It has been clear for decades that the Russian Orthodox Church will eventually have to set up a united Russian Orthodox Metropolia of Europe (R.O.M.E.), ‘the basis of a future new Local Church’, in the words of the ever-memorable Patriarch Alexis II. The only reasons why this does not yet exist are due to the consequences of the atheist persecution of the Russian Church after 1917 and the ensuing chaotic conditions and political and spiritual divisions of the Russian Diaspora in Western Europe. Such a united Metropolia was made impossible by the lack of trust of the vast majority of Russian emigres and other members of the Church in the authority of a Patriarchate captive to atheism. And then there was the fact that many emigres who settled specifically in Paris were the very dissidents, or their descendants, who had carried out the Russophobic Revolution and then quit the Russian Church.
However, three events have changed all this. These are: the uniting of the Church inside Russia (the Patriarchate) and the Church Outside Russia (ROCOR) in 2007, proving that the Church inside Russia is free; the clear rejection of unity with the Mother-Church by the Paris Jurisdiction (‘Rue Daru’) in an adolescent tantrum (though repentance is still possible); a very extensive new Russian-speaking Diaspora in Europe, making some of the old, politicized émigré attitudes irrelevant. In the light of these events, it has been possible to envision the way ahead and the structures of the future more clearly. These take the form of a united European Metropolia under the Church Outside Russia, itself under Patriarchal authority, as per the 2007 agreement between the two parts of the Church. Why is such a single Metropolia of Europe necessary and why are National Metropolias unnecessary?
A United Metropolia of Europe
It would make no sense to attempt to set up National Metropolias for two reasons. Firstly, any Metropolia should have several bishops, many tens of thousands of active faithful in large parishes and an infrastructure of church properties, as well as a seminary. No Western European country is in such a situation. United we stand, divided we fall. In other words, a Metropolia should have real substance to it and not be a philosophical and financially bankrupt fantasy of micro-communities of untrained clergy without their own premises and without the Tradition. In reality, the territory of Western Europe is little bigger in size than many Metropolias in the Russian Federation or than the Metropolia of Kazakhstan. There, the structure of several diocesan bishops operating under the authority of a Metropolitan, such as is required in Western Europe, is now common.
Secondly, any acceptance of National Metropolias would risk encouraging the spiritual disease of nationalism, so common in European history. Western Europe has a common background culture in a first millennium of provincial Roman Orthodoxy and a second millennium of Secularism, either in its Roman Catholic/Protestant guise or else in the form of Atheism. In other words, there are few real differences in mentality in Western Europe – it is a cultural whole, with a similar civilizational ethos and history. This is neither Asia, nor Latin America, nor Africa, but Western Europe, which has all gone through a similar succession of phases and historical periods, from the First Millennium to the Middle Ages, from Renaissance to Reformation, from Enlightenment to Industrial Revolution, from European (World) Wars to the EU-dominated Europe.
Western Europe divides neatly into dioceses. With a population of more or less exactly 400 million and a multinational Russian Orthodox population of at least five million, there are six clear-cut geographical Archdioceses of: the German Lands – Germany, Austria, German Switzerland, Luxembourg, Liechtenstein, the Netherlands, Flanders and also Hungary, with a history linked to Austria (129 million); the French Lands – France, Wallonia, French Switzerland, Monaco (69 million); the Isles (of Britain and Ireland) – 69 million; Iberia – Spain, Portugal and Andorra (55 million); the Italian Lands – Italy, Ticino, San Marino, Malta (52 million); Scandinavia – Sweden, Finland, Denmark, Norway and Iceland (26 million – a vast area, but with a tiny population).
It could therefore be supposed that the future Metropolia might initially consist of six regional bishops, led by a Metropolitan. That is a minimum. Such huge territories could easily require two or more bishops; that would make a minimum total of twelve bishops, led by a Metropolitan. It would most certainly need its own central Cathedral and its own seminary (not an institute of philosophy), where clergy could be properly and practically trained in liturgics and pastoral matters. In this we should learn from the examples of some smaller Local Orthodox Churches, those of the Czech Lands and Slovakia, Poland, Serbia (responsible for ex-Yugoslavia), or the Latvian and Moldovan Orthodox Churches of the Russian Orthodox Church.
Towards a Future Local Church?
If there are no Western Europeans, then there can be no evolution of such a Russian Orthodox Metropolia of Europe into a future new Local Church. That is, if people are not permanently resident in Western Europe, if their descendants are not born here, then they are not Western Europeans, but are merely passing through. In this case, embassy chapels in capital cities or titular dioceses attached to Local Churches in the Balkans or elsewhere are enough. Only if people have some identity as Western Europeans and speak the local language, or are actually Western European by ancestry, can we speak of a future Local Church, worshipping local languages and venerating local saints. At the same time, however, there can be no Local Church if there are no roots in the living Russian Orthodox Tradition.
No Local Church can be built on superficial, intellectual fantasy, a compromised, disincarnate Halfodoxy, but only on the incarnate Tradition of Orthodoxy, in this case, the Russian Tradition. Failed experiments in France and the USA make this quite clear. Quite simply, a Church which is not rooted in the Russian Orthodox Tradition – in terms of dogmatics (e.g. attitude to ecumenism), monastic and ascetic discipline (fasting and prayer), Orthodox family life (continuity), canon law (clergy canonically ordained), liturgical practice (e.g. ability to celebrate and sing properly, the tradition of confession and communion, modest dress), canonical iconography and calendar is not a Russian Orthodox Church, but only an ism of the Protestant/Catholic/ Anglican/Uniat type, decorated with icons.
All attempts to establish a Russian Orthodox Metropolia of Europe, let alone a new Local Church, have so far failed because of a lack of people who are rooted in the Russian Orthodox Tradition and live throughout Europe. Therefore, there has been a corresponding lack of finance and infrastructure. The Church develops from the bottom, from the grassroots, it is not created top-down by an intellectual elite which has no roots in the Tradition, but only in a liberal, modernistic, philosophical system, dating back to a Russophobic, anti-Incarnational and so anti-Tsardom ideology of the early 20th century. The Church Tradition stands firmly on two legs – family life (the continuity of the incarnate Tradition passed from one generation to the next) and monastic life (monks come from families and live according to the Church Fathers and ascetic teaching).
The Church’s Tradition is thus Trinitarian, based on the Incarnation of the Son (family life) and on the Holy Spirit (ascetic life). The Church develops on these two legs and the Tradition must be kept integrally. The Church will not develop from heterodox interference and contamination, introduced by elderly secularist ideologists or their recent, ill-informed converts from heterodox backgrounds who have not yet integrated the Faith. Today’s Europe is 95% atheist. Paradoxically, it may be that such an unpromising background can bring forth the fruit required for a new Local Church. Only when the heterodox seed of old has died out, can new life spring forth. Just as Russia was once ruled by atheists, so there too new life has sprung up. The same may be true for Western Europe, where so many of our people have come to us in the last generation, new emigres from the former Soviet Union, added to the older layers and generations from the past.
Archpriest Andrew Phillips,
Colchester, Essex, England
7/20 May 2014
St Nil of Sora