Declaration of the Council of the Archdiocese

The Council of the Archdiocese, in its present form, began work a little more than six months ago. It has come to understand the difficulties facing our Archdiocese and the tasks that await it.

During this period the life of our Archdiocese has been deeply disturbed by the letter from the Patriarch of Moscow Alexy II of 1 April 2003 discussing ways of establishing a local unified Church in our country, and suggesting it ought to be done by bringing together the bodies that owe their existence to the Russian emigration and uniting them under the Patriarchate of Moscow. Several other questions also arise.

At the end of that period, and after the Pastoral Assembly of the clergy of the Archdiocese, initiated by Archbishop Gabriel, which was held at the Institut Saint-Serge in Paris on the 1 November last, the members of the Council of the Archdiocese, meeting on 17 November 2004, wish to explain what has been happening and to identify the resulting tasks that fall on us all.

We intend to remain faithful:

  • To the vision of the Church, the Body of Christ, the place where man the sinner is reborn to Life that is not dependent on any institution of this world, whether political, national or historical, but is “a new life, changed by the Holy Spirit”.
  • To the Russian Orthodox Tradition which is characterized by its intense liturgical life and by its universal and missionary spirit, which allows it to distinguish between matters of primary and secondary importance, so that it can adapt itself to the changing conditions of the world. Our diocese owes its distinctive character-liturgical, canonical and administrative-to the decisions of the Council of Moscow in 1917-1918; the Archdiocese is the one of the few ecclesiastical bodies of Russian origin where these are still put into practice. To this tradition, which we have received from our fathers and mothers in the faith, and especially from the founder of our diocese, Metropolitan Evlogy, we are all deeply attached.
  • To the teaching on the nature of the Church, like that of the theological school of the Institut Saint-Serge, inspired by Fr Sergei Bulgakov’s vision of the Church and the ecclesiology of Fr Nicholas Afanasiev, and continued and put into practice by Fr Alexander Schmemann: the fulness of the Church is manifested in the Divine Eucharist, celebrated in a given place-“for the life of the world”; the unity of the Church-and, inseparably, the unity and the very existence of every one of us-is realized and sustained by the communion of the Body and Blood of Christ.
  • To the missionary vocation of the Russian emigration, to which we are recalled by its chief representatives, including Metropolitan Vladimir, who invited us, from 1949 onwards, to “think ... of the planting of Orthodoxy in the West. ... The Lord calls us, in each country of the world ... to build the Church of the Truth in the true Faith”. Many others have appealed to the Russians hounded from their country, to make them aware of this vocation to make the Church live, spread out, and take root in the lands where they have found refuge.

This faithfulness also implies an openness to the realities of the world in which we live. The tasks facing our Church result from situation we are in:

  • The Archdiocese no longer sees itself as as part of a “diaspora”. It is not foreign to the countries where the Lord has called us to live to witness to his Gospel and to build his Holy Church. Established as a canonical diocese, united round the Lord’s Table, where the fulness of the Church is manifested in the celebration of the Holy Eucharist, offered by the bishop, surrounded by the college of priests and all the people of God, the Archdiocese is already essentially a local Church, as is every diocese in every place. It is a solid and real ecclesiastical presence not only in France, but also in several other countries of western Europe. Together with the dioceses of the other patriarchates, with which it is in communion, it makes up the first fruits of a local Church in the country where it is present.
  • Our faith and our witness to the Gospel of Christ requires us to promote the unity of all the Orthodox communities in one place as a work of vital importance. We are happy to state that His Holiness the Patriarch of Moscow Alexy II is clearly aware of the grave difficulty of the canonical organization of Orthodoxy in the countries of western Europe. We hope the primates of the other Churches also will concern themselves more and more with this problem, and that they will be anxious to care not only for their own faithful in western Europe, but for all the Orthodox living in our countries. We make the same solemn appeal to the primates of the autocephalous Churches and especially to the first among them in honour, His Holiness the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I, so that the process of Pan-Orthodox Preconciliar consultation may be re-launched and this question resolved, taking into account the opinion of the Orthodox bishops living in the West and of the People of God who have been entrusted to them.
  • The Archdiocese intends to preserve and strengthen the particular bonds of love, respect and cooperation with the Holy Church of Russia that have always been dear to the hearts of the faithful, who have always done and continue to whatever they can to help, especially through organizations founded and run by members of the Archdiocese. (Charities such as Aid to Believers of the USSR-now ACER-Russie, the YMCA Press, the broadcasts of the “Voice of Orthoxy”, the diocesan Committee for humanitarian aid to Russian parishes and, recently, aid to the children of Beslan, are proof of this). We are following closely the current negotiations undertaken to re-establish communion between the Patriarchate of Moscow and the Russian Church Abroad; but the situation of the Archdiocese is completely different, both canonically-since we are in the jurisdiction of the Ecumenical Patriarch, which assures our communion with all territorial Orthodox Churches, including that of Russia-and in the actual state of affairs-since, in the countries where the Archdiocese is present, cooperation between us and the other dioceses in the same place already exists and is growing.

    In 1995, thanks to the action of His Holiness Patriarch Alexy II and His Excellency Archbishop Serge, regular official contacts at a higher level were set up between the Archbishop and the Russian Church, which is a matter for congratulation. We hoped that the links established in recent years with the Patriarch of Moscow might have led to a fraternal and trusting dialogue, with a view to resolving common pastoral problems that arise in our countries. However, this dialogue has been made difficult recently because of what we consider to be a failure by the Patriarchal authorities to understand the situation, which apparently explains the Patriarchal letter of 1 April 2003, during the vacancy in the archiepiscopal see.

