The Perfect Church is the Heart of Orthodoxy
Thoughts on ROCOR Before and After the Unification
Reader Dimitry N. Tchertkoff
—What does your heart say about the divisions in the Russian Church?
—I personally do not judge others. I myself have many weaknesses. I pray for the unity of the Church and
ask the Mother of God that it would be attained without any controversy. When this becomes a reality, it
will be a glorious day for the whole Church. We should follow the examples of our saints St. John of
Shanghai and San Francisco, the New Martyrs of Russia and St. Elizabeth the New Martyr. Once again, we
must turn to faith and be reborn. (Jose Munoz Cortez) 1
O Lord, sprinkle into my heart the dew of Thy grace.
St. John Chrysostom (From his prayer in the Evening Rule)
Since 2003, I was getting very fearful of the state of our Church, not in Russia, but
outside the borders in ROCOR. It was during this time I first witnessed this profound
controversy our Church has been suffering from—the Unification, the Canonical
Communion with the Church in Russia—to which we always belonged. For ninety years
we prayed ceaselessly to see the day when it would happen. Truly, using the words of our
Martyr Jose, the unification was a “glorious day for the Church” on May 17th, 2007 (ten
years after his murder and our loss of the precious miraculous Myrrh-Streaming Iveron
Icon of Montreal). I begin with Jose’s quote in the epitaph because he said it correctly. To
accept the Canonical Communion of ROCOR and MP we must be reborn. Unfortunately,
it is with great regret to see so many of us prejudiced and fearful of one of the greatest
Mysteries of God; Russia’s Resurrection. This fear caused many of us to judge
prematurely. Let us pay closer attention to Jose’s first words when asked about the two
Churches: “I personally do not judge others.” However, there are many of us who did and
still do, which is causing terrible strife.
The father will be divided against his son, and the son against the father; the mother against
the daughter, and the daughter against the mother; and the mother-in-law against her
daughter-in-law, and the daughter-in-law against mother-in-law…(Luke 12:51-53)
Before and after the Unification, a profound spiritual war began. This war was not against
communism, Bolsheviks, KGB agents, secular atheism or the like. A Civil War began,
Russian Orthodox Christians Outside Russia versus the Russian Orthodox Church. “A
man’s enemies will be those of his own household.” (Matthew 10:36) In this current war
Parents are fighting against their children, brothers are no longer speaking to each other,
priests are declaring Anathema to each other, the word “graceless” and “schism” are used
lightly and thrown around violently at one another and, perhaps the worst of it all,
brothers and sisters in Christ are bringing each other to secular State Supreme Courts.
I am not a Theologian. However, it does not take much to see and feel how hard our
ancestors the Holy Fathers, Holy Hierarchs, Holy Martyrs, the Archangels and Angels
and all the Saints are prayerfully imploring us to stop this war.
1 Ananymous Author. The Montreal Myrrh Streaming Icon and Brother Joseph. Pp 145. “One Must Never
Become Accustomed to a Miracle” [interview]. Brother Joseph Memorial Fund, Montreal. 2008.
I ask you to stop and think. The unity of the Church is not a heresy or cause for alarm.
The dissention of the Church is.
With the Church in such a state, who can say they have the heart of Orthodoxy? If
politics and a signed contract are pushing you away from communion with the Fullness
of the Church, is Christ the one leading you to hating the Church in Russia? Are Christ
and all of His Archangels and Saints whispering in your ear that the Patriarch and most of
the Bishops are KGB agents? Is the Mother of God, the Most-Holy Theotokos, warning
you that the Church in Russia is graceless? Has St. John visited you in your dreams and
ordered you to wage this war against the Unification? I ask all these questions because
the act of leaving the Church’s body stems from strong confidence in “knowing” you are
right, and “knowing” the Church is wrong.
Food for Thought
Let us look more closely into the Unification. Ninety years before the Canonical
Communion we were in a period of strict fasting. During that period the Bridegroom, the
wholeness of the Church, was not with us. Our ancestors fervently prayed that the godless
authorities would cease. We prayed for the salvation of all the Russian people under the
yoke of the godless authorities. We begged God to see the day when we are no longer a
mere branch of the Church, but part of the life-giving tree that we left behind in Russia.
