Daily Archives: May 28, 2018

Towards a Local Church of Western Europe

A Metropolia of Western Europe

It was in April 1988 that I first proposed in French a paper on a Metropolia of Western Europe, composed of six dioceses in six different linguistic and cultural areas (cross-border) which I called, Gallia, Germania, Iberia, Italia, Scandinavia and the Isles. (See, ‘A Vision for the Orthodox Churches of Western Europe’, published in Orthodox England, Vol 4, No 1, September 2001). My thought then was that this could become the foundation of a restored Local Church of Western Europe. This was a historic suggestion, as for well over 900 years this had ceased to exist.

Thirty Years Ago

The idea was dismissed in Paris, the historic centre of the Russian emigration in Western Europe, and the forward-looking project proved to be impossible then. There were only three groups who could realistically have contributed something towards it: the Rue Daru or Paris Exarchate group (RD); the Moscow Patriarchate Exarchate (MP) and the Church Outside Russia (ROCOR). Of these three, the old Rue Daru had tied itself up in modernist knots (nothing can be built on compromises) and in any case under US-run Constantinople it was not politically free to do anything of the sort.

As for the old MP, it was tiny because it was so distrusted by all. Run in fact by part of the Soviet Communist Party, it too was not politically free and moreover it had dangerously renovationist figures in it. As for the old ROCOR, it was small, disorganized, elderly and above all, inward-looking, as it still defined itself as being a group opposed to the atheist regime inside Russia, rather than as a key part of a future Local Church. It was living in reference to the past, not the future. The situation was to alter radically only after the year 2000, for those with the vision to see ahead.

Fifteen Years Ago

After the Moscow Council of August 2000, with a new archbishop after 1993, the Rue Daru group fell into conversations with the by then largely politically free MP, which was still very small in Western Europe. It was virtually agreed that RD would at last return to the jurisdiction of the MP and become an autonomous Metropolia within it, as a foundation for a future Local Church. However, Archbishop Serge (Konovalov) of the Rue Daru jurisdiction was to die tragically on 22 January 2003 and the next archbishop, Gabriel (De Vylder), was a furious Russophobe and strongly modernistic.

Indeed, since then, having missed the boat and set on a suicidal path, the Rue Daru group has largely fallen into irrelevance, its vital forces having quit it for one part or the other of the Russian Orthodox Church. Looking back, there was Providence here, since Archbishop Serge’s hopes would in any case have been dashed by the dominant wing of the Exarchate, represented by his successor. Today Rue Daru represents only 60 scattered parishes and communities, most of them very small. Most of its living parishes are in fact Moldovan and Romanian, with priests loaned by the MP.

The MP Needs a Partner

Why did the MP enter into such negotiations with Rue Daru? Simply because alone it could do nothing. Thus, even though the once few MP parishes of 30 years ago today number perhaps 250 in Western Europe with six bishops, dwarving the one-bishop Rue Daru group (ROCOR has about 100 parishes in Western Europe with three bishops), it is essentially an ethnic group. It is composed of recent immigrants, often  not understanding local languages and culture. The MP needs those who have this understanding. Let us compare as examples the MP and ROCOR dioceses in the Isles.

Although on paper the MP diocese here is much bigger, in reality most of its communities are tiny (less than ten!), often with only a few services a year, without property and without a regular priest. It is a paper empire, all its money expended on its ex-Anglican church in London. ROCOR probably actually has almost as many people, more property, is better established and tends to attract people who are better-established in these Isles. Often, those immigrants who have been here for more than ten years tend to drift across to ROCOR, their children more integrated into society.

Today

The old, inward-looking and too often politicized ROCOR, which largely died out in the 1980s and 1990s, could not have been a partner for the ultimate aim of building a new Local Church: however, the new ROCOR, born after the reconciliation with the MP in 2007, can be such a partner. The MP of the early 2000s, still with an old-fashioned, Sovietized cast of mind, could not see this and sought the wrong partner, one compromised in modernism. Today it needs a skeleton, a structure, solid Russian Orthodox people with local knowledge: it is only ROCOR that can provide this.

