To restore the canonical and conciliar order of our Church that has been violated by Metropolitan Agafangel.
To begin with, this title is a tribute to tradition. Councils in the Church Abroad included clergy and laypeople from all over the diaspora and thus were called All-Diaspora. They were convened for a specific purpose and at special times in history. In all of the history of the ROCA, there were only four such councils before 2007.
The 5th All-Diaspora Council already did not include all those who opposed the decision of Met. Laurus’ synod to join with the Moscow Patriarchate. Met. Agafangel was chosen as the primate by this Council. Since our Council is being convened with the aim partly to evaluate the actions of Met. Agafangel, then it is only fitting to name it the 6th All-Diaspora Council.
The Pre-Council Committee recognizes that the name of this Council does not accurately describe its standing, but the name does adequately describe the intent of its organizers. We consider the task of restoring the entirety of the Church to be the duty of all the fragments. They are all invited to the Council.
The topics which will be included in the Council’s agenda affect all the parts of the Church Abroad. We understand fully that our plan evokes mixed feelings among many of the fragments. There is doubt and distrust and stereotypes formed over the decades, and even a desire not to ruin the established balance. That is why the forthcoming Council is for us but a first step on the way to a common resolution of administrative and theological questions.
The interest that representatives of other jurisdictions are expressing in our Council shows that they acknowledge our genuine desire for the union of all the parts of the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad scattered throughout the world.
In accordance with the Holy Canons, the Metropolitan as a bishop is considered the first among equal bishops. He is granted full authority only within the confines of his diocese. In our case, Met. Agafangel, as a result of the fact that the majority of bishops are his loyalists, has established a personal dictatorship in the Church. For all appearances our Church has a Council and Synod of Bishops, but in reality, all issues are decided by the Metropolitan. This is an unacceptable violation of the conciliarity (sobornost) of the Church. Met. Agafangel has seized sole authority and uses this power to the detriment of the Church. Without the benefit of a trial, and often in absentia, the Metropolitan has imposed canonical sanctions on bishops, clergy and laity whom he finds objectionable. For example: in Izhevsk in 2014 all three parish priests were indefinitely banned and their substantial flock were thus left without church services. This year, at the July meeting of the Synod, Archbishops Andronik and Sofroniy, in absentia and having committed no offense, were sentenced and deprived of their bishoprics.
The charge has often been heard that we (the Pre-Conciliar Committee) convened the All-Diaspora Council in defiance of the canons, and after refusing Met. Agafangel’s proposal to hold the All-Diaspora Council under his chairmanship.
In answering this charge it must be noted that the unrest caused in the Church by the canonical violations of Met. Agafangel himself are the primary reasons the All-Diaspora Council was convened. In such circumstances, how could Met. Agafangel chair a Council that was called to review his very own violations? Not only does this not make sense in respect to the canons, but to logic itself! Holding the All-Diaspora Council in Odessa would have become yet another costly spectacle paid for by church funds.
The Status of the ROCA stipulates that a metropolitan is judged by the Council of Bishops. However, as stated in the Resolution of the VI All-Diaspora Council, “The current membership of the Council of Bishops has shown itself incapable of resisting the dictatorship of Met. Agafangel and restoring sobornost (conciliarity) in the Church. The members of the Council of Bishops were willing or passive accomplices in the Metropolitan’s canonical violations and share in the responsibility for them.”
The latest shameful action by the Council of Bishops was that they unanimously signed a resolution that accused Abp. Andronik and Abp. Sophroniy and their clergy of engaging in the heresy of “schismoecumenism.” Accusations of heresy are very serious, as heretics alienate themselves from God and the Church. By accusing their brothers in Christ of heresy without anyreason, only to curry favor with the Metropolitan, the Council of Bishops in Odessa, in our opinion, finally lost all spiritual authority.
It is quite cynical to accuse us of heresy, when Met. Agafangel himself has consistently expressed the same views for which he now calls us heretics for espousing. It is interesting that he himself has been accused of heresy for such views. This was said of him in 2011 in the Newsletter of the Southern Russian Diocese of ROCA(V) (http://soborrussia.ucoz.ru/news/opolozheniirpc_segodnja/2011-03-22-17):
“I feel truly sorry for those who trust him (Met. Agafangel). I also feel truly sorry for those who believe his heretical idea that all the parts of the ROCA that fell away from it are still parts of it, which he is trying to unite under one group. Is this not the ecumenical “branch theory,” simply in another form? Therefore to avoid being tempted by the heretical ideas of Vl. Agafangel, it is necessary again and again to remind those who still have not recognizedhim, beware of wolves in sheep’s clothing.” (A speech by Fr. V. Rozhnov.)
