Declaration of the Council of the Archdiocese

The Council of the Archdiocese, meeting on the 12 January 2005, under the presidency of His Excellency Archbishop Gabriel of Comane, has been informed of the publication of the declarations and decisions adopted by the Holy Synod of the Patriarchate of Moscow at its session of the 24 December last, taken up and widely publicized by the OLTR association (Local Orthodoxy of the Russian Tradition), concerning “relations between the Exarchate and Orthodox parishes of the Russian tradition in western Europe (Patriarchate of Constantinople)” following the declaration of the Diocesan Council of the Exarchate of the 9 December 2004.

The Council observes, with regret, that the Patriarchate of Moscow makes no attempt to understand the position of the Archdiocese, nor does it initiate a dialogue with His Grace the Archbishop and his Diocesan Council, although he is the legally and legitimately elected head of of the Archdiocese, but that it prefers to rely on “oral or written appeals from clergy and laity expressing their regret and disquiet about the attitude of those in charge of the Exarchate, who, according to them, not only are not contributing to the rapprochement with the Russian Orthodox Church, but also bear ill will towards those who were wishing for such a rapprochement.” The minutes of the Holy Synod several times speak of “those in charge” of the Archdiocese as if they were opposed to the will of the Church members, whereas their acts and decisions are really the expression of that will. The Council is anxious to remind every one that the arangements laid down by the Council of Moscow in 1917-1918 were those that were followed when Archbishop Gabriel was elected, by a majority of more than two thirds of those present, at a Diocesan Assembly of clergy and laity, consisting of delegates from all the parishes and communities of the Archdiocese, and the election was then confirmed, in accordance with the statutes of the Exarchate, by the Holy Synod of the Ecumenical Patriarchate. It was the same with the members of the Council of the Archdiocese, elected or re-elected at the last election ; at the first opportunity to vote they were almost all in favour, by a majority of two thirds.

The Council considers it regrettable that the Patriarchate of Moscow should assess the situation merely by listening to a small unrepresentive group, without taking into account the feelings that have been and are still being voiced in the Archdiocese as a whole, and that consequently the patriarchal letter of the 1st April 2003, received at a time when the archiepiscopal see was vacant, was at least an error of judgement and that it could not serve as a basis of negotiation.

The Council is equally astonished that the complex history of the Archdiocese in general, and of its relations with the Church of Russia in particular, should be presented in such a simplified and uncritical way, no attention being paid to the historical, sociological, cultural and canonical evolution of the Archdiocese. The political circumstances of 1931, 1946 and 2003 are one thing, Orthodox ecclesiology is another.

For us, Orthodox ecclesiology is and must remain the same, unaffected by the ebb and flow of history and of empires. Indeed, in 1926 Metropolitan Sergei (Stragorodsky) of Nizhny-Novgorod, the future Patriarch of Moscow, at that time temporary locum tenens of the patriarchal throne, expressed himself in the same terms. When asked by certain emigré Russian bishops in Serbia whether the setting up of their synod was justified, did he not emphasize that, instead of creating a unified and centralized structure for the whole Russian diaspora, he would rather “submit to the will of God ... and obey the Canons of the Church” ? Was this not a declaration that the only proper course for the Russian emigrés of the dispersion was precisely to integrate with the territorial Orthodox Churches of the Balkan countries where they happened to be, while for those who lived in territories situated outside traditional Churches the only solution was to form local “independent” Churches, “of which non-Russian Orthodox might also become members” ? This reply of Metropolitan Sergei is in fact the only one that conforms to Orthodox ecclesiology.

It is a fact that the Provisional Russian Exarchate of Western Europe, created in 1931 by the Ecumenical Patriarchate at the request of Metropolitan Evlogy of blessed memory, was suppressed by the same Patriarchate in 1965, at the insistence of the Patriarch of Moscow himself, and without any previous consultation with the Exarchate. Since then, the Archdiocese has gone its own way, with a special and provisional status of autonomy within the jurisdiction and under the protection of the Ecumenical Patriarchate. This status was re-established by the Patriarchal and Synodical Tomos of 1971 and confirmed and broadened in scope by the Patriarchal and Synodical Tomos of 1999. Ever since then, the Archdiocese has regarded itself as provisional, no longer by comparison with being back in the jurisdiction of some “Mother Church”, but by comparison with being part of a settlement that would provide for the ecclesiastical organization of the whole “diaspora”. In the words of the late lamented Archbishop Georges d’Eudociade at the Pastoral Assembly of 20 February 1981 : “Fifty years ago, everything in our life seemed only provisional. The existence of our ecclesiastical body appeared to be temporary and transitory. Our faithful were almost exclusively refugees who might be here today and gone tomorrow. To meet these conditions a ‘Provisional Exarchate’ was established in 1931. Conversely, since the patriarchal letter of 1971, it has been clearly understood that the new arrangements must stay in force until the general question of the Orthodox diaspora is ‘settled by the Holy and Great Council in accordance with the requirements of canonical order’.”

