The Train Now Leaving Platform One:
And when he had opened the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven about the space of half an hour (Rev. 8, 1).
At the memorial service for the ever-memorable Metropolitan Laurus (+ 16 March 2008) in Jackson in the USA on 16 March, Metropolitan Hilarion, First Hierarch of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia (ROCOR), stated that ‘our strength is in unity’. He called on ROCOR clergy to care for all, the old flock, new immigrants from the former Soviet Union, as well as those of other backgrounds, especially those who ‘suffer in confessions where there is all manner of falling away from traditional Christian and spiritual and moral values’. He stressed the importance of sharing the ideals of Holy Russia with all these people.
On this first anniversary of the repose of Metropolitan Laurus, we are finally beginning to understand what has happened. We are still struck by the providential role played by a Carpatho-Russian from Slovakia who had never lived in Russia, and the ever-memorable Patriarch Alexis II, who also grew up outside Russia, in an émigré family in Estonia. Even to observers on the fringes, it has become clear that the unexpected achievement of these two providential figures in reconciling the two parts of the Russian Church in 2007 could only have been God’s Will and not some mere human deed.
Furthermore, the implications and ramifications of the reconciliation which they helped to forge between the two parts of the Russian Church are only now becoming apparent. Their passing in the same year, the year after the reconciliation, and the subsequent elections of a new Metropolitan and a new Patriarch in the two parts of the Church, have opened a window of opportunity. It means that the now reunited Russian Church can at last respond to her worldwide challenges and her global calling. The dynamic of unity and the election of leaders from the globally aware post-war generation are set to retrieve lost momentum. This was the momentum lost to the Russian Orthodox Church after the 1917 Revolution. All this comes at a time when the spiritually deprived and humbled remnants of the Non-Orthodox world are increasingly prepared to listen to her message.
With a new globally-minded Patriarch inside Russia and a like-minded Metropolitan in the Church Outside Russia, Russian Orthodoxy can now engage more fully in missionary work, both within Orthodox countries and all over the world. Already there is the newly-won Russian Orthodox unity, attention to the rebirth of the Chinese Orthodox Church and the long-awaited foundation of a united Orthodox Metropolia in Western Europe, calls for missionary work in Central and East Asia and even talk of ‘the Orthodox billion’. There are many who now share our lifetime vision for worldwide missionary work in the tradition of Sts Cyril and Methodius, St Stephen of Perm, St Macarius of the Altai, St Innocent of Alaska, St Nicholas of Tokyo and St John of Shanghai. In this way there can be both dynamic Orthodox outreach in all parts of the world, as well as a meeting of the needs of the Orthodox Diasporas.
2. The Orthodox Diasporas and the Lost Century
This new momentum means bringing Orthodox Diasporas everywhere back to the administrative situation of the Orthodox Diaspora in North America before 1917. Then the Russian Orthodox Church was able to keep the Orthodox Diaspora united, with each nationality fairly represented within one single canonical administrative structure. For it was only after 1917 that all Orthodox Diasporas became not only disunited, but splintered into any number of fractions and so marginalised. These tragic splits in the Diasporas were the work of nationalist or phyletist factions which, as the Diasporas became larger through emigration, became ever more powerful and complex. Thus, in North America the united Orthodox Diaspora was split when the Patriarchate of Constantinople set up its own jurisdiction. This divisive example was followed by the Patriarchates of Antioch, Belgrade, Bucharest and other Local Churches, which all followed Constantinople’s unfortunate example. These sad divisions were swiftly multiplied in Western Europe, South America and Australasia.
In the face of the incapacity, division and disorganisation of the Russian Orthodox Diaspora to fulfil its destiny and gather all Orthodox together, false substitutes to it were found. These included the empire-building of rival jurisdictions. For example, there is the Patriarchate of Constantinople, which even today in the Ukraine is promising canonicity to the uncanonical ‘Monk’ (actually a married man) Philaret Denisenko in Kiev. However, this is only on condition that he resigns as ‘Patriarch of Kiev’ and accepts the Greek Metropolitan Emmanuel, who speaks no Ukrainian, as head of his uncanonical Ukrainian nationalist grouping. And all this, with a complete disregard of the canons, on the canonical territory of the Russian Church! In their empire-building some jurisdictions use a selective, ‘pick and mix’, consumerist approach, for instance copying some Russian customs without the discipline of Russian Church Tradition. For instance some copy Russian music, which is more suitable for the Western world than specific Greek or Arab music, even though this polyphonic music is foreign to those jurisdictions.
