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Excerpts from the 1903 Epistle of the Russian Orthodox Synod (concerning the non-Orthodox)


“…in its own particular life each autocephalous Orthodox Church must always (as, indeed, it does at present) preserve the memory and consciousness of its union with the other Orthodox Churches, and of the fact that only in communion and agreement with them has it the pledge of truth and of eternal life, or manifests itself as the Church of God, and that, if it has lost this communion and union, it must perish and wither as a branch which has fallen away from the vine.”

“As regards our relations towards the two great ramifications of Christianity, the Latins and the Protestants, the Russian Church, together with all the autocephalous Orthodox Churches, every prayers, awaits, and fervently desires that those who in times of old were children of Mother Church and sheep of the one flock of Christ, but who now have been torn away by the envy of the foe and are wandering astray, “should repent and come to the knowledge of the truth,” that they should once more return to the bosom of the Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church, to their one Shepherd. We believe in the sincerity of their faith in the All-Holy and Life-originating Trinity, and on that account we accept the baptism* of both one and the other. We respect the Apostolical Succession of the Latin hierarchy, and those of their clergy who join our Church we accept in the Orders which they then possess, just as we do in the case of Armenians, Copts, Nestorians, and other bodies that have not lost the Apostolic Succession.”

*Metropolitan Anthony Khrapovitsky clarifies the meaning of baptism and Apostolic Succession found in the above paragraph as follows: “those among heretics, whether clerical or lay, baptized and anointed (with chrism) by heretics, had only the empty sign (or outward form) of the mystery, and it receives the complement of grace only through that mystery which unites them with the holy Church (chrismation or penance). Moreover, in confirmation of this principle, should be added the custom, established in the Church, that the reception of heretics and schismatics, “in their existing orders,” may be performed only by a bishop; if a priest receive them, then they enter the Church as simple laymen. This means that a schismatic priest united to the Church receives true priesthood only through episcopal reception; but a priest cannot bestow this grace on the one received. It is only on such a conception of the mysteries of the Church that her regulations as to the applicability to heretics and schismatics of one or the other rite of reception can be accepted; only on such a conception can the decisions of the holy apostles about the baptism of heretics and schismatics be reconciled with the further canons of the Councils about not baptizing them, and about their reception by the second, or even by the third rite … As a condition of their reception in their existing orders, the existence among schismatics, before their conversion to the Church, of hierarchical succession, is usually insisted upon; but from the canonical rule of Basil the Great already quoted, we see that no schismatics have any succession and cannot have any; a hierarchy falling away from the Church ‘become laymen and cannot confer the grace of the Holy Spirit, of which they are themselves devoid.’ … (This economia or accepting of the outward form of baptism in heterodox communities) depends on ecclesiastical economy, on the judgment of the local bishops and the Councils, and on the existence of the outward form of the mysteries of baptism, chrismation and orders in the communities from which the applicants come.”

“Well known to our dearly beloved and highly esteemed fathers and brethren are the secular desires of Rome, which indeed in their time served as the cause of her apostasy; well known in history her various artifices, both open and secret, directed with the object of subjecting to herself the Orthodox East; and well known are the costly schools, the missionary societies, the special monastic orders and other institutions, which indeed exist down to the present day, and whose number does not cease to grow, whose sole object is to ensnare, if possible, the children of the Orthodox Church. Upon Russia, in particular, the eyes of Latinism have long been directed. Not being able to seduce our common people, but pious and devoted to the Church as they are, they turn to members of the higher aristocracy, who have been accustomed to living abroad, and who, for many generations, have been in constant communion with the spirit of the West, and by means of secret propaganda, of literature, the press, etc., they strive to unsettle them in the faith of their fathers and to establish Roman Catholicism amongst them. The conversion of Russian and of the Russian people constitute the secret dream and unconcealable goal of the yearnings of the Papacy of our times. Therefore, however pacific the speeches of the Latins may be, however assiduously they may express and emphasize in all sorts of ways their especial love and respect for the Orthodox Church, and in particular for the Russian people and State, these fair words must not, nor can they, conceal the real desires of Romes from our attention: and we, of necessity, shall only all the more increase our watchfulness and our determination to stand steadfastly upon the immovable soil of Orthodoxy and not to be lured away by any appearances of peace falsely understood…”

“And just as inaccessible, if not even more so, Protestantism shows itself to be at the present time. Having no understanding of Church life, and requiring for themselves external works evident to the senses, chiefly of a general societal character, the Protestant communities look upon our Eastern Church as a region of ecclesiastical stagnation, of error and darkness unredeemed by a ray of light, not even stopping short of bringing accusations of idolatry against us, and therefore out of falsely understood zeal for Christ they do not spare material means and forces for the spreading of their Protestant errors amongst the children of the Orthodox Church, losing no opportunity of undermining the authority of the Orthodox hierarchy, and of unsettling the faith of the people in the sanctity of the traditions of the Church. Religious exclusiveness and even fanaticism, mixed with a contemptuous arrogance in relation to Orthodoxy, is the distinguishing mark of the Protestants, one may say, even more than of the Latins … it behooves us representatives of the Church, and especially of the Russian Church, to exert all our strength in the fight against the multiform allurement of this dangerous enemy of the Church, making prayer without ceasing unto her Chief Shepherd to defend His faithful sheep against its assaults.”

“…we should seriously and steadfastly, according to the conscience and before Christ, reveal to them our faith and unchangeable conviction in the fact that our Eastern Orthodox Church, which has inviolably preserved the complete deposit of Christ, is alone at the present time the Ecumenical Church.”

“…those ancient Christian communities, the Nestorians, the Armenians, the Copts and others, which have been separated for many centuries from the Church, but have not lost their Church organization nor their hierarchy, and which at the present time, in the person of their leading members, are in some cases beginning to arrive at a sense of the wrongfulness of their apostasy. To draw once more into the bosom of the one Church these men, who live side by side with us, and are extremely near to us in culture, manners, and customs, and more particularly in the fashion of their Church life and in the type of their religion, appears to be the most immediate object for our Church to undertaken, and our direct and absolute duty, in fulfilling which we not only should revive these ancient communities into a new Church life, but in time should discover for the Church herself a new source of strong and zealous labourers in the common work of the Church.”


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