Letter from Pre-Council Committee to Metropolitan Agafangel – M. Agafangel’s reply – followed by the Pre-Council’s reply

To the Most Reverend Metropolitan Agafangel

Your Eminence,

We appeal to You as a brother in Christ, to Your Christian conscience and to Your powers of reason. Previously, we and many clerics of our Church have often written to you personally, while this time we appeal to you in an open letter.

In Your publications you have called us schismatics.

Ask yourself this question: how many times have You already cast out from the Church other schismatics and why do these actions not bring peace, why do new schismatics arise to replace the old? You believe that you have fallen victim to a conspiracy of forces seeking to decapitate and destroy the ROCA. But look more attentively, among your opponents are those who have grown up in the Church Abroad since infancy, and they are the carriers of the spirit of the Church. Can it be that they are also planted agents?

In your 2007 article “On our Division,” You, then Bishop Agafangel, speaking of the Synod of Metropolitan Laurus, said that the Metropolitan was deaf to the opinion of the laity and did not comply with the principle of conciliarity. Today, now the Metropolitan yourself, you label expressions of the parishioners’ will as manifestations of the “heresy of Presbyterianism” and ignore their appeals to You.

We believe that the cause of our internal church conflict is Your unwillingness to hear your flock and your readiness to use all possible means to rid the Church of dissenters. It is for this reason that the constant conflicts in the Church are followed by punishments, departures to other jurisdictions, or parish self-government and the termination of commemoration of the Metropolitan. This is the reality of today’s ROCA. This is a sure road to the scattering and extinction of the Church, a road upon which You are leading us.

As a result of this situation, we appeal to You with a proposal to create a new form of governance, which will permit us to save what remains of the Church Abroad, and to gather those who for whatever reason have abandoned her.

We believe that the following steps are necessary to achieve this: 1. Rescind the punishments, imposed without benefit of trial, on the bishops, clergy and laity, and establish an Ecclesiastical Court in accord with the canons. 2. We respectfully request that You relinquish your role as Chairman of the Synod, while retaining the rank of Metropolitan and administration of the Odessa diocese. 3. Create three autonomous Church Districts: Ukraine-Moldova, Russia, and the Far Abroad. Each of the Districts will be managed by its own Synod.

It is impossible to single-handedly administer a Church that is dispersed around the globe. The ROCA under Blessed Metropolitan Antony consisted of church districts: the Near Eastern, the Far Eastern, the North American and the Western Europe. In this time of acute crisis in the Church it is imperative to return to the experience of our wise hierarchs.

This decentralization of church authority is exactly what You advocated two years ago in your statement: “… we must with all our strength renounce centralization and central administrative organs, as in today’s circumstances in the Russian Federation, centralization means total control. But Christianity cannot live without absolute freedom in Christ. Therefore, we must be careful, as once freedom is lost, it can never be regained. ”

We propose to do the same – to decentralize Church administration and to preserve our collective Church in the form of self-governing districts. Yet more punishments will only serve to further discredit the Church and to further scatter its flock.

We ask that you consider this letter as evidence of our sincere desire to avoid a schism and to find a form of church relations that will best correspond to the spirit of conciliarity in the historical ROCA.

The Pre-Council Committee of the 6th All-Diaspora Council:

+Archbishop Andronik
+Archbishop Sofroniy
Mitered Archpriest Nikita Grigoriev
Hegumen Andrei (Erastov)
Hieromonk Ignatiy (Krutkov)
Dimitri Gontscharow
Mark Kotlaroff
Vadim Yarmolinets

Metropolitan Agafangel: Response to “The open letter of the Pre-Council Committee of the 6th All-Diaspora Council”

I received via e-mail an “open letter” from a group of people who call themselves “the Pre-Council Committee of the 6th All-Diaspora Council.” This appeal, finally, actually includes some suggestions. Unfortunately, they are presented in the form of an ultimatum. But the mere fact that at least those exist, is certainly positive. In the appeal, there obviously should have been some formulated and corresponding charges against me. However, once again, I did not find any serious charges, apart from the disputed claims that I allegedly “drive out schismatics from the Church” and “do not listen to the flock” – and that is all. So if you abide by the words of the authors of the appeal, that is the reason, the cause for a schism! (Disobeying the Council of Bishops and the Synod, and their desire for having power exclusively for themselves, is a schism, unless of course, the authors of the appeal prefer the term parasynagogue).

There are three proposed requirements in the appeal, which, if executed- there is a promise of the avoidance of a schism:

  1. “To cancel the unwarranted bans imposed on the bishops, clergy and laity, and to introduce the practice of a church trial, according to the canons.”

It would be desirable to give me at least one example of an “unwarranted ban”, and to substantiate as to why the bans are “unwarranted”. Otherwise, it is not clear what it is all about. I agree that I am to blame for the fact that I did not explain things clearly enough, each and every time, when the bans were imposed. But I cannot agree with the allegation that I am guided by the “unwillingness to listen to my flock, and by a willingness to get rid our church of all dissenters.” We resolved at the Synod to consider the expediency of convening an All-Diaspora Council, but the schismatics ignored this appeal and decided instead to convene their own supposed All-Diaspora Council and, moreover, not with the aim of finding a solution to the difficult situation which was created, but frankly with the goal of creating a schism. The signatories of this appeal, all nine of those people, currently dare to call six bishops, again- not to discuss the situation- but to try them as defendants (the bishops). This year, an Ecclesiastical Church trial was held in accordance with the canons, but this group refuses to recognize its decisions.

  1. “We respectfully ask you to resign as Chairman of the Council of Bishops and of the Synod, yet maintaining the rank of Metropolitan and the management of the Odessa diocese.”