ROCOR had done so much, from publishing books to building Monasteries/Churches and
providing any help to Russia (albeit the USSR at the time). The goal and faith was that
Russia will resurrect and triumph again spiritually, and then politically. The meaning of
ROCOR and the reason we had grace, even though we were severed, was precisely
because we existed to do everything we could to help Russia preserve her Mother
Church, without which Russia would have never been Holy. We existed at the same time
that the Catacomb Church in Russia existed. We prayed. We helped. We dreamed that
this frightful period would go away.
In 1991, it did.
Our prayers were answered. But the devil continued his work. Sixteen years later
occurred the apex of everything that we were as a Church outside Russia, the Act of
Canonical Communion was signed. This was the greatest of miracles, proving beyond
any doubt that ROCOR preserved God’s Grace in our mission and loyalty to Russia. But
what happened? Yesterday’s confusion began choking us. Instead of seeing the good,
many of us fell into a despondent pessimism. Holy Pascha, the one in which we have yet
to see and experience, came and we began falling apart.
St. Macarius of Optina said, “In confusion there is no benefit, but the greatest harm: It is
the chariot of the enemy and it does not allow one to pour out his heart before God with
Confusion spread like wildfire. What is most shocking is how easy it was for the enemy
of our salvation. All he had to do was say: Metropolitan Sergei, Ecumenism, KGB agents
in the disguise of Bishops and Priests, and nothing in Russia has changed. That was all it
took, after all that preparation for that glorious day on May 17th, 2007—ROCOR split.
Where are our Orthodox Hearts?
Let us take that short list above. Let us recall the life of St. John, Jose, all of our
Metropolitans and Bishops. Let remember their podvigs and purpose. Let us stop using
their names for our own devices, doing so only serves to confuse. Let us take the time to
think about Christ in His darkest moments in the Garden of Gethsemane and His prayer
for unity amongst His followers. He found his closest kin, the three Apostles, sleeping.
Are we sleeping when God asked us to pray? Are we doubting like Thomas of His
glorious Resurrection? Are we betraying Him like Judas or Peter? Are we lifting up the
sword, as did Peter, and cutting the ear of our Church?
St. John of Shanghai and San Francisco writes regarding Russia and her New Martyrs:
O wonderful and glorious army of new sufferers! Who can worthily glorify you? Truly
blessed is the ground soaked with your blood, and holy are the places that received your
bodies. Blessed art thou, O Russian land cleansed by suffering! Thou hast been through
the water of baptism, and passest now through the fire of agony, and thou too shalt reach
peace…Arise, stand up, Russia, thou who has drunk of the cup of the Lord’s anger from
His own hand! When thy sufferings are ended, thy truth will go with thee, and the glory
of the Lord will accompany thee! The Nations will come to thy light and kings to thy
radiance. Then raise up thine eyes and look about thee: for thy children come to thee
from the west, and the north, and the sea, and the east, blessing in thee Christ forever. 3
St. John foresaw the glorious resurrection of Russia. Those who take the Church to court
are taking the entire Body of Christ to judgment. Let us remember our Church is one with
the Heavenly Church. Is this something anyone wants to be held accountable?
We must continue in the faith of our ancestors.
God has not abandoned Russia. During the Soviet regime He was in their midst and
suffered. Grace through the Church’s mysteries, despite any compromise the heads of the
Church deemed to make, God’s Grace was not only present but exuded such power that
people where strengthened and ready to die for it. In Special Camps, as can be read in the
books such as Fr. Arseny, people gave up their only ration of bread for the Eucharist. A
2 Archimandrite George Shaefer, trans. Living Without Hypocrisy: Spiritual Counsels of the Holy Elders of
Optina. Pp. 182-3. Jordanville, NY, 2005.
3 Anonymous Author. Architecture of Russia: From Old to Modern. Vol. 1. Vladika John. A Few Words
About Russia and Her Martyrs. Pp Introduction. The Russian Orthodox Youth Committee, 1973.
simple towel with a charcoal sketched cross was used for an epitrachelion. Churches were
hidden in closets with small vessels used to contain the Body and Blood of Christ,
sometimes without sweet wine readily available. Can we judge that such acts were
graceless? Will we judge a priest using a sweet mixture other than wine for the Eucharist
because it goes against Canon Law? It is no secret that Canon Law was always open to
interpretation, particularly in states of emergency, without drastic consequence. Thus
said, I would like to take a moment concerning Serganism.
