'We do not reform the Church, we reform ourselves'
Like many others, in 1977 I made a (modest student’s) contribution to the purchase of ‘Ennismore Gardens’. That is the Dormition Cathedral of the Sourozh Diocese of the Russian Orthodox Church. All of us who consciously did so are now looking forward to the legal confirmation of the property rights of the Sourozh Diocese over that Cathedral. This should take place at some point fairly soon after its unnecessary delay in February 2009.
In the extract below, taken and translated from a recent interview and published in Issue 9 (25) of ‘Pravoslavie i Sovremennost (Orthodoxy and Our Times), Fr Michael Dudko speaks of the painful 2006 schism there. Fr Michael analyses the situation and its cause very well. However, as a newcomer to London he does not know of the long and tragic history of the persecution of Russian Orthodoxy there. This stretched back some fifty years and caused great human damage, waste and loss. The 2006 schism, slightly before which Fr Michael arrived in London, was in fact only the culminating point of that sad history.
There were those who, like myself, knew the captive Metropolitan Antony (Bloom) very well and chose to belong to an authentically Russian Orthodox Diocese. At that time that authenticity was not to be found anywhere in Great Britain, including in the local ROCOR Diocese, which was then largely controlled by an extremist and nationalistic clique in New York. For us, who were therefore forced to go into exile and, for example, eventually find authenticity in the Western European Diocese of ROCOR, his interview strikes, with one exception, the right notes. Indeed, Fr Michael’s last paragraph sums up the understanding which many had reached some twenty-five years before his appointment to London. Here his words resound with the truth. They warn of the danger of not holding faith with the Orthodox Church, but rather with personal interpretations of Orthodoxy, and of being all things to all men - and so ending up being nothing to no man.
- Fr Michael, you were appointed to London during a crisis. How did you see the situation, what conclusions did you come to? What is life in the Dormition parish like today?
As someone who worked for the External Relations Department of the Church, I was originally sent to London with the aim of helping to serve in the parish. Ever since the death of Metropolitan Antony the situation which had developed there had been very difficult to resolve. I was sent to London at the request of the leadership of the Sourozh Diocese, which was unable to deal with the problems involved in caring for the Russian flock. (The situation with English people was more or less normal at that time) (1).
All the parishioners - be it the old Russian emigres, those recently arrived, or English people – were sure that the reason for the disorder was that the other side did not wish to keep what they called Metropolitan Antony’s ‘legacy’.
None of those who knew the Metropolitan who had passed away would call him a simple man, but he was an experienced and clever pastor who could cope with many challenges. After his death everything went wrong.
The head of the Diocese was an American, Bishop Basil (Osborne), who did not know Russian at all well and avoided dialogue with his flock. He chose a cruel method of dealing with people. This led to division and the expulsion of certain parishioners and priests, amid a constant stream of complaints from the faithful to Moscow (2).
I do not wish to go into detail about his mistakes now, but the following situation developed. During the Great Fast, when Orthodox make a special effort to go to church, Russian-speaking parishioners were practically deprived of normal pastoral care at confession. There was no opportunity to confess before communion in London.
Unfortunately, Bishop Basil did not see that for my part I offered him unconditional support. Knowing that I worked for the External Relations Department, he saw me as a ‘supervisor’, who had been called in to decide whether he was to remain in control of the Diocese or not. I must say that I had no such ‘supervisory’ role.
Having clearly lost hope of a positive response, he decided to ‘forestall events’ and he left for the Patriarchate of Constantinople with a group of his clergy. The upshot of this was the decision of the Holy Synod to consecrate a new Diocesan bishop. He was the former head of the Russian Mission in Jerusalem, Archimandrite (now Bishop) Elisei (Ganaba). At the same time my stay in London became long-term.
…For me the most important question remains the so-called legacy of Metropolitan Antony. I have long tried to understand what this meant and I have constantly asked people who personally knew him well about this. Openness? Breadth of vision? Being a gifted speaker? Listening to people? All that was true, but there was still something missing. In the end, I came to the conclusion that despite all the truth of the above, the main thing was the unique personality of Metropolitan Antony which combined many outstanding qualities. He knew how to inspire those who surrounded him, however different they were. When he had gone, the many pastoral forms which he left behind lost their essential content – their spirit.
As regards forms, it is senseless simply to reproduce them. In order to restore their former content, first of all you have to strive to become a saint. Unfortunately, people are mortal. Today the Dormition Cathedral in London has a normal parish life. Compared to what was going on here three to four years ago, that is a great deal.
1.As a newly arrived priest from Russia who did not then speak fluent English, Fr Michael is mistaken here. The situation was not and never had been normal for English people. Indeed, most of them, perhaps as many as a thousand people over the years, had left Sourozh (and most, sadly, had even left the Orthodox Church) as a result of the spiritual poison in the Diocese. Unfortunately, Moscow had for decades been deaf to this problem as a result of its captivity to the Soviet yoke. As for the inability to cope with the Russian flock, this was artificial. It was caused by the consistent expulsion, over at least thirty years, of people who could have dealt with it. All this was the deliberate and calculated policy of a clique of like-minded, but not Orthodox-minded, individuals of taking over the Diocese, of ‘kidnapping the Church’, for their own ideological ends.
2.See our 2003 commentary: http://orthodoxengland.org.uk/london.htm