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The Russian Orthodox Church Expands in the Isles: A Victory Forty Years in the Making

The Press Service of the Russian Orthodox Church in Moscow has released its message of congratulations sent to the new British Prime Minister, David Cameron. In it His Holiness Patriarch Kyrill expresses our common Russian Orthodox hopes that the new government’s efforts for the ‘comprehensive development’ of British society ‘will be inspired by the Christian tradition, which is the foundation of civilisation among the majority of European peoples’. His Holiness added that the Russian Orthodox Church greatly values ‘good and constructive relations with Great Britain’, which date back centuries. He also reminded the Prime Minister of the existence of the Sourozh Diocese of the Church, which comprises not only natives of Russia and the Commonwealth of Sovereign States but also generations of natives of Great Britain.

At the same time the latest Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church has announced the formation of eighteen new Russian Orthodox parishes in the Isles. These are in Glasgow (St Kentigern), Tunbridge Wells, Waterford (St Patrick), Galway, Cork, Bodiam, Belfast (St Finnian of Clonard), Wimborne (St Edward the Martyr), Douglas, Hull, Newton Abbot, Southampton, Romford, Aberdeen (St Machar), Dundee, Edinburgh, Newcastle-on-Tyne and Birmingham (All the Saints of the Isles). These join the existing parishes of the Sourozh Diocese and the joint parishes under the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia, which have worked hand in hand ever since the long-awaited appointment of an authentic Russian Orthodox bishop in London at the end of 2006.

It is remarkable that so many of the new communities which have been founded over the last year are dedicated to local saints. What a change from 1975, when we who battled for this recognition were literally reduced to tears by members of the then Sourozh Diocese who displayed an openly racist attitude to local saints. It must be said that at that time and well into the 1990s other dioceses of the Orthodox Church in Great Britain displayed the same attitude. The foundation of eighteen new parishes in one year is to the credit of Archbishop Elisey of Sourozh. We Russian Orthodox had been praying for decades for the appointment of such a bishop, in the absence of whom we had even gone into exile abroad.

Up until the 1990s we had also had to battle for the acceptance of English as a liturgical language. Sadly, Slavonic and Greek were used as anti-pastoral racial ideologies to try and make of the Church a kind of cultural repository or museum. The result was that many were repelled from the Orthodox Church, including many of the younger generations of British-born Russians and Cypriots, let alone native people who were rejected. The fruit of the errors of that Cold War period and its corruption can be seen today in the existence of various small fringe groups. They were side-tracked away from the united Russian Orthodox Church by those attitudes which were not worthy of Her.

However, these facts should not push some to the opposite extreme, adopted by some nationalistic Anglican converts. Ordained very quickly without training or preparation, they do not know or understand the Orthodox Faith and its multinational ethos, inherited from the apostles. This extreme, sometimes imposed with an insular imperialism, involves forcing English on those who have settled here from other countries and so depriving them and their children of their cultural heritage. This is why Russian Orthodox parishes in Great Britain and Ireland are today multilingual and multinational for Russian, Romanian, Greek and many other nationalities. In this way they are the natural centres for all Orthodox outside London, where alone each nationality has its own church. The multinational and multilingual Russian Orthodox Church knows that liturgical language is a tool, not an ideology.

In another piece of news it has been announced by the Synod in St Petersburg that in Paris Fr Nestor is to be consecrated as vicar-bishop to Archbishop Innocent for the Western European Diocese of the Russian Orthodox Church. In the last few months we have seen in Paris the establishment of a Russian Orthodox seminary and the acquisition of land for the new Russian Orthodox Cathedral and Metropolitan complex in central Paris. Many see in the forthcoming consecration a further step towards the long-awaited establishment of the Orthodox Metropolia for Western Europe. This is the one firm foundation for the future Orthodox Church of Western Europe, for which we have striven since 1975, a plan for which we set out in 1986 and which hope was then confirmed by His Holiness the ever-memorable Patriarch Alexis in April 2003.

Archpriest Andrew Phillips
Colchester, Essex

19 May/1 June 2010
St John, Bishop of the Goths

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