The truth will set you free.
Blessed are you, when men shall revile you and persecute you and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my Name’s sake.
As a result of the tragedy that struck the Russian Empire in 1917, today there exist four Russian Orthodox-connected Church jurisdictions or groups outside the canonical territory of the Russian Orthodox Church (that is, outside the former Soviet Union except for Georgia, plus China and Japan). These are, in order of size: The international ROCOR (Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia) group; the international Moscow Patriarchal group; the local OCA (Orthodox Church in America) group, geographically limited to North America; the local Paris group, geographically limited to a scattering in Western Europe. Their future is important because it will shape the now vital prophetic mission of the Russian Orthodox Church to today’s apostate and spiritually vacant Western world.
- The Past and the Present a.The ROCOR group
The exiles in this group, born just before or after 1917 as well as their descendants, often had an unjustified admiration for the pre-Revolutionary Russian State. This émigré childhood nostalgia for the largely unknown past was to a considerable extent illusory. After all, the Church administration before the Revolution was dominated not by the spiritual, but by careerists, nationalists and bureaucrats, opposed by renovationists. Between them they managed to cause all the divisions inside and outside Russia after the Revolution. In March 1917 most of them at once betrayed the pious Tsar, whose desire to canonize the saints, like St Seraphim of Sarov, they had resisted – a clear resistance to the Holy Spirit! If everything had been so wonderful before 1917, there would indeed never have been a Revolution and if, impossibly, we recreated the past as it was, there would simply be another Revolution. Moreover, that Revolution was caused by the treason of the elite of aristocrats and intellectuals, so many of whom ended up as nostalgic emigres, leaving the Russian Empire and Church to its tragic fate that they had created.
Historically comprising the vast majority of Russian émigrés, ROCOR has always had two wings: a political wing and what may be called a ‘Johannite wing’. The political wing was always much concerned with political, administrative, nationalist, financial and property matters (even accepting money from the CIA during the Cold War, placing anti-Communism before Christ). The Johannite wing is that of the three saints, St John (from whom it takes its name) of Shanghai, Western Europe and San Francisco, St Jonah of Hankow and St Seraphim of Sofia. Of course, it also includes many others: Archbishop Antony of Geneva, Archbishop Averky, Bishop Sava, Bishop Nektary and a great number of clergy and faithful. It has always seen itself as an integral and organic part of the Russian Orthodox Church and Tradition, only temporarily separated from the then enslaved Church in Moscow. (I write as a spiritual son of the ever-memorable Archbishop Antony of Geneva, + 1993, who was in his turn a spiritual son of St John, + 1966).
Today, numbering several hundred thousand, ROCOR faces domination by American cultural conservatism. Centred in New York and with the vast majority of its parishes in North America and its Australian satellite, outside of which it has lost much of its former influence and numbers, it must look to reality and the future. It cannot be a prisoner of the past, for the authentic Tradition is always spiritual, radical and dynamic. It must conserve and live, not preserve and die, in other words, it must keep alive, not preserve as in a museum. It must resist the temptation of the New World which, without its own culture, tends to preserve and freeze all imported culture in the state in which it was first imported, regardless of its spiritual value, as a sort of ethnic curiosity from the Old World. Today, ROCOR has been much revitalized and renewed by immigration from the ex-Soviet Union and so links with reality. Its survival is dependent on these links with the living source of its Faith.
b. The Moscow Patriarchal group.
This group used to be tiny and paradoxically often expressed Soviet State nationalism. It was at times capable of being pro-Stalinist and often showed strong signs of the spiritual impurity of renovationist modernism. These spiritually repulsive abuses are rapidly disappearing into the darkness of the past. With huge immigration from the ex-Soviet Union, the group has now greatly expanded, especially, but not only, in Western Europe. Today in numbers it has begun to rival ROCOR, which it will soon overtake. With the gradual transfiguration of the Church inside the Russian Lands over the last generation, especially since the turning-point of the Council in 2000, the living Church inside the Russian Lands is the key on which this and all the other groups depend.
c. The OCA Group
The OCA group, numbering 90,000 faithful, grew out of Slav Uniat immigrants to North America from the former Austro-Hungarian Empire. At last free of Roman Catholic and State oppression, they joined their ancestral Russian Orthodox Church in the USA in the years around 1900. Today, the OCA is only indirectly under the patronage of the Russian Orthodox Church. This group has for 100 years been politically and culturally subject to domination by American cultural liberalism. This is not at all a question of the use of the English language, which of course is perfectly natural as language is only a missionary tool, but a question of the assimilation of an alien, anti-Orthodox American culture and so spiritual degradation.
