Russian Orthodox Leader Seeks Unity

PATRIARCH Alexei II, the Russian Orthodox spiritual leader, says the church has cut its ties with totalitarianism and should now unite believers at a time when the Soviet Union is splitting apart.Orthodox unity is needed to help Russia out of its severe economic crisis and to counteract perceived threats from Catholicism, as well as evangelist Protestant denominations, says Alexei II, who is currently visiting the United States. The influence of non-Orthodox religions, including the Ukrainian Catholic Church, is growing in the former Soviet Union by taking advantage of the weakened condition of the population, the patriarch said in a letter published before his 16-day US trip began Friday. The letter was addressed to moderate leaders of the New York-based Russian Orthodox Church Abroad, which broke with Moscow following the 1917 Revolution. Comprised primarily of anticommunist descendants of White Russians who fled the Bolsheviks, Church Abroad refuses to have any contact with the Moscow Patriarchate. Both churches worship according to the Eastern rite but are divided by deep political differences. While in the US, the patriarch will meet with the hierarchy of the Russian Orthodox Church in America, a branch that is loyal to Moscow, as well as leaders of other denominations. Talks are also scheduled with President Bush. The patriarch's agenda does not include a meeting with Church Abroad officials, however. "It's psychologically impossible to have contacts now," says the Rev. Tikhon Kozushyn, a Church Abroad priest in Moscow. "All the bridges have been destroyed." Church Abroad officials claim the Moscow church still is subservient to communist power structures, namely the KGB secret police - even following the failed August hard-liner coup. They insist that before a dialogue can begin the Moscow Patriarchate must not only sever links with Soviet authorities, but publicly repent for a 1927 declaration of lo yalty to the communist regime of dictator Joseph Stalin. The condition rankles Russian Orthodox officials. Officials in Moscow don't deny collaborating with the communists, but they say their decisions were based on what was in the church's best interests at the time. "The church remaining here had to exist, and the leadership had to take care to ensure this physical existence," said Metropolitan Kirill of Smolensk and Kaliningrad, head of the Russian church's External Relations Department.

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