Saint John was not a schismatic

By Fr George Maximov

Recently we celebrated the memory of St. John (Maximovich), in honor of the opening of his holy relics. The saint is warmly loved and revered not only in the Russian diaspora, but also in Russia.

Unfortunately, some people try to use this fact to embarrass believers who point to his figure in an attempt to justify their ideas about the salvation of being in a schism, or about the excusability of the schism as such (or even about the blurring of the Church’s borders).

Therefore, it seems useful and necessary to show why the example of the Russian Church Abroad and in particular St. John cannot be an excuse for present and future schismatics. It is not difficult to see if we compare her position, especially in the expression of St. John, with the position of the current schismatics.

First, the ROCOR, during the time of St. John of Shanghai, still supported the Eucharistic communion with the Jerusalem and Serbian Orthodox Churches, and treasured this communion. Saint John (Maximovich) as early as 1938 at the II All-Diaspora Council said this, arguing that “the Russian Church Abroad … must not interrupt communion with other Churches.”[1] And much later, in 1960, in his sermon, he said: “We, the Russian Church Abroad, maintain our unity by communing with all the Churches with which it is possible to commune.”[2]

He himself served with the clergy of the Local Churches, especially Serbian, when he lived and began his priesthood in the kingdom of Yugoslavia, and, as far as is known, did this later. How can one call him a schismatic if he did not interrupt Eucharistic communion with the family of Local Orthodox Churches that make up the Universal Church of Christ? Real schismatics, unlike St. John and the ROCOR of that time, have no fellowship with any of the Local Churches, and cherish the absence of this fellowship, since they consider it a nasty congregation with someone from the true Church of Christ.

Secondly, the ROCOR during St. John of Shanghai declared itself not a “separate Church”, and even more so not a “whole Church”, but a part of the Russian Orthodox Church. The “Regulation on the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad” said: “The Russian Orthodox Church Abroad is an inextricable part of the Local Russian Church, temporarily self-governing on a council basis until the abolition of godless power in Russia.”

This is exhaustively expressed by Saint John in the above sermon:

All parts of the universal Church have one common goal – the preaching of the word of God … In achieving this common goal, each Local Church has its own meaning … All of them together form a single universal Church and bring their own peculiarities to it and talents … Our Russian Church Abroad is a free part of the Russian Church … Spiritually, the Russian Church is inseparable … As part of the Russian Church, we cannot communicate with church authority, subordinate and enslaved by authority, The Church is hostile … Church authority in Russia is in such a position that we cannot separate and understand what is done freely by it and what is done by violence … The Russian Church Abroad is therefore not administratively associated with such authority. But we are spiritually united with the Holy Russian Church, for we are part of the Russian Church. We should not think that in our homeland everyone is spiritually enslaved by the power existing there … In our dispersal throughout the world, we do not submit to the local Churches, not because we are hostile to them, but because we protect the Holy Russian Church.[3]

Here, everything is the opposite of the proud and vicious opposition of the Universal Orthodox Church to itself, which is seen in the current schismatics who call the Church of Christ “World Orthodoxy”, and not even the Church, but a graceful gathering. It can be seen that the saint considered himself and his flock to be part of the universal Orthodox Church, and specifically part of the Local Russian Church, with the other part of which spiritual unity is preserved, but only temporarily and forcibly there is no administrative subordination.

He wrote about this in detail in another work, indicating that “the Russian Church Abroad does not spiritually separate from the suffering Mother. She offers prayers for her … and in due time will unite with Her when the reasons that disconnect them disappear.”[4] The fact that this refers specifically to the Russian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate is evident from other words spoken by the saint there: “The Church Abroad, which was no longer subordinate to Metropolitan Sergius and his Synod, remained in the same attitude towards him, feeling himself spiritually united with suffering Mother Church and still offering prayers for her and suffering brothers.”[5]

Thirdly, unlike the current schismatics, the ROCOR never collegially declared the Church in Russia “graceless,” and, in addition, not a single conciliar document is known in which it spoke of breaking the Eucharistic communion with the Church in Russia. And St. John (Maximovich), according to a contemporary, said that “the official Church in Russia, of course, is gracious, although individual bishops behave in an inappropriate manner.”[6]

By virtue of this consciousness of himself in an inextricable spiritual connection with the Church in the Fatherland, St. John in 1945 even restored the commemoration of the Patriarch of Moscow Alexey I in his diocese, and approved the intention of other bishops of the ROCOR to enter into complete unity with the Moscow Patriarchate.

In his letter of July 31, 1945, he wrote about this to Archbishop Victor (Svyatin) of Beijing: “In view of the lack of information about the Synod Abroad for several years, another decision of our diocese would make it a completely independent, autocephalous diocese. There are no canonical conditions for such independence, since there is no doubt about the lawfulness … there is no recognized Patriarch. Relations with that church authority are also made possible, so the Decree of November 7, 1920 does not apply … The proclamation of the name of the Chairman of the Foreign Synod should be preserved for now … The proclamation of the name of the Patriarch … must be introduced by your Decree without delay in the entire diocese.”[7] And Saint John himself issued a decree commemorating Patriarch Alexy during the service (Decree No. 650 of September 6 / August 24, 1945).

