Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world…
W.B. Yeats (1865-1939)
The tragedy of the Russian Orthodox Church after 1917 was that the centre in Moscow did not ‘hold’ beneath the weight of atheist persecution. And so anarchy was indeed ‘loosed’. The broadly-based Russian Orthodox Church, uniting all groups and also three-quarters of the whole Orthodox Church, began to ‘fall apart’, especially outside the Soviet Union. The anarchic divisions of the twentieth century were loosed not only on the secular world, with its left and right, which resulted in yet another World War and a Cold War, they were also loosed on the Church. Sadly, Russian Orthodox Church life outside the totalitarian Soviet Union was coloured by these divisions, both in Western Europe and in North America.
Representatives of the Russian Orthodox Church outside the Soviet Union, separated from Moscow by the Great Atheist Persecution, were split by politics into three separate groups. These groups were:
- Representatives of the Russian Orthodox Mother-Church (also called ‘The Moscow Patriarchate’), not only inside the ex-Soviet Union, but also throughout the world, were at times coloured by the left-wing and were certainly used at times by the KGB and its equivalents. For example, as a young priest in Berlin in the 1960s, the future Archbishop George (Wagner) was forced to flee from it for the Paris Jurisdiction after refusing to leave and pick up messages for the KGB in the Russian cemetery there.
- Representatives of the international (basically today, North America, Australia and Western Europe) Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia (‘ROCOR’, also called ‘ROCA’ or ‘the Synod’), were at times coloured by the right-wing and have certainly been financed at times by the CIA. For example, there was the notorious Bishop Gregory Grabbe, not to mention those clerics who have worked for the CIA and its allies in Europe, who compromise ROCOR even further.
- Representatives of the Western European Paris Jurisdiction (also called ‘The Exarchate’ or ‘Rue Daru’), were supposedly politically neutral. This much-changed group, considerably smaller now, as it was purified of the political elements who refused unity with the Mother-Church in 2019, is now the Archdiocese of Churches of the Russian Tradition in Western Europe. (In North America the third group, actually the largest of all, as it had been founded well before the Revolution by economic and not political immigrants from outside the then Russian Empire, was called ‘the Metropolia’ and today is ‘the OCA’. It too was supposedly politically neutral).
Only with the freeing of the Church inside the former Soviet Union after its collapse in 1991, was there any hope of unity. This meant that all groups outside Russia should also in turn have been able to free themselves from political interference and so return to unity. This began to come about only ninety years after the 1917 Revolution, with events from 2007 on.
My personal path amid this chaos has for nearly fifty years been to avoid the politically-coloured extremes of all groups, left and right, and to keep faith with the mainstream of the Church, ignoring politics.
Thus, after getting to know very well the situation and limitations of the Orthodox Church in Great Britain in the 1970s, in 1977 I had arranged to go to Kenya as a missionary and even began learning Swahili in preparation to leave that September. Unfortunately, I was prevented from doing so by the untimely death of the sponsor of the mission, Archbishop Makarios III of Cyprus, on 3 August 1977 (1).
So it was that in 1978 I went to work in Thessaloniki in Greece and made pilgrimages to nearby Mount Athos. After nearly a year spent in Greece, in 1979 I went to study at the Russian Theological Institute of St Sergius in Paris, then the only Orthodox theological institution in Western Europe. I had reached this decision once I had discovered the impossibility of the only alternatives. These had been to study at the Moscow Theological Academy in Russia – impossible because of the Cold War – or else to study at an Orthodox seminary in the USA – equally impossible for me because of the political and sectarian polarisation of the Orthodox world in North America.
After studying at the St Sergius Institute and being ordained in St Alexander Nevsky Cathedral in Paris in January 1985 in what I thought was the politically neutral Paris Jurisdiction, I soon encountered the disastrous influence of Russian freemasonry in that part of the Church. It compromised and destroyed the whole missionary purpose of the Church.
I was saved from that situation by the ever-memorable Archbishop Antony of Geneva of the Western European Diocese of ROCOR, the successor of St John of Shanghai. And it was through him that I later came to know the ever-memorable Metropolitan Laurus, the leader of ROCOR in the USA. In 2007 Metropolitan Laurus brought about the beginnings of the unity of ROCOR, the second largest section of the Russian Diaspora, with the by then freed Russian Orthodox Mother-Church.
As his later successors fell back into the bad old days of ‘mere anarchy’ and failed to rid themselves of politically-inspired right-wing sectarianism, we left for the Archdiocese. Belonging to the new Archdiocese, now cleansed of the freemasonry of its old predecessor, the Exarchate, and so to our great joy reunited with the Mother-Church in 2019, we hope to win the great double prize. This is:
- The prize of authentic, and not theoretical, unity with the freed and restored Patriarchal Russian Orthodox Church.
- The prize of taking part in the worldwide missionary work of the Russian Orthodox Church (2), in South-East Asia, Africa (3), and, for us in Western Europe, and specifically in the British Isles and Ireland, the foundation of our future Local Church (4).
Perhaps it is time for us to rewrite the words of the Irish poet:
‘Things keep together, the centre can hold;
Mere anarchy is withheld from the world’.
Archpriest Andrew Phillips
England, 3 January 2022
- Only a few years ago I received into the Orthodox Church in Colchester the son of the leader of a squad of British soldiers who had been sent to assassinate Archbishop Makarios in one of the ‘dirty tricks’ campaigns mounted against him by the British Establishment in the 1950s. The squad failed: the son is a sign of justice two generations later.
- And as we wrote nearly 30 years ago in November 1993 in Chapter 58 of ‘The Saints of Russia and the Universality of Orthodoxy’, in the book, ‘Orthodox Christianity and the English Tradition’:
‘In the heart of the Russian capital there stands the Church of the Protecting Veil of the Mother of God, known to many, mistakenly, as the Church of St Basil. Standing on Red Square with its cupolas, it has become to the modern world a symbol of Russia, the Eternal Russia of tradition. And this, providentially, is as it should be, for this church is not, as many think, a monument to fantastic or exotic decoration. On the contrary, its architecture is symbolically and sacramentally significant of Russia’s very calling – to gather the peoples of the Earth into the saving fold of Orthodox Christianity.
As Metropolitan Antony (Khrapovitsky) pointed out in his sermon of 1909, ‘The Temple of Glory and the Temple of Sorrow’, each cupola of this church is artfully designed to represent a different culture. One cupola is Mauretanian (African), another Indian, another Roman-Byzantine (Western), another Chinese, and in the centre towers the Orthodox cupola of Russia. The symbolism is clear. All the great cultures of the world on all the continents are united around Orthodoxy. Russia’s inner meaning and calling, the very purpose of her existence, her God-given destiny, is to gather the peoples of the world together, each with its own personality and particularity and culture, into the Church of Christ’.
- ‘The Soviet State exported its faith to the four corners of the Earth. We might suppose that had Russia remained faithful to Christ, she would have exported another faith to those four corners. Instead of sending kalashnikovs to Africa and India, to China and Central America, to Afghanistan and Vietnam, to Cuba and Korea, she would have sent Orthodox missionaries. She would not have translated the works of Lenin, into a hundred tongues, but the service-books of the Church of Christ’. (ibid. November 1993).
- As Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokalamsk said on the programme ‘The Church and the World’ after the Russian Orthodox decision to open an Exarchate for Africans: ‘The decision of the Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church gives the opportunity to those Orthodox believers who do not wish to be associated with schism to be in communion with the canonical Orthodox Church and receive Holy Communion and the other Sacraments from canonical priests’. Such is the situation of many, outside Africa too.