For several years, the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia [ROCOR] and the Russian Orthodox Church [Moscow Patriarchcate] have been engaged in a dialogue with the goal of reconciliation. This dialogue follows more than 80 years of an estrangement that was born as a consequence of the cruel realities of the Communist revolution in Russia, the Russian Civil War, and the flight of millions of Russian Orthodox people—bishops, clergy, and laity—to the Balkans, Western Europe, North and South America, and Australia. The persecution of religion—and especially of the Orthodox Church of Russia—during the communist decades distorted ecclesial life. The time of persecution also witnessed millions of martyrs giving their lives in faithfulness to Christ.
During the past months, both the Holy Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church and the Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia have affirmed the path towards reconciliation. At the same time, it seems some questions remain unresolved, and require further dialogue and consensus. The estrangement of more than 80 years is not easy to heal. There are voices within the ROCOR that oppose the reconciliation. Others see the reconciliation as a unification within the one house of the Russian Orthodox Church. Yet others regard the reconciliation as the establishment of eucharistic communion between two parts of the Russian Orthodox Church that, though vastly different in size and scale, are in principle equal parts of one whole.
Orthodox Christians can only welcome reconciliation and healing, rejoicing that estrangement and separation can be overcome. In a sense, the reconciliation of the ROCOR and the ROC [MP] represents the end of the Russian Civil War and the healing of the consequences of communist rule in Russia. Thus, the members of the Orthodox Church in America have accompanied the reconciliation process with sympathy and good will. Insofar as the estrangement has been within Russian Orthodoxy, it is clear that the estrangement must be overcome within the context of Russian Orthodoxy.
Nevertheless, there are other dimensions present—indeed quite obvious—in the real situation of ROCOR, ROC [MP], and Orthodoxy in America. While the ROCOR is present in many parts of the world, the core of its population is in North America. The Patriarchate of Moscow committed itself to the building up of Orthodoxy in North America as a self-governing Church by granting autocephaly to the Orthodox Church in America in 1970. What are the ecclesial implications of a ROCOR that is reconciled with the Moscow Patriarchate co-existing in North America with the Orthodox Church in America, which carries within it the vision of an autocephalous and united Orthodox Church in North America, as articulated by the Moscow Patriarchate in the Tomos of Autocephaly?
This question should not be seen in purely theoretical terms, or in terms of purely canonical argumentation and logic. It should be seen also in terms of the real pastoral situation.
The North American dioceses, parishes, and faithful of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia will certainly remain in the United States and Canada. They will not “return” to Russia. Reconciliation with the Moscow Patriarchate will not change this fundamental reality. Thus, the pastoral and missionary challenges of the ROCOR in America will be the same as the challenges faced by the Orthodox Church in America. In other words, the real pastoral and missionary situation is the same for the Orthodox Church in America and the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia (at least in America), and is very different for the Russian Orthodox Church [MP] in Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, and other independent states of the former Soviet Union.
No one knows how much time will be required for a common understanding and common mission to emerge between the Orthodox Church in America and the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia. One thing is certain: authentic Orthodox life includes a harmony between the pastoral and missionary challenges, on the one hand, and canonical structure, on the other hand. In fact, the terminology of “on the one hand” and “on the other hand” is deeply misleading. The pastoral and missionary task of the Orthodox Church must be at one with the canonical structure. This is why the question of canonical unity of all Orthodox in North America is a burning and urgent issue, even when the Churches and their members succeed in ignoring or marginalizing it.
Is it not the time for the Moscow Patriarchate, the Orthodox Church in America, and the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia, to affirm together the harmony and coherence of Orthodox canonical principles and Orthodox presence and mission in North America? Will the healing of the “schism” within Russian Orthodoxy be an end in itself? Or will it also lead in due course to the strengthening of the movement towards a united Orthodoxy in North America?