The Sourozh Schism and the Last Christians
It is only now, fifteen years after the fall of Communism and the restoration of large parts of the Russian Orthodox Patriarchal Church inside Russia, that the Patriarchal Church has addressed the problems of its relations with Russian Orthodox outside Russia. Its first objective has therefore been to mend its relations with by far the most important such group, the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia (ROCOR), recently moving to enter into canonical communion with it.
However difficult, this is in fact a relatively easy operation, for ROCOR is a canonically-founded, integral part of the Russian Orthodox Church, set up by decree of the Patriarch St Tikhon in 1920. No-one, apart from old-fashioned Communists and left-wing political activists, has ever doubted its canonicity. The integrity of its Russian Orthodox values is undisputed. But it is a different matter to mend relations with fragments which broke away from ROCOR, like certain parishes in France, the USA and, strangely enough, those of the Sourozh Diocese in Great Britain. This is actually officially under the Patriarchate, but in fact spiritually disaffected from it and today in a state of virtual schism, as elements within it try to break away from the Russian Orthodox Church altogether.
In other words, now that peace is setting in between the Patriarchal Church and ROCOR, the Patriarchal Church is having to clean up its Cold War legacy, with which it was unable to deal, for obvious reasons, during the Cold War itself. At that time, it lost control of fragments of Russian Orthodoxy, such as the Sourozh Diocese, even though officially within its own jurisdiction. It now has to bring into line elements which long ago fell to attacking the Russian Orthodox Tradition and the canonical government of the Church. The reason for this is that fragments like Sourozh are prone to Renovationism. What is this?
The term ‘Renovationism’ was first used in Russia for those schismatic fragments of the Patriarchal Church which wished to combine Orthodoxy with Marxism, i.e that extreme form of Western humanism preached by the atheist Jew, Karl Marx, which came to power after the 1917 Bolshevik coup d’etat led by Lenin. Of course, such an attempt to combine the uncombinable was absurd and the Renovationist-founded ‘Living Church’ soon folded up.
the underlying fourfold Renovationist ideology of Ecumenism, Humanism,
Modernism and Liberalism never folded up outside Russia. It infected emigre
parts of Russian Orthodoxy outside Russia, which led them to fragment
from the Patriarchally-founded ROCOR. These fragments looked to individual
religious thinkers, like the alcoholic Roman Catholic philosopher Vladimir
Soloviov, or the heretical Archpriest Sergius Bulgakov and many others,
and infected whole parishes in France, the USA and elsewhere. Rather than
combine Orthodoxy with Marxism, these Renovationists combined Orthodoxy
with Western liberal humanism. What forms has their Renovationism taken?
To illustrate this, I quote a recent e-mail from a frequent visitor to the Ennismore Gardens Cathedral of the Sourozh Diocese in London (I receive many such e-mails and phone-calls), describing in seven points the ethos there:
(1) Senior members of the laity state that women who wear headscarves are like Muslims.
(2) A bishop can turn his back on his flock: Who are new Russians – are they not the bishop’s flock?
(3) Most of the priests have not been to Russia or have little understanding of Russia.
(4) Members of the church moan about people speaking Russian in church.
(5) People can be so dismissive and critical of Holy Russia.
(6) A bishop wishes to join an anti-Russian organization.
(7) An Anglican form of Orthodoxy prevails.
The above certainly also corresponds to our experience of the Sourozh Diocese, which goes back to 1974 and lasted off and on until 1982, when we realized that despite appearances Sourozh was in reality not part of the Russian Orthodox Church, but existed apart from and, above all, in spite of the Russian Orthodox Tradition. Nearly twenty five years later, it would seem that nothing has changed since then. How can we account for all this?
THE DOCTRINAL IMPLICATIONS OF RENOVATIONISM
In his interview of 10 May, to be found at www.radonezh.ru, Bishop Hilarion of Vienna attributes the present crisis in the Sourozh Diocese directly to the bishop in charge of the Sourozh Diocese, Bishop Basil. It may well be that Bishop Hilarion has personal reasons and knowledge for his attribution, but surely this cannot be the full story? Surely the mentality behind what has been called ‘the Sourozh schism’ cannot depend on one person, who has been administrating the Sourozh Diocese for less than three years? Surely there must be a group at work here, whose ideological roots go back over decades?
This is certainly the claim of the ‘schismatics’, who reckon that their authority goes back to the ‘vision’ or 'legacy' of the late Metropolitan Antony (Bloom), to whom they attribute the unverifiable populist quote on the Sourozhite website (www. dioceseinfo.org), that: 'Moscow can get rid of the head of the body, but cannot get rid of the body. You are the body'. Similarly, the Metropolitan is supposed to have said in 1991 that he would only leave Moscow 'when they try to push us to abandon our way of being the Church' (whatever that might mean). (Source: www.dioceseinfo.org). All this is hotly denied by members of the Patriarchal Church, who see in the late Metropolitan a Patriarchal loyalist. However, rather than search for reasons of a personality cult nature to account for the Sourozh schism, perhaps we should rather be looking at doctrinal weaknesses in its ideology. What could these be?
It has become commonplace to say that the Nicene Creed has been challenged throughout history, in order of its articles. Thus, in the very first centuries, there were those who challenged faith in the Trinitarian God, as proclaimed by the opening words of the Creed: 'I believe in One God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth...' and the further statements making it clear that the Orthodox God is the God of Three Persons in One Essence. Secondly, in succeeding centuries, some found it impossible to accept the two Natures, Divine and Human, in the Incarnate Person of Christ. Thirdly, in later centuries, with the filioque, the West challenged the belief concerning the procession of the Holy Spirit from the Father and, with its attacks on St Gregory Palamas, challenged personal sanctification by 'the Lord, the Giver of Life'. Finally, in a fourth phase, in recent times, it has become common to challenge the teaching on the Church, found towards the end of the Creed: 'I believe in One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church'. We consider that it is this point in the Creed, which may be behind the Sourozh schism.
