repeatedly taken a stand against the “weak and unfaithful.” Thus, where ROCOR has found itself in relation on to World Orthodoxy has depended entirely on World Orthodoxy; the Church Abroad has followed a straight path, intent on upholding Orthodox Tradition, while some other Orthodox jurisdictions have been swayed by modernist winds. In these modern times, when “it seems now all the enemies of the Church are concentrating their strengths on destroying and totally eliminating the Church” [33] we must remember that “our strength resides in the Holy Spirit…We must pray with faith, unity, and love that we shall be blessed with the strength of the Holy Spirit. The Creator sent His Son on a divine mission to benefit mankind, which He fulfilled. The divine nature of the mission renders it invincible to malice or the phony wisdom of the times.” [34] Thus, the emphasis must be on how to preserve the purity of Orthodoxy while living in this modern world, rather than succumbing to convenience through ecumenism and other manifestations of modernism. After all, “modernism consists in that bringing-down, that re-aligning of the life of the Church according to the principles of current life and human weaknesses.” [35] While this may bring some measure of ‘convenience’ in this life, it will only impede our hope of salvation in the life to come. The Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia, now within the bosom of the Russian Mother Church, must continue to be a guardian of Orthodox purity, against those individuals “carried away by zeal beyond their reason… teachers, who, to please those heterodox confessions, would not only relax the rules and statutes of Holy Church, but even alter the very dogmas of faith by introducing certain opinions never accepted by the Church.” [36] Metropolitan Philaret’s Second Sorrowful Epistle emphatically states: “The history of the Church witnesses that Christianity was not spread by compromises and dialogues between Christians and unbelievers, but through witnessing the truth and rejecting every lie and every error.” [37] In dealing with both World Orthodoxy and the heterodox, the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia must maintain its unwavering determination that “the only road to be followed is the one indicated by Metropolitan Antony, based on the rules of the Apostles and the decisions of the Oecumenical Councils.” [38] ROCOR is now finally reunited with the Moscow Patriarchate, yet retains its own administrative control. This much-anticipated, historic development should only serve to strengthen ROCOR as a voice of conscience within the Orthodox world.


1. Basic Principles of the Attitude of the Russian Orthodox Church Toward the Other Christian Confessions, http://orthodoxeurope.org/print/7/5/1.aspx [Date accessed: 21-Jun-07].

2. M. Rodzianko, The Truth About the Russian Church Abroad (St. Job of Pochaev Press, Jordanville, 1975), 5.

3. Ibid, 43.

4. Ibid.

5. Fr. Alexander Schmemann, almost mockingly, accuses the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia throughout its history of always finding a reason to distance itself from other Orthodox jurisdictions: “ Her reasons? If it is not the recognition of Moscow, it is Ecumenism; if it is not Ecumenism, it is the calendar; it is not the calendar, it is the refusal to rebaptize the heterodox; and finally if it is not all this, it is ‘lukewarm piety.’” (Fr. Alexander Schmemann, A Reply to “The Sorrowful Epistle,” http://www.orthodoxinfo.com/ecumenism/schmem_azkoul.aspx [Date accessed: 18-Jul-07]).

6. Archbishop Nathaniel Lvov, The Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia, http://ecampus.orthodoxtheologicalschool.org/mod/book/view.php?id=136&chapterid=27 [Date accessed: 03-Mar-07].

7. Archpriest Alexander Lebedeff, The Traditional Old Calendar of the Orthodox Church: Observations About Its Meaning, http://www.orthodoxinfo.com/ecumenism/calendar_faq.aspx [Date accessed: 20-Jun-07].

8. Ibid.

9. Lvov, The Russian Orthodox Church.

10. Constantine Cavarnos, The New Calendar Innovation and Its Fruits (On the Views of the Blessed Elder Philotheos), http://www.orthodoxinfo.com/ecumenism/zervakos_calendar.aspx [Date accessed: 20-Jun-07].

11. The First Sorrowful Epistle of Metropolitan Philaret, http://www.orthodoxinfo.com/ecumenism/sorrow.aspx (Date accessed: 10-Jun-07].