Perhaps this is where charging us of “schismoecumenism” arises from?
Thank God all of this is behind us! The All-Diaspora Council has cleared the road for a conciliar, canonical life in the church, free from falsehoods, intrigues and hypocrisy.
We consider it imperative to convene the All-Diaspora Council in order to evaluate the actions of Metropolitan Agafangel and his Synod, and to take steps to restore conciliarity. In accordance with the Regulations of the ROCA, “In the case of special need, the First Hierarch together with the Synod of Bishops convenes an All-Diaspora Church Council, consisting of bishops and representatives of the clergy and the laity.” However, in the current situation, as the Council is being convened to put the Metropolitan and his Synod on trial, they should not participate in preparations for the All-Diaspora Council.
In accordance with the “Regulations of the ROCA,” the Metropolitan is subject to trial by the Council of Bishops, chaired by the eldest hierarch. Moreover, it is required that the number of bishops accusing the Metropolitan consist of no less than 1/3 of the membership of Council of Bishops. In the case of the latter, it is unclear from where this requirement is derived. It is not based on the Holy Canons but in fact contradicts the canons. For example: “But if any Bishop or Clergyman has a dispute with the Metropolitan of the same province, let him apply either to the Exarch of the diocese or to the throne of the imperial capital Constantinople, and let it be tried before him.” (4th Ecumenical Council, 9th rule). In other words, only one bishop or cleric is needed to demand the trial of a Metropolitan before a higher court. It must be said that we find ourselves in extraordinary circumstances. There are no canonical directives to guide our actions in such a situation. It is obvious that the ROCA Council of Bishops, the majority of whom are the Metropolitan’s supporters, cannot deliver an objective decision on the canonical violations of Metropolitan Agafangel.
According to the Regulations on Administration of the Russian Church, “In the Russian Orthodox Church, the highest authority – legislative, administrative, judicial and executive – belongs to the All-Russia Council, which will be convened periodically at specified intervals and consist of bishops, clergy and laity…the Patriarch, together with church administrative bodies, are accountable to the All-Russia Council.”
The All-Russia Council, composed of bishops, clergy and laity, is equivalent in the ROCA to the All-Diaspora Council, which will also include clergy and laity. The decisions of the All-Russia Council, as well as the All-Diaspora Council, go into effect after they are confirmed by the Bishops’ Conference.
Taking all of the above into account, it is clear that the All-Diaspora Council has the right to judge the case of Metropolitan Agafangel, and that its verdict will then be confirmed by the Bishops’ Conference, which will consist of bishops not involved in the canonical violations of the Synod. Metropolitan Agafangel was elected at an All-Diaspora Council and now an All-Diaspora Council has the right to call the Metropolitan to account for his actions.
At a meeting of the Diocesan Council of the Diocese of Syracuse and the Canada it was decided that preparations for an All-Diaspora Council should begin and a Pre-Council Committee, to include bishops, priests and laity, was elected. The Pre-Council Committee will determine the exact date and place of the Council, and will develop an agenda that will include the following key issues:
The 14th canon of the First-Second Council of Constantinople states: “If any Bishop, on the basis of charges against his own Metropolitan, shall secede or apostatize from him before a conciliar verdict has been issued, and shall abstain from communion with him, and fail to mention his name, in accordance with established custom, in the course of the liturgical celebration of the Eucharistic mystery, the Holy Council has decreed that he shall be deposed from office…”
This rule thus prohibits bishops from ceasing to commemorate a Metropolitan accused of any sin before he is adjudged by a Council.
The subsequent 15th rule, however, provides us with the single exception: “when he publicly preaches heresy.” In this case, subordinate clerics are required to break communion with the heretic.
For some reason this rule is usually misinterpreted in the sense that if a bishop is not a heretic, all of his actions must be tolerated. It is as if adherence to orthodoxy provides immunity to commit all manner of lawlessness.
What is overlooked is that this rule requires that he be commemorated not indefinitely but only until a “conciliar examination”, i.e. until a trial. According to church canons, the accused, irrespective of the high rank he may hold, must submit to the court. The canons also require that this court not be delayed for a lengthy period of time.
