TOWARDS THE ORTHODOX METROPOLIA OF WESTERN EUROPE
Although it might seem disproportionate to compare the situation of those Berber Christians in North Africa in the fifteenth century with that of those who remained faithful to the Russian Orthodox Tradition in Western Europe until the twenty-first century, there are parallels. After all, until very recently, those among us who remained faithful to the Russian Tradition in whatever language we needed, were isolated, mocked and persecuted.
We were attacked by those who could see only a masonic, modernistic fantasy future. They could not take on the cross of the Russian Church, they took the easy way out and showed little faithfulness to the integrity of Russian Church Tradition. We were told by them that we were living in the past. Or we were told that the saints we had canonized and venerated were not saints. Or we were told that we had to drop everything Russian and become 'modern'. Or we were told to change our Saints, our Church calendar, the holy doors on the iconostasis and all our customs of piety, becoming merely Eastern-rite Protestants, Anglicans or Catholics. Yet, many of those who virulently criticized us then are now following us, having forgotten their former opposition to us.
We were also persecuted by others, who had no vision for the future at all, but looked only at the past, in which they lived. When they saw that the younger generation of Russians and the Non-Russians could not understand Slavonic, they shrugged their shoulders and told them to go and learn. When we saw that the younger generations of Orthodox no longer understood the language of the Church, we worked tirelessly to translate for them into the languages of Western Europe, not only the liturgical services, and then serve them, but also books and pamphlets to teach the Faith, to show them that could remain Orthodox, even though living in the West. There were those who criticized us for that, because they had abandoned their own children and had no forethought for the future. Après nous le déluge was their slogan.
So we were, after all, like those in North Africa. Isolated in the ocean of Non-Orthodoxy, living in the present, incarnate in the here and now, we did wonder if we would not yet drown. We stood in the middle, mocked, vilified and scourged, but not quite crucified, by those on either side.
And then on 1 April 2003, Patriarch Alexis of Moscow put forward the visionary proposition that we had been putting forward for some thirty years, for when Russia had become free. He suggested that we needed a Russian Orthodox Metropolia for Western Europe, faithful to the Tradition, but, inevitably, multinational and multilingual. This semi-independent Metropolia would gather together all those of all nationalities and tongues who wished to be faithful to the letter and the spirit of the Russian Orthodox Tradition in Western Europe.
It would be composed as follows: in the north the northern Anglo-Scandinavian area, stretching from Iceland and the Anglo-Celtic British Isles across to Norway, Denmark and Sweden; then 'Mitteleuropa', the mainly German-speaking central area, stretching from Germany and Switzerland to Austria and Hungary in the east, to Luxembourg, Belgium and Holland in the west; finally, the southern Latin area, stretching from northern France to southern Italy and Spain and Portugal. As the first Russian parishes are now formed in a kind of Atlantic wall, from Reykjavik to the Canaries, passing through Dublin, Porto and Lisbon, and elsewhere in Western Europe, we wonder if the vision of this Metropolia is not about to come into being.
With the freeing of the Church in Russia, it is time for all of us who are faithful to the Russian Orthodox Tradition to come together. Under Soviet persecution, it is true that certain representatives of the Mother-Church did behave to us, not as mothers (materi), but as stepmothers (machekhi). Now, together with the Church Outside Russia, where we suffered so much for our faithfulness to the ideal of a free Church inside Russia, the Mother-Church has rejected the politically-induced errors of the past. The Mother-Church has to gather her other children outside Russia together, and persuade them to reject their errors.
For some in Western Europe, especially in England with the inheritance and fantasy of what was the London 'Exarchate' (2), and in France, with the inheritance of the Paris 'Exarchate '(3), this will be trying. Some elements foreign to Russian Orthodox Tradition have already left, others will leave. Let them go. Once they have gone, we will be able to get on with the construction of the Metropolia for all Orthodox of all backgrounds. This will indeed be, as Patriarch Alexis said, the eventual foundation of an independent Orthodox Church in Western Europe. Here there are voices and heralds, calling us to task.
