A Reply to Fr George Mitrofanov


In his strangely-titled interview “The Outcasts Unite with the Outcasts” (see above), Archpriest George Mitrofanov, himself perhaps something of an outcast, has declared that the two parts of the Russian Church united far ‘too late and far too fast’. With all respect, I am surprised by both these views.

Firstly, ‘too late’ is only from the viewpoint of those who want the past back. The past was of course dead 90 years after the Revolution. It is totally unrealistic to imagine that the past could be alive after 90 years, after a human lifetime. And why would you wish the past to be alive? It was the decadence of the past that caused the Russian Revolution. Recreate the past and all you will do is create another Revolution. All parts of the Church have moved on, we live in the here and now, united by the New Martyrs and Confessors created by the Revolution, not united by some unrealistic nostalgia for a past that had many faults.

Our unity is not that of ‘outcasts with the outcasts’, and even less of ‘the marginal with the marginal’ (as in the original Russian), but of the mainstream with the mainstream. It was precisely the marginal (whether marginal extremists of the old calendarist sort in ROCOR or marginal extremists of the renovationist sort in the Sourozh Diocese and elsewhere belonging to the Patriarchal part of the Church) who rejected unity.

Too late? Our unity became inevitable after the long-awaited Jubilee Council of August 2000 and the implementation of that Council which took the Church inside Russia several years. I would say that unity came just at the right time; had we waited longer, many in ROCOR would have joined the Church inside Russia; had we not waited, many in ROCOR would have objected to the haste and there could have been a schism splitting ROCOR down the middle.

Secondly,‘too fast’? Here again we see the idealism of Fr George concerning the principles of the All-Russian Church Council of 1917-1918, and that they (!) had formed the foundation of the life of the diaspora of the Russian Church. In reality, some decisions of that Council were based on the democratism and liberalism of Protestant-style Kerenskyism; thank God they were not all implemented, we do not want the negative aspects of the 1917-18 Council.

Here Fr George also writes that ‘and we most certainly overestimated your ability to influence our situation here’. It would have been an amazing piece of pretentiousness on the part of ROCOR if we had ever imagined that, small as we are and engaged in the mission to bring Orthodoxy to the Non-Orthodox world as we are, which is the real mission of the emigration, we could ever have influenced the situation in Russia.

Internal Russian problems can only be solved by Russians inside Russia; we have no such pretensions. We did not produce the New Martyrs – they were produced in Russia and they will provide healing inside Russia, not us. We have our own problems to solve and we look to our own saints, like St John of Shanghai, to help solve them.

Finally, Fr George writes that, ‘our belated unification’ resulted ‘in members of both parties becoming either at best idealists, or in the worst case just a product of the circumstances’. No doubt there are individuals on both sides who belong to these categories, but only on the fringes. The mainstream knew perfectly well what was happening. The scandals on both sides, for instance, the names of those who had worked for and were compromised by the KGB and the CIA (and MI5 and the DGSE in France), were well known to us; but the mainstream on both sides we had very pragmatic, Incarnational, views.

Inside Russia they knew that they could not go on without those who represented the unSoviet past and outside Russia we knew that we could not go on in isolation, that our mission to the world outside Russia had to be supported from inside Russia. It was precisely the dreamers who refused unity, whether the disincarnate, old calendarist (and sometimes CIA-financed) sectarians on the fringes of ROCOR or the Parisian-inspired disincarnate Russophobes on the fringes of the then Patriarchate (also very clearly supported, at least morally, by CIA-type organizations).

To paraphrase the Irish poet Yeats: Things did not fall apart; the Centre could hold. In other words, since 2007 on the mainstream has won the day.

Archpriest Andrew Phillips

Speaker at the Fourth All-Diaspora Council, San Francisco 2006
Concelebrant at the Signing of the Act of Canonical Communion, Moscow 2007