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Rue Daru: Can a Franco-Russian Tragedy be Healed?

Introduction: An Offer Spurned

In April 2003 His Holiness Patriarch Alexis II made the historic and long-awaited announcement of the intention to establish a Russian Orthodox Metropolia in Western Europe. This would be the foundation of the future Local Orthodox Church in Western Europe. Sadly, this offer was turned down by one of the three groups most concerned by it. This was the Paris-based Orthodox Archdiocese of the Russian Tradition, at present under the Patriarchate of Constantinople.

This group, commonly known as ‘Rue Daru’ after the address of its Paris Cathedral, refused the proposal to leave its present Greek jurisdiction. This was despite the fact the latter already has another representative in the same city, Metropolitan Emmanuel. His title, like that of Archbishop Gabriel, the head of Rue Daru, is also the name of a Turkish village. At the time, many were disappointed by Rue Daru’s outright rejection. Indeed, several left its jurisdiction as a result, but later some came to realise that the rejection was providential. In what way?

It was only in 2007 with the reconciliation between the other two groups concerned, the MP (the Moscow Patriarchate or Russian Orthodox Church inside Russia) and ROCOR (the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia) that the rejection was understood. It was understood that not only had the offer come too early for the small and fragile Rue Daru group, still not ready for its destiny, but also that the solution had in any case to be global first of all.

The inward-looking Rue Daru is basically a French, indeed Parisian, grouping, which put itself outside the Russian Church in 1930. Therefore, it could not be the main actor in any Europe-wide, let alone worldwide, reconfiguration of Russian Orthodoxy. Unity between the international and therefore principal building-blocks of the future Metropolia, the MP and ROCOR, had to come first. Now that three years have gone by since the MP/ROCOR reconciliation, let us re-examine the situation through a brief analysis of the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats for each of the three groups in Western Europe.

Strengths of the MP

The MP is basically the Russian Orthodox Church inside Russia. However, since the fall of Communism and mass emigration of Russian Orthodox to the West, it has opened increasing numbers of parishes outside Russia, especially in Western Europe. This includes in countries where there had never been any formal Russian Orthodox presence, such as Spain and Iceland. Its great strength is the number and youthfulness of its flock. This is supported by an infrastructure, financial resources and political backing, which neither ROCOR nor Rue Daru can even dream of.

For example, last year the MP opened a new seminary in accommodation rented from the Catholic Church on the outskirts of Paris. It has also bought land on a prime site in central Paris to build a huge Cathedral and complex. Once completed, by 2014, this Cathedral, on the same axis as the Eiffel Tower, will undoubtedly become one of the main landmarks of Paris. This location was purchased after a wide-ranging agreement between the French President and the Russian Prime Minister, Vladimir Putin, who is rumoured to have contributed five million euros of his personal fortune towards it.

Weaknesses of the MP

The MP in France also has many weaknesses, and not merely the scandals of the last decades of the last century. Since its flock is young, mostly having been baptised over the last 20 years, it often lacks spiritual culture, experience and the spiritual maturity given by the knowledge and practice of the Tradition. The Russian Orthodox Faith is sometimes understood by some if its recent members as an almost superstitious ritual to be fulfilled in order to avoid ‘bad luck’. It lacks Russian clergy who can speak French and know and appreciate the positive aspects of French culture. It lacks French clergy who can speak Russian and know and appreciate the positive aspects of Russian culture. And lacking clergy, it is subject to the temptation of recruiting ill-prepared neophytes, unformed and with shallow Catholic-Protestant mentalities, or careerists, or else those who are incapable of doing any other job (problems common everywhere).

Another weakness is that, despite having been in France for several years, its present Archbishop Innokenty does not speak French. (However, the future Bishop Nestor does and has also learned much in recent years about the general situation in France). For some, not least its own members, the MP in France is also seriously compromised ecumenically – although in reality this appears to be an affair of two or three individuals, mainly at the new and rather isolated seminary. This seminary also appears to lack organisation and be utterly closed to all Non-Russians, with a ‘Nyet’ attitude to anything that is not narrowly post-Soviet. Some do not understand that without openness of mind and soul, there can be no culture.

Opportunities for the MP

The great opportunity for the MP is the construction of its new Cathedral, described as ‘grandiose’ by one who has seen the plans, and the forthcoming consecration of a new bishop. If, on completion in 2014, this Cathedral can become the Western European spiritual centre for Russian-speaking, French-speaking and other Orthodox, with several altars, a baptistery and also be the location for the seminary, then here is the future. If, as well as this, the bishop installed there is to be at the heart of a network of bishops all over Western Europe, who speak both Russian and the local language, then this centre will indeed be the centre for the Russian Orthodox Metropolia ‘of Paris and Western Europe’. And it is to be hoped that the new Metropolitan will indeed hold exactly this title - and not that of yet another town or village on the Ukrainian Black Sea coast.