The OCA will either remain anchored to the Orthodox Tradition of its Mother-Church or else it will die out as spiritually irrelevant, like parts of the Greek Archdiocese in North America, assimilated into the surrounding Non-Orthodox culture. Optimistically, over one quarter of it does remain faithful to the Tradition and parts of the rest have been revitalized and renewed by immigration from the ex-Soviet Union and so by links with reality. However, its future remains fragile and uncertain after a century of instability and there are voices in it which wish to betray the Mother-Church.
d. The Paris Group
The Paris group, by far the smallest of the four, was formed by pro-Western masonic aristocrats and emigre intellectuals who had plotted and created the anti-Tsar Revolution, setting up the brief, incompetent Kerensky dictatorship in 1917. This group was so politicized, anti-Russian and modernist that it rejected the Russian Orthodox Church and Tradition. Today, it has in part been renewed by Moldovan immigrants and so links with reality. However, it is not yet clear if the Paris group, controlled by ageing ideologues who have deliberately cut themselves off from the living Russian Church, will meet the spiritual needs of its flock, or if it will be assimilated into spiritual irrelevance.
- The Future: Making the Church Local
In the last few years before the Revolution there were between 142 and 163 bishops for some 117 million faithful in the Russian Orthodox Church. This was pitifully few bishops, on average about one for every 800,000 faithful. Today, for example, the Church of Greece has 100 bishops for 8,500 priests and 10 million people, one bishop for every 100,000 people. On this basis, the Russian Orthodox Church should today have 1,640 bishops and 139,000 priests for its 164 million faithful. Instead, there are only 368 bishops and a pitifully few 36,000 priests, one bishop for every 450,000 faithful and one priest for every 4,500 faithful! Bishops are still very distant figures. (In the Church of Jerusalem which has a flock of 130,000, there are 20 bishops, one for every 6,500 faithful).
It is clear that at least another 100,000 priests and churches are needed in the Russian Church, if ever this pastoral crisis of nominalism is to be overcome. Clearly, just as has long been done outside Russia, devout married men, financed by secular occupations, will have to receive basic practical training and then be ordained as ‘worker priests’. Under the direction of experienced full-time priests, they could serve in simple, cheap-to-build, wooden churches, without the golden luxury and marble pomp of cathedrals. Such ‘kit-churches’ would create real local parishes and pastoral centres, at last bringing the Church back home to the people at the local level. However, this ‘pastoralization’ and ‘localization’ of the Church is still for the future. But at least the first step in making the Church local has taken place in the process of ‘Metropolitanization’.
Here the principle of one bishop for about every 100 priests is now respected in the Russian Church. These 368 bishops have at last been arranged in groups, generally of four or five bishops, called Metropolias. The word ‘Metropolia’ means ‘the Church of the Mother-City’ and ‘Metropolitanization’ is an attempt to return to the practice of the first centuries and make the Church local. Metropolias are thus like miniature local churches within the Local Church. This ‘Metropolitanization’ of the Russian Church worldwide is a sign of health and is inevitable and irreversible. Non-Metropolitanization is a sign of distance and irrelevance of the Church to local life, its reduction from an incarnate way of life to a theatre of ideology.
However, outside the canonical territory of the Church, Metropolitanization is a gradual and complex process. This is firstly because there are two parts of the Russian Church outside the canonical territory, that directly under the Patriarchate and that under the self-governing Church Outside Russia (ROCOR). Both must first agree to co-operate and so it takes time to form new Russian Orthodox Metropolias worldwide (regardless of whether the two local fragments, the OCA and Paris, would one day want to take part – probably not). Secondly, and even more ambitiously, new Russian Orthodox Metropolias outside the canonical territories are ultimately called on to become the foundations for new Local Churches. This will be when other Orthodox, from far smaller Local Churches and living in those territories, wish to participate in them. This would be a purely voluntary process that could take another 100 years or more.
This setting up of Metropolitan structures, foundations for new Local Churches, is a question of responsibility. There is no room here for destructive nationalism and centralization, either of the aristocratic emigre Russian sort or of the ‘Soviet tank’ sort. Instead sensitivity is required towards different peoples and their legitimate customs. In all these matters we would do well to recall the words of Christ in St Matthew’s Gospel concerning the phariseeism of the Old Jerusalem, which rejected the New Jerusalem: ‘O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets and stonest them which are sent to thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathers her chickens under her wings, and ye would not’.