Personal Questions I Have Been Asked In The Last Three Months

Q: How could you have stayed with that nasty bunch of sectarians for so long?

A: St John of Shanghai a nasty sectarian? Hieromonk Seraphim Rose a nasty sectarian? The ever-memorable Archbishop Antony of Geneva a nasty sectarian? Metropolitan Laurus Skurla a nasty sectarian?  Metropolitan Hilarion Kapral a nasty sectarian? Just because a bunch of nasty sectarians opposed them, that does not mean that they too were nasty sectarians!

Q: Is this a personal rebellion?

A: After 32 years of faithful and unpaid missionary service, ever the defender of the traditional ROCOR? As for the rest, you must ask the fifteen members of clergy and the thousands of laypeople who left unanimously. That is, half of the former UK Diocese lost to ROCOR, all because no-one would listen to us for years. The only rebels are the two individuals in authority who have rebelled against the age-old practices and traditions of the Russian Orthodox Church in the name of a sectarian ideology and created a schism. Moreover, instead of resolving the problem, they have publicised it, deepened it and internationalised it.

Q: You have been accused of being unstable. What do you say?

A: The enemies of the Church always trot out the same two slanders. You are mentally ill/unstable. Alternatively, you are a homosexual/pedophile. Of course, they are talking about themselves. They cannot conceive of normal people and healthy human psychology.

Q: How did you react when they said you were senile?

A: We all fell about laughing. I was playing football in the park with some of my eleven grandchildren, a football team in themselves, when we heard about this one.

Q: What is your view of Fr/St Sophrony?

A: As someone who knew him well (I must have been present at about 100 liturgies he celebrated), I saw a wise and experienced old monk. He wrote some strange things, though perhaps not strange to a philosopher – I am not sure that any of us can understand or has understood his writings. He painted some strange icons – but he was trained in the Art Nouveau in Paris. However, there are many people who consider him a local saint and he has been canonised. He certainly did not oppose the Church with some schism or heresy or form a sect. And no-one would ever accuse him of being nasty. Many think he is a saint. There is no reason to think that he is not, though we may think that the Russian Diaspora produced even greater saints, like St John. But that is a personal view.

Q: Are you really a Socialist?

A: Very amusing! Yes, this accusation came from some Trumpist in the USA after I had praised the social policies, free education and free medical treatment, set up by Tsar Nicholas II (whom they claim to venerate!). The fact that the Soviet regime continued the Tsar’s policies (albeit in a more primitive and underfunded form) is nothing to do with Soviet Socialism, but everything to do with their inheritance of Tsar Nicholas’ love for his people.

I have all my life consistently opposed all extremists of both left and right, freemasons, modernists and ecumenists, as well as anti-semitics, past-worshippers and ultra-nationalists, New Calendarist and Old Calendarist. So when I get accused of being a Socialist, or then a Fascist, I think that is a good sign. I am clearly not with the extremes, because both extremes are attacking me.

Q: What will happen next?

A: We have no idea. All we can say is that we have a unique opportunity to form from the three broken bits of the Russian Orthodox Church the foundation for One United Local Orthodox Church in Western Europe and the foundation of another United Local Orthodox Church in the Americas, based on the three broken bits there. This is an opportunity which, like so many others before it, may tragically be missed yet again. But the opportunity is being offered on a plate. If all can get rid of their wholly secular and political ideologies and ignore their spiritually impure ideologues, this is possible. Otherwise they forfeit their right to call themselves Orthodox Christians. All we have to do is to be Orthodox Christians and stand up for what is right!

The Russian Orthodox Church claims to have a calling to set up new Local Churches. (No other Local Orthodox Church says that). If the Russian Church does not set up such new Local Churches, after all these wasted generations of descendants of immigrants assimilated into secular society, then people will stop believing in it. They will start believing that the Russian Church too is, finally, just one more ethnic and nationalist ghetto, which has no belief in itself and no belief in providing the religious infrastructure for the descendants of Orthodox immigrants born here to live as Orthodox Christians in the here and now.

Q: Are you frightened?

A: Frightened of the upstarts who persecute us? Not in the least. My conscience is clear. I fear God’s Judgement only for my personal sins. Others should also have that fear and also have fear of their sins against the Church, of their sects, schisms and heresies. For every sect and every schism is founded on personal pride. And when that personal pride grows, the sect and schism develop into a heresy.

So it was and ever will be, from the Disciple Judas to the Priest Arius, from Bishop Donatus to Archbishop Nestorius, from Pope Hildebrand to his compatriot the priest-monk Professor Martin Luther, from the Old Believers to the Old Calendarists, from the freemasonry of Patriarch Meletios Metaksakis to the Sophianism of Archpriest Sergei Bulgakov. But remember, all of you, that though man proposes, God disposes. And those are not idle words. I have seen it happen a hundred times in my lifetime. Here today, gone tomorrow. But God’s Words are Eternal.

All At Sea

As this fateful month of December opens, let us relate this parable:

100 years ago there was a fine and noble ship that set sail with a captain, many officers, a large crew and many passengers, seeking refuge in a safe haven, for a Great Storm had begun on the land. Over the generations the ship came to be captained by a line of wise men, who visited many foreign ports all around the world, looking for refuge and picking up new passengers and also some stowaways. Unfortunately, some of the officers, crew and passengers were less wise and at times advised steering the ship near the rocks and reefs which turned out to be infested by pirates.

After many years and many adventures which will be related in detail at another time and in another place, the port that the ship had sailed from finally opened again. The Great Storm on the land was over. The ship’s elderly captain, a man of destiny, brought his vessel through thunder and lightning back home to its native haven that had become safe once more, ready to help rebuild and relate the stories of the past to those eager to know. The fine old ship was welcomed back with understanding and admiration. Here was a safe haven again.

However, after this perilous voyage and such great efforts, the elderly captain soon passed away, still at the wheel.  A new captain was chosen from among the officers, a man whose soul was as fine and noble as had been that of the previous captain, but who was not as strong. After all, surely his task, to captain a ship while it was at anchor in port, would not be so difficult?

However, disgruntled officers and passengers, who had got on board in foreign ports and who preferred the rocks and reefs of pirates, secretly plotted and saw their chance. Dissatisfied with the conditions in the port, which in their pride they deemed not good enough for them, they thought to take the ship from its calm haven and seize it for themselves. With great cunning they persuaded the new captain to weigh anchor, on the pretext that they should take the ship out from its port on a pleasure cruise, ‘in memory of those who had sailed on her in the past, so as to celebrate their feat’.

Unable to refuse what seemed like a worthy endeavour, the new captain agreed, but on condition that the ship should simply go round the lighthouse in the bay, in full view of the port. However, as the ship left the port under cover of night, many younger crew and passengers on board realised that the captain had been tricked, that the mutinous had seized control and were taking the passengers not on a pleasure cruise, but on a torture cruise, far out into the ocean.

None of this cruise was in memory of the great feats of the past and the weathering of the Great Storm, all of this was because the mutinous officers wanted to steer the ship and rob the passengers on board, some of whom were wealthy, and meet up on the high seas with a band of very powerful pirates, anchored off the rocks and reefs, who had secretly been paying the mutinous officers and passengers to seize the ship.

Just in time, many younger crew and passengers who had realised what was happening were able, not without great difficulty and danger to themselves, to get out of the ship into a large lifeboat near the lighthouse at the entrance to the bay, in full view of the safe haven. The mutinous traitors complained that these crew and passengers were ‘rebels’, that they had left without their permission, all the time gloating and hoping that those who had disembarked in their lifeboat would be dashed to pieces on the rocks around the lighthouse. This was not so. All was calm and all who wished were brought to safety.

As the refugees safely tied up their boat at the landing stage, climbed over the rocks and up the stairs inside the lighthouse and reached the lamp room, they saw the ship sailing out ever further into stormy seas which threatened to sink it. At once the refugees lit the lamp, in the hope that the ship and those on board could still be saved from the mutinous and return to port. This shining light, they thought, would also wake up the port authorities who had all this time been fast asleep.

Meanwhile, on board, the remaining loyal officers and passengers, quite a few of them elderly and confused, slowly began to realise that they had been tricked while they had been asleep in their cabins. This was not a pleasure cruise in memory of the glorious past. In reality, the mutinous officers and the passengers who supported them, wanted to go out onto the high seas to meet up with pirates. In the gathering dark and the blowing wind and rain a great division was revealed and those who had been paid by the mutineers to go along on their ‘cruise’ began to come to their senses.

Fighting broke out on board the ship as provisions began to run out and all slowly began to realise what had happened. ‘Save Our Souls’ was shouted out by some of the officers, crew and passengers, but the ship was by now so far out to sea that their voices could not be heard above the crash and roar of the ocean waves, except by those in the safety of the lighthouse, who looked on with alarm.

Meanwhile the port authorities, alerted by the flashing lighthouse, from where we could see everything, began to realise that something was amiss, that the old ship was not going to return, that the ancient vessel was in danger of sinking and the loyal on board were in danger of drowning. Other ports also began to send out messages of alarm. Mayday! Mayday!

What happened next?

This parable will be continued, as it is not yet clear how it will end. But we are praying for a miracle.

Questions and Answers (November 2021)

The Persecution

Q: I had not been following your situation for months. This news has come as a total surprise to me, though I am not sure why, as politics posing as Orthodoxy has seriously damaged my trust. I am lost to the Church.

A: If we had been put off by bishops playing politics, we would have left the Church 47 years ago, let alone during this particular nightmare of the last two years. We go to Church to worship Christ. The devil goes to Church to destroy Christ. Are you seriously saying that you are lost to Christ? If so, you are, ultimately, siding with the devil.

The full story of the Persecution will be told in due course. But that is not the main thing. The main thing is that questions will be asked about the Persecution and all will have to answer one question both in the very near future and again at the Last Judgement: Whose side were you on? On the side of the persecuted or on the side of the persecutors? The sectarians are the persecutors, together with those who love power and money more than Christ’s Church, together with the mercenaries, those who are ‘sergianists’, who have no principles and sign away their souls for a mess of pottage. Fortunately, repentance for all of them is still possible.

In September 2020 I went to Mt Athos and saw Elder Evthimios. He is the closest disciple of St Paisios the Athonite and in his skete he built the first church in the world dedicated to the saint. I asked him what to do. Only on 9 May this year I received his answer, in the most shocking words of all about this whole affair: ‘Do not worry. This matter will be judged in the highest of courts’. These words inspire dread and trembling.

Negativity

Q: Why is it that some converts attack Non-Orthodox, rather than see potential Orthodox in them?

A: Sadly, there is a certain type of convert from Protestantism who never becomes Orthodox, but is stuck as just anti-Protestant and the sort of convert from Catholicism who never becomes Orthodox, but is stuck as just anti-Catholic. None of this has anything to do with Orthodoxy and theology, but only with psychology and pathology.

We are told that the best way to catch a fly is with honey rather than vinegar. Sadly, there are those who are addicted to vinegar. Of course, we do not overlook reality and see only the good in others. We see the bad as well, with love pointing out errors, but still appreciating the positive, which may well be much greater than the bad. And we should always see the bad in ourselves first of all. We do not begin destruction, before we begin construction.

There is a similar situation with those who trawl the internet, searching for ‘prophecies’ regarding the coming of Antichrist. We should rather be looking forward to the Coming of Christ, which is what the first Orthodox did, for it will be glorious.

The Toll-Houses

Q: Why is this Orthodox doctrine of toll-houses after death controversial? And do the toll-houses go in order from the least serious to the most serious?

A: The ‘aerial toll-houses’ are images of what our soul will undergo after it is freed from the body at death and is examined at them for its sins during the forty days, in earthly time, between death and the particular judgement. I would not call this an Orthodox ‘doctrine’, rather part of the Orthodox Tradition of piety.

As far as I can see, the only controversy has been in the USA. The controversy there seems to me be a result of American literalism. If we are less literal-minded and take the toll-houses as images of spiritual truth, then I can see no controversy. Unfortunately, some people are very literal. Just as they imagine the Last Judgement as some kind of court-room with lawyers dressed in wigs etc, so they imagine the toll-houses to be some sort of buildings with customs-officers and bureaucratic forms to fill in (more an image of hell, I think). Such literalism, especially among those from a Calvinist or Lutheran convert background, is really not helpful, as it presents salvation as impossible and it creates despair. They forget the revelation that salvation comes from Divine Mercy, not from acts.

The order in which the twenty toll-houses is presented is interesting. For example the first three are listed as examining sins of the tongue, lieing and slander. These are all close to one another, though slander is a terrible sin. The twentieth toll-house examines the sin of the lack of mercy, which is surely the most serious and the one which can indeed prevent us from entering Heaven. On the other hand, pride only comes in eleventh place and murder in fourteenth place. I don’t think that the list goes from the least to the most serious. The order has a spiritual meaning.

The Sacraments

Q: Should a baby be baptised exactly on the fortieth day? When should the priest place the cross on the newly-baptised baby after baptism?

A: The fortieth day only has a symbolic importance (Christ’s Entrance into the Temple on the fortieth day). In fact I think the fortieth day should be considered as the maximum delay. Sadly, I baptise so many three month-old, six month-old, year-old children. It is cruel to make the children wait so long for the grace of baptism, chrismation and communion. The Russian Royal Family baptised their children well within forty days, the Tsarevich after twenty days for example. The only problem with early baptism is that some babies have very short hair and the tonsuring is difficult. But that can be true after six months!

You have answered your own second question! After the baby has come out of the water after the threefold immersion and the baby is clothed in the new clothes/christening gown, then the cross can be placed on the baby. In other words, place the cross on the baby after baptism. However, it is true that some priests do not give the cross until after the chrismation or else after whole baptism/chrismation and Many Years is sung. But such things have no dogmatic importance. You will find various practices.

Q: Can small children take part in the service of unction?

A: They must take part. Why should we deprive children of the sacrament of unction? We do not deprive them of the sacrament of communion. The only thing is that up until about the age of seven, children should be anointed simply with a cross on their forehead. This is to avoid children wiping the myrrh onto clothes etc.

Q: Where does the tradition of apostle spoons as christening presents come from?

A: Although the internet will tell you that they originate in 16th century England, this is clearly untrue. They certainly existed in 6th century Rome. I suspect that apostle spoons were actually originally communion spoons. This goes back to the time when people brought their own communion spoons to church to partake. The tradition of putting an image of one of the apostles on them goes back to the Last Supper. Each spoon was engraved with the image of one of the apostles who had been with Christ, both physically and by taking communion, at the Last Supper.

Christ

Q: What colour was Christ’s skin? Was He white?

A: Look at an icon! As he was from the Middle East, he had a tanned, pale brown appearance.

Priests’ Clothing

Q: Why do Orthodox priests wear black cassocks? He must have worn some light colour clothing, as traditional Arabs do today.

A: True. Monks wear black cassocks because black is the colour of repentance. However, married priests can wear any colour, though we often wear black. That is under monastic influence.

Terminology

Q: Why are there so many protopresbyters in the Greek Church and so few in the Russian Church?

A: In Greek a ‘protopresbyter’ simply means what the Russians call an ‘archpriest’. That is why it is so common. However, in Russian a protopresbyter is a very, very senior archpriest, in principle one who has been a priest for 55 years – which is why it is so rare, so is in his 80s (although this length of time is not always adhered to in some groups like ROCOR and the OCA).

Q: Why do you avoid the terms ‘Anglo-Saxon’ and ‘Saxon’, in phrases like ‘the Anglo-Saxon Church’ or ‘Saxon England’?

A: This term was never used before 1066. It is therefore unhistoric, anachronistic. Before 1066 people called themselves ‘English’ (spelled Englisc). The Anglo-Saxon or Saxon term was introduced by foreign invaders, the Roman Catholic Normans, as a piece of propaganda to persuade people that the Normans were the English and the English were foreign ‘Saxons’. It is therefore not an Orthodox Christian term. We should use and do use terms like Pre-Schism, Orthodox, Early English or Old English.

History

Q: What is the origin of Western Imperialism?

A: Western Imperialism, or Westernisation, has been headed by various different Western countries in its time: the Franks (1) (who were the first and so gave their name to the rest among many peoples), the Normans, the Crusaders, the Prussians, the Portuguese, the Spanish, the Dutch, the French, the Austro-Hungarians, the British, the Germans, the Americans, is now called Globalism. Its origin lies at the end of the eighth century under a Frankish tribal chieftain, who came to be called Charlemagne, originally ‘Karl the Tall’.

The cruellest of barbarians with burning ambition (which is now he came to power over others), Karl wanted the prestigious leadership of the universalism of the pagan Roman Empire. To justify all the future acts of barbarism he needed to become such a universal leader, he had to invent a new ideology. First, he declared that the real Emperors of Rome, living in New Rome, were not Christians, but ‘Greeks’, ‘Byzantines’, ‘Asiatics’, and ‘despots’. (Interestingly, these words are still used as insults by hypocritical Western racists today to refer to anybody outside their own despotic culture). Then he called himself a Christian (in fact he was some sort of mass-murdering iconoclast Arian, in any case definitely not a Christian), and gave himself the title of Roman Emperor. In time, his new ideology came to be called Roman Catholicism and Papism.

