IN HINDSIGHT: WHY CHURCH UNITY WAS OPPOSED
Ecclesiastes 3, 1 and 5
Over a month has now passed since the Feast of the Ascension of our Lord, when the two parts of the Russian Orthodox Church entered into eucharistic communion. The almost apocalyptic predictions of those who opposed this unity and tried to foment schism, for whatever reason, have of course not come true. As before, both parts of the Russian Church continue to live with the same common Orthodox values, struggling for the restoration of Orthodox Russia, for the Orthodox Tradition worldwide and against globalist secularism.
Much nonsense has been generated on the Internet about non-existent 'schisms' and 'huge numbers' of (non-existent) parishes and clergy of the Russian Orthodox Church outside Russia who have rejected eucharistic communion. I only know of six clergy worldwide who have left ROCOR. Three were retired and very isolated, one had been threatened with defrocking for a moral problem but left beforehand, one was a young priest from Russia who seemed to know virtually nothing about the realities involved, and the other was a 'convert', as he termed himself, who had always proclaimed that he strongly disliked Russians. True, apart from these, there have been a few highly politicized, individual departures inside Russia, especially in the Ukraine, of those who rejected unity. However, it has always remained a puzzle as to why these individuals had joined the Church Outside Russia in the first place. With interests which seemed to be largely political, why did they not simply join a right-wing political party from the start? That would have been honest.
Strangely enough, the country that perhaps has suffered the most from little groups splitting off has been Great Britain. Here, both sides of the Russian Church suffered mini-schisms, in a symbolic microcosm of wider tensions, schisms which were predicted decades ago and quite inevitable, given the lack of timely solutions.
The Sourozh Schism
The first, and by far the most important, schism was that suffered by the Patriarchal jurisdiction. About half the clergy of its Sourozh Diocese and perhaps as many as 200 often elderly laypeople left for the modernist Paris Jurisdiction, taking with them disputed Church property and now attempting to obtain more. Their schism was announced on the eve of the Fourth All-Diaspora Church Council in San Francisco in May 2006. Since everybody knew that that Council would result in the two parts of the Russian Church coming together, it was clear that the reason for the schism was the refusal to accept Russian Church discipline.
Some eighty years ago, they had rejected that discipline in rejecting ROCOR and briefly joining the Paris Jurisdiction,. However, in 1945 they joined the Patriarchate. At that time, during the Cold War, with the resulting inability of the central administration in Moscow to look after its tiny foreign Diocese, and on account of the peculiar circumstances in London and the personality involved, this meant that they were able to continue much as before, as a Paris Jurisdiction within the Patriarchate. Their problem was that since the freeing of the Patriarchate inside Russia in the 1990s, new immigration from Russia, the canonization of the New Martyrs, including the Royal Martyrs in 2000, and the death of their Metropolitan, they were now going to have accept Russian Church discipline from Moscow. Since both parts of the Russian Church have always had the same discipline, their only escape was therefore to leave the Russian Church altogether. This is what happened.
The refusal of Russian Church discipline, under the pretexts of 'freedom', 'creativity', or 'being English', was precisely the reason why these individuals had originally joined the Patriarchate, rather than the then much larger ROCOR Church in London. Thus, in the early 1960s, the only parish of the Patriarchate numbered perhaps two dozen, whereas the then large parishes of the ROCOR Diocese numbered thousands, with normal Sunday attendance at its London Cathedral alone of about 600. This in turn was why in the 1960s the Patriarchal Diocese began to recruit English people to join it. Without them, it could well have died out completely.
The result was what can only be called an Eastern-rite Anglicanism within a Diocese of the Moscow Patriarchate: the typically Parisian anti-monastic ethos; the new calendar (and official pleas for the new Paschalia); services without an iconostasis; communion without confession and at every Liturgy; communion given to Non-Orthodox ('in exceptional circumstances'); blessings given to couple to co-habit and still take communion; men in lay dress allowed to consume the gifts at the end of the Liturgy; the proskomidia taking place in the middle of the Church; no Hours before the Liturgy; women improperly dressed in church; suggestions that women could become priests; child baptism without immersion; cremations; no episcopal services (for the bishop was not at the centre of Church life; a personality was); no liturgical colours; 'missing' icons of certain saints; 'missing' books in the parish bookstall; officially blessed use of milk during the fasts; services carried out by clergy facing the people (like Roman Catholic clergy); an ecumenism which could never be admitted as canonical.
The ROCOR Schism
The second, much smaller schism, that of two or three dozen individuals, took place some eight months later, over four months before the celebration of eucharistic unity on 17 May. However, the reasons for this were much more complex. These included: the serious illnesses, recognized much too late, of the two previous ROCOR Diocesan bishops in the 1970s and 1980s; the lack of a resident ROCOR bishop in Great Britain for the 22 years since 1985; the lack of well-trained clergy at that time; the administration of the Diocese by a group of laypeople, some of whom were not even Orthodox; the influence of schismatic Greek Old Calendarist ideology, its practice of rebaptism and refusal to accept the use of 'economy', traditional to the Russian Church; the lack of objective information in English for English speakers poorly integrated into the Russian Orthodox Tradition; various unresolved administrative problems in London; personality clashes. Therefore, the reasons for this schism were much more varied. They do not in any way relate to the type of old-fashioned renovationist ideology, inherent in and inherited by the old Sourozh Diocese, which made inevitable their Paris schism.
Those reading the above should not be drawn into pessimism. The vast majority of, I would say all, conscious Russian Orthodox in this country, remain solidly faithful to the Russian Orthodox Tradition. Those who hold the middle ground, following the golden mean, the royal way, those who have suffered attacks for decades from left and right, continue, having resisted all attacks. We cannot fail to see in this resistance the unseen but very real influence of the only contemporary Orthodox saint to have walked the streets of London, our shepherd, St John the Wonderworker.
We believe that the tragic events of the past year or so in this country may have a positive aspect. This is our chance to rebuild our Church according to the Russian Orthodox Tradition of St John, and not extremes, regardless of whether we use Slavonic or English, or a mixture of the two, in our liturgical life. We reassure the faithful who have been disturbed by events here over the last year and say: The Church goes on and we pray for our salvation and the salvation of all before the Throne of God and all are welcome to return to the Russian Orthodox Tradition.
As for the wider Russian Orthodox Church, as the moral and spiritual leader of Orthodoxy worldwide, we fully expect that She will continue the process of gathering together the Orthodox world. The positions recently taken by the Churches of Serbia, Bulgaria, Poland, of the Czech Lands and Slovakia, of Japan, by the Patriarchates of Antioch, Alexandria and Jerusalem, increasingly by the Churches of Greece, Cyprus and Romania, leave us with little doubt as to what is happening in the present consolidation of the Orthodox position. The stones of the Church that before were cast away are being gathered together. We expect further developments among the healthy forces in Paris this autumn and among the Orthodox Church in America in 2008. The Church is gathering together all her vital forces for the great struggles that lie ahead.
To small minorities who resist this spiritual momentum we would say that, overtaken by this world, they risk falling into one form or another of secularization or sect, whether into the ism of modernism, or the ism of traditionalism. Whichever it may be, this is the way of marginalization or extinction, not the way of the Church, which combats the world by engaging with it, but resisting it, and only so transfiguring it.