A PROPHECY IS BEING FULFILLED
When at last comes freedom from atheist government, then there will be rejoicing and triumph at the restoration of the Russian Church...We pray to the Lord, that He will hasten the coming of that long-desired and awaited hour, when the First Hierarch of All Russia, going up to his Patriarchal place in the Cathedral of the Dormition in Moscow, will gather around him all the Russian Archpastors, come from all the Russian and foreign lands.
St John of Shanghai
the announcement yesterday, 8 September 2006, that the Synod of ROCOR
has accepted the Statement on Canonical Communion, preparations are now
under way so that His Holiness Patriarch Alexis and all Russia and the
Most Reverend Metropolitan Laurus of New York and Eastern America can
sign the Statement as soon as possible. This will mean that both parts
of the Russian Church will be able to enter into eucharistic communion
with one another. This in turn will mean, as His Holiness Patriarch Theophilus
of Jerusalem has already implied, that those Local Churches which broke
off communion with ROCOR for political reasons will also re-enter into
canonical unity with ROCOR.
St Pimen the Great
'The wonderful light of Christ will shine forth from Russia and enlighten all the peoples of the earth. This will be helped by that part of the people providentially sent ahead into the diaspora, who will create centres of Orthodoxy - churches of God all over the world'.
Orthodoxy and the Destiny of Russia (P. 301 of Orthodox Christianity and the English Tradition).
In our writings since 1974 we have clearly and consistently recognized the need for the establishment of a local Orthodox Church in Western Europe. Moreover, we have always maintained that this could come through the Russian Church, which alone among the family of the Orthodox Churches has in recent times freely granted autonomy and autocephaly to new Orthodox Churches as part of its missionary witness. For long, however, the establishment of such a Church was impossible on account of the Babylonian captivity of the Russian Church to the Soviet regime. (1)
However, with the fall of atheistic Communism and the beginning of the restoration of the Church in Russia in the last decade, attention there has now at last turned to the situation of Orthodox of the Russian Tradition in Western Europe. After nearly thirty years, we have heard for the first time the need for the establishment of a Local Orthodox Church in Western Europe recognized by the voice of the Patriarch of Moscow and all Russia. This is a historic moment and turning-point. The importance of the historic declaration of Patriarch Alexis II on April 1, that he wishes to set up an autonomous (self-governing) Orthodox Metropolia for Western Europe, leading eventually to the birth of a new Local Orthodox Church, cannot be overestimated. It comes at a critical time when the situation of those faithful to the Russian Orthodox Tradition in Western Europe is particularly fragile.
Firstly, there is the situation of the ageing Paris 'Rue Daru' Russians who are still under the Patriarchate of Constantinople, which is very weak. Earlier this year their ruling Archbishop Serge, their fifth since they established themselves in 1925 by breaking away from the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia, died. As a result of their anti-monastic attitude, for their Archepiscopal elections on 1 May there are only two candidates; the elderly and ill former Protodeacon Mikhail (Storozhenko) (now Bishop in retirement) and the modernist candidate, the inexperienced Dutch Bishop Gabriel. It seems likely that the pro-Patriarchal Bishop Mikhail will be elected. If this is the case. then Rue Daru may at last return to the Patriarchal Church. They must realize that they have no future unless they return to the now largely free Mother-Church in Russia. Indeed, this would be their only way to re-establish their canonical credibility, which has been so undermined in recent decades by modernist liberalism and freemasonry.
Secondly, there is the situation of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia (ROCOR). Established by the Patriarch of Moscow, St Tikhon, in 1920 until such time as the Mother-Church became free, in Western Europe it has recently suffered a great deal from the 2001 schism in France and Belgium, which was being prepared at least as long ago as 1996. The schism of an extremist group, including their Bishop Barnabas in Cannes, is that of Russian Old Calendarists. With the defection of Bishop Barnabas, the retirement of the elderly and ill Archbishop Seraphim of Brussels and the extreme ill health of Bishop Ambrose in Switzerland, there are in fact only two active bishops of ROCOR in all Western Europe. These are Archbishop Mark of Germany (who also looks after the very small ROCOR group which is faithful to Russian Church practices in the United Kingdom) and his vicar-bishop, also in Germany, Bishop Agapit.
