Future Possible: 17 July 2034
The news has flashed onto e-screens around the world. The thirty-seven bishops of the former Orthodox Metropolia of Western Europe, meeting at the Council of Paris between 10 and 17 July 2034, have accepted Autocephaly and so now become an Autocephalous Church.
Autocephaly was offered to them jointly by Patriarch Seraphim of Moscow and All the Russias, with his Holy Synod at the New Jerusalem Monastery of the Resurrection outside Moscow, together with the Patriarchs and Synods of six other Local Orthodox Churches. These were Patriarch Dionysios of Athens (formerly Constantinople) and All Greece, Patriarch Chrysostomos of Damascus (formerly Antioch) and All the East, Patriarch Cleopa of Bucharest, Patriarch Justin of Belgrade, Patriarch John of Sofia and Patriarch-Catholicos George of Tbilisi. With over seventeen million Orthodox in Western Europe, the new Church becomes the third largest Local Orthodox Church after those of Russia and Romania. The thirty-seven hierarchs of the new Orthodox Church of Western Europe (OCWE), listed in English, are:
Metropolitan Peter of Paris and All Western Europe
Archbishop Boniface of Berlin and All Germany
Archbishop Benedict of Rome and All Italy
Archbishop Alban of London and All the Isles
Archbishop Eulogius of Madrid and All Iberia
Archbishop Vladimir of Stockholm and All Scandinavia
Archbishop Antony of Lisbon and All Portugal
Archbishop Clement of Utrecht and All Holland
Archbishop Severinus of Vienna and All Austria
Bishop Gall of Zurich and the Swiss Lands.
In his message of congratulations, issued after the Liturgy for the Imperial Martyrs at New Jerusalem, Patriarch Seraphim said: ‘Western Europe has now been re-established as a Church territory. A historic injustice has been righted and the spiritual essence and meaning of Europe has been restored. It is time for the faithful of Western Europe of all nationalities and languages to enter into the fullness of Autocephalous Church Life within the Orthodox Family’. Tsar Nicholas III expressed his warmest congratulations in fluent French, German, Spanish, English and Italian.
Speaking from his native Lagos, Pope Athanasius of Nairobi (formerly Alexandria) and All Africa stated that, ‘Africa rejoices that Western Europe has at last rejoined the family of Orthodox Churches’. Patriarch Kosmas of Jerusalem commented that his Church was always ready to greet Orthodox pilgrims from Europe. Hierarchs in Eastern Europe, including Bishop Gabriel of Budapest and Hungary (under the care of the Church of Romania), looked forward to excellent relations with the new Local Church.
The move was met with joy by the former Orthodox Metropolia of the Americas, now the Orthodox Church in the Americas (OCAS), which received its Autocephaly in 2030. Metropolitan Jose of Caracas and all the Americas (OCAS) and many senior hierarchs, Archbishop Laurence of Ottawa, Archbishop Miguel of Mexico City, Archbishop Paul of San Paolo, Archbishop Sergio of Rio de Janeiro and Archbishop Kyrill of Havana and the Carribean all expressed their enthusiasm. Speaking from the 100-strong Monastery of the Archangel Michael on Spruce Island in Alaska, Archbishop Peter, the first Aleut Archbishop of Washington, said that he hoped that monastic life would develop further in the new Church. ‘The North American experience’, he said’, ‘has been that a Church without monastic life was a Church without a future’. He added: ‘The Athonite typicon is the only antidote to Western atheist values’.
Similarly, in the former Orthodox Metropolia of Australasia, now the AOC (Australasian Orthodox Church), which only received its Autocephaly two years ago, voices were heard expressing optimism. Metropolitan Abraham of Jakarta and all Australasia, Archbishop Boris of Sydney and All Australia, Archbishop Daniel of Bangkok and All Thailand and Bishop Adam of Singapore all stated that they believed that Western Europe was ready for Autocephaly. In Vietnam Bishop Jacob and in New Guinea Bishop Noah echoed these thoughts. It was, as both Bishop Gregory of Melbourne and Bishop Stephen of Auckland noted, twenty years since December 2014 when the Metropolia had been set up in Western Europe and it was now time to move on.
In China, Metropolitan Mitrophan of Beijing and Archbishop John of Shanghai both said that all the Chinese hierarchs were hoping that the Autonomous Chinese Orthodox Church would receive its Autocephaly from the Synod in Moscow ‘in due course’. The Orthodox leaders in the Orthodox Metropolia of South Asia such as Metropolitan Thomas of New Delhi, Archbishop Andrew of Karachi, Bishop Isaac of Dacca and Bishop Josaphat of Colombo, all expressed the hope that their Autocephaly would follow in the coming decades. Speaking on the tenth anniversary of Tibetan independence, Archbishop Barlaam of Lhasa and All Tibet added that the monastic expansion in his country and the hundreds of thousands baptised in recent years meant that the Himalayas were called to be an important component in the Orthodox Metropolia of South Asia.
