The First Session of the Second Council of the Bishops of ROME, (The Russian Orthodox Metropolia of Europe) on Tuesday 6 July 2021
The things which are impossible with men are possible with God.
Lk 18, 27
John, Metropolitan of Paris and Western Europe
After the Divine Liturgy and breakfast, Metr John declared the session open at 10.30. All sang ‘Heavenly King’, first in Slavonic and then in French. Metropolitan John’s secretary, E. Makharablidze, announced the agenda for the morning session. Before Metr John could speak, Archbishop Boniface said that on behalf of all present he wished to congratulate Metr John on his namesday which had taken place on 3 July (St John of Shanghai, Western Europe and San Francisco) and on Sunday’s feast of all the Saints of Western Europe. All stood and sang Many Years to Metr John.
Confirmation of Autonomy
Metr John spoke of his gratitude to Patriarch Nikon II and the Synod in Moscow which had confirmed the Metropolia’s autonomy at the June Synod. This had been accorded on a similar basis to that of the seven Autonomous Russian Orthodox Churches, those of China, Indonesia, the Americas, Thailand, Korea, Hungary and Japan, and on the same basis as that of the other eleven Metropolitan Districts of the Russian Orthodox Church, those of the Ukraine, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Central Asia, Carpatho-Russia (now all part of the Russian Confederation under Tsar Nicholas III), Latvia, Australasia, Lithuania, India, Estonia and Finland, the last of which had returned to the Mother Church and the Orthodox calendar last year. Metr John said that this event marked the coming of age of the Metropolia. All the bishops stood again and sang Many Years to the Patriarch and the Synod.
The Metropolitan went on to speak of his urgent need for a vicar-bishop in Paris, who could celebrate at the old St Alexander Nevsky Cathedral on Rue Daru. Last March this had been returned to the Russian Orthodox Church by the City of Paris, which had been its owner for over fifty years. He put forward as candidate Archimandrite Dionysius (Latouche), a Frenchman with a Russian great-grandmother, who had studied at the Paris seminary under its zealous rector, Archpriest Gregory Bogoslovsky, then at the Moscow Theological Academy, and was at present a monk of the Trinity St Sergius Laura. He suggested that the new bishop should have the title ‘of Monceau’, the area where the Cathedral was situated. A bilingual candidate such as Fr Dionysius would do much to restore the Orthodox Tradition to both parishes there.
Archbishop Augustine spoke of the urgent need for a bishop in Dublin. Following the Vatican’s restructuring of the Irish Roman Catholic Church and the consequent breakaway from Rome of the Irish National Catholic Church in 2013, large numbers of disillusioned members of the National Church, who neither wanted to be Protestant, nor return to Rome, had contacted him, seeking catechism for entry into the Church. He needed help. He put forward as candidate Archimandrite Patrick (O’Neill), who had been born in Dublin, was Russian by his mother and Irish by his father, had studied at the seminary in Munich and then spent three years at St Job’s monastery, to which the seminary was attached, before helping to restore Orthodox monastic life on Skellig Michael off the west coast of Ireland in 2018.
Archbishop Isidore said that it was now time for the newly-built Cathedral in Barcelona to have a vicar-bishop for Catalonia. He put forward as candidate Archimandrite James (Smirnov), who though Russian, had studied Spanish and Catalan at the Moscow State University and then graduated from the St Petersburg Theological Academy before becoming a monk.
Archbishop Clement put forward a candidate for vicar-bishop of Oslo, Norway and Iceland. This was Archimandrite Matthew (Matitch), who was of Serbian origin, but had been born in Norway and had studied at the seminary in Munich before being tonsured at the monastery outside Berlin, where there were several other Serbian monks. He added that Fr Matthew’s frequent pastoral visits to Iceland had been much appreciated by the three parishes there and that both these parishes and those in Norway had requested his consecration.
