THE importance of the subject of the relation of the American to the Russian Church, already attracting a deep and wide-spread interest, leads us to give place to the following statement.
Some months ago, the Rev. John Freeman Young, Secretary of the Russo-Greek Committee appointed by the General Convention of 1862, having occasion to go abroad, gladly embraced the opportunity, at the request of the Committee, to extend his tour into Russia, in order the more successfully to obtain the information which was the object of appointing the Committee. His return gives us a far more minute and accurate knowledge of the present condition of the Russian Church, than has been previously within our reach. His experience while in that distant country also gives us proof, as abundant as it is delightful, of the friendly disposition of the chief Prelates and leading laymen of Russia, and of their readiness to respond to any overtures for intercommunion--should such be made--provided no concession be expected of them which should trench upon the fundamental principles of Truth and Order.
After making the acquaintance of the Russian chaplains resident in London and Paris--both of whom were deeply interested in the movement and anxious to further it to the utmost in their power--Mr. Young arrived in St. Petersburg, and waited first upon the Vice-Procureur Général, Prince Ourousoff; through whom, and in whose presence, he obtained an interview with the Procureur Général. These gentlemen are the Emperor's representatives in the Holy Synod, without whom nothing can be done,--being equivalent to what is called, with us, the "Lay Element." The Procureur-Général said that, being laymen, it was not for them to express an opinion upon the theological aspects of the question. He therefore referred Mr. Young to the aged and truly venerable Philaret, Metropolitan of Moscow, as being preeminently the man whose utterances on such a point might be regarded as the voice of the whole Russian Church, and whose opinion touching this matter, when communicated to the Holy Synod after an interview with Mr. Young, would in all probability very greatly influence the action of the Synod. He alluded to the cordial reception given in this country to the Russian fleet; and, in regard to the manifestation of courtesies both secular and ecclesiastical, he said, at the close of a very cordial interview, that these tokens of kindness and good will were not only expressions of the sentiment of the American people and the American clergy towards the Russian, but no less truly the sentiment of the Russian people and the Russian clergy towards the American.
At Moscow, Mr. Young enjoyed two interviews with the Metropolitan Philaret, of some three hours each, the Vicars of the Metropolitan, Bishop Sabas and Bishop Leonide, together with the Rector of the Spiritual Academy of Moscow, and two interpreters, being present on both occasions. [Bishop Leonide, by the way, was in his youth a classmate, at the Naval School, of the Admiral Lessoffsky, who left us but the other day; and he entered most heartily and thoroughly into the movement.] The Metropolitan's reception was most courteous and cordial; and throughout the interviews, nothing was said on either side that in the slightest degree ruffled or disturbed the friendly tone. The substance of the conversation was chiefly the asking and answering of questions, as to the state of facts touching the doctrine and ecclesiastical position of the Anglican Communion on the one side, and of the Russian Church upon the other. It was arranged that the chief portions of our Prayer Book should be translated into the Russian language, and published, so as to give a more definite idea of the doctrine and worship of our Church. The Metropolitan, at the close of the final interview, expressed his gratification at the letters which Mr. Young had brought from the American Bishops, asking Mr. Young, in return, to "bear the kiss of peace from him to the whole venerable Hierarchy of the American Church, assuring them of his warmest sympathy and love, and of his earnest prayer and hope that we may soon be one in mind, as we are already one in heart in Christ Jesus." At parting, he gave Mr. Young his Episcopal benediction, together with the most cordial adieus. During his stay in Moscow, Mr. Young found that the movement was already well known among the leading circles of the Laity, and the warmest desires were expressed for a successful issue. So much interest was shown, indeed, that Mr. Young found it simply impossible to accept all the invitations that were so kindly pressed upon him from every side.
