On the Eve of the Vth All-Diaspora ROCA Sobor:


On the Upcoming Elections of the Hierarch

and the Supreme Administration of the ROCA

Fr. Victor Dobroff


“Neither the patriarchs, nor the sobors have ever enacted anything new,

because the guardian of piety is the body of the church itself,

that is the people”

(Encyclical document of the Eastern Patriarchs

of the One Holy and Apostolic Church

to all Orthodox Christians.

Constantinople, 1848.)


The most important event to take place after the pending restoration of all the administrative bodies of the Church Administration of the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad (ROCA), will be the election of a Metropolitan and Primate of the Church.


In accordance with the Decrees of the Local (Pomestniy) Sobor of the Russian Orthodox Church in 1917-1918 (Local Church Sobor), the election of the Primate (Patriarch) of the Church and the establishment of the upper bodies of the Church Administration are mandated at the Local Church Sobor.


The Local Church Sobor always created two bodies for the collegial administration of the Church during the time between Local Sobors: the Holy Synod (Synod) and the Supreme Ecclesiastical Council (SEC).


The Holy Synod and the Supreme Ecclesiastical Council together made up the Supreme Ecclesiastical Authority (SEA) of the Local Orthodox Russian Church.


The Synod was responsible only for issues relating to bishops and priests, theology, the canons, and liturgical matters, while the Supreme Ecclesiastical Council was responsible for issues relating to order within the church and community, the administration, finances, and parish schools.


Matters of great importance, having to do with protecting the rights of the Church, with the preparation of upcoming Local Sobors, the opening of new dioceses, etc., were decided with both the Synod and Supreme Ecclesiastical Council present.  The historical Ukase No. 363, which formed the canonical basis of ROCA, was approved at such a joint meeting.


Besides its chairman – the Patriarch - the Synod was made up of 12 members: the Metropolitan of Kiev on the basis of his office, six archbishops selected by the Sobor to serve for three years, and five bishops, whose term was for one year.


The Supreme Ecclesiastical Council was also headed by the Patriarch and was made up of 15 members (besides the Patriarch): three archbishops were assigned to the SEC by the Synod, while one monk, five priests of the white clergy, and six laypeople were selected by the Local Sobor.


As a result of leaving the Fatherland and the need that arose to formalize the Ecclesiastical Authority and the election of a ROCA Primate (all the while being in agreement with the Decree of the 1917-1918 Local Sobor), a “Local Sobor” was convened outside of Russia.  The First All-Abroad (Vsezagranichniy) Sobor (as it was called at the time) was convened in the city of Sremsky Karlovtsy in 1921 and included bishops, clergy, and laypeople.  Following the example of the system of administration created at the Local Sobor, this Sobor formed the Supreme Ecclesiastical Authority Abroad (ROCA SEA) under the chairmanship of Metropolitan Anthony (Khrapovitsky).


The ROCA SEA consisted of the Holy Synod and the Supreme Ecclesiastical Council (SEC), with the participation of the clergy, monastics, and laypeople, and it was mandated by a Sobor document with the title “The Status of the Supreme Russian Ecclesiastical Authority Abroad.”


As we can see, the All-Abroad (Vsezagranichniy) Sobor – the parent of the Church Abroad – constituted from its inception the full authority to elect a Primate and establish lower administrative bodies relative to itself, including the SEA.


As a result of the monarchist mindset of the Diaspora, Patriarch Tikhon was forced on April 22, 1922, by the Soviet government to issue Ukase No. 348 to abolish the “Karlovtsy” SEA, which was accomplished on September 13, 1922, when the ROCA Holy Synod dissolved the SEA.  This abolished the SEA and transformed (renamed) the Holy Synod into the ROCA Synod of Archbishops, after which the Second All-Abroad Sobor was convened to resolve, according to the canons, matters within the ROCA arising from the circumstances resulting from Ukase No. 348.  For a variety of reasons and factors, the Second All-Diaspora (Vsezarubezhniy) Sobor was not convened until 1938.  The abolishment of the SEA, as dictated by the Patriarch’s Ukase, was accomplished with the participation and agreement of the Patriarch’s exarch, Metropolitan Evlogiy.  With the abolishment of the SEA in 1922, the involvement of the clergy, monastics, and laypeople in the ROCA SEA came to an end.


In 1935, uncertainty arose between the metropolitans of the Church Abroad as to how to divide ROCA into districts for each metropolitan, and this led to the convening of a ROCA Sobor of Archbishops.  It took place that same year under the chairmanship of the Serbian Patriarch Varnava.  The document “The Provisional Status of the ROCA” was created at the Sobor, which affirmed that the ROCA SEA derived its authority from the Sobor of Archbishops.  This included, in accordance with para. 3, the power to elect a Chairman of the Synod of Archbishops, who also automatically became the Chairman of the Sobor of Archbishops.


The Second All-Diaspora Sobor was scheduled for 1936.  Then Met. Anthony (Khrapovitsky) passed away that year and the opportunity arose to elect a Metropolitan of the ROCA by a plenum of all those abroad at the All-Abroad Sobor, as it was done before.  The convening of the Sobor was postponed until 1938, while in 1936, the Sobor of Bishops elected Bishop Anastasy (Gribanovskiy) on its own to be Chairman of the Synod and Sobor of Archbishops.