Fortunately, after his death in 814 Karl’s tyrannical power over his small group of countries collapsed, for Orthodox Christianity was still strong enough in Western Europe to resist his pagan ambitions. As we know, however, his barbarian descendants returned to power some two centuries later, at first in the north of Spain, then under the Normans in the south of Italy and in England after 1066. After 1054, the barbarians’ rise to tyranny became inevitable and by the thirteenth century their despotism had spread outwards to the south of Spain, Sicily, Greece, Cyprus and Constantinople, to the west in Ireland, to the north in Scotland, Scandinavia and Finland, and to the east in Lithuania and Poland, and even beyond Europe to the Asian Middle East and ports in North Africa.

Today’s Muslims call Western Imperialism ‘Crusader-Zionism’. This term first of all reflects their personal tragic history and the anti-Jewish racism of the Semitic Arab race. It does, however, sum up the organised barbarian violence (what could be more organised and at the same time more barbarian than the machine gun, poison gas, the Atom Bomb, or the smart missile?) through which the Western world (‘the international community’, as the BBC calls it) has obtained power and cultivates its universal ambition: it will never stop until it has absolute control of the whole world. However, as we know, the only one who will ever obtain almost universal control – and only very briefly – is Antichrist and the only way you can share in his power is by siding with him.

Note

  1. The word ‘frank’ literally means ‘free’, that is, ‘not slaves’. From it we have words like ‘franchise’. Its meaning reminds us of what organisations like the BBC used to call ‘the free world’. What this actually meant was that small part of the world, the West, which had not been enslaved by the West and its ideologies like Marxism. (Here we are reminded of the words of one of the hymns of Western Imperialism, ‘Rule Britannia’: ‘Britons never, never, never will be slaves’. This was written by British slave-owners for British slave-owners. Such words as ‘Human-beings never, never, never will be slaves’ never occurred to them).

Converts

Why do some converts integrate very quickly and others, even after 50 years, still seem as though they had converted yesterday? I puzzled about this for decades.  I concluded that it is all to do with the purity or the impurity of the motivation of the convert. Convert zeal (which is like a seed, so zeal there must be), should always be humble zeal. Such zeal can be channelled. Unfortunately, some zeal is simply the pride of ambition and lust for power and cannot be channelled. And pride always goes before the fall, just as the fall is always the result of pride. And pride always ends up in a sect or in (internet) isolation. I think the Parable of the Sower (Lk 8) says everything. For example:

Some seed fell by the wayside:

There are those who have been seeking for God for a long time and, though they have found Him in the Church, they still prefer to seek rather than to find. Finding for them is boring.

There are those who wish to convert because their lives are very boring and think they can enliven themselves with something that seems to them exotic –though for those born into the Church, it is not exotic at all, just normal and natural.

Some seed fell upon a rock:

There are those whose conversion is all about emotion and sensuous excitement (the sound of singing, the smell of incense, the sight of icons) or sometimes an attachment to a personality. Once their emotion has dried up or the personality is not what they thought or dies, they give up, like a flame that has burned brightly by being fuelled by paper, but once the fuel has been consumed, all that is left is ashes.

Some seed fell among thorns:

There are those who want to be better than others, they seek an ideal, perfection, though they themselves are not ideal or perfect and they have no discernment at all. Manipulated, they adopt a sectarian ideology and their pride always ends up in hatred for others.

There are those who wish to convert so that they can then berate all those who did not want to convert with them. Their motive is self-justification and the desire to feel superior, which is simply pride.

The key to real conversion is always in humility.

Three Months in the Life of the Church

Friday 3 December:

5.30 pm: Vigil / Всенощное бдение праздника Введения во храм Пресвятой Богородицы.

Saturday 4 December: Архиерейское Служение с нашим Владыкой митрополитом Иоанном / Episcopal Liturgy with our Metropolitan John

9.00 am: Hours and Liturgy / Часы и Божественная литургия праздника Введения во храм Пресвятой Богородицы.

So reads our timetable for December.

On 23 August our nine Orthodox parishes transferred to the Archdiocese of Western Europe. A few days later, on 27 August, I met once more Metropolitan Jean of Dubna, whom I have known for 42 years, at the Cathedral of St Alexander Nevsky, whose best-known words are: ‘God is not in Power, but in Truth’. I had travelled to Paris on behalf of our group of seven priests to collect our new antimensia and myrrh, of which we had been kept desperately short. In this way we have been able to continue to open our new parishes, for which we had been waiting for so long, and continue to carry out the 200 annual baptisms in our parishes.

Metropolitan Jean blessed us to venerate the icon of his ever-memorable spiritual father, St Sophrony of Essex, and told us to ignore the uncanonical actions of a small diocese which had fallen out of communion with his Archdiocese and his two vicar-bishops. He instructed us as a true Christian hierarch to ignore unChristian internet harassment, untruths, slander and their sectarian and rebellious spirit, which serve only to discredit their authors and further isolate them from the canonical Orthodox world.

Nearly three months after these events, it is interesting to review them. What have been the practical and spiritual benefits for those who chose to remain in the canonical Russian Orthodox Church through the Archdiocese of Western Europe?

  1. We have remained in canonical communion with the mainstream of the Russian Orthodox Church, for which communion and unity we had battled for years prior to 2007. We are now, thank God, directly dependent on the Holy Synod in Moscow and not on any group, which may seek to renounce the 2007 Act of Canonical Communion, whose signing we had fought for so hard against all the sectarian opposition of those decades and which we witnessed.
  2. We have been able to concelebrate with all other canonical Orthodox and all other canonical Orthodox have been able to concelebrate with us. We have remained in the mainstream of the Church, from which some had threatened to cut us off, driven by a newly-imported sectarian ideology, diametrically opposed to the Tradition and practices of the Russian Orthodox Church.
  3. In the single parish of Colchester this year we have, helped by the new myrrh, so far carried out 134 baptisms, with some 30 more booked by the end of this year, and 39 carried out in just the last two months.
  4. Thanks to the antimensia we received on 27 August, we have been able to open three new parishes for the salvation of souls. The first, St Edmund’s, which had been closed by the previous bishop for four months (!), situated in Little Abington, Cambridgeshire, opened on 29th August. The second, dedicated to the Holy Trinity, in Bradford, Yorkshire opened on 14th November. The third, Our Lady of Kazan, should, God willing, be opening in Coventry, after many delays caused by covid infections, on 28th November. None of these had been allowed to open before. So, in just three months, three new parishes opened to serve the people, in the east, in the Midlands and in the north, none of which would have opened without our Metropolitan Jean. Now we are investigating for the future what we can do for those who wish to remain faithful to the Russian Orthodox Tradition in the south and in the west. In the south there is a priest who wants to join us from another Local Church and he would be an ideal candidate there. But this will take some months. What about the west? Although we have a network of sister parishes in Oxford, Bristol and Swindon, with whom we are particularly closely linked, as well as our own parishes in Cardiff and Exeter, we need to look after Orthodox who wish to remain in communion with the mainstream and non-sectarian Russian Orthodox Church, but live inbetween these five parishes. Here our plans are advancing, slowly but surely, for it is better to implement something solid, serious and regular, rather than launch into some sort of unstable one-man show which will soon burn itself out.
  5. Given the pro-missionary and pro-pastoral policy of our Archdiocese, our years-long backlog of ordinations will be dealt with next year. A calendar of ordinations is being drawn up. Several excellent and trained candidates are being prepared, two new priests, one new deacon, one new subdeacon and four new readers, even as other new potential candidates appear. Thanks to the excellent financial situation in the Colchester parish with its property, with an income of nearly £70,000 a year, next year, God willing, we will be able to house and employ a second priest full-time, as well as having our two part-time priests. This is essential if we are to cope with the mass of parishioners who come to us, many of them new, seeking our Faith.

Glory to God for all things!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Church or a Sect/Cult?

Introduction: Etymologies

The word for ‘Church’ in Latin languages (Ecclesia, Eglise, Igreja etc and, in English the place-name, Eccles) comes from the Greek word ‘ekklisia’. This is simply because Latin-speakers were converted to Orthodoxy by Greek-speakers – the language of Orthodox in Pagan Rome was Greek until the end of the second century. Thus, English words like church, catholic, lay, deacon, priest, bishop and pope all come from Greek through Latin. ‘Ekklisia’ means those who are all called out (from the world) and so gather together. Interestingly, the word for ‘Church’ in all Germanic and Slavic languages also comes from Greek. Thus, Church, Kirk, Kirche, Tserkov all come from the original Greek ‘kyriakon’, meaning ‘the house of the Lord’, Kyrios. Even the Romanian word for ‘church’, ‘Biserica’ is Greek and is just a form of ‘Basilica’.

The word ‘sect’ comes from the Latin word for ‘cut’. In other words, a sect is a group of people who are ‘cut off’ from others. In the words of contemporary sectarians, they are ‘walled off’. They do not wish to be in communion with others and are not. The word ‘Cult’ comes from the Latin word for cultivate which came to mean worship. In many languages, there is no word for cult, they use the word for sect, whereas in English a cult is specifically a sect led by a leader. A guru, he demands total obedience to himself, whatever the circumstances. Cults are always authoritarian/totalitarian (‘charismatic’ for the naïve convert) with their own exotic ‘convertspeak’ language. This is an esoteric code of specific words and names, demanded of neophytes in order to be admitted as members. For example, ‘temple’ instead of ‘church’, ‘omophor’ instead of ‘jurisdiction’, ‘holy synod’ instead of ‘synod’ etc

The Difference

The Church and a Sect/Cult are precise opposites. The four words which define ‘Church, One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic’ cannot in any way be applied to a sect/cult.

Thus, the Church is defined as ‘One’, whereas a sect/cult is by definition cut off, ‘walled off’ in their jargon, from others and therefore small. Inevitably, there is any number of sects/cults, all the more so because authoritarian leaders demand exclusive devotion to themselves. Divisive by definition, a sect/cult is never One, unlike the Church, which is a gathering. This we can see with various Russian sects like ‘Old Ritualists’, who constantly war among each other and condemn each other. The same sectarian infighting can be seen among Greek ‘Old Calendarists’ and Russian ‘Catacomb’ groups. They are all tiny and are in communion with no-one except their own sect. This is clearly why in the Protestant USA, for example, the more extreme Protestants who are attracted by the idea of Orthodox Christianity end up joining not the Orthodox Church, but ideologically-driven old calendarist sects. A sectarian mentality seeks a sectarian mentality and the ability, like the pharisees, to condemn others. Such groups are notable for their ‘One True Church’ ideologies. The members want to belong to an exclusive group which feeds their pride and is fed by their pride. Humility is not a living reality among them: condemnation of others is.

The Church is ‘Holy’ in the sense that it preaches holiness and therefore produces saints. Sects/cults never produce saints, though they love words like ‘holy’ and ‘sanctity’. Indeed, many of their leaders are monstrous egomaniacs, pedophiles, perverts, maniacs, control freaks and money-grubbers. Their sign is a bullying love of power and a greedy love of money, not the humility that is the sign of holiness.

The Church is ‘Catholic’, meaning ‘according to all’, in other words, the Church has the same Faith at all times and in places. This is not the same as international. For example, the Non-Christian (Arian) Jehovah’s Witnesses sect is international, but its members are the same neophytes with the same insecure psychology, whatever language they speak. There is no diversity among them, rather an artificially imposed unionism or sameness. Arguably, it is also a cult, as the earlier name was ‘Russelites’, as they were founded in the 19th century by a Charles Russell. Here too, we can see that they are not ‘Catholic’, for they have not existed since the time of Christ (Catholic = ‘in all places and at all times’), but are a 19th century invention. Clearly, the same is true of Mormons (invented by Joseph Smith) and Scientologists (invented by L. Ron Hubbard), which are also sects/cults. The same ultimately is true of many Protestant groups, who are named after their founders and are therefore called ‘Lutherans’ and ‘Calvinists’.

The Church is ‘Apostolic’, meaning simply that it goes back to the apostles, who were those sent (apostoloi) by Christ. The Church was not founded by a person, ‘Apollos, Cephas’ or others, but by Christ through the apostles. Not only is the Church apostolic, but it also lives in the spirit of the apostles. Those who are more recent and deny the past are not apostolic. This includes those who are stuck in some previous age and place, Russia before 1917, England in the sixteenth century, Constantinople in the fifteenth century, Western Europe in the eleventh century, Egypt in the fifth century (Miaphysites) etc., are not apostolic. They belong to an organisation, not the Church. The Church is greater than any of us and than whole generations of us. The Church was before us, is now, and will be after us. The Church belongs to Christ, not any of us, laypeople, priests, bishops or patriarchs. We are all merely servants of the Church, of the Body of Christ.

Conclusion

We belong to the Church, not a sect or a cult, and we are in communion with all who confess the Conciliar Faith, as defined by the saints in the Church Councils of the fourth century and as is expressed in the unaltered  Creed of the fifteen Local Orthodox Churches

 

The First 250 Years of Orthodox Suffolk (619-869)

Introduction: After the Romans

Already in Roman times south-eastern Britain was the first area to be settled by mercenaries and then traders (and pirates) of Germanic origin. This was natural as this region neighbours North-Western Europe. Already in the late third century the coastal areas of the south-east were called the ‘Saxon Shore’. For ‘Saxon’ (Scottish ‘Sassenach’) was then a generic term for all Germanic peoples, Saxons, Angles, Frisians, Swabians, Franks, Jutes or Danes, simply because the Saxons were the first to be encountered by others. These peoples had all moved down to the shores of what is now northern France, Belgium and Holland, seeking to cross the narrow sea and settle new land, mainly as a result of the rising sea levels where they had previously lived.

After the Romans had been forced to withdraw completely from Britain by 410, many more from these Germanic peoples sailed across the southern stretches of the North Sea and the Channel in the day or two it took. They had been invited to settle the newly vacated lands, some intermarrying with the descendants of the Ancient Britons, as well as of the various Celtic tribes, who had invaded Britain some 500 years before the Romans. Thus, the Jutes settled in Kent and southern parts of Hampshire, the minority Saxons settled in the south in what became Essex (the Saxons of the East), Sussex (the Saxons of the South) and Wessex (the Saxons of the West) and the majority Angles, who gave their name to the new land, settled most of the country in what became Mercia (the Midlands), Northumbria and East Anglia (Suffolk, Norfolk and eastern Cambridgeshire up to the Rivers Ouse and Cam, though these county names only came into being in the tenth century).

By the sixth century seven English kingdoms, four small (Kent, Essex, Sussex, East Anglia) and three large (Northumbria, Mercia, Wessex), had been formed. In time these would be united and create the united Kingdom of England, though this only really took shape in the tenth century thanks to the foundations laid by the heroic defender of Christian Civilisation, King Alfred the Great (+ 899). Thus, in the mid-sixth century the Kingdom of East Anglia was formed, under a royal dynasty named the Wuffings, named after King Wuffa (+ 578). It had royal centres along the Suffolk coast and the rivers of the ‘Wicklaw’, the territory  subject to the law of the ‘wick’ or trading centre, called Gippeswic (Ipswich), known as ‘the first English town’. The Wicklaw is represented today by south-east Suffolk and includes the Wuffings’ famous burial ground at Sutton Hoo and their ‘hall’ or palace at Rendlesham.

The Baptism of Suffolk

Faith in Christ came northwards to Suffolk from Kent through Essex. Sutton Hoo and the archaeological finds made there bear witness to this. For this location is most probably the site of the burial of King Raedwald, who ruled from 599 to 625 and was the first King of East Anglia to be baptised, though he was hardly practising, as his pagan wife persuaded him otherwise. His baptism took place in the early seventh century in Canterbury, as is recorded by St Bede. His burial site was famously uncovered in 1939.

King Raedwald was succeeded by his surviving son Eorpwald (+ 627), then by an interloper called Ricbert (+ 629) who had murdered Eorpwald directly after his baptism. Ricbert was succeeded by King Raedwald’s stepson, Sigebert, the future saint (+ 635), who had become a Christian in Gaul, where he had been driven into exile by Raedwald. Next came the short-lived King Aethilric (+ 636), a nephew of Raedwald, for both Sigebert and Aethilric were murdered by the pagan Mercian ruler and invader, Penda. St Sigebert was the first practising Christian King of East Anglia and in 631 he welcomed to his Kingdom from Gaul the Burgundian Bishop Felix (+ 647), whom he had met there. Felix was a disciple of the Irish missionary St Columban and would become the Apostle of East Anglia.

It has now been established that Bishop Felix most likely began his mission in south-east Suffolk at the old Roman fortress (called ‘Burgh’ in Old English and ‘Dommoc’ in Celtic). This is now Felixstowe, the town much later named after the saint. This is not far from the royal centre in Rendlesham, where the Kings of East Anglia lived and where a church, probably founded by Bishop Felix, was dedicated to St Gregory the Great, the Apostle of the English. From here Bishop Felix worked along the rivers. First, he sailed north-westwards along the valley of the River Orwell/Gipping in Ipswich (with a church dedicated to St Peter), and westwards along the River Stour in Sudbury (a church dedicated to St Gregory) in south Suffolk.