Threats to the MP

The threat is that the new Cathedral will turn into a mere Russian cultural and political centre, an annex of the Russian Embassy. Thus, around it there will be no network of bishops with an appreciation of the Western European countries and languages where they live and work.

Strengths of ROCOR

So long despised by certain members of Rue Daru, the strength of ROCOR is in its Tradition and experience, which is also worldwide, with some 400 churches and many monasteries. In Western Europe it has three bishops, all of whom of course speak Russian as well as the languages of the countries where they live, and understand their mentalities. Although in Western Europe ROCOR is much stronger in Germany than in France, it still has important, pre-revolutionary churches in France, in Cannes, Menton and Pau. It also has the witness of faithful clergy and laity, who remained faithful to the Russian Tradition despite decades of persecution.

Weaknesses of ROCOR

ROCOR’s first weakness is its smallness and poverty. Even the ROCOR bishop responsible for France lives in Geneva, where there is a magnificent Cathedral, and not in Paris itself where there is no ROCOR church. The second weakness is the sectarian divisions which ROCOR underwent in the past, not only in 1926 when the Rue Daru group tragically broke away from it, but also in 1986, 2001 and 2007, when it lost its French spiritual centre, the Lesna Convent. All these divisions, including that of 1926, were due to the parochial, inward-lookingness of those who had lost sight of the bigger picture of the Russian Church. They lost sight of the forest because they were looking at their own independent trees.

Opportunities for ROCOR

ROCOR’s first opportunity is in its links with the rest of ROCOR worldwide, which it enjoys as the Church of the worldwide Russian emigrations after 1917 and 1945. Its second opportunity is in its links with the MP. It can now hope to build itself up in France, using its faithfulness to the authentic Russian Orthodox Tradition, which it entirely shares with the Churched of the MP.

Threats to ROCOR

The threat to ROCOR in France is that its poverty and smallness means that it could die out in France, as it almost died out in England. A Church so small that it may not be able to produce and educate new clergy and singers, find suitable premises to expand and pay its clergy stipends is doomed to disappear.

Strengths of Rue Daru

The great strength of Rue Daru is its history, symbolised by the pre-revolutionary Paris Cathedral in Rue Daru. Most of the post-1917 Russian emigration in France belonged to Rue Daru and many of that emigration were St Petersburg aristocrats or Westernised intellectuals. This was symbolised by the St Sergius Theological Institute, which was founded by them. Rue Daru has knowledge and pastoral experience with the French language and French people. Despite its smallness, it is well-known to the Non-Orthodox world in France. The intellectuals of the first emigration even had a certain influence on both secular and Catholic French philosophers.

Apart from some solid parishes in Paris and the St Sergius facility (tragically never a seminary), it has the important spiritual centre of the convent of Bussy. There is also a scattering of small parishes in France, a pre-revolutionary church in Biarritz, which it may soon lose to the MP, and the magnificent Cathedral in Nice which it now has to return to the MP. On top of this there are a few parishes in countries like Belgium and Holland and the tiny and elderly Amphipolis group in Britain.

Weaknesses of Rue Daru

Although on paper Rue Daru can still claim some 80 clerics, there are only about 20 priests who are active, trained and have reasonable parishes. And many of these are in their 60s, 70s and 80s. This was not the fault of the present Archbishop Gabriel, a Flemish convert from Belgian Catholicism, or the Russo-Flemish widowed priest, Archbishop Sergius before him. Neither was it the fault of the saintly Archbishop George (Tarasov), also a widowed priest from Belgium who had been a Russian pilot on the Western Front in the First World War. He was one of the 20,000 members of the Russian Brigades who fought on the Western Front and was the Rue Daru Archbishop in the 60s and 70s.

Rather it relates to the turning-point in the 80s under the weak and tragic figure of the German academic, Archbishop George (Wagner), under whom the jurisdiction began to fall apart. Formerly a young hieromonk of the MP in Berlin, where he had been asked to act as a KGB spy, instead of leaving for ROCOR, he had made his way to Rue Daru. How well we remember at the thousandth anniversary of the Baptism of Rus in 1988 his categorical refusal to invite the ROCOR Archbishop Antony of Geneva to the Paris Cathedral. Instead, he invited the Cardinal of Paris, the local representative of an organisation which has repeatedly done its utmost to destroy Orthodox Russia. For those who could only act according to their principles and conscience, this act of weakness was the last straw.

In the 80s many young serious clergy and laity went abroad or else were forced to leave for the MP or ROCOR, with great love for the deceived Rue Daru faithful, but great regret at their ideological captivity. Its situation, founded on division and compromise, is therefore very fragile, all the more so inasmuch as most of its young parishioners are now from the former Soviet Union. They are used to the Russian Tradition and do not understand why an apparently Russian Church does not commemorate Patriarch Kyrill, always use the Orthodox calendar and observe Russian Orthodox liturgical traditions.

