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The Russian Orthodox Challenge: On Building New Local Churches in the Diaspora

Orthodoxy in the West will revive. There will be Orthodoxy in Britain and Ireland, in France and Germany, in Holland and Spain, and in America too. Every tongue and nation will have Holy Orthodoxy. This is the charge laid upon our Russian emigration for our repentance.

St John of Shanghai c. 1962

1. Introduction: A Reality Check

Over the last twenty years we have written repeatedly that there will be no new Local Church or Churches in the lands of the Diaspora until numbers of local people have not only joined, but above all integrated (and not dis-integrated) the Church, living Orthodoxy as a way of life. Over the last fifty years, since St John’s words quoted above, we have seen many failures to integrate - always for the same reason. Although it may seem harsh to point out these failures, Church life and therefore authentic spiritual life, as we have so often said before, cannot be built on fantasy, but only on reality. Thus, we note three recent failures to build Local Churches:

a. ‘Western Rite’. The failure of the small ‘Western rite’ grouping, which was especially obvious in France. Rejecting the Tradition and discipline of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia because they were overly attached to a recreated rite allowed exceptionally by pastoral economy, this unstable grouping abandoned Her. Constantly changing jurisdiction and going from one Local Church to another, it finally disintegrated into the sectarianism of vagantes.

b. Paris. The failure of the Parisian ‘Fraternite Orthodoxe’ faction in the small Rue Daru jurisdiction which, wanting to found a new Local Church, forgot that its chosen Patriarchate had never freely given autocephaly to any Local Church. Reduced to one bishop by anti-monastic, anti-clerical and anti-episcopal attitudes, this faction forgot that the Church depends not on intellectual debates and philosophical dreams, but on bishops who belong to a Synod.

c. The OCA. The failure of the Paris-founded OCA political experiment at the end of the Cold War, during which obedience to a Patriarch, a captive of the Soviet atheist government, had been unacceptable to American citizens. Once founded, the OCA began to break apart as a result of the lack of the same anti-monastic, anti-clerical and anti-episcopal attitudes as in Paris. Without authentic and healthy monastic life, the episcopate of any Local Church becomes populated by the unsuitable. The best any such group can hope for, as with the Rue Daru group, is generally that some suitable widowed priests who can become bishops are available. As a result of its lack of suitable bishops, the renovationist wing of the OCA put forward the fantasy of a married episcopate, as in Episcopalianism, from where many of its converts had come. In their American isolation, this faction overlooked the fact that such a radical change would need the agreement of all the Local Orthodox Churches – an impossibility. In this context of ‘unsuitable’ bishops, we recall St John of Shanghai’s prophecy: ‘America is a great country, but greed and sensuality will be her downfall’.

In all the above three cases, the failure to found a new Local Church can be attributed to the same cause – the failure to transmit the Orthodox Tradition to groups which no longer understood the original Orthodox language of the Tradition. In other words, the groups spilled the wine because they had no glass to contain it. Now that these once fashionable excesses of the past can be left aside, even some in the above groups are realising the essential need for a Mother-Church. A premature or immature child is unable to build anything without its mother. Only the proud and rebellious teenager imagines that he can stand alone, putting the cart before the horse. It is clear that at present bilingualism, avoiding the immature extremes of monolingual ‘purity’ which tore so many Diaspora parishes apart a generation ago, is what is necessary. In this way, the authentic Tradition can successfully be transmitted from the original immigrant group to the receiving group.

In all the above three cases, another vital question was also overlooked: Does any free Local Church even wish to found new Local Churches, given the canonical fact that a Local Church first needs to consult other Local Churches about founding new Churches, especially in areas of mixed jurisdiction? From the meetings of the new Inter-Orthodox Episcopal Assemblies in many countries around the world, it is clear that, just as forty years ago, there is no desire whatsoever among thirteen of the fourteen Local Orthodox Churches to found new Local Churches. In this regard, these thirteen Local Churches can be divided into two groups, as below.

