samedi 11 janvier 2014





For a long time, I turned a blind eye to the evolution of the Russian Church. I identified the Moscow Patriarchate with the Church. Like a child before his father’s nudity, terribly embarrassed by his indignity, I inclined my face toward her. Today, after the double declaration of the Moscow Patriarchate on the 26th of December 2013 concerning the events in Ukraine and on the issue of primacy in the Church, I can no longer keep quiet. Today, I can no longer consider the Moscow Patriarchate as the legitimate structure representing the Russian Church.

It has been a while since I denounced the Moscow Patriarchate’s inappropriate pretensions to jurisdictional power over the Ukrainian Orthodox Church. It effectively suffices to consult a manual of history to establish that, if there is a ‘Mother Church’ for the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, it could only be the Church of Constantinople to which Prince Wolodymyr turned in 988. We know how much the Ukrainian Orthodox Church suffered at the beginning of the 1990s for not having received recognition of its autonomy. Three churches were born in Ukraine in 1991-1992 from this non-recognition. Last September, in an article in ‘The Cross’, I recalled once again that the view of Patriarch Kyrill on the ‘unity of the Russian world’ was a dangerous myth, as it legitimised the neo-imperialist politics of the Kremlin. Especially as it rests on nothing but a common cultural root, ‘Kyivan Rus” that gave rise from the seventeenth century to the historic constitution of three nations and three languages: Ukrainian, Belarussian, and. Russian. We don’t think in France that the Pope thinks in terms of the unity of the French, Spanish, and Italian nations apart from their unity in the Catholic Faith.

Today, not only has Patriarch Kyrill revisited this dubious unity of the ‘brotherhood of Russian peoples’, but he has uttered not a word of support to the Ukrainian people who have gathered together in the icy cold and with great danger to life against a corrupt regime (starting with the son of Yanukovitch, who became a multibillionaire in a few months), engaged in beating the blood out of peaceful protesters. Rather, the Holy Synod has vigorously condemned ‘…civil tensions and revolution which cannot result in anything positive for the people’. From Moscow, the bishops have given no currency to the declaration of Metropolitan Wolodymyr, the head of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (Moscow Patriarchate), who has called on the Ukrainian government since the beginning of December, to take account of the indignation of the Ukrainian people. On the contrary, the bishops of the Moscow Patriarchate speak of a necessary reconciliation between ‘different ethnic and social groups’. This phrase testifies to the complete blindness of the Moscow Patriarchate, in that they fail to see that there is no ethnic tension in Euromaidan, but the profound desire of the Ukrainian population, attested to by all the polls, to belong to the great family of European nations that, in spite of all their weaknesses, base their laws on the defence of the dignity of every human person.

Instead of enthusing over such proof of spiritual vitality on the part of the Ukrainian people, Moscow’s declaration makes dubious allusions to ‘external forces’ which have come to divide the Ukrainian Orthodox Church for political reasons. In fact, it is the Moscow Patriarchate that has, for twenty years, done everything to isolate the Kyivan Patriarchate (the Church directed by Patriarch Philaret which declared autocephaly in 1992, and which is not recognised in the Orthodox world), whose principal demand, which has never been accepted by the Moscow Patriarchate, is to translate the Old Slavonic liturgical texts into modern Ukrainian and that its independence be recognised. Again last September, Patriarch Kyrill of Moscow categorically opposed the translation of Old Slavonic texts into the vernacular. But what is worse in this unfortunate declaration is probably that the Moscow Patriarchate, which even the press does not hesitate to criticise for its rich tastes and luxuries, refers to ‘values’ and ‘divine truth’ to oppose a movement which is based precisely on a sense of dignity and justice.