On his return from Moscow to St. Petersburg, he had an interview with the Metropolitan of St. Petersburg, who is also President of the Holy Synod, the Archbishop of Moghileff, a member of the Synod, being also present. His reception here was no less warm and cordial than by the venerable Philaret. He expressed great gratification for himself, and on behalf of the Russian Church, at the movement thus begun, and assured Mr. Young that any step which our Church might see fit to take, would be met by the Russian Church in the Spirit and Love of Christ. He thought it very judicious that a Committee of Inquiry should have been appointed in the first instance, as it would afford the opportunity for a better knowledge of one another, before more formal negociations should be begun. He read the letters from the American Bishops with care and evident interest, noting the expressions they contained, and testifying his gratification at the tone which pervaded them. He said that the sentiments and wishes of the American Bishops in these letters could not but meet with warm sympathy on the part of the Russian Church, which ever prays for the reunion of Christendom, and is ever ready to negociate with those who desire to stand on the ground of Apostolic Truth and Order, and are willing to admit the Apostolic dignity of the Russian Church. He stated that he would lay these letters of the American Bishops before the Holy Synod on the following day, and invited Mr. Young to visit the Synod at the same time; remarking, also, that replies to these letters would be sent to the American Bishops. At the close of the interview, the Metropolitan expressed the sincere hope that the movement begun by the American Church, might prove to be the work of our Blessed Lord Himself, and that, through His Grace, it might result in the great consummation so much desired by both Churches. In parting, he also gave to his visitor the Episcopal benediction.
The next day, in accordance with the invitation given, Mr. Young visited the Holy Synod, and was introduced, by Prince Ourousoff, to the several members of it, by all of whom he was most courteously and cordially received. At the request of the Procureur Général, he left the letters of the American Bishops to be deposited in the Archives of the Holy Synod; and at the request of the President of the Holy Synod, he wrote the following Note to accompany the letters, giving an epitome of the origin and aim of the movement. As an evidence of the scrupulous fidelity with which Mr. Young kept himself within the line of his instructions, during this interesting and most important tour, we give this Note in full:--
To his Eminence ISIDORE,
Metropolitan of St. Petersburg:--
MY LORD METROPOLITAN .---I have the honor to present to your Lordship the accompanying letters of commendation and fraternal salutation in the Lord, from several Bishops of the Episcopal Church in the United States of America, which is, as your Lordship is well aware, an offshoot of the ancient and venerable Church of England. His Excellency the Procureur-Général of the Holy Synod suggested, when I had the honor to lay these letters before him, that as they are the first which have been written to the Hierarchy of the Oriental Church by the Canonical Bishops of any independent National Church since the Great Schism with reference to reunion, it would be very gratifying to the Synod if, on my return to America, I would leave them to be deposited in its archives. With this kind suggestion it gives me great pleasure now to comply, begging to assure your Lordship that many others of our Bishops would have had great pleasure in joining in these greetings, had they known in due time of the opportunity for this, which my contemplated visit would afford.
The letters accompanying are from the following seven of our forty American Bishops:--
The Rt. Rev. Dr. McCOSKRY, Bishop of Michigan.
The Rt. Rev. Dr. DELANCEY, Bishop of Western New York.
The Rt. Rev. Dr. ALONZO POTTER, Bishop of Pennsylvania.
The Rt. Rev. Dr. BURGESS, Bishop of Maine.
The Rt. Rev. Dr. WILLIAMS, Assistant Bishop of Connecticut.
The Rt. Rev. Dr. HORATIO POTTER, Bishop of New York.
The Rt. Rev. Dr. STEVENS. Assistant Bishop of Pennsylvania.
Standing alone, amidst the numerous Protestant Communions by which she is surrounded, because of her tenacious, adherence to the Apostolical Succession of her Priesthood, her Catholic Liturgy, Creeds, Traditions, and Ceremonies, the great Anglican Communion, of which the American Church is a considerable part, ever since her release from the thraldom of the Papacy, has regarded with interest and lively sympathy the venerable Orthodox Church of the East.
This sentiment was strengthened by the publication in our language, some fifty years ago, of Platon's Catechism, Dr. King's Rites and Ceremonies of the Greek Church, and some other similar works. But it has received a greater impulse more recently by the publication of the Primer and Catechisms of the Russian Church, Mouravieff's History of the same, and other standard Russian works, together with the well known and invaluable labors of the Rev. Dr. John Mason Neale.
Yet the occasion for calling forth the expression of these sentiments, by any action on our part, was wanting, till the settlement of a considerable number of Russians in San Francisco, and the desire of several of them for the ministrations of our Priesthood, (in the absence of their own,) with the prospective increase of this intercourse on the Pacific, admonished us that the time had arrived when the two Churches should enter upon the consideration and definition of their mutual ecclesiastical relations.
