Written by Vladimir Moss



     There is no more tragic or traumatic event in recent Church history than the fall of the Russian Church Abroad (ROCOR) into the hands of the apostate Moscow Patriarchate (MP) in May, 2007. Apart from the horror of the loss of so many souls into the graceless pit of World Orthodoxy, the draining and debilitating effect of the fall on those Churches that continued to remain faithful was immediately felt and continues to be felt to this day. But more surprising – and still more alarming – is the lack of analysis of why this spiritual catastrophe took place. Such an analysis, and the drawing of the appropriate lessons from it, is absolutely necessary. After all, it remains forever true that those who will not learn from history are condemned to repeat it…

     If we survey the pages of sacred history, we see that the roots of such catastrophes often lie very far back in the past. Ancient Israel showed signs of apostasy already well before her first exile to Babylon. The Orthodox West was showing alarming signs of heresy centuries before her final fall in 1054. Undoubtedly a deep analysis of the fall of ROCOR will take us back to certain wrong decisions or attitudes as far back as the 1920s, or even perhaps to the faults of the pre-revolutionary Russian Church. However, we cannot go so far back within the confines of the present article: it will be sufficient to look at the period of service of the last two first-hierarchs of ROCOR – Metropolitan Philaret (+1985) and Metropolitan Vitaly (+2006).

     Metropolitan Philaret assumed the leadership of ROCOR in the middle of the 1960s, at a time of extreme crisis in the Russian Church. At the bidding of her KGB masters, the Moscow Patriarchate had entered the World Council of Churches at the General Assembly in New Delhi in 1961, and was obediently followed by all the other Local Churches situated behind the Iron Curtain. Very soon, she was cooperating with the Ecumenical Patriarchate in leading the other Orthodox Churches into the more extreme expressions of the ecumenist heresy - that is, the recognition not only of Christian heretics, such as the Catholics and Protestants but also of non-Christian religions, such as Judaism and Islam, as agents of salvation. But even before that, she had convinced the WCC – a largely western, Protestant body – to support communist revolution in the Third World. Thus the official Russian Church, already broken by Stalin into an obedient tool of Soviet power, had become (and remains to this day) a leading, “organic”, fully-paid-up member of the general, world-wide twentieth-century apostasy from Christianity – or, as Boris Talantov (+1972) put it, “a secret agent of worldwide anti-christianity”.

     Right from the beginning, Metropolitan Philaret humbly and courageously attacked the ecumenists’ deadly heresy. First, he exposed it in his “Sorrowful Epistles” (1965-72). Then, at his keynote address at the Third All-Diaspora Council in Jordanville in 1974, he made it clear that the purpose of the Council was to define ROCOR’s relationship to the ecumenical movement: “First of all, the Council must declare not only for the Russian flock, but for the entire Church, its concept of the Church; to reveal the dogma of the Church… The Council must determine the place our Church Abroad holds within contemporary Orthodoxy, among the other ‘so-called’ churches. We say ‘so-called’ for though now they often speak of many ‘churches’, the Church of Christ is single and One.”[1]

     By this time, many non-Russians, impressed by the metropolitan’s zealot stance, had sought refuge in ROCOR; and in 1969-71 this movement was strengthened by the entrance of two Greek Old Calendarist Synods into communion with her. Thus ROCOR was no longer an exclusively Russian jurisdiction in the make-up of her members, and she could no longer be seen as simply an outpost of Russian Orthodox anti-communism. She was a multi-ethnic, missionary Church fighting the main heresies of the age on a number of fronts throughout the world.

     However, such a vision of ROCOR was shared by only a minority of her hierarchs. Among the “zealots” were Archbishops Averky of Syracuse, Anthony of Los Angeles and Nikodem of Great Britain[2], and Protopresbyter George (later Bishop Gregory) Grabbe.[3] However, most of the hierarchs saw the isolation of ROCOR from other local Churches as necessitated, not so much by the struggle against ecumenism, as by the need to preserve Russianness among the Russian émigrés. This created a problem for a Church that was rapidly filling up with non-Russian converts. It was not that the preservation of Russianness as such was not an undoubted good. The problem arose when it hindered the missionary witness of the Church to non-Russian believers. Such phyletistic tendencies inevitably led to a loss of Church consciousness in relation to ecumenism, and to a feeling that ROCOR was closer to Russians of the MP, ecumenist though they might be, than to True Orthodox Christians of Greek or French or American origin. Thus while the majority of hierarchs had passively acquiesced in Metropolitan Philaret’s “Sorrowful Epistles”, and in the union with the Greek Old Calendarists, they began to stir when the consequences of this were spelled out by the “zealots” in ROCOR: no further communion with the new calendarists and the patriarchates of Serbia and Jerusalem.

