On the Future of the Diaspora
The Lord is able to raise man up from the depths of the most dreadful abyss. The Lord can heal and return a whole nation to a life of righteousness.
Patriarch Alexis II
Patriarch Alexis II embodied the ideals of the Russian world and the mission of Russian Orthodoxy, and, to the very end of his ministry, he tried to implement them.
Archpriest Vladimir Vigiliansky, 5 December 2009 (1)
On the first anniversary of the repose of His Holiness Patriarch Alexis II, ‘who embodied…the mission of Russian Orthodoxy’, and in view of the forthcoming Synodal meeting of the Russian Orthodox Church in Moscow, it seems not out of place to speak here of the Diaspora.
Over the last thirty-five years we have written on a number of occasions about the possibility of one day seeing the birth of an ‘English Orthodox Church’ (2) or ‘a Church of the Isles’ (3). On each occasion we have pointed out how far we are from seeing this and indicated the huge practical and spiritual problems involved. On each occasion we have stated that such an idea is at present a fantasy. This is so because of the tiny numbers of English people who have joined the Orthodox Church, let alone actually become Orthodox, that is, who have integrated the Orthodox Faith and Tradition and strive to live it as a way of life that leads to righteousness and holiness.
Indeed, as the apostasy of the whole Western world picks up speed under the pressures of the absurdity of political correctness, an English Orthodox Church can now be seen not only to be impossible in the foreseeable future, but actually undesirable in present circumstances. We emphasise ‘in present circumstances’, for we have in our generation seen the miraculous rebirth of the Church inside Russia and to those who might despair we quote the above words of the ever-memorable Patriarch Alexis.
In one sense, we have indeed in recent years moved much further away from a Local Church in England and the Isles. Originally, there were only two established Orthodox jurisdictions in this country, the Greek and Russian Orthodox Churches. (Admittedly the Patriarchal Russian Church was tiny, since those who lived here did not trust the representatives of a Church that was politically enslaved in its then fully Sovietised homeland). However, in the 1990s, a new jurisdiction was set up here for a group of some 300 ex-Anglicans who, dissatisfied with liberal Anglicanism, had sought refuge elsewhere. Given the refusal of both the Russian and Greek Orthodox Churches to receive them without adequate and individual preparation, the ‘elsewhere’ turned out to be the Arab Orthodox, based in Damascus in Syria and known as the Patriarchate of Antioch. This jurisdiction had already acted similarly among Episcopalians in the USA. Unfortunately, this new jurisdiction further divided the Orthodox presence in England.
Then, in 2006, came the Amphipolis schism. Again, there appeared a new jurisdiction for a group also of about 300 mainly ex-Anglicans, who desired a specifically separate structure for themselves, outside the direct supervision and spiritual discipline of both parts of the Russian Church and of the Greek Church. The problem here was without doubt ethnic. Accustomed to their own national Church, ‘the Church of England’, real Orthodoxy was a shock to such people. It meant rubbing shoulders with those of other nationalities. In reality, this is exactly what is required, so that newcomers can absorb Orthodox culture and reflexes. However, sadly, those accustomed to belonging to the ruling class and the church of an often arrogant and superior imperial race could not stomach this dose of humility. Racist views were openly set forth by Western pride. ‘The peasants from Eastern Europe are here. They must give up services in their own languages and learn English’, went the refrain (4). In reality, this merely underlined the refusal of many ex-Anglican clergy who had been ordained Orthodox priests with virtually no preparation or training, to learn a few words of other languages, so that they could welcome others and themselves integrate Orthodox culture.
Tragically, most, but not all, Anglicans have shown that they wish to be Orthodox by themselves, cut off from the catholicity of the Orthodox Church. This, of course, is impossible. The result is not Orthodoxy, but a form of Anglicanism with a very approximate, poorly-understood and poorly-practised Orthodox rite. ‘Make it up as you go along’, they say. The tiny groups involved also tend to be composed of many Chiefs and very few Indians. The desire to take over, the superior, imperialistic attitude towards others, has meant self-isolation for such groups. Completely unrealistically, such ex-Anglican clergy have tried to force cradle Orthodox into accepting the Roman Catholic/Protestant calendar, taking communion without preparation and confession in the Roman Catholic/Protestant way, men and women making no effort to dress in an Orthodox way, singing Protestant Christmas carols at the Nativity of Christ and owing no obedience to the Orthodox Tradition and the Orthodox episcopate. Protestant parish ‘democracy’, not Orthodox parish hierarchy, takes over.
Hence, we say that an English Orthodox Church is not only impossible now, but also undesirable. No seriousness has been proved. To become a Local Orthodox Church, you need large numbers of people, your own church buildings, not rented or borrowed chapels, authentic monastic life, elders, saints, infrastructure, factories for vestments and Church utensils and iconographic workshops painting canonical icons, serious translations, in a word, the Tradition of Life. We need to serve the Church, not ourselves. In reality, all over the Western world, nationalism has proved that people are not ready for new national Local Churches in single countries. This is not only the case in England, it is also the case in the USA, with the Cold War temporary experiment of the OCA, and in Paris, with the Paris Exarchate and its single active bishop. Moreover, this same disease of autocephalism, structures without spiritual content, is not only to be found in the West. We see it too in Montenegro, Macedonia and the Ukraine, under US and EU political pressure (‘divide and rule’) (5). A Local Church cannot be built in a few years on divisive nationalism and narrow ethnic pride. The Russian Church received its autocephaly only after some 500 years – only after it had shown humility and produced saints.