A second area of coastal mission was at the north-east Suffolk royal centre in Blythburgh, dedicated to the Holy Trinity, and then further north by the  Suffolk border near Flixton. He also established a church dedicated to the Mother of God in nearby South Elmham, others dedicated to St Michael at Oulton and to St Andrew at a second place called Flixton, this one near Lowestoft. Next he founded another church at Reedham across today’s border in Norfolk. (Both Flixtons were probably named after St Felix). Thirdly, he founded a monastery in the fens at Soham, now in Cambridgeshire, near the royal centre in Exning in Suffolk and perhaps also found a church in what is now Cambridge (also dedicated to St Peter?). Finally, he established churches along the rivers in north-west Norfolk at Babingley (now dedicated to St Felix) and Shernborne (Sts Peter and Paul).

King Anna and Family

From 636 to 654 there came the rule of King Anna, King Aethelric’s brother, whose wife was probably a relative (a grand-daughter?) of the earlier King of Essex, Saebert (+ c. 615). Anna lived mostly at the royal centre at Exning, guarding the Suffolk border of East Anglia against the Mercians. Anna was the father of a dynasty of saints who, following on from Bishop Felix, Christianised East Anglia. The most famous of these is St Audrey (Aethelthryth) (+ 679), baptised by Bishop Felix in Exning. She became famous as the Abbess of Ely just across the Suffolk border in what is now Cambridgeshire, and had fenland disciples there like the priest St Huna of Chatteris and St Owin of Haddenham.

St Audrey had other saintly sisters. These were: Seaxburgh, Abbess of Minster in Sheppey in Kent, Withburgh, the hermitess of Dereham in Norfolk (+ 743, aged about 90), and Ethelburgh and a stepsister, St Saethrith, who both lived in the convent of St Fara in what is now France. She also had a brother, St Jurmin (Eormen). He was murdered in Blythburgh in Suffolk and his relics were enshrined in Bedricsworth, later called Bury St Edmunds. Another saint, Wendreda (Cwendrith), to whom is dedicated the church in fenland March, may have been connected to the family.

St Felix was succeeded by Bishop Thomas and then Bishop Boniface. After King Anna, killed in battle by Penda of Mercia, together with his son Jurmin in 654, came briefly Anna’s brother King Aethelhere (654). He was also killed in battle by Penda, though Penda died in the same battle. Next came King Aethelwald (654-664), the fourth and last nephew of Raedwald. He assured the Church bonds with the kingdoms of Essex and Kent. Indeed, in about 660 St Cedd of Essex baptised the King of Essex at Rendlesham, King Aethelwald perhaps standing as godfather.

It was in this year of 654 that St Botolph (Botwulf) (+ 674) founded a monastery on a promontory or ‘hoo’ (as in Sutton Hoo) at Iken by the River Alde near the Suffolk coast. From here he went out and founded other churches both dedicated to Sts Peter and Paul, possibly these are the churches at Eye and Hoxne, which also later became church centres in their own right. The village of Botesdale in Suffolk is also named after the saint. This is not far from where the Irish ascetic St Fursa (Fursey) and his disciples, like St Foillan, St Utan and St Dicul (of Dickleburgh in Norfolk), had earlier laboured in a monastery, probably at Burgh Castle by the south-eastern coast of Norfolk. Fursa had made his way to France before 651 when all the remaining monks with Foillan were driven out by the long-lived pagan Mercian invader, Penda.

Consolidation and Missionary Work (664-749)

With the death of King Aethelwald in 664, there came to an end the 35-year long reigns of the four nephews of King Raedwald. There now came a long period of peace and consolidation under two East Anglian rulers, father and son, the two reigns totalling 85 years, so giving continuity. The first was King Aldwulf (664-713), son of King Aethilric (+ 636), with a reign of 49 years. During the reign of King Aldwulf, East Anglia was divided into two dioceses, with a see in south-east Suffolk at what is now Felixstowe, and in north-east Suffolk, probably at what is now South Elmham (then called Helmham). Probably in the ninth century this centre was transferred to what is now called North Elmham, not so far away in south Norfolk.

It was in this period that the port of Gipeswic (Ipswich) developed as a great trading centre, facing the northern Continent, the Rhine and Scandinavia across the North Sea. In fact, this Sea could perhaps better be viewed as a lake, on whose western shore lies Ipswich. Two more churches, dedicated to the Mother of God and St Augustine, were built here. Pottery, now known as ‘Ipswich Ware’, was made, ships were built and textiles, jewellery, leatherware, antlerware and baskets were manufactured. Frisian merchants were very active, as Ipswich was the commercial centre of East Anglia. ‘Gipeswic’, the third biggest English port and trading centre (‘wic’) after London (‘Lundenwic’) and York (‘Eoforwic’) and situated between them.

In this way East Anglia also became one of the most important centres for missionary work for north-western Europe. Thus, the local veneration for St Botolph was taken there and later reached Scandinavia and from there Kiev, making him a patron saint of travellers. Later an English missionary to Utrecht called St Eadwulf (later deformed into Adulf), possibly related to St Botolph (Botwulf), also reposed at Iken.

During the reign of King Aldwulf’s son, King Aelfwald (713-749), developments went further. East Anglia controlled its economy, developed international trade and towns, promoting churches, monasteries and literacy, sending forth its light into the world, breathing the Gospel both into Mercia to the west and to north-western Europe, to the east. Thus, in 714 Aelfwald’s sister, Edburgh, who may have been identical with St Edburgh, Abbess of Minster in Thanet in Kent, provided a coffin for the great fen ascetic, the Mercian Guthlac of Crowland. Aelfwald himself commissioned the Life of the saint, written by a certain monk Felix, the name suggesting his East Anglian origins. At the same time King Aelfwald of East Anglia, with its two bishops in Felixstowe and South Elmham, helped the Mercian King Aethelbald to power after the death of the evil King of Mercia, Ceolred, in 716.

His sister Edburgh continued to play an important role and is believed to have become Abbess of Ely and then went to Minster in Kent, if she is indeed identical to the Abbess of Minster. In any case in the thirteenth century a chapel dedicated to her, St Edburgh, is recorded at Thornham in north mid-Suffolk. Abbess Edburgh came under the influence of the great English missionary Boniface of Crediton and became one of his most devoted disciples. Boniface, born in c. 675, had first gone to Friesland as a missionary in 716 and was to spend most of the next almost forty years in what is now western Germany, Luxembourg and Holland, totally reorganising the Church of the Franks and becoming the ‘Apostle of the Germans’.

King Aelfwald’s Achievements And After

Under King Aelfwald, East Anglian mints began to issue more and more coins. Ipswich, facing north-western Europe, became even more important, as Aelfwald laid out a new town on a rectangular grid pattern, the plan of which is visible today. Potteries were in full production and long continued this production, being the most important pottery centre in south-east England. There was a busy market, butchers and bakers’ shops and workshops for making clothing, saddlery, bagpipes, shoes and combs, as well as for metalwork and timber construction, of carts for example. In the centre of the town (where now stands the Town Hall) a church dedicated to St Mildred of Minster in Thanet in Kent was built. The link to her would be through King Aelfwald’s sister, Abbess Edburgh, who we believe succeeded St Mildred as Abbess of MInster in Kent. About this time a church in Utrecht was also dedicated to St Mildred, and this must also have been the result of the direct connection with the port of Ipswich.

Ipswich, between the ports of London and York, presented East Anglian commerce and culture directly to the Rhine mouth ports, among them Utrecht. Abbess Edburgh of Minster maintained her close friendship with St Boniface throughout his correspondence. As Abbess of Minster in Thanet, as we believe, she was the teacher of his closest companion, Leoba, who was buried with St Boniface in Fulda in what is now Germany. If Abbess Edburgh (+ 751) is synonomous with the East Anglian King’s sister, she represents the high point of East Anglian royal culture in Kent, through her knowledge of the Scriptures, poetry, calligraphy and her connections with Ely. She had a command of Latin and a good understanding of theology, like her brother, as is witnessed to by a surviving letter from him, probably taken to St Boniface by ship from Ipswich. Thus, Aelfwald’s kingdom had one of the major ports of the North Sea coastal rim, a new urban centre with a pottery quarter and industry, a minting organisation, several monasteries and two dioceses, all under royal patronage.

However, King Aelfwald had no successor and little East Anglia began to slip under the dominance of a much larger Anglian Kingdom, that of Mercia, the Midlands. Thus, Aelfwald was succeeded by a certain Beonna and Aethelberht who divided the Kingdom between them, perhaps one in what we now call Suffolk and the other in what became Norfolk. Then came a King Aethelred who was based in what later became Bury St Edmunds. However, all this time real power lay in the hands of King Offa of Mercia (c.765-796). Nevertheless, at this time the monastic centre in Brandon assumed importance, perhaps with Offa’s patronage.

Next there appeared the figure of the son of King Aethelred, King Aethelbert (Albright). He seems to have come to power after his father in the 780s and pursued a line, independent of Mercia. However, in 794 this King Aethelbert was beheaded outside Hereford in western Mercia, presumably by King Offa, and ever after venerated as a martyr with many dedications of churches in Suffolk, especially at Hoxne and near Ipswich at Albrighteston (named after him) and near Felixstowe, but also across the Suffolk borders, to the north in Norfolk and to the south in Essex. After this royal murder, Offa invaded East Anglia and subdued it after a battle at Blood Hill, near Claydon outside Ipswich.

St Aethelbert was succeeded by a new puppet of Mercia, King Edwald, who reigned at least into the 810s. The next shadowy figures who emerge are a King Athelstan (c. 821-845), still it seems under Mercian patronage, who had faced an attack from the Danish Vikings in 841, and then a King Athelwerd (c. 845-855). Viking attacks were to be faced again, this time by the greatest East Anglian of them all, King Edmund (841-869).

King Edmund

Of royal origin, Edmund was born on Christmas Day 841 and was brought up in piety. ‘From his earliest youth, he followed Christ wholeheartedly’. In particular the young Edmund learned to love the name of Christ, which was to go with him all his life. He learned to read and began to learn the Psalter by heart. Edmund was called to become King in 855, aged only fourteen. Chosen King at what is now Caistor St Edmund, just to the south of Norwich, in 856 Edmund was probably anointed and crowned King of East Anglia at Bures on the border of Suffolk and Essex. This town commanded the strategic crossing-place over the river between East Anglia and Essex.

‘Edmund the blessed, King of the East Angles, was wise and honourable, and always glorified by his noble conduct before Almighty God. He was humble and devout, and continued so steadfast that he would not yield to shameful sins, nor in any way did he bend aside his conduct, but was always mindful of the true teaching…. He was bountiful to the poor and to widows even like a father and always benignly led his people to righteousness, and controlled the violent and lived happily in the true faith’. So reads the Life of St Edmund written in the tenth century, which concludes: ‘He was raised up by God to be the defender of His Church’.

It was into this world that in 865 the storm broke. The storm consisted of a full-scale Viking invasion, some twenty-thousand strong, which landed on the Suffolk coast, but then went north towards York. It may be that at this time Edmund rebuilt the great earthworks to the south-west of his Kingdom near Little Abington, now in Cambridgeshire, a stretch of which is known as ‘St. Edmund’s Ditch’ and at its northern end there is an area called ‘St. Edmund’s Fen’. In any case, he fought alongside his friend, the future King Alfred the Great, in Nottingham. In 869 the Vikings reappeared and in the late autumn a pitched battle took place between them and Edmund’s forces at Thetford in southern Norfolk.

Edmund was victorious, but at great cost. Now outmatched, Edmund retreated almost certainly towards the centre at Hoxne in north Suffolk. The Vikings offered peace – at a price. A messenger came with the offer, an offer which meant the Christian Edmund becoming an under-king to the pagans. It is clear that he would neither see himself become the puppet ruler of pagans, nor would he flee from possible martyrdom. His reply to the messenger was: ‘I shall not submit to a pagan master for the love of earthly life; first you must accept our holy faith’. ‘I have vowed to live under Christ, to live under Christ alone, to reign under Christ alone’.

It would also seem that Edmund saw the possibility that in his own death his Kingdom might find peace: ‘I alone should die for my people, that the whole nation should not perish’. The Vikings now advanced on Hoxne. They surrounded Edmund who wished to imitate Christ, Who forbade Peter to use arms. The Vikings ‘bound Edmund and shamefully insulted him, beating him with clubs’. They tried to make Edmund renounce his Faith: ‘Living or dead, nothing shall separate me from the love of Christ. Christ’s Faith was his mighty shield’. ‘Then they led the faithful King to a tree and bound him to it tightly. Afterwards they whipped him for a long time and he always called with true faith on Christ the Saviour.

Saint Edmund

As a result of his faith and his calling on Christ to help him, the pagans became furious. They shot at him with arrows as if for their pleasure until he bristled with them, like St Sebastian. When the seamen saw that the noble king would not deny Christ but called on Him with steadfast faith, they beheaded him’. ‘His soul departed joyfully to Christ’. His last words were ‘Jesus! Jesus!’. It was Monday 20 November 869. Edmund was not yet twenty-eight years old; he had reigned for less than thirteen years. Thus he exchanged an earthly crown for a heavenly one, exchanging Kingdom for Martyrdom. After killing the King at Hoxne, the Vikings returned to their ships, throwing into thick brambles the head, which they had taken ‘that it might not be buried’. The story continues: ‘Then some time after they had gone, country folk came and were very sad, especially because they had not the head with the body’.

According to tradition, forty days later, on 30 December 869, their search was rewarded. In their desperation the searchers cried out, ‘Where are you?’ Incredibly they received an answer, which to them sounded like, ‘Here, here, here’. Following the sounds they found a grey wolf (Edmund’s own wolfhound?) guarding the head between its paws: ‘They were astonished…and carried the head home with them….; but the wolf followed on with the head, as if he were tame, and then turned back again into the wood’. Symbolically the wolf had been converted by St Edmund’s sacrifice, just as the sea-wolves, the Vikings, would also be converted by their victim. ‘Then the country folk laid the head by the holy body, and buried him with haste as best they could, and full soon built a church over him’.

The miracle of Edmund’s sacrifice was that within nine years the ‘sea-wolves’ who had martyred him were accepting the Christian Faith. Miraculously, the first Christian King of East Anglia after St Edmund was a former Viking, baptised Athelstan – the blood of martyrs had triumphed over enmity. Meanwhile, the lowly wooden chapel in Hoxne, where Edmund’s remains had been buried, witnessed miracles. ‘Wonders were often worked at the chapel where he was buried. At night some of the faithful would notice a column of light hovering over the shrine from evening until dawn. Then, one night a blind man and a boy who led him came through the woods. Lost, they saw a building, which they were glad to enter for the night. But once inside, they stumbled onto the grave and realised that this building contained a tomb. Nevertheless, they decided to stay. Hardly had they fallen asleep when they awoke, a column of light shining before them. At dawn the blind man awoke and for the first time in his life he saw day break. The miracle was told to others – a man blind from birth had regained his sight.

Already by 895 King Alfred had minted coins bearing the image of ‘St Edmund the King’. Other coins had also been struck, through the ironies of Providence, by Vikings, styling Edmund ‘Saint’. But it was not until 902, according to some traditions, that the Bishop who was responsible for war-torn East Anglia resolved to move the body of St Edmund to a more worthy place, to Bedricsworth, now called Bury St Edmunds. It lay and lies exactly at the centre of a cross drawn over the four counties of Eastern England, Norfolk, Suffolk, Cambridgeshire and Essex.

The Bishop with his clergy proceeded the twenty-five miles to Hoxne to fetch the relics. On opening the coffin, they were amazed for they saw not bones and dust, but their martyred King Edmund, his body incorrupt as if asleep and his head united with his body – only a threadlike seam around the neck bore witness to his beheading. The arrow wounds had also healed. ‘The devout multitude carried the body to the shrine in the new church, there to await in the same peaceful sleep the joys of the resurrection. In this manner took place the first translation of St Edmund, thirty-three years after his burial.

Conclusion: King and Martyr

As regards the church at Bedricsworth we are told that it was enriched with gold and silver in the saint’s honour. Indeed such was the veneration of the Royal Martyr Edmund at Bedricsworth, that the town was variously called ‘St Edmundstowe’, ‘Edmundston’ and ‘Kingston’ before becoming Bury St Edmunds. From this time on the monastery of St Edmund became richer. By 1044 its ‘liberty’ or patrimony came to include a third of Suffolk, including all of West Suffolk. Pilgrims began to come in great numbers and pilgrim ways developed, especially the road to Newmarket and the London road. Later, pilgrims brought in a pious custom of kneeling as soon as they caught sight of the monastery and then walking the last mile barefoot.

St Edmund became a national hero and his name, meaning ‘blessed protection’, became a reality as he was adopted as England’s Patron Saint, ‘a terrible defender of his own’, as we have seen again and again in recent times also, including in Little Abington, where now stands an Orthodox church in his honour. He was a very popular saint, with over sixty churches dedicated to him. Both after the First Reformation of the Roman Catholic Norman Conquest in 1066, when men became less sincere and righteous in their faith and miracles fewer, and also after the Protestant Second Reformation in the sixteenth century, when they tried to erase Edmund’s name from the land, there have still been those who keep St Edmund in their hearts and minds.

