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Events in the Orthodox World Move Forward

According to a report from the Press Service of the Patriarch of Moscow and All the Russias on 25 August, Patriarch Kyrill explained that the creation of new dioceses in Russia is part of the efforts of the reunited Russian Orthodox Church to get back to a normal Orthodox situation.

(Translator’s Note: We should explain that at present there are perhaps some 750 Orthodox bishops in the world, but only about 220 in the reunited Russian Orthodox Church, which is 75% of the whole Orthodox Church! This is scarcely more than one bishop for every one million Russian Orthodox. Clearly, this situation is deeply abnormal. The Russian Orthodox Church should perhaps be thinking about having an episcopate of 2,200 bishops, instead of its present 220).

Consecrating yet another new bishop in Russia, His Holiness said that ‘a diocese is a local Church’ and originally ‘every parish had its bishop’. Only gradually did bishops delegate their powers to priests, gathered together in a diocese. Even then, dioceses in the early Orthodox Church were very small. Therefore the recent increase in dioceses in Russia was ‘not a division of dioceses, but the creation of new ones’ and the beginning of a return to normality. He said that he also intended to create more Metropolia, or regional groups of dioceses, within the Russian Church, as he recently did for Central Asia.

His Holiness said that this was not a question of a return to the pre-Revolutionary situation, because that situation was deeply abnormal also. For more than the first five centuries of its existence the Russian Orthodox Church, even then covering a huge territory, had been a mere ‘Metropolia of the Patriarchate of Constantinople’. And yet it had covered many times over all the other Metropolias of that Patriarchate put together. It was now time, he said, to return to ‘the wise decisions of the 1917-18 Local Council of the Russian Church’, never implemented because of atheist persecution, regarding an increase in the number of dioceses. In this way the diocesan bishop could be ‘near to his priests and his flock’.

(Translator’s Note: We might add that this situation of small dioceses and closeness to priests and flock has long been the situation in most dioceses of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia, or at least in those dioceses where there is a resident bishop. Sadly, as in South America, for example, where there was for long no resident bishop, the diocese crumbled and today there is hardly anything left).

His Holiness went on to express his great concern that in many parts of Russia there is less than one parish for every 11,000 people, an abnormal situation resulting from 75 years of Communist persecution. However, there was not just ‘a problem of quantity, but also of quality’ – only ‘worthy candidates’ could be consecrated to the episcopate.

(Translator’s Note: In 1917 there were some 72,000 Orthodox churches and chapels in the Russian Empire for an Orthodox population far smaller than the 164 million Russian Orthodox today, when there are scarcely 31,000 churches and chapels.

It is heartening that Patriarch Kyrill also speaks of worthy candidates. For decades the Patriarchate of Moscow was compromised in various European cities by flagrantly unworthy episcopal figures, who caused enormous scandal, division and hurt, for which it has not apologised).

Meanwhile, the Patriarchate of Constantinople, as we announced some months ago, has summoned a meeting of the Patriarchs of Alexandria, Antioch, Jerusalem and the Archbishop of Cyprus, whose flocks total about four million, less than 2% of the Orthodox world. The meeting will take place in Istanbul on 1 and 2 September. Two questions will be examined: Firstly, the situation of Christians in the Middle East and secondly, the relations between the Local Orthodox Churches in view of a possible future Orthodox Council.

(Translator’s Note: The so-called ‘Arab Spring’, which seems to have been orchestrated by the CIA, NATO and perhaps Israel has, like the invasion of Iraq, created hatred, both for native Orthodox Christians (and even more those of non-native denominations) in all the Middle Eastern countries. This is a particular worry for the small Damascus-based Patriarchate of Antioch, which has always supported the Syrian Presidents, including the present Bashar al-Assad. It is today rapidly losing its flock in Syria in the face of Arab nationalism and Muslim persecution, just as the Patriarchates of Constantinople and Alexandria in the past, and just as the Patriarchate of Jerusalem lost its flock because of Jewish and Muslim persecution.

A possible Orthodox Council, for decades made impossible by the atheist persecutions in Eastern Europe, has been much delayed by the meddling in recent decades of the Patriarchate of Constantinople in internal Russian Church affairs, especially in the Ukraine (and its diaspora), in Estonia and in England.

On the other hand, the Patriarchate of Moscow, then under Soviet control, also meddled in inter-Orthodox affairs in North America by uncanonically setting up an ‘Orthodox Church in America’, a very troubled organisation whose autocephaly the free and now reunited Russian Orthodox Church is now disowning).

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