"The 10th Anniversary of the Reunification" - A Lecture by His Grace Bishop John of Naro-Fominsk
On Wednesday, October 25, the Administrator of the Patriarchal Parishes in the USA delivered a lecture entitled "The 10th Anniversary of the Restoration of the Russian Church - Outcomes and Perspectives of Joint Service in the United States" during the 2017 Pastoral Conference of Clergy and Matushkas of the Eastern American Diocese and the Patriarchal Parishes in the USA.
"The 10th Anniversary of the Restoration of the Russian Church - Outcomes and Perspectives of Joint Service in the United States"
In these past ten years, the Church in the Fatherland and beyond its borders has witnessed the mutual desire to implement one of the addendums to the Act of Canonical Communion that states “In the countries of the diaspora where parallel church structures exist, including the Holy Land, both sides will, with proper pastoral discretion, apply every effort to resolve problems hindering successful cooperation and joint witness.” In the United States, where we have been destined to carry out our pastoral ministry, this has become a unique place where important constant cooperation between the representatives of the Moscow Patriarchate and the Russian Church Abroad take place.
For ten years, thanks to regular joint services as well as brotherly interaction between the Archpastors, clergy and laity outside the services, we have learned more about each other; mutually respectful relationships have been established, which, better than any theoretical concepts, contribute to our common goal – to preach the Gospel and for the care and nourishment of our flock. And this in itself is the most important and valuable achievement for us, considering it was preceded by decades of mutual misunderstanding, and at times, hostility towards each other. If ten years ago, there were still internal feelings about whether we will be able to establish friendly relations after the signing of the Act, His Holiness Patriarch Kirill rightly stated on the fifth anniversary “ it was even surprising to see how quickly and easily these age-old obstacles fell away. This became possible because we were and remain bearers of one and the same Russian Orthodox tradition; we share the common spiritual and moral values that we bring to the world.”
Bishop John spoke of the special significance of the reunification in the sphere of multiple Orthodox jurisdictions in one region:
“We are carrying out our ministry abroad.” [In the United States] there are seven canonical Orthodox jurisdictions. Through the Reestablishment of Canonical Communion, there are now eight archpastors who bring the position of the Russian Church to this forum, who also help participate effectively in discussions on various pan-Orthodox issues. At the same time, the responsibility lies with all of us, that what happens in our dioceses, monasteries and parishes - representatives of other Orthodox jurisdictions judge the entirety Russian Orthodox Church.
His Grace then discussed that despite the differences in parish life between the Church in the Fatherland and those abroad, it does not prevent the joint spiritual nourishment of our flock in the United States.
It is evident that decades spent apart by the two parts of the Russian Church naturally contributed to the formation of a different way of parish life, the regulation of diocesan structure, liturgical practice and the application of Canon Law to clergy and laity. It is likely that with the maintenance of the current friendly attitude between the Moscow Patriarchate and the Church Abroad, the aforementioned aspects will fall away by themselves. Seeking to eliminate these differences artificially or forcibly, can disrupt the peace and brotherly interaction leading to tension and mutual discontent. It is only when there are mutually good intentions to resolve the differences on issues that prevent the proper exercise of our service to Church and the people of God that we can proceed to consider them.
Though, the process of acquainting new people into parishes overseas does not always proceed smoothly. In this regard, I wish that we do not forget that the older and middle generations of these people were born in a country where the preaching of the Gospel was banned, visiting parishes, of which there were not many, was threatened with being fired from work among other troubles. Despite this however, their commitment to the Orthodox Church, and often the depth of their faith is sometimes more sincere than those who were baptized as a young child. In no way to deliberately give them attention, I want to use St. John the Baptist Cathedral in Washington, DC and her rector, Archpriest Victor Potapov, as an example of the “churching” of the new wave of emigration, and am certain that the experiences of Fr. Victor are surely interesting and useful for the clerics who serve in densely populated areas where our compatriots reside in the United States.
Bishop John then discussed the developing interaction between the Eastern American Diocese and the Patriarchal Parishes in the USA, drawing attention to some areas of service where joint efforts can be emphasized.
“I would like to point out that there is nothing better than fostering trust and brotherly interaction between the clergy and laity. This is the reaffirmation of this current conference and the Pastoral Conferences held during Great Lent. Because of the lack of sufficient internal resources, as well as the small number of parishes and clergy of the Patriarchal Parishes spread across numerous states, we are extremely grateful for the organization of these activities by the administration of the Eastern American Diocese and especially her Diocesan Secretary, Archpriest Serge Lukianov. I hope that in the future more clerics will be able to participate, and in the meantime, I wish to underline the contentment that comes with the constant communication between the parishes and clergy on an inter-parish level where parishes of the two parts of the Russian Church are nearby.
However, the format of this interaction implies the participation of those who are already Orthodox. The experience of living in the US and communicating with representatives of other faiths draws attention to the fact that charitable and social activities are of great importance for preaching and for the increase in the number of parishioners. The centuries-old experience of our Church in the name of people who found themselves in difficult life circumstances in the Russian Empire was destroyed in the years of godless power, and that part of the Church that turned out to be abroad - experienced the fate of emigres with their own hardships. Of course, believers were an example of charity towards their neighbors, but were never organized on a mass scale. An exception, and probably one of its kind, is the example of St. John of Shanghai and San Francisco, who besides caring for the spiritual needs of his flock, also administered to other facets of the lives from political status to locating food sources.
Even now, especially here in America, we face the same material problems, hindering parishes from ministering to the homeless, infirm and poor. We must then unite our efforts, realizing that this category of people look to the church for hope. An excellent example of our joint work was the collection and delivery of several tons of humanitarian-aid in 2015 and 2016 for residents of the eastern regions of Ukraine.
At the same time, especially in large US cities, we have a large number of our compatriots who need help and attention, as they are usually deprived by authorities and medical institutions because of their immigration status, lack of medical insurance, and so on. Sometimes, we reassure our conscience by announcing collection of clothes and food for them several times a year, but unable to support them on a permanent basis, to help them socialize in America or return them to their homeland if there is such a need. Of course, sometimes they are helped by charitable organizations and social services patronized by other Christian denominations, but this also has its consequences: I have repeatedly met with individuals who have left the church. They have left at a time when in their need of assistance, they found it from representatives of unorthodox religious organizations.
In conclusion, I want to recall the words of the ever-memorable Patriarch Alexey II, on May 17, 2007: "The prayers and faith of many living in and far away from the Fatherland, their works and their love brought the present day's celebration. The beginning of joint work has already begun, but we are waiting for new, even greater deeds. Before the servants of our Holy Church lies a huge spiritual field - our primordial Orthodox people, once forcibly divorced from their spiritual roots, but now returning to faith, in need of the Church, pastoral care and enlightenment. The harvest truly is plenteous, but the laborers are few (Matthew 9:37). Together we can do more. "
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