Schism or Separation? Reflections on Russian Orthodox Unity
The saying of St John Chrysostom that schism cannot be washed away, even by the blood of the martyrs, is well-known. Without contradicting a holy father, how then can we explain the fact that in the Russian Church in recent years apparent ‘schisms’ have been overcome and yet other ‘schisms’ have not been overcome?
After the fall of Communism twenty years ago, it seemed inevitable that the various parts of the Russian Church inside Russia and in the emigration would at last return to administrative unity and canonical communion. This unity and communion had been lost after anti-Church elements had seized power in Russia almost exactly seventy-five years before, in early 1917.
In late 1991, these various parts of the Church were:
1. ‘The MP’. This, the Patriarchal Church based inside Russia in Moscow and spread all over the former Soviet Union, was by far the largest part of the Russian Orthodox Church. At that time, however, it also had a very small numbers of parishes outside Russia.
2. ‘ROCOR’. This was the main and worldwide part of the Church outside the former Communist world, based in New York. It was unwillingly but of necessity separate and independent of the long captive Patriarchal Church.
3. ‘The OCA’. This was a very mixed group, mainly composed of descendants of pre-Revolutionary immigrants to North America and converts from Protestantism, but ideologically ruled over by Rue Daru modernists. This was based in Washington and its leaders were willingly separate and independent of the Patriarchal Church. However, its canonical situation was highly controversial and conditioned by the Cold War, which had been conducted from the USA.
4. ‘Rue Daru’. This was a very small group of Orthodox, mainly of Russian origin, based in Paris and captive to an ‘apolitical’ (that is, highly political) ideology. Over sixty years before, it had deliberately left both parts of the Russian Church (ROCOR and the MP) in turn and become part of the westernised Greek Patriarchate of Constantinople, based in Turkey. Thus, the modernists who dominated Rue Daru were free to dilute the Russian Orthodox Tradition and openly spread the Gnostic heresies of Bulgakov and other intellectuals and philosophers.
After 1991, the second group, ROCOR, reiterated its three conditions for reconciliation to the first group, the once Communist-controlled MP, to prove that it was free. Once these conditions had been met, administrative unity and canonical communion could be re-established between these two largest parts of the Church.
After nine years of waiting and also some friction, these conditions were finally met, on paper at least, by the Russian Orthodox Jubilee Council of August 2000. We then waited impatiently for the actual implementation of these decisions and negotiations to start to oversee the reconciliation of the MP and ROCOR.
Although the decisions were indeed implemented quite quickly inside Russia, sadly, this was not the case abroad, where individuals scandalously resisted them. Thus, they were not implemented in Great Britain until 2006, where, for instance, ever since 2000 at the MP Cathedral they stubbornly refused to venerate icons of the Royal Martyrs (‘because there was no space for them’) and the books of Fr Seraphim Rose (and other Russian Orthodox authors) were banned from sale.
Then, on the very eve of the Fourth All-Diaspora Council of ROCOR in San Francisco in May 2006, we heard the news we had been awaiting for 24 long years. In the aeroplane heading for San Francisco we learned that those who had been causing all the problems and scandals in the MP Diocese in Great Britain and Ireland since 1982, had broken away from that Diocese in an act of schism, as they had planned to do ever since 1982, joining the new leadership of Rue Daru. Much relieved, we knew at that moment that at last there could now be no more reason for the separation of the MP and ROCOR dioceses in Great Britain and Ireland (1).
Finally, in May 2007, amid rejoicing, ROCOR and the MP joined together. Here was the first phase of Russian Orthodox unity; the two main groups in the Russian Orthodox Church were at last reconciled.
However, it is true that fragments of both of these groups did not agree with the vast majority. Here we see the difference between separation and schism. An unwanted division, imposed by historical conditions, was the only thing that had separated the vast majority of the MP and ROCOR. This was separation. However, extremist, politicised elements who had infiltrated both parts of the Church, notably on the MP side in Great Britain and elsewhere, and on the ROCOR side in South America and among self-isolated and sectarian individuals elsewhere (some of these had already left before 2007), did not wish to join together. They wanted division. This was schism.
From these illustrative events we can clearly see the difference between separation and schism. Those who confess the identical Faith but are unwillingly separated only by the forces of history, join together as soon as external political circumstances change. This is unwanted division. However, those who willingly and consciously distance themselves from each other internally, on issues of the Faith, continually inventing new excuses in order to differentiate themselves, engage in schism. This is wanted division.
Over four years on from the joyful events of 2007, today we come to the next phase of potential unity with the Russian Orthodox Church, that of the OCA and Rue Daru. We now wait to see whether and to what extent the many factions in these two groups are actually merely unwillingly separated from Russian Orthodox unity for external, historical reasons, or whether they are actually going to declare schism, because they are willingly separated by internal factors which concern the Faith.
1. A Personal Note:
Having waited since 1971 to be received into the Russian Orthodox Church of my great-grandmother (as I discovered only in 2005), I was turned down by ROCOR in England in 1974. This was on the grounds that I did not have a Russian name or Russian blood. Therefore, in 1975 I was received into the Russian Orthodox Church through an MP parish in England. Having worked in Thessaloniki from 1978-79 and then studied in Paris from 1979-1980, becoming a de facto member of Rue Daru while I was there, I returned to England.
By 1982 we had uncovered the rapidly degenerating nature of the MP Diocese here, its manipulative personality cult, domination by a new clique and its rejection of the integrity of the Russian Orthodox Tradition. As matter of conscience, we rejected the immoral offer made to us and left it in 1982, preferring to confess the Russian Orthodox Faith rather than compromise it. Seeing that the ROCOR Diocese in England was still in captivity to nationalism and by then to sectarianism as well, we returned to Paris and rejoined my wife’s jurisdiction, Rue Daru.
On the millennium celebrations of the Baptism of Rus in Paris in 1988, having already rejected the offer made to me in 1985 and horrified by what we had afterwards discovered at Rue Daru, we at last clearly realised the direction of the new leadership of Rue Daru. It had finally been taken over by a group inimical to Russian Orthodox Tradition, just as the MP Diocese in Great Britain in 1982 (which unsurprisingly in 2006 finally joined this selfsame group at Rue Daru). We understood that the new controlling group at Rue Daru no longer had any intention of remaining faithful to Russian Orthodoxy.
Just as before, preferring to confess the Russian Orthodox Church, Faith and Tradition rather than compromise, we realised that we had lost the battle. Therefore, we left Rue Daru, accepting the offer of the welcoming refuge of the Western European Diocese of ROCOR, led by the wise Archbishop Antony of Geneva, whom I had known since 1985, – may the Kingdom of Heaven be his! We stayed with his Diocese until 1997, when we had to return to England for family and financial reasons. Here, we became members of the unsurprisingly very shrunken, indeed almost non-existent ROCOR Diocese in Great Britain and Ireland, the very Diocese which had turned me away in 1974.
Although a ROCOR priest, in 2006 I was asked to translate all the documents issued in Moscow concerning the modernist schism from the MP Diocese in Great Britain and Ireland for those who had remained faithful to that Diocese. In 2007, exactly 25 years after we had left, we returned to the MP Cathedral in London to speak there at the invitation of its new Diocesan Bishop, who had been jointly chosen by the ROCOR Archbishop for Great Britain and His Holiness Patriarch Alexis II in Moscow. The subject of my talk was English saints – the very subject for which I had been mocked by members of that Diocese in the 1970s.