In November 1945, Archbishop Tikhon of West America and San Francisco sent a telegram to St. John, in which he informed that the head of the ROCOR, Metropolitan Anastasius, as well as other bishops asked that he not be recognized by the Moscow Patriarch, and St. John submitted. The pressure of Soviet diplomats, who insisted on the need to accept the Moscow Patriarchate and USSR citizenship together with the jurisdiction, also played a role here.

Later, at the end of his life, many opponents and ill-wishers in the Church Abroad accused the archbishop of this decree, which is why in 1963 seven parishioners of the Bishop made an attempt to apologize to the “zealots” of his actions in China, but characteristically, St. John himself never denied what he had done, did not regret, and did not “repent” of it.

After Patriarch Alexey I received the bishops under his omophorion in December 1945, Saint John took positively this reunion of part of the Church Abroad with the Church to the Fatherland, and wrote in the Message of the Shanghai Flock of August 2, 1946:

Messages about unhindered restoration of canonical, prayerful communication with the Moscow Patriarchate … sincerely pleased us, because in that we saw the beginning of mutual understanding between the two parts of the Russian Church separated by the border, and the possibility of mutual support of the two centers uniting the Russian people, inside and outside of our Fatherland. Aiming at a common goal and acting separately depending on the conditions in which each of them is located, the Churches within Russia and abroad will be able to more successfully achieve both the general and their specific tasks that each of them has, until the opportunity for their complete unification comes … We pray to the Lord — may He speed up the onset of the longed and desired hour when the High Priest of All Russia, ascending to his Patriarchal seat in the main altar of the Assumption Cathedral, will gather all Russian archpastors around him, from all Russian and foreign lands converging.[8]

Two years ago, as everyone knows, this aspiration of St. John was completely fulfilled. He himself, obeying the request of Metropolitan Anastasius, ceased to commemorate the patriarch, which caused a conflict with Archbishop Victor, however, although the saint ceased to commemorate the patriarch publicly at the great entrance, he remembered him in the proskomide, as he himself later said in Paris:

Every day I remember Patriarch Alexey at the proskomide. He is the Patriarch. And our prayer still remains. Due to circumstances, we were cut off, but liturgically we are one. The Russian Church, like the whole Orthodox Church, is eucharistically united, and we with it and in it. And although administratively, for the sake of our flock and for the sake of certain principles, we must follow this path, this does not in the least violate the mysterious unity of the whole Church.[9]

According to some reports, during his ministry in Europe, Saint John also had a personal correspondence with Patriarch Alexey I, and he heard additionally that he blessed some of his children to visit the churches of the Russian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate.

So, in this regard, in the words and deeds of the saint, we do not see any similarities and, accordingly, excuses for the current schismatics, who insist on the “gracelessness of the Moscow Patriarchate” and boast that they have no communication with the Church.

Finally, St. John (Maximovich) never accused the Russian Orthodox Church of heresy: an accusation which all current schismatics cannot do without, since that is how they try to justify their sin of separation from the canonically appointed bishops. As Father Peter Perekrestov observes, “In no article, not a single sermon that has reached us, not in any letter known to us, did Saint John (Maximovich) use the word ‘Sergianism,’”[10] so beloved by the current schismatics.

So, it can be seen that both in its official status and in the fact of the continuation of the Eucharistic communion, although very shortened, and in the self-understanding expressed by Saint John (Maximovich), the Russian Church Abroad in its time was not in the true sense a schism, but only remained in administrative disobedience to the clergy in the Fatherland, and being aware of the abnormality, compulsion and temporality of this situation. And the saint himself understood this and commemorated the Moscow Patriarch – how can his example serve as an excuse for those who do not remember and recognize neither the patriarch, nor the Local Church of Russia, nor the Church of the Universe, have no Eucharistic communion with her, but blaspheme her and the sacraments of God, calling them graceless, and considering the universal Church either a small schismatic gathering, or some part of a conglomerate of such schismatic gatherings?

It seems that this is completely impossible. Saint John was aware of himself and was part of the Church from which they turn away, which they viciously blasphemed, and which they do not want to be part of.

It is worth noting that St. John himself said that “schisms … rejecting part of the faithful” are “the consequences of sin not yet completely banished from the human race.”[11]

Google translated from Radonezh.ru


Notes


[1] Acts of the II All-Diaspora Council of the ROCOR. Belgrade. 1939, p. 402.

[2] St. John (Maximovich). On the spiritual and moral significance of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia.” Journal of the Moscow Patriarchate, No. 6 (2007).

[3] Ibid.

[4] John (Maximovich), archbishop. Russian Church Abroad. Brussels. 1960, pg. 13.

[5] Ibid. pg. 9.

[6] Letters of Archbishop Anthony of Geneva about Demetrius Dudko. “Sowing”. 1979. No. 12.

[7] Priest Denis Pozdnyaev. “The adoption of the jurisdiction of the Moscow Patriarchate and the church schism in Shanghai.” Alpha and Omega No. 2 (13) 1997, pg. 150-151.

[8] Ibid. p. 153, 158.

[9] Bishop Vasily (Rodzianko). About Bishop John: http://www.episkopvasily.ru/ru/works/

[10] Archpriest Peter Perekrestov. “Helmsman of the Church both then and now – the almighty Spirit” http://www.pravos.org/docs/doc466.htm

[11] Archbishop John (Maximovich). “The Church is the Body of Christ.” Journal of the Moscow Patriarchate, No. 7 (1996).

Fr Silouan Thompson

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