By the Ever-memorable Archbishop Vitaly 1873-1960
The fundamental truths of the Faith of Christ are known as dogmas. They were laid down by the OEcumenical Councils in the “Symbol of Faith" [the Creed]. One who breaks even one of the dogmas of Faith falls away from the Orthodox Church into heresy.
In every period of church life, God's Providence brings to church consciousness a further dogma of Faith for its clearer understanding. Thus in their times, the dogmas concerning God the Creator and Providence, concerning the Holy Trinity, the Incarnation of the Son of God, Salvation, the Holy Spirit, the veneration of the icons and others, were each assimilated by the consciousness of the Church. At the present time, God's Providence has set before us the dogma concerning the Church of Christ, and we do not have the right to remain silent about this question in view of the situation of the Russian Orthodox Church in the USSR and the pretensions to loyalty which those who presently lead her make to us.
In the "Symbol of Faith," the teaching is laid down in these words: "I believe in One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church." What is this Church? According to God's word, the Church is the Body of Christ (Rom. 12:5; 1 Cor. 12:27; Eph. 1:22-33; Col. 2:19).
The Church is that heavenly-earthly organism established by the Saviour; in the Heavens, it is the Church triumphant comprising those righteous ones who have been saved; on earth, it is the Church militant, comprising sinners, those repenting, and those perfecting themselves "unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ" (Eph. 4:13).
What is the purpose, aim and object of the Church? The Lord Jesus Christ founded the Church through His precious Blood so that through Her fallen people might be raised up, and from sinners there might be erected a "new creation," foreordained to good deeds (2 Cor. 5:17; Gal. 6:15; Eph. 2:10). Observe how the Apostle Paul in his Epistle to the Ephesians describes the Church of Christ: “Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the Saints and of the household of God; and are built upon the foundation of the Apostles and Prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone, in Whom all the building fitly framed together groweth unto an holy temple in the Lord" (Eph. 2:19-21). And again: “He (Christ) gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers, for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the building up of the Body of Christ... ..."that we "speaking the truth in love, may grow up into Him in all things, Which is the Head, even Christ, from Whom the whole body fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplieth, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, maketh increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love" (Eph. 4:11 -16).
The edifice of the Church and the means of her attainment of her aims is apparent from these quotations from the Holy Scriptures: the hierarchy's God appointed succession from the Apostles, preaching, prayer, the Mysteries and the Christianization throughout of her flock. The tighter the bond between the earthly Church and the heavenly, the closer the Church is to the aims that Her Lord appointed for her. All this refers to the Church in general, to the One, Universal (Catholic) Church. Of her, the Lord said: "l will build My Church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against her" (Matt. 16:18).
But even in the time of the Apostles, the One, Universal Church was distributed among local churches according to cities, countries, states and peoples. So it was that the Apostle Paul sent epistles to the Roman, Corinthian, Galatian churches and so on. And now we have the Greek, Russian, Serbian and other churches. These originate, grow, flourish, and either sicken or even die, relative to how faithful they are to the purpose which Christ the Foundation-layer set for the Church: to raise up people unto life eternal.
An example of this is seen in the Gospel parable of the Wicked Husbandmen (Matt. 21:33-44). Although the Old Testament Church and hierarchy had been established by God, and although Moses, Aaron, Samuel and the other Old Testament high priests were great in God's eyes, yet at the time of the advent of Christ, the hierarchy contemporary with Him and the leaders of the people changed the aims and purposes of the Old Testament Church and then the proverb spoken by the Lord applied to them: "The evil shall perish by evil." And of the Old Testament Chosen People, He said: “The kingdom of God shall be taken from you, and given to a nation bringing forth the fruits thereof" (Matt. 21:43).
In a similar way, in the Apocalypse it is said to the New Testament local churches: Your leaders "say they are Apostles... but they are liars... I will remove thy candlestick out of his place, except thou repent" (Rev.2:2-5).
The history of Christ's Church bears witness that local churches often fall ill and were often close to heresy. More often than not this happened because of failure in the hierarchy's leadership. Let us note several examples from the history of the Russian Church. Thus, the head of the Russian Church, Isidore the Metropolitan of Moscow accepted the Unia at the Council of Florence (1439) and on his return to Moscow he began to commemorate the Pope of Rome, to administer Communion under one kind without the Chalice, and in the Symbol of Faith he added "proceedeth from the Father and the Son." But the Tsar and the people would not accept such a novelty, and Isidore fled to Rome. Thus also in Western Russia, the "Roman Unia" was promoted by Bishops Cyril Terletsky and Ignatius Potsei, but the "body of the Church" did not accept it and opposed them.