The bishops agreed unanimously on the suitability of the four candidates in question and resolved to send them for confession to Elder Ephraim at his hermitage in Liechtenstein. Only then would their names be put forward to Patriarch Nikon and the Synod in Moscow. If approved, their consecrations would take place in their local dioceses, at a time chosen by Metropolitan John in consultation with their episcopal sponsors.
Archbishop Cassian mentioned that when the new churches in Lyon, Bordeaux, Rennes and Toulouse had been completed, he foresaw a time when they too would become Cathedrals and need bishops.
Archbishop Boniface added that he too needed vicar-bishops in both Hamburg and Munich and he had in mind possible candidates. However, at the moment both monasteries in Germany both needed additional priests and the total number of monks in them was only thirty.
Metr John noted that these four consecrations would bring the number of bishops in the Metropolia to sixteen. He added that the total number of parishes in the Metropolia now stood at just under 650. However, given the rapid expansion of the Metropolia in areas with previously small Orthodox populations, notably in Sicily, southern Italy, northern Italy (with the restoration of the church in Florence and the building of large churches in Milan, Turin and Venice), the Netherlands, Scotland, Wales, Brittany, Carinthia, Sardinia, Corsica and the Azores, he foresaw numbers of bishops rising to over thirty within the next five years. In his view, a ratio of one bishop to every 25,000 parishioners (approximately 50 parishes) would be pastorally ideal.
Metr John concluded that if this was God’s Will, this could in the next few years give rise to an episcopate numbering thirty, exactly 5% of the present episcopate of the Russian Orthodox Church, which now stood at 600, with the fourteen bishops in China, the twelve in the Americas and the three each in Indonesia, Korea, Thailand, Hungary and Japan. However, it was also true that the number of bishops inside the Russian Confederation was still increasing on average by nearly two a week and showed no sign of slowing since Tsar Nicholas’ programme of building 100,000 new churches by 2038 had been announced at his coronation in July 2018.
Metr John reminded the bishops that one of the hopes of the Metropolia was that by 2031 virtually every city and town in Western Europe with a population of over 50,000 was to have its own Orthodox church. He remarked that the building of Cathedrals in Madrid, London and Lisbon had been particularly successful and had set examples for other cities and towns in those countries.
News from the Dioceses
Archbishop Augustine announced that with the blessing of Metropolitan John the new seminary attached to St Theodore’s Monastery just outside Canterbury would open on 27 September. There were fifteen seminarians for the first year. He added that the new churches in Edinburgh, Cardiff, Birmingham, Liverpool, Bradford, Bristol and Norwich should be completed for Easter 2022. He also mentioned that St Columba’s monastery on Iona in Scotland now had twelve monks and he could recommend the monastery and island as a place of pilgrimage. He said that the monks were hoping to set up a skete on the island of Lindisfarne off the north-east coast of England.
Archbishop Boniface mentioned that another three Greek and four Bulgarian parishes in Germany had expressed the desire to join the Western Metropolia. However, they were still waiting for the agreement of their bishops. Metr John enquired if they had agreed to return to the Orthodox calendar, which was a prerequisite if they were to join the Metropolia, as other Greek and Bulgarian parishes had already done before they had transferred to their national deaneries within other dioceses of the Metropolia. Archbishop Boniface assured him that they had not only agreed to this, but had also agreed to removing chairs from their churches and returning to other Orthodox liturgical practices, particularly as regards confession, communion and the iconostasis. Indeed, it was the canonical practices of the Metropolia and examples of parishes in Italy, France and Great Britain which had already transferred to their national deaneries within the dioceses of the Metropolia, which were drawing more parishes to it.
