The Diaspora Problem under New Management?
The Paris Exarchate
On 9 February, speaking on RF1, the French National Radio, Fr Nicholas Rehbinder of the Paris Exarchate again stated the need for the leaders of the Exarchate to return to their Russian Mother-Church. He explained that he hoped that the new Russian Patriarch Kyrill would unite all the Russian parishes in Western Europe into one autonomous structure, as Patriarch Alexis had previously suggested in April 2003 (see this website).
He declared that only this would lead to the eventual establishment of a Local Orthodox Church in Western Europe, with parishes of different nationalities within it under the Russian Church. He added that it was ‘only for external reasons that he and others found themselves within the Patriarchate of Constantinople’, which situation had always been ‘considered to be temporary’. (Fr Nicholas was present, together with other members of his family, at the reconciliation in Moscow between the Moscow Patriarchate and the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia (ROCOR) in May 2007 – see this website).
Towards a Pan-Orthodox Conference
Four days later, on 13 February, it was announced by Archpriest Nikolai Balashov that the new leadership of the Russian Orthodox Church considers that preparations for a Pan-Orthodox Church Conference should be restarted. The announcement was made by this senior representative of the External Relations Department of the Russian Church during a broadcast by satellite link-up between Moscow and Paris. Made impossible for decades by the captivity of most Orthodox to the Communist Yoke (the Commission for the Conference last met 15 years ago) and by politicking, serious preparations are now a possibility. Fr Nicholas said that two meetings of representatives of all the Local Churches will take place in the course of 2009 in order to discuss the future Conference. We should recall that the only real matter on the agenda of such a Pan-Orthodox Conference is to find a solution to the question of the diaspora, where one Orthodox diocese is superimposed on top of another, despite the territorial concept of the Church canons.
The Diaspora Problem
Both above items of news give hope that a solution to the jurisdictional problem in the Orthodox Diaspora may appear within our lifetimes. Fr Nicholas Rehbinder’s appeal from within the bitterly divided Paris Exarchate recalls the situation of unity under the Russian Church in North America before 1918. It was after this that phyletist national groupings, led by the Patriarchate of Constantinople, broke away from Orthodox Church unity.
Sadly, this pattern of phyletist disunity was then repeated in Western Europe and all over the New World, through the Americasand Australasia by Patriarch Meletios Metaksakais of Constantinople. The Russian Church was then unable to stop it, since it had been paralysed by bitter persecution inside Russia. Only the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia tried to promote jurisdictional unity, but small, poor and from the 1960s on challenged by sectarian old calendarist trends which had infiltrated it from outside, it was too weak to do very much.
Of course, it may well be said that before looking at Western Europe the Russian Church still has to sort out the muddle inherited from the Cold War in North America. Here there is a separate jurisdiction known as the Orthodox Church in America (OCA), created in Soviet conditions. It is now in financial and other difficulty after scandals, and various parts of it want to break away from it.
After nearly forty years, its canonicity has not been recognised by any of the Greek Churches. Many in the Russian Church consider it to have been a premature creation, forced on the world by Communist conditions. Many also feel that if it can throw off its American nationalism, it could return to a canonically-recognised situation and unity under the Russian Church. Only after this could something be done about the Church situation in Western Europe and finally in Australasia, where the Greek jurisdiction is deeply divided.
The Sourozh Diocese
For all this there is a model - in the Sourozh Diocese of the Russian Orthodox Church in Great Britain. Just over two years ago a canonical bishop was at last sent from Moscow, after consulting with the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia, to sort out its long-standing problems. The new bishop at once set about righting fifty years of decadence, instituted daily services at the Cathedral, provided strictly bilingual services (even though English people there are a minority), promoted the veneration of local saints, eliminated uncanonical liturgical fantasies and generally brought the diocese to its canonical feet.
Now two of its parishes, in Oxford and Cambridge, have launched appeals to buy long-awaited suitable premises. It is particularly sad after so many decades of existence that this was not done before. However, the previous management of the Sourozh Diocese actively fought against our attempt to buy an excellent building for £8,500 in central Cambridge in 1982. That building then became the Cambridge Mosque. Now the parish is looking at a building in the suburb of Histon on the outskirts of Cambridge, which will cost £500,000 with refurbishment costs. Such is the bitter fruit of the lack of faith and vision of 27 years ago. We wish both parishes the very best in their struggle to establish themselves permanently.
As we reported in November 2008, we received good news from New Jerusalem. This is the seventeenth century complex of buildings and holy places to the west of Moscow, which are exactly modelled on the holy places in and around Jerusalem. This New Jerusalem complex was the child of the great Patriarch Nikon and building there was begun in 1658. It was intended to become the international centre of the whole Orthodox Church, far from the ravages of Islam and the Vatican alike. Last year it was announced that the vast complex is to be restored in its totality over the next five to seven years. At that time His Holiness Patriarch Alexis II made the following statement: ‘The time has come to restore New Jerusalem…contemporary Russia must make its contribution to this treasure-house of World Orthodoxy’.
This move is of great significance, for it means that Russia is turning its back on the temptations of both triumphalist chauvinism and obscurantist ritualism and also Western consumerism and self-indulgence. All these movements have been promoted in post-Communist Russia by those who simply want to make the Church into a nationalist ideology, to replace the old bankrupt Communist ideology, which had been imported from the West in 1917. The restoration of the New Jerusalem means that the Russian Church is now returning to its destiny on the international stage, to what it has been called to become ever since 1453, the centre of unity of World Orthodoxy.
Of course, we freely admit that the jurisdictional issue is hardly the most serious problem facing the Church. The minority of people who have for decades been shouting the loudest about ‘jurisdictions’ (usually badly-integrated converts) are also the most divisive, usually setting up their own jurisdictions, since others do not accept their Non-Orthodox mentality. Many of them have furthered division, rather like Protestant ecumenists, who, calling for unity, continually create new denominations and sects. Their calls for unity amid their divisiveness often ring hollow and suggest a guilty conscience.
Although Orthodox Church administrative unity (spiritual unity is not a problem) in Western Europe and the New World is desirable, we must realise that this is not in itself going to save more souls, it is not going to make tens of thousands convert to Orthodoxy. The tidy minds of intellectuals would like everything to be ‘correct’. However, they should recall that an untidy Church with righteousness and holiness is a real Church, unlike a tidy Church without righteousness and holiness, which is nothing more than a social club.
Archpriest Andrew Phillips,
6/19 February 2009