Metropolitan Lavr (Laurus), the head of ROCA, spoke with RFE/RL correspondent Nikola Krastev recently at the Holy Trinity Russian Orthodox Monastery in Jordanville, upstate New York, where Lavr is also the abbot.
RFE/RL: What is the essence of the reconciliation process between the Russian Orthodox Church and the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad?
Metropolitan Lavr: We are striving toward eucharistic communion [between the two churches], lately we are looking toward reaching a point where we can conduct joint church services. During the recently concluded All-Diaspora Council in San Francisco and the Spring Session of the Synod of Bishops there were initially some disagreements over the issue, but gradually the points of friction were smoothed out. The Synod of Bishops approved a resolution toward reconciliation. How exactly the joint services will be organized and conducted is a question that many people have asked. At this point we don't know yet, it has not been discussed, we do not have a decision on details and procedures.
RFE/RL: Regarding the disapproval of ROCA over the Moscow Patriarchate's ecumenical activities, why is ROCA's position on this issue so firm?
Lavr: Our firm position is a natural result of our beliefs and this also applies to the Russian people; their attitude toward ecumenism is cautious. In general, [and] this is the situation with other [Christian] worshipers in Russia, is that they initially offer some kind of social assistance but then gradually they begin to involve the Orthodox clergy in their own organizations, trying to get support for issues that are not appropriate for [the Russian flock]. In particular, they were organizing joint prayers but lately the Orthodox believers have begun to decline invitations for such prayers. Meetings are being organized where the Orthodox [believers] can explain their Orthodox position. I would say that this is not bad, but the representatives of the Moscow Patriarchate say that they are intent on continuing their participation in such organizations [World Council of Churches] and [ecumenical] activities with a missionary attitude toward other believers, to propagate the Orthodox faith. I would say that it will be good if they were consistent in their efforts and demonstrated results. Making only statements is insufficient. I would ask them how many of these other believers were they able to convert to Orthodox Christianity for the whole time the Moscow Patriarchate has been active in ecumenism, since the 1960s, [and] in particular were they able to convert some of the leaders [of the World Council of Churches]? Nobody.
RFE/RL: In late May, Metropolitan Cyril, the chairman of external relations at the Moscow Patriarchate, met with Pope Benedict XVI at the Vatican. Do you consider a development of closer ties between the Vatican and Moscow to be an obstacle to the reconciliation process?
Lavr: I think that it may have an impact, what exactly I cannot predict. I am not the one to decide, there is a Synod of Bishops, it's up to them to decide. To an extent it [the development of closer ties between the Moscow Patriarchate and the Vatican] may slow down the reconciliation process or make it more complicated, I am not sure about it. There are no plans for a meeting [between the pope and the Moscow patriarch] as far as I know.
RFE/RL: Which period of your life would you describe as the most exciting?
Lavr: I would say that the most interesting period was when we arrived in Jordanville in 1946. In December, it will be exactly 60 years. With God's help and enthusiasm we started building this temple. We had hired bricklayers, but we were helping out, we had just arrived, on December 1 it will be exactly 60 years. On December 1, we set foot for the first time on the monastery grounds. In 1947, we started to build the [Holy Trinity] church. There were already five older people here, [and] we were helping out. I was 19 years old, we were young. We were helping with the housekeeping and with the church builders, and our household was big. We had plenty of cattle, ploughs, we harvested and collected hay. We were in high spirits and with God's help it worked. God was helping us and the example for us was Archbishop Vitaly who has already passed away. He blessed this place, he was its protector and initially also the abbot of the monastery.
An Orthodox church in the Russian city of Yaroslavl (TASS file photo)
CHURCH AND STATE: The Russian Orthodox Church is not only Russia's major religious confession, but also a powerful force in the political and social life of the country. President Vladimir Putin and other leading figures are conspicuous adherents and frequently meet with senior members of the Church hierarchy. Increasingly in recent years the Church has sought to play a larger role in determining Russia's domestic and foreign policies. In April, the Church hosted a major conference devoted to the theme of Russia's role in the 21st-century world....(more)