Introduction: The Past 1918
The Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia (ROCOR) was effectively formed after the martyrdom of the Imperial Family, even if it was only on 20 November 1920 that the besieged and persecuted Patriarch Tikhon of Moscow and his Synod in Moscow issued Decree № 362. This instructed all Russian Orthodox bishops outside Soviet territory, unable to keep in contact with a free Moscow, to organize themselves as an independent Synod.
With personal experience and knowledge of both the bright moments and the dark moments in the life of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia (ROCOR) over the past almost fifty years, here is a brief sketch of the near-centennial history of ROCOR. This is a history which is varied, filled with diabolical temptations and insidious attacks from internal and external enemies, and yet one in which faithfulness has always in the end prevailed.
The Old ROCOR: 1918-1943
In exile, ROCOR, with over 30 bishops, organized its monastic and parish life worldwide. It included many of the best theologians from the Church before the 1917 Revolution and bravely stood up both to the compromises of senior Church representatives captive in the Soviet Union and to the modernist heresies of the schismatic Paris Jurisdiction. Thus, patriotically, most members of the Church rejoiced in the successful defence of the Russian Lands following the racist Nazi invasion of 1941.
However, there were also more worldly émigrés, dangerous sectarian elements, who were more politicians than Churchmen, and threatened the future of the Church. Especially after the repose of Metr Antony of Kiev in 1936, the first Primate of ROCOR, these elements slowly began to threaten the integrity of the Church leadership. Indeed, just before and during the Second World War such secular political elements even tried to compromise the ROCOR episcopate with Fascism.
The Threat: 1943-1968
After the Second World War these elements, now resettled in the USA, started to try and compromise the Church with the CIA and other dependent spy services. From the 1960s on, indeed, these elements tried to isolate the Church, putting the future St John of Shanghai on trial and linking ROCOR with fanatical old calendarists, making out that all the Local Churches had mysteriously ‘lost grace’, which they alone had conserved.
According to such phariseeism, on account of the political compromises of a few hostage-bishops in Eastern Europe, 100 million Orthodox were condemned, ‘deprived of grace’! Such was the theological nonsense of these extremists. However, these Donatists were opposed by the mass of the Church, who remained faithful to the old ROCOR, remembering the history of the Church before the Revolution and the whole bimillennial Church.
The Time of Troubles: 1968-1993
The situation worsened at the end of the 1960s, though gallant bishops, like the ever-memorable Bishop Sava of Edmonton (+ 1973), Bishop Nectary of Seattle (+ 1983), Archbishop Antony of Geneva (+ 1993) and many faithful priests and laypeople, all disciples of the spirit of St John of Shanghai, resisted. They held faith with the missionary heritage of the Church and genuine monastic life, with the Orthodox Tradition.
Meanwhile, on the political wing, one senior archimandrite debauched nuns and sold and stole property in Jerusalem for $6 million, money which he pocketed, though at last he was defrocked for this and his other crimes. However, his father tried to ally ROCOR with old calendarism and later opened communities which were not on the canonical territory of ROCOR. Some very dark events took place then.
The Rebirth of ROCOR: 1993-2018
In 1993, 75 years after the slaughter of the Royal Martyrs, came the long-awaited canonization of St John of Shanghai, who had so long awaited the canonization of the Royal Martyrs. This was a turning-point, for it meant that the Johannite wing of the Church, the spirit of St John, was winning, whereas the political wing, with its spiritual and moral hypocrisy, love of ritual, pomp and show, was being defeated. Meanwhile, in Moscow in 2000 the compromised of the Church inside Russia repented, at last canonizing the first of the New Martyrs and Confessors, nineteen years after ROCOR, and rejecting political and spiritual compromises. The final victory came in 2007 when ROCOR accepted the repentance of those in Moscow who had compromised themselves during the Soviet period.
However, some in ROCOR itself had also had to repent for the errors which had compromised it with the nonsense of politicized individuals and their naïve followers. In effect, both the old ‘Moscow Patriarchate’ (MP) and the anti-historical sectarian trend in ROCOR in the 1960s-1990s were finished. Even the term ‘MP’ is now used only by polemicists, who cling to the unpleasant past in order to justify their sectarian present. Since 2007, there has only been the Russian Orthodox Church: the 98% inside the Russian Lands and the 2% outside them. We are united by our common saints, the Royal Martyrs, all the tens of thousands of New Martyrs and Confessors who followed them, and the confessor-saints of ROCOR: St Jonah of Hankou (+ 1925), St Seraphim of Sofia (+ 1950) and St John of Shanghai (+ 1966).
Conclusion: The Future 2018
Approaching the third decade of the 21st century and its centenary, today’s ROCOR must stand steadfast in its uncompromising faith. It must stand against geriatric ecumenism, political or academic compromises, which make theology and so Church life into an ideological or intellectual game. It must oppose those who value property and money over human souls, always siding with the saints. ROCOR must be the Local Church, on whatever continent we exist.
Throughout Western Europe, the Americas and Australasia, ROCOR must stand for the local people, whatever their native language and origins. It must stand for already Orthodox people, as well as for people who seek to live according to the Orthodox Tradition. We must stand against ideology, bureaucracy, centralization, politics, what is done for mere show and prestige, for the Orthodox Tradition without either compromise or sectarian foolishness.