Return to Home Page

ROCOR in Western Europe

1. Introduction

The canonical territory of ROCOR mainly covers the Western world of the Americas, Australasia and Western Europe, with a number of communities outside these main areas, for example in Jerusalem, Haiti, Indonesia and South Korea. The present article reviews the situation in Western Europe and the potential for ROCOR to grow here.

2. Definitions

a.The Canonical Territory of ROCOR in Europe

Most European countries are not part of the canonical territory of ROCOR. For example, several Central and Eastern Europe countries form the canonical territory of Local Orthodox Churches, such as the Serbian Church, the Polish Church and the Church of the Czech Lands and Slovakia. In order of population size, the twenty-two countries which form the canonical territory of ROCOR in Europe are:

Germany (82 million), France (62.8 million) the UK (61.7 million), Italy (60 million), Spain, (45.8 million) the Netherlands (16.4 million), Belgium (10.8 million), Portugal (10.6 million), Sweden (9.2 million), Austria (8.3 million), Switzerland (7.6 million), Denmark (5.5 million), Norway (4.7 million), Ireland (4.5 million), Luxembourg (0.5 million), Malta (0.4 million), Iceland (0.3 million) and the five tiny countries of Andorra, Liechtenstein, San Marino, Monaco and the Vatican, whose total population is well under 200,000. This makes a total population for this part of Europe of nearly 390 million.

b. Race

There are native racial minorities in Western Europe, such as the Maltese, the Basques and the Celts (the Scottish, Irish, Welsh, Bretons and other groups with a Celtic heritage such as the Galicians and the Cornish). However, the native peoples of the countries which form our canonical territory are divided almost wholly into two races. Apart from the Western Celtic fringe, these form a Germanic North and a Latin South.

The Germanic nations are populated by Germans, English, Dutch (including the Flemish and the Frisians), Swedes, Austrians, Danes, most Swiss, Norwegians, Luxembourgers and Icelanders, as well as the people of Liechtenstein. The Latin nations are the French, Italians, Spanish (including Catalans), Portuguese, some Belgians and Swiss, as well as the peoples of Andorra, San Marino, Monaco and the Vatican.

c. Language

Although there are many minority languages in Western Europe such as Catalan, Maltese, Icelandic, Welsh, Basque, Maltese, Breton, Occitan, Frisian, Irish Gaelic, Scots Gaelic, Sorbian, Romansh and Faeroese, for the most part the countries of Western Europe speak ten languages. In order of importance, these are:

German (over 95 million in Germany, Austria, most of Switzerland, Liechtenstein and partly in Luxembourg), French (over 68 million in France, the south of Belgium, part of Switzerland, Monaco and partly Luxembourg), English (over 66 million in the UK and Ireland), Italian (nearly 61 million in Italy and part of Switzerland) Spanish (nearly 46 million with the Canary Islands and Andorra), Dutch (23 million with Flemish Dutch), Portuguese (nearly 11 million with the Azores), Swedish (over 9 million), Danish (over 5 million), Norwegian (nearly 5 million).

As can be noted, 85% of these Europeans speak as their mother-tongue one of five languages - German, French, English, Italian and Spanish. (English, Spanish and French are also the main languages of ROCOR on other continents). However, the people of the Scandinavian zone of Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Iceland and also those of the Netherlands and much of Belgium generally speak excellent English. This is increasingly the case in Germany, Austria, Switzerland and Luxembourg.

Although there is then a tendency for English to be the common language in the Germanic North, this is not the case in the Latin South. Though the Latin peoples once tended to use French as a common language, this is increasingly no longer the case. And since English is still far from being a common language in those countries, they are therefore divided between French, Italian, Spanish and Portuguese.

d. Religion and Culture

The Germanic North is largely Protestant, the Latin South is largely Roman Catholic. However, there are exceptions, for example Celtic Ireland and Germanic Austria are Roman Catholic, as is the south and west of Germany, and the Netherlands have a large number of (very Protestantised) Roman Catholics. England is Anglican, which is Protestantism with a somewhat Catholicised exterior wrapping. Also all the mainly Roman Catholic countries have small Protestant minorities and vice versa.

It should not be forgotten that several of these countries now have sizeable Muslim minorities as well as smaller and older Jewish communities. Small minorities, mainly composed of Asian immigrants, also confess other more exotic religions and philosophies such as Hinduism, Buddhism and Sikhism.

However, today nominal religious confession is largely irrelevant, since throughout most of these countries (one exception is still Malta) religious practice is generally confined to well under 5% of the population. Nominalism took hold in many places over one hundred years ago and this long ago dissolved into the indifferentism of outright secularism and substitute religions - consumerism with its supermarket temples and their aisles replacing cathedrals, tribal football teams replacing local dioceses, celebrities replacing saints, ecology as neo-pagan nature worship etc.

