Portal-credo.ru, 10 September 2004
According to reports of the news media, on 23-25 August a council of the clergy of the Russian Catholic church of the Byzantine rite was held in the settlement of Sargatskoe, outside Omsk. Soon there began to appear excited commentaries on the part of official representatives of the Moscow patriarchate. Even believing Catholic tried to figure out what happened. In order to resolve questions that have arisen for readers, we decided to turn to Pavel Parfentiev, a prominent representative of the Russian Greek Catholic church, who has devoted himself for several years to a study of its history and canonical status, who kindly agreed to share his thoughts with us.
Pavel Alexandrovich, what actually happened?
Events occurred that we, Russian Orthodox believers in fellowship with Rome (which is how we prefer to identify ourselves who are Russian Catholics of the Byzantine rite), have been awaiting for a long time and for which we have long been praying. The inevitable rebirth of our church occurred. It was inevitable because in the years of persecution by bolsheviks against the faith of its children, believers and priests, Russian Greek Catholics bore abundant martyr's testimony. Christians have known for a long time, since antiquity, that "the blood of the martyrs is the seen of new Christians" (Tertullian). And so today this seed has borne its fruit.
--Does that mean that the Russian Greek Catholic church is not something new for Russia?
--Precisely so. Properly speaking, much depends on one's point of view. We trace our tradition to the time of the baptism of Rus, which happened before the tragic Great Schism that separated the majority of eastern Christians from their western fellow believers. Serious investigators know that there never was a final rupture of fellowship of Russian Christians from the western traditions. Among historians it has rather long been known that the veneration of, for example, Saint Nicholas came to Rus from the West. Recent studies give every reason to affirm that the popularity in Rus of St. Panteleimon has western roots. In essence, the tragic rupture of fellowship with the Catholic, that is, the Universal church never reached its limit. There is much historical confirmation for this.
Properly speaking, the history of the Russian Greek Catholic church and its currently existing exarchate began at the end of the nineteenth century, when a number of priests and laity began realizing that true Orthodox is possible only in communion with Rome. At a council in 1917, the exarchate was created, uniting these believers, Russian Orthodox believers in communion with the Roman See. Unfortunately, a wave of brutal church persecution began afterward. All of our priests and active believers were suppressed. Today our believers are people who walk in the footsteps of these martyrs for church unity who were their spiritual predecessors. The last legal exarch, Bishop Andrei Katkov, died in 1995 without have the possibility of normal communion with the Russian flock. Since then, and until recently, that is, until the council in Sargatskoe, the Russian Greek Catholic church has not had normal church administration and its faithful have been, with rare exceptions, deprived of pastors.
--You said that Russian Greek Catholics recognized that "true Orthodoxy is possible only in communion with Rome." But many suggest that Uniates have converted from Orthodoxy to Catholicism.
--No, that is not so. If in Orthodoxy we have in mind the faith of the holy fathers and the ecumenical council, the it is impossible to maintain that fiath in its integrity without recognizing the primacy of the Roman bishop. This primacy was confirmed and confessed by such ancient saints who have supreme authority in Orthodoxy as St. Theodore the Studite, St. Maxim the Confessor, and many others.
Here, for example, is what St. Maxim the Confessor wrote: "All the ends of the earth and each of its parts, whoever purely and faithfully confesses the Lord, looks directly to the Holy Roman church and to its confession and faith as upon the sun with undimmed light, awaiting from it the rays of sacred dogmas of our fathers, in accordance with this, as the inspired and holy councils infallibly and piously determined. For, from the time of the advent of the Incarnate Word, all churches in every part of the world have maintained only one great church as their support and basis, seeing that, in accordance with the promise of Christ, our Savior, the gates of hell will never overcome it, and that it holds the keys of true confession and true faith in him, and that it reveals the tru and only religion to such people as come to it with piety, and it closes and forbids any heretical lips which speak against the Almighty." This extremely great father says that Rome was given by the Incarnate Word of God himself, that is, Christ, the right to bind and loose all churches throughout the world.
Unfortunately, such views of the fathers (incidentally, they are reflected even in contemporary Orthodox services) are hushed up today in the Russian Orthodox church. This is a sad tradition that is being continued from the prerevolutionary synodal period of its history. At that time a whole series of texts of the words of the fathers and the acts of the ecumenical councils were simply intentionally distorted by comparison with the Greek originals. There is a multitude of conclusive examples of this.
Also, this is continuing even now. Here, for example, I have in my hands a book, "Our Faith: Orthodoxy and world religions," published in Moscow with the blessing of Bishop of Tulchinsk and Bratslava Ippolit. In its attacks upon Catholicism it goes so far as to affirm that "not a single one of the holy fathers and teachers of the church ever recognized Peter as the chief of apostles and vicar of Christ." It is not clear what this is--blatant ignorance or intentional lying. If it is the former, then why should we listen to the ignorant one? If it is the second, then we, as Christians, should recall that the father of lies is the devil. You cannot affirm a good matter with a lie. . . .
--What happened in Sargatskoe?
--Priests of our church met together in order to ascertain how, in accordance with the canons of the church, they should operate in the current situation and which authority to submit to. Participants in the council reviewed all the rules and which law is established for the church for our current situation. It turned out that the functions of acting administrator of the exarchate are supposed to be fulfilled by the parish priest who has seniority. This turned out to be Fr Sergii Golovanov. All priests who were present, on the basis of the canons, decided to submit to him. Since in this case the canons of the church require that the acting administrator report his assumption of office and the development of the situation to the supreme church authority, this was done. Such authority of the exarchate is the bishop of Rome, that is, the pope. A letter was sent to him from the Uniate council.
That is, from a normal church point of view, nothing especially sensational happened. Everything happened in accordance with prescribed canonical procedure. This could more likely be a sensation for conscience-less church politicians. How many times have they tried to suffocate these "inconvenient" Russian Greek Catholics, but they still life and even dare to declare themselves, regardless of the unpropitious conditions. Well, what does one do; this is how the history of the church has always been. Even the apostle Paul said: "We are considered dead, but lo, we are alive."
--But at the time of his visit in March, Cardinal Walter Kasper said that Russian Greek Catholics should subordinate themselves to the local Latin bishops.
--That was a mistake. Evidently Cardinal Kasper did not fully grasp the situation, or he did not have enough time to think about his response. Perhaps there were some other reasons. But from the point of view of the canons of the church, this was a mistaken opinion, at least for the time. . . .