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Русская Версия

March 6, 2010
The Patriarch’s Year -
An interview with Archpriest Serafim Gan

A little more than a year ago, Metropolitan Kyrill of Smolensk and Kaliningrad became Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia. On the eve of the election, animated debate raged in the media – who would be elected Patriarch? What effect would the new Patriarch have on the development of relations between the two united Churches – the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia (ROCOR) and the Russian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate? This especially troubled clerics and the faithful of ROCOR. And so, 13 months of Kyrill’s tenure as Patriarch are past. In his interview with Voice of America, Archpriest Serafim Gan, Chancellor of the Synod of Bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia and Personal Secretary of ROCOR’s First Hierarch (Fr. Serafim is also the rector of St. Seraphim's Church in Sea Cliff, NY and a member of the Diocesan Council), Metropolitan Hilarion, spoke about the shaping of relations between the Churches under the new Patriarch and about issues that have arisen since his election.

Sergei Moskalev: Fr. Serafim, what expectations of the laity and clergy of the Church Abroad for Patriarch Kyrill’s first year were not realized?  

Fr. Serafim Gan: I think that the unrealized expectations were of that part of our Church Abroad, which doubts the benefit of unification, and of those who left ROCOR. I think they expected the total absorption of the Church Abroad by the Moscow Patriarchate, but this isn’t taking place. We are continuing that great work, begun by Patriarch Alexey of Moscow and All Russia and the ever-memorable Metropolitan Laurus, namely – the work of restoring unity. Through the discussion process, through the signing of the “Act of Canonical Communion,” we achieved the fullness of brotherly communion within the one Russian Orthodox Church. Now we are trying to expand this work of unity by way of co-serving, by way of collaboration on various projects, and through brotherly cooperation that, I hope, will mutually enrich both parts of the Russian Orthodox Church.

S.M.: The basic conflicts that divided the Church for so many years related to questions of the past. It appeared that this was all settled, though already in the first year of Kyrill’s tenure as Patriarch, again conflicts have arisen in the interpretation of various historical events; for instance, the ROCOR Synod of Bishops declared the following as concerns General Vlasov: “…General [A.A.] Vlasov was and remains a symbol of resistance to godless bolshevism in the name of the rebirth of Historic Russia.” This point of view is not shared by those in the Moscow Patriarchate, who evaluate Vlasov’s historical role differently. How was it that a conflict on this topic was avoided?

F.S.: I think that different points of view exist on the events of our shared history and the history of the Church. But in no measure does this prevent us from being together, serving together, or feeding our flock. This issue has no bearing on teachings of the faith, it has no bearing on dogmatic truths or canonical Church law, and it didn’t hinder us in the least. On the contrary, it summoned a social discussion on the topic. Thus it can with all certainty be said: the Russian people of the 20th Century were, on both sides, political victims. I think that this is where the issue should end. But let me repeat: this issue had no effect on our good and brotherly relations.

S.M.: What other issues brought about disagreement? What conflicts have yet to be resolved?

F.S.: I think that there is still a difference of opinion on the Declaration of Metropolitan Sergius (Stragorodsky), which, as you know, was the source of the split in the Russian Church in the 20th Century. Before this document was issued, the overseas part of the Russian Orthodox Church was in total union with the Church in the homeland. Later, though, when the Declaration of Metropolitan Sergius made its appearance, demands were made of the Church hierarchy to embrace loyalty to the Soviet regime, and from thence sprang the division. We understand, however, that Metropolitan Sergius lived and served under extremely difficult circumstances. As an employee of the Synod of Bishops, I was required to do much work in our archives, and there I found interesting historical facts. For instance, the 1953 Synod of Bishops saw for the first time the participation of hierarchs who had earlier served in Belarus and the Ukraine, and who after the Second World War founded themselves abroad. One of them, Archbishop Panteleimon (Rudyk), shared memories of his meeting with Metropolitan Sergius not long after the Declaration had been signed. He asked then: “Vladyka, why did you sign that document?” The latter replied that the authorities forced him to sign the document, or else they were prepared to execute not only his fellow brother hierarchs, but his relatives, as well, who were in prisons and camps. I think that many understand now the extremely difficult circumstances in which Metropolitan Sergius lived and served. But there are also some who judge him very severely, and think that he should have accepted a martyr’s crown.

S.M.: What, then, was the primary issue in the discussion process?

F.S.: For us the primary issue was the determination of fate of that course of Church-state relations chosen by Metropolitan Sergius, which was subsequently implemented. Orthodox Christians cannot judge an individual. After all, the Holy Fathers and teachers of the Church always said that one can judge sin and unrighteousness, but not the sinner. Our Lord Jesus Christ Himself spoke of this in His Gospel. Therefore, neither can we judge Metropolitan Sergius, who would later become Patriarch; he has since stood before God.

S.M.: Some clerics and a portion of the faithful of the Church Abroad went into schism after the unification with the ROC. Has any change in their stance become apparent under the new Patriarch?

F.S.: I can’t say that I keep track of their business, but I see parishioners who are returning to our churches. I am gauging this both on my parish and on the parishes of priests with whom I am close: parishioners who left into schism are steadily returning. They are tired of the politics being proclaimed from the schismatic ambos, and wish to hear sermons on Gospel themes, wish to hear about Orthodoxy, about Christ, wish to know more about what is really going on the life of the Russian Orthodox Church. It is for this reason that we serve, and try to bear witness both by good word and good deeds.

S.M: From the time of the reunification of the Churches, have you become aware of any developments that violate the “Act of Canonical Communion,” according to which ROCOR “remains an indissoluble, self-governing part of the Local Russian Orthodox Church?”

F.S.: I am unaware of any such developments. The Church Abroad is run by its own Council of Bishops, in the inter-conciliar period by the Synod of Bishops, and issues of our internal life are decided by our hierarchy. As for the election of hierarchs, who in accordance with the “Act of Canonical Communion” are subject to the approval of the Patriarch and the Holy Synod, this has taken place without any impediments. Thus I cannot say that there have been any violations. On the contrary, there has been only a benevolent attitude from the Patriarch and Holy Synod, and we hope that this will continue: the work that lies before us is the same, namely the preservation of Russian Orthodoxy, our Holy Russian ideals, and finally, the salvation of people’s souls.

S.M.: Since the reunification of the Churches, Patriarch Kyrill has still not been to the United States, has not conducted an archpastoral visit of ROCOR’s churches. Is such a visit anticipated, and if so, what are your expectations?

F.S.: We have heard news that His Holiness, the Patriarch, may visit the United States of America next year. We no nothing to date about the expected duration of the visit, but I am sure that when a decision is made, we will be informed and will begin to prepare. And we will prepare with great joy, because we anticipate of this visit fortification not only of our Church life, the life of the Russian Church Abroad and the Patriarchal parishes of North America, but also of all of Orthodoxy on the American continent.

Sergei Moskalev
February 25, 2010
Voice of America

Translated by the Media Office of the Eastern American Diocese