As long as the Church Abroad existed as an independent entity, it implicitly challenged the authority of Moscow to speak for the Russian Church. It consistently denounced the collaboration of the church with the Communist Party, called for a more positive valuation of Russia’s prerevolutionary and anticommunist past [bold mine-DL] and served as a hopeful beacon to Orthodox Christians in Russia seeking an alternative.

Many in the Church Abroad wonder how this merger went through at all. The process was secretive, and there has even been speculation that some American businessmen with Russian ties helped to push it along. But now having accepted Moscow’s authority, the former Church Abroad faces many questions. Can its leaders press Moscow to reject the church’s tradition of collaborating with both the Kremlin and the KGB? Can they hold on to the church properties they have maintained for the past 80 years? Will the Moscow Church dispatch pro-Kremlin clergy to promote political aims? And, above all, can the leaders of the Church Abroad stem the tide of defection from the disappointed faithful that has already begun? ~Nadia Kizenko

Prof. Kizenko (she is a professor of history at SUNY Albany) makes a number of strange or false statements here.  In the past, the Church Abroad did serve an important function as a witness to Russian Orthodoxy free from any hint of Soviet influence, but the need for such an independent witness is no more, because the USSR is no more.  In the past, the Church Abroad did challenge collaboration with the Communist Party, but that party is no longer in power and the days of the “godless authority” are over.  The language of “merger” and “acquisition” is entirely inappropriate to the restoration of full communion between Christian brethren.  It suggests that the Church of Christ is merchandise to be bought and sold, as if our bishops were like the soldiers at the Crucifixion casting lots for the garments of the Lord.  This is an outrageous thing to suggest, but Prof. Kizenko’s language is meant to conjure up images of sordid and crooked dealings or the idea of the reconciliation of Orthodox Christians in terms of a hostile takeover more familiar to the readers of the Journal.

Members of what was the Church Abroad have valued and continue to positively value much of prerevolutionary Russian culture and history because it is also the culture and history nourished by the Russian Orthodox Church.  The ethnic Russians among Russian Orthodox outside Russia also have a natural admiration and love of their ancestral country, and they impart this admiration and love to new converts as part of the cultural traditions of their people, and I consider this all to the good.  In the last decade and a half, however, the Russian Orthodox in Russia have also begun to recover and rediscover the prerevolutionary past.  The Moscow Patriarchate has glorified the Holy Royal Martyrs and commemorates them among the Saints of the Church, which was a significant and important acknowledgement both of the Holy Royal Martyrs’ sanctity and martyrdom and of crimes of the persecutors who slew them and who also slew all the new martyrs of Russia.  Naturally, Prof. Kizenko fails to mention any of this.

The process of reconciliation was not secretive.  It was the fruit of the work of a joint commission made  up of representatives from the Synod and the MP, and information about their work was routinely made available.  The Sobor in San Francisco last year included lay and clerical representatives from every diocese in the Synod.  Each step was taken with the knowledge of all bishops and the laity of their respective dioceses.  Nonetheless, it was obviously and necessarily never going to be a “democratic” process, but was going to be one worked out by the bishops invested with the authority first given to the Holy Apostles to teach and lead the people of God.  The question of property has been or is in the process of being settled, and this has by and large meant the preservation of the status quo as far as questions of ownership and management are concerned.  Administratively and practically, the Synod’s institutional structures remain intact.  The key differences from the past are that communion has been restored and we recognise and commemorate Patriarch Alexy as the chief hierarch of the Russian Orthodox Church.

There will be more to come in the next few days, but this is all I have time to write right now.

Update: Ilya Somin at Volokh Conspiracy uncritically embraces the extensively error-ridden article by Prof. Kizenko.  I am continually impressed at how willing some people are to make their political hostility to the Russian government the deciding factor in judging the merits of the reconciliation of the two parts of the Russian Orthodox Church.  I wonder whether these critics would ever be satisfied with a reunion with Moscow unless the Patriarch of Moscow actively undermined Putin’s rule (never mind that this would be directly contrary to the injunctions of the Apostle and centuries of Orthodox tradition).  It is these critics, not the Orthodox hierarchs, who are making political concerns the priority, which rather exposes their real concern, which is to encourage schism and spiritual sickness for the sake of scoring political points against a Russian government they do not like.  This is very wrong, and it has to be fought at every turn.  Insisting on persisting in the old division because Putin’s regime is authoritarian would be like urging Catholics around the world to go into schism because Catholic bishops had supported the pro-Catholic Nationalists in the Spanish Civil War.  Maybe there were and are people who urged such measures, but happily few or none listened.  Let us hope that the same will be the case today. 

Correction: In an earlier update, I had briefly confused Prof. Kizenko with an entirely different Kizenko who was connected to a pro-Yushchenko group.  I am reliably informed by those who know Prof. Kizenko that she almost certainly has nothing to do with such groups.  She is a Russian Orthodox Christian.  She simply happens to be badly mistaken in what she wrote in her article.