12. Ibid.

13. Ibid.

14. The Second Sorrowful Epistle of Metropolitan Philaret, http://www.orthodoxinfo.com/ecumenism/sorrow2.aspx [Date accessed: 10-Jun-07].

15. In support of this point, Fr. Michael Azkoul offers the following evidence: “ For example, in the Near East, Synodal priests served in Greek churches and vice-versa. In 1955, His Beatitude, Christopher, the Pope and Patriarch of Alexandria, requested that the late Metropolitan Anastassy take part in the consecration of a bishop for his jurisdiction. In 1968, Metropolitan Ignatius of Latakia ( Antioch) participated in the consecration of Bishop Nicander as Suffragan Bishop of Sao Paolo, Brazil. Elsewhere, the Greek Bishop Dionysius of New Zealand collaborated in the order by which Metropolitan Philaret was designated Bishop of Brisbane (1964). In the United States, Archbishop Vitaly (Maximenko) of New York assisted at the elevation of the late Syrian Metropolitan, Antony Bashir (1936), on the request of the Patriarch of Antioch. On the death of Metropolitan Anastassy, Patriarch Athenagoras sent the people of the Synod a telegram of condolence, and Archbishop Iakovos chanted a Trisagion over the remains of the late Metropolitan.” ( The “Sorrowful Epistle” of Metropolitan Philaret: A Rejoinder to Fr. Alexander Schmemann , http://www.orthodoxinfo.com/ecumenism/schmem_azkoul2.aspx [Date accessed: 10-Jun-07]).

16. Fr. Michael Azkoul, The “Sorrowful Epistle” of Metropolitan Philaret: A Rejoinder to Fr. Alexander Schmemann, http://www.orthodoxinfo.com/ecumenism/schmem_azkoul2.aspx [Date accessed: 10-Jun-07].

17. Michael Woerl, “Book Review: A History of the Orthodox Church in America (1917-1934),” http://ecampus.orthodoxtheologicalschool.org/mod/book/view.php?id=136&chapterid=26 [Date accessed: 20-May-07].

18. Rodzianko, The Truth.

19. Woerl, “A History of the Orthodox Church In America.

20. Ibid.

21. 1987 Epistle of the Synod of Bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia, http://www.orthodoxinfo.com/ecumenism/epistle_87.aspx [Date accessed: 13-Jun-07]

1990 Epistle of the Synod of Bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia, http://www.orthodoxinfo.com/ecumenism/epistle_90.aspx [Date accessed: 13-Jun-07].

23. 1994 Epistle of the Synod of Bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia, http://www.orthodoxinfo.com/ecumenism/epistle_94.aspx [Date accessed: 13-Jun-07].

24. On the Attitude of the Orthodox Church Towards the Heterodox and Towards Inter-Confessional Organizations, http://www.russianorthodoxchurch.ws/synod/engdocuments/enmat_heterodox.html [Date accessed: 06-Mar-07].

25. Ibid.

26. Ibid.

27. Ibid.

28. Basic Principles of the Attitude of the Russian Orthodox Church Toward the Other Christian Confessions, http://orthodoxeurope.org/print/7/5/1.aspx [Date accessed: 21-Jun-07].

29. Ibid.

30. On the Attitude of the Orthodox Church Towards the Heterodox and Towards Inter-Confessional Organizations.

31. Bishop Mitrophan Znosko, Path to a Meaningful and Fruitful Life ( Huntington, NY:Troitsa Books, 2000), 103.

32. Lvov, The Russian Orthodox Church.

33. Znosko, 103.

34. Znosko, 103.

35. The Second Sorrowful Epistle of Metropolitan Philaret.

36. Bishop Nicholas of the Aleutian Islands and Alaska, “Farewell Address,” cited in Michael Woerl, “Book Review: A History of the Orthodox Church in America (1917-1934),” http://ecampus.orthodoxtheologicalschool.org/mod/book/view.php?id=136&chapterid=26 [Date accessed: 20-May-07].

37. The Second Sorrowful Epistle of Metropolitan Philaret.

38. Rodzianko, 44.

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