ON THE LEGACY OF METROPOLITAN ANTONY (BLOOM)
Former members of the Sourozh diocese of the Patriarchal Russian Church have recently created an ‘Amphipolis Vicariate’, under the Paris Exarchate of the Patriarchate of Constantinople. Numbering over one hundred at present, they are divided into six small communities.
They first justified their split from the Russian Church by referring to their wish to continue the ‘legacy of Metropolitan Antony’ (Bloom). The problem is that even throughout the disastrous years of the long Soviet captivity, Metropolitan Antony never once broke away from the Russian Church. Indeed, quite the contrary. Even when in the 1970s he supported the dissident Alexander Solzhenitsyn and was thereafter cold-shouldered by the Soviet captives in the Moscow Patriarchate, he did not leave. Even though it is true that he then considered joining the free Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia (ROCOR), he never considered breaking away from the Russian Church and joining the Patriarchate of Constantinople.
As regards his ‘legacy’, this seems to be all things to all men. It is subject to personal interpretations of the widest possible and even most extreme varieties. As one who knew Metropolitan Antony personally, I have no desire to express personal opinions about him here, but rather relate the opinions of others. For example, there are those who affirm that Metropolitan Antony was on the verge of ordaining women to the priesthood. But there are those who most vigorously deny this. There are those who think him a wonderful example, but there are others who have denounced him on the Internet and elsewhere, in shocking and criminal terms, which we have no desire to repeat.
FROM SOUROZH TO AMPHIPOLIS
Given their previous, unconvincing justifications, the latest news from the Amphipolis Vicariate which has broken away from the Sourozh Diocese, is a series of new justifications for their action. These appear to be the following:
1) Since the Moscow Patriarchate does not abide by ‘the principles and decisions’ of the Moscow Council of 1917-1918, whereas they allegedly do, the Amphipolis group claims that their breakaway is vindicated. Indeed, according to them, by not abiding by those principles and decisions, the Moscow Patriarchate has become ‘intolerant and authoritarian’.
The fact that not all the decisions of the Moscow Council have been implemented in the Moscow Patriarchate is of course well-known. And the reasons why – seventy-five years of vicious persecution and the martyrdom of millions - are well-known. There is little doubt that these decisions will be implemented when required, once the more basic tasks, unforeseen by that Council – such as rebuilding churches, teaching the population after baptism, eliminating Soviet forms of vice, organized crime, mass adultery and abortion, have been carried out.
In any case, if the Sourozh dissidents wish to remain faithful to the Russian Church and feel that the full implementation of the principles and decisions of the 1917-1918 Council is all-important, then all they have to do is to transfer to the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia (ROCOR). The free part of the Russian Church was able to implement those decisions, while remaining faithful to the Russian Church, and also to the President of the Council and founder of ROCOR, St Tikhon, Patriarch of Moscow.
However, one suspects that the members of the Amphipolis Vicariate would find this too ‘intolerant and authoritarian’ - as the Paris Exarchate which broke away from ROCOR in the 1920s also claimed in its self-justification. It is a curious claim, because the Russian Church is well-known for its more liberal and cosmopolitan views and its openness to other nationalities. In Western Europe, at least, it is difficult to imagine the present Greek nationalist Patriarchate of Constantinople ordaining Non-Greeks, letting them keep Non-Greek names, translating the service books into Western languages and encouraging services in the vernacular, as happens in the Russian Church. We have several times heard bishops of that Patriarchate telling English people to become or remain Anglicans and not become Orthodox. We cannot but suspect that the unfounded charge of ‘intolerant and authoritarian’ is merely an excuse for introducing anti-Tradition and unOrthodox practices – the real reasons for the split.
2) By (uncanonically) transferring allegiance to the Patriarchate of Constantinople, the dissidents of the Amphipolis Vicariate claim that they are showing ‘fidelity’ to the Russian Tradition.
