FROM THE ARCHIVES: 1997-2007
It is therefore not without interest to look back at thoughts in provincial England ten years ago. The following is a question submitted to the Orthodox England journal in late 1997. The question and a somewhat abridged answer were printed in the September 1998 issue of the journal. Below, the answer is printed in full.
What a question! It is similar to 'Where is the True Church or the True Faith?' Fortunately I do not have to answer that question, since it is answered in the Liturgy, when after Holy Communion we sing, 'We have seen the True Light; we have received the heavenly Spirit; we have found the True Faith. We worship the undivided Trinity, for the same hath saved us'. Although your question is personal, let me attempt to reply to you in a non-polemical and non-partisan way.
Most people belong to a particular jurisdiction for one of two reasons:
For example the average English person will not attend a foreign-language parish two hundred miles away, when there is an English-language one five minutes away, whatever his formal jurisdictional attachment. I say the average person, because there are cases where people are so mistreated and their intimate faith so insulted, that they will go elsewhere. Generally, however, the facts of geography and language mean that any pastor in any English parish has to be open and tolerant to others and sensitive to their particular needs and approach. A priest and a parish has by definition to gather people together, not to separate and divide them. English parishes are, and perhaps should be, regional, rather than jurisdictional. Of course, a priest has to be with a bishop of a particular jurisdiction, to whom he owes canonical obedience, and that leads me to the next part of your question.
Personally I belong to the jurisdiction of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia for two reasons.
Firstly, because I believe that, historically, generally the Russian Church has had a greater, more open-minded, more European vision and practice of the universality of Orthodoxy than any of the Oriental or Balkan Churches. For so long the latter lived under the Turkish Yoke and developed a siege mentality in which the ethnic and religious sides of the Orthodox Faith became absolutely intertwined. (An example of this even today is the Church of Greece's missionary work in Albania with Albanians of Greek descent: praiseworthy though this is, it is basically to do with the Greek State's territorial claims to Southern Albania, rather than with disinterested missionary work among ethnic Albanians).
During the Captivity of the Balkan Churches, the Russian Church was providentially able to carry out missionary work among other peoples, founding new, independent Orthodox Churches. It became open to European thought and even its style of singing became European. Thus it is noticeable that most English communities use the Russian style of singing, whatever their jurisdictional background. Neither was the pre-Revolutionary Russian Church, the Church of a Great Power, afraid of upsetting Rome or Canterbury with its missionary work.
However, I say 'was' because, since the Revolution, the Church inside Russia, the Moscow Patriarchate, has understandably been so preoccupied with its own internal problems that it has not been free to continue its missionary role. There is one exception to this, precisely in Great Britain, where the Ennismore Gardens Diocese, albeit obviously a Paris Russian and not a traditional Moscow Russian foundation, has since the sixties done a great deal of missionary work, in order to ensure its own survival (most Russians refusing to have anything to do with it). However, generally speaking, elsewhere it has been the Church Outside Russia, despite the constraints of material poverty and emigre ethnicity, which has been politically free to continue the missionary work begun before the Revolution. It has been forced by States, neither to change its services or calendar, nor to take part in politically-inspired ecumenism.
Secondly, we only have to think in this country of Fr Nicholas Gibbes, Mother Mary Robinson, Mother Martha (Sprot), Fr Lazarus Moore and Fr David Meyrick, all of whom became Orthodox through the Church Outside Russia. Having seen at close quarters the lack of political freedom in other local Orthodox Churches, it is the political freedom of the Church Outside Russia which I personally particularly value. It is beholden to no State on earth and has therefore been able to continue in fidelity to the fullness of the Orthodox Tradition. This is the second reason why I personally belong to the Church Outside Russia.
Nevertheless, it is also true, as you say in your letter, that in recent years many English converts to Orthodoxy found a place not in the 'unfashionable' Church Outside Russia, but in Dioceses of other local Orthodox Churches. Notably some ex-Anglican vicars and their communities found a spiritual refuge under the ex-Anglican Oxford scholar, the Greek Orthodox Bishop Kallistos, other Anglican clergy and laity have found refuge in the Arab Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Antioch. One might ask why this was so, if what I have said about the Russian Church is true.