2. Seven Local Churches Which Have No Diaspora

All these Churches are small, altogether numbering fewer than thirteen million, and either are not allowed to have a Diaspora or else have no Diaspora. In order of size, smallest first, these are:

a. The Patriarchate of Jerusalem. This is becoming smaller and smaller, as its Arab Orthodox flock, like Christ crucified on the Cross between two thieves, is forced out of its homeland by Jewish and Muslim oppression. It also suffers from an internal crisis, as its bishops are appointed by the colonially-minded Foreign Ministry of Greece. They have few contacts with their flock, as mostly they fail to speak its language.

b. The Church of Albania. This is in many ways an extension of the Greek Orthodox Church, extending from Greece into ‘North Epirus’.

c. The Church of Cyprus. Having since the Second World War lost over a quarter of its flock by emigration to England and 40% of its territory to Turkish invasion, it represents a small country, which survives largely on tourism and Russian loans.

d. The Patriarchate of Alexandria. Administered largely by the Greek Foreign Ministry, it has never fully recovered from the defection in the fifth century of the nationalist-minded, anti-Greek Copts in Egypt and the Ethiopians. Today, it has a chance to prosper, thanks to the baptism of hundreds of thousands of black Africans in a Continent of one billion. With African, instead of Greek, bishops, it will have an opportunity to grow.

e. The Church of Greece. Founded nearly 200 years ago, this is the only Church of these seven to have a flock of over one million.

All the above Greek-oriented Churches are in reality extensions of the Patriarchate of Constantinople, which looks after their emigrants in the Diaspora. In this sense, they could all be treated as one Local Church. Finally, there are two other Local Churches, also with very small flocks, which do not have a Diaspora. These are:

f. The Church of the Czech Lands and Slovakia. Essentially populated by Carpatho-Russians (Rusins or, in Latin, Ruthenians), this has been much boosted in recent years by immigration from the Ukraine.

g. The Church of Poland. This is essentially composed of Belarussians, Ukrainians and Lemkos (Carpatho-Russians living within present Polish frontiers).

The two above Slav Churches are in reality, despite past and present interference and pretensions from the Patriarchate of Constantinople, extensions of the Russian Orthodox Church. Indeed, the latter looks after their emigrants in the Diaspora, despite certain very limited Polish Orthodox missionary activities among the native peoples of south-western Europe. In this sense, the above two Local Churches could be treated as parts of the Russian Orthodox Church.

3. Six Local Churches Which Have a Diaspora, But No Desire To Found New Local Churches

In order of size, smallest first, these are:

a. The Patriarchate of Antioch. Until recently its Diaspora was very small in Continental Western Europe, though it has recently been increasing as a result of emigration and the civil war in Syria. Peculiarly in the USA and England, it has been characterised by small groups of conservative converts from Protestantism, some of them ‘Western rite’, living quite separately from their Arab hierarchy and generally not integrating the Arab tradition of their Mother-Church and its centralised administration. The future for this small Church, is very uncertain, crushed and crucified as She is between Islam and Uniatism, all the more given the current civil war in Syria where its Patriarch has long resided.

b. The Patriarchate of Constantinople. Alone among the Local Churches, the majority of Her few adherents live in the Diaspora, which did not exist until some ninety years ago. Indeed, the divisive creation of this Diaspora was largely a matter of political opportunism after the Russian Revolution, when this Patriarchate actually openly supported the Communist-sponsored renovationist enemies of the Russian Church. At the same time this Patriarchate also took over small parts of the Russian Diaspora, mainly in France and Finland, as well as part of the Carpatho-Russian Diaspora in the USA, and tried to do the same in Poland and Czechoslovakia. This opportunism has continued since the fall of Communism and this Patriarchate has been keen to try and take over parts of the politically-dissident, self-consecrated Galician (Ukrainian) Diaspora, anti-Russian dissidents in Estonia and the western Ukraine, as well as a tiny group of anti-Russian, mainly Anglican, converts in England.

