A LETTER TO OUR BROTHERS AND SISTERS IN THE ORTHODOX CHURCH
Saturday, May 11, 2019
Photo by Georges Seguin
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Christ is Risen!
Christian Orthodox tradition believes that between Easter and Pentecost the heavens are open. This means that if we have eyes of faith, we will be able to contemplate, in wonderment, the angels of heaven ascending and descending the ladder that unites God and men.
In this so joyous moment of our ecclesial life, however, we must humbly recognize that the Orthodox Church is going through a critical period. The Churches of Moscow and Constantinople have broken off their dialogue. This rupture is aggravated by the rupture of communion as we so sadly observe. This is experienced as an authentic drama by the Orthodox people who have no desire to see the Orthodox Church sunk in a schism. Added to that is the crisis of the Archdiocese of the Churches of Russian Tradition in Western Europe following the suppression of its status as an exarchate in November of 2018. This archdiocese is divided between those who believe that they have a future only within the Patriarchate of Moscow and those who think that a new modus vivendi with the Patriarchate of Constantinople can still be found.
But since everything is possible to the eyes of faith during this special period of the year, allow us to propose three prayers.
First, let us avoid any precipitation in deciding the evolution of the Archdiocese of the Churches of Russian tradition in Western Europe. Rather let us act confidently and seek the truth. It is because Christ is risen indeed that he was able to send the Holy Spirit to his disciples.
That means, in the first place, that each one, under the action of this Spirit, admits, in all truth, his part of responsibility in the crisis that the Orthodox Church is undergoing not just in Western Europe, but also in the world. This is not the place to bring forth all the gossiping, all the power struggles, all the weaknesses of the faithful and their pastors. It is up to each one to examine the evolution of his interior life of repentance and purification.
And yet, if “pardon springs forth from the tomb,” should we remain prisoners of our faults? Isn’t the Christian called to compensate for the weaknesses of the other and to pardon? And, above all, do we have such a narrow vision of God’s plan for the Church that we consider that there only exists one viable option for the organization of dispersed ecclesial communities in a given region? Looking at the situation of the Archdiocese of the Parishes of Russian Tradition in Western Europe at the end of the 1960s, it is very understandable that the breaking up into other jurisdictions or the massive transferal into the Patriarchate of Moscow are far from being the only two perspectives for these parishes. Above all we have to keep in mind that the greatest figures of the renewal of the Orthodox Church over the last hundred years have dedicated themselves to this Archdiocese, beginning with its saints, from the priest Alexis Medvedkov to the religious Mother Marie Skobstova.
Our second prayer concerns the bishops now present in Western Europe. What are our bishops offering to those who were born or who grew up in Western Europe? What perspectives are they considering for the implantation of Orthodoxy in European society and culture? How can the rupture of communion, which is destroying our communities and families be overcome?
We desire that, beginning this very year, that there be collective discussions in Western Europe concerning the future of the Orthodox Church and that these discussions take place in a spirit of peace, of mutual listening, of charity, of truth and of liberty.
We must become collectively aware that there still has not been any effort to explain and to receive the decisions of the 2016 Panorthodox Council of Kolymbari, a council of capital importance which was meticulously prepared over the course of at least 50 years. The Orthodox Christians who, throughout the world, live outside of territories that are canonically organized, should be the first to receive the decisions of this council.
The council has, in particular, invited the Orthodox parishes of Western Europe to come together in regional assemblies of bishops under the presidency of the Ecumenical Patriarch and with the participation of the whole communities, priests and lay people, of the different jurisdictions. This invitation should be carried out by taking into consideration the local specificities of the Churches that are being formed. The so-called “Mother Churches” should understand, in particular, that, as the Council of the Archdiocese declared on December 9 2004, the majority of Orthodox Christians who have been present in Western Europe for more than a century have, for a long time already, ceased to consider themselves as in a situation of “diaspora”. To arrive at a mutual understanding, it will, of course, be necessary to be patient, discerning and confident.
Our third prayer is that the ensemble of the Orthodox Christians of the member Churches of the episcopal assemblies in Western Europe co-organize, as soon as possible and with the support of all the vital forces involved, in a spirit of renewal, at the service of a universal Orthodoxy, these forums of inter-jurisdictional discussion on “the past and the future of the Orthodox Church in Western Europe” beginning with the Orthodox Fraternity in Western Europe, ACER-MJO, the Saint Sergius Institute and Syndesmos.
In spite of the risks of showing themselves to be difficult and tense, these discussions are, all the same, indispensables.
The time has come, for example, for the Christians of the Patriarchate of Moscow to explain to their Orthodox brothers and sisters why their Church is so much in solidarity with the State and its decisions, even the anti-Christian ones. Those who are responsible in the Patriarchate of Constantinople should equally revise their difficulties in effectively directing the Pan-Orthodox ecclesial life in the world. For our part, we are convinced that the actual Orthodox Church in Western Europe is, in spite of its limitations, capable of organizing debates on these matters. A strictly vertical approach will not, in fact, bring about anything other than a bit more disorder and division. Along these lines, it is necessary to recognize the visionary character of the decisions of the 1917-1918 Council of Moscow which revalorized the complementarity and co-responsibility of lay people, men and women, clergy and hierarchs. To deny this heritage would be not only harmful but illusory.
It is equally urgent to rediscover the sacramental dimension of life in the Church. According to such an ecclesiology, largely developed by the most eminent theologians of the 20th century, the Eucharist makes the Church and, simultaneously, the Church manifests the common Kingdom in this world. By reassembling in unity “the children of God scattered throughout the world” does not the Eucharistic offering give, to those who communicate in it, the possibility of uniting themselves with one another and mutually enriching themselves with their spiritual, national, historical and cultural diversities?
Finally, this community, brought together into a territory by the Eucharist, cannot disassociate itself from the history of peoples. It is therefore necessary to assure a link among the Churches of origin and the Orthodox faithful who are installed or who sojourn in the West; to open their eyes on what the Orthodox share with the other Christian Churches; and, above all, before roundly and irrevocably condemning, to see the potentials of holiness in the elements of the world which still await the divine light.
If the so-called “Mother Churches” oppose themselves to such a movement of collective reflection and discernment, they risk becoming paralyzed and confronting the calamities described in the first chapters of the Apocalypse.
Here is what the Living One said to the angel of the Church of Laodicea (Ap. 3, 16-19); “You imagine yourself rich; ‘I enriched myself and have no need of anything’; but you don’t see yourself; it is you who are miserable, pitiful, poor, blind and naked! So follow my counsel; buy from me gold that has been purified by fire, white vestments to cover yourself and hide the shame of your nakedness; eyewash to anoint your eyes and give you your sight back.”
But as Nicholas Berdyaev said, we must not understand the visions of the Apostle John fatalistically. On the contrary, Orthodox Christians, aware of the risks of spiritual half-heartedness, should undertake this task of truth and reconciliation in the name of their common mission to go and baptize all nations with the power of the Holy Spirit.
This Spirit of Truth that we are going to implore and receive on Pentecost.
Alexandra de Moffarts,
Georges El Hage,