THE TIME-BOMB THAT WENT OFF:
Earlier this year the Pope of Rome announced that he was relinquishing one of his several titles, namely that of ‘Patriarch of the West’. Although the ecumenically-minded seem to have been upset by this, surely it should be welcomed by Orthodox. This renunciation can be taken to mean that even the former Roman Catholic parts of Western Europe are now territories officially open to missionary work by the Orthodox Churches. Perhaps Patriarch Alexis will ask if the right hand of St John the Baptist, which baptized the Saviour and is at present being flown around Russia amid calls to repentance, could also be taken around Western Europe in the same way.
It is true that the only Local Orthodox Church which appears to have missionary intentions in Western Europe in deed, rather than just in word, is the Russian Orthodox Church. Its recent consecration of a large new Orthodox church in Rome itself is symbolic of this, as are the Russian attempts to retrieve its pre-Revolutionary property in Nice, Biarritz and elsewhere. The rumoured offer by Roman Abramovich (as we suggested in our article of December 2003) to build a new Russian Church in London, if the Sourozh schismatics succeed in taking away the London Patriarchal Cathedral from the people, would be another step. Indeed, three years ago in April 2003, His Holiness Patriarch Alexis II of Moscow spoke of his hopes for a Russian Metropolia of Western Europe, which would become the foundation-stone of a Local Church of Western Europe.
Since then, the Russian Church has been working hard to bring its scattered parts together. Thus in these three last years the Patriarchal part of the Russian Church and the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia (ROCOR) have all but come together. Both before and since approval of the project of unity at the Fourth All-ROCOR Council in San Francisco in May 2006, both parts of the Russian Church have been working together towards eucharistic communion. It is clear that the former division between the two parts of the Russian Church was not because of a lack of love for Russia and Orthodoxy among the members of ROCOR - it was because of the lack of freedom of the Patriarchal Church inside Russia. But as the devil was not able to attack the Russian Church from this direction, he attacked from another.
TOWARDS DISUNITY: RUSSOPHOBIA AND ORTHODOXOPHOBIA
This attack came through the Paris Exarchate and former elements of the Sourozh Diocese in Great Britain, which have recently associated themselves with that Exarchate. These have categorically and aggressively refused to associate themselves with hoped-for future unity and an eventual Local Orthodox Church in Western Europe. The Paris Exarchate and the former elements of the Sourozh Diocese have refused the Patriarchal hand of friendship and understanding. In his letter of 16 June to the clergy and people of his Sourozh Diocese who have remained faithful to the Russian Tradition, His Holiness Patriarch Alexis II spoke of those former Sourozh elements as, entering into ‘in effect a schism’, ‘perfectly clearly’ carried out by ‘the enemy of the human race’.
This rejection of Russian Orthodoxy can only have come about either through a lack of love for Russia and for Orthodoxy. Indeed, it is this Russophobia and Orthodoxophobia that can clearly be seen in the formation of the Paris Exarchate. Historically it came into being when it first refused to recognize the authority of the Patriarchally-founded ROCOR in the mid-1920s. Then it refused to recognize the authority of the disputed leadership of Moscow under Metropolitan (later Patriarch) Sergius in the late-1920s. Thus, it came to completely desert the Mother-Church for the tiny Greek-run Patriarchate of Constantinople.
It was clear that this desertion of the Russian Church was not so much about political opposition to the atheist persecution of the Church in Russia, but more about the Exarchate implementing its own anti-Russian politics. Its claims to be apolitical were in fact wholly political. Indeed, even today it is apparent that many in the Paris emigration, as among the Sourozh dissidents, are the physical or spiritual descendants of those who actually encouraged and welcomed the Kerensky Revolution of March 1917, rejoicing at the downfall of the Russian Empire. Little wonder that Kerensky himself went to live in exile in London.
As we have said, the Paris movement was not only anti-Russian, but also anti-Orthodox. Thus, for example, under Constantinople, the Exarchate considered that it would be free to introduce novel teachings. Indeed, soon after its departure from the Russian Church, Archpriest Sergius Bulgakov proposed his novel and unOrthodox teachings on ‘Sophia’. Although these were very soon condemned as heretical by both parts of the Russian Church, the Patriarchate of Constantinople maintained its silence. Thereupon the Exarchate continued to introduce numbers of innovations, unheard of in the Russian Church, without the slightest rebuke from Constantinople. We cannot help thinking that this is what is behind the move of the former members of the Sourozh Diocese to Constantinople. There they would be allowed to continue their renovationism and modernism.
In other words, the time-bomb of anti-Russian and anti-Orthodox feeling that has recently gone off in England was already ticking in Paris in the 1920s. The Sourozh schism is merely part of the same movement. Historically indeed, having refused the authority of ROCOR in the 1920s and then of Metropolitan Sergius, the London Russian parish, the base of the Sourozh schismatics, was until the end of the Second World War under the Paris Exarchate. The return of certain elements to that Exarchate this month therefore surprises no-one. History has turned full circle.