In recent times, the state authorities, observing that the Church would have considerably more power than they to influence the people, attempted to subjugate her hierarchy and thus to implement their political plans. This happened in Poland before the War. When several Russian hierarchs had no desire to enslave themselves to the Polish authorities, the Polish government expelled them from Poland (Archbishops Vladimir, Sergei and Metropolitan Eleutherius); and they subjugated those who sold out (Metropolitans Dionysius, George, Alexander and others) and through them a start was made to the Polonization of the Orthodox Russian peoples, and it was only the War that brought an end to this process.
Now an even more bitter malady has befallen the Russian Orthodox Church. The atheistic Communist powers have raised up a great persecution of the Church; those hierarchs strong in the Faith they have killed or sent them to penal servitude, and they have subjugated a new hierarchy which has betrayed itself in fulfilling the purposes of the atheistic powers. The present Patriarchate is under the control of the atheists and demands that we should be as well. How are the faithful to react to this? They say: the Patriarchate has changed nothing of the dogmas, nor in the services, nor in the rite.
No, we reply, the Patriarchate has dislodged the essence of the dogma concerning the Church of Christ, it has abjured Her natural purpose, to serve for the rebirth of people, and it has changed this for the atheistic purposes of Communism which are inimical to the Church. This deviation is more serious than all previous ones, than Arianism, Nestorianism, Iconoclasm and the others. And neither is this simply the personal sin of one or other of the hierarchs, but it is the root sin of the Moscow Patriarchate, confirmed, proclaimed, bound with an oath before all the world, - as one might say, a dogmatized apostasy.
We are within the bosom of the local [a technical term, perhaps better expressed as national - ed.] Russian Orthodox Church, and we do not have the right to abandon the Mother Church in her terrible pain. But to hearken to her present official representatives is also impossible for us. We find ourselves in the same situation as did the Apostles when before the high priests of Jerusalem, and to the demands of the Moscow Patriarchate we cannot answer in any other way than did the Apostles Peter and John: “Judge ye, whether it be right in the sight of God to hearken unto you more than unto God" (Acts 4:19).
We have no need of the calling of a new OEcumenical Council to resolve our suit with the present hierarchy of our Mother Church. Judgment has already been passed and the Universal church has already made a resolution. This resolution is recorded in the letter of Saint Athanasius the Great to Rufianian, which [letter] was accepted by the OEcumenical Councils. This letter was written on the occasion of the curtailing of the Arian persecution of the Orthodox, which had been supported by the secular authorities. At that time, with the help of the secular powers, the Arianizing hierarchy constrained and coerced the Orthodox Bishops, just as now the Moscow Patriarchate, supported by the Bolsheviks, constrains us. Here is the transcription of that rule:-
"Learn, my most esteemed Sir, that after the violence (from the Arians) had subsided in the beginnings Council was held with Bishops assembled from lands beyond our borders, but also with fellow ministers in Greece, as well as those from Italy and Gaul. It decreed that as touching those who had fallen and had taken over the leadership in the (Arian) impiety, they are to be pardoned if they repent, but they shall not be given a place among the clergy. As for those, on the other hand, who have not voluntarily been instigators of impiety, by have been compelled by necessity and coercion, they are to be granted pardon and to have their place in the clergy especially when they have made a worthy correction of the faith, and accordingly it has seemed right that in this case some concession should be made, for they have given assurances that they will not revert to impiety, for it was in order to prevent any who have become most impious from corrupting the Church, they went along with the violence and carry the burden, rather than let the lay peoples go to destruction. In saying this, they are, it seems to me, speaking plausibly, offering as their excuse that which Aaron, the brother of Moses, made, for in the wilderness he went along with the transgression perpetrated by the laity, making as his defence for this that he feared lest the people return to Egypt and persist in idolatry. And this is credible, for while they remained in the wilderness, he was able to deflect them from impiety; but had they returned to Egypt impiety would have strengthened and grown among them. For this cause, it was decided that such should be allowed to remain among the clergy just as those who had been enslaved and subjected to coercion should be granted pardon"
(3rd Canon of Saint Athanasius the Great).
(3rd Canon of Saint Athanasius the Great).