Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Another Essay on ROCOR & the MP

From the website of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia

Protopriest George Lardas

On Sunday 16 February/1 March 1998, I published an open letter in defense of Archbishop Mark in the controversy that ensued after his publication of "A Ray of Light" describing his talks with his counterpart in the Moscow Patriarchate, Archbishop Theophan. My letter was in response to an open letter by certain clergy, who have since left our church, attacking Archbishop Mark for holding such talks. In it I examined the then-current situation of the Russian Church in light of the historical experience of the Orthodox Church. At the urging of others, I am now republishing it in revised form to take into account the changed situation seven years later. Although I wrote this for another purpose, I hope that this commentary may be of some use to those in our Church who have doubts about the current discussions between the Russian Church Outside of Russia and the Moscow Patriarchate.

I would like to thank Reader Joseph McLellan for his kind assistance, and whose words I use almost verbatim in the sections entitled The Catacomb Church, After World War II, and The Moscow Patriarchate. The patristic quotations in the section entitled Iconoclasm and the Seventh Ecumenical Council are from a translation by his Eminence Archbishop Chrysostomos of Etna, and are used with permission. I take full responsibility for the conclusions reached in this essay, which are not necessarily those of the contributors.

Fr. George Lardas, Rector

On Talks with the Moscow Patriarchate

Fathers and Brethren:

Christ is in our midst! In view of recent discussions with the Moscow Patriarchate, and the strong feelings these have evoked, I thought the following might be helpful. The Russian Church and people have weathered a tremendous storm in the last century, and we as children of the Russian Church are still in the grip of this storm. In the prevailing confusion it is easy to forget that our situation is not without parallels in Church history, and it may be helpful to review a few of these. We notice that often after a major storm, the faithful are divided as to how to deal with the results of a heresy or schism, but eventually peace returns and the divisions of the faithful are healed. We also notice that there are times when Orthodox faithful break communion with each other and remain that way for many years before they are reconciled. Let us look at a few of these cases.

The Donatists and Meletians

After the Roman persecutions had ended, the Church had to deal with the problem of the lapsed, both laymen and clergy. At that time, present at the election and consecration of Caecilianus as bishop of Carthage was a bishop who was a "traditor," one of those who had handed over Church books during the persecutions. A zealot faction, later headed by Donatus, considered this consecration thereby invalid, and formed a separate church, for they would not re-admit as members of the Church any who had apostatized or compromised during the persecutions. At times, the Donatist church was the predominant one in North Africa. Blessed Augustine of Hippo later held debates with them, and won some of them over, and recovered the dominance of the Catholic Church (here I use the word Catholic in its proper sense, of the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church, which is Orthodox in faith and worship). Although more than one local Council was held to discuss the matter of the Donatists, and while it was decided that the presence of a traditor bishop does not thereby invalidate a bishop's consecration, the Donatists continued to exist as a separate church up to the time of the Moslem conquests when Christianity was extinguished in North Africa.

As schismatics, and actually heretics, the Donatist mysteries would not be valid. Yet when groups of Donatists were reconciled to the Church, they were received as clergy without re-ordination and allowed to serve with Catholic clergy.

A similar controversy took place in Egypt, caused by Meletius of Lycopolis, who was also of a rigorist bent. He was opposed by Archbishop Peter of Alexandria. Later, in AD 325, the First Ecumenical Council adjudicated the matter and set the bounds between their respective jurisdictions. However, on the election of Saint Athanasius as Archbishop of Alexandria, Meletius and his followers went into permanent schism as a separate “Church of the Martyrs,” which continued to exist as late as the 8th century.

The common denominator between the Meletians and the Donatists was rigorism in receiving of the lapsed. They rejected the ability of the Church and of God to forgive human weakness and to apply mercy. They rejected the possibility of repentance on the part of those who had erred. Therefore, even though they were right on many things, on this one point they separated from the Church and many were never reconciled. They would never make peace with a Church that had a hierarchy tainted by the presence of bishops who were formerly heretics or schismatics. They became fringe groups with little to say to the body of the faithful, and ceased to be a vessel of spiritual redemption. They had lost the Catholicity of the Church....

Read the rest here.

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