The other declaration of the 26th of December of the Moscow Patriarchate dedicated to the theme of primacy in the Church, is just as unacceptable for me. By it, the Russian/neo-Soviet Patriarchate testifies to its profoundly autocratic nature and its abusive use of theology for the sake of domination. In it, the Russian Patriarchate effectively reveals its profoundly anti-ecumenical nature. We can see direct continuity with the Soviet Church which, in 1948, vigorously condemned the movement for Christian unity. We remember that Patriarch Kyrill even condemned the use of the word ‘ecumenism’ in 2007 in Sibiu, Romania. The Russian Church, moreover, since that assembly, has quit the Conference of Christian Churches in Europe (CEC). Further, we know that this anti-ecumenical attitude is also linked to the global rejection of modernity and democracy as recalled numerous times by Father Vsevolod Tchaplin, one of the closest collaborators of the Patriarch. This declaration would have the Christian world believe that the power of the bishop is equal to the authority of God, that the authority of the Bishop of Rome, successor of Peter, has no warrant in the Gospel, and that the authority of the Patriarch of Constantinople is nothing but a formality in the Orthodox Church!

I will return here to discuss neither the absurdity of various propositions nor the details of my arguments. I have, in the past, published an article on authority in the Orthodox tradition (in En attendant le concile de l’Eglise Orthodoxe), and I have similarly written an article on my understanding of primacy in the Church (forthcoming in the Journal Istina, January 2014). I would simply wish to say here to all the faithful of the Russian Church that there is nothing to be embarrassed about in this declaration, as it simply has no theological value. It suffices to recall three points in order to close the discussion which represents nothing theological, and is in reality entirely political.

First of all, the authors of this declaration confound the notion of authority (the famous exousia of the Gospel) with that of power (as used in secular law). It is true that this distinction is only significant from the point of view of the Christian faith. Nevertheless, the exchange between Christ and the centurion allows one to get an idea as to the difference between authority and power (St Luke 7:1-10). Power, the centurion says, is to say ‘go’ to one’s slave and he does it. As for authority, it is capable of miracles, like healing someone from a distance, as it depends not on compulsion but on love. The confusion of the two gives room for distortions. The fact that the text speaks of bishops as ‘…nourishing the faithful with the Eucharistic sacrament’ shows that the authors are from a weak theological culture. The worst is that the Moscow Patriarchate uses the most reproving teachings of Christ against those who seek for power as opposed to service, to justify a position that understands authority precisely as power and not like service. We strongly recommend the Muscovite authors to read Fr Sergius Bulgakov’s article ‘Hierarchy and Sacrament’, which appeared in the journal La Voie in 1938. In his mind, the conciliar practice of the Church does not put the bishop above the faithful as, by virtue of their baptism, the faithful are considered kings, priests, and prophets. Historic Orthodox practice of closely associating the bishop with the people of God, confirms the dogmatic principal according to which ‘…the whole Church is hierarchical, as the Body of Christ and the Temple of the Holy Spirit’. Service is the basis and function of hierarchy.

Secondly, if Christ holds all authority over the Church, this does not suggest that the Church does not need to conform to the Trinitarian nature of God’s authority. It is not in abbreviated citations of the Church Fathers and setting to the side decades of ecumenical research on the subject that the Russian bishops will be able to pull through. Because if it is true that the figure of the Father, personal basis of the visible unity of the Trinity, must be actualised in the organisation of the Church, the figure of the Son and the Holy Spirit must be equally so. It is for this reason that the Paris School has so insisted on the theology of St Irenaeus alongside that of Ignatius of Antioch and Cyprian of Carthage. After all, it was Irenaeus who said, ‘Where the Church is, there is also the Spirit of God; and where the Spirit of God is, there is the Church and all grace’ (Contra haereses, 3, 24,1). The government of the Church, however much Patriarch Kyrill might wish it, cannot rest solely on the person of the bishop. It is vital to be honest and remember that in the apostolic period, the bishops were elected by the people.

We don’t understand very well why, in the Russian document, to the degree we distance ourselves from the level of diocesan governance, power widely accepted on a local level becomes, at the global level, merely a ‘primacy of honour’. Authority as service does not make sense except on a global level, and has little use on a local level. This is the consequence of the initial confusion between authority and power, and the absence of a cataphatic theology of authority. It suffices, nevertheless, to read the 34th apostolic canon (reasserted by the Council of Antioch in 341), to understand that the principle of authority as service applies at all levels of the Church: ‘The bishops of each nation must know who among them is first, and think of him as their head, and not to do anything exceptional without seeking his advice. Each of them must not impose anything apart from what he does in his own diocese and dependent territories. But neither must the first do anything apart from the mind of the others. In this way lies concord, and God, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, will be glorified in the Lord by the Holy Spirit.’