Moreover, militant atheism is now becoming more and more common. As a result, today increasingly large minorities of Europeans are unbaptised and have no intention of being baptised, being openly atheist. And there is even currently a fashion of ‘debaptism’. The main contemporary European religion is therefore secularist paganism, the worship of the world. Nevertheless, the cultures of these countries are still strongly if unconsciously influenced by their most recent background religions.

3. ROCOR in Europe at present

a.No Presence

ROCOR has no presence at all in nine of the smallest countries of Europe. These are: Sweden, Norway and the very small countries of Malta, Iceland, Andorra, Liechtenstein, San Marino, Monaco and the Vatican. Together these have a total population of fewer than 15 million. This has never been a ROCOR presence in any of these countries, where simply there was virtually no Russian immigration and therefore no mission.

b.Minimal Presence

ROCOR presence in five countries of Europe, where the Russian immigration was always very weak or churches were lost to the Paris schism, is minimal. These countries are: Italy, Spain, the Netherlands, Portugal and Ireland. In all of these, ROCOR presence is limited to a domestic chapel or borrowed premises, with a very small number of faithful who would say that they belong to ROCOR. The mainly Russian faithful there are occasionally visited by a priest from elsewhere in Europe.

c.Modest Presence

In six countries of Europe ROCOR has a limited presence.

In Austria, where ROCOR has mainly died out, there is now only one small church and one chapel, but no permanent priest at present.

In Luxembourg there is one purpose-built church in the capital and one priest.

In Denmark there is one church in Copenhagen and one priest.

In Belgium there are two churches, both in Brussels, one purpose-built, two priests and one deacon.

In the UK, where once there was once a resident bishop and several clergy, there are now only three churches, one purpose-built, a domestic chapel, seven priests and one deacon. However, only four of the priests are active, serving the liturgy at least weekly and only one of them is salaried. (The Moscow Patriarchate in Great Britain and Ireland has two resident Archbishops, seventeen priests, many of them salaried, and five deacons).

In France, where ROCOR has been much affected by various divisions, there are at present only six churches, four purpose-built, three from before the Revolution, including the magnificent Cathedral in Cannes, and two domestic chapels. There are five priests and one deacon.

d. Presence

In Switzerland and Germany the situation is much better. This is largely because the clergy at the time never fell into the Paris schism of 1925, but remained faithful to ROCOR.

Although Switzerland is a very small country, there is the Cathedral in Geneva, with Bishop Mikhail of Geneva and Western Europe, who has oversight of Switzerland, France, Belgium, Italy, Spain, Portugal and Holland. At the Cathedral there are two priests and three deacons. Apart from this beautiful Cathedral, there are also five other churches and a domestic chapel, two priests, one deacon and two retired priests. This is a total of six priests and four deacons.

Germany remains the only large ROCOR diocese in Europe, with Archbishop Mark of Berlin, Germany and Great Britain and Bishop Agapit in Stuttgart. Archbishop Mark’s jurisdiction is over Germany, Denmark, Austria, Great Britain, Ireland and Luxembourg. In Germany there are also magnificent churches from before the Revolution, for example in Wiesbaden and Baden Baden, the small monastery in Munich, where Archbishop Mark resides, and the small convent nearby. Altogether there are forty-three churches, twenty-seven priests and nine deacons in Germany.

This means that as a whole in Europe, ROCOR has three bishops, forty-nine priests and sixteen deacons, just over half of whom are in Germany.

4. Potential Mission in Europe

a.Among Our Flock

The potential situation for mission in Europe is made complex because most of our flock speak a Slav language, usually Russian, as their mother tongue. In reality, our common language is not a Western European language but Russian and the reality in most parishes is varying degrees of bilingualism. Therefore, many of our parishes hold services in a mixture of the common Slav liturgical language, Church Slavonic, and the local Western European language.