This, of course, is not true. As they themselves admit, they already have some ‘slight (sic) divergence of practices’ with the Russian Church. Among these would be backdating letters of canonical dismissal, issuing them to priests and passing into another jurisdiction without canonical permission. These practices are definitely not in the Russian, or any other, Tradition. One of the first actions of those now in the Amphipolis group has always been to change to the new calendar, so controversially adopted by the Patriarchate of Constantinople in the 1920s. This can be seen in the practices of the six tiny communities which so far appear to have left the Sourozh Diocese for the new Vicariate.
Anyone who has respect for the Russian Church, whatever their nationality, would want to be on the same calendar as the Russian Church. Moreover, this is also the calendar of the Patriarchate of Jerusalem, of Mt Athos, and, indeed, over 75% of the Orthodox Church as a whole. I have never heard of anyone becoming a Roman Catholic and refusing to accept its calendar. And where was the ‘fidelity to the Russian Tradition’ in Bishop Basil inviting the ‘Neo-Renovationist’ (the words of Patriarch Alexis), Fr George Kochetkov, from Moscow to come and live in London and be a priest of the Sourozh Cathedral?
Knowing well the situation in the Paris ‘Exarchate of the Russian Tradition’, centred in Rue Daru in Paris, to which the Vicariate now adheres, I can say that if you are outside the Russian Church, then you lose the Russian Tradition. Thus, many Exarchate clergy serve not only on the Greek calendar, but also in the Greek way. Only recently, at their Convent at Bussy-en-Othe, their jurisdiction built a church in the Greek style. Where is the place for the Russian Tradition outside the Russian Church?
The lesson is that if you are not in the Russian Church, do not pretend to be, or else you will become disincarnate. If you wish to be under the Greek Church of Constantinople, then you must accept the consequences of it, its customs, calendar, ecumenism and discipline. But to be a hybrid, neither fish nor fowl, is not conducive to building spiritual life, because you fall, uncomfortably, between two stools. And instead of sitting on one or the other of them, you waste your time and energy, like the Rue Daru jurisdiction, seeking a lost identity.
3) It is claimed that a majority of parishioners (55 out of 67) of the Oxford parish voted to leave the Russian Church.
Apart from the fact that questions may be asked about the fate of the 12 who did not vote to leave – do they set up their own parish, having been abandoned by their own bishop and clergy? – there are other questions here. As is known, the Oxford chapel is in a peculiar situation, since it shares a building with the new calendar Greek parish. Both parishes appear to share a fund of over £100,000 in order to build a new church. Our questions are: Firstly, could there, quite naturally, be unspoken pressures to leave the Russian Church on account of this building? Secondly, and much more importantly, what about the parishioners who are not listed, and therefore are deprived of voting rights? What were their views?
It is well known that in France, for example in Biarritz, the Paris Exarchate has managed to keep the church building for the time being, by the technical ruse of manipulating the list of parishioners who have voting rights. Thus, although most parishioners wanted to return to the Russian Mother-Church, the paper majority did not. Russian immigrants, unfamiliar with the way in which parishes work outside Russia, had never thought of such a ruse. Perhaps they should have. It is after all a ruse worthy of the old Soviet Communist Party, rather than a so-called democratic West and an Exarchate, which is supposed to have implemented the ‘the principles and decisions of the 1917-1918 Council’. It is not difficult to come up with a result of nearly 100% of parishioners voting against any change - but 100% of which parishioners?
If Amphipolis really wishes to become democratic, then why did it not consult all those thousands of people, whom it has ejected and rejected over the last forty and more years, before departing from Sourozh? This would include the monastic establishment of the late Archimandrite Sophrony, the Antiochene Deanery of over twelve parishes it refused to have anything to do with, and the thousands of others who, once converted, were forced to leave, because they did not fit in with the wealthy, public school, High Anglican, liberal, middle-class, Kensington-Oxford elite it wanted. Its policy reminds one of the Bolsheviks. Seeing that they were a minority among the revolutionaries, they labelled themselves 'Bolshevik' (i.e. the majority), and the actual majority 'Menshevik' (i.e. the minority). In such a way, they became a majority overnight. It is all so simple.