What is more, the absence of precise understanding on the part of the Russian authors regarding the governance of the Church over the course of the first millennium, is patently clear. We would recommend that they immerse themselves in the text of the commission of the French Catholic-Orthodox Dialogue. This recognised that neither regional nor universal primacy were merely abstract ideas. Aside from the power to convoke councils, the See of Rome (then that of Constantinople) had the right to judge appeals, as recognised by the Council of Sardica in 343. The ancient Church recognised this right at the Photian Council at Constantinople in 879.

Thirdly, the ‘power’ of a primate over the Universal Church is always suspicious to the Muscovite bishops because of its inherent challenge to the authority of local churches. This is so much the case that the primacy of the Patriarch of Constantinople, although recognised (which would have certainly have cost much of the declaration’s authors!), has been stripped of its authority and therefore purpose. Essentially, for the Moscow bishops, this authority is powerless without the consensus of all the regional churches. We start to understand why it is that the Orthodox have been unable to unite under a pan-Orthodox council for many centuries. More humility would be welcome from the Church who criticises the spirit of domination in the Roman Church, but who finds itself impotent to even recognise the legitimacy of the Estonian Orthodox Church.

The Catholic Church is accused of wanting a single administrative centre from which to manage all global affairs. This is to overlook the hundreds of particular churches that make up the Catholic communion, and the synods that stand up to the Vatican on a regular basis and which unite all these churches. It is equally to ignore the concerns of all the Popes, from John XXIII to Francis I, to decentralise the organisation of the Catholic Church and to delegate more responsibilities to the particular Churches. I am not saying that the position of the Roman Church has been perfect through history. I proposed recently a Trinitarian model of governance at the heart of the universal Church, local, and diocesan, that integrates the gifts of Peter, of James, and of John. But respecting the dynamic reality of history and the deepest desires of the most recent popes to create a model of government that corresponds with the human-divine nature of the Church, and which fully baptismal, Eucharistic, and pastoral, is hardly of interest to the Muscovite authors. I strongly recommend they read the book by Orthodox theologian, Olivier Clement, Rome autrement, which recognises that the successors of Peter have a right of personal governance of the Church which is specific to them. In this regard, it suffices to read chapter 21 of the Gospel of John. But as Orthodox tradition says – and this is perhaps a difficult distinction for the Muscovite authors to grasp – this right is personal, and not individual. This is because it is the Church that is infallible and not the individual Pope, as Catholic theologian Bernard Sesboüé, has demonstrated so well.

The fact is that Soviet ideology has not yet disappeared in the ex-USSR. We see this very clearly with the demonstrations in Ukraine against corruption, but also more generally against a state whose fundamental architecture is has not evolved since Stalin. But – and it is terrible for me to have to write this – it is not only in the streets of Kyiv that busts of Lenin are still in place. Soviet ideology is still deeply rooted equally in the heart and ecclesial mentality of the hierarchy of the Moscow Patriarchate. That these hierarchs react at the same time against the spiritual desire of the Ukrainian people for democracy, and against the thirst of the people of God to pursue the unity of the Church is for me deeply significant. The Moscow Patriarchate suffers for not having repented, for not having been purified of the long years of compromise with the Soviet power. As demonstrated more and more by Russian Church specialists in France (K. Rousselet) and Russia (N. Mitrokhin), this Church no sense of history, and does not grasp the new issues in the present time of globalisation. I would add that she shows a cynicism that is becoming more and more revolting. This explains why the majority of intellectuals are sadly and silently leaving this Church, and why a powerful anti-clericalism is spreading in the hearts of the Russian, Ukrainian, and Belarussian peoples.

