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Russian Orthodox Church reunited: Why only now?

MOSCOW. (RIA Novosti political commentator Anatoly Korolev) - The Russian Orthodox Church (ROC) and the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia (ROCOR) have signed the Act of Canonical Communion in the Cathedral of Christ the Savior in Moscow.

Alexy II, the Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia, and Metropolitan Laurus, First Hierarch of ROCOR, signed the act in the presence of President Vladimir Putin.

It is good the communion has happened, but why has it taken so long?

The 1917 Bolshevik Revolution and the subsequent Civil War forced part of hierarchs to join the Bolsheviks' opponents who fled Russia. At first they could not bear living and working outside the Russian Orthodox Church, but the Bolshevik terror campaigns and the destruction of churches throughout the country forced them to anathematize the godless rulers.

During World War II, Stalin partially revitalized Orthodoxy, reopening some churches and monasteries and allowing them to train the new clergy. The hierarchs living abroad had a highly critical view of that development, saying that the Moscow patriarch made an alliance with Satan.

As time went by, their total rejection was somewhat alleviated, as the church was rapidly regaining strength after the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991. Eventually, rejection became an anachronism.

The movement towards communion accelerated when Metropolitan Laurus became the First Hierarch of the ROCOR in 2000.

The only thing that hindered it was the murder of Tsar Nicholas II and his family by Bolsheviks in 1918. The ROCOR hierarchs believed that the Moscow Patriarchy must speak clearly and passionately about the murder of the tsar's family, the defeat of the anti-Bolshevik movement, and the execution and persecution of priests. They also accused the top officials in the ROC of servility and were alarmed by the ROC's ties with other branches of Christianity, notably Catholicism.

Some of these complaints were laid to rest at the jubilee Council of Bishops in 2000, which canonized the last Russian emperor and his family, along with more than a 1,000 martyrs and confessors. It also passed a document on relations between the church and the secular authorities, which censored potential servility and complaisance, and also rejected the possibility of any connection between Orthodoxy and Catholicism.

In short, the ROCOR, which has suffered much and long, is the dominant party of the communion. The Pope is unlikely to visit Moscow in the next 100 years. The feeblest ties between the branches of the same religious tree will be cut off. It is for the church to decide if this is good or bad, yet I would say this is definitely pushing the Russian church into the True-Orthodox (Catacomb) rut.

The first, symbolic, communion of the two churches took place in May 2004 in Butovo, where Bolsheviks had buried thousands of executed priests and other "enemies of the people." Metropolitan Laurus, who had visited Russia only unofficially (frequently incognito) before, donned his ceremonial dress to join Alexy II in the common prayer for the dead.

Hundreds of believers stood in the glades where Bolshevik tractors had rolled over the dead and wounded, sticking hundreds of candles into the black earth mixed with the earthly remains of the martyrs.

It was the day the Civil War ended in Russia, and the construction of a cathedral in memory of the dead began.

On May 19, the first common prayer of the two churches will be held by Alexy II and Laurus in that Cathedral of the Resurrection of Christ and of the Holy New Martyrs and Confessors of Russia.

By that time, the main communion documents will have been signed, the Moscow Patriarchy and the Holy Synod will have approved the First Hierarch to stand over the 13 hierarchs, 320 parishes and 20 monasteries and nunneries in the United States, Australia, Austria, Germany and South America, and the ROCOR will accept the authority of the Bishops' Council.

This seems like a happy ending, yet the split in the Orthodox Church is deeper now than it ever was in the thousand years of its history. Millions of Orthodox Ukrainians have accepted the guidance of the Kiev Patriarchy, although the church in Ukraine is also split, with part of its parishes recognizing only the authority of the Moscow Patriarchy.

The ROCOR is only part (although a very important one) of the Orthodox churches that keep aloof of the ROC and reject rapprochement, such as the autocephalous Orthodox Church in America and the Constantinople Patriarchy. Moreover, some parishes and priests of the ROCOR have always rejected the idea of a reunification with the ROC and said they would leave the ROCOR if this happened. The communion in Moscow may accelerate their departure.

The ROC itself was split by Nikon's reform 400 years ago into the followers of the seventh patriarch, Nikon, (the majority) and Old Believers. The latter have been growing stronger of late, along with numerous Christian sects. For example, thousands have flocked to Siberian preacher Vissarion, head of the Church of the Last Testament, which spotlights not the church rite, but the spiritual quest for coexistence.

It may sound strange, but the schism is natural to Russians, and this truth is becoming clear now. It is the division of Russians into the Red and the White, patriots and pro-Westerners, Slav lovers and Slav haters, the Left and the Right, the Communists and anti-Communists, and most importantly, believers and atheists, that stabilizes the Russian mentality and keeps you alive, with your wits intact, in this huge country.

This schism can be compared to an ice movement that gives the ice floe of obscurantism and orthodoxy the required motion necessary to keep the Christian idea alive.

Christianity itself is divided into three branches: Orthodoxy, Catholicism and Protestantism, but this does not detract one iota from the power or prestige of that global religion.

The opinions expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.

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