Monthly Archives: November 2021

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/