     Thus the leader of one of the Greek Old Calendarist parishes within ROCOR, Fr. Panagiotes Carras, sent an appeal to the Synod of Bishops on August 24, 1974 on behalf of all “non-Russian monasteries, parishes, and laity of ROCOR”, in which he called on the ecumenists to be labelled as heretics who had lost the Holy Spirit and who should be subjected to the canonical sanctions that apply to heretics and schismatics. In response, Metropolitan Philaret moved for an official statement that the MP was graceless. According to the witness of a seminarian present at the Council, the majority of bishops and delegates would have supported such a motion. However, at the last minute the metropolitan was persuaded not to proceed with the motion on the grounds that it would have caused a schism.[4]

     The unofficial leader of the lukewarm group of bishops was Archbishop Anthony of Geneva, supported by Archbishop Philotheus of Hamburg, Bishop Paul of Stuttgart[5] and Bishop Laurus of Manhattan – the hierarch who as metropolitan led ROCOR into the Moscow Patriarchate in 2007. Later the group was joined by Bishop Mark of Germany… Archbishop Anthony was a powerful hierarch who had already once apostasized to the Moscow Patriarchate.[6] He continually proclaimed that the MP was a true Church. And inn his address to the Council, entitled “Our Church in the Modern World”, he declared: “By the example of our First Hierarchs [Anthony and Anastasy] we must carefully preserve those fine threads which bind us with the Orthodox world. Under no circumstances must we isolate ourselves, seeing around us, often imagined, heretics and schismatics. Through gradual self-isolation we will fall into the extremism which our metropolitans wisely avoided, we will reject that middle, royal path which until now our Church has travelled… By isolating ourselves, we will embark upon the path of sectarianism, fearing everyone and everything, we will become possessed with paranoia.”[7]

     This somewhat hysterical appeal not to show “paranoia” and separate from the World Orthodox at just the point when they were embarking upon “super-ecumenism” was criticised by Fr. George Grabbe: “The report does not mention to the degree necessary, maybe, that life goes on, and the sickness of ecumenism deepens and widens more and more. Condescension, oikonomia, must under different circumstances be applied differently, and to different degrees. In doses too great it can betray the Truth.” Then Archbishop Anthony of Los Angeles recalled that “we have many Greek [Old Calendarist] parishes. Our concelebration with the new calendarists was very bitter for them.”[8]

     The struggle for the true faith between the zealots and their opponents in ROCOR continued with increasing intensity into the 1980s. It exposed more than the heretics of World Orthodoxy: it also exposed a rottenness at the heart of ROCOR. For too long ROCOR had occupied a kind of indeterminate, neutral position in relation to the heretics of World Orthodoxy. On the one hand, ROCOR never officially accepted sergianism or ecumenism or the new calendar. But on the other hand, she refused to issue definitive condemnations of these heretical phenomena, allowing the opinion to gain hold that sergianists, ecumenists and new calendarists, while in error, were not outside the True Church, and still had the grace of sacraments.

     Fr. Steven Allen writes: “From the start, one needs to recognize that the ROCOR never formally broke communion with any jurisdiction of World Orthodoxy except the Moscow Patriarchate, the Evlogian Parisian schism, and the North American Metropolia/OCA schism, i.e., the other Russian groups.

     “Many in the Genuine Orthodox Church of Greece, used to decades of detailed, agonizing, and careful articulations of, and impassioned arguments about, ecclesiology, find it hard to realize that for most of its history, most of ROCOR\'s bishops and clergy did not think carefully about such questions, except perhaps in regard to the Moscow Patriarchate and the other Russian groups. There were outstanding individuals in the ROCOR, such as the Holy Confessor Metropolitan Philaret, who saw clearly how ROCOR should deal with the apostasy of global ‘World Orthodoxy,’ but most of the ROCOR bishops and clergy simply had an instinctive (albeit healthy) distaste for modernism and ecumenism that never led them further - to undertake the process of rational discussion necessary to make clear decisions about these problems.

