The Russian Orthodox Church Abroad is the continuation of the historic Russian Orthodox Church which existed for centuries in Russia until the 1920s, when it was abolished by the atheist Soviet government. Initially, many thought the Communist regime would not endure, and then-Patriarch Tikhon mandated his most senior bishop, Metropolitan Anthony, to escape Russia and preserve the Church until it could safely be returned to the land. Sadly, the Soviet regime lasted for many years more.
Throughout the ensuing decades, the Church developed outside of Russia and formed dioceses and parishes throughout the world, bringing a multitude of varied people to Holy Orthodoxy. While fufilling its God-given task of evangelization, the Church never forgot its persecuted brothers and sisters in the homeland and supported the catacomb churches striving to survive spiritually and avoid persecution by the Soviet government. The Church Abroad was ably led by clerics of profound spiritual wisdom and insight, in succession: Metropolitans Anthony (Khrapovitsky), Anastasy (Gribanovsky), Philaret (Voznesensky) (now a glorified Saint), and Vitaly (Ustinov).
During the years of Soviet rule, the government realized the propaganda value of establishing the church again and found several bishops who would cooperate with the atheist government. This group was led by Metropolitan Sergius, who mistakenly believed cooperation would preserve the church from persecution. This belief is now termed “sergianism.” He signed a “Declaration” of allegiance to the government, which was used by the government to imprison, torment and murder hundreds of bishops, priests, monks, nuns, and thousands of believers. The bishops who supported Metropolitan Sergius did so in opposition to the vast majority of other bishops and caused a schism, a break, with the true representatives and believers. This schism has not been resolved to this day.
Later, during World War II, Stalin understood that the Russian people would not fight for the Soviet government, but would fight for their homeland and their faith. He established the Moscow Patriarchate (MP) and elevated Metropolitan Sergius as its first Patriarch. Sergius was followed by Patriarchs Alexy I, Pimen, and Alexy II. Since the Moscow Patriarchate was formed in schism and by the order of the atheist government, it cannot be considered the true Russian Orthodox Church. If it were to repent of its collaboration, it could join with the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad to restore the true Russian Orthodox Church.
In the years after the war, the Soviet government realized it could use the MP to further its domestic and foreign policies and allowed it to continue to exist, integrating it fully into the government structure. The MP became a member of the World Council of Churches (WCC), a global ecumenist organization, which professes that all Christian churches are equal and only different branches of the same tree. The MP also became another means for the KGB to hide its agents and conduct clandestine operations throughout the world.
After the Soviet regime fell in 1991, the MP was one of the few institutions that did not undergo a transformation. The senior church officials approved earlier by the Soviet government remained in power and the MP did not greatly alter its policies. The MP changed little during President Yeltsin’s tenure. When Putin became president, Patriarch Alexy II developed a close relation with him and the MP began to play a greater role in society. Churches and monasteries were opened and religious education was supported, but true reform still has not occurred.
The Russian Orthodox Church Abroad had always desired to unite with the church in Russia if it renounced sergianism and its collaboration with the Soviet government, stopped its involvement in the ecumenist movement, and strived to be free and independent. By 2006, many in the Church Abroad believed these conditions were met and pushed for unification, while others pointed out that the changes were only superficial. At the IVth All-Diaspora Council in 2006 in San Francisco, CA, these differing opinions were debated and the Council Resolution that was issued stated the desire to unite, but at the appropriate time, when more would be done to reform the MP.
The Synod of Bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad under the leadership of Metropolitan Laurus acted in opposition to the Council Resolution and decided to unite immediately, without the conditions being met. They drafted the Act of Canonical Communion, which was signed with the MP in Moscow on May 17, 2007. A large percentage of clergy and laypeople agreed to this decision, but a substantial number did not. Those who agreed to unite departed from the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad in spirit and, giving up their freedom, have become an autonomous church under the MP and are now known as ROCOR-MP.
Those who did not follow this path met in New York City in June 2007 to affirm that the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad, which traces its origin to Patriarch Tikhon, would remain free and continue to struggle for a revival of the Russian Orthodox Church. A Provisional Supreme Ecclesiastical Authority was established, headed by the Most Reverend Agafangel, Bishop of Taurida and Odesssa. The Church subsequently re-established Eucharistic communion with the Old Calendar Churches of Greece, Bulgaria, and Romania, which was severed under Metropolitan Laurus’s presidency. In November 2008, the Vth All-Diaspora Council was convened outside of New York City and a new First Hierarch and Synod of Bishops were elected.
Under the guidance of the newly elected Metropolitan Agafangel and the other bishops, the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad lives on with a growing number of clergy and believers throughout the world. It continues to affirm the values of Orthodoxy and the historic Russian Orthodox Church. It continues to call for a repudiation of sergianism and ecumenism. It continues to call for a Pomestniy (Local) Council to be convened, which would gather representatives of all the Russian Orthodox jurisdictions and allow a new church hierarchy to be freely elected and a restoration of the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad. Finally, it continues to proclaim the light of Orthodoxy, to shine throughout the world in order that other peoples, seeing its good works, might glorify Our Father in Heaven and seek salvation.