St Edmund’s martyrdom ended the periods of foundation and then of the consolidation of the Faith which had been brought to Suffolk two and a half centuries before, with the baptism of King Raedwald. After the Martyr-King of East Anglia, Christianity developed anew as the Faith of England and the English, unchallenged for 200 years until the fateful year of 1066, after which all changed. Edmund King and Martyr is the culminating example of the greatest era of English Orthodox Christianity and his martyrdom is the consecrated symbol of its passing. For the Church is confirmed by the blood of the martyrs.

Archpriest Andrew Phillips

St Felix Orthodox Church,

Felixstowe,

Suffolk

4 November 2021

 

Reflections on an International Scandal

When on Wednesday 27 October, Bishop Irenei (Steenberg) issued his threats to defrock the 16 clergy who had quit his schism and found refuge in a canonical Diocese of the Moscow Patriarchate, we were forced to respond, after two months of self-imposed silence and being slandered. We had never wanted the issue to enter the public domain but others had done so, forcing us to reply publicly. Thus, with the specific blessing of Metropolitan Jean of Dubna, we issued our collective Statement on Thursday 28 October. This transformed the misinformation and misunderstandings that had prevailed among those who did not know the truth. One well-known Russian Orthodox priest in Continental Western Europe called the Statement, ‘a cornerstone of contemporary Orthodox theology’

Since then a well-known Metropolitan in the Diaspora and also friend (not Metropolitan Jean) has read the article. He wrote that ‘A sectarian mindset is, unfortunately, still present in parts of ROCOR and it is a real issue.  I don’t know how much the bishops recognize the danger for what it is. I also believe it can destroy ROCOR if it is not addressed…’

As regards this following article, he has added: ‘I think your article is sound, and I understand exactly where you are coming from. Parts of ROCOR are divided not only by sectarian-minded zealots, but by ethnophyletists. Our missionary outreach is hampered by ethnophyletists,  and our witness to Orthodoxy is distorted by zealotry and an exclusivism alien to the catholic tradition of the Orthodox Church. The Church’s mission is to embrace all people, and bring them to the knowledge of the Truth: the God-man Jesus Christ’.

Now, on Wednesday 3 November, we publish this:

 

Reflections on an International Scandal

‘Blessed are you when men shall revile you and persecute you and say all manner of evil against you falsely for my sake. Rejoice and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets who were before you’.

Matt. 5, 11-12

Think not that I have come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword.

(Matt. 10, 34)

For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.

Ephesians 6, 12

On the afternoon of 23 August 2021 a long-awaited, two-hour long, last-ditch meeting for Inter-Orthodox reconciliation, planned since March 2021, was held in Geneva. This was attended by Metropolitan Antony, head of the Patriarchal Exarchate of Western Europe and representative of His Holiness Patriarch Kyrill, Metropolitan Jean of Dubna of the Archdiocese of Churches of the Russian Tradition in Western Europe and two ROCOR bishops, Metropolitan Mark of Berlin and Bishop Irenei of London. The subject was the schism of ROCOR which had begun in Great Britain at the beginning of 2021. To our great regret, no agreement was reached and the meeting was ‘very difficult’.  

Thus, on the evening of 23 August 2021, nearly 5,000 Orthodox from nine ROCOR parishes, served by sixteen ROCOR clergy in Great Britain, just over one quarter of the Western European Diocese of ROCOR and half of ROCOR in England, in unswerving loyalty and obedience to the Russian Orthodox Tradition, refused to remain in the Irenei schism. Therefore we transferred to the local Deanery of the Archdiocese of Churches of the Russian Tradition in Western Europe, led by Metropolitan Jean of Dubna within the Patriarchate of Moscow. Faced with the choice of remaining in schism by being loyal to a few recent and uninstructed converts, who had never lived in ROCOR before and during the events of 2006 and 2007, let alone the decades before them, or else of being faithful to His Holiness Patriarch Kyrill and his 400 bishops, we chose the latter course.

Quo Vadis, ROCOR? 

Since 2007, ROCOR has been in crisis. The crisis has been an identity crisis. The question was: What makes ROCOR different, now that it is an integral part of the Russian Orthodox Church? For if there is no longer any difference, ROCOR may as well abolish itself. My own very clear answer, and this from the very beginning, was that ROCOR, with its liturgical and monastic traditions and local knowledge, was now called to be, what its best representatives, like St John of Shanghai or Metr Anastasy, had said. This was to be the contributor, perhaps in some cases the main contributor, to the foundation of new Local Churches, in North America, South America, Oceania and Western Europe. Others had other answers, which were pridefully sectarian and even cultish, and certainly ideological, and declared, for example, that the clergy of the Patriarchal Church in today’s Russia and surrounding lands, ‘do not know how to celebrate the Liturgy and only we do, as we alone hold the Tradition’. Recent events suggest that our answer was the correct one, that we must always choose correctly between the Church and a sect, however isolated you may at first appear to be and whatever the opposition is. Christian principles are greater than human cowardice and we do not respect Pontius Pilate.

  1. The Transferring Parishes and Clergy. 

The nine transferring parishes include two which have come to own their churches outright despite historic opposition to missionary work outside London, and seven which rent properties. Among these nine churches is the largest Russian Orthodox church building in the British Isles and Ireland, possibly in Western Europe. These parishes are frequented by nearly 5,000 Orthodox of 24 different nationalities and carry out almost 200 baptisms per year. The sixteen transferring clergy, three of whom were Western rite and under uncanonical persecution (St John brought in the Western rite), had come to exactly the same conclusions in three separate groups at three separate times, quite independently of each other, were made up of seven priests, two deacons and seven readers.

The group of clergy is multinational, with priests of five different nationalities and deacons and readers of six different nationalities. Five of the priests are seminary-educated. The two Moldovan priests in the group of seven had refused to join ROCOR and so joined us five, as they were and are in full accord with our theological and missionary vision of the Church. One deacon and one reader await priestly ordination, whilst another reader awaits diaconal ordination. This will make a group of nine priests, three deacons and four readers, with several other candidates waiting to be readers and subdeacons. We have joined an already existing group of seven parishes, ten priests and three deacons in the British Isles. All are part of the local Deanery of the Archdiocese of Churches of the Russian Tradition in Western Europe under the Paris-based Metropolitan John of Dubna and his two vicar-bishops, making 29 clergy in all. We have been asked why we transferred to the Archdiocese.

  1. The Background of ROCOR: The Need to Go from Canonical Communion to Full Unity.

The background for this transfer lies in the global contraction of ROCOR over the last 50 years of its 100-year history and in the recent reunification of Russian Orthodoxy in Western Europe.

The significant contraction began as the older generation died out without passing on the Faith to their assimilated descendants and the pastoral failure of parishes to use local languages. It was deepened by the loss of parishes in Africa on decolonisation, and then the Donatist (in the words of the unworldly and saintly Metr Philaret of New York) old calendarist splits in the USA in 1986 and later in France. Then there was the 2000-2001 extreme right-wing political split in Western Europe with Bishop Barnabas and others. 2007 saw the multiple splits from ROCOR of nearly all the parishes in South America, the Convent of Lesna in France, the Brookwood Monastery and Annunciation Convent in England, and also Bishop Agafangel and his house-chapels in the Ukraine. All of these formed or joined uncanonical ultra-conservative sects.

However, the contraction has continued in positive ways more recently. Thus, in November 2019 ROCOR voluntarily gave up its parishes in Indonesia to the South-East Asian Exarchate of the ROC. Now, in 2021, ROCOR parishes in England have approached the Western European Exarchate of the ROC by joining the Russian Orthodox Archdiocese of Western Europe. If one day there is an independent Exarchate for Oceania under the ROC, as His Holiness suggested some years ago, this will leave ROCOR as a North American body, as it already very much is. (As an example of this spirit, the Fund for Assistance to ROCOR openly stated on 30/7/21 that ‘your gift is necessary to maintain the Fund for Assistance to ROCOR as the vital resource the Russian Orthodox community in the U.S. depends on’; it seems that Western Europe is no longer part of ROCOR).

ROCOR will then surely have to negotiate in a spirit of humility with the OCA and the Patriarchal parishes in North America to unite and at long last form together a single autocephalous North American Orthodox Church (NAOC), both truly Orthodox and also truly Local. If all groups can overcome polarising, political, sectarian and secular extremes, both new calendarist and old calendarist, this would form the only organisation that could stand up to the Phanar and its plans for a semi-Orthodox ‘Autocephalous’ American Orthodox Church there.

Following the signing of the Act of Canonical Communion in 2007, of which one of us was an eyewitness and had long struggled for it against all odds, here in Western Europe we all clearly realised that ROCOR locally was a small minority and could only survive by setting up a broad-based missionary Metropolia of Western Europe, a concept one of us had been promoting since 1988. However, the Patriarchal suggestion that ROCOR do so was rejected and, instead, in December 2018 Moscow was forced to set up an Exarchate of Western Europe without ROCOR. In 2019 this Exarchate, 60% of the Russian Orthodox presence in Western Europe, if we include Germany, or 300 parishes, was reinforced by the multinational Archdiocese of Western Europe, now nearly 100 parishes.

For 58% of the old liberal and even modernistic Exarchate had two years ago left Constantinople, with its ecumenist and modernist errors, and returned cleansed to the Mother Church, being renamed the Archdiocese. This was a long-awaited turning-point and victory for us, as we had fought for this very moment without ceasing for 30 years. Yes, indeed, we had been very critical of the old modernist Phanariot Exarchate, but we were utterly devoted to the Russian Orthodox Archdiocese – two quite clearly separate and different organisations. Unity with the Mother-Church had become possible thanks to the courage of its Archpastor, Metr Jean (Renneteau), who had been a humble parish priest for 37 years before being made a hierarch. We warmly congratulated him in December 2019 in several articles of that time. It meant that the ball was again in ROCOR’s now isolated court.

Thus, over 80% of Russian Orthodox bishops, clergy and parishes of all nationalities in Western Europe (which geographically obviously includes Germany) now work closely with His Holiness in the great work of laying the foundations for a future Local Church of Western Europe, as put forward by His Holiness Patriarch Alexiy II in 2003. ‘B дальнейшем структура митрополичьего округа могла бы стать хорошим основанием для образования в Западной Европе своей Поместной Церкви’. (https://www.sedmitza.ru/text/444993.html). (“In the future, the structure of a metropolitan district could become a good basis for the formation of its Local Church in Western Europe.”).

The present Patriarch, then Metropolitan, added : ‘Надеемся, что самоуправляемый Митрополичий округ, объединяющий всех верных русской православной традиции в странах Западной Европы, в угодное Богу время послужит основанием грядущего канонического устроения многонациональной Поместной Православной Церкви в Западной Европе, созидающейся в духе соборности всеми православными верующими, пребывающими в этих странах’. (http://www.patriarchia.ru/db/text/ 423147.html). (“We hope that the self-governing Metropolitan District, uniting all the faithful of the Russian Orthodox tradition in the countries of Western Europe, in a time pleasing to God, will serve as the basis for the future canonical establishment of a multinational Local Orthodox Church in Western Europe, being created in the spirit of conciliarity by all Orthodox believers residing in these countries.”)

Together the Patriarchal Western European Exarchate and the Western European Archdiocese enjoy the close relations necessary to further the realisation of Patriarch Alexiy’s and Patriarch Kyrill’s (and our) vision of a Local Orthodox Church of Western Europe. Of the remaining 20% of Russian Orthodox bishops, clergy and parishes in Western Europe, about 5% belong to the ROCOR Western European Diocese and about 15% to the ROCOR German Diocese. These two dioceses have become increasingly isolated from mainstream Russian Orthodox unity and the past traditions of ROCOR, much to our distress. Even more there appear to be elements of Russophobia among their leadership. (See: https://ireneifiles.wixsite.com/home).

ROCOR was much weakened in Western Europe by recent splits (not reported in the USA) and what were perceived by grassroots parishioners, often pillars of the Church, as terrible and unresolved injustices in the London and Geneva parishes. The latter situation has led to continuing court cases and to a brief arrest. In December 2018 ROCOR categorically rejected a way out of all this in the form of an offer from His Holiness Patriarch Kyrill. This offer was to exchange Patriarchal parishes in North America for ROCOR parishes in Western Europe, an offer that was renewed by an envoy to New York in July 2021. This offer had seemed eminently logical and desirable to all of us and we were very disappointed that it had been rejected.

After all, the Patriarchal bishop responsible for Patriarchal parishes in North America was a British citizen of Russian origin living in London and with experience in Italy, who understood the different European mentalities very well. On the other hand, the ROCOR bishop for Western Europe was a US citizen living in London, one who — although clearly possessing qualities suited to dealing with American college students converting from a politically highly conservative White US Protestant background — was not well-disposed to engaging with local British or European people, especially from non-academic walks of life. Their variously English or European and Russian mentalities are generally radically different from the American approaches. We certainly need a bishop who understands the local cultures and local people, and not one from a different Continent, with little knowledge of the ways in which the geographies, histories and mentalities of the non-academic and non-Protestant peoples around him vastly differ from his own.

Thus, in contrast to the global retreat of ROCOR, recent years have seen a substantial unification of Russian Orthodoxy in Western Europe. As we have said above, in 2003 Patriarch Alexiy II of Moscow had indicated the need to establish a Local Church of Western Europe, unencumbered by the canonical aberrations of overlapping dioceses and jurisdictions on the same territory. In 2018, the Moscow Patriarchate began unifying its dioceses and parishes in Western Europe by integrating them into the new Russian Exarchate for Western Europe, centred in Paris. And then in 2019 this was joined by the Archdiocese of Western Europe, directly under the Synod in Moscow, not in distant New York.

Given both the global retreat of ROCOR to North America, and the substantial unity of Western European Russian Orthodoxy within the Moscow Patriarchate, the natural and inevitable path for all ROCOR dioceses and parishes in Western European lands is that of unification with the main body of Russian Orthodoxy under His Holiness. The anachronistic separation and artificial differentiation from it through the imposition of a novel and alien sacramental theology, which is not part of the Russian Orthodox Tradition is clearly unhelpful. Moreover, it is contrary to the spirit and substance of the Act of Canonical Communion of 2007. The need for a united common front under His Holiness has become all the more vital since US-backed Phanariots started on their aggressive, uncanonical, schismatic and modernistic policies in the Ukraine in 2019 and elsewhere. Those who oppose unity are, consciously or unconsciously, playing into the hands of the Phanariots and their political and financial backers in Washington.

  1. The New ROCOR Theology and Traditional Russian Orthodox Theology. 

In Cardiff in December 2020, the Archdiocese of Churches of the Russian Tradition in Western Europe received a former Greek Catholic priest, Fr Jacob (James) Siemens, into Orthodoxy. In line with the standard practice and with the blessing of the Russian Orthodox Church, Fr Jacob was received in his orders by concelebration. In response to this reception on 23 January 2021, the Bishop of ROCOR’s Western European Diocese published his notice № 359/E, in which he decreed that all members of ROCOR – both clergy and laity – are “forbidden to approach or participate in any rites or supposed ‘sacraments’ performed by Dr [sic] Siemens … or any who may concelebrate with or in the same.” As Fr Jacob Siemens clearly concelebrates with his own Bishop, Metropolitan John of Dubna, the head of the Archdiocese of Churches of the Russian Tradition in Western Europe, this decree effectively created a permanent schism in which clergy and faithful of ROCOR in Western Europe are no longer de facto in sacramental communion with the Russian Orthodox Archdiocese of Western Europe.

A month after this, on 23 February 2021, by his Notice No 390/E the ROCOR bishop implied that the hierarchs of the Russian Orthodox Church are guilty of ‘spiritual deception’, writing that: ‘Baptism’ performed by a non-priest is not Baptism; ‘confession’ performed by a non-priest is not sacramental Confession; the ‘liturgy’ celebrated by a non-priest is not the Divine Liturgy and those who approach a chalice offered therein do not receive Christ’s precious Body or Blood, whatever may be said by the individual offering it or those in authority over him. This is but spiritual deception …”. The implications of these words were far-reaching and very, very grave, as they concern the whole of the Russian Orthodox Church from top to bottom. And not only because the interference in the affairs of another diocese violates the most basic Apostolic Canons, to which wrong of interference was added this other wrong, of creating a schism, and, as we know, two wrongs do not make a right.

The ban included any concelebration or communion for laypeople with the whole Archdiocese in the British Isles. Clearly, clergy and members of ROCOR in Western Europe had to decide whether to fall into a basically sectarian separation from the Russian Orthodox Church, or whether to reject such separation and seek unity in the Russian Orthodox Church in Western Europe. Everything we had fought for most of our lives, the reintegration of ROCOR into the Mother Church, once it had been freed from Bolshevism, had been destroyed in one act of what is in fact schism. This was a turning-point for all of us. We cannot do missionary work when we are in a sectarian schism. For nobody but sectarians will join a sect. And all of this does not even take into account that this whole affair amounted to gross interference in the affairs of another diocese, despite the Canons of the Holy Apostles.

