The Ascension Day Effect Continues:
There are many who are familiar with texts, but who are unfamiliar with contexts.
After three generations of stagnation, the movement towards visible Orthodox unity is now gathering speed. It opened with the heroic canonisation of the New Martyrs and Confessors by the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia (ROCOR) in New York in 1981. This in turn led to the Rebaptism of Russia in 1988, followed by the fall of the Berlin Wall a year later and the collapse of atheism in Eastern, though not Western, Europe.
The movement was confirmed in Moscow two years ago, on Ascension Day 2007, with the reconciliation of the two parts of the Russian Church, the Moscow Patriarchate and the worldwide Church Outside Russia. Today, as a result of this event, the liturgical anniversary of which falls next week, the divisive decadence which has plagued the Orthodox world since 1917 is beginning to weaken.
The freedom and unity of the Russian Orthodox Church have brought allies for the cause of general Orthodox freedom and unity. The Russian Church’s path of return to unity through the Ascension is to be followed by other Local Orthodox Churches. Thus, not only both parts of the Russian Church, inside and outside Russia, including in Japan, but also the Churches of Serbia, Poland and Bulgaria are supporting the movement towards worldwide Orthodox unity. Led by the Russian Church and its internationally-minded Patriarch, who can perhaps be compared to the Russian Patriarch Nikon in the seventeenth century, the movement has also been supported by the Orthodox Church of the Czech Lands and Slovakia.
Metropolitan, now Patriarch, Kyrill has been gathering allies for this cause of Orthodox unity for many years, showing great patience. For generations Orthodox unity has been frustrated by nostalgic Hellenist nationalism, manipulated by its Turkish jailer, strongly supported by British (Anglican) and then American (Protestant) geopolitical self-interest. Despite the delays caused by several nationalist deviations in the Local Churches and by various ‘Orthodox’ sects and cults, the movement for Orthodox unity is now ascending.
Ahead of the Orthodox Conference in Cyprus in June, there has been a flurry of Orthodox diplomatic activity. In North America Patriarch Kyrill has been aided by Metropolitan Jonah, the new head of the Orthodox Church in America (OCA). The enemy, American nationalism, brought, like all sectarian nationalisms, into the Orthodox Church from outside, is beginning to wither. OCA relations with ROCOR in North America are rapidly improving. Indeed, in Australia the OCA parish has now been handed back to the ROCOR Archdiocese in Australia and New Zealand. (This is a name which is now beginning to sound out of date, as that Archdiocese – future Metropolia? - expands into eastern Asia, with especially vigorous missions in Indonesia and elsewhere).
In North America itself, many members of the OCA and the Russian Patriarchal churches (whose former Archbishop is now permanently in Moscow) look forward to merging with ROCOR into a new and united Orthodox Metropolia of the Americas. It may be that some more open and Orthodox-minded members of the Antiochian Archdiocese there would also wish to join such a Metropolia. At present the Antiochian Archdiocese is losing its autonomy and its Church administration is recentring on the controlling personality of its Metropolitan.
In Georgia, Patriarch Elias remains a staunch ally of the Russian Church. This is despite the opposition of the puppet leader Saakashvili, now largely abandoned by the new US administration. The liberation of the Georgian people from their prisons is possible in the near future. It is clear that the Georgian Church is taking the lead against the corrupt regime of its dictator-warlord. The Russian Church has been careful in no way to encroach on the canonical territories of the Georgian Church. These are South Ossetia and Abkhazia, which were liberated by Russian forces in last summer’s US proxy war, in which war crimes were committed against civilians with Ukrainian-supplied arms. The Russian Church will not repeat the errors forced on it by the pre-Revolutionary State-controlled Russian Synod and take over canonical territories of the Georgian Church.
The situation in the Ukraine remains fraught. However, it seems that its discredited, Fascist-leaning leader Yushchenko is also being abandoned by his Cold War-minded creators in the White House. With him could fall the corrupt schismatic groups which he supports. Some say that the Church of Cyprus may also join the movement for unity. At this moment a Russian delegation led by Patriarch’s Kyrill’s personal envoy, Archbishop Hilarion, is in Antioch to see if it will support the movement. The great unknown is the Church of Romania, given the political pressures on it in the nationalist dispute about Moldova. Talks are going on in Bucharest, but this problem is surely neither for Bucharest nor Moscow to solve. It is a question of self-determination for and by the people of Moldova.
It is true that there is still opposition to Orthodox unity. This is centred on the compromises of Hellenist nationalism and its colonies, including among émigré Ukrainians, the twenty new calendarist parishes in Finland and anti-Tradition dissidents grouped in the Paris Archdiocese. Here, Russophobia has become violent, if not endemic, since the appointment of the protégé of the modernist ‘Brotherhood’. The Archdiocese swiftly dropped the conciliatory policy of his predecessor, Archbishop Sergei Konovalov, who had been seeking reconciliation with the Mother-Church in Moscow. This was followed by the Brotherhood-controlled Archdiocese adopting a Russophobic group of mainly ex-Anglicans who had left the Sourozh Diocese in Great Britain.
The renovationist Brotherhood’s recent Conference in Amiens in northern France was marred by internal tensions within the Paris Jurisdiction. On the one hand, there are those who wish to return to their spiritual roots and Orthodox traditions, which have been subtly undermined by the Brotherhood over several decades. In Nice, Biarritz and Paris, divisions and scandals continue. Now, at the St Sergius church in Paris, the senior archpriest (who married us 29 years ago) has been ‘retired’. There is indeed nothing so intolerant as liberalism, as can also be seen quite clearly among modernists in North American jurisdictions.
The ultimate source of the tensions in the Paris Jurisdiction is in its varying reactions to the long-overdue 2003 proposition of the Russian Church for a united Orthodox Metropolia in Western Europe. This was made by Patriarch Alexis II, but it clearly originated with the present Russian Patriarch. The fact is that this Metropolia is going to be established. Disunity or unity? As Anglicans, and ex-Anglicans and ex-Episcopalians in the Greek and Antiochian Churches in the UK and the USA, can confirm, sitting between two chairs is very unpleasant. It would seem that after fifty years and more, many who made compromises will at last be forced to make up their minds which chair they are going to sit on: the comfortable but modernist chair of disunity, or the uncomfortable but Orthodox chair of unity. On this issue, a split in the much-compromised Paris Jurisdiction in parts of Western Europe and a reshaping of the Church landscape in North America now seem inevitable.
There was a time when the solution to this issue did not seem so clear. Then the Russian Church was captive. Today it is not. Surely then the solution is now clear. The time when compromises were excusable is over. It has never been easy to be a member of the Church of Christ, as we know from our Lord’s words to His disciples: ‘If the world hate you, ye know that it hated me before it hated you’ (Jn. 15, 18). But this does not mean that we should not follow His words, living as confessors and being ready even for martyrdom.
A question for all those who sit between two chairs: What would St Nicholas have done?
Archpriest Andrew Phillips
9/22 May 2009