It is clear that one of the reasons for converts seeking refuge in the Greek Orthodox world was the lack of missionary vision and welcome to converts within the Russian Church in this country. And. that is entirely the fault of the Russian Church. I sincerely wish God's blessing on the attempts of any English people to become Orthodox, whatever jurisdiction they choose. Everyone has their own path and that path must be respected, without resort to polemics and propaganda. Orthodox is Orthodox.
Probably, however, the main reason for the attraction of Non-Russian 'jurisdictions' was the very unpleasant political intimidation to which the Church Outside Russia was subject from the mid-sixties until the very recent mid-nineties. This intimidation, emanating from the Communist Party authorities in Moscow, was an attempt to isolate the Church Outside Russia worldwide by pressurising other local Orthodox Churches to break off communion with it. The Communist-dominated Eastern European Churches, the Eastern Patriarchates and the Patriarchate of Constantinople often (though not everywhere; concelebrations with Constantinople occur regularly in France) bowed to this pressure. It was only this intimidation that made the Church Outside Russia 'unfashionable', as you say.
However, neither the Patriarchate of Jerusalem, nor the Serbian Church bowed to Communist pressure and broke off their canonical relationship with the Church Outside Russia and concelebration continued. With the Greek-speaking Churches the situation was further complicated by the sincere but undiplomatic attempts of the Church Outside Russia to mediate between the very touchy, official Balkan Churches and more moderate Old Calendarist groups, with which the Church Outside Russia briefly entered into communion. Looking back, most now feel that this was a mistake on the part of the Church Outside Russia. Paradoxically, it has meant today that in some places relations between the two parts of the Russian Church are much warmer than those between the Russian Church and the Patriarchate of Constantinople.
However, in the last two years the situation of the Church Outside Russia has been changing. Firstly, the gallant, but perhaps sometimes foolhardy, attempts by the Church Outside Russia to bring the moderate Old Calendarists back to canonicity seem to have failed. Secondly, and more importantly, the Russian Church inside Russia has been reviving - not without a certain help from the Church Outside Russia. There have been strong grassroots calls to a return to canonical practices and the emergence of remarkably free and genuine bishops such as the late Metropolitan John of St Petersburg or Archbishop Anatoly in London. As a result of these transfiguring changes at grassroots level inside the Moscow Patriarchate, there have been calls to re-establish concelebration between the two parts of the Russian Church. There is a growing feeling that the temporary canonical statute granted to the Church Outside Russia by its founder St Tikhon, the Patriarch of Moscow, in 1920, will have to be modified.
This in view of the recent political changes in Russia, which are leading to the virtual abolition of the Moscow Patriarchate as it used to exist. Despite hiccups in the process, this will occur on condition that the process of Church reawakening goes further in Moscow and in Patriarchal parishes outside Russia, for example in this country, and affects all the hierarchy. In this case the Churches which broke off communion with the Church Outside Russia under pressure from Moscow in the sixties wil1 once again have to enter into communion with the Church Outside Russia.
Having said all this, I hope that those many readers who belong to other jurisdictions for their own very good reasons, will understand that all that I have said is a generalisation. Certainly there are many parts of this country where if you want services in English (a reasonable enough proposition), you most certainly would attend a church of a jurisdiction other than that of the Church Outside Russia. Of many, many instances there is London, where the Ennismore Gardens parish is still the only one to provide even partial English-language services in the Capital.
ultimately the fact is that in the long term, over and beyond all political
meddling in Church life, it is the jurisdiction which provides spiritual
food to English people that will become the largest English jurisdiction
of the Orthodox Church in this country. Quality not quantity. Depth not
superficiality. Spirituality not childish, triumphalist statistics. Any
jurisdiction which behaves like a bigoted political party dependent on
a foreign power, or a masonic hall, or a middle-class guru cult, or an
ethnic ghetto, or a museum of quaint customs from the old country, will
simply die out. Our business is the acquisition of the Holy Spirit and
that alone. Any jurisdiction worth its salt must have as its mission statement:
'Feed my lambs' (John 21,15), and that is an affair of the Spirit of God,
not of man.