Remembering our Redeemer's earnest prayer, "that they all may be one," and knowing the charitable spirit which has ever characterized the Orthodox Church of the East, the American Church has not hesitated to take the first step in this momentous matter: and from the many important points of agreement and few of difference between us, the hope is entertained on our part, that without the surrender of fundamental principles on either side, and on a strictly Catholic and Oecumenical basis, with the blessing of the Great Head of the Church on our mutual efforts, a harmonious understanding may in due time be attained.
The end contemplated by the movement of the American Church referred to in these letters, may be stated in a few words to be:--The attainment of a more accurate knowledge of the Orthodox Eastern Church than we are as yet in possession of, making known to her Hierarchy at the same time, as opportunities may serve, our well established claims to recognition as an integral portion of the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church; having ultimately in view (should it appear feasible and desirable when we come to know each other better) such mutual recognition of Orders and Sacraments, as will allow members of the Anglo-American Communion to avail themselves of the Offices of the Eastern Church, with the consent of its Bishops and clergy, without renouncing the Communion of their own Church; and as will permit members of the Eastern Church, with like consent, as occasion shall serve, to avail themselves of the ministrations of the Anglo-American Church, without forfeiting thereby the privilege of Church membership in their own Communion.
With assurances of the unceasing prayers of the Faithful of the American Church for the realization of so blessed a consummation, I beg to subscribe myself,
My Lord, Your Lordship's very humble servant in Christ,
JOHN FREEMAN YOUNG
Secretary of the Russo-Greek Committee of the American Episcopal Church. St. Petersburg, April 9/21, 1864.
It will be easily understood that Mr. Young met with a vast deal to gratify and exhilirate the friends of the movement towards intercommunion, which cannot be laid before the public, without a violation of the propriety that clothes private conversations with a reserve that is understood by all gentlemen; while other facts will be more appropriately reserved for the Report of the Committee to the next General Convention. We would mention only two incidents, each having its own bearing. The one is, that the courtesy of the Bishop of New York towards the chaplains on board of the Russian fleet that has been for a year past in our waters, in inviting them to officiate in this Diocese during their stay, and in tendering to them his good offices for procuring the use of any one of our city churches, for public service with their own people if they should desire it,--has been widely made known in the Russian papers, in terms of sincere gratification. The other is, that Mr. Young learned, in St. Petersburg, that immediately after our last General Convention, Archbishop Hughes wrote to a Papal journal, published in the city of Rome itself, a detailed account of the whole movement towards intercommunion, then and there begun; an account which is thus closed:--"So the Anglican Communion is going to place itself in a worse position than ever, by seeking affiliation and intercommunion with the schismatical Greeks!"
It ought to he widely known among us, that one of the first acts of the present Czar Alexander, after coming to the throne, was, to order a revision of the translation of the whole Bible in the vernacular, under the direction of the Holy Synod, for publication and unrestricted distribution throughout all Russia. For this purpose it is issued in different forms, and at various prices, all gotten up very neatly and yet very cheaply. A really nice copy of the whole New Testament can be bought for 12 cents, and in a style of type and paper superior to anything yet turned out at that price by any British or American Bible Society. The Holy Scriptures are now actually bought in immense quantities, both by peasants and nobles. The Czar has also ordered steps to be taken for the elevation and improvement of the temporal condition of the Clergy throughout his Empire, and this good work is still going on. In connection with that great measure, the Emancipation of the serfs,--which has filled the civilized world with admiration,--there has been a general movement, on the part of the old proprietors, to establish Schools for the serfs, and to instruct and elevate them in every way, so as to qualify them for the intelligent performance of their new duties as citizens. In Moscow, which is the chief seat and centre of the old nobility of Russia, many of the leading ladies have united in organizing a general Depository for all sorts of approved educational books, published in the various governments of the Empire. They have gone further, and are enlarging the native stock of juvenile literature, not only by translating from foreign languages, but even by writing new works, where suitable ones cannot otherwise be found.
On reviewing the whole of this happy movement towards intercommunion, from its beginning in the General Convention of 1862 down to the present moment, its friends have certainly, every reason to "thank God and take courage." It seems,--thus far, at any rate,--to receive the blessing of Him Who alone "maketh men to be of one mind in an House."