Archbishop Paul announced that he had received ten Albanian parishes in Calabria from Uniatism into the Church within the last twelve months and that there were Albanian candidates for the episcopate among the clergy he had received, one of whom was now studying in Paris. He added that he was also in contact with Patriarch Cleopa in Bucharest to obtain another ten Romanian priests for the Romanian Deanery. He noted that the Church of Romania had been extremely helpful in taking part in building up the Metropolia, especially since the reunification of Romania with Moldova, which had itself only been possible after the break-up of the old EU and Romania’s liberation from it. He had the highest opinion of Patriarch Cleopa, who lived according to the best Moldavian monastic traditions.
Relations with the Non-Orthodox World
Archbishop Cassian said that more and more Catholics were contacting him, given the tragic collapse of Roman Catholicism in the south and west of France, especially in Vendee. In all these areas there was now an average of one Catholic priest for every one hundred churches. He said that the Metropolia had a great responsibility towards these people and should show compassion. He explained that although his policy, as agreed within the Metropolia, was in principle to receive traditional Catholics by economy, through confession and communion, he insisted on a very full catechism, exposure to the liturgical cycle, examination and certification first, so that no Roman Catholic customs would be brought into the Church. He did not wish to see the westernising errors of the twentieth century repeated.
Metr John recommended that all should follow Archbishop Cassian’s initiative, especially in France and England, where there had been so many disappointments in the last century through lack of thorough practical liturgical preparation and integration into Orthodox life and values. At that time some priests, themselves untrained, used to receive heterodox into the Church prematurely or without preparation. Either they lapsed soon after or else insisted on trying to ‘reform’ the Church into a Uniat or Eastern-rite Protestant and Anglican model, so that it would then resemble their original denomination and its errors. Inevitably, not having understood the Tradition of the Church, these too sooner or later lapsed.
He added that Monophysites should also in principle be received in the same way as Catholics, after thorough instruction. He added that clergy should be especially careful about catechising Protestants, especially if they had been involved in the so-called ‘charismatic movement’ (though this was true of Catholics also). Protestants should be received by chrismation, but if there were any doubt about the form of their baptism, they should be received by baptism.
Bishop Antony announced that the Portuguese diocese had just commemorated the 104th anniversary of the appearance of the Mother of God in Fatima in 1917. Her call to Roman Catholics to repent for starting the First World War and encouraging the Revolution in Russia and her warning that if they did not repent, they would fall into militant atheism, had been proved true by the recent atheist riots in Spain and Portugal, which had seen fifteen Catholic churches burned down. Fortunately, Orthodox churches in the Peninsula had not been affected, because their clergy were married. Bishop Antony also mentioned that the convent outside Braga now had forty-one nuns and was flourishing under its Portuguese abbess, Mother Martina, who had spent over twenty years in a convent in Greece.
Archbishop Isidore confirmed Bishop Antony’s words and spoke of the recent persecution in Spain. Although he and his clergy were still not allowed to walk in their cassocks in the street, nobody had actually been attacked. He said that the fact that the Orthodox Church had not compromised itself with official Roman Catholicism through close ecumenical contacts, but instead had cultivated contacts with ordinary Roman Catholics, who were much closer to Orthodoxy, had protected us. He warned Orthodox living in all former Catholic areas of Metropolia territory to beware of any underlying hostility which could turn into persecution.
Apparently, Archbishop Boniface added, the Catholic Pope of Rome was still in his native Nigeria since the newly-elected Italian government had taken possession of the Vatican City at the end of June and turned it into an Art Museum. He added that he had recently been in contact with Metropolitan Gabriel of Warsaw on the same issue and the current wave of persecution against Catholicism in western Poland. Metr Gabriel had reassured him that the Church of Poland had not been affected, partly because it was largely in eastern Poland and partly because the Polish Orthodox Church was seen by Polish atheists as a historic victim of Catholic persecution and therefore deserving of sympathy.
Bishop Joseph said that with the collapse of Catholicism in Europe, the last few decades had seen the end of a world, but this was not the end of the world. This was especially visible in Austria, which had once been a very Catholic country.
