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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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?
- 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.
- 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.
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