Written by Vladimir Moss



      A little-known but very important fact of Church history took place in August-September, 1918, towards the end the Local Council of the Russian Orthodox Church in Moscow.

     On August 16, it was announced that a department for the reunification of the Christian Churches was being opened: “The Sacred Council of the Orthodox Russian Church, which has been gathered and is working in conditions that are so exceptionally difficult for the whole Christian Church, when the waves of unbelief and atheism threaten the very existence of the Christian Church, would take upon itself a great responsibility before history if it did not raise the question of the unification of the Christian Churches and did not give this question a fitting direction at the moment when not only one Christian confession, but the whole of Christianity is threatened by huge dangers on the part of unbelief and atheism. 

     “The task of the department is to prepare material for a decision of the present Council on this question and on the further development of the matter in the inter-Council period…”

     On September 20, the last, 170th session of the Council, the project for a commission on the reunification of the Churches was reviewed and confirmed by the Council. The president of the department on the unification of the Churches, Archbishop Eudocimus (Meshchersky) of Alaska and the Aleutian Islands, said: “I am very sad that the report has come at such a difficult time, when the hours of our sacred union in this chamber are coming to an end, and when at the end of work my thoughts are becoming confused and I cannot report to you everything that I could tell you. From our point of view, the Council should have directed its attention at this question long ago. If the Church is alive, then we cannot remain in the narrow limits she has existed in up to now. If we have no courage to preach beyond the bounds of our fatherland, then we must hear the voice coming from there to us. I have in mind the voice of the Anglo-American Episcopalian Churches, who sincerely and insistently seek union or rapprochement, and do not find any insurmountable obstacles on the path to the indicated end. Considering the union of the Christian Churches to be especially desirable in the period of intense struggle with unbelief, crude materialism and moral barbarism that we are experiencing now, the department suggests to the Sacred Council that it adopt the following resolution:

     “‘1. The Sacred Council of the Orthodox Russian Church, joyfully beholding the sincere strivings of the Old Catholics and Anglicans for union with the Orthodox Church on the basis of the teaching and traditions of the Ancient-Catholic Church, blesses the labours and endeavours of the people who work to find paths towards union with the named friendly Churches. 

     “‘2. The Council directs the Holy Synod to organize a permanent Commission attached to the Holy Synod with branches in Russia and abroad for the further study of the Old Catholic and Anglican questions, to explicate by means of relations with the Old Catholics and Anglicans the difficulties that lie on the path to union, and possible aids to the speedy attainment of the final end.’” 

     The decisions of the Council of a theological or dogmatic significance were subject to confirmation by a special assembly of bishops. At the last such assembly, on September 22, 1918, this decision was not reviewed. It is possible that for that reason the “Resolution regarding the unification of the Churches” did not enter the official “Collection of the Decrees and Resolutions of the Sacred Council of the Orthodox Russian Church of 1917-1918”.[1]

     In September, 1918 the Bolsheviks shut down the Local Council and initiate the “Red Terror”, probably the most intense and large-scale persecution of the Orthodox Church since the time of Diocletian. This was probably the reason why the Resolution was not reviewed and not put into practice. There may also have been a deeper, providential reason: that this Resolution was not pleasing to God, in that it threatened to open the doors of the Russian Church to the heresy of ecumenism, of which the Anglicans were the leaders, at precisely the moment of her greatest weakness…

     This conclusion is supported by the fact that in the inter-war years, and right up to General Assembly of the World Council of Churches in 1961, the Russian Church – with the exception of the Paris Russian Exarchate of the Ecumenical Patriarchate and the American Metropolia - took no direct part in the ecumenical movement. The other Churches, on the other hand, and especially the Greek Churches, were deeply involved from the early 1920s, and recognized Anglican Orders at an early stage.[2] 

     Paradoxically, therefore, the Red Terror saved Russia from ecumenism until the 1960s, when the communists decided to order the official Russian Church into the ecumenical movement for entirely political reasons.


January 13/26, 2018.



[1]Sviataia Rus’ (Holy Rus’), 2003.

[2]See Archimandrite Kallistos Ware and Rev. Colin Davey (eds.), Anglican-Orthodox Dialogue: The Moscow Agreed Statement, 1977, chapter 2.


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