The Russian Orthodox Emigration and the Future
Russia (had) to fulfil its God-given mission – to preserve the fullness of the truth of Christ until the last times…to preserve universal truth, that is, Holy Orthodoxy, intact.
V.N. Trostnikov, ‘God in Russian History’, pp. 180 and 194
Introduction: A Tragedy?
The Russian emigration, let alone the Russian Orthodox emigration, was small. Beginning in 1917, it numbered somewhere over one million, perhaps even two million – still only a drop in the ocean of even world population even then. However, it was an emigration of the elite of the largest country in the world. More than this, it was the emigration from the last Christian Empire in the world, the heir to the Christian Roman Empire of St Constantine the Great. As such, this emigration opened a new page of the Book of Revelation, a fact which inspired the path taken by the thirty-four Russian bishops of the Church of the Russian Orthodox emigration, the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia (ROCOR).
Fleeing from persecution by those who had – originally with Western backing - usurped power in the Russian Empire, the Russian émigrés found themselves spiritually persecuted almost everywhere they went. The whole world seemed to be against them. Once the Russian Empire had fallen, the rest of the Orthodox world fell under Western pressure to conform to its secularism. By 1925 the weakest Local Orthodox Churches had fallen to the imposition of the Western calendar for the fixed feasts, an outward sign of their inward fall and failure to resist compromise.
As the decades passed, this persecution spread. By the 1960s the Soviet Communist Party in Moscow had begun to isolate ROCOR. Under Communist pressure, Local Church after Local Church, with the constant and valiant exception of the Serbian Orthodox Church, began to break off communion with it. Sometimes this was mitigated. Typically, for example, the Patriarch of Antioch broke off communion with ROCOR in certain countries, but not in West Germany and Australia, where ROCOR was more or less the sole representative of the Russian Church. Even today this continues. Thus, a semi-official Orthodox Church in America (OCA) website calls ROCOR ‘an uncanonical, old calendar jurisdiction!’ Coming from a recent neophyte to New York-style Orthodoxy, who clearly knows very little about the Orthodox Church, it is extraordinary – but sadly, hardly unique.
The persecution continues all over the world, with modernist representatives of some ‘jurisdictions’ still refusing to acknowledge reality and be in communion with ROCOR. And yet many of them give communion to Non-Orthodox, preferring them to their own Orthodox brethren! Fortunately, this is not the case everywhere. Thus, one repentant senior OCA representative some years go celebrated the liturgy at the tomb of the ever-memorable ROCOR Hieromonk Seraphim (Rose) in California. More recently, its latest head, Metropolitan Jonah, gave, many years late, letters of canonical release to former OCA clergy who had fled the then OCA modernism and sought refuge in ROCOR. Admittedly, many feel that he should have done much more, apologising and bowing down in front of the spiritual heroism of those clergy who had been so cruelly persecuted by the OCA for their integrity and faithfulness to Holy Orthodoxy.
In fairness, it must be said, of course, that some of the persecution was self-inflicted. The best elements of the Russian Orthodox Emigration, like St John of Shanghai or Metropolitan Anastasius of New York, always recognised that the destiny of the Russian emigration would be tragic, if it were not missionary. ‘Israel’ would only be ‘glorious’ inasmuch as it was ‘a light of revelation to the Gentiles’. However, there were sectarian elements in the Russian emigration who used the Church for their narrow nationalism. They lost sight of the fact that Orthodoxy is not narrow nationalism, but a World Civilisation, an Orthodox Commonwealth.
Thus, they balkanised themselves into a suicidal nostalgia for a culture that could never return. We well remember the ROCOR London Cathedral parish in 1983. It had a regular congregation of over 400 on Sundays, but the parishioners were nearly all aged well over 70. It did not take a prophet to see what was going to happen. Today, after many misadventures, there is a congregation of nearly 100, all far younger, but nearly all new émigrés from post-Soviet Russia. Moreover, hardly anything is left of the once large ROCOR Diocese outside London.