Many people are terrified of Metropolitan Sergei. He is deemed a traitor to the Church of
Christ. He complied with the Soviet powers and at times assisted in desecrating the
Church both spiritually and physically. Yes, these things and much more happened.
However, in remembering Christ’s promise that the gates of Hell will not ever conquer
the Church, why are so many of us afraid that Metropolitan Sergei single handedly
conquered the Church and left it graceless? If the devil cannot prevail against the Church,
how can a man? But we must remember he was a man who made errors. Fr. Seraphim
Rose writes the following in a letter to his spiritual child:
We who wish to remain in the true tradition of Orthodoxy will have to be zealous and
firm in our Orthodoxy without being fanatics, and without presuming to teach our
bishops what they should do. Above all, we must strive to preserve the true fragrance of
Orthodoxy, being at least a little “not of this world,” detached from all cares and politics
even of the Church, nourishing ourselves in otherworldly food the Church gives us in
such abundance. Elder Macarius well says in a letter: “Fanaticism limits a man’s way of
thinking, but true faith gives him freedom. This freedom is revealed by the firmness of a
man in all possible cases of happiness and unhappiness.” That freedom is the sign of our
Orthodoxy; that is precisely why the Josephites4 separated from Sergius in 1927: not for
incorrect ecclesiology or violations of canons, but because he deprived the Church of the
thing most precious to her: her internal freedom. But to see this one must have the savor
of Orthodoxy. 5
This is very important for everyone to realize. Metropolitan Joseph left Metropolitan
Sergei because he forfeited the Church’s freedom. Not because of his sin in desecration.
Do not judge.
I will not judge Metropolitan Sergei, and I offer you my opinion why I personally never
would. In reading on the New Martyrs and Confessors of Russia, I find them the scariest
stories I have ever read. I do not share their God-sent strength. Many instances parents
had to suffer seeing their children tortured and killed before their own deaths. Fingers
would be broken one by one and a Mother would hear her child scream. To suffer thus is
4 The Josephites were followers of Metropolitan Joseph of Petrograd, who refused, in the 1920’s, to accept
the compromises and betrayals of Metropolitan Sergius with the Soviet government. (quoted from p 168,
also a footnote.)
5 Fr. Alexey Young. Letters From Father Seraphim. P 168. Nikodemos Orthodox Publication Society,
the faith and fear Abraham had when God told him to sacrifice his son Isaac. I confess
before all of you, brothers and sisters in Christ, I do not have such a faith. I would wavier
and tearfully ask Christ to forgive me. When I think of Metropolitan Sergei, I think of a
man who perhaps, like me, could not see his flock suffer so. I wonder if it was really his
life the communists threatened or was it his flocks and/or family. I do not know. But for
this reason I will not judge him, and refuse to believe that the Church in Russia is
graceless as a result.
When Stalin put Metropolitan Sergei on the Patriarchal throne it was far from canonical.
Patriarch Sergei passed away within a year of his enthronement. God knows what he did
and will judge him accordingly. Perhaps we should pray that God takes pity on his soul
instead of deeming him a traitor and a graceless bishop.
Fr. Seraphim Rose clearly insinuates that having the heart or “savor” of Orthodoxy is
essential for salvation. An Orthodox person must never assume that they know better than
the bishops. A person puts themselves in incredible spiritual danger by exposing
themselves to Prelest (a Slavonic word that means spiritual delusion). For our protection,
instead of jumping to conclusions about what Serganism did to the Russian Church, let us
remember what pains ROCOR took to protect us Orthodox Christians. The Canonical Act
did not happen overnight. It was a slow process of meeting with delegates in Russia and
America where such things were discussed. This also includes Ecumenism. Despite these
conferences, and instead of thanking the heads of our Church and realizing how difficult
it must have been for them, a majority of us thought we knew better. Do we?
Yesterday’s No Dialogue with MP
There was a long time when ROCOR was strongly against having a dialogue with the
MP, but this must be placed in its proper context; before the fall of Communism.
Metropolitan Philaret was right to warn the Church against the MP and the Anathema
against Ecumenism. No one thought the Soviet Regime would falter. Let us take Gulags
for consideration. They had lasted till the 1980’s. They were conceived in the 1930’s.
This is a very long time. It is both logical and understandable that ROCOR was highly
protective of their flock during this time era. But today, Metropolitan Philaret’s words are
taken completely out of context. That was yesterday, and that day (Glory to God) is gone.
Communism and the godless authority are over. So why are we still taking what our
blessed Metropolitan Philaret said years before, as well as St. John and all the others, and
using it today with the claim that nothing is changed? Some of us audaciously refer to
Russia as the Soviet Union post 1991 because “nothing changed”. Are these rational
Three Notable Changes in Russia
1) The Church is free.
2) You will not be sent to a Gulag (they are closed now) and the powers that be will
not have an interest in killing you for going to Liturgy.
3) Russia repented and called for the canonization of the New Martyrs and
Confessors of Russia with the Royal Family at the head. Also, the canonization of
St. John of Shanghai and San Francisco.
Where is our Child-like Faith in God? Have we become like that of the Pharisees?
“Verily I say unto you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child,
will not enter therein.” (Matthew 10:14-15) A child has the uncanny ability to accept
things. There have been so many instances where children understood profound precepts
of God, and expressed them with very limited vocabulary accurately. Their minds are
immature but their hearts are afire with God. Unfortunately, when the mind matures the
heart begins to dim. Christ warns that we must fight to preserve it. Here I recall Christ’s
conversation with Nikodemous: “Verily, verily, I say unto you, unless one is born of
water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of flesh is
flesh: and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.” (John 3:5-6) The brain is born of the
flesh. The heart is born of the Spirit.
All claims against the Unification of ROCOR with MP stem from what Fr. Seraphim
Rose coined as the “super-correct” fraction of our Church. I have yet to speak with a
person against it who did not mention rules and regulations and Canon Law.
Unfortunately, abiding by the Laws and Canons of the Church with particular intensity
replaces the worshipping of Christ with the worship of Law. It was this particular sin that
made the Pharisees kill Christ. It was this perspective that blinded the Pharisees from
seeing Christ’s miracles. All they saw was that it happened on the Sabbath day. The
Pharisees claimed that Christ sinned as a result. We are all vulnerable to worshipping
Law versus Christ. The fraction of our Church that chose to leave the fullness after the
Signing cannot see the miracle in the Unification. Instead, all they see is that it was done
illegally, “on the Sabbath day.”
Prelest is spiritual delusion. The person infected with it does not know they are affected,
and firmly believe that they are on the right path. One telling characteristic is the refusal
to listen to others. A person undergoing Prelest shows no signs of obedience. They bend
rules and sometimes even “rewrite” history to serve their needs and/or to prove a point.
The Holy Fathers have long forewarned us to never fall into Prelest. There is no
guarantee we will be cured. Prayer and fasting for that person, as well as doing good
deeds in their name, is the only possible cure.
Signs of the Resurrection of Russia and the Future Union Years Beforehand
The martyred Jose and the Montreal Myrrh Streaming Icon was a sign. The following
quotation is from his biography written by an Anonymous Author and Editor:
…Joseph did not consider the appearance of the Icon in the bosom of the Russian
Orthodox Church accidental because it is in the bosom of this [C]hurch that in 1981 (a
year before the appearance of the Icon), an act which was salvific to for the fate of Russia
took place—the canonization of the New Martyrs and Confessors of Russia, with the
Royal family at the head. In the early nineties of the twentieth century, Joseph noted that
the Montreal Icon was a bright harbinger of the fall of godless communism in Russia and
the beginning of a spiritual rebirth of the Russian people.6
The Myrrh-Streaming Icon was direct evidence that God exists and is with us and the
Russian Orthodox Church in Russia.
Fr. Seraphim Rose shared a remarkable dream that was related to the Future resurrection
of Russia. He shared this in a letter to Fr. Alexey Young on Oct. 23/Nov. 5, 1976.
…[L]ast night I had a dream. I saw Vladika Averky7 (on his namesday!) censing in a
beautiful grassy field, somehow on an elevated place. A deacon was supposed to help
him serve, but he didn’t know what words to chant, and I made bold to sing, to a special
melody: “Let God arise and let His enemies be scattered. Alleluia!” I was uncertain
whether this was according to the Typicon, as it seemed to be a new service. Fr. Herman
suggests that it is the service for the resurrection of Russia—and on the anniversary of the
deliverance of Russia from the Poles! Anyway, it was a consolation.8
In this moving account there are several things that give evidence to God’s intervention. I
cannot argue with Fr. Herman’s interpretation. The deacon who didn’t know what prayers
to say represents the New Russia of Old. After such devastation it is understandable that
for a long time the Church would perhaps struggle to get back on her feet. I have all the
reason to believe, albeit my opinion, that the field described therein is the field where
Patriarch Alexei II and Metropolitan Laurus together gave their blessing and consecration
to the new Church of the Resurrection of Christ and the Holy New Martyrs and
Confessors of Russia in Butovo, outside Moscow. That Church was built on the field
where many New Martyrs perished and soaked the soil with their Holy Blood.
Here I would like to share an excerpt of Mertopolitan Laurus’ sermon on that holy day:
Today is both a sorrowful and joyful day. Sorrowful because this place was a place of the
suffering and death of a multitude of faithful children of the Church, yet joyful, because
the Holy Church now makes eternal their memory by this memorial temple of God. Their
podvigi now bind us with stronger spiritual ties. As you know, upon the consecration of
every church, a relic of a martyr is placed into the altar table. Here, the earth was
thoroughly soaked with the blood of the martyrs and sown with their bones, and it shall
be as an altar table to Christ our God.9
6 Ibid Pp 63.
7 Much can be said regarding Archbishop Averky. I will briefly explain that he was the Abbot of Holy
Trinity Monastery in Jordanville, NY before the position was given to Bishop (later Metropolitan) Laurus.
He was a well read scholar and paid particular attention to the Apocalypse. He edited with particular
scrutiny the work of Fr. Seraphim Slobodskoy The Law of God (although he is not credited) and also
helped Fr. Seraphim Rose with his book The Apocalypse: In the Teachings of Ancient Christianity. St. John
of Shanghai and San Francisco said on several occasions that he has “oneness of soul” with Archbishop
Averky. For many years he taught many generations of seminarians in the accredited New York State
College Holy Trinity Seminary in Jordanville.
8 Ibid p 173
9 Official Synod (ROCOR) website, Link: http://www.synod.com/synod/enrt07/en519butova.html
Here are beautiful and very telling words of our Metropolitan, of blessed memory. These
words come from a man of deep prayer and asceticism. Such acts as he performed, and
such words as those above, cannot be faked. His entire life was to the service of the
Church, this includes God and us, his beloved flock. Saying thus, I return to another letter
by Fr. Seraphim Rose who prophetically new, felt in his heart, Bishop Laurus’ (at the
time) fate and suffering. This letter was dated 1976, Tuesday of Passion Week: “Pray
daily from now on for Bishop Laurus [successor to Archbishop Averky], that God will
give him the strength to bear a most difficult cross. But he is so guileless and has so many
fierce enemies! We have promised him maximum support.”10 The enemy of the Church
foresaw God’s will regarding our Metropolitan many years before us, and already began
working further with a particular anger of being defeated.
One more sign, I feel an urgent need to share, falls on the significant day itself: May 17th.
We all know that in 2007 it was the Feast of our Lord’s Ascension. However, that was
not all. On that day is also commemorated a miraculous Icon of the Mother of God called
“Staro-Rus” or “Old-Russia”.11 I urge all my beloved readers to read about this precious
Icon. However, I just wanted to point one simple thing, on the day of the Signing of the
Act this Icon is commemorated, Old-Russia. Indeed, another sign that Russia, Old
Russia, Holy Russia has triumphantly come back.
I leave you with the following quotation. It was said by our late Patriarch of Moscow and
all of Russia Alexei II of blessed memory in his sermon on the day of the Royal Family’s
execution. This is dated July of 1993.
The sin of regicide, which took place amid the indifference of the citizens of
Russia, has not been repented of by our people. Being a transgression of both the
law of God and civil law, this sin weighs heavily upon the souls of our people,
upon its moral conscience. And today, on behalf of the whole Church, on behalf of
her children, both reposed and living, we proclaim repentance before God and
the people for this sin. Forgive us, O Lord! We call to repentance all of our
people, all of our children…. Repentance of the sin committed by our forefathers
should become for us a banner of unity.12
May the resurrected Christ our true God bless all of you, my dearest readers. Christ is
Risen! Truly Christ is Risen!
10 Ibid p 164
11 Link for “Staro-Rus” Icon: http://www.holytrinityorthodox.com/calendar/los/May/04-07.htm
12 This quotation was taken from Fr. Seraphim Rose’s Biography: Hieromonk Damascene. Father
Seraphim Rose: His Life and Works. Pp. 935. St. Herman of Alaska Brotherhood, 2005.