Last March we therefore informed the person responsible, who appeared to be totally unaware of – or in denial of – the historical facts, that the reception of Greek Catholic priests in their orders had been the Tradition of the Russian Church long before the Revolution, as witnessed by the Great Synod of Moscow in 1666–67. This went back to Canon 95 In Trullo, which states that Arians and other heretics could be received by chrismation, not that this means a recognition of their sacraments, but the desire to ease their return to the Church. As the future Patriarch Sergius, then the disciple of the great theologian and canonist Metr Antony (Khrapovitsky), put it :

‘Если во втором чиноприеме инославный принимается чрез миропомазание, это отнюдь не значит, чтобы крещение, полученное им в инославии, признавалось действительным, а только то, что, не повторяя формы крещения из снисхождения, Церковь преподает принимаемому благодать крещения вместе с миропомазанием и под его формою. Точно так же если, например, латинский или армянский священник принимается третьим чином, чрез покаяние, в сущем сане, то это значит, что под формой покаяния ему преподаются сразу все нужные Таинства: и крещение, и миропомазание, и хиротония’. (https://www.portal-slovo.ru/theology/38937.php). (‘If the heterodox is accepted through chrismation by the second rite, this does not mean that the baptism received by him in heterodoxy is recognized as valid, but only that, without repeating the forms of baptism out of condescension, the Church presents to him who has been accepted the grace of baptism together with chrismation and under its form. Similarly, if, for example, a Latin or Armenian priest is accepted by the third rite, through repentance, in his present rank, it means that under the form of repentance he is granted all the necessary sacraments at once: baptism, chrismation, and consecration’).

Thus also, at the first session of the Seventh Universal Council it was decided to receive iconoclast bishops in their orders on the insistence of St Tarasius, Patriarch of Constantinople. As the great founder of the old ROCOR Metr Antony (Khrapovitsky) commented: ‘Patriarch Tarasius taught us by his example how attached we should be to the peace of the Church’. For the first celebration with an Orthodox bishop serves as a valid ordination for him who was outside the Church. (Письма Блаженнѣйшаго Митрополита Антонiя (Храповицкаго) Jordanville 1988, p. 202).

The future St Tikhon received Carpatho-Russian priests in this way in North America. His predecessor received St Alexis (Toth) (Американский период жизни и деятельности святителя Тихона Московского 1898-1907 гг. (azbyka.ru)) in this way, just as St John of Kronstadt received the future Empress-Martyr Alexandra by chrismation. Those who claim the contrary and even dare call this ‘canonically dubious’, are denying the sacraments of today’s OCA. This is the normal practice of the Russian Orthodox Church today (Hieroschemamonk Gabriel (Bunge) was received like this in Western Europe) and in the Ukraine, as also it has been the constant practice of the now Archdiocese of Western Europe (Metr Evlogy in Nantes in the 1930s, Archbp George (Wagner) in Paris in the 1980s). See also : HTC: The Reception of Heretic Laity and Clergy Into the Orthodox Church (holy-trinity.org).

We informed him also that, like the rest of the Russian Orthodox Church, the ever-memorable Archbishop Antony of Geneva of the old and traditional Western European ROCOR diocese had received baptised Protestants by chrismation and received confirmed Catholics by confession and that old calendarist practices from the USA are not part of our Russian Orthodox Tradition. However, we the local people, who knew the facts, some of us from nearly five decades of pastoral experience, were not believed. However, the older generation has been retired and sidelined. We know too much: only the new sectarian convert mentality was acceptable.

Given this, we decided to bring this matter and other outstanding pastoral and missionary problems to the attention of others in the ROCOR Synod in May 2021. We did not want to be told that we had not warned the Synod of the schism that had taken place and of our need to belong to the Russian Orthodox mainstream. Worried by possible harsh punishments for pointing out reality and asking for the swamp, so recently imported from the USA, to be drained, we therefore hid the identity of all except one of us, who decided to sacrifice himself as the oldest, with the least to lose. He told the Synod exactly what was happening and even the exact details of how many were prepared to leave ROCOR. Sadly, all dialogue about our very serious concerns was forbidden and we, unpaid, voluntary clergy who have sacrificed our lives to serve the Church, were told that if we spoke about these matters again, we would be suspended. We were also given a fourfold punishment. Thus two wrongs were committed. In one case this was after nearly 37 years of faithful service at the altar and missionary work all over Western Europe, as appointed by Most Reverend Metr Hilarion of New York, then not gravely ill and physically able to sign documents, as representative for the ROCOR Missionary Department for Western Europe. Thus ROCOR clergy and people alike were ostracised. What were we to do?

  1. Our Mission in the Unity and Mainstream of the Russian Orthodox Tradition and Theology.

We have always been missionaries in the spirit of historic missionary work carried out by the Russian Orthodox Church. We knew that the traditional ROCOR had been missionary. As the Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia said in its Letter of October 1953, Orthodox have been scattered across the world with God’s permission, so that they can ‘announce to all peoples the true Orthodox Faith and prepare the world for the Second Coming of Christ’. We had thought that there was an understanding of local people, who would be allowed to use their native language and not be forced to use an alien phraseology and a foreign idiom. Neither did we think that we would face constant demands, accompanied by entirely untrue and highly unpleasant insinuations and indeed slanders.

After all, the great missionary St John of Shanghai has always been our patron, the patron of the local. However, until today one of us found himself banned from doing any more missionary work (three churches and five communities founded in two countries so far, but any further such missionary activity forbidden) and also banned from doing missionary work by presenting the Russian Orthodox Church and her values to all on a well-known website, which hundreds of people have viewed every day for the last twenty years.

Clearly, these prohibitions after decades would become known to all and cause scandal.

Worse, there were a whole series of unresolved pastoral problems, with several new communities banned, priests persecuted, children unbaptised, people unconfessed, a brand new church, bought and converted at great personal sacrifice, standing empty, despite Canon IV of the Second Council of Nicaea.

We are not sure if ROCOR will ever recover, its missionary reputation as a Church for all Orthodox so seriously tarnished and undermined.

With our request for understanding punished and all dialogue banned despite Canon XIV of Sardica, in May we wrote to Metropolitan Antony, the Patriarchal Exarch in Paris. Then, also in May, a group of us met Bishop Matthew of the Sourozh Diocese to ask for his views. Then we consulted with a network of friends, Russian Orthodox senior priests and teachers of canon law in Moscow, Moldova, Romania, Western Europe and locally. Our friends’ shocked response was crystal clear and unanimous – there was only one solution: to leave the new American sectarian ROCOR and join Metropolitan Jean (Renneteau) of the Archdiocese of Churches of the Russian Tradition in Western Europe, thus remaining faithfully and much more closely under His Holiness Patriarch Kyrill. This move would express our obedience to the Russian Orthodox Church and Tradition, and not to an individual with some unusual and indeed uncanonical ideas. We obey God, not men.

We have known Metropolitan Jean personally since the 1970s. Like us, he believes in faithfulness to the Russian Orthodox Tradition, but also in the future Local Church of Western Europe, for which some of us have battled for nearly fifty years. No new Local Church can be founded on arbitrary decrees, sectarian values, schismatic actions, threats, aggression, litigation, intimidation, negativity, spectacular rudeness, anger and disrespect towards others who have between us nearly 100 years of pastoral experience. We are not new to the Church, but were Orthodox before many others were born, let alone joined the Orthodox Church, let alone joined ROCOR. We do not wish to be treated as were Native Americans by Puritan colonists.

Today we remain missionaries to the native peoples of the British Isles and to all peoples of Western Europe. However, above all we are missionaries to the vast majority of local Orthodox who were born in the former Soviet Union and now live here with their locally-born children. The parents have no intention of returning to the countries where they were born and have little nostalgia for them, unlike the pre-1917 Russian émigrés, whom we knew so well in the last century. Most of our parishioners and often many of our clergy come from the ex-Soviet Union. The original ROCOR emigres died out decades ago and the last few children of those ROCOR emigres in London left in the 2007 Brookwood split.

Today our people and indeed many of our clergy are identical to those of the Patriarchal Exarchate of Western Europe and the Archdiocese of Churches of the Russian Tradition in Western Europe. We have the same flock. Only very few of our people and even of our clergy have any concept of ROCOR and events of over 100 years ago. Today Russian Orthodox simply frequent their nearest parish, its jurisdictional tag is irrelevant and often goes quite unnoticed. The old jurisdictions are dying out by popular will, all that people want is a church that is authentically Orthodox, canonical and which welcomes them and their children, regardless of their nationality and politics. To keep separate administrations and to stand apart, or to hear the suggestion of one who has never been trained in an Orthodox seminary that clergy from the ex-Soviet Union (His Holiness therefore among them?) ‘do not know how to celebrate’ is simply not valid. Seminary- and theologically-trained, we know better than untrained ROCOR clergy how to celebrate.

  1. Towards a Local Church of Western Europe under His Holiness.

Some may ask: Why then have you joined the Archdiocese of Churches of the Russian Tradition in Western Europe? Answer: Simply because the Archdiocese works very closely with the Patriarchal Exarchate of Western Europe, but as the Exarchate’s multinational and missionary arm. And we are born missionaries, as our parishioners who love us will tell you. Our mission today is to those born in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe and their English-born children as indeed to all those born here. They have no time for or understanding of arguments that go back 100 years and that in any case became irrelevant in 2007. We all look forward to the united future and not back to the divided past and do not accept the alien imposition of an artificially divided and sectarian future that exists only to justify self-perpetuating separation and division.

The Archdiocese understands local needs, the local language and local people. There is open dialogue between its Metropolitan and its clergy and people, not a prohibition of dialogue, not top-down governance, but an understanding of the grassroots and a seeking of advice on the local ground, rather than a trampling down of the local ground. Such consultation would, for example, have avoided the embarrassment of making a mistake about the very title of a bishop sent here from the USA and then having to alter it.

We deeply regret that the missionary vision of the old Western European ROCOR, a Church at best of righteous confessors, seems to have been replaced by a new ROCOR. We do not belong to the hopeless darkness of phariseeism, but to the sunlit uplands of authentic Orthodoxy. A basically right-wing sectarian Protestant mentality and its language are alien to us. For the Church is Catholic by being Local.

We follow in the footsteps of St John of Shanghai, who spent thirteen years as ruling hierarch in Western Europe and setting up Dutch and French missionary groups, before he went to his four-year long Golgotha in the United States. We follow in the footsteps of his successor, our beloved abba, the ever-memorable Archbishop Antony of Geneva, who, just like St John, also suffered from political and sectarian trends from the USA. And so it continues. St John gave his own shoes to the poor who were shoeless because he felt sorry for them, not ‘because his feet ached’ (sic). This prince of the Church was truly a servant of the Church in his humility and so is called Saint Jean Nu-Pieds, St John the Barefoot. He made no demands for dollars, nor untrue accusations, and loved all as a universal pastor and therefore is our model.

Given the very large backlog of multinational candidates for ordination amongst us, our Deanery of the British Isles (not Great Britain) can now at last go forward, very soon with over twenty priests. Thus, we will be able to help in the multinational Orthodox missionary and pastoral service, so urgently needed by the tens of thousands of Orthodox immigrants (not oligarchs) who live here, most in very modest circumstances like the poor of pre-Revolutionary Kronstadt, served there by the All-Russian Pastor St John, and among the Orthodox born in the British Isles.

Given the refusal to listen to our concerns and the reality here, and firmly believing, as ever, in a future Local Church of Western Europe, which faithfully follows the Russian Orthodox Tradition, where we are in full communion with each other and doing the will of His Holiness Patriarch Kyrill, we were left with no other course of action after repeated attempts to protect the faithful. This course was to ask for and receive the canonical protection of the jurisdiction of Metropolitan Jean of the Archdiocese of Western Europe.

This we received on 23 August 2021 despite the mysterious refusal of our former bishop to issue the requested letters of release, without any reason given. (Though he himself took six priests into his jurisdiction without even asking for letters of release from their bishops). Like Fr Seraphim Rose, who fought against Donatist ‘super-correctness’, I have battled for nearly half a century for the unity of the Russian Church, taking on all extremists on both fringes so that a new and authentic Local Church may be formed, which is why I firmly believe that our future is in the Patriarchally reunited Russian Orthodox Church in Western Europe, and not in schism. Somebody had to have the guts to stand up to this.

Therefore, all actions and tantrums taken against our exodus after it had taken place were canonically null and void, as the canonists agree. There had been nearly two years for dialogue before our exodus, in which time all discussion had been forbidden. Then all other channels for dialogue with other concerned bishops were tried. As regards the extraordinarily unChristian and defamatory and uncanonical self-justifying untruths published against all of us on the internet, such as that this grave ecclesiological and pastoral matter is simply a ‘personality issue’ or a ‘personal act of rebellion’ (sic!), and not an issue of theological, canonical, dogmatic, ecclesiological and pastoral principle for a very large group of people, these have been subject to further action and reported in full to the Church authorities. If sixteen clergy have ‘personality issues’ or are ‘rebellious’, then it would suggest that this is not personal, but theological, as it is. St Nicholas did not slap Arius in the face because of a ‘personality issue’ or as a ‘personal act of rebellion’. Obviously, no-one who has remained loyal to ROCOR for 32 years through thick and thin is rebellious.

As for putting clergy in a different diocese (!) ‘on trial’ (!) on ‘criminal charges’ (!), this is spiritual suicide for the self-appointed judge, jury and executioner. The allegations made are the same as those made against St John of Shanghai, when he left Europe for the USA and was called insane, slandered, put on trial and briefly deprived of his see, dying prematurely. So we are hardly surprised. We share in his sufferings precisely because we are his faithful children. This time has been a time of revelation, when all have shown their real selves. But the people are with us.

We have been accused by a few recently converted ROCOR clergy of being ‘insane’ (!) and of ‘needing a psychiatrist’ (!) or being ‘fantastical’, just like St John. We have seen Golgotha, the fence-sitters, the mockers and the disuniters. And all of these used to call themselves Orthodox Christians. But they pray to the wrong king ; our king is not Caesar. Let any Sanhedrin meet: they judge only themselves. The judgement of God is the only any should fear. We have refused to become part of a sect. God is not mocked.

We fully share the views of the Russian Orthodox Church, in contradistinction to both modernist Phanariots and pseudo-traditional zealots. The path forward is in the mainstream of the Russian Orthodox Church, as we have always maintained. It has never been our aim or intention to separate ourselves from the real ROCOR, indeed we want to strengthen our ties with what is left of the genuine ROCOR, like that of the old Western European Diocese of ROCOR under St John of Shanghai and his successor the ever-memorable Archbishop Antony of Geneva, just as we have always maintained our ties with the genuine Paris-based Archdiocese. For the genuine parts are parts of the Russian Orthodox mainstream and always have been. They are not the fringes. However, it is a sad fact in our fallen world that although intelligence is limited, stupidity remains unlimited.

Conclusion

Reluctantly, we have been forced to talk about the elephant in the room. We have had to put our finger on *the* issue that nobody wanted to face up to – namely the clash between (intrinsically moderate, sensible) Russian traditions and (intrinsically extremist, sectarian) Greek Old Calendarist traditions, which have become so popular among some in the United States and in two or three other places. And because we have been forced to take such a strong stance, we have ended up being the first ones to nail our colours to the mast.

This is an important moment. We are seeing the end now of the old 20th century divisions between the now extinct liberal Exarchate and the old conservative ROCOR etc. Now it is a matter of positively articulating and living out the moderate and sensible Russian tradition in distinction from both basically-secularised liberals and basically-schismatic zealots, both groups composed mainly of recent converts. For it must now be clear to all from recent events here that schismatic traditionalism has nothing instrinsically faithful or spiritual about it. It is rather a sectarian and schismatic ideology, if not pathology.

So this is really the end of the (long) 20th century, and the beginning of the 21st century for us. This will be the time when we have the historical opportunity to build the Church, not as the last representatives of a century that finished decades ago, but as people who are at the beginning of a new historical period. This sort of opportunity does not come around very often. The stance we have adopted, or rather been forced to adopt, is the beginning of the future, not a relic of the past.

May all be done according to God’s Will, as we all continue to pray:

‘For the peace of the whole world, the good estate of the holy churches of God and the union of all, let us pray to the Lord’.

Archpriest Andrew Phillips

St John of Shanghai Church, Colchester, Essex

3 May to 3 November 2021

 

 

On the African Schism

With thanks to our old friend, Fr George Maximov

Nearly two years after the Patriarchate of Alexandria was browbeaten and bribed into recognising the schismatic, Phanariot-sponsored group of Epiphanius Dumenko in the Ukraine, the September Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church decided to take action. It would examine the possibility of opening an Exarchate for Africa.

This decision came, not because the Russian Church had ever sought jurisdiction in Africa, but because it had received dozens of requests from African clergy, desiring to leave the schismatic Patriarchate of Alexandria. Some are still surprised by this and doubt whether the Russian Church has the right to open an African Exarchate. Surely, they say, Africa is the canonical territory of the Patriarchate of Alexandria? In any case, they object, how can the Russian Church accept African clergy without letters of release from their bishops?

First of all, according to Canon VI of the First Universal Council and Canon II of the Second Universal Council, Alexandria has jurisdiction only over Egypt, Ethiopia and Libya. And indeed, this remained the case right up to 1926, when the lamentable freemason, Patriarch Melitios (Metaksakis), kicked out of Constantinople, changed the title of his Patriarchate and claimed for it ‘All Africa’. This fact is obvious from history, as we know that there used to be other Local Churches in Africa, notably the Latin-speaking Church in Carthage and North-West Africa (St Cyprian and the berber Blessed Augustine). The unilateral decision of 1926 was never ratified by any other Orthodox in a conciliar manner and indeed it was accepted by Constantinople only in the 1970s in a diplomatic compromise.