It was these nationalistic elements, together with a sprinkling of naïve converts, with zeal but not knowledge and sometimes with considerable aggression, who splintered off from ROCOR after the fall of the Soviet Union. Somewhere they had realised that after the obscenities of Communism the Church inside Russia would inevitably repent and unite with ROCOR. Here there were self-imposed aggravations. We should mention the problem of the lack of bishops and resident bishops, especially in South America. And we cannot help recalling the old saying that, ‘For him, for whom the bishop is not a father, the Church is not a Mother’. Thus, in Germany and Australia, there were few such dissidents, because there were and are active resident bishops, but elsewhere the orphaned and the fatherless strayed from ROCOR.
Why was the Russian emigration subject to division? Thus, there was in 1920s a schism from ROCOR in North America – though, admittedly, most of those involved were Non-Russian ex-Uniats from the former Austro-Hungarian Empire, who had settled there well before the Russian Revolution. But there were also divisions in the Russian emigration in the 1920s, especially in Paris (‘the Paris Jurisdiction’) and later in other Western European capitals (tiny numbers setting up under the Moscow Patriarchate, for instance, in Paris, Brussels, London and Vienna) and, most recently, the tiny sectarian divisions since 2001.
First of all, it must be said that many in the Russian emigration were ‘intellectuals’, those who had been brought up inside Russia before the Revolution on Protestant-inspired philosophies. This was especially the case with those from St Petersburg. These intellectuals had already lost their roots even before the Revolution. The second element was the lack of authentic – or indeed any - monasticism in much of the emigration. The OCA and the Paris Jurisdiction suffered greatly from this, with the result in North America of continual episcopal scandals – alas, far from over - and in Paris, with a chronic shortage of even widowed priests who can become bishops.
As a result of this, many Orthodox involved became Westernised, ‘Assisi-ised’, falling into the spiritual decadence which is the disease of ‘prelest’, spiritual delusion and self-exaltation. This meant domination by the psychic, by guru charlatans, by false elders, of the spiritual. Almost Roman Catholic – and, after all, Roman Catholics are but lapsed Orthodox, albeit lapsed a very long time ago – these Orthodox did not preserve the undistorted image. The most prominent example was perhaps Evgraf Kovalevsky. However, morally, there were also many other examples of spiritual decadence, for example, in the tiny Patriarchal parishes in Paris and Vienna among others, where the local KGB were all too happy to allow compromised and scandalous Russian bishops to exist and so deform the witness of Orthodoxy.
Conclusion: Repentance Brings Unity
However, we are painting a negative picture and we need to balance the above. We must recall that the great turning point of the reunion of the Russian Orthodox Church inside Russia with ROCOR took place in 2007. Those actual schismatics, who had had a self-justifying axe to grind and had accused ROCOR of being a schism, were all proved wrong. The whole authentically Orthodox world now understood that there never had been a schism in the Russian Orthodox Church. There had been only a political division, caused by the propaganda pressures of the Soviet Communist Party on the then captive Moscow Patriarchate. And that division ended as soon as that Party lost power and the Patriarchate freed itself.
Moreover, it was clearly seen that the whole time ROCOR had merely been voicing in freedom the views of the suppressed grassroots faithful inside Russia and their real spiritual leaders. These were holy elders like Fr Tavrion of Riga, Fr Seraphim of Belgorod, Fr Nikolai Gurianov, Fr John Krestiankin and those already canonised, like St Laurence of Chernigov, St Kuksha of Odessa, St Sebastian of Karaganda, St Amphilochy of Pochaev, St Sabbas of the Pskov Caves and so many more. It is ROCOR’s spiritual resistance to compromise which has defined it, just as the spiritual resistance to compromise of the Russian Orthodox Church inside Russia has defined it.
Like St John the Baptist in the wilderness, ROCOR has continually called the West to repent, back to its roots, away from its millennial secularism, back to the World Civilisation of Christianity, back to Orthodoxy, back to the Church. Today, the battle for Holy Orthodoxy is just as real as it was in Soviet times. Today, the world, which was founded on the Logos, the Word, has entered the age of the number, becoming a ‘Digitocracy’. The world which began with the Word is ending with a number - 666. Based on egotistical self-service, rather than the service of God and His Creation, the contemporary world is called on by the reunited Russian Orthodox Church to repent and return from its number-worship to the worship of Christ the Word, to Orthodox Christian Civilisation, to the Empire of the Logos. This is the future and the significance of the reunited Russian Orthodox Church in that future.
Archpriest Andrew Phillips,
23 September/6 October 2010