     “The ROCOR\'s official policies regarding concelebration with jurisdictions other then those mentioned above, were never consistent, and the policy as it developed in the 1960\'s and onward, of mostly not concelebrating, was unwritten and de facto, not de jure. The ROCOR synod allowed the diocesan bishops almost complete discretion in this matter, and therefore the practice varied from one diocese to another. The most obvious contrast was between the North American dioceses, which were generally strict, and the European diocese, most of whose clergy, following the lead of their ‘abba,’ Abp. Anthony of Geneva, always saw themselves as part of ‘World’ Orthodoxy and were willing to concelebrate with anyone other than the Soviets and the Evlogians, including the Ecumenical Patriarchate.

     “Thus ROCOR had completely pro-World Orthodox bishops and clergy who denied that the ecumenism of “World” Orthodoxy was an impediment to concelebration and naturally objected loudly to anathematizing the ecumenists.”[9]

     In 1983 a decisive stage in the struggle was reached when the ROCOR Synod, reacting to a particularly shocking manifestation of “super-ecumenism” at the Vancouver General Assembly of the WCC, declared: “To those who attack the Church of Christ by teaching that Christ’s Church is divided into so-called ‘branches’ which differ in doctrine and way of life, or that the Church does not exist visibly, but will be formed in the future when all ‘branches’ or sects or denominations, and even religions will be united in one body; and who do not distinguish the priesthood and mysteries of the Church from those of the heretics, but say that the baptism and eucharist of heretics is effectual for salvation; therefore to those who have communion with these aforementioned heretics or advocate, disseminate, or defend their new heresy of Ecumenism under the pretext of brotherly love or the supposed unification of separated Christians, Anathema.”[10]

     In fact, this anathema against ecumenism signaled the victory – unfortunately, only temporary – of the zealot position within ROCOR. But Archbishop Anthony and his supporters did not give up the fight. He continued to concelebrate with the heretics of World Orthodoxy, and even, in 1986, ordered his Paris clergy to concelebrate with the new calendarists in Greece, and not with the Old Calendarists – which immediately led to their leaving ROCOR...


     But this took place after the death of Metropolitan Philaret in 1985 – the new metropolitan, Vitaly, was a very different personality who made little effort to maintain canonical discipline in the Church. As Fr. Steven Allen writes, “during the sad, twilight reign of Metropolitan Vitaly, who never seemed to be able to make up his mind whose side he was on, this [zealot] party completely lost their grip on the direction of their Church.” In his Nativity Epistle for 1986/87, Vitaly declared that the 1983 anathema against ecumenism had no universal significance, but applied only to members of ROCOR. “From that point on, the Anathema was a dead letter; there were cathedrals where the ruling bishops disdained even to proclaim it pro forma on the Sunday of Orthodoxy.”[11] Zealots around the world were dismayed; a large exodus of non-Russian parishes from ROCOR began to take place.

     Unfortunately for ROCOR, this change in leadership coincided with glasnost’ and perestroika in Russia. By the time the Soviet Union finally fell in 1991, a wave of enthusiasm for the supposedly “resurrected” Homeland had swept the rank-and-file, and as in 1945, people began to wonder openly why ROCOR should not be in communion with “the Mother Church” of the Moscow Patriarchate now that she was magically free both from the atheist yoke and all heresy – in spite of remaining firmly controlled by the KGB and still in the WCC...

     ROCOR had started to accept parishes within Russia in the spring of 1990. But almost immediately confusion arose over whether ROCOR was the only True Church of the Russian people, or whether her rival, the MP, also had grace. On May 3/16, 1990, the ROCOR Synod issued a statement that was in general strongly anti-MP, but which contained the qualification that there might be true priests dispensing valid sacraments in the patriarchate nevertheless. The idea that there can be true priests in a heretical church is canonical nonsense (Apostolic Canon 46), and Bishop Gregory (Grabbe) immediately obtained the removal of the offending phrase. But the damage had been done…

     Worse was to follow. Bishops and priests visiting Russia from abroad often showed an extraordinary inability to distinguish between the true Church and the false. Thus Archbishop Lavr, on visiting a village in which there existed a ROCOR priest, chose instead to stay with the local MP priest! Another bishop proposed entering into union with the Ukrainian samosvyaty and the fascist organization “Pamyat’”! A third shared some holy relics with – the MP Metropolitan Philaret of Minsk (KGB agent “Ostrovsky”)!

