Q: Vladyko Metropolitan, this is the twentieth anniversary of the foundation of the Metropolia of Paris and Europe after the completion of the new Russian Cathedral in the centre of Paris. Can you say something about this moment?
A: Thank you. I have been asked to relate a few facts regarding our Metropolia in this interview. At this historic moment it is not only the twentieth anniversary of our Metropolia, but also 100 years since the Nazi-led European invasion of the Russian Lands – just as European and multinational an invasion as the 1812 invasion – on the feast of All the Russian Saints in 1941; 50 years since the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991; and 25 years since the events in the then Ukraine and the 2016 Council – and we know how those ended.
And it is also 38 years since His Holiness Patriarch Alexei II announced – prophetically –remember this was before the 2007 reconciliation between the two parts of the Russian Church – the intention of establishing a Metropolia for Europe. This was to be built on the foundation laid by all those faithful to the Russian Church, then in three different jurisdictions, one completely outside the Russian Church, and as the foundation of a future new Local Church. As the now autonomous Metropolia, it is still towards this Local Church that we are working. It is not far away now – as the illusions and temptations of the past have fast receded.
Q: Which countries does the Metropolia cover?
A: Its territory covers all the European countries which are not already covered by a Local Church, such as the Serbian, Polish, Greek, Bulgarian, Romanian Churches and the Church of the Czechs and Slovaks. This means 20 mainly Western European countries which all have small Orthodox minorities, less than 5% of the total population, namely: Iceland, Norway, Denmark, Sweden, Finland, Ireland, Wales, England, Scotland, the Netherlands, Germany, Switzerland, Austria, Hungary, France, Belgium, Luxembourg, Portugal, Spain and Italy.
Q: What were the most difficult tasks in establishing the Metropolia?
A: The two most difficult tasks were undoubtedly the struggle against provincialism and parochialism on the one hand and against disincarnate, intellectualized Orthodoxism on the other hand.
Q: Can you explain these words?
A: Provincialism and parochialism were in the twentieth century the bane of all the Local Churches. I remember how back in the early 2000s, Metr Amfilochie of Montenegro told us how when he had first become a bishop, he had decided to visit one of his remote parishes. Up in the mountains, where priests visiting parishioners used to wear a rifle strapped across their shoulders against marauding bears and wolves, there was one parish, which had not seen a bishop in years. In fact, when he got there, the first things the priest asked him was: ‘Who are you?’ He answered, ‘I am your bishop’. The priest asked: ‘What is a bishop?’
It turned out that the ‘priest’ was not a priest at all, he had become a ‘priest’ because his family had from father to son all become priests. The man had never even been ordained. Of course, the incident says much about the failure of bishops to visit their parishes – a common failing in Europe before the Metropolia came into existence – but the story illustrates a real problem – provincialism, even parochialism.
And provincialism and parochialism were always the bane of the Russian diaspora, whether in Paris or New York, with their strange fantasies, theories and cultish and sectarian mentalities, based around strong personalities who lived in isolation from the catholicity and wholeness of the Church. It was only after the fall of the atheist regime in the Soviet Union in 1991 that all the different parts of the broken Russian ship could come together again in synthesis, and by blood, sweat and tears we could overcome such parochialism and provincialism with all its sects and personality cults. Viewed from the Centre, spiritually speaking Europe is only a Western province, even further westwards than provincial Little Russia or Slovakia, far beyond the Carpathians. However, even though we are a province, that does not mean that we have to be provincial, even less parochial. We must value our spiritual attachment to the Centre.
Q: So much for provincialism and parochialism. But what do you mean by ‘a disincarnate, intellectualized Orthodoxism’? What was the difficulty there?
A: At the one extreme stood the provincials and parochials, basically phyletists, bigots and racists. However, on the other side of the same anti-Orthodox coin stood the self-important intellectuals. Their mistake was to imagine that they were important! They misunderstood, they imagined that the Church was based on brains and not on saints, on academia, not on holiness. The two things are quite different. In their way the intellectuals of Paris, like those of ancient Athens and Alexandria, were just as provincial and parochial as the uneducated because they missed the main point. They talked and philosophized, but did not do. Just so much hot air: Orthodoxism.
The uneducated provincials and parochials never understood that the Church is about the Holy Spirit and the transfiguration of fallen humanity despite nationalism, the attachment to this world. Earth is not to take over Heaven. However, the intellectuals never understood that the Church is about the Incarnation, that our Faith is not some vain private fantasy, a mere set of ideas or piece of idealism, but it is about incorporating the Faith into public life. Faith has consequences, it is not some Protestant-style Sunday ‘God-slot’ religion, an intellectual plaything, a hobby or amusement for those with overdeveloped brains and underdeveloped hearts. Faith embraces the whole of our life in all its aspects and inevitably moulds and reshapes the State, including the Western establishments with their idolatrous religion of secularism. Heaven is to be brought to earth.
