A Short Letter Explaining
Why ROCIE (ROCOR-V) is Uncanonical

Sent: Wednesday, June 29, 2005 5:21 PM
Subject: Re: To Br. John -Fw: Why Met. Vitaly is Uncanonical

Dear Subdeacon Jerjis,

Evlogeite.

I apologize for being so slow in getting back to you. We have had a lot of distractions here lately, as you know.

I think what you wrote covers almost all points fairly well, but I would make one correction and one addition.

Since this list appears to refer to acts which make ROCIE Vitaly non-canonical, I would alter reason #1 to say that he came “under his own anathema”, as Bp. Gregory Grabbe wrote, by consciously communicating with and explicitly agreeing with those who taught that the Church is divided among heretics and Orthodox, that the former’s mysteries are effectual for salvation, etc. - this includes Cyprian of Fili who explicitly teaches this in his “Position Paper” and elsewhere, and it applies as well to the official communion of ROCOR with the Serbs and Jerusalem. The former began in 1994 when the ROCOR, having reviewed the “Position Paper”, endorsed it and said that Cyprian’s teaching was the same as their own, and they all concelebrated with him. This is what actually makes Vitaly’s group uncanonical, whereas his previous vacillations or retreat into ambiguity were signs of personal decline that let the weed of heresy grow in the episcopate but these vacillations were not the official ROCOR dogma. The 1994 act of union was an official ROCOR dogmatic act that explicitly and without ambiguity accepted and endorsed the very teachings and acts that they had anathematized. What went on before affected his own soul, but did not invalidate the church he headed –1994 did. This is how I would use the 1983 anathema in this discussion –focus on the clear transgression in 1994 and thereafter which invalidated ROCOR.

My one addition would be that Vitaly ‘retired’ himself and resigned from his pastoral and first-hierarchal offices. According to the canonical letter of the 3rd Ecumenical Council, he cannot reinstate himself, even if he retired only ‘out of fear of heretics’. Only a council or synod can reinstate him and the most he can hope for is that his successor in office wants an assistant, in which case the Council allows him to assist at the latter’s request only, but he still cannot possess any authority of his own to ordain, or to perform other specifically hierarchal functions. Or he can be given a vacant diocese, but I repeat, not without a synodal approval. Therefore, he could not unilaterally reinstate Barnabas (vicar-bishop of Cannes), he could not choose to ordain anyone, and he cannot reinstate himself as ‘head of the Russian Church’ or appoint himself to rule a diocese, occupied or vacant. Even if hypothetically Vitaly had not fallen into heresy 8 yrs. earlier, still his retirement or resignation is sufficient to invalidate him and any hierarchal acts undertaken afterwards. A self-retired bishop and a canonically-suspended vicar-bishop have no authority to ordain or rule a diocese, let alone a local church.

And as to the plea that Vitaly has to be able to do so - regardless of the canons - to save the Church because the ‘Lavrites’ are heretics, Laurus has done nothing out of line with the course pursued by Vitaly and company until after his retirement. So Vitaly, unless he wishes to accuse himself of heresy for the past 8 years, is in no position to condemn Laurus as a heretic and non-bishop. Vitaly is not willing to admit anything more than ‘rashness’ in uniting with Cyprian as he says in the official document relating to this, even though he disavows the union with him and the communion with World Orthodoxy, all of which he approved during his tenure as Metropolitan. On these grounds and by such standards, Vitaly could only allege that his successor was a ‘rash’ man, but not a heretic. Also, let us not forget that Vitaly revolted before Laurus was able to do anything new at all, other than take over the ROCOR in the exact place where Vitaly had left it - in heresy and pleading for union with Moscow - which fact Vitaly has never admitted, saying in an epistle instead that he ‘always had guided the ship of the Church rightly.’ Laurus had done nothing new, but Vitaly nonsensically condemned him as an ‘apostate’ while still declaring his own former course ‘right’! I know I am belaboring the point, but it is an important one. Vitaly rejects Cyprian’s idea that heretics can form a part of the Church or have grace, and condemns Laurus and co. as apostates and heretics for Vitaly’s ecumenical, pro-Moscow policies of the past eight years, and yet he will not admit that he himself ever became a heretic, an apostate, or fell away from the Church and lost grace. This prideful blindness! And so logically either Vitaly has to admit he did fall away in order to justify coming out of retirement uncanonically (in which case he still does not have grace) or he has to accept that Laurus is not a heretic or apostate (in which case he has no justification for uncanonically reinstating himself and seizing Laurus’ headship of ROCOR and so he is a schismatic and lacks grace still). So, I hope you can see my point and reduce my long-winded writing to something useful for you.

Also, one further note, as far as ‘retirement’ being uncanonical, I would say rather that forcible retirement, that is involuntary retirement by an outside authority, is uncanonical and foreign to Orthodoxy. It amounts to a deposition or removal from active office without trial and this is forbidden by the Canons - see, for instance, the 16th canon of the 1st-2nd Council in the Rudder. Vitaly founded this uncanonical practice (or perhaps Metropolitan Sergius did). However, for an enfeebled old Metropolitan to voluntarily retire from his duties is not entirely foreign to Orthodoxy - Blessed Metropolitan Anastassy retired from his duties and left them to St. Metropolitan Philaret in 1964, less than a year before the former’s repose.

Again, I am sorry for not responding sooner.

In Christ,

Br. John


Archbishop Gregory
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