Epistle of the Bishop's Council
of the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad - 28 September / 11 October 2015
Beloved in Christ fathers, brothers and sisters, all faithful children of our Russian Orthodox Church Abroad,
We, the bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad, have gathered this year for our Bishop's Council in the Holy Zachary and Elizabeth Skete of the St John's Cloister which began on the day of the celebration of the Guide (She who shows the Way) of the Russian Diaspora-the Kursk-Root Icon of the Mother of God and concluded on the day of the finding of the relics of the ever-memorable St John of Shanghai and San Francisco, the Wonderworker.
By our deepest convictions, all the meetings of the Bishop's Council transpired under the prayerful intercession of all those Russian saints who have pleased God and under the protection of the holy objects of the Church Abroad.
It is worth noting that this year's Bishop's Council coincided with 1000-year anniversary of the repose in the Lord of the Baptizer of Rus, the Holy Equal-to-the-Apostles Grand Duke Vladimir.
We would like to remind that the holy duke Vladimir is forever dear to us in that he united us to Christ's faith and, through him and By God's mercy, the Russian people was gifted with the Church of Christ.
This is clearly revealed to us through the touching prayer said by grand duke Vladimir during the sacred moments of the sacrament of christening of the Russian people when, by the words of a pious scribe, truly heaven and earth were glad to see so many saved individuals.
“O God Almighty, who has created heaven and earth!”-cried out then our godfather and enlightener-look down on this Thy new people and grant us, o Lord, to know Thee as the True God just as the other Christian nations have known Thee and confirm in them the true and unalterable Faith and aid me Lord against the hostile adversary and that, hoping in Thee and Thy might, I will overcome his malice.”
Everything is said and explained here as to why Christ's faith and the true Church was given to us.
Christ's faith and the true Church as the guardian and spreader of this faith are given to us so that we may be able to perceive, that is to is know the true God and, having known Him, to believe in Him, to depend on Him and to love Him.
Faith in God must be "correct" and "non-perverted" that is not one created by people for their own liking, but orthodox as the true, pure, immaculate faith of Christ was always called, which was preached by the holy Apostles and unchangingly kept by the true Church, not altered by people's philosophizing.
St Vladimir's prayer points to what is the personal goal for us in this faith and, consequently, the great importance of belonging to the true Church, the guardian of this faith. We have a "hostile adversary" who erects barriers and wishes to destroy us. This is God's enemy and the enemy of human salvation, the devil, with whom we have to carry on ceaseless warfare because otherwise, an eternal death awaits us. This fight is with the enemy of human salvation, the devil, and until a victory over him, we can carry on solely by "depending on God and His might,” that is with the aid of the true faith and Church.
So, it is from this point of view that we must look at everything that is occurring in the world today.
During the entire history of its existence the Church has constantly found itself in a spiritual struggle for the purity of its faith, when different heretics and schismatics tried to pass off their gatherings as the Body of Christ thus disrupting the prayerful life of Orthodox people.
The current period of this struggle with impious theomachy (fight against God-trans.) that surrounds the Church is distinguished by a special temptation that involves the faithful in the political hubbub of this world, which detracts from the task of their salvation. When an individual enters the other world he immediately understands that his lifetime was an insignificant moment in the history of civilization and political events and that what interested him during his life only obstructed the task of his salvation.
The need of such a constant struggle for the purity of the faith and unity of the Church at the same time evokes a feeling of despondency among the faithful who only want peace in the Church. We all also want such peace but understand that it comes only through spiritual warfare.
The enemy of humanity does not stop attacking Christ’s Church with temptations, heresies, schisms and splits. But this is allowed by God’s Providence so those who are saved shall appear: “For there must be also heresies among you, that they which are approved may be made manifest among you” (1 Cor. 11,19).
Such a spiritual immaturity that gets involved with the world’s political bustle is derived from their passion for the material values of this world: “Even so we, when we were children, were in bondage under the elements of the world” (Gal 4,3). Those who get involved in the bustle of this world strengthen it with their own efforts it they, falling away from the Church, join various self-proclaimed associations. The subsequent moral and pious decline leads then to various social conflicts and wars that, in turn, also strengthen the bustle of this world. Thus such a vicious circle closes and the impious die not only spiritually but also physically. Seekers of human worldliness are incapable of faith in Christ but only in mutual praises. “How can ye believe, which receive honor one of another, and seek not the honor that cometh from God only?” (John 5,44).
The path of our Russian Orthodox Church Abroad is the path of Saint Vladimir. It is the path of the knowledge of God as the path of a resolute stance in Orthodoxy, a path uncompromising to the devil’s evil and the struggle against him and defeating him with God’s help. Let it be that not everyone in our Church remained faithful to its idea to the end; this in no way overturns its high and radiant idea of faithfulness to Orthodoxy. Even among the 12 apostles of Christ was Judas, the traitor, and yet could his treason in any way darken Christ’s true Church?
Unfortunately, in our Russian Orthodox Church Abroad there were and are individuals who entered into it not because of convictions of the faith. Even if they cause the Church much evil and bring in great temptations among the faithful, the Church itself remains inviolable and does not suffer from it. The true Church has suffered many sorrows in the course of centuries from various types of false prophets, heretics and schismatics but did not lose the Divine Truth guarded by her.
Belief in this Divine Truth and aversion from all types of devilish lies, cunning, hypocrisy and deception does not allow us any distortion in our souls, permitting various disallowable compromises that are contrary to the true faith of Christ and Church rules in pleasing this world that lies in wickedness as said by the holy Apostle (1 John 5, 19).
Thus, if our Church wishes to remain the true Church, it can not be obedient to earthly powers more than to God (cf. Acts 4, 19), it can not recognize God-fighting governments as “power from God”; it can not in its prayers ask God for “the resting with the saints” of obvious atheists, persecutors of the faith and the Church or those who were in friendly relations with them or schismatics who broke from the true Church and fought against it, and more so non-Orthodox individuals who were never members of the true Church even if they held the highest positions in society or the government.
He who demands this of the Church, in this manner shows that spiritually he is a complete stranger to the true Church and belongs to her only as a formality, does not understand the most elementary items and does not have any second thoughts about what the demands of this membership entails.
The straight path of our Russian Orthodox Church Abroad positively rejects all compromises with the devil’s evil should be well known to everyone. Why slander Her when she remains true to herself?
Of course these lies originate from the same muddy source with a sole purpose-to push away Her faithful children from following the pure and bright idea of the Church.
Let us remember that Orthodoxy is life - life in Christ, life in the Church.
Let us guard, as a precious jewel, our greatest treasure that is our faith and our Russian Church Abroad and not allow the enemy to abuse Her. Let us safe-keep unaltered the Apostolic Orthodoxy of our Church that we received from our great enlightener Saint, Equal-to-the-Apostles Grand Duke Vladimir!
Archbishop Vladimir of San Francisco and Western America
Bishop Victor of St. Petersburg and Northern Russia
Bishop Alexei of Soltanova and the Ukraine
Bishop Tikhon of Vasilkoff
Bishop Ambrose of Denver