     The veneration shown by some foreign ROCOR clergy for the MP was very difficult to understand for Russian believers, for whom ROCOR represented purity and light in the surrounding darkness, and who thought that ROCOR’s mission in Russia was to rescue them from the MP.

     Still more shocking was the way in which visiting ROCOR bishops publicly slandered their colleagues in Russia. Thus Archbishop Mark of Germany publicly called Bishop Valentine (Rusantsov) of Suzdal, the most active and successful of the newly ordained Russian bishops, “a wolf in sheep’s clothing”. Then, - together with Bishop Barnabas of Cannes, who in 1992 had been appointed, completely uncanonically, as the Synod’s representative in Russia with authority over all its parishes there, - Mark proceeded to do everything in his power to undermine the very constructive work of Vladyka Valentine.

     Later it became clear who was the wolf. In 1997 Archbishop Mark had a secret meeting with “Patriarch” Alexis (KGB Agent “Drozdov”). Soon after, with the very active support of Mark, the “patriarch” took over ROCOR’s monastery in Hebron, Israel. Could all this be linked, wondered believers, with the fact that in 1979 Mark was detained at Leningrad airport for more than 24 hours for the possession of anti-Soviet literature, and was then released unharmed, claiming that “nothing had happened”?[12]

     The destructive work of Archbishop Mark and Bishop Barnabas elicited a series of protests from the episcopate within Russia. But no reply came. Eventually, in order to protect their own flocks from this invasion by supposed “friends” and “colleagues” from abroad, the Russian bishops were forced to form their own autonomous Higher Church Administration, on the basis of the same patriarchal ukaz no. 362 which had formed the basis for ROCOR’s formation as an independent Church body in the 1920s. At this point (1994), the writing was already on the wall for ROCOR in Russia. If she repulsed even the most loyal and successful of her leaders on Russian soil, treating them as enemies and traitors, how could she claim to be the leader of True Russian Orthodoxy anywhere in the world?

     Meanwhile, the search was for an ecclesiological justification for entering into communion with the old enemy. Justification was found in the Ecclesiological Theses (1984) of the defrocked Old Calendarist Metropolitan Cyprian of Fili, who asserted that heretics remained in the Church until ousted by an Ecumenical Council. The MP had not been expelled by such a Council. Therefore she had grace. Therefore it was not only right but imperative, according to the Russian liberals, that communion be established with her…

     At her 1994 Council in San Francisco, ROCOR, urged on by Archbishop Mark, officially adopted the Cyprianite ecclesiology and entered into communion with the Cyprianites. Bishop Gregory (Grabbe) – who had been sacked as the Synod Secretary by Metropolitan Vitaly in 1986 – wrote: “I have had the opportunity to get to know several letters of one of the bishops of Metropolitan Cyprian’s group. From them it is evident that both he and his bishop confess their own, by no means Orthodox teaching on the possibility of the action of the Holy Spirit in Churches that have clearly become heretical. ALL the new calendarists, without a single exception, are also active ecumenists. But the Old Calendarist Churches (the Russian and the Serbian) have also for a long time confessed the same heresy.

     “And now a hierarch of Metropolitan Cyprian’s group insists on the thought that ‘The new calendarists, besieged by the heresy of ecumenism and innovations, HAVE NOT LOST GRACE, or, in any case, it is not in our competence to declare this from our side… we are speaking not about union with Beliar, but (only) with those who are sick in faith, some of whom need spiritual healing… in view of this, we have not fully broken communion with them.’ In another place the same hierarch expressed the thought – completely unacceptable and absurd from a canonical and patristic point of view – that his group, in recognizing grace in the new calendarists (he tries not to link them too clearly with the ecumenists) are only ‘walling ourselves off from error’.