One such model for us in this task might be the Grand-Duchess Elizabeth the New Martyr (1864-1918). The Anglo-German grand-daughter of Queen Victoria, as a Non-Orthodox, she had taken as her patron Elizabeth of Hungary. Then she came from the West to the East and, having discovered Russian Orthodoxy and learnt holiness, she was to come as a martyr out of the East and to Jerusalem. Her spiritual feat has made her one of the most loved saints among Russian Orthodox, an example of how one from the West can learn Orthodoxy in the East and then draw the veneration of those in the East. When the ROCOR Bishop, Michael of Boston, took some of her relics back to Russia in 2004, there were the crowds to prove their love for her (5).
Or else there is the saintly Archbishop John of Riga (1876-1934). A Latvian of Latvian blood, he was a third-generation Orthodox. When the Revolution came, he was transferred by St Tikhon of Moscow from a diocese in Russia to look after the needs of the whole Orthodox flock, Russian and Latvian alike, in Latvia. Alone among the Baltic States, Orthodox in Latvia found peace and harmony, for the simple reason that he understood both sides. He was to die a martyr for the cause of Orthodoxy and is canonized and venerated as a saint. Given present nationalistic intriguing by those of ill-will in present-day Baltic Estonia, we can see that his policy was the correct one. Whatever the linguistic and cultural differences, Church Unity can be preserved, but only if we are faithful to, and put first, the spirit of the Church, the Russian Orthodox spirit (4).
Or else our model might be the even more recent St John the Wonderworker (1896-1966). His light from the East spread from Shanghai to Western Europe to San Francisco, from the Far East to the Far West. Hs love for the Saints of Western Europe has brought many to the realization that a Metropolia of Western Europe is the future. Only recently, Fr Peter Perekrestov of the San Francisco Cathedral, built by St John amid persecution and humiliation by those of secular mind, has revealed a prophecy (6). It was given to Maria Vladimirovna Pavlenko in Belgrade in the 1930s. When the young priest-monk John (Maximovich) came to take the blessing of Metropolitan Antony (Khrapovitsky), a prophet-priest uttered the words: 'With his relics Russians will return to Russia'. Indeed, seventy years later, this happened when Metropolitan Laurus of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia returned to Russia in 2004 with particles of the relics of St John.
These three figures, multinational and multilingual, are patrons who can help us in the future Metropolia. At a time of flux and Non-Orthodox cultural imperialism, called 'globalization', when barriers are breaking down, it is to these twentieth-century figures that we look as examples and models of Orthodox conduct.
When, in 1988, I put forward a vision for Orthodoxy in Western Europe, it was met with hostility, hostility to anything that was Russian and Traditional, hostility to anything that was Multilingual and Multinational (7). Since it was both of these, this vision, a mere idea then before the fall of Communism, was cast aside. I later understood, to my horror, the source of that spiritual blindness. It was the worst of both worlds, for the hostility was to both the Russian Orthodox Tradition and to Western Europeans.
Today, perhaps, such hostility is less common, although we seem to have been victim to a continual stream of hostility to Russian Orthodox Tradition and its spreading among the nations of Europe, from all sources, all down the last thirty years. Today, perhaps, we are challenged not so much by spiritual blindness, as by spiritual deafness. Then we were not seen. Now we are not heard, for there are those in certain quarters who still cannot hear, even when senior bishops in Moscow say the same as we have been saying for all these thirty years (8).
Ninety years ago, on 3 August 1914, Lord Grey of Fallodon (1862-1933), the English Minister who was so heartily opposed to any British involvement in the Great European War, which Europeans first made into a First World War and then a Second, wrote the following: 'The lamps are going out all over Europe; we shall not see them again in our lifetime'. He was right. But perhaps if we stopped being spiritually blind and spiritually deaf, the one lamp of Orthodoxy, the one thing needful in Western Europe, would go on again.
See The Conversion of Europe by Richard Fletcher. London 1997,