EXARCHATE OR METROPOLIA:
Basil Tiesenhausen seemed particularly negative about the future of the Exarchate. According to him, the Exarchate is intent on 'modernization' (i.e. destroying what is left of the Russian Tradition) and freezing its relations with the Russian Orthodox Church. He added that clergy who are 'Russophile' are discriminated against and that pro-Russian clergy are being hounded out of their parishes and replaced by anti-Russian elements, despite the opposition of the people. According to the interviewee, the present Archbishop Gabriel changed tack to his present course in 2003, soon after he had been elected, breaking all of his previous promises. His statement comes a week after the self-justification for separation from the rest of the Russian Church made by the present secretary, Michel Sologoub. According to this extraordinary claim, nothing in Russia has altered and that the Soviet Union remains unchanged except in name.
Such tactics are familiar to those who have known the Exarchate over the last 25 years. There is nothing new here, since this is exactly what became clear in the 1980s under its Archbishop before last, Archbishop George (Wagner) (+ 1992). The trend of persecution of those faithful to the Tradition first became apparent then, and the ordinary faithful were branded as 'intégristes' or 'ultra-traditionalist' by those in the renovationist 'Fraternité Orthodoxe' grouping, which has now taken over the Exarchate. At that time several clergy and laypeople, understanding the dark forces manipulating Archbishop George, a German academic with a weak character, left to join the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia (ROCOR). ROCOR is now allied with the rest of the Russian Church, which has been freed from the Communist yoke.
The tiny Paris Exarchate, consisting of some 60 parishes, mainly in France, and some 5,000 parishioners, was recently joined by a small group of some 200 dissidents in Great Britain, who are currently attempting to seize control of the London Russian Cathedral at Ennismore Gardens. The aggressive, anti-Tradition attitude, promoted by the leaders of the isolationist Exarchate, means that the now united Russian Orthodox Church will have to build on its own structures in Western Europe. It is obliged to ignore those who now control the Exarchate and are not interested in building up a Russian Orthodox Metropolia in Europe, the basis of a future Western European Orthodox Church.
twenty years ago, in April 1988, we wrote a semi-official paper for the
then Archdiocese, now called Exarchate, entitled 'L'Eglise Orthodoxe de
L'Europe Occidentale - Vision ou Rêve' (The Western European Orthodox
Church - Vision or Dream?). At that time, the intention was to make people
think, for it was clear that the contents were much more dream than vision.
In any case, the Archdiocese then met such a forward-looking paper met
with great hostility.
A Diocese of Germania, covering Germany, Austria, Holland, Luxembourg,
much of Switzerland and Flemish-speaking Belgium.
In the present situation, something along the above lines could actually become reality by April 2008 for the hundreds of multinational and multilingual Russian Orthodox parishes in Western Europe. Thus, twenty years on from the original, we would now suggest an initial diocesan structure represented by the following hierarchy:
A Metropolitan of Paris and Western Europe and a Vicar-Bishop of Cannes.
We note that the above is not unrealistic; a majority of these bishops (they could be archbishops) are already in place, although some would change titles. Three of them would depend on ROCOR, eight would depend directly on the Patriarchate in Moscow. But all would depend upon their flocks, and their flocks upon them. Together, they would constitute a Synod of Bishops of the Western European Metropolia, the beginnings of an Autonomous Orthodox Church of Western Europe.
With a visit of His Holiness Patriarch Alexis to Paris planned for October and a meeting of a Synod of Bishops there at that time, we will then begin to see what is possible for the future of Orthodoxy in Western Europe. As to whether at least some members of the Paris Exarchate would be interested in taking part in establishing a future Western European Orthodox Church, or whether they wish to remain within a tiny and isolated sub-department of the Greek Church of the Diaspora, that will depend on their attitude to the Russian Orthodox Tradition.