     “In issuing its Definition on communion with Metropolitan Cyprian’s group, our Council has unfortunately not remembered also the text of the Definition accepted earlier under the presidency of Metropolitan Philaret, which anathematized the ecumenist heresy. In it these words of warning are found: ‘and to those who have communion with these heretics or help them, or defend their new heresy of ecumenism under the pretext of brotherly love or the supposed unification of separated Christians, Anathema.’

     “In truth, by not examining the matter seriously enough, and forgetting about this earlier anathematization of the new calendarists and ecumenists…, our Council, however terrible it may be to recognize this, has fallen under its own anathema…”

     Bishop Gregory ended by expressing the hope that this mistake would be rectified at the Lesna Sobor in five months’ time. But it was not. And Archbishop Anthony of Los Angeles told the present writer at that Sobor that “ROCOR is going to hell…”

     Now Bishop Gregory was close to the group of Russian bishops led by Archbishop Lazarus and Bishop Valentine, who, as we have seen, had been forced to create an autonomous administration to defend itself against the attacks of Archbishop Mark and others. At the Lesna Sobor in November, 1994, Lazarus and Valentine made a last despairing effort to restore unity with the bishops abroad. Unity was restored, but only for a short time: in February, 1995, seizing on some false information provided by Bishop Evtikhy, the ROCOR Synod banned five of the Russian bishops, expelling them from their midst without even an investigation or trial. The banned bishops had no choice but to resurrect their autonomous administration – but this time not in communion with ROCOR. The loss of the majority of its flock inside Russia – five bishops and thousands of laity – seems to have troubled the leaders of ROCOR not at all; in fact, they were glad that they were rid of this obstacle on the way to their goal – the union of ROCOR with the MP. [13]

     At this point, like the “Titanic”, ROCOR had been holed below the water-line by the Cyprianite iceberg and was sinking fast. Those bishops who thought correctly had either died or been expelled. De facto control of the Church had been seized from the weak hands of Metropolitan Vitaly by Bishops Mark of Berlin, Lavr of Jordanville, and Hilarion of Eastern America.


     In October, 2000, a ROCOR Council that has been aptly called “the second October revolution” officially recognized the MP and asked the Serbian Patriarch Pavel to help in promoting the union of the MP with ROCOR. Most bishops signed this shameful decree, but then some repented and ran for the lifeboats, including Metropolitan Vitaly himself, and the senior Russian Archbishops Lazarus of Tambov and Benjamin of the Black Sea. However, one bishop in Lazarus’ group, Agathangel of Odessa, repented of his repentance and went back into communion with the new first-hierarch of ROCOR, Metropolitan Lavr.[14]

     In the years that followed, until the final official union with Moscow, the Lavrite Synod conducted a pseudo-negotiation with the MP over three supposed sticking-points: (1) the veneration of the New Martyrs of Russia, (2) sergianism and (3) ecumenism. However, these “sticking-points” turned out to be nothing of the sort; the Lavrites surrendered on all of them. So we now have the sight of the MP: (1) venerating true martyrs (but not all of them) on a par with false, sergianist “martyrs”, (2) being more tied to and servile towards the KGB state than ever, and (3) as deeply immired in the WCC and the ecumenical movement than ever.

     Bishop Agathangel jumped off the sinking ship at the very last moment, on May 17, 2007, just as the last remnant of ROCOR was disappearing beneath the waves. While asserting that all the acts of the Lavrite Synod up to that point had been valid, he refused to say that the MP was graceless, but declared that all the bishops and priests who had fled the sinking ship of ROCOR before him were schismatics and graceless. Then he re-entered communion with the Cyprianites, and created a new hierarchy with their aid.

     This uncanonical and in essence schismatical hierarchy he had the effrontery to call ROCOR (A). But in a sense he was right. For he had recreated the old, vacillating and lukewarm ROCOR led by the traitors Lavr, Mark and Hilarion – but in no way the still older ROCOR of St. Philaret of New York…


     We are now in a position to draw the following lessons from this sorry tale of treachery and deceit:-

     1.     It is impossible to fight a successful war against heretics and schismatics with one hand tied behind one’s back – that is, without telling the whole truth about these heretics, that they are outside the True Church and deprived of the grace of sacraments. If that truth is denied or repressed, the result will be the eventual fall of the True Christians into the opposing camp of the heretics. This is what happened to ROCOR in 1985-2007.

     2.     Even those who remain in the True Church will be weakened spiritually, their ranks will continue to be thinned and divided and the heretics will be strengthened, unless the false ecclesiological belief underlying this attitude is driven out of the Church.

     3.     Therefore the false teaching that it is possible to be a heretic or schismatic and yet at the same time a member of the True Church and have the grace of sacraments – which we know as Cyprianism – must be explicitly anathematized and in no way allowed as a permissible opinion. This teaching was in fact anathematized in ROCOR’s 1983 anathema against ecumenism in the phrase that condemns those “who do not distinguish the priesthood and mysteries of the Church from those of the heretics, but say that the baptism and eucharist of heretics is effectual for salvation”. This anathema must therefore recognized by all as expressing the Mind of Christ and of His Holy Church, and placed in the foundation of the new building of the Russian Church, as proclaiming infallibly that the MP and the whole of “World Orthodoxy” are heretics and schismatics who are deprived of the grace of sacraments.

October 30 / November 12, 2015.

[1] Third All-Diaspora Council, 1974, Protocol 1, August 26 / September 8, Synodal Archives, p. 2; quoted in Nun Vassa (Larin) “’Glory be to God, Who did not Abandon His Church’, The Self- Awareness of ROCOR at the Third All-Diaspora Council of 1974”, p. 2,

[2] For example, in 1971 Archbishop Nikodem wrote to the Bishops’ Council: “The clergy under my jurisdiction are fully aware that the ecumenical movement constitutes a violation (narushenie) of the Dogma of the Church” (in Protodeacon Christopher Birchall, Embassy, Emigrants, and Englishmen: The Three Hundred Year History of a Russian Orthodox Church in London, Jordanville, N.Y.: Holy Trinity Publications, 2014, p. 469).

[3]“In his report to Metropolitan Philaret on 7 December of 1972, Archpriest George Grabbe, who then headed the Synod’s External Affairs Department, protested against Bishops Nikon and Laurus having united in prayer with Archbishop Iakovos during the visit of the relics of St. Nicholas to the Greek Church in Flushing, NY. His protest was motivated on the basis of determinations of the ROCOR Councils of Bishops of 1967 and 1971 that its clergy must by all means avoid prayerful communion with hierarchs who were ecumenists, and even more so because ROCOR had accepted clerics who had left these other churches for ‘dogmatic reasons’.” (Psarev, op. cit., p. 4).

[4] Fr. Basil Yakimov, “Re: Fundamental Question”,, 4 June, 2003.

[5] Nun Vassa, op. cit.

[6] “In 1945, being in Serbia, he went over to the MP and waited for a Soviet passport so as to go to the USSR, but the Soviet authorities took their time with the passport, bestowing on him in the meantime the rank of archimandrite [through Patriarch Alexis I]. But, fed up with waiting for permission to return, [in 1949] the future bishop left for Switzerland to his brother Bishop Leontius, where he was reunited with ROCOR, having received a penance for his joining the MP.” (Vladimir Kirillov, May 15, 2006; Bernard le Caro, “A Short Biography of Archbishop Antony (Bartoshevich) of Geneva and Western Europe (+1993)”, However, to get out to the West was almost impossible at that time without the “blessing” and cooperation of the Soviet authorities…

[7] Archbishop Anthony particularly resented the influence of the Greek Old Calendarists and the Greeks within ROCOR. As he wrote to Fr. George Grabbe after the Council: “To trail along behind the Greek Old Calendarists, taking Fr. Panteleimon [Abbot of the Greek-American monastery of the Holy Transfiguration in Boston] for a prophet – this I cannot do. From my point, I am deeply convinced that this would be a betrayal of the Church. For you and me who used to have such universal teachers as Metropolitan Anthony and Archbishop Gavriil… Now even though we see the absurdities committed by the Greek Old Calendarists, we are still trying to accommodate and placate them, though we ourselves are slipping into a sect, cutting ourselves off from universal unity” (Psarev, op. cit., p. 8).

[8]Protocol 4 of the All-Diaspora Council, August 29 / September 11, 1974; Synodal Archives, p. 4; Nun Vassa, op. cit.

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