Le Messager №3 1930

 

A NEW TEMPTATION IN THE CHRISTIAN WORLD.

 

Now there is utterly a fault among you, because ye go to law one with another...

Nay, ye do wrong, and defraud, and that your brethren.

1 Cor. VI. 7-8.

 

I am writing these words with sorrow and with a heavy heart. I should much prefer not to speak, but my conscience does not allow me to remain silent. We are аll witnesse of the terrible persecution of faith in God, and especially of the Orthodox Church in Soviet Russia. The whole world begins to shudder at the sight of it. The whole world begins to realize, at last, that this persecution represents a spiritual danger for the whole of humanity. It would be natural, if before this anti-christian persecution the Christian world should seek to unite all its forces. And yet, at this very time, beyond the frontier of Soviet authority, in Poland, measues are taken which pour into our souls the poison of religious hostility and сivil strife.

Towards the end of 1929 the bishops of the Roman Catholic Church in Poland presented 622*) claims to the Vilna, Volynia, Grodno and Polessie dioceses, demanding the taking away of churches and church property from the Orthodox population. This represents more than one third of the whole church property, of the Orthodox Church (the claims include 3 cathedrals, 8 monasteriens and even the famous Russian sacred heirloom — the Potchaёff Montastery). The claim has caused much distress among the whole Orthodox population of Poland and even outside of Poland. It is a claim to take away the churches, and no indemnity is offered for them.

For many centuries the relationships between the Catholic and the Orthodox Churches in Poland have been very strained. Orthodoxy was torn asunder by two conflicting forces. Catholic Poland strove to subject it to the union with Rome, which was achieveed in 1596; the Russian Government, and a considerable pari of the Russian population, continually endeavored, and sometimes succeeded, in throwing off that union.

The policy of the Russian Government was accompanied by compulsory administrative measures, in the same way as the measures of militant Roman Catholicism and Polonism have been supported by economic and cultural advantages. The century old history of these relationships is complicated and in many cases is differently interpreted by the two parties. When Poland became an independent state, and Czarist Russia ceased to exist, there began, naturally enough, a period of restitutions and ascendancy for the Roman Catholic Church. The restitution were brought about by the Polish Government in collaboration with the Roman Catholic clergy. In so far as it was the return to the Catholic population of churches that really belonged to it and were needed by it, these measures can only be welcomed (a certain part of the restitutions was made already in 1904). In so far as these measures bore the character of revenge and actual persecution of Orthodoxy, they must

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*) The latest newspapers give the whole number as 724.

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be bitterly regretted. More than one hundred Orthodox parishes were abolished; more than 600 churches were closed and part of them destroyed**) These measures seemed to reestablish justice sufficiently, and there began a period of comparative peace, that has now been suddenly interrupted by new claims of the Polish clergy (caused by the expiration of the 10 year term); and the historic wounds that have only begun to close are re-opened.

The motivation of these claims shows haste, and their number is evidently exaggerated. If the demands of the authors of the claims are satisfied, the Orthodox Russian population will be deprived of its last monasteries and venerated treasures, having already lost those in Soviet Russia. Hundreds of Orthodox parishes will be deprived of their churches, — churches that are not needed by the very few Catholics of these entirely Orthodox parishes. Certainly, owing to the age-long difficulties and controversies in the history of the country there will be few churches that cannot be claimed on legal grounds by both parties sexcept those that have been built in the XIX century. However even several of these are threatened. But is this purely (legal, proprietary attitude just? Is it admissible for the church, — for our Christian concience? For the claims concern not a simple property, but churches and church belongings. The important, the deciding factor for the Christian conscience ought to be not what was a hundred and more years ago, and what can be endlessly argued about, but the situation that exists now, and that has existed for the present generation. — Summun ins summa iniuria. — The very attempt to take away churches from the Orthodox population, even if they are taken away on legal grounds, is felt and experienced as a crusade of Catholicism against Orthodoxy. An act of religious persecution takes place and the zeal of Roman Catholicism in this case is no Christian zeal.

This we must proclaim loudly and with conviction. This evil deed must find an echo of regret in the whole Christian world I am not speaking here of our Russian Orthodox sorrow, so great and so boundless, possibly incomprehensible or even annoying to foreign friends. I want to speak to the whole Christian world of that Christian peace for which it thirsts, and fürst of all want to address myself to the Roman Church, which must be pitied for the events that take place in its midst. I have always respected and loved with Christian love the Catholics, (fratres separati) for their love to Christ, for their discipline, wisdom, learning, for the intensity of their spiritual life, and of course that love will not be extinguished by Polish zealots. I have no doubt that amongst Catholics there will be noble and truly Christian hearts that will sorrow for what happens in Poland.

However, a heavy doubt arises in my mind: what will matter more to them, — conscience or discipline? In this particular case Rome is also responsible for the actions of Polish Bishops, because, according to Vatican Dogma, the highest power in the Church, and therefore responsibility, belong to the Pope. One of the two things must be true: either Rome is powerless to stop the measures taken by

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**) This data was furnished by Senator W. Bogdanowitch in his speech in the Polish Parliament, 23 July 1924, when he spoke of « systematic persecution of Orthodoxy». In this connection there occured the exile from Poland of the most worthy and independent representatives of the Orthodox episcopacy.

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the Polish bishops, or they are taken in accordance with its will. But Pius XI has proclaimed the reunion of Churches as the chief aim of his pontificate; he never misses an occasion to express by deed or word his attention and sympathy to the Orthodox East, and yet now he permits such actions to take place as will infinitely harm the work of peace between East and West. Let us give only a thought to it: if the Polish bishops win their cause, take possession of all the orthodox population, — the memory of this act will remain a shadow for centuries; if the law will refuse to satisfy their claims, they will find themselves in the awkward position of people who wanted to take something that did not belong to them and have failed.

Nevertheless, I address myself to the conscience of my Catholic brothers in Christ: do not go further, for it is never late for our conscience to correct an error. And I address myself to the Christian world, and especially to the brothers in Christ with whom we have met heart to heart in Lausanne and Stockholm, who have felt that we must seek the peace of Christ. This is also your work, the work or your influence, authority, public opinion. For the voice of the Christian conscience remains a spiritual power even in our days. If at a certain time it was possible (even for the best representatives of that time) to clothe faith in steel armour, to ask for protection by the sword of state powers, — it has now become impossible for the Christian consciousness. Religious persecution is now the tool of the open enemies of Christianity, who attack the Christian faith by murders, imprisonments, destruction of churches, requisition of property, by legal, physical, and economic terror. For since the beginning of the world Satan was a slayer of men. But, alas, when he takes the image of an angel, and does his work in the name of faith. In trampling down Christian, brotherly love and charity, do we not offer a much finer and more poisonous temptation, do we not preach godlessness more efficiently than does the open, crude persecution of the name of Christ, powerless through its own spiritual poverty? At the time when Christ is openly flagellated and mocked on the Russian Golgotha, is it possible that in the midst of those who follow Him, there will be someone who, smiting Him from behind, will ask Him: "Prophesy, who ist it that smote thee?».

 

Professor Archpriest Dr. S. Bulgakoff

(Member of the Continuation Commitee of the Lausanne Conference).

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