LOOK BACK IN SORROW:
As the Vicariate of Amphipolis takes form, those interested in the Orthodox world see precisely the extent of its inevitable, self-imposed schism. At the time of writing, altogether eight priests and six deacons have left the Sourozh Diocese for Amphipolis (the British branch of the Paris-based Exarchate under the Patriarchate of Constantinople) without canonical letters of dismissal. In addition to this, three priests and one deacon have directly joined the Archdiocese of Thyateira of the Patriarchate of Constantinople, also leaving Sourozh without canonical letters of dismissal. The at present fifteen tiny communities forming the Vicariate of Amphipolis, with perhaps only two properties actually owned by them and often provided with only occasional services, consist of perhaps 250 laypeople. Services are soon to be resumed in these communities after their suspension over the last two months.
A Tragedy Unfolded
This means that of the clergy of the Sourozh Diocese, ten priests and seven deacons have kept faith with Russian Orthodoxy, despite the pressures on them. However, in recent days, we have heard of one priest who has understood the error of Bishop Basil and is returning to the Sourozh Diocese. We expect others, especially laity, to return over the coming weeks and months, when they have understood how they have been manipulated and hoodwinked. Most of the clergy and laity involved are relatively recent converts from Anglicanism, many of them naive and idealistic. They have fallen into one of the many manipulations of a clique that controlled the old Sourozh for decades.
Recently, one of the priests in the Patriarchally-appointed Commission which has investigated the crisis in the Diocese, Fr Michael Dudko, son of the late and widely respected Fr Dimitri Dudko, has spoken out. In an interview on Radio Radonezh he has declared: ‘Bishop Basil is running away from his responsibilities in order to preserve his personal comfort’. Essentially, this is of course so: those who arranged this ecclesiastical adventure were indeed running away, seeking the Resurrection without the Cross. But it is impossible to have the Resurrection without the Crucifixion.
Fr Michael Dudko knows this, because he saw it in his father's heroic life. But then so have all Russian Orthodox in Russia since 1917. The present Resurrection of the Church there is due purely to her Crucifixion of the last ninety years. But then anyone who reads the life of Christ in the Gospel knows it too: no Crucifixion, no Resurrection. Nobody wants to be crucified, and yet there are times when it is inevitable and it has happened to all of us in our lives. 'Let this cup pass from me, nevertheless not as I will, but as Thou wilt' (Matt. 26, 39).
As regards the Commission itself, it has now reported (see www.sourozh.org/info) and, despite the narrow brief of the Commission, the harsh realities of the last five years of life at the London Cathedral can be discovered. It comes as no surprise to learn that the Commission now knows that this schism had been prepared years ago. (We can recall people talking of 'going over to Constantinople' in the 1970s). Obviously, our pain goes out to Archbishop Anatoly, who for years lived on a pittance in 'a damp basement', and to the other clergy and laity who were oppressed by the manipulative and anti-democratic clique of individuals, who for decades had expressed their lack of love for Orthodoxy and for Russia. Since the spirit of Russian Orthodoxy was not there, how could any allegiance be there?
However, we should not overlook the personal tragedies, the weakness of the elderly and ill Metropolitan Antony, the illness and delusion of Bishop Basil, the tragic splits within small communities, even within families. They deserve our prayers on all sides. On the other hand, the (uncanonical) departure of some for the Patriarchate of Constantinople is also like a self-cleansing of Sourozh from decades of modernism - sadly, a blessing in disguise. Here, at least, we can look forward positively to a brighter future, towards a more mature period after the growing pains of the recent past. This is a God-given opportunity not to repeat the errors of the past and look forward to the future of a genuine Russian Orthodox Diocese and Tradition in the British Isles
A New Beginning
Now that the Cold War period is past, both parts of the Russian Orthodox Church, the Patriarchal Sourozh Diocese and that of the Church Outside Russia (ROCOR), are coming together. This means that both parts of the Church, in the British Isles also, will enter into eucharistic communion. Thus, there can be concelebration between the ROCOR parishes, the stavropegic Patriarchal parishes in Manchester, Dublin and elsewhere in Ireland and the remaining faithful Sourozh parishes, in London, Oxford (the new parish of St Nicholas), Cambridge, Bristol, Portsmouth and elsewhere. The Russian Orthodox Church in the British Isles can grow again, this time built on the solid foundations of Tradition, not on the passing fads and compromises of liberalism, modernism, ecumenism and personality worship. It is time to return to the common Church Tradition.
