There is an old story of two brothers who lived in love, accord and peace. The evil one in vain strove to incite one against another; but once, when a bird sat on a tree next to their window, he managed to blur the vision of both brothers.
- Look at this pigeon, - said one.
- What? A pigeon? - replied the other, - it's a crow.
- Nonsense. Just a pigeon! - and a quarrel followed which they were deeply ashamed of after a short while.
Today many see in this story much similarity to the old conflict between the Moscow Patriarchate and the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad, the conflict which, by God's grace and prayers of the New Martyrs, is near its final resolution. Indeed, as the bishops from both sides have repeated a number of times, the Russian Church Abroad by her very nature is a part of the Russian Orthodox Church per se, with no reasons for a separation between them. There are only a few items, related mainly to the past, which, viewed from the opposing viewpoints, might cause certain disagreement. This should prompt wider dialog, deeper historical research, better education of the faithful, – but no kind of a breach in canonical ties and liturgical unity.
Every analogy can bring about a twofold benefit, helping not only to compare things, but also to contrast them. So also is the case with the story of the quarrel about the bird species. In contrast to that, the original reasons for the separation in the Russian Church were genuine and very serious. Some controversial items, notably the relations between the Church and civil authorities, have been addressed in recent doctrinal statements of the Moscow Patriarchate, instrumental in overcoming them.
So, can we claim victory in our struggle for the Church unity? Not quite yet. Rash, reckless statements and actions may cause huge harm. Here is what Fr. George Lardas of Stanford, CT, a priest of the Russian Church Abroad, says about our current stance: "The storm is over… The boat is within sight of the harbor. Shall we shipwreck ourselves and hopes for a true reconciliation before the time?"
Lest this happens, we ought to clearly see the dangers at the entrance to the cherished harbor. Even though the external obstacles to the reunification, political or other, have ceased to exist, the dangers are still many. All of them are internal, that is, in one way or another, anchored to our own weaknesses, prejudices and sins which, given our responsibility of such historical proportions, become extremely important. Indeed, the unity of the Church is wrought not so much by a decision of the Bishops, but rather by the effort of the hart of all faithful.
The danger #1, the most common both in Russia and abroad, is ignorance, lack of knowledge about one another. It is precisely the ignorance which gives fertile soil too the seeds of strife, arrogance and malice which are either hidden since the past century, or being planted anew by the enemies of the Church. Fortunately, the danger of ignorance is easy to fight with, and the best of the modern media, including those based on Internet, do a very good job to this end.
Another danger is related to the previous one; it is a superficial and formal way of reasoning, occasionally encountered in Russia. Questions are raised here with the tone of a spoiled teenager: "How come that Bishops in Diaspora still don't obey the Patriarchate?" Those who would like to learn more about the life and legacy of the Russian Church Abroad will certainly find the answer to this anything but rhetorical question.
The faithful abroad have problems of their own. Those are mostly rooted in such personal traits as stubbornness, individualism and sense of property. "This is our Church!" – people say as if it's a suitcase, – "why should yield control over her to Moscow?..." They'd better refresh their understanding of what the Church is all about, to realize that she is primarily God's, and only then – ours.
There is yet another danger: a propensity of a small part of foreign laity and even clergy to political intrigue and struggle for power. This is a sad fruit of worldliness, of the Church mentality corrupted by the anti-Christian world. Such political activists, however, if they have not yet left the Russian Church, can do it at any instance: there is no shortage of religious groups and denominations.
Thus, all the dangers at the entrance to the harbor can be avoided, and the lonely near-century long journey of the Russian Church Abroad successfully completed. Yet the faithful abroad should expect anything but leisure: another great journey is waiting for them, a journey of preaching the holy faith to the people pf Western Europe and America which only recently were counted among the Christian nations… But that's a subject of another story.