Some grant the dioceses and bishops of their Diasporas abroad an illusory autonomy – all in the hope of persuading the naïve that they actually belong to a Local Church. In the haste to build fictitious ecclesiastical empires of dioceses and deaneries in numbers games, which come to nothing, some accept and ordain heterodox clergy overnight. They are given virtually no liturgical training or grounding in the authentic Orthodox Tradition, which is summarily dismissed as ‘ethnic’. The results are largely discrediting and even disastrous. You cannot create loyalty without long-term investment and commitment. As one ex-Anglican Antiochian clergyman said to me some years ago, this is ‘not the real thing’. Similarly, the theoretical revival of Western Orthodoxy in an attempt to build small empires of convert Orthodox has all too often meant the extrapolation of fictitious ‘Western rites’ from the Roman Catholic Tridentine Rite and the Anglican Book of Common Prayer. All this is so much easier than making translations of quality and beauty of the Orthodox services into Western languages and encouraging the authentic veneration of Western Orthodox (= pre-schism) saints.
The current jealousy, fear and inferiority complexes belong to those small groups who during the period of captivity of the Russian Church had their chance to deal with the situations of the Orthodox Diasporas and failed, on account of nationalism or incompetence. Moreover, these are now accompanied by attempts to isolate the much larger Russian Church with refusals to concelebrate or co-operate in any way. The empire-builders see their own imperialism and sectarian triumphalism in others who have none. Today, most of the Diaspora administrations which appeared after 1917 fear to let go of their Diasporas and seeing them merge voluntarily into new Local Orthodox Metropolias, which are one day called on to become Local Churches. For example, as soon as the more missionary-minded Russian Church opens a mission, be it in England or Portugal, in Korea or Nepal, or elsewhere, the Patriarchate of Constantinople attempts to follow, creating unnecessary division and false rivalry, with attempts to poach parishioners. What should be celebrations of genuine unity, the annual ‘Pan-Orthodox Vespers’, are all too often exploited by fragmenters who have increased the number of jurisdictions, all the time calling for the need for canonicity and unity. This resembles the Pan-Protestant World Council of Churches model, which continually multiplies the number of its fragmenting members without creating any unity whatsoever.
3. The Reinvigoration of ROCOR
Within this situation comes the reconciliation between the Patriarchate of Moscow and ROCOR. The few who rejected the reconciliation of ROCOR with the Patriarchate darkly prophesied the ‘self-abolition’ of ROCOR. They saw in the reconciliation process self-destruction, suicide. ROCOR, they asserted, would be ‘swallowed up’ and ‘taken over’ by the Patriarchate in Moscow, so disappearing. This concept of ‘self-abolition’, born of a lack of confidence and an émigré or convert inferiority complex, was that of those who were always closed to new possibilities outside their comfort zone. They failed to understand the situation of the post-Communist world, the new global challenges which the Church faces. Self-defensively they sought to create or reinforce the refugee ghettos of old, which had become unnecessary.
Paranoid fears, bred by the old Cold War, understandably dominated the lives of the first generation of ROCOR refugee emigres. These fears were born of an émigré nationalism mixed with a defensive isolationism, later reinforced by Non-Russian old calendarist elements. These trends haunted the older generation, especially as they aged in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s. Their fears slowed down both the impetus to missionary work and also closed the door to any full-hearted recognition of the consequences of the collapse of Communism inside Russia. However, the decisions taken by ROCOR clergy and laity in the new millennium in response to the turning-point of the Jubilee Council of 2000 in Moscow, which recognised that ROCOR had essentially been right all along, opened the path for ROCOR to respond to new missionary opportunities and global challenges. These decisions meant rejecting sectarian temptations. This choice was ironically made easier for ROCOR, when it was voluntarily abandoned by the very small but very noisy extreme and obscurantist factions which had been holding up progress for years.