First of all, according to this article of the Creed, the Church is One. Yet, most, if not all, in the Sourozh movement, seem to believe in Ecumenism, in other words, that the Church is not One, that Roman Catholicism and Anglicanism, and Protestantism in general, are also parts of the Church. Thus, the Sourozhite website link to Ruth Gledhill's blog, where Bishop Basil is called 'a great ecumenist', which we do not doubt for one minute. Only this can explain why Bishop Basil prays for Non-Orthodox at the Proskomidia (see Ruth Gledhill's blog). Only this can explain why the Sourozh movement has turned its back on so many English people, who have over the decades come to it, asked to be Orthodox, and cruelly been told to go away. Only this can explain the long-standing, anti-missionary attitude of Sourozh towards those with zeal and piety and love of Russia and Orthodox Tradition, who over the decades have equally cruelly been told to go away. Only this can explain why most, if not all, in the Sourozh movement seem to believe in the validity of heterodox sacramental forms, against all Church Tradition.
Secondly, the Church is Holy. Why do the Sourozhites then appear to put so much emphasis on Humanism, on the horizontal and the social, instead of the vertical and repentance for sinfulness, leading to Holiness? Why does Sourozh appear to turn its back on saints? Why did they say in 2000 that there is 'no room for icons of the New Martyrs' in their Cathedral? Why there do they refuse to sell the books of one of the most popular Orthodox writers in contemporary Russia, Fr Seraphim Rose? Why do they have no icon of an almost contemporary saint who served nearby in London - St John of Shanghai? We would remind Sourozh that the saints of the Church are those who lived and/or died for the Orthodox Church, and not for secular movements.
Thirdly, the Church is Catholic. This means that the Church is Universal, in all places and at all times. Why then adopt Modernism, the philosophy of the old-fashioned twentieth century? Surely the Church is not meant to stagnate in one worldly philosophy, belonging to a heterodox culture and age? Why attempt to break away from universal Orthodox Tradition, especially from the purity of its Russian form? Does this explain why the Sourozh schism appears to be led by a tight-knit sociological group, a small and ageing clique of intellectuals, very much part of one particular, upper middle-class, Western cultural elitist group, one elderly generation?
Fourthly, the Church is Apostolic. Why then adopt Liberalism, a philosophy which is anti-Apostolic, for the Apostles preached 'Guard the deposit' (1 Tim 6, 20)? In other words, we do not cut ourselves off from the Apostles and Apostolic Tradition by disobeying, for example, the injunction: 'But every woman that prayeth or prophesieth with her head uncovered dishonoureth her head' (1 Cor 11, 5). Why does Bishop Basil allow women to go bare-headed and wear trousers in church? (Source: Ruth Gledhill blog). Or are we then to accept the 'feminist' blasphemies against the Apostle, which have been adopted by Sourozhites from the spirit of this world? Either we believe in the apostolicity of Orthodox Tradition, or else we do not. In the latter case, then we are no longer Orthodox. We cannot have it both ways.
The Sourozhite ideology proclaims that it is vital for there to be an autonomous Local Orthodox Church in the British Isles, if not, then in Western Europe as a whole. Hence its attempt to join the Paris Exarchate, which shares this ideology, which is that of the Fraternite Orthodoxe, which now controls that Exarchate. Personally, I too am in favour of Local Churches – but on one condition – that they are canonical and Orthodox. The fact is that a group which takes actions as ‘unprecedented’ (in the words of Archbishop Innocent of Korsun and Sourozh on www.pravoslavie.ru) as the Sourozh group, indicates that there are indeed considerable doubts as to its canonicity. We do not unrealistically call on the Patriarchate of Constantinople to meddle in the internal affairs of the Russian Church. It is simply uncanonical. No wonder then, if, as I have indicated above, there may also be doubts as to the very Orthodoxy of the Sourozh group.
contemporary disintegration of Roman Catholicism and Protestantism beneath
the weight of modern secularism, it can be said that Orthodox are ‘the
Last Christians’. However, even on the fringes of Orthodoxy, there
is a secular element, as can be seen in those parts of the Russian Church
which long ago refused the Russian Tradition and Russian Church discipline,
breaking away from both canonical parts of the Russian Church, the Patriarchal
Church and ROCOR. To those parts, elements in Sourozh have now openly
attached themselves. To the Russian Orthodox outside observer, those elements
are strangely reminiscent of the tiny group of elderly individuals who
left ROCOR a few years ago to form a sect centred in Mansonville in Canada.
The only difference is that the latter were an ultra-conservative sect,
whereas the former is an ultra-liberal sect. The Sourozh spirit can always
be recognized, for they call normal Orthodox 'conservative'.
Let Sourozh show faithfulness to Orthodoxy, by renouncing secular French philosophy and return to the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Let them show faithfulness to Orthodoxy by remaining within the Russian Church and following the Russian Orthodox Tradition, showing a noble and self-sacrificing determination, come what may, to remain among ‘the Last Christians’. Let them recall their heavenly patron, St Stephen of Sourozh, who fought and won a bitter battle against iconoclasm. They too must fight the battle against modernist iconoclasm and, like him, they must win it. Let the Sourozhites cease their decades-long persecution of the Church faithful and return through repentance to the Russian Orthodox Church and Tradition.
Priest Andrew Phillips
of the Man Born Blind