Today, the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad reunited with the Russian Orthodox Church, marking one of the most historic events in church history. As an Orthodox Christian myself, this news is not only remarkable, it is also personal. I know i've mentioned my religion a few times on this blog before, but today's reunification deserves a more thorough discussion.
The Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia (ROCOR) officially severed ties with the Moscow Patriarchate in 1927 when Patriarch Sergiy declared his loyalty to the Communist regime. Since then, ROCOR (based in NYC) has grown to a total of 480,000 members today. In comparison, the Moscow Patriarchate is thought to have upwards of 40-50 million followers.
In 2003, President Putin initiated the reunification process when he came to New York City to discuss the future of the Church with ROCOR leaders. I was actually able to hear about the meeting in detail from a close family friend who now serves as the Bishop of Eastern America. Along the same lines, my uncle (a monk and professor at Holy Trinity Monastery) and priests from my Church in Atlanta and DC were invited to Moscow for the reunification ceremony. I'm looking forward to asking them about it.
I think it's great that Putin has been such an ardent supporter of the Orthodox Church over his term as President. But I can't completely quell my suspicions both of Putin and the reunification in general. I think for Putin, this is just entirely political. The Orthodox Church is extremely powerful in Russia, and most Russians regard the Church with great respect, whether they are devotedly religious or not.
As for the reunification, many parishioners in ROCOR believe that Moscow will eventually usurp control of property as well as the appointment process of priests and other clergy. This is a serious concern, but one that seems unrealistic anytime in the near future. A bigger concern for me is that the Orthodox Church here will become more Russian and less American, thereby rendering the Church less inclusive, and more cryptic to Christians here in the US. I prefer to think of religion in universal terms rather than a hodge-podge of cultural cliques.
I want a true Orthodox Church in America, a Church that preserves the basic tenets of the faith while also becoming more accessible to American culture. I fear that the reunification greatly diminishes the possibility of an authentic Orthodox Church in America that isn't inherently tied to Russian tradition and culture. This isn't just an idle concern of mine either. The Bishop of Eastern America I mentioned earlier boycotted the reunification ceremony, mainly because of his suspicions of Russia's politics, as well as its religious hierarchy.
I think the reunification is good for Orthodoxy as a whole, but probably bad for those of us interested in an Orthodox faith that could seriously expand into North America.