The claim that the late Archbishop Serge d’Eucarpie, of blessed memory, would have seen “the future of the Archdiocese” “in the re-establishment of canonical unity with the Patriarch of Moscow” does not accord with the facts. On the 9 November 2000 Archbishop Serge indeed wrote on the subject to His Holiness Patriarch Alexy II, in order to reaffirm the canonical continued existence and the territorial integrity of the Archdiocese, which had just seen a parish annexed by the Patriarchate of Moscow, in conditions that nobody has forgotten and that had profoundly shocked Archbishop Serge : “Now that we have lived for 70 years under the omophrion of the Ecumenical Patriarch and have spent long decades putting down roots in the countries of western Europe, we are in a completely new situation [compared with that of the time of Metropolitan Evlogy]. It is no longer simply a matter of the return of our Archdiocese, which for a long time now has not been made up only of Russians, and still less of the departure of some isolated parishes under the omophrion of the Patriarch of Moscow : we must explore together, in a spirit of mutual understanding and love, ways towards a comprehensive solution of the problem of the Orthodox diaspora in the West, based on autonomy, without ever returning to the pernicious practice whereby particular groups pass from one jurisdiction to the other, which can only poison the peaceful relations between the jurisdictions.” “Moreover”, added Archbishop Serge, “in recent years in the Russian Church we have too often heard voices (and sometimes seen actions) working against the spirit of freedom which is our precious ecclesiastical inheritance”.

It may seem entirely legitimate that the Patriarchate of Moscow wishes to give pastoral care for the time being to Russian citizens who have recently left their country to settle in the countries of western Europe or stay abroad for a while. It has churches of its own with which to do this. But this pastoral care can equally well be provided-and in fact is-by other Orthodox churches. We should need no reminder that the Orthodox Church is one, irrespective of the different ethnic origins and jurisdictions which constitute it in our countries, and that our common objective is to make that unity visible in an ordered and locally united body.

On the other hand, it is absolutely unjustifiable to speak of “unfounded rebukes” that we are supposed to have directed at clergy and laity who “wish for a return to closer relations with the Russian Orthodox Mother Church” : this comes of receiving wrong information and failing to check it or to name a single example. The same is true of the canonical interdicts we have purportedly applied to some clergy “because of their desire to follow the course of action indicated by His Excellency Metropolitan Evlogy”, a “course of action” adopted in the historical conditions specific to 1945, that is to say more than half a century ago, a hasty and thoughtless act which Metropolitan Evlogy of blessed memory bitterly regretted in the months that followed. What is quite astonishing is that the Holy Synod should make no mention of the attitude taken in 1946 by Metropolitan Vladimir (Tikhonitsky) of blessed memory, whose example has been followed for nearly a half century by all his successors.

The Council notes with astonishment the decision of the Patriarchate of Moscow to disregard disciplinary measures which might have been or would be taken against any cleric or layman by the hierarchical authority of the Archdiocese (Minutes of the Holy Synod, No 92, para 3) ; also the decision to receive into its jurisdiction priests or parishes who might wish to go, without asking for a canonical letter of permission on behalf of the priests who till then had belonged the Archdiocese (Minutes, No 93). The Council deplores these decisions which go against the spirit and letter of the holy canons, which say that no bishop has the right to involve himself in the pastoral, administrative or disciplinary affairs of a diocese other than his own (8th Canon of the 3rd Ecumenical Council), similarly that no parish can be withdrawn from a diocese and be received into the jurisdiction of another bishop without the previous agreement of the diocesan bishop who had authority over it beforehand (67th Canon of the Council of Carthage).

This attitude towards the Archdiocese is all the more disagreeable and shocking because the Archdiocese, for its part, never sought to involve itself in the affairs of the Church of Russia nor to denigrate it, at a time when its hierarchy had no freedom at all. Quite the reverse ; the Archdiocese has always tried its hardest to come to the aid of the Russian Orthodox Church and its persecuted or needy children : it has done this by prayer-without ceasing-for suffering Russia and its thousands of martyrs and confessors in the faith ; it has done it by disseminating all the necessary information about the cruel persecutions that were afflicting the Church of Christ ; it has done it and still does, by means of collective and individual undertakings by its clergy and faithful, harnessing all the energy of Orthodoxy in our countries (editing and distributing religious books, broadcasting religious teaching on the radio, supplying material and medical relief, etc.).

It therefore seems obvious to us that the Patriarchate of Moscow is badly informed about the internal life of the Archdiocese and also about a different and persistent understanding of history and of the canonical foundations of the Archdiocese and of its relations with the Russian Orthodox Church, and that this has contributed to the accumulation of misunderstandings and unfortunate animosities. In these conditions, with the blessing of His Excellency Archbishop Gabriel and having previously informed His Holiness the Ecumenical Patriarch, the Council of the Archdiocese intends to ask His Holiness the Patriarch of Moscow kindly to receive a delegation from the Archdiocese and with it to study every aspect of the condition and canonical organization of Orthodoxy in our countries. We hope that His Holiness Patriarch Alexy II will kindly receive the members of the delegation and hold an open-minded and brotherly dialogue with them with a view to promoting the “stability of the holy churches of God”, and the peace and concord of faithful Orthodox Christians in the countries of western Europe where the Lord has called us to live.

Paris, 12 January 2005

+ Gabriel, Archbishop de Comane et Exarque du Patriarche oecumenique

The elected members of the Council of the Archdiocese

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