Over the course of my last thirty years of engagement in the Orthodox Church, I have not stayed idle. From the 1980s, when the Patriarchate of Moscow was bound up with Soviet power, I did everything I could, at the heart of different Orthodox Christian organisations, to help the Russian people to free themselves from Communist slavery. I remember having carried, thanks to the work of Cyril Eltchaninoff, religious literature and computers to such dissidents as Alexander Ogorodnikov or Viktor Popkov. Then, when the USSR collapsed, and the Moscow Patriarchate benefitted from a spiritual renewal brought about principally by Christian dissidents and religious literature provided by Russian émigrés, I did everything I could to communicate this spiritual and intellectual renewal from the Paris School. I lived in Moscow almost continually between 1989 and 1998. I met some of the great spiritual figures such as Father Alexander Men, Father George Chistiakov, and Father George Kotchetkov, but also a number of Russian intellectuals such as Alexander Solzhenitsyn, Sergius Avertintsev, and Olga Sedakov. I was inspired to see the Russian Church risen from the cinders and carrying afresh the good news of the Resurrection of Christ, and the closeness of the Kingdom of God to a people who had suffered so much through sixty years of intensive Sovietisation.

I noted well from this period that the official Church never repented of her compromises with the Soviet power, a regime that was responsible for tens of millions of deaths. As the published archives of the KGB revealed, the bishops who currently lead the Moscow Patriarchate were for the most part, starting with the patriarchs Alexis II and Kyrill, agents of the Soviet secret services. Practically, not one of them has uttered a public mea culpa. The very limited regrets pronounced by the Patriarch of Moscow, Alexis II, in the name of the Church cannot, on their own, serve as a counterweight. Patriarch Alexis II was content to effectively declare on the 27th of October 1990 that the episcopal Synod no longer felt bound by the declaration of submission to the Soviet regime of Metropolitan Sergius of 1927. In that same pronouncement, however, he added a justification in principal for the submission of the Church to the civil powers by calling on the Apostle Paul. It was not until the year 2000 that the Russian Church timidly accepted in her social doctrine the principle of resistance to unjust powers.

I also noted with sadness that all those accused of ‘modernism’ – a derogatory term, wrongly identified with the pseudo ‘Living Church’ of the 1920s – were pursued with vigour. I read with great sadness that this same patriarch twice blessed the two neo-colonial wars in Chechnya. And I observed that the pretext of unity of the Russian Church was systematically invoked each time to marginalise a little bit more those who subscribe to ecumenical dialogue, or to excuse those who publically burnt the books of Alexander Schmemann. In fact, the modernists, masters of the Paris School such as Sergei Bulgakov, Alexander Schmemann, and George Fedotov, were far from wanting to divide the Church. All they did was to put into practice reforms seen in the West, such as participation in the life of the Church by the laity, the translation of liturgical texts into the vernacular, and the Gospel-based, ecumenical opening up.

This is one of the reasons for which I left Russia in 1998 for Ukraine, a country much more open to the authentic Orthodox tradition, to modernity, and to ecumenical and inter-religious dialogue. In Kyiv, where I could publish my book about the Paris School, I benefited from the hospitality of many vibrant Orthodox parishes, and the friendship of many Ukrainian intellectuals. After a stay of four years in Kyiv, I left for L’viv, where I discovered the extremely dynamic Greek Catholic Church, inheritor of the Orthodox Church of Kyiv, but faithful to the Council of Florence of 1439. The Moscow Patriarchate accuses it of having destroyed three of its dioceses at the beginning of the 1990s, when this long-suppressed Church only tried to recover its own parishes. (Most of the conflicts of the 1990s in Western Ukraine took place as we do not know enough between the Orthodox Church of Ukraine and the Patriarch of Kyiv.) I found at the heart of the Ukrainian Catholic University the first Institute for Ecumenical Studies in the world, established in an Orthodox country. Together with the support of the bishops and other Orthodox, Catholic, and Protestant authorities, we created a Masters programme in ecumenical studies, an ecumenical journal in Russian and Ukrainian, annual ecumenical social weeks, and various colloquia, films, and publications. I very much noticed the initial reticence of the local orthodox bishop – of the Moscow Patriarchate – but was pleased to see him finally participate in our events with increased enthusiasm over time. Above all, I was overjoyed to receive the support of Metropolitan Wolodymyr, leader of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate, together with a number of priests and lay people.

