On July 18th, 1870, the (First Vatican) Council met for the last time. As the first of the Fathers stepped forward to declare his vote (on papal infallibility), a storm of lightning and thunder suddenly burst over St Peter’s. All through the morning the voting continued, and every vote was accompanied by a flash and a roar from heaven.
Lytton Strachey, on ‘Cardinal Manning’ in his ‘Eminent Victorians’
The resignation of Pope Benedict XVI last week shocked many, not least Roman Catholics. Conspiracy theories are rife, all the more so since on the evening of his resignation a violent thunderstorm erupted over Rome and, dramatically, lightning struck St Peter’s Basilica. Some of these theories assert that the Pope of Rome is dying of cancer and has not long to live, others that he resigned in order to escape a deepening of the pedophile scandal, or else a financial scandal. Others believe that the next Pope will be the last Pope and will call a Third Vatican Council, which will be the end of millennial Roman Catholicism.
According to these crisis theories, this last Pope will either be a saintly man or else a profoundly evil one, and that either the Vatican will come under persecution and disappear, or else that a new Church will replace it. In the latter case, for us, this can only mean a Western European Metropolia under the Russian Orthodox Church, the only multinational Local Church, and the only Local Church large enough to establish such a Metropolia. One wonders if this Friday’s meteor that appeared over Russia and then exploded just south of Ekaterinburg, the place of martyrdom of the Royal Martyrs in 1918, is not linked with this.
Against this background do we not see the genocide of Orthodox Syria, organised and financed by the anti-Christian Western Powers and their Islamist allies? It is written: ‘Nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom…land fearful sights and great signs shall there be from heaven…’ (Lk 21, 10-11). However, let us remain sober. What practically are the prospects for such a Metropolia to come into being? The Orthodox Diaspora seems to be divided into narrow ethnic ghettos, generally unable to see beyond temporary nationalistic or political interests. Such ghettos have only one destiny – to die out. They are history.
A great move forward occurred six years ago, when the two parts of the Russian Orthodox Church were reunited, after it had been proved that the Church inside Russia was free of State interference. Now together and growing with 824 parishes and monasteries in countries of the Diaspora, Russian Orthodox churches outside Russian Orthodox canonical territory are clearly a vital part of Orthodox life in the Diaspora. It is obvious then that no Metropolia can be built on political division, or on groups used for Cold War purposes and financed by Non-Orthodox Powers, who are at present orchestrating the destruction of Orthodox Syria.
The regular meetings of all local Orthodox Bishops in different countries or groups of countries (North America, Latin America, France, Great Britain and Ireland etc) only became possible after this reuniting of both parts of the Russian Orthodox Church in 2007. Until then the Russian Church of the Diaspora was excluded for political reasons and so any meetings were unrepresentative, political manipulations. The next step is an inter-Orthodox step to unite the Diaspora in regional Metropolias. Such regional Metropolias, in Western Europe, in the Americas and in Australasia, cannot be built on the lowest common denominator.
The fact is that Metropolias, the essential basis for new future Local Churches, will be built on the maximum of Orthodox practice, not on some artificially contrived minimum and compromise. The concept that a Church can be built on the lowest common denominator of different Orthodox dioceses (so-called ‘jurisdictions’) is surreal. It must be built on the maximum and only then can economy be applied. Any other ‘solution’ would be a grave mistake. Indeed, it was tried experimentally in the USA during the Cold War and has been a moral and financial fiasco. This is an experiment not to be repeated.
For example, all Local Churches believe that there are no sacraments outside the Orthodox Church; however, all regularly apply economy in their reception of heterodox. All Local Churches agree that there is only one Church calendar. However, all apply economy, that is allow temporarily for pastoral reasons, the use of the secular calendar for the fixed feasts, to those communities which are not spiritually strong enough to live the Orthodox calendar. Similarly, all Local Churches clearly need traditional monastic life, as with the Greek Archdiocese in the USA, which has been saved by the monasteries of Fr Ephraim.
Of course, all can also agree that some extreme practices are simply unacceptable, even out of economy. We can think of intercommunion, the abolition of fasting and confession, cremation, or other strange practices of small marginal convert groups, who have never integrated the Orthodox Faith. These of course we exclude. The time is coming when new Orthodox Metropolias, composed voluntarily, will be born. Orthodox need them so as to be stronger together. But also the failing heterodox world, which is clearly in crisis, needs a canonical Church with a married priesthood and sacraments. It has only one choice.