Can I, as a result of the demands of nine people, who, in addition to organizing a parasynagogue, single-handedly and according to my own will, remove my obedience from myself, which is legally entrusted to me according to the fullness of the Church? Would not that be a violation of catholicity? Maybe then, other members of the Church should also be asked? I understand that a legitimate AllDiaspora Council of Bishops or Synod can ask me to resign and justify this proposal. If that be the case, then truly, it should be considered. Without an informed and authoritative opinion which comes from the fullness of the Church, the demands of the schismatics simply are not serious. As I have written before, and as I repeat now, if whichever historical “fragment” wishes to unite with us without violating their own, albeit, internal canonical order, and if they are in agreement with the ecclesiology which was formulated together by the sister Old Calendar Churches, and for the sake of removing obstacles to such a reunion, I agree to submit an application for a legitimate All-Diaspora Council gathered for the occasion, to send me into retirement. Let us allow the Council to decide to fulfill my request, as to whether or not to send me into retirement and to elect a new First Hierarch, or else, to leave the structure of our Russian Church Abroad as it is. My offer still stands true today.

  1. “To create three autonomous regional churches: Ukrainian-Moldavian, Russian, the Far Abroad. Each of them will be managed by its own Synod. ”

Regional jurisdictions (true, without “its own Synod”) existed long before the formation of the ROCOR and went to our historical Church from the Local Russian Church. They were abolished by the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad due to the fact that they were the source of schismatic disruptions (which, as a result, led to the formation of the OCA, the Evlogian schism and the unification of the Far Eastern jurisdictions with the MP). In other words, the ROCOR fathers were not supporters of such constituencies, but rather opposed them. Centralization poses a threat where there is a possibility of external influence on the leadership of the Church (as it was in the USSR, and is now in the Russian Federation), which is manifested in the form of separatism and the destruction of the catholic universal order of the Church (the formation of the multitude of “self-governing” renovationist groups), and ulteriorly, as an artificial substitute for the overall guidance of the Russian Church. In my opinion, the new group of schismatics gives rise to the suspicion of the existence of an external influence upon it.

They personally offer me, in bypassing the whole Church, to change the established, historical, operation of the Holy Spirit, its structure, and to create a revolution (within our Church). Supposing I do as they insist – it is not even the fact of the violation of catholicity, but, really, the end and the complete collapse of the ROCOR, in as much as the majority do not wish to follow this uncanonical act, and to be disoriented and deprived of its head: “For it is written: I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep shall be scattered “(Mark 14.27). The unity and catholicity of the Church is not in making three Synods out of one (i.e., out of one ROCOR to make three – our fathers could not even have come up with such an idea), but is in the spiritual unity of the faithful, regardless of the area in which they live. It is precisely the destruction of spiritual unity, in which the schismatics’ offer is directed. I do not know who inspired them; in the words of the Holy Martyr Metropolitan Kyrill Smirnov- trying to make out of me a “bomb with which to explode from the inside of the Russian Church” (we know who offered this to Metropolitan Kirill). Following the example of the Holy Martyr, I do not intend to stand in the ranks of the destroyers of the Russian Church.

At the same time, we propose to consider the possibility of organizing a Bishops’ council in the United States, South America and Canada, a meeting, which may, following the example of the Russian Eminences’ meeting- resolve many questions.

Here, I set forth my personal opinion only, not so as to outright completely dismiss all the offers of the dissenters, but in order to show them that their opinion is not the sole point of view of our church members, nor is it uncontested. The final verdict on these matters should be carried out by the Bishops’ Council.
According to the words of the Apostle Paul:

“I charge thee therefore before God and the Lord Jesus Christ, who shall judge the quick and the dead at His appearing and His kingdom: Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; And they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall turn unto fables. “(2 Tim 4.1-4)

By virtue of the power and authority given to me, I appeal once again to those who plan a schism in our Church:

If you really “earnestly seek to avoid a schism, and to find a form of church relations which best corresponds to the spirit of catholicity in the historical ROCA”, then follow the spirit of catholicity of the historical ROCA. Do not trample on the rules and canons specifically established by the fathers for the avoidance of schisms and for eliminating disruption in the Church. Go the way of the legitimate canonical path. Let Bishops Andronik and Sophrony take part in the Council of Bishops in October, so that we can jointly discuss the existing situation and the ways out of it. There are no alternatives and there cannot be, insofar as this is the only way offered by the Fathers of the ROCOR in similar circumstances, and not only by the Fathers of the ROCOR, but also of the entire Orthodoxy.

First Hierarch of the ROCOR
+ Metropolitan Agafangel
September 27 / October 10, New Hieromartyr Peter, Metropolitan of Krutitsa

To the Most Reverend Metropolitan Agafangel.

Your Eminence, The Pre-Council Committee sent a letter to You in the hope that it would provide You yet another opportunity to resolve the growing conflict in the Church. In Your answer You expressed Your disagreement with our proposals and offered to resolve these differences at a Council of Bishops session in Odessa.

In our opinion, it makes little sense for us to take part in yet another Bishops’ council, since the decisions of previous councils and sessions of the Synod are exactly what have led to the crisis of today. To expect an objective resolution of these pressing matters is unlikely, when the majority of the bishops have supported Your positions for years now and were complicit in these decisions.

The problems that have come to a head, and which have not been dealt with in the past years, concern all the members of the Church and must be resolved by the entirety of the Church. It is for that reason, and to enable a fair hearing of all the issues, that it is necessary to convene an All-Diaspora Council. Our Committee will continue to work on its preparations.

The Pre-Council Committee of the 6th All-Diaspora Council