    It is now alleged that certain people close to the late Archbishop Serge, quite independently and without consulting any Archdiocesan authority, conducted negotiations which reached the point of drafting statutes for an “autonomous province” of western Europe, under the jurisdiction of the Patriarchate of Moscow, and this was to include the Archdiocese. After the sudden death of Archbishop Serge, the election of Archbishop Gabriel-by a very large majority-was perceived, wrongly, as a change in the direction of the Archdiocese. For his part, His Excellency Archbishop Gabriel has sought to enter into dialogue with the Patriarchate of Moscow. He has written to His Holiness Patriarch Alexy II and has personally met officials of the Patriarchate, but the only response has been the dismismissal of his case out of hand. However, ten days after his election in May 2003, Archbishop Gabriel assured His Holiness the Patriarch by letter that he was ready to engage in dialogue about the future of the Archdiocese and its relations with the Patriarchate of Moscow, in keeping with the principles of Orthodox ecclesiology and in communion with the other Orthodox bishops present in the same country. [1]
  • In faithfulness to the Russian tradition and in conformity to Orthodox ecclesiology which is founded on one Church in one place, the Archdiocese wishes to establish a local and territorially unified Church. Already in 1949 the members of the General Assembly of the Archdiocese were acknowledging this aim, affirming their hope, as emigrés, of “seeing the day come, when by the grace of God, we shall all be able to return to liberated Russia and be absorbed once again in the Mother Church” [2] because for them, as well as for us, the Church of Russia is-quite naturally-the Church which exists in Russia (cf, 1 Corinthians 1.2, etc). But at the same time they stated their desire to establish a local Church here in the West for those who would be staying permanently in their country of adoption. It is what our fathers and mothers in the faith wrote again in 1966, to oppose any return to the Patriarchate of Moscow: “Furthermore, and this is the essential thing, even if the situation of the Church in Russia had been normal, the position of the Archdiocese would not have been thereby changed in any way. ... Indeed, the Archdiocese has become over time a local and multinational Church, situated indeed since the emigration outside the territorial and canonical boundaries of any autocephalous Church, including the Patriarchate of Moscow.” [3]

    For us, as for our predecessors, the overlapping of jurisdictions on the same territory can never be justified because it directly contradicts territorial ecclesiology (notably that derived from the 34th Canon of the Holy Apostles). Equally unjustifiable is the demand, by various autocephalous Churches, for direct obedience from their nationals, scattered across the countries of western Europe as in every other part of the world. This direct obedience can only succeed in reinforcing the overlapping of jurisdictions. The present situation is only a phase resulting from our history; it must be replaced by an arrangement agreed with the dioceses of the other Patriarchates represented in our countries. For these ecclesiological reasons the proposal of the Patriarchate of Moscow is inappropriate. When a unified local Church is established in our country, it will be done out of scrupulous regard for the canons, especially the territorial definition of the Church. As it is, the Patriarchate of Moscow has no more jurisdiction in our countries than the other territorial Churches.
  • That is why we give thanks to God that we have at this moment, in France, a centre of cooperation and dialogue in the form of the Assembly of Orthodox Bishops in France (AEOF), set up in accordance with the decisions of the Pan-Orthodox Preconciliar consultations at Chambésy in 1991 and 1993. We are glad to learn that a delegation of the AEOF, of which His Excellency Archbishop Gabriel is a member, must report to the Primates of the territorial Orthodox Churches to acquaint them with the life and state of the Orthodox Church in France and to have discussions with them about the prospects for a local unified Orthodoxy.
  • The transmission of the faith to those who seek refuge in our countries is an urgent task. The constant tradition of our Church, in Russia as in the emigration, after the example of our recently canonized saints, Mother Mary (Skobtsov) and her companions, calls us to serve and show hospitality to the poorest. That is our common responsibility, in which Archbishop Gabriel, at the General Assemblies of the Archdiocese of the 1 May 2003 and 1 May 2004, asked us all to share actively. Are we doing enough in this sphere? Today there is obviously right to increase our efforts, together with the dioceses of the other patriarchates, to provide the immigrants with social, material, legal and spiritual aid, which many of them need. There is also the enormous task of catechesis, both for the new arrivals, whose attachment to the Church is a matter of priority, and for the theological formation of children and adults in the parishes. We call on all the members of our Archdiocese to identify some way in which they can help with those undertakings that already exist and in those that we intend launching to address these matters, about which they will soon be informed.
  • We also solemnly exhort clergy and laity to guard the precious gift of unity. Debate is important and legitimate. But polemic in the Church has its limits. Where our opinions diverge we ought, according to the words of the Apostle, to seek unity in everything (“Be diligent to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace”, Ephesians 4.3). Here in the West the Archdiocese has an important ecclesiastical mission,: it is this that must govern our thinking and reinforce our unity, round the person of the Archbishop. We must deepen our understanding of the meaning of the Church and, whilst doing this, seek ecclesiastical unity. To this end we intend to organize a diocesan conference at the beginning of 2005, as well as meetings at deanery level, about the way to “build the Church” of Christ, of whom we are called, each according to his own spiritual gifts, to “become living stones”. The future is in the hands of God, but, as the Council has already affirmed in October 2003, we must take our stand on the very meaning and the reality of the Church, and in all humility, in concord with one another and in communion with his ineffable grace, continue to serve our one Lord and Master.

[1] The text of this letter is available from the Diocesan Office.

[2] Messager Diocésain (in Russian), Paris 1949, n° 21, p. 21.

[3] Declaration signed by the Archpriests [a long list of names here! Tr.] (French text in le Messager Orthodoxe, N° 33-34, 1966, p.50)

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