Dynamic initiative is now coming from the Patriarchal Church in Moscow and Bishop (now Archbishop) Innokenty in Paris seems to have excellent qualities. With his organizational ability and spirituality, Archbishop Innocent has set up many new parishes in Western Europe, more or less unifying the Russian Church in Italy, Spain, Portugal, and indirectly in Belgium and Holland. The situation in Portugal particularly concerns me, since I started the parish there in 1992 and directly looked after it for five years. This parish now seems to have transferred to the Patriarchal Church (like the ROCOR parish in Ireland), given the inability of ROCOR to provide a permanent priest and the necessary infrastructure. There are now 400,000 people in Portugal from the old Soviet Union, especially from Moldova and the Ukraine.
The only countries in Western Europe where ROCOR still has any effective presence are now Germany (Archbishop Mark and Bishop Agapit), Switzerland (the ailing Bishop Ambrose) and to some extent England (Archbishop Mark). However, even in these countries, most parishioners and many clergy have come from Russia and the parishioners freely commune with both the Patriarchate and ROCOR. It seems that communion with the Mother-Church means the restoration of Russian Orthodox practices everywhere in ROCOR, even among those little groups who have for long erred towards Greek Old Calendarism and its alien customs (unless, of course, they finally decide to fall in with the Greek Old Calendarists).
In England, the situation is unusually complex, on account of the controversial figure of Metropolitan Antony Bloom, whose unusual practices have been the main cause of Russian Church division in this country for forty years. (2) However, he is now nearing the age of 90 and wishes to retire as the head of his 'Sourozh Diocese' in Great Britain and Ireland. If Moscow wants to elect a new Metropolitan and Synod for all Western Europe, setting up the necessary canonical structures for an eventual self-governing local Orthodox Church in Western Europe, this obstacle may soon be removed. Once Metropolitan Antony is allowed, diplomatically, to bow out, this will bring to an end one of the strangest chapters of the Cold War history of the Patriarchal Church abroad. The restoration in the British Isles of normal Russian Orthodox practice should see an end to the sort of Eastern-rite Anglicanism, 'pick and choose Orthodoxy', practised by the Sourozh diocese. This will in turn bring Church unity.
We have been given to understand that the Metropolitan of the future Metropolia most likely to be elected is the present Archbishop Innocent of Paris. If this is the case and all is with God's blessing, we may relatively soon see an end to the tragic, twentieth-century administrative political divisions of the Russian Orthodox Church in Western Europe and also a historic move towards the long-prayed-for and long-awaited restoration of the Orthodox Christian Church in Western Europe after a thousand-year interval.
We have long prayed for the Resurrection of the Crucified Russian Orthodox Church and Her revitalization by the prayers of the New Martyrs and Confessors mentioned by Patriarch Alexis in his message. But only the coming months and years can tell us if the Mother-Church is truly ready for this moment. May it be so, O Lord.
1. For example, from 'Orthodox Christianity and the English Tradition', Chapters 1, 17, 52, 61. From 'The Lighted Way', see 'The Russian Church and its Divisions'. Several of these articles are reproduced on this website. See also our sections on the Russian Church under 'Events 2002' and the Interview with Pravda in 2002 and published in Russian in January 2003, also on this website. See also 'A Vision for the Orthodox Churches of Western Europe' in the 'Orthodox Europe' section on this website. This was originally written in 1988 as a consultative paper for the consideration of the late Archbishop George (Wagner) of the Paris Russian jurisdiction, who tore it up out of hand.
2. The first division of this sort occurred when Archimandrite Sophrony (Sakharov) and his monastic community were forced into leaving the Sourozh Diocese in the early sixties for the Patriarchate of Constantinople. Since then many English Orthodox have chosen to be under jurisdictions other than Sourozh on account of these unusual practices, including being under ROCOR, and most recently the Anglican group received in the 1990's into the Church of Antioch. The fact is that there are substantial differences between the Sourozh Diocese and the Patriarchal Russian Orthodox Church everywhere else. Some have even chosen to exile themselves from England in order to follow normal Russian Orthodox practices. For too long the situation here has been blocked.