To the Pastors, Monastics and the Pious Children of the Church Abroad
Beloved brethren and sisters!
We, the Hierarchs of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia, having assembled together in Sacred Council on the eve of the Ecclesiastical New Year in the Synodal Residence in the God-protected city of New York, in the presence of our Hodegetria and guide, the wonderworking Kursk-root icon of the Mother of God, greet you with the words of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, which He spoke unto His disciples after His Resurrection: ‘Be of good cheer: I have overcome the world!’ (John 16.33).
We are of good cheer, because we are witnesses to the Lord’s great mercy unto His children and the continuity of His headship of the Church. Having seen fit to call unto Himself our pious and humble First Hierarch, the blessedly-reposed and much-beloved Metropolitan Hilarion, He has not left us bereft of order and care. We began our Council with the election of Metropolitan Hilarion’s successor, the seventh Primate of the Russian Church Abroad, following the order of election approved and sanctified by St. John of Shanghai and San Francisco. By the Will of God, His Grace Nicholas, Bishop of Manhattan, was elected to bear this yoke of service – he who for many years has borne the obedience lain upon him by our Synod of accompanying the miraculous Kursk-root icon in its travels throughout the Russian Orthodox Diaspora, and over the last one and a half decades, all across Russia.
Beloved children: the manner in which the election took place, its very course as well as its results, are direct evidence of the unswerving path that our Church Abroad ever follows, being led by the Lord in unchanging faith from grace to grace. This we have felt all the more since, by the Will of God, revealed through His faithful servants, His Holiness Patriarch Alexei II of Moscow and the First Hierarch of the Russian Church Abroad, His Eminence Metropolitan Laurus, the unity within the Russian Orthodox Church was restored. It is our fervent prayer that the successors of each of these men, together with us all, will continue that work of unity in faith and prayer.
In the course of our gathering, the Council heard reports on the life of our Church throughout the world. Our Hierarchs spoke of the state of affairs in the dioceses entrusted to them, and we rejoice at their confirmation that the number of faithful is increasing everywhere, that new communities are being established and churches being built, and that the number of those whom our Lord Jesus Christ leads to the Orthodox Faith from other confessions is increasing, together with those whom He mercifully guides back from paths of error. The return of several parishes to our Church, after years of division, is both a source of deep joy, and also a sign of hope in these days of widespread schism and apostasy, that the door of return is always open, and love may yet triumph over enmity. Further, the report from Holy Trinity Monastery confirmed that, by the grace of God, the flow of pilgrims to the Lavra of the Russian Diaspora, which had become scarce during the pandemic, is again increasing every day – and so, too, in many other parts of the Church. The Council likewise heard reports on the activities of our Orthodox youth, both at the diocesan and international levels; on the life of our ancient communities in the Holy Land; on the growth of our Seminary and pastoral schools; on the labours to preserve and cherish our unique liturgical heritage; on the work of our Fund for Assistance, which tirelessly supports communities and missions that would be difficult to sustain without such aid; on our relations with our fellow Orthodox Christians of other jurisdictions; and many other topics. Receiving all these reports, we heard, as it were, the word of God speaking to the Church: ‘God is able to make all grace abound toward you; that ye, always having all sufficiency in all things, may abound to every good work’ (2 Corinthians 9.8).
Our Council took special joy in welcoming the recognition of the Macedonian Orthodox Church – Ohrid Archbishop by the Holy Synod of Bishops of the Moscow Patriarchate, and greets our fellow hierarchs, clergy and faithful of the Macedonian Church with a fraternal embrace. We cannot but rejoice at the news that here, too, we find unity restored and the ability to pray and serve with beloved brethren returned to us. May God ever be praised for His mercies!
And yet, in this earthly life, all is not sweetness and simplicity. The Apostle Paul, addressing the ancient Christians, once wrote: ‘Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?’ (Romans 8.35).
Especially in these present days, such words seem profoundly relevant. Daily and even hourly the world itself reminds us of the words of the Lord, addressed to His Apostles: ‘Ye shall hear of wars and rumours of wars: but see that ye be not troubled: for all these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet. For nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom: and there shall be famines, and pestilences, and earthquakes, in diverse places. All these are the beginning of sorrows’ (Matthew 24.6-8). Today, these formidable signs, foretold by the Pillar of the Apostles and spoken about by the Lord, are observed by us personally, directly, and we feel the affects of them both on ourselves and our neighbours. Spirits of evil in high places, through the people they enslave, labour in every manner to thwart us with the poison of division and hatred. Hostile forces have worked hard, and do so still, to sow discord between brothers in faith and spirit, heirs of a common history and culture, who emerged from the common font of the Baptism of Russia.
We have called upon the faithful before to remember that participation in political discussions is not the role of the Church of Christ, whose mission is the Gospel and the guidance of man into repentance and life. The Orthodox Church, by her very essence, cannot call for war, but always, in spite of everything, prays for peace. With respect to the great turmoil currently unfolding around us, we must live by this calling. It has been eight years since our Russian Orthodox Church Abroad began lifting up a special prayer at the Divine Liturgy ‘for the suffering country of Ukraine, torn apart by strife and discord’ – and this prayer we unceasingly continue to offer, and so will do until peace is manifest. Additionally, our dioceses, as well as our Church centrally, and in particular our faithful, have laboured in many practical ways to aid those suffering in Ukraine, as well as its many refugees across the world; we express our gratitude for their generosity, and we shall continue to act in like manner until the darkness of suffering has been turned to the light of reconciliation. As for State authorities and the leaders of world powers on all sides, we can only beseech them to take their places at the negotiating table without delay, so that an end can be put to hostilities as soon as possible; and this call, too, we shall not cease to make. It is distressing for us to see frivolities and entertainments – such as pop concerts and the like – organised, when the conflict ought the more rightly to bring us all a sense of sobriety and grief. A fratricidal war, a war between those of a shared faith, is the greatest of sorrows; it cannot but shake every Orthodox heart. May all those in power remember the commandment of Christ: ‘Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called the sons of God’ (Matthew 5.9).
We therefore exhort all the faithful children of the Church to be such peacemakers, and to be, as His Beatitude Metropolitan Anthony (Khrapovitsky) once called us, ‘sons of the Resurrection.’ Stand firm in the Faith, do not falter in the hope that is in you, dwell on what is good and righteous and flee from what is evil – and know that Almighty God will never forsake those who put their trust in Him.
We invoke God’s blessing on all of you and wish you all peace, health and joy in our Lord Jesus Christ.