This is an unofficial translation of the recent epistle of Metropolitan Vitaly.
Message of His Eminence the Metropolitan Vitaly
First Hierarch of the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad
Beloved Fathers, brothers and sisters!
It is with the aim of preserving peace and unity among us that I address myself to you once again as the First Hierarch of the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad. I believe that it is my duty to voice my opinion about the situation that has resulted from the Council of Bishops that took place in October of 2000.
While I recognize the Council of Bishop as the supreme ruling body of our Church, to whom I, as the First-Hierarch, am also subordinated, I wish to remind that no Church authority can lay claim to infallibility in questions of the Truth. History is replete with examples of entire Local Churches being infected with heresies and other spiritual ailments for very long periods of time and this being reflected in counciliar decisions. In such cases subsequent councils had to revoke the incorrect decisions of preceding councils.
It is with great sadness that we now see the turmoil and temptation among our clergy and laity that have been caused by the Message and decisions of the Council of Bishops of the ROCA.
It is also with much regret that we have to admit that some of our bishops now have taken upon themselves to embark upon a new course for our Church and that this new course is at odds with the one which was handed down to us by our predecessors.
While I cannot by my own authority correct that which was done, neither can I further remain silent when I see how the consequences of our mistakes are disturbing the spiritual life of our flock and causing disturbances. I find it imperative to convene a new Council as soon as possible which will have to critically assess the main decisions and documents which were adopted and which will have the legal right to annul some of our decisions.
After much consideration we have concluded that some of the decisions of our Council were mistaken – in particular those which reflected an attempt to come closer together with the world ecumenist community globally and to engage in unwarranted contacts with the Moscow Patriarchate in particular. This has been, in particular, reflected in the following documents and statement of the council:
The so-called “Social Doctrine” of the Moscow Patriarchate – this is a purely Roman-Catholic concept which is foreign to the Orthodox Church and which, regardless of its possibly well-meaning intentions, holds nothing profitable for the Orthodox Christian. This Doctrine does not reflect any repentance for the past mistakes and in no manner can it cross out the treacherous Declaration of 1927.
The “Glorification” of the Holy New Martyrs by the Moscow Patriarchate, which was conceded under the pressure of the pious people and which was accompanied by numerous humiliating disclaimers, which totally deny the eschatological significance of the slaying of the Tsar, cannot be a cause of joy or consolation for us. We all know that the Holy Royal Martyrs suffered precisely for their Royal ministry. Their slaying was a part of a wider program to destroy the God-established Orthodox State. With its compromises and lies about the Royal Martyrs and with its refusal to recognize the spiritual feat (podvig) of the Tsar’s servants the Moscow Patriarchate deliberately draws it flock away from the correct spiritual understanding of the committed crime. The Moscow Patriarc
hate, which participated in the persecution of the confessors, now, without any repentance, glorifies them! It is impossible to qualify this in any other way than as a “spiritual cynicism” which is completely unacceptable in the Church. We must also note that this same seal of deception lies upon the “glorification” of the New Martyrs in which the Patriarchate shamefully ignored the martyr Metropolitan Joseph of Petrograd.
We do not share the belief of some of our brothers about the “spiritual revival” which allegedly is taking place in Russia. According to the information we are receiving, what is happening in Russia is not a “spiritual revival” but only a “gliding of the golden cupolas” of the churches that, according to Saint Amvrosii of Optino, it will be impermissible to attend. In this context, we pray for and we endeavor to spiritually strengthen those of our small communities that, regardless of the corrupt Soviet laws and the numerous difficulties they must face, remain steadfastly in our Church.
The creation of a Commission “on unity” with the Moscow Patriarchate has to be unequivocally denounced as a mistake of the Council of Bishops. There can be no such committee as there is no object for its work.
The Serbian Church received us as homeless refugees in 1920 and, following the 39th Apostolic Canon, granted us the canonical status of Russian Church. For this we will always remain deeply thankful and in debt to her. But following the Second World War, the Church that continued to exist under the Communist rule of Tito could no longer be considered to be the same Church as the Church of the Holy Patriarch Varnava that had offered sanctuary to the Russian refugees. Her submission to the worldly rulers and her participation in the interfaith ecumenical movement does not allow us to ask to remain in communion with the Serbian Patriarchate, currently headed by Patriarch Pavle.
It saddens us to recognize that in our times, when the processes of apostasy have reached new destructive heights, the Council’s Message did not call upon the faithful to triple their vigilance towards these processes; we are also pained to admit that recent new nominations to the cathedras of Western-European and Russian dioceses have resulted in so much distress and troubles.
Our pastors and our pious flock have always stood side by side with their bishops. This was the strength of the Russian Orthodox Church. Pastors are not simply irresponsible implementers of the orders of the higher Church hierarchy, but they are in the first ranks of the servants of Christ and His children. They are not bureaucrats who can be directed only by orders and who can be held in submission with threats. They are servants of our Lord, as we all are. They are our life-force and we must protect them as the pupil of our eye and never let them fall into despair and leave into schisms, so we do not share with them this terrible responsibility.
I, as the fourth First-Hierarch of the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad, am following the same direction as the Blessed Metropolitans Antonii, Anastasii and my blessed predecessor the Metropolitan Filaret, whose incorrupt relics were found in 1998, which is a sign from above of the truthfulness of the path he followed all his life. I therefore appeal to you all to remain patient and to avoid any hasty conclusions or actions. We are living in difficult times. And the Enemy of our salvation is always ready to catch us in his nets. I therefore appeal again to you “Fear not little flock (Luke 12:32) our Lord is with us! And if our Lord is with us, who is against us? Do not forget that the most frightening thing for us is to abandon the Truth, that is to abandon Christ.”
22 June 2001
Saint Kirill, Bishop of Antioch
First Hierarch of the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad
In manuscript : “I ask all priests to read this Epistle from the ambon and to distribute it among their parishioners”
This is an unofficial translation and should not be quoted