In Western Europe itself, the renowned Russo-Scottish Elder Adam at his monastery on Iona said: ‘This is the will of God. The Church in Western Europe must be united in prayer and in communion, because only in this way can we resist local outbreaks of persecution which will come in the future, if there is not mass repentance’. On Malta the blind Eldress Paula asked all to pray for the episcopate of the Western European Church. She reminded everyone that it was only sixteen years since the fall of the ‘European Union’ and its anti-Christian tyranny in 2018. She said that there were forces at work in Europe which wanted the return of those dark days. It had only been ‘thanks to the spiritual power of the Orthodox Churches in Russia and Eastern Europe that tyranny has fallen’. She added that: ‘Europe still lives under the threat of renewed persecution, if there is a slackening of prayer’.
It is true that the Church of Western Europe does not include all Orthodox on its territory. There are said to be nearly one hundred parishes which are still directly under the care of their Mother Churches in Eastern Europe, especially in the Balkans. This had been agreed on as a canonical option before joint Autocephaly was granted. Metropolitan Peter said that there would ‘inevitably’ be a period of overlap for some and that it had to be understood that membership of the Western European Church was voluntary. Some, he said, would need more time than others before they joined and economy had to be used in some cases. The important thing, he explained, was that everybody was in canonical communion within a Church which was absolutely faithful to the uncompromised Orthodox Tradition.
On the other hand, there are scattered through Europe about 3,000 dissidents who belong to the ‘Orthodox Association.’ Although claiming to be Orthodox, they insist that they will not join a ‘reactionary and conservative’ Orthodox Church of Western Europe. They maintain that only their ‘Sophianic’ Orthodoxy, though unrecognised by any Local Orthodox Church, is ‘modern and creative’. ‘Tradition’, they said, ‘is only for dusty museums’. It has to be said that the average age of these ‘modernists’ is nearly seventy-five and many of its tiny communities no longer have any clergy, not even ‘deaconesses’, despite the relative wealth of the ‘Association’. As regards these dissidents, Metropolitan Peter commented that the ‘modern’ was an illusion which belonged to the past. ‘This group’, he said, ‘needed to return to the Church and live in the present and not in nostalgia for the secular and divisive philosophies of the old-fashioned twentieth century’. We recall that the same thing happened when OCAS was granted its Autocephaly.
Again as in North America, there are also said to be about another 3,000 dissident Orthodox scattered over Western Europe and divided into no fewer than seven warring ‘synods’. Each claims that the other is heretical, asserting that only it is the ‘One True Church’ and that Metropolitan Peter and his Synod are ‘heretics’ and ‘ecumenists’. This is because Metropolitan Peter and the Synod categorically refuse to condemn the remaining Non-Orthodox as ‘evil’. When asked about these groups of dissidents, Metropolitan Peter simply replied that he was sad that small groups of newcomers to Orthodox Christianity had put themselves out of communion with the Church. He added that ‘though youth and zeal are important, so too are experience and wisdom. It is the mercy of God that brings salvation and those who have not yet experienced this mercy need time to encounter it’. He said: ‘Many of these dissidents are very well-educated, but educated in their heads not in their hearts, and the heart is where education counts’. He referred to the Apostle Paul, who wrote that though we may have all the gifts, without love they are of no profit to us. He explained that: ‘The few remaining Non-Orthodox deserve compassion, not condemnation. They are the victims of history’. The Metropolitan expressed the hope that the dissidents of both extremes would eventually come to join the new Autocephalous Church, but it depended on ‘goodwill’.
With Autocephaly, there has already been speculation that Metropolitan Peter will transfer his residence and the Synod will move from Paris to Rome and that he will be declared ‘Patriarch of the West’. However, in an e-interview in Paris, Metropolitan Peter said that speculation and rumour were ‘unnecessary and premature’. He commented: ‘We have come a long way in the last twenty-five years since 2009. Let us consolidate what we have achieved’. He explained that it was twenty years since December 2014, when the Autonomous Metropolia had been established. He suggested with a smile that we should ‘leave the possibility of moving to Rome and changing titles for another twenty years, until 2054’.
Archpriest Andrew Phillips
4/17 July 2009 The Royal Martyrs