This Patriarchate largely failed in the above empire-building measures, as it was unable to camouflage its essential Greek nationalism (’phyletism’ in Greek), as tools for which it used British and then US finance and politics, and therefore pro-Turkish policies, and, most scandalously of all, disastrous ecumenical compromise. However, Churches cannot be built on political intrigues and interference. This Patriarchate has never freely given any ethnic group autocephaly and has been unable to do any consistent missionary work over the last 500 years. As a result, it has largely lost the youth of its Diaspora. Its future seems very fragile, as its episcopate ages and its finances dwindle.

c. The Church of Georgia. This is a small Local Church and Her very recent and inward-looking Diaspora is also very small. Thus, there is only one bishop for the whole of Western Europe.

d. The Church of Bulgaria. This is also small and Her very recent and inward-looking Diaspora is also very small. Thus, there is only one bishop for the whole of Western Europe.

e. The Church of Serbia. Although the Serbian Diaspora was established earlier than most, it has always been very inward-looking. Today, the Church of Serbia, much of Her canonical territory occupied by NATO and separated and fragmented by EU-sponsored nationalism, is being forced by the pro-EU Serbian government into acts of ecumenism. This crisis is reflected in Her Diaspora.

f. The Church of Romania. Easily the second largest Local Church, the Romanian Church today has a huge, though mainly new, Diaspora all over Western Europe, especially in Italy. It seems, however, to be partly subject to some of the nationalism that the Mother-Church is also undergoing at present, encouraged by the EU.

The six above Local Churches are generally characterised by inward-lookingness and even nationalism. It is perhaps symbolic that their forms of chant do not ‘export’.

4. The Fourteenth Local Orthodox Church

Although by far the largest Local Orthodox Church, we have left the Church of Russia till last because She is in many ways quite unique.

Firstly, the Russian Orthodox Church, with 164 million members, is approximately three-quarters of the whole Orthodox Church.

Secondly, She is by far the most multinational and multilingual of the Local Churches. Within the Russian Federation there are the currents of Moscow, St Petersburg, Central Russia and multinational Siberia. Outside this territory, there is the Ukraine, Belarus, Moldova, Latvia, Estonia, the multinational Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia, ROCOR, not to mention the Autonomous Japanese, and for the moment the hardly existent Chinese, Orthodox Churches. In all She has 62 different nationalities within Her and a third of Her members live outside Russia.

Thirdly, She is the most westernised of the Local Churches, as can be seen by Her polyphonic music (not ‘chant’), often sung by women. This has been ‘exported’ with relative ease into a great many other languages. But more than this, with Russia’s Western borders exposed to the West, She has faced up to and answered Western attitudes and philosophies in an Orthodox manner.

Fourthly, She has the most missionary history of all the Local Churches, both to the east and to the west. Historically, She preached Orthodoxy on Her western borders, in Hungary, Carpatho-Russia, Slovakia and Poland, Karelia, the Baltic States, and more recently on Her eastern borders, through Siberia, among the Altai, in Yakutia, in Kamchatka, some 250 years ago in Alaska, then in China, Korea, Japan and most recently in Thailand. Not only does She have the two Autonomous Churches, but also the self-governing, politically independent Church Outside Russia, ROCOR, which is nearly 100 years old. This has missions in many languages on every Continent, in Western Europe, North and South America, Africa, Pakistan and among the Aborigenes of Australia. Moreover, ROCOR has been strengthened by recent mass emigration after the collapse of the economically safe, but religiously and politically tyrannical Soviet Union. Following this collapse, new emigrants also established parishes in the Diaspora, which for the time being are still attached to the Church Inside Russia. These we shall call ‘ROCORIR parishes’, parishes of the ‘Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia Inside Russia’. This peculiar term denotes their for the moment peculiar status.

Finally, the Russian Orthodox Church also has five Russian-founded seminaries outside Russia. These are the ROCOR seminary at the Jordanville monastery in the USA, St Tikhon’s seminary and monastery, also in the USA (for the moment still under the jurisdiction of the fragmenting OCA), a new seminary in Paris which is being established as a Russian Orthodox representation after various difficulties, as well as St Vladimir’s in New York and the St Sergius’ Institute in Paris, both of whose futures are uncertain outside the Russian Mother-Church.