Bishop Martin noted how even the townscapes and architecture of some European cities were changing. On the one side there were the old Catholic or Protestant towers and spires, usually of churches which were disused or had become museums, then ugly blocks dating back to the last century, and now Orthodox churches. We had been called on, he said, to forge a new European culture.
Metr John concluded that, as Orthodox, our task in Western Europe was restorative, to restore Orthodoxy in the West. This had to be done in a way which was as sympathetic as possible to local culture, but at the same time, we should in no way compromise the Faith. We should understand that the ancient fragments of historic Orthodoxy in the West were first of all only fragments, and that secondly many of these fragments had not developed past the first millennium. We were now in the third millennium. Our task was not archaeological or museum-like, it was spiritual, and we had to take Orthodoxy as it is – living and real.
Archbishop Nicholas said that the translations of all the service books into Swedish, Danish and Norwegian had been completed and that over half of his parishes were now bilingual. Progress was now being made in translations of fundamental texts into Icelandic and Faeroese.
Archbishop Augustine commented that all the liturgical books had now been published in Welsh and the translation of the liturgy of St John Chrysostom established for both Scots Gaelic and Irish Gaelic.
Archbishop Paul said that the text of the liturgies of St John Chrysostom and St Basil the Great into Maltese had just been published at the Diocesan Press in Rome.
Archbishop Cassian mentioned that the Lenten Triodion had been published in Breton and announced that the Service of the Presanctified had been translated into Basque. It had already been used during Lent in the parish in Biarritz, which had just been completely renovated, and also in the parish in San Sebastian.
Archbishop Boniface noted that the liturgies of St John Chrysostom and St Basil had been translated into both Higher and Lower Sorbian.
Bishop Maurice said that in May the liturgy of St John Chrysostom had for the first time been celebrated in Romansch, which was still spoken in some Swiss cantons.
Metr John reminded all bishops of their duty to make gifts of all official liturgical translations to the Paris seminary library next to the Cathedral.
State Visit of Tsar Nicholas to France in August
Metr John passed on to the State visit of His Majesty Tsar Nicholas III to France on 19 August. He mentioned details of the liturgy to take place at the Cathedral and then, in the afternoon, the official ceremonies on the Alexander III Bridge in Paris and, in the evening, the public panikhida to all the departed faithful of the Russian emigration who had passed through or settled in France. He reminded the bishops that they should again ask as many of their clergy and parishioners as possible to be present. The very existence of our Cathedral, the centre of our European Metropolia, specifically in Paris, was in itself an act of repentance before all those Russian Orthodox who had been exiled to Paris or passed through it during the injustices of the terrible years of the twentieth century, when the Russian State had fallen to dark forces. We should now honour the memory of these exiles by praying for them.
He said this would be a great moment in the life of European Orthodoxy and would mark a turning-point in its short but rapidly evolving history. It was no coincidence that it was happening on the feast of the Transfiguration and that one of the chapels at the Cathedral had this dedication. He added that nobody needed reminding that most of the wave of church-building, both actual and planned, throughout Europe, had been generously subsidised by Tsar Nicholas and the People’s Duma. A massive presence on 19 August would be the best way of expressing our gratitude. Streets in central Paris would be closed off since at least 100,000 faithful were expected. Communion would be from fifty chalices. The multilingual Transfiguration liturgy would be relayed on giant screens set up around the Cathedral and broadcast worldwide.
He called on all bishops and clergy to offer weekly services of supplication at the present time, given the state of heightened tension between the Russian Confederation and Turkey, where Georgian, Russian and the newly-reunited Armenian Orthodox were all facing persecution from militant Islam.
News from the Patriarchs’ Council at New Jerusalem
Metr John, recently returned from Moscow, had been briefed on the annual meeting of the Patriarchs’ Council at the New Jerusalem Monastery outside Moscow, presided over by His Holiness Patriarch Nikon. He wished to relay to the bishops the news from Patriarch Nikon.
