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The New Europe

Justinian imaged forth his concept of the Centre of the World, about a Place of the Holy Wisdom, a Church under a Star, to which all the Wise Men of the world would turn, seeking and bringing wisdom.

John Masefield, Conquer, p. 138, 1941

Pope John VIII compared anyone who dared to alter the Creed to Judas the traitor.

Fleury, Histoire Ecclésiastique, Vol XI, p. 380

Protestantism came into being as soon as the representative of the Lamb of God (the Pope of Rome) turned into an earthy ruler. If ever a new rebirth of Christianity takes place, it will undoubtedly happen in Russia.

Count Keyserling, La Révolution Mondiale, Paris 1934, p. 188

Introduction: The Atheists Must not Hold the Airports

Years ago, you hardly ever met another Orthodox at an international airport in Europe. Most Greeks and Cypriots were too poor to travel far in the days when air travel was much more expensive and as for the vast majority of Orthodox, they were captives behind the Iron Curtain.

Today it is different. Greeks and Cypriots travel despite, or rather because of, the financial crisis and the airports are full of both Russian tourists and Russian-speaking residents in Europe, of whom there are millions today, exiles from the disappeared Soviet Union. There are also said to be over a million Romanians in Italy alone, and 20% of the population of Moldova, another million, lives outside Moldova, mainly in the Latin-speaking countries of Europe, whose languages are so similar to their own.

Then there are Ukrainians, Belarusians, Russians from the Baltics and Kazakhstan (over a million of them in Germany). In all, this is an emigration far greater than that after 1917. And these emigrants have settled where before there were never any or hardly any Russian churches – in Iceland, Spain, Norway, Italy...

In recent months I have met at airports a French flight attendant who wanted to know much more about the Orthodox Church and where she could attend, a Romanian bishop, on his way to see his flock in Italy, an Austrian doctor of Russian origin who sought my blessing, last May a Greek couple in Amsterdam who were astonished to meet an unknown Russian priest at the airport who greeted them with ‘Khristos Anesti’, and a Filipino nun, who, though Catholic, asked me for my blessing.

And I am not a great traveller. The invisibility of Orthodox clergy at European airports, obvious from the surprised and curious way in which people still look at me when I travel in Europe, is regrettable. It would be good to provide all major European airports with an Orthodox chapel and an English-speaking Orthodox priest. A dream of course, but why should the atheists hold the airports?

West of Rus: A Cafe in Old Portugal

January is coming to an end. It has been exceptionally mild in Portugal; pink and red flowers are coming out beneath the palm trees. Nearby are the orange-tiled roofs of Portuguese houses, some with the traditional decorated tiles of great beauty on their outside walls. It is 16 degrees and very sunny all day long. We sit in a sunlit restaurant by the lapping waves of the Atlantic Ocean, fado music playing in the background. In the distance the US aircraft carrier, which we saw taking on jet fuel yesterday, is pulling out, heading perhaps for the Persian Gulf. A few dozen miles from Lisbon, we have just visited Cabo da Roca, the edge of the world, the furthest point of Continental Europe, where high cliffs drop down to the pounding waves smashing onto the rocky coast far below and Portugal stares into the beyond where lie the Americas. From here, of old, Portuguese explorers sailed across the Ocean in search of the Paradise which they never found in the New World.

This is the backdrop to the story of part of our lives, which are all interwoven. We are the survivors, survivors from different ages and different places, but survivors. We have all seen so much and been through so much. Many were born in a country that no longer exists. We have indeed been to the edge of the world, one of us come from the other side of Eurasia, on the Pacific Ocean. We are spiritual survivors because we are still all Orthodox.

We speak of the last émigrés who died here in the 90s. There was Countess Shuvalova, of the Tolstoy family, who in her youth had been a model for Christian Dior in Paris; there was Countess L..., who died in her nineties and whose father had managed the estate of Tsarskoe Selo for Tsar Nicholas II. In her youth in Paris she had almost married a Persian prince, but instead chose a Portuguese diplomat. We speak of one among us, who has already been here for 23 years, almost half a lifetime. Another proudly shows in his apartment a photograph of his father, a Soviet World War II pilot of an Airacobra, an aeroplane sent to the Soviet Union by the Americans. Another is a repentant former agent. Then there are those from the new wave of the last few years and even months. We speak of the Russian Church’s collection of money to aid the new poor in Greece and of the future of Portugal.

We speak of an elderly Portuguese ‘Catholic’ neighbour, headscarfed and dressed in black, her face and smile illuminated by prayer; Orthodox in everything except that she makes the sign of the cross backwards. I spoke to her in French, since she had lived there for 14 years. It is our duty as Orthodox to save the best of this dying Old Europe and its culture. Yesterday, at the old Cathedral, in the spiritual heart of Lisbon, which stretches back to Orthodox times, before it became a mosque in the eighth century and a Latin Cathedral in the twelfth century, I venerated relics of St Gregory the Theologian, St Alexis, ‘the Man of God’ and St Vincent of Spain, as well as the local martyrs of Lisbon, Sts Verissimus, Maxima and Julia.

And now we speak of the second generation, the Facebook generation, the children of the parents whom I married and whom I baptised and are now adults in their twenties. Bilingualism is the norm. Their Russian is accented with Portuguese; some prefer to speak to me in English; they are now marrying too and the problem is the transfer of the Faith to Portuguese wives and husbands and the witness to them, some of whom have little idea of any faith, though others from the Portuguese North are pious with the last vestiges of the piety of Old Europe. All these people are the New Europeans, inevitably mixed. Why, in our own parish in England, we have these marriages: Scottish-Cypriot (he married in his kilt); Romanian-Latvian; Chinese-Greek; Turkish-Australian; English-Ukrainian; Dutch-Russian; Maltese-Italian, Moldovan-Cypriot...