4) The Amphipolis Vicariate claims that it is uncanonical to be ‘on barbarian territory’ (i.e. Western Europe, the Americas, Australasia) and not be under the Patriarchate of Constantinople. Of course, no Local Churches accept this. Thus, the Romanian, the Serbian, the Bulgarian, the Antiochian and the Russian all have their own parishes and dioceses in Western Europe and would never dream of going under Constantinople. The late Fr Alexander Schmemann, an Amphipolis hero, never had any problems with not being under the Patriarchate of Constantinople, when he lived in the USA for some thirty years. Indeed, by establishing the OCA with the Cold War Moscow Patriarchate, he got it into canonical trouble with the Patriarchate of Constantinople. Strangely enough, nor did anyone else in the Sourozh Diocese have any problems with being outside the Patriarchate of Constantinople for over forty years, including the late Metropolitan. Is this a question of suddenly seeing ‘the light’ – or is it simply a question of political expediency?
Indeed, if we are all to be under the Patriarchate of Constantinople, why then are there two bishops of the same Patriarchate in Paris, Archbishop Gabriel of the Patriarchate of Constantinople and Metropolitan Emmanuel of the Patriarchate of Constantinople? Surely, the Rue Daru jurisdiction’s great principle of territoriality is being violated – by themselves? How can their Roman Catholic style titles of two different Turkish villages actually justify them by the canons, according to which there should only be one bishop in each city?
With the Sourozh schism (as His Holiness Patriarch Alexis has called it), we seem to be witnessing the breakaway of a small number of mixed Russian and English people, perhaps two or three hundred eventually, from the Russian Church. These individuals belong to a few communities of a dozen or two in size, usually with a small side-chapel in an Anglican church, which they are allowed to use, or perhaps only manage to use, for a eucharistic liturgy twice a month or even less. At present they have virtually no property of their own.
This group of individuals has turned its back on the present positive flow of Orthodox history, and sadly their future at present resembles that of any other small and rather elderly group of isolated vagantes. When their present bishop leaves the scene, members of the ‘Vicariate’ may form a small deanery under those who have put Bishop Basil up to this. More likely, they will by then either have dissolved into the Greek Patriarchate of Constantinople, or else, have returned in dribs and drabs to the Russian Church, or else have fallen back into Anglicanism.
In this respect, the Amphipolis Vicariate resembles the Mansonville group, which split off from ROCOR at the beginning of the twenty-first century. In the last five years it has split into tiny warring groups and is at present splitting yet again. Most of their ordinary members have returned to ROCOR, seeing clearly their error. The latest of these is the penitent Bishop Barnabas of Cannes, who has returned to ROCOR as a retired bishop, with no episcopal rights. Whether Amphipolis or Mansonville, history will look back to two small but tragic sectarian groups, which refused the tide of Orthodox history at the beginning of the twenty-first century.
As regards the legacy of Metropolitan Antony, all that can be said is that, whatever it was, any potential prestige it may once have had, has now been sorely compromised by the schismatic acts of the Amphipolis group. Even now, there are those in the Moscow Patriarchate, perhaps justifiably, perhaps not, who mutter that if Amphipolis is the legacy of Metropolitan Antony, then it cannot have been a good legacy.
But perhaps the strangest thing in all of this is that of the two best-known bishops responsible for the Russian Church in London in recent years, one was a saint, the other, as far as we know, was not. The first was St John of Shanghai, Archbishop in London, the Wonderworker. The second was Metropolitan Antony (Bloom). Without wishing to denigrate the many human gifts of the latter, it would seem to me that if there is a choice to be made between a saint and a non-saint, then surely it is the legacy of St John that we should be following, and not of any other.
Priest Andrew Phillips
St John the Wonderworker,