5. Difficulties in the ROCORIR Diaspora We do not disguise the difficulties of the Russian Orthodox Diaspora – we have suffered from them for forty years. Let us deal with it in its two parts, firstly, in its small part, mainly recently established and still directly dependent on the Church Inside Russia. Here, development is held back by three factors. These are:

a. The ‘Legacy’ of Renovationism. Renovationism (modernism) was largely overcome inside Russia, thanks to the firm attitudes of Patriarchs Alexis I, Pimen and Alexis II. However, outside Russia, some are struggling to deal with the legacy of ‘religious’ philosophers (Berdiaiev, Frank etc) and deluded heretical ideologists, some in Church rank (Bulgakov and other Parisians, who spread to the English-speaking world), who were all tainted by disincarnate rationalism, liberal intellectualism, and esoteric Gnosticism and Origenism. Unfortunately, among some here there is still a cult of the dead, a worship of the past, of old-fashioned dead modernists, a hangover from the past, which should have been buried by now, especially as Renovationism was so very damaging and utterly divisive when the individuals concerned were alive. It is time to look to the future (as is this article), not to the past. The old personality cults need to be replaced by the authentic Tradition from the homeland, based on the New Martyrs and Confessors, on the Royal Martyrs, on the saints who are alive, like St John of Shanghai, not on dead philosophers. Sadly, the renovationists have, in their own words, no space on their walls for the icons of such saints of God.

b. Old Statist Attitudes. Here, there is still much to do to overcome the Soviet past. The old, all-conquering, imperialist mentality still survives among some individual laypeople, as though they were driving Soviet tanks to Berlin. The centralisation, ‘one size fits all’ mentality, despite its clear rejection in the present ‘Metropolitanisation’ of the Russian Church, still attracts some. Statist attitudes are also alive in the anti-ascetic cult of luxury among some individuals who think that the anti-Church aristocracy of pre-Revolutionary times is to be imitated. Here, the newly-baptised have to be Churched away from such mentalities, towards Orthodox behaviour and Church discipline, towards learning from others. With teaching and example, especially on the part of the bishops and clergy, this is all possible.

c. Lack of Cultural Integration and Identity. Finally, there is the lack of local knowledge and of the local language. This is a problem for the children of emigrants, who do not understand the language of the services and want, for example, to confess in the local language, not in Russian. This lack of cultural understanding, as in the lack of parish registration, is something that ROCOR went through two and three generations ago and learned about. It is a great pity that the ROCORIR parishes seem not to have a desire to learn, making use of previous Russian Orthodox experience, instead often preferring isolation. In this way, old mistakes could be avoided, instead of being repeated.

6. Difficulties in the ROCOR Diaspora

Naturally, there are also difficulties in the ROCOR Diaspora. Here too, three factors are holding the Church back. These are:

a. Lack of Understanding of Mass Religion. Persecuted for decades, ROCOR was isolated from other Local Churches, largely as a result of pressure from the Soviet State. During this Cold War period, quite naturally, a siege mentality grew up, even, quite understandably, a certain paranoia, and among some a ghetto or sectarian mentality. But there is no life in the ghetto or the sect, which is why all ghettoes and sects die out. This we saw clearly in 2007, when a small number of ROCOR parishes refused to recognise the repentance of those who had compromised themselves in Russia under the Soviet regime. These were those who had already hampered the cause of unity for years. As a result of their self-imposed isolation, right-wing political nationalism developed among them. They forgot that the Russian Orthodox motto is ‘For Faith, for the Tsar, for Rus’, not in any other order. They forgot that large parts of the White Russian movement and political emigration had not been ‘White’ at all, as is recalled in the sermons of ROCOR bishops like St John of Shanghai and Archbishop Averky of Syracuse, but purely political.