On Injustices in Church Life

The Church, the Incarnate Body of Christ, has always been the central battlefield between God and the world, whose prince is Satan. It is for this reason that the world constantly tries to destroy and corrupt the Church, infiltrating it with those who foolishly and blindly do Satan’s will. History is full of notorious examples of internal enemies and traitors in Church life. Indeed this was the foundation of monastic life in the fourth century. All this is because the presence of Christ is abhorrent to Satan, who wants the world for himself, as we see in the temptations of Christ, related in the Gospel of Matthew 4. Satan has always tried to make the Church into the world, to make Faith into a mere State or institutional ‘religion’. He makes bishops and priests into anti-pastors, into scribes (vain and pompous intellectuals like Arius and so many pompous academics who, puffed up with futile knowledge as the Apostle Paul describes (2 Tim 3, 4), think that they know everything) and pharisees (ritualists), not to mention persecutors and bureaucrats. Thus, in Church history, every heresy and every schism has been an attempt, usually unconscious because of the spiritual delusion of those who lead heresy and schism, to compromise the Church with the world.

Thus, in the seventh century in these Isles, disorganized but holy Irish monks were bewildered by organized but cold Roman religion; during the later first millennium the zealous monks of New Rome (Constantinople) were cruelly persecuted by iconoclast emperors and empresses with their pro-Islamic political projects; in the eleventh century Old Rome fell into the temptation of making its bishop into a universal emperor who commanded armies and tortureers, replaced God and from whom, they said, proceeded the Holy Spirit and so all truth and authority; a few centuries ago in Russia a great debate arose between non-possessing hermits and those who ran monasteries as economic units with farmlands and peasants; a little over a century ago the Russian Church, though with great institutions, was compromised as part of State machinery and the people flocked not to wealthy bishop-bureaucrats, city career priests and professional Italianate opera choirs in stone city churches, but to poor spirit-bearing elders in wooden chapels in provincial monasteries; and in our own times the greatest saint of the Diaspora, St John of Shanghai, was put on trial by bishops who backed secular-minded people who had money and power, and not the faithful and the true.

What are we to do in the face of injustices in Church life?

Firstly, we may be wrong: we can only know that we are right, if we are persecuted. Christ tells us so (Lk 21 and Jn. 16). So let us accept persecution provided that it does not force us into breaking the commandments. If it does mean compromising the commandments, we must leave for another canonical, and not uncanonical, diocese. For persecution is no self-justifying excuse for falling away into schism. The Church is everywhere littered with little groups, or rather sects of extreme, for instance of new calendarists and old calendarists, who were often initially victims of episcopal injustices, but who now have no canonical status and so have discredited themselves. But the Church calendar is also everywhere littered with those who bore injustices, only recently St Nectarius of Egina and St John of Shanghai, and so became saints. They did not take off their crowns.

Secondly, while you stay in the Church with those who cause injustice, do not participate in that injustice, side with the victims of the injustice. They are anti-pastors, but you must remain pastors, your conscience clean. The bullies, narcissists and manipulators of the naive, with their ‘gaslighting’ lies, hypocrisy and attempts to discredit, will not win. They do not think of the Last Judgement and tremble at it, but you do think of it and tremble at it.

Thirdly, we must know that, as they say, what goes round, comes round. Our persecutors should be trembling – in any case, they soon will be. I have seen so many who have persecuted Church people, terrible things have happened to them all sooner or later, without exception. Over the last forty years and more, I have seen them, bishops and priests dying suddenly after acting outrageously. They thought they could get away with it: they could not. Be patient: the Truth will out. God is always on the side of the good and the faithful. Be patient, justice is always done, for man proposes, but God disposes: Be not deceived; God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, that shall he also reap (Galatians 6, 7).