Q: Twenty years ago did you have grassroots support in establishing the Metropolia?
A: Yes, there was keen and long-standing support from a network of many clergy and laypeople scattered throughout Europe, in all the European capitals and cities from Helsinki to Dublin, from Stockholm to Geneva, from Vienna to Brussels, from Amsterdam to Madrid, from Paris to Munich, from Lisbon to Budapest, from Oslo to London, from Edinburgh to Rome, as well as in many regional centres. However, since they had always lacked a central Metropolitan authority and the corresponding infrastructure, it was difficult to co-ordinate all those who had always shared the same though often unspoken fundamental Russian Orthodox Metropolia values. Many had been waiting for decades, even generations, for such a Metropolia. This is why our annual Metropolitan conferences are so important: they bring people together.
Q: Why does the Metropolia cover Finland? Surely there are parishes of the so-called autonomous Finnish Orthodox?
A: They are not autonomous, but depend entirely on the political situation in Istanbul and Helsinki and for generations there have been other parishes in Finland which have nothing to do with that so-called Finnish Orthodox group. We hold the Orthodox calendar and avoid all manner of Halfodox modernism, such as intercommunion, semi-Uniatism, concelebration with Lutheran bishops and bishopesses or absence of iconostases, the sort of practices that were commonplace only a few years ago among some of the ethnic jurisdictions, whose policies, just like those of the Catholics and Protestants, used to be dictated to them by the US State Department, rather than by the consensus of the Church Fathers.
We have built our Metropolia on this basis, on faithfulness to Orthodoxy. In any of the twenty countries where we have our multi-ethnic jurisdiction, we attract Orthodox of all nationalities. Of course we already have the multinational base of the Russian Church, parishioners originally from the Baltics, Moldova, Central Asia, Poland and Slovakia, as well as from the three Russian Lands themselves, and above all their European-born descendants. Other parishes are in any case composed of local people who for generations have been Orthodox within the Russian Orthodox Churches.
Others come to us as whole communities and parishes because they feel that their identity is fully Orthodox but also European and no longer wish to be attached to their grandparents’ countries and their original ethnic jurisdiction. Others come to us as individuals because they feel that their ethnic jurisdiction, whether, say Greek, Roman Catholic or Protestant – and the two latter are also ethnic jurisdictions, make no mistake about it – has been spiritually corrupted.
Q: But surely the Metropolia is also attached to ‘the grandparents’ country’, to Russia?
A: Spiritually yes, but we have full autonomy, which will develop in time into autocephaly. Everyone knows that and knows also of our commitment to the use of European languages in our services and missionary work. None of the ethnic jurisdictions has such a commitment or such an infrastructure as the Metropolia. The fact is that we are the only multi-ethnic jurisdiction. This is the distinctive identity of the Metropolia.
Q: As we know, there are still parishes in the twenty countries of Europe which are outside the Metropolia. Do you not want to bring them into the Metropolia?
A: Why? Everyone is free. There is no question of coercion. For example, there are embassy churches which are attached to their homelands. They will never be part of the Metropolia as they are basically dependencies, metochia in Greek, of their home countries. Then there are the old, dying ethnic parishes, founded in the 20th century and now closing down one by one, having failed to keep the children and grandchildren. Then there are recent immigrants who speak the local European language poorly; they are hardly ready to integrate the Metropolia and often lack the broad catholic vision, they are still provincial, parochial, they tend to cluster together in small ethnic groups.
And then of course there is still a tiny hard core who for ideological and political reasons do not wish the Metropolia well. They are mainly Halfodox modernists and Russophobes who have hatred and jealousy in their hearts; frankly it would be more honest of them simply to join the dying remnants of Catholicism or Protestantism. They really are on the fringes and margins of the Church and would only bring strife and conflict into the Church if they were allowed to join the Metropolia.
Q: So what proportion of Orthodox in Europe do you actually represent today?
A: Over three-quarters. This means that those who choose to remain outside the Metropolia are outside the mainstream, in fact, to be brutal, they are increasingly irrelevant.
Q: How do you see future structures developing in the Metropolia?
A: As you know, we now have over twenty diocesan archbishops and bishops in the Metropolia and seminaries in Paris, Munich, Madrid and Rome. We expect further developments with time. Without doubt autocephaly, the foundation of a European Orthodox Church, both European and fully Orthodox, is the next step.
Q: As we come to the end of this interview, would you like to say anything to our podcast listeners?
A: Glory to God in the Highest and on earth peace, goodwill among men!
+ John, Metropolitan of Paris and Western Europe
Paris, 7 May 2041