Reconciliation for Russian Orthodox Church

Reports have emerged that an historical split between the Russian Orthodox Patriarchate and a breakaway church-in-exile that dates back to the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution will be formally ended in May next year.

A document is set to be signed by Patriarch Alexy II of Russia and the New York-based leader of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia, Metropolitan Laurus, which will give formal recognition to the reunification.

Following this, a joint service will be held in Moscow on 17th May to mark the historical turn of events.

Metropolitan Kirill, the Russian Orthodox Church's head of external relations said, "There are questions that need to be settled, but these are formal details that will not influence the reunification act."

Earlier this year, members of the exiled church in California voted in favour to urge bishops to rejoin the church HQ.

Under proposals, each church will maintain control over their own bishops, however, priests will be given powers to participate and hold Mass in both churches.

In addition, cooperation has been agreed in vital areas such as religious education, youth programs, as well as missionary activities.

The Bolshevik Revolution is seen as the critical point in the split between the two churches in 1924, and three years following that the émigré church split from the Patriarchate and cut all ties. The reason for this was that Patriarch Sergiy declared the church's loyalty to the Soviet Union's communist government.

The Russian Orthodox Church at the time stated that Sergiy's move was aimed at saving the church. However, it disavowed the declaration this year.

Following the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, talks began to reconcile the two churches. This lead to working groups being formed in 2003 following a visit to Russia by the three émigré archbishops, as well as a 2004 visit by Laurus.

Laurus however emphasised that it was not a "merger" and firmly stated that his branch will maintain administrative control over its 400-plus parishes worldwide, as well as its 480,000 American members.