The later edits of the “Provisional Status of the ROCA,” and afterward the “Status of the ROCA,” which were approved by the many Sobor of Archbishops, left the All-Diaspora Sobor with only an advisory voice and concentrated all authority within the ROCA in the Sobor of Archbishops.  The authority of the All-Abroad Sobor of archbishops, clergy, and laypeople was contained by the “Status of the ROCA” in the Sobor of Bishops, where it has remained “de facto.”  While “de jure,” it obviously remains with the All-Abroad Sobor, which is itself the source of this Church Authority.  If this transfer of authority from the All-Diaspora Sobor to the Sobor of Archbishops within the Church had not occurred, it is possible that the tragedy of May 17, 2007, would not have taken place!


According to the current “Status of the Church Abroad” (Chap. 4, para. 33), the ROCA Sobor of Archbishops elect the Primate, who is both Chairman of the Synod and the Sobor of Archbishops with the office of Metropolitan.


Therefore the spirit and letter of the Local Sobor of the Russian Church in 1917-1918 along with the historic knowledge gained by the actions of the First All-Diaspora Sobor of the ROCA compel us to once again convene an All-Abroad Church Sobor, as it was done so long ago in 1921.  It would be a Sobor at which the election of a Metropolitan and the restoration of the administrative bodies of the Church Administration would be accomplished with the participation of the whole church.


The seeming contradiction between the Sobor of Archbishops and the All-Diaspora Sobor can actually be easily resolved.  The text of “The Status of the ROCA” (Chap. 2, para.12) clearly states that “The Decrees of the All-Diaspora Sobors are legally binding and are enacted after being approved by the Sobor of Bishops, which is held at the same time, or immediately after the conclusion of an All-Diaspora Sobor.”


Therefore in the future, to resolve this seeming contradiction and canonical uncertainty, it is essential to hold the Sobor of Bishops and the Vth All-Diaspora Sobor at the same time.  That way, the decisions of the Sobor of Bishops and the ROCA All-Diaspora Sobor will not contradict each other and will not contradict neither “The Status of the ROCA,” nor the historical meaning of the First All-Abroad Sobor, nor the spirit and letter of the Local Sobor of the Russian Orthodox Church of 1917-1918.


Returning the ROCA to the old governing state approved by the First All-Abroad Sobor is still an unresolved matter.  Specifically, the wish is to empower the All-Diaspora Sobor with supreme legal and administrative authority and transform the existing ROCA PSEA into the Holy Synod, and similarly, to create a Supreme Ecclesiastical Council of clergy and laypeople to work together within the structure of the recreated ROCA SEA.  Then the Chairman of the All-Diaspora Sobor, the Chairman of the Synod and SEA would be combined in one Primate of the ROCA.


With such a form of governance, and under normal conditions of the life of the Church, the administrative body would remain, as it always was earlier, the Synod, without the SEA being involved in its sessions.  While matters affecting the entire church or those of legal importance; such as entering into canonical or Eucharistic communion with other churches, the opening or closing of dioceses, and others; which would be referred to the SEA, would be decided only with both the Synod and the SEA present and approved later at an All-Diaspora Sobor.


Such a form of governance of the Church would preclude the possibility of a repeat of the tragedy of May 17, 2007, for the simple fact that the decisions of the Synod would be dutifully controlled.  The decisions of the All-Diaspora Sobor could not be interpreted differently by the Synod behind the scenes and would not have any power without the agreement of the SEA.  In this way, changing the entire course of the Church in the time between sobors would not be possible.


This form of governance will also strengthen the position of the ROCA Primate during the time between sobors, for if he loses the support of the majority in the Synod, he will retain support in the SEA, which he can convene at any moment to resolve a crisis.


As long as the ROCA exists, the Moscow Patriarchate will not stop its efforts to destroy it, so a repeat of the events of May, 2007, is just a matter of time.  If so, then it is critical to create a manner of administration within the ROCA now, which will prevent in the future a repeat of the tragedy of the past.  This manner is the restoration of the supreme ecclesiastical authority in the form of the Synod and the SEC, with the supreme legal and administrative authority being returned to the All-Diaspora Sobor.


The history of the Church shows that heresies and schisms did not originate from the church faithful, the guardians of piety, so there is nor reason to fear its involvement in the administration of the Church.


Meekness, learning and our life itself,” wrote St. Cyprian of Carthage at the dawn of the Christian era, “require that the primates, gathered together with the clergy and in the presence of the people, govern in all matters based on common agreement.


St. Basil the Great teaches that, “decisions concerning the Church  are made by those who have been entrusted with its governing, but are approved by the people themselves.” (“Letter to the citizens of Nicopolis”)


According to the teachings of the Orthodox Church,” wrote St. Tikhon, Patriarch of All Russia, “the guardians of the purity of the faith and the lessons of the fathers are not only the Heads of the Church and not only the episcopate of the church in all of its entirety, but the whole body of the Church, and therefore, the people of faith, to whom belong certain rights and a voice in matters of the church.


One of the fundamental ecclesiological principles consists of this: all the members of the Church together constitute a certain constant Sobor of God’s people and which is the “defender of the faith…(The answer of the Eastern Orthodox Patriarchs to Pope Pius IX in 1848.)


So said St. Cyprian of Carthage, St. Basil the Great, Patriarch of All Russia Tikhon, and the Eastern Orthodox Patriarchs: they speak to us, and we must listen…