As a result of this isolation, provincial attitudes developed and an international overview of the whole Church was lost. It was in this way and in this period that some lost the understanding that the Church is the Church of the masses – as before the Revolution. In this context, there is also the misapprehension of ecumenism. Ecumenism as syncretism is severely and clearly condemned by the whole Russian Church. However, there is also ‘ecumenism’ as good neighbourly relations, both locally and internationally, and that is a good thing. Their reverence for the Cold War past and the desire to see perfection in others, and not in ourselves, are not part of the Church. What such small minorities failed to understand is that the whole Russian Church shares the same ideal, the restoration of the Orthodox Monarchy for the benefit of all Orthodox, but we have different ways of achieving this noble aim. Therefore, we must work together. We of the True White Orthodox emigration keep the Tsar in our hearts as a source of Faith, not as a source of narrow, right-wing political nationalism.

b. Lack of Finance. ROCOR is poor, lacking sponsors and State help. This means a lack of infrastructure and a lack of priests. Young men are discouraged from the priesthood, since they know that it means poverty and double work. On the other hand, we must remember that too much money destroys the Church, as we can see elsewhere in the Orthodox world. Perhaps we should see the lack of finance as a blessing in disguise.

c. Lack of Bishops. ROCOR lacks bishops. However, we must remember that it is better to have few bishops of quality than many bishops, if most of them are unsuitable to be bishops because of ambition for power or money, or because of deviation or incompetence. The solution to finding bishops is always one and the same - to foster authentic monastic life.

7. Conclusion: The Real Russian Revolution

It is clear that both parts of the Russian Diaspora, the small and new ROCORIR part and the large and old-established ROCOR part, need one another: they are complementary. Only together can they form the foundation-stones of new Local Churches. Whether is to the liking of all or not, the fact remains that the primary problems of the Diaspora can only be solved by the Russian Orthodox Church. Only She has strength in numbers, a multinational history, skills, openness, infrastructure, experience, finance, the uncompromised Tradition – potentially all that is required. Here, there is the ability and also, among many, the willingness to found new Local Churches. Here there is great responsibility for the transmission of the Tradition, to transmit the Orthodox identity around the world to different lands and in different tongues.

This responsibility entails bilingualism. It means overcoming the ideological extremes of both aggressive self-affirmation and aggressive self-denial. The former leads to the superiority complex of ghetto sectarianism - and spiritual death. The latter leads to the inferiority complex of renovationist assimilation – and spiritual death. The former means to be more Russian than the Russian. The latter means to be more American (or French) than the American (or French).

There is a myth that in 1917 there was a ‘Russian’ Revolution. There was not. There was a Western materialist Revolution, an anti-Russian Revolution, held in Russia. Thus the Russian Tsar did not abdicate, but part of Russia, infected with an alien ideology, did abdicate from him. The Western-inspired Third International, as later the Western-inspired Third Reich, wanted to crush the Orthodox Third Rome, and spread atheist materialism worldwide. It failed and ended in disaster. However, there is a real Russian Revolution.

Today, the completion of the real Russian Revolution is possible. This possibility began over thirty years ago in 1981, with the glorification by free Orthodox Russia of the New Martyrs and Confessors. Within a few swift years this resulted in the collapse of atheist tyranny and the baptism of the masses. But this was only the first stage. The real Russian Revolution has a second stage - that Russia may pass by repentance from nominal mass Orthodoxy to practising mass Orthodoxy, and on a scale unknown before the Revolution. This second stage is what we are preparing now, in this illogical period, when everywhere we see in Russia the double-headed eagle, but there is no Tsar.

Only when this process of restoration is complete can the true Third International take place. Only by the example of repentance in Russia can there be repentance outside Russia. For the true Third International is the export of uncompromised Orthodoxy far beyond the homelands of Orthodoxy to the four corners of the earth, to China and India, to Latin America, to the USA and Canada, to Australasia and Indonesia, the Philippines, Thailand, Laos, Nepal and Pakistan, and to Western Europe. And this spiritual Revolution will be the only real Russian Revolution and the spread of Orthodoxy worldwide will be the only true Third International.

Archpriest Andrew Phillips,
Colchester, Essex.

Holy Leaders of the Apostles, Peter and Paul
29 June/12 July 2012

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