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Exile Russian church opts for spiritual unity with Moscow

Written by: Staff
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SAN FRANCISCO, May 12 (Reuters) The Russian Orthodox Church Abroad has adopted a resolution at a historic synod that would accept the Moscow Patriarch its head after more than 80 years of bitter separation following the Communist revolution.

The 135 delegates and top church officials at only the fourth All-Diaspora Council since 1920 adopted a recommendation calling for spiritual unity with the Moscow Patriarchate but administrative autonomy, church officials told Reuters yesterday.

''We as a church have to do this to be in communion with the masses of faithful in Russia,'' Archbishop Mark, who has led the church's negotiations with Moscow, told Reuters. ''We can help the church in Russia to develop along a new path.'' The Church Abroad's 12 bishops will meet next week without the clergy and laymen who have participated in this week's council in San Francisco to have the final say on healing a divide that grew out of the Russia's 1917 atheistic Communist revolution.

Throughout Soviet rule the exile church considered the Moscow Patriarchate a tool of the state and the secret police. Feelings were so strong that it has taken 15 years since the fall of Communism for the spiritual embrace to take place.

Some exile church officials are still suspicious of Moscow church head Patriarch Alexiy II, saying he once had links to the KGB. Any spiritual reunion with Moscow may prompt some hardliners to leave the church, some clergy predict.

For his part, Alexiy has worked to heal the rift in recent years, apologizing for past transgressions and resolving some theological differences. For example, Moscow canonized the last tsar who was shot by the Bolsheviks -- sainthood that was long demanded by the Church Abroad.

Alexiy has also expressed hope that the San Francisco council could finally end the long rift.

''The more time passes, the less Russian the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad will remain,'' he said last month. ''This could be the last opportunity to bring together within one church two parts of the Russian people who were divided for political reasons as a result of the 1917 tragedy.'' UNRESOLVED ISSUES The Church Abroad's spiritual embrace of Moscow still leaves some thorny issues unresolved, including what to do about cities in which both have churches. Dueling churches exist in quite a number of European and American cities as well as in Jerusalem.

In New York City, for example, the Church Abroad has its worldwide headquarters just five blocks from a Orthodox Cathedral of the Moscow Patriarchate.

''These are questions that will gradually be solved,'' Archbishop Mark, who oversees his church in Germany and Britain, said in an interview. ''In the church we do not like to push things, but to let things grow organically.'' The archbishop said the Church Abroad would retain the right to appoint its own bishops although the patriarch would bless their choices. The Church Abroad serves 350 communities worldwide, church officials said.

REUTERS PDS PM0758

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