The errors of the old Sourozh that are not to be repeated are all linked to separation from the Russian Orthodox Church and Tradition, liturgically, canonically and ascetically, which made the final separation of schism in the Sourozh Diocese inevitable. These are the errors of the last fifty years, which have reached a crescendo in the last five years and a turning-point in the last five months. They must be avoided in the future. From them those who are tempted to fall away from Russian Orthodoxy can learn the following lessons:
1. To reject any type of personality cult and thence manipulation of power. Although many in the group in question bandied about the word 'sobornost', in fact they never knew what it meant: catholicity and conciliarity. In other words, the Church does not exist in isolation, living alone, but together with others. One of the tragedies of the Sourozh Diocese was that it was effectively cut off by the Cold War from the conciliar life of the Church in Russia. Given this situation, it then also refused to join a Synod of Bishops outside Russia, and, isolating itself, it grew its own problems in its isolation. Metropolitan Antony realized this to some extent, which is why he instituted Diocesan Conferences from 1975 on. However, that was only an internal solution, the Sourozh Diocese needed to frequent other dioceses of the Russian Orthodox Church and Tradition external to it, not isolating itself in the thoughts or 'heritage' of individuals in isolation from the catholicity of the Mother Church.
2. To reject situations in which a great deal of power is concentrated in the hands of a small number of people. Patriarchal sources are concerned about a lack of financial transparency.
3. To reject modernistic innovations in the celebration of services, with respect, and not contempt, for Russian Orthodox liturgical tradition. Enough of intercommunion. Enough of communion without confession. Enough of the Divine Liturgy without the Hours. Enough of no episcopal services. Enough of the massacre of Matins by omitting the canons. Enough of cremation. Enough of clergy not wearing the correct clothing or colour vestments. Enough of 'women in headscarves and skirts look like Muslims'. People do not become Roman Catholic and introduce Protestant customs, neither even do people become Greek Orthodox and introduce Russian Orthodox customs. Therefore, let Russian Orthodox remain Russian Orthodox.
4. To reject strange and even uncanonical practices, for example, the ordination of men who have no idea how to serve, of men who are divorced and remarried, of men whose wives are divorced, of men whose wives are not even Orthodox.
5. To accept the veneration of the New Martyrs and Confessors - no more of the 'we do not have enough space on the walls for their icons'.
6. To accept the teachings of the Church Fathers - and not French philosophers. The Church is a way of life based on warmth of heart, not philosophy and speculation based on intellectual coldness.
7. To accept monasticism and work for the introduction of Russian Orthodox monastic life in England, to respect the ascetic teachings of the Church, fasting, the reintroduction of services such as akathists, and the sale, and not censorship, of the writings of the saints and righteous at the Cathedral bookshop.
8. To accept into the Church all people of all nationalities and social backgrounds, who wish to live according to the Russian Orthodox Tradition. This means an end to the selective handpicking of individuals, meaning that the vast majority of people who in the last fifty years had contact with the Sourozh Diocese were then forced to leave it, ejected, like clergy from Russia in recent years, like whole sections of the Russian and English populations. The old Sourozh by itself almost created whole jurisdictions of people whom it rejected and scandalized, because they did not fit in with 'people like us', with the liberal, upper middle-class, public school, ex-High Church Anglican stereotype which it appeared to want. Whether the rejected exiles went to the Greek Church, like Fr Sophrony, to ROCOR, to the Belorussian Church, to Antioch (a whole Deanery of 250 ex-Anglicans did this), these people must now know that they will be greeted back in Sourozh, not exploited, manipulated, deluded and finally tossed out onto the street as garbage. The new Sourozh must accept both Russian immigrants who are seeking to live according to the Tradition as well as East End dockers, who were so cruelly refused admission to the Church, because 'they wouldn't fit in'. The new Sourozh will need to be authentically missionary, accepting and not rejecting.
In a word, all must know that the new Sourozh is in Orthodox hands once more and that anyone who wishes to keep faith with the Russian Orthodox Church and Tradition, whatever nationality they may be and whatever language they may speak, has their place in it. They must know that Russian Orthodoxy has a universal vocation in these islands, as everywhere. Those who have been rejected in the past for their faithfulness to the Russian Orthodox Tradition, whether in Slavonic or in English, can now be welcomed back. The future will be built not on worldly compromises, but on Orthodoxy.
To the future!