A New Cathedral in Paris: 1814-1914-2014

In 1814 Russian troops arrived in Paris to liberate France from Napoleon, who had killed three and a half million in his insane wars all over Europe, from Moscow to Spain. Their conduct and discipline were excellent except for one thing – when hungry, they demanded to be fed quickly, shouting ‘bystro’, the Russian word for ‘quickly’, so giving rise to the French word ‘bistrot’ which supplied nineteenth-century fast food. 100 years later, in 1914, Russian troops saved Paris again, this time from German occupation by distracting German troops from the Western Front to the Eastern Front. So took place the ‘Miracle on the Marne’, when the Kaiser’s men were beaten back and Paris was saved.

In 2014, a generation after the end of the Cold War when Paris had feared that it would be occupied by Soviet troops and twenty thousand Red Army tanks come from Berlin, a Russian Orthodox Cathedral, seminary and spiritual and cultural centre will have been completed in Paris. The Soviet Union failed to conquer and collapsed because it had nothing to give; the Russian Orthodox Church need not fail because it has something to give. The error of the Soviet Union was to think it could take over Europe through feats of arms, so its troops had to halt by Berlin and then withdraw two generations later. The export of the Orthodox Faith is the only Russian victory possible, but this is a spiritual victory which, like any spiritual victory, can only come with humility and without nationalism.

For unlike military ‘liberation’, spiritual liberation is humble, not proud. Can the Russian Church in the third millennium save and free Europe from the atheism which it developed during the second millennium, sowing the seeds of its own destruction? The challenges are huge, the problems of infrastructure and finance are tremendous. Will an oligarch give us a billion euros, so that at least all 341 cities and towns of Western Europe with a population of over 100,000 can have one purpose-built Orthodox church, centre, rooms, accommodation and paid clergy, and indeed several in the great cities? (1). Let us say 500 churches and another 500 small chapels in smaller towns for a billion euros, so that only a few would have to travel more than thirty miles to get to a church. But the greatest challenge is faithfulness to the Orthodox Tradition, despite the pressures of European secularism, avoiding both the extreme of liberal and modernist compromise and that of the sectarian and nationalist ghetto.

The new Cathedral in Paris could be at the heart of a network of dioceses and parishes all over Western Europe, a veritable Metropolia, a Kazakhstan of the West. Supposing, apart from the main altar, dedicated perhaps to the Royal Martyrs, and a chapel for French services (65 million native speakers in Europe), dedicated perhaps to St Genevieve, there could be a third chapel, dedicated perhaps to Sts Peter and Paul. There, services could be held in German (100 million native speakers in Europe), English (65 million native speakers in Europe), Italian (60 million native speakers in Europe) and Spanish (40 million native speakers in Europe).

In this way, some 330 million of some 385 million native Western Europeans would be represented by just these five languages, leaving only the Scandinavian languages and Dutch, Flemish, Catalan, Portuguese and minority languages unrepresented. We shall begin to see in the next two years just how much of this vision is possible, just how much representatives of the Russian Orthodox Church can live up to their high universal calling and to our hopes, becoming the centre of Orthodox Europe. Already in May 2012 we shall know more.

Conclusion: The Prodigal Son

Today the Russian Orthodox Church has chapels in both the Arctic and the Antarctic and it has a Cathedral in Vladivostok on the shores of the Pacific. Why then does it not have, at the other end of Eurasia, a Cathedral in Lisbon and a chapel at Cabo da Roca, at ‘the edge of the world’? Here is a vision for the future. 2014 could be a turning point for Old Europe. Just as its very survival is threatened by the reckless irresponsibility of the atheism and debt accumulated by its fathers over a thousand years, the Church returns.

Old Europe is tired and failing spiritually, but it can be renewed. Old Europe can be renewed by the Holy Europe which is concealed within it. Beneath its millennial grime, holiness can shine through Europe - but only by its repentance. In repenting it has to avoid extremes of both sorts. The paths of the left and the right are both tortuous; repentance from them is full of pain and heartache.

Old Europe is the Prodigal Son. But now it is time for Prodigal Old Europe to come home to the Church. He has far to go, for he has been in a far country and wasted his substance with riotous living. Now that the famine is mighty in that land, he is in want and eats with the swine. If Old Europe still has the courage to say ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before thee’, then the Father waits, his arms outstretched, ready to fall on his neck and kiss him.

The best robe waits, a ring for his hand and shoes for his feet, and a fatted calf. Then there will be a feast such as there has never been since the world began, for the elder son, Orthodoxy, will also stand by his Father and make merry also and the Father and the elder son will say together: ‘He who was dead is alive again; he who was lost, is found’.

The ever-continuing struggle for Orthodox Europe, Orthodoxy Incarnate, not for some mere idea, a fake, diluted, generalised ‘Euro-Orthodoxy’, is a hard one. In the past, five generations ago, the Russian Church took the best of Western Europe, the sisters Elizabeth and Alexandra, and made them holy, leading them to Paradise. In the January sunlight of a cafe in Old Portugal, exhausted, we have permitted ourselves to pause and rest for a while before taking up the path again, the path to Orthodox Europe. We still have far to go to the New Europe.

Archpriest Andrew Phillips,
Western European Representative of the ROCOR Missionary Department
Lisbon, Portugal

St Tatiana of Rome
12/25 January 2012





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