Accusations against Met. Agafangel have been made many times, but with the support of the majority of bishops, he has eluded trial. This is the reason why the All-Diaspora Council is a necessity. Until the All-Diaspora Council is convened Abp. Andronik continues to commemorate the name of the Metropolitan during the liturgy.
It should be noted that in ancient times there have been instances in which a priest broke communion with his bishop for reasons other than dogmatic heresy. For example, St. Theodore the Studite broke communion with Patriarchs Nikeforos and Tarasios not because of a dogmatic heresy, but because of the fact that they were in communion with the priest Joseph, who performed the adulterous marriage of the Emperor Constantine.
Those who assert that the presence of heresy is the only reason for separating from a bishop, have apparently forgotten about phenomenon such as Sergianism. Sergianism is not a dogmatic heresy, but it is worse than any heresy because while seeming to adhere to dogmas and canons, it destroys the very essence of Christianity.
In earlier times, the devil fought the Church through dogmatic heresies. Today his tactics are different. Modern people are not interested in dogmas and thus dogmatic heresies do not attract anyone. The great temptation of our time is a False-Church that appears completely canonical and orthodox, but is in fact alien to the spirit of Christ. Where lies, hypocrisy, lack of mercy, and self-interest reign, there cannot be Christ.
A schism was perpetrated a while back, in 2014 by Met. Agafangel. Due to the unfair punishments at that time, two bishops, Dionisiy and Iriney, and several priests with their flocks stopped commemorating the Metropolitan. It must be noted that they announced that they are not splitting off from the Church, but are compelled to adopt self-administration.
The same situation has now repeated itself; with B. Andronik and B. Sophroniy being punished. In this way the Metropolitan is cutting off one part of the Church after another. Why is this happening? Met. Agafangel is imposing his will on the Church, which inevitably results in the church members resisting. This resistance does not arise from some lust for power or disobedience. Piety is preserved in the Church by its members, and any attempts at violating the spiritual freedom of the Church will be rejected. This is a healthy reaction of the church body.
Truly, it is incorrect to call what is happening to us a schism. Usually when a schism occurs, the church administration tries to do everything possible to stop those stepping back from leaving. With Met. Agafangel is doing just the opposite, he is pushing out the dissenters to be rid of them. To what end is Met. Agafangel meting out punishments of bishops, priests and laypeople? To cast them out of the Church. For example, when he censured all three priests in Izhevsk, what did he want, but for them to leave.
The Metropolitan always follows the same, simple scenario: he levels unfair punishments on the dissenting priests, which they cannot obey (for example, how could the Izhevsk priests leave their flock without church services?). Then when the punished do not submit, he announces that they have gone into schism. What hypocrisy! Just as Met. Agafangel has made the Synod his obedient device, is exactly how he wants to co-opt the whole Church for himself; by ridding himself of those who do not obey him and promote his followers.
Therefore, this is not a schism, but an endless “cleansing ” of the Church from “undesirable elements” perpetrated by the Metropolitan to transform it into a subservient flock.
Our bishops will most probably be censured at the Council of Bishops in October, 2016, in Odessa. Therefore, they and the priests that commemorate them will no longer have the ability to serve with the clergy remaining in the jurisdiction of Metropolitan Agafangel. This will be very painful for us, though such an administrative division cannot be called dividing the Church or separating from the Church.
We believe that the Church is one. Serving the liturgy together is but one of the visible manifestations of the unity of the Church, but it is not that unity in of itself. In some cases, this outward display may be lost, but the oneness of the Church is not damaged by this. Archpriest Mikhail Pomazansky in his book, “Orthodox Dogmatic Theology,” explains it thusly:
“The unity of the Church is not violated because of temporary divisions of a non-dogmatic nature. Differences between Churches arise frequently out of insufficient or incorrect information. Also, sometimes a temporary breaking of communion is caused by the personal errors of individual hierarchs who stand at the head of one or another local Church; or it is caused by their violation of the canons of the Church, or by the violation of the submission of one territorial ecclesiastical group to another in accordance with anciently established tradition. Moreover, life shows us the possibility of disturbances within a local Church which hinder the normal communion of other Churches with the given local Church until the outward manifestation and triumph of the defenders of authentic Orthodox truth. Finally, the bond between Churches can sometimes be violated for a long time by political conditions, as has often happened in history. In such cases, the division touches only outward relations, but does not touch or violate inward spiritual unity.”