First of all, said Metr John, agreement had been reached for the Chinese Church, now with over three million faithful, to receive autocephaly. This was an urgent political demand of the Chinese Government and was essential if the Chinese Church were to continue its rapid expansion. He also announced that the first Tibetan Orthodox bishop had been consecrated in Lhasa. This was a great joy and he hoped that the Orthodox monastic movement in Tibet, Nepal and Bhutan would bring fruit. Metr John added that in the next two to three years he expected the Patriarchs’ Council to grant autocephaly to another Autonomous Church which was mature enough to receive it. This was the Church of Japan.
Metropolitan Tikhon of San Francisco and Archbishop Anastasio of Brazil were working together with the bishops under them to achieve unity in their territories, without which autocephaly was not possible. However, talk of autocephaly for the Americas was still premature and lay in the future. The current problems in North America, essentially secular - political, economic and social - were impeding the Church’s progress and it seemed likely that a separated Metropolia of South and Central America would probably achieve autocephaly before North America. He said that Metropolitan Tikhon, who was known to many of us, should be in all our prayers. Not only had he been instrumental in the present unity of the Russian Orthodox Church in the Americas, but also in the return of the Metropolitan See to the historic west-coast centre of Russian Orthodoxy in North America in San Francisco, where St Herman of Alaska and the relics of St John of Shanghai are venerated. In this way the politics and scandals associated with Church life in the past in east-coast New York and Washington had been avoided.
Metr John related that the Patriarchates of Constantinople (now exiled to Athens) and Antioch (now exiled from Damascus to Beirut, in view of the Islamic persecution in Syria) had asked for alms totalling 100,000 gold roubles (approx. 500,000 old euros / new francs) from the government of the Russian Confederation. In Athens Patriarch Emmanuel was much preoccupied by the schisms in his jurisdiction in Australia, the Americas and Western Europe. It seemed as if his Patriarchate were now paralysed, awaiting his death and the transfer of his title and jurisdiction to Archbishop Andreas of Athens, which had been agreed at the time of the drafting of his exile terms.
The Patriarchate of Alexandria, based in Nairobi, was now benefiting from a subsidy of 40 million gold roubles (approx. 200 million old euros / new francs) per year for its ten-year programme of church-building in Africa. This had been granted by Tsar Nicholas and the People’s Duma to Pope and Patriarch Mark, a native Kenyan, on condition that Alexandria return to the Orthodox calendar, which it had agreed to do and as the Churches of Romania, Bulgaria, Greece and Cyprus had already done last year. Pope Mark had indeed replied that Africans were only too happy to accept Orthodoxy in its authentic wholeness, freed of the old political and cultural compromises of European colonists. (At present the Patriarchates of Constantinople and Antioch are isolated from the rest of the Orthodox world in still allowing the use of the Roman Catholic calendar for the fixed feasts).
Patriarch Nikon had also announced at the Council that the five-year building programme for hostels for Russian pilgrims in Jerusalem would be complete by the end of 2021. Total capacity was now thirty thousand at any one time. Given the demographic boom in Russia, it had been necessary to plan for the future. Patriarch Yaqub, the first Arab Patriarch of Jerusalem for centuries, had thanked Tsar Nicholas for the pressure exerted on the Israeli government to allow hundreds of thousands of Palestinian refugees to return to their now liberated ancestral lands in the last two years and to compensate them generously for their three generations of incredible suffering.
Patriarch Savva of Belgrade, the Patriarch currently responsible for Mt Athos according to the five-year rotating system of the Patriarchs’ Council, had reported that there were now just under 5,000 monks on Mt Athos, of whom 3,000 were from the Russian Confederation. He also reported that all telephone lines and the last road vehicle had been removed from the Holy Mountain, which had now thankfully recovered its former peace.
The first session ended at 12.30, the bishops sang ‘It is meet’ in Slavonic and French and adjourned for lunch.
6/19 August 2011