Although on paper Rue Daru seemed strong with four bishops, like most of its clergy, most are inactive. One elderly bishop tragically defrocked himself last year, one is very old and extremely ill and the other, also elderly, was forced to resign some years ago after a tragic incident. In reality, there is only the ageing Archbishop Gabriel at Rue Daru. Founded by laypeople, who wanted to escape Church discipline and who represented the rationalising, modernist and deeply Protestant intellectual current inside Russia before the Revolution, Rue Daru has never understood that without bishops there is no Church. Moreover, since the Rue Daru ethos has always been strongly anti-monastic, within the last few years it has lost three gifted young men who have become monks in the MP in Russia. These followed the loss of Igumen Basil Pasquier to Russia and earlier the loss of serious French monastics, like Archimandrite Placide Deseille or the French bishop of the Romanian Church in France, to other Local Churches.

Opportunities for Rue Daru

The opportunity, and indeed the only way out of its ever deepening crisis, is for Rue Daru to accept the offer from the MP. Retaining its autonomy like ROCOR, perhaps together with ROCOR, it can thus learn how to reintegrate the spiritual maturity of the Russian Tradition and avoid repeating its tragic mistakes of the past. Thus, it can create a network of serious, bilingual parishes with trained clergy and an authentic Orthodox ethos, making the most of its eighty-year old experience, which could form part of the basis of the future Metropolia. The often aggressive and Russophobic ecumenist elements, sometimes grandchildren of those who welcomed the Kerensky Revolution, who would want to keep all the recent Rue Daru innovations, copied from the secular or Catholic world, and not want to participate in this movement of return to the Russian Orthodox Tradition and Europe-wide unity, could remain under the new calendarist Greek Church.

Threats to Rue Daru

There were those of us who in the 1970s and 1980s had seen the tragic results of the phoney spirituality, earlier imported from Paris into England, where healthy traditions were too chronically weak to counterbalance the imports. We warned Rue Daru of the results of continuing its path, but were not heard, despite being promised exactly the contrary. Since then, the situation has grown far worse. The threat is that Rue Daru will continue to live in its parochial self-isolation. Instead of learning from new Russian immigrants and ROCOR, it will continue to try and teach them French, with cultural arrogance and racial insularity (‘le nombrilisme hexagonal’ rivals the arrogant racial insularity in Britain). Its unfortunate and ill Archbishop, now free of convert illusions, will continue like all those since Metropolitan Eulogius to be a hostage to the far less naive power-brokers of the brotherhood that has always controlled Rue Daru. He needs our prayers for the moral strength and discernment to continue.

Everything that we witnessed 25 years ago in Rue Daru, from masonic initiations in two of its churches, the liturgy sang with the filioque (‘so as not to offend our Catholic brothers’), intercommunion, the abolition of confession, the burial of Non-Orthodox and non-baptised according to the Orthodox rite, the rejection of the New Martyrs and Confessors, the rejection of the saints of the ancient Orthodox West, cremations, weddings on Saturdays, the loss of the iconostasis, girls serving in the altar, the new calendar, the use of the Uniat translation of the liturgy, the dropping of dress codes for clergy, men and women etc etc will continue. If so, then the last serious and authentic Orthodox will follow the path of so many others who have already been rejected as ‘too Russian’, ‘too traditional’ or ‘not ecumenical enough’ since the 1980s. Persecuted by the modernist fantasies of those who reject the Orthodox Tradition, they will leave Rue Daru, taking with them the last vestiges of Russian Church culture (‘tserkovnost’) and Orthodox practice.

The Nightmare and the Vision

The Nightmare

The nightmare is that the MP will lock itself into is inward-looking and immature debates, irrelevant to the multinational and multilingual faithful Russian Orthodox of Western Europe. It will have those same provincial and nationalist attitudes, so unworthy of the multinational Russia Church, as Rue Daru until the 1970s and ROCOR until the 1980s. Thus, metaphorically at least, it will hang notices on its church doors, ‘For Russians only. Non-Russians not welcome’. There will be no Metropolia for Western Europe, no bishops in each Western European country, speaking the local language and understanding the local culture. The Paris Cathedral will merely be part of the Embassy of the Russian Federation, suitable for photo opportunities for diplomats and oligarchs’ wives out shopping in Paris. As for ROCOR, the nightmare is that its faithfulness will die out, as its flock is assimilated and says we do not understand Russian and, ‘If you cannot speak to us and understand us, we will no longer be part of your Church, which is now foreign to us’.