However, in another sense, we have in recent years moved much closer to seeing the appearance of a Local Orthodox Church in England and the Isles. This has come about since the historic reconciliation of the two parts of the Russian Church, inside and outside Russia, which took place in 2007. The coming together after a separation forced on them by external political factors took place when the Moscow Patriarchate (MP) re-entered communion with the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia (ROCOR) and vice versa. It means of course that both sides had to make concessions.
For its part, the Moscow Patriarchate had to concede that its former statements about ROCOR had been politically motivated. It had to concede that ROCOR had been right about its compromises with the Soviet State (so-called Sergianism) and renounce them. In the year 2000 it also had at last to canonise the New Martyrs and Confessors and take a completely different stance on dying ecumenism, totally reshaping the now very limited Russian Orthodox participation in the Pan-Protestant alliance called the ‘World Council of Churches’.
For its part, the New York-based ROCOR had to abandon stances taken up by Cold War figures in the USA, who had been associated with CIA propaganda and infiltrated the Church. The CIA, essentially, had not been anti-Soviet, but in fact anti-Russian. Here a dose of humility was necessary for some in ROCOR. Others, who had all along been oppressed and disturbed by the statements and acts of these pro-CIA elements and had preferred the older ROCOR of the Tradition of its founder the holy Patriarch Tikhon and its Metropolitans Antony and Anastasius, rejoiced.
However, even with these concessions by both sides, the complete unity of the two parts of the Russian Orthodox Church is not yet established. This will only come when the episcopate, clergy and 200 parishes of the MP which are outside Russia and the episcopate, clergy and 400 parishes of ROCOR come together in fullness. This process is now beginning. If their unity is completed by the additions of other fragments of the pre-Revolutionary Russian Church in North America and Western Europe, at present still outside Russian Church Unity, then we shall see the emergence of an ‘augmented ROCOR’, which could have a 1,000 or more parishes worldwide. From here it is one move to the foundation of Three Regional Metropolias, as in the premonition of Patriarch Alexis II in Western Europe. These will be in Western Europe, the Americas and Australasia. These will be the foundations of new Local Orthodox Churches, not national, but regional and international.
It is our belief that at the present time ROCOR, with its ideal, self-governing status, independent of internal politics in the Russian Federation, is called on to become the foundation for new Local Orthodox Churches. Multinational, multilingual, with bilingual parishes and monasteries, this can provide the vehicle for voluntary Orthodox Diaspora unity, and not Diaspora division, for new and genuinely Orthodox Local Metropolias and later Local Churches to appear. And this will be so that Orthodoxy can be preached to the four corners of the earth, as it must be before the end comes, in order to gather together those who before were scattered and divided.
Archpriest Andrew Phillips,
24 November/7 December 2009
1. Words spoken on the Voice of Russia World Service on the first anniversary of the repose of Patriarch Alexis. Fr Vladimir explained: ‘His Holiness Patriarch Alexis was a unique personality, who was very important for this stage in the history of Russian Orthodoxy. After all, he became the First Hierarch of the MP after a long period of State persecution of the Church and Orthodoxy in general. At that time, the Lord sent us this Patriarch, who was born the son of émigrés outside Russia. During the Civil War, his mother’s father had fought in the White Guard and the Reds had shot him. His father’s ancestors were staunch monarchists, having served the Tsar for several centuries. Alexis II was a bridge connecting the old pre-revolutionary Russia, a Russia that was scattered abroad, with the Russia that had suffered oppression for decades during the Bolshevik régime.
2. See for example: ‘A Vision for the Orthodox Churches of Western Europe’, 1988, published in Orthodox England Vol. 4, No 1; ‘Towards an Orthodox Church of the British Isles?’ in Orthodox Christianity and the English Tradition, 1993; ‘Towards an English Orthodox Church’ in The Lighted Way, 1997.
3. We will not speak here of the idea of a ‘British Orthodox Church’, promoted by ex-Anglicans. We should recall that ‘Britain’ is an artificial construct of political power-grabbers and capitalist financiers, who in the early 18th century revived the concept of Britain, held in esteem only by previous foreign interventionists, the Normans and the Romans. To set up a ‘British Orthodox Church’ would be akin to establishing a ‘Soviet Orthodox Church’. Churches only exist on territories which correspond to permanent realities, not temporary and indeed anti-Christian political constructs. It is particularly strange to mention the idea of a ‘British Orthodox Church’, when next year it is quite possible that Scotland will at last be allowed to hold a referendum on its long-awaited independence. This could end the 300-year old Britain, at long last freeing is peoples from the straitjacket of foreign-imposed imperialism.
4. In the Paris Jurisdiction, bourgeois condescension and pride reached such a point that French-language classes were actually opened by the Jurisdiction to teach new immigrants French!
5. In trying today to dismantle the Serbian and Russian Orthodox Churches (using the captive Patriarchate of Constantinople as a pawn), Washington and Brussels are doing nothing new. Divide and rule was the Austrian Hitler’s policy in his occupied Soviet Union. Following on from the Austrian and then Austro-Hungarian policies which had brought in divisive Uniatism and Ukrainian nationalism, Hitler wanted each village church in his Nazi-occupied Ukraine to have its own Orthodox jurisdiction.