Already on 26 December 2019, in view of the Alexandrian schism, the Russian Orthodox Church had decided to take all Russian parishes ‘on the Continent of Africa’, including that in Cairo, Egypt, out of the jurisdiction of Alexandria and make them stavropegic under the Russian Church. Therefore, it can be said that even two years ago the Russian Church opened parishes in Africa. So when dozens of priests and parishes of black Africans, and not Russians, asked to join it, so removing themselves from schism, why did the Russian Church refuse them for two long years? Because it is racist? Obviously not. However, there was hesitation about the question of letters of release. As everybody knows, clergy cannot join another Local Church without such letters.

Here of course, as we know very well in England today, there is the question of episcopal schism. The Church Fathers affirm that salvation is impossible in a situation of schism. Even in the 20th century, St Hilarion (Troitsky) wrote that to fall into schism, heresy and a sect is spiritual death (1). As we well know in our little island today. And Canon II of the Council of Antioch affirms that we are to have no concourse with those in schism and that if we do, we ourselves will be tainted by their schism. As St John Chrysostom says in his well-known words: ‘To create a division in the Church is a no lesser evil than to fall into heresy – the sin of schism is not washed away even by the blood of martyrdom’ (2).

Indeed, Canon VI of the Second Universal Council draws a parallel between heretics and schismatics. In this situation, how can the Russian Church allow the unwilling to remain in schism? Yes, diplomacy exists, but there is also the matter of principle of canonical, dogmatic and pastoral truth. And since not a single bishop of the Patriarchate of Alexandria has been brave enough to stand up to Patriarch Theodore and repent, what else can the Russian Church do than take these poor priests and people into its jurisdiction?

Notes:

  1. St Hilarion (Troitsky) https://azbyka.ru/otechnik/Ilarion_Troitskij/o-zhizni-v-tserkvi-i-o-zhizni-tserkovnoj/
  2. St John Chrysostom https://bible-teka.com/zlatoust/56/

 

STATEMENT

Following the dramatic events yesterday when Bp Irenei threatened to defrock everyone for defending Orthodoxy, His Eminence Metropolitan Jean of Dubna has specifically blessed the publication of the following text on all media in order to counter all manner of untruths that have been circulated on the internet over the last two months. We have been forced into replying and our collective answer is here.

On the Reception of Clergy of the Russian Orthodox Church outside Russia by the Moscow Patriarchate Archdiocese of Orthodox Churches of Russian Tradition in Western Europe.

1. On 23 August 2021, a group of thirteen Russian Orthodox clergy in the United Kingdom (hereafter “the clergy”) moved from the ROCOR Diocese of Western Europe (hereafter “the ROCOR Diocese”) to the Moscow Patriarchate Archdiocese of Orthodox Churches of Russian Tradition in Western Europe (hereafter “the MP Archdiocese”). This transfer was formally announced by the MP Archdiocese in its Communique of 3 September 2021:

Suite à leur demande instante et répétée ainsi qu’à leur Pétition, par économie canonique pour qu’ils puissent vivre en plénitude la grâce de l’Église orthodoxe, les 21 et 23 août dernier ont été reçus au sein de l’Archevêché des églises orthodoxes de tradition russe en Europe occidentale les communautés et les clercs du Royaume-Uni ci-dessous mentionnés: ... [Whereafter follow the names of the major clergy transferring from ROCOR to the MP Archdiocese.]

2. This transfer was motivated by two principal factors. Firstly, the clergy sought to escape the situation of schism into which they had been placed by the ruling Bishop of the ROCOR Diocese, Bp Irenei Steenberg. Secondly, the clergy could not reconcile themselves either with the Bp Irenei’s attack upon Russian Orthodox tradition, or with anti-canonical actions of Bp Irenei, actions which greatly exceed the limits of his own canonical jurisdiction within the Church.

3. The clergy had hoped that their transfer would occur quietly and without controversy. Unfortunately, due to subsequent actions of Bp Irenei Steenberg and a small number of clergy within the ROCOR Diocese, this has not been possible. Various misrepresentations of this transfer have been circulated, online and in correspondence – most significantly the false assertion that this transfer did not take place in a canonical manner. Subsequent to their transfer, Bp Irenei himself, in violation of both the Holy Canons of the Orthodox Church and ROCOR’s own procedures, issued several of the clergy with notices of suspension and summons to appear before his Diocesan Court. To date, these recriminatory actions are ongoing.

4. In consequence, it has become necessary to prepare the following statement. This statement will have four components. (1) It will present the reasons for the transfer of the clergy from the ROCOR Diocese to the MP Archdiocese in August 2021. (2) It will correct the erroneous claim that the transfer of the clergy did not take place in a canonical manner. (3) It will highlight violations of the Holy Canons, ROCOR’s own procedures, and natural justice by Bp Irenei Steenberg and his Diocesan Court in Bp Irenei’s recriminatory actions against the clergy. (4) It will attempt to outline what is required to end the current schism into which the ROCOR Diocese has been placed by Bp Irenei, and what is needed for a constructive path forward.

I. The Reasons for the Transfer.

5. The transfer of clergy from the ROCOR Diocese to the MP Archdiocese was prompted by three issues: (i) the breach of ROCOR’s sacramental communion and canonical unity with the MP Archdiocese in the United Kingdom in January 2021; (ii) the non-canonical action of the ROCOR Bishop of Western Europe in publicly judging clergy outwith his jurisdiction in February 2021; and (iii) the statement of intention to cease ROCOR’s sacramental communion with the Diocese of Sourozh, in April 2021.

(i) The Schism of ROCOR from the MP Archdiocese in the United Kingdom.

6. On 17 December 2020, Metr John of Dubna, the ruling Metropolitan of the MP Archdiocese, received the Greek Catholic Priest, Fr Jacob Siemens into the ranks of its clergy at the Cathedral of St Alexander Nevsky in Paris. In receiving Fr Jacob, Metr John did not perform a reordination, but rather received Fr Jacob by vesting and concelebration.

7. Upon learning of this event, the ruling Bishop of the ROCOR Diocese, Bp Irenei Steenberg, rejected the reception of Fr Jacob Siemens by vesting and concelebration. In his Directive № 359/E, dated 23 January 2021, Bp Irenei stated that it is absolutely impossible for a Catholic Priest to be received into the Orthodox Church as a Priest by vesting and concelebration:

... the ‘reception’ on 4th / 17th December 2020 by the Archdiocese of an heterodox individual by the name of James [sic] Siemens, resident in the environs of Cardiff, Wales, purportedly into the ranks of the Holy Orthodox clergy but in a manner that appears to us to be in violation of the Holy Orthodox Canons as well as the firm practices of the Russian Orthodox Church as a whole: namely, that this individual, who was a Ukrainian Catholic Uniate priest, was ‘received’ into Orthodoxy apart from the sacramental measures of Baptism or Chrismation, and further, was thereafter acknowledged as an Orthodox Priest, without having an Orthodox ordination. While the former situation (reception into Orthodoxy ‘by confession’) is canonically highly irregular, but not an entirely unprecedented misapplication by economia of the canonical measures meant to apply to one who has an Orthodox baptism/chrismation and returns from schism (in this case, improperly applying it to a man who never had either), the latter issue, or ‘recognising’ a heterodox ordination as if it constituted the establishment of a man as an Orthodox priest, is wholly uncanonical and goes against the most basic foundations of the Holy Orthodox Church, to whose true nature we are called to be obedient and, when it is challenged, to defend, for the sake of the faithful.

8. In the same Directive № 359/E, of 23 January 2021, Bp Irenei Steenberg responded to the MP Archdiocese’s reception of Fr Jacob Siemens by formally directing his clergy (in boldface), as follows:

You may neither concelebrate nor participate liturgically, or in any ecclesiastical measure, with the aforementioned James Siemens, nor with any clergy or local institutions of the Archdiocese / Exarchate in the British Isles. Further, if You have any spiritual children or parishioners who at times have attended Exarchate parishes in the UK for reasons of proximity, etc., you must inform them that until this matter is resolved, they may not receive the Sacraments at any parish of the Exarchate in the British Isles. [1]

9. With this Directive, Bp Irenei Steenberg ruptured the unity of the Russian Orthodox Church in the British Isles. On the one hand, since there can be no sacramental communion without concelebration and liturgical participation, Bp Irenei’s Directive to forbid the concelebration and liturgical participation of ROCOR with the MP Archdiocese in the British Isles amounted ipso facto to a rupture of ROCOR’s sacramental communion with the MP Archdiocese in the British Isles. On the other hand, since canonical unity is realised precisely through reciprocal ecclesiastical measures, there can be no canonical unity between two Dioceses or Churches without both participating in such common ecclesiastical measures. As such, Bp Irenei’s Directive to forbid all ROCOR participation in any ecclesiastical measure with the MP Archdiocese amount ipso facto to a rupture of ROCOR’s canonical unity with the MP Archdiocese in the British Isles. And since a rupture of sacramental communion and canonical unity is a schism, Bp Irenei’s Directive to effect a rupture of ROCOR’s sacramental communion and canonical unity with the MP Archdiocese in the UK amounted to the initiation of a schism of ROCOR from the MP Archdiocese in the British Isles.

10. Bp Irenei Steenberg’s decision to initiate a schism with the MP Archdiocese on this basis could not be accepted by the clergy.

10.1. Principally, as Russian Orthodox Christians, the clergy could not accept Bp Irenei Steenberg’s absolute dogmatic denial of the reception of Catholic Priests into the Russian Orthodox Church by vesting and concelebration. For the reception of Catholic Priests in this manner is entirely standard practice in the Russian Orthodox Church. Indicatively:

  • The MP Archdiocese receives Catholic clergy by vesting and concelebration, as witnessed for example by the reception of Fr Jacob Siemens by Metr John of Dubna.
  • The Moscow Patriarchate receives Catholic clergy by vesting and concelebration, as was the case for example with the reception of Hmk Gabriel Bunge by Metr Hilarion (Alfeev) of Volokolamsk.
  • Hierarchs of the Russian emigration, such as St Tikhon of Moscow, Metr Evlogy (Georgievsky), and Abp Georges (Wagner) all consistently received Catholic Priests by vesting and concelebration.
  • It was through vesting and concelebration that St Alexis (Toth) of Wilkes-Barre, and the many Catholic Priests who followed him, were received from Catholicism into the Russian Orthodox Church.

By absolutely rejecting the reception of Catholic Priests into the Orthodox Church by vesting and concelebration, Bp Irenei was in fact rejecting Russian Orthodox practice and the witness of canonised Russian Orthodox saints. As Russian Orthodox Christians, the clergy could not accept such a rejection of the practice and witness of canonised saints of the Russian Orthodox Church.

10.2. Despite Bp Irenei Steenberg’s assertions of loyalty to “the firm practices of the Russian Orthodox Church as a whole,” his schism was in fact based, not upon fidelity to Russian Orthodoxy, but rather on a rejection of the traditions and saints of the Russian Orthodox Church. And, as Russian Orthodox Christians, it was not possible for the clergy to follow Bp Irenei into a schism based upon a rejection of Russian Orthodox tradition and the witness of canonised Russian Orthodox saints.

(ii) The Public Summary Judgment by Bp Irenei of Clergy beyond his Jurisdiction.

11. After having initiated a schism with the MP Archdiocese in the British Isles, Bp Irenei Steenberg proceeded to issue his Notice № 390/E, dated 26 February 2021 – a Notice which was, by his instruction, publicly read from the Amvon of the ROCOR parish in Cardiff:

In December of last year, the Archdiocese, based in Paris, supposedly received a Dr James [sic] Siemens into Holy Orthodoxy, though without Baptism or Chrismation, and now promotes him as a ‘priest,’ though this individual has no Orthodox ordination – in direct violation of the Holy Canons of the Church. … Dr Siemens is, according to the Holy Canons of the Orthodox Church, not a priest but a layman, and therefore has not received the grace of ordination to perform any rite or sacrament of the Orthodox Church. A ‘baptism’ performed by a non-priest is not a Baptism; ‘confession’ performed by a non-priest is not sacramental Confession; the ‘liturgy’ celebrated by a non-priest is not the Divine Liturgy and those who approach a chalice offered therein do not receive Christ’s precious Body or Blood, whatever may be said by the individual offering it or those in authority over him. This is but spiritual deception, and risks leading the unwitting faithful into the trap of false sacraments and false faith.

12. With this Notice, Bp Irenei Steenberg formally and publicly passed summary judgment upon Fr Jacob Siemens, not merely raising a question about Fr Jacob’s ordination, but categorically stating that Fr Jacob was not ordained, that he was not an Orthodox Priest, and that he was, rather a “non-Priest.” Moreover, with this Notice, Bp Irenei passed a thinly-veiled summary judgment upon Metr John of Dubna, stating that a Bishop who recognised Fr Jacob as an Orthodox Priest was in fact guilty of “spiritual deception.”

13. However, these actions of Bp Irenei could not be accepted by the clergy.

13.1. The clergy could not accept the judgment of Fr Jacob Siemens as a “non-priest,” for reasons following from those stated above (paragraph 10.1). Just as Fr Jacob was a Catholic Priest received into the Orthodox Priesthood through vesting and concelebration, so too (to take one example of many) was St Alexis of Wilkes-Barre a Catholic Priest received into the Orthodox Priesthood through vesting and concelebration. By the logic of Bp Irenei Steenberg’s judgment, were it the case that, owing to his manner of reception, Fr Jacob was not a Priest but a “non-Priest” exercising a sacramentally fictitious ministry, then so too would St Alexis of Wilkes-Barre have been a “non-Priest” who spent the entirety of the Orthodox clerical service – a service for which the Russian Orthodox Church recognises him as a saint – exercising a sacramentally fictitious ministry. Such a position, however, is unacceptable, as it is a direct rejection of the authenticity of the ministry of a canonised Russian Orthodox saint. As Russian Orthodox Christians, the clergy could not accept any judgment entailing such a consequence, and as such they could not accept the content of Bp Irenei’s judgment of Fr Jacob Siemens.

13.2. Nor could the clergy accept Bp Irenei Steenberg’s judgment – however explicitly or implicitly stated – that Hierarchs of the Russian Orthodox Church, such as Metr John of Dubna, are guilty of “spiritual deception” when they recognise the Priesthood of Russian Orthodox Priests received from Catholicism by vesting and concelebration. For, were Metr John of Dubna guilty on this basis of “spiritual deception,” then so too (in light of paragraph 10.1, above) would St Tikhon of Moscow, Metr Evlogy (Georgievsky), Abp Georges (Wagner), Metr Hilarion of Volokolamsk, and many other Russian Orthodox Hierarchs be guilty of “spiritual deception” – since they too recognise as Orthodox Priests those Priests who were received from Catholicism by vesting and concelebration. But such a judgment – which judges even canonised Russian Orthodox saints to be guilty of “spiritual deception” – is not only incompatible with Russian Orthodox tradition, but is a direct attack upon Russian Orthodox tradition. As Russian Orthodox Christians, the clergy could not accept any judgment entailing such a consequence, and as such they could not accept the content of Bp Irenei Steenberg’s judgment of Metr John of Dubna as guilty of “spiritual deception.”

13.3. Moreover, just as the clergy could not accept the content of Bp Irenei Steenberg’s public judgments regarding Fr Jacob Siemens and Metr John of Dubna, neither could they accept the fact that Bp Irenei had issued such public judgments at all. For, as attested by, indicatively, Canon 14 of the Protodeutera Synod, Canon 2 of the Second Ecumenical Synod, and Canon 13 of the Synod of Antioch, it is a general principle of canonical order in the Orthodox Church that each Hierarch respect the limits of his own jurisdiction:

Each [Bishop] needs to know his own due limits … [2]
Bishops are not to go beyond their jurisdiction to Churches lying beyond the limits of that jurisdiction, so that there be no confusion of the Churches … [3]
Let no Bishop dare to go from one Eparchy to another … unless, having been called upon to do so, he arrive with letters from the Metropolitan and from the Bishops into whose territory he goes. If, without being called by anyone, a Bishop depart in an irregular manner to … impose himself on ecclesiastical matters which are not for him to be concerned with, then the things done by him shall be void; and, for his irregularity, he shall be subject to punishment for his unreasonable undertaking, being immediately deposed by the Holy Synod.[4]

However, neither Fr Jacob Siemens nor Metr John of Dubna are clergy under Bp Irenei Steenberg’s jurisdiction. Indeed, not only are neither clergy within Bp Irenei’s own ROCOR Diocese, but neither are clergy within ROCOR at all. And as such, Bp Irenei had no canonical jurisdiction to pass public summary judgment on either. Rather, any concerns which Bp Irenei had about either Fr Jacob Siemens or Metr John of Dubna ought to have been referred by him to the appropriate body which does possess the canonical jurisdiction to judge the matter of concern. In the case of Fr Jacob, this would mean referring the concern to Fr Jacob’s Diocesan Bishop; whilst in the case of Metr John, it would mean referring the concern to the Archiepiscopal Synod of the Moscow Patriarchate. Then, in each case, having referred the matter, Bp Irenei should have left it with the body in question to investigate and pass judgment (or indeed, to decide whether or not to pass judgment at all). However, by failing to follow the canonical path, but instead choosing to pass summary judgment upon Fr Jacob and Metr John, Bp Irenei acted ultra vires, assuming for himself the jurisdiction that belongs (in the one case) to the Metropolitan of the Moscow Patriarchate, and (in the other case) to the Archiepiscopal Synod of the Moscow Patriarchate. And, as Russian Orthodox Christians, faithful to the canonical structure of the Russian Orthodox Church, the clergy could not accept such anti-canonical action on the part of Bp Irenei – action whose anti-canonical nature is of such gravity that Canon 13 of the Synod of Antioch (quoted above) requires punishment with deposition.