As for Rue Daru, it too will die out, becoming a mere ecumenist and modernist branch of Uniatism. It will be exclusively for manipulative, liberal ideologues, who will have crushed all opposition to their intrigues, for the secular-minded, or for passing, naive and unChurched converts. It will be entirely based on the spiritual delusions and heresies of Bulgakov, Florensky, Berdiaiev etc. It will have the same unhealthy, occult and ‘charismatic’ atmosphere as the old ECOF or Kovalevsky sub-Church, from which many have already come to Rue Daru. It will also entertain the same dreams of autocephaly being granted to it by the Patriarchate of Constantinople. This will be even though that Patriarchate has never freely granted any autocephaly and in any case has now renounced the right to grant autocephaly unilaterally. Its by then emptied Paris Cathedral, which was given away to the City of Paris many years ago, will either, too late, be returned to the Russian Church, or else become a full-time tourist monument.

The Vision

The vision is that the MP will show intelligence and understanding, finding the right balance between good relations with Catholicism and firmness in the uncompromised confession of the Russian Orthodox Church and Faith. It will set up a Metropolia of Western Europe in 2014, once the Cathedral is finished. This will also become a seminary and spiritual centre. The Cathedral will be a multilingual centre where liturgies in the different chapels will be celebrated in different languages. The Metropolia will consist of a network of dioceses with twelve bilingual (Russian + the local language) bishops, unlike at present. Taken from the MP, ROCOR and perhaps also Rue Daru, there will be two for France, French-speaking Belgium and Switzerland and Luxembourg, two for Germany, Austria and German-speaking Switzerland, two for Great Britain and Ireland, two for Italy, two for the Iberian Peninsula, one for Holland and Flanders, and one for Scandinavia. And each diocese will be represented by a network of churches in the major cities and towns of each of those countries.

However, this vision is only possible with the participation of the bishops, clergy and people of ROCOR and Rue Daru. ROCOR, with its three bishops and 50 priests in Western Europe, can play an active role in forming this Metropolia, giving it its culture, knowledge of the Tradition and pastoral experience, while keeping its links with the worldwide ROCOR. And as for Rue Daru, those in it with a knowledge of authentic Church culture and music can play an active role in transmitting them to the new wave of immigrants and to the young. In this way, nothing of value will be lost. Such a Metropolia will be attractive also to members of other Local Churches, the foundation indeed of a new Local Church.

Conclusion: All Things are Possible with God

We have expressed a nightmare and a vision. The nightmare is the future if the Church is left in the hands of the secular passions and ideologies of men and women, failing to fight against indifference, hatred and materialism and their consequences, which have all but spiritually destroyed Western Europe. The vision is the future if men and women agree to do the will of God. For too long too many Russian Orthodox in Western Europe have confused religion and culture. On the one hand, there are those who believed that to be Orthodox, we merely had to speak Russian and celebrate Russian nationalism in museums of Slavonic cultural nostalgia. On the other hand, there are those who believed that to be Orthodox, we had to abandon the Russian Orthodox Tradition, its calendar and Church Slavonic and secularise ourselves by adopting modern ‘Western culture’.

Both were profound errors. The only contemporary Orthodox saint of Western Europe who has worked evident miracles, St John of Shanghai, the Wonderworker, St Jean Nu-Pied, who walked the streets of Paris for twelve years, knew this. And yet he was ignored and despised, having to celebrate liturgies and commemorate the Western saints in a tiny garage, while the Rue Daru Cathedral stood nearby. So are treated the saints. And yet the spiritual disease of Western Europe, and therefore of those Orthodox who have westernised themselves, can only be healed through the saints and those apostolic hearts who understand that disease and so can repair the spiritual and moral ruins that it has caused.

Over the decades all parts of the Russian Church in Western Europe have suffered terribly from ‘a total lack of leadership and vision’ (as one perceptive priest of the Sourozh Diocese described the pre-2007 Sourozh Diocese to me in 2009). All without exception have made mistakes. With the huge financial investment of Moscow in the new Cathedral in Paris, it is now time for all those in Western Europe who identify themselves as Russian Orthodox, whatever their nationality and native language, to unite. And we must unite around our common hope for a multinational and multilingual Russian Orthodox Metropolia in Western Europe, the foundation of the future Local Orthodox Church in Western Europe.

However, for this to happen, we must all work together, constructively contributing whatever we can. If we can achieve this in Western Europe, then there is hope that this example will be followed in North America, where, as with Rue Daru, part of the former Russian Church is still tragically separated from the reunited Russian Church, a consequence of Soviet atheist times. When there is this unity, then there will be Paschal rejoicing. Then the saints of the ancient West, commemorated by St John of Shanghai, together with the New Martyrs and Confessors, all so desperately needed by the old, dying Catholic-Protestant Europe, will be present and visible in our midst. Holy Great Martyr Panteleimon and all the Western Saints, pray to God for us!

Archpriest Andrew Phillips,
Kerbréhan/St Crein d’en Haut, France

Great Martyr and Healer Panteleimon
26 July/8 August 2010

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