Awaiting the arrival of Archbishop Tikhon

In Australia we anxiously await the arrival of Archbishop Tikhon, the First Hierarch of the Russian True Orthodox Church (RTOC). To mark this visit, it would be useful to recount the history of relations between this jurisdiction and the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad (ROCA).

On November 24, 2006, the RTOC Synod of Bishops decided to temporarily admit under its omophor those ROCA parishes and clergymen who did not wish to join the Moscow Patriarchate. The RTOC Synod’s decision stated: “The Synod of Bishops was compelled to undertake these necessary canonical measures to assist the Church Abroad in the restoration of its canonical episcopate and church administration … After the restoration of the ROCA Synod of Bishops, the Russian Orthodox Church will consist of two equal parts – RTOC and ROCA, with separate church administrations, in Eucharistic communion and spiritual unity.”

The idea of separate and independent church administrations in Russia and in the Abroad is based on the provisions of Patriarch Tikhon’s Decree No. 362. This idea was shared by ROCA Metropolitan Vitaliy, as is evident in his letter to RTOC Archbishop Lazar: “We will be of one mind and one spirit with Russia under different church administrations.”

From a spiritual point of view, believers in Russia and the Abroad form one continuous whole, but from both a psychological and a social perspective, diaspora parishes are very different from Russian ones. Events of the past decade have irrefutably demonstrated that administering the Church Abroad from either Russia or Ukraine has not produced good results. How can a bishop manage a diocese from overseas, some thousands of kilometers away, even if he visits the diocese once or twice a year? This contradicts both the canons and common sense.

Almost 12 years ago, Abp. Tikhon temporarily took under his omophor ROCA parishes in order to help the Church Abroad. Twelve years is a not insignificant period of time. But it is now time to settle our accounts: What help did Abp. Tikhon render to the Church Abroad? What other help should we expect from him? How much longer does Abp. Tikhon plan to help the Church Abroad? And most importantly, does She need his further assistance?

In 2006 Abp. Tikhon assured everyone that the subordination of diaspora parishes under his authority was only a temporary measure until the restoration of the episcopate and administrative structure of the ROCA. Unfortunately, his actions in recent times cast doubt on the sincerity of these previous statements.

Once our ROCA Council of Bishops of the Diaspora District was formed in September 2017, consisting of Abp. Andronik and Bishops Stefan and Andrei, Abp. Tikhon no longer has any canonical grounds for retaining under his authority any diaspora parishes. He must provide all diaspora priests with certificates releasing them to our Diaspora District and also issue a decree terminating his authorities in the Abroad so as not to force believers into the position of abandoning his jurisdiction without official authorization.

As we know, Abp. Tikhon has not only not done this, but has instead started a war against us. In short order accusations of heresy and schism have been pronounced and canonical punishments and defrocking of clergy have been imposed. For anyone who has common sense, it is clear that our Bishops are guilty only of the fact, as recounted in the Krylov fable of the wolf and the lamb, that the RTOC Bishops want to “eat” the diaspora parishes and their property.

How else to explain such heightened interest in the Abroad from this Russian hierarch? Is there nowhere in Russia for him to bestow his pastoral gifts? Apparently not, as Abp. Tikhon has left his Russian flock and makes haste to visit America and Australia. It is also noteworthy that parishes that possess substantial property seem to attract the special care of this shepherd. It is clear that Abp. Tikhon’s desire to retain the diaspora parishes is so great that any means are appropriate to accomplish this goal. In January of this year, he condemned Bp. Stefan as a heretic and defrocked him of his episcopacy.

Bp. Stefan was born into a family of catacomb believers, spent all of his childhood in Jordanville at the Holy Trinity Monastery. From his earliest years, he served as an acolyte at the monastery’s church under Abp. Averkiy, and later graduated from the Holy Trinity Seminary with a bachelor’s degree in theology. Bp. Stefan was serving as a priest before Abp. Tikhon had even professed faith in God, according to the latter’s Wikipedia entry. And Abp. Tikhon and his confederates dare to denounce such a person as Bp. Stefan, a confessor and a guardian of ROCA traditions, as a heretic!

For an elderly and seriously ill person such as Bp. Stefan, the long and devious hounding to which he was subjected by Abp. Tikhon has proven to be catastrophic and Bp. Stefan has fallen ill with lung cancer. There is no doubt that the last days of the good pastor, Mitered Archpriest John Stukach, were also darkened by the intrigues of these same people.

Is this the help that was promised by Abp. Tikhon, that he bans and defrocks the clergy of the Church Abroad? It is clear that these hostile actions against us are intended to mystify gullible parishioners, to instill fear in them and to keep them obedient out of fear.

The methods of Abp. Tikhon’s Sydney, Australia protege, Father Sergey, leave an especially grim impression as he terrorizes believers with ridiculous interrogations and rude orders. The whole atmosphere within the Sydney parish at the moment resembles Stalinist Russia more than free Australia.

Canonical punishments are valid only if they are imposed on the basis of the canons, and not simply by a bishop’s arbitrary will. Abp. Tikhon has no right to extend his authority onto the canonical territory of the Church Abroad. And, his punishments imposed on diaspora clerics, who had temporarily and voluntarily entered under his jurisdiction, are not canonical.

With the benefit of 12 years of hindsight, the decision in 2006 by the diaspora clergy to come under the omophor of Abp. Tikhon was a mistake, but we must remember that the RTOC of 2006 appeared much more respectable than it does in its current form. In the intervening years, the RTOC has lost about half of its parishes in Russia and Ukraine, as well as the majority of its parishes in America, Europe and Australia. What are the reasons for these losses? First, the RTOC leadership has adopted extremely fanatical rhetoric, which is completely uncharacteristic of the ROCA of old, and this has obviously occurred under the influence of the Secretary of the RTOC Synod, Viktor Melekhov. Another reason has been Abp. Tikhon’s opportunistic and uncanonical method of church administration.

Recently, several priests who had been previously subordinate to Abp. Tikhon, have joined the ROCA Australia-New Zealand diocese. These priests include Mitred Archpriest Mikhail Konstantinov, Priest Daniil Laptev and Deacon Valentin Zhezlov, all clerics of the Church of the Archangel Michael in Blacktown (Sydney), and Mitred Archpriest Aleksey Mikrikov and Priest Petr Fomin, the Rector of the Holy Theotokos of Iveron Church in Brisbane. In keeping with what was discussed above, I accepted them without a certificate of release from Abp. Tikhon.

It is likely that the decision of these clergymen to come under my omophor will provoke further canonical punishments from Abp. Tikhon. I ask everyone to not be confused by this and to ignore any such punishments. Canonical punishments that in fact are contrary to the canons and to God’s truth, will redound on the head of those who issue them to the detriment of the Church. The Holy Spirit does not support injustice.

Bishop Andrei