(iii) The Intention to cease ROCOR’s Communion with the Diocese of Sourozh.

14. Following the above events, on 25 April 2021, Bp Irenei Steenberg stated verbally to Archpriest Andrew Phillips, in front of several witnesses, that he intended to sever the sacramental communion of the ROCOR Diocese with the Diocese of Sourozh – the UK Diocese of the Moscow Patriarchate’s Patriarchal Exarchate in Western Europe – should the latter not follow Bp Irenei in severing sacramental communion with the MP Archdiocese in the United Kingdom. With this statement, Bp Irenei made it clear that he was both willing and actively planning to extend the schism of the ROCOR Diocese, beyond simply a schism with the MP Archdiocese in the United Kingdom, to a schism with the entirety of the Moscow Patriarchate in the British Isles.

15. The clergy understood that the Diocese of Sourozh would not accept Bp Irenei Steenberg’s rejection of the standard Russian Orthodox practice of receiving Catholic Priests by vesting and concelebration, and that as such the Diocese of Sourozh would not follow Bp Irenei into a schism with the MP Archdiocese on that basis. And the clergy could not accept Bp Irenei’s plan of extending the schism of the ROCOR Diocese to a schism with the entirety of the Moscow Patriarchate in the British Isles. The clergy were, and are, committed to the unity of the Russian Orthodox Church – both to the 2007 Act of Canonical Communion between ROCOR and the Moscow Patriarchate, as well as to the 2019 Patriarchal Gramota uniting the MP Archdiocese to the Moscow Patriarchate. As such, within the context of the British Isles, the clergy could not follow a plan which would push them further into a situation of involuntary division from the rest of the Russian Orthodox Church – and especially not one based upon a position which was itself a rejection of Russian Orthodox tradition and sanctity.

(iv) The Decision to transfer to the MP Archdiocese.

16. The clergy attempted to bring the situation of the ROCOR Diocese in the British Isles to the attention of the ROCOR Synod in New York. However, this attempt was unsuccessful, and the clergy came to understand that the schism of the ROCOR Diocese in the British Isles was not going to be resolved by the Synod.

17. In this extremely difficult situation, the clergy recognised that that there existed no Canon stipulating precisely and explicitly what action clergy ought to take in the circumstance where, belonging to one of three territorially-overlapping jurisdictions of the one Patriarchate, they were being pushed into a situation of schism from the other two overlapping jurisdictions, for reasons which were themselves a rejection of the practices and tradition of sanctity of that same Patriarchate. Here, the clergy looked to the general principle underlying Canon 14 of the Synod of Sardica, which, in a related context, directs clergy whose communion with their Church is being jeopardised by their Diocesan Bishop, but who find themselves in a situation in which they lack access to their own Metropolitan, to proceed instead by approaching the Metropolitan of a nearby Eparchy:

... the Presbyter or Deacon is to have the power to flee for refuge [καταφυγεῖν] to the Metropolitan of his Eparchy – or, if the Metropolitan be absent, he is to have the power to run [κατατρέχειν] to the Metropolitan of a neighbouring Eparchy ... [5]

Here, the clergy were aware that, belonging to a European ROCOR tradition whose particular founding context was that of the Russian emigration in Western Europe, they had a particular affinity with the MP Archdiocese, whose émigré history and traditions substantially overlapped with their own. As such, after much deliberation, the clergy took the decision to turn to Metr John of Dubna, the ruling Metropolitan of the MP Archdiocese, seeking refuge from the schism of the ROCOR Diocese through a transfer of jurisdiction to the MP Archdiocese.

18. Had Bp Irenei Steenberg not instituted a schism based upon reasons which were deeply opposed to Russian Orthodox tradition; had Bp Irenei not acted ultra vires in a manner which disregarded the canonical order of the Church; and had Bp Irenei not forced them into a position of effectively sectarian isolation from the rest of the Russian Orthodox Church in the United Kingdom, these clerics would not have sought a transfer of jurisdiction. Rather, their decision to transfer was a decision made out of the need to escape from the schismatic position in which they had been placed by the ruling Bishop of the ROCOR Diocese, and to return to sacramental communion and canonical unity with the fulness of the Moscow Patriarchate.

II. Refutation of False Claims about the Transfer of Clergy to the MP Archdiocese.

19. In line with his Directive № 359/E of 23 January 2021 – in which he terminated ROCOR’s participation in all ecclesiastical measures with the MP Archdiocese – Bp Irenei Steenberg chose not to follow the standard ecclesiastical practice of issuing letters of the release for the transferring clergy. Instead, he claimed that, because he was choosing not to issue such letters of release, the clergy either could not be received canonically, or could not be received at all, by the MP Archdiocese, and that therefore they remained under his sole canonical jurisdiction.

For example, in his Decree № 24E/2021 of 26 August 2021, sent to several of the clergy who had transferred, Bp Irenei stated:

Claims that you now belong to the jurisdiction of another bishop or diocese are canonically impossible and groundless, and you are hereby reminded that you remain under the sole canonical authority of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia ...

Similarly, in his internet Communication of 2 September 2021, published on the ROCOR Diocese’s website, Bp Irenei wrote:

Despite whatever claims may be made either by these individuals or by any cleric from any other jurisdiction, including the Paris Archdiocese’s representatives in the UK or elsewhere, these clerics have not been released by the Church Abroad and therefore have not been, and cannot be, canonically received by anyone else; and similarly, no parish has been released to the Paris Archdiocese, nor has any been canonically received by them, whatever claims may be erroneously made. … the clergymen and parish involved remain under the sole canonical jurisdiction of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia ...

And in a letter of 12 October 2021, sent to Metr John of Dubna from the ROCOR Synod of Bishops, but apparently written by Bp Irenei, it was asserted that:

Regarding the situation of our clergymen in the United Kingdom, … Your Eminence was directly told in writing … that they were not released and therefore could not be received by You …
We therefore request that the Archdiocese formally clarifies the reality, namely, that the clergyman supposedly ‘received’ from our W. European Diocese and our Western Rite Vicariate could not, in fact, be received, since they were not released, and rightly acknowledge the fact that they remain under the sole canonical authority of the Church Abroad.

These texts make three related, but distinct, assertions: (i) that in principle clergy cannot be received by another Diocese or Church without letters of release; (ii) that the clergy have not in fact been received by the MP Archdiocese; and (iii) that the clergy have not been canonically received by the MP Archdiocese. Each of these claims is false.

(i) The Possibility of Jurisdictional Transfer without Letters of Release.

20. It is untrue that in principle clergy cannot be received by another Diocese or Church without letters of release.

21. Certainly, it must be recognised that there are canons which state that a Bishop may only receive a cleric who has a letter of dismissal from his previous Bishop. For example, Quinisext canon 17 states that:

… no cleric, regardless of the rank he happens to have, has permission, without a written dismissal from his own Bishop, to be enrolled in a different Church … [6]

However, it must also be recognised that a canon is neither a dogma nor a universal law, absolutely binding on every concrete case. Rather, as Bp Irenei Steenberg himself has affirmed:

… the canons [are] not so much ... a code of canon law that sets out legal parameters for action, but … guidelines setting the standard for healthy Church life … [7]

That is to say, as guidelines, the canons are not necessarily applied with exactitude (κατ’ ἀκρίβειαν) in every situation. Rather, in certain circumstances, particular canons are, by the principle of economy (κατ’ οἰκονομίαν), either only partially applied, or not applied at all. This holds for the canons which require clergy be received with letters of release, just as it holds for other canons.

22. This principle of economy is not only recognised generally by ROCOR (e.g. in Article 2 of the Addendum to the Act of Canonical Communion), but is also recognised to apply to the specific canons relating to letters of release. For example, between 28 October 2018 and 25 January 2019, Bp Irenei Steenberg received the clerics Archpriest Georges Blatinsky, Priest Oleg Turcan, and Priest Denis Baykov from the Russian parishes in Florence and Sanremo, into the ROCOR Diocese of Western Europe, without requiring or receiving letters of release from their previous Bishop. In the letter of 12 October, sent from the ROCOR Synod to Metr John of Dubna, it is explained that in such cases letters of release are not required by ROCOR, as the Diocese or Church from which the clergy in question are being received is not one with which ROCOR is in a state of canonical unity:

The parishes in Florence and Sanremo [were] directly under the omofor of the hierarchy of Constantinople, whose current canonical status was not and is not recognised by the Russian Orthodox Church. When the parishes in question approached our Church Abroad to be rescued from their non-canonical status under Constantinople, our Synod … agreed to rescue them from their non-canonical status in early 2019, … in accordance with the canonical norms of receiving parishes from non-canonical environments. … they were clergymen under Constantinople, whose non-canonical status meant that letters of canonical release could not be sought from their local hierarchy.

As such, by ROCOR’s own understanding of the canonical order of the Church, the canons prohibiting the reception of a cleric without a letter of release from his previous Bishop do not apply in every circumstance. Precisely, for ROCOR itself, these canons do not apply in a situation where there is an absence of canonical unity between the Diocese or Church from which the cleric in question is departing and the Diocese or Church into which that cleric is being received. In such situations, ROCOR holds that such clergy are to be received, κατ’ οἰκονομίαν, without the reception of a letter of release.

23. Moreover, nowhere do the constitutional documents of the MP Archdiocese state that the Archdiocese cannot receive a cleric κατ’ οἰκονομίαν, without a letter of release from the Bishop of that cleric’s previous Diocese. Rather, Article 4 of the Archdiocese’s Statutes specifies that any association requesting to join the Archdiocese is to be accepted or rejected finally by the decision of the Archbishop, without reference to letters of release. Accordingly, the MP Archdiocese, by its own constitution, is entitled to receive a parish, which includes clergy and laity, without letters of release from a previous Bishop.

24. Indeed, there is no constitutional possibility for imposing upon the MP Archdiocese an interpretation of the Canons which, in opposition to Article 4 of the Archdiocese’s Statutes, insists that letters of release must be required, without exception, in every concrete case of the reception of an association from another Diocese or Church. Specifically, Article 3 of the Patriarchal Gramota to the MP Archdiocese mandates that the Archdiocese is to be administrated according to its own Statutes. And Article 1 of the Archdiocese’s Statutes states that the Archdiocese’s Statutes themselves indicate how the Holy Canons of the Church are to be applied within the MP Archdiocese. As such, Article 4 of the Archdiocese’s Statues – which specifies that any association’s request to join the Archdiocese is to be accepted or rejected finally at the decision of the Archbishop, without reference to letters of release – itself guides how relevant Canons are to be understood within the Archdiocese. Therefore, any attempt to impose upon the MP Archdiocese an interpretation of the Canons in conflict with Article 4 of the Archdiocese’s Statutes would itself be a violation of both Article 1 of the MP Archdiocese’s Statutes and of Article 3 of the Patriarchal Gramota to the MP Archdiocese.

25. Consequently, not only the nature of the Holy Canons as Canons, but also the practical actions and statements of ROCOR, which align with the constitution of the MP Archdiocese itself, show that there is no truth in Bp Irenei Steenberg’s claim that in principle a transfer for clergy from one Diocese or Church to another is impossible without letters of release.

(ii) The Reality of the Transfer from the ROCOR Diocese to the MP Archdiocese.

26. It is untrue that the clergy who transferred to the MP Archdiocese have not in fact been received by the MP Archdiocese.

27. Most basically, the claim that the clergy have not in fact been received by the MP Archdiocese is contradicted by the most basic fact of this case – namely that, as formally announced in the MP Archdiocese’s Communique of 3 September 2021, the MP Archdiocese did in fact receive the clergy, on 23 August 2021 (see paragraph 1, above).

28. Moreover, Bp Irenei Steenberg has himself recognised the reality of the transfer of clergy to the MP Archdiocese. Thus, in several (unfortunately undated) letters which, via his Diocesan Chancellery, he sent to the clergy, accusing them of canonical crimes and summoning them to his Ecclesiastical Court, Bp Irenei accused each cleric, in identically-worded statements, as follows:

Charge: Seeking incardination into the jurisdiction of another bishop without canonical release.
Namely, that ‘[Name] has sought to be incardinated into the jurisdiction of another Bishop without seeking or obtaining canonical release from his own Bishop; moreover, that he, not having obtained said release, nevertheless went under the jurisdiction of another Bishop and in so doing fled the canonical authority of his own Church and its hierarchy.’

Despite whatever else may be said about this charge, Bp Irenei’s statement that the clerics “nevertheless went under the jurisdiction of another Bishop” is a recognition that de facto the transfer of clergy from ROCOR to the MP Archdiocese has occurred. Even a recognition of the transfer made malgré lui, in accordance with the principle, Quae non fieri debent, facta valent, is nonetheless a recognition of the reality of the transfer.

29. Consequently, there is no legitimacy in Bp Irenei Steenberg’s claim that the transfer of clergy has not in fact occurred. Not only does this claim deny the most basic facts of the case, but it is contradicted by Bp Irenei’s own recognition, in multiple formal documents, of the reality of this transfer.

(iii) The Canonical Nature of the Transfer from ROCOR to the MP Archdiocese.

30. It is untrue that the clergy who transferred to the MP Archdiocese have not been canonically received by the MP Archdiocese. In particular, Bp Irenei Steenberg’s choice to act in line with his Directive № 359/E of 23 January 2021, and not follow the standard ecclesiastical practice of issuing letters of the release for the transferring clergy, does not in the circumstances hinder, in any way, the canonical nature of the transfer of the clergy from the ROCOR Diocese to the MP Archdiocese.

31. Most basically, the issuing of letters of release is a normal administrative procedure between canonically united Dioceses and Churches. In a normal canonical situation, letters of release would be withheld only if there were some significant disciplinary issue (e.g. a suspension or defrocking). However, in the case of the clergy transferring from ROCOR to the MP Archdiocese, there were no such disciplinary issues, and hence no such reason to withhold letters of release. Nor has Bp Irenei Steenberg contended otherwise.

32. Beyond this, the issuing of letters of release – precisely as a normal administrative procedure between canonically-united Dioceses and Churches – is an administrative procedure which is required only in the situation of clerical transfer between Dioceses and Churches sharing reciprocal canonical unity. The canons, such as those discussing letters of release, which describe normal relations between Churches sharing reciprocal canonical unity, do not hold for relations between Churches divided by schism – something which ROCOR itself recognises (see paragraph 22, above). Therefore, by rupturing the canonical unity of the ROCOR Diocese and the MP Archdiocese through his Directive № 359/E of 23 January 2021 (see paragraphs 8–9, above), Bp Irenei Steenberg thereby removed from the MP Archdiocese any obligation to relate to the ROCOR Diocese in the manner which the Holy Canons require of those Dioceses and Churches which share reciprocal canonical unity. As such, Bp Irenei, by initiating a schism of the ROCOR Diocese from the MP Archdiocese, thereby removed from the MP Archdiocese any canonical requirement to receive letters of release from Bp Irenei for clergy transferring from the ROCOR Diocese to the MP Archdiocese. And because there was, as such, no canonical requirement for the MP Archdiocese to receive clergy from the ROCOR Diocese only with letters of release, the canonical nature of the transfer of the clergy from the ROCOR Diocese to the MP Archdiocese was not in any way hindered by Bp Irenei’s choice not to provide such letters.

33. Consequently, there is no legitimacy in Bp Irenei Steenberg’s claim that the clergy could not transfer canonically from the ROCOR Diocese to the MP Archdiocese without the issuing of letters of release. Rather, by virtue of Bp Irenei’s severing the ROCOR Diocese’s canonical unity with the MP Archdiocese, Metr John of Dubna was canonically entirely justified in receiving clergy from the ROCOR Diocese, κατ’ οἰκονομίαν, without letters of release from Bp Irenei. Bp Irenei cannot institute a schism with another Diocese or Church and then legitimately require that Diocese or Church to act toward him as if they were still in a situation of full canonical unity, without any schism.

III. Further Canonical and Procedural Violations by Bp Irenei Steenberg.

34. Subsequent to the canonical transfer of the clergy from the ROCOR Diocese to the MP Archdiocese, Bp Irenei Steenberg initiated a course of recriminatory action against the clerics, by issuing them with charges of ecclesiastical criminality, to be judged at a session of Bp Irenei’s Diocesan Court. The actions of Bp Irenei and his Diocesan Court have been abusive, conducted in violation of the Holy Canons, ROCOR’s own procedures, and natural justice. As such, not only do they have no validity, but they constitute a further example of Bp Irenei acting ultra vires, in opposition to the canonical order of the Church.

(i)  Bp Irenei Steenberg lacks Jurisdiction over the accused Clergy.

35. As Diocesan Bishop of the ROCOR Diocese of Western Europe, Bp Irenei Steenberg’s canonical jurisdiction is limited to that Diocese, and he has no canonical jurisdiction over clergy who are members of a different Diocese (cf. paragraph 13.3, above).

However, at the time when Bp Irenei issued these charges of ecclesiastical criminality to the clergy, they had already transferred to the MP Archdiocese, and so were no longer within Bp Irenei’s canonical jurisdiction. As such, Bp Irenei no longer possessed any jurisdiction entitling him to charge them with ecclesiastical crimes and to have these charges judged at a session of his Diocesan Court. Rather, in so doing, Bp Irenei once again acted ultra vires, violating the canonical limits of his jurisdiction, and assuming for himself the jurisdiction which canonically belongs to the ruling Bishop of the MP Archdiocese. Because Bp Irenei has no jurisdiction to charge the clergy, the charges he has issued are invalid, and because his Diocesan Court has no jurisdiction to judge the clergy, any judgments which it may make regarding these charges are null and void.

(ii)  The Accuser cannot be Judge of his own Case.

36. Bp Irenei Steenberg’s Diocesan Court has been organised in such a way that there is no clear distinction between judge and accuser. Thus, each of the Notices of Ecclesiastical Charges received by the clergy begin with the following identically-worded paragraph:

By this letter, the Diocesan Ecclesiastical Court informs you, [Name], a cleric of the Diocese of Great Britain and Western Europe of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia and under her sole canonical authority, of a canonical hearing to be held on WEDNESDAY, 7 / 20 OCTOBER 2021, at which the following charges against you will be examined; namely that you are hereby accused by the Court of: [Whereafter follows the list of charges.]

The words “you are hereby accused by the Court of …,” make explicit that the Court assembled to judge the accusations being made against each cleric is also the accuser making these accusations.

However, to conduct a trial in which the accuser is also the judge is a basic violation of natural justice – nemo judex in causa sua – and no trial in which the accuser is also the judge can ever reckoned be a fair trial. Therefore, because the Diocesan Court proceedings organised by Bp Irenei against the clergy establish the accuser as the judge of the case, those Court proceedings are illegitimate, and any judgments they may issue are null and void.

(iii) The Accused must be Informed of the Time and Place at which the Court will sit.

37. Bp Irenei Steenberg’s Diocesan Court failed to inform the clergy being accused of precisely where and when his Diocesan Court would sit to try these accusations. Rather, the clergy were notified only of a date, but not of the location and time of day, at which the Diocesan Court would sit to judge the accusations being made against them.

However, it is a basic violation of natural justice for a Court to try a case without informing the accused of where and when it will sit to try their case. No one can defend himself at a trial, if he does not know where and when it will occur.

Moreover, Bp Irenei’s Diocesan Court is here in direct violation of regulation 53 of ROCOR’s governing document, the Regulations on the Ecclesiastical Court, according to which:

The time and place of the hearing must be announced to the parties, the accusers and the accused, and also the witnesses who will give information to the Court, in advance, by special notice.

No Court which so basically violates natural justice, and no ROCOR Court which so directly violates ROCOR’s Regulations on the Ecclesiastical Court, can be considered legitimate. Rather, the proceedings of Bp Irenei’s Diocesan Court against the clergy are, on this basis too, evidently illegitimate, and any judgments they may issue are null and void.

(iv)  The Accused must receive Clear Statement of the Charges being made against him.

38. Bp Irenei Steenberg’s Diocesan Court failed to provide each of the clergy being accused of clear statements of the charges being made against them, in precisely formulated accusations.

However, it is a basic violation of natural justice for a Court to try a case without informing the accused of precisely what he is being accused of. No one can properly prepare a defence, if he does not know the precise nature and cause of the accusations being made against him.

Moreover, Bp Irenei’s Diocesan Court is here in direct violation of regulation 54 of ROCOR’s Regulations on the Ecclesiastical Court:

The accused or respondent must be charged via written notice in a timely manner by the Diocesan legal authority on the basis of evidentiary material obtained, precisely describing the accusations (точно формулированные обвинения), to which he has the right in his defense to respond in written form before the Court sits, and to respond orally during the hearing.

However, no Court which so basically violates natural justice, and no ROCOR Court which so directly violates ROCOR’s Regulations on the Ecclesiastical Court, can be considered legitimate. Rather, the proceedings of Bp Irenei’s Diocesan Court against the clergy are, on this basis too, evidently illegitimate, and any judgments they may issue are null and void.

39. By way of example to clarify the failure of Bp Irenei Steenberg’s Diocesan Court to provide the clergy being accused with precisely formulated statements of the charges being made against them, one may consider indicatively the following charge, issued to a cleric of the rank of Reader, quoted here in extenso:

Charge 5: Serving whilst under suspension.
Namely, that ‘Reader [Name] has committed the canonical crime of serving while himself under canonical suspension, and thus engaging in liturgical / administrative acts from which he has been prohibited, contrary to the instructions of the Church Authorities.’ (Cf. Canon 4 of Antioch, Canon 13 of Sardica.)

The format of the charge is entirely typical of the charges received by clergy from Bp Irenei: a numbered charge in boldface, followed by a vague sentence, and then supplemented with an invitation to “compare” certain canons.

Here, firstly, the lack of precision of this charge is evident from the failure to state precisely in which particular acts the Reader is being accused of engaging. The charge does not name any single action; it does not say when or where the acts of which the Reader is being accused are alleged to have taken place. The charge is vague even as regards whether the acts in question are liturgical, administrative, or both. Such lack of clarity prevents the accused from knowing precisely what it is he is being accused of having done, and hence makes it impossible for him to adequately defend himself.

Secondly, the lack of precision of this charge is clear from the failure to cite which Canon or governing regulation the accuser is being alleged to have violated. An invitation to “compare” certain Canons is not a statement that the accused is being accused of having broken these Canons.

Moreover, that these canons are not the basis of the charge is evident from the fact that neither is relevant to the accused:

  • Canon 4 of the Synod of Antioch concerns a Bishop, Presbyter, or Deacon who, after having been deposed (καθαιρεθείς), liturgizes in some way. However, the accused is neither a Bishop, Presbyter, nor a Deacon. Neither has the accused been deposed. So this canon is irrelevant to the charge being made, and could never have been its real basis.
  • Canon 13 of the Synod of Sardica concerns an excommunicated cleric (τις τῶν κληρικῶν ἀκοινώντηος) who attempts to receive Holy Communion from the Bishop of another Diocese. However, the Reader who was the recipient of this charge has not been excommunicated. So this Canon is also irrelevant to the charge being made, and could never have been its real basis.

In this situation, the suspicion is inevitably that these canons have been referenced to give a prima facie appearance of legitimacy to a charge whose real basis lies elsewhere, but which Bp Irenei’s Diocesan Court does not wish to commit to paper. That said, the basic situation is clear: the Reader being accused has not really been told what he is accused of having done, and has not really been told what Canon or regulation he is being accused of having violated.

40. Overall, by organising his Diocesan Court to hear cases over which it has no jurisdiction; by setting up his Diocesan Court in a manner which identifies the accuser as the judge; by failing to tell the accused when and where the Court will sit; and by failing to tell the accused precisely what they are being accused of, Bp Irenei’s actions have amounted to a profound violation of canonical order, ROCOR regulations, and natural justice. Not only does such violation render the proceedings of his Diocesan Court illegitimately, but its gives the appearance of an abuse of power, in which Bp Irenei is using the Diocesan Court to conduct a show trial.

IV. Suggestions to move forward.

41. The situation of schism and recrimination within which Bp Irenei Steenberg has placed the ROCOR Diocese in the British Isles is deeply damaging to the Russian Orthodox Church. For both the sake of ROCOR and for the sake of the Russian Orthodoxy more widely, this schism needs to be healed. The healing of this schism requires: (i) an end to the actual schism itself; (ii) a reconciliation over the issues which formed the proximate causes of the schism; and (iii) further discussion and dialogue concerning the underlying issues that led to this schism. With respect to these goals, the following two groups of suggestions are here offered.

(i)  What is needed to end the Schism itself.

42. With respect to the schism itself, it must be recognised that neither the MP Archdiocese nor the Diocese of Sourozh has severed communion or canonical unity with ROCOR, and that it is only ROCOR which has instituted this schism. Therefore, the responsibility to end the schism of the ROCOR Diocese falls principally upon ROCOR itself. Here, two primary actions are necessary:

Firstly, and most basically, ROCOR needs to rescind Bp Irenei Steenberg’s Directive № 359/E of 23 January 2021, which prohibited the ecclesiastical participation, liturgical participation, and concelebration of ROCOR in the British Isles with the MP Archdiocese. Without this action, the schism cannot end, and this is an action which only ROCOR can perform. If (as seems clear) Bp Irenei is unwilling to do this himself, then ROCOR’s Synod of Bishops needs to take the matter in hand.

Secondly, and in addition, ROCOR should disavow the non-canonical actions of Bp Irenei performed during the period of the schism. Specifically:

  • ROCOR should to dissociate itself from the claims of Bp Irenei’s Notice № 390/E of 26 February 2021, clarifying both that it recognises the priesthood of Fr Jacob Siemens, and that it disavows any accusation of Metr John of Dubna as being somehow guilty of “spiritual deception.”
  • ROCOR should recognise that, due to the schism initiated by Bp Irenei, there did not exist regular canonical unity between the ROCOR Diocese and the MP Archdiocese during August 2021, so that, as a consequence, the transfer of clergy from ROCOR to the MP Archdiocese during that month did not require the transmission of letters of release, but rather is entirely canonical, κατ’ οἰκονομίαν.
  • ROCOR should declare null and void all recriminatory actions undertaken by Bp Irenei against the clergy who transferred to the MP Archdiocese to escape his schism.

(ii)  What is needed for Reconciliation over the Proximate Issues which led to the Schism.

43. With respect to the proximate issues which led to the schism of the ROCOR Diocese from the MP Archdiocese, here again the principal responsibility lies with ROCOR. This schism arose through Bp Irenei’s rejection of the Russian Orthodox practice of receiving Catholic Priests into the Orthodox Church by vesting and concelebration – a practice attested by multiple canonised Russian Orthodox saints. Here, ROCOR needs to clarify that, as a Church, it recognises the legitimacy of this Russian Orthodox practice, and that as such it recognises the reality that a Catholic Priest received by vesting and concelebration is thereby constituted as an Orthodox Priest. This, of course, does not mean that there is no room for continuing disagreements or differences in estimation regarding, for example, what is to be considered as best practice, or indeed as normal practice, in the reception of Catholic Priests into the Orthodox Church. What it does require is a recognition that an Orthodox Priest who has been thus received is not a “non-Priest,” lacking the grace of ordination.

(iii)  The Need for Deeper Discussion.

44. With respect to further discussion and dialogue concerning the underlying issues that led to this schism, matters are more complicated.

45. There is a need for frank discussion and dialogue regarding ROCOR’s continuing commitment to the 2007 Act of Canonical Communion. Schism should be an absolute last resort, not something into which a Bishop jumps in a period of just over four weeks. But the speed, if not eagerness, with which Bp Irenei Steenberg, as a ROCOR Bishop, instituted a schism with an Archdiocese of the Moscow Patriarchate, and thereby jeopardised the unity of the Russian Orthodox Church more broadly, suggests that such a course of action enjoys broader support within ROCOR. And the Act of Canonical Communion will not remain viable if ROCOR Bishops are so quick to jump into schism whenever a Diocese of the Moscow Patriarchate does not fall into line with their criticisms. As such, the events of Bp Irenei’s schism call forth a need for ROCOR to make clear its continued commitment to the Act of Canonical Communion, and hence its commitment to sacramental communion and canonical unity with the larger Russian Orthodox Church, whose internal practices and theology is not always the same as that of ROCOR.

46. There is also clearly a need for serious discussion and dialogue between ROCOR and the Moscow Patriarchate (including the MP Archdiocese) regarding the question of the reception of heterodox – a question on which ROCOR, particularly in North America, has come to differ greatly from the Moscow Patriarchate. But such a dialogue cannot be simply a one-way criticism, in which primarily North American ROCOR participants survey the history of the Moscow Patriarchate’s practice, making criticisms on points where such practice differs from their own. Rather, what is especially needed at this point is to consider how ROCOR’s sacramental theology and practice has come to diverge so greatly from the Moscow Patriarchate’s practice that a ROCOR Bishop could lead his Diocese into schism from an Archdiocese of the Moscow Patriarchate, ostensibly to “protect” his Diocese from the standard practice of the Russian Orthodox Church itself. Here, in particular, there is need for a serious consideration of the transformation of North American ROCOR’s sacramental theology since approximately the late 1960s, particularly under the influence of Greek Old Calendarist thought. A discussion on the question of reception with reference to ROCOR can only be fruitful if there is an understanding of how Greek Old Calendarists were able to lead substantial elements of ROCOR to reject the settled sacramental traditions of the Russian Orthodox Church – the very Church whose traditions ROCOR was established to preserve – in favour of extreme positions of modern Greek origin which diverge so greatly from Russian Orthodox tradition. It is to be hoped that – through such a consideration, in which not only do ROCOR participants offer criticisms the Moscow Patriarchate’s historical particularities, but in which the Moscow Patriarchate’s participants criticise these historical transformations in ROCOR – a new clarity would be achieved, across the Russian Orthodox Church, of the need to hold fast to the standard Russian Orthodox practices regarding reception, as these are expressed not only in the liturgical books of the Moscow Patriarchate, but above all in the living witness of Russian Orthodox saints such as St Tikhon of Moscow and St Alexis of Wilkes-Barre.

Feast of St Michael, First Metropolitan of Kiev.
30 September / 13 October, 2021.

Endnotes.

[1] NB In Directive № 359/E and elsewhere, Bp Irenei conflates the terms “Archdiocese” and “Exarchate,” in a manner liable to mislead. To be clear, in the quoted passage, Bp Irenei is speaking solely about the MP Archdiocese (which is not an Exarchate), and not about the Patriarchal Exarchate in Western Europe, which is in reality a different ecclesiastical body from the MP Archdiocese.

[2] Πρωτοδευτέρας ιδʹ: «Δεῖ γὰρ ἕκαστον τὰ οἰκεῖα μέτρα γινώσκειν …»

[3] Βʹ Οἰκουμενικῆς Συνόδου βʹ: «Τοὺς ὑπὲρ διοίκησιν Ἐπισκόπους ταῖς ὑπερορίοις Ἐκκλησίαις μὴ ἐπιέναι, μηδὲ συγχέειν τὰς Ἐκκλησίας …»

[4] Ἐν Ἀντιοχείᾳ ιγʹ: «Μηδένα Ἐπίσκοπον τολμᾷν ἀφ’ ἑτέρας ἐπαρχίας εἰς ἑτέραν μεταβαίνειν … εἰ μὴ παρακληθεὶς ἀφίκοιτο διὰ γραμμάτων τοῦ τε Μητροπολίτου καὶ τῶν σὺν αὐτῷ Ἐπισκόπων, ὧν εἰς τὴν χώραν παρέρχοιτο. Εἰ δὲ μηδενὸς καλοῦντος ἀπέλθοι ἀτάκτως ἐπὶ … καταστάσει τῶν ἐκκλησιαστικῶν πραγμάτων, μὴ προσηκόντων αὐτῷ, ἄκυρα μὲν τὰ ὑπ’ αὐτοῦ πραττόμενα τυγχάνειν, καὶ αὐτὸν δὲ ὑπέχειν τῆς ἀταξίας αὐτοῦ, καὶ τῆς παραλόγου ἐπιχειρήσεως τὴν προσήκουσαν δίκην, καθῃρημένον ἐντεῦθεν ἤδη ὑπὸ τῆς Ἁγίας Συνόδου.»

[5] Ἐν Σαρδικῇ ιδʹ: «[Ὁ Πρεσβύτερος ἢ Διάκονος] ἐχέτω ἐξουσίαν ἐπὶ τὸν Ἐπίσκοπον τῆς Μητροπόλεως τῆς αὐτῆς Ἐπαρχίας καταφυγεῖν· εἰ δὲ ὁ τῆς Μητροπόλεως ἄπεστιν, ἐπὶ τὸν πλησιόχωρον κατατρέχειν …»

[6] Πενθέκτης ιζʹ:«… μηδένα τῶν ἁπάντων κληρικῶν, κἂν ἐν οἱῳδήποτε τυγχάνῃ βαθμῷ, ἄδειαν ἔχειν, ἐκτὸς τῆς τοῦ οἰκείου Ἐπισκόπου ἐγγράφου ἀπολυτικῆς, ἐν ἑτέρᾳ κατατάττεσθαι Ἐκκλησίᾳ …»

[7] Bp Irenei (Steenberg) [M. C. Steenberg], “On the Canonical Situation of Russian Orthodoxy in Britain,” 1.