Our mission is first of all to our flock who are often, but not always, of East Slav origin. They need internal mission. However, this flock does not consist only of one group, but is considerably more complex. It can be divided into four different groups.

i.Large numbers of relatively recent (since 1989) immigrants from Russia, the Ukraine, Belarus, Kazakhstan, the Baltic States, other parts of the former Soviet Union and other countries in Eastern Europe. Many do not always master a Western European language. Many are poor and have to work in very menial jobs, just like the old emigres.

ii.The children of the above immigrants, sometimes born from mixed marriages, and large numbers of faithful who immigrated in generations past and their descendants. Most of these were born and bred in Western Europe. They do not live ‘abroad’, but are Russian Orthodox who live outside Russia and often speak a Western European language more fluently than Russian, which they may even have completely lost.

iii.Native Europeans, who joined ROCOR, sometimes generations ago, sometimes recently, and their descendants.

iv.Other Orthodox, Polish, Romanian and Greek for example, who attend our churches because no other church is available or because they prefer to come to our churches, for language or for calendar reasons.

b. Among Native Peoples

Secondly, we also have a mission to native Europeans, who are not actually Orthodox. Europe has become a mission territory, especially over the last fifty years since the widespread rejection of heterodox forms of Christianity. At present it could generally be said that 90% of the native peoples of Western Europe would not consider joining the Russian Orthodox Church because they are profoundly disinterested in religious practice of any sort. This comes from their disaffection with Christianity caused by the deformations of Roman Catholicism and Protestantism, encountered in the historic past or in their personal experience.

Perhaps 9.9% of the remainder are attached either for historic and cultural reasons or for genuinely religious reasons to Roman Catholicism or one of its many offshoot branches of Protestantism. At present they would not consider joining the Orthodox Church either. In any case, the Orthodox Church has never proselytised among those who practise Roman Catholicism or Protestantism. However, the remaining approximately 0.1% of the European population, who have never been practising Roman Catholics or Protestants, and who are not atheistic, some 400,000 people, are individuals who could find the Russian Orthodox Church and Faith attractive.

Broadly speaking, the Russian Orthodox Church tends to find a better reception among those from a Roman Catholic cultural background, because they still have a sense of the Church, the Tradition, the saints, a hierarchy and the sacraments. On the other hand, many from a Protestant background will only accept the Orthodox Faith in a modernised, rationalised and ‘sanitised’ form, or else in an extreme ‘old calendarist’ form. Both of these forms lack authenticity. Sometimes those from a Protestant cultural background also bring with them a sectarian divisiveness into the Church. Generally, they tend to opt for a ‘liberal’ form of Orthodoxy, usually under the Patriarchates of Antioch or Constantinople, as we recently saw in the 2006 Sourozh schism.

However, even those from a Roman Catholic cultural background and who never practise their religion, suffer from a negative cultural reflex. This is to consider that only the Pope of Rome has any authority and that since the Orthodox Church is not under the Pope, it is a sect. At the same time, those from a Protestant cultural background, but who have never practised that religion, still have ancestors who were Protestant and long ago threw off the Papacy. They were brought up in a different way from those of a Roman Catholic cultural background and often show an openness and flexibility towards the Orthodox Church of which most even lapsed Roman Catholics are incapable.

Our mission to native Western Europeans can only take place if we speak – and sing - their languages. At present Orthodox services have been translated into most European languages, notably German, Dutch, English and French. These translations mean in turn that Orthodox services are now accessible in other European languages, since, for example, the existence of translations into English and French make translations much easier into Norwegian or Italian, for example. Indeed, certain Orthodox services were long ago translated even into minority languages such as Welsh and Catalan.

5. Conclusion

At the present time, ROCOR has a very weak infrastructure in Europe. Its has little presence in many countries and it is hampered by a lack of finance to obtain premises for use as churches or build new churches and pay its clergy. Until its parishes reach a critical mass, they are unable to pay their clergy, provide candidates for choir direction or for the diaconate and priesthood for themselves, let alone provide candidates for missionary expansion.

The lack of pay for clergy means that there are few candidates for the priesthood. There are few who are able or willing to attempt the physically exhausting task of combining a secular profession with the priesthood. This in turn has meant a lack of candidates able or willing to spend four or five years at Jordanville, when they could be studying for secular professions. This has meant that any possibility of opening a ROCOR seminary in Western Europe has been and still is completely out of the question.

From Easter attendance we can estimate the present nominal ROCOR flock in Europe at very roughly 50,000. Potentially, it could be much larger. The number of Orthodox of all nationalities living in the territory for which ROCOR is responsible in Europe must number at least four million. However, many of these would not identify themselves as Russian Orthodox, but as Romanian or Greek Orthodox. Even so, we can say that there are at the very least one million Russian Orthodox in Europe, although many of these attend the better financed, better politically-connected and more numerous Moscow Patriarchate churches, rather than ROCOR churches.

However, where there is a ROCOR church, we find that those attached to the Moscow Patriarchate come willingly. Indeed, some Russian Orthodox from the former Soviet Union prefer ROCOR, either because it is seen as more independent of the Russian State and better integrated in Western Europe, or else because the priest is particularly conscientious. As well as this there is a spiritual thirst among a small minority of native Europeans, a thirst which the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia can meet.

Archpriest Andrew Phillips

February 2010

  to top of page