Meanwhile, I was revolted to see that the Moscow Patriarchate continued to accuse Greek Catholic Christians of being traitors, when they should have been starting by repenting for having organised a false council in 1946 in L’viv under pressure from Stalin. That masquerade, which in 2013 has not yet been denounced by the Moscow Patriarchate, led to the arrest of a number of bishops and the ultimate and complete suppression of the Greek Catholic Church. It is for this reason that I published an article on the pseudo-synod of L’viv and I produced a film in a variety of languages on the subject. I was also scandalised that the Moscow Patriarchate failed to vigorously condemn the Stalinist power for its act of genocide against the Ukrainian people in 1932-1933: the famous Holodomor which resulted in the deaths of around five million people. That this did not happen in 1933 I can understand, as unfortunately, Metropolitan Sergius had tied his fate to the pains and joys the Stalinist regime in 1927. But that it continues after 1991 to dilute the drama of great suffering known by the Soviet people in that period: that I cannot understand. To this end, I coordinated two colloquia in La Salette then in Paris on the theme of the Holodomor.

Finally, I am dismayed that the Moscow Patriarchate has not asked forgiveness from the Russian émigré community for all the harm it has caused it in the past, and that it accords no public recognition for all the work accomplished in Paris toward preserving Russian spirituality. It would be enough for the Russian patriarch to come and kneel at the cemetery of Saint Genevieve of the Woods before the tomb of Father Sergius Bulgakov, and to offer public regret over his predecessor Metropolitan Sergius’ 1935 condemnation of the thought of this professor of St Sergius’ Institute. It was easy to do as in 1937 the Church theological commission created by Metropolitan Eulogius, a Russian bishop sent to Paris by Patriarch Tikhon, totally exonerated the principal theologian of the Paris School. It was at the time the only fully canonical authority within the Russian Orthodox Church.

Not only has there been no gesture of repentance, but the Moscow Patriarchate decided to appropriate the Emigration’s most beautiful churches. So, for example, the cathedral in Nice was sustained for decades by the Russian emigration, who did everything to preserve the memory of a free Russia during the era of Stalin and Brezhnev. But in 2011, the Patriarchate appropriated it without hesitation, by applying the pressure of the Russian state on the French courts. In order to make their argument, the Patriarchate invoked the extremely dubious idea of continuity – as established by Muscovite jurists – between the contemporary Russian state and the Tsarist empire, through the intervening Soviet state. This continuity, accepted by the French courts, should have led to the repayment of Russian loans and damages paid to dispossessed families of the Russian Emigration, but it did nothing of the sort. The Patriarch of Moscow even had the audacity to announce in 2007 to his flock that reconciliation had been effected with the celebrated émigré Church, known in Russia for its elevated theology and for its work for liberty. His did this only by hiding the fact from them that this was in reality only the smallest, most conservative, anti-ecumenical party within the émigré Church (the famous Zarubejnaja Church, which was not recognised by a single Orthodox Church in the world by reason of its support for Nazism during the war). Once again, I must recommend to those who ask what my thinking is on the matter, that they read my book on the history of the Orthodox Church in Emigration (A. Arjakovsky, The Way, Religious Thinkers of the Russian Emigration and their Journal, 1925-1940, translated by Jerry Ryan, edited by John Jillions and Michael Plekon, Notre Dame Univ. Press, 2013).

The recent dual position of the Moscow Patriarchate on primacy in the Church and on the political situation in Ukraine is for me the straw that broke the camel’s back. Long I blessed my grandparents who, in 1931, took the courageous step of quitting the Moscow Patriarchate for the omophorion of the Patriarch of Constantinople. Today, I consider with deep sadness that the hierarchs who conduct the Russian Church are not worthy of the mission of universal reconciliation given them by the Most High. But I remain confident. This is because the seeds of life, which were planted in the heart of the Russian Church both by the Paris School and by the multitude of martyrs and confessors of the Faith, will triumph over hypocrisy and adversity. Since the recent declaration is a text of small canonical importance, it will always be possible in time to correct it with better texts. Then again, after all, the Moscow Patriarchate, as it knows itself, has only existed since the sixteenth century…

Antoine Arjakovsky