An example of Russophobia: Recently, in his new guise as a vicar-bishop of the head of the Paris Exarchate, Bishop Basil has spoken of his situation on the Russian service of the BBC. His choice was anti-Russian. Western Russian-language radio stations used to broadcast anti-Communist propaganda at the old Soviet Union. However, once that monstrosity had fallen, those stations then turned to broadcasting purely anti-Russian propaganda.
The fact that, as an American, Bishop Basil is not necessarily a Russophile can be understood. However, the fact that he appears to be a Russophobe and prepared to broadcast against Russia and the reviving Church there, is altogether extraordinary. The Church in Russia was Crucified. When the Crucified rises from the dead, what are we to do - turn our backs on Her, or greet Her with joy and partake of the grace of Her Resurrection? ROCOR has chosen the latter course, whereas the Paris Exarchate and the Sourozh dissidents, extraordinarily, appear to have chosen the former.
An example of Orthodoxophobia: The modernist practices of the Sourozh schismatics, which go back many decades, are now seen for what they always have been. They are merely the borrowed practices of the Paris Exarchate. Thus, their anti-monastic ethos (the attempted closure of the skete of Fr Sophrony), the anti-fasting stance, the denial of confession before communion, the ordination of divorced men (sometimes divorced twice), or men whose wives are divorced or not even Orthodox, to the priesthood, the proskomidia carried out in the middle of the church, cremations, weddings on Saturdays, the adoption of modernist Greek practices (which many Greeks refuse), women dressed immodestly and without head coverings, girls brought inside the altar at baptism - are all faithful to the anti-Tradition Parisian style.
Little wonder that the Moscow renovationist priest, Fr George Kochetkov and his St Philaret Institute, is an ally of Bishop Basil and the Paris movement in general. No doubt they all approved of the Paris 'theologian' Olivier Clement, when he took communion from Roman Catholics and when he called on the Serbian Church not to canonize its own saints - the martyrs of Jasenovac. The fact is that although renovationist modernism may have died in Russia in the 1920's, with the exception of its Moscow revivalist Fr George, in the West it never died out and it thrives among small groups on both sides of the Atlantic. None of the above Sourozh practices have been introduced by Bishop Basil. They have been going on for decades and generations.
CONCLUSION: FROM THE PAST TOWARDS THE FUTURE
The fact is that the Sourozh schism can be dated back beyond Paris/St Petersburg aristocrats to the nineteenth century opposition in Russia between Westerners and Slavophiles. The Slavophiles were those who saw in the Orthodox Tradition of Russia not only the salvation of Russia, but also the salvation of the West. The Westerners, however, were 'progressives', who wanted Russia to become dechristianized, like the humanist West. For the main part, having caused the Revolution of 1917, after it they emigrated to their spiritual home in Paris.
Thus, the Sourozh time bomb was planted long ago in Russian history by its Westernized intellectuals. However, the problem with intellectuals, whether in fourth century Alexandria, or in nineteenth century Russia, or in twentieth-century Paris, or in twenty-first century Oxford, is that because they rely on their own fallible, human ‘vision’ to do everything, they first have to be blinded in order to see. This was the fate of the persecutor Saul on the hot and dusty road to Damascus, when he was blinded for three days. Have ye not read: 'Except the Lord build the house, they labour in vain that build it?' (Ps 126, 1). It was only in realizing this that Saul not only became Paul, but the Apostle Paul.
As an Orthodox who seeks the salvation of the West from its own humanistic demons, I cannot help being a Slavophile. The voice of the true West coincides with the voice of Holy Russia. Therefore, I cannot also help being in favour of the proposition of Patriarch Alexis for the foundation of a Russian Metropolia in Western Europe, the foundation of a future Local Orthodox Church in Western Europe. I will not live to see it, but perhaps my grandchildren will. For such a Metropolia and, later, Local Church, to be founded, the Russophobe and Orthodoxophobe ideology adopted by some in Western Europe today will not suffice. Indeed, when such people leave the Russian Church, our task actually becomes easier: once a time-bomb has gone off, the dust settles and the air clears. A spirit quite different from theirs is required to build a Local Church in Western Europe.
In thinking of this spirit, I am reminded of an Orthodox girl of mixed background who, exactly three decades ago, lived in a poor Communist suburb of Paris. Though she spoke French, she had not been born in France and did not look French. One day a teacher at school asked her what her nationality was. She replied: ‘Orthodox’. It is precisely in the spirit that she manifested that a future Orthodox Metropolia and, ultimately, Local Church of Western Europe, will be founded. In other words, only when we stop talking about our nationality first and start speaking about our faith first will we find the unity for the foundation of a Local Orthodox Church in Western Europe. ‘Seek ye first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you’.
Priest Andrew Phillips
of the Dormition,
All Hallows Sunday