Thus, the prospects for ROCOR are today being transformed positively. The old Church landscape in the Americas is being transformed by the reconciliation between ROCOR and the parishes of the Patriarchate in the Americas. This has been reinforced by the election in 2008 of a new, young Metropolitan of the OCA (Orthodox Church in America). His background is not among second-generation immigrants who desperately seek to conform to American Protestant values. Ultimately, if still at times confusedly, he looks to the Orthodox Tradition of incarnate spirituality. This opens the way for almost all OCA parishes in Alaska and Canada, as well as many in the United States itself, to join in a united traditional Orthodox mission in the Americas.
From Australasia, where Russian Orthodoxy has a strong base, missionary work looks to Indonesia and Asia in general. First opportunities are opening up not only in Korea and Nepal, but also in countries like Thailand, Vietnam and Pakistan, and above all in China and India. In Western Europe, a generally seamless merging seems to be taking place between all the Russian parishes (that is, those which are of the authentic and not pretend Russian Orthodox Tradition), whatever languages they serve in. There is a growing consensus about the missionary role of Orthodoxy in Europe. The time for the establishment of an Orthodox Metropolia in Western Europe is approaching. This is all the more so as Roman Catholicism (like its Protestant offshoots before it) falters beneath the ever-growing weight of secularism. For it was Roman Catholicism via its Protestant branches which gave birth to secularism. This occurred through the humanism born of the filioque error, which justified substituting a mere fallible man for Christ as Head of the Church.
4. Conclusion: Towards Three Regional Orthodox Metropolias?
Outside the homelands of the Local Orthodox Churches, the Orthodox Diasporas are heading towards a global restructuring and reconfiguration. ROCOR could within a generation or less perhaps once more become a Church of three Metropolias. These would be in the Americas, in Australasia and in Europe, with a total episcopate of forty or more bishops, composing a Synod, chaired by a senior Metropolitan. All this, initially, would be part of the Holy Synod, gathered around the Patriarch in Moscow.
These three Metropolias would be regional and not national. The Orthodox Diasporas are not ready for the birth of more national Churches. They are unnecessary and undesirable. Indeed, the premature OCA Cold War experiment was marred by, among other things, US nationalism with its Protestant Russophobia. The membership of the united structures of these Metropolias would be purely voluntary. Their mere creation would challenge the remaining ethnic jurisdictions and ask if they have the courage to let go of their Diasporas. In this there is no Russian nationalism, only the offer of service by the Russian Church. She alone has the calling, manpower, resources and administrative competence to see the wider picture beyond narrow nationalism and to set up these Metropolias. Indeed, it must be added that such Regional Metropolias can only be successful, if they are supported and helped by the spiritual strength of multinational Orthodox participation.
The last carriages of the ROCOR train are now pulling away from their historic platform. This train is beginning to gather speed. It is not quite too late for the falsely fearful who tragically got off the train just before it pulled out of the station to run after it and get on the last carriage. But soon it will be too difficult even to do this. Then they will be left behind, stranded on a windswept and increasingly deserted platform, become a museum for the past, where no trains ever stop.
The transformed and renewed ROCOR train that has just left the station, where it had been standing for so very long, waiting for people to get on and, sadly, for others to get off, is on its way to its destiny and calling. This destiny is to establish Regional Orthodox Metropolias (ROMES). God willing, these will eventually lead to united Orthodox Churches in the Diasporas, in the Americas, in Western Europe and in Australasia. Its task is to witness before the peoples of those lands to the fullness of Christianity, so faithfully and providentially maintained by the New Martyrs and Confessors of the Russian Church, ‘come out of great tribulation (Rev 7, 14). In this way, in this present ‘space of half an hour’ (Rev. 8, 1) granted to us by the heavens, they will in these last days fulfil the last words of the Gospel of St Matthew: ‘Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